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Election and Reprobation According to Barth

In Christianity Today there occurred an article under the heading: “The Enigma In Barth.” The article especially has reference to the fact that Barth, in his Dogmatics, quotes frequently from Scripture in spite of the fact that he emphasizes, at the same time, that there are errors, both historical and theological, in the Bible. This, according to the article, is the enigma in the Swiss theologian.

But this is, by no means the only enigma in Barth. This is also true and emphatically so, with respect to his treatment of the doctrine of predestination and especially in regard to his view of the truth of reprobation. For this I quoted him from his Dogmatics. We wrote that Barth teaches that Christ suffered and died, not only for the sin of His people but that He took upon Himself the reprobation of all men so that after His death, there is no more reprobation for any man.

That this is his view is evident from many passages of his Dogmatics. This is plain from what he writes on page 132. There he writes, first of all, that man, through his fall was made subject to reprobation (man is “zu seinem Feind geworden und also der Verwerphung verfallen). This means, of course, that in Adam, through his fall into sin, all men became reprobate and as such are guilty of death. We ask the question: what does Barth mean by the term “reprobation.” Certainly, he does not use the term in the same sense it means in our Reformed Confessions nor as it occurs in Holy Writ.

In the Netherland Confession, Art. 16, we read:

“We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves all whom he in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.”

This certainly cannot mean that, after the fall, all men are reprobate.

The same is evident from the Canons of Dordrecht. In I, 15 we read:

“What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election, is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree, whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but permitting them in his just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of his justice, to condemn and perish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy) but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.”

Also in this article of our confession it is very plain that, through the fall, not all men, although they were under the wrath of God, became reprobate. It is evident that when Barth uses the term reprobation he gives it a new meaning and content.

On the same page of his Dogmatics, Barth writes that reprobation in which all men have fallen, so that all men must suffer death and are under the wrath of God, He has laid upon Christ and Christ obediently bore the same on the cross and in His death. “Ja, es ist eben der von ihm verlangte und geleistete Gehorsam seine Willigkeit, die giittliche Verwerfung der Anderen auf sich selbst zu nehmen . . . .” Christ willingly took the reprobation of men upon Himself.

Again, on page 134, Barth writes that we, i.e., all men, through the fall of man had delivered ourselves to the wrath of God and to reprobation, but that Christ bore the wrath of God and our reprobation. It seems that Barth identifies the wrath of God with reprobation: Christ bore the wrath of God and thus He bore our reprobation. But this is certainly not the meaning of the term reprobation in Reformed theology. And the question is: what right does he have to employ a term that is so well known in Reformed dogmatics as well as in all Reformed Confessions and give it an entirely different meaning?

This, to my mind, is not honest. It is deceptive.

Again, the same idea is strongly expressed on page 135. Christ as the Son of God is reprobated for the sake of His own but even as the Reprobate He remains the elect.

And once more, on page 36 he writes that faith in Christ means that the believer has cast his own reprobation behind and under himself. Reprobation is no more because Christ bore their reprobation.

From page 136 to 175 Barth offers a long discussion about supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism and he finds in the theologians of the seventeenth century also a middle position, especially in Petrus of Mastricht. We will not enter into this discussion, as presented by Barth, in detail. We have already briefly explained the terms supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism before. The terms concern the question whether God, in His eternal decree, elected and reprobated out of a treatable and fallible human race, out of a human race which, in God’s eternal conception, was yet to be created and was to fall (supra: above creation and above the fall) or out of a created and fallen human race (infra: below the creation of man and below the fall). According to infralapsarianism, the order in God’s decree is: Creation, the fall, election and reprobation; according to supralapsarianism the order is: Predestination (election and reprobation), creation and the fall. My own position in this matter I have already indicated in a former article.

What is Barth’s position on this question is not quite clear though he seems to favor the supralapsarian position. To my mind, he cannot take any definite position whatsoever for the simple reason that he does not believe in reprobation in the Reformed and biblical sense of the word. According to him, as we explained before, through the fall, all men are reprobates and Christ took reprobation upon Himself, so that after the death and resurrection and exaltation of Christ there is no more reprobation. Hence, it stands to reason that he is neither supra nor infra. If anything, he is a universalist. And this he denies.

But let this be in parentheses.

We have still more to say about Barth’s conception of predestination.

—H.H.


Only Two Churches?

I received several copies of a pamphlet called “Biblical Contender.”

There are several good elements in these pamphlets, expressions of Doctrine, to which I heartily subscribe. The author, pastor Eddie K. Garrett of Hamilton, Ohio, a Baptist minister, writes: “Some of the reasons set forth in this article for being a Baptist are believed by some; other reasons are believed by none but Baptists. It is these doctrines that are believed by none but Baptists that make me a Baptist.” He then sets forth various doctrines which, evidently, are not and cannot be the particular reasons why he is a Baptist. Some of these doctrines are: the Bible is alone our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. (By the way, I would insert here the word “infallible.”) The doctrine of the divine Trinity: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An inerrant Bible. The Genesis account of creation (six days, no periods? H.H.). The fall of man, not the man-made theory that infants are born in a state of innocency. The sovereignty of God. Unconditional election. Salvation by grace without works. A regenerated membership of the Church. (The question is here: who determines who is regenerated and who is not. And in connection with this: may infants also be regenerated? In a note, the author writes: “Many of the Protestants teach the necessity of regeneration, for without it no one is saved, but it is left to the Baptists alone to demand that an applicant for membership to declare that God has worked a work of grace in his heart.” But if the fact of regeneration and the knowledge of it is based solely on the declaration of the applicant for membership one still cannot be sure.) Repentance before faith. (This is not true: repentance itself is a work of faith.) No new birth without the gospel. (Also this I do not believe. The text quoted by the author from I Peter 1:23 does not speak of the gospel but of the living and abiding word of God. It is true that this living and abiding the Word of God is “by the gospel” but itself is not the Word of God. H.H.) Eternal life a present possession. Eternal security of the saved. (This we also believe; believers are preserved by God and, therefore they persevere.)

I hope to continue this in our next issue, D.V.

—H.H.


Entered Into Rest

I cannot refrain to say a few words about the Rev. G.M. Ophoff who on Tuesday, June 12, entered into the rest that remains for the people of God and for whom funeral services were held in the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I knew him for over forty years, when he was still a student in Calvin College, but I started to know him more intimately since 1924 when he took our side in the controversy on the issue on “common grace” and against the notorious “Three Points.”

He was at that time minister of the gospel in the Hope Christian Reformed Church, and was, together with the Rev. H. Danhof, deposed from office by the then Classis West of Grand Rapids.

Ever since that time I learned to know and to love him as a faithful brother.

He knew and loved the Reformed truth and, often in a fiery way, defended it. He never wavered but stood fast on the foundation of the truth as expressed in the Reformed Confessions. Also in 1953, when many, under the influence of the liberated theology of the Netherlands, departed from the truth as confessed by our Protestant Reformed Churches, he stood fast and remained faithful to that truth.

He knew by experience the grace of God.

This was evident in all the work he performed for our churches, especially as co-editor of The Standard Bearer and as professor in our seminary.

But this became more evident still during the last four years of his life when the Lord seriously afflicted him by a stroke from which he never recovered. He gradually became worse in the physical sense of the word, until, finally, I and others with me longed that the Lord would take him into the rest that remains for the people of God. And that certainly was his hope as he witnessed to me even the last time when I visited him in Pine Rest.

Yes, indeed, the Rev. G.M. Ophoff was, to me, a faithful brother but what is more, he was a humble child of God.

May our God comfort his wife and the rest of his relatives!

—H.H.