From a West Coast reader I received a question about infra- and supralapsarianism. My questioner makes reference to a comment of Herman Bavinck about the failure of either infra- or supra- to offer a satisfactory answer to the questions concerning the relation of the various decrees of God, citing the first part of a quotation of Bavinck by Danhof and Hoeksema in Van Zonde en Genade (“Concerning Sin and Grace”). He then asks whether there is a relation between the idea of God’s covenant and the question of the infralapsarian or supralapsarian view of God’s decrees, and whether perhaps the failure of both supra- and infra- to offer a satisfactory conception is due to a failure to take into account the truth of God’s covenant.
First of all, I am glad to hear that there are still people who are interested in subjects of this kind. There are too many today—even among professional theologians and ministers—who have little or no interest in such subjects as election and reprobation, not to say supra- and infra-. Such interest is, I think, a good sign.
In the second place, let me remind our readers that the question of supra- and infra- is a question concerning the logical (not temporal) order of God’s decrees. Briefly, it is the question whether the decree of predestination precedes (supra-) or follows (infra-) the decree of the fall. For a more detailed explanation, I refer you to H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 161-165.
In the third place, I would answer the above question by saying that in my opinion the failure of both traditional supralapsarianism and of infralapsarianism is due to two closely related mistakes. The first is a failure to construe the doctrine of God’s decrees in harmony with an organic conception of things. Danhof and Hoeksema suggest this in the chapter of Van Zonde en Genade to which my questioner refers. In fact, in that chapter they developed their organic view. The second mistake, closely related, is the failure to construe the doctrine of God’s decrees in connection with and in harmony with a proper view of the whole idea of God’s covenant. I would not say that in the past. Reformed theology has not at all connected the truth of God’s covenant with that of God’s decrees and with the question of supra- and infra-. Anyone who is acquainted with the old supra-/infra- controversy as it also involved the question of the “counsel of peace” (raad des vredes) will also know that these matters are deeply intertwined. However, there was a failure, I believe, to construe the doctrine of God’s decrees in connection with a proper conception of God’s covenant. For those interested in delving into this subject, there is an interesting and thorough treatment of it in H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 285-336.
A briefer, positive presentation of what I have often called Hoeksema’s “modified supralapsarian view” and which at least touches on both the points mentioned above here follows (Reformed Dogmatics,) pp. 164-165.
We therefore place ourselves without reservation on the standpoint of supralapsarianism, and maintain that it is the Scriptural and. the only consistent presentation of the decree of God’s predestination. But we would like to modify this supralapsarian view in such a way that it is in harmony with our organic conception of things. We must emphasize not so much what is first or last in the decree of God, but much rather place ourselves before the question: what in those decrees is conceived as purpose, and what as means? What is the main object in those decrees, and what is subordinate and subservient to that main object? In this way we first of all escape the danger to leave the impression that there after all is a temporal order in the decrees of God. And, in the second place, according to our way of presenting the doctrine of predestination we may open the way to find an answer to the question: why is there a reprobation? It is true that supralapsarians give a partial answer to this question when they assert that God also has willed the ungodly for His own name’s sake and to the manifestation of His righteousness, justice, power, and wrath. But this is by no means the final answer that may be given to this question; nor does it satisfy us. For in this way we still cannot escape the impression that there is arbitrariness in God. The reprobate are evidently not necessary to reveal God’s power and wrath and righteousness; for these virtues certainly never came to a clearer, more definite revelation than at the cross of Jesus Christ. He certainly satisfied the justice and the righteousness of God and bore all His wrath.
We, therefore, would like to present the matter of God’s counsel of predestination as follows. God conceived and willed all things in His eternal decree for His own name’s sake, that is, to the glory of His name and the reflection of His divine, infinite virtues and life. And as the highest in God is His own covenant life, He willed to establish and to reveal His covenant in Christ; and all other things in the counsel of God are related to that main purpose of God as means. Hence, we obtain the following order:
1) God wants to reveal His own eternal glory in the establishment of His covenant.
2) For the realization of this purpose the Son becomes the Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, that in Him as the first begotten of the dead all the fulness of God might dwell.
3) For that Christ and the revelation of all His fulness the church is decreed and all the elect. In the decree of God Christ is not designed for the church, but the church for Christ. The church is His body, and serves the purpose to reveal the fulness there is in Him.
4) For the purpose of realizing this church of Christ, and, therefore, the glory of Christ, the reprobate are determined as vessels of wrath. Reprobation serves the purpose of election as the chaff serves the ripening of the wheat. This is in harmony with the current thought of Scripture; and we find it expressed literally in Isaiah 43:3, 4: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”
5) Finally, in the counsel of God all other things in heaven and on earth are designed as means to the realization of both election and reprobation, and therefore, of the glory of Christ and His church.
And because in the decree of God all things are conceived in this manner, therefore all things must work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose. And in this light we can also understand Scripture when it teaches us, as in I Corinthians 3:21-23, that “all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”