“We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and rum, by the sin of our first parents, God did then manifest himself such as he is: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of pure 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.”
The Belgic Confession, Art. XVI
The first two articles were devoted to an exposition of the doctrine of election and reprobation as taught in this chapter of the Belgic Confession. We saw that this truth permeates all of Scripture. The third article was concerned with John Calvin’s views on this precious truth. In this our fourth and final installment on Article XVI it is our purpose to examine the doctrine of predestination as it appears in the creeds of the Reformed Churches.
We find this truth set forth very clearly in the Gallican orFrench Confession of Faith. This creed was prepared by Calvin and one of his pupils in 1559 and was adopted by a Synod of the French Reformed Churches in Paris that same year. There can be little doubt that Guido de Bres was markedly influenced by this Confession in his writing of the Belgic Confession. In its twelfth article this Creed says:
“We believe that from this corruption and general condemnation in which all men are plunged, God, according to his eternal and immutable counsel, calleth those whom he hath chosen by his goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ, without consideration of their works, to display in them the riches of his mercy; leaving the rest in this same corruption and condemnation to show in them his justice. For the ones are no better than the others, until God discerns them according to his immutable purpose which he has determined in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world. Neither can any man gain such reward by his own virtue, as by nature we can not have a single good feeling, affection, or thought, except God has first put it into our hearts.”
Notice that this creed teaches that God’s calling of those whom He has chosen in our Lord Jesus Christ is a manifestation of the riches of His mercy, while God’s leaving of the rest (reprobation from the infralapsarian point of view) in corruption and condemnation is a manifestation of His justice. We find this same emphasis in Article XVI of the Belgic Confession. Notice too that all this takes place “according to God’s eternal and immutable counsel” and “his immutable purpose which he has determined in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, which presents the truth of God’s Word from the point of view of the life’s experience and confession of the child of God, has only one explicit reference to this great truth. This is found in the profoundly beautiful answer to the fifty-fourth question. Here, the Catechism speaks of the. “holy catholic church of Christ” as being a “church chosen to everlasting life” and “gathered, defended and preserved by the Son of God through His Word and Spirit from the beginning to the end of the world.” No one can deny, however, that the truth of election and reprobation is implied throughout the Heidelberger. This is especially evident in those questions and answers which speak of the atonement of Christ as satisfaction of the justice of God for the sins of God’s people. (Cf. Questions 37-44)
As one would expect, the Canons of the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618, 1619, have much to say concerning this truth. In its first head of doctrine entitled: “Of Divine Predestination,” the Canons declare: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree . . . .” (Article 6) After citing Scriptural proof for this statement the Canons continue: “According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect … while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.” (Article 6). Note the strong language employed in this article in reference to the opponents of the doctrine of election and reprobation. The fathers of Dordt did not hesitate to label such: “men of perverse, impure and unstable minds” who “wrest the decree of election and reprobation to their own destruction.” What is so tragic in our times is that one finds the most bitter opponents of election and especially reprobation not outside of but within the sphere of the Reformed Churches. But what is even more tragic is the fact that some of the denominations belonging to the Reformed family of churches do nothing to expel these opponents of the truth. They make a “fuss” over these deep theological issues, pass all kinds of Synodical decisions, appoint all kinds of prestigious study committees which produce involved and lengthy reports couched in lofty, theological language and at the same time allow the opponents to continue teaching and preaching in the churches. This obviously is not in the tradition of Dordt!
These Canons describe the doctrine of election as: “. . . the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will; chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.” (Article 7) Article 15 of Head I describes reprobation in these terms: “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 . . . . 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.” Finally the Canons concludes this first Head of doctrine with both a warning and a doxology: “To those who murmur at the free grace of election, and just severity of reprobation, we answer with the apostle: ‘Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ Rom. 9:30, and quote the language of our Savior: ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?’ Matt. 20:15. And therefore with holy adoration of these mysteries, we exclaim in the words of the apostle: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. —Amen.'” (Article 18)
No less emphatic in its teaching on election and reprobation is the great Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647. In fact Chapter III of this Confession is a detailed, thorough, and very precise statement of the truth concerning God’s eternal decree. After setting forth the truth concerning God’s decreeing of all things the Westminster states: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” (Article III) In the succeeding articles of its third chapter this beautiful creed describes the decree of election. Speaking of the elect, both men and angels, the Westminsterdeclares: “These . . . thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.” (Article IV) Furthermore according to this Confession election is unconditional and not on the basis of foreseen faith (Article V). Election includes also the means to salvation (faith, conversion, justification, etc.) (Article VI). Concerning reprobation the Westminsterstates forthrightly: “The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” (Article VII) This third chapter is concluded with a word of caution to which we do well to take heed: “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, an admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.” (Article VIII)
Very simply, what this means is this: Article XVI of ourBelgic Confession is not merely an isolated instance of the teaching of election and reprobation. At this point the Belgic Confession reflects the current and clear teaching of the Reformed Creeds and the conviction of the historic Reformed Churches. These were the convictions of our fathers, faith for which they lived and, in many instances, for which they even died! It ought to be perfectly evident, therefore, that no one who denies either election or reprobation (and remember, the two stand together) can honestly claim to be Reformed. Election and reprobation belong to the essence or heart of the Reformed faith as this faith is taught by Scripture and expounded by the Creeds. All who are Reformed according to the Word of God as summed and set forth in the Confessions believe this precious truth in their hearts and boldly and humbly confess it with their mouths to the praise of God’s great glory.
*All references to and quotations from the creeds are taken from Philip Schaff’s The Creeds of Christendom, volume III.