“We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God did then manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition 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.”
Article XVI, The Belgic Confession
Having discussed the doctrine of divine election in the previous issue we turn our attention .to the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. It is well, for several reasons, that we devote an entire article to this truth. There is often a great deal of misunderstanding concerning this truth, even among those whose desire it is to be thoroughly Reformed in doctrine. This truth is widely and openly denied by many who claim to be in the Reformed tradition. And, the truth has been attacked at this point from earliest New Testament times. Those who object to the Reformed truth invariably object especially to the doctrine of Reprobation. The Apostles had to deal with this (especially the Apostle Paul), Augustine fought for the truth on this score and so did Calvin, the great Synod of Dordrecht defended this doctrine against the Arminians, and the Reformed churches after Dordt (including our own Protestant Reformed Churches) engaged in many a polemic in defense of the doctrine of Reprobation.
But before getting at the truth of reprobation we should note the fact that the Confession, in its presentation of election and reprobation, proceeds from the infralapsarian point of view. The question of “infra / supra” is no longer disputed, and perhaps that is reason sufficient for us to comment on it. The .words, infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism, are derived from Latin compounds; “lapsus” which means fall, and “infra” which means below, and “supra” which means, “above.” The question is, therefore, do election and reprobation in the counsel of God stand “below” or “above” the fall of Adam? To put it another way, did God choose His elect out of a fallen human race (infra) or did God choose His people out of a human race that was destined to fall (supra)? Or, to state the question in still another way, which is first and which is last in the counsel of God? The Confession is quite obviously infra, for it speaks of election and reprobation from the point of view of history. The posterity of Adam had fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents. God revealed His mercy in saving from perdition those whom He had chosen in Christ. God revealed His justice in leaving others in the fall and perdition in which they had involved themselves. The point is that infra lists the order in the decree of God in the way in which that decree is realized in history. Thus God, according to the infra view, first decreed the creation, then the fall, election and reprobation, Christ, and the new creation. The supralapsarian view conceives of the order in God’s counsel as follows: 1) God will the glory of His Name in the exalted Christ: 2) God born of every creature: 3) For Christ God elected His Church, and to serve that elect Church in Christ God willed the reprobate as vessel of wrath fitted unto destruction; 4) Finally God willed the creation and all things in it as means designed to serve the realization of both election and reprobation. and therefore, of the glory of God in Christ and His Church.
On the basis of several specific passages (cf. Eph. 1:3-10, Col. 1:13-19) and the general teaching of the Word of God we prefer this latter conception. Besides, according to this conception election and reprobation do not simply proceed side by side out of eternity and throughout history (the old “equal ultimacy” charge!) but the decree of reprobation settles that of election! This is literally the teaching of Scripture. Concerning His elect, precious Israel God says: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thek by thy name, thou art mine . . . For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: 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.” (Isaiah 43:1-4) One finds the same idea in Romans 9:22, 23: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known; endured with much longsuffering (for His elect’s sake) the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” Indeed, not only does reprobation according to the supra conception serve election but: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
Article XVI speaks of the decree of reprobation in these terms: “Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.” Notice that, while we might prefer to speak of reprobation in terms of God’s willing to create vessels : of wrath fitted to destruction, or of God’s determining to condemn the reprobate to destruction in the way of their own sin, the Confession certainly teaches reprobation. The “leaving of others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves” certainly involves an eternal decision on God’s part. And this is the clear teaching of Scripture throughout. Already in the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15 the Lord speaks of the great gulf of enmity which He puts between the seed of the woman (Christ and the elect in Him) and the seed of the serpent (the devil’s brood, the reprobate). Jesus thanks His Father because He has hid the mysteries of the Kingdom from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto the babes according to His good pleasure (Matthew 11:25-27). The Savior speaks in parables because to some it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom and to some it is not given (Matthew 13:10-17). Concerning those who murmured at His sermon on the Bread of Life Jesus said: “But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (John 6:64, 65) Jesus flatly told the unbelieving Jews: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:26-30) That the unbelievers got the point is evident from the fact that when they heard that, they took up stones to stone Jesus, (verse 31) Jesus’ teaching is obvious, is it not? Some are given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom and some are not. Some believe because the Father gives them to Christ and they are His sheep. Others reject the Savior because they are not of His sheep and from them God hides the things of the Kingdom. For these Jesus did not come into the world; for these He did not lay down His life as the good shepherd; for these He did not speak the gracious words of everlasting life. For these, indeed, He came in judgment!
And, if this be not proof enough, consider the teaching of Romans nine. In this chapter the inspired Apostle speaks of a distinction between spiritual and natural Israel, the “children of the flesh” who are not counted as the children of God and the “children of the promise” who are counted for the seed. How must this distinction be explained? Why this difference? Did not all hear the Word of God? Did that Word take no effect? Oh, No! They are not all Israel, which are of Israel. This is evident from the Word of the Lord concerning Abraham and his natural born children. Not all of these were counted for the seed. Only Sarah’s son, Isaac, is the child of the promise. The same is evident in the twins of Rebecca. Before those children were born or had done any good or evil, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” (verses 10-12) Moreover, God had spoken of this long before when He said through the prophet Malachi: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And let no one say at this point that God elected (loved) Jacob and reprobated (hated) Esau only after they had manifested themselves in life. That is neither the Apostle’s nor Malachi’s argument. Scripture teaches here that God made an eternal distinction, a distinction between elect and reprobate, righteous and wicked, the children of the flesh and the children of the promise, the natural seed and the seed of Abraham, irrespective of works. God did this sovereignly. This is Romans nine. God has mercy on whom He wills and whom He will He hardens. This is illustrated in the history of the hardening of Pharaoh. God raised Pharaoh up to show His power and declare His Name in the earth. Studying the history of Exodus we find God repeatedly telling Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart (cf. Exodus 3:19, 20; Exodus 4:21-23; Exodus 5:1, 2;Exodus 6:1-8; Exodus 7:1-13, 22) and only after this do we finally read that Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15)!
At this point invariably the objection is raised that God is unjust. If the case be so with the reprobate how can it be that God deals justly with them when He casts them into destruction? The Apostle faced this very objection: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Vs. 19) And what did the ,holy Apostle answer? Listen: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor?” (vss. 20, 21) The answer to this objection must always be “O man, keep still!” Let no man question the sovereign dealings of the Almighty Potter! Indeed, let us confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that God: “did manifest himself such as he is; merciful and just . . . Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.” This great truth ought to move us to deepest humility before the eyes of Him with Whom we all have to do!