“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. ”
It should be evident, even to the most superficial reader of the Word of God here, that the apostle is writing concerning the predestinating purpose of God, and especially with a view to the realization of that purpose.
By the predestinating purpose of God we understand, of course, that eternal counsel- of God, according to which He, with absolute sovereignty, determined from eternity the destiny of all His rational creatures. In that predestinating purpose God has made among the rational creatures the distinction of election and reprobation. The former God has chosen in Christ in His sovereign grace to be conformed to the image of His Son, and to share with Him in His eternal glory, while with respect to the latt%r, He has just as sovereignly predetermined that they shall be destroyed forever, through the way of their sin. Moreover (and we particularly stress this truth), we do not conceive of these two, election and reprobation, to be on a par; rather, we understand the predestinating purpose of God to be such that the reprobation must serve the election of grace. Also here, the Scriptural maxim is attained: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And this means that, as the chaff is related to the wheat, or as the scaffolding is necessary for the construction of a building, so the Lord God sovereignly uses the reprobation for the realization of the election of grace. The two are inseparably connected, and in such a way that the former must serve the latter.
It is also plain from the text in the light of its context, that the apostle is not only underscoring the truth of God’s sovereign predestinating purpose, but that he is especially emphasizing the fact that God sovereignly and efficiently realizes that purpose. In this writing it is this truth which we particularly wish to delineate.
However, before we concentrate our thoughts on this truth, there are two or three matters, related to what we have already written, which we deem necessary to be briefly called to your attention.
First of all, it must be pointed out, that the doctrine of sovereign predestination is not an isolated, insignificant truth that hangs somewhere on the periphery of the body of all the truth; but we consider it to be the central truth of the Holy Scriptures. It is for this reason also that the doctrine is not found in only one or two isolated passages of the Word of God, but it runs as a golden thread woven into all the fabric of the truth as set forth in the Word of God. The doctrine of sovereign predestination was declared by the Reformers to be the Cor Ecclesia, i.e., the heart of the church. And that means that in the mind of the Reformers, especially Calvin, this is the central dogma that throbs in the believing heart of the church of Christ on earth. Where this truth is no longer acknowledged, is silenced, or denied, there is departure from all the truth and a modernization in doctrine I and life. It should be quite easy to understand this, because in the truth of, sovereign predestination the truth is maintained that God is God. Where that position no longer is maintained, it is no longer the true God Who is served, but an idol. And as we began to say, this truth is not to be discovered only in a few isolated passages, such as in Romans 9 and II Thessalonians 2, but it is constantly and consistently referred to and expressed in both Testaments of the Holy Scriptures. One cannot, for example, properly exegete the Old Testament sacred history of God’s dealings with ancient Israel, without reckoning with this truth of sovereign predestination. And it stands to reason that, as the truth of Scripture is developed in the New Testament, this fundamental truth is most clearly expressed and explained.
Secondly, we cannot refrain from pointing out how miserably and blatantly this doctrine is objected to and denied, and that too even in Reformed circles today. This, of course, is not new. Objection to the truth of God’s sovereignty in predestination is as old as the doctrine itself. The apostle Paul, in his monumental writing on this subject in Romans 9, confronts the objector with these words: “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?” (Rom. 9:20). He then asks this significant question: “Hath not the potter power (a right) over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21). Surely, no one has a right to criticize the Almighty Creator, and deny Him the authority to make of the same lump of clay vessels of honour, to whom in His mercy He would make known the riches of His glory; nor may any dispute His authority to shew His wrath and to make His power known on the vessels fitted to destruction.
But alas, today, as from of old, men have the audacious boldness to deny this truth. Either they accuse God with the wicked charge that He is the Author of sin, or they would be more merciful than God is by offering salvation to all men promiscuously, thereby denying that God will be merciful only unto those to whom He in His sovereign good pleasure will shew His mercy, namely, to His elect (Rom. 9:18).
Thirdly, it must be maintained, therefore, that the divine purpose in predestination is the glory of His Name. In general it may be said that this is His purpose in regard to all things. It is for this reason that the creation itself must declare the glory of God; and it does, according to Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.” In particular is this true with respect to His predestinating purpose. This the apostle makes clear in Romans 9:22, 23: “What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering 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. . . .”
He purposed to attain to His glory through the way of sin and grace, and along the line of election and reprobation. It is precisely this truth which the apostle is delineating in the context and particularly in the text cited above.
It is evident that the apostle, neither in the text nor in the context, speaks literally of reprobation. Nevertheless he definitely has this truth in mind. He has in mind, on the one hand, the divine disposition of those whom He places in the category “of the damned”; and, on the other hand, in sharp contrast to these, he has in mind those who are chosen of God from the beginning. There can be no question therefore but that he has in mind those whom God has from the beginning reprobated to destruction, and those whom He also from the beginning has chosen, sovereignly elected in Christ, who forever shall share in His glory.
Now we must notice how the apostle stresses the point that God realizes His sovereign purpose in both the reprobate and the elect.
First of all, he shows how this purpose of God is realized in the reprobate.
It becomes abundantly clear that reprobation is not accidental—as though God didn’t have anything to do with it, or that the wicked reprobates are thrust upon Him and, as a last resort, He finally decides to dispose of them. That, of course, is where they must end up who hold to the conception of a general offer of grace in the preaching of the gospel. Accordingly, in this conception God wants to save every man, but when man rejects God’s offer, He doesn’t really know what to do with them, and finally He virtually says: “You have made your bed, and now you must sleep in it.” Such a conception of God makes Him to be the clay, not the Potter. Then not God decides, but man; and God is made subject to the will of man, while the truth is that man is always subject to the will of God.
Indeed, God sovereignly works out reprobation!
Just as sovereignly as He works out election!
Not only has God chosen the elect in Christ before the foundation of the world, but, as we shall see in a moment, He also brings them to manifestation as His elect in the world. So also He sovereignly works out reprobation. Not only has He determined who the reprobate are, but He also brings them to manifestation in the world.
And the manner in which He does this is precisely through the same means whereby the elect are saved—the Means of Grace, particularly the preaching of the Word. These are the means which the Holy Spirit of Christ uses to bring the elect to manifestation. Through that preaching the elect are brought to conscious faith in Christ. Through that preaching the elect are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Through faith, which is activated by the preaching, they walk in all good works, which God also foreordained that they should walk in them.
Now, precisely through these means, only now in an antithetical way, the reprobate come to manifestation. As a minister of the. Word of God the apostle considered the proclamation of the gospel a savor of death unto death, as well as a savor of life unto life (II Cor. 2:16). It lies within the power of the preached gospel to save and to damn.
With respect to the reprobate, the apostle reflects on this in verse 10. “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Again, in verse 12, he says, “That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The translation “damned” is good commentary. Literally the apostle says: “That they might be visited juridically, and thus distinguished in the judgment from the elect.” But also here it is evident that the means to realize this judgment of God over the reprobate, is the Word of truth, proclaimed to them in the gospel, which they do receive, but continue to find their pleasure in unrighteousness. But this is not all.
In verse 11, he adds, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” This ‘is, indeed, strong language! Many will find it quite unacceptable, especially when they fail to see that God, Who is really God, is not only loving and merciful, but also perfectly righteous in judgment, and that it is precisely His right to make vessels unto dishonor. Should it be thought inconceivable of God that He sends strong delusion to them, that they should believe a lie?
Our space is much too limited to dwell at length on this truth. Briefly we call attention to other Scriptures that plainly set forth this truth.
Markedly in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, the false prophets stand alongside the true prophets of God, not only to try the true children of God, but to bring about apostasy in Israel. There can be no question but that these false prophets appear among Israel in the providence of God. Again, in Judges 9:23, the Lord sends an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, to avenge the destruction of the sons of Gideon upon Abimelech. Once more, we read in I Samuel 16:14, that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and that an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. In I Kings 22:19-23, the prophet Micaiah explains not only how an evil spirit offered to persuade Ahab, but that the Lord sent him. Finally, in Romans 1:24-28, it is made plain how the Lord gives the reprobate over unto uncleanness and vile affections, and a reprobate mind, to do things inconvenient.
So it is also in our text: God sends to the reprobate the energetic power of deception, so that they will believe the lie. Note here that we do not read that Satan or Antichrist comes to deceive them into believing the lie—though there can be no question in the light of the context that they serve as instruments in the deception—but we read that God sends them the deception. And this can only mean that God works out reprobation. His predestinating purpose with respect to the reprobate He works out to the end.
But so it is also with respect to His predestinating purpose in the elect.
Notice how beautifully the apostle expresses this truth in the latter part of our text. The apostle not only gives thanks to God for the fact that God has from the beginning, from eternity, chosen the saints at Thessalonica unto salvation, but he also thankfully acknowledges how God has realized that election in them. Especially three things the apostle observes in that predestinating purpose, which evidently he considers to be the fruits of election.
In the first place, he observes that their election is divine ordination unto salvation. The cause of their salvation must be ascribed to God’s eternal and sovereign decree of the election of His people in Christ.
In the second place, he observes that the very salvation of the elect is realized by God in the sphere of sanctification and belief of the truth. It is in this sphere and in this working that the elect stand in sharpest contrast to the reprobate. The latter have pleasure in unrighteousness, and believe not the truth; the elect, on the other hand, walk in sanctification of life, embracing the truth with faith.
In the third place, the apostle observes that it is unto the perfection of the salvation of the elect and their final glory, that the elect are efficaciously called through the gospel he preached.
Put it all together, beloved reader, and you can but come to the same conclusion to which the apostle, under divine inspiration, was brought, namely, that God was working out His predestinating purpose in the elect in that church. This is the same conviction the apostle had when, in Romans 9, he envisioned the great Potter Whose right it was to make vessels which are honored for their inestimable beauty, as well as vessels which He ordains ultimately to be destroyed after they have served His purpose—vessels unto dishonor.
Nor can the election of grace come to any other conclusion than that of the apostle: God hath shown His mercy on whom He will be merciful, and therefore thanks be unto Him, of Whom and through Whom and unto Whom be all the glory, both now and forever. Amen!
We conclude with the Fathers of Dordt: “The sense and certainty of this election afford to the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before Him, for adoring the depth of His mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to Him, Who first manifested so great love towards them. . . ” (Canons I. 13).
And in respect to those who will have nothing of this doctrine, we say with these same Fathers: “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’. . .Romans 9:30, and quote the language of our Saviour: ‘Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with My own?’ Matthew 20:15.”
“O, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Canons I. 18)