3. Its Confessional Expression (continued)
We have noted something of the confessional support for the doctrine of predestination as found in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Actually, the Heidelberg Catechism is rather permeated with the high truth of predestination from beginning to end, its whole standpoint presupposing it, and hints of the doctrine appearing throughout; and, as everywhere in this catechism, its definite statements stand out in sharp focus. (See HC, Q. 1, 26, 27, 31, 52, 54). As for our Canons of Dordt, we agree with B.B. Warfield, who wrote (Studies in Theology, p. 146), “The whole constitutes the fullest and one of the most prudent and satisfactory expositions of the Reformed doctrine of predestination ever given wide symbolical authority.”
The first chapter of the Canons of Dordt has eighteen paragraphs on predestination, plus nine paragraphs in repudiation of corresponding Arminian errors. There you have a very full and very strong treatment of the doctrine of election and reprobation. We can now only touch briefly upon this section of the confession. Read this with the articles before you.
Article 1 begins with the historical fact that all men sinned in Adam, are therefore deserving of eternal death, so that God justly could have left them all to perish. This is unquestionably true. The article views men as sons of Adam in history, not from the standpoint of God’s decree. For in the decree man is viewed not in the fallen mass of corrupt humankind, but, as also the angels, in the pure mass of creatureship. Even so, man has no claim on God. (Rom. 9:11-13, 20-21). Predestination is sovereign and free.
The opening But of Article 2 makes it plain that it was not God’s purpose to leave all men to the condemnation so justly deserved. God determined to save some in sovereign love through faith. Who they are, how they get faith and how they believe is left to following articles.
Article 3 states that God sovereignly sends the gospel when and to whom He pleases, that men may be brought to believe, and that the gospel ministry is an act of mercy, without stating to whom it is so. God calls men to repentance and faith through the gospel.
Article 4 denies universalism, since unbelievers are lost, and only those with a true and living faith are saved. Faith is the means ordained in the decree of election unto salvation, and unbelief the means ordained in the decree of reprobation unto condemnation. The question is, Who hath believed our report?
Article 5 has to do with the proximate cause of or blame for unbelief. The sinner under the wrath and curse of God is to blame, in no wise, God. Coming to faith and the exercising of faith is of God. Who, or how any are determined to unbelief (as in John 12:36-43) is a matter not treated in this article. Faith is a sovereign and free gift bestowed on some, not all.
Article 6 brings us to God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation as the determining factor in who are recipients of faith and who not. The elect are made to believe. The reprobate are not given faith. They are left in their wickedness. Grace and mercy are mentioned, but not as extending to the reprobate. Infra-language is evident in God’s leaving the non-elect in judgment, and in speaking of all “men equally involved in ruin.” The infra view proceeds from the fall, but does not trace backward to the other side of the fall in God’s eternal decree to show the purpose of the decree.
Article 7 in infra-language speaks of God’s immutable, eternal decree in which He chose a certain number from the fallen race, men “involved in one common misery . . . to be saved.” Here is a very high view of predestination, election and reprobation, the whole cause of it in the sovereign, free will of God alone. The Reformed man or Calvinist must hold at least as much as the high standpoint of this article. There is a higher view. The divine decree of predestination of angels first sees them all as unfallen, for the elect angels never fell. The destiny of the angels was determined as they were seen in the unfallen mass of creaturehood. Similarly it was with the predestination of men.
Article 8: God from eternity chose the elect to salvation, chose the way of salvation, and ordained their perseverance all the way to glory.
According to Article 9, neither foreseen faith nor foreseen unbelief are the cause of election and reprobation, respectively. God’s decree is absolutely sovereign, free and unconditional.
The cause of this gracious election, according to Article 10, is in God’s eternal good pleasure. The question is not, Does scripture teach election? but, What kind of election does scripture teach? The answer is, Not one where man’s will, but God’s will is the sole determining factor. The infra view is again expressed in “He was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people,” which “view, too, attributes election only to God’s eternal good pleasure.
Article 11 roots the decrees of God in His eternal being. The decrees are characterized by God’s infinite, eternal and immutable attributes.
Article 12 treats of the possibility and the actuality of the blessed assurance of election, together with the inseparable evidences of election. One cannot claim to be elect who does not have in evidence the fruits of election.
Going on to article 15, the decree of reprobation is further enlarged in infralapsarian terms, speaking of “others passed by in the eternal decree,” which does not mean that they are left out of the decree, but that in it God “has decreed to leave them in the common misery into which they willfully plunged themselves.” God decreed not to give them saving faith. He decreed to permit them to follow their own destructive ways. He decreed to condemn them to perish forever. He decreed to send them off into eternal judgment on account of their unbelief and for all their sins.
You see, then, how these first paragraphs of the Canons strongly set forth the sovereignty of election and reprobation. Much murmuring goes on against the double predestination herein expressed. It is sometimes made to appear as though opposition to the doctrine of the Canons is merely a declining of any supralapsarian expression. But the Canons are infralapsarian. If one cannot go for the infra standpoint, one can hardly be called Reformed. As for the reformed confessions in general, they are not all infra. Many do not enter upon the Supra-Infra question, leaving the matter open. None are either confessionally or controversially against supra. The majority of them contain nothing inconsistent with the supra view. The Westminster Confession, B.B. Warfield says, carefully avoids raising any distinction between “Supra and Infra.” ibid., p. 230). Yet A.A., Hodge, in his Commentary on the Confession of Faith, where he comments on “God’s Eternal Decrees,” chapter three of the Westminster Confession, deliberately avers that this chapter specifies the decree of God as determining “out of the mass of fallen humanity, certain individuals . . . to salvation, and that the rest shall be left to . . . their sins.” (p. 101). This is an amazing statement, not only in view of what Warfield correctly points out, but in view of the plain, unmistakable language of the Westminster Confession in its chapter three. For there in that chapter is no such language as Hodge uses. He had no right to leave the impression that it is so thick with infra as he claims. This chapter is so great that we think there is no risk of boring the reader to quote it in full.
I. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
IV. These angels and men, thus predestined and fore ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
V. Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.
VI. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only.
VII. 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.
VIII. 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 and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
We shall save our remarks on this for next time.
(To be continued)