Previously and briefly we considered predestination, election and reprobation as fully declared in the Canons of Dordt (which beautifully and comprehensively set forth the truth often referred to as The Five Points of Calvinism). We also put before the reader, in full, the third chapter of the Westminster Confession, “On the Decrees of God.” We will make some remarks on that chapter, but before we do, it is interesting to note that Warfield, in his The Plan of Salvation (a little book every Christian from 16 to 106 ought to read), arranges the order of the decrees, as interpreted by the various schools of theology, on a descending scale, from the Supralapsarian top, to Infralapsarian, to Amyraldian, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Universalistic, down through Anglican, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, to the naturalistic bottom of Remonstrant, and finally, Pelagian dregs, It is also remarkable that Warfield says that “the Heidelberg Catechism” is not a confession “clearly implying Infralapsarianism,” and that though it may seem to “more or less speak out of an underlying but not expressed Infralapsarian consciousness, this is, however, a matter of mere tone and manner; and . . . much too subtle to insist upon.” (Studies in Theology, 229).
Now, the Westminster Confession (III, I) teaches that God by His counsel and will did from all eternity ordain whatsoever comes to pass. (See Larger Catech., 12). This paragraph puts God in eternity and His will back, the most ultimate, behind all things. His counsel is His will predetermining and foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass (Acts 4:27, 28, ASV). It is impossible to go farther back that God’s sovereign will, according to which He foreordains and works all things. Another term, synonymous with decree, counsel, foreordination and will, is God’s good pleasure. Whatsoever comes to pass, often inscrutable mystery to us, is to be humbly viewed in the light of, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight!” Or, the term is purpose. God’s eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ Jesus, is before all things (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11; Eph. 3:11). When you read in this chapter that “neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of thecreature,” it is not at all to be concluded that this chapter views God’s decree on the background of creation, sin and the fall. Creation and sin are only mentioned at this point to clear from Arminian attack the statement that God did “freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” To this it is immediately added: “yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin . . . nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” The meaning is, God ordains also sin, without being responsible for sin. Final causality is not responsible causality. The article begins at the beginning, with God’s eternal, immutable, wise, holy, free, first, final and all-comprehensive will. What God’s will determines as to its details (creation, sin, etc.) is not declared beyond the general and all-embracive statement of “whatsoever comes to pass.” Emphasized here are the properties and the extent of God’s decrees.
The second article proceeds a little farther in God’s eternal purpose and foreordination to His eternal foreknowledge or prescience. (See Lg. Cat., 14). It is made clear here that God’s decree is not based on foreknowledge, or anything; but that it is based upon His counsel and foreordination. God cannot foreknow, without foreordaining. There is nothing to foreknow, except that which He has already eternally purposed. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18), and He knows all this, knows what He will do, and what He wills to be done by others, because His knowledge is founded on what He has eternally decreed, and because He has determined all things according to His counsel (Acts 2:23;Acts 4:28). In His omniscience, He knows all possible conditions that could ever be supposed by the most ingenious imagination. Yet no such conditions or presuppositions influence God’s decree. It is absolutely free and sovereign. At this point, no mention is made yet of any rational and moral creatures. However, you can already see a trace of the question, What is the first thing in God’s purpose?
The third article sees in God’s decree His rational moral creatures, men and angels, in their destiny and end. Some are predestinated to everlasting life, while others are foreordained to everlasting death. These men and angels are not seen-in the fallen mass. They are seen in the pure, unfallen mass of creatureship, having done neither good nor evil. This, with respect to angels is beyond all question, since the elect angels never fell, and could not be so considered. What He determined of the life and death of men and angels, He so determined not because of anything He foresaw in them as future. Their destiny is therefore determined in absolutely sovereign and free election and reprobation, free of “all supposed conditions,” including the sin and fall of man. Then A.A. Hodge (Commentary on the Confession of Faith, p. 101) is very far from correctly explaining these articles.
The fourth article underscores God’s foreordination and predestination as immutable, particular and definite. For this reason, the number of angels and men elected and reprobated is so certain “that it cannot be either increased or diminished.” Neither does this statement have God’s decree made on the basis of anything (e.g., sin, the fall) but the ultimate design of God. That design and end has been stated, but not yet the means unto its realization.
The fifth article views mankind as the objects of the decree. It also views in God’s eternal purpose, not all men, but some as the objects of election. These men are chosen in Christ to everlasting glory, and that, in God’s eternal purpose, before any consideration was given to the foundation of the world. End is primarily in view (everlasting glory), while means (foundation of the world, faith, good works, perseverance) are denied as moving causes to God’s settling on that end. The glorious end was determined unconditionally, in no wise dependent on anything of the creature.
The sixth article views the end of election to glory, now with the decree of the means, which include the fall, redemption, calling, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification and preservation. This is the exact ordo salutis we, Protestant Reformed, prefer. The article closes with the insistence that all these aspects of salvation are applied by the Spirit to the elect only. The end of the decree is then not determined out from the fall, but alone out from the “most free purpose of His will.” The end is never out from the means, but the means always out from the end.
The seventh article (L.C. 13) views the decree of sovereign reprobation according to God’s eternal good pleasure. Even this decree sees its objects as “the rest of mankind” and “His creatures,” not first of all as sinners. They are ordained (reprobated) “to dishonor (everlasting shame and contempt) and wrath for their sin.” Note, this is different from saying that God reprobated them for their sin. That would be an Arminian way of expressing it. God ordained to pass them by with His mercy, withholding it from them, and to ordain them as vessels of wrath, to be eternally punished for their sin, to the glory of His sovereign power and the praise of His glorious justice.
The eighth and final paragraph of this chapter is devoted to the comfort of predestination to life. Assurance of election is in the way of obedience to the revealed will of God in the gospel. We leave it to the reader whether he agrees that this chapter in the Westminster Confession puts forth the highest view of predestination.
Calvin’s work is really behind all the great Reformed confessions. Quotes from Calvin read like the familiar sections of these confessions. Take, for example, this one, a definition of predestination. “Predestination we call the eternal decree of God by which He has determined in himself what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not at all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestinated either to life or to death.” (Inst. of Chr. Relig., Allen Ed., III, XXI, V). This certainly is not infra language. Nor is this: “By an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom He would admit to salvation, and whom He would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit, but that to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible judgment.” (ibid., VII). Then in another place, he says, “Now with respect to the reprobate . . . as Jacob, without any merit yet acquired by good works, is made an object of grace, so Esau, while yet unpolluted by any crime, is accounted an object of hatred. If we turn our attention to works, we insult the apostle . . . he saw none . . . because he expressly asserts the one to have been elected and the other rejected while they had not done any good or evil, in order to prove the foundation of divine predestination not to be in works . . . When he raised the objection whether God is unjust, he never urges . . . the most absolute and obvious defence of his justice, that God rewarded Esau according to his wickedness, but contents himself with a different solution, that the reprobate are raised up for this purpose. . . .” (III, XXII, XI). Or consider this strong supralapsarian language: “As the Lord, by His effectual calling of the elect, completes the salvation to which He predestinated them in His eternal counsel, so He has His judgments against the reprobate, by which He executes His counsel respecting them. Those, therefore, whom He has created to a life of shame and a death of destruction, that they might be instruments of His wrath, and examples of His severity, He causes to reach their appointed end, sometimes depriving them of the opportunity of hearing the Word, sometimes, by the preaching of it, increasing their blindness and stupidity.” (III, XXIV, XII). Now on the subject of predestination, we have looked at its best expressions in the Reformed confessions.
(To be continued)