Rev. Miersma is western home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: January 15, 2008, p. 174.
As election is the saving purpose of God, reprobation may be called the sovereign righteous and judicial purpose of God. God wills to save His elect from eternity. He has ordained others to be vessels of His wrath from eternity, to serve the magnifying of His grace in election and to reveal His righteous judgment in the way of their sin and hardening (Rom. 9:15-24). As election is known by its fruit in the elect, one may also say that reprobation becomes manifest in the hardening of the wicked in sin, unbelief, and iniquity. The pattern of our Savior is also instructive in considering this truth.
Jesus not only labored in the consciousness that all were not His sheep, but also in the consciousness that He worked condemnation and hardening unto judgment. In the context of Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus concerning the necessity of regeneration, the text speaks of the world of believers, organically, in the elect that was to be saved in John 3:16. The text identifies the elect as regenerated believers who are saved and not condemned. But it also speaks of the unbelieving who, being condemned already, will not come to the light.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God,
In like manner, speaking of false prophets, He warns us:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them,
That fruit of sin was rooted in the fact that God did not give unto them the gift of faith, for they were not His sheep. Jesus unashamedly says so in His preaching, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you” (John 10:26). He also thanks the Father that this is His will (Matt. 11:25– 27). That fruit of sin is rooted also in the hardening in sin wrought by the gospel that exposes the hypocrisy of sin. Our Savior, by His coming into the world and by His death and resurrection, works the judgment that comes upon the world of sin and unbelief. He is realizing God’s counsel concerning reprobation in the reprobate wicked. Jesus says, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). This belongs both to God’s purpose in Christ and to the purpose of the preaching of the gospel. Jesus says concerning the work of the Spirit, the Comforter:
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged,
In what Jesus says concerning these things, there are several elements. The first is that He is accomplishing the will of His Father; God’s counsel is being realized. Reprobation stands in the sovereign will of God. Moreover, reprobation has respect to certain persons ordained unto judgment. Secondly, that counsel of God is realized in the way of justice and judgment, which leaves the unrepentant wicked without excuse, hardened in sin unto judgment. Thirdly, Jesus makes it clear also that this truth does not mitigate the seriousness of the call to repentance. Jesus repeatedly warns them, “I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come” (John 8:21). He says in the same context, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:23, 24). By His warning, Jesus leaves them without excuse, and by it they are hardened. That man, being a fallen sinner, cannot come to Christ apart from the gift of saving faith (John 6:44, 65) does not absolve him. That man, being from below and unregenerated from above, is bound in unbelief does not change the fact that he is responsible before God.
There is also a fourth element here that is noteworthy. Reprobation, upon which this hardening rests, the hardening under judgment itself, and the warning that works it, are all taken up in the missionary preaching of Christ. Preaching the truth of reprobation; judgment for unbelief, the fruit of hardening; and warnings concerning unrepentant unbelief are not only the effect of mission work and preaching, they are part of the contents of the preaching itself. Jesus did not simply teach His disciples these things in private. He proclaimed them to those of whom and to whom He said, “ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” (John 10:26). He speaks the warning, “ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24), in the temple.
In like manner Paul, in his missionary preaching, not only calls men to repentance and faith in Christ to be saved but says to the multitude in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:40, 41). Such a declaration from the prophets, “ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you,” is a clear declaration of God’s counsel, of judicial hardening resting upon sovereign reprobation. The positive element of that call of the gospel is there, to be sure. Paul had just said, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38, 39). But Paul does not stop with that exhortation. He comes also with a warning, one that rests upon God’s eternal counsel of election and reprobation. This too is evangelism! This is apostolic mission preaching!
In a similar manner, though to a Gentile audience on Mars’ Hill, Paul, after showing them to be inexcusable for their image worship, and already self-condemned because of it, warns them:
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead,
Paul is aware that judgment according to the counsel of God has now come, by his preaching, to these Gentiles. It is a judgment that separates among men, between faith and unbelief, between elect and reprobate.
There are several observations we may make in the light of this truth. While we may say of others to whom we preach or bear witness as Paul did concerning Israel, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1), yet we know also that it is not God’s purpose to save all. We must in all such labor say first, “Thy will be done.” While we labor, preach, and witness to all who will hear, for that is our calling, we must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God in that witness. A half-truth is a falsehood. If election is considered something to be hidden in the closet by many who call themselves Reformed, reprobation has been virtually, if not actually, moved to the garbage dump. Yet it underlies the mission preaching and witness of Christ and the apostles and is expressly indicated therein, not simply as a doctrine in Scripture, but in its reality and fruit. We may not be wiser than Christ. Reprobation is to be faithfully confessed and preached: the truth of judgment and warning must be proclaimed.
This runs counter to all the mission advice that is current today in the church world about us. Nor may we water the truth down. Jesus did not come to save a vague “unconverted” or amorphous blob of sinners. He came to save His people from their sins. The gospel must be preached to the nations for a witness, and then the end shall come (Matt. 24:14). That witness has always a twofold effect, along the lines of election and reprobation. It saves the elect and gathers them. It hardens the reprobate wicked unto judgment, and by it the world itself becomes ripe for final judgment. This truth and the consciousness of it guides our mission work. It is also to be unashamedly preached!
The notion that these things are to be kept hidden is rooted in the humanist notion that salvation depends on man and that if only we package things correctly, men will believe. That the truth is to be wisely and timely preached in due proportion is scriptural. But watering down the truth, or being deliberately unclear about it, is not preaching that is wise or timely or in due proportion. It is dishonesty. Preaching the truth of election and reprobation unashamedly will bring division, separation, reproach, and conflict. This is the reality of the gospel. When Jesus proclaimed Himself the Good Shepherd, many said of Him, “he hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” (John 10:20). When He told them that His sheep hear His voice and that they believed not because they were not of His sheep, and that He was the Son of God, they took up stones to stone Him (John 10:31).
The fact is that hiding the truth of election and reprobation robs the sheep of their true comfort. Reprobation serves election. The truth of it also underscores, to the redeemed, the wonder of grace that God has wrought in his life to the comfort of his soul. Thus Peter explains it in the figure of Christ, the Cornerstone. We read:
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy,
Hiding the truth of reprobation or election saves none of the reprobate. It only robs the elect of their true comfort.
The knowledge of this truth is also important for the work of missions and the saints on the mission field. It is an answer to discouragement when those we desire to come do not. It makes it clear also that while we would labor faithfully, the power to save, gather, and build the church is not in our hand. If men do not come, the reason is not the failure of some technique. When men do come, it is not the success of our methodology, though God uses means and faithful labor. It is because some stumble at the word, being disobedient, while others are given of God to hear the voice of Christ and come unto Him by faith.