On a Distinctive Reformed Doctrine of Salvation
I have a couple of questions and comments about “Distinctively Reformed Soteriology” by Rev. Laning in the February 15 issue of the Standard Bearer. First, at the end of the “Limited Atonement” section, we find this phrase: “…and that He did not die for those whom God had reprobated.” I find it more accurate to put it this way: “…and that He did not die for the non-elect.” The difference? I understand that we are all born as reprobates (original sin) and that only the sovereign electing love of God converts us from reprobate to saint. The writer uses the word “reprobated” in a way that suggests that God had an active hand in committing some to reprobation. I understand that God “passed over” some to actively save others.
Second, at the end of the “Irresistible Grace” section, we find this phrase: “… yet in such a way that He causes them willingly to come to Him.” Would it not be more precise to say that He overcomes our resistance? (As sinners we hate and passionately resist His grace.) The question: Does regeneration occur before or after we are drawn by/to Him?
Third, under “Perseverance of the Saints,” I know that the Protestant Reformed denomination makes its mark with respect to its stand on common grace, but I fail to see the connection between a faulty view of common grace and the fact that some who hear the preaching of salvation are not saved. It seems to me that God is gracious in allowing the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. The fact that sinners spurn this grace, and that this spurning will lead to their further detriment in hell does not detract from God’s benevolent grace. The troublesome quote: “The fact remains that they teach that God gives His grace to all who hear the preaching with the desire that they be saved, and that this grace fails to accomplish its purpose.” God’s grace and mercy always accomplishes its purpose! I don’t think that a distinction between saving grace and common grace is an invention by man. If it were not a reality, the non-elect would immediately be cast into hell. Blessings to all.
Ridgetown, ON Canada
I will answer your questions in
the same order in which you asked them.
First, you err when you say that we are all born as reprobates, and that God in this life converts some from reprobate to saint. God’s decree of election and reprobation is not something that takes place in time, but rather is eternal. Ephesians 1:4 says that the elect have been chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. In other words, there was never a time in which the elect were reprobates. There was a time in which the elect were dead in sin; but there was not a time in which they were reprobates.
With regard to your comment about God “passing by” certain people to save others, we confess that God is just in electing some and “leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves” (Belgic Confession, Article XVI).
But this does not deny that God actively appoints certain people to destruction. This latter truth is clearly taught in I Peter 2:8, which says that the reprobates “stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” God does not merely allow them to stumble and be destroyed. Rather, in eternity, He actively determined that certain people would stumble at the Word and be destroyed in the way of their sin. They are vessels of wrath which He Himself fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22).
Secondly, you ask whether regeneration occurs before or after we are drawn to God. By nature we are dead in sin, and refuse to come to God. For us to come to God, He must first regenerate us, taking away our heart of stone, and giving to us a heart of flesh in which Christ dwells. This work of regeneration is clearly irresistible and efficacious. Then, having regenerated us, God calls us through the preaching of the gospel. The Holy Spirit works with this preached Word, drawing us inwardly in such a way that He causes us willingly to come to Him.
Thirdly, you say that if common grace was not a reality, the reprobate would immediately be cast into hell. The truth is that the reprobate are under the wrath of God from the moment they are conceived and born (John 3:36). They experience this wrath more and more throughout this life, even more so after physical death, and then even more so when they are finally cast into the lake of fire when Christ returns.
You insist that God’s grace always accomplishes its purpose. But if God gives His grace to the reprobate, then He does so desiring that the reprobate be benefited by this grace. And if they are not benefited by this grace because they “spurn” it, as you say, then this grace does not accomplish its purpose.
The biblical truth that God’s Word never returns to Him void, but always accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent, gives the child of God great comfort. It is only in the way of confessing this truth that God’s people have the assurance that the good work God has begun in them He will perform until the day of our Lord Jesus’ return.
— Rev. J. Laning