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Question

The third in the group of questions asked by a Canadian reader was as follows: “When we speak of predestination, must we go as far as to say that the Lord from eternity has loved His own—with that I can agree—but also that the Lord hated those who are rejected, from eternity? I know that the Bible says, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’ On the other hand, is it not so that the atoning, work of our Lord and Savior is ‘sufficient’ for all men? See Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 15, Answer 37 Canons of Dordt, II, 3; and I Tim. 2:6, where we read, ‘Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.'” 

Reply 

This is actually three questions. The first is about reprobation. The second is about the extent of the atonement. And the third is about the relation between the atonement and predestination. It is important, by the way, that we consider that last question, that is, that we see Christ’s atonement in relation to predestination. For the sake of clarity and convenience, I will deal with the first question in this issue, in order to treat the second and third questions in a later article. 

My questioner asks about eternal and sovereign reprobation. In reply, I might point to several facts. I might point out that if you believe in sovereign election, this necessarily implies—put it negatively, if you wish—that God sovereignly did not choose, or passed bythe rest. Even when you phrase this negatively, the fact remains that the latter was as eternal and sovereign as the former. I might point out, secondly, that this has always been the Reformed position, from Calvin (and Luther, by the way) through Dordrecht and down to the present. And I might point out, in the third place, that it is only recently that any Reformed denomination had the sad courage officially to abandon this position. I refer, of course, to the fact that the Gereformeerde Kerken a couple of years ago officially abandoned the position of Canons I, 6 and 15. Finally, I might point out that historically the doctrine of double predestination has usually been attacked at this point, but that it is also true historically that if you destroy the doctrine of reprobation, you necessarily do away with sovereign election. Usually, however, the latter is done by silence and by forfeit. There are many Reformed denominations today who hardly do lip-service any longer to the precious truth of election. But usually you will find that this began with a headlong rush to perform evangelism in an Arminian sense and to pervert the preaching of the gospel into a well-meant offer of salvation to all men. And to the latter, of course, the doctrine of sovereign reprobation is an insurmountable obstacle. My questioner, therefore, has hit upon a very important question. 

But my questioner himself suggests both the answer and the method of answer when he writes: “I know that the Bible says: ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.'” The right method is to turn to the Scriptures: before those Scriptures, the infallible Word of God, we must bow unconditionally. And those Scriptures furnish the answer in the passage referred to by my questioner. 

Only, let us get the entire passage before us, Romans 9:10-13: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” 

There have been many attempts to get away from the plain teaching of this passage, which quotes from bothGenesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:2-4. Some would weaken the meaning so that it reads, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I loved less.” I recall personally hearing a radio preacher play hocus-pocus until he finally said, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I loved, too.” One only has to consult the passage in Malachi to find out what kind of “love” for Esau that was. For there you find that the hatred of God against Esau reveals itself in a manifestation of wrath against the people who were the objects of God’s sovereign displeasure. They are called “the people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.” No, the text in Romans 9 can only have reference to the love and hatred of God’s sovereign and eternal good pleasure. It means: Jacob have I eternally accepted in love; Esau have I eternally rejected as the object of My sovereign hatred. 

For notice that this was said to Rebecca, according to the text, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand.” It had to be evident to Rebecca that when the children would grow up and when the elder of them would manifest himself as a fornicator, while the younger would manifest himself as a child of the promise, this was due not to any natural distinction in the two sons, but had to be attributed to the determination and realization of God’s sovereign purpose of election. What is God’s purpose? It is that which He eternally determines from before the foundation of the world according to His sovereign good pleasure. In this instance, the purposes of God concerns the realization of the promise, the bestowal of the covenant blessing. Now this purpose is realizedaccording to election. God does not purpose to bestow the blessing of the promise upon all, not even upon all the natural children of Abraham. But His purpose distinguishes and makes separation even among those natural children. Only on His elect, whom He has sovereignly known and loved from before the foundation of the world, does God purpose to bestow the covenant blessing. And the significance of that purpose of God according to election with respect to Jacob and Esau is expressed by the quotation from Malachi. (And notice, by the way, that here and throughout Romans 9 the apostle constantly confirms what he teaches by quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures!)

We will pass by, as wholly without foundation, the argument that this passage speaks of nations rather than of individuals. This is plainly not the case: the whole question in Romans 9 concerns the fact that many of the apostle’s fellow Israelites were not saved and the fact that God’s sovereign purpose according to election makes distinction between persons of the same natural origin. Nor can there be any dispute about the fact that in Genesis 25 the reference was to the two sons in Rebecca’s womb. 

Hence, we conclude that this passage teaches the doctrine of personal election and reprobation. 

But the passage undeniably teaches, too, that this personal election and reprobation are sovereign and unconditional<. My questioner writes that he has no difficulty with saying that “the Lord from eternity has loved His own.” But he asks whether we must also say “that the Lord hated those who are rejected from eternity?” 

As I suggested, it is at this point that many opponents of this doctrine (Mark you well, I do not call my questioner an opponent; he is only asking honest questions.)—many opponents try to evade the plain teaching of the Word of God. They claim that it would be arbitrary, cruel, and tyrannical on God’s part if the ultimate ground of the election of one unto life and the reprobation of another unto desolation would be the sovereign good pleasure of God. Predestination must rest, on part of God, in His foreknowledge of the character and works of man; and, on the part of man, it is based on his foreseen faith or unbelief, his foreseen works. This was—and still is—the Arminian presentation. 

And this Arminian presentation is contrary to both the context and the text. 

As far as the context is concerned, the further objections which are raised in question-form would never be raised against a doctrine of conditionalpredestination. Why would anyone raise the objection against conditional election and reprobation, “Is there then unrighteousness with God?” And why would the apostle then reply in detail, quoting the Lord’s word to Moses and the example of Pharaoh, and concluding; “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth?” And why would the objection often raised by sinful man come under consideration, “Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” And why would the apostle have to meet this objection—not by conceding that at least reprobation is on the basis of foreseen unbelief, or that reprobation is not from eternity, but by rebuking the brazen audacity of the sinner who replies against God? And why would the apostle point to the example of the potter who has power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? You see, all these are objections which are raised only against the doctrine that God sovereignly and from eternity hates the reprobate. 

And as far as the text is concerned, this is plainly taught when the apostle emphasizes that the Word of God came to Rebecca before the children were born and before they had done either good or evil. If the twins had grown up, and if then the Word of God had come to her, she might have drawn the conclusion that God distinguished between the brothers on the basis of their own works, after Esau became manifest as a fornicator and Jacob became manifest as the true child of the covenant. But this purpose is revealed to her before the children were born and before they had in any way distinguished themselves by their works. And from this it is evident that it was God’s intention to show Rebecca (and us) that His counsel of election and reprobation with regard to Jacob and Esau was independent on their works. And notice, please, that this is as true of Esau as of Jacob. If you accept this with respect to Jacob (who was not yet born and who had done neither good nor evil), you must also accept it of Esau (who was also not yet born and had done neither good nor evil). This is the plain teaching of the text. And before this Word of God you and I must bow