Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism
We were calling attention in our preceding article to the fact that the infralapsarian, in support of his view of the truth, will call attention also to the fact that the Scriptures give us this infralapsarian conception of salvation. And we had concluded that article by calling attention to the word “election”. Besides the word “election”, we are also told that Christ came in the “fullness of time”. This expression occurs in: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law”. The “common grace” theorists would have us believe that the “fullness of time” refers to that moment of time in history when the world had been prepared for the coming of the Christ. We are told that the pagan, heathen world was groping for the light. It is true, to be sure, that they still bowed the knee before idols of various kinds; but even this worshipping of gods of wood and stone must be viewed as a seeking by the heathens of the living God. Do we not read that an altar was dedicated, in the city of Athens, to the unknown God, and does this not imply that they sought this unknown God? Hence, the heathens are pictured as seeking for the truth, that this seeking for the truth is evidenced by such so-called noble personages as Pilate, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, etc., so that the heathens were striving, yearning for the higher light and were ready to receive the gospel when Christ finally arrived. Besides, had the world not made gigantic strides in development and culture? The beautiful Greek language had been developed. Law had been developed by Rome to an amazing degree. And tremendous had been the construction of roads and highways. Hence, by “common grace” the world had actually been prepared for the gospel. Groping for the light, it had progressed so far as to stand upon the point of receiving the gospel of salvation. However, the fallacy of this error must be apparent to all. How contrary is this theory to all fact! Why is it then, that the world did not receive Him? He came unto His own and they received Him not. And neither did the heathen world accept this Savior of men. It is true that the Greek language had been developed, that Rome had attained unto an amazing efficiency in the knowledge of law, and that roads and highways had been developed. But this, we understand, had not been developed by the world because they were groping for the light. On the contrary the Lord simply used these developments by a wicked world for the realization and advance of His own Church and Kingdom. Pontius Pilate, knowing Roman law and confronted by the innocent Christ, simply revealed by his sentencing of Jesus that he loved the darkness rather than the light—his knowledge of law simply served to reveal the darkness of his heart.
The expression, “fulness of time”, refers to something else. Christ came at that moment in history when the spiritual bankruptcy of the world and of the church was fully apparent. He came at that moment when it had been fully revealed that all the blood of oxen and of goats could not redeem a single soul. He came at that moment when carnal Israel was ready to crucify the promised Messiah. He came at that moment when the world was constituted an empire so that His death could be the condemnation of the world. And, secondly, in connection with that world, two things must be true. Firstly, it must have attained unto a very high plane of development. The glimmerings of natural light must shine very brightly. The crucifixion of the Christ must not be ascribed, in any sense of the word, to ignorance, to lack of understanding. And, secondly, that world, notwithstanding all its natural light, must have descended to the depths of shame and debauchery and misery. In its forsaking of the living God it must have become perfectly plain that the natural man can only expect misery and shame, even to such an extent that mankind commits things which are unheard of even in the animal world. The “fullness of time” is therefore that moment in history when the entire church and heathen world, had attained unto complete and utter bankruptcy. Jesus comes when the darkness of sin is most complete and intense. But, is this not the infralapsarian presentation of salvation? Christ comes after the development of sin and darkness and death.
Finally, there are certain passages of Holy Writ to which I would briefly call attention in support of this infralapsarian presentation. We read in: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Notice in connection with this passage the following. We read, do we not, that the Father did “hide these things from the wise and prudent.” Is this not Infralapsarianism? Does it not teach that the Lord simply left the wicked in their common misery into which they had plunged themselves? And do we not read in this text that the Lord simply hid these things from the wise and prudent, hence, simply did not reveal these things unto them? Moreover, does not the text also teach that “even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Hence, it was the Father’s good pleasure to hide these things from the wicked. Consequently, in God’s eternal counsel He simply hid these things from the ungodly, left them in their spiritual ignorance. And in we read: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” This passage speaks for itself, does it not? Here we read literally that the Lord has chosen them out of the world. Is this not Infralapsarianism? This is exactly what they teach, namely, that the Lord elected His own out of a fallen, sinful, human race.
Besides, do not the Scriptures continually address the people of God from the aspect of their sinful and hopeless condition and their need of redeeming and saving grace? Well-known is the word of the Savior in: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is also evident in a passage such as : “For He saith to Moses I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” The text speaks of mercy and of compassion, and these virtues of the Lord presuppose misery. And is it not true that the same underlying idea of our misery and death lies at the basis of a text as : “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” And in we read: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” These passages, and they can certainly be multiplied, clearly proceed from the point of procedure that the people of God lie in the midst of misery and death. Also the last passage of 1 Peter 1:1-2 is addressed to the elect as strangers and in need of grace and peace.
However, the infralapsarians do not merely claim support for their conception from the Confessions and the Scriptures, but they also have objections which they lodge against the supralapsarian conception. In the first place, they declare that it is absurd to speak of “election” as an election of “to be created and to fall” human beings. Such creatures, they say, do not exist. How can one speak of the election of such people? And, secondly, they point to the fact that Christ is, according to the Scriptures, the Mediator and he Head of the elect. But this implies, they say, that we need Him that we are lost in ourselves and saved only through our Lord Jesus Christ. To be elected in Christ Jesus certainly must imply that God knew us as by nature lost in sin and as saved only through and in Christ.
To refute the arguments against the supralapsarian conception, we would say, in the first place, that the infralapsarian does not avoid, by means of his conception, the charge that God is the Author of sin. It is true that this constitutes one of his chiefest objections against the supralapsarian conception. Yet, he himself does not succeed in evading this charge. Fact is, the Lord could surely have prevented the fall, could He not? We read in : “And He saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.” This same incident, besides being recorded in the gospel of Luke, is also related in . And in the gospel according to Matthew Jesus tells of the man whose sheep had fallen into the pit on the sabbath day and who had rescued it on the day of the Lord. In this connection the Savior asks the wicked leaders of the Jews whether it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days or to do evil, to save life or to kill. This, to be sure, refers primarily to these wicked Jews who had congregated in the synagogue that sabbath day with murder in their hearts against the Christ and who had therefore come together to kill Jesus. However, this word of the Savior is also illustrated in the example of the man who rescues his sheep out of the pit on the day of the Lord. And notice that Christ asks whether it is lawful to do good or to do evil, to save or to kill. In other words, one does good or evil, saves or kills. Not to do good means to do evil, and not to save means to kill. Shall we also apply this to the infralapsarian conception that the Lord merely leaves the wicked in their common misery into which they had plunged themselves? Could the Lord not have prevented the sin and fall of man? Must we assume responsibility for the burning to death of a victim in a burning house when we could have delivered him out of the raging inferno? Does it satisfy us to say that the Lord simply saw the human race as fallen, permitted the sin and fall of man, whereas He could have prevented that tremendous catastrophe? It must be perfectly clear that we fail to escape the charge that the Lord is the Author of sin when we merely ascribe a certain permissiveness to the Lord, declare merely that He permitted the fall of man, and at the same time be compelled to admit that Jehovah could have prevented that calamity.
The argument which the infralapsarian draws from the fact that our Confessions are infralapsarian is surely weak. It is true that our Confessions bear this infralapsarian character. However, we may surely assert that the supralapsarian conception, although not incorporated in our Confessions, has never been condemned. And this must not be overlooked. For it surely signifies that, although our Fathers, who composed, e.g., the Canons of Dordrecht, never had the courage to declare that the supralapsarian conception was contrary to Holy Writ. Supralapsarianism, therefore, has never been officially condemned. And Gomarus, a leading exponent of the supralapsarian view, challenged the (Synod of Dordrecht to debate with him this infralapsarian-supralapsarian issue. We may, therefore, conclude that Supralapsarianism is not anti-confessional.
That the Scriptures are historically infralapsarian means little. It is true that the natural is first and then the spiritual, as also the apostle declares in . But does this necessarily mean that the natural is also first in the counsel of God? How could, in time, the spiritual precede the natural, the heavenly the earthly? The earthly and the sin and corruption and death of mankind is the foundation upon which the Lord builds His Church, the ruins upon which the Lord erects His eternal and heavenly Kingdom. Is it then, strange that, historically, the foundation is laid before the building is erected? Does not an earthy builder always proceed in this fashion? He always lays the foundation first and then proceeds to build upon that foundation the edifice. However, this does not mean that that foundation also occupies the “number one spot” in his plans. On the contrary, what is first in his plans appears last in the execution, realization of that plan. The building is conceived first and then the foundation which must support that building. But, when the builder proceeds to carry out his plan, he first lays the foundation and what is first in his plan appears last in its execution. Besides, how else could the Savior, as Savior, be revealed unto us except as upon the background of our sin and death? He is Jesus, is He not? And Jesus means: Savior. Jesus, as SAVIOR, could, therefore, never be revealed unto us except through the fall and sin of the human race. But does this necessarily imply that this order also occurred thus in the eternal thoughts of the everlasting God? Not at all.
Besides, what must one conclude from the argument that the very names of the Savior: Jesus and Christ, suggest the infralapsarian conception of things? It is said that Jesus is the Mediator and Head of the elect, that this implies that we need Him and are therefore of ourselves hopelessly lost in sin and guilt, and that, consequently, this eternal Headship of the Savior implies that the Lord knew and elected us as fallen. But, if this be true, then we must also say that, strictly speaking, Christ is dependent upon the coming of sin, the new heavens are dependent upon the collapse of the old, the coming of the Second Adam is contingent upon the failure of the first Adam. Is Christ, then, a mere after-thought in the counsel of the Lord? Would such a conception not be an impugning, an attack upon the sovereignty of the living God? But, do we not read in our Confessions that Jesus is our chief prophet, our only High Priest, and our eternal King? And to me this means, that, also from before the foundation of the world, in the eternal thoughts of the everlasting God, Zion never had another chief prophet, only High Priest, and eternal King. In the light of the truth that God is the living God, that the whole universe, in comparison with Him, is less than a particle of dust on the balances and a drop of water on the bucket, we cannot ascribe to the theory that He would be dependent upon anything, that Christ is a mere remedy for sin because the first Adam failed, that the new heavens and the new earth owe their existence in the counsel of God to the collapse of the old, or that the phenomenon of sin and death must be viewed as something which the sovereign Lord permitted to happen. We will have more to say about this very shortly. However, in connection with the argument of the infralapsarian that the eternal Headship of Christ presupposes a fallen mankind, we should constantly bear in mind that there is no temporal order in God’s decrees. In God’s counsel everything is eternal. Nothing precedes anything. Whether one is a infralapsarian or a supralapsarian, the .natural and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly, sin and grace, the fall of man (permitted by God according to the infralapsarian and sovereignly willed by the Lord according to the supralapsarian) and the salvation in Christ;—in the counsel of the Lord everything is eternal. But, although there is no temporal order in the decrees of the living God, this does not necessarily mean that there is no logical order in the eternal thoughts of the Lord. Because all things are eternal all things are not necessarily of equal importance and significance. That Christ is the eternal Head of the elect, and, as the eternal Head of the elect, must assume their guilt and stand in their guilty relation to the law is true and according to the Scriptures. That, therefore, this eternal Headship of the Christ is the ground of our justification, that is, that because He is our eternal Head, and therefore can assume our guilt and blot out all our sin and merit for us everlasting life, His eternal Headship is the eternal ground of our justification because it explains why He can suffer and die for our sins and trespasses is surely the teaching of the Word of God. But, this does not necessarily mean that therefore this eternal Headship of Christ must also presuppose a fallen mankind, that this Headship of the Savior is inconceivable without the reality of sin. Fact is, Christ will be our Head into all eternity; He will be the fullness of the Godhead everlastingly; yet, into all eternity sin will be a matter of the past, and the elect will serve the living God in heavenly perfection. In this same connection, it is not absurd to say that God has elected a “to be created and to fall” mankind. In other words, God has simply willed and sovereignly loved a people in Christ, and it has pleased Him for the sake of the greatest glory of His Name to lead that people, through sin and death and faith in Christ Jesus, into everlasting and heavenly glory. The Lord, in love to that people, eternally and sovereignly willed to save them in the way of sin and death, because that would result in the greatest glory of God’s Name, and the greatest glory of the Name of God would surely also constitute the greatest possible salvation for the elect people of the Lord.
This is the supralapsarian conception of the counsel of God. The Lord’s glorification of Himself in Christ Jesus in whom all the fullness of the Godhead would dwell bodily is the supreme purpose of Jehovah. And the Lord willed, sovereignly, that that revelation of Himself in Christ Jesus, and through Christ Jesus in all the elect, should be served or realized along the lines of election and reprobation, and in the way of sin and death and grace. The supralapsarian does not begin with a fallen mankind. He does not proceed with the sin and death of the human race. He does not acknowledge any divine permission of things. He simply proceeds from the principle that the Lord is God alone and does all things according to His sovereign good pleasure. He views his God as the supreme Lord not only of life but also of death, not only of the light but also of darkness, not only of the godly but also of the ungodly, not only of the angels but also of the devil and all his host. He excludes nothing from the sovereign counsel of the Almighty, and believes that, also everlastingly, “out of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things” and that therefore all glory belongs unto the living God, now and forever. He cannot conceive of anything in the entire universe as simply coming into being; he regards his God as the supreme Potentate of potentates, as sitting upon the throne of the entire creation; he believes that nothing happens by chance, but that all things owe their existence and development to Him who alone sitteth upon the throne. All things are means to an end, God’s end, and Jehovah performs all His good pleasure; and all things in this world are and exist exactly because of this good pleasure of the Lord. And he also believes that this is indeed the Scriptural presentation of the truth, and that the Lord has thus revealed Himself in His holy and infallible Word. But to this we will call attention in our following article.