Having explained the Reformed doctrine of reprobation and having defended it against the attack on it within Reformed circles today, we are permitting ourselves to take the offensive against the enemies of reprobation. The denial of reprobation, we assert, is part of the ongoing assault upon the sovereignty of God. Among the various attacks, the denial of reprobation has this dubious distinction, that it attacks the sovereignty of God in His dearest, greatest, and most glorious work — the work of salvation.
This is evident in the gravamen of Harry Boer “against the Reformed doctrine of reprobation as taught notably in the Canons of Dort I/6 and I/15.” Fundamental to the gravamen is its insistence that the passages of Scripture adduced by the Canons in support of the doctrine of reprobation do not, in fact, teach reprobation. Boer writes: “The ‘express testimony of sacred Scripture,’ I/15, which the Canons claim teach the doctrine of reprobation is in fact not to be found in the Scriptures.” Having examined the pertinent texts, Boer concludes: “The analysis that has been made shows that the texts adduced assume throughout rather than establish an eternal decree of reprobation. They fall altogether short of proving the biblical validity of the doctrine in that they do not show: a. the existence of a divine decree; b. which has been made in eternity; c. which condemns a segment of mankind to eternal death as described; d. and which is characterized by distinctly positive as well as negative actions on God’s part.” On this ground, he calls for the doctrine of reprobation “to be exscinded from or become a non-binding part of the creeds of the Christian Reformed Church” (cf. the gravamen).
Specifically, Boer denies the validity of the Scriptural proof of the Canons in I, 6. In I,6, the Canons teach this: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree.” In support of this teaching, the Canons appeal to Acts 15:18 and Ephesians 1:11. Concerning the former passage, Boer writes: “It is patent that there is not even a remote connection between the eternal decree of reprobation and the verse adduced in its support by the authors of the Canons.” Concerning the latter, he says: “There is in it not the slightest whisper concerning, nor the remotest reference to, the dark shadows of an eternal rejection of men from the presence and the life of God. . . . The decree of reprobation is assumed (by the authors of the Canons – DE). . . .” Boer is not the first to judge the Canons mistaken in their appeal to these passages in I,6. Berkouwer has written that in I,6 of the Canons we have “an erroneous appeal to Scripture” (cf. his “Vragen Rondom Pe Belijdenis,” 1963).
Acts 15:18 reads: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” These words are part of the speech of James to the synod of apostles and elders at Jerusalem, called to consider whether it was necessary that the Gentile converts be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. After James referred to the declaration of Sir-neon, “how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name,” he quoted the prophecy of Amos, in Amos 9:11-12, that God would “build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (Acts 15:16-17). Then follows the text which the Canons quote in I,6.
How the Canons understood these words is plain. All of the works that God performs in history are known to Him from eternity. They are known to Him because He has Himself decreed them. The Divine foreknowledge is due to Divine foreordination. God’s works in time and history, therefore, are done in accordance with His eternal counsel, or foreknowledge. Since this is what the text teaches, it is clear proof of the Canons’ assertion that God’s work of giving faith to some men, in distinction from others to whom He does not give faith, proceeds from God’s eternal decree.
To this interpretation of Acts 15:18, and, therefore, to the use made of the text by the Canons in I,6, Boer objects. ‘The basis for his objection is his contention that the translation of the text by the King James Version is incorrect. There is a question about the reading of the text in the original Greek. The manuscripts differ. Where the K.J.V. has “saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God,” etc., another reading has “saith the Lord doing these things, known from eternity.” Boer prefers this latter reading. What is more, he prefers this reading as it has been translated by the American Standard Version. The A.S.V. translates, “says the Lord who has made all these things known of old.” The possibility of this translation is the fact that the word translated “doing” in the K.J.V. can also mean “making.” Adopting this translation of the text, Boer can dismiss the Canons’ use of it in I,6 with the words, “It is patent that there is not even a remote connection between the eternal decree of reprobation and the verse adduced in its support by the authors of the Canons.”
With regard to the textual question, Boer must not so facilely dismiss the reading followed by the K.J.V. This reading has good support in the manuscripts. Nor should Boer’s slur on the K.J.V. go unchallenged, when, comparing the K.J.V. with the A.S.V., he writes that the K.J.V. is a translation “based on manuscripts of admittedly inferior value.” One may read the text exactly as it is found in the K.J.V. without any embarrassment.
But let us grant that the reading preferred by the A.S.V. and by Boer is the correct one. Boer is still wrong in his charge that the text fails to prove what the Canons intend it to prove in I,6. For the translation which he gives of the reading (following the A.S.V.) is erroneous. The correct translation of the reading in question teaches the very same truth as does the reading adopted by the K.J.V.; and this is the truth that all of God’s works in time, including the gift and the withholding of faith, are ordained by His eternal counsel.
This is the reading (in English translation): “Says the Lord doing (making) these things known from eternity.” These words can be understood, and translated, in two ways, depending on whether the word following “Lord” is translated “doing” or “making.” Boer and the A.S.V. understand them in this way, that the Lord makes these things known from eternity. Since the reference is to the salvation of the Gentiles, the text is understood to teach that the Lord has made known the salvation of the Gentiles from eternity. This understanding of the text is in error; the translation of the A.S.V. is wrong. For, first, if the text is read this way, it is in conflict with the teaching of Ephesians 3. Speaking of the salvation of the Gentiles (v. 6), Paul says that “in other ages (this) was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 5). This mystery (of the salvation of the Gentiles) was “by revelation . . . made known unto me (Paul)” (v. 3). Although God prophesied of the salvation of the Gentiles in the Old Testament, e.g., in Amos 9, He first made this fully known in the New Testament, to the apostles and prophets.
Secondly, the translation of the A.S.V. and of Boer is ruled out by Amos 9:12, the Old Testament Scripture which James is quoting in Acts 15:17-18. Amos 9:12 reads, “saith the Lord that doeth this.” ‘ Amos does not speak of God’s making something known, but of His doingsomething, namely, raising up the tabernacle of David that is fallen (v. 11). This demands that, in Acts 15:17-18, we translate the word that follows “Lord” as “doing,” not as “making.” Therefore, the only possible translation of the reading adopted by the A.S.V. and by Boer in Acts 15:17-18 is this: “Saith the Lord doing these things, known from eternity.” The things which the I Lord does are known from eternity. They are known to the Lord Himself from eternity. He knows them eternally because He has ordained them in His counsel. This is exactly the sense of the reading adopted by the K.J.V., so that it makes no difference which of the two readings of Acts 15:17-18 is adopted.
Regardless of the reading one prefers, Acts 15:18 is solid proof of the doctrine of the Canons in I,6, “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree.” The text plainly establishes the general truth that the works of God in time and history are directed by His eternal plan. God does not work haphazardly. His work is not dependent upon the unforeseen and uncontrolled actions of His creatures. For this reason, God is able to foretell events far into the future, as He does in Amos 9. His works are known to Him eternally.
This teaching of Acts 15:18 is in harmony with all of Scripture. The Canons might have quoted Psalm 115:3: “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Or, they might have appealed to Isaiah 46:9-10.
Taking Acts 15:18 as a general statement of God’s eternal foreknowledge of His works, the appeal to the text by .the Canons in I,6 is fitting. Certainly, the work of giving faith to some, while withholding it from others, is a work of God. According to Acts 15:18, this work is known from eternity, or, as the Canons express it, “proceeds from God’s eternal decree.”
But Acts 15:18 is more than a general statement of God’s eternal foreordination. The text is specifically applied by James to God’s work of salvation, the very work that the Canons treat in I,6. The works referred to in Acts 15:18are God’s works of visiting the Gentiles, “to take out of them a people for his name” (v. 14), His works of building again the tabernacle of David so that “the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (vss. 16,17). The faith and salvation of the Gentiles after Pentecost is the work of God. This work as known to Him from eternity.
In the passage is also found the other element which the Canons speak of, namely, that others do not receive the gift of faith from God. Verse 14 says that God took a people for His Name “out of the Gentiles,” indicating that He does not take all the Gentiles, but leaves some in their sin and death. According to verse 17, it is the “residue,” or remnant, of men who seek the Lord, and “all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called.” God graciously has His name called upon some of the Gentiles, not upon all of them. This work of His is known to Him from eternity.
So far is it from being true that the text “adduced by the Canons in support of the doctrine is not valid, is not relevant to the matter in hand, has no bearing whatever on the teaching in question,” that it is impossible to conceive an appeal to Scripture that is more fitting or more conclusive than that which the Canons of Dordt make in I,6, in the instance of Acts 15:18.