Essential Elements of Reprobation
Reprobation is a Divine decree. It is the will of God, not an act of God in time and history. There is, of course, an act of God of punishing sinners. But this act is judgment, or condemnation, not reprobation. Reprobation is the good-pleasure of God, according to which He hides the things of salvation from certain persons (Matt. 11:25-27). The word which Jesus uses in Matthew 11:26, translated “seemed good” in our version, is a word that means determination, decision, will.’ According toRomans 9:18, reprobation is the will of God, which will of God appoints certain persons to be hardened.
Reprobation is an eternal decree. This is the force of Scripture’s teaching that this decision of God precedes, stands behind, and accounts for God’s dealings with the reprobate in history. God does not decide to reject Esau after Esau has grown up and shown himself a profane despiser of God’s covenant; but before Esau was born or had done any evil, God had a purpose to reject Esau in hatred (Rom. 9:11-13). God does not come to the decision to reject Pharaoh after Pharaoh has wickedly oppressed God’s people and stubbornly refused God’s command to let God’s people go; but God gave that king existence and set him on Egypt’s throne with the express purpose to show in him God’s power. This is an illustration of the truth that God hardens some men in time and history according to a preceding and determining will, just as He has mercy on others according to His eternal will (Rom. 9:17, 18).
As will be shown later, reprobation is one decree with election, concerning which Ephesians 1:4 says that it was “before the foundation of the world.”
Reprobation is a decree concerning certain, definite persons, who, although untreated, appear in the mind of God as concrete individuals: Esau! and Pharaoh!
It is a decree that determines with unchangeable finality that the destiny of these persons is perdition. It is sometimes argued that reprobation is merely God’s decision to deny men certain earthly privileges and benefits or, if the benefit denied is spiritual, some spiritual benefit other than salvation. The rejection of Esau, it is said, had in view only that he would not inherit the covenant, not that he would perish. The implication is that election likewise is not God’s choice of men unto salvation, but only unto service or some temporal advantage. Scripture, however, teaches that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (II Thess. 2:13).
Romans 9 makes indisputably clear that God’s reprobation of Esau and others is a rejection of them unto everlasting damnation. First, this decision is motivated by God’s hatred of Esau: “As it is written, . . . Esau have I hated” (v. 13). To translate “hated” as ‘loved less’ is sheer exegetical outrage. “Hated” means ‘hated’: to abominate someone and to will his destruction. It is the opposite of “loved” in the first part of the text. Malachi 1, the passage from which Paul quotes, bears this out. God’s hatred of Esau moves Him to destroy Esau: “. . . laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” When Edom vows to rebuild, Jehovah declares, “They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and; The people against, whom the LORD hath indignation for ever” (vss. l-5). To see the absurdity of translating “hated” as ‘loved less’ one needs only to read Malachi 1 this way: “I loved Jacob, And I loved Esau less (I loved Esau also, but not as much), and laid his mountains and his heritage waste . . . (and) I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.” In His lesser love, God utterly destroys and pours out His wrath! With love like this, what need is there of hatred?
That reprobation is ordination unto perdition is evident, secondly, in that Paul is proving that the word of God was not ineffective in the case of the many Israelites who went lost in unbelief. Certainly, in the opening verses of Romans 9, the apostle has great heaviness and continual sorrow and could wish himself accursed from Christ on account of Israelites who perish everlastingly. The concern of the apostle is not that some of his brothers according to the flesh lacked certain temporal privileges and benefits, but that they did not obtain the salvation promised in God’s, Word. It would be to no purpose, therefore, that the apostle should bring up Esau as an example of God’s deciding that some men not enjoy merely temporal privileges.
Thirdly, God’s purpose in raising up Pharaoh, namely, to show His power in Pharaoh, was a purpose that appointed the Egyptian to everlasting death. The history in Exodus shows this. Hardened by Jehovah so that God might make His Name great in delivering Israel, Pharaoh dies under the angry waves of the Red Sea and the fierce billows of the wrath of God. The will of God that ordains some unto hardening in unbelief and disobedience is a will that appoints them unto eternal death. (vss. 17, 18)
If any doubt remained, verse 22 would be conclusive. It speaks of “vessels of wrath fitted todestruction.”
It is not only Romans 9 that teaches this. I Peter 2:8teaches that God has appointed some to stumble over Christ as He is revealed in the Word—a fatal stumbling. This doctrine of reprobation, strikingly, is followed immediately by the teaching of election unto life and glory: “But ye are a chosen generation. . . .” (v. 9).
Still another essential aspect of this decree is that it is sovereignly free, or unconditional. In reprobating, God is not dependent on the unbelief, disobedience, and unworthiness of those whom He rejects. The cause of the will to reprobate is not the sinfulness of the reprobate. The answer to the question, “Why does. He reprobate?” and especially, “Why does He reprobate this one and not that one?” is: For so it seemed good unto Him, i.e., God’s good pleasure (Matt. 11:26); Because He is the Potter Who has power over the clay to make a vessel unto dishonor, i.e., God’s free, unconditioned authority (Rom. 9:21); Because this is His will (Rom. 9:18). This is true, even though one holds the view, as does the Canons, that the objects of reprobation are, in God’s counsel, fallen men, sinners, the sinful mass. They are rejected as sinners, but notbecause they are sinners. The truth of this is plain to see: If reprobation depends on the sinfulness of the reprobate, all men would be reprobated, for all are equally sinful.
When Paul confronts the challenge to his teaching that God has willed to harden some, his reply is an appeal to God’s unchallengeable sovereignty: the One Who has reprobated is God, the Potter; and the Potter has power, i.e., authority, over the clay (Rom. 9:19-21).
In accordance with this decree, God deals with the reprobate in time; the decree is efficacious. He withholds faith; hides the truth of Christ and salvation; and blinds. This is the express testimony of Scripture in Matthew 11:25, 26; Romans 9:18;Romans 11:7; and I Peter 2:8.
The purpose of God with the decree is to show in the reprobation His power and the justice of His wrath, i.e., His glory (Rom. 9:22).
But God realizes this purpose in connection with and in contrast to the gracious salvation of the elect. There is a relationship between reprobation and election.
The Relationship between Reprobation and Election
This relationship is crucial in the controversy over reprobation now going on in Reformed churches. Those bent on getting rid of reprobation deny that there is such a relationship. They insist that election and reprobation, as found in traditional Reformed theology, are two distinct, separate decrees. They claim that reprobation can be thrown out without affecting election. This is what they propose: drop reprobation, but keep election. On the first page of his gravamen against the doctrine of reprobation, addressed to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1977, Harry R. Boer states: “Excluded from the gravamen are any objections to the doctrine of election. I stand wholly committed to the scriptural teaching concerning the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.” Later, he writes: “it must be pointed out that the present gravamen has been constructed with little or no attention given to the doctrine of election. This was done of set purpose. In Reformed theology election and reprobation are the two inseparable faces of the one coin of predestination. Nevertheless, the doctrine of reprobation is not only altogether distinct from election but stands in antithesis to it.”
The all too real danger is that the churches, supposing this to be possible, fall for the proposal. Is this not attractive: Be rid of reprobation, so offensive to those outside the Reformed community and so fraught with difficulties; but retain election? Make no mistake, however, if the churches adopt the proposal, they will discover that they have lost both reprobation and election.
There is such a relationship between election and reprobation, Biblically now, that to lose reprobation is to lose election as well. This exposes the current attack on reprobation for what it really is: an assault on the Reformed doctrine of election. It is election that must go. The enemy is stabbing election through the side of reprobation. Nor is this a new tactic. This has always been the approach of Rome. This was how the enemies of election operated in Calvin’s day. This was the procedure of the Arminians at Dordt. They presented their objection against the Reformed doctrine as an objection to reprobation. When their maneuvering to avoid an examination of their teachings by the Synod failed, the Arminians demanded that the Synod begin with the doctrine of reprobation. This is exactly, how the present-day preachers of free-will attack “Calvinism,” e.g., John R. Rice, whose diatribe against sovereign grace is titled, “Predestined for Hell? No!” Now, nominally Reformed theologians do the same thing.
Calvin saw and expressed the necessary connection between election and reprobation. Not only did he write in the Institutes, “there could be no election without its opposite reprobation” (III, XXIII, 1); but he also wrote, in the Genevan Consensus of 1552 (known among us as “Calvin’s Calvinism”), “election itself unless opposed to reprobation will not stand.”
(to be continued)