Article 15. What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election, is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but permitting them in his just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.
The English translation of this article is inaccurate and rather weak. The first inaccuracy is found in the opening clause, which should read as follows (as the Dutch also renders it): “Moreover, the holy Scripture especially illustrates and commends to us this eternal and free grace of our election, because it further testifies that not all men are elect, but that some certain ones are not elect, or in the eternal election of God passed by.” The second inaccuracy is perhaps more serious, because it inserts the word “permitting,” which does not at all occur in the originals Latin version. Correctly translated, this part of the article reads as follows: “whom namely God out of his most free, most just, irreprehensible; and unchangeable good pleasure decreed to relinquish (the Latinrelinquere means “to leave,” but also “to abandon, to forsake”) in the common misery, into which they have by their own fault plunged themselves, and not to give them the grace of saving faith and conversion, but in their own ways, and under his just judgment having been left (abandoned, forsaken), finally not only on account of their unbelief, but also on account of all the rest of their sins, for the declaration of his own justice to damn and to punish them forever.” This later correction we make for two reasons. In the first place, we want to remove the impression that the Canonshere speak at all of a permission, or of a permissive will, of God. This is not the case. There is no word in the entire article that could be rendered “permit.” And in the second place, it may well be questioned whether the fathers had quite such a passive and weak view of the decree of reprobation as they are sometimes presented to have had. After all, both the terms “pass by” and “relinquish,” whether the latter be understood in the sense of “leave” or in the sense of “abandon, forsake,” have an active element which must not be ignored. And besides, the fathers speak here very definitely of an act of God in His unchangeable good pleasure whereby He decreed.
However, the seriousness of our first correction must also not be overlooked. First of all, there is an evident confusion of the language of the original which is plain when we compare the two versions. Our English rendering has: “. . . that not all, but some only are elected . . .” The original has: “. . . that not all men are elect, but some are not elect.” The latter is quite different. The first version says nothing about those who are not elect, while the second version says definitely that they are not elect. In the second place,—and this is more serious,—the English version says something which cannot possibly have been in the minds of the fathers. It states that “others are passed by in the eternal decree.” If we take this language at face value, it means that the eternal decree of God says nothing about the non-elect: the eternal decree simply passed them by. And then, of course, you have a contradiction in the article. For later the article definitely speaks of God’s decretive act in respect to the non-elect, and it literally mentions the decree of reprobation. But let us understand what this erroneous translation implies. It means single predestination, that is, election without reprobation, instead of double predestination, that is, election and reprobation. And not only does the article itself contradict any notion of single predestination by its later statements. But the fathers make no such statement as our English version attributes to them. For the original has: “sive in aeterna Dei electione praeteritos,” that is, “or in the eternal election of God passed by.” Also this is rendered correctly in the Dutch. And this is surely a correction that should be officially made by the various English speaking Reformed denominations.
The above remarks, in connection with the suggested corrections, we make, not in order to deny that theCanons are definitely infralapsarian in their conception of God’s decrees, and especially in their conception of reprobation. We freely grant that they art infra. And about this we will say more presently. But we want to insist that this infralapsarian conception also be correctly presented and understood, and not be so corrupted as to deny or leave the impression of denying that infralapsarianism maintains the absolute sovereignty of God both in election and reprobation. For also infralapsarianism, correctly understood, grants no quarter, and certainly no aid and comfort, to the Arminian enemy. Let us by all means understand this. It stands diametrically opposed to the Arminian presentation of reprobation,—so opposed that no Arminian would ever subscribe to Canons I, Article 15.
In order to understand the teachings of this article, and to see that they are definitely anti-Arminian, it may be well to recall the Arminian view of reprobation, first of all.
Technically the Arminian does not deny reprobation. He cannot deny the term reprobation, although he does not like to use it. And he cannot deny that the Scriptures teach reprobation, because it is too plain that they do. And so, when the Arminian comes with the lie, he does not come “with the wooden shoes on.” He must speak softly and deceitfully, must play with words, and wrest the Scriptures. Especially must he act thus when he wants to introduce his error among Reformed people. This is the policy followed already in the Articles of the Remonstrance. All mention of the terms election, reprobation, and sovereign is carefully avoided. The article speaks instead of “those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe,” and of “the incorrigible and unbelieving.” And it apparently makes a legitimate quotation of John 3:36 to support its teaching. In fact, it even makes a fine Reformed impression by speaking of God’s “eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world.” All this is carefully calculated to deceive the simple. If only the enemy had come out in the open with his iniquitous error, and had said: “God’s election is based on foreseen faith and repentance; and His reprobation is based on foreseen incorrigibility and unbelief,” then, many a soul would not have been deceived. For indeed, such is the teaching of Arminianism. And therefore, while technically the Arminian does not deny reprobation, actually and essentially he does. For he denies that both election and reprobation are sovereign, having their source only in God’s good pleasure; and he posits instead an election and reprobation based on foreseen faith and foreseen unbelief respectively. And the above policy, but also the above error, carry through in the rest of the Arminian teachings. They explain the fact that the Arminian teaches general atonement. They explain the fact that in Article 4 he teaches resistible grace. And they explain his veiled refusal to maintain the certain perseverance of the saints. The Arminian maintains that the cause of the decree of reprobation lies in man’s refusal to accept divine grace, his refusal to believe, and his unfitness for glory. God has seen beforehand that the reprobate will not accept the offer of grace, and therefore they are reprobated. Even as election is for those of whom God saw beforehand that they would believe, so reprobation is for them of whom God sees beforehand that they will not believe. The decretive power is actually removed from the hand of God and placed in the hands of men.
Now what do the Canons teach over against this?
In the very opening clause of this article, when taken in the entire context of this First Head of Doctrine, they say something about the non-elect which no Arminian would ever say, namely, that they “are passed by in God’s election.” Mark you well, it is not said that the non-elect are not concerned in God’s eternal decree, that the decree says nothing about them, does not touch them. Then there would be no reprobation at all: And if there is no reprobation, then there is no election. But the fathers state that the non-elect are passed by in God’s election. The decree of election says nothing about them. This indeed already implies sovereign reprobation. For bear in mind that when the termelection is taken in its context in the Canons, it means: 1) an election “out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will;” 2) an election unto final salvation, and to all the blessings of grace necessary to reach that final salvation; 3) an election that is the one and only decree respecting all that shall be saved; 4) an election not founded upon foreseen faith, etc., as the pre-requisite, cause or condition upon which it depended; 5) an election that cannot be interrupted, changed, recalled, or annulled. That the non-elect are passed by in God’s election, therefore, in the language of the Canons means that they are eternally, sovereignly, unchangeably, irrevocably, unconditionally passed by in the one and only decree of God both to grace and glory to salvation and the way of salvation. This already shuts the door on all Arminianism.
But there is more. God’s election is not His only decree. There is, positively speaking, also a decree of God that indeed concerns the non-elect, and that touches them in a most fearful manner. Note this: God actually and actively decrees something of the non-elect. And what are the contents of this decree, according to the fathers? The following: 1) God decreed to leave, abandon, them in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves. 2) God decreed not to give them saving faith and the grace of conversion. 3) God decreed to damn them and punish them forever. And mark well, the phrases, “not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins,” do not modify the verb “hath decreed;” but they modify the infinitives “to damn and to punish.”
This, then, is the content of the decree of reprobation.
And what, according to Article 15, are the attributes of this decree? The answer to this question settles the whole matter as far as the Arminian is concerned. For this decree of God proceeds “out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure.”