Presbyterian Laymen On Predestination

Another copy of the paper of Presbyterian Laymenwas published and sent to me. 

It contains especially three items: Divorce and Marriage, Predestination, and The Directory of Worship. 

We are especially interested in the question of predestination. 

The matter of divorce and marriage is, of course, also important. But, in the first place, it seems that the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church already made a decision on this matter and I do not have a copy of that decision so that it is impossible for me to discuss it. And, in the second place, I do not agree with the Westminster Confession on this matter. This Confession states the following: 

“Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.” Chapter XXIV, 5.

With the last part of this article of the Westminster Confession I do not agree. It is true that, in the case of adultery after marriage, the innocent party may sue for a divorce, although this is not necessary. But if that innocent party obtains a legal divorce, he or she may not remarry. This, to my mind, the Lord teaches rather clearly in Matt. 19:9. No one may marry the innocent party.

But let this be. I am rather interested in the question of predestination. About this doctrine the Presbyterian Laymen writes: 

“At the present time a committee of our General Assembly is studying Chapter III of the Confession with a likelihood of suggesting a change in that chapter’s doctrine of predestination and, in particular, with the aspect of that Biblical doctrine of the election of some to salvation and thereby determined to pass others by . . .” 

And further: 

“We confess that we do not necessarily like the doctrine of predestination [why not? I certainly do. H.H.] and that we certainly do not fully understand it, but the doctrine of the election of some and the passing over of others is surely taught in the Word of God. The proof-texts are sufficiently, clear and substantial. As we read the paragraphs of the Confession dealing with these subjects, we are impressed with the care and clarity with which the authors of the Confession framed these doctrines. They teach what the Bible teaches in Biblical proportions, and that is absolutely what a Confession of Faith should do! We frankly question whether this matter can be stated better than it is already done in the Westminster Confession as it now stands. We would oppose therefore any change that would in any way make this matter less clear or less Biblical.” 

The paper further states that as early as 1938-39 a majority of the presbyteries wanted to change the Confession with regard to the doctrine of predestination. At that time, however, the General Assembly did not adopt an overture on the matter because it failed to get the required three-fourths’ majority. 

But in 1958, twenty years later, therefore, the General Assembly considered another overture from one of the presbyteries proposing to delete from Chapter III of the Westminster Confession articles or paragraphs 3, 4 and 7. These articles read as follows:

“3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained unto everlasting death.

“4. These men and angels, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished. 

“7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by and ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” 

These are the articles to which the overture mentioned above raised objections and it proposed to be deleted from the Confession. 

We may notice that these articles definitely mention the truth of reprobation. The other articles mention election but not reprobation, even though article 6 presupposes and negatively mentions it. Article 5 reads: 

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes, moving him thereunto: and all to the praise of his glorious grace.” 

In this article reprobation is not mentioned as it was in the articles to which the overture raised objections. 

Nor is it definitely mentioned in Art. 6, although, as I said, it rather strongly suggests and presupposes it. I quote it here: 

“As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and. kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”

The last part of this article certainly presupposes reprobation but does not speak of it positively and directly, while the articles to which objections are raised speak of being “foreordained to everlasting death”; and “to ordain them to dishonor and wrath” art. 3, 7. And art. 4 states that their number, i.e., of the elect and reprobate, is so definitely fixed by the decree of predestination that it can neither be increased nor diminished. 

It would appear, therefore, that the objections of the overture are especially directed against those parts of the Confession that speak of reprobation. 

And this I fail to understand. 

How is it possible to believe in election without, at the same time; believing in reprobation? 

Of course, if one holds the Arminian view, this might be possible. The Arminian view is that election has its ground in foreseen faith and, therefore, reprobation is based on foreseen unbelief. The Arminians do not believe in sovereign election and reprobation. And, therefore, the objectors to chapter III of the Westminster Confession, according to the overture mentioned above, might probably object to the language in articles 3, 4, and 7 which speak of being “foreordained to everlasting death” and of being ordained to “dishonor and wrath.” They might prefer the Arminian conception of reprobation.

But if this were the case, they must necessarily also adopt the Arminian view of election. Then they must object, not only to III, 3, 4, and 7, but also to the rest of the chapter. For, articles 5 and 4 of chapter III speak in rather strong and definite language of the doctrine of election as absolutely sovereign. Thus in art. 5 it confesses that God has chosen the elect “according to his eternal and immutable purpose,” that He has chosen them to everlasting glory “out of his mere free grace, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes, moving him thereunto.” And in art. 6 of the same chapter the Westminster confesses that the elect are redeemed, effectually called, etc. and then closes the article by saying: “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” 

Now, then, what about “the rest”? Let us say that God “passed them by,” as also our Canons of Dordrecht express it, and as in one place (art. 7) the Westminster has it too. Does this make any difference? Is it not true that God sovereignly passed them by? Does it not remain true that God, in His sovereign good pleasure, wants to save the elect only and that, in the same sovereign good pleasure, does not want to save the reprobate? 

Hence, I maintain that you cannot possibly believe in sovereign election without, at the same time, believing in equally sovereign reprobation. And the objectors to articles 3, 4, and 7, must raise objections to the whole of chapter III. 

But let me quote once more from the Presbyterian Laymen: “The Assembly said ‘no’ to the overture [i.e., to the overture mentioned before in this editorial, H.H.], but the answer was no indication that the Church still stood by the doctrine that her Confession teaches. In 1958 there were hardly any voices raised to advocate the Confession’s full teaching on predestination. Many speakers at the Assembly admitted that they no longer believed or taught the doctrine, but they said they were opposed to deletion or revision on the grounds that the doctrine is so deeply embedded within and throughout the Confession as to make removal impossible by eliminating only parts of one chapter. The idea largely expressed was to retain the Confession as it is, until a thoroughgoing revision can take place or a new creed substituted for the present Confession.” 

On this I wish to make two remarks. 

In the first place, as I wrote before, there is, as is evident from the above quotation, a sad lack of discipline in the Southern Presbyterian Church. If ministers of the Word can openly, on the floor of the General Assembly, state that they no longer believe and teach the doctrine of election, there is abundant reason to apply the keys of the kingdom of heaven to them. This is also clearly expressed in the Westminster Confession. In chapter XXX, the third paragraph of that Confession we read: 

“Church censures are necessary for the reclaiming or gaining of offending brethren; for the deterring of others from the like offenses; for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump; for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel; and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.” 

The Presbyterian Laymen cannot expect purity of doctrine and the maintenance of the Westminster Confession in their Church as long as this part of that Confession is ignored. No writing of pamphlets, no matter how good and sound they may be, can take the place of Christian discipline. The marks of the Church are: the pure preaching of the Word, the proper celebration of the sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline. Without the last the former two will soon prove to be impossible. I must, therefore, advise the brethren of the Presbyterian Laymen to insist that those who openly announced on the floor of the General Assembly that they no longer believe and teach the doctrine of predestination be properly disciplined. 

In the second place, I agree with the opponents that stated that they no longer believed and taught the doctrine of predestination, when they state that “they were opposed to deletion or revision on the grounds that the doctrine is so deeply embedded within and throughout the Confession as to make removal impossible by eliminating only parts of one chapter.” This is correct, because the doctrine of predestination, election and reprobation is the very heart of the Confession and also of the Gospel. 

—H.H.