Sovereign Reprobation

It is Reformed to maintain the truth of sovereign reprobation. The man who denies reprobation not only shows himself to be outside the Reformed camp, but shows himself actually to be an enemy of the Reformed faith itself. Reformed believers confess double predestination—this is, not only God’s election of some men, but God’s reprobation of others.

Confessionally it is Reformed to maintain the truth of sovereign reprobation. After it has confessed God’s election of some men, the Westminster Confession of Faith states: “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 to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice” (Chapter III, par. 7). The Canons of Dordt, I, 6 speaks not only of God’s decree of predestination as His election of some men unto salvation, but also of His leaving “the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” According to this decree, the article goes on to state, God makes “righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin.” Especially in I, 15 the Canons of Dordt define the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. “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 perish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins.” 

Because we are concerned to be Reformed, we defend the doctrine of sovereign reprobation. We do that over against all of the attacks that are being made against this doctrine today, especially by men within Reformed churches. Our concern for maintaining the truth of reprobation is, at the same time, our concern for preserving the truth of election. Today a great attack is being made on the doctrine of reprobation. But the real issue in this battle is the truth of election itself. For a denial of sovereign reprobation necessarily involves a denial of the Reformed doctrine of election. The denial of reprobation results either in the doctrine of a universal election, the election by God of all men unto salvation; or it results in the doctrine of conditional election, election based on the faith and choice of the sinner. Neither alternative is Reformed or Biblical. Both alternatives are the overthrow of the doctrine of predestination, the very heart of the Reformed faith, the faith of the Scriptures. We maintain the doctrine of reprobation, not only because it is Reformed, not only because it is the logical and necessary consequence of the truth of particular election, but because the Scriptures teach reprobation. And the Reformed believer bows before the Scriptures. 

Reprobation is the eternal good pleasure of God’s will according to which He appoints some men to eternal damnation on account of their sin. It is God’s eternal purpose that the everlasting destiny of certain men and women will be condemnation in hell. Reprobation is one aspect, along with election, of the decree of predestination. 

The Scriptures emphasize certain characteristics of this truth of reprobation. First, reprobation is a decreeof God, a determination of God’s will. It is, therefore, an expression of the good-pleasure or counsel of God. In I Peter 2:8 the apostle speaks of the fact that God has “appointed” some men to stumble over and be offended at Jesus Christ. Jude speaks of those whom God has “ordained to this condemnation” (Jude 4). InRomans 9:11 the apostle Paul speaks of Esau’s rejection by God as “the purpose of God.” Just exactly because reprobation is the will or purpose of God, it is an unchangeable purpose. As unchangeable as God is, so unchangeable is His decree of reprobation. 

Secondly, reprobation is an eternal decree; Reprobation is not a work of God in time and history. But it is an eternal decree. In Jude 4 we read that “before of old” the reprobate were ordained to condemnation. Ephesians 1 presents God’s decree of predestination, and therefore reprobation, as “before the foundation of the world.” According to Matthew 7:23Christ the Judge will in the last day declare to those on His left hand, “I never knew you.” 

Thirdly, reprobation is a sovereign and unconditional decree. In this decree God is not dependent on those whom He reprobates. Their reprobation is not based upon their own sin, disobedience, and unbelief. God does not reject them because they first have rejected Him. God does not reprobate them because they refuse to believe. Jesus makes that clear beyond a shadow of doubt when He says to the unbelieving Jews in John 10:26: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep.” Their not being Christ’s sheep, that is, their being reprobate, was not due to their not believing. That’s exactly what Jesus does not say here. But they believe not, because they are not of Christ’s sheep. The teaching of Holy Scripture is that we all are equally involved in ruin and sin. The fact is that if reprobation depended on our sin and unbelief, we would all be reprobate. The reason for reprobation, the reason explaining why they who are reprobated should be reprobated, is a reason that lies alone in God. In reprobation God is sovereign. Certainly men go to hell for their sin. Certainly reprobation is carried out along the way of sin. But sin itself is not the cause for reprobation. In Romans 9, Paul defends the sovereignty of God in reprobation. Why does God reprobate? His answer in verse 19 is that “whom He will He hardeneth.” And in verse 21 he adds that the potter, God, has the power over the clay to make a vessel unto dishonor. 

In the fourth place, reprobation is a particular decree. It is the decree of God to reject certain definite persons. In Romans 9 the apostle Paul mentions two particular reprobate persons, Esau and Pharaoh. In Jude 4, Jude speaks of “certain men” before of old ordained unto condemnation. Reprobation is no vague, general decree. As definite and particular as election is, so definite and particular is God’s decree of reprobation.

Fifthly, according to His eternal decree of reprobation God determines that the end of those who are reprobated is condemnation in hell. Reprobation is a part of predestination, God’s decree which deals with men’s final destinies. Reprobation is not simply God’s determination to send some temporal judgments on wicked men. But it is the determination by God to consign men to the greatest judgment, suffering everlastingly in hell. In Jude 4 Scripture teaches that certain men are ordained by God to “condemnation.” II Peter 2:12 speaks of God’s making the reprobate in order that they “be taken and destroyed.” Solomon in Proverbs 16:4 speaks of God’s making the wicked “for the day of evil.” 

Finally, we ought to note that reprobation is just. Reprobation demonstrates the justice of God. The Canons of Dordt affirm in I, 1 that God would have done no injustice by leaving all men to perish in their sin. Certainly, then, God does no injustice when He actually does leave some men so to perish in their sin. The justice of God in reprobation can never be questioned if we recognize the truth set down by the apostle in Romans 9, that God has the right to do with His creatures as pleases Him. “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). 

It’s important that we understand the relationship between election and reprobation. We must not have the idea that these are two equal and parallel decrees of God. Often the enemies of the doctrine of reprobation have charged the defenders of reprobation with maintaining the “equal ultimacy” of reprobation and election. Though it is Reformed to maintain, even to maintain vigorously, the truth of reprobation, it is not Reformed or Biblical to maintain that reprobation stands on a par with election in the eternal counsel of God. In a little booklet entitled De Plaats der Verwerping in de Verkondiging des Evangelies (The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel), published in 1927, Rev. Herman Hoeksema wrote (my translation, R.C.): “They (i.e., reprobation and election) are not two exact halves of the same matter, but they together form one whole. And always reprobation ought to be presented as subordinate to election, as it deserves according to God’s counsel,” (p. 23). This relationship between election and reprobation is important. Reprobation is not equal to, but subordinate to and serves the purpose of God in election. The apostle makes this relationship plain in the great chapter on election and reprobation, Romans 9. He says in Romans 9:12 that the reprobate Esau “shall serve” the elect Jacob. God’s purpose of election, His purpose of the salvation of the church in Jesus Christ, is served by His purpose of reprobation. Reprobation is the dark background against which God carries out His decree of gracious election. The Canons of Dordt, I, 15 speak of reprobation as peculiarly tending “to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election. . . .” 

In harmony with His eternal purpose, God carries out His decree of sovereign reprobation in history. According to that decree He hides from the reprobate the things of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 11:25, 26; He hardens their hearts, Exodus 4:21; He causes them to stumble over the Word of the Gospel, I Peter 2:8; He uses the gospel to confirm them in their wickedness and unbelief, Isaiah 6:9-12; He sends them strong delusion so that they believe the lie, II Thessalonians 2:11, 12

The end of the reprobate is the punishment of hell. This is according to the sovereign decree of God. Even so, the reprobate deserve this punishment. And no reprobate person can ever blame God and God’s sovereign decree of reprobation for his being cast into hell. Also in connection with reprobation, though in a way incomprehensible to us, God’s sovereignty does not destroy ‘man’s responsibility. God carries out His decree of reprobation in such a way that the sinner’ remains responsible for his sins. Men are of old ordained to condemnation, according to Jude 4. But this in no way takes’ away from the fact that those men themselves are “ungodly men,” who themselves turn God’s grace into lasciviousness and who themselves deny the only Lord God. According to II Thessalonians 2:11, 12 God sends the reprobate strong delusion so that they believe a lie. And yet, they themselves believe the lie and believe not the truth. And though appointed by God, these same men themselves stumble over and are disobedient to the Word of God (I Pet. 2:8). For their sins the reprobate remain responsible; they deserve their condemnation in hell. 

This is the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. Because, as we have seen, this truth is clearly taught in Holy Scripture we confess and maintain it. The judgment of the Canons of Dordt over those who deny and oppose this truth is harsh, but correct. They are “men of perverse, impure and unstable minds,” I, 6. We confess this truth because in this truth the glory and justice of God are at stake. A denial of reprobation is, because it is a denial of God’s sovereignty, a dishonoring and profaning of the glory of God. We confess this truth because the comfort and assurance of God’s people is also at stake. A denial of reprobation is destructive to the comfort and assurance of God’s people. If God reprobates no one, but if God elects and loves all, how can there ever be any assurance of salvation. For plainly, though God elects all, all are not saved. And at least in very many cases, in spite of God’s election of them, men perish. How can I ever be sure that this will not ultimately be my lot also? 

Thus, we must maintain reprobation. It must be taught and preached and written about. If it glorifies God and serves the comfort and assurance of believers, there must not be silence about this doctrine. If God is not silent about reprobation, men had better not pretend to be wiser than God and promote silence in the churches over this doctrine which God so clearly reveals in His Word. Certainly the preaching and teaching of this doctrine will cultivate in elect believers the fruit of deep humility. They deserved to be reprobated. And yet it was the great good-pleasure of God to save them. Oh, how humble we ought to be! And recognizing the love and grace of God in electing and not reprobating them, the children of God are moved to unbounded thanksgiving and gratitude. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ ” (Rom. 11:33)