In the first place, we must give our attention to the proposition that election is “out of mere grace.” The term grace has several connotations in Holy Scripture, all of which are rooted in the idea of grace as an attribute of God Himself. God, as the God of all infinite perfections, is in Himself gracious, that is, beautiful, pleasant. As such, His grace means that He delights in Himself also, and is filled with favor toward Himself as the triune God. He is graciously inclined toward Himself. When, therefore, the God of all grace reveals Himself to the creature, His grace is manifest as an attitude of graciousness or pleasantness, a gracious disposition of God to His creature. And when the objects of that grace of God are in themselves .poor and damn-worthy sinners, who have forfeited every claim to the favor of God, then that grace of God is emphatically revealed as undeserved or forfeitedfavor. It is this connotation of the term grace that most generally lives in the mind and heart of the believer. Essentially, of course, it is the same as the second connotation given above. Grace is always undeserved, free, in character. It has its basis only in God. Always it is sovereign and free. But when the object of this grace is in himself a sinner, who has wholly forfeited God’s kindness and favor, and is worthy of wrath and condemnation, this freedom and sovereignty of God’s grace stands out in bold relief. It is in this sense that the Canons undoubtedly use the term grace here. And the fathers add the word “mere,” only, purely (in the Dutch, the well-known expression “louter uit genade.“) Abstractly considered, it is sufficient simply to say that God elects out of grace, as opposed to debt or obligation. To speak of an admixture of grace and works is a contradiction in terms. If anything is out of works, or according to work, it is not out of grace, or according to grace; and if it is out of grace, it cannot be out of works. You cannot say that it is partly grace and partly works. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. Actually, however, it is very important that the term mere, or only, be added in this connection, just as it is of the utmost importance that the term totalbe paired with the term depravity. And the reason is historical: just as heretics always like to mimic the language of Scripture and the language of orthodoxy, so the Arminians, especially when pressed, would freely speak of grace, while in actual fact they believed in works and taught an impossible admixture of grace and works. Confer, for example the first part of Article IV of the Remonstrance. Hence, it became necessary for our fathers especially to stress the fact that salvation is all grace, only grace, “uit loutere genade.”
Even the above expression, however, in the mind of the fathers was not sufficient. They deemed it necessary to add the expression: “according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will.” This precludes any attempt on the part of the Arminian to teach that election is out of grace, but that God shows His grace to those whom He had foreseen as believing and obeying. The expression “according to the good pleasure of his will” is a Scriptural one, as appears from the proof-texts at the end of this article. It implies that election takes place according to the delight of God. God’s good pleasure is His eternal counsel as it is the object of and has its source in His own divine delight. If you ask the question: why did God choose the elect, according to what standard, what “yard-stick?” the answer is simply: I because God pleased to choose them, delighted in those whom He chose. When, you go a step farther, and ask the question: why did God please to choose them? the answer is: Keep silence! God’s good pleasure is free, sovereign! Behind that good-pleasure of God you cannot go. Again, it is to be noticed that in a sense the term sovereign is redundant when applied to the good pleasure of God’s will. Nor do the Scriptures employ the term: they simply speak of the “good pleasure of his will.” Abstractly considered, it is not necessary to add the term sovereign, for God is the sovereign God, and it is impossible that His good pleasure would not be sovereign. Actually however, it becomes necessary, once more because of the practice of heretics to mimic the language of Scripture, to add this qualification. And then the term means that God has the basis and the reason for His good pleasure not in the objects of that good pleasure, but only in Himself. His good pleasure is absolutely independent, free: It is neither occasioned by, nor caused by, nor activated by the creature or anything in the creature. The relation is exactly the reverse: in God’s counsel the elect creature is the fruit of God’s good pleasure, not the occasion or reason for it.
But still the fathers thought it necessary more carefully to circumscribe this election, which is out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. And so they emphasize that “this elect number” is “by nature neither better nor more deserving than others.” In this light it is utterly impossible that God chose some because of a distinction between men, and the truth is emphasized that God makes the distinction Himself, and for reasons in Himself. It is at this point especially that the infralapsarian position of the Canons becomes evident once again. For from the language of this article it is clear that when the fathers speak of the fact that this elect number is neither better nor more deserving than others, they have in mind created and fallen men as they exist in the counsel of God. For this elect number are with the others “involved in one common misery.” And besides, God chose “from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction.” This of course, is not to be understood in the historical and temporal sense, for the article is not dealing with the work of God in time, but with the eternal and unchangeable purpose of God. In other words, as far as the logical order of God’s eternal decrees is concerned, this article definitely places the decree of creation and the decree of the fall before the decree of election. And thus, within the scope of the eternal decrees, God elects out of a fallen race. It is in this way that the Canons emphasize once more the absolute, sovereignty of divine election. The reasoning here is that if God elects out of the whole human race, and if all the members of that race are fallen into sin and destruction, and therefore alike involved in one common misery, then election cannot be in any way due to the fact that the elect persons are by nature better or more deserving than the reprobate.
Now it must be granted that God’s elect will certainly forever confess that it is out of mere grace that they were chosen, and that they in themselves were certainly neither better nor more deserving than the reprobate, and that therefore they have nothing to boast of in themselves over against the non-elect. But it certainly is not true that this is the special prerogative of the infralapsarian to make this confession. And it cannot at all be urged as a plausible objection against supralapsarianism that just because he views the decrees in such a way that election is logically prior to creation and the fall (God elects creabile (“treatable”) and labile (fallible) creatures, he cannot maintain the undeserving character of the elect persons, For in the first place, the question in this connection is not whether all creatures are equally involved in misery, but simply equal in their status before God, whether fallen or fallible. It is the simple equality of state and condition which determines that the reason for election cannot lie in the fact that one is more deserving than another. In the second place we must remember that essentially the fact that a man is fallen does not change the quality of God’s grace whatsoever: grace is always undeserved. But in the third place, it must be noticed that the supra view exactly puts any difference between men, as far as being more worthy and more deserving are concerned, beyond the range of possibility. For certainly creatures that are not even created cannot possess any worthiness of being elected. And so it may well be maintained that the position of the supralapsarian is if anything stronger on this point than that of the infralapsarian.
However, once more without discussing in further detail the merits of supra over against infra at this stage, it is well to remember that it was never the intention of the fathers at Dordrecht, nor the understanding of the signatories of the Canons, that the pronouncements of the Great Synod confessionally outlawed supralapsarianism, even though the Canonsare beyond question infra. In that connection I can scarcely understand, nor agree with Ds. T. Bos in his “De Dordtsche Leerregelen,” page 34, 35, who seems to insist that infralapsarianism is binding in the Reformed churches. He writes as follows: “Hierin lag reeds gendegzaam opgesloten, dat de voorwerpen der verkiezing als niet zalig als onzalig gedacht werden, want wie zalig is behoeft niet tot de zaligheid uitverkoren te worden. Maar hierin ligt dan ook reeds duidelijk opgesloten, dat de verkiezing niet geschied is met het oog op menschen, die nog geschapen moesten worden, en gedacht werden als te kunnen vallen, maar met het oog op menschen, die gedacht werden, reeds geschapen te zijn en gevallen ook. Heel deze paragraaf, gelijk ook onze Belijdenis, volgt de Infralapsarische voorstelling, gelijk uit het vervolg nog duidelijker zal blijken, en het is plichtmatig, als Gereformeerden, die voorstelling in prediking en onderwijs te volgen, gelijk dan ook onze Generale Synode te Utrecht in hare conclusien op de leergeschillen uitgesproken heeft.” If it were at all true that the Synod of Dordt was convened in order to settle a controversy between supra and infra, then the last sentence of the above quotation would be true, and it would be obligatory to maintain strictly the infra view. However, such was not the case. Supra and infra were united against a common foe, Arminianism; and together they maintained positively the absolute sovereignty of divine predestination. It is only in this light that you can understand that more than one supralapsarian signed the Canons as a delegate to the Synod. In fact, the fathers refused to entertain a proposal at the Synod to condemn some of the strong utterances of certain supralapsarian theologians. Hence, while I may maintain the supra view and consider it to be higher and more correct than the infra view, the infralapsarian cannot exclude me on the basis of the confessions, nor am I “obligated to bring a gravamen against the Canons. Nor is it either advisable or obligatory for the churches at this stage of affairs to attempt to resolve the question. Freedom must be allowed with respect to this question within the scope of the Reformed confessions. About this, when the Canons are viewed historically, there can be no question.