Article 6. That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will,”Eph. 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.
The accepted English translation of this article is a little weak and inaccurate on three counts. The first inaccuracy appears in the very first sentence of Article 6, in the expression “receive the gift of faith.” This, is supposed to be a translation of the Latin “fide . . . donantur.” It is more accurately rendered by the Dutch, “Dat God sommigen in de tijd met het geloof begiftigt . . . .” The second error is also found in the opening sentence in which our English simply omits altogether the original Latin phrase, “in tempore,” that is, “in time.” Correctly rendered, therefore, this sentence should read as follows: “Moreover, that some are gifted with faith by God in time, and some not so gifted, proceeds from His own eternal decree.” And finally, our English does not properly render the contrast of the last sentence. The Latin, “Quod ut perversi, impuri, et parum stabiles, in suum detorquent exitum, ita sanctis et religiousis animabus ineffabile praestat solatium,” is rendered in the English: “which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.” The original presents a slightly different emphasis with its “ut . . . ita.” This is also more correctly rendered by the Dutch, “even-als . . .alzoo.” A corrected reading would then be: “Which as perverse, impure, and unstable men distort unto their own destruction, thus to holy and pious souls it affords consolation.”
Strictly speaking, this sixth article does not yet treat the subject of predestination proper, although it mentions the decree of election and reprobation, and although it has a good deal to say on the subject. It is, however, not the intention of the present article to define and to describe the decree of predestination. Sovereign election is not defined by the Canons until we read Article 7, while sovereign reprobation is not described until we reach the fifteenth article of the First Head of Doctrine. Article 6 still leads up to the subject of predestination. And it gives us the answer to the question that was raised by the previous article. There we learned that God Himself made a distinction: to some He imparts the gift of faith, while to others He does not. The question remained, therefore: how is it determined who shall receive the gift of faith, and who shall not? How does God determine this? To whom does He impart that gift of faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through Him? And to whom does He not impart it? To that question this sixth article supplies the answer. It enters into the deepest cause and source of the fact that some are gifted with faith by God, and others are not.
In general, the article teaches us that this phenomenon of some receiving the gift of faith and others not receiving it proceeds from God’s eternal decree. The eternal decree of God, therefore, is the source from which in time it comes to pass that some receive faith while others do not receive it. We may notice immediately, therefore, that this article establishes a certain definite relation between the work of God in time and His eternal decree. Already here you find, by implication at least, a denial of the Arminian view of election on the basis of foreseen faith. For it is plain from the very first sentence of Article 6 that the relationship between God’s work in time and His decree in eternity is not such that the eternal decree receives its contents from the history of time as God foresaw it. But rather is the relation thus, that history receives its contents from the eternal decree of God. The decree is first. It is eternal. It is the source. History is the revelation, the unfolding, of the contents of God’s eternal decree. History,—also the history of salvation and damnation, the history of receiving faith or not receiving this gift,—proceeds from, comes forth out of, God’s eternal decree. This counsel of God is eternal, as God is eternal. Never was the Lord God without His counsel. This does not mean that the decree of God is something outside of Himself by which He is bound. For indeed, God’s counsel is free and sovereign. His decree is the act of His own will. And while theoretically it might possibly be said that before the infinite God there existed also an infinite number of possibilities in regard to the world that was to be created, and the history of the world that was to take place, and that God sovereignly and with a free act of His will determined all things as they actually exist and develop, nevertheless we may not so conceive of things that we imagine that there was ever a period in God in which He was without His decree. For known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world. Acts 15:18. In close connection herewith, and especially if we remember that eternity must not simply be conceived of as time infinitely extended, is the fact that this decree of God may not be compared with a dead plan, a mere blueprint, such as an architect might make of a house. In the case of such a blueprint the realization of the plan is always better and more glorious than the original conception. But God’s decree is the counsel of the living and eternal Lord Himself. It is His eternal good pleasure, according to which He willed and conceived all things that are ever realized or take place in time. In that decree God has eternally all things with Himself. And He rejoices perfectly in all the works of His hands. The counsel of God is the eternal reality of all things in God’s conception. And the creatures and events of history are but the revelation in time and space of that eternal decree. And what is true of all things is true also of the phenomenon that some are gifted with faith and others are not.
Thus we can understand more clearly, in the second place, that the Canons teach us that the counsel of God’s will is the standard, the criterion, of God’s works in time. In this connection, it is evident that theCanons distinguish this standard of God’s counsel in a two-fold manner. In the first place, there is the decree of election. It is the decree of God to save and to glorify some through the means of faith. And because God works all things after the counsel of His will, Eph. 1:11, therefore in time He also bestows faith upon the elect. He does so by graciously softening the hearts of the elect,—hearts that are equally as hard as the hearts of the non-elect,—and thus inclining them to believe. It is evident too, therefore, that the Canons maintain that it is not the proclamation of the gospel that softens men’s hearts and causes men to believe. This is the work of God. And He accomplishes that work according to the standard, the criterion, of election. The fact that some are gifted with faith by God in time is simply the unfolding of what from all eternity is true and real according to God’s counsel. That some receive the gift of faith from God proceeds from His eternal decree of election.
On the other hand, there is the decree of reprobation. To employ the obviously infralapsarian language of the Canons, this decree of reprobation is the eternal determination of God to leave the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. To them, therefore, He does not impart the gift of faith. He leaves them in their own wickedness and hardness. Also they may hear the good tidings of the gospel proclaimed. And certainly, it cannot be said that preaching of the word is the cause of their hardness. Nor, however, can it be said that that preaching of the gospel is grace to the reprobate, but that some men reject God’s proffered grace. For the simple fact is that God never intended to be merciful to the reprobate. He decreed to leave the non-elect in His judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And according to the standard of that decree God works in time. And when He thus works, He does not impart the gift of faith to them. The fact that some do not receive the gift of faith in time is simply the unfolding of what from all eternity is true and real according to God’s counsel. That some are not gifted with faith in time proceeds from God’s eternal decree of reprobation.
Such is the instruction of our Canons here. This does in no wise alter the fact that, as Article 5 teaches us, the cause, in the sense of the guilt, of unbelief, as well as of all other sins, is no wise in God, but in man himself. But neither does the fact that the guilt or blame of the sin of unbelief is man’s alter the truth that the failure to be gifted by faith proceeds from God’s eternal decree. But the question that was left by Article 5 is now answered. If you ask: how is it determined who are gifted with faith, and who are not so gifted? the answer is: God Himself determines this in His eternal decree. And this decree He carries out in time.