Article 16. Those who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Christ, efficaciously wrought in them, and do nevertheless persist in the use of the means which God hath appointed for working these graces in us, ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means, and with ardent desires, devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace. Much less cause have they to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation, who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please him only, and to, be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire; since a merciful God has promised that he will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed. But this doctrine is justly terrible to those, who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world, and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted to God.
The above translation is substantially correct.
The present article is, like Article 13, really concerned with the subject of the assurance of our election. And, like Article 12, it is of an intensely practical nature,—practical in the true sense of that term. The difference between Article 16 and Article 12 is a difference of approach and of occasion. Previously the viewpoint was that of election; here the viewpoint is that of reprobation. In Article 12 the question was: How are the elect assured of their election? In Article 16 the question is: who should rightly be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation?
In this light it will be seen also that the subject of this 16th article is indeed practical. For reprobation is indeed a terrible thing. To be destined eternally unto damnation, and to know, or to imagine, or even to consider the possibility that one is so destined unto damnation, is indeed awesome to contemplate, and terrifying for any soul. One can surely never think or speak of reprobation, whether it be the reprobation of himself or of his fellow mall, coldly. And the terror of reprobation is increased when we remember that according to the Reformed view, the view of Scripture, that reprobation is sovereign, unchangeable, inflexible. O, as long as you play around with the truth of reprobation, and present the matter as though man has a decisive vote in his own reprobation or election, and as though a man can be elect at one time and reprobate at another, or as though the reprobate can somehow be changed into elect, then, to be sure, there is nothing terrifying about reprobation. Then if only you plead long enough and persuasively enough, you can rescue any man from his reprobation. But the moment you maintain that reprobation is eternal, unchangeable, and according to the sovereign good pleasure of the most high, and that therefore no amount of preaching of the gospel, be it ever so pure and beautiful, and no amount of human persuasion, be it ever so forceful and appealing, will ever bring a single reprobate soul into everlasting glory,—then; then, I say, reprobation is indeed terrible to contemplate. As terrible to contemplate it is, as the grace of election is wonderful.
And it is such a conception of reprobation that lies at the bottom of the 16th Article of Canons I. For it was such a doctrine of reprobation that the Arminians hated and opposed. They accused the fathers of proclaiming a dreadful doctrine. They accused them of making God a terrible despot, who arbitrarily sent men to destruction, and who delighted in arbitrarily destroying men. They accused them of frightening and terrifying-the people of God and of robbing them of any comfort and hope and assurance. They did their utmost to discredit the doctrine of sovereign predestination by all manner of such appeals to sinful reason and sinful emotion. And in this 16th article the fathers give answer.
And what, in general, is their answer? It is this. No true child of God, be he ever so weak and wavering, ought to be terrified, has any need to be terrified, by the doctrine; of reprobation. But this doctrine is justly terrible (haec doctrina merito terrori est) to the ungodly. And is there anything strange in this? Would the Arminian change the very gospel itself? Is the gospel not ever thus: “There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked?” And objectively this truth is the foundation of the above answer of our fathers: while not one of the reprobate can ever be saved, not one of God’s dear elect will ever go lost. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me: and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37.
Let us notice, in the first place, that this article presupposes the preaching of reprobation. Literally the fathers here speak of “the mention of reprobation,” which perhaps may be an indication of what they conceived to be the proper place of the doctrine of reprobation in the preaching of the Word. But at least this presupposes that, to an extent at least, also the doctrine of reprobation has its proper place in the preaching of the Word. This is noteworthy, especially in our time. For if, as we wrote in connection with Article II, it is true that the doctrine of election is frequently banned from the preaching, this is much more true of the doctrine of sovereign reprobation. In fact, we may probably say that the root of this neglect of the truth of sovereign election in the preaching of the Word may be found in this, that men do not want sovereign reprobation. However this may be, we may also notice that the fathers do not expound the place of reprobation in the preaching of the Word as they did (in Article 14) with the doctrine of election. No separate article is devoted to the subject. And therefore, although the subject is in itself well worthy of discussion, we do not at this juncture devote special attention to it. We merely take cognizance of the fact that the Canons do presuppose the preaching of reprobation.
Now just as there is a reaction on the part of the hearers to the preaching of election, so there is always a reaction on the part of the hearers to the preaching of reprobation. And this article makes the following distinction among the hearers of the doctrine of reprobation: 1) Those who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Christ, efficaciously wrought in them and do nevertheless persist in the use of the means which God hath appointed for working these graces in us. These ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate. 2) Those who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please him only, and to be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire. These have “much less cause” to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation. 3) Those who, not regarding God and the Savior Jesus Christ have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh. These have good reason to be alarmed at the doctrine of reprobation, “so long as they are not seriously converted to God.”
A few general remarks may be made concerning this three-fold distinction. Notice, first of all, concerning the two classes mentioned above, that the presupposition is that there are times when they are indeed alarmed at the mention of reprobation, and may even rank themselves among the reprobate. They ought not to do so, and they have not good reason to do so; but they do so nevertheless. Notice, in the second place, that about none of these classes does the article make a flat and unqualified statement. The first class is admonished diligently to persevere in the use of the means and to wait for a season of richer grace. The second class is pointed to the promise of a merciful God that He will not quench the smoking flax. And even concerning the third class the qualifying statement is added: “so long as they are not seriously converted to God.” In the third place, this classification is not exhaustive, and undoubtedly not intended to be. For example, one could properly add at least two classes: 1) Those who are assured of their election to that degree that the mention of reprobation tends for them personally to illustrate the eternal and unmerited grace of election. 2) Those who are not alarmed at the mention of reprobation because they are carnallysecure, and rashly presumptuous. The latter can, of course, not ultimately remain unalarmed.
Finally, we may remark, before we go into detail in regard to the three classes mentioned in this article, that these various reactions to the mention of reprobation are by no means to be construed as reasons to silence the doctrine of reprobation in the preaching of the Word. As we indicated above, the Arminian would draw such a conclusion. But the Reformed man would draw the very opposite conclusion, namely, that also the proper preaching of reprobation must serve as a means of grace. And if the question be asked as to the purpose of the preaching of reprobation, then we may answer in general as follows:
1) The preaching of reprobation must serve the maintenance of God’s sovereign power and authority over all things. Nothing depends upon the free will of the creature. And even the reprobate himself must be convinced under the preaching of the Word that not he, but God, is sovereign also in the ungodliness of the ungodly.
2) It must serve unto the comfort of the believers, in this way, that they must understand that also the ungodly ultimately must serve the purpose of the realization of God’s counsel.
3) It must serve the purpose of their greater humiliation and increasing thankfulness, when they behold the free and eternal grace of election next to the terrible wonder of reprobation.
4) And it must serve the purpose of the hardening of the reprobate themselves, when, beholding the wonder of divine predestination, they go on in their ungodly way, and hasten unto destruction, and thus unto the goal that was eternally and sovereignly foreordained for them.