The Reformed Doctrine of Reprobation

The Relationship between Reprobation and Election (cont.) 

One important truth concerning the relationship of election and reprobation in the one decree of God must still be noted. Reprobation is not of equal importance with election, does not stand on one line with election. Election is central and primary, whereas reprobation is subservient and secondary. We repudiate the charge often brought against the Reformed doctrine of double predestination, that it give equal weight to election and to reprobation. Men express this charge by alleging that the defenders of double predestination hold the “equal ultimacy” of election and reprobation (which is not the same as the “equal eternality” or “equal sovereignty” of election and reprobation). 

In Scripture, election is prominent, outstandingly so. Election is on the foreground, and reprobation is the dark background that serves to make election stand out in bold relief. The all-important. truth is God’s gracious election of Jacob-Israel; wholly subservient is the just rejection of Esau. All the Reformed creeds reflect this Biblical centrality of election. 

Reprobation serves election. It illustrates and recommends to believers the pure graciousness of election. The rejection of Esau shows the sovereign grace of the choice of Jacob. The other thief on Calvary serves to outline the sovereign mercy of God in the saving of the penitent thief. The perishing of many around me according to a sovereign decree of reprobation drives home to me the utter grace of my own salvation. 

In history, the reprobate serve the elect, as the chaff serves the grain. The outstanding instance, and example, is Judas Iscariot. That devil betrayed Jesus—a deed that plunged the traitor into perdition. This took place according to the eternal ordination of God (Luke 22:21, 22Acts 1:16Acts 4:27, 28). By this, the reprobate served to bring The Elect of God to the cross, so that He might there redeem all that the Father had given Him. 

In light of this relationship of election and reprobation, as revealed in Scripture, we must defend the doctrine of reprobation against the attacks made on it today from within the Reformed camp; and the vigor of our defense must be the ardor of our love for election.

Reprobation Defended 

We consider four attacks on reprobation. The first is so hoary with’ age and has been so thoroughly discredited that one is tempted to ignore it. Yet, since it is part of the offensive against reprobation within Reformed churches, it should be noted, if ever so briefly. It is the familiar charge, so dear to Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism (after Luther!), that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation is nothing but “heathen fatalism,” or “determinism.” By this charge is meant both that reprobation makes God the Author of sin and that reprobation destroys human responsibility and activity, preaching, baptizing, praying, warning, repenting, and doing good works, because “if you are lost, you are lost.” Indeed, those who make the charge like to leave the impression with the people that reprobation teaches that one could desire salvation, but be turned away because he is a reprobate. It is the charge faced by the Canons of Dordt in the Conclusion:

. . . some . . . have violated all truth, equity, and charity, in wishing to persuade the public “that the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh. and the devil, and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all; and from which he wounds multitudes, and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than interpolated (altered—D.E.) Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes; and that, of the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation; . . . that many children of the faithful are tom, guiltless, from their mothers’ breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell; so that, neither baptism, nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism, can at all profit by them; and many other things of the same kind . . .”

The Canons repudiated this charge as a detestable error: “which the Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul.” They laid it in the grave, not merely by their disavowal, but by their thorough, careful explanation of predestination in all its connections. Now G.C. Berkouwer exhumes the old allegation: the confession that God gives faith to some and withholds faith from others according to His eternal decree “makes it impossible to distinguish predestination from fate (het noodlot);” reprobation views “God as cause” of unbelief (“Vragen Rondom De Belijdenis“). And Harry Boer, that he might come behind the calumnies of the Arminians in nothing, refers to reprobation as “so sinister and doomful a teaching,” caricaturing it as “a sovereign wrath that damns men to an existence of everlasting death without regard to any demerit on their part” (“Gravamen”). 

Against the charge of determinism, we maintain that predestination is not the fixed, blind fate of heathen philosophy that shuts men up to resignation. Rather, it is the wise, good, gracious, and righteous will of the living God. God realizes His counsel of predestination in such a way, although incomprehensible to us, that He establishes and maintains the full responsibility of man and the significance of human history. “And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!” The place and. importance of preaching, baptizing, praying, repenting, believing, using the means of grace in the Church, and doing good works are not jeopardized in the least. As regards reprobation, no one is ever refused salvation who turns to God for mercy; not even the weakest member of the congregation—the smoking flax and the bruised reed—who persists in the use of the means of grace should be alarmed at the mention of reprobation. Also, the reprobate go on in their sin, deliberately and wickedly, so that their final condemnation is strictly on the basis of their own guilt. 

We have a question for those who hurl against reprobation the charge, “determinism”: If an eternal decree of rejection is determinism, is not an eternal decree of election also determinism? And if the counsel of predestination is determinism, must not a counsel of providence, by the same token, be determinism? Is it not the ambition of those who are crying, “determinism,” that men, not God, shall control their own destiny in time and eternity? 

Another attack is the profession of reprobation, while viewing it only as God’s act in history of punishing the wicked who stubbornly refuse the call of the gospel and impenitently disobey the law. “This means that any doctrine of reprobation is illegitimate by biblical standards except that which biblical teaching sanctions: that he who rejects God, God rejects” (James Daane, The Freedom of God, p. 200). Reprobation is the judgment of God upon the wicked that is described in Romans 1. Not Romans 9, as the Reformed have always supposed, but Romans 1is the classic passage on reprobation. This is a denial of reprobation as an eternal decree. 

There certainly is a dreadful judgment of God upon the wicked in time and history, because of their unbelief and disobedience. Reformed preaching must thunder this. Nor does the doctrine of reprobation as an eternal decree in any way minimize this judgment, much less annul it; reprobation exactly declares God to be an awful avenger of sin. But this act of God in history is not reprobation. Romans 9 teaches a rejection of Esau in hatred before he was born or had done good or evil; a hardening of certain men in time and history according to a will that preceded; a raising up of Pharaoh for the purpose of showing God’s power ‘in him; and a Divine fitting of some vessels unto destruction. 

We have a question for those who make reprobation God’s rejection in time of those who reject Him: Why does not God reject us all? Are we not all alike totally depraved, incapable of believing and capable only of rejecting? On the principle, “he who rejects God, God rejects,” conclusion, are we not shut up to the terrible “therefore, God rejects all?” But Scripture reveals that some believe and are accepted by God, whereas others go on in the unbelief that is common to, human nature and are cast away. Why? Why do some believe and find. grace, whereas others do not? Scripture answers this question. Those who believe do so because they were ordained to eternal life, i.e., they were elected (Acts 13:48). Those who do not believe do not because they are not of Jesus’ sheep, i.e., they were reprobated (John 10:26). Must not the answer of those who deny reprobation as an eternal decree be that some members of the human race distinguish themselves from others in believing, in not rejecting God? Is not their answer that God is wholly-dependent on the sinner, not only in rejecting, but also in choosing? 

(to be continued)