The relationship between reprobation and election is this: they are one, inseparable decree, not two, separable decrees. This is the clear teaching of the Canons of Dordt, although this is sometimes overlooked. In I, 6, the Canons state that the receiving and not receiving of faith proceeds from God’s eternal decree (not “decrees,” in the plural); according to this decree(not “these decrees”), He softens the hearts of the elect and leaves the non-elect to their own wickedness. The conclusion of this Article speaks of “the decree (not ‘decrees’) of election and reprobation.”
Article 15 of the first head of doctrine is the article in which the Canons explicitly confess reprobation. Reprobation is not presented as a second, distinct, separate decree alongside election. Rather, it is presented as part of the decree of election: “not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree.” Now, reprobation is not only a passing by—”preterition,” as Reformed theology calls it; it is also a positive determination to damn those passed by. Nevertheless, this passing by of some men in the decree of election is reprobation—those so passed by are, by virtue of this fact, set apart for destruction. Thus, the Canons teach reprobation as one decree with election, so that the denial of reprobation radically affects election, indeed destroys the Reformed doctrine of election.
“But this is merely what the Canons teach, “exclaim the enemies of reprobation,” and we are exactly criticizing the Canons. The Canons err by being logical in this matter of the relationship of election and reprobation.”
“The Canons are too logical”—this is the accusation. When this charge is leveled against the Canons, some chickens are coming home to roost in Reformed circles. For a long time, men have disparaged, and even condemned, sound, logical thinking in theology. Now, men stand up and tell us, with a straight face, that God can choose some men out of the human race, without rejecting the rest. (I do not think that my wife would appreciate a logic that would allow me to choose her as my wife out of all the women of the world, without rejecting all the others as my wife.)
The Canons are logical, as is all truth, but this is not why they teach reprobation. The Canons teach the relationship between election and reprobation, not because they desire at all cost to be logical, but because they are determined at all cost to be Biblical—Biblical about election. The Canons have read the Bible and have found there that not all, but some only are elected. It is the teaching of Scripture that election is the eternal choice of certain, definite individuals unto salvation, in distinction from other individuals who are not elected; election is the choice of some, not all. To be sure, election is, first, the election of Christ. To be sure, election is the election of Israel-Church, the Body of Christ. But these vital truths in no way derogate from, much less totally obscure, the equally vital truth that, in Christ, God chose certain, definite individuals and that the elect Church is composed of a definite, fixed number of individuals. Biblical election is personal, individual, discriminating, selective; it chooses some, and it passes others by. The very word that the Holy Spirit uses in the New Testament for election expresses this: eklegomai, ‘I choose out.’ Men may not like this; they may even think this unfair and go to work to change the doctrine. There is one thing that they may not do: they may not call their invention, “Biblical election.”
For the doctrine of election as the choosing of some in distinction from others, and the inseparable relationship of election and reprobation that follows from this, is “the express testimony of sacred Scripture,” as the Canons state in I, 15. We must be clear on this. TheCanons do not say that there is express testimony in the Bible for reprobation (although there certainly is). This is what Harry Boer makes the Canons say in his gravamen. He writes that his gravamen will show that “The ‘express testimony of sacred Scripture,’ I/15, which the Canons claim teach the doctrine of reprobation is in fact not to be found in the Scriptures.” Again, “In this gravamen the following paragraphs examine whether the data which the Canons themselves adduce as ‘the express testimony of sacred Scripture’ in support of the doctrine of reprobation do indeed carry the weight of evidence they are alleged to contain.” Having looked at a few passages, Boer declares, “This concludes the examination of ‘the express testimony of sacred Scripture’ for the doctrine of reprobation as given by the Synod of Dordt itself.” Because he has made the Canons say that there is express testimony in Scripture for reprobation, Boer thinks that his work is over when he has explained away a few texts that speak explicitly of reprobation.
But the Canons do not say this. The Canons say that it is the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree. In order to overthrow reprobation, therefore, Boer must not only explain away the texts that concentrate on reprobation, but he must also go to work on all the passages in Scripture that teach that some only, not all men, are elected. Dr. Boer has a monumental job on his hands. To do it, he will have to outlive Methuselah. When he has finished, we will have a new bible. For this testimony abounds in Scripture. It is impossible not to see it. If someone says that he cannot see it, this only proves that no one is so blind as he who will not see.
This testimony is writ large across the pages of the Old Testament. God chose Israel in distinction from all the other nations, whom He suffered to walk in their own idolatrous, unrighteous ways, until they perished. Moses proclaimed to Israel, “thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself,above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). This gospel of sovereign, discriminating grace is preached to elect Israel in the context of a promise that God will destroy the nations before Israel and a command to Israel to “smite them, and utterly destroy them” (vss. 1, 2).
In Psalm 147:19, 20, the Psalmist declares, “He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them.” This sovereignty of Jehovah is not burdensome to the Psalmist, so that he must needs lodge a gravamen against it. On the contrary, it is the cause of a hearty “Hallelujah.”
Election, as the choice of some in distinction from others who are rejected, is not only in the Old Testament, here and there; it is fundamental to the Old Testament’s message.
It is also the express testimony of the New Testament. Jesus taught, in John 10, that there are some who are His sheep, in distinction from others who are not His sheep, and that they are His sheep because His Father gave them to Him. For the sheep, He lays down His life; to the sheep, He gives faith; to the sheep, He gives eternal life.
Romans 9:10-13 teaches that God elected Jacob, rejecting his twin brother, Esau. This is an illustration of the assertion of verse 6, that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” God’s election of Abraham’s children was a choice of some in distinction from others.
This is the testimony of every passage that teaches the election of particular persons, e.g.,Ephesians 1:4: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. . . .”
The denial of reprobation attacks election, and it attacks election by denying that election is the choice of certain, definite individuals. The personal character of election is at stake. Let no pastor say, “The controversy over reprobation is no concern of mine; let the theologians debate that.” Let no believer say, “A gravamen against reprobation?; well, that’s a theological game for the clergy.” No! Emphatically, no!
The denial of reprobation ‘means that a pastor can never again say, in Christ’s Name, to any believer: “Your salvation is grounded in your personal election, and therefore your salvation is sure.” It means that never again can any Reformed believer confess with Q. 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism: there is a church chosen out of the human race to everlasting life, and “I am and for ever shall remain a living member thereof.”
This attack on personal, definite election becomes apparent also in the writings of the enemies of reprobation, although, they are at pains to obscure this, at present, by fulsome praise of election. In his influential book, Divine Election, G. C. Berkouwer never once said, much less stressed, that election is the choice of a certain number of individuals. James Daane is bolder. In his The Freedom of God, he opposes the idea that election is the choice of a certain number of individuals and remarks that election is not a matter of numbers. Over against this, we simply reply that election is a matter of numbers. It is not only a matter of numbers, but it is a matter of numbers. It is so much a matter of numbers, that the denial that election is the choice of a certain, definite, fixed number of individuals is the denial of Biblical election.
A radical difference is noticeable between these men and the Canons as regards the truth of election; over and over, the Canons teach that election is the choice of a definite number of individuals. (This indicates that adoption of a gravamen against reprobation will necessitate the revision of the entire Canons, not only two Articles. The Canons, like the seamless robe of Jesus, are of a piece. Pulling out one thread—and that, the thread of predestination—will unravel the whole.) I, 7 describes election as the choice of “a certain number of persons.” I, 10 says that God “was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons. . . .” Article I of the Rejection of Errors under the first Head teaches that God chose “certain particular persons to whom above others he in time will grant both faith in Christ and perseverance.” Article III of this section condemns the error of those who teach that God did not choose “certain persons rather than others.”
The election that remains after reprobation is denied is either universal election or the election of an indefinite group—all those who will believe and persevere in believing. This, is an election dependent on the will of man; an election that is highly uncertain; and an election that gives absolutely no comfort to any sin-stricken soul that has fled in faith to Jesus Christ.
(to be continued)