In the eyes of Reformed Christians, the doctrine of double predestination, election and reprobation, has always been the heart of the Reformed faith and, therefore, they have boldly confessed and stoutly defended it as a most precious truth. In the eyes of the enemies of the Reformed faith, this doctrine has ever been odious—a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, with the result that they have made it the object of fiercest attack.
At the present time, predestination comes under heavy fire within the Reformed churches themselves. This is taking place in our own country, in Holland, and in many other places in the world. The form of this attack is a denial of reprobation. It is alleged that reprobation is detrimental to the Reformed faith and should, therefore, be excised from the Reformed confession. It hinders missions and casts dark shadows of doubt over the souls of God’s people. It is the reason why many preachers fail to preach election. In traditional Reformed theology, election is accompanied by reprobation. But preachers today feel an aversion to reprobation and cannot preach it. Since they regard election as inseparably connected with reprobation, they are silent on election, also. This, say the present-day foes of reprobation within the Reformed churches, is a sad state of affairs, for election should be preached. Election, they contend, is a vital Biblical truth, but reprobation is not part of the gospel. Reprobation is only a logical construction, originating in the minds of Reformed thinkers of the past.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the doctrine of reprobation is Reformed. Even the most outspoken enemies of the doctrine have to admit this. It is not so much that every Reformed and Presbyterian theologian from Calvin on has taught it, as it is that the creeds of the Reformed churches teach it. This is a problem for the opponents. They recognize that the creeds teach it. They are bound by a vow “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend” reprobation “without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by . . . public preaching or writing”; in fact, they are sworn to “refute and contradict” any teaching that opposes reprobation (Formula of Subscription).
This is the reason for the agitation today to do away with the Formula of Subscription and to undercut the binding authority of the creeds, especially the authority of the Canons of Dordt. The close relationship between the denial of reprobation and the effort to nullify the authority of the Canons is clear in an article by G. C. Berkouwer, “Vragen Rondom De Belijdenis” (“Questions Concerning The Confession”), inGereformeerd Theologisch Tijdschrift, February, 1963. Berkouwer has difficulties with (in fact, disagrees with) a certain teaching of the Canons. That teaching is eternal reprobation (“. . .men kan concreet zeggen dat zich deze strijd concen treert in de vragen van de verwerping tan eeuwigheid‘”). The teaching of the Canons in I, VI, “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree,” “makes it impossible to distinguish predestination from fate.” Berkouwer judges both of the texts which the Canons quotes in support of its teaching, Acts 15:18 and Ephesians 1:11, to be inadequate for this purpose; neither teaches what the Canons claim it does (“een onjuist Schriftberoep“).
But Berkouwer does not feel himself guilty of violating his vow of the Formula of Subscription. He does not even feel constrained to lodge a gravamen against the teaching which he opposes. For he is, not bound by this element of the Canons. It is not authoritative for him. Berkouwer distinguishes between the “central intention” of the Canons (“centrale bedoeling,” “grondmotief“) and the “framework” (“‘kader,” “structuur“] by which this “central intention” is expressed. The central intention of the Canons is unmerited election and the sovereignty of grace. This is binding. The framework is a view of the sovereignty of God as the cause of everything. To this belongs the notion of an eternal decree of reprobation. All of this is part of the “human and fallible character” of the confession. This is not binding. Opposition to reprobation motivates the attack on the confession.
We are bound to defend the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. We intend to do this, focusing on the ongoing attack on reprobation in the Reformed community.
It is wise, at the outset, to guard against certain misconceptions men might have concerning a defense of reprobation. It is a misconception to suppose that we have an interest in reprobation independently of election. We concentrate on reprobation, because it is this which is under attack today. Nevertheless, our concern for reprobation is due to our love for election and our desire that election be maintained by the Reformed Church. It will become plain that in the attack on reprobation, election is at stake.
In a brochure that he wrote in 1927, “De Plaats der Verwerping in de Verkondiging des Evangelies” (“The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel”), concerning which Berkouwer has written that he does not “know of any attempt to penetrate more deeply into the counsel of God” (Divine Election, p. 208), Herman Hoeksema warned “that we must have no isolated sermons on reprobation . . . It is the antithetical shadow-side off election. It belongs with election. It can be understood only in the light of election. It shall certainly have to be presented, therefore, always in connection with election” (p. 23).
It is also a misconception to suppose that the defenders of double predestination are hardhearted persons who take delight in always preaching reprobation. In the little work just referred to, Hoeksema went on to say: “. . . reprobation must not be preached with a certain delight (voorliefde). Whoever is always preaching on reprobation shows thereby not only that he has a hard and cruel nature, but also that he has not understood God the Lord in His works.” Paul begins the 9th chapter of the Romans with the statement that he has great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart and that he could wish himself accursed from Christ for the Israelites—about whom he will say that God hardened them and blinded them, according to His reprobation of them. In a booklet entitled, “Predestination Revealed, not Hidden nor Confused,” Hoeksema wrote: “one cannot very well speak of the subject of God’s sovereign rejection of the reprobate . . . without feeling to an extent the same heaviness, the same continual sorrow for them which the apostle here so emphatically declares to feel in his heart. No cold-blooded rejoicing in the damnation of our fellow men may characterize our contemplation of God’s sovereign dealings with the children of men” (p. 5). This is in the spirit of John Calvin’s calling reprobation the “awesome decree.”
Reformed men and Reformed churches proclaim and defend reprobation because of two spiritual, not natural, characteristics. Reformed people bow unreservedly to the authority of Scripture; and Reformed people have a zeal for the glory of God, both in His sovereignty in the saving of the elect and in His sovereignty in the damning of the reprobate.
Divine reprobation, or rejection, is the eternal decree of God which appoints certain, definite persons to everlasting damnation for their sin. It is a part of God’s predestination: He determines beforehand that, the eternal destiny of some, particular persons shall be hell.
In trying to grasp this truth, Reformed men have differed as to whether the objects of reprobation appeared in the mind of God as fallen or unfallen men. This is the debate between infralapsarianism (also known as sublapsarianism) and supralapsarianism. This debate concerns the order of the decrees in the eternal counsel of God. Infralapsarianism holds that God’s decree of predestination follows His decree of the Fall, so that the objects of election and reprobation are present in the mind of God as sinful men and women. Supralapsarianism holds that God’s decree of predestination precedes His decree of the Fall, so that the objects of election and reprobation are present in the mind of God as unfallen, but as those who were to fall into sin.
A certain confusion concerning the relationship between the infra—supra debate and the struggle now going on over the Reformed doctrine of reprobation must be cleared up. Sometimes, the enemies of reprobation present their attack on that doctrine as an attack on the supralapsarian view of reprobation. On the other hand, Reformed people have sometimes suspected infralapsarianism as a weakening of the doctrine of reprobation. Both of these notions are equally wrong. A battle is raging within Reformed churches. It is an outbreak of the war of all the ages over the faith and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. At issue is the Godhead of God and the sovereignty of His grace. The bulwark of the truth that the foes are determined to pull down is the doctrine of reprobation. The conflict is not between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism, but between those who deny reprobation and those who confess reprobation, whether in an infra or in a supra manner. All Reformed believers agree on the essentials of reprobation.
(to be continued)