26 December, 2016

FAQ – Predestination, Election, Reprobation, “Equal Ultimacy,” and the Free Offer of the Gospel

Q. 1. “What is the Reformed truth of Predestination?”

The Reformed truth of predestination is that God has decreed, willed, and intended that some be saved and others not be saved. God determines to save a certain, definite number of people in Christ, whose names are written in His book of life from eternity. This is the Reformed doctrine of election. At the same time, God determines not to save a certain, definite number of people, all those who are not in Christ. This is the Reformed doctrine of reprobation.

Predestination is unconditional. God determines to save this specific number of people, not because He saw ahead of time that they were going to believe or would be “save-able.” God chose His friends unconditionally. To illustrate, our choosing of friends is conditional. It must be, most often. A Christian girl or boy who wants to date must be selective and say, “I will date on one condition—that (among other things) you are a Christian.” God’s choosing of His friends was not conditional. He did not choose them because of what they were or would become. Also, God determined to pass by others in this decree of election, not because He saw that they were going to reject Him. God rejected them unconditionally.

There is so much Biblical proof for this that the difficulty is choosing the few texts that are clearest. In Ephesians 1:3-5 Paul says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will (see also Deut. 7:6; Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:11; etc.).

That predestination is unconditional is seen in a number of passages, especially Deuteronomy 7:7-8, “The Lord did not set his love upon you nor choose you [that’s electing love!], because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers ...” (If ever I loved a petitio principii [circular reasoning] it is this! The Lord loves you because He loves you!)

This comes out especially in Ephesians 1. God chose a people, not because they would be holy, but He chose them in order that they might be holy. His election brings holiness. Good works are the fruits, not the roots, of election. What standard was used by God for His election of us? “According to the holiness of the people?” “According to the faith of the people?” “According to their good works?” Never. “According to the good pleasure of his own will,” He chose a people.

That reprobation is unconditional is seen in more than one place. John 10:26 is a key text, “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” They are unbelievers because God did not choose them. I Peter 2:8 brings that out as well. Jesus Christ is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” Then it goes on, “But ye are a chosen generation ...”

A reminder is in place here that predestination, election and reprobation, is a fundamental truth of the Reformed faith, a non-negotiable of the Reformed standards, the first of the five points of Calvinism: Unconditional election (predestination).

This is confessionally Reformed.

The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 52 says that God “shall translate me and all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joys and glory.” Question 54, on the church, has: “The Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves ... a church chosen to everlasting life.” The Belgic Confession becomes more clear, especially regarding the unconditionality of election, in Article 16: “God ... delivers ... all whom he ... hath elected in Christ ... without any respect to their works ...” The Canons of Dordt I:7 claim: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby ... he hath chosen ... a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ ...” And in I:9: “This election was not founded upon foreseen faith ... or any ... good quality ... in man ...” In II:8: “This was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God ... that the ... efficacy of the ... death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith ... That is, it was the will of God that Christ ... should effectually redeem ... all those and those only who were from eternity chosen to salvation ...”

(Source: Prof. Barry Gritters, “Grace Uncommon: A Protestant Reformed Look at Common Grace”)


Q. 2. “How does the “free offer” (or “well-meant offer”) deny the Reformed truth of Predestination?”

The free offer either explicitly or implicitly denies predestination. The first point (of 1924) and the free offer teach that God’s love is for all who hear the preaching of the Gospel. But election is that the love of God in Christ is eternally directed toward some, definite, particular men, willing their salvation and effectually accomplishing it (see Deut. 7:6-8 and Rom. 8:28-39).

The free offer of the gospel (explicitly or implicitly) either makes election universal, or conditional, or both. If God wills the salvation of all men, then He must will the salvation of those whom he has not chosen. How can that be? Then God must have chosen all those to whom He offers salvation; or salvation must be conditioned by man's believing—both of which we have seen are not biblical and not confessional. How can God sincerely offer salvation to all men when He has decreed (in predestination) not to save some of them? Can He be sincere in that, His “expression of love?”

Another way, out of the horns of the “free offer’s” dilemma—besides to deny predestination—is to say that this is a contradiction in the Bible that we cannot fathom. Friends, the Bible is not contradictory. “God wills to save them; God does not will to save them”? The Bible is mysterious and unfathomable, but it is not contradictory.

Not only does the free offer undermine the truth of unconditional predestination, it undermines other of the five points of Calvinism. If God’s grace is extended in the preaching to all men, then God’s grace is not irresistible, as all Calvinists and Reformed teach, but resistible, as the Arminian teaches, for not all are saved by it. If God’s grace in the preaching is for all, from where did this grace come? (And the grace in the preaching is certainly not common, but a saving, special grace.) All grace is from the cross of Christ. But if this grace in the “offer” came from the cross of Christ, then the atonement is not limited, but universal. Or, if God offers salvation to all men in the preaching, His offer is not sincere, since His Son did not die for all men. And if God’s desire in the preaching is to save all, then our Almighty, sovereign God is frustrated in His desires.

(Source: Prof. Barry Gritters, “Grace Uncommon: A Protestant Reformed Look at Common Grace”)


Q. 3. “What is your response to the free offer position?”

In our defence of our denial of the free offer, we ask a question.

In the view of the free offer, why are some saved in the preaching and others not? The answer cannot be the grace of God, because the grace of God comes to all in the preaching. The answer cannot be the will of God in the preaching, because the will of God is to save all alike. There are two alternatives: Either it is due to the free will of the sinner (clearly Arminian) or it is a paradox. But the Bible is not contradictory, flatly contradictory.

There is a defence of the free offer in a number of texts that supposedly refer to God’s desire and will to save all men. But the Reformed man must be careful in his interpretation of them. The Arminians at Dordt had a basketful of proof texts. It is striking that most of the texts appealed to in support of the free offer of the gospel are the same texts used by the Arminians at Dordt. The Reformed believer will consider seriously the interpretation of these texts by John Owen, Francis Turretin and John Calvin, before he says that the interpretation which denies the “free offer” is a ruthless, arbitrary distortion of the texts. Our defence is that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that one text does not contradict another. This is a fundamental principle of Reformed hermeneutics.

The testimony of the Canons, the expression of the faith of every Reformed believer, speaks loudly and clearly on the question of the will of God to save: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God ... that the ... efficacy of the ... death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of ... faith ...” (II:8; emphasis mine; BG).

(Source: Prof. Barry Gritters, “Grace Uncommon: A Protestant Reformed Look at Common Grace”)


Q. 4. “In your denial of the ‘free offer’ (or ‘well-meant offer’) does this mean that the preacher must not preach to all promiscuously? Does it mean that he does not call all men to repent and believe? Does it mean that God does not promise salvation to all who will believe?”

[Our] denial of the free offer does not mean that the preacher must not preach to all promiscuously. He must! It does not mean that he does not call all men to repent and believe. He does! It does not imply that God does not promise salvation to all who will believe. God most certainly does!

[Our] denial of the free offer means this: that we deny that there is grace in the preaching to all men, that we deny that the preaching expresses God’s desire and purpose and intent to save all men. He most certainly does not. Else they would be saved, because He is a sovereign, powerful God.


Q. 5. “How do you define election?”

“Election is God’s eternal, sovereign, and gracious good-pleasure to save to eternal glory some men through the means of faith in Christ.” (Prof. Barry Gritters, The Standard Bearer, vol. 77, no. 5 [Dec 1, 2000])

“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault … a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ …” (Canons of Dordt, I:6)

“Election is the eternal and sovereign decree of God to lead the church as the body of Christ, with all its individual members, each in his own position, to eternal salvation and glory.” (Herman Hoeksema, “Reformed Dogmatics,” vol. 1, p. 231)

“[Election] is that part of God’s counsel in which He, from before the foundation of the world, has determined which individuals will have a glorious place in the final unity of all things. Election may be defined as God’s appointment of individuals to the glory of the new and everlasting creation. Election is indeed discriminating. It implies that God has chosen some in distinction from others. Nevertheless it is chiefly predestination. And, therefore, election in this connection is to be defined as that decree of God by which He sovereignly and freely, out of pure grace, without respect to merits, chose to give some a place with Christ in eternal glory … The primary purpose is the glorification of God. The motive is deepest love. He desired to glorify His children with a glory which they could never have attained in the first Adam … Moreover, election is personal. God has known His own by name from eternity. But election is to be thought of organically. For, although election deals with individuals and is personal, yet it is also true that the elect form a unity in Christ, a glorious inheritance of God in which each has his own place. The elect constitute the body of Christ, in which each member is chosen to a certain personal destination, to his own place in the body.(Herman Hoeksema, “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel”)


Q. 6. “How do you define ‘reprobation’?”

“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.” (Prof. David J. Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, vol. 55, no. 2, p. 36)

“Reprobation is the eternal, sovereign, and righteous good pleasure to condemn others to eternal damnation on account of their sin, as manifestations of His justice, and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church.” (Prof. Barry Gritters, The Standard Bearer, vol 77, no. 5 [Dec 1, 2000])

“not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God … hath decreed to leave in the common misery … and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion.” (Canons of Dordt, I:15)

“the eternal and sovereign decree of God to determine some men to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction in the way of sin, as manifestations of His justice and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church” (Herman Hoeksema, “Reformed Dogmatics,” vol. 1, p. 231)


Q. 7. “Why did God reprobate? What is the purpose of reprobation?”

Why did God reprobate? You say: To the glorification of His name. Correct. We agree. God the Lord has wrought all things for His own sake, even the wicked to the day of evil. We grant that. But the question arises: Is God the Lord glorified to a greater extent by having reprobated some, rather than if He had saved all? Granted that the damnation of the reprobate glorifies Him eternally, would His honour not have been greater if He had saved all? Again you say, No, because then His righteous indignation would never have been revealed. But is that true? We agree, of course, that in the destruction of the reprobate God reveals His righteous anger and is thereby glorified. Was that anger not sufficiently revealed in the suffering of Christ?

Every time the same question confronts us: Why has God reprobated some? To find an answer to this we must place ourselves before the question: What is the relation of election to reprobation? Do these form a dualism? Then there is dualism in God also; then God is a God of highest love, and at the same time of deepest hatred. This surely is impossible. God does not desire the destruction of the reprobate in the same way in which He delights in the salvation and glory of His chosen people. Therefore we maintain that Scripture gives the following in answer to this very important question: Reprobation exists in order that election may be realized; reprobation is necessary to bring the chosen to the glory which God in His infinite love has appointed for them.

God loved His people with an infinite love. In His great love He determined to lead them to the glory He had appointed for them in Christ. If He determined to attain this greatest glory and lead the elect into it, it was necessary for Him, reverently speaking, to reprobate some. Not because all could not find a place in that glory, for then the question would arise, Why did God decree to create more people than could assume a place in the organism of the body of Christ? But because those who are presently to be damned must for a time serve the salvation of the elect, be it in an antithetical manner. In this sense, reprobation is a divine necessity. In this sense, the reprobate exist for the sake of the elect. They are in a certain sense the price, the ransom, which God pays for the higher glory of His children.

Of course, you will ask if we can prove this. We think we can. In the first place, we wish to refer you to the fact that this idea is not strange to God’s general revelation in nature and in history. You find it proved in the life of the nations and of people in particular. On many monuments erected in honour of our soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefield, you may read the inscription, “They gave their lives that we might live.” Here is a figure of election and reprobation as we are now considering it. How often it occurs that thousands lose their lives on the battlefield in order that others may live. They do not merely give their lives, but it is required of them. They were reprobated that the nation might live.

It is no different in the lives of individuals, or individual persons and animals. The mother gives life to her child, not infrequently at the expense of her own. It is virtually always true that one generation lives and dies to make room for the next. There are species of animals in which the male dies after mating. The male is cast off (reprobated) to give life to the young.

According to the Scriptures, it is no different in the plant kingdom. When a farmer sows seed in his field, he sows much more than he needs. When the seed falls into the earth and dies, there appear not only the kernels of wheat, for which the seed was planted, but also the stem, the straw, and even the chaff. Without the stem and the chaff the grain could never have germinated and ripened. The stem and the chaff serve the grain, the seed. Yet both will presently be burned by fire in order that the grain may be gathered into the barn. Here also we find election and reprobation, and in such a way that the latter serves the former, and is necessary to it.

Yet this is not all. Not only do you find a figure of this truth in the general revelation of God, but it is also literally proved in Scripture, both in various texts and in the historical accounts. The Lord declares in Isaiah 43:4 to Israel, “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” It is true that this passage refers to that which the Lord did for Israel in the past. But it is also true that this passage refers to the eternal counsel of God’s good pleasure. For indeed God has loved His people from eternity. In His counsel they are precious in His eyes. Thus the text refers to the eternal love of God. In that eternal love He has desired to glorify and magnify His people, and to lead them to the highest possible glory in His eternal inheritance. The text says that, in order to accomplish this, God has given other people in the place of His chosen people. Because He loved His people, those others had to pay for Israel’s salvation with their own lives. Israel’s history proves this time and time again. Pharaoh and his host perish. They must serve Israel temporarily, but God does not hesitate to give people for the life of His people. When Israel enters Canaan, people are again given in the place of Israel. This is effectuated by the sins of these people. They have filled the measure of iniquity at the time when Israel must enter into the rest and are destroyed to make room for Israel. So it is throughout the history of Israel. Babylon also serves a purpose, namely, to chastise Jerusalem. Yet, hereby it makes itself ripe for judgment. And when it has served to realize God’s counsel, Babylon is destroyed.

Thus it is literally presented in Proverbs 11:8: “The righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked cometh in his stead.” The idea here is that the ungodly serve to deliver the righteous out of trouble, to glorify them. And having done so they perish for their sins. Still stronger is the language of Proverbs 21:18: “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.” Here again we have the idea that God gives the wicked as a ransom, which He pays to glorify the righteous.

Naturally, this does not detract from the other truth that in reprobation God also reveals His righteousness, and is glorified in revealing His holy name. Indeed, these reprobate do not serve the salvation of the elect willingly, but as godless, and in spite of themselves. For this reason, they become guilty in serving this purpose, and are worthy of condemnation. Thus, in serving God’s purpose they become ripe for destruction. Just as chaff ripens for destruction while it serves the grain, so the godless become ripe for perdition while they serve the elect.

More evident this is in the case of our Saviour Himself. Surely for the glorification of the elect, the blood of the Saviour must flow. But if this blood is to flow, there must be a wicked and reprobate world to shed it. There must be a Judas who betrays Him; there must be a Sanhedrin that condemns Him; there must be a mighty and godless Roman power that finally brings Him to the cross. In all this, the reprobate serve for the glorification of the elect. Without that ungodly world, the cross cannot be imagined. But the situation is also thus that the world, in crucifying the Saviour, through which it serves for the glorification of the elect, becomes ripe for destruction.

As it was then, so it is now. So it will be to the end of the world. And when the end shall come, the ungodly shall be righteously condemned and damned, in sin having served God’s counsel. The elect shall be eternally glorified with the Saviour in the inheritance of the saints. Thus we conclude that in the unity of God’s plan, reprobation necessarily serves election. God’s love toward His people reigns supreme in His counsel. To reveal and to realize this love fully He brings into existence people who must finally be damned. Reprobation is the necessary antithetical counterpart of election.

(Herman Hoeksema, “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel”)


Q. 8. “What does it mean to say that reprobation is unconditional?”

[Unconditional reprobation basically means that when] God reprobates, He does not do so because of the unbelief or unworthiness of those whom He rejects. Why does God reprobate this man or that man? For so it seemed good to Him. God’s eternal good pleasure. The potter has power over the clay … [They] are not rejected because they are sinners, or all sinners would be rejected. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 9. “Where do Scripture or the confessions teach that reprobation is unconditional?”

That the Reformed doctrine teaches unconditional reprobation is plain from the Canons themselves. It is also plain from the vehement objections at the Synod of Dordt. What objections would there be to a doctrine that holds that God rejected some because He foresaw that they would reject Him? What violent objections would be raised to that? The Canons and Reformed believers who hold to unconditional reprobation stand in good company with the apostle Paul who, because he also taught unconditional double predestination, heard the very same objections (Rom. 9:14ff.). When Paul (and Dordt) face the unbeliever’s challenge to the doctrine of reprobation, they appeal to God’s sovereignty, not God’s justice or righteousness. This reinforces the truth that reprobation is not conditional. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 10. “Must reprobation be preached? Can’t we just … leave it out?”

Surely reprobation must be preached. This follows from the very fact that God has revealed it, and the complete counsel of God must certainly be preached. We can understand this necessity. Without the preaching of reprobation, not only can election, its counterpart, not be preached, but neither can justice be done to God’s electing love. God’s great love must always be our chief concern. That love is manifested in this that He has given His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. However, this becomes still more glorious if we understand that to realize this love, God has given people in the stead of His people, and given the wicked as a ransom for the righteous.
Secondly, it surely must become evident in the preaching that God is sovereign, also when a part which He first formed falls away. When we see a farmer pull out the little plants which he had previously planted, it seems sad and foolish to us, until we understand that this has its purpose. So too it is with the work of God. Unless we consider the matter from God’s viewpoint, and unless we are enlightened by His wise counsel, the world’s history seems a great pity, a great misery. For, although God is the ultimate Victor and will finally glorify His people, the fact remains that many creatures which He had first formed are eternally lost through the wiles of the devil and the powers of death and sin. Not so, if we present reprobation in the proper light. Then God remains sovereign. There is then no accident. Whatever God does is well done, for He does all things in wisdom.
We must not surrender an inch of ground to the idea that God wills to save all, some of which are nevertheless lost. God’s counsel shall stand, and He shall remain sovereign—sovereign in regard to eternal life, and at the same time sovereign in regard to eternal perdition. Therefore reprobation must be preached; for God must remain sovereign even over the kingdom of darkness. Reprobation must be preached to the congregation from the viewpoint of election. The believers must understand that salvation is not of him that runneth, nor of him that willeth, but of God that sheweth mercy. According to God’s good pleasure they have received a place in the consummation of all things. This means so much more to us when we understand that God could also sovereignly have reprobated us. There can be no question that reprobation should be preached, if one wishes to divide the Word of truth properly. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel”)

Whether dispensational or Reformed, every pastor is bound by God to preach His whole counsel, which includes the doctrine of reprobation. Every Reformed pastor is worthy of deposition if he does not, since in the Formula of Subscription he has promised to the consistory and congregation that he will “diligently … teach and faithfully … defend” this doctrine. How can any man promise to “refute and contradict” errors that militate against reprobation, and “keep the church free from such errors” if he does not preach the truth of reprobation? Besides, the Canons themselves require preaching reprobation: “… the doctrine of divine election (which decree itself passes by many, BG) … is still to be published in due time and place in the church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed …(Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 10. “How should reprobation be preached? What is the place of reprobation in the preaching of the gospel?”

In the first place, it has become evident that we must not have sermonettes devoted to reprobation. This is also true of election. This is true of every aspect of the truth. He who occasionally preaches only on election, without relating it whatsoever to reprobation, is not preaching election. This is still more true of reprobation, which is the antithetical counterpart of election. It belongs with election. It can be understood only in the light of election. It must accordingly be presented in its relation to election.
It is also evident that, when preaching on election and reprobation, we must not place them dualistically over against each other. They are not on the same level. They are not corresponding halves of the same thing, but together they form a unity. Reprobation should always be presented as subordinate to election, as serving the latter according to God’s counsel. From this it follows that reprobation should not be preached with a certain delight in the doctrine. He who is forever preaching reprobation shows not only that he is harsh and cruel, but also that he has not understood the work of the Lord God. God’s love remains the central thought. He has chosen in His eternal love; and, for the sake of this love, He has also reprobated. Thus all God’s work becomes a beautiful organic unity. In this way He is and remains God, and He alone. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel”)

Scripture rarely speaks of election without showing why God elected: “that we should be holy and without blame before him …” We were “created in Christ Jesus (according to his election of us) unto good works, which God before ordained (according to His election of us) that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). According to Scripture, election must be taught in connection with God’s purposes of works (fruit) to His glory. Likewise, reprobation must not be spoken of without asking why God reprobated. At the end of Canons I:15, the Reformed faith teaches that reprobation “declares him (God) to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.” The article begins by saying that reprobation’s place is “to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election …” (Canons I:15). Beautifully, this is the Reformed guard against hyper-Calvinism: every mention of reprobation must be to magnify the unmerited grace of God shown to me.
Right here, we face the danger of “over-emphasizing the sovereignty of God.” It has been said that it is impossible to do this. No one, they say, can emphasize sufficiently the sovereignty of God. That statement, I fear, though true in itself, may well miss the point. The point is not whether God’s sovereignty is emphasized sufficiently, but whether it is so emphasized that the people in the pew do not hear anymore (if they are even mentioned) the purposes of God’s sovereignty in election and reprobation, the calling they have in response to these truths and realities. They have heard the sovereign grace of election, but not that God chose “in order that we might be holy.” If the call to a holy life is missing, the sovereignty of God has been wrongly taught. If the grace of God to us over against the dark background of reprobation as the most humbling reality is missing, the sovereignty of God has been wrongly emphasized.
For example, a minister who preaches on the commandments does grave injustice to the truth if he does not point the people of God both to the reason for our obedience and the power for our obedience in Jesus Christ. So also the minister who preaches election and reprobation does grave injustice to the truth if he only tacks on to the end as an afterthought the truth of the purposes of God in His decrees. He fails properly to balance his presentation of the truth in both cases.
… Finally, when a Reformed minister or member, with a kind of relish, looks for every opportunity to preach and mention reprobation, he betrays a spirit of hyper-Calvinism. He does not live in the spirit of Calvin who called it “that awesome (horribilis: astonishing, dreadful) decree.” He does not live with the heart of Paul who, though he did not hesitate to teach it, cried at the thought of many perishing in their unbelief according to God’s reprobation of them. But Paul’s great heaviness and continual sorrow is not this man’s. This man cannot wait to get to the coffee shop to exhibit his orthodoxy in a tenacious defense of sovereign reprobation. There he displays with his “orthodoxy” a cruel-hearted attitude towards those who perish. In a sick way he has perverted the teaching of the Reformed faith.  (Prof. Barry Gritters, “The Standard Bearer,” vol. 77, no. 6 [Dec 15, 2000], p. 140)


Q. 11. “Instead of ‘reprobate,’ why not just call them the ‘non-elect’?”

Too often the reprobate are represented as simply being the “non-elect,” “passed over,” and “left without mercy.” These descriptions are true in their context, but they are not the whole truth. There is a positive decree which has been issued, and is being executed, with regard to the reprobate, such that it is necessary to think of those whom God has not elected as “fitted to destruction,” of those who are passed over as “hated,” and of those who are left without mercy as “hardened.” And all this, as John Calvin expressed it, “as yet undefiled by any crime” [Calvin, Institutes, 3.22.11]. For reprobation, like election, is apart from works, lest God’s will be conditioned on anything in the creature. (Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”)


Q. 12. “What is equal ultimacy?”

Equal ultimacy means that as election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works so also reprobation is the fountain and cause of impiety.
I find the explanation of the refutation of the error of equal ultimacy solved in our Canons, in the Conclusion. I refer particularly (although one should read carefully the whole Conclusion) in these words: “… that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of impiety…”
The Conclusion is describing the false accusations the Arminians made of God’s sovereignty in election and reprobation. Of them the Conclusion says, “which the Reformed Churches do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul.”
By the statement on reprobation, the fathers do two things: 1) They refuse to say that reprobation is the fountain of impiety; and 2) they say that although God is the “cause” of faith and good works, he is not the cause of impiety. They said this even though there was an influential delegate in the Reformed Churches, Maccovius by name, who taught that reprobation was the cause of impiety. (For more on this, see my chapter in Portraits of Faithful Saints on Gomarus.)
The fathers did not here define how the relation between reprobation and sin must be considered, but the Canons, especially chapter 1, teach that to say reprobation is the cause of sin is wrong. Equally wrong was the notion that sin is the cause of reprobation, which is conditional reprobation–which the Arminians taught. The only phrase that could explain the relation (and beyond that they did not dare to go) was that reprobation is sovereignly accomplished “by way of sin” for which man remains responsible. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko)

[The] specific point of this slander [that the Reformed Churches allegedly teach that “in the same manner in which election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety”] and of its repudiation ought to be noted carefully. It concentrates in the words “in the same manner.”
According to this calumny, the Reformed Churches are slandered as teaching that “reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety in the same manner in which election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works.” In other words, this is the old charge that just as the Reformed view teaches that God is the Author of faith and good works, so He is the Author of unbelief and sin. The point of this repudiation of the Arminians’ calumny is precisely that while election is the sovereign cause of faith and good works, and reprobation is the sovereign cause of unbelief and impiety, they are not causes in the same manner.
Election is the cause in the sense of being the fountain of faith and good works, so that God is the Author of our salvation. Faith and all the blessings of salvation flow forth from election as water flows forth from a fountain. But reprobation, while being the cause, the sovereign cause, of unbelief and impiety, is not the fountain of these. Unbelief and impiety do not flow forth from the fountain of reprobation, and God is not the Author of unbelief and sin.
All of this is quite in harmony with the teachings of Canons I, Articles 6 and 15. That some do not receive the gift of faith indeed proceeds from God’s eternal decree. God is not the Author of their unbelief, but according to His decree He withholds from them the gift of faith. Nor according to Article 15 is God the Author of sin. In fact, this is explicitly denied in Article 15. (Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema, “The Voice of Our Fathers” [RFPA, 1980], pp. 852-853)

Position 1:
“… that God takes delight in the damnation of the non-elect as he does in the salvation of the elect; [or] that He effectuates the damnation of the reprobate as he does the salvation of the elect”
Position 2:
“… that the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate are equally certain: both are unalterably determined in God’s eternal counsel.”
… To deny [the latter] is a serious departure from the truth.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 39, no. 18 [July, 1963], p. 414)


Q. 13. “So election and reprobation are not of the same importance?

[Reprobation] is not of the same weight as election, but lesser. Election is always on the foreground; reprobation on the background. Election is the master; reprobation the servant. Election is served by reprobation as chaff serves wheat. Reprobate Pharaoh serves elect Israel. Reprobate Judas serves elect Jesus Christ and, through His crucifixion, the church. Let every believer defend the truth of reprobation for the sake of election, for the sake of Jesus Christ. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 14. “If this be the relation which God sustains to the reprobate, why does He allow them to be partakers with the elect in the generous invitation of gospel promises and in the ingenuous proclamation of gospel commands?”

This question is appropriately answered with another question. If God did not send gospel promises and commands to them, would that be proof enough that He had no desire or love for them? The report gives an uncertain sound in this regard. It sometimes asserts that God’s desire and delight is for all men to be saved, but at other times it is restricted to “those to whom the offer comes.”15 It is difficult to defend the hypothesis that God desires the salvation of those whom He deprives of the message of salvation.

But to give a positive answer to the question, it is for the elects’ sake, as Samuel Rutherford argued:

How then cometh the Gospel to them? Ans. It comes to them, 1. Not from Christ as their Surety, since he prays not for any Mediation of his own towards them: But 2. for the Elect’s sake: so Paul, Act. 13.26. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and who among you feareth God, to you ... is the word of salvation, to you and for your cause, that ye may be saved, is the Gospel, sent. 2 Corin. 4.15. For all things, our suffering, our dying, are ... for your sake. 2 Tim. 2.10. Therefore I indure all things ... for the Elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, with eternall glory. Hence, there is no salvation but that which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Author and Cause ... and meriting Procurer of eternall salvation, Hebr. 5.9.16

The gospel cannot be regarded as having any intention of benefit for the reprobate simply because the benefits it holds out to its hearers were only procured by Christ for the elect. If there were any benefit to be obtained by the reprobate, why do they not all hear the gospel? No, their hearing of the gospel must be due to the fact that those who are sent to publish it are “unacquainted with [God’s] particular purpose,”17 and cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobate. The Lord, in His providence, sends the gospel to wherever He has His elect that they might be made partakers of the benefits revealed therein; and this gospel is published indiscriminately to all, lest the restricting or limiting of it should result in any of the elect not hearing, and so, not obeying its message.

Herein something might be predicated of the genuine expression of earnest desire to be sounded forth to all men without exception: it is by the ministers of the gospel who are sent forth to preach to every creature and to beseech men to be reconciled to God. As Augustine has moved, and as John Calvin has seconded: “‘For as we know not who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved.’ So shall it come about that we try to make everyone we meet a sharer in our peace.”18


15. Writings, p. 114.

16. Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened (Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Anderson, 1655), p. 341. The breaks in the text are merely the omissions of original Greek words, and as their meanings are provided, the sense is not distorted.

17. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 300.

18. John Calvin, Institutes III. xxiii. 14; Volume 2, p. 964.

(Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review:”)


Q. 15. “You say that those who deny reprobation are not true Calvinists, but are hypo-Calvinists who fall short of Calvinism?”

Yes, as reprobation is clearly taught in Canons of Dordt, head 1, article 15:

What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election, is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal election of God; whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but leaving them in his just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.

… also, head 1, article 18:

To those who murmur at the free grace of election, and just severity of reprobation, we answer with the apostle: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Romans 9:20, and quote the language of our Savior: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?” Matthew 20:15. And therefore with holy adoration of these mysteries, we exclaim in the words of the apostle: “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. - Amen.

… and also head 1, rejection of errors, 8:

 [We reject the errors of those] who teach: That God, simply by virtue of his righteous will, did not decide either to leave anyone in the fall of Adam and in the common state of sin and condemnation, or to pass anyone by in the communication of grace which is necessary for faith and conversion. For this is firmly decreed: “He hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth,” Romans 9:18. And also this: “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” Matthew 13:11. Likewise: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight,” Matthew 11:25-26.


Q. 16. “How do we reconcile the eternal decree of election and reprobation with the idea that the reprobate have a responsibility to repent and believe, even though they cannot?”

Regarding your question, no reconciliation between reprobation and the responsibility of the totally depraved, reprobate sinner is necessary, because there is no opposition between the two truths. The inability of the sinner to believe does not relieve him of the duty to believe, or deflect from him the solemn calling of God that he believe. It is the sinner’s fault that he cannot believe. God made man upright, but man’s present condition of depravity is man’s fault. Question 9 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains the justice of God to require faith and perfect obedience of fallen, unable man:

Q. 9. Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law that which he cannot perform?

A. Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man ... deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.
As for reprobation and responsibility, the decree appointing some humans to eternal perdition includes that the condemnation of the sinner takes place in the way of his own unbelief and other sins and on account of his unbelief. Article 15 of the Reformed creed, the Canons of Dordt, confessing reprobation, states: 

[God] hath decreed [in reprobation] to leave [some] in the common misery into which they have wilfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but leaving them in His just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of His justice to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins ...

Reprobation is not God’s forcing men to sin and abide in unbelief. God is not, according to the Reformed faith, the “author of sin.” Reprobation confesses that men plunge themselves, “wilfully,” into sin and themselves willingly refuse to believe and commit all their other sins. God decrees not to save some of them, which salvation He owes no one, but graciously gives to the others. As for the ultimate explanation of God’s decree that some perish in their sins, God is sovereign as God. He may do with His creature, man, as seems good to Him. Read Romans 9 carefully, especially verses 20 onwards. The potter may do with the clay as he pleases. Man may not criticize God: “Who art thou, O man,” etc. (v. 20)?

One who questions the eternal decree of predestination, including reprobation, takes the positions that God owes salvation to all humans and that mere man may call God to account. (Prof. David J. Engelsma)


Q. 17. “What is the whole ‘infralapsarianism vs supralapsarianism’ debate about?”

The debate between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism concerns the order of the elements in God’s decree, specifically the relation between the decree of predestination and that of the fall. “Infra” (under, or after) maintains that the decree of predestination comes after the decree of the fall. “Supra” (above, or before) maintains that the decree of predestination precedes the decree of the fall … The debate between “supras” and “infras” is almost always confused by the failure to see that the matter is in the order of the decrees. True infralapsarianism does not teach that God decreed to save after the fall took place. Rather, the decree of predestination comes after the decree of the fall. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 18. “Isn’t ‘supralapsarianism’ hyper-Calvinism?”

A proper understanding of supralapsarianism is not hyper-Calvinism. If supralapsarianism were such an exaggerated form of Calvinism that perverts the faith, the supralapsarians at Dordt would have been condemned and explicitly rejected in the Canons. Instead, both at Dordt and in subsequent years, supralapsarians have been received as fellow Reformed believers. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 19. “What important aspects of biblical truth are taught in both positions (supra and infra)?”

Both views teach that reprobation is an eternal, sovereign, unconditional decree. Supralapsarianism emphasizes the biblical truth that the main purpose of God in His counsel with election and reprobation is His own glory in Jesus Christ. Who would deny this? God’s glory in Christ has the pre-eminence in God’s counsel. First is Christ, then is election and reprobation. We are chosen “in Christ.” God created all things “by Christ” and “for Christ” (Col. 1:15, 16). Infralapsarianism, on the other hand, emphasizes the biblical truth that those whom God chose and those whom God rejected appeared in the mind of God as fallen and depraved sinners. Who would deny this? He chose us in order that we might become holy (see Eph. 1:4). God did not choose good people, or even neutral people, but depraved sinners in need of redemption. (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)


Q. 20. “What hyper-Calvinistic dangers can sometimes be taken as implications of the supralapsarian position, if one is not careful?”

Let no one say, as (if I remember correctly) one poet once mocked the Reformed faith, putting in her mouth the exclamation: “Oh, glorious fall!” Let no one be so cavalier with these holy things of God that he glories in sin because “on account of sin Christ came.” (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Defending Sovereign Reprobation from Hyper-Calvinism”)

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