From Wittenberg, Germany, Dr. Steven Lawson is interviewed on the subject of the Reformation:
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ documentary on the life and times of the 18th Century preacher George Whitefield.
Dr. John Macarthur presents the case for believer’s baptism while Dr. R. C. Sproul argues for the inclusion of infants in baptism. A lively and friendly debate.
Dr. James White:
Daniel Hyde writes:
Decretum horribile. That’s what John Calvin called the doctrine of reprobation (Institutes 3.23.7). It means the “awe-full decree.” We’ve seen in the previous five parts of this series that our Triune God in His amazing grace has elected or predestined some of fallen humanity to salvation. In this final post, the question we are faced with is what of the rest of humanity? Reformed theology typically confesses what is known as double predestination. The Canons of Dort (CD) define this doctrine as “the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree” (CD 1.15).
This is a very serious confession. Let me focus our hearts on the biblical teaching before addressing two practical struggles this doctrine can bring up.
Is this Doctrine Biblical?
I begin with whether this doctrine is biblical because Scripture is the foundation upon which our faith stands. This is also the reason why those who deny this doctrine deny it: they don’t think it’s in Scripture. Let me survey several biblical passages to show that it is.
First, when Jesus gave His bread of life discourse He said, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Yet, He also said to the crowds: “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6:36). Why didn’t they believe? “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Do you understand what Jesus said? To those hard-hearted people Jesus explicitly said to them that the Father gave to Christ some to be saved and not others. In other words, some were chosen while others were left in their hard-heartedness, unable to come to Christ.
Second, most likely the most famous passage is in Romans 9. There Paul made contrast between the historical figures of Jacob and Esau. Then he made the theological affirmations that God loved Jacob while Esau was hated; Jacob was chosen while Esau was not. These brothers stood as illustrative examples of what is true of all humanity.
Third, in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 Paul comforted believers living in dark times: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There are those who are comfortable in their own safety saying, “There is peace and safety” (1 Thes. 5:3), who are also described as children of the night and the darkness (1 Thes. 5:5), and who are said to be asleep in the days in which we live (1 Thes. 5:6, 7). These were destined for wrath; but we believers have not been.
Fourth, in 1 Peter 2:4 Peter said that we came to Christ, that is, we believed in Him. In contrast, he said in verse 7 that some do not believe, citing Psalm 118 that says like a stone Jesus was rejected by the builders. Verse 8 then cites Isaiah 8, declaring Jesus is a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that causes offense to them. Peter continues, “They stumble because they disobey the word”—this is the word of the gospel back in 1 Peter 1:23-25—“as they were destined to do.”
Finally, in Jude 4 we learn that false teachers were a part of the plan of God to affect the church: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation.”
So is this doctrine biblical? Yes. A simple reading of Scripture shows that not only are some chosen to salvation in God’s eternal purpose, but some are not. Those Scripture passages that teach God’s election of a particular people unto salvation also teach God’s non-election of others.
This is where a distinction is helpful to understand this. Preterition is God’s passing over some when He choose others. Condemnation is God’s actual consigning the passed over to eternal punishment. Condemnation, therefore, is subsequent to preterition. In other words, election and reprobation are not precisely parallel, as God’s positive choice in grace is what makes us elect, while His withholding of grace by passing by means that others will be left in their sins and because of that are therefore condemned by God.
Some detractors of reprobation say that it is debilitating to the Christian life. Let me address the two common pastoral issues this doctrine often creates.
1. What if this Doctrine Frightens Me?
It’s easy for some of us who are affected with the struggle of seeing life as a glass half empty to hear a doctrine like reprobation and to live in doubt, but there are different categories of people who hear this doctrine and have a difficult time with it.
First, there are believers who have a living faith in Christ, are assured in their souls, have peace of conscience, and desire to be obedient to the glory of God. Yet even these believers are not completely assured at all times. Reprobation may bring this out in their minds and hearts. The answer is making perpetual use of the means that God has appointed for working His grace in you—the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.
The second kind of believer is the one struggling with ongoing sin. Are you beset by some sin that is keeping you from a stronger relationship with Christ? You should not be afraid when you hear of reprobation because in His mercy, God has promised that He will not quench the smoking flax nor break the bruised reed (Isa. 42:3), that is, the struggling believer.
Finally, there is a category of hearer that needs to be worried when this doctrine is mentioned. It’s not believers who need to be worried but those who have wholly given themselves over to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh. If this is you, reprobation should be fearful; but its mention is also the opportunity to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
2. What if My Child Dies?
A second practical problem is how reprobation relates to infants who die? The caricature described in the Canons of Dort is that those who hold to a doctrine of reprobation believe “many children of the faithful are torn, guiltless, from their mothers’ breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell” (CD, Conclusion).
Not only was this question a huge issue in the seventeenth century when about 25% of children died in childbirth and then another 25% of those who lived died before age five, but for us, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) anywhere from 10–25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
So how does the doctrine of reprobation relate to this struggle? The Scriptures teach us as believers that our children are covenant children. The children of at least one believing parent are holy (1 Cor. 7:14) not because they are sinless but because they belong to God’s set apart people. The Lord made His covenant with Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:7). When David found out his child died, he ceased weeping and fasting and arose in confidence that while his son would not come back to him, one day David would see him (2 Sam. 12:23). Where? In the presence of God. David prayed as a covenant member that when he was in his mother’s womb it was the Lord who was forming him and who knew him (Ps. 139). Moving into the New Testament we see that nothing changes. Jesus and the apostles inherit this outlook on children and never say anything to abolish or revoke it. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). On Pentecost Peter said God’s promise was to those who believed and their children (Acts 2:39). Paul addressed children in Ephesians 6:1 as they would have been present in the covenant community when this letter was read.
Does this mean all human life that dies in its infancy is in heaven? Whereas Scripture gives us confidence about the children of believers, it is silent about the rest. Great men have personally believed that all infants dying are saved, such as C.H. Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, and B.B. Warfield. So what do we say about aborted life, miscarried life, or precious children of non-believers who die tragically before their life can even get going? We say that God is a good, gracious, and just God and that He will do what is right. We can trust Him.
In the end, what both the doctrines of election and reprobation teach us is that we have a totally sovereign God who is perfectly good. In the end, He will be glorified for His justice but especially His grace, love, and mercy.
We must see that the righteousness of Christ that is transferred to us is the righteousness He achieved by living under the Law for thirty-three years without once sinning. Jesus had to live a life of obedience before His death could mean anything. He had to acquire, if you will, merit at the bar of justice. Without His life of sinless obedience, Jesus’ atonement would have had no value at all. We need to see the crucial significance of this truth; we need to see that not only did Jesus die for us, He lived for us.
Roman Catholics call this concept a legal fiction, and they recoil from it because they believe it casts a shadow on the integrity of God by positing that God declares to be just people who are not just. In response, the Reformers conceded that this concept would be a legal fiction if imputation were fictional. In that case, the Protestant view of justification would be a lie. But the point of the Gospel is that “imputation is real—God really laid our sins on Christ and really transferred the righteousness of Christ to us. We really possess the righteousness of Jesus Christ by imputation. He is our Savior, not merely because He died, but because He lived a sinless life before He died, as only the Son of God could do.
Theologians like to employ Latin phrases, and one of my favorites is one that Martin Luther used to capture this concept. The essence of our salvation is found in this phrase: Simul Justus et pecator. The word simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneous; it means simply “at the same time.” Justus is the word for “just.” We all know what et means; we hear it in the famous words of Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare tragedy: “Et tu, Brute?” (“You, too, Brutus?”) Etmeans “also” or “and.” From the word pecator we get such English words aspeccadillo (“a little sin”) and impeccable (“without sin”); it is simply the Latin word for “sinner.” So Luther’s phrase, Simul Justus et pecator, means “At the same time just and sinner.”
This is the glory of the Protestant doctrine of justification. The person who is in Christ is at the very same instant a sinner and just. If I could be justified only by actually becoming just and having no sin in me, I would never see the kingdom of God. The point of the gospel is that the minute a person embraces Jesus Christ, all that Christ has done is applied to that person. All that He is becomes ours, including His righteousness. Luther was saying that at the very instant I believe, I am just by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It’s Christ’s righteousness that makes me just. His death has taken care of my punishment and His life has taken care of my reward. So my justice is completely tied up in Christ.
In Protestantism, we speak of this as the doctrine of justification by faith alone, for according to the New Testament, the only means by which the righteousness and the merit of Christ can come into our accounts and be applied to us is by faith. We can’t earn it. We can’t deserve it. We can’t merit it. We can only trust in it and cling to it.
One of the main points of the forthcoming book, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, is that sin and God’s wrath against it were part of God’s plan when he created the world. This is different from saying that God sins or that he approves of sinning.
The main reason for making this point is to exalt the revelation of God’s grace in the crucifixion of Jesus to the highest place. This is the point of the universe—the glorification of the grace of God in the apex of its expression in the death of Jesus.
Jesus died for sin (1 Corinthians 15:3). The death of Jesus for sin was planned before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; Ephesians 1:4-6). Therefore, sin was part of the plan. God carries this plan through in a way that maintains full human accountability, full hatred for sin, full divine justice, and full saving love for all who trust Christ. And we don’t need to know how he does it to believe it and rest in it and worship him for it.
This morning I was meditating for my devotions on Ezra 8 and Ezra 9. I saw there another pointer to the truth of God’s planning for human sin and divine wrath.
In Ezra 8:22, Ezra says, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him.” This text leads me to ask: Did God know before creation that his creatures would “forsake him.” Yes, he did. The plan for their redemption was in place before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6).
Was Ezra 8:22 true before the foundation of the world? Yes, it was. God did not become holy and just after creation. He has always been holy and just. “His power and his wrath are against all who forsake him” because this is, and always has been, the holy and just thing for God to do.
Therefore, since God knew that his creatures would forsake him, he also knew that his power and wrath would be against them. Therefore, this was part of his plan. He created the world knowing that sin would happen and that he would respond as Ezra 8:22 says he does.
This planning is what Paul means in Romans 9:22 when he says that God was “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power. . .” And if you ask Paul why God would go forward with this plan, his most ultimate answer is in the next verse: “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:23).
God knew that the revelation of his wrath and power against sin would make the riches of his glory shine all the brighter and taste all the sweeter for the vessels of mercy.
“The riches of his glory” are the riches we inherit when we see his glory in all the fullness that we can bear (Ephesians 1:18) and are transformed by it (Romans 8:30; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2). These riches of glory reach their supreme height of wonder and beauty in the death of Jesus as he bore the condemnation of God’s wrath and power in our place (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:13).
In other words, God’s plan that there be sin and wrath in the universe was ultimately to bring about “the praise of the glory of his grace” in the death of Christ (Ephesians 1:6). What is at stake in the sovereignty of God over sin is the ultimate aim of the universe, namely, the exaltation of the Son of God in the greatest act of wrath-removing, sin-forgiving, justice-vindicating grace that ever was or ever could be. The praise of the glory of God’s grace in the death of Christ for sinners is the ultimate end of all things.
Christ is the aim of all things. When Paul says, “All things were created . . . for him” (Colossians 1:16), he means that the entire universe and all the events in it serve to glorify Jesus Christ. May the meditations of our hearts take us ever deeper into this mystery. And may the words of our mouths and the actions of our hands serve to magnify the infinite worth of Jesus and his death. This is why we exist.
A very revealing chart by Sam Shamoun here.
A chef died after a cobra he had decapitated 20 minutes before bit his hand. Full story here.
I wonder if there is a spiritual lesson we can learn from this. Any ideas?
“God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men. First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person. Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man’s mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary. Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 3