The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the
Rev. Herman Hoeksema
The subject of this pamphlet is not an easy one, but
it is of great importance for those who love the Reformed truth. A
Reformed person thinks and lives theologically. For him it is of
greatest importance to know His God as He has revealed Himself in His
works and Word. He understands perfectly that he cannot comprehend God,
because God is infinite, His Being is unfathomable, and His works always
fill us with adoring wonder. But still a Reformed man desires to know
more and more about his God, and also to comprehend that which God has
revealed of Himself.
God is One. There must therefore be unity in His
revelation, unity of thought and purpose in all His works. And therefore
a child of God, especially a Reformed child of God, cannot rest until he
has learned to see and understand this unity of thought and purpose. It
is from this point of view that we wish to consider the place of
reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel.
We proceed, of course, in the discussion of this
subject from the assumption that we are speaking to Reformed people. We
shall not therefore speak now about election or reprobation as such. In
fact, we shall not even make an attempt to defend the contention that
reprobation should have a place in the preaching of the Gospel. We
assume this. Rather, we shall attempt to trace the unity of God's works,
and then place ourselves before this question: What is the place of
reprobation in that unity?
We have said that we will consider the place of
reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel. If reprobation must be
preached, what is its place? How must it be presented? What is its
relation to election and to the whole of truth; and with what emphasis
must it be presented? It is obvious that in the preaching or instruction
of the truth the various aspects of the truth must be placed in their
proper light and in their relation to one another. If I should describe
a masterpiece of an artist, and if I should attempt to describe the
individual parts which are on the canvas without relating them to the
whole, that masterpiece would be ruined by my description. Or if I
should attempt to portray my impression of the whole and lay so much
stress on the background that the background becomes the foreground, I
do not do justice to the work of the artist. So it is also in respect to
the work of salvation. One can very well, on occasion, preach on
election, and later on reprobation, without setting forth these truths
correctly, simply because he has not preached them in their mutual
relation and in connection with the entire truth of Scripture.
The question is, therefore, What is the place of
reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel? It lies in the nature of the
case, however, that this question is inseparably connected with another,
namely, What is the proper place of reprobation in the entire body of
truth? Both election and reprobation are parts of predestination; and
this again is part of the counsel of God in the full sense of the word
as it pertains to all things. In order therefore to determine the place
of reprobation in the works of God and in the preaching of the gospel,
we must first of all review the whole plan of God concerning all things.
Secondly, we must answer the question how predestination appears in this
full counsel. And, finally, we must determine the relation in which
reprobation stands to election, as far as this is possible in the light
We shall discuss all these things as we deal with:
The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel
God's Decree and Election
Election with Reprobation
Reprobation in the Preaching
God's Decree and Election
The question that confronts us is: What is the
relation of election to God's decree concerning all things? What is the
place of election in the entirety of the counsel of God? To be able to
ascertain this, we must necessarily consider the counsel of God in
general, be it only in passing. God's counsel in this broad sense is the
eternal thought and will of God concerning all created things, man and
angels, moon and stars, the animate and the inanimate creation.
This decree or this counsel of God is eternal, since
there was never a beginning of the thoughts of God in regard to
creation. Those thoughts are as eternal as God Himself. And that counsel
of God is all inclusive. From before the foundation of the world, all
things were with Him in His divine thoughts, not only as He made them in
the beginning, but also as they should develop throughout history. God
has from before the foundation of the world decreed in His eternal
counsel how things will be eternally. He determined the end of all
things from the beginning. God determined how He would create all things
in the beginning with a view to the consummation of all things. Creation
is planned with a view to re-creation, generation to regeneration, the
beginning with a view to the end. Not only this, but with a view to that
end God the Lord planned the course of events, so that all in its mutual
working and development must work together to attain His eternal
purpose. Let us never forget that God's works are a unity, and that
every creature is organically related to every other creature.
Everything is planned with a view to everything else. God has therefore
so determined everything in His counsel that the end of all things must
be the realization of that which He had purposed in Himself.
Therefore nothing can be excluded from this counsel.
Rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, health and sickness,
war and peace, yea, the animals of the field and the sparrows of the
housetops must serve that purpose and end which God has determined in
Himself. In this connection notice that this also includes the evil
things: sin, pain, death, and all that is related to them. Never may we
conceive of God's counsel as if it allows for adjustments, or for events
not included in it. On the contrary, God decided the end, and He
sovereignly determined the way and the means that should lead to that
end, sin and death included.
Already at this point in our discussion we may
establish that God's goal, which He determined in Himself, is that all
the works of His hands must show forth His praise to the fullest extent,
and must witness of the magnificence of His name. The Lord has indeed
made all things for His own sake, even the wicked unto the day of evil (Prov.
16:4); for He is God and He alone, and He does all His good
But now the question arises: How did God conceive of
this end of all things to which all things in His counsel are directed?
What will that unity of all things be, that consummation of all things,
through which God's name will be most fully glorified and His virtues
most gloriously revealed? Note that the question should be put in this
way. The question is frequently asked: In what manner is God glorified
in the individual works of His hands? But not enough attention is given
to the relation of these works one to another.
Let us take again the example of a work of art.
Naturally, I can stand in front of a beautiful building and focus my
attention on the individual parts of the building. I can note the
beautiful stones, the coloured windows, the lofty vaults, the pointed
arches, and whatever else there may be. If one architect has planned it
all, then I can, in pointing out the separate parts, praise the ability
of the architect. This also can be done with the works of God. This is
in fact the method that is usually employed.
Now it is true that God is glorified in the
wonderful, omnipotent work which He has established in the beginning.
The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth forth His
handiwork, and the entire creation speaks of His eternal power and
godhead. With wisdom the Lord hath made it all. So, too, I can speak of
the work of salvation, and, as subdivisions of this, speak separately of
His gracious election and of His just reprobation. Thus I can praise God
for the revelation of His sovereign love in election, and at the same
time say that in reprobation He reveals His justice and wrath as well as
His great power.
Yet, you immediately feel that we may not leave it at
that. There was in that building, if the architect really was capable,
one principal idea, and, with a view to that, all the other parts are
determined. If I attend only to the parts, the result is twofold. In the
first place, I have not grasped the principal idea of the whole, in
which the marvellous realization of the idea is brought out. Secondly, I
have not done justice to the parts, for the simple reason that I have
not shown their place and purpose in relation to the whole. Thus it is
with God's works. God is one. His work is one. One magnificent idea
governs all. If I wish, therefore, to glorify God in His work, I must
attend not only to the parts, but first to the whole, and then show how
each part is related to that whole.
In regard to reprobation, for example, I can say that
God sovereignly predestined some to destruction in order to glorify
Himself; but if I say no more, I will have presented God as a tyrant who
destroys creatures for the sole purpose of glorifying Himself. And one
will say to himself: "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?" O,
surely, God is sovereign; and He does with His own what He wills and no
one can say, "What doest thou?" But that does not take away the thought
that repeatedly arises in our hearts, Why has the all-wise God done
this? Therefore we must place ourselves before the question: What is the
goal, the consummation? What is the outcome? What has God determined in
Himself? What is the end of all the works of His hands?
Then we must take as our starting point what we read
Ephesians 1:9-10: "Having made known unto us the mystery of his
will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather
together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and
which are on earth; even in him."
We cannot now give a complete explanation of this
beautiful and comprehensive passage. Let it suffice that we treat the
chief teachings of the text in as far as this is necessary for the
treatment of our subject. First of all, it is clear that the apostle
here reveals to us what God the Lord has purposed in Himself in His
counsel with respect to the eternal purpose of all His works. There can
be no doubt that the text deals with the eternal good pleasure of God.
He has purposed in Himself from before the foundation of the world how
things should be in their consummation. Hardly can it be denied that the
apostle speaks of all things, the whole creation, the fullness of all
that God has made. He says emphatically all things, both those in
heaven and those on earth. I know that this has been explained as if it
referred to the militant and triumphant church. Yet this conflicts with
the plain meaning of the word. Here the discussion is in regard to all
things. We may thus take this to mean: What has God, from before the
foundation of the world, determined in Himself with respect to this
present creation? What shall its consummation be?
We answer first of all that, according to the text,
the entire creation shall be an intimately related and harmonious unity.
Indeed all the creatures which are in heaven and on the earth shall be
brought together under one head, so that all creation shall form a
perfect unity. This was not the case in the beginning. There was then
not one head of the entire creation. There was an earthly and a heavenly
creation. Certainly, the earthly creation was united under its earthly
head. Adam was king and head. But this kingship did not include the
things which are in heaven; for Adam, as he stood in the first paradise,
was made a little lower than the angels. Even this kingship, however,
was devastated by sin. Adam fell. He broke the covenant, separating
himself along with the earthly creation from the God of the covenant.
The creatures now are mutually parted and separated. It is now man
against man, people against people, plant against plant, animal against
animal. The animal world is mutually divided, as well as separated from
man. The harmony in the earthly creation is broken. Some such division
also took place in heaven amongst the angels of God. But this passage of
the apostle teaches us that it was God's purpose from before the
foundation of the world to unite all things again into a higher and
all-inclusive unity, both the things in heaven and the things on earth.
In the second place, we answer, in the light of the
text, that God had determined in Himself so to unite all things that
they are governed by Christ as King. Christ must become the Head
of the new creation. Adam may not be that head. This includes that the
ruling principle of the new creation shall be that Christ is Lord over
all. All creation has its harmonious unity in Him. As far as Christ is
exalted above Adam, so far will the future creation shine forth in
blazing glory above the present creation. This not only means that all
creatures shall be gathered together and united in perfect unity under
the one head, Christ, but also that creation shall then be most
intimately united with God. For, indeed, Christ is Immanuel, God with
us, the Word that became flesh. In Him are the divine and human natures,
Creator and creature in closest union, one with the other. In Christ,
God joins Himself most intimately with us through the bond of the
covenant. And in Christ God's tabernacle will be spread over us; and
through us all things will be included in this tabernacle of God. The
glorified creation shall eternally lie close to God's heart in Christ
Thus considered, the counsel of predestination (more
specifically, election, with its necessary complement, reprobation) is
the heart of God's decree. This counsel of predestination determines the
place which God's rational creatures, both angels and men, shall assume
in this eternal unity of all things. And amongst the rational creatures,
man who was made in the image of God, and whose nature was assumed by
Christ, occupies the chief place. When all the works of God shall have
reached their consummation, then man, in Christ Jesus, will be in
closest communion and live in most intimate fellowship with God. For
this reason it is impossible to place the decree of predestination on
the same line with the decree of providence. Both form a unity, but so
that predestination assumes the pivotal place around which all the rest
revolves, and in which all finds its unity, according to the all-wise
counsel of God. And this unity is formed in such a way that the decree
of election assumes the chief place in predestination, not only in the
sense that election is the positive side and reprobation the negative
side, but also thus that reprobation serves election.
We shall enlarge upon this presently. However, this
can now already be said, that since it was God's determination in the
fullness of time to unite and to gather all things in Christ Jesus, it
stands to reason that God's main concern is not with that which falls
eternally outside of that glorified creation. When one constructs a
building, his chief concern is not the stones which never find a place
in the completed structure, even though they were formed as stones. Thus
it is in God's counsel. Election is and remains the main purpose, to
which reprobation is subordinate, whatever purpose it may serve.
So conceived, 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.
Election and Reprobation
Now we are prepared to give an answer to the
question, What is the place of reprobation in that scheme? God has
reprobated as well as chosen. Taken by itself, reprobation is the decree
of God in which He has determined, as sovereignly as in election, that
some individuals should not enter eternal glory, but are destined for
destruction. Thus it should be expressed. I realize it seems milder to
say that God decided to leave others in their sins and ruin. This is the
way it is formulated in our Canons, in which the Synod of Dordt adopted
the infra standpoint, contrary to the wishes and protestations of
Yet, as a matter of fact, this is not a milder way of
expressing it. We may close our eyes to the problem and refuse to seek
an answer, but the problem remains. The question inevitably arises, How
did these people fall into the sin in which God permitted them to lie?
Another question also arises, Why did God leave them in this sin and
misery when He could have saved them? I fully realize that all questions
cannot possibly be answered. Nevertheless, it is also true that by
closing our eyes to the problems that arise we fail to find a solution.
Besides, Scripture certainly teaches more. The Potter
does with the clay as He pleases, and no one can deny Him the right to
form of one lump of clay a vessel unto honour and of another a vessel
unto dishonour. Surely, here we are taught more than that God permits
something to lie where it has fallen. The vessels unto dishonour are
also made by Him in accordance with His appointment. Therefore, we would
rather say that reprobation is that decree of God by which He
sovereignly destined some to destruction. For, certainly, the
condemnation shall be on the basis of the sin and guilt of the
reprobate, but never as if this reprobation rests on foreseen sin.
Reprobation, even as election, is entirely, sovereignly free.
At present, however, we are not so much concerned
about reprobation as such, but rather about its relation to election.
The question is, What is the relation of the former to the latter? Or
rather, the more weighty question, 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
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.
Reprobation in the Preaching
On this basis we can determine the place of
reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel, and, for that matter, its
place in every presentation of the truth. 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
Thus, it has become evident how reprobation should be
preached, and what place it should be given 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. Thus, at the conclusion of all this, we exclaim in
adoration with the apostle, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the
wisdom and knowledge of God; for of him and through him and to him are
all things! To him be glory forever!"
God will presently make all things new. Then He will
fully reveal His everlasting and glorious Kingdom to all His children.
Then the kingdom of Christ, including His chosen church, will be
inseparably united with God. And it will appear that this divine and
beautiful work is so marvellous and so glorious that not only was it
doubly worth all the suffering of this present time, but also it is
costly enough to give people as a ransom for it. The glory of the Lord
shall, through Jesus Christ, shine forth with heavenly radiance over all
the works of His hands, forever!