That Horrible Decree
Rev. Gise Van Baren
There is something concerning God’s eternal decree of
predestination, and particularly the decree of reprobation, which seems
immediately to arouse the ire of man. Mention election or reprobation,
and man closes his ears. Send to him material on such a subject, and he
will return it with the acid comment, "I don’t want such stuff in my
mailbox." Even John Calvin, that noted Reformer and champion of the
truth of predestination, is reported to have called reprobation "that
horrible decree" (a deliberately poor translation of his statements).
Why such opposition? Is it possible that the reason is that this
scriptural truth particularly exalts God as Sovereign alone and teaches
that man is but a mere creature? It puts man in his proper place. Is
this why man so strongly objects?
Is there such a thing as reprobation? That usually is
denied. But, will you be willing to make a careful study of scriptural
passages on this point? The teaching of Scripture must stand—it is the
Word of God.
I would define reprobation as that eternal will, good
pleasure, or purpose of God according to which He determined that some
of His moral-rational creatures would be cast into hell forever on
account of their sins, and that this fact would serve the cause of
Christ and redound to God’s glory alone.
Now wait a moment before condemning that idea of
reprobation out of hand. First, let us view several pertinent scriptural
passages which speak of this subject. Possibly the most clear statements
concerning reprobation can be found in Romans 9. Before they were ever
born or had done any good or evil, God had said, "Jacob have I loved,
but Esau have I hated" (v. 13). Of Pharaoh, whose heart God had hardened
so that he would not let Israel go from Egypt, we read "Even for this
same purpose have I raised thee up that I might show my power in thee,
and that my name might be declared throughout the earth" (v. 17). Romans
9 mentions also that "whom He will, He hardeneth" (v. 18), and it speaks
of "vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction" (v. 22). What else
can we say of passages such as these but that they plainly teach
reprobation of some to hell because of their sin? Other passages are
equally lucid. In I Peter 2:8 we read, "… a rock of offence, even to
them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also
they were appointed." Not only then does Scripture teach that it is
God Who determines the end or final destiny of all men, but also that
such determination is from all eternity. (Other passages which might
profitably be examined are: Dan. 4:34; I Sam. 2:25; Matt. 11:25-27; John
8:43; Rom. 11:7-8; II Sam. 16:10; II Sam. 17:14; John 10:26; Rev. 17:17
and many others.)
Does this mean that the reprobate, no matter what
he does, is damned to hell? God forbid that such should be the case,
or that we should ever teach that. This question is deliberately
deceiving. Consider first that all men in Adam are dead in sin (Rom.
5:12). That plainly means that every man born into this world is wholly
of doing any good and is inclined to all the evil (see also Romans
3). There is not even the remotest possibility that good works,
well-pleasing to our God, could ever proceed from the dead sinner. Can a
physically dead person eat or drink? Far less could the dead sinner ever
perform good deeds. Let none dare charge us, or any true Calvinist, with
teaching the lie that a reprobate could love and serve God faithfully
all he would—but will nevertheless be cast into hell. Such never
happens. Be not deceived! God’s grace is not given to the reprobate;
they are not in Jesus Christ; and therefore they can do nothing
pleasing to God.
Secondly, I would call to your attention that the
reprobate are always damned to eternal hell because of their own sin.
It is true that God determined what their final end would be—and He did
so before they were ever born (again I ask you: in what other way could
one possibly interpret the passages quoted above without denying the
plain meaning contained in those texts?). But the wicked are definitely
cast into the torments of eternal hell for their own evil acts. Never
can they point the finger at God, declaring, "Thou hast forced me to do
that which was contrary to Thy will; therefore I am not worthy of any
punishment." The reprobate, the wicked, consciously and willingly sin,
and for that sin they shall surely be cast into eternal desolation. One
of the many scriptural passages which shows this is Luke 11:49-51:
"Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and
apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood
of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world,
may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the
blood of Zacharias, which perished between the alter and the temple:
verily I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation."
But is not God then unjust? Is it not terribly
unfair on God’s part to determine that any should perish? What kind of
God is he? Stop with those charges, brother. Who do you think that God
is? Thinkest thou that He must conform to your puny reasoning? Since
when does the Almighty God owe to any man life? Why should the
Sovereign of heaven and earth be required to bestow His grace
upon all? Must He bring every moral-rational creature into
heaven? Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
(Rom.9:20). The potter has power over the clay to make of the same lump
one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour (Rom. 9:21). Is God
unjust when He does with His own as He sees fit? I confess that I can
not penetrate into the depths of the wisdom of God and explain why such
a one would be reprobated, and another elected. All we can say, with
Scripture, is that God does all things to His own good pleasure to the
glory of His own Name.
But, you ask, why (if God determines all this) should
there even be reprobate wicked? Why should God, from before the
foundations of the world, also determine that some should be cast into
hell because of the sins they perform? If God truly directs all things,
could not He indeed have prevented sin, and rather determined that all
men should enjoy the blessings of eternal life? I will try to posit
several reasons for this act of God. I do not pretend to be able to
search out the eternal counsel of God, but, on the basis of Scripture,
several reasons can definitely be given.
1. The decree of reprobation must serve the glory of
God. God directs all things that His glory might the more fully be
revealed. Do not the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 cry out, "Thou
art worthy, O Lord, to receive all honour and power: for thou hast
created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were
created" (v. 11)? But how, you ask, can reprobation serve to reveal the
glory of God in the best possible way? Through the decree of reprobation
God reveals His eternal hatred and wrath against sin and the sinner. His
own purity becomes manifest in His utter condemnation and punishment of
the workers of iniquity. Apart from God’s decree of reprobation this
would never have been so clearly revealed. Do you object? Does not the
Potter have power over the clay also to fashion vessels of dishonour to
serve His own pleasure and to reveal His own glory and goodness?
2. But there is more. In Holy Scripture it becomes
very evident that the heart or centre of all of the counsel or plan of
God is Christ—and in Christ, the church. God would reveal Himself in the
highest possible way by gathering a particular people in Jesus Christ
His only begotten Son. Is it not this truth of which we read in
Ephesians 1:4-6, "According as He hath chosen us in him [Christ] before
the foundation of the world … having predestinated us unto the adoption
of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of
His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace …"
The wonder of God is revealed in this that the
gathering of this Church in Christ is served by all things which take
place (Rom. 8:28). The same is true concerning those whom God has
reprobated, and who shall be cast into hell because of their sins. These
too must serve the purpose of God in gathering and defending the church
of Christ. And the evil deeds, in which these wicked ones seek to oppose
God and destroy His church, can and do work rather to the benefit of the
Church. The wicked, according to God’s determination (Acts 4:27-28),
crucified the Christ—which was the only way of redemption for the
church. The wicked may seek to oppress the church and try to cause that
church to defect, but this only drives the child of God deeper into the
arms of the Comforting Rock. Thus God uses these very reprobate to
prepare and equip His people for their future abode in glory.
We see then that reprobation is not a "horrible"
decree on an equal par with the wonder of election. God did not
arbitrarily declare: "I want to cast some people in hell, and I want to
bring some to heaven." God forbid! But God worked all things (creation
and also this decree of reprobation) to serve election (so that in time
on this earth all God’s people are gathered and finally brought to glory
through the work of Christ on the cross). Again I confess that I can not
penetrate into all of the wonder and wisdom of God which is here
revealed. But this I must say, and you must confess, that God has
revealed Himself in Scripture. Also this truth of reprobation then must
be for my comfort and assurance in the midst of this world.
Can or must this decree of reprobation be preached by
the ministers of the Word? Would not such a truth serve rather to
discourage the church and turn away those outside of the church? How can
one go forth in missionary labours—and teach such a decree of
reprobation? Granted that this decree is true, would it not be the part
of wisdom to be silent about it?
1. Of course, there would be something wrong if every
minister every Sunday would preach sermons on reprobation. Christ, His
cross, and His church are the centre of all the Word. And these truths
must be clearly taught by the minister of the Word. He may not simply
emphasize one point to the exclusion of others. But neither can the true
minister of Christ’s Word avoid teaching the truth of reprobation. God’s
Word does not ignore it—how then can the preacher of the Word ignore
this truth? It is a truth which may not be hid.
2. In preaching, the minister of the Word is called
to preach the whole Word of God. And when he preaches, he addresses
particularly the church of Christ (notice that the epistles are
also addressed in this way). No minister can properly preach first for
the elect; then include a word for the reprobate; but
always he addresses the Church of Christ. The minister is not
called to distinguish and point out which individuals are elect and
which are reprobate. God determines that—not man. And it is God, through
the Holy Spirit, Who so applies the preaching of the Word that it finds
a ready entrance into the heart of the elect and bears fruit, but in the
heart of the reprobate that same preached Word arouses greater and
greater opposition and hatred.
3. Certainly this truth of God’s decree of
reprobation is meant to strike terror into the hearts of the wicked.
When this truth is properly preached, the wicked have the sure testimony
of God that he will reward them according to their works.
4. Finally, does this truth not discourage the
church? Would not a Christian begin to think, "Maybe, after all, I’m a
reprobate"? God forbid. One who is truly concerned with his own
spiritual welfare, who sees and acknowledges sincerely before God the
greatness of his sin; such a one sees in himself not the fruits of
reprobation, but of election. Then the Christian is not frightened by
reprobation as far as his own person is concerned. Rather, this doctrine
gives him unspeakable comfort and assurance. Despite all that the wicked
seek to do to God’s church, the Christian knows that God has still
absolute government and control. That government is also over all the
wicked. They too can only serve His eternal purpose. And the final end
of the wicked God has determined for the vindication of His own Name.
Should not the church constantly be assured of this glorious fact in the
preaching of the Word?
Oh, wonder of the greatness of our glorious God!
Unspeakable are His ways, and His judgments past finding out! May He
also grant that we may never be ashamed to maintain this His Word even
as He has revealed it to us!