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 ‘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)


Q. 6. “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. 7. “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. 8. “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. 9. 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:

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:

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:

VIII: [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. 10. “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)

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