January 1996; Volume 3, Issue 1
We present herewith a sample of the material which can be found in The Reformed Perspective which is published monthly by the Protestant Reformed Church of Crete, IL. The booklet comes in an attractive form--we only present the basic contents in html format. You can be placed on the mailing list to receive free mailings by writing to:The Evangelism Committee, Protestant Reformed Church of Crete, IL, 1777 E. Richton Rd., Crete, IL 60417
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" Ps.27: 1
Blessed greetings to you at the beginning of the year of our Lord 1996! While there is always excitement at the beginning of a new year, there are also real fears and cares regarding the unseen future. It is for this reason that God's Word calls us to walk by faith in our sovereign God and not by our feeble and faulty human sight. May the Lord, whose purposes do not change, whose compassions do not fail, and whose faithfulness is great, be your hope and confidence in 1996!
We are privileged to begin our third volume year with this issue. The Reformed Perspective is sent out free of charge to those who request it; there is no subscription cost. We depend on the faithful support of our congregation here in South Holland, and on the free will gifts of our contacts and friends. As you may guess, it is not inexpensive to print and distribute this monthly publication. We welcome any gifts, large or small, to this part of our ministry. May the Lord continue to bless us as we search out together the unfathomable riches of His truth and grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ! Pastor Charles Terpstra
We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.
You will notice that its perspective on this matter is entirely God-centered. Arts. 16 and 17 are really introductory, and their basic thrust is that God alone is the Author and Originator of salvation. And because nothing shows this more clearly and powerfully than the doctrine of election, the Confession begins with this. Salvation is so much of the Lord, that it begins with His sovereign and eternal choice of those who will be saved.
What the Confession is doing is unfolding and extolling the sovereign grace of God from the very outset!
THIS IS THE BEAUTY AND GLORY OF THE REFORMED FAITH!
Even though Art. 16 focuses on God's eternal election of some to be saved, it clearly teaches double predestination, election and reprobation. In other words, it sets forth the Biblical truth that God has determined from eternity the destinies of all men, choosing some to everlasting life in heavenly glory, and rejecting others for everlasting death in hell (hence the term "pre-destination").
This is the historic Reformed--Christian doctrine.
We are well aware of the fact that this doctrine is an "hard saying" to the natural man and, sad to say, to many professing Christians. Unbelieving man finds it offensive and hates it. Those given - to Arminian theology detest and despise it. Many in Reformed churches have rejected and forsaken this truth. Man in his wicked pride will not have such a sovereign God Who determines the destinies of men without regard to their wills and their works. This doctrine makes God out to be cold and hard, cruel and unfair, people say.
But the Scriptures and the Confession teach us just the opposite, namely, that this truth displays the amazing mercy and justice of God. In the face of our "perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just..." Predestination is a revelation of God's tender pity and perfect justice toward sinners, as well as of His awesome sovereignty.
And therefore, this doctrine, too, is reason for falling down before the Lord in godly fear and humble adoration! And all the more because we know that it is only by His grace that we receive this revelation concerning God and confess with this article, "We believe...."
The doctrine of election is a precious truth to believers. It is not only tremendously humbling but also beautifully comforting. Art. 16 captures and conveys this with wonderful pastoral language. It teaches us that election reveals the great mercy of God to sinners, since it means that He has elected or chosen out of fallen mankind some to be delivered and preserved from their perdition in Adam. As the sovereign Lord, God with perfect right could have determined to make all of us vessels of His wrath fitted to everlasting destruction. As the just God, He would have been perfectly right and fair to leave all of us in our sin and ruin. But He did not manifest His sovereignty and justice in this way. Instead He chose to reveal His mercy in saving a people out of sin and death. He determined to set His love on some and take them out of their misery. Thus it is revealed in the Scripture too: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion", Rom.9:15 (cf. Ex.33:19). And for this reason Rom. 9:23 refers to the elect as God's "vessels of mercy".
In connection with this mercy of God the Confession also stresses the total freedom and sovereignty of God in making this choice to save some men only. This election was according to His "counsel of mere goodness" and "without any respect to their works". God was not prompted by anything outside of Himself to elect men to salvation in Christ. He was not compelled by our utter hopelessness and helplessness. He was not forced to act by the devil's proud claims and actions. He was not moved by our love for Him or our desire for Him or our good works for Him, for we have none of ourselves. Freely and sovereignly, out of the mere goodness of His own glorious nature, He chose a people to be saved. Simply "according to the good pleasure of his will" God chose a people, says Eph. l:5.
In Deut.7:7-8, God said to Israel concerning her election, "The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you...."
That's all--just becauseHe loved her!
In connection with our study of the Belgic Confession, we offer all of our readers a free copy of this confession in booklet form. This booklet also contains the two other Reformed creeds summarizing our faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, and The Canons of Dordt. You can receive this free booklet by calling 708-596-1314, mailing the Order Form, or faxing the Order form to 708-339-6112.
This also means that God's election of some men to be saved is unconditional. It was not conditioned by His people's works, as the Confession states. It was not based on the repentance and faith and obedience that God saw we would have in time. God did not say, "I will choose him/her, if he/she chooses Me first." Nor did God choose people unto a conditional salvation, such that they would be saved only if they fulfilled certain conditions in their lifetime. All of this is important to stress because the Arminian view of election and salvation is precisely this - conditional! The Arminian says that God's choice is based on man's choosing and doing. But in that case God is not sovereign any more; He is a slave to man. In the Arminian scheme God is always dependent on man and must wait to see what man is going to do. But the Biblical doctrine of election is that God chose a people in sovereign independence, without any conditions or basis in man whatsoever.
This is in part the significance of the fact that election is eternal also. Before time, and therefore before His people performed any works, God chose them unto salvation. This is Paul's precise argument in Romans 9:11-13 in connection with the two sons of Isaac and Rebecca: "(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder
"No one ought to decide concerning others that they are reprobate, but should hope for the best. In regard to himself, however, every one ought to believe with certainty that he is one of the elect; for we have a universal command for all to repent, and believe the gospel"
Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Z. Ursinus (page 301)
shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." And in Eph.l:4 the Scripture declares that God "hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him...," not because we were holy and blameless. Because election is eternal, it is also unconditional.
"But what about the Bible's reference to God's foreknowledge?", some-one will say. Rom. 8:29, for example, states, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate...."
Doesn't that imply that the eternal God knew ahead of time who would believe on Him and for that reason chose them to be saved? No! For first of all, God's foreknowledge in this passage refers to His eternal knowledge of love for His people, not to His knowledge of what they would do or become. And secondly, faith is itself the gift of God's grace and the fruit of election, not its basis or condition (cf. Eph.2:8; Acts 13:48). All of which is to say that election is gracious. It is a totally unmerited and undeserved act of God's sovereign, free mercy in Christ (cf. Rom.11:5,6).
The doctrine of election is beautiful and comforting to believers for a couple of additional reasons. For one thing, it is personal. While the people God chose, form a unified and organic group, namely the church of Christ, that group is made up of a specific number of individual persons known to and loved by God. God chose definite persons to be saved in Christ. He knew them by name in His eternal decree. "Jacob have I loved'; says God in His Word with regard to personal election. And therefore, He knows all His own individually, knows them not just in eternity but in time and history, as He seeks them and calls them to salvation. This is why Christ could say that He knew personally the sheep given to Him by the Father and sought them out, Jn. 10:14, 27. This implies that a believer can know his personal election of God too. Even though election belongs to the eternal things of God, yet each elect child of God can and does come to the knowledge of God's sovereign choice of him.
The Bible, in fact, calls us to "give diligence to make our calling and election sure" by manifesting its fruits in our lives faithfully virtue, knowledge, etc. (cf. II Pet 1:10; 5-11).
For another thing, the truth of election is comforting because it reveals a salvation that is absolutely secure, that can never be lost or left unfinished. It is an election unto actual and full salvation, not mere potential salvation. The Arminian view of election is that it is unto a salvation that is at best only possible, since it is dependent on man's free will and conditioned by his faithful performance.
But the Confession, following Scripture, teaches an election which is unto real salvation. It is an election according to which God "delivers and preserves from this perdition" (Notice the factual verbs in this phrase!). It is an election in Christ Jesus, the complete Savior, in Whom God planned and accomplished all of our salvation from sin and death and unto life everlasting (cf. Eph.l:3,4). It is an election unto salvation in all its aspects and parts, including not only the end (goal), but the entire way with all its means (faith, holiness, perseverance, etc.).
For so we read in
II Thess.2:13-14: "But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Besides, this election belongs to God's "eternal and unchangeable counsel". No more than God Himself can die out or change, no more can His decree to save His people die out or change. Election unto salvation is from eternity to eternity immutable and irrevocable. And therefore, the believer may rest assured that nothing and no one can prevent his being saved. He will never, ever lose or come short of what God has determined to give him in Christ. He is secure, everlastingly secure, in his deliverance from sin. What blessed confidence and comfort this is to the child of God!
Having seen what the Reformed teaching on election is, we must now deal with the other side of this gospel of predestination, God's sovereign reprobation of all other sinners. The fact that God has chosen only some of mankind to be delivered from the misery that is theirs in Adam implies that He has rejected the rest of mankind and determined to leave them in their misery. And this is indeed what Art.16 teaches us concerning the activity of the eternal counsel of God: "...(God is) Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves."
Also from eternity God purposed in perfect freedom that some men would not receive His grace and salvation in Christ but would be everlastingly condemned and punished on account of their sins. The idea of reprobation is not merely that God "passed over" some men (sometimes known as "preterition"), or merely permitted them to remain in their sin. That leaves the impression that reprobation is only a passive decree of God.
Rather must we understand that reprobation too is a positive and active work of God.
He chose to hate some men (Mal. l:3; Rom. 9:13).
He determined that some men would be "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22).
He appointed some men to stumbling over Christ unto their everlasting ruin (I Pet.2:8).
IS PREDESTINATION UNCHANGEABLE?
"...Both election and reprobation are fixed and unchangeable. Those whom God has willed, and determined from everlasting should be saved, them he now, and for ever desires and purposes to save, which may also be said in relation to reprobation, for it Is likewise unchangeable.
There are various declarations of Scripture which prove this: "My counsel shall stand." lsaiah 46:10; "I am the Lord, I change not." Malachi 3:6; "This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing." John 6:39; "Neither shall any man pluck my sheep out of my hand." John 10:28; "Ye believe not; because ye are not of my sheep." John 10:26 ; "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." 2 Timothy 2:19.
Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Z. Ursinus (page 300)
Also this determination of God is Sovereign and unconditional. The infralapsarian perspective of the Confession, that in appointing some to destruction God viewed them as fallen in Adam, does not mean that God reprobated these people because He foresaw they would be wicked and unbelieving. That would make reprobation conditional on man's conduct, and then God's decree would not be sovereign. Rather must we say that, just as election was "without any respect to their (believers') works", so also was reprobation done "without any respect to their (the ungodly's) works".
Just as He elected some to be saved unconditionally, so He also reprobated others to destruction unconditionally. Jesus made this clear in His prayer when He thanked the Father for hiding the things of the kingdom of heaven from the wise and prudent and based this on God's sovereign good pleasure: "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Matt. 11:26).
And if some object to this by saying, "How can God do this to some of His creatures? what right does He have to make such vessels of wrath?", the answer of Scripture is, "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?" (Rom. 9:20-21). God is God. He is sovereign. That's the answer that must silence man.
Having said this, however, it is important that we see the justice of God in this decree of reprobation. This is what the Confession wants to stress in taking the infralapsarian position. Just as election manifests the wonderful mercy of God toward sinners, so reprobation manifests His perfect justice toward sinners. From the viewpoint of this manifestation of God's justice, we must not say that God reprobated without any regard to man's sin. For just as election includes the way of salvation, so also reprobation includes the way of destruction. God rejected some men to everlasting ruin in the way of their
"Many...as if they wished to avert odium from God, admit election in such a way as to deny that anyone is reprobated. But this is puerile and absurd, because election itself could not exist without being opposed to reprobation.."
by G. Miller
own sin and unbelief. Their appointment to condemnation and punishment, therefore, is perfectly just on God's part. This is what sin deserves, and God is right and fair in making this determination concerning certain sinners.
We must at this point issue a word of careful explanation. What we have just said does not mean that God appoints men to sin and by His decree forces men to sin, such that God becomes the Author of sin in man. This is the charge which the enemies of sovereign predestination make. The reprobate, they say, cannot help it that they are wicked; God has forced them to be unbelievers and makes them sin against their will. And this is the way in which unbelievers try to avoid their condemnation. They charge God with injustice. In the words of Paul in Rom. 9:19, their cry is, 'Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" But this accusation is wrong. God is not the Author of sin in the reprobate; His decree does not compel them to sin against their will. While God has determined the way of their destruction, namely sin, the sin is their own. Willfully and deliberately the wicked sin and walk in unbelief. Without any force from without, they choose the way of evil and disobedience for themselves. This is what Art. 16 makes plain in its words "wherein (i.e., the fall and perdition of Adam) they have involved themselves."
And it is precisely in this way that the reprobate reveal the justice of God's decision concerning them. They are sent to hell justly, not without cause.
In this respect election and reprobation are not equal. Election is the cause of every saving good in believers. Whatever repentance, faith, and obedience the righteous have, they have as fruits of God's decree to give them these graces.
But reprobation is not the cause of every evil in the wicked. Whatever evils the ungodly have and commit is not the fruit of their reprobation.
The cause of man's sin and unbelief his own fall in Adam, his own vile nature, and his own evil choices to sin.
One other point must yet be made concerning reprobation, and that is its relation to election. The Bible makes plain that election and reprobation, while being the reverse of one another, are not equal in purpose. In a general way they are, for they both serve the purpose of glorifying God.
But Scripture teaches that reprobation serves election according to the plan and purpose of God. Just as the chaff of a wheat plant serves the kernel of wheat that is finally harvested, so the reprobate "chaff" of mankind serve the good of the elect "kernel" of the church of Christ.
Just as the scaffolding about a building project serves the raising up of the entire edifice, so the reprobate "scaffolding" serves the raising up of the entire "edifice" of the church. History has repeatedly proven this to be so, and the culmination of history will prove it once more. In this too the elect find their comfort.
The consideration of this aspect of predestination is also cause for humility and godly fear on our part.
What believer does not tremble when he considers the justice of God in reprobation and realizes that God could have justly determined to condemn and damn him?!
What child of God does not humble himself when he considers that God finds nothing in him but cause for rejection?!
Such a consideration causes the believer to marvel all the more at God's merciful election of him from all eternity.
Such a consideration causes him to glory in the Lord and His amazing grace.
Such a consideration causes him to praise and serve God with deep gratitude.
Is that your response?
"This is the distinction between the elect and the reprobate...that the elect simply rely on the word, but do not disregard works, while ungodly men scorn and disdain the Word, though God speak a hundred times."
Calvin Wisdom Ins. I:185 (p.297)