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Predestination the Heart of the Gospel

I have received a response to an article I wrote earlier which is best answered in another article. The question concerning what I wrote is an interesting and important one, and it is good to make the answer available to all our readers.

I will quote the question in full. The writer first quotes from my article:

"If one is to be free from the blood of all men (as Paul tells the Ephesian elders), one must preach the whole counsel of God. And that counsel of God includes sovereign election and reprobation. That is the heart of the gospel." I must admit that this is a rather interesting comment: it seems to be an over-statement of sorts. I understand the comment above to mean that the heart of the Gospel is "election and reprobation." I know the PR's love the doctrine of double predestination; I do as well, but is it the "heart of the gospel" message? As a matter of fact, I confess that I could be wrong, although a double predestination/supralapsarian position is not even an expressed part of the Three Forms of Unity. It would seem to me that the penal substitutionary atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of the elect is the heart of the Gospel. The latter is the heart of the Three Forms of Unity as well as of Scripture. Maybe I am missing the point. I am looking forward to your comments.

The same reader wrote another question. It is as follows:

Can you explain this phrase in the light of Scripture: "the warnings of the gospel are also never to anyone but the rebellious and hard of heart." (This quote is taken from the same article as the first one.) In this statement do you mean by "rebellious and hard of heart" only the reprobate? Are the elect excluded from taking heed to any of the warnings in Scripture? Please do explain.

I shall respond to the last quote first of all. No, I do not mean that the warnings of the gospel are only addressed to the "rebellious and hard of heart" reprobate. That would, of course, be impossible since the gospel, also with its warnings, comes to all who hear. Nor is it the purpose of God in the gospel. His people are also rebellious and hard of heart. In fact, his people must even be warned not to harden their hearts (Heb. 3:7, 8, quoting Ps. 96:7).

It is even true that God's people are not only rebellious and hard of heart prior to their regeneration, but often they are this way after their regeneration as well. They have only a small beginning of the new obedience. Their old man of sin manifests itself sometimes in rebellion and hardness of heart. God uses the warnings of the gospel to bring repentance and sorrow for sin to His people.

To turn now to the second question.

First of all, it is necessary to point out that, while it is true (as the questioner states) that the Three Forms of Unity are infralapsarian, it is not true that the Three Forms of Unity do not teach a double predestination. I refer the reader to the Canons, first head of doctrine, Arts. 6, 10, 15, 16, 18; the negative part of the first head, Art. 8; The Confession of Faith, Art. 16 (free copies are available).

Secondly, when I stated that double predestination is the heart of the gospel, I did not, I think, "over-state" the matter; but I did "under-state" it; that is, I did not make myself sufficiently clear on the point at issue.

Let me put on record my position. I would appreciate hearing from the questioner - or any other questioner, if my answer is unsatisfactory.

My lack of clarity was assuming something, which was not explicitly stated. This unspoken assumption left the reader with the impression that it is possible to make a disjunction between double predestination and Christ's atoning sacrifice. This I deny. Let me explain.

It is impossible, according to Scripture and our Reformed confessions, to speak of the elect without speaking at the same time of Christ. And the converse is also true. It is impossible to speak of Christ, without speaking of election.

Let me be as clear as possible. There is no elect church without Christ. But there is no Christ without an elect church. If you say, "Christ," in the nature of the case, you say also, "elect." If you say, "elect," you are also saying, "Christ." Together they form one body.

This is evident from all the Scriptural and confessional statements which speak of election "in Christ." Hence, to say that election is the heart of the gospel, is the same as saying Christ is the heart of the gospel. God reveals in the gospel His eternal purpose to save His elect people in Christ through the blood of Christ's atoning sacrifice.

But what about reprobation? One cannot speak of election without reprobation. It is the dark side of the coin of predestination. It is a part of the one decree of God. Double predestination does not mean two decrees. Listen to the Canons: "That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God's eternal decree (note the singular)…. According to which decree, He graciously softens the hearts of the elect…, while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness…."

Election and reprobation are one decree because reprobation must serve election - even as chaff serves the wheat and the scaffolding of a building serves the building. It is impossible to preach Christ crucified without preaching double predestination.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 23
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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