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Blotted Out of the Book of Life

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of the "Covenant Reformed News", published by the Covenant PRC of Ballymena, N.Ireland.

A brother asks, “Since we, Calvinists, believe that God predestinated some to eternal life and some to eternal damnation to the glory of His rich mercy and just power (Rom. 9:22-23), what does God mean when He refers to some as being blotted out of His book (of life)?”

Next follow the three texts to which the reader refers. “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Ex. 32:31-33).

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5).

“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:19).

The Arminians are fond of appealing to these passages and others like them to prove their terrifyng doctrine of the falling away of true saints. I remember talking to a lady once who was brought up in Arminian circles who told me that she had accepted Christ at least six times and had been baptized three times, because every time she had accepted Christ, though she was sincere, she had fallen away again.

Such nonsense is contradicted by Scripture in John 10:27-30, a passage, by the way, that convinced the lady with whom I spoke that there could be no falling away of a  true saint. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” Another passage is Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Thus the Arminian denial of the preservation of the saints would rob the child of God of all his comfort.

The expression in Scripture, “the book of life,” is indeed the book God writes that contains in it the names of all the elect. It is written before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). The reader is correct in his assumption that the reference is to the doctrine of eternal election. But we must remember that it is a figurative expression. We must not think of it in earthly terms, as if God really has a book on some bookshelf, and in it are the names of all those whom He saves, and which book He consults from time to time to refresh His memory as to whom He must save. The expression is a very graphic way of referring to the truth of sovereign election, according to which God has determined eternally in Christ who are His people and who are not.

The references to God blotting people out of His book of life look at the term from the point of view of the church here in the world. Generally speaking, the church, which bears the marks of the true church (Belgic Confession 29), is composed of elect. But there are in the church those who, while they claim to be elect and to have their names written in God’s book of life are, nevertheless, not in that book at all.

Thus Moses, as an Old Testament type of Christ as mediator of God’s people, tells Jehovah that he wants so badly to have His people go to heaven that he is willing to go to hell to gain that end. That is, of course, impossible, but it tells us of the greatness of Moses concern for the people of God. It is a great confession on Moses’ part and one that few ministers, if any, would dare to make. But Christ did!

Where God points out great sins that are or might be committed by men in the church, He accompanies the description of these sins with this warning: “Those who do these things will be blotted out of My book.” That is, their names were never in that book, for they are not elect; but they claim to be elect and claim to be on their way to heaven. They claim to have their names written in the book of life. But they shall learn that the sins that they commit deprive them of heaven and show that they are not truly God’s people. This terrible threat is uttered to these wicked people that their just punishment is hell, and so they are urged to repent.

This is the meaning of these texts. The doctrine of election is a great comfort to the believing child of God, but knowing that our names are written in the book of life does not make us careless and profane. It rather brings us to our knees in humble thanksgiving for our heavenly Father’s rich mercy towards us in Christ Jesus.  Prof. H.Hanko (Emeritus, Protestant Reformed Seminary)

Canons of Dordt V, Of the Perseverance of the Saints

6. But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

7. For, in the first place, in these falls He preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by His Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favour of a reconciled God, through faith adore His mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. 

8. Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed, nor His promise fail, neither can the call according to His purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 5
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


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