Article 15: Reprobation
Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God's eternal election-- those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision:
to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.
And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.
If the biblical teaching about election is difficult for us to grasp, the biblical teaching about reprobation is that much more difficult. Like it or not, we must face the fact that if God chooses to save some, and not all, of Adam’s fallen children, then God must also in some manner deal with those whom he has not chosen. Although many try to avoid the subject at all costs, the fact of the matter is that we must wrestle with the biblical teaching about reprobation (cf. Romans 9:1-23). This is a revealed doctrine every bit as much as is election.
It is good to begin by pointing out if sinful human curiosity is a problem when we talk about election, such speculation is a far greater problem when we come to the subject of reprobation. Here, of all places, we must be very careful to teach only what Scripture teaches, and we must go no further.
This limit is important for several very important and practical reasons. For one thing, there are many in our midst who are weak in faith, or who, perhaps, are struggling with certain besetting sins. Often times, such people, upon hearing any discussion of reprobation, will immediately wonder if, somehow, they are numbered among the reprobate. They take their weak faith, or their struggle with sin, as a reason to assume the worst–they are not Christ’s and can do nothing to change that. Sadly, such people are unduly robbed of the assurance of their salvation.
A second group who must be cautioned, are those who are prone to speculation, and who, perhaps inadvertently, communicate to others that they take great delight in the fact that God has not chosen all, and that the reprobate will ultimately get what is coming to them in the end. There are indeed people in our churches who seem to take some sort of smug satisfaction that they are numbered among the elect and others are not.
But let us not forget that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Although God’s justice and glory are manifest in the eternal punishment of those who have rebelled against him, and who willingly die in sin rather than confess “Jesus Christ is Lord,” the famous saying is indeed true–“there, but the grace of God go I.” The biblical teaching about reprobation cannot be seen as a matter of pride on the part of the elect. For apart from the grace of God, we too, would remain enslaved to sin and death. The teaching of election and reprobation should absolutely humble us, because it removes from beneath our feet any and every ground for boasting.
What do we mean when we speak of reprobation? Here it is important that we carefully define our terms. There are three aspects to the biblical teaching about reprobation set forth in the Canons.
First, as the Canons note, reprobation means that God does not chose all to receive eternal life, and these not chosen are left “in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves.” This fact is important to grasp, because it means that God does not prevent those not chosen from believing. This also means that God does not prevent people from coming to faith in Christ, who otherwise would do so. The Canons have already established the fact that if left to themselves, all those fallen in Adam do not want to believe the gospel and come to faith in Christ. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, his lament was “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not” (Matthew 23:37). God passes over the non-elect and he leaves them where they are—dead in sins and trespasses (cf. Ephesians 2:1). He does not treat them unjustly. In fact, all those not chosen get exactly that they deserve.
The second aspect of this is that God does not “grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion.” Again, by not choosing them, God is not preventing those already fallen in Adam from believing. He is not robbing people of something to which they would otherwise be entitled. Rather, God wills not to incline their sinful hearts to believe the gospel. He chooses not to effectively call them to faith when the gospel is preached to them. God leaves them where they already are–in sin. Such people will not believe because they remain sinful by nature and by choice. They won’t come to Christ, because they do not want to come to Christ.
Third, since such people are not chosen, nor are they inclined to believe, they are finally condemned. God will “eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.” This point is vital to grasp because it means that those not chosen do indeed get what their actions deserve! God does not treat them unjustly. He does not show them mercy, nor in any sense is he obligated to do so–or else grace would not be grace (cf. Romans 4:16).
Finally, it should also be pointed out that this teaching in no way makes God the author of sin—which the Canons note would indeed be a blasphemous thought. God is Holy. In him there is no shadow of turning. As James says (1:13-15), “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” We must never even entertain the thought that God is the author of sin.
And yet at the same time, we must clearly grasp the fact that God is the holy avenger of Sin. The reprobate get is what is due them as a matter of divine justice. The elect, on the other hand, do not get is due them, because God chose them in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ satisfied God’s holy justice on their behalf in suffering and dying for his elect upon Calvary’s cross.
Article 15: Reprobation