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The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Article Fifteen

Synod%20of%20Dort.jpgArticle 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.

Reader Comments (5)

I hope you will publish this series when it all done.
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHoward Sloan
Being a Reformed Christian for seven years, and reading and teaching books like the Canons of Dort, is what eventually led me away from the Reformed faith. I can honestly say, that I have done my homework on this subject. I have read every single word in Calvin's Institues of the Christian Religion. (I had one Reformed pastor admit to me personally, that he hadn't taken the time to read Calvin's Institutes.) I have also read and studied all of Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology, many other Calvin and Reformed books (including the three forms of unity). I only mention this to state the fact that I have done a lot more research on this, than to just pick up a few pamphlets on the "five points" and thus consider myself an expert in Reformed theology.

A few years ago, after equally as much or more study, we became Lutherans. We are now members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Lutheran theology can satisfy a persons zeal for great theology, as well as to present a much more refined, precise interpretation of the Bible. (An example, would be the sacraments.) In coming from the Reformed, to the Lutheran camp, it is amazing how much the Reformed dip into Lutheran theology as needed!

Anyway, let me get to my main points on double predestination. As Lutherans, we believe, as stated on our WELS web site, "that already before the world was created, God chose those individuals who he would in time convert through the gospel of Christ and preserve in faith to eternal life (Ephesians 1:4-6, Romans 8:29-30). This election to faith and salvation in no way was caused by anthing in people but shows how completely salvation is by grace alone (Romans 11:5-6)."

"We reject every teaching that people in any way contribute to their salvation. We reject the belief that people with their own power can cooperate in their conversion or make a decision for Christ (John 15:16). We reject the belief that those who are converted are less resistant to God's grace than those who remain unconverted. We reject all efforts to present faith as a condition people must fulfill to complete their justification. We reject all attempts of sinners to justify themselves before God."

"We reject the false and blasphemous conclusion that those who are lost were predestined, or elected, by God to damnation, 1 Timothy 2:4, God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, 1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 2 Peter 3:9, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

"Please note that the Wisconsin Synod teaches predestination of salvation alone. Predestination to damnation is rejected. Predestination is based on God's grace alone. There was nothing in any human being that would cause God to choose him. The Wisconsin Synod teaches universal atonement. We do not try to rationalize why some are saved and not others in a way that is satisfying to human reason. We believe that if a person is saved it is all to God's credit. If a person is lost, it is completely that person's fault.

"Luther in his Bondage of the Will (1525) can at times seem as if he taught double predestination. However, it is always necessay to look at the historical circumstances of any particular writing of Luther. His Bondage of the Will was written in response to Erasmus' Concerning Free Choice in which Erasmus contended that human beings by
nature have the abiltiy to do good in God's eyes and to choose to serve him and believe in Him. Luther makes some strong statements to demonstrate Erasmus' error. If you were to read more of Luther it would become clear that,
unlike Calvin, Luther taught that God's grace is universal (Smalcald Articles 111, 4, Large Catechism 2nd Petition, 54, Weimar Ausgabe 52:618). Christ atoned for the sins of all and God has forgiven all (luther's Works 40:366-367). Luther does not try to harmonize God's will to save all and his particular predestination of the elect. The answer to that question belongs to the hidden will of God. Human beings are not to inquire into this nor would it do them any good to try (LW33:140). LUTHER WAS CONTENT TO LET THIS PARADOX STAND: if a person is saved it is completely to God's credit; if a person is lost it is completely that person's own fault. LUTHER DID NOT TRY TO FIND AN EXPLANATION THAT WOULD BE SATISFACTORY TO HUMAN REASON AND HUMAN LOGIC."

The difference between Luther (Doctor of Theology) and John Calvin (Doctor of Law) was that if you could show Luther from the scriptures where he was wrong, he would change his theology to square with the scriptures.

There is an extreme danger in persisting in a theology, where you have to cut out large chunks of the scriptures to make it work!

For added insights into the differences between Lutheran and Reformed theology, please listen to Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, on the White Horse Inn.
March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLLOYD
I am utterly mystified and, frankly, flabbergasted that Lloyd could possibly be as well-read in Reformed literature as he claims and yet still mischaracterize the Reformed position as suggesting that the non-elect are "predestined to damnation."

However, even if a person carried that misconception into this website after voluminous "research,", he would easily be disabused of it by exerting the miniscule effort required for expending five minutes of time reading Dr. Riddlebarger's comments. In fact, the opening selection from the Canons of Dort would have been sufficient for that purpose, even without the commentary following.

In view of how obvious and clear the issue was thus presented, I can conclude nothing else but that Lloyd's blatant mischaracterization of the Reformed position has been offered in the spirit of either wilfull ignorance or outright slander (a conclusion justified by the condescending attitude displayed in statements like, "The difference between Luther (Doctor of Theology) and John Calvin (Doctor of Law) was that if you could show Luther from the scriptures where he was wrong, he would change his theology to square with the scriptures."

Sir, you most assuredly DO have the liberty of conscience to prefer Luther over Calvin--but you certainly DO NOT have the right to slander Calvin and other men of the Reformed persuasion with distortions and mischaracterizations of their position!

On his deathbed, Calvin asserted, "I have endeavored, both in my sermons and also in my writings and commentaries, to preach the word purely and chastely, and faithfully to interpret His sacred Scriptures." How dare you impugn the motives of such a man--whose written legacy bears abundant testimony to the sincerity of his above-stated convictions (although we acknowledge the imperfection which his work shares in common with all other non-inspired writings)...?

You malign John Calvin in favor of Martin Luther--but your spiritual hero would not have joined you in such baseless slander. In fact, when he read one of John Calvin's early works, Martin Luther said, "Here is a writing which has hands and feet. I rejoice that God raises up such men."

No doubt you would find it profitable to emulate your teacher's gracious attitude in addition to his doctrine, and thereby prove yourself a "Lutheran" indeed.
September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

The quotations below are from Luther's work: “Prefat. And Epist. Ad Rom.”

Cited by Lorraine Boettner in his discourse on Reprobation at “”:

“This mightily offends our rational nature, that God should, of His own mere unbiased will, leave some men to themselves, harden them, and condemn them; but He gives abundant demonstration, and does continually, that this is really the case; namely, that the sole cause why some are saved, and others perish, proceeds from His willing the salvation of the former, and the perdition of the latter, according to that of St. Paul, ‘He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.’”

“It may seem absurd to human wisdom that God should harden, blind, and deliver up some men to a reprobate sense; that He should first deliver them over to evil, and condemn them for that evil; but the believing, spiritual man sees no absurdity at all in this; knowing that God would be never a whit less good, even though He should destroy all men.” He then goes on to say that this must not be understood to mean that God finds men good, wise, obedient, and makes them evil, foolish, and obdurate, but that they are already depraved and fallen and that those who are not regenerated, instead of becoming better under the divine commands and influences, only react to become worse. In reference to Romans IX, X, XI, Luther says that “all things whatever arise from and depend upon the Divine appointment, whereby it was preordained who should receive the word of life and who should disbelieve it, who should be delivered from their sins and who should be hardened in them, who should be justified and who condemned.”
September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
I really appreciate this dialog. From the original Canon of Dort, to Riddlebargers thoughtful commentary, to Lloyd's well-stated, albeit someone prideful in tone (but I believe still makes some great conclusions regarding paradox), to George's firm but dignified response. There is a tension here that doesn't seem God has seen fit to alleviate, just as God never saw fit to answer Job's underlying question "Why me?". My pastor once quoted "Where Godly men disagree, we must tread carefully." This post encouraged and strengthened by belief that apart from God, I am nothing. I would love to sit around a table, enjoying a pint of beer with all of you as a way of saying "Thank you...isn't God good?"
September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

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