What About Reprobation?
Chapter 14 of my book "Twelve What Abouts - Answering Common Objections Concerning God's Sovereignty in Election" - John Samson.
The 16th Century was famous for at least two monumental events: The Protestant Reformation and the Copernican Revolution. No doubt, you have heard of the Reformation when men such as Martin Luther were raised up by God to bring the one true biblical gospel back to the Church. With the Protestant Reformers of old and with Scripture alone as our sure foundation, we affirm that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
In 1543, Nicolas Copernicus published his treatise De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (The Revolution of Celestial Spheres) where a new view of the world was presented: the heliocentric (sun central) model. Before Copernicus, people believed that the earth was the very center of the Universe. But Copernicus was able to prove otherwise - that it is the sun (not the earth) that is central in the solar system. This discovery shook both the religious and the scientific world. The ramifications were extremely dramatic. Our view of the world was forever changed!
Copernicus' theory was not at all popular initially. Even though the new treatise was dedicated to the Pope, it was considered heretical both by the standards of religion and science. Such was the outrage at such a thought (that the world was not the center of the Universe) that many scientists, and sadly, even many a theologian, would not even look through Copernicus' telescope! The traditions of men, both in the realms of science and religion, were that strong.
Yet Copernicus was right and his revolutionary idea was needed if forward progress was to be made. In the Church today, I believe a similar revolution is needed.
What was recognized by former generations, has, by and large, been lost to the modern day Church. The biblical Gospel is rarely heralded. Oh, there are some elements still there. But the facts of the Gospel are presented in man-centered rather than God-centered packaging. One of the most pressing needs in this hour is for the Church to actually be re-evangelized! We, the Church, need to hear a Biblically-based, God-centered, Christ-centered Gospel. We need to hear of God as He really is, of man as he really is, and the Gospel of God's grace found in Jesus Christ as it really is. And all of this starts by understanding that God is at the center and not us.
The natural man is so hostile towards God that if he could kill God, he would, even if it meant the end of his own existence. He also hates the fact that God is Sovereign. When I speak of God's Sovereignty, I mean that God does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, without asking anyone's permission.
Jonathan Edwards recalled his own experience:
From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and His justice in thus eternally dealing with men, according to His sovereign pleasure. My mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those quibbles and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, from that day to this. God's absolute sovereignty is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of anything that I see with my eyes. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God's sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so. (Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards)
Elsewhere, he wrote:
When men are fallen, and become sinful, God by His sovereignty has a right to determine about their redemption as He pleases. He has a right to determine whether He will redeem any or not. He might, if he had pleased, have left all to perish, or might have redeemed all. Or, he may redeem some, and leave others; and if He doth so, He may take whom He pleases, and leave whom He pleases. To suppose that all have forfeited his favor, and deserved to perish, and to suppose that he may not leave any one individual of them to perish, implies a contradiction; because it supposes that such a one has a claim to God's favor, and is not justly liable to perish; which is contrary to the supposition. It is meet (right) that God should order all these things according to His own pleasure. By reason of His greatness and glory, by which He is infinitely above all, He is worthy to be Sovereign, and that His pleasure should in all things take place. He is worthy that He should make Himself His end, and that He should make nothing but His own wisdom His rule in pursuing that end, without asking leave or counsel of any, and without giving account of any of His matters. It is fit that He who is absolutely perfect, and infinitely wise, and the Fountain of all wisdom, should determine everything [that He effects] by His own will, even things of the greatest importance. It is meet that He should be thus Sovereign, because He is the first being, the eternal being, whence all other beings are. He is the Creator of all things; and all are absolutely and universally dependent on Him; and therefore it is meet that He should act as the Sovereign possessor of heaven and earth. (The Justice of God in the damnation of sinners)
C. H. Spurgeon preached:
There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation - the kingship of God over all the works of His own hands - the throne of God, and His right to sit upon that throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by world-lings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. (Sermon “Divine Sovereignty,” from May 4, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark)
In Isaiah 46:8-10, God declares, "Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” God achieves all He sets out to accomplish. His plans are never thwarted or frustrated.
The natural man does not have a mere distaste for this idea; he hates it with a vengeance. As J. C. Ryle has said, Of all the doctrines of the Bible, none is so offensive to human nature as the doctrine of God's Sovereignty. (Commentary on Luke 4:22-32, source gracegems.org)
Man wants the control. He wants to be in charge of his own destiny. He hates to admit the fact that God is on the throne and one day he will answer to Him. Even more than this, he hates the fact that he is powerless to prevent God's ultimate purpose being achieved. The idea is repugnant to "autonomous" man, governed, he thinks, by his own free will.
In spite of this, the fact is that God is in charge. Man is not the center of the Universe, God is! It is time for the church to once again sound out the truth! "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36) God "works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Eph 1:11)
Just as mankind had to adjust to Copernicus' discovery, we need to adjust our thinking to the facts of Scripture. God is Sovereign. That's just the way it is! God is Sovereign in all things, including how He dispenses His grace. The Reformers declared "Sola Gratia" (Grace Alone), and by that declaration they meant grace at the start, grace to the end, grace in the middle, grace without fail, grace without mixture, grace without addition, grace that allows no boasting, grace that precludes all glorying but in the Lord. Just as many refused to look through Copernicus' telescope in his day, many refuse to look at the Scriptures in ours. Let that not be true of you and me.
When it comes to reprobation, there is no doubt that this is a highly-charged, emotional question, not merely an intellectual one. So much so that it is hard for any of us to consider this issue with any degree of objectivity. That is because we are talking about real people facing an eternity of severe punishment under the hand of God’s judgment. It is an extremely difficult question for any of us to handle emotionally. Having said that, let us at least try to look at this issue through a biblical lens (what the Bible reveals to us).
Here is what we know. All Bible believing Christians would affirm that God knows the end from the beginning and therefore has exhaustive knowledge of the future. Therefore, He creates people whom He knows will end up in hell. There is no way to avoid this conclusion.
God does indeed know His sheep and He knows those who are not (see John 10:25,26) and there are indeed scriptures that talk of predestination to reprobation – just one being 1 Peter 2:8, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
In contrast, those who believe were predestined by God. Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Concerning the beast of Revelation we are told, “All that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that hath been slain.” (Rev 13:8)
This verse alone is enough to settle the matter. God knows the identity of those who will worship the Beast (and therefore go to a lost eternity) and He knew this before the world was ever made.
Once again we can contrast these with the disciples whom Jesus told to rejoice because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20), and with those who worked alongside the Apostle Paul, “whose names are in the book of life.” (Phil 4:3)
Indeed, there is a flip side to the doctrine of Divine election; that being reprobation. Here is an excerpt from Loraine Boettner’s book “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination”:
Christ’s command to the wicked in the final judgment, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the Devil and his angels,” Matt. 25:41, is the strongest possible decree of reprobation; and it is the same in principle whether issued in time or eternity. What is right for God to do in time it is not wrong for Him to include in His eternal plan.
On one occasion Jesus Himself declared: “For judgment came I into this world, that they that see not may see; and that they that see may become blind,” John 9:39. On another occasion He said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes,” Matt. 11:25.
It is hard for us to realize that the adorable Redeemer and only Savior of men is, to some, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence; yet that is what the Scriptures declare Him to be. Even before His birth it was said that He was set (that is, appointed) for the falling, as well as for the rising, of many in Israel (Luke 2:84). And when, in His intercessory prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, He said, “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me,” the non-elect were repudiated in so many words.
Jesus Himself declared that one of the reasons why He spoke in parables was that the truth might be concealed from those for whom it was not intended. We shall let the sacred history speak for itself:
“And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? And He answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I unto them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,
“By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;
And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive;
For this people’s heart is waxed gross.
And their ears are dull of hearing.
And their eyes they have closed;
Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And should turn again,
And I should heal them.” Matt 13:10-15; Is 6:9, 10.
In these words we have an application of Jesus’ words, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine,” Matt. 7:6. He who affirms that Christ designed to give His saving truth to everyone flatly contradicts Christ Himself. To the non-elect, the Bible is a sealed book; and only to the true Christian is it “given” to see and understand these things. So important is this truth that the Holy Spirit has been pleased to repeat six times over in the New Testament this passage from Isaiah (Matt 13:14, 15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:27: Rom 11:9, 10).
Romans 9 tells us why God would create people knowing their final end will be an eternity in hell -- to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known (see the passage below). This never sits well with us when our starting point in the pursuit of truth is man and his feelings, for even as redeemed men and women, we have much more sympathy with fellow sinners than with the holiness and righteousness of God.
Think about that for a moment and I believe it will strike the heart, for we have much more in common even with a Hitler or Stalin, than we do with the holiness, majesty and glory of Almighty God, and this itself is a manifestation of our deep depravity.
BUT if we make the big paradigm shift and see life, the universe and everything from the starting point of the rightness of God being glorified in all His attributes, then everything begins to make perfect sense.
I believe that with minds that are fully sanctified in heaven we will rejoice that God’s righteousness is being glorified. But here, our fallenness makes us cringe that a fellow human being, as bad as he may be, may face the judgment of God for all eternity, knowing that God knew this would be where that person would end up even before He created him. This side of heaven it is hard for us to see God’s desire to display His attributes such as His righteousness, justice and wrath as a valid reason for God doing what He does. But in heaven, with glorified and sanctified minds, we will not have that problem at all.
I think the following passage in Romans 9 spells it out that it is right for God to show forth His attributes, even in the damnation of “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” just as He does so through redeeming the “vessels of mercy” – certainly God thinks so:
14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
For anyone still struggling with this concept, I do understand that you might need much more than a few short words here. However, I would ask you to keep struggling (so to speak) and look through the Scriptures on this issue. I will also point you to further reading material for you to consider at the end of this book.
I know that my own struggle with this concept was not because Scripture is not clear, for indeed it is. My problem was that I did not LIKE what Scripture taught. It did not fit with my preconceptions about God.
In the end I realized that to continue the struggle would be to oppose God Himself. He is the God who inspired Romans 9 and it is to Him we must one day give account. I would hate to be one who defied Him and have to give an account of my continued opposition to Him in the face of His revealed truth.
One further thing: Many people have a false concept of this doctrine which is called “Equal Ultimacy.” This false view of reprobation maintains that God does just as much in and to the wicked to cause their damnation as He does in His elect to cause their salvation. This is obviously not the case at all. Though it is true that God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills,” (Rom 9:18) we need to understand that there are two possible ways God could harden the heart.
In one scenario He could inject fresh evil into the soul of man. Such is an abhorrent thought and one totally opposed to Scripture.
In the other scenario, God could simply leave man in his state of rebellion by withholding the special measure of grace He gives to His elect. Unregenerate man’s natural disposition is one of opposition to Him. All He needs to do to harden the heart is withhold the special grace he gives to His elect, leaving them in their evil, prideful, hateful, defiance of Him.
In all this there is not even a trace of injustice taking place. God either dispenses the justice that is deserved or an unspeakable mercy that is underserved. But no one - absolutely no one - receives injustice from the hand of God.