Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Doctrine of Reprobation: Laying the Ax to the Pride of Men

"For certain people have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
-Jude 1:4

Of the distinctive doctrines associated with the nickname "Calvinism", two are particularly anathematized by devotees of free-willism: reprobation, the doctrine that God has actively preordained some for unbelief, hardening, and judgment; and particular atonement, the doctrine that Christ died for a certain number, eternally decreed by God, rather than for men universally. I want here to address the first.

Jude here describes certain people who have been designated for condemnation. Those individuals are contrasted with others in verse 3 who hold to the faith of the saints. Paul addresses the same preordination in Romans 9:11-13, "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call - she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" God declared in advance that He chose Jacob by name, but rejected Esau by name, out of His sovereign decree of election, explicitly not because of the qualities of the brothers.

Even among some Reformed folks, the doctrine of reprobation is misrepresented as a passive act of God, in which He merely refrains from electing a person to salvation, the view of Lutherans. They are still too attached to human worthiness to accept that God actively devotes some to eternal destruction. But the Scriptures do not bend to their squeamishness. Paul continues in Romans 9:20-24, "But 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?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory?" Notice that Paul doesn't explain God's decree of reprobation. Rather, he condemns our presumption in questioning it. After all, as creatures, we rebel when we demand explanations from our Creator. Do we not claim the same right when we tell our children, "because I said so"?

The Westminster Confession of Faith (III:7) summarizes these biblical statements this way: "The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice." Notice that the confession does not describe reprobation as a passive allowing, but rather as an active ordaining.

Our fallen hearts naturally rise up and demand that God explain His actions. After all, who does He think He is? "I think I am God, and that you aren't," is His answer. And that should bring Paul's question to mind again: Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?

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