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The Parts of Predestination

December 5, 2009

Louis Berkhof

Predestination includes two parts, namely, election and reprobation, the predetermination of both the good and the wicked to their final end, and to certain proximate ends which are instrumental in the realization of their final destiny.


a. The Biblical Idea of Election. The Bible speaks of election in more than one sense. There is (1) the election of Israel as a people for special privileges and for special service, Deut. 4:37 ; 7:6-8; 10:15; Hos. 13:5. (2) The election of individuals to some office, or to the performance of some special service, as Moses, Ex. 3, the priests, Deut. 18:5; the kings, I Sam. 10:24; Ps. 78:70, the prophets, Jer. 1:5, and the apostles, John 6:70; Acts 9:15. (3) The election of individuals to be children of God and heirs of eternal glory, Matt. 22:14; Rom. 11:5; I Cor. 1:27,28; Eph. 1:4; I Thess. 1:4; I Pet. 1:2; II Pet. 1:10. The last is the election that comes into consideration here as a part of predestination. It may be defined as that eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation. More briefly it may be said to be God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ.

b. The characteristics of election. The characteristics of election are identical with the characteristics of the decrees in general. The decree of election: (1) Is an expression of the sovereign will of God, His divine good pleasure. This means among other things that Christ as Mediator is not the impelling, moving, or meritorious cause of election, as some have asserted. He may be called the mediate cause of the realization of election, and the meritorious cause of the salvation unto which believers are elected, but He is not the moving or meritorious cause of election itself. This is impossible, since He is Himself an object of predestination and election, and because, when He took His mediatorial work upon Him in the Counsel of Redemption, there was already a fixed number that was given unto Him. Election logically precedes the Counsel of Peace. The elective love of God precedes the sending of the Son, John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; II Tim. 1:9; I John 4:9. By saying that the decree of election originates in the divine good pleasure the idea is also excluded that it is determined by anything in man, such as foreseen faith or good works, Rom. 9:11 ; II Tim. 1:9. (2) It is immutable, and therefore renders the salvation of the elect certain. God realizes the decree of election by His own efficiency, by the saving work which He accomplishes in Jesus Christ. It is His purpose that certain individuals should believe and persevere unto the end, and He secures this result by the objective work of Christ and the subjective operations of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:29,30; 11:29; II Tim. 2:19. It is the firm foundation of God which standeth, “having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” And as such it is the source of rich comfort for all believers. Their final salvation does not depend on their uncertain obedience, but has its guarantee in the unchangeable purpose of God. (3) It is eternal, that is, from eternity. This divine election should never be identified with any temporal selection, whether it be for the enjoyment of the special grace of God in this life, for special privileges and responsible Services, or for the inheritance of glory hereafter, but must be regarded as eternal,

om. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:4,5. (4) It is unconditional. Election does not in any way depend on the foreseen faith or good works of man, as the Arminians teach, but exclusively on the sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works, Rom. 9:11 ; Acts 13:48; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 1:2. Since all men are sinners and have forfeited the blessings of God, there is no basis for such a distinction in them; and since even the faith and good works of the believers are the fruit of the grace of God, Eph. 2:8,10; II Tim. 2:21, even these, as foreseen by God, could not furnish such a basis. (5) It is irresistible. This does not mean that man cannot oppose its execution to a certain degree, but it does mean that his opposition will not prevail. Neither does it mean that God in the execution of His decree overpowers the human will in a manner which is inconsistent with man’s free agency. It does mean, however, that God can and does exert such an influence on the human spirit as to make it willing, Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13. (6) It is not chargeable with injustice. The fact that God favors some and passes by others, does not warrant the charge that He is guilty of injustice. We can speak of injustice only when one party has a claim on another. If God owed the forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all men, it would be an injustice if He saved only a limited number of them. But the sinner has absolutely no right or claim on the blessings which flow from divine election. As a matter of fact he has forfeited these blessings. Not only have we no right to call God to account for electing some and passing others by, but we must admit that He would have been perfectly just, if He had not saved any, Matt. 20:14,15; Rom. 9:14,15.

c. The purpose of election. The purpose of this eternal election is twofold: (1) The proximate purpose is the salvation of the elect. That man is chosen or elected unto salvation is clearly taught in the Word of God, Rom. 11:7-11; II Thess. 2:13. (2) The final aim is the glory of God. Even the salvation of men is subordinate to this. That the glory of God is the highest purpose of the electing grace is made very emphatic in Eph. 1:6,12,14. The social gospel of our day likes to stress the fact that man is elected unto service. In so far as this is intended as a denial of man’s election unto salvation and unto the glory of God, it plainly goes contrary to Scripture. Taken by itself, however, the idea that the elect are predestined unto service or good works is entirely Scriptural, Eph. 2:10; II Tim. 2:21 ; but this end is subservient to the ends already indicated.


Our confessional standards speak not only of election, but also of reprobation.1 Augustine taught the doctrine of reprobation as well as that of election, but this “hard doctrine” met with .a great deal of opposition. Roman Catholics, the great majority of Lutherans, Arminians, and Methodists, generally reject this doctrine in its absolute form. If they still speak of reprobation, it is only of a reprobation based on foreknowledge. That Calvin was deeply conscious of the seriousness of this doctrine, is perfectly evident from

the fact that he speaks of it as a “decretum horribile” (dreadful decree) -1 Nevertheless, he did not feel free to deny what he regarded as an important Scriptural truth. In our day some scholars who claim to be Reformed balk at this doctrine. Barth teaches a reprobation which is dependent on man’s rejection of God’s revelation in Christ. Brunner seems to have a more Scriptural conception of election than Barth, but rejects the doctrine of reprobation entirely. He admits that it logically follows from the doctrine of election, but cautions against the guidance of human logic in this instance, since the doctrine of reprobation is not taught in Scripture.2

a. Statement of the doctrine. Reprobation may be defined as that eternal

decree of God whereby He has determined to pass some men by with the operations of His special grace, and to punish them for their sins, to the manifestation of His justice. The following points deserve special emphasis: (1) It contains two elements. According to the most usual representation in Reformed theology the decree of reprobation comprises two elements, namely, pretention or the determination to pass by some men; and condemnation (sometimes called precondemnation) or the determination to punish those who are passed by for their sins. As such it embodies a twofold purpose: (a) to pass by some in the bestowal of regenerating and saving grace; and (b) to assign them to dishonor and to the wrath of God for their sins. The Belgic Confession mentions only the former, but the Canons of Dort name the latter as well. Some Reformed theologians would omit the second element from the decree of reprobation. Dabney prefers to regard the condemnation of the wicked as the foreseen and intended result of their preterition, thus depriving reprobation of its’ positive character; and Dick is of the opinion that the decree to condemn ought to be regarded as a separate decree, and not as a part of the decree of reprobation. It seems to us, however, that we are not warranted in excluding the second element from the decree of reprobation, nor to regard it as a different decree. The positive side of reprobation is so clearly taught in Scripture as the opposite of election that we cannot regard it as something purely negative, Rom. 9:21,22; Jude 4. However, we should notice several points of distinction between the two elements of the decree of reprobation: (a) Preterition is a sovereign act of God, an act of His mere good pleasure, in which the demerits of man do not come into consideration, while precondemnation is a judicial act, visiting sin with punish, ment. Even Supralaps’arians are willing to admit that in condemnation sin is taken into consideration, (b) The reason for preterition is not known by man. It cannot be sin, for all men are sinners. We can only say that God passed “some by for good and wise reasons sufficient unto Himself. On the other hand the reason for condemnation is known; it is sin. (c) Preterition is purely passive, a simple passing by without any action on man, but condemnation is efficient and positive. Those who are passed by are condemned on account

of their sin. (2) We should guard against the idea, however, that as election and reprobation both determine with absolute certainty the end unto which man is predestined and the means by which that end is realized, they also imply that in the case of reprobation as well as in that of election God will bring to pass by His own direct efficiency whatsoever He has decreed. This means that, while it can be said that God is the author of the regeneration, calling, faith, justification, and sanctification, of the elect, and thus by direct action on them brings their election to realization, it cannot be said that He i3 also the responsible author of the fall, the unrighteous condition, and the sinful acts’ of the reprobate by direct action on them, and thus effects the realization of their reprobation. God’s decree undoubtedly rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, but He did not predestinate some unto sin, as He did others unto holiness. And as the holy God He cannot be the author of sin. The position which Calvin takes on this point in his Institutes is clearly indicated in the following deliverances’ found in Calvin’s Articles on Predestination:

“Although the will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things and God holds the devil and all the impious subject to His will, God nevertheless cannot be called the cause of sin, nor the author of evil, neither is He open to any blame.

“Although the devil and reprobates are God’s servants and instruments to carry out His secret decisions, nevertheless in an incomprehensible manner God so works in them and through them as to contract no stain from their vice, because their malice is used in a just and righteous way for a good end, although the manner is’ often hidden from us.

“They act ignorantly and calumniously who say that God is made the author of sin, if all things come to pass by His will and ordinance; because they make no distinction between the depravity of men and the hidden appointments of God.”1

(3) It should be noted that that with which God decided to pass some men by,

is not His common but his’ special, His regenerating, grace, the grace that changes sinners into saints. It is a mistake to think that in this life the reprobate are entirely destitute of God’s favor. God does’ not limit the distribution of His natural gifts by the purpose of election. He does not even allow election and reprobation to determine the measure of these gifts. The reprobate often enjoy a greater measure of the natural blessings of life than the elect. What effectively distinguishes the latter from the former is that they are made recipients of the regenerating and saving grace of God.
b. Proof for the doctrine of reprobation. The doctrine of reprobation naturally follows from the logic of the situation. The decree of election inevitably implies the decree of reprobation. If the all-wise God, possessed of infinite knowledge, has eternally purposed to save some, then He ipso facto also purposed not to save others. If He has chosen or elected some, then He has by that very fact also rejected others. Brunner warns against this argument, since the Bible does not in a single word teach a divine predestination unto rejection. But it seems to us that the Bible does not contradict but justifies the logic in question. Since the Bible is primarily a revelation of redemption, it naturally does not have as much to say about reprobation as about election. But what it says is quite sufficient, cf. Matt. 11:25,26; Rom. 9:13,17,18,21,22; 11:7; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:8.


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