R. C. Sproul
"A horrible decree ...." "Most
ruthless statement. . . ." "A terrible theological
theory. . . ." "An illegitimate inference of logic.
. ." These and other similar epithets have been used frequently
to articulate displeasure and revulsion at the Reformed doctrine
of double predestination. Particularly abhorrent to many is
the notion that God would predestinate (in any sense) the doom
of the reprobate.
The goal of this essay is not to provide
a comprehensive analysis, exposition, or defense of the doctrine
of election or predestination. Rather, the essay is limited
to a concern for the "double" aspect of predestination
with particular reference to the question of the relationship
of God's sovereignty to reprobation or preterition.
use of the qualifying term "double" has been somewhat
confusing in discussions concerning predestination. The term
apparently means one thing within the circle of Reformed theology
and quite another outside that circle and at a popular level
of theological discourse. The term "double" has been
set in contrast with a notion of "single" predestination.
It has also been used as a synonym for a symmetrical view of
predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked
out in a parallel mode of divine operation. Both usages involve
a serious distortion of the Reformed view of double predestination.
Viewing double predestination as a distinction
from single predestination may be seen in the work of Emil Brunner.
Brunner argues that it is impossible to deduce the doctrine
of double predestination from the Bible. He says:
The Bible does not contain the doctrine
of double predestination, although in a few isolated passages
it seems to come close to it. The Bible teaches that all
salvation is based on the eternal Election of God in Jesus
Christ, and that this eternal Election springs wholly and
entirely from God's sovereign freedom. But wherever this
happens, there is no mention of a decree of rejection. The
Bible teaches that alongside of the elect there are those
who are not elect, who are "reprobate," and indeed
that the former are the minority and the latter the majority;
but in these passages the point at issue is not eternal
election but "separation" or "selection"
in judgment. Thus the Bible teaches that there will be a
double outcome of world history, salvation and ruin, Heaven
and hell. But while salvation is explicitly taught as derived
from the eternal election, the further conclusion is not
drawn that destruction is also based upon a corresponding
decree of doom.1
Here Brunner argues passionately, though
not coherently, for "single" predestination. There
is a decree of election, but not of reprobation. Predestination
has only one side — election. In this context, double predestination
is "avoided" (or evaded) by the dialectical method.
The dialectical method which sidesteps logical consistency has
had a pervasive influence on contemporary discussions of double
predestination. A growing antipathy to logic in theology is
manifesting itself widely. Even G. C. Berkouwer seems allergic
to the notion that logic should play a role in developing our
understanding of election.
is one thing to construct a theology of election (or any other
kind of theology) purely on the basis of rational speculation.
It is quite another to utilize logic in seeking a coherent understanding
of biblical revelation. Brunner seems to abhor both.
Let us examine the "logic" of Brunner's
position. He maintains that (1) there is a divine decree of
election that is eternal; (2) that divine decree is particular
in scope ("There are those who are not elect"); (3)
yet there is no decree of reprobation. Consider the implications.
If God has predestined some but not all to election, does it
not follow by what Luther called a "resistless logic"
that some are not predestined to election? If, as Brunner maintains,
all salvation is based upon the eternal election of God
and not all men are elect from eternity, does that not mean
that from eternity there are non-elect who most certainly will
not be saved? Has not God chosen from eternity not to elect
some people? If so, then we have an eternal choice of non-election
which we call reprobation. The inference is clear and necessary,
yet some shrink from drawing it.
once heard the case for "single" predestination articulated
by a prominent Lutheran theologian in the above manner. He admitted
to me that the conclusion of reprobation was logically inescapable,
but he refused to draw the inference, holding steadfastly to
"single" predestination. Such a notion of predestination
is manifest nonsense.
there are four possible kinds of consistent single predestination.
(1) Universal predestination to election (which Brunner does
not hold); (2) universal predestination to reprobation (which
nobody holds); (3) particular predestination to election with
the option of salvation by self-initiative to those not elect
(a qualified Arminianism) which Brunner emphatically rejects;
and (4) particular predestination to reprobation with the option
of salvation by self-initiative to those not reprobate (which
nobody holds). The only other kind of single predestination
is the dialectical kind, which is absurd. (I once witnessed
a closed discussion of theology between H. M. Kuitert of the
Netherlands and Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary. Kuitert
went into a lengthy discourse on theology, utilizing the method
of the dialectic as he went. When he was finished, Dr. Van Til
calmly replied: "Now tell me your theology without the
dialectic, so I can understand it!" Kuitert was unable
to do so. With Brunner's view of predestination the only way
to avoid "double" predestination is with the use of
"single" predestination can be consistently maintained
only within the framework of universalism or some sort of qualified
Arminianism. If particular election is to be maintained and
if the notion that all salvation is ultimately based upon that
particular election is to be maintained, then we must speak
of double predestination.
much greater issue of "double" predestination is the
issue over the relationship between election and reprobation
with respect to the nature of the decrees and the nature of
the divine outworking of the decrees. If "double"
predestination means a symmetrical view of predestination, then
we must reject the notion. But such a view of "double"
predestination would be a caricature and a serious distortion
of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.
The distortion of double predestination looks
like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election
and reprobation. God WORKS in the same way and same manner with
respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from
all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative
works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation.
By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin
and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes
to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine
initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is
the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin
and degeneration are the monergistic work of God. Stated
another way, we can establish a parallelism of foreordination
and predestination by means of a positive symmetry. We
can call this a positive-positive view of predestination.
This is, God positively and actively intervenes
in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the
same way God positively and actively intervenes
in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.
distortion of positive-positive predestination clearly makes
God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God
monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do. Such a view
is indeed a monstrous assault on the integrity of God. This
is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and
inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified
with what is often loosely described as hyper-Calvinism and
involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of
predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically
rejected by Reformed thinkers.
The Reformed View
In sharp contrast to the caricature of double
predestination seen in the positive-positive schema is the classic
position of Reformed theology on predestination. In this view
predestination is double in that it involves both election and
reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode
of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied.
Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative
In the Reformed
view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively
intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by
a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds
this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving
them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or
unbelief in their lives. Even in the case of the "hardening"
of the sinners' already recalcitrant hearts, God does not, as
Luther stated, "work evil in us (for hardening is working
evil) by creating fresh evil in us."2
When men hear us say that God works both
good and evil in us, and that we are subject to God's working
by mere passive necessity, they seem to imagine a man who
is in himself good, and not evil, having an evil work wrought
in him by God; for they do not sufficiently bear in mind
how incessantly active God is in all His creatures, allowing
none of them to keep holiday. He who would understand these
matters, however, should think thus: God works evil in us
(that is, by means of us) not through God's own fault, but
by reason of our own defect. We being evil by nature, and
God being good, when He impels us to act by His own acting
upon us according to the nature of His omnipotence, good
though He is in Himself, He cannot but do evil by our evil
instrumentality; although, according to His wisdom, He makes
good use of this evil for His own glory and for our salvation.2
Thus, the mode of operation in the lives
of the elect is not parallel with that operation in the lives
of the reprobate. God works regeneration monergistically but
never sin. Sin falls within the category of providential concurrence.
Another significant difference between the
activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate
concerns God's justice. The decree and fulfillment of election
provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation
provides justice for the reprobate. God shows mercy sovereignly
and unconditionally to some, and gives justice to those passed
over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election
to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice.
To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God
is under no obligation to grant mercy to all — in fact He is under
no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, "I will have
mercy upon whom I will have mercy" (Rom. 9). The divine
prerogative to grant mercy voluntarily cannot be faulted. If
God is required by some cosmic law apart from Himself to be
merciful to all men, then we would have to conclude that justice
demands mercy. If that is so, then mercy is no longer voluntary,
but required. If mercy is required, it is no longer mercy, but
justice. What God does not do is sin by visiting injustice upon
the reprobate. Only by considering election and reprobation
as being asymmetrical in terms of a positive-negative schema
can God be exonerated from injustice.
The Reformed Confessions
By a brief reconnaissance of Reformed confessions
and by a brief roll-call of the theologians of the Reformed
faith, we can readily see that double predestination has been
consistently maintained along the lines of a positive-negative
The Reformed Confession: 1536
Our salvation is from God, but from ourselves
there is nothing but sin and damnation. (Art. 9)
French Confession of Faith: 1559
We believe that from this corruption
and general condemnation in which all men are plunged, God,
according to his eternal and immutable counsel, calleth
those whom he hath chosen by his goodness and mercy alone
in our Lord Jesus Christ, without consideration of their
works, to display in them the riches of his mercy; leaving
the rest in this same corruption and condemnation to show
in them his justice. (Art. XII)
The Belgic Confession of Faith: 1561
We believe that all the posterity of
Adam, being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin
of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such
as he is; that is to say, MERCIFUL AND JUST: MERCIFUL, since
he delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom he,
in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness
hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to
their works: JUST, in leaving others in the fall and perdition
wherein they have involved themselves. (Art. XVI)
The Second Helvetic Confession: 1566
Finally, as often as God in Scripture
is said or seems to do something evil, it is not thereby
said that man does not do evil, but that God permits it
and does not prevent it, according to his just judgment,
who could prevent it if he wished, or because he turns man's
evil into good. . . . St. Augustine writes in his Enchiridion:
"What happens contrary to his will occurs, in a
wonderful and ineffable way, not apart from his will. For
it would not happen if he did not allow it. And yet he does
not allow it unwillingly but willingly." (Art. VIII)
The Westminster Confession of Faith: 1643
As God hath appointed the elect unto
glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose
of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore,
they who are elected . . . are effectually called unto faith
in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified,
adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power. through faith,
unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ,
effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and
saved, but the elect only.
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 dishonour and wrath for their
sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. (Chap. III —
VI and VII)
These examples selected from confessional
formulas of the Reformation indicate the care with which the
doctrine of double predestination has been treated. The asymmetrical
expression of the "double" aspect has been clearly
maintained. This is in keeping with the care exhibited consistently
throughout the history of the Church. The same kind of careful
delineation can be seen in Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin,
Zanchius, Turrettini, Edwards, Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, Berkouwer,
Foreordination to Reprobation
In spite of the distinction of positive-negative
with respect to the mode of God's activity toward the elect
and the reprobate, we are left with the thorny question of God
predestinating the reprobate. If God in any sense predestines
or foreordains reprobation, doesn't this make the rejection
of Christ by the reprobate absolutely certain and inevitable?
And if the reprobate's reprobation is certain in light of predestination,
doesn't this make God responsible for the sin of the reprobate?
We must answer the first question in the affirmative, and the
second in the negative.
God foreordains anything, it is absolutely certain that what
He foreordains will come to pass. The purpose of God can never
be frustrated. Even God's foreknowledge or prescience makes
future events certain with respect to time. That is to say,
if God knows on Tuesday that I will drive to Pittsburgh on Friday,
then there is no doubt that, come Friday, I will drive to Pittsburgh.
Otherwise God's knowledge would have been in error. Yet, there
is a significant difference between God's knowing that I would
drive to Pittsburgh and God's ordaining that I would do so.
Theoretically He could know of a future act without ordaining
it, but He could not ordain it without knowing what it is that
He is ordaining. But in either case, the future event would
be certain with respect to time and the knowledge of God.
Luther, in discussing the traitorous act
of Judas, says:
Have I not put on record in many books
that I am talking about necessity of immutability?
I know that the Father begets willingly, and that Judas
betrayed Christ willingly. My point is that this act of
the will in Judas was certainly and infallibly bound to
take place, if God foreknew it. That is to say (if my meaning
is not yet grasped), I distinguish two necessities: one
I call necessity of force (necessitatem violentam), referring
to action; the other I call necessity of infallibility
(necessitatem infallibilem), referring to time. Let
him who hears me understand that I am speaking of the latter,
not the former; that is, I am not discussing whether Judas
became a traitor willingly or unwillingly, but whether it
was infallibly bound to come to pass that Judas should willingly
betray Christ at a time predetermined by God.3
We see then, that what God knows in advance
comes to pass by necessity or infallibly or necessity of immutability.
But what about His foreordaining or predestinating what comes
to pass? If God foreordains reprobation does this not obliterate
the distinction between positive-negative and involve a necessity
of force? If God foreordains reprobation does this not mean
that God forces, compels, or coerces the reprobate to sin? Again
the answer must be negative.
God, when He is decreeing reprobation, does so in consideration
of the reprobate's being already fallen, then He does not coerce
him to sin. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed
or forced to sin. If the decree of reprobation were made without
a view to the fall, then the objection to double predestination
would be valid and God would be properly charged with being
the author of sin. But Reformed theologians have been careful
to avoid such a blasphemous notion. Berkouwer states the boundaries
of the discussion clearly:
On the one hand, we want to maintain
the freedom of God in election, and on the other hand, we
want to avoid any conclusion which would make God the cause
of sin and unbelief.4
God's decree of reprobation, given in light
of the fall, is a decree to justice, not injustice. In this
view the biblical a priori that God is neither the cause
nor the author of sin is safeguarded. Turrettini says, "We
have proved the object of predestination to be man considered
as fallen, sin ought necessarily to be supposed as the condition
in him who is reprobated, no less than him who is elected."5 He writes elsewhere:
The negative act includes two, both preterition,
by which in the election of some as well to glory as to
grace, he neglected and slighted others, which is evident
from the event of election, and negative desertion, by
which he left them in the corrupt mass and in their misery;
which, however, is as to be understood, 1. That they are
not excepted from the laws of common providence, but remain
subject to them, nor are immediately deprived of all God's
favor, but only of the saving and vivifying which is the
fruit of election, 2. That preterition and desertion; not
indeed from the nature of preterition and desertion itself,
and the force of the denied grace itself, but from the nature
of the corrupt free will, and the force of corruption in
it; as he who does not cure the disease of a sick man, is
not the cause per se of the disease, nor of the results
flowing from it; so sins are the consequents, rather
than the effects of reprobation, necessarily bringing
about the futurition of the event, but yet not infusing
nor producing the wickedness.6
The importance of viewing the decree of reprobation
in light of the fall is seen in the on-going discussions between
Reformed theologians concerning infra- and supra-lapsarianism.
Both viewpoints include the fall in God's decree. Both view
the decree of preterition in terms of divine permission. The
real issue between the positions concerns the logical order
of the decrees. In the supralapsarian view the decree of
election and reprobation is logically prior to the decree to
permit the fall. In the infralapsarian view the decree to permit
the fall is logically prior to the decree to election and reprobation.
Though this writer favors the
infralapsarian view along the lines developed by Turrettini,
it is important to note that both views see election and reprobation
in light of the fall and avoid the awful conclusion that God
is the author of sin. Both views protect the boundaries Berkouwer
Only in a positive-positive
schema of predestination does double-predestination leave
us with a capricious deity whose sovereign decrees manifest
a divine tyranny. Reformed theology has consistently eschewed
such a hyper-supralapsarianism. Opponents of Calvinism, however,
persistently caricature the straw man of hyper-supralapsarianism,
doing violence to the Reformed faith and assaulting the dignity
of God's sovereignty.
We rejoice in the biblical clarity which
reveals God's sovereignty in majestic terms. We rejoice in the
knowledge of divine mercy and grace that go to such extremes
to redeem the elect. We rejoice that God's glory and honor are
manifested both in His mercy and in His justice.
Soli Deo Gloria.
- Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine
of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950),
- Martin Luther, The Bondage of
the Will (Westwood: Fleming H. Revell, 1957),
- Ibid., p. 220.
- G. C. Berkouwer, Divine
Election (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co., 1960), p. 181.
- Francois Turrettini, Theological
institutes (Typescript manuscript of lnstitutio
Theologiae Elencticae, 3 vols., 1679-1685), trans.
George Musgrave Giger. D.D., p. 98.
- Ibid., p. 97.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, theologian,
minister and teacher, is chairman of the board for Ligonier
Ministries. He is widely known for his videocassette series
on topics of theology, apologetics, and the Christian life.
A graduate of Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological seminary,
and the Free University of amsterdam, Dr. Sproul is professor
of systematic theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological
Seminary, Orlando, Florida. His many books include Chosen by God, The Holiness of God, Not a
Chance, Grace Unknown, Willing to Believe and more recently
You may visit his web
site Renewing Your Mind Online.
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