************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Article 15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 19, 2013
Canons, Head I, Article 15
I Reprobation Decree – Problems
A We were cycling up Yokohl Valley two Saturdays ago. "What are you preaching on tomorrow?" When conversations start like that I am never quite sure where they will end up. I answered that the morning service was dealing with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and that the evening service dealt with God's choosing of those who are saved.
I answered some questions about the ascension. And then one of the guys wanted to know more about election. I explained that we humans are so sinful and so fallen that, left to ourselves, none of us would come to Christ unless God first works in us. That was something new to everyone in the group.
The conversation ended on a very sad note: one of the guys said he would not want to be in heaven if it did not include members of his family.
A couple of years ago another cyclist said the exact opposite to me. We were talking about the notorious conversion of notorious murderers. This cyclist said he did want to be in heaven if it included rapists, murderers, and other criminals who supposedly repented and died with the name of Jesus on their lips.
Not every conversation about election goes as bad as the two I just mentioned. I was talking with someone in my office. She was sure that salvation was her decision. When I explained the Bible's teaching a light went on and her whole face lit up as she realized it was not up to her and her weak human efforts.
Now, remember, we live in a culture where the individual reigns supreme. Americans cling dearly to individual rights, individual liberty, individual equality, individual choice. The typical attitude out there is that everyone deserves to go to heaven unless they have done something horrible and awful that disqualifies them. In America, the individual, not God, is in charge; the individual, not God, does the choosing; the individual, not God, makes the final decision.
B It is possible for notorious sinners to be chosen by God? What about someone like President Assad of Syria? What about Kim Jong Un of North Korea? What about Luis Avilez? Luis had his name mentioned in yesterday's newspaper (HOLD UP PAPER). He is the man who shot two Visalia police officers this past Thursday. What about the eight police officers who beat a homeless man to death two Wednesdays ago in Bakersfield (HOLD UP PAPER). I suspect that many here, like my cycling friend, would be skeptical about the election and conversion of any of the men I mentioned. The same sort of skepticism greeted the conversion of the Apostle Paul. And Zacchaeus too had those who questioned his conversion. Or, what about the thief on the cross? No one expected him to repent; yet, he did. And, consider the conversion of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram who was commanded by Elisha to wash seven times in the muddy waters of the Jordan; what an unlikely recipient of God's grace. And, the same can be said for the Ethiopian Eunuch and Cornelius.
C What does this tell us? All of these are a warning to us to be careful about whom we call elect and whom we call reprobate. The elect, of course, are those who end up in heaven; the reprobate are those who end up in hell.
We have to keep in mind the words of Jesus: "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14). This contrast between the many and the few tells us that the number of the elect are fewer than we might suppose and that the number of the reprobate are greater than we might think. This also tells us that many who look or sound elect aren't really elect. In fact, in more than one place Jesus lets us know that there will be many surprised people before the judgment throne of God (Lk 13:27; Mt 7:21-23). This too is a warning to us to be careful about whom we call elect and whom we call reprobate.
D Does it seems strange to think of child killers, drug traffickers, prostitutes, and such as possibly belonging to the elect? If it does seem strange, we have not yet begun to fathom God's ocean of mercy. And, does it seem even stranger to think of nice people like the neighbors next door as possibly belonging to the reprobate? If it does seem strange, we have not yet begun to fathom man's ocean of misery.
Today, we look at the doctrine of reprobation. What really is at stake in reprobation? At stake is whether all will be saved or whether only some will be saved. You see, one of the foundations of the Christian religion is the belief there is only one way of salvation: through Jesus Christ. This makes Christianity a very intolerant religion. We tell all other faiths and all do-it-yourself religions that they are worthless and that their adherents can only end up in hell.
If the biblical teaching about election is difficult for people to grasp, the biblical teaching about reprobation is that much more difficult. For instance, a recent widow asks her pastor about her unsaved husband, "But he was always kind and generous. How could God condemn him to hell?" A young scholar asks, "What about a man like Gandhi? He was so Christlike. Doesn't God take that into account?" And then there is the question regarding those who have never heard the gospel, possibly three-fourths of all who have ever lived. Would God allow such a massive portion of His creation to be punished?
Such questions often lead mortals to believe in universalism – the belief that somehow, in someway, every person will eventually be saved. This is a very attractive notion in American society – a society so willing to overlook every kind of sin, a society so opposed to any kind of judgment.
The doctrine of reprobation – and the doctrine of election too – slams the door on universalism.
Like it or not, we must face the fact that God chooses to save only some and not all of Adam's fallen children. The fact is not everyone will be saved. So, what happens to those who are not chosen? How does God deal with them? The doctrine of reprobation gives us the answer. Says the Canons,
Moreover, Holy Scripture ... witnesses that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God's eternal election ...
E But, now, a word of caution. There are many who are weak in faith. There are many who struggle with excruciating sins. Such people often wonder if they are numbered among the reprobate. They take their weak faith, or their struggle with sin, as a reason to assume the worst – that they do not belong to Christ. For their sake, let us talk carefully and cautiously about reprobation.
There are also those who take great delight in their election and the reprobation and punishment of others. If you are one of these people you need to hear that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11).
II Reprobation Decree – Content
A What really is God's decree of reprobation? What does God say? According to the Canons God says three things about the reprobate or non-elect.
1. God decreed to leave them in the misery into which they have plunged themselves.
2. God decreed not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion.
3. God decreed to condemn and eternally punish them not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins.
This, then, is the content of God's decree of reprobation.
B The content of this decree raises a number of hard questions. One such question: Isn't God the cause of unbelief in those who don't have faith? After all, a person has faith in Christ only if God grants him faith. So if someone doesn't have faith, can't we blame God for not granting saving faith? Absolutely not! Remember what article 5 says?
The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man ...And, the last sentence of Article 15 says,
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.
Suppose that lined up before a judge are rapists, murderers, thieves, and drug dealers. None of them are sorry for their crimes. And suppose that the judge has announced his intention to pardon all who repent. Suppose further that the judge decides to force some of the criminals to repent. If he does force some to repent this does not mean the judge is the cause of the impenitence of those who do not repent. The judge is the cause only of repentance, not of a lack of repentance. That's the way it is with God. He is the cause only of repentance, not of a lack of repentance.
C Another question: Doesn't God act unjustly in His decrees by only choosing some to eternal life and passing all others by so that theirs is eternal condemnation? Don't forget what Article 1 says:
Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin.No man can say he is not worthy of punishment. Nor can anyone who experiences eternal punishment say that he did not deserve it.
D But now a harder question: Does God's decree of reprobation mean God creates some people for the purpose of sending them to hell? Absolutely not! Notice what reprobation is. Reprobation is non-election. Reprobation is a decision by God not to elect some. Reprobation is a passing by, a leaving in sin and misery. Reprobation is a decision to eternally punish some for the evil they have done. Reprobation is not responsible for the damnation of sinners. SIN is what sends men to hell. And, all men are sinners by nature and practice.
To make this even more clear: we do not believe in double predestination. We do not say that God predestines some to heaven and all others He predestines to hell. God elects some to heaven and all the rest He leaves in their sins so that they condemn themselves to hell.
E The real question is not why God chose to pass some by. The real question is why God chose to elect some to eternal life. Or to make it more personal, the real question is not why did God pass over my neighbor but why did He choose me? I'm just as lost in sin; I'm just as deserving of eternal punishment; I reject Him or ignore Him or resist Him just as much as the next person – so why did God elect me? That's the hard question to answer.
III Reprobation Decree – Attributes
A What are the attributes of the decree of reprobation? The Canons say God makes this decree "on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure."
We notice that God's decree of reprobation proceeds out of His "good pleasure." The reason for reprobation is the good pleasure of God. We must confess that we stand here before a mystery. We do not know or understand how this can be God's good pleasure; we must admit that this is beyond our understanding.
B The good pleasure of God is "entirely free" and "most just." This means we can and we should distinguish between the reason for reprobation and the reason for punishment. The reason for reprobation is found in God. The reason for punishment is found in man. In reprobation, God chooses to pass some by. But man has plunged himself into sin so man is rightly under judgment.
C The Canons also tells us the good pleasure of God is "irreproachable." We can't blame God. We can't argue with God, any more than a piece of clay can argue with the potter. As Paul puts it in our Scripture reading,
(Rom 9:20-21) But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" (21) Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
E Finally, the good pleasure of God is "unchangeable." His decree of reprobation is like His decree of election. He doesn't change His mind from day-to-day. You aren't reprobate one day and elect the next. To say that God changes His mind on reprobation is to say that God also changes His mind on election – and that would knock away from us all assurance of election and salvation.
In conclusion, let me say again that we must be careful in how we talk about reprobation. We must never dare to presume that anyone – no matter how terrible his or her sin – is automatically one of the reprobate. We don't know the mind of God. But we do know that notorious conversions do happen. And, we do know that no one is beyond God's electing love. After all, the God Who in His great mercy elected the Apostle Paul and Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross may also have elected you and me.
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