That “Dreadful” Decree

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What decree is that? The “dreadful” decree I am referring to today is the decree of Reprobation, its consequence being Unconditional Election (for how could there be one without the other?). Now, calling it “dreadful,” while I would agree, actually comes not from me or any other Arminian today, but from John Calvin himself!

Calvin wrote, “The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance, but boils and rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet. Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated (Bernard, in Die Ascensionis, Serm. 2).

“This they do ignorantly and childishly, since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he admits others for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children . . .

“These observations would be amply sufficient for the pious and modest, and such as remember that they are men. But because many are the species of blasphemy which these virulent dogs utter against God, we shall, as far as the case admits, give an answer to each . . . [I, Billy, have been taught that men use ad hominem statements because of their own weak and impotent arguments; and Calvin is chock full of them.] Calvin continued:

“They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his revolt . . . But whether they will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not owing to nature that they all lost salvation by the fault of one parent . . . Scripture proclaims that all were, in the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God.

“It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy, unless that it so seemed meet [good] to God? Here the most loquacious [given to excessive talking] tongues must be dumb.

“The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree.”1

Calvin was right. That is indeed dreadful (assuming, probably incorrectly, that the word means horrible, an unwanted circumstace). For it is one thing to foresee or foreknow the future outcome of individuals, and it is quite another to ordain the destiny of those individuals based not on foreknowing their choices, but on a decree, or, as Calvin would state it, according to His own good pleasure (and this in spite of Ezek. 33.11 and 1 Tim. 2.4). It is quite likely, however, that Calvin used the word in its classical sense of full of dread, full of awe, to be feared, etc.

Clark Pinnock comments, “Calvin was compelled to say that because, if one thinks that God determines all that happens in the world (his Augustinian premise) and not all are to be saved in the end (as he believed the Bible taught), there was no way around it. Calvin’s logic was impeccable as usual: God wills whatever happens, so if there are to be lost people, God must have willed it. It was as logically necessary as it was morally intolerable”2 (emphases mine).

Arminian scholar Forlines comments, “It is important to keep in mind that in eternity past God did not observe the future as a mere spectator any more than He occupies the position of a mere spectator now. At the present time, God is deeply involved in what is taking place. As a holy, loving, caring, personal, omnipotent, omniscient, wise, and sovereign God, He is deeply concerned about and is deeply involved in what is happening in the human race. There is consistency between all of God’s attributes and His actions as a divine Sovereign.”3

Arminian scholar Picirilli notes, “As election deals with people as believers, so reprobation deals with them as unbelievers . . . Arminius was quick to insist, correctly I believe, that the punishment to which unbelievers are reprobated is ‘not only on account of unbelief, but likewise on account of other sins from which they might have been delivered through faith in Christ.'”4

And finally, Arminian scholars Walls and Dongell writes, “Calvinism is hard-pressed to account for sin and evil in a way that is morally plausible. For if God determines everything that happens, then it is hard to see why there is so much sin and evil in the world and why God is not responsible for it.”5

In spite of the fact that the Bible nowhere suggests that God chose anyone for hell before the foundation of the world, the Calvinists’ doctrine of Reprobation is a “necessary evil,” so to speak, a necessary consequence of Unconditional Election.

1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1989), 3:23, 225-232.

2 Clark Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 19.

3 F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 335.

4 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, and Free Will (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 58.

5 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 133.