Vincent Cheung on Eph. 1:3-14
G. H. Kersten writes:
From the scriptures quoted it is very evident that reprobation is more than letting one lie in the state wherein he fell. It is a predetermination of the state of perdition, both of angels and of men, for God also determined to decree some of the angels to perdition, reserving them in everlasting chains under darkness unto
the judgment of the great day. The reprobate are appointed,ordained, and fitted to destruction..."
Reprobation is therefore no more a passive decree than election is; it is an active decree.The Cause of reprobation does not lie in anything outside of God,not even in sin, but in God's absolute sovereignty.Thus reprobation is the independent decree of God from eternity, the
sovereign, the decreeing God Himself. It is an act of the Father's good pleasure...
Sin, unbelief, hardness, and whatever else is mentioned as a reason for the righteous judgment of God, all follows the decree of God,and is not the cause of the decree. God is sovereign in election, but also in rejection. Both depend on nothing but God's sovereign pleasure, and, being God's decree they cannot be dependent upon
some one or some thing outside of God...
As election is not general, neither is reprobation...It concerns certain people, known to God by name.
On this subject, Paul writes as follows:
Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father,our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad in order that God's purpose in election
might stand: not by works but by him who calls she was told,"The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have
compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore,depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 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?'" 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? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared
for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:10-24)
From this passage we can derive at least four points that are relevant to our discussion on
election and reprobation.
First, reprobation is scriptural. Contrary to the claims of some commentators who acknowledge election but deny reprobation, the Bible teaches both, and teaches them in the same passage here.
Second, reprobation is individual. Contrary to the claims of those who insist that
reprobation must be collective even if it is scriptural, Paul discusses Jacob and Esau as
individuals not just the nations that would arise from them, but "the twins."
Third, reprobation is unconditional. When discussing divine election, we already pointed
out on the basis of this passage that election to salvation is unconditional. That is, God
selected the individuals for salvation not because of anything foreseen in them. But Paul
is also addressing reprobation in this same passage, and in the same way; therefore,
reprobation is unconditional in the same sense that election is unconditional.
...Paul says that God had decided to treat Jacob and Esau differently "before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad." Just as election is not based on "anything good" in the
person, reprobation is not based on "anything
bad" in the person, as if the person could
create and operate himself, with God passively watching him.
Fourth, reprobation is active. Many people claim that even if reprobation is scriptural and
individual, it must nevertheless be a passive decree; however, Scripture teaches otherwise.
Paul writes that just as some are "prepared in advance for glory," others are "prepared for
destruction." Because of grammatical considerations but also their theological biases,
many have suggested that perhaps "prepared for destruction" is meant in the passive
sense, so that it is as if the reprobates prepared themselves for destruction.
However, a variation in expression does not always signify a variation in sense. For
example, suppose I were to say, "I bought this book for myself; the other was bought for
my friend." This does not mean that whereas I bought the first book, someone else bought
the second one for my friend, or worse yet, the second book bought itself for my friend.
The context clearly shows that I bought both books one for myself, and the other for my
The false interpretation seems to require the constant use of rigid expressions. Instead of
saying, "I bought this book for myself, but the other was bought for my friend," I would
be always required to say, "I bought this book for myself, and bought the other for my
That said, the context of Romans 9 is as follows. Paul writes in verse 18, "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." It does not say that the people harden themselves. Many want to make it say this, but it does not say it.
Then, Paul writes in verse 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?" Surely the pots do not make themselves! But this is the context that Paul gives us by which we must understand the expression, "prepared for destruction" (v. 22).
In addition, God said, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (v. 13). This also indicates that
reprobation is just as active as election, that just as God decided to treat Jacob a certain
way without basing this decision on anything found in Jacob, God decided to treat Esau a
certain way also without basing this decision on anything found in Esau. As if it changes
anything, commentators are quick to suggest that "hate" here means merely "love less."
Fine, but what does that mean? And how much less? Spinach I love, but eggplant I love
less. How much less? I hate it.
Many Reformed theologians teach that the difference between election and reprobation is
that whereas God must actively select and summon out the elect for salvation, he merely passes by the reprobates, as if this exonerates God from some horrible and shameful crime. But active reprobation is no crime it is God's righteous decree to reveal his wrath and his power (v. 22), and to show forth his mercy toward the elect (v. 23), all for his glory. Thus all things are done by God's will and power, and he needs no excuse for his decrees and actions.
Although there is indeed a difference between election and reprobation, both are equally
active. The real difference is that there is an additional step in the execution of God's
decree for the elect. Specifically, in eternity God conceived of and decreed the creation of
both the elect individuals and the reprobate individuals, and decreed that both would fall
into sin through Adam, but he also decreed that he would save the elect through Christ.
When Adam fell into sin, both the elect and the reprobate individuals fell with him. The
reprobate individuals are then in their divinely-decreed position, prepared for destruction,
whereas the elect individuals await the application of redemption in God's appointed
Our opponents then object, "But does this not make God the author of sin?" Many
Reformed theologians are quick to deny this charge, even including those who affirm
active reprobation, and they make all kinds of distinctions and qualifications to distance
God from sin and evil. But since the phrase "author of sin" is not even found in the
Bible, I wonder why they are so quick to invent or acknowledge an unbiblical phrase, and
then scramble to say, "God is not that."
Most people do not stop to consider what the phrase means. Specifically, what is meant
by "author"? When God inspired the Scripture, he did not physically take up the pen to
write, but the creatures did (caused by God, of course). So if you mean by the "authors"
of Scripture those who physically took up the pen, then the human writers are the authors.
But if you refer to the source of the content the thoughts and the words and the very
cause that made the human writers take up the pen, and the very power that moved the
pen, then God is the author of Scripture.
So if the question is whether the doctrine of predestination makes God a sinner, as in one
who commits sin or evil, then we must deny it.
But if this is what is meant, then let us
rephrase the question to say "sinner" or "evildoer" instead of "author of sin."
Now, since God is the sole standard of right and wrong, then for him to be a sinner, he would have to establish a moral law for himself, then break it, and then judge himself to be wrong.
However, Scripture asserts that he is righteous in all that he does.
But if the question is whether God is the ultimate or even the immediate cause of sin,
then we must affirm it, and in this sense, and for those who for some reason want to use
the phrase, then God is indeed the "author of sin," because he is necessarily the author of
all things. The common assumption is that there is something "wrong" with saying that God is the author of sin. However, since God is the sole standard of right and wrong, it is wrong for God to be the author of sin only if God himself has decreed that it is wrong for him to be the author of sin. It is not up to the likes of us to say that it is wrong, and just because some people assume that it is wrong does not make it wrong.
Theologians are fond of appealing to "secondary causes" to distance God from sin and evil. They say that God indeed causes sin and evil, but he does it only through secondary causes, and thus he indirectly causes them. However, this does not really distance God from sin and evil because, to begin with, each time God must directly make the
secondary causes work the way he wants them to work, and he must directly make the objects supposedly affected by the secondary causes respond the way he wants them to respond. Otherwise, it would be as if we acknowledge a metaphysical principle or power that is different from God but that is as powerful as God, which is dualism.
Now, appeals to secondary causes are legitimate as long as it is correctly applied;however, if the intention is to distance God from the event or the effect (such as murder,rape, etc.) as a way to do theodicy, then the approach fails, because nothing can really distance God this way. It is biblically wrong and metaphysically impossible.
Therefore,in this sense in the sense that God is necessarily the author of all things we must
affirm that God is the author of sin. But we will add that this does not generate an apologetic problem, because there is no rational or biblical argument showing that there is anything wrong with it; rather, God and his actions are righteous by definition.
The doctrine of predestination is indeed controversial, not because Scripture is unclear or
that there are good arguments on all sides, but it is controversial chiefly because sinful
man, taught by Satan, demands salvation from God and yet refuses to give him all the
glory. Instead, he reserves a determinative role for himself, asserting that God makes
salvation at best possible, but actual for no one until the person permits God to save him.
He convinces himself that he is the master of his soul, and that no one can take it out of
his hands. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you" (John
15:16); in contrast, sinful man retorts, "You have 'chosen' me only because you know that
I would choose you, so that my will logically precedes and determines your will!" He
says, "If conversion is necessary, then by my will I will turn against my (evil) will, by my
might I will escape from Satan's hold and sin's grip, and by my power I will turn to Christ
and permit him to save me, as if I need him at all."
Sinful man may resent the above as a misrepresentation, and he may hide his real
thoughts and motives with beautiful words and reverent expressions, but underneath all
of that rest such wickedness and defiance that would be satisfied with nothing less than
making himself the center of the universe, so that even God must heed and serve him.
And thus "free will" is Satan's slogan, and Arminianism is his creed. On the other hand,
Christianity and Calvinism (which faithfully expresses the teachings of Christianity)
affirm, "Salvation comes from the LORD" (Jonah 2:9) that is, really and wholly from
God, and not just partly or even mostly from him.
Yes, the doctrine is controversial, so that even some who claim to agree with us suggest that we should not preach about it. But then do they really agree with us? If what we have been saying is correct, then predestination is inseparably interwoven with any adequate exposition of biblical theology and of the gospel itself. Their suggestion insults God, as if he was stupid, or that he erred in revealing this doctrine to us through the Scripture. In contrast to their impiety, Luther writes:
It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that He
foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will...
As I said above, what may be found in or proved by the sacred writings is both plain and wholesome, and so may safely be published, learned and known and, indeed, should be. So your statement, that some things should not be exposed to everyone's hearing, if made with reference to the contents of Scripture, is
false; and if you spoke of other things, your remark was irrelevant and out of place, and a waste of your paper and time.
As for the argument that predestination is best left untaught because of the tumult and
disunity that it causes, Luther replies:
What a fulsome speaker you are! but utterly ignorant of what you are talking about. In a word, you treat this discussion as if the issue
at stake between us was the recovery of a debt, or some other trivial item, the loss of which matters far less than the public peace,and therefore should not so upset anyone as to make him hesitate to give and take, yielding the point if need be, in order to ensure that no occasion for public disorder arises. You make it clear that
this carnal peace and quiet seems to you far more important than faith, conscience, salvation, the Word of God, the glory of Christ,and God himself.
Let me tell you, therefore and I beg you to let this sink deep into your mind I hold that a solemn and vital truth, of eternal consequence, is at stake in this discussion; one so crucial and
fundamental that it ought to be maintained and defended even at the cost of life, though as a result the whole world should be, not just thrown into turmoil and uproar, but shattered in chaos and reduced to nothingness.
If you do not grasp that, if it leaves you unmoved, then mind your own business, and leave those to grasp it and be moved by it to whom it is given of God!
Some will then say that even if the doctrine must be taught, perhaps it should be taught only to the mature saints, or at least only to believers, but certainly not mentioned in evangelism.
However, Jesus flatly tells his hearers, including the unbelievers, that no one can know
the Father unless "the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matthew 11:27), that no one can come
to him for salvation unless the Father "draws him" (John 6:44) and "has enabled him"
This means that it is fully legitimate to preach, even to unbelievers,"Although you will be saved only if you come to Christ and believe the gospel, unless God chooses and enables you, you cannot come and will not believe."
In addition, Jesus says to the unbelievers, "You do not believe because you are not my sheep" (John 10:26).
This means that it is fully appropriate to preach, even to unbelievers, "If you do not
believe, it is because you are not one of God's people, but one of the reprobates, destined
Would this not offend some hearers, and drive them away? Yes, preaching like this will
offend the reprobates and drive them away, which will also mean that we will have fewer false converts in our churches, who cause us unnecessary and (because they are unregenerate) unfixable problems.
But surely the elect would rejoice to hear about God's sovereign power and grace, revealed for his glory and for our salvation. As Paul writes,
"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15).
There he cites Isaiah 52:7, and the message in that verse is "Your God reigns!" Thus the
sovereign rule and grace of God is the message of the gospel.
This is what we find in the ministry of Christ, so that when he says, "I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him," many people "turned back and no longer followed him"; in contrast, Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:65-69).
Therefore, because of the teaching of Scripture, the example of Christ, the doctrine of the apostles, and even the preferable effect, both election and reprobation are suitable and desirable subjects in teaching and in evangelism.
The truth is that while many Calvinists are hesitant, the Arminians are boldly proclaiming
their false gospel of free will, that the people must save themselves on the basis of what
Christ has done, that God has taken the first step but now the final and decisive step is
theirs to take, and that God can do nothing in their lives without their consent.
In the first place, for us to neglect any part of the biblical system of truth is a great sin, especially such a foundational doctrine, and in the light of the Arminians' audacity, not to boldly preach predestination and sovereign grace in all contexts would be devastating, and has
been devastating, to the church's strength and progress.
Some people treat this as a secondary issue, too trivial to bicker over; however, we have
shown that the doctrine is not trivial, nor is it just a matter of preference or perspective.
Rather, we are considering the very nature of God and the gospel. Is our God as the Bible reveals him sovereign and almighty or is he like the pagan mythological gods limited and struggling?
Is salvation really "from the Lord," or is it partly from God and partly from man?
Luther writes that the issue is "of eternal consequence." He calls the topic "the real
thing," "the essential issue," "the hinge on which all turns," and "the vital spot,"
compared to which other disputes are but "extraneous issues" and "trifles."
If you are a Christian, design your program for theological studies accordingly; if you are a pastor, set your agenda for preaching with this in mind.
Luther and the Reformers understood the nature of the dispute and its implications, for without an absolutely sovereign God who does all things by his sovereign power and saves his people solely by his sovereign grace,there would be no Christianity.
Therefore, let us not be ashamed of the gospel the true and the whole gospel that God saves his chosen ones by his grace, according to his will and his pleasure, and for his glory.