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Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711) on Election and Reprobation

May 8, 2009

Wilhelmus à Brakel:

The Two Parts of Predestination: Election and Reprobation

Predestination consists of two parts: election and reprobation. This is evident from texts in which both are mentioned simultaneously. “. . . vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: . . . vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:22-23); “The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7); “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9).

The Decree of Election

Various words are used to describe the decree of election, such as “purpose,” “foreknowledge,” and “predestination.” “…them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:28-29). It is also referred to as being ordained to eternal life: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); as being written in the book of life: “but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20); as obtaining salvation (1 Th. 5:9), and by the word “chosen”: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

Election is the foreordination of God whereby He eternally, certainly, and immutably has decreed to lead some specific individuals, identified by name, unto eternal salvation, not because of foreseen faith or good works, but motivated purely by His singular and sovereign good pleasure to the glory of His grace.

( 1 ) Election is a divine deed. It has pleased the eternal God, who is all-sufficient in Himself, to communicate His goodness, having chosen some men to be the recipients of that communication. “He hath chosen us” (Eph. 1:4); He hath appointed us “to obtain salvation” (1 Th. 5:9). It is for this reason that they are called “His own elect” (Luke 18:7). God must not be perceived here as Judge, judging the deeds of men to either justify or damn them in consequence of this, but He must here be considered as sovereign Lord, who deals with His creatures as it pleases Him, electing the one and rejecting the other.

(2) Election originates in eternity. In time, God sets some apart by His efficacious call, bringing them from a natural state into the state of grace. “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). This selective call, however, proceeds from God’s eternal purpose (Rom. 8:28). Thus the decree of election was not made in time – in response to man’s existence, faith, and godly life–but occurred before man performed any good deed (Rom. 9:ll); that is, from eternity, before the foundation of the world. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4); “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:ll); “…according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

(3) Election pertains to specific individuals; that is, God has made a distinction between men and men. “Many be called, but few chosen” (Mat. 20:16); “. . .but the election.. . and the rest.. .” (Rom. 11:7). The elect are specific individuals, identified by name, in contradistinction to other specific individuals. God neither chose individuals because of qualities or virtues nor because of faith or godliness, but His choice relates to specific identity only. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29); “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19); “…whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).

(4) Election did not occur by virtue of Christ’s merits, foreseen faith, or anticipated good works. These are fruits issuing forth from election. They are not the causes of election. They do not precede election but are a consequence of it. There is nothing which necessitates God to do anything. Nothing which would be in man, nor any future deeds, moved God to elect a person. The reason for election is nothing but the sovereign good pleasure of God. . . . according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself. . . . having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:9, 5).

This alone is the fountain of election. In its execution, however, God uses means. God, having permitted the human race to become subject to sin and punishment, in time draws His elect out of this state and is gracious to them. Election is therefore called the election of grace. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works” (Rom. 11:5-6). Because God has elected some, He grants Christ to them in order to bring them to God and salvation in a manner consistent with His divine Being. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me” (John 17:6). It is in this respect that election occurred in Christ. “According as He hath chosen us in Him. . . . Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself.. . wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4-6).

This election is not a consequence of any foreseen faith or good works. These issue forth out of election, being the means to make the elect partakers of the salvation ordained for them. This is true for faith: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Therefore faith is called the faith of the elect (Titus 1:l). Consider also what is stated concerning good works in Ephesians 1:5,4, “Having predestinated us [not because we were such and such or because God viewed us as such but] “…that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” “For which he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). These He called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:30).

(5) Election is immutable. Man will not change this decree, as this election was not made on the basis of conditions. God Himself works in His elect that which is pleasing to Him, thereby leading them unto salvation. God will not of Himself change this decree, since with the Lord there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1: 17). The Lord’s wisdom and omnipotence cause His counsel to stand: This is why Scripture speaks of the “immutability of His counsel” (Heb. 6:17); “That the purpose of God according to election might stand” (Rom. 9:ll); “The foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19); “Whom He did predestinate . . . them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).

(6) The purpose of election is the glorification of God. This is not to add glory to Him, for He is perfect, but to reveal all His glorious perfections which manifest themselves in the work of redemption, to angels and men, in order that in reflecting upon them felicity may be experienced. Its purpose is, by glorifying and praising Him, to end with all things in Him in whom all things must end, and thus to afford Him honor and glory. The purpose is “to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (2 Th. 1:l0); it is to “the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). In reference to this the apostle exclaims, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Reprobation Defined

The other element of predestination is reprobation, to which reference is made in a variety of ways, such as “to be cast away.” “I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” (Isa. 41:9); to be fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22); to be appointed unto wrath (1 Th. 5:9); to be ordained unto condemnation (Jude 4); and not to be written in the book of life (Rev. 13:8). These texts prove at once that there is such a thing as reprobation.

We define reprobation to be the predestination of some specific individuals, identified by name, out of sovereign good pleasure to the manifestation of God’s justice in them by punishing them for their sins.

(1) Just as we have shown and shall further prove that election pertains to specific individuals, so this is likewise applicable to reprobation. ” . .whose names were not written in the book of life” (Rev. 17:8, Christ said to specific individuals, “Ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26). They are designated by the relative pronoun “who.” “For there are certain men.. .who were before of old ordained to this condemnation” (Jude 4). This is the reason why some are specifically called by name, such as Esau (Rom. 9:13), Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17), and Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:25). The number of reprobates far exceeds the number of elect, who in contrast to them -even of those that are called – are referred to as “few” (Mat. 20:16).

(2) Reprobation proceeds solely from God’s good pleasure. Although the ungodliness of the reprobates is the cause of their damnation, this nevertheless was not the reason why God, to the glory of His justice, was moved to decree their reprobation. It purely proceeds from the good pleasure of God who has the right and the power to do as He pleases with His own. Thus, no one is permitted to say, “Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). According to His good pleasure He conceals the way of salvation (Mat. 11:25-26); “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). His purpose stands firm. This is confirmed in Romans 9:11 where it is stated, “for the children being not yet born, neither having done good or evil.” It is therefore according to God’s sovereignty and good pleasure to manifest His justice towards some and His grace to others (Rom. 9:22-23). God shall maintain His holiness and justice. Believers know that God is just and righteous in all His doings. Let him who wishes to strive with God concerning this do so.

(3) As the decree itself is a manifestation of the sovereignty of God, its purpose is the manifestation of God’s justice which reveals itself in the execution of this decree. He who decrees the end simultaneously decrees the means unto this end. Sin is the only reason that God has decreed to damn specific individuals. God permits them by their own volition to turn from Him and to enslave themselves to sin. They, having sinned, become subject to the curse threatened upon sin. God, while delivering others from sin and its curse by means of the Surety Jesus Christ, bypasses them, and therefore they neither hear God nor believe in Him. “Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47); “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26). As a righteous Judge God punishes them due to their sin in “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Thus, God shows His wrath over “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22).  Wilhemus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans., by Bartel Elshout, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publ., 1992), 1:217-221. [Italics Original; underlining mine.]

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