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The following is an excerpt from a Systematic Theology written by Louis Berkhof (October 14, 1873 – May 18, 1957). Dr. Berkhof was an American-Dutch theologian and his theological writings remain required reading in all conservative theological seminaries.

I. The Divine Decrees in General


Reformed theology stresses the sovereignty of God in virtue of which He has sovereignly determined from all eternity whatsoever will come to pass, and works His sovereign will in His entire creation, both natural and spiritual, according to His pre-determined plan. It is in full agreement with Paul when he says that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His will,” Eph. 1:11.

For that reason it is but natural that, in passing from the discussion of the Being of God to that of the works of God, it should begin with a study of the divine decrees. This is the only proper theological method.

A theological discussion of the works of God should take its startingpoint in God, both in the work of creation and in that of redemption or recreation. It is only as issuing from, and as related to, God that the works of God come into consideration as a part of theology.

In spite of this fact, however, Reformed theology stands practically alone in its emphasis on the doctrine of the decrees.

Lutheran theology is less theological and more anthropological. It does not consistently take its starting point in God and consider all things as divinely pre-determined, but reveals a tendency to consider things from below rather than from above. And in so far as it does believe in pre-determination, it is inclined to limit this to the good that is in the world, and more particularly to the blessings of salvation.

It is a striking fact that many Lutheran theologians are silent, or all but silent, respecting the doctrine of the decrees of God in general and discuss only the doctrine of pre-destination, and regard this as conditional rather than absolute. In the doctrine of predestination Lutheran theology shows strong affinity with Arminianism.

Krauth (an influential leader of the Lutheran Church in our country) even says: “The views of Arminius himself, in regard to the five points, were formed under Lutheran influences, and do not differ essentially from those of the Lutheran Church; but on many points in the developed system now known as Arminianism, the Lutheran Church has no affinity whatever with it, and on these points would sympathize far more with Calvinism, though she has never believed that in order to escape from Pelagianism, it is necessary to run into the doctrine of absolute predestination. The ‘Formula of Concord’ touches the five points almost purely on their practical sides, and on them arrays itself against Calvinism, rather by the negation of the inferences which result logically from that system, than by express condemnation of its fundamental theory in its abstract form.” [The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, pp. 127f.]

In so far as Lutheran theologians include the doctrine of predestination in their system, they generally consider it in connection with Soteriology.

Naturally, Arminian theology does not place the doctrine of the decrees in the foreground. That of the decrees in general is usually conspicuous by its absence. Pope brings in the doctrine of predestination only in passing, and Miley introduces it as an issue for discussion. Raymond discusses only the doctrine of election, and Watson devotes considerable space to this in considering the extent of the atonement.

One and all reject the doctrine of absolute predestination, and substitute for it a conditional predestination. Modern liberal theology does not concern itself with the doctrine of predestination, since it is fundamentally anthropological. In the “theology of crisis” it is again recognized, but in a form that is neither Scriptural nor historical. In spite of its appeal to the Reformers, it departs widely from the doctrine of predestination, as it was taught by Luther and Calvin.


From the purely immanent works of God (opera ad intra) we must distinguish those which bear directly on the creatures (opera ad extra).

Some theologians, in order to avoid misunderstanding, prefer to speak of opera immanentia and opera exeuntia, and subdivide the former into two classes, opera immanentia per se, which are the opera personalia (generation, filiation, spiration), and opera immanentia donec exeunt, which are opera essentialia, that is, works of the triune God, in distinction from works of any one of the persons of the Godhead, but are immanent in God, until they are realized in the works of creation, providence, and redemption.

The divine decrees constitute this class of divine works. They are not described in the abstract in Scripture, but are placed before us in their historical realization. Scripture uses several terms for the eternal decree of God.

1. OLD TESTAMENT TERMS – There are some terms which stress the intellectual element in the decree, such as ’etsah from ya’ats, to counsel, to give advice, Job 38:2; Isa. 14:26; 46:11; sod from yasad, to sit together in deliberation (niphal), Jer. 23:18,22; and mezimmah from zamam, to meditate, to have in mind, to purpose, Jer. 4:28; 51:12; Prov. 30:32.

Besides these there are terms which emphasize the volitional element, such as chaphets, inclination, will, good pleasure, Isa. 53:10; and ratson, to please, to be delighted, and thus denoting delight, good pleasure, or sovereign will, Ps. 51:19; Isa. 49:8.

2. NEW TESTAMENT TERMS – The New Testament also contains a number of significant terms. The most general word is boule, designating the decree in general, but also pointing to the fact that the purpose of God is based on counsel and deliberation, Acts 2:23; 4:28; Heb. 6:17.

Another rather general word is thelema, which, as applied to the counsel of God, stresses the volitional rather than the deliberative element, Eph. 1:11.

The word eudokia emphasizes more particularly the freedom of the purpose of God, and the delight with which it is accompanied, though this idea is not always present, Matt. 11:26; Luke 2:14; Eph. 1:5,9.

Other words are used more especially to designate that part of the divine decree that pertains in a very special sense to God’s moral creatures, and is known as predestination. These terms will be considered in connection with the discussion of that subject.


The decree of God may be defined with the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His willwherebyfor His own gloryHe hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

1. THE DIVINE DECREE IS ONE – Though we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural, yet in its own nature the divine decree is but a single act of God. This is already suggested by the fact that the Bible speaks of it as a prothesis, a purpose or counsel.

It follows also from the very nature of God. His knowledge is all immediate and simultaneous rather than successive like ours, and His comprehension of it is always complete. And the decree that is founded on it is also a single, all-comprehensive, and simultaneous act. As an eternal and immutable decree it could not be otherwise. There is, therefore, no series of decrees in God, but simply one comprehensive plan, embracing all that comes to pass.

Our finite comprehension, however, constrains us to make distinctions, and this accounts for the fact that we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural. This manner of speaking is perfectly legitimate, provided we do not lose sight of the unity of the divine decree, and of the inseparable connection of the various decrees as we conceive of them.

2. THE RELATION OF THE DECREE TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD –  The decree of God bears the closest relation to the divine knowledge.

There is in God, as we have seen, a necessary knowledge, including all possible causes and results. This knowledge furnishes the material for the decree; it is the perfect fountain out of which God drew the thoughts which He desired to objectify. Out of this knowledge of all things possible He chose, by an act of His perfect will, led by wise considerations, what He wanted to bring to realization, and thus formed His eternal purpose.

The decree of God is, in turn, the foundation of His free knowledge or scientia libera. It is the knowledge of things as they are realized in the course of history. While the necessary knowledge of God logically precedes the decree, His free knowledge logically follows it. This must be maintained over against all those who believe in a conditional predestination (such as Semi-Pelagians and Arminians), since they make the pre-determinations of God dependent on His foreknowledge.

Some of the words used to denote the divine decree point to an element of deliberation in the purpose of God. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this that the plan of God is the result of any deliberation which implies short-sightedness or hesitation, for it is simply an indication of the fact that there is no blind decree in God, but only an intelligent and deliberate purpose.

3. THE DECREE RELATES TO BOTH GOD AND MAN – The decree has reference, first of all, to the works of God. It is limited, however, to God’s opera ad extra or transitive acts, and does not pertain to the essential Being of God, nor to the immanent activities within the Divine Being which result in the trinitarian distinctions.

God did not decree to be holy and righteous, nor to exist as three persons in one essence or to generate the Son. These things are as they are necessarily, and are not dependent on the optional will of God. That which is essential to the inner Being of God can form no part of the contents of the decree. This includes only the opera ad extra or exeuntia. But while the decree pertains primarily to the acts of God Himself, it is not limited to these, but also embraces the actions of His free creatures. And the fact that they are included in the decree renders them absolutely certain, though they are not all effectuated in the same manner.

In the case of some things God decided, not merely that they would come to pass, but that He Himself would bring them to pass, either immediately, as in the work of creation, or through the mediation of secondary causes, which are continually energized by His power. He Himself assumes the responsibility for their coming to pass.

There are other things, however, which God included in His decree and thereby rendered certain, but which He did not decide to effectuate Himself, as the sinful acts of His rational creatures. The decree, in so far as it pertains to these acts, is generally called God’s permissive decree. This name does not imply that the futurition of these acts is not certain to God, but simply that He permits them to come to pass by the free agency of His rational creatures. God assumes no responsibility for these sinful acts whatsoever.

4. THE DECREE TO ACT IS NOT THE ACT ITSELF – The decrees are an internal manifestation and exercise of the divine attributes, rendering the futurition of things certain but this exercise of the intelligent volition of God should not be confounded with the realization of its objects in creation, providence, and redemption.

The decree to create is not creation itself, nor is the decree to justify justification itself. A distinction must be made between the decree and its execution. God’s so ordering the universe that man will pursue a certain course of action, is also quite a different thing from His commanding him to do so. The decrees are not addressed to man, and are not of the nature of a statute law; neither do they impose compulsion or obligation on the wills of men.


1. IT IS FOUNDED IN DIVINE WISDOM –  The word “counsel,” which is one of the terms by which the decree is designated, suggests careful deliberation and consultation.

It may contain a suggestion of an intercommunion between the three persons of the Godhead. In speaking of God’s revelation of the mystery that was formerly hid in Him, Paul says that this was “to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Eph. 3:10,11.

The wisdom of the decree also follows from the wisdom displayed in the realization of the eternal purpose of God. The poet sings in Ps. 104:24, “O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.” The same idea is expressed in Prov. 3:19, “Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens.” Cf. also Jer. 10:12; 51:15.

The wisdom of the counsel of the Lord can also be inferred from the fact that it stands fast forever, Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21. There may be a great deal in the decree that passes human understanding and is inexplicable to the finite mind, but it contains nothing that is irrational or arbitrary. God formed his determination with wise insight and knowledge.

2. IT IS ETERNAL – The divine decree is eternal in the sense that it lies entirely in eternity.

In a certain sense it can be said that all the acts of God are eternal, since there is no succession of moments in the Divine Being. But some of them terminate in time, as, for instance, creation and justification. Hence we do not call them eternal but temporal acts of God.

The decree, however, while it relates to things outside of God, remains in itself an act within the Divine Being, and is therefore eternal in the strictest sense of the word. Therefore it also partakes of the simultaneousness and the successionlessness of the eternal, Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9.

The eternity of the decree also implies that the order in which the different elements in it stand to each other may not be regarded as temporal, but only as logical. There is a real chronological order in the events as effectuated, but not in the decree respecting them.

3. IT IS EFFICACIOUS – This does not mean that God has determined to bring to pass Himself by a direct application of His power all things which are included in His decree, but only that what He has decreed will certainly come to pass; that nothing can thwart His purpose.

Says Dr. A. A. Hodge: “The decree itself provides in every case that the event shall be effected by causes acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question. Thus in the case of every free act of a moral agent the decree provides at the same time — (a) That the agent shall be a free agent. (b) That his antecedents and all the antecedents of the act in question shall be what they are. (c) That all the present conditions of the act shall be what they are. (d) That the act shall be perfectly spontaneous and free on the part of the agent. (e) That it shall be certainly future. Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:10.” [Outlines of Theology, p. 203.]

(a) That the agent shall be a free agent. (b) That his antecedents and all the antecedents of the act in question shall be what they are. (c) That all the present conditions of the act shall be what they are. (d) That the act shall be perfectly spontaneous and free on the part of the agent. (e) That it shall be certainly future. Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:10.” [Outlines of Theology, p. 203.]

4. IT IS IMMUTABLE – Man may and often does alter his plans for various reasons. It may be that in making his plan he lacked seriousness of purpose, that he did not fully realize what the plan involved, or that he is wanting the power to carry it out. But in God nothing of the kind is conceivable.

He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He is faithful and true. Job 23:13,14; Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:10; Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23.

5. IT IS UNCONDITIONAL OR ABSOLUTE – This means that it is not dependent in any of its particulars on anything that is not part and parcel of the decree itself.

The various elements in the decree are indeed mutually dependent but nothing in the plan is conditioned by anything that is not in the decree. The execution of the plan may require means or be dependent on certain conditions, but then these means or conditions have also been determined in the decree.

God did not simply decree to save sinners without determining the means to effectuate the decree. The means leading to the pre-determined end were also decreed, Acts 2:23; Eph. 2:8; I Pet. 1:2.

The absolute character of the decree follows from its eternity, its immutability, and its exclusive dependence on the good pleasure of God. It is denied by all Semi-Pelagians and Arminians.

6. IT IS UNIVERSAL OR ALL-COMPREHENSIVE – The decree includes whatsoever comes to pass in the world, whether it be in the physical or in the moral realm, whether it be good or evil, Eph. 1:11.

It includes: (a) the good actions of men, Eph. 21:0; (b) their wicked acts, Prov. 16:4; Acts 2:23; 4:27,28; (c) contingent events, Gen. 45:8; 50:20; Prov. 16:33; (d) the means as well as the end, Ps. 119:89-91; II Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4; (e) the duration of man’s life, Job 14:5; Ps. 39:4, and the place of his habitation, Acts 17:26.

7. WITH REFERENCE TO SIN IT IS PERMISSIVE – It is customary to speak of the decree of God respecting moral evil as permissive.

By His decree God rendered the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will. This means that God does not positively work in man “both to will and to do,” when man goes contrary to His revealed will.

It should be carefully noted, however, that this permissive decree does not imply a passive permission of something which is not under the control of the divine will.

It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination. Ps. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30.


As was said in the preceding, only Reformed theology does full justice to the doctrine of the decrees.

Lutheran theologians do not, as a rule, construe it theologically but soteriologically, for the purpose of showing how believers can derive comfort from it.

Pelagians and Socinians reject it as unscriptural; and Semi-Pelagians and Arminians show it scant favor: some ignoring it altogether; others stating it only to combat it; and still others maintaining only a decree conditioned by the foreknowledge of God.

The objections raised to it are, in the main, always the same.

1. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE MORAL FREEDOM OF MAN – Man is a free agent with the power of rational self-determination. He can reflect upon, and in an intelligent way choose, certain ends, and can also determine his action with respect to them.

The decree of God however, carries with it necessity. God has decreed to effectuate all things or, if He has not decreed that, He has at least determined that they must come to pass. He has decided the course of man’s life for him. [Cf. Watson, Theological Institutes, Part II, Chap. XXVIII; Miley, Systematic Theology II, pp. 271 ff.]

In answer to this objection it may be said that the Bible certainly does not proceed on the assumption that the divine decree is inconsistent with the free agency of man. It clearly reveals that God has decreed the free acts of man, but also that the actors are none the less free and therefore responsible for their acts, Gen. 50:19,20; Acts 2:23; 4:27,28.

It was determined that the Jews should bring about the crucifixion of Jesus; yet they were perfectly free in their wicked course of action, and were held responsible for this crime.

There is not a single indication in Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters. They never make an attempt to harmonize the two. This may well restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths.

Moreover, it should be borne in mind that God has not decreed to effectuate by His own direct action whatsoever must come to pass.

The divine decree only brings certainty into the events, but does not imply that God will actively effectuate them, so that the question really resolves itself into this, whether previous certainty is consistent with free agency.

Now experience teaches us that we can be reasonably certain as to the course a man of character will pursue under certain circumstances, without infringing in the least on his freedom.

The prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Chaldeans would take Jerusalem. He knew the coming event as a certainty, and yet the Chaldeans freely followed their own desires in fulfilling the prediction.

Such certainty is indeed inconsistent with the Pelagian liberty of indifference, according to which the will of man is not determined in any way, but is entirely indeterminate, so that in every volition it can decide in opposition, not only to all outward inducements, but also to all inward considerations and judgments, inclinations and desires, and even to the whole character and inner state of man. But it is now generally recognized that such freedom of the will is a psychological fiction.

However, the decree is not necessarily inconsistent with human freedom in the sense of rational self-determination, according to which man freely acts in harmony with his previous thoughts and judgments, his inclinations and desires, and his whole character.

This freedom also has its laws, and the better we are acquainted with them, the more sure we can be of what a free agent will do under certain circumstances. God Himself has established these laws. Naturally, we must guard against all determinism, materialistic, pantheistic, and rationalistic, in our conception of freedom in the sense of rational self-determination.

The decree is no more inconsistent with free agency than foreknowledge is, and yet the objectors, who are generally of the Semi-Pelagian or Arminian type, profess to believe in divine foreknowledge.

By His foreknowledge God knows from all eternity the certain futurition of all events. It is based on His foreordination, by which He determined their future certainty.

The Arminian will of course, say that he does not believe in a foreknowledge based on a decree which renders things certain, but in a foreknowledge of facts and events which are contingent on the free will of man, and therefore indeterminate.

Now such a foreknowledge of the free actions of man may be possible, if man even in his freedom acts in harmony with divinely established laws, which again bring in the element of certainty; but it would seem to be impossible to foreknow events which are entirely dependent on the chance decision of an unprincipled will, which can at any time, irrespective of the state of the soul, of existing conditions, and of the motives that present themselves to the mind, turn in different directions. Such events can only be foreknown as bare possibilities.

2. IT TAKES AWAY ALL MOTIVES FOR HUMAN EXERTION – This objection is to the effect that people will naturally say that, if all things are bound to happen as God has determined them, they need not concern themselves about the future and need not make any efforts to obtain salvation. But this is hardly correct.

In the case of people who speak after that fashion this is generally the mere excuse of indolence and disobedience. The divine decrees are not addressed to men as a rule of action, and cannot be such a rule, since their contents become known only through, and therefore after, their realization.

There is a rule of action, however, embodied in the law and in the gospel, and this puts men under obligation to employ the means which God has ordained.

This objection also ignores the logical relation, determined by God’s decree, between the means and the end to be obtained.

The decree includes not only the various issues of human life, but also the free human actions which are logically prior to, and are destined to bring about, the results.

It was absolutely certain that all those who were in the vessel with Paul (Acts 27) were to be saved, but it was equally certain that, in order to secure this end, the sailors had to remain aboard. And since the decree establishes an interrelation between means and ends, and ends are decreed only as the result of means, they encourage effort instead of discouraging it.

Firm belief in the fact that, according to the divine decrees, success will be the reward of toil, is an inducement to courageous and persevering efforts. On the very basis of the decree Scripture urges us to be diligent in using the appointed means, Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:10.

3. IT MAKES GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN – This, if true, would naturally be an insuperable objection, for God cannot be the author of sin.

This follows equally from Scripture, Ps. 92:15; Eccl. 7:29; Jas. 1:13; I John 1:5, from the law of God which prohibits all sin, and from the holiness of God. But the charge is not true; the decree merely makes God the author of free moral beings, who are themselves the authors of sin.

God decrees to sustain their free agency, to regulate the circumstances of their life, and to permit that free agency to exert itself in a multitude of acts, of which some are sinful.

For good and holy reasons He renders these sinful acts certain, but He does not decree to work evil desires or choices efficiently in man. The decree respecting sin is not an efficient but a permissive decree, or a decree to permit, in distinction from a decree to produce, sin by divine efficiency.

No difficulty attaches to such a decree which does not also attach to a mere passive permission of what He could very well prevent, such as the Arminians, who generally raise this objection, assume.

The problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery for us, which we are not able to solve. It may be said, however, that His decree to permit sin, while it renders the entrance of sin into the world certain, does not mean that He takes delight in it; but only that He deemed it wise, for the purpose of His self-revelation, to permit moral evil, however abhorrent it may be to His nature.

II. Predestination

In passing from the discussion of the divine decree to that of predestination, we are still dealing with the same subject, but are passing from the general to the particular.

The word “predestination” is not always used in the same sense. Sometimes it is employed simply as a synonym of the generic word “decree.” In other cases it serves to designate the purpose of God respecting all His moral creatures.

Most frequently, however, it denotes “the counsel of God concerning fallen men, including the sovereign election of some and the righteous reprobation of the rest. In the present discussion it is used primarily in the last sense, though not altogether to the exclusion of the second meaning.


Predestination does not form an important subject of discussion in history until the time of Augustine. Earlier Church Fathers allude to it, but do not as yet seem to have a very clear conception of it. On the whole they regard it as the prescience of God with reference to human deeds, on the basis of which He determines their future destiny.

Hence it was possible for Pelagius to appeal to some of those early Fathers. “According to Pelagius,” says Wiggers, “foreordination to salvation or to damnation, is founded on prescience. Consequently he did not admit an ‘absolute predestination,’ but in every respect a ‘conditional predestination’.” [Augustinism and Pelagianism, p. 252.] 

At first, Augustine himself was inclined to this view, but deeper reflection on the sovereign character of the good pleasure of God led him to see that predestination was in no way dependent on God’s foreknowledge of human actions, but was rather the basis of the divine foreknowledge.

His representation of reprobation is not as unambiguous as it might be. Some of his statements are to the effect that in predestination God foreknows what He will Himself do, while He is also able to foreknow what He will not do, as all sins; and speak of the elect as subjects of predestination, and of the reprobate as subjects of the divine foreknowledge. [Cf. Wiggers, ibid., p. 239; Dijk. Om’t Eeuwig Welbehagen, pp. 39f.; Polman, De Praedestinatieleer van Augustinus, Thomas van Aquino, en Calvijn, pp. 149ff.] 

In other passages, however, he also speaks of the reprobate as subjects of predestination, so that there can be no doubt about it that he taught a double predestination.

However, he recognized their difference, consisting in this that God did not predestinate unto damnation and the means unto it in the same way as He did to salvation, and that predestination unto life is purely sovereign, while predestination unto eternal death is also judicial and takes account of man’s sin. [Cf. Dyk, ibid., p. 40; Polman, ibid., p. 158.]

Augustine’s view found a great deal of opposition, particularly in France, where the semi-Pelagians, while admitting the need of divine grace unto salvation, reasserted the doctrine of a predestination based on foreknowledge.

And they who took up the defense of Augustine felt constrained to yield on some important points. They failed to do justice to the doctrine of a double predestination. Only Gottschalk and a few of his friends maintained this, but his voice was soon silenced, and Semi-Pelagianism gained the upper hand at least among the leaders of the Church.

Toward the end of the Middle Ages it became quite apparent that the Roman Catholic Church would allow a great deal of latitude in the doctrine of predestination. As long as its teachers maintained that God willed the salvation of all men, and not merely of the elect, they could with Thomas Aquinas move in the direction of Augustinianism in the doctrine of predestination, or with Molina follow the course of Semi-Pelagianism, as they thought best.

This means that even in the case of those who, like Thomas Aquinas, believed in an absolute and double predestination, this doctrine could not be carried through consistently, and could not be made determinative of the rest of their theology.

The Reformers of the sixteenth century all advocated the strictest doctrine of predestination. This is even true of Melanchton in his earliest period.

Luther accepted the doctrine of absolute predestination, though the conviction that God willed that all men should be saved caused him to soft-pedal the doctrine of predestination somewhat later in life.

It gradually disappeared from Lutheran theology, which now regards it either wholly or in part (reprobation) as conditional.

Calvin firmly maintained the Augustinian doctrine of an absolute double predestination. At the same time he, in his defense of the doctrine against Pighius, stressed the fact that the decree respecting the entrance of sin into the world was a permissive decree, and that the decree of reprobation should be so construed that God was not made the author of sin nor in any way responsible for it.

The Reformed Confessions are remarkably consistent in embodying this doctrine, though they do not all state it with equal fulness and precision.

As a result of the Arminian assault on the doctrine, the Canons of Dort contain a clear and detailed statement of it. In churches of the Arminian type the doctrine of absolute predestination has been supplanted by the doctrine of conditional predestination.

Since the days of Schleiermacher the doctrine of predestination received an entirely different form.

Religion was regarded as a feeling of absolute dependence, a Hinneigung zum Weltall, a consciousness of utter dependence on the causality that is proper to the natural order with its invariable laws and second causes, which predetermine all human resolves and actions. And predestination was identified with this predetermination by nature or the universal causal connection in the world.

The scathing denunciation of this view by Otto is none too severe: “There can be no more spurious product of theological speculation, no more fundamental falsification of religious conceptions than this; and it is certainly not against this that the Rationalist feels an antagonism, for it is itself a piece of solid Rationalism, but at the same time a complete abandonment of the real religious idea of ‘predestination’.” [The Idea of the Holy, p. 90.]

In modern liberal theology the doctrine of predestination meets with little favor. It is either rejected or changed beyond recognition. G. B. Foster brands it as determinism; Macintosh represents it as a predestination of all men to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ; and others reduce it to a predestination to certain offices or privileges.

In our day Barth has again directed attention to the doctrine of predestination, but has given a construction of it which is not even distantly related to that of Augustine and Calvin. With the Reformers he holds that this doctrine stresses the sovereign freedom of God in His election, revelation, calling, and so on. [The Doctrine of the Word of God, p. 168; Roemerbrief (2nd ed.), p. 332.]

At the same time he does not see in predestination a predetermined separation of men, and does not understand election like Calvin as particular election. This is evident from what he says on page 332 of his Roemerbrief.

Camfield therefore says in his Essay in Barthian Theology, entitled Revelation and the Holy Spirit:[p. 92.] “It needs to be emphasized that predestination does not mean the selection of a number of people for salvation and the rest for damnation according to the determination of an unknown and unknowable will. That idea does not belong to predestination proper.”

Predestination brings man into crisis in the moment of revelation and decision. It condemns him in the relation in which he stands to God by nature, as sinner, and in that relation rejects him, but it chooses him in the relation to which he is called in Christ, and for which he was destined in creation.

If man responds to God’s revelation by faith, he is what God intended him to be, an elect; but if he does not respond, he remains a reprobate. But since man is always in crisis, unconditional pardon and complete rejection continue to apply to every one simultaneously. Esau may become Jacob, but Jacob may also become once more Esau.

Says McConnachie: “For Barth, and as he believes, for St. Paul, the individual is not the object of election or reprobation, but rather the arena of election or reprobation. The two decisions meet within the same individual, but in such a way that, seen from the human side, man is always reprobate, but seen from the divine side, he is always elect. . . . The ground of election is faith. The ground of reprobation is want of faith. But who is he who believes? And who is he who disbelieves? Faith and unbelief are grounded in God. We stand at the gates of mystery.” [The Significance of Karl Barth, pp. 240f.]


The following terms come into consideration here:

1. THE HEBREW WORD yada’ AND THE GREEK WORDS ginoskeinproginoskein, AND prognosis –

The word yada’ may simply mean “to know” or “to take cognizance” of someone or something, but may also be used in the more pregnant sense of “taking knowledge of one with loving care,” or “making one the object of loving care or elective love.” In this sense it serves the idea of election, Gen. 18:19; Amos 3:2; Hos. 13:5.

The meaning of the words proginoskein and prognosis in the New Testament is not determined by their usage in the classics, but by the special meaning of yada’.

They do not denote simple intellectual foresight or prescience, the mere taking knowledge of something beforehand, but rather a selective knowledge which regards one with favor and makes one an object of love, and thus approaches the idea of foreordination, Acts 2:23 (comp. 4:28); Rom. 8:29; 11:2; I Peter 1:2.

These passages simply lose their meaning, if the words be taken in the sense of simply taking knowledge of one in advance, for God foreknows all men in that sense.

Even Arminians feel constrained to give the words a more determinative meaning, namely, to foreknow one with absolute assurance in a certain state or condition. This includes the absolute certainty of that future state, and for that very reason comes very close to the idea of predestination.

And not only these words, but even the simple ginoskein has such a specific meaning in some cases, I Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19. [Cf. Article of C. W. Hodge on “Foreknow, Foreknowledge” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.]

2. THE HEBREW WORD bachar AND THE GREEK WORDS eklegesthai AND ekloge

These words stress the element of choice or selection in the decree of God respecting the eternal destiny of sinners, a choice accompanied with good pleasure.

They serve to indicate the fact that God selects a certain number of the human race and places them in a special relation to Himself.

Sometimes they include the idea of a call to a certain privilege, or of the call to salvation; but it is a mistake to think, as some do, that this exhausts their meaning. It is perfectly evident that they generally refer to a prior and eternal election, Rom. 9:11; 11:5; Eph. 1:4; II Thess. 2:13.

3. THE GREEK WORDS proorizein AND proorismos – 

These words always refer to absolute predestination. In distinction from the other words, they really require a complement. The question naturally arises, Foreordained unto what?

The words always refer to the foreordination of man to a certain end, and from the Bible it is evident that the end may be either good or bad, Acts 4:28; Eph. 1:5.

However, the end to which they refer is not necessarily the final end, but is even more frequently some end in time, which is in turn a means to the final end, Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11.

4. THE GREEK WORDS protithenai AND prothesis – 

In these words attention is directed to the fact that God sets before Him a definite plan to which He steadfastly adheres. They clearly refer to God’s purpose of predestinating men unto salvation in Rom. 8:29; 9:11; Eph. 1:9,11; II Tim. 1:9.


1. THE AUTHOR – The decree of predestination is undoubtedly in all its parts the concurrent act of the three persons in the Trinity, who are one in their counsel and will.

But in the economy of salvation, as it is revealed in Scripture, the sovereign act of predestination is more particularly attributed to the Father, John 17:6,9; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; I Pet. 1:2.

2. THE OBJECTS OF PREDESTINATION – In distinction from the decree of God in general, predestination has reference to God’s rational creatures only.

Most frequently it refers to fallen men. Yet it is also employed in a wider sense, and we use it in the more inclusive sense here, in order to embrace all the objects of predestination. It includes all God’s rational creatures, that is:

a. All menboth good and evil – These are included not merely as groups, but as individuals, Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29,30; 9:11-13; Eph. 1:5,11.

b. The angelsboth good and evil – The Bible speaks not only of holy angels, Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26, and of wicked angels, which kept not their first estate, II Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; but also makes explicit mention of elect angels, I Tim. 5:21, thereby implying that there were also non-elect angels.

The question naturally arises, How are we to conceive of the predestination of angels?

According to some it simply means that God determined in general that the angels which remained holy would be confirmed in a state of bliss, while the others would be lost. But this is not at all in harmony with the Scriptural idea of predestination.

It rather means that God decreed, for reasons sufficient unto Himself, to give some angels, in addition to the grace with which they were endowed by creation and which included ample power to remain holy, a special grace of perseverance; and to withhold this from others.

There are points of difference between the predestination of men and that of the angels:

(1) While the predestination of men may be conceived of as infralapsarian, the predestination of the angels can only be understood as supralapsarian. God did not choose a certain number out of the fallen mass of angels.

(2) The angels were not elected or predestined in Christ as Mediator, but in Him as Head, that is, to stand in a ministerial relation to Him.

c. Christ as Mediator – Christ was the object of predestination in the sense that

(1) a special love of the Father, distinct from His usual love to the Son, rested upon Him from all eternity, I Pet. 1:20; 2:4;

(2) in His quality as Mediator he was the object of God’s good pleasure, I Pet. 2:4;

(3) as Mediator He was adorned with the special image of God, to which believers were to be conformed, Rom. 8:29; and

(4) the Kingdom with all its glory and the means leading to its possession were ordained for Him, that He might pass these on to believers, Luke 22:29.


Predestination includes two parts, namely, election and reprobation, the predetermination of both the good and the wicked to their final end, and to certain proximate ends which are instrumental in the realization of their final destiny.


a. The Biblical Idea of Election – The Bible speaks of election in more than one sense. There is

(1) the election of Israel as a people for special privileges and for special service, Deut. 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; Hos. 13:5.

(2) The election of individuals to some office, or to the performance of some special service, as Moses, Ex. 3, the priests, Deut. 18:5; the kings, I Sam. 10:24; Ps. 78:70, the prophets, Jer. 1:5, and the apostles, John 6:70; Acts 9:15.

(3) The election of individuals to be children of God and heirs of eternal glory, Matt. 22:14; Rom. 11:5; I Cor. 1:27,28; Eph. 1:4; I Thess. 1:4; I Pet. 1:2; II Pet. 1:10.

The last is the election that comes into consideration here as a part of predestination. It may be defined as that eternal act of God whereby Hein His sovereign good pleasureand on account of no foreseen merit in themchooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation.

More briefly it may be said to be God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ.

b. The characteristics of election – The characteristics of election are identical with the characteristics of the decrees in general. The decree of election:

(1) Is an expression of the sovereign will of GodHis divine good pleasure. This means among other things that Christ as Mediator is not the impelling, moving, or meritorious cause of election, as some have asserted.

He may be called the mediate cause of the realization of election, and the meritorious cause of the salvation unto which believers are elected, but He is not the moving or meritorious cause of election itself. This is impossible, since He is Himself an object of predestination and election, and because, when He took His mediatorial work upon Him in the Counsel of Redemption, there was already a fixed number that was given unto Him.

Election logically precedes the Counsel of Peace. The elective love of God precedes the sending of the Son, John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; II Tim. 1:9; I John 4:9. By saying that the decree of election originates in the divine good pleasure the idea is also excluded that it is determined by anything in man, such as foreseen faith or good works, Rom. 9:11; II Tim. 1:9.

(2) It is immutableand therefore renders the salvation of the elect certain – God realizes the decree of election by His own efficiency, by the saving work which He accomplishes in Jesus Christ.

It is His purpose that certain individuals should believe and persevere unto the end, and He secures this result by the objective work of Christ and the subjective operations of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:29,30; 11:29; II Tim. 2:19.

It is the firm foundation of God which standeth, “having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” And as such it is the source of rich comfort for all believers. Their final salvation does not depend on their uncertain obedience, but has its guarantee in the unchangeable purpose of God.

(3) It is eternalthat isfrom eternity – This divine election should never be identified with any temporal selection, whether it be for the enjoyment of the special grace of God in this life, for special privileges and responsible services, or for the inheritance of glory hereafter, but must be regarded as eternal, Rom. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:4,5.

(4) It is unconditional –Election does not in any way depend on the foreseen faith or good works of man, as the Arminians teach, but exclusively on the sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works, Rom. 9:11; Acts 13:48; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 1:2.

Since all men are sinners and have forfeited the blessings of God, there is no basis for such a distinction in them; and since even the faith and good works of the believers are the fruit of the grace of God, Eph. 2:8,10; II Tim. 2:21, even these, as foreseen by God, could not furnish such a basis.

(5) It is irresistible – This does not mean that man cannot oppose its execution to a certain degree, but it does mean that his opposition will not prevail.

Neither does it mean that God in the execution of His decree overpowers the human will in a manner which is inconsistent with man’s free agency.

It does mean, however, that God can and does exert such an influence on the human spirit as to make it willing, Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13.

(6) It is not chargeable with injustice – The fact that God favors some and passes by others, does not warrant the charge that He is guilty of injustice. We can speak of injustice only when one party has a claim on another.

If God owed the forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all men, it would be an injustice if He saved only a limited number of them. But the sinner has absolutely no right or claim on the blessings which flow from divine election. As a matter of fact he has forfeited these blessings.

Not only have we no right to call God to account for electing some and passing others by, but we must admit that He would have been perfectly just, if He had not saved any, Matt. 20:14,15; Rom. 9:14,15.

c. The purpose of election – The purpose of this eternal election is twofold:

(1) The proximate purpose is the salvation of the elect – That man is chosen or elected unto salvation is clearly taught in the Word of God, Rom. 11:7-11; II Thess. 2:13.

(2) The final aim is the glory of God – Even the salvation of men is subordinate to this. That the glory of God is the highest purpose of the electing grace is made very emphatic in Eph. 1:6,12,14.

The social gospel of our day likes to stress the fact that man is elected unto service. In so far as this is intended as a denial of man’s election unto salvation and unto the glory of God, it plainly goes contrary to Scripture.

Taken by itself, however, the idea that the elect are predestined unto service or good works is entirely Scriptural, Eph. 2:10; II Tim. 2:21; but this end is subservient to the ends already indicated.


Our confessional standards speak not only of election, but also of reprobation. [Conf. Belg. Art. XVI; Canons of Dort, I, 15.]

Augustine taught the doctrine of reprobation as well as that of election, but this “hard doctrine” met with a great deal of opposition. Roman Catholics, the great majority of Lutherans, Arminians, and Methodists, generally reject this doctrine in its absolute form. If they still speak of reprobation, it is only of a reprobation based on foreknowledge.

That Calvin was deeply conscious of the seriousness of this doctrine, is perfectly evident from the fact that he speaks of it as a “decretum horribile” (dreadful decree). [Inst. III. 23. 7.] Nevertheless, he did not feel free to deny what he regarded as an important Scriptural truth.

In our day some scholars who claim to be Reformed balk at this doctrine. Barth teaches a reprobation which is dependent on man’s rejection of God’s revelation in Christ.

Brunner seems to have a more Scriptural conception of election than Barth, but rejects the doctrine of reprobation entirely. He admits that it logically follows from the doctrine of election, but cautions against the guidance of human logic in this instance, since the doctrine of reprobation is not taught in Scripture. [Our Faith, pp. 32f.]

a. Statement of the doctrine – Reprobation may be defined as that eternal decree of God whereby He has determined to pass some men by with the operations of His special graceand to punish them for their sinsto the manifestation of His justice.

The following points deserve special emphasis:

(1) It contains two elements – According to the most usual representation in Reformed theology the decree of reprobation comprises two elements, namely, preterition or the determination to pass by some men; and condemnation (sometimes called precondemnation) or the determination to punish those who are passed by for their sins.

As such it embodies a twofold purpose:

(a) to pass by some in the bestowal of regenerating and saving grace; and

(b) to assign them to dishonor and to the wrath of God for their sins.

The Belgic Confession mentions only the former, but the Canons of Dort name the latter as well. Some Reformed theologians would omit the second element from the decree of reprobation.

Dabney prefers to regard the condemnation of the wicked as the foreseen and intended result of their preterition, thus depriving reprobation of its positive character; and Dick is of the opinion that the decree to condemn ought to be regarded as a separate decree, and not as a part of the decree of reprobation.

It seems to us, however, that we are not warranted in excluding the second element from the decree of reprobation, nor to regard it as a different decree.

The positive side of reprobation is so clearly taught in Scripture as the opposite of election that we cannot regard it as something purely negative, Rom. 9:21,22; Jude 4.

However, we should notice several points of distinction between the two elements of the decree of reprobation:

(a) Preterition is a sovereign act of God, an act of His mere good pleasure, in which the demerits of man do not come into consideration, while precondemnation is a judicial act, visiting sin with punishment. Even Supralapsarians are willing to admit that in condemnation sin is taken into consideration.

(b) The reason for preterition is not known by man. It cannot be sin, for all men are sinners. We can only say that God passed some by for good and wise reasons sufficient unto Himself. On the other hand the reason for condemnation is known; it is sin.

(c) Preterition is purely passive, a simple passing by without any action on man, but condemnation is efficient and positive. Those who are passed by are condemned on account of their sin.

(2) We should guard against the idea, however, that as election and reprobation both determine with absolute certainty the end unto which man is predestined and the means by which that end is realized, they also imply that in the case of reprobation as well as in that of election God will bring to pass by His own direct efficiency whatsoever He has decreed.

This means that, while it can be said that God is the author of the regeneration, calling, faith, justification, and sanctification, of the elect, and thus by direct action on them brings their election to realization, it cannot be said that He is also the responsible author of the fall, the unrighteous condition, and the sinful acts of the reprobate by direct action on them, and thus effects the realization of their reprobation.

God’s decree undoubtedly rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, but He did not predestinate some unto sin, as He did others unto holiness. And as the holy God He cannot be the author of sin.

The position which Calvin takes on this point in his Institutes is clearly indicated in the following deliverances found in Calvin’s Articles on Predestination:

“Although the will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things and God holds the devil and all the impious subject to His will, God nevertheless cannot be called the cause of sin, nor the author of evil, neither is He open to any blame.

“Although the devil and reprobates are God’s servants and instruments to carry out His secret decisions, nevertheless in an incomprehensible manner God so works in them and through them as to contract no stain from their vice, because their malice is used in a just and righteous way for a good end, although the manner is often hidden from us.

“They act ignorantly and calumniously who say that God is made the author of sin, if all things come to pass by His will and ordinance; because they make no distinction between the depravity of men and the hidden appointments of God.” [Quoted by Warfield, Studies in Theology, p. 194.]

(3) It should be noted that that with which God decided to pass some men by, is not His common but his special, His regenerating, grace, the grace that changes sinners into saints.

It is a mistake to think that in this life the reprobate are entirely destitute of God’s favor. God does not limit the distribution of His natural gifts by the purpose of election. He does not even allow election and reprobation to determine the measure of these gifts.

The reprobate often enjoy a greater measure of the natural blessings of life than the elect. What effectively distinguishes the latter from the former is that theyare made recipients of the regenerating and saving grace of God.

b. Proof for the doctrine of reprobation – The doctrine of reprobation naturally follows from the logic of the situation. The decree of election inevitably implies the decree of reprobation.

If the all-wise God, possessed of infinite knowledge, has eternally purposed to save some, then He ipso facto also purposed not to save others. If He has chosen or elected some, then He has by that very fact also rejected others.

Brunner warns against this argument, since the Bible does not in a single word teach a divine predestination unto rejection. But it seems to us that the Bible does not contradict but justifies the logic in question.

Since the Bible is primarily a revelation of redemption, it naturally does not have as much to say about reprobation as about election. But what it says is quite sufficient, cf. Matt. 11:25,26; Rom. 9:13,17,18,21,22; 11:7; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:8.


The doctrine of predestination has not always been presented in exactly the same form. Especially since the days of the Reformation two different conceptions of it gradually emerged, which were designated during the Arminian controversy as Infra- and Supralapsarianism.

Already existing differences were more sharply defined and more strongly accentuated as the results of the theological disputes of that day. According to Dr. Dijk the two views under consideration were in their original form simply a difference of opinion respecting the question, whether the fall of man was also included in the divine decree.

Was the first sin of man, constituting his fall, predestinated, or was this merely the object of divine foreknowledge? In their original form Supralapsarianism held the former, and Infralapsarianism, the latter.

In this sense of the word Calvin was clearly a Supralapsarian. The later development of the difference between the two began with Beza, the successor of Calvin at Geneva.

In it the original point in dispute gradually retires into the background, and other differences are brought forward, some of which turn out to be mere differences of emphasis.

Later Infralapsarians, such as Rivet, Walaeus, Mastricht, Turretin, à Mark, and de Moor, all admit that the fall of man was included in the decree; and of the later Supralapsarians, such as Beza, Gomarus, Peter Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, Perkins, Twisse, Trigland, Voetius, Burmannus, Witsius and Comrie, at least some are quite willing to admit that in the decree of Reprobation God in some way took sin into consideration.

We are concerned at present with Supra- and Infralapsarianism in their more developed form.

1. THE EXACT POINT AT ISSUE – It is quite essential to have a correct view of the exact point or points at issue between the two.

a. Negativelythe difference is not found:

(1) In divergent views respecting the temporal order of the divine decrees. It is admitted on all hands that the decree of God is one and in all its parts equally eternal, so that it is impossible to ascribe any temporal succession to the various elements which it includes.

(2) In any essential difference as to whether the fall of man was decreed or was merely the object of divine foreknowledge.

This may have been, as Dr. Dijk says, the original point of difference; but, surely, anyone who asserts that the fall was not decreed but only foreseen by God, would now be said to be moving along Arminian rather than Reformed lines.

Both Supra- and Infralapsarians admit that the fall is included in the divine decree, and that preterition is an act of God’s sovereign will.

(3) In any essential difference as to the questionwhether the decree relative to sin is permissive. There is some difference of emphasis on the qualifying adjective.

Supralapsarians (with few exceptions) are willing to admit that the decree relative to sin is permissive, but hasten to add that it nevertheless makes the entrance of sin into the world a certainty.

And Infralapsarians (with few exceptions) will admit that sin is included in God’s decree, but hasten to add that the decree, in so far as it pertains to sin, is permissive rather than positive.

The former occasionally over-emphasize the positive element in the decree respecting sin, and thus expose themselves to the charge that they make God the author of sin.

And the latter sometimes over-emphasize the permissive character of the decree, reducing it to a bare permission, and thus expose themselves to the charge of Arminianism.

As a whole, however, Supralapsarians emphatically repudiate every interpretation of the decree that would make God the author of sin; and Infralapsarians are careful to point out explicitly that the permissive decree of God relative to sin makes sin certainly future.

(4) In any essential difference as to the questionwhether the decree of reprobation takes account of sin.

It is sometimes represented as if God destined some men for eternal destruction, simply by an act of His sovereign will, without taking account of their sin; as if, like a tyrant, He simply decided to destroy a large number of His rational creatures, purely for the manifestation of His glorious virtues.

But Supralapsarians abhor the idea of a tyrannical God, and at least some of them explicitly state that, while preterition is an act of God’s sovereign will, the second element of reprobation, namely, condemnation, is an act of justice and certainly takes account of sin.

This proceeds on the supposition that logically preterition precedes the decree to create and to permit the fall, while condemnation follows this.

The logic of this position may be questioned, but it at least shows that the Supralapsarians who assume it, teach that God takes account of sin in the decree of reprobation.

b. Positively, the difference does concern:

(1) The extent of predestination – Supralapsarians include the decree to create and to permit the fall in the decree of predestination, while Infralapsarians refer it to the decree of God in general, and exclude it from the special decree of predestination.

According to the former, man appears in the decree of predestination, not as created and fallen, but as certain to be created and to fall; while according to the latter, he appears in it as already created and fallen.

(2) The logical order of the decrees – The question is, whether the decrees to create and to permit the fall were means to the decree of redemption.

Supralapsarians proceed on the assumption that in planning the rational mind passes from the end to the means in a retrograde movement, so that what is first in design is last in accomplishment. Thus they determine upon the following order:

(a) The decree of God to glorify Himself, and particularly to magnify His grace and justice in the salvation of some and the perdition of other rational creatures, which exist in the divine mind as yet only as possibilities.

(b) The decree to create those who were thus elected and reprobated.

(c) The decree to permit them to fall.

(d) The decree to justify the elect and to condemn the non-elect.

On the other hand the Infralapsarians suggest a more historical order:

(a) The decree to create man in holiness and blessedness.

(b) The decree to permit man to fall by the self-determination of his own will.

(c) The decree to save a certain number out of this guilty aggregate.

(d) The decree to leave the remainder in their self-determination in sin, and to subject them to the righteous punishment which their sin deserves.

(3) The extension of the personal element of predestination to the decrees to create and to permit the fall

According to Supralapsarians God, even in the decree to create and permit the fall, had His eye fixed on His elect individually, so that there was not a single moment in the divine decree, when they did not stand in a special relation to God as His beloved ones.

Infralapsarians, on the other hand, hold that this personal element did not appear in the decree till after the decree to create and to permit the fall. In these decrees themselves the elect are simply included in the whole mass of humanity, and do not appear as the special objects of God’s love.


a. Arguments in favor of it

(1) It appeals to all those passages of Scripture which emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God, and more particularly His sovereignty in relation to sin, such as Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:4; Isa. 10:15; 45:9; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 11:25,26; 20:15; Rom. 9:17,19-21.

Special emphasis is laid on the figure of the potter, which is found in more than one of these passages. It is said that this figure not merely stresses the sovereignty of God in general, but more especially His sovereignty in determining the quality of the vessels at creation.

This means that Paul in Rom. 9 speaks from a pre-creation standpoint, an idea that is favored (a) by the fact that the potter’s work is frequently used in Scripture as a figure of creation; and (b) by the fact that the potter determines each vessel for a certain use and gives it a corresponding quality, which might cause the vessel to ask, though without any right, Why didst Thou make me thus?

(2) Attention is called to the fact that some passages of Scripture suggest that the work of nature or of creation in general was so ordered as to contain already illustrations of the work of redemption.

Jesus frequently derives His illustrations for the elucidation of spiritual things from nature, and we are told in Matt. 13:35 that this was in fulfilment of the words of the prophet, “I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.” Comp. Ps. 78:2. This is taken to mean that they were hidden in nature, but were brought to light in the parabolic teachings of Jesus.

Ephesians 3:9 is also considered as an expression of the idea that the design of God in the creation of the world was directed to the manifestation of His wisdom, which would issue in the New Testament work of redemption. But the appeal to this passage seems, to say the least, very doubtful.

(3) The order of the decrees, as accepted by the Supralapsarians, is regarded as the more ideal, the more logical and unified of the two. It clearly exhibits the rational order which exists between the ultimate end and the intermediate means.

Therefore the Supralapsarians can, while the Infralapsarians cannot, give a specific answer to the question why God decreed to create the world and to permit the fall.

They do full justice to the sovereignty of God and refrain from all futile attempts to justify God in the sight of men, while the Infralapsarians hesitate, attempt to prove the justice of God’s procedure, and yet in the end must come to the same conclusion as the Supralapsarians, namely, that, in the last analysis, the decree to permit the fall finds its explanation only in the sovereign good pleasure of God. [Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. II, p. 400.]

(4) The analogy of the predestination of the angels would seem to favor the Supralapsarian position, for it can only be conceived as supralapsarian.

God decreed, for reasons sufficient to Himself, to grant some angels the grace of perseverance and to withhold this from others; and to connect with this righteously the confirmation of the former in a state of glory, and the eternal perdition of the latter.

This means, therefore, that the decree respecting the fall of the angels forms a part of their predestination. And it would seem impossible to conceive of it in any other way.

b. Objections to it – Notwithstanding its seeming pretensions, it does not give a solution of the problem of sin. It would do this, if it dared to say that God decreed to bring sin into the world by His own direct efficiency.

Some Supralapsarians, it is true, do represent the decree as the efficient cause of sin, but yet do not want this to be interpreted in such a way that God becomes the author of sin.

The majority of them do not care to go beyond the statement that God willed to permit sin. Now this is no objection to the Supralapsarian in distinction from the Infralapsarian, for neither one of them solves the problem. The only difference is that the former makes greater pretensions in this respect than the latter.

(2) According to its representations man appears in the divine decree first as creabilis et labilis (certain to be created and to fall).

The objects of the decree are first of all men considered as mere possibilities, as non-existent entities. But such a decree necessarily has only a provisional character, and must be followed by another decree.

After the election and reprobation of these possible men follows the decree to create them and to permit them to fall, and this must be followed by another decree respecting these men whose creation and fall have now been definitely determined, namely, the decree to elect some and to reprobate the rest of those who now appear in the divine purpose as real men.

Supralapsarians claim that this is no insuperable objection because, while it is true that on their position the actual existence of men has not yet been determined when they are elected and reprobated, they do exist in the divine idea.

(3) It is said that Supralapsarianism makes the eternal punishment of the reprobate an object of the divine will in the same sense and in the same manner as the eternal salvation of the elect; and that it makes sin, which leads to eternal destruction, a means unto this end in the same manner and in the same sense as the redemption in Christ is a means unto salvation. If consistently carried through, this would make God the author of sin.

It should be noted, however, that the Supralapsarian does not, as a rule, so represent the decree, and explicitly states that the decree may not be so interpreted as to make God the author of sin. He will speak of a predestination unto the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but not of a predestination unto sin.

(4) Again, it is objected that Supralapsarianism makes the decree of reprobation just as absolute as the decree of election. In other words, that it regards reprobation as purely an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, and not as an act of punitive justice.

According to its representation sin does not come into consideration in the decree of reprobation. But this is hardly correct, though it may be true of some Supralapsarians.

In general, however, it may be said that, while they regard preterition as an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, they usually regard precondemnation as an act of divine justice which does take sin into consideration. And the Infralapsarian himself cannot maintain the idea that reprobation is an act of justice pure and simple, contingent on the sin of man. In the last analysis, he, too, must declare that it is an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, if he wants to avoid the Arminian camp.

(5) Finally, it is said that it is not possible to construe a serviceable doctrine of the covenant of grace and of the Mediator on the basis of the Supralapsarian scheme. Both the covenant and the Mediator of the covenant can only be conceived as infralapsarian.

This is frankly admitted by some Supralapsarians. Logically, the Mediator appears in the divine decree only after the entrance of sin; and this is the only point of view from which the covenant of grace can be construed. This will naturally have an important bearing on the ministry of the Word.


a. Arguments in favor of it

(1) Infralapsarians appeal more particularly to those passages of Scripture in which the objects of election appear as in a condition of sin, as being in close union with Christ, and as objects of God’s mercy and grace, such as Matt. 11:25,26; John 15:19; Rom. 8:28,30; 9:15.16; Eph. 1:4-12; II Tim. 1:9.

These passages would seem to imply that in the thought of God the fall of man preceded the election of some unto salvation.

(2) It also calls attention to the fact that in its representation the order of the divine decrees is less philosophical and more natural than that proposed by Supralapsarians.

It is in harmony with the historical order in the execution of the decrees, which would seem to reflect the order in the eternal counsel of God. Just as in the execution, so there is in the decree a causal order. It is more modest to abide by this order, just because it reflects the historical order revealed in Scripture and does not pretend to solve the problem of God’s relation to sin.

It is considered to be less offensive in its presentation of the matter and to be far more in harmony with the requirements of practical life. [Cf. Edwards, Works II, p. 543.]

(3) While Supralapsarians claim that their construction of the doctrine of the decrees is the more logical of the two, Infralapsarians make the same claim for their position.

Says Dabney: “The Supralapsarian (scheme) under the pretense of greater symmetry, is in reality the more illogical of the two.” [Syst. and Polem. Theol, p. 233.]

It is pointed out that the supralapsarian scheme is illogical in that it makes the decree of election and preterition refer to non-entities, that is, to men who do not exist, except as bare possibilities, even in the mind of God; who do not yet exist in the divine decree and are therefore not contemplated as created, but only as creatable.

Again, it is said that the supralapsarian construction is illogical in that it necessarily separates the two elements in reprobation, placing preterition before, and condemnation after, the fall.

(4) Finally, attention is also called to the fact that the Reformed Churches in their official standards have always adopted the infralapsarian position, even though they have never condemned, but always tolerated, the other view.

Among the members of the Synod of Dort and of the Westminster Assembly there were several Supralapsarians who were held in high honour (the presiding officer in both cases belonging to the number), but in both the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession the infralapsarian view finds expression.

b. Objections to it – The following are some of the most important objections raised against Infralapsarianism:

(1) It does not give, nor does it claim to give a solution of the problem of sin. But this is equally true of the other view, so that, in a comparison of the two, this cannot very well be regarded as a real objection, though it is sometimes raised.

The problem of the relation of God to sin has proved to be insoluble for the one as well as for the other.

(2) While Infralapsarianism may be actuated by the laudable desire to guard against the possibility of charging God with being the author of sin, it is, in doing this, always in danger of overshooting the mark, and some of its representatives have made this mistake.

They are averse to the statement that God willed sin, and substitute for it the assertion that He permitted it. But then the question arises as to the exact meaning of this statement.

Does it mean that God merely took cognizance of the entrance of sin, without in any way hindering it, so that the fall was in reality a frustration of His plan? The moment the Infralapsarian answers this question in the affirmative, he enters the ranks of the Arminians.

While there have been some who took this stand, the majority of them feel that they cannot consistently take this position, but must incorporate the fall in the divine decree.

They speak of the decree respecting sin as a permissive decree, but with the distinct understanding that this decree rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain.

And if the question be raised, why God decreed to permit sin and thus rendered it certain, they can only point to the divine good pleasure, and are thus in perfect agreement with the Supralapsarian.

(3) The same tendency to shield God reveals itself in another way and exposes one to a similar danger.

Infralapsarianism really wants to explain reprobation as an act of God’s justice. It is inclined to deny either explicitly or implicitly that it is an act of the mere good pleasure of God.

This really makes the decree of reprobation a conditional decree and leads into the Arminian fold. But infralapsarians on the whole do not want to teach a conditional decree, and express themselves guardedly on this matter.

Some of them admit that it is a mistake to consider reprobation purely as an act of divine justice. And this is perfectly correct. Sin is not the ultimate cause of reprobation any more than faith and good works are the cause of election, for all men are by nature dead in sin and trespasses.

When confronted with the problem of reprobation, Infralapsarians, too, can find the answer only in the good pleasure of God. Their language may sound more tender than that of the Supralapsarians, but is also more apt to be misunderstood, and after all proves to convey the same idea.

(4) The Infralapsarian position does not do justice to the unity of the divine decree, but represents the different members of it too much as disconnected parts.

First God decrees to create the world for the glory of His name, which means among other things also that He determined that His rational creatures should live according to the divine law implanted in their hearts and should praise their Maker.

Then He decreed to permit the fall, whereby sin enters the world. This seems to be a frustration of the original plan, or at least an important modification of it, since God no more decrees to glorify Himself by the voluntary obedience of all His rational creatures.

Finally, there follow the decrees of election and reprobation, which mean only a partial execution of the original plan.

4. From what was said it would seem to follow that we cannot regard Supra- and Infralapsarianism as absolutely antithetical. 

They consider the same mystery from different points of view, the one fixing its attention on the ideal or teleological; the other, on the historical, order of the decrees.

To a certain extent they can and must go hand in hand. Both find support in Scripture. Supralapsarianism in those passages which stress the sovereignty of God, and Infralapsarianism in those which emphasize the mercy and justice of God, in connection with election and reprobation.

Each has something in its favor: the former that it does not undertake to justify God, but simply rests in the sovereign and holy good pleasure of God; and the latter, that it is more modest and tender, and reckons with the demands and requirements of practical life.

Both are necessarily inconsistent; the former because it cannot regard sin as a progression, but must consider it as a disturbance of creation, and speaks of a permissive decree; and the latter, since in the last analysis it must also resort to a permissive decree, which makes sin certain.

But each one of them also emphasizes an element of truth. The true element in Supralapsarianism is found in its emphasis on the following: that the decree of God is a unit; that God had one final aim in view; that He willed sin in a certain sense; and that the work of creation was immediately adapted to the recreative activity of God.

And the true element in Infralapsarianism is, that there is a certain diversity in the decrees of God; that creation and fall cannot be regarded merely as means to an end, but also had great independent significance; and that sin cannot be regarded as an element of progress, but should rather be considered as an element of disturbance in the world.

In connection with the study of this profound subject we feel that our understanding is limited, and realize that we grasp only fragments of the truth.

Our confessional standards embody the infralapsarian position, but do not condemn Supralapsarianism. It was felt that this view was not necessarily inconsistent with Reformed theology.

And the conclusions of Utrecht, adopted in 1908 by our Church, state that, while it is not permissible to represent the supralapsarian view as the doctrine of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, it is just as little permissible to molest any one who cherishes that view for himself.


Is a foreknowledge of future events which is not based on the decree possible in God?

What is the inevitable result of basing God’s decree on His foreknowledge rather than vice versa, his foreknowledge on His decree?

How does the doctrine of the decrees differ from fatalism and from determinism?

Does the decree of predestination necessarily exclude the possibility of a universal offer of salvation?

Are the decrees of election and reprobation equally absolute and unconditional or not? Are they alike in being causes from which human actions proceed as effects?

How is the doctrine of predestination related to the doctrine of the divine sovereignty;— to the doctrine of total depravity;—to the doctrine of the atonement;—to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints?

Do the Reformed teach a predestination unto sin?


Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. II, pp. 347-425; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Deo III, pp. 80-258; Vos, Geref. Dogm. I, pp. 81-170;

Hodge, Syst. Theol. I, pp. 535-549; II, pp. 315-321;

Shedd, Dogm. Theol. I, pp. 393-462; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit, I, pp. 670-757; Comrie en Holtius, Examen van het Ontwerp van TolerantieSamenspraken VI and VII;

Turretin, Opera, I, pp. 279-382;

Dabney, Syst. and Polem Theol., pp. 211-246;

Miley, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 245-266;

Cunningham, Hist. Theol., II, pp. 416-489;

Wiggers, Augustinism and Pelagianism, pp. 237- 254;

Girardeau, Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism, pp. 14-412; ibid., The Will in its Theological Relations;

Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, pp. 3-67; ibid., Studies in Theology, pp. 117-231;

Cole, Calvin’s Calvinism, pp. 25-206;

Calvin, Institutes III. Chap. XXI-XXIV;

Dijk, De Strijd over Infraen Supralapsarisme in de Gereformeerde Kerken van Nederland; ibid., Om ‘t Eeuwig Welbehagen;

Fernhout, De Leer der Uitverkiezing;

Polman, De Praedestinatieleer van AugustinusThomas van Aquino en Calvijn.