. . . vessels of wrath prepared for destruction . . . vessels of mercy which he prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:22-23)
In the previous article1 I took up the question – does God foreordain evil and evil doers? I said, ‘Yes.’ I said there are two reasons for it. First, God on that great day will reveal the full measure of his divine attributes, culminating in a revelation of his holiness. All the evil and injustice will be seen in light of his holiness and we will bow in wonder and adoration before God (Rev. 5).
But there is a second reason for God ordaining all things, including evil and evil doers – he will grant the fulness of his eternal salvation to all his people for all his glory, and suffering plays a big part in the unfolding of his plan of redemption. In Romans 9-11 the Apostle Paul takes up the issue of the Jews. How is it that the chosen people of God have largely rejected their Messiah? Paul says not all who are Israel are truly Israel (Rom. 9:6). In other words, just because one has the privilege of a Jewish heritage is no guarantee he will follow God properly. The children of the flesh are not necessarily the children of promise. At this juncture Paul proves his point through the doctrine of election, showing that though Sarah had two sons, as did Rebekah, only one of their sons gained the promise – Isaac not Ishmael, and Jacob not Esau. He quotes Malachi 1:2, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,’ to prove his point. Paul then anticipates the objection of those who think God is unjust by choosing one over the other, citing Yahweh who said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Exod. 33:19). Thus Paul concludes that this does not depend upon man who wills or runs but on God who has mercy. He says that God has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires (Rom. 9:18). At this point Paul anticipates another objection – if true that God is totally the author of salvation then how can God hold man accountable for not believing on Jesus? At this point Paul concludes the discussion by saying we can only go so far into the mind of God, ‘O man, who answers back to God? The thing moulded will not say to the moulder, “Why did you make me like this?”, will it?’ (Rom. 9:19-21).
At this point Paul fleshes out a full-orbed declaration of foreordination and what some theologians call double predestination or election and reprobation. He says, ‘What if God, although willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?’ What does Paul mean? Simply put, there are Jews and Gentiles whom God has not chosen to be saved. They are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. They will not be saved because they were not predestined or foreordained to be saved. God, nonetheless, was patient with them. Why? Because it is God’s plan to make known to his elect (vessels of mercy) the riches of his glory.
At this point you are probably strongly and negatively reacting to this statement, wondering how a loving God can predestine people to hell. If so, then you need to keep three things clearly in mind. First, God is in heaven and does as he pleases (Psa. 115:3). God is the sovereign creator. This is his world, not ours. We are the crown of his creation. He can do with us as he pleases. The clay cannot say to the potter, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ Second, God is infinitely holy. There is not the slightest taint of evil, injustice, or sin in anything he does, says, thinks, wills, intends, or values. And third, remember the complementary of truth – 100% God and 100% man. God predestines some as vessels of wrath and others as vessels of mercy, but it is also true that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13-17). It is also true that all those who come to Jesus, he will in no way cast them out (John 6:37). Both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are true. How can we reconcile these in our minds? We cannot. These concepts fit only into the regenerate heart.
So God foreordained evil and evil doers to bring about the salvation of all his people for all his glory, knowing that tragedy very often humbles people, driving them to Christ for refuge. Here’s where this fancy word supralapsarianism comes into play. Theologians have long discussed the timing and place of God’s eternal decree (all his holy will, including the salvation of his people) in relation to creation, the fall into sin, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the application of this redemption to individuals. This discussion is not dealing with chronology. It is more ontological in nature. In other words, we are not talking about a sequence of events being played out in real time; rather this all occurs in the mind of God before he made anything – like an architect who has in his mind the design of a superstructure before he actually puts it in a set of blueprints.
Reformed theologians usually fall into one of two camps on the order of the eternal decrees. Some are infralapsarians – from the Latin infra, meaning under and lap, meaning fall, like a lapsed insurance policy. In other words, an infralapsarian believes the fall into sin comes under or after creation. It goes like this – God created everything, man fell into sin, God chose a people to be his, Jesus came into the world to die and be raised again, and salvation is applied to individuals in due time. This is a legitimate way to describe the mind of God on the issue of eternal salvation but it does not explain the origin of evil or the cause of it. This is why so many want to hedge their bets, as it were, on the issue of evil. Many well-meaning Christians simply say, ‘We don’t know why God allows evil. We don’t know where it came from.’
Supralapsarians, on the other hand, believe the eternal decree is over (supra means over) the fall into sin. That is, God created the world, chose people to be his, ordained the fall into sin, brought Jesus into the world to die and be raised again from the dead, and applies this salvation to his elect in due time. This position explains the origin of evil. Simply put – God ordained evil and evil doers, and the consequent suffering of the human race, all for his glory in the salvation of his elect. The salvation of his people drives everything God does, including evil and evil doers, because he gets the greatest glory in saving us.
May I go further into what I call a super supralapsarian position! Namely, that in God’s mind the eternal decree of election was first and foremost, then the application of redemption by the Spirit, then Christ dying for us and being raised from the dead, then the fall into sin, then creation.2 In other words, everything is subservient to God saving his people. This is the major driver for all he does in the world, all to the praise and glory of his grace.
What does this all mean practically? God has a plan and he is working that plan fully, completely, uncompromisingly. He foreordains all things. Man is totally responsible for all his actions before God. God will save all his elect. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. It means you ought to see God in everything in your life. He ordains every trial, every test you face, even evil and evil doers, desiring that you pass the test and grow in holiness (Rom. 5:3-5, 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Also remember Satan is right behind God in everything that happens in the world, seeking to destroy, discourage, and dissuade you, seeking to provoke havoc and destruction. But also remember God will manifest the fulness of his divine perfections on that glorious day when Christ will be revealed from heaven. It means you can live here and now in utter and complete confidence in God, trusting him with everything in your life. It means you can live with joy inexpressible and full of glory. It means God will right all wrongs in due time. It means you have the grace to persevere, to endure in difficult circumstances, to forbear with difficult people. It means you must never give up on your marriage, your children, your parents, your work, your faith, or your life. It means you will live with him in peace and joy forever on the new earth, wherein will dwell righteousness forever.
- See the article ‘Did God Foreordain Evil and Evil Doers?’ on the Banner of Truth website.
- For a full discussion of this issue see Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pages 488-496.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
Contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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