Predestination v. Reprobation

Double predestination may be a bit of a misnomer, strictly speaking: the Westminster Confession is in fact careful to use predestination only in reference to a predestination to life, referring to any foreordering to death as reprobation. The careful wording of the Westminster Confession shows that at least a significant part of the Westminster Assembly was not willing to refer to God’s foreordering of sinners to hell as predestination, lest a lack of distinction imply that God chooses people to life and to death in exactly the same way. This contingent believes that the decree of election to life is unconditional, whereas the decree of damnation is conditional.

The distinction, I suspect, is one that some Calvinists would actually invoke against the Arminian position. This is because classical Arminians, not wishing to be heretical by denying predestination outright, respond to the appearance of the word predestinate in Scripture by affirming predestination of some sort, namely a conditional predestination made on the grounds of faith foreseen in believers. The Calvinist can then say that the Arminian ‘predestination’ is no less conditioned on good works than God’s so-called ‘predestination’ of people to hell, which by natural law is conditioned on sin: the term applies symmetrically, without distinction, so the things must be similar. This, says the Calvinist, leads logically to one of several possible conclusions:

  1. God’s judgements of damnation and salvation are both ineffectual. This means, in effect, that God is not worth worshipping, but rather he is to be scorned, and his word to be despised.
  2. God decides to save persons without reference to their works, but he also decides to damn persons without reference to their works. This means that God damns persons for no just reason, which is the very conclusion (allegedly) for which some Arminians revile Calvinism.
  3. God decides to damn persons on account of their evil works, but it is also on account of people’s good works that he decides to save them. This means that we must abandon the classical Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness and embrace legalism.

Like Arminians, orthodox Reformed theologians wish to avoid Conclusion 2, but they can argue that Arminianism leads naturally to Conclusions 1 or 3. By keeping the distinction between predestination and reprobation, the Reformed can avoid all three and affirm the biblical truth.

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