Doctrinal Disturbances in a Sister Church, Part 2


In last month’s issue we wrote about the drift to evolutionism and higher criticism in the public utterances of some of the leaders in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands—a denomination with which the Christian Reformed Church has close relationships.

In this article we shall discuss certain articles in Gereformeerd Weekblad by Dr. A. D. R. Palman, one of the most respected theologians in that sister church, who declares his disagreement with the doctrine of reprobation as taught in chapter I. articles 6 and 15, of the Canons of Dort, one of the doctrinal standards of that Church as well as ours.

We take no delight in writing about the troubles in tho Gereformeerde Kerken. On the contrary, they shock and grieve us, for more than one reason. First, whatever of great importance happens in that Church is bound to have repercussions in our country among Reformed people, especially those of Dutch descent. Not only do many of our people read Dutch religious periodicals; the number of those who visit the Netherlands is increasing annually. They come back with reports about church life in “the old country.” Besides, an increasing number of our students take graduate courses in the Free University or other schools. It would be strange indeed if these impressionable young men were not influenced in any degree by what they read in Dutch periodicals.

Second, we believe in true ecumenicity. We feel that we are spiritually one with all believers in all parts of the world, especially those of the Reformed faith. We are members of one body. What affects one member or one area of the body of Christ affects all the rest. When we rejoice we rejoice together; when we suffer, we suffer together.

For these reasons our people in the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Protestant Reformed Churches, the Reformed Church, and other Reformed bodies should know about what is going on in the Reformed denominations of the Netherlands. We deem it the duty of our religious periodicals to keep our people informed about important trends and events in these denominations.


In the issue of July 13, 1962, Dr. A. D. R. Polman wrote an article in which he reacted to a letter which the editor in chief had received from Dr. B. J. Brouwer, elder of the Reformed Church in the Hague, who declares that it is a mystery to him how office bearers in the church can declare, by signing the Formula of Subscription, that they agree with Article I, point 15 of the Canons of Dort. This article is simply not to be harmonized with Scripture. It is old-Reformed (“oud-gereformeerd”) rather than Reformed. He also states that it makes little sense to present a gravamen against this article to an ecclesiastical body.

What amazed us was the reaction of Dr. Polman to these sentiments. He writes in part: Mr. Brouwer “justly rejects an eternal divine decree of reprobation…Nowhere in the Bible is reprobation described as an eternal purpose, as an unchangeable decree before the foundation of the world or as a dark, mysterious phase of God’s counsel. Its dark, threatening reality is not denied anywhere but it is constantly pictured as a gripping act of God in the midst of history…as God’s righteous judgment on so much wickedness. The correctness of this assertion is powerfully demonstrated also by the fact that I found no Scriptural proof in the writings of the fathers of Dort but more than once a purely logical conclusion from eternal election (he who elects necessarily passes by others at the same time and thus rejects them) while it is precisely so remarkable that the Bible nowhere draws this apparently logical conclusion” (translated–K).

In an earlier issue (September 8, 1961) Dr. Polman discussed the same subject and presented. the same line of thought. He declares that “it is never stated in Scripture that God before the foundation of the world appointed men to unbelief and eternal reprobation.” He denies that this is implied in Acts 15:18: “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” or in Ephesians 1:11: “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.” He states that the text from Ephesians, as the context proves, refers only to election. We shall discuss this and other passages later but let us now quote article 15 of Part I to which Dr. Polman takes exception.

“What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election is the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only are elected. while others are passed by in the eternal decree of God; whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure has decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but, permitting them in His just judgment to follow in their own ways, at last, for the declaration of His justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy) but declares Him to be an awful, irreprehensible and righteous Judge and Avenger thereof.”


Our first reaction to Dr. Polman’s denial of this article is that he takes issue with a view of reprobation which is historically Reformed. It was taught by the Reformers, is embodied in our Calvinistic creeds, and is confessed by nearly all Reformed theologians.

According to Dr. H. Bavinck, the reformers taught that predestination in the negative sense (as a passing by) is not to be explained as an act of righteousness (that is, as punishment for sin) but must be regarded as an act of sovereignty preceding sin, and that the result of this reprobation in the negative sense was to permit sin and to let some remain in the fall, and that reprobation in the positive sense took sin into account.

All students of Calvin know that Calvin taught that reprobation as well as election was an eternal and unchangeable decree of God. We quote just one of many passages in which that thought is expressed: “Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself, what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others.”

Is this the old-Reformed view only? Not the view of the great Reformed theologians of later date? Let us listen to some of the many passages in Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics which discuss this subject (Book II). The translations, by the way, are my own. Those who wish may check. On page 205 of my Dutch edition the writer states: “that though one believe that there is a predestination unto death, none of the Reformed ever spoke of a predestination unto sin. All have maintained that God is not the Author of sin. At the same time sin is not the efficient cause but the sufficient cause of reprobation.” The implication is that the efficient cause is the eternal and unchangeable decree of God.

Bavinck admits that “in the Old Testament election and reprobation are not described as eternal decrees but as facts in history.” Cain, Canaan, and Esau, for example, were rejected because of their wickedness. “The New Testament, however, presents this counsel of God in a much clearer light…. Everything happens according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This divine decree precedes all things. It includes everything (Eph. 1:11), also the sinful deeds of men…God’s will is revealed also in the destruction (verderving) of Judas (John 17:12), in the abandonment of the heathen (Romans 11:24), in the hardening of the ungodly (Romans 9:18), in the raising up of Pharaoh (Romans 9:17), in enduring with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction…” (p.352).

On the following page Bavinck contradicts the contention of Dr. Polman that reprobation is represented in Scripture only as an act of God in time. He writes: “It has been contended that Paul in Romans 9 does not speak of the absolute sovereignty and the eternal decree of God but only of the attitude of God which has its cause and its operations in time. in history.” But this contention, says Bavinck, is disproved in Romans 9. For the “purpose” and the “election” clearly precedes the facts of history…Before the children of Isaac were born, God had already said that the elder would serve the younger (vs. 11). It is true that Romans 9 speaks of an act of God in time but the cause of that action is outside of time and lies only in God’s will and good pleasure” (pp. 353, 354).

On page 405 Bavinck teaches that “Fall and sin and eternal punishment are included in the decree of God and in a certain sense willed by God. But then always only in a certain sense and not in the same way as grace and salvation. In these he has a delight but sin and punishment are not his pleasure, his joy. As therefore on the one hand there is no objection. in view of an all-inclusive and unchangeable counsel of God, to speak of a double predestination, nevertheless, predestination in the one instance is not of the same nature as the other” (italics mine–K).

On page 407 we read: “Sometimes the Scripture speaks so emphatically that reprobation is completely coordinated with election and eternal punishment is purposed by God as well as eternal salvation...” (italics mine–K). Again, on page 410 we read: “In this it becomes clear in which sense reprobation is to be reckoned with predestination. If one considers only the fact that the counsel of God embraces all things, then one has the perfect right to speak of a double predestination. Sin too, unbelief, death, and eternal punishment are included in the government of God…Not only is it useless to speak of foreknowledge and permission instead of predestination. The Scripture testifies in this matter as firmly and positively as possible. It is true that it says little about predestination as an eternal decree; all the more however it represents it as an act of God in history…”

But note, Bavinck does not say what Dr. Polman states, that reprobation is represented nowhere in Scripture as an eternal decree of God but only as an act of God. There is all the difference in the world between Dr. Bavinck’s construction of the doctrine of Reprobation and that of Dr. Polman.


The Westminster Confession agrees with the Canons of Dart on the subject of reprobation as well as election. We read in Chapter Three, Ill: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” The texts mentioned as proofs are Romans 9:22, 23; Ephesians 1:5, 6, and Proverbs 16:4.

After speaking of those who are predestinated unto eternal life, the creed continues in articles VII and VIII as follows:

“VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.

“VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”


Our first, though not our principal, objection against the view of Dr. Polman and others is that it endangers the Scriptural doctrine of election.

Dr. Polman himself admits that logically election implies reprobation. Anyone can see this. Election means that God chose out of the common mass of men, as they existed in the eternal counsel of God, certain ones on whom he determined to confer in Chnst the blessings of redemption. The word in the New Testament Greek for election means a picking out, a choosing. This act of choosing implies at least a passing by of those whom he did not choose.

Now among men the act of choosing certain persons implies a passing by which is either voluntary, accidental, or compulsory. But when God passes by those whom he is pleased not to elect unto salvation, this is neither accidental nor compulsory but voluntary. If in choosing some he did not reject others, the reason must be that he wanted to leave the determination of their destiny to themselves. But that would be a denial of his absolute, sovereign control over the universe and mankind -a denial of his Godhead. And if God left it to some to determine their own eternal destiny the question is bound to arise, Why did not he leave this to all? This is what we mean when we say that the denial of reprobation as an eternal, unchangeable divine decree jeopardizes the doctrine of election. Consistency will ultimately lead to the rejection of both.

Now Dr. Polman answers as follows: Though reprobation as an eternal decree logically follows from the doctrine of eternal election, we have no right to draw this conclusion because Scripture does not justify it. But we believe that Scripture does justify it; in other words, that it does teach what our creed teaches that “it is the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree.” And note that according to this sentence both are included in the “express testimony of Scripture.”

In our next issue we shall present the teaching of Scripture on this matter.


“Accepting or rejecting the doctrine of reprobation does not have its cause in a smaller or greater degree of love and pity. The difference between Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin and Castillio, Gomarus and Arminius, is not that the latter are so much milder and loving, more amiable and compassionate people. It lies in this that the former have accepted Scripture in its totality, also in this doctrine; that they were and always wanted to be theists and also in these gripping facts of life have recognized the will and the hand of the Lord; that they have dared to face reality in all its frightfulness. Pelagianism scatters flowers on graves, makes of death an angel, sees in sin a weariness, offers treatises on the benefit of adversity, and deems this world to be the best possible. Calvinism is not served by such superficial chatter and palaver. It tears the veil from our eyes, it refuses to live in a vain illusion, it embraces the seriousness of life in its full extent, it rises to the defense of the rights of the Lord God, and bows in humility and adoration before the unfathomable sovereign will of God almighty. And thus it appears to be fundamentally much more compassionate than Pelagianism. How deeply Calvin felt the seriousness of what he said appears from his decretum horribile (terrible decree–K). This does not plead against Calvin, it pleads for him. The decree, as Calvin’s doctrine, is not horribile; but the reality which is the revelation of that decree is horrible—the revelation which is thus taught through Scripture and history, which for every thinking person, whether he be a follower of Pelagius or Augustine, remains completely the same, and which cannot be nullified in the least by any imaginary beliefs. And in the midst of that terrible reality Calvinism brings, not this solution, but this consolation that in all that happens it recognizes the will and the hand of an almighty God, who is at the same time a merciful Father. Calvinism offers no solution but it does cause man to rest in him who dwells in light un· approachable, whose judgments are past tracing out, whose ways are unsearchable. Therein Calvin found rest” (translated–K).

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Part II, p. 412.