Main Lines of Reformed Doctrine

Main Lines of Reformed Doctrine is a series written by Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois. This series is for church societies, study groups, and all others interested. Two lessons appear each month.


Creation and Related Matters (A)

Scripture Reading: Romans 9:14–26; Ephesians 1:3–6

Under this general heading we hope to cover the following: God‘s works, God’s counsel, God’s decrees, predestination, creation, heaven, earth, man’s origin, man’s nature, man’s destiny, God’s providence. This material will be spread over four lessons.

God’s Works

When we face the question, What are God‘s works?, we may summarize as follows:

a. God works personally, that is, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity sustain a working relationship to each other (cf. Lesson 6, “The Relationship of the Persons to Each Other”).

b. God works secretly in and from His counsel.

c, God works publicly in the work of creation and recreation,* The Heidelberg Catechism divides these external works of God into three kinds; creation, redemption and sanctification (q. 24).

All of these are works in which the Father, the Son, and, the Holy Spirit are all in evidence. At the creation of the world the Father works, but so does the Son (John 1:3, “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made”), and so does the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2, “And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”). In the work of recreation or salvation it is the Father who sends the Son (John 3:17, “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him”), and it is the Holy Spirit who causes the conception and who officiates at the anointing of Christ (Matt. 1:20; 3:16). In the reconsecration or sanctification of the world the central fact is the indwelling of God in the hearts of His people, This is a covenantal indwelling through Word and Spirit. The Father and the Son fervently desire this indwelling. We can learn this from John 14:23, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

The primary prominence of one of the three Persons in each of these divine works is very evident. For that reason the Heidelberg Catechism arranges the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed this way: the first part dealing with God the Father and our creation, the second which speaks of God the Son and our redemption, and the third part which confesses God the Spirit and our sanctification.

God’s Counsel

That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree” (Canons of Dort, I, 6,). What is the counselor eternal decree of God?

God’s eternal decree is “the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), In that counsel God has “from all eternity . . . by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 1).

The Bible says that God knows all that will happen in time, (Acts 15: 18, A.V.; Rom. 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2), Some have concluded that God does not really predetermine things so that they happen as He has willed, but that He merely knows what will happen. The Bible explicitly declares, however, that God foreordains (Eph. 1:11, “in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will”).

God’s counsel is eternal, all-comprehensive, one, free or sovereign, and unchangeable. The staggering truth revealed in Scripture is the awesome reality of our God as the One who eternally sees all things from their beginning to their consummation. This implies, of course, that He sees all things as they are in terms of His sovereign good pleasure. Only the humility of a true faith is willing to acknowledge this!

Confessing the eternal counsel of God is not fatalistic (fatalism is the teaching that events are fixed in advance for all time in such a manner that human beings are not responsible for nor can do anything). It is not fatalism to believe in God’s predestinating counsel because God has not only fixed the outcome but also the means which lead to this outcome. And He has commanded us to use these means.

Nor is this a determinism which teaches that even acts of the human will arc solely determined by prior impersonal causes. We believe that all things are determined not by some universal, compelling system of causality but by our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We arc most happy that He and no other person or thing is in full control. He is a “Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4). Everything depends here upon our acceptance by faith of God as the blessed and righteous Father of Jesus Christ!

The Decrees of God

Although God’s counsel is one, which is to say, beautifully harmonious, it is possible to distinguish between certain “moments” in that counsel. In general we can speak of God’s decrees of creation and recreation.

There was once a rather fierce difference of opinion in Reformed circles as to the order of succession in God’s decrees. The issue was: Did God first decide to create the world and then decide to allow man‘s Fall and to make provision for salvation through Christ? (This is called infralapsarianism.) Or: Did God first decree the new creation in Christ, the Redeemer, and, in order to reach this goal, decree to create the world together with its Fall? (This is called supralapsarianism.) The latter is based on the logical rule that, like a building project, what is first in the plan or decree is last in execution.

One-sided infralapsarianism runs the danger of removing the sin and Fall of man from God’s counsel; the Fall comes to be something almost accidental. One-sided supralapsarianism tends to make the Fall an absolute, essential necessity. The “infra view” places an almost exclusive emphasis upon the responsibility of man, the “supra view” on the sovereignty of God’s counsel.

It seems to us that in the phrasing of the question itself the error is found of talking about succession or “before and after” with respect to God’s decrees as if we can place the eternal counsel of God within time. True enough, we always speak that way because we are in time and therefore can only think and speak in time and in temporal terms. Whenever we talk of eternal realities we must take care not to reduce them to our temporal dimensions.

The Reformed creeds are written in a kind of infralapsarism spirit, but supralapsarianism has never been condemned by the Reformed churches.

The Decrees of Creation ond Re-creation

In the decree of creation we ought to give special attention to that decree by which the Son is appointed to be the Word (logos). John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In Christ, the Word, God has expressed everything that He wills to be for His own. This can be read from John 1:4, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” Through the Word (the Son, the logos) God is pleased to give life and fellowship. Therefore it is said that by the Word all things were made (John 1:3, “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made”).

To say that the Word (logos) is the creator of the world means that all things have been so created by Him that they should serve that fellowship with God. That covenantal fellowship is the main theme, the principal motif iu the creation of the world.

God did not desire to create a world and men merely to provide Himself with an area in which to exercise His sovereign good pleasure. Nor did He desire a race of men who would know nothing but the slavish dependence of the creature upon the Maker. He rather intended in the creation of men to give Himself in the fellowship of the covenant, to give Himself to men who would freely respond in kind to His love. To that end the Son was appointed in God‘s eternal decree to be the Word by whose power the worlds should be created and by whose speech they would be in communication with the Father. The chief beneficiary of that divine desire is man, the king of creation.

In God’s decree of recreation we may distinguish between the eternal counsel of redemption and the decree of predestination.

The counsel of redemption is eternal divine decree concerning the distinctive work of each of the Three Persons in our salvation. The covenant of grace was founded in this counsel of redemption when the Son of Cod gave Himself to be the Head of the covenant of grace, Hebrews tells us therefore that when Christ came into the world He said, “Lo I am come (In the rolls of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God” (10:7).

Predestination is the eternal decree of God with respect to the eternal destiny of His self-conscious creatures. Predestination does not include only human beings. Scripture speaks also of elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21). As the Head of His own Christ is the object of God’s election (Eph. 1:4, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love”).

Predestination is distinguished as election and reprobation.


Election is that eternal decree of God by which He has decided to give forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in Christ to a certain number of people. This is solely by grace for the elect are “by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery” (Canons of Dort, I, 7).

The cause for election does not lie in anything in the elect themselves but only in the sovereign good pleasure of God. Election is not on the basis of foreseen faith (the Remonstrants or Arminians) because faith is a consequence of election rather than the otheway around. This we read in Acts 13:48, “And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”

When the Bible says that few are elected (Matt. 22:14, “For many are called, but few chosen”) this does not conflict with the revelation that there will one day be a numberless throng of redeemed people (Rev. 7: 9, “After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands”). Relatively, in this life, the number of the faithful always appears to be very few; absolutely, however, it is a very great number. That the number is relatively small from our viewpoint does not mean that the world and humanity will be lost with the exception of a few individuals who are rescued out of the human race. The organic totality of God’s work, of God’s world and humanity shall be saved. The unbeliever will be cut out of this “plant” (John 15: 2) as an unfruitful branch. But “the vine” will be saved. So the Scripture speaks in what we know as “universal texts;” for example, John 1:29, “On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” and 1 John 2:2, “and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”

Election does not conflict with God’s justice because God “would have done no injustice by leaving them (all men who have sinned in Adam) to perish and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin . . . .” (Canons of Dort, I, 1). Nor is it in conflict with God’s love since a valid appeal to His love is not possible. The bond of love between us and God has been violated and broken by sin. As Paul says in Rom. 9; 21, the potter has power over the clay, which is sinful humanity, to make of one a vessel unto honor, and of another a vessel unto dishonor. When all were lost to God’s love, then He in His mercy decided to restore that love to some according to His sovereign good pleasure.

Faith in God must include confession of election; for it believes that, as the Absolute Sovereign, God is also the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, of our salvation. Confession of divine election is also consistent with the nature of true faith. This is because faith always turns its gaze away from self and unto God. It rests in and on Him alone. That implies that especially with respect to our faith and its origin we can only turn away from self, looking to God as the Author of every blessing.

Once again, this is not a fatalism! In the decree of salvation God has also included the means which lead to that redemption. We must make faithful use of them: the administration of the means of grace (the preaching of the Word, the holy sacraments) and prayer. We must take seriously God’s command to believe. And that implies that we must not only see our election as something which has to do with salvation after this life, but also that our election envelopes our entire life as a calling and stewardship from God.

A reason for pride or selfexaltation can never be found in election! Election takes place only by sovereign grace. And we are chosen to God’s service which always implies that we must serve one another.

Reprobation (Rom. 9: 18, “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth”) can only be confessed as the other side of the election coin. It is that eternal decree wherein God has decided to leave the rest in their fallen state, a state into which they have cast themselves by their sin. The Canons of Dort say that the decree of reprobation is that according to which “He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy” (1,6). This is an awesome thing, of course, which must be handled with great care! That kind of care is found in the Conclusion to the Canons which declares that we detest with our whole soul the idea “that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.”

Election is not directly discussed in the Heidelberg Catechism. It is mentioned in Question 54 in connection with the church, saying that she is “chosen to everlasting life,” and it lies at the basis of expression ingrafted into Him in Question 20.

To help with discussion:

1. What did Jesus mean when He said, “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh even until now, and I work?” John 5:17. Why must we think of God as eternally active?

2. Is it as important to know God the Father and our creation as it is to know God the Son and our redemption? Is it at all necessary to know God the Spirit and our sanctification? What kind of life-view does the fundamentalistic emphasis upon a few biblical doctrines produce? 3. Why do we not dare to allow anything that is or happens, to be without God’s full control? Does God’s “control” mean that He is morally responsible for all that happens in the world? 4. What is the current status of the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God among Christians today? Is there real comfort for many in the fact that He really has “all things in His hands?” 5. How does the comparison of God’s eternal counsel to a blueprint containing the design for a building clarify this truth? What are the limitations in this comparison? 6. There was a time in certain Reformed communities when it mattered if you were “supra” or “infra.” Can you see any possible value in such a controversy? Do you know where the great Abraham Kuyper stood on this issue?

7. If covenantal fellowship is indeed the principal motif for creation, was there always, even in Paradise before the Fall, a kind of grace or favor of God to His children? Would this bear on the text: “He that lovetll not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8)?

8. Does predestination mean that some people have no chance to be saved even if they ask for It from God with a sincere heart?

9. What do we first come to know in salvation: the decree of our election or the Gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus? What does it mean “to make your calling and election sure?” (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10,11).

*By “recreation” we mean that work of God in Christ by which He restores man and creation to His saving fellowship.


Creation and Related Matters (8)

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1–2:2 In this lesson we deal more specifically with God’s work as the Creator. The topics will be: Creation, Heaven, and Earth.


Creation is that. miraculous act of God whereby He brought into being all things without the use of anything outside of itself. The world is of and through and unto God (Rom. 11:36). This fully describes God’s relationship to all things.

Such a complete, threefold relationship of God to the world can be understood only. by faith in God’s Word. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.” Outside the sphere of true Gospel we always find these one-sided ideas: emanationism, which sees only one thing, namely, that creation is out of God, deism which speaks. of the world as only through God, and evolutionism, which knows only of a development “to God.”

The Bible does declare that the world is “of God”: 1 Corinthians 8: 6, “. . . there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things.” But the world docs not flow from Cod’s Being (emanationism) but rather from His thoughts and powers. The origin of the world does not lie in God’s great wealth (from which it is said to pour forth—emanationism), nor in His poverty (as if He needed an object for His love). It proceeds from God’s free will: Revelation 4:11, “for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.” He could also not have created the world, and He is never served by men‘s hands as though He needed anything (Acts 17:25). Nor did God get richer because of creation since He brought forth the world according to His own will and m His counsel He saw her eternally before His own eyes.

As to the purpose of creation, God created the world in order that He might glorify Himself and that His creatures might share in His salvation. At bo~tom these two purposes are most intimately intertwined. He glorifies Himself most in the fellowship which He enjoys with men. In that fellowship, however, we must seek His glory. Then only we find in God’s glory our own salvation I As Paul says, God has chosen and blessed us “to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).

All things created exist in time. Time is a “con-created” reality; that is, it too was made by God. In the beginning of time God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).


In Scripture heaven is not merely a condition but a real place. It is God’s throne and the residence of the angels.

Angels were made by God before the creation of the world. This is indicated by God Himself to Job when He asks, “Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the comer-stone thereof when the morning stars sang together, and the son; of God shouted for joy?” The “morning stars” and the “sons of God” are interpreted to be the angels (cf. H. J. Kroeze, Het Boek Job, p. 264). Angels are spirits with understanding and will, distinguishable as arch angels, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, sovereignties authorities, and powers (cf. Col. 1:16).

Angels glorify God: Isaiah 6:3, “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Angels serve Cod and the revelation of His grace on earth (Luke 2:9–14), are engaged in the spiritual warfare (Rev. 12:7, “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going’ forth to war with the dragon: and the dragon warred and his angels”), and they serve believers (Rev. 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?”). In general it may be said that they serve to strengthen the bond of fellowship between God and men. Evil angels or devils strive to disturb or break that fellowship. Scripture speaks of the angel of the kingdom of  Persia (Dan. 10: 13 the “prince” is in this context an angel), and about the angels of the children of the earth (Matt. 18:10, “See that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”). In the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer angels are held up before us as examples for service. The worship of angels is forbidden in Scripture: Revelation 22:9, “See thou do it not: I am a fellow servant with thee . . . worship God.”).


God prepared the earth in six days. The pattern of this work is evident when we note the correlation between the first and fourth days, the second and fifth. the third and the sixth days. When Genesis 1, speaks of the earth as first “waste and void” (vs. 2) it means unordered, unfilled. By these terms we express something negative. “Waste” is not the same as “laid waste.” The contrast is between the beautiful order of the subsequently prepared, useful cosmos (world) and the chaos of Genesis 1:2.

Genesis 1 is occasion for much discussion and disagreement, and we might try to summarize some of the theories and interpretations which exist:

1. The ideal theory: Genesis 1 in all its farts exists only to give us an idea, an impression of the truth that God is the Creator of all things.

2. The visionary theory: Genesis 1 is a vision given by God to Moses in order to acquaint him and us with the idea of creation and to give us an insight into the glorious riches of creation.

3. The real theory: the description in Genesis 1 is real rather than imaginary, illusory, fraudulent, or merely apparent. This is the only acceptable theory for the Bible believer. No onc can possibly communicate anything of creation to us except the Creator Himself, and this communication is geared to our understanding and our capacity. There is no evidence in Genesis 1 that this narrative is to be taken in any other than as a real communication. It is completely arbitrary for us to decide to take it otherwise!

4. The concordistic theory: the theory that we can only know creation if we find the agreement between Genesis 1 and the findings of science, especially geology (the science that deals with the history of the earth especially as recorded in rocks ). This theory is useful and acceptable if it is combined with the reality theory providing that our conclusions are based only on the Scriptural data. We ought not to exchange the word day for period of time—this is too easy! It may be conceded, of course, that there are indications in Scripture which allow for the conclusion that the days of the creation week were not days of twenty-four hours as we know them. For example; the duration of the first three days before the creation of the sun, moon and stars is not known to us. Even with respect to the fourth, fifth, and sixth days we face the question as to what a day is when it is spoken of in terms of the whole world. And in a sense the seventh day continues even now. God finished His creation work, and although He upholds it by His providence, He rests in the perfec tion of His creation accomplishment even now. Let us be very careful, howeverl The “days” of Genesis I cannot, in terms of good and fair principles of Biblical interpretation, be explained away in favor of more popular or more reputable (scientifically speaking) opinions. Here, too, God’s Word must be allowed to stand.

Let us be sure of one thing; God had no need of a long period of time to do what He did when He created the world. His creation work is in its every essence a miracle, and His greatness with respect to the world is incomparable. “All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity” (lsa. 40:17).

There is a gradual ascent in the ranks of created things as described in Genesis 1. Repeatedly God brings forth the higher out of the lower. This does not mean to suggest some kind of spontaneous evolution! Against the evolution theory these objections have been offered; nothing more can be in the result than was present in the cause; and, the transition from one kind to another has never been demonstrated, which means that the evolution theory is purely hypothetical. When the higher came forth out of the lower in Genesis 1 it was the result of God’s creative power. Besides, God created things after their kind (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25), which means that He fixed the individual character of the classes or genera permanently.

To help with discussion:

1. Is it possible to be well-educated nowadays and take seriously the traditional doctrine of creation? If need be, must we bear reproach and derision for the sake of the earlier chapters of Genesis, or can we safely ignore the attacks on this part of Scripture? 2. Does the fact that creation is a miracle mean that we cant really know much if anything about it? What other miracle must take place in us if we are to believe that He called the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17)? 3. What did the Sadducees teach about the angels (cf. Belgic Confession, Art. XII)? Is it important to recognize their existence and their task? 4. If the angels were created before the world, what kind of time intervened? Were the angels involved in the creation of the world? Were they interested in Adam and Eve? 5. How is it possible that there can be war in heaven? Is there war in heaven now? 6. What is the significance of the passage which speaks of the angels which belong to little children? Is the Romanist view of the guardian angel acceptable? 7. Do you think that it is silly to believe that God created the world in six days of twenty-four hours? Could this interpretation be far superior to many others? Why?

8. What is the difference between the kind of progress described in Genesis 1 and that offered by modern evolutionism?

9. What are the religious implications of evolutionism for our world in our time? Has it strengthened faith in God? If not, why?

10. If we lose the earlier chapters of Genesis can we still hold to what the Bible says in Romans 5:12? Does that make any real difference to our salvation?