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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Reprobation

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is equivalent to rejection. Rejection always implies a cause: "Reprobate silver shall men call them, insomuch that the Lord hath rejected them," Jeremiah 6:30 ; that is, they are base metal, which will not bear the proof. Conditional reprobation, or rejecting men from the divine mercy, because of their impenitence or refusal of salvation, is a Scriptural doctrine; but to the unconditional, absolute reprobation of the rigid Calvinists, the following objections may be urged:—

1. It cannot be reconciled to the love of God. "God is love." "He is loving to every man, and his tender mercies are over all his works."

2. Nor to the wisdom of God; for the bringing into being a vast number of intelligent creatures under a necessity of sinning, and of being eternally lost, teaches no moral lesson to the world; and contradicts all those notions of wisdom in the ends and processes of government, which we are taught to look for, not only from natural reason, but from the Scriptures.

3. Nor to the grace of God, which is so often magnified in the Scriptures; for doth it argue any sovereign or high strain, any superabounding richness of grace or mercy in any man, when ten thousand have equally offended him, only to pardon one or two of them? Or in what sense has "the grace of God appeared unto all men," or even to one millionth part of them?

4. Nor can this merciless reprobation be reconciled to any of those numerous passages in which almighty God is represented as tenderly compassionate and pitiful to the worst and most unworthy of his creatures, even them who finally perish. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth." "Being grieved at the hardness of their hearts." "How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" "The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish." "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"

5. It is as manifestly contrary to his justice. Here, indeed, we would not assume to measure this attribute of God by unauthorized human conceptions; but when God himself has appealed to those established notions of justice and equity which have been received among all enlightened persons, in all ages, as the measure and rule of his own, we cannot be charged with this presumption. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" "Are not my ways equal? saith the Lord." We may then be bold to affirm that justice and equity in God are what they are taken to be among reasonable men; and if all men every where would condemn it, as most contrary to justice and right; that a sovereign should condemn to death one or more of his subjects for not obeying laws which it is absolutely impossible for them, under any circumstances which they can possibly avail themselves of, to obey, and much more the greater part of his subjects; and to require them, on pain of aggravated punishment, to do something in order to the pardon and remission of their offences, which he knows they cannot do, say to stop the tide or to remove a mountain; it implies a charge as obviously unjust against God, who is "just in the judgments which he executeth," to suppose him to act precisely in the same manner in regard to those whom he has passed by and rejected, without any avoidable fault of their own; to destroy them by the simple rule of his own sovereignty, or, in other words, to show that he has power to do it. In whatever light the subject be viewed, no fault, in any right construction, can be chargeable upon the persons so punished, or, as we may rather say, destroyed, since punishment supposes a judicial proceeding, which this act shuts out. For either the reprobates are destroyed for a pure reason of sovereignty without any reference to their sinfulness, and thus all criminality is left out of the consideration; or they are destroyed for the sin of Adam, to which they were not consenting; or for personal faults resulting from a corruption of nature which they brought into the world with them, and which God wills not to correct, and which they have no power to correct themselves. Every received notion of justice is thus violated. We grant, indeed, that some proceedings of the Almighty may appear at first irreconcilable with justice, which are not so; as that we should suffer pain and death, and be infected with a morally corrupt nature, in consequence of the transgression of our first progenitors; that children should suffer for their parents' faults in the ordinary course of providence; and that in general calamities the comparatively innocent should suffer the same evils as the guilty. But none of these are parallel cases. For the "free gift" has come upon all men, "to justification of life," through "the righteousness" of the second Adam, so that the terms of our probation are but changed. None are doomed to inevitable ruin, or the above words of the Apostle would have no meaning; and pain and death, as to all who avail themselves of the remedy, are made the instruments of a higher life, and of a superabounding of grace through Christ. The same observation may be made as to children who suffer evils for their parents' faults. This circumstance alters the terms of their probation; but if every condition of probation leaves to men the possibility and the hope of eternal life, and the circumstances of all are balanced and weighed by Him who administers the affairs of individuals on principles, the end of which is to turn all the evils of life into spiritual and higher blessings, there is, obviously, no impeachment of justice in the circumstances of the probation assigned to any person whatever. As to the innocent suffering equally with the guilty in general calamities, the persons so suffering are but comparatively innocent, and their personal transgressions against God deserve a higher punishment than any which this life witnesses; this may also as to them be overruled for merciful proposes, and a future life presents its manifold compensations. But as to the non-elect, the whole case, in this scheme of sovereign reprobation, or sovereign preterition, is supposed to be before us. Their state is fixed, their afflictions in this life will not in any instance be overruled for ends of edification and salvation; they are left under a necessity of sinning in every condition; and a future life presents no compensation, but a fearful looking for of fiery and quenchless indignation. It is surely not possible for the ingenuity of man to reconcile this to any notion of just government which has ever obtained; and by the established notions of justice and equity in human affairs, we are taught by the Scriptures themselves to judge of the divine proceedings in all completely stated and comprehensible cases.

6. Equally impossible is it to reconcile this notion to the sincerity of God in offering salvation by Christ to all who hear the Gospel, of whom this scheme supposes the majority, or at least great numbers to be among the reprobate. The Gospel, as we have seen, is commanded to be preached to every creature; which publication of good news to every creature is an offer of salvation to every creature, accompanied with earnest invitations to embrace it, and admonitory comminations lest any should neglect and despise it. But does it not involve a serious reflection upon the truth and sincerity of God which men ought to shudder at, to assume, that at the very time the Gospel is thus preached, no part of this good news was ever designed to benefit the majority, or any great part, of those to whom it is addressed? that they to whom this love of God in Christ is proclaimed were never loved by God? that he has decreed that many to whom he offers salvation, and whom he invites to receive it, shall never be saved? and that he will consider their sins aggravated by rejecting that which they never could receive, and which he never designed them to receive? It is no answer to this to say that we also admit that the offers of mercy are made by God to many whom he, by virtue of his prescience, knows will never receive them. We grant this; but it is enough to reply, that in this case there is no insincerity. On the Calvinian scheme the offer of salvation is made to those for whose sins Christ made no atonement; on the other, he made atonement for the sins of all. On the former, the offer is made to those whom God never designed to embrace it; on the latter to none but those whom God seriously and in truth wills that they should avail themselves of it; on one theory, the bar to the salvation of the non-elect lies in the want of a provided sacrifice for sin; on the other, it rests solely in men themselves; one consists, therefore, with a perfect sincerity of offer, the other cannot be maintained without bringing the sincerity of God into question, and fixing a stigma upon his moral truth.

7. Unconditional reprobation cannot be reconciled with that frequent declaration of Scripture, that "God is no respecter of persons." This phrase, we grant, is not to be interpreted as though the bounties of the Almighty were dispensed in equal measures to his creatures. In the administration of favour, there is place for the exercise of that prerogative which, in a just sense, is called the sovereignty of God; but justice knows but of one rule; it is, in its nature, settled and fixed, and looks not at the person, but the case. To have respect of persons is a phrase, therefore, in Scripture, which sometimes refers to judicial proceedings, and signifies to judge from partiality and affection, and not upon the merits of the question. It is also used by St. Peter with reference to the acceptance of Cornelius: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Here it is clear, that to respect persons, would be to reject or accept them without regard to their moral qualities, and on some national and other prejudice or partiality which forms no moral rule of any kind. But, if the doctrine of absolute election and reprobation be true; if we are to understand that men like Jacob and Esau, in the Calvinistic construction of the passage, while in the womb of their mother, nay, from eternity, are loved and hated, elected or reprobated, before they have done "good or evil," then it necessarily follows, that there is precisely this kind of respect of persons with God; for his acceptance or rejection of men stands on some ground of aversion or dislike, which cannot be resolved into any moral rule, and has no respect to the merits of the case itself; and if the Scripture affirms that there is no such respect of persons with God, then the doctrine which implies it is contradicted by inspired authority.

8. The doctrine of which we are showing the difficulties, brings with it the repulsive and shocking opinion of the eternal punishment of infants. Some Calvinists have, indeed, to get rid of the difficulty, or rather to put it out of sight, consigned them to annihilation; but of the annihilation of any human being there is no intimation in the word of God. In order, therefore, to avoid the fearful consequence of admitting the punishment of beings innocent as to all actual sin, there is no other way than to suppose all children, dying in infancy, to be an elected portion of mankind, which, however, would be a mere hypothesis brought in to serve a theory without any evidence. That some of those who, as they suppose, are under this sentence of reprobation, die in their infancy, is, probably, what most Calvinists allow; and, if their doctrine be received, cannot be denied; and it follows, therefore, that all such infants are eternally lost. Now, we know that infants are not lost, because our Lord gave it as a reason why little children ought not to be hindered from coming unto him, that "of such is the kingdom of heaven." On which Calvin himself remarks, "In this word, ‘for of such is the kingdom of heaven,' Christ comprehends as well little children themselves, as those who in disposition resemble them. Hac voce, tam parvulos, quam eorum similes, comprehendit." We are assured of the salvation of infants, also, because "the free gift has come upon all men to," in order to, "justification of life," and because children are not capable of rejecting that blessing, and must, therefore, derive benefit from it. The point, also, on which we have just now touched, that "there is no respect of persons with God," demonstrates it. For, as it will be acknowledged, that some children, dying in infancy, are saved, it must follow, from this principle and axiom in the divine government, that all infants are saved; for the case of all infants, as to innocence or guilt, sin or righteousness, being the same, and God as a judge, being "no respecter of persons," but regarding only the merits of the case, he cannot make this awful distinction as to them, that one part shall be eternally saved and the other eternally lost. That doctrine, therefore, which implies the perdition of infants, cannot be congruous to the Scriptures of truth, but is utterly abhorrent to them.

Finally, not to multiply these instances of the difficulties which accompany the doctrine of absolute reprobation, or of preterition, (to use the milder term, though the argument is not in the least changed by it,) it destroys the end of punitive justice. That end can only be, to deter men from offence, and to add strength to the law of God. But if the whole body of the reprobate are left to the influence of their fallen nature without remedy, they cannot be deterred from sin by threats of inevitable punishment; nor can they ever submit to the dominion of the law of God: their doom is fixed and threats and examples can avail nothing.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Reprobation'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/r/reprobation.html. 1831-2.

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