Supralapsarianism vs Infralapsarianism

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

Taken from “Reformed Dogmatics” by Herman Hoeksema

Intro by Heath Carpenter

The current study being undertaken is for the edification of those who actually believe in the Reformed faith. There are not too many unbelievers who are either supra or infralapsarian in their view of God’s counsel; namely, because most unbelievers could care less for doctrine. Distinguishing between the two view points will certainly not be an unfruitful activity. Because one describes the temporal order of God’s decree as it is revealed in the history of the world. While the other deals with God’s eternal counsel from the logical order. The one is the reverse of the other. That this is true will be proven without a doubt. From the contents of this study the reader may draw whichever conclusion he will; but by the power of God I pray that His Spirit leads him into all truth.

The bible quite clearly teaches the doctrines of election and reprobation. Herman Hoeksema in his “Reformed Dogmatics,” explains the two positions; and I’ll let Herman take it over from here; never could I word theology better than Herman Hoeksema. And for this particular subject, I feel that trying to put it into my own words would cloud the difference unnecessarily. Let us start off with Reverend Hoeksema’s definition of election and reprobation.

“Election may be defined as the eternal and sovereign decree of God to lead the church as a body of Christ, with all its individual members, each in his own position, to eternal salvation and glory.

Reprobation is the eternal and sovereign decree of God to determine some men to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction by way of sin, as manifestations of His justice, and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church.

It must be remembered that the objects of predestination are not only men, but all the rational creatures of God, including angels. But we are dealing more especially with Christ and His elect church, as the objects of election, and with the wicked as serving the realization of the purpose of election, as the objects of God’s eternal reprobation.

In regard to the doctrine of predestination, there has, especially since the time of the Reformation and soon after, always been a difference of viewpoint. We are thinking of the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. The former present the order in the decrees of God in such a way that the decree of election precedes the decree concerning creation and the fall. The order is therefore conceived to be as follows:

1) The glory of God in Christ and His church.

2) The election of Christ as the Head of the church.

3) The elect church in Christ. (and reprobation)

4) The fall of all men.

5) The creation of the world and man.

Infralapsarians, on the other hand, turn this order right around. They also proceed from the glory of God as the purpose of all things; but after that they have the following order:

1) The creation of the world.

2) The fall of man.

3) The election unto salvation of some, together with the passing by of others.

4) Christ as the Mediator, to realize the redemption of His elect.

The difference, therefore, between the two positions is whether God has chosen and reprobated man, in His eternal decree, before or after the fall. Supra maintains the former, infra the latter.

Infralapsarians have several objections over against the standpoint of supralapsarians. They maintain that Scripture itself places us on the infra standpoint. This is to be admitted so far as the historical viewpoint of the matter is concerned; but this historical viewpoint of Scripture may undoubtedly be explained from the fact that what is first in the decree is last in the execution of it. It is in the nature of the case that in the historical sense of the word creation and the fall precede the execution of election. Thus it is always with the execution of a decree, or a plan, and the plan itself. When I make a plan to build a house, the very first element in the plan is my purpose to live or to dwell in the house; next, where and in what way I want to live; next, as to the arrangement of the house in which I want to live; and finally, how the foundation of the home must be suitable to carry the house itself. That is the supra order of the of the plan of the house. But the execution of that plan becomes naturally infra. I first lay the foundation of the house; next, I build the house; and lastly, I dwell in it. The last element of the plan is first in the execution. Thus it is also in regard to the decree of God and the execution of the decree in time. Historically, creation is first; then, the fall; then, the distinction between election and reprobation; then, the Christ coming to realize the election; and finally, the consummation of all things and the eternal separation between the wicked and the righteous. But thus the argument can easily be turned into an argument favoring the supralapsarian standpoint. History presents to us the picture of God’s eternal decree in reversed order; and if according to this principle I turn back on the historical line, the result is the supra order in the decree of God.

Nor is this all. As often Scripture explains the infralapsarian history from the decree of God, it does so in the supralapsarian manner. This is most beautifully expressed in Romans 9. The potter, according to that chapter, has power over the clay, to make of the same lump vessels unto honor and vessels unto dishonor. And note that to the question of the opponent, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” in verse 14, and, “Why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?” in verse 19, the apostle does not say, “Who art thou, O sinner, that answerest against God? We have all fallen into sin and have no right to life and to salvation. God, therefore, can justly reject us all.” Thus he would have to have answered on the standpoint of infralapsarianism. But he appeals to God’s absolute sovereignty, and employs the figure of the potter and the clay. Sovereignly the potter makes out of the same lump vessels unto glory and vessels unto dishonor. And thus it is also the presentation of Scripture when it teaches us that God has made all things for His own name’s sake, even the wicked unto the day of evil, and that He raised up Pharaoh sovereignly, to reveal in him His name and His power.

The infralapsarians also appeal to the confessions, and maintain that they, on the whole, defend the infralapsarian standpoint. This may be admitted, although it must be remembered that the Heidelberg Catechism does not enter into the problem at all, while the Netherland Confession in Article 16 views the doctrine of election entirely from an historical point of view: “We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom He, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.” The Canons are more definitely infralapsarian. Thus, we read in Article 10 of Chapter I: “The good pleasure of God in the sole cause of this gracious election; which doth not consist herein, that out of all possible qualities and actions of men God has chosen some as a condition of salvation; but that He was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain as a peculiar people to Himself, as it is written, ‘For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,’ etc., it was said (namely to Rebecca): ‘The elder shall serve the younger; as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’ (Romans 9:11, 12, 13). ‘And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ (Acts 13:48).” And also in Article 15, the article that speaks of reprobation, we read: “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; whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath 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 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 others 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.” The Canons therefore, present very decidedly the infralapsarian viewpoint. However, it must not be forgotten that the Reformed fathers never condemned the supralapsarian standpoint, and that they certainly did not regard it as inconsistent with Reformed theology.

The infralapsarians had still other objections and arguments against the supralapsarian standpoint. They alleged that the supralapsarian standpoint is very hard and cruel; the infralapsarian standpoint is much milder in its presentation of the decree of predestination, especially of reprobation. According to supralapsarians, God destined certain men to damnation. According to infralapsarians, God merely passed them by in His eternal decree of election, and determined to leave them in the common misery into which they had willfully plunged themselves, and determined not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion, but, as the Canons express it, permitted them in His just judgment to flow their own ways. It is therefore merely negative. But even apart from the fact that these are human considerations, not based upon Scripture, the argument does not present more than a semblance of truth. For, after all, a God Who leaves men in their sin and damnation is no less hard and cruel, according to any human consideration and argument, than a God that determined them unto damnation. In reality, the case stands thus, that infralapsarianism cannot find an answer to the question concerning reprobation. God, according to their presentation, is really arbitrary: He was able to save all men, but in His good pleasure He determined to leave some in their sin and damnation.

All other arguments, such as the one that the supralapsarians present God as the author of sin, and others, we have already answered.

We therefore place ourselves without reservation on the standpoint of supralapsarianism, and maintain that it is the Scriptural and the only consistent presentation of the decree of God’s predestination. But we would like to modify this supralapsarian view in such a way that it is in harmony with our organic conception of things. We must emphasize not so much what is first or last in the decree of God, but much rather place ourselves before the question: what in those decrees is conceived as purpose, and what as means? What is the main object in those decrees, and what is subordinate and subservient to that main object? In this way we first of all escape the danger to leave the impression that there after all is a temporal order in the decrees of God. And, in the second place, according to our way of presenting the doctrine of predestination we may open the way to find an answer to the question: why is there a reprobation? It is true that supralapsarians give a partial answer to this question when they assert that God also has willed the ungodly for His own name’s sake and to the manifestation of His righteousness, justice, power, and wrath. But this is by no means the final answer that may be given to this question; nor does it satisfy us. For in this way we still cannot escape the impression that there is arbitrariness in God. The reprobate are evidently not necessary to reveal God’s power and wrath and righteousness; for these virtues certainly never came to a clearer, more definite revelation than at the cross of Jesus Christ. He certainly satisfied the justice and the righteousness of God and bore all His wrath.

We, therefore, would like to present the matter of God’s counsel of predestination as follows. God conceived and willed all things in His eternal decree for His own name’s sake, that is, to the glory of His name and the reflection of His divine, infinite virtues and life. And as the highest in God is His own covenant life, He willed to establish and to reveal His covenant in Christ; and all other things in the counsel of God are related to that main purpose of God as means. Hence, we obtain the following order:

1) God wants to reveal His own eternal glory in the establishment of the His covenant.

2) For the realization of this purpose the Son becomes the Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, that in Him as the first begotten of the dead all the fulness of God might dwell.

3) For that Christ and the revelation of all His fulness the church is decreed and all the elect. In the decree of God Christ is not designed for the church, but the church for Christ. The church is His body, and serves the purpose to reveal the fulness there is in Him.

4) For the purpose of realizing this church of Christ, and, therefore, the glory of Christ, the reprobate are determined as vessels of wrath. Reprobation serves the purpose of election as the chaff serves the ripening of the wheat. This is in harmony with the current thought of Scripture; and we find it expressed literally in Isaiah 43:3,4: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee, Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”

5) Finally, in the counsel of God all other things in heaven and on earth are designed as means to the realization of both election and reprobation, and therefore, of the glory of Christ and His church. And because in the decree of God all things are conceived in this manner, therefore all things must work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose. And in this light we can also understand Scripture when it teaches us, as in I Corinthians 3:21-23, that “all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.””

5 Responses to “Supralapsarianism vs Infralapsarianism”

  1. Hmm, this is quite humorous. Not that I care much, but I actually wrote the introduction to Hoeksema’s piece here; and it was I, also, who took the time to type out his definition of Infra and Supralapsarianism. But, it’s no matter, because all is done for the glory of God.

  2. Heath,
    Yeah, I found that from your MySpace blog. Was not sure exactly if you or someone else wrote the inro. Sometime people put stuff on their blog written by other and do not even tell who the author is. I guess I could have asked who wrote the intro. Sloppy on my part. Will add your name as the one who penned the intro.


  3. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin: “But, as I have hitherto only recited such things as are delivered without any obscurity or ambiguity in the Scriptures, let persons who hesitate not to brand with ignominy those Oracles of heaven, beware what kind of opposition they make. For, if they pretend ignorance, with a desire to be commended for their modesty, what greater instance of pride can be conceived, than to oppose one little word to the authority of God! as, ‘It appears otherwise to me,’ or ‘I would rather not meddle with this subject.’ But if they openly censure, what will they gain by their puny attempts against heaven? Their petulance, indeed, is no novelty; for in all ages there have been impious and profane men, who have virulently opposed this doctrine. But they shall feel the truth of what the Spirit long ago declared by the mouth of David, that God ‘is clear when He judgeth’ (Ps. 51 :4). David obliquely hints at the madness of men who display such excessive presumption amidst their insignificance, as not only to dispute against God, but to arrogate to themselves the power of condemning Him. In the meantime, he briefly suggests, that God is unaffected by all the blasphemies which they discharge against heaven, but that He dissipates the mists of calumny, and illustriously displays His righteousness; our faith, also, being founded on the Divine Word, and therefore, superior to all the world, from its exaltation looks down with contempt upon those mists” (John Calvin).

  4. Happy Husky Says:

    Hey Brother
    I just found this online,wish you would add some more to it,I had just posted Hoeksema’s excerpt this week on YouTube as I realized there are very few resources online that explain this Biblical position,thanks so much for posting this,it’s the best I’ve come across and I’m really happy you put it up.

  5. When John Wesley said, “Predestination makes God out to be worse than the devil,” he had this doctrine in mind. I agree that the supra view is more expressive of the logical order with respect to purpose and effect but deny that reprobation is a final consummate state for anyone because that teaching is found nowhere in the Bible. The aspect of God’s decree which involves his decision to glorify his Church is paramount to all else. What Hoesema failed to understand was that eventually everyone ill be part of that Church. That is the heresy of the modern church. Impugning the loving character of God by asserting the blasphemous doctrine of endless torment.

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