Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, Romans 9:21-23NKJV
Today we again examine Question 13 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?” It gives the answer, “God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favour as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.” The last time we looked at this question, we focused on the motivation of God’s decrees – that the reason why He elects some to salvation and others to damnation is to be found entirely within Himself. Today we consider the justice of God’s decrees.
Reformed Theology alone affirms the Biblical truth of double predestination. From all eternity God predestines who will go to heaven and who will go to hell and why. The elect go to heaven because of the righteousness of Christ, the reprobate go to hell because of the evil of their sins. The problem of evil has been called the “Achilles heel” of Christianity. The argument runs that if God were truly all-powerful and all-good He would not allow evil to exist, for in His power He would prevent whatever He did not want, and in His goodness He could not want evil to exist. Therefore since evil exists, either God is not all-powerful because He cannot prevent it, or else He is not all- good and desires it to be. Both of these options are blasphemous to affirm. God is all-powerful, God is all-good. Yet evil men and angels exist. How can these things be? Just as the Catechism provided the answer as to on what basis some men and angels could be elected to honor and glory: “for the praise of His glorious grace”; so too it tells us how some men and angels can be “foreordained…to dishonor and wrath,” which is: “to the praise of His glorious justice.”
God alone existed from all eternity: one God eternally in three persons. And though He was perfectly content in His inter-Trinitarian relationship within Himself, He decided to express and share His contentment and glory through the creation of the universe and all that is in it. The pinnacle of His work would be in making rational, moral beings like Himself who could know Him and love Him. God’s ultimate purpose was His glory, which would be seen in the manifestation of His perfect attributes. First, there would be the glory of His grace, mercy, and love seen in the election, redemption, and salvation of those appointed to eternal blessedness. At the same time there would be the glory of His justice, wrath, and hatred seen in the reprobation, condemnation, and damnation of those ordained to eternal punishment.
God’s full character would be seen in these two groups. When God saved the elect and showered eternal rewards on them, such actions would not be unjust because the suffering and death of His Son in their place would fully satisfy His wrath for their sins, and His perfectly obedient life on their behalf would fully earn their rewards. Plus, the fact that He would give them both forgiveness and righteousness freely – as His Son would do all the work required for both – would be an amazing display of His grace and mercy. Likewise, God would not be unjust to the reprobate because their everlasting torment in hell would be only in accord with what strict justice demanded on account of their sins, which they would freely and willfully choose to commit. Furthermore, as the Scripture at the head of this article teaches, God’s making His wrath known on the damned in hell forever serves as a powerful example to the saved in how rich his glory in mercy is to us. For we will see what we deserve and what His mercy and grace has saved us from! Thus, it is ultimately for God’s glory and our good that evil men and angels be allowed – for a time – to commit their evil deeds, for God will fully make things right on Judgment Day, and we will be able to glorify God so much more in eternity as we see ALL of His attributes forever displayed: how much He loves mercy AND how much He hates evil!