WCF: Of God’s Eternal Decree (III.7)

“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”(III.7).

To “pass by” is to leave one to their own sinful devices. The WCF men are blinded by their own carnal presuppositions that keep them from seeing that God did not pass by Pharaoh in the slightest degree. God was very active in the life of Pharaoh, raising him up in order to show His wrath and power in him. God had a wonderful plan for Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s was truly “the purpose driven life.”

How does God show or demonstrate His wrath and make His power known? Answer: By enduring with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. The longsuffering is a “putting up with” until their iniquity is complete and their final destruction is ripe. In this particular context, “longsuffering” is not a “common grace” but a common wrath against the reprobate. The justice of God does not demand that these reprobate (non-elect) be struck down in the womb; rather, because they are vessels which God desires to show His wrath in—and ones whom Christ made no propitiation for–they are actively pursued and hardened by His holy wrath. God does this to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known.

Also, while it is certainly true that God will condemn and punish the reprobate for their sin; it is not true that His ordination of them to dishonor and wrath was based upon their sin, either foreknown or foreordained. For the reprobate (e.g., Esau; Pharaoh) are hated, raised up for demonstrating His power in, hardened, and fitted to destruction before having done any good or evil (Romans 9:11). Thus, they are punished for their sin, but they are not ordained to dishonor and wrath on account of their foreknown or foreordained sin. They are ordained to dishonor and wrath unconditionally—that is, before having done any good or evil. And so Pharaoh and Esau lived lives of sin and unbelief as a necessary and inevitable result of God’s unconditional decree of reprobation. God does NOT ordain to dishonor and wrath because the reprobate continue in sin and unbelief; rather, the reprobate continue in sin and unbelief because they have been unconditionally ordained by God to dishonor and wrath.

The Scriptures that the WCF men put forth do not demonstrate that God is passive in His decree of sovereign ordination of the reprobate to wrath. Jude 4 and 1 Peter 2:8 make it clear that the reprobate (i.e., those for whom Christ did not in any sense die for) are ordained and appointed to their respective condemnations. Those who stumbled at the Stone of stumbling, those who were offended by the Rock of offense, were not “permitted” or “allowed” to appoint themselves. They were appointed by God to stumble at the Word.

The Scripture says that God raised Pharaoh up in order to display His power in him. How is God’s power demonstrated in Pharaoh if God “passes by” him by giving him more freedom and “allowing” him to harden himself?

In the Passover found in the book of Exodus, and in the final destruction of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, we see that God raised up Pharaoh–and by extension all the reprobate–in order to destroy him. He was created for the purpose of destruction. God was willing to show His wrath and to make His power known in His active and unconditional hardening of Pharaoh. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is shown to be active and efficient because it is a display of His power; and the hardening is shown to be unconditional because God will harden whom He will.