Is the WCF Inherently Supra?

Donald John MacLean considers Guy Richards’ arguments in the most recent issue of the Confessional Presbyterian.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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    • Hi Nick,

      I’m infra. I think the WCF is best read as teaching an infra order. We’re elect in Christ. We’re not regarded as creatable (surpa) but as created and fallen. WCF 3.5 says “hath chosen, in Christ…” this leans to the infra view. I’m sure Warfield and Mr Murray are correct, however. I need also to review John Fesko’s book on the decree at the assembly.

      • Scott, I have tremendous respect for the supra position and can see how some might see it as Scriptural. Yet, I think God is elects already fallen lumps of clay and passes over fallen lumps of clay, as opposed to electing neutral lumps and moulding other neutral lumps as hardened hell-bound sinners. It almost makes God the author of sin.

    • E,

      That’s why Warfield and Murray said it was studiously ambiguous.

      Historically, however, when folks have emphasized located election “in Christ,” it has usually been a signal of infralapsarianism.

    • Elect angels never fell and never had a Substitute.
      Elect-humans are elect as lumps, even before it is fashion as man or a pot.
      Reprobate angels were rejected before their fall, otherwise how could they ever fall unless God allowed.
      Reprobate humans were rejected before their fall, otherwise how could lumps fall, unless God made them mutable and with a mouth to eat, and unless God permitted that to happen.

      Why is it that God is not free to reject one pencil for another, even though one pencil has never sinned. He made both pencils, and any uprightness in the pencil was not due to the pencils credit, but to the makers credit. One pencil he keeps, One pencil he rejects, the pencil does not have to fall in order to be rejected. After all we don’t purchase all pencils ourselves do we.

      • Todd,

        One major problem with your analogy (pencils) is that it is exactly the sort of analogy rejected by the Synod of Dort rejected in 3/4.16. Granted they rejected this analogy under a different head but it’s difficult to believe they meant for us to think that we are stocks and blocks under one head but not under another.

        Second, the the question of the logical order of the decrees. The central verb here is “considered.” Are humans considered as fallen when they are elected. Obviously in either scheme (infra or supra) we’re dealing with eternity and with unconditional election but is reprobation exactly parallel to election? Most Reformed theologians have said “no.”

        The question is not God’s freedom. The question is what Scripture teaches or implies about how we ought to think about the relation of election to reprobation.

  1. I only make the point, because if one holds to a supralapsarian position that says that the decree is teleological, and that the desired end telos is for Christ and his bride to be united, with his bride having been saved, redeemed from the midst of fallen humanity – if this whole picture is the telos toward which the decree is bent – then the supralapsarian would also rightly emphasize election in Christ, because that’s what election is unto, namely being united to Christ.

    As a somewhat committed supralapsarian, I’m not a big fan of Hoeksema. I think he gives supralapsarianism a very undeserved reputation for being morons because he rejected the covenant of works (since covenant is an end in itself) and he rejected common grace. This has nothing to do with supralapsarianism, which simply sees the decree as logically structured with a telos in mind, the telos being logically prior in the decree.

    So then if the telos is the eschaton as we know it will be, if that was God’s plan from the beginning, with only some saved and the rest damned, then the fall and redemption is planned out by God as a means to that end.

    I’ve certainly read Turretin, Bavinck, Berkhof and others on this, and I just am not convinced of the need for infralapsarianism.

    I find Turretin’s charge that supralapsarianism makes God unjust because he reprobates people apart from sin particularly puzzling. Reprobation should not be either just or unjust. Condemnation must be just, but if God reprobates his creation, and uses the fall to achieve that end, well, then, “Hath not the Potter power over the clay?”

    Then what’s the point of history? Why does God create all those people, just to destroy them? Answer: to reveal himself as much as possible to the elect, to provide for a greater intimacy between Christ and his glorified Church.

    God could have just created the elect, and just created them as glorified. But then they would know nothing of his justice, nothing of his mercy, they would not cling to him in desperation, knowing that his love for them, completely unearned, is the only thing standing between them and eternal damnation. That’s the point of it all.

    Yes, I do believe the supralapsarian rightly emphasizes election in Christ.

    • E,

      If the elect and reprobate are chosen from the mass of humanity considered as creatable (potential) and not as fallen, then how exactly is election in Christ? They are elect without the incarnation in view. You don’t want to say that the incarnation is an ontological necessity do you?

  2. I’m postlapsarian: aren’t we all…

    I can echo part of Echo’s comment in the sense that I always say it depends what question you ask. There are questions I answer in an “infra” way, and questions I answer in a “supra” way. Kind of like light is a wave-particle, I’m an infra-supra.

    The details of my rather sketchy view do, I think, leave the Son agreeing to be saviour and king without precise details of whom, from what. But I have a suspicion (I mean this reverently) that such things trouble him less than us.

    As for the WCF itself, surely all those Presbies who down through history took it as infra must have had a reason. Particularly the majority infras who left the Assembly happy?

  3. Dr. Clark,

    My view in no way makes the incarnation ontologically necessary, if by that you mean that mankind has some kind of ontological flaw, chain of being, etc. If that’s what you mean, I cannot fathom why you ask the question.

    What I’m saying is this: God’s starting point is the desire to create the bride of Christ. God’s starting point in his plan is what will be in the end of history.

    And what will be at the end of history? Christ will be united to his bride, the church. What will be the nature of that union? It will have a certain degree of intimacy, based on a certain degree to which God is revealed in Christ to his bride.

    God desired a level of intimacy to obtain between Christ and the church that required that the bride be rescued, snatched from eternal damnation.

    Thus the end, a certain level of intimacy, requires the means: the fall and redemption.

    Also, for the bride to have this degree of intimacy required the bride to partake of the sufferings of her Savior. (Shared experiences do so much to bring people together.) Thus the bride, having been redeemed, must be immersed in a sinful world full of the reprobate.

    For the bride to truly be grateful to her Savior, furthermore, the danger of hell must be real, and for it to really cut the bride to the heart, they must be surrounded by those who are perishing.

    This, in my opinion, makes perfect sense of Romans 9, especially where Paul says that the purpose of the reprobate is for the elect to truly understand that they’ve been shown mercy (vv.22-23).

    This forging of the bride of Christ then becomes the whole point of all of history.

    This makes election logically prior to reprobation, because the purpose of the reprobate is for God to reveal something about himself to the elect. Why the fall? So that the elect could be redeemed.

    Rom 11:32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

    If there was no fall, we’d never know of the mercy of God. If there was no reprobate, we’d never know of the justice of God, we’d never know to fear him properly.

    If we didn’t know these things about God, we wouldn’t know God as well as we will in the eschaton.

    All history is bent towards the goal of God’s self revelation to his elect, in order to achieve the greatest possible intimacy between Christ and his bride, the church, the elect.

    Everything is subordinate to that end. It is because that is the desired end from the very get go in the plan of God, therefore everything else has been decreed and subsequently come to pass.

    In my opinion, and with all due respect, these questions about whether God considers people as having fallen or creatable when he either elects or reprobates is the wrong question. I’m just not even looking at the decree that way. I want to keep a very sharp distinction between how things play out historically on the one hand, and how God decreed them on the other. The logical order of the decree, according to the one useful thing Hoeksema actually says, is logically the complete reverse of the historical order of events.

    As Hoeksema says, if I’m going to build a house, I begin with a conception of the desired end state, and then I plan out how to get there by working backwards. Historically, it’s completely the opposite. Historically, you lay the foundation first, then build upon it, and the desired end state is the last thing to appear.

    Almost every objection that I’ve read in the best reformed theologians seem, to my eyes, to be asking questions about how events have to take place historically. The best example is of Turretin saying that it’s unjust for God to reprobate someone without reference to their sin. In response I say, no, it’s unjust for God to condemn someone in time and space without reference to their sin, but it’s not unjust for him to reprobate them. To say otherwise would be logically equivalent to saying that God elects with reference to our faith! God doesn’t elect us because he foresees faith in us, or even because he fore-decreed that we WOULD have faith, and then on THAT basis elects us. He elects us because of absolutely nothing in us.

    Reprobation, in my view, is logically subservient to election. They serve God’s self revelation to his elect. It is just, not because they’re reprobated with reference to their sin, but because God has the right to do what he wills with his creation. The Potter has power over the clay. He makes some vessels for common use, and others for noble. They’re MADE that way. And that’s supported by other passages beside just Rom 9 (e.g., 2Pet 2:12, cf. Jude 10).

    Now some say that this is very distasteful, to say the least, to say that God would create people simply for the purpose of condemning them and destroying them. I don’t like it much either. But I can’t get around it in the Scriptures:

    Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

    To me, the story I’ve told here makes the best sense of the biblical data. I think the Bible, contrary to the vast majority opinion, very clearly teaches supralapsarianism.

    I think it’s a crying shame that Hoeksema and Barth are THE two examples given consistently, when in fact their views are outrageous. I feel like it’s a bit of a strawman myself. I’m a supralapsarian, and I don’t reject the trinity, I don’t believe in universal salvation, I believe in the covenant of works and common grace, and I think my views are logically consistent. I’ve read the major theologians extensively and written a paper for Doctrine of God and got an A- on it. I’m not the smartest student at the seminary by any means, but I think I’ve thought this through fairly well, and I know that my view doesn’t imply the errors of those men. So I find it a shame that this view gets such poor publicity.

    Supralapsarianism is a good view. It’s reformed, and it has explanatory power when it comes to a number of Scriptures, and it has good answers to lots of tough questions.

    • e,

      I understand what supralapsarians hold, but my question is: what does it mean to talk about election “in Christ” apart from the fall?

      You say that you don’t want to talk about election of creatable people but this is of the essence of supralapsarianism.

      Much, if not all, of what you want can be achieve in infralapsarianism. My advice is to postpone making a decision on this until you’ve had a chance to investigate these questions more fully.

  4. I thought I answered the question. To be chosen in Christ is to be chosen to belong to him, to be united to him, to be his bride.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you suggesting that Christ must be our mediator in our eternal election? Because it seems to me, that Christ becomes our mediator because we are elect, not the other way around.

  5. I must admit I am no where near a Dort scholar, so honestly I am conjecturing way out of line. I guess there are three different issues. #1. Where did Dort stand on the issue? #2. Where does Scripture stand on the issue? #3. Does Dort’s stance align with Scripture’s message.

    My notion, weak as it is, on Scripture’s implication is Romans 9:21, clay is a very similar concept as “dust from the ground” as Adam was taken, without form, without a fall.

    I apologize if anything I wrote seemed argumentative, arrogant, or as if I had any expertise in this issue, I wrote like at 2 a.m. and was just eager to act like a novel mind; I know I have a lot to learn from your blog that I have of just recent stumbled on. Thanks for the resource and analysis, it will be helpful to digest.

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