Not “As If” But Actually

Shepard affirms that from a covenantal perspective a person may pass from an elected and justified status to a non-elect and non-justified status. This transition does not mean simply that a person is first treated as though he were elected and justified and then that he is treated as though he were not elect or justified. For from this perspective on the covenant, the person actually is elect and justified, and then becomes non-elect and non-justified.6 Mr. Shepherd also expresses his view by stating that good works are necessary for continuance in a state of justification. This “necessity” of good works, from the perspective of the covenant, is a necessity of “maintenance.” Good works, including the diligent use of the outward means of grace, are said to be necessary to maintain a person in the status of justification from a covenant perspective.7 From this covenant perspective, neither justification nor election is irreversible. As Israel moved from being a justified and elect nation to being “not my people,” so also the individual justified and elect liked person under the new covenant may move from being justified and elect to being non-justified and non-elect.8


6. “Reprobation from within the context of the covenant (please understand underline with about four lines that expression); reprobation from within the context of the covenant; that is to say, reprobation from the point of view of the covenant is not incontrovertible. Now we have seen that in terms of the concrete language of Scripture those with whom God has established covenant and who are therefore the elect of God, they, again from the point of view of the covenant, may stumble and fall.”(“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective,” an address given at Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Spring of 1978).

In this address, Mr. Shepherd appears to place God’s reprobation and God’s election on two levels. From the point of view of the decrees of God, election and reprobation are unchangeable. But from the point of view of the covenant of God, election and reprobation are changeable.

If it were the case that Mr. Shepherd only were saying that from the human viewpoint, men appeared to pass between a status of election and of reprobation, the problem would not be quite so difficult. But it must be remembered that the “covenant” is not simply a human administration. The covenant perspective of Scripture is God’s perspective. It is God who declares a person to be reprobate at or elected in the covenant.

Mr. Shepherd’s dilemma maybe explained as follows: if he distinguishes between a “covenant” election and a “decretive” election, then he has created a dialectic in God. For then God will be treating the same individual as “elect” and “justified” from a covenant perspective and as “non-elect” and “non-justified” from a decretive perspective.

But if Mr. Shepherd affirms election and justification to occur only on a single level, then he has described this election and this justification as changeable.

7. October, 1976 Study Paper, pp. 14, 15. Note also the necessity of continuance attributed to obedience in relation to justification in theses 21 and 23.

8. Mr. Shepherd’s primary example of movement from an elected (and justified) status to a non-elected (and non–justified) Status is the experience of the nation of Israel. When exiled from the land, they moved into a non-elect (and non-justified status)(“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective”). It might be supposed that Mr. Shepherd is speaking only from the human perspective. But in his comments on Deuteronomy 7, it is clear that he intends to say that Israel is indeed elected by God, and then becomes reprobate. He affirms specifically that the experience of Israel in this regard also may be the experience of the individual living under the new covenant.

In citing examples of elect people who became reprobate as did the elect nation of Israel, Mr. Shepherd says: “Now what is true of the nation is also true of the person. Judas is introduced into the community, the covenant community of the elect, but he is rejected as a son of perdition because of his apostasy (Jn 17:12)…the brother in I Cor. 5:1–5…Simon of Samaria…those who escape the defilements of the world…and then becomes entangled therein…(II Pet. 2:20). Here we have elect persons who are excommunicated.” (“Reprobation in Covenant Perspective”).

—O. Palmer Robertson and Paul G. Settle, “Minority Report to the Board of Trustees” (May 19, 1980), in the Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees (Part II – Pages 57–98) (May 27, 1980), 5–6 (Board Minutes), 62–63.

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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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One comment

  1. the earlier Kline was concerned not only to make distinctions between covenants, but in all covenants to make a distinction between the elect and those who were in that covenant but who would not benefit.

    By Oath ConsignedI—It is true, as we have seen, that in historical exegesis particular covenants emerge which are in themselves promise covenants…. But when we recognize this proper soteric purpose we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose. The mission of Christ offers an analogy, or better, another way of looking at the same thing. The Scriptures declare that the Son of God entered the world to destroy all the works of the Devil (I John 3:8). Surely, too, his coming actually issues in the condemnation of those who believe not (John 3:18). Accordingly, when John 3:17 says that Christ’s coming was not to condemn but to save the world, it must be interpreted not as a statement of the total design of the messianic mission but as an indication only of the proper purpose of Christ’s coming. If, then, redemptive covenant is not to be reduced to its proper purpose of grace, much less are we to equate the proper purpose of the redemptive covenant with the generic nature of covenant systematically defined so as to cover both pre-redemptive and redemptive covenant administrations. Unfortunately, Covenant Theology has exhibited a strong bent towards such a REDUCTION OF COVENANT TO ELECTION…. “

    by circumcision, the sign of the consecratory oath of the Abrahamic Covenant, a man confessed himself to be under the juridical authority of Yahweb and consigned himself to the ordeal of his Lord’s judgment for the final verdict on his life. The sign of circumcision thus pointed to the eschatological judicial ordeal with its awful sanctions of eternal weal or woe. In the case of a covenant with the fallen sons of Adam, their nature as covenant breakers from their youth would seem to preclude any outcome for the divine ordeal other than condemnation. Yet the very fact that Cod makes a covenant with such subjects reveals that along with justice the principle of redemptive grace is operative here with its totally new and unpredictable possibilities. The covenant is a law covenant but it is a redemptive law covenant.

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