The reviewer is a minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, by David J. Engelsma. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, revised edition 1994. 216 pp. $10.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Rev. Chris Coleborn.]
This book by Prof. Engelsma basically deals with the vital question, “Does the fact that the gospel of Christ Jesus is to be preached to all mankind mean that God desires and intends the salvation of all who hear that preaching, even the reprobate?” Those who hold to the well-meant offer of the gospel answer in the affirmative. Prof. Engelsma clearly says, “No” to the question, with good reasons given from Scripture and the confessed, historic Reformed faith. He also makes it clear that those who deny this notion are not hyper-Calvinists. Rather, they are true Calvinists—consistent biblical Christians.
We are well aware that, to many, the relevance and importance of this question is really only academic, with no real application to vital Christianity, the welfare of the church, and to the great work of evangelism. We are also aware that others believe that to deny the notion that God intends and desires the salvation of reprobates when the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to all is to deny the gospel itself, and the very reason for preaching it, and not to have a love for the salvation of souls. This, of course, is the most serious accusation to be made against a Christian and a preacher of Christ’s church.
Here, in this revised edition of Prof. Engelsma’s book, we may find plain reasons why the denial of the above question is not only very important and practical for the honour of Christ Jesus’ person and work, but also for the welfare of the church and the true preaching of the gospel to all mankind. The author shows that any professing Reformed believer worthy of the name, and zealous for “the faith,” will have a critical problem with the notion that the earnest, urgent preaching of the gospel and call to all men and women without distinction to come to the Savior by repentance and faith of necessity implies that God intends and desires the salvation, not only of the elect, but also of the reprobate!
This important question has been debated for some time in professing Reformed circles. In fact, it seems to me that the debate is becoming more earnest in our day. This is good, for in my opinion the question has been left without proper consideration for too long by those who profess to love the doctrines of grace and who truly believe that the Reformed faith most accurately expresses the teachings of the Word of God.
It has not been easy to find a book that faithfully and yet in a popular way sets out the matter, not only for the Reformed preacher but also for the Reformed believer. Here is such a book!
The author clearly denies that the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ to all mankind is an evidence of a desire in God for all who hear to be saved—the reprobate included. He also shows that this does not of necessity also mean the denial of “the indiscriminate, lively, urgent preaching of the gospel. It entails no hesitation to call everyone in the preacher’s audience to repentance and faith. It originates in no determination to weaken the responsibility of man before the face of the sovereign God” (p. 7).
It is correctly pointed out that the well-meant offer is in fact a cause of great peril to the faith that Calvinists profess to love. It is an essential compromise of the doctrines of Calvinism.
The author draws out a most important lesson, I believe, from the controversy in England in the 1600s and 1700s, when the Arminianism of John and Charles Wesley was so strong and caused some Calvinists, in reaction to it, particularly to the well-meant construction of the preaching of the gospel to all, to fall into hyper-Calvinism. The real issue in the debate on the matter of the call of the gospel is that which Reformed theology speaks of as the external call of the gospel. The matter of the external and internal call is helpfully illustrated by reference to Matthew 22 (p. 109).
This book plainly refutes the accusation made against those who deny that there is a universal love in God for all mankind, and a desire for their salvation, particularly in the preaching of the gospel, of being hyper-Calvinists. Hyper-Calvinists deny that God calls everyone who hears the preaching of the gospel to repent of their sins and believe on Christ Jesus.
Another accusation brought against those who deny that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all, even the reprobate, is that a man cannot be a true, sincere, and earnest preacher of the gospel to sinners, if he does not believe that Christ has a desire that all who hear the preaching be saved. The answer is given in this book: we must distinguish between the serious call of the gospel and the well-meant offer of the gospel. Condemnation of the well-meant offer is not rejection of the serious call of the gospel to all who hear it. Having heard the preaching within the Protestant Reformed Churches, and, indeed, within my own, I can testify that there can be a heartfelt, sincere, and serious call to sinners to repent and believe and so be saved, without holding to the well-meant offer notion.
The real issue is this, writes Prof. Engelsma: “… does God love and have a gracious attitude towards everyone who hears the preaching, and does He in the preaching desire to save everyone?” This is why we must ask the question of those who profess a love of the Reformed faith, but who at the same time hold to the “well-meant offer, “What grace does the reprobate receive in the preaching?”
It is striking that much of the calumny by those who hold to the well-meant offer against those that oppose it is that of the Arminians. It very much involves the doctrine of reprobation. This awful truth is that God has eternally decreed “out of His sovereign, most just, h-reprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure that certain, definite members of the human race will not be saved by Him but that they shall perish in their unbelief and other sins.” Reprobation is God’s eternal decree that the destiny of certain men shall be everlasting death, whether one views it as God’s passing those men by with the grace of election or as the determination to damn (Canons of Dordt, I/5).
We accept, of course, that those who profess to love the Reformed faith and at the same time hold to the well-meant offer can see that there is a contradiction in their position. The way they seek to resolve their dilemma is to resort to what they call “the mystery” or the “paradox of God’s two wills.” These notions are refuted.
Prof. Engelsma correctly points out that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation and the theology of the well-meant offer are diametrical opposites.
Prof. Engelsma also, correctly points out, we believe, the link between the theology and practice of the well-meant offer and an abandonment or compromise of the Reformed faith.
It is a most helpful book for Reformed preachers who desire to preach the “whole counsel of God”—the full gospel. The book is not simply negative, condemning the errors of both hyper-Calvinism and compromised Calvinism as seen in the doctrine of, the well-meant offer, but there is also the positive setting forth of how a truly consistent Reformed preacher would proclaim the gospel to all (chapter 3, “The Reformed Doctrine of the Call of the Gospel”).
On the matter of preaching, a most valid scriptural point is made. It is that the reason why God has the gospel preached both throughout the world in missions and in the established churches is that the elect may be saved to the praise of His grace. The Scriptures teach that divine election—not a universal love of God or a desire that all be saved—is the basis and motivation of missions, indeed, of all preaching.
There are some most helpful summaries and descriptions.
As a Reformed preacher from a British Reformed background, I am pleased to see that the author is acquainted with the Westminster Confessional Standards as well as with the Continental Reformed Symbols. There are some comments, however, such as that on the covenant of works, that would trouble those of a Westminster background.
The matter of “common grace,” a universal love of God, non-saving benefits and love won by Christ for the reprobate, and historical material relative to the subject are also dealt with in the book.
There is a most challenging introduction to the book by the well-known and respected Presbyterian theologian,. Dr. John H. Gerstner, strongly supporting Prof. David Engelsma on the issue of the well-meant offer.
The larger print of this edition is an improvement over the first edition, but, more importantly, this reprinting adds considerably more information to the first edition.
A general index would be helpful.
Apart from the “Introduction” being helpfully reworked, most of the chapters have been expanded. The most significant difference from the first edition is the addition of a new chapter, “Is Denial of the Well-Meant Offer Hyper-Calvinism?” This makes the purchase of this reprint vital for all who would love and seek to preserve the God-glorifying faith of our Reformed fathers. We trust to hear more from Prof. David Engelsma on this and related subjects.