Dr. Herman Kuiper attempts to prove that Calvin teaches the well-meant offer of Christ and salvation to the reprobate. Writes he (The Banner, Jan. 27, 1961):
“Meanwhile, there is another element in Calvin’s writings which is no less astounding than his teaching concerning God’s beneficence toward the whole human race. Calvin, who was reputed to be a very keen logician, made many declarations which appear to be wholly inconsistent with his doctrine of divine reprobation. Calvin asserted time and again that God offers Christ and his great salvation to men, concerning whom He decreed that they are to suffer everlasting punishment, and that He earnestly invites them to become partakers of life eternal.”
Now, I would say, in the first place, that, if Calvin really writes as Kuiper represents him, then we simply do not agree with him, for we do not believe in the so-called well-meant offer of salvation, well-meant offer of salvation to all men, elect and reprobate, well-meant that is on the part of God. For, in the first place, such is not the teaching of Scripture. And, in. the second place, that, indeed, would contradict the truthfulness of God and make Him a hypocrite. How could He earnestly seek the salvation of men whom He does not want to save, whom He has decreed unto eternal damnation?
Nor do I believe that Calvin, “the keen logician,” would ever teach anything of the kind.
Yet, Kuiper, apparently, offers quotations from Calvin in which he seems to teach this very thing.
I say “apparently” for we all know how deceiving quotations can be when they are taken out of their context. Hence, what we have to do is that we carefully check these quotations and read them in their context. And this is what we propose to do, at least with some of the quotations.
The first quotation is from the Institutes, II, 5, 10. It reads as follows: “I deny that God cruelly mocks us when He invites us to merit blessings, which He knows we are altogether unworthy to merit. The promises being offered alike to believers and to the ungodly, have their use in regard to both, . . . In His promises to the ungodly He attests in a manner how unworthy they are of his kindness.”
Thus far Kuiper’s quotation.
First, I want to make a remark about that “offer.” It is a translation of the Latin offere. It does not have the same connotation as our English word offer. With us the word offer has the connotation of willingness to give something to another which the latter may and can either accept or reject. That cannot be said of Christ or of salvation. A better translation, therefore, is topresent. The gospel and Christ are “offered” that is, presented in the preaching to all that hear the gospel preached, both to the godly and to the ungodly, to the elect and reprobate alike.
Now let us consider the context in which this quotation occurs. Calvin writes:
“What purpose, then, is served by exhortations? It is this: As the wicked with obstinate heart, despise them, they will be a testimony against them when they stand at the judgment-seat of God; nay, they even now strike and lash their consciences. For, however they petulantly deride, they cannot disapprove them.” Book II, 5.
And again, the same paragraph:
“God works in his elect in two ways: inwardly, by his Spirit; outwardly by his Word. By his Spirit, illuminating their minds, and training their hearts to the practice of righteousness, he makes them new creatures, while, by His Word, he stimulates them to long and seek for renovation. In both, he exerts the might of his hand in proportion to the measure in which he dispenses them, The Word, when addressed to the reprobate, though not effectual for their amendment, has another use. It urges their consciences now, and will render them more inexcusable in the day of judgment . . . . The reprobate, again, are admonished by Paul, that the doctrine is not in vain; because, while it is in them a savor of death unto death, it is still a sweet savor unto God (II Cor. 2:16).”
Kuiper does not quote from this paragraph. He merely refers to it. But, surely, there is no common grace, nor a well-meant offer of salvation. The very opposite is true. The preaching of the Word, according to Calvin, only aggravates the condemnation of the reprobate, is a testimony against them, and when it is a savor of death unto them, it is still a sweet savor unto God.
But, as I said, Kuiper does not quote from this paragraph although he refers to it.
The quotation by Kuiper is from II, 10. There, Calvin is still combating the enemies of the truth of sovereign grace. Let us look at the context. It is as follows:
“The second class of objections is akin to the former. They allege the promises in which the Lord makes a paction (agreement, bargain, H.H.) with our will. Such are the following: ‘Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live’ (Amos 5:14). If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it’ (Isaiah 1:19, 20). ‘If thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then thou shalt not remove’ (Jer. 14:1). ‘It shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and do all the commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth (Deut. 28:1). There are other similar passages (Lev. 26:3, etc.). They think that the blessings contained in these promises are offered to our will absurdly and in mockery, if it is not in our power to secure or reject them. It is, indeed, an easy matter to indulge in declamatory complaint on this subject—to say that we are cruelly mocked by the Lord when he declares that his kindness depends on our will, if we are not masters of our will—that it would be a strange liberality on the part of God if he sets his blessings before us, while we have no power of enjoying them—a strange certainty of promises, which to prevent their ever being fulfilled, are made to depend on an impossibility. Of promises of this description, which have a condition annexed to them, we shall elsewhere speak, and make it plain that there is nothing absurd in the impossible fulfillment of them. In regard to the matter in hand, I deny that God cruelly mocks us when he invites us to merit blessings which he knows we are altogether unable to merit. The promises being offered alike to believers and to the ungodly, have their use in regard to both. As God by His precepts stings the consciences of the ungodly, so as to prevent them from enjoying their sins while they have no remembrance of his judgments, so, in his promises, he in a manner takes them to witness how unworthy they are of his kindness. Who can deny that it is most just and becoming in God to do good to those that worship him, and to punish with due severity those who despise his majesty. God, therefore, proceeds in due order, when, though the wicked are bound by the fetters of sin, he lays down the law in his promises, that he will do them good only if they depart from their wickedness. This would be right, though his only object were to let them understand that they are deservedly excluded from the favor due to his true worshippers,” etc.
What, now, does Calvin teach here? Does he support any form of common grace in the above lines? Does he mean to teach here any manner of a well-meant offer of grace and salvation, well-meant on the part of God? Not at all. To be sure, the preaching of the gospel, and the offer (presentation) of the promises, comes to all alike, the elect and the reprobate, the believers and the ungodly. But this does not come to both for the same purpose, according to Calvin. To the believers it is that they may be saved, to the ungodly sit is that they may be punished with due severity. And, mark you well, it is not only a matter of fact that the ungodly despise the promises of God when they are proclaimed unto them, but it is the very purpose of God, according to Calvin, that through the proclamation of the promises they shall aggravate the severity of their punishment. Dr. H. Kuiper may not like this. That is an altogether different question. But this is the teaching of Calvin.
And, surely, by quoting Calvin at random by quoting him apart from the context in which these quotations occur, he distorts Calvin’s teaching.
The next quotation from Calvin by Kuiper I confess that I do not understand why he makes it. It is this:
“Book III, 22, 10—By external preaching all are called to faith and repentance . . . . though the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare.”
Even though Kuiper again quotes Calvin outside of the proper context, I ask: what is wrong with this quotation even as it stands. Are there, according to Kuiper, also those that deny that the external calling to faith and repentance comes to all, at least, to all to whom God in His good pleasure sends the gospel? There may be, but if so, they certainly are not to be found in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Or does he probably mean that there are those who believe that all to whom the external calling comes, also receive the gift of faith? Again, I would say: there may be. But, please, do not try to find them among Protestant Reformed people.
Or does he, perhaps, mean: to say that the mere external call to repentance and faith is a well-meant offer of salvation and, therefore, is grace to all that hear the gospel as is the doctrine of the Christian Reformed Church as taught in the First Point of 1924. In that case you may surely find those that deny this doctrine in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
But, in that case, you certainly twist Calvin’s meaning in the above quotation.
Let me quote just a few lines from the paragraph from which Kuiper quotes:
“But it is from Isaiah he more clearly demonstrates how he destines the promises of salvation specially to the elect (Isaiah 8:16); for he declares that his disciples would consist of them only, and not indiscriminately of the whole human race. Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation, which it is said to be apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all. For the present let it suffice to observe, that though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare. Isaiah assigns the cause when he says, that the arm of the Lord is not revealed to all (Isaiah 53:1). Had he said, that the gospel is malignantly and perversely contemned, because many obstinately refuse to hear, there might perhaps be some color for this universal call. It is not the purpose of the Prophet, however, to extenuate the guilt of men, when he states the source of their blindness to be, that God deigns not to reveal his arm to them; he only reminds us that since faith is a special gift, it is vain that the external call sounds in the ear. But I would fain know from those doctors whether it is mere preaching or faith that makes men sons of God,” etc.
From this it is abundantly evident that the quotation from Calvin by Kuiper does not teach any manner of common grace, nor any well-meant offer of grace and salvation to all that hear the external calling.
It is grace only for the elect.