Calvin and Common Grace

I will adduce a few more passages which Dr. Kuiper quotes to show that Calvin also taught a well-meant offer of salvation to all that hear the gospel preached unto them. First, there is a quotation from Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, 24, 15: 

“Experience shows God so wills the repentance of those whom He invites unto Himself, that He does not touch the hearts of all those who are called. Still it cannot be said on this account that He acts deceitfully, for though the external Word only renders those, who hear it and do not obey it, inexcusable, it is still regarded as a testimony of God’s grace by which testimony He reconciles men to Himself. Let us therefore bear in mind the doctrine of the prophet that God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, in order that the godly may feel confident God is ready to pardon them as soon as they repent and that the wicked may feel that their guilt is doubled, when they do not respond to so great clemency and willingness on the part of God.” 

Thus far the quotation. 

Now, in the first place, I cannot see in this passage from Calvin’s Institutes any common grace nor any well-meant offer of grace and salvation to all that hear the preaching of the gospel. What does Calvin teach here? He is explaining here the text in Ezek. 18:23. And he teaches: a. That the (external call comes to all that hear. b. That this external calling is not accompanied in all by the internal call to repentance and faith: “He does not touch the hearts of all those who are called.” c. That this does not mean that God acts deceitfully, for the preaching of the gospel, even though the wicked do not profit by it, seeing that He does not touch the hearts of all the hearers, is nevertheless a testimony of the grace of God, and this testimony comes also to those that do not repent. d. That the godly, through the preaching of the gospel, may know that God is ready to pardon as soon as they repent. e. That the wicked may feel that their guilt is doubled when they do not respond to the testimony of the grace of God. 

In all this I cannot discern any common grace or well-meant offer on the part of God to all men. 

In the second place, this is also plain from the context. I will quote only the immediate context: “How comes it, then, that if God would have all to be saved, he does not open a door for repentance for the wretched, who would more readily have received grace. Hence we may see that the passage is violently wrested, if the will of God, which the prophet mentions, is opposed to his eternal counsel, by which he separated the elect from the reprobate. Now, if the genuine meaning of the prophet is enquired into, it will be found that he only means to give the hope of pardon to them who repent. The sum is, that God is undoubtedly ready to pardon whenever the sinner turns. Therefore, he does not will his death, in so far as he wills repentance.” 

And in the context which follows the passage which. Kuiper quotes (and I do not understand why he himself does not quote it) Calvin writes: 

“The mercy of God, therefore, will ever be ready to meet the penitent; but all the prophets, and apostles, and Ezekiel himself, clearly tell us who they are to whom repentance is given.” 

Let us consider one more quotation made by Kuiper from the Institutes of Calvin: 

“But why does He mention all men? God does this in order that the consciences of the godly may rest more secure . . . and that the ungodly may not pretend that they have no asylum to which they may flee, from the bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject the asylum which is offered them.” 

This passage is part of an explanation which Calvin offers of the texts in II Tim. 2:4; and II Peter 3:9

Let us remember that when Calvin uses the term “offer” it simply means “to present.” If we bear this in mind, there is nothing in the quotation which Kuiper makes of Calvin to which we cannot subscribe. To be sure, in the preaching of the gospel, an asylum is presented to the ungodly as well as to the godly, though the wicked reprobate always ungratefully reject it. 

Moreover, it is not true that Calvin allows that there is, any contradiction between the immutable decree of election and reprobation and the general preaching of the promise of the gospel and of the presentation of the salvation of God to all without distinction. Always he emphatically denies that there are two contradictory wills in God, the will of His decree and the will of His command. It is exactly this which Calvin tries to make plain in the context of the passages which are quoted by Kuiper. 

This is true also of the last quotation of Calvin by Kuiper which we are now discussing. In the immediate context of this passage we read: 

“But if it is so (you will say), little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect. If this is the nature of the promises, let us now see whether there is any inconsistency between the two things—viz. that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold that they are perfectly consistent, for all that is meant by the promise is, just that his mercy is offered to all who desire and implore it, and this none do, save those whom he has enlightened. Moreover, he enlightens those whom he has predestinated to salvation. Thus the truth of the promises remains firm and unshaken, so that it cannot be said that there is any disagreement between the eternal election of God and the testimony of his grace which he offers to believers” . . . 

Here follows the quotation made by Kuiper. After this, in the same paragraph, there still follow the following sentences: 

“Therefore, since by the Gospel the mercy of God is offered to both, it is faith, in other words, the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked; the former feeling the efficacy of the Gospel, the latter obtaining no benefit from it. Illumination itself has eternal election for its rule.” 

Thus Calvin explains the apparent contradiction between the general preaching of the Gospel and the eternal decree of election and reprobation. 

But where, in Calvin, is the offer of grace and salvation, well-meant on the part of God? And that, for all that hear the preaching of the Gospel? 

The only possible answer to these questions is that Calvin nowhere teaches anything of the kind. 

In fact, everywhere he teaches the very opposite. I emphatically state this in opposition to all the quotations which Kuiper adduces from Calvin and which, as I have shown, are taken out of their context.


For the rest, I will not further investigate into the rest of the quotations which Kuiper makes from Calvin’s works. 

I will rather conclude by making some quotations from Calvin of my own and that, too, all from the work which is probably not so generally known, namely, from “Calvin’s Calvinism.” 

Most of this work is written against those who deny divine predestination and the sovereign grace of God, and especially against Pighius, the heretic. 

In answer to the contention of the latter that Adam could not have fallen according to the counsel and will of God, Calvin writes: “What we maintain is this: that man was so created, and placed in such a condition, that he could have no cause whatever of complaint against his Maker. God foresaw the Fall of Adam, and most certainly His suffering him to fall was not contrary to, but according to His divine will. What room is there for shuffling or quibbling here? and what does such quibbling profit or effect? Yet Pighius denies the truth of this position, because (he argues) the beforeconceived counsel of God concerning the salvation of all men still stands unaltered. As if no solution of this pretended difficulty could be found. The truth of the matter is, that salvation was not offered to all men on any other ground than on the condition of their remaining in their original innocence. For that the decree of God concerning the salvation of all men was decisive and absolute, no one of a sound mind will hold or concede. For when man was placed in a way of salvation, his having willingly fallen there from was sufficient ground for his just condemnation. But it could not be otherwise. Adam could not but fall, according to the foreknowledge and will of God. What then? Is Adam on that account free from fault? Certainly not. He fell by his own full free will, and by his own willing act.” pp. 92, 93. 

I make this quotation only because it teaches that the fall of man was decreed by the counsel of God. There was no other will or decree of God. And the fall of Adam was absolutely necessary for the coming of Christ. To ask what would have happened if Adam had not fallen is, to my mind, nothing but pure philosophy, not only because this is contrary to the decree of God, but also because this stands in opposition to actual history. 

In reply to Pighius, Calvin further writes: 

“That the Gospel is, in its nature, able to save all I by no means deny. But the great question lies here: Did the Lord by his eternal counsel ordain salvation for all men? It is quite manifest that all men, without difference or distinction, are outwardly called or invited to repentance and faith. It is equally evident that the same Mediator is set forth before all, as He alone can reconcile them to the Father. But it is as fully well known that none of these things can be understood or perceived but by faith, in fulfillment of the apostle’s declaration, that ‘the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; then what can it be to others but ‘the savor of death unto death’? as the same apostle elsewhere powerfully expresses himself.

“And further, as it is undeniably manifest that out of the multitudes whom God calls by His outward voice in the Gospel very few believe, if I prove that the greater part of these multitudes remain unbelieving (for God deems none worthy of His illumination but whom He will), I obtain thereby the next conclusion, that the mercy of God is offered equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not divinely taught within are only rendered inexcusable, not saved. Some make a distinction here, holding that the Gospel is saving to all as it regards its power to save, but not in its effect of saving, But they by no means untie the knot by this half-way argument. We are still rolled back to the same great question point, whether the same power to believe is conferred upon all men! . . . .” 

Then Calvin refers to the reason why all do not believe. He does so, first, by a reference to Isaiah as quoted by Paul in Rom. 10:16. Then by a quotation from the book of Acts, and now we quote Calvin again: 

“Of this fact Luke places before our eyes a memorable proof, who, after he had recorded the sermon preached by Paul (Acts 13:48), says, ‘And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ Now, why was not the same doctrine of Paul received with the same mind and heart by all who heard it? Luke assigns the reason and defines the number of the receivers: ‘And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ The rest did not believe because they were not ordained to eternal life. And who is the giver of this disposition of heart but God alone?’ 

I could make many more quotations of Calvin from the book “Calvin’s Calvinism” for the whole book is simply full of the same sentiment. 

Never, no not once, does Calvin teach that the preaching of the gospel is grace for all that hear. 

Never, no not once, does Calvin speak of a well-meant offer, on the part of God, to all that hear the preaching. 

And those that preach this, nevertheless, are certainly not Reformed, but preach heresy. They camouflage the doctrine of predestination, election and reprobation. 

—H.H.