Previous article in this series: June 2013, p. 388.
As stated at the conclusion of our June editorial, we intend with this article to conclude our response to various articles found in the Mid-America Journal of Theology (MJT) of the past few years. What is so troubling about these articles is that they make clear that their authors (who represent where most of Reformed theology is at these days, we fear) are committed not simply to promoting common grace and the free offer of the gospel, but to promoting these two doctrines as defining faithfulness to historic Calvinism in the twenty-first century.
And, as noted, running through these articles is a common refrain, namely, sharp criticism aimed at H. Hoeksema for his (and, by implication, the PRC’s) steadfast rejection of these two increasingly popular doctrines—which rejection is to be counted as the definition of hyper-Calvinism. So they say.
And all this over against the undeniable reality that, over the century past, mainline Presbyterian and Reformed churches have diminished numerically, theologically, and spiritually—the world has come in like a flood. Sanctuaries that once housed thriving Calvinistic congregations stand all but empty; or, worse, they house preachers promoting doctrines that can only be labeled biblically profane. And now we are to believe that this has occurred because in the Reformed church-world over the past hundred years or so, there has been too much emphasis on God’s sovereign particular saving grace, along with the call to the antithetical, Christian life? And not enough emphasis on Kuyperian common grace and its related doctrines? That is what went wrong in the Netherlands? And in ‘darkest’ England? To say nothing of what we see happening to North American Protestantism these days?
One is left shaking his head in bewilderment.
None are so blind as those who refuse to see.
We realize that the ‘higher-critical’ assault of the late 1800s against Scripture’s trustworthiness is much to blame. But let no one forget, it is exactly the theory of common grace that has loaned itself again and again to Protestant theologians adopting the views of unbelieving scientists in their denials of various sections of Scripture. Why no six-day creation, no Adam or Eve, no universal flood, or even a virgin birth? Because, according to common grace, the Holy Spirit has given insight to godless scientists into these things, even when their conclusions contradict the scriptural accounts.
Modern-day assaults from within the church against biblical teaching after biblical teaching have everything to do with Kuyper and his theory of common grace. A legacy he did not want to leave—but consistent with his theory for all of that.
That said, it is on the issue of the free or well-meant offer of the gospel (FOG or WMO) that we wish to make some concluding remarks.
Significantly, from the outset, when the CRC Synod of 1924 drew up its well-known “three points of common grace,” its stalwart critics, taking special note of that reference in its first point to the call of the gospel as an evidence of a grace of God that was common to all, shrewdly designated it as Het puntje van het eerste punt, that is, “The little [but most significant] point of the first point.” Already then the WMO, with its general grace that cut against God’s particular saving grace, was making its invasive presence felt. Common grace posits a general love of God for all men in common things, and the free offer enthrones that general love on the pulpit.
And now common grace is tied in with the grace that finds its roots in the cross and the atonement.
That has huge implications.
That said, we begin by lifting a couple of brief quotes from Calvin.
We do this to underscore the assertion made towards the conclusion of our previous SB article (June 1), namely, that Calvin, unlike the free-offer theologians, was not a theologian who maintained a double will in God. He was not of a mind that, when it comes to the salvation of mankind, there are in God two wills, one of a discriminating, electing sort, and another of an ‘indiscriminating love’ and desire for the ‘salvation of all’ sort. Calvin was committed to the truth of God’s one, sovereignly-free, decretal will.
A couple of quotes lifted from Calvin’s Calvinism should suffice to show this.
Both quotes come from Calvin’s response to Pighius, a Roman Catholic theologian who attacked Calvin for his emphasis upon God’s sovereign, discriminating will—in love predestinating some to salvation, and in eternal wrath reprobating others to condemnation. Pighius condemned such a teaching about God as being monstrous. Pighius insisted not only that Scripture taught the free will of man but also that there was in God a will that all be saved.
Calvin would have nothing of this. Calvin pointed out that if such was God’s desire and part of His will, He would have made sure every man ever living had opportunity to hear the gospel. But, as Calvin reminded Pighius, in the whole history of the world, in both the Old and New Testament ages, God never did this. And so, states Calvin:
Now let Pighius boast, if he can, that God willeth all men to be saved! The above arguments, found in the Scriptures, prove that even the external preaching of the doctrine of salvation, which is very far inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, was not made of God common to all men (p. 104).
And again, in a later section:
Our Lord [Jesus] declares that the preaching of the gospel and miracles would have produced more fruit among the people of Nineveh and Sodom than in Judea (). How came it then, that if God would have all to be saved, he does not open a door of repentance for the wretched, who would more readily have received grace? Hence we see that the passage [Ezekiel 18:32] 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 (pp. 205-6).
For a more extended treatment of Calvin’s response to Pighius and others of that mentality, the interested reader can read Prof. D. J. Engelsma’s book Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel (chapter 6—“Calvin’s Doctrine of the Call”).
Second, we point out that Hoeksema and the PRC have not stood alone in their opposition to the well-meant offer of the gospel. We state this lest we give credibility to the oft repeated allegation that the PRC are absolutely unique in their opposition to the WMO, and, therefore, to be dismissed as a historical oddity, deserving to be labeled as “hyper-Calvinists.”
If our opposition to the WMO warrants that charge, then a man of no less academic and confessional stature than the late Dr. John Gerstner must be so labeled as well. It was Dr. Gerstner who in his “Foreword” to Engelsma’s book refuting the free-offer declared:
As a Calvinist [!]…I feel it absolutely necessary to hold with [the tiny Protestant Reformed denomination] here where she stands, almost alone today, and suffers massive vituperation and ridicule from Calvinists (no less) for her faithfulness at this point to the gospel of God.
And, ironic as it sounds, you can add to that list of opponents of the WMO the name of Abraham Kuyper, who, for all his ‘fathering’ of the contemporary infatuation with common grace, was an adamant foe of the WMO, with its positing of a double, paradoxical will in God, labeling it as a flat-out contradiction. Kuyper went so far as to label those who took his common grace teaching and applied it to the preaching of the gospel as another evidence of a general love of God for all as “zealots [!] of common grace,” that is, as extremists. In the name of particular grace he pleaded that they not apply the non-saving grace of common grace in this way.
But the seed was planted, and Kuyper was powerless to prevent the logical consequences of his own teachings from taking deep root.
Nonetheless, a Calvinistic theologian of no less confessional stature than Kuyper sharply opposed the free offer, seeing clearly what it implied and what it would do to preaching that ought to have at its ‘marrow’ particular and saving grace with its sovereign, irresistible power.
And, as we stated in a previous
article, those whom we know as the “Liberated,” at least early on, added their salvos against common grace and the free offer, standing in basic agreement with Hoeksema and the PRC’s contention that to enlist Calvin’s name in support of the contemporary ‘inflated’ view of common grace and the WMO was simply not sustainable. As Dr. Beach himself acknowledges, concerning one of their older theologians:
J. Douma is another writer who does not detect in Calvin’s thought “a dogma of common grace.” To be sure, notes Douma, Calvin speaks of “common grace,” but never as a “dogma” or a “doctrine.” It is not even a “theme” he addresses formally. Calvin knows but one divine grace. This one grace, however, can be distinguished with regard to its extent and effect. As for its extent, this grace reaches both within and beyond the church; as for its effect, it leads some to repentance and proves non-efficacious for others. All grace is directed to the knowledge and praise of God. Thus, even the heathen are invited to the knowledge of God, though none of them attain salvation without Christ. For Douma, it is harmful to speak of Calvin and the doctrine (leer) of common grace. Douma’s concern is polemical in spirit, wishing to set off sharply Calvin’s use of the idea of common grace from the doctrine developed by Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands at the turn of the century, a development Douma views as a perversion of Calvin’s teaching (MJT 22, 2011, p. 60-1).
With this perspective we are in basic agreement. What Douma has in mind by his reference to the “extent” of grace would need some clarification, but with his calling Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace a perversion of Calvin’s teaching we wholeheartedly agree.
The third observation that needs to be made is that the language of the WMO with its “God desires and yearns for the salvation of every one of you, etc.” is not apostolic. It is contrary to their Calvinism, that is, to their preaching a sovereign, predestinating God, and to their gospel summons to all and sundry in Christ’s great name to come unto Him and be saved.
Our evidence for this?
The apostolic sermon specimens found in the book of Acts, sermons that were promiscuous to Jew and Gentile alike and to whoever happened to be in their audience that day. They offered (that is, presented) to all and sundry Christ in all His truth, and glory, and graciousness. “He is a saving Lord of great sinners!”
We maintain that the gospel offer is found in these sermons.
Surely no promoters of the WMO would want to dispute that. How can they, when they insist that, when it comes to preaching (and in missions especially), the offer of the gospel is “the very marrow of divinity”, that is, the choicest, fullest expression of the Spirit moving a man to preach the great gospel summons. Are we to suppose that what belongs to what has been called “the very marrow of divinity” was absent in these great, pattern sermons preserved for the ages? What is called the “marrow of divinity” is absent from the sermons of the apostles Peter and Paul, the two greatest missionaries of all time?
Surely, such is unthinkable.
We contend that whatever it is that properly belongs to the “marrow” of the gospel-preaching honored by the Holy Spirit is sure to be found in the great specimen sermons of the apostles recorded in the book of Acts.
There are a number of seminal examples of mission preaching in the book of Acts. Two especially stand out, the one being Peter’s sermon found in Acts 10 to the household of Cornelius; the other, Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, found in.
In accordance with the language that we find both in the Canons and in the Westminster Confession, we maintain that the apostles offered Christ sincerely in these sermons.
What is striking about those two pattern sermons is how the offer was phrased. It is almost identical in both.
In Acts 10 Peter concluded his sermon to Cornelius with these words: “And he [Christ] commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (vv. 42, 43).
Take special note of the words we italicized and highlighted—because this is the language of the apostolic, biblically-defined gospel offer.
And in Acts 13 Paul concluded his sermon before the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia in words strikingly similar. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Jesus, crucified for sinners and raised by God again as prophesied] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (vv. 37, 38).
Again, note the words italicized and highlighted.
Other specimens from parts of other sermons by the evangelical-minded apostles could be quoted. All we want to point out is that these are God-approved sermons. These are words that the Spirit Himself spoke through the apostles. Strikingly, in neither is there a whisper of the language that is part and parcel of the well-meant offer.
We challenge any to find anything in these sermons that has free or well-meant offer language—“God loves you all, God yearns for the salvation of everyone whom I am addressing today.” Or “Christ is dead for everyone of you to whom I am speaking!”
Not a whisper.
We say it pointedly: we challenge any to deny that Christ was fully and sincerely ‘offered’ to all in these non-free-offer sermons! What is the promiscuous offer language of great-hearted preachers who were being moved powerfully by the Spirit Himself? This: “Whosoever believeth in him [that is, in this Christ Jesus set forth (PRESENTED) as the fulfillment of the Scriptures and as the God-approved sacrifice for sin and sinners] shall receive remission of sins.”
Again we say, a universal, promiscuous call and summons (or ‘offer,’ if you prefer) to all and sundry!
But not a whisper of the free-offer language.
Accordingly, we challenge any to charge those who preach Christ this way, and offer Him on these terms and on these terms only, with being HYPER-Calvinists!
You may, of course. But we assert you might as well also then charge the apostles with being the original hyper-Calvinists.
The apostles in the Acts did not FOG the gospel call with “God desires, yearns for the salvation of everyone who hears these words. God has a love for every man.” Or “Christ died for everyone of you, both Jews and Gentiles hearing these words.” In the whole book of Acts one does not read that content in the apostles’ addressing all and sundry with the call to repent and believe. They simply presented what God in and by Christ had accomplished for the payment of the sins of all mankind (meaning, not only those of Jewish extraction), calling everyone to repent and believe, assuring all that heard (“Yes, even you uncircumcised idolaters!”) that everyone who repented and believed would be forgiven and saved.
If that is hyper-Calvinism, so be it. We will have to live with the charge.
But whether it is justified is another matter entirely.
Evidently, what the free-offer men label as a deficient brand of preaching, caricaturing it as “mere announcement of truth,” the apostles themselves were quite satisfied with and practiced.
With that we are content.
We repeat, the evidence is, if the preaching that is devoid of free-offer language puts one in the camp of the hyper-Calvinists, then the apostles themselves were the first residents of that particular camp!
All things considered, not such bad company to be in. We can think of worse.
In conclusion, we say again: our purpose in taking issue with what we have read in the recent MJTs is not simply to engage in controversy for controversy’s sake, nor is it to defend the name of a man, much maligned though he be.
Nor is it so we can have the satisfaction of saying we are right, and others wrong.
The issue is so much larger these days.
Whatever our disagreement with others of Reformed vintage, on this there can be no disagreement—something is terribly amiss in the Reformed and Presbyterian church world of our day. Some virus vitiating its (her) very spirituality is loose. Who can disagree on the symptoms?
Now the great question must be put to the Doctors of Divinity (and to us all): what is the proper diagnosis of the cause and source? Worldliness, you say. Fine. But what is it that has rendered it so defenseless to the deadly virus of worldliness and apostasy these days?
Hoeksema’s (and Bavinck’s) covenant view? But not Kuyper’s (and Bavinck’s) common grace view and its attendant doctrines? Are you sure? Will you stake your patient’s life on it? That of Christ’s own church?
We ask again, could it be that Hoeksema and old Ophoff’s analysis of common grace and its predicted consequences was right after all?
On the basis of the historical record, we would plead with what is left of the Calvinistic church world to reconsider. Once again!