“Hyper-Calvinism” and the Call of the Gospel (15)

We are presently examining the doctrine of the call of the gospel in Reformed theology of the past. We are concerned to discover whether Reformed theology has historically maintained the doctrine of the well-meant offer of the gospel, as is confidently asserted and widely accepted today, so that the denial of the offer must be regarded as conflicting with classic Reformed thought, if not as hyper-Calvinism. In the previous article, we looked at the theology of John Calvin. We now consider Francois Turrettini. 

F. Turrettini (or Turretin, as hereafter) was a Reformed pastor and professor of theology in the 17th century. Born in 1623, only four years after the Synod of Dordt, he became professor of theology at Calvin’s academy in Geneva, Switzerland in 1653. He was a successor of Calvin, therefore, less than a hundred years after Calvin’s death and about fifty years after the death of Calvin’s immediate successor, Theodore Beza. Turretin is universally acknowledged as a significant, faithful proponent and defender of the Reformed theology of Calvin and the Synod of Dordt. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledgedescribes him “as an earnest defender of the orthodoxy represented by the Synod of Dordt,” and a living Presbyterian theologian, John Gerstner, refers to him as “the greatest champion of the high-reformed orthodoxy of the seventeenth century.” The theology of Turretin, therefore, can safely be regarded as the expression of classic Reformed thought. What makes his theology even more significant is the fact that immediately after Turretin’s death the Reformed Church in Geneva apostatized from the Reformed faith—ironically enough, through Turretin’s own son, Jean Alphonse. 

Turretin’s theology is found in his three-volume work,Institutio Theologiae Elencticae (Institutes of Polemical Theology). The work has never been published in English. But in the middle 1800’s a certain George Musgrave Giger of Princeton University translated it from the Latin into English. Although the translation—which is located at Princeton Theological Seminary—remains unpublished, a large andimportant part of it has been reproduced in mimeographed form as “Selections from Francois Turrettini’s Theological Institutes.” It is from this nearly 600 page and rather rare reproduction of Giger’s translation of Turretin that I quote in these articles. I take this opportunity to voice the hope expressed in the preface of the work (by “J.H.G.”): “It is hoped that the perusal of these pages by interested students may create a demand for a critical revision and publication of Turrettini in English.” 

Turretin treats the doctrine of the call of the gospel in two sections of his work. The subject comes up, first in the section on “The Decrees of God in General and Predestination in Particular” (pp. 33-143). After explaining and defending the Reformed doctrine of double predestination, Turretin investigates, whether there is in God any will, or purpose, of having mercy upon all men and of saving all men, which will, or purpose, is reflected in the call of the gospel. The viewpoint here is that of God’s will. The issue, in reality, is the teaching of the defenders of the offer that there is in God a sincere desire to save all men and their squaring of this “desire” with the decree of election by the positing of two wills in God, one will to save only the elect and another will to save everyone. 

Turretin heads his treatment of this issue with a question: “Whether any conditional will, or universal purpose of having mercy upon the whole human race fallen into sin, of destinating Christ as Mediator for all and each one, and of calling them all to a saving participation of his benefits, ought to be attributed to God?” His immediate, clear, and conclusive answer—on behalf of Reformed orthodoxy—is: “We deny.” Such a view, Turretin attributes to the Lutherans, the Arminians, and certain Reformed theologians who, by “extending more widely the periphery of grace and defending the universality of Mercy, Redemption and vocation (God’s call by the gospel—D.E.),” “depart from the doctrine thus far received in our Churches” (p. 110). 

First of all, Turretin explains the question. “The question is not, whether there is in God a will commanding and approving faith and salvation of men; nor, whether God commands in the Gospel men to believe and repent, if they wish to be saved; and whether it please him for me to believe and be saved. For no one denies that God is pleased with the conversion and life of the sinner rather than with his. death . . . But the question is, whether from such a will approving and commanding what men must do in order to obtain salvation can be gathered any will or purpose of God, by which he intended the salvation of all and every one under the condition of faith . . .” (pp. 111, 112). “. . . the question may be reduced to these boundaries; whether there is in God a general decree, whether it is called a counsel or purpose, or a conditional will, by which God truly and earnestly intended to have mercy unto salvation upon all and each one, not by giving faith, but by sending Christ for all and each one, and calling them to salvation under the condition of faith and repentance which the patrons of Universal grace maintain; We deny.” (p. 112). 

Next, he proves that there is no such gracious will or purpose towards all men in God. The first proof is obtained “From the decree of Election and Reprobation. Because the Scripture makes the purpose of having mercy particular, not universal, since it testifies that God has mercy upon some certain persons only, loves and inscribes them in the book of life, but hates, hardens, appoints to wrath, and ordains to condemnation others, Rom. 9:11-13, 18, 22I Thess. 5:9I Pet. 2:8; for who would say that God willed to pity unto salvation those whom he reprobated from eternity, and most seriously intended for them one end under a condition, whom by the same act of will he excluded from the means of ever arriving at that end? And who does not see that the conditional purpose to give salvation to innumerable persons, is destroyed by the absolute purpose concerning the not-giving of faith to them” (p. 113)? 

Against this proof, it was objected that, in addition to the merciful will of God in election that effectually saves, there is also a merciful will that does not save—exactly the position of the present-day defenders of the offer. Turretin’s reply to this objection is devastating: ” . . . it is gratuitously supposed that there is that twofold purpose of having mercy, while the Scripture draws every purpose of God’s mercy from his eternal election, yea, it makes Election itself to consist in it,Rom. 8:28, 29 and Rom. 9:11Eph. 1:11II Tim. 1:9. And the thing itself teaches that it cannot be conceived without absurdity, that God, in whom there cannot be priority and posteriority, and who decrees all things by a sole and most simple act of will, by the same act willed most seriously to intend salvation for some under a certain condition, and at the same time, he, who alone can give, determined to deny to them the very condition without which salvation cannot be obtained; what else is this than to will to have mercy and not to will at the same time? I confess that the sole act of the divine will can be divided into various acts, which may be conceived as prior and posterior, but this is to be understood only of those, which do not butt against each other, and destroy themselves; Now to say that God intended salvation for all, and at the same time decreed to elect and love some, but to hate and reprobate others, are most absurd, nor can they either at the same time stand with God, or even successively, unless his will is supposed to be liable to change, which is blasphemous” (p. 114). 

The second proof is that, if God earnestly willed the salvation of all men, He would also will all the means necessary to that end, e.g., the preaching of the gospel and the gift of faith, and would actually confer salvation upon all—which, in fact, is not the case. Turretin’s argument here is that by the notion of a sincere, merciful desire to save all, “velleities (wishes—D.E.) and vehement desires, but fruitless and frustrated, are attributed to God, by which he is made to intend and in earnest will that which willing he yet knew would never either be, nor could be.” This, says Turretin, is not “becoming to the majesty of the supreme Deity”; is “repugnant to his wisdom and power”; obscures and lessens the divine goodness and grace, making God’s goodness and grace “vain and inefficacious” (p. 118). In short, Turretin condemns the doctrine of a sincere desire of God to save all men as a denial both of God’s sovereignty and of God’s truthfulness. It is a denial of God’s sovereignty because God’s will to save is not realized; it is a denial of God’s truthfulness because it represents God as desiring to save many whom He has no intention of saving. 

In a fascinating section, Turretin turns his attention to several passages of Scripture that the opponents of Reformed orthodoxy brought up—already in the 17th century!—in support of a Divine desire, or will, to save all men. John 3:16 is the first passage. Turretin insists that “the Love treated of in John 3:16 . . . cannot be universal towards all and every one, but special towards a few.” It has reference “only (to) those chosen out of the world.” As for the word, “world,” “why then should not the World here be taken not universally for individuals, but indefinitely for any one, Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition, that he may be said to have loved the human race, inasmuch as he was unwilling to destroy it entirely but decreed to save some certain person out of it, not only from one people as before, but from all indiscriminately although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones, viz, those chosen out of the world? And nothing is more frequent in common conversation than to attribute to a community something with respect to some certain individual, not to all” (pp. 119, 120).

(to be continued)