“Hyper-Calvinism” and the Call of the Gospel (19)

Abraham Kuyper wrote the book, Dat De Genade Particulier Is (That Grace is Particular), because many were raising the motto, “Christus pro omnibus(Christ for all),” to a “shibboleth of evangelical truth” .(p. 3). By this “Christ for all” was meant “that Christ, according to the intention and tendency of His self offering, died for all men, head for head and soul for soul” (p. 3). Although the doctrine of universal atonement was on the foreground, Kuyper correctly saw that the real issue was the teaching that grace is common to all men. He refers to those who proclaim the doctrine of “Christ for all” as “zealots for common grace (algemeene genade), ” and he opposes them by defending the fundamental proposition, that grace is particular. 

Although those who confess particular grace are in the minority at present, Kuyper is encouraged to defend particular grace by the fact that “in earlier, and spiritually better, ages, I would have found plenty of allies” (pp. 4, 5). He points to a “cloud of witnesses” which “did not know a grace which is not particular” (p. 6). This cloud of witnesses includes Augustine; Calvin; Peter Martyr; Rivet; Voetius; Witsius; Beza; Zanchius; Gomarus; Turretin; and many others. Kuyper can safely say, without any exaggeration, that “in the time of our national glory, when there were still genuine theologians, and genuine theologians in quantity, shining in the church of these lands, the conviction ‘that grace is particular’ obtained as the only Biblical and Reformed position” (p. 14). The teaching of “universal or common grace,” on the other hand, which is the “doctrine of Rome, the Socinians, the Mennonites, the Arminians, and the Quakers, crept into the Reformed Churches from without, especially through Amyraut and the Saumur school” (pp. 13, 14). 

Kuyper wants to make sure, that we understand what the issue is. The issue is not that those who confess particular grace affirm, whereas those who confess universal, or common, grace deny, that, in the end, only some are saved by the grace of God in Christ. For both parties acknowledge that only some are actually saved. But the issue concerns the will of God and the intention of Christ. Those who teach universal grace maintain that it is God’s will and Christ’s intention to save all men through Christ’s death. “In contrast, the particularists . . . teach: It must be preached by the church to every creature, that atonement has been obtained by the death of Christ for everyone who believed, believes, or will believe, i.e., since all believers are the elect, only for the elect; and this is true, not merely according to the result, but according to Christ’s intention and God’s counsel. The Church must also preach that the atonement is applied, not to indefinite, as yet unconverted persons, but to persons whom the Lord loves with an eternal love, already before they were born, and whom He ‘calls by name’ ” (p. 27). 

The advocates of universal grace in every age have three favorite texts: I John 2:2I Timothy 2:4; and II Peter 3:9. Kuyper painstakingly explains these texts, rejecting the interpretation that makes them teach a grace of God towards every human being. “The three main texts, with which men commonly like to scare the confessor of particular grace . . . prove nothing (emphasis, as always, Kuyper’s—DE) for universal grace” (p. 69). 

Kuyper’s explanation of II Peter 3:9 is typical. The text reads: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” In Kuyper’s day as in ours, the popular interpretation of the text, by the friends of universal grace—and foes of particular grace!—is that God does not desire any member of the. whole human race to perish, but sincerely desires the salvation of all men without exception. Kuyper repudiates this interpretation not only as heterodoxy, but also as folly. “For then I come to this absurd reasoning: ‘Jesus cannot yet come, because God’s will must be fulfilled, and, according to God’s will, all men must first come to repentance. But . . . if Jesus cannot come. until all men come to repentance, then Jesus will never come. For, first, there are already hundreds and thousands of dead people, who died unconverted. . . . Secondly, there are millions upon millions who will die today, tomorrow, or next year, without ever having heard of Jesus. . . . And finally, if God, without a definite goal, simply allows new men to be born continuously, and the coming of Jesus then must be delayed, until also these are converted, that coming of Jesus can be delayed endlessly. . . .” The explanation of II Peter 3:9 that holds that God desires to save all men involves “the most absurd reasoning imaginable and is utterly senseless” (pp. 61, 62).* 

“In II Peter 3:9, nothing else can’ be meant than this: Jesus cannot come before the number of the elect is full, and, inasmuch now as many elect have not yet been converted, He delays His coming, in His longsuffering, not willing that some would go lost through a premature return, but willing that they all first be converted” (p. 64). In the light cast by the history of the Reformed struggle to defend sovereign, particular grace, it is clear that the explanation one gives of II Peter 3:9 can well serve as the touchstone of a genuinely Reformed confession of the grace of God. 

Having disposed of the superficial explanation of a few texts commonly opposed to the truth of particular grace, Kuyper proceeds to expose the error of the teaching that God is gracious to all men. His first argument is that the doctrine of total depravity refutes the notion of universal grace. Kuyper’s reasoning here is well worth noting. He argues that universal grace necessarily implies the ability of the sinner to accept that intended and offered grace, i.e., implies the heresy of free will. All that is necessary, therefore, to disprove the contention of universal grace and to establish the truth of particular grace is the demonstration from Scripture that the natural man is totally depraved, incapable of accepting any offer of salvation. 

“If it be true, what the proponents of universal grace teach, namely, that grace is offered to all men, head for head, on the ground that, in fact and really, the ransom is already paid for them, then it must herewith be supposed that the sinner, as he is in sin, Yet possesses a power, an ability, a possibility in his soul,to accept the salvation offered to him” (pp. 70, 71). “If one teaches over against this, ‘No, the sinner is not able to do that. He has sunk away too deeply for that, and, for him to be able to do that, something must first happen in him, by which he receives the power to lay hold on that offered (presented—DE) salvation,’ then, obviously, ‘universal grace’ is found to be completely untenable on account of this one confession (of total depravity—DE), because, in fact, not all men receive ‘this possibility to be able to believe’ by a particular grace” (p. 71). “Of an intention in God at the forming of the plan of salvation and the carrying out of that plan in the death of Christ to save all sinners head for head, there can, therefore, be no mention, unless God knew that all these sinners yet retained the might, the power, and the ability . . . to believe in Jesus Christ and in the redemption through His blood” (p. 92). 

The preceding quotation, with its reference to God’s intention, indicates that Kuyper’s opposition to universal grace not only concerns the teaching that Christ died for all men, but also concerns the teaching that there is an intention of God to save all. This is a basic element of the present-day doctrine of the well-meant offer of the gospel. Kuyper concentrates on this aspect of the error of universal grace when he goes on to show that the theory of universal grace is in conflict with what Scripture teaches concerning “the Being and perfections of God.” 

Those in the Reformed camp who teach that God’ is gracious to all must acknowledge that God knows, indeed has decreed, that only some will be saved. How then can they say that God wills, or desires, to save all? Their answer, says Kuyper, is the contention that there is a distinction between two wills of God: “One asserts then that ‘will’ and ‘decree’ are to be distinguished” (p. 102). What they mean is that there are two, opposite, conflicting wills in God: He wills to save all, and He wills not to save all. “That,” writes Kuyper, “is gibberish (wartaal). . . . To place in one and the same decree ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ at the same time is to ascribe to God something absurd, a thing that must be resisted with all our might” (p. 105). 

It is, of course, true that there is a proper distinction to be made between God’s “decree” and God’s “will.” But this is the distinction between what God. commands men to do and what God Himself decides to do. “God’s will is: Thou shalt not kill; but in His counsel the murder of our William the First is included. God’s will is: Thou shalt not commit adultery; and yet Bathsheba is foreordained to be the mother of Solomon. . . . Certainly, if there is mention of the will of God which must be a directive for us men in our actions, then of course, this revealed will of God is nothing else than His holiness mirrored in His commandments and which, therefore, has nothing. to do with His decree or with His counsel” (p. 102). But this is not at all what the defenders of universal grace have in mind with their distinction between two wills in God. They do not refer to “what God wills that the manshould do,” but they are speaking of “a counsel and plan that God Himself carries out.” “There would be then, on the one hand, a will of God, that He Himself shall work at the salvation of all, and, on the other hand, a will of God, that He Himself carry out a plan according to which not all shall be saved” (p. 103). This, says Kuyper, is “gibberish,” unworthy of Reformed theology and an attack on the Being and perfections of God. 

It becomes more and more clear that Reformed theology will not permit those who maintain both a sincere desire of God to save all and the decree of election, i.e., the defenders of the offer, to find any refuge in their distinction between two wills in God. The “paradox” behind which they hide at the crucial moment. is not a Biblical, Reformed “paradox,” but absurdity, absurdity which serves to introduce conflict into the Being and decree of God and the heresy of universal grace into the Reformed Churches. The distinction between a will of God that desires and intends to save all and a will of God that does not desire and intend to save all is a spurious distinction and one that Reformed theology has not only not recognized, but explicitly condemned. The God Who commands all who hear the gospel to repent and believe is a God Who wills, desires, and intends the salvation of the elect and the elect alone.

* One can hear the men whose position Kuyper here demolishes assuring themselves and their followers that Kuyper is “too logical.” In that case, it will at least be evident from the passage that it is historically Reformed to be logical in explaining God’s truth, Those in the Reformed camp today who recommend absurdity should advise us of their origins.