Previous article in this series: May 1, 2013, p. 340.
We continue our response to an article entitled “Calvin’s Treatment of the Offer of the Gospel and Divine Grace” found in the Mid-America Journal of Theology (MJT, vol. 22, 2011) written by Dr. J. Mark Beach. Beach’s thesis is that Calvin was a proponent of the “Free or Well-meant Offer of the Gospel,” and, in close connection with that, that H. Hoeksema’s contention that Calvin was not an advocate of the WMO is specious and incorrect.
As stated at the conclusion of our previous article (SB, May 1) we are not convinced of either aspect of Beach’s thesis—either that Calvin was a proponent of the well-meant offer, or that Hoeksema erred in his stout denial that Calvin taught the WMO.
And let us state at the outset that our taking issue with Beach and his thesis is not simply a matter of loyalty to Hoeksema, our feeling compelled to defend a theologian whose name is so closely associated with the origins of our own Protestant Reformed Churches. Our concern is much larger than that.
From Beach’s article, as well as a number of other articles found in recent MTJs (as previously commented on), it is evident in what direction this whole business is going. The writers of the MJT, as staunch advocates of Kuyperian common grace, are putting forth a concerted effort to demonstrate that those who take issue with certain of Calvin’s statements having to do with a common grace, or that he made on texts that have to do with the gospel offer, are not truly “Calvinistic” (thereby deserving the label ‘hypers’); and, in close connection with that, if one cannot agree with Calvin when it comes to the offer of the gospel, then such place themselves at odds with the Reformed creeds (which purport to be “Calvinistic,” after all). Such is the implied charge.
But it goes deeper than that—because if all the above is true, and a Reformed man has placed himself at odds with the Reformed confessions on this matter of the gospel offer, then, in the end, really one is at odds with the very Apostles themselves. One is at odds with the marrow of their ‘divinity’ (theology) and gospel preaching! After all, for the Reformed theologian, it is the great historic Reformed creeds that define what belongs to the heart of the apostolic gospel.
Do not think there is not a freight of charges implied in this turning Calvin into a free-offer theologian and the progenitor of Kuyperian common grace.
Beach describes Hoeksema’s opposition to the claim that Calvin was an advocate of the well-meant offer as follows:
For Hoeksema, the mere external call to repentance and faith is not “a well-meant offer of salvation.” He reads Calvin as saying that the gospel is presented to sinners—with no offer of salvation to the reprobate—and consequently God is not in any manner whatsoever gracious or favorable or kindly disposed to the non-elect (MJT 22; p. 62).
To a large extent this is an accurate presentation of Hoeksema’s view, namely, that the external call to repentance and faith is not a well-meant offer of salvation and that God does not have a gracious disposition to the non-elect (or reprobate). However, we take issue with the word “mere” in describing Hoeksema’s view of the call to repentance, which word leaves the distinct impression that if one rejects the free offer, then one’s call to repentance and faith is going to be no more than a “mere” perfunctory exhortation, words recited dutifully in a detached and impersonal way.
This certainly is what Dr. Beach implies. Such is clear from his comment following a quotation from Calvin in which Calvin speaks of “sinners not complying with [God’s] invitation [to all addressed by the gospel].” (In what follows, let the reader take special note of Beach’s insertion of the word “mere” into his comments.)
[The] fact [that God invites and bids all to repent and believe], as Calvin seems to make clear here, does not comport with rendering the idea of “offer” or “invitation” to a mere [!] announcement [!] without a call to commitment or a display of the gospel without a summons (ibid., p. 67).
As if this is what Hoeksema (and the PRC with him) have done to the gospel call (which both the Canons and the Westminster Confession label also as an ‘offer’), turning it into a mere announcement!
Not so. Such is a caricature.
Earnestness and a deep urgency in calling sinners to repent and turn to Christ do not require a free-offer conviction. Consider that sitting in the audience may well be one’s own relation, one’s own flesh and blood (cf. Rom. 9:1-3), perhaps even one’s own wayward son or daughter. The latter is not unknown. There is nothing “mere” about the external call to repentance and faith by preachers who reject the well-meant offer, not when one loves those to whom one is bringing God’s Word. And Hoeksema loved both his own flesh and blood and the congregations to whom he preached. It pained him, and pained him deeply, when members who were brought up in the very bosom of Christ’s church turned away from the apostolic and confessional truth to embrace the world and its lifestyle. And such found expression in his preaching, as it does in the preaching of PRC pastors and missionaries to this present day.
But more importantly, Breach’s statement that Hoeksema’s position was that there is “no offer of salvation to the reprobate” is incorrect and misleading. What Hoeksema denied (and the PRC with him) was that there is any well-meant offer of salvation to the reprobate.
We state once again, there is a difference between the two.
To be sure, these days we would prefer not to use the word “offer” at all. It has become so identified with the WMO that invariably when used it is assumed one has in mind the “free-offer” with its general love of God. Nonetheless, we are talking about two different species here. The WMO is defined by the content of what it declares, an all-inclusive, general, divine love for all who are addressed, even to the point of declaring “Christ has died for you!” Whereas the promiscuous gospel offer is a confessional matter, has different content, and was maintained by Hoeksema.
Where statements can be found in Hoeksema in which he takes issue with the notion that God “offers salvation to the reprobate,” one may be sure he is using the word “offer” as shorthand for the “well-meant offer,” and the context will make that plain.
That said, we assert that Hoeksema was correct in his insistence that “Never, no not once, does Calvin teach that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all that hear (emphasis ours—kk)” (ibid., p. 62).
This is exactly what the CRC version of common grace teaches. Not simply that grace is offered to all or set forth before all with the declaration that God is one who graciously forgives all who turn, but that the preaching is grace to all who hear it. This is what the well-meant offer teaches as well.
….there is in God a benevolent loving kindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance…. The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all [!]. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will [!] to that salvation (The Free Offer of the Gospel, p. 27, Stonehouse and Murray).
Whatever statements Calvin made about God’s kindness to all in confronting them with the gospel, he did not go so far as to say that the gospel is grace to all who hear it, a grace of the word preached applied by the Holy Spirit to all who hear, which grace a man is able to resist and refuse, which, in fact, the majority of hearers then do.
This is what the contemporary theory of common grace and the free-offer assert.
That is not Calvin.
Second, as we have stated, the well-meant offer is a defined species of gospel preaching that posits two wills found in God in regard to the reprobate (which, by the way, is a word free-offer adherents prefer not to use, preferring to speak only of the “non-elect”—meaning that for all their professed Calvinism there are certain words of Calvin they would just as soon not use either, in this instance a biblical word!).
As if only Hoeksema had reservations about certain phrases Calvin used! Making him not quite Calvinistic. But when Hoeksema’s critics have reservations about certain expressions found in Calvin, their Calvinism remains fully intact!
A paradox indeed.
Be that as it may, there is, according to the WMO, one divine will according to which God has determined not to save certain men, and yet (as the last sentence in the above quote states) there is also another will in which God yet desires, wills, and yearns for their salvation. In other words, there is in God a will for the salvation of those whom He has eternally willed (determined) not to save, or, to use a word Calvin was not averse to using, reprobated. Such as Esau.
And therein lies the necessity for the promoters of the WMO to seek refuge in the paradox.
Strikingly, this is not the language Calvin uses. As Beach’s own quotes of Calvin make clear, whatever ‘unhappy language’ Calvin used in explaining certain texts (as we would assess the statements), Calvin was not given to speak of two wills in God. In fact, in commenting on such texts Calvin always made a point of yet insisting that, when it came to whom God would save and whom He had determined not to, there was but one harmonious will in God.
But (and this is an important but—one you would think those schooled in nuances would not ignore, but for some reason have), according to Calvin, sometimes God, in order to accommodate himself to our weak understanding and meager capacity, uses language that makes it appear as if He had two wills in this matter.
This is Calvin’s approach. In explaining Ezekiel 18:23 he states:
God does not leave us in suspense when he says, that he wishes all to be saved…. But we must remark God puts on (emphasis ours—kk) a twofold character, for he here wishes to be taken at his word (ibid., p. 69).
And then a few sentences later Calvin states:
…meanwhile this will of God which he sets forth in his word does not prevent him from decreeing before the world was created what he would do with every individual (op. cit.).
And that last statement is important because it establishes what basic truth Calvin never wanted the reader to lose sight of, namely, the matter of election and God’s predestinating will; in other words, that very will and decree that the free-offer men want to set aside as ‘un-preachable’ (and one that they end up ‘merely announcing’ as biblical now and again). Why? Because who exactly are predestinated to salvation is consigned to the secret will of God; and what does something secret have to do with gospel preaching? It is alleged that all that that can do is lead to speculation and ‘navel gazing.’
Try comfort and assurance. After all, the doctrine of election is not secret. It is revealed and looms large in the apostolic Scriptures. And if we read the Canons aright, there are various infallible means by which one may come to know one’s own personal election unto the adoption of grace as well. Something sinners need to hear preached!
Let any honest theologian search the sermons of Calvin and his polemical works and dispute where Calvin’s emphasis lay when it came to God’s will unto salvation. Who can honestly conclude that Calvin thought that God’s will of sovereign predestination, that of election and its grace, had little to do with the gospel preaching, and that for Calvin this sovereign electing will did not belong to the marrow of his own divinity and teaching?
It cannot be done.
And in this same connection, as Beach himself notes concerning Calvin’s explanation of I Timothy 2:3-5, when Calvin concludes that Scripture seems to be speaking of God’s will in a twofold way:
Scripture does this because of our “grossness and rudeness.” God must “change his own hue” if we would understand his will. God’s will isn’t double [!], but he sometimes speaks as though it were [!] in order “to apply himself to our weakness, because that our understanding is gross and heavy as lead” (ibid., p. 71).
Nuances? Shall we talk about nuances? Well, here is one worth talking about.
What the above distinction means is that Calvin, for all the questionable language he uses to explain certain texts, had no intention of going where the free-offer men have gone, namely, positing a double will in God, two conflicting wills toward those whom He has ordained unto condemnation, which conflict can be resolved only by reference to a paradox.
This is of no little importance. History has shown that where the invasive species of the free-offer with its double will of God has been introduced into a church’s theological yard, the doctrine of God’s ‘will’ of electing grace first has been compromised and then choked out. In time such churches are left with a theological yard of little else than Arminian crabgrass with its ‘general-love-for-all’ gospel. And, correspondingly, there will be an emphasis on the responsibility (for which read ability) of man, who is no longer totally depraved either. Common grace has modified that. In time the genuine Calvinistic confessional ‘bluegrass’ with its TULIP beds are no longer to be found.
Crabgrass and bluegrass do not peacefully co-exist. Neither does the free offer mentality with the gospel of particular and irresistible grace.
Even in those sections of Calvin’s commentaries where his more questionable explanations can be found, what will of God with its particular grace Calvin refused to lose sight of or let go is plain.
Strikingly, in the same MJT issue (vol. 22, 2011) is to be found a book review (pp. 223-8) by another of MARS’ professors, Dr. A. Strange. The book reviewed is Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition, by Kenneth J. Stewart. Stewart is a professor at Covenant College Lookout Mountain, GA, a seminary of Calvinistic reputation. It is a book worth reading if one would learn what direction contemporary Calvinism is going these days. Revisionists are hard at work. New portraits of the sharp-featured Calvin with whom we were once familiar are being drawn. He is becoming a fleshier sort of fellow.
Significantly, Strange’s review is favorable. Having taken a shot at “…those who define Reformed almost exclusively in decretal terms and who wind up in hyper-Calvinism,” Strange praises the book as one that “…should go a long way to…provid[ing] a basis for greater unity in the Reformed faith” (p. 223).
Of special interest to us is what Stewart designates as the second myth about Calvin and Calvinism, namely, that “Calvin’s View of Predestination Must Be Ours,” and then along with that, Strange’s following endorsement of that perspective.
Some might allege that Stewart is denying double predestination [in this section] because he takes issue with Calvin’s construction of it. I do not read Stewart, however, as doing that but rather preferring the more careful way that Bullinger treats this and especially the way that the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession treats it, both of these making it clear that while God ordains all that comes to pass, the decree to damn and to save are not equally ultimate…. Stewart’s point here is that the earlier Calvin (it is the later Calvin that gets a bit ham-handed and treats reprobation and election as parallel) [emphasis mine—kk] and the Reformed confessions are to be preferred in their treatment of this blessed yet easily abused doctrine (p. 224).
There you have it. Two professing Calvinists, both of whom adhere to common grace and favor the WMO with its implied double will in God—opting to emphasize which of the so-called ‘two wills in God’? Not the decretal one. That’s plain. Rather, expressing a fondness for a certain ‘Calvin,’ but not so much for that other Calvin, the one who in his writings of later years in defense of the gospel of grace and God’s saving will comes down on the side of election and reprobation.
Strikingly it is the later and older Calvin who is dismissed as being a “bit ham-handed,” the older Calvin being a bit extreme in his theology. Dare we say, prone to one-sidedness? And where have we heard that before!
One might suppose it is the ‘older’ Calvin who would be considered the more mature theologian, the definitive Calvin. And keep in mind that this ‘older’ Calvin referred to was around 50 years old—hardly in his dotage and getting a bit crotchety as a result. He was only 55 when he died, after all.
And it is the statements of this ‘older’ Calvin (the fully developed controversialist rising to the defense of the heart of the gospel of grace against its assailants) that are to be dismissed and set aside?
Who is it that does not want the ‘whole’ Calvin, but only a selected version of him? And who ignores where the real emphasis of Calvin and the thrust of his theology lies?
Hoeksema? Or the common grace, free-offer revisionists?
Let the discerning reader decide.
In one last future article we intend to bring this discussion to a close.