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Although the reprobate “are made partakers of external vocation,” Turretin denies that they are called “with the design and intention on God’s part, that they should become partakers of salvation.” There are two reasons why they are called externally by God in the preaching of the gospel, neither of which is a sincere desire of God that they be saved. The first is that the reprobate “are mingled with the elect,” so that “the Call cannot be addressed to men indiscriminately without the reprobate as well as the elect sharing in it” (p. 385). The second is God’s purpose that “the call of the reprobate accomplish their conviction and inexcusability” (p. 385). 

Turretin gives six grounds for the denial by Reformed orthodoxy that God calls the reprobate with the purpose that they partake of salvation: 1. “God cannot in calling intend the salvation of those whom He reprobated from eternity. . . .”; 2. “God does not intend faith in the reprobate, therefore neither salvation which cannot be attained without faith”; 3. “Christ in the calling of the reprobate Jews testifies that He had as His proposed end their inexcusability” (Turretin here quotes John 9:39 and John 15:22); 4. “they who are called with the intention of salvation, are called according to purpose, ” but only the elect are called thus, according to Romans 8:28ff., not the reprobate; 5. Salvation according to the intention of God is promised only to the weary and heavy laden (Matt. 11:28), the thirsty (Is. 55:1), and the believing and penitent (Acts 2:38), i.e., the elect, not the reprobate; 6. God’s promise is indeed that all who believe shall be saved, but God knows that the reprobate will never have faith, “nay, He, Who alone can give, has decreed to withhold (faith) from them.” Therefore, it is “‘absurd to say that He calls the reprobate with the intention that they should be saved” (pp. 386, 387). 

Just as is done by the advocates of the well-meant offer today, those in Turretin’s day who defended a sincere intention of God to save all objected that, if God does not intend the salvation of all who are called in the gospel, God acts hypocritically and falsely. God is not truthful in calling a man to believe on Christ, if He does not sincerely desire that man’s salvation. The charge is made that those who deny a sincere desire of God to save every man who hears the gospel contradict the teaching of the Canons, that “as many as are called by the gospel are seriously called” (III, IV, 8). 

Turretin rejects this charge: “Although God does not intend the salvation of the reprobate by calling them, still He acts most seriously and sincerely, nor can any hypocrisy and deception be charged against Him” (p. 387). The call to the reprobate is serious, “because He seriously and most truly shows them the alone and most certain way of salvation, seriously exhorts them to follow it, and most sincerely promises salvation to all those who do follow it” (p. 387). The call is not hypocritical, or “feigned,” to use the language of the Canons, even though God has decreed that those called shall not believe and shall not be saved, because the call to them is a command, and “in such a command He wills to unfold His right and man’s duty” (p. 390). “For a serious call does not require that there should be an intention and purpose drawing him, but only that there should be, a constant will of commanding duty, and bestowing the blessing upon him who performs it, which God most seriously wills” (p. 388). 

Turretin turns the tables on the objectors. Not Reformed orthodoxy, but those who maintain an intention of God to save all, while at the same time professing the decree of reprobation, are guilty of ascribing hypocrisy and deception to God. For God to indicate to a man in the gospel that He sincerely desires to save him, when, in fact, God has eternally decreed that man’s damnation, is insincere, deceptive behavior.¹ “The opinion which we oppose is far more strongly pressed with the same difficulty; For on this hypothesis, God is made most seriously to desire and intend the salvation of men, provided they have faith, which yet He knows they have not, and cannot have of themselves, and which He Himself decreed from eternity by an irrevocable decree not to give, Who alone can; It is easy to decide whether this can be consistent with the sincerity of God; for by this very thing, God is represented as testifying that He wills and does not will at the same time their salvation, because He does not will that without which it cannot be obtained, as if any one would say, that he wills man to live, but yet nilled that he should breathe” (p. 130).

In conclusion, Turretin assures Reformed pastors that there is no substance to the dire predictions of the opponents that, without the doctrine of a sincere desire of God to save all men, lively, free, urgent preaching must decline. It is as if this representative of the Reformed faith in the 17th century could hear the “offermen” of the 20th century pronouncing their woes over those who insist that God’s grace in the preaching is particular: “They cannot do mission work”; “they are unable to call everyone to repentance”; “they can only preach to the elect.” 

Without hesitation, Turretin asserts that the ministry of the gospel exists only for the sake of the elect: “for their (the elect’s—DE) sake alone the ministry of the gospel was instituted, to collect the church, and increase the mystical body of Christ, Eph. 4:12, and, they being taken out of the world, preaching would no longer be necessary. . . .” (p. 385). This conviction, however, in no way hampers unfettered preaching: “Although the intention of Pastors calling ought to be conformed to the intention of God, by Whom they are sent to call men; in this that they are bound from the order of God to invite all their hearers promiscuously torepentance and faith, as the alone way of salvation, and on condition of these to salvation; and that they ought to intend nothing else than the gathering of the Church, or the salvation of the elect, in bringing about which they are co-workers with God: Still in this they also differ, that the omniscient God distinctly knows among gospel hearers, who are the elect, and who the reprobate. The former alone He wills to save individually, the latter not. Ministers, however, being destitute of such knowledge, do not know to whose salvation their ministry will contribute, not being able to distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, charitably hoping well for all, not daring to decide concerning the reprobation of any one. Thus, they address all the called promiscuously and indiscriminately even by God’s appointment, still intending the salvation of no others than the elect, like God. So that they do nothing in this ministry, which does not answer both to the command and intention of God. . . .” (p. 389). 

This would be enough to show that 17th century Reformed thought condemned the universal grace of the free offer theory. But there is more. Condemnation of the doctrine of universal grace in the call of the gospel and confession of particular grace did not remain confined to the writings of the theologians, but were expressed in a confession of faith: the Formula Consensus Helvetica (Helvetic, or Swiss, Consensus Formula).

As is evident in our quotations, Turretin was not tilting at windmills when he opposed the doctrine of universal grace in the call of the gospel. Men within the Reformed camp were proclaiming this doctrine (“patrons of universal grace,” Turretin called them). Just a few years after the Synod of Dordt and just a few years after the National Synod of the Reformed Church in France adopted the Canons of Dordt and bound all ministers and elders to defend them, theologians at the Reformed seminary in Saumur, France, began to attack the doctrine of sovereign grace, so recently explained and defended by the Dutch Synod. The chief offender was Moyse Amyraut (or Moses Amyraldus). Amyraut taught that God has ordained all men unto salvation; that Christ died for all men; and that God offers Christ to all men, on the condition of faith, with a sincere intention to save them all. Grace, according to Amyraut, is universal. The cloak under which Amyraut thought to smuggle this Arminian contraband into the Reformed churches was his profession of double predestination. However, he construed predestination as following upon the decree of universal salvation through universal atonement—all of which is dependent on man’s acceptance or rejection of the offered grace—so that Amyraut’s predestination was nothing other than the old Roman and Arminian doctrine of conditional predestination in new dress. 

From the mountains of Geneva, Francis Turretin descried the enemy. With Lucas Gernler of Basle, he requested John Henry Heidegger of Zurich to compose a creed for the Swiss churches that would condemn the Saumur theology and pointedly affirm the decisions of Dordt, and helped Heidegger to write the creed. The result was the Helvetic Consensus Formula of 1675, “the last doctrinal Confession of the Reformed Church of Switzerland.”² This confession was “agreed upon by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Zurich, Basle, and Geneva, and adopted in other Reformed cantons as a binding rule of public teaching for ministers and professors.”³ 

A fascinating document, the Helvetic Consensus Formula confesses the verbal inspiration of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, “not only in its consonants, but in its vowels—either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points”; the imputation of Adam’s sin; the federal Headship of Christ for the elect in the new covenant; limited atonement; and the covenant of works. It concludes with a decree “that we not only hand down sincerely in accordance with the Divine Word, the especial necessity of the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, but also impressively inculcate it and importunately urge its observation.” But our sole concern is its teaching regarding God’s grace in the call of the gospel:

Canon VI “Wherefore we can not give suffrage to the opinion of those who teach: (1) that God, moved by philanthropy, or a special love for the fallen human race, to previous election, did, in a kind of conditioned willing—willingness—first moving of pity, as they call it—inefficacious desire—purpose the salvation of all and each, at least, conditionally, i.e., if they would believe; (2) that He appointed Christ Mediator for all and each of the fallen; and (3) that, at length, certain ones whom He regarded, not simply as sinners in the first Adam, but as redeemed in the second Adam, He elected, i.e., He determined to graciously bestow on these, in time, the saving gift of faith; and in this sole act Election properly so called is complete. For these and all other kindred teachings are in no wise insignificant deviations from the form of sound words respecting Divine Election; because the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God’s purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded, even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred.

Rom 9:10-13

The same Holy Scriptures testify that the counsel and the will of God change not, but stand immovable, and God in the heavens doeth whatsoever he will

Ps. 115:3; Is. 46:10;

for God is infinitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance, and change of purpose. . . .” 

Canon XVII “The call unto salvation was suited to its due time

I Tim. 2:6;

since by God’s will it was at one time more restricted, at another, more extended and general, but never absolutely universal. For, indeed, in the Old Testament God showed His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel; He dealt not so with any nation.

Ps. 147:19, 20

In the New Testament, peace being made in the blood of Christ and the inner wall of partition broken down, God so extended the limits of Gospel preaching and the external call, that there is no longer any difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto alI that caIl upon Him.

Rom. 9:12

But not even thus is the call universal; for Christ testifies that many are called

Matt. 20:16,

not all; and when Paul and Timothy essayed to go into Bithynia to preach the Gospel, the Spirit suffered them not

Acts 16:7;

and there have been and there are today, as experience testifies, innumerable myriads of men to whom Christ is not known even by rumor.”

Canon XIX “Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who calls, earnest and sincere. For in His Word He unfolds earnestly and most truly, not, indeed, His secret intention respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but what belongs to our duty, and what remains for us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who cab, that they who are called come to Him and not neglect so great salvation, and so He promises eternal life also in good earnest, to those who come to Him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, ‘it is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He can not deny Himself.’ Nor in regard to those who do not obey the call is this will inefficacious; for God always attains that which He intends in His will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who do their duty, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Surely the spiritual man in no way secures the internal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally proffered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every verity which flows from His counsel, therefore it is rightly said to be His will, that all who see the Son and believe on Him may have everlasting life.

John 6:40

Although these ‘all’ are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for every one but for the elect only who were given to Him; yet He intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from His special and definite purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the external call thus universally proffered, while the reprobate are hardened, proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God: election by the same grace to them that believe; but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, and after their hardness and impenitent heart treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

Rom. 2:5

Canon XX “Accordingly we have no doubt that they err who hold that the call unto salvation is disclosed not by the preaching of the Gospel solely, but even by the works of nature and Providence without any further proclamation; adding, that the call unto salvation is so indefinite and universal that there is no mortal who is not, at least objectively, as they say, sufficiently called either mediately, namely, in that God will further bestow the light of grace on him who rightly rises the light of nature, or immediately, unto Christ and salvation; and finally denying that the external call can be said to be serious and true, or the candor and sincerity of God be defended, without asserting the absolute universality of grace. For such doctrines are contrary to the Holy Scriptures. . . .” 

Canon XXI “They who are called unto salvation through the preaching of the Gospel can neither believe nor obey the call, unless they are raised up out of spiritual death by that very power whereby God commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and God shines into their hearts with the soul-swaying grace of His Spirit. . . .”

This language is clear and sharp on the doctrine of the call of the gospel and the grace of God in the call, especially Canon XIX and the last part of Canon XX, needing no explanation. 

This is Turretin. 

This is the Swiss churches of the 17th century. 

And this is another reason why the noisy claim that the well-meant offer represents the position of the Reformed churches and theologians of the past does not so easily put us to ignominious flight. We too have read, and our finding is: particular, sovereign grace.

(next: Kuyper)