In his recent articles in Reformation Today (Sept.-Oct., 1978) Pastor Errol1 Hulse attempts to leave the impression that his double-track theology is supported by John Calvin. More than once in the course of his writings Mr. Hulse appeals to passages from Calvin’s Commentaries.
With respect to this matter of quotations from John Calvin, I wish to make a few introductory remarks, first of all.
In the first place, as I indicated in my previous editorial on this subject, we must remember that John Calvin is not the court of last appeal. Calvin could be incorrect in his exegesis, and he himself would be the, first to admit this. Scripture itself is the court of last appeal, even as Scripture is its own interpreter. Hence, when Calvin is incorrect, I do not hesitate to disagree with his exegesis. In the second place, for many reasons it should not surprise us that Calvin would be upon occasion mistaken in his exegesis. Not only was he an extremely busy man and a prolific writer, but he also stood at the beginning of the movement of the Reformation, when Scripture again came into its rightful place in the church. It is not surprising, therefore, that Calvin himself found it necessary to clarify and to correct positions which he assumed earlier in his career. Thus, with respect to the subject under discussion, that of the so-called offer of the gospel, Calvin in several instances speaks more clearly and correctly in his later treatises which have been published under the title Calvin’s Calvinism. In the third place, it should be kept in mind that the term offer in Calvin does not have the same significance as it does in today’s usage. In Calvin this term, as derived from the Latin, simply means “to present, to exhibit or set forth.” Finally, Pastor Hulse should remember that, whatever Calvin has written on this subject, he does not hold to the theory of two wills in God: one will according to which God wills the salvation of all men, and one will according to which God wills the salvation of the elect only. This theory of two divine wills is basic to the entire doctrine of the well-meant offer of salvation, as Pastor Hulse very well knows and as he teaches. But Calvin himself explicitly denies such a twofold will of God, as can be easily demonstrated from his writings. Moreover, the late Professor John Murray, to whose writings Pastor Hulse appeals as authoritative, admits in this connection that Calvin insists upon the simplicity of the will of God; and Professor Murray admittedly parts ways with Calvin on this subject.
But now let us turn to some specifics.
First of all, what does John Calvin teach concerningII Peter 3:9? Pastor Hulse quotes from Calvin’s Commentary on this verse, and at the same time he expresses scorn for the interpretation which would confine the passage to the elect. Now even Hulse’s quotation from Calvin’s Commentary is not as universalist as Hulse seems to think. But we will let that pass. What does Calvin say on this subject inCalvin’s Calvinism? In his treatise on The Secret Providence of God, p. 276, we read:
There is, perhaps, a stronger color in some of the words of Peter, which might have better suited your purposes, where he says that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
And if there be anything in the first member of the passage that seems difficult of comprehension at first sight, it is made perfectly plain by the explanation which follows. For, in as far as God “willeth that all should come unto repentance,” in so far He willeth that no one should perish; but, in order that they may thus be received of God, they must “come.” But the Scripture everywhere affirms, that in order that they may “come,” they must be prevented of God; that is, God must come first to them to draw them; for until they are drawn of God, they will remain where they are, given up to the obstinacy of the flesh.
Repeatedly in his articles Pastor Hulse refers toMatthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” In one paragraph Hulse simply dismisses as a distortion the interpretation which would make “the children” in this verse apply to the elect. Elsewhere Hulse himself distorts the text by conveniently making the text read, “. . . how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, but ye would not.” (Italics added) But what does Calvin write? In Calvin’s Calvinism, in the treatise on The Eternal Predestination of God, Calvin quotes Augustine with approval as follows, pp. 104, 105:
This passage of the apostle
was long ago brought forward by the Pelagians, and handled against us with all their might. What Augustine advanced in reply to them in many parts of his works, I think it unnecessary to bring forward on the present occasion. I will only adduce one passage, which clearly and briefly proves how unconcernedly he despised their objection now in question. “When our Lord complains (says he) that though He wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but she would not, are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that He Who was Almighty God could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did ‘whatsoever pleased Him in heaven and in earth’? Moreover, who will be found so profanely mad as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and as He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not.”
Another example. Pastor Hulse writes as follows: “Does God desire the salvation of all the lost; that is everyone of them? I Timothy 2:4 and Ezekiel 33:11 declare as much and our Lord’s ministry confirms the same.” I could easily demonstrate by means of a lengthy quotation that Calvin disagrees with Pastor Hulse with regard to both passages: for Calvin deals with both of them in Calvin’s Calvinism. But I will quote only part of what Calvin writes concerning I Timothy 2:4, pp. 103, 104.
The difficulty which, according to Pigbius, lies in that other place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that “God will have ail men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth,”
is solved in one moment, and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth together. Now, I would ask, did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed, or wished, that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that He did not proclaim and make known His law to the Gentiles also? why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judea? And what does Moses mean when he says, “For what nation is there so great who hath God so nigh unto them, as tire Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?”
The Divine lawgiver surely here means that there was no other nation which had statutes and laws, by which it was ruled, like unto that nation. And what does Moses here but extol the peculiar privilege of the race of Abraham? To this responds the high encomium of David, pronounced on the same nation, “He bath not dealt so with any nation: and as for His judgments, they have not known them.”
Nor must we disregard then express reason assigned by the Psalmist, “Because the Lord loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them.”
And why did God thus choose them? Not because they were, in themselves, more excellent than others, but because it pleased God to choose them, “for His peculiar people.” What? Are we to suppose that the apostle did not know that he himself was prohibited by the Holy Spirit from “preaching the Word” in Asia, and from passing over into Bithynia? But as the continuance of this argument would render us two prolix, we will be content with taking one position more: that God, after having thus lighted the candle of eternal life to the Jews alone, suffered the Gentiles to wander for many ages in the darkness of ignorance; and that, at length, this special gift and blessing were promised to the Church: “But the Lord shall arise upon thee; and His glory shall be seen upon thee.”
Now let Pigbius boast, if he can, that God willeth all men to be saved! The above arguments; founded on 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.
A little later Calvin explains (pp. 105, 106) that this text refers not to individuals, but to orders of men.
In the same paragraph in which Pastor Hulse refers to I Timothy 2:4 he distorts the text in John 12:40 by separating it from vs. 39. Writes he: “The day of opportunity was over. Salvation was now hid from their eyes. The judicial blindness from God was upon them. Their stubbornness had led to God Himself hardening their hearts and blinding their eyes (John 12:40).” However the text presents matters just the other way around: “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Incidentally, if Pastor Hulse had paid attention to this context, he would never have reached his universalist explanation of the statement in vs. 47 that Christ came “to save the world.” But what does John Calvin write about this passage? We find this in Calvin’s Calvinism, pp..81, 82:
Now let us listen to the Evangelist John. He will be no ambiguous interpreter of this same passage of the prophet Isaiah. “But though (says John) Jesus had done so many miracles for them, yet they believed not on Him, that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts,” etc. Now, most certainly John does not here give us to understand that the Jews were prevented from believing by their sinfulness. For though this be quite true in one sense, yet the cause of their not believing must be traced to a far higher source. The secret and eternal purpose and counsel of God must be viewed as the original cause of their blindness and unbelief. It perplexed, in no small degree, the ignorant and the weak, when they heard that there was no place for Christ among the people of God (for the Jews were such). John explains the reason by showing that none believe save those to whom it is given, and that there are few to whom God reveals His arm. This other prophecy concerning “the arm of the Lord,” the Evangelist weaves into his argument to prove the same great truth. And his words have a momentous weight. He says, “Therefore, they could not believe.” Wherefore, let men torture themselves as long as they will with reasoning, the cause of the difference made—why God does not reveal His arm equally to all—lies hidden in His own eternal decree. The whole of the Evangelist’s argument amounts evidently to this: that faith is a special gift, and that the wisdom of Christ is too high and too deep to come within the compass of man’s understanding. The unbelief of the world, therefore, ought not to astonish us, if even the wisest and most acute of men fail to believe. Hence, unless we would elude the plain and confessed meaning of the Evangelist, that few receive the Gospel, we must fully conclude that the cause is the will of God; and that the outward sound of that Gospel strikes the ear in vain until God is pleased to touch by it the heart within.
The reader will note that all this is quite different from Pastor Hulse’s philosophy about “judicial blindness from God.” Incidentally, in the paragraph immediately before the above quotation, Calvin deals with this same passage from Isaiah 6 as it is quoted in Acts 28:25, 26; and he concludes his remarks as follows: “Some persons will here erroneously and ignorantly conclude that the cause and beginning of this obduracy in the Jews was their malicious wickedness. Just as if there were no deeper and more occult cause of the wickedness itself, namely, the original corruption of nature! And as if they did not remain sunk in this corruptionbecause, being reprobated by the secret council of God before they were born, they were left undelivered!”
Let me conclude with one more brief quotation, found on p. 118 of Calvin’s Calvinism: “For as to that distinction commonly held in the schools concerning the twofold will of God, such distinction is by no means admitted by us.” Quotations of this kind can be multiplied, but let these suffice as illustrations of Calvin’s doctrine. Pastor Hulse should choose, and should not try to follow an Arminian track and a Calvinistic track at the same time.