In earlier issues of this volume year we dealt with the error of the free offer (cf. Nov. 1, Nov. 15, and Dec. 1, 2005 issues). We refuted the charge of the promoters of the free offer that opposing the teaching that God loves everyone (including even those whom He hates from all eternity) makes one a Hyper-Calvinist—as if opposing the free offer and ‘God desires the salvation of everyone’ makes one ‘Hyper’ per se. We also pointed out the un-Calvinistic language and contradictions to which the Well-Meant Offer (WMO from now on) commits one.
We now continue our discussion on the free offer.
It is not enough to demonstrate to the WMO men the contradictory theological language inherent in the free offer. They acknowledge the same, calling such “a paradox” and “an apparent contradiction.” Those who confront them with the contradictory language found in their free-offer theology—positing two, opposite wills in God: He wills to save all, He wills not to save all (labeled by A. Kuyper as theological “gibberish”)—are dismissed as rationalists, guilty of scholasticism, and exalting human reason above the mysteries of faith and of God.
The argument of the WMO men is that, regardless of the contradictory propositions to which the free offer commits one, the Word of God, which is so much larger than man’s mind, in passage after passage requires a “free offer” interpretation, which is to say, preaching that asserts a yearning of God’s gracious will to save all to whom the gospel comes, even the reprobate. And they say that such must be preached despite its standing in stark contradiction (according to every law of logic) to the doctrine of God’s election with its particular, exclusive love and grace. Regardless, they maintain, Scripture speaks of a general benevolence and love, a grace, of God towards all. This general love of God, gospel preaching cannot ignore. Passages such as Ezekiel 18:21, 22;Ezekiel 33:11; Matthew 5:43ff., and Matthew 23:37 are quoted as cases in point.
It is not our intention to examine all the texts the WMO men adduce to justify propositions that stand in flat contradiction to election’s exclusive, saving love. We will content ourselves with consideration of Matthew 5:43-48, used by the WMO men to justify their gospel practices. We do so, first, because the WMO men commonly take this text and apply it not simply to a common-grace kind of non-saving love (with which interpretation we are so familiar), but to a saving kind of love (though, they admit, not the love that actually saves, but a love found in God that only desires the salvation of those whom He in another compartment of His counsel has determined not to save). You say that what you have just read sounds like double talk? Well, welcome to the world of theological paradoxes. Nothing is as straight-forward as it first appears.
And, second, we use Matthew 5:43ff. because it lends itself to an intriguing question, a question put to us by the WMO men that amounts really to a charge of inconsistency on our part. We raised the question at the conclusion of the December 1, 2005 article. Are we not commanded to love all those with whom we have contact, to the point even of seeking their salvation? Is this not the implication of Matthew 5:43ff.? Why would God require this of us (in fact, how could God require this of us), if He does not do the same?
An intriguing question, worth considering
But, as we said, it is more than an intriguing question. It really amounts to a charge made by the WMO men against us who deny the free offer. The charge is this, that we as ‘high Calvinists’ end up putting the character of believers at odds with the nature of God—on the one hand, denying God has a love for all those whom He addresses in the gospel, and yet on the other maintaining that what motivates us in bringing the gospel to all and confronting everyone with God’s Word is a love for all. Is it not so? But how can this be? “What do you claim, to be even more gracious than God?”
The WMO men are convinced such cannot be, and, in fact, is not. Such, according to them, is the position in which we as ‘high Calvinists’ leave ourselves, but that’s because we misrepresent the character of God. According to the WMO men, the truth concerning God is that God, for all His particular, electing love, is also a God who loves all men. And so the desire of believers is not out of sync with God’s will and desire, but squares with His; in fact, our love for all with whom we have contact is and ought to be a reflection of God’s love for all. And this supposedly is the teaching of Matthew 5:43 ff.
Is it indeed!
We intend to point out the error of such ‘reasoning.’
As an aside, though it may sound a bit cynical, yet it strikes one that the WMO men are willing to use logic and reason when it suits their purpose, pointing out apparent inconsistencies in their critics’ positions. But when one uses logic and reason to expose fallacies in theirarguments and logic, one is suddenly guilty of being of the school of the scholastics and rationalists.
Well, perhaps it is best to leave it with the poet who said, “Ours is not to reason why….”
Be that as it may, first of all, let it be stated what our objection to the WMO interpretation ofMatthew 5:43ff. is not. It is not this, that we object to interpreting these words of Christ to mean that He calls us to love all those with whom we have contact, even those who will prove to be ‘non-elect,’ desiring even the salvation of their souls, if God so wills. Rather, our objection is to the WMO assertion that our calling to love all men means that God must therefore love all men, and that this is what Matthew 5:43ff. by necessary inference teaches. With this we take issue.
But, first of all, what we want to make plain is that we want no part of the notion that we are really to love only those whom we think God may love, earnestly desiring the salvation only of those who give evidence of having the Spirit of Christ in them to some sensible degree. Simply put, this is ‘practical’ hyper-Calvinism. Let no one who names the name of God want any part of such. The reality is, the believer is called to love those who are walking in ungodliness, many of whom God may prove not to love at all. And this love means seeking their repentance and conversion, and doing so even with beseeching supplications and tears.
This, we are convinced, Christ requires of believers in Matthew 5:43ff. After all, Christ speaks of prayer, praying even for those neighbors who despitefully use us. And prayer certainly has to do with these men’s souls.
This is not a strange notion. I do not have to go out into the world to come across such neighbors. It starts pretty close to home. Has one never heard of one’s own flesh and blood?
We are talking here about believers’ own children and grandchildren, some of whom may wander far from home and God, some in the end, as Esau of old, proving to be despisers of God and His promises, having enmity for the saints as well. We love our children, all of them. But not all are Jacobs. We may love them all. In fact, according to God’s revealed will of commandment, we had better be praying for the prodigals of our number, whether God in His secret will intends to answer that prayer to the saving of their souls or not.
We are not here talking about an “Oh Absalom, my son, my son” mentality, as if our beautiful curly headed Absaloms can do no wrong, however much damage they are doing to church and to the name of our Lord. But we love with a love of God and for God, which is to say, a love that puts God first, brings strong reproof, and, as pointed out in an earlier article, may mean excommunicating one’s own flesh and blood from the kingdom and even from one’s own fellowship of life. But for us, even excommunication is, according to our confessions, a step of love, called the extremeremedy. By it we are seeking amendment of life and heart. That is our intention and desire.
For instruction and clarity about the Reformed perspective on this issue, we can do no better than to quote from the prayer found in the Form of Excommunication.
O righteous God and merciful Father, …. the bosom of Thy church is always open for those who turn away from their wickedness, we therefore humbly beseech Thee to kindle in our hearts a pious zeal, that we may labor, with good Christian admonitions and examples, to bring again this excommunicated person on the right way, together with all those who, through unbelief or dissoluteness of life, go astray.
Notice, this is a prayer for the excommunicated, whom the Form, in fact, has just described as being “cut off from the community of the church,” beseeching our God (“O… merciful Father…”) to bring such to repentance and to restore them to the bosom of the church. What is this but a love expressed for all without distinction, seeking to prevail upon God to bring the straying sinners back, some of whom will prove to be reprobate seed for all our supplications and prayers. If one has a problem with this, we suggest he readRomans 9:2, 3 and learn to make Paul’s spirit his own.
Let us be clear about this.
On the one hand, there are those whom, in answer to prayer and strong words of love and concern, God does retrieve and bring back. Saul of Tarsus comes to mind, as well as Augustine of Hippo, son of tears. Neither wayward, unbelieving son of the church appeared to be elect. In the one instance, God used a mother’s prayers and strong letters moved by love to bring a sinning son to his senses; in the other, God used words of the apostles, spoken in their love for the lost sheep of Israel, to stab the heart of a youthful, persecuting Saul and to bring him to his senses as well. Who knows who the true, chosen vessels of God’s true mercy may be (Rom. 9:22, 23), even amongst our own seed? We love some very great sinners living in some very carnal ways. We are called to! Who knows whether they may yet prove to be children of God, chosen and beloved.
And our point is, this is true not only for our own flesh and blood who are in bondage to sin at the moment, but for all the “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2) to whom we bring the Word.
What did the apostle say? “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves: if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Tim. 2:25).
At the same time there are those whom God never brings back. For all our love and continued prayers for them, which the Form for Excommunication certainly requires of us, God never brings them back.
But now the question: Why not, despite all our prayers?
For the Calvinistic man, the answer stares one in the face—because God Almighty determined not to.
For the Protestant Reformed believer (and parent) it has to do with the sovereignty of God and reprobation. “…. Esau have I hated.” And, “hath not the potter power over the clay?” We bow in submission, painful though it proves to be.
For the WMO man, however, the answer is a bit different. They may say, because in His sovereignty God has determined not to bring them back, but they are speaking of those whom He with deepest yearnings sincerely, like a parent, loves.
Consider the implications for God! As a believing parent or officebearer, love means I do all within my power to secure the saving of the prodigal’s immortal soul: instruction, embraces, discipline, prayers, rebukes, pounding at odd hours of the night on the wayward son’s door and on the door of heaven itself. This in accordance with the demands of God’s covenant. But for God, not so. In instance after instance, God’s love means He does not do all within His power to bring this or that one back (else they would be brought back!)
Conclusion? According to the free-offer scheme of things, God’s love and will to save, flowing from His divine heart, in instance after instance does not begin to compare with our love for sinners. Love, worthy of the name, means we do all within our power to restore the lost; but not so for God.
And this is posited as the Marrow of Divinity?
It’s enough to make one weep.
The WMO men can charge ‘high Calvinists’ all they want with putting the believer’s character at odds with God’s nature (our heartfelt yearnings for the salvation of many whom God intends from all eternity to destroy), but the fact is, they do not escape the same ‘problem.’ Their presentation does not actually harmonize our love for sinners and God’s love either. Their free-offer position also puts the two ‘out of sync’; and it does so in a most troubling way.
Surely, if God indeed loved our wayward, unbelieving, ‘non-elect’ children half as much as we do (or that Paul did his “kinsman after the flesh”), God without fail would change their hearts and ways. Can it be imagined that the God of covenant promise should love them as the WMO men claim, with “deepest yearnings of love,” with a love more profound even than a mother’s love, and then not take it upon Himself to bring them back? The kindest thing I can say about such a notion is that it confounds all notions of love, God’s love no less, God’s love to save.
Next time we will have a bit more to say aboutMatthew 5:43ff., considering where the WMO interpretation goes astray.
And, having posited the reality that our neighborly love is ‘broader’ than God’s love (but neither as deep nor powerful), we will set forth the scriptural evidence for this reality, and consider why, evidently, God intends it to be so.