Esteemed Professor Dekker and Audience:
I was rather pleasantly surprised when Professor Dekker called me and told me that he would like to come over. I was still more surprised when he asked me whether I would speak for his class in Calvin Seminary. And, of course, I gladly accepted that invitation; and. hereby I try to fulfill my promise to speak to you.
Prof. Dekker, as well as you all, know by this time that I do not and cannot agree with him on his main proposition, that God loves all men. And therefore,’ neither he nor you will be surprised when my speech will be a contradiction to the chief tenets of his theology. However, this does not mean that my speech today will be controversial. In that case what I have to say this morning would be mainly negative; and I would rather speak positively. And therefore, after I have briefly stated what are the main tenets of Dekker’s theology, I hope to speak on the subject, “Particular Throughout.” And under this, I expect to explain especially three items:
I. A Particular Gospel
II. A Particular Promise
III. Particular Love
First of all, then, I will briefly mention the main principles of Professor Dekker’s theology. This is rather easy because he mentions these principles in the very first paragraph of his last article in theReformed Journal, that is, the issue of March, 1964. There he writes as follows:
“THE GOSPEL IS GODS GOOD NEWS—THE GOOD NEWS that He ‘so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son’ (John 3:16) and that ‘Christ Jesus . . . gave himself a ransom for all’ (I Tim. 2:5). For whom is this news? For the world for all men. God loves all! Christ died for all! It is our joyful task to tell all men the news.”
In a note Prof. Dekker mentions three things: 1) That there is a difference between hating sin and hating the sinner; and he mentions several passages of Scripture to prove this. With his exegesis I do not agree, but I have no time to explain all the passages which Prof. Dekker mentions here; and besides, you can read my exegesis in these passages in the Standard Bearer.
2) Prof. Dekker makes the statement that “‘hate” in Scripture sometimes means “love less.” And under this proposition he also mentions Malachi 1:1-5 and Romans 9:13. Also with this I do not agree; and again I say that I have no time to elaborate on this statement.
3) He makes the statement that “hate” in the Old Testament must be seen in the light of progressive revelation. And to prove this statement he refers especially to Psalm 139:21, 22 in comparison with Matthew 5:43-48. Again I say that I do not have the time to go into this in detail.
One or two more remarks I must make before I turn to my main subject. In the first place, Prof. Dekker always makes the distinction between redemptive andredeeming love. On this I remark:
1) That to me this distinction is false. Redemptive andredeeming to me mean the same thing. How can God love with a redemptive love that does not redeem?
2) That Scripture never speaks of redemptive love, but only of redeeming love.
In the second place, in connection with his proposition that Christ died for all men, he also speaks of the efficacy of that redemption of Christ. Christ died for all men, but that redemption is efficacious only for the elect. However, in the context of his whole article, it is evident that this efficacy must be dependent upon the will of the sinner. For if efficacy is taken in the Reformed sense, namely, that the author of our salvation and of the efficacy of the death of Christ is solely and only the Holy Spirit, His work being not dependent upon the will of man, then it is impossible to maintain that Christ actually died for all men and that it was His intention to die for every individual.
But now I must turn to the main subject of my lecture. And first of all, I speak on the Particular Gospel.
What is the gospel? For this we must turn to Scripture. The Bible speaks very frequently of the gospel, either directly or indirectly. In a sense, we can say indeed that all of Scripture is the gospel. Scripture speaks of the gospel of God. Thus in Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” Similarly, in II Corinthians 11:7: “Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?” The same term is used in I Thessalonians 2:8, 9. Also there Paul calls the gospel the “gospel of God.” Again, the same phrase is used in I Peter 4:17: “. . . what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” The meaning of this is very plain, The gospel is God’s gospel, not ours. He conceived of it in His eternal counsel. He realized it in time. It is He, too, that causes the gospel to be proclaimed by men. Consequently, if we would preach the gospel, it may be regarded as of prime significance and importance that we learn from Him, that is, from His Word, what are its contents and how it ought to be proclaimed. And let us not forget that among the evil tendencies of our age that are destructive to the church of Christ and subversive of sound doctrine, I consider the fact that the gospel is corrupted in our day one of the most sinister. Men pretend to preach the gospel, but certainly not the gospel of God, namely, that God saves His people through His Word and Spirit and by irresistible grace.
As to the contents of the gospel, it is called the gospel concerning the Son of God. Thus we read in Romans 1:3, where the apostle writes that the gospel of God is the gospel “concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” And again, in verse 9 of the same chapter, we read: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son . . .” Also in Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . .” In the gospel, therefore, God declares something about His only begotten Son. And we must be anxious that by our presentation we do not distort the image of the Son presented by it. It is also calledthe gospel of Christ, according to Romans 15:19, where the apostle writes that he has “fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Also in I Corinthians 9:12, where the apostle writes that he is willing to suffer all things that he might not hinder the gospel of Christ. Cf. Galatians 1:7;II Corinthians 2:12, 9:13, 10:14. It is further described as the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. And our presentation of it may not tend to mar or bedim that glory. I Timothy 1:11. And the glory of Christ shines forth from it and must be declared by it. II Corinthians 4:4. It is also the gospel of the kingdom. Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14. And this kingdom as to its idea, origin, realization, and future must be correctly set forth whenever the gospel is preached. And such further definitions as the gospel of grace, of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace, Acts 20:24; Ephesians 1:13, 6:15, further serve to impress on our mind the fact that he that deals with the gospel has to do with something divine, very precious, exalted in origin and contents, which may easily be marred and corrupted by the handling. And considering that it is incumbent upon the church of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel, this gospel of God, of His Son, of Christ, of the kingdom, of grace, of salvation, of peace, of the glory of God and the glory of Christ, to all creatures, according to the command left her by her Lord, considering that at all times, and especially in our own, there are many would-be preachers of the gospel that present it as if it were the cheapest article on the public market, you will readily admit that the subject of the gospel is a very important subject.
Now I said that this gospel of Christ and the gospel of God is a particular gospel. By this I mean especially, first of all, that Jesus, according to the Scriptures, actually and fully saves. He is Jesus not because He offers salvation or created an opportunity of salvation, but simply because He actually accomplishes our salvation from beginning to end, and that too, through the Spirit of Christ and by His Word. In the second place, I mean that Jesus, according to the Scriptures, actually saves not all, nor is intending to save all, but only His own people, the elect, given to Him by the Father from before the foundation of the world. And, in the third place, this Jesus, according to the Scriptures, must indeed be preached, to the ingathering of the elect and to the condemnation of the powers of darkness and of the reprobate. And through the preaching of the Word He certainly saves all those whom the Father hath given Him, and no more. In that sense of the word the gospel of God and the gospel of Christ is particular.
We can also say that, briefly, the main contents of the gospel is the promise. The Word of God frequently employs two terms that are as closely related in their significance as they are in the original Greek similar in sound. They are the words epanggelia andeuanggelion, the first meaning “the promise,” and the second being the word we translate by our ‘gospel.” That they are closely related in our thoughts is evident from the rather common expression that is frequently used and is employed, too, by our confessions, that is,the promise of the gospel. It emphasizes that the gospel contains the promise. But this close relation between the promise and the gospel will become still more evident and will be seen in a somewhat different light if we turn to Scripture and discover that according to it the gospel is essentially the gospel of the promise. Directly this is expressed in Galatians 3:8 and Acts 13:32. In the former text, that in Galatians, we read: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Notice that in the last expression you have the promise. Now according to the text, when this promise was given to Abraham, the gospel was preached unto him. The gospel and the promise are therefore inseparably connected. In fact, we may say, as I said before, that the gospel is the promise. In Acts 13:32 we read: “And we declare unto you glad tidings, (or: ‘preach the gospel unto you,’ euanggelizometha), how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God bath fulfilled unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again.” It will be evident that the promise made unto the fathers and realized unto us, their children, is the same as that mentioned in Galatians 3. And it is also evident that here, as in the former passage, the apostle speaks of declaring that promise as being the preaching of the gospel, or proclaiming glad tidings, The gospel, then, is essentially, according to its idea, the gospel of the promise. And to this promise we shall have to call attention, in order to explain the gospel according to the very presentation of Scripture.
Very often the Bible speaks of the promise. Sometimes it refers to it in the plural, to express the riches of its implications. More often the singular is used, to denote its unity and identity. But always it is the same promise. It is the promise that is given to Abel, Enoch, Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For, having mentioned these saints of the old dispensation, and having spoken of their life and death or translation by faith, the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews tells us: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13. And having reviewed the life and battle by faith of many more of the great cloud of witnesses, and including them all in his view, the author of the Hebrews finally states: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” Vs. 39. It is evident from these passages that all through the old dispensation there was a promise given unto the saints which they embraced and believed, by which they lived and died, for which they were willing to be strangers and pilgrims in the earth, suffered hunger and exile and imprisonment, endured cruelty and mockeries and scourgings, were slain with the sword and sawn asunder, wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, afflicted, destitute, and tormented. And in the greatness of that faith and endurance and in the severity of their sufferings we may see reflected the beauty and riches of the promise which they possessed and saw afar off.Galatians 3 is a classic chapter on this subject of the promise. It emphasizes that the promises were made to Abraham and his seed, and that this seed of Abraham is centrally and essentially Christ. Cf. vs. 16. It is plain that Christ, the Seed, Who is the fulfillment of the promise, is at the same time also the chief recipient of the promise. It states that the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later than the promise to Abraham, could not possibly make the latter of none effect, vs. 17; and that God gave the inheritance to Abraham by promise, vs. 18. It reaches the conclusion that if we are Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s’ seed, and heirs according to the promise, vs. 39. And as to the contents of this promise, Scripture speaks of it as the promise of the Holy Spirit which is given to Christ, Acts 2:33, and to them that are of Him by faith, Galatians 3:14. It is the promise of life, I Timothy 4:8; II Timothy 1:1. It is the promise of eternal life, I John 2:25. It is the promise of Christ’s coming, II Peter 3:4. It is the promise of entering into His rest, Hebrews 4:1. It is the promise of becoming heir of the world, Romans 4:13. It is the promise of raising up a Savior from the seed of David, Acts 13:23. Hence, it also speaks of the Spirit as the Spirit of promise, Ephesians 1:13, of the children of the promise, that is, of children that are born in the line of the promise, by the power of the promise, according to the promise, and upon whom the promise rests, Romans 9:8. It points out the heirs of the promise and co-heirs of the promise. For not all men have received the promise. Hebrews 6:17, 11:9. And at the beginning of the new dispensation it announces: “For unto you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:39.
Now the question is: is this promise for all men, or is it, even as the gospel, particular? My answer is that also the promise is not for all men, but only for those whom the Father hath given to Christ. In a way we may say that this ought to be already plain from the nature and contents of the promise. The promise is by no means the same as an offer in the modem sense of that word. I know very well that also the Canons speak of an offer, an offer of salvation. But this evidently has the meaning only of presenting salvation. But the modem sense of the word offer is quite different. Usually by “offer” in de modem sense we mean something that is indeed presented to us, but that we can refuse or accept. And that is not the offer of the promise. It is true also in the latter the person who makes the offer declares his willingness to give something to the person to whom the offer is made. But for its realization the offer in the modem sense of the word is contingent upon the willingness of the second party, upon his consent to the offer. But a promise is quite different. It is a declaration, written or verbal, which binds the person that makes it to do, or forbear to do, the very thing promised. It is an engagement, regardless of any corresponding duty or obligation on the part of de person to whom the thing is promised. A promise, therefore, implies the declaration of a certain good, together with the positive assurance that this good shall be bestowed upon or performed in behalf of the person to whom the promise is made. This certainty of the promise is, as regards the promise in Scripture, emphasized by the fact that it is God Who makes the promise. God conceived of the promise. He it is that realizes the thing promised. He declares the promise. This implies, in the first place, that the promise cannot be contingent. For God is God, and His work certainly cannot be contingent upon the will of the creature. And, secondly, this signifies that the promise is as faithful and true as God is unchangeable. He will surely realize the promise. When He binds Himself to do or to bestow anything, He is bound by Himself and all His divine virtues to realize the promise unto them to whom it is made. For He cannot deny, Himself. And the idea of the promise necessarily implies that it is made to a definite party. An offer, that is contingent upon the acceptance and consent of the second party, may be general. A promise, that binds the promising party and that is certain of realization, requires a definite second party. And thus it is in Scripture. For the promise is centrally made to Christ, and through Him to the seed of Abraham, to the children of the promise, to those that are called heirs and co-heirs of the promise. And that this certainly is the idea of the promise is clearly expressed in Scripture. For we read in Hebrews 6:13, 14, 17: “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee . . . . Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath!” To the heirs of the promise the promise is certain because it is rooted in the immutable counsel of the Most High.
From this it follows necessarily that the promise, as well as the gospel, is particular. The promise of God is not for all, but for those whom the Father hath chosen from before the foundation of the world. It is not true that Christ died for all. It is not true that Christ intended to die for all. For He knows His sheep. And His sheep follow Him. And no one can pluck them out of His hand, or even out of the hand of the Father. John 10. One must choose between these two. Either the promise is for all, and Jesus purposed to save all, in which case, however, He is only a possible Savior; or Jesus came to save His people, the elect, unto eternal life, and in that case,—and in that case only,—He actually saves. Oh, I know that this is really for the reprobate and for the carnal mind an unbelievable doctrine. But it is nevertheless the truth of Scripture. I know too that men have always tried to corrupt this doctrine, in order that they may preach a Jesus for all. That, of course, is tie of all Pelagians and Arminians. I will not stop now to refute the Arminians in their interpretation of a few texts in which they pretend to find support for their presentation. They never weary of opposing the doctrine of sovereign grace by appealing to sundry, separate passages from Scripture in which the word “world,” as in John 3:16, is used, or in which the word “all” occurs. Let it be sufficient to state now that I am fully prepared to prove that in all these passages neither “world” nor “all” can possibly have the meaning of all human beings, of every man living. Rather will I utilize the rest of my lecture to emphasize that Scripture abundantly testifies that salvation is of sovereign grace and that Jesus saves the elect only and unconditionally. This is emphasized already when the angel announced the name He shall bear. “For,” says he, “he shall save his people from their sins.” And always the Scriptures set forth the name Jesus, that shall save His people, that is, the elect, from their sins. For God “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.”Eph. 1:3, 4. That is, the bestowal of the spiritual blessings in Christ takes place according to the standard of eternal election. And this election is not because of foreseen faith or goodness in the elect. For He chose us not because we were, but “in order that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Eph. 1:4. And again, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Eph. 1:5, 6. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Eph. 1:11. And again, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”Rom. 9:11-13. “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. . . . Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”Rom. 9:15, 16, 18. “For whom he did foreknow (that is, in sovereign, causal, divine knowledge of love), he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”Rom. 8:29, 30.
In contrast to the unbelieving Jews at Capernaum, Jesus refers to His own when He says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” John 6:37-39. The unbelief of the Jews that had seen so many miracles of Him is explained by the words of Esaias: “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” John 12:37-40.
Nor is it different in the Old Testament. For He saith to His people: “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.” Isaiah 44:1-3. And again, “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.” Isaiah 43:21. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” Isaiah 43:10.
In the light of the Word of God, therefore, we come to the conclusion that the gospel is glad news about the promise of our salvation, about the sure promise of God that He will surely deliver us from all sin and guilt, corruption and death, and translate us into the highest conceivable,—or rather, humanly inconceivable,—bliss of His heavenly kingdom and covenant. And the gospel declares, in the first place, that God objectively realizes all the fulness of His salvation in and through Christ Jesus, His humiliation and exaltation; and, in the second place, that God subjectively realizes and applies all the blessings of salvation through the Spirit of promise and through His Word; and, in the third place, that He realizes His work of salvation to whomsoever He wills, that is, His people, the elect, they that believe in Christ, the humble and brokenhearted, the weary and heavy laden, all they that mourn in Zion.
Whatever is true of the gospel and the promise of the gospel is, as stands to reason, certainly true of the love of God. God does not love all men. What is the love of God? In answer to this question, I would briefly remark the following:
1) First of all, as also Professor Dekker reminds us, God is love. This means that love is the most essential virtue, or attribute, of God. It means, too, that God lives in Himself the life of pure love. He does so as the Triune. God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit loves both the Father and the Son. This implies, we must remember, first of all, that God loves Himself; and as the Triune God He lives the life of the most perfect and intimate fellowship within Himself. And He loves the creature for His name’s sake.
2) Secondly, God loves Christ, His only begotten Son in the flesh. Repeatedly God announces this from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And in that high-priestly prayer which we find in John 17:23 we read: “That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” And in vs. 24.of the same high-priestly prayer we read: “. . . for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”
3) Thirdly, (God loved not all men, nor does He love all men, but His people, those whom the Father hath given to Christ. For thus we read in I John 3:1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” That this love is not for all men is evident from what follows in the same verse: “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” In I John 4:9 we read: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world; that we might live through him.” And in vs. 10 of the same chapter we read: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And that the personal pronoun in all these verses does not refer to all men is very evident from the context. For there we read of “false prophets, that are gone out into the world,” vs. 1. And in vss. 5, ff., we read: “They are of the world (the world of evil men is meant): therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” From all this it is perfectly clear, and it is also clear from all Scripture, that God does not love all men, but loves only His own people, those whom the Father hath given to Christ our Lord.
I know that Professor Dekker quotes John 3:16 in order to prove that God loves all men. God loves the world, so he says, and that world is all men. I will not take much time to contradict this explanation of John 3:16. If you consult Scripture, you will find that the word “world” has many different meanings. It means the world of evil men, as I have already suggested. It means the world of evil men in more than one passage of Scripture,—which I will not quote. It means the world as the totality of creatures in the world. But it certainly also means de totality of all God’s elect children. That this is true is also evident from more than one passage of Holy Writ. But I will only refer at this time to II Corinthians 5:18-21: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” And that in these verses the pronouns “us” and “we” are not all men is evident in itself; For we are reconciled, and God does not impute our trespassesunto us. If this refers to all men, then it stands to reason that all men are reconciled, that God does not impute trespasses unto any man,—in other words, that all menare saved. And that certainly is not Scripture.
Hence, we conclude that not only the gospel is particular, not only the promise is particular, but that also God’s love is particular. God does not love all men. To maintain that all men are the objects of the love of God is a denial of the truth of reprobation. It is universalism. It is Barthianism. Barth, as you know, maintains that Christ is the Reprobate, and that as such He died on the accursed tree. Hence, by His death He forever removed reprobation. And although Barth denies that he is a universalist, the fact remains that if there is no reprobation, and that if by the death of the cross Christ removed reprobation, all men are elect. Christ died for all men; and all men are saved. The same is the case with the doctrine that God loves all men, whether you call this universal love redemptive or redeeming.
And therefore, I stress once more that the gospel is not universal, but particular, although the preaching of the gospel is promiscuous; that the promise of the gospel is not universal, but particular; and that also the love of God is not for all men, but only for the elect. This is Scriptural. And this is the truth as it is expressed in our Reformed confessions.
I thank you.