David J. Engelsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
In an earlier article, in the March 15, 1897 issue of The Standard Bearer, I showed that the teaching (and practice) of a “well-meant offer of the Gospel” to all who hear the preaching is a lively issue in Reformed, Presbyterian, and Calvinistic circles to day, both in our country and abroad, and that adoption of this explanation of the Divine calling vitally affects fundamental doctrines of the historic Reformed Faith. In the course of their defense of the offer, some are now referring to the denial of the well-meant offer by the Protestant Reformed Churches, invariably rejecting this denial as rationalism and hyper-Calvinism. Despite this rejection of their theological position, the Protestant Reformed ought to welcome the current discussion of the offer, inasmuch as it affords them the opportunity, if it does not confront them with the duty, to give account of their understanding (and practice) of the call of the Gospel, particularly the serious call to all who come under the preaching.
God brings His elect into saving union with Jesus Christ (faith) by His calling. This calling, or call, consists of the proclamation to them, in the preaching of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ crucified, the Savior from sin (Romans 10:14, 17), and of the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ, by the sermon, in their hearts, minds, and wills, drawing them to Christ (John 6:44; Acts 16:14). So, the Canons of Dordt describes the call, in II, IV/11:
But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man . . .
This saving call is directed by God to His elect alone; the Father speaks to His adopted children. Romans 9:30teaches both that the saving call is strictly controlled by predestination, i.e., election unto eternal life, and that the humans who ‘are called are those who have been elected, and none other: “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called.” Inasmuch as the call depends upon, and carries out, predestination, God calls the elect with the purpose, or intention, that they be saved, for predestination is God’s will of purpose, from eternity, that certain men be saved (“be conformed to the image of His Son,” Rom. 9:29). Inasmuch as the deepest source of predestination is the love of God’s heart for certain humans, God’s foreknowing them with love (Rom. 9:29), the call expresses God’s love for all those whom He calls. Further, the saving call is efficacious. It infallibly accomplishes the union with Christ of every sinner to whom God extends the call; and it does so by its own almighty power. Not one sinner whom God calls, fails of salvation. This is impossible, indeed unthinkable—as impossible and unthinkable as the failure of light to come into existence, on the first day of creation, when God said, “Let there be light.”
Romans 8:30 indicates the sovereignty and efficacy of the saving call in two ways. First, it is God Who calls. Although He uses the “earthen vessel” of a preacher and although He speaks through the foolishness of preaching, it is “He (Who) also called.” The Word of this call is the living Word of God; and God’s Word “calleth those things which be not as though they were,” quickening the dead (Romans 4:17). The Word that goes out of God’s mouth. “shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). The efficacy of the call is also pointed out in that Romans 8:30 teaches that all whom God calls are justified and glorified: “. . . and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Not a single person whom God calls fails to be justified. Because justification is by faith, no one who is called fails to be united to Christ by true faith. Not one of the called will be missing in heaven.
Only this view of the call gives to God alone the glory for the salvation of sinners—the glory of the divine grace and power that “pervades the inmost recesses of the man; . . . opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, (it) quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, (it) renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, ii may bring forth the fruits of good actions” (Canons of Dordt, III, IV/11). Only this view of the call pro vides encouragement to the church as regards her one great task of preaching the Word—the encouragement that her preaching of the gospel is the very Voice of Christ and that all who are His will hear His Voice. Only this view of the call affords comfort to the man whose heartfelt response to the preaching of the Gospel is true faith in Jesus Christ—the comfort that his present enjoyment of salvation is the eternal purpose of a loving God and that his coming to the Savior is not his own work, but divine drawing with cords of love.
In order that this saving call may go out to all of God’s elect, in all lands and among all races and classes of people, God has the gospel preached to all men, indiscriminately and without distinction. In fact, the gospel does not now, and never did, come to every individual. This is God’s providential government of the course of preaching in the world, according to His counsel of predestination, which does not will the salvation of every individual. But the gospel is to be preached to any and all humans, as guilty, depraved sinners, without any distinction between hearers as unregenerated or regenerated, or as reprobate or elect. The gospel will certainly make distinction between the hearers, converting some and hardening others; and it will do so, according to God’s eternal discrimination between men in the counsel of predestination, as the Canons of Dordt teaches in I/6: “that some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree . . .” But the church may not discriminate in the preaching of the gospel, whether by attempting to limit her preaching (vain effort!) to those who are elect, or regenerated, or by tailoring her message to different kinds of persons, preaching good news to those who seem to be born again, but preaching wrath to the unconverted.
The Lord Jesus has commanded His church, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). In obedience, the church preaches to every man, to the one who responds by “believing not,” as well as to the one who responds by “believing” (Mark 16:16). She preaches “the gospel” to every man—”the most joyful tidings,” as the Canons describes the gospel, of the manifestation of the love of God in this, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (I/2, 3). The creature who believes is saved by the gospel; the creature who does not believe is damned for the enormous wickedness of despising and rejecting the gospel, as well as for all his other sins.
God’s purpose in sending the gospel into all the world, as regards the salvation of sinners (for God has other purposes in sending forth the gospel, e.g., rendering the reprobate world inexcusable, and glorifying His own Name), is the gathering of His elect church by the saving of those whom He predestinated unto eternal life. Although God has the gospel preached to all, His purpose, intention, will, and desire is the salvation, not of all without distinction, but of the elect in the audience. This is clearly implied by Romans 8:30 which limits the saving call, solely by the good-pleasure of God, to those predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son. The same is deduced from John 6:44, 45, where Jesus denies that any man is able to come to Him in faith, except he is drawn by the Father, adding that God draws by His teaching of a man, i.e., by the secret operation of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart. As Jesus Himself is preaching the Gospel of Himself as the Bread of Life come down from heaven to an audience that includes many who are rejecting His Word, and a devil among His own disciples, as Jesus well knows (John 6:70). He makes plain that His Father’s purpose with this preaching is the salvation, not of all who hear, but of some only, those described by Jesus in John 6:37, 39 as “all that the Father giveth Me,” i.e., the elect. Striking is the fact that Jesus tells His audience this, as part of His “evangelistic message!” This is the exact opposite of the message of almost all evangelism today, which assures the audience that God wants them all to be saved. Virtually every evangelistic association in the world would depose Jesus from the office of evangelist for preaching such a thing on the mission field, and for the theology that underlies such preaching. Sad to say, many Reformed and Presbyterian mission committees would do the same.
That God has the gospel preached to an entire city in order to save the elect in the city is expressly taught inActs 18:10, where the Lord encourages Missionary Paul to carry on with the preaching in Corinth, “for I have much people in this city.” Before Paul ever so much as set one foot in Corinth, in order to let loose the power of God unto salvation there, the Lord Jesus had “much people” in Corinth, by divine election; and their salvation was the Lord’s purpose in sending the apostle to that city. Quite conscious of this divine purpose with his preaching, Paul the missionary freely confesses, in II Timothy 2:10, that he “endure(s) all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” He knew himself to be the instrument of the definite, divine purpose, intention, will, and desire for the salvation of the elect in his audiences; and he made this his own motive in his labors.
Both in the context of the entire book of Romans, with regard to preaching the gospel of God’s righteousness to Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:15-17), and in the context of the ninth chapter, with regard to the crucial question whether the Word of God failed in the perishing of many Israelites (Rom. 1:1-5.), the doctrine of predestination (election and reprobation) in Romans 9:6ff. establishes, and is emphatically and pointedly intended to establish, beyond all doubt and beyond any contradiction, that God’s purpose, intention, will, and desire in the preaching of the blessed gospel is the salvation of the elect among men, and of the elect alone. The justification of guilty sinners by the preaching of the gospel of Christ crucified is grounded in gracious election. The Word of God does not fail when multitudes of Israelites perish in unbelief, for, although that Word came to them, the promise of that Word was not for them, but only for the elect among them: God has mercy upon whom He wills to have mercy. It was not the desire of God to save Esau, Pharaoh, or the Israelites who perished, although He had His Word preached to them. On the contrary, Esau’s perishing, in contempt for and disobedience of, the Word happened in full accord with God’s hatred of him Rom. 9:13). The hardening of men, whether Jews or Gentiles, by the gospel, is God’s will, or purpose, for them; indeed, it is God Who hardens them by the gospel (Rom. 9:18).
If now, I respond with the indignant objection, “Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?” I show that man runs true to form, in 1987, in objecting to the gospel of grace, for this is ever his response by nature (cf. Romans 9:19). I also show that I have heard and recognized the. teaching of the truth of grace—free, sovereign grace, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth” (Romans 9:11).
(to be continued)