How superficially they quote Calvin, who try to make him say, as do the complainants, that God sincerely seeks and wills the salvation of all men; or that Scripture teaches the contradiction that, on the one hand God wills that all men shall be saved, and on the other hand wills the salvation of the elect; is evident to all that are acquainted with the works of the reformer.
Fact is, and the fact is striking indeed, that the very same passages from Holy Writ to which the complainants appeal in support of their position that God sincerely seeks the salvation of all men, were quoted against Calvin by the opponents of his doctrine of predestination and particular grace, as they were quoted against Augustine before him.
But Calvin does not admit that these passages teach a certain general grace, nor that they contradict, or even apparently contradict the current teaching of the Bible that God saves and wills to save only the elect. On the contrary, he always seeks to explain them in the light of the doctrine of predestination, and to show that they are in harmony with this doctrine.
Defending the doctrine of sovereign reprobation, Calvin explains some of these texts which the opponents of this doctrine are wont to quote to disprove it. Writes he, Inst. Ill, 24, 15 (we translate from the Latin):
“But since a few passages of Scripture are wont to be adduced, in which God seems to deny that it is caused by his ordinance that the wicked perish, except in so far that, ignoring his loud calling, they willingly procure death unto themselves, let us by explaining these texts briefly demonstrate that they do not stand in opposition to the sentiments expressed above (i.e. concerning reprobation, H.H.). The place in Ezekiel is adduced, where it is said that God does not desire (will, nolit) the death of the wicked, but rather that he should turn and live. If one will extend this to the whole human race, what may be the reason why he does not stir up to repentance many whose minds are more flexible to obedience than of those who harden themselves more and more against his repeated invitations? According to Christ’s own testimony, the preaching of the gospel and the miracles would have produced more fruit with the Ninevites and Sodomites than in Judea. How come, then, if God wills all to be saved, that he does not open the door of repentance to those wretched ones that would be more ready to receive his grace? From this we see that this place is violently distorted, if the will of God of which the prophet speaks is presented as opposed to his eternal counsel by which he distinguished the elect from the reprobate. Now, if one asks, what is the true meaning of the prophet, the answer is that he only would give to those that repent the hope of forgiveness. And this is the brief content, that it must not be doubted that God is ready to forgive as soon as the sinner is converted. Hence, he does not wish his death in as far as he does want his repentance. Experience, however, teaches that he so wills the repentance of those whom he calls to him, that he does not touch the hearts of all. Nevertheless, it must not be said that he deals falsely, for even though the external voice only renders inexcusable those that hear it, it is nevertheless truly considered a testimony of the grace of God, whereby men are reconciled to him. Let us, therefore, hold to the true sense of the prophet, that God does not desire the death of the sinner: that the godly may trust that as soon as they have been touched with conversion, pardon is prepared for them with God, and that the wicked may understand that they double their iniquity because they do not respond to so great a clemency and readiness of God. Penitence therefore always meets with the mercy of God: but who they are upon whom penitence is bestowed is clearly set forth by all the prophets and apostles, and even by Ezekiel himself.”
Now, the complainants are bound to accuse Calvin of rationalism here. If they will but be consistent, and treat Calvin as they do Dr. Clark, they will accuse the reformer of explaining“in favor of reprobation.” For it is precisely his avowed purpose in the above paragraph so to explain this passage that it does not contradict the truth concerning the decree of reprobation. According to Calvin, it does not contradict or stand opposed to reprobation at all (nihil. . . .adversari). And it is very evident that his explanation of the text means briefly, that God does not will the death of the elect, since he does not desire the death of the sinner in the same sense as he does will his conversion, and since he bestows conversion only on the elect,
Two things should be evident: 1. Calvin has no sympathy with the basic position of the complainants: that there are contradictions in Scripture which no one should attempt to explain; and 2. he does explain those passages of Scripture that appear to speak of a willingness on the part of God to save all men in such a way as to bring them in harmony with his eternal counsel of predestination.
If the complainants had shown the same regard for Dr. Clark as they like to show to Calvin, they would never have written their complaint.
Anyone that is acquainted with Calvin’s Institutes knows that the passage we quoted is no isolated example of the reformer’s method. In III, 24, 16 he applies the same method of exegesis to. We must note, says he, that the apostle in this passage combines two things: that God wills all men to be saved, and that he would have them all come to knowledge of the truth. But, he asks, if you insist that it be firmly decreed in God’s counsel that all shall receive the doctrine of salvation, how can Moses address the children of Israel as follows: “For what nation is there so glorious that God approaches to it as to thee?” (Quae gens est tarn inclyta, ut ad earn appropinquet Deus sicut ad te?) “How has it come to pass,” thus he continues, “that God has deprived many peoples of the light of the gospel, which others enjoy?” It is evident, then, that God does not want all men to come to the knowledge of the truth, and that it follows that he does not will all men to be saved. And then he continues to explain the text as having reference to different ranks and classes of men.
Pure rationalism, the complainants would call this, if it were not Calvin that wrote it.
Even the text from, on which the complainants quote Calvin from another source, is explained in a similar way in the Institutes (III, 24, 17). He admits that the opponents seem to have more reason on their side when they quote this text to prove that God wills all men to be saved. But he nevertheless “unties this knot at once” by calling attention to the second part of the text stating that God wills that all men should come to repentance. For, he argues, by this will of God to receive unto repentance none other can be understood than that which is taught everywhere in Scripture (quia voluntas recipiendi ad poententiam non alia intelligi potest nisi quae passim traditur). And then he argues that conversion is in the hand of God, and it is proper to ask him whether he will convert all men. But since it is evident that he does not will to convert all men, it is equally evident that he does not will that all men be saved, and that the text in only teaches that God wills that those be saved whom he brings to repentance.
That it is will have to be the judgment of the complainants.
But all sound, Reformed theologians and exegetes have always insisted that Scripture must be explained in its own light, and that difficult passages must be explained in harmony with the current teaching of the Bible.
The position of the complainants is decidedly not Calvinistic. They are trying to oust Galvin, just as their Christian Reformed brethren did in 1924.
And why did they select one passage from Calvin in which he explains II Pet. 3:9 in a way that might seem to favor their position somewhat? Why did they not also quote from the Institutes? Or from Calvin’s Calvinism?
Or why did they not quote what Dr. A. Kuyper Sr. has to say on the same text? Surely, him too they honor as a Calvinist. And they cannot have been ignorant of the explanation he offers of the same passage in Peter. In his “Dat de genade particulier is,” he argues that the text incannot possibly mean that God desires the salvation of all men, for the simple reason that in that case it would also teach that Christ would never come and that the salvation for which the people of God long would be postponed indefinitely. Hence, he concludes, the text must mean that God is longsuffering over His people, not willing that any of them should be lost, but that all should come to repentance. But why, if it was the purpose of the complainants to give a fair picture of the opinion of Reformed theologians, did they not also quote what Dr. Kuyper has to say on this passage from Second Peter?
To say the least, they now leave the impression of having done very superficial work, unworthy of theologians.
And this, too, requires an explanation: why do they always quote texts, and show a special preference for them, which opponents of the doctrine of the truth of sovereign grace have always used in the same way and for the same purpose as they, the complainants, do?
Ex ungue leonem!