Friday, December 31, 2010

What of the Canons of Dordt, Articles 8 and 9? (50)

Dear Forum members,

One other quotation from the Reformed Confessions was given as proof for the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. It is found in Articles 8 and 9 of the third head of doctrine in the Canons of Dordt. I quote it here in full.

“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who are called should come to Him and believe on Him.

“It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves, some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life, others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower ( Matt. 13) ”.

Although the Synod of the CRC in 1924 gave no explanation of this article and made no effort to show how this article actually proved the gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel, their line of reasoning was most probably this: Because the call of God that comes in the gospel to all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ is “unfeigned,” that is, is sincere and expresses what is pleasing to God, therefore God expresses in the gospel his desire to save all men. This interpretation is an astounding jump in logic, but I cannot explain in any other way why this article was quoted in support of the offer.

Let us consider the article for a few moments.

It would be a dreadful slander of God to consider the opposite of what the article teaches. What would the Synod of Dordt have been saying about God if this article were not true. It would be saying that God does not really mean what he says when he commands men to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. Really, behind this command lies God’s secret hope that man will not take the command seriously, but realizes that it is only a joke. It would mean that God is deceiving man when he commands them to repent and believe.

Further, if the command of the gospel to repent were not very seriously meant by God, God’s punishment of the wicked who reject the gospel would be grievously unjust. If I would order my son to cut the lawn, but would secretly hope he did not do it, and then, upon his failure to obey, give him a hard spanking, I would become a hypocrite.

God is in dead earnest when he comes to men with the command to repent. He is God; he has the right to command men to do as they were created to do. He has the right to punish them when they refuse. In fact, he would be less than God if he did not punish them for their opposition to him. This is clearly what the article is saying.

Secondly, the article also implies a distinction between what God has eternally determined in his counsel and what he commands men to do. God’s eternal counsel, including the decree of eternal predestination, is his sovereign will and unchangeable purpose. The article is not speaking of that counsel of God, but of what is “pleasing to him, namely that those who are called should come to him.” I have repeatedly demonstrated that repentance from sin is pleasing to God because God created man capable of doing good and serving God with the whole of his being; and God refuses to alter his demands upon man because of what man himself did when he sinned. The distinction is clear and one does wrong when one confuses the issue.

Thirdly, God’s counsel in reprobation is indeed to manifest his righteous justice in damning sinners to hell, but let it never be forgotten that God executes his counsel in such a way that man remains responsible for his sin. God does not make man sin; man sins willingly and willfully. This is clearly the teaching of Article 9, which I quoted above.

If one should inquire into how it is possible for God to be sovereign also over the sin of man and still hold man accountable for his sin, let it be clearly understood that one is shifting the discussion to an entirely different question; indeed a question over which much ink has been spilled and with which theologians have struggled for many centuries. Already the old church father, Augustine, who taught double predestination, but never denied man’s accountability, dealt with the problem.

Scripture teaches both and finds no conflict between them: God is sovereign; man is accountable. This is the firm and unwavering conviction of the church. And the teaching of Scripture.

Finally, it is true that Canons 3/4.9 uses the word “offer.” But as I and others have repeatedly pointed out, there is no problem with the word “offer” as long as it is taken in the sense in which the fathers of Dordt took it, along with all theologians in the 17th century, who used Latin in their theological works. The Latin offere means simply “to present” Christ as publicly proclaimed and presented as the one in whom alone can be found salvation. When men are called to repent of their sin in obedience to the command of God, they are also called to believe in Christ presented in the gospel. When men refuse to do this, their refusal is rooted in their sin. For such disobedience they are justly punished.

* * * *

We now turn to the passages in Scripture used to support the error of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. I consider this to be the most important part of our investigation of this doctrine. After all, Scripture is the only and final authority for all our faith and all our life. If the offer is taught in Scripture, we must teach it regardless of any other consideration. But if it is not taught in Scripture, we not only err when we teach it, but we deceive the people of God.

In our considerations of various texts in Scripture that are appealed to in support of the offer we find passages quoted, which are purported to teach that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is universal; that is, that he died on the cross for all men. Such pages as John 3:16 and I John 2:2 are referred to. It is not my intention to enter into the question of the extent of the atonement. It is true that to support a well-meant and gracious gospel offer, it is necessary to expand the extent of the atonement to include all men, for salvation must be available if it is offered to all, and it can be available for all only if Christ died for all. But to enter into a defense of the extent of the atonement would involve repetition of what I have said in early installments.

Two passages especially are favorites in defense of the gospel offer. I refer to I Timothy 2:4, which reads: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth;” and I Timothy 4:10: “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.”

It is also true that there are those who in the interests of maintaining a particular atonement and still teaching the offer, speak of gifts merited on the cross for all men that are not a part of salvation: a sort of an overflow of blessings from the cross that engulfs all men.

Or, with a slightly different emphasis, some maintain that Christ died for all men, but only in a way sufficient to save all, intended to save all, but not efficacious to save all. I have dealt with this in an earlier installment, and need not repeat here what I said there.

The fact is that no Scriptural evidence can be adduced for either position. The argument defending a broader atonement than an atonement of our Savior that is only for the elect is not a deduction from Scripture, but a bold and unwarranted attempt to support the theory of an offer by supplying it with a judicial ground in the cross of Jesus Christ. One looks for a text to support a heresy, and as Luther himself said, Any heresy in the world can be supported by some sort of text, if one wants to do so. The Dutch expression is, Elk ketter heft z’n letter. The translation is: “Every heretic has his text.”

But my task is not finished until the texts referred to are explained. And that I intend to do in the next installment, DV.

With warm regards,


Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Command to Repent and Believe (49)

Dear Forum members,

We were considering the confessional proof offered by the defenders of a gracious and well-meant gospel offer; more particularly, we were considering the proof offered in Canons 2.5, which we quoted last time.

The article establishes the truth that the gospel proclaims that all who believe in Christ will be saved: “. . . whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” I pointed out earlier that this language does not give the opportunity to claim that faith is a condition to salvation. The language used is, first of all, Biblical (John 3:16); second, the language emphasizes that faith is that gift of God by which the elect lays hold on Christ crucified and appropriates him for his own; and third, is part and parcel of the other part of the gospel: “the command to repent and believe.”

It is that command to repent and believe that is often interpreted as a gracious offer. But anyone can see the difference between the two. One who is offered something has it within his power to accept it or reject it. One who is commanded to do something, on the other hand, must do what he is commanded to do, or suffer the consequences of disobedience. That is indeed a very great difference.

To repent and believe in Christ is commanded of all in the gospel. Man is placed by the gospel under solemn obligation to repent of his sin and believe in Christ.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, man is commanded to repent of his sin because God maintains his righteous demands that were placed upon man in Paradise. God must do this to remain a holy God. The fact that man no longer obeys God and, indeed, is unable to do it, makes no difference at all. Man’s inability is brought upon him by his own refusal to obey God. God is not to be blamed for man’s total depravity; man despised God’s command and chose rather the evil promises of Satan.

To believe in Christ is also man’s obligation. God has provided the way of escape from sin and death; God has sent Christ into the world as the only one under heaven by whom man can be saved. Surely, God did not need to provide salvation, but he did. And now God commands men to believe in Christ as the only way he can be saved. But man will not, for he hates God and Christ and would rather go to hell than obey God and believe in Christ. His hatred of God’s command is manifested in his crucifixion of Christ. It is a terrible depravity, which man brought upon himself. And it is a terrible sin to refuse to obey God’s command to believe in the one through whom salvation is possible.

But the objector will say: Man can do nothing else but repudiate Christ. True. But man’s inability is a terrible state that man brought upon himself; and he alone is to be blamed for it.

But the objector will say: But God does injustice to man for demanding of him that which he cannot do. Lord’s Day 4, 9 answers that question: “God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.”

It is interesting to note, rather parenthetically, that both Arminians and Antinomians agree that God does not demand of man that which he cannot perform. The Arminian says, “Man can perform obedience to God’s command, because man has a free will. The Antinomian agrees that man cannot obey God, but dodges the issue by claiming that God does not demand good works; the imputed righteousness of Christ is sufficient. This same antinomian position is often the position of the Hyper-Calvinist as well.

Again, the objector will say that man has to have some sort of ability to choose to do good or evil before he can be punished for his failure to the good can be held against him. This is the Arminians' argument for free will. The Arminian claims that only a man with free will can really be punished for doing wrong. The confessional answer is the same: Yes, but God made him capable of doing the good; capable of choosing between good and evil; and it is his own fault that he lost the ability to pay the debt that he owes to God.

God’s insistence that man repent of sin and believe in Christ is rooted in his own holiness. God would deny himself if he was to listen to the Arminians. The Arminians try to tell God that he would show an abundance of mercy and love if he would simply overlook man’s terrible sin, forget man did such dastardly things, excuse man for a moment’s recklessness, and so act as if sin had never been committed.

God’s insistence that men obey him is not another will in God that is contradictory to his decretive will to save only some. I am aware of the language that is often used in this respect: the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s command, or something similar. But if such terminology leads to the conclusion that there are two wills in God, the terminology ought not to be used. Even more so, if the terminology leads to the notion that the will of God’s command is a gracious and loving offer, the terminology is yet more deceptive.

It seems to me to be better to speak of the holy demands of God’s law that he maintains throughout all history, regardless of the moral state of man. God’s will, on the other hand, is His ultimate determination to save from the sin into which they plunged themselves and for which they are responsible, those whom he has chosen eternally in Christ and to punish those whom he has determined to damn for their sins as manifestations of of his holiness and justice.
* * * *
The gospel accomplishes that purpose. God, through Christ and by means of the church, proclaims that all those who believe in Christ, set forth in the gospel, will be saved, and those who reject the gospel and remain in their sins will be damned. That gospel is heard wherever the gospel is preached, by elect and reprobate alike. It is heard by all to whom the gospel is sent according to God’s good pleasure.

Accompanying that gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ who works faith in the hearts of the elect so that, when they hear the gospel of Christ crucified and salvation in him, along with the command to repent of their sins and believe in Christ, they turn from their wicked ways and flee with their sins to the cross. But when the wicked hear Christ crucified, they do just as the wicked Jews of Jesus’ day and crucify him again in mockery and scorn.

God reveals in the righteous who come to Christ the riches of his grace, mercy and love; God reveals in the wicked his just judgment and holy hatred of sin. The wicked have not only walked in the ways of evil; they have shown how truly evil they are in their crucifying of Christ. Just as in Jesus’ day, the gospel of the cross rips away any mask of piety and religion the wicked might have to cover their terrible sin, and their wickedness is revealed for what it truly is: a hatred of God and of his Christ.

God’s purpose is sovereignly accomplished and God’s perfections are revealed and shown to be the only perfection there is.

With warm regards,
Prof. H. Hanko

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is the "free offer of the gospel" taught in the Canons of Dordt? (48)

Dear forum members,

In the one installment before the last I put to rest the false notion that our knowledge of God, which is apparently contradictory, is in God’s mind perfectly harmonious. Such an idea as this does two serious and destructive things to our knowledge of God. First, it results in theological agnosticism; that is, we cannot really know who and what God is and what is the nature of his mighty works. Second, we cannot know him with that saving knowledge of which Jesus speaks in his high-priestly prayer: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

In this installment, we turn to a consideration of the proof for a gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel that comes to all men to express God’s universal love and divine intention to save all who hear the gospel. It is my intention to treat first the confessional proof offered.

The Christian Reformed Church (CRC), which officially adopted the three points of common grace and made it binding on all members of the church, appealed especially to two articles in the Reformed confessions. Only two quotes from the confessions were given. The first is Canons 2.5, which reads: “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel”

It is not clear how the CRC found even the suggestion of a gracious and well-meant gospel offer in this article. There is no mention of any kind of a grace that comes to all who hear the gospel; even though such a “common grace” is a part of the offer. It is possible that the CRC meant by appeal to this article that the word “promise” actually means “offer,” but it is hard to imagine that intelligent men would confuse “promise” with “offer.” The two are very different. It is more likely that the CRC found in the word “command” the idea of an offer. The article reads: “This promise (that God will save believers, HH) together with the command to repent and believe. . . ,” means that “This promise, together with the offer of salvation that man repent and believe . . . ,” was in the minds of those who established the offer as confessional doctrine. This interpretation would be supported by the fact that the article says: [The promise and command of the gospel] “ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons . . . .” In other words, that the command and promise of the gospel ought to be proclaimed to all the world means that the gospel is an offer to all men stating most emphatically that God loves them all and desires their salvation.

But the teaching of this article is clear and unambiguous. The preceding article speaks of the perfect sacrifice for sin by the eternal Son of God who came into our flesh to atone for sin. This article presupposes therefore, that Christ’s atonement is the content of the gospel. And Christ’s atonement is not made for everyone, but as Article 8 states emphatically: “This was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect. . . , that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem . . . all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father. . .”

That gospel of Christ crucified contains this promise: “That whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life” . The gospel proclaims that believers, and only believers in Christ crucified will be saved.

It has been argued that the wording of the promise makes believing or faith a condition to salvation. That is, it has been argued that the gospel is proclaimed requiring faith as a condition of its fulfillment. Thus, man by his own power believes. When he believes he is saved. Thus faith is the condition man must fulfill in order to be saved.

But this is not the intent of the Canons. Article 8, part of which we quoted above, also includes the following statement: “. . . It was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem . . . all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith . . .” (Ibid). This is in harmony with what the Canons state in 1.6: “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree . . .”

The promise of the gospel is that God saves those who believe in Christ; and faith, the power by which men believe and are saved, is given through the power of the cross of Christ.

One may wonder why the article phrases the promise in the way that it does. The reason is that the article, as Scripture does, looks at the whole salvation of Christ as the conscious experience of the elect believer. Faith is brought to consciousness by the gospel. That faith lays hold on Christ set forth by the gospel, and lay hold on him only. Clinging to Christ alone the believer has salvation consciously as his own possession.

At the same time, the gospel also contains “the command to repent and believe” I hope to discuss this more in detail a bit later. Now, I only call attention to the fact that the command of God to man to repent and believe is a part of the gospel, accompanies the promise of the gospel, and is crucial for the preaching of the gospel. The command, as far as its contents are concerned, is serious. God means what he says. When he commands men to repent, he means that it is his will that men repent. Further, to repent of sin means also to believe. The act of believing that God commands is faith in Christ. That is, not simply a historical faith, which confesses that Christ is indeed the one who accomplished salvation, but faith that personally lays hold on Christ for one’s self as being God’s only way of salvation

It is at this point that the defenders of a gracious offer of the gospel find their justification for teaching that God wants all men to be saved. And it is here that these same defenders of common grace find ground for two wills in God: one will to save only the elect, and another will that seriously desires of all men that they forsake sin and believe in Christ.

Some will say, If God’s will and purpose is to save only the elect (Art. 8) and it is also God’s will that all men repent of sin and believe in Christ, is it not true that God has two wills that contradict each other?

I do not want to enter into this question in detail at this point. It is not a new question, for Calvin already discussed it in his Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God. There will be ample opportunity to discuss the question when we come to deal with various passages of Scripture that are appealed to as proof of the gracious, well-meant gospel offer. It is sufficient here to point out that God’s command to repent and believe is not rooted in, nor does it imply, God’s desire to save all men. The command to repent and believe rests in man’s original creation, in which man was created able to keep God’s law perfectly. That he fell from this lofty position into sin is not God’s fault, but man’s own sin. God, however, maintains his just demands on man. God cannot and will not simply overlook sin and excuse man for his failure to obey God. The gospel confronts man with the horror of his sin and insists that man forsake it
The figure has been correctly used of a man who contracts with a builder to build him a house. At the builder’s request, the cost of the house is given before building begins. But the builder takes that money and goes with his wife on a round-the-world cruise. Upon his return, the man who advanced the builder the money insists that now the builder build his house. The builder cannot successfully hide behind his inability to buy the materials needed. He was given the means to build the house; he failed, but he remains responsible for building that house. His inability does not free him from his responsibility.

Finally, the article (2.5) teaches that the promise of the gospel along with the command to repent of sin and believe in Christ must be preached throughout the world. Even here a limitation is included: “. . . ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”
This promiscuous proclamation of the gospel is necessary, first, because God gathers a church from all the nations of the earth; and, second, because in the judgment day the crucial question, addressed to all nations, will be: “What did you do with Christ?” On the basis of the answer to this question they will be judged.

With warmest greetings,
Prof Hanko

Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Charges Against Deniers of a "Free Offer" (47)

Dear Forum members,

There are two more charges that are brought against those who deny that a gracious offer of the gospel is taught in either the Scriptures or the confessions.

The first charge is that those who deny the gospel offer cannot perform evangelism. This is a strange charge, but it is frequently made. The assumption is that a church cannot do evangelistic work unless the church believes that God gives all who hear the gospel grace in their hearts to accept or reject Christ, that he loves all men and that this universal love is possible because Christ died for all men. Basically, the charge is that a Calvinist cannot do evangelistic work, but one must be Arminian in his theology to do true evangelism.

We should put it the other way around: The fact is that no Arminian is able to do evangelistic work; only a Calvinist is able to keep the command of Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

It has never been clear to me why this charge is made against those who deny a gracious and well-meant offer. Why does one have to tell all men that God loves them if evangelism is to be effective? The only answer I can think of is that the preacher must preach a gospel that tries to persuade a man to accept Christ, something which man has the power to do. And that is Arminianism.

That is not the description of the preaching of the gospel that Scripture gives us. Paul writes in Romans 1: 16 that the gospel is “the power of God” unto salvation. The idea is surely that God works through the gospel and is pleased to use the gospel to save those who were ordained unto eternal life. But God saves, not man. The power of the gospel is in God’s work, not the work of man. This is Paul’s contention in I Corinthians 2:5, II Corinthians 10:3, 4. No wooing is necessary; no persuasion is required. God saves irresistibly by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect. All that the preacher is called to do is proclaim the whole counsel of God by preaching Christ crucified.

The Canons of Dordrecht also oppose such nonsense. Instead of the word “persuading,” which I used above, the Canons uses the word “advising” to describe the Arminian error. The article is found in the Rejection of Errors 3/4, 7, where the Canons rejects the error of those who teach “that the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it) that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man’s nature and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods. But this is altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture which, besides this, teaches yet another and far more powerful and divine manner of the Holy Spirit’s working in the conversion of man, as in Ezekiel: a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). ” (__________, The Confessions and the Church Order to the Protestant Reformed Churches [Protestant Reformed Churches, 2005] 172)

But there is more. The Scriptures also teach that the preaching of the gospel has a two-fold power: the power to save, but also the power to harden. Already in the Old Testament, the prophet was called to utter these words: For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it 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” (Is. 55:10,11). This figure is picked up in the New Testament in Hebrews 6, in which passage the author is explaining the reason for the unforgivable sin. He writes: “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” (Heb. 6:7-8,).

Paul makes this two-fold effect of the gospel explicit when he writes: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (II Cor. 2:14-17).

It is impossible to fit into that verse anything that even resembles the gracious and well-meant gospel offer.

One more charge must be considered: I speak of the charge that all who deny the gracious and well-meant offer are called “Hyper-Calvinists.” This is rather silly, because never so far as I know has a reason been given why those who deny the heresy of the well-meant gospel offer are Hyper-Calvinists. But the charge sticks and many in America and overseas, especially in the British Isles, have picked up the term.

In a way, it is a lazy man’s method of argumentation. To find an opprobrious name and to label someone with it is a far easier way to refute someone’s position than to show carefully and fully why one is wrong in what he does or teaches. To label one a Hyper-Calvinist who shows carefully that the gracious and well-meant gospel offer is contrary to Scripture seems to relieve one of the more difficult task of showing from Scripture that Scripture indeed teaches a grace of God towards all men in the preaching of the gospel.

But as is true of all labels and opprobrious names, this one too is spurious. The church is plagued by Hyper-Calvinists. I myself have debated in correspondence with and lost the friendship of those who are adamant in their Hyper-Calvinistic position. Hyper-Calvinists teach that the gospel, especially the command of the gospel to repent from sin and believe in Christ, is for the elect only. They deny, therefore, the words of Jesus, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). They do not deal honestly with such passages as Proverbs 8:1-6: “Doth not wisdom cry? And understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things . . .”

There are many other passages of a similar kind. One can find a detailed discussion of this subject in David Engelsma’s book, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel.

It is Biblical and Reformed to teach that the gospel is and must be promiscuously proclaimed. Christ’s command is to go into all the world and teach all nations (Matt. 28:19). That preaching of the gospel must include the promise of God to save all those who believe, and the command to all who hear the gospel to repent of their sins and believe in Christ.

There is a world of difference between an offer and a command. God does not offer salvation, give grace to a depraved sinner that he may make a choice, and then await the man’s decision. He commands to man to repent of sin and believe in Christ. It is an obligation laid on everyone to turn from one’s evil way and serve God. It is so much an obligation that to disobey warrants punishment in hell. Disobedience to God’s command is deadly.

The obligation to repent of sin rests upon man in spite of his total depravity. The proponents of common grace are sufficiently intelligent to see that a totally depraved man cannot obey the command, nor can he accept the offer of salvation. A general grace has to be introduced; a grace that makes it possible for a totally depraved man to accept or reject what is proclaimed in the gospel and offered to him.

Underneath lies the problem: How can God demand of a man that which he is incapable of doing? How can God require man to repent of sin when he is totally depraved and incapable of obeying God’s command? How can he believe in Christ when faith is a gift of God and God gives faith only to those whom he has elected?

The Hyper-Calvinist says: “God doesn’t do this. He does not demand of man that which he cannot do” The gracious-offer man says: “God would be unjust in demanding of man that which he is incapable of doing. Therefore, God really wants him to be saved, but permits the choice to be man’s choice, and he gives grace so that his total depravity is mitigated and he can make the choice.” The Reformed man says, without hesitation, “Yes, God demands of man that which He cannot do. That is Biblical and Confessional teaching. “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law that which he cannot perform? Not at all, for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts” (________, Confessions, 86 Heidelberg Catechism q & a 9).

Two points are made here. The first is that the fall of Adam is our responsibility, for Adam sinned as our federal head. We turned our backs on God and his command – in Adam. The second is that God does not simply forget his just demands of man. He cannot do that and remain just – any more than a bank may excuse a mortgage holder from making his payments on the mortgage. The house-owner’s own profligacy does not excuse him from his monthly payments.

And so the command continues to come to man to repent of his sin, forsake his evil way and live in obedience to God.

To believe in Christ is for sinful man the way to escape his depravity and be saved from his sin. Of course, man cannot believe any more than he can repent. Repentance brings him necessarily to Christ and faith in Christ. Hence the command is to repent and to believe in Christ. Both are part of one command.

But Hyper-Calvinists we are not.

With warmest regards,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Further reflection on the "knowledge of God." - (46)

Dear Forum members,

Before we go on in our discussion of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer, I want to go back briefly to Clark’s distinction between knowledge as it is in God and knowledge as we receive it. R. Scott Clark calls this the difference between theologia archetypa and theologia ectypa, a distinction that, in Scott’s opinion, solves the apparent contradiction between knowledge as it is in God (God’s decree to save only his people) and knowledge of God that we possess (God’s desire to save all men).

The Latin terms may give a sense of learning to the argument and persuade others by some superior language found only in the Latin, but the fact is that the English words mean something quite different. According to my trusty Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, confirmed by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the English word archetype means “original” and the English word ectype means “copy.”

Now, I do not think that it would be proper to call our knowledge of God a “copy” of God’s knowledge of Himself. Our knowledge of God is the knowledge of fellowship and friendship. It is like the knowledge to learn about my knowledge I have of my wife; and Scripture confirms that I have God’s full consent to use the analogy of marriage. Nor must we forget this when we talk of the knowledge of God. Scripture makes it very clear that our knowledge of God is of such a kind that the same word can be used for it as is used for Adam and Eve, when Adam “Knew” his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son (Gen. 4:1).

The wicked have a certain knowledge of God as well, acquired through God’s speech in creation (Rom. 1:18ff.) But this knowledge is very limited, although accurate. They know, Paul says, that God is God and that he alone must be served. This is not a knowledge different from what God has in himself and of himself; if it were, the wicked would have an excellent excuse for not serving him (Rom. 1:20). They will not be able to say in the judgment: “We had only ectypal knowledge of thee and did not know that thou art the only God.”

But the knowledge that the believer has is saving knowledge, knowledge of covenant fellowship. With God, knowledge that sets free, knowledge that saves. But it is impossible to imagine that such knowledge could be intimate and covenantal if it involved contradictions. If I may carry the analogy of the knowledge of my wife into the context of the well-meant gospel offer, the intimate knowledge of our marriage would be impossible. She told me that she loved me and wanted to be married to me and to live with me in the intimacy of marriage. But she told me also that, in some sort of different way, which I could not comprehend, she loved other men as well and desired to be married to them. This sort of thing would make the knowledge of the intimacy of marriage impossible – even if she said to me, (as some defenders of the well-meant gospel offer say): “My love for other men is different from my love for you. It is not contradictory, as you seem to think, but you are not capable of understanding why it is not contradictory.” I assure you, that would do little to relieve my concern – if “concern” is a strong enough word.

But, supposing that we use the ideas of “original” and “copy” for a moment. If God’s knowledge of Himself is original (as it is) and our knowledge of God is a copy, the copy is like the original in many respects or it is not a copy. If the copy says that God loves his people as elect, but God loves all men in his desire to save them, then the original has to say that too, or the copy is no more a copy. In other words, if the copy says things not found in the original, it is not a copy.

To say that the copy has problems and contradictions in it that the original does not have is to say that we do not have a copy at all, and that we cannot tell what the original says. We are incapable of saying anything about the original. We cannot say anything about God from the knowledge we have in Scripture. We are theological agnostics; and the knowledge of God as our God is forever impossible – even in heaven. Even in heaven, I say, for our knowledge of God that we shall have in heaven is the same as it is now in all respects. We know God always and only through Christ. The difference is only that now we know Christ through a mirror darkly (I Cor. 12:13), but presently we shall know him face to face.

But again our knowledge that we have through a mirror darkly is not and cannot be contradictory and therefore inaccurate. If I am shaving in front of the mirror and see my wife behind me, I do not expect that by turning around and seeing who is behind me, it will be another person than my wife. When we turn around in heaven, throw away the mirror, and see Christ face to face, and God in Christ, we will not say (thank God) I had an entirely wrong knowledge of you while I was in the world. I thought you said in the mirror, “I love not only you, but all men.” And the answer would come to us in heaven, “Your knowledge of me while you were on earth was only theologia ectypa and not theologia archetypa. We ought to be very thankful that that is not the case. Can you imagine a martyr willing to die for his knowledge of Christ when it is only theologia ectypa? I would not be prepared to do that. I will gladly and willingly die for one who is my Friend, who has cared for me, saved me from the wreck I made of my own life, and will take me into his own covenant life. I cannot imagine myself dying for a god of whom I know nothing, much less whether he truly loves me, when he loves everybody, even those who kill me and who go to hell.

No, the distinction will do nothing to solve the problem, but it will only rob us of the knowledge of our God through Jesus Christ, a knowledge that is more than life to us.

* * * *

I called attention to the fact in an earlier installment that the well-meant gospel offer was inevitably Arminian. We must give some attention to this, although the charge is so obvious that it does not require much discussion.

We must bear in mind that the well-meant gospel offer insists that it is God’s desire to save all men and that he provides the grace necessary for man to make a decision for or against the gospel. This is Arminian on the very surface of it. Nothing can alter that conclusion and no arguments can gainsay this inevitable charge.

God either desires the salvation of all men or he does not. One of the two has to be true. If he does not, the well-meant gospel offer is false; if he does, one is forced to explain why not all are saved. a god that is unable to accomplish what he desires is a god who leaves the final decision of salvation to the sinner. If that is not true, then all knowledge of God is impossible, and we are left bereft of our assurance of salvation.

I am aware of the attempts that have been made to escape this difficulty, but we have examined these attempts, chiefly the one I discussed in the first part of this installment and in the installment previous to this one, and have found it, after being weighed in the balances, to be wanting.

That the well-meant offer of the gospel leads to Arminianism is a fact of Scripture. There are pretended Calvinists who in their defense of the well-meant offer, have denied reprobation. It is interesting to ask a defender of the offer whether he believes in reprobation, and his answer will be either, “Yes, but we have nothing to do with it, for it belongs to the hidden things of God,” or, “No, I do not believe in sovereign reprobation, but only such reprobation as God’s rejection and punishment of those who reject the gospel.

More and more, defenders of the well-meant offer argue for a universal atonement, at least in some sense of the word. But the fact is simply this: Christ died for the elect, or Christ died for everyone. If God makes salvation available to everyone, Christ died for everyone. No theological squirming can avoid this choice.

The well-meant offer is accompanied by preparatory grace. As I pointed out in an earlier installment, such preparationism, already among the Puritans, put emphasis on man’s contribution to salvation and thrust into man’s hands some of the responsibility for his ultimate salvation. But as one farmer said to Henry De Cock, minister of the Reformed Church in Ulrum, the Netherlands, and leader of the Separation of 1834, “Reverend, if I had to contribute one sigh to my salvation, I would be forever lost.” “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” Eph. 2:8, 9).

A striking example of the Arminianism of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer is a decision of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church last summer. An appeal was brought to Synod, which appealed a decision of a classis. This classical decision exonerated a prominent minister in the CRC who taught a universal atonement of Christ, a universal love of God, and a free-will in man, upon the choice of which depended a man’s salvation. The synod also exonerated him without any discussion. (You can find an analysis of the decision in the October 1 issue of the Standard Bearer. The Standard Bearer can be found on the Protestant Reformed website.)

All five points of Calvinism are lost. Man is no longer totally depraved; he is the object of God’s grace. Grace is resistible because the grace of preparationism can be used to reject the gospel; salvation is never certain, because final salvation depends on the faithfulness of the one who has, by his power, accepted the offer of the gospel.

There is no amount of semantic or theological legerdemain that can extricate someone from this morass.

With warm greetings in the Lord,

Prof Hanko

Friday, October 15, 2010

The "Apparent Contradictions" in God (45)

Dear forum members,

Many of those who hold to the doctrine of a well-meant and gracious gospel offer to all men have so far departed from the truth of Scripture and from what is widely known as The Five Points of Calvinism, that they have no time for such doctrines as unconditional election, particular redemption irresistible grace, total depravity and the perseverance of the saints. They have adopted a wholesale Arminianism to which these truths are anathema. Some have even gone beyond an Arminianism into a social gospel and have defined Calvinism as that spiritual force that can bring about the kingdom of heaven here in the world. This later Modernistic heresy is the inevitable outcome of a commitment to Arminianism, for Arminianism is incipient Modernism.

However, we are not concerned in this forum to do battle with Modernism, or even, for that matter with Arminianism as such. Our concern is another question. Those who profess to be Calvinists and who hold to the Westminster Confessions and the Three Forms of Unity are committed to the truth of the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation. That sovereignty is expressed also in the decree of election and reprobation, according to which God determines and wills that some whom he has chosen in Christ be saved and others damned in the way of their sin.

This insistence of Calvinism on election and reprobation stands diametrically opposed to the idea of a gracious gospel offer to all men. The gracious gospel offer means exactly that God wills the salvation of all men, earnestly desires it and announces his desire in the preaching of the gospel. The question then is: How can God both will the salvation of the elect alone on the one hand, and the salvation of all men on the other hand? This would seem to be an insurmountable problem.

Efforts to overcome the problem have been made by the adoption of a new and novel theory of the knowledge of God. I briefly outlined the idea two articles ago and quoted R. Scott Clark as a proponent and defendant of this position. He was not, however, the author of it. The first one, so far as I know, to develop this idea was Cornelius Van Till, who introduced the idea in connection with his defense of the well-meant gospel offer when he was professor in Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His position was a part of the so-called Van Till – Clark controversy over the question of the incomprehensibility of God.

Briefly, the position of those who defend apparent contradiction is this. God’s knowledge of himself and of all things is infinite and divine. But because of his greatness, mere man, with his limited capacity for knowledge, is unable to know as God knows. Hence, what knowledge of God man has is limited, analogical and not identical with God’s knowledge. There are, so to speak, areas in which God’s knowledge of all things is so much greater than our knowledge, that what we know, while it may seem to be contradictory, is nevertheless perfect in God. Hence, in us God’s will to save all and God’s will to save some appear to be contradictory, in God the two are perfectly compatible with each other.

Various terms have been used to describe the discrepancy between God’s knowledge of all things and our knowledge of what God reveals. Sometimes our knowledge is described as containing “apparent contradictions,” that is, ideas which, while they seem contradictory to us, are not contradictory to God. Our knowledge is analogical knowledge, that is, our knowledge is only an analogy of God’s knowledge of the same proposition.

In this installment of our discussion of the subject of the well-meant gospel offer, I want to make some remarks about this strange argument behind which defenders hide themselves, for the argument, for some inexplicable reason, has become a keystone in the defense of what is obviously an unbiblical position.

I am aware of the fact that to repudiate such a position is to invite the charge of rationalism. But, once again, as I said in a previous installment concerning the charge of Hyper-Calvinism, it is easy to call names, but it is more difficult to come with sound Biblical exegesis and hard study to learn what the Scriptures say. I am not a rationalist, and in fact hate rationalism with great intensity. Rationalism is the proud insistence that we with our minds can know things better than God, for our minds are the canon of all truth. I had my fill of the siren call of rationalism in my years of the study of philosophy in college. It is the sin of intellectual pride. If I remember correctly, Dorothy Sayers in her book “Born to be King,” makes intellectual pride the chief sin of Judas Iscariot, and the deepest reason why he betrayed his Lord.

To bow in humility before the final authority of the Word of God is not rationalism; it is the calling of everyone who insists on being faithful to the truth of God. But, and here is the point that needs emphasis more than anything else, when it comes to this question of “apparent contradiction”: If God can both will the salvation of all men and will the salvation only of the elect, then Scripture is no more the canon of truth and the source and fountain of all our knowledge of God. If Scripture presents us with propositions that are logically contradictory, it is impossible to trust Scripture to reveal anything true about God.

This, it seems to me, is easy to demonstrate. If I pick up a book that is intended to teach me the basics of arithmetic, and I learn in chapter 1 that 2+ 2 = 7, I would not want to rely on that book to tell me anything about arithmetic. Or, even worse, if the first chapter of the book teaches me that 2 + 2 sometimes = 4, but sometimes = 9, I would probably put the book down as being totally unable to teach me anything I need to know about arithmetic.

This is equally true of Scripture. If Scripture tells me in one place that God loves all men and wants all men to be saved, and somewhere else that God loves only His people whom he wills to save, then I cannot trust Scripture to tell me anything about God that is true. My knowledge of God may, as the defenders of a well-meant gospel say, be analogical; but my knowledge of arithmetic has got to be more than analogical. My teacher may say, 2 + 2 = 4, and my arithmetic book may say, 2 + 2 = 9 (or worse, my arithmetic book may say both are true); but my teacher will not earn my trust if she says, “Well, both can be true, because our knowledge of this equation is analogical. Both are arithmetic propositions; both have to do with addition of numbers; and so the analogy between them is sufficient to accept both as true. The arithmetic book was written by a man far superior to us in the field of mathematics, and so we, of lesser minds, can only understand that in the mind of the author of the book, the two thoughts are harmonious. We lesser minds will have to put up with the contradiction.”

If Scripture reveals contradictory propositions, it is impossible for us to know anything about God, for Scripture may be telling us something that lies beyond our comprehension. Scripture, after all, is written by God. We are mere men.

I wonder sometimes and really suspect that the idea so frequently promoted even in conservative church circles that what Scripture says is relative, but not absolute truth, is not the fruit of this nonsense about apparent contradiction. I read a report submitted to the highest assembly of a “conservative” denomination on the question of creationism vs. evolutionism; the report opted for evolutionism (of the theistic brand – if there is such a thing) and justified its rejection of the clear teaching of Scripture on the grounds that Scripture spoke differently to different people in different areas of the world and at different times in the world’s history. Scripture may very well have meant to ancient people that God created the world in six days of 24 hours; but we, in our scientific age are obligated to interpret Scripture differently in order to make it relevant to our times. This is a flat-out denial of the divine inspiration of Scripture.

But does not the position that we can understand Scripture because there are no logical errors in it make us rationalists? Does it not lead to the position that God is not incomprehensible, but can be understood by mere mortals? Is not our position the epitome of pride when it claims that man is able to understand God?

The charge must be answered.

Reformed people, including Calvin, have always insisted that God is indeed infinite and beyond all human comprehension. He is far, far above all his creation, which he made and which he upholds by his providence. He is, in his knowledge of himself infinitely greater than Scripture, which reveals him. Our knowledge of God is roughly comparable to the water in a small thimble compared with the vast expanse of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. Calvin speaks of the miracle of Scripture in which the infinite God stoops down to whisper in our ear concerning himself and must, because of our humanity and sin, speak baby-talk. I believe that. But baby-talk is still the truth.

There is one more important point. Scripture is not a book that gives us some information about God, but Scripture has the power to bring us to God through Jesus Christ who is revealed in Scripture. This knowledge that Scripture gives us is the knowledge of the one with whom we can live in covenant fellowship. The knowledge we have is personal, experiential, saving knowledge of God revealed in Christ. It is the knowledge of God as our Friend, our Bridegroom, the one with whom we live in most intimate fellowship. When we are finally in heaven and see Christ, not through a mirror darkly, but face to face, we will say: “He is the same as I knew him while I was on earth. He is exactly the one in whom I believed as he described himself on the pages of Scripture. He is far greater, far more beautiful, far more wonderful; but he is the same. I may exclaim with the Queen of Sheba, “The half has not been told me,” but the half that was told me was correct in every respect. He does not now – he never did -- love every man. His blood was not spilled on Calvary for all men, but for me – and this innumerable host of redeemed of which I am a part.

Sometimes a man and a woman who have never seen each other carry on a courtship by mail. It would be a dreadful thing if all the letters they exchanged were only “analogies” of what these two actually were. Both are human; one is a male and the other a female. But if they did not describe themselves as they truly were, then when they finally met, both would say, Your letters lied; your personality is entirely different; further, my impression was that you love just me and now I learn you love all kinds of others. You are different from what I was told in your mail.” The one would not I am sure, satisfy the one to whom he was engaged by saying, “Well, the knowledge of myself that I gave you was analogical. It my thinking the two are not contradictory.”So it must be with those who speak of apparent contradictions in our knowledge of God.

The only surprise we will have in heaven will be the surprise of the overwhelming greatness of the glory of God, which glory we now see only by way of passing glimpses. But it forever shall be the same glory.

Does this mean that we can comprehend God? Of course is means no such thing. There is a profound difference between comprehending something, that is, having exhaustive knowledge of something, and knowing something. They are two different aspects of knowledge. I can have the latter without having the former. Knowledge is organic.

The wonder of knowledge, even in this world is like that. I know a rose bush very well. I have some in my flower gardens. I know a rose bush sufficiently well that I can recognize a rose bush wherever I go in the world and whatever variety of rose I see. I know how to prevent diseases in the bush. I know what kind of fertilizer it must have. No one can deceive me by coming with an orchid and telling me that it is a rose. Nevertheless, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of botanists who know rose bushes far better than I. They can write books about roses that are learned treatises and scientific explanations of the life of a rose bush and its intricate parts. Whether they have exhaustive knowledge of roses is another thing. No man has exhaustive knowledge of anything in God’s creation. Nevertheless, if you ask me, “Do you know a rose bush?” My answer would be, “Yes, of course.” If he would ask, “Do you enjoy roses?” my response would be, “Indeed I do!” In other words, a true knowledge of anything is not an exhaustive knowledge. A true knowledge of God is not, need not be, cannot be, never into all eternity will be an exhaustive knowledge. But if someone would ask me, “Do you know God?” my answer would be, without hesitation, “Yes, of course, I know God. We spoke together this morning.” And if the questioner would persist, “Is your knowledge of him as he truly is?” My answer would be emphatically in the affirmative, because if I did not know him as he truly is, I do not know him at all. But if, again, the questioner would persist and ask whether I know all that there is to know of God, I would only look at him in amazement that he should ask such a question. “Why, of course not. He is the infinite One, beyond all human comprehension.”

We know him from the sacred Scriptures as he is revealed in Jesus Christ. We have such true knowledge of him that we know what is true about him and what is a lie. We know him intimately and personally as our Friend and Redeemer. That is the joy of our knowledge of him.

To claim that he both loves every man and at the same time loves only some men gives me no knowledge of God, but is convincing proof that they who claim this do not know him – not as he is revealed in the holy Scriptures. That is the truth concerning this cruel description of a God filled with contradictions.

With warmest regards,

Prof Hanko

Friday, October 1, 2010

The "Free Offer" and Christ's Atonement (44)

Dear forum members,

In the previous installment I mentioned that a particularly persuasive ground for the well-meant gospel offer is the universal sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. A telling objection to the well-meant gospel offer has been the need for universalizing the extent of the atonement so that it may serve as the judicial basis for God’s desire to save all men: What God offers has to be available. If salvation in Christ is offered to all, salvation in Christ has to be available. If one likes to retain his Calvinistic credentials, then he speaks of a universal sufficiency to the atonement but an efficacy limited only to the elect.

I found an interesting quote concerning this matter. It is found in Eugene Heideman, The Theology of the Midwestern Reformed Church in America, 1866-1966 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eedrmans Publishing Company, 2009) 141, 142 footnote. The comment came in the context of a discussion of the influence of Kuyperian common grace on the RCA. One RCA, a professor in Western Theological Seminary, wrote: “There is a sense in which it is true that the whole world shares in the sacrifice of Christ. It is the basis of common grace as it is of saving grace. God is longsuffering with the wicked, causes rain to fall on the unjust, holds in check the destructive forces in nature and humanity, brings to fullest development the hidden possibilities in both man and beast, through his Spirit and for the sake of the mediatorial work of Christ.” Although this was written in connection with Kuyperian common grace, the same applies to the well-meant gospel offer, for, as the author of the quote says, “. . . the whole world shares in the sacrifice of Christ. It is the basis of common grace as it is of saving grace.”

Those who appreciated the force of the argument that somehow the grace offered in the gospel had to be earned by Christ, but were hesitant to widen the scope of the atonement fell back on the doctrine of the sufficiency of the atonement, while holding to the doctrine of the limited efficacy of the atonement (that is, that the atonement is efficacious only for the elect, though sufficient for all.) Thus the defenders of a well-meant gospel offer fell back on what is basically an Amyraldian position. (Amyraldianism is the heresy of a hypothetical universalism with respect to the atonement of Christ, and is used to support a well-meant gospel offer. It was developed shortly after Dordt in France and spread to the United Kingdom where it was widely accepted.)

The strength of an appeal to the universal sufficiency of the atonement lies in its confessional basis. I quoted from the Canons of Dordt in this connection, where the sufficiency of the atonement is explicitly stated. The trouble is that those who appeal to the universal sufficiency of the atonement as taught in the Canons of Dordrecht do so without understanding the Canons, and, in fact, twisting their meaning and purpose. They cling to this one article in the Canons (2.A.3), as a drowning man clings to what appears to him to be a life raft.

Let us look closely at the article a moment.

Historically, the reason for inserting this article in the Canons was the wicked charge of the Arminians that the Reformed with their doctrine of particular redemption did serious injustice to the atonement by limiting its power or efficacy to only a relatively small number of people. The Reformed denied that and insisted rather that the suffering and death of Christ is “of infinite worth and value.”

The meaning of the fathers is clear. First of all, one must not measure the value and worth of Christ’s suffering and death in terms of kilograms, meters or liters. Christ’s suffering is not something of quantitative importance. If, and I speak as a fool speaks, there had been one more elect than there actually is, Christ would not have had to suffer a bit more than he did. Christ’s suffering is not a matter of “so much” for this sin, so much for that sin, so much for this sinner, so much for that sinner. To speak of the atonement in such a fashion is to mock it.

Secondly, the value and worth of the atonement is to be found in the person who submitted to it. The article emphatically states that “the death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin,” and it is therefore, “of infinite worth and value.”

The next article develops that idea further: “This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin” (2.A.4).

The Canons do not say that the atonement of Christ was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world because God wanted to offer salvation to all; or because salvation is then available to all; or even because the great Synod of Dordt wanted to open the door a crack for the Amyraldian position that God is gracious to all. Nothing could have been farther from the minds of the fathers at Dordt. Their sole purpose is to extol the dignity and greatness of Christ who as both truly God and man paid the price for our sins.

There is something sinister about such careless re-writing of history and such blatant attempt to make the great theologians of Dordt say something that was so far from their minds. The Canons themselves compel us to abandon all efforts to find the judicial basis for common grace in the cross. It isn’t there. It cannot be found there. To appeal to the cross as providing blessings for others than the elect is pulling ideas out of the mind of man. Apart from the cross, common grace hangs there in the air, a mockery of God’s justice. In his work of showing grace to all God is content to set his justice aside and let his grace push his justice out of the way. In common grace God acts as one devoid of justice.

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Theological Arguments Given for the "Free Offer of the Gospel" (43)

Dear Forum Members,

Before we get into the Biblical and confessional proof that was offered for the well-meant offer of the gospel, I want to say some things about the arguments that have been used to substantiate the well-meant offer as answers to theological objections which have been brought against it. These objections of a theological nature have been mentioned and described in the previous installment. They are important for our discussion, because they are the crutches used to make it possible to walk the path of a well-meant offer.

The first point that needs addressing is the claim that the well-meant offer is the testimony of God’s grace to all men. The claim itself I have addressed more than once in previous installments, but as that claim is made in connection with what has been called “the chief point of the first point” – with an obvious reference to the first point of common grace adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, I have not said anything about it.

Our readers will recall that when we were discussing the teaching that there is a grace of God shown to all men and not only to the elect, I claimed that this common grace was not intended to be limited to an outward attitude of God towards all men (although it surely includes that), but was also intended to include a subjective infusion of grace into the hearts of the unregenerate, which did not result in conversion and salvation, but which was there to enable the unregenerate to do good works pleasing in the sight of God. In the preaching of the gospel the same is true: a certain grace is conveyed to those who hear the gospel.

It is quite possible that this idea too, came from the Marrow Men of Scotland. The Marrow Men taught a certain “preparationism;” by which they meant that all who heard the gospel, were by a grace that came to all the hearers, prepared for the gospel itself and its reception. Usually it was maintained that the preaching of the law conveyed to the hearer the grace that put the sinner under the conviction of sin, so that he saw sin in himself as it really was, saw the hopelessness of his own sad condition, and saw the need for help outside himself in order to escape the just punishment of sin. But this conviction of sin did not necessarily guarantee that such a one would be saved.

One defender of the well-meant offer told me that this grace conveyed to the unregenerate enabled the person who received it to pray for regeneration. That is a powerful grace, but a prayer which, apparently, God does not always hear.

Some of the distinguishing features of preparationism can be found in Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared: Grace and Conversion in Puritan Spiritual Life (Wesleyan University Press, 1969.) The later Puritans were not so concerned with “the disparity between the regenerate and the unregenerate and with the requirement of grace as an instantaneous illumination,” the author writes; “Rather, the baptized were expected to look for the beginnings, or first ‘signs,’ of regeneration.” Petit goes on to say, “If God’s will was always omnipotent, still He looked to the inner man for the ‘new heart’ required in the new covenant. If God alone sought out those to be taken, man had always to ‘choose’ God by entering the covenant voluntarily. And as the more English Puritans turned toward voluntarism, the higher became their conception of baptism, with greater possibilities for man’s doing something of his own” (13)

Thus the Puritans made room for man’s own work in salvation. “The preparationists maintain that contrition and humiliation were not in themselves saving graces but preliminary steps, and that while God takes away all resistance, this cannot be done without man’s consent” (18). “God’s mercy could be denied in the end. The prepared heart, while a necessary prerequisite to the conversion experience, was no guarantee of salvation. The lost soul could be left in utter confusion, between preparation and conversion, in ‘horror of heart, anguish and perplexity of spirit,’ even in the ‘very flames of hell’” (19).

More and more the emphasis in Puritan thought fell on man’s work. Petit writes, “With Hildersam (a Puritan theologian of great influence who lived 1536 – 1632, HH), in fact, the steps leading up to effectual conversion were given full elaboration for the first time. Beginning with the work of the Law in the external call, he alluded to the covenant promises themselves and emphasized throughout what man must ‘do’ before conversion. Ever careful to insist that regeneration ‘to speak properly be the mighty work of God,’ he nevertheless proclaimed that ‘we may ourselves do much in this work, yea . . . we must be doers in it ourselves or else it will never be well done’” (57, 58).

Still describing Hilversam’s position, the author goes on to say, “Hilversam does not commit himself on the efficacy of the preparatory states themselves. This point is also unclear in Rogers, where man in preparation is considered neither to have faith nor to be entirely ‘without it.’ In effect, Puritan divines had yet to take a clear stand on man’s spiritual status in the preparatory phase. If a reprobate, could man desire grace as well as fear the Law? Or are all desires God-given, indicating some kind of regenerative condition? Few Puritans, if any, could offer a satisfactory solution; but of those who tried, William Perkins was perhaps the most articulate of his age.” (61).

This notion became the ground for the emphasis that was placed in the preaching to urge the hearer to close with Christ, a plea that was filled with tenderness, pathos, and with the assurances that God truly desired the salvation of the sinner. And this subjective grace, worked in the hearts of the hearers by the preaching, put the hearer in a position to accept or reject the gospel offer. Especially the Marrow Men in the early 18th century emphasized this aspect of the preaching.

It is of passing interest that this same idea is present in the theology of those who hold to a conditional covenant. Their claim is that all who are baptized receive the promise of God that they will be saved, on condition of faith. But all at baptism also receive covenantal grace, by which they are enabled to make their decision.

So also the well-meant gospel offer is gracious, that is, it actually bestows grace on the sinner; not saving grace but grace sufficient for a man to choose between accepting or rejecting the gospel.

There is no evidence in Scripture or the confessions that God gives such a grace to all who hear the gospel. In fact, our Canons sharply repudiated the notion of a conviction of sin brought about by the gospel: “The synod rejects the errors of those who teach that the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God” (Canons, 3/4.B.4).

The whole concept of a subjective grace is Arminian. I know full well that those who want to maintain their Calvinistic credentials appeal to the fact that the final decision to accept Christ is due to the special grace of God; but this is like tipping one’s hat in God’s direction to acknowledge his presence, while ignoring him in fact as one goes his way down Arminian paths. God, in doing all he can do to persuade man to accept Christ, even goes so far as to give him grace by which he can accept Christ, but which grace does not guarantee salvation. When one adds to this the essential idea of the well-meant offer, namely that God earnestly desires the salvation of the sinner, then one has been caught in the quicksand of Arminian free-willism.

The question of the extent of Christ’s atonement is crucial to any discussion of the well-meant offer. Theologians have proposed different solutions to the problem of the relationship between a well-meant gospel offer and the question: For whom did Christ die? Calvinists who held to limited atonement frequently refused to face the question and simply tried to maintain both a limited atonement and a general or universal desire on God’s part to save all men. But this proved impossible. Grace, whether common or particular, is unmerited favor. Somewhere, somehow that grace shown to reprobate people had to have some judicial basis in God’s own being if God’s justice was to be maintained. Grace cannot be justly given to unworthy sinners unless God’s justice is satisfied. And so gradually the idea of a universalizing of the atonement crept into the churches, which held to a well-meant offer.

The Calvinistic Church in Wales finally drifted into a universal atonement because of the pressure of those who held to a well-meant gospel offer and charged all who denied it with the charge: Hyper-Calvinism. The Christian Reformed Church, because of its adoption of a well-meant offer, was forced in the 60’s to face the question of the extent of the atonement. I was present at the synod when the discussion was being carried on and there were those who opposed widening the effects of the atonement. But a stop was put to the debate by one speaker who said, in a fairly lengthy speech, Brethren, we believe in a well-meant offer, do we not? How is it then that we can deny that in some important ways Christ died for all men? As I recall, the three key words that were used to define a universal atonement were: intention, availability and sufficiency. Efficacy was denied and limited to the people of God.

The pressure put on the importance of the question of the extent of the atonement arose out of the simple question: “Can God, without hypocrisy, offer men what is not available?” It would surely be hypocrisy on my part to offer everyone who came to my front door $100.00, if I only had about $100.00 available to me.

But it is the question of the sufficiency of the gospel that attracted the most support, and most defenders were willing to base the well-meant gospel offer on the sufficiency of the atonement for all. This probably was due to the fact that the Canons of Dordt speak of the universal sufficiency of the atonement. The Canons say: “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world’ (Canons 2.3).

That the Canons do not intend to teach a universal atonement is evident from what the confession says a bit later in the same chapter: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect . . . that is, that it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only (emphasis is mine HH) who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given Him by the Father. . .” (Canons 2.8).

We shall have to examine this question of sufficiency further, but at a later time.

With warm regards,


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Teaching of "The Well-meant Offer" of Salvation" (42)

Dear Forum Members,

In the last installment I gave a brief history of the doctrine of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. I shall in this installment, describe what the teaching of this error is. I have used for references chiefly the following works, so that the reader can, if he wishes, look them up himself.

Louis Berkhof, De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd (The Three Points, Reformed in all its Parts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1925).

K. W. Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered (Covenanter Press, 1958).

John Murray, The Free Offer of the Gospel (A copy downloaded from the internet with a foreword by R. Scott Clark. Found on R. Scott Clark blog.)

R. Scott Clark, Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology. The chapter referred to is Chapter 7 of The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, David Van Drunen, ed.

H. J. Kuiper, The Three Points of Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., no date).

I recognize the fact that dozens of books have been written on the question, but these books and papers mentioned above contain, in one way or another, all the basic teachings of the gracious and well-meant offer. I might add that Hugh Lindsay Williams has written (and is still writing) a thorough critique of the well-meant offer in The British Reformed Journal. These articles are a critique of David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed (Marpet Press, 2005).The articles are thoroughly researched and carefully written. Copies can be obtained from Rev. Angus Stewart in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

The following points are the chief points of the well-meant gospel offer as defined by the proponents of common grace.

First this gospel offer is part of common grace; that is, it is part of God’s attitude of favor towards all men. The first point adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 explicitly stated this: “. . . synod declares it to be established . . . that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from . . . the general offer of the gospel . . . .” In fact, almost all the Scriptural and confessional proof that was offered in support of the first point refers to this general offer of the gospel; it would seem that in the mind of synod the offer was the chief way in which God showed his favor to all men.

I remind our readers that subsequent discussions of common grace made clear that God’s attitude of favor towards the wicked includes God’s love, mercy, lovingkindness and all communicable attributes.

Second, the grace and love that God has for all men is expressed in the preaching of the gospel. The gospel must not hesitate to say to all who hear, “God loves you and is favorably inclined towards you. He is gracious and merciful towards you.”

Third, that love and favor God has towards all men and expressed in the gospel is explicitly expressed by telling people that it is God’s desire that all who hear the gospel be saved. God wants all men to be with him in heaven. His desire and will are that all men be a part of the church, which some day is destined to go to heaven.

Fourth, God expresses his desire to save all that hear the gospel by doing all that is possible for him to do to persuade man that salvation is preferable to damnation and that accepting Christ is preferable to rejecting him; that they should, therefore, hear God’s overtures of love. There is, so to speak, nothing more that God can do. If man persists in rejecting Christ proclaimed in the gospel, it is due to man’s own refusal to do what alone is good for him.

Questions arise in connection with this presentation to which various answers have been given.

One crucially important question involves the extent of the atonement. The question can be stated in this way: “What is the judicial ground of God’s favor towards the wicked? And, specifically, God’s desire to save them?” The point here is that if God loves the wicked, even though it be with a non-saving love, it must be rooted in what Christ does for men, for it cannot be grounded on man’s meriting that love. Besides, the justice of God must be satisfied: for sin is against God’s most high majesty and the debt sin incurs must be paid. Christ has paid that debt, for no man can possibly pay it. The answer to the question has been ambiguous with some saying, Yes, Christ died for all men; and others saying, No, the atonement is limited. But the very force of the relation between God’s love and favor towards all men has compelled many to say that, although Christ did not necessarily die efficaciously or effectively for all men, his atonement is sufficient for all men and its effectiveness depends on man’s response to the gospel.

Another important question that has come up, especially among Calvinists, is the harmony between God’s will to save some (the elect) and to reprobate others on the one hand, and his will that all men be saved on the other. There is evident and incontrovertible conflict between the two wills of God. In answer to this problem, some have felt free to speak of two wills in God, one will to save all, and another will to save some. Others have appealed to paradox and apparent contradiction, by which God’s “logic” is placed on a much higher level that our logic, so that what seems to us as contradictory is not contradictory in God’s thoughts.

This, e.g., is the whole argument of R. Scott Clark in an article entitled “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology.” He writes, “This essay contends that the reason the well-meant offer has not been more persuasive is that its critics have not understood or sympathized with the fundamental assumption on which the doctrine of the well-meant offer was premised: the distinction between theology as God knows it (theolologia archetypa) and theology as it is revealed to and done by us (theologia ectypa). In making the biblical case for the claim that God reveals himself as desiring what he has not secretly willed to do, Murray and Strimple assumed this distinction which they did not articulate explicitly.”

This proposed solution is a rather fancy and Latinized way of saying that the conflict in God’s will to save the elect only and God’s will to save all men is only in our theology and not in God’s theology. God’s theology is fundamentally different from revelation and from our theology.

Yet another problem with the well-meant offer is the rather obvious conclusion that, because God desires the salvation of all men, yet not all are saved, the final decision for or against salvation rests with man. Arminians, of course, see no problem here. They insisted all along that man’s choice by his own free will is the decisive factor in salvation. But Calvinists struggle with this question, for they profess to believe that God actually works faith in the hearts of men. So, one stands perplexed over the problem of why God only works faith in the hearts of a few when his desire is to save all who hear the gospel. This too is a problem without solution, although some, once again, almost in desperation, appeal to paradox and apparent contradiction to support such a strange position. Apparent contradiction is found to be a safe haven in which to find refuge when confronted with a problem to which no answer can be found.

A charge that is consistently brought against those who repudiate such an idea as a well-meant offer is that a denial of a well-meant offer makes all evangelism impossible. The argument seems to be that one cannot go out to preach to the unchurched unless one can assure them that God loves them and on his part is longing to save them. But why? Why is evangelism dependent upon a gospel that announces God’s love for all? I have never been able to come up with any answer to this question other than to conclude that wrong ideas of evangelism have brought about some notions that God must be shown to have done all he possibly can to save sinners, but that the salvation of sinners rests on their willingness to accept God’s overtures. But this is Arminian to the core and not at all what evangelism is all about.

Much the same is true of those who label all who deny the well-meant offer as “Hyper-Calvinists.” One point that needs to be made is that it is easiest when caught up in a theological debate to escape responsible defenses of one’s position by labeling one’s opponents with an opprobrious name. When one raises objections to the whole concept of a well-meant offer, his arguments are dismissed, not by careful and Biblical counter-arguments, but by the remark, “Those people are Hyper-Calvinists.” And it is assumed that Hyper-Calvinists are dangerous people to have around and whose theological arguments are not worth weighing and considering carefully. But it works with the unwary. I have met the charge myself – repeatedly. “Oh, you deny the well-meant offer? You must be a Hyper Calvinist. I need not listen to what you have to say. Your theology is dangerous.” Such responses save a lot of time and hard work – the hard work of searching the Scriptures.

What I have said in this installment pretty much sums up the position of those who hold to a well-meant offer. I shall examine the arguments in later installments and present in a positive way the teaching of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions on the matter.

With warm regards,


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gracious Well-meant Offer (41)

Dear Forum members,

I begin with this installment a discussion of the fourth aspect of common grace, probably the most widely accepted aspect, and about which much has been written. I refer to that point of common grace that is called the gracious well-meant gospel offer. It is the doctrine that defines the gospel as an declaration from God that it is his desire to save all that hear the gospel proclaimed.

Many books have been written on the subject, and it surely is not my intention to write yet another book. We shall therefore, limit these articles to an examination of what is meant by this gracious and well-meant gospel offer, what proof is given from Scripture and the confessions in support of it, what aberrations in doctrine have resulted from it, and what is the Biblical teaching over against it.

Actually, the doctrine itself is of rather recent origin. In the form in which it is taught by many churches today, it did not appear in the preaching until the so-called Marrow Controversy that took place in Scotland in the early part of the 18th century.

This does not mean, however, that various other doctrines that are a necessary part of the doctrine of the well-meant offer have not been taught in the church for a very long time. A brief survey of the history will demonstrate this.

Until the time of the great church father, Augustine, the church with few exceptions held to the doctrine of the free will of man. The church was, of course, preoccupied with the development of the truths of the trinity and the person and natures of our Lord Jesus Christ. It had little time to give the doctrines of salvation by grace any attention. This doctrine of the free will of man was thought necessary because of the heresies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism that had troubled the church. Both these heresies had taught that matter itself, of which the creation was composed, was inherently evil. There was, therefore a certain necessity in evil. To escape this necessity of evil, the church clung to the doctrine of man’s free will.

It was not until the time of Augustine that the church took a long and hard look at the widely accepted doctrine of free will. This was occasioned by the heresy of Pelagianism. (For a detailed history of Pelagianism and its teachings see my recently published book, Contending for the Faith, available from the RFPA.) Because Pelagianism was blatantly and openly a heresy that based salvation firmly in the hands of man, Augustine developed the doctrines of grace – the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,” although, of course, they were not called that till over 1000 years later. Augustine’s teachings were exactly like we believe today. He even explained such texts as II Timothy 2:4, II Peter 3:9, and other such texts as are used by the defenders of the gracious offer of the gospel to prove that Scripture teaches this heresy, as referring only to the elect.

When the Roman Catholic Church faced the question of sovereign grace, it waffled badly. Many in the Romish Church insisted the atoning sacrifice of Christ was for all men and that this general atonement made salvation for all men possible . The Romish Church officially adopted a Semi-Pelagian view of salvation by faith and works.

While the Arminian controversy, which arose in the Netherlands in less than 100 years after the Reformation, did not address itself specifically to the question of the gracious offer of the gospel, it did condemn two doctrines inevitably attached to and an integral part of the offer. Although all adherents of the gracious offer of the gospel will not admit it, the broadening of the extent of the atonement is necessary to maintain the error. Because man is a sinner, only Christ can earn for the sinner God’s grace. He can do this only in his suffering and death of the cross of Calvary. The relation between the gracious offer and the atonement is so compelling that most who hold to the offer also hold to the doctrine that, at least in some sense, Christ died for every one. Even John Murray, the noted Presbyterian theologian, had no hesitation in writing: “The unbelieving and reprobate in this world enjoy numerous benefits that flow from the fact that Christ died and rose again.” (John Murray, Redemption – Accomplished and Applied [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1955] 71.) But Dordt would have no such increasing the extent of the atonement beyond the elect. (Canons 2.8).

In France, the Amyraldian heresy arose, a heresy that developed another aspect of the doctrine of the gracious offer. This heresy taught that God has two wills, one of which determines salvation only for the elect, and another will according to which God desires the salvation of all men. This heresy, rejected by the Genevan theologians, nevertheless took root in Scotland and was held by the so-called Marrow Men. They taught, not only that the gospel had to be presented in such a way that God’s desire to save all men was proclaimed, but that it was right and proper to speak of Christ as dead for all men.

Although the Marrow position was officially condemned by the Presbyterian church of Scotland, it entered the Netherlands by way of the close ecclesiastical contact between those who were concerned for the orthodoxy of the church in the Netherlands and the Marrow men. And so, this idea entered into the thinking of Dutch theologians.

When the Separation of 1834 took place under the leadership of Henry De Cock and others, the movement was divided between an orthodox wing of the Separation represented by De Cock and Van Velzen, and a weaker wing represented by Brummelkamp and Henry De Cock’s son, Helenius De Cock.

The separation from the State Church that took place 52 years later under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper was, on this point of a gracious gospel offer, sound and orthodox. In fact Kuyper himself repudiated the idea of a gospel offer in his book, Dat De Genade Particulier Is (That Grace is Particular. This book has been translated by Marvin Kamps and is available from the Reformed Free Publishing Association, under the title, Particular Grace.) This book was written by the earlier Kuyper, several years before he published his three-volume work on common or general grace. But even in this latter work he did not and would not teach a gracious offer of the gospel.

Because many of the immigrants to this country in the latter half of the 19th century were from the Separation of 1834, the idea of a gracious offer of the gospel entered into the thinking of the Christian Reformed Church. Hence, when the common grace controversy erupted in the late nineteen-teens and came to a head at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, in 1924, the gracious gospel offer was a point at issue. The Synod included it in its decisions on common grace, although strangely enough, it was mentioned only in passing. The first point reads: “Regarding the first point, touching the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions it is established, that besides the saving grace of God shown only to the elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scripture passages that were quoted and from the Canons of Dordt, II, 5 and III, IV, 8, 9, where the general offer of the gospel is set forth . . .” (emphasis is mine, HH).

Yet, in spite of the fact that the “general offer of the gospel is only mentioned in passing, it became the most important part of the entire theory of common grace.

The issue was also faced by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the Forties when controversy arose between Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark over the incomprehensibility of God. In the report that was submitted to the General Assembly a section was devoted to the question of the gracious gospel offer. While this part of the report was never adopted by the OPC, it nevertheless was distributed in the churches by the General Assembly in pamphlet form. Authored by John Murray and Ned Stonehouse, it is a detailed defense of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer.

Today the doctrine has spread far and wide and its supporters from Northern Ireland to Australia. And so it has entered the thinking and theology of many churches and has driven the church into open Arminianism.

With warm regards,

Prof. Hanko

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Final remarks on the "good" that the ungodly do (40)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I began an answer to a correspondent who inquired about the relative good that the ungodly do. He was not about to defend the position that the wicked do good by the power of God’s grace worked through the Holy Spirit; nor was he of a mind to defend the proposition that the unregenerate are able to do good that meets with God’s approval. But he was inquiring about the fact that, from an earthly point of view, there is a lot of good in this world.

I agree with this assertion and have been at some pains to develop that idea, including the fact that from an earthly point of view the man who keeps God’s law outwardly experiences a happy and more trouble-free life than the man who tramples God’s law under foot. And, what is true of individuals, is also true of families and nations. There is a direct correlation between the outward good men do and earthly success, health and prosperity. All of this comes from God. We must inquire into this problem.

Before I give a more detailed answer to this question, let it be observed that this principle holds for all of life. A man who eats only McDonald’s hamburgers is not going to be as healthy as the man who eats nutritious foods. A man who obeys traffic laws is not as likely to be in an accident as one who drives recklessly. Nor would anyone, so far as I know, deny that the man or woman who lives a life free from fornication is less likely to contact a STD than one who has no moral scruples that govern his life. No one, I think, would claim that the habit of eating nutritious foods is a gift of grace and that the resulting good health of a man merits God’s approval. God has established certain laws by which he rules in his creation. Sometimes these laws are called secondary means by which God exercises his sovereignty.

To defy God’s law brings trouble and grief in every area of life. To practice abortion brings its own grief and trouble. To live a homosexual life is to incur the dreaded HIV virus. To fornicate in the marriage state results in its own sorrows. Such obvious rules in God’s world has nothing to do with common grace, the ability of the natural man to do good, or the favor and blessing of God upon a person.

Why does consequent prosperity in some measure come to those who do keep God’s law outwardly? The answer is, first of all, that God works this way for the sake of His church. That is precisely the reason why God blessed the house of Potiphar for Joseph’s sake (Gen. 39:5). That is why we are commanded to pray for all those in authority over us, pray even that they may observe the law of God; for, Paul writes Timothy, that among the reasons to pray for magistrates is that the church may lead a quiet and peaceable life (I Timothy 2:1-6).

There are, however, other reasons. The unregenerate know also the difference between right and wrong. In an earlier forum article I discussed the meaning of Romans 2:14, 15, a text which teaches that God puts the works of the law on their hearts so that their consciences tell them what is right and what is wrong according to his moral law. They are also able to see in their lives and in the lives of others that an outward keeping of the law of God brings with it a certain amount of pleasure and order. And they are able to see that to break God’s law brings grief and suffering. If the law against murder were abandoned all together life would become well nigh impossible. If every one committed adultery and family life would cease to exist, society would end in chaos. If laws against stealing were not enforced and everyone was given free rein to steal anything he wished, businesses could not operate and a man’s possessions would never be safe. It doesn’t take regeneration to see and understand that. It is clear from life itself that what a man’s conscience dictates is best for society and a decent life in the world.

This great truth does not keep men from sinning anyway. The homosexual knows that the possibility of him acquiring the HIV virus is increased greatly if he continues his wicked practices, but he goes his own way in spite of it all. A drunkard can see his life disintegrate in his family, his work and his own life as he continues his drinking. But this does not always check his sin.

Yet the law of God serves as a certain rein to sin, especially when the violation of God’s law brings its own judgments from God. God does not wait till the judgment day to punish sin, but executes judgment already in this life.

That such a man becomes a slave to a sin and finds it impossible to escape the slavery of the sin into which he has fallen is also a law of God. Man can, as a matter of fact, become so much a slave of sin that he finds it impossible to escape from the shackles that bind him. A drug addict cannot live without his drugs. But I have dealt with people who have even become slaves of lying, slaves of adultery, slaves of hatred. It is dreadful. Even if, because they see the consequences of their sin, the want to escape it, they find it impossible – apart from sovereign grace, which is able to deliver anyone from any sin and from the bondage of sin.

The wicked do two things about this slavery of sin. The first thing they do is try to find ways and means of avoiding the consequences of sin. They invent birth control instruments to prevent pregnancies resulting from adulteries. They build abortion clinics to kill babies when they discover that some people are too stupid or too captured by their sin to use available techniques to avoid pregnancy. They invent medicines that can curb the harmful effects of the HIV virus. They establish elaborate rehabilitation centers for those caught in the trap of drug addiction, liquor addiction or gambling addiction. And the answer of the world to these addictions is not to cease from the sin that brought them on, but to use the latest medical techniques that enable a man to continue in his sin but stave off the consequences.

The second thing they do is mount elaborate campaigns to condition people into thinking that all these violations of God’s law are not sins. These weaknesses into which men plunge themselves are the results of their genes, or remnants from their animal ancestry, or sicknesses for which cures can be found. They are treatable and science, in its performance of miracles, will conquer bad consequences of a wicked life. But if one says that homosexuality is a sin against God, he is as liable as not to be arrested and tried for a “hate crime.” The poor person cannot help doing what he does; it is in his genes. His actions are predetermined. (And these same people call Calvinists “Fatalists”!)

All this is proof that man does no good out of the motive of love for God and his neighbor. He seeks himself and will sin as much as he dares. He rejoices when apparently means are invented to help him escape the consequences of his sin. He claps his hands in glee when he has succeeded in overcoming God’s judgments on sin.

But God is in heaven and he is just and righteous in all he does. He punishes sin and laughs at man’s silly poking around to invent means to avoid God’s wrath. God does not respect persons. He does not judge on the basis of outward appearances (I Samuel 16:7). Teachers of common grace look at outward appearances, but in doing so fail to follow the Scriptures where God tells us what is pleasing in his sight.

God will tell us what works are pleasing to him. And we had better listen.

The Canons and the Westminster Confession describe, these good works that are approved by God as they ought to be described (See Canons 3/4.4 and WC 16.7, which we have already quoted). If one is talking about good that is approved by God himself, then the criteria of the Heidelberg Catechism must be used as a measuring rod: “They must proceed from a true faith”. This assertion is also Biblical: “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). They must be performed according to the law of God. Surely, if outward conformity to that law is approved by God, the Pharisees did more that met with God’s approval than anyone else. But the law of God is all summed up in the words of Jesus in Matt. 22:37-40. The only true keeping of the law is love: love for God and love for one’s neighbor for God’s sake. True good works are done to God’s glory. Man’s “good” is done for the glory and praise of man; good works are done only for God’s glory. Then, and then only is a work something that meets with God’s approval.

Works that are “good” in this world are actually sins. A man who is faithful to his wife and family goes to hell, not in spite of his faithfulness to his family, but because he did not remain faithful out of a true faith in Christ; nor because he loved God and his neighbor; nor because he was seeking God’s glory. Does this seem to you to be impossible? We must measure man’s works, not by our standards, but by the standards of a holy God. Nor must we forget that God created man good, and his inability to do good is his own fault, for he chose the way of sin in the place of the way of obedience.

One more matter must be addressed. It takes us back to the basic idea of common grace. Is the prosperity of the wicked, even when it is the result of a life in conformity with the outwards demands of the law, indicative of God’s favor and blessings?

To answer this question, perhaps we ought to read once again Psalm 73, Psalm 37, Proverbs 3:33, and such like passages. The answer in Scripture is obvious. The prosperity of the wicked, even when it is the consequence of a walk in keeping with God’s law outwardly, sets the wicked on slippery places that end in everlasting destruction. The Psalm is quite clear on the matter: God sets them on slippery places. His purpose never is to bless the wicked, but to destroy them. Even their riches, their health, their pleasures are God’s wrath. God’s curse is in the house of the wicked.

But this is not the case with God’s people. They may and do wash their hands in innocency, but know only the chastening of the Lord: poverty, sickness, trouble, grief, suffering; but, says the Psalmist, in spite of all his troubles, “I am continually before thee: thou hast held me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with they counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.”

With warm greetings in Christ,

Prof. Hanko