Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Conclusion--and Thanks

Dear Forum members,

With this installment I conclude my assignment given to me by the BRF about 3 ½ years ago. I hope and pray you have profited from the discussion.
Another study of the issues involved has further strengthened my conviction that the whole teaching of common grace is a serious error with far-reaching implications for all doctrine. How beautiful and comforting is the biblical truth that exalts God by insisting that God is sovereign in all his works, and above all, sovereign in salvation, having mercy on whom he will have mercy. Let us not attempt to deprive God of his greatness and glory by ascribing to him a grace which is not sovereign, but ineffective and helpless in the face of man’s will and can accomplish salvation only when man permits it to be so.

May God bless you all with His richest covenant blessings and give you the grace to stand firmly for the truth that exalts our God.

In Christ’s service,


On behalf of myself and all those who have been following this blog,  we would heartily thank Prof. Herman Hanko for this completed work and his willingness to share his labors with us in this way.
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Monday, May 16, 2011


Prof. Herman Hanko provides one sheet of instruction usually on the 1st and 15th of the month. Those posted earlier were the accumulation of over 24 weeks' materials..Today's posting is the latest on the subject. Thanks for your interest. Your comments or questions on any of the postings are welcome. Please place any comments in comment box under one of the entries below--not under this entry. Please sign comments.  If signed "anonymous," the comment will not likely be answered.

1 comments:Bill Hornbeck said...Great blog! I have previously received emails by which I could download Professor Hanko's articles. Now, I see this blog which contains all the articles and allows for comments. Well done!

Final Remarks and Final Article (59)

Dear Forum members,

With the last article on the gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel, I have finished by discussion of this aspect of common grace. There is, I suppose, more that can be written. Some books have come out in the last few years defending the doctrine of a gracious offer of the gospel, but there has not been anything new in these books, or elements that I have not discussed.

Just today (the day this installment was written) I received an article with the title, “The Free Offer of the Gospel: Is It Biblical and Reformed?” The author makes assertions in the article that are simply not true. I will use an answer to the article as my concluding installment for this forum.

All the passages quoted by the author in support of the gracious gospel offer are passages we have explained in various installments and will not repeat here.
Referring to the Protestant Reformed Churches as a denomination that denies the free offer, the author describes their position as somewhere between hyper-Calvinism and orthodox Calvinism. This is stated as a fact without any proof, and the assumption is, of course, that those who hold to a gracious gospel offer are the true Calvinists.

What is worse, the author in claiming that a gracious gospel offer is Calvinistic implies that Calvin himself taught this doctrine. We have examined this question before and will not repeat what was said; but the fact remains that such as make this claim ought, for the sake of honesty, to explain Calvin’s position as outlined in his “Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God,” published in the book, Calvin’s Calvinism. In this book, Calvin specifically repudiates everything those who hold to a gracious gospel offer teach.

The author also appeals to Christ’s fulfillment of the moral law. The argument here is this: Christ, to fulfill the law, had to obey the commandment “Love thy neighbor.” Because that command as it comes to us, means that we are to love all men, so Christ loved all men when he kept the law perfectly. The author insists, however, that Christ’s love for all men is a love of the divine person as well as the human person. This is an important consideration, because there have been those who have held to the position that Christ loved all men in his human nature, but not in his divine. The author will have none of this and declares that Christ as
divine and human loved all men. We find that to be at least consistent.

However, the argument is fallacious. It is wrong, in the first place, because even our neighbor is not everybody in the whole world, but is only one whom God puts upon our pathway and who demands our attention and help. But, in the second place, one cannot argue from who our neighbor is to whom Christ’s neighbor is. That is fallacious argumentation that cannot be supported by Scripture. It must necessarily follow from the author’s position that Christ then also died for all men, for he died to fulfill the law. The author’s position (as is the case with all who teach a gracious offer) leads to a universal atonement, something sharply repudiated by Scripture and both the Reformed confessions and the Westminster Confession. It can very well be said that Christ’s neighbors are those whom God put on Christ’s pathway and who require Christ’s attention and help. But these are, obviously, the elect.

The author also claims that the Westminster Confession uses the word offer in a far broader way than in the way Protestant Reformed Churches interpret it; that is, as meaning “present, set forth, proclaim” – as is the meaning of the Latin. He appeals especially to the “Sum of Saving Knowledge”, which is often printed in the same book as the Westminster Confession. We acknowledge his claim as true. But the Westminster Confession itself does not teach a gracious offer of the gospel. This is clear from the following considerations: 1) The question came up repeatedly on the floor of the Assembly, brought there by the Amyraldians. Repeatedly the Assembly’s great leaders repudiated the Amyraldian position. Anyone interested in this question can find material on it in: An article I wrote that appears of the Protestant Reformed website under the title “A Comparison Between the Westminster Confession and the Reformed Confessions.” In this article I refer to such material as Mitchell’s “Minutes of the Assembly” and J. I Packer’s Introduction to Owen’s book, “The Death of Death,” an Introduction published separately in pamphlet form. 2) The Westminster Confession is the official confession of all Presbyterianism; not “A Brief Sum of Christian Doctrine.” It would seem to me that the author owes it to his readers to make this clear.

The author finally accuses those who deny the gracious offer of God of humanistic rationalism. He writes:

Do you have difficulty reconciling the genuine overtures of the Gospel with the truth of God’s sovereign election and predestination? To all any such difficulty to cause you to reject the plain Biblical testimony to the reality of these gracious overtures is to bow down to the false humanistic god of the finality of human reason and is the very antithesis of true Biblical Calvinism. Whilst all of God’s Word is reasonable, our powers of reason are those of a finite and fallen creature. We must lean upon the words that have proceeded out of the mouth of God. It is fallen man’s pride in his own reason causing him to heed again the words of the serpent, “Hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1)

These are serious charges, sufficiently serious to consign all who hold to them to the eternal wrath of God in hell. Does the author really mean that? Earlier in the paper he speaks of “the late Herman Hoeksema” as “an able theologian.” How can one be an able theologian when he is a rationalist, an idolater, one who listens to Satan as Eve did, and a proud man?”

I have also answered the objection itself in a couple of forum articles. It is evident that the author of this article takes the position of apparent contradictions in Scripture. We discussed this at length, and need not repeat what was said. But the author claims that only those who hold to a gracious offer “Lean upon the words that have proceeded out of the mouth of God.” Would that the defenders of this gracious offer of the gospel would really do what they claim to be doing. It is my experience, and I have debated the whole question in speaking and writing times without number, that the defenders of this view are quick to quote texts here and there. But rarely, if ever, do they engage in serious and thorough exegesis. They do not make an effort to explain the texts they quote; they make no effort to examine the exegesis we present; they ignore our arguments and will not even try to answer them. It would be most helpful in the debate if just once we would receive some serious and thorough exegesis along with a solid Biblical refutation of our position. To fall back on the lame charge that we the Protestant Reformed Churches are guilty of rationalism will not suffice. Name calling does not solve theological problems.

Such an approach to a fundamental truth of Scripture is a denial of sound Hermeneutics, insisted upon early in the Reformation by both Luther and Calvin, namely the principle of the regula fidei (See, for example, A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969). This rule means that when one formulates a doctrine, one must take into account the teaching of the whole of Scripture and not just a text or two. Luther insisted that one could prove any heresy under heaven by simply quoting texts. And yet this is what is so often done by defenders of the gracious offer of the gospel.

Let us adhere to a tried and tested method of Biblical Hermeneutics, based solidly on the principle of Scripture Interprets Scripture, and not fall back on wild charges of rationalism and appeal as our last line of defense to “apparent contradictions.”

And so I conclude our discussions of common grace. I bid you all a fond farewell along with the prayer that our gracious God will keep you all faithful to his truth

With warm regards,


Monday, May 2, 2011

What is the Preaching of the Gospel? (58)

Dear Forum Members,

I have completed our discussion of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. There are other texts that are sometimes quoted in support of this erroneous doctrine, but they are very similar to the key texts that I discussed in previous articles.

I would not be satisfied, however, with a criticism of the doctrine, and neglect to offer to the readers the positive teaching of Scripture on what the gospel in fact is. If it is not grace to the hearers – if it is not an offer in the sense of God’s desire to save all who hear and his willingness to save those who do hear – what in fact is it? The Scriptures speak repeatedly of the gospel. What do the Scriptures themselves say?

The word for “gospel” in the New Testament is a word from which we get the English “evangelism,” or, “evangelical.” In the noun form it means literally “glad tidings,” or, “good news” and refers to the contents of the gospel. The contents of the gospel are God’s eternal determination to save his elect people in Christ. Or, if I may put it in the words of one of our Confessions, the Canons of Dordt, it is the promise of God to save all those who believe in Christ, and it is a command to all who hear to forsake their sin and put their trust only in Christ for their salvation (2.5).

I take my starting point in Paul’s definition of the gospel in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

There were in Paul’s day and there are many in our own time who are ashamed of the gospel. They are ashamed of the sharpness of the gospel when it puts all men into a condition of sin from which they cannot possibly deliver themselves. It is embarrassing to them to come to men with the Biblical truth that the saved are eternally chosen as God’s elect. They are fearful that a gospel which speaks of God’s love for his people only will drive people away. And they are especially afraid of speaking of the gospel as the good news of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for his people only and not for the whole world. That makes them ashamed of a gospel of particular grace, by which power God saves those whom he has eternally chosen.

But Paul is not ashamed of the gospel in all its sharpness and distinctiveness. He is not ashamed to preach it because the power to save does not lie in himself or his oratorical abilities. He tells the Corinthians, “And I, brethren when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-6).

Paul’s only concern was to be faithful to Scripture in his preaching. God would accomplish his own sovereign purpose through the preaching, apart from the gifts of the preacher, and apart from any human power at all.

Today, preachers who want to be popular and attract large crowds, are afraid or embarrassed by the gospel as Paul preached it. They are concerned about making the gospel more palatable, more attractive, more appealing to men. So it is with the gracious offer of the gospel. It holds to the fact that God has an attitude of favor to all men, that it is Biblical to teach that God loves all men and that Christ died for all men. They claim that if a preacher keeps talking about sin all the time and condemning sin, then people will turn away from him. People have to be told that they have some remarkably good qualities about them and that sin is not always so bad as it is said to be: surely man is not totally depraved. And so God loves them all, makes salvation available to them all, and desires their salvation. All that remains is for man to accept the loving overtures of the gospel and all is well.

Paul will have none of that. The gospel is God’s power to save. God himself saves through the gospel and God saves whom he wills to save. He accomplishes salvation in the atoning suffering and death of his own Son. The gospel is the proclamation of that truth. And through it God does what he has eternally determined to do, that is, save his people.

Paul puts it clearly in 1 Corinthians 1. He says that the gospel may very well be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but it is nonetheless “unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

Because the power of the gospel does not lie in human ability or skill, in the persuasiveness of the preacher, in his charisma, where does the power of the gospel lie? The answer is, in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Both Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, when they still taught the truth of Scripture, spoke of the external call and the internal call of the gospel. The external call of the gospel was the preaching of a minister who set forth the promise of salvation to all who believe and who brought the command to repent and flee for a refuge to Christ. All present when the gospel was preached heard this external call that proclaimed salvation to believers, the command to repent of sin and the sure punishment of hell for unbelievers.

But both Presbyterian and Reformed theologians also spoke of the internal call of the gospel. This internal call was the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect people whereby they are efficaciously called out of darkness into light, out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of Jesus
Christ. It is sovereign, irresistible and particular and is used by God to bring salvation to those who are chosen in Christ and redeemed in Christ’s blood. Without that work of the Spirit, all who hear the command of the gospel will never repent and believe in Christ. They are totally depraved, without the grace of God, hell-bent for destruction.
Two things therefore, must be said about the Spirit’s work. The first is that the Spirit never works salvation in the hearts of men without and apart from the Scriptures and the preaching of the Scriptures. This is Paul’s clear teaching in Romans 10:11-18. This passage ends with these words: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Rom 10:16-18).

The second is that the Spirit who always works only in connection with the preaching of the gospel, also always accomplishes God’s purpose in having the gospel preached. And it is this that I want to say a few things about.

First of all, let it be said emphatically that as far as I personally am concerned, I could never be a preacher if that were not true. If the success or failure of the preaching depended on me in any way whatsoever, I would be so frightened that I would never want to enter a pulpit again. The only truth that keeps me going is that God will do his work regardless of what I am or how I preach.

But there is more. Isaiah, in an important passage, says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 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 wherein I sent it” (Is. 55:8-11).

This passage is a clear statement that God accomplishes his purpose through the gospel. The emphasis falls on God’s purpose; his purpose of eternal election in Christ and his purpose revealed in the cross.

The same figure of the preaching of the gospel as rain falling on the earth is found in Hebrews 6, although with a different emphasis. In verses 4-6, the author of this epistle speaks of those who have once tasted the good word of God but have fallen away. It is impossible, the apostle says, that they be renewed unto repentance. In verses 7-8 the apostle gives the reason for this: the reason being that the word of God always accomplishes its purpose, but not only now in the salvation of the elect, but also in the damnation of the reprobate. “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.”

The gospel that is widely preached is like the rain that falls upon the earth. In some instances, because of the blessing of God, it brings forth fruit. In other instances, the same rain brings forth briars that are destined to be burned. The latter as much as the former is the realization of the purpose of God accomplished through the gospel.

The outward call of the gospel that demands repentance and faith in Christ from all who hear it has its purpose. Its purpose is, first of all, that through the work of the Spirit, the elect bring forth fruit. But it is also that the wicked who reject the gospel and in whom the Spirit does not work, are left without excuse when they bring forth only briars.

But behind the rejection of the gospel lies the purpose of God in the decree of reprobation. It is no wonder that men hate the doctrine of reprobation, for it more than any other reveals the sovereignty of God. But that the gospel also is used by God to accomplish his decree of reprobation is clear from Scripture.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, the apostle Paul 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 t 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.”

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. He rather considers preaching the gospel to be a triumph in Christ because God’s purpose is accomplished. And God’s purpose is accomplished whether the gospel saves or hardens. In both cases the preaching of the gospel is a pleasant smell to God. No wonder the apostle says, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (16).

That the decree of reprobation stands behind the rejection of the gospel is taught elsewhere in Scripture. This firm teaching of Scripture does not detract from man’s responsibility, because, as I said in an earlier installment, God accomplishes his decree by means of the sinful rejection of the gospel by man. But that does not alter the fact that God remains sovereign.

There are many passages in Scripture that teach this. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and told Moses he was going to do this before Moses ever confronted Pharaoh with the command, “Let my people go” (Exodus 4:21, and at least eight other places in Exodus). Paul confirms that this was the work of God’s sovereign decree of reprobation in Romans 9:17.

Jesus explains the unbelief of the Jews as God’s sovereign work when he explains his purpose in teaching in parables (Mark 4:11-12). Jesus, in speaking of himself as the good Shepherd, explains the unbelief of the Jews as being rooted in God’s decree: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you” (John 10:26). It is a mistake to turn this around, as some do: “Ye are not of my sheep, because ye believe not.” In very strong language Jesus explains the unbelief of the Jews in this way: “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:39-40). It is impossible to harmonize these strong words with a God-loves-you, God-wants-to-save-you, God- pleads-with-you-to-accept-Christ gospel. The exegetical daring of those who try leaves one breathless.

The gospel is God’s great power unto salvation to all who believe. Any minister who takes his calling seriously stands in awe before the great power of the gospel. He mounts to platform, explains a text – and unleashes powers that make a destructive earthquake of less power than the pop of a small firecracker. The gospel makes saints out of sinners and the bride of Christ out of spiritual prostitutes. It carries on its power the elect from the spiritual dirt and filth of sin into the purity and glory of heaven.

And the gospel also accomplishes God’s purpose in hardening the reprobate that they might, in the way of their sin, manifest the judgment of God.

Let us humbly give thanks that God has used the gospel to transform us. And let the gospel be our light and guide in life.

For who is sufficient unto these things?

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Further Comments on Matt. 23:37-39 (57)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I began a discussion of Matthew 23:37, with a similar passage in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” I closed the last forum article with the comment that two questions remained unanswered: One was, who are Jerusalem’s children? And the second was, why was Jesus sad at the impending destruction of the city?

Scripture uses the expression “Jerusalem’s children” in two different ways. One way is to speak of Jerusalem’s children as including all the natural seed of Abraham. These children are said to be in bondage; that is, the bondage of the law, which no man can keep, and which leaves those who are under the law in sin. This is the meaning of Galatians 4:25 where the “Jerusalem that now is” is said to be in bondage with her children.

But Scripture also speaks of the true people of God who were Jerusalem’s children. In Zechariah 9:9 the daughters of Jerusalem are admonished to rejoice at the arrival of Jerusalem’s King. When Scripture speaks of the children of Jerusalem as being the elect only it also speaks of the “Jerusalem above” which is the mother “of us all,” whether Jew or Gentile (Gal. 4:31; see also Heb. 12:22-24). These are the children of Jerusalem that Christ desired to gather.

Christ does not desire to gather all Jerusalem’s children, but is frustrated in his desire; he does in fact gather them. He gathered them on the day of Pentecost and throughout the years following Pentecost when the gospel was proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike. The text does not convey a frustrated desire of the Lord; it emphasizes Jerusalem’s sin in doing all in its power to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children (John 9:34-38, John 11:47-53).
The sin of trying to do all they were capable of doing to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children is the sin that determined their destruction. This was the tradition of apostate Israel from earliest times, when they killed the prophets and stoned those whom God had sent. It was for this reason that their house is left unto them desolate.

How it is possible to get a well-meant offer out of this text requires extraordinary exegetical legerdemain. One ought to read the whole chapter. It is filled with woes upon the scribes and Pharisees who are branded as hypocrites. It is a sharp condemnation of their sins, which will ultimately bring them to hell (14). These hypocrites are said to be blind guides (16), leaders in Israel who make proselytes greater children of hell than themselves (15), who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (13). It is impossible to find a well-meant and gracious offer in this chapter.

We must now answer the question: Why was Jesus sad at the thought of Jerusalem’s destruction?

While neither the passage in Matthew nor Luke speaks of Jesus sorrow at the impending doom of Jerusalem, the very wording of the text suggests this: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …” There is one instance where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. That instance was at the time of his triumphal entrance into the city while riding on a donkey. Luke 19:41-42 informs us that “when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”

There were at least two reasons why Jesus was saddened by the impending doom of the Holy City. The first reason, though by no means the most important, was a sadness that the important place Jerusalem occupied in Israel’s history was going to be destroyed. It is the kind of sadness that one feels when the ancestral home, or village, or city is destroyed. Jerusalem represented the Jewish nation of which Paul speaks in Romans 9:4-5: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” Those thoughts moved Paul to speak of a “great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom. 9:2).
I personally have that same heaviness and sorrow when reports come of the wide-spread apostasy of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. From that country came my ancestors, and God gave that country the privilege of being the cradle of the Reformed faith, the same faith that we confess and love today. The sorrow that this has happened is real. And those who came from other countries in which once the truth of Scripture was held high, but have now departed from the faith know what that sorrow is like.

Our Lord was like us in all things, except for our sin. He too knew sorrow. One might say that the Lord should not have been sorrowful, because he, as God, had foreordained such apostasy; but that is not the point. As a man who possessed with us all human emotions, Jesus experienced sorrow. A forceful illustration of this is found in the gospel according to John, chapter 11. Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus who had died. He knew that he had come to perform the miracle of raising Lazarus, but that knowledge did not prevent the Lord from weeping at the grave (John 11:35). Jesus knew the sorrow that comes to us all when God takes from us one we love.

It is not, therefore, strange that our Lord, remembering the past glory of Jerusalem wept over the city, even though he knew that Jerusalem’s apostasy and coming destruction were according to the purpose and plan of God.

But more is implied in Jesus’ sorrow. Jerusalem was dreadfully wicked. It had been wicked almost all the days of its existence. It had forsaken God’s law, worshipped idols, committed sins worse than the heathen, and repeatedly persecuted those who came to warn Jerusalem of its sins. The sins of Jerusalem saddened Christ. They did not sadden him, because he was disappointed. He was not so sad because he had wanted Jerusalem to be saved, and had even given them grace to do what was right and pleasing in God’s sight. Sin saddened our Lord. Jerusalem’s sin saddened him; our sins sadden him as well.

The opposite is unthinkable! Is God delighted when men sin against him? blaspheme his name? make idols to worship instead of worshipping him? The very thought is blasphemous. Even the Psalmist expressed such grief at the sin of those whom he knew. “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word” (Ps. 119:158). David sang this Psalm in which he expressed his grief at the wickedness of those around him; but he also, in this same Psalm, speaks of God’s sure judgments upon the wicked, and other of his Psalms express his fervent desire that God will bring judgment on all the workers of iniquity. His sorrow for sin was not incompatible with his desire that sin be punished.

As I have emphasized before, God is not, by his unchangeable counsel, the author of sin. Sin does not come because he ordained that it should. He is not responsible for the sins of men. Man sins willfully and willingly. He chooses sin and delights in sin. This remains true even though God sovereignly determines all sin. Though it was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that Christ be crucified, and although the Lord determined crucifixion as the absolutely necessary way for the elect church to be saved, the Jews, Pilate and Herod committed this one crime of the ages because of their wickedness (Acts 2:23, Acts 4:26-28).

God created man good and able in all things to do the will of God. The sin of Adam and Eve (and our sin in Adam) was, though according to God’s eternal purpose, man’s dastardly act of rebellion. God’s sadness is evident in his will that men fulfill the purpose for which he has been created.

Men protest against this truth that God is sovereign while man remains responsible for his sins. They even claim that this is logically inconsistent and cannot both be true. The sad part of it all is that in the interests of maintaining man’s accountability for his sins, the truth of God’s sovereignty lies like a wounded and bleeding reality on the pages of human theology. Man would prefer to sacrifice the truth of God in the interests of maintaining a twisted view of man’s accountability.

That we cannot understand fully the ways of God is not surprising: we do not understand any of God’s works, not even the simplest works of which we are witnesses a hundred times a day. God is infinite in knowledge and his ways are past finding out. We are bound to Scripture, for there God tells us of what he does. Scripture speaks of both God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability on every page without finding any problem. Rather than desecrate the holy name of God, let us bow in wonder and adoration, confessing our sins and our inability to know God’s marvelous works as he performs them in time.

In Christ’s service,


Friday, April 1, 2011

Turretin's Quote; What of Matt. 23:37-39? (56)

Dear forum members,

In the February 16 bulletin of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Rev. Angus Stewart included an interesting quote from Francis Turretin on Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11. Francis Turretin was born in 1623 and became professor of theology in Geneva in 1568. He was one the authors of the Helvetic Confession, composed to expose the errors of Amyraldism. Amyraldism was a heresy that arose in France and was promoted extensively by Moise Amyraut. It had wide influence in the British Isles and was represented at the Westminster Assembly by a few men. The Assembly, however, rejected it. The chief error of Amyraldism was its hypothetical universalism. Because Amyraldism also taught a gracious and well-meaning offer of the gospel to all who hear, based on a universal atonement, the Helvetic Confession has important articles condemning both Amyraldism and its doctrine of a gracious gospel offer.

The quote from Francis Turretin is as follows:

When God testifies that “he has no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner, but that he should return from his ways, and live (Eze. 18:23), this does not favour the inefficacious will or the feeble velleity (‘The lowest degree of desire: imperfect and incomplete’ – Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary) of God because the [Hebrew] word chpts which occurs there does not denote desire so much as delight and complacency. Thus God may be said not to delight in the punishment of the wicked inasmuch as it is the destruction of the creature, although he wills it as an exercise of his justice. So he is said to will the repentance of sinners approvingly and perceptively as a thing most pleasing to himself and expressed in his commands, although with respect to all of them he nills it decretively and effectively … Although God protests that “he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in his conversion and life” (Eze. 33:11), it does not follow that from eternity he willed and intended under any condition the conversion and life of each and every man. For besides the fact that conversion cannot be intended under any condition (because it is itself a condition), it is certain that here is treated the will of euarestias (the Greek word for “well-pleasing, HH) and of complacency, not the will of good pleasure (eudokias – the Greek word for God’s good pleasure. Turretin makes a distinction between what is pleasing to God and God’s good pleasure, the latter being his eternal decree of election and reprobation, HH.), which the verb Ichpts) proves, meaning everywhere to be pleased and to hold as grateful, to imply that God is pleased with the conversion and life of the sinner as a thing grateful to him and agreeing with his perfectly merciful nature, rather than with his destruction, and therefore exacts it from man as a bounden duty to be converted if he desires to live. But although he wills not (i.e., is not pleased with the death of the sinner, as it denotes the destruction of a creature), yet he does not cease to will and intend it as an exercise of his justice and as the occasion of manifesting his glory (Prov. 1:26; I Sam. 2:34). Take, for example, a pious magistrate who is not pleased with the death of the guilty, yet does not cease justly to decree their punishment in accordance with the laws. Nor is it the case that if God does not properly intend their repentance and salvation, does he to no purpose say to the reprobate who are invited to repentance, “Why will ye die?” For he rightly shows them by these words what they must do to avoid death and that by their voluntary impenitence, they alone are the cause of their own destruction, not God. For although by the decree of reprobation, he had passed them by and determined not to give them faith, yet no less voluntarily do they sin and so obstinately bring down their own destruction upon themselves (Institutes of Elentic theology, vol. 1, pp 229-230, 408).

The claim is made by the authors of “The Three Points of Common Grace” that “writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology . . . favored this view.” Turretin lived in this “most flourishing period of Reformed theology.” He was undoubtedly the period’s most influential theologian. He repudiated the whole doctrine of a well-meant gospel offer. He did so in his battle with the deadly error of Amyraldism.

It would seem to me that anyone who would make a boast that a well-meant gospel offer was taught by “Reformed theologians” “from the most flourishing period of Reformed theology” would take account of what Turretin writes. It would seem to me that honesty and theological integrity would compel defenders of the well-meant offer of the gospel to take account of these historical facts. It seems to me that they would clearly show how their view of the gospel differs from the Amyraldian heresy. And it seems to me they would take note of at least one theologian (and there were many more) of great influence in the “most flourishing period of Reformed theology” that opposed their position. But where we would expect to find these things, there is instead total silence.

Turretin’s figure of an earthly judge is powerful. An earthly judge may surely wish that a murderer who stands before him had not committed the crime of which he is found guilty. The judge may think of the grief of the family of the one murdered; of the murderer himself who committed the crime, and of his pending execution. But the judge may still will that the murderer be executed in the interests of justice.

But we must move on.

Another passage frequently quoted by the defenders of a well-meant gospel offer is Matthew 23:37-39: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

A similar passage is found in Luke 1:34-35: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

I have recently treated these passages at some length in the Newsletter of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland. It is possible to obtain theses Newsletters, published monthly by the church in Ballymena. They have a readership all over the world and discuss many important theological and practical issues of the day. It can be obtained free from the e-mail address

Because I have dealt with these verses in considerable detail in several issues of the Newsletter, I intend to limit my remarks in this forum.

The argument that is made from these texts in defense of the gracious gospel offer consists of two points. The first point is that it clearly expresses our Lord’s desire to save Jerusalem. And that “desire” is exactly what the preaching of the gospel is: an expression of God’s desire to save all who hear the gospel.

The second argument is that the very form of the text indicates that Jesus spoke these words with great sadness. This sadness arose out of a desire to save Jerusalem, but the desire came to nothing because of Jerusalem’s great sin.

The first argument is not difficult to prove wrong. Jesus does not say, and may not be made to say that he desired to save Jerusalem itself. The text clearly tells us that Jesus is expressing his desire to save Jerusalem’s children: “How often would I have gathered thy children together. . . , but ye would not.”

Jesus does not mean to say that he desired to save Jerusalem’s children but never did succeed in saving them; his only point is that the rulers of Jerusalem prevented him from gathering Jerusalem’s children. This astonishing charge that the Lord lays at the feet of the rulers of Jerusalem is a charge that can also be made of the false church today.

Jerusalem not only killed the prophets and stoned them whom God sent to them to warn them to repent of their sins, but they rejected the great One whom God sent, Jesus Christ himself. They fought long and bitterly against him all the time he ministered on earth. They tried to prove him an imposter and charlatan. They excommunicated from the church those who believed on him (John 9:34). They threatened with dire punishments anyone who confessed his name (John 11:47-53). And finally they nailed him to a cross and murdered him to silence his tongue and prevent him from teaching Jerusalem’s children.

So it is today. The church is more than ready to take into its fellowship the greatest of heretics. I am not speaking of the church in general, of which this is also true, but of churches that profess to be Reformed. If anyone raises his voice in protest or expresses his disgust with the presence of wolves in the heritage of God, he is silenced and even, if necessary, ousted and stripped of his membership. It is a dreadful sin to reject Christ; but it is yet more dreadful to do all in one’s power to prevent faithful ones from believing in Christ and confessing his name.

Jesus is therefore simply adding to the list of Jerusalem’s children another great sin.

Two questions remain: Who are Jerusalem’s children? And: Why is Jesus sad because of Jerusalem’s sin and perhaps, we might add, because of Jerusalem’s impending destruction? But we have said enough in this installment, and postpone the answers to the next installment.

Warmest regards,


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What II Peter 3:9 Teaches (55)

Dear Forum members:

I was considering the proof texts that have been used to support the doctrine of a gracious and well-meant offer of God that comes through the preaching of the gospel, in which God expresses his desire to save all men. In particular, I was discussing II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

I had made some general remarks about this verse and various interpretations that have been given of it. We must now turn to the meaning of this passage.

Peter himself gives his reason for writing this second epistle in verses 1-4a of chapter 3: “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming . . . ?”

It seems to have been the case that the churches to which Peter addresses his epistle were being persecuted at the time the apostle wrote both I Peter and II Peter. In the pressures of persecution, the saints were looking for an imminent return of Christ to rescue them from their enemies. Further, according to chapter 2, they were beset by false teachers who were causing grief in the church.

Apparently these false teachers were mocking the people of God when, in spite of the eager expectation of the saints, Christ did not return to deliver them. Their mocking words were: “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

They meant that it was foolish to expect Christ to return because the saints spoke of this return of their Lord as being a cataclysmic event that would bring an end to this present creation. The grounds for their mockery were that the creation has existed unchanged since its beginning.

Peter denies that this ground for their mockery is true: All things have not continued unchanged from the beginning of the creation.

Although what I have now to say is a sort of parenthesis in the discussion of the meaning of II Peter 3:9, I cannot resist a few remarks about this important chapter that have to do with obvious refutations of evolutionism. It is striking that the mockers who taunted the saints in Peter’s day based their denial of Christ’s coming on what evolutionists call “the principle of uniformitarianism.” Evolutionists claim they can know the nature of the creation in the distant past by studying the creation as it now is, because it has always been the same. They do that on the grounds that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,” the precise argument that serves as a foundation of the godless theory of evolutionism.

It is not surprising therefore, that those who hold to the theory of evolution, are, sooner or later, forced to deny the coming of Christ. Such a denial of a fundamental truth of Scripture is by no means limited to the worldly scientists; it is found, sadly, in the church as well.

Peter refutes that principle of uniformitarianism and insists that all things do not continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. To prove his point, Peter makes reference to the major change that took place at the time of the flood. The flood itself was a picture and type of the end of the world. In it the wicked world, which had filled the cup of iniquity was destroyed by water, and the church was saved by that same water (I Peter 3:20).

The pre-deluvian world was preserved by God’s word “standing out of the water and in the water” (II Peter 3:5). The world that existed after the flood is “reserved unto fire” (II Peter 3:7). Noah entered a different world when he left the ark. For the first time in the history of creation things in God’s world were governed by seasons (Gen. 8:21-22). It is therefore, impossible to determine the nature of the pre-deluvian creation from the character and nature of the creation today. The Holy Spirit destroys the foundation of the entire theory of evolution with a few pen strokes.

But Peter is not arguing against evolutionists in the first place. He is arguing against those who deny Christ’s return from heaven on the clouds. He is doing this for the sake of beleaguered saints, hard-pressed by enemies who were disappointed that Christ did not return to rescue them. He assures them that even though Christ does not return when they expected him to come, he will certainly come again

And if it seems as though the Lord tarries for a very long time, the saints must remember that a day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

But then Peter goes on to explain the purpose of God is in not sending Christ when the saints thought he should. Let the saints understand, first of all, that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” The saints must not charge God with a certain indifference to Christ’s coming. They must not think that God is so busy and preoccupied with running the world that he has no time to think about Christ’s return. Christ himself said, “Behold, I come quickly.” God cannot come until all things that God has determined in his counsel have taken place. God is in a hurry to send Christ, and Christ is also eagerly anxious to come as quickly as possible. But God’s counsel must be carried out.

Further, God is also longsuffering. He is longsuffering to “us-ward.”

God’s longsuffering is an important attribute. It means literally, to suffer long. It can best be described in terms of an incident that I take from my own experience. When my sons were small, one of them ran a very large sliver of wood into the calf of his leg. That sliver was very painful and had to come out. And so I took a strong needle to dig into the flesh and pry that splinter out of my son’s leg. It hurt very much, and at one point my son, with tears streaming down his cheeks, said, “Dad, don’t you love me? You hurt me so badly.” My answer had to be, “It is because I love you that I have to hurt you.”

So is the longsuffering of God. God suffers when we suffer. I do not know how the suffering of God can be explained in terms of his infinite perfections; but God loves us; that I know. And our suffering causes him anguish.

Nevertheless, our suffering is sent by a sovereign God and is necessary for our salvation, for we cannot be purified from our terrible sins in any other way than through suffering. All suffering sanctifies. Suffering is the only way to glory.

That longsuffering of God, such a wonderful attribute, is said by the defenders of common grace, to be towards all men. By this they mean that God is deeply moved by the suffering which all men endure and longs to save them from it. He gives them the opportunity to be saved by the offer of the gospel. But they do not take this offer and God’s longsuffering is without purpose.

There are three things wrong with that interpretation. The first is that the text does not say this. God’s longsuffering is towards “us-ward;” that is, it is towards Peter and all the saints to whom Peter writes these words of encouragement. In the second place, we do a terrible wrong to God when we speak of his purposes as being frustrated. God says through Isaiah: “I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10). And, third, to take the position that longsuffering is an attribute of God towards all men is to claim also that God saves all men. This is not a rash statement, for Peter himself says, a bit further in the chapter: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (verse 15). It is salvation. In fact, in the Greek, the word “is” does not even appear. The text reads: “Accounting that the longsuffering of our Lord, salvation.”

But Peter gives another reason why the saints must not be discouraged or tempted by mockers when Christ does not come when they expected. That reason is wrapped up in the words: “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The defenders of an offer want to interpret the “any” as meaning “all men.” God is not willing that “all men” should perish. So God is longsuffering, not simply to “us-ward”, but to all men. That exegesis is faulty in the extreme. Picture yourself sitting in church on the Lord’s Day and listening to your minister. “Beloved, we have a letter from our dearly beloved apostle Peter. He writes: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’” Would there be one member in the congregation who would hear this and say, “Oh, God’s wants all men to come to repentance? Only a dyed-in-the-wool defender of common grace would support such a notion.

But there is in those words a profound truth. God’s people are not a disorganized mass of people. They are the body of Christ. They are chosen by God in Christ from before the foundations of the world. They are redeemed in the blood of Christ who suffered for them on Calvary. They constitute an organism, a whole, a unity which is saved as a unity. The church can be compared with a human body.

Supposing a person is terminally ill. And the doctor claims to be able to save that person. But when the person recovers, one arm is missing, one foot, one leg, the eyes, the ears, and perhaps the mouth. I suppose that one can say, “The doctor saved that person,” but such a salvation would be highly questionable.

Because the church is the organism of the body of Christ, perfected in Christ, every member of that elect and redeemed body goes to heaven – or no one goes to heaven. It is all or nothing. It cannot be nothing, and so it is all – all the elect and redeemed.
But these redeemed elect are gathered from the beginning to the end of time. Christ will return only when the last redeemed elect is born and brought to repentance. He cannot and will not come earlier. He will not take to heaven an incomplete church, a mutilated body. He loves all his people and will not save even one until everyone is saved.

Peter is saying to the saints – and it is a glorious thought: “Our Lord has died for an innumerable multitude of God’s elect. You are not the only elect. There are thousands yet unborn. They have to be saved as well as you. Do you want them to be damned to hell because you want Christ to come before all the elect are born? And so the church must be in the world for some time yet, until every one of your brothers and sisters is born and saved. In the meantime, you will have to suffer. And suffering is not pleasant. But it too is necessary for your salvation. But God is longsuffering. He suffers with you in your suffering. But wonder of wonders: he makes suffering serve your salvation. So do not listen to the mockers. All is well. You are God’s beloved.”

That, dear forum members, is a glorious gospel!

In Christ’s service,


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Concerning II Peter3:9 (1) --(54)

Dear Forum members,

We are busy with the Scriptural proof that has been offered in support of a gracious and general well-meant gospel offer. I already treated a few of these texts; in this letter I continue an examination of such passages, for Scripture itself is our final canon of truth.

I consider in this letter II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Although John Murray and Ned Stonehouse make a great deal of this passage in their pamphlet on the well-meant gospel offer (Stonehouse, Ned & Murray, John, The Free Offer of the Gospel: Report to the 15th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948. 27 pages), it is something of a puzzle to me how an appeal to this word of God can be made credible. A well-meant offer is so far from the thought of either the Holy Spirit or Peter in penning these words that one is forced to scratch his head in puzzlement at all efforts to make it proof for what is after all, an erroneous doctrine.

I suppose that the defenders of a well-meant gospel offer appeal to the very last clause in the verse, “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The text then must be read: “Not willing that any single person on the face of the earth should perish, but that every one of them should come to repentance.”

But the question is, of course, What right does anyone have to make the text read in this way? The answer to this question could conceivably be: “Well, Calvin explained the verse this way.” It might be well to quote Calvin.

“And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent.

“So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But this order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way” (John Calvin, Commentaries on The Catholic Epistles, tr and ed by John Owen (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948) 419.

Even in this explanation of II Peter 3:9, Calvin is aware of God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation. He writes,

“But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundations of the world” (Idem, 419, 420).

There is, however, some justification in the appeal that the defenders of common grace make to Calvin in this passage in II Peter. Calvin’s expressions are not as clear and decisive here as one would like to have them. But I am convinced that those who do appeal to this passage do so wrongly. Whatever Calvin may have meant in writing these words, his thoughts were never along the lines of the defenders of the common grace of the well-meant gospel offer. I submit the following considerations in proof of this assertion.

In the first place those who appeal to Calvin in support of any aspect of common grace are guilty of the sin of anachronism. The sin of anachronism is to ascribe to men of bygone years views that one is defending hundreds of years later. It is the sin of interpreting what a man says long ago in the light of the times in which we live, to make a man of the 16th century a thinker in the 20th century; to describe the circumstances in which he wrote as if they were identical to our present circumstances. No one may do that. A man has to be interpreted and understood in the light of his own times and the circumstances under which he did his work. Only the Bible transcends all time and circumstances.

What I mean is that the common grace that is taught today throughout much of the church world was not anyone’s teaching in the days in which Calvin wrote. The common grace controversy of the 19th and 20th centuries was a foreign subject to the Reformers; it was not even taught in the form in which it is taught today by the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin was a man of his times, and he did not react to the heresy of common grace in the same way we are called to do it today.

In the second place, the quotation is taken from Calvin’s commentaries; and his commentaries were, for the most part, delivered in class when Calvin lectured in the Academy on almost all the books of the Bible. The students took down these lectures and they were printed as commentaries. (Calvin himself did, however, edit them and approve them before they went to the printer.) Calvin was a busy man who literally worked himself to death. His notes from which he lectured were not always as thorough as they could have been if he had devoted every day of the week to exegesis. That we find, not only here, but in other commentaries less than satisfactory exegesis is not hard to imagine or understand.

Yet, I do not want to minimize the importance of Calvin’s commentaries. I have a whole section of my bookshelves filled with commentaries. I must admit that, while I still make a lot of sermons, there is only one commentary among them all to which I now turn: Calvin’s commentaries. They are, far and away, the most helpful. Regularly I recommend them to those who ask about the best commentaries available. But this does not mean that they are without error.

In the third place, it does not surprise me that Calvin’s commentaries are not perfect. Who has ever written a perfect commentary? Who is so bold and foolish to claim infallibility in his exegesis of the infallible Word of God? Our best efforts are feeble and without much merit when compared with the depth of the knowledge and wisdom of God contained in sacred Scripture. I insist that we ought not to be surprised by Calvin’s “unreformed” statement that he makes from time to time; what ought to surprise us is that Calvin, brought up in Roman Catholicism, steeped in Roman Catholic thought, influenced throughout his formative years, could be so “Reformed” – if I can make use of an anachronism. Perhaps it is better to say, “. . . so profoundly Biblical.” What never ceases to amaze me is that all the great truths of sovereign grace were as clearly seen by this great servant of Christ in such a few short years of a short lifetime.

And that brings me to my final point. Many passages can be found in Calvin in which he teaches doctrines directly contrary to the ideas defenders of common grace pull out of a few isolated passages here and there. I hope to demonstrate this in a subsequent letter. But for the present I merely state it without demonstrating the validity of it.

It happens times without number that the great men whom God raises up in the church had such gifts of God that they see the wide horizons of that truth as we lesser theologians cannot. They see the breadth and length of God’s truth. They see its scope as it brings together under one roof all the doctrines of Scripture from one side of its broad perspective to the other.

Lesser theologians have not this ability, and so they misrepresent the men who can grasp these glorious truths and see them in their united oneness. The Antinomians did such misinterpretation of Luther. Luther taught justification by faith alone without the works of the law. Luther had no problem with Scripture’s insistence on the necessity of good works when he railed against the law and condemned it in fierce fashion. But Agricola and his followers did. And they repeatedly appealed to Luther himself in support of the position that the justified child of God might not have anything to do with the law of God. They took one aspect of Luther’s theology and without holding it in the balance of all Luther’s thought, they ran only with the one idea that the law was an enemy. They did not understand and could not see that Luther’s sharp condemnation of the law was a condemnation of the law as the road to salvation.

I well recall that in the controversy of 1953 in the Protestant Reformed Churches that arose from a defense of an unconditional covenant, some took the position that any use of the word “if” in any theological statement was heresy, for “if” implies a condition. I was reprimanded for choosing in a worship service, Psalter No 65, a versification of Psalm 25, which goes:

Grace and truth shall mark the way
Where the Lord His own will lead,
If His Word they still obey
And His testimonies heed.

If one wants to quote Calvin in support of the well-meant gospel offer, one must explain many, many passages where what Calvin says is an almost furious assault against that very doctrine. Let me quote just one passage from Calvin, interestingly taken from his commentary on I John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Calvin writes:

“Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotage of the fanatics, who under this pretence extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.”

Calvin would have been a muddled-headed theologian to write such contradictory words without his even being aware of it.

That is enough for now. I would like to return to Calvin in my next letter.

With warm regards,

Prof. Hanko.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ezekiel 18 and Ezekiel 33 further examined (53)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I sent I was discussing the meaning of Ezekiel 18:31, 32 and Ezekiel 33:11. In both texts Jehovah expresses through the prophet Ezekiel that it is his pleasure that the wicked turn from their evil way and live, for he has no pleasure in the death of any in the house of Israel.

I made some general remarks about the two passages in the last installment, but have waited till this installment for the correct meaning of these two passages from Ezekiel.

It seems to me to be perfectly clear that these passages simply state what is expressed in Canons 3/4.8, 9. You will recall that these articles speak of the fact that God is sincere when he commands men to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. He means exactly what he says. He is not deceiving man by demanding that which he does not want to happen. As I pointed out in my last article, this notion makes God what he can never be – a hypocrite.

Further, Article 9 of the Canons emphatically states that it is not God’s fault that men do not obey. It is man’s own fault. He refuses to repent of his sin and believe in Christ – even when Christ is presented in the gospel as God’s way of salvation.

It is true, of course, that God eternally determines in his counsel that the reprobate are justly punished for their sins, and that God eternally determines their unbelief and everlasting punishment in hell. But, as I have said frequently, God eternally determines reprobation in such a way that his eternal purpose is accomplished by means of man’s sins. Reprobation is sovereignly accomplished in such a way that man is responsible for his sin – not God! And so man is justly punished.

So the preaching of the gospel is not an expression on God’s part that he loves all men, gives them grace, and desires earnestly their salvation. It is the sovereign means God uses to accomplish his eternal purpose of election and reprobation; although the latter is accomplished in the way of man’s sin and refusal to believe in Christ.

The truth of Canons 3/4.8,9 is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture. This emphasis indicates that it is extremely important to maintain the truth of these two articles. Men commit a serious error when they claim that God does not command all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ. And men commit a grievous error when they deny the seriousness of God’s command to all men to repent of their sin.

In Isaiah 5 God speaks, through Isaiah, a parable of his vineyard. The parable speaks of all the care that God gave to his vineyard so that there was no reason why the vines did not produce grapes. God himself says, in a striking rhetorical question: “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (5:4) The vineyard in the parable is “the house of Israel and the men of Judah” (5:7); and the failure of the vineyard to produce grapes refers to the terrible sins committed by Israel and Judah when they surpassed the heathen nations in their idolatrous practices.

God indeed did all that was necessary so that the vineyard would bear fruit. Paul sums it up in Romans 9:4, 5: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

Along with the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, this is a powerful Scriptural support for Canons 3/4.8, 9. Nothing more could have been done to show wicked Israel and Judah the blessedness of repenting from sin and believing in Christ.

Paul expresses the same truth in 10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2: “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” To stretch out one’s hands is to underscore the earnestness in which one issues a command.

Yet, let it be understood as well that the command of the gospel is exactly that – a command. It is not an offer that expresses God’s deepest desire. It is not an invitation, although those who speak of the preaching as an offer really mean that the command is nothing else but an invitation, the acceptance or rejection of which is left to man’s free will.

Even in Matthew 22:1-14, where Jesus speaks of a wedding feast to which many were called, although they refused to come, the call was not an invitation. It was the king’s wedding feast for his son, and the king called (22:3) the guests. Now the call of a king is not an invitation. It is a command. So much so is it a command that when those called did not come, the king “was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (22:7).

Not even a king destroys those who decline an invitation. But a king has every right to destroy those who refuse to obey a command.

Jesus, the supreme teacher, also immediately adds that God accomplishes his purpose: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14).

The two passages in Ezekiel underscore, therefore, an extremely important truth concerning God’s purpose in the gospel.

That God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked is not at all difficult to understand. God has no pleasure in sin. It is contrary to his own holy being. He detests sin and is filled with fury against it and the sinner. The punishment of the sinner is necessary because it is the manifestation of his hatred of sin. He must destroy the wicked to preserve his own holiness.

How out of keeping this is with the thinking of much of the church in our day. If one would listen to theologians one would get the impression that God does not mind sin all that much. He overlooks it rather easily and winks at the sinner as if the sinner is only a little naughty boy who does not know any better.

Common grace, with its doctrine of God’s universal love takes sides with modern theology. But it is all unspeakably degrading of the holy God. Let us preserve at all costs the great holiness of Jehovah God before whom the angels cover their faces and cry all the day, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.”

One final remark. Some will conclude from that what I have outlined here implies two wills in God. There is the will of his decree, and there is the will of God’s command. After all, the counsel of God is called God’s good pleasure in Scripture (Is. 44:28). And Scripture (and the Canons in 3/4.8,9) speaks of God’s serious command that all men repent of sin and believe in Christ and call this serious command, God’s good pleasure. On the one hand, therefore, God’s good pleasure is to reveal his justice in reprobation; while it is also God’s good pleasure to demand that all men repent of sin.

Reformed and Presbyterian theologians have always recognized that a distinction must be made between the eternal will of God’s counsel and the will of God’s command. But it would be a wrong conclusion to interpret this distinction as referring to two wills in God. The fact is that the will of God’s command is the means by which God carries out the will of his decree. God made man holy and able to keep all the commandments God laid down. Obedience to those commandments was required because those commandments expressed God’s purpose in creating man.

Man transgressed and lost completely his ability to obey God. God, rightly and with perfect justice still requires of man obedience. Man cannot and will not obey God. But in the hearts of the elect God works through Christ’s perfect obedience to the law the salvation of his elect. So, both the eternal decree of election and reprobation are accomplished through the on-going demand of the law. In the elect God accomplishes his purpose in Christ by enabling the elect to keep the law. In the reprobate God accomplishes his eternal purpose in the way of man’s refusal to repent of sin.

Perfect harmony, perfect justice, perfect mercy, a perfect will of God to bring all praise and glory to himself.

With warm regards,


Monday, January 31, 2011

What of Ezekiel 18:31-32 and Ezekiel 33:11? (52)

Dear Forum members,

We come now to the two passages which, more perhaps than any others are quoted in support of a gracious and well-meaning gospel offer. I refer to Ezekiel 18:31, 32: “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” (See also verse 23.)

A similar passage is found in Ezekiel 33:11: “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

From a certain viewpoint, these passages from Ezekiel are the strongest proof for the well-meant and gracious gospel offer. Both mention the fact that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Ezekiel 33:11 says also that God does have pleasure in the wicked repenting from their sins and living. And the rhetorical question is a powerful one: “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Nevertheless, it is a perversion of the text to force it to prove an intention of God, or a desire on God’s part, to save all who hear the gospel. As a preliminary observation, we must point out that the text makes no mention of “grace.” After all, the well-meant offer is part and parcel of a common grace, which is an attitude of favor on God’s part and which he shows to all men in the preaching of the gospel.

I think this is crucially important. The grace of God can, in this connection also, be understood in two ways. It can refer to the fact that God looks with favor on all who hear the gospel and gives evidence of his favor towards them by expressing in the gospel his desire that they be saved. In other words (and it is not clear to me how this conclusion can be avoided) in the gospel God graciously gives all who hear a chance to be saved. God’s love, mercy, and grace are so great that God through the gospel makes salvation available to all that hear the gospel and earnestly desires that they seize on the opportunity and satisfy God’s desire.

But in the context of common grace, the grace that comes in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear is also a subjective grace given to each man so that he is put into a spiritual state in which he can make a choice either for or against the offer of the gospel. He has the grace to say, when he hears to the gospel, “No, I do not want to be saved;” or, “Yes I will accept the offer of Christ and so be saved.

In this respect, common grace as taught in the well-meant gospel offer is patterned after the Puritan conception of Preparationism. I have referred to this in earlier installments, and need not enter into this notion again.

But such a grace as is taught by the well-meant offer defendants leads directly into Arminianism. And Arminianism is contrary to Scripture, Calvinism and the Reformed faith.

But more important for our present purposes, no such idea can be gleaned from the texts in Ezekiel.

The second point we need to remember is that these passages must not be taken out of their context. In both passages in Ezekiel the Lord is answering an objection that Israel made against the Lord’s dealings with the nation.

In chapter 18 the context explains to us that the words of God in verses 23 and 32 were spoken because Israel charged God with double dealing. Especially, they said, this was true because they were being punished for the sins of their fathers.

God answers this by informing Israel when a righteous man turns from his righteousness, he will surely be punished; and when a wicked man turns from his wickedness, he will surely save his soul. For this reason God says that he will judge each man according to his own ways (30).

But God does not take pleasure in a righteous man turning away from his righteousness; but he does take pleasure in a wicked man turning away from his wickedness. And therefore he comes to Israel with the command, “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions” (30).

This is the command of the gospel of which I already spoke at some length and which must be preached to all men. This is bound on all Reformed ministers by the Reformed confessions, specifically in Canons 2/5.

Chapter 33 is somewhat different, and may very well been spoken at a different time. The context here is a charge to the elders in Israel to be watchmen on the walls of the city, whose responsibility it is to warn the inhabitants of the city of the approach of an enemy. If they fail to do this, and people perish as a result, the blood of these people will be required of the watchmen.

It is worth our while to note that the principle God lays down in Ezekiel 33 is still in force today. How dreadful it is when the elders of a church fail to warn the people of enemies who constitute a spiritual danger to the church. And how much more dreadful it is when these watchmen actually conspired with the enemies to assist them in entering the city, something they do when they approve of false doctrine.

Ezekiel is therefore told that he must warn the people of the enemy. If he does this, and the people do not listen, then Ezekiel will be free from their blood (verse 9).

Apparently, the people of the captivity, to whom Ezekiel prophesied, complained that they were so punished by God in being brought into captivity that they saw no possibility of living once again (verse 10). The implied criticism of God was that God had no interest in them any more and that he did not really care if they died in Babylon.

To this Ezekiel, speaking God’s word, tells them that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He does have pleasure in repentance and a turning away from the wicked ways that characterized Israel’s life.

One more remark needs to be made. That is that Ezekiel is addressing the nation in captivity in their organic unity. That is, he is addressing the nation as a whole. But the nation, we must remember, consisted of many wicked who had gained control over the life of the nation and had led the nation into terrible idolatry so that the nation became ripe for judgment.

But there was also in that nation a remnant according to the election of grace. This remnant was small and seemingly insignificant. But it was represented by Daniel and his three friends, by Ezekiel himself, and by those who sang Psalm 137.

This word was spoken to the whole nation in its organic unity; that is, in such a way that the wicked and the faithful both heard it.

This truth remains always the same. The word of the gospel is proclaimed in the church in its organic unity. In that church are hypocrites and unfaithful members. But in that church are also believers, saved by the power of the gospel. To them all comes the word of God: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

That is, as Canons 2.5 expresses it: God promises eternal life to all who receive the gospel and repent of their sins; but God condemns those who refuse to obey the command of the gospel.

Looking at the preaching from God’s point of view and from the viewpoint of his eternal purpose, God uses that gospel with its promise and its command to save his people through the work of the Spirit in their hearts. And he uses the same gospel to harden the wicked in their way that it may be shown that God is righteous in all his ways.

We will, God willing, look at the meaning of these passages in our next installment.

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What of I Tim. 2:4 & I Tim. 4:10? (51)

Dear forum members,

In the last installment I referred to two passages of Scripture that are quoted in support of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer, which comes to all men as an expression of God’s love for all men and his desire to save all men. The first is I Timothy 2:4: Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The second is 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.”

What do these texts teach?

I Timothy 2:4. Almost all serious commentators, including Calvin, take this passage in the light of the context in which Paul admonishes Timothy to pray for all men. This “all men” is defined in verse 2 as “kings, and all that are in authority.” The reason to pray especially for all in authority over us is “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty;” that is, we must pray for those in authority for the sake of the well-being of the church.

To do this is pleasing to God, because it is his will that all be saved. God saves all kinds of people, including those in authority. Timothy needs to know this, for those in authority were persecuting the church, and he would have wondered why he had to pray for obvious enemies of the gospel. But this was surely in keeping with our Lord’s own instructions to citizens of the kingdom in Matthew 5:44.

It all seems clear enough and one cannot help but wonder how this text can be quoted to support the idea of a universal love of God and a desire of God to save all men.

I Timothy 4:10. If one takes this passage in the context in which it is written, the meaning is not all that hard to ascertain. Paul says that it is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Timothy exercise himself unto godliness, for physical exercise is of little profit, while godliness “has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (verse 8). That is a great incentive to practice godliness! Such a great incentive is this for the apostle (and he wants his own life to be an example to Timothy) that he is willing both “to labour and suffer reproach” at the hands of the enemies of the gospel for the sake of the exercise of godliness. The reproach of the wicked does not mean very much and has little significance for him because he trusts in God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially the elect.

To set aside for a moment the true meaning of the passage, it is worth our while to note that should this be used in support of a universal desire of God to save all men, the text proves more than supporters of a well-meant gospel would themselves want.

After all, the text does not say that God desires to save all men, but that Christ is actually the Saviour of all men. That is more than the most dedicated Arminian wants to say.
There is another meaning to the Greek word soter (Savior) that is the meaning here. That meaning is “Preserver.” Christ preserves all men, especially the elect. Paul calls attention to this fact as the reason why he is not troubled by reproach for the godliness in which he exercises himself. The reason, apparently, is that God has his own purpose in preserving every man.

Whether he be elect or reprobate, he is created by God to serve God’s sovereign purpose in history. By his providence, God preserves righteous and wicked alike. The wicked too exist by the word of God, the same word that sustains the entire creation. (See for this use, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 612. Thayer, in fact, claims that “preserver” is its original meaning. Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1895) 534).

Part of that purpose God has in preserving wicked men is that they persecute the righteous. Persecution also comes through wicked men by the will of God. And persecution is the means God uses to sanctify his people. Peter reminds us that persecution is a fiery trial in which the faith of God’s people is tried as gold is tried in the fire, that it might be to the praise and glory of God (I Peter 1:7).

It may very well be that Paul, in this general statement, has a broader purpose in mind that God has for the reprobate; but he particularly calls attention to the preservation of the reprobate, for it stands in direct relation to God’s purpose in preserving the elect. God’s purpose is “especially” revealed in them in their salvation; but the reprobate are also preserved “especially” for the elect.

Surely, there is no universal love and grace of God in the text.
The text I consider next is found in Romans 2:4: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” The argument that is made from this text is that God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering are shown to all men and express God’s desire to save them; yet they despise these manifestations of God’s love and grace towards them. The point of the defenders of a well-meant gospel offer is that the text speaks of God’s attributes, particularly his goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, as indicative of God’s love for all men, his grace towards them and his desire to save them. Louis Berkhof argues this very point in his book written in defense of common grace.

There are two things wrong with this interpretation. The first is that it clearly places the final decision for man’s salvation in man’s hands. I have objected to this implication of the defense of common grace repeatedly, but the use of this text as proof that God desires to save all and thus to throw the final decision in man’s hands is blatantly argued here. There is absolutely no way one can hold to such a position without becoming Arminian in the fullest sense of the word.

The second thing wrong with this interpretation is that it changes the reading of the text. No man has a right to do this. The interpretation offered by the defenders of a well-meant offer deliberately change the text to read something which it does not say. These defenders say the text reads: “. . . not knowing the goodness of God desires to lead thee to repentance” – but does not succeed in its desire. While the text says, “. . . not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” – and actually does so.

This alteration in the words of the text is inexcusable to a sincere student of Scripture, and shows a willingness to twist Scripture’s clear words in the interests of making a case for one’s own notions.

I am assuming, of course, that no one who uses this text as proof that God wants all men to be saved, actually believes that all men are saved, and that no one goes to hell. A universalist who believes that no one ever goes to hell is some other creature whose arguments are not relevant to the subject of the well-meant offer. A defender of the well-meant offer believes that many go to hell, even though God loves them and wants desperately their salvation.

One can, therefore, appeal to this text in support of a well-meant gospel and give it the meaning which the defenders of the well-meant offer give it only if one is a universalist, believing that all men will eventually be saved.

But no argument over a wrong interpretation of a text in Scripture is successfully refuted without a statement as to its true meaning.

The apostle is paving the way for his great teaching of justification by faith alone, without the works of the law. He is demonstrating that justification on the basis of the works of the law is an absolute impossibility. The keeping of the law cannot justify a man; it cannot justify any man. It cannot justify the Gentile; it cannot justify the Jew. The reason is that all are sinners under the just condemnation of God. Thus the whole human race is referred to in chapters 1 and 2, and in chapter 2, Paul directly addresses all men with this condemnation by using the general term “man” (verses 1, 3).

All men despise God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering. They even despise God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering when they know that these attributes lead to repentance, and thus salvation.

This fact that God’s goodness leads to repentance does not mean that God wants all men to be saved; nor does it mean that in fact God’s goodness always does lead every man to repentance and salvation. But it does mean that in fact, in the case of some, it is God’s goodness that leads to repentance, a truth that is evident on every page of Holy Writ. When the gospel is preached, the elect are brought to repentance. The wicked are witnesses of this great goodness of God that does save. But even though they see this, they still despise this goodness of God.

And, of course, we also despise God’s goodness, for we are included under the dire things Paul says about men. Thus behind the text stands the truth that God’s attributes, goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, are revealed in all his works, but men despise them. They are particularly revealed in his salvation of some. When some are led to repentance, it is the goodness of God that leads them to repentance, and not their works. Hence, the direct address is used here: “. . . the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” But they are nevertheless universally despised.

The text becomes very important, therefore, for the doctrine of total depravity; and this truth in turn prepares the way for the great truth of sovereign grace, namely that God justifies the elect through faith in Christ, apart from any works which man performs.

With warmest regards,

Prof. Hanko