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.
If you have benefitted from these labors of the prof., why not respond publicly with your comments?  Webmaster

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,