The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (1)
The Covenant Reformed Fellowship in Northern Ireland has called to my
attention a recently published book by Scottish Presbyterian theologian
Donald Macleod. It was suggested that it would be helpful for the witness
of that group to the Reformed faith in the British Isles if I would comment
on the book. The reason is that the book promotes the doctrine of common
grace and attacks the doctrine of sovereign, particular grace confessed
by the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The author is professor of systematic theology in the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh. An influential theologian and churchman, he is a leading representative of contemporary Presbyterianism in Scotland.
The book is titled, Behold Your God (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1990 -- hereafter, BYG). It is a treatment of the attributes of God. It is also an ardent defense of the doctrine of common grace. Three of the book's sixteen chapters are expressly devoted to the explanation, defense, and advocacy of a common grace of God. A fourth chapter, the last, enthusiastically applies the theory of common grace to the saving love of God in Jesus Christ, to Christ's atoning death, and to the call of the gospel.
In the course of his defense of common grace, Macleod assails the theology of Herman Hoeksema. Twice he charges Hoeksema with blasphemy. Hoeksema's teaching that God governs the powers of sin, death, and the curse by His providence, so that they "are not powers outside Him and apart from Him, which He must restrain" by a common grace, is "virtually blasphemous" (p. 131). Similarly, the teaching of Hoeksema that God is love in Himself in that He loves Himself as the highest good is "well-nigh blasphemous speculation" (p. 150).
In every respect, the defense of common grace in BYG is weak, pitifully so in most cases. It is a small comfort to the opponent of common grace that if common grace in Scottish Presbyterianism rests on the foundations laid in this book the fortunes of the doctrine are bleak.
Misleading Quotation of Calvin
Calvin is quoted from the Institutes, 2.3.3 to prove "a general divine restraint placed upon human depravity" (p. 117). What the reader is not told, but may discover for himself by reading the entire section, is that Calvin is teaching God's restraint of wicked men by His providence. The section concludes:
Thus God, by His providence, curbs the perverseness of nature, preventing it from breaking forth into action, yet without rendering it inwardly pure.
The common grace defended by Macleod restrains sin as an internal operation
of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of the unregenerate that keeps him from
being totally depraved and that makes him somewhat pure. It is this to
which the Protestant Reformed Churches are opposed as the plainest denial
of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity.
The controversy over common grace has nothing whatever to do with God's restraint of the open out-breaking of sin by His providence. With the Belgic Confession in Article 36, the PRC confess that God restrains "the dissoluteness of men" by means of the civil magistrates. There is, however, a qualitative difference between the restraint caused by the policeman with his gun at the ready and a restraint supposedly caused by a purifying work of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the unregenerate.
Astounding Appeal to Psalm 73
In one of the most astonishing instances of biblical reference and interpretation
in all the history of the defense of common grace, Macleod appeals to
Psalm 73 in support of his contention that the prosperity of the wicked is due
to God's grace to them and must be viewed as divine blessing (pp. 118,
119). If only the defenders of common grace would seriously take this passage
into account in their thinking on the subject of the good gifts of God
to the reprobate ungodly in time! The PRC would gladly rest the determination
of the entire common grace controversy on this one passage.
The Psalm demands that the present prosperity of the wicked be viewed in light of the eternity to which it leads.
"... then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation ..." (vss. 17-22).
Is it a favorable attitude of God towards the wicked that sets them in slippery places with their prosperity to slide smoothly into eternal hell? Is the abundance of earthly things that constitutes God's casting of the ungodly into destruction a blessing?
God spare me and my loved ones this His grace and blessing. As the Ekronites cried out when the lords of the Philistines sent the lethal ark of the covenant to them, "They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people" (I Sam. 5:10), so would a sane man cry out when he was threatened with the prosperity of Psalm 73, "God has sent us these riches to destroy us; take them away!"
Would Macleod call it grace that sets someone in a boat on a sure course down the river that plunges over Niagara Falls, even though the splendid boat is loaded with dainties and fine wine? Would he call the pleasant journey a blessing?
What is still worse about Macleod's interpretation of the prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 73 is its clear and necessary implication that the present affliction of God's Israel is divine curse coming to them in God's wrath. If grace is in things themselves, not only are riches and health blessing for the ungodly but also poverty and sickness are curse for those of a clean heart.
The Psalmist could be thankful that God did not send him a common grace theologian as a comforter in his affliction. Being plagued all the day and chastened every morning, while seeing the ungodly prosper in the world, caused his feet almost to be gone and his steps nearly to slip. To have had a common grace theologian "comfort" him by assuring him that God in this life blesses the ungodly in His grace, while cursing the godly in His wrath would have done the Psalmist in.
In fact, however, also the adversity of the godly must be viewed in light of the eternity which it serves: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (v. 24). Adversity as well as prosperity comes to the child of God in this life as blessing in the favor of God, working his good. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
The grace of God is not in earthly things. Grace is in the attitude of God towards a man and in His covenant friendship with a man, regardless of things: "Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand ... there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (vss. 23-26).
The truth about the temporal suffering of the beloved and elect church is stated in the opening words of the Psalm: "Truly God is good to Israel." The truth about the temporal prosperity of the reprobate ungodly is expressed in verse 27: "For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee."
Psalm 73 is not a passage to appeal to in support of the teaching that the good gifts of God to the wicked are common grace. On the contrary, the Psalm gives the deathblow to the theory.
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (2)
Common Grace and General Revelation
From Scottish Presbyterian Donald Macleod's book,
God (BYG), we learn that "the primary instrument of common
grace is God's general revelation" (p. 121). In fact, the author does not
mean this. For a little later he makes plain that he thinks the "primary
instrument of common grace" to be God's special revelation, that
is, the preaching of the gospel. Macleod views the preaching of the gospel
as the expression of the grace of God for all men without exception, and
this is supposed to be the highest manifestation of common grace.
Nevertheless, the Scottish theologian teaches that the knowledge of God that unregenerated men have from the creation is due to a favor of God toward these men. He teaches also that a result of this knowledge of God on the part of the unregenerate is the presence of good in both the individual and society.
Laudable qualities (are) to be found in the lives of those who are totally alienated from God (p. 117).
Through common grace God also preserves some sense of morality and religion in human society (p. 119).
Even specifically secular states and avowedly atheistic societies still possess strong ethical structures (p. 121).
Macleod goes so far as to make a general revelation arising from the
common grace of God produce a "natural theology": "If common grace enables
unregenerate men to 'see clearly' in the realm of natural theology
(Romans 1:20) how much more in the realm of natural science?" (p. 139) Thus does
the doctrine of common grace bring a Presbyterian into the murky waters
of Roman Catholic theology.
It is fundamental Roman doctrine that the revelation of God in creation and history results in right, though incomplete, knowledge of God in the mind of the natural man. This knowledge then becomes the meritorious stepping-stone to a saving knowledge of God through the gospel. The basic error in Rome's teaching of "natural theology" is her denial of total depravity. The natural man has some spiritual ability to respond positively to the revelation of God in creation. The same basic error is found in Presbyterian Macleod, as we shall see.
The biblical basis put forward for this is Romans 1:19, 20: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."
Incredibly, Macleod ignores verse 18, with which the passage begins. Verse 18 expressly attributes the revelation of God to the unregenerated heathen in creation, not to a common grace of God but to His common wrath: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven ...." The immediate and exclusive reaction of the heathen (whether in the jungle of Africa or in the jungle of the University of Chicago) to this knowledge of God as regards His eternal power and Godhead is that they "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (v. 18); change "the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image ..." (v. 23); and change "the truth of God into a lie" (v. 25), not liking "to retain God in their knowledge" (v. 28). The sole purpose of God with this manifestation of Himself is "that they are without excuse" (v. 20).
In this general revelation is no grace of God but only wrath burning from heaven. Its effect upon the individual and society is not good, but gross evil--the evil of their perversion of the truth of God and the evil of God's avenging Himself by giving them up to ethical perversions. The purpose behind it is not divine favor, but awful divine justice: "in order that they be without excuse."
In all of the dreadful passage, Romans 1:18-32, there is no grace of God, only wrath; no blessing, only curse; no goodness of men, only evil. He who runs may read. This is why the apostle is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (vss. 16, 17) and is ready to preach it also to the Gentiles (v. 15). Grace, blessing, life, and goodness come only through the gospel.
In passing, Professor Macleod hints very broadly that God's "common grace revelation" of Himself in creation is the reason why the Presbyterian churches should accept the current scientific theories of an earth that is billions of years old and of the origin of all things by evolution.
He is unhappy with those Christian thinkers who are guilty of "virtually proscribing (unregenerate science) and invoking the fact of its unregenerateness to justify rejection of its conclusions, especially in connection with the theory of evolution" (p. 138). He thinks that we should repent of the folly of the 19th century defenders of the biblical doctrine of creation who "blundered with little preparation into the debate on cosmogony and geology" (p. 140). In this context, Presbyterians are exhorted "cordially" to welcome "the scientific achievements of natural men" (p. 140).
The reader was alerted to this impending havoc that common grace would wreak on the inspiration of the opening chapters of the Bible, on the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis, and, thus, on the foundations of the Christian religion already in the fourth chapter of BYG:
We should also bear in mind that mediate creation may have involved very long processes; that certain records of the course of events involved in these processes may be accessible to us today; and that these records may be researched by specialists in the various scientific disciplines. There is indisputably both a theological and a palaeontological record of the sequence of creation events and each is a legitimate subject of human research (p. 44).
Common grace is doing the same damage to the fundamental doctrines of the inspiration of Scripture, creation, and the fall among Presbyterians in the British Isles that it is doing among the Reformed in North America.
Assault on the Theology of Hoeksema
It is when Donald Macleod considers Herman Hoeksema's objections to common grace that error finds allies in misrepresentation and confusion.
Professor Macleod portrays Hoeksema's opposition to common grace as the anabaptistic and monkish penchant for world-flight:
A second objection to the doctrine of common grace (by Herman Hoeksema--DJE) is that it is inconsistent with the accursedness of creation. According to this point of view, the world is exclusively evil and horrible and Christians can have no part in it. The only course open to them is to separate from it, create their own self-contained communities and leave secular art, politics, culture and commerce to the children of darkness (p. 126).
To the Protestant Reformed reader, this description of the Protestant
Reformed objection to common grace is laughable. It needs no refutation.
To the Reformed and others in the United States and Canada who are familiar
with the history of the PRC and who know the members of these churches,
this attempt to answer the Protestant Reformed objection to common grace
by rendering the objection absurd itself falls by the weight of its own
But Macleod's book circulates in the British Isles and elsewhere in Europe where readers lack this firsthand acquaintance with the PRC and their people and may, therefore, suppose that the objection of the PRC to common grace actually is a form of anabaptism. Reading this description of the PRC, a Scot might well imagine that the members of the PRC in North America huddle together in their isolated communes like the old Mennonites or the Amish of the present day.
Protestant Reformed people live in many of the largest cities, as well as in the country. They are found in every occupation, including business and the professions. They are active in politics. There are among them accomplished musicians, poets, painters, and other artists. They attend the symphony, visit the art galleries, and even occasionally take in a ball game on a weekday. Their Christian schools educate their children in every branch of human knowledge and prepare them to live and work in North American society.
This way of life does not conflict with their opposition to common grace but is in harmony with it.
The PRC do indeed regard the world as "exclusively evil and horrible." By "world" is meant the unbelievers and the system of life that they control. This is the world whose god is Satan (II Cor. 4:4); the world that lies in wickedness (I John 5:19); the world that all Christians are forbidden to love (I John 2:15). The world is "evil and horrible," spiritually and ethically--exclusively "evil and horrible." Its evil is that it does not know, glorify, and serve God. Its evil is horrible in that the world is now exposed as having crucified the Son of God (cf. John 12:31).
From this world, God has separated Protestant Reformed Christians, with all true Christians everywhere. He has done this by the sanctifying call of the gospel on the basis of the cross according to eternal predestination (cf. I Pet. 2:9; Gal. 1:4; John 17:6). Protestant Reformed Christians, with all true Christians everywhere, know themselves to be called by God to live in separation from the world: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers ... come out from among them, and be ye separate ... " (II Cor. 6:14-18).
This separation is absolute. The world has been crucified unto Protestant Reformed Christians, and Protestant Reformed Christians unto the world (Gal. 6:14). Surely this is also true of Presbyterian Christians in the British Isles.
But the separation is spiritual, not physical, although it can, and should, take physical form, e.g., in not marrying an unbeliever. Physically, God wills New Testament Christians to live in and among the world. The reason is not, however, that the world is somewhat good by virtue of common grace. To suppose so, and teach so, is to destroy the spiritual antithesis that must at all costs be maintained. Professor Macleod is guilty of this: "Common grace provides us with a biblical rationale for involvement in the world" (BYG, p. 142). But the reason is that both the church and the world must develop by means of this close contact with each other. Also, God will be glorified by a church that shines as light in the midst of darkness. Besides, it is not creation, the creatures, and the earthly ordinances that are evil (cf. I Tim. 4:1ff.).
Herman Hoeksema's objection to common grace was not an expression of anabaptism, that is, physical world-flight. It was an expression of zeal for the antithesis, that is, spiritual world-fight. Macleod may be excused for not having read Hoeksema's Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not Anabaptistic but Reformed), with which he may be unfamiliar. He is to be faulted, however, for ignoring what Hoeksema wrote in explanation of the antithesis in his Reformed Dogmatics (hereafter, RD), with which Macleod is quite familiar. What Hoeksema wrote concerning the church's attribute of holiness is typical--and crystal-clear:
For these members of the body of Christ are in the world. They have no calling to go out of the world and to organize a colony of saints in some secluded spot. On the contrary, they must be in the world, and live its whole life in all its relationships, in home and school and state and society, in labor, in industry, in business, in commerce. But in all these different relations and departments of life they are called to reveal themselves as members of the body of Christ, the holy church, the communion of saints. They must be holy in all their walk and conversation. They are called to be holy in the home, in the education of their children, in the state, in the relation of employer and employee, in store and office and shop, in all of life. They represent the cause of the Son of God and walk according to the will of their Lord Jesus Christ. This means that in the spiritual, ethical sense they can never be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (pp. 616, 617; cf. also p. 743).
To represent this urgent call to the saints as a plea for world-flight is misrepresentation.
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (3)
Providence and Sin
More serious is Professor Macleod's condemnation, in his book, Behold
Your God (BYG), of Hoeksema's doctrine of providence as
"virtually blasphemous" (p. 131). Macleod is here commenting on Hoeksema's
criticism of common grace's deviation from the Reformed doctrine of providence.
Hoeksema is treating the question of the relation of the fall of man into sin and death to the providence of God. He is setting forth the truth that the one purpose of God with the creation was its perfection in Jesus Christ in the way of sin and grace. In this connection, Hoeksema denies that an original purpose of God to develop the creation through Adam was unfortunately spoiled by the devil so that the work of Jesus Christ is mere "repair work" (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 235). Then Hoeksema writes:
But with this same conception we can also depart from the truth in a different direction, namely, in that of common grace. According to this theory, God has in mind the creation ordinance; and He still maintains it: the riches of creation must be brought to light under the dominion of man. Satan meant to frustrate this purpose of God through the fall of man. But God through common grace, by which He restrains sin and checks the curse in creation, so that man does not become a devil or descend into hell or fall dead in paradise before the tree of life, counteracts this attempt of the devil and maintains His original ordinance of creation, realizing His purpose. In the meantime, however, the Lord begins a new work, through which the chief purpose of all things is realized and all things will be reunited in Christ Jesus as their head.
Hoeksema criticizes this conception in these words:
Also this conception finds no support in Holy Writ. Besides, it is certainly a dualistic conception: for it proceeds from the erroneous assumption that sin, death, and the curse, instead of being powers which God works, manifestations of His wrath, are powers outside Him and apart from Him, which He must restrain (RD, p. 236).
Macleod is severe in his condemnation of this objection to common grace as unbiblical dualism:
From a Christian point of view this is quite unacceptable; and, when it goes the length of regarding sin as something which "God works," virtually blasphemous (BYG, p. 131).
Hoeksema makes plain that he does not mean that God "works" sin in the sense that God performs sin. God is not the author of sin. But sin, particularly now the fall of Adam, is included in God's eternal counsel. God decreed the fall. Also, God governed the fall, as He governs all the sinful deeds of men.
And the providence of God certainly implies that from the very first beginning to the end of the world, that is, till the return of Christ, God governs all things and guides them by His counsel unto the end He has in view. And from the beginning to the end nothing ever occurs in all the world which does not happen according to the counsel of the Most High (RD, p. 236).
Hoeksema is explaining the Reformed doctrine of providence. The
Reformed doctrine of providence denies the existence and operation of admittedly
hostile powers operating apart from God's sovereign decree and sovereign
government, needing, therefore, to be restrained by a common grace.
Hoeksema is applying the Reformed doctrine of providence to the vital truth of the goal of God with creation and history. The Reformed doctrine of providence, thus applied to creation and history, affirms the express teaching of the Bible in Ephesians 1:9, 10; in Colossians 1:13-20; and in other places, that God's one purpose with creation and history was, is, and shall be Christ as head of the redeemed church. God has no purpose with creation, that He is now realizing by common grace, alongside this purpose.
Macleod sourly dismisses this view of world-history as "a thorough-going monism" (BYG, p. 131). In fact, it is the Reformed faith's unique, glorious "philosophy of history." It is also biblical: "All things were created by him, and for him (Jesus Christ): And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.... For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:16-20).
The objection of the Scottish Presbyterian to Hoeksema's use of the word, "works," to describe God's sovereign control of sin, death, and the curse to serve His one purpose in Christ should disappear as soon as Macleod realizes that "works" refers to the decree and power of divine providence. To teach this is not blasphemy.
Or was Martin Luther a blasphemer when he wrote that "since God moves and works all in all, He moves and works of necessity even in Satan and the ungodly. . . . Here you see that when God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God, though He does evil by means of evil men, cannot act evilly Himself, for He is good, and cannot do evil . . . ."?
And did the German Reformer blaspheme when, a little later in the same book, he wrote, concerning the inclusion of the fact of sin in the decree of God:
If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else (The Bondage of the Will, tr. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1957, pp. 203ff.)?
Did John Calvin blaspheme, in his great work, "A Defence of the Secret
Providence of God by which He Executes His Eternal Decrees being a Reply to the `Slanderous Reports'
(Rom. 3:8) of a Certain Worthless Calumniator
directed against the Secret Providence of God," when he adopted as the
very "principle" of his view of God's government of sin the truth that
"those things which are vainly or unrighteously done by man are, rightly
and righteously, the works of God!"?
Was it blasphemy of Calvin to go on to affirm that "the fall of Adam was not by accident, nor by chance; but was ordained by the secret counsel of God"? And was it raving blasphemy of Calvin to assert that
All who are in the least acquainted with the Scripture, know full well that a whole volume might be made of like passages of the Holy Scriptures, where God is made the author, as commander, of the evil and cruel deeds done by men and nations. But it is utterly vain to spend more words upon a subject so well known and self-evident (Calvin's Calvinism, tr. Henry Cole, Eerdmans, 1950, pp. 207ff.)?
Is it blasphemous of the Westminster Confession to teach concerning God's eternal decree that
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (3.1).
Does the Confession require Presbyterians to blaspheme when it puts on their lips this confession concerning providence:
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin (5.4)?
Is it blasphemy of Holy Scripture to say of Absalom's adultery with David's concubines that Jehovah did it
(II Sam. 12:11, 12)? of Shimei's
grievous curse of David that Jehovah God commanded Shimei to curse David
(II Sam. 16:10)? of all the loss inflicted on Job by Satan and wicked men that "Jehovah hath taken away"
(Job 1:21)? of the most heinous sin ever
committed, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, that the wicked did "whatsoever
thy (the Lord God's) hand and thy counsel determined before to be done"
(Acts 4:28)? It should not be overlooked in the last passage that the Holy
Spirit extends God's government of sin to His hand, the instrument
It is a departure from creedal Presbyterianism to teach that God still manages to fulfill an original purpose with the creation by restraining antagonistic forces with common grace. To teach that heaven and hell are locked in a titanic struggle, while denying God's providential government of the devil and sin, is dualism. It is dualism even though one is willing to add that "eventually, heaven will be completely triumphant" (BYG, p. 131). Christianity has renounced dualism. Heaven is completely triumphant. Jehovah God is laughing at the enemies raging against Christ ( Psalm 2). "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Psalm 115:3).
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (4)
Denial of Total Depravity
Influential Scottish Presbyterian theologian Donald Macleod denies the
creedal Reformed and Presbyterian doctrine of total depravity. This is
the biblical truth that the natural man, that is, the unregenerated human,
is completely sinful. Macleod denies this doctrine in his recent book,
Behold Your God (BYG).
The denial of total depravity is clear, bold, and explicit:
Some unregenerate men ... (are) good (BYG, p. 130;
Laudable qualities (are) to be found in the lives of those who are totally alienated from God (BYG, p. 117).
Such is the goodness and moral excellence of these praiseworthy qualities in the unregenerated and in the wicked world outside of Christ, according to Donald Macleod, that the apostle of Christ commends them to the believer and commands the believer to think on them constantly. In what must rank as the most extravagant praise of common grace hitherto penned, Macleod ascribes the perfections of Philippians 4:8 ("whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report") to common grace and locates them in the unregenerated world.
(The objection to common grace) ignores Paul's recognition in
Philippians 4:8ff that there are things of good report outside the sphere of grace
(BYG, p. 127).
Paul indicates in Philippians 4:8ff that there exist, even outside the sphere of redemption, things which are true, righteous, honourable, praiseworthy and virtuous and which deserve the support of the Christian ... (BYG, p. 129).
Christians then are to be thinking always on the excellent things in
Homer; on the virtuous things in Socrates; on the just things in Roman
jurisprudence; and on the lovely things in the latest novel, movie, and
piece of secular music.
If the perfections of Philippians 4:8 are indeed found in the unbelieving world (the world judged by the Bible to be a Christcrucifying world), the Holy Spirit of sanctification is superfluous; the judgment upon the world and all that is in it in I John 2:16 is false; and the call to separation from the world in II Corinthians 6:14ff. is unreasonable.
The truth is that the perfections of Philippians 4:8 are not found in unregenerated men and the system of life that they control. That Paul did not think so is plain in Philippians 2:15 where he describes the world of unregenerated men as "a crooked and perverse nation." The glorious perfections of Philippians 4:8, upon which the saints are always to be thinking, are the perfections revealed in the gospel of Christ and found only in the holy church. As the following verse indicates, the perfections of Philippians 4:8 are "those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me."
According to Macleod, however, unregenerated men, possessing these "laudable qualities," can perform works that are really good: "Fallen man remains capable of both civil good and domestic affection" (BYG, pp. 119, 120). Having posed the problem of the flat declaration in Romans 3:12 that "there is none that does good, no, not one," Macleod hedges: "The range of such statements needs to be carefully defined, however." With appeal to the Westminster Confession, 16.7, Macleod then affirms the ability of the unregenerate to do works that are truly, though not "spiritually," good:
But the unregenerate man may still be capable of works which, "for the matter of them, may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others" (BYG, p. 129).
These good works of the wicked occur in the sphere of theology; in the
sphere of ethics; in the sphere of science; and in the sphere of art (BYG,
The cause and explanation of the good works of the man and woman outside of Christ is common grace. In the favor that God has for every human, according to Professor Macleod, He works by the Holy Spirit within most, if not all, unregenerated people, preserving them from being completely depraved; making them virtuous with "laudable qualities"; and enabling them to do much good.
All the blessings enjoyed by the reprobate, all their laudable qualities and all their achievements derive ultimately from this source (namely, common grace DJE) (BYG, p. 117).
Scottish Presbyterian Donald Macleod denies the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. With the rare exceptions of a Judas Iscariot, a Hitler, the keepers of Auschwitz, and the men of Sodom, unregenerated men and women, although depraved to an extent, are also good (cf. BYG, pp. 128, 129).
Macleod believes and teaches the doctrine of partial depravity.
In order to establish the doctrine of partial depravity as Presbyterian orthodoxy in the face of the historic, creedal Presbyterian confession of total depravity, Macleod does three, important things. First, he redefines the English word, "total." "Total" no longer will mean `complete.' "Totally," as in "totally depraved," will no longer mean `wholly,'or 'entirely,' or `completely.' Rather, it will now mean `in every part.'
That the unregenerated man and woman are "totally depraved" merely means that there is depravity in every part of their being. Their mind has some depravity or is affected somewhat by depravity. Their will has some depravity or is somewhat affected by depravity. Their body has some depravity or is somewhat affected by depravity. But there is also some good in their mind, in their will, and in their body. Or, to say it differently, their mind, will, and body are also affected by good good that comes from God by the operation of the good and Holy Spirit in common grace.
The third objection is that the notion of common grace is inconsistent with the doctrine of man's total depravity. According to both Scripture and confessional theology every function of human personality is affected by sin (BYG, p. 127).
What percentage of every function of human personality is affected by
sin, Macleod does not tell us. 90%? 50%? 10%? Is the unregenerated man
then 90% good? 50%? or only 10%?
It would be interesting to see how successful this redefinition of "total" would be in everyday life. I tell my insurance agent that my house and its furnishings were totally destroyed in a fire, but he discovers that I mean that the damage extended somewhat to every part of the house so that much of the house and many of the furnishings, in fact, are in good shape.
The redefinition of "total" makes for intriguing revision of Bible history. Saul informs Samuel that he has totally exterminated Amalek, people and animals. When the prophet condemns him for disobeying the Word of Jehovah (to say nothing of lying) in that he spared Agag and the best of the beasts, Saul protests that for him "totally" means `every part of the nation.'
Peter asks Ananias and Sapphira how much of the money that they received for their land they are giving to the church. They respond, "The total amount." But just before they are to be struck dead, they inform the apostle that to them "total" means a part of each payment that they received for the land.
Partial Depravity and Free Will
The seriousness of this redefinition of "total" for the gospel of grace
the heart of the Reformed faith - appears in this, that
now the will of the unregenerated sinner is somewhat good, or somewhat
affected by good, that is, somewhat free. When this teaching is brought
into connection with Macleod's doctrine that "the sending of preachers
is an expression of God's desire that all men should be saved and that
it puts men in a position of hope by placing the possibility of faith and
salvation within their grasp" (BYG, p. 131), the result is the Roman
Catholic and Arminian heresy of salvation by the free will of the sinner.
Macleod professes to oppose the heresy of free will. But his doctrine favors it. The theory of common grace embraced by Macleod teaches an operation of the Spirit within the ungodly that makes them somewhat good. This is, as such, denial of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. Denial of total depravity always and necessarily leads to affirmation of free will: The will of the natural man is able to respond positively to the gospel. And the doctrine of free will cuts the heart out of the gospel of salvation by the mercy of God (Rom. 9:16).
In this denial of total depravity is the death of confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism.
If Professor Macleod's denial of total depravity represents the view of contemporary Scottish Presbyterianism on the doctrine (as I suspect), Calvinism is already dead in the country that was the mother of Presbyterianism.
If Macleod's denial of total depravity is influencing Scottish Presbyterianism, Calvinism is doomed in Scotland.
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (5)
In his recent book, Behold Your God (BYG), prominent
Scottish Presbyterian theologian Donald Macleod denies the Reformed doctrine
of total depravity. He denies this basic truth of Calvinism in the interests
of defending the doctrine of common grace. Macleod teaches an operation
of the Holy Spirit within unregenerated men and women that makes them somewhat
good, that fills them with "laudable qualities," and that enables them
to do much good in the areas of theology, ethics, science, and art.
With the exception of a few hardened evildoers (Macleod mentions Judas Iscariot and Hitler), unregenerated men and women are somewhat good. They are somewhat good in every faculty and part of their being mind, will, affections, and body.
Professor Macleod teaches partial depravity.
The preceding editorial dealt with Macleod's attempt to harmonize his teaching with historic Calvinism by redefining "total" as 'in every part.' "Total depravity," Macleod would have us believe, merely means that the unregenerated sinner is depraved in every part of his being. But he is not completely depraved in every part. Every part of the sinner is also somewhat good.
Partial Depravity and the Westminster Confession
A second, and still more grievous, way in which the Scottish Presbyterian defends his unPresbyterian doctrine of partial depravity is by misrepresenting the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). In support of his definition of "total" as meaning merely 'in every part,' Macleod appeals to the WCF, 6.2 (he gives the reference as 6.3, but this is a mistake):
By this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.
Macleod would have us suppose that the Confession here describes total
depravity as merely a defilement of every part of man (BYG, p. 128).
The fact is that the WCF very definitely states, not merely that the unregenerated man is depraved "in all the faculties and parts of soul and body," but that he is "wholly defiled" in every faculty and part. Every faculty, e.g., the will, and every part, e.g., the brain, of all unregenerated sinners is completely defiled. In every faculty and part is nothing else than defilement. There is no good in any faculty or part of fallen man.
Also, Professor Macleod neglects to call attention to what follows in this chapter in the WCF on total depravity:
From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions (6.4; emphasis mine, DJE).
What loophole is left to a Presbyterian through which he can introduce
good into the unregenerate? Where in the creature described by the Confession
of Faith are the "laudable qualities" that Professor Macleod has discovered
in unregenerated man? How is it possible to interpret chapter six of the
WCF as teaching merely defilement "in every faculty and part"?
In light of the creed's describing the condition of the unregenerated sinner as that of death ("dead in sin, and wholly defiled," etc.), there is something absurd, something ludicrous, about the notion that this sinner is yet somewhat good and, therefore, capable of doing good works. The teaching that unregenerated men are somewhat good requires us to believe, as sound Presbyterian theology, that dead men are also somewhat alive. Indeed, the dead men are somewhat alive in every faculty and part.
Were I to assert such nonsense in the physical realm of everyday life, I would be dismissed as a fool. "My Uncle Harry is dead, and he has some life yet in soul and body so that he is working quite actively." But in the realm of Presbyterian and Reformed theology, this passes for great wisdom. "The unregenerated is dead in sin, and he has some ethical life so that he is vigorously producing good works."
A similar misrepresentation of the Presbyterian creed as supporting partial depravity is Macleod's mishandling of the Confession in the matter of the supposed good works of the unregenerate. He quotes a line in the WCF, 16.7 in support of his contention that the unregenerate are good and capable of doing good:
But the unregenerate man may still be capable of works which, "for the matter of them, may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others" (BYG, p. 129).
The words, "for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others," are a quotation of the WCF in 16.7. But this use of the quoted words makes the Confession say the very opposite of that which it actually is teaching in this article:
Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God ...(my emphasis, DJE).
Macleod quotes a line of the article to teach that the unregenerated man performs good works. The article, however, expressly states that all the works of the unregenerate are "sinful and cannot please God," including those works that outwardly conform to God's law.
The Confession's Definition of a Good Work
In this article of the Westminster Confession appears the same definition of a good work that is found in Question 91 of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q. But what are good works?
A. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
According to both the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg
Catechism, a good work is one that has three characteristics. These
characteristics concern source, standard, and goal. The source is faith;
the standard is the law of God; and the goal is God's glory.
According to both the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism a good work is exclusively one that has these three characteristics. No work that lacks these three characteristics is good. Every work that lacks these three characteristics is evil.
Christ alone is the source of good for men, and, therefore, only works that originate in the faith that draws from Christ are good.
The law of God is the sole standard of good, and, therefore, only works that conform to the command to love God and the neighbor are good.
There is none good but God, and, therefore, only works that aim at God the Triune, holy God revealed in Scripture are good.
This creedal definition of a good work rules out all possibility of an unregenerated man's doing good works and judges all the works of the unregenerated to be sins.
Macleod's Definition of a Good Work
Macleod's bold solution to the problem (for he is determined to have the unregenerated sinner perform works that are good, regardless of the Presbyterian creeds) is to propose another, different definition of a good work:
But if we allow that, without forgetting this higher meaning, we may also define the good quite biblically as doing what nature teaches, showing natural affection and manifesting respect for life, property and marriage, for duly constituted authority and for the ordinances of the church, then we may distinguish some unregenerate men from others as good: and go on to explain the difference as a gift of God, expressing His common grace (BYG, pp. 129, 130).
To define "the good" differently from the WCF in 16.7 is not allowed. This definition is God's own definitive definition. Accordingly, whatever is not out of faith, according to the law of God, and to God's glory is sin. If, outwardly, the deed conforms to the law's precept and if, seemingly, it serves humanity well, it is only a glittering sin. Augustine called such deeds of the ungodly "glittering vices"; the Puritans called them "painted sins."
How Will Presbyterians Define a Good Work?
Every Presbyterian inclined to accept Macleod's novel definition of
a good work should reckon with three facts: 1)The new definition contradicts
the definition of the WCF; 2) the devising of good works by Professor Macleod
is forbidden by the WCF in the opening article of chapter sixteen: "Good
works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy word, and not such
as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal,
or upon any pretence of good intention"; and 3) there is absolutely no
creedal proof of any production of good works in unregenerated men by the
Holy Spirit by means of a "common grace."
The Presbyterian creeds, like the Reformed creeds, teach the total depravity of unregenerated men. The creeds themselves make plain that "total" means 'complete' and 'entire.' From this total depravity proceeds not one good work, but only "all actual transgressions" (WCF, 6.4).
Which definition of a good work do Scottish Presbyterians accept? That of the Westminster Confession or that of Donald Macleod?
Their answer will indicate whether they confess total or partial depravity.
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (6)
The recent book, Behold Your God (BYG), by Scottish
Presbyterian theologian Donald Macleod is a passionate plea for the doctrine
of common grace. Three of the sixteen chapters are devoted to common grace
explicitly. A fourth consists of the application of common grace to the
saving will of God and the atonement of the cross.
Macleod's defense of common grace involves the denial of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. For common grace keeps the unregenerated from being completely defiled by sin.
The Presbyterian theologian defends his denial of total depravity in three ways. First, he redefines "total" to mean merely 'in every part.' Fallen men are depraved "in every part," but they are not completely depraved in every part. Second, he misrepresents the Westminster Confession of Faith to make it teach both that "total depravity" is merely depravity 'in every part' and that unregenerated sinners are capable of performing good works.
We have examined these attempts to vindicate the denial of total depravity as orthodox Presbyterianism in previous editorials.
"Absolute Depravity" and "Total Depravity"
A third way in which Professor Macleod tries to establish the denial
of total depravity effected by his doctrine of common grace is the invention
of a distinction between "total depravity" and "absolute depravity." According
to Macleod, the doctrine of "total depravity" is the teaching that unregenerated
sinners are defiled in every part of their being, although they also remain
somewhat good in every part of their being by virtue of common grace. The
doctrine of "absolute depravity," on the other hand, is the teaching that
every unregenerated sinner is as developed and hardened in evil as he can
The former, of course, is the teaching of Professor Macleod. He would like the reader to think that this is also the teaching of the Presbyterian confessions. The latter absolute depravity is allegedly the strange, foolish teaching of Herman Hoeksema and of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The argument of Professor Macleod is simple. Since these are the two alternatives and since "absolute depravity" is obviously false, it must be Presbyterian to hold that the unregenerated sinner is merely defiled in every part of his being, although remaining also somewhat good in every part of his being because of common grace.
The refutation of the argument of Professor Macleod is also simple. There is a third alternative: All unregenerated sinners are completely defiled by sin in every part of their being, although there are degrees of wickedness among them and although there is development of wickedness both in the individual and in society.
Because this distinction between total and absolute depravity is widespread among those who propound common grace and because it is commonly used by them to falsify the theology of the PRC (which is not so important) and to corrupt the Reformed doctrine of total depravity (which is very important), we may profitably allow Professor Macleod to carry on at length:
Theologians who ... advocated the doctrine of common grace ... distinguished between total depravity ("wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body," Westminster Confession, VI.III) and absolute depravity. Hoeksema is well aware of the distinction (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 252) but denies that it can give any help to the exponents of the idea of common grace. It is difficult to follow him in this. Absolute depravity means such a degree of hostility to God as admits of no progression or variation. This is not the way the Bible portrays man. Human beings are not devils. Nor is any man so advanced in evil that he could not possibly become worse. Nor again does human society present a uniform level of degradation and depravity. It would be absurd to minimize, let alone deny, the difference between Hitler and Gandhi, Pharaoh and George Washington, Judas Iscariot and Pilate's wife. It would be equally absurd to maintain that Romans 1:1832 gives an accurate description of human society in every age and every place. The theology of the Reformation was well aware that "some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others" (Shorter Catechism, Answer 83). To conceive of all men as standing together on a flat, undifferentiated moral plateau is to exclude from theology altogether the doctrine of judicial abandonment. All men are depraved. But not all men are "hardened" or "given over to a reprobate mind." Not every prison is an Auschwitz or every city a Sodom. Many men are capable of natural affection, fidelity and even of heroic selfsacrifice. The doctrine of common grace recognizes this and insists that such qualities are gifts from "the Father of lights" (James 1:17) (BYG, pp. 128, 129).
"Absolute Depravity" an Absolute Fiction
The opening statement in the lengthy paragraph quoted above is true:
The distinction between "total depravity" and "absolute depravity" is the
invention of the theologians who have advocated common grace. They invented
it in order to discredit Hoeksema's teaching of total depravity and in
order to promote their own denial of total depravity in the doctrine of
The distinction did not originate with Herman Hoeksema. He did not accept "absolute depravity" as the description of his doctrine of the depravity of the natural man. He positively rejected the notion of "absolute depravity," that is, as Macleod describes it, "such a degree of hostility to God as admits of no progression or variation."
The PRC today repudiate the distinction between "total depravity" and "absolute depravity." It is not biblical. It is not confessional. It is not part of the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. It is not even useful for understanding the real issue at stake in the controversy over the spiritual condition of fallen man. The great conflict for the Reformed faith in history has not been between "total depravity" and "absolute depravity." In fact, no one has ever taught "absolute depravity." "Absolute depravity" is a fiction. It exists only in the minds of the advocates of common grace.
The Real Distinction: Total or Partial Depravity
There is one important distinction to be made as regards the spiritual
condition of unregenerated man. This is the distinction between "total
depravity" and "partial depravity." "Total depravity" is the doctrine of
fallen man's complete sinfulness without any good whatever. "Partial depravity"
is the doctrine of fallen man's wickedness in all parts of his being while
retaining some good in all parts as well, whether because of a limited
fall or because of the operation of common grace.
The PRC confess total depravity.
Total depravity holds that all sinners are alike completely wicked and wholly devoid of all good. As respects the extent of inherited corruption, there is no difference among unregenerated sinners. Gandhi was as completely sinful as Hitler. On the supposition that George Washington was unregenerated, he lacked all goodness as much as did Pharaoh. The Bible says so: "There is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12).
Total Depravity and Development of Sin
But it is perfectly in harmony with the doctrine of total depravity,
and certainly the truth, that one sinner is worse than another, even as
one sin is worse than another sin. The apostate from the faith is far more wicked than the pagan (cf.
Matt. 11:2024). The professing Christian who abandons his wife and family is worse than an unbeliever
(I Tim. 5:8).
Both the unregenerated husband who faithfully loves his own wife and the
unregenerated husband who commits adultery against his wife are completely
depraved. Both the faithful love and the adultery are sin, and nothing
but sin. But the adultery is worse sin, and the punishment of the adulterer
will be more severe.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that "some sins ... are more heinous in the sight of God than others" (Q. 83). It does not say, or imply, that some deeds of the unregenerate are good in the sight of God.
Degrees of wickedness among unregenerated persons are to be explained in terms of greater and lesser knowledge; the circumstances of their lives; their own more or less intense development of their sinfulness; and the degree to which God hardens them and gives them over to their reprobate mind.
The spiritual difference among the unregenerated is a difference in degree of wickedness. It is not a difference in extent of goodness.
The doctrine of total depravity, as held by Herman Hoeksema and the PRC (and by the Reformed and Presbyterian creeds), does surely allow for "progression or variation." There is development of sin in both individual and society. But this development is not development from partial depravity to complete depravity, that is, from more goodness to less goodness or no goodness at all. Rather, it is development of sin.
The completely depraved person, in whom is no good from birth, develops and works out all the possibilities of his depravity during his lifetime, according to his circumstances. Baby Judas was as completely depraved as was adult Judas at the moment that he betrayed Jesus. But the adult traitor had made "progress" in the intensity and expression of his depravity.
The development of sin in the world throughout history is similar. Things do not go from good to bad but from bad to worse. What is now taking place in Western civilization is not the becoming bad of a society that formerly was somewhat good but the increase of lawlessness.
The figure that accurately pictures the development of sin in the unregenerated sinner and in the world outside of Christ is not that of the sick man who gradually dies. But it is that of the dead man who gradually decays and stinks more and more.
As for Professor Macleod's objection that the doctrine of total, that is, complete, depravity makes devils out of men, the answer is at hand. I suppose that even Professor Macleod would acknowledge that unregenerated men and women in hell are at last completely depraved. No longer is there an operation of common grace within them causing them to be somewhat good in every faculty and part, filling them with "laudable qualities," and enabling them to perform good works in theology, ethics, science, and art. At long last, they are dead in sin. But surely Professor Macleod would admit that these wretched persons are still humans, and not devils.
Man always remains man. He remains man when he falls into spiritual death. But now he is totally depraved man.
All of Scottish Presbyterian Macleod's arguments in support of his doctrine of partial depravity and against the Reformed doctrine of total depravity fail.
The doctrine of total depravity stands: Unregenerated men and women are completely sinful, devoid of any good. All of them. All of us, by nature.
This doctrine is fundamental. It is fundamental to the whole system of truth known as Calvinism. Deny this doctrine, and the whole of Calvinism is demolished.
The doctrine is basic to the gospel of grace. Total depravity is the judgment the searing, humbling, offensive judgment of the gospel upon us in the interests of the good news of sovereign mercy in the cross of God Incarnate (Rom. 1:163:30). Deny it, and the entire gospel is subverted.
But this is the present position of Professor Macleod and, I fear, of Scottish Presbyterianism.
Because of the doctrine of common grace.
The Death of Confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism (7)
Our Reformed readers may need to be informed that it is the glory of
confessional Presbyterianism that it boldly proclaims the particular love
of God. The eternal source of this particular love is God's decree of predestination.
The revelation of this particular love is the definite, limited atonement
of the cross of Jesus Christ. The realization of this particular love
its being shed abroad in the hearts of the elect is the call
of the gospel, effectual and irresistible in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The glory of confessional Presbyterianism is the same as the glory of the creedal Reformed faith. The Presbyterianism of the Westminster Standards and the Reformed faith of the "Three Forms of Unity" are confessional Calvinism. And the glory of confessional Calvinism is the glory of God in the sovereignty of His particular love.
Confessional Presbyterianism teaches that God loves and wills to save the elect; that Christ died for the elect; and that the Spirit calls the elect through the gospel unto saving union with Christ. Confessional Presbyterianism also explicitly teaches that God has eternally ordained others to damnation in hatred; that Christ did not die for these reprobate; and that the Spirit deliberately refuses to call the reprobate unto eternal life.
Our Presbyterian readers already know this.
The eternal particularity of divine love and mercy in the counsel of predestination is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), 3.3, 5, and 7:
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men
and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained
to everlasting death.
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory ....
The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
In 8.5, the WCF teaches definite, particular, limited atonement:
The Lord Jesus ... hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.
The particular, exclusive, effectual saving work of the Spirit through the gospel is taught in the WCF, 10.1:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ ....
This truth of the particular love of God is denied by influential Scottish
Presbyterian theologian Donald Macleod in his recent book, Behold
Your God (BYG). Macleod teaches a love of God in Christ
and a will of God to salvation that are universal. He proclaims a death
of Christ for every sinner without exception. He defends a gracious work
of the Spirit in the gospel that is directed by the Spirit to all who hear.
The doctrine of the universal, ineffectual love of God for sinners, Macleod contends, is genuine Scottish Presbyterianism.
I fear that this doctrine does indeed pass for Presbyterianism in Scotland today. If so, write "Ichabod" over contemporary Scottish Presbyterianism! For the glory has departed. Macleod's doctrines of a universal love of God, a universal atonement, and a universal grace in the preaching sound the death knell for confessional Calvinism in Scottish Presbyterianism.
The serpent in the Eden of Presbyterian truth was the doctrine of common grace. In previous editorials, we saw that the doctrine of common grace led Professor Macleod to reject the doctrine of total depravity for the doctrine of partial depravity. This same intruder has corrupted the doctrines of predestination, limited atonement, and irresistible grace in the theology of Presbyterian Macleod.
Having set forth, defended, and advocated common grace in chapters 1315 of BYG, in chapter 16 Macleod applies this favor of God toward all humans to the love of God for sinners in Jesus Christ. God's love is His outstanding perfection, writes Macleod, and the love of God is supremely revealed at Calvary. The Presbyterian theologian quotes and expounds John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ..." (pp. 146149). "Herein," he correctly states, "is love" (p. 149).
And then comes the vital, inescapable question:
The biblical teaching on the love of God confronts the Calvinist with a question of real urgency: What is the extent of God's love? Whom does it embrace? And is it at all possible, against the background of predestination, to speak of God loving all men? (pp. 149, 150)
Macleod does not hesitate: "There must be no hesitation. The world is
ugly and unlovely and some of its constituents will be finally and irrevocably
lost. Yet we cannot stop short of saying that God loves it." "His love
extends to those who are not yet reconciled to Him and even to those who
are never reconciled (emphasis hisDJE)."
As Macleod makes clear in his question about the extent of God's love, a question directly linked with the love of God of John 3:16, the love of God for all men is not merely a love that gives all men earthly gifts. It is a love that wills the salvation of all men:
Most important, God's love for the world means that He will have all men to be saved
(I Timothy 2:4).... God will have all men to be saved
in the sense that He has provided a salvation suited to the needs of all....
Furthermore, the salvation is offered to all.... (God) has no pleasure
in the death of the wicked, but longs that they should turn and live
(Ezekiel 33:11) (pp. 150, 151).
This affirmation of universal love is the denial of election. For election is selective love.
Denial of limited atonement follows. Macleod quotes Preston with approval: "Go and tell every man without exception that there is good news for him, Christ is dead for him." Christ is the Savior of every human "in the deed of gift and grant to mankind lost." We may tell all sinners without exception that "Christ loves them so much that He offers to be their Saviour and pleads with them to accept Him" (pp. 152, 153).
This universal love of God revealed in the cross of Christ is expressed in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is an offer of salvation to all sinners expressing the love of God in Christ for them all and the desire of God to save them all.
To evoke that response (of receiving Christ Jesus as Lord
DJE) we may tell them that Christ loves them so much that He offers to
be their Saviour and pleads with them to accept Him. But they must come.
If the offering love is spurned if the crucified Christ is rejected
they are lost (p. 153).
The biblical view ... is that the sending of preachers is an expression of God's desire that all men should be saved ... (p. 131).
It is clear, then, that the love of God for all men as expressed in the free offer of Christ and His salvation is something which Reformed theology has been at pains to conserve and even to emphasize (p. 153).
This now, apparently, is contemporary Scottish Presbyterianism: a universal
love of God in Christ that fails to secure the salvation of many; a death
of Christ for all that fails to redeem many; and a grace toward all in
the preaching that fails to call many into union with Christ.
This doctrine of an ineffective universalism is directly related to the glaring absence in the whole of Macleod's book about God of the truth of reprobation. Macleod has no place for an eternal, sovereign decree ordaining some persons to damnation. If there is such a decree in the God whom Macleod wants us to behold, Macleod is ashamed of it and hides it from our view. But the inevitable result is universal electing love, universal atonement, and universal grace in the preaching. This is the death of the gospel of particular, sovereign grace confessed by Dordt and Westminster.
This doctrine of an ineffective universalism is directly related to the glaring absence, in the whole of Macleod's book about God, of the truth of reprobation. Macleod has no place for an eternal, sovereign decree ordaining some persons to damnation. If there is such a decree in the God whom Macleod wants us to behold, Macleod is ashamed of it and hides it from our view. But the inevitable result is universal electing love, universal atonement, and universal grace in the preaching. This is the death of the gospel of particular, sovereign grace confessed by Dordt and Westminster.
Professor Macleod saves us the trouble of charging that this contemporary Scottish "Presbyterianism" is nothing else than the heresy of Arminianism. He admits this himself:
Arminianism believes that God so loves all men that He has made their salvation possible, if only they believe. It also believes that God so loves all men that He offers them this salvation freely. The Calvinist believes all that and the Arminian believes nothing more (p. 154).
This may be contemporary Scottish Presbyterianism. But it is
not confessional Presbyterianism. If this theology represents Presbyterianism
in Scotland at the end of the 20th century (and I have not seen one word
of protest coming out of Scotland), confessional Calvinism is dead in Scotland.
"Behold Your God"?
We confessional Presbyterians and creedally Reformed believers cannot recognize our God in this theology.
Last modified: 08-Mar-2000