II Corinthians 6:1-2 and God’s Grace
Question 1: “According to II Corinthians 6:1, it is possible to receive grace ‘in vain.’ Does not this imply that a reprobate or a false convert can at least receive grace, even though it is in vain?”
No, it certainly does not mean that an unbeliever receives grace. The point is that God saves a number of people and that group becomes a congregation of Jesus Christ. Upon that congregation, God sends the blessings of His grace. They grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. God is gracious to that church as a body.
It almost always happens that there are also those in the congregation who are not true believers. They confess the truth for a while. They may even be chosen as office-bearers. But they are not faithful. Hebrews 6:1-6 speaks of such people. And so the warning is pertinent and needed.
There is also the carnal seed born in the church who do not show their ungodly colours until they become young people or confessing adults.
The grace God gives to a congregation creates a sphere of Christ’s gracious workings in saving His church. The congregation as a whole and each individual in it is called not to use this grace of God in vain.
Everyone knows that, when a farmer irrigates his field, he waters weeds, as well as his crop. But the weeds receive the water in vain. Indeed, the watering causes them to grow rapidly and manifest themselves as weeds. So it is in the church. Hebrews 6:7-8 uses this figure too.
Question 2: “When Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:2, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,’ is he not implying (a) that salvation is available to all who hear, and (b) that their receiving of it depends upon their response to this message, and (c) that God, through the apostle’s beseeching (1), is Himself expressing an ardent desire for all to respond immediately and be saved?”
For some strange reason that I will never understand, the phrase “now is the accepted time,” along with “now is the day of salvation,” is interpreted to mean that an invitation of the gospel is addressed on that very day to those listening, and that, if they do not do something about it and accept Christ, they will lose all opportunity to be saved. This interpretation is a favourite of Arminian evangelists who want to scare people into believing—something they find profitable to do for they believe that a man’s final salvation depends on the choice of his own will and not on God’s sovereign power to save whom He will. What nonsense!
The apostle refers in II Corinthians 6:2 to the entire new dispensation. With the coming of Christ and His glorious work, salvation now comes through Christ’s power to gather His church from all nations on the earth. It is no longer limited to the Jewish nation, where the saints knew the gospel through types and shadows. I might add that, after all, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Pet. 3:8). Today, as well as when the apostle wrote these words, is the day of salvation. It is always, in the new dispensation, the day of salvation.
At the same time, God confronts everyone who hears the gospel with His solemn and urgent command to repent of their sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. So the church is ordered to preach the gospel that God saves sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, and ministers are called to command all to repent, turn from their sinful way and believe on Christ. The command to all to repent is “serious,” as Canons of Dordt III/IV:8 expresses it. God is earnest and not playing games when He commands all who hear the gospel to repent and to believe in His Son.
Question 3: “Most commentators believe that II Corinthians 6:2 teaches that the grace of God spoken of in the text means the gracious offer of the gospel offer of reconciliation and pardon, which can be accepted or rejected. What can be said about this?”
Those commentators are wrong. Those who defend an ineffectual divine wish to save the reprobate are guilty of blaspheming Him by insisting that He is unable to save those whom He desires to save. Let us hold fast to the truth and give glory to God.
Question 4: “Does not Proverbs 1:28 (‘Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.’) imply that wicked reprobate individuals can truly express a desire for salvation and for God’s mercy?”
This question appeals to Proverbs 1:28 in an attempt to prove that a man apart from saving grace is able truly to pray to God; hence, to do good. However, the Bible teaches that it is not possible for the unregenerated person to do good (Rom. 3:12), not even to pray rightly (Prov. 28:9). Though the wicked despise God’s law, walk in their own lusts and mock the truth of Scripture, they do know that God is God, and that He is almighty and able to do all things. They also know that when they die they will have to face the Judge of all men. So it is that these same wicked people, when they are in extreme danger or distress, often cry out to God to rescue them. In World War II, the saying was common: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The meaning was that, in the front line of combat, the danger of being killed was so great that soldiers prayed that they might be spared. These were the same men who cursed and swore, and visited prostitutes when they could. So, after the danger was over, they went back to their wicked ways.
We are told in Scripture that, when our Lord returns, the wicked will cry for the mountains to cover them to hide them from the face of Christ (Rev. 6:16-17).
I recall that, when I was a child and a spectacular display of northern lights ignited the whole sky, the emergency facilities and newspaper offices were swamped with terrified people who thought that the end of the world had come. When they were assured that it was only filled with northern lights, they went back to their evil ways.
But God will not hear such cries, for their motive in praying was only to save, if possible, their own hides, while they hate Him and His sovereign rule in all their life, and use Him as if He were some sort of magician who will deliver them by His magic.
I think that at this point the real question should be asked: “If God truly loves them with a divine love, why does He not hear their frightened cries? If He really loves them and they cry to him, is it not cruel to ignore them?”
Prof. Herman Hanko, emeritus, PRC Seminary