The contents of the pamphlet that is hereby offered to the public are not of a personal nature, as the title might possibly suggest, but they purpose to set forth the Reformed view of the truth, as defended by John Calvin, in opposition to certain Arminian tendencies and tenets, that of late were adopted officially by the Christian Reformed Church and found their zealous defenders in Prof. L. Berkhof and Rev. H. J. Kuiper.
From the first we claimed that in officially adopting the First Point (the doctrine of which is the point of comparison in this pamphlet), the Christian Reformed Churches departed not only from what is fundamentally and confessionally Reformed, but also from the historically Reformed line. The notion may always have been afloat in Reformed circles, that God is gracious in the preaching of the Gospel, conceived as a general and well-meant offer of salvation, to all that hear it; the truth is that this and similar Ideas are no direct fruit of Reformed thinking but were imported from the camp of the Pelagian and Arminian enemy. Nevertheless, it was because we refused to subscribe to these imported errors, as they finally were embodied in the Three Points of 1924, that we were expelled from the ministry and fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches.
To testify against this error in doctrine and unrighteous deposition from our office we consider our solemn duty before God, as well as an obligation of true love to the Church and the brethren in whose midst we labored in the past.
The republication of Calvin’s Calvinism by the Sovereign Grace Union offered us a new means unto this purpose, and gladly we made use of it by drawing a comparison between its teaching and that of the First Point as defended and explained by Prof. L. Berkhof and Rev. H. J. Kuiper.
Originally this comparison appeared in the form of articles in the Standard Bearer. And we are grateful to the seminary students through whose efforts we are now able to offer the same material, unchanged but in pamphlet form, to the reading public.
May our covenant God use this testimony as a humble means for the maintenance and furtherance of His cause in the world.
The reader undoubtedly learnt, that on my recent trip to Europe, I came into contact with some brethren of the Sovereign Grace Union in London, England, particularly with the general secretary of that Union, the Rev. Henry Atherton and his people of the Grove Chapel. I had the privilege of spending a Sabbath in their midst and of ministering the Word of God unto them in two of their services. It is not my purpose, however, to write about this Union in this article. The Lord willing I hope to devote some space to this interesting and important subject in future issues of our Standard Bearer. Let me say, however, even at this present time, that the leaders of the Christian Reformed Churches cannot possibly agree with the principles of this Union, more especially of the Rev. Atherton and his Church. These are strictly Calvinistic and emphasize the very truths the Christian Reformed Churches have denied in their declarations, of the Synod of Kalamazoo in 1924. To mention only one important matter, they most emphatically deny, that the preaching of the gospel is a well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all that outwardly hear it.
Time and again the Rev. Atherton emphasized in my conversation with him, that grace is never an offer, and that the preaching of the gospel cannot be God’s offer of salvation to all. They believe in predestination and they preach it without reserve. If the Rev. Atherton were minister in the Christian Reformed Churches, they would cast him out, as they did us. I consider it best for all concerned, that there be a clear understanding of this matter, for such is the simple truth.
But about the Sovereign Grace Union, its work and purpose, I hope to write later.
This time, though I cannot write a lengthy review on it in the present number, I would urge our readers to secure one of the most recent publications of the Union. I refer to the work entitled: Calvin’s Calvinism. The book is a work by John Calvin himself, which he wrote in his maturer years, in which he deals particularly with the subject of predestination. The book was first published in 1552, was for the first time translated into the English language in the year 1856, and is now reprinted and published by the Sovereign Grace Union.
Being the work of his later years and being devoted entirely to the subject of predestination, the book offers a fuller and clearer as well as a riper view of Calvin on this subject than does his Institutes. Also of the contents of this work it may be said, that the Christian Reformed Church cannot possibly agree with John Calvin. The leaders of that Church have far departed from him and from the Calvinistic faith. I was surprised to hear that Prof. L. Berkhof wrote a very favorable review on the book. The latter I have not read as yet, but I hope to do so and criticize it in the near future. How would Prof. Berkhof harmonize the following quotation with Point I of 1924 and with all he wrote in defense of the view that the gospel is an offer of salvation even to those that are lost?
“Pighius himself will confess that there is need of illumination to bring into Christ those who were adversaries to God; but he, at the same time, holds fast the fiction (I underscore) that grace is offered equally to all (I underscore) but that it is ultimately rendered effectual by the will of man, just as each one is willing to receive it.” (p. 51).
Or how, please, does he and those that agree with him, judge of the following doctrine of Calvin:
“But with reference to His hardening men’s hearts, that is a different way of God’s working, as I have just observed. Because God does not govern the reprobate by His regenerating Spirit; but He gives them over to the devil, and leaves them to be his slaves; and He so overrules their depraved wills by His secret judgment and counsel, that they can do nothing but what He has decreed” (p. 319). (I underscore.)
Or the following, please:
“For notwithstanding all your vain talk about it, the truth is that a heart of flesh and a new heart are not promised to all men promiscuously, but to the elect peculiarly, that they might walk after the commandments of God.” (p. 315).
Surely, 1924 would have discovered these passages in Calvin’s work, and having found, that Calvin is “fundamentally Reformed but with an inclination to onesidedness” they would have cast him out of the Christian Reformed Churches!
But I will review these matters, as soon as time allows. It is now only my purpose to recommend to our people, that they secure and read this book.
The Sovereign Grace Union did a good work when they reprinted it.
CALVIN, BERKHOF and H. J. KUIPER
Of course, we do not intend to draw a comparison between the three men, whose names appear in the title of this essay.
It is our purpose to make a comparative study of their views, their doctrines, their convictions, as clearly expressed in their writings.
Neither do we propose to compare their teachings from every viewpoint and with regard to every detail. It is particularly from the viewpoint of their attitude toward the so-called free offer of salvation in connection with the doctrine of predestination and sovereign grace, that we expect to carry on a bit of investigation. Again, we do not care to draw a comparison between the views of each one of the three men named individually. That would not be to the point and would lead us nowhere. We have a certain definite purpose in view. We want to know something very definite. We would like to have an answer to a certain very definite question, that concerns us all, Calvin, Kuiper, Berkhof, the undersigned and all our readers and hundreds more. And that particular question is: do Berkhof and Kuiper in all they have publicly taught of late years follow John Calvin’s conception of a certain free offer of salvation to all men? If they do we do not hesitate to admit that we do not. If Calvin holds to the general and free offer of salvation to all men promiscuously in the sense in which Berkhof and Kuiper do, we must depart from Calvin. That is our interest in the question we propose to answer. If, on the other hand, Berkhof and Kuiper in their writings on this subject depart from Calvin, they ought to cease to appeal to him and his views as if they agreed with him, and they ought not to recommend his works, particularly not the book entitled Calvin’s Calvinism; they ought frankly to admit that they condemn Calvin on this point as they did and do us. That is their interest in this matter. And if it is not true that John Calvin held to a gracious and general offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, Berkhof and Kuiper ought not to present him as if he did. His name ought to be cleared from the indictment of teaching any such Pelagian errors. That is Calvin’s interest in the matter. And in the process of this investigation the atmosphere will probably be cleared with respect to certain matters, the truth will shine forth more clearly and brightly and we will all be edified. That is the interest of all our readers in the matter and of many more that ought to be our readers.
And so we will compare the last named two men with the first: Berkhof and Kuiper on the one hand, Calvin on the other.
The occasion, you ask for this essay?
First: the publication of the book Calvin’s Calvinism, to which we referred in the previous number of our paper. It sets forth particularly the views of John Calvin on predestination and the related doctrines; and on the secret providence of God. And it is the work of Calvin’s maturer years, a fact that adds to the value of the book in our estimation.
Secondly: a particular paragraph in the book review on this work by Prof. Berkhof, that appeared in The Banner of July 26, 1929. The paragraph referred to here follows:
“These treatises are indeed valuable productions of the great Reformer. On reading them, it is true, we sometimes feel that he is hardly civil to his opponents. He certainly does not speak of them in terms of endearment. But in this respect his polemics simply reflect the spirit of the age. The one thing that stands out very clearly in these treatises is that Calvin is eminently Scriptural in his representations. He bases his teachings on the Word of God, and is always ready to apply to them the touchstone of Scripture. Moreover, in the deep things of God he has no desire to go beyond the plain teachings of the Bible and rebukes those that attempt it. He is willing to go as far as the Word of God does, but not farther, and does not hesitate to admit that the doctrines of predestination and divine providence raise problems which he cannot solve. Time and again he indignantly repudiates the idea that in teaching the doctrine of predestination he makes God the author of sin and renders the free offer of salvation impossible. He has no patience with those people who want the preachers to be silent respecting these great doctrines for fear that they might prove injurious to some; at the same time he desires that these doctrines shall be taught with care and discretion.”
Thirdly: both Berkhof and Kuiper are great defenders of the Three Points. If Berkhof is not the father of them, he certainly is one of their foster-fathers and he went the length of publishing a pamphlet in their defense. And Kuiper preached and published three sermons on these points, in which he made many statements that are still fresh in our mind because of their glowing enthusiasm for the doctrine, that God freely offers salvation to all men and earnestly desires their salvation. And also these statements ought to be compared with the teachings of John Calvin on this subject.
We will make the paragraph quoted from the book review by Berkhof our starting point.
The reader will realize that it is especially to the part that speaks of Calvin’s view of the free offer of salvation, and of his timidity to enter into the deep things of God, that we wish to call attention. We are interested to know just what was Calvin’s view on these matters and whether Berkhof is interpreting him rightly.
But before we enter into this, we must needs speak of another matter or two that impressed us, when we read this brief appraisal by Berkhof of the book of Calvin.
First of all we would call the attention of our readers to the statements Berkhof makes concerning the treatment by Calvin of his opponents. He hardly treats them civilly sometimes, writes Berkhof. He certainly does not speak of them in terms of endearment! And the professor attributes this feature of Calvin’s treatises merely to the spirit of the age. It was simply the custom of the time to treat opponents in this fashion.
Now, the fact may be admitted that Calvin handles his opponents without the gloves of a superficial civilization. He does thoroughly enter into their reasoning and enervates their every argument. But in doing so he does not spare them and is little careful how he calls them. We would, probably, speak of our “honorable opponent” and write in terms of utmost respect, though we did not mean a word of it, did not think our opponent honorable at all and had no respect for him whatever. Calvin surely does not write in that fashion. He calls a spade a spade. Some very interesting illustrations may be quoted from his work to substantiate this statement. For instance:
“But since the trouble which this vain fellow (Servetus) endeavored to cause me, reaches unto you also, it is but just that you should partake of the blessed fruit which God brings out of it.” (p. 20).
“And yet the object of this filthy and abandoned one (Servetus) was not only to blot out all knowledge of God’s election from the minds of men, but to overturn His power also, as is evident from his mad dreams, which ye possess in your public records”… (p. 22).
“Now the reason why, passing by this fellow in silence, I enter into the battle with the other two, Albertus Pighius and Georgius of Sicily, is, as I will explain to you twofold. This ignorant pettifogger could bring forth nothing but what he got from these sources, and so would make what was bad in them worse and worse. To contend with him, therefore, would have been a contest cold and bootless. Let our readers be content with one proof. With what cavils Pighius and Georgius would darken the first chapter of Paul to the Ephesians has been shown in its proper place. They, indeed, were ignorant and disgusting; but the folly of this fellow is fouler still, who blushed not to babble his nonsense in your senate; and not only so, but dared to defend with pertinacity what he had thus blathered in folly.” (p. 23).
Or take this for example:
“I propose now, to enter into the sacred battle with Pighius and Georgius, the Sicilian, a pair of unclean beasts (Lev. 11:3) by no means badly matched.”
And to prove this characterization of them he continues:
“For though I confess that in some things they differ, yet, in hatching enormities of error, in adulterating the Scriptures with wicked and reveling audacity, in a proud contempt of truth, in forward impudence and in brazen loquacity, the most perfect likeness and sameness will be found to exist between them. Except that Pighius by inflating the muddy bombast of his magniloquence, carries himself with greater pomp and boast; while the other fellow borrows the boots by which he elevates himself from his invented revelations.” (p. 27).
“And yet this ape of Euclid (Pighius is meant, H. H.) puffs himself off in the titles of all his chapters as a first-rate reasoner.” (p. 89).
“And now as I proceed, it will be my object to consider not so much what Pighius says, nor in what order he says it, as to take care that this worthless fellow be buried under the ruins of his own desperate impudence.” (p. 93).
“Now in the first place, if there had been one grain of the fear of God in this man Pighius, could he ever have dared thus insolently to call God to order?” (page 108).
“Pighius, indeed, can pour out the flood of his characteristic loquacity with all the ease in the world, and without one drop of sweat at all. But that his tongue might have full play, he seems always to take care to wet himself well with wine, that he may be able to blow forth at random, and without any check of shame whatever, those blasts of abuse that first fill his swollen cheeks.” (p. 133).
“But some space must now be found for dealing with Georgius of Sicily. All things connected with this miserable creature are so insipid, vain and disgusting, that I really am ashamed to spend any time or labour in his refutation.” (p. 157).
“But it is no matter of wonder that the more audacity this worthless fellow betrays in wresting the Scriptures, the more profuse he should be in heaping passages on passages to suit his purpose, seeing that he does not possess one particle of religion or of shame which might restrain his headlong impudence.” (page 167).
We could easily multiply these few illustrations from Calvin’s work, but these may suffice.
Certainly, these are not terms of endearment and in the light of our present conception of civilization; they are not civil terms. And Calvin must be severely condemned if our present civilization is, indeed, a true standard for treating the enemies of the truth of God. After all, it does not mean a great deal, when Berkhof attempts to excuse Calvin by the statement that these uncivil expressions of Calvin must be judged in the light of the spirit of that age. It only means, that men were more brutal, uncivilized then than they are today, and that Calvin was no exception to that rule. But I question very seriously, whether this is the proper explanation of the cutting words with which Calvin addresses and describes his opponents. Let there even be an element of truth in it, fact is, that polemics were not always characterized by the same lack of civilization which the professor finds in Calvin’s mode of writing. Consider the smooth language of one of Calvin’s opponents, of one certain “calumniator” as Calvin calls him, in the following passage:
“You are a man, John Calvin, now known almost throughout the whole world. Your doctrine has many favorers and supporters, but it has also many enemies and opponents. For myself, being one who earnestly wishes that there were but one doctrine, as there is but one truth, and who greatly desires to see all men agree, if it were possible, in that one doctrine, I have thought that you ought to be informed, in a friendly manner, of those things which are everywhere spoken against your doctrine; that if false you might refute them and might have an opportunity of sending your refutation to me; that I might be able to take a stand against your adversaries. And I pray that you would frame your refutations of such arguments as may be plainly understood by the people.” (p. 257).
Now, surely, this attack upon Calvin is clothed throughout in very refined and civil language. And how does Calvin answer? Read the following:
“Nay, as far as you yourself are concerned, poor masked monitor, I derive some consolation from the fact that you cannot be ungrateful to the man who has treated you with much greater kindness than you deserved at his hands, without betraying at the same time your foul wickedness against God. I know quite well that there is no sport more grateful to you Academics than the rooting out of all faith from the hearts of the godly by casting a shade of doubt over all that they hold dear. And how sweet you feel in yourself all those revilings to be, which you direct against the Secret Providence of God is apparent from the very point of your pen, how much so ever you strive to hide your base gratification. But I cite you and all you fellows before that tribunal on which the Judge of heaven sits, from whose mouth the blast and the bolt shall one day fall upon you all and lay you prostrate. I trust, however, that I myself before I have done, shall make your insolent speaking against God to be as loathsome to the feelings of all the good and godly men, as they are inwardly gratifying to your own heart.” (p. 258).
Now, it is evident from these quotations, in the first place, that not all carried on their polemics in the same “uncivil” language as did John Calvin. The language of his opponent is throughout very smooth, sweet and polite. He does not call Calvin names, but treats him throughout with apparent respect. Which shows, that you cannot explain Calvin’s language simply from the spirit of the times, unless you picture Calvin as less polished and civilized than his average opponent. And this certainly cannot be said of the Genevan Reformer. In the second place, it is also clear, that Calvin does not change his style one whit, because of the sweetness and politeness of his adversary’s language. He immediately attacks him with the severest language and invokes the bolts of God’s judgments upon him and his friends to lay them prostrate.
How, then to explain this form of writing on the part of Calvin?
In the first place, I would explain it from a very firm conviction regarding the truth. Calvin did not doubt. He was strong in the faith. He did not simply philosophize on the truth intellectually, for the sake of mere mental enjoyment and exercise of his logical faculty, but he was deeply convinced himself of the truth of what he wrote. He believed the Word of God and was assured that his doctrine was the true representation of the truth of that Word.
In the second place, and what is still more, he also loved the truth of which he wrote and had a personal part in it. Calvin’s heart was filled with reverent love of God and the fear of His name. He himself embraced the truth with all his heart, and in it he clung to his covenant God, the glory of Whose Name meant so much to Calvin.
In the third place, it follows, and it is evident from all his writings that this conclusion is correct, that Calvin regarded his opponents, that attacked the truth of predestination and of the sovereign grace of God, as enemies of the truth of God, which they also really were. These men slandered the name of his God, according to the conviction of Calvin. They were wicked, base fellows, ungodly men, who possessed no grain of religion and of the fear of God. And Calvin, who could endure so much if his own honor and name were concerned, did not hesitate to express his contempt and holy hatred, which he actually felt against these enemies of his God. I am convinced that these are the deeper and nobler motives behind this “uncivil” language of the reformer.
But what is civilization that speaks in terms of endearment where the language should be that of holy wrath, seeing the enemy makes an attack upon the truth and name of God? What does it mean, when we express our highest esteem and respect for opponents of the truth, when there is no grain of such respect in our hearts? What otherwise is it than a bit of ungodly hypocrisy? Surely, the theory of common grace may be able to cover up this wicked hypocrisy, according to which we are often more concerned with our own honor and with the friendship of men than with the honor and friendship of our God. It has already so blinded the eyes of many, that they even would criticize the profound love of God expressed by the psalmist of Ps. 139, when he emphasizes that he hates those that hate his God and that they are his enemies. Small wonder, that in our age of humanism and love of self and the honor of men rather than of God, we should stumble over the language of Calvin, when he calls the enemies of God by their true names, rather than feigning esteem for them which he does not possess.
This is the first general remark, which I felt constrained to make before I come to the real point of our discussion.
And my second remark is this.
One would almost receive the impression from the book review on Calvin’s Calvinism in The Banner, that it chiefly consisted in a warning to be careful and not to enter into the deep things of God with too great a measure of audacity. Oh, Calvin is so careful! He would almost seem to devote his work chiefly to the attempt to defend the free offer of salvation in the light of the doctrine of predestination! He appears almost timid in his care not to express himself too boldly on the subject of election and reprobation!
As if such were the subjects on which Calvin wrote!
As if, forsooth, such were actually his chief purpose!
Nay more, as if there were even one iota of Berkhof’s theory of a free offer of salvation on the part of God in the whole work!
One feels how the wind blows in Berkhof’s book review. It appears that the three points were before his mind, when he wrote that review. One receives the impression, that he was thinking of 1924 and of us, of the work the Christian Reformed Churches did, when they corrupted the doctrine of Calvin and of the Reformed faith in their three declarations; when they, very politely and civilly, without giving him even an opportunity to defend himself and the truth, wickedly expelled ministers, that were faithfully defending the truth of the sovereign grace of God, in opposition to the theory of Common Grace which the Churches adopted. He must have met many passages in Calvin's Calvinism that stood on flat contradiction to the doctrine adopted by the Churches, under Berkhof’s leadership, in their now famous three points. And now he desperately tries to read into Calvin’s Calvinism the “whitewashed Calvinism” of the three points! Now he emphasizes that Calvin is careful not to go beyond Scripture and that he defends a free offer of salvation in the sense of the first point of 1924!!!
Grace to all, is it not, professor? in the preaching of the gospel!
Grace also to the reprobate in the proclamation of the salvation in Christ!
An earnest desire on the part of God to save all men and not only the elect!
That is what you mean, when you speak of a free offer of salvation. That is what Kuiper preached in his sermons on the Three Points.
And you maintain, that this corruption of predestination is the doctrine of Calvin?
Well, we will see!
I assure you that the publishers of the book will look amazed when they hear that Calvin’s Calvinism makes such a strange impression on some Reformed (?) leaders in America!
They must have nothing of “hawking” Christ, as Rev. Atherton used to call this so-called offer of salvation to all.
And it surely is not their impression that Calvin believed in it.
But we will see.
I will quote Calvin extensively on this subject. Fortunately, he has a good deal to say on it, so that we are in a position to obtain a rather clear conception of his views on the matter.
I will also quote what Berkhof and Kuiper have written on the same subject, in connection with the contents of Point I of 1924.
And then the reader may judge for himself, whether the corruption of 1924 is actually the doctrine of the Genevan Reformer.
This, however, we will leave for our next number, the Lord willing.
The comparison we propose to make is to limit itself, for the time being at least, to the teachings of Calvin, Berkhof and Kuiper with respect to the so-called well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all men indiscriminately.
To accomplish this purpose we shall first of all quote from the writings of Berkhof and Kuiper, in order then to let Calvin speak on this subject.
We shall remain as objective in the representation of the views of these men as can possibly be expected of us. It is not at all our purpose to ascribe any convictions to Berkhof and Kuiper, which they do not have. And, therefore, we shall interpret their own statements as little as possible, and let them speak to us for themselves and in their own words. When we are through presenting their views to our readers, they will surely admit, that we have not misrepresented them, but that their teachings are actually as we placed them before the public.
To attain to this object it is necessary that we read them in the proper light, that is, in connection with the First Point of 1924. It is in that First Point that the free and well-meaning general offer of salvation to all men is mentioned for the first time, and that it was officially accepted by the Christian Reformed Church as a dogma. And it is in defense of that first point that both Berkhof and Kuiper published their views on this subject.
They agree with that First Point.
The believe in a free and general and well-meaning offer of grace on the part of God to all men without distinction in the same sense in which that first point teaches it.
Hence, it is but fair that we first of all recall to our minds the contents of that First Point, especially in as far as it expresses itself on the question we are now discussing.
It reads as follows:
“Concerning the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares, that it is certain, on the ground of Scripture and the Confession, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life, also a certain favor or grace which He shows to all His creatures. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt, II, 5 and III and IV, 8 and 9, where the general offer of the Gospel is discussed” . . . . (Acta, 1924).
All creatures in this declaration means all men. This is evident from the fact that this point deals with a favorable attitude of God towardmankind in general and not only toward the elect. This is also admitted by Berkhof and Kuiper.
There is, then, a certain grace of God which He shows to elect and reprobate indiscriminately.
It is not a saving grace, the point emphasizes, for this is shown only to the elect.
And the point does not explain what sort of grace it is. It merely speaks of a certain grace.
But it certainly is a gracious attitude which God assumes toward all men, a gracious inclination of His heart, not only to the elect but also to the reprobate. Whatever He bestows on any man in that attitude He certainly gives him in His love. This, too, is plain from the declaration itself, for it speaks of a favorable attitude of God toward all mankind. And this is also the meaning attached to this point by both Berkhof and Kuiper, as is evident from their writings. (See: The Three Points of Common Grace, Kuiper; and: De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd, Berkhof.)
Now, what does He bestow on all men indiscriminately? The general offer of the Gospel, among other things.
Hence, the First Point teaches, that when God has the gospel preached, not only to the elect, but also to the reprobate, He does so in His grace and lovingkindness, also to the latter.
It is not clear, what kind of grace the reprobate actually receive, when the gospel is preached to them. The declaration by Synod does not explain itself in regard to this question. Neither did Berkhof or Kuiper attempt to explain this. They really admit, that the reprobate actually receive no grace, when the gospel is preached to them. But, however this may be, God bestows grace upon them, or rather, assumes an attitude of grace toward them, when the gospel is preached to the reprobate. He loves them, somehow. He is gracious toward them. And because He is gracious toward the reprobate He has the gospel preached to them.
If you inquire further: what does this gracious attitude of God toward the reprobate, manifest in the preaching of the gospel, imply? The First Point again is silent.
But we conclude, and the conclusion is the only possible one for any sound mind, that it implies, that God seriously wills the salvation of the reprobates. He is filled with loving kindness concerning them. In that loving kindness of His heart He seeks their salvation. Seeking their salvation He offers them the Gospel. The First Point teaches, that God, loving the reprobates and earnestly desiring their salvation, offers them salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Such is the implication of the First Point. Such is its clear teaching.
And this is our serious objection to that First Point.
In spite of all Berkhof attempted to prove to the contrary, this is, to us, pure Arminianism.
God, in His grace seriously seeks to bestow salvation on some men through Christ. For this purpose He has the Gospel preached to them. But He fails. They are not saved, though God seeks to save them, explicitly has this proclaimed to them. Our conclusion (Berkhof and Kuiper are unwilling to draw this, but we claim that any sound mind is compelled to draw it) is: man is stronger than God!
The will of man frustrates the gracious purposes of God!
"The general and well-meant offer of salvation is a sign of God's favor toward sinners." Berkhof.
"He sincerely offers salvation to all that hear the gospel." Kuiper.
"A man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately." Calvin.
"A common practice with such is to address their auditory thus: 'I offer you Christ.' I do not believe that any man who can use such language is a converted man." Win Parks in "Five Points on Calvinism," published by the Sovereign Grace Union.
We must now ask the question, what was Calvin's view with respect to this general offer of salvation, well-meant on the part of God, to all that hear, on which Berkhof and Kuiper lay so much stress that they refuse to live in the same Church fellowship with those who deny it?
Was it Calvin's conviction also, that, when the external call of the gospel comes to elect and reprobate promiscuously, it is a sign of God's grace to them all?
Does he, too, believe, like Berkhof and Kuiper that in the external preaching of the gospel we must see a sign of God's earnest desire to save all that hear, a well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God to everybody?
To answer these questions we must, of course, quote Calvin.
And first we will let the Genevan Reformer speak for us on the text from Ezekiel, that is adduced by the Synod of 1924 in proof of the First Point, of which Berkhof is so fond and on which Kuiper without any doubt agrees with him.
In that passage, they say, there is a proof of God's general grace, of the fact that God has no pleasure in the death of any wicked but is desirous to save them all.
And this is what Calvin writes on the same passage:
"All this Pighius loudly denies, adducing that passage of the apostle (I Tim. 2:4): 'Who will have all men to be saved'; and referring to Ezek. 18 :33, he argues thus, 'That God willeth not the death of a sinner' may be taken upon his own oath, where he says by that prophet: 'As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked that dieth, but rather that he should return from his ways and live.' Now we reply, that as the language of the prophet here is an exhortation to repentance, it is not at all marvelous in him to declare that God willeth all men to be saved. For the mutual relation between threats and promises shows that such forms of speaking are conditional. In this same manner God declared to the Ninevites, and to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, that He would do that which in reality He did not intend to do, for their repentance averted the punishment which He had threatened to inflict upon them. Whence it is evident that the punishment was announced on condition of their remaining obstinate and impenitent. And yet, the denunciation of the punishment was positive, as if it had been an irrevocable, decree. But after God had terrified them with the apprehension of His wrath, and had fully humbled them as not being utterly desperate, He encouraged them with the hope of pardon, that they might feel that there was yet left open a space for remedy. Just so it is with the conditional promises of God which invite all men to salvation. They do not positively prove that which God has decreed in His counsel, but declare only that which God is ready to do to 'all those who are brought to faith and repentance.'
"But men untaught of God, not understanding these things, allege that we hereby attribute to God a two fold or double will. Whereas God is so far from being variable, that no shadow of such variableness appertains to Him, even in the most remote degree. Hence, Pighius, ignorant of the Divine nature of these deep things, thus argues: 'What else is this but making God a mocker of men, if God is represented as really not willing that which He professes to will, and as not having pleasure in that in which in reality He has pleasure?' But if these two members of the sentence be read in conjunction, as they ever ought to be — 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked'; and: 'But that the wicked turn from his way and live'— read these two propositions in connection with each other and the calumny is washed off at once. God requires of us this conversion or 'turning away from our iniquity', and in whomsoever He finds it He disappoints not such a one of the promised reward of eternal life. Wherefore, God is as much said to have pleasure in, and to will, this eternal life, as to have pleasure in the repentance; and He has pleasure in the repentance, because He invites all men to it by His Word. Now all this is in perfect harmony with His secret and eternal counsel, by which He decreed to convert none but His own elect. None but God's elect, therefore, ever turn from their wickedness. And yet, the adorable God is not, on these accounts, to be considered variable or capable of change, because as a Lawgiver He enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. In this primary sense He calls or invites all men to eternal life. But in the latter case, He brings to eternal life those whom He willed according to His eternal purpose, regeneratingby His Spirit, as an eternal Father, His own children only" (Calvin's Calvinism, pp. 99, 100).
This language is plain to all that will understand.
In unmistakable language the Reformer denies, that there is, in the passage from Ezekiel a general offer of salvation to elect and reprobate promiscuously, a manifest desire to save them all, a revelation of a certain general or common grace.
He affirms here, what we have always taught, as we have written often in the past, that, in as far as the message is general and comes to all, it isconditional.
The offer is eternal life.
The condition, limiting this offer is: turn from your wicked ways.
This condition makes the contents of the general message particular. Just as we have emphasized in the past, a contention our opponents have tried to laugh to scorn, there is a general proclamation of a conditional and particular gospel. He promises to all that believe peace and eternal life.
Thus is the plain exposition of Calvin on this passage. He teaches all that hear a conditional doctrine: if ye turn ye shall live.
And because it is conditional, it is also particular and God in reality promises eternal life only to the elect. For it is quite certain, according to Calvin, that men do not turn from their wicked ways on their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature (idem, p. 100). It is equally certain that none turn from their wickedness but the elect. And, therefore, the contents of this externally general message is particular and applies only to the elect of God.
God does not say here, that He will save all that hear. He does not express that He is gracious to all that receive the message outwardly. He will be gracious only to those that turn from their wicked ways. And these are necessarily the elect.
This exposition of Calvin stands in direct opposition to that of Berkhof. And to the preaching of Kuiper.
And it is the condemnation of the First Point, in as far as it appeals to the passage from Ezekiel in proof of the assertion, that there is a certain general grace of God in the general preaching of the Gospel.
Notice, too, that Calvin must have nothing of Kuiper's mystery, that God wills and that He does not will the same thing with respect to the same persons at the same time. Kuiper alleges, that this is a deep mystery, and that we must simply believe it, though we cannot understand. But Calvin replies, that only men untaught of God, not understanding these things, can speak of such a twofold will in God.
And take note, in this same connection, that there is no truth in the statement of Berkhof, that Calvin does not attempt to enter into the deep things of God. He is not satisfied with contradictions. He harmonizes entirely this text from Ezekiel, that deals with the external call to repentance and faith, with the counsel of God, till it is clear, that there is no conflict here at all. God does not at all profess to will that which in reality He does not will. The harmony lies in the clear truth, that here we have the general proclamation of a particular truth.
And is not also a striking phenomenon that the arch-Pelagian Pighius, the opponent of Calvin quotes this same text for the same purpose as do Kuiper and Berkhof, in defense of the First Point of 1924?
Pighius quotes it to prove that we may take God upon His own oath, that He does not will the death of a sinner, entirely in general. And Berkhof writes:
"These passages teach us as clearly as words are able, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (notice that He does not say: the elect wicked, but of: the wicked entirely in general); and the tender calling to which we listen in them, witnesses of His great love for sinners and of His desire to save the ungodly."
The reader will understand that also the words in parentheses are of Berkhof.
His meaning is, therefore, perfectly clear. We may take God upon His oath that He has a great love for sinners in general, that He desires to save them all. Thus teaches Berkhof.
Thus teaches Kuiper.
Thus is the contents of the First Point.
We conclude, then, that in their exposition of this text, Kuiper, Berkhof and the Synod of 1924 are in the company of Pighius, the Pelagian, the opponent of Calvin.
We preferred to remain in Calvin's company.
And this is the reason, why they cast us out of the Church.
On the text from Ezek. 18 and 33, we found, Berkhof and Kuiper do not agree with Calvin.
They agree with Pighius, the Pelagian in their exegesis of this passage of the Word of God.
Berkhof explained that in this passage we have a clear manifestation of the love of God to all sinners and not only to the elect. In this passage, according to him, we have a clear illustration of the general and well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God to all men. God earnestly invites them all to come to Him and have eternal life.
And this is the implied exegesis of this text as quoted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924. For by Synod the text is quoted as a proof of the general grace of God to all men as manifested in the preaching of the gospel.
Hence, we may safely assert that such is also the explanation H. J. Kuiper would give. For he must abide by synodical decisions and Synod decided that this is the meaning of the text we were discussing.
Calvin, on the other hand, does not agree with this interpretation. It is the explanation of Pighius the Pelagian and Calvin opposes him with all his might. And Calvin explains, that the two members of the text must not be separated; that God, if the text is taken as a whole, promises life only to them that turn from their wicked way; that, therefore, the contents of this gospel is conditional and particular; that, moreover, the condition can never be fulfilled by natural man, but only by those to whom God gives grace of repentance; and that God gives this grace of repentance only to the elect. So that, according to Calvin, there is in these words nothing that is in conflict with the doctrine of eternal predestination. There is no general offer here at all. God does not say that He is willing or earnestly desirous to save all men. And there is no mystery whatever. The whole truth is perfectly clear to Calvin’s mind.
Now, it stands to reason that this difference between Berkhof and Kuiper on the one hand and Calvin on the other, is of more than mere exegetical interest.
The mere fact, that the former two should differ from the latter on a pure question of interpretation, would not prove at all, that they are not in essential agreement doctrinally.
But that is not the point.
This instance of difference in their interpretation of a certain text reveals a difference in tendency, in principle, in doctrine. Calvin believes only in the truth that grace is particular, that the grace of the gospel is meant only for the elect, even though its preaching is general. Hence, when the opponent presents a text that apparently contradicts the doctrine of God's election and sovereign grace, he ponders and searches the Word of God, till he found the harmony of the truth. He explains those texts that are apparently in favor of general grace and freewill in the light of the whole of Scripture. But Berkhof and Kuiper actually find the Arminian doctrine in such texts, that God earnestly wills the salvation of all that hear the Word preached and that the preaching of that Word is a manifestation of the grace of God to all. The latter elicit from Scripture the Arminian doctrine of general grace on the part of God; the former adheres to the truth of particular redemption as the fruit of election and sovereign grace.
The difference is one of doctrine, of principle, not merely of exegesis.
This difference between these men will become still more evident if we consider the meaning of another quotation from Calvin, the quotation we placed at the head of our previous article on this subject. Let me bring the entire passage from Calvin's Calvinism before the attention of our readers:
"It is quite certain that men do not turn from their evil ways to the Lord of their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature. Equally certain is it that the gift of conversion is not common to all men; because this is that one of the two covenants which God promises that He will not make with any but His own children and His own elect people, concerning whom He has recorded this promise that 'He will write His law in their hearts' (Jer. 31:33). Now a man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately. God says expressly by Paul who refers to the prophet Jeremiah, 'For this is the covenant that I will make with them. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers: but I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts' (Heb. 8:9, 10). Surely, to apply this promise to those who were worthy of this new covenant, or to such as had prepared themselves by their own merits or endeavors to receive it, must be worse than the grossest ignorance and folly; and the more so as the Lord is speaking by the prophet to those who had before 'stony hearts'. All this is plainly stated also and fully explained by the prophet Ezekiel (chap. 36:26).
Now this passage is extremely interesting for our present purpose, for more than one reason.
In the first place, because it raises the question: what do Berkhof and Kuiper mean, when they claim that in the promise of the gospel, as presented in the external calling, God earnestly reveals His willingness to save all men?
What are the contents of their gospel, which they say is for all?
Kuiper proclaimed loudly: the gospel I preach is a gospel for sinners, for all sinners!
The question cannot be repressed: what gospel does he preach? Does he mean by the gospel merely the proclamation that Christ has died for sinners and arose again, and that now they are invited earnestly by God to come to Him, to believe and repent? Does he, in the preaching of the gospel merely present to his hearers the work which Christ did objectively accomplish for us? Even if he should speak thus, he is presenting to his hearers only a half truth, which is more dangerous often than a plain lie. For it is not the entire truth, it is not the truth fully and correctly stated, if Kuiper should say, that Christ died for sinners. He certainly will at all times have to say, that He died and arose only for the elect sinner and for none other.
Even so it is quite unintelligible, how Kuiper can say, that the gospel he preaches is for all sinners. For, mark, that he did not say that he was preaching the gospel to all sinners that heard him, but that the very gospel he preached is a gospel for all sinners.
And, surely, in this Berkhof agrees with him.
But let us turn our attention to the question brought before us by the quotation from Calvin.
Does not the gospel contain much more than the preaching of what the Lord did for us?
And does it not also imply the preaching of the riches of His grace, whereby He applies this salvation to all His elect? Does this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ not belong to the promise of the gospel? I am now thinking of the grace of regeneration, whereby we become partakers of the life of the risen Lord in principle; of the grace of effectual calling, whereby we are translated from darkness into light; of the grace of faith, whereby we know that we are justified before God and have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ; of the grace of conversion and sanctification, the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new man; of the grace of perseverance, so that no one can pluck us out of Christ's hand. I say, do not all these blessings of grace belong to the promise of the gospel? Surely, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not come with a mere message that He will save us (of what avail would it be for us, poor, dead, miserable sinners?) but with the very positive glad tiding, that He did save us and does save us even unto the end.
Now, I ask, do Berkhof and Kuiper include all this, when they speak of the general preaching of the gospel? Do they mean by the gospel the glad tidings of a Christ, not that will, but that does save to the full, that really atoned for sin, for the sin of all the elect; that really gives new hearts to them all; that effectually calls them to faith and repentance; that actually justifies and sanctifies them and holds them in His power so that they persevere even unto the end?
I take it, they do.
If they do not, they do not preach the gospel. What would a gospel message mean that did not imply the promise of all the grace of Christ Jesus in the fullness of His riches?
But, consider, what this means.
The gospel they preach is a gospel for all sinners. On this they both agree.
But this implies that they preach, that God promises new hearts, repentance, faith, adoption, forgiveness, justification, conversion, sanctification and perseverance to all that hear the gospel! For all this is surely implied in the gospel.
Now, it is plain, that also in this respect they depart from Calvin. The great Genevan Reformer does not agree with them. And he expresses his disagreement in the strongest terms. He does not hesitate to assert that a man must be utterly beside himself to claim, that God promises these blessings of grace to all men generally and indiscriminately!
Berkhof and Kuiper can draw their own conclusion. How do they feel, I am wondering, about this judgment of Calvin about people who claim that the gospel is for all sinners, that God offers salvation in grace to all men, earnestly desiring that all may have eternal life? And note, too, that Calvin writes this in connection with the Pelagian interpretation of Ezek. 18:23; 33:11.
Neither is Calvin's language too strong. The folly of maintaining that God promises a new heart to everybody is easily discovered. For why, pray, if God offers the blessing of a new heart to all, if the promises of grace are actually for all men indiscriminately, why does He not fulfill His promise? Surely, a new heart is entirely the work of God. Man can do nothing towards receiving it. He cannot make himself worthy of it. He cannot get himself into a state of receptivity for it. He cannot even make himself will to receive it. He is incapable to induce himself to even pray for it. This is true of all men by nature, of all indiscriminately. A new heart is God's work, His gift only, absolutely. Man cannot work for it if God does not bestow the blessing on him; neither can any man resist the operation of God whereby He renews the heart, if it pleases the Almighty to give him a heart of flesh instead of the stony heart. Now, please, if the promise of the gospel concerning this new heart (not is preached to all that hear, this is self-evident) is given by God to all men without distinction, why does He not fulfill His promise?
Because some do not will to receive it? That is Arminianism. And even then a man must be utterly beside himself to speak thus, for no one is willing to receive a new heart before he possesses it.
More mysteries, perhaps? I fear me, that Kuiper will answer thus. But we say with Calvin: nay, but more nonsense! A man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise of the gospel concerning a new heart is made by God to all men generally and indiscriminately!
But again: if God promises this blessing, which He alone can bestow and bestows unconditionally, to all men, and does not fulfill the promise where is God's truth? Is the promise of God brought to nought? Has His Word become of none effect? God forbid! Nay, but the promise was never made to all by Him, but only to the elect. And Kuiper has no right and no calling to present it differently!
And finally, if God promises this blessing to all, but does not bestow it upon all, where is the general grace in the preaching of the gospel?
It is certain that Calvin is right. A man must be utterly beside himself to maintain all this!
But it will be more evident now than before, that Berkhof and Kuiper cannot appeal to John Calvin for their views on this point. There is a wide difference, too, between Calvin and the Synod of Kalamazoo in 1924.
Anyone that is not utterly beside himself with prejudice will feel himself constrained to admit this.
But we have not finished.
The reader will remember that Berkhof also quoted Matt. 23:37 as another proof that God earnestly desires the salvation of all and would have this proclaimed by His ministers. There we read the well-known words: "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 gatherest her chickens under her wings, and ye would not."
Also of this text Berkhof wrote that it points in the same direction as his explanation of the texts in Ezekiel. It shows, therefore, that God has no pleasure in the death of any wicked. It witnesses of His great love for all sinners, not only the elect.
And we do not doubt, that Kuiper agrees with him, though we do not have his written word for the statement.
The readers will remember how often this text was quoted by protagonists of common grace in recent years.
But what has Calvin to say on it?
Fortunately, the text was also quoted by other Pelagians, long ago. I say fortunately, for were it not so, we probably would have no comment of Calvin directly on this passage. Now it is different. We do not only have Calvin's explanation, but also that of Augustine, for it is he whom Calvin quotes on page 105 of Calvin's Calvinism, as follows:
"What Augustine replied to them in many parts of his works, I think it unnecessary to bring forward on the present occasion. I will only adduce one passage, which clearly and briefly proves how unconcernedly he despised their objection now in question. 'When our Lord complains (says he) that though He wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings but she would not, are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that He who was Almighty could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did whatsoever pleased Him in Heaven and on earth? Moreover who will be found so profanely mad as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and as He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not in judgment He doeth it not'."
Again, striking it is, as all will admit, that even in Augustine's time Pelagians had discovered this text and discovered a proof in it for their freewill theory.
But it is equally evident, that Augustine's explanation, quoted by Calvin and adopted by him, differs radically from that of Berkhof.
For the interpretation we quoted above proceeds from the truth, that the divine will is stronger than the evil will of man. It follows, that the text in Matt. 23 cannot mean to oppose this human will of wicked men to the divine will of the Son of God, for then it would, indeed, teach that in the case of Jerusalem the will of men had proved mightier than the will of God. It follows, too, that according to Augustine's interpretation it is not the divine, but the human will of Jesus, to which the text makes reference.
And thus, again, the interpretation of Calvin and of Augustine agrees with ours, not with Berkhof's.
We always contended, that Jesus, lamenting over Jerusalem, is speaking according to His human nature.
It is plain from the very words that He speaks as the culmination of all the prophets. And through these prophets, as well as personally, He had often called the wayward children of Jerusalem, and would have gathered them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. But they would not!
Had, then, the will of men triumphed over the will of God?
God forbid! For they were not all Israel that were of Israel. In Isaac shall thy seed be called. The children of the promise, not the children of the flesh are the children according to the election. Them God had willed to gather and them He actually did gather unto salvation.
But the will of the prophets, the desire of those that preached the Word of God had always been to gather all the children of their people. And according to Jesus' human nature it was no different. Certainly, there is pathos in the words, but the pathos is not divine but human!
However this may be, it will be evident, that thus far Berkhof and Kuiper receive no support from John Calvin.
He condemns their doctrine and agrees with us.
We must bear in mind the point of the comparison we are attempting to make between the views of Calvin, Berkhof and Kuiper.
The great question among us is not whether the gospel is preached to all those to whom God sends it, according to His good pleasure. On this we are all agreed. The preaching of the gospel by men is promiscuous, according to the will of God.
Even when that gospel invites those that are hungry and thirsty, those that are weary and heavy laden, the sound of that invitation reaches reprobates as well as elect.
But the great question is: does God have that gospel preached to the reprobate wicked in His grace? And do the reprobate actually receive a certain general grace of God, when the gospel is preached to them?
We say: no, the preaching of the gospel is grace only to the elect.
Berkhof and Kuiper say: yes, the gospel is a gracious and well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all men. It is grace also to the reprobate.
And they claim, that their view is Reformed, that it is Calvinistic.
This is the reason why we are investigating what may be Calvin's views on this fundamental question.
More than once we already concluded on good grounds, quoting from Calvin's Calvinism, that the Genevan Reformer does not agree with Berkhof and Kuiper that he refuses to be called their spiritual father. He did not agree with their interpretation of the well-known passages from Ezekiel; nor with their interpretation of Jesus' outcry over apostate Jerusalem; and he emphasized, that a man must be beside himself to maintain that the promises of a new heart are meant for all men promiscuously. The preaching of the gospel is, indeed, general, according to John Calvin; but the grace in the gospel is particular in the strictest sense of the word. There is no gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all men.
But we are not through quoting Calvin on this subject.
He is very outspoken and definite on this matter. There need be left no doubt in our minds as to Calvin's views. All our readers will have to admit this, when we have finished. Even Berkhof and Kuiper themselves, we are perfectly confident, will admit that they do not agree with Calvin on this point. I do not know whether they will express this admission in public. But whether they do or not, I am confident that they can read and understand and draw the conclusion before their own mind and heart, that they departed from the views of the great Reformer.
Let me, therefore, to convince all, quote Calvin again. I am adducing a passage from Calvin's Calvinism, pp. 81, 82:
"Now let us listen to the Evangelist John. He will be no ambiguous interpreter of this same passage of the prophet Isaiah. 'But though (says John) Jesus had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him, that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled which spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,' etc. Now most certainly John does not here give us to understand that the Jews were prevented from believing by their sinfulness. For though this be quite true in one sense, yet the cause of their not believing must be traced to a far higher source. The secret and eternal purpose and counsel of God must be viewed as the original cause of their blindness and unbelief. It perplexed in no small degree the ignorant and the weak when they heard that there was no place for Christ among the people of God (for the Jews were such). John explains the reason by showing that none believe save those to whom it is given, and that there are few to whom God reveals His arm. This other prophecy concerning 'the arm of the Lord', the Evangelist weaves into his argument to prove the same great truth. And his words have a momentous weight. He says: 'Therefore, they could not believe.' Wherefore, let men torture themselves as long as they will with reasoning, the cause of the difference made — why God does not reveal His arm equally to all — lies hidden in His own eternal decree. The whole of the Evangelist's argument amounts evidently to this: that faith is a special gift, and that the wisdom of Christ is too high and too deep to come within the compass of man's understanding. The unbelief of the world, therefore, ought not to astonish us, if even the wisest and most acute of men fail to believe. Hence, unless we would elude the plain and confessed meaning of the Evangelist, that few receive the Gospel, we must fully conclude that the cause is the will of God; and that the outward sound of the Gospel strikes the ear in vain until God is pleased to touch by it the heart within."
Also this passage is significant.
First of all, because it speaks of the preaching of the gospel to men promiscuously. It concerns, therefore, the question that is in dispute among us. Isaiah had been preaching the gospel and only few believed, so few that he complains: who hath believed our report and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Christ preached the gospel. And His preaching was enforced by the performance of many miracles, right before the eyes of the people. Yet, also when He preached, and though He performed so many miracles, there were but few that believed. So the minister of today preaches the gospel, and the result is always the same. Though he cry ever so loudly, that the gospel he preaches is the gospel for all sinners, yet the result will not be different. Only a certain number will believe his gospel, as long as he does not corrupt it. In the latter case, if he does not preach the pure and true gospel of God in Christ, he may see different results and gather thousands upon thousands. Only, the trouble with such is, that God did not gather them. They are called and converted not by God, but by man.
Secondly, this quotation of Calvin is significant, because it mentions the cause of this unbelief of the multitude and their leaders. How does Calvin explain? Does he say: the gospel Isaiah preached and the gospel Christ preached, together with the miracles He performed, constituted a well-meaning offer of God to save them all? Does he say, that it revealed the grace and loving kindness of God to all that heard? Does he present the matter as if the preaching of Isaiah and of the Lord revealed the earnest desire on the part of God to save all? And does he leave the explanation of their unbelief entirely with man and his sinfulness?
Far from it!
He could not very well explain the matter thus, for the simple reason that he was bound to the Word of God, and that Word, by the Evangelist John pointed to an entirely different cause.
They could not believe!
And why could they not believe?
Because of their sinfulness? Yes, Calvin says, I grant you that their sinfulness is a factor. But it is not the cause. The cause is in the will of God. He blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. And, therefore, they could not believe. That few receive the Gospel is a fact. And this fact, that so few receive the gospel, Calvin concludes, finds its cause in the will of God. God wills not that all that hear the Gospel in its outward sound, shall believe. That is why they believe not.
Such is Calvin's answer.
But if this is the case, there is nothing left of a well-meaning and gracious offer on the part of God in the preaching of the Gospel. For, while the Gospel is preached God blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts of some, while He opens the eyes and softens the hearts of others unto repentance. Now, Kuiper may talk of mysteries as long as he wishes, but he cannot (I say not: solve, but) accept this as a mystery, that He would harden the hearts and blind the eyes of those, whom He graciously offers the gospel and seriously desires to save.
Or, if he would still maintain that this is his honest conviction, and that he can really accept such foolishness as mysteries of God, we will let him have his own notions.
But he cannot appeal to Calvin.
Calvin believed and expressed it without compromise, that in and under the preaching of the gospel, there is not only a gracious operation of the Spirit unto salvation, but just as well a hardening operation of God's wrath, so that He does not reveal His arm to all.
And this excludes grace for all in the preaching of the gospel.
Once more I will call the attention of our readers to Calvin's conception of the preaching of the gospel and its significance for those that are not saved, not elect, for the reprobate.
Not as if it is strictly necessary to adduce more proof for the statement, that Berkhof and Kuiper have departed from Calvin and from the historically Reformed line of doctrine, when they teach that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear, seeing the gospel is a well-meant and gracious offer of salvation to all. I believe that I have furnished abundant proof in the quotations we heretofore presented to our readers.
But I can foresee the possibility of someone's attempt to enervate my argument, by emphasizing the fact, that the Genevan Reformer, nevertheless, also speaks of general offers of salvation, of mercy, of the Gospel. It might be alleged, that one could not very well gainsay the apparent contradiction between Kuiper and Berkhof on the one hand and Calvin as far as I did quote him on the other; but that I did not fully quote him on this subject, and that there are also other passages which plainly reveal that the great Reformer of Geneva also maintained another line of doctrine and taught that there is a general well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all men without distinction. In this way the deceitful impression might be left that Calvin too believed in two lines of truth, flatly opposed to each other and mutually exclusive and called this a mystery. It has become rather general and customary in the Christian Reformed Churches to appeal to this mystery in order to hide the old Arminian error which it, nevertheless, defends. Jan Karel Van Baalen, in the days when he in company with others exerted himself almost above his power to have us expelled from the communion of the Christian Churches, emphasized that I ran on a single track and warned against the danger of doing so, himself teaching that we must run on a double track. For the reader that does not remember and is not in a position to verify this statement, I will quote Van Baalen's very words on this point:
"For what is the case? The Holy Scripture is not single track. It is double track. There are two lines running through Scripture, parallel to each other, like the two tracks of a train. The one track is that of election and reprobation. It is the line of God’s secret decree.
"But the other line is that of God's revealed will and of the accountability of man. 'Who will that all men shall be saved'."
You see the intent of such teaching. On the one hand is God's secret will, implying that only the elect shall be saved and that man can do nothing to effect his own salvation. But on the other hand there is the revealed will teaching that God will that all men shall be saved. And the text is quoted in the same sense and with the same purpose as it was quoted at all times by all Arminians: "Who will that all men shall be saved."
And this deceitful teaching which is nothing but Arminianism under cover of the Reformed Confession and, therefore, all the more dangerous, is not only the doctrine of Van Baalen. It is the doctrine of the Churches. It is the view that, as far as the Reformed Churches in our country are concerned, has found its chief defender and protagonist in Prof. Heyns. And it is very general.
Now, it might be possible for someone to make the attempt to show that Calvin also held this double track-view of the truth. For he does speak sometimes of a general offer of mercy and of the Gospel. And lest this mistake be made by someone who does not want to hear the truth, we will quote him on the subject once more. First of all the following from pp. 93ff.:
"One reason, he says (Calvin is writing against Pighius here) why he cannot believe in particular and special election is because Christ, the Redeemer of the whole world, commanded the Gospel to be preached to all men, promiscuously, generally, and without distinction. But the Gospel is an embassy of peace, by which the world is reconciled to God, as Paul teaches. And according to the same holy witness it is preached that those who hear it might be saved."
Such was the difficulty or pretended difficulty of the Pelagian Pighius. And the reader will recognize immediately that here we touch upon the very heart of the question in dispute between Berkhof, Kuiper, Van Baalen, c.s. and us. Pighius' objection to the doctrine of predestination concerned the preaching of the gospel. That preaching is general, promiscuous and without distinction to all that hear. But how can it be if you believe in the doctrine of predestination? If God saves only the elect, what is the sense of the general preaching of the gospel? Nay, the objection is more serious still: the gospel is an embassy of peace to men. By it God wants to save men. By it the world is reconciled to God. It follows, therefore, that grace must be universal, at least as universal as is the preaching of the gospel.
Now Van Baalen, Berkhof, Kuiper and others would answer: we admit all that you say about the preaching of the gospel. It is an embassy of peace on the part of God to all that hear, it is a well-meaning and gracious offer of salvation to men promiscuously. "The Gospel I preach is a gospel for sinners, for all sinners," says Kuiper. "Who will that all men shall be saved," quotes Van Baalen. And Berkhof appeals to the passage from Ezekiel to show that God seriously wills and seeks the salvation of all, even of those that are lost. On this they agree. But, these men would explain, that is only one side of the truth. That is the one track on which your train of truth must run. But there is another side. Your train must also run on another track. And the other side of the truth is, that God does not will that all men shall be saved but with firm and fixed decree has limited forever the number of that shall be saved. That is the other track. And if you tell them that this is the Arminian track and your train can never run in two opposite directions at the same time, they assure you that such is nevertheless the truth. Only it is a mystery.
Now, then, the question is: does Calvin answer the objection, raised against the doctrine of election and reprobation from the general preaching of the gospel in the same way? Let us continue to quote him:
"To this pretended difficulty of Pighius, therefore, I would briefly reply, that Christ was so ordained the Savior of the whole world, as that He might save those that were given to Him by the Father out of the whole world, that He might be the eternal life of them of whom He is the Head; that He might receive into a participation of all the blessings in Him all those whom God adopted unto Himself by His own unmerited good pleasure to be His heirs. Now which one of these solemn things can our opponent deny?"
Here, therefore, the Reformer begins to answer his opponent by emphasizing the doctrine of particular redemption once more. Pighius had asserted that by the preaching of the gospel as an embassy of peace the world is reconciled to God. Calvin answers in effect: yes, but the whole world does not mean all men individually and without distinction, but the world of the elect, those whom God gave unto Christ out of the world. Then he continues:
"Hence, the Apostle Paul declares this prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled in Christ: 'Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given Me,' etc. Accordingly Christ Himself declares aloud: 'All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out' (John 6:37). And again: 'Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept and none of them is lost but the son of perdition' (John 17:12). Hence we read everywhere that Christ diffuses life into none but the members of His own body. And he that will not confess that it is a special gift and a special mercy to be engrafted into the body of Christ, has never read with spiritual attention Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. Hereupon follows also a third important fact, that the virtue and benefit of Christ are extended unto, and belong to none but the children of God."
Here Calvin takes pains to establish from Scripture, over against the objection of Pighius, that what ever he may allege, he cannot deny the truth of particular redemption. This must needs be established first of all. However the general preaching of the gospel may have to be explained, this must stand, that salvation is not meant for all, and that it is not granted unto all, but unto the children of God only. And these are the elect. But this being firmly established the Reformer is ready to answer to the objection of Pighius and continues as follows:
"Now that the universality of the grace of Christ cannot be better judged of than from the nature of the preaching of the gospel there is no one who will not immediately grant."
This we probably had not expected from Calvin. We would probably have expected him to write, that you could not draw any conclusion from the general preaching of the gospel with respect to the universality of salvation in Christ at all. In fact, that is exactly what our opponents allege. The preaching of the gospel is one thing. The grace of Christ is quite another. The contents of the gospel concerns all. It is a well-meaning offer of salvation to all without distinction on the part of God, to all, namely, that hear the gospel. These are the two lines you must maintain. They are the two tracks on which your train must run. But you cannot reconcile them. You cannot draw any conclusion from the nature of the gospel and its preaching with regard to the universality of salvation. We have a mystery here. And you must not enter into the deep things of God. They are secret! The revealed things are for us and our children. And these revealed things are, according to Van Baalen: "Who will that all men shall be saved." But Calvin does not reason in this way. There are, for him, no such two contradictory lines and opposite tracks in the Word of God. That is why he can write: I grant, and everyone will immediately grant, that the universality of the grace of Christ can be judged of no better than from the nature of the preaching of the gospel. But he does not leave the question here. He explains further:
"Yet, on this hinge the whole question turns. If we see and acknowledge, therefore, the principle on which the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all, the whole sacred matter is settled at once. That the gospel is, in its nature, able to save all I by no means deny. But the great question lies here: Did the Lord by His eternal counsel ordain salvation for all men? It is quite manifest that all men, without difference or distinction, are outwardly called, or invited to repentance and faith. It is equally manifest that the same Mediator is set forth before all, as he alone Who can reconcile them with the Father. But it is as fully well known that none of these things can be perceived or understood but by faith, in fulfillment of the apostle's declaration that 'the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth'; then, what can it be to others but the savor of death unto death? as the same apostle elsewhere powerfully expresses himself?"
Here the Reformer explains the principle on which the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all.
Let me explain in passing, that in Calvin the word offer does not convey the meaning it would seem to express in our present day English. It is a translation of the Latin: offere, which means: to set forth, to bring to the attention of someone. In a footnote elsewhere in the book (p. 31) the Rev. Henry Atherton calls attention to this same fact. I verified his remark and find that it is well sustained.
But what, according to Calvin is the principle of this setting forth of salvation to all?
Is it an unconditional expression on the part of God, that He will save all? Is that the nature of the preaching of the Gospel? Can one say: The gospel I preach is a gospel for all sinners? Or is the very nature and contents of the preaching of the gospel particular? That is the question Calvin here raises. And he answers it in the negative. Outwardly the gospel is preached, indeed, to all that hear. Yes, but it is a preaching the contents of which cannot even be perceived or understood but by faith. And such is the very declaration of the gospel itself. For the Scriptures do not say, that the gospel is a well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all men. The Bible nowhere uses such Arminian language. Nay, it is no offer, but a power of God unto salvation. And it is a power of God unto salvation, not to all, but to those that believe.
Such, then, is the Gospel. It is the general proclamation of a particular salvation. Just as we always emphasized, a presentation Berkhof attempted to ridicule. He may now ridicule Calvin.
And the Genevan Reformer declares that on this question the whole matter turns.
See this and you have no difficulty. It is true that the universality of the grace of the Lord may be judged from the very nature of the preaching of the gospel, provided this is rightly understood. Salvation is, indeed, just as universal as the preaching of the Gospel declares it to be. Only, in this preaching there is no unconditional offer of salvation, but the declaration of a power of God unto salvation only to such as believe.
Now, then, Calvin concludes:
"And farther, as it is undeniably manifest that out of the multitudes whom God calls by His outward voice in the Gospel very few believe, if I prove that the greater part of these multitudes remain unbelieving (for God deems none worthy His illumination but whom He will), I obtain, thereby, the next conclusion, that the mercy of God is offered (set forth, H. H.) equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not divinely taught within are only rendered inexcusable, not saved. Some make a distinction here, holding that the gospel is saving to all as it regards itspower to save, but not in its effect of saving. But they by no means untie the knot by this halfway argument. We are still rolled back to the same great question point, whether the same power to believe is conferred upon all men. Now Paul assigns the reason why all do not obey the Gospel. He refers us to the prophet Isaiah: 'Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?' (Rom. 10:16). The prophet, here astonished at the fewness of those who believe, seems to cry aloud, that it was a thing of the highest shame and reproach that, while the Word of God was sounding in the ears of all men, there were scarcely any hearts inwardly touched by it! But that so awful a depravity in man might not terrify the contemplators of it, the Apostle Paul afterwards intimates, that it is not given to all thus to believe, but to those only to whom God manifests Himself (vs. 20). In a word the apostle in this chapter intimates that any effort or sound of the human voice will be ineffectual, unless the secret power of God work in the hearts of the hearers. Of this fact Luke places before our eyes a memorable proof, who, after he had recorded the sermon preached by Paul (Acts 13:48) says, 'And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.' Now why was not this same doctrine of Paul received with the same mind and heart by all who heard it? Luke assigns the reason and defines the number of the receivers: 'As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.' The rest did not believe because they were not ordained to eternal life. And who is the giver of the disposition of the heart but God alone?"
Now, this entire passage is very significant for our controversy, because of more than one reason.
First of all it is a denial of the statement that there are two lines in Holy Writ that cannot be reconciled, the mystery that God wills that only the elect shall be saved and that He earnestly expresses His will to save all men. Calvin must have nothing of such mysteries. When he is placed before the objection that the general preaching of the gospel cannot be maintained in the light of the doctrine of particular redemption, he does not avoid the argument, but enters into its very heart. Neither does he end up with irreconcilable contradictions which he calls mysteries, but he explains the matter and shows the harmony of God's counsel and the preaching of the gospel.
Secondly, the passage is a plain denial of the view that the gospel is a message of peace to all without distinction. It is a power of salvation to them that believe only. Though the outward calling is general, the preaching is conditional and particular, nevertheless.
Thirdly, the above quotation is significant, because it is a plain denial, plain, that is, to all who will perceive and understand, of the statement that the preaching of the gospel is grace also to those that perish. The Reformer emphasizes that it is a savor of death unto death to such, whose hearts God does not inwardly touch. He expresses himself very clearly, moreover, when he says, that the gospel is preached to them that do not believe, so that they might be rendered inexcusable, not saved. Evidently, this is God's purpose, according to Calvin with the preaching of the gospel to them that are lost. But if so, if the preaching of the gospel must needs be a savor of death to some, a means to render them the more inexcusable, where does the grace of God enter into this preaching by means of the outward sound without the inward voice of the Spirit?
Will not Berkhof or Kuiper or both answer, please?
You can do so in The Banner, if you prefer. Better still, you may have all the space you desire in The Standard Bearer. I say better, because all of our readers surely do not read The Banner, and it would be expedient that all acquaint themselves with your replies.
I have shown you, that you have departed from the historically Reformed line, as begun anew and more powerfully than before him developed by John Calvin.
You cannot deny the truth of what I have written.
Of this I am convinced in my mind.
If you should still think that in any respect I have misrepresented either you or Calvin, will you show our readers in what respect I made such a mistake?
And if I have presented the matter fairly and truthfully, will you not acknowledge that you have erred?
The matter, you will perceive, is a very serious one. In the first place, for the same teachings as are contained in the book Calvin's Calvinism you have persecuted us, and you did not rest until we were expelled from the communion of your Churches. At the time you became friends even of those that were your enemies to unite with them in expelling those that were your friends and brethren in the faith. And you are responsible. Responsible before God, before Whose judgment-seat we will have to appear together. But this is not the worst. You have assumed leadership in the Church to introduce the Arminian Three Points, the first of which is so plainly condemned by the teachings of John Calvin. And the Churches, a large part of them, already strongly inclined to turn into Arminian paths, as you well know, have followed you. For their following and their further deviation from the truth of the Word of God you are responsible. So serious is this matter.
And, therefore, I charge you before God, that you may not keep silent.
It is your solemn duty to make plain so that all can understand, that it is the teaching of Calvin, that God in the preaching of the Gospel is gracious to all, and that this preaching is a well-meant offer of salvation to all that hear the Gospel.
And if you cannot do this, it is your duty to acknowledge, that you depart from Calvin, and that in 1924 you would have thrown him out of your Churches as you did us!
In conclusion I cannot refrain from showing what Calvin thinks of Van Baalen's doctrine, that God wills that all men shall be saved. Pighius as well as Van Baalen quoted this text, and so we are a position to know, how Calvin would have answered this gentleman, with whom we would otherwise rather not trouble ourselves any further.
"The difficulty which, according to Pighius, lies in that other place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that 'God will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth' (I Tim. 2:4), is solved in one moment and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth together. Now I would ask, did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed or wished that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that He did not proclaim and make known His law to the Gentiles also? Why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judaea? And what does Moses mean when he says, 'For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgment so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?' (Deut. 4:7, 8). The Divine lawgiver surely here means that there was no other nation which had statutes and laws, by which it was ruled like unto that nation. And what does Moses here but extol the peculiar privilege of the race of Abraham? To this responds the high encomium of David, pronounced on the same nation, 'He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them' (Ps. 147 :20). Nor must we disregard the express reason assigned by the Psalmist: because the Lord loved their fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them (Deut. 4:37). And why did God thus choose them? Not because they were in themselves more excellent than others, but because it pleased God to choose them 'for His peculiar people.' What? Are we to suppose that the apostle did not know that he himself was prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia, and from passing over into Bithynia? But as the continuance of this argument would render it too prolix, we will be content with taking one position more: that God after having lighted the candle of eternal life to the Jews alone, suffered the Gentiles to wander for many ages in the darkness of ignorance; and that, at length, this special gift and blessing were promised to the Church: 'But the Lord shall rise upon thee; and His glory shall be seen upon thee' (Isa. 60:2). Now let Pighius boast if he can, that God willeth all men to be saved! The above arguments, founded on the Scriptures, prove that even the external preaching of the doctrine of salvation, which is very far inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, was not made of God common to all men." (Calvin's Calvinism, pp. 103, 104).
And a little later Calvin explains the text adduced by Van Baalen for the proof of his "other track" as referring to orders of men, rather than to individuals.
But I think that more than sufficient proof is adduced to establish the position that John Calvin does not sustain the position of the Christian Reformed Churches when they express in their first point that the external preaching of the gospel is a manifestation of God's grace to all that hear this preaching.
I have some other remarks to make with regard to certain features of the book that was reprinted and published by the Sovereign Grace Union. But these concern a slightly different subject and, therefore, will be published, the Lord willing, under a different heading.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.