28 March, 2016



Rev. Herman Hoeksema


On the text from Ezekiel 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 the 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 and 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment