28 March, 2016



Rev. Herman Hoeksema


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.

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