28 March, 2016



Rev. Herman Hoeksema


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 whatever 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 of 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 its power 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.

Calvin writes:

"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.

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