28 March, 2016

The Biblical Offer of the Gospel:
Analysis and answer to Rev. K. W. Stebbins' book “Christ Freely Offered” in Light of Scripture and the Confessions.

Rev. Christopher J. Connors

Chapter Three – Does God Desire to Save the Reprobate?

Rev. Stebbins' "Principle of Delight in God":

Rev. Stebbins' most basic proposition is that the basis for his well-meant offer can be found in the very nature of God. The reader must understand that Rev. Stebbins is answering the question: Does God desire to save all? Rev. Stebbins replies: Yes! God definitely desires (delights in and pursues) the salvation of everyone in the preaching of the gospel.41 Rev. Stebbins' own words in this regard are as follows:

“God delights that men would turn to Him because of His very nature. His delight is not a free act of will but a necessary principle in God.”42

In this chapter Rev. Stebbins' "necessary principle within God" as the basis for common grace and the well-meant offer will be examined.

God's Single Will: Decree and Precept:

The first thing that needs to be established is the REAL UNITY, or singularity of God's will. Rev. Stebbins agrees that "the simplicity of will and singleness of purpose of God is axiomatic in . . . all reputable theologies.”43 True as this is, we find that this axiom is not at all evident in Rev. Stebbins' theology. Rev. Stebbins builds his theology on a faulty view of the relationship of the preceptive will to the nature of God. He posits an active volitional quality in the preceptive will of God that results in a division of God's will.

The starting point for a Reformed discussion on the will of God is the truth that: God is one,44 absolutely sovereign, independent,45 and unchangeable God.46 God's will is the infinitely wise, eternal, powerful, immutable and righteous essence of God actively willing.47 This truth determines that the will of God cannot be more than one, nor can it be in any way contradictory. John Owen rightly says: "The essence of God, being a most absolute, pure, simple act or substance, His will consequently can be but simply one: whereof we ought to make neither division nor distinction."48 To divide God's will is to divide God's being.49

God's infinite will, unlike ours, comprehends all things by a single and most comprehensive act.50 Francis Turretin is helpful here, when he points out that:

“Although the will of God is only one and most simple, by which He comprehends all things by a single and most simple act so that He sees and understands all things at one glance, yet because that one will is occupied differently about various objects, it thus happens in our manner of conception, it may be apprehended as manifold..."51

What may appear manifold to our finite minds is in reality a perfect oneness, unity and simplicity of will within the being of the infinite God. It is surely to be expected that we finite creatures will not be able to wrap our puny minds around the wisdom and will of the infinite God. But one thing we can and MUST wrap our minds around is the fact that within the Being and will of God there can be NO division, and therefore NO HINT OF CONTRADICTION.

Certainly then, Rev. Stebbins may not so distinguish God's will of precept and decree as to, in effect, divide God's simple being into contradictory wills. This, however, is the result of teaching that the Divine nature is by necessity eternally and actively delighting in the salvation of all men at the same time as God actively wills the decree of election and reprobation.

How does Rev. Stebbins arrive at the place where, in effect he compromises the truth of the perfect simplicity of God's will?

Rev. Stebbins rightly says that both God's will of decree and His preceptive will flow from God's divine nature and therefore both reveal what is pleasing to God. The mere statement of this truth, however, does not guarantee the unity of God's will in one's theology. In Rev. Stebbins' case the fact that the precept and decree emanate from the one Divine nature simply serves to draw the confusion he creates back within the nature of God Himself, for he has dual wills emanating from God's one nature. Rev. Stebbins' argument begs this question: How can the will of double predestination stand over against this necessary principle of active delight of the nature of the one God? Rev. Stebbins has the Divine Being actively willing that in which he does not delight, and actively delighting in that which He does not will. This is his mystery.

This division comes about because Rev. Stebbins insists that the preceptive will is the expression of a necessary and active principle within the nature of God whereby "God delights that (all) men would turn to Him because of his very nature."52 This "will of active delight" stands back of the preceptive will as the expression of the nature of God. It becomes the possibility of and basis for God's universally well-meant offer.

We point out that Rev. Stebbins' necessary "principle of active delight" within the nature of God has volitional quality, for it is manifest ad extra, (outside the eternally self-sufficient being of God) to non-elect sinners as common grace and the well-meant offer. We deny that there is any such necessary volitionary quality within the being of the sovereign God. Every act and revelation of the nature of God ad-extra is a free act and is according to His sovereign will, NOT by necessity of His nature. John Owen faced the counterpart of Rev. Stebbins' argument from the universalists of his day and replied:

“That God hath any natural or necessary inclination, by His goodness, or any other property, to do good to us, or any of His creatures, we do deny. Everything that concerns us is an act of His free will and good pleasure, and not a natural, necessary act of His Deity.”53

The denial of any "necessary inclination" in the being of God to do good to sinful man is axiomatic to orthodox Reformed theology. Furthermore, this denial is necessary if we are to preserve the unity of God's will over against the attack of universalism.

No one denies that the preceptive will reveals what is pleasing or delightful to God, or that repentance and faith are things pleasing to God. But Reformed theology cannot accept the conclusion Rev. Stebbins draws from this, namely, that the precept indicates a delight, pleasure, wish, desire or any other volitional quality within God to the actual repentance of every man. That notion destroys the simplicity of God's will. The unity of God's will is found in the fact that the preceptive will reveals that God delights in the salvation of repentant sinners, while God's decretive will has sovereignly determined to WHICH sinners in particular God is pleased to grant repentance.

Between the delight of God's nature and the will of His decree there is a most perfect and consummate harmony. The universalism that Rev. Stebbins seeks to inject into Reformed theology destroys this unity.

There is and can be no contradiction within the will of God, or between God's will of delight and His decree. God's decree after all, is God willing His "eternal good pleasure" or delight. Rev. Stebbins in pursuit of a well-meant offer, however, works hard to make God's will contradictory and thereby turn it into a complex will and a "profound mystery." He fails. God cannot be divided.

The Relationship of Decree to Precept:

The next question we must answer is this: If the decree and precept are in reality God's one will, how then are they related so as to be one?

God's decretive will is defined in the W.C.F Shorter Catechism as His "eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His own will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass."54 The "preceptive will" on the other hand, is that revealed will of God which is set forth in Holy Scripture as the rule God is pleased to make known for man's duty.

Rev. Stebbins, we believe, has come to his erroneous conclusions regarding God's will because he fails to acknowledge that the preceptive will falls as a proposition UNDER the simple will of God, the eternal decrees.

The first thing we need to establish is that the preceptive will can be called God's will only in a metaphorical sense. The preceptive will, is NOT God within Himself (ad-infra) "willing" as a rule for His own actions, but what God "wills" to reveal outside Himself (ad-extra) as the rule for the creature's actions. There is a clear difference between the two. The preceptive will terminates outside God's essence as that which He actively wills, or decrees, to require of man, while the decretive will abides within Himself as His living will in regard to His own actions. The preceptive will therefore, falls as a proposition of God's decretive will with respect to what man is required to do. In this way the preceptive will is rightly said to be an aspect of God's all wise providence in respect to man.

The Biblical relationship as set forward in the Westminster Confession could be illustrated as follows:

God's Nature > God's Decrees > Providence & Preceptive will.

God freely chooses to reveal the goodness of His being. This revelation is not necessary but free, and it is always by MEANS of, or, according to His sovereign will. God's sovereign will determines that the precept be revealed as a chief MEANS whereby God accomplishes His eternal purposes among men.

Rev. Stebbins' view on the other hand would have to be illustrated as follows:

                      > Decree & particular grace > Providence
God's Nature
                      > Precept & common grace > Providence

Rev. Stebbins' order requires dual wills, one of precept—willing universal grace, another of decree—willing particular grace. Both these are emanating from the one Divine nature. The former runs free of the particularity of God's decree of election and reprobation and enables grace to flow to the reprobate directly from God's nature. At the same time God's sovereign will causes saving grace to flow purposefully to others through election in Christ. Unavoidably God has two contradictory good pleasures at work within Himself and within the world.

Francis Turretin is again helpful when he demonstrates how the precept falls as a proposition under the decree:

“The will of sign (preceptive will) which is set forth as extrinsic (outside of God) ought to correspond with some internal (intrinsic) will (decree) in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe, (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as He loves Himself, He cannot but love His image wherever He sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant its salvation.)”55

All that can rightly be deduced from God's preceptive will is that God is pleased to command faith and repentance to sinners as the only way of salvation. The precept says nothing concerning God's desire to grant these to any particular sinner. From the general precept we can NOT conclude that God is gracious toward or delights to save every sinner. The preceptive will is an aspect of God's providential dealings with man as a rational moral creature. It is a means whereby God realizes His sovereign will according to election and reprobation.

Secondly, we must understand that the preceptive will is that which God has given as the duty of man, not His own purpose.56 The will of decree, having to do with what God Himself will do as sovereign Creator and Saviour can never be resisted,57 whereas the will of precept, having to do with God's moral requirements as the duty of man, can be and often is resisted by sinful man.58

Whether God Himself wills an action of man in fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the command cannot be determined from the preceptive will itself. "All the activity of the Divine Mind concerning His precepts belongs to God's decretive will."59 The preceptive will tells us only what it pleases God to propose as man's duty.60

The pleasure of God can be, but is not necessarily in the personal fulfillment of the preceptive will as Rev. Stebbins wrongly asserts.61 Turretin explains that when God's preceptive will is called His "delight," Scripture,

“…means nothing more than the mere complacency by which God approves anything as just and holy and delights in it (and besides, wills to prescribe it to the creature as His most just duty). Hence it does not properly include any decree of volition in God, but implies only the agreement of the thing with the nature of God (according to which He cannot but love what is agreeable to His holiness).”62

The delight of God, therefore, is in the precept as a thing "pleasing" in itself.63 In this sense God is said to "delight in it."64 The action of the creature that conforms to the precept is incidental to God's delight in the precept itself. God's active delight in the person fulfilling the precept is coincident, and wholly dependent upon God by His Spirit regenerating and working in the sinner both to will and to do of His good pleasure.65 It is thus coincident only when God's decree determines that God by irresistible grace makes it so. That is to say, God works faith and repentance graciously and irresistibly in the heart of the elect sinner according to the decree of election, so that the purpose of God and the fulfilling of the precept meet in the grace of Christ Jesus, by which grace, faith and repentance are alone made possible.

It is in this sense that God is said to delight in the actions of men that conform to His preceptive will.66 This delight of God in precept and person can, therefore, never be apart from the mediation and imputed righteousness of Christ through faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please God."67 Therefore, Rev. Stebbins' assumption that "God's delight would be not just in repentance and faith as things in themselves but in the wicked repenting and believing",68 is erroneous.

John Owen is certainly correct when he says: "From our duty to God's purpose is no good conclusion, though from His command to our duty be most certain."69 Rev. Stebbins, however, argues from our duty to God's "necessary principle of nature" and would attribute to God an unfulfilled delight. We insist that God's delight is constantly in what He has freely decreed, namely, the full and free salvation of the elect.70

God's One Determinative Purpose:

The singularity of God's will means necessarily that the purpose of God in that will is also one, not many. Obviously, God has many subordinate ends that all work together in perfect harmony to achieve the ultimate end, God's glory. This end must be realised in the lives of both elect and reprobate. The means of grace, including the gospel offer, stand in relation to this purpose as a means to an end. God's clearly revealed purpose to glorify Himself in the way of double-predestination is determinative in laying a biblical foundation for the "offer" of the gospel.

Rev. Stebbins, however, does not teach or even want to acknowledge that there is an eternal decree of predestination that determines God's purpose in the offer, nor men's destiny. He insists that "preterition (reprobation C.J.C) says nothing about God's attitude towards those passed over" (the reprobate C.J.C) . . . nor about their destiny."71

Surely, here is a parting of the ways between Reformed orthodoxy and Rev. Stebbins. Rev. Stebbins denies the reality and ultimacy of God's decree of reprobation. He denies that God has eternally, sovereignly and unchangeably determined that the destiny of the reprobate be eternal destruction. He consequently stands in flat contradiction to the Westminster Confession which does not draw back from declaring that: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death."72 This clear statement of the W.C.F. is based squarely upon Romans 9:22-23:

“What if God, willing to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the VESSELS OF WRATH FITTED TO DESTRUCTION? And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the VESSELS OF MERCY which he had AFORE PREPARED UNTO GLORY," (emphasis is the Confession's).

Any distinction that exists between "predestination" and "foreordination" is irrelevant, for both terms refer to the sovereign decree of God which is made apart from and without any consideration of the works of the creature in the first instance. The unconditional nature of God's decree of predestination is axiomatic to Reformed theology.

Rev. Stebbins denies the WHOLE truth concerning reprobation in order to allow room for the universalism of the well-meant offer. This denial is of fundamental importance not only to this discussion, but to the Reformed faith itself. When one denies sovereign unconditional reprobation, as Rev. Stebbins does at this point, as sure as night follows day the truth of sovereign unconditional election and the Reformed faith itself will eventually be lost.

The purpose of God in having the gospel preached is according to, and governed by, the decree of double-predestination. God purposes to glorify His grace in Jesus Christ73 through the salvation of the elect by the preaching of the gospel.74 The negative of this is His purpose to glorify His justice in the condemnation and eternal punishment of the reprobate. God has before the foundation of the world set His love upon those who are "chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love." God has "withheld mercy" from the rest of mankind to the praise of His glorious justice."75 According to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, God's decree of DOUBLE-PREDESTINATION is determinative.

It is in this context that the passages in Ezekiel 18 and 33 which are held forth as the biblical basis for Rev. Stebbins' "necessary principle in God" are to be considered.

The Ezekiel Passages:

Here we must ask: Is Rev. Stebbins correct in interpreting the Ezekiel passages to say God actively delights that all men be saved?

The passages read:

"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23).

Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." (18: 31 32).

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11).

These passages have been hotly debated over the years.76 Rev. Stebbins, however, gives no careful exegesis of these passages, but asserts that it is quite legitimate to deduce from them, that it is God's nature to delight in men turning to Him and His abhorrence that they die.77 From this he concludes that God loves, is gracious to and desires the salvation of every sinner.

Rev. Stebbins is NOT saying God by nature abhors death and loves life, but that He delights in all men's repentance and salvation. In other words, he is speaking not about God's precept, but about "a" will of delight within the being of God, other than the decree, and in contradiction to that decree!

The passages are God's reply to the proverb spoken in Israel: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge" (18:2). Judah accused God of injustice, (18:19, 25, 29). Furthermore, many excused their wicked refusal to turn from their sin by asserting that it was no use, because God is some kind of a fiend who delights in judgment and death. To this blasphemy God replies: "Are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?" (18:29). God is not a cruel tyrant, but a righteous Judge: "I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God." The command of God to the accountable sinner is: "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin," (18:30). This command of God is designed to correct and encourage Judah in the knowledge that God has no fiendish delight in their suffering and death, but, as the faithful covenant God, commands them to repent as the way to life and happiness.

The emphasis in the whole passage and book clearly falls upon the command to repent. This command comes to the nation of Judah, elect and the reprobate alike, indicating that God delights in repentance and life. The promise of life that is made is PARTICULAR. It is to those who turn.

Calvin's treatment of these verses in his polemic against the semi-Pelagian, Pighius78 is most helpful. Calvin points out, that:

“After God had terrified them with the apprehension of His wrath, and had duly humbled them as not being utterly desperate, He encourages 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 respect to the conditional promises79 of God, which invite all men to salvation. They do not positively prove that which God has decreed in His secret counsel, but declare only what God is ready to do to all those who are brought to faith and repentance.”80

Calvin also instructs us as to God's non-delight in the death of the wicked and delight in their life:

“God requires of us this conversion, or "turning away from our iniquity," and in whomsoever He finds it He disappoints not such an 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 repentance; and He has pleasure in the latter, 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 do turn from their wickedness.”81

Turretin expresses this same understanding when he says:

“God wills perceptively with respect to the reprobate the means to salvation in its material, but does not will them effectively in their formal. God wills to teach the reprobate what means for salvation are furnished, but does not will to effect them (so that they should be performed by them as undoubted means to salvation to be attained).”82

God deals with sinners as rational, moral creatures from the ethical view point. The passages speak of the wicked who turn and the wicked who do not turn. For all the wicked it is true that life can be found only in the way of turning. Turning and living are in the highest sense pleasing to God, as we have seen. For in the turning sinner God's precept and decree meet and agree. However, it is clear that it is only the wicked who turn who shall live and have life bestowed upon them according to the delight of God.

“The prophet's instruction that the death of the sinner is not pleasing to God is designed to assure believers that God is ready to pardon them as soon as they are touched by repentance, but to make the wicked feel that their transgression is doubled because they do not respond to God's great kindness and goodness. God's mercy will always, accordingly, go to meet repentance, but all the prophets and all the apostles, as well as Ezekiel himself, clearly teach to whom repentance is given.”83

The passages reveal the glory of the goodness of God: "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth," (18:32.) And again: "As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." The passages do not teach that God has an active pleasure, delight or desire that all men should receive life through repentance. Such an active principle of delight within God Himself would necessarily remain unfulfilled, for the majority of Judah did not repent. This would mean that God is less than perfectly blessed in Himself, which can never be.84 Therefore, it is not correct to say, as does Rev. Stebbins, that there is a principle "in" God whereby He delights that all sinners should actually turn and live. The passages do clearly teach, however, that the God of the everlasting Covenant of Grace reveals Himself in a way that is full of encouragement to burdened and guilty sinners. Does God really delight in bestowing life in the way of repentance? The answer is yes. God is life and the source of all life in and of Himself. As such He actively and necessarily delights in life and only in life, never in death, and is pleased to open up a way to life for sinners through faith and repentance.

That God delights in life means firstly, that God delights in the perfect, all blessed life of communion with Himself. This is all blessed life and delight in life that God has in and of Himself as Father, Son and Holy Ghost.85 This life lacks for nothing. This life is the possibility of the life offered to unworthy sinners through the gospel of God's wondrous grace. Secondly, and importantly for our text, it is into this life of blessed communion that God delights to bring lost sinners as adopted sons alone through Jesus Christ, and alone in the way of repentance and faith.86 Oh, yes! God delights in life, and the fearful sinner under the conviction of sin and deep sense of his unworthiness may be assured that God delights abundantly in bestowing eternal life upon every sinner who turns. The Lord delights in this with a perfect and righteous joy and the heavenly hosts join their rejoicing to that of Jehovah.87 Thirdly, and in the highest sense of the word, God delights in bestowing heavenly life upon the redeemed, sanctified and glorified sinner. Thus He brings His adopted children into the fruition of creaturely blessedness in communion with Himself through Jesus Christ. This delight is in the life of the glorified saint as a precious son or daughter with whom God fellowships and communes. This life in the experience and fruition of all good in Him is the realization of man's chief end in the enjoyment of God forever. Life for sinners is possible exactly because God delights in life. That is, God delights that the sinner who turns should live. God delights in bestowing life upon the sinner who turns.

God's delight in the life of those who turn is in perfect harmony with His delight in the administration of the penalty of death as demanded by His righteous justice. However, when we speak of God's delight in life and His delight in justice, it is to be insisted that life and death meet and are perfectly reconciled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.88 It is the death of the Mediator which purchases life for every elect sinner. He it is who satisfies the justice of God by enduring the infinite wrath of His offended justice in their stead.

God's delight in life, therefore, is displayed to sinners only through the person and work of Jesus Christ on behalf of His elect. Christ and His elect body cannot be separated. God's delight in life is focused upon the living of His elect people in Christ. Still God is one, as is His purpose, as is the object of His delight.

The passages are therefore, full of sweet comfort and encouragement to any and every guilt-laden sinner who longs for deliverance. The way is clearly set before every sinner. All who repent will find God to be abundant in mercy, and may be assured that they like the prodigal son will be met by the open arms of their heavenly Father. These verses are fashioned by the sweet grace of God to draw labouring and heavy-laden sinners through the doorway of faith and repentance into that blessed rest and life laid up for them by Christ in communion with God. The verses, however, say nothing of a delight within God for the salvation of those who do not turn. If they did, then the encouragement that is here for all who turn and believe becomes nothing more than an ineffectual wish of God.

John Knox on the Ezekiel Passages:

It is instructive for us to pause a while to hear the testimony of our Reformed father, John Knox on these passages. A comparison of the clear sound of Knox with the confusion of Stebbins, we believe, demonstrates just how dim the gold of modern-modified Calvinism has grown.

First off, Knox insists that double-predestination is a WORKING PRINCIPLE when explaining Scripture, and applies this to the Ezekiel passages. "Let the simple understand," declares Knox,

“…that such general sentences of necessity must be so restrained, that difference may be kept between the Elect and the Reprobate; else we shall do nothing in explaining Scriptures but confound light and darkness.”89

Furthermore, insists the hard hitting Knox:

“Whosoever doth deny, that from the beginning there has been, this day are, and to the end shall remain, two armies, bands or companies of men, whom God in His eternal counsel has so divided, that between them there continues a battle which shall not be reconciled until the Lord Jesus put a final end to the miseries of the church: Who doth not understand the truth of this, (I say), doth neither know God, neither His Son Christ Jesus, neither yet do such believe His Word, in which both the one sort and the other are most manifestly expressed.”90

Knox describes the purpose of these passages as being to bring the elect people of God in Israel to repentance and life:

"The mind of the prophet was to stir such as had declined from God, to return unto Him by true repentance. And because their iniquities were so many, and offenses so great, that justly they might have despaired of remission, mercy and grace, therefore doth the Prophet, for the better assurance of those that should repent, affirm: "God delights not, nor wills the death of the wicked."91

In this polemic against the Anabaptists (who denied double-predestination espousing an universalistic interpretation of these passages, differing only in degree from that which Rev. Stebbins is seeking to champion), Knox says:

“Ye are not ignorant I suppose, what difference there is between an universal negative, and an indefinite, or particular? . . . The prophet says not, "I will the death of no creature," neither yet "I will the death of no sinner," but simply says, "I will not the death of a sinner" . . . And I fear not . . . to affirm that God hath willed, doth will, and shall will the death of some men. The holy Ghost speaking of the sons of Eli the High Priest, saith: "But they did not hear the voice of their father, because the Lord would kill them ..."92

Knox recognises also that God's delight is in ALL His will, while He detests sin, and has no delight in death except as it is the revelation of His glorious justice.

“Iniquity and sin are so odious before God, that in it can His goodness never delight, neither yet can He have pleasure in the destruction of any creature, having respect to the punishment only. But seeing that God's glory must needs shine in all His creatures, yea, even in the perpetual damnation of Satan, and torment of the reprobate, why shall not He will, and take pleasure, that so it come to pass.”93

This Reformed father does not shrink from asking: "But of which wicked" does the prophet speak?

“Of him, no doubt, that truly should repent, in his death did not, nor never shall God delight. But He delights to be known as a God that shows mercy, grace, and favour to such as unfeignedly call for the same, how grievous so ever their former offenses have been. But such as continue obstinate in their impiety, have no portion of these promises. For them God will kill, them will He destroy, and them will He thrust, by the power of His Word, into the fire which never shall be quenched.”94

Knox's answer to the question: "What sinners they are whose death God will not, but rather that they convert and live?" is quite different to that of Rev. Stebbins. For Knox concludes that: "There are two sorts of sinners ..."95 The one he describes as the sinner who mourns for his sins, confesses them and embraces Christ's justice and mediation. "The death of such sinners did God never will; neither yet can He will."96 He goes on to explain WHY this is so.

“For from all eternity they were His Elect children, whom He gave to His dear Son to be His inheritance; whom the Son received into His protection and safeguard; to whom He hath manifested, and to the end shall manifest Himself, and the loving kindness of His heavenly Father; in whose hearts He writes the law of God, and makes them to walk in His commandments, ever thirsting to a further and more perfect justice than they find within themselves by reason of their corruption. The death, I say, of those sinners God will not, but He will that they repent and live.”97

With Knox we heartily concur.



41. His attempt to blur the lines by substituting "delight" for "desire" does not alter this fact as will be shown in due course.

42. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 20.

43. Ibid. p. 43.

44. Deut. 4:35,39; 6:4; Psa.18:31, Isa. 43:10-13, 45:5-8,18,21

45. Deut.32:39, Dan.4:35, Psa.33:11, Prov.16:4, Isa.46:10, Rom.9:18, 11:34-36, Eph.1:11.

46. Num.23:19, 1Sam. 15:29, Isa.46:10, Mal.3:6, James 1:17 .

47. A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers), p. 150.

48. John Owen, The Works of John Owen. (Banner of Truth Trust, 1967,) vol. 10, p. 44.

49. H. C. Hoeksema, whose arguments against Heyns of the Christian Reformed Church are yet to be adequately refuted, maintains that this is a recipe for two Gods. This, he rightly argues, is because God's will and His very being can not be separated. God's will is the being of God willing. See The P.R. Theological Journal, (April 1976, Vol.9, no.2.)

50. Deut.6:4, Eph.1:11 .

51. Turretin, Op. cit. p. 220.

52. Stebbins, Op. cit., p. 20.

53. John Owen, Op. cit., vol.10, p. 227. If this high view of the majesty and independence of God governed the Reformed church world today as it governed Owen's soul our present debate would not be necessary. God is God, let the earth be silent!

54. Shorter Catechism no. 7.

55. Turretin, Op. cit., vol. 1, p. 224.

56. Owen, Op. cit. vol.10, p. 45.

57. Isaiah 46: 10: "Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."

58. Acts 2: 23, 4: 28, Matthew 23: 37, Proverbs 1: 24 .

59. E.P.C. Universalism and the Reformed Churches, p. 20.

60. Ephesians 5:10, Colossians 3:20 .

61. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 17. Stebbins would have this delight in the person to be universal by virtue of the command to all. God, so the reasoning goes, delights in the ACT OF REPENTING, but all are commanded to REPENT; therefore, God delights in the personal REPENTANCE and salvation of all.

62. Turretin, Op. cit. p 222.

63. God sees His own holy nature shining in the preceptive will and loves it as Himself with a complacent love. God requires that men love the law with a complacent love also because they must love God for what and who He is. This makes transgression of the law a horrendous rebellion and rebuttal of God. The sinner in effect says: "I do not and will not love you, and as your law reflects your holiness and being I hate and despise it."

64. Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:10, Colossians 3:20 .

65. Phil. 2:13 .

66. Psalm 51: 6, Proverbs 11:1, 20, 15:8, Isaiah 56:4 .

67. Hebrews 11:6 .

68. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 17.

69. Owen, Op. cit., p. 394.

70. God is free to do what ever He pleases and has freely determined to bring all His pleasure to pass (Isaiah 46:10 ), but God is not free to change, be double minded or have unfulfilled delights or desires, "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed," (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Numbers 23:19 ).

71. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 60.

72. W.C.F., III., iii.

73. Colossians 1: 15-20, 2:9 .

74. Ephesians 1-2 throughout.

75. W.C.F. III: VII.

76. Historically the debate was between the universalists, (Pelagians, Semi Pelagians and Arminians,) and the Reformed, but since the time of Amyrald, the debate has entered into the Reformed camp itself. For a treatment and refutation of the doctrines of Amyrald see Turretin, Op. cit., vol.1, p. 395f.

77. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 17. One assumes that Stebbins agrees in principle with Murray and Stonehouse's interpretation of the verses, provided the word "desire" is changed to "delight that pursues."

78. Pighius was a semi-Pelagian opponent of the Reformed doctrine of predestination. He cited these texts in support of general grace and desire in God to save all revealed in the preceptive will. His arguments were remarkably similar to those of Rev. Stebbins.

79. Note carefully that Calvin denies that God makes a "general and indiscriminate promise of salvation to all. "A man", he says, "must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise (of the spirit to regenerate, C.J.C) is made to all men generally and indiscriminately." (Ibid. p. 100).

80. John Calvin, Eternal Predestination of God. p. 99.

81. Ibid. p. 100. Calvin goes on to say: "And yet, the adorable God is not, on these accounts, to be considered variable or capable of change, because, as a Law-giver, He enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. In this primary manner He calls, or invites, all men unto eternal life. But in the latter case, He brings unto eternal life those whom He willed according to His eternal purpose, regenerating by His Spirit, as an eternal Father, His own children only." Note Calvin's distinction between God as Law-giver who gives the precept (outward call) and God as Father who makes the elect capable of compliance (inward call).

82. Turretin, Op. cit. p. 414. Turretin makes an important and helpful distinction between repentance and faith as "means of salvation" to the elect, and as the means and motive to excite obedience in the reprobate. The point is, that they can be means unto salvation in the full sense of the word only when it is the intention and purpose of God that it be so. The purpose of God is determinative as to whether these means save or harden. We note here in passing that this distinction which arises necessarily out of the application of the doctrine of predestination to the matter of the means of grace, effectively demolishes the notion that God is " gracious" to the reprobate in the preaching of the gospel.

83. John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion. Bk.3, 24, 15. (London: S.C.M. Press Ltd).

84. Daniel 2:20,21, 1 Timothy 6:15,16 . Stebbins' attempt to explain away this fact comes to a disappointing conclusion when he says: "Dabney's solution is the most satisfactory answer to God's "unsatisfied longings" I have yet found. I see no reason to posit in God a desire to save all when Scripture says no more than God delights that all would be saved,"(p. 34.) This statement rests on the assumption that "delight that pursues" and "desire" differ. They do not!

85. Proverbs 8:30, John 17:21-26 . See W.C.F. II, ii iii.

86. Revelation 21:3, John 17:3, I John 5: 11,20 .

87. Luke 15:7 .

88. Psalm 85:10 : "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other."

89. Knox, Op. cit. vol.5, p. 415.

90. Ibid. p. 413.

91. Ibid. p. 410.

92. Ibid. p. 108 - 109.

93. Ibid. p. 405.

94. Ibid. p. 410.

95. Ibid. p. 416.

96. Ibid. p. 417.

97. Ibid. p. 417.

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