20 August, 2016

FAQ - Why stand alone against the majority? Are there not big-name theologians in history that taught common grace? Has not all your claims to theologians of the past been disputed?





Q. 1. “Why stand alone against the vast majority of Confessional Reformed churches who believe in both Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel?”

Why did Athanasius stand practically alone on the deity of Christ? or Jan Hus on the need to reform the church biblically? or Gottschalk on double predestination? or Martin Luther on justification by faith alone? We don't count truth by numbers – that is the argument of Rome! Besides on the Free Offer, many (and most of the best) theologians agree with us, e.g., Augustine, Calvin, Turretin and Kuyper. Check out the following quotes:
(http://www.cprf.co.uk/quotes/againstwellmeantoffer.html). And we are not alone on common grace either. For example, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia [EPCA] and the Bastion of Truth Reformed Churches in the Philippines [BTRCP] are entire denominations (besides the Protestant Reformed Churches in the US and Canada [PRCA], the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in N. Ireland, the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in the Republic of Ireland, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore, the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines and other churches, e.g., in India, Myanmar, etc.) who also reject common grace. Check out also the following quotes: http://www.cprf.co.uk/quotes/uncommongracequotes.html. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

#################################################

Q. 2. “But did not all the men cited as ‘standing alone’ in church history (Athanasius, Gottschalk, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, etc.) do so on core Bible doctrines at times when the church was at its lowest ebb spiritually and doctrinally? The seriousness of the issues on which they took their stand was proved by the fact they carried the church at large with them as it was persuaded from scripture of their views. The same cannot be said of the issues on which the EPCA, PRCA, and BTRCP have gone out alone ...”

You have a more favourable view of the modern age than we do. The Reformed and Presbyterian Church world is smaller and weaker today than probably at any time since the Reformation. Besides, who are we to suppose that God has to act in the same way and in the same time frame regarding unity in a biblical doctrine? There are other issues whereon there used to be unity or at least a majority position in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches (e.g., Psalm singing, infant baptism, reprobation) but now most Reformed and Presbyterian churches are hymn-singing, have Baptists as members and either do not believe or down play reprobation (common grace and the well-meant offer have had a significant hand in the latter).

Besides, it was several centuries before Anselm's biblical teaching on the necessity of Christ's substitutionary atonement became the widely accepted view in the Christian church.

As for CG and the FO not being that important, 1) they have been and are being used to weaken Calvinism further and cooperate with Arminianism. 2) CG is a basis of false ecumenism, retaking the world, Christian witness in a secular world, and indeed everything that an unbeliever gets is supposed to be CG. 3) The FO and CG affect one's view of God, election and reprobation, providence, gospel preaching, etc.

People on our side say these are important issues, and people on the side of CG and the FO (e.g. Berkhof, John Murray, etc.) also say that they are important issues. In 1924 the CRC made them a binding position and disciplined people for opposing them. It went to the synod/general assembly of the OPC, with John Murray's paper. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland sadly took a synodical position against them. But there are also those who hold CG and FO who say that they are not important so that we don't witness about them. Yet if they really hold it is not important why don't they agree with us or not criticize our position or leave us free to circulate our views without comment? (Rev. Angus Stewart)

#################################################

Q. 3. “Regarding most of the theologians cited in favour of EPCA/PRCA/BTRCP interpretations of CG and the WMO, they may be claimed to support their interpretations, but that claim has been vigorously disputed in regard to most of these men.”

The support we have regarding God's effectual saving desire with regard to the elect alone is far stronger than most of our detractors realize or admit. Some even refuse to acknowledge that Augustine or the Geneva Theses (1649) agree with us, despite all the evidence! So wedded are they to their views. Some theologians in the CRC now admit that their denomination was wrong on the adopting of the well-meant offer in 1924 so they now oppose this false doctrine. Probably the greatest living authority on Reformed orthodoxy, Richard A. Muller, has said that our position is well within the Reformed tradition.

The quotations we use from theologians to support our position touch on various aspects of the common grace controversy and are not designed to imply that all these authors never make erroneous statements on this subject or that all their writings are always entirely consistent with themselves on this point. For a list of these quotes, see the following link: http://www.cprf.co.uk/quotes/uncommongracequotes.html (Rev. Angus Stewart)

#################################################

Q. 4. “Were there not theologians during the Westminster Assembly that held to common grace and the well-meant offer? What about the Puritans that appear to hold to these teachings also?”

[At] the time that the Westminster Confessional Standards were drawn up, there were, and had been, English Puritan Presbyterians and Independents, who held to various tenets and expressions of common grace. [There] were a small number at the Westminster Assembly, whose actions at the Assembly, if not their writings, show that they, to varying degrees, believed that there is a non-saving love in the Godhead for all men, and that He desires their salvation. . . . [Although] because of this division at the Westminster Assembly, the Confessional Standards do not specifically condemn all the Amyraldian/Davenant teachings … it is plainly a matter of historical record that while Edmund Calamy and others sought to have their views of a universal grace Confessionally expressed, it was strongly opposed by the Scots, among others, and that the final expression of truths relating to the grace of God, were all particularistic. There is no place, we believe, where common grace and its related doctrines can be found in the Confessional Standards, though it was proposed that it embody such sentiments. (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, “Common Grace,” p. 7)


A careful reading of many of the Puritan divines claimed as support by the proponents of the “well-meant” offer reveals that they held views that so militated against the idea of contradictory wills within God and universal love and grace, that they can not be so claimed. Admittedly they used the term “common grace” but this had a fundamentally different meaning then from what it has now. It meant what we have described as the goodness of God upon His creation as sovereign benevolent Creator. (Rev. Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

#################################################

Q. 5. “What about the many citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology which teach that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God to all who outwardly hear the preaching?”

It is very well possible that there have been writers in the past who confessed the Reformed truth, yet who thought they should maintain a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on the part of God. Not only is this conceivable and possible, but we are well aware that this is true. Such writers are still among us. . . . [If], as we have shown, such a presentation is actually not according to Scripture and the Confessions, it will only go to show that a certain false presentation is perpetuated and branded as being Reformed, because others formerly taught this. As much then as we value the opinion of some of these men (by no means all of them) [it must be admitted] that they also could err and could find no solution for some problems, for which there nevertheless is a solution. At the last instance the Scriptures alone determine. Even the Confessions must be put to the test by the Scriptures. Blindly confessional we may not be. Much more should the quotations of various writers be judged in the light of the Scriptures! (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 49)


#################################################

Q. 6. “Is not common grace (God’s attitude of favour towards all men) said to be a doctrine taught by Calvin?”

1) It is admitted by all students of Calvin that passages can be found in his writings, especially his Institutes, which suggest this. But to understand properly these writings of Calvin, we must not forget that Calvin was writing in a time when the issue of God’s favour towards all men was not a topic of debate and was not even consciously thought of as an important doctrine. We must not become guilty of the sin of anachronism (putting back into Calvin’s time our own debates and teachings), and appeal to Calvin on questions, of which he was not even aware, as proof for our position.


2) When Calvin repudiated the idea of an attitude of favour toward all men as it was expressed in the preaching of the gospel (see here) he basically repudiated also the idea of an attitude of favour on God’s part towards all men, manifested in the good things of God’s creation. The well-meant gospel offer is said, by its defenders, to be one evidence among others that God has an attitude of favour towards all men. His attitude of favour is shown in His expressed desire to save them.

3) Calvin’s repudiation of the well-meant gospel offer is rooted in God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation, and reprobation means that God hates the wicked, a doctrine emphatically taught by Calvin.

4) Calvin spoke frequently of the fact that God reveals His goodness in all the gifts He bestows on man; but Calvin held to Asaph’s position in Psalm 73:18, that God puts the wicked on slippery places by means of these good gifts.

5) Finally, although Calvin may have made some statements that in the light of later controversies are not totally satisfactory, when Calvin came to the heart of this theology, the core of all he taught, the centre of the truths of sovereign and particular grace, he was Biblical and beyond criticism. We may safely conclude that, whether we hold to a general, gracious, well-meant offer or repudiate it, Calvin did not teach it. We ought not to be surprised by the fact that Calvin sometimes said things that, in later years and in the light of later controversies, proved to be unfortunate statements. We ought rather to be surprised that Calvin, so recently escaped from Rome, was as solidly Biblical as he was. This is amazing and reason for gratitude to God. (Herman Hanko, “Common Grace Considered,” p. 14)

-----------------

Calvin, originally wrote in a language other than English. [Many who appeal to John Calvin for support for common grace and the free/well-meant offer seem] to quite nonchalantly assume that the English translation of his works is unquestionable, when in fact it is one of the seriously debated issues in historical scholarship.

Recent scholarship examining the 19th century translation of Calvin’s Old Testament commentaries from French to English made by the Calvin Translation Society has discovered material that is seriously defective, with whole chunks of the original French or Latin being by-passed, and the actual translation often ‘massaged’ to make Calvin say in English what a true and stalwart (so-say) nineteenth century English evangelical Calvinist believed he ought to have said, but what in fact he did NOT say. (British Reformed Journal)

Check out Prof. David J. Engelsma’s review of four Calvin commentaries:


Calvin can be also quoted equally, if not more copiously, in support of the very opposite position:


#################################################

Q. 7. “The Oxford Latin Dictionary doesn't take into account the ‘ecclesiastical’ use of the word, whereas other dictionaries such as Leo Steltin’s Ecclesiastical Latin Dictionary place ‘offer’ even as one of the first connotations in the list.”

Yes, but what does “offer” mean? They need to get a desire of God to save the reprobate out of it. The word does not mean that in English or Latin. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

#################################################

Q. 8. “Since the Oxford Latin Dictionary specifically states that Christian Latin is not included and that usage overall is until the 2nd century, is the O.L.D. a reliable resource for defining words in a 16th century Christian text?”

The debate regarding “offero” is very simple. They need to get desire of God to save everyone head for head. It does not mean this. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

#################################################


Q. 9. “What about traditional reformed thought on the subject of God’s love? Some Reformed divines were not averse to referring to a benevolence in God towards all men, elect and reprobate alike. E.g. Francis Turretin, whilst explaining God’s love of Jacob (the elect) and hatred of Esau (the reprobate), distinguishes it from ‘God’s general love and the common providence by which he is borne to all his creatures’ (Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, 400).”

The reason for adopting this terminology appears to have been the original relation which God sustained to the creation prior to the fall of man. It is in consideration of the fact that the creature is the perfect work of His own hands, and man in particular is made in His image and after His likeness. Sin has certainly been introduced into the created order so that the creature is now subjected to vanity and man as the image of God is defaced. Yet, the Scriptures sometimes speak of the Creator relating and acting towards the creation as considered in its original condition, as when the shedding of man’s blood and the cursing of a man’s person is forbidden because man is still regarded as the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jam. 3:9). Hence, some warrant seems to be afforded for the view that God bears a general love to the creature as His creature; and that not on the basis of a disposition or tendency of the Divine nature, but because of the eternal decree to be disposed in this way towards the creature.

What should be kept in mind with regard to this love as expounded by these divines is its generality. If it is appropriate to say that God bears a general love to the creature as His creature, such a love must, by its very nature, be without reference to particular persons or any special purpose. In other words, it is God’s love to mankind considered as a whole, or as the apostle describes it, as a lump of clay (Rom. 9:21). But as God did not only decree to create man, but also “of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour,” the one to love and the other to hate, it is impossible to speak of God’s love to this or that man for this or that purpose without predicating something of God’s special electing love. As John Knox has said: “You make the love of God common to all men; and that do we constantly deny, and say, that before all beginning God hath loved his Elect in Christ Jesus his Sonne, and that from the same eternitie he hath reprobated others.”23 Consequently, the question as to whether God loves the reprobate becomes rhetorical. The answer must be “no,” because the very nature of the question requires an answer with respect to God’s special purpose to love or not to love particular persons.

It is in this sense that the [theology of the free/well-meant offer] is out of accord with those divines who suggest that it is appropriate to think of a general love of God. It does not refer to a general love and providential care which God exercises over His creation as such, but to a special love with regard to “reprobate as well as elect.” Moreover, [the actual wording in free offer writings] suggests that this love “is exercised towards them in their ungodly state” and has some bearing “upon the grace of God manifested in the free offer of the gospel” [see Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), pp. 113-132]. In other words, it is not a general love to the creature as a creature, but a special love to the creature as a lost, miserable sinner who stands in need of salvation. All reformed divines, however, are adamant that this love to sinners is restricted to elect sinners.

(Rev. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review”)

#################################################

Q. 10. “Do you know of any major figures today that do not refer to denial of the well-meant offer (a desire of God for the salvation of all men) and a denial of common grace as ‘hyper-Calvinism’?”

(1) James White

In the following video, James White discusses “hyper-Calvinism.”
Note: In none of his definitions of “hyper-Calvinism” does he include the following:

(i) a denial of the well-meant offer (a desire of God for all men to be saved), and
(ii) a denial of common grace.


N.B. According to Phil Johnson’s definition of hyper-Calvinism in his article “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism,” James White is a hyper-Calvinist. However, as shown in the following interview, Johnson will not call White a hyper-Calvinist. He will, and does, call the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) hyper-Calvinists.



(2) Sam Storms (one of the leading “New Calvinists”)


In an article entitled “What is Hyper-Calvinism?” Storms quotes from David J. Engelsma’s book, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, with approval.

He also doesn’t list “denial of common grace,” and “denial of the well-meant offer” as tenets of hyper-Calvinism as popular preachers Phil Johnson and Matthew McMahon erroneously do.



#################################################

Q. 11. “The authors of the Canons of Dordt held to a very different doctrine of grace than Herman Hoeksema and PRC, teaching, for example, that ‘grace has not been totally withdrawn from the reprobate.’ Therefore any reading of Canons at odds with that is necessarily erroneous. They are not going to teach at the University of Leiden doctrines that are contrary to the Canons which THEY wrote.”

Do we sign up to all the doctrines held by the authors of the Nicene Creed or the Creed of Chalcedon? We’d be in trouble then! The early church fathers taught some errors, including some with regards to sovereign grace. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

The University of Leiden doctrines are not the creed. We subscribe to the text of the Canons. That is all. (Rev. Martyn McGeown)

#################################################

Q. 12. “But how can we read and interpret a creed or confession in a way that the original authors didn’t intend? For example, the original authors of the Heidelberg Catechism believed that man is still in the image of God and they also believed and taught the traditional Covenant of Works doctrine … What constitutes ‘Reformed’?—the general consensus of their overall beliefs (e.g. as summarized in Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics) or just the bare text of the confession itself and nothing else?”

It is not possible to subscribe to a book like a Dogmatics. A creed has to be simple and short. And we do not subscribe to Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism or to the Leiden Synopsis. (Rev. Martyn McGeown)

#################################################

Q. 13. “Doesn’t Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics summarise what ‘Reformed’ entails?”


Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics consists of a list of citations from works, which gives a decent summary of some things along the lines of the six loci of dogmatics. Heppe is, however, not the last word. His Reformed Dogmatics was written in 1861. There has been some development since then. (Rev. Martyn McGeown)

#################################################

Q. 14. “But has not the Holy Spirit been leading the church into all truth? Then an appeal to the past is always in order. What has the church taught should be our question. Surely a rejection of the consensus of Reformed thought and Reformed tradition is a denial of the Spirit’s work in leading the church into truth?”

No, it is not. The Spirit leads the church into all truth gradually. The Spirit did not stop with Heppe, and doctrinal development requires correction of the past and refining of the truth. If we are to go along with your suggestion, then Calvin should have accepted Luther’s view of the Lord’s Supper or even Zwingli’s view … for “the Spirit led them into all truth.” No: Calvin took what was good and corrected what was not good, and his final authority was Scripture.
The truth, however, does not end with Calvin, Heppe, Bavinck, or even Hoeksema.
However, careful refining does not mean that we chuck out everything and start from scratch. We build on the past, but we do not slavishly follow it. (Rev. Martyn McGeown)

#################################################

Q. 15. “Is Herman Hoeksema the only theologian in history who says that God only loves Himself, is gracious towards Himself and is merciful towards Himself? Some say this is a brand new idea never thought of before in church history. Has there ever been theologians prior to the 20th century that also taught that God only loves Himself (be it only a few of them)?”

The idea that God loves Himself in the Trinity is present in the Christian tradition all the way back to Augustine, especially in his work on the Trinity, for there is love between the Persons of the Godhead.
With regard to grace and mercy, etc., Herman Hoeksema may well be the person God used to set forth this truth for the first time.
His reasoning is perfectly sound. (1) God is merciful, etc. (2) God is self-sufficient. Therefore (3) God is self-sufficient in His mercy! Then HH looks closely at the words for mercy in the Bible and their use to get to their root idea and to show how this fits with the nature and Persons of God. The people who oppose this betray their man-centeredness, a man-centeredness that is contrary to the genius of the Reformed faith.








No comments:

Post a Comment