27 November, 2016


Universalism’s Interpretation of Scripture

Modern modified Calvinists appeal to Scripture on the basis of a universalistic interpretation of the following and such like texts. Their authority for this interpretation in turn, rests largely on a misinterpretation or misreading of Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 18:23: 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 18:32: For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, Wherefore turn yourselves and live ye.

Ezekiel 33:11: As I live saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.

I Tim. 2:4 God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth.

II Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets ... how oft would I have gathered thy children, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Modern modified Calvinists give a meaning of double connotation to the Ezekiel texts. That is, the same words are taken particularistically in one sense and universally in another. In the first place the Ezekiel texts are said to be addressed in particular to the House of Israel, “For why will ye die, O House of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31). In the second place, their reference to the death of the wicked and their repentance is said to refer to a desire in God for the salvation of all men.

I Timothy 2:4 is said to refer to a desire in God that all men should be saved. The long-suffering of God and unwillingness that any should perish mentioned in II Peter 3:9 are also referred to all men. The lament of Christ over Jerusalem, Matt. 23:37 and Luke 13:34, is also said to be indicative of our Lord’s desire that all men should be saved.

We, however, exclude the universalistic application of these texts by interpreting them within the terms of the covenant of redemption and grace, which is given exclusively for the redemption of the Church. As we shall shortly discuss, John Calvin gives each of these texts an exclusive and particularistic interpretation on the basis that God’s will is simple. This, in fact, is the foundation of Calvin’s system of theology.

In brief, the proper and Calvinistic interpretation of the above texts to which we adhere is as follows:

The Ezekiel texts are addressed exclusively to the House of Israel. The first part of the text, I Timothy 2:4 is to be interpreted by the second. Knowledge of the truth is a gift of God, and can therefore refer only to the elect. II Peter 3:9 belongs to those to whom the first epistle of Peter is addressed, namely, “the elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (I Peter 1:2). Thus the long-suffering of God to usward, and His unwillingness that any should perish belongs to those of the same address, i.e., “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us” (II Peter 2:17).

The incident of our Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem recorded in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 is given to demonstrate His true humanity in that, “in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17). The Lord Jesus took upon Himself the nature of man, in order that He might fulfil the terms of the Covenant of Redemption made in the Trinity from all eternity. It was in His human nature that He brought those fallen in Adam, but given Him by the Father, into relationship with Himself as sons and daughters of God; made them His brethren and heirs with Himself in His Father’s kingdom. In that nature while on earth, He perfectly fulfilled the moral law and its demands on behalf of the elect. It was His divine nature which made the works of His human nature to be of infinite worth. Furthermore, all the works of Jesus in the human nature were the works of the person of the Son of God as Mediator.

Scripture reveals no other relationship whatever between the human nature of Christ in heaven and man on earth, other than that which is established by His work of intercession in that nature on behalf of the elect. The fact that God is good to all has nothing to do with the humanity of Christ, rather it is a work of the Divine nature which does not lament over them who will not repent. The texts Matt. 23:37 and Luke 13:34, therefore, give no indication of a desire in God for the salvation of all men.

If it is held that there is a desire in the glorified human nature of Christ for the salvation of the non­elect, then it must also be held that there is a contradiction in His work of intercession, i.e., He intercedes for some whom He loves and not for others. In His prayer of John 17:9, the Lord Jesus interceded, “I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me.”

Modern modified Calvinism ascribes a universal love of God which it incorrectly assumes from the texts quoted above, to the personality of God through the human nature of Christ. This, in effect, is a subtle compounding of the works of the two natures of Christ, i.e., the desires and passions of Christ’s human nature are ascribed as the works of His divine nature. The proof of this false compound is shown in the duplicity in which God is said to love and hate the non­elect at the one time.

Universalism has no place within the Covenant of Redemption and Grace.

The bulwark of our position is found in the theology of the Covenant of Redemption and Grace, which comprehends the whole of God’s dealings with mankind since his original fall into sin. We hold that all that is contained in the administration and dispensation of that Covenant is a purchase of the death of Christ, and that God’s providence within that Covenant is both temporal concerning all men and spiritual in respect to the separation of the elect from the reprobate. We acknowledge that God in His providence, in which He governs all His creatures and all their actions, bestows temporal blessings on all men, restrains evil in the world and promotes good.

This temporal framework and dispensation of God’s providential government has the purpose and end that the elect may be redeemed from the mass of fallen mankind. The goodness toward the non­elect does not mean that He bears toward them a favourable disposition, rather they are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. If the long-suffering of God is referred to the non­elect, it becomes a long-suffering to no purpose.

The books of the Old and New Testament Scriptures constitute the Book of the Covenant. All Scripture therefore has reference only to the Covenant of Redemption and Grace, and from start to finish must be interpreted particularistically within its terms. The reprobate have no place in the covenant dispensation apart from their temporary enjoyment in this life of temporal blessings, and hereafter, everlasting condemnation. Since God made the covenant of Grace with Christ as the Mediator and with the elect in Him, none are loved outside of Christ. It serves no purpose whatever to assume that there is a love for the non-elect who are outside of Christ.

If Scripture is properly interpreted within the terms of the Covenant of Redemption and Grace, there is no reference to a universal love of God. Once that reference is admitted, the Reformed theology of the covenant is given over to ambiguity and contradiction.

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