12 February, 2017

Murray on the Free Offer: A Review

Rev. Matthew Winzer

[Originally published in The Blue Banner newsletter, vol. 9, issue 10–12, (October/December 2000), pp. 3-20.]


The Free Offer of the Gospel, by John Murray; with a new preface by R. Scott Clark, D. Phil., Associate Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Available online at http://rscottclark.org/2012/09/the-free-offer-of-the-gospel/

[From the introduction to v.9 #10-12: This current issue deals with the question, somewhat controversial in our day, of how and why we preach the gospel to “every creature under heaven.” Does God have a longing for the reprobate to repent? Does God have a saving, but conditional, love for all persons without exception? Is the Covenant of Grace conditional and for all who will, of their own volition, participate in it, or is it unconditional and for the elect alone? ... Matthew Winzer of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland located in Grafton-Brushgrove, Australia, has written a masterful review of The Free Offer of the Gospel by Professors John Murray and Ned Stonehouse. Their article, a report submitted to the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is now several decades old. However, it has recently been posted on the world wide web together with a new introduction, and so The Blue Banner staff asked Mr. Winzer to write a review of the original report by the Professors.]

The work now under review1 is essentially a report submitted to the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by one of its distinguished professors, John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary, who penned the report with the editorial assistance of another distinguished professor, Ned B. Stonehouse of the same institution. It appears that a dispute had arisen with regard to a previous report on the subject which had predicated “that God desires the salvation of all men.”2 Prof. Murray was confident that such a desire could be predicated of God, and set about to establish a Biblical case for the position.

The Preface

The preface written by R. Scott Clark introduces the material to the public. Special consideration needs to be given to one particular remark which he has made, as it is not contained in the report. It is to be found in paragraph 4 to the effect that the rejection of the free offer of the gospel, as including a desire of God for the salvation of all men, is to be equated with rationalism. He states: “They are rationalists inasmuch as they reject this doctrine fundamentally because they find it unreasonable.”

It should be noted that Prof. Murray would himself have rejected his doctrine had he discerned the unreasonableness with which the opponents of the doctrine charge it. He endeavoured to clear his position of the slightest hint of contradiction, ensuring his readers that by predicating a desire in God for the salvation of all men he was not referring to the decretive will. “For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction.”3 Hence, the very author whom Mr. Clark is recommending to the reading public was himself at pains to avoid the unreasonableness for which his doctrine is rejected; and when it is considered, as this review shall endeavour to show, that Prof. Murray failed in his attempt to divorce the desire of God from the decretive will, the rejection of his position because of its unreasonableness can hardly be charged with rationalism.

Clearly, then, the charge of rationalism is unfounded. That distasteful appellation is usually reserved for those who dare to reject divinely inspired teaching on the basis that it is inconsistent with what unaided human reason already knows. If the rejection of Prof. Murray’s formulation of the gospel offer proceeds on the basis that it contradicts what Scripture explicitly teaches, that rejection is free from the charge of rationalism and must be accepted as Biblical truth. As Mr. Clark himself states in paragraph 12 of his preface in connection with the use of anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language:

This sort of language has always been interpreted by the catholic Church to be metaphoric or symbolic not because of pagan a priori notions of God, but because of clear Biblical propositions about God which have been used to interpret the narratives in which God reveals himself anthropomorphically ... To do otherwise is to reduce the God of Scripture to an incompetent and worse to an idol.

Those who reject Prof. Murray’s predication of a desire in God for the salvation of all men, do so for this very reason: because his report does not give proper regard to the anthropomorphic language of Scripture. Consequently, it represents God, not as incompetent to obtain what He desires, but as unwilling to have what He apparently desires and is fully competent to obtain. Hence, the rejection of Prof. Murray’s formulation proceeds, not on the basis that it contradicts the light of nature, but that it contradicts the light of Scripture. Moreover, the Scriptural references which Prof. Murray has alleged in favour of his formulation, do not teach what he has endeavoured so earnestly to extract from them.

There are a multitude of deliverances given in the Scriptures with regard to this subject. Commissions to preach the gospel to all without exception as well as commandments to believe on the name of Jesus Christ and to repent. There are promises to the effect that whosoever will may come, that he who thirsts may drink of the water of life freely, that they who are weary and heavy laden are invited to come to Christ that He might give them rest. We even have examples of the preaching both of the Lord Himself and of His apostles. Surely, if there were such a desire in God with regard to the salvation of all men without exception, that desire would be expressed in those places which have more particularly to do with the gospel offer! Such a desire, however, is not so much as insinuated by those places. On that note we may proceed to an examination of the report’s introduction.

The Introduction

The introduction of the report seeks to outline what is essentially being contended for in the statement that God desires the salvation of all men. The word, desire, we are informed, does not have reference to the decretive will of God, but to the revealed will of God in “the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction.”5

This distinction between a decretive and a revealed (or preceptive) will of God is both sound and necessary, and one to which all orthodox Calvinistic divines have had recourse. To quote Francis Turretin: “The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will of God ... The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action.”6

Such a distinction must never be understood as implying that God has two wills. For it is clear from the above definition that the word will is being used in two different senses, i.e., equivocally, having two distinct points of reference. It is only the will of decree which is the will of God in the proper sense of the term, as an act of volition, for therein God has decreed what shall be done. Samuel Rutherford expresses this well in his own inimitable manner: “that voluntas signi, in which God reveals what is our duty, and what we ought to do, not what is his decree, or what he either will, or ought to do, is not God’s will properly, but by a figure only; for commands, and promises, and threatenings revealed argue not the will and purpose, decree or intention of God, which are properly his will.”7

The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded ought to be done by man. Whether man wills to do it is absolutely dependent upon whether God has decreed that he shall do it. So it is quite inappropriate to say that God wills something to be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will never pertains to the futurition of actions, only to the obligation of them.

With this distinction in mind we are in a position to interpret properly those portions of Scripture which speak of God desiring compliance with what He has commanded. The desire has respect solely to what ought to be done by man, not to what is to be done. So the Lord has revealed that He desires truth in the inward parts, Ps. 51:6, and that He desires mercy, and not sacrifice, i.e., that the Israelites show mercy to their brethren in need, and not simply attend to the ceremonial aspects of their religion, Hos. 6:6. By such statements, we are to understand that God delights in requiring these things from man. Whether or not man shall perform them depends solely on whether God has decreed them to be done.

Consequently, the report’s suggestion that the words, “God desires,” are to be referred to the revealed or preceptive will, creates a misnomer. If God desires something to be, in accord with the proper understanding of the distinction which Calvinistic divines make between the decretive and the preceptive aspects of God’s will, we are bound to acknowledge that the desire has reference to the will of decree, because it is a desire for the futurition of an action, not the obligation of it.

Had God decreed the salvation of all men, it would be possible to predicate “that God desires the salvation of all men.” Since, however, God has not decreed the salvation of all men, but has only commanded that all men be saved, and since God’s preceptive will only commands what ought to be done, the most that can be said is that God desires that all men be under an obligation to be saved.

So while the report has endeavoured to note the distinction in name between the decretive and the preceptive aspects of God’s will, it has not accredited the correct nature to this distinction. What is worse, the report proceeds upon the assumption that it has correctly distinguished these two aspects, and continually attributes decretive characteristics to the preceptive will. The result is that the report implies what it adamantly denies, that God both wills and does not will, in the same sense, the salvation of the reprobate.

At most, all that can be affirmed is that God desires that such and such should be done by man, not that God desires that such and such shall be done. Any desire or delight in God with regard to the performance of what He has commanded is entirely hypothetical, or conditional upon the falling out of events in accordance with His foreordination of them. To posit a desire in God that something shall fall out which He has determined shall not fall out is absurdity. This divides God, by introducing contrariety into His nature. It supposes what the Remonstrant Corvinus was ready to grant, “that there are desires in God that are never fulfilled.” But as John Owen ably retorted: “Now, surely, to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel.”8

Next, the report proceeds to state: “that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God, but the disposition of loving-kindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace.”9 Having qualified that the desire predicated of God is not to be regarded as referring to the decretive will, but to the revealed or preceptive will, the report somewhat anomalously asserts that the desire is not to be traced to the bare preceptive will of God.

Is there another distinction to be made in the will of God that is not either decretive or preceptive? The Remonstrants were accustomed to speak of a conditional will of God, wherein God desired this or that on the condition that men perform this or that command. The Amyraldians, in their hope of finding some middle course between Arminianism and Calvinism, hypothesised a general decree that all men be saved upon condition of faith and repentance which preceded the particular decree to choose some men to eternal life and to grant them the faith and repentance necessary for obtaining salvation.

Perhaps Prof. Murray did not have this type of speculative will in mind when he referred to “the disposition of loving-kindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace.” It may be that he was arguing from the will of God to the nature of God. That is, God commands a, therefore God must be a-like. Such a manner of reasoning is sound in itself, for the moral law of God is of use to all men “to inform them of the holy nature and will of God.”10

If this was Prof. Murray’s method of argumentation, it is not without fault. For he has not strictly reasoned from the will of God to the nature of God. The nature of God is what God is irrespective of the creature. So while the offer of the gospel might very well imply a disposition of loving-kindness on the part of God, that is all it could imply. For it is the eternal decree of God which has determined the mode in which He shall express His nature towards the creature.

This is an aspect of the eternal decree which is too often overlooked. The nature of God is what God is in se — in Himself — not what He is with respect to anything outside of Himself. It is the eternal decree which has determined not only what shall be, but also the relation and action of God towards the creature. We may note what Francis Turretin states in this connection: “There are acts immanent and intrinsic in God, but connoting a respect and relation (schesin) to something outside of God (such are the decrees, which are nothing else than the counsels of God concerning future things outside of himself).”11

For the Biblical substantiation of this point one need only advert to the usual texts cited by Calvinists in defence of the doctrine of unconditional election. To reference but two, Eph. 1:4 states that God’s act of choosing before the foundation of the world determines that the elect shall be “holy and without blame before him in love;” and Rom. 9:10-13 alludes to the pre-natal relation of Jacob and Esau before God as a result of the eternal purpose of election, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Hence, it is the will of God’s decree which has determined the relation and action of God towards the creature. The proponents of universal love in John Owen’s day argued that God “by his infinite goodness was inclined to desire the happiness of them, all and every one, that they might be delivered from misery, and be brought unto himself.” As the report has put forward the same argument, the cogent response of Dr. Owen is worthy of our attention. “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, as shall be declared.”12

To suppose that God has a disposition “pointing to” anything which concerns the creature, be it salvation or otherwise, is to predicate something of the Divine decree. So that any hypothesis with regard to the expression of God’s nature towards the creature is no longer a statement about the nature of God, but about the will of God. In the final analysis, whether Prof. Murray was attempting to accredit some other aspect to the will of God or not, he has succeeded in affirming a speculative will as espoused by Remonstrants and Amyraldians alike.

This, surely, is the crux of the matter. Scripture speaks expressly on the relation and action of God towards the reprobate, as it has been determined by His eternal and immutable counsel. They are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22), enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18), delivered unto thraldom to obey Satan as their god, (2 Cor. 4:4), ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Any goodness they experience from the hand of God is a bitter sweet. It serves to inure them and to prepare them for the day of wrath (Rom. 2:4, 5). God has been pleased to leave multitudes of them without the fragrance of the gospel, and of those that do come under its aroma, the gospel becomes a savour of death unto death (2 Cor. 2:16). Its promises were never intended for them, having only been purchased by Christ for the elect (2 Cor. 1:20); and its commandments are odious to them, for they are never graciously renewed by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 8:7). And when they stumble at the word, continuing in their disobedience, it is because that is whereunto they were appointed in accord with the good pleasure of God (1 Pet. 2:8).

In the light of such express testimony, the report’s attempt to discover a favourable or loving disposition on the part of God to the reprobate, and that in but a few Scriptures which do not speak to the point in dispute, is futile. The attempt can only succeed in advancing the unfounded notion of a speculative will in God which never finds fulfilment because its conditions are never met by man.

More could be said by way of expounding the Calvinistic doctrine of the eternal and immutable decree of God, and each principle brought before our view would militate against accepting the report’s notion of a loving disposition and desire in God towards the reprobate as well as the elect. We shall briefly advert to two of these principles. 1. The decree ensures that the divine attributes are expressed in accord with their simplicity, so that the perfections of God are harmonious in their manifestation to the creature. If one of God’s perfections were to manifest itself towards the creature in a way that is contrary to the decree, it could only have the effect of dividing God against Himself. 2. The decree ensures that the divine attributes are expressed in accord with their ultimacy, so that the perfections of God are glorious in their manifestation to the creature. When it is considered that the decrees of God are “for His own glory,”13 if any perfection in God were to point towards what was contrary to His decrees, that would be a disposition to not manifest God’s glory. And it is preposterous to think that God desires that which is not for His own glory.

In this reviewer’s opinion, it is the failure of modern Calvinists to comprehend properly the nature and import of the eternal decree, especially as it concerns the reprobate, which has encouraged aberrations with regard to God’s disposition towards them. Too often the reprobate are represented as simply being the “non-elect,” “passed over,” and “left without mercy.” These descriptions are true in their context, but they are not the whole truth. There is a positive decree which has been issued, and is being executed, with regard to the reprobate, such that it is necessary to think of those whom God has not elected as “fitted to destruction,” of those who are passed over as “hated,” and of those who are left without mercy as “hardened.” And all this, as John Calvin expressed it, “as yet undefiled by any crime.”14 For reprobation, like election, is apart from works, lest God’s will be conditioned on anything in the creature.

Some might ask, if this be the relation which God sustains to the reprobate, why does He allow them to be partakers with the elect in the generous invitation of gospel promises and in the ingenuous proclamation of gospel commands? This question is appropriately answered with another question. If God did not send gospel promises and commands to them, would that be proof enough that He had no desire or love for them? The report gives an uncertain sound in this regard. It sometimes asserts that God’s desire and delight is for all men to be saved, but at other times it is restricted to “those to whom the offer comes.”15 It is difficult to defend the hypothesis that God desires the salvation of those whom He deprives of the message of salvation.

But to give a positive answer to the question, it is for the elects’ sake, as Samuel Rutherford argued:

How then cometh the Gospel to them? Ans. It comes to them, 1. Not from Christ as their Surety, since he prays not for any Mediation of his own towards them: But 2. for the Elect’s sake: so Paul, Act. 13.26. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and who among you feareth God, to you ... is the word of salvation, to you and for your cause, that ye may be saved, is the Gospel, sent. 2 Corin. 4.15. For all things, our suffering, our dying, are ... for your sake. 2 Tim. 2.10. Therefore I indure all things ... for the Elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, with eternall glory. Hence, there is no salvation but that which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Author and Cause ... and meriting Procurer of eternall salvation, Hebr. 5.9.16

The gospel cannot be regarded as having any intention of benefit for the reprobate simply because the benefits it holds out to its hearers were only procured by Christ for the elect. If there were any benefit to be obtained by the reprobate, why do they not all hear the gospel? No, their hearing of the gospel must be due to the fact that those who are sent to publish it are “unacquainted with [God’s] particular purpose,”17 and cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobate. The Lord, in His providence, sends the gospel to wherever He has His elect that they might be made partakers of the benefits revealed therein; and this gospel is published indiscriminately to all, lest the restricting or limiting of it should result in any of the elect not hearing, and so, not obeying its message.

Herein something might be predicated of the genuine expression of earnest desire to be sounded forth to all men without exception: it is by the ministers of the gospel who are sent forth to preach to every creature and to beseech men to be reconciled to God. As Augustine has moved, and as John Calvin has seconded: “‘For as we know not who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved.’ So shall it come about that we try to make everyone we meet a sharer in our peace.”18

Thus, having shown the inappropriateness of predicating a desire of God for the salvation of all men, and having, rather, assigned the desire that all men be saved to its appropriate place, namely, to the ministers who preach the gospel, the remaining space may be spent examining the Scriptural references adduced by the report.

Matthew 5:4448; Luke 6:2736

Matthew 5:44-48, in conjunction with Luke 6:27-36, is the first reference provided to support the position that God desires the salvation of all men. We are told that it is referenced, not because it deals with the overtures of grace in the gospel, but because “it does tell us something regarding God’s benevolence that has bearing upon all manifestations of divine grace” and that “all without distinction, reprobate as well as elect, are the beneficiaries of this favour.”19 Specifically, the report deduces from these texts “that the kindness bestowed in sunshine and rain is the expression of divine love, that back of the bestowal there is an attitude on the part of God, called love, which constrains him to bestow these tokens of his lovingkindness.”20

The method of argumentation for establishing this conclusion is quite simple. Since men are commanded to love their enemies, and since they are also commanded, as a motive to the exercise of this love, to imitate the Father in heaven’s perfection, it necessarily follows that it is a part of the Father in heaven’s perfection that “he loves his enemies and that it is because he loves his enemies that he makes his sun rise upon them and sends them rain.”21

One dare not argue with logic. But we may test the conclusion by applying the same logic to the other imperatives which Jesus gave, such as “bless (speak well to) them that curse you” and “pray for them which despitefully use you.” Are we to conclude that a man speaking well to his enemies is in imitation of the Father speaking well to His enemies? Or, that a man praying for those who despitefully use him imitates the Father praying for those who despitefully use Him?

Putting the question in this manner should help us to see that while the logic seems sound enough, the reasoning fails to account for the distinction in being between the Creator’s infinitude and the creature’s finitude. The commandments given to man are suited to his creatureliness, and whatever perfection a man might attain to, it can never be greater than creaturely perfection. God’s perfection is omniscient and omnipotent. He knows who are the elect and who are the reprobate, and it is in His power to act in accord with the purpose He has for each one. Bearing this in mind, we may understand Jesus’ commandment in its Biblical context. Hatred and vengeance is not in your power. It belongs to God to repay. Therefore, determine to do good to your enemies, and thereby show that you are more virtuous than publicans. For such virtue imitates your Father’s perfection, and demonstrates that you are His sons. That is, the perfection which Jesus calls upon His followers to imitate is not the Father’s actions, but the virtuous quality which characterises His actions.

Hence, the report’s inference from this text is inadmissible. The conclusion, however, deserves examination in the light of traditional reformed thought on the subject of God’s love. For it is noteworthy that some reformed divines, those strictly so-called, were not averse to referring to a benevolence in God towards all men, elect and reprobate alike. So 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.”22

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 report’s conclusion 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, it 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.”24 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.

The report has adduced a text of Scripture which does not speak to the issue of the divine love being manifested to the sinner in the gospel. It has relied solely upon an incidental statement to demonstrate its claims; and that in itself cannot be regarded as legitimate when it is considered that the subject being dealt with lies very near the heart of the Bible’s message. What of all the Scriptural statements which speak perspicuously to the issue? Prof. Murray was unable to refer to these because they all, each and every one, speak of the divine love being manifested to the sinner in the giving of the Lord Jesus Christ for the sinner, i.e., in terms of a particular redemption. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). To quote Samuel Rutherford:

In this grammar of the Holy Ghost, observe we, by the way, for resolution, The wisdom of God, in framing the words of the gospel. It cannot be said that God loved all the world in Christ his beloved; and all, and every sinner, and all the race of mankind. Yet, laying down this ground, that God keepeth up in his mind, the secrets of election and reprobation, till he, in his own time, be pleased to reveal them; the Lord hath framed the gospel-offer of Christ in such indefinite words, and so general (yet without all double-dealing, lying, or equivocating; for his own good-pleasure is a rule both of his doings and speeches).”25

Hence, the love of God to sinners is manifested only generally in the gospel, and does not become a particular manifestation to this or that person until God is pleased to work faith in those whom He has chosen, whereby they become partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ. Scripture does not warrant the extending of this manifestation any further than the extent of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? It is those to whom the love of God is manifested and commended. This point is made very eloquently in a sermon by Dr. John Kennedy:

‘But,’ it may be asked, ‘how are we, who hear the gospel, related to the Father’s love?’ Not so, that we have any warrant to conclude, because of what the gospel tells you of His love, that it now, and as you are, embraces you. It speaks to you of that love, it exhibits the glorious proof given of the sovereignty, freeness, and riches of that love, in the mission and death of the Son, as the Christ and ‘the Lamb of God,’ but it cannot, by possibility, assure you of being an object of that love till you first come to Christ, and be embraced by it in Him. Aught else would be utterly inconsistent with the mode in which His love was revealed, as well as with the source whence it flows. Love, that could not approach a sinner except through Christ’s rent body and shed blood, cannot, apart from Christ-crucified, be approached by a sinner. It cannot come but through divine blood to you, and you must not attempt to come to it except through the same channel. Let there be movements in desire and faith towards it as it is revealed in Christ, but let there be no attempt to embrace it, as a loved one, till first, as a sinner, you embrace ‘Jesus Christ as He is freely offered to us in the gospel.’26

Given this affinity between the love of God and the redemption purchased by Christ, and especially the prominence attributed to it by Scripture, the report’s attempted exegesis of an incidental statement is most unsatisfactory.27 One is not at liberty to overlook what the Scriptures positively teach upon the subject in question; for it may be that the express word of Scripture excludes what is being extracted from other portions of Scripture which do not speak so directly and explicitly. And that, as has been demonstrated, is true in the case before us.

The Scriptures explicitly refer to God’s love as efficaciously bringing the objects of it into an estate of salvation, and that this estate, reciprocally, is the sole evidence that one is beloved of God. When the Shorter Catechism states that assurance of God’s love is a benefit which accompanies justification, adoption, and sanctification, and that these in turn are benefits which pertain to those that are effectually called,28 it is accurately representing the Scriptural presentation of the divine love as it respects sinners. There can be no personal assurance of God’s love in the outward call of the gospel. Such assurance is spurious and delusive. When that call is made effectual by the Holy Ghost working faith in the hearer, he is thereby united to Christ and made a partaker of all the benefits of His redemptive work. Then, and only then, can there be a genuine, personal assurance of God’s love.

Obversely, the Scriptures are just as explicit with regard to God’s hatred of the reprobate, as was demonstrated previously in connection with the introduction of the report. Whatever temporal benefits the reprobate enjoy as a result of God’s providential care of the creature, the fact that the word reprobate implies God’s purpose of displaying His justice with regard to them as sinners, means that every temporal benefit is a manifestation of God’s just displeasure against them. And this may be confidently maintained, not on the basis of an incidental statement, but in the very words of inspiration: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet. 2:9).29 Hence, the reprobate cannot properly be regarded as “beneficiaries” of God’s favour. In the purpose of God, the temporal benefits received by the reprobate are the very means He uses to reserve them for punishment. This is what the Westminster Confession of Faith states with regard to God’s providential dealings to them:

God, as a righteous Judge ... not only withholdeth His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan: whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.30

As was stated earlier, the creature as God’s creature was created good, and God undoubtedly exercises a providential care over His works, even rejoicing in them (Ps. 104:31). But the reprobate are not considered merely as creatures when God dispenses temporal benefits to them. They are “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” and God is said to endure them “with much longsuffering” (Rom. 9:22). And this long-suffering is not presented as being in any sense for their benefit, as if He were patiently waiting for them to turn to Him that He might be favourable to them. No, it is so that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (verse 23). Thus, God’s wrathful enduring of the reprobate is for the purpose of mercifully manifesting His glory to the elect. Every temporal benefit, therefore, which comes to the reprobate is not without purpose, but is made effectual to them for their inuring and making meet for damnation.

Psalm 11 makes this point clear in its demarcation of the righteous and the wicked in the sight of the Almighty. The context is the power and prosperity of the wicked, and the apparent defencelessness of the righteous in relation to it (verses 1-3). Yet, God is in heaven. His eyes behold and His eyelids try the children of men (verse 4). What follows is best left to David Dickson to describe, who has captured the very essence of the Psalm:

However he giveth the wicked and violent persecutor to have a seeming prosperity, while the godly are in trouble, yet that is no act of love to them: for the wicked, and him that loveth violence, his soul hateth ... All the seeming advantages which the wicked have in their own prosperity, are but means of hardening them in their ill course, and holding them fast in the bonds of their own iniquities, till God execute judgment on them: upon the wicked he shall rain snares ... Whatsoever be the condition of the wicked for a time, yet at length sudden, terrible, irresistible, and remediless destruction they shall not escape: fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest is the portion of their cup.31

Such is the Biblical and Reformed teaching on God’s love to His elect and hatred of the reprobate. The next reference adduced by the report is Acts 14:17, but the report states that “this text does not express as much as those considered already.”32 Thus we may proceed to an examination of those texts which are said to imply that God wishes for things that never come to pass.

Deuteronomy 5:29; 32:29; Psalm 81:13; Isaiah 48:18

“O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29). “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29). “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” (Ps. 81:13). “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isa. 48:18).

“The purpose of adducing these texts is to note the optative force of that which is expressed;”33 and the subsequent burden of the report’s exegesis of these texts is to show the validity of the A.V. rendering of them in the optative mood. As there are good grounds for accepting this rendering, there is no need to give a detailed analysis of the exegesis. It is the conclusion being drawn from the rendering which is pertinent to this review. That conclusion is stated thus: “there can be no room for question but that the Lord represents himself in some of these passages as earnestly desiring the fulfilment of something which he had not in the exercise of his sovereign will actually decreed to come to pass.”34

It is undoubtedly true that the Lord represents Himself in this manner. The question is, what is the nature of this representation? Prof. Murray did not offer any comment by way of substantiating a literal interpretation of the wording of these texts. Which is somewhat disappointing in view of the fact that John Calvin understood three of these four texts to be God speaking “after the manner of men.” As his comments pertinently state the case for a figurative interpretation of the wording, it might be appropriate to quote these in answer to the report’s assertion that these texts bear upon the point at issue.

In a sermon on Deuteronomy 5:29, he says: “God therefore to make the people perceive how hard a matter it is to keepe the lawe, sayeth here, I would fayne it were so ... True it is that here God speaketh after the maner of men: for he needeth no more but wish things done, all things are in his hand.” And a little later on the same text, “And why then doth he pretend to wish it in this text? It is bicause he speaketh after the maner of men, as he doeth in many other places. And (as I said afore) it is to the ende that when there is any mention made of walking in obedience to Godward, we should understand that it cannot bee done without hardnesse, and that our wits should be wakened to apply our selves earnestly to that studie.”35

On Psalm 81:13, he comments “The Hebrew particle ... is not to be understood as expressing a condition, but a wish; and therefore God, I have no doubt, like a man weeping and lamenting, cries out, O the wretchedness of this people in wilfully refusing to have their best interests carefully provided for.”36 Similarly, on Isa. 48:18, “This is therefore a figurative appropriation of human affections.”37

The appeal to these texts really proves too much. For the optative mood, while it may be restricted to a simple desire or wish, oftentimes carries the connotation of longing after, and that in a mournful way when it is an unfulfilled longing, as the comment on Ps. 81:13 indicates. Hence, the texts beckon the reader to understand the expressions as God speaking after the manner of men. As David Dickson has qualified, the lamenting of God for His people’s misery “is not to be taken so, as if there were in God any passion or perturbation, or miserable lamentation: but this speech is to be conceived, as other like speeches in Scripture, which are borrowed from the affections of men, and are framed to move some holy affection in men, suitable to that affection from which the Lord taketh the similitude.”38 Such expressions, then, are intended to instruct the hearers as to what their passion ought to be, not to indicate that God is characterised by such passions Himself.

When understood in this way, the covenantal language of the text comes to the fore, thereby enabling the interpreter to see the true intent of such passages. That these verses ought to be understood covenantally is clear from their context and terminology. Deut. 5:29 is Moses’ rehearsal of the covenant ratified at Mt. Sinai (Horeb in the book of Deuteronomy) for the benefit of the new generation which is about to enter into the promised land. 32:29 is the song of Moses which calls upon the heavens and earth to act as witnesses in the covenantal relationship which the Israelites bear to the Lord. It abounds in metaphorical language for this very reason. Nobody takes the language literally with regard to the Lord being a Rock, verse 4, or fearing the wrath of His enemies, verse 27. Why, then, is a literal import inconsistently suggested for the optative mood in verse 29? Both Ps. 81:13 and Isa. 48:17 refer to the hearers in the covenantal designation of “Israel;” with the former of these adding the words, “my people,” and the latter the words, “thy God.” And both similarly proceed to recount the promises of the covenant which the hearers have failed to become partakers of through their disobedience; the former speaking of the subduing of Israel’s enemies (Ps. 81:14), and the latter of the multiplication and preservation of her people (Isa. 48:18).

It is the covenantal nature of these speeches which required the adoption (ad extra) of human thoughts and affections on the part of God in condescension to His people. In the covenant, God identifies Himself and His cause with the welfare and cause of His people. The enemies of His people become His enemies, the successes of His people become His successes, and the failures of His people become His failures, as the language of Deut. 32:27 signifies. The Almighty power of God becomes conditioned on the people’s obedience or disobedience. At the building of the tabernacle, and later of the temple, His omnipresence becomes confined to the place where He puts His Name. Even His knowledge is sometimes represented as being limited to this special relationship which He has established with His people, and He is portrayed as repenting and changing His mind when He discovers that His people have acted in this or that way.

Such language does not reflect upon the nature of God, but only indicates the nature of the covenant relation with which God condescends to act in accord. Given the unchangeable and unconditional perfection of the Almighty, it is obvious that these types of Scriptural references are to be understood as His condescension to the weakness of man’s capacity, as when the apostle spoke after the manner of men because of the infirmity of his hearers’ flesh, Rom. 6:19. Thus, when God represents Himself as repenting, or of being unable to do anything more to procure the people’s obedience, or expresses a desire for that which is contrary to His purpose, the language is to be understood anthropopathically, not literally.

Furthermore, the covenantal context of the speeches should enable us to see the error in the report’s conclusion that God has not sovereignly willed what He here desires. The apostle to the Gentiles informs us that to the Israelites belong “the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). His purpose was to assure his readers that the failure of certain individual Israelites does not mean that “the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (verse 6). Divine inspiration here teaches an infallible rule for interpreting both the Old Testament promises to Israel and the divine expression of desire that those promises be fulfilled. It is that these promises were made to Israel corporately, not individually. They were made to Israel as elect, as Paul’s subsequent teaching on election and reprobation demonstrates. So that the one in whom these promises are not fulfilled cannot be regarded as belonging to the true Israel, for “the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (verse 8). Thus, the divine expression of desire for His commandments to be obeyed and for His promises to come to fruition is not an unfulfilled desire at all. For God undertakes on behalf of elect Israel to put His laws into their minds and to write them in their hearts, so that the promise to be their God and to bless them as His people comes to fruition (Heb. 8:10).

So the report’s conclusion from these texts is inadmissible on two accounts. 1. Because the language employed is not to be regarded literally, but figuratively, in accord with its covenantal context, as God speaking after the manner of men; and 2. Because the expression of desire is not with reference to a matter that shall be left unfulfilled, for God’s sovereign grace ensures that His word of promise is not rendered ineffectual.

Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34

The next passage to which the report referred is Matthew 23:37 in conjunction with Luke 13:34, the account of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem. By adducing these texts, the report draws attention to the fact that “the will of Christ in the direction of a certain benign result is set in contrast with the will of those who are contemplated as the subjects of such blessing.”39 Jesus would have gathered together the children of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem would not. This is unobjectionable, but quite irrelevant to the issue. For while Jesus is fully God, He is also fully man. And the expression of pathos which is found in this incident is only appropriate to a man. As David Dickson comments: “our Lord, as man, and a kindly minister of the circumcision moved with humane compassion for the miseries of his native countrymen, lets forth his love in this lamentation and weeping, while he beholds the desperate obstinacy of the multitude running to perdition.”40

It was Prof. Murray’s stated opinion that such an interpretation is untenable, and that because Jesus is speaking as the God-man. Specifically, “In view of the transcendent, divine function which he says he wished to perform, it would be illegitimate for us to say that here we have simply an example of his human desire or will. It is surely, therefore, a revelation to us of the divine will as well as of the human.”41

Before commenting on the fallacy of this argument, the absurdity of it deserves some attention. The report would lead us to believe that Jesus, in His divine will, wished to perform the ingathering of Jerusalem’s children. Note, it is not a desire for a particular condition which He was unwilling to perform, as in the earlier aspects of the report’s argument. It is not stated that Jesus wished for their ingathering, but that He might perform this ingathering. Such a will to perform could only be decretive. Therefore, the report has asserted that the divine will of Jesus willed to do something which was not in accord with the divine will to do, and so Jesus was unable to do it. That is a contradiction in itself.

Then, according to the report, the reason why we are obliged to accept that it must have been the divine will to ingather the children of Jerusalem is because the very thing being willed was only competent to His divine power to perform. Adding this ingenious speculation to the already spicy broth of contradiction, the following is what the report has served up for our consumption. The divine will of Jesus willed to perform something which only His divine power could perform, but because the divine will of Jesus was out of accord with the divine will, He was not able to perform that which only His divine power could perform.

Such is the absurdity of the argument, for which alone it ought to be rejected. But there is a fallacy in it, namely, that only the divine will of Jesus could will what the divine power alone could perform. Our only means of demonstrating this fallacy is to reference the sole account where Jesus is explicitly said to wish something, albeit temporarily, which it was not the Father’s will to perform: His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. This is the locus classicus for demonstrating that Jesus did not only have one will, but two, a divine and a human will.

Matthew 26:39 says, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It was not in the power of Jesus’ humanity to remove the cup of suffering which He was about to drink down, and this is implied in the word “let.” Upon assuming human nature Christ subjected Himself to do God’s will, both legal and soteriological. This is clear from Hebrews 10:7, “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.” Moreover, it was clearly not the divine will which wished that this cup of suffering might pass from Him. It was the human will wishing that which was in accord with the moral principles of self-preservation. Thus the reasoning must be fallacious which suggests that only the divine will of Jesus could will what the divine power alone could perform. In the garden of Gethsemane the human will of Jesus wished what only the Father’s power could take from Him: that salvific cup of suffering and the bitter dregs thereof.

This fact serves also to refute another argument which the report has commended for the conclusion that Jesus revealed His divine will in the lamentation over Jerusalem. The argument is that there is a “perfect harmony and coalescence of will on the part of the Father and of the Son ... To aver that Jesus in the expressed will of Matthew 23:37 is not disclosing the divine will but simply his own human will would tend towards very grave prejudice to this principle.”42 As the experience in the garden of Gethsemane demonstrates that one may Biblically prejudice the false principle of a perfect harmony between the will of the Father and the human will of the Son, the averment that it is the human will of Jesus which is expressed in Matthew 23:37, is both safe and sound.

Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11

Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11, with particular regard to the words, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” are the passages next seized upon by the report. The covenantal context of these passages is clear from such addresses as “Hear now, O house of Israel” (18:25), and “Why will ye die, O house of Israel” (33:11). Thus, the dependence of the report upon these passages might be summarily dismissed by referring the reader to the previous comments regarding God’s word not being made ineffectual because it has reference to Israel as elect. Yet, this can be demonstrated to be true with regard to the teaching of the Ezekiel passages themselves, and so it might serve as a more thorough rebuttal to the report if these were investigated in their own right.

The report’s exegesis of these passages bore the burden of showing that it is not in the least justifiable “to limit the reference of these passages to any one class of wicked persons,”43 that is, to the elect who do not die in their sins. The first consideration in support of this conclusion was the assertion that in Ezekiel 33:4-9, “the wicked who actually die in their iniquity are contemplated.”44 This is not correct. The wording is conditional: “When ... if ... then ...” The Lord is showing wherein blame will lie in certain hypothetical situations. a) If Ezekiel fails to warn the wicked of their danger, and if the wicked die in their iniquity, their blood shall be required at the prophet’s hand. Or, b) if Ezekiel does warn the wicked of their danger, his soul shall be delivered whether the wicked dies in their iniquity or not. Thus, what is being contemplated is entirely hypothetical and solely for the benefit of the prophet, that he might not shun to declare the whole counsel of God in his ministry. The house of Israel is not contemplated until verse 10 when the Lord entrusts His oracle to the prophet that he might warn the covenant people of their danger. Thus, the report’s first consideration fails to support its conclusion.

The second consideration is that the phrase, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” according to the report, “admits of no limitation or qualification; it applies to the wicked who actually die in their iniquity.”45 The difficulty of answering the report’s defence of this statement is the fact that it has pounced upon the general wording of the text, separated it from its context, and proceeded to feed upon it to its own delight. Such a method ignores a fundamental hermeneutical principle. “That indefinite and general expressions are to be interpreted in answerable proportion to the things whereof they are affirmed.”46 By noting the words in their context it may readily be seen that the words are not a general assertion at all, because the word wicked is a certain class of wicked person who is being referred to in the surrounding verses.
In the first passage, the prophet is speaking against those who claimed that their punishment was because of their fathers’ iniquities. This idea is renounced with the assertion that the wicked dies for his own wickedness, and concrete cases of that generation’s wickedness are subsequently provided (verses 1-18). Then, in verses 19-22, the prophet states that if the wicked will turn from all his sins, his transgressions shall not be mentioned unto him, but he shall live in his righteousness. The hypothetical nature of the case and the conditional nature of the conclusion are noteworthy.

The significant words are subsequently spoken in the context of this hypothetical situation: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? (verse 23). The reference is to the wicked if he will turn from his wickedness. God is saying, hypothetically, if the wicked will turn from his wickedness, I will have no pleasure in his perishing on account of either his father’s or his own former sins. And this is borne out by the second half of the verse: “and not that he should return from his ways, and live.” That is, God shall be pleased, if the wicked meets the condition and turns from his sins, to grant life to him on account of his righteousness, rather than to leave him to perish on account of his own and his father’s sins.

Verse 24 obversely presses this same point. The prophet asks that if the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, should he be permitted to live? We should note the interrogative corresponding to the question of verse 23. It has the effect of asking, Does God have any pleasure at all that the righteous should live? That is, given the condition that the righteous one has turned to committing iniquity, he ought not to think that the Lord will reward him on account of either his father’s or his own former righteousness.

Verses 25-30 press this point home in answer to the accusation that God was not acting equally towards them. The prophet concludes, in verse 30, that the Lord will judge every one according to his ways. Consequently, the house of Israel are exhorted to make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit (such as God promises to give them at the restoration, ch. 36), and not to perish on account of a foolish notion that God has acted inequitably towards them and shall make them perish for their fathers’ sins. For God has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” As with the word wicked in verse 23, the word him is qualified by the context. It is he that makes for himself a new heart and a new spirit; God will not inflict punishment upon him on account of past sins. Rather, if he turns, it will be a repentance unto life, for God shall reward him according to his righteous standing before Him.

The second passage in Ezek. 33 is to much the same effect, but the question of the fathers’ sins appears to be left out of view. That might be because this prophecy is spoken in anticipation of the announcement that Jerusalem has been destroyed in verses 21ff. In this context, the “death” referred to in the intervening verses of 10-20 is best understood as a departure of this life before the blessed restoration, while “life” is with reference to seeing and enjoying the blessings of a reconstituted kingdom, such as is presented in chaps. 40ff. Hence, Ezekiel’s ministry is to take on a whole new orientation and he receives a new commission in verses 1-9 to that end. His calls of repentance are necessary if Israel is not going to “pine away” under the punishment of their transgressions (verse 10), but become a partaker again in the promised land.

In this context the words of verse 11 need to be understood: “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.” That is, it does not please the Lord to continue punishing the wicked for past sins if he will turn from his wicked ways. Rather, He is pleased to grant life to the turning sinner. Verses 12-13 then reproduce the same reasoning of chapter 18 with regard to the hypothetical case of the righteous turning to wickedness and dying on account of that wickedness. Similarly, verses 14-16 repeat the hypothetical case of the wicked turning to righteousness and living. The importance of this section is the way in which it restates the case of verse 11 with regard to God having no pleasure in the death of the wicked. “When I say to the wicked that he shall surely die, if he turn from his sin ... he shall surely live.” The if is conditional, and the case is hypothetical. As God lives, He has no pleasure in the death of that wicked person whom He has condemned to death if that wicked person will turn from his wickedness. The conclusion is only realised when the condition is met. The reformer, John Knox, in his treatise On Predestination, has related this sense of the passage well:

The minde of the Prophete was to stirre such as had declined from God, to returne unto him by true repentance. And because their iniquities were so many, and offenses so great, that justly they might have despaired of remission, mercie, and grace, therefore doth the Prophet, for the better assurance of those that should repent, affirme, ‘That God deliteth not, neither willeth the death of the wicked.’ But of which wicked? Of him, no doubte, that truely should repent, in his death did not, nor never shall God delyte. But he deliteth to be knowen a God that sheweth mercye, grace, and favour to such as unfeinedly call for the same, how grevous so ever their former offenses have been.47

In this light, the report’s disjointed exegesis of the Ezekiel passages misses the mark. The statement, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, does admit of a qualification. It is the qualification imposed by the context that the wicked are being hypothetically considered as turning from their wicked ways. It does not apply “to the wicked who actually die in their iniquity.” It applies, hypothetically, to any within the house of Israel who would be of a mind to turn from wickedness and cease from charging God with injustice because of His judgements. Hence, the report’s second consideration also fails to support its conclusion. It is justifiable, then, to limit the reference of these passages to one class of wicked persons.

Isaiah 45:22

Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” is referred to by the report as expressing “the will that all should turn to him and be saved. What God wills in this sense he certainly is pleased to will. If it is his pleasure to will that all repent and be saved, it is surely his pleasure that all repent and be saved.”48

That the text expresses “the will that all should turn to him and be saved,” there can be no debating; for the word should speaks of the obligation to turn and be saved. Likewise, there can be no debating with the ensuing sentence: “What God wills in this sense he certainly is pleased to will.” For, as was stated in the context of the report’s introduction, God’s preceptive will is the duty which He is pleased to oblige men to. But somehow the report adds 1 to 1 and, instead of arriving at 2, suggests that the answer is 11. For the next sentence says: “If it is his pleasure to will that all repent and be saved, it is surely his pleasure that all repent and be saved.”

The conclusion is inconsistent with what was premised. It was premised that God wills that all should turn to Him and be saved, not that God wills that all turn to Him and be saved. As with the introduction of the report, there is here discovered an inability to distinguish between obligation and futurition. The conclusion that it is God’s will and pleasure that all repent and be saved, is a will and pleasure for the futurition of the event, and predicates something of the decretive aspect of God’s will. The correct conclusion, given the premises of the syllogism, would thus have been: it is surely his pleasure that all should repent and be saved.

Thus restricting the preceptive will to the realm of obligation, the report would have been delivered of the error of asserting two contradictory things with regard to God’s will. As it stands, however, it has said that God both wills and does not will that all be saved. It is to no avail to name one of these wills preceptive whilst accrediting to it a decretive nature. Such a procedure only serves to confuse the issue.

2 Peter 3:9

The final text to be reviewed is 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The report states that in the light of what it has already found “there is no reason in the analogy of Scripture why we should not regard this passage as teaching that God in the exercise of his benevolent longsuffering and lovingkindness wills that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”49 Given the spuriousness of the report’s findings up to this point, however, the analogy of Scripture would require us to regard this passage as not teaching such an abominable universalism.

It is to be clarified that the text does not say that in His longsuffering God wills that none should perish. The wording is that God is long-suffering to us-ward. That is, God acts in a particular way towards the objects of His longsuffering and that is because He is not willing that they should perish. The will here is not a will of command, but of decree. It is God acting for the purpose of procuring what He has willed. And the word should cannot signify obligation in this context. In the original, the infinitive is employed—to perish—so that a more accurate rendering would be that God “is not willing for any to perish.” So, once again, the report has predicated that God both wills and does not will that all be saved, and this in the same sense, decretively.

It is impossible to generalise the last clause of 2 Peter 3:9 for the purpose of making it inclusive of all men. The clause is subordinate and the construction, eis plus the infinitive, is best understood as a final or purpose clause. As it is a subordinate clause, it is dependent upon a principal clause for its interpretation. The principal clause in this passage is the longsuffering being displayed to us-ward. It is being displayed to us-ward for the purpose that all might come to repentance. The all, therefore, must be all of us, for it is qualified by the principal clause. God is longsuffering to us-ward so that all of us might come to repentance.

Four considerations are suggested by the report for applying this Scripture to a universal context, but as the third and fourth are dependent upon the second consideration, it is only necessary to address the first two.

The first consideration is that the delay of the coming of judgment should be acknowledged as a manifestation of God’s longsuffering with sinners in general. This is in contradiction to the very evidence which the report produces. It says that long-suffering (makrothumia) as an action of God is only instanced in one other place (Luke 18:7), and “it probably relates to the elect.”50 The text reads: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them.” Next, it alleges that Romans 9:22 “presents a clear instance where it has in view an attitude of God towards the reprobate; he ‘endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath.’”51 True, but the enduring is of them, not towards them. Verse 23 states that the enduring with the reprobate is for the purpose “that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy.”

The second consideration relies upon a variant reading of “you” instead of “us.” God is longsuffering to you-ward. The reading of the Received Text has excellent support, and need not be altered. However, for the sake of the argument and in order not to become side-tracked onto another issue, the report’s adoption of this corrupted reading shall be addressed at face value. It states: “Even if the ‘you’ is restricted to professing Christians, one cannot exclude the possibility that reprobate men were also in view.”52

Besides the fact that “possibilities” have never been regarded as a sound basis for the exegesis of any text, it is to be observed that whether there were reprobate men amongst the readership of Peter or not, they are not addressed as such, and so may not be regarded as being in view. As John Owen insightfully remarks: “Neither is it of any weight to the contrary, that they were not all elect to whom Peter wrote: for in the judgment of charity he esteemed them so, desiring them ‘to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure,’ chap. i. 10; even as he expressly calleth those to whom he wrote his former epistle, ‘elect,’ chap. i. 2, and a ‘chosen generation,’ as well as a ‘purchased people,’ chap. ii. 9.”53 To which might be added the substantiating evidence that the second epistle of Peter was written to the same audience as the first, which is clear from 2 Pet. 3:1, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you.” And just prior to the verse being disputed, the apostle has repeated this denomination of his readers as beloved (3:8). Clearly, then, the you-ward (us-ward), are the beloved, who are referred to as the elect who must give all diligence to make their calling and election sure.


Herein concludes the review. The report has suggested that the desire being predicated of God for the salvation of all men applies to the preceptive will and not the decretive will of God. Our review has demonstrated that this is in name only because the desire for something to be, is a desire for its futurition, and so applies to the decretive will.

The report has suggested that there is a disposition of loving-kindness towards all men expressed in the gospel. Our review has replied that there can be no disposition towards the creature which is not decreed.

The report has suggested that the temporal benefits which the reprobate enjoy are an expression of God’s love and favour. Our review has answered that if it is appropriate to speak of a general love of God it must of necessity be restricted to the creature as a creature, not as a sinner or a reprobate. The disposition of God towards the reprobate which these temporal benefits express is conditioned by His decree of reprobation to hate the vessels of wrath and to reserve them, by means of these benefits, for everlasting damnation.

The report has suggested that the Divine employment of optatives expresses a desire on the part of God for that which never comes to pass. Our review has commented that these can only be understood covenantally, as God speaking after the manner of men in order to act in accord with the covenant relationship He bears to His people. Moreover, according to the Scripture’s own testimony, these expressions of desire are not made of no effect, but do come to pass in the elect, their proper point of reference.

The report has suggested that our Lord’s lamentation over Jerusalem was an expression of the divine will. Having shown the absurdity and fallacy of the argument presented in support of this, our review counteracted that the pathos being expressed was only suitable to the human will.

The report has suggested that the Ezekiel passages are to be understood as God having no pleasure in the death of the wicked generally, and absolutely. Our review has contextually exegeted those texts and concluded that the passage speaks of a hypothetical case wherein the wicked is presented as fulfilling the condition of turning from his wickedness.

The report has suggested that the command in Isaiah 45:22, to look unto God and be saved, indicates God’s pleasure that all be saved. Our review has found that the conclusion was not a logical inference from the premises, but another confusing of the ideas of obligation and futurition, of the preceptive and the decretive aspects of God’s will.

Finally, the report has suggested that 2 Pet. 3:9 is to be universalised so as to suggest that God is not willing for anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance, and that his longsuffering is towards sinners in general. Our review has evidenced that the structure of the sentence requires the all to be qualified by the principal clause so that it refers to the objects of God’s longsuffering, and that the objects of God’s longsuffering are the readers who are addressed and regarded as elect.


1. Matthew Winzer with his wife Kathleen and nine children attend the Grafton-Brushgrove congregation in Australia of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Matthew has a B.Th. (Hons.) and is currently pursuing a M.Th. under the direction of Prof. Allan Harman of the Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. The major thesis is on “The Theological Composition of the Psalter.”

2. P. 1. As the online document does not contain pagination, and is simply an unedited reproduction of the original publication, this review shall refer the reader to the pagination of the article as it is found in Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), pp. 113-132.

3. Ibid.

4. The Greek derivatives anthropos = man, morphe = form, and pathos = feeling. Because the infinite God is without “parts or passions,” the language of Scripture is said to be anthropomorphic or anthropopathic when it reveals Him in the finite forms and feelings of man.

5. Ibid.

6. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 1 (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992), p. 220. C.f. John Owen, Works Volume 10 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), p. 45, for a similar but fuller treatment of the distinction.

7. Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Glasgow: Samuel and Archibald Gardner, 1803), p. 480.

8. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 25.

9. Writings, p. 114.

10. The Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 95.

11. Francis Turretin, Institutes Volume 1, p. 311.

12. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 227.

13. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer 7.

14. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III. xxii. 11 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, n.d.), 2:946.

15. Writings, p. 114.

16. Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened (Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Anderson, 1655), p. 341. The breaks in the text are merely the omissions of original Greek words, and as their meanings are provided, the sense is not distorted.

17. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 300.

18. John Calvin, Institutes III. xxiii. 14; Volume 2, p. 964.

19. Writings, pp. 114, 115.

20. Ibid., p. 115.

21. Ibid.

22. Francis Turretin, Institutes Volume 1, p. 400.

23. John Knox, Works Volume 5 (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1856), p. 61.

24. Writings, p. 116.

25. Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying, p. 509.

26. John Kennedy, The Father’s Drawing (Westminster Standard booklet, n.d.), n. p.

27. In a separate article entitled ‘The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel,’ Prof. Murray stated: “The atonement in none of its aspects can be properly viewed apart from the love of God as the source from which it springs.” Writings, Volume 1, p. 62. The article goes on to provide a similar exegesis of Matthew 5:44-48 as that which is here being reviewed, and arrives at the same conclusion. Subsequently, on the basis of the affinity between God’s love and the atonement, and having concluded that there is a sense in which God loves all men, the article asserts that there is a sense in which “Christ died for non-elect persons” (p. 68). As this is not a review of that article, it would not be appropriate to commence an examination of that assertion. It suffices to say, that the holy Scriptures are completely silent with regard to any non-saving benefits which flowed from the atonement to the reprobate; and those who presume to be teachers of the holy Scriptures would do well to imitate that silence and not set about to build such a doctrinal superstructure upon the foundation of an incidental statement.

28. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, answers 36 and 32 respectively.

29. It might not be out of place to ask, in this connection, that if the temporal benefits enjoyed by the reprobate argue God’s love to them, what do the temporal deficits endured by the elect argue? The logical conclusion would be God’s hatred towards them. Yet, nobody would be prepared to concede such a conclusion. Why, then, should the argument from temporal benefit to divine love be embraced?

30. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 5, section 6.

31. David Dickson, Commentary on the Psalms (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), p. 51.

32. Writings, p. 117.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., p. 119.

35. John Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Facsimile of 1583 edition (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), p. 260.

36. John Calvin, ‘Commentary upon the Book of Psalms,’ in Calvin’s Commentaries Volume 5 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989), 2:323.

37. John Calvin, ‘Commentary on Isaiah,’ in Calvin’s Commentaries Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989), 1:487.

38. David Dickson, Psalms, p. 57.

39. Writings, p. 119.

40. David Dickson, A Brief Exposition of the Evangel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), p. 317.

41. Writings, p. 120.

42. Ibid. p. 121. It is highly inappropriate to refer to Christ’s divine will as the divine will and then speak of His human will as his own human will. This suggests that His divine will was somehow foreign to Him, while His human will was naturally His.

43. Writings, p. 121.

44. Ibid., p. 122.

45. Ibid.

46. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 348.

47. John Knox, Works, Volume 5, p. 410.

48. Writings, p. 127.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid., p. 128.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid., p. 129.

53. John Owen, Works, Volume 10, p. 348, 349.

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