21 April, 2017

II Corinthians 6:1-2—“… receive not the grace of God in vain … behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation”

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation) (II Cor. 6:1-2 KJV).

This passage is used to support the “general, well-meant offer” (or “free offer”) of the gospel—the teaching that God sincerely and earnestly desires, wills, wishes or wants all persons that outwardly hear the preaching to be saved and, in the preaching of the gospel, offers grace and salvation (along with all its blessings) to each and every hearer for their acceptance or rejection.


II Corinthians 6:1-2 and God’s Grace

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. XVI, issue 16 (August 2017)]

Question 1: “According to II Corinthians 6:1, it is possible to receive grace ‘in vain.’ Does not this imply that a reprobate or a false convert can at least receive grace, even though it is in vain?”

No, it certainly does not mean that an unbeliever receives grace. The point is that God saves a number of people and that group becomes a congregation of Jesus Christ. Upon that congregation, God sends the blessings of His grace. They grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. God is gracious to that church as a body.

It almost always happens that there are also those in the congregation who are not true believers. They confess the truth for a while. They may even be chosen as office-bearers. But they are not faithful. Hebrews 6:1-6 speaks of such people. And so the warning is pertinent and needed.

There is also the carnal seed born in the church who do not show their ungodly colours until they become young people or confessing adults.

The grace God gives to a congregation creates a sphere of Christ’s gracious workings in saving His church. The congregation as a whole and each individual in it is called not to use this grace of God in vain.

Everyone knows that, when a farmer irrigates his field, he waters weeds, as well as his crop. But the weeds receive the water in vain. Indeed, the watering causes them to grow rapidly and manifest themselves as weeds. So it is in the church. Hebrews 6:7-8 uses this figure too.

Question 2: “When Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:2, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,’ is he not implying (a) that salvation is available to all who hear, and (b) that their receiving of it depends upon their response to this message, and (c) that God, through the apostle’s beseeching, is Himself expressing an ardent desire for all to respond immediately and be saved?”

For some strange reason that I will never understand, the phrase “now is the accepted time,” along with “now is the day of salvation,” is interpreted to mean that an invitation of the gospel is addressed on that very day to those listening, and that, if they do not do something about it and accept Christ, they will lose all opportunity to be saved. This interpretation is a favourite of Arminian evangelists who want to scare people into believing—something they find profitable to do for they believe that a man’s final salvation depends on the choice of his own will and not on God’s sovereign power to save whom He will. What nonsense!

The apostle refers in II Corinthians 6:2 to the entire new dispensation. With the coming of Christ and His glorious work, salvation now comes through Christ’s power to gather His church from all nations on the earth. It is no longer limited to the Jewish nation, where the saints knew the gospel through types and shadows. I might add that, after all, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Pet. 3:8). Today, as well as when the apostle wrote these words, is the day of salvation. It is always, in the new dispensation, the day of salvation.

At the same time, God confronts everyone who hears the gospel with His solemn and urgent command to repent of their sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. So the church is ordered to preach the gospel that God saves sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, and ministers are called to command all to repent, turn from their sinful way and believe on Christ. The command to all to repent is “serious,” as Canons of Dordt III/IV:8 expresses it. God is earnest and not playing games when He commands all who hear the gospel to repent and to believe in His Son.

Question 3: “Most commentators believe that II Corinthians 6:2 teaches that the grace of God spoken of in the text means the gracious offer of the gospel—an offer of reconciliation and pardon, which can be accepted or rejected. What can be said about this?”

Those commentators are wrong. Those who defend an ineffectual divine wish to save the reprobate are guilty of blaspheming Him by insisting that He is unable to save those whom He desires to save. Let us hold fast to the truth and give glory to God.



Prof. David J. Engelsma


Q. 1. “According to verse 1, it says that it’s possible to receive grace “in vain.” Does this not imply that a reprobate or a false convert can at least “receive grace,” even though it be in vain?

Q. 2. “When Paul writes, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,’ is he not implying that salvation is (a) available for all who hear, (b) that their receiving of it depends upon their response to this, and (c) that God, through the apostles' “beseeching,” is Himself expressing an ardent desire for all to immediately respond and be saved?”

Q. 3. “Most commentators believe that the grace of God spoken of in the text, means the gracious offer of reconciliation and pardon, which can be accepted or rejected. What can be said about this?”

First, the exhortation that the Corinthians not receive the grace of God in vain does not imply that this is possible in the sense that a man is the recipient of the grace of God, but perishes. In light of verse 2, the apostle is exhorting the church not to receive the gospel that Paul preached in vain in the sense that the gospel of grace came to it, but the church did not believe it or hold on to it. This is a possibility, indeed a reality in many cases. The church and its members are therefore guilty of having the gospel brought to them, but, by their unbelief, not benefiting from the gospel. This implies neither a frustration of gracious purposes of God, nor a falling from grace on the part of individuals.
Regarding your second question, whenever the gospel is preached the ministers beseech, or ardently exhort, the hearers to receive the gospel, that is, believe it and embrace it. Salvation is brought near to all who hear in the sense that whoever believes will be saved by the gospel. Receiving the gospel is by faith. The implication is that whoever believes will receive the gospel and salvation. But there is no implication that believing depends upon an alleged ability to believe in the hearers. Scripture rather denies that faith lies in the natural ability of the hearer. Faith is the gift of God. As for “beseeching,” the meaning is an urgent call regarding a life or death matter for the hearers. There is no teaching or even implication of a desire on the part of God that all hearers receive the gospel and be saved. First, it is the workers, not God, who do the beseeching in the passage. Even with regard to the call of God to receive the gospel, this is the will of His command, not the will of His good pleasure. God commands certain things as the duty of the hearer that He does not purpose in His counsel. He urgently commanded (besought, if you will) Pharaoh to let His people go, but He decreed that the king would not let the people go, so that God might make His power known in the king’s refusal.
The implication of the explanation the third question proposes is that all hearers of the preaching of the gospel have the ability to receive the gospel. How is this to be squared with the doctrine of total depravity? Also, if this is true, salvation depends upon the sinner. How does this harmonize with salvation by grace? In addition, if God sincerely desires the salvation of all who hear, this contradicts His will of predestination. It also makes God powerless to save, and makes salvation depend on the will of the sinner. Grace is at stake.
This is the answer also to your third question. The text teaches the reality and urgency of the external call to salvation by preachers: a beseeching of all to repent and believe, and in this way, to be saved.  The gospel calls all hearers to believe and instructs all hearers that all who believe will be saved. There is no teaching in the text that all are able to believe or that salvation depends on the will of the sinner. The question begs the question whether all hearers have the natural ability to repent and believe. Ephesians 2 describes all to whom the gospel comes as “dead in sin.” Dead sinners do not have the ability to do what the gospel calls them to do. When one does what the gospel calls him to do, namely, believe, this is because of the particular grace of God to him: “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and this [faith] is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2).
To use the language of Ezekiel, when God passes by the dead infant weltering in his blood and says, “Live!” the exhortation does not imply that the dead child has the ability to do so. With the call to the elect, God gives the efficacious grace to obey the call. According to His reprobation, He withholds this grace from the others to whom the external call also comes. The reprobate is responsible for rejecting the call, even though he has no ability to heed it. It is his fault that he is in his desperate spiritual condition.



John Gill (1697-1771)

[Source: Exposition of the Entire Bible]

[Note: Gill speaks of the minister’s of the church as those who might receive the grace of God in vain, (i.e., the ministry or teaching of the gospel of grace), and not so much the church as a whole.]

“we beseech you also”; you ministers also; as we have entreated the members of the church, to be reconciled to the order of the Gospel, and the laws of Christ in his house, so as fellow labourers with you, and jointly concerned in the same embassy of peace, we beseech you the ministers of the word in this church, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain: by “the grace of God,” is not meant the grace of God in regeneration, and effectual calling, which can never be received in vain; for the grace of God never fails of producing a thorough work of conversion; nor is it ever lost, but is strictly connected with eternal, glory: but by it is meant either the doctrine of grace, the Gospel of Christ, so called, because it is a declaration of the love and grace of God to sinners, ascribes salvation in part, and in whole, to the free grace of God, and is a means of implanting and increasing grace in the hearts of men. Now this may be received in vain by ministers and people, when it is but notionally received, or received in word only: when it is abused and perverted to vile purposes, and when men drop, deny it, and fall off from it; or else by the grace of God may be designed gifts of grace, qualifying for ministerial service; and the sense of the exhortation be, that they be careful that the gifts bestowed on them might not be neglected by them, but be used and improved to the advantage of the church, and the glory of Christ; by giving up themselves to study, meditation, and prayer, by labouring constantly in the word and doctrine, and by having a strict regard to their lives and conversations, “that the ministry be not blamed”; which exhortation he pursues in, and by his own example and others …



More to come! (DV)

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