18 February, 2018

Acts 26:28-29—“I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were such as I am”

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (Acts 26:28-29)

This passage is sometimes used to support the “well-meant offer of the gospel” (so-called)—i.e. the notion that the Almighty earnestly and fervently desires, wills, wishes and wants the salvation of the reprobate; the notion that entails the ghostly spectre of a failing, foolish and frustrated God.
The idea of this text is often thus: Paul showed evangelistic compassion to all his hearers (elect and non-elect). That evangelistic compassion was wrought in Paul by the Holy Spirit. Surely the Holy Spirit wouldn’t create in Paul such an evangelistic compassion for some for whom the Holy Spirit had only hatred?
It has also been suggested that if Paul showed such evangelistic compassion towards all his hearers without distinction, and yet God doesn’t do so likewise, then this would imply that Paul (and, by extension, every other minister of the gospel) would be ‘more loving and compassionate’ than God Himself … (!)


Q. 1. “In denying the ‘well-meant offer,’ are you saying that we must not desire all of our hearers to be saved? (cf. Acts 26:29; Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1)

The [controversy over] the well-meant offer … is not whether we desire all to whom we preach or witness to come to Christ and be saved, but whether God desires this … Fact is, that even the natural desire of the preacher and church that all in the congregation or on the mission field be saved by the work of the preacher and church, in the way of repentance and faith, is consciously subjected to the sovereign will of God in predestination. Paul conducted his ministry “for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Timothy 2:10). (Prof. David J. Engelsma—Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 47, no. 2 (April 2014), p. 70.])


Q. 2. “Christ’s apostle longed and prayed for the conversion of all his hearers [Acts 26:29; Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1] … This being so, then of what is that compassion in the preacher a reflection? Are we to be more loving, in scope, than God?” (David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed [2005], p. 56),

The argument in question proves too much. It proves that God on His part actually attempts to save all humans, but fails. For we not only love our enemies, but exert ourselves on their behalf, that is, try to save them. If what is true of us must also be true of God, He, therefore, also tries to save all humans, but fails. This trying includes giving Jesus Christ to the death of the cross for all humans, for there can be no salvation apart from the cross. Christ then died for all, but His death is unavailing. 
All of this speculative thinking results in an impotent God, one frustrated by the will of sinners, and in a death of Christ that not only is a failure but that also was not effectual atonement for anyone. 
Besides, this reasoning conflicts with the express testimony of the Bible in Romans 8 and 9 that God loves only the elect with His saving love and that Christ died effectually only for the elect.
The flaw in the reasoning of the argument is, first, that it is mere speculation, not based on the Bible. The Bible does not teach that we are to love our enemies or all humans ‘because God loves all His enemies.’ The Bible clearly teaches that God ‘hates’ some humans—God hated Esau (Romans 9), even though Jacob was called to love his brother. Theological conclusions must not be based merely on abstract reasoning, but on definite biblical grounds. The Bible teaches that we are to love our enemiesour enemies personally, not as God’s enemies (cf. Psalm 139:21-22: “Do not I hate them who hate thee? … I hate them with perfect hatred …”)because God loves men and women who are His enemies by nature, that is, the elect in the race who are by nature enemies on their part of God. Second, the reasoning is wrong in that it makes the comparison of our love with God’s a matter of numbers (if we are to love all, God must also love all). Fact is, the comparison is in the reality of God’s (particular) love of His enemies. As God loves His enemies, regardless that they are only some of the human race, so also are we to love our enemies, regardless that they are more in number than those whom God loves. 
This does not make us more loving than God, for the greatness of love is not found in the mere number of objects of love. The greatness of love is found in the grace of love (how the objects of divine love are unworthy of love!) and in what love does for the beloved (the love of God gave the only begotten Son for the objects of love). 
Truth is that as a Christian, I must love some whom God hates, and this manifests the love of God, who loves men and women who hate Him, though not all humans who hate Him. These objects of His love are not a “few,” but an innumerable multitude. (Prof. David J. Engelsma)

Paul expressed his desire that all Israel be saved. Moses did something of the same thing when he prayed to God that He would spare Israel after their sin of worshipping the golden calf at Sinai. Moses loved God’s church so much that he was willing to go to hell for them (Ex. 32:32).
Has the defender of common grace never pleaded with God to spare someone whom he loved? His wife dying of cancer? His son who has fled home and lives a godless life? Have not godly parents, while watching their little child writhe in pain, wished that they could suffer in the place of their child?
God showed Moses and Paul that His will was not to save everyone. Moses learned this when God declared, “[I] will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (33:19). Paul wrote that, in spite of his personal desires, God does not save all Israel; He desires to save (and, therefore, saves) the true Israel of election (Rom. 9:6-8). God does not desire to save reprobate Jews or Gentiles: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (13); “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will [or wants to] have mercy, and whom he will [or wants to] he hardeneth” (18); “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing [or wanting or desiring] to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction ...” (21-22).
And so the believer, in his anguish, prays, “Thy will be done,” and seeks the higher purpose in life’s sorrows: the glory of Almighty God.
I might add that neither Moses nor Paul had to go to hell because of their sin or the sin of the church, for Christ suffered for all His church so that, by the power of His particular and efficacious atonement, all the elect are saved from the hell we deserve. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko—Covenant Reformed News, June 2017—volume XVI, issue 14)


Q. 3. “The Holy Spirit was the author and approver of the apostle Paul’s evangelistic compassion towards his hearers, elect and reprobate (Acts 26:29; Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1). Did the Holy Spirit create in Paul such an evangelistic compassion for some for whom the Holy Spirit had only hatred? … The desire God created and approved of in the apostle must reflect something analogous in God Himself for the creation and approval of it to be consistent with his own holy character …” (David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed [2005], pp. 56, 84)

Using similar argumentation someone could also say, “The Holy Spirit creates in us repentance and the desire to repent … Surely therefore the Holy Spirit has desires to repent ...?” Or, “The Holy Spirit works in us faith, and He works in us the desire to believe more and more (“Lord, increase our faith”—Luke 17:5). Does not this mean that the Holy Spirit Himself ‘believes’? or desires to believe ...?”
What the Holy Spirit works in us are desires that are fitting for a ‘creature’ to walk in the will of God. Ones appropriate for a ‘creature’ are not appropriate for God.
For instance, human beings have souls and different thoughts and emotions. As creatures, it is appropriate for us to think things from several different perspectives. Let’s say, for example, that someone known to us sins. You feel really angry for what that person has done, or done to somebody else, and yet you also feel ‘pity’ towards that person (“If only that person realised what they were doing ... they’re going to ruin their lives”).
What is the will of God in this situation? The will of God, if this person is an elect, is to save them (“all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”—Rom. 8:28). God’s desire in this situation is to sanctify this person, or maybe use it to bring him to repentance later on.
God has one desire, and yet God, by His Spirit, makes us human beings who are creatures who don’t know everything to feel various emotions and sentiments correlating to the various perspectives of events (i.e. we only see a little bit of what’s going on and react in all the ways in which limited human beings react—we don’t know the past or the future and we don’t know what’s going on, etc.). (Rev. Angus Stewart—public lecture: “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament,” Q&A session)

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