28 March, 2016



Rev. Herman Hoeksema


Of course, we do not intend to draw a comparison between the three men, whose names appear in the title of this essay.

It is our purpose to make a comparative study of their views, their doctrines, their convictions, as clearly expressed in their writings.

Neither do we propose to compare their teachings from every viewpoint and with regard to every detail. It is particularly from the viewpoint of their attitude toward the so-called free offer of salvation in connection with the doctrine of predestination and sovereign grace, that we expect to carry on a bit of investigation. Again, we do not care to draw a comparison between the views of each one of the three men named individually. That would not be to the point and would lead us nowhere.

We have a certain definite purpose in view. We want to know something very definite. We would like to have an answer to a certain very definite question that concerns us all, Calvin, Kuiper, Berkhof, the undersigned and all our readers and hundreds more. And that particular question is: Do Berkhof and Kuiper in all they have publicly taught of late years follow John Calvin’s conception of a certain free offer of salvation to all men? If they do we do not hesitate to admit that we do not. If Calvin holds to the general and free offer of salvation to all men promiscuously in the sense in which Berkhof and Kuiper do, we must depart from Calvin. That is our interest in the question we propose to answer. If, on the other hand, Berkhof and Kuiper in their writings on this subject depart from Calvin, they ought to cease to appeal to him and his views as if they agreed with him, and they ought not to recommend his works, particularly not the book entitled Calvin’s Calvinism; they ought frankly to admit that they condemn Calvin on this point as they did and do us. That is their interest in this matter. And if it is not true that John Calvin held to a gracious and general offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, Berkhof and Kuiper ought not to present him as if he did. His name ought to be cleared from the indictment of teaching any such Pelagian errors. That is Calvin’s interest in the matter. And in the process of this investigation the atmosphere will probably be cleared with respect to certain matters, the truth will shine forth more clearly and brightly and we will all be edified. That is the interest of all our readers in the matter and of many more that ought to be our readers.

And so we will compare the last named two men with the first: Berkhof and Kuiper on the one hand, Calvin on the other.

The occasion, you ask for this essay?

First: the publication of the book Calvin’s Calvinism, to which we referred in the previous number of our paper. It sets forth particularly the views of John Calvin on predestination and the related doctrines; and on the secret providence of God. And it is the work of Calvin’s maturer years, a fact that adds to the value of the book in our estimation.

Secondly: a particular paragraph in the book review on this work by Prof. Berkhof, that appeared in The Banner of July 26, 1929. The paragraph referred to here follows:

“These treatises are indeed valuable productions of the great Reformer. On reading them, it is true, we sometimes feel that he is hardly civil to his opponents. He certainly does not speak of them in terms of endearment. But in this respect his polemics simply reflect the spirit of the age. The one thing that stands out very clearly in these treatises is that Calvin is eminently Scriptural in his representations. He bases his teachings on the Word of God, and is always ready to apply to them the touchstone of Scripture. Moreover, in the deep things of God he has no desire to go beyond the plain teachings of the Bible and rebukes those that attempt it. He is willing to go as far as the Word of God does, but not farther, and does not hesitate to admit that the doctrines of predestination and divine providence raise problems which he cannot solve. Time and again he indignantly repudiates the idea that in teaching the doctrine of predestination he makes God the author of sin and renders the free offer of salvation impossible. He has no patience with those people who want the preachers to be silent respecting these great doctrines for fear that they might prove injurious to some; at the same time he desires that these doctrines shall be taught with care and discretion.”

Thirdly: both Berkhof and Kuiper are great defenders of the Three Points. If Berkhof is not the father of them, he certainly is one of their foster-fathers and he went the length of publishing a pamphlet in their defense. And Kuiper preached and published three sermons on these points, in which he made many statements that are still fresh in our mind because of their glowing enthusiasm for the doctrine, that God freely offers salvation to all men and earnestly desires their salvation. And also these statements ought to be compared with the teachings of John Calvin on this subject.

We will make the paragraph quoted from the book review by Berkhof our starting point.

The reader will realize that it is especially to the part that speaks of Calvin’s view of the free offer of salvation, and of his timidity to enter into the deep things of God, that we wish to call attention. We are interested to know just what was Calvin’s view on these matters and whether Berkhof is interpreting him rightly.

But before we enter into this, we must needs speak of another matter or two that impressed us, when we read this brief appraisal by Berkhof of the book of Calvin.

First of all we would call the attention of our readers to the statements Berkhof makes concerning the treatment by Calvin of his opponents. “He hardly treats them civilly sometimes,” writes Berkhof. “He certainly does not speak of them in terms of endearment!” And the professor attributes this feature of Calvin’s treatises merely to the spirit of the age. It was simply the custom of the time to treat opponents in this fashion.

Now, the fact may be admitted that Calvin handles his opponents without the gloves of a superficial civilization. He does thoroughly enter into their reasoning and enervates their every argument. But in doing so he does not spare them and is little careful how he calls them. We would, probably, speak of our “honorable opponent” and write in terms of utmost respect, though we did not mean a word of it, did not think our opponent honorable at all and had no respect for him whatever. Calvin surely does not write in that fashion. He calls a spade a spade. Some very interesting illustrations may be quoted from his work to substantiate this statement. For instance:

“But since the trouble which this vain fellow (Servetus) endeavored to cause me, reaches unto you also, it is but just that you should partake of the blessed fruit which God brings out of it.” (p. 20).

“And yet the object of this filthy and abandoned one (Servetus) was not only to blot out all knowledge of God’s election from the minds of men, but to overturn His power also, as is evident from his mad dreams, which ye possess in your public records”… (p. 22).

“Now the reason why, passing by this fellow in silence, I enter into the battle with the other two, Albertus Pighius and Georgius of Sicily, is, as I will explain to you twofold. This ignorant pettifogger could bring forth nothing but what he got from these sources, and so would make what was bad in them worse and worse. To contend with him, therefore, would have been a contest cold and bootless. Let our readers be content with one proof. With what cavils Pighius and Georgius would darken the first chapter of Paul to the Ephesians has been shown in its proper place. They, indeed, were ignorant and disgusting; but the folly of this fellow is fouler still, who blushed not to babble his nonsense in your senate; and not only so, but dared to defend with pertinacity what he had thus blathered in folly.” (p. 23).

Or take this for example:

“I propose now, to enter into the sacred battle with Pighius and Georgius, the Sicilian, a pair of unclean beasts (Lev. 11:3) by no means badly matched.”

And to prove this characterization of them he continues:

 “For though I confess that in some things they differ, yet, in hatching enormities of error, in adulterating the Scriptures with wicked and reveling audacity, in a proud contempt of truth, in forward impudence and in brazen loquacity, the most perfect likeness and sameness will be found to exist between them. Except that Pighius by inflating the muddy bombast of his magniloquence, carries himself with greater pomp and boast; while the other fellow borrows the boots by which he elevates himself from his invented revelations.” (p. 27).
 “And yet this ape of Euclid (Pighius is meant, H. H.) puffs himself off in the titles of all his chapters as a first-rate reasoner.” (p. 89).

“And now as I proceed, it will be my object to consider not so much what Pighius says, nor in what order he says it, as to take care that this worthless fellow be buried under the ruins of his own desperate impudence.” (p. 93).

“Now in the first place, if there had been one grain of the fear of God in this man Pighius, could he ever have dared thus insolently to call God to order?” (p. 108).

“Pighius, indeed, can pour out the flood of his characteristic loquacity with all the ease in the world, and without one drop of sweat at all. But that his tongue might have full play, he seems always to take care to wet himself well with wine, that he may be able to blow forth at random, and without any check of shame whatever, those blasts of abuse that first fill his swollen cheeks.” (p. 133).

“But some space must now be found for dealing with Georgius of Sicily. All things connected with this miserable creature are so insipid, vain and disgusting, that I really am ashamed to spend any time or labour in his refutation.” (p. 157).

 “But it is no matter of wonder that the more audacity this worthless fellow betrays in wresting the Scriptures, the more profuse he should be in heaping passages on passages to suit his purpose, seeing that he does not possess one particle of religion or of shame which might restrain his headlong impudence.” (p. 167).

We could easily multiply these few illustrations from Calvin’s work, but these may suffice.

Certainly, these are not terms of endearment and in the light of our present conception of civilization they are not civil terms. And Calvin must be severely condemned if our present civilization is, indeed, a true standard for treating the enemies of the truth of God. After all, it does not mean a great deal, when Berkhof attempts to excuse Calvin by the statement that these uncivil expressions of Calvin must be judged in the light of the spirit of that age. It only means, that men were more brutal, uncivilized then than they are today, and that Calvin was no exception to that rule. But I question very seriously, whether this is the proper explanation of the cutting words with which Calvin addresses and describes his opponents. Let there even be an element of truth in it, fact is, that polemics were not always characterized by the same lack of civilization which the professor finds in Calvin’s mode of writing. Consider the smooth language of one of Calvin’s opponents, of one certain “calumniator” as Calvin calls him, in the following passage:

“You are a man, John Calvin, now known almost throughout the whole world. Your doctrine has many favorers and supporters, but it has also many enemies and opponents. For myself, being one who earnestly wishes that there were but one doctrine, as there is but one truth, and who greatly desires to see all men agree, if it were possible, in that one doctrine, I have thought that you ought to be informed, in a friendly manner, of those things which are everywhere spoken against your doctrine; that if false you might refute them and might have an opportunity of sending your refutation to me; that I might be able to take a stand against your adversaries. And I pray that you would frame your refutations of such arguments as may be plainly understood by the people.” (p. 257).

Now, surely, this attack upon Calvin is clothed throughout in very refined and civil language. And how does Calvin answer? Read the following:

“Nay, as far as you yourself are concerned, poor masked monitor, I derive some consolation from the fact that you cannot be ungrateful to the man who has treated you with much greater kindness than you deserved at his hands, without betraying at the same time your foul wickedness against God. I know quite well that there is no sport more grateful to you Academics than the rooting out of all faith from the hearts of the godly by casting a shade of doubt over all that they hold dear.  And how sweet you feel in yourself all those revilings to be, which you direct against the Secret Providence of God is apparent from the very point of your pen, how much so ever you strive to hide your base gratification. But I cite you and all you fellows before that tribunal on which the Judge of heaven sits, from whose mouth the blast and the bolt shall one day fall upon you all and lay you prostrate. I trust, however, that I myself before I have done, shall make your insolent speaking against God to be as loathsome to the feelings of all the good and godly men, as they are inwardly gratifying to your own heart.” (p. 258).

Now, it is evident from these quotations, in the first place, that not all carried on their polemics in the same “uncivil” language as did John Calvin. The language of his opponent is throughout very smooth, sweet and polite. He does not call Calvin names, but treats him throughout with apparent respect. Which shows, that you cannot explain Calvin’s language simply from the spirit of the times, unless you picture Calvin as less polished and civilized than his average opponent. And this certainly cannot be said of the Genevan Reformer. In the second place, it is also clear, that Calvin does not change his style one whit, because of the sweetness and politeness of his adversary’s language. He immediately attacks him with the severest language and invokes the bolts of God’s judgments upon him and his friends to lay them prostrate. 

How, then to explain this form of writing on the part of Calvin?

In the first place, I would explain it from a very firm conviction regarding the truth. Calvin did not doubt. He was strong in the faith. He did not simply philosophize on the truth intellectually, for the sake of mere mental enjoyment and exercise of his logical faculty, but he was deeply convinced himself of the truth of what he wrote. He believed the Word of God and was assured that his doctrine was the true representation of the truth of that Word.

In the second place, and what is still more, he also loved the truth of which he wrote and had a personal part in it. Calvin’s heart was filled with reverent love of God and the fear of His name. He himself embraced the truth with all his heart, and in it he clung to his covenant God, the glory of Whose Name meant so much to Calvin.

In the third place, it follows, and it is evident from all his writings that this conclusion is correct, that Calvin regarded his opponents, that attacked the truth of predestination and of the sovereign grace of God, as enemies of the truth of God, which they also really were. These men slandered the name of his God, according to the conviction of Calvin. They were wicked, base fellows, ungodly men, who possessed no grain of religion and of the fear of God. And Calvin, who could endure so much if his own honour and name were concerned, did not hesitate to express his contempt and holy hatred, which he actually felt against these enemies of his God. I am convinced that these are the deeper and nobler motives behind this “uncivil” language of the reformer.

Hardly civil?

But what is civilization that speaks in terms of endearment where the language should be that of holy wrath, seeing the enemy makes an attack upon the truth and name of God? What does it mean, when we express our highest esteem and respect for opponents of the truth, when there is no grain of such respect in our hearts? What otherwise is it than a bit of ungodly hypocrisy? Surely, the theory of common grace may be able to cover up this wicked hypocrisy, according to which we are often more concerned with our own honour and with the friendship of men than with the honour and friendship of our God. It has already so blinded the eyes of many, that they even would criticize the profound love of God expressed by the psalmist of Ps. 139, when he emphasizes that he hates those that hate his God and that they are his enemies. Small wonder, that in our age of humanism and love of self and the honour of men rather than of God, we should stumble over the language of Calvin, when he calls the enemies of God by their true names, rather than feigning esteem for them which he does not possess.

This is the first general remark, which I felt constrained to make before I come to the real point of our discussion.

And my second remark is this.

One would almost receive the impression from the book review on Calvin’s Calvinism in The Banner, that it chiefly consisted in a warning to be careful and not to enter into the deep things of God with too great a measure of audacity. Oh, Calvin is so careful! He would almost seem to devote his work chiefly to the attempt to defend the free offer of salvation in the light of the doctrine of predestination! He appears almost timid in his care not to express himself too boldly on the subject of election and reprobation!

As if such were the subjects on which Calvin wrote!

As if, forsooth, such were actually his chief purpose!

Nay more, as if there were even one iota of Berkhof’s theory of a free offer of salvation on the part of God in the whole work!

One feels how the wind blows in Berkhof’s book review. It appears that the three points were before his mind, when he wrote that review. One receives the impression, that he was thinking of 1924 and of us, of the work the Christian Reformed Churches did, when they corrupted the doctrine of Calvin and of the Reformed faith in their three declarations; when they, very politely and civilly, without giving him even an opportunity to defend himself and the truth, wickedly expelled ministers, that were faithfully defending the truth of the sovereign grace of God, in opposition to the theory of Common Grace which the Churches adopted. He must have met many passages in Calvin's Calvinism that stood on flat contradiction to the doctrine adopted by the Churches, under Berkhof’s leadership, in their now famous three points. And now he desperately tries to read into Calvin’s Calvinism the “whitewashed Calvinism” of the three points! Now he emphasizes that Calvin is careful not to go beyond Scripture and that he defends a free offer of salvation in the sense of the first point of 1924!!!
Grace to all, is it not, professor? in the preaching of the gospel!
Grace also to the reprobate in the proclamation of the salvation in Christ!
An earnest desire on the part of God to save all men and not only the elect!
That is what you mean, when you speak of a free offer of salvation. That is what Kuiper preached in his sermons on the Three Points.
And you maintain, that this corruption of predestination is the doctrine of Calvin?
Well, we will see!

I assure you that the publishers of the book will look amazed when they hear that
Calvin’s Calvinism makes such a strange impression on some Reformed (?) leaders in America!

They must have nothing of “hawking” Christ, as Rev. Atherton used to call this so-called offer of salvation to all.

And it surely is not their impression that Calvin believed in it.
But we will see.
I will quote Calvin extensively on this subject. Fortunately, he has a good deal to say on it, so that we are in a position to obtain a rather clear conception of his views on the matter.
I will also quote what Berkhof and Kuiper have written on the same subject, in connection with the contents of Point I of 1924.

And then the reader may judge for himself, whether the corruption of 1924 is actually the doctrine of the Genevan Reformer.

This, however, we will leave for our next number, the Lord willing.

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