19 June, 2016

A POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION
OR
GRACE NOT AN OFFER

Rev. Herman Hoeksema


Chapter 5: Not According to Scripture


When the Rev. Keegstra wants to prove further from Scripture that there is in the Gospel a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to all men, he confuses and obscures the issue at stake in a couple of introductory remarks. He writes as follows (cf. De Wachter, April 23, 1930):

A couple of introductory remarks.

One should not look for texts in God’s Word in which it is said to the reprobate expressly and in so many words in the external calling: “this means you too.” God does not incriminate Himself and therefore does not repeatedly defend His sincerity by assuring us: “Now I mean what I say.” He indeed comes to man in his unbelief to help him, and out of pure goodness gives us the assurance of His veracity and unchangeable faithfulness. But that is something different.

God does not contradict Himself when He sincerely and well-meaningly offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, although He has not elected them all to salvation, nor accomplished atonement for them all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For in the presentation of the Gospel He does not say what He Himself will do. He reveals therein only what He wills that we shall do: that is, humble ourselves before His face, confess our sins, and seek our salvation in Christ.

To these observations of the Rev. Keegstra we wish to add a few of our own.

In the first place, why should we not look for texts in God’s Word in which God also says to the reprobate in so many words that God also means them, loves them, seeks their good, wills their salvation and well-meaningly offers that salvation? The answer to this question must certainly not be sought in what the Rev. Keegstra says: “God does not repeatedly defend His sincerity by assuring us: now I mean what I say.” For God the Lord does precisely that in various ways for His elect. He assures them of His unchangeable faithfulness and eternal love, of His covenant which knows no wavering. He even swears by Himself. Why, if He indeed well-meaningly offers salvation to all men, also to the reprobate, should He not also be willing to give them the assurance of His faithful love? The answer is simple enough: that faithful love toward the reprobate simply does not exist. And as little as that faithful love of God toward the reprobate exists, so little does God set it forth in the presentation of the Gospel as though it does indeed exist. And therefore you must not search Scripture for such passages which indeed proclaim such a faithful love of God toward the reprobate. I do not hesitate to write here that also the Rev. Keegstra cannot get it over his lips that God loves and desires to save all men in a given audience. He dares not accept the consequence of his own general offer of salvation.

In the second place: why does the Rev. Keegstra write now that he is going to prove that Scripture teaches a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to all men, that in that offer of the Gospel the question is not what God the Lord Himself will do? Pray, was it not precisely the question what God wills and does in the preaching of the Gospel? If I say to someonesay, my servantwhat I want him to do, do I then offer him something? And if in Holy Scripture God comes to all who are under the preaching with the demand that they shall humble themselves and seek their salvation in Christ, does He then offer them something or does He demand something of them? You say, of course: that is no offer, but a demand. Good. But perhaps you go on to say: Yes, but God then also promises to all who humble themselves and seek their salvation in Christ the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life. And then we agree heartily, but we add to this: then again the Gospel is not general, but particular, for only those to whom God imparts grace to do this humble themselves, and God gives that grace only to His elect. But it is very plain that the Rev. Keegstra now wants to go toward the presentation of a general demand of faith and conversion. And that he may not do. He must not prove that God the Lord comes to all without distinction with a demand, but with an offer. And in an offer the question is not what we must do, what God demands of us, but very really what God wills and promises to do. In judging the passages which the Rev. Keegstra quotes, we shall proceed then from the question whether the esteemed writer actually proves from Scripture that God well-meaningly offers salvation to all men without distinction. Let us keep this point clearly in view. Neither is the question whether God wills that the Gospel be preached to all to whom He sends it according to His good pleasure without distinction. No, the question is purely: is that Gospel according to its content a well-meant and general offer on God’s part?

But in the third place: if the Gospel according to its content is actually as the Rev. Keegstra here presents it, what an impoverished Gospel that would be! It would only proclaim what we must do, not what God Himself will do. How poor! No, we proclaim to all the hearers a far richer Gospel! Surely, we also proclaim to all what God wills that we shall do. But along with that we also proclaim to all what God the Lord says that He does. We want to have the complete Gospel proclaimed to all. But that general proclamation is precisely not a general offer of salvation, for God exactly does not will that all men head for head shall be saved, and a preacher may never present it thus. I would almost say that also the Rev. Keegstra will have to let go of a general offer of salvation as soon as he seriously places himself before the task of proclaiming the entire Gospel (also including what God says that He will do) to all men.

And now we will discuss the passages which the Rev. Keegstra quotes.

First, however, I must make one more observation from the heart.

It is this. The Rev. Keegstra merely quotes texts which, according to his presentation, must prove a general and well-meant offer of salvation on God’s part. He gives no explanation. He furnishes not a single word of explanation. That is not Reformed. The Synod of 1924 did this too. For this reason it went in the wrong direction with its texts. It is very easy to quote a few texts at random, but this method is not Reformed, or else the texts must be incontestable and incapable of a twofold explanation. And this is not the case with the texts which the Rev. Keegstra cites. In itself it does not prove much for a Reformed man that someone can cite seven passages for a certain view. The question always remains: do those texts actually prove that which they are supposed to prove? Therefore we would also rather see that the Rev. Keegstra would expound the texts which he quoted and would make it clear that they teach a general, well-meant offer of grace on God’s part.

But the Rev. Keegstra quotes texts, and we shall make it clear that they do not prove what he thinks that they prove: a general offer of salvation.

At the head of the list stands a text which was also cited by the Synod of 1924, Psalm 81:11-13:

But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

Now, in connection with this text, we may take note of the fact, first of all, that surely no one can find in it what the Rev. Keegstra claims to find, namely, a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation. In the first place, the text is after all not general; and secondly, it contains no offer. The text is not general: for it speaks of “My people” and of “Israel.” And now you may turn and twist as you will, but in that expression “My people” there is always the idea of election. The term always indicates that God’s people are His peculiar possession, chosen by Him as His inheritance and by Him delivered and formed, in order that they should show forth His praises and tell His wonders. The subject here therefore is not all men, but God’s people. And in that there is precisely nothing general. And there is no mention of an offer. Not at all. Indeed there follow upon this text various promises of God, altogether conditional and dependent upon these verses. The Lord would have subdued their enemies, would have fed them with honey out of the rock and with the finest of the wheat. But of an offer you do not read so much as a word. How the esteemed Editor of De Wachter can read a general and well-meant offer of grace into this passage is simply a riddle to me. Read the text in connection with the verses which follow it, and then the following is simply stated here:

1. That God’s people would not obey the voice of the Lord and would none of Him.

2. That He therefore gave them over unto their own hearts’ lust and let them walk in their own counsels.

3. That this would have been altogether different if God’s people had walked in His ways and had hearkened to His voice. Then God would have subdued their enemies before them and fed them with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock.

This last you can also state as follows: God promises His salvation to those who walk in His ways and obey His voice. And the latter are never any others than the elect. What you have, therefore, in these verses is nothing else than a pronouncement of curse upon those who do not walk in His ways and a particular promise for those who do walk in His ways. I kindly ask the Rev. Keegstra to draw from these verses anything else than a sure promise of God for God’s obedient people.

Now we could rest our case with this, for we actually need do no more than demonstrate that the texts do not teach what the Rev. Keegstra claims that they teach. And that we have done for everyone who is able to judge and is willing to judge without prejudice. The esteemed Editor of De Wachter does not furnish an explanation, and therefore we would not have to do so either. Nevertheless, we wish to do so in this instance. There are in the text two difficulties which exist not only for me but also for the Rev. Keegstra. The first problem is expressed in the question: but how can God’s people be apostate, so that the Lord gives them up unto their own heart’s lust? That is what the text states. And the second problem lies in that complaint of God about their apostasy. The Lord appears to bemoan the fact that His people would none of Him. But how can that be, seeing that He alone is the one who inclines the hearts and is able to draw to Himself with cords of irresistible grace and love that people whom He has given over to their own counsels? Once more I stress that these difficulties exist for Keegstra as well as for me, and that they neither add to nor detract from the fact that a general offer of grace and salvation can never be discovered in this passage. Nevertheless we wish to furnish a solution to these difficulties if such a solution is possible.

Now, in order to find such a solution, we must, in the first place, maintain what we have already said: that “My people” always points to God’s gracious election and redemption of His own, whereby they are His peculiar possession. In the second place, we must understand that this elect people is in the old dispensation, from the viewpoint of the psalm, Israel as a nation. God had chosen Israel. The holy line ran through Israel. Israel was His people in the unique sense of the word. He loved Israel with an eternal love. He had delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt with a mighty arm. Such is the viewpoint of the psalm. It points to that history of a wonderful deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. In the third place, we must keep in view the fact that you will never reach a solution and will never be able to understand the words of this psalm, unless you also keep in mind that the term ”My people,” also with respect to Israel, did not apply to every Israelite head for head and soul for soul. Not all were Israel who were of Israel. No, the children of the promise were counted for the seed. There was a reprobate shell in Israel as well as an elect kernel. And that reprobate shell was sometimes very great. That wicked, carnal Israel often held the upper hand and dominated. Nevertheless Israel remains God’s people. The Lord calls the people as a whole, in the organic sense of the word, His people, according to the remnant of the election of grace. And this remnant was always present and also always constituted the essential element in Israel. Through this it comes about that at some points in Israel’s history, it departs from the Lord, does not obey Him, wickedly rises up against Him. Here, therefore, you have the answer to the question how the psalm can say that “My people” would none of me. But also then the Lord still loves that people for the elect’s sake. When, however, the reprobate dominated, then the entire nation was chastised and punished. When disobedient Israel rises up in rebellion against the Lord in the wilderness, then not only are many thousands cut down in the wilderness, but then also the elect element suffers, then the whole nation wanders in the wilderness for forty years, then the enemies rule over them, then they suffer hunger and thirst and presently go into captivity. Also the elect suffer. Therefore the Lord can call out complainingly in this psalm: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries,” etc. It is the love to His own that speaks here, nothing else.

If the Rev. Keegstra has objections to this explanation, or if he knows of a better one, let him write. We will gladly take note of it and will also gladly exchange our interpretation for a better one. But let him not say again that here proof is found for a general and well-meant offer of salvation. For that is not mentioned with so much as a word in this passage.

It is no different with the following two passages which are quoted by the Rev. Keegstra and which we can conveniently take together, seeing that they mean the same thing. Isaiah 65:2:

I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts.

And Jeremiah 7:25, 26:

Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.

Also here we observe that these verses are neither general in content nor speak of an offer of grace. We must keep in mind the following:

1. That the Lord also here speaks of Israel, of His people, which is elect according to its kernel, but reprobate according to its shell. Only if you keep this in mind can you understand these passages. This is also the basic thought of Romans 9-11. Therefore the apostle can maintain that God has not cast away His people when Israel as a nation is rejected, but that the elect have obtained it, while the rest were hardened. That this organic presentation of Israel, as the people of God with its elect kernel and reprobate shell, is correct as the point of departure in the explanation of Isaiah 65:2 is clear also from the subsequent context. Read verses 8 and 9:

Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it; so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.

2. That the Lord spread out His hands to that people, something which, of course, means the same as the sending of the prophets of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks in the passage which was also quoted by the Rev. Keegstra. In that word of the prophets, sent by the Lord, He spread forth His hands to them, with the divine purpose, of course, of saving the elect. It was never God’s purpose to change the reprobate shell into the elect kernel. The elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened.

3. That the content of the message of the prophets, figuratively presented as the spreading forth of hands, never was a general, well-meant offer of grace to all without distinction, but a calling to walk in the ways of the Lord and, paired with that, a sure promise of salvation and eternal life. Never did the Lord thus spread forth His hands to Israel that He offered grace to all without distinction. On the contrary, He called them to the fear of the Lord, to the keeping of His covenant, to walking in His ways, to conversion, all through their history. And under this spreading forth of His hands to Israel as a nation, there was a twofold effect, as always under the preaching of the Word; the elect received of the Lord grace to do what He demanded; He did not offer them grace, but bestowed it upon them; the rest received no grace, were hardened through the operation of God’s wrath, and showed more and more that they were wicked and rebellious. Through this the elect finally entered the kingdom of heaven, received the sure promises of God, came to the wedding-feast, while the rest were cast out. This explanation is supported by the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which has as its main content this: that it is God’s purpose to save the remnant according to the election of grace, but to harden the rest, also through the means of the prophetic word.

Thus we have in this spreading forth of the hands a calling to conversion which comes to the entire people of God, with a particular bestowal of grace (no offer) to the elect, to heed that call, paired with a manifestation of wickedness and rebellion on the part of the reprobate shell, which brings them to destruction. And let the Rev. Keegstra say what he has against this explanation, and let him give one that is more scriptural and Reformed.

In this same connection it is probably best that we discuss the parable of the wedding feast, to which the Rev. Keegstra also calls attention. The esteemed Editor of De Wachter finds here, too, a general, well-meant offer of grace on God’s part. He quotes the following words from this passage:

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways…. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage…. For many are called, but few are chosen (Matt. 22:1-14).

About this we remark:

1. That already this last word, “For many are called, but few are chosen,” should have been enough for the Rev. Keegstra, to make him see clearly that in this parable there is no reference to a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part. There can be no doubt but that the Saviour wants us to understand the entire parable precisely in the light of these words. They are an explanation of the parable. If now the main thought of the parable had been that the Lord offers His grace to all without distinction, with the sincere purpose to save them all, then there should have been stated at the end: for grace is offered to many, but few accept it. But precisely that is not stated. What is statedeven somewhat unexpectedly, upon a superficial reading of the parableis that many are called, but few are chosen. This immediately lets us know that God the Lord does not purpose to save all who live under the preaching of the Gospel, but that He gives grace only to the elect to follow up and obey the call to the wedding. You have therefore also in this parable a call to come to the wedding-feast which goes forth to all who are bidden, but a particular bestowal of grace (no offer) upon the elect alone.

2. That the wedding here is the kingdom of heaven, as that is prepared for the Son by the Father, was foreshadowed in the old dispensation in Israel, was realized with the coming, the suffering, and the exaltation of the Saviour, and presently shall attain its full realization in the day of Christ.

3. That those who are bidden and who will not come are the Jews. That call of the servants of the King is the call of the prophets, which was discussed already in our treatment of Isaiah 65:2 and Jeremiah 7:25, 26. However, they paid no heed to that call of the prophets, but resisted their word, mistreated them, and killed them, and thereby showed that they were not worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore the King in righteous wrath burned their city. Israel as a nation was rejected. Jerusalem was destroyed.

4. That this call of the prophets was never a general offer of grace. The invitation to come to the wedding was no offer of grace, but a call to repentance, to keep God’s covenant, and to walk in His ways. However, seeing that, according to the explanation of the parable by the Saviour Himself, not all who were called were elect, they did not all receive grace to heed the call. Israel as a nation manifested itself as completely unworthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven when that kingdom was revealed in Christ Jesus. Therefore Israel was rejected.

5. That the servants then, upon the commandment of the king, turned away from Israel in order to go out into the highways and byways, to call Jew and Gentile, good and evil, to the kingdom of heaven. But also in the new dispensation this calling goes forth always according to the rule that many are called, but few are chosen, and that therefore we must not expect that all who are outwardly called shall also come. The entire parable teaches precisely the opposite of what the Rev. Keegstra wants to draw from it, namely, that grace is precisely not an offer, but a power of God unto salvation, and that where that power of God to salvation does not operate in the calling, hardening sets in, and rejection follows. But the elect receive that power of God unto salvation, and they enter into the wedding of the Kingdom of heaven.

The Rev. Keegstra has two more texts, so that he knows only of six isolated passages to quote in favor of his assertion that the Gospel is a well-meant offer of grace on God’s part to all men. For Romans 10:21 is a quotation of Isaiah 65:2, which we need not enter again. And about the two remaining passages we can be brief.

The first is Ezekiel 18:23:

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and life?

About this we wrote already in our previous chapter in connection with a quotation of Calvin. The great Reformer pointed out that both parts of this text must be read and understood in connection with one another. And nothing general remains in it. Of an offer of grace there is no mention whatsoever. But besides, if we read the text in its entirety, then it simply teaches that the Lord has pleasure in the life of the sinner who repents. He has pleasure in the life of the sinner even as He has pleasure in his conversion. And since only he who is equipped unto this by almighty grace repents and turns to the Lord, and only the elect receive that grace, also this Scripture passage does not speak of any general grace, nor of any general offer of grace. And it means absolutely nothing for the Rev. Keegstra’s assertion.

And the second passage is Acts 13:46:

Then Paul and Barnabus waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.

Now it is difficult to see how even the Rev. Keegstra can read in these words a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation. Certain it is that it is mentioned with not so much as a letter, and that there is nothing in the text that points to it. Paul and Barnabas had preached God’s Word, and that, too, first of all to the Jews. Now it appeared that some of the Jews contradicted and despised that Word of God. And to them Paul and Barnabas are speaking here. They say to them that it has appeared that they judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life. Where is the general offer of grace here? Only in this: that the Word of God was proclaimed also to those who went lost. But the question is not whether the Gospel must also be preached to all who come under it; but the question is whether that Gospel is a well-meant and general offer of salvation. The question is therefore: did Paul and Barnabas preach the Word of God in such a way that it could be called an offer, a general offer of salvation? And to this we can find the answer in the same chapter. What they preached the previous Sabbath is described in verses 16-41. And in brief the content of this preaching is Christ who died and was raised again, and forgiveness of sins through Him. And then you read in verse 39:

And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses.

There is no offer here, therefore, but a proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. And there is nothing general here, but a limitation of justification to everyone who believes. And since only the elect ever believe, therefore you have also here the sure promise of God only for the elect, and not a general and well-meant offer of grace. And the outcome was also entirely in accord with this preaching. For some of the Jews and proselytes believed and followed Paul; but others were filled with envy and contradicted those things which were spoken by Paul and Barnabas, verses 43, 45.
                                                                                                                                
Hence, there is nothing left of the scriptural proofs of the Rev. Keegstra.

He has not proved that the Gospel is ever a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to all men.

And he is not able to prove it.

He seems to have felt this himself. This appears not only from his introductory remarks, to which we have already called attention, but also from his concluding comment, in which we read the following:

The rationalism of the Arminian may judge that both are impossible: the Reformed man is no rationalist, but as an obedient servant he subjects his thinking and speech to the revealed will of God, and therefore preaches the glad tidings of salvation in Christ to all his hearers…

As if that were the issue!

As if Keegstra had proposed to prove that the glad tidings of salvation must be proclaimed to all the hearers without distinction!

The reader should not be misled by such remarks.

Repeatedly the Rev. Keegstra departs from his subject. He leaves the impression that there are also men who believe that the Gospel must not be preached to all the hearers, but only to the elect. And as often as he does this, he is shooting at a straw man.

But let him prove from Scripture that the Gospel which must be preached to all the hearers is, according to its content, a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation. That he has not done.


And once more: that he cannot do!

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