14 June, 2019

FAQ — The De Wolf controversy in the PRC, and the Split of 1953; Does the gospel contain a general conditional promise?

Q. 1. “Can it be said to a mixed audience, ‘God promises every one of you that if you believe, you will be saved’?”

NO, because (1) such a sentiment is Arminian, and (2) it presupposes that “every one of you” have it in their power to believe, if they so will.
For God to proffer such a promise to the non-elect, would not be an offer, it would be a mockery, for, if God did not give the gift of faith, how could the hearer believe? To make a promise like that to all hearers is like promising a thousand dollars to every legless man if only they would walk a mile. Worse, it would imply hypocrisy in God, for God knows the inability of the hearers, and knows that only He can restore the faculty of faith necessary for them to believe. (Or, in the words of the example above, God has the power to bestow legs to a legless man, and if He decrees not to do so, then His “offer” to such a cripple is a mockery, and by no means 'grace'.) (Hugh Lindsay Williams, “The Free Offer: ‘Biblical’?? ‘Reformed’?? ... A Response to David Silversides” [2019], pp. 7-8)

Notable [in Canons of Dordt III/IV:8] is the requirement to proclaim, promiscuously, the promise of eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him, etc. It is apposite to draw special attention to this, as it is a well-founded scriptural concept—that God promises salvation to all who come to Him.
It was a perversion of this concept that caused the tortuous schism in the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953, when many of their ministers and members fell under the spell of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. The perversion emerged right in Hoeksemas congregation at Grand Rapids, when one of the co-pastors, Rev. De Wolf, asserted from the pulpit that God promises every one of you, that if you believe you will be saved.” [On De Wolf and the controversies surrounding this period, see Herman Hanko, For Thy Truths Sake (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000), pp. 200f.]  In contrast, the correct, Dordtian orthodoxy would have been: God promises everyone who believes that they will be saved. There is a world of difference betwixt those two formulations. They are two different gospels! The De Wolfian version is synonymous with Arminianism, whether they are willing to admit to this or not!—for the De Wolfian formulation is effectively a promise made to all men without exception, elect or not. And it is redolent with the suggestion that, contrary to Scripture, believing is within the capacity of every hearer. For a professed Calvinist to assert this formulation is an abomination, for he must know that such a universalised promise is completely beyond the grip of the non-elect, since none can believe unless God sovereignly works faith in them. Such a formulation makes the gospel a mockery, effectively like promising all blind men that you will make them millionaires if only they will see. Worse, the De Wolfian formulation makes God look deceitful, in that He, and He alone, can work faith in them, but chooses not to, whilst apparently simultaneously giving them a promise on condition that they have faith. Functionally, and logically, it portrays God as a hypocrite.
Such a conception of God is a damnable abomination. An utter blasphemy.
But our main-stream modern Calvinists want to insist that this is all to be justified under the blanket term of paradox” … (Hugh Lindsay Williams, “The Free Offer: ‘Biblical’?? ‘Reformed’?? ... A Response to David Silversides” [2019], pp. 71-72)


Q. 2. “We shouldn’t discriminate between sinners. The gospel promises are for every sinner who hears!”

[To not discriminate between sinners but, to address gospel promises to everyone without distinction (e.g., “The good news is for everybody! God promises to save everybody in this room … if only they will repent and believe”) is to] forget the Saviour’s words: “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Two kinds of sinners are manifest in biblical narrative—Pharisees and publicans. Both are sinners. But one thinks he is righteous. The other mourns under conviction, and he is one such as is “poor in heart” and the object of divine blessing under the beatitudinal teachings of Christ. Hence we must discriminate between “poor” sinners, and “sinners,” as indeed the Lord did himself. “Woe unto ye ...” were his words to the Pharisees, but he pronounced blessing on all those who mourned and laboured under the convictions as manifest by the publican in the parable. To such as the publican, the promises of God in the gospel are truly addressed, whereas to those like the Pharisee, the thunder of divine threats are appropriate. We must get things in the right order. The gentle drawing of the divine promises applies to all such as are truly convicted as to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth,[1] and consequently their own predicament as sinners. Those who “have ears to hear,” who “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” knowing the famine of unrighteousness that blights their own nature. By contrast, those who are unconvinced that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God will have no qualms about their condition. Not believing themselves to be sinners in need of a Saviour is the direct consequence of unbelief in the person and authority of Immanuel. To suggest [as proponents of the well-meant offer do] that those precious promises are given to all and sundry is faulty exegesis that casts pearls before swine.

Cf., for instance, Matthew 16:13-17 and I John 5:1. Belief concerning the actual identity of Jesus of Nazareth is manifest in the New Testament as a fundamental first point of belief, and around it revolved the whole issue by which the Lord was crucified. Also, in the ancient sub-apostolic churches, the first great attacks on Christian doctrine were centred on the matter of who Jesus actually is.

(Hugh Lindsay Williams, “The Free Offer: ‘Biblical’?? ‘Reformed’?? ... A Response to David Silversides” [2019], p. 10)


Q. 3. “Is there historical support for the idea that the gospel promises, comforts, assurances, etc. are only addressed to the repentant sinner?”

Yes, as shown from the following quotes:

John Knox (1513-1572)—“True is that Isai the prophete and Christe Jesus himself, with his Apostles, do call upon all to come to repentance: But that generalitie is restrained by their own words, to those that thirst, that hunger, that mourne, that are laden with sinne, as before we have taught” (The Works of John Knox, David Laing, edit. [Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895], vol. 5, p. 404.)
[Note: on page 61 of the above work, Knox states: “You make the love of God common to all men; and that do we constantly deny …”]

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)—“It is most untrue, that Christ belongeth to sinners as sinners, for then, Christ should belong to all unbelievers, how obstinate soever, even to those that sin against the Holy Ghost … He belongeth only to believing sinners … [Those] thus and thus qualified, are to believe; that is, humbled, wearied, and self-condemned sinners only, are to believe, and come to Christ. It is true, all sinners are obliged to believe, but to believe after the order of free grace; that is, that they be first self-lost and sick, and then be saved by the physician.” (The Trial and Triumph of Faith [Edinburgh: William Collins & Co., 1845], pp. 152ff. Cf. also pp. 348-349 for references to God’s hatred of the reprobate and love and peace on the elect; also p. 350 for references to God’s love as “simple,” not contradictory.)

John Owen (1616-1683)—“Multitudes of these invitations and calls [of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace, and eternal salvation] are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements, which divine wisdom knows to be suited into lost, convinced sinners …” (The Works of John Owen, D.D., Thomas Russell [edit.], vol. 12 [London: 1826], p. 534. Cf. p. 435—“To the same purpose he speaks unto convinced sinners in the invitation he gives them to come unto him.”)

John Flavel (1630-1691)—“The order of the Spirit’s work in bringing men to Christ, shows us to whom the invitation and offers of grace in Christ are to be made; for none are convinced of righteousness, that is, of the complete and perfect righteousness in Christ for their justification, until first they are convinced of sin; and consequently, no man comes to Christ by faith till his convictions of sin have awakened and distressed him, John xvi. 8, 10. This being the order of the Spirit’s operation, the same order must be observed in gospel offers and invitations.” (The Method of Grace, in the Holy Spirit’s Applying to the Souls of Men the Eternal Redemption [London: The Religious Tract Society, n. d.], p. 160.)

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