June 3, 2020

George Bownd/Bound (d.1662) on God’s Proffered Blessedness Unto Sinners and Heaven Begging

Now to draw to a Conclusion, I have from the Scripture before us, held forth the bliss and happiness of Saints, and thereby an offer hath been made of the same blessedness unto Sinners: It offers it self to you, Oh that you would offer your selves to it! In this Sermon you may say, Salvation came to your House: it came to your Doors; Heaven goes a begging that it may be accepted; But it fares in this case, as we commonly observe in other cases, proffer'd things find little acceptance, because proffered: And indeed if we consider the multitude of Sermons that are preached, and how in every Sermon Christ, and Heaven, and Blessedness are offered, yet by very few accepted; We must needs think and judge, the frequent tenders do through the corruption of our hearts, occasion the horrible sleighting of them: Silver in the days of Solomon; being common was of no account: The Lord grant this sin bring not upon us the scarcity of the Word, that it should be with us as in the dayes of Samuel [1 Sam. 3:1], The Word of the Lord was precious in those dayes, there was no open vision. The time may come, when we would give a world to see one of the dayes of the Son of Man, and shall not see it: To hear one Sermon of Heaven and glory, but shall not hear it.
George Bownd, A VOYCE FROM HEAVEN, Speaking Good words and Comfortable words, concerning Saints departed. Which words are opened in a SERMON PREACHED At South-weal In Essex, 6. September, 1658. At the Funeral of what Worthy and Eminent Minister of the Gospel, Mr. Thomas Goodwin. Late Paster there. Hereunto is annexed a relation of many things observable in his Life and Death (London: Printed by S. Griffin, for J. Kirton, at the Kings-Arms, in Pauls Church-yard, 1659), 36.

Note: Observe carefully the connections in Bownd's sermon, in which he says "an offer hath been made," and "Heaven goes a begging that it may be accepted." God, through Bownd's sermon, is begging sinners indiscriminately that it may be accepted. That's a well-meant offer. Moreoever, Bownd further described this "offer" as a "proffer" and a "tender." That is no mere presentation, but a classic Calvinistic conception of the free and well-meant offer.

Other men within the Augustinian tradition who use the metaphor of God begging are the following:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Nathaniel Heywoood (Puritan), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), John Oldfield (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Daniel Williams (Puritan), Samuel Willard, Benjamin Wadsworth, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur and Fred Zaspel.

May 27, 2020

Curt Daniel on the Four Main Issues Regarding Hyper-Calvinism

The Issues

The controversy [about hyper-Calvinism] revolves around four main issues. First, all Hyper-Calvinists reject the idea of the free offer (of the gospel, grace, and/or Christ). All Calvinists before 1700 and the vast majority since then have accepted the free offer. Hyperists sometimes claim Calvin for their cause, but the evidence is heavily against them. This is the main distinctive tenet of Hyper-Calvinism and has been identified as such by mainline Reformed writers for centuries.

Hyper-Calvinists argue that free offers are Arminian and contradict Reformed teaching on total depravity, limited atonement, and unconditional election as well as other teachings. They say we can preach but not offer. The Gospel Standard Baptists say that we can invite only ‘sensible sinners’ who have been convicted of sin to come to Christ. The word offer is never used in the Bible of preaching the gospel, they say, and the practice implies that salvation is for sale and is not free. They often say free offers make salvation conditional upon man rather than God. Some agree that the Latin word offero was used by Calvin and others as well as the English word offer by the Puritans and others, by then say that the word underwent a change and came to mean something different, so it should not be used today.

Mainline Calvinists respond as follows. First, the teaching of the free offer is indeed biblical. The word offer is used in several reputable translations of 1 Corinthians 9:18 (e.g., the NIV and NASB). We offer by presenting and setting forth the gospel to lost sinners in general with the call for them to repent and believe in Christ. We invite all lost sinners, not just ‘sensible’ sinners. The offer is free. God both offers and gives; the two are not contradictory. Lost sinners are unable to accept the offer, but this in no way contradicts either election or particular redemption. There has been no substantial change in the meaning of the words offero or offer. By far most leading Reformed theologians and preachers have believed in free offers — Calvin and all the Reformers, the Puritans, the Reformed Scholastics, the Nadere Reformatie divines, Jonathan Edwards, the Princetonians, Spurgeon, and thousands of others. It is the non-offer men who are out of step with historic Calvinism, not those who believe it.

Second, John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse wisely note: “It would appear that the real point in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men.”6 Mainline Calvinists almost unanimously say yes; all Hyper-Calvinists say no. The free offer expresses a universal saving desire in God as part of His revealed will. It is well-meant and sincere. This does not nullify or contradict the secret will, for as Calvin said, it concerns the will of God in the gospel and not that of predestination.7 Calvin certainly taught the universal saving desire of God. For example: “God declares that he wills the conversion of all, and he directs exhortations to all in common.”8

Hyper-Calvinists deny that God desires all men to be saved, for that would include the reprobate and would contradict the doctrine of election. But mainline Calvinists argue that Scripture portrays God as holding out His hands all day long to sinners in general (Romans 10:21; Isaiah 65:2; Proverbs 1:14). He takes no pleasure in the death of the lost sinner but rather desires that he repent and be saved (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). Paul echoes this in Romans 10:1: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they many be saved” (see also Acts 26:29). God commands faith unto salvation (Acts 16:31), and that certainly indicates a well-meant desire. The eternal decrees never fail, but the revealed will of law and gospel are usually rejected by sinners. Lastly, historic Calvinists differ on the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Some apply both to predestination, others to the gospel. But even so, the vast majority of historic Calvinists believe in the universal saving will of God. In this the Hyper-Calvinists are in the tiny minority and go beyond biblical truth.

The third issue is Duty Faith. The English Hypers usually reject it, but it appears that the PRC tends to accept it in some form. The state of the question, known as the Modern Question, is this: “In the preaching of the gospel, do all lost sinners have the duty to savingly [i.e. evangelically] believe in Jesus Christ?” [John] Gill and [John] Brine said that sinners have only the duty to believe the report of the gospel, not the duty to savingly [i.e. evangelically] believe personally in Christ. [Evangelical] Faith is a gift, they contended, and therefore [that sense of faith is] not a duty. ‘Duty faith’ implies that sinners are able to [evangelically] believe, for responsibility assumes ability.

Historic Calvinists have replied that saving [i.e. evangelical] faith is both a duty and a gift. Spiritual inability does not negate one’s responsibility. Sinners are commanded to both believe the report of the gospel (Mark 1:15) and savingly believe in Christ (Acts 16:31). First John 3:23 clearly states, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” A commandment is a duty on us. Christ commanded saving faith in John 12:36, 14:1, and 20:27, as did John the Baptist (Acts 19:4). God commands all men to believe (Isaiah 45:22). Paul commanded that we obey the gospel in “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 6:17; 10:16; 16:26). The same goes for duty repentance — which is both a duty and a gift (see Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Failure to repent and believe [in an evangelical sense] is a great sin (Mark 16:16; John 3:18, 36; 5:38; 16:8–9; Romans 14:23; 1 John 5:10; Hebrews 3:12). Unbelief would not be a sin if faith were not a duty, contrary to [W. J.] Style’s extreme notion. Therefore, the Hyper-Calvinists who deny Duty Faith are both unbiblical and out of the mainstream of Reformed teaching.

The fourth point in dispute is common grace. Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Church utterly reject it, but some others such as Gill accept a modified form of it. Mainstream Calvinists before and after Kuyper have taught that, yes, God does indeed have a general love, mercy, and favor for all men (e.g., Psalm 145:8–9), including the reprobate. Out of this general love, God gives good gifts to all men (Acts 14:17; James 1:17), even to the reprobate who end up in Hell (Luke 16:25). Christ, the perfect revelation of God, had compassion on the multitudes of thousands, not all of whom were elect (Matthew 14:14). This was not just in His humanity, as argued by some Hyper-Calvinists, for His holy humanity was in perfect harmony with His deity. He “loved” the lost rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). God commands us to imitate Him by loving all men in general, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48; Luke 6:35–36).

Contrary to Hoeksema’s contention, historic Calvinists have taught the Three Points of 1924, namely: (1) out of general mercy God restrains sinners (Genesis 20:6); (2) God enables the unconverted (including the reprobate) to do outwardly good things such as giving good gifts to their children (Matthew 7:11); and (3) God has a general love for mankind and provides for the development of culture, science, medicine, government, and the family (Acts 14:17). Out of this common grace there is a delay of judgment, as it were — anything short of Hell is a mercy. Referring to these and other verses, Louis Berkhof commented: “If such passages do not testify to a favourable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God’s revelation is not dependable on this subject.”9

Those such as Herman Hoeksema are well out of the mainstream of the Reformed tradition to deny that God has any love, grace, mercy, kindness, or favor of any kind on all men in general, including the reprobate. Some Hyperists say that God is only fattening the reprobate up for the slaughter and has no remorse whatsoever for their lost state. That is supralapsarianism with a vengeance. It implies that the reprobate are never under grace but only wrath, and conversely, the elect are always under grace and never under wrath (contrary to Ephesians 2:3).
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6. John Murray, The Free Offer of the Gospel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 3.
7. John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 364 (on 2 Peter 3:9).

8. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3:3:21, (p. 615).

9. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 446.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2019), 104–107.

February 25, 2020

Simon J. Kistemaker’s (1930–2017) Doctrinal Considerations on 2 Peter 3:9

Even though Kistemaker seems to prefer to take the “you” (or the “us”) in 2 Peter 3:9 as applying to Peter’s readers, or to “his people” (which likely means the elect, in his view, or believers), not the scoffers, he still said:
Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.33
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33. Consult Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 442.
Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude (NTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 334.

He then adds this doctrinal consideration:
Doctrinal Considerations in 3:18–19

“So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost.”34 So writes John Calvin on verse 9 and thus touches the doctrine of God’s mercy toward sinful man. Here are two examples of this divine love; one is from the Old Testament, the second from the New Testament.

First, God showed his love to Cain when he asked, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7). Yet Cain, filled with anger and jealousy, murdered Abel (v. 8). When God continued to speak to Cain, he did not meet a repentant sinner but a selfish individual who sought protection from an avenger. “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence” (v. 16), although God demonstrated mercy by shielding him (v. 15). Cain belonged to the evil one, says the apostle John (1 John 3:12). That is, he rejected God’s grace and mercy and willfully departed from God.

Second, before Jesus appointed the twelve disciples, he spent a whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12). He called Judas Iscariot to the circle of his immediate followers. After a period of instruction, Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to drive out demons (Matt. 10:7–8). In his love, Jesus commissioned Judas, too. Even at the last Passover celebration in the upper room, Jesus visibly indicated to Judas that he knew of the betrayal (John 13:26). Yet Judas delivered his Master to the chief priests. Granted that Judas was filled with remorse, he never repented (Matt. 27:3). He never returned to Jesus, but instead committed suicide.

When Paul writes that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; also see Ezek. 18:23, 32), he does not mean that all men are indeed saved. Although God desires the redemption of the entire race, he does not decree universal salvation. Therefore, in respect to the verb want or wish theologians distinguish between God’s desire and God’s decree.35

God extends his mercy to sinful man. However, when man repudiates God’s grace, divine condemnation hangs over him (II Peter 2:3) and he faces the inevitable day of judgment (3:7).
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34. Calvin, The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419.
35. Ibid. Compare [Edwin A.] Blum, 2 Peter [Hebrews–Revelation, in vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981)], p. 286.
Ibid., 334–335.

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January 15, 2020

Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) on God’s Wish for All to be Saved

Question: Does God not wish men to be saved? Answer: O yes; God willeth all men to be saved. I believe there is not one soul that the Saviour does not yearn over as he did over Jerusalem; and the Father says [in Psalm 81:13]: ‘O that they had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!’ But still, when Jerusalem resisted the word of Christ, Chirst said: ‘Now they are hid from thine eyes.’ And if you refuse the Word of Christ, and neglect this great salvation, I firmly believe that he shall soon come to you with Isaiah‘s dreadful message: ‘Hear ye indeed, but understand not.’
R. M. McCheyne, God Let None of His Words Fall to the Ground, in From the Preacher’s Heart (Additional Remains, 1846; repr. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1993), 94.

Notice that not only did McCheyne teach that God “wishes” all men to be saved, but he alluded to Matthew 23:37 for support. Moreover, it is not merely Jesus (or merely Jesus in His human nature), but the Father also (and so the entire Godhead, in Trinitarian harmony), who “yearns” over every soul according to Psalm 81:13.

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November 15, 2019

John Stott on Ephesians 4:26–27 and Christian Anger

‘Be angry, but sin not’ is an echo of Psalm 4:4. It seems clear that this form of words is a Hebrew idiom which permits and then restricts anger, rather than actually commanding it. The equivalent English idiom would be ‘in your anger do not sin’ (NIV). Nevertheless, the verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.

Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In verse 31 ‘anger’ is one of a number of unpleasant things which we are to ‘put away’ from us. Evidently unrighteous anger is meant. But in 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus [Mark 3:5]. There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus. I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant; angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate sin, too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours, too. ‘Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake thy law [Ps. 119:53].’ What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?

It is partiicularly noteworthy that the apostle introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. ‘In such a world as this,’ comments E. K. Simpson, ‘the truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation’ [Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. NICNT (Eerdmans, 1957), 108].
John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 185–186.

Substitute the word “hate” for “anger” in the above quote and the same can be said about it.

June 10, 2019

Tom Nettles’s Summary of John Gill’s (1697–1771) View on the Love of God

The love of God, according to Gill, foundations all theology. God’s principal object of love is Himself. This is right and good, for He contains all excellence and perfection and worth. Second, God loves all that He has made, declares it very good and rejoices in His works. Because rational creatures are the particular objects of His care, love and delight, God supports, preserves and bestows the bounty of His providence upon all of His creatures.

To the elect, however, the Triune God bears a special love. Gill identifies this with the “great love” spoken of in Ephesians 2:4. The love of the Father is demonstrated toward the elect by His devising and effecting a plan whereby they might be reconciled to Him through Christ. The Father chose the elect in Christ from the beginning and, in Him, has bestowed upon them all other blessings. The Son’s love for the elect appears in His becoming a surety for their salvation by actually giving Himself as a sacrifice for them, laying down His life on their account, and shedding His blood for the remission of their sins. The special love the Spirit exhibits toward the elect appears in His convincing them of sin and righteousness, shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts, and implanting every grace in them.6
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6. John Gill, Body of Divinity, 2 vols. (n.p. Tegg & Co., 1839; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 1:112–115.
Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary Edition (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 25.

Note: One should not think that Gill is altogether orthodox or within the boundaries of mainstream Reformed thought on the universal love of God. In classic Calvinistic and Puritan thought, God’s love for all men, including the non-elect, involves His benevolent desire for their ultimate well-being, and His beneficent love or kindness is given with a view to bringing men to evangelical repentance (Rom. 2:4). In Gill’s theology, however, God simply has a regard for the temporal/physical well-being of the non-elect, and a kind of passive delight in them as a part of His good creation as such (which is what Nettles outlines above). It is a “love” that is totally devoid of any willingness or desire on God’s part to bring them to evangelical repentance, though at times he may want to bring them to external, civil repentance, so as to get them to avoid some physical calamity. Nevertheless, at least Gill, unlike other hyper-Calvinists, acknowledges a sense of love in God for all men, and Nettles’s brief summary is basically correct, though it lacks nuance.

June 8, 2019

Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706) on Universal and Common Grace

What is universal grace and what sort is it?

XV. Now we would not repeat concerning grace what we just above taught concerning love, if a manifold controversy, one that has been in every age most vexing, did not urge us to do so. There is, then, first, universal grace, by which God dispenses natural things to each and every creature and is thus named the Savior of all (1 Tim. 4:10), the one who saves beasts and men (Ps. 36:6) and takes cares that his sun rises over the field of the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45), concerning which see above. This grace particularly confers to man his free choice and whatever sort of strength he has for natural good, and also stirs up and encourages that strength by its influence. And all these things, although they come forth from the gratuitous love of God, and thus from grace, yet in the use of Scripture, and also of all ancient orthodoxy, rarely and less properly are they called grace. For the latter tradition cautiously distinguished nature from grace against the Pelagians.

What is common grace and what sort is it?

XVI. There is, second, common grace, by which he dispenses moral goods, particularly to men, but indiscriminately, to the elect and the reprobate. To this kind of grace belong the virtues of the intellect, such as ingenuity, wisdom, and prudence (Ex. 31.3), as well as the virtues of the will, the ethical virtues (Luke 18:11), of which kind are all the virtues of pagans and unbelievers. In this number should be reckoned those things that appear more closely to approach saving things, such as are mentioned in Hebrews 6:4–5, Isaiah 58:2, and 1 Corinthians 13:1. To this pertains external calling to participation in Christ through the proclamation of the Word (Ps. 147:19–20; Matt. 20:16, and also internal calling through some sort of illumination, and all those good things which are conspicuous in temporary believers (Matt. 13:20–21).
Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology. Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God, trans. T. M. Rester, ed. J. R. Beeke and M. T. Spangler (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 353–54; 1.2.17 §XV–XVI.

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