April 12, 2015

Patrick O'Banion on the Problem with Zanchi's (1516-1590) Book on Absolute Predestination

The "Problem" with Absolute Predestination is that while it is by far Zanchi's most well known work, it was not technically written by him. It is, in fact, a translation and revised abridgement of a section of Zanchi's corpus completed by Augustus Toplady in the eighteenth century, which spawned a heated epistolary controversy with John Wesley.

It is in some ways unfortunate that Absolute Predestination is the work most often associate with the name of Jerome Zanchi and the most easily accessible work in English translation. This is the case primarily because it gives the impression that predestination was somehow the central dogma which governed Zanchi's theology.* On the contrary, while Zanchi was certainly predestinarian in his sotereology, it could hardly be called the guiding principle of his thought.

It has been difficult to determine exactly how much of Absolute Predestination is a translation of Zanchi and how much was simply added by Toplady. Henry Atherton commented in the introduction to the 1930 edition published by Sovereign Grace Union, London, that "Toplady not only translated Zanchius' great work, but added much excellent matter thereby giving us the best translation of Zanchius and the best of Toplady." For those interested in the thought of Zanchi alone, the effects of Toplady's hybrid translation are problematic at best. The section entitled "The Fate of the Ancients" is, however, clearly drawn from the work of Justus Lipsius, not Zanchi.

Conflicting opinions exist about the precise source from which Toplady produced Absolute Predestination. Otto Gründler suggests that it was "A short early treatise submitted by Zanchi to the city council of Strasbourg in defense of his doctrine..." (The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 306). Christopher J. Burchill ("Girolamo Zanchi: Portrait of A Reformed Theologian and his Work," 199) and J. P. Donnelly ("Italian Influences on the Development of Calvinist Scholasticism," 98-99) agree with Gründler. Joseph N. Tylenda ("Girolamo Zanchi and John Calvin: A Study in Discipleship as Seen Through Their Correspondence," 101) disagrees, suggesting that Absolute Predestination "is Toplady's synopsis of Zanchi's On the Nature of God, or on the Divine Attributes, whose fifth book deals with predestination."

Patrick J. O'Banion - Dana Point, Ca
In a 2007 interview with Scott Clark on The Heidelcast, O'Banion also said:
Zanchi is best known among English-speaking audiences for having written a treatise called Absolute Predestination. The problem is that he didn’t write it. It is, in fact, a translation and revised abridgment of one of Zanchi’s treatises (precisely which one is debated) that was made by Augustus Toplady in the 18th century and which spawned a heated debate with John Wesley. Absolute Predestination is, in my opinion, somewhat unbalanced. Toplady just took the bits about predestination in Zanchi and pulled them away from the warp and woof of his theology. Frankly, I think that sort of thing just helps foster the myth that Reformed theology is all about the doctrine of predestination. 
*Click here for O'Banion's work on "Jerome Zanchi, the Application of Theology, and the Rise of the English Practical Divinity Tradition," Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme 29.2-3 (2005), 97-120.


April 8, 2015

Nicholas Byfield (1579-1622) on the Season and Offers of Grace

Quest. But how may we know when this season of grace is?

Answ. It is then when God sends the Gospel to us in the powerful preaching of it: when the light comes, then comes this day: when the doctrine of salvation is come, then the day of salvation is come, and God offers his grace then to all within the compass of that light. God keeps his visitation at all times, and in all places, when the Word of the Kingdom is powerfully preached: the time of the continuance of the means is the day here meant, in a general consideration. But if we look upon particular persons in places where the means is, then it is very hard precisely to measure the time when God doth visit, or how long he will offer his grace to them: only this is certain, that when God strikes the hearts of particular men with remorse, or some special discerning or affections in matters of Religion, and so bringeth them near the Kingdom of God; if they trifle out this time, and receive this general grace in vain, they may be cast into a reprobate mind, and into incurable hardness of heart: and so God shuts the kingdom of God against them, while it is yet open to others, Mat. 3.12. Isa. 6.10. compared with Mat. 13.14, 15.
Nicholas Byfield, A Commentary Upon the Three First Chapters of the First Epistle General of St. Peter (London: Printed by Miles Flesher and Robert Young, 1637), 417.
"And besides, all such as enjoy the means of grace, and yet have not felt this visitation of God, should be much allured to the care of attending upon the means, and be made desirous to receive the grace of God, and that effectually: it should much move them that God hath now sent them the means, and keeps his public visitation; and that God stands not upon desert, nor doth he make exception of them, but offers his grace unto all, and desireth not the death of any sinner, yea beseecheth them to be reconciled; and to that end hath committed the Word of reconciliation to his servants, with express commandment that they should be instant, and with all patience instruct men, and call upon them, and persuade them to save their souls."
Ibid., 420.


March 17, 2015

Andrew Willet (1562-1621) on Romans 2:4

Quest. 6. Of the reasons why the Lord useth patience and forbearance toward sinners.

1. The Apostle useth three words, χρηστότης, goodness, bountifulness, which is seen in the general benefits, which God vouchsafeth to the wicked, as in granting them the Sunshine and rain, and such other temporal blessings: άνοχή, patience and forbearance, which is in bearing with the wicked, and not punishing them in their sins: μακροθυμία, longanimitie, and long sufferance: when God still deferreth his punishments, though men heap sin to sin: the first and chiefest cause of this long sufferance in God, is the expectation of men's repentance, that they should thereby come to amendement of life, as S. Peter saith. 2. Epist. c. 3.9. God is patient toward us, and would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance. 2. As God's mercy and goodness herein appeareth, so also the malice of men, in abusing the Lord's patience, and their more just condemnation in the end is made manifest, as the old world was most justly destroyed, after they had been warned an 120 years by the preaching of Noah. 3. God taketh occasion by the malice, impenitencie, and hardness of heart in the wicked, to show his powerful and wonderful works, as Pharaoh's hardness of heart gave occasion to the Lord, to show his wondrous works in Egypt. 4. While the impenitent abusing God's long animitie, are more hardened in their sins, others in the mean time make good use of the divine patience, and are converted unto repentance: as in Egypt, though Pharaoh became worse, yet many of the Egyptians were humbled by these plagues, and were turned unto God, and joined unto his people. 5. God useth patience toward some, for the ensample, encouragement, and confirmation of others, that they should not despair of the goodness of God: as S. Paul saith, that Jesus Christ might first show on me all long suffering, unto the example of them, that in time to come, shall believe in him to eternal life, 1. Timoth. 1.16.

Quest. 7. Whether the leading of men to repentance by Gods long sufferance, argueth that they are not reprobate.

It will be here objected, that seeing the long sufferance of God calleth all unto repentance, and whom he would have repent, he would have saved: it seemeth then, that none are rejected or reprobate, whom the Lord so inviteth and calleth unto repentance.

Answer. 1. Such as are effectually called unto repentance by God's patience and long suffering, are indeed elected: for the elect only are effectually called to repentance, but such as abuse God's patience, and are impenitent still, may notwithstanding be in the state of reprobation: for though the same means be offered unto them to bring them to repentance, yet they have not the grace: the decree then concerning the rejecting of such impenitent persons, and the offer of such means, as might lead them unto repentance, may very well stand together: because it is of their own hardness of heart that the means offered are not effectual. 2. And thus also another objection may be answered, that if it be God's will, that such should come to repentance, whether the malice of man therein can resist the will of God: for, if it were God's absolute will and good pleasure, that such should come unto repentance, no man could resist it: God is able to change and turn the most impenitent and hard heart, if it pleased him: But here we must distinguish between effectual calling, which always taketh place and none can hinder it, and calling not effectual, yet sufficient if men did not put in a bar by their own hardness of heart: God's absolute will then is not resisted, when men come not to repentance: for his will is to leave such to themselves by his just judgement: and not to give them of his effectual grace, Faius. Now hereof no other reason can be given, why God doth not give his effectual grace to all, but his good pleasure, as our Blessed Saviour saith, Matth. 11.26. It is so Father, because thy good pleasure is such.
Andrew Willet, Hexapla: That Is, A Six-Fold Commentarie upon the most Divine Epistle of the holy Apostle S. Paul to the Romans (Printed by Cantrell Legge, Printer to the Universitie of Cambridge, 1620), 104-105.


Andrew Willet (1562-1621) on the Common and Special Grace of God

Controv. 9. Whether by the light of nature only a man may do anything morally good.
Bellarmine hath this position, that a man, if no tentation [sic] do urge him, without faith, or any special assistance from God, may by his own strength do something morally good, ita ut nullum peccatum in eo admittat, so that therein he shall not commit any sin, lib. 5. iustificat. c. 5.

That the falsitie of this assertion may the better appear, 1. We must distinguish of the light that is given unto man, which is threefold: 1. There is the light of nature, which Christ giveth unto every one, that cometh into the world, as he is their Creator, Joh. 1.9. this is given unto all by nature: they are endued with a reasonable soul, and in the same by nature is imprinted this light. 2. There is beside this natural light, an other special light and direction concurring with that natural light, which though it be not so general as the other, yet it is common to many unregenerate men, that have not the knowledge of God, as the Lord saith to Abimelech, Gen. 20.6. I kept thee that thou shouldst not sin against me: this common grace many of the heathen had, whereby they were preserved from many notorious crimes, which other did fall into. 3. There is beside these the grace of Christ, whereby we are regenerate, and enabled to do that which is acceptable unto God through Christ: of this grace we mean, that without it the light of nature is not sufficient to bring forth any good work.
Andrew Willet, Hexapla: That Is, A Six-Fold Commentarie upon the most Divine Epistle of the holy Apostle S. Paul to the Romans (Printed by Cantrell Legge, Printer to the Universitie of Cambridge, 1620), 139-140.
 20. Controv. Whether a reprobate may have the grace of God, and true justice?

Pererius, as he denieth constancy and continuance in grace to the elect, so he affirmeth, that some which are ordained unto everlasting condemnation, may be for a while right good men, & Dei gratia praeditos, and endued with the grace of God: which he would prove, 1. by the fall of the Angels, who were created with grace. 2. By the example of Saul, and Judas, who were at the first good men, and had the grace of God. 3. So Solomon had the spirit of God, and yet in the end was a reprobate and cast-away. Perer. 27. disput.

Contr. 1. We must distinguish of grace: there are common graces and gifts of the spirit, which may be conferred upon the reprobate: as the Apostle sheweth, that they may be lightened, be partakers of the holy Ghost, and taste of the good word of God, &c. Heb. 6.4, 5. and yet fall away: that is, may have these things in some measure: but there is the lively sanctifying grace of God's spirit, whereby we are truly enlightened, which is not given to any, but unto the elect: which grace was promised unto S. Paul, 2. Cor. 12.9. My grace is sufficient for thee: so then we answer, that the Angels which fell, received in their creation an excellent portion and measure of grace, but not the like powerful and effectual grace which the elect Angels had.

2. Saul king of Israel, and Judas one of the Apostles, had many goodly gifts and graces of the first sort, but true justice, piety, and grace they never had.
Ibid., 400.


March 5, 2015

Richard Alleine (1611-1681) on the Lord's Wish for the Salvation of the Lost

"Brethren, My hearts desire for you all is, that you may be saved; and if there be any persons, that bear evil will to me, my particular wish for them, is, The Good-will of him that dwelt in the Bush be those Men's Portion forever.

These are some of my Wishes for you; will you join your Wishes with mine: Will you turn your Wishes into Prayers, and let this  be your Prayer; The Lord Grant thee thine hearts desire, and fulfill all thy Mind.

Brethren, Do I wish you any harm in all this? If not, if it be to be wished, that the Word of Christ were rooted in your Hearts, and your Souls thereby rooted in your Hearts, and your Souls thereby rooted in the Grace of God; if it be to be wished, That your Lusts were rooted out, your sins dead and dried up, your foot gotten out of the Snare, your Souls brought into the Fold, your Fruits of Righteousness and Holiness abounding, and growing up unto Eternal Life: If all this to be to be wished, then give in your Votes with mine; wish and pray, pray and press on, press on and wait for the accomplishment of this Grace in you all. I tell you again, I wish you well; and not only I, but the Lord God that hath sent me to you: The Lord Jesus wishes you well; he wishes and wooes, wooes and weeps, weeps and dies, that your Souls might live, and be blessed for ever: He hath once more sent me to you, even to the worst amongst you, to tell you from him, that he's unwilling you should perish; that he hath a kindness for you in his heart, if you will accept it: He hath Blood and Bowels for you; Blood to expiate your guilt, to wash away your filth; and Bowels to offer you the benefit of his Blood; with this Wish, Oh that it were theirs! Oh that they would hearken and accept! Only I must add, That the Lord hath two sorts of Wishes concerning sinners: The first is, Oh that they would hearken! Oh that they would come in, be healed, and be saved, Deut. 5.29. This Wish is an Olive Branch, that brings good Tidings, and gives great hopes of Peace and Mercy.

His last Wish is, Oh that they had hearkened, that they had accepted, Psal. 81.13. Oh that my people had hearkened to me. Luk. 19.42. Oh that thou hadst known in this thy day, the things that concern thy peace. This Wish hath nothing but Dread and Death in it: it is the Black Flag hung out, that proclaims Eternal Wars. The sense is, Israel had once a fair time of it; a time of Love, a time of Grace, a time of Peace: Oh that they had hearkened then, that they had known the Things that concern their peace! But woe, woe to them, 'tis now too late, the Door is shut, the Season is over, the Day is past; But now they are hid from thine Eyes.

There are three deadly darts in this Wish [oh that thou hadst] it includes in these three cutting words,

Thou hast not.
Thou mightest.
Thou shalt not for ever.

1. There is this in it, [Thou hast not.] What have I not? why, thou hast not known the things that belong to thy peace. Thou hast had the door of Glory, the Gate of Heaven open to thee, and hast been called for, and invited in, but thou hast lost the opportunity. Thou knewest not when thou wert well offered, nor would'st take notice what a day was before thee, what a price was in thine hand; thy peace, the Gospel of peace, the Prince of peace, a Kingdom of peace was set open, offered, and brought home to thy doors, but thou hadst so many other matters to look after, that thou tookest no notice of it, but hast let it slip. There's one Dart. [Thou hast not known.] There's a Gospel cone, there's a Christ gone, there's a Soul, a Kingdom lost.

2. There is this in it, [Thou mightest.] Oh that thou hadst! why, Might I? yes thou might'st, if thou wouldst thou mightst. Thy God did not mock thee, when he preached peace to thee; he was willing and wish'd it thine; if thou wouldst, thou mightest have made it thine own; but whilest he would thou wouldest not.

There's another Dart [I might have known.] I have none to thank but myself for the loss, mine undoing was mine own doing. There are no such torments, as when the Soul flies upon itself, and takes revenge on itself; oh the gashes that such self-refluctions make. Soul, how camest thou in hither, into all this misery? Oh 'tis of myself, myself, that my destruction is. The door was open, and I was told of it, and was bid come in, but I would not. That I am lost and undone, was not my Fate, which I could not avoid, but my Fault and my folly. It seems to give some ease of our torment, when we can shift off the fault. It was not I, but the Woman, said Adam, It was not I, but the Serpent, said the Woman; if that had been true, it would have given ease, as well as serve for an excuse. This thought ['Twas mine own doing] tears the very caul of the heart. Oh I have none to blame but myself, mine own foolish and froward heart. This is my ignorance, this is my unbelief, this is my wilfulness, my lusts, and my pleasures, and my Idols, that I was running after that, have brought me under this dreadful loss. 'Twas my own doing.

3. There is this in it, [Thou shalt not forever.] Oh that thou hadst! why, may I not [yet?] Is there no hope of recovering the opportunity? not one word more, not one hour more, may not the Sun go [one] degree backward? No, no, 'tis too late, too late; thou hast had thy day; from henceforth no more forever. There's the last Dart, [Times past] there's the death, the Hell, the anguish, the Worm that shall gnaw to eternity.

This one word [Time's past] sets all Hell a roaring; and when its once spoken to a sinner on Earth, there's Hell begun. Go thy way wretch, fill up thy measure, and fall into thy place. The Gospel hath no more to say to thee, but this one word, Because I have called, and thou refusedst, I have stretched out my hand, and thou regardedst not, but hast set at nought all my Counsels, and wouldst none of my reproofs; I also will laugh at thy calamities, and mock when they fear cometh; when thy fear cometh as desolation, and thy destruction cometh as a Whirlewind, and when distress and anguish cometh upon thee; then shalt thou call, but I will not answer, thou shalt seek me early, but shalt not find me.

Beloved, my hopes are, and I am not able to say, but that you are yet under the first wish; Oh that they would. Christ is yet preaching you to faith, and sends his Wish along with his Word, Oh that they would believe. Christ is yet preaching Repentance and Conversion to you, and wishes, O that they would repent, that they would be converted; and to this wish of my Lord, my Soul, and all that is within me, says Amen.

Brethren, will you yet again say [to] your Lord nay? shall Christ have his wish? shall your Servant for Jesus sake, shall I have my wish? will you now at last consent to be sanctified, and to be saved? let me have this wish, and I dare promise you from the Lord, you shall have yours, even whatever your Soul can desire.

Brethren, this once hear, this once be prevailed upon; be content that your lusts be rooted out, and your Lord planted into your Souls. Be content to be pardoned, content to be converted, content to be saved. This once hear, lest if ye now refuse, ye no more be persuaded with, oh that they would! but be forever confounded with, oh that they had! Lest all our wishes, and wooings of you, be turned into weepings, and mournings over you; this once hear; oh that you would."
Richard Alleine, The Godly Man's Portion and Sanctuary Opened, in Two Sermons (London, n.p., n.d., 1663?), 166-170.


Note: Oliver Heywood, Nathaniel Vincent, James Janeway, Joseph Alleine, John Rogers and Thomas Barnes also, when speaking to the lost, tell them they are "well-offered" in the gospel. 

February 21, 2015

William Pinke (c.1599-1629) on the Sum and Scope of Christianity

"3. Consider in the next place the summe and scope of Christianity, which is only to show how miserable thou art by sin, and how happy thou mayest be in Christ. When thou art come thus far, set the looking glass of the Law before thee, and terrify thyself with the ugly deformities and loathsome stains of thy soul through the guilt of sin, then turn unto the Gospel, and consider how Christ Jesus out of the abundance of his love, with which he loved thee being his enemy, shed his dearest blood to wash away these stains from thy soul, as very a wretch as thou art, as well as any mans else."
William Pinke, The Trial of a Christian's Sincere Love Unto Christ, 5th edition (Oxford: Printed by W. Hall for John Forrest, 1659), 48.


Note: Observe how Pinke counsels lost souls, or false professors of Christianity in the context. He tells them to see their misery and ugliness by means of the law, and then exhorts them to turn unto the gospel to consider 1) Christ's love for him and 2) how he shed his dearest blood for him. The lost sinner may know both of these things prior to believing the gospel. The gospel reveals these objective truths to everyone that hears the message.

January 30, 2015

A Gospel Appeal in One of Cuthbert Sydenham's (1622-1654) Sermons

"The blessed God was willing to manifest infinite goodness to the Creature, and to converse with them, and that all terrifying apparitions might be shunned, he appears as a man, that so we may have intimate fellowship and communion with him; with what a holy boldness may souls draw night to God, and delight to behold him, and converse with him, now [that] he is in such a habit of love and suitableness unto our own senses. Why art thou strange, poor trembling soul, and standest afar off, as it it were death to draw nigh? Of whom art thou afraid? What vision of amazement dost thou behold? Is God come down among men, and thou canst not look on him, lest thou die and perish forever? Why, cast one look more, and be not discouraged. It is true, God is come down, but not in flaming fire, not in the armor of justice, and everlasting burning, but clothed with the garments of flesh, and sweetly desires to converse with thee after thine own form. Nothing can be a stronger motive to allure poor souls unto terms of peace and love as this, that God is come down, not to consume them with the brightness of his glory, but to beseech them to see with their own eyes their eternal happiness. Let all poor souls come and put in their hands, and they may feel God's heart come, and behold life and immortality inhabiting the tabernacles of earth, and their own peace and eternal happiness in their own flesh. Who can make any excuse now that he believes not? Why do souls now stand off? What can be desired by lost souls more? Oh that I might see God, say some souls, why, he is come down in the likeness of man; he walks in our own shape; Oh, saith another, might I have my heart united to God; why, he is come down on purpose, and hath united our own nature to himself; God hath left all the world without excuse, he hath condescended below himself, that we might be above ourselves."
Cuthbert Sydenham, The Greatness of the Mystery of Godliness, Opened in Several Sermons (London: Printed for Richard Tomlins, at the Sun and Bible near Pye-Corner, 1656), 73-74.
"God himself is come into the world to offer the terms of love, and peace unto thy poor soul, because it was impossible for thee to come to God; he is come to thee, and hath laid aside, as it were, his own glory, while he converses with thee. This is no ordinary design that God hath to drive, when he is so wonderfully manifest in thy own flesh; when God manifesting himself as formerly, in Thunder and Lightening, with an innumerable company of Angels, all having their swords of justice and vengeance drawn; well might poor souls tremble, and run into corners, for who would ever be able to endure his coming; but lo poor souls, God is come in flesh, with an Olive branch of eternal peace in his hand, and bids you all be witness, he is not come to destroy, but to save..." Ibid., 77-78.

January 29, 2015

Dr. Cornelis Venema on Christ's Disposition Toward Jerusalem; With His Refutation of James White on Matt. 23:37

Christ’s disposition toward Jerusalem

One of the themes running through the New Testament Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry is that of the unbelief and impenitence on the part of many of the children of Israel. Even though Christ went preaching the kingdom of God first to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” their response to His preaching was often one of hostility and rejection. Despite their abundant privileges and opportunities, they spurned the call to repentance and Christ’s invitations to receive the kingdom offered to them.

A remarkable instance of this pattern of unbelief and impenitence is recorded in Luke 13:34 (par. Matt. 23:37). After Jesus answers the question, “are there just a few who are being saved?” (v. 23), by commanding his hearers to “strive to enter by the narrow door,” He goes on to note how many fail to do so. Remarkably, many of those who will not gain entrance into the kingdom of God are people who knew the master of the house and even, by their own testimony, “ate and drank” with him. However, because they refused to enter when the opportunity was granted to them, they will find themselves outside the kingdom of God where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 28). Despite the fact that many will enter the kingdom, including some from “east and west and north and south,” there are some who are “first who will be last” (vv. 29-30). In the context, it is clear that Christ is warning many among the covenant people of God that, despite their many privileges and ample opportunity, they will not be saved.

What is important to our question is that Luke concludes this section of his Gospel by recording Christ’s lament over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 34). Within the context of Luke’s account, these words can only mean that Christ is lamenting the unbelief and impenitence of many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. What Christ expresses as His desire and wish for them, the text declares not to be their desire or wish. The language used to describe Christ’s lament, moreover, emphasizes the deep anguish and distress that He felt in the face of the unwillingness of many of Jerusalem’s inhabitants to be gathered under His wings. This language of being “gathered under His wings,” when interpreted in the light of the preceding discourse on the way of salvation or entrance into the kingdom of God, indicates that Jesus is speaking of their salvation.

It is difficult to see how this text could be taken in any other way than as an expression of Jesus’ heartfelt desire that the inhabitants of Jerusalem find salvation.5 It seems clearly to express a desire that could only arise from a compassionate and earnest interest in their salvation. If someone were to argue, for example, that this is merely an expression of Jesus’ human will as the God-man, two insuperable difficulties would arise. First, it would be inconsistent with an orthodox doctrine of Christ’s Person to suggest that any feature or expression of His humanity is not also to be ascribed to His Person. Even were we to grant for the sake of discussion that this lament arises out of a human compassion on Christ’s part for his countrymen, such compassion would necessarily belong to His Person.6 And second, the perfect harmony of the will of Christ with that of His Father militates against any suggestion that the desire expressed in this lament is somehow contrary to or different than that of the Father (compare John 12:49,50; 14:10,24; 17:8). The best reading of this passage is one that takes it for a simple declaration of Christ’s desire for the salvation of many who refused to believe and repent at the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.
     5. Cf. James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), pp.136-9. White treats the parallel to this text in Matthew 23:37, and tries to argue that in the context Jesus is not speaking about the salvation of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem but only of the leaders of the Jews. On his reading, the text does not express any desire for the salvation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some of whom may be non-elect. Though White’s reading of Matthew 23:37 is rather unlikely, he neglects to note that the context in Luke 13:34 has to do with the issue of salvation or non-salvation, and that it speaks generally of many among the inhabitants of Jerusalem who forfeit their opportunity to enter into the kingdom while the door was open to them.
     6. In the doctrine of Christology, this follows from what is known as the “communion of the attributes” (communicatio idiomata) in Christ’s Person. All the essential attributes of deity and humanity must be ascribed to Christ’s Person. This accounts for such expressions as “the Son of God died” or “Jesus was almighty,” etc. Affirmations are made about Christ’s Person either by virtue of His being “true God” or being “true man.”
Cornelis Venema, "Election and the 'Free Offer' of the Gospel (Part 2 of 5)," The Outlook 52:4 (April 2002), 18-19. The other parts can be found in the 2002 (Mar.–July/Aug.) archive here (click).


Dr. Cornel Venema is the President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary where he also teaches Doctrinal Studies. Dr. Venema is a contributing editor to The Outlook.

Cornelis Venema on Three Views of the Gospel-Call

Three Views of the Gospel-Call
To clarify what is at stake in the debate among Reformed believers regarding the so-called “well-meant offer” of the gospel, it may be helpful to distinguish three different views of the gospel-call.

The first of these views I would term a strong form of what is often called hyper-Calvinism. Though there are not many advocates of this view, it teaches that the call of the gospel addresses, strictly speaking, only the elect. Since gospel ministers are unable to discern infallibly who are and who are not elect, they should honor this restriction so far as possible by calling to faith and repentance only those who give outward evidence that they are being spiritually enlivened or illumined. This strong form of hyper-Calvinism actually denies the legitimacy of a general call of the gospel to all sinners without distinction, since the call properly invites only the elect to faith and repentance. Not only is the gospel-call not intended for the non-elect, but it is also misleading to address sinners indiscriminately with the call to faith in Christ and repentance. Such an indiscriminate call invariably leads sinners to conclude that they have the ability to do what the call demands. In a not-so-subtle manner, an indiscriminate preaching of the gospel to sinners leads them to the improper inference that they have it within their capacity to believe and repent as the gospel-call demands.

The second of these views I would term a mild form of hyper-Calvinism. In this view, the general call of the gospel is affirmed, though it is not regarded as a “well-meant offer.” When the gospel-call is preached, it must be preached indiscriminately to all sinners, summoning elect and non-elect alike to believe and repent. No limitation is placed upon the preaching of the gospel to all sinners without distinction. However, this general call of the gospel may not be presented in a conditional form. To say to sinners, “if you believe and repent, then you will be saved,” is to imply that the gospel promise is conditional. Whenever the gospel is presented as an “offer,” inviting sinners to do something in order to be saved, rather than as an “unconditional promise of salvation” to the elect alone, an Arminian doctrine of conditional election is either wittingly or unwittingly assumed. In the strictest sense, the promise of the gospel is unconditionally addressed to the elect alone. Great care, therefore, must be exercised in preaching not to suggest that the recipient is obligated to do something, with the promise of salvation hanging upon his performance of this obligation. Furthermore, in this milder form of hyper-Calvinism, the idea that God expresses any favorable disposition or desire that all sinners believe and repent is strongly resisted. The call of the gospel declares objectively that all sinners must believe and repent. But it does not spring from any good will or benevolent attitude on God’s part, or on the part of His human ambassador, toward all sinners. It does not express any desire for the salvation of its recipients, when those recipients are non-elect sinners. The call of the gospel is “good news” for the elect alone.

The third view of the general call of the gospel, which I regard as the more classic or historic view of the Reformed churches, does not merely insist that the gospel-call be indiscriminately extended to all sinners. It also insists that the call expresses something of God’s good will or desire with respect to lost sinners. In the call of the gospel, God declares what is, according to His benevolence and good will, genuinely pleasing to Him, namely, that sinners believe in Christ and turn from their wicked way. John Murray, in his essay, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” clearly summarizes this view of the gospel call:
The question then is: what is implicit in, or lies back of, the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word ‘desire’ has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation, but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.
According to this view, the gospel call is born from and expresses a compassionate disposition on God’s part toward sinners. It sincerely summons all sinners to embrace Christ for salvation, promising all those who believe and repent that God stands ready to show them mercy. In this view, those who minister the gospel should do so out of a heartfelt desire for the good of all sinners, seeking to secure their salvation by an urgent and compassionate ministry of the Word of God.
Cornelis Venema, "Election and the 'Free Offer' of the Gospel (Part 1 of 5)," The Outlook 52:3 (March 2002), 18-19. The other parts can be found in the 2002 (Apr.–July/Aug.) archive here (click). In part 4 of his series (on pp. 14-17), he argues that both Calvin (in his comments on Rom. 5:18; Matt. 23:37; Ezek. 18:23, 32; and 2 Pet. 3:9) and the Reformed confessions teach a well-meant gospel offer.


Dr. Cornel Venema is the President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary where he also teaches Doctrinal Studies. Dr. Venema is a contributing editor to The Outlook.