December 5, 2008

A. H. Strong (1823–1886) on the Sincerity of God's General Call

A. Is God's general call sincere?

This is denied, upon the ground that such sincerity is incompatible, first, with the inability of the sinner to obey; and secondly, with the design of God to bestow only upon the elect the special grace without which they will not obey.

(a) To the first objection we reply that, since this inability is not a physical but a moral inability, consisting simply in the settled perversity of an evil will, there can be no insincerity in offering salvation to all, especially when the offer is in itself a proper motive to obedience.

God's call to all men to repent and to believe the gospel is no more insincere than his command to all men to love him with all the heart. There is no obstacle in the way of men's obedience to the gospel, that does not exist to prevent their obedience to the law. If it is proper to publish the commands of the law, it is proper to publish the invitations of the gospel. A human being may be perfectly sincere in giving an invitation which he knows will be refused. He may desire to have the invitation accepted, while yet he may, for certain reasons of justice or personal dignity, be unwilling to put forth special efforts, aside from the invitation itself, to secure the acceptance of it on the part of those to whom it is offered. So God's desires that certain men should be saved may not be accompanied by his will to exert special influences to save them.

hese desires were meant by the phrase "revealed will" in the old theologians; his purpose to bestow special grace, by the phrase "secret will." It is of the former that Paul speaks, in 1 Tim. 2:4 — "who would have all men to be saved." Here we have, not the active σωσαι, but the passive σωθηναι. The meaning is, not that God purposes to save all men, but that he desires all men to be saved through repenting and believing the gospel. Hence God's revealed will, or desire, that all men should be saved, is perfectly consistent with his secret will, or purpose, to bestow special grace only upon a certain number (see, on 1 Tim. 2:4, Fairbairn's Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles

The sincerity of God's call is shown, not only in the fact that the only obstacle to compliance, on the sinner's part, is the sinner's own evil will, but also in the fact that God has, at infinite cost, made a complete external provision, upon the ground of which "he that will" may "come" and "take of the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17); so that God can truly say: "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" (Is. 5:4). Broadus, Com. on Mat. 6:10 — "Thy will be done" — distinguishes between God's will of purpose, of desire, and of command. H. B. Smith, Syst. Theol., 521 — "Common grace passes over into effectual grace in proportion as the sinner yields to the divine influence. Effectual grace is that which effects what common grace tends to effect." See also Studien und Kritiken, 1887:7 sq.

(b) To the second, we reply that the objection, if true, would equally hold against God's foreknowledge. The sincerity of God's general call is no more inconsistent with his determination that some shall be permitted to reject it, than it is with foreknowledge that some will reject it.

Hodge, Syst. Theol., 2:643—"Predestination concerns only the purpose of God to render effectual, in particular cases, a call addressed to all. A general amnesty, on the certain conditions, may be offered by a sovereign to rebellious subjects, although he knows that through pride or malice many will refuse to accept it; and even though, for wise reasons, he should determine not to constrain their assent, supposing that such influence over their minds were within his power. It is evident, from the nature of the call, that is has nothing to do with the secret purpose of God to grant his effectual grace to some, and not to others. . . . According to the Augustinian scheme, the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation, which, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately. . . . . God designed, in its adoption, to save his own people, but he consistently offers its benefits to all who are willing to receive them." See also H. B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 515–521.
A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tapppan, NJ: Revell, 1979), 791–792.



YnottonY said...


I got the message you left here. Thanks. But, since it did not pertain to this particular post about A. H. Strong's statements, I deleted the comment.


p.s. My email can be found in my blogger profile, so you can send me a message that way as well.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Tony:

Very well written! I concur!

I Tim. 4: 10 says that God does this by way of common grace to all men, but does something extra, something special, for the elect.