October 7, 2014

An Excerpt from Erroll Hulse on the Views of Calvin

As we would expect, Calvin’s teaching anticipates the formularies of Dort including the doctrine of God’s love for all mankind and the free, unfettered and uninhibited offers of the gospel to sinners.

In his commentary on Romans 5:18 Calvin writes: “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him.” Note Calvin uses the word offered. Also noteworthy is his concept of God’s goodness which is consistent with his belief in common grace. The goodness of God is given to all mankind, not the elect only.

Calvin’s concept of common grace has been the subject of intense study. The most comprehensive work ever written on the subject of common grace is in Dutch by Abraham Kuyper in three large volumes. An important work discussing the various positions held on common grace is by Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel.1 Writers on this subject refer to Calvin’s recognition that the good in mankind, including religious aspiration, decent behaviour, social brotherliness, artistic and scientific achievement, is bestowed by God. There are many such references in Calvin’s Institutes.2

In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” he suggests that we have here a lament which expresses a “maternal kindness.” He writes as follows: “In a manner of speaking, God bares his breast to us in the overtures of the gospel.”… “Indeed, it is precisely the tender-heartedness of God’s lament in the Person of his Son that renders human unbelief in response to the Gospel such a monstrous thing. For this reason–the sinner’s stubborn refusal to respond appropriately to God’s kind overtures–a dreadful vengeance awaits us as often as the teaching of his gospel is put before us, unless we quietly hide ourselves under his wings, in which he is ready to take us up and shelter us.”3

In his lectures on Ezekiel, Calvin expressly states that God announces through the prophet, “his wish is that all should be saved” (Ezekiel 18:23,32). Likewise on 2 Peter 3:9 Calvin observes, “Though God has secretly determined to save the elect alone, he declares in the Gospel that he desires the salvation of all. The only solution open to us is to acknowledge that in his revealed will God stretches out his hand to all alike, even though secretly he has determined to save one and not another. Nonetheless, there is no ultimate disharmony between God’s purpose of election and the universal call of the gospel, however difficult this harmony may be for us to comprehend.”
1. Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), 232.
2. John Calvin, Institutes, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), 276.
3. With regard to the tender-heartedness of God, Don Carson speaks of God's yearning, inviting, seeking love and he refers to John 3:16 and Ezekiel 33. Don A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Paternoster, 2002), 15.
Erroll Hulse, Who Saves, God or Me?: Calvinism for the Twenty-First Century (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2011), 50–52. This quote can also be found here and here.

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