July 24, 2018

Cornelis P. Venema on the Doctrine of Preaching and the Well-Meant Offer in the Canons of Dort

In the third main point of doctrine, this insistence upon the universal preaching of the gospel is further explained as a serious and genuine calling. Often called the “well-meant offer” of the gospel, this call is extended through the preaching of the gospel.
Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him (quid sibi gratum sit): that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.26
26. The article in the Latin reads: “Quotquot autem per Evangelium vocantur, serio vocantur. Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimi rum, ut vocati ad se veniant. Serio etiam omnibus ad se venientibus et credentibus requiem animarum, et vitam aeternam promittit” (Schaff, [3:]565–6). Though this is not the place to address the whole subject of the so-called “well-meant offer” of the gospel, this Article of the Canons clearly suggests the doctrine. If God declares in the Word what pleases him, and if he seriously calls through the Word all to believe and repent, then it seems to follow that he is pleased to save those whom he calls. Those who reject the well-meant offer are not only uncomfortable with the language of this Article in the Canons but also unwilling to distinguish between God’s sovereign intention to save the elect only and his desire that all should be saved. The insistence that the latter distinction amounts to a logical contradiction is born from a failure to distinguish, to borrow terms from Dabney (see below), between God’s “executive volition” to save the elect only and his “propension” to show mercy to all. What to our understanding may appear to be a tension or contradiction, is only due to a limited comprehension of the things of God. The supposed contradiction between God’s sovereign decree of election and the well-meant offer of the gospel is what Cornelius Van Til properly termed an “apparent contradiction,” something which is mysterious to us but known by God to be fully harmonious and consistent. For representative treatments of this issue, see: Robert Lewis Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, As Related to His Power, Wisdom, and Sincerity,” in Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, vol. 1 (1891; reprint, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982); John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 4: Studies in Theology (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 113–132; Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995); A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Schilder (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954); David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel, revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Assoc., 1994). The studies of Iain Murray and De Jong are historical in nature, though they join Dabney and John Murray in defending a doctrine of the well-meant offer. Engelsma represents the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches: though there is a universal call extended through the gospel to all, this call does not express any favorable disposition, good-pleasure or desire on God’s part that all should believe and repent and so be saved. See Joseph Hall’s article in this collection for a treatment of one chapter in the history of the debates in the Reformed churches regarding the well-meant offer.
Cornelis P. Venema, “The Doctrine of Preaching in the Reformed Confessions,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 10 (1999): 166–67.

June 27, 2018

John H. Gerstner on Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and God’s General Love

John Gerstner noted this about Edwards on God’s love:
If God’s love is known by what it hates, it is also known by what it loves or inclines toward. First, in a sense, it extends to all creatures. All creatures have some good from God.136 Even the wicked share in this benevolence. “God is kind to the unthankful and evil.”137 Man is now naturally contrary to God and positively evil, but the Luke 6:35 sermon shows that God still loves him in some ways. Indeed, Edwards goes on to say in another sermon: “even in damnation.”138 Yet, fundamentally, “holy persons love holy things for their holiness.”139
136. Unpublished MS sermon on Ps. 145:15–21, “All creatures in heaven and earth have their good things from God,” p. 1, St. Ind., Nov. 1, 1753.
137. Unpublished MS sermon on Lk. 6:35.
138. Unpublished MS sermon on Eph. 4:15–16, “In a company of Christians among whom Christianity has its genuine effect, love is the beginning and love is the middle and love is the end of all their affairs,” p. 2, May 1743.
139. Unpublished MS sermons on Ps. 119:[1]40.
John H. Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 3 vols. (Powhatan, VA: Berea Publications; Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1993), 2:38.

June 1, 2018

Humphrey Chambers (c.1599–1662) on the General and Special Love of God

Most certain it is from the word of the Gospel (which is the truest and clearest light that ever shone in the Church of the faithful) that Christ doth not love all Mankind alike, but he loves some and not others.

There is indeed a general and common love of Christ, wherein he comprehends all Mankind alike, which he manifests to them in making (as he himself saith, Matt. 5:24) his sun to rise on the evil, and on the good; and sending his rain on the just, and on the unjust; and as Paul saith, Acts 14:17. He doth good to all Nations, though they walk in their own ways; giving them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their bodies with food, and their hearts with gladness; and supplying them with the common things of this life, suitable to their Humanity.

But he hath a special love to his Elect, to the Church which is his Body; these he loves as his own flesh; yea, as partakers of the same Divine Nature with himself; and according to this love he communicateth to these, of all that very fullness of God which he hath received from his Father.

Now with this special love, he loves not all Mankind alike, but only some, passing by the rest.
Humfry Chambers, Animadversions on Mr. William Dells Book Intituled The Crucified and Quickned Christian (London: Printed by R. N. for Sa. Gellibrand, at the Ball in Pauls Church-yard, 1653), 76–77.

This work has an imprimatur by John Owen.
Humfry Chambers was pastor of Claverton Parish, Somerset, and a member of the Assembly of Divines.


April 27, 2018

Matthew Henry (1662–1714) on Luke 7:30

The Pharisees, who were most in reputation for religion and devotion, and the lawyers, who were celebrated for their learning, especially their knowledge of the scriptures, rejected the counsel of God against themselves; they frustrated it, they received the grace of God, by the baptism of John, in vain. God in sending that messenger among them had a kind purpose of good to them, designed their salvation by it, and, if they had closed with the counsel of God, it had been for themselves, they had been made for ever; but they rejected it, would not comply with it, and it was against themselves, it was to their own ruin; they came short of the benefit intended them, and not only so, but forfeited the grace of God, put a bar in their own door, and, by refusing that discipline which was to fit them for the kingdom of the Messiah, shut themselves out of it, and they not only excluded themselves, but hindered others, and stood in their way.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 1846.


February 25, 2018

Thomas Wilson (1563–1622) on General and Special Love

Tim. What could God see in us then to move him to love us?

Sil. First, he saw in us his own creation, which he loved with a general love, as he doth all the works of his hands. Secondly, he saw in us much misery through sin, and this made him love us with a pitiful love. Thirdly, he loved his elect being yet sinners, in that he purposed in himself to call and justify them in due time. And now lastly, having grafted his elect in his Son by faith, and justified them, he loveth them actually, having set his own image in them.

Tim. You hold then that there are several degrees of God’s love, even towards his elect?

Sil. There be so, for he cannot love his elect with that degree and kind of love when they are sinners, as he doth after they are in his Son justified and sanctified: for now sin which bred hatred and enmity, is defaced and cast out by remission; and holiness which God loveth, imprinted in them, and brought in by renovation.
Thomas Wilson, A Commentary on the Most Divine Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (London: Printed by E. Cotes in Aldersgate-street, 1653), 144.