April 29, 2008

John Calvin (1509–1564) on God's Boundless Display of Goodness in the Gospel Call

"When he [God] first shines with the light of his word on the undeserving, he gives a sufficiently clear proof of his free goodness. Here, therefore, boundless goodness is displayed, but not so as to bring all to salvation, since a heavier judgment awaits the reprobate for rejecting the evidence of his love."
John Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.2.


April 27, 2008

R. L. Dabney (1820–1898) on God’s Threefold Design in the Common Call of the Gospel

4. Designs of God In Common Call.

God’s design in the common call of the unconverted may be said to be threefold.

To Gather Elect.

First, it is His appointed and proper means for saving from among them, the elect. And He either must have adopted this generality in the outward call, or else He must have adopted one of two expedients. He must have actually saved all, or He must have separated the non-elect wholly from the participation of the common call. Had He adopted the latter plan, surely those who now complain of partiality would then have complained far more loudly. Had He adopted the former, where would have been His manifestation of His sovereignty, and where that evidence of regular customary connection between means and ends, conduct and destiny, on which He has seen fit to found His government?

To Express His Benevolence.

God’s second design in making the common call universal was the exercise of the general holiness, goodness, and compassion of His nature, (which generally regard all His creatures), in dissuading all from sin and self destruction. God’s holiness, which is universally opposed to sin, makes it proper that He shall dissuade from sin, every where, and in all sinners. God’s mercy and goodness, being made possible towards the human race by their being under a gospel dispensation, make it proper that He shall dissuade all from self destruction. And this benevolence not only offers a benefit to sinners generally, but actually confers one—i. e., a temporary enjoyment of a dispensation of mercy, and a suspension of wrath, with all the accompanying mercies, and the offer itself of salvation. This offer is itself a benefit, only man’s perverseness turns it into a curse. Blessed be God, His word assures us that this common call is an expression of sincere benevolence towards all sinners, elect and non-elect, (a compassion whose efficient outgoing is, however, conditioned, as to all, on faith and penitence in them). Ezek. 33:11; Ps. 81:13; 1 Tim. 2:4.

To Clear Himself.

God’s third design in making the common call universal is that when men ruin themselves, as He foresaw they would, His holiness, goodness, compassion and truth may be entirely cleared, in their fate, before heaven and earth. It was a part of His eternal plan, to magnify His own goodness, by offering to human sinners a provision for salvation so complete, as to remove every obstacle arising out of His justice and law; so that in their final damnation all the universe may see how lovely God is; and how desperate an evil sin is. And this is properly God’s highest end.
R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 555–556.


John Flavel's (1630–1691) Reply to Baptist Hyper-Calvinism from Vindiciæ Legis et Fœderis

A Reply to Baptist Hypercalvinism
an excerpt from
Vindiciæ Legis et Fœderis

By: John Flavel


Come we next to consider that opinion of yours, which led you into these other gross mistakes and absurdities, and that is this, that the covenant of grace is absolute; and whatever covenant is not so, but hath any condition upon our part, must needs for that reason be a covenant of works. See page 229. It is observable (say you) that as the covenants mentioned Gen. 2. Exod. 20. &c were all conditional, and therefore legal covenants, requiring strict and perfect obedience, as the condition propounded, in order to the enjoyment of the mercies contained in them, which are all therefore done away in Christ; so on the other hand we see, that the covenant God made with Abraham, Gen. 12.2,3 and Gen. 17.2,3 and Gen. 22.16-18 was wholly free and absolute, and therefore purely evangelical, &c. We will review these things anon, and see if you truly represent the matter; but in order to it, let me tell you,

First, What we mean by a gospel-condition. Secondly, Prove that there are such in the gospel-covenant. Thirdly, Shew you the absurdity of your opinion against it.

(1.) What we mean by a condition in the gospel-covenant. By a condition of the covenant, we do not mean in the strictest rigid sense of the word, such a restipulation to God from man of perfect obedience in his own person, at all times, so as the least failure therein forfeits all the mercies of the covenant; that is rather the condition of Adam's covenant of works, than of the evangelical covenant: nor do we assert any meritorious condition, that in the nature of an impulsive cause shall bring man into the covenant and its privileges, or continue him in when brought in. This we renounce as well as you: but our question is about such a condition as is neither in the nature of an act perfect in every degree, nor meritorious in the least of the benefit conferred, nor yet done in our own strength. But plainly and briefly, our question is, Whether there be not something as an act required of us in point of duty, to a blessing consequent by virtue of a promise? Such a thing, whatever it be, hath the nature of a condition, inasmuch as it is antecedent to the benefit of the promise; and the mercy or benefit granted, is suspended until it be performed. The question is not, whether there be any intrinsical worth or value in the thing so required, to oblige the disposer to make or perform the grant or promise, but merely that it be antecedent to the enjoyment of the benefit; and that the disposer of the benefit do suspend the benefit until it be performed? Thus an act or duty of ours, which has nothing at all of merit in it, or answerable value to the benefit it relates to, may be in a proper sense a condition of the said benefit. "For what is a condition in the true notion of it, but (1) the suspension of a grant until something future be done?" "Or, (2) as others to the same purpose, The adding of words to a grant, for the future, of a suspending quality, according to which the disposer will have the benefit he disposeth to be regulated?" This properly is a condition, though there be nothing of equivalent value or merit in the thing required.

And such your brethren, in their narrative, page 14 do acknowledge faith to be, when they assert none can be actually reconciled, justified, or adopted, till they are really, implanted into Jesus Christ by faith; and so, by virtue of this their union with him, have these fundamental benefits actually conveyed unto them; which contains the proper notion of the condition we contend for.

And such a condition of salvation we assert faith to be in the new covenant grant; that is to say, the grant of salvation by God in the gospel-covenant is suspended from all men, till they believe, and is due by promise, not merit, to them as soon as they do truly believe. The notes or signs of a condition given by civilians, or moralists, are such as these, If, if not, unless, but if, except, only, and the like. When these are added in the promise of a blessing or benefit for the future, they make that promise conditional; and your grammar (according to which you must speak, if you speak properly and strictly) will tell you, that Si, sin, modo, dum, dummodo, are all conditional particles; and it is evident, that these conditional particles are frequently inserted in the grants of the blessings and privileges of the New Testament. As for example; Mark 11.23, ει δυνασαι πιςευσαι, "If thou canst believe." Acts 8.37, ει πιστεύεις εξ όλης της καρδίας, "If thou believest with thy whole heart thou mayest," &c. Rom. 10.9, οτι εαν, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth, and believe with thy heart," &c. "thou shall be saved." Matt. 18.3, εαν μη, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Mark 5.36, μονον, "Only believe." Mark 11.26, ει δε υμεις ουκ αφιετε, "But if ye forgive not," &c. with multitudes more, which are all conditional particles inserted in the grants of benefits.

(2.) Having shewn you what the nature of a condition is, I shall, I hope, make it plain to you, that faith is such a condition in the gospel-grant of our salvation; for we find the benefit suspended till this act of faith be performed; John 3.36, "He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" And most plainly, Rom. 10.9, having shewn before what the condition of legal righteousness was, he tells us there what the gospel-condition of salvation is; "The righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart, that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." I ask you, sir, whether it be possible to put words into a frame more lively expressive of a condition than these are? Do but compare Mark 16.16, "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned:" Do but compare, I say, that scripture-phrase with the words of Jacob's sons, which all allow to be conditional, Gen. 43.4,5, "If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down; but if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down;" and judge whether the one be not as conditional as the other: more particularly,

If we cannot be justified or saved till we believe, then faith is the condition on which those consequent benefits are suspended.

But we cannot be justified or saved till we believe; Ergo.

The sequel of the major is evident; for, as we said before, a condition is the suspension of a grant till something future be done. The minor is plain in scripture; Rom. 4.24, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that righteousness was imputed to him; but for our sakes also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe." οις μέλλει λογιζεσθαι, Quibus futurim est ut imputetur, to whom it shall come to pass, that it shall be imputed, if we believe: And Acts 10.43, "Whosoever believeth on him, shall receive remission of sins." John 3.36, "He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him;" with multitudes more. Now, sir, lay seriously before your eyes such scriptures as these, that promise salvation to believers, and threaten damnation to all unbelievers, as Mark 16.16 doth, and then give a plain and clear answer to this question; either the positive part of that text promises salvation absolutely to men, whether they believe or believe not, and consequently unbelievers shall be saved as well as believers; and the negative part threatens damnation absolutely to sinners, as sinners; and consequently all sinners shall be damned, whether they believe or not: or else, if you allow neither to be absolute, but that none can be saved till they believe, nor any damned when they do believe; is not that a conditional promise and threatening?

If God's covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12.2,3 and that Gen. 17.2,3 were (as you say) pure gospel-covenants of grace, and yet in both some things are required as duties on Abraham's part, to make him partaker of the benefits of the promises; then the covenant of grace is not absolute, but conditional.

But so it was in both these covenants; Ergo.

The minor only requires proof; for which let us have recourse to the places, and see whether it be so or not.

(1.) For the first you instance in as a pure gospel-covenant made with Abraham, Gen. 12.2,3. I must confess, as you dismember the text, p.229, by choosing out the second and third verses, and leaving out the first, which was the trial of Abraham's obedience, in forsaking his native country, and his father's house; I say, give me but this liberty to separate and disjoin one part of a covenant from the other, and it is easy to make any conditional covenant in the world to become absolute; for take but the duty required, from the promise that is made, and that which was a conditional, presently becomes an absolute grant. Suppose, sir, that Abraham had refused to leave his dear native country, and dearest relations, as many do; think you that the promised mercies had been his? I must plainly tell you, you assume a strange liberty in this matter, and make a great deal bolder with the scriptures than you ought: and the very same usage the other scriptures hath.

(2.) For when you cite your second covenant with Abraham, you only cite Gen. 17.2,3 and then call it an absolute gospel-covenant; when indeed you make it so, by leaving out the first verse, which contains the condition or duty required on Abraham's part; for thus run the three first verses, "And when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk thou before me, and be thou perfect, and I will make my covenant between me and thee," &c. Here an upright conversation before God is required of him, at God's entrance into this covenant with him; but that is, and must be omitted, and cut off, to make the covenant look absolute, I am really grieved to see the scriptures thus dealt with to serve a design!

Argument III.

If all the promises of the gospel be absolute and unconditional, requiring no restipulation from man, then they cannot properly and truly belong to the new covenant.

But they do properly and truly belong to the new covenant; therefore they are not all absolute and unconditional.

The sequel of the major is only liable to doubt or denial, namely, That the absoluteness of all the promises of the New Testament cuts off their relation to a covenant; but that it doth so, no man can deny, that understands the difference between a covenant and an absolute promise. A covenant is a mutual compact or agreement betwixt parties, in which they bind each other to the performance of what they respectively promise; so that there can be no other proper covenant where there is not a restipulation or re-obligation of one part, as well as a promise on the other; but an absolute promise binds only one party and leaves the other wholly free and unobliged to any thing in order to the enjoyment of the good promised. So then, if all the New Testament promises be unconditional and absolute, they are not part of a covenant, nor must that word be applied to them; they are absolute promises, binding no man to whom they are made to any duty, in order to the enjoyment of the mercies promised: But those persons that are under these absolute promises, must and shall enjoy the mercies of pardon and salvation, whether they repent or repent not, believe or believe not, obey or obey not. Now to what licentiousness this doctrine leads men, is obvious to every eye. Yet this absoluteness of the covenant (as you improperly call it) is by you asserted, p. 229, 230. There is (say you) no condition at all, it is wholly free and absolute, as the covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12.2,3. Gen. 17.2,3. Thank you, sir, for making them so; for by cutting off the first verses, where the duty required on Abraham's part is contained, you make them what God never intended them to be. And the same foul play is in Deut. 30, where you separate the plain condition contained in verses 1,2, from the promise, verse 6. Or if the condition, verses 1,2 be not plain enough, but you will make it part of the promise, I hope that after, in verse 10 is too plain to be denied. As to the other texts, more anon; mean time see how you destroy the nature of a covenant.

Objection. But say you, page 233. To impose new conditions, though never so mild, is a new covenant of works with some mercy, but not a covenant of grace, properly so called.

Solution. It is true, if those works or acts of ours, which God requires, be understood of meritorious works in our own strength and power to perform, it destroys the free grace of the covenant; but this we utterly reject, and speak only of faith wrought in us by the Spirit of God, which receives all from God, and gives the entire glory to God; Eph. 2.5,8.

Objection. But you will say, If faith be the condition, and that faith be not of ourselves, then both the promise and the condition are on God's part (if you will call faith a condition) and so still on our part the covenant is absolute.

Solution. This is a mistake, and the mistake in this leads you into all the rest; though faith (which we call the condition on our part) be the gift of God, and the power of believing be derived from God, yet the act of believing is properly our act, though the power by which we believe be of God; else it would follow, when we act any grace, as faith, repentance, or obedience, that God believes, repents, and obeys in us, and it is not we, but God that doth all these. This, I hope, you will not dare to assert; they are truly our works, though wrought in God's strength? Isa. 26.12. "Lord, thou hast wrought all our works in us;" i.e., though they be our works, yet they are wrought in us by thy grace or strength.

As for Dr. Owen, it is plain from the place you cite in the doctrine of justification, p. 156, he only excludes conditions, as we do, in respect of the dignity of the act, as is more plain in his treatise of redemption, p. 103,104, in which he allows conditions in both the covenants, and makes this the difference, That the Old required them, but the New effects them in all the fœderates.

I know no orthodox divine in the world, that presumes to thrust in any work of man's into the covenant of grace, as a condition, which, in the Arminian sense, he may or may not perform, according to the power and pleasure of his own free will, without the preventing or determining grace of God; which preventing grace is contained in those promises, Ezek. 36.25-27, &c. Nor yet that there is any meritorious worth, either of condignity or congruity in the Popish sense, in the very justifying act of faith, for the which God justifies and saves us. But we say, That though God, in the way of preventing grace, works faith in us, and when it is so wrought, we need his assisting grace to act it, yet neither his assisting nor preventing grace makes the act of faith no more to be our act; it is we that believe still though in God's strength, and that upon our believing, or not believing, we have or have not the benefits of God's promises; which is the very proper notion of a condition.

Argument IV.

If all the promises of the new covenant be absolute and unconditional, having no respect nor relation, to any grace wrought in us, nor duty done by us, then the trial of our interest in Christ, by marks and signs of grace, is not our duty, nor can we take comfort in sanctification, as an evidence of our justification.

But it is a Christian's duty to try his interest in Christ by marks and signs; and he may take comfort in sanctification, as an evidence of justification. Ergo.

The sequel of the major is undeniably clear: so that can never be a sign or evidence of an interest in Christ, which that interest may be without; yea, and as Dr. Crispe asserts, according to his Antinomian principles, 'Christ is ours (saith he) before we have gracious qualifications; every true mark and sign must be inseparable from that it signifies.' Now, if the works of the Spirit in us be not so, but an interest in Christ may be where these are not, then they are no proper marks or signs; and if they are not, it cannot be our duty to make use of them as such, and consequently if we should, they can yield us no comfort.

The minor is plain in scripture; 1 John 2.3, "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." The meaning is, we perceive and discern ourselves to be sincere believers, and consequently that Christ is our propitiation, when obedience to his commands is become habitual and easy to us; So 1 John 3.19, "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him;" i.e., by our sincere cordial love to Christ and his members, as verse 18, this shall demonstrate to us, that we are the children of truth; and again, 1 John 3.15, "We know that we are passed from death to life; because we love the brethren:" With multitudes more to the same purpose, which plainly teach Christians to fetch the evidences of their justification out of their sanctification, and to prove their interest in Christ, by the works of his Spirit found in their own hearts.

And this is not only a Christian's liberty, but his commanded duty to bring his interest in Christ to this touchstone and test; 2 Cor. 13.5, "Examine yourselves, prove yourselves," &c. 2 Pet. 1.10, "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure," i.e., your election by your calling. No man can make his election sure a priori, nor can any make it surer than it is in se; therefore it is only capable of being made sure to us a posteriori; arguing from the work of sanctification in us, to God's eternal choice of us.

And as the saints in all ages have taken this course, so they have taken great and lawful comfort in the use of these marks and signs of grace; 2 Kings 20.3.; 2 Cor. 1.12.

I am sensible how vehemently the Antinomian party, Dr. Crispe, Mr. Eyre, and some others, do oppugn [oppose] this truth, representing it as legal and impracticable (for they are for the absolute and unconditional nature of the new covenant, as well as you); but by your espousing their principle, you have even run Anabaptism into Antinomianism; and must, by this principle of yours, renounce all marks and trials of an interest in Christ, by any work of the Spirit wrought in us. You must only stick to the immediate sealings of the Spirit; which, if such a thing be at all, it is but rare and extraordinary.

I will not deny but there may be an immediate testimony of the Spirit; but sure I am his mediate testimony by his graces in us, is his usual way of sealing believers. We do not affirm any of these his works to be meritorious causes of our justification; or that, considered abstractly from the Spirit, they can of themselves seal, or evidence our interest in Christ. Neither do we affirm, that any of them are complete and perfect works; but this we say, that they being true and sincere, though imperfect graces, they are our usual and standing evidences, to make out our interest in Christ by. And I hope you, and the whole Antinomian party, will find it hard, yea, and impossible, to remove the saints from that comfortable and scriptural way of examining their interest in Christ, by the graces of his Spirit in them; as the saints, who are gone to heaven before them, have done in all generations.

Argument V.

If the covenant of grace be altogether absolute and unconditional, requiring nothing to be done on our part, to entitle us [to come into possession of the right] to its benefits; then it cannot be man's duty in entering covenant with God, to deliberate the terms, count the cost, or give his consent by word or writing, explicitly to the terms of this covenant.

But it is man's duty in entering Covenant with God, to deliberate the terms, and count the cost; Luke 14.26-34. and explicitly to give his consent thereunto, either by word or writing: Ergo.

The sequel of the major is self-evident: For where there are no terms or conditions required on our part, there can be none to deliberate, or give our consent to; and so a man may be in a covenant without his own consent.

The minor is undeniable in the text cited: If you say, These are duties, but not conditions; I reply, they are such duties, without the performance of which we can have no benefit by Christ and the new covenant, Luke 14.33. And such duties have the true suspending nature of conditions in them. If you say they are only subsequent duties, but not antecedent or concomitant acts, the 28th verse directly opposes you: Let him first sit down and count the cost. And for those overt-acts, whereby we explicitly declare our consent to the terms of the covenant, at our first entering into the bond of it, I hope you will not say, that it is a legal covenant too; Isa. 44.3,4, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine off-spring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses; One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord," &c. A plain allusion to soldiers, when they list themselves under a captain, or general.

What remains now to reply to these arguments, but either that the places by me cited and argued upon, do not intend the new covenant, under which we are; or that this new covenant hath its conditions, and is not altogether absolute, as you have asserted it to be.
John Flavel, "Vindiciæ Legis et Fœderis: Or, A Reply to Mr. Philip Cary's Solemn Call," in The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel (London: Printed for J. Mathews, 1799), 6:348–355.

John Flavel, "Vindiciæ Legis et Fœderis: Or, A Reply to Mr. Philip Cary's Solemn Call," in The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel (London: Printed for W. Baynes and Son, 1820), 348–356.


April 25, 2008

A. A. Hodge (1823–1886) on Irresistible Grace

20. In what sense is grace irresistible?

It must be remembered that the true Christian is the subject at the same time of those moral and mediate influences of grace upon the will, common to him and to the unconverted, and also of those special influences of grace within the will, which are certainly efficacious. The first class of influences Christians may, and constantly do resist, through the law of sin remaining in their members. The second class of influences are certainly efficacious, but are neither resistible nor irresistible, because they act from within and carry the will spontaneously with them. It is to be lamented that the term irresistible grace has ever been used, since it suggests the idea of a mechanical and coercive influence upon an unwilling subject, while, in truth, it is the transcendent act of the infinite Creator, making the creature spontaneously willing.
A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 451–452.

A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879), 451–452.


April 21, 2008

Charles Hodge (1797–1878) on God's Will, 1 Tim. 2:4, Ezek. 33:11, Matt. 23:37, etc.

Charles Hodge says this in his Systematic Theology:
In this place it is sufficient to remark, that the Greek word θέλω, and the corresponding English verb, to will, sometimes express feeling, and sometimes a purpose. Thus in Matt. xxvii. 43, the words έί θέλει αύτόν are correctly rendered, "if he delight in him." Comp. Ps. xxii. 8. It is in this sense the word is used, when it is said that God wills all men to be saved. He cannot be said to purpose or determine upon any event which is not to come to pass. A judge may will the happiness of a man whom he sentences to death. He may will him not to suffer when he wills him to suffer. The infelicity in such forms of expression is that the word "will" is used in different senses. In one part of the sentence it means desire, and in the other purpose. It is perfectly consistent, therefore, that God, as a benevolent Being, should desire the happiness of all men, while he purposes to save only his own people.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 1:405.

Observe the following from the above quote:

1) Hodge distinguishes between senses of God's will (between feeling, delight, desire as over against purpose or determination).
2) He associates 1 Tim. 2:4 with the former (feeling, delight, desire, etc.).
3) He illustrates the rationality of this by a judge who can will and nill the same thing in different senses.
4) Hodge affirms that God desires the happiness of all men, and "happiness" must include ultimate "salvation" since he attributes the idea to 1 Tim. 2:4.
5) He sees the above 4 points as being compatible with God's efficacious purpose to save only his own people.

Now compare the above with what he says elsewhere:
The second interpretation is that God desires the salvation of all men. This means 1st, just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works. He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and in the work of redemption. 2d. It means what is said in Ezek. xxxiii. 11. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and in Ezek. xviii. 23, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live ?” Also Lam. iii. 33, “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” It means what Christ taught in the parable of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money; and is taught by his lament over Jerusalem.

All these passages teach that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when he permits them to perish, or inflicts evil upon them, it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise. His relation is that of a benevolent sovereign in punishing crime, or of a tender judge in passing sentence on offenders, or, what is the familiar representation of Scripture, that of a father who deals with his children with tenderness, yet with wisdom and according to the dictates of right.

This is the meaning of the passage [1 Tim. 2:4]...
Charles Hodge, "'Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.' 1 Tim. 2: 4,” in Conference Papers (New York, Charles, Scribner’s Sons, 1879), 18–19.

Observe the following from the above quote:

1) Hodge says that God desires the salvation of all men, and begins by associating 1 Tim. 2:4 with God's attributes of goodness, mercy and grace.
2) He further associates this passage [1 Tim. 2:4] and those ideas [saving desire, goodness, mercy and grace] with Psalm 145:9.
3) He then associates God's universal kindness in providence to the unthankful and evil with God's saving desire.
4) Further, he cites Ezek. 33:11, Lam. 3:33 and Matt. 23:37 to illustrate his point about God's revealed nature.
5) Notice his use of "happiness" in this citation, which goes back to my fourth observation from the previous quotation.
6) He likens God to a tender judge, which was also used in the previous quotation to illustrate his point.
7) Again, he makes it quite plain that he's interpreting 1 Tim. 2:4 in a general sense.

Since it is a well-known fact that Charles Hodge impacted James Boyce, go back and read what Boyce said about 1 Tim. 2:4 and the sincerity of the external gospel call.

See also A. A. Hodge on these passages.


Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) on Ezekiel 33:11

Turn ye, turn ye." See, the Lord puts it twice. He must mean your good by these repeated directions. Suppose my man-servant was crossing yonder river, and I saw that he would soon be out of his depth, and so in great danger; suppose I cried out to him, "Stop! stop! If you go another inch you will be drowned. Turn back! Turn back!" Will anybody dare to say, "Mr. Spurgeon would feel pleasure if that man were drowned"? It would be a cruel cut. What a liar the man must be who would hint such a thing when I am urging my servant to turn and save his life! Would God plead with us to escape unless he honestly desired that we should escape? I trow not. Every sinner may be sure that God takes no pleasure in his death when he pleads with him in these unrivaled words, "Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?" There is what the old divines used to call an ingemination, an inward groaning, a reduplication of pleading in these words, "Turn ye, turn ye." He pleads each time with more of emphasis. Will you not hear?
C. H. Spurgeon, "Pleading and Encouragement," in Return, Oh Shulamite! and Other Sermons Preached in 1884 by the Rev. C.H. Spurgeon (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1885), 180.

Spurgeon is clearly saying that God "means" the "good" of "every sinner" when "he pleades" with them to turn and live. He says that God "honestly desires" their "escape." Those are some of the essential components of a well-meant gospel offer. Compare this quote by Spurgeon to statements made by William Greenhill (see his #3 observation), who served as a divine at the Westminster Assembly.


April 18, 2008

James White’s Denial of God’s Universal Saving Will

Update and Note: Since one anonymous blogger (i.e., "Turretinfan," who is really Peter Charles Flanagan [FB link; Linkedin; P&P description of Flanagan's past behavior]) seems consistently confused, the following in no way suggests that James White denies that God commands all men to repent and believe (thus putting them under an obligation). That's not the point at all. The point that is clearly made during the call is that, according to White, God does not want, wish, will, or "desire" the salvation of all men, or specifically the non-elect. That's what it means to "deny God's universal saving will," as the title of this post plainly and accurately addresses. If James White thought otherwise, then he would be in categorical agreement with John Murray, Tom Ascol, Phil Johnson (and here), and John Piper. He's clearly not in agreement with them on this subject, as the call itself (in addition to his earlier interaction with Gregg White) makes quite plain. I made this same point (among others) to the blogger in the comment section of my first post, but he is either not seeing it, or is just ignoring it. Neither is the issue whether White distinguishes between God's secret/decretal will and His revealed/preceptive will. Of course he does. That is yet another red herring. The real issue is whether God, in the revealed will, desires the non-elect to comply with His gospel commands and therefore desires the salvation of all men. Read what Turretin himself said on this, in contrast to the previously named anonymous blogger going by that name. Then take a look at what the Puritan John Howe said here (and here), as well as scores of other mainstream Calvinists on the will of God.

One will also notice that White, during the following exchange, sounds very similar to the later John Gerstner on the subject of God's will. See the comments section below for more information.


The following exchange took place between James White and Jason from the UK on the Dividing Line broadcast on 4/10/08 (or here; see minute 42:39–56:08). Jason affirmed the well-meant offer, and he was a Calvinist, so he was asking from that perspective, not from the perspective of a non-Calvinist.

Download Audio Clip Here

James White took a call and said:
Let's get to Jason over in the United Kingdom... What's up Jason?
Jason asked a question:
Well, yeah, I have a question for you regarding your Reformed theology, and it has to do with the free offer of the gospel. My question is simply this: Does God offer Christ, salvation or mercy to the non-elect, and does he in any sense will their salvation?
James White responded:
Well, that sounds very much like what Mr. Gregg was asking, though I think he was a little bit more specific toward the end. And the answer that I gave that I'll repeat now has two aspects. First of all, from the human aspect, the free offer of the gospel goes out to all people because humans do not know the identity of the elect. And since no one will have that knowledge other than God, the only way a human being can possibly answer the question is to say what scripture says; and that is, that any person who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. But I think the question as it is often---I think somewhat unnecessarily asked, because again it forces us into a similar situation as the last discussion of Adam [the previous call topic]---to ask the question well, if God has not eternally decreed the salvation of John Brown, then can we really say that there is a free offer of the gospel to John Brown? Again, the very phrase "free offer" demands that we discuss the means by which the free offer is made, but I've already said that the means is us, and since we don't know who the elect are, it sort of makes it a little bit like the discussion of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
Jason commented:
But, I mean, there are Calvinist theologians such as John Murray and Phil Johnson, for example, who hold that view. Phil Johnson would even say that it's a hyper-Calvinist tendency to deny that God in some way offers salvation to the non-elect.
James White responded:
Again, if I just said that it is our job to offer salvation to the non-elect because we don't know who they are, then yes, the salvation is being offered to the non-elect. But when says [Jason: "but the offer is being made..."] someone in some way, then I need something more of a definition of in what way. Are we going to say for example that Christ gives, intercedes, or gives his life for the non-elect, even though it is not God's purpose to grant to them the freedom from their sins so as to accept this? When we say "some way," I interpret "some way" as the free and open proclamation of the gospel. Hyper-Calvinism requires us to go around and identify the elect. I'm not sure how we are supposed to do that, but we can't do it.
Jason then spoke:
I think the understanding is that, although God has reprobated certain people, there is [still] a desire on his part that they should be saved, even though he has a higher purpose. [Therefore] that doesn't happen. I think one example, one verse, that might indicate that would be Ezekiel 33:11, which says that, "As surely as I live, says the Lord God, I have no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their way and live." And that's the claim for the whole of the nation of Israel, not just the elect within that community.
James White responded:
Yeah, and that's one of the problems I have with Ezekiel 18 or 33 being read into this particular issue, because I feel like we're being forced to somehow attribute to God some kind (for some reason)...some kind of an attitude or desire that I just never see, not only do I never see expressed, but it would likewise force us to say that God has an unfulfilled desire, but it's not really the same desire as he chooses to fulfill with other people. And we're left not only---you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum, now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it. The Ezekiel texts are talking to people who were saying that there was no reason for them to repent because they're already doomed because of the sins of their forefathers. That's why they repeated the parable of their teeth being set on edge because of the sour grapes that their fathers had eaten, and so on and so forth. And so what I hear Ezekiel as saying is an apologetic response to people who were saying there's no reason to preach to those people, there's no reason for us to even listen to the message of the prophets, because our repentance would never be accepted. Now that's different than Isaiah's commissioning where God specifically commissions him to proclaim a message of judgment, and says he's going to harden the hearts of the individuals who hear it. That's a completely different context. But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill. And then in fact, evidently, causes him to have an unfulfilled desire, unhappiness, pain, or something. I know where this comes from in liberal European theology because I went to Fuller Seminary for crying out loud. And I listened to all the stuff about...in fact we had somebody in [the chat] channel just a couple days ago talking about, "well don't you think that God suffers like we suffer, and he's sad like we're sad?"... and all the rest of this stuff, and I got all that at Fuller [seminary]. I know where it's coming from from there. But, within the Reformed realm of folks... I understand and have stood against hyper-Calvinism for a long, long time and people who think that we can somehow know who the elect are... but on the other side I want to go... alright. I fully understand how given the means that God uses to draw the elect unto himself, that there is a free offer of the gospel, that I can never look at someone... I do not have the right to reprobate anybody. I can't do that. I have to proclaim to everybody. But, I have a problem then saying in my proclamation of the gospel to others means that I then have to affirm some kind of a partially salvific desire... cause it can only be partially salvific. If it's truly a salvific desire, and it's truly a desire of God, does he not do whatever he pleases in the heavens and the earth?
Jason timidly said:
Mmm hmm. So, yeah. Good point.
James White continued:
So, you know, if it is his desire, then he's going to accomplish it. If it is not his desire... you know... I think that the "ambiguity" at that point (to use the term that so we've been using a lot [since the Steve Gregg debate]) is because...
Jason said:
Would you say though that you've perhaps placed yourself in a minority among Calvinists for taking that stance?
James White said:
No, no...I don't think so. I think that you have...I know what John Murray has said...but no. I don't think that that is a minority position at all. I think there are lots of folks in the past who have expressed, I think properly, the fact that Christ is to be presented to all men, and that we do not have the right to reprobate anyone. We do not know the identity of the elect...who did not go so far as to say, and what that means is that there is a partially salvific desire on the part of God. That he has a desire, but for some reason (that has never been explained to me) he chooses not to act upon it, and hence causes himself to be eternally unfulfilled. I don't see that in a large number of Calvinistic writers. There is a range of expression on this, but no, I don't think I am in a minority position. Again, if someone wants to explain to me what a partial salvific desire is, and how it is expressed in scripture, then great, I'll be glad to hear it. But...
{Note: On May 23, 2016, James White said, "I take the minority position [on the free offer] noted at the bottom of the [OPC] statement." The two men who put forward the "Minority Report" were Wm. Young and Floyd E. Hamilton.}

Jason said:
I think the answer might be though that it's not something we can fully understand, it's just something that seems to be taught in scripture in which we have to believe, I suppose.
James White said:
Well, I'll be honest with you. The only text that I've heard, other than the implication that you're taking from Ezekiel 33, is 2 Peter 3:9. And I know that there are those who look at 2 Peter 3:9, and they see there that universal salvific will. I think that I am giving a pretty consistent exegetical response to that, to say... well, okay. I have respect for men who have held that view, but I have not at any time seen any of those who take that view respond to what I said about the text. And that is, when you look at the pronouns, who is being referred to here? I've never... And if you look to a writer, and the writer expresses such and such a view, and you find no evidence that that writer had ever even encountered an alternate exegesis that is a sound exegesis, then I don't know that that writer's opinion is as necessarily as weighty as it could be otherwise.

For example, you may know that when John Owen wrote The Death of Death---and there would be a lot of people who would have a lot of problems with how "severe" John Owen was on certain issues---but, when John Owen wrote The Death of Death, and he tried to deal with the Hebrews 10 text, he clearly had never read Hebrews 10:29 in such a way as to see the one who sanctifies himself as Christ. Now remember, Death of Death was his first major work. Twenty-five years later, when he writes his commentary on Hebrews (now as a mature theologian), he has now exegeted that text, and he presents a completely different discussion now that he's had the time to work with the text. And he sees, Ah, this is something I didn't know back then. It didn't even enter into my thinking. And he then presents the idea that the one who is sanctified in Hebrews 10:29 is in fact Christ. He has set himself apart. So, the point being, could someone look at what he said in Death of Death... what if had never written his Hebrews commentary later on. And what if he had never even given consideration to the other exegesis of the text, which is just as valid as the one that he was operating on. If you've never heard the other interpretation, is your opinion on that text as weighty as people who have and give a response? That's what I am saying when someone looks at 2 Peter 3:9. I go, alright, who among these people have actually in their commentaries responded to what I think about the exegesis---obviously not me myself, but just simply those who would read it in that way. I think there is something important there to look into.
Jason said:
Okay. Well, that's food for thought.
James White said:
Okay. Thank you very much, Jason. Thanks for calling.
Jason said:
Okay. Thank you. Bye.
James White:
Uh, yeah. Well that was uh, that was quite interesting. hahaha And a lot of people in the audience are going, "What were you talking about?" We were, you know...I think it's unfortunate that, again, you know, Calvinists tend to be this way, and there's a reason why we are. But sometimes we focus upon some real minutia. And, I don't know how many times I have to say we don't know who the elect are, and therefore we proclaim the gospel to everybody. But there are some who would say, "and if you don't add to that that God has a partially salvific desire [laughter in the background]...you can go ahead and differentiate that he has a truly salvific desire for the elect, but you have to have a partially salvific will...I just go, what does that mean?! If you could tell me what it means, you know...is that common grace? Does that mean that God is kind to the non-elect? Okay. I've said that a million times. But that's not what I'm hearing. You know. And I just go, what does it mean to say that God desires to do something he then does not provide the means to do? What does that mean? And no one's ever been able to tell me. So, once somebody can tell me, then I can jump on the bandwagon I guess, if there is a bandwagon to jump on to. But if you can't tell me what it means, then...what can I say? Can't, can't go there. So, anyway, that's what that particular discussion was all about.


1) See also My Analysis of the Gregg/White Exchange on God's Saving Will

2) Here is David Allen's footnote in Whosoever Will with the relevant links:
104. On December 7 of 2001 on the Theology List, Phil Johnson said the following to a hyper-Calvinist: "The root of your problem is that you apparently imagine a conflict would exist in the will of God if God, who has not ordained some men to salvation, nonetheless desires all men to repent and seek His mercy. That is, in fact, precisely the false dilemma virtually all hyper-Calvinists make for themselves. They cannot reconcile God's preceptive will with His decretive will, so they end up (usually) denying the sincerity of the preceptive will, or else denying that the pleading and calls to salvation apply to all who hear the gospel." https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Theology_list/. Also, in a book addressing various issues related to Open Theism, Johnson dealt with the question of whether or not God in any sense “desires” what He does not bring to pass. He says that scripture “often imputes unfulfilled desires to God” and cites several important verses. He then rightly cautions against taking “expressions of desire and longing from the heart of God” in a “simplistically literal sense,” as this would result in compromising God’s sovereignty. Therefore, “the yearning God expresses in these verses must to some degree be anthropopathic.” Johnson says that, nevertheless, we “must also see that these expressions mean something. They reveal an aspect of the divine mind that is utterly impossible to reconcile with the view of those who insist that God’s sovereign decrees are equal to His “desires” in every meaningful sense. Is there no sense in which God ever wishes for or prefers anything other than what actually occurs (including the fall of Adam, the damnation of the wicked, and every evil in between)? My own opinion—and I think Dabney would have agreed—is that those who refuse to see any true expression of God's heart whatsoever in His optative exclamations have embraced the spirit of the hyper-Calvinist error.” (P. Johnson, “God Without Mood Swings,” in Bound Only Once: The Failure of Open Theism, ed. D. Wilson [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001], 118). This article can also be accessed here: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/impassib.htm. Both of Johnson's quotes (in addition to his references on the will of God in his Primer on Hyper-Calvinism) would seem to implicate James White (Alpha & Omega Ministries) as a hyper-Calvinist since White concurs with Reymond's view that God does not desire the salvation of the non-elect in any sense. Both White and Reymond think affirming the contrary imputes irrationality to God, and Reymond explicitly appeals to John Gill's teaching in this respect. See R. L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 692–93. White is not just quibbling over optative expressions, as Johnson seems to think. Both Reymond and White reject the concept that God desires the salvation of all men. Whatever the case may be, it is nevertheless clear that White, a Reformed Baptist, is thoroughly out of sync with Sam Waldron's strong statements about the will of God and John 5:34 as he expounds the "free offer teaching in the 1689 London Baptist Confession. See Waldron's Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1989), 121–22. In contrast to White, and as I noted during the John 3:16 Conference, Tom Ascol agrees with Johnson's orthodox Calvinist view that "God desires all people to be saved" in His revealed will. It is, therefore, troubling to think that Ascol (or anyone in the Southern Baptist Founders movement) would ally himself with White, a non-Southern Baptist Calvinist who rejects the well-meant gospel offer, when planning to debate other Southern Baptists on Calvinism. This was my point at the John 3:16 Conference.
David Allen, “The Atonement: Limited or Universal,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. by D. L. Allen and S. W. Lemke (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 95–96.

3) In May of 2009, Dr. Robert Gonzales (who was Dean of Reformed Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote on God's wish that each and every sinner might be saved on the Reformed Baptist Seminary Blog (here is the old link, though it is now dead). In footnote #8, he said:
8. Most Calvinists who affirm the “free” and “well-meant” offer of the gospel do so because of their allegiance to Scripture and not from a cowardly desire to please men. For this reason, I was disappointed to read James White’s caricature of such Calvinists like myself (and those referenced above) in a post entitled “Of Squeamish Calvinists and Hyper-Arminians” (March 18, 2009); accessed May 30, 2009 at http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3197; Internet. Ironically, White is reacting to Calvinists who view his rejection of God’s well-meant offer of the gospel as “hyper-Calvinist,” which he views as a kind of ad hominem argument. But exchanging ad hominem for ad hominem is not normally Dr. White’s debate methodology. For another specimen of ad hominem argumentation, see Sean Gerety’s “The Sincere Insanity of the Well-Meant Offer.” For a defense of the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, I would direct the reader to the following resources: R. Scott Clark, “Janus: the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, ed. David Van Drunen (P&R, 2004), 149–79; Robert Lewis Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (reprint, Banner of Truth, 1967), 1:307f; idem, Systematic Theology (reprint, Banner of Truth, 1985), 555–59 Frame, 534–37; John Murray, The Free Offer of the Gospel (Banner of Truth, 2002); Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth, 1995); Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered; Waldron, Modern Exposition, 121–122. For helpful Internet resources, see Robert Lewis Dabney’s “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy”: Phil Johnson’s A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism; John Piper’s “Are There Two Wills in God: Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to be Saved”; the historical resources on David Ponter’s Calvin and Calvinism and Theology Online, as well as and Tony Byrne’s “Theological Meditations.”
4) Micah Burke (2), who is a friend of James White, and also one who contributes to White's blog (even doing some of the work on the graphics), has also explicitly denied that God desires the salvation of all men. See his comment here (click). He said:
The claim that God desires the salvation of each and every person who ever lived is simply false, no matter how many times verses are wrongly pressed into service of that falsehood.
He also seems disinclined to think the gospel is an offer (see here [click]). Similar to Micah Burke, a lady named "Nina," who has used the nickname "a5pointer" in various chat rooms (on Paltalk as well as in White's #prosapologian chat channel), denies God's love for the non-elect, His common grace, as well as the well-meant offer of the gospel. Her name appears in the acknowledgements in White's The Potter's Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), since she was/is a close friend of White's. He has stayed with her and her family when he has traveled to do ministry. It is common for people with these extreme views to hover around White. Even though White himself believes in a a kind of common love and grace of God (probably only in a mere temporal/physical Gillite sense), he does nothing to refute those (e.g. Protestant Reformed Church, Gordon Clark[ian], and Arthur Pink-types) who disagree. White never labors in writing or on his Dividing Line broadcast on the subject of God's universal love and grace. And, like Burke, he is not fond of thinking of the gospel as an "offer," except merely as a "presentation," not in the sense of a "proffer." Notice above, in Jason's call, that Jason asked about God's "offer [of] Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect." White didn't address that offer topic specifically, but only insofar as to speak of our need to "preach" to all indiscriminately, preferring rather to say that "Christ is to be presented to all men." That was side-stepping the specific question or issue of the gospel call as an "offer of Christsalvation or mercy" to the non-elect. Since White limits even the sufficiency in Christ's death to the elect alone (The Potter's Freedom, 232), as Nina also did in conversations I had with her in Paltalk, he knows he can't say God is "offering salvation" to any who are non-elect since there is no substitutionary provision for the non-elect in the death of Christ. This is why at the end of the call White said, "what does it mean to say that God desires to do something [i.e. give Christ, salvation, or saving mercy to the non-elect] he then does not provide the means to do [i.e. in the death of Christ]?" His strictly limited view of the death of Christ causes him, for consistency's sake, to deny that God desires the salvation of any for whom Christ has not provided a satisfaction. In The Potter's Freedom (ibid.), White even said that the Lombardian Formula assertion (i.e. that Christ suffered sufficiently for all, but only efficiently for the elect) is "not fully Reformed." That would be news to Calvin (and scores of other Reformed men), who clearly affirmed the truth of the assertion, but limited its explanatory application in the interpretation of 1 John 2:2.

5) Another blogger, who in the past used the name Byroniac (or just Byron [aka Byron Smith]), also denied that God desires the salvation of all men in the revealed will (see here [click]).

I first asked him:
1) Do you think that God desires to save all men in his revealed will?
Byron said:
1) No, because God never promised or expressed desire to save people apart from repentance and faith that I know of.
Notice that Byron caricatured the opposing position, as though we believe God desires to save people "apart from repentance and faith." Rather, we believe (with John Murray, et al) that God desires men to repent and believe, and so to be saved.

I then asked:
2) Do you think that the denial of God's universal saving desire is hyper-Calvinistic?
Byron responded as follows, and note carefully where he heard the same beliefs:
2) No, and why would it be? I agree with James White: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere, then if He desires something, how can He possibly be frustrated in that desire? What could frustration in the context of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence possibly mean?
Byron's thinking on God's will was identical to Micah Burke's views, and Byron was being fed his views from the same source that Burke was, i.e. through James White. Incidentally, Byron has now abandoned the Christian faith. He is presently an agnostic or an atheist.

6) Like Burke and Byron above, another avid listener to White's Dividing Line broadcasts and a follower of his teaching in the past, Mark Farnon (aka "Tartanarmy"), said (in Nov. 2008):
Now the other matter concerning God's universal saving will or His desire for all to be saved. This one is a no brainer for me, and I am totally on the same page as Dr White and Robert Reymond, who Tony is more than willing to also Label as Hyper. Oh the shame! The idea that God desires, wills the salvation of everyone makes God schizophrenic, and I have said this many times. This is the reason Dr White responds as he does, about God having these unfulfilled desires and disappointments etc. Dr White is spot on, and just because Byrne and others wish to embrace irrationality, does not change the argument at all. Call it paradox if you wish and celebrate that kind of thinking, but I do not wish to go down that slippery slope, and for good reasons.
Note that Mark Farnon, like Micah Burke and Byron Smith above, rejects the concept that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect, and identifies that same teaching in both White and Reymond. They are not mistaken about White's views. They understood what White thinks. Farnon was a fan of Arthur Pink, but went even further, often cutting-and-pasting Hoeksemian PRC and Clarkian literature in response to those who argued for the well-meant offer and the common love of God.

7) As one reads and listens to the way James White misrepresents his Calvinistic opposition on the will of God (as Dr. Robert Gonzales noted above), one can't help but notice the striking parallels between himself and the later John Gerstner on the point. Gerstner, later in life, sided with the Protestant Reformed Church in their denial of the well-meant offer (i.e. their denial that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect). Notice Gerstner's way of speaking below. If God does desire the salvation of the non-elect in the revealed will, as Murray taught, then, according to Gerstner:
God...is not the living, happy God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but an eternally miserable being weeping tears of frustration that He was unable to prevent hell and can never end it thus destroying Himself and heaven in the process.
On more than one occasion, White has misrepresented his "Squeamish Calvinist" opponents, as if they (as Dr. Gonzales noted above) are saying:
We [in "Squeamish Calvinist" thinking] need to insist that God has freely and inalterably decreed that which completely bums Him out. God has issues. He's conflicted.
Such a statement is virtually identical to what Gerstner said. There is no difference between Gerstner's later view, Herman Hoeksema's view, Gordon Clark's view, and Robert Reymond's view when it comes to the specific issue of denying that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect in the revealed will. They have differences over other theological matters, but not in that area, and White has explicitly sided with Reymond, and thus also, by necessary entailment, with the later Gerstner, Clark, and Hoeksema.

Note again the striking parallel with Gerstner above when White said that he:
...refuse[s] to portray God as having eternally decreed His own unhappiness...I see no evidence that God will be standing upon the parapets of hell weeping for eternity because of His failure to accomplish His will.
8) There is no tertium quid between John Murray’s position on the free offer and those who deny that God desires the salvation of all men. White said after the John 3:16 Conference that he was “thankful Phil [Johnson; who sides with John Murray] can put up with my [White's] slightly “stiffer” form of Calvinism. I would be more on the [Robert] Reymond side than the [John] Murray side, for example, and I am for a pretty obvious reason, I hope.” Saying you’re “more on the side of” Reymond than Murray is like one pregnant woman saying to a non-pregnant woman that she is “more pregnant” than the other. It's fudging. Either you’re on Reymond’s side (who sided with Gill as over against the early John Gerstner's views) and therefore deny God’s universal saving will, or you’re not. And, if you’re on the Reymond side, you are also on the Gill/Hoeksema/Clark side on the revealed will of God.

What Iain Murray said of John Gill is also quite true with respect to James White:
In accordance with this, Gill claimed that all texts appearing to show a favourable desire on God's part towards all the lost [i.e. the non-elect] do not have any reference to their salvation.
When it comes to biblical passages, this is exactly what James White does. If one wants to know what White really thinks, watch how he interprets all of the controversial texts on this matter. For instance, even with respect to John 5:34, Michael Brown (a non-Calvinist) in a debate in March of 2010 (see minute 29:48–30:04) asked White:
So when he [Jesus] says “I say these things to you that you may be saved” in the 5th chapter [John 5:34], does he mean that or not?
James White responded (click for the clip):
He means that to those that the Spirit is going to [effectually] draw to Him. Preaching is always used as the means by which the elect people are brought in to relationship with Jesus Christ.
See that? "He means that to...the elect...", i.e. not to any who are non-elect. This is what James White does with every biblical passage that Calvinists themselves have used (including Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; Matt. 23:37; Rom. 2:41 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.) to argue for God's desire in the revealed will for the salvation of the non-elect.

In contrast, look at what Sam Waldon (a Reformed Baptist, like Robert Gonzales) said about the passage in his exposition of the free offer and the 1689 LBC (click). Sam Waldron has further expounded that text excellently in his The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel (Greenbriar, AR: Free Grace Press, 2019), 17–24. This book was endorsed by Joel Beeke and Paul Washer, among other mainstream Calvinists. Waldron considers the desire of God for the salvation of all men to be the very crux, core, and heart of God's own sincerity in His free offer of the gospel, while White considered it "some real minutia" in his phone call with Jason.

9) With respect to how White treats the various controversial passages, see Dr. Cornelis Venema's critical comments about James White on Matt. 23:37 here (click). As early as 2002, Venema was observing how "On his [White's] reading, the text does not express any desire for the salvation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some of whom may be non-elect." Venema also finds fault with White on 2 Pet. 3:9 as well (in The Outlook 52:5 [May 2002]: 22), noting how White's interpretation involves "objections to the claim that it teaches a well-meant offer of the gospel." Though he commends White's book, The Potter's Freedom, he says the book "betrays at times [regarding Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34, and 2 Pet. 3:9, at least] a bit of overzealousness." That's Venema's kind way of saying White has gone too far in the opposite direction in reaction to "Geisler's Arminian view of election."

April 14, 2008

James P. Boyce (1827–1888) on the Sincerity of the Gospel Offer

10. In connection with this doctrine of the Effectual Calling of some, has arisen a question as to the sincerity of God in making the outward call to those who do not accept. It is said that the fact that it is made by him, knowing that men will not accept it without his efficient grace, and yet not purposing to give that grace, argues insincerity in the offer.

To this the following replies may be made:

(1.) If it be true that he does make the outward call, and does not give to all, but to some only, the efficient grace, the very character of God is an assurance of his sincerity. The real question here, then, is an inquiry into these two facts. If they be taught in the Scriptures, it is impious and blasphemous to doubt God's sincerity.

(2.) This inquiry would never have arisen, had God only made the general offer and left all men to perish in its rejection. But, if so, his additional grace to some does not in any respect argue his insincerity in the partial grace thus shown to others.

(3.) The very nature of the gospel offer, as before stated, shows God's sincerity. It is one which has all the inducements for its acceptance which one can imagine, and that acceptance depends simply upon the willingness of each man to take it.

(4.) Lest any should doubt the sincerity of God, he assures us of that fact in his word. Paul describes him, 1 Tim. 2:4, as one "who willeth that all men should be saved." God himself says, Ezek. 33:10, 11: "And thou, son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thus ye speak, saying, Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then should we live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Louisville, KY: Chas. T. Dearing, 1882), 384–85.

Boyce builds his case for a sincere gospel offer on the character of God himself, the "partial grace" (as distinct from the "additional grace" in effectual calling) that should induce men to believe (displayed in the very nature of the gospel itself), and upon God's willingness to save all (1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 33:10-11).

See also Charles Hodge on God's Will, 1 Tim. 2:4, Ezek. 33:11, Matt. 23:37, etc.

April 13, 2008

My Analysis of the Gregg/White Exchange on God's Saving Will

The following is meant to be a serious but respectful critique. I wish to interact with the words used in the debate as they stand, yet in a civil way that is devoid of any personal attack (or anything demeaning). It is my hope that any response (by him or others) will be characterized by the same concerns. I will be emailing the link to this post to James White himself so that he will not have to hear about it secondhand.

During the final day (04/09/08) of the Steve Gregg/James White debate on the subject of Calvinism, the issue of God's universal saving will came up. The following exchange occurs at minutes 28:39 - 32:37 in White's mp3 edition. (Click here to download an audio copy of this portion of the debate)

Steve Gregg said:
"Alright. My turn to ask a question. When you bring up that Jesus didn't die for everybody, it raises an interesting question. And that would be about God's will and his love for all people. I just have a question, a very simple one. According to your self-described Calvinistic belief system, do you believe there is any sense in which God wills the eternal salvation of the non-elect that hear the gospel call? In other words, does God simply not have any interest in their salvation? Or is there any sense in which he wills that all men would be saved, even the non-elect?"
My Response:

One can see that this is a precisely worded question. He notes that James White describes himself as a Calvinist, so he's wondering what his own Calvinistic perspective is on this matter. He also specifically inquires about any qualifications, i.e., "is there any sense..." Moreover, he's not asking about mere physical preservation in this life. Steve Gregg is asking about salvation in the sense of "eternal salvation." He further specifies that his question pertains to the non-elect, particularly those that are exposed to the gospel call. This is significant because it touches upon God's will, not abstractly, but as associated with the gospel call. In other words, does he or does he not want all men to comply with that call when they hear it? This question deals with the issue of whether or not God himself is well-meaning or sincere with respect to the non-elect that hear the message concerning eternal life.

James White responds to Gregg:
"Well, that was a very confusing question because you said does God will that the lost hear the gospel call, and then you said does he will their salvation. Those are two different things."

My Response:

It's clear that White was mistaken about what Mr. Gregg in fact said.

So, Steve Gregg clarifies:
"No, I'm sorry. Let me clarify that and you can start over again. We will start your time again. Here's what I said. I'm reading it: "According to your self-described Calvinistic belief system, do you believe there is any sense in which God wills the eternal salvation of the non-elect that hear the gospel call?" I didn't ask does he want them to hear the gospel call. I'm talking about the non-elect who hear it. Does he, in any sense, will for them to be saved?"
My Response:

Everything in this question is carefully and precisely worded again. He even states that he's reading it. Further, he's not asking about whether or not God has decreed or effectually willed all men to be saved. Everyone knows that Calvinists deny that by the very nature of their position on election. So, the question is specifically getting at the Calvinistic notion of the revealed will of God in the gospel call. There really are only three possible positions:

1) God equally wills to save all.
2) God wills for all men to be saved in the revealed will, but especially the elect according to the secret/decretal will.
3) God only wills to save the elect.

As Mr. Gregg initially stated, the question seems to be "a very simple one," in terms of stating one's opinion. Obviously, after one simply states their opinion on the question, the explanation of how one's position is both internally consistent and exegetically sound gets complicated. When I asked Dr. Tom Ascol the same type of question, he answered plainly in a mere three sentences:
"I believe that God desires for all people to be saved but has purposed to save His elect. I see two (at least two) dimensions in God's will: revealed and decretive. Failure to make this kind of distinction is a failure to read the Bible's teachings on the will of God accurately."
"I affirm with John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 that God loves the world with a deep compassion that desires the salvation of all men...God's will for all people to be saved is not at odds with the sovereignty of God's grace in election."
John Murray, in The Free Offer of the Gospel, said:
"God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate."
"Anyone who knows me knows that I'm strongly committed to the idea that God in some meaningful sense seeks and "desires" the repentance of every sinner. (Note: I use the d-word advisedly, acknowledging that optative expressions when used of God are always problematic and never quite accurate. But I don't know a better way to say it; and denying it outright would seem to suggest that God's commands and beseechings are not well meant.)"
All of these men are clearly in position #2 above, and thus have grounds for saying that God is well-meaning to every man in the gospel offer, as Phil points out in the above quote. Debating an Arminian from the standpoint of position #2 (God desires the salvation of all, but purposes to effect the salvation of the elect) or position #3 (God only desires the salvation of the elect) makes a huge difference, so I think Steve Gregg's question is very important. Those in position #2 will think that Arminians are using half-truths as the whole truth in their biblical and theological interpretations, but those in position #3 will think Arminians have absolutely no element of truth in the area of God's salvific will. Thus, the two parties tend to speak past one another.

James White replies to Gregg:
"I've never heard of a distinction between the non-elect who hear and the non-elect who do not, to be perfectly honest with you. And, from a Reformed perspective, there wouldn't be any real differentiation between the two that I can see as far as having any relevance to that particular question."
My Response:

He's never heard of a distinction between the non-elect who hear and the non-elect who do not??? One wonders if he has heard of the heightened damnation that some of the non-elect will receive as a result of hearing the gospel and spurning it. They were more privileged than those who have not heard it. Peter touches on this concept:
NKJ 2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession itself makes the distinction between the non-elect who hear and those who do not hear the call:
"Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men that receive not the Christian religion be saved; be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess."
This is repeating some of the language found in the Westminster Confession:
"IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested."
The Larger Catechism touches upon the subject in several places:
Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A. They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.
Moving on, James White's opinion (which is position #3) starts to become evident by this statement:
"And, from a Reformed perspective, there wouldn't be any real differentiation between the two that I can see as far as having any relevance to that particular question."
Apparently, according to this statement, the non-elect that hear the gospel call are not receiving any indication that God genuinely wills to save them, any more than those non-elect who don't even hear the evangelical call. It seems as though non-elect human beings are no different from the non-elect angels in this respect. There is absolutely no good news in the gospel for non-elect human beings in any situation, not even for those in the "visible church."

James White continues:
"But, if you're asking do I believe that there is a salvific intention on the part of God in his will to save those that he then does not exercise sufficient power to save, that he does not give the Son in their behalf, he does not send the Spirit to bring them to spiritual life and grants them the gifts of faith and repentance, then certainly not. The idea of the salvific work of the Spirit of God and the decree of their salvation is specific and it is for the elect, and the number of the elect are known unto God (not passively, but actively) as he is the creator of all things. And, so, as a result, from the very beginning, God's knowledge is perfect on that matter. There is nothing in the elect or the non-elect that either draws the grace of God, or makes someone better than someone else, or anything along those lines at all. So, the idea of a universal salvific will is different, however, from what that is normally confused with; and that is, since the church is not given knowledge of who the elect are, we proclaim the gospel universally to all men, not knowing who the elect are, leaving the results in God's hands, trusting that the Spirit of God will make that message come alive in the hearts of his people. Many of the objections that I hear are based upon the assumption that we somehow can know who the elect are, and hence would, in some way, limit the proclamation, limit the call to repentance; and therefore no longer be used of God as the means by which he brings that life giving message to his elect people."
My Response:

None of this actually addresses the question. The above is just an elaboration of White's view pertaining to God's decree to save the elect alone. The deflection begins by the terms, "But, if you're asking..." It's very clear that Mr. Gregg was not asking for a description of God's efficacious will to save the elect alone, but rather if Mr. White thinks God in any sense wills the salvation of the non-elect. The question is left unanswered (and forgotten perhaps), even after a 1 minute and 56 seconds reply.

Steve Gregg pauses for a moment, and then says:
"Alright. Well, that's just something I just wanted to hear you say. That's fine. You don't believe that God in any sense wants to save those who are the non-elect, though he does want them to be preached to, apparently, so that they'll receive the greater damnation, as if they needed more. I mean, it seems to me that Calvinism teaches that people are born damned, and they're already as damned as they can be. But they'll, I guess, get hotter hell if they've heard the gospel, even though they've had no opportunity to...no real genuine option of receiving it. It's a different sense of justice, and I think [than] most humans and most Christians [would] feel comfortable with. But I know that you'd probably consider that human sense of justice, including that view that Christians hold, maybe isn't the same as God's."
My Response:

Steve Gregg is clearly left with the impression that his opponent does not think that God in any sense wills to save the non-elect. Further, he thinks that White's view is that God's singular interest with respect to the non-elect and the gospel call is to heat hell hotter for them. That's an alarming impression to leave a non-Calvinist (or anyone else) with! If James White does not think that is the case, then one hopes that he will clarify the point. But, if God does not will to save the non-elect in any sense, then what other conclusion can be drawn? Either the gospel is well-meant or it is ill-meant in their case. It can't be non-meant. Mr. Gregg now erroneously thinks that "Calvinism" itself (since White spoke of "a Reformed perspective") teaches an ill-meant gospel offer for the non-elect. He also concludes that the non-elect are in no sense savable. They are born damned, as if there is no hope for them whatsoever. It's as though they have natural barriers (or "no option") in the way of their salvation from birth, and not merely their own moral barriers. A radical supralapsarian and voluntaristic (ex lex) picture of God is associated with Calvinism in Gregg's mind, such that God has one kind of justice and human beings have an altogether different one.

Mr. Gregg may be leaping to some unwarranted conclusions based on the words in White's response as they stand, but I think he was left with some warrant for saying some of what he says. What Gregg concludes from the discussion is a serious distortion of historic Calvinism, and I would encourage James White to correct the record, if he has the time in the near future. However, I recognize that this is a busy time for him as he seeks to effectively engage Islamic apologists. May he and others at least keep these things in mind for prayerful consideration.

I also intend on interacting with a phone call he recently received on the Dividing Line dealing with the same question about God's universal saving will. That he holds to position #3 (i.e., God ONLY wills to save the elect) is clear in his response to Jason, the caller.

Update: See James White's Denial of God's Universal Saving Will for the documentation.

Update #2: This is all the "response" there was by James White to this post.