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Calvin and the Offer of Grace for the Salvation of men

April 1, 2008

Calvin:

Now I want to consider not so much what and how Pighius speaks, as how this worthless fellow may fall and lie buried under the ruins of his desperate impudence. So pious consciences will be reassured; for, as I know, they are often disturbed because of their inexperience. So I shall select from the almost unlimited stream of his loquacity whatever is specious, so that all may perceive that with all his speaking he says nothing. That Christ, the redeemer of the whole world, commands the Gospel to be preached promiscuously to all does not seem congruent with special election. But the Gospel is an embassy of peace by which the world is reconciled to God, as Paul teaches (II Cor 5.18); and on the same authority it is announced that those who hear are saved. I answer briefly that Christ was so ordained for the salvation of the whole world that He might save those who are given to Him by the Father, that He might be their life whose head He is, and that He might receive those into participation of His benefits whom God by His gratuitous good pleasure adopted as heirs for Himself. Which of these things can be denied? So the apostle pronounces the prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled in Him: Behold, I and the children whom the Lord gave me (Is 8.18; Heb 2.13). Christ Himself declares: All that the Father gave Me, I keep lest any perish (Jn 6.37). We read everywhere that He diffuses life only to members of His. And whoever will not allow that to be grafted into His body is a special gift has never read attentively the Epistle to the Ephesians. From this follows also a third thing: the virtue of Christ belongs only to the sons of God. Even those opposed to me  will concede that the universality of the grace of Christ is not better judged than from the preaching of the Gospel. But the solution of the difficulty lies in seeing how the doctrine of the Gospel offers salvation to all. That it is salvific for all I do not deny. But the question is whether the Lord in His counsel here destines salvation equally for all. All are equally called to penitence and faith; the same mediator is set forth for all to reconcile them to the Father-so much is evident. But it is equally evident that nothing can be perceived except by faith, that Paul’s word should be fulfilled: the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all that believe (Rom I. 16). But what can it be for others but a savour of death to death? as he elsewhere says (I1 Cor 2.16). John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 102-103.

There are a couple are a few things here that need to be underlined. Firstly, the controlling premise of Pighius is that election and unlimited redemption and gospel offer (either or separately) are incompatible. Christ can not be the redeemer of the world if election is true; and vice versa. The irony is, is that this is the exact premise of many PRC-type hypercalvinists and others. Many today claim that Calvin could not have held to a doctrine of unlimited redemption, because he held to the doctrine of election. Of course this begs the question, and is never demonstrated to be so. So many of Calvin’s contemporaries never seemed to have had a problem here, such as Luther, Bullinger, Zwingli and so on.  Calvin does not “solve” Pighius’ dilemma by denying that Christ is the redeemer of the world, but by limiting the application of the redemption to the elect alone.

Secondly, Calvin says that in the gospel offer, not only is the universality of God’s grace evident, but that its purpose is salvific. For Calvin, the gospel offer to all is the salvation of the hearers. Cole translates this line as: “it is preached that those who hear might be saved,” [“Eternal Predestination,” in Calvin’s Calvinism, 94]. The claim that Calvin held that the gospel merely comes to the non-elect to condemn them is just plain false. What is more, it baffles me why so many hypercalvinists seem to rub their hands with glee at the suggestion that God sends the gospel of peace to men merely that they have an increased accountability and condemnation. That’s an evil God. I should add, that the claim that for the reprobate, the gospel is ill-meant is also a perversion of God. When a so-called Calvinist says this, every one of us, Arminians included, should run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. That idea needs to be denounced and exposed at every possible turn.

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