The 'Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel' and Calvin on the Will(s) of God

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by PaulMc, Jan 13, 2014.

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  1. PaulMc

    PaulMc Puritan Board Freshman

    Having searched the forum for old threads on this subject, I have seen that there have been plenty, and in them (and in connected ones on common grace) John Calvin is often brought forward in favour of a genuine desire in God to see the reprobate saved. Others have referenced James Durham and David Dickson, among others, who hold a different position.

    The quotes below are taken from Calvin's commentaries on verses that seemingly support the 'well-meant offer' position.

    Here is Calvin on Matthew 23:37:
    'Again, when the sophists seize on this passage, to prove free will, and to set aside the secret predestination of God, the answer is easy. “God wills to gather all men,” say they; “and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God.” I reply: The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.
    If it be objected, that it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God, I reply, we fully believe that his will is simple and one; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways. And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech (ἀνθρωποπάθεια) which attributes to God human feelings, take no offense, but in this case alone refuse to admit it. But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine, which is the standard of union, is brought forward, God wills to gather all, that all who do not come may be inexcusable.'

    and on Ezekiel 18:23
    'We hold, then, that; God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If any one should object — then there is no election of God, by which he has predestinated a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God’s secret counsel, but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation. If any one again objects — this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, God’s will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) When we shall be like God, and see him face to face, then what is now obscure will then become plain. But since captious men torture this and similar passages, it will be needful to refute them shortly, since it can be done without trouble.
    God is said not to wish the death of a sinner. How so? since he wishes all to be converted.'

    I'm still unsure as to exactly how to take these verses (among others). For that matter, Calvin is confusing me a little as well - he affirms the one, simple will of God, but then also says that 'he wishes all to be converted'. Is it a matter of him resolving it into 'the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways', in taking these verses to be part of God's preceptive will? If that was the case then it seems more sensible to say that God commands all men to be saved, but only wishes/wills His own people to be saved...
    Is Calvin right? And is his viewpoint more typical in traditional reformed thought than not?

    Any help or opinions gladly welcomed!
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  2. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

  3. PaulMc

    PaulMc Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks.

    So was Calvin's view substantially the same with those of men like Durham and Dickson (see here: http://www.puritanboard.com/f87/dickson-durham-oppose-teaching-god-desires-salvation-all-men-24539/ ), and he just stated it in a different way?

    Also, I'd be grateful for any insights into verses such as Ezekiel 18:23, Matthew 23:37 and Mark 10:21, and what impact these would have on a 'well-meant offer'.
     
  4. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    #1 It is God's will that all should come to Him. vs. #2 It is God's will that all shall come to Him.

    Of course #1 is correct, and suspect this is what Calvin meant.
     
  5. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There are a range of issues and interpretations.

    If I remember correctly John Murray's book on Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty outrightly rejected Calvin's appeal to simplicity and demanded that there must be a contradiction. This is significant because Murray would not dissent from Calvin unnecessarily. Once "simplicity" is recognised as a part of Calvin's system of interpretation the main support of paradox is taken away from the "well meant offer" exegesis.

    Calvin's view of accommodation is necessary for understanding his statements relative to the will of God. It is quite clear, when a broad range of statements are taken into account, that he was speaking in terms of means to an end, and not in terms of a desired end in itself.

    On the lamentation over Jerusalem, Dickson and Durham, together with most Calvinist divines, understood the conflict in terms of human passion and referred it to the human nature of Christ. Others, like Calvin and Turretin understood it of the divine indignation and thereby related it to divine government.

    On Ezekiel, there are two issues. First, the Commentary is incomplete, and it is difficult to know Calvin's full interpretative view without taking into account what he would have said on chapter 33. That chapter provides a clearer picture of the way conditional pronouncements function in prophetic ministry. Secondly, the Commentaries should be read in conjunction with the Institutes, and the Institutes specifically refer to Ezek. 33. Calvin interpreted the passage in terms of means to end, and regarded any view which entailed contradictory wills in God as a violent perversion.
     
  6. PaulMc

    PaulMc Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the helpful post.

    Would this be the way that Mark 10:21 'Then Jesus beholding him loved him' is interpreted by those who deny the 'well-meant offer'?
     
  7. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor


    There are a range of interpretations on Mark 10:21. One confines it to Christ as a minister to the circumcision and the love which every minister should have to souls. Others see it as if there were something virtuous and becoming in the young man, and regard the "love" as similar to esteem. Still others refer it to the "general love" of God, for which the reformed tradition leaves room in connection with "common grace." Finally, some tend to look on the young man as elect, and refer it to the saving love of God, supposing the man would have been converted afterwards.

    I don't like to outrightly deny the "well-meant offer" because a sincere and genuine offer is made in the Gospel, and in that sense it is well meant. The problem is that the term is used to define a specific view which equates "well-meant" with unfulfilled desires in God.
     
  8. JM

    JM Puritan Board Professor

    A Primitive Baptist view on the subject:

    [video=youtube;mn8pCy7-onQ]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn8pCy7-onQ[/video]
     
  9. BDB

    BDB Puritan Board Freshman

    As for Mark 10:21, I was reading John Owen, from whom I learned that Scripture sometimes, in the narrative, describes things in the appearance thereof, and not the reality.


    For instance, John Owen references that Christ is said in John 5:18, by John, by inspiration of the Spirit, to have broken the sabbath. John 5:18 "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."

    Did Christ truly break the sabbath? Impossible. Else redemption would be lost and Christ would be a sinner. But it is described according to the external appearance, and through the eyes of those watching.

    Could the same be true of Mark 10:21? I do not see why not.
     
  10. Gesetveemet

    Gesetveemet Puritan Board Freshman

    " Well if I'm not elected, I cannot help it if I perish. "
     
  11. BDB

    BDB Puritan Board Freshman

    Huh? relevance?
     
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