Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email: cfpc@esatclear.ie

WILL THE REAL JOHN CALVIN PLEASE STAND UP?

JOHN CALVIN AND THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL

David Cloud has a disagreement with those doctrines known as Calvinism. In the following web page www.wayoflife.org/fbns/calvinismdebate.html Mr Cloud, in a gracious enough tone, analyses these doctrines, outlining his objections to them. That is his prerogative, just as it is mine to analyse Mr Cloud's article. Click Here for my review of Mr Cloud's article However, Mr Cloud in his site, makes the following allegation against John Calvin:

Calvin denounced the universal offer of the Gospel. "When it appears that when the doctrine of salvation is offered to all for their effectual benefit, it is a corrupt prostitution of that which is declared to be reserved particularly for the children of the church" (Institutes, Book III, chap. 22).

I notified Mr Cloud by email that I had answered this misconception.

Actually Calvin here isn't denying that the doctrine of salvation is to be offered to all. Read it carefully. Get rid of the baggage. What he is saying is that to teach that all effectually benefit from the free offer is a corrupt prostitution of the truth. All men evidently don't effectually benefit from the free offer. If they did they would be converted and saved. We may say many men (because of their stubbornness) make the gospel to be a savour of death unto death rather than a savour of life unto life. Those cities which were upbraided in Matthew 11 were not effectually benefited. Indeed it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them. FURTHERMORE THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE READS: "Let this suffice for the present: although the voice of the gospel addresses all in general, yet the gift of faith is rare." This is not the language of repudiation, but of acceptation.

The truth is that Calvin did believe in the free offer of the gospel. Again without multiplying quotes, let me quote his commentary on Luke 2:10 He writes: "God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few." Graham Miller's most useful book "Calvin's Wisdom" (Banner of Truth) is a treasury of Calvin's quotes and under the heading "Free Offer of the Gospel" gives no less than thirteen quotes to the same effect.

Again, like Calvin, the great Calvinistic Confessions teach that the gospel is for every man - without exception or distinction. It is true that some professing Calvinists do not believe it…but it is hardly fair to tar every one with the same brush.]

Mr Cloud is a busy man. His website alone is proof of that. He claims to get somewhere around 2,500 emails every month, so I wasn't in the least offended about not getting a formal reply. He is currently in Asia setting up a Bible College and does not have access to his library. However, he has found time to update his original article on a number of occasions since. I have looked whether this particularly offending part been corrected. I was greatly surprised that it wasn't. I have emailed Mr Cloud again pointing out that it is inconsistent with his objective study to allow this error to remain in the critique. Calvin is being judged for a position which he did not take. Mr Cloud seems quite happy to let this misrepresentation of Calvin blot his article. To me, this compromises his whole objective. Click here for other reasons why I believe David Cloud is an unreliable critic of Calvinism.

We make reference above to an excellent book by Graham Miller entitled "Calvin's Wisdom" (Banner of Truth) It is a treasury of Calvin's quotes and under the heading "Free Offer of the Gospel" gives no less than thirteen quotes, including the one above.

I have decided to list these quotes below. Here the real John Calvin stands up.

FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL (Calvin's Wisdom p119-120)

He calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illumined by him. (Isaiah 3:295)

When we pray, we ought, according to the rule of charity, to include all. (Jeremiah 2:248)

God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few. (Synoptic Gospels 1:116)

As no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open to all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. (Acts 1:92)

Though it is offered to all for salvation, it does not yield this fruit in any but the elect. (Synoptic Gospel. 2:257)

God ...shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to faith in Christ ...For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. (John 1:125)

... the end and design of public teaching...that all should in common be called; but God's purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away all excuse from the reprobate. (Joel- Obadiah 252)

Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. (Romans 117-118)

Christ ... kindles for all indiscriminately the torch of his gospel; but all have not the eyes of their minds opened to see it, but on the contrary Satan spreads the veil of blindness over many. (General Epistles 273-274)

God commands [the gospel] to be offered indiscriminately to all. (Genesis 1:503)

[God]...commands his threatenings to be proposed to the elect, and reprobate, in common. (Genesis 1:255)

God's mercy is offered for the worst of men. (Four Last Books of Moses 3:240)

It is our duty to pray for all who trouble us; to desire the salvation of all men. (Psalm 4:283)

Elsewhere in the above book of Calvin quotations, we have the following indications that Calvin believed in the free indiscriminate offer of the gospel:

The gospel is to be preached indiscriminately to the elect and to the reprobate: but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been taught of God. (Isaiah 4:146)

God offers his word indiscriminately to the good and bad; but it works by his spirit in the elect…as to the reprobate…it renders them without excuse. (Ezekiel 1:113)

OTHER QUOTATIONS DRAWN FROM MY OWN RESEARCH

Yet it is highly useful to us, that the Evangelist introduces Christ exclaiming aloud, Let all who thirst come to me. For we infer from it that the invitation was not addressed to one or two persons only, or in a low and gentle whisper, but that this doctrine is proclaimed to all, in such a manner that none may be ignorant of it, but those who, of their own accord shutting their ears, will not receive this loud and distinct cry. (Comments on John 7:37)

After having spoken concerning his grace, and exhorted his disciples to steady faith, he now begins to strike the rebellious, though even here he mitigates the severity due to the wickedness of those who deliberately — as it were — reject God; for he delays to pronounce judgement on them, because, on the contrary, he has come for the salvation of all. In the first place, we ought to understand that he does not speak here of all unbelievers without distinction, but of those who, knowingly and willingly, reject the doctrine of the Gospel which has been exhibited to them. Why then does Christ not choose to condemn them? It is because he lays aside for a time the office of a judge, and offers salvation to all without reserve, and stretches out his arms to embrace all, that all may be the more encouraged to repent. And yet there is a circumstance of no small moment, by which he points out the aggravation of the crime, if they reject an invitation so kind and gracious, for it is as if he had said, "Lo, I am here to invite all, and, forgetting the character of a judge, I have this as my single object, to persuade all, and to rescue from destruction those who are already twice ruined." No man, therefore, is condemned on account of having despised the Gospel, except he who, disdaining the lovely message of salvation, has chosen of his own accord to draw down destruction on himself. (Comment on John 12:47)

It is true that Saint John saith generally, that [God] loved the world. And why? For Jesus Christ offereth himself generally to all men without exception to be their redeemer... (Sermons on Deuteronomy, p.167)

…Jesus Christ reacheth out his arms to call and allure all men both great and small, and to win them to him. (ibid. p.167)

Hitherto he addressed the Jews alone, as if to them alone salvation belonged, but now he extends his discourse farther. He invites the whole world to the hope of salvation, and at the same time brings a charge of ingratitude against all the nations, who, being devoted to their errors, purposely avoided, as it were, the light of life; for what could be more base than to reject deliberately their own salvation? He therefore commands all "to look to him," and to the precept adds a promise, which gives it greater weight, and confirms it more than if he had made use of a bare command. (Comments on Isaiah 45:22)

It would have done us no good for Christ to have been given by the Father as the author of salvation, if He had not been available to all without distinction...We should know that salvation is openly displayed to all the human race, for in all reality He is called son of Noah and son of Adam... (Comment on Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3: 23-38)

Seeing that in His Word He calls all alike to salvation, and this is the object of preaching, that all should take refuge in His faith and protection, it is right to say that He wishes all to gather to Him. Now the nature of the Word shows us that here there is no description of the secret counsel of God - just His wishes. Certainly those whom He wishes effectively to gather, He draws inwardly by His Spirit, and calls them not merely by man's outward voice. If anyone objects that it is absurd to split God's will, I answer that this is exactly our belief, that His will is one and undivided: but because our minds cannot plumb the profound depths of His secret election to suit our infirmity, the will of God is set before us as double. (Comment on Matthew 23:37)

Happy Mary, to have embraced in her heart the promise of God, to have conceived and brought into the world for herself and for all - salvation...God offers His benefits to all without distinction, but faith opens our arms to draw them to our bosom: lack of faith lets them fall, before they reach us. (Comment on Luke 1:45)

And when he says the sin of the world he extends this kindness indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not think the Redeemer has been sent to them alone...John, therefore, by speaking of the sin of the world in general, wanted to make us feel our own misery and exhort us to seek the remedy. Now it is for us to embrace the blessing offered to all, that each may make up his mind that there is nothing to hinder him from finding reconciliation in Christ if only, led by faith, he comes to Him. (Comment on John 1:29)

Christ...was offered as our Saviour...Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish...But we should remember...that the secret love in which our heavenly Father embraced us to Himself is, since it flows from His eternal good pleasure, precedent to all other causes; but the grace which He wants to be testified to us and by which we are stirred to the hope of salvation, begins with the reconciliation provided through Christ...Thus before we can have any feeling of His Fatherly kindness, the blood of Christ must intercede to reconcile God to us...And He has used a general term [whosoever], both to invite indiscriminately all to share in life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the significance of the term 'world' which He had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God's favour, He nevertheless shows He is favourable to the whole world when He calls all without exception to the faith of Christ, which is indeed an entry into life.

Moreover, let us remember that although life is promised generally to all who believe in Christ, faith is not common to all. Christ is open to all and displayed to all, but God opens the eyes only of the elect that they may seek Him by faith...And whenever our sins press hard on us, whenever Satan would drive us to despair, we must hold up this shield, that God does not want us to be overwhelmed in everlasting destruction, for He has ordained His Son to be the Saviour of the world. (Comment on John 3:16)

It is no small consolation to godly teachers that, although the larger part of the world does not listen to Christ, He has His sheep whom He knows and by whom He is also known. They must do their utmost to bring the whole world into Christ's fold, but when they do not succeed as they would wish, they must be satisfied with the single thought that those who are sheep will be collected together by their work. (Comment on John 10:27)

51. He openly declares that He does not pray for the world, for He is solicitous only for His own flock [the disciples] which He received from the Father's hand. But this might seem absurd; for no better rule of prayer can be found than to follow Christ as our Guide and Teacher. But we are commanded to pray for all, and Christ Himself afterwards prayed for all indiscriminately, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' I reply, the prayers which we utter for all are still limited to God's elect. We ought to pray that this and that and every man may be saved and so embrace the whole human race, because we cannot yet distinguish the elect from the reprobate...we pray for the salvation of all whom we know to have been created in God's image and who have the same nature as ourselves; and we leave to God's judgement those whom He knows to be reprobate. (Comment on John 17:9)

Because God does not work effectually in all men, but only when the Spirit shines in our hearts as the inward teacher, he adds to every one that believeth. The Gospel is indeed offered to all for their salvation, but its power is not universally manifest...When, therefore, the Gospel invites all to partake of salvation without any difference, it is rightly termed the doctrine of salvation. For Christ is there offered, whose proper office is to save that which had been lost, and those who refuse to be saved by Him shall find Him their Judge. (Comment on Romans 1:16)

Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him. (Comment on Romans 5:18)

"The mercy of God is offered equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not Divinely taught within are rendered inexcusable" ("The Eternal Predestination of God" p. 95).

Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul's testimony (2 Cor. 5:18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual. (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp. 148-9)

God indeed declares, that he would have all men to repent, and addresses exhortations in common to all; their efficacy, however, depends on the Spirit of regeneration. (Institutes 3:3:21)

The expression of our Saviour, "Many are called, but few are chosen," (Matthew 22:14,) is also very improperly interpreted, (see Book 3, chap. 2, sec. 11, 12.) There will be no ambiguity in it, if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear, viz., that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savour of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. (Institutes 3:24:8)

But if it is so, (you will say,) little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect. If this is the nature of the promises, let us now see whether there be any inconsistency between the two things, viz., that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold that they are perfectly consistent, for all that is meant by the promise is, just that his mercy is offered to all who desire and implore it, and this none do, save those whom he has enlightened. Moreover, he enlightens those whom he has predestinated to salvation. Thus the truth of the promises remains firm and unshaken, so that it cannot be said there is any disagreement between the eternal election of God and the testimony of his grace which he offers to believers. But why does he mention all men? Namely that the consciences of the righteous may rest the more secure when they understand that there is no difference between sinners, provided they have faith, and that the ungodly may not be able to allege that they have not an asylum to which they may retake themselves from the bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject the offer which is made to them. Therefore, since by the Gospel the mercy of God is offered to both, it is faith, in other words, the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked, the former feeling the efficacy of the Gospel, the latter obtaining no benefit from it. Illumination itself has eternal election for its rule. (Institutes 3:24:17)

"Nor does He [Christ] contradict Himself, when inviting all without exception by the external voice, he yet declares that no man perceives anything, except it were given him from heaven, and that none come to him except those are given Him by the Father." (Secret Providence p68)

"On the contrary, therefore, Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it." (Comments on John 6:44)

"For we know that the greatest number persisteth in their sins, because they refuse the remedy that is offered to them in the gospel." (Sermon on Galatians 3:21-25)

"To be short, Saint Paul showeth here, that men run astray when they seek means of salvation anywhere else than in Jesus Christ, insomuch that they become forlorn and utterly past recovery. Now then seeing that God hath set us forth but only one way of salvation: they that turn aside from that, do cast themselves willfully into destruction, and Satan reigneth over them for their unthankfulness sake in despising the inestimable benefit that God offered them. What a bountifulness is it that God calleth and allureth us to his favour and love, notwithstanding that we be his deadly foes?" (Sermon on Galatians 4:11-14)

"For the gospel may well be preached to all men, even to the reprobate, but, for all that, God does not extend to them this special grace of quickening them into life." (Sermon on Ephesians 1:4-6 BOT p.48)

"As at this day when we speak of the inestimable blessing that God hath bestowed upon us, when his Gospel was preached; this same shall be preached unto all indifferently." (Sermon on Genesis 25:21-22 Old Paths Publications p.34 Sermons on Election and Reprobation)

"In the first place, he that has made that writing, were it Sebastian Chastalio or some such like: to show that God has created all the world to be saved, he alleges that he labours to draw unto him all that went astray: the which I confess in respect of the doctrine of faith and repentance, the which he propounds to all in general, be it to draw his elect unto him, or to make other inexcusable. God then calls everyone to repentance and promises all those that return unto him, to receive them to mercy. But this does not mean that he touches to the quick by his Holy Spirit, all those to whom he speaks, as it is said by Isaiah in the 53rd chapter, His arm is not revealed to all those who hear. To which agrees the sentence of our Lord Jesus Christ, None can come unto me, except my Father draw him." (An answer to a libel against Predestination)

"But to have a better understanding of this passage, we must expound what the Prophet said: "It will happen in the last days that I shall pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams." By that we must note that, although the Prophet says that the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh, nevertheless, all do not receive Him. As in fact we see that there are many who are deprived of Him. However, God calls us all, but we resist Him by our ingratitude and malice. It always remains true, that no one comes to Him but him whom He draws by His Holy Spirit. By that also it is signified to us that, if we come to Jesus Christ by faith, and we hold it in true humility, we shall receive gifts of His Spirit so abundantly that we shall be able to communicate them to our neighbors. That, then, is how Jesus Christ calls all of us in general; however, it is very necessary that we come to Him; for we refuse this benefit which is presented to us. Why? Inasmuch as we render ourselves unworthy of it, preferring to give ourselves to our vanities rather than to the fear of God. Now since it is true that many do not receive the gifts which are presented to them, although they are all called, one could ask why the Prophet speaks thus. But he wished to take such a generality to show that from all conditions and from all ages of people He will bring them into His knowledge; also, because now God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile; for the Holy Spirit by His power works through all." (3rd sermon on Pentecost from Acts 2:13-17)

I must confess my surprise that any one should ever say that John Calvin did not believe in the free offer of the gospel. Certainly the one "proof text/quote" Mr Cloud uses above does not prove otherwise.

In the original article, Mr Cloud refers to Iain Murray's excellent book "Spurgeon vs Hyper Calvinists" which deals admirably with the battle which CH Spurgeon had with those who deny the free offer of the gospel. We highly recommend this small paperback book. Wherever else hyper Calvinists agree with Calvin, they obviously part company on the issue of the free offer of the gospel. Calvin did not have a dead ministry in Geneva. His church was thronged every day as he expounded the Bible and preached the gospel.

See accompanying article: Calvin the Soulwinner

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