Characters appearing in this section:
ISP: Infralapsarian Single-Predestinarian
Argues that the gospel is genuinely offered to all.
SDP: Supralapsarian Double-Predestinarian
Argues that the gospel is genuinely offered to the elect only.
…Begin dialogue text…
ISP: Of course the gospel is a genuine offer to all men. There are only two Calvinistic Creeds or churches I know of that deny the genuine offer of the gospel to all men indiscriminately. All the others accept it, as far as I know.
SDP: It doesn’t make any sense to say that the gospel is genuinely offered to those who have not been gifted with faith. In the first part, you and I both readily acknowledge that natural man is a spiritual corpse and has no spiritual faculties whatsoever. And because the words of life are spiritual in nature, the unregenerate do not hear them (1 Cor. 2:14). More than not being a genuine offer, the reprobate never even hears the gospel call. He hears only condemnation.
In the second part, because God has willed that the reprobates should be left to their evil devices, if he were to genuinely offer the gospel to them and desire that they accept it, he would be caught in a dichotomy. In the one hand, he is pleased that they should be left to their wickedness. In the other hand, he is pleased to offer them the gospel that they should receive it. This is contradictory. Either God is desirous that they believe in his Son—and thus makes this effectual (regeneration)—or he does not desire that they believe—and thus makes that effectual (reprobation).
ISP: But we command all men by the authority of God to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and they are promised (offered) that if they obey the truth they will never perish!
SDP: That’s right, but only the regenerate will ever (inwardly) hear that message.
ISP: Certainly the gospel is much more than presenting facts to the lost. It is calling upon them to act.
SDP: No, the gospel is the good news that Christ has given his life a ransom for the elect. The gospel—the gospel of Jesus Christ—is not a call to act: it is a proclamation of Christ’s action. [Readers are encouraged to read the February article entitled, On Saving Faith.]
John H. Gerstner had an excellent illustration of the distinction between the inward call and the outward call.
If everyone is assembled in church and the pastor calls out, “License number such-and-such has its lights on,” then that message is useless to all but one person in the congregation. While everyone hears the outward call of the announcement, everyone except the person to whom the car belongs knows the announcement is not for them. Such is how the gospel sounds to the ears of the unregenerate. They hear its outward offer of hope and mercy, but inwardly only hear condemnation and judgment, and for this reason, they despise it and know it is not extended to them. And they are correct. Until they are reborn through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit, the gospel is useless to them and they will never accept it.
ISP: I don’t agree. The offer is free. God is quite able to make good on all his promises. The reason that the reprobate doesn’t respond to the good news is his own depravity. He hates God.
This is where we really do need to seek clarity. Sinners do hear the gospel. Okay, they don’t hear with the mind of Christ, they hear with the mind of Adam—but they hear! And what is more, they don’t like what they hear!
And it’s not contradictory at all. Consider the point that you have this day had multiple desires, each in turn taking priority. To the outsider, he could quite easily mistake your choice of food this day as a “hatred” for some other choice, but he could be drawing conclusions wrongly.
You said, “Either God is desirous that they believe in his Son and thus makes this effectual (regeneration) or he does not desire that they believe and thus makes that effectual (reprobation),” but this is a false disjunction. It’s not “either-or”; it’s “both-and.” You also commented, “Arguing that God both desires that reprobates be condemned and that they accept the Gospel amounts to a contradiction.” But it’s not a contradiction—it’s a paradox! We don’t quite understand it, but we don’t have to. We know that God understands it and that’s all that matters!
SDP: If you affirm the contradiction that God wants all men to be saved, and wants the reprobate to not be saved, then do you also believe that Christ’s sacrifice atones for the sins of all who believe in him and does not atone for the sins of some who believe in him? If not, then why do you believe the former, but not the latter? Both are utterly contradictory and completely impossible.
By the way, a paradox is an apparent contradiction that is actually not a contradiction. Unless you can show how this is non-contradictory, it is completely baseless to label this a paradox. You can’t even know if it’s a paradox unless you know it really isn’t contradictory.
But I’d like to bring the discussion a little closer to the point. Consider this verse:
But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Ps. 115:3)
According to the psalmist, whatever God pleases, he does. If God desired the salvation of the reprobate, he would do it. As the reprobate is not saved, it follows that God does not desire it. How is that in any way unclear?
ISP: Does God desire you to be perfect?
SDP: God commands perfection of us because his divine justice demands it. God cannot justify wicked deeds. Nonetheless, I am made perfect in Christ, and wholly justified before the Father.
Indeed, Christ commanded that I be perfect even as my heavenly Father is perfect. Yet, the Lord is still pleased (desirous) that I should, on occasion, fall, that his infinite grace and mercy should be more greatly known through my inability to maintain an infallible walk; and that I should increasingly depend on him (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-9 where Paul thrice asked God to remove the thorn from his side, but his request was denied by God).
Perfection is a requirement under God’s moral law. God’s law is still in effect, which is why Jesus told us to be perfect as his Father is perfect.
ISP: So you agree that God desires your perfection while at the same time he has not willed it.
SDP: No, you weren’t listening. I said God commands perfection. I didn’t say he desired it.
ISP: Is it not plain that also what God commands, he desires, for, otherwise, he would not desire to command it?
What I am getting at is that when God calls the reprobate to repent and promises him eternal life if he will only believe on his Son, then that must be a genuine, sincere, “authentic,” and loving gesture.
The reason the reprobate is in so much trouble is that he has spurned God’s love, he has resisted his Spirit (known as the Spirit of Grace), he has outraged the Spirit of Grace, he has in some sense “trodden underfoot the Son of God,” he has grieved the Holy Spirit, and he has spurned God’s love in Christ.
It is God who makes an appeal to him through the mouth of the believer, and he hates us because he hates God.
To break the law (sin) is punishable by death, but to reject and despise love is punishable by everlasting suffering.
Consider Noah, a preacher of righteousness. For over a hundred years, he preached repentance and saw not one conversion. Was God sincere in telling them to repent? Did it grieve God’s heart when they refused, even though God withheld from them the gift of repentance?
Next, consider the case of Jonah, a man who knew all about God’s covenant love, yet God spends months showing Jonah that even those outside of the covenant are immensely important to him. Did Jonah learn that God’s love, grace, and concerns don’t remain solely for the elect?
Now consider three cases of heartbreak.
1. God the Father heart-broken over stubborn Israel (Hosea 11:8).
2. God the Son heart-broken over lost Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
3. Paul the Apostle heart-broken over reprobate Jews (Romans 9).
Are these cases (there are more) not indicative of real love? Do we not see from God a real desire (delight) that men repent and be spared death?
Maybe a better way of wording this would be to say God has three aspects to his will:
1. God decreed only the elect will be saved.
2. God’s will of desire is that the reprobates fall.
3. God’s inward desires (emotions corresponding with relationships) are to bless not to kill.
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He may have pleasure in executing justice, but mercy is far more desirable to God than judgment; hence, God is longsuffering toward the vessels of wrath.
SDP: There was so much wrong with all that, I’m not quite sure where to begin. It is not at all clear—obviously false, in fact—that God desires what he commands. Consider the existence of sin. If God neither commands nor desires the existence of sin then why does it exist? Now, I readily acknowledge God does not command sin. God commands us to be perfect—would that were enabled to be so. But if God does not desire sin to exist, how does it exist? Are you saying God did not desire the king of Assyria to descend on Israel (in Isaiah)? If he did not desire it then why did Isaiah write,
The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. (Is. 14:24)
Does not Paul also tell us he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11)? The psalmist tells us, “He hath done whatsoever he pleased” (Ps. 115:3; 135:6). Is it not blatantly obvious that what God commands is not necessarily what he desires and vice versa? Unless, of course, you are willing to say he commands sin (!).
Getting to the latter part of what you wrote, if mercy is more desirable to God than justice, then why doesn’t he save everyone? That simply makes no sense when so many passages that talk about God fulfilling all he pleases say the exact opposite. To call it a “mystery” is a simply a cop out. Even more, it is dishonest. I have offered a simple, sound explanation of the problem. To reject this out of hand and simply argue from ignorance (argue from a non-provable position) is a highly fallacious argument.
Maybe I am wrong. I will be the first to admit it. Perhaps there is some logical explanation for it that I am missing. It could be that it is yet hidden from me. If that is true, I pray the Lord rebuke and chastise me for my lack of understanding. Yet, until such time should come, I see no reason whatsoever to maintain otherwise.
ISP: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, though. You’re relying too much on logic. If we see two seemingly opposing ideas in the Scriptures sometimes all we can do is accept them, and bow and worship.
SDP: You might do that, but I certainly do not. God has revealed these things to us to be understood, not to confuse us. Were God to reveal what “seems” to be a contradiction, then it is not really a contradiction, it only appears that way at first. As God is not the author of confusion, it follows that there is a rational explanation for why these things appear contradictory and why they are not. I seek out that explanation to the glory of God, whereas others refuse to do so. Thus, they maintain their contradictory views and encourage others to do so as well.
ISP: Take the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Both are taught in the Scriptures (sometimes in the very same verse!), yet, there are those who cannot hang onto what is written because their minds cannot reconcile two seemingly opposing thoughts; so, they hack and hew the text to make it fit, thus either denying God is sovereign, or denying man is responsible.
SDP: There is no problem with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, though. There is no contradiction; there is no mystery. God is sovereign and he holds man responsible for his actions. That’s all there is to it. Any protests against this arrangement are protests against God’s sovereignty and are thus null and void.
ISP: You said you believe in preaching the gospel to all, so you cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobates, and neither should you. The gospel message is exactly the same message to both elect and reprobate: “Repent, believe the good news, obey the calling of God and you will be saved.”
Now just how do you get to a point when you deny it is a sincere offer of salvation when the message doesn’t change? Do you think God is acting with duplicity that the Lord is only interested in salvation for the elect?
Jesus wept over sinners, Paul wept over sinners, and Jesus loved the rich young ruler who walked away from Him!
Sure, I can give you Scripture upon Scripture that show God has been disappointed by sinners, but what is the point, you will only deny that they have any real meaning—“They are just anthropopathisms,” etc.
By the way, Arminians make the same stand on rationalism that Neo-Calvinists make. They see it as impossible to have a gospel call to men dead in trespasses and sins who are totally depraved and have lost their free-will to come to God, and they therefore deny what they see as a massive contradiction. Your argument is the same; it is just coming from the other end!
SDP: The gospel message only reaches the ears of the regenerate:
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (Jn. 6:63)
Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. (Jn. 8:43)
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
The words of our Lord and the Apostle quite clearly show that the reprobate never hears the gospel message. If God intended it to reach their ears, he would remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Eze. 11:19; 36:26), by which they might receive the words of life.
In fact, my position is that God’s work is made even more coherent in the understanding that the gospel is not for the reprobate. The gospel is spread to men by men; therefore, God does not engage in an act of duplicity because he never offers salvation to the reprobate. That he requires us to preach it to all men is nothing more than a righteous requirement of us, and one required by the fact that we cannot know his elect. Because we are incapable of discerning who will receive the gospel or not, we must deliver it to all, so that those that are elect will have the circumstances by which they might come to faith in Christ. But the Scriptures never say the gospel is extended to the reprobate.
I think a better argument could be made that God acts in duplicity if we say that the gospel is a sincere offer to all, but that God wills some should receive it and some should reject it. If God sincerely wishes all men to be saved, but predestines them to hell, then that would be quite deceptive. The “genuine offer” position is the duplicitous position.