Saturday, February 02, 2008

Does God desire the repentance, and the repentance of all Man? (part 2) (Amended)

[continued from here]

The Reformers and Puritans most definitely hold to a wide range of beliefs, yet on basics such as the doctrine of Salvation, there were more or less in agreement. Nevertheless, on this topic of God having a desire that the non-elect would be saved, they were not always in agreement, as the emergence of the Amyraldians and the beliefs of the Puritan Richard Baxter shows.

Nevertheless, with the framework of Covenantal Theology mostly in place, it can be seen that most of the Reformers and Puritans, as we shall see later, do have the concept of the collective, though they did not explicitly taught it and apply it as clearly as it could be. We can already seen the idea implied even in John Calvin when he talks about the atonement of Christ for His people, yet not teaching the doctrine of Limited Atonement as it became clearly formulated. We must realize that in 16th-17th century Europe, most of Europe was 'Christianized' so to speak, so therefore the entire continent as it is was treated as the Visible Church. In the eyes of the Reformers and the Puritans, there were only three parties in the Reformation conflict (them, the apostate part of the Visible Church which was soon to be no more a church, and the Turks — representing a non-Christian enemy)

A key point that seems to suggest that the Reformers and the Puritans did not have a 'common salvific grace' in mind was their absence of proclaiming God's love for the Turks. After all, the Turks then were almost the only non-Christians they knew (although the Roman Catholics through Spain and Portugal had already started coming into contact with other non-Christians primarily in South America, the Protestants have yet to catch up). Seeing as to the then identification of the Visible Church with the entire continent, it is incongruous therefore to postulate any form of "common salvific grace" to any mention of God desiring the salvation of the non-elect once we accept the notion of the collective as believed by Covenantal Theology.

With all that said, let us look for ourselves some of the writings of the Reformers and the Puritans, especially with regards to Tony Byrne's quotation of their words here, and also some of the proofs presented by the so-called 'Calvin and Calvinism' blog in their blog category "God's will for the salvation of all Men" here.

First of all, Byrne quotes Ursinus:

"3) Merciful. God’s mercy appears in this: 1. That he wills the salvation of all men. 2. That he defers punishment, and invites all to repentance." Z. Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 8, Q 25, S 2, p., 127.

"God willeth that all be saved, as he is delighted with the salvation of all...[and] inasmuch as he inviteth all to repentance: but he will not have all saved, in respect of the force and efficacy of calling." Ursinus, The Summe, p. 353. Quoted in G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement (Paternoster, 1997), p. 110.

Without a context, it is impossible to judge what Ursinus actually is saying. Nevertheless, that Ursinus may not be teaching what Byrne thinks he is is probably correct. And it seems that Byrne has misquoted Ursinus, for Lord's Day 8, Question 25 of the Heiderberg Catechism has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of God being merciful. Here is Question 25:

Question 25 Since there is but one only divine essence, (a) why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

Answer: Because God has so revealed himself in his word, (b) that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.

I think Byrne most probably has Question 11 of Lord's Day 4 in mind here instead

Question 11. Is not God then also merciful?

Answer: God is indeed merciful, (a) but also just; (b) therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

Now, it is probably the case that Byrne has quoted correctly from Williard's translation as published by P&R. If such is the case, then there seems to be a problem with the translation. As we look at the larger context of such a quote as can be seen in the 'Calvin and Calvinism' blog article which we shall look at in more detail later, the commentary fits Question 11 better than Question 25. Look at the commentary for yourself and see if there is any link whatsoever with the teaching of the Trinity in Question 25.

Nevertheless, let us look into Ursinus's quoted commentary (assuming it is correct) in light of Question 11 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Assuming Ursinus is quoted correctly in context, what Ursinus seems to be teaching is basically that God's mercy is manifested to all Man that they may be given a chance to come to repentance. Remembering that this was meant to be a commentary (probably) of Question 11, combining the two shows that Ursinus had in mind that God did not justly destroy everyone immediately but have given them an opportunity to repent and be saved. It is in this narrow context of the temporal averting of God's wrath that it can be said that God 'desires the salvation of all Man'. Notably absent is Ursinus's exposition on who the all Man refers to, though if we grant the notion of the collective, then this could just mean the mass of humanity corporately instead of individually, and we could definitely grant that God loves all Man and desire their salvation collectively or organically.

The next quotation by Ursinus is even harder to interact due to what has been omitted in the ellipses. The statement does not make coherent sense with the middle portion missing, which probably clarifies what Ursinus means by the beginning words. Even with such a handicap, the beginning portion could be something analogous to the previous quote from his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism; that God is merciful in desiring the salvation of all Man in the sense of giving them a chance through not wiping them out immediately. And of course granting the distinction between what has been called the 'preceptive will' and the 'decretal will', what Ursinus may be saying is that God desires their salvation in the 'preceptive will' sense. Not precise language for sure, but then we must all start somewhere, and the Reformers need to start somewhere also in their break with Rome with her semi-Pelagian (small 's') tendencies.

Byrne then quotes from Calvin's commentary on 2 Peter 3:9 as follows:

"And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent." Calvin, Commentary, 2 Peter 3:9.

Did Calvin think that God willed men to repent but did not will them to be saved? Not at all.

Calvin continues: "Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost." Calvin, Commentary, 2 Peter 3:9.

We are privileged to have almost all of the works of John Calvin online at Christian Classics Ethreal Library, at which we can find Calvin's commentary. So anyway, let us look at what Calvin says of 2 Peter 3:9, as can be seen here.

9 But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. He checks extreme and unreasonable haste by another reason, that is, that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always prurient, and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner. But when we hear that the Lord, in delaying, shews a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us, there is no reason why we should any longer complain of tardiness. He is tardy who allows an occasion to pass by through slothfulness: there is nothing like this in God, who in the best manner regulates time to promote our salvation. And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent.

This is a very necessary admonition, so that we may learn to employ time aright, as we shall otherwise suffer a just punishment for our idleness.

Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.

Once again, Byrne has quoted Calvin out of context. As it can be seen earlier, Calvin through his phrase 'care for us' and then alternating between us and the world, shows the idea of the collective at work here, although it is not stated as such. Calvin is here promoting that God is calling all to repentance, and this 'all' refer to the undifferentiated, collective whole. Such a calling is then applied to 'us' for 'our salvation', which is then made specific and individual. Therefore, when Calvin mentioned that "He [God] would have them all [the wold] to be saved", this desire extends to the collective undifferentiated whole of the world's peoples, such that the notice is served that we might take notice of it. And to nail the argument, Calvin in the last part discusses the question of why so many do perish if God "wishes none to perish", and states his answer as "no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God", which goes to show that such a desire of God unto salvation belongs more properly to the "preceptive will" portion, or as McMahon likes to says in his book utilizing Turretin's terms, such a desire only exists in the divided sense not in the compound sense. Or to use my preferred way of speaking, this desire is the expression of God's command and wants to undifferentiated collective humanity, and applied only to elect individuals.

Byrne lastly quotes Turretin who states, in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, that

God's preceptive will is indicative of what He "wishes" to be done by all, and even says that the great King "commands and desires" all the invited to come to the wedding feast. Turretin writes: "3] XXI. The invitation to the wedding proposed in the parable (Mt. 22:1-14) teaches that the king wills (i.e., commands and desires) the invited to come and that this is their duty; but not that the king intends or has decreed that they should really come." He further says, "2] XVI. It is one thing to will reprobates to come (i.e., to command them to come and to desire it); another to will they should not come (i.e., to nill the giving them the power to come). God can in calling them will the former and yet not the latter without any contrariety because the former respects only the will of precept, while the latter respects the will of decree." When he says "come," he's talking about salvation in the context.

This of course proves nothing for our case, for our contention has never been that there is a so-called "preceptive will" which "desires" the salvation of individuals. Nevertheless, we deny that that has anything to do with soteriology proper and therefore cannot be called 'saving' in any sense of the term. And of course, I have said earlier in an article that scratches the surface of the issue that I dislike the term "preceptive will" because it may lead to the misconception that all the items in God's "preceptive will" are something God truly wants to do failing which will jeopardize his sovereignty, instead of God merely commanding and delighting in such works.

Byrne here is trying to defend views such as his from the Neo-Amyraldian label. As a refresher, here is how I define Neo-Amyraldism which can be inferred from my introduction article:

Neo-Amyraldism is the system of theology which postulates God having two wills (or two part of a will) which are both operating on the same level in Soteriology, of which one will (or part of a will) desires the salvation of all Man, and the other desiring the salvation of only the elect.

Can we see Byrne believing that God both desires the salvation of all Man and desiring the salvation of only the elect on the same level of Soteriology? It should be clear by now that he does think that those two wills operate on the same level of Soteriology. Whereas Turrentin thought only that the desire to save operates only on the "preceptive will" level, and thus there is no saving aspect to such a "preceptive will", the modern Noe-Amyraldians add a saving aspect and then by semantics indicate that such a saving aspect is part of the "preceptive will", a verbal gymnastics which is illogical, nonsensical and which make such a will intrude into the affections of God which affects His decretal will, since God will DO ALL He that He pleases (Ps. 115:3, 135:6). And this is the crux of the matter upon which Neo-Amyraldism crashes, for they posit God having a true sincere and heartfelt desire for the salvation of the reprobates which He nevertheless does not fulfil in contradiction to Scripture cf Ps. 115:3 and Ps. 135:6.

Next, we would briefly look at the writings on the 'Calvin and Calvinism' blog, as I have linked to here.

As I see it, much of it can be seen to be confusion over what constitutes proof for stating that 'God's will [is] for the salvation of all Man'. For example, Calvin's commentary on 2 Cor. 5:20 when interpreted with the idea of the collective proves our case instead. Ditto too for the later article on Rutherford here too.

The passage supposedly from Ursinus is a very generous portion, and indeed is very helpful to establish what Ursinus means (as compared to Byrne's quotations). We can see that even in this quotation, the writer of the post seems sometimes not to see where the objection begins and ends and where the answer from Ursinus starts. Obviously, the objection is what Ursinus is refuting, so to underline any statement in those objection to prove 'common salvific grace' is wrong, which they unfortunately did do. Yet, it cannot be denied that Ursinus did seem to teach God's desire to save all, or did he? In the passage, one particular part strikes out as showing where Ursinus is coming from:

God wills that all men should be saved, in as far as he rejoices in the salvation of all: and he rejoices in the punishment of the wicked, yet not; in as far as it is the torment of his creatures; but in as much as it is the execution of his justice. God wills that all should be saved, in as much as he, in a certain respect, invites, and calls all to repentance, but he does not will the salvation of all, as it respects the efficacy of this calling. He blesses all, “if haply they might feel after him, and find him:” (Acts 17:27.) He invites all, and says to all; Honesty and obedience are pleasing to me, and due to me from you; ... (Bold added)

We can thus see Ursinus's mention of God desiring the salvation of all has more to do with the fact that such an action is pleasing to God, and the obedience done unto salvation is something due to God, or in other words, owed to God. Therefore, Ursinus is not teaching that God actually have some heartfelt longing that all might be saved, but that he delights in it because such is paying their dues to God. Of course, here I disagree with him on this minor point, for I maintain that what is owed is repentance in conformity to God's law which leads to salvation, but not salvation itself.

Next is the passage from the American Presbyterian William Shedd. This by far is the worst type of 'proof' that I have seen, since Shedd here is defending the sufficiency and unlimited value of the Atonement such that all could be saved if they would just turn to Christ , which no orthodox Christian denies. The phrase "a common benevolent and merciful relation to them all" does not at all refer to the idea that God has a 'common salvific grace' for all, just as the term 'Real Presence' as used by the early Church Fathers does not mean that Christ is physically bodily in the elements of the Supper (the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation). Such anachronism is bad scholarship indeed. What Shedd actually means by this statement, as defined within the context of defending the sufficiency of the Atonement, is that God has made it possible for whosoever to be saved, and such is a benovolence that is available to anyone who takes holds of the offer of the Gospel. It is in this 'whosoever' context that God "sustains a common benevolent and merciful relation to them all", in that all may take up this offer. Of course, we have no problem with the fact that God desires compliance to His will and commands, which does not prove anything about God having a well-meant desire for the salvation of all Man without exception.

From this brief look at the writings of Reformers, Puritans and one American Presbyterian source (W.G.T. Shedd), it can be seen that not one of them actually promotes the novel doctrine of the Neo-Amyraldians, as I have defined above. Barring anachronism and reading out of context, the edifice of the 'well-meant offer' has been shown to be without historical orthodox backing, with the exception of the Amyraldians and perhaps the Lutherans and the Anglicans (both groups not being totally orthodox anyway). To the question of whether God desires the repentance and salvation of all Man, we can therefore answer that God commands the repentance of all Man, but doesn't exactly desire it (as loaded with the modern connotation and theological usage of the Neo-Amyraldians). And for this position, we have the support of almost all the Reformed giants on our side.



Tartanarmy said...

Great stuff there Daniel! Between the both of us we could write a book on this topic I think!

Hmmm, might be a good idea!


PuritanReformed said...


well, this subject is probably the only subject in which the posts were done as I learn more about the topic, after clashing with Byrne in the meta of one post on the Pyromaniacs blog sometime in early 2007. So the posts and the expression of my thoughts during this period were rather disorganized IMO.

I do think it is a good idea to write a book on this over-looked topic. However, it is also a fact that it does takes a lot of effort to counter the misrepresentation by Byrne and Ponter of Reformed primary sources, while Byrne and Ponter can easily utilize their search engines to data-mine quotes from Reformed sources which seemingly support their positions.

But it is indeed a good idea. I don't think I would be able to bring myself to that level as of now with regards to the kind of scholarly interaction with Reformed primary sources requred. So KIV for now?

Tartanarmy said...

Indeed brother!..maybe one day!


PuritanReformed said...

Wow, that's very fast of you

Troy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PuritanReformed said...


I am leaving this comment here just to show others how incoherent your Pelagian gnostic belief system is. Do note that unless you interact with the text of Scripture instead of sprouting all manner of unbiblical nonsense, all further comments from you will be deleted. May God have mercy on your soul