The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

James MacGregor

These passages from classical Reformed theologians and preachers speak of God’s desire for or delight in the salvation of those who hear the gospel offer, inasmuch as his revealed will is an expression of his goodness and kindness toward the hearers of the gospel.

James MacGregor (1830-1894):
God’s complacency or delight in man’s holiness and happiness presents the same motive and encouragement to faith for all unconverted men alike

(The Question of Principle Now Raised in the Free Church Specially Regarding the Atonement, from pp. 50-57, and Blown By the Wind or Growing By the River?: Presbyterians On Trial By Their Principles, from pp. 16, 18-19 and 26-27)
MacGregor shows that Arminianism and Amyraldism posit a so-called saving purpose in God (a divine decree) which does not save, but Calvinism teaches both a saving purpose which is efficacious and alongside it a beneficent benevolence in God toward man which involves no saving purpose.

The Question of Principle Now Raised in the Free Church Specially Regarding the Atonement

Amyraldism, with its un-Calvinistic universalism, occasioned, both in France and Scotland, a full and explicit recognition on the part of old school Calvinists of what I shall call the true Calvinistic universalism. And this true Calvinistic universalism shows that no obstacles really are removed by Amyraldism. For the true Calvinistic universalism extends to the following details: —

First, The Gospel Offer and Call, addressed to all sinners of mankind. How a sincere invitation to all men can be harmonized with the doctrine or fact of the election and redemption only of some men, Calvinists of the old school do not pretend to explain; just as neither old school nor new pretend to explain how God can seriously address the Ten Commandments to all men, while only to some men he has resolved to give the power to obey them. But old school men and new, while confessedly unable to give a rationale or explanation of the fact, yet affirm the fact itself, that God is sincere in bidding all men obey the commandments of the Decalogue. And in like manner the old school men, though confessedly unable to give a rationale or explanation of the fact, yet affirm the fact itself, that God sincerely invites all sinners to believe and be saved. The most thorough-going old-school Calvinist in Scotland at this hour is as faithful in offering free salvation to all men as any Amyraldian in Scotland can be.

Second, A Divine complacency in man’s well-being and well-doing. While persistently maintaining that there is no such thing in God as a saving purpose, intention, or desire, that does not infallibly determine salvation, the old school maintain also that there is in His nature a certain complacency or delight in man’s holiness and happiness; such that He is really pleased when men obey His law, and really displeased when they obey not; and that He sincerely mourns over the misery of the unbelieving impenitent as lost, while sincerely rejoicing over the blessedness of penitent believers as saved. They affirm that this complacency, inherent in God’s nature, is most wondrously illustrated in the great work of His redeeming grace, and ought to be set forth as a motive and encouragement to saving faith. And they affirm, besides, that it presents the same aspect of motive and encouragement to faith towards all unconverted men alike, without any discrimination of elect from non-elect.

Third, Certain aspects of redemption, as achieved in Christ’s death. While persistently maintaining that there is no real substitution or suretyship of Christ but for the elect, the old school have affirmed that God’s redeeming grace in Christ has certain aspects towards all men indiscriminately. Thus, for instance, it secures to them all a season of suspended judgment and offered mercy. Again, it provides an inexhaustible fulness of saving merit, or power of right amply sufficient in itself for the salvation of all men. And, once more, in the great atoning sacrifice it gives an open way, by which God comes with free salvation to men, and all men are freely invited to go for that free salvation to God. These three general aspects of redemption have been recognized by the old school of Calvinists both in Scotland and in France. But there are two points in this connexion on which I must make two episodical notes: —

In the first place, as to the all-sufficiency of saving grace in Christ. In the old school at all times the common way of thinking has been, that the dignity of Christ’s person gives a strictly infinite expiatory value to His passion. Further, this view of His suffering, which the mass of old-school Calvinists have derived from the Catholic doctrine of His person, is not inconsistent with any real principle of the Calvinism of the old school, but is really in more full harmony with the strict Calvinistic doctrine of the destination of redemption than with any other doctrine of that destination. For, if the atonement really be sufficient for all, why has it not become efficacious to all, unless because its efficacy has been destined only for the elect?

In the second place, as to the connexion of all-sufficiency of grace with the universalism of the gospel offer. The all-sufficiency of grace in Christ does not of itself constitute a true warrant to us, who “were afar off,” in taking Him and His riches of grace to ourselves. Our only true warrant in this act of faith, the minister’s only true warrant in inviting us to faith, is the permission or invitation of God in His Word. It is only from this Word that we can know it is His will that all sinners of mankind should receive for salvation His riches of grace in Christ. And, having this true warrant in the Word — the express declaration of His will — what we have in the all-sufficiency of that grace is not, properly, a supplementary warrant, but only a motive to faith or encouragement in believing.

These episodical notes I shall now follow up by a digression, in the form of a practical remark. Calvinism is not constituted merely by the five Calvinistic “points.” The “points” in the system are only as bones, by which the fair living body of truth is kept from collapsing into a mere chaotic mud-heap. And the flesh and blood, and blooming beauty, of that fair living body cannot be exhibited nor seen apart from those things I now have enumerated under the description of the true Calvinistic universalism. Those things, therefore, in order that men may be drawn as “with the cords of a man,” must shine on the forefront of all our preaching. To set forth the “points” so as to hide those things from view, would be to present to men’s embrace a frightful skeleton — nothing but bones — instead of the fair living body of truth divine. It may be that some old-school Calvinists in France or Scotland, or both, though theoretically recognizing the humaner aspects of the truth, were yet in their practical teaching too exclusive in presentation of the “points”; and that the new movement in both countries may have owed its origin, or force, in some measure, to a recoil of humanity from the ghastly caricature — nothing but bones — thus pressed on its embrace. And certainly if we, in our practical teaching, so caricature our grand Calvinistic system that it shall appear to be all “points,” nothing but bones, there will be a recoil of humanity from our teaching; and the recoil thus provoked may result, in our day, in something far more formidable than mere Amyraldism.

Returning, now, from both digression and episode, I recall attention to that from which I started, viz., the proposition that Amyraldism, both in France and in Scotland, occasioned a full recognition, by old-school Calvinists, of what I have described as the true Calvinistic universalism. When the old-school Calvinism had in this way exhibited its own true nature, Amyraldism was thenceforward manifestly shorn of a large part of its argumentative strength. For a very large part of what has been advanced ostensibly in support of an un-Calvinistic universalism is really relevant only to the maintenance of that universalism which has always been cordially owned by the old school. Thus far, therefore, Amyraldism has really done nothing towards smoothing the sinner’s way to salvation in Christ; for thus far, (i.e., in all that can be truly said in support of a bona-fide gospel call to all sinners, a divine complacency in man’s well-being and well-doing, and some general aspects of redemption), thus far Amyraldism has not originated any thing new or peculiar, but merely given new emphasis to some common-places of the Calvinism of the old school.

And when the old school had, by explaining itself, reclaimed its own common-places, the residuum, Amyraldism pure and simple, stripped of popular irrelevancies, presented certain aspects which might well dispose sober-minded men among its adherents to reconsider their position of adherence to it.

The more malignant aspects of Amyraldism are as follows: —

First, The notion of any saving purpose of God that does not infallibly determine salvation, or, in other words, of a frustrated intention, or disappointed desire, of His; this notion is not only on the face of it unscriptural, but in the heart of it offensive even to our natural reason, because inconsistent with the very nature and perfections of Deity. Nor does the notion gain anything, in respect of spiritual seemliness, when transferred from God’s eternal decree to the execution of that decree in time on the cross. For the notion of any substitution of Christ that does not infallibly secure by purchase the salvation of all for whom He died, is deeply dishonouring to the person and work of the adorable Substitute.

Again, The two notions alike (or the notion in its two applications alike), must, where seriously entertained, tend to undermine the believer’s assurance of hope. For that assurance is ultimately founded on the truth, that all God’s purposes are unchanging and effectual, and that no sinner can ever perish for whom Christ gave His life on the cross. The assurance, therefore, is fatally undermined by the notion, that there is a changeable or ineffectual purpose of God, and that many of those for whom Christ gave His life shall nevertheless fall into death eternal.

“I cannot tell thee whether God loves thee as He loves His own nor whether Christ has died for thee, as He surely has died for all the elect: that can be known to men only when Christ lives in thee and thou lovest God and man. Nor can I explain to thee how the free invitation of the gracious gospel to all may be harmonized with the sovereign particularism of grace in election and redemption. There is a mystery here too vast for my narrow and shallow comprehension. Here I have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. But this I can tell thee, for this is what God has told me in His word: — His love, with which He loves His own, is freely offered to thee as thy life. The all-sufficient fulness of His Christ is freely offered to thee as a ‘way’ to life in His love. The bosom of that love which is life is wide open to thee as the sky. The arms of that love are stretched out far to thee from the cross. The voice of that love cries, Come, to thee, in the Spirit, through the Bride. And if only thou hear, thy soul shall live. Only give thyself over, a lost sinner, into the arms and bosom of that freely-offered love, and that love of God shall be thy portion, and the righteousness of Christ shall be thy white raiment, and the Spirit of Christ shall be thy new and true life, and thou shalt be saved, for ever and ever.”

So speaks the Calvinism of the old school, — “upright, downright, and straightforward.” The practical tendency of its clear-ringing utterances has been shown, through many ages and lands, in the conversion of myriads of sinners to God, as well as in a peculiarly deep and strong establishment of believers in their faith and hope. In order to be accepted and loved by all true children of God on earth, as it is accepted and loved by all His children in heaven, it needs only to be known and understood by His children on earth as it is known and understood by His children in heaven — who know nothing of an ineffectual purpose of God, or of a substitution of Christ that does not infallibly secure salvation by purchase.

Blown By the Wind or Growing By the River?: Presbyterians On Trial By Their Principles

Objection to reprobation, or to preterition, really is objection to the sovereignty of saving grace. The objection is at the impulse, or by the inspiration, of a corrupting worldliness (II Cor. 4:3-4; John 5:39-42), perhaps disguised under double-meaning phraseology about “love” or “fatherhood” of God, revolting from His holiness in the punishment of sin. It makes a religion of mere sentimental naturalism, which destroys the Gospel under the name of explaining it, effacing the distinctness (John 1:17; Rom. 5:20-21) of gospel from law, grace from nature, by confounding a natural affection of beneficent benevolence in God (Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:45-48), toward the sentient creation generally and man in especial, that involves no saving purpose, and never saved one soul, with that redeeming love, which involves a purpose to save sinners (Luke 15; Rev. 1:5-6), that (John 6:37, 39, 44) is unfailingly efficacious in the actual salvation of the loved and lost.

Arminianism seeks a warranting ground in a doctrine of “general grace”; that is, of a certain wistfulness on God’s part that all men should be saved, which so far is a saving purpose: — a purpose, however, that does not secure the actual salvation of any one, but only puts it into the minister’s power to say with truth to every sinner, “God loves thee,” where Calvinism only enables him to say, “God’s love, with its graces, is offered to thee in the gospel.” Amyraldians retain in their doctrinal system the Calvinistic particularism, but, as a means of bringing the sinner to God, employ (under the name of “method”) a surface universalism like the Arminian. The sovereignty of grace is thus rejected by them, put out of sight and out of mind, at the decisive moment of conversion; while (Heb. 3:14) the character of men’s confidence at the beginning natively tends to be decisive in influence on its character to the end.

The general grace, that is proposed as warranting ground, — What is it? Is it fitted for the purpose? It cannot be simply that natural affection of God (see above, p. 18), toward sentient creatures in general and (Titus 3:4) man in particular, which involves no saving purpose. But though the “general grace,” as a wistfulness or wishfulness for man’s salvation, should (improperly) be spoken of as involving a sort of saving purpose, yet, as it does not secure the actual salvation of any one, it is not fitted to serve as a warranting ground of the offer of salvation. But on the contrary, the proposal of it as warranting ground, in place of God’s declared kingly will, is dangerously delusive to man, and at the same [time] dishonouring to God both as Creator and as Redeemer, derogatory to His glorious attributes of nature as well as of grace. To speak of an ineffectual wistfulness of God, a saving purpose of His that does not secure the salvation of anyone, is to cloud His glory of nature, as omnipotent, omniscient, whose counsel shall stand, and whose purposes are unfailingly accomplished; as well as to cloud His glory of grace as a faithful covenant-keeping God (I Cor. 1:9), without shadow of turning, whose love in Christ is changeless as His being (Isa. 55:3), so that (John 3:16) the gift of it is life eternal. And an unsaving saving purpose of God is not a Rock (Psalm 40:1-3, Matt. 16:18), to which a perishing sinner can flee for refuge in “full assurance of faith”; but merely as a sinking sand, a mocking mirage, a waterless cloud, “another gospel,” that has an illusory word of promise in the ear while breaking it to the hope.

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