Saturday, March 04, 2006

John Murray: The Free Offer of the Gospel

One of the differences between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism is whether God truly desires the salvation of the wicked. The following is my digest for John Murray's article on the God's offer of the gospel.

Note: decretive will is the decree of God that something will happen. It was God's decretive will that Christ die on the cross.

John Murray, Collected Writings, vol II, Studies in Theologies, 113-32

    I. “God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate” (pg. 113).
    II. This does not refer to God's decretive will only his revealed will. If it referred to his decretive will then there would be a contradiction because then God would be willing the damnation of the wicked and desiring the salvation of all. The key word is “desires.” God takes pleasure when the wicked turn to him in repentance (Ezek. 33:11). God's desire is not for their salvation apart from repentance but he desires that the wicked turn from their sin to him in submission and obedience.
    III. Scriptural Basis
      1. Matthew 5:44-48 – though this passage does not deal directly with “the overtures of grace in the gospel,” we do see God's grace and “benevolence.” Jesus tells the disciples to love their enemies and to bless them and not curse them because God blesses those who are his enemies and since the disciples are God's children, they should do the same. Implied in this passage is the love of God for his enemy. The blessings are a manifestation of that love. This love of the unrepentant is not “something incidental in God but as that which constitutes an element in the sum of divine perfection” (pg. 116). The parallel passage makes this clear (Luke 6:35, 36).
      2. Acts 14:17 is another passage that shows that God gave testimony to the unrepentant through his blessings.
      3. Deuteronomy 5:29; 32:29; Psalm 8:13ff; Isaiah 48:18 – God expresses his desire that Israel would keep his commandments. Here is “an instance of desire on the part of God for the fulfillment of that which he had not decreed” (pg. 118).
      4. Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34 – in these passages Jesus wills something that did not come to pass. Jesus yearns for the salvation of the people of Israel. Jesus is not speaking from a human perspective but from the perspective of his office as “God-man Messiah and Saviour.” “Our Lord in the exercise of his most specific and unique function as the God-man gives expression to a yearning will on his part that responsiveness on the part of the people of Jerusalem would have provided the necessary condition for the bestowal of his saving and protecting love, a responsiveness, nevertheless, which it was not the decretive will of God to create in their hearts” (pg. 120). But this does not mean that there is not perfect harmony in the Godhead (John 12:49, 50; 14:10, 24; 17:8)
      5. Exekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11 – God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. There is no qualifier on the type of the wicked. It is clear from these passages that God desires the wicked to turn from their evil ways, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, and why will ye die” (33:11). Why should they die when they don't have to. God wills that all would repent and be saved. But this is not referring to God's decretive will. “In terms of his decretive will it must be said that God absolutely decrees the eternal death of some wicked and, in that sense, is absolutely pleased so to decree” (pg. 125).
      6. Isaiah 45:22 – this passage is a universal call for repentance (“all the ends of the earth”). The meaning of “saved” here would have to be the same as verse 17, “But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation.” The emphasis of this passage is that there is no other way to be saved but by him; he is the only Savior (vv. 15, 20, 21). Again this is not his decretive will. When dealing with God's revealed will and his decretive will it “might seem to us that the one rules out the other. But it is not so. There is a multiformity to the divine will that is consonant with the fullness and richness of his divine character” (pg. 127).
      7. 2 Peter 3:9 – Murray does not believe that this verse refers to God being long-suffering to the elect. The delay in the coming judgment is due to the fact that God is being patient to sinners so that they can come to repentance. When Peter says that God is long suffering on “on your account,” the “your” in view here is not restricted to the elect. “Following his exegesis of 2 Peter 3:9 Calvin says: 'But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many 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 out his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them unto himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world'” (pg. 131).
    IV. “The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fullness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work who God offers in the gospel” (pg. 132).


  1. Moonshadow said...
    In a book that I actually have, John Frame defines “God’s decretive will” as His “highly mysterious” purpose that “governs whatever comes to pass.” Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1994), 175.

    This chapter by Piper deals with the 1 Tim. 2:4 passage as well as the others.

    Something that concerns me about Calvinism is what a “falling away from it” looks like. This concern doesn’t render Calvinism false, per se, and the “falling away” doesn’t necessarily take only one form. But one particular error that former Calvinists find themselves in is, ironically, universalism.

    I have only two casual examples of “fallen away” Calvinists, ex-Calvinists, if you will, who seem to have embraced universalism: the Scottish author and preacher, George MacDonald, and the Quaker minister, Philip Gulley, who wrote an apology for universalism, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Now, I come up “Quaker” on beliefnet’s spirituality survey, and one web site said “Quaker Calvinist is a tautology!” so this might apply to me as much as to anyone.

    The error of Gulley is clear, I mean, his unabashed universalism, if you read his book. And I go farther with him theologically than I would like to admit.

    A little more patience is required, unless you happen to know already, to demonstrate MacDonald’s adoption of universalism. I have an edited version of this story in Michael Phillips's anthology. The Scottish brogue is difficult to read in the original. Skip down to where the dialogue starts. The gist of the story is a conversation between the son of a wayward man and the boy’s paternal grandmother. The boy assures the old woman of his self-sacrificing plan for emptying hell, all based on the merits of Christ, of course. His grandmother’s theology denounces such hope but, in sincere anguish over her own “lost” son, she pleads, “Eh, if the Lord would only take me, and let him go!”

    Maybe you would say that these men were hyper-Calvinists and so the danger is really associated with the errors of hyper-Calvinism and not with Calvinism proper. Myself, I regret that I am unable to distinguish between the two.

    Never is it clearer to me that a doctrine cannot be understood until it is believed than in the points of Calvinism. So, please bear with my questions, if you will, because they come not only from a lack of understanding but also from a lack of belief.
    michele said...
    I'm not sure what your question is but in response to your statement that hyper-Calvinism leads to universalism, I think that would be shocking since the hyper-Calvinist believes that salvation is from God and man has to submit to his will and there is nothing the unregenerate can do but go straight to hell. What makes a hyper-Calvinist is the belief that man is not capable of anything even responding to God. They believe in man as a puppet (a hyper-Calvinist would probably reject this description). There is a man in our church who is a hyper-Calvinist (and doesn't realize it) and he is forever getting into arguments with people over human responsibility and even our ability to work out our salvation (God does all the work, we do nothing)!

    Yes, I'm aware that Calvinism has led to universalism. Yale University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard were all Calvinist at one point. How this happens has more to do with the Enlightenment and Liberalism than Calvinism. If you accept the Bible as the word of men instead of God, the universal brotherhood of men, the universal Fatherhood of God and you start rejecting the doctrines of the Bible such as election, regeneration, original sin, atonement and adoption, Christ's resurrection and all miracles in the Bible and if Christ becomes an ethical example only and we aren't in need of a Savior then why would we believe that anyone will go to hell? There is a wholesale rejection of all the passages in the Scriptures that speak of hell.

    The lack of belief in the Bible as the word of God and the clear teaching that the regenerate go to hell is the reason for universalism, not Calvinism. Because as Murray and Calvin state we believe that God may desire that all men repent and turn to Him, He doesn't decree it and so it will not come to pass. You may not understand it but as Murray demonstrates, it is biblical.

    As to another issue you raise is “falling away” and what that looks like. Catholics believe in “falling away” as well. The difference is that we believe the person was never saved to begin with. We believe that those God elected from the foundation of the world will be raised in Christ on the last day.

    Ephesians 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
    4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
    5 he predestined us1 for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

    John 6:38-40 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."

    Now there are some who may look like they're saved but are not. They really don't believe and haven't put their trust in Christ. I was one of those people. If God had not called me through the birth of my daughter, I would have died in my sin and not realized it.

    John 3: 3-6 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again1 he cannot see the kingdom of God."
    4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
    5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
    6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.1
    I was never born from above, meaning I was never regenerated by the Holy Spirit and therefore I was never united with Christ. Only those who are in union with Christ will be saved on the last day. Those who are not but think they are will not be saved. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ and the grace and mercy of the Father that I'm not going to be one of them.
    Moonshadow said...
    "Those who are not but think they are will not be saved. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ and the grace and mercy of the Father that I'm not going to be one of them."

    I thank God, too, that you aren't going to be one of them, Michele. I really, truly do.
    michele said...
    Teresa, when I read your reply it struck me that my statement of trust in the word of God could be misconstrued as arrogant. I know there are many Catholics who would view my statement as presumptuous. How can I know that God has saved me? I'm not saying this of you or doubting your sincerity. It wasn't even reading what you said that made me think this, it was reading what I had said.

    I guess humble and Calvinist is an oxymoron but maybe there's still hope for a loving Calvinist. :-)
    Moonshadow said...
    I included your words so that it was clear what I was affirming because for me to say "I'm glad you're not one of them" might have sounded like "not one of the elect" ... and that would be a nasty thing for me to say, right? LOL.

    I haven't a question, actually. A musing of Susan comes close to my concern when she writes, "If God truly loved everyone, then why would anyone go to hell?" This is my point -- there's no other way out but universalism.

    Yes, we Catholics learn early on that the sin of presumption is about the worse. So, yes, it takes considerable effort for me to allow you - and other such Christians - their blessed assurance, but the fault is mine, not yours. And I strive to get out of my Catholic ghetto every once in a while and broaden my horizons.
    michele said...
    Yes, there is another way out because the Bible clearly does not teach universalism. I can't see how you get around the following verses:

    Matt. 22:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

    Matt. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
    23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

    John 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

    Romans 2:6 He will render to each one according to his works:
    7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
    8 but for those who are self-seeking(1 )and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
    9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
    10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    11 For God shows no partiality.

    Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
    13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
    14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
    15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    If salvation is universal, who is this "elect" that Paul keeps talking about? And why in the world would the Bible talk about salvation? Saved from what? Well, the Bible is also clear on that:

    Romans 5:9-10 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

    Romans 9:22-23 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
    23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-

    So, if the Bible teaches both that God desires that the wicked repent but does not decree it, how can this not be a contradiction? Because God can desire something that he does not decree – he can love the wicked but punish them for eternity. This seems weird to us because we are not holy and righteous. We can’t comprehend God and since we can’t Him or His revelation, we don’t think it can be true.

    The universalists believe that God is the God of love but not the God of judgment and many Christians (including hyper-Calvinists) believe that God loves the elect but hates the wicked. Each group is only looking at half the biblical picture.

    Murray talking about the decretive will and the revealed will, “It might seem to us that the one rules out the other. But it is not so. There is a multiformity to the divine will that is consonant with the fullness and richness of his divine character and it is no wonder that we are constrained to bow in humble yet exultant amazement before his ineffable greatness and unsearchable judgments. To deny the reality of the divine pleasure directed to the repentance and salvation of all is to fail to accept the witness borne by such a text as this to the manifoldness of God’s will and the riches of his grace.”
    Susan said...
    So then what the difference really is between God's decretive will and His revealed will?

    I know we've had this discussion before, but I guess it didn't sink in well enough.

    Also, just to set the record straight, I am not advocating universalism or hyper-calvinism
    (just in case my questions are misunderstood)

    I agree with your statement Michele:
    "The lack of belief in the Bible as the word of God and the clear teaching that the regenerate go to hell is the reason for universalism, not Calvinism. Because as Murray and Calvin state we believe that God may desire that all men repent and turn to Him, He doesn't decree it and so it will not come to pass. You may not understand it but as Murray demonstrates, it is biblical."
    (although I think you ment un-regenerate)
    michele said...
    Yes, of course! The un-regenerate. Oh my! What a mistake that was. :-)
    michele said...
    Yes, Susan, I have taught you this before. In fact, did I give you the material from the God's Will seminar I did a few years ago? I talked about the differences between God's revealed will and his decretive will in that seminar.
    Moonshadow said...
    I think the universalism comes about from the inclination of dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't', theologically, I mean, in a theological system.

    And sometimes, to avoid error, we may need to allow conclusions to remain "undrawn" or rely on "negative theology," that is, stating what something is not.

    So, we may say, "God is sovereign." "God loves everyone." "Some souls may land in hell eternally." "God is not the author of sin." etc., etc.

    But you see how logic led to "If God loves everyone, ..." And I'm not picking on you, Susan, this sort of thing is uttered all of the time by believers. See the Criticisms section of the Wikipedia entry on Predestination_(Calvinism). I am simply grateful to you, Susan, for making my point.

    And, Michele, as I belted out a few verses of Amazing Grace today after my rosary, it occurred to me that I was singing "that saved a wretch like me" and "I once was lost and now am found" and I had no conflict of conscience with those affirmations. All because it's in the context of praising God's grace.

    And I understood it as "un-regenerate" in your original posting, so no harm done there as far as I'm concerned. I mean, I knew what you meant.
    michele said...
    I think that it's ignoring logic and the clear teaching of the Bible that leads people to universalism. It's illogical to say that God saves people. You can't say that anymore if you’re a universalist because you would have to ask saves them from what? Nobody is bound for hell, why create it? Oh yeah, for those demons we don't believe in!
    Mark said...
    I love George MacDonald's fantasy literature, but his universalism seems to be as anti-calvinist as possible. I mean that he is not simply expanding God's grace. It is more like he is teaching "universal legalism" (as much as I realize the l-word can be used way too often!) in that everyone is kind of working off their sin and evil.

    Without making any statement about his own personal faith, I think his teaching is really a wholesale rejection of the story. I'd be interested in knowing what he thought the purpose of Christ's death was.

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