Chapter XIII, Of God’s Merciful Purposes

Chapter XIII.

God, although in His Justice He might have condemned all man to eternal destruction, has yet been merciful to the poor sinner, and it is His will that all men should come to repentance.


279. Up to this, we have been considering the natural state of man, as it represents itself to us after its having been affected by sin. It is now our aim to consider, whether man is destined to be lost and destroyed in this condition. For under exactly the same circumstances, God has not even spared the Angels but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness; to be reserved unto judgment, 2. Pet. 2, 4.

280. We find this our question answered in the Lamentations of Jeremiah 3, 22: “It is of the Lord’s mercies, that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not, they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness.” Even then, when we were still subject unto death he has “abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light,” 2. Tim. 1, 10; and “delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” Col. 1, 13.

281. We have now to treat of this work of grace of our God; more especially:

I. concerning His gracious purposes with regard to the sinful human race; and

II. concerning the means, which He has graciously provided to this end.

282. I. It is the gracious purpose, or will of God, that all man, which have sinned, should obtain mercy and be saved. In this respect we have to attend to the following distinctions, viz:

Although it is the will of God, that all men should be saved, it is yet not His purpose to have them saved, in all instances whatever may be their behaviour towards Him and His Grace [obedience or disobedience]; but on the contrary He has, ordained certain means, by which man is to obtain this end, and it is His purpose, that all man should lay hold of the same, and by this means be reconciled to Him. This may be called His general will.

283. Now it happens, that but few men are availing themselves of these means; whilst they are “rejected by the greatest number of men who remain in their evil career. It is, accordingly, the will of God, that those who accept those means, steadfastly remaining in the faith of Christ even unto their end, — that those should be partakers of eternal salvation; the rest of mankind, is subject to eternal destruction. This may be called His especial will — according to which He wishes some to be saved (which will or counsel is called the effectual calling, or the appointing of some to eternal life) whilst the remainder is to be given to eternal destruction.

284. A. In this Chapter, we intend to treat especially on the subject of the general purpose of God; and it is to be considered under the following heads:

a. God desires the eternal welfare of all men;

b. God has, with regard to this His will, that all man should be saved, appointed certain means, by which those who avail themselves of it, are to be saved;

c. God has, in this highly important work, plainly and perceptibly revealed His will in His word, — and He cannot be said perhaps to confess in His word, to be desirous of our Salvation, and on the other hand to be secretly determining our destruction.

d. It is not involving a contradiction on the part of God, when it is said, that He is desirous of the Salvation of all evil men, and yet also determines that as they obstinateUy reject His proffered grace, they all should be eternally condemned, (He knowing that they should remain in their evil ways).

285. a. That God is desirous of the Salvation of all man, is to be proved as follows:

1. God clearly and determinedly expresses it, that He loves all man and that he will that all shall be saved; Ezek. 18, 23, 32; 33, 11: “As I live saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;” Matth. 18, 14: “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of those little ones should perish,” 1. Timot. 2, 4: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” 2. Pet. 3, 9: God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

286. 2. God will be merciful to all who have sinned; Rom. 11, 32: “for God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy unto all;” Galat. 3, 22:,the scripture has concluded all unto sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” — And that all men have sinned, will be evident from the passages already quoted: Prov. 20, 9; Eccl. 7, 21; Rom. 3, 23. It follows from this, that God will have mercy on all men.

287. 3. God desires the wellbeing even of those who are not yet converted. That it is God’s desire to bring such unto salvation, there can be no doubt. And if it can be proved, that He desires the evildoers also to be saved, it will be evident, that He “will that all men shall be saved. Now God testifies his gracious purpose towards the unconverted, saying; “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people which walketh in that way which was not good, after their own thoughts,” Isa. 65, 2; — “Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh,” Proverb. 1, 24. ff.; Matth. 22, 3, the king is said to be inviting all men to the marriage feast, and that it is his pleasure, that all should be partakers of his grace, from which feast yet a great number are disobediently staying away, mocking and killing the servants of the king, who are afterwards destroyed by the army of the king, v. 67. This parable has reference to the kingdom of heaven, and shows it to be God’s pleasure, to see in the kingdom of heaven even such as are disobedient to His commands, and who reject his gracious invitation.

288. 4. God has sent His Son to the whole of mankind. The men to whom God has sent His son, the same also does He wish to become citizens of His heavenly kingdom, and partakers of eternity; it must therefore be admitted that he wishes all to become heirs of eternal life.

289. 5. God calls every man to become an heir of His kingdom and to partake of His salvation. Now him, whom God is calling unto salvation, the same also He desires to be saved, Matth. 28, 19: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” etc. Mark, 16, 15: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;” Acts. 17, 30: “(God) commandeth all men every where to repent.” Coloss, 1, 28: “Whom (Christ) we preach, warning every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” From which follows, that it is God’s will, that all men should be saved.

290. B. We have now to consider the proposition that God, for the purpose of carrying into effect His gracious purposes concerning the wellbeing of men, has appointed certain, means and ordinances. Though it is the will of God, that all men shall be saved, yet they are not to arrive at this end, without certain means, which it is quite in their power to reject or to avail themselves of, thus enjoying perfect liberty in all their actions. On the contrary certain rules have been laid down and means provided, which are accessible to all men, who thereby may become heirs of eternal life.

291. To which end He has, more especially, sent His Son, who has taken upon him human nature, and having suffered for the sins of mankind has reconciled them to their heavenly Father. These facts are to be preached to men, in order that they might be seriously induced to repent and to accept of this redemption, and not to reject it; to trust to their Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ, and not to doubt their being graciously accepted by God. He justifies them by this faith; and regenerating them by his word and sacrament, he strengtheneth their faith by the word and sacrament etc. These are the means by which He desires man to be saved.

292. That the employment of these means is indeed the will of God, can be proved from the fact of His having revealed His will accordingly: Ezek. 18, 21: “If the wicked will turn from all his sins, that he hath committed.,.. he shall surely live and not die,” v. 24: “When the righteous tumeth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity… in his sin that he hath committed he shall surely die;” Mark. 16, 16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned:” John. 3, 18: “He that believeth on him (the Son) is not condemned: but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because be hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of the Father; 1 Timot. 2, 4: “Who (God) will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth;” 2 Petr. 3, 9: “(the Lord) is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” From which we learn that God will have all men to be saved, but with the condition, that this salvation be effected in the manner He has thought fit to ordain; which is: that the ungodly return from his evil ways; that the just always remains in his righteousness; that the sinner repent, and come to the knowledge of the truth in the faith of Jesus Christ.; it is in this way only (and by no other means) that the will of God can be accomplished concerning man.

293. Another point for our consideration is: that God Has, in this very important affair, thoroughly revealed His will in His word, and that He cannot be said, to promise in His word one thing, which in His secret counsel He has determined differently. This assertion scarcely stands in need of any proofs; for:

294. a. Such an impression is quite in contradiction to the light of nature [that is within us], seeing that every man must be convinced of the fact, that such a.supposition could only be stated by an ungodly man.

295. b. It is contrary to all that, which God Has revealed concerning His faithfulness. He is not a man that He should lie, but all His words are true, and that which He has promised He performs, Numb. 23, 19; 1 Sam. 15, 29; Psalm. 33, 4; Tit. 1, 2.

296. If we were permitted to imagine that, God promises one thing in His word, and then determines differently in His counsel, — it would come to this, that nobody would have any confidence in the revealed word. For it would then always remain a subject of uncertainty, whether God is indeed so minded, as it is expressed in His word, or whether He has not determined differently in His counsel. Thus circumstanced, the Christian faith would indeed be at an end, since no body would be able to put a simple minded and sure confidence into the benevolent assurances of God. But we know, on the contrary, that our faith is to be founded upon a rock; that is, our faith is to be build upon an assurance and conviction of the faithfulness of God and His word, of so firm a nature, that neither flood nor storm, that is, neither temptation, nor danger nor assault might be able to subdue or to destroy it, Matth. 7, 24 25. The divine word therefore, from which comes the faith, Rom. 10, 17, must stand so sure, that nobody should have any reason to doubt its integrity; which could not be the case, if it were not certain, that God is indeed intending to carry out every thing, which He is promising in this word.

297. God is not contradicting Himself when He desires the salvation also of wicked men, and yet also wills (because He is aware of their determination to remain in their evil ways) that those who obstinately reject His gracious offers should be damned. This question has been admirably expounded by our Lord Jesus Christ, in his two parables concerning the marriage feast of the king, and concerning that of the great supper: Matth. 22, 1. and Luk. 14, 16.

298. We observe, in both instances, that the giver of these feasts are said to have had two sets of purposes, which are:

1. A gracious will, a joyful inclination, in consequence of which they strove, for the wellbeing of the invited guests, and desired them to enjoy, all their wealth, and

2. A judgment will, in consequence of which, they determined that those who had been invited and who had ungratefully and uncourteously rejected the offer, should ultimately not be allowed to enjoy their grace and bounty. Both these determinations do not at all contradict each other, although, in the one case, the guests are desired to enjoy the feast, whilst in the other that boon is denied them.

299. In the same way our Lord can be said to have two determinations, of which the one is the gracious will, which by some of the Fathers has been called the preceeding will; because God, in determining it, was not previously waiting for man’s committing actions of piety, or wickedness, or gratitude or ingratitude, obedience or disobedience — but is offering to all, without any exception, grace and salvation. — The second is called the judgment will, which some of the Fathers have called the subsequent or succeeding will, because it is said of Him, that He forms His determination according as men have accepted and availed himself of the kind and merciful offer of God. And if they have rejected and despised it, He meets them with disgrace and condemnation, rejecting them from before Him. Just as God, therefore, is desirous in His merciful purposes, of the wellbeing of men — so also does He determine, for the sake of His justice, that all those shall be saved, which have accepted the proffered grace; which blessing is to be denied to all those who reject His grace.

300. It can therefore be said, of God, that He is dealing with us like kind and pious rulers. They do desire nothing more earnestly than the welfare of their subjects; which latter they will always exhort in a kind and affectionate manner; yea they will even intreat them to behave well, that they might be able to enjoy all the benefits consequent to a proper me. And if it happens that these affectionate cares are rejected, and the requests and entreaties of the rulers not attended to; but that they are, on the contrary, laughed to scorn and then: good advices openly spoken against — then the gracious purposes must, ultimately cease, and justice take its course. Upon which the rulers finally will cease to be careful of the welfare of such misbehaved subjects, and of course have them punished.

301. In all such cases, the king, the father or the rulers cannot be said to have contradicted themselves, although under certain conditions they would have been inclined to do a thing, which in others they refuse to do. In the same way it cannot be said of God that He is contradicting Himself, if, in the one case, He is said to desire the salvation of all men, and in the other, — their condemnation.