Universal Grace: The Teaching of Scripture
B. Universal Grace. God’s gracious disposition in Christ is not limited to a part of mankind, but extends over all men without exception. Saving grace is universal grace (Gratia Dei erga homines lapsos non particularis, sed universalis est). Scripture rejects particularism when it expressly declares, first, that the object of God’s grace (love, mercy, etc.) in Christ are all men. Titus 2:11: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” 1 Tim. 2:4: “Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” John 3:16: “God so loved the world,” the whole world. 1 John 2:2: “And He is the Propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Scripture forbids the limiting of κόσμος, John 3:16, to “the world of the elect,” for according to v. 18 also the unbelievers belong to the “world.” Second, Scripture expressly states that the gratia universalis is for each and every individual. 2 Pet. 3:9: “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish.” And when the Lord swears: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11), He declares that His saving will extends to every individual who is “wicked.” And, in the third place, Scripture testifies in many places that God’s saving grace embraces also all those who ultimately perish. The merit of Christ covered their sins, too. 1 Cor. 8:11: The weak brother, “for whom Christ died,” will perish. Rom. 14:15: “Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died.”42 2 Pet. 2:1: The false teachers who “bring upon themselves swift destruction” are denying “the Lord that bought them.” The Lord is minded to convert those who ultimately are lost. Matt. 23:37: “How often would I have gathered thy children [Vol. 2, Page 22] together … and ye would not.”43 Gerhard says that Scripture attests the universality of grace in words, Christ with tears, and God Himself with an oath.44
The gratia universalis is the doctrine of the Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Confessions maintain the universality of saving grace in its full extent. They teach the threefold universalism of the love of the Father, of the merit of Christ, and of the efficacious operation of the Holy Ghost, through the means of grace, on all hearers of the Word.45 Limited grace is definitely rejected in the Lutheran Confessions. “Therefore we reject the following errors: 1) As when it is taught that God is unwilling that all men repent and believe the Gospel. 2) Also, that when God calls us to Himself, He is not in earnest that all men should come unto Him. 3) Also, that God is unwilling that everyone should be saved, but that some, without regard to their sins, from the mere counsel, purpose, and will of God, are ordained to condemnation, so that they cannot be saved.” (Trigl. 837, 17 ff.)
The synergists, indeed, assert that the Lutheran Confession, in spite of these declarations, in reality cancels universal grace, because [Vol. 2, Page 23] it insists so strongly on the sola gratia and ascribes to the saved not a better, but a like wicked conduct and equal guilt compared with the lost, and hence declares that the question why some are saved and the others not cannot be answered in this life and belongs to the incomprehensible judgments and inscrutable ways of God (Trigl. 1081, 57–64). This charge that the doctrine of the sola gratia, as presented in the Formula of Concord, virtually abolishes the gratia universalis has been raised by the synergists not only at the time when the Formula was prepared, but is very emphatically repeated by modern German and American synergists.46 This entire argument, however, rests on the fundamental error that the Christian doctrine must not be taken from Scripture, but must be shaped according to the requirements of a “uniform system.”—Luther, too, upheld, together with the universality of the love of God and of the redemption of Christ, the efficacious calling of all hearers of the Word.47—Luther’s distinction between the voluntas revelata and the voluntas abscondita leaves [Vol. 2, Page 24] the gratia universalis intact, as will be shown in the chapter “The Theological Terminology Regarding the Divine Will of Grace.”
This testimony of Scripture for the universal grace of God in Christ is so clear that it seems incredible that the gratia universalis should ever have been questioned within the Christian Church. Still. it has been done. Augustine did not, as far as we can see, directly oppose universal grace, but the denial of it looms in the background of his theology. This caused him to subject passages like 1 Tim. 2:4: “God would have all men to be saved,” to various impossible interpretations.48 The valiant opponent of Pelagius did not himself fully gain the Scriptural position.49 In the controversy with Gottschalk (d. 869) both sides were about equally groping in darkness. Gottschalk erred in plainly limiting the saving will of God and Christ’s merit to the elect. He says: “I, Gottschalk, believe and confess that all those godless and sinful men whom the Son of God came to redeem with His shed blood, these the goodness of the omnipotent God wills to save, having irrevocably predestinated them to life; and, inversely, all those wicked and sinful men for whom the Son of God did not become incarnate, did not offer a prayer and much less His blood, and for whom He was in no wise crucified, because He knew that they would be very wicked in future, and concerning whom He had most justly determined in eternity that He would east them into torments, those He, in His heart, absolutely did not want to save.” (Cp. Gieseler, II, 7, p. 101.)
The Calvinistic Reformed bodies not only deny, but, in part, bitterly attack the gratia universalis and teach the particularism of saving grace in its strictest form: God does not love all men, Christ did not redeem all men, the Holy Ghost does not desire to convert [Vol. 2, Page 25] all men.50The division into supralapsarians and infralapsarians does not touch the question of universal grace. Both groups deny it. The supralapsarians teach that God has decreed to create a part of mankind unto damnation.51 The infralapsarians teach that God has decreed to leave a part of mankind in the damnation incurred by all men through the Fall, or to pass them by with His grace.52 Also the hypothetical universalism of the Amyraldists, according to which [Vol. 2, Page 26] Christ gained grace for all men, but God’s will is to create faith only in the elect, practically denies the gratia universalis.53
Particularism, in whatever form it appears, is founded not on the Word of God, but on a human speculation as to the will and work of God. As Calvinism, in Christology, resorts, in the last instance, to one philosophical axiom in order to do away with what Scripture teaches concerning the communion of natures and the communication of attributes, the axiom Finitum non est capax infiniti, so the Reformed denial of the Scripture doctrine of gratia universalis ultimately and conclusively rests on the one philosophical axiom: Whatever God earnestly purposes must in every case actually occur; and since not all men are actually saved, we must conclude that the Father never did love the world, that Christ never did reconcile the world, and that the Holy Ghost never does purpose to create faith in all hearers of the Word. That is the chief argument of Calvin in the four chapters of his Institutes (III, 21–24) on Predestination. He disposes of the Scripture declarations which attest universal grace with the statement, repeated again and again, that the result must determine the extent of the divine will of grace.54 In our day the Reformed theologian Boehl has said: “If according to this passage, 1 Tim. 2:4, God actually willed that all, man for man, be saved, that would have to occur, or there would be nothing more feeble and frail than this will of God, which has not realized its object in the great majority of men from Adam to our day” (Dogmatik, p. 286). Charles Hodge uses the same argument: [Vol. 2, Page 27] “It cannot be supposed that God intends what is never accomplished; that He purposes what He does not intend to effect; that He adopts means for an end which is never to be attained. This cannot be affirmed of any rational being who has the wisdom and power to secure the execution of his purposes. Much less can it be said of Him whose power and wisdom are infinite. If all men are not saved, God never purposed their salvation and never devised and put into operation means to accomplish that end. We must assume that the result is the interpretation of the purposes of God.” And with special reference to the merit of Christ, Hodge declares: “If equally designed for all men, it must secure the salvation of all” (Systematic Theology II, p. 323). That is human philosophy concerning the will of God; it is not the teaching of Scripture.
Scripture definitely teaches “that God intends what is never accomplished.” Scripture teaches that God intends to save the world through Christ (John 3:17: “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”) and that nevertheless God’s purpose is not accomplished in a part of mankind (John 3:18: “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God”). Scripture teaches that Christ died also for those who are damned. Rom. 14:15: “Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died.” See also 2 Pet. 2:1–2. Scripture furthermore shows by many examples that God desires the salvation of those in whom He does not accomplish His will. With regard to Jerusalem Christ declares (Matt. 23:37): “How often would I have gathered thy children … and ye would not.” The Pharisees and scribes frustrated (ἠθέτησαν) the will of God, who desired also their salvation (Luke 7:30).55 The Jews of Antioch contrived to reject the salvation which God purposed to give to them and offered to them in the Gospel. The Apostle expressly declares (Acts 13:46): “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” The proposition: “We must assume that the result is the interpretation of the purposes of God,” consequently, is nothing but a human deduction which stands in glaring contradiction to Scripture.
Dominated by this anti-Scriptural thought, the advocates of the gratia particularis divest the Scripture passages which proclaim the [Vol. 2, Page 28] gratia universalis of their plain meaning; for the general terms “all men,” “the world,” “the whole world,” they substitute, against the text and the context, the particular terms “all sorts of men,” “the elect,” “the Church”; and they distinguish between the voluntas signi and the voluntas beneplaciti in such a way that the former, which is indeed God’s revealed will, His will to save all men, must be interpreted according to the latter, the will of His pleasure, His hidden will, according to which God’s true intention is to save only the elect.56
C. Serious and Efficacious Grace. In spite of the fact that the grace of God does not attain its purpose in all men, it is still serious and efficacious (gratia seria et efficax). God’s gracious will in Christ is not some sort of laissez-faire attitude, which does not go beyond a half-hearted, idle wish (otiosa complacentia, nuda velleitas), but God has set His heart on the conversion of all men and puts His full power into the means of grace to effect His purpose. That is the teaching of Scripture. 1. Christ has commanded His Church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), to preach the fact that God for Christ’s sake is gracious to all men. Luke 24:47: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations”; 2 Cor. 5:19. 2. Scripture teaches, moreover, that the Holy Ghost seeks to engender faith in the Gospel in all who hear the Gospel. The gracious purpose of God in regard to Jerusalem, which would not believe, is brought out very pointedly in Matt. 23:37: “I would have gathered thy children together,” and “gathering together” (ἐπισυναγαγει̂ν) means gathering them together spiritually, bringing them to faith. The clause which Jesus adds brings out still more strongly that Jesus desired to gather the Children of Israel together not in a halfhearted, indifferent way, but earnestly and urgently, “even as a hen gathereth her chickens [Vol. 2, Page 29] under her wings.”57 Likewise Scripture teaches that the gracious will of God operates not only to generate faith, but is ever active to perfect and consummate faith. Phil. 1:6: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” 3. Scripture never attributes the reason why so many hearers of the Word never come to faith to God’s passing them by or to a lack of the serious effort on the part of the Holy Spirit, but always gives as the only reason men’s resistance, whereby they persistently oppose the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 23:37: “I would have gathered thy children together … but ye would not”; Acts 7:51: “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost”). Unless we are ready to deny that definite passages of Holy Scripture have a definite sense, these passages of Scripture certainly state that the Holy Spirit urgently entreated these unbelieving Jews to turn to the Lord and that it was only the resistance of the Jews which prevented the effect so earnestly intended by God.58
Men, then, do possess the power to thwart the operation of the divine grace whereby God intended to produce faith in them (gratia resistibilis). It will not do to explain this by asserting, as has been done in the past and is still being done,59 that when God produces faith in man, He does not exercise the divine omnipotence. Scripture plainly teaches that faith is created through the almighty power of God. Eph. 1:19–20: “Who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from [Vol. 2, Page 30] the dead.”60 Can man, then, resist the almighty power of God? Scripture teaches that the operation of God through the means of grace, though God operates there with this full power, can be hindered by man. Luther’s axiom is based on Scripture: When God works through means, He can be resisted; when God operates without means, in His uncovered majesty, He cannot be resisted.61 When God deals with men through His Word and says to them: “Come unto Me” (Matt. 11:28), resistance is possible; so Christ reports: “Ye would not” (Matt. 23:37). But when Christ will appear on Judgment Day in His uncovered majesty (“in His glory”), all resistance is excluded, for “before Him shall be gathered all nations,” etc. (Matt. 25:31–32). The statement, therefore, of the supporters of a gratia particularis that when God earnestly desires a thing, no man can resist His will must be changed, on the basis of Scripture, to read that when God works through means, and earnestly means to accomplish His purpose, His will can be resisted.62 Thus the whole Calvinistic argument that the “result” is the correct interpretation of the will of God falls to the ground.
Nor does the divine judgment of obduration disprove the gratia seria et efficax. On the contrary, the Scriptural doctrine of obduration proves that God seriously willed the salvation of these men. According to Scripture, God does not harden a man according to an absolute decree, but his hardening results from his own guilt, from man’s resistance to God’s Word and will. Obduracy is God’s dreadful judgment upon those who despise the grace offered them and resist the operation of the Holy Ghost. It sets in, as Rom. 11:9 expressly states, [Vol. 2, Page 31] as “a recompense unto them.”63 That is clearly seen, too, from the context of the passages in the Gospels which speak of hardening, blinding, hiding of the grace, etc.: John 12:40; Matt. 13:14–15; 11:25–26; 23:38; etc. The words of John 12:40: “He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,” are preceded by the words: “Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you …. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus and departed and did hide Himself from them. But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him.” The account of the hiding of grace (Matt. 11:25): “Because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent,” is preceded by the account of how urgently God had offered His grace to them, v. 20.: ff. “Then He began to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not,” etc. And by describing the persons from whom God’s grace was hidden as “the wise and prudent,” Christ indicates that here a judgment of God is being executed on people who set their own wisdom against the divine revelation of grace.64 Yes, it is stated that God withdrew His grace from the Jews (Matt. 23:38): “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” But mark well, the words that immediately precede are these: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets … how often would I have gathered thy children together … and ye would not.” If Jews were hardened, this hardening came upon them because, as Stephen tells them: “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). The Scripture doctrine of obduracy is thus no proof against, but for the gratia seria et efficax.65[Vol. 2, Page 32]
The Christian Church must guard the gratia seria et efficax not only against the Calvinists, but also against the synergists in so far as these teach that saving grace produces only the ability to believe and not faith itself. The Arminians and the synergistic Lutherans do say that God’s grace is seria, efficax, sufficiens, yea, that it works all things. But they add that the gracious divine power in the means of grace does not suffice to produce faith; human co-operation is necessary for the production of faith itself. One group, the Arminian, expressly calls that on which conversion depends besides the grace of God “human co-operation” (co-operatio) and the exercise of the free will of natural man.66
The other group designates the aliquid in homine on which conversion depends the “self-decision” made possible by grace, the proper “conduct” of man, the yielding to grace, the refraining from willful resistance, etc.67 But both groups mean the same thing: the divine operation in the means of grace does not suffice to produce faith itself. Scripture, however, teaches that grace not only makes it possible for man to believe, giving him the power to believe, but that it creates the very act of faith (Phil. 1:29: “Unto you it is given … to believe on Him”).
In teaching, with Scripture, both the gratia universalis, seria, et efficax and the sola gratia we are confronted with a difficulty, with a question which at all times has constituted the crux theologorum: Why, then, are not all men converted and saved? Both the Calvinists and the synergists, as has been shown, are ready with an answer. The Calvinists answer by denying the universalis gratia, the synergists by [Vol. 2, Page 33] denying the sola gratia. But both of these solutions are contrary to Scripture. The Lutheran Church refuses to answer the question. It recognizes at this point a mystery which cannot be solved in this life and teaches that both the universalis gratia and sola gratia must be maintained side by side, without any rationalistic compromise. The Lutheran Church teaches that in this question all our thoughts must remain within these limits: Whoever is saved, is saved by grace alone, and not because of a lesser guilt or a better conduct over against grace; whoever is lost, is lost through his own fault, and not through a lack of the grace of God or of the gracious operation of God.68 The various attempts to solve this problem reveal theological immaturity. No mature theologian will indulge in such speculation. Universal grace is and will remain an article of faith.
Not even the fact that not all nations on earth and not all individuals in any one nation have had the Gospel should move us to doubt the gratia universalis et seria which Scripture so clearly teaches. The judgments of God by which He punishes the rejectzion of the Gospel also in the descendants, are, as the Formula of Concord points out (Trigl. 1081, F. C., Sol. Decl., XI, 58), unsearchable. Rom. 11:33 f.: “How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past firming out!” In order to safeguard universal grace before the forum of human reason, some have thought that the heathen will be saved for Christ’s sake, without faith in the Gospel, merely on account of their moral striving (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, 2d ed. I, p. 568 f., and others). Others have assumed that after this life an opportunity to hear the Gospel and to believe it will be offered (Martensen, Kliefoth, etc.). But these are human speculations, without any foundation in Scripture. Scripture knows of no salvation for men without faith in the Gospel.69 [Vol. 2, Page 34] Nor does Scripture recognize any opportunity to come to faith after this life. 1 Pet. 3:18 ff.: “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” does not, according to the context, say that the Gospel was preached, but that judgment was pronounced upon those who here on earth heard, but despised the Gospel (a full discussion of this passage is offered in the doctrine of “Christ’s Descent into Hell”). Accordingly, if we wish to stand on Scripture, there is but one thing to do: we must believe, because Scripture clearly teaches it, the universality of saving grace. The facts of history seem to be in conflict with this doctrine, but it does not behoove us to interpret the clear Scripture teaching according to our dim understanding of God’s ways in history. In eternal life, when our understanding of God and divine things will no longer be fragmentary (ἐκ μέρους, 1 Cor. 13:12),this obscure matter, too, will become dear to us.
Theological Terminology Regarding the Divine Will of Grace
The grace and favor of God in Christ toward all men is described by Scripture also as the will of God. 1 Tim. 2:4: “God will (θέλει) have all men to be saved.” In defining this will of God, theologians have used the terms voluntas absoluta, voluntas ordinata, voluntas conditionata, voluntas antecedens and consequens, voluntas revelata and abscondita. How are we to understand these definitions in a Scriptural sense?
1. According to Scripture the will of God to save all men must not be called an absolute (voluntas absoluta), but an ordinate will (voluntas ordinata). It is based on Christ’s merit (satisfactio vicaria) and embraces on the part of God the conferring means (media δοτικά) the Gospel and the Sacraments, and on the part of man the receiving means (medium ληπτικόν), faith. God would have all men to be saved, but only for Christ’s sake and through the means of grace and faith.
This gracious will to save could be called an absolute will only in the sense that it is entirely independent of all human worthiness. God would save the whole of mankind and every single individual by grace (χάριτι), irrespective of the works of man (χωρι̂ς ἔργων νόμου). With respect to human worthiness there is no difference among men, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).[Vol. 2, Page 35]
2. The term conditional will (voluntas conditionata) is used in a twofold sense. If it is used as a synonym of voluntas ordinata—and Luther and other orthodox teachers have thus occasionally employed the term70—it expresses a Scriptural truth. But if it is used in the sense that any human work is needed for the appropriation of salvation, it expresses an error. In this false sense old and modern synergists use the term “conditional will of grace”; they do not ascribe conversion to God alone, but maintain that man co-operates toward his conversion by his “self-decision,” good “conduct,” the “omission of willful resistance,” etc.
Our orthodox dogmaticians have already shown that this ambiguous term, “conditional will of grace,” has been used to hide the introduction of human merit and the doctrine of works into the order of salvation. They pointed out that conditional clauses either express a real condition, that is, demand an equivalent from man, or merely describe the mode and manner by which the object is attained. “If you work, you will receive the wages,” expresses a real condition. “If you eat, your hunger will be appeased,” expresses the mode and manner of reaching the desired result. Apply this to the conditional statements in Scripture. Either these are legal demands (thus in the sentence: “If you keep the Law, you will be saved,” the “if” expresses a real condition, calling upon man to do his part), or they are evangelical pronouncements. When, for example, in describing the divine will of grace, the expression is used: “If you believe the Gospel, you will be saved,” the “if” always expresses the manner or way of appropriating grace and never demands a human contribution or accomplishment. Faith, by which grace and salvation is obtained, in Scripture is always placed in opposition to all human achievements. Rom. 3:28: “By faith … without the works of the Law.” Gal. 2:16: “A man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.”71[Vol. 2, Page 36]
3. The old distinction between the antecedent, or first, will (voluntas antecedens, voluntas prima) and the consequent, or second, will (voluntas consequens, voluntas secunda)72 (though there has been much ill-advised discussion both pro and con) is Scriptural if it is used to express the thought contained in John 3:17–18; etc. This passage compels us to conceive of God as originally desiring to save all men through faith in Christ (vol. prima). “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned.” (Vv. 17–18 a.) It is only after men refuse to believe in Christ that God pronounces the judgment of damnation (voluntas secunda): “But he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (v. 18 b.).
Calvinism rejects this distinction between the antecedent and consequent will of God and teaches the unscriptural doctrine that the will of God is twofold from the outset, as though God had originally decided to save only a part of mankind and to condemn the rest. The argument advanced by the Calvinists that in God there is no before [Vol. 2, Page 37] and after73 is futile. While it is true that in God there is no time, but solely “pure presence,” it would be utterly wrong to build up our knowledge of God on this fact. We are utterly unable to know God in His absolute being, for God in His essence is for us “the Light which no man can approach unto” (1 Tim. 6:16). We can know God only in so far as He has, in merciful condescension to our limited human comprehension, revealed Himself to us in Holy Scripture. And according to the revelation given us in Scripture we must conceive of the divine acts as preceding or following each other. Lutheran theologians have insisted on this truth very strongly over against Calvinists.74 We must maintain: There is in God indeed no time; God is the changeless eternal One (Deus temporis est expers). There are no parts in God; He is absolute simplicity (Deus ab omni compositione vera et reali liber est). Hence when we distinguish between the first and the second will of God, we do not mean to say that there is in God a temporal succession of thoughts and two separate wills (duae reapse distinctae voluntates). But God in His unchangeable eternity and in His absolute simplicity is God in His majesty, far beyond human understanding. Our human conceptions are bound by time and space. But God would be known by us; He therefore steps out of His unapproachable majesty, and in His Word He has become man, speaking to us in a human manner, so that we can understand it. Luther writes: “God does not deal with us in His majesty, but takes on a human form and speaks to us throughout Scripture as a man with man … speaks in all things with us without majesty, and, so to say, lays aside the [Vol. 2, Page 38] form of God (exinanita forma Dei)” (St. L. II:1442). Let us repeat this: since we can have no conception of the absolutely simple God, God reveals Himself to us in Scripture “in part,” piece by piece, i.e., according to distinct attributes, which indeed are one in God but must be distinguished by us on the basis of the divine revelation.75 And since we human beings are bound to the sequence of time, God has Himself revealed to us in His Word in what order and sequence our thoughts regarding God and God’s will must move in order to be correct thoughts. In this manner we obtain not a perfect, fully complete, knowledge of God, but nevertheless a correct knowledge, suited to the weakness of our mundane understanding of Him.
If, then, we ask: “What is God’s will as to saving and damning man?” we must on the basis of John 3:17–18, etc., first think of God as desiring to condemn no one, but to save all men, without exception, by faith in Christ; only after that, in the second place, may we think of God as willing to condemn those who refuse to believe in Christ. If the distinction of the voluntas antecedens (prima) and voluntas consequens (secunda) is thus used to set forth the order of thought given in John 3:17–18, and throughout Scripture, namely, that by the Gospel, God would save all men and will damn only those who refuse to believe, then this distinction must be accepted as altogether Scriptural. The objection that in God there is no before and after is not to the point, because here we are not concerned with the question how God exists in Himself, but how He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.
The “absolute knowledge of God” is one of the sine mente soni, sounds without sense, with which the vocabulary of certain philosophers and philosophizing theologians abounds.
On the other hand, the Semipelagians and synergists have at all times made use of the distinction between the first and second will of God as a convenient device to support their error. They do this by extending the second will not only to the lost, but also to the saved. They say that the first will of God, His universal gracious will, remains ineffective Without human co-operation. So the second will of God makes salvation contingent on man’s co-operation, which, according to some, [Vol. 2, Page 39] forms a part of faith itself. To guard against this abuse, it is advisable to follow those theologians who name as the objects of the second will only those who are lost because of their unbelief.76 Only that is Scriptural. In the case of the saved, no new will operates; what is effected in them is what God would effect according to His universal gracious will, the voluntas antecedens, in all men, the will to save all men by grace, without any human works or co-operation, by faith in Christ. It makes no sense to divide this will of God into a first and second will in the case of those saved by faith in Christ. To do this would give countenance to the error that the universal gracious will is not a serious and efficacious will and that it becomes such only when “faith,” taken as human achievement, is added. To ward off all misconception, we shall have to say: According to the voluntas antecedens God would save all men through faith in Christ; according to the voluntas consequens, God condemns all who do not believe in Christ.
These same thoughts are expressed when the voluntas antecedens is called the will of mercy (voluntas misericordiae) and the voluntas consequens, the will of justice (voluntas iustitiae). Thus Gerhard defines: “The antecedent will is the one according to which God as the most benignant Father desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; according to the consequent will, God, as the most just Judge, wills to damn those who remain impenitent and unbelieving” (loc. cit., § 271).
4. The distinction between the revealed will (voluntas revelata, voluntas signi) and the hidden will (voluntas abscondita, beneplaciti), though it has been much abused, must be retained as entirely Scriptural. On the one hand, Scripture teaches a will of God which has been fully revealed to us (1 Cor. 2:10: “God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit,” v. 16: “We have the mind of Christ”); on the other hand, it speaks of a mind of God which no man has known nor can know (Rom. 11:34: “Who hath known the mind of the Lord?”).
Scripture clearly reveals to us the will of God in the Law and the will of God in the Gospel. God’s will revealed in the Law requires that all men conform perfectly in their entire nature and in all their [Vol. 2, Page 40] thoughts, words, and deeds to His Law and He pronounces on all transgressors the judgment of damnation (Matt. 5:17–19; Gal. 3:10). According to the Gospel, or according to His gracious will, God would have all men to be saved without the deeds of the Law, for Christ’s sake, by faith in Him. True, Scripture calls this gracious will of God “the wisdom of God in a mystery,” “the hidden wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:6–9). but this mystery has been revealed to us by the only-begotten Son of God, who is in the bosom of the Father: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and this gracious will of God extends over all men. Scripture has clearly revealed this fact. According to Scripture, God does not approach men with a twofold will, that is, with a will to show His love and mercy to a part of mankind, and with a will to demonstrate His wrath and avenging justice to the other part, as Calvinists wrongly teach; but, according to Scripture, God wills to magnify His grace in all men, for God “sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Judgment comes into play only after a person “hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). This is the voluntas Dei revelata.
This divine will has also been fittingly called the voluntas signi. The meaning is that God, who in His essence is invisible and unknowable to us, has through His Word stepped out of His hidden invisibility and through His Word as through a perceptible sign (signum) has made Himself known to us.77
On the other hand, Scripture tells us that the mind of God underlying His “unsearchable judgments and His ways past finding out” is unknown and unknowable to us here on earth. It exclaims: “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor?” (Rom. 11:33–34.) Scripture clearly indicates the point at which the judgments of God become unsearchable for us, and we are at a loss to understand His ways. Such is the case when we compare the fate of individual persons and of individual nations (Isaac and Ishmael, [Vol. 2, Page 41] Jacob and Esau, Jews and Gentiles, Romans 9–11). There the question arises: “Why the one rather than the other?” (Cur alii prae aliis?) This question would be answered if we could say with the synergists: “The conduct of the one was better than that of the other.” This better conduct would then be the reason explaining why some were converted and saved and others not. But the Apostle declares (Rom. 11:35): “Who hath first given to Him [God], and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” To try to solve the difficulty by assuming a causa discriminis in homine, therefore, conflicts with Scripture. The problem would also be solved if we were permitted to say with the Calvinists that God’s grace is particularis and that consequently God, in His grace and gracious activity, passes by a part of mankind or that God is not at all minded to convert those who remain unconverted. But this explanation, too, is contrary to Scripture. The Apostle attests the earnest gracious will of God toward disobedient Israel in Rom. 10:21. There he quotes God from Is. 65:2: “All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Furthermore, immediately before pointing to the unsearchable judgments of God, he declares (Rom. 11:32) that God as shut them all up together, Jews and Gentiles, in unbelief “that He might have mercy upon all.”78 God’s mercy, therefore, is universal; it extends as far as human unbelief. Thus the question why some rather than the others are converted is left unanswered by Scripture.
Presenting and motivating the inscrutable dealing of God still further, the Apostle adds that everything that exists and occurs is “of God and through God and to God” (Rom. 11:36). These words describe, as Luther reminds us, God in His divine majesty. They present God as the absolutely independent One, who is the beginning, middle, and end of all things, pervading and ruling everything according to His wisdom and knowledge, which are wholly beyond us. In short, there are dispensations of God for which we cannot assign a satisfactory [Vol. 2, Page 42] reason. That is the Deus absconditus (the hidden God), the voluntas abscondita. We must, therefore, let the distinction between the revealed and the hidden God stand as Scriptural.
We must distinguish between the two—not intermingle them. That would be the height of folly. It is indeed a foolish undertaking to try to explain the known by the unknown. It results in making the entire Christian doctrine, so clearly revealed in Scripture, altogether uncertain. Calvinism commits this folly of mixing the voluntas abscondita into the voluntas revelata. Calvinism deduces, freely and frankly, from the inscrutable dispensation of God in history (He gives the Gospel to one people in preference to another; one person is converted and saved before another) that there is no divine universal will of grace though it is clearly revealed in Scripture. Synergism commits the same folly. From the inscrutable dispensation of God in history (some rather than others are converted and saved) it deduces without any restriction that there is no sola gratia, which is so clearly revealed in Holy Scripture. It teaches that the conversion and salvation of man depends not solely on God’s gracious favor and God’s gracious operation in the means of grace, but also on man’s self-decision, his better conduct, his lesser guilt, etc. Synergism intermingles the voluntas abscondita and the voluntas revelata in such a way that it abolishes the sola gratia.
That, however, is not Christian theology. The Christian theologian, on the one hand, will not deny the unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways of God; he admits that, in this respect, he is facing a voluntas abscondita—for Scripture teaches it—but, on the other hand, when answering the question how God is minded toward men and what is His purpose toward them, he will turn away completely from the voluntas abscondita and judge concerning God’s will toward us solely from His Gospel revelation in Scripture, which includes both the universalis gratia and the sola gratia. That is the theology of the Lutheran Confessions. The Formula of Concord fixes the exact point where God’s ways become unsearchable for us, namely, in the revelation that God knows all things and all things are subject to His will and decision (Trigl. 1081, F. C., Art. XI, 54–57), and, above all, in the historical fact “that God gives His Word at one place, but not at another; removes it from one place and allows it to remain at another; also, that one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again.” The Formula of Concord accepts this historical fact on the basis of Rom. 11:33 as an inscrutable mystery and does not draw it into the [Vol. 2, Page 43] voluntas revelata. Nor does it assert this fact to abrogate the sola gratia, after the fashion of the synergists, or to destroy the gratia universalis, after the fashion of the Calvinists. It leaves the revealed sola gratia intact and does not teach a lesser guilt and a better conduct on the part of the saved, but ascribes to them the same guilt and the same wicked conduct. So also it leaves the revealed universalis gratia intact; it names as the cause of perdition not a divine will of particular grace, but man’s rejection of the gracious will of God (cf. F. C., 57–61). The authors of the Formula are well aware that in teaching the universalis gratia and the sola gratia they are confessing two truths that seem to annul each other. But they hold fast both truths, because both truths are clearly revealed in Holy Scripture and, according to God’s will, “we should not reason in our thoughts, draw conclusions, nor inquire curiously into these matters, but should adhere to His revealed Word” (F. C., 55), and let His unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways, as these face us in history, be and remain unsearchable and incomprehensible.
We submit a somewhat extended discussion of Luther’s position as to the voluntas revelata and abscondita, since men are insisting to this day that Luther’s doctrine is identical with Calvin’s and that Luther, differing from the Formula of Concord, taught contradictoriae Dei voluntates.79 But Luther’s position is identical with that of the Formula of Concord, as is apparent from a letter Luther wrote in 1528 to an unknown person, which summarizes his teaching on this point.80 Luther here says that God Almighty “knows all things and that all actions and thoughts in all creatures must come to pass according to His will (iuxta decretum voluntatis suae).” But he at once adds: “It is nevertheless His earnest will and purpose, indeed, His command, decreed from eternity, to save ali men and make them partakers of eternal joy, as is clearly stated Ezek. 18:23, where He says: ‘God does not desire the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn and live.’ Now, if He desires to save and have with Him the sinners who live and move under the wide and high heaven, then you must not separate and exclude yourself from the grace of God by your foolish thoughts which are inspired by the devil.” Observe that Luther calls it “foolish thoughts which are inspired by the devil” when a person mingles God, in so far as He is to us absconditus and incomprehensible in His [Vol. 2, Page 44] knowledge, operations, and will, into the certain, revealed Word and so renders universal grace uncertain to himself. In a letter of the year 1531 (St.L. X:1746) Luther says: “Such thoughts are nothing else than a prying into God’s majesty” and “surely the temptations and fiery darts of the abominable devil.” Drastically Luther adds: “If they come up in your heart, let them come out at once, just as one quickly expectorates when dirt is splashed into his mouth.” Such thoughts, Luther says, one must “send home to the devil,” telling him: “If you really are so wise in these things, then ascend to heaven and dispute with God Himself; His answer will soon shut you up.” In this way Luther constantly speaks of the revealed and the inscrutable will of God.81
Luther’s teaching may be summed up thus: There are for our human mind unfathomable depths and an unsearchable will in God, such as God’s omniscience, His all-pervasive activity, and particularly the question: Cur alii prae aliis? But we human beings must not make this will the object of our knowledge; the attempt to explore this will of God and to read from it God’s intentions toward us is foolish presumption and makes for eternal perdition. The revealed will of God is the sole source of our knowledge of God’s will toward us. God, who has revealed Himself in Christ, who lay in the manger and hung on the Cross, and who reveals Himself in the objective signs ordained by Him, namely, in the Word and the Sacraments, as willing to save all men, that is God as He actually feels toward us, of that will of God we are sure. On that [gracious] God our faith must confidently (cum certa fiducia) rely.
It is to be noted that Luther speaks in this way not only in the later years of his activity, as in his Commentary on Genesis (6:5; 82 [Vol. 2, Page 45] 26:983), but specifically also in 1525 in De Servo Arbitrio. He there writes: “God, therefore, must be permitted to remain (unsearched) in His own nature and majesty; for in this respect we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us in this respect to have anything to do with Him. But we have to do with Him as far as He is clothed and delivered to us in His Word; for in this He presents Himself unto us, and that is His beauty and glory, in which the Psalmist exalts Him as being clothed …. We are to consider His Word only and to leave that will inscrutable; because it is by His Word and not by His inscrutable will that we are to be guided; for who can direct himself according to a will that is inscrutable and incomprehensible? It is enough to know only that there is in God a certain inscrutable will; but what, why, and how far that will wills, it is not lawful for us to inquire, to wish to know, to be concerned about or to reach unto; it is only to be feared and adored. Therefore, it is rightly said: ‘If God does not desire our death, it is to be laid to the charge of our own will if we perish.’ This, I say, is right when you speak of the God who is proclaimed [in the Bible]; for He desires that all men should be saved, since He comes to all through His saving Word, and [if anyone is damned] it is the fault of the will that does not receive Him, as He says Matt. 23:37: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children [Vol. 2, Page 46] together, and thou wouldst not.’ ” (St. L. XVIII:1795f.)84 In a letter written in the same year to the Christians in Antwerp he gives the same advice.85
True, also Calvin says that we should not seek to explore the hidden will of God, but rely on Christ and the Gospel.86 But how can Calvin direct men to rely on Christ and the Gospel since he teaches that only some of the hearers of the Word have a claim on Christ? As a matter of fact, he does not direct men to Christ and the Gospel, but to their inward renewal and sanctification, or to the gratia infusa. The Christ to whom Calvin directs men is not the Christ who bore the sins of the world and is preached in the Gospel as the Savior of all [Vol. 2, Page 47] sinners, but an interior Spiritus illuminatio. He states expressly that the universal call (universalis vocatio), by which God invites all men to come to Him, even those whom He does not intend to save, but whom, by giving them the Word, He only leads to greater damnation, cannot be made the criterion of God’s will toward us. The true index is the special call (specialis vocatio) or the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. Inst. III, 24:8: “There are two kinds of calling. There is the universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the Word, invites all men alike to come to Him, even those to whom He designs it as a savor of death and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this, there is the special call, which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only when by the internal illumination of the Spirit He causes the Word preached to take deep root in their hearts …. Few, therefore, out of the great multitude that are called are chosen; the calling, however, not being of that kind which enables believers to judge of their election.”
Calvin is also under a delusion when he distinguishes between the hidden depths in God and the revelation in God’s Word (Inst. III, 21, 1. 2; 24, 3). The depths of the Godhead are not hidden to Calvin; they are so clear to him that by them he cancels the revelation in the Word (the gratia universalis).—It is amazing how often Calvin contradicts himself in presenting his doctrine of the will of God toward men. For example, he says again and again that one reason why the call through the Word is couched in such general terms is that the reprobate may have no excuse, but must condemn themselves doubly to hell because of their rejection of the love and grace of God.87 Calvin forgets entirely that according to his doctrine there is no love and grace of God for the reprobate, hence also no possibility of their despising God’s love and grace.88[Vol. 2, Page 48]
It has become quite fashionable to speak of an essential agreement between Luther and Calvin in their profession of a revealed and a hidden will in God. Both certainly used these terms, but in the matter itself they differed completely. The following points show their complete disagreement. 1. Luther lets the Word of God, Scripture itself, tell him what the gracious will of God is, how far it extends, and what it effects. Calvin lets the result (effectus) or the historical experience (experientia) determine what God’s gracious will is. 2. Luther leaves universal grace as taught by Scripture wholly intact; he says, as we heard above, that it is “foolish” not to believe it on account of the incomprehensible judgments of God. Calvin is astonished at the folly of people who still believe a universal gracious will of God, since the effect of the Gospel is only “particular.”89 3. Luther teaches that God works also on those who are finally lost to produce faith in them and avert their damnation,90 but that this operation of God, exerted through the Word, may be resisted and that therefore the failure of the Word must be charged to human resistance (cf. what was said under “Serious and Efficacious Grace”). Calvin denies all this; men cannot thwart the will of God,91 and so God does not at all work on those who are lost to convert them.92 4. Luther accepts a seeming contradiction between God’s revealed will and the incomprehensible [Vol. 2, Page 49] judgments of God; eternal life will show that there was none.93 Calvin places the incomprehensible judgments of God in real contradiction to the revealed will; he seeks to establish a harmony by nullifying the revealed will by the hidden.
A Reformed theologian of our day, E. F. Karl Mueller, has called attention to the essential difference between Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrines in these words: “It is a fact that the character of Luther’s faith, which rested immediately on the Word and the Sacraments and on nothing else, emphasizes over against the ‘Sacramentarians’ the so-called objectivity of the means of grace, i.e., not only their trustworthiness, but also their operation in every case, often in a manner that finally had to undermine the predestinarian faith” (R. E. 3d ed., XV, 599). That is correct—except that Luther never held the predestinarian faith in the sense of a gratia particularis.
The teaching of Luther and the Formula of Concord that both the universalis gratia and the sola gratia must be upheld without any rationalizing compromise and that therefore the question: Cur alii prae aliis? must remain unanswered in this life, has been thoroughly condemned through the course of the centuries down to our own time. The criticism runs the gamut from downright rejection of this doctrine to friendly excuses for it. Shedd denies, from his Calvinistic standpoint, all right of existence to the position of Luther and the [Vol. 2, Page 50] Formula of Concord. He claims that there are only “two great systems of theology which divide evangelical Christendom: Calvinism and Arminianism” (Dogmatic Theology I, 448). Luthardt does the same thing from his synergistic standpoint; he insists that if one would retain the universalis gratia, the sola gratia must be given up.94 Also well-meaning later Lutheran dogmaticians, e.g., Gottfried Hoffmann, list among the “rather hard statements” Luther’s and Brenz’s (and the Formula of Concord) statements that in this life they could not answer the question: Cur alii prae aliis?95 These criticisms reveal the theological backwardness of the critics. Only the Calvinists and synergists presume to answer the question. And since Scripture does not take either the Calvinistic or the synergistic position, but teaches both the universalis gratia and the sola gratia, those who answer the question have abandoned the principle that Scripture alone is the source and norm of doctrine.
Both of the attempted solutions make faith in Christ entirely impossible. Calvinism does that. Wherever the doctrine is taught that the grace of God does not exist for the greater part of mankind, every. hearer, particularly the sinner convicted by the Law, must remain in doubt whether there is grace for him. But such doubt absolutely destroys faith. The reason why many in Calvinistic communions still come to faith lies in the fact that preachers as well as hearers forget the gratia particularis. There are Calvinistic teachers who insist that especially when one is harassed by doubt, recourse must be had to the Scripture statements which speak of universal grace.96 Thus Calvinism, whose advocates are so sure of their case and designate the teaching [Vol. 2, Page 51] of universal grace as folly (cf. Boehl, Dogmatik, p. 282 ff.), completely refutes itself.
Also Arminianism and synergism, which does not let salvation depend solely on the grace of God in Christ, but makes human self-determination, self-decision, better conduct, lesser resistance, lesser guilt, etc., the deciding factor, cannot produce faith in the grace of God in Christ. Let the notion prevail that God is gracious only to him who can show correct behavior, a lesser guilt, etc., before God, and the poor sinner, crushed by the Law, will not dare to stretch out his hand toward divine grace. He will be unable to believe, for it is the nature of faith to rely solely on grace.97 When a man claims that he excels others by having lesser guilt and that he is therefore somewhat entitled to divine grace, Scripture definitely describes such an attitude as a defection from grace.98 But here, too, the practice often is better than the theory. Luther already in De Servo Arbitrio declared that many who in their disputations make much of the meritoriousness of their conduct, before God and in their hearts relied solely on grace.99
Finally, it is clear that both the Calvinistic and the synergistic attempt at solution changes the Scriptural concept of saving grace as gratuitus Dei favor propter Christum into gratia infusa. Whoever [Vol. 2, Page 52] denies the universal gracious disposition of God proclaimed in the Gospel must necessarily direct those who seek grace to the effects of grace in man, that is, to the gratia infusa. Synergists do this from the outset by asserting that conversion and salvation do not depend alone on God’s grace in Christ, but also on the better human conduct. Thus all who would be wiser than Scripture and would answer the question: Cur alii prae aliis? in this life, land in the Roman camp, in work-righteousness.
Here again we perceive how closely related to one another the Christian doctrines, as revealed in Scripture, are. They form a unit. They are, in the language of Luther, an unbroken ring. To correct one or the other doctrine for the purpose of removing gaps or seeming contradictions, in the interest of a so-called scientific system, can only result in the destruction of the cardinal doctrine of Christianity, justification by faith without works.
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The Formula Consensus Helvetica, opposing the attempts made within the Reformed Church to modify the doctrine (Amyraldism), declares: “Christ … in the time of the New Covenant, became surety for those alone who were given Him through the eternal election as His peculiar people, His seed and heritage. For these alone, the elect, He, according to the decreeing counsel of the Father and His own intention, subjected Himself to dire death; these alone He restored into the bosom of the paternal grace; these alone He reconciled to God, the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the Law. All this being true, we cannot approve the opposite doctrine of those who hold that Christ, according to His own intention and the counsel both of Himself and of the Father who sent Him, has died for all and everybody, adding the impossible condition, namely, if they believed.” Particularly clear are also the words of Beza: “There never was, nor is, nor will be a time when God willed or wills or will will to have compassion on every single man.” (Respons. 2. ad acta Colloq. Mompelg., p. 194; see Quenstedt, Systema, II, p. 11.)
Friedr. Spanheim: “This is the sum of our opinion: Neither can a will to have compassion on all and everyone for salvation be ascribed to God, nor a will to have all and everyone redeemed by Christ, nor a will of calling all and everyone through Christ; therefore universal grace must not be taught nor defended” (Disp. de gratia univers., Thes. 5, p. 231; see Quenstedt, ibid.). The Westminster Confession of Faith declares: “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called … but the elect only” (Ch. III, 6).
Most of the Reformed Confessions agree with the Canons of Dort, which declare that God determined “to leave a part of mankind in the common misery into which they precipitated themselves by their own fault and not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion” (see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, III, p. 555). The Westminster Confession of Faith: “The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”
American Presbyterians have not changed the wording of this statement. However, the General Assembly adopted a Declaratory Statement and a Brief Statement of the Reformed Faith, both of which have the tendency to grant Arminianism equal right with Calvinism among Presbyterians. The declarations just quoted are to be found in E. F. Karl Mueller, Die Bekenntnisschriften der ref. Kirche, 1903, p. 941 ff. They are reviewed in Lehre und Wehre, 48, p. 182 f., and 49, p. 187 f.