Packer “no ask no tell” on election, but Packer does talk about a false universal “offer”

When J. I Packer claims that election is not part of the gospel message (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), he relegates the doctrine of election to the “hidden God” who we need not know. Besides the God who has already elected a sinner in Christ or not, there is a false god offering Christ to sinners.

Instead of a propitiation in which Christ is offered by God to God to bear the sins imputed to Him, the true nature of propitiation and imputation is not supposed to be told. It is not so much a matter of doubting how much God the Holy Spirit can teach a sinner about propitiation and imputation, but rather a desire that the truth of the matter not be known.

It’s as if Packer is being more cautious and prudent than God. Of course we don’t know who is not elect. But we do know that God has an elect, and that Christ only died for that elect, and if we leave that out, we must also leave out the whole matter of a past imputation of sins to Christ.

“Bearing sins” becomes a very flexible metaphor, in which the reality and success of the bearing are to be determined by the Holy Spirit convincing the sinner. If the Spirit fails to convince a sinner, that sinner will bear for himself the sins Christ bore for him, including presumably the sin of not being convinced by the Spirit.

The false gospel has two Gods, one wanting to save all sinners. The false gospel also cannot have a righteousness which was completed at once in the past by Christ. The false gospel can have an alien righteousness, but in the Augustinian sense that it’s God doing the work of righteousness by grace IN the elect sinner.

You can have a false God-righteousness, you can have a false election, you can say that God delivers faith to the sinner, and still have a false gospel. Because if the message is not about what Christ did by Himself outside the elect sinner, if the gospel is not about sins imputed once and taken away once, then justification becomes a theoretical footnote, and assurance depends on regeneration making you different from other people.

And instead of telling God’s elect that Christ is coming a second time not to deal with their sin, preachers still have people doing the dealing. Deal with your sins, or God will deal with them for you, is not a message about what Christ has done.

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11 Comments on “Packer “no ask no tell” on election, but Packer does talk about a false universal “offer””


    from Blocher, p 564, From Heaven he Came

    Some of the Reformed have denied the universal love of God. though they quote verses such as Malachi 1:3 (Esau I have haged) and Psalm 5:5, their denial is so opposed to the drift of Scripture that I rule it out of court.

    So Blocher teaches universal love but not ‘egalitarian love which smacks of humanism”

    So he disagrees with Barth and the Torrances when they claim that “any attribute necessary to God is necessarily exercised by God equally on all of whom it is logically possible to exercise it.”

    Blocher praises the “beautiful essay” by Andrew Swanson, “The Love of God for the Non-Elect”, Reformation Today, May 1976

    p 565 “I choose to speak of God’s will of desire (which generates precepts) and God’s will of decree.”

    “The permissive character of the sovereign decision over the vessels of wrath makes it possible to coexist with the salvific desire and universal love. Yet it is no rational decision solution. I cannot understand why the Lord of Lords so decides about men and women he loves.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing needs to learn to tell the truth about Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed, beginning with the slanders found in Grace: The case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration, by Matthew Barrett, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2013.

    It will always be said that the problem is merely semantics, and that we need to remember that God has “two wills” and that we must use the word “will” in two senses. But the truth of it is that people are intentionally use the word “will” in a deceptive sense.

    Of course God’s law does not depend on the ability of humans to keep the law for that law to be legitimate. Of course God can and does command all sinners to believe the gospel. Barrett writes as if Hoeksema somehow denies this..

    Barrett claims that Hoeksema makes responsibility depend on ability, and that this is somehow in parallel to the Arminian argument that inability to keep the law would mean that we have no duty to keep the law. But Hoeksema nowhere makes this argument, and Barrett is projecting it onto Hoeksema to avoid basic questions about his assumption about God’s supposed desire to save all sinners.

    Barrett assumes that God loves all sinners. When Hoeksema denies that, Barrett accuses Hoeksema of making duty depending on ability. Barrett is doing what Andrew Fuller did, which is confusing the gospel with the law. It was not Hoeksema but Andrew Fuller who ultimately made duty depend on ability, because it was Andrew Fuller who said that if God commanded all sinners to believe the gospel, then we must make some kind of distinction between “moral inability” and “natural inability” so that we can say that all sinners can be told that God loves them.

    Andrew Fuller got this assumption from the New England Theology which resulted from the speculative theology of Jonathan Edwards. Instead of merely saying that God commands all sinners to believe the gospel, the Edwards/ Fuller approach confuses this “will of God” with the non-biblical idea that God “wants and wishes and desires” to save all sinners.

    It comes down to the idea that, since God commands you to believe the gospel (which the Protestant Reformed do not deny), then that must mean that God wishes (unsuccessfully in many cases) that you would believe the gospel. The slander accuses those who disagree about the wishing of being “insincere” when they call people to believe the gospel.

    In what way do we make a distinction between the command to believe the gospel and the gospel itself? is the command itself part of the gospel? Is the gospel in the end no different from law”? In what way do we make a distinction between the promise of the gospel and the gospel itself? And what is “the promise” of “the covenant”?

    Is the promise of the covenant that God loves everybody, or is it a promise that God only loves those in the covenant? If we are to address everyone “in the covenant” as if they were elect, our definition of election will have to change (the federal vision) or we are going to have two different definitions for “the covenant”.

    God’s “will” can have two different meanings. It can mean God’s predestined decree, but it can simply mean God’s law, God’s command. But God’s will does NOT mean that God desires what God has not predestined. To claim that God has desires which will never be fulfilled is NOT saying something positive about human responsibility and divine law. To claim that God has desires which will never be fulfilled is saying something false theologically about God and God’s gospel.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    But Didn’t Paul Address Everybody as if They were All Christians?
    Romans 3:18-19–“There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth will be held accountable to God.”

    To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, the apostle Paul was not writing about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell everybody that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But Paul (see Romans 3:19) also tells everybody : if you don’t know the gospel and believe it, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear, because you are still “under the law”.

    If Christ did not die for you, you should be afraid. Being afraid won’t save you. But legal fear is the reasonable response to not knowing the gospel. Because not knowing the gospel means knowing that you are not yet justified and still under the law.

    I do not want to preach terror to Christians. But I never assume that everybody is a Christian.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    In a Constantinian context, appealing to the conscience to “accept the Christ who died for you” may have had a very powerful effect on those haunted by the weighty obligation of their baptism and church membership . Many intuitively felt the significance of their citizenship in a Christian society. Yet as the ghost of nominal Christianity is driven out by modern secularism perhaps such a strategy has had its day. Lee Gatiss, For Us and Our Salvation, p 118

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Clair Davis—In God’s big plan, his decision comes at the beginning; but in our lives we’re called to learn about it when we really need it. “Election” isn’t really about evangelism and what we should say then.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Tom Nettles, By His Grace And For His Glory ” . from the chapter on world missions ” .
    “Offer” is not used in Scripture to describe how God gives his gifts to men … The word offer has too dormant a connotation to incorporate the vivid and active images picturing the effectuality of gospel preaching : the blind see , the dead live , the sleepers awaken , the sinners’ resistance is aggravated , and a sweet-smelling savor rises to the nostrils of God . In apostolic examples of preaching , we see little of what might be called ” offer ‘ and much of what is called ” command . ” Men are commanded to lay down arms and surrender to God , who demonstrates his sovereign holiness in all his actions — creation , providence , and redemption — and promises of forgiveness encourage those who truly comply . The unabridged version of the gospel simply cannot be contained within the normal connotations of the word offer.”
    Grace cannot be “offered .” Grace is purely within the sovereign prerogatives of God and those who argue for the validity of offering grace place themselves in the position which they claim is so presumptuous in the hyper-Calvinist . To offer grace is to determine human responsibility from a supposed knowledge of the divine intentions toward all men in particular . Those who argue for general atonement on this basis pursue the same erroneous line of thought . Neither the evangelist nor the sinner need have guarantees that grace accompanies their interaction for the responsibility of either to be established . It is enough that both know that God commands all men everywhere to repent an .
    Grace is the sovereign bestowment of salvific blessings. Its appearance among men is purely a matter of sovereign discrimination . Such an understanding is nothing less than historic evangelical Calvinism . An ” offer ” of grace presupposes a redefinition of the word grace

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Fisher’s Catechism on Q.87, q.20 What is the evil in maintaining that none but true penitents have a warrant to embrace Christ by faith? a. It sets sinners upon spinning repentance out of their own bowels, that they may fetch it with them, as a price in their hand to Christ, instead of coming to him by faith, to obtain it from him, as his gift. Mark: I agree with Fisher that we don’t need to know that we are regenerate (or elect) before coming to Christ. We can’t know before coming. But the warrant (the right) for sinners’ coming is not that “Christ is dead for you” or that Christ desires the salvation of the non-elect.

  8. markmcculley Says:


    Rutherford—he commands all, whom he exhorts to repent, to be baptized

    mark—do you have to be baptized to be commanded? Are some sinners baptized into a conditional covenant?

    Rutherford—The word of the Covenant is preached to you, an offer of Christ is made in the preached Gospel to you. The promises are to all the Reprobate in the Visible Church whether they believe or not, for the promises of the Covenant are Preached to Judas and all the Hypocrites who stumble at the word.

    mark: And how are the promises to those externally in the covenant in any way different from the promises to those not externally in the covenant?

    Rutherford—But in the New Testament, it must have this meaning, I will be your God, 2. Cor. 6. 16. that is, you are all predestinate to life, and the sons, by promise, and the spiritual seed, to whom I say, I will be your God: But so it may well be said, there were no internal Covenanters in the Old Testament, and there be none but only internal Covenanters in the New Testament

    mark—The promise is not that anybody is already justified, because the promise of the gospel is that all those who believe the gospel will be justified. The promise is not that anybody will believe the gospel, because the promise of the gospel is that all those who believe will be justified, not because they believe, but when they believe.

    Rutherford—-If these words, The promise is to you, and to your Children, be limited, to as many as the Lord shall effectually call, either fathers or children, then there is no more a Covenant-favour to their children, then to the children of Pagans; because the children of Pagans, if God effectually call them, have the promises made to them.


    Rutherford—To these men external Covenant-holiness,ceremonial holiness is now out of date; to them external calling the only means of effectual calling.


    Rutherford—To them children not believing, though chosen to life, are excommunicated from visible Adoption, for there is no covenanting now under the New Testament, but only internal covenanting of the Elect.

    Mark–Amen, all visible Israel is now excommunicated, and visible NT churches are only for those who profess faith in the gospel.

    Rutherford—Children of believing Parents have no more right than pagans to hear the preached Gospel, before they believe

    Mark: Amen. No sinner has any right to grace. No sinner has any right to hear the gospel.

    Rutherford—They can have no command of God to hear the Gospel, nor any covenant warrant, until they be believers, for if there were no conditional promise made to hearing and considering the word, if they shall believe, while as yet they believe not, and until they be effectually called, there can be no command, and no Law, to hear the Gospel and the covenant offer made in Christ. It shall then be no more sin for unconverted persons to turn away their ears from the Gospel.

    Mark—–The command to believe the gospel does not depend on any promise that a sinner will believe the gospel. The promise of the gospel is not that any will will believe the gospel, because the promise of the gospel is that those who believe will be justified, not because they believed, but not before and without believing the gospel. It is no more (and no less) sin for a sinner outside a visible church to not believe the gospel than it is for a sinner inside a visible church.

    Rutherford—-It were nonsense to say to men under the externally proposed covenant, repent, hear the Gospel, and yet you have no right to hear, nor have we any warrant to baptize you, until ye believe; for there is no promise made to you until first you believe.

    Mark–We don’t have rights, but there is no need to water a sinner before promising that sinner justification when they believe the gospel. Amen, there is no promise of grace made to those who do not believe the gospel.

    Rutherford. If there can be no baptism before faith, then there could be no threatening to Adam before he sinned, and no promise to Adam nor to any now, to do and live, until Adam first obeyed the covenant.

    Mark: Why not? Adam was under law before sin. The promise to keep living if Adam keeps from sinning is not a promise to immortality. The promise to keep living if Adam keeps from sinning is not a promise of time off probation for obedience.

    Rutherford—A conditional covenant agreed unto and accepted, is a covenant, and we ought to distinguish between a covenant broken or fulfilled, as Adam accepted the threatening, Gen. 2. 17. by silence, and Professors within the visible Church, by their receiving of the Seals are under the covenant of Grace, and engage themselves to obey commands, promises, threatenings, and therefore promises are as properly made to them, But the Anabaptists ignorantly confound the promise, and the thing promised; they confuse the covenant and the benefits covenanted.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    election is easy

    all you need to do know is that you are a Christian

    and then you know you are elect

    all you need to know is that God loves you

    even if you disagree with God about who God is

    in spite of that, because you know you believe in the God

    you believe in, you know you are a Christian

    if you must think about such things

    Some “Calvinists” believe in a “limited atonement” in that they say that “”Jesus only died for those He knew He would enable to ask Him to die for them”

    ie, if you ask Jesus to die for you, He will

    that is “limited atonement”, but it’s not what the Bible teaches about the nature of propitation for the imputed sins of the elect

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