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

  1. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    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. https://theecclesialcalvinist.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/hyper-inerrancy-and-the-sectarian-impulse/

  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:

    ttp://heidelblog.net/2016/04/samuel-rutherford-on-acts-239-in-defense-of-infant-baptism/

    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.

    Mark—Amen

    Rutherford—To these men external Covenant-holiness,ceremonial holiness is now out of date; to them external calling the only means of effectual calling.

    Mark–Amen

    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

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Westminster Confession, Chapter 3: VI.
    Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
    Chapter 8, V.
    The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up to God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.
    Hebrews 10:14
    For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
    Dear Michael Horton,

    You seem to be under the impression that you can teach “the indicative declaration of what Christ has accomplished” (Modern Reformation, September1999,p4) without addressing the question of the extent of the atonement. But the nature of Christ’s righteousness cannot be clearly taught without saying that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ.

    If Christ bore the sins of every individual, but not each of them is saved, then Christ’s blood cannot be taught as that which actually satisfies the demands of God’s law in a “complete atonement” (p30). If the blood does not “set apart” the elect from the reprobate, then something unholy sinners do or decide is that which sets apart.

    In the ambiguity resulting from your failure to agree with God and the Westminster Confession about particular atonement, the propitiatory offering (Ephesians 5:2, 25-26) will continue to be seen by many “classical evangelicals” as something offered to individual sinners, for them to accept or reject. In other words, the universal duty to believe the gospel will become a law which conditions salvation not on the cross but on the sinner.

    But the Westminster Confession to which you subscribe rightly describes the cross as an offering made to God. God has not introduced a new less strict law by which we may be saved. God has offered to God a righteousness that entitles each elect person to all the blessings of salvation, including the effectual call and faith in the true gospel.

    I would not say that definite atonement is ‘the little point which the world and the devil are attacking” (p39). There is no need for Satan to attack a doctrine which is not even being taught by “Reformed” celebrities like yourself. You spend more time defending Calvin on the sacrament than you do attacking the hypothetical (useless) universal (on condition) atonement heresy.

    Why is this so? I think first of the “myth of the influence”. Perhaps you think that if you avoid the offense of the cross: (Gal 6:14–it saves, and it alone, and therefore all for whom Jesus died will be saved), you will be able to persuade those who condition salvation on themselves to talk more correctly about God or about election or union with Christ.

    But election and/or union which enables sinners to meet conditions to get in on the “alien righteousness” is NOT a biblical picture of election/union and certainly is not the gospel. It is the outside righteousness of the cross itself which is the condition which makes certain the salvation of the elect. But surely Mike Horton is not deceived by the idea that compromise will help you to influence others. Better to be confessing Christ’s effectual atonement even if it leaves one outside the church catholic!

    So I cannot think that it is only your alliance with Lutherans and evangelicals that keeps you silent about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do you “take away with one hand what you give with the other”? Why do you preach about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?

    Perhaps, I think, the problem is your sociology: perhaps you think of the church as only the regenerate or those who profess to be regenerate. Therefore sermons like “Christ Alone” by David McWilliams were addressed only to the elect. But no, that cannot be, you are no sectarian: you know that the covenant community includes the reprobate for whom Jesus did not die.

    But then again, when you accept as Christians those who confess a water baptism “where infants find salvation in Christ”, then perhaps you really do see every baptized member of the covenant community as one for whom Christ died. Surely these infants would not find salvation in the water unless they had first been purchased by Christ.

    But finally I do not think the problem is any ecclesial presupposition about the ‘you” being regenerate.. Those who disagree about water can still confess together that only the elect are baptized by the Father into the death of Christ. Only those for whom Jesus died have a righteousness which answers the demands of God’s law.

    Being “pastoral” (p 6) gives no preacher the right to assure all his hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Acts 17:31 should warn us against talking about sovereign grace without attending to the righteousness of God. Only the blood of Jesus Christ (not the preacher of the word or the church or the sacrament) has (or has not) silenced the accusations of God’s law.

    The confession of Gal 2:20 (Christ gave himself for me) cannot be libeled as that of a rebel seeking to be autonomous and solitary. We are not saved collectively: Individually we are effectually called into the body of Christ when we obey the gospel. Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ.

    It is not sure that “you” will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone. Salvation is not promised to those who have faith in their faith or their church or its water and word. If the word of the church is universal atonement, that word is a false gospel which encourages people in their darkness.

    Mike, your proper antithesis (not by works in us) will do no good if you “flinch at this one point”. If you do not confess particular atonement, then the people who hear cannot look outside themselves for the righteousness which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save those who meet further conditions, then people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved.

    The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved excludes this believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. No debated language about “covenant” should be allowed to obscure this gospel truth. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make faith into that little something” that makes the difference between life and death!

    I am not looking for another discussion about Calvin and Luther on the extent of the atonement. I am not even looking for something “classical” enough that you can influence people to sign. I am asking you if you believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved. Or is that too “rationalistic” for you? Would that perhaps take the grace of God out of the hands of those who give the sacrament and reserve it for the Father who has reserved a people for himself and given them to Christ? (Romans 11:4-6)

    The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a victim of “evangelical” law which in the name of universal atonement conditions salvation on the sinner.

    Maybe a token in the direction of a proper repentance would be for you to stop quoting a pagan like C S Lewis. Talk about taking away with one hand what one gives away with the other! You quote Lewis: “The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.” If you really want a reformation, you would quote Lewis on how he conceives of this pursuit continuing into purgatory.

    In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis confessed that ‘the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of God’s scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will…would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish, He can only woo…”

    Mike, do you and C. S. Lewis have different gods or only different doctrines? Lewis not only made an idol of human ability but curtailed the demand of the law and the gospel. God will not save those whom God does not teach to trust only in the Righteousness established for the elect at the cross. Romans 10:3 “Those who are ignorant of God’s righteousness seek to establish their own righteousness, and do not submit to the righteousness of God.”

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Faith Reviving”, Toplady
    From whence this fear and unbelief?
    Hath not the Father put to grief
    His spotless Son for me?
    And will the righteous Judge of men
    Condemn me for that debt sin
    Which, Lord, was charged on thee? Complete atonement thou hast made,
    And to the utmost farthing paid
    Whate’er thy people owed;
    How then can wrath on me take place
    If sheltered in thy righteousness,
    And sprinkled with thy blood?

    If thou hast my discharge procured,
    And freely in my room endured
    The whole of wrath divine,
    Payment God cannot twice demand–
    First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
    And then again at mine.

    Turn, then, my soul, unto thy rest
    The merits of thy great High Priest
    Have Brought thy liberty;
    Trust in his efficacious blood
    Nor fear thy banishment from God,
    Since Jesus died for thee.


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