Friday, March 12, 2010

Response to Tony Byrne's Challenge

Tony Byrne (aka Ynottony) is one of the culprits behind the defamation of my friend Dr. White as supposedly being a "hyper-Calvinst." Tony has suggested, in his own defense, that one could use the following approach:
Step 1: Ask White for specific biblical proof that God desires the eternal salvation of any of the non-elect.

Step 2: Follow Robert Reymond's advice and consult John Gill's explanation of the given passage.

Step 3: Use John Gill's explanation against White's proof-text.

Step 4: Repeat step 1, 2 then 3 ad infinitum :-)

Will David [Hewitt] do it? No. He wouldn't last 5 minutes in White's chat channel. Frankly, I don't think he will get past step 1.

Let's be clear about a few things up front: none of the folks that Tony has accused are hyper-Calvinists. John Gill is one of the most eminent Baptist theologians that has ever lived. He was already proficient in Latin and Greek at age 11. There are few equals to him for scholarship and acumen. Dr. Robert Reymond is also a scholar, and has taught at Covenant Seminary for over twenty years. Both Gill and Reymond have written systematic theologies, and Gill has written a commentary on the entire Bible. Dr. White teaches at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (for nearly 15 years) and is one of the leading Reformed apologists (he hasn't written a systematic theology, although he has written a number of books).

We must also acknowledge that folks sometimes accuse Gill of either being a hyper-calvinist or having "hyper tendencies." These accusations are unfounded, and folks who make such accusations (even if they are themselves scholars) should be called to task for this. The like accusations against Drs. White and Reymond are similarly unfounded.

But let's get to Tony's strategy. Tony's shibboleth for hyper-calvinism is the erroneous touchstone of whether a person is willing to say that God desires, in any sense, the salvation of the reprobate. This is the wrong touchstone. The serious error of hyper-calvinism lies not in that, but in other areas, as I've previously demonstrated.

Nevertheless, even if one were to use that as the touchstone, Dr. White does and would agree that if one uses the term "desire" in the sense of something being God's revealed will, then God desires the salvation of all men, in that he commands that all men everywhere repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He might cite as support for this:

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

We should note, of course, that "all men" here refers (in context) to both Jews and Greeks, but the point is nevertheless the case that the gospel is presented indiscriminately to Jews and Greeks.

John Gill, in his commentary on the entire Bible, comments thus:
but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent; that is, he hath given orders, that the doctrine of repentance, as well as remission of sins, should be preached to all nations, to Gentiles as well as Jews; and that it becomes them to repent of their idolatries, and turn from their idols, and worship the one, only, living and true God: and though for many hundreds of years God had neglected them, and sent no messengers, nor messages to them, to acquaint them with his will, and to show them their follies and mistakes; yet now he had sent his apostles unto them, to lay before them their sins, and call them to repentance; and to stir them up to this, the apostle informs them of the future judgment in the following verse. Repentance being represented as a command, does not suppose it to be in the power of men, or contradict evangelical repentance, being the free grace gift of God, but only shows the need men stand in of it, and how necessary and requisite it is; and when it is said to be a command to all, this does not destroy its being a special blessing of the covenant of grace to some; but points out the sad condition that all men are in as sinners, and that without repentance they must perish: and indeed, all men are obliged to natural repentance for sin, though to all men the grace of evangelical repentance is not given: the Jews (a) call repentance מצות התשובה, "the command of repentance", though they do not think it obligatory on men, as the other commands of the law. The law gives no encouragement to repentance, and shows no mercy on account of it; it is a branch of the Gospel ministry, and goes along with the doctrine of the remission of sins; and though in the Gospel, strictly taken, there is no command, yet being largely taken for the whole ministry of the word, it includes this, and everything else which Christ has commanded, and was taught by him and his apostles; Matthew 28:20.
Now, nothing that Gill has said there would create any problem for what someone like Dr. White might say. Yet, perhaps Mr. Byrne would wish to insist that Gill has artfully avoided saying that anyone is commanded to believe. However, Gill was not afraid to use such terminology. Commenting on John 12:39-40 (The Cause of God and Truth, Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 2), Gill wrote:
It is certain, that the impossibility of their after believing, is to be resolved into the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, to which they were justly left, having contemned both the doctrines and miracles of Christ. It is of no great moment whether the he, who is said to blind and harden, be God or Christ, or whether the words be rendered, it hath blinded, etc. that is, malice or wickedness hath blinded, or be read impersonally, their eyes are blinded, etc. Since God, or Christ, blind and harden, not by any positive act, or putting in blindness or hardness, but by leaving and giving men up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, and denying them grace; which was the cause of these Jews; so as never to be converted, or turned even by external repentance and reformation, that they might be healed in a national way, or be preserved front national ruin. All which is consistent with God’s command, and Christ’s exhortations to them to believe, which were antecedent to the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, and were, with the miracles and doctrines of Christ, aggravations of their unbelief; and therefore, they might he justly objected to them by the evangelist as their great crime, as it certainly was; being owing to the perverseness of their wills, and the evil dispositions of their hearts.
And Gill gets even more explicit regarding the two wills distinction in the same work, at part 3, section 2:
This argument proceeds upon God’s will of command, which does not thwart his will of purpose. These two wills, though they differ, are not contradictory; the purpose of God is from eternity: his command is in time; the one is within himself, the other put forth from himself; the one is always fulfilled, the other seldom; the one cannot be resisted, the other may; the will of command only signifies, what is the pleasure of God should be the duty of man, or what he should do, but not what he shall do. Now admitting that it is God’s will of command, that not only all to whom the Gospel is vouchsafed, but even all mankind, should repent, believe, and obey; it does not follow, that it is the determining will of God to give grace to all men to repent, believe, and obey; nor does it contradict such a will in God, determining to give grace to some, to enable them to repent, believe, and obey, and to deny it to others. Could it be proved, that either God has willed to give this grace to all men, or that there is no such will in God to give it to some, and deny it to others, the controversy would be shut up, and we should have no more to say.
Notice how Gill even uses the word "duty" in relation to the revealed will of God and the connection between the revealed law and the gospel offer. It is the will of command that all men should repent, believe, and obey. It is not the determining will of God that they shall.

And again Gill writes (same book, Part 3, Section 2, VI:2):
It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord, and obey his will, though he has not a power, yea, even though God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot believe and obey. So it was Pharaoh’s duty to believe and obey the Lord, and let Israel go; though God had determined to harden his heart, that he should not let them go. However there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates, and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it will be difficult to prove that God requires these things of them, and should that appear, yet the impossibility of doing them, arises from the corruption of their hearts, being destitute of the grace of God, and not from the decree of reprobation, which though it denies them that grace and strength, without which they cannot believe and obey in this sense, yet it takes none from them, and therefore does them no injustice.
Notice how Gill explicitly affirms that it is the duty of men generally to believe the word of the Lord and to obey his will.

Still further in the same book, discussing Acts 3:19 (Part 1, Section 32, 2):
Besides, as has been observed, the exhortation to repent here made, is not made unto all men, but to the Jews, on a very remarkable occasion, and was blessed to many of them, to the turning them away from their iniquities; for many of them which heard the word, believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4). If it should be replied, that though the exhortation to repentance is not here made to all men; yet it is elsewhere expressly said, that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Let it be observed, that as this command to repentance does not suppose it to be in the power of man; nor contradicts its being a free-grace gift of God; nor its being a blessing in the covenant of grace, and in the hands of Christ to bestow; so neither does it extend, as here expressed, to every individual of mankind; but only regards the men of the then present age, in distinction from those who lived in the former times of ignorance: for so the words are expressed: and the times of this ignorance God winked at; overlooked, took no notice of, sent them no messages, enjoined them no commands of faith in Christ, or repentance towards God; but now, since the coming and death of Christ, commandeth all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, everywhere to repent; it being his will, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations (Luke 24:47): but admitting that it has been God’s command in all ages, and to all men that they repent; as all men are indeed bound, by the law of nature, to a natural repentance, though all men are not called by the gospel to an evangelical one; yet I see not what conclusions can be formed from hence against either absolute election or particular redemption.
We see it yet again, in the same book, discussing Acts 9:18:
And again, in Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 4, Chapter 7, 5b:
Whether repentance is a doctrine of the law or of the gospel? the answer to which is, that such who sin ought to repent of sin; this God has commanded, the law of nature teaches; and so far as this is to be considered as a duty incumbent on men, it belongs to the law, as all duty does; but then the law makes no account of repentance for sin; nor does it admit of it as a satisfaction for it; nor gives any encouragement to expect that God will receive repenting sinners into his grace and favor upon it; this is what the gospel does, and not the law; the law says not, repent and live, but do and live.
Notice that Gill here is quite explicit that those who sin are commanded to repent of sin. It is a command of the gospel, not the law, but it is a command.

We see this again in the same book, Book 6, Chapter 12, 1a:
Nor is the gospel ministry an offer of Christ, and of his grace and salvation by him, which are not in the power of the ministers of it to give, nor of carnal men to receive; the gospel is not an offer, but a preaching of Christ crucified, a proclamation of the unsearchable riches of his grace, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and life, and salvation by him. Yet there is something in which the ministry of the word, and the call by it, have to do with unregenerate sinners: they may be, and should be called upon, to perform the natural duties of religion; to a natural faith, to give credit to divine revelation, to believe the external report of the gospel, which not to do, is the sin of the deists; to repent of sin committed, which even the light of nature dictates; and God, in his word, commands all men everywhere to repent: to pray to God for forgiveness, as Simon Magus was directed by the apostle: and to pray to God for daily mercies that are needed, is a natural and moral duty; as well as to give him praise, and return thanks for mercies received, which all men that have breath are under obligation to do. They may, and should be called upon to attend the outward means of grace, and to make use of them; to read the Holy Scriptures, which have been the means of the conversion of some; to hear the word, and wait on the ministry of it, which may be blessed unto them, for the effectual calling of them. And it is a part of the ministry of the word to lay before men their fallen, miserable, lost, and undone estate by nature; to open to them the nature of sin, its pollution and guilt, and the sad consequences of it; to inform them of their incapacity to make atonement for it; and of their impotence and inability to do what is spiritually good; and of the insufficiency of their own righteousness to justify them in the sight of God: and they are to be made acquainted, that salvation is alone by Christ, and not other ways; and the fullness, freeness, and suitableness of this salvation, are to be preached before them; and the whole to be left to the Spirit of God, to make application of it as he shall think fit.
We should note that Dr. White does not refuse to use the term "offer" in connection with the gospel (link to example). Consequently Dr. White would not fall prey, as Gill might appear to here, to the "offer" shibboleth that some use who wish to use the label "hyper-calvinist" liberally.

And Gill says the same thing again, with respect to the command to repent, in the same book, Book 1, Chapter 4, 3b2:
Men of all nations, Jews and Gentiles, are the subjects of repentance; for all are under sin, under the power of it, involved in the guilt of it, and liable to punishment for it, and God has commanded "all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). During the time of John the Baptist, and of our Lord’s being on earth, the doctrine of repentance was only preached to the Jews; but after the resurrection of Christ he gave his apostles an instruction and order "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47), in consequence of which the apostles first exhorted the Jews and then the Gentiles to repent, and particularly the apostle Paul "testified both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God", as well as "faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
Now, allow me to make one final important distinction. If Tony means to insist that God's general desire with respect to salvation should be understood not as to man's duty, but rather as to God's desire for his own action, we must insist that it is blasphemy to assert that God desires to save the reprobate and cannot do so. It is the pleasure of God that it is the duty of men who hear the gospel to believe it.

As Gill explains, The Cause of God and Truth, Part 3, Section 3, II (second II):
It should be proved that there is in God a general will that all men should be saved, or that he anywhere wishes for and desires the salvation of all the individuals of mankind. For God to will or wish the salvation of all men, and intend the death of Christ for that purpose, and yet not save all men, is inconsistent with the perfection of his nature and the immutability of his counsel. Nor is this argument, that God wills not what he sees not fit to execute, attended with those dreadful consequences as are suggested; as "that God is not willing any should obey his will who doth not obey it; and that he is not unwilling any one should sin whom he restrains not from it; and that he is not willing any one should repent who doth not repent." Since God commanding and approving will is one thing, and his determining will another, in the former sense God wills what he does not see fit to execute; it is what he commands and approves of, that men should obey his will, abstain from sin, and repent of it, when he does not see fit to give them grace to enable them to do these things; but God never wills, that is determines, any thing but he sees fit to execute, and does execute, it. Besides, it is one thing for God to will and wish, that is, command and approve, what is entirely man’s duty to do, though he does not see fit to give him grace to execute it, which he is not obliged to do; and another thing to will and wish the salvation of all men, which entirely depends upon himself, and which, if he did wish, he would surely see fit to execute.


Strong Tower said...

Tony really has a hard time with the meanings of words in their contexts and times. Take for instance his rant about begging. The reaction of White and Johnson was to the kind of definition of begging appropriated by Byrne to suit his purposes. It doesn't mean seek charity, or to grovel as ynottony is making it to apprear to mean. Tony is, to use a favored word by Allen, constantly using prestidigitation with meanings. In the case of Edwards use of begging it means entreating, inviting, offering. If the reader of Edwards is half aware he might just know what era he was writing in and what meaning he was applying. The use of beg as entreaty is not common language, today. The same is true in Byrne's misuse of Spurgeon. He does not use it in the way Byrne intends. Byrne simply exchanges the concepts to manipulate his readers and says, "See, I tol ya!"

Phil's characterization was as quoted by Byrne: "He [James White] is (rightly) concerned about people who run too far with the notion of imploring sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5) and who imagine that this justifies the ridiculous imagery of God on his knees, begging sinners to have a relationship with Him. Remember: I already said I don't like that aspect of the video, either."

Byrne himself though characterizes Rutherford's use of beg as: "God can BOTH command AND entreat/"beg" men to come to him." So what he has done is take one meaning apply it where he can malign and impugn the integrity of others, and then, when it behooves him, use another definition to exuse hiself and to justify his falsification of what an offer really entails.

Phil's characterization is correct, God does not grovel for a response from man. His is an offer to give, not a request to receive, and Byrne doesn't know the difference.

What Byrne does is cherry pick quotes, fill them with his definitions, and then makes those who he is quoting into liars.

Coram Deo said...


Spot on accurate.

Sadly what you've described is the anatomy of a sophist.

In Christ,

Fred Butler said...

Hey TF,
What is your take on Curt Daniel's massive dissertation on John Gill where he says Gill was a hyper calvinist. (I tend to agree with you, by the way).


Turretinfan said...

For what it is worth, I have a copy of the massive work. I'm not sure I'm ready to give a full assessment of it.

Coram Deo said...

Curt Daniel?

What does that guy know about Calvinism?

I jest.

In Christ,

Turretinfan said...

Dr. Daniel is a respectable historian and (from the accounts I'm given) a very nice guy. The disagreements I may have with his positions are just that - not disagreements with his person.

By the way, those who wish to read his dissertation for themselves may obtain it here: (link).

- TurretinFan

Coram Deo said...


The link provided returns a null response. It isn't broken, it simply doesn't give one the intended result - presumably in this instance Curt Daniel's dissertation on John Gill.

And yes Curt Daniel is reputed as being among the most thorough and knowledgable scholars of all things Calvinistic.

In Christ,

Turretinfan said...

I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but he is a reputable historian. Sorry about the non-working link. If one types in "John Gill" as the search term at the following link, one should arrive at the dissertation: (link).

Coram Deo said...

Got it, thanks TF!

It'll take a bit to work through this magnum opus.

In Christ,

steve said...

Strong Tower said...

"Tony really has a hard time with the meanings of words in their contexts and times. Take for instance his rant about begging. The reaction of White and Johnson was to the kind of definition of begging appropriated by Byrne to suit his purposes. It doesn't mean seek charity, or to grovel as ynottony is making it to apprear to mean. Tony is, to use a favored word by Allen, constantly using prestidigitation with meanings. In the case of Edwards use of begging it means entreating, inviting, offering. If the reader of Edwards is half aware he might just know what era he was writing in and what meaning he was applying."

To illustrate this point, consider some popular idioms: "Begging the question," "I beg your pardon," and, "I beg to differ."

Turretinfan said...

Or the difference between "begs the question" as it is popularly used to mean "raises the issue" vs. "begs the question" as it means in logic.

Turretinfan said...

In the "comments elsewhere" section, one may find a URL to David Ponter's response to the post above.

I note that he has misunderstood or at least mischaracterized my response in several significant ways.

I'm weighing whether to provide more complete comments. Another alternative, of course, would be to simply provide the same demonstration from a different text of Scripture.

- TurretinFan