God’s Universal Call to Men -- By: John F. Thornbury

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 02:4 (Fall 1993)
Article: God’s Universal Call to Men
Author: John F. Thornbury


God’s Universal Call to Men

John F. Thornbury

The pendulums of theological history often tend to swing back and forth as alternately this system and that holds the field in the arena of doctrinal debate. As the nineteenth century drew to a close the triumph of rationalistic theology was celebrated across the religious world and it was conceded by most that Arminianism was the only form of evangelical theology which had survived. The disintegration of Calvinism was acknowledged as a historical fact, and scholars spoke with a kind of benign deference, if not with any real affection, toward this moribund system as they prepared to pay respects at its last rites. 1 In his essay, Evangelical Revival, R.W. Dale pronounced Charles Spurgeon the last Calvinist. 2

The funeral arrangements for Reformed theology have proven over the ensuing years to be premature. There certainly has been a remarkable revival of the doctrines of grace in the past thirty or forty years and we can declare now that Calvinism, if not the predominant theological view in Christendom, is at least a viable alternative to the Arminian theology of the past century. At almost all levels in the contemporary church, academic, ecclesiastical, and literary, we can see a respectable sprinkling of Calvinistic influence.

When emphasis on the authority of Scripture and its inevitable corollary, the sovereignty of God, reasserts itself there is always a tendency for the pendulum to swing too far. In their zeal to repudiate Pelagianism and Arminianism some in the Reformed community take theological positions which are not only contrary to Scriptures, which is the most important point, but are outside the mainstream of Calvinistic thought as well.

The Bible teaches that God, for reasons known only to Himself, has selected only a portion of the human race to be the ultimate beneficiaries of His redeeming mercy. The Bible also teaches just as clearly that God issues a general

or universal summons to all men to come to Him for salvation. This has sometimes been called the general call or the free offer of the gospel. Louis Berkhof is not atypical when he says, “We believe that God unfeignedly, that is, sincerely or in good faith, calls all those who are living under the gospel to believe, and offers them salvation in the way of faith and repentance.” 3

The concept of such an offer of mercy on the part of God, however, is frequently met with fierce resistance on the part of some within t...

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