Richard Muller on Common Grace & the Free Offer of the Gospel

Muller is one of the the leading reformed historians in the world today.  In his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms  Buy  and Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols.  Buy  he summarizes the majority reformed views of the 1500’s and 1600’s.



Order of Quotes

Common Grace
God Loves All Men
The Revealed Will
The Sincerity of the Gospel Call
Divine Permission & an Ineffective Call
On the Conditionality of the Gospel Offer
God Desires All Men to be Saved
John Murray Compared with Richard Muller




Common Grace

Dictionary, p. 133, 130

gratia universalis, “universal grace

“i.e., that grace of God in the universal call of the gospel according to which salvation is offered to all.”

gratia communis, “common grace

“i.e., a nonsaving, universal grace according to which God in his goodness bestows his favor upon all creation in the general blessings of physical sustenance and moral influence for the good.  Thus, rain falls on the just and the unjust, and all men have the law engraved on their hearts.  Gratia communis is therefore contrasted by the Reformed with particular or special grace (gratia particularis sive specialis, q.v.).”

gratia Dei, “the grace of God

“viz., the goodness of God (bonitas Dei, q.v.) toward mankind manifest as undeserved favor and, specifically, the cleansing power of God which renews and regenerates sinners.”


PRRD, vol. 3, p. 572

There is also good ground for concluding that the modern conception of ‘common grace’ finds its root more in the period of Reformed orthodoxy [the 1600’s] than in the era of Calvin and his contemporaries, given that many of the orthodox theologians were willing to define the gratia Dei [grace of God] as a bounty or graciousness extending to all creation

¹ Cf. Maresius, Collegium theol.,; Wendelin, Christianae theologiae, libri duo, I.i.22; Leigh, Treatise, II.xi (pp. 83-84)…  

While God is gracious to all, his grace is particularly bestowed upon those who are his in Christ…


PRRD, vol. 3, p. 579

3.  Distinctions in the Divine Mercy.  Granting such controversy, the Reformed orthodox were led to note distinctions in the divine mercy similar to those noted in the divine will and grace, most notably a distinction between misericordia universalis [a universal compassion] and misericordia specialis [a special compassion].  The former refers to the divine relationship to all creatures suffering temporal miseries; the latter refers specifically to the divine mercy on the elect, the ‘vessels of mercy’ chosen by God, and therefore refers to a saving and eternal blessing.¹

Thus first,

There is a mercy of God which extends to all his creatures, Ps. 145:9; Lk. 6:35God is merciful unto all men, but especially to some men (Ex. 20:6) whom He has chosen unto Himself…  All blessings Spiritual and Corporeal are the effects of God’s mercy.  Common blessings of his general mercy, special blessings of his special mercy.’²

The universal mercy of God offers food to hungry creatures, water to the thirsty, restored health to the sick, consolation to the sorrowful, freedom to the captives—as the Psalmist often teaches….

¹ Wendelin, Christianae theologiae, libri duo, I.i.24 (2); Turretin, Inst. Theol. Electicae, III.xx.12; cf. Mastricht, Theoretico-practica theol., II.xvii.23; Ridgley, Body of Divinity (1855), I, p. 109.

² Leigh, Treatise, II.xi (p. 88)




God Loves All Men

Dictionary, p. 31-32

amor Dei, “the love of God” 

Considered as a divine attribute, the amor Dei can be defined as the propensity of the divine essence or nature for the good, both in the sense of God’s inward, intrinsic, benevolentia, or willing of the good, and in the sense of God’s external, extrinsic, beneficentia, or kindness, toward his creatures.

The amor Dei, then is directed inwardly and intrinsically toward God himself as the summum bonum, or highest good, and among the persons of the Trinity, toward one another.  

Externally or extrinsically, the amor Dei is directed toward all things, but according to a threefold distinction.  

[1] The amor Dei universalis encompasses all things and is manifest in the creation itself, in the conservation and governance of the world;

[2] the amor Dei communis is directed toward all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and is manifest in the blessings, or benefits (beneficia), of God;

[3] and the amor Dei proprius, or specialis, is directed toward the elect or believers only and is manifest in the gift of salvation.

The amor Dei universalis is frequently called by the scholastics complacentia, or general good-pleasure; the amor Dei communis is understood to be benevolentia in the strict sense of goodwill toward human beings; and amor Dei specialis, is termed amicitia, i.e. friendship or sympathy toward believers. 

In the discussion of the divine attributes, the amor Dei is considered both as an ultimate essential characteristic of God determinative of the other attributes and as one of the affections of the divine will.  In the former sense, resting on the scriptural predication, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), the scholastics can subsume the grace (gratia), mercy (misericordia), long-suffering (long animitas), patience (patientia), and clemency or mildness (clementia) of God under the amor Dei.  In the latter sense, the amor Dei”


PRRD, vol. 3

p. 562

The one God can be understood as Trinity, as creator, and as redeemer: accordingly, the love of God can be understood as the love of the Father for the Son, the general love of God for all creatures, his love of human beings, his special love for his elect, and his love of the good or goodness itself.’¹

¹ Musculus, Loci communes, XLVIII (Commonplaces, p. 959, cols. 1-2)

p. 563

Third, above his love for all creation, God loves humanity in generalThis love, Musculus notes, ought to be a source of wonder on our part…  Scripture speaks…  of the surpassing love of God for human beings, made in the image of God and accorded a special dignity ‘above all other creatures’…

p. 566

4.  Amor voluntaries: its nature and objects.  The ‘voluntary love of God’ is the love according to which God freely loves his creatures as the secondary object of the divine love.¹   … There is also a certain logic of interrelation of attributes in the orthodox presentation of the voluntary love of God for the worldGod’s propensity to love the finite order rests on the grounding of the finite order in the goodness of God:

From the goodness springs the love of God, by which God is inclined towards the creature, and delights to do it good, and as it were, to unite Himself with it.’²

¹ Wendelin, Christianae theologiae, libri duo, I.i.23 (2); similarly, Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I.iii.33

² Pictet, Theol. Chr., II.vii.4; cf. Mastricht, Theoretico-practica theol., II.xvii.8; Synopsis purioris theologiae, VI.xl..

The first of these approaches, the amor benevolentiae [love of goodwill], is defined as an antecedent love resting on the benevolentia or good will of God toward all creationand must be distinguished, like the providence of God, into the categories of universal love of God for all created good and the special love according to which God unequally loves various creatures, given the inequality of the goodness in them

God’s love to Christ is the foundation of his love to us, Matt 3:17; Eph. 1:6.  God loves all creatures with a general love, Matt 5:44,45, as they are the work of his hands; but He does delight in some specially, whom He has chosen in his Son, John 3:16; Eph. 1:6.¹

¹ Leigh, Treatise, II.vii (p. 71).




The Revealed Will

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p. 332

voluntas Dei, “the will of God

“The Reformed [of the 1500’s and 1600’s], by contrast [from the Lutherans], argue a hidden will of God to bestow special saving grace irresistibly upon the elect, a voluntas decreti sive beneplaciti arcana [will of decree or hidden good-pleasure], more ultimate than the revealed will of God to offer salvation to all by means of a universal grace

The voluntas signi vel praecepti, the will of the sign or precept, is the voluntas revelata, or revealed will, of God and the voluntas moralis, or moral will, according to which God reveals in signs and precepts his plan for mankind both in the law and in the gospel.  Here, again, the Lutherans and Reformed differ insofar as the former [the Lutherans] deny [though the Reformed affirm] the contrast between a universally offered salvation revealed in the voluntas signi and a secret elective will in the voluntas beneplaciti.”


PRRD, p. 458

The term voluntas signi, literally, the will of the sign [the revealed will], is closely related to the term signum voluntatis, the sign of the will or purpose It indicates an overt sign or indication that someone wills something and can therefore be understood as a revealed will or, specifically, as a revealed precept or ‘preceptive will’—thus, what is literally called the ‘signified will’ is a will that God makes known and in effect ‘signifies’ what is commanded.  This signified or perceptive will moreover, does not contradict the will of the divine good pleasure, although the relationship between the two may sometimes be difficult to establish immediately.  The voluntas signi, therefore, is not a ‘mere sign’ but one that corresponds with something that is truly in God.  



The Sincerity of the Gospel Call

PRRD, p. 463

In other words, the Reformed Orthodox deny that the hidden will or eternal decree of God runs counter to the truth of God’s revelation: they do not follow out the late medieval nominalistic line of argument severing the potential ordinate [ordained, actually manifested power] from the divine potential absoluta [absolute, or possible power], that the divinely given order of things stands in no necessary relation to the ultimate being of God, but they nonetheless assume that the revealed will is largely perceptive and promissory, not utterly reflecting the divine good pleasure [of decree]: in his revealed will, God genuinely calls all who hear the gospel and promises to accept all who answer his invitation—in his hidden will, He determines those to whom the grace will be given that enables response to his calling.



Divine Permission & An Ineffective Call 

Dictionary, p. 329, under vocatio, “calling

“specifically, the call of God to be his children, which occurs by the grace of the Holy Spirit, both generally in the government of the world and the manifestation of divine benevolentia (q.v.) toward all creatures, and specially in and through the proclamation of the Word.  Both Lutheran and Reformed scholastics make this distinction between the vocatio generalis, or universalis, and the vocatio specialis, or evangelica.  General or universal calling is sometimes termed vocatio realis, or real calling, because it occurs in and through the things (res) of the world, whereas special, or evangelical, calling is sometimes termed a vocatio verbalis, since it comes only through the Word (Verbum).  The Lutherans, however, argue that the vocatio specialis of the Verbum Dei [Word of God] (q.v.) is sufficient and effective for salvation and is presented equally to all with the divine intention that all be saved.  Against the Reformed distinction between an effective (efficax) and ineffective (inefficax) vocatio, the Lutherans hold the sufficiency of Scripture and the efficacious character of God’s call in all cases.  Failure to heed the call indicates no fault in the Word but rather in the hearer.  The Reformed, by contrast, distinguish vocatio specialis in vocatio externa, which is the universal call of the gospel to all men without distinction, and vocatio interna, which is the inward calling of the Spirit that creates the communion between man and God necessary for the vocatio externa also to be vocatio efficax.  Only the elect are therefore effectively called…”


Dictionary, p. 222, 329, 332

vocatio, ‘calling

specifically, the call of God to be his children, which occurs by the grace of the Holy Spirit, both generally in the government of the world and the manifestation of divine benevolentia [goodwill] (q.v.) toward all creatures, and specially in and through the proclamation of the Word.

permissio efficax

effective permission or willing permission; especially, the providential concursus (q.v.) underlying evil acts of human beings; a concept typical of Reformed theology, which will not allow a bare or ineffectual permission on the part of God and which will acknowledge no realm of activity outside of the will of God.  God therefore is viewed as positively willing to permit the free agency of human beings and as supporting their acts with his providential concursus even when those acts go against his revealed will.


PRRD, p. 470

3.  Voluntas efficax and voluntas inefficax….  But what of the possibility that God’s will can be distinguished into voluntas efficax [an effective will] and voluntas inefficax [an ineffective will]?  This latter distinction is ill chosen, but will stand if it refers to the effectual will of God to the decree and the ineffectual will to the divine precepts, the former being incapable of resistance and the latter resisted successfully by all evildoers.  If a distinction between effective and ineffective will is sought in the voluntas decreti [will of decree] itself, this is repugnant and deeply in error…



On the Conditionality of the Gospel Offer

PRRD, vol. 3

p. 566

5.  Voluntatas absoluta and voluntas conditionata.  The distinction between decretive and perceptive will, voluntas beneplaciti and voluntas signi, relates also to a distinction between absolute will and conditioned will (voluntas absoluta et voluntas conditionata).  According to the former, God wills and determines that something should occur ‘without any condition’ in the object of God’s willing—but the latter, the conditional will, rests upon the fulfillment of a condition in or by the object of the divine will, for example, the will of God to save men upon condition of faith.  Maccovius notes, against the Arminians, that the distinction is ‘utterly vain.’  Wendelin indicates that this distinction causes some difficulty, but makes perfectly good sense if it is understood solely in terms of the voluntas signi [will of sign, or revealed will]—granting that most of the divine precepts, promises, and condemnations are stated conditionally.  The distinction is, however, extended improperly to the eternal decree, inasmuch as the decree cannot be ‘suspended on conditions’…

p. 464

As in the previous controversies, the rectitude of the distinction depends upon its definition: ‘it is possible to allow a voluntas conditionata [conditional will]’ in God ‘but not in an a priori and antecedent sense, as if dependent on a condition, rather in an a posteriori and consequent sense, given that some condition in the creature intervenes between the will and its execution’; and then ‘only to the extent that the condition does not belong to the internal divine act (a parte actus interni) or volition (volitionis), but to the external object (a parte obiecti externi) or thing willed (rei volitae).’

In this sense, the distinction can legitimately be applied to the promises associated with God’s covenants the covenants of law and gospel, where God’s promises are extended conditionally to sinners In other words, the conditional will remains an immutable will, willed eternally by God, but it is understood as being directed toward a contingent or conditional event: the condition, strictly understood, obtains, not in the divine will, but in the temporal event




God Desires All Men to be Saved

PRRD, p. 508

In this most inclusive sense, the divine goodness can be identified as benevolentia, the ‘inclination of the will to do good as far as it is possible and lawful to do so’ or, indeed, as ‘the love of God towards his creatures’ by which He acts to ‘promote their happiness and perfection.’¹  Accordingly, Scripture teaches that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), that He is ‘good and upright’ (Ps. 25:8), that He takes ‘no pleasure’ in the death of his creatures (Eze. 18:32), would have none to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), and ‘will have all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4).²

¹ Venema, Inst. Theol., VII (p. 163).

² C.f. Venema, Inst. Theol., VII (p. 163), with Turretin, Inst. Theol. Elencticae, III.xx.2,5.




John Murray Compared with Richard Muller

John Murray Compared with the Post-Reformation on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

This comparison article puts quotes from Murray side by side with quotes from Richard Muller, one of the world’s leading historians of post-Reformation reformed theology, under 12 topical questions, demonstrating that Murray’s thesis on the ‘Well-meant’ offer of the gospel in the early 1900’s was not new or unique to him, but that every element of his position was standard fare from the age of the puritans.





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The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Contemporary Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Common Grace

Historic Reformed Quotes on Common Grace