Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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God's Outstretched Arms (Rom. 10:21; Isa. 65:2)


But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Romans 10:20-21).


Who found Him? The people before whom God stood with outstretched arms did not find Him. "All day long I have stretched forth my hands," God Himself says, "unto a disobedient and gainsaying people." That was the Jews in the old dispensation. God was not found by them.

We must consider this part of the text very carefully, because these words are used to overthrow all that the apostle has been teaching. The explanation goes like this. God stood before a rebellious and gainsaying people with outstretched arms. Those arms are a symbol of God's general will to save everyone, including the gainsaying and rebellious people. And if that is so, some argue there is no doctrine of election and reprobation. Similarly, there are Reformed people who confess the doctrine of election, but this text, they say, shows that there is also a general will in God to save all, and we must accept both. They call this a "mystery." But we reject a general will of God to save all. We cannot overthrow all that we have learned in Romans 9 and 10 and all that we will be taught in Romans 11.

Let us look at the text. Does it teach anything like a general will of God to save all? It does if the outstretched arms mean that God says to these rebellious and gainsaying people, "I sincerely desire to save you all." But this is contrary to the gospel. Nowhere does Scripture teach that the outstretched arms symbolize God's readiness to save all. The meaning of the outstretched arms is that God is willing to receive and save all who come to Him.

Does this contradict the other fundamental truth that we will never repent and come into the outstretched arms unless God gives us the heart and the will to come? Scripture says No. There is no contradiction. If any man is to come into the outstretched arms of God, God must give him the will.

Surely God stood before the entire nation of Israel, just as today He stands before the entire congregation with outstretched arms, saying, "I am ready to receive and save all who come to Me." The preaching is general. But in that nation of Israel there were many who would not have Him. There were many who showed themselves, over against the outstretched arms, as gainsaying and disobedient. They rebelled against the Word of God. They were gainsaying. They opposed that Word of God. That was Israel. Why? Because God is merciful to whom He wills. When Christ came, the outstretched arms of God became manifest to all, but they rebelled against these outstretched arms. They rejected them.

We must not overlook the positive aspect of these words. The positive aspect is that some Jews believed, found God, and were saved, even though they, too, were rebellious by nature. Although the reference of the text is to the Jews in the old dispensation, its teaching applies as well to the Gentiles in the new dispensation. God does not say, "I first stretched out My arms to disobedient and gainsaying Israel, and then I went to a different nation that did not disobey and gainsay My Word." The notion that the Gentile world was seeking after God is simply nonsense. There were no such Gentiles. The Gentiles were no better than the Jews. The text says, "I was found of them that sought me not." This is forever true. the Gentile world in the old dispensation was hostile to God. By nature, we are all gainsaying.

Source: Herman Hoeksema, Righteous By Faith Alone (Grandville, MI; RFPA, 2002), pp. 500-502; italics original


God's stretching forth His hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people is His revelation of Himself in the gospel as the God of mercy in Jesus Christ, ready to receive and save every sinner who comes to Him in faith and repentance. This is how He shows Himself in the gospel to all who hear the gospel. I do not say that He is gracious to all who hear the gospel. If this were the case, all who hear the gospel would be saved, for the grace of God is almighty, irresistible. But He shows to all that He is gracious, and that in this grace He will receive every one who comes to Him. The stretched forth hands, therefore, are what Reformed theology refers to as the "external call" of the gospel. God makes Himself known to all that He is a God of grace. He calls all hearers to come to Him by believing on Jesus. He promises to every one who comes that he will be received.

But this does not mean that God is gracious to all, that He wills the salvation of all, or that coming to God for salvation depends on the willingness of the sinner. This would contradict everything that the apostle has taught previously in Romans, including the total depravity of the sinner—his inability to come to Christ; limited, effectual atonement; the sovereignty and irresistibility of grace; and the government of salvation by God's predestination, election and reprobation. No one can come to Christ except the Father draw him (John 6:44).

But now also, these truths of sovereign, particular grace do not at all detract from the preaching of the gospel to all or from the serious call to all hearers to come to God by believing on Jesus Christ, with the promise that every one who comes will be received and saved by God. This preaching is the outstretched arms of God. When wicked men and women refuse to come to God, disobeying the external call of the gospel, they can never say that the reason is that God would not receive them even it they came. The God of the gospel is the God of the outstretched arms, ready and eager to receive every one who comes.

It is true that only those come whom God has chosen to salvation. It is also true that those who refuse to come refuse according to God's eternal reprobation of them. But none of this detracts from the truth that in the gospel God calls all, with the external call, or command, and that He shows Himself ready to receive every sinner who comes in faith.

Source: Prof. David J. Engelsma