While the doctrine of common grace was a central issue in the doctrinal controversies which led to the establishment of the Protestant Reformed Churches, imbedded in these issues concerning common grace was also the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel. In the first point of common grace, adopted by the Christian Reformed Church at the Synod of 1924, we find mention made of this idea, although in a somewhat passing manner. The first point reads:
Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, 11, 5 and 111, l V, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel,while it also appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view. (Italics ours to indicate the reference in this decision to the free offer.)
In the discussions that followed the adoption of this statement of doctrine, the reference to the free offer was often called, "het puntje van het eerste punt." (The main point of the first point.) While it is our intention to deal more specifically with this question at a later date, the point we wish to make now is that a denial of the free offer of the gospel is a part of the reason why the Protestant Reformed Churches are a separate denomination.
This denial of the free offer of the gospel by the Protestant Reformed Churches has set them apart from almost every ecclesiastical fellowship. It is difficult to find today a denomination, whether of Reformed or Presbyterian persuasion, which has not committed itself, either officially or unofficially, to the idea of the free offer. The whole notion has not only been widely accepted but the charge of hyper-Calvinism has been hurled against those that deny it. The idea behind this charge is, of course, that true Calvinism includes in it the whole conception of the free offer of the gospel. Those who repudiate this conception are not faithful to the teachings of Calvin nor to the genius of Calvinism, so it is alleged.
It is our purpose in this book to trace the history of the idea of the free offer throughout the time of the New Testament church. Where did the idea come from? What is its historical development? How did such ideas creep into the church? Have they always stood in the mainstream of the development of the truth? Or is it rather true that the church has consistently and repeatedly repudiated them when it stood doctrinally strong? An investigation of these questions will shed some interesting light on the whole question.
We are not now arguing that the history of the faith of the church is in any way decisive in determining the truth or falsity of the idea of the free offer. Scripture alone is our rule of faith and life. Regardless of what the church in former years may or may not have taught, this history of the doctrine may not determine for us whether we should accept as true the point in question.
The final arbiter is always God's Holy Word. If all the church in the past has repudiated this idea, but Scripture teaches it, then we too must believe and confess it. But the opposite is also true. If all the church in the past has consistently held to this doctrine, and yet the Scriptures do not teach it, the testimony of Scripture stands above all else.
Yet a study of the question from the viewpoint of history is an important one. It is important because the Scriptures teach that Christ has promised the church the Spirit of Truth to lead the church into all truth (John 14:16, 17: 26; 15:26; 16:13). While it certainly is possible for the church to err and while indeed the church has erred many times in the past, the fact remains that the united testimony of the church is of some weight. If, e.g., it is true that the church from earliest New Testament times has confessed the truth of the divinity of Christ and this truth has never been called into question by the church, but that rather deniers of this truth have been consistently condemned, then we have a certain weight of history to consider. Believing the presence of the Spirit of Truth and finding that a given doctrine is confessed in every age by the church, at the very least this ought to give us pause if we are in some doubt whether or not the Scriptures teach this doctrine. Am I alone a possessor of the Spirit of Truth in this instance, while all the church before me lacked His presence? It is indeed a question that the child of God who earnestly seeks to know the truth seriously considers.
If it can be shown from history that not only has the church not confessed a given doctrine in most of her history, but rather has condemned it when it appeared in the teachings of various men within the church, that ought to make us hesitate to insist upon the fact that Scripture teaches this particular position. Once again, the question is: Do I want to place myself on the side of those who have been consistently repudiated by the church as teaching something contrary to Scripture? If Scripture itself requires this of me, then, of course, I do - regardless of the consequences. But the fact remains that I had better be very sure. To go against the testimony of the church of all ages is indeed a bold move, and one can never be too sure that his position is firmly and unequivocally taught by Holy Writ. A study of history can be enlightening and helpful.
This is especially true of the doctrine of the free offer. While it is sometimes maintained that the doctrine of the free offer has the weight of history behind it, this is a false and empty claim. A study of the history of doctrine within the church will show that quite the contrary is true. Quite consistently heretics who were condemned by the church have held the doctrine of the free offer. Quite consistently the church has refused to adopt any such doctrine. The weight of history is surely behind those who deny that the free offer is the teaching of Scripture. It is this assertion that we hope to prove in this and subsequent chapters.
While it is impossible to avoid completely a Scriptural analysis of the idea of the free offer, it is not our intent in these articles to engage in any such exegetical study. Our purpose is primarily historical, and to the historical data we intend to limit ourselves as much as possible.1 It is to the history of this doctrine then that we turn our attention.
Chapter 1: The Semi-Pelagian Controversy
We turn our attention first of all to the Semi-Pelagian controversy that occupied so much of the attention of the great church father, Augustine. A study of this controversy will soon show that, while the issue of the free offer of the gospel was not itself explicitly a point of controversy, nevertheless many of the doctrinal implications of the idea of the free offer were. Anyone who has any acquaintance with the teachings of the free offer will recognize that related issues were indeed issues back already in the first part of the fifth century when Augustine fought hard and long for the truth of sovereign grace.
It is not our purpose here to deal in detail and at length with the whole question of' Semi-Pelagianism, for this would take far too much of our time. But it is our purpose to demonstrate that those who adopted a Semi-Pelagian position and opposed, often bitterly and fiercely, the teachings of Augustine, taught also many of the same doctrines which are an integral part of free offer theology and which are held by those who make the free offer an essential part of their teaching.
As is generally known, the Semi-Pelagian controversy followed upon the Pelagian controversy. And it is also rather well known that the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius had as its starting point the idea of the free will of man. In a way it was not surprising that this should indeed be the starting point of Pelagius' error because the idea of free will had been, prior to this, rather generally accepted in the early church.
We must, however, understand exactly why this was so. Up to the time of Augustine the church had not really paid a great deal of attention to questions of soteriology. Preoccupied with the many and varied controversies concerning the doctrine of the trinity and the Person and natures of Christ, the church had neither the time nor the occasion to deal extensively with the teaching of Scripture on the doctrines of salvation by grace. Generally speaking, therefore, a certain idea of free will prevailed in the thinking of the early church, perhaps as a reaction to Manichaean fatalism. However, strangely enough, the church also held to the truth of salvation by grace alone. The two doctrines were held together and little or no thought was given to the question of how these two doctrines could be reconciled. The question simply was not closely examined nor extensively studied in the light of Holy Writ.
It was furthermore true that the church, already at this time, had committed itself to the idea of the meritorious character of good works, an idea which was finally to prevail in Roman Catholic thought and which was not banished from the thinking of the church until the time of the Protestant Reformation. But the idea of the meritorious character of good works is intimately connected with the idea of free will, for it is obvious that good works can have no merit unless, in some sense, they originate in the power of man to perform them. In fact, it was undoubtedly precisely this idea of merit that made it impossible for Augustinianism to prevail in the Roman Catholic Church after Augustine's death. The church was, in a certain sense, confronted with the question of whether it was to adopt a pure Augustinianism which would require that it abandon its commitment to the merit of good works, or hold to this idea of the merit of good works and turn its back on Augustine's teachings. As everyone knows, the Romish church followed the latter course of action.
Pelagius had taught that the will is free in an absolute sense of the word. Even after the fall, the will of man possessed the same power for good (or evil) that the will of Adam possessed. That is, at any point in the life of a man, when confronted with the choice of good or evil, it was within man's capability to choose either the one or the other. It is true that man's ability to choose the good is somewhat weakened by sin; but sin is only a habit and in no way affects the nature of man. While indeed a habit may become somewhat ingrained in the man's way of life, the fact remains that the will is not essentially affected and the power to choose for the good remains intact and unimpaired.
It was against this heresy that Augustine carried out his polemic. The result of his work was that Pelagianism was officially condemned by the church as early as the Council of Carthage in 416 and the Council of Ephesus in 431, the latter held one year after Augustine's death.
But this was by no means the end of the matter. Opposition arose to Augustine's teachings in various parts of the church, especially in Southern Gaul. Over against Pelagius Augustine had taught the absolute inability of the human will of fallen and natural man to choose for the good. Man fell in Adam, and the result of the fall for the whole human race was that man lost completely any ability to do the good not only, but also to will it. His salvation was dependent, therefore, upon grace. While Pelagius had also spoken of grace, he had insisted that grace was little more than a help, a measure of divine assistance, and was by no means essential to salvation. Augustine on the other hand, taught the absolute necessity of God's work of grace in salvation. If the question was asked Augustine, as it was, what was the determining factor in who received this gift of grace and who did not, his answer was, sovereign predestination according to which God sovereignly chooses his own elect from all eternity.
These doctrines of the sovereignty of grace and predestination were the subjects of controversy. And it was in opposition to these views of Augustine that theological positions similar to those that are connected with the free offer were proposed.
One of the opponents of Augustine was Cassian. Cassian did not agree with the position of Pelagius that the will is free in an absolute sense of the word, but he did insist on maintaining that the will is free to a certain extent. Sin as it entered the human race through the fall of Adam did not rob man of a free will, but sin did weaken man's will so that it is difficult for man to choose for the good; he is in need of divine assistance.
Just as Augustine's teaching of the inability of the human will to choose for the good led him to the doctrine of sovereign predestination via the truth of sovereign grace, so also did Cassian proceed from the idea of a free will to the doctrine of a divine love which wills the salvation of all. It ought to be clear how these two ideas stand connected: if salvation is ultimately dependent upon the choice of man's will and not upon the choice of God in sovereign predestination, then it is obvious that God on his part loves all and seeks the salvation of all. God's love, which is all-embracive, extends to all men. Whether a man is ultimately saved depends upon his own choice of the overtures of love.
These views of Cassian were followed by Prosper.
There has always been some question whether Prosper in fact taught Semi-Pelagian views. This doubt arises from the fact that Prosper engaged in extensive correspondence with Augustine over these questions and was the chief means by which Augustine learned of the teachings of various theologians in Gaul. It is not always easy to tell from Prosper's correspondence whether he was expressing his own opinions or merely informing Augustine of what others taught and asking for more light on these matters.
However, it seems almost certain that he was not completely in agreement with the views of Augustine and that, especially towards the end of his life, he agreed substantially with the position which Cassian had taken. In fact, it is quite possible that he was responsible for advancing the views of Cassian in some respects. It is almost certain that Prosper is the one who introduced into the discussion the distinction in the will of God between one will which was universal and conditional, and another will which was particular and unconditional. Wanting in some sense to maintain the sovereignty of God in the work of grace and predestination, and yet committed to the idea of free will, he spoke of a will of God which was expressive of God's desire to save everyone, a will which was therefore, conditional; and a will which was particular and unconditional, limited, therefore, only to the elect and realized in the work of sovereign grace.
That Prosper was Semi-Pelagian in his views is substantiated by the contention of many that he is the author of a pamphlet which appeared at that time under the title: De Vocatione Omnium Gentium. This pamphlet dealt particularly with the aspect of grace as it related to the controversy. The author made a distinction between general grace and particular grace. General grace stands connected with general revelation in the sense that general revelation reveals this general grace of God to all. In fact, however, this general grace that comes through God’s revelation in creation is also inwardly applied to the heart of every man so that it becomes in man the origin of all religion. Particular grace, on the other hand, is given only to some and is necessary to salvation. The general grace, which all receive, is expressive of God's will that all be saved. 2
Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the theology of the free offer recognizes immediately how all these ideas are an integral part of that concept. From the time that the idea of the free offer appeared in Reformed and Presbyterian thinking, it was inevitably discussed and developed in connection with the idea of a double will in God. And as often as not, the free offer stands also inseparably related to some notion of general grace. It is striking, therefore, to note that these views were held by the opponents of Augustine and repudiated by the great church father and valiant defender of the truth of sovereign, unconditional grace rooted in eternal election.
One more opponent of Augustine occupies our attention. He was Faustus, ordained bishop in 454. He too spoke of a general grace which precedes special grace and the use of which is essential to special grace. General grace, bestowed without distinction upon all men, becomes the means whereby the free will of man is preserved along with a certain religious and moral sense. Only when, by the use of this general grace, a man, with his free will, chooses for the good, is special grace given to him by which he is actually saved. And so, for Faustus too, special grace was built upon general grace and salvation was dependent upon the will of man.
Although Augustine had outlined his basic position in the Pelagian controversy, the attacks of the so-called Semi-Pelagians forced him to define more sharply and defend more carefully his views. It was because of the attacks of the Semi-Pelagians that Augustine was brought back once again to Scripture to study the Scriptural passages involved and to re-evaluate his work in the light of the Word of God.
Augustine died in 430 and the battle was continued by his disciples.
It is of considerable significance that, already in Augustine's day, the Semi-Pelagians quoted texts from Scripture which are still used today in the defense of the free offer. This is not to say that their arguments were always based on Scripture. In fact, many of the objections they raised against Augustine's position were identical to the objections which today are brought against the truth of' sovereign grace and sovereign and eternal predestination. Augustine often chides his opponents with being content with arguments from human reason rather that basing their position on the Word of God. But in so far as they did make use of Scripture, they appeal to such texts as Romans 2:4, I Timothy 2:4, and II Peter 3:9, all texts which have been repeatedly appealed to by defenders of the free offer.
In his explanation of these passages Augustine insisted that they must be interpreted as applying only to the elect. And in defending this position on the basis of Scripture, he became increasingly convinced of the Biblical soundness of his position and of the wrongness of the position taken by his opponents. He reaffirmed and re-emphasized the truths of sovereign grace in all the work of salvation and of eternal and sovereign predestination.
His views, however, did not prevail in the church. Although several condemned to some extent the views of the Semi-Pelagians, none stood firmly for the doctrines of Augustine. As we suggested earlier, this was perhaps due to the fact that the church had already committed itself to some idea of free will in connection with its determination to preserve the merit of good works.3
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that in 529, the Council of Orange spoke decisively on this question. While this Council condemned certain aspects of the teachings of the Semi-Pelagians, and while it also affirmed certain doctrines of Augustine, the fact is that the Council refused to adopt a pure Augustinianism. While it affirmed the doctrine of original sin and the unconditional necessity of grace, it left room for the notion of sin as an illness rather than as spiritual death and it was silent on such key doctrines as the absolute inability of the will to choose for the good, and sovereign and double predestination. It only saw fit to warn against the notion of a predestination to evil, something which Augustine did not teach. In effect, Semi-Pelagianism won the day.
What is our conclusion?
In the first place, the idea of the offer of the gospel was not as such discussed during this controversy. In a way this was understandable. On the one hand, the whole truth concerning the preaching of the gospel had not received theological attention at this time and no Scriptural details of the doctrine had been set forth by the church. The question of the relation between these views of the Semi-Pelagians and the preaching was not, therefore, faced. On the other hand, Rome itself, with the development of the sacerdotal system, had already begun to de-emphasize preaching in favor of an emphasis on the sacraments.
Nevertheless, several ideas which have throughout history been closely associated with the doctrine of the free offer and which, in fact, have been woven into the warp and woof of free offer theology were already taught in this period. We refer to such ideas as the freedom of the will, a double will of God which both desires the salvation of all men and which wills the salvation only of the elect, a general grace which all receive and a special grace which is conditionally granted upon the choice of the will, and a general love of God for all which is expressed in the desire of God to save all.
Against all these views Augustine stood firm in his defense of sovereign grace. And, while his views surely did not prevail in his time nor in subsequent centuries, nevertheless, they were once again made the confession of the church and developed at the time of the Reformation. To the Reformers we next turn our attention.
Chapter 2: The Reformers
It ought not to come as a surprise that the whole issue of the free offer of the gospel was not an issue in the controversies between the Reformers and the Romish church. The question of the preaching of the gospel, and the controversy between the Reformation and Rome over preaching was not so much what constitutes the character and content of the preaching; it was rather: is preaching an integral part of the life of the church? Throughout the Middle Ages, with the growth of Romish sacerdotalism and with increasingly strong emphasis on the mass, very little preaching was to be found in Romish worship services. And if it were present, it was often little more than the recitation or reading of homilies from preachers of an earlier age. Expository preaching of the Scriptures simply did not exist in the Romish church prior to the Reformation.
The Reformers, without exception, restored preaching to its rightful place in the worship services. This "radical" transformation of the worship services by the Reformers was a necessary consequence of their view of Scripture and of the office of all believers as it functioned within the church. Thus it was that the questions of the character and content of the preaching (questions which are of the heart and essence of the issue of the free offer of the gospel) were not specifically faced as the Reformers concentrated their attention on opposing the false views of Rome.
It is interesting to note, however, that when preaching was restored to its proper place in the worship services, the Reformers, guided exclusively by the biblical givens and considering the Scriptures to be the rule of faith and life also in their preaching, returned to preaching as it originally existed in the Christian church. They began anew a tradition of preaching which was present in the church in her earliest New Testament history and which continues to be the distinguishing mark of all churches of the Reformation that are faithful to their heritage. Preaching has, since the Reformation, been outstanding feature of genuinely Protestant churches and has been the real and only strength of those churches for almost five hundred years. If in today's ecclesiastical world, radical changes are coming about in the place which the preaching occupies in the worship services, in nature and character of the preaching, and in the contents of the preaching, this is because today's church refuses be faithful to her Reformation heritage, indeed, consciously departs from it.
In our consideration of the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian controversy, we noticed that, while question of the free offer of the gospel was not one of the issues, nevertheless, doctrinal questions that are inseparably connected to the question of the free offer were faced. Some of these questions were: the extent of the atonement, the particularity or universality of grace, the intention of God with respect to salvation — whether His intention is to save all or only those whom He Himself had chosen, and the related question of God's will of decree and God's will of command and how these two stood in relation to each other. Some of these doctrinal questions were issues at the time of the Reformation; some of them were not. Although the Romish Church had adopted the semi-Pelagian position, also with respect to the doctrine of the extent of the atonement, this question concerning the atonement was not on the foreground during the battles of the first half of the sixteenth century. Generally speaking, however, both the Reformers and the Romish Church stood on the Anselmian tradition.4 But other issues that stand connected with the free offer were discussed at considerable length. We must be careful, however, that we do not attempt to interpret the Reformers and their views in the light of our modern times and modern theological controversies. This is a great danger whatever may be one's personal views of the free offer. All who wish to appeal to Calvin especially and to the Reformers in general as their spiritual fathers ought to be honest enough not to put words in the mouths of the Reformers and appeal unjustly to them in support of views which we now believe and cherish, but which were far from the minds of those who brought reformation to the church in the sixteenth century. We can well bear in mind the remarks of William Cunningham, whom we quote at some length because of the importance of what he has to say on this question.5
In almost all theological controversies, much space has been occupied by the discussion of extracts from books and documents adduced as authorities in support of the opinions maintained; and there is certainly no department of theological literature in which so much ability and learning, so much time and strength, have been uselessly wasted, or in which so much of controversial unfairness has been exhibited. Controversialists in general have shown an intense and irresistible desire to prove that their peculiar opinions were supported by the fathers, or by the Reformers, or by the great divines of their own church; and have often exhibited a great want both of wisdom and of candor in the efforts they have made to effect this object . . . . There is no man who has written much upon important and difficult subjects, and has not fallen occasionally into error, confusion, obscurity, and inconsistency; and there is certainly no body of men that have ever been appealed to as authorities, in whose writings a larger measure of these qualities is to be round than in those of the Fathers of the Christian church....
In adducing extracts from eminent writers in support of their opinions, controversialists usually overlook or forget the obvious consideration, that it is only the mature and deliberate conviction of a competent judge upon the precise point under consideration that should be held as entitled to any difference. When men have never, or scarcely ever, had present to their thoughts the precise question that may have afterwards become a matter of dispute, when they have never deliberately examined it, or given a formal and explicit deliverance regarding it, it will usually follow, 1st, That it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain what they thought about it, -- to collect this from incidental statements, or mere allusions, dropped when they were treating of other topics; and, 2nd, That their opinion about it, if it could be ascertained, would be of no weight or value. A large portion of the materials which have been collected by controversialists as testimonies in favor of their opinions from eminent writers, is at once swept away as useless and irrelevant, by the application of this principle, the truth of this principle is so obvious, that it has passed into a sort of proverb, "Auctoris aliud agenis parva est auctoritas." And yet controversialists in general have continued habitually to disregard it, and to waste their time in trying to bring the authority of eminent writers to bear upon questions that they have never examined; and have not scrupled, in many cases, to have recourse or to make them speak more plainly. The opinion even of Calvin, upon a point which he had never carefully examined, and on which he has given no formal deliverance, is of no weight or value, and would scarcely be worth examining; were it not that so much has been written upon this subject, and that his views upon many points have been, and still are, so much misrepresented.
In dealing with authorities, then, it is necessary to ascertain, whether the authors referred to and quoted have really formed and expressed an opinion upon the point, in regard to which their testimony is adduced. It is necessary further to collect together, and to examine carefully and deliberately, the whole of what they have written upon the subject under consideration, that we may understand fully and accurately what their whole mind regarding it really was, instead of trying to deduce it from a hasty glance at partial and incidental statements. And in order to conduct this process of estimating and applying testimonies in a satisfactory and successful way, it is also necessary, that we be familiar with the whole import and bearing of the discussion on both sides, as it was present to the mind of the author whose statements we are investigating. Without this knowledge, we shall be very apt to misapprehend the true meaning and significance of what he has said, and to make it the ground of unwarranted and erroneous inferences.... To manage aright this matter of the adduction and application of testimonies or authorities requires an extent of knowledge, a patience and caution in comparing and estimating materials, and an amount of candor and tact, which few controversialists possess, and in which many of them are deplorably deficient.
With these preliminary remarks we turn to a brief consideration of Luther's views on these matters relating to the free offer, and the views of subsequent Lutheranism.
One can search Luther's writings in vain for references either to the free offer of the gospel or to those doctrines that have been related to the free offer. There is no solid evidence that Luther himself wanted any part of any of these views.
In our search in Luther's writings for anything which relates to the question of the free offer of the gospel, we came across one interesting passage in his "Bondage of the Will" which might at first glance suggest something similar to a free offer. Luther writes:
Therefore it is rightly said, "If God does not desire our death, it is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish." This, I say, is right, if you speak of GOD PREACHED. For he desires that all men should be saved (emphasis ours), seeing that, He comes unto all by the word of salvation, and it is the fault of the will which does not receive Him: as He said (Matthew 23:37). 6
Now it is interesting that one has to search far and wide in the writings of this prolific author to find even one statement that seems to suggest the idea of the free offer. But even here there is no reference to the free offer as such, although Luther does express here that it is God's desire to save all men. We ought to note, however, that this statement is found in a section dealing with a discussion of Ezekiel 23:23, a passage which Erasmus appealed to in support of the doctrine of free will. Erasmus argued that this passage teaches that God desired all men to be saved, that only some are saved, that, therefore, the decision concerning salvation rests with the free will of man. Luther repudiates this interpretation with all his soul and insists that the expression, "God desires not the death of the sinner," is simply that promise of God, found in a thousand places in Scripture, which is intended to comfort the hearts of those who are troubled by their sin and fearful of the wrath of an Almighty God (pp. 166-168). But these are those who are already saved by the power of God's grace in their hearts, i.e., those in whom the law has brought sorrow for sin and fears of death, and in whom, therefore, the promises of the gospel are now worked (p. 170). But why is it that some are so affected by the law and others are not? Luther himself answers:
But why it is, that some are touched by the law and some are not touched, why some receive the offered grace and some despise it, that is another question which is not here treated on by Ezekiel; because, he is speaking of THE PREACHED AND OFFERED MERCY OF GOD, not of that SECRET AND TO BE FEARED WILL OF GOD, who, according to his own counsel, ordained whom, and such as, He will to be receivers and partakers of the preached and offered mercy: which WILL, is not to be curiously inquired into, but to be adored with reverence as the most profound SECRET of the divine Majesty, which He reserves unto Himself and keeps hidden from us, and that, much more religiously than the mention of ten thousand Corycian Caverns (p. 171).
It is clear from all this that Luther interprets Ezekiel 23:23 as referring to God's people alone. This is very striking since this is exactly one of the passages in Scripture that the defenders of the free offer have often appealed to in support of their view. Nevertheless, Luther does not teach here that this passage must be interpreted to mean that God wants all men to be saved. That he seems indeed to contradict himself is true, but it must again be remembered that Luther was not facing squarely the questions which later theologians faced after the whole doctrine of man's free will had been taught and defended in the church.
Not only was Luther very strong on this question throughout his book, "The Bondage of the Will," but he also was strong on such doctrines as the particularity of the atonement, the harmony between the hidden and revealed will of God, and the particularity of grace. All his writings that deal with these subjects reflect this emphasis.
Nevertheless, Lutheranism itself did not remain in this tradition. This was in large measure due to the influence of Melanchthon, Luther's co-worker and fellow reformer. We cannot enter into this question in detail, but it is a well-known fact that Melanchthon, especially after Luther's death, drifted away from the strong and sharp truths of sovereign grace as maintained by Luther and introduced into Lutheran thinking synergism in the place of sovereign grace, a synergism which taught that salvation was the cooperative work of God and man. This weakness in later Lutheranism was reflected in the Lutheran Confessions, particularly The Formula of Concord. In Article XI, dealing with the subject of eternal predestination, paragraphs 7 & 11, we read:
VII. But Christ calls all sinners to Him, and promises to give them rest. And He earnestly wishes that all men may come to Him, and suffer themselves to be cared for and succored. To these He offers Himself in the Word as a Redeemer, and wishes that the Word may be heard, and that their ears may not be hardened, nor the Word be neglected and contemned. And He promises that He will bestow the virtue and operation of the Holy Spirit and divine aid, to the end that we may abide steadfast in the faith and attain eternal life.
XI. But as to the declaration (Matt. xxii. 14), "many are called, but few are chosen," it is not to be so understood as if God were unwilling that all should be saved, but the cause of the damnation of the ungodly is that they either do not hear the Word of God at all, but contumaciously contemn it, stop their ears, and harden their hearts, and in this way foreclose to the Spirit of God his ordinary way, so that he cannot accomplish his work in them, or at least when they have heard the Word, make it of no account, and cast it away. Neither God nor His election, but their own wickedness, is to blame if they perish (II Pet. 2: l sqq.; Luke 2: 49, 52; Heb. 12: 25 sqq.).
These ideas come out perhaps even more strongly in the negative section of this article:
. . .We therefore reject all the errors which we will now enumerate:
1. That God is unwilling that all men should repent and believe the Gospel.
2. That when God calls us to Him He does not earnestly wish that all men should come to Him.
3. That God is not willing that all should be saved, but that some men are destined to destruction, not on account of their sin, but by the mere counsel, purpose, and will of God, so that they cannot in any wise attain to salvation.
Luther himself would have violently disagreed with these statements, and it is striking that the theology of the free offer does not appear as an integral part of Luther's thought, but as a doctrinal formulation brought into Lutheranism under the weakening influence of Melanchthonian synergism.
It is not our purpose to enter into detail on the question of the teachings of John Calvin on this subject of the free offer. Much ink has been spilled, much fierce argumentation has echoed in ecclesiastical halls, and much disagreement has torn apart Reformed believers on this question. Our relatively short discussion of Calvin's views is justified on three grounds. First, Calvin himself never faced specifically and concretely the question of the free offer of the gospel any more than did Luther. As we remarked in the early part of this chapter, the nature and character of the preaching was not an issue between the Reformers and the Romish church. Although there are innumerable passages in Calvin's writings which make use of the word "offer," -- and we shall comment on this a bit later -- the actual theology of the free offer was a question which Calvin did not face. The issue of the free offer arose over a half-century later. To interpret Calvin, therefore, in the light of subsequent controversies over the free offer is to read into Calvin something that is not there. We remind our readers of the warnings of Wm. Cunningham which we quoted earlier.
Second, it is clear from all Calvin's writings that he militated against all the ideas that have become such an integral part of free offer theology. We hope to show this briefly, but it can safely be said that every one of the doctrines which form a part of the teachings of the free offer were expressly and specifically refuted by Calvin at one point or another in his writings. Taking all of Calvin's views into account and the whole genius of his theology, one can only conclude that present day ideas of the free offer were foreign to Calvin's thinking. The most that can be said is that is some respects Calvin used ambiguous language, especially if we are determined to weigh this language in the light of subsequent theological discussions, and that Calvin made, again in the light of modern-day controversies, statements which appear contradictory to the main emphasis of his theology.
Third, there have been others who have written on this subject and who have proved beyond doubt that Calvin wanted no part of what today goes under the name of the free offer. We refer to such writings as: "Calvin, Berkhof and H. J. Kuiper, A Comparison," by Rev. H. Hoeksema (published in pamphlet form by the Reformed Free Publishing Association); "De Kracht Gods Tot Zaligheid, Genade Geen Aanbod," (The Power of God unto Salvation: Grace No Offer), also by H. Hoeksema (published in pamphlet form by the R.F.P.A.); "Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel," by Prof. D. Engelsma (published in book form and available from the R.F.P.A.).
Concerning Calvin's use of the term "offer," we agree with Engelsma when he writes:
It is of no consequence, therefore, that the term "offer" appears in Calvin, in other Reformed theologians, and in such Reformed creeds as the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession of Faith. The word "offer" had originally a sound meaning: "serious call," "presentation of Christ." We are fundamentally uninterested in warring over words. No, but we are interested to ask concerning the doctrine of the offer: is it Reformed? 7
To demonstrate our contention that Calvin inveighed against all doctrines associated with the free offer, we quote first of all from Calvin's Institutes.
In Book III, Chapter 22, Section 10 Calvin writes:
It is objected by some that God will be inconsistent with Himself, if He invites all men universally to come to Him, and receives only a few elect. Thus, according to them, the universality of the promises destroys the discrimination of special grace . . . . How the Scripture reconciles these two facts, that by external preaching all are called to repentance and faith, and yet that the spirit of repentance and faith is not given to all, I have elsewhere stated, and shall soon have occasion partly to repeat. What they assume, I deny as being false in two respects. For he who threatens drought in one city while it rains upon another, and who denounces to another place a famine of doctrine, lays himself under no positive obligation to call all men alike. And he who, forbidding Paul to preach the Word in Asia, and suffering him not to go into Bithynia, calls him into Macedonia, demonstrates his right to distribute this treasure to whom he pleases. In Isaiah, he still more fully declares his destination of the promises of salvation exclusively for the elect; for of them only, and not indiscriminately of all mankind, he declares that they shall be his disciples (Isaiah 8:16). Whence it appears, that when the doctrine of salvation is offered to all for their effectual benefit, it is a corrupt prostitution of that which is declared to be reserved particularly for the children of the church.
In Chapter 24, Section 1 of the same Book, Calvin writes:
But, in order to a further elucidation of the subject, it is necessary to treat of the calling of the elect, and of the blinding and hardening of the impious. On the former I have already made a few observations, with a view to refute the error of those who propose the generality of the promises to put all mankind on an equality. But the discriminating election of God, which is otherwise concealed within himself, he manifests only by his calling, which may therefore with propriety be termed the testification or evidence of it.
Calvin then goes on to show how the Scriptures teach that there is a perfect unity between the truth of sovereign election and the calling of the gospel.
Calvin even speaks in more than one place of the sovereign purpose of God in the preaching of the gospel to harden the reprobate. For example, he writes in Section 8 of the same chapter:
The declaration of Christ, that "many are called, and few chosen," is very improperly understood. For there will be no ambiguity in it if we remember what must be clear from the foregoing observations, that there are two kinds of calling. For there is a universal call, by which God, in the external preaching of the Word, invites all, indiscriminately, to come to him, even those to whom he intends it as a savour of deaths and an occasion of heavier condemnation (italics ours).
In Section 12 he writes:
As the Lord by his effectual calling of the elect, completes the salvation to which he predestinated them in his eternal counsel, so he has his judgments against the reprobate, by which he executes his counsel respecting them. Those, therefore, whom he has created to a life of shame and a death of destruction, that they might be instruments of his wrath, and examples of his severity, he causes to reach their appointed end, sometimes depriving them of the opportunity of hearing the Word, sometimes, by the preaching of it, increasing their blindness and stupidity (italics ours).
In Section 13 he writes:
Why, then, in bestowing grace upon some, does he pass over others? Luke assigns a reason for the former, that they "were ordained to eternal life." What conclusion, then, shall we draw respecting the latter, but that they are vessels of wrath to dishonor? . . .. It is a fact not to be doubted that God sends his Word to many whose blindness he determines shall be increased. For with what design does he direct so many commands to be delivered to Pharaoh? Was it from an expectation that his heart would be softened by repeated and frequent messages? Before he began, he knew and foretold the results. He commanded Moses to go and declare his will to Pharaoh, adding at the same time, "But I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21).
In Section 15 Calvin writes concerning a passage referred to often by defenders of the free offer of the gospel.
But as objections are frequently raised from some passages of Scripture, in which God seems to deny that the destruction of the wicked is caused by his decree, but that, in opposition to his remonstrances they voluntarily bring ruin upon themselves, -- let us show by a brief explication that they are not at all inconsistent with the foregoing doctrine. A passage is produced from Ezekiel, where God says, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11). If this is to be extended to all mankind, why does he not urge many to repentance, whose minds are more flexible to obedience than those of others who grow more and more callous to his daily invitations? Among the inhabitants of Ninevah and Sodom, Christ himself declares that his evangelical preaching and miracles would have brought forth more fruit than in Judea. How is it, then, if God will have all men to be saved, that he opens not the gate of repentance to those miserable men who would be more ready to receive the favor? Hence we perceive it to be a violent perversion of the passage, if the will of God, mentioned by the prophet, be set in opposition to his eternal counsel, by which he has distinguished the elect from the reprobate. Now if we inquire the genuine sense of the prophet: his only meaning is to inspire the penitent with hopes of pardon. And this is the sum that it is beyond a doubt that God is ready to pardon sinners immediately on their conversion. Therefore he wills not their death, in as much as he wills their repentance. But experience teaches, that he does not will the repentance of those whom he externally calls, in such a manner as to effect all their hearts. Nor should he on this account be charged with acting deceitfully; for, though his external call only renders those who hear without obeying it inexcusable, yet it is justly esteemed the testimony of God's grace, by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us observe, therefore, the design of the prophet in saying that God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; it is to assure the pious of God's readiness to pardon them immediately on their repentance and to show the impious the aggravation of their sin in rejecting such great compassion and kindness of God. Repentance, therefore, will always be met by Divine mercy, but on whom repentance is bestowed, we are clearly taught by Ezekiel himself, as well as by all the prophets and apostles.
While we could multiply similar passages from the Institutes, we turn now to Calvin's treatise on "The Eternal Predestination of God."8
In this treatise on predestination Calvin writes:
All this Pighius loudly denies, adducing that passage of the apostle (I Tim.2:4): who will have all men to be saved and, referring also toEzekiel 18:23, he argues thus, "That God willeth not the death of a sinner," may be taken upon His own oath, where He says by that prophet, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the wicked that dieth but rather that he should return from his way and live." Now we reply, that as the language of the prophet here is an exhortation to repentance, it is not at all marvelous in him to declare that God willeth all men to be saved. For the mutual relation between threats and promises shows that such forms of speaking are conditional. In this same manner God declared to the Ninevites, and to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, that He would do that which in reality, He did not intend to do, for their repentance averted the punishment which He had threatened to inflict upon them. Whence it is evident that the punishment was denounced on condition of their remaining obstinate and impenitent. And yet, the denunciation of the punishment was positive, as if it had been an irrevocable decree. But after God had terrified them with the apprehension of His wrath, and had duly humbled them as not being utterly desperate, He encourages them with the hope of pardon that they might feel that there was yet left open a space for remedy. Just so it is with respect to theconditional promises of God, which God has decreed in His secret counsel, but declare only what God is ready to do to all those who are brought to faith and repentance.
But men untaught of God, not understanding these things, allege that we hereby attribute to God a two-fold or double will. Whereas God is so far from being variable, that no shadow of variableness appertains to Him, even in the most remote degree. Hence Pighius, ignorant of the Divine nature of these deep things, thus argued; "What else is this but making God a mocker of men, if God is represented as really not willing that which He professes to will, and as not having pleasure in that in which He in reality has pleasure?" But if these two members of the sentence be read in conjunction, as they ever ought to be -- "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked;" and, "But that the wicked turn from his way and live" read these two propositions in connection with each other, and the calumny is washed off at once. God requires of us this conversion, or "turning away from our iniquity," and in whomsoever He finds it He disappoints not such an one of the promised reward of eternal life. Wherefore, God is as much said to have pleasure in, and to will, this eternal life, as to have pleasure in the repentance; and He has pleasure in the latter, because He invites all men to it by His word. Now all this is in perfect harmony with His secret and eternal counsel, by which He decreed to convert none but His own elect. None but God's elect, therefore, ever do turn from their wickedness. And yet, the adorable God is not, on these accounts to be considered variable or capable of change, because, as a Lawgiver He enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. But in the latter case, He brings unto eternal life those whom He willed according to His eternal purpose,regenerating by His Spirit, as an eternal Father, His own children only.
It is quite certain that men do not "turn from their evil ways" to the Lord of their own accord, not by any instinct of nature. Equally certain is it that the gift of conversion is not to all men; because this is that one of the two covenants which God promises that He will not make with any but His own children and His own elect people concerning whom He has recorded His promise that "He will write His law in their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33). Now a man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately. (This italics is ours.)9
It is clear from these quotes, and they could be multiplied, that Calvin expressly repudiates the theology of the free offer of the gospel.
An integral part of the theology of the free offer of the gospel is the doctrine of a certain universality of the atonement of Christ. It has been maintained in recent times that Calvin taught a universal atonement, and various references in Calvin's writings have been quoted to substantiate this view. That the question of a universal atonement is closely connected to the question of the free offer of the gospel is evident from the fact that wherever the free offer of the gospel has been taught the universality of the atonement of Christ has become an inseparable companion doctrine. It is true that those who wish to remain identified as Calvinists in distinction from Arminians will point out that they do not believe certainly in a universal efficacy of the atonement. But they will still defend a universal atonement at least with respect to sufficiency and almost always with respect to intention and availability The question, often debated, is: Did Calvin teach such a universal atonement? W. Cunningham has an interesting discussion of this very subject in his book, "The Reformation and the Theology of the Reformation."
It has been contended very frequently and very confidently, that Calvin did not sanction the views which have been generally held by Calvinistic divines, in regard to the extent of the atonement, >-- that he did not believe in the doctrine of particular redemption, that is, that Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect, and for those who are actually saved, -- but that, on the contrary, he asserted a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. Amyraut, in defending his doctrine of universal atonement in combination with Calvinistic views upon other points, appealed confidently to the authority of Calvin.
It is certain that Beza held to the doctrine of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, as it has since been held by most Calvinists, and brought it out fully in his controversies with the Lutherans on the subject of predestination, though he was not, as has sometimes been asserted, the first who maintained it. It has been confidently alleged that Calvin did not concur in this view, but held the opposite doctrine of universal redemption and unlimited atonement. Now it is true, that we do not find in Calvin's writings explicit statements as to any limitation in the object of the atonement, or in the number of those for whom Christ died . . .. Of all the passages in Calvin's writings bearing more or less directly upon this subject, -- which we remember to have read or seen produced on either side, -- there is only one, which, with anything like confidence, can be regarded as formally and explicitly denying an unlimited atonement; and notwithstanding all the pains that have been taken to bring out the views of Calvin upon this question, we do not recollect to have seen it adverted to except by a single popish writer. It occurs in his treatise, "De vera participatione Christi in coena," in reply to Hushusius, a violent Lutheran defender of the corporal presence of Christ in the eucharist. The passage is this: -- "Scire velim quomodo Christi carnem edant impii pro quivus non est crucifixa, et quyomodo sanguinem bibant qui extiandis eorum peccatis non est effusus." This is a very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement. But it stands alone, -- so far as we know, in Calvin's writings . . .. The topic was not then formally discussed as a distinct subject of controversy; and Calvin does not seem to have been ever led, in discussing cognate questions, to take up this one and to give a deliverance regarding it. We believe that no sufficient evidence has been brought forward that Calvin held that Christ died for all men, or for the whole world, in any such sense as to warrant Calvinistic universalists, -- that is, men who, though holding Calvinistic doctrines upon other points, yet believe in a universal or unlimited atonement, -- in asserting that he sanctioned their peculiar principles.
There is not, then, we are persuaded, satisfactory evidence that Calvin held the doctrine of a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. And, moreover, we consider ourselves warranted in asserting, that there is sufficient evidence that he did not hold this doctrine; though on the grounds formerly explained, and with the one exception already adverted to, it is not evidence which bears directly and immediately upon this precise point. The evidence of this position is derived chiefly from the following two considerations.
1st. Calvin consistently, unhesitatingly, and explicitly denied the doctrine of God's universal grace and love to all men -- that is,"omnibus et singulis," to each and every man, -- as implying in some sense a desire of purpose or intention to save them all; and with this universal grace or love to all men the doctrine of a universal or unlimited atonement, in the nature of the case, and in the convictions and admissions of all its supporters, stands inseparably connected. That Calvin denied the doctrine of God's universal grace or love to all men, as implying some desire or intention of saving them all, and some provision directed to that object, is too evident to anyone who has read his writings to admit of doubt or to require proof. We are not aware that the doctrine of a universal atonement ever has been maintained, even by men who were in other respects Calvinistic, except in conjunction and in connection with an assertion of God's universal grace or love to all men. And it is manifestly impossible that it should be otherwise, if Christ died for all men, pro omnibus et singulis, -- this must have been in some sense an expression or indication of a desire or intention on the part of God, and of a provision made by Him, directed to the object of saving them all, though frustrated in its effect, by their refusal to embrace the provision made for and offered to them. A universal atonement, or the death of Christ for all men, -- that is, for each and every man, necessarily implies this, and would be an anomaly in the divine government without it. No doubt, it may be said, that the doctrine of a universal atonement necessitates, in logical consistency, a denial of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, as much as it necessitates an admission of God's universal grace or love to all men; and we believe this to be true. But still, when we find that, in point of fact, none has ever held the doctrine of universal atonement without holding also the doctrine of universal grace, -- while it is certain that some men of distinguished ability and learning, such as Amyraut and Daillee, Davenant and Baxter, have held both these doctrines of universal atonement and universal grace, and at the same time have held the Calvinistic doctrine of election; we are surely called upon in fairness and modesty to admit, that the logical connection cannot be quite so direct and certain in the one case as in the other. And then this conclusion warrants us in maintaining, that the fact that Calvin so explicitly denies the doctrine of God's universal grace or love to all men, affords a more direct and certain ground for the inference, that he did not hold the doctrine of universal atonement, than could be legitimately deduced from the mere fact, that he held the doctrine of unconditional personal election to everlasting life. The invalidity of the inferential process in the one case is not sufficient to establish its invalidity in the other; and therefore our argument holds good.10
With this important statement of Cunningham we are in complete agreement. But in the course of proving that there is, in Calvin's writings, abundant proof that Calvin did not hold to the doctrine of universal atonement Cunningham makes several other important observations to which we ought briefly to call attention. In the first place, Cunningham, and correctly so, insists that Calvin "consistently, unhesitatingly, and explicitly denied the doctrine of God's universal grace and love to all men." We have earlier called attention to the fact that there are more recent defenders of the free offer of the gospel who have attempted to prove that Calvin indeed taught a universal grace and love of God. Cunningham denies this, and we believe Cunningham is right. In the second place, Cunningham also points out that Calvin in no sense of the word taught a desire or purpose or intention of God to save all men, an idea that is the very heart of the theology of the free offer. In fact, Cunningham insists that he can rest his case of Calvin's denial of universal atonement upon Calvin's repudiation of this entire idea. How much more strongly can it be put? That Calvin denied all this "is too evident to anyone who has read his writings, to admit of doubt or to require proof." Cunningham understood Calvin. Would that more modern defenders of the free offer would have the same clear conception of what Calvin taught. And history has proved Cunningham correct that the idea of a free offer of the gospel is inseparably connected with the idea of a general grace and love of God to all men and a universal atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ.
Cunningham further proves his thesis that Calvin repudiated the doctrine of a universal atonement by quoting from Calvin's commentary on I Timothy 2:4and I John 2:2. Cunningham's argument is that Calvin interprets some "of the principle texts on which the advocates of that doctrine rest it, in such a way as to deprive them of all capacity of serving the purpose to which its supporters commonly apply them." We give here the pertinent quotations from Calvin's commentaries rather than directly from Cunningham because Cunningham quotes them in Latin.11 We quote only that part of Calvin's remarks on this verse which are quoted in Cunningham.
The apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake of salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons, for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations (Commentary on I Timothy 2:4).
Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity,have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world (Commentary on I John 2:2).
Cunningham concludes his discussion of this subject with the remarks:
He gives the very same explanation of these two passages in his treatise on "Predestination." Now this is in substance just the interpretation commonly given of these and similar texts, by the advocates of the doctrine of particular redemption; and it seems scarcely possible, that it should have been adopted by one who did not hold that doctrine, or who believed in the truth of the opposite one.
From all this it is clear that Calvin did not only not teach the doctrines which form an inseparable part of the free offer of the gospel, but that he was at great pains to contradict such doctrines and refute them with the power of the Scriptures. Anyone who has read Calvin will have to admit that efforts to appeal to him in support of the free offer are useless.
From all this, several conclusions can be made. 1) Calvin repeatedly used the word "offer" and by it often meant to express the fact that the Christ in Whom alone is salvation is presented to men through the preaching of the gospel. With this no one disagrees. 2) Calvin emphasizes very strongly that, through the general proclamation of the gospel to all, the command comes also to all to repent of sin, turn from evil and believe in Christ. Also with this truth no one disagrees. 3) But with respect to the doctrines of the offer, the genius of Calvin's theology repeatedly militates against the offer. Calvin wants no part of a double will in God that is in conflict with itself, according to which God, on the one hand, determines to save only His elect, but, on the other hand, wills to save all. Calvin, if Cunningham is right, and we believe that he is, wanted nothing of a universal love or grace of God that is shown to all. Perhaps passages can be quoted here and there in Calvin's writings to suggest such ideas but Calvin's theology militates against it. 4) While, finally, Calvin did not write extensively on the question of the extent of the atonement, what he did write surely shows conclusively that Calvin taught an atonement limited only to the elect.
Chapter 3: The Arminian Controversy
The Arminian controversy, which raged in the churches of the Netherlands during the last part of the sixteenth century and the early part of the seventeenth century, did not deal as such with the question of the free offer of the gospel. Nevertheless, there are two reasons why a consideration of this controversy is important for our discussion. In the first place, the Arminians in the defense of their position raised many of the identical issues that have been repeatedly raised in the discussions concerning the free offer. Especially in their views of the preaching and the relation between the preaching and the atonement, they set forth ideas that have been inextricably woven into the warp and woof of the free offer concept. Secondly, although the well-known Canons of Dordt were written over against the Arminian heresies, these same Canons have been repeatedly appealed to, especially in Dutch Reformed theology, in support of the idea of the free offer. It is said that the Canons themselves teach a free offer of the gospel. In fact, the Christian Reformed Church appealed to the Canons as confessional proof for the doctrine of the free offer in their decisions on common grace made in 1924.
While we cannot here discuss all the heresies that the Arminians taught in the Dutch Reformed Churches, there are especially three which have bearing on our subject and which we ought briefly to note.
In the first place, the Arminians taught a certain common grace, i.e., a grace of God that was imparted to all men.12 This common grace is equated with the light of nature, which constitute the gifts left in man after the fall.
The Synod rejects the errors of those who teach: that the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understood the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion (Canons, III and IV, B5).
This light of nature shows God as ready to reveal Christ to all and by it God applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to receive Christ, to believe and repent. Thus one must use the light of nature aright to become worthy of saving grace. It was at this point that the Arminians introduced the idea of free will. And the salvation of man finally, was made dependent upon the exercise of his free will.
This same view, taught by the Arminians and condemned by the fathers at Dordt, has reappeared in Reformed theology in connection with and identification of general revelation and common grace. Win. M. Masselink, e.g., taught this in his book, General Revelation and Common Grace, 13and Herman Bavinck taught the same in his work, Our Reasonable Faith.14
In the second place, the Arminians taught a governmental and universalistic view of the atonement, and held that in every sense of the word the atonement was for every individual person. However, this atonement only made salvation available and possible for all and thus its efficacy was denied. The Canons say:
The synod rejects the errors of those who teach: that it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that he should confirm the new covenant of grace through his blood, but only that he should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as he might please, whether of grace or of works....
Who teach: that Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions.
Who teach: that all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin . . . (Canons II, B, 2,3,5).
In connection with these distinct views, the Arminians also promoted a particular view of the preaching. On the one hand, they challenged the Reformed position on especially two counts: they claimed that the Reformed could not preach because they preached only to the elect, but did not know who the elect were.15 And they claimed that the Reformed could not preach faith and repentance as the general command of the gospel. Their own views are set forth, not only in their writings, but also in the "Opinions" which are relevant to the question of the calling.
Only those are obligated to believe that Christ died for them for whom Christ has indeed died. But the reprobate, as they are called, for whom Christ has not died, are not obligated to this faith, and can, by reason of their contrary unbelief, not be justly condemned, in fact, if there were such reprobates, they would be obligated to believe that Christ has not died for them (Quoted from the "Opinions" of the Arminians onCanons II, 14).
This article is intended to show the foolishness of the Reformed position that is caricatured. Written with characteristic vagueness -- a vagueness which was deliberately intended, and setting forth what the Arminian considered to be the Reformed position, it is intended to prove that the Reformed, who insisted that Scripture taught an atonement only for the elect, could not confront all with the command to repent and believe. The reprobate could not be commanded to repent and believe in Christ, for they would be required to believe something which was not true, namely that Christ died for them.
All those whom God calls unto salvation, those He calls seriously, that is, with an upright and altogether unfeigned purpose and will to save. And we do not agree with those who hold that God externally calls some whom he does not will to call internally, that is, does not will that they be actually converted, even before they have rejected the grace of the calling (Idem).
Notice that the Arminians specifically state here that it is their position that God calls all with the will and purpose to save all, that they disagree with those who teach that God does not will that those who are called externally actually be converted, at least, if this will of God is said to precede the rejection of the gospel by the wicked. Here is a clear statement of the Arminian conception of the theology of the free offer.
There is not in God such a hidden will which stands over against His will which is revealed in the Word, that He according to that will (that is, the hidden will) does not will the conversion and the salvation of the greater part of those whom He through the word of the gospel, and according to the revealed will, is seriously calling and inviting unto faith and salvation; neither do we here acknowledge, as some speak, a holy dissimulation, or a double person in God (Quoted from the "Opinions" of the Arminians on Canons (III—IV, 8, 9).
It is interesting to note that the Arminians in their "Opinions" on III and IV, 9 refuse, as more recent defenders of the free offer do, to make a distinction between the hidden will of God and His revealed will. Calvin taught that according to His hidden will, God willed the salvation of the elect; and that, although God commands all who hear the gospel to repent and believe, nevertheless there is no conflict between God's will revealed in His Word and God's hidden will. Modern day defenders of the free offer of the gospel insist that according to His hidden will, God desires and wills the salvation only of the elect, and that according to His revealed will, He desires and wills the salvation of all men; these two wills stand in flat contradiction to each other and their harmony remains a mystery. The Arminians also insist that there is not conflict between God's hidden will and His revealed will; but they find the harmony by teaching that according to both God seriously desires and wills the salvation of all men.
All of these ideas, according to the Arminians were rooted in universal atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The price of salvation, which Christ offered to God His Father, is not only in and by itself sufficient for the redemption of the whole human race, but also paid for all and every man, according to the decree, the will, and the grace of God the Father; and therefore no one is definitely excluded from the communion of the benefits of the death of Christ by an absolute and antecedent decree of God (Quoted from the"Opinions" of the Arminians on Canons II, 1).
Thus the following points were specifically made by the Arminians and condemned by the fathers at Dordt. Grace is offered to all men without exception in the preaching of the gospel. This is rooted in an unlimited atonement, i.e., an atonement that was for every man and for all. The acceptance or rejection of this offer depends upon the free will of man. The fathers condemned these when they write:
The Synod rejects the errors of those who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace (Canons II. B, 6). (Italics ours).
This free will involves the exercise of faith that then becomes the work of man.
Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at His pleasure or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man by the exercise of his own free will, consents to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ (Canons III—IV A ,14). (Italics ours.)
It is not surprising then that the preaching of the gospel is no longer the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), but is only an attempt on God's part to persuade the sinner to accept Christ and walk in obedience. That this is the teaching of Arminianism is evident from Canons III and IV, B, 7 where the fathers condemned the error of those who teach:
That the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it), that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man's nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods.
From this it is clear that the Arminians, while teaching the idea of the offer as it is taught in recent times, nevertheless held to the same doctrines as those who maintain a general offer of the gospel. It is well to remind ourselves of the fact that these Canons were the product of the entire Reformed church world of that day and were signed by all the delegates both foreign and domestic. A clearer confessional condemnation of the doctrines of the free offer can hardly be found. And this condemnation was the united opinion of all the churches of the Reformation.
What makes this all the more important is the fact that certain delegates from foreign countries, especially from England and Bremen, defended on the floor of the Synod the Arminian position.16
Although it is true that these delegates too subsequently signed the Canons, it is difficult to imagine how this was possible in the light of the fact that they consistently upheld the Arminian position. The point is, however, that the Arminian viewpoint was given a hearing on the floor of the Synod, not only when the Arminians themselves were permitted to speak, but also through the defense of the Arminian position by the delegates from Britain and Bremen. In spite of this, the fathers refused to adopt any Arminian viewpoint, but rather repudiated it consistently.
The Arminians with whom the Reformed Churches had to do were fundamentally rationalistic. This is important to understand. The system that they were defending was a thoroughgoing system that involved almost all points of doctrine. It was a theological position that proceeded from a rationalistic starting point and which, by rationalistic deduction, demonstrated that departure in one element of the truth leads to departure in every part of it. Thus the Arminianism condemned at Dordt was somewhat different from the Arminianism which appeared later in England under the influence of the Wesleys. In an interesting article on, "Arminianism," Rev. J. I. Packer correctly characterizes the Arminianism of the Wesleys as a Pietistic Arminianism that never developed into a complete theological system. Nevertheless, as Parker also notes, the basic ideas of both were the same.17
There are two or three questions that we ought to face in connection with our discussion of the Canons. The first has to do with Canons II, 3 where the fathers speak of the atoning sacrifice of Christ as "the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; (which) is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world." It has been sometimes maintained that here is one place where the fathers definitely speak of a general atonement in the sense of sufficiency. And, while this is certainly true, the following points must be remembered.
1) This article was included in the Canons because it was intended to serve as an answer to the Arminian charge that the Reformed in their doctrine of a limited atonement or particular redemption did injustice to the sacrifice of Christ and spoke disparagingly of its value. This accusation the fathers repudiate and in fact turn the tables on the Arminians and insist that not they, but the Arminians speak disparagingly of the atonement because the Arminians have a doctrine of the atonement which teaches that Christ's sacrifice, made for everyone, does not even actually save since many go lost.
2) That the fathers did not intend to teach that actual atonement was made for all men is clear from their statement: ". . . it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem…all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father . . ." (11,8). (Italics ours.)
3) As is plain from II, 3, the fathers looked at this "sufficiency" from the viewpoint of the One Who offered this sacrifice - the eternal Son of God: "this death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God. …
4) It is evident therefore, that the intent of the article is merely to state that, taken purely by itself, without any reference to those for whom Christ died, Christ's atonement, because He was the eternal Son of God, was of infinite value in God's sight. It was sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world because it was God's Son that died; and God's Son cannot make a sacrifice which qualitatively speaking is a partial sacrifice.
5) But that this "universal sufficiency" was intended by the fathers to form the basis for a general offer of the gospel is totally foreign to their thinking.
The second question has to do with the claim of some that, after all, the Canons teach a general offer of the gospel. Those who maintain this refer especially to three articles in the Canons which we quote in full.
Moreover, the promise of the gospel, is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and to believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (II, 5).
As many, however, as are called by the Gospel, are seriously called. For God has seriously and most truly shown in His Word, what is pleasing to Him, namely, that the called should come unto Him. He even promises seriously to all those coming to Him and believing rest of soul and eternal life (III—IV, 8).
That many who have been called by the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not converted -- of this the fault is not in the gospel, nor in Christ offered through the gospel, nor in God Who calls through the gospel, and even bestows on them various gifts, but in the called themselves . . . (III-IV, 9). 18
Concerning these articles we point out the following:
1) There is no mention in these articles of the free offer of the gospel in the sense of an intention or desire or will of God, expressed in the gospel, to save all who hear the gospel. It is true that the word "offer" is used in III-IV, 9, but, as we have had occasion to notice earlier, this word was very commonly used to express the idea that Christ is presented, set forth, proclaimed in the gospel as the One through Whom God has accomplished salvation. But the idea that God expresses in the gospel a general desire to save all who hear is an idea totally foreign to the Canons and can be read into them only by altering the clear language of the articles and imposing ideas upon the fathers of Dort which they did not have.
2) II, 5 speaks emphatically of the promise of the gospel, but insists that this promise of the gospel is very particular; i.e., it is only to those who believe in Christ. And it is clear from the rest of the Canons that those who believe in Christ are only the elect ("That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God's eternal decree," I, 6), who are converted to God by efficacious grace merited in Christ's limited atonement.
3) II, 5 also speaks of the fact that this promise ought to be proclaimed everywhere, "to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel." So the article speaks very clearly of a general proclamation of a particular promise and this has always been the position held by the Reformed churches.
4) II, also speaks of the fact that this promise, generally proclaimed but particular in its contents, is proclaimed together with the command to repent and believe. In III-IV, 8 & 9 this is also said to be the call of the gospel. This call is described as being serious in nature. God requires of all men, through the preaching, that they forsake their sins and turn from their evil ways, that they believe in Christ Who has shed His blood for sin. Concerning this point there are two points that ought to be made.
a) In the first place, no one who stands in the line of Calvinistic and Reformed thought has ever denied this truth. This is important to understand. The Reformed have sometimes been charged with being unable to preach the gospel to all men because they insist that the promise of the gospel is for the elect alone and no preacher knows who the elect are. But this is a distortion of the Reformed view. The gospel must be generally preached both because it is the means whereby God calls out of darkness into light those whom He has chosen to everlasting life, and because, through this general proclamation, all men are confronted with the obligation to forsake their sins and believe in Christ.
b) Nor have the Reformed ever denied that this command or call is serious. God means exactly what He says. He is not joking when He comes to all with this command. He is not saying something in the gospel that is not really true. Quite the opposite is the case. Man was originally created perfect and upright. When man fell in Adam, he fell by his own sinful choice. His depravity which made it impossible for him any longer to serve God becomes his lot in life because for God's just judgment upon the sinner. But God does not, on that account, require any less of man than He did at the beginning. God is God. He remains just and holy and righteous in all His ways. He does not now say: Oh, you are such a poor sinner, no longer able to do what I have commanded; I will no longer require of you that you serve me and flee from your sins. It is perfectly all right if you do less than you were originally required to do. Oh, no! Then God would not be just and righteous. God still insists that this man serve him. And man is confronted with that demand every time the gospel comes to him.
It is interesting and important to note that II, 5 speaks of the "promise together with the command to repent and believe," as forming the contents of the gospel. It is exactly in this way that God works His purpose in His elect by enabling them to repent and believe, and it is exactly because of this that the wicked are responsible for their own failure to repent and believe. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God Who calls, but the fault lies in the wicked themselves. And so God is also perfectly just when He casts the wicked forever from His presence.
It is not difficult to see that all this is a far cry from the free offer of the gospel as that is presented and defended in our times. Of this the fathers wanted no part and it is a perversion of our Canons to try to find support for the idea of the free offer in this Confession. Even R. B. Kuiper has difficulty finding confessional grounds for his support of the free offer of the gospel.
He can, finally, only point to two articles in the Canons: Canons II, 5, to which we have referred above and which cannot in any sense of the word be stretched into supporting a free offer, and Canons II, 3 which speaks of the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ and which we have discussed earlier in this chapter.19 It is interesting to note, however, that Kuiper argues from this statement on sufficiency to a position which sets forth the fact that Christ's atonement is also suitable for all, and from there he argues to the position that the atonement is, as far as its sufficiency and suitability are concerned, divinely designed for all. Once again it becomes apparent how the defenders of the free offer of the gospel must in some sense of the word make the atonement of Christ universal. But Kuiper's argument from the Canons is specious.
To conclude, therefore, we see that although the issue of the offer as such was not an issue at the time of Dort, the Confession of Dort nevertheless holds to the idea of preaching which has always been Reformed and no appeal to these Canons can possibly support the idea of a free offer.
Chapter 4: Amyrauldianism
Soon after the Synod of Dort had condemned the Arminian corruptions of sovereign predestination and sovereign grace and had set forth the Scriptural teachings concerning these matters, the School of Saumur in France made a fierce attack against them. The chief light of this school was a man by the name of Moise Amyraut, who founded what became known as the Amyrauldian system of predestination.
The school of Saumur, of which Amyraut was the chief figure, was founded by John Cameron, Amyraut's teacher, who later taught in England and influenced the Davenant School there. Cameron was the one who suggested the lines of thought that Amyraut developed into a hypothetical universalism.
To understand the theological context in which Cameron and Amyraut did their work, we must see clearly first of all that Cameron and Amyraut were both persuaded that the true teachings of John Calvin, especially on the doctrine of predestination, had been distorted by his successors, notably Theodore Beza and the theologians of the Synod of Dort. Cameron and Amyraut were convinced that Beza was in large measure responsible for a shift in Calvinism to a scholastic theology, which has come to characterize Protestant thinking. This shift to scholastic thought had distorted Calvin's theology, especially on the question of predestination. Cameron and Amyraut, therefore, justified their departures from current Calvinistic thought by claiming that they were returning to pristine Calvinism and restoring Calvin's true emphasis which had been so badly obscured by men who claimed to be followers of Calvin but who in fact distorted his central teachings. 20
These men from Saumur offered as proof of their position the fact that Calvin had not discussed the doctrine of predestination at the beginning of hisInstitutes so that it was subsumed under the doctrine of God, but had treated it in connection with the doctrine of salvation. They claimed that Beza and Dort had shifted this emphasis by moving predestination back to theology and had, therefore, made the doctrine speculative. They insisted that predestination indeed belonged to Soteriology where Calvin has placed it and that it must be treated after the doctrines of grace as an explanation ex post facto of why some believe and others do not.
It is interesting that this view, first proposed by John Cameron, has more recently been advanced by others who have had a quarrel with the truth of' sovereign predestination and who have tried to make their attack against this truth sound more reasonable by a reinterpretation of Calvin. It is, however, rarely said by those who suggest this reinterpretation that it is a reinterpretation first proposed by Amyraut. This certainly casts suspicion on it from the outset.
There is a prima facie case against this position, especially as it concerns Theodore Beza. The simple fact of the matter is that Calvin and Beza worked together for a number of years prior to Calvin's death, that Beza was Calvin's successor in the Academy in Geneva by Calvin's express request, that Calvin surely knew Beza's view on predestination, and that Calvin would never have approved of Beza's position in the Academy if Beza diverged so greatly from this cardinal doctrine. It is impossible to conceive that Calvin would have never once expressed agreement with Beza's views and would not have protested vehemently Beza's appointment to the Academy if Beza was guilty of such great distortion of what Calvin taught. There is here an improbability that no amount of argument can overcome.
While it is true that Calvin developed his views on predestination in connection with Soteriology, it is also true that Calvin did not develop them as an ex post facto
explanation of why some believe and others do not, but rather that predestination is the fountain and cause of faith by which the elect believe and the divine explanation of why others do not. That this is true is evident from Calvin's very teaching concerning predestination in his Institutes from the fact that, although predestination is developed in connection with Soteriology, it is nevertheless mentioned repeatedly throughout the Institutes -- also in connection with the doctrine of God; and from his treatment of this truth in his pamphlet on predestination which he wrote in the midst of the Bolsec controversy. Historically, this position is untenable.21
However that may be, this was the motivation behind the teachings of Cameron and Amyraut.
Cameron proceeded from a covenantal position, so he claimed, and taught that God established a twofold covenant: one, an absolute covenant, unconditional and rooted in antecedent love; the other a hypothetical covenant, dependent upon man's condition of love. The latter was the important covenant because it was the covenant of experience. However, the power of man's love is always God's antecedent love.
This was the basis of the distinction that Amyraut developed in his hypothetical universalism.
Moise Amyraut was born in 1596 and died in 1664. He followed Cameron in his views of the covenant and agreed that the hypothetical covenant was the important one because it is the covenant of revelation and experience. Within this covenant the essential elements are obligation and promised reward, the latter conditioned by the former.
An important distinction must be made, according to Amyraut, between the Mosaic covenant that was legal and the gracious covenant of the promise. In connection with the latter, all mankind are the contracting parties, the condition for its fulfillment is faith, the promise is eternal life, the Mediator is Christ, and the efficacy is God's work of mercy.
From this idea of the covenant followed Amyraut's views of predestination. These views were developed especially in his Treatise on Predestinationthat was published in 1634 --fifteen years after Dort had adjourned. In this book he developed his idea of two wills in God: one a particular and unconditional will and the other a universal and conditional will. These two wills of God, so he said, were basically irreconcilable and part of the hidden mystery of God's decree.
This double-will idea, Amyraut claimed, was taught already by Calvin and was in fact fundamental to Calvin's teaching. We may note in passing, for we have already discussed this question in connection with Calvin's teachings on the free offer, that it is true that Calvin made a distinction between the will of God's decree and the will of God's precept; but it is also true that Calvin specifically repudiated the idea that these two wills stand in contradiction with each other something which Amyraut insisted was true.
On the basis of the distinction between God's particular and God's universal will, Amyraut went on to teach that predestination as universal and conditional was a part of providence. It was a part of what are really “two counsels" in God that He took because of the fall. According to this universal and conditional will, God wills the salvation of all men and promises salvation to all upon the condition of faith. It is only because God knows that man is not able of himself to believe that God also wills particularly and unconditionally to save the elect.
Amyraut admits that he emphasized Calvin's conditional will more than Calvin himself did, but that this was necessary because orthodox and scholastic theologians repudiated it altogether and he could restore the true balance of pure Calvinism only by emphasizing that which was so sorely neglected. He writes: "These words, 'God wills the salvation of all men,' necessarily meets with this limitation, 'provided that they believe.' If they do not believe, He does not will it, this will of making the grace of salvation universal and common to all men being in such a way conditional that without the accomplishment of the conditional it is completely inefficacious." Or again, "God wills all men to be saved…He invites them to repent . . .. He extends His arms to them . . .. He goes before them and calls them with a lively voice."
Here we have the essence of the free offer of the gospel as proposed by Amyraut. As we have had occasion to notice, the essential idea of the free offer is the idea that God desires the salvation of all men without exception, or, if that is too broad, God desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel and expresses that desire in the gospel. Amyraut proposed exactly that idea with his hypothetical universalism.
Hence, because the gospel expresses the universal will of God to save all men, it comes to men as an offer to all. At the Synod of Alencon, before which Amyraut was called to appear and answer for his views, he said:
So that those who are called by the preaching of the Gospel to participate by faith in the effects and fruits of His death, being invited seriously, and God vouchsafing them all external means needful for their coming to Him, and showing them in good earnest, and with the greatest sincerity by His Word, what would be well--pleasing to Him: if they should not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but perish in their obstinacy and unbelief; this cometh not from any defect or virtue or sufficiency in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, nor yet for want of summons or serious invitation unto faith and repentance, but only from their own fault.
The external call of the gospel, according to Amyraut, speaks of a sufficiency of salvation for all, a universal will of God to save all, and an objective grace for all which is needful for their coming to Christ. The subjective grace of' salvation is dependent and conditioned upon faith. The objective grace is an offer of pardon to all while the subjective grace or salvation is conditional and only for those who come to Christ. These two graces correspond to the double will of God. The universal grace objectively given corresponds to God's universal will to save all, while the subjective grace flows forth from God's particular will to save only the elect.
All of this is rooted in the atonement. The atonement is universal in sufficiency, in intention, and in scope, and merits the grace that is objectively for all, but is subjectively given only to those who fulfill the condition of faith.
In his book, The Extent of the Atonement, F. Turretin quotes Testardus, a disciple of' Amyraut as follows:
Some of our ministers teach that by Christ's atonement a new covenant was established with all, their salvation rendered possible and an offer of it made to them in the gospel.” 22
He quotes Amyraut himself as saying:
Since the misery of the human family is equal and universal, and the desire which God has to free them from it by the Redeemer, proceeds from the mercy which He exercises towards us as His creatures, fallen into destruction, in which we are all equal; the grace of redemption, which He has procured for us and offers to us, should be equal and universal, provided we are equally disposed to its reception. 23
Such are the views of Amyraut.
There are several remarks to be made by way of summary and evaluation of these views.
It is interesting and significant that at the heart of Amyraut's views lies his conception of' the double will of God. And it is particularly interesting that it is this view of God's double will which was then and is now so closely linked with the idea of the gospel offer. It is not difficult to see why this should be so. Those who maintain a gospel offer teach that God desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel and expresses this desire in the preaching or the gospel. Thus it is God's will that all who hear the gospel be saved. But at the same time, if one wants to maintain a semblance of being Reformed and Calvinistic, one must also insist that it is God's will according to the decree of election to save some only. The only way to include both these ideas in one system of theology is to posit an irreconcilable contradiction within the will of God. On the one hand, God wills that all be saved; on the other hand, God wills that only some be saved.
It will not do to appeal to Calvin in this connection as if Calvin also taught such a double will of God, because it has been proved that he did not. While Calvin made a distinction within the will of God, he found perfect harmony and unity between these two aspects of' God's will, and did so by denying that God in any sense wills the salvation of all men.
Defenders of the double-will theory will have to admit that their conception of this idea is not a conception that stands in the line of Calvin and Dort; rather it is to be traced to Amyraut and his hypothetical universalism.
Yet this question lies at the basis of the free offer. We noticed that earlier in the history of the Reformers and of Dort, certain ideas that were closely related to the free offer were brought up, but that no specific doctrine of the free offer was taught. Especially the Arminians brought up the ideas that stand in relation to the free offer, and these views were condemned by Dort. But Amyraut is the first to set forth a clear and clearly worked out conception of the free offer of the gospel. The defenders of the free offer ought to take note of this. Their doctrine is not a doctrine that stands in the line of Reformed thinking through Dort; it owes its origin to Amyrauldianism and the heresy of the theologians of Saumur.
Inseparably connected with the idea of the free offer stands the idea of the universality of the atonement. Dort spoke, as we noticed, of a certain infinite value to the sacrifice of Christ. But Saumur went beyond this and taught a universality as to sufficiency, intention and scope. Only efficacy was limited to the elect. The connection between this and the idea of the free offer is clear. If God offers salvation to all in a serious and well-meaning way, then it follows that this salvation must somehow be rooted in the cross. And that can mean only that in some sense the atonement is universal. God cannot offer what is not available.
But behind the atonement stands the decree of predestination. We do not want to discuss at length the whole idea of hypothetical universalism as taught by the Saumur theologians, but we ought to notice that a defense of the free offer of the gospel inevitably involves one in a denial of the truth of sovereign predestination. The two may perhaps be maintained side by side in some unhappy contradictory way for a time, but the inevitable consequence is that sooner or later such contradictory ideas cannot both be maintained and predestination always falls by the way. This was true of the school of Saumur and it is equally true today. And no wonder. How can the doctrine of sovereign predestination be maintained when a double-will theory is believed? How can one consistently and clearly maintain God's sovereign choice of His people and His sovereign damnation of the wicked in the way of their sins when it is also taught that God wills the salvation of all men according to His revealed will? This is utterly impossible.
At the same time, the question of grace also stands connected to this whole question. Amyraut taught a universal objective grace and a particular subjective grace, both merited in the cross. While he did not call this grace common, the idea of objective grace is strikingly similar to what has in more recent times come to be known as "common grace." And it is very significant, as we shall have occasion to notice in our further discussions of these matters, that throughout history the idea of the free offer has more often than not been connected with common grace. This too ought not to surprise us. If God sincerely wills the salvation of all men, or at least of all who hear the gospel, then through the gospel He shows to them His own favor and love, His own grace and mercy i.e., to all who hear the gospel and not to His people only. It ought to give the defenders of common grace pause to think that this view has always been a view taught in connection with the free offer. And it ought to give the defenders of both pause that both ideas have their origin in Amyrauldianism.
But there is another side to this coin. It is interesting to notice too that Amyraut's whole conception necessitated the teaching of a conditional salvation. The revealed covenant, according to Amyraut, was conditional; the revealed will of God to save all was conditional; the offer of salvation was conditional; and the promise of Christ was conditional -- in every case the condition being faith. This connection between conditional theology and the free offer is also an idea that ought not surprise us. The idea of conditional theology has always been inseparably related to the free offer and an integral part of a conception which presents God as willing the salvation of all men. Nor is this hard to understand. If it is true that God wills the salvation of all men, how is it to be explained that only some are saved? The answer to that question is: Only those are saved who believe. Salvation is conditioned by faith and given only upon the exercise of faith.
While we shall have occasion to discuss this more fully in subsequent chapters, it is important that we understand now that this is a basically Arminian conception. One might object to this by saying that Amyraut (and all who try to maintain a conditional salvation at the same time as they try to maintain a sovereignty and particularism in the work of grace) insisted that the efficacy for believing was in God's mercy and grace. While salvation was prepared for all, offered to all, and willed for all, it is dependent upon faith for its realization in the hearts of those who accept Christ. But that faith, so it is said, is actually worked by God. It is in this way that the sovereignty and efficacy of grace is said to be maintained. But this is specious nonsense. It is nonsense to say that Christ died (in some real sense) for all and that His cross is efficacious, but that only some are actually saved because its efficacy is limited to some. It is nonsense to say that God entreats all to be saved as His most earnest will, but promises salvation only to those who believe when He is the One giving faith. And all this is nonsense because we stand before one fundamental question: Is faith a part of salvation or is it not? Is election conditioned upon faith as the Arminians teach? If it is then election cannot be the fountain and cause of faith as Scripture teaches, for it cannot be both the condition to election and the fruit of election at the same time. Is faith a part of salvation, or is it a condition to salvation? It cannot be both. If it is a condition to salvation, then it is not a part of salvation. And if it is not a part of salvation then it is not worked by God, but by man. To maintain both at the same time is patent nonsense and impossible for any intelligent person to believe. Is faith a part of the promise proclaimed in the gospel, or is it a condition to the promise? That is, when through the gospel God promises salvation, does He promise it to all upon condition of faith? Then faith is not a part of the promise of salvation, but a condition to it. But then it is also man's work. Or is it rather true that faith is a part of promise of salvation, one of the gifts of salvation -- of a salvation which is promised only to the elect, proclaimed through the gospel and worked by God in the hearts of those for whom Christ died? The latter is Calvinistic and Reformed. The former is sheer, undiluted Arminianism.
Conditional salvation and a general offer go hand in hand. And they go hand in hand because they are both Arminian and Amyrauldian.
Francis Turretin was deeply involved in the Amyrauldian controversy. He was a contemporary of Amyraut, teaching in Geneva at the time this controversy raged in France. And it was in part in response to this creeping heresy of Amyrauldianism that he helped draw up the Consensus Helvetica. There are a few of these articles which were specifically written against the Amyrauldian heresy and which repudiate the idea of the free offer of the gospel. While this confession never received confessional status in the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, it nevertheless indicates how this great theologian opposed what Amyraut taught. In this first article which we quote, the unconditionality of the covenant and the particularity of the atoning sacrifice of Christ is emphatically set forth.
XIII. As Christ was from eternity elected the Head, Prince, and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by His grace, so also in time, He was made Surety of the New Covenant only for those who by the eternal Election, were given to Him as His own people, His seed and inheritance. For according to the determinate counsel of the Father and His own intention, He encountered dreadful death instead of the elect alone, restored only these into the bosom of the Father's grace, and these only He reconciled to God, the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), Who gave His life a ransom for many sheep (Matthew 20:28, John 10:15), His own, who hear His voice (John 10:27, 28), and for those only He also intercedes, as a divinely appointed Priest, and not for the world (John 17:9). Accordingly in the death of Christ, only the elect, who in time are made new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17), and for whom Christ in His death was substituted as an expiatory sacrifice, are regarded as having died with Him and as being justified from sin; and thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy Spirit, Who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal life none but the elect, the will of Christ who died so agrees and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of the Father's election, the Son's redemption, and the Spirit's sanctification is one and the same.
In the next article the errors of Amyraut are specifically condemned, although Amyraut is not mentioned by name.
XIV. Since all these things are entirely so, surely we cannot approve the contrary doctrine of those who affirm that of His own intention, by His own counsel and that of the Father Who sent Him, Christ died for all men each upon the impossible condition, provided they believe; that He obtained for all a salvation, which nevertheless, is not applied to all, and by His death merited salvation and faith for no one individually and certainly, but only removed the obstacle of Divine Justice, and acquired for the Father the liberty of entering into a new covenant of grace with all men; and finally, they so separate the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as to assert that He claims His active righteousness for Himself as His own, but gives and imputes only His passive righteousness to the elect. All these opinions, and all that are like these, are contrary to the plain Scriptures and the glory of Christ, who is Author and Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make His cross of none effect, and under the appearance of augmenting His merit, they really diminish it.
In Article XIX, the subject of the call of the gospel is addressed.
XIX. Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who calls, earnest and sincere. For in His Word He unfolds earnestly and most truly, not, indeed, His secret intention respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but what belongs to our duty, and what remains for us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God Who calls, that they who are called come to Him and not neglect so great salvation, and so He promises eternal life also in good earnest, to those who come to Him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, "It is a faithful saying: -- For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself." Nor in regard to those who do not obey the call is this will inefficacious, for God always attains that which he intends in His will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who do their duty, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Surely the spiritual man in no way secures the internal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally proffered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every verity which flows from His counsel therefore it is rightly said to be His will, that, all who see the Son and believe on Him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these "all" are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but for the elect only who were given to Him, yet He intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from His special and definite purpose.
This idea of the command of the gospel must be distinguished clearly from the idea of a free or well-meant offer. It is true, as we observed in an earlier chapter, that sometimes among Reformed theologians the word "offer" was used in this sense. And when it is used in this sense, we have no quarrel with the idea that is proposed by it. Nevertheless, the idea must be distinguished from what is commonly taught by those who maintain a free offer. The latter teach that through the preaching God expresses His desire, willingness and intention to save all that hear the gospel because it is His revealed will to save all -- a will that is rooted in some sense in an atonement which is for all. That through the preaching of the gospel the command to repent of sin and believe comes to all is an entirely different idea. This command is rooted in the creation ordinance itself. God created man good and upright, capable in all things to will the will of God. When man fell, he lost all ability to obey God and keep His commandments and plunged himself into the ruin of sin and death. But just because man, through his own foolishness and sin, lost the ability to love His God, God does not withdraw His requirements which demand of man that man obey Him. God is just and righteous in all that He does. Whether man can or cannot keep God's law makes no difference whatsoever. God still requires of man that which He originally required when He created man upright and able to serve Him.
Here too Arminianism and Calvinism part ways. Arminianism takes the position that obligation can rest only upon ability. But this is dangerously false and utterly contrary to Scripture. The Heidelberg Catechism puts a stop to such evil thinking once and for all when it says:
Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform? Not at all, for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts (Q. & A. 9).
It is this truth that forms the basis for the command of the gospel that comes to all to turn from sin and obey God.
Turretin faced the question of what this command to obey God and believe in Christ actually means. In answering this question, he made a distinction in the idea of faith. We quote him at some length because this is a question of some importance. He is dealing with the question how the command not only to repent of sin but also to believe in Christ can come to all. He makes a distinction between believing in Christ and believing that Christ died for one.
What everyone is bound to believe absolutely and simply, directly and immediately, without anything previously supposed, we grant is true. But the case is different in relation to those things that one is bound to believe mediately and in consequence of some acts supposed to be previously done. It is false, however, that all men are bound to believe that Christ died for them simply and absolutely. In the first place, those to whom the Gospel has never been preached, to whom Christ has never been made known, are not surely bound to believe that Christ died for them. This can be affirmed of those only who are called in the Gospel, "How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how can they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:13). Secondly, even all those who hear the Gospel are not bound to believe directly and immediately that Christ died for them, but mediately. The acts of faith and repentance are presupposed; they must precede a belief that Christ died for one's self; for Christ's death belongs to those only who believe and repent. So far is it from being true that unbelievers are bound to believe that Christ died for them, that he who persuades them so to believe miserably mocks them. …25
In order to explain this in the light of the fact that all who hear the gospel are commanded to believe in Christ, Turretin makes the following distinctions:
I shall proceed to distinguish various acts of faith. First, one act of faith is direct which has for its object the offer of the Gospel.25By this act I fly to Christ and embrace his promises. Another act is reflex, and has for its object the direct act of faith. By this act I discovered that I have indeed believed, and that the promises of the Gospel belong to me. Again, the direct act of faith is twofold. One of its operations consists in the assent which it gives to the Word of God and to the promises of the Gospel, as true in relation to the giving of salvation to all who repent and by a living faith fly to Christ and embrace him. Another operation of saving faith is its taking refuge and trusting in Christ, acknowledging him as the only sufficient Saviour. It is by this we fly to him, rest in him, and from him obtain pardon of our sins and salvation. Now, that faith which is commanded us to the first and second acts which are direct, before it is commanded as to the third act which is reflex, and which necessarily supposes the two former; as it cannot exist unless preceded by them. Hence we are enabled clearly to detect the fallacy of the above objection. When the objection speaks of the faith commanded, it refers to that act by which the sinner lays hold of Christ; but when it speaks of the thing believed, then it refers to the last, by which we believe from the evidence furnished by the direct act in our souls, that Christ died for us. Christ is not revealed in the Gospel as having died for me in particular; but only as having died in general for those who believe and repent. Hence I reason from that faith and repentance which I find actually to exist in my heart, that Christ has, indeed, died for me in particular . . .
Hence it appears that the command to believe in Christ embraces many things before we come to the last consolatory act by which we believe that he died for us. … 26
It is clear from this that Turretin is struggling with the question of how the command to believe can come to all when Christ did not die for all. To solve this problem, he makes a distinction between the direct act of faith and the reflex act of faith, the former referring only to the command to believe in Christ as One in Whom is full salvation for those who come to Him; and the latter being the act of faith whereby one personally appropriates Christ as one's own. Only the former is the content of the command that comes to all who hear the gospel.
But is this distinction satisfactory? While we shall have opportunity to discuss this matter more fully, we ought now to notice that the Scriptures themselves do not make such a distinction in faith when the Scriptures make clear that all who hear the gospel must be confronted with the command to believe.
However, it must be remembered that Turretin is looking at the question more from the subjective point of view; i.e., from the viewpoint of the one to whom the command comes. And then it is clear that, while it is indeed true that the command to believe in Christ surely does include the command to assent to the Scriptures as true and to believe that Christ's sacrifice is the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin, Turretin's distinction separates "assent" from "assurance" and seems to do this chronologically as faith operates in the believer. It really is the same distinction which arises in discussions found later in Reformed and Presbyterian theology concerning the question whether assurance is part of the essence of faith. It suggests an historical faith that includes assurance and trust, though it is not personal -- i.e., a personal assurance that Christ died for me. But this is not wholly satisfactory, for it is surely true that to believe that Christ's sacrifice is the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin necessarily implies a personal fleeing from sin and resting in Christ, i.e. a personal appropriation that Christ is indeed my Savior and Redeemer.
We shall have occasion to return to this subject in future discussions, but it is important now to understand several points. In the first place, Turretin repudiated the whole concept of the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, along with its corollary that Christ in some sense died for all. Secondly, Turretin did not deny that the command to believe in Christ comes to all. This truth he steadfastly maintained and those who repudiate the idea of a free offer have always maintained this truth. In the third place, as he attempted to harmonize this with a particular or limited atonement, he distinguished between the activity of faith in such a way that he separated the "assent" of faith from its "assurance." With this we cannot entirely agree, and there is no Scriptural warrant for doing this. Nevertheless, he clearly maintained that the atonement of Christ was limited to the elect only and that no idea of a universal atonement can serve as the basis for an offer that expresses God's intent to save all. In this respect Turretin stands in the line of Reformed thought.
Chapter 5: Davenant and the Westminster Assembly
The error of Amyrauldianism was not confined to France, but soon spread to many parts of the continent and came also into Britain. It is not surprising that this should happen for John Cameron, the teacher of Amyraut, ended his career as Principal in Glasgow College where John Davenant (l576-1641) was his student.
While it is not our purpose to enter into detail concerning the views of Davenant, whom many consider to be one of Britain's outstanding theologians, nevertheless, it is of interest to note that he was one of the delegates from Great Britain to the famous Synod of Dort.
Davenant attempted to find a middle road between outright Arminianism and the supralapsarianism which some in England favored. He found in the theology of Saumer such a road and defended the Amyrauldian views of hypothetical universalism, a general atonement in the sense of intention as well as sufficiency, a common blessing of the cross, and a conditional salvation. All these views stood in close connection with the theology of the well-meant offer of salvation to all.
It is clear that Davenant defended a view that was contrary to the views of Calvin and was an attempt to alter the system of Calvinism as it was maintained by many theologians within Britain.
In an interesting book entitled, Calvin and the Calvinists, by Paul Helm, the author speaks of these views of Davenant.27 Helm writes,
According to Kendall, Calvin held that the scope of the death of Christ is different from that of His intercession. He died for all, but intercedes only for the elect. The Amyrauldians appeared to have made no such distinction, arguing that the work of Christ as a totality was for all, and that this total saving work was applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect alone. According to Kendall's Calvin only part of the provision of salvation in Christ was universal in its intent, namely, his death, while his intercession was particular. It is this that makes his interpretation of Calvin unique. …
In his Dissertations on the Death of Christ, a book written from a broadly Amyrauldian position, John Davenant considers the following objection to his own view: "If the death of Christ is to be considered as a remedy or ransom applicable to every man, from the ordination of God, then also the resurrection, intercession and mediation of Christ will have respect to all men in the same manner. But Christ was not raised up for all men, does not intercede for all, is not the mediator of all: Therefore, neither is his death to be extended to all." It might be expected that Davenant would reply to such an objection by insisting that the scope of Christ’s intercession is narrower than that of his death, and by backing this up with an appeal to the illustrious precedent of John Calvin. But Davenant replies. "For as we can truly announce to every man that his sins are expiable by the death of Christ according to the ordination of God and will be expiated, if only he should believe in Christ; so also we can truly declare, that the same Christ was raised again, that he might justify him through faith, and was exalted at the right hand of God, that, by his mediation and merits, he might preserve him through faith in the favor of God, and at length might lead him to glory. Therefore we do not put asunder those things which God hath joined together; but we teach that the death, resurrection, and intercession of Christ are joined together in indissoluble union. ...
It is clear from this quote that Davenant wanted both an atonement that was universal in some respects and an intercession of Christ that was of the same extent as the atonement.
The following quote expresses the same view of Davenant:
In England the notion of a universal desire in God for the salvation of all men was also the root principle of the Davenant School at the beginning of the seventeenth century. This school taught that there is in the redemption purchased by Christ, an absolute intention for the elect and a conditional intention for the reprobate in case they do not believe.28
A number of men were influenced by Davenant's thinking and this school of thought was represented at the Westminster Assembly by such men as Arrowsmith, Sprigge, Pritte, Carlyle, Burroughs, Strong, Seaman and Calumy. These men in general agreed to an absolute decree of predestination for the elect, but a general and conditional decree of all men. They defended a universal atonement in the sense of intention as well as sufficiency, i.e., that the atonement was intended for all as well as sufficient for all. Flowing from the cross were general blessings that came to all, and a certain common grace that was the possession of all who came under the preaching. And, in connection with these views, they defended the idea also of an offer of the gospel to all in which God expressed His intention and willingness to save all.
In his Introduction to the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, A. F. Mitchell writes:
The same care was taken to avoid the insertion of anything which could be regarded as indicating a preference for supralapsarianism; and for this purpose, the words, "to bring this to pass, God ordained to permit man to fall," were changed into "they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ," etc. Did these divines mean to follow an opposite policy in regard to the point on which Calumy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, and other disciples of Davenant, or according to Baillie of Amyraut, differed from the more exact Calvinists? After repeated perusal of their debate, I cannot take upon myself certainly to affirm that they did, though I admit that this matter is not so clear as the others above referred to. No notes of the debate in its latest stage are given nor is a vote of dissent respecting it found in these Minutes. Calumy, who spoke repeatedly in the debate on the Extent of Redemption, avowed that he held, in the same sense as the English divines at the Synod of Dort, "that Christ by his death did pay a price for all, with absolute intention for the elect, with conditional intention for the reprobate in case they do believe; that all men should be salvabiles non obstante lapsu Adami...; that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving of Christ, and Christ in giving himself did intend, to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe." Seaman Vines, Marshall, and Harris in part at least, agreed with him. And though I cannot find that Dr. Arrowsmith took part in this debate, yet he was attending the Assembly, was a member of the Committee on the Confession, and in his writings has repeatedly expressed his leaning toward the same opinion.29
That these men held to these views is, as Rev. Mitchell points out, clear from the record of the Minutes. 30
In this same connection, Philip Schaff writes in his Creeds of Christendom:
Several prominent members, as Calumy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, who took part in the preparation of the doctrinal standards sympathized with the hypothetical universalism of the Saumur school (Cameron and Amyrauld) and with the moderate position of Davenant and the English delegates to the Synod of Dort. They expressed this sympathy on the floor of the Assembly, as well as on other occasions. They believed in a special effective election and final perseverance of the elect (as necessary means to a certain end), but they held at the same time that God sincerely intends to save all men that Christ intended to die, and actually died, for all men, and that the difference is not in the intention and offer on the part of God, but in the acceptance and appropriation on the part of men. 31
The question arises whether these views of the Davenant school were incorporated into the Westminster Confession. The answer to this question is that, although able theologians defended these views on the Assembly, they were nevertheless not included in the formulation of the Confession as it was finally adopted. The Assembly spoke, in connection with predestination, of a sovereign election without conditions and of a sovereign reprobation in which, "The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.32 No mention is made here of the hypothetical universalism of the Saumur school, but sovereign and double predestination is emphatically set forth.
In connection with the redemption that Christ accomplished on the cross, the Assembly was equally strong: "The Lord Jesus . . . purchased . . . an everlasting inheritance . . . for all those whom the Father had given unto him" (VIII, 5). "Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect . . . (VIII, 6). "To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same…” (VIII,1).
But these references do not solve our entire problem, for the question arises whether or not the idea of the free and well-meant offer was incorporated into the Westminster Creed. And this, in turn, brings up another question that is much debated: Did the Westminster Divines specifically and categorically exclude the Amyrauldian view as set forth by the Davenant school?
In connection with the first question, Westminster does specifically refer to the offer in VII, 3, strikingly enough in connection with the doctrine of the covenant rather than, where one would expect it, in connection with the calling. The article reads:
Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they might be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
While it is true that the term "offer" is used here, (the Latin reads: in quo peccatoribus offert gratuito vitam ac salutem per Jesum Christum), there are several considerations which lead us to conclude that the idea of the offer as used by the school of Amyraut and as promoted by the Davenant men was not intended by the Westminster divines. In the first place, the theology of the offer – a double will of God, a universal intention in the atonement a conditional salvation -- was not incorporated in the creed. In the second place, the word "offer" is not found in the chapter on effectual calling where one would expect it, but in the section on the covenant, which leads one to think that it was intended by the Westminster fathers, not as a flat statement concerning the offer, but in the sense of Christ presented or set forth in the gospel. In the third place, even in the article where the word is used, it is made synonymous with the command to believe.. freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him . . . .And, in this same article, the promise of salvation is said to be to the elect alone <">and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe."
Nevertheless, the views represented on the Assembly by the Davenant men were not specifically repudiated. Some have argued from this that the Assembly deliberately worded the Confession in such a way that the Davenant men were given latitude for their views and were thus enabled also to sign the Confession in the firm conviction that their views were not specifically condemned.
Schaff deals with this question at some length and concludes: 33
This looks like a compromise between conditional universalism taught in the first clause, and particular election taught in the second. This is in substance the theory of the school of Saumur, which was first broached by the Scotch divine Cameron (d. 1626), and more fully developed by his pupil Amyrault, between A.D. 1630 and 1650, and which was afterwards condemned in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675). 34
In an interesting footnote, Schaff connects all this with the idea of the offer, an idea that he espouses:
The ablest modern defendants of a limited atonement, Drs. Cunningham and Hodge, are as emphatic on the absolute sufficiency as Reynolds. Their arguments are chiefly logical; but logic depends on the premises, and is a two-edged sword which may be turned against them as well. For if the atonement be limited in design it must be limited in the offer or if unlimited in the offer, the offer made to the non-elect must be insincere and hypocritical, which is inconsistent with the truthfulness and goodness of God. Every Calvinist (sic) preaches on the assumption that the offer of salvation is truly and sincerely extended to all his hearers, and that it is their own fault if they are not saved. 35
Mitchell takes the same position in a quote we used earlier.
But it is remarkable that, though the assembly met after the Synod of Dort, and had for the president one whose opinions on these mysterious subjects were almost as pronounced as those of Gomarus himself, it fell back not on the decrees of that Synod, but on the Articles of the Irish Church, which had been drawn up before the Synod of Dort was summoned, for the controversies its decrees occasioned had waxed so fierce. The debaters of the Assembly clearly show that its members did not wish to determine several particulars decided by the Synod of Dort, far less to determine them more rigidly than it had done . . . .Did these divines mean to follow an opposite policy in regard to the point on which Calumy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, and other disciples of Davenant, or according to Baillie of Amyraut, different from the more exact Calvinists? After repeated perusal of their debate, I cannot take upon myself certainly to affirm that they did, though I admit that this matter is not so clear as the others above referred to. 36
This conclusion is, I think, correct. While a certain defense of Amyrauldianism was represented at Westminster, it was not incorporated into the Confession, but it was also not specifically and explicitly excluded. 37
There are probably several reasons for this. In the first place, the Westminster Confession has no negative sections in it that condemns specific errors, as, e.g., the Canons have. In the second place, this in turn was probably due to several factors. On the one hand, the Confession was not born out of the fire of persecution (as was the Canons of Dort). This gives, in fact, to the Confession, a certain objective and somewhat abstract character, far removed from the warm personal confession of the Belgic Confession, which so often begins its articles with the words, “We believe . . ." and from the strong pastoral concern of the Canons of Dort which speaks so warmly (in all its chapters) of the personal assurance of the child of God. On the other hand, within the context of the times, the Parliament, which authorized the Assembly, and the Assembly itself were interested in establishing the doctrines of Westminster as the religion of the State, intending it to replace Anglicanism. And this intention necessarily involved making the Confession inclusive rather than exclusive, for it was to be the Confession of the realm.
We can only conclude therefore, that the Westminster Confession is weak at certain key points. It is weak in failing to exclude certain views promoted by the Davenant men, a failure which enabled these men to sign the Confession. It is weak in failing to define clearly its idea of the offer - a subject which was indeed an issue among those who defended some form of Amyrauldianism.
Yet it must not be forgotten that the positive statements of the Confession set forth the truth of Scripture on all these points and do not, by any stretch of the imagination, incorporate the views of the free offer in its formulation. Any form of Arminianism, also such as represented by Amyrault and Davenant, and the whole notion of the free offer was excluded from the formulation of this great Assembly.
We conclude this section with a quote that shows the difference clearly between Arminianism and Calvinism on the question of the offer.
The Arminians, believing in universal grace in the sense of God's love to all men, that is, omnibus et singulis or His design and purpose to save all men conditionally, consistently follow out these views by asserting a universal proclamation to men of God's purpose of mercy - a universal vocation, or offer and invitation to men to receive pardon and salvation, — accompanied by a universalsufficient grace, — gracious assistance actually and universally bestowed, sufficient to enable all men, if they chose, to attain to the full possession of spiritual blessings, and ultimately to salvation. Calvinists, while they admit that pardon and salvation are offered indiscriminately to all to whom the gospel is preached, and that all who can be reached should be invited and urged to come to Christ and embrace Him deny that this flows from, or indicates, any design or purpose on God's part to save all men (the italics of this clause are ours); and without pretending to understand or unfold all the objects or ends of this arrangement, or to assert that it has no other object or end whatever, regard it as mainly designed to effect the result of calling out and saving God's chosen people; and they deny that grace, or gracious divine assistance, sufficient to produce faith and regeneration, is given to all men. 38
Chapter 6: The Marrow Controversy
In order to understand the Marrow controversy in its historical perspective, it is necessary to make a few remarks about the history of the Reformation subsequent to the Westminster Assembly.
Although the Reformation was never as strong in England as on the continent, due to the efforts in England to make a Protestant State Church from a Roman Catholic Church - which efforts differed from the Reformation on the continent where reformation took place by way of separation from the Romish Church nevertheless, Arminianism itself did not appear in England until 1595, when it was taught by Peter Baro, Margaret professor of Divinity at Cambridge. His teachings occasioned the formulation and adoption of the Lambeth Articles which were added, though never officially, to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. The Lambeth Articles made specific certain points of doctrine involved in the defense of the truths of sovereign grace over aginst Arminianism, which were less explicit in the Thirty-Nine Articles.39 In 1596 Baro resigned his position because of his views.
These same views were, however, taught and defended by others. We have noticed earlier how Amyrauldianism came into England and was taught by the Davenant School and represented at Westminster by the men who belonged to this school of thought. But the same ideas were taught by Richard Baxter (1615-1691).
In his doctrine of Christ and the atonement he was Grotian; in his teachings on salvation he was Amyrauldian and Arminian. He believed it his calling to fight a certain antinomianism that had appeared in the church, but he became in fact neo-nomian and taught justification by faith and the works of the new law.
It is of some interest to note in this connection that the charge of antinomianism is often an easy charge to make and was many times brought by Arminians in their opposition of the truth of justification by faith alone. When some in the church lived lax lives, certain opponents of the truth of sovereign grace were quick to find fault with the truth of justification by faith alone and blame this doctrine for wicked excesses among the people, when in fact, the problem lay elsewhere. Already the Heidelberg Catechism addressed itself to this problem in Question and Answer 64: "But doth not this doctrine (of justification by faith) make men careless and profane? By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness."
It is important to understand this because the question of antinomianism and neo-nomianism occupied an important place in the Marrow controversy.
However all that may be, Baxter was opposed by John Owen, especially in his famous book on the atonement: The Death of Death In the Death of Christ.40 In the introduction referred to in the footnote, J. I. Packer claims that Owen was writing against: 1) Classical Arminianism, 2) Amyrauldianism, and 3) The views of Thomas More. He also claims that Usher, Davenant, and Baxter, while holding to a modified Amyrauldianism, had not yet appeared in print with their views at the time Owen wrote his book. But, Packer insists, and correctly so, the book is not only about the atonement; it is also about the gospel.
"Surely all that Owen is doing is defending limited atonement?" Not really. He is doing much more than that. Strictly speaking, the aim of Owen's book is not defensive at all, but constructive. It is a biblical and theological enquiry: its purpose is simply to make clear what Scripture actually teaches about the central subject of the gospel the achievement of the Saviour. As its title proclaims, it is a "treatise of the redemption and reconciliation that is in the blood of Christ; with the merit thereof, and the satisfaction wrought thereby." The question which Owen, like the Dort divines before him, is really concerned to answer is just this: what is the gospel? 41
Concerning the gospel Owen taught that the preacher may not preach that Christ died for each one who hears and that God's love is for each one.42 Man cannot save himself. Christ died for sinners. All who confess sin and believe in Christ will be received. And those who do confess sin and believe in Christ are those whom God has chosen from all eternity. All who hear the gospel face repentance and faith as a duty, but to this is always added a particular promise so that the general command which comes to all through the preaching is always accompanied by a particular promise which is made only to those who repent and believe, i.e., the elect.
The preacher's task says Owen, is to display Christ. In this connection, Packer claims that Owen held to the ideas of an offer and invitation..43 But this is not entirely true. Owen used repeatedly the word "offer," but, as we have noticed before, it can be used in a good sense -- as many early theologians used it. He used it in the sense of Christ presented, Christ portrayed, Christ set forth in the gospel -- a meaning which comes directly from the Latin root: offere. It is also true that Owen used the word "invitation," but used it in the sense of the invitation of a king, i.e., the command comes from the King Jesus to all who hear the gospel to repent from sin and turn to Christ. Yet Packer makes a point of it that Owen pressed home the idea, so important a part of Puritan thinking, that God through Christ urges upon all sinners to believe, and does this with the tenderest of entreaties and most urgent pleas.44
These issues were also to occupy the attention of the men who were involved in the Marrow controversy. And they were of particular concern in connection with the dispute over a book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was first published by Edward Fisher in 1645 and republished in 1648 or 1649. The first part of the book, the part which is of particular concern to us, is written in the form of a conversation between Neophytus, a new convert to the faith, Nomista, who represents the position of antinomianism, and Evangelista, a pastor, who speaks the views of the author and expresses what Edward Fisher considered to be the truth of Scripture. It is therefore a discussion about the relation of the gospel to antinomianism and neo-nomianism.
The book did not attract a great deal of attention when it was first published, but came to the attention of the Scottish theologians in the early part of the eighteenth century under rather interesting circumstances.
The Presbytery of the Church of Scotland called the Auchterarder Presbytery was examining a certain candidate, William Craig, for licensure to the ministry. In the course of the examination he was asked to subscribe to the statement: "I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ." To this rather strange statement and clumsily worded article of faith William Craig refused to subscribe. Put into a bit more simple language, the expression simply meant that it was heretical to teach that it is necessary to forsake sin in order to believe in Christ. Or to put it yet differently: Orthodoxy says that one can come to Christ without forsaking sin. Because he refused to subscribe to this statement, William Craig was denied licensure to the ministry and the matter came to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for resolution. The statement under question became known as "The Auchterarder Creed."
The General Assembly, after long discussion, decided: 1) that subscription could not be required of any statement but what the Assembly itself required. The Auchterarder Presbytery was reprimanded for going beyond anything that the General Assembly had required of her ministers. 2) The creed of Auchterarder was condemned as being antinomian because it taught that repentance was not necessary to come to Christ. 3) At the same time, the Assembly also warned against the evils of denying the need for holiness (antinomianism) and warned against the teaching that good works are the basis for salvation (neo-nomianism).
While the Assembly condemned the Auchterarder Creed, the Presbytery itself was not disciplined because the members of the Presbytery gave to the creed a good interpretation, namely, that one must come to Christ with his sins to obtain pardon for them; else there was no point in coming to Christ. While the Assembly accepted this interpretation, it nevertheless insisted that the creed itself was capable of an antinomian meaning and ought to be condemned.
During the course of the discussion over this matter, a delegate by the name of Thomas Boston (famous for his book, Human Nature in its Fourfold State) leaned over and whispered to John Drummond that he knew a book which answered admirably all the points which were under discussion. He referred to The Marrow of Modern Divinity that he had picked up at a friend's house and read with great enjoyment. Shortly after the Assembly concluded its meetings those who were impressed with its contents republished the book.
Because of its popularity and doubtful teachings, the book soon became the object of official scrutiny, and the contents of the book were officially treated by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1720. After study, the book was condemned on the following grounds.
1) It held that assurance was of the nature of faith.
2) It taught a universal atonement and pardon in the cross. (While this point was not specifically discussed in the book, the Assembly considered it a necessary part of the teaching of the book that the universal offer of the gospel was a warrant to each man to receive Christ. It was at this critical point that the whole question of the offer of salvation entered the discussion.)
3) It taught that holiness was not necessary to salvation.
4) It taught that the fear of punishment and the hope of reward are not allowed to be motives of obedience.
5) It held that the believer is not under the law as a rule of life.
While it is clear that the book was particularly condemned for its antinomian teaching, nevertheless, the point of major concern to us is the second point that involves the relation between the atonement of Christ and the free offer of the gospel.
There were many in the church that were dissatisfied with this condemnation of the Marrow of Modern Divinity. Twelve such men, later called "The Marrow Men," protested this action of the Assembly. These twelve included, among others, such well-known theologians as Thomas Boston, James Hog, Traill, Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine. A commission was appointed to examine the question. In the course of the investigation it became evident that the "Marrow Men" had, among other things, asserted that in condemning the universal offer of salvation, the Assembly had condemned the divine commission to preach to all men salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.45 It also became evident that the Marrow Men, while denying that they taught a universal atonement, nevertheless did exactly teach that the atoning work of Christ was universal in some sense. These men distinguished between a giving of Christ in possession and a gift of Christ as warranted men to receive Him. The former was limited to the elect; the latter was offered to all. In connection with this, they maintained that while the statement, "Christ died for all" is clearly heretical; it is sound and orthodox to teach that Christ is dead for all.
The commission reported to the General Assembly in 1722 where the original decision of 1720 was maintained and the Marrow Men were once again condemned for their view.46
There have been various interpretations given to the Marrow controversy, some of which we mention here in an effort to highlight the issues which were involved.
Some have maintained that the Marrow Men were concerned with various evils that were present in the church. Among these evils was the evil of legalism that really taught a salvation on the basis of the works of the law. Also among these evils was the error of a conditional grace. Christ, so it is said, was being separated from His benefits in the preaching. The church could not offer the benefits of Christ to all because they had to know who the elect were before these benefits could be offered to them. But those who were elect could be known as elect only by the manifestation of election in their lives. Thus Christ's benefits hinged upon this manifestation of election in a holy and sanctified life. Hence, the offer was made conditional. One receives salvation only if he is elect, i.e., if he manifests election in his life and if he is assured of his election. Hence all the preaching was made conditional — conditional upon the works of sanctification, which works were the manifestation of election.
The Marrow Men, on the other hand, were interested in grace. They taught that God, moved by love to all, made a deed of gift and grant to all that whoever believed might have eternal life. This, so it was said, was the offer. This was not Arminian or Amyrauldian, but a gospel of free grace, offered freely to all, a grace which was, therefore, not conditional. The defenders of the offer were, therefore, to be considered the orthodox, while the General Assembly and the church (which had rejected the offer) were given over to the legalism of salvation dependent upon the condition of holiness.
This interpretation of the Marrow controversy is, therefore, an attempt to turn the tables: an attempt to charge those who repudiated the offer as being proponents of a conditional salvation, while the defenders of the offer were the ones who taught sovereign and free grace.
This interpretation (and defense) of the Marrow Men is false. While it is a rather interesting (though complicated) attempt to defend the Marrow Men and in this way to defend the offer, the evidence cannot support it. This is true, first of all, because the General Assembly did not teach a legalism, but specifically and concretely warned against it. Who can tell whether there were those in the church who were teaching such views? But if there were, the fact remains that the General Assembly (the same one which condemned the offer) refused to uphold this position and warned against it.
In the second place, this view is wrong because the General Assembly was never guilty of teaching a conditional salvation. This is simply a misinterpretation of their position. The orthodox did indeed insist that the promises of the gospel were for the elect alone, though they were to be publicly and universally proclaimed along with the command to repent and believe. They maintained a general proclamation of a particular promise, in the same sense as was maintained by the Dort divines.47
This has always been Biblical and Reformed, but this is by no means a conditional promise. It is certainly true that the promise of the gospel is for the elect alone. It is also true that a holy and sanctified life is the fruit of election as God works His sanctifying power in the hearts of His people through the Spirit of Christ. We may even go so far as to say that it is only in the way of a sanctified walk that the elect child of God lives in the assurance of His election in Christ. No one certainly would ever dare to say that a person can walk in sin, refuse to confess it, but nevertheless experience the electing grace of God in Christ. But this by no means implies a conditional salvation. On the contrary, it was the Marrow Men who taught a conditional salvation. For if salvation merited in the work of Christ on the cross was publicly proclaimed as being for all, the question naturally arises: How is it to be explained that not all receive it? The only answer that can possibly be given, the answer that was given by the Marrow Men, is that this salvation comes to an individual upon the condition of faith. Only those who receive it by faith become the heirs of salvation.
In the third place, the Marrow Men very clearly taught, in defense of a free offer, that the atonement of Christ, upon which the offer rests, is universal in some sense of the word. Thus the offer expressed God's universal love for all and His desire to save all. The salvation that men receive, therefore, is a salvation dependent upon man's act of faith.
McLeod48 and C.M. M'Crie49 take a slightly different position. They maintain that a certain hyper-Calvinism had come into the Church of Scotland from the Netherlands. This hyper-Calvinism had as its chief characteristic that the call of the gospel and its promises were for the elect only. The gospel does not come to a man who will not receive it because responsibility is limited to and by ability. This, according to McLeod, is essentially an Arminian position, except that the Arminians broadened the concept of ability far more than the hyper-Calvinists in the church. Hence, in opposition to this, the Marrow Men taught a universal love of God and a universal offer of the gospel. Christ belongs, therefore, to all, not in possession, but in the free offer.50
This interpretation, while presenting the position of the Marrow Men in an essentially correct way, misinterprets the history and occasion for the controversy. There are especially two errors that are made in this interpretation. In the first place, simply without any proof the idea that the promises of the gospel are limited to the elect only is branded as hyper-Calvinism. This simply is not true. And it is not true because this view is the traditional view of those theologians from the time of Calvin on who have maintained the particular character of salvation and grace. If this is hyper-Calvinism, all the fathers at Dort were hyper-Calvinists!
In the second place, it is not true that the orthodox in the Church of Scotland (or at any other time) denied that the gospel comes to all men because it does not come to a man who will not receive it. Nor did they teach that this statement is true because responsibility is limited to and by ability. The Reformed have always maintained that all men are responsible before God for their sin. This responsibility has nothing to do with ability at all. And it is exactly because of this that the command of the gospel confronts all with their obligation to forsake sin and repent at the foot of the cross. The Heidelberg Catechism addresses itself exactly to this question in Question and Answer 9. It has just made a statement concerning the total depravity of man and insisted that man is so corrupt that he is incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness, except he is regenerated by the Spirit of God. The Catechism then asks: "Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?" And the answer is: "Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts."
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia in its pamphlet, Universalism and the Reformed Churches, presents a third interpretation, which is also the correct one. This pamphlet maintains that the Marrow controversy was a direct result of the Davenant view of the atonement and the offer, which view continued to be taught in the churches in Britain because the Westminster Assembly did not specifically condemn it. 51 This weakness of the Westminster Confession was corrected by the Church of Scotland in its condemnation of the Marrow Men in 1720 and 1722. The Marrow Men taught, according to this pamphlet, a modified Calvinism, which has been the scourge of the church to the present.
The point in the Marrow controversy that particularly concerns us has to do with the nature of the preaching of the gospel. We must understand that the controversy arose in connection with a view of preaching which was fairly common in Britain especially among some of the Puritans. Already in the latter half of the sixteenth century, the Puritans opposed the partial reformation and worldliness in the State Churches. In their opposition to these weaknesses, they tended to stress strongly the subjective elements in the Christian life, and the stress on these subjective elements led to a certain view of preaching which was found in many pulpits.
The following elements especially were included in that view:
In the first place, the Puritans stressed that it was important to preach the law, for this was a means which God used to prepare men for true conversion. While the
Puritans themselves did not completely agree on this and there was a certain development among the Puritans on this matter, some of the later Puritans especially taught that the preaching of the law was accompanied by certain gracious influences of God in the hearts of the unregenerate which God used to bring men to know their sins and recognize themselves as sinners. The preaching of the law was, therefore, accompanied by a certain preparatory grace that was to be sharply distinguished from saving grace. This preparatory grace was given to all who heard the preaching, but did not in itself save. It was necessary to salvation, but did not in itself guarantee salvation. It wrought in the hearer a certain conviction of sin under which a person could labor for a long time, burdened with sin and guilt, troubled by a conscience which plagued him incessantly, and which moved him to seek relief from the grief which his sins brought about.52
Boston, e.g., in his book, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, distinguished between an awakening grace and a converting grace. Sometimes these people who labored under the conviction of sin were called “seekers” to emphasize that they were earnestly seeking relief from their anguished grief over sin and looking for that which would bring peace to their hearts. In this state they were enabled to pray even for regeneration and conversion; they were able to go to church to hear the gospel as it presented Christ Who had come to save from sin. But, although this seeking could go on for years, yet it could ultimately result in nothing so that the seeker himself would go lost. 53
The Canons of Dort have something to say about this matter in III & IV, B, 4:
…the Synod rejects the errors of those who teach: that the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture., "Ye were dead through trespasses and sins," Eph. 1:1, and: "Every imagination of the thought of his heart are only evil continually," Gen. 6:5, 8:21.
Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed, Ps. 51:10,19; Matt. 5:6.
While the Dort theologians were addressing the Arminian error, which was slightly different from the error described above, nevertheless, it is striking that there is certainly a clear similarity. Both the Puritans and the Arminians ascribed these actions which the article mentions to the unregenerate; and both the Arminians and the Puritans explained these actions by a certain grace of God which was given to all who hear the gospel. Basically, therefore, this view of the Puritans stands condemned by the Canons of Dort.
In the second place, it was to this spiritual state of many that the preaching was addressed. Some have called the Puritans the world's greatest psychologists, and there is a certain element of truth to this. The preaching was often described in terms of an offer in order to encourage those who were under the conviction of sin to embrace the gospel. Through the preaching, God's mercy was portrayed with the intention of disarming the most alienated mind of his suspicions and to relieve the most troubled spirit of his fears. It was intended to assure the hearers that no sinner had sunk beyond the reach of mercy and no sins were so great that they were beyond forgiveness. Thus earnest entreaties and tender remonstrances were necessary to bring the sinner to Christ. 54
This idea led in turn to various distinctions. On the one hand, distinctions arose between various degrees of "seeking". There were those who had a felt need, who hungered and thirsted, who were weary and heavy laden, etc.; and there were those who had not even progressed this far. The first were under far more serious obligations than the second. There were also various degrees in the conviction of sin. The question often arose whether a sinner was truly and sufficiently under the conviction of sin, or whether his conviction was only apparent and not a genuine matter of the heart. On the other hand, there were distinctions made between the assurance of faith. A sinner might, e.g., neither presume to be an elect, nor might he conclude that he was not. And the assurance that he was an elect went through various stages until he stood in the full assurance of his salvation in Christ. 55
What did all this have to do with the idea of the offer?
The word "offer" had been used frequently prior to the Marrow controversy. It is found, as we noticed, in the Westminster Confession; it was used by John Owen and other Puritan divines. But usually it meant the setting forth of Christ as the One Who had come as the Savior from sin. But as the need for pressing home upon the sinner convicted of sin, the sufficiency of the cross of Christ, the idea shifted to that proposed by the Marrow Men. And so they began to teach that no man need doubt this warrant to receive the Savior's blessings. Everyone who hears the preaching has a warrant to receive and embrace the gospel. No man living has a warrant to refuse. God expressed in the gospel His desire to save all. And, it was believed, this was the only way in which the gospel could be pressed home upon the sinner convicted of sin.
This was somewhat understandable. The unregenerate sinner, who under the preaching of the law, had been convicted of sin, who cried out for relief from the oppression of sin and guilt, had to be assured that Christ wanted his salvation and that the gospel, which presented Christ crucified, was indeed directed to him.
It was precisely this emphasis that led to a certain universality of the atonement.
The original passages in the Marrow of Modern Divinity which had come under the scrutiny of the General Assembly read as follows:
God their Father, as He is in His Son Jesus Christ, moved with nothing but His free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this His Son shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Go and tell every man without exception that here are good news for him; Christ is dead for him, and if he will take Him and accept His righteousness he shall have Him.56
C. G. M'Crie says that the Marrow maintained that "Gospel giving is not giving into possession, but giving by way of offer. 57 M’Crie also says that in 1742 these men expressed themselves in these words: "There is a revelation of the Divine will in the Word, affording a warrant to offer Christ unto all mankind without exception, and a warrant to all freely to receive Him, however great sinners they are or have been." 58
A. A. Hodge defines the issues in the Marrow controversy very clearly. He says that the Marrow Men spoke of a double reference of the atonement. Their desire was to establish "the warrant of faith." The atonement thus had a designed general reference to all sinners of mankind as such. Christ did not die for all so as to save all, but he is dead for all, i.e., available for all sinners if they will receive him. Thus God, out of general philanthropy for all sinners made a deed of gift of Christ and of the benefits of His redemption to all indifferently to be claimed upon the condition of faith. This is God's giving love in distinction from His electing love. Thus the Marrow Men held to a general and a particular love.
Hodge further explains the views of the Marrow Men as including the idea that the deed of gift or grant of Christ is not itself the general offer, but is the foundation of the general offer upon which the offer rests. This grant is real, universal, an expression of love, conditioned by faith. The warrant upon which the faith of every believer rests and by which faith is justified is this deed of gift. 59
W. Cunningham defines the preaching which characterized the Marrow Men in the following words:
(It proclaims) the glad tidings of salvation to all men indiscriminately, without any distinction, setting forth without hesitation or qualification, the fullness and freeness of the gospel offers and invitations - of inviting, encouraging and requiring every descendant of Adam with whom they come into contact, to come to Christ and lay hold of Him, with the assurance that those who come to Him He will in no wise reject.60
Guthrie says of the Marrow:
That though none cordially close with God in Christ Jesus, and acquiesces in that ransom found out by God, except such as are elected, and whose heart the Lord doth sovereignly determine to that blessed choice, yet the Lord has left it as a duty upon people who hear his Gospel to close with the offer of salvation, as if it were in their power to do it. 61
From all this, the central issues in the Marrow controversy are clear.
In the first place, the idea of preaching as generally taught involved a conception of conversion and faith different from historical Reformed theology. Conversion in the line of the covenant is essentially no different from conversion when it is effected among the unchurched. It took place later in life and not in infancy, and it was preceded by a conviction of sin that was not the work of saving grace, but resulted from the preaching and an accompanying preparatory grace. It brought a man into a state of conviction in which he hungered and thirsted for righteousness and sought escape from the burden of sin and guilt that afflicted his tortured conscience.
By this view of preparatory grace, a certain common grace was introduced into the thinking of the church and was made responsible for acts in the unregenerate that Scripture assigns only to the regenerate child of God.
In the second place, the Marrow Men spoke of the offer as necessary to the troubled sinner that he could have no reason why he should not come to Christ. The offer was not merely the proclamation that set forth Christ as the God-ordained way of salvation. The offer was a "warrant" to believe in Christ. The Marrow Men wanted to press home the demands of faith not only, but to do this by giving to everyone the right to believe in Christ. Everyone had not only the obligation to believe, but also the right. In this way they thought to urge upon sinners the blessedness of finding salvation from sin in Christ. Thus the offer expressed God's earnest desire to save all. It revealed God's intention to make all partakers of Christ. It spoke of God's love that extended to all.
In the third place, this necessarily involved a conception of the atonement. By their distinction between the statements, "Christ died for all" and "Christ is dead for all," they gave a certain universality to the atonement; for though they denied the former statement, they maintained the latter. The atonement was not only sufficient for all, but it was intended for all by God, for it was a manifestation of a universal love of God for all. It thus established the warrant for all to believe; and in this way it was also made available for all.
In the fourth place, this all involved a certain view of predestination that was essentially Amyrauldian. The counsel of God with respect to predestination contained a determinative decree and a hypothetical decree. The former belonged to God's secret will and the latter to God's revealed will. It was especially the latter that was proclaimed through the preaching. But the revealed will of God expressed God's will as desiring the salvation of all who hear the gospel.
Finally, all this in turn introduced a conditional salvation into the work of God. The Marrow Men claimed that by making this salvation conditioned upon faith, they in fact made the work of salvation particular because only the elect actually came to faith. But the fact is that the whole work of salvation was made dependent upon man's work of faith (even though the Marrow Men denied this), because one had to explain how only some were saved when in fact God desired the salvation of all, earnestly urged all to come to Christ, and provided an atonement which was sufficient for all, intended for all and available to all, In fact, this atonement was the warrant for a man to believe and gave him the right to come unhesitatingly to Christ. Why then do not all come? They do not all come because they do not all exercise saving faith.
It is true that the Marrow Men taught that saving faith was worked in the hearts of the elect of God. And it was in this way that they hoped to escape the charge of Arminianism. But this will not work. And it will not work for two reasons. In the first place, how is it to be explained that God on the one hand desires to save all and expressed this desire in the preaching of the gospel; and on the other hand actually gives faith and saves only a select few? The Marrow Men, as the Amyrauldians before them, resorted to a distinction in the will of God to make this plain, but such a distinction sets God in opposition to Himself as being One Who on the one hand desires to save all, and on the other hand, desires to save only some. In the second place, by making faith the condition of salvation, faith is set outside the work of salvation. If it is true that God desires to save all, but that only such are saved who actually believe, then it is also true that the blessings of salvation are dependent upon faith. Then faith is not one of the blessings of salvation, but is a condition to salvation. One cannot have it both ways. Faith is either the one or the other. It is either part of salvation or a condition to salvation; but both it cannot be. In separating faith from the benefits of salvation, as they had necessarily to do, the Marrow Men made faith the work of man. No pious talk of faith as the work of God would alter this fundamental truth.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia is correct, when it finds these "ambiguities" in Marrow thought:
1. "Christ has taken upon Him the sins of all men" and being a "deed of gift and grant unto all mankind" is not a universal purchase of the death of Christ, therefore it logically follows that -
2. the saving deed of gift and grant of Christ to all mankind is effective only to the elect, i.e., an infallible redemption gifted to all secures only a portion of its objects.
3. "A deed of gift and grant to all is only an offer." In other words Christ is gifted to all, without that He died for them.
4. Since the gift of Christ to all is not a benefit purchased by the atonement, the substance of the free offer of the gospel does not consist of Christ as Redeemer, but only as a Friend. 62
The Marrow Men were rightly condemned by the General Assemblies of the Scottish churches. They had attempted to introduce into the church ideas that were foreign to the historic faith of Calvinism and had attempted to bring the church into an Amyrauldian theological position. That the Marrow Men could have had such influence on subsequent Presbyterian thought is hard to understand, especially in the light of the fact that their views stand condemned by the church. Those Presbyterians who have their roots in the Scottish churches ought to take note of the fact that, insofar as they teach the offer as maintained by the Marrow Men, they run contrary to their own adopted theological position.
Chapter 7: Later Presbyterian Thought
A completely worked out system of the theology of the free offer of the gospel did not appear within Presbyterian Churches for many years; and when it did finally appear and was officially adopted as dogma within the church, this was in only a part of Presbyterianism. Many Presbyterian thinkers discussed the offer and even adopted the language of the offer, but in important instances opposed the theology of the offer or were ambiguous in what precisely they meant by it.
We cannot discuss every Presbyterian thinker in these articles; we choose, therefore, to discuss only some representative thinkers, of more recent times, who influenced modern Presbyterian thought in no little way.
This does not mean, however, that the subject of the free offer never came up in the official discussions of Presbyterian Churches. An interesting example of such a case has recently been discussed by Maurice Roberts in an article entitled, "Dr. John Kennedy - A Memorial Sketch." This article appeared in the August-September, 1984 issue of The Banner of Truth.
The article discusses, among many other things, the role that Rev. John Kennedy played in the union negotiations between the Free Church and the United Presbyterians in the middle of the nineteenth century. (Dr. Kennedy lived from 1819-1884.) Two points of difference especially were discussed in connection with these negotiations: the relation of the civil magistrate to the church of Christ, and the extent of the atonement of Christ. In connection with this latter, the subject of the offer was discussed. The article states:
The current in which much U. P. thinking about the question of the extent of the atonement was running can be fairly estimated from these quotations from some of their spokesmen:
(1) "It is impossible for any man to preach the gospel who preaches a limited atonement."
(2) "The work of Christ has provided salvation for all men indiscriminately."
(3) "The universal offer of the Gospel has its basis in the general reference of the work of Christ."
(4) "Christ's death made all men salvable."
(5) "The grace of God is manifested to sinners indiscriminately in the provision and offer of the gospel."
The gist of the U. P. Synod's attitude was summed up in these two propositions:
(1) That the love of God, as expressed in the gift and death of the Son, was not love to the elect exclusively:
(2) That Christ died for all men, according to a divine intention, as, in some sense, their substitute, and with a view to procuring salvability, if not salvation, for them.
To these views not only did Dr. Kennedy object, but with him such outstanding men as Robert Smith Candlish, Robert Haldane, and Dr. William Cunningham. They appealed to a decision of the Secession Church's Associate Synod of 1804 that had stated:
Christ died for the elect, and for them only. The death of Christ, possessing infinite merit, is, indeed, in itself sufficient for the redemption of all mankind. But in respect of the Father's assignation, and his own intention, He died only for the elect . . .. All for whom Christ died shall be infallibly saved... We therefore condemn, and testify against the following error that Christ died in some sense for all men.
It is interesting to observe in this connection that Dr. Kennedy accused the U. P. Church of Amyrauldianism; and, more interesting yet, he firmly believed that this Amyrauldianism was present in the church because of the teachings of the Marrow men particularly with respect to faith. He wrote in one of his pamphlets, as quoted in the article mentioned above:
I believe that, in the Marrow definition of faith, there was the germ of all errors which have been developed in Amyrauldianism, which is the fashion of the United Presbyterian theology.
That definition implied that the sinner, before believing, had a certain right of property in the Gospel salvation, because of a "deed of gift and grant" from God. This mistaken idea is the most marked thing of all they retain of inherited theology. It is the search for a basis, for this pre-believing right, that has carried them to the universal reference of the atonement, and to their dreamings of universal grace.
Candlish also wrote concerning this:
In Scottish theology, for example, any departure from the strict view of the extent of the atonement is to be seriously dreaded, because it almost uniformly indicates a lurking tendency to call in question the sovereignty of divine grace altogether. Here it is invariably found to open a door for the influx of the entire tide of the Pelagian theory of human ability, in the train of that Arminian notion of the divine decrees which is apt to be its precursor.
It is clear from this that Presbyterianism struggled time and again with these central issues. It is also clear that the doctrines of the extent of the atonement and the free offer of the gospel were inseparably linked. Where the free offer was taught, a universality of the atonement inevitably went along with it. And as Candlish writes, this was always interwoven with Pelagian and Arminian heresy. It is sad that Presbyterianism of' modern times has failed to see this.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians in modern Presbyterianism was Charles Hodge, whose work in Systematic Theology has had as much influence on present day Presbyterian thought as any other work.63
In his writing on the effectual calling, Hodge is not entirely clear on what precisely he means by the offer. On the one hand, he seems, in the clearest possible way, to reject the theology of the offer, especially the idea that it is God's intention, desire or purpose to save all that hear the gospel. In all he has to say on the subject of the calling, he never speaks of the concept of a free offer. Furthermore, he seems to limit the idea of the offer of the gospel to the command of the gospel, especially when he states that the unrestricted call of the gospel is not inconsistent with God's decree of predestination.64But his opposition to an idea of the offer which expresses a universal desire on God's part to save all comes out most clearly in his repudiation of the position of Lutheranism. 65 He correctly defines the Lutheran66 position as including a call of the gospel as an expression of God's desire and intent to save all who hear, which is also the purpose and end God has in view. This Lutheran notion lies at the very heart of the idea of the offer and has been accepted in recent times by almost all who hold to an offer. But Hodge will have none of this. He offers a lengthy refutation of this view and makes the following points: 1) God's intentions must always come to pass. If this were not so, it would be inconsistent with the divine being. 2) God's purpose cannot fail or be resisted. Hence, if it were God's intention or purpose to save all, all would be saved. 3) The Lutheran view denies that the ultimate reason for refusing the gospel is God's eternal and unchangeable purpose. The Lutheran view, therefore, ultimately denies reprobation. 4) This position of the Lutherans has no support in Scripture. And here Hodge refers to a number of Scriptural passages which are often quoted in support of the offer, but which Hodge shows do not teach the offer at all.67
From all this one would conclude that Hodge is an enemy of the whole notion of the free offer and rejects it as heresy. But there are other elements in his treatment of the effectual calling which make one wonder. Sometimes it seems as if Hodge decides that he wants some kind of offer after all; at other times it seems as if he is really too unclear on the matter to come to any definite conclusions. When, e.g., he discusses the external call of the gospel, Hodge interprets this call to include a command, exhortation, invitation to accept offered mercy and an exhibition of the reasons why men ought to come to Christ. While it is true that this could conceivably be interpreted in such a way that it stands in harmony with other statements condemning the theology of the offer, he puts such hopes to rest when he interprets I Timothy 2:3,4 as meaning that God intends or purposes that all should be saved because God delights in the happiness of His creatures. The same is true when Hodge discusses the whole idea of common grace.68 After defining common grace as, "that influence of the Spirit, which in a greater or lesser measure, is granted to all who hear the truth," he goes on to speak of a sufficient grace which is the Spirit's influence sufficient to repentance, and of preventing grace, which is the Spirit's influence on the mind, which precedes and excites its efforts to return to God. By these graces the Spirit works in the hearts of all who hear the gospel to convict of sin, to resist evil in the heart, to strive and warn, to convict of the truth.
Now, while it is true that Hodge does not directly connect these ideas of common grace with the free offer of the gospel, nevertheless, historically that has been the case. We noticed this in some detail in our chapter on the Marrow controversy; and the same was true of subsequent thought both in Presbyterian and Reformed continental theology. The connection is this. It is not only by this general grace which is given to all who hear the gospel that God shows His willingness and desire to save all; but it is also by this very common grace that all receive the necessary spiritual strength to accept or reject the Christ offered in the gospel. These two ideas belong so closely together that it is impossible to separate them.
In the light of this, it is difficult to judge with certainty Hodge's thinking on this matter. Perhaps the best we can say is that, while he emphatically repudiates the offer, he nevertheless seems to want to retain some idea of it in some sense of the word. But to harmonize these two aspects of his thought seems impossible.
What is true of Charles Hodge, is also true of A. A. Hodge. We need not say very much about his work, for he followed, for the most part C. Hodge, even on the matter of common grace. It is, however, interesting to note that in his book on "The Atonement" he makes the rather astounding and unwarranted statement that everyone believes in a universal offer.69 In his "Outlines of Theology," 70 he writes: "(The gospel) is addressed to the non-elect equally with the elect, because it is equally their duty and interest to accept the gospel, because the provisions of salvation are equally suited to their case, and abundantly sufficient for all, and because God intends (underscoring ours, H.H.) that its benefits shall actually accrue to everyone who accepts it."
The idea of the free offer, however, comes to fuller expression in the writings of John Murray. In a rather lengthy article in Murray's "Collected Writings,"71 Murray discusses, "The Atonement and the Free Offer." As far as the idea of the offer itself is concerned, he speaks of the fact that, "The universality of the demand for repentance implies a universal overture of grace."72 This "is the full and unrestricted offer of the gospel to all men."73 Yet this in itself is not very clear. Does Murray mean that the universal overture of grace and the full and unrestricted offer of the gospel is nothing else but the command to all to repent of sin and believe in Christ? It is not clear.
But when he comes to his discussion of the relation between the offer and the atonement, his ideas become somewhat clearer. He insists that a universal offer must of necessity imply a certain universality in redemption.74 And he defines this universal aspect of redemption in terms of the many benefits which come to the non-elect and which are merited on the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ, among which blessings is also the blessing of the gospel.
There are many questions that one could ask at this point. Is it not obvious that Murray means more by an unrestricted offer than merely the command to repent and believe in Christ? After all, there is no need for the redemptive work of Christ to serve as a basis for the demand of the gospel to repent and believe. But another question which arises is: How is it possible for the redeeming and atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross to merit blessings for the non-elect, which blessings are non-saving? It would seem that the sacrifice of Christ was actually non-redeeming and non-saving. Does it not follow then that Christ died for His people, but not to save them? Or, are there two works of Christ performed on the cross, one redeeming and saving, and another non-redeeming and non-saving? The Arminians have answered this impossible question by asserting that the death of Christ on the cross is only a sacrifice that makes salvation available to all. And this is the usual end when the well-meant offer is taught and connected with the atonement. And just as importantly, where in all Scripture is there one statement that so much as suggests that Christ died to merit blessings for the non-elect, which in fact are not actually saved? 75
But as Murray develops this notion, it becomes clear that he means more by it. This redeeming power of the cross which does not actually save, but which merits blessings for the non-elect in turn implies a love of God for the non-elect. And this love of God for all is the source of many blessings and is a love most highly expressed in "the entreaties, overtures, and demands of the gospel proclamation. 76And while his love offered in the gospel is indeed a saving love for all that.77
In connection with the faith which the gospel demands, Murray makes a distinction between belief of people that God loves them and faith as a commitment to Christ. In this latter sense the gospel cannot declare indiscriminately that Christ died for every man. Nevertheless, there is an indiscriminate warrant of faith that every sinner possesses. This warrant is not any personal assurance that Christ has saved him, but it is a warrant in the all-sufficiency of the Savior and the suitability of His atoning sacrifice.
It ought to be evident that Murray is not very clear in all this. He emphatically insists on an offer, but shies away from many of the implications of the offer. He tends somewhat towards the Marrow position when he speaks of the warrant of faith, but does not seem to go as far as the Marrow men went. He wants a universal overture of grace and an unrestricted offer to all, but never offers a clear and precise definition of these terms. He teaches a universality in the atonement rooted in a universal love of God for all, but also insists that we may never say that Christ loves all or died for all -- at least in the saving sense of those words. And what is meant by a non-saving love and a non-saving atonement we do not know. He certainly, in this essay, never speaks of God's desire, intention, or purpose to save all; he never mentions a distinction between the will of God's decree and God's perceptive will -- two key doctrines in the theology of the offer; but his language suggests strongly such a universal desire of God, and his views immediately bring to mind the question whether he believes in a double will of God or whether he rejects that notion.
It is all confusing and unsatisfactory.
But if his essay is confusing and unsatisfactory and leaves many questions unanswered, his views are very clearly set forth in a pamphlet authored by him and Ned B. Stonehouse which has become the official position of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
This pamphlet, entitled, "The Free Offer of the Gospel" and published separately as such, is in fact only a part of the decision of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on a broader issue. In the 1940's, a complaint was lodged against the licensure and ordination of Dr. Gordon H. Clark by the Presbytery of Philadelphia with the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Twelfth General Assembly appointed a committee to investigate the doctrinal implications of the complaint. The report of the committee was presented to the Thirteenth General Assembly that met in May, 1946. On that committee were John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse. This pamphlet on the free offer was a part of the committee report.
We are not concerned here with all the aspects of his case, nor with all the decisions that were taken at that time.78 What is of concern to us is the fact that, among other things, Dr. Clark was accused of denying the well-meant offer of salvation to the reprobate. The committee included in its report and in defense of the doctrine of the well-meant offer the following:
Such passages as Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 indicate that God not only delights in the repentance of the actually penitent but also has that benevolence towards the wicked whereby He is pleased that they should repent. God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of His goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate. To put this negatively, God does not take delight or pleasure in the death of the wicked. On the contrary, His delight is in mercy. God desires that the reprobate exercise that repentance which they will never exercise and desires for them the enjoyment of good they will never enjoy. And not only so, He desires the exercise of that which they are foreordained not to exercise and He desires for them the enjoyment of good they are foreordained not to enjoy.
…The question was: how can God make an offer of salvation to those that are foreordained to damnation? It does not explain the mystery of co-existence of the full and free offer of salvation and foreordination to damnation to make the obviously necessary distinction between the outward and inward call. For even after full recognition is given to the truth that God effectually calls only the elect the mystery of God's will in the offer of salvation to the reprobate still remains.
The Committee has no zeal for the word "paradox". But the Committee believes that great mystery surrounds this matter. Even the reprobate are the objects of divine benevolence, compassion and loving kindness, not only in gifts of this present life such as rain and sunshine food and raiment, but also in the full and free overtures of God's grace in the gospel. …
This matter of the free offer was given to another committee which was instructed to report to the Fourteenth General Assembly. The Fourteenth General Assembly recommended the committee report to the churches, but never officially adopted it."
The whole concept of the free offer is clearly set forth here without ambiguity and equivocation. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has therefore, officially adopted the following elements concerning the free offer of the gospel. 1) In God's providence God reveals a general attitude of mercy, benevolence and grace towards all men that is an expression of God's universal love. 2) While this general benevolence and favor is especially revealed in providence, it comes to special expression in the preaching of the gospel in which God expressly states His desire to save all who hear the gospel. 3) Because God expresses an ardent desire for things He has not decreed, this involves a distinction between the decretive and perceptive will of God and a contradiction which cannot be harmonized, but the resolution of which lies in the depths of God's own eternal thought.
It is interesting that nothing was ever said in this connection concerning the relation between the free offer of the gospel and the atonement of Christ. While later this was discussed by Murray in the essay referred to earlier (the article quoted from his Collected Writings was written after this decision was taken), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church never officially entered into this question.
There is probably an historical reason for this. Although we will have opportunity to discuss in a future article the decisions of the Christian Reformed Church made concerning the free offer in 1924, it is interesting to note that these decisions were indeed made over twenty years before the decisions of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. No doubt, the whole question of the free offer arose in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church because of the influence in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Christian Reformed men who went to Westminster Seminary to teach -- men such as C. Van Til, R. B. Kuiper and Ned B. Stonehouse. They were the men who brought the free offer into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and were instrumental in getting the matter adopted by the General Assembly. This is why the issue of the relation between the free offer and the atonement of Christ was not specifically faced. It was not faced in the common grace controversy in the Christian Reformed Church; and it was only after questions were repeatedly asked of the Christian Reformed Church men concerning this relation, that this question finally attracted the attention of theologians in both denominations. In the Christian Reformed Church this received official attention in the Sixties when Prof. Harold Dekker, in defense of the free offer of the gospel and common grace, insisted that the atonement of Christ has to be general and for all, except in its efficacy. We need say nothing more about this matter here, for we will have opportunity to discuss it at a later date.
This doctrine of the well-meant offer has also received official sanction in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Covenanters) when it was made a part of their new Testimony. In this document both common grace and the well-meant offer have received official and creedal status. We quote from the addition to Chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith on the effectual call:
Preaching the gospel consists in the offer of salvation through Christ to sinners, accompanied with such an explanation of the various parts of God's Word as may help to persuade men to receive Christ as Saviour, and to live and walk in him. 2 Cor. 5:20; Matt. 28:20; Isa. 55:1-3.
The elect are effectually called by means of the gospel offer. This offer is not a declaration to any sinner that his name is in the Book of Life. It is founded upon God's command to offer Christ and all his benefits to sinners. There is no inconsistency between the biblical doctrine of particular redemption and the command to offer the gospel to all men. Deut. 29:29; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-47; 2 Tim. 2:19.
We reject the teaching that the gospel offer of salvation is freely and truly offered only to the elect. We reject the teaching that particular redemption is to be so understood and presented that Christ as ransom and propitiation is not preached or offered to all men indiscriminately.
And the doctrine itself, without always official decisions, has become all-pervasive within many Presbyterian denominations. This does not mean that there are not men in these various denominations who still oppose it; but the fact remains that it is not only a part of the preaching and teaching, but that many of these churches have moved beyond it to out-right Arminianism -- a heresy which is an inevitable result.
Chapter 8: Early Dutch Thinkers
In an earlier chapter on this subject we discussed the idea of the free offer of the gospel as it was repudiated by the fathers at the great Synod of Dordrecht. We begin our discussion, therefore, with a survey of the theologians who followed upon the Synod of Dordrecht.
Scanning the works of the great Dutch theologians of this period, we come to the immediate conclusion that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find the idea of the free offer in any of their writings. This is not to say that the terminology is not found on occasion, and that the term "offer" was not used; but as we noticed so often in our discussion of this subject, the term was used in an entirely different way from that use made of it today. It was not used to express the idea of a desire or intention on God's part to save all who hear the gospel; it was rather used to emphasize the point that the gospel is preached to many more than the elect, and that through the preaching, Christ is widely proclaimed as the One through Whom God has accomplished salvation; and all who hear are confronted with the command to believe and repent. In fact, in the writings of these men, one only does not find the theology of the offer, but the positive development of the idea of the preaching and the call of the gospel is a flat contradiction of the offer.
There is, however, another element in the development of Dutch thought which we must recognize in order to understand the whole history of this concept. I refer to the development of federal or covenant theology as that took place in the Netherlands. It would lead us too far astray to go into this matter in detail in this series of articles, but the fact remains that the development of this doctrine had bearing on the whole idea of the preaching.
It is not surprising that in the development of covenant theology, much attention was paid to the idea of the promise of the covenant. It cannot be denied that the idea of the promise was inseparably connected with the idea of the covenant, for Scripture itself often speaks of the two in the same connection.79 Furthermore, the sacrament of baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant, and the sacraments have been added to the preaching to signify and seal unto God's people through visible signs the very truth of the preaching. This means that the promise of baptism is essentially the same as the promise proclaimed in the preaching.
The difficulty was that the covenant was usually interpreted in Dutch theology as an agreement between God and man. In close connection with the idea of the covenant as an agreement, the promise of the covenant was sometimes said to be general, that is, it was said to be given to all the children who were baptized even though all the children were not elect. The promise was to all, but the actual realization of the promise was dependent upon the fulfillment of the condition of faith. It is not difficult to see that this idea is closely connected to the idea of the well-meant offer. If it is true in some sense of the word that the promise of God in baptism comes to reprobate children as well as elect children, a promise in which God swears to be the God of those who are baptized and swears to make them His people, then the same thing can be said of the preaching, namely, that God, in the preaching, expresses His desire to save all who hear whether they are elect or reprobate.
Nevertheless, even though early Dutch theologians interpreted the covenant in terms of an agreement between God and man80 they, with happy inconsistency, nevertheless maintained that the promise was particular, that is, for the elect alone.81
The point we wish to make here is that the two ideas became inseparably intertwined as Dutch theology developed over the years. Just as the promise made in baptism was general for all who were baptized, so is the preaching general for all who hear. After all, the preaching is always the proclamation of the promise, and the promise proclaimed in the preaching is no different from the promise signified and sealed in baptism. Just as the promise made in baptism expresses God's desire to save all those who are baptized, so is the preaching of the promise an expression of God's desire and intent to save all who hear the preaching. Just as the promise made in baptism gives to all who are baptized a certain claim to salvation (if they will fulfill the condition of faith), so also does the preaching give to all who hear a certain objective claim to salvation (if they will accept Christ by faith Who is offered in the preaching.) Thus it was that these two ideas were linked together in continental thought. And while, therefore, early Dutch thinkers did not hold to the idea of a well-meant offer, as the two were intertwined, so by the nineteenth century, the idea of the offer was also gaining acceptance.
But to return to our main subject: We ought to take a brief look at some post-Dort thinkers to demonstrate that, while they indeed used the word "offer", they meant something quite different by it than an expression of God's desire to save all who hear the preaching.
Heinrich Heppe, in his Reformed Dogmatics 82 apparently finds no theologian of this period who held to the idea of the offer. While making some summary remarks himself and quoting from a number of theologians, he shows clearly that the preaching was considered a general proclamation of a particular gospel. We include here a few select quotations from his book.
This calling is imparted only to the elect; God not only has His word proclaimed to them through man (vocatio externa), but also introduces it by the H. Spirit into their hearts and there sets up living communion with Christ (vocatio interna). -- Heidegger (XXI, 8): "Calling is of those elect and redeemed through Christ. These alone are so called that they are also attracted and created new and begotten. They alone are those for whom God not only strikes their ears by His word preached through men, but also attacks their hearts, opening them, writing His law in them, changing them and inflaming them to love Him." 83
Rather than the calling being described in terms of an offer, it was a means which God used to bring judgment upon the unbelieving.
On the other hand the rest who are not elect in accordance with the counsel and covenant of God are also called, not according to this but according to the judgment of God. Accordingly God only allows the call of the word proclaimed by men to be imparted to them and suffers them in the outward fellowship of the knowledge and in passing even inward assurance of salvation, so as thereby to deprive them of all excuses for their hardness of heart. — Heidegger (XXI, 9): "Clearly of another sort is the calling of those who are left non-elect and rejected. The non-elect called are not called according to the purpose and covenant of God, as heirs entered therein, but according to God's judgment and dispensation, whereby He suffers them in the outward communion of the elect through the Word of His goodness, convicts them of their wickedness and cuts short their excuse for not coming to the wedding of the King's Son. Also they are not called so directly by God affecting, changing and regenerating the heart, as indirectly through men, who may strike their ears but cannot get through to their hearts. And so they are called by the Word preached by men; yet so that they are not brought by the Spirit of God to communion with God. 84
In fact, the notion of the offer was repudiated.
Moreover outward Church calling is not imparted to the non-elect in such wise that God wished to present them with faith, should they refrain from resisting the activity of the H. Spirit. Otherwise the possibility would arise of a counsel of God being perhaps rendered futile by man. Besides it is to be noted that man can only resist the H. Spirit. --Heidegger (XXI, 10): "Nor does God altogether call particular reprobate in such wise that He has decreed and wills to give them faith and repentance just like the elect, provided only they do not resist the H. Spirit's call, as in the leptologia (frivolity) of some. There are no decrees of God which men or any creature can frustrate. They are altogether effectual and have a most definite outcome. If He has decreed to give to some faith and repentance, He bestows them in time through the Word and the H. Spirit. In that case all men of themselves and by their nature resist the H. Spirit: Rom.8:7 (the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be). 85
Rather than describing the outward calling of the gospel as an offer in which God tells men He wants to save them, the outward call, though a call to salvation, is a command of God, seriously meant, to repent and believe, but a call that is not effectual because of sin.
In the same way too it cannot be concluded that because the outward calling of the rejected is ineffectual it is therefore not seriously meant by God. Outward calling is always per se a real calling to salvation, since everyone who follows it up thereby gains righteousness in Christ and eternal life; only, in the case of the godless, it is ineffectual because of their hardness of heart. Similarly, the calling from God's side is always seriously intended, since God promises grace even to the rejected upon condition of faith, and makes faith for them a duty. But of course God omits to give faith to the rejected, because He is not bound to do so in the case of any man. --Polan (VI, 32) "Ineffectual calling is of the reprobate. It is called ineffectual not per se but per accidens, not in respect of God who calls, but in respect of men who have deaf ears of the heart. In itself calling is always effectual, although it is not so in those who are perishing, as the sun is effective by his light in itself, although it by no means illumines the blind." -- From this it follows that even the calling of the godless is on God's side "sincere and serious" Heidegger (XXI, 11): "Whether the serious is opposed to a joke, God in no way plays in the business of calling; or to pretence, He likewise does not simulate, because He does not profess one thing outwardly in words, concealing something else inwardly in His mind, but declares to men by calling His plain, open and steadfast will. And since the parts of calling are commands and promises, as often as He calls He commands and orders them seriously to repent and believe. For He wills that they repent and believe by His perceptive and approving will, although He does not will by His discerning will, effectual to the giving of faith and repentance. He has the right to demand both. --Moreover calling promises salvation, but not to any one promiscuously or without condition, only to the believing and repentant person." — Similarly Wolleb 91.
Thus in the calling of the elect man's proclamation is essentially combined with the inward efficacy of the H. Spirit. Without this activity of the H. Spirit, who writes the Word in man's heart, God's Word itself is but an empty letter, slaying the sinner and enticing him into fresh service of sin. -- Cocceius (Summ. Theol. XLII, 13): "This calling takes place through the word heard, Rom. 10:14 ff. (How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?)." —Heidegger (XXI, 21): "The outward calling of the elect through the word preached by men is very closely connected with inward accosting by the H. Spirit. Were it separate from this it would be of no avail. For the word preached by men strikes the ears of natural man, dead in sins. -Any word, however divine, most true, most wise, most pleasant in itself and thoroughly lovable, when addressed to a sinner still dead in sin, whose heart has not been inscribed by the H. Spirit, remains but a letter, slays the sinner and provokes him to sin, I Cor. 3:6 (. . .a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life); Rom. 4:20 (the law came in beside, that trespass might abound; but where sin abounded grace did abound more exceedingly); 7:8 (sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting: for apart from the law sin is dead)."86
The same is true of Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629). In his writings too one will find no reference to an offer in the sense of God's universal intention and desire to save all. It is true that he makes use of the term, "Christ offered in the gospel"; but, again, by this he does not refer to its modern usage, but rather intends to convey the idea that the preaching presents to all who hear Christ as crucified for sinners. It is also true that he speaks of faith as a condition to salvation, but uses it in the sense of making salvation particular. He does not use the word to convey the idea of prerequisite but rather to impress upon his readers the truth that faith is the way or means of salvation for the elect alone. He refers to the common call as serious and for all, but speaks of its purpose as being the salvation of the elect and the just damnation of the reprobate.
IV. The form of this calling consists partly of the offering of the benefits of redemption, and partly in the injunction to accept it. …
V. Its purpose is the glory of God and the salvation of the elect. This is served both by the glory of his mercy toward the elect who are responsive to the calling, and by the glory of his justice toward the reprobate who are disobedient.
VI. Therefore, this ordinary calling is primarily on account of (propter) the elect, secondarily on account of the reprobate.
VII. He calls both (kinds of people) in earnest (serio) and without any deceit.
Concerning the elect there is no doubt. As to the reprobate, although they are not called "according to his purpose," or to salvation, nevertheless they are called in earnest, and salvation is offered them on condition of faith. Nor are they mocked because they have been deprived of all grace of believing. Rather, because they destroyed the original grace of their own accord, and also, by their evil passion, despised the means of grace, God therefore has the right to demand faith from them and uses it no less justly than do other creditors, so that their mouths are closed, they are without excuse, and the justice of God is upheld. Therefore, he does not call them to mock them, but in order to declare and reveal his justice.
It (the calling) can be called actual election because by it God makes the decree of election effective. "Whom he predestined he also called" (Rom. 8:30). "I chose you out of the world" (John 15:19). It is called effective calling in contrast to the calling of the reprobate, which is not effective for their salvation on account of their own sin. It is called internal because the calling of the reprobate is only external, by the word; or, if they are to some extent enlightened and internally moved, the change is only temporary.
III. The principal efficient cause is God, the active cause is His free mercy, and the instrumental cause the ministry of the word….
IV. The "matter" or object of calling is elect man, who, however, is in himself wretched, animal, carnal, a sinner, separated from the life of God, altogether dead in sin.
"And you he made alive, when you were dead in your trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). "And you, who were dead in your sins, he has made alive" (Col.1:13). "We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another." (Titus. 3:3).
V. The semi-Pelagians, therefore, are wrong to attribute to man either a preparation for, or a tendency toward, receiving a call.
The reason is obvious in the words cited above, for just as no dead person can confer resurrection upon himself, neither can anything be attributed to man for his calling.
VI. However, man is not like a log in connection with his calling; he is a suitable subject for calling, since he is not a lion or a dog, but a rational creature. But man's reason, before it is enlightened, is worth nothing for the calling.
VII. It is absurd to suppose that this grace of calling is extended to all, since not even that calling which we have considered above reaches all men, as the entire Old Testament record teaches; since, at that time, the Gentiles were passed by and only the Jews were called.
VIII. The form of special calling is gracious action toward man, not only the enlightenment of the mind, but the changing of the heart of stone into flesh, or turning man to obedience.
This is clearly shown in the words above, especially Ezekiel 36:26.
IX. Therefore the Arminian innovators teach falsely when they say that the mind is simply endowed with knowledge and the desire is irresistibly awakened; that it is really up to the free will to believe or not believe, and the power of believing, but not actual faith (actus credendi), is given by irresistible grace.
This error is obviously contrary to what God says concerning changing the heart (Ezek. 36:26). And Christ also witnessed not only that the elect learn from God and hear him, but that all who have learned come to him (Jn. 6:45) .
XII. The innovators (Arminians) are also wrong when they teach that sufficient grace is given to all men, although not the actual act of receiving and using grace.
This idea refutes itself. If one is not given grace of believing so far as actual faith is concerned, then the grace is not sufficient; for no one is saved unless he believe. We grant that common calling is enough to take away any excuse from the reprobate, although it is not enough for salvation. This is what God means in Isaiah 5:4 "What more can I do for my vineyard than I have done for it?"
XIII. The Pelagian teaching, that by the "grace" so used, but it means either grace that makes (man) acceptable to God or grace that is freely given (gratiam gratis). "To the praise of his glorious grace, by which he freely made us acceptable in his beloved" (Eph. 1:6). "Having then gifts that differ, according to the grace which is given to us" (Rom. 12:6). 87
Without quoting at length, we may refer to a few others. Herman Witsius (1636-1708) agrees essentially with what we have quoted above. Repudiating the views of Amyrault and expressing agreement with Turretin, he emphasized that the general call, in keeping with limited atonement, has as its purpose the salvation of the elect. 88
Aegidius .Francken wrote his Kern der Christelijke Leer in 1713. In his chapter on "The calling" he has some interesting remarks to make which refer directly to the question of the offer. We quote a few excerpts. 89
Q.7 Does not God call all men by a sufficient grace?
A. By no means, for many are ignorant of the way of salvation without which knowledge no one can be called to God's fellowship. Acts 14:16; "Who in times past allowed the heathen to walk in their own ways.”
Q.11 Whereby does God call men externally?
A. By the Word of the Gospel, in which God offers to him Christ and all His benefits. Prov. 9:4-6. "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding."
While using the word "offer" in the above quote, in another question and answer, Francken specifically repudiates what today goes under the name of "offer."
Q. 18 Does God then intend (emphasis ours) the salvation of all whom He calls externally?
A. By no means, God intends only the salvation of the elect.
Q.19 Prove that God does not intend to save all through the external calling.
A. That would be in conflict with God's eternal decree of reprobation, in which He has determined to condemn some in their sins. He cannot intend to save those through the preaching of the gospel whom He has appointed as vessels of wrath.
Q. 20 Does not God then deal dishonestly when He calls the reprobate to salvation, whose salvation He does not intend?
A. By no means; for in the calling God only makes known to the sinner the way of salvation, faith and conversion, and promises salvation only to those who believe and repent; in this God does not deal with them deceitfully, but only shows that He has made an inseparable bond between faith and salvation.
This same emphasis is to be found in Peter Nahuys, preacher in Monnekedam in the Netherlands, who, in 1739 published a work entitled, Op het Kort Begrip der Christelijke Leer; Verdedigd tegen Dwaalgeesten en Dwalingen. (A Brief Summary of Christian Doctrine; Set Forth Against Heretics and Heresies.")90 In Lesson XXI on "The Calling In Particular" he writes:
Q. What do you understand by the external calling?
A. The external invitation, which takes place only through the Word to all who live under its proclamation, in which Christ Jesus and all His fullness is offered for naught.
One cannot help but notice that the author here uses the words "invitation" and "offer," although he emphatically asserts that Christ is offered for naught. But when he explains these terms, he writes as follows:
Q. In the 34th Lesson you state that there is a twofold calling, an external or general, and an internal or particular calling; with whom do we differ in that respect?
A. With the Pelagians arid the defenders of common grace (algemeene genade):91 these recognize only a single moral calling, whereby they understand nothing more than a general invitation to all men without distinction, including a call to conversion and faith; by which invitation God would grant to all men without distinction a sufficient grace, whereby he, surrendering his free will toward the good, can accept that calling voice of God, and also actually convert himself and become partaker of salvation.
Q. What is their basic error?
A. That they want salvation as well as condemnation to depend on the free will of man.
Q. How do you contradict that contention?
A. Such a sufficient calling to all men is not only in conflict with Acts 14:16, where it is said of the heathen that God left them to walk intheir ways, but it is also in conflict with Mat. 13:11, where God grants His sufficient grace according to His good pleasure on some, and withholds it from others. Compare I Cor. 4:7.
Q. However, what do you answer to this?
Objection: They say that if God would not grant a sufficient grace along with their calling, in order that they should be able to heed that calling, God would appear to call in vain, which is not in harmony with His wisdom.
A. This objection rests on a false premise, as if when God calls all men externally, He does this with no other purpose than to save all of them; which we deny. For many are called while very few are chosen (Mat. 20:16.)
Second objection: But they insist on their point by saying, if God does not intend to save all those whom He calls, then that external calling is only a mockery with man.
By no means is this true; for by that calling that man is most emphatically pointed to his calling; and thus God shows thereby His goodness to the man; while even the reprobate is the more convinced of his wickedness and rebellion.
Q. You also stated that the internal calling cannot be resisted. Who oppose this?
A. Once more, the common grace (sic) defenders, who maintain the opposite on a Pelagian basis.
Q. What do they have in mind with this?
A. Not only to have salvation depend on man himself, and on his free and indifferent will, whether for the good or for the evil; but also, to cast aside the more readily God's eternal and resolute will of gracious election.
Q. How would you oppose their position?
A. 1. This does not only stand in conflict with God's unchangeable and efficacious calling, but 2. also with the harmony between man's obedience and the divine calling (Song of Solomon 1:4, John 6:45).
Q. How do they try to defend their mistaken notion?
A. It is up to those parties still to prove that an efficacious and internal calling is spoken of in this passage; and even though we grant this, this passage still does not favor the wrong idea of these parties; for the Saviour very clearly refers to Jerusalem and her children; and they tried, were this possible, to prevent Him from gathering the children. But in no way does He complain about the children as if they have resisted that calling, which these parties try to prove from this passage. The opposite is true, for many did believe in Him, regardless of the fact that this displeased and was contrary to the wishes of the rulers.
Objection 2. The Savior nevertheless says of the Jews, Luke 7:30, that they rejected the counsel of God against themselves.
A. It is evident that in this passage the reference is not to an internal, but only to an external calling or invitation, which was done and presented by John the Baptist to their conversion, which invitation or demand (italics is ours) 93 of God, laid in the mouth of John, the Pharisees and Scribes rejected.
Clearer language could not be spoken. Nahuys expressly rejects as Pelagian any idea that God intends, through the preaching, to save all who hear. In this respect he reflects the teaching of those of this age.
W. Brakel is another theologian of some repute from the latter part of this period. When one reads his writings94 one can find all kinds of quotations which would convince the reader that Brakel held firmly to the idea of a well-meant offer. Nevertheless, in his Redelijke Godsdient: his major work on theology he writes, in connection with "The Calling":
XIV. This raises another question: whether God in calling the sinner to Christ intends the salvation of all: (italics ours) whether God with that purpose alone calls all those who are under the ministry, that they should become partakers of salvation. I answer: No; for God cannot be prevented from attaining His goal, so that all should be saved who are called.
To understand this properly, one must consider: (a) that the calling takes place first and mainly to gather the elect (Eph. 4:11, 12). God does not give the gospel to those areas where there are no elect, and when the elect are gathered in a certain area, God usually takes the gospel away from there. Since the elect are in the world, and mixed among others, it happens that the gospel comes to the elect and also to others. By means of that calling, by preaching the gospel, God gives His elect conversion and faith, which He does not give to others. (b) One must distinguish between the purpose of God, the Worker, and the purpose of that work, the gospel. The entire nature of the gospel is capable of leading a person to salvation, it reveals enough of the way of salvation, and it arouses sufficiently to move someone to faith, so that it is not because of the gospel that some are not saved, but it is the fault of the man himself, because he did not allow himself to be taught and led, which is the purpose of the gospel. The purpose of God in causing the gospel to be preached to the non-elect is, to show a person the way of salvation and to make it known to him, to demand of the person to walk in that way; to show God's goodness by presenting to him all the arguments for salvation, and to promise him salvation if he repents and truly believes in Christ, which he would also do if he would fulfill that condition which he is obligated to do, and which the human nature which was holy in Adam could do. If he does not fulfill it, that is not because God prevents him or deprives him of strength, but because the man refuses, so that it is his own fault, indeed, the goodness of God should lead him to repentance. And to convince the person both of his wickedness that he will not come upon such a friendly invitation and of the righteousness of God to punish such rejectors of his offered salvation (John 15:20). These are the non-elect, but God did not intend thereby, God did not mean to give them the Holy Spirit, and thus to save them. This is evident from the following:
1. It would be in conflict with God's omniscience….
2. It is contrary to eternal election. …
3.God cannot be disappointed in His intention. He must necessarily attain all that He desires, for He is all-wise, the alone wise, almighty….
Those who imagine that the man has sufficient strength to convert himself and to believe in Christ oppose this. …
Objection 1: God would deal deceitfully if He called someone and did not mean it.
A. God intends to save those who believe, and that is God's gift. Others he leaves to themselves.
Objection 2: God invites to the wedding feast, thus He must intend that they should come.
A. The guest who was rejected at the wedding feast was not rejected because he was not invited, but because he failed to fulfill the condition of having the proper wedding garment.
Objection 3: If God does not intend that all should come, no one would dare to come because he does not know whether God intends that he should come. The Word promises salvation to all who believe.95
The conclusions from all this are unmistakable. From the time of the great Synod of Dordrecht until almost the end of the 18th century no outstanding Dutch theologians held to the idea of the well-meant offer. It is repeatedly claimed by those who defend this erroneous view that their position has a long and illustrious history. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in its decisions on common grace and the free offer made bold to say that Reformed theologians in the most flourishing period of Reformed theology held to this view. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The question is: How did this idea come into Dutch thinking and become such an accepted part of Reformed theology in our day? Undoubtedly there were various factors that influenced this, and to this we must now turn our attention.
Chapter 9: Later Dutch Thinkers
If it is true, as we noticed in our last chapter, that Dutch theologians from the Synod of Dort to the end of the eighteenth century did not hold to the present day idea of the offer, the question arises how this notion became such an accepted part of Reformed theology. There were several factors that must be considered.
One element in this change in Dutch thought is undoubtedly that in the period following Dort, the Dutch Churches entered a time of doctrinal and spiritual decline. While in the 17th and first part of the 18th centuries, there were still many solidly Reformed theologians, the decline began almost at once and increased in severity as the decades rolled by. We cannot go into the reasons for this doctrinal decline, nor is it necessary for our purposes; but the fact remains that with this doctrinal and spiritual decline, the great truths of Dort, which emphasized so strongly God's sovereign grace in the work of salvation, were forgotten and denied. This opened the door to many different kinds of heresies, also those that denied the sovereignty of grace. And the door was open also for the idea of the well-meant offer.
In the second place, and in close connection with this idea, were the inroads of Amyrauldianism. In an earlier chapter we spent some time describing this heresy that arose in France soon after the Synod of Dort and which affected the thinking of English and continental thought. Amyrauldianism taught a hypothetical universalism, denied the sovereignty of God in election and reprobation and taught an early form of the free offer. These ideas came also into the Netherlands. While it was more than obvious that such errors would find their way across the border of France into its Dutch neighbor, the rise of the influence of Amyrauldianism was hurried by the persecution of the Hugenots in France. During increasing pressure on the Hugenots, which came to a head with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, many fled France to find refuge in other countries. While most of the Hugenots themselves were staunchly Calvinistic, many who fled were not, and these carried with them into other lands various heresies among which was to be found the heresy of Amyrauldianism. Kromminga writes concerning this:
Before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes various heterodox opinions had made their appearance among the Reformed churches of France. At Saumur, professor Moses Amyraud had taught a double decree of predestination, an anterior decree determining that Christ should make atonement for sinners and that sinners should be called to salvation, and a further particular decree of the election of some and the preterition of others. In 1649 he was cleared by synodical judgment. Another Saumur professor, Claude Pajon, when minister at Orleans later, saw his name connected with reduced estimates of man's depravity and God's redeeming grace, and these views various French Synods condemned in 1677 as pelagianizing. A third Saumur professor, Josue de la Place, had taught mediate instead of immediate imputation of Adam's guilt, against which view both Rivet and Maresius had raised their voices, and which view the French Synod of Charenton had condemned in 1645. When the repression of the Reformed faith in France prompted the Netherlands to throw open its borders to the Hugenot refugees, the danger arose of the importation of these erroneous views….
In the period of severe persecution which befell the Hugenot Church after the revocation of Nantes, the purity of teaching did not improve among the persecuted . …
These tendencies which were at work among the Hugenot refugees soon made their appearance also in the Netherlands and affected the course of scientific theology so that it began to lose its Reformed character . …96
As Kromminga points out, various Synods both in France and in the Lowlands warned against these errors. The Walloon Synod, e.g., warned, among other things, against the view that God's grace to sinners consists only in the preaching of the Gospel and not in the irresistible operation of the Spirit in the heart. I.e., grace was not in the external call only, a grace which came then to all who hear, but was to be found in the internal operations of the Spirit, and in the external call only in connection with the internal work of Christ's Spirit. The former idea led to a conception that salvation was dependent upon the will of man.
Nevertheless, certain Dutch theologians, influenced by Amyrauldianism, began to teach these views. H. Venema and Vitringa, e.g., taught that there was a two-fold decree of election, one general and conditional, the other particular and unconditional. This kind of teaching opened the door for the well-meant offer.
Yet another factor was the influence of wrong covenant conceptions. Earlier, in the last article, we noticed that the history of the free offer in the Netherlands was closely connected with the history of the doctrine of the covenant. Throughout the history of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands the covenant had almost always been defined in terms of an agreement between God and man. The agreement, with its mutual stipulations, conditions and promises, was in effect at such a time as man accepted the provisions of the covenant and made them his own. Because the promise of the covenant was signified and sealed already in baptism, and because all the infants of believers were baptized, this promise was made to all the children who were baptized, whether elect or reprobate. The reprobate children as well as the elect had the promise of God made to them that God would be their God. While this promise did not actually become effective in their lives until such a time as they accepted the provisions of the covenant, nevertheless there was some sense in which they all had a claim on the promise and some sense in which God actually made this promise to them.
It is not difficult to see how this is closely associated with the idea of the well-meant offer. After all, the same promise signified and sealed in baptism is also proclaimed in the preaching. If the promise is, in some sense of the word, made to all the children who are baptized, then that same promise when it is proclaimed in the preaching comes to all who hear the gospel. That promise, because it proclaims that God will be the God of those who hear, quite naturally fits in very well with the idea that the gospel is an offer, i.e., that it expresses God's desire and intention to save all those who hear. In other words, a general and conditional promise of the covenant is fundamentally the same thing as a well-meant offer made to all, but given only upon condition of faith.
This is not to say, of course, that all who held to the idea of the covenant as an agreement (for this was the commonly accepted view) held also to the well-meant offer. There were many exceptions as we shall see. But the fact is, and this is the point we are making, that such a view of the covenant allowed room for and influenced the development of the well-meant offer in Dutch thinking.
Finally, an important factor in the rise of this idea in Dutch thinking was the so-called "Nadere Reformatie," or "Later Reformation." In order to understand this we must remember what we said above that the Dutch Churches, after Dort, entered a period of doctrinal and spiritual decline. This decline was characterized in the first place by a certain dead orthodoxy that sapped the spiritual strength of the Churches. This dead orthodoxy manifested itself in the life of the people so that, under the influence of Dutch colonialism and economic prosperity, worldliness and carnality became endemic. This situation prevailed also in England at the time of the Puritan reaction.
This later is important, for Puritanism found its way also into the Netherlands and was particularly attractive to those within the Church who were concerned with the spiritual decline of their Churches. Not only did this Puritanism come into the Netherlands by means of ministers from England, such as A. Comrie, and by means of ministers from the Netherlands who visited or studied in England only to return to their own land, but the writings of Puritans were translated into the Dutch and read avidly by those who saw in Puritanism a cure for spiritual lethargy and worldly-mindedness. The writings of many Puritans were translated, but particularly popular were the writings of such men as Ironsides, the Erskine brothers and Philpot. The Puritan conception of preaching, which we discussed in an earlier chapter was very appealing because of its emphasis on the subjective life of the child of God. But insofar as especially those who were followers of the Marrow men also taught the well-meant offer, this idea entered also into Dutch thinking.
All these things brought about what is called the Nadere Reformatie. So much was this true that some could write: "It is clear that it (the Nadere Reformatie) agreed greatly with English—Scottish Puritanism; we can call the Nadere Reformatie, Dutch Puritanism."97
In this movement the first emphasis was on piety along the lines of Calvin as he discussed it in his Institutes Bk. IV. It was, in this respect, analogous to the "Second Reformation" in Scotland. But gradually it developed into a certain Anabaptism and mysticism and began to emphasize a "definite content and style of life: the practice of Godliness." With this practice came a kind of legalism which spoke more often of the "do's and don’ts" of the Christian life than of the "liberty wherewith Christ has made us free." The mystical piety and devotion which these people practiced was first of all within the established church, but gradually separated from the Church, first with the establishment of conventicles, and then by absolute separation, as in the case of De Labadie, Schortinghuis and Lampe. "One no longer speaks properly of Nadere Reformatie where the original purpose is abandoned, but of pietism in the sense that piety becomes in large measure an end in itself, by which experimental enjoyment takes the place of prophetic witness and struggle."
This Nadere Reformatie received new life in the 19th century in the Reveil and the Separation of 1834, commonly called the Afscheiding.
Because, therefore, this Nadere Reformatie was influenced in part by English and Scottish Puritanism, also by that segment of Puritanism that was under the influence of the Marrow Men, the idea of the free offer was gradually introduced into Dutch thinking.
These then are the factors that introduced into Dutch thinking the whole conception of the well-meant offer and which made it a part of Dutch theology.
The Afscheiding of 1834, under the leadership of such men as De Cock, Van Raalte, Scholte, Brummelkamp and Van Velzen, was a true Reformation of the Church of Christ in the Netherlands. The State or Established Church (Hervormde Kerk) had become so corrupt that it was becoming increasingly impossible for the people of God to survive spiritually within it. When the Churches of the Secession were established, God was preserving His Church and maintaining His cause in the Netherlands.
But it is important for us to remember that the Afscheiding was predominantly a movement among the common folk in the Netherlands; and, as such, it was a movement which attracted to it those who were the spiritual heirs of the Nadere Reformation i.e., those who were the deeply pious and religious among the Dutch, but who had been, in many instances, influenced also by unhealthy mysticism.
While we cannot enter into the details of this Separation, we ought, at least briefly, to notice the development of the idea of the well-meant offer among these men and their successors. There are two or three elements that are worthy of our notice. In the first place, it is rather striking that on the specific question of the well-meant offer there was no unanimity of opinion among the leaders of the Afscheiding. We can probably go so far as to say that there were really two wings among these leaders, one of which was soundly Reformed according to the solid traditions of Dort, and the other wing which was less Reformed and more susceptible to error. The well-meant offer was an issue which separated these two wings. Algra tells us that in the controversy among the men of the Afscheiding over the preparation of ministers, Brummelkamp was suspicioned because "the offer of salvation was too broad in his preaching. 98 This idea of the well-meant offer prevailed among some in the Afscheiding and the view was never officially condemned by these Churches. The result was that the view was commonly taught among certain segments, but came over also into this country when the people of the Afscheiding immigrated.
In the second place, the question of the offer was closely bound up with the question of the ground for the baptism of infants. Because the covenant was defined in terms of an agreement in which only adults could enter, the question arose: What constitutes the ground for infant baptism? The answer that was given was: A general promise of God made to all the children who are baptized, but which promise is also conditional. Hence, although all children possess this promise, they possess it only objectively, and it does not become subjectively their own until such a time as they fulfill the condition of faith. This view that prevailed in the Afscheiding quite naturally led to the whole idea of the offer.
In the third place, and in keeping with all these ideas, the people of the Afscheiding held also to such views as infralapsarianism, mediate regeneration and temporal justification. These views were quite in keeping with their views on the promise of the covenant and the preaching of the gospel.
Quite different was the second movement of reform in the Dutch State Church; the movement under the leadership of Dr. Abraham Kuyper and called the Doleantie. While this movement, thanks in part to the gifted leadership of Kuyper, was much more organized church politically than theAfscheiding, it was also much more doctrinally articulate. Kuyper was a theologian of great ability and left an indelible stamp upon the Church. But his doctrinal position was quite different from that of the Afscheiding in some important points. While the Afscheiding was infralapsarian, Kuyper was supralapsarian; while the Afscheiding held to mediate regeneration, Kuyper maintained immediate regeneration; while the Afscheiding believed in temporal justification, Kuyper maintained eternal justification; and while the Afscheiding held that the basis for infant baptism was a general and conditional promise, Kuyper maintained that the promise of the covenant was always particular, i.e., only for the elect, and absolutely unconditional.
But it is particularly our interest to examine Kuyper's views on the question of common grace and the free offer of the gospel.99 In his early ministry Kuyper was a modernist, for he had been trained in Seminaries of the State Church which were thoroughly modern in their teachings. But while minister of the church in Beesd, his first charge, he was converted and became a strong and ardent defender of the Reformed faith and of the doctrines of sovereign and particular grace.100 He defended the truths of sovereign election and reprobation, particular atonement, irresistible and particular grace. He repudiates a Christ for all, a grace for all in the preaching, a desire or intention of God to save all, and a double decree or two-fold will of God (so essential for the well-meant offer).
Later in his life, however, Kuyper began to teach “common grace" and in fact wrote a three-volume work on this subject under the title, Gemeene Gratie. It is not altogether clear why Kuyper changed his mind on this matter of common grace. Perhaps, as some say, Kuyper's modernistic education once more came through in his teachings in later life. It is probably at least partly correct, however, that his Gemeene Gratie was written at the time when he was prime minister of Netherlands and developed this idea of common grace to justify his coalition with the Roman Catholics, a coalition necessary to give his Anti-Revolutionary Party a majority in the Lower House.
However all this may be, even though Kuyper taught a certain common grace in his later years, his views of common grace were quite different from those views of common grace so closely associated with the well-meant offer. In fact, there are two Dutch expressions for these two different kinds of common grace: algemeene genade or general grace was used to denote that grace which was a part of the well-meant offer; and gemeene gratie, the common grace of which Kuyper spoke. The differences between these two are briefly: while algemeene genade or general grace is given to all including those within the Church, is somehow connected with the atoning sacrifice of Christ and is a kind of blurring of the doctrine of election,gemeene gratie is given outside the Church, outside election, independent of the cross, and only to the wicked world. Gemeene gratie was a grace that was evident in all the good gifts which God gives to us, was manifested especially in the restraint of sin in the wicked world so that men are rarely as bad as they would be without it, and resulted in a "natural" good which the unregenerate were able to perform and from which the people of God could benefit.
Because of this definition of grace, Kuyper was a bitter opponent of the well-meant offer. He insisted on distinguishing sharply between the grace which was common, and particular and saving grace; and therefore insisted that gemeene gratie operates outside the Church and is in no way connected to the preaching of the gospel. There is no grace for all in the preaching. Nor does God in any way, through the preaching, give expression to a love for all, a compassion for all, a desire to save all, a divine intention to bring all who hear the gospel to Christ. And this position he maintained all his life. Kuyper would turn over in his grave if he could know how his name is quoted today in support of the free offer.
We do not, of course, agree with Kuyper's views on gemeene gratie; but the fact is that Kuyper cannot be appealed to in support of the well-meant offer, and his teachings on particular and sovereign grace remained his chief emphasis through all his life.
It is strange, therefore, that in the name of Dr. A. Kuyper the Christian Reformed Church adopted a certain view of common grace and of the free offer.
But in order to understand how this came about, we must backtrack in time a bit and consider briefly the views on the free offer that were held among the people of the Afscheiding who immigrated to this country.
The immigration to this country began shortly after the Afscheiding, and some of these earliest settlers, under the leadership of Van Raalte, settled in the area that is now known as Holland, Michigan. While, soon after their arrival, and at the urging of Van Raalte, these settlers joined the Reformed Church of America, they soon became disillusioned with the RCA and separated to form their own Church, which became known as the Christian Reformed Church.
While these settlers were, on the whole, pious and Godly saints, they were strongly under the influence of the thinking that prevailed among the leaders of the Afscheiding, and insofar as the well-meant offer was taught among some, it was taught also in the early colonies. This is not to say that the sermons which were preached were not often soundly Reformed and that the truths of sovereign grace were not emphasized, but the strain of thinking which included the well-meant offer was there. As the Christian Reformed Church developed along these lines, the idea of the well-meant offer appeared more and more in the preaching. The doctrines of sovereign grace were less and less heard; the truths of sovereign election and reprobation were less and less preached, and the emphasis began to fall increasingly on Arminian views. As one reads the sermons which were printed during this period, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that this sharp emphasis on the truth of sovereign grace was not sounded from the pulpits as it ought to have been, but was replaced with an Arminian emphasis which included the free offer of the gospel. We quote from a few of these sermons to demonstrate this point.
In the early 1900s a series of sermons by Dr. C. Bouma was published under the title Genade Geneest. In a sermon on Luke 19:41, 42, we find the following statements made (the translation is ours):
Jesus wept. And in His weeping He is also the Priest, Who still reaches out His hands to those who are sinking away in order yet to save them. …
In that manner Jesus is the great High priest, Who not only weeps, but His weeping is also a prayer. He spreads out His arms to the apostate city and prays. Even as a mother extends her arms to her son when he leaves to go into the world and toward the abyss, whether perchance he may still rush into the safety of mother's arms.
How great and wide is His mercy! "If thou hadst known this day." Already repeatedly Jesus had preached peace at the former feasts. Now it is the last time; soon He will die. Now it is the eleventh hour; soon Jerusalem will be destroyed. But even still at the eleventh hour Jesus stands there, praying for conversion, for the apostate Jerusalem. Even yet at the eleventh hour He stands at the closed door of the heart of the sinner. Frequently refused, He still stands there. Frequently insulted and mocked, He still calls! O, if in this day you would recognize that which pertains to your peace!
How great is His compassion. It reaches out even to Jerusalem . . . . You also, even you. Many have already come to the fountain of life; you come also, Jerusalem. Many around the sinner already drank of those waters, maybe a pious father or a God-fearing mother. Christ does not want any one to go lost. (italics ours.) He therefore stands at the door of the strongly barred heart calling: "You come also, why should you perish?"
In another book of sermons, Van De Onzen, published in 1910, Rev. J. Keizer has a sermon on Eph. 5:2. After speaking of the love of Christ for His own, he concludes with a word of application:
Many walk no longer with us; they have turned their backs to God's covenant and words, even their heel, their neck, "the cold shoulder." Their end is the ways of death; as children of the kingdom they will perish. Return still, ye who are so averse; the Lord will still accept you; He still waits to be gracious to you.
It is clear therefore, that these immigrants were subject to Arminian preaching in some instances; that they were, while generally pious folk, under the influence of Dutch Puritanism, and that, though the Reformed faith was preserved among them in many respects, they were also somewhat doctrinally weak.
It is clear from further developments that common grace and the free offer of the gospel were held among many. Some maintained that common grace was closely connected with "general revelation." This common grace conveyed to all men, apart from the gospel, a certain knowledge of God whereby all had some understanding of the truth, though imperfectly. While the idea itself is certainly in keeping with what Paul teaches in Rom. 1:18 ff., that this "general revelation" was grace was a serious error. Because it was grace, this "general revelation" created in man a certain yearning for God and desire to know Him more perfectly. It not only enabled man to develop in science, philosophy, jurisprudence, etc., but also was preparatory for the gospel and served as a point of contact in gospel preaching. Thus Bavinck writes: 101
The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind…. He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.
So it is that he makes a distinction between a general and a special revelation of God. In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearance, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself known to man. The contents of the first kind are especially the attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness; those of the second kind are especially God's holiness and righteousness, compassion and grace. The first is directed to all men and, by means of common grace, serves to restrain the eruption of sin; the second comes to all those who live under the Gospel and has as its glory, by special grace, the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of life.
But, however essentially the two are to be distinguished, they are also intimately connected with each other. . . Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that the one is indispensable for the other.
It is common grace that makes special grace possible, prepares the way for it, and later supports it; and special grace, in its turn, leads common grace up to its own level and puts it into its service. Both revelations, finally, have as their purpose the preservation of the human race, the first by sustaining it, and the second by redeeming it, and both in this way serve the end of glorifying all of God's excellences.102
Masselink goes so far as to say that this "general revelation" is brought about by a general and universal operation of the Spirit in the hearts of all men.103
And this in turn stands connected with the free offer of the gospel: The basis for this general offer of the Gospel is the general external and internal revelation of the Holy Spirit which comes to all men . . .. This general revelation witnesses within the souls of the ungodly as well as the godly. This general revelation is the basis for mission work. The reason why God comes with a well-meant offer of salvation to both the elect and non-elect is correctly set forth by Prof. Berkhof in his "Dogmatics." He mentions the following four facts under the significance of the external calling:
(1) In it God maintains His claim upon the sinner.
(2) It is the Divinely appointed means to bring sinners to conversion.
(3) It is a revelation of God's love to sinners.
(4) It adds greatly to the responsibility of those who hear it. 104
But if, so it was taught, there is a common grace shown to all men through "general revelation," there is also a common grace in the preaching of the gospel. That is, the gospel is itself objectively grace to those who hear. It in itself is evidence of God's favor to all who hear. It is evidence of God's favor to all that He even gives the gospel to all. But this idea of an objective grace shown in the gospel was even sometimes interpreted as a subjectivegrace as well, for it is impossible to separate the objective and subjective elements of grace.
Thus, objectively the gospel expresses God's desire and willingness to save all who hear and thus manifests His grace; but subjectively He also bestows a grace through the preaching to all so that all are enabled to accept or reject the proffered grace.105 And all of this led in turn among some to a view of general or universal atonement, a Christ pro omnibus.
However, after the Doleantie, the reformation in the Netherlands under Dr. A. Kuyper, many immigrants who came to this country were followers of Kuyper. Because in 1892 the Churches under the leadership of Dr. Kuyper and the Churches of the Afscheiding merged into what is now known as the Gereformeerde Kerken: the immigrants from the Doleantie Churches generally joined with the Christian Reformed Church.
In some respects the influence of the followers of Kuyper was good, for Kuyper had emphasized strongly the truths of sovereign grace. The followers of Kuyper were much more doctrinally sound and aware, and able to defend and define doctrine with more clarity and precision. But along with the Kuyperians who came to this country came also Kuyper's views on common grace. These views were strongly represented in a segment in Calvin College and Seminary and found a mouthpiece in the magazine, "Religion and Culture." All of this involved considerable struggle within the Christian Reformed Church as the views of the Afscheiding and those of Kuyper clashed.
This controversy was carried over also into the doctrine of the covenant, something that ought not to surprise us. The Kuyperian influence represented the view of a particular and unconditional promise of the covenant, although Kuyper had also made presumptive regeneration the ground for infant baptism. The Afscheiding tradition, on the other hand, held to a general and conditional promise of the covenant made to all who are baptized whether elect or reprobate children. Under the influence of W. Heyns, the latter won out and the way was prepared for the acceptance of the free offer of the gospel. All this came to a head in the controversy of 1924. But because the controversy of 1924 centered in a dispute over the free offer of the gospel, and because this controversy is the occasion for the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches, of which I am a member, we shall treat this in a separate chapter.
Chapter 10: The Controversy in the Christian Reformed Church in 1924
Because the history of the controversy in 1924 is so important for our discussion, we shall be somewhat detailed in describing it.
The problem really started in connection with the so-called "Janssen Case." Dr. Janssen was a professor in Calvin Seminary, in Old Testament branches, who introduced higher critical views into his teachings. When he was required to give an account of his views, he appealed to the doctrine of common grace in support of them. His views of common grace were chiefly those of Kuyper and he connected common grace to his higher critical views in various ways, into which we cannot enter here.106 While Dr. Janssen never mentioned a well-meant offer in his writings, he brought the issue of common grace before the churches.
While his higher critical views were condemned by the Synod of 1922, the Synod did not make any decisions with respect to common grace itself. That crucial question, the basis for Janssen's defense, was left untouched. In a way this was sad, for the outcome of the common grace struggle might have been considerably different had the issue been tackled then.
However that may be, many Janssen supporters remained in the Church, though Janssen himself was deposed from office. Because of their presence in the Church, nothing was really resolved.
Rev. Herman Hoeksema, at that time minister of the Word in the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, determined to bring the matter of common grace before the consciousness of the Church in the hopes that the Church would see the error of it. He began a series of articles in the Church paper, "The Banner," in which he subjected the whole doctrine to a careful Scriptural analysis and came to the conclusion that the doctrine was contrary to the Word of God.107
The result of this was that many protests were lodged against him both from members of his own congregation and others in the denomination. These protests not only took exception to his views on common grace, but also challenged his position on the free offer of the gospel. Eventually all this material came to the Synod of 1924 where the issue was resolved. Three doctrinal statements were made concerning the doctrine of common grace and the free offer. We quote them here.
1. Regarding the first point, touching the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession it is established, that besides the saving grace of God shown only to the elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scripture passages that were quoted and the Canons of Dort, II, 5 and III & IV, 8 & 9, where the general offer of the gospel is set forth; while it also is evident from the citations made from Reformed writers belonging to the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that our fathers from of old maintained this view.
2. Regarding the second point touching the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and of society in general, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession there is such a restraint of sin. This is evident from the Scripture passages that were quoted and from the Netherlands Confession, Arts. 13 and 36, which teach that God by a general operation of His Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains the unbridled manifestation of sin, so that life in human society remains possible; while the citations from Reformed authors of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology prove, moreover, that our fathers from of old maintained this view.
3. Regarding the third point, touching the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession, the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any spiritual good (Canons of Dort, III & IV, 3) are able to perform such civic good. This is evident from the Scripture passages that were quoted and from the Canons of Dort, III & IV, 4, and from the Netherlands Confession, Art. 36, which teach that God without renewing the heart, exercises such an influence upon man that he is enabled to do civic good; while it is, moreover, evident from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that fathers from of old maintained this view. 108
A detailed analysis and criticism of these three points is not important here for our present study. We are concerned mainly about two points: 1) the teaching concerning the free offer; and, 2) the relation between the teaching of the free offer and common grace.
It is especially in the first point that the free offer of the gospel is mentioned, and then it is mentioned somewhat in passing. When the Synod offered its proof for "a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general," the Synod turned to the Canons of Dort which, in Synod's judgment, spoke of the free offer.109 So the reasoning of the Synod was, apparently, that the free offer of the gospel is proof of God's general attitude of favor and grace to all creatures.
Notice that the Synod spoke of a general grace: i.e., a grace which is shown to God's creatures in general, by which latter expression Synod apparently meant not trees and stars, grasshoppers and bedbugs, but people. Thus common or general grace is an attitude of favor or grace on God's part which is shown to elect and reprobate alike: "…toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect… ." This grace is different from saving grace and must not be confused with it. From the Scriptural proof which Synod offered ( Ps. 145:9 , Mt. 5:44, 45, Lu. 6:35, 36, Acts 14:16, 17 ) it is clear that Synod included in common grace also such things as rain and sunshine and all God's good gifts. Nevertheless, there is no mention of these things in the doctrinal statement proper. The only evidence, according to the wording of the first point, of God's general grace is the free offer. So the free offer is especially the way in which God's attitude of favor or grace is shown to mankind in general. Thus, God shows that He is favorably inclined to all men without exception by offering them Christ in the gospel. The conclusion is inescapable that this means and specifically refers to God's desire (in His love and grace) to save all who hear the gospel. God manifests Himself as a loving and gracious God, full of mercy and compassion to all in His offer of the gospel to them. Thus the salvation in Christ that God prepared through the cross has universal availability: it is there for all as far as God is concerned. That all do not in fact receive this salvation is due to its conditionality. Only those who fulfill the condition of faith and accept that which is offered actually receive it as their own possession.
The second point speaks of a restraint of sin by the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men. This is, it must be remembered, also a part of God's universal attitude of favor. God shows His favor also to all men, elect and reprobate, by giving His Spirit so that sin is restrained in them. Now, while the connection between the teaching concerning the free offer and this restraint of sin is not clearly set forth in these statements, the conclusion is obvious. The free offer and the internal and subjective restraint of sin in the heart are both manifestations of the same grace of God. Hence, there is at least suggested here the idea that this grace which restrains sin is a kind of preparatory grace which makes one amenable to the gospel in which Christ is offered. And this is in keeping with what Bavinck taught in the reference to his writings earlier in these articles. So this internal and gracious operation of the Spirit puts every man into a position where he is able to accept or reject the gospel. This idea is strengthened by the third point where it is specifically taught that, as a result of these restraining, though not saving, influences of the Spirit, man is able to do good. It is true that the Synod specifically stated that this good is not spiritual but civic good; but the fact remains that it is good -- good in the sight of God. And the idea that this good is somehow of such a kind that man is more susceptible to the gospel offer is implicit in the formulation and was indeed taught by defenders of' this theory.
Concerning these doctrinal statements we must make some conclusions.
In the first place, these statements laid to rest the controversy that had raged in the Christian Reformed Church between the Kuyperians in their view of common grace and the people of the Afscheiding and their views. In a rather neat way, these points of' doctrine combined the two into one doctrinal teaching, unfaithful to the genius of' Kuyper, but satisfying to all. The common grace (gemeene gratie) of' Kuyper which had nothing to do with the free offer and the general grace (algemeene genade) of part of the Afscheiding tradition were merged into one doctrinal statement.
In the second place, while the Synod spoke boldly of' this teaching as being the teaching of all Reformed theologians in the most flourishing period of Reformed theology, the Synod was badly over-stating itself. It offered no proof for this bold contention, and none can be found. The simple fact of the matter is that this view is not to be found anywhere in early Reformed theology; it is rather an innovation of a rather late date and must be traced back, not to Dort and Calvin, but to Arminius and Amyraut. It is, without question, a serious and fundamental departure from the genius of the Reformed faith.
In the third place, as the doctrine of common grace and the free offer developed in the Christian Reformed Church, the Arminianism inherent in it soon came to clearer manifestation. Not only did free-will Arminianism begin to flourish in the Christian Reformed Church, but in the Sixties Prof. H. Dekker could openly teach and write that the atonement of Christ was universal in its extent, availability and intention, although he limited the efficacy of the atonement to the elect alone. He could do this without ecclesiastical penalty and thus committed the Christian Reformed Church to an explicit universalism. And because the love of God was manifested in the cross (so Dekker), the saving love of God was universalized.
In the fourth place, this had serious consequences for the basic and fundamental doctrines of sovereign grace. The truths of total depravity, sovereign predestination, irresistible grace, limited atonement, and the perseverance of the saints were not only seldom heard any longer, but were in many instances openly denied.
Finally, because Rev. Hoeksema continued to deny these aberrations in the Reformed faith he was ultimately deposed from office and put out of the denomination even though the same Synod that adopted these doctrinal statements testified of him that "he was basically Reformed, though with a tendency towards one-sidedness." It was this deposition and ultimate ouster that was the historic occasion for the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Chapter 11: Analysis and Positive Statement
We have now reached the end of our historical survey of the doctrine of the free offer. It remains for us to point out the errors of the free offer and set forth the truth of Scripture overagainst it.
A great deal of confusion is present in the ecclesiastical world concerning this matter of the free offer. There are those who insist that any denial of the free offer is in fact hyper-Calvinism. This has become so common a notion that people who hear of anyone who denies the free offer, instinctively and with a knee-jerking reaction, brand such a one as a "hyper," who refuses to preach the gospel to all men, but insists that it can be preached only to the elect.
There are hyper-Calvinists in our day; and they do indeed take the position that it is proper and right to limit the preaching to the elect only. Such are theGospel Standard people in England, e.g. And they are also to be found in this country.110 But a denial of the free offer does not automatically place one in the hyper-Calvinist camp. We who deny that the preaching of the gospel is a well-meant or free offer, emphatically assert both that the gospel is preached to all who hear and must be preached to all who hear. In fact, this very truth is incorporated in the Canons of Dort, to which Confession we whole-heartedly subscribe. Canons II, 5 emphatically asserts:
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.
And in III & IV, 9 the Canons speak of those who reject the gospel which is preached to them:
It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the word, refuse to come, and be converted: the fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares, and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. --This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower. Matt. 13.
This truth is also clearly taught in Scripture. There is a powerful passage in Ezekiel 3:17-19 which places the blood of those who go lost upon the head of the preacher who does not warn the wicked of his evil way, and only by warning the wicked can a preacher escape the possibility of being responsible for his destruction.
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Indeed how much clearer would a man want it than the very words of our Lord when He commanded His Church: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:15).
But several things are to be noticed about this general proclamation of the gospel.
In the first place, according to Canons II, 5, the gospel is the general proclamation of a particular promise: the promise, according to this article is only to those who believe and repent, i.e., the elect in whom God works faith and repentance. While it is indeed publicly proclaimed, it is the public proclamation of a particular promise that God makes only to His people and which is theirs in the way of faith and repentance.
In the second place, when the Canons use the word "offer", as they do in III & IV, 9, they use it in the sense of "present, proclaim", which meaning is the meaning of the Latin word offere as it was used in the original Canons. Christ is publicly and promiscuously presented in the gospel and proclaimed as the One in Whom God worked the great work of salvation. But such a proclamation and presentation of Christ in the gospel is not a Christus pro omnibus, a Christ for all, but a Christ in Whom God wrought salvation for those who believe in Him and repent of their sins. Thus He is publicly presented as the One in Whom God wrought salvation for His people.
In the third place, this is entirely in keeping with the character and nature of the gospel. According to Scripture, in Romans 1:16, the gospel is the powerof God unto salvation to all who believe. The gospel is not a mere lecture on a theological subject. It is not a learned dissertation on some given text. It is emphatically preaching. And preaching is the means that God is pleased to use to call His people out of darkness into salvation in Christ. Preaching is God's means, sovereignly and efficaciously, to bring salvation and heavenly glory to those who belong to Christ.
To make the preaching an offer robs the gospel of this great power. It reduces the gospel to a mere expression on God's part to save all those who hear. When it reduces the gospel to this kind of expression, it robs the gospel of its saving power. It makes the gospel nothing but some kind of pleading, begging, seeking on God's part for the sinner to turn from his way and to accept the salvation offered in Christ. God stands helplessly by, waiting to see what man will do. God wants to save all. The gospel expresses His intention and desire, His earnest longing to save all who hear. But God can do very little about it. He must wait to see what man will do. If man accepts the gospel, then indeed salvation is granted him. But he may very well reject it, and thus his reaction to the gospel stands outside God's power and sovereign determination.
This sort of notion about the gospel is thoroughly Arminian. It is Arminian because it denies the truth of irresistible grace. It is Arminian because it ascribes to man the power to accept the gospel; thus it denies man's utter depravity and inability to do any good. It is Arminian because it makes salvation dependent upon the free will of man. And let it never be forgotten: Ultimately these questions are questions of Who God is. Is the sovereign God of heaven and earth, the Maker and Sustainer of all, the God Who gives us our life and breath, Who upholds us every step of our earthly sojourn, a helpless god who cannot save? Such a view of God is an idol, the creation of men's fevered and proud imaginations. Such a view destroys the God of the Scriptures and reduces Him to a pleading beggar. This is a terrible sin and brings down the wrath of God upon those who make Him such a weak being that He is as putty in the hands of man.
It is, of course, true that those who want to maintain the free offer of the gospel and still go under the name of Calvinism or Reformed try to get around this terrible evil by assuring us that the faith and repentance, which are necessary for us to receive Christ, are gifts worked by God in the hearts of His people. They say: Christ is offered to all. God wishes to save all. His intention and desire is to bring all to salvation. The gospel expresses this truth forcibly. But actually and in fact, God works the faith necessary to receive the gospel only in the hearts of the elect. So only they in fact are saved and only they really receive the salvation offered.
But this kind of evasion will never do. On the very surface of it, we have, in this conception, a strange idea of God. Think of how this actually works. God wants desperately to save a man; He expresses His desire and the deep longing of His soul to save the man; He earnestly and longingly does everything He can to make that man accept Christ as His Savior. But He does not give to that man the faith that is necessary for salvation. What kind of a God is this? Can anyone imagine a God Who so deeply and passionately wants to save a man, but withholds from him the one thing necessary to be saved, namely faith? It is after all, within God's power to give faith. But He refrains. What kind of a husband would I be if I earnestly longed for the health of my wife who is dying from cancer, when I had in my power to restore her to health, but refused? I would be branded by all men a monster and would probably be hailed before the courts of the land indicted on a charge of negligent homicide at least. Yet so it is that men present God.
But there is more. The gospel is the promise of salvation in Christ. The burning question is: Does God promise, as a part of that salvation, faith and repentance? Or, to put it a different way, are faith and repentance part of salvation and therefore part of the promise? If they are, then through the gospel as the power of God unto salvation, all of salvation is worked, including faith and repentance. But when one makes the promise of the gospel dependent upon the conditions of faith and repentance, one separates faith and repentance from salvation and makes them prerequisites to salvation. But if they are not a part of salvation, then they are the work of man. One cannot have it both ways. Either faith and repentance are part of the promise, worked sovereignly and irresistibly through the gospel, or they are conditions to the promise, therefore not a part of the promise, and thus the work ofman.
It is important to understand in this connection that a general and well-meant offer must also be conditional. It must be conditional because every one who maintains it, freely admits that not all to whom the gospel is proclaimed are actually saved. While God desires the salvation of all, there are always those who reject the gospel. Thus, the free offer is conditional, dependent upon faith and repentance. And thus faith and repentance are the works of men. The free offer is inherently Arminian and a denial of all that has ever been true of the Calvin Reformation.
It is no wonder then that those who have held consistently to a free offer have inevitably drifted into the Arminian camp. Here again one need only consult history. Wherever the free offer has been maintained, Arminianism has raised its ugly head. This was true of the Arminians who were condemned by the Synod of Dort, for they alone were the ones who maintained a conditional salvation.111 This was true of the Amyrauldians, whoseinfluence extended to England, Europe and the Netherlands. This is true in the history of the Reformed Churches also in this country. That such a conditional salvation has led to Arminianism in the Christian Reformed Church is evident, e.g., from the failure of this denomination to condemn a form of universal atonement as it appeared in the Sixties. We can come to only one conclusion: the necessary conditionality of the free offer is essentially Arminian and a denial of Calvinism.
It might be well to spell this out a bit more in detail, because such a discussion will quite naturally lead to another aspect of the idea of the free offer.
Anyone acquainted with the so-called "five points of Calvinism" will know that they are often remembered by the memory device: TULIP -- total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. The free offer leads to a denial of them all.
The free offer leads to a denial of total depravity because salvation is made dependent upon the will of man. The best illustration of this that we can offer is the position of the Christian Reformed Church in this matter. Already in the "Three Points of Common Grace" total depravity was explicitly denied, for these three points112 teach that because of a general operation of the Spirit in the hearts of all men, sin is so restrained that the sinner is capable of doing good. This denial of total depravity has often been expressed in Christian Reformed literature by a distinction that is made between total depravity and absolute depravity. The latter is intended to refer to complete depravity so that the sinner is incapable of doing any good and able to do only evil. The former, which the Christian Reformed Church professes to believe, is interpreted to mean that the sinner is depraved in all parts of his nature, though in every part are some remnants of good. By this distinction the truth of total depravity is denied. Yet it is essential for the doctrine of the free offer because the natural man must not only be able to do good, but he must also be able to respond to the gospel offer. If I offer one thousand dollars to ten corpses, people will think I am crazy. But Scripture defines the sinner as dead in trespasses and sins. Only when this spiritual death is less than death can the free offer make any sense.
The free offer of the gospel leads to a denial of particular atonement because a salvation that is intended for all must also be a salvation that is purchased for all. If God, through the gospel, offers salvation to all who hear along with the intent and expressed desire to save all, this salvation must be available. If it is not, the whole offer becomes a farce. If I offer one thousand dollars to each of ten people, if they will come to my house to pick it up, I had better have it somewhere in the house, or I am in trouble. If I do not have all the money that might be needed in the house, I am making a farce of the offer and really lying. If God offers salvation to all who hear and really earnestly desires their salvation, He had (I speak as a man) better have that salvationavailable. If He does not, the offer becomes a farce. God offers that which He does not have. This makes God a liar and the offer a fake. Hence, the only sense one can make out of the offer is to teach a salvation which was earned by Christ on the cross for everyone. Thus the cross of Christ and the redemption that He accomplished becomes universal in its extent. It is not surprising that Dekker argued in the Sixties within his denomination that because the love and grace of God were general, the atonement was also general.
The free offer leads to a denial of irresistible grace. When the offer expresses only God's desire to save all and offers salvation to all, then the grace of the preaching is not irresistible, but resistible. Men may choose to resist it and refuse to accept the offer. God cannot accomplish that which He wills. His intentions and desires are frustrated and His purpose is made of no effect because of man's resistance.
Ultimately the free offer also makes the perseverance of the saints a doubtful matter. It stands to reason that if man can either accept or reject the gospel offer, he can at one time accept it, at another time reject it, and yet again accept it. But because his salvation is dependent upon what he does, his salvation hangs by the thin thread of his own free will. Thus his final salvation is always in doubt. He can fall away from the faith, and he can, while once having accepted Christ, still spurn Him in the future. It is undoubtedly this general Arminian teaching that is the basis for revivals and recommitments to Christ through the invitation.
But of particular concern to us is the truth of unconditional predestination. While it is true that the "U" of TULIP speaks only of unconditional election, reprobation has also always been a part of the truth of predestination. The free offer denies both. The free offer denies reprobation first of all because if God's sovereign purpose is not to save some, including some who hear the gospel, God's purpose in offering them salvation is nonsensical. On the one hand, God purposes not to save; on the other hand God purposes to save. On the one hand it is God's will not to save; on the other hand it is God's will to save. The result is that in those circles reprobation is finally denied.
This is, in fact, what has happened in the Christian Reformed Church. The truth of reprobation is hardly ever preached, if at all; and Harry Boer made a specific attack against this doctrine in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when he asked the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to strike the doctrine of reprobation from the Canons. While Synod refused to do this, it put its stamp of approval on a report of a committee appointed to study the matter, which report contains a definition of reprobation which is completely out of keeping with the historic definition of the doctrine and with the truth as it is taught in the Canons. Synod, in effect, approved of a conditional reprobation, the very view which the Arminians maintained and which our fathers at Dort repudiated.
But if reprobation is denied, then also election falls by the way. They are two sides of one coin, two parts of one truth.113 But the free offer cannot bear the truth of election for the same reason that it militates agains