Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Charges Against Deniers of a "Free Offer" (47)

Dear Forum members,

There are two more charges that are brought against those who deny that a gracious offer of the gospel is taught in either the Scriptures or the confessions.

The first charge is that those who deny the gospel offer cannot perform evangelism. This is a strange charge, but it is frequently made. The assumption is that a church cannot do evangelistic work unless the church believes that God gives all who hear the gospel grace in their hearts to accept or reject Christ, that he loves all men and that this universal love is possible because Christ died for all men. Basically, the charge is that a Calvinist cannot do evangelistic work, but one must be Arminian in his theology to do true evangelism.

We should put it the other way around: The fact is that no Arminian is able to do evangelistic work; only a Calvinist is able to keep the command of Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

It has never been clear to me why this charge is made against those who deny a gracious and well-meant offer. Why does one have to tell all men that God loves them if evangelism is to be effective? The only answer I can think of is that the preacher must preach a gospel that tries to persuade a man to accept Christ, something which man has the power to do. And that is Arminianism.

That is not the description of the preaching of the gospel that Scripture gives us. Paul writes in Romans 1: 16 that the gospel is “the power of God” unto salvation. The idea is surely that God works through the gospel and is pleased to use the gospel to save those who were ordained unto eternal life. But God saves, not man. The power of the gospel is in God’s work, not the work of man. This is Paul’s contention in I Corinthians 2:5, II Corinthians 10:3, 4. No wooing is necessary; no persuasion is required. God saves irresistibly by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect. All that the preacher is called to do is proclaim the whole counsel of God by preaching Christ crucified.

The Canons of Dordrecht also oppose such nonsense. Instead of the word “persuading,” which I used above, the Canons uses the word “advising” to describe the Arminian error. The article is found in the Rejection of Errors 3/4, 7, where the Canons rejects 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. But this is altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture which, besides this, teaches yet another and far more powerful and divine manner of the Holy Spirit’s working in the conversion of man, as in Ezekiel: a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). ” (__________, The Confessions and the Church Order to the Protestant Reformed Churches [Protestant Reformed Churches, 2005] 172)

But there is more. The Scriptures also teach that the preaching of the gospel has a two-fold power: the power to save, but also the power to harden. Already in the Old Testament, the prophet was called to utter these words: For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is. 55:10,11). This figure is picked up in the New Testament in Hebrews 6, in which passage the author is explaining the reason for the unforgivable sin. He writes: “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” (Heb. 6:7-8,).

Paul makes this two-fold effect of the gospel explicit when he writes: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (II Cor. 2:14-17).

It is impossible to fit into that verse anything that even resembles the gracious and well-meant gospel offer.

One more charge must be considered: I speak of the charge that all who deny the gracious and well-meant offer are called “Hyper-Calvinists.” This is rather silly, because never so far as I know has a reason been given why those who deny the heresy of the well-meant gospel offer are Hyper-Calvinists. But the charge sticks and many in America and overseas, especially in the British Isles, have picked up the term.

In a way, it is a lazy man’s method of argumentation. To find an opprobrious name and to label someone with it is a far easier way to refute someone’s position than to show carefully and fully why one is wrong in what he does or teaches. To label one a Hyper-Calvinist who shows carefully that the gracious and well-meant gospel offer is contrary to Scripture seems to relieve one of the more difficult task of showing from Scripture that Scripture indeed teaches a grace of God towards all men in the preaching of the gospel.

But as is true of all labels and opprobrious names, this one too is spurious. The church is plagued by Hyper-Calvinists. I myself have debated in correspondence with and lost the friendship of those who are adamant in their Hyper-Calvinistic position. Hyper-Calvinists teach that the gospel, especially the command of the gospel to repent from sin and believe in Christ, is for the elect only. They deny, therefore, the words of Jesus, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). They do not deal honestly with such passages as Proverbs 8:1-6: “Doth not wisdom cry? And understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things . . .”

There are many other passages of a similar kind. One can find a detailed discussion of this subject in David Engelsma’s book, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel.

It is Biblical and Reformed to teach that the gospel is and must be promiscuously proclaimed. Christ’s command is to go into all the world and teach all nations (Matt. 28:19). That preaching of the gospel must include the promise of God to save all those who believe, and the command to all who hear the gospel to repent of their sins and believe in Christ.

There is a world of difference between an offer and a command. God does not offer salvation, give grace to a depraved sinner that he may make a choice, and then await the man’s decision. He commands to man to repent of sin and believe in Christ. It is an obligation laid on everyone to turn from one’s evil way and serve God. It is so much an obligation that to disobey warrants punishment in hell. Disobedience to God’s command is deadly.

The obligation to repent of sin rests upon man in spite of his total depravity. The proponents of common grace are sufficiently intelligent to see that a totally depraved man cannot obey the command, nor can he accept the offer of salvation. A general grace has to be introduced; a grace that makes it possible for a totally depraved man to accept or reject what is proclaimed in the gospel and offered to him.

Underneath lies the problem: How can God demand of a man that which he is incapable of doing? How can God require man to repent of sin when he is totally depraved and incapable of obeying God’s command? How can he believe in Christ when faith is a gift of God and God gives faith only to those whom he has elected?

The Hyper-Calvinist says: “God doesn’t do this. He does not demand of man that which he cannot do” The gracious-offer man says: “God would be unjust in demanding of man that which he is incapable of doing. Therefore, God really wants him to be saved, but permits the choice to be man’s choice, and he gives grace so that his total depravity is mitigated and he can make the choice.” The Reformed man says, without hesitation, “Yes, God demands of man that which He cannot do. That is Biblical and Confessional teaching. “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” (________, Confessions, 86 Heidelberg Catechism q & a 9).

Two points are made here. The first is that the fall of Adam is our responsibility, for Adam sinned as our federal head. We turned our backs on God and his command – in Adam. The second is that God does not simply forget his just demands of man. He cannot do that and remain just – any more than a bank may excuse a mortgage holder from making his payments on the mortgage. The house-owner’s own profligacy does not excuse him from his monthly payments.

And so the command continues to come to man to repent of his sin, forsake his evil way and live in obedience to God.

To believe in Christ is for sinful man the way to escape his depravity and be saved from his sin. Of course, man cannot believe any more than he can repent. Repentance brings him necessarily to Christ and faith in Christ. Hence the command is to repent and to believe in Christ. Both are part of one command.

But Hyper-Calvinists we are not.

With warmest regards,


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