Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Remarks and Final Article (59)

Dear Forum members,

With the last article on the gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel, I have finished by discussion of this aspect of common grace. There is, I suppose, more that can be written. Some books have come out in the last few years defending the doctrine of a gracious offer of the gospel, but there has not been anything new in these books, or elements that I have not discussed.

Just today (the day this installment was written) I received an article with the title, “The Free Offer of the Gospel: Is It Biblical and Reformed?” The author makes assertions in the article that are simply not true. I will use an answer to the article as my concluding installment for this forum.

All the passages quoted by the author in support of the gracious gospel offer are passages we have explained in various installments and will not repeat here.
Referring to the Protestant Reformed Churches as a denomination that denies the free offer, the author describes their position as somewhere between hyper-Calvinism and orthodox Calvinism. This is stated as a fact without any proof, and the assumption is, of course, that those who hold to a gracious gospel offer are the true Calvinists.

What is worse, the author in claiming that a gracious gospel offer is Calvinistic implies that Calvin himself taught this doctrine. We have examined this question before and will not repeat what was said; but the fact remains that such as make this claim ought, for the sake of honesty, to explain Calvin’s position as outlined in his “Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God,” published in the book, Calvin’s Calvinism. In this book, Calvin specifically repudiates everything those who hold to a gracious gospel offer teach.

The author also appeals to Christ’s fulfillment of the moral law. The argument here is this: Christ, to fulfill the law, had to obey the commandment “Love thy neighbor.” Because that command as it comes to us, means that we are to love all men, so Christ loved all men when he kept the law perfectly. The author insists, however, that Christ’s love for all men is a love of the divine person as well as the human person. This is an important consideration, because there have been those who have held to the position that Christ loved all men in his human nature, but not in his divine. The author will have none of this and declares that Christ as
divine and human loved all men. We find that to be at least consistent.

However, the argument is fallacious. It is wrong, in the first place, because even our neighbor is not everybody in the whole world, but is only one whom God puts upon our pathway and who demands our attention and help. But, in the second place, one cannot argue from who our neighbor is to whom Christ’s neighbor is. That is fallacious argumentation that cannot be supported by Scripture. It must necessarily follow from the author’s position that Christ then also died for all men, for he died to fulfill the law. The author’s position (as is the case with all who teach a gracious offer) leads to a universal atonement, something sharply repudiated by Scripture and both the Reformed confessions and the Westminster Confession. It can very well be said that Christ’s neighbors are those whom God put on Christ’s pathway and who require Christ’s attention and help. But these are, obviously, the elect.

The author also claims that the Westminster Confession uses the word offer in a far broader way than in the way Protestant Reformed Churches interpret it; that is, as meaning “present, set forth, proclaim” – as is the meaning of the Latin. He appeals especially to the “Sum of Saving Knowledge”, which is often printed in the same book as the Westminster Confession. We acknowledge his claim as true. But the Westminster Confession itself does not teach a gracious offer of the gospel. This is clear from the following considerations: 1) The question came up repeatedly on the floor of the Assembly, brought there by the Amyraldians. Repeatedly the Assembly’s great leaders repudiated the Amyraldian position. Anyone interested in this question can find material on it in: An article I wrote that appears of the Protestant Reformed website under the title “A Comparison Between the Westminster Confession and the Reformed Confessions.” In this article I refer to such material as Mitchell’s “Minutes of the Assembly” and J. I Packer’s Introduction to Owen’s book, “The Death of Death,” an Introduction published separately in pamphlet form. 2) The Westminster Confession is the official confession of all Presbyterianism; not “A Brief Sum of Christian Doctrine.” It would seem to me that the author owes it to his readers to make this clear.

The author finally accuses those who deny the gracious offer of God of humanistic rationalism. He writes:

Do you have difficulty reconciling the genuine overtures of the Gospel with the truth of God’s sovereign election and predestination? To all any such difficulty to cause you to reject the plain Biblical testimony to the reality of these gracious overtures is to bow down to the false humanistic god of the finality of human reason and is the very antithesis of true Biblical Calvinism. Whilst all of God’s Word is reasonable, our powers of reason are those of a finite and fallen creature. We must lean upon the words that have proceeded out of the mouth of God. It is fallen man’s pride in his own reason causing him to heed again the words of the serpent, “Hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1)

These are serious charges, sufficiently serious to consign all who hold to them to the eternal wrath of God in hell. Does the author really mean that? Earlier in the paper he speaks of “the late Herman Hoeksema” as “an able theologian.” How can one be an able theologian when he is a rationalist, an idolater, one who listens to Satan as Eve did, and a proud man?”

I have also answered the objection itself in a couple of forum articles. It is evident that the author of this article takes the position of apparent contradictions in Scripture. We discussed this at length, and need not repeat what was said. But the author claims that only those who hold to a gracious offer “Lean upon the words that have proceeded out of the mouth of God.” Would that the defenders of this gracious offer of the gospel would really do what they claim to be doing. It is my experience, and I have debated the whole question in speaking and writing times without number, that the defenders of this view are quick to quote texts here and there. But rarely, if ever, do they engage in serious and thorough exegesis. They do not make an effort to explain the texts they quote; they make no effort to examine the exegesis we present; they ignore our arguments and will not even try to answer them. It would be most helpful in the debate if just once we would receive some serious and thorough exegesis along with a solid Biblical refutation of our position. To fall back on the lame charge that we the Protestant Reformed Churches are guilty of rationalism will not suffice. Name calling does not solve theological problems.

Such an approach to a fundamental truth of Scripture is a denial of sound Hermeneutics, insisted upon early in the Reformation by both Luther and Calvin, namely the principle of the regula fidei (See, for example, A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969). This rule means that when one formulates a doctrine, one must take into account the teaching of the whole of Scripture and not just a text or two. Luther insisted that one could prove any heresy under heaven by simply quoting texts. And yet this is what is so often done by defenders of the gracious offer of the gospel.

Let us adhere to a tried and tested method of Biblical Hermeneutics, based solidly on the principle of Scripture Interprets Scripture, and not fall back on wild charges of rationalism and appeal as our last line of defense to “apparent contradictions.”

And so I conclude our discussions of common grace. I bid you all a fond farewell along with the prayer that our gracious God will keep you all faithful to his truth

With warm regards,


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