Review Article: A Critique of Sam Waldron’s The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel

Martyn McGeown


The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel, by Sam Waldron. Greenbrier, AR: Free Grace Press, 2019. Pp. 143. $18.00 (softcover). ISBN: 9781599256023. [Reviewed by Martyn McGeown.]



Sam Waldron’s book “The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel,” with endorsements from such evangelical heavyweights as Paul Washer, Joel Beeke, Richard D. Phillips, and Jeffrey Smith, is rare among books on the free offer of the gospel, in that it mentions, although it does not interact with the arguments of, the theologians of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and, therefore, with the friends and sisters of the Protestant Reformed Churches, such as the British Reformed Fellowship. For once, it is nice to be mentioned, since usually in books on this subject we are ignored, although we are the leading theological opponents of the free offer in the modern church.

Waldron identifies three classes of Calvinists. The “first class” includes Joseph Hussey, John Gill, and the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Churches, whom we would also classify as classic hyper-Calvinists, for they deny duty faith and duty repentance. The “second class” includes Herman Hoeksema, Herman Hanko, and David Engelsma. The “third class” includes the Marrow Men, Thomas Boston, Andrew Fuller, Ned Stonehouse, John Murray, the Majority Report of the Orthodox Reformed Church, and the Christian Reformed Church. Waldron advocates “third class” Calvinism. These types of Calvinists differ on how they answer two basic questions: “Does God command faith and salvation of the non-elect?” and “Does God desire faith and salvation of the non-elect?” The “first class” Calvinist answers “No” to both questions; the “third class” Calvinist answers “Yes” to both questions; and the “second class” Calvinist answers “Yes” to the first question, but “No” to the second question.

We answer “Yes” to the first question, but “No” to the second question.

Waldron’s main point throughout the book is that if God has commanded something, He must also desire it. Therefore, since God commands all who hear the preaching of the gospel to repent and believe, He must desire the salvation of all hearers of the gospel. For Waldron, therefore, God’s will of command is synonymous with His desire.

To answer Waldron’s argument we need to define our terms, beginning with God’s will.

The Will of God: The Sovereign Determination of His Infinite Mind

I define God’s will as follows: God’s will is the sovereign determination of His infinite mind concerning all things. First, God has determined that the creature exists. “Thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Second, God has determined which creatures exist and how they relate to one another: “[God hath] determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). Third, God has determined the end of all creatures so that they serve Him and His glory: “The purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11).

God’s will, which is the sovereign determination of His infinite mind, is not like our wills. We, too, since we are rational, moral creatures, have wills. We determine things for ourselves and for other creatures. Nevertheless, our will, unlike God’s will, is not sovereign and perfectly free, for it is the will of a creature, because our will is subject to God’s will, which is the sovereign determination of God’s infinite mind concerning us and concerning our lives. Paul explained to the philosophers of Athens: “[God hath] determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).

Take a concrete example. God determined that the Greek philosopher Socrates should be born in Athens c. 470 BC (historians do not know the day of his birth, but God knew and determined it with exactitude) and would spend his life in Greece. God also determined that Socrates would die in 399 BC of hemlock poisoning administered by his own hand at the command of the authorities of Athens. Crucially, God also determined that Socrates would never hear or believe the gospel of Christ, but would perish everlastingly in hell for his sins, as a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22). God did not purpose the salvation of Socrates; God did not decree the salvation of Socrates; and God did not will the salvation of Socrates. In other words, Socrates was reprobate.

God never acts involuntarily, but always purposefully. God never acts reluctantly, but what God does, He does willingly. God never acts under compulsion, for no one compels Him to act contrary to His will and no one compels Him to will something or not to will something else. God is sovereign and free to will or not to will according to His own determination and good pleasure. In other words, God is God. God could have willed not to create the universe, but He willed otherwise. God could have willed not to save a people, but He willed otherwise.

God could have willed to save Socrates, but He willed otherwise. God could have seen to it that Socrates heard the gospel, but He willed otherwise. “Whatsoever the Lord pleased,” writes the Psalmist, “that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:6). Wicked, pagan Nebuchadnezzar confesses this truth concerning God’s sovereignty in Daniel 4:35: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

In addition, God’s will is in perfect harmony with His being. God’s will is eternal, for God decreed all things in eternity. God’s will is holy, for in His decrees He seeks Himself and His glory. God’s will is just and righteous, for what He determines is always in perfect harmony with His holiness. God’s will is wise, for with perfect knowledge, He knows how best to bring glory to His name. God’s will is unchangeable, for God never alters His determination concerning anything. Finally, God’s will is powerful and irresistible, for no creature can frustrate God’s will.

To return to our example of the pagan philosopher, God eternally determined not to save Socrates, that is, He eternally reprobated him. God’s will to destroy Socrates in the way of his sins is holy, for God determined that He would best be glorified not through the salvation of Socrates, but through the damnation of Socrates. God’s will to destroy Socrates is just, for God Himself is the standard of justice and Socrates, as a sinful man, was not entitled to God’s mercy, could not demand it, and did not even desire it. If Socrates expostulated with God: “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19), the Almighty would respond, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? (Rom. 9:20). God’s will to destroy Socrates is unchangeable, powerful, and irresistible, so that no creature in heaven or in earth could prevent the execution of God’s decree of reprobation, and therefore the damnation, of that ungodly man. About that ungodly philosopher, we can paraphrase the words of Solomon: “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even Socrates for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4). About Socrates we could write, “When Socrates sprang up as the grass, and when all such ungodly, unbelieving, pagan, and idolatrous philosophers flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed forever” (Ps. 92:7). While it is true that God’s “tender mercies are over all his works,” Socrates, although a creature, was not a “work” of God in the sense of Psalm 145, for all God’s works “shall praise [Him]…and all [His] saints shall praise Him, [speaking] of the glory of [His] kingdom and [talking] of [His] glory,” which is not true of Socrates, who never praised the true God; instead “the Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked (including Socrates) will he destroy” (Ps. 145:9-11, 20). Socrates was not included in the “world” that God loves and saves (John 3:16). Socrates is not included in the “whole world” whose propitiation and advocate Christ is (1 John 2:1-2). Socrates was not one whose perishing God did not will (2 Peter 3:9), but rather one whose perishing God determined. Socrates is not among the “all men” whom God wills to be saved and for whom Christ made a ransom (1 Tim. 2:4-5), something that even Waldron would concede, because with respect to John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4-5, and 2 Peter 3:9 he writes, “I actually do not regard any of these passages as proof texts for the Free Offer” (132).

In addition, had Socrates visited Jerusalem in the fourth century BC and met some of God’s children there (which, of course, God never decreed that Socrates, the bounds of whose habitation God had determined, should do), and if he had come across a copy of the Old Testament Scriptures, he would have been duty-bound to believe in the true God, to serve Him, and to believe in the promise of the coming Messiah. Although Socrates was under obligation to turn from sin and believe in the true God, according to the testimony of Romans 1 (where we learn that Socrates and men like him have enough knowledge of the true God to be without excuse, but insufficient knowledge to be saved), God determined that Socrates would live and die in pagan darkness under His wrath and curse.

It would, therefore, be utter madness to suggest that God desired the salvation of Socrates. And if God did not desire the salvation of Socrates or of the multitudes that lived in the same era and region as Socrates, He does not desire the salvation of all men.

Therefore, whether man lives or dies, whether he is happy or miserable, whether he is wicked or good, whether he is elect or reprobate, whether he believes or disbelieves, and whether he repents or remains impenitent, he always does God’s will. He can never escape God’s will. In this sense, we can say that even the devils do God’s will. They are in His hand, and they are subject to His will. The Heidelberg Catechism refers to this in its treatment of providence: “All creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move” (A 28). The Belgic Confession makes a similar statement in Article 11: “He rules and governs [all creatures] according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment… Nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father.” Jesus applies this to something as simple as a sparrow or the hair of our head: they do not fall to the ground without the will of God, or to state it positively, they fall to the ground according to God’s will (Matt. 10:29-31).

The Will of God: The Duty of Man

What we have described so far is God’s will of decree or His decretive will. Waldron correctly identifies this will: “The decretive will tells us what God will do” (43). A better explanation, however, is, that the decretive will tells what God has determined to do or has determined to be done. Synonyms of God’s decretive will are His counsel and His good pleasure.

But there is something else that the Bible calls God’s “will.” It is not what God has determined to do or what God has determined to do with His creatures, but it is what God has commanded His creatures (especially human beings) to do. The Bible calls what God has commanded us to do His “will.” Christ says, for example, in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” And the Heidelberg Catechism encourages us to ask, “Grant that we … may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey Thy will, which is only good” (A. 124). This will—or this aspect of God’s will—is His will of command or His preceptive will, the will of God’s precept, which must be contrasted with His will of decree or decretive will. Since the Catechism refers to our “obeying” that will of God, the reference is not to God’s decree, but to His command. God’s will of command is expressed fully in the Law.

God’s will for the creature is fulfilled whether he obeys God or not. If God (in His decretive will) has determined the everlasting destruction of a man, he will not obey God’s will (His preceptive will). He cannot be subject to God’s law (Rom. 8:7-8), which inability is the sinner’s own fault. Nevertheless, God’s will is not thwarted, for a disobedient, unbelieving, impenitent man is destroyed in the way of his sins and perishes justly for his iniquity. When a man hears the Law, it is not his business to ask, “What has God determined concerning me in His eternal counsel. Should I obey or not?” Instead, that man should ask, “What does God command me to do?” and then he should do it. Because he does not do it, that man is condemned. Similarly, when a man hears the gospel with the call, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31), he must not ask, “What is God’s eternal determination concerning me: am I elect or reprobate?” Instead, he must believe. He must lay hold of Jesus Christ, forsaking his sins, and trust only in the crucified and resurrected Saviour. When he does not believe, he is damned, deservedly so.

So far I have used the example of Socrates (c. 470-399 BC), the ungodly philosopher who lived and died without hearing the gospel. I used him to illustrate God’s decree of reprobation. The Canons of Dordt explain reprobation: “Not all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal election of God; whom God… hath decreed to leave in the common misery… and not to bestow upon them saving faith… and at last, for the declaration of His justice, to condemn and punish them forever” (Canons 1.15).

However, Socrates never heard the gospel. Therefore, I offer a second example, one of Christ’s disciples, Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot can never say that he never heard the gospel, for he was one of the twelve disciples, and therefore very close to Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:1- 4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). Judas heard many of the sermons of Jesus Christ, such as His parables and the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25). Judas witnessed many of Christ’s miracles. Judas was even sent forth with the other disciples to teach, preach, heal, and cast out devils (Matt. 10:7-8). Yet Judas was reprobate: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70). “Ye are clean, but not all” (John 13:10). “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me” (John 13:18). “None of them is lost, save the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

What we have said of Socrates applies equally to Judas. God eternally determined not to save Judas, but to reject him in His sovereign decree of reprobation. But since reprobation must serve election, God determined that Judas should be the human instrument by which Jesus was delivered to His enemies. Thus, wicked, perfidious, treacherous Judas served the salvation of the church, unwillingly, unconsciously, and unwittingly. Peter explained this in Acts 1:16: “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.” Later the church prays even more emphatically, “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28). The actions of Judas were preordained or predetermined—even willed—in God’s eternal decree. Yet Judas does not escape responsibility or accountability in the least: he acted most willingly, wickedly, and greedily. Covetousness motivated him, not a desire to fulfil God’s decree.

Judas heard the gospel, but God had eternally decreed that Judas should not be saved. Judas heard the gospel, but God had determined to harden Judas through the gospel (Rom. 9:18; 2 Cor. 2:15-16). What, then, was God’s will concerning Judas and the gospel? And what, then, is God’s will with respect to every reprobate sinner who hears the gospel? That is the issue that divides us from advocates of the Free Offer, such as Sam Waldron; and hyper-Calvinists, such as the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Churches.

According to God’s will of decree or His decretive will, Judas, although he should hear the gospel, should not believe it, for God decreed not to give him faith. According to God’s will of command or His preceptive will, Judas was duty-bound to believe the gospel. God commanded—required and demanded—of Judas that he should love, honor, and obey Jesus Christ. God commanded—required and demanded—of Judas that he should believe in Jesus Christ (John 5:23), that is, that he should know Him, trust in Him, and appropriate Him for salvation. God commanded—required and demanded—of Judas that he should turn from his sins in the true sorrow of repentance to live a new and godly life. God commanded—required and demanded—of Judas (although not for salvation) that he should keep the law of the ten commandments perfectly. And God’s command—requirement and demand—was so serious that God damned Judas to everlasting punishment in hell because Judas did not love, honor, and obey Jesus Christ. God commanded—required and demanded—this of Judas although God had determined never to save Judas, although God never loved Judas, but always hated him, and although Christ did not make atonement for Judas’ sins, so that for Judas forgiveness of sins, justification, and everlasting life were impossible.

Judas is an unusual case, of course, because we know that he was reprobate. Such is not true with the congregations in which we hear the gospel today. An unbelieving visitor might be reprobate, but we cannot tell. A member, one currently in good standing, might be a hypocrite and a reprobate, but we cannot tell. Moreover, charity forbids us even to suspect a fellow church member. We may not say or even think, “I wonder if he is truly a child of God. Maybe he is reprobate.” The Canons of Dordt forbid us to speak and think thus: “With respect to those who make an external profession of faith and live regular lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner” (Canons 3/4.15).

We summarize. God’s will, sometimes called His “will of decree,” is the determination of His infinite mind concerning all things. God’s will of decree always happens. No creature can stop God’s will of decree from being fulfilled. Whatever happens in history is the outworking in time of God’s eternal will of decree. In addition, there is God’s will of command. God commands the creature to do certain things: He commands us to love Him and our neighbors. He commands us to believe in Jesus Christ and to repent of our sins. God’s will of command is rarely obeyed: no wicked, unbelieving person performs it; Satan and his demons disobey it; and even believers have only a small beginning of obedience to it. Only Christ and the angels—and the saints in glory—perfectly obey God’s will of command.

So far Waldron agrees, although his presentation of reprobation is considerably softer than mine.

The Will of God: What God Desires or Wants

Waldron introduces a third idea: there is God’s will of decree, God’s will of command, and God’s will of desire. Waldron argues that God did not decree to save the reprobate (we agree against the Arminians), and that God commands the reprobate to repent and believe the gospel (we agree against the hyper-Calvinists), and that, therefore, God desires to save the reprobate (we disagree against Waldron and other advocates of the free offer). Waldron writes, “God commands, wills, and desires, the salvation of all who hear the gospel. On the other hand, … God has not decreed, or predestined, or willed, the salvation of all who hear the gospel” (42). “God earnestly desires the salvation of every man who hears the gospel. He sends them the gospel—with the desire, intention, and will—that they might be saved by it” (100). “God genuinely and sincerely desires the salvation of all those to whom we are preaching” (142). Citations from Waldron could be multiplied.

The problem with Waldron’s contention is his introduction of a facet of the will that Scripture does not reveal God to have. God decrees or determines all things (His will of decree or decretive will). God commands His creatures to do certain things (His will of command or perceptive will). These two facts are clearly revealed in Scripture as God’s will, but where does the Bible speak of God desiring something and especially of desiring something that does not occur?

In human beings a desire expresses an emotional attachment to something: if I desire something, but I do not have it, then I am sad, disappointed or frustrated, and must learn contentment with God’s will not to grant me my desire. If I desire something and do possess it, then I am happy, content or satisfied, but I must be careful not to have inordinate or even sinful desires, which the Bible calls lusts. If a human being has desires, he must find a way to fulfil his desires or he must ask someone—such as God—to fulfil his desires: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps. 37:4).

But we cannot speak thus of God. God is not disappointed, sad, or frustrated if He does not possess what He desires. God does not need to learn contentment to cope with unfulfilled and unsatisfied longings. God does not have to ask someone to fulfil His desires, for He is the Almighty. A god with unfulfilled desires is not the perfectly wise God of Scripture who knows exactly what to do in order to achieve His goal. What God desires, He decrees. What God does not desire, God does not decree. It really is that simple.

Why, then, does God command something that He has not decreed? Why did God command Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit, when He had determined that Adam should fall? Why did God command reprobate Cain to love his brother, when He had determined that Abel should die at his brother’s hand? Why did God command Joseph’s brothers to love him, when He had determined to save Israel by means of Joseph’s enslavement and future exaltation in Egypt? Why did God command reprobate Pharaoh to let Israel go and then harden his heart so that he did not let them go, since God had determined to deliver Israel through the ten plagues, the destruction of Egypt, and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? We could multiply biblical examples. And why does God command every reprobate person who hears the gospel to repent and believe, when He has determined not to give them saving faith and repentance?

Waldron’s answer, which is the answer of all advocates of the free offer, is that God did not decree it, but that God commands it, and therefore God desires it—He earnestly, sincerely, and passionately desires it. Or to put it differently, He wants it, although He knows that He can never have it because He has made it impossible for it to happen. Instead of electing the reprobate, He rejected them; instead of redeeming the reprobate, He excluded them from Christ’s satisfaction; instead of regenerating the reprobate, He hardened them in their sins—and yet we are supposed to believe that when God sends the gospel to (some of) the reprobate He wants them to repent, believe, and to be saved.

The answer is simply this: when God commands, He does not express His desires, but He simply expresses what is the duty of man. Because God is good, what He commands man to do is good. Because the law is the expression of the holiness and righteousness of God, the law is good (Rom. 7:12). Therefore, God commands man to keep His law because His law is the good standard according to which a man must live. The same thing applies to faith and repentance: faith and repentance are pleasing to God; therefore, a man should repent and believe. There really are only three possibilities: either faith and repentance are pleasing to God, or faith and repentance are displeasing to God, or God is indifferent with respect to faith and repentance. Only the first option is the truth: God is pleased with faith and repentance. The holiness and justice of God demand that the reprobate sinner repent and believe the gospel when he is confronted with the message of Christ crucified. But the gospel simply tells man what his duty is: it does not tell him whether God is pleased to save him or not; it is not in itself an expression of grace to a man; and it does not express God’s desire with respect to a man.

This is the teaching of the Canons of Dordt, which do not teach the free offer of the gospel, while at the same time they reject hyper-Calvinism. “Men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified” (Canons 1.3). “The wrath of God abideth upon those who believe not” (Canons 1.4). “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 published” (Canons 2.5). “God hath most earnestly and truly shown in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who are called should come to Him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him and believe on Him” (Canons 3/4.8).

In appealing to the last quotation of Dordt, Waldron uses the Schaff translation: “God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what will be acceptable to Him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation.”1 The Latin is “Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimirum, ut vocati ad se veniant.” One does not need to be a Latin scholar to see that “invitation” is not in the text. The Latin verbal form veniant comes from venire, which is the verb “to come.” (Readers who have studied French or Spanish will recognise that venir is the verb “to come” in those languages. Other readers may be familiar with Julius Caesar’s famous dictum, “Veni, vidi, vici,” which translates as, “I came, I saw, I conquered”). Homer Hoeksema, commenting on the Schaff translation, writes:

There is the most glaring inaccuracy of the translation, “… should comply with the invitation.” It is difficult to understand how the translators could ever arrive at such a rendering, except upon the basis that they deliberately attempted to insert their own view into the Canons and had themselves already lost the spirit of Dordrecht. For certainly the article in the original breathes nothing of an “invitation.” Both the Dutch and the Christian Reformed revision of the English render the Latin literally and accurately by “… should come unto him.” On the other hand, it is rather ironic that the Christian Reformed Church, which in 1924 principally adopted the Arminian view in their infamous First Point of Common Grace, should make this revision, and thus eliminate from our creeds any mention of any “invitation.”2

The difference should be glaringly obvious. The Bible never uses the word “invitation.” The confessions never use the word “invitation.” The Authorized Version of the Bible uses the verb “invite” in only three Old Testament passages, 1 Samuel 9:24; 2 Samuel 13:23; and Esther 5:12, but in each of those places the underlying verb is “call,” and the person inviting is not God. While some modern Bible versions use the verb “invite,” the biblical and creedal term is “call.” Waldron understands the difference: “‘Offer’ contains in it the notion of a proposal presented to someone which the one presenting it desires for the person to accept” (10). “The obligation savingly to believe the gospel is to be construed not simply as an authoritative demand, but as a gracious offer or invitation” (52).

While in English an “offer” or an “invitation” certainly implies graciousness on the part of the one making the offer or giving the invitation, the same is not true for the call of the gospel. That should be obvious, for an offer or invitation does not come with a threat to the one who does not come, but the call of the gospel certainly does: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16).

An invitation is not a subpoena!

So what must a person conclude when he hears the gospel? He must conclude this: Jesus Christ is a wonderful Savior and God commands me to believe in Him. What incentive does a person have? God promises eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. What warning does a person receive? If I do not believe, I will be damned—and justly. What should an unbeliever conclude about God’s disposition toward him: does God love him, desire his salvation, or want him to believe? An unbeliever can conclude nothing of the sort: he concludes only what his duty is, not what God has determined concerning him. An unbeliever can know this, however: faith and repentance are pleasing to God, while unbelief and impenitence, which are sins, are displeasing to God. Therefore, he should, nay, must, believe. And the preacher should unhesitatingly and unashamedly urge him to believe.

The Bible goes no further than that. The Bible need go no further than that. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains this very succinctly: “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (A. 3). The Scriptures do not teach what desires God may or may not have, for the Bible does not use those terms. The Bible simply states what God has decreed to do, some of which He has revealed, and what God commands us to do.

Waldron’s Appeal to John 5:34

Waldron devotes a whole chapter to one text, one to which to my knowledge no other advocate of the free offer has appealed, namely John 5:34: “But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.” To understand this text, we first survey the context.

At the beginning of John 5 Jesus heals an impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, which led to accusations of Sabbath-breaking against Him. Jesus does not defend His actions by categorizing His miracle an act of mercy, which He did on other occasions, but He gives a detailed explanation of His relationship to the Father. Since the Father is always working, Jesus works too, even on the Sabbath (v. 17). In brief, Jesus is the Son of the Father, which is a relationship of intimate love and affection (v. 20); He shares life with the Father (v. 26); and He enjoys open and free communication with the Father (vv. 19-20). His relationship with the Father is a relationship of communion and fellowship, therefore. Jesus also performs the works of the Father, such as quickening the dead (v. 21) and judging all men (v. 22), and Jesus is equal in glory and honor with the Father (v. 23).

Although as the Son of God Jesus does not need witnesses, He provides four witnesses to leave the Jews without excuse. The first witness is the Father, who sent Jesus into the world (vv. 30-32, 37). The second witness is John the Baptist, who as a burning and shining light testified of Jesus (vv. 33-35). The third witness is the miracles that Jesus performed (v. 36), which are the works that the Father sent Him to do (v. 36). The fourth, and final, witness is the Scriptures, which testify of Jesus and which the Jews must search, for in them they will find eternal life (vv. 39, 45-47). In connection with that fourfold testimony Jesus says, “These things I say, that ye might be saved” (v. 34).

Waldron argues a number of points from verse 34. First, the audience is unbelieving, which we grant: most, if not all, of the people in the audience were unbelievers, at least with respect to Jesus as the Messiah. They were religious Jews, not atheists. Nevertheless, they were Jews hostile to Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, and they even wanted to kill Him (v. 18). Second, the audience consisted of people who were finally lost, that is, reprobates. However, Waldron cannot prove that every hearer was reprobate, nor do we claim to be able to prove that any hearer was elect, nor is such proof necessary. We can agree that, with every public discourse in the gospel accounts, the audience was mixed. Third, Christ’s purpose in preaching was the salvation of His audience: “that ye might be saved,” where the word “that” expresses purpose and could be rendered “so that.” We agree that the primary purpose of Christ’s preaching and teaching ministry was salvation (Luke 9:56; 19:10; John 12:47). Nevertheless, that fact does not preclude a secondary purpose, which is the hardening of some. No preacher says to his audience, “I preach these things to you that you might be hardened,” and neither did Christ, although Christ recognized God’s sovereignty in His preaching, as do we. Ultimately, of course, God’s purpose in preaching was the glory of His Father. Indeed, Christ can say, “These things I say, that ye might be saved,” without implying that His purpose was the salvation of every hearer in the audience. Jesus does not say, “That every one of you might be saved,” but simply makes a general statement concerning His purpose in preaching. Fourth, since Jesus is the Son of God, His purpose (“that ye might be saved”) is God’s purpose; therefore, God purposed the salvation of Jesus’ audience, or Jesus’ words in John 5:34 are the expression of the will of God. We do not object to Waldron’s contention here, for certainly as the Son of God Christ expresses God’s purpose in the preaching, although we disagree that there is expressed here a desire for the salvation of all the hearers. Waldron concludes wrongly that, since Christ’s purpose, which is God’s purpose, in the preaching of the gospel is the salvation of the hearers, God must desire the salvation of the hearers—all the hearers—in John 5:34.

We disagree with Waldron on that last point. Christ does not speak of any desire or will—either His own desire or will or God’s desire or will—but only of His purpose. Therefore, we must not speak of the will of God’s precept, and certainly not of His desire, but of God’s will of decree, which is what He has purposed to do: God has purposed in Christ’s preaching the salvation of Christ’s hearers, although not all of Christ’s hearers. If Waldron wants to make application to the will of God’s precept, he must conclude that God commanded Christ’s hearers to believe and thus to be saved, but Waldron cannot prove that Christ desired the salvation of all His hearers, or that God’s desire was unfulfilled or thwarted. In fact, God did save Christ’s hearers—not all of them, of course—for many Jews who heard Christ’s preaching were saved, either on that day or at a later day, such as on the Day of Pentecost or during the days of the apostles after Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2:41, 47; Acts 6:7).

Final Arguments: Different Kinds of Love

While Waldron argues for the free offer in other ways, many of his arguments have been answered elsewhere, for example in the British Reformed Journal. We finish this critique by focusing on a cluster of arguments concerning the love of God. Waldron posits various kinds of love in God: the Almighty supposedly loves the elect in a certain sense, but He also loves the reprobate in a different sense, although at the same time God hates the reprobate. Or to put it differently, God loves and hates the reprobate, although He does not love and hate the elect. Waldron concedes that God hates the reprobate, but he also contends that “both God’s love for sinners and hatred for sinners must be carefully qualified” (40), adding that we should neither preach that God hates sinners “without careful qualification,” nor that we should preach that God loves sinners “without careful qualification” (40). For example, “God does not so love [sinners] as to cease demanding their repentance” (40). Moreover, writes Waldron, “you cannot preach a God who has nothing but hatred for the non-elect and not produce a people who tend to be like him” (40). Finally in this connection, Waldron contends that, if you teach that the preacher ought to desire the salvation of all his hearers, but you also teach that God does not desire the salvation of all, “the implication of this is that we are more loving and kind-hearted than God” (33).

We examine these arguments in turn.

First, the two kinds of love in God that Waldron posits are His love of benevolence and His love of complacency. We could add God’s love of beneficence. God’s love of benevolence is His goodwill: He wills (Latin: volentia) well (bene) for the objects of His love. God’s love of beneficence is His love according to which He does something good for the objects of His love: He does (Latin: ficus) well (bene) for His beloved. God’s love of complacency is the delight that He has in the objects of His love: He is pleased (Latin: placere) with (Latin: com) His beloved. While theologians use these distinctions, they are theological, not biblical, distinctions. Waldron argues that a father might have benevolence for the homeless people to whom he preaches in a mission—he wills their welfare and desires their salvation, although their sins and their filthy condition disgust him—but he has a love of complacency and delight in his own daughter (39). While we grant that with respect to man, Waldron does not prove any love for the reprobate from Scripture. The Bible does not teach that God loves the reprobate with the love of benevolence, while He withholds from them the love of beneficence or complacency. The Bible simply teaches that God does not love, but hates, the reprobate. Besides that, we are not God: we do not measure God by ourselves (Ps. 50:21). Indeed, Herman Bavinck, although an advocate of common grace, writes,

Now it is indeed possible to speak of God’s love to creatures or people in general (the love of benevolence), but for this the Scripture mostly uses the word “goodness,” and as a rule speaks of God’s love, like his grace, only in relation to his chosen people or church (the love of friendship).3

Therefore, God has goodwill (benevolence) for, does good (beneficence) for, and delights in (complacency) His elect only. God has no desire for the salvation of the reprobate; God does nothing for the salvation of the reprobate or even for the temporal welfare of the reprobate, and even when He gives them good gifts, He does not bless them. The Bible does not categorize gifts such as food, shelter, good health, riches and long life as blessings, but as snares (Ps. 73:18). Finally, God does not delight in the reprobate, but He loathes them.

Second, the idea that a preacher who desires the salvation of all his hearers is more loving and kind-hearted than God if God does not also desire the salvation of all hearers is absurd. God’s love, mercy or, grace is not measured by the number of its objects: when God loved Noah and his family (eight people), but hated and destroyed the rest of humanity, was God less loving and kind-hearted than Noah who presumably desired the salvation of his neighbors? God’s love is infinite. If God loved no one outside of Himself, His love would not be one whit less infinite: the Father loves the Son in the Holy Spirit within the Godhead with infinite love. If God loved only one man, (and remember that He loves an innumerable throng of men), His love directed toward that one man would be infinitely greater than the love that that one man could show his wife, his three children, his siblings, his parents, his grandparents, and all his neighbors. The infinity of God’s love is seen in the greatness of the gift that God bestowed upon His people, the greatness of that salvation, and the cost of that salvation. Our wishing something good for our neighbors—even if we earnestly desire their salvation, and even if a preacher preaches with that desire (Acts 26:29; Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1)—is nothing in comparison to God’s actually giving us salvation. While Paul might desire the salvation of all of his Jewish brethren, he understood that God had not purposed it, and, therefore, that God did not desire it. As Job writes, “What his soul desireth, even that [God] doeth” (Job 23:12). Paul was content to submit his desires to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God. Our desires are not the measure of God’s desires.

Finally, does “hard shell” Calvinism produce hateful people, that is, people with a “hard, compassionless view of the lost” (40)? Undoubtedly, there are people who twist the truth in that manner. There are some Calvinists who, shame on them, almost delight in the damnation of their fellow creatures. Nevertheless, Paul, who taught double predestination, was not such a “hard shell” Calvinist: he had great zeal for the salvation of lost sinners, which explains his life and ministry: he was willing to endure affliction for the salvation of souls, and the love of Christ constrained him (2 Cor. 5:14). Finally, the Canons of Dordt, the gold standard of Calvinism, forbid such an attitude toward the lost and perishing “As to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ” (Canons 3/4.15).

We do not need the free offer to motivate us to preach. We preach and pray with the earnest desire that people be saved. We know that it is not God’s purpose to save everyone, but since we do not know God’s purpose in individual cases, we preach and pray, trusting that God will perform His good pleasure. Since God is God, all His purposes will be fulfilled. For the believer, the pillow of God’s sovereignty should be the best place to rest his weary head. For the preacher, the truth that God has an elect people who will be saved only through the preaching of the gospel is motivation enough to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.


1 Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, repr. 2007), 3: 565-66.

2 Homer C. Hoeksema, The Voice of Our Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980), 485.

3 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2 God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 215.