The OPC and the “Free Offer” (5)

As we have already noted, the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet, The Free Offer of the Gospel, makes absolutely no appeal to the Reformed confessions for support. This in itself is a bad sign. There are indeed extra-confessional matters, that is, matters to which the confessions do not address themselves. And on such matters it is to be expected that appeal is made directly to Scripture. This is surely permissible, provided that whatever view is developed directly on the basis of Scripture does not conflict with the confessions even by implication. However, the matter of salvation, God’s will with respect to the heirs of salvation, the way of salvation, the gospel, the proclamation of the gospel — all these are by no stretch of the imagination such extra-confessional matters. The confessions, both of Presbyterian and of Reformed origin, speak plainly on these subjects. And for this reason, it is a bad sign, a negative recommendation, when the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet simply by-passes the confessions without so much as mentioning them. This is not Reformed methodology. And this may well be stressed in a day when the creeds are largely ignored and belittled. For Reformed churches the creeds are decisive; they are the criterion according to which any view is to be judged. They are the standard of what is orthodox and what is not orthodox. For this reason, too, it is of the utmost importance that Reformed people thoroughly know and understand their confessions; and therefore it is of the utmost importance that they be instructed in and according to the confessions from their youth up. No communion of churches can long remain strong and faithful where such instruction is neglected. Let us never forget this! 

This criticism is all the more appropriate with respect to the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet when we bear in mind that it was originally the report of a committee appointed by the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and that therefore the General Assembly also was guilty of a breach of Reformed methodology in by-passing the confessions. This should never be allowed! In Reformed churches a man is guilty of heresy when he is convicted on the basis of the confessions; there is no need to proceed any further. Why? Because all agree to abide by the teaching of the confessions as the doctrine set forth by the Scriptures; and all agree not to militate against the teaching of the confessions. Hence, it is not necessary to judge a doctrine except on the basis of the confessions. It is not necessary to prove over and over again that the doctrine of the confessions is that of Scripture — unless objections to the confessions themselves should arise by way of filing a gravamen, a charge of error, against them. And it is wrong to by-pass the confessions either to support or to contradict some view that is contrary to them. 

On this basis it would be perfectly legitimate to end our discussion of the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet right now. We have abundantly proved it to be contrary to the confessions. And if I were involved in an ecclesiastical process of protest and appeal against the views set forth in this pamphlet, I would insist that the only proper standard of judgment is the confessions. 

However, we are not engaged in such an ecclesiastical process. And besides, the fact that this pamphlet attempts to appeal to Scripture necessitates a review of the Scripture passages treated, in order to show that even this attempted appeal to Scripture is an utter failure. There is not an iota of proof to be found in Scripture for the “free offer” theology. 

This also holds true for the recent booklet by Erroll Hulse, The Free Offer. An exposition of common grace and the free invitation of the Gospel. Pastor Hulse is an English Baptist minister. It was rather surprising to find that he at least makes reference to the Westminster Confession (VII, 3) and to the Canons of Dordrecht (II, 5). Both references are faulty. That from the Westminster is only partial and taken out of context. That from the Canons does not so much as mention the word “offer,” but speaks of the “promise of the gospel” and the fact that this promise “ought promiscuously, and without distinction, to be declared and published to all men.” Even this article is not correctly quoted; significantly Mr. Hulse omits the limitation, “to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel,” — a clause which already contradicts the offer-theory by implication. But Pastor Hulse at least refers to the confessions, though he does not use them for support of his view. When it comes to the latter, he also appeals to Scripture directly, though, as we shall see, erroneously. 

Hence, in this section of our critique we will consider ‘the Scriptural evidence adduced by those who hold to the “free offer” view. 

There are two rather striking facts about the Scriptural proofs attempted by both the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet and by the Hulse pamphlet. 

The first is that both of these pamphlets proceed from the theory of “common grace” in their argumentation in favor of the “free offer.” This is very strange. For so-called “common grace” has always been differentiated from “saving grace.” But the “free offer” is supposed to be concerned with a will of God unto salvation. The theory of “common grace” posits an attitude of favor and blessing on the part of God toward all men in the things of this present time — for example, in rain and sunshine, health and happiness, etc. “Common grace” allegedly has nothing to do with eternity. According to it, a man may very well be the recipient of temporal favors of God all his lifetime, but be damned in hell forever. In fact, it is exactly characteristic of the theory of “common grace” that it separates between time and eternity. Yet, as we said, the “free offer” has to do with salvation and with an alleged will of God that the reprobate, as well as the elect, should be saved. 

This we find to be rather striking, we say. And the question arises immediately: what is the connection? “Common grace” is supposed to be by definition anon-saving grace. But the “free offer” by definition maintains a “desire on the part of God for the salvation of all,” (Murray-Stonehouse, p. 4). Erroll Hulse states bluntly: “The subject of common grace is inescapably connected with the free offer. It is not possible to deal adequately with the question of the offer without getting to grips with the subject of common grace.” (pp. 4, 5) And when he faces the question of the connection between “common grace” and the “free offer,” he writes, p. 7: “We have noted that the goodness of God extends to fallen mankind as a whole, not only in the provision of fruitful seasons, food and gladness, but in a multiplicity of benefits. But does God wish the very highest good for men, the highest blessing being eternal salvation? We say, Yes! The quotation just made from Acts 17 shows that common grace finds its fullest expression in the provision of a Gospel to be addressed to all without exception.” But when he writes thus, he is departing from the definition of common grace as “non-saving.” He is confusing so-called “common grace” and so-called “saving grace.” The Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet actually does the same thing, but not quite so bluntly. In writing about Matt. 5:44-48, Murray and Stonehouse say: “This passage does not indeed deal with the overtures of grace in the gospel. But it does tell us something regarding God’s benevolence that has bearing upon all manifestations of divine grace.” (italics added) 

Those of our readers who are acquainted with the First Point of 1924 will recall that the doctrine of the well-meant offer was almost accidentally adopted as aproof for the theory of “common grace” (a supposedly temporal and non-saving grace toward the reprobate.) The Synod of 1924~in its desperation to find proof for “common (non-saving) grace” appealed to the theory of the general, well-meant offer of salvation, and then tried to adduce Scriptural and confessional proof for the latter theory. 

We may well face the question: is there, indeed, a connection between the two, in spite of the fact that the theory of “common grace” has historically tried to distinguish “common grace” as having nothing to do with salvation? Our answer is: Yes! And our reasons are as follows: 

1. We have just cited three instances of those who, whether intentionally or somewhat by accident and through ignorance, maintain such a connection. 

2. In the “Dekker Case” in the Christian Reformed Church during the 1960’s this same connection was claimed; and there were those who wanted to eliminate any distinction between two different graces. 

3. The theory of a non-saving grace of God is actually an impossible theory. Logically it is impossible to entertain. How can God be favorably inclined toward a man, and at the same time be filled with hatred against him, so that He damns that man forever? Or: what kind of grace is it which lets a man go lost? Because of this inherent contradiction, no one can long entertain the theory of a common grace of God before he comes to the conclusion that God also wills and desires the salvation of the reprobate. To be sure, he then still faces the inherent contradiction between this desire to save the reprobate and the decree of eternal reprobation. But that difficulty is solved, of course, by ignoring or denying the latter. What is left, then, is rank universalism. 

4. From another point of view, the theory of “common grace” and the theory of the “free offer” are both intrinsically universalistic. They differ as respects their ends, their results, their manifestations. But they have a common origin: a universal favor of God. This is evidently the approach of the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet, which nevertheless does not explicitly point to a connection between “common grace” and the “free offer.” 

True, Dr. Abraham Kuyper wanted to distinguish “common grace” sharply as having nothing to do with salvation; and when it came to the matter of salvation, he insisted upon sovereign, particular grace. But it seems apparent that ultimately such an attempted distinction is doomed to failure. “Common grace” and the Arminianism of the “free offer” have their common ancestor ‘in a universal favor of God which includes the reprobate. 

The second striking thing fact about both the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet and the Hulse pamphlet is that they cite many of the very same passages of Scripture which were cited in 1924 for the theory of “common grace.” I cannot escape the impression, in fact, that Pastor Hulse failed to do much homework when it came to the exegesis of these passages, but rather slavishly followed Murray and Stonehouse. Nevertheless, the passages of Scripture are very familiar to us of the Protestant Reformed Churches; and we have long ago learned that they lend no support, in the light of the current teaching of Scripture, to a theory of “common grace.” 

Next time, D.V., we shall begin to take a look at these passages.

We have earlier referred to an excellent treatise on the subject of the “free offer” published by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. This brochure is entitled Universalism And The Reformed Churches. It refers to the offer-theology as “modern modified Calvinism.” This brochure has many fine arguments; and we agree with its main thrust of opposition to the offer-theory. However, we find inconsistent—and ultimately impossible to maintain—its insistence upon common grace in the following paragraph on page 8: “Lest we be misunderstood when we deny the universality of the love of God, let it be cleary understood, that we are controverting the fact that God is good to all, for ‘He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.’ (Matt. 5:45). Rather, we are concerned with refuting the doctrine which teaches that God’s goodness in sending temporal blessings upon all, is indicative of His love and longsuffering in redemption toward the non-elect, and a desire in Him that they might be saved. We maintain that the gospel is given for the purpose of separating the elect from the reprobate, and in the providence of God, in the case of the latter who hear it, for their greater condemnation.” 

To the brethren of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia we suggest: 

1. That apart from this question of the “offer,” they should give confessional and Biblical account of this whole idea of temporal blessings — the traditional “common grace” theory. We believe they will discover it to be incorrect. 

2. That they should consider the fact that the theory of “common grace” itself — apart from the offer-theory — has implications for life which are not acceptable. This is evident from the devastating results of the theory both in the Netherlands and in the U.S. The theory of “common grace” necessarily involves one in a denial .of the antithesis and of the antithetical calling of the Christian.

3. That they should also consider the close historical and doctrinal connection between “common grace” and the very offer-theory which they combat. I am afraid that if they concede “common grace,” they will be helpless to combat the offer – theory . 

We invite further discussion of this from the Evangelical Presbyterian brethren.

Editor’s Notes 

SEMINARY DEDICATION. February 1 has been set as the date for the Dedication Program for the new building of our Protestant Reformed Seminary. Plans are to have the program in First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, and to have open house at the new building, 4949 Ivanrest Avenue, S.W., on the afternoons of February 1 and 2. We are giving this advance notice so that you may reserve the date. And by “you” we do not mean only our Grand Rapids readers. We would like to see delegations of visitors from near and far. This is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a momentous occasion in our almost 50 years of Protestant Reformed history. If at all possible, make the trip, and share the joyful occasion. 

GREMLINS? We haven’t determined just who was at work in the December 1 issue. But somehow the names were scrambled, and the Rev. M. Schipper was credited with the News Feature about our Randolph, Wisconsin church building. He was probably more surprised than I was; nevertheless, credit where credit is due — in this case, to your editor, not to Rev. Schipper.

QUESTION BOX had to be omitted in this issue, due to lack of space. We hope to catch up in the next issue on the two questions presently waiting for an answer.

Muddled Theologizing 

I find it extremely difficult to take the theologizing of Dr. James Daane seriously. 

The doctor has been preoccupied of late with the claim that Report 36/44 and the Christian Reformed decision on the Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture support his particular brand of theology, especially his outlandish claim that God revealed Himself “to save men, not to damn them, and that God being this kind of God, revealed himself in a saving revelation.” This is, of course, a brand of universalism. And in order to rescue his view from the simple fact that not all men are saved, but that some who come into contact with God’s revelation through Scripture go lost, Daane comes up with the old Arminian heresy of conditional reprobation. The strange thing is that whenever Dr. Daane gets on this “kick,” he engages in a tirade against the theology of Herman Hoeksema. I call this strange because, though Daane is writing about the thinking of Christian Reformed ministers, Herman Hoeksema developed almost all of his theology outside of the Christian Reformed Church and because his theology was officially repudiated in 1924 and was contrary to the prevailing theology in the Christian Reformed Church, the theology probably to be credited more to Prof. W. Heyns than to any other. Daane does this again in The Banner of December 7, 1973, pp. 6, 7. And he devotes about three-fourths of his article to a diatribe against Hoeksema’s theology, as usual also getting in a few licks against Dr. Cornelius Van Til, and even to an extent putting poor Louis Berkhof theologically in bed with Hoeksema. 

I will not weary the reader with a detailed account of Daane’s latest outburst. There is nothing new in it. 

My purpose is to explain why I find it difficult to take the doctor’s theologizing seriously. 

In the first place, I find this difficult because Daane simply pontificates, without ever proving his contentions. In a way Dr. Daane is a rather able writer. He knows how to use words and how to turn a phrase and make a point. He also knows the technique of drumming his theology into people by means of repetition. But he never proves what he says, never backs up with chapter-and-verse his criticisms of the views of others, and seldom makes even a semblance of doing so. It is my contention that sound theologizing and a good theologian expect no one to accept theology on the mere say-so of the theologian. But this is apparently Daane’s method of theologizing. And I, for one, cannot accept this, nor take it seriously. 

In the second place, I cannot take it seriously because Daane distorts; and, in view of the fact that these distortions have several times over the years been called to his attention, I am afraid that he distortsdeliberately. Personally, I think he even distorts Report 36/44 and uses it to ride his own theological hobby-horse. Understand, I have no love for Report 36/44. I think it is a poor piece of work and that it sets forth some bad theology. But I am inclined to doubt whether that Report at least intended to use the term “saving” as the opposite of damning. However that may be, when it comes to the theology of Herman Hoeksema, Daane almost invariably distorts and misrepresents. Frequently there is a grain of truth in Daane’s description of Hoeksema’s theology; but that grain of truth is so swaddled in distortions of Daane’s own manufacture that anyone who is acquainted with Hoeksema’s theology would not recognize it after it has been through Daane’s theological mill. This is the case, for example, with Daane’s presentation of Hoeksema’s view of God’s love and grace and mercy in the article I referred to. It is also the case with Daane’s presentation of Hoeksema in Daane’s most recent book, The Freedom of God, which I expect to review. Moreover, the distortions are evil: they always tend to make the God of Hoeksema’s theology appear as a cold and tyrannical ogre—just as the Arminians tried to do with the God of our Reformed fathers at the time of the Synod of Dordt. And, as might be expected, Daane also distorts the Canons, making them teach an unconditional election, but a conditional reprobation, and that, too, in the name of infralapsarianism. Perhaps he may fool the unwary with such a distortion; but he will never fool anyone who knows the Canons and their history. 

In the third place, Daane weasels with words. He does this with the terms “unconditional” and “conditional” and with the terms “responsive” and “non-responsive”—as though “conditional” in Reformed theological parlance has ever meant the same as “responsive” or as though “unconditional” ever meant that God does not respond in His grace and mercy and is not moved to compassion toward His people in their misery. But how, pray, can one take Daane’s theologizing seriously if he pours a content into theological terms which they simply do not have? 

And, finally, I cannot take Daane’s theologizing seriously because he insists on having the tail wag the dog. How tired that poor tail, the Conclusion of the Canons, must be getting—trying to wag the entire body of the Canons! Yes, the doctor is still trying to twist the Canons by means of his and Berkouwer’s distorted idea of the non eodem modo, the teaching that God does not elect and reprobate “in the same manner” of the Canons’ Conclusion. 

As stated before, I intend to review Daane’s most recent book; and I also expect to expose some of the distortions which appear in it. I do so, however, only in the hope of instructing some of his readers, not in the hope of bringing Daane to see the light with regard to his theologizing. He seems to pay no attention. 

And I cannot take his theologizing seriously. 

For it is basically dishonest.