GREEN SHEET. Your attention is called to the Green Sheet enclosed with this issue. Please take note of the combination book-and-subscription offers on this sheet. Here is an opportunity to obtain good Reformed literature and a subscription or a renewal-subscription to our magazine at bargain prices. If you are looking for gift ideas, here they are!
SPECIAL ARTICLES. In this issue some of our regular departments have been crowded out by several special articles. First of all, we call your attention to the Thanksgiving Feature from the pen of Rev. Rodney Miersma. While we mention this, we wish to make mention of the fact that several of our ministers who are not staff members have agreed to contribute one or more articles to our magazine. They are: Rev. R. Moore, Rev. R. Miersma, Rev. W. Bekkering, Rev. R. Van Overloop, and Rev. M. Kamps. We thank these brethren for their willingness. Secondly, you will find in this issue three articles about our Jamaica Mission—one from the Mission Committee, one from Missionary Lubbers, and one from Candidate Mark H. Hoeksema. Mr. Hoeksema is a 1973 graduate of our seminary who was appointed by our Mission Committee to assist Rev. Lubbers for several months. Mr. and Mrs. Hoeksema will be in Jamaica, the Lord willing, until about Christmas time. Meanwhile, Mr. Hoeksema has accepted the call to our Forbes, North Dakota congregation where he expects to take up his labors sometime after the first of the year. In the third place, you will find in this issue a special article by Mr. Jon Huisken from our Theological School Committee. By means of these articles we are trying to keep our readers informed concerning our denominational affairs. Finally, a special word of thanks goes to my colleague, Prof. H. Hanko, who is editing the department which appears in each issue of this Fiftieth Volume, The Standard Bearer in Retrospect.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. Through an oversight, we failed to acknowledge those responsible for the anniversary symbols being used throughout this volume. They are Mr. Ronald Hanko, a pre-sem student at our Theological School, and Mr. Randall Meyer of First Church. Thanks!
QUESTION BOX. We have on hand several interesting questions for this department, and your editor fully intended to make a beginning in answering them in this issue. However, this will have to wait until next time, due to a week-long bout with some persistent flu bugs on the part of your editor.
The OPC and the “Free Offer” (4)
CONTRARY TO THE CONFESSIONS (continued)
We have been busy, in our recent articles on the above subject, evaluating the theory of the “Free Offer” in the light of our Reformed confessions. Murray and Stonehouse in their pamphlet do not appeal to the confessions at all. In the Clark Case, which gave rise to the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet, it was at least attempted (though it was a dismal failure) to criticize Dr. Clark on the basis of the creeds. We, however, refuse to be bound by the failure of the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet to appeal to the confessions. It is Reformed methodology always to look to the confessions first, and not to turn directly to Scripture when testing any doctrine. Why? Not because the confessions are on a par with Scripture, but because the confessions contain the systematic exposition of what Reformed (or Presbyterian.) churches believe to be the truth set forth by Scripture. Hence, if we want to know what Presbyterians hold to be the truth of the Word of God, we look to the Presbyterian creeds; if we want to know what the Reformed hold to be the truth of the Word of God, we look to the Three Forms of Unity. And if we want to test any doctrine in Presbyterian or Reformed churches, we apply the test of the confessions first.
We maintain that if this test is applied to the theory of the “Free Offer,” it will be discovered that the theory is entirely foreign to the spirit and the letter of the confessions. The confessions are particularistic throughout. They breathe an entirely different spirit than that which is breathed by the doctrine of the “free offer.” The theory of the “free offer ” sets aside (though giving lipservice) the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation, and sets up a general will of God unto salvation. The theory of the “free offer” sets aside the doctrine of definite, or particular, atonement; and while in most cases the “Reformed” proponents of the offer-theory do not dare accept the logical consequence of universal atonement which follows from their theory, yet even in this regard they find it necessary to weasel with words. And in some instances (as in the infamous Dekker Case, which grew directly out of the offer-theory of (1924!) the atonement is openly generalized. Why? Because even a child can understand that if Christ died only for the elect, there simply is no salvation to offer the reprobate. The same is true of the doctrine of the calling. The confessions teach plainly the doctrine of irresistible grace and effectual calling. But the whole spirit of the offer-theory militates against the doctrine of effectual calling. Yes, I know, the offer-theoreticians will loudly claim that they hold to the doctrine of effectual calling: as Reformed men, theymust do so. But in the preaching, effectual calling is silenced; and the “offer” is given the prominence. You see, it makes no sense to anyone to say that God wills the salvation of all and lovingly offers salvation to all and at the same time to say that He effectually calls only some and brings them to salvation. But there is more involved in adhering to the doctrine of effectual calling, you see, than that it is a doctrine explaining the fact that only some heed the preaching and believe. It is Reformed not merely to adhere to this doctrine as an explanation of men’s reaction to the preaching of the Word, but to proclaim this truth as an integral part of the good news of salvation! And if you hold to the offer-theory, you simply cannot do this. Still more, implicitly if not explicitly the offer-theory must lead to a denial of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. Why? When you make an offer, this implicitly assumes ability to accept the offer on the part of those to whom it is made. It makes as much sense to offer salvation to a man dead in trespasses and sins as to offer life to corpses in the cemetery if only they will accept! And again, remember, please, that this affects thepreaching. Total depravity is not merely a neat theory to explain the necessity of sovereign grace. No, it isReformed to say that total depravity, the doctrine that man is dead in trespasses and sins, is an integral part of the good news! Does not our Heidelberg Catechism beautifully stress this when it teaches that to enjoy the only comfort in life and death the first thing I must know is: how great my sins and miseries are?
All of the above deserves to be emphasized. In the first place, it renders suspect the entire approach of the proponents of the offer-theory that they do not appeal (and cannot appeal!) to the confessions for their theory. In the second place, it reminds us of the importance of knowing our confessions. Not only must ministers and elders know the confessions, but also all of God’s people should be thoroughly immersed in the confessions. The confessions should be of the very fiber of our being. We should understand the line and the whole method of thinking of our confessions, not just some individual articles to use as ammunition against this or that theory. And we must learn more and more to think confessionally. Then such theories as that of the “offer” could never gain entrance among Reformed people. For the entire theory is out-of-kilter with the line of thought presented in our Reformed creeds.
Now we turn again to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The first article which we quote is of special interest because the term offereth occurs in it. We refer to Chapter VII, 3:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second (Gal 3:21; Rom. 8:3; Rom. 3:20-21; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 42:6), commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16; Rom. 10:6, 9; Gal 3:11), and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe (Ezek. 36:26, 27; John 6:44-45).
Now those who hold to the offer-theory in Presbyterian circles will be quick to grasp at an article like this. But they are grasping at straws. Let alone the fact that the article indeed employs the term “offereth,” (though not in the current sense), and let alone the fact that the article itself by no means speaks of a general offer, but is particularistic, are you going to rest an entire theory, and that, too, a theory which militates against the thought of the entire confession upon a single use of the word “offereth” in an article which by no stretch of the imagination can be said to set forth a doctrine of an “offer?” To say the least, this is poor theologizing!
But let us examine the article. In the old Clark Case the complainants said that they found it strange that Dr. Clark was reluctant to admit that the gospel is an offer and an invitation; and they appealed to this article of the Westminster Confession to condemn this reluctance of Dr. Clark. In commenting on this, Rev. H. Hoeksema wrote as follows in Volume 21, page 408:
But how superficial is the reasoning of the complainants here! Dr. Clark is reluctant to speak of the gospel as an offer and “invitation” in the sense in which the Arminians, and also the complainants use these terms. They understand these terms as meaning that in the gospel God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobates. But the Westminster Confession in the passage quoted knows nothing of this modern connotation of the terms. This should be evident from the fact that the word offered is used in the sense of the Latine “offert” from obfero, and may be translated just as well by “present”. (Or: set forth. In the Dutch: voorstellen. HCH) But that it was far from the minds of the authors of the Westminster to teach that in the gospel God is sincerely seeking the salvation of the reprobate is especially evident from the rest of the same passage: “and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” This, then, is the promise of the covenant, the promise that must be preached: God will give to all the elect His Spirit. But the complainants are not satisfied with this. They insist that Dr. Clark must preach and teach “that in the gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect.”
The Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet and all who hold to the offer-theory teach and believe that God is filled with an earnest desire to save all men, elect and reprobate alike.
To anyone who can read, it is plain that this theory is in irreconcilable conflict with the Westminister Confession, which consistently teaches that God wills to save and does save, and that, too, by sovereign grace, only His beloved elect.
The former position Reformed believers must reject and abandon.
To the latter position they must cling if they wish to be Reformed. For what the confessions teach is Reformed, and that only.