The Reformed doctrine of the preaching of the gospel must sail between the Scylla of hyper-Calvinism and the Charybdis of Arminianism. On the one hand is the rock of hyper-Calvinism which denies that the call of the gospel comes, in all seriousness, to everyone who hears the preaching, elect and reprobate alike. On the other hand is the whirlpool of Arminianism which makes the preaching a well-meant offer of God to all who hear. The Reformed view, and practice, of preaching must neither be smashed on the one nor sucked down into the other.
We have already defended the Reformed conception of preaching against hyper-Calvinism in the second and third articles of this series. It remains to give account of Reformed preaching over against objections raised against it by those who maintain a free offer.
Those who advocate a well-meant offer of grace insist that the offer is essential for free, unfettered preaching, especially for preaching directed to the unconverted in missions. They argue that, the denial of an offer inhibits missions, or evangelism, by restricting the call of the gospel. Their argument seems to be, first, that a church, or preacher, that does not believe that God is gracious to all men, will not desire, or dare, to preach to all men; secondly, that this church, or preacher, will not have a message to bring to every man; and, thirdly, that such a church, or preacher, will be unable to call every man, urgently and seriously, to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus Christ.
Through the years, this has been the defense of its doctrine of the well-meant offer by the Christian Reformed Church. H. J. Kuiper was representative when he wrote: “One of the most serious aspects of the present denial of the doctrine of Common Grace is the denial of the general offer of salvation. It robs the gospel of its evangelical note. It is bound in time to create an attitude of religious passivism and fatalism which has been the curse of every church where the preaching of election was not counter-balanced by the proclamation of the sinner’s responsibility and of God’s sincere offer of salvation to all without discrimination.”¹ Lately, the Calvinistic Baptists have been echoing these charges. In his booklet, “The Free Offer,” Erroll Hulse calls the rejection of the offer “hyper-Calvinism,” which denies that all men should be “invited” to come to Christ (p. 14); denies that faith is a duty (p. 14); minimizes the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners. (p. 15); and threatens the church that succumbs to it with death (p. 14).
Significantly, Harold Dekker used precisely the same arguments when he pleaded for the implications of the well-meant offer: universal redemptive love and universal atonement. He wrote: “The doctrine of limited atonement . . . impairs the principle of the universal love of God and tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity.”² This same thought he later expressed positively: “The conviction that God loves all men and that Christ died for all . . . could revolutionize the missionary motivation and program of our Church and make us truly effective in the evangelization of the United States and Canada.”³
The various defenders of the offer of the gospel are agreed that, unless a church believes that God is gracious to all men and desires to save all men, it will not zealously carry out Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Dekker merely brought out what is inherent in this position when he insisted that, unless a preacher can say to every man, “God loves you, and Christ died for you,” it is impossible to do the work of missions. Essentially, this is the position that the basis of missions is universal grace.
Dekker’s unambiguous, forthright defense of universal redemptive love and universal atonement in the name of missions was a singularly clear indication that the kindred defense of a well-meant offer as something indispensable for missions is nothing else than a variation of the old, old charge by the Pelagian-Roman Catholic-Arminian party, that the Reformed doctrine of eternal, sovereign predestination, election and reprobation, destroys lively preaching, especially to those outside the Church. Now, it is indeed true that the Reformed faith denies—and the Pelagians, Roman Catholics, and Arminians have always understood this well, thus showing themselves wiser than many who claim the name Reformed today—that preaching in general and missions in particular have any basis in a love, or grace of God for all men or a desire of God that all men be saved. But the Reformed faith has always repudiated as wholly groundless and totally false the allegation that this in any way hinders the full, free activity of preaching the gospel, whether that be preaching within the established church or preaching to the unconverted.
The proof of the Reformed position is evident to all. The apostle Paul was an avowed, ardent predestinarian, holding double predestination, election and reprobation (Rom. 9). As a predestinarian, he did not believe, nor did he ever preach, that God loved all men, was gracious to all men, and desired the salvation of all men, i.e., he did not believe nor teach the well-meant offer of the gospel. On the contrary, the apostle believed and proclaimed that God loved and chose unto salvation some men, and some men only (Rom. 9:11-13; Rom. 9:21-24; Rom. 11:5), hating and reprobating others (Rom. 9:13; Rom. 9:21, 22). He taught that God is gracious only to the elect (Rom. 9:15; II Tim. 1:9), enduring, blinding, and hardening the others (Rom. 9:22; Rom. 9:18; Rom. 11:7). He held that the preaching of the gospel, so far from being grace to all hearers, is a savor of death unto death to some (II Cor. 2:15, 16), in accordance with God’s purpose in bringing the Word to them, which purpose is not a saving purpose, but the purpose to render them inexcusable and harden them (Rom. 9:18 —cf. also Jesus’ words in John 12:37-41). Paul did not regard the preaching of the gospel as an offer of salvation to everybody, directed to everybody in a universal love of God and providing everybody with a chance to be saved. Instead, he viewed the preaching of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), as the creative call of God that calls the things that be not as though they were (Rom. 4:17), and as the mighty voice of the risen Christ that raises the dead (II Tim. 1:10). Such a quickening, renewing, enlightening power is the preaching unto God’s elect. This is true, not merely because it turns out to be the case that only the elect are saved by the gospel, but because God in the sovereignty of His grace limits the gospel as a saving power to the elect. The preaching of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation is dependent on and governed by God’s eternal decree of predestination. Romans 8:30 teaches this: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” God sends the gospel as a saving power only to those whom He has predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, and the gospel efficaciously saves every one to whom it is directed.
But this doctrine did not stand in the way of Paul’s engaging, fervently and energetically, in the work of missions. (To state such an obvious truth seems faintly ridiculous—those who assail predestination and the Reformed faith as inimical to missions are responsible for this foolishness.) The greatest predestinarian was the greatest missionary, and he was the latter because he was the former. He went preaching the glad tidings to the ends of the earth, and he willingly endured every imaginable hardship in the course of this labor (recall the marvelous list of sufferings in II Corinthians 11), “for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Tim. 2:10).
Are we really, to suppose that, when it came to missions, the apostle set aside the doctrine of predestination, as a teaching irrelevant to missions at best or as a teaching detrimental to missions and embarrassing at worst, in order to ground the activity of missions in, and to motivate the missionary by, notions of a universal love and grace of God and a desire of God to save all men, notions that are not merely extraneous to the doctrine of predestination, but that are in direct conflict with it?
Is this, really, a Reformed man’s defense of missions today—that missions are possible in spite of predestination?
How utterly foreign to Paul’s thought!
How demeaning to the doctrine of predestination!
How inherently destructive of the doctrine of predestination! If lively, unfettered preaching, evangelism, and missions cannot find, their solid foundation and dynamic impetus in predestination, then predestination has to go—such is the Christian consciousness.
The basis for missions, for urgent proclamation of the gospel to all and sundry, is the theology of predestination; With this conviction, gotten from and strengthened by Holy Scripture, we proceed to give account of our denial of a well-meant offer, in response to the charge that, without a love of God for all and a desire of God to save all, we destroy missions.
(to be continued)
¹ The Three Points of Common Grace” (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1925). p. 13.
² “God So Loved-All Men!,” The Reformed Journal, Dec., 1962, p. 7.
³ “Limited Atonement and Evangelism,” The Reformed Journal, May-June, 1964, p. 24.