Since our discussion of this subject is rather protracted and has been frequently interrupted, it may be well to remind ourselves of the question under discussion. In general, it is this: is the doctrine of a “free offer” of the gospel, as set forth in the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet, The Free Offer Of The Gospel, and as maintained by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (among others!), consistent with our Reformed confessions?
More specifically, we are investigating the confessional correctness or incorrectness of the proposition that there is in God “a real attitude, a real disposition of lovingkindness inherent in the free offer to all.” This, we must remember, is the fundamental thesis implicit in the theory of a “free offer.” In one form or another, all who hold to this theory make it plain that they hold to some kind of “common grace.” This is very plain already in the introductory section of the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet. In it we read, p. 4: “The word ‘desire’ has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare perceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.” Here the matter is very plain, at least if one is not fooled by some of the jargon and sleight-of-hand switch in terminology. For notice, in the first place, that the main proposition here is very simple: “God delights that those to whom the offer comes (reprobate as well as elect, HCH) would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.” It is rather tragic, however, that educated and learned men, especially when they wish to cling so tenaciously to a certain doctrine, cannot express themselves more clearly and precisely. If they would, of course, their Arminianism and their contradiction of the Reformed position would stand out in sharp relief! But now the waters must be muddied. Notice: 1) That the authors have already made it plain that they do not mean by this theory the decretive will of God. That, of course, would be too plain a contradiction of the Reformed doctrine of double predestination. 2) But neither do they mean “the bare perceptive will of God.” Well, of course not! An offer, after all, is by no means the same as a precept, a command, a demand. True, there belongs to the gospel the command to repent and believe; and although this is not all of the gospel, at least the error would not have been so serious if the authors had only meant to stress the demand of faith and repentance. But mark you well, the authors themselves do not intend this; they say so in plain words. And it’s well that we pay attention to this difference. For it is certainly Reformed to say — and we as Protestant Reformed do indeed teach — that in the promiscuous proclamation of the gospel the demand of faith and repentance comes to all who hear the preaching. Let there be no mistake on that score! But neither let anyone confuse this with a general offer! The adherents of the offer-theory mean something different. 3) But now begins the sleight-of-hand. First it is: “. . . in the offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God . . . “ (italics added) But now notice the substitution of ideas: “ln other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation. . . .” (italics added) As though “the bare preceptive will of God” is equivalent to “simply an offer or invitation”! This is playing with words. 4) But even this is not enough. It must be made plain, too, that the offer means that God actually delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.
At this point, however, it would seem that the authors feel they have gone a little too far in stressing what in the next paragraph they again call “a real disposition of lovingkindness inherent in the offer to all.” For in the conclusion of the paragraph they throw some sand in the eyes of the reader: “And the word ‘desire’ has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live. It might as well have been said, ‘It pleases God that the wicked repent and be saved.’ ”
Now here is a stellar example of the kind of language which confuses the simple and unwary and which is (deliberately?) calculated to try to drive any denier of the offer-theory between a rock and a hard place. If anyone denies the well-meant offer, he is now going to be suspect of denying Ezekiel 33:11. And that, of course, is much worse than being against apple pie or motherhood. But let me make it crystal clear: 1) That I do not deny Ezekiel 33:11. When the proper time comes in the later discussion of this pamphlet and this offer-view, we will explain the passage. 2) That I can even defend the proposition, “It pleases God that the wicked repent and be saved,” — though not in the context in which the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet paraphrasesEzekiel 33:11. 3) That it is by no means the same to say, “It pleases God that the wicked repent and be saved,” as to say, “God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.” The former statement can be understood to mean that it is right in God’s sight that the wicked repent, and that He is pleased to save those who do repent. The latter statement can only mean that God is so filled withlovingkindness toward those to whom the “offer” comes (reprobate as well as elect!) that He wants them all to enjoy salvation. And the latter, of course, is nothing but universalism!
Would that the proponents of the offer-theory would use in their explanations of their theory language that is as precise and unequivocal as is the language of our confessions in setting forth the truth of sovereign, particular grace! Then all would know where they stand, and then the people would not be confused.
We shall have to return to this matter of linguistic hocus-pocus later: for the pamphlet is replete with such confusing language.
But now let us return to the business at hand.
We have been demonstrating that the offer-theory is contrary to out Reformed creeds. And thus far we have limited our proofs to Chapter III of the Westminster Confession of Faith. From this chapter we have seen that this confession not only dos not allow room for a disposition of lovingkindness of God toward the reprobate, but positively excludes it. Mind you, this means that the major premise of the offer-theory is shut out by the Westminster Confession.
However, we need not appeal only to Chapter III. The simple fact is that this entire theory is contrary to thecurrent teaching of the Westminster Confession; it is foreign to it. If only people would get back to the confessions and their language, they would begin to have deep problems with the offer-theory. For the language of the confessions is sharp and distinctive.
Turn, for example, to the chapter on “Providence,” Chapter V, paragraph 6:
As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Rom. 11:7-8, from them He not only withholdeth His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts Deut. 29:4; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had Malt. 13:12 Matt. 25:29 and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin Deut. 2:30; II Kings 8:12-13and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan (Ps. 81:11-12; II Thess. 2:10-12 whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others (Exod. 7:3; Exod. 8:15, 32; II Cor. 2:15-16; Isa. 8:14; I pet 2:7-8; Isa. 6:9-10; Acts 28:26-27)
Once more we call your attention to the fact that in the full edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith the Scriptural proofs are printed in full. We have given only the references, for reasons of space. We strongly advise the reader who is interested in this subject to look up these passages of Scripture. They clearly confirm what the Confessions states, and they make it abundantly clear that the whole notion of a will of God to save all and a divine disposition of lovingkindness toward the reprobate-ungodly is utterly foreign to the Scriptures — foreign not merely to some isolated proof-texts, but foreign to the current thought of Scripture! It will be well worth the time to look up the texts referred to. (To be continued )
Gratifying Support — Thank You!
Once in a while editorial-writing is an easy task and a very pleasant one.
This is one of those occasions. Our genial business manager rather regularly keeps me informed, either by telephone, by mail, or in person, concerning incoming R.F.P.A. mail. Once in a while a letter intended for me reaches him first; but most of the time the mail is business-mail, having to do with subscriptions, renewals, book orders, etc. Our business manager, who is supposed to be retired but who is actually kept very busy by his R.F.P.A. “sideline,” gets a surprising amount of such business-mail. Not infrequently his mail will include an encouraging note about the work of theStandard Bearer. And very often when subscribers send in their renewal money, they will include an extra gift. Besides, the mail brings collection-checks from our supporting churches.
Well, it seems as though since our annual R.F.P.A. meeting — at which we received news of a substantial increase in publication costs — this mail to our business manager has been especially heavy. And our business manager called my attention to this fact, and gave me a suggestion to put a note of thanks in my editorial columns. I agreed heartily. And that makes this a very easy and pleasant editorial to write.
I can do no better than to quote directly from a couple of Mr. Vander Wal’s notes to me. He puts it very forthrightly in a note written October 6: “Honestly — it’s amazing! I haven’t finished opening all of the mail which I picked up today from Box 6064, but have opened only three out of the ten received today. First one opened came from Kalamazoo, Mich. — renewal, $7; check for $10. No. 2 — from Byron Center — renewal $7.00; check received for $20. No. 3 from Downey, California — check for $15! I’ll open a couple more: from Chicago — renewal $7; check for $10. From Grand Rapids, $10. Another from Grand Rapids, $10. From Lansing, Illinois — $10. I got to thinking, while opening these envelopes — do you know thatwithout these $10, $15, and $20 checks we would be ‘out of business’? If all of the subscribers would send only the $7 renewal fee, we’d go for broke! It costs about $8.50 per subscription per year-to print and mail each subscriber his 21 issues each year. Without these extra gifts, and the collections from our Protestant Reformed churches, we surely would be out on a limb!”
From another progress report I glean the following sample of just one of four deposits which our business manager had made up to the 12th of October:
Church collection, $119.30
Church collection, $38.30
Renewals and subscriptions:
1 @ $7.00 + $13.00 gift = $20.00
3 @ $7.00 + $8.00 gift = $45.00
5 10-for-2’s + $2.50 gift = $12.50
1 @ $7.00 + 1 10-for-2 + $3.00 gift = $12.00
10 @ $7.00 + $3.00 gifts @ $100.00
2 new subscriptions = $14.00
3 @ $7.00 f $1.00 gifts = $24.00
10 @ $7.00 = $70.00
1 @ $7.00 + $1.00 gift = $8.00
1 @ $7.00 + $3.00 gift = $10.00
2 10-for-2’s = $4.00
Do you wonder that Mr. Business Manager exclaims, “Isn’t that something, though!”
This is gratifying. It is gratifying to the Board and to our Manager. It is gratifying to the staff to know of the royal support that our magazine receives. And it will be encouraging, I am sure, to our constituency to learn of this. Personally, I heartily concur with Mr. Vander Wal when he writes me: “I believe that a ‘thank you’ note should be printed in a forthcoming issue of theStandard Bearer, a note which would explain to the readers and to the contributors just exactly how much their contributions mean to the support and the continuation of our paper.”
Well, here is that “thank you.”
And I want to add that I thank my God for this evidence among you of your dedication to the cause of His truth, the faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ.