The two preceding articles in this series attempted to demonstrate that the ground for rejection of the notion of the well-meant offer of the gospel is not hyper-Calvinism, but the Reformed faith itself. They contended that the doctrine of the offer makes the grace of God universal, thus contradicting the Reformed doctrine of particular, sovereign grace, and that the doctrine of the offer necessarily implies the heresy of free will. This article will conclude the effort begun in the two preceding articles: showing that we oppose the offer in the name of Calvinism.
In future articles, I intend to point out that denial of the offer does not destroy the serious call of the gospel or the personal “addressability” of the preaching; to consider the position of the Reformed faith in history on the call of the gospel; and to give a warning against permitting opposition to the offer to degenerate into neglect of the call of the gospel itself, that is, a warning against hyper-Calvinism.
The offer of the gospel leaves tracks wherever it goes that plainly identify it as Arminianism, not Calvinism. One of these is the denial: of reprobation. Invariably, the defense and practice of the offer is attended by a silencing or corrupting of the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. A striking example of the perversion of the doctrine of reprobation in the interests of the offer of the gospel is A. C. De Jong’s The Well-Meant Gospel Offer. De Jong was concerned to defend the well-meant offer. But he had to face Hoeksema’s objection that the doctrine of reprobation exactly denies that God is gracious to all, desires the salvation of all, and well-meaningly offers Christ to all in the preaching. De Jong’s solution was to oppose “Hoeksema’s doctrine of reprobation.” “Hoeksema’s doctrine of reprobation renders the reliability of God’s unsimulated call to salvation disputable” (p. 122). “Our chief objection to Hoeksema’s view of reprobation is that it transforms the gospel into a message which renders suspect the reliability of God’s will to save as this is revealed in the,call to faith, in the conditional offer of salvation” (p.123).
It soon becomes evident, however, that De Jong is not opposed to some private view of Herman Hoeksema, but to the historic, creedal doctrine of reprobation of the Reformed faith. According to De Jong, reprobation has to do with the fact that God “will surely condemn those who willfully and persistently oppose his word which is given and spoken for the purpose of salvation” (p. 122). De Jong’s departure from the Reformed doctrine of reprobation and his subscription to the classic Arminian view of reprobation become apparent when he describes reprobation thus: “No one disbelieves because he is a reprobate. He is a reprobate because he does not want to believe, because he wills to live without God, and because he resists the redemptive will of God revealed in the gospel call” (p. 130). Reprobation, on this view, is God’s decree that those men who persistently reject the offer of the gospel shall be damned. The decree of reprobation is a conditional decree, a decree dependent upon the unbelief of men in the face of God’s desire and attempt to save them.¹
This was the view of reprobation which the Arminians attempted to introduce into the Reformed Churches in the 17th century. Reprobation conditioned by unbelief was the counterpart of an election conditioned by faith in the first article of the Arminian “Remonstrance of 1610”: “(reprobation is God’s decree) to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath and condemn them. . .” In the “Opinions” which they submitted to the Synod of Dordt, the Arminians described reprobation in this way: “Rejection from eternal life is made on the basis of a consideration of antecedent unbelief and perseverance in unbelief; not, however, apart from a consideration of antecedent unbelief and perseverance in unbelief.”²
The Synod of Dordt rejected as heretical the view that reprobation is merely God’s indefinite decree to damn whoever happens to reject the offer of the gospel and the view that reprobation is God’s decree to damn certain men because of foreseen unbelief. In article VIII of the rejection of errors under the first head of doctrine, the Synod rejected the errors of those “Who teach: That God simply by virtue of his righteous will, did not decide either to leave anyone in the fall of Adam and in the common state of sin and condemnation, or to pass anyone by in the communication of grace which is necessary for faith and conversion. . .” In support of reprobation “simply by virtue of His righteous will” and against a doctrine of conditional reprobation, the Synod quoted Rom. 9:18; Matt. 13:11; and Matt. 11:25, 26.
The Reformed doctrine of reprobation is that God has eternally decreed, “out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure,” that certain, definite members of the human race will not be saved by Him, but that they shall perish in their unbelief and other sins.³ Reprobation is God’s eternal decree that the destiny of certain men shall be everlasting death, whether one views it as God’s passing those men by with the grace of election or as the determination to damn. The cause of this decree is not the unbelief and disobedience of the reprobated, but the sovereign good pleasure of the decreeing God. Reprobation is not a conditional but an unconditional decree. That this is so is evident from the Canons. According to the Canons, reprobation is the decree “not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion” (I, 15). If reprobation is the decree not to give a man faith, it is patently false to say that unbelief is the cause of reprobation. That would be the same as to say that my decision not to give a beggar a quarter is due to the beggar’s not having a quarter. That reprobation is an unconditional decree is also plain from the fact that if unbelief were the cause of reprobation, all men would have been reprobated, and none would have been elected, for all men are equally unbelieving and disobedient: Scripture teaches that reprobation is God’s sovereign, unconditional decree to damn some sinners. This is the inescapable implication of the Biblical doctrine that God has unconditionally chosen some men, not all, unto eternal life. This is also the explicit teaching of Scripture. In Romans 9, Paul ascribes God’s hardening of some unto damnation simply to God’s will (vs. 18) and finds in the sovereignty of the Potter the authority both to make a vessel unto, honor and to make a vessel unto dishonor—from the same lump of clay (vss. 21-23).
It is not at all surprising that advocates of the free offer oppose the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, for reprobation is the exact, explicit denial that God loves all men, desires to save all men, and conditionally offers them salvation. Reprobation asserts that God eternally hates some men; has immutably decreed their damnation; and has determined to withhold from them Christ, grace, faith, and salvation. The Reformed doctrine of reprobation and the theology of the well-meant offer are diametrical opposites.4 To affirm the offer is to deny reprobation.
But a denial of reprobation is necessarily also a denial of election. If reprobation is made a conditional decree, the decree to condemn whoever rejects the offer, election becomes a conditional decree also, the decree to save whoever accepts the offer: This is the goal that Arminian theology and the proud heart of man single-mindedly pursue, for this is the blasphemous claim that we save ourselves. The attack on election is out in the open today in the Reformed sphere. When a Reformed theologian of vast erudition can write a 330 page book on election without ever once saying that God elected certain, particular men in distinction from others, as G. C. Berkouwer did in Divine Election, the cat is out, of the bag. When, in addition, Reformed theologians warn against thinking of any reprobation in connection with election, it is apparent to him with even the least sensitive of “Reformed antennae” that a rampaging universalism is destroying the Reformed doctrine of election.5
Other zealous defenders of the offer handle the problem of the opposition between the doctrine of the offer and reprobation by studiously ignoring reprobation. The silence on reprobation in many Reformed pulpits and in the writings of many Calvinistic Baptists is deafening. It must be very difficult to read the Bible without seeing reprobation. How does one manage it as he reads the Old Testament with its message of God’s choice of one nation unto life out of many nations left to perish in their sin? How can one remain ignorant of reprobation when he reads freely in the New Testament— Matthew 11:25-27, John 10, Romans 9, I Peter 2:8, Jude 4? One could only conclude from the silence of many on reprobation that there is no reprobation. But if there is no reprobation, neither is there any election.
The recourse of some to “the mystery” to solve the problem of the contradiction between the free offer and the Reformed doctrine of reprobation is both desperate and erroneous. Such like to speak of the paradox of God’s two wills: His will to save and His will not to save the same man. For God to love and to hate the same man, to desire to save and to reprobate the same man, to be gracious in the preaching of the gospel towards and to harden the same man, is sheer contradiction. The reality of the two-fold will of God is quite different. It has to do with the fact that God at the same time decrees that a man shall not be saved (the will of God’s decree) and commands that man to repent and believe (the will of God’s precept). The serious, external call of the gospel does justice to both of these aspects of God’s will, but the offer of the gospel places a contradiction in God.
Another Arminian footprint of the well-meant offer is the teaching of universal atonement. Almost thirty years ago, Herman Hoeksema prophesied that “those that preach a well-meaning offer of God to all men, must and will ultimately embrace the doctrine of universal atonement also.”6 The ground for this confident prophesy was: “God’s well-meaning ‘offer’ of salvation cannot possibly be wider in scope than the objective satisfaction and justification of the cross of Christ.” In the 1960’s, through the writings of Harold Dekker, professor of missions in its seminary, the Christian Reformed Church approved, if it did pot adopt, the doctrine of universal atonement. What made this so significant was the fact that Dekker grounded his doctrine of universal atonement in the doctrine of the well-meant offer. Arguing for a universal love of God and a universal atonement, he wrote:
The universal love of God is also revealed in His invitation of the gospel, sincerely extended to all without reservation or limitation. Moreover, God’s sincere invitation of the gospel to all involves His desire that it be accepted by all. . . . is the salvation which the atonement provides available to all men? Indeed it is. Otherwise the well-meant offer of the gospel is a farce, for it then offers sincerely to all men what cannot be sincerely said to be available to all.7
When his teaching of universal atonement was challenged, Dekker defended it with an appeal to the doctrine of the offer of the gospel adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the first point of Common grace of 1924. In an article entitled, “Redemptive Love and the Gospel Offer,” he wrote: “This article intends to set forth the universal factors inherent in the well-meant offer of the gospel. It carries one main thrust: that the love of God expressed in the gospel and its universal invitation is truly a redemptive love and that the presentation of the gospel must express this principle.”8 Replying to critics who objected that he taught an atonement which failed to save all those for whom it was made, Dekker showed them that this was no different than their teaching that God desired to save all but failed to do so, that is, that universal atonement is really no different than the well-meant offer of the gospel:
Why are my critics unwilling to, recognize a paradox between a universal atonement and a limited redemption when this is so plainly taught in the Bible? Why are they unwilling to recognize a paradox of a redemptive love which does not always redeem when this is so clearly the presentation of Scripture? Do they suppose that such paradoxes as these are any greater or any more difficult to accept than the paradox which they affirm of a God who sincerely desires the salvation of all men and yet does not save them all?9
Dekker proved conclusively that the doctrine of the offer implies universal atonement and universal election (for a universal redemptive love is really universal election), and the Christian Reformed Church, having said “A” in 1924, and “B” in the 1960’s.
Our opposition to the offer of the gospel is not academic. Through the teaching and practice of the offer, Arminianism has flooded the Reformed churches. Today, a Reformed man cries out: “O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps” (Psalm 79:1).
The revivalistic, “soul-winning” mentality of free will has taken over among many Reformed people. The alter-call, that johnny-come-lately innovation of Finney, an abomination before God and man, is widely practiced in Reformed churches. The theology of Billy Graham is revered, so that if one dares to call the message of Graham “the doctrine of Pelagius out of hell,” as the Canons of Dordt do indeed call it, he is likely to be stoned as a blasphemer in the streets of Jerusalem. The children of the covenant are more and more viewed, not as covenant children to be reared in the truth, but as potential converts who must make the decision for Christ. Reformed churches are wide open to the most blatant Arminian, “free-willist,” “evangelistic” societies, e.g., Campus Crusade for Christ They are ravaged by ecumenical endeavors based on Arminian universalism, e.g., Key ’73. Loosened from their moorings by Arminianism, they are swept by every wind of doctrine that finds salvation in man’s feeling and experience, e.g., neo-Pentecostalism.
Reformed churches gladly receive, eagerly use, and enthusiastically distribute as a Bible a book that is nothing more than a man’s revision of Scripture along the lines of Arminian theology. Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible in all its versions and forms is the bible of Arminianism. If a Reformed man had done to the sacred Scriptures in the interest of the Reformed faith only one tenth of that which The Living Bible has done in the interest of Arminianism, he would be drawn and quartered in every pulpit and religious paper in the land. But concerning The Living Bible, nary a peep. Why not? Because the leaders have deluded Reformed people, or connived at their delusion, so that they no longer know that salvation is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God Who showeth mercy; and the people have loved their delusion.
There is only one hope for Reformed men and Reformed churches, and only the sovereign grace of God can realize it—back to Calvinism, the old Calvinism of Dordt, of Calvin, of Augustine, of Paul. And this means the rooting out of the well-meant offer of the gospel.
(to be continued)
¹ This view of reprobation is by this time widespread in Reformed churches. The influential Berkouwer advanced it in his Divine Election. James Daane gives expression to it in his recent The freedom of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973): “any doctrine of reprobation is illegitimate by biblical standards except that which biblical teaching sanctions: rejects” that he who rejects God, God (p. 200). This view of reprobation brings these men into irreconcilable conflict with the Canons, as they well know.
² The 8th of the Remonstrant, or Arminian, opinions regarding the decree of predestination. For these “Opinions,” cf. Crisis in the Reformed Churches, Peter Y. De Jong, editor (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 1968). pp. 221ff.
³ Canons of Dordt, I, 15.
4 Men like to throw up the smokescreen that it is only the supralapsarian view of reprobation that rules out the well-meant offer, just as they like to disguise their opposition to reprobation as opposition to supralapsarianism (“Hoeksema’s doctrine of reprobation”). The last word has not been spoken in the brotherly debate within the Reformed camp over infra- and supralapsarianism. But this difference has absolutely no bearing on the issue of the offer. It is the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, whether viewed in an infra- or in a supralapsarian manner, that condemns the offer and that must give place where the offer is found.
5 cf. Lewis B. Smedes, All Things Made New (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970): “We will never think of election as a grace-less, love-less decree to select some individuals for heaven and to reject other individuals for hell. The election in Christ is not a matter of numbers” (pp. 123, 124). His description of the Reformed doctrine of election is a caricature but his point is clear: there is no reprobation, and election is election of every man. cf. also James Daane’s The Freedom of God: “The gracious elective . . . act of God . . . has no corresponding negative power that posits a reprobative counterpart . . . Election . . . has no counterpart, not even a negative reprobative counterpart” (p. 200).
6 The Death of the Son of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946). p. 113.
7 “God So Loved—All Men!,” The Reformed Journal, December, 1962, p. 5.
8 The Reformed Journal, January, 1964, p. 8,
9 The Reformed Journal, September, 1964, p. 22 (reply to a letter).