In this concluding article of the fourth section of our critique of the offer-theory we call attention, first of all, to one more article of the Westminster Confession of Faith with which the offer-theory is in conflict. We refer to Chapter VIII, Paragraph 5:
The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father (Rom. 5:19; Heb. 9:14,16; Heb. 10:14;Eph. 5:2; Rom. 3:25-26); and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the father bath given unto Him (Dan. 9:24,26; Col. 1:19-20; Eph. 1:11, 14; John 17:2;Heb. 9:12,15).
In this article on the atonement the Westminster Confession plainly teaches, first of all, that Christ by His sacrifice objectively accomplished something in behalf of others. He fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and He purchased reconciliation and an everlasting inheritance. And, in the second place, the article plainly stipulates who are the beneficiaries of that objective work of Christ, namely, “all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.” Now it is true that in this article there is no negative and no limiting phrase such as “and those only” or “and for no others.” But, in the first place, this does not justify any assumption that Christ might also have purchased these benefits for others, perhaps for all men. This, of course, would make the above statement of VIII, 5 useless and nonsensical. Besides, this would make the Westminster Confession Arrninian and contradictory. What we have in this article is what is popularly known as the doctrine of “limited atonement” but more correctly known as particular, or definite atonement. But, in the second place, if there should be any doubt as to whether the Confession here means the elect,and them only, I refer the reader to Chapter III, 6, which we quoted earlier. There you find a definite limiting clause: “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” And I submit that if there is any doubt about the meaning of the article now under consideration, that doubt is dispelled when we read VIII, 5 in the light of III, 6. The Westminster Confession definitely holds to limited, or particular, atonement.
But then the remarks which we made in connection with III, 6 also hold true here. This article makes a general, gracious offer impossible. He who would attempt to hold on to both particular atonement and the free offer becomes guilty of making God out to be a dreadful, mocking monster. God invites all men to be saved, genuinely wills and desires their salvation, but does not have salvation for all? What is more, He does not even make salvation possible for all? He does not provide payment for all? What kind of God is it who thus teases men, who thus toys with men’s souls? No one has ever made it clear how the offer-theory can be harmonized with the veracity of God, nor with the truthfulness of Him Who is the way, and the truth, and the life. And that preacher who proclaims a free offer in the name of God takes upon himself a heavy responsibility, and will have to give account some day of his tampering with the gospel of the Scriptures!
But there is harmony among Reformed confessions with respect to this subject. The Westminster Confession is by no means alone in this position which excludes any possibility of the offer-theory. As might be expected, this is also true of the Canons of Dordrecht. And do not forget: the Canons were in a sense a Reformed ecumenical creed, due to the fact that almost every Reformed church of that day in lands other than the Netherlands had representatives who took an active part in the Great Synod and who subscribed to the Canons. In this light, it is worthwhile to note how the Canons rule out the offer-theory. We shall not go into great detail, but merely call attention to some outstanding features. Meanwhile, we recommend that those who are interested in this subject read and study the Canons as a whole, and pay particular attention to Chapter III, IV, which has much to say, both positively and negatively, on the whole subject of the call of the gospel and the conversion of the elect sinner to God. In fact, it will do none of our readers any harm to give himself a refresher course in the Canons. They are as up-to-date today as they were at the time of the Arminian controversy.
With respect to the subject under discussion, I would call attention, first of all, to Canons I, 6:
That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,”
. “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will,”
According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.
The Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet on “The Offer of the Gospel” proposes that “God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.” It posits a “real attitude, a real disposition of lovingkindness” toward all. Still more, it even recognizes that faith is the necessary means unto salvation. For in the last paragraph of the introductory section of this pamphlet we read:
Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable.
Now I realize that Murray and Stonehouse here do not intend to emphasize that faith is one of the gifts of salvation and that it is absolutely a gift of grace, the God-given means and instrument whereby He saves His people. The contrary is true. It is just exactly their purpose to teach that faith is a condition of salvation, that it is the condition attached to the offer. In fact, they say this in so many words: “This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation.” And thereby they land themselves squarely in the Arminian camp, of course. The offer of salvation is conditional; and unless man complies with the condition of faith and repentance, God cannot and will not make good on His offer.
But this is precisely the point of my citing Canons I, 6. The Canons want nothing of this view. They teach that faith is a gift of God for the elect only. And they teach that the reception of the gift of faith on the part of some, but also the non-reception of the gift of faith on the part of others proceeds from God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation. And this means — apart from anything else that may be said of the offer-theory — that God just exactly does not desire the salvation of the reprobate ungodly. What a strange and contradictory theory this is, then, which teaches that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, but nevertheless wills not to bestow upon them the gift of faith, without which they cannot possibly be saved!
I need not quote in this connection what the Canons say about election, about reprobation (I, 7 and I, 15>, nor what they say about particular atonement (II, 8). On all these matters the Canons and the Westminster Confession are in complete agreement, and we have commented on them in connection with our discussion of the Westminster.
There is one article in Canons III, IV to which we may pay attention for a moment. It was used in 1924 by the Synod of Kalamazoo. It was employed by the opponents of Dr. Clark in the case which preceded and gave rise to the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet. It is not quoted in the latter; in fact, all references to the confessions are conspicuously absent from this pamphlet — not a high recommendation for a pamphlet on such an important subject. But more recently it was quoted by Dr. John R. de Witt in the British magazine, Banner of Truth (January, 1973), in an article entitled “Distinctives of the Reformed Faith.” Dr. de Witt evidently counts the free offer of the gospel as belonging to the distinctives of the Reformed faith. He writes:
It (the Reformed faith) does not tamper with human responsibility, nor cancel out the free offer of the gospel. ‘As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called; for God bath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him.’ III-IV/8]
Now it has been pointed out many times in the past in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere that this is a corrupted translation of Canons III, IV, 8. But let it be pointed out again. [To our shame, by the way, we still have this corrupted translation in our Psalter!] The correct translation, which cannot be confused with the offer-theory, is as follows:
As many, however, as are called by the Gospel are seriously called. For God has seriously and most truly shown in his Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called should come unto him. He even promises seriously to all those coming to him and believing rest of soul and eternal life.
Those who hold the offer-theory must hold that this article teaches something like the following: “As many as are invited by the preaching of the gospel are unfeignedly invited by God. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word that He is desirous, yea, longs and yearns that every one that hears the gospel invitation should comply with it and accept it. Moreover, He seriously promises to all who accept the invitation, and thus come to him and believe, rest and eternal life.”
But this is by no means what the article teaches. It does not speak of an invitation with so much as a word, nor of complying with an invitation. It speaks of the calling. And in the light of the article itself and also of the context, the Canons here mean the external call of the gospel. Now what does this external call of the gospel say? Or rather, what does God Himself say in that outward call of the gospel? He says that men must believe and repent. He says that they must come to Him. And the article states that God is serious about this. He calls unfeignedly. He means what He says! And the article states further that it is “pleasing” to God that those who are called should come. This simply means that it is right in God’s sight that men should heed the call to faith and repentance. Not to heed it is terribly disobedient, and it is displeasing to God; it incurs His fierce wrath and displeasure.
Notice, further, that there is no suggestion whatsoever that any man is by nature able or willing to heed that call of the gospel. None is! But that has nothing to do with the fact that it is nevertheless right to come to. Christ, and terribly sinful and displeasing in God’s sight not to heed the demand of faith and repentance. Our Heidelberg Catechism maintains this same position with respect to the law of God when it asks: “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law that which he cannot perform?” Answer: “Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.” We must always be on our guard against the insidious notion that somehow responsibility impliesability on the part of the natural man, whether with respect to the law or the gospel. That simply is not the case.
But my point is: there is no offer mentioned or suggested in this article of the Canons. Nor is there so much as a hint of a favorable disposition, an attitude of lovingkindness, or a desire for the salvation of all on the part of God.
Nor is this taught in the final statement of the article. That statement plainly teaches a particular promise: a promise of rest and eternal life to all those coming and believing. And they are, without any doubt, the elect, who come and believe through sovereign grace and through the effectual calling.
But of an offer there is not so much as a breath in this article, nor anywhere in our Canons.