The complainants insist that the preacher must proclaim that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate. And in spite of this ostensibly Arminian position they claim the sole right to the name of being Reformed. This claim they defend by appealing to the principle (?) of irrationality. They take the position that the Reformed faith is irrational. And on that position no one can successfully attack them.
But, as we have seen, if we deny them the right to that irrational position, and, as rational beings, try to explain their position, we discover that they embrace the Arminian view of reprobation.
But let us now also demonstrate how superficial and erroneous this part of the “Complaint” is.
The complainants find it strange that Dr. Clark is, reluctant to admit that the gospel is an offer and an invitation. And they quote from the Westminster Confession to condemn this reluctance on the part of Dr. Clark. That confession does not hesitate to speak of the gospel as an offer. For in VII, III, we read: “Wherein (in the covenant of grace, H.H.) he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ.”
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 Latin “offert” from obfero, and may be translated just as well by “present”. 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.”
It is, therefore, not strange at all, but quite understandable that Dr. Clark is, willing to subscribe to the statement in the Westminster to which the complainants refer, while, at the same time, he is very reluctant to use the terms “offer” and “invitation” when required to do so in the sense of the complainants.
The same superficiality and dodging of the real issue characterizes the following paragraph:
“Dr. Clark steadfastly refuses to describe as sincere the offer which God makes to sinners in the gospel. This is surprising strange. To be sure, the Westminster standards do not employ the word sincere in this connection; but is it not a foregone conclusion that the offer is sincere? Would it not be blasphemy to deny this? For that very reason there was no need of the Westminster divines’ describing the gospel offer as sincere. Its sincerity goes without saying. But obviously that is not Dr. Clark’s reason for refusing to characterize it as sincere.”
No, indeed. Nor would Dr. Clark object to use the word “sincere” to characterize the offer of God as explained in the Westminster: God promises to give unto all that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit. And yet, it is not “surpassing strange” that he refuses to employ that word in the sense in which the complainants would have him use it: that God sincerely offers, salvation to the reprobate as well as to elect. And this alone is the issue.
The following interpretation of the Arminian controversy appears to be especially invented to fit the facts in the case of Dr. Clark as the complainants see them:
“When the Arminian controversy was at its height the Reformed churches faced a different situation. It was contended emphatically by the Arminians that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation rules out the sincerity of God’s offer of salvation to the reprobate and that, consequently, the Reformed faith has a gospel only for the elect. Precisely the sincerity of the gospel offer was now at issue.” p. 13.
The complainants should not make such broad statements interpreting historical facts without offering definite proof. And where would they find such proof? One would naturally look for it in the Remonstrantie, composed by the Arminians, in 1610. At that time the “Arminian controversy was at its height.” Moreover, in that document the Remonstrants carefully formulated their objections to the Reformed conception of predestination. But in vain does one look for support of the interpretation of their stand offered by the complainants. They simply and openly rejected absolute predestination, both election and reprobation, and instead offered their own, that of election on the ground of foreseen faith and obedience, and of reprobation on the ground of foreseen unbelief and disobedience.
They expressly objected to the doctrine (I translate from the Dutch):
“That God—as some say—by an eternal and unchangeable decree ordained some to eternal life, others to eternal damnation, only because of His good pleasure, without regard to their righteousness or disobedience. That further in virtue of a second decree the elect must necessarily and inevitably be saved and cannot be lost, and the reprobate—constituting by far the larger part—must necessarily and inevitably be damned.”
They could not accept the doctrine:
“That Jesus Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect”; and that in the elect “the Holy Spirit operated with irresistible power, so that they must be converted and believe and thus necessarily be saved, while the reprobate do not receive this grace.”
They did, indeed, point to the inconsistency that the reprobate, according to the revealed will of God, are also called to conversion and faith, but that they rationalistically concluded from this external calling to a denial of reprobation, as the complainants interpret,—of this one does not find a trace in the Remonstrantie.
It would seem, therefore, that they simply impose their own interpretation upon the history of the Arminian controversy, in order to show that Dr. Clark, by a similar, rationalistic error, moves in the opposite direction, and denies the sincere offer of salvation on the part of God to the reprobate. This is superficial because it falsely interprets the facts.
Superficial, too, and erroneous, is the quotation the complainants offer from the Canons, and the argument based on this erroneous quotation. The quotation as it appears in the “Complaint” is as follows:
“As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath 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.” (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, art. 8).
And the argument the complainants base on this quotation is as; follows:
“In the course of his examination Dr. Clark did indeed express agreement with this teaching of Dort, but he made it clear that in doing so he conceived of the gospel as a command. . . . He said that it is the perceptive will of God that those who hear shall believe the gospel, and it is ‘acceptable’ to God that they do so because he insists on being obeyed. But the Synod of Dort obviously meant much more than that when it employed the word ‘acceptable.’ That appears from its description of the gospel as an invitation, from its insistence that all who are called are called ‘unfeignedly,’ as well as from the fact that it was refuting the Arminian contention that the Reformed faith leaves no room for a sincere offer of salvation made by God to the reprobate. What the authors of the Canons had in mind was that God has ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ().
Now, we do not have to defend Dr. Clark’s position that the gospel is a command. This is not the point we wish to make. Nor is it our purpose at present to refute the interpretation the complainants give to this passage of the Canons, though it may be remarked that on the face of the matter it seems very far-fetched. Surely, if it had been the intention of the fathers of Dort to express that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate, they could have chosen less ambiguous words.
But the point we do wish to make is; that the complainants very superficially quote a wrong translation, thus arrive at the conclusion that the Canons characterize the gospel as an invitation, and make this error the basis of their argument against Dr. Clark’s refusal to call the gospel by that name.
If laymen, who have access only to existing translations, make such errors, it is excusable. But that men of learning, who are able to consult the Latin original, and, besides, are acquainted with the Holland translation of the Canons, make such blunders is not to be excused. When they, nevertheless, do meet their opponents with such erroneous arguments, they give evidence of having done very [superficial and careless work.
Fact is that the Canons, in the passage quoted, do not describe the gospel as an invitation at all. The Latin original is as follows: “Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimirum, ut vocati ad se veniant.” That is: “God seriously and truly declares in His Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called come unto him.” And this is correctly rendered in the Dutch translation: “Want God betoont ernstiglijk and waarachtiglijk in Zijn Woord, wat Hem aangenaam is; namelijk, dat de geroepen tot Hem komen.”
The passage, therefore, does not describe the gospel as an invitation. And the argument that is based on this wrong translation must fall together with the translation.
As far as this passage of the Canons is concerned, Dr. Clark does; not have to call the gospel an invitation, and retains the right to his interpretation that it is a command. And that the command be obeyed is pleasing to God, because it is pleasing to Him that men glorify Him. This interpretation is given of the eighth article of the Canons, III, IV, more than once. See, e.g. Ds. T. Bos, De Dordtsche Leetregelen, p. 155. But whether this is the correct interpretation of the passage or not, the complainants should not make the blunder of basing an argument on an erroneous translations.