Rev. Miersma is home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

In the previous portion of this article, October 1, 1997, I touched on the Reformed doctrine of preaching, something which has also been addressed in recent articles on Reformed worship. I also discussed the historical roots of the well-meant offer in the attempt in the past to marry the Reformed and Arminian doctrines of election and the atonement within the history of Reformed and Presbyterian doctrine. It is in that historical context that this article now returns to the subject under discussion.

The well-meant offer, or free offer, and the notion of a general conditional promise are really nothing more than attempts to introduce this same semi-Arminian synergism and dualism into the whole doctrine of soteriology, the doctrine of the application of salvation, and into the doctrines of the means of grace, preaching and the sacraments. It is again an attempt to marry an Arminian doctrine of salvation and the means of grace, preaching or baptism, to the Reformed view. It involves teaching two kinds of grace, a general, common, conditional, and resistible grace to all under the preaching or in baptism, and a particular, irresistible grace to only some. According to this theory of the offer, God does not simply call and command men to repent and believe under the preaching of the Word, but sincerely desires the salvation of all and well-meaningly offers Christ, His righteousness and eternal life, to all, head for head. The preaching becomes a check which man must endorse by his faith, an objective bequest which man may accept or reject. Moreover, if you object to this as Arminianism, you are told that, since they also teach that God fulfills the conditions by grace in the elect, the charge of being Arminian is false.

While dressed in a new suit of clothes, this error is still the same error which was condemned by the Reformed and Presbyterian churches of the past. While the theology it is based on is rarely spelled out, it is nothing more than that of Amyrauld. Its doctrine of the atonement is that of the Marrow. In order to make Christ’s death and the preaching of it universal or an offer, they must separate from that death its efficacy and all the subjective blessings of salvation. If Christ is offered to all, then faith cannot be a benefit of the cross. One cannot very well offer faith as a blessing while requiring it as a condition. One cannot promise to all what is an entrance requirement to the promise.

The offer introduces ambiguity into the doctrine of faith, conversion, and repentance. Rather than being a work of grace in man, the wonder work of God in Christ, and a gift of grace out of which a man himself actively repents and believes, the preaching of the offer becomes centered on the experiential moment, for faith is man’s fulfilling of the condition. And yet, because they would be called Calvinists, they would also be seen as teaching that it is God’s gift. The only way one can maintain this kind of dualism is to reduce faith and conversion to an experimental moment, a moment of revelation and response, of giving and yet taking and receiving. Grace becomes like a ball bouncing on a table. In the moment it touches the surface, God is giving and man accepting, God is revealing and man responding. This is Barthian mysticism. It is dualism carried to its ultimate synergism.

The offer and preaching

The seriousness of this error must not be overlooked. It has practical consequences for preaching and mission work.

This affects first of all the content of the preaching and exegesis. If God wants to save all but wills to save only some; if Christ is dead for all but died only for some; if God offers salvation to all but calls effectually only some; then truth, veracity, and coherence have gone out the window. The double track theology of the offer makes coherent preaching of the truth impossible. God wants what He does not want, intends what He does not intend. Authoritative proclamation of the truth of the gospel can but cease. The unity of the truth is broken. By separating Christ as Mediator of the covenant and as Head of the elect, one distorts and obscures even Christ’s mediatorial work. One cannot genuinely compare Scripture with Scripture, for Scripture contradicts itself. The fundamental principle of Reformed scriptural interpretation is broken. Scripture speaks out of two sides of its mouth. One must first carefully impose this hermeneutical dualism on the text, much like dispensationalism does when it tries to separate Israel and the church. Does this passage speak of God’s universal will or His particular will? Is this passage about Christ as Mediator or as Head?

This is plain from the effect and consequences of this dualistic hermeneutic round about us as it has worked through the life of the CRC. If God wants to save all but wills to save only some, He may also want only men to be ministers from a creation perspective but wills that women also hold office from an eschatological perspective. Who is to judge? “What is truth?”

It is not without reason that this leads to shoddy exegesis in which one sometimes takes an Arminian interpretation, and one sometimes, though quite arbitrarily, takes a Calvinistic interpretation. Sometimes one takes a conservative or orthodox approach, while at other times a liberal one. The truth in fact becomes relative to the interpreter and his opinion, and exegesis becomes eclectic. By this error the authority, power, and clarity of the gospel is overthrown. The herald or preacher sounds an uncertain note on the trumpet of the gospel. Because of it the offer is a debilitated cripple when it comes to mission work and a clear proclamation of the gospel.

Moreover, as God wants to save all and offers Christ to all in the preaching, the gospel is reduced to a crippled, truncated version of itself. One cannot under the offer preach the doctrine of election as good news for sinners, that “all that the Father giveth me shall come to me” (John 6:37). This goes into the theological closet. Likewise, since faith, repentance, and conversion are the conditions man must fulfill to receive the proffered salvation, they also can no more be preached as the glorious work of God, the effectual fruit of the atonement. They too must go into the theological closet. The gospel is reduced to a truncated word about the cross, without its efficacy, design, power, and purpose. That by “one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14) belongs in the closet. It is too definite. Soteriology, and the saving efficacy of the cross in Christology, likewise join God’s sovereignty in the theological closet, especially on the mission field. Instead an unfruitful divine desire to save all men must be preached.

All of this robs the gospel not only of its power, authority, and clarity, but also of the wonder of grace. It does not lead to reverence and fear, to worship and praise, but to the notion of a spiritually impotent God who wants what He cannot or does not perform. It robs God of the honor and glory due His name and demeans the name of Christ, the Lord of glory. This is emphatically debilitating to the work of missions. It is exactly the unique power, glory, and majesty of God in Christ which sets the Christian gospel apart from the inventions of human philosophy and pagan religion.

The very need for a sovereign Savior of mere grace is destroyed, for God is said to offer that which was not purchased in the blood of Christ and to desire to impart to sinners that which Christ did not effect on the cross for them. It destroys the holiness, righteousness, and truth of God. It sets God’s mercy against His own justice by overthrowing the principles of atonement. Jesus no longer actually saves, but only wants to if we will accept Him. It is demeaning to Christ crucified.

As such, the offer is incapable of proclaiming a serious call to repentance and faith. It is not a divine summons which seriously addresses men with the will of the Holy God to turn from their wicked way. Rather it becomes a pleading invitation, something that God wants to be true for all. The gospel does not confront men with an imperative, a command, but with a wish, a pleading, a begging, with moral suasion and emotional appeals to accept the proffered salvation. Not only so, but the faith called for is not a powerful transformation that grace alone can give, but a work which man must perform and a condition he must fulfill in order to be saved. Oh, to be sure, if you press those who preach the offer, they maintain that God by His grace fulfills the conditions in man. They formally reject free-willism. Nevertheless, it is my faith, my repentance, my acceptance upon which the salvation offered to me rests.

This is the doctrine of salvation upon the worthiness of my faith and repentance. It is Arminian. In fact, it is the doctrine of justification because of faith and works, which is the doctrine of Rome. The offer is warmed-over Jesuit theology masquerading as Protestantism. However much free-willism is denied, the practical fruit of that error, a trusting in one’s own works of believing, repenting, and coming, is maintained and taught in practice, if not in theory.

Moreover the wicked are left with the principle that, after all, if God wants to save them so much and is trying so hard to offer salvation to them, there is really no urgency about the matter. If God wants to save them, would He now give up and judge? The fact is that the offer tempts men to despise God’s very simpering impotence.

As if that were not enough, by making the promises general and conditional, the personal, sure comfort of the gospel is lost. There is an irony here in calling the offer the “free offer of the gospel.” There is nothing free about promises with strings attached. Sovereign grace is free, genuinely free, rooted in the grace of election. The effect of the offer is to leave the hearer in doubt whether, after all, those promises are for him. Have I really repented? Do I really believe? Either I must boast in my own works of believing and acceptance of the gospel or I am left with the conclusion that, after all, my whole spiritual welfare is in doubt. The offer, rather than leading one out of oneself to Christ to be justified by faith as God’s free gift, leads one inward to a seeking of signs of revealed grace, to a mystical, spiritual “belly-button watching.” It overthrows the tender conscience of those who know that they “have not perfect faith.” On the mission field it leaves one who is broken by his sin and guilt, who cries out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), with neither a clear direction, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 2:38), nor with a sure promise, “thy sins are forgiven thee” (Luke 5:20). The offer leads to mysticism, and an unwholesome experientialism. It robs the sheep of that sure comfort which they have in Christ and ought to have.

In this connection, I recall specifically a sermon on the resurrection of the body from the dead, out of the Catechism, by a prominent so-called conservative. The glory and beauty of that work of God was adequately set forth. But then he had to add the offer to it all. We had to attain unto it by our believing. The whole sermon was concluded with the hope that we would attain to the resurrection. This was his hope, and he hoped (???!) it was true for the congregation. The wonder and glory were taken away and the congregation was left with only doubt, a comfortless question mark, an unsure hope that maybe it would be true for them. It was an abomination, which robbed the sheep that Sunday morning of the hope and comfort of the resurrection from the dead. What was done with the sermon was the same fear tactic that the church of Rome uses by holding purgatory over the heads of the people. The well-meant offer dangles the promises of God which are yea and amen in Christ before the people of God, holding them out of reach. Its professed love for sinners is false and cruel.


It is the offer which is crippled, debilitated, and anemic in preaching the gospel. This is particularly true on the mission field, for it comes with neither clarity nor power, neither a clear command to repent and believe, nor a sure promise. It destroys a serious call to repentance rather than establishing one. It robs the sheep of their comfort. Abraham Kuyper put it well. When he spoke of the advocates of a “Christ for all,” he said, “In reality, it is they who are in an increasingly painful and sad situation, for in spite of that ‘pro omnibus’ (for all), they are still not able to persuasively move the soul to believe” (Dat De Genade Particular is; Abraham Kuyper, Part 1, chapter 1, p. 3; translation mine). It is the offer which cannot do genuine mission work, for it does not faithfully serve the cause of Him who said, “I will build my church.”