In the April 2000 issue, the Calvin Theological Journal (CTJ)commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church’s adoption of its doctrine of common grace. In so doing, the journal of the seminary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) was calling to mind the 75th anniversary of the existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). For the PRC came into existence as the direct result of the adoption of the three points of common grace by the CRC in 1924.

Two articles in the CTJ reflect on the common grace controversy that came to a head at the 1924 synod of the CRC. The first, by Christian Reformed professor of theology John Bolt, analyzes the history of the controversy, particularly the deposition of Herman Hoeksema. I summarized this article in the editorial of the June 1, 2000 Standard Bearer. The second article is by Christian Reformed theologian Raymond A. Blacketer. Blacketer’s article examines the doctrine of common grace that the CRC adopted in 1924. In this editorial, I summarize this second, doctrinal article. All quotations are from this article in the April 2000 CTJ.

Examination of the Well-Meant Offer

The title of Dr. Blacketer’s article is “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation.” The first part of this telling title plays off the title of Louis Berkhof’s important defense in 1925 of the doctrine of common grace that the synod of the CRC had drawn up and adopted the year before. The title of Berkhof’s defense is De drie punten in alle deelen gereformeerd (English translation: “The Three Points in All Parts Reformed”). One part of the doctrine of common grace that the CRC adopted in 1924 is not Reformed, in the judgment of Dr. Blacketer. That is the teaching of a well-meant offer of salvation. To this specific element of the doctrine of common grace is Blacketer’s article devoted.

The reference is to the doctrine taught in the first point of common grace in these words:

Concerning the first point, regarding the favorable disposition of God with respect to mankind in general, and not only to the elect, synod declares that according to the Scripture and the confessions it is certain that … there is a certain kind of favor or grace of God that he shows to his creatures in general. This is evidenced by the aforementioned Scripture texts and from the Canons of Dort II, 5 and III/IV, 8, where the confession deals with the general offer of the Gospel … (Blacketer’s translation of the Dutch; emphasis added).

The CRC itself calls the doctrine set forth in this part of the first point “the well-meant offer of salvation.” Blacketer correctly explains the doctrine of the well-meant offer as teaching that God “sincerely intend(s) and will(s) to save” all those who hear the preaching of the gospel (p. 42); that God “desire(s) that they [the reprobate] accept” the atonement of Christ and be saved (p. 44); that God “earnestly desires the salvation of all who hear the preaching of the gospel” (p. 59); that there is in God some “volition” for the salvation of the reprobate to whom the external call of the gospel comes (p. 63).

At issue in the controversy over the well-meant offer is not whether the gospel must be preached to all, or whether the preaching of the gospel to all includes a serious call to all, to repent and believe. But the issue is precisely whether the preaching of the gospel to all is the expression of God’s sincere desire to save all who hear the preaching and, thus, a gracious offer to all.

Blacketer judges, and demonstrates, that the well-meant offer adopted by the CRC in its common grace decision of 1924 is not traditionally Reformed, is not confessionally Reformed, and is not biblical.

Not Traditionally Reformed

The well-meant offer is not traditionally Reformed. Here Blacketer takes issue with the statement in the first point of common grace that “declarations of Reformed writers from the most flourishing period of Reformed theology” give evidence that “our Reformed fathers of old have advocated this opinion.” Examining those theologians appealed to by the Christian Reformed synod of 1924 and by later defenders of the well-meant offer, Blacketer contends that none of them taught that God in grace desires to save all those to whom He sends the external call of the gospel.

Van Mastricht “does not say that the external call represents God’s intention to save the reprobate” (p. 45). On the contrary, van Mastricht teaches that God’s “intention with respect to the reprobate is to silence them, to take away all their excuses, and to add more weight to their condemnation” (pp. 45, 46).

“Witsius emphatically does not teach a well-meant offer of the gospel” (p. 46).

As regards à Brakel, “it should be quite clear that à Brakel does not believe that the external call of God constitutes an offer of salvation to the reprobate” (p. 48).

The advocates of the well-meant offer like to appeal to Calvin. They restrict their appeal to Calvin’s commentaries on such texts as Ezekiel 18:23, 32Ezekiel 33:11; and Matthew 23:37. They are noticeably reluctant to discuss what Calvin has to say on preaching and its external call in his Institutes and in his great work on predestination, On the Eternal Predestination of God. Blacketer carefully examines the commentaries of Calvin to which the defenders of the well-meant offer appeal and comes to this conclusion concerning Calvin’s doctrine:

The universal call is a testimony of God’s grace but not his common grace. It is a testimony of his saving grace that is only operative in the elect. It is not grace for the reprobate. Calvin teaches that God hates the reprobate—not as his creatures, but as those who are bereft of his Spirit and worthy of condemnation. The opponents of predestination claim that God extends his grace to all indiscriminately; but Calvin replies that this is only true in the sense that God extends his grace to whomever he wills in his good pleasure, without regard to any merit (p. 54).

What Blacketer says about Calvin’s explanation of I Timothy 2:4, another favorite text for all defenders of a well-meant offer, serves to describe Calvin’s doctrine generally: “It does not mean that God earnestly desires the salvation of all who hear the preaching of the gospel” (p. 59).

The Reformed tradition is accurately represented by the statement on the subject of God’s grace in the preaching of the gospel in the Leiden Synopsis. The Leiden Synopsis, a summary of Dutch Reformed theology immediately after the synod of Dordt, says this:

Thus they delude themselves, who extend the grace of God’s calling to all, and to every individual. For they not only confuse that love of God for humanity by which he embraces all persons as creatures, with that [love] by which he has decreed to receive in grace certain persons from among the common mass of sinful humanity, who were lost in their sin, and that they should follow his beloved Son Jesus Christ; they also rob God—who is bound by none—of any freedom to single out those whom he will from among the rest of his enemies, all equally unworthy of his mercy, in order that he might convey them from a state of guilt to a state of sin (pp. 49, 50).

Not Biblical

By demonstrating that the appeal by the advocates of the well-meant offer to the explanation of a few texts by Reformed theologians of the past is mistaken, Blacketer proves at the same time that the well-meant offer is unbiblical. Its slight biblical basis is a half-dozen texts or so, all of which are wrongly interpreted by the defenders of the well-meant offer.

Not Confessionally Reformed

Nor is there any ground for the well-meant offer in the Reformed confessions. The Christian Reformed synod of 1924 cited as evidence for the well-meant offer certain passages from the Canons of Dordt: Canons II.5, Canons III/ IV.8, and Canons III/IV.9. “But,” declares Blacketer,

these passages speak of no such thing. Canons II.5 speaks of the mandate to proclaim the gospel to all, including its promises and obligations, to all persons without discrimination. But this refers to the command to preach the gospel to all nations, and really has no bearing on whether this activity, known as the external call, constitutes an offer on God’s part to all who hear it (p. 40).

Canons III/IV.8 teaches the “serious call,” to be sure. But the synod of 1924 assumed, in the face of the testimony of all the rest of the Canons, that the Synod of Dordt had the same conception of the serious, external call of the gospel as did the Arminians. For the Arminians, the serious call of the gospel was, indeed, a call “with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save.” But “Dort does not share that view…. Dort rejects the idea that God wills or intends to save all, as should be clear from Canons I.6 and 15.” For Dort, the serious call “does not imply any will or intention to save on God’s part; it only reveals the obligation of sinners” (pp. 41-43).

As for Canons III/IV.9, which does mention the word “offer,” the meaning is that “all persons who hear the gospel are confronted with Christ, or that they encounter Christ in the gospel” (p. 45).

Not Logically Reformed

The CRC has always defended the well-meant offer against the charge that it contradicts the biblical doctrine of predestination and particular grace by asserting that truth is “paradoxical.” Because the PRC maintain that God’s revelation in Scripture is non-contradictory, harmonious, and logical, the CRC accuses Protestant Reformed theologians of being “rationalists.”

Blacketer denies that Reformed theology is paradoxical, that is, “that apparently incompatible theological statements are in fact somehow resolved in the mind of God.” Calvin certainly did not view theology as paradoxical. “Calvin argues with his opponents by pointing out the logical inconsistencies in their arguments, and demonstrating both the biblical faithfulness and the logical coherence of his own.” Calvin was no “Barthian before Barth.” The recent Reformed and Presbyterian glorying in paradoxical theology stands in conflict, not only with the thinking of the Reformation but also with the thinking of the church of all ages. It was “the Reformation and pre-Reformation conviction that God’s revelation is not only reasonable, but accessible to reason and capable of a coherent systematization.”

The fact that not everything is revealed to us, and that our theology is limited by our human capacities, does not give us permission to advance an incoherent system of theology. We may not set faith over against logic or confession over against understanding (p. 51).


The Christian Reformed theologian defends the PRC against the common but unjustified charge of hyper-Calvinism:

Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches do not deny the serious call of the gospel; they simply deny that this call should be characterized as an offer of salvation or represented as God’s intention to impart salvation…. The charge of hyper-Calvinism is an unjustified and uncharitable instance of guilt by association (p. 50).

The Well-Meant Offer: Arminian!

Blacketer’s conclusions are weighty. Because the doctrine of the well-meant offer was at the heart of the common grace controversy in 1924, the expulsion of those who then formed the PRC was “the most significant ecclesiastical schism that the Christian Reformed Church has yet endured in its history” (p. 37).

In adopting the well-meant offer, the 1924 synod of the CRC committed a “substantial error.” The error was “its acceptance of the Arminian definition of the sincere call—a definition that is clearly rejected by Canons III/IV.8…. The 1924 synod added Arminian elements to Reformed soteriology.” Blacketer correctly relates the CRC’s acceptance of the Arminian doctrine of the call of the gospel to the teaching of Christian Reformed theologian William Heyns, that God gives covenant grace to all the children of believing parents enabling them all to believe and be saved, if they will (p. 64).

As a result of the CRC’s misinterpretation of the confessions and of prominent Reformed theologians, “the ministers Hoeksema and Danhof were condemned, in part, for defending the proper interpretation of the Reformed confessions” (p. 39).

As Dr. Bolt does in the first article, Dr. Blacketer urges the two denominations to work at being reconciled:

In the future, the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches should strive to amend the errors of the past, and perhaps even obtain a greater degree of charitable respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ (p. 65).

I will comment on these two significant articles in the April 2000 CTJ in the next issue of the SB, God willing.

One thing must be plain to all. The remarkable articles underscore the grand testimony that the 1924 synod of the CRC itself gave to Hoeksema and Danhof and, thus, to the PRC.

“Reformed in … the fundamental truths!”