Throughout their history, up to the present day, the Protestant Reformed Churches have been misrepresented as hyper-Calvinists, because of their denial of the well-meant offer of the gospel. This has been done by charging that they preach only to the elect, by charging that they refuse to call everyone to Christ, by charging that they do not believe in missions, and by outrightly referring to them as hyper-Calvinists.
That which is objectionable in the “free offer of the gospel,” or “well-meant gospel offer,” is not the teaching that the Church must preach the gospel to everyone and must call all hearers to faith in Jesus Christ. But the error of the doctrine of the, offer, and the reason why a Reformed man must repudiate it, is its teaching that the grace of God in Jesus Christ, grace that is saving in character, is directed to all men in the preaching of the gospel.
The previous article began to show that the rejection of the offer of the gospel is motivated, not by hyper-Calvinism, but by Calvinism. It was argued that the offer, since it universalizes the grace of God in Jesus Christ, is inherently a denial of the sovereignty of grace.
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.
The Reformed doctrine of the preaching of the gospel must sail between the Scylla of hyper-Calvinism and the Charybdis of Arminianism. On the one hand is the rock of hyper-Calvinism which denies that the call of the gospel comes, in all seriousness, to everyone who hears the preaching, elect and reprobate alike. On the other hand is the whirlpool of Arminianism which makes the preaching a well-meant offer of God to all who hear. The Reformed view, and practice, of preaching must neither be smashed on the one nor sucked down into the other.
The question must now be faced, whether the Reformed doctrine of the call of the gospel is actually threatened by the error of hyper-Calvinism. Does the denial of the well-meant offer have to exert itself to ward off the danger of restricting the preaching of the gospel to born-again believers; the danger of silencing the call to sinners to repent and believe; and the danger of losing zeal for missions?
The reality of the threat of hyper-Calvinism is also indicated by the Scriptures. Scripture warns that the gospel of grace has two outstanding enemies: the teaching that man saves himself by his own working or willing, and the teaching that salvation by grace alone implies carelessness of life or even licentiousness. As Toplady wrote somewhere, in his characteristically vivid manner: “Christ is always crucified between two thieves. Antinomianism and Pharisaism. ” Those who know and love the truth must beware of the former error, as well as the latter.
Herman Hoeksema has been instrumental in the development of the Reformed faith. The area of his outstanding contribution is the doctrine of the covenant: what the covenant is; the sovereignly gracious nature of the establishment and maintenance of the covenant; the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant; the Biblical basis of infant baptism; and related truths.¹ The prominence of the doctrine of the covenant in Scripture and its significance for the Reformed faith are widely recognized.
It is the purpose of this article to give account of the Reformed doctrine and practice of preaching over against the charge that denial of the well-meant offer of the gospel is destructive of lively preaching, especially of lively preaching to the unconverted in missions, or evangelism. It intends to show that there is not one shred of truth in the charge that denial of the offer hampers missions. Hopefully, it will allay the fear of some who, having been misled, go in the direction of the offer because “otherwise we may lose evangelical preaching.”
John Calvin takes up the doctrine of the call of the gospel in Book III of the Institutes, in connection with the doctrine of God’s eternal election. In chapter XXII, section 10, after he has taught that God elects some to Salvation and reprobates others to perdition, he notes that “some object that God would be inconsistent with himself, in inviting all without distinction while he elects only a few.