28 March, 2016

The Biblical Offer of the Gospel:
Analysis and answer to Rev. K. W. Stebbins' book “Christ Freely Offered” in Light of Scripture and the Confessions.

Rev. Christopher J. Connors

Chapter Two - The Offer of the Gospel.

The Term "Offer" Clarified:

Before we enter into a treatment of Rev. Stebbins' argument, the term "offer" must be clarified.

The Westminster Confession defines the offer, and God's purpose in the offer, in this way:

“Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, (of works) the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace: whereby He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” (W.C.F. VII, 3).

How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?

“The Grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provided and offereth to sinners a Mediator and life and salvation by Him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in Him, and promiseth and giveth His Holy Spirit to all His elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” (Larger Catechism, 32)

Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

“Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.” (Larger Catechism, 59).

Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

“God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.” (Smaller Catechism, 20).

With these statements of our Reformed confession we are in complete agreement. We understand them, however, to exclude Rev. Stebbins "well meant" offer.

There are several points that need to be made at the outset. Firstly, our dispute with Rev. Stebbins presentation of the "free offer" is primarily with the notion that in the offer God actively delights or desires to save all sinners. This notion in respect to the reprobate, requires a conditional will to their salvation, Christ dead for them conditionally, and common (general?) grace for all. These are the basic premises of Arminianism. They stand in flat contradiction to the statements of the Confession as quoted above.

Secondly, we believe that the "offer" of the gospel must be viewed Theologically and Christologically before its purpose and content can be rightly understood. It is emphatically the sovereign GOD'S gospel of salvation IN CHRIST.26 Only as such can it be that power of God unto salvation of which we need never be ashamed.27 We believe, that Rev. Stebbins' well-meant offer can be grounded only in a conditional will to the salvation of all, and the subsequent offer of Christ's blood shed for all. Therefore, the discussion must grapple with what Scripture reveals concerning the sovereign purpose, will and work of God in Christ at every point. This means also that the discussion must be covenantal and have God's one saving purpose in Christ Jesus at its center. It is after all, the offer of the covenant God, concerning Christ, the Surety and Head of the elect, the Mediator of the covenant of grace with which we are concerned.

This covenantal approach is possible, and indeed necessary, because God's purpose concerning the salvation of sinners in Christ through the preaching of the gospel is clearly revealed in Scripture. It is true that God does not reveal the names of those individuals who are His elect, however He does reveal that He has a chosen people, that He intends only their salvation, and that they alone are saved by grace in Christ Jesus their Mediator. God also reveals the means by which He "pursues" His elect's salvation, namely, the gospel proclaimed to all men to whom God sends it in His providence.

Thirdly, it is our judgment that Rev. Stebbins' use of the confessional term "offer" can more accurately be described as a well-meant offer. The term "offer" does not imply "desire" in God to save as Rev. Stebbins would have us understand.28 "Offer" in the Reformed Confessions is the Latin term "offero", meaning to present, exhibit, or set forth.29 It is in this sense that the term "offer" is used by the Westminster Confession of Faith (W.C.F.) and associated documents. The “Sum of Saving Knowledge” in accord with the Latin offero and biblical teaching, defines "offer" in relation to the means of grace as "to clearly hold forth Christ already crucified before our eyes." Or again, as Larger Catechism 72 says: "(Faith) rests upon Christ and His righteousness, therein held forth." The apostle Paul sets the biblical pattern. The gospel must be preached so that men are obliged to: "Obey the truth, (as those) before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?"30 Offer means that "the Gospel is externally proposed . . ."31 Therefore, although it is not Rev. Stebbins' terminology, for the sake of clarity, and to distinguish the confessional usage, we use the term offer in the confessional sense of "hold forth before the mind", and the term well-meant offer with reference to Rev. Stebbins' position.

The Biblical Offer Described:

As to its content, the confessional offer includes both the clear setting forth of Christ crucified and God's way of salvation in Him.32 The offer presupposes the setting forth of God's exalted holiness and the law to convince and convict men of sin and to show them their urgent need of Christ.33 It sets forth and displays Christ crucified as the blessed and only Saviour in all His glory, beauty, suitability and sufficiency for the chief of sinners.34 It authoritatively declares the command and call of God to all men, without exception, to repent and believe as the only way to life.35 It beseeches and with the cords of love and grace, tenderly draws the labouring, heavy-laden sinner to Christ and salvation in Him. It promises the Spirit to the elect to make them able and willing to come,36 and it proclaims the particular promise of God, that all who come will surely find mercy.37 In short, it must herald the good news of the gospel to sinners - nothing less, and nothing more.

The presentation of the gospel - the offer - in its totality does not constitute, or even imply, a well-meant offer to all. The presentation of the gospel implies no active delight, desire or longing within God toward the salvation of all in the preaching. All that can be rightfully implied from the gospel offer is that God is pleased to save repentant, believing sinners - nothing more. The well-meant offer, however, cannot stand without first presupposing a conditional will of God to the salvation of the reprobate, Christ dead for all, and general grace. These are, of course the most basic premises of Arminianism.38 They, and the offer they create, must be rejected.

Furthermore, God's purpose in the "offer" is to accomplish the salvation of the elect, and leave the reprobate without excuse in their sin. The reprobate "stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed."39 This is God's sovereign appointment and purpose which is realised through the preaching of the gospel. Thus “The Sum of Saving Knowledge” declares: "By these outward ordinances, as our Lord makes the reprobate inexcusable, so, by the power of His Spirit, he applies unto the elect effectually all saving graces purchased to them . . ."40 The offer is the means, therefore, through which God calls all men with an outward call to faith and repentance, and through which outward call He executes His purpose according to predestination, namely, to leave the reprobate as a responsible creature without excuse for his despising Christ; while at the same time, through those same means, but now graciously in the hands of the Spirit of Christ, inwardly, irresistibly and effectually to call His elect to saving faith and repentance unto life.

This understanding of the "offer" gives the framework for our discussion and reply to Rev. Stebbins.

We turn our attention now to the three questions Rev Stebbins has answered in the affirmative.



26. Romans 1:1, 15, 16; I Timothy 1:11

27. Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1: 17ff.

28. The confessional term "offer" does not carry the weight that Rev. Stebbins wants to give it. It does not imply a conditional will or delight of God toward the salvation of all, nor does it imply any ability in the sinner to receive it, both of which are at the very least implied in Stebbins' offer.

29. David Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. (Grand Rapids: R.F.P.A, 1980,) p. 36.

30. Galatians 3:1. The Greek word prographoo is used here and means firstly, "to write beforehand," as in respect to time; then "to depict or portray openly," as in respect to place and sight. Thayer understands Gal. 3:1 to mean: "taught most definitely and plainly concerning the meritorious efficacy of the death of Christ." The term is figurative and means "to write before the eyes of all who believe." This passage gives the Biblical meaning of the term offer as used in the Reformed confessions.

31. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man. vol.1, (Escondido: The Den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990), p. 354.

32. This is the meaning of Larger Catechism 32. The grace of God is manifest in the new covenant in that: "(God) freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by Him, and requireth faith as the condition (means) to interest them in Him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all the elect, to work in them that faith . . ."

33. Romans 3:19, see also W.C.F. XV. i; Larger Cat. 95-96, and “The Practical Use of Saving Knowledge.”

34. I Cor. 1:23-24, I Tim. 1: 15.

35. Acts 2: 38, 3:19; Ezek. 33:11.

36. Ezekiel 36:26-27, John 6:44-45 and W.C.F. VII, iii.

37. Matthew 11:28, Isaiah 55:1-8.

38. We believe it can be demonstrated that the "well-meant" offer is an implicit denial of the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and preservation of the saints. Rev. Stebbins clearly says he holds to these truths and for this we are thankful. That he can say he actually holds to both the universalistic principles of the "well-meant" offer AND to particular grace flowing from double predestination can only be attributed to the "necessary principle of contradiction" inherent in modern-modified Calvinism. This principle has come to be known as the "divine paradox" and functions like a carpet under which these embarrassing necessary-contradictions are swept.

39. 1Peter 2: 8.

40. Sum of Saving Knowledge, Head IV.

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