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 Six – A Sincere Biblical Offer

Though Rev. Stebbins' well-meant offer is inherently insincere, God is and can be seen to be completely sincere in every aspect of the biblical offer of the gospel.

Firstly, because He has provided a Mediator, Christ Jesus, and sets Him forth in absolute verity as the Saviour of sinners. In this God is absolutely sincere.

Secondly, because God seriously and solemnly commands all sinners as responsible, rational, moral creatures to repent and believe on Christ as the way unto life. If the sinner, who is responsible and accountable for his own actions, perishes because he will not believe, he may never blame the righteous and holy God.

"The cause and guilt of this unbelief as well as of all other sins is no wise in God, but in man himself, whereas faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through Him is the free gift of God . . ."182

This being so it cannot be argued, as does Rev. Stebbins, that God must love, be gracious toward and pursue the reprobate with salvation before he can be held accountable for his rejection of Christ. This is to deny God's sovereign right to command the whole duty of sinners. When God commands, the sinner is obligated to obey. Nothing could be clearer, nothing could be more sincere. Furthermore, God is under no obligation to bestow grace upon sinners to make them willing and able to obey. That He does so flows alone from His sovereign electing love in Christ.

Thirdly, God is absolutely sincere in His promise of life to all those who repent and believe. The biblical offer is the revelation of what God REALLY wills in regard to the salvation of sinners. As Francis Turretin has pointed out:

“When God's revealed will signifies that he wills the salvation of all believers and penitents it signifies that He wills that which He really wills and nothing is more true, nothing more sincere than such a declaration."183

God actively wills the salvation of all penitent sinners. His promise is personal and particular to sinners who repent and believe. It is never made generally to all men if they will fulfill certain conditions. The particular promise is sincere because it promises what God Himself intends to do and has already provided in Christ. It is always and forever fulfilled.

In the Biblical offer, Christ promises "rest" to the "weary and heavy laden" sinner, "water and bread of life" to the spiritually "thirsty and hungry" and salvation to the man who sees himself as sick and perishing in sin; never is God's promise made generally to those who are carnally secure and smugly self-righteous.184 This is so, because it is through the means of the outward call of the gospel Christ effectually calls His sheep by name. They recognise their spiritual name and heed the Shepherd's call. The elect sinner hears himself described in his spiritual condition, heavy laden, weary, hungry, thirsty, poor, guilty sinner. Ah! cries the awakened sinner with wonder: He calls ME! Jesus is calling me! I will flee to Him who so graciously calls me, the sinner, to rest and life. For I see Him now as the altogether lovely one, the Saviour of God's providing who is able to save sinners like me. This is the overwhelming tender kindness of God's love (Jer. 31:3). It melts the heart, overcomes all resistance and draws the elect sinner to Jesus Christ in wholehearted approbation of God's way of salvation in Him. The elect sinner sees Christ as the answer to his every need, his all sufficient and blessed Saviour. He is brought to cry:

O the manifold wisdom and unsearchable love of God, to prepare and furnish a Saviour so fully answering all the needs, all the distresses, all the fears and burdens of a poor sinner."185

Thankfully, the gospel offer is not trapped in Rev. Stebbins' quandary. It can answer positively, AND DEMONSTRATE to the needy sinner that the Biblical, Confessional offer186 is sincere. Christ Jesus the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace, and His particular, substitutionary atonement are the strong rock and high tower of the biblical offer.

God's offer, the biblical offer, is without contradiction or duplicity of any sort. God promises to repentant, believing sinners what He has eternally purposed to give, namely the full and free salvation provided in the blood of Christ Jesus. The proclamation from beginning to end is a declaration of sovereign, particular, saving grace in Christ directed by God toward the gathering of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This offer is full and free and unfettered. The Reformed preacher will labour earnestly to impress upon every hearer through sound doctrine the perfect sufficiency, suitableness and graciousness of Jesus Christ to save to the uttermost all who flee unto Him by faith. He will call every sinner earnestly, patiently and with tears to repent and believe. He will proclaim without hesitation God's faithful promise that there is in Christ full and free salvation for EVERY SINNER WHO COMES. But, he will not make unfounded assertions that go far BEYOND his clear warrant of Scripture. He is therefore, both unfettered in his preaching, AND free from the insincerity that is inherent in Rev. Stebbins' well-meant offer.

Rejection of the Well-Meant Offer Not Hyper-Calvinism:

Rev. Stebbins infers that any who dare to deny his conception of a well-meant offer are thereby manifest as "hyper-Calvinist." He thinks that to deny the well-meant offer is to deny the confessional "free" offer. In this he is seriously mistaken. An hyper-Calvinist is one who believes the gospel should only be offered to those who are already regenerated and convinced of sin. The hyper-Calvinist confession expresses it this way:

“We deny duty faith and duty repentance--these terms signify that it is every man's duty spiritually and savingly to repent and believe . . . We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God . . . While we believe that the gospel is to be preached in or proclaimed to all the world, as in Mark 16:14, we deny offers of grace; that is to say, that the gospel is to be offered indiscriminately to all.”187

Thus, the hyper-Calvinist limits those to whom the gospel may be offered and will not call all men without distinction to faith and repentance. We uttterly reject this error which would choke off the good news of the gospel, the power of God unto salvation, before it can be spoken.

We take up our position between the hyper-Calvinist on the right hand and the hypothetical universalism of Stebbins on the left. We insist that the gospel MUST be preached, and preached fully, freely, and earnestly calling all men, without distinction, to faith and repentance as the God ordained way unto life in Jesus Christ.

Rev. Stebbins throws a wide and loose loop when he seeks to portray our denial of the well-meant offer as hyper-Calvinism. He must throw his loop over the large and venerable company with whom we stand.

John Knox is among our number:

“True it is that Isaiah the prophet and Christ Jesus Himself with His apostles do call on all to come to repentance; but that generally is restrained by their own words; to those that thirst, that hunger, that mourn, that are laden with sin as before we have taught.”188

John Owen is prominent also:

“Multitudes of these invitations and calls are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements which divine wisdom knows to be suited to lost, convinced sinners, in their present state and condition.”189

Samuel Rutherford is also included:

“It is most untrue that Christ belongeth to sinners as sinners for then Christ should belong to all unbelievers, how obstinate soever, even to those that sin against the Holy Ghost. ... He belongeth only to believing sinners. Those thus and thus qualified are to believe and come to Christ. It is true all sinners are obliged to believe, but to believe after the order of free grace, that is, that they be first self-lost and sick and then be saved by the physician.”190

John Flavel demands to be included.

“The order of the Spirit's work in bringing men to Christ, shows us to whom the invitation and offers of grace in Christ are to be made; for none are convinced of righteousness, that is, of the complete and perfect righteousness in Christ for their justification until first they are convinced of sin; and consequently no man comes to Christ by faith till convictions of sin have wakened and distressed him, (John 16:8 10). This being the order of the Spirit's operation, the same order must be observed in gospel offers and invitations.”191

Flavel highlights a fundamentally important truth. He is not saying that evidence of contrition of sin is a pre-requisite to freely PREACHING CHRIST CRUCIFIED like the hyper-Calvinist. Rather, he is pointing out that the PROMISE declared in the offer belongs personally to contrite believing sinners. When this order is observed there is simply no place for a well-meant offer. There is an order of operation of the Spirit in drawing sinners to Christ, which order determines that there may be no universal conditional promise, as is necessary in the well-meant offer.

The number of faithful witnesses could be multiplied.

The Divine Order Of The Gospel Offer:

The point Knox, Owen, Rutherford and Flavel make should not slip by unnoticed. There is a Divine order in the operation of free grace which is to be reflected in a faithful, biblical offer of the gospel.

John Flavel, as quoted above, uses the term "offer" in the way we have defined it. Flavel, speaks in the context of the Spirit working through the gospel to bring elect sinners to Christ, and in this context the way he uses the term offer makes a vitally important point. His use of the term implies that the offer of the gospel, as it applies the particular promise of God to the heart of the labouring sinner is indeed an expression of God's sincere desire and delight in bestowing life upon repentant, believing sinners.192 This is certainly correct. The offer of the gospel is well-meant to the elect, regenerated sinner in the full sense of the word. It is so without the least hint of insincerity. The Reformed faith does not need to conjure up some kind of hypothetical universalism to be able to press the gospel with power and compassion upon the hearts of men.

Sinners must see themselves as sinners before they can flee for refuge to Christ. This order of free grace that is set out in Scripture may not be reversed so that Christ and salvation are promised indiscriminately to all. When this reversal takes place to allow room for a well-meant offer, the gospel of sovereign, free grace is robbed of its power, glory and comfort.

The biblical offer requires a close and personal applying of the promise of salvation and life in such a way that it reaches out to the convicted sinner to encourage him to come and rest upon Christ in true faith. To the penitent believer there is indeed the assurance that it is God's desire and delight to give Christ and all the blessings of the Covenant of Grace in Him. The faithful preacher of the gospel proclaims the truth of God's will, delight and faithful promise to receive ALL penitent, believing sinners. In the offer of the gospel the love of Christ reaches out in the promise to tenderly encourage and sweetly draw the convicted sinner into His life and rest. This aspect of the preaching in which God draws the convicted sinner unto Christ with bowels of love and tenderness is a vital aspect of the truth of the gospel call. The cords of God's love are personal and particular and exceeding sweet to the burdened sinner. In the preaching this MUST be evident.



182. Canons of Dort. I, v.

183. Turretin, Op. cit. p. 225.

184. Matt. 11:28, Isa. 55:1, Mark 2:17 .

185. John Flavel, The Method of Grace. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 122.

186. This Confessional offer reads thus: "(God) freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator and life and salvation by Him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, 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 Cat. 32).

187. Articles of Faith of the Gospel Standard Aid and Poor Relief Societies.

188. John Knox, Op. cit. p. 404.

189. John Owen, The Glory of Christ. p. 229.

190. Samuel Rutherford, Op. cit. p. 128ff.

191. Ibid. p. 205.

192. A careful reading of many of the Puritan divines claimed as support by the proponents of the "well-meant" offer reveals that they held views that so militated against the idea of contradictory wills within God and universal love and grace, that they can not be so claimed. Admittedly they used the term "common grace" but this had a fundamentally different meaning then from what it has now. It meant what we have described as the goodness of God upon His creation as sovereign benevolent creator.

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