31 May, 2016


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Chapter 1: The Real Point Not Addressed

For some weeks the Reverend H. Keegstra editor-in-chief of De Wachter, (The Watchman) the Dutch-language organ of the Christian Reformed Church, has been instructing his readers about correct and pure preaching, the kind of preaching which ought to be heard from Reformed pulpits. Our attention was drawn especially to the fact that in various articles he ventured an attempt to make it clear that the presentation of a well-meant offer of grace and salvation truly has a place in Reformed circles, that it is a plant growing from Reformed soil, and that it is an indispensable element in all true preaching. The doctrine that the offer of grace, well-meant on God’s part, comes to all those who hear the Gospel must, according to the conviction of the editor-in-chief, be maintained, if we are not to lose our pure Reformed character.

We venture to suggest that in writing these articles he has more than once had our Protestant Reformed Churches in mind.

And perhaps it is also not too bold to suggest that the Rev. Keegstra even expected that we would respond to the content of his articles.

In any event, this was indeed our intention from the very beginning of his series of articles.

And we are of the opinion that, although the Rev. Keegstra has not yet completed his series, we can make a beginning (taking into consideration what the Rev. Keegstra has produced) by proposing some thoughts concerning this important subject.

Let it be said from the outset that although we could appreciate much that the Rev. Keegstra wrote about Practical Preaching, and agree with it, we nevertheless emphatically differ with him when he proposes that a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation has a place in Reformed preaching. Precisely the fact that we consider this doctrine to be unbiblical and unreformed constitutes one of the reasons why we are impelled to cross swords with the Rev. Keegstra.

We consider this entire presentation dangerous.

The presentation of a general and well-meant offer of grace not only cannot be harmonized with the Reformed doctrine of election and reprobation, as its defenders readily admit; but it also militates against the entire line of Reformed thinking, belief, and confession. It is a denial of the Reformed confession of God’s grace at virtually every point.

What, if we do not play with words, is the idea of an offer? What are the various elements implied in that term?

In the first place, there is certainly implied the earnest and sincere desire, on the part of him who offers, to bestow something upon a certain person or persons. If there is an offer of grace on God’s part to all men, then this implies, if it means anything at all, that there is in God the earnest will and desire to bestow grace on all men. If this is not the case, if the defenders of this doctrine deny this, then the offer is simply not sincere and honourable. But the defenders of this theory even emphasize this point when they add that this offer is well-meant. Also the Rev. Keegstra is committed to this position, as appears from the article “The Offer of the Gospel Sincere” in De Wachter, April 16, 1930.

In the second place, the concept offer also includes, if it is to mean anything, that he who makes the offer actually possesses that which he offers, that it is available, so that in case the offer is accepted, it can also be granted. Anyone who offers something which he does not possess is branded a dishonourable bluff among men. If therefore the general offer of grace and salvation is to mean anything, if one does not play with words when he uses that term, then there must be grace and salvation for all men.

In the third place, there is implied in an offer the idea that that which is offered is recommended to another. He who offers manifests his earnest desire that that which is offered shall be accepted; and for that reason he highly commends it. With a view to our subject, this implies that God manifests the earnest desire that all men shall be savedeveryone, head for head and soul for soul. For in the presentation of such a general offer it is precisely emphasized that this well-meant offer exactly does not pertain only to the elect, but to all men who come under the preaching of the Gospel. And note carefully, the doctrine is not that the Gospel must be preached to all men by the preacher, but that God Himself offers His grace to all men and thereby manifests the earnest desire that it shall be accepted by all.

In the fourth place, the idea of such a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation implies that the one who offers either makes the offer unconditionally or upon a condition of which he knows that those to whom the offer comes are able to fulfil it. If I set a delicious meal before someone who is bound hand and foot, offer that meal to him and express my earnest desire that he may do justice to that meal, then I mock him. Applied to our subject, the well-meant offer of grace and salvation implies that God knows that all men can accept it. Unless you are playing with words, you shall have to concede this.

Everyone will have to concede that all these elements are implied in the idea of an offer.

Do not say now that we again want to comprehend things, that we are putting reason on the foreground. For such bogey-men have no effect on us. We are not engaged in trying to harmonise one thing with another before our rational understanding. We are simply discussing the ordinary meaning of the words which are used by those who speak of a general offer of grace. When we use words, then those words have meaning. We cannot simply inject into them a meaning as it pleases us or as it may best suit us. And without any danger of contradiction we can indeed establish that all that we have written above is indeed included in the notion of an offer. None of the four elements mentioned can be eliminated. If you nevertheless exclude one of them, you have no offer left. We say this the more freely because the entire term “well-meant and general offer of grace” never occurs in Holy Scripture. It is a term of human invention. And in the paragraphs above we have done nothing else than to analyze the term in order to understand what we are discussing.

Now thus understood, the entire notion of a general, well-meant offer of grace militates at every point against the biblical, Reformed conception of God’s grace.

For as far as the first point is concerned, the Reformed doctrine is not that there is with God the earnest will and desire to bestow grace upon all men; but grace is particular according to God’s decree and intention. God does not will in any single sense of the word that all men, head for head and soul for soul, shall be saved. He wills to bestow grace upon the elect, and upon none other. This is the clear scriptural, Reformed doctrine. And not only has He determined to bestow grace only upon some; He has also determined to bestow no grace on others. There is therefore also a determinate will in God to bestow no grace upon some men. And with this, the first essential element of a general offer is already ruled out and simply made impossible. You cannot be Reformed and speak of a general offer of grace on God’s part.

With respect to the second point, namely, that he who makes an offer must possess that which he offers, the Reformed doctrine is that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, that the satisfaction of Christ is particular, pertains only to the elect, that grace for all men was never merited by Christ, and that therefore it simply does not exist. With this, according to Reformed standards, the second essential element of such a general offer of grace and salvation falls away. Everyone shall have to concede that I cannot offer what I do not possess. Every Reformed person will concede that there is in Christ no grace for all men. And every rational person will also grant that either the Reformed position or that of a general offer of grace and salvation must fall.

As far as the third point is concerned, namely, that he who offers must clearly manifest that what he offers is sincerely intended for all to whom it is offered, it is the Reformed doctrine that this is precisely not the case. No Reformed preacher may ever say that God has intended grace for everyone. Also the Rev. Keegstra, who now and then admittedly struggles to remain Reformed with his defense of this foreign idea, conceded this. But herewith the third essential element also falls away. God simply does not offer grace to all, i.e., He Himself teaches us most clearly that He wills to bestow grace only on the elect. Also in this respect the one view literally militates against the other.

Finally, it is the Reformed doctrine, in contrast with the fourth point which we mentioned as an essential element of every offer, that no natural man can accept grace in Christ, that grace is precisely not a matter of offer and acceptance whatsoever, but of the irresistible operation of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, if one presents things as though grace in Christ is an unconditional offer on God’s part to sinful man, then this conflicts with the Reformed position: for there is no man who would by nature be willing to accept God’s grace. And if you propose that salvation in Christ is an earnest offer of grace on condition of faith, then this is equally not in harmony with the Reformed position: for no one is in a position to fulfil that condition. In one word, it is Reformed to say that there is no one among men who even possesses in himself the very least of that whereby he would be able to accept an offered salvation. But with this position also the possibility of an offer falls away absolutely. For what sense does it have to speak of an offer of something to men of whom one is certain that they cannot accept that which is offered?

It is plain, therefore, that at every point the idea of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation militates against the Reformed truth. The one is simply a denial of the other.

The two exclude one another.

For that reason we said that we consider the idea dangerous.

It is misleading. Therefore it is even more dangerous than plain and simple Arminianism.

For they want to hold to the view of a general, well-meant offer of grace, but also be called Reformed.

And in order to do this they have to accomplish the juggling act of maintaining two mutually exclusive ideas and forcing these upon faith. And if then one points out that this cannot be, that you can never demand this of a reasonable faith, then they tell you that this belongs to the mysteries and that you may not try to penetrate further into this. As if we make ourselves guilty of spiritual intrusion when we ask that they make plain to us how it can be true that God offers something which He does not want to bestow, that He wills that which He does not will (“will” taken here in the same sense both times), that black is white, that yes is no, or, according to the presentation of the “double-track” philosophy of Van Baalen,1 how can a train run at the same time on two sets of rails in two opposite directions?

But it finally comes down to this, that men consider Reformed what is purely Remonstrant, and delude the congregation into thinking that they are proclaiming the Reformed truth while they nevertheless do nothing else than proclaim and strongly defend Arminianism.

Now that is the chief reason why we want to investigate the articles of the Rev. Keegstra and subject them to the test of Scripture and the Confessions.

We entitled this chapter: “The Real Point Not Addressed.”

The articles of the Rev. Keegstra could leave the impression on some who are not knowledgeable concerning the case, who know something about it but do not discern the real issue, that the esteemed editor of De Wachter has furnished a defense in these articles of the first of the Three Points adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924.

Do not misunderstand us. It is not our intention to assert that it was the intention of the Rev. Keegstra to write a defense of the First Point. Much less would we impute to him that it lay in his intention to leave the impression that he wanted to defend and has also defended Point I of 1924.

We even want to believe that a man like the Rev. Keegstra understands very well that Point I cannot be defended.

But although all this may be true, the fact remains that his series of articles could nevertheless leave that impression.

After all, men have gradually tried to present matters as though our difference with the Christian Reformed Church really officially concerned the question whether there is a well-meant offer of grace in the preaching, without anything more; that the Christian Reformed Church has declared in Point I that there is such an offer; that this is the content of Point I; and that we have denied this.

Besides, the Rev. Keegstra sometimes leaves the impression in his articles that he had our churches in mind when he wrote.

Therefore we think that it is not superfluous to warn the reading public and to declare here with emphasis: The Editor-in-Chief of De Wachter has not touched, has not addressed, the real point of the First Point.

He has not touched it with so much as a letter.

What after all is the content of the First Point?

It reads as follows:

Relative to the first point, which concerns the favourable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III/IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel, while it also appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favoured this view.
What is the real point of this first point?

Merely that the offer of the Gospel is general?

No, but that this offer of the Gospel is general grace.

The preaching of the Gospel, thus the Synod of 1924 taught, is grace of God not only for the elect but also for the reprobate, not only for those who are saved by it but equally for those who go lost under it.

This is the point.

The preaching of the Gospel is grace for all.

And this point was not touched by the Rev. Keegstra. Let it be said once again: This certainly was not in his intention; it is of great importance that we see this clearly.

We hold, over against the First Point of 1924, that the preaching of the Gospel is grace only for the elect, that for the reprobate it never is and never can be anything else than judgment and a savor of death unto death. Therein lies our disagreement with the Christian Reformed Church a far as Point I is concerned. As we do not hesitate to declare bluntly that the standpoint of 1924 is Arminian. The preaching of the Gospel is general gracethat is the Arminian position.

Let the Rev. Keegstra, or any of the leaders in the Christian Reformed Church, simply furnish an answer to the question we have so often posed: what grace do the reprobate receive from God in the preaching of the Gospel? And you will see how Arminian such an answer would be.

But no one has ever ventured an answer to that question. Neither does the Rev. Keegstra attempt one.

The real point of the First Point was not touched by him.

We must point to one more matter before we conclude this introductory chapter.

The Rev. Keegstra sometimes leaves the impression that we or others, who reject the position of a well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to all men, would take the stand that we must preach only for the elect

Also here we will gladly accept that it did not lie in the intention of the esteemed editor to leave that impression. But, in the first place, one must not forget that we have been pictured that way by others upon occasion. I think here especially of Prof. L. Berkhof. And in the second place, one could nevertheless gain that impression from some passages of the Rev. Keegstra’s articles. Thus he writes, for example in De Wachter of April 9, 1930:

We need not timidly hesitate at this and anxiously ask whether all those hearers are indeed elect, of, if one would rather express it that way, whether Christ with his atoning death has indeed made satisfaction for all those people head for head. Never and nowhere in Scripture is the preacher charged to investigate that first, before he sends forth to his hearers the Gospel entrusted to him. For that matter he cannot even do this. What mere human is in a position to sift his fellow men and to separate the sheep from the goats? Indeed the elect, after their regeneration, make themselves known in part by their works. But even from that we still do not have absolute certainty because there are hypocrites. And the reprobate can certainly not be known before their death.

Now we do not say that we would subscribe to all that the esteemed writer has stated here. Especially is not all of this true concerning congregational preaching. The tree is indeed known by its fruits, also for us. And the preaching of the Word in the congregation must indeed be sifting and separating discipline. Besides, the congregation sifts and separates also in ecclesiastical discipline. A few generalities do not by any means suffice here. But for the rest we can readily concede to the writer that a preacher need not first timidly and anxiously inquire whether all in the congregation are elect, or, in case he labors as a missionary, whether all in his audience are elect. I could safely go a step farther and say that he knows beforehand that this is not the case. Scripture teaches him that plainly. For Holy Scripture does not only teach that Christ has not atoned for all men, nor merely in general that there are elect and reprobate, but also that the reprobate as well as elect belong to the visible manifestation of the congregation; that reprobate as well as elect are brought under the preaching of the Gospel by the Lord Himself. In other words, he knows that it is the will of the Lord that the Gospel shall be brought not only to the elect but also to the reprobate. All anxious inquiry whether all are indeed elect, therefore, is summarily excluded here. A preacher who would want to speak only for the elect does not understand the will of his Sender, cannot possibly accomplish his task.

But there was also no definite reason for the Rev. Keegstra to write these words.

As far as I know, there have never been such preachers who anxiously make this inquiry, preachers who want to preach the Word only to the elect.

Hence, it was not necessary to write about this.

The Rev. Keegstra himself states that it would be impossible to separate his audience in that manner, and thus first to investigate whether all are indeed elect. But if it is impossible, then certainly no one will ever first accomplish or try to accomplish the impossible, before he proclaims the Gospel.

Yet much writing can indeed leave the impression that we think that way. The more so, because as was already remarked, that impression has been given by others.

Therefore we must first make this declaration from the heart.

If we are to speak with one another about the truth, where there is difference of views, then the precise point of difference must first be clearly grasped. This is a prime requisite. Neither must we blur this point and becloud the discussion by dragging into the discussion all kinds of incorrect and untrue presentations.

Our difference, therefore, is not at all about the question whether the Gospel, according to the will of God, must also be proclaimed to all who come among our audience, reprobate as well as elect.

This is established on both sides.

But our difference indeed concerns the question what the real character of that preaching is, what its content must be, and what God’s purpose is with this preaching with respect to both elect and reprobate.

And then our difference with Keegstra lies here, that he maintains that we deny that the preaching of the Gospel is a well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to all men.

And our difference with the official declaration of the Christian Reformed Church lies here, that it teaches and we deny that that preaching of the Gospel is grace for all men.

About these things we hope to write more, in connection with the articles from the pen of the Rev. Keegstra.


1. The Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen, one of the common grace protagonists of 1924, HCH.

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