28 May, 2016

Westminster Confession, VII: 3—“... wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation ...”

Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they might 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 (Westminster Confession of Faith, VII, 3).


Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, (RFPA, 2014), pp. 102-103]

The Westminster Confession of Faith is in full agreement with the Canons of Dordt in limiting the gracious call to the elect. Chapter 3 teaches that God’s eternal and free will is that the elect, and the elect only, be effectually called to Christ. Chapter 5 teaches that God “withholdeth his grace [from the reprobate wicked], whereby they might have been enlightened” so that “they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.” Thus God accomplishes his purpose to “blind and harden” these persons.20 Chapter 10 strictly limits God’s desire for the salvation of men to “those whom God hath predestinated unto life.” To them alone is God gracious “by His Word and Spirit.” The “others, not elected” are only “called by the ministry of the Word” and “can not be saved.”21

In the light of this overwhelming testimony of Westminster to the particularity of the will of God unto salvation and to the particularity of God’s grace, precisely in the matter of the preaching of the gospel, for defenders of the well-meant offer to appeal to the mere mention of the word offer in chapter 7 in support of their notion of a universal will of God unto salvation and of universal grace in the preaching borders on the ludicrous. There is indeed an exhibiting and presenting of Jesus to sinners as the source of life and salvation under the covenant of grace. The blessing of salvation in Christ are proclaimed as free gifts to every one who receives them by believing. This is the meaning of the phrase “He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ,” and this is Reformed orthodoxy. That it is a mistake to discover in the phrase the teaching that God desires the salvation of all and extends his grace to all is evident from the words that immediately follow: “and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.”22 As God freely offers life and salvation under the covenant of grace, his purpose, will and desire are to give life and salvation to the elect only. In the gospel his promise is to the elect only. And by the gospel, which freely offers life to sinners, he gives (not only presents, but also conveys) grace to the elect to make them believe.

It is a curious thing that professing Calvinists, zealous for the well-meant offer, hold up the phrase in the Westminster Confession 7.3, “freely offereth,” as though it were the very essence of Westminster’s doctrine of the calling, indeed the only thing that Westminster has to say on the calling, while ignoring not only all that Westminster teaches elsewhere on the effectual call but also what Westminster says about the particular promise in this article.


20. Westminster Confession of Faith 5.6.

21. Westminster Confession of Faith 10:1 and 4.

22. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

“[Defenders of the well-meant offer] understand these terms as meaning that in the Gospel God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate. But the Westminster Confession in the passage quoted knows nothing of this modern connotation of the terms. This should be evident from the fact that the word offer is used in the sense of the Latin offere, from obfero, and may be translated just as well by “present.” But that it was far from the minds of the authors of the Westminster Confession to teach that in the Gospel God is sincerely seeking the salvation of the reprobate is especially evident from the rest of the same passage: “and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” This, then, is the promise of the covenant, the promise that must be preached: God will give to all the elect his Spirit.



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: A History of the Free Offer, Chapter 5]

While it is true that the term “offer” is used here, (the Latin reads: in quo peccatoribus offert gratuito vitam ac salutem per Jesum Christum), there are several considerations which lead us to conclude that the idea of the offer as used by the school of Amyraut and as promoted by the Davenant men was not intended by the Westminster divines. In the first place, the theology of the offera double will of God, a universal intention in the atonement, a conditional salvationwas not incorporated in the creed. In the second place, the word “offer” is not found in the chapter on effectual calling where one would expect it, but in the section on the covenant, which leads one to think that it was intended by the Westminster fathers, not as a flat statement concerning the offer, but in the sense of Christ presented or set forth in the gospel. In the third place, even in the article where the word is used, it is made synonymous with the command to believe (“freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him …”). And, in this same article, the promise of salvation is said to be to the elect alone (“… and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe”).



Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 4, (Nov. 1973)

Now those who hold to the offer-theory in Presbyterian circles will be quick to grasp at an article like this. But they are grasping at straws. Let alone the fact that the article indeed employs the term “offereth,” (though not in the current sense), and let alone the fact that the article itself by no means speaks of a general offer, but is particularistic, are you going to rest an entire theory, and that, too, a theory which militates against the thought of the entire Confession upon a single use of the word “offereth” in an article which by no stretch of the imagination can be said to set forth a doctrine of an “offer?” To say the least, this is poor theologizing!



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 20, no. 1 (Nov. 1986), pp. 16-18]

There is no question about it that these uses of the term “offer” have often been appealed to in support of the idea that the Westminster divines held not only to an intention on God’s part to save all men, but that the idea of a general atonement was not specifically condemned so as to make the offer sincere. Whether this is a correct and honest interpretation of the creed is another question.19

There are several considerations in this connection which would seem to militate against this.

In the first place, the word “offer” as used in X, 2 is clearly not at issue here. The Latin exhibitam shows that the framers of the Westminster had something quite different in mind than any idea of God’s intention to save all men.

In the second place, the word “offer” need not have the connotation it was given by the men of the Davenant School and is given today by the defenders of the free and well-meant offer of the gospel. This is evident, in the first place, by the fact that the term itself in the Latin means “to present” And, in the second place it is used in this sense in the Canons in III/IV:9.

In the third place, there is evidence that the meaning given to “offer” by the Davenant men was not the meaning of many on the Assembly. According to Warfield,20 Rutherford, a prominent member of the Assembly, seems to have used the term only in the sense of the preaching of the gospel. Warfield also claims21 that Gillespie, another gifted divine, spoke of “offer” in the sense of preaching or in the sense of command when he claimed, during the debate, that command does not always imply intention. For example, when God commands all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ, this does not necessarily imply that it is God’s intention to save those whom he commands. Shaw argues the same point and claims that the Assembly used the term “offer” only in the sense of “present.”22

In the fourth place, Schaff may claim that the Westminster divines may have contradicted themselves by limiting the atonement on the one hand to the elect, and introducing on the other hand the idea of an offer, something which requires a universal atonement. But there is a prima facie case against this. The Westminster divines knew their theology too well to commit such a blunder. And, if conceivably this were possible, the very fact that the point was argued on the floor would preclude any such conclusion. If then the Westminster divines were intent on limiting the atonement only to the elect, and if they knew that an offer in the sense of God’s intention to save all required a universal redemption, they would certainly not have included any such idea into the creed.

Finally, the language of the article itself all but requires a favourable meaning to the word. The phrase, “requiring of them faith in him that they might be saved” certainly is intended to explain the phrase, “wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ.”

From these considerations we may conclude that the use of this term in the Westminster Confessions has the same meaning as its use in the Canons.


19. See, for a detailed discussion of this point, my article on “The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel” (4), Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, XVII, 2.

20. B. B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, p. 141.

21. Ibid., p. 142.

22. Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith, (Philadelphia, 1847), p. 142



More to come! (DV)

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