20 August, 2016

FAQ—“Definitions, Terminology, and History”





Q. 1. “Why must we define our terms?”

In communication—and especially in theological debate—it is vital to define one’s terms. If this is not done, two people can find themselves talking at cross purposes, assuming erroneously that they are in agreement, or alternatively believing wrongly that they disagree with one another. (Rev. Martyn McGeown, PRTJ, vol. 51, no. 2 [April 2018], p. 55)

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Q. 2. “What is ‘common grace’?”

Common grace is, according to its theorists, a grace of God that is common: a grace of God for everybody, head for head, bar none, including the reprobate—those not elected nor redeemed nor effectually called in Jesus Christ. The advocates of common grace claim that God has grace, love and mercy for the reprobate, those whom God has eternally decreed not to save but to punish in the way of their sins.

There are many different doctrines of common grace, but all forms of common grace hold to two basic points.

1. First, God has a favourable attitude towards the reprobate wicked, viewing them with grace and pity as objects of His lovingkindness and mercy.

2. Second, all the good things which the reprobate wicked receive from God in this life come to them out of a love of God for them, as proofs of His grace and favour for them and instances of His blessing upon them.

3. Other advocates of common grace would go further, stating, third, that God inwardly and graciously restrains sin in the reprobate (contrary to the Bible’s teaching on total depravity).

4. Fourth, God inwardly and graciously enables them to do works which are partly good in His eyes (contra Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:12).

5. Yet others would take common grace further, claiming, fifth, that believers are to be friends with unbelievers (contrary to the truth of the antithesisGen. 3:15; II Cor. 6:14-18).

6. Sixth, Christians should cooperate with non-Christians in building the kingdom of God on earth (contra II Chron. 19:2; John 3:3).

7. Others add, seventh, that God empathises with the ungodly, entering into (so as to share) their feelings (contra Josh. 11:20; Lam. 2:2).

8. Eighth, most advocates of common grace link it with the free offer: a purported earnest and passionate, yet always resisted, desire of God to save the reprobate (contra Matt. 11:25-27; Rom. 9:17-18, 21-23). (Rev. Angus Stewart, Covenant Reformed News, vol. 12, no. 21.)

Most of the proponents of common grace agree that it includes the following elements: the natural blessings which come to all such as rain and sunshine; the maintenance of order in society in general; the postponement of judgment on the wicked; the preservation of truth, morality, and religion among men; the enrichment and development of natural life; the experience of the power and glory of the gospel to those who come under the preaching of the gospel but are not saved; and the restraint of sin in the lives of men, with the result that the unregenerate are capable of doing good in an outward or relative sense of the word. (Herman C. Hanko, PRTJ, vol. 26, no. 1, [Nov. 1992] p. 60.)

The theory of “common grace” posits an attitude of favour and blessing on the part of God toward all men in the things of this present timefor example, in rain and sunshine, health and happiness, etc. “Common grace” allegedly has nothing to do with eternity. According to it, a man may very well be the recipient of temporal favours of God all his lifetime, but be damned in hell forever. In fact, it is exactly characteristic of the theory of “common grace” that it separates between time and eternity. (Homer C. Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 7, [Jan. 1974].)

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Q. 3. “What is meant by the two words common and grace in ‘common grace’?”

[According to common grace adherents,] by “common” is meant “universal.” That is, grace which is common is grace which is shown universally; not only to all humans, but also to all God’s creation, to what the first point of 1924 called “God’s creatures in general.” Some even speak of a common grace within the covenant which is shared by the elect and non-elect who are born within the sphere of the covenant.
And, secondly, “grace” is indeed defined as grace in the full sense of that word—even if common grace is carefully distinguished from saving grace. Common grace is a grace which is a revelation of God’s own attribute of grace. It is a grace that is unmerited favour. It is a grace that is synonymous with, or includes in it, love, favour, kindness, mercy, longsuffering, forbearance, and benevolence. In fact, common grace is also said by some to be rooted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Some emphasize in this connection that this common favour of God can indeed be called “grace” because it is unmerited; and that which is unmerited is always grace (Herman C. Hanko, PRTJ, vol. 26, no. 1, [Nov. 1992] p. 60.)

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Q. 4. “What is the history of common grace? And how did the phrase common grace become incorporated into the evangelical vocabulary?”

Originally a series of blog articles, the following pdf-booklet serves as a fine introduction into the history of common grace and how the teaching along with its terminology came about: Considering Common Grace, by Prof. Herman Hanko. [Updated PDF to be arranged]

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Q. 5. “What is meant by the ‘well-meant offer’?”

By the well-meant offer is meant the conception, or doctrine, of the preaching of the blessed gospel in Calvinistic circles that holds that God sends the gospel to all who hear out of an attitude of grace to them all and with the desire to save them all. The well-meant offer insists, at the very least, on these two notions: God is gracious in the preaching to all hearers; and God has a will, or sincere desire, for the salvation of every man who hears the gospel.” (David J. Engelsma, “Is Denial of the ‘Well-Meant Offer’ Hyper-Calvinism?”)

“[In short, the “well-meant offer” is] a divine invitation to salvation that expresses a saving love of God for all to whom the ineffectual invitation comes, with the sincere, gracious purpose and desire of God that everyone who hears the invitation be saved. In the “free offer,” God extends His saving grace in Jesus Christ to all to whom the offer comes—extends it with the desire of love that the sinner be saved by the offer, that is, by the offering God.” (David J. Engelsma, PRTJ, vol. 53, no. 1 [Nov. 2019], p. 100)

Click here for a further outline by Prof. Engelsma:

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Q. 6. “Can you provide citations where proponents of the free offer of the gospel state that God ‘comes to all alike with the same saving intention (and the well-meant offer has God coming to all who hear the gospel with a saving intention)...’?”

According to one of its recent proponents, Sam Waldron, the ‘well-meant offer’ is that “God wills for them [all who hear the gospel—DH] to be saved” (The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel, p. 22) and that God has a “desire and intention for the salvation of men who were finally lost” (Ibid., p. 24), so that the “free offer” preacher assures everyone in his audience that “God wants him to be saved” (Ibid., p. 33).
The doctrine for which Waldron contends, as do also most contemporary advocates of the “free offer,” is “that he [God] would have all come to Christ” (Ibid., p. 130). “God earnestly desires the salvation of every man who hears the gospel. He sends them the gospel—with the desire, intention, and will—that they might be saved by it” (Ibid., p. 100).

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Q. 7. “What is the relation between this ‘well-meant offer’ and what’s called ‘the free offer’?”

“[M]any advocates of the well-meant offer like to disguise the heresy, which they hold, as much as possible by carefully referring to it only as the ‘free offer.’ Thus, they hide behind the use of the phrase in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF, 7.3) and leave the impression that they are only confessing the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel to all and sundry; the serious call to all hearers to repent and believe; and the generally announced particular promise that everyone who believes will surely be saved. This meaning of the ‘offer,’ of course, is orthodox, and heartily subscribed to by the PRC. (David J. Engelsma, PRTJ, vol. 53, no. 1 [Nov. 2019], p. 101)

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Q. 8. “What is an ‘offer’?”

“An offer is a presentation of something to someone with the desire that the presentation will be accepted, or an offer is an expression of readiness to do or give something to someone. If I offer someone a drink, for example, I expect and desire that my offer will be accepted. God does not offer Christ or the benefits of salvation in that way. In addition, an offer implies some kind of receptivity and ability in the one to whom the offer is made—one does not offer a cup of coffee to a corpse! One does not offer salvation to a sinner! We preach to dead sinners not because we believe that they can respond, although they are obligated to respond, but because we believe that God can raise the spiritually dead and cause them to believe in Christ. It makes sense to preach to the spiritually dead, therefore, only if one believes in sovereign regeneration, that is, if one is a Calvinist.” (Rev. Martyn McGeown, PRTJ, vol. 51, no. 2 [April 2018], pp. 60-61)

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Q. 9. “What is an ‘invitation’?”

“An invitation is a polite, formal or friendly request to go somewhere or to do something. When we make invitations to one another, we do so with the desire that the invitee comes, but to refuse our invitation rarely, if ever, has serious consequences. The Bible does not present the gospel as a friendly invitation from God to sinners to do something. In the gospel, God calls (He does not invite). A call is an authoritative address to a person summoning him to come, which has consequences for the person if he does not come. A judge, for example, calls a witness to appear in court—if he refuses to come, the judge will compel him to come and penalize him for not coming.” (Rev. Martyn McGeown, PRTJ, vol. 51, no. 2 [April 2018], p. 61)

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Q. 10. “What is a ‘call’?”

“A call is an authoritative address to a person summoning him to come, which has consequences for the person if he does not come. A judge, for example, calls a witness to appear in court—if he refuses to come, the judge will compel him to come and penalize him for not coming … The word ‘call appears, for example, in Christ’s parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14 … In that text, Matthew uses the Greek verb kaleo (call), translated variously as ‘bid’ or ‘call’ (vv. 3, 4, 8, 9, 14). The king’s call is not a friendly request, nor merely an entreaty, but a serious, authoritative command with a threat to the one who does not obey the call: refuse this ‘wedding invitation’ and God will cast you into hell, for by refusing the call you dishonour both the Father and the Son!” (Rev. Martyn McGeown, PRTJ, vol. 51, no. 2 [April 2018], p. 61)

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Q. 11. “What is a ‘promise’?”

“[T]he promise of God is His sure and certain word to give salvation and all the blessings of Christ to His people. Or to state it differently, the promise of God is His sure and certain word to give salvation and all the blessings of Christ to believers or to whomsoever believeth. Or to express it even more clearly, it is His sure and certain word to give salvation and all the blessings of salvation to the elect. God does not promise—even conditionally—to give salvation to the reprobate. If He did, His promise would prove to be false. Men’s promises might prove to be false. Men might even make sincere promises without foreseeing the difficulty that might arise so that they fail to keep their sincere promises. The promise of Almighty God cannot fail, for He is wise, holy, righteous, and good—nothing can annul His word or overturn His promise, not even the unbelief or unfaithfulness of His people, for by the power of His promise He works faith in their hearts.” (Rev. Martyn McGeown, PRTJ, vol. 51, no. 2 [April 2018], p. 64)

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Q. 12. “Is this really such an important issue?”

One proponent of the free/well-meant offer writes, “These are important questions. They concern God. They concern the manner in which we will present the gospel, and the nature of the gospel itself.” (Sean Humby, “The Disposition of God in the Gospel Offer to the Reprobate”)

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Q. 13. “When I speak of ‘common grace’ I am not referring to any so-called general attitude of favour, kindness, or love of God for the reprobate wicked, but rather to His general upholding, sustaining and maintenance of His creation via sunshine and rainfall, and also His general promoting of law and order in civil society. My version of a ‘common grace’ is totally separate from that which you speak of.”
                                                                                      
[Since some mean] by common grace merely the good gifts that God bestows upon the reprobate wicked and a work of the law written in the hearts of the ungodly that causes them outwardly to conform to the law for selfish reasons, [they] should give up the terminology, “common grace.” [Their] usage is not the common usage.
The Bible does not use the term. Nor do the Reformed creeds (the only time that the Three Forms of Unity speak of “common grace” they attribute the belief to the Arminians in the Canons of Dordt, III/IV, Rejection of Errors 5). [The insistence of some] on employing the term to refer to the gifts that God gives the wicked, while rejecting any attitude of favour on God’s part toward the wicked, results in paradoxical, confusing statements … Instead of speaking of “common grace,” [we] should speak of the bounties, or gifts, of God’s providence. (David J. Engelsma, “Common Bounty or Common Grace?” – A review of Gary North’s “Dominion and Common Grace.”)

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Q. 14. “But do we not find many Reformed preachers intending by ‘common grace’ merely the general providence that God has over all His creatures, by which He gives them good things they do not deserve. And by the phrase “free-offer,” they mean simply that the gospel should be preached to all sinners promiscuously alike and that all should be called to repent and believe with the promise that there is salvation for those who do?”

With this idea I have no dispute, although whether the idea ought to be called “common grace” is another question.  To call it such is at least confusing when the term is universally used for different ideas. (Herman C. Hanko, “Common Grace Considered” [2019 edition], p. 94)

Yes. However, those who defend these two theories in lectures and in books tend to mean far more by them than this. And it is in this extendevd and sophisticated sense that they are rejected by us and others. (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [Jan – Mar 1995], pp. 21-22)

[Some take] the term free offer, of course, [to mean] that the Gospel should be preached indiscriminately to all men … Now if this were the meaning of the term, we would have no quarrel with it. In fact, there would be no controversy about the whole matter. Nor would the term be necessary. As we have said again and again throughout our history, and as our Reformed confessions plainly teach, the gospel must indeed be preached promiscuously and to all those to whom God in His good pleasure sends it. This is, however, by no means the doctrine of the free offer in the history of dogma; nor is this by any means the same as saying that God wills the salvation of all to whom the gospel is preached or that God is gracious to all in the preaching. (Homer C. Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 9, [Feb. 1974])

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Q. 15. “You state that the controversy over the Free/Well-Meant Offer is not about the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel, but rather over the question of whether or not God has a real and earnest ‘desire’ for all men to be saved. Can you prove that?”

For proof of this, consider the following quotes from John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 4 (Great Britain: Banner, 1982):

the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God *desires* the salvation of all men. (p. 113, emphasis added).

the expression ‘God desires,’ in the formula that crystallizes the crux of the question, is intended to notify not at all the ‘seeming’ attitude of God but a real attitude, a real disposition … (p. 114, emphasis added).

If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it a mounts to the same thing to say ‘God desires their salvation’ as to say ‘He desires their repentance.’ This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other (p. 114, emphasis added).

… God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious … (p. 131, emphasis added).

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Q. 16. “You state that the ‘free offer of the gospel,’ as taught by contemporary theologians, teaches that the preaching of the gospel is a ‘grace’ to all. Can you prove that?”

The report of the Fifteenth General Assembly of the OPC in 1948, states that “the full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all.”  (“Minutes of the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948,” Appendix, pp. 51-63)

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Q. 17. “What is said to be ‘offered’ in the ‘free offer’ or ‘well-meant offer’?”

“What is freely offered in the gospel? The words of Jesus already quoted (Matt. 11:28) gives the answer. It is Christ who is offered. More strictly, he offers himself. The whole gamut of redemptive grace is included. Salvation in all of its aspects and in the furthest reaches of glory consummated is the overture. For Christ is the embodiment of all. Those who are his are complete in him and he is made unto them wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. When Christ invites us to himself it is to the possession of himself and therefore of all that defines his identity as Lord and Saviour.” (John Murray, “Collected Writings of John Murray” [Banner of Truth, 2001], vol. 1, p. 82)

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Q. 18. “If the ‘well-meant offer’ is wrong, what is the alternative? How are we to preach the gospel?”

“[True gospel preaching] consists of exposing the misery of all because of sin against the just and holy God; of proclaiming Jesus Christ as God’s way out of this misery; of calling all to come to Jesus; and of announcing the sure promise of God that whosoever believes shall be saved, as well as the warning that every one who rejects Jesus abides under the wrath of God … [The] church does not proclaim a love of God for all, a death of Christ for all, a grace of God to all, a will of God for the salvation of all, or the promise of God to all.” (David J. Engelsma, “Is Denial of the ‘Well-Meant Offer’ Hyper-Calvinism?”)

See also the article below, where Prof. Engelsma outlines what is termed, “The Serious Call of the Gospel”:

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Q. 19. “You state that common grace teaches that God ‘loves’ the reprobate? Can you prove that?”

John Murray, in an article on common grace, writes:

[There] is a love in God that goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love that comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of the gospel proclamation. (“Collected Writings,” vol. I, p. 68)

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Q. 20. “If the good gifts given to the reprobate are not ‘grace’ … then what do we call them?”

They are simply good gifts which show God’s goodness and leave man inexcusable. This is the view of many orthodox Calvinist theologians:
(cf. https://www.cprf.co.uk/quotes/uncommongracequotes.html)  (Rev. Angus Stewart)












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