23 October, 2016

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 86—“Jesus Christ … offered to us in the gospel”

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?

A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 86).

This article of the Westminster Standards, along with others with similar wording is alluded to in support the so-called “free or well-meant offer”—the teaching that God Himself goes out in the preaching to many sinners in love and grace, desiring to save them and trying to save them, but failing to save them. Hence, the word “offered” is the key word pointed to in this particular instance.


Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (RFPA, 1994 Edition), p. 140]

It is of no consequence, therefore, that the term “offer” appears in Calvin, in other Reformed theologians, and in such Reformed creeds as the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession of Faith. The word “offer” has originally a sound meaning: “serious call,” “presentation of Christ.”



[Source: Issue 9 (Jan – Mar 1995), p. 25]

That C. H. Spurgeon also saw the word “offer” in these terms [i.e. “serious call” or “presentation of Christ,” as opposed to the modern understanding] can be deduced from his redefinition of the 86th answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in “Spurgeon’s Catechism,” where, in answer 69, the phrase, “as He is offered to us in the gospel,” is rendered “as He is set forth in the gospel.”



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


[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), p. 54]

It is my contention that these scattered uses of the word “offer” cannot refer to the “gracious and well-meant gospel offer” as it is taught today.

My reasons are the following.

The Amyraldian position on the “well-meant gospel offer” was argued on the floor of the Assembly, but the Amyraldian position appears nowhere in the Standards themselves.  It was rejected by the Assembly. The rejection of Amyraldianism means that the Amyraldian view of the “well-meant gospel offer” was also rejected.

Richard Baxter’s original reluctance to sign the confession would seem to indicate that this notable Amyraldian doubted whether the confession taught the “well-meant offer of the gospel.” In fact, he would not sign the confession until he could be assured that, although the confession did not include the Amyraldian position, the wording of the confession left “room” for it.



More to come! (DV)

For additional quotes in support of the contention of “offer” possessing a different meaning in 16/17th Century writers and ecclesiastical documents, see also the fine collection in the article “The 16th/17th Century Meaning of ‘Offer’

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