16 November, 2016

A Brief Outline of how the Free Offer Denies the Five Points of Calvinism

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: The History of the Free OfferChapter 11]

Anyone acquainted with the so-called “five points of Calvinism” will know that they are often remembered by the memory device: TULIP—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. The free offer leads to a denial of them all.

The free offer leads to a denial of total depravity because salvation is made dependent upon the will of man. The best illustration of this that we can offer is the position of the Christian Reformed Church in this matter. Already in the “Three Points of Common Grace” total depravity was explicitly denied, for these three points teach that because of a general operation of the Spirit in the hearts of all men, sin is so restrained that the sinner is capable of doing good. This denial of total depravity has often been expressed in Christian Reformed literature by a distinction that is made between total depravity and absolute depravity. The latter is intended to refer to complete depravity so that the sinner is incapable of doing any good and able to do only evil. The former, which the Christian Reformed Church professes to believe, is interpreted to mean that the sinner is depraved in all parts of his nature, though in every part are some remnants of good. By this distinction the truth of total depravity is denied. Yet it is essential for the doctrine of the free offer because the natural man must not only be able to do good, but he must also be able to respond to the gospel offer. If I offer one thousand dollars to ten corpses, people will think I am crazy. But Scripture defines the sinner as dead in trespasses and sins. Only when this spiritual death is less than death can the free offer make any sense.

The free offer of the gospel leads to a denial of particular atonement because a salvation that is intended for all must also be a salvation that is purchased for all. If God, through the gospel, offers salvation to all who hear along with the intent and expressed desire to save all, this salvation must be available. If it is not, the whole offer becomes a farce. If I offer one thousand dollars to each of ten people, if they will come to my house to pick it up, I had better have it somewhere in the house, or I am in trouble. If I do not have all the money that might be needed in the house, I am making a farce of the offer and really lying. If God offers salvation to all who hear and really earnestly desires their salvation, He had (I speak as a man) better have that salvation available. If He does not, the offer becomes a farce. God offers that which He does not have. This makes God a liar and the offer a fake. Hence, the only sense one can make out of the offer is to teach a salvation which was earned by Christ on the cross for everyone. Thus the cross of Christ and the redemption that He accomplished becomes universal in its extent. It is not surprising that Dekker argued in the Sixties within his denomination that because the love and grace of God were general, the atonement was also general.

The free offer leads to a denial of irresistible grace. When the offer expresses only God’s desire to save all and offers salvation to all, then the grace of the preaching is not irresistible, but resistible. Men may choose to resist it and refuse to accept the offer. God cannot accomplish that which He wills. His intentions and desires are frustrated and His purpose is made of no effect because of man’s resistance.

Ultimately the free offer also makes the perseverance of the saints a doubtful matter. It stands to reason that if man can either accept or reject the gospel offer, he can at one time accept it, at another time reject it, and yet again accept it. But because his salvation is dependent upon what he does, his salvation hangs by the thin thread of his own free will. Thus his final salvation is always in doubt. He can fall away from the faith, and he can, while once having accepted Christ, still spurn Him in the future. It is undoubtedly this general Arminian teaching that is the basis for revivals and recommitments to Christ through the invitation.

But of particular concern to us is the truth of unconditional predestination. While it is true that the “U” of TULIP speaks only of unconditional election, reprobation has also always been a part of the truth of predestination. The free offer denies both. The free offer denies reprobation first of all because if God’s sovereign purpose is not to save some, including some who hear the gospel, God’s purpose in offering them salvation is nonsensical. On the one hand, God purposes not to save; on the other hand God purposes to save. On the one hand it is God’s will not to save; on the other hand it is God’s will to save. The result is that in those circles reprobation is finally denied.

This is, in fact, what has happened in the Christian Reformed Church. The truth of reprobation is hardly ever preached, if at all; and Harry Boer made a specific attack against this doctrine in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when he asked the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to strike the doctrine of reprobation from the Canons. While Synod refused to do this, it put its stamp of approval on a report of a committee appointed to study the matter, which report contains a definition of reprobation which is completely out of keeping with the historic definition of the doctrine and with the truth as it is taught in the Canons. Synod, in effect, approved of a conditional reprobation, the very view which the Arminians maintained and which our fathers at Dordt repudiated.

But if reprobation is denied, then also election falls by the way. They are two sides of one coin, two parts of one truth.1 But the free offer cannot bear the truth of election for the same reason that it militates against reprobation. On the one hand, God purposes to save only His people chosen in Christ; on the other hand, He purposes to save all. One will is to save some; another will is to save all. And because the two are so flatly contradictory, they cannot both be maintained. So, the truth of sovereign election is sacrificed on the altar of the free offer.


1. It is striking that our Canons take this same position when in I, 6 they say: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree (notice the singular, “decree” and not the plural, “decrees.”) … According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” The one decree, therefore, includes both election and reprobation.


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