19 February, 2017

Chapter 2

What is the Well-Meant Offer of Salvation?

As we enter into this chapter to consider the teaching of the “well-meant offer of salvation,” we must immediately take note that many Reformed writers of the past did use the term “offer” but in a different sense than the word is commonly used today. Prof. Engelsma noted:

In the past, the word “offer” from the Latin word “offero” was used by Reformed men to describe God’s activity in the preaching of the gospel because the word has originally the meaning “bring to (someone),” “present (something or someone to somebody).” All Reformed men hold that Christ is presented in the preaching to everyone who hears the preaching. In this sense He is “offered” in the gospel.1

For the purpose of our paper we shall understand the well-meant offer to be as given by Prof. B. Gritters thus:

The “free offer of the gospel” is the teaching that God offers salvation to all men when the gospel is preached promiscuously to all. The free offer teaches that God graciously and sincerely offers salvation to all who hear the preaching, and honestly and sincerely desires to save all of them.2

That the dispute is over the matter of God desiring the salvation of all men in the preaching of the gospel to all, John Murray also acknowledged in his booklet The Free Offer of the Gospel:

It would appear that 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. The Committee elected by the Twelfth General Assembly in its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly said, “God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent reprobate” ...3

A. The Arminian Idea of the Well-Meant Offer

To begin with, we must note that the Arminians do not believe that the will in the fallen state can will any saving good before calling. In “The Opinions of the Remonstrants” submitted to the Synod of Dordt, the Arminians state in C, 4:

4. The will in the fallen state, before calling, does not have the power and the freedom to will any saving good. And therefore we deny that the freedom to will saving good as well as evil is present to the will in every state.4

To surprise us further how the Arminians could sound most orthodox like many today, let me quote the Third Article of the Remonstrance of 1610:

3. that man does not have saving faith of himself nor by the power of his own free will, since he in the state of apostasy and sin cannot of and through himself think, will or do any good which is truly good (such as is especially saving faith); but that it is necessary that he be regenerated by God, in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, affections or will, and all powers, in order that he may rightly understand, meditate upon, will, and perform that which is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.”5

Reading the above articles of the Arminians all by themselves, one may not realize their error in the third point about “total depravity.” However, when one combines this third article with their fourth on the conversion of man, one begins to realize that their idea of the will of man is such that it is ultimately the final arbiter of its own salvation. Without the intervening of God’s sufficient grace, man is doomed, but with it in the hearing of the gospel, man can still resist the grace of God to his own condemnation. We read in their Opinion C, 6 thus:

6. Although according to the most free will of God the disparity of divine grace is very great, nevertheless the Holy Spirit confers, or is ready to confer, as much grace to all men and to each man to whom the Word of God is preached as is sufficient for promoting the conversion of men in its steps. Therefore sufficient grace for faith and conversion falls to the lot not only of those whom God is said to will to save according to the decree of absolute election, but also of those who are not actually converted.6

In the mind of the Arminians, whatever God may do in His grace, man’s will still stands sovereign and able to reject that grace if he chooses (Opinion C, 8). Even the so-called efficacious grace of God is not irresistible (Opinion C, 5). As this error can be clearly seen only when the doctrine of the Fall of man is compared to that of the conversion of man, the Synod of Dordt dealt with it in the Third and Fourth Heads of doctrine together. It is good to read Rejection VI of these Heads to have a better idea of this error:

That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith through which we are first converted and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man, and that it cannot be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith.

Man’s will needs God’s in order to be saved, but God’s will also needs man’s before He can save a man. Thus we have Opinion C, 8 and 9 of the Arminians:

8. Whomever God calls to salvation, he calls seriously, that is, with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save; nor do we assent to the opinion of those who hold that God calls certain ones externally whom He does not will to call internally, that is, as truly converted, even before the grace of calling has been rejected.

9. There is not in God a secret will which so contradicts the will of the same revealed in the Word that according to it (that is, the secret will) He does not will the conversion and salvation of the greatest part of those whom He seriously calls and invites by the Word of the Gospel and by His revealed will; and we do not here, as some say, acknowledge in God a holy simulation, or a double person.7

The Arminians were very clear about what they believed. God indeed does offer salvation to all men. In fact, even by His sufficient grace in the offer, He empowers the will of all who hear the gospel so that they are now able not only to accept, but also to reject the offered salvation. God’s decree of election is based on His foreknowledge of what man would do with this offer. If a man choose to believe then, God elects him to be saved; if not, then he is reprobated. A. C. De Jong said as much:

He is a reprobate because he does not want to believe, because he wills to live without God, and because he resists the redemptive will of God revealed in the gospel call. His unbelief, his rejection, his resistance bears an indirect relation to the will of God’s decree similar to God’s “permissive will” in relation to sin.8

It must also be noted here that, as far as the content of the gospel is concerned, the Arminians also believe that Christ died for all men head for head to make the atonement available for all men. Christ by His atonement only made salvation possible. The salvation benefits for all men are there, and they are applied only to those who accept the offer by their own free will. The Canons reject the following error:

Synod rejects the errors of those who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching, that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace.9

Notice the Arminian tendency to make man the final arbiter of his own salvation and God someone “... minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ.” Arminians are not fully convinced that all men are truly hell-deserving and that salvation is fully of the Lord, who saves effectually whom He wills.

But now we must turn to the Reformed “offer,” which is essentially the same as the Arminian’s, except that they still claim that they believe in the Five Points of Calvinism, and that any apparent discrepancy is due to the mystery and paradox of God, which the truly humble and pious should not dare to challenge.

B. The So-Called Reformed Offer

1. Using the same term “offer” led to confusion in the Reformed camp.

As has been noted earlier, there were Reformed writers who used the term “offer.” Even in the Reformed confessions we find this term being used. For examples:

Article 9 of the III/IV Heads of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordt reads:

It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted.

Article 14 of the III/IV Heads of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordt reads:

Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.

The French Confession, Article XIII:

XIII. We believe that all that is necessary for our salvation was offered and communicated to us in Jesus Christ. He is given to us for our salvation, and ‘is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:’ so that if we refuse him, we renounce the mercy of the Father, in which alone we can find a refuge.

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 67: What is effectual calling?

A. 67: Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

Heppe quoting Olevian also used this term:

For the elect on the other hand, who in view of the law and the covenant of works see themselves in the first instance in the same situation as the rejected, they are a preparation for faith, since by His prevenient grace God leads the elect out of darkness into light by causing a serious longing for redemption to proceed from these terrors of conscience, and then holding before them the promise of grace in the Gospel and causing what is offered them from without to be brought into their hearts by the H. Spirit (OLEVIAN, p. 252).10

From Article 14 of the III/IV Heads of Doctrine, it is apparent that the divines at Dordt were aware of the Arminian usage of this term as it rejects the idea of offering to be accepted or rejected at one’s pleasure. It is also clear from Article 9 of the same Heads, that the phrase “Christ offered therein” refers to the Christ set forth in the gospel.

In the French Confession, the phrase “was offered and communicated” also conveys the idea of setting forth to be communicated rather than to be accepted or rejected.

In the Westminster Larger Catechism, grace is said to be offered and conveyed in the call of the gospel. The phrase “and conveyed" is to be taken as an immediate explanation that the word “offered” must not be misconstrued as an offer in the Arminian sense, but rather has the idea of “conveyed.” That this should be the case should not surprise us, as the Westminster divines were men who knew and spoke highly of the Canons of Dordt. Dordt had said that faith was not offered, and how could Westminster say that grace was offered without any qualification?

In the above quotation from Heppe, he did not mean by “offered” the Arminian understanding, which involves the choice of man, because in the same section he quoted from HEIDEGGER (XXI, 12) thus:

Quite otherwise than the reprobate the elect are called to salvation in such a way that when called they are also affected, drawn and led, and that according to the eternal purpose and testament; and absolutely, although not without means, which however as regards the called are not conditions within their sphere of choice, but God’s free benefits.11

Surely Heppe did not have the idea of offer in the sense of people being given a choice, but offer in the sense of setting forth “to be brought into their hearts by the H. Spirit.”

In any case, it can be observed down through the history of the Presbyterian churches, that this term “offer,” as found in their Confession, has provided a hiding place for those with Arminian tendency within the camp. A. A. Hodge, in answering the objection that his truly Reformed view of the design of the atonement was inconsistent with the doctrine of the general offer of the gospel, failed to point out the proper understanding of the term “offer,” but instead went on, by various means, to show that these two concepts (one Reformed and the other Arminian) are not contradictory, but can be harmonized.12

The Dutch Reformed churches are also not spared of this error. In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church adopted the “Three Points” of common grace. In the first point, which speaks of God having a certain non-saving, favorable attitude towards all men, synod finds support for this in articles from the Canons, which she claimed to set forth “the general offer of the gospel.”13

Though many in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today do hold to this erroneous idea, we must take note of what Prof. Hanko, a professor in Church History, has to say:

Quite consistently the doctrine of the free offer has been held by heretics who were condemned by the church. Quite consistently the church has refused to adopt any such doctrine. The weight of history is surely behind those who deny that the free offer is the teaching of Scripture.14

2. Essentially the Reformed “offer” is similar to the Arminian idea of the offer.

That the Reformed “offer” is similar to that of the Arminians is proudly acknowledged by one of their advocates. Hoekema put words into the mouths of the divines of Dordt as addressing the Arminians thus:

“We quite agree with you that God seriously, earnestly, unhypocritically, and most genuinely calls to salvation all to whom the gospel comes. In stating this, we even use the very same words you used in your document: serio vocantur (‘are seriously called’). But we insist that we can hold to this well-meant gospel call while at the same time maintaining the doctrines of election and limited or definite atonement. We do not feel the need for rejecting the doctrine of election and repudiating the teaching of definite atonement in order to affirm the well-meant gospel call.”15

This also means that the Reformed “offer” constantly runs into conflict with the other Reformed doctrines, especially those set down by the Canons of Dordt. This difficulty is expected, as the whole Canons was formulated against the Arminians’ idea of the freedom and power of the human will. The doctrine of the well-meant offer is exactly built upon this doctrine of man’s free will to save himself.

In the offer, God shows grace to all to whom the gospel comes.

Here they believe that God shows grace to anyone who hears the gospel to begin with. They could have gathered this belief from the Canons where we read, “to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel."16

Their idea is that God must have shown these people favor since He gives them a chance to be saved, while to many others the gospel has never even come once in all their lifetime.

This is a mistaken notion, as the good pleasure of God does not necessarily speak of His grace. For example, we may say that it is God’s good pleasure to cast the wicked unbelievers to hell in His just judgment. There is no show of grace in such good pleasure of God.

God has His own purpose in sending the gospel to some and not to others. There is no indication of grace in this activity of God, just as there is no indication of grace when God sends rain or sunshine upon the wicked. The grace of God is not in things.

This is much like the Arminians, who spoke of the common sufficient grace which enables men to make a decision for Christ.

The Canons say:

But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son, that they may show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into His marvelous light; and may glory, not in themselves, but in the Lord, according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.17

In the offer, God expresses His desire to save all to whom the gospel comes.

The Reformed “offer” also taught that in the offer of salvation and grace, God shows a desire to save all who receive the offer.

In his review of John Murray’s booklet entitled The Free Offer of the Gospel, Matthew Winzer states:

It appears that a dispute had arisen with regard to a previous report on the subject which had predicated “that God desires the salvation of all men.” Prof. Murray was confident that such a desire could be predicated of God, and set about to establish a Biblical case for the position.18

Mr. Winzer did a very thorough work in this review and convincingly showed that John Murray had failed to show that God desires the salvation of all men in the preaching of the gospel. Readers are highly recommended to read this review.

3. An important difference between the Arminian and Reformed “offer” is the latter’s belief in antinomy.

What is the belief in antinomy?

As the name implies, antinomy is a belief that certain things are beyond the realm of logical law (νομοσ—nomos), so that they cannot and need not be harmonized by existing laws of logic. To people who believe in such things, others are rationalists when they try to harmonize things which the former classified as antinomous.

In this world of increasing superficiality, there are more antinomists around than before. Winzer exposed one in R. Scott Clark in his review and also charged him for unjustly making John Murray an antinomist.19

The two tracks of antinomy in this Reformed “offer.”

As has been hinted earlier, the Reformed “offer” is so disharmonious with the doctrines of grace that there can be quite a few sets of antinomies which can be established, if one wishes to do so. For example, the Amyraldian controversy could have been settled simply by invoking the antinomian categories. In fact, all disputes, great and small, may be similarly settled. Another disharmony was expressed by Mr. Tom Wells thus:

The difficulty over the free offer may be put like this: since God has chosen to save some and to pass others by, how can it be said that he offers salvation to those he has decided not to save? Doesn’t this make God of two minds, wanting all to be saved on one hand, and desiring only his elect to be saved on the other? Anyone who cannot see that there is some difficulty here must have done very little thinking about theology.20

Antinomists tend to despise the logic of others, while promoting their own. De Jong wrote of Hoeksema thus:

Hoeksema’s view may possess logical symmetry but it is not Scripturally informed. It unsettles the gospel truth that God wills that his call to salvation be accepted in the way of faith. It renders God’s gospel call questionable.21

4. Arminianism within the covenant.

One of the hallmarks of the Reformed faith is its teaching on covenant theology. God establishes His friendship with His people in the line of generations. So it is true that God calls His children out of our children and also out of those in heathen darkness of this world. This is exactly what is meant that He is the Savior of the world. From here, does it follow that gospel presentation to those within the church is different from that to the heathen nations?

Yet, there is among some Reformed people the idea that, as far as the gospel preached to people outside of the covenant is concerned, the use of the concept “offer” is un-Reformed and Arminian, but when the same thing is done within the covenant, it is permissible. In other words, to children born in the covenant, we may and must say to them, God offers to save you from sin and hell on condition that you repent of your sins and believe in Christ. This way of presenting the gospel of salvation certainly makes one’s repentance and faith outside of God’s grace of salvation. In fact, it makes all of salvation dependent upon man’s repentance and faith. This is a typical Arminian way of presenting the gospel as shown above.

This conditional theology is another form of Reformed “offer” which we have to expose here. But there are other so-called Reformed men, like A. C. De Jong, who openly advocate the well-meant offer of salvation whether within or without the covenant.

The calling God seriously and unfeignedly offers salvation in Jesus Christ upon the condition of repentance and faith to all the elect and non-elect sinners to whom he mercifully sends his gospel preachers.22


1. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, p. 48.

2. Barrett L. Gritters, Grace Uncommon: A Protestant Reformed Look at Common Grace (Byron Center, MI: The Evangelism Society of the Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church, n.d.), p. 13.

3. John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse, The Free Offer of the Gospel (New Jersey: Lewis J. Grotenhuis, Belvidere Road), p. 3.

4. Peter Y. De Jong, (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dort, 1618-1619, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc.), p. 226.

5. Ibid., p. 208.

6. Ibid., p. 226.

7. Ibid., p. 227.

8. A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Schilder (Franeker, Netherands: T. Wever, 1954), p. 130.

9. Canons of Dordt, Head II, Art. 6.

10. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 513-514.

11. Ibid., 514.

12. Archibald A. Hodge, The Atonement (Edinburgh, New York: T. Nelson And Sons, Paternoster Row), pp. 385-390.

13. Herman Hanko, The History of the Free Offer (Grandville, MI: Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches), p. 183.

14. Ibid., p. 5.

15. Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 78. Note: No one reading Art. 8 of Head III/IV and the rest of the Canons can imagine the divines of Dordt making such a statement.

16. Canons, Head II, Art. 5.

17. Canons, Heads III/IV, Art. 10.

18. Matthew Winzer, “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review,” in The Blue Banner, vol. 9, issue 10-12, (Oct/Dec. 2000), p. 3.

19. Ibid., p. 3. Note: Robert L. Reymond had a nice section in his recent Systematic Theology dealing with the ways of the antinomist and the ways of mysteries and paradoxes, pp. 103-110.

20. Tom Wells, Notes on the Free Offer Controversy, (West Chester, OH: Tom Wells, 7686 Grandby Way), p. 5.

21. A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer, p. 130. Note: Having read Hoeksema myself, I do not find De Jong’s remarks on him fair.

22. Ibid., p. 132.

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