19 February, 2017

Chapter 3

Is the Well-Meant Offer of Salvation a Serious Call?

A. The Nature of an Offer

As it is evident that there has been a change in the use of the term “offer” in the development of theology, or should we say a failure to make sharp distinction of the various usages of this term, it is necessary here to consider how this term is commonly understood and used today, before considering the legitimacy of its usage for the serious call of the gospel.

1. The constituent elements of a well-meant offer.

We are using the “well-meant offer” to indicate the present day usage of this term “offer.” The well-meant offer has the following essential elements:

a. The availability of the thing offered.

Now if a man come to us and 0ffer us something either for sale or for an exchange for something else which we might have, our natural understanding would be that he has the thing for us should we decide to accept his offer. So if God offers salvation to anyone on the basis of that man’s fulfilling a certain condition, then He must have that salvation ready for that man should the man decide to accept that offer and fulfil that condition.

b. The willingness of the owner to part with it.

An offer also suggests that the owner is willing to part with what he offers to another should that condition be fulfilled. If ever there is a fall-through in this transaction, it would not be because the owner was not willing, but because the one to whom he made the offer, for some reason, is either unwilling or unable to fulfil the condition of the offer. In other words, the owner is all ready to close the deal, but the ball is now fully in the court of the one offered.

c. The favor shown by the owner to those receiving the offer.

When something good is offered to one person rather than to others, it is only natural to consider that some favor is shown, here, to those offered over against others who are not offered. It is evident that the “gospel offer” is not shown to all men that ever live. Is it fair to these neglected ones if salvation is a matter of the offer?

d. The desire of the owner that those receiving the offer may accept it.

Since this is a well-meant offer, the owner must have the desire that the transaction be closed. If an offer is not closed, it is only because the owner has no power over the free-will of the one offered.

e. An option given to one receiving the offer.

An offer is not something which carries with it an obligation to accept. In other words, rejecting an offer is not a morally wrong act in itself. One has the option to accept or not to accept.

f. Condition of prerequisite implied in the well-meant offer.

In a well-meant offer, the realization of the things offered is conditioned upon the acceptance of the offer and the fulfilment of the condition stipulated in the offer. This condition is a condition of prerequisite. If the acceptance of an offer is absent, there is no carrying out of what is offered. An unconditional undertaking is not called an offer, but an unconditional promise.

2. The well-meant offer is a kind of call in the sense that it is a communication of thoughts that expects a response from its recipients.

That there is a call in the gospel proclamation, no one should doubt. It would be a fatal error if all the church could do is simply set forth the truth without the call to believe and submit to it. This would be a church without discipline of its own members, and thus a false church. And when the gospel is brought to those who have never heard it before, should there not also be a call? A call is important.

The well-meant offer is also a type of calling. One need only go to an open market to understand what is the call of a sale-offer. One is sometimes, literally, called into a business talk with another. Then one feels the pressure to respond in some way—“yes” or “no.” The well-meant offer of the gospel and of salvation is a kind of call. Just because it is a call, and the Bible also reveals that the gospel proclamation includes a call, does not mean that the well-meant offer is a legitimate call as prescribed in Scripture.

B. Wherein the Well-Meant Offer is Not a Serious Call of the Gospel.

We must now compare the well-meant offer with what we’ve already written about the true call of the gospel, to see if the former is indeed a serious call of the gospel.

1. The call of God must be sincere, but in the well-meant offer there is no sincerity.

Now, we are not talking here about the insincerity of Christian believers who preach the gospel using the well-meant offer method. It is possible to do a thing wrongly and ignorantly and yet with sincerity. We are talking about the sincerity of God, if He should issue the well-meant offer of salvation to all.

a. Grace (God’s unmerited favor) is said to be shown to all who hear the gospel, yet the merit of repentance and faith is required for salvation.

Some may object that by the grace shown in the hearing of the gospel they do not mean the saving grace of God, but the common grace of God, which is non-saving. This distinction is the invention of men not found in Scripture, and it confuses God’s people, so that the unmerited character of grace is removed. There is no comfort of grace if there is a grace of God that does not save. It is by grace that we are saved.

When repentance and faith are demanded as prerequisites for salvation, they become something outside of the pale of salvation and must be met by a man first before God’s salvation will start operating in his life. What is demanded becomes meritorious for salvation.

There are those who argue that this faith and repentance are the gifts of God and are part of the salvation benefits that God has purchased for His elect people, as the Canons of Dordt teach. Therefore, they are not the merit attained by those who are saved, but they are earned by Christ Himself on the cross. Indeed, the Canons of Dordt teach that repentance and faith are gifts of God’s grace purchased at the cross and flow from the election of God. It is exactly for that reason that the Canons deny that they are conditions as prerequisites for election and salvation.

This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause, or condition on which it depended: but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc. Therefore election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: “He hath chosen us (not because we were, but) that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).1

The will of God to save is never conditioned upon what men would do. God is the sovereign Lord who saves whom He wills by the means which He has appointed. Ours is to seek His mercy and discover His grace, never to put Him in subjection to our will and fancy.

b. God has no intention to save all to whom the gospel comes, as the well-meant offer suggests.

Now, we are not saying that the serious call of the gospel does not call all to whom the gospel comes, to seek salvation in Christ by way of their repentance and faith. That has always been man’s obligation to do since the Fall in Eden. The gospel makes clear to everyone his calling as a fallen creature. But the well-meant offer speaks of God’s intention to save all, provided they all believe. God promised to save all who believe, but He does not offer to save all who would believe. The former exalt God as sovereign, while the latter subject God’s will to man’s will.

Heppe clearly shows that it is the Reformed faith not to make the outward calling in such a fashion that there is a possibility of the “counsel of God being perhaps rendered futile by man,” which evidently the well-meant offer does upon close examination.

Moreover outward Church calling is not imparted to the non-elect in such a wise that God wished to present them with faith, should they refrain from resisting the activity of the H. Spirit. Otherwise the possibility would arise of a counsel of God being perhaps rendered futile by man. Besides it is to be noted that man can only resist the H. Spirit.—HEIDEGGER (XXI, 10): “Nor does God altogether call particular reprobate in such wise that he has decreed and wills to give them faith and repentance just like the elect, provided only they do not resist the H. Spirit’s call, as is the leptologia (frivolity) of some. There are no decrees of God which men or any creature can frustrate. They are altogether effectual and have a most definite outcome. If He has decreed to give to some faith and repentance, He bestows them in time through the Word and the H. Spirit. In that case all men of themselves and by their nature resist the H. Spirit: Rom. 8:7 (the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be).2

Since salvation is the work of God alone, an offer of salvation is an offer of what God Himself would do. If God sincerely offers to save someone, why would he at the same time want to harden his heart? A. C. De Jong wrote that this change in God’s attitude is not towards all men, but only towards those who have persistently rejected the offer. In fact, God even withdraws His offer and makes His Word to them become “the instrument of his wrath” hardening their hearts in its process. Thus the well-meant-offer men make the attitude of God change according to man’s fancy.

Others disbelieve, they reject the call to salvation. God passes them by with the saving operations of his insuperable grace. But God continues to call them back to salvation. Sometimes this offer is withdrawn, and God’s word becomes the instrument of his wrath and he hardens the impenitent sinner. This hardening action is the present actualization of the final judgment. Preaching, gospel preaching, is such a serious matter that it forms a prelude of the end. The present hardening activities of God constitute the eschatological prelude of the end. They are to be viewed as anticipatory events of the Messianic judgment. Rather than disproving the existence of a well-meant offer of salvation the “hardening” passages prove precisely the opposite. God so seriously and genuinely wills that his call to salvation be heeded that he hardens those who reject his offer. It is the Lord’s redemptive earnestness which occasions these eschatological preludes of the Messianic judgment.3

c. God is said to desire the salvation of all who hear the gospel, yet He gives the necessary faith only to some and not to all. Can God be sincere about His desire?

This controversy is not about whether the gospel should be preached to all men and that all should be called to repentance and faith and that the promise of the gospel should be made known to all. All agree to the above, but the debate is over the will and desire of God in the call of the gospel. Tom Wells, having studied the controversy, said:

Those who have not studied the matter will be surprised that relatively few texts speak to the subject directly. The reason is this: the question is not about whether God calls all men to faith and repentance or whether the gospel is preached. The question is rather: does God in any sense will or desire the salvation of the non-elect who hear the gospel?4

Repentance and faith are so integrally connected with salvation that the desire for the latter cannot be conceived of without the desire for the former. If God desires to save a person, He will also give him repentance and faith. Repentance and faith are part of salvation and not conditions of salvation.

Evangelical repentance is the gift of free grace; faith is the gift of God. What is God’s, as a gift to bestow, cannot be man’s duty to perform as a condition of salvation. Those who are invited to look to Christ, to come to Him for salvation, are very minutely described: they are the weary and heavy laden with sin, the penitent, the hungry and thirsty soul, etc. These are the characters invited to come and believe in Christ, and not all men (Matt. 11:28; Isa. 55:1; Mark 2:17).5

To those who still insist that the idea of the well-meant offer is all right so long as we maintain that repentance and faith are the gifts of God, William Cunningham has this to say:

Evangelical Arminians profess to ascribe to the agency of the Spirit the production of faith and regeneration in men individually; and seem to exclude, as Calvinists do, the co-operation of man in the exercise of his natural powers in the origin or commencement of the great spiritual change which is indispensable to salvation. But whatever they may hold, or think they hold, upon this point, they cannot consistently—without renouncing their Arminianism, and admitting the peculiar principles of Calvinism—make the agency of the Spirit the real, determining, efficacious cause of the introduction of spiritual life into the soul; and must ascribe, in some way or other,—palpably or obscurely,—some co-operation to man himself, even in the commencement of this work. And if the commencement of the work be God’s, in such a sense that His agency is the determining and certainly efficacious cause of its being effected in every instance, then this necessarily implies the exercise of His sovereignty in the matter in a much higher and more definite sense than any in which Arminians can ever ascribe it to Him. It is not disputed that, whatever God does in time He decreed or resolved to do from eternity: and, therefore, men, in consistency, must either deny that God does this,—that the agency of His Spirit is the cause of the implantation of spiritual life.—of the commencement of the process which leads to the production of faith and regeneration in any other sense than as a mere partial concurring cause co-operating with man—or else they must admit all the peculiar doctrines of Calvinism in regard to grace and predestination.”6

Making repentance and faith the gifts of God is no guarantee that one is soundly Reformed. One is still an Arminian if he advocates co-operation between God and man for the commencement of the spiritual life in one sense or another. And that is what the well-meant offer suggests.

2. God’s call comes from on high, but in the well-meant offer there is no authority.

As observed above, the gospel call is the creative call of God in the new creation. Converts are said to be new creations of God in Scripture (II Cor. 5:17). Then they are also called those who are born again (John 3:3, 5). Salvation is compared in Scripture with nothing less than the great wonder of creation! What power brings such things into being? He commanded and they were so. He called everything into being out of nothing. There is power and authority in the call of God. “… God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17).

The well-meant offer as a gospel call lacks the power and character to call into being what is not. Hear what Christopher Ness wrote:

If fallen man must be drawn to goodness, then hath he no free-will to good … That moral persuasion will not bring a soul to Christ: that man cannot come himself, but must be drawn, is proved from John 6:44: “No man can come to Me. except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” Drawing is a bringing of anything out of its course and channel by an influence from without, and not from an innate power or principle from within. In Sol. Song 1:4, it is not said “lead,” but “draw:” in drawing there is less will and more power than in leading: and though God draws us strongly, yet He doth it sweetly. As we are drawn, we have not a free-will to good, else man fell in his understanding only, and not in his will; yet are we volunteers (Psa. 110:3), a willing people; not that Christ finds us so, but makes us so “in the day of His power,” and when He speaks to us with a strong hand (Isa. 8:11). We are naturally haters of God, and at enmity with Him (Rom. 1:30: 8:7), but the Spirit gives a new power to the soul, and then acts and influences that power to good: so draws God-haters to love Him. This is more than a bare persuasion to a stone to be warm, for God takes away the “heart of stone,” and gives a “heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). God the Spirit gives the inclination to come, and the very power of coming to Christ; and Christ finds nothing that is good in us (Rom. 7:18).7

R. C. Sproul spoke of a debate he once had at an Arminian seminary on the issue of predestination. At one juncture he pointed out the fact that the Greek word, λκύσ (helkysē), as found in John 6:44, has the idea of “drag,” suggesting that the Father compels men to come to Christ. The opponent then quoted its usage by a Greek poet, where water was said to be “drawn” from the well, suggesting that it is ridiculous to say that water was dragged from the well. Sproul then responded that it was more ridiculous to suggest that the water in the well was “wooed” to come forth, as the Arminians would like to suggest that the gospel call does just that—to bring faith out of a person.8 The serious call of the gospel has power to draw, which the well-meant offer lacks.


1. Canons, Head I, Art. 9.

2. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 513.

3. A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer, p. 12.

4. Tom Wells, Notes on the Free Offer Controversy, p. 6.

5. Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism (Huntington, West Virginia: Publishers of Baptist Literature, 1982), pp. 72-73.

6. William Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. II, p. 512.

7. Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism, pp. 93-94.

8. R. C. Sproul, Chosen By God, pp. 70-71.

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