21 July, 2017

A Pro-Free Offer Man Criticizes Murray and Stonehouse’s “Free Offer of the Gospel”

The following is an extract from a book by a pro-Free Offer man—Christ Freely Offered, by K. W. Stebbins (Covenanter Press, 1996), pp. 37-38.

It is refreshing to discover that criticism of John Murray’s and Ned B. Stonehouse’s pamphlet The Free Offer the Gospel does not come solely from the “anti-Free Offer” camp. I have highlighted in red an interesting comment that leans in the direction of the anti-Free Offer position: i.e. the truth that God cannot be two contradictory things at the same time (a statement that often earns anti-Free Offer people the label “rationalist”).


The purpose of the Murray, Stonehouse booklet, The Free Offer of the Gospel is to prove that it can properly be said that “God desires the salvation of all men” (p. 3).

As mentioned earlier, Murray, Stonehouse note that “desire” is “not necessarily the most accurate and felicitous word,” but claim that they use it because it “has come to be used in the debate” (ibid., p. 4). There is little doubt about this.

They would, of course, be better off using the word “delight.” Their use of the word “desire” is the source of a multitude of troubles. One is never certain when they are talking about God’s nature and when about God’s will. They say, for instance, that “in preaching such ‘desire’ of God, [the Committee of the O.P.C.] was not dealing with the decretive will of God … but the revealed will” (ibid., p. 3). But later on they say that what is expressed is “not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of loving kindness on the part of God” (ibid., p. 4).

Murray, Stonehouse give a useful exposition of Ezekiel and show that the meaning is not that “God delights when the wicked turn” but “God delights that the wicked turn.”

When the object is contemplated as desirable, but not actually realised, the thought of chaphez does not at all appear to be simply that delight or pleasure will be derived from the object when it is realised or possessed. That thought is of course implied. But there is much more. There is the delight or pleasure or desire that it should come to be even if the actual occurrence should never take place (ibid., p. 17).

They reconcile this with God’s decree of reprobation by saying

We are not here speaking of God’s decretive will. In terms of His decretive will it must be said that God absolutely decrees the eternal death of some wicked, and, in that sense is absolutely pleased so to decree. But in the text it is the will of God’s benevolence (voluntas euarestias) that is stated, not the will of God’s decree (voluntas eudokias) (ibid., p. 19).

Once again this is far from clear. God cannot be pleased according to His secret will and not pleased according to His revealed will. This is to make God (in Calvin’s words) “two faced.” When we say God is “pleased” we are referring to His nature, not His will. He cannot be two things in His nature at the same time.

Also when we speak of God’s “good pleasure” in His decree we do not necessarily mean that God is pleased with, in the sense that He delights in, the event decreed. As we showed at the beginning of this chapter God’s “good pleasure” usually refers to His bare will. Any pleasure in the decree of punishment is not in the misery of the creature, but in seeing His justice and righteousness vindicated.

Like Calvin, Murray, Stonehouse maintain that God may “earnestly desire the fulfilment of something which He has not, in the exercise of His sovereign will actually decreed to come to pass” (ibid., p. 10). “This is indeed mysterious, and why He has not brought to pass, in the exercise of His omnipotent power and grace, what is His ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of His will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what He does not decretively will” (ibid., p. 26). We would do well to heed Murray, Stonehouse’s warning and realise that simple “logic” is not sufficient evidence to destroy the notion that God can decree what He has no pleasure in.

However, Murray, Stonehouse fail to the last to distinguish between God’s nature and His will. They conclude by saying “The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him” (ibid., 27).

What do they mean?

How does God “will” that the reprobate will possess Christ?

Only by confusing “pleasure, will, desire” (see ibid., p. 27) are they able to postulate that the reprobate are the subjects of “the loving and benevolent will to the possession of Christ.”

Murray, Stonehouse could have done much more to keep the issues clear.

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