04 July, 2017

Our Protestant Reformed Position Regarding the “Free Offer of the Gospel”

Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Originally published in The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, nos. 3 (Nov. 1, 1973) and 6 (Dec. 15, 1973) [PDF Version]

In this paper, we will treat the subject of the “free offer of the gospel” or, as it is also called, “the well-meant gospel offer.” This is the teaching of some Reformed and Presbyterian churches and of other Calvinists that God, in the preaching of the gospel, offers salvation to everyone who hears the preaching, out of His love for everyone and with the desire that everyone be saved.

It is evident that this teaching is no peripheral matter, of concern only to some Christians at a certain period in the history of the church. Rather, this teaching raises questions that touch on the very heart of the gospel of grace. Does God love all men? Does God desire that all men be saved? Does God in the preaching try to accomplish the salvation of everyone? Is it the nature of preaching that it is an offer? If indeed God loves all and desires the salvation of all, why do some of them perish? Are God’s love and grace defeated? What does this teaching do to the scriptural doctrine of election and reprobation? What becomes of the doctrine of irresistible grace? The significance of the subject has recently been shown by developments in the Christian Reformed Church. In 1962-1964, Harold Dekker, professor of Missions in Calvin Theological Seminary, in a series of articles in The Reformed Journal, grounded his defense of universal atonement in the teaching of the well-meant gospel offer which the Christian Reformed Church adopted in 1924 in the first point of common grace. Of late, the subject of the free offer has been receiving much attention from Baptists who embrace some of the main tenets of Calvinism. These men express their views in several magazines: The Sword and Trowel, The Banner of Truth, and Reformation Today. Recently, the editor of Reformation Today, Erroll Hulse, published a booklet, The Free Offer: A Defense of Common Grace and the Invitation of the Gospel. They defend the free offer and castigate those who deny it as “hyper-Calvinists.”

It is not the purpose of this paper to give an exhaustive treatment of the “free offer.” I only want to draw the main lines, as I see them in the interest of our subsequent discussion.

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By the “free offer,” or the “well-meant offer of the gospel,” we understand the teaching of certain Reformed and Presbyterian churches, as well as others who profess to love the doctrines of grace, or Calvinism, that God offers Christ and salvation to everyone in the preaching of the gospel and that He does this because He loves everyone and desires the salvation of everyone. This was the teaching of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1924 that became the occasion for the separate existence of our Protestant Reformed Churches. In the first of their three doctrinal statements regarding common grace, the CRC said this:

Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9; which deal with the general offer of the Gospel, while it also appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view.

In this statement, the CRC said that there is a “general offer of the Gospel” and that this offer is the expression of a “certain favor or grace of God” to all men, not only to the elect, but also to the reprobate. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) has also officially adopted the teaching of the free offer as church doctrine. In 1948, they adopted the study of Professors John Murray and Ned Stonehouse that defended the free offer.1 Following Murray and Stonehouse, the OPC teaches that there is a free offer of the gospel, maintaining that:

there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, or desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance … The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. 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. (The Free Offer of the Gospel, p. 27)

The Calvinistic Baptists mean essentially the same thing by the free offer as do the CRC and the OPC. They are fond of quoting Murray and Stonehouse’s work on the free offer as authoritative. Ian Murray may be taken as representative of these men. Writing in The Sword and Trowel of February, 1969, in an article entitled “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” Murray defends the Marrow-men who taught “a universal Gospel offer.” According to the Marrow-men and Murray, God invites everyone to salvation in the preaching of the Gospel. This offer is “a real and sincere offer. God is not offering something which He is unwilling to bestow. God offers Christ cordially and affectionately in the gospel; His very heart goes out after sinners in the call and offer thereof … Christ is willing to come into every heart.” The offer is a “universal expression of God’s benevolence and compassion.” “His benevolence and compassion, expressed in the universal call to repentance, extend to every creature even to those whom He has not decreed to save.”

Although the CRC, the OPC, and the Calvinistic Baptists claim that their doctrine of the free offer is different from Arminianism, it is impossible to ignore that historically it was the Arminians who taught a universal, well-meant offer of salvation in the preaching. According to the Arminians, the free offer is backed up by universal atonement and harmonizes with a conditional election. Everyone to whom the preaching comes has the ability of free will to accept the offer, because God gives everyone sufficient grace. Salvation, therefore, depends upon one’s acceptance of the offer. The Reformed churches condemned the Arminians’ doctrine of the offer in the Canons of Dordt (cf. III/IV, 102 and 143; III/IV: The Rejection of Errors section4).

The Protestant Reformed Churches deny the free offer. We maintain that the free offer is neither scriptural nor confessional. We hold that the doctrine of the free offer that has found entrance into Reformed churches is the introduction once again of the Arminian heresy into the Reformed sphere: “And we do not hesitate to declare bluntly that the standpoint of 1924 is Arminian. The preaching of the gospel is general grace—that is the Arminian position”.5 It is necessary, however, for men to understand just exactly what we are denying when we deny the free offer. We must make clear what it is in the doctrine of a well-meant gospel offer that we regard as un-biblical and un-Reformed. Our position is both misrepresented and misunderstood. We need not here concern ourselves with those who misrepresent us, knowing full well that we do not deny that which they put in our mouths. But we will concern ourselves with the misunderstanding of our position. Our denial of the offer is misunderstood by some because there have been those in the history of the church and apparently are still some today, who have denied the offer for different reasons than we do. Some have denied the offer, meaning by this denial that the church should not call everyone who hears the preaching to repent and believe. To use the language of classic Reformed theology, they have denied the external call of the gospel. These people have been called “hyper-Calvinists.” But this is not the idea of our opposition to the offer, nor is it an implication of our position.

For us, the issue is the teaching of the doctrine of the free offer that God is gracious in the preaching to everyone who hears the preaching, the reprobate as well as the elect. Inherent in the doctrine of the free offer is the teaching that God loves everyone (or, what amounts to the same thing, that there is an attitude of favor on God’s part towards everyone, a gracious attitude), that God desires to save everyone, and that, therefore, the preaching is grace to all who hear. This is the doctrine of the well-meant offer as set forth by the CRC in the first point of common grace of 1924. There is a “favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general,” “a certain favor or grace of God,” which is expressed in the “general offer of the Gospel.” This is the conception of the free offer set forth by Murray and Stonehouse and adopted by the OPC. Erroll Hulse, a representative of the Calvinistic Baptists, is in full agreement: “But does he (God) desire or wish salvation for all? We answer, Yes!” (The Free Offer: A Defense of Common Grace and the Invitation of the Gospel, p. 7). Hulse sees the well-known words of Revelation 22:17 as “further cogent proof of the most gracious expressions of God concerning his will for all men to be saved” (p. 8). The love and grace of God revealed in the offer of the gospel is necessarily a saving love and grace. It is not saving as to its effect, for the defenders of the offer admit that it actually fails to accomplish the salvation of many towards whom it is directed. But it is saving as to its nature. It is a love that desires the salvation of the objects of that love. It is a grace expressed in the preaching of the gospel of the Savior from sin; indeed, a grace expressed in the well-meant offer of that Savior. Obviously, the grace of God for all men, including the reprobate, in the free offer is not the “common grace” of Abraham Kuyper, for that “grace” was only a temporal favor of God expressed in earthly things such as rain and sunshine. It was not saving as to its nature or as to God’s intention. It was not expressed in any well-meant offer. But the grace of God expressed in the free offer is nothing less than a favor that desires to save and that goes out in the gospel itself. This is the very essence of the free offer, and it is to this that we are saying “No,” when we deny the free offer.

The free offer is a denial of the sovereignty of God’s grace. The saving grace of God in Christ fails, and the love of God revealed in the cross of Calvary is frustrated. We see the issue as essentially the same as that for which the Reformed fathers contended at the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians. For do not forget that, although the truths of election, total depravity, the atonement, and perseverance were all at stake, the nub of the controversy was the Arminian’s denial of efficacious, sovereign grace.6 Against this Arminian denial, the fathers maintained “irresistible grace,” especially in Heads III/IV of the Canons.

History has verified our contention that the well-meant offer is Arminian in a striking way. In 1962- 1964, Harold Dekker of the CRC seminary argued from the well-meant offer to universal atonement. He showed, correctly, that there are not two kinds of love or two kinds of grace in God: “The difference between common grace and special grace, between common love and special love, is not in the respective quality or essence of these, but in the effect produced” (The Reformed Journal, Feb., 1963). He expressed agreement on this point with Hoeksema: “both of us agree that God’s love is not two but one, although he limits this one love of God to the elect while I ascribe it to all men” (The Reformed Journal, March, 1963). This one love is redemptive love. Dekker contended, again correctly, that by adopting the well-meant offer the CRC had committed itself (rightly, in Dekker’s view) to the teaching that God loves all men with a redemptive love and is gracious to them with saving grace. He then showed that this implies universal atonement. Dekker argued powerfully, as it turned out, irrefutably, that the doctrine of the well-meant offer demanded the teaching of universal atonement.

Second, is the salvation which the atonement provides available to all men? Indeed it is. Otherwise the well-meant offer of the gospel is a farce, for it then offers sincerely to all men what cannot be sincerely said to be available to all (The Reformed Journal, Dec., 1962).

The Scriptures testify to a divine love for all men in the atonement of Christ and in the universal invitation of the gospel (“Redemptive Love and the Gospel Offer,” The Reformed Journal, Jan., 1964. Cf. the entire article; emphasis added).

There is one step that the defenders of the free offer have refused to take as yet: the step of maintaining free will. This must come in time as the principles involved in the free offer work through. Already a man like Erroll Hulse takes a weak and dangerous position in this regard. As he struggles with the problem that God offers salvation to totally depraved sinners, absolutely incapable of accepting the offer, he writes:

As has been shown men are dead in sin, being dead to spiritual matters because of their enmity to God. Yet they are not dead as men. They still bear God’s image. They are still moral, rational, responsible creatures. However miserable in their unregenerate state they are not irresponsibly dead. God deals with them as responsible … This is the root of the matter and the reason why it is necessary to be clear about common grace (my emphasis—DJE). It cannot be too strongly stressed that we speak to men as men. They are not tables and chairs or cups and saucers. They are very much alive, very much alive toward a world without God (The Free Offer, p. 15).

The power of the offer-idea will irresistibly sweep away the truth of total depravity in the direction of free will, through the channel, no doubt, of the notion that fallen men “still bear God’s image” because of “common grace.”

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In opposition to the free offer, it is biblical and Reformed to teach that God loves and desires to save the elect church of Jesus Christ and her only. In the Old Testament, He loved and desired to save only Israel, not the other nations (cf. Deut. 7:6-8; Psalm 147:19-20; Matt. 11:20-24). Among Israel, He loved the elect, not all (Rom. 9:6-13). In the New Testament, He loves, elects, and desires to save some only out of the fallen human race, but He hates, reprobates, and wills the punishment of damnation for others (cf. Rom. 8:28ff.; Rom. 9; I Pet. 2:7-8).  In opposition to the offer, it is biblical and Reformed to teach that the grace of God is sovereign and irresistible and that the love of God in Christ never fails (cf. John 6:37; Rom. 8:29-30, 39). In opposition to the offer, it is also biblical and Reformed to teach that the preaching of the gospel does not have the nature of an offer, but that the preaching is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16).7 God’s grace in the preaching is sovereign grace that saves everyone whom God desires to save. By the preaching, God also hides the truth from some and hardens them (cf. Matt. 11:25-27; Rom. 9:18). This is His will for them, and Jesus, in full agreement with His Father, thanks God for this too (cf. Matt. 11:25-27). The preaching of the gospel is not an impotent offer but the scepter of the risen Christ, the sword of the Spirit, and the almighty power of God to call the things that be not as though they were (Rom. 4:17).

Although our controversy with the offer is not a quibbling over words, even the term, “offer,” is objectionable. It is not a biblical term. Although at one time it could be used to describe the call of the
gospel,8 since the Latin word, offero, meant “carry to, place before, present,” by this time the word itself is so freighted with Arminian connotations as to be unserviceable and dangerous.

Does our rejection of the free offer make us “hyper-Calvinists”? The term, “hyper-Calvinist,” is a term of reproach and condemnation, describing someone as a person who has driven the truth of Calvinism to such an extreme that he has actually marred and even destroyed true Calvinism. The name is bandied about very loosely today. Many enemies of Calvinism refer to genuine Calvinism as “hyper-Calvinism” in order thus to blacken Calvinism itself in the eyes of the ignorant. Others are only too ready to call a solid, consistent Calvinism, “hyper-Calvinism.” Apparently, however, there have been those who have deserved the criticism of “hyper-Calvinists.” Claiming to be Calvinistic, these churches denied that God calls anyone by the preaching of the gospel except the regenerated elect, and they denied that the church, or preacher, should call anyone to repent and believe except those who show themselves to be regenerated. Evidently, they drew the conclusion, from the doctrines of election and limited atonement, that the church may preach only to the regenerated elect, especially, that the church may only call the regenerated elect to repentance and faith. They called their position a denial of the free offer. Reformation Today (Summer 1970), in an article entitled, “The Ill-Fated Articles” accuses the Gospel Standard churches (in England) of holding this view. Confessional articles adopted by these churches in 1878 and maintained at the present time express a doctrinal position that may with some right be criticized as “hyper-Calvinism.” Article 26 states: “We reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in, or turn to God” (p. 25). Article 33 states:

Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power and on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption (p. 26).

Our denial of the offer differs fundamentally from the denial of those who mean to deny that the church should call all and sundry to repent and believe. We must dissociate ourselves from such churches, even though they also vehemently oppose the free offer. It is indeed true that there is a sense, an important sense, in which God calls only the elect. The efficacious call of God is directed to the elect and to no other. This is taught, e.g., in Romans 8:30: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” But there is also a sense in which God calls others besides the elect, i.e., the reprobate unbelievers. This is plain from Matthew 22:14: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” These words are the conclusion of the parable of the king’s wedding-feast, in which Jesus teaches that God calls many to salvation who perish eternally. According to the parable, God commands His servants to call “as many as ye shall find” (v. 9) to the marriage. This is the call that God makes in the preaching of the gospel, the call that Reformed theology has termed “the external call,” in distinction from the “effectual call” which consists both of the preaching and the work of the Spirit in our hearts.

We maintain that God calls everyone who comes under the preaching to repent and to believe. God does this through the church’s preaching. The church and preacher are ordered by God to call everyone, whether regenerate or unregenerate, whether converted or unconverted, whether believer or unbeliever, to repent and believe. “(God) now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). As far as the reprobate unbeliever is concerned, the nature of the call is that it is a demand that sets forth his duty. It does not express God’s love for him nor God’s desire to save him. It certainly does not imply the ability of the one who is called to do what he is commanded to do, any more than God’s demand to fallen men to keep His law implies their ability to do so.9 But the call expresses the sinner’s responsibility. This is the Reformed position in the Canons of Dordt:

As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly10 called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word, what will be acceptable to him: namely, that all who are called, should come unto him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest, to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him (III/IV, 8).

When the Canons say that “God hath … declared … what will be acceptable to him (or, pleasing to him), namely, that all who are called, should come unto him,” this does not mean that God loves all and desires the salvation of all. The Canons have been busy in Heads I and II refuting this very notion. But the meaning is that the activity of coming to Christ is pleasing to God, whereas the refusal to come in faith is displeasing to Him, and God makes this known in the preaching when He calls men. Therefore, when men wickedly refuse to come to the marriage, the king of the parable in Matthew 22 sends out the army of His wrath to kill those obstinate men.

Some have charged that without a love of God for all and a desire of God to save all, there is no warrant, i.e., foundation or justification, for the call to all men in the preaching. But they are mistaken. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that the warrant for the call to all who hear the preaching is the universal love of God. The church brings to everyone God’s call to repent and believe on Christ crucified because God has commanded her to do so. She knows that God will use that call both as a savor of life and a savor of death (II Cor. 2:16). As she goes forth into all the world sounding the call of the gospel to all to whom God sends her, she does not say, “Behold, God loves you: Come to the marriage.” But she says, “All things are ready: Come unto the marriage” (Matt. 22:4). From the viewpoint of the ones who are called, the warrant of the call is that God has perfected salvation in Jesus Christ.

We ought to make clear to others and we must be aware ourselves that our denial of the free offer in no way hampers our preaching or hamstrings missions and genuine evangelism. Men lay this charge against those who deny the free offer. In a recent work on hyper-Calvinism, Peter Toon has written:

The combined influence of the Hyper-Calvinists mentioned above was to produce in the churches connected with them, and amongst those whom they influenced, a tendency only to maintain their churches but not to expand them.11

Hulse charges that “hyperism undoubtedly affects preaching and teaching and is very dangerous because it can stultify and destroy the witness and life of a church” (The Free Offer, p. 15). As churches, and as preachers, we are able to preach to the unconverted. We proclaim Christ crucified to them, presenting Christ in the preaching of His Word, always, of course, as the righteousness of God. We pass upon them the judgment of the gospel, that they are by nature guilty and totally depraved, children of wrath, exposed to the damnation of hell except they repent. We call them, in the Name of God, to repent and believe. As we command all men everywhere to repent, we proclaim to all the promise that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This is Reformed preaching. This was the preaching and procedure of the apostles.

Let those who intend to be Reformed, and truly Calvinistic, compare the notion of the free offer with the teaching of the Canons of Dordt. The Canons speak only of God’s love for the elect in Christ, of a desire of God that the elect be saved, and of a grace of God that is particular and sovereign. It knows nothing, absolutely nothing, of a love of God for all, of a desire that all be saved, or of a grace, whether in the preaching or elsewhere, that fails to save. But does this imply a weakening of the preaching? Does this mean a hindrance to a serious call by God and by the church to all to whom God sends the gospel? Such has been the accusation of the Arminians from of old. But the Canons give the lie to this accusation, most fully and most clearly. Those who hold to the free offer out of fear that otherwise they lose the preaching must see this. And we ourselves must see this, so that we never apply our denial of the offer wrongly. The Canons begin with the importance of “the joyful tidings” as the means by which men are brought to faith” (I, 3). They stress that the preaching must promiscuously proclaim the (particular) promise “together with the command to repent and believe” (II, 5). They insist that the call of the gospel in the preaching is “serious” (III/IV, 8). They conclude with an encomium to the preaching: “And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so he preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of his word …” (V, 14).


1. This study has been printed as a booklet entitled, The Free Offer of the Gospel.

2. “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” (Canons III/IV, 10).

3. “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, breathed, and infused into him; or 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 that salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also” (Canons III/IV, 14).

4. Canons III/IV, Rejection of Errors section (in full):

“The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That it cannot properly be said, that original sin in itself suffices to condemn the whole human race, or to deserve temporal and eternal punishment. For these contradict the Apostle, who declares: “Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). And: “The judgment came of one unto condemnation” (Rom. 5:16). And: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

II. Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in Ephesians 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.

III. Who teach: That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers; that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the Prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt” (Jer. 17:9); and of the Apostle: “Among whom (sons of disobedience) we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Eph. 2:3).

IV. Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture. “Ye were dead through trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1, 5); and: “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart are only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed (Ps. 51:10, 19; Matt. 5:6).

V. Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, namely, the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion. For the experience of all ages and the Scriptures do both testify that this is untrue. “He showeth his Word unto Jacob, his statues and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his ordinances they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19-20). “Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own way” (Acts 14:16). And: “And they (Paul and his companions) having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16:6-7).

VI. Who teach: 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 can not be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of his love into our hearts: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it” (Jer. 31:33). And: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon thy seed” (Isa. 44:3). And: “The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which hath been given us” (Rom. 5:5). This is also repugnant to the continuous practice of the church, which prays by the mouth of the Prophet thus: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned” (Jer. 31:18).

VII. Who teach: that the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it), that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man’s nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods. But this is altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture which, besides this, teaches another and far more powerful and divine manner of the Holy Spirit’s working in the conversion of man, as in Ezekiel: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).

VIII. Who teach: That God in the regeneration of man does not use such powers of his omnipotence as to potently and infallibly bend man’s will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man’s regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not. For this is nothing less than the denial of all the efficiency of God’s grace in our conversion, and the subjecting of the working of Almighty God to the will of man, which is contrary to the Apostles, who teach: “That we believe according to the working of the strength of his power” (Eph. 1:19). And: “That God fulfills every desire of goodness and every work of faith with power” (II Thess. 1:11). And: “That his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3).

IX. Who teach: That grace and free will are partial causes, which together work the beginning of conversion, and that grace, in order of working, does not precede the working of the will; that is, that God does not efficiently help the will of man unto conversion until the will of man moves and determines to do this. For the ancient church has long ago condemned this doctrine of the Pelagians according to the words of the Apostle: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Likewise: “For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (I Cor. 4:7). And: “For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

6. This is made plain in Carl Bang’s recent book, sympathetic to the Arminians, Arminius (Nashville: Abington Press, 1971).

7. Note the title of Hoeksema’s attack on the well-meant offer in 1930: Een Kracht Gods Tot Zaligheid … (A Power of God unto Salvation)

8. It was so used in the Canons of Dordt: “It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein …” (III/IV, 9). Long ago, someone noted that offer0 in Calvin had the sense of “to present, to exhibit or set forth” (Calvin’s Calvinism, Wm. Eerdmans, 1956, p. 31, footnote).

9. Cf. the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day IV, Q. 9.

10.  Latin: serio, ‘seriously.’

11. Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity (London: The Olive Tree, 1967), p. 150.

12. Cf. Canons, II:5.

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