28 May, 2016

Canons of Dordt, III/IV: 9—“… Christ, offered therein …”

It is not the fault of the gospel nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers on them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves, some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Saviour teaches in the parable of the sower, Matthew 13 (Canons III/IV, 9).

This article of the Canons is often quoted to support the “well-meant offer”—the notion that the Almighty earnestly and fervently wills, wishes, wants and desires the salvation of the reprobate; the notion that entails the ghostly spectre of a failing, foolish and frustrated God.
The key word here is “offered,” which is interpreted by many as meaning that God, on His part, is willing and eager that all who hear the gospel should be saved; that, therefore, when He causes the gospel to be preached to them, this preaching of the gospel is motivated by love and grace on the part of God towards them, and that, in this preaching of the gospel, God “offers” Christ to all that hear. He, as it were, extends His hand to all the hearers, and in this hand are all the blessings of salvation. He wants all to take those blessings. But if they refuse, He can do nothing more about it: they are lost.


Prof. David J. Engelsma


[Source: Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (RFPA, 2014), p. 102]

The use of the term offer proves nothing for the well-meant offer, since the Latin word offero that the fathers of Dordt used simply means “set forth” or “present.” No one denies that Jesus is presented in the gospel to all who hear the preaching. What must be proved is the new meaning that has been poured into offer by advocates of the well-meant offer, namely, that it expresses love for all and the will to save all. The appeal to the mere use of the word offer in the Canons for this is little short of desperate.


[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 102-103]

What the Canons means is that Christ is presented in the gospel to all hearers as God’s Savior of guilty, depraved humans from sin and death unto eternal life and glory; that in the gospel God Himself (externally) seriously calls all hearers to repent and believe; and that God promises that everyone who believes, regardless how vile a sinner he may be, will be forgiven and saved.

The Canons itself makes plain that by the “offer” it does not mean a gracious effort on God’s part to save all who hear, in view of a love of God for all hearers and with the desire to save them all. Head I of the Canons confesses the eternal reprobation of some humans in a hatred of God for them. Head II confesses that Christ died for the elect alone, according to the eternal love of God for them, and for them among men only. Heads III & IV confess that the saving call of the gospel, that which has its source in God’s election, is for some hearers of the gospel, not for all without exception. And, importantly with regard to the Marrow’s assertion that the gospel is a deed of gift and grant to all who hear, Head II of the Canons teaches that Christ “purchased” for the elect, not only forgiveness and eternal life, but also faith itself (Canons, II.8).

The reprobate unbeliever does not have a warrant to believe in Jesus Christ. He does not have the ability. But neither does he have the right. Faith in Jesus Christ is a privilege, a right earned for the elect by the death of Jesus. “Warrant” implies right. The reprobate hearer of the gospel has the duty to believe in Jesus, but he lacks both the ability and the right.



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


We may surely remark, in the first place, that the subject of this article is not a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation, but rather, that the fault of unbelief is not God’s, but that of the disobedient and unbelievers.

Thus if here were taught a general offer (which is not the case!), then, this is not to be found in the main thought of the article as such, but in the mere expression: “Christ offered therein.”

Therefore, the main and all-decisive question is: What did our fathers intend with this expression? What is the meaning of this: “offered therein”?

Was it the intention of the fathers to teach that Christ with all the riches of His spiritual and eternal salvation is simply preached to every one as something that must and can be accepted by every one? If that were the meaning, then this article, or rather this expression would violate all that is taught in the rest of the Canons. The fathers most emphatically teach that grace is not something to be offered and accepted, but is the free gift of the efficacious grace of God. The presently commonly accepted meaning, which the word has also in Keegstra’s presentation, cannot have that meaning here.

That this cannot be the meaning is suggested already in the expression. No mention is made of an offer of grace, of salvation, or eternal life, but of Christ being offered.

What does this mean?

We turn, first of all, to the original Latin, in which this article was composed by the Synod of Dordt.

There we read:

Quod multi per ministerium Evangelii vocati, non veniunt et non convertuntur, huius culpa non est in Evangelio, nec in Christo per Evangelium oblato.

Thus for our Dutch word “aageboden,” and in the English “offered,” you have in the original the word oblato. Oblato or oblatus is a form (past participle) of offere. The literal meaning of this word is: to present. My dictionary states that the word means: bring away, or carry, produce, to show, to make aware, to display, to present, to point out. One must agree that all these various meanings are entirely different than the present day use of the word “offer.” One must also agree that this meaning of the original word makes better sense than the word offered. The meaning then is, “Christ presented, showed, displayed, pointed out by the gospel.” Moreover, this is a thoroughly scriptural idea. For this is exactly what takes place through the preaching of the gospel. Christ is never offered in the gospel in the sense in which Rev. Keegstra desires, as if the individuals were given the ability to accept or to reject Him. However, He is presented in the gospel, pointed out in all the wealth of His rich significance, interpreted from every aspect, pictured before our eyes.

But if that is the meaning of the word oblatus as the fathers used it in the Canons of Dordt, how did it happen that the word offer or offered appeared in the article?

My answer is that in its earlier use this word came the closest to the Latin oblatus.

I found in the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal of M. DeVries and L.A. TeWinkel in this regard the following:

Formerly “offered” was also said of persons who were introduced by others, to give these persons opportunity to make acquaintance. Now the word “introduced” is used. We still speak of “presenting” a child for baptism.

For all these reasons, (1) since the first meaning of the word used in the original is certainly, “to present, point out, introduce”; (2) since the word “offered” was formerly used in that sense; (3) since that meaning of the word fits exactly with the expression, “Christ being presented in the gospel”; (4) since this is the thoroughly scriptural presentation of Christ crucified and risen; I am of the opinion that even Keegstra finds in this expression no support for his presentation of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation. “Christ being offered through the gospel” is something quite different than a well-meant, general offer of grace in the sense in which it is presently used.

We conclude that also in this quotation that Rev. Keegstra offers from the Canons of Dordt there can be found no semblance of proof for his presentation. 


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), p. 338]

18.   And what is the teaching of Canons III, IV, 9?

That the fault and guilt of the rejection of the gospel by the reprobate is not God’s, nor Christ’s, nor the gospel’s, but wholly the sinner’s.

19.   But does not this article teach that Christ is “offered” in the gospel?
It does; but it must be remembered, that “offer” has here the meaning of “present.” Christ is, indeed, in the presentation of the gospel, presented to all that hear. But this presentation or offering of Christ is not grace to all that hear and also this article does not even suggest such a thing.



Rev. Steven R. Key

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 37, no. 2 (April 2004), pp. 45-64]

[The] term offer has an entirely different connotation today from its original Latin definition. In the Canons, the term offer simply means to present or to set forth. The idea is that of Acts 13:46, where Paul and Barnabas addressed the Jews, and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken11 to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we tum to the Gentiles." To take the simple concept, well understood by the fathers at Dordt, and to add the baggage associated with the idea of a well-meant offer is unwarranted. Indeed, the preaching of the gospel may not be called an offer if by that term is meant that through the preaching of the gospel God earnestly desires and seeks the salvation of all who hear it. Such is a denial of gospel preaching as the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).



Prof. Herman C. Hanko


[Source: The History of the Free Offer, Chapter 3, “The Arminian Controversy and the Synod of Dordt”]

There is no mention in these articles of the free offer of the gospel in the sense of an intention or desire or will of God, expressed in the gospel, to save all who hear the gospel. It is true that the word “offer” is used in III-IV, 9, but, as we have had occasion to notice earlier, this word was very commonly used to express the idea that Christ is presented, set forth, proclaimed in the gospel as the One through Whom God has accomplished salvation. But the idea that God expresses in the gospel a general desire to save all who hear is an idea totally foreign to the Canons and can be read into them only by altering the clear language of the articles and imposing ideas upon the fathers of Dort which they did not have.


[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 337-338]

[It] is true that Canons 3–4.9 uses the word “offer.” But as I and others have repeatedly pointed out, there is no problem with the word “offer” as long as it is taken in the sense in which the fathers of Dordt took it, along with all theologians in the seventeenth century, who used Latin in their theological works. The Latin offere means simply “to present” Christ as publicly proclaimed and presented as the one in whom alone can be found salvation. When men are called to repent of their sin in obedience to the command of God, they are also called to believe in Christ presented in the gospel. When men refuse to do this, their refusal is rooted in their sin. For such disobedience they are justly punished.



Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000)]

The important phrase in the original Latin is Christo per evangelium oblato. The word oblato is a participial form of the Latin word offero, frequently translated with its English cognate, offer. But this is not the primary meaning of the Latin verb. Rather, its most basic meanings include: to put in a person’s path, to cause to be encountered; to show, reveal, exhibit; to present as something to be taken note of, to bring or force to someone’s attention.29 Thus, to interpret this article as teaching that all persons who hear the gospel are confronted with Christ, or that they encounter Christ in the gospel, is at least as plausible as the assertion that such persons are offered Christ and salvation through Christ in the preaching of the gospel. Set in the context of the broader teachings of the Canons and the writings of major Reformed theologians from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the former interpretation appears to be much more plausible than the latter.


29. See P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary, corrected ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), s.v. “offero.” It is not until the eighth through tenth definitions that the sense of the modem English word offer comes through.



Prof. Robert D. Decker

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 72, no. 2 (Oct. 15, 1995), p. 35]

It should be noted that the article speaks of Christ being “offered” in the gospel. The word translated “offered” is the Latin verb, offero, which has as its first and primary meaning, “to present” (cf. Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary [D. P. Simpson]). With this no Reformed person has a problem. Christ is presented in the preaching of the gospel to all who hear that preaching. The fault and guilt of the rejection of the gospel by the reprobate is not God’s, nor Christ’s, nor the gospel’s, but wholly the sinner’s. This article does not even come close to suggesting that the presentation or offering of Christ in the gospel is grace to all who hear.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

We should take note that the word offer has undergone a development in meaning over the centuries. In the days of the Synod of Dordt, the word offer commonly meant to present, to display, or to set forth. The modern use of the word offer includes the idea of a desire or intention in the one making the offer, as well as a presupposed ability in the one to whom the offer is made. These ideas are foreign to Dordt’s meaning of the term. Unbelief is not the fault of Christ, for he is not to blame for the unbelief of the reprobate: he is the perfect savior, and there is no insufficiency in the atonement that he has made (Canons 2.3-4).



More to come! (DV)

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