28 May, 2016

Westminster Confession, 7:3—“... wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation ...”



Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they might be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (WCF 7:3).



(I)

Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, (RFPA, 2014), pp. 102-103]

The Westminster Confession of Faith is in full agreement with the Canons of Dordt in limiting the gracious call to the elect. Chapter 3 teaches that God’s eternal and free will is that the elect, and the elect only, be effectually called to Christ. Chapter 5 teaches that God “withholdeth his grace [from the reprobate wicked], whereby they might have been enlightened” so that “they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.” Thus God accomplishes his purpose to “blind and harden” these persons.20 Chapter 10 strictly limits God’s desire for the salvation of men to “those whom God hath predestinated unto life.” To them alone is God gracious “by His Word and Spirit.” The “others, not elected” are only “called by the ministry of the Word” and “can not be saved.”21

In the light of this overwhelming testimony of Westminster to the particularity of the will of God unto salvation and to the particularity of God’s grace, precisely in the matter of the preaching of the gospel, for defenders of the well-meant offer to appeal to the mere mention of the word offer in chapter 7 in support of their notion of a universal will of God unto salvation and of universal grace in the preaching borders on the ludicrous. There is indeed an exhibiting and presenting of Jesus to sinners as the source of life and salvation under the covenant of grace. The blessing of salvation in Christ are proclaimed as free gifts to every one who receives them by believing. This is the meaning of the phrase “He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ,” and this is Reformed orthodoxy. That it is a mistake to discover in the phrase the teaching that God desires the salvation of all and extends his grace to all is evident from the words that immediately follow: “and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.”22 As God freely offers life and salvation under the covenant of grace, his purpose, will and desire are to give life and salvation to the elect only. In the gospel his promise is to the elect only. And by the gospel, which freely offers life to sinners, he gives (not only presents, but also conveys) grace to the elect to make them believe.

It is a curious thing that professing Calvinists, zealous for the well-meant offer, hold up the phrase in the Westminster Confession 7.3, “freely offereth,” as though it were the very essence of Westminster’s doctrine of the calling, indeed the only thing that Westminster has to say on the calling, while ignoring not only all that Westminster teaches elsewhere on the effectual call but also what Westminster says about the particular promise in this article.

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FOOTNOTES:

20. Westminster Confession of Faith 5.6.

21. Westminster Confession of Faith 10:1 and 4.

22. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3, emphasis added.


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(II)

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Defenders of the well-meant offer] understand these terms (“freely offered”) as meaning that in the gospel God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate. But the Westminster Confession in the passage quoted knows nothing of this modern connotation of the terms. This should be evident from the fact that the word offer is used in the sense of the Latin offere, from obfero, and may be translated just as well by “present.” But that it was far from the minds of the authors of the Westminster Confession to teach that in the gospel God is sincerely seeking the salvation of the reprobate is especially evident from the rest of the same passage: “and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” This, then, is the promise of the covenant, the promise that must be preached: God will give to all the elect his Spirit.


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(III)

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

(a)

[Source: A History of the Free Offer, Chapter 5]

While it is true that the term “offer” is used here (NB. the Latin reads: in quo peccatoribus offert gratuito vitam ac salutem per Jesum Christum), there are several considerations which lead us to conclude that the idea of the offer as used by the school of Amyraut and as promoted by the Davenant men was not intended by the Westminster divines. In the first place, the theology of the offer—a double will of God, a universal intention in the atonement, a conditional salvation—was not incorporated in the creed. In the second place, the word “offer” is not found in the chapter on effectual calling where one would expect it, but in the section on the covenant, which leads one to think that it was intended, by the Westminster fathers, not as a flat statement concerning the offer, but in the sense of Christ presented or set forth in the gospel. In the third place, even in the article where the word is used, it is made synonymous with the command to believe (“freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him …”). And, in this same article, the promise of salvation is said to be to the elect alone (“… and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe”).


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(b)

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journalvol. 20, no. 1 (Nov. 1986), pp. 16-18]

There is no question about it that these uses of the term “offer” have often been appealed to in support of the idea that the Westminster divines held not only to an intention on God’s part to save all men, but that the idea of a general atonement was not specifically condemned so as to make the offer sincere. Whether this is a correct and honest interpretation of the creed is another question.19

There are several considerations in this connection which would seem to militate against this.

In the first place, the word “offer” as used in X, 2 [as well as in VII, 3] is clearly not at issue here. The Latin exhibitam shows that the framers of the Westminster had something quite different in mind than any idea of God’s intention to save all men.

In the second place, the word “offer” need not have the connotation it was given by the men of the Davenant School and is given today by the defenders of the free and well-meant offer of the gospel. This is evident, in the first place, by the fact that the term itself, in the Latin, means “to present” And, in the second place it is used in this sense in the Canons in III/IV:9.

In the third place, there is evidence that the meaning given to “offer” by the Davenant men was not the meaning of many in the Assembly. According to Warfield,20 Rutherford, a prominent member of the Assembly, seems to have used the term only in the sense of the preaching of the gospel. Warfield also claims21 that Gillespie, another gifted divine, spoke of “offer” in the sense of preaching or in the sense of command when he claimed, during the debate, that command does not always imply intention. For example, when God commands all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ, this does not necessarily imply that it is God’s intention to save those whom he commands. Shaw argues the same point and claims that the Assembly used the term “offer” only in the sense of “present.”22

In the fourth place, Schaff may claim that the Westminster divines may have contradicted themselves by limiting the atonement on the one hand to the elect, and introducing on the other hand the idea of an offer, something which requires a universal atonement. But there is a prima facie case against this. The Westminster divines knew their theology too well to commit such a blunder. And, if conceivably this were possible, the very fact that the point was argued on the floor would preclude any such conclusion. If then the Westminster divines were intent on limiting the atonement only to the elect, and if they knew that an offer in the sense of God’s intention to save all required a universal redemption, they would certainly not have included any such idea into the creed.

Finally, the language of the article itself all but requires a favourable meaning to the word. The phrase, “requiring of them faith in him that they might be saved” certainly is intended to explain the phrase, “wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ.”

From these considerations we may conclude that the use of this term in the Westminster Confessions has the same meaning as its use in the Canons.

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FOOTNOTES:

19. See, for a detailed discussion of this point, my article on “The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel” (4), Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, XVII, 2.

20. B. B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, p. 141.

21. Ibid., p. 142.

22. Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith, (Philadelphia, 1847), p. 142


(c)

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 54-57]

Paragraph 3, of chapter 7 uses language that precludes the interpretation sometimes given to the word “offer”: In speaking of the covenant of grace, the article goes on to say about this covenant:

… wherein [God] freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

This wording sounds more like Canons 2.5 than a statement defending the proposition that God “desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel,” although it is even somewhat stronger. The paragraph in the confession does not say that faith is a condition to the reception of Christ offered to all in the gospel, but it says, rather, that the promise of the gospel includes also the promise to give faith to the elect (“to all those that are ordained unto life”) and that faith is worked by the Holy Spirit. Although faith is required for salvation, it is sovereignly given and given only to those who are God’s own elect. That is strong language.
      
This interpretation is strengthened by what I wrote some years ago in a paper entitled “A Comparison of the Westminster and the Reformed Confessions.”[44]

… [There] is evidence that the meaning given to “offer” by the Davenant men (also Amyraldians—HH) was not the meaning of many on the Assembly. According to Warfield (B. B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and its Work [Mack Publishing, 1972], p. 141), Rutherford, a prominent member of the Assembly, seems to have used the term only in the sense of the preaching of the gospel. Warfield also claims (Ibid., 142) that Gillespie, another gifted divine, spoke of “offer” in the sense of preaching or in the sense of command when he claimed, during the debate, that command does not always imply intention. I.e., when God commands all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ, this does not necessarily imply that it is God’s intention to save those whom he commands. Shaw argues the same point and claims that the Assembly used the term “offer” only in the sense of “present” (Shaw, p. 104).[45]
      
Schaff inadvertently supports my conviction that the Westminster Confession does not teach the “well-meant gospel offer” when he suggests that the Westminster divines contradicted themselves when they taught, on the one hand, an offer of salvation, but insisted, on the other hand, that the atonement was limited to the elect.[46]  Schaff’s assumptions are 1) the well-meant gospel offer requires a universal atonement;  2) the word “offer,” in the confession, means the “well-meant gospel offer.” His first assumption is right. His second assumption is indeed nothing but an assumption. The fact is that the Westminster divines were far too astute theologically to support such an obvious contradiction. Further, the defenders of Amyraldianism on the Assembly argued especially for a universal atonement, and did so on the grounds of a gracious offer of the gospel, but were over-ruled by a majority of the assembly.
      
Schaff is correct that the confession emphatically teaches a limited atonement. And a limited atonement is the death-knell to all teachings with regard to the “well-meant gospel offer.” While the truth of a particular redemption is woven into the warp and woof of the Westminster Confession, it is specifically taught in 3.6 and 8.5, 6 and 8.[47]  It is universally acknowledged that the Westminster Confession is emphatic in its teaching concerned the truth of particular redemption.
      
I consider these arguments convincing proof that the “well-meant gospel offer” is not taught in the confession.


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NOTES

44. Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. XX, no. 1 (Nov. 1986), pp. 3-19.  

45. Ibid., p. 17

46. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. I, pp. 772-773.

47. “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto.  Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation.  Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only” (WCF 3.6; Schaff, vol. III, pp. 609-610).
     “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him” (WCF 8.5; Schaff, vol. III, p. 621).
     “Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head, and the lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being yesterday and to-day the same and forever” (WCF 8.6; Schaff, vol. III, pp. 621-622).
     “To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation” (WCF 8.8; Schaff, vol. III, pp. 622).


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(IV)

Homer C. Hoeksema (1923-1989)

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, no. 4, (Nov. 1973)]

Now those who hold to the “offer” theory in Presbyterian circles will be quick to grasp at an article like this. But they are grasping at straws. Let alone the fact that the article indeed employs the term “offereth,” (though not in the current sense), and let alone the fact that the article itself by no means speaks of a general offer, but is particularistic, are you going to rest an entire theory, and that, too, a theory which militates against the thought of the entire Confession upon a single use of the word “offereth” in an article which by no stretch of the imagination can be said to set forth a doctrine of an “offer?” To say the least, this is poor theologizing!


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(V)

More to come! (DV)



QUESTION BOX:

Q. “Does not WCF 7.3 teach that the promises of the covenant are unconditional to the elect, but that the promises of the covenant are conditional to all who hear the gospel?”

I do not find this teaching in Westminster Confession 7.3; I find, rather, that the article teaches that the covenant of grace includes two elements: 1) the command to all men to believe in Christ that they may be saved; and, 2) the particular and unconditional promise “to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” With this teaching of Westminster, I have no disagreement. In fact, the same truth is taught in the Canons of Dordrecht, in 2.5:


“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.” (Herman C. Hanko, “An Answer to David Silversides” [2019], pp. 3-4)







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