31 May, 2016

What Elements are Implied in the Idea of an “Offer”?

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: A Power of God Unto Salvation Or Grace Not An Offer, (RFPA, 1932), pp. 1-3]

What, if we do not play with words, is the idea of an offer? What are the various elements implied in that term?

In the first place, there is certainly implied the earnest and sincere desire, on the part of him who offers, to bestow something upon a certain person or persons. If there is an offer of grace on God’s part to all men, then this implies, if it means anything at all, that there is in God the earnest will and desire to bestow grace on all men. If this is not the case, if the defenders of this doctrine deny this, then the offer is simply not sincere and honourable. But the defenders of this theory even emphasize this point when they add that this offer is well-meant.

In the second place, the concept offer also includes, if it is to mean anything, that he who makes the offer actually possesses that which he offers, that it is available, so that in case the offer is accepted, it can also be granted. Anyone who offers something which he does not possess is branded a dishonourable bluff among men. If therefore the general offer of grace and salvation is to mean anything, if one does not play with words when he uses that term, then there must be grace and salvation for all men.

In the third place, there is implied in an offer the idea that that which is offered is recommended to another. He who offers manifests his earnest desire that that which is offered shall be accepted; and for that reason he highly commends it. With a view to our subject, this implies that God manifests the earnest desire that all men shall be saved—everyone, head for head and soul for soul. For in the presentation of such a general offer it is precisely emphasized that this well-meant offer exactly does not pertain only to the elect, but to all men who come under the preaching of the gospel. And not carefully, the doctrine is not that the gospel must be preached to all men by the preacher, but that God Himself offers His grace to all men and thereby manifests the earnest desire that it shall be accepted by all.

In the fourth place, the idea of such a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation implies that the one who offers either makes the offer unconditionally or upon a condition of which he knows that those to whom the offer comes are able to fulfil it. If I set a delicious meal before someone who is bound hand and foot, offer that meal to him and express my earnest desire that he may do justice to that meal, then I mock him. Applied to our subject, the well-meant offer of grace and salvation implies that God knows that all men can accept it. Unless you are playing with words, you shall have to concede this.

Everyone will have to concede that all these elements are implied in the idea of an offer.

Do not say now that we again want to comprehend things, that we are putting reason on the foreground. For such bogey-men have no effect on us. We are not engaged in trying to harmonize one thing with another before our rational understanding. We are simply discussing the ordinary meaning of the words which are used by those who speak of a general offer of grace. When we use words, then those words have meaning. We cannot simply inject into them a meaning as it pleases us or as it may best suit us. And without any danger of contradiction we can indeed establish that all that we have written above is indeed included in the notion of an offer. None of the four elements mentioned can be eliminated. If you nevertheless exclude one of them, you have no offer left. We say this the more freely because the entire term “well-meant and general offer of grace” never occurs in Holy Scripture. It is a term of human invention. And in the paragraphs above we have done nothing else than to analyse the term in order to understand what we are discussing.

Now thus understood, the entire notion of a general, well-meant offer of grace militates at every point against the biblical, Reformed conception of God’s grace.

For as far as the first point is concerned, the Reformed doctrine is not that there is with God the earnest will and desire to bestow grace upon all men; but grace is particular according to God’s decree and intention. God does not will in any single sense of the word that all men, head for head and soul for soul, shall be saved. He wills to bestow grace upon the elect, and upon none other. This is the clear scriptural, Reformed doctrine. And not only has He determined to bestow grace only upon some; He has also determined to bestow no grace on others. There is therefore also a determinate will in God to bestow no grace upon some men, and, with this, the first essential element of a general offer is already ruled out and simply made impossible. You cannot be Reformed and speak of a “general offer of grace” on God’s part.

With respect to the second point, namely, that he who makes an offer must possess that which he offers, the Reformed doctrine is that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, that the satisfaction of Christ is particular, pertains only to the elect, that grace for all men was never merited by Christ, and that therefore it simply does not exist. With this, according to Reformed standards, the second essential element of such a general offer of grace and salvation falls away. Everyone shall have to concede that I cannot offer what I do not possess. Every Reformed person will concede that there is in Christ no grace for all men. And every rational person will also grant that either the Reformed position or that of a “general offer of grace and salvation” must fall.

As far as the third point is concerned, namely, that he who offers must clearly manifest that what he offers is sincerely intended for all to whom it is offered, it is the Reformed doctrine that this is precisely not the case. No Reformed preacher may ever say that God has intended grace for everyone. But herewith the third essential element also falls away. God simply does not offer grace to all, i.e., He Himself teaches us most clearly that He wills to bestow grace only on the elect. Also, in this respect, the one view literally militates against the other.

Finally, it is the Reformed doctrine, in contrast with the fourth point which we mentioned as an essential element of every offer, that no natural man can accept grace in Christ, that grace is precisely not a matter of offer and acceptance whatsoever, but of the irresistible operation of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, if one presents things as though grace in Christ is an unconditional offer on God’s part to sinful man, then this conflicts with the Reformed position: for there is no man who would by nature be willing to accept God’s grace. And if you propose that salvation in Christ is an earnest offer of grace on condition of faith, then this is equally not in harmony with the Reformed position: for no one is in a position to fulfil that condition. In one word, it is Reformed to say that there is no one among men who even possesses in himself the very least of that whereby he would be able to accept an offered salvation. But with this position also the possibility of an offer falls away absolutely. For what sense does it have to speak of an offer of something to men of whom one is certain that they cannot accept that which is offered?

It is plain, therefore, that at every point the idea of a “general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation” militates against the Reformed truth. The one is simply a denial of the other.

The two exclude one another.

For that reason we said that we consider the idea dangerous.

It is misleading. Therefore, it is even more dangerous than plain and simple Arminianism.

For they want to hold to the view of a “general, well-meant offer of grace,” but also be called Reformed.

And in order to do this, they have to accomplish the juggling act of maintaining two mutually exclusive ideas and forcing these upon faith. And, if then, one points out that this cannot be, that you can never demand this of a reasonable faith, then they tell you that this belongs to the “mysteries” and that you “may not try to penetrate further into this.” As if we make ourselves guilty of spiritual intrusion when we ask that they make plain to us how it can be true that God “offers” something which He does not want to bestow, that He wills that which He does not will (“will” taken here in the same sense both times), that black is white, that yes is no, or, according to the presentation of the “double-track” philosophy of [Jan Karel] Van Baalen, how can a train run at the same time on two sets of rails in two opposite directions?

But it finally comes down to this: that men consider “Reformed” what is purely Remonstrant, and delude the congregation into thinking that they are proclaiming the Reformed truth while they nevertheless do nothing else than proclaim and strongly defend Arminianism.


Why can’t the gospel be said to be an offer in the sense of a tender, a proffer, or a proposal?

If salvation is an ‘offer,’ there must be left in the sinner, to whom the offer is made, the power to accept the offer. For to ‘offer’ any good thing to one whom we know that he cannot accept it, is mere mockery. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Protestant Reformed Churches in America” [1947], p. 302”)

In the first place, this is already impossible because according to its content [the gospel] is a promise, and a promise is surely fulfilled by Him who promises. But, in the second place, this cannot be because there is literally nothing in the gospel, whether you consider it from its objective or from its subjective side, which can be fulfilled by man. It is, from beginning to end, in its objective realization and in its subjective application, the gospel of God. But it is also a fact that nowhere do we read of such an offering of the gospel in Holy Scripture. And this is not because Holy Scripture does not speak at all of the proclamation of the gospel. On the contrary, Scripture speaks of this often. But always Scripture employs a word which means to proclaim, to preach, to testify, to speak, never a word similar to offer. Of the Saviour we read that He “preached” the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13). Paul “preached” the gospel among the heathen (Gal. 2:2; I Thess. 2:9); or he “speaks” the gospel to them (I Thess. 2:2); or he “testifies” the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Frequently also a word is used which really means to ‘proclaim glad tidings,’ as in I Corinthians 15:1, II Corinthians 11:7, Galatians 1:11, and Revelation 14:6. But always the same idea is expressed: the gospel must simply be proclaimed. Of an offer we read nowhere. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Gospel, Or, The Most Recent Attack Against the Truth of Sovereign Grace,” p. 91.)

What is the gospel? The gospel is good news, announced to sinners by heralds sent by Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a declaration of what man must do. The gospel is not even a declaration of what God would like to do for man. The gospel is a declaration of what God has done.
The gospel cannot be offered. What God has done cannot be offered, as if one were trying to sell something. When I offer you something, I give it with the expectation, hope and desire that you will receive it: “Would you like a cup of tea?” “You are invited to my birthday party.” These are offers—in the sense of a tender, a proffer or a proposal. But the gospel is never an offer. God does not tender, proffer or propose something. In the gospel call, God commands. Therefore, the Bible does not use “offer” language but serious command language. God never comes to sinners with an offer: “Would you like salvation. It is available for you if you would like it, but if you would rather not, that is fine too.” That is the way in which I offer a cup of tea to a guest in my home. Nothing serious is at stake, if my guest declines my offer of tea.
A much better illustration is that of a summons to a court room. The bailiff of the court comes with a document from the judge. The document is not an offer: “You are cordially invited to attend my court room. I would love it if you could attend, but if it is inconvenient to you, there is no urgency to come.” The summons says, “Come!” And the bailiff has the power of arrest, should you refuse to come, and you will go to jail for contempt of court, if you fail to appear at the time appointed.
The classic passage on the gospel call as a command is the “Parable of the Wedding Feast” in Matthew 22. (Rev. Martyn McGeown, “An Answer to Phil Johnson’s ‘Primer on Hyper-Calvinism’”)

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