07 February, 2017


It is now nineteen years since the event that marked the conclusion of my opposition to the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel within the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) of Ireland. That event was the church’s annual meeting of synod held in June 1996 at Bready, just a few miles south west of the city of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The synod received, considered and rejected my protest against the free offer of the gospel. The significance of the synod of 1996 was twofold: it officially committed the RPC of Ireland to the doctrine of Arminian general grace—a grace of God for all men expressed in the preaching of the gospel; it also marked the conclusion of my three-year struggle against this doctrine within the church.

The story of my struggle within the RPC for the truth of particular grace over against the heresy of Arminian general grace (embodied in their doctrine of the free offer) began one Sabbath morning in April 1993. Little did I know that the sermon I was about to hear from my minister in Glenmanus RPC, Portrush, would occasion a doctrinal controversy that would last some three years.

My minister, Rev. Andrew Stewart, took as his text Isaiah 55:13a, which reads:

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live.

In his sermon, Andrew Stewart explained the text to mean that all men thirst for God. Since all men thirst for God, the gracious call and accompanying gracious promise of the text are for all men. The gracious promise of the text is nothing less than salvation: “and your soul shall live” (55:3a). The sermon embodied the false teaching of the free offer of the gospel—that God expresses a sincere and well-meant desire to save all who hear the preaching. Although I had known for some time that Stewart believed in common grace, I was still shocked by the blatant Arminianism of his sermon. I well remember turning to my mother as we drove home from church and saying, “That sermon was wrong; to say that the unregenerate man can thirst for God is just wrong!” I knew it was my responsibility before God to refute this false teaching and so, about a week later, I began to write a response to Rev. Andrew Stewart.

What follows in this article is both a commentary on the controversy and an elaboration on some of the issues in an attempt to sift truth from error which, in the form of the well-meant gospel offer, has all but carried the day in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Error, which in our day of shallow theological thinking (and, worse than that, a day characterized by an almost complete absence of coherent, critical thinking), has been well-nigh uncritically accepted by the membership of these churches. Accordingly, if this article serves to strengthen the remaining opposition to the heresy of the well-meant offer, it will have attained its purpose. Additionally, if it serves to lead to some re-evaluation among those who espouse the well-meant offer and to its repudiation on their behalf, I would be deeply gratified. Jesus calls attention to the blessedness of the knowledge of the truth when speaking to those Jews who believed in him: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

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