04 July, 2019

“The Highway"—Not as “High" as it Seems: A Response to Mrs. Patrice A. Nesbitt on “The Offer of the Gospel”

On Thursday, 4th July, 2019, I came across a quote that was posted on Facebook by Patrice A. Nesbitt. Mrs. Nesbit is one of the founders of the “Highway” website (https://www.the-highway.com/). She has since blocked me, but the quote reads as follows:

But is it true that the offer of the Gospel, and the commandment to believe in Jesus Christ, are addressed to none but true penitents? Far from it. Christ with His righteousness and salvation is in the Gospel offered to sinners of mankind in common — to sinners as such; and sinners as such are invited and commanded to believe on His name, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.' 'whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

~ John Colquhoun

In response to this quote, I commented that, within the context and time-period of what Colquhoun is saying there, his statement is actually not entirely true

The “command” to repent and believe in Christ as He is portrayed in the gospel, is most certainly addressed to all men. No controversy there. Colquhoun is correct to point that out.  

However, what he refers to as “the offer of the gospel” is, in fact, contrary to his assertion, to be addressed to none other than true penitents. Colquhoun is wrong.

Allow me to explain …

According to the historic, Reformed, confessional use of the word “offer,” with regards to the gospel, it meant nothing more than the mere fact that Christ, in all His fullness, as well as the facts of the gospel, are simply to be “presented” or “exhibited” or “set forth” to all who hear—i.e., that the truths and facts of the gospel are to be declared to all that hear.  And, again, there is no controversy there either. Nobody denies that axiom of historic Christianity. (For proof that this was the original meaning of “offer” in 17th century writings, check out the following article: https://cprc.co.uk/articles/meaningofoffer/).

But that is not what Colquhoun is saying. And that is not what he means by the phrase “the offer of the gospel.” He means something quite different to what used to be the intended meaning behind those words.

John Colquhoun (1748-1827), was a “Marrow-man”—i.e. an advocate of “Marrow” theology (the Banner of Truth website describes him as “one of the ablest exponents of ‘Marrow’ theology”). Now when Colquhoun refers to “the offer of the gospel,” he does not mean by that phrase what the traditional, Reformed and confessional meaning intended by it during the 1600s, but, instead, intends that phrase to refer to the unscriptural idea that gospel promises, consolations and assurances are to be addressed to all without exception that outwardly hear the preaching (Note: not simply “preached,” but “addressed” to all)—meaning: God, in the gospel, promises the reprobate that He will save them, if they first believe, and that He well-meaningly gives them heartfelt assurances and consolations (effectively “wooing” them to come to Him) if they, on their part, first fulfil the condition of faith.

However, this is false teaching, for (1) such a sentiment is Arminian, and (2) it presupposes that the reprobate have it in their power to believe, if they so will. For God to proffer such a promise to the non-elect (which is what Colquhoun means by “the offer of the gospel”), would not be an “offer”; it would be a mockery, for, if God did not give the gift of faith, how could the hearer believe? To make a promise like that to all hearers is like promising a thousand dollars to every legless man if only they would walk a mile. Worse, it would imply hypocrisy in God, for God knows the inability of the hearers, and knows that only He can restore the faculty of faith necessary for them to believe. (Or, in the words of the example above, God has the power to bestow legs to a legless man, and if He decrees not to do so, then His “offer” to such a cripple is a mockery).

For a professed Calvinist to assert this (i.e. that the reprobate are recipients or addressees of gospel promises, consolations, assurances etc.) is an abomination, for he must know that such “universalised promises” are completely beyond the grip of the non-elect, since none can believe unless God sovereignly works faith in them. Such a formulation makes the gospel a mockery, effectively like promising all blind men that you will make them millionaires if only they will see. Worse, Colquhoun’s position makes God look deceitful, in that He, and He alone, can work faith in an individual, but chooses not to, whilst apparently simultaneously giving them a promise on condition that they have faith. Functionally, and logically, it portrays God as a hypocrite.

Such a conception of God is a damnable abomination. An utter blasphemy.

On the contrary …

What Colquhoun means by “the offer of the gospel” is actually particular … to the elect alone, who historically manifest themselves as “the thirsting ones,” “the hungry,” “the poor in spirit,” “the labouring and heavy laden,” “the God-fearers,” “the contrite ones,” etc.  THEY ALONE are the recipients and addressees of gospel promises, consolations and assurances.

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” … said Isaiah, in chapter 40, verses 1 and 2.

Perhaps Colquhoun forgot the Saviour’s words: he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Gospel promises, etc. (i.e. “the offer of the gospel”), are only for God’s people; those who, through regeneration, are given a spiritual ear …

Hugh L. Williams, in a critique of David Silversides concerning the same issue, writes:

Two kinds of sinners are manifest in biblical narrative—Pharisees and publicans. Both are sinners. But one thinks he is righteous. The other mourns under conviction, and he is one such as is “poor in heart” and the object of divine blessing under the beatitudinal teachings of Christ. Hence we must discriminate between “poor” sinners, and “sinners,” as indeed the Lord did himself. “Woe unto ye ...” were his words to the Pharisees, but he pronounced blessing on all those who mourned and laboured under the convictions as manifest by the publican in the parable. To such as the publican, the promises of God in the gospel are truly addressed, whereas to those like the Pharisee, the thunder of divine threats are appropriate. We must get things in the right order. The gentle drawing of the divine promises applies to all such as are truly convicted as to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and consequently their own predicament as sinners. Those who “have ears to hear,” who “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” knowing the famine of unrighteousness that blights their own nature. By contrast, those who are unconvinced that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God will have no qualms about their condition. Not believing themselves to be sinners in need of a Saviour is the direct consequence of unbelief in the person and authority of Immanuel. To suggest [as John Colquhoun would have us believe, DH] that those precious promises are given to all and sundry is faulty exegesis that casts pearls before swine. (Hugh Lindsay Williams, “The Free Offer: ‘Biblical’?? ‘Reformed’?? ... A Response to David Silversides” [2019], p. 10)


Mrs. Nesbitt accuses one who holds to this position of being a “Hyper-Calvinist.”

But in order to refute that slanderous charge (which is a “breaking of the 9th commandment”), I would like to point out that it is actually the testimony of the sounder Reformed theologians that gospel comforts, in the way of promises, consolations, assurances, etc. (i.e. Colquhoun’s “offer of the gospel”) are not addressed to everyone that hears the preaching, but only the elect and regenerate among them:

John Knox (1513-1572)—“True is that Isai the prophete and Christe Jesus himself, with his Apostles, do call upon all to come to repentance: But that generalitie is restrained by their own words, to those that thirst, that hunger, that mourne, that are laden with sinne, as before we have taught” (The Works of John Knox, David Laing, edit. (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895), vol. 5, p. 404.)
[Note: on page 61 of the above work, Knox states: “You make the love of God common to all men; and that do we constantly deny …”]

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)—“It is most untrue, that Christ belongeth to sinners as sinners, for then, Christ should belong to all unbelievers, how obstinate soever, even to those that sin against the Holy Ghost … He belongeth only to believing sinners … [Those] thus and thus qualified, are to believe; that is, humbled, wearied, and self-condemned sinner only, are to believe, and come to Christ. It is true, all sinners are obliged to believe, but to believe after the order of free grace; that is, that they be first self-lost and sick, and then be saved by the physician.” (The Trial and Triumph of Faith [Edinburgh: William Collins & Co., 1845], pp. 152ff. Cf. also pp. 348-349 for references to God’s hatred of the reprobate and love and peace on the elect; also p. 350 for references to God’s love as “simple,” not contradictory.)

John Owen (1616-1683)“Multitudes of these invitations and calls [of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace, and eternal salvation] are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements, which divine wisdom knows to be suited into lost, convinced sinners …” (The Works of John Owen, D.D., Thomas Russell [edit.], vol. 12 [London: 1826], p. 534. Cf. p. 435—“To the same purpose he speaks unto convinced sinners in the invitation he gives them to come unto him.”)

John Flavel (1630-1691)—“The order of the Spirit’s work in bringing men to Christ, shows us to whom the invitation and offers of grace in Christ are to be made; for none are convinced of righteousness, that is, of the complete and perfect righteousness in Christ for their justification, until first they are convinced of sin; and consequently, no man comes to Christ by faith till his convictions of sin have awakened and distressed him, John xvi. 8, 10. This being the order of the Spirit’s operation, the same order must be observed in gospel offers and invitations.” (The Method of Grace, in the Holy Spirit’s Applying to the Souls of Men the Eternal Redemption [London: The Religious Tract Society, n. d.], p. 160.)

This begs the question: Were Knox, Rutherford, Owen and Flavel (and others in the Reformed tradition who have uttered similar statements) “Hyper-Calvinists”?

The list could go on ...

Consider Calvin himself:

The fiction of Pighius is puerile and absurd, when he interprets grace to be God‘s goodness in inviting all men to salvation, though all were lost in Adam. For Paul most clearly separates the foreknown from those on whom God deigned not to look in mercy. And the same is expressed, without any obscurity, in the memorable words of Christ: ‘All that the Father giveth Me, shall come unto Me; and him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.' Here we have three things, briefly indeed, but most perspicuously expressed. First, that all who come unto Christ were before given unto Him by the Father; secondly, that those who were thus given unto Him were delivered, as it were, from the hand of the Father into the hand of the Son, that they may be truly His; thirdly, that Christ is the sure keeper of all those whom the Father delivered over to His faithful custody and care, for the very end that He might not suffer one of them to perish. Now if a question be raised as to the beginning of faith, Christ here gives the answer, when He says that those who believe, therefore believe because they were given unto Him by the Father … Pighius will himself confess that there is need of illumination to bring unto Christ those who were adversaries to God; but he at the same time, holds fast the fiction that grace is offered equally to all … (Calvin’s Calvinism, pp 49-51)

The reader will bear witness that in the above excerpt from Calvin he simply rejects the idea of the general gracious offer. He calls it a “fiction” (i.e., that which is feigned or imagined, as opposed to that which is true). He also calls the idea “puerile” and “absurd.”

Was Calvin a “Hyper-Calvinist”?

By the way, something I also pointed out to Mrs. Nesbitt before I was abruptly and ungraciously unfriended and blocked from her friends list, the issues involved here were actually examined by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of North America in 1924, and according to the judgment of the synod, it was official and ecclesiastically established that one can hold such particularistic views and still be “fundamentally Reformed according to [the Reformed] confessions” (Cf. Acts of Synod 1924, p. 147; English translation). It was also stated by the synod’s advisory committee (cf. Acts 1924p. 122) that “this [the idea that Colquhoun’s ‘offer’ is particular] has never been condemned by the churches” and that “similar expressions have, from time to time, been used” by some in the past “without being disciplined by the church.” And if it was, indeed, “Hyper-Calvinism,” as Mrs. Nesbitt charges, such a minister who preaches such views would actually be disciplined and removed from office.

As much as it pains me to say this, Mrs. Nesbitt is committing slander and a violation of the 9th Commandment with regard to her claim that those who hold to the views of Knox, Rutherford, Flavel, Calvin, et al., as quoted above, are “Hyper-Calvinists.”

Concluding comments:

Regarding Revelation 22:17 (“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely”), it is to be pointed out that the more sounder Reformed interpretation of this text is that it is referring to only the regenerate, for only they “thirst” (spiritually) and “will” to come to Christ. The text is thoroughly particular in its scope. (For some quotes on this text, and ones similar to it, check out the “Scripture Index” on the website: http://commongracedebate.blogspot.com/2016/12/scripture-index-of-common-grace-texts.html)

In Christ,




In response to some comments made towards me by Mr. Fred B. Smith on that particular post of Mrs. Nesbitt’s, I answer as follows:

Dear Mr. Smith,

I believe you misunderstood the content of my comments on Mrs. Nesbitt’s post (which comments have since been deleted by Mrs. Nesbitt). You claim that the position I am advocating (i.e. that gospel promises, consolations and assurances are only for the elect), is “absurd” because it amounts to the idea that one must “[know] he is elect before he sees or enters the Kingdom of God, by the new birth …”

That simply is not true. That is a caricature to the extreme.

The “new birth” (along with the effectual call) actually CREATES in the elect the realities of “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” and CREATES in them the spiritual “labouring and heavy-laden[ness],” as well as godly sorrow over sin, etc.

This is sound Reformed teaching!

The Canons of Dordt, in Head 1, Article 12, speak of “the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God …”:

The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God - such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.

Again, in Heads 3-4, Rejection of Errors no. 4, it states:

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. Psalm 51:10, 19; Matthew 5:6.

The elect, regenerate individual is (ordinarily) taught, via sound preaching, that the unregenerate *never* (ever) have a “hungering and thirsting after Christ,” never are they “labouring and heavy laden,” never do they “thirst after the living waters,” never are they sorrowful after a godly sort, etc., and that ONLY THE REGENERATE possess these characteristics, due to the work of the Spirit within them. 

You also ask, “You say that the preacher only addresses the gospel promises to the elect and regenerate. But how can the preacher possibly know who they are?”

My answer to that it that a preacher doesn’t need to know who they are. He simply calls them out by their spiritual names: i.e., “hungry one,” “thirsty one,” “God-fearer,” “believer,” “you who mourn over your sins and guilt and who wonder if there is hope for you,” “you who seek forgiveness in Christ, and heartily desire to have His righteousness alone imputed to you, to be found in Him …” etc.

One who is regenerated amongst the hearers will hear his spiritual name called out, and he will say “That’s me … That’s who I am … Hes speaking to me ... I’m being addressed here, and the promises are addressed to me ... I can take comfort that Christ is mine, and I am His, and I can be assured for certain that He loves me, that He died for me, and that I am saved … and I WILL be saved!”


1 comment:

  1. Hey Fellow David.Great to meet you.
    Regarding the Nesbitts,I knew them first about ten years ago. Patrice and husband Jeff very bright and scholarly.Her hubby Jeff and I were friends.He was a great Sunday school teacher.Gifted.I learned! He is a grad of Westminster.I think she is as well.We attended a Presby church in Westmoreland NH.The pastor likewise was a Westminster grad.But he was also very smart.The two were gifted of The Lord.Yet a fierce competition between the two--pride,jealousy,and elitism led to incredible animosity and tension betwixt them.Despite such knowledge and wit far exceeding my own,there was very little Christian charity between them. The church shut down maybe 7 or 8 years ago.t did have 100 or so.Sad fact is...Reformation theology was well taught.Regulative principle of worship.For us lambs it was a welcome respite from the leftism surrounding us.So painful to see a church go down to nothing.The pastor became bitter,and he and his wife would not speak to Jeff and Patrice the last 2 weeks the church was open. Overt UnChristlike attitude was huge lesson in what not to be..No love. It is painful to see what happened.To this day they remain enemies.The Pastor(Ken Sanders) was very good teacher and preacher! As was Jeff..And yet in the application of the Faith in its most basic elements...they failed! Ken withdrew and hasa home church with just family.AS does Jeff and Patrice.AS always,it scatters and wounds the lambs.Patrice and Jeff are highly gifted, sharp,and as long as you agree with them they love you.Cross them( or Ken,for that matter)..and you will find yourself on the outside.As she blocked you--that is their method.I tried to reach but..but the hearts are dark and cold.So painfuI is all this.I must guard my own heart. Addendum,Jeff and Patroice went from that church to a Reformed Baptist,where Jeff thought he'd run things. He had sharp and bitter relationship with the pastor there(Concord).as well as his wife and aman just out of jail upon whom Jeff had no mercy .To me it looks as hate.Any attempt to gently reprove or admonish will get you on the naughty list--and-as you found,Dave--blocked.Summation:their way or.."The Highway".

    PS..but I serve the Lord as a missionary pastor,preacher,evangelist,and teacher now in The Philippines.I have been here since May 20-15.Tough life,huge adjustment,very hard.but God gives grace.It had a profound effect on me..all that stuff.My wife and I just came back from the North Phil.It was our 10th or 11th missionary trip there.We had 12 engagements of the Puritan Gospel via my preaching, teaching,evangelism,visitation.The Lord blessed it.We left rejoicing.Was 11 hr bus ride back to Manila..and another several more hrs ride home.I am 60 now and deem it the greatest privilege to bring forth The Glorious Gospel to the Lambs and to the Lots there.As you say..small world. I enjoy your FB site here. Godspeed!