The Well-Meant-Offer

by | Dec 24, 2018 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

According to Mark’s account of the ministry of Jesus, Jesus preached the gospel to all those who were within earshot of his voice: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

The issue of the well-meant-offer goes all the way back at least to the Arminian controversy of the early 17th century. The question has to do with reconciling God’s decree to elect only some men from among fallen men with the indiscriminate offer or preaching of the gospel to all men. Some Calvinists argue that we should not be so indiscriminate in our offer or preaching of the gospel since God has not elected all men to salvation. Essentially, this is a rationalistic tendency on the part of some within the reformed camp that are typically referred to as hyper-Calvinists. The insistence to reconcile God’s works and Christian dogma within a system of finite human logic has proven repeatedly to lead to erroneous thinking. As I will demonstrate, rejecting the well-meant-offer of the gospel is one of those errors in thinking that should be abandoned by its proponents.

If we travel back in time to the Arminian-Calvinist controversy in the 16th and 17th centuries, we discover that from the very start, the Calvinistic churches affirmed the well-meant-offer. In the Canons of Dordt, chapter II, article 5 reads as follows:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal 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.[1]

And if this wasn’t clear enough, another paragraph from that document is even clearer:

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.[2]

Commenting on this paragraph, Anthony Hoekema (not to be confused with Herman Hoeksema) wrote, In this document they made the following statements about the well-meant gospel offer: “Whomever God calls to salvation he calls seriously (serio vocat): that is, with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save.”[3] These thoroughly Reformed, Calvinists went out of their way to classify the offer as sincere.

From these articles it seems clear that the Reformed churches in their earliest years affirmed the well-meant-offer. Jesus said, ““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37, NASB) Commenting on this text, John Calvin wrote:

But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine, which is the standard of union, is brought forward, God wills to gather all, that all who do not come may be inexcusable.[4]

If we turn to the prophet Ezekiel, we read ““Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) Commenting on this text, Calvin writes:

Here the prophet reiterates in different words that God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity.[5]

The Scriptures seems pretty clear that God calls all men who hear the gospel to himself. That call is genuine. It does not matter that men, due to their own sin and willful blindness refuse that call. It does not matter that man’s will is in bondage to sin. God’s call is genuine. This is reinforced by the Synod of Dordt as well as the writings of Calvin himself. Whatever one wants to classify the rejection of the well-meant-offer, they cannot classify it as Calvinism. It rejects the Synod of Dordt as well as Calvin, not to mention it is a serious drift from the teachings of Scripture.

When we elevate human reason above the Scriptures and attempt to harmonize Scripture with human reason as the arbiter of truth, bad things happen. We see this in the well-meant-offer, we see it in doctrines like the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, Predestination and many others. We must learn to recognize this sin in ourselves. We demand to know everything, even things that the Lord has hidden from us. We teach the efficacious call alongside the well-meant-offer because Scripture seems to teach both without qualification or without offering a perfect harmonization. It appears that we are simply expected to accept both as true. My advice is that we do just that.

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[2] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[3] Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 78.

[4] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 109.

[5] Joseph Haroutunian and Louise Pettibone Smith, Calvin: Commentaries (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 402.

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