WELL MEANT OFFER DEBATE
Much controversy in reformed circles has surrounded the well
meant offer question. My own view on
the topic is summarized at http://www.puritans.net/tracts/offer.html
. It is very important that we distinguish different propositions:
Proposition A: God commands, calls, offers and desires that all men repent and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ (but God does not desire to have His Son atone for all men's sins, but only those of the elect).
Proposition B: God desires to save all men.
Proposition A is true (contra the treatment of theologians like Prof. Herman Hoeksema), for the very term command comprehends the idea of desire, and all should admit that God commands all men to repent and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Proposition B is false (contra the treatment of theologians like Prof. John Murray), for the term 'save' or 'salvation' comprehends Christ's atonement, and it simply is not the case that God desires to have Christ atone for the sins of the reprobate.
Let’s consider in more detail how Prof. Hoeksema’s treatment of the topic is improper, then how Prof. Murray’s treatment of the topic is improper, and finally conclude with some closing remarks on the treatment.
The Impropriety of
Prof. Hoeksema’s School of Thought
Prof. Hoeksema’s school of thought on this topic is fairly represented in the book "The Biblical offer of the Gospel: An analysis and answer to Rev. K.W. Stebbins' Christ Freely Offered in light of Scripture and the Confessions, by Rev. C.J. Connors", available at: http://www.epc.org.au/start/literature/stebb6.html , and also at http://www.epc.org.au/start/literature/index.html .
Rev. Connors writes:
"The first thing we need to establish is that the preceptive will can be called God's will only in a metaphorical sense. The preceptive will, is not God within Himself (ad-infra) "willing" as a rule for His own actions, but what God "wills" to reveal outside Himself (ad-extra) as the rule for the creature's actions. There is a clear difference between the two. The preceptive will terminates outside God's essence as that which He actively wills to require of man, while the decretive will abides within Himself as His living will in regard to His own actions."
Here is why I disagree with the above treatment. God's preceptive will is **not** God's will or desire only in some metaphorical sense, any more than my desire for a Rolls Royce is only a desire in a metaphorical sense. I would gladly take a Rolls Royce, but I am not willing to pay the typical price tag for it. Similarly, God really and truly desires all men to obey Him by repentance and faith, **but** He is not willing to pay the price for that to happen in His Son atoning for all men. That price He is only willing to have paid for His elect. And without Christ's atonement, no men will repent and believe.
Furthermore, God's very **real** desire that **all** men repent and believe certainly does affect God's actions. It results in God's very real displeasure when men do not repent and believe, and it results in God's very real punishment of men when they refuse to repent and believe. So the desire of God that all men repent and believe not only speaks to human actions, but has ramifications on divine actions. Nevertheless, God does not desire it in such a way that He wills His Son to atone for the sins of the non-elect.
Again, one may delight in something as a thing in and of itself, but not delight in it when all conditions and factors are considered. We do it all the time. And there is abundant evidence in scripture that God does so as well.
Command or precept implies **real** (and not merely metaphorical or imaginary) desire. If a father commands all his children to be silent for one hour, it implies the father has a real desire that all his children be silent for one hour. **But** it would not mean the father desired it under all conditions. For example, if the only way he could make them be silent would be by killing them, then in that case he would not want them silent when that condition is factored in.
There is no hint of contradiction in this explanation of mine (unlike Prof. Murray's treatment), but also there is no hint of denying the obvious fact that command implies real (and not merely metaphorical or imaginary) desire.
The Impropriety of
Prof. Murray’s School of Thought
In an OPC majority report on the topic co-authored by Prof. John Murray available at http://www.opc.org/GA/free_offer.html we read:
”It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men. The Committee elected by the Twelfth General Assembly in its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly said, "God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate" (Minutes, p. 67). It should have been apparent that the aforesaid Committee, in predicating such "desire" of God, was not dealing with the decretive will of God; it was dealing with the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction and that surely respects, not the decretive or secret will of God, but the revealed will. There is no ground for the supposition that the expression was intended to refer to God's decretive will.”
Contrary to the opinion expressed in this report, God does not desire to save all men per His revealed will. God’s revealed will is the Bible, and the Bible clearly teaches that God desires to save some and not to save others. God did not desire His Son to atone for the sins of all men, but only of the elect. Divine salvation comprehends Christ’s atonement, but Christ atoned only for the elect. Clearly, God only desired to atone for the sins of His elect. It is quite obvious in scripture that God did not desire to save Pharoah, Esau, Judas Iscariot and many others.
The erroneous opinion of this OPC majority report is quite distinct from the true proposition that “God desires all men to repent and believe the gospel, through which they would be saved, but He is not willing that His Son atone for all men.” Without Christ’s atonement, which made possible the giving of His Spirit to those He atoned for, men do not repent and believe. But men are nevertheless culpable for not doing what they ought, and God is rightly and truly displeased that they do not repent and believe. God desires men to repent and believe, and He is displeased when they do not.
Some Concluding Remarks
Let us avoid errors on the right hand and on the left hand in this matter of the gospel offer. Let us acknowledge that God calls and desires all men to repent and believe, and let us also acknowledge that He only gave His Son as a ransom for the elect in accordance with His revealed will.