Free Offer or Free Will?
March 7, 2012, 11:38 am
Filed under: Free Offer, Free will

written by David Bishop

Minutes of the Fifteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948:

“There is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save.  This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance. The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all.  Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God, and this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed.  The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to salvation.   In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel.  The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds, it veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.”

And so began the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s descent into apostasy.    They’re far from alone though.   Many more Reformed, Presby and Calvinist pastors, teachers, seminary professors and presidents have since emerged to champion the OPC’s “free offer” doctrine.   Just recently, in fact, author and professor Sinclair Ferguson affirmed his belief in the free offer after he was challenged to produce a single biblically valid reason for his continued support for John Piper’s decision to invite Rick Warren to the 2011 Desiring God Regional Conference (see video here; challenge and subsequent answer begin at the 28:25 mark).

The Free Offer of the Gospel doctrine has some very serious problems.    The idea that God has a “benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save” is nowhere found in Scripture.   Furthermore, it is an idea fatal to the gospel of grace, for it nullifies the message of God’s grace by denying the connection between the extent of the atonement and the extent of God’s love.

According to the free offer, Christ died for everyone to different degrees because God loves everyone to different degrees.  This idea is demonstrated in that particularly ridiculous notion advocated by Hodge and Shedd; namely, that Christ’s death is sufficient for everyone, but efficient only for the elect.   In other words, Christ died for everyone, but His death is effectual only for the elect.   If that is the case however, AND IT MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT, then it would have to be said that Christ’s death is effectually only for those whom God loves enough.    But if that were true, and again it most clearly is not, then it would also have to be said that Christ’s death is useless, for His death is uselessly applied to those whom God does not love enough.  Such a death could not have secured anyone’s salvation, for its effectuality would be dependent upon whether God loves enough the person it is applied to.   We would have to talk about the atonement in the nonsensical terms of whether Christ died enough for a person.

What this all means is that the free offer paints the Father’s attitude towards the Son’s sacrifice as contemptuous.   Though the Son would have died for everyone, the Father would still not have honored the sacrifice, for it would remain true that He does not love everyone to the same degree.

Now, it is true that true believers have always asserted that the gospel must be preached to all men.

“Our difference does not at all have to do with the question, whether the gospel, according to the will of God, must also be preached to all who are in our audience, reprobate as well as elect.   This is taken for granted on both sides. Note well, the issue is not whether the gospel must be proclaimed by the preacher to all men who sit in his audience without distinction.  Every Reformed man believes this.”  –  Herman  Hoeksema, Een Kracht Gods, pg. 27

 After all, Christ instructed His people to preach the gospel to all men.

Mark 16: 14
Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned

However, Christ said nothing about preaching the gospel as an offer of God’s non-saving love.   What purpose would such a ridiculous message even serve?!  God loves you, but not enough to save you, unless you prove He loves you enough to save you by accepting His gift of maybe He loves you enough to save you and then again maybe He doesn’t?  Is that what the New Testament teaches as the object of a person’s faith?  You proving you were loveable enough to be justified?

What is behind the advocation of such a ridiculous doctrine?   Dr. Matthew McMahon, one of the leading theology professor in support of the free offer, gives us a clue:

“Arminianism denies the Biblical picture of God’s complete sovereignty and stresses the ‘free-will’ of man.  Hyper-Calvinism stresses the complete sovereignty of God at the expense of the ‘free will’ of man. Thus, instead of remedying the problem, they deny the doctrine instead.”  – Matthew McMahon, All House and No Doors: A Brief Critique of Hyper-Calvinism

Arminianism stresses the free will of man?   It stresses?   And this while Hyper-Calvinism supposedly stresses the complete sovereignty of God at the expense of man’s free will?  Isn’t Dr. McMahon’s definition of Hyper-Calvinism the description of what every red-blooded Calvinist has been taught about the subject of God’s sovereignty and free will since the days of his earliest introduction to TULIP?

Consider Chapter IX, sections III and IV of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutable free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

Does this sound like someone under-stressing free will?   Or does it sound like someone altogether denying free will?

Yet Dr. McMahon maintains that people who deny free will are hyper-Calvinists.   Even worse,  Dr. McMahon goes on to assert that the doctrine of particular atonement is not a prerequisite part of faith in the Christ of the gospel.

“Hyper-Calvinism believes that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is prerequisite for faith in the work of Christ . . . In certain discourses of Christ we find His debates with the Pharisees a help in understanding the sheep/Shepherd paradigm.  But never do we find Jesus preaching on the hillside His limited atonement for some men in any explicit manner.  He never says, ‘I only died for the elect.'”    – Matthew McMahon, All House and No Doors: A Brief Critique of Hyper-Calvinism

Oh really now?  Jesus never said He only came to die for the elect?

John 10:14
“I am the good shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

John 10:25-26
Jesus answered, “I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. “

Isn’t that interesting.   He says to a group of people, “I came to die for My sheep.”   He then says to this same group of people, “You do not believe because you are not My sheep.”  And yet somehow He never said He only came to die for the elect?

Matthew 25:31-33
“When the Son of Man come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people on from another as a shepherd separates the sheep form the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.”

Christ absolutely taught that He came to die only for His elect.  No, He didn’t use the exact word, “elect”.  He used the word sheep instead, but they mean the same thing.   Paul used the word elect, while Christ used the word sheep.

McMahon’s logic is absurd.   Of what worth is a propitiation that no one is aware of?   If election and particular atonement are both biblical truths, then how are we not liars who give false testimony of the gospel  by telling everyone we meet that Jesus died for them, when in reality, we don’t know whether Jesus actually did die for them?   McMahon’s solution is to lie to people.  He reasons that if we lie to a person enough times, then maybe God will finally do something to make that person believe what they don’t know.   But I would ask McMahon a question.  Does he think people who don’t believe Jesus literally died are still nevertheless true Christians?  What I mean is, he tells me that it is wrong to believe that the knowledge of the extent of the atonement is a prerequisite for faith in the person and work of Christ.   Yet I have no doubt he would also tell me that it is right to believe that assent to the literal, physical death of Christ is indeed a prerequisite for faith in Christ.   But I ask, what’s the difference?  What makes one prerequisite any more or less important than the other?  If the problem is a matter of believing sin was atoned for, then wouldn’t it be far more important to let people know just precisely whose sins Christ’s death atoned for?

The reality is this, men like McMahon and Ferguson are embarrassed by God’s good and righteous gospel doctrine of limited atonement.   Why else would they go out of their way to tell someone that Jesus really did literally die, and yet not tell them that His death doesn’t atone for everyone’s sins?   I mean, after all, if McMahon truly cares for people like he says he does, then why is he so eager to lie to them?

If Christ’s death imputed to a person is absolutely the only thing that makes a difference between that person being saved and being condemned, then why hide the fact that Christ’s death shall only be imputed to His sheep?   If I believe Jesus only died for His sheep, but I tell the first person I meet that He died for them, then aren’t I saying Christ’s death imputed is not the only thing that makes a difference between that person being saved and being condemned?   After all, I don’t know that His death will for sure be imputed to them.  How then can I say I believe Christ’s death makes the only difference, when at the same time I’m telling people whom Christ may not have died for that He died for them?  In such a view, I could not believe Christ’s death makes the only difference!


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The Westminster Confession of Faith emphatically defends the idea of man being endowed with a “Free Will.” Chapter 9 of the confession is entirely on that subject. And after giving a general statement on the liberty of man’s will in paragraph 1, the chapter then goes on to explain what free will looks like in all the states of man:

p.2, free will in the state of innocence
p. 3, free will after the fall
p. 4, free will in the state of grace
p. 5, free will in glory

The burden of the chapter is to define free will in each of those states. The will is bound to one’s nature. Fallen man is a slave to his sin as in glory we will be slaves to righteousness; but regardless of the state of our nature, as image bearers of God our will freely does whatever we choose. The will is neither “forced” nor “determined” to use the language of the confession.

Fallen man cannot will anything spiritually good because of his depraved nature, but he freely and responsibly does whatever he wishes. Man’s will is always free as the Confessions teach. You’ve misrepresented the Confession.

Comment by bobschilling

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