The Crux of the “Free Offer” is the Cross! Review Article by David J. Engelsma
The Crux of the Free Offer of the Gospel, by Sam Waldron. Greenbrier, AR: Free Grace Press, 2019. Pp. 143. $18.00 soft.
With the enthusiastic recommendation of such Reformed theologians as Joel Beeke and Richard D. Phillips, Baptist theologian Sam Waldron launches a vehement attack on the Reformed confession of salvation by particular grace and a vigorous defense of the theology of universal, ineffectual (saving) grace as this heresy is inherent in the doctrine of the “well-meant offer” of the gospel.
To his credit, Waldron is candid in his attack and defense, as other defenders of the popular doctrine are not. By the “free offer,” he means a divine invitation to salvation that expresses a saving love of God for all to whom the ineffectual invitation comes, with the sincere, gracious purpose and desire of God that everyone who hears the invitation be saved. In the “free offer,” God extends His saving grace in Jesus Christ to all to whom the offer comes—extends it with the desire of love that the sinner be saved by the offer, that is, by the offering God.
It is both the conviction and assumption of this book that the crux of the doctrine of the Free Offer of the gospel is God’s indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners. To put this in other words, at the core of the Free Offer of the gospel is what is called the ‘Well-Meant’ Offer of the gospel…This conviction (that the Well-Meant Offer and God’s indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners is the crux of the Free Offer) is also the conviction of its most vocal enemies (9, 10).
Whereupon Waldron adduces this reviewer’s book, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, as expressing the rejection of the well-mean offer to which he and his theological allies are opposed.
Honestly, Waldron acknowledges that it is this that the avowed foes of the so-called “free offer” find objectionable—foes particularly in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC).
This is strikingly candid on Waldron’s part because many advocates of the well-meant offer like to disguise the heresy, which they hold, as much as possible by carefully referring to it only as the “free offer.” Thus, they hide behind the use of the phrase in the Westminster Confession of Faith and leave the impression that they are only confessing the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel to all and sundry; the serious call to all hearers to repent and believe; and the generally announced particular promise that everyone who believes will surely be saved. This meaning of the “offer,” of course, is orthodox, and heartily subscribed to by the PRC.
What is Meant by the “Free Offer”
In fact, this is not what such theologians mean by the “free offer.” What they mean is what Waldron rightly and candidly calls the “well-meant offer.” What Waldron means, and what such defenders of the “free offer of the gospel” as Beeke, Phillips, R. Scott Clark, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (all of whom are adduced by Waldron as defenders of the well-meant offer) mean, by the “free offer” is that “God wills for them [all who hear the gospel—DJE] to be saved (22) and that God has a “desire and intention for the salvation of men who were finally lost” (24), so that the “free offer” preacher assures everyone in his audience that “God wants him to be saved” (33).
The doctrine of the “free offer” for which Waldron contends, as do also most contemporary advocates of the “free offer,” is “that he [God] would have all come to Christ” (130). “God earnestly desires the salvation of every man who hears the gospel. He sends them the gospel—with the desire, intention, and will—that they might be saved by it” (100).
As this universal will of salvation itself implies, Waldron candidly declares that his and the others’ “free offer” proceeds from a saving love for all who hear the gospel and proceeds to them all as the (would be) saving grace of God.
Waldron struggles, as well he might, with the implication of his well-meant offer, namely, that there are two, contradictory wills in God. With the will of election (which Waldron confesses), God desires and intends the salvation of some only who hear the gospel, Jacob, not Esau. With the will of the well-meant offer, God desires the salvation of all, Esau, as well as Jacob. Thus, the God of the well-meant offer is in conflict with Himself, which is intolerable for a Calvinistic, indeed Christian, theologian.
Waldron makes an effort to alleviate his grave problem of contradiction in God, and that in the important matter of salvation, by recourse to a deep and murky discussion of the nature of the being of God (which discussion does nothing at all to solve Waldron’s problem of a conflicted god—a god whom I would advise to make up his mind: does he purpose to save all, or some only?; does he want us to preach his will of election or his will of the well-meant offer?) The familiar appeal in defense of this contradiction in two wills of God to the oneness and threeness of God’s being, as though the oneness and threeness of the being of God are also contradiction is a complete failure. For God is not one and three in the same respects. He is one in being, and three in persons. The Trinity of God is not a glaring contradiction. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals God as incomprehensible. It does not reveal Him as nonsense.
“Will of Precept/Will of Decree”
Beyond all doubt, Waldron’s main defense against the charge that his theology of the well-meant offer posits two contradictory wills in God is his appeal to the Reformed distinction between the preceptive will and the decretive will of God. Again and again, Waldron falls back on this distinction in the will of God. He expresses the importance of the distinction for his doctrine of the offer early in his treatment of his subject: “First, the backdrop of this discussion is the preceptive will of God for all men” (25). He returns to the distinction at the very end of the book, where he adds to his confusion by introducing the distinction between the secret and the revealed will of God.
This means that the supposed objection to the Free Offer from particular redemption is not different in its fundamental nature from the problem relating to the tension between God’s decretive (or secret) and preceptive (or revealed) will…The particular redemption of only some of those to whom the gospel is preached is not an objection. The revealed or preceptive will of God in the gospel is that he would have all come to Christ. The revealed will of God is that in Christ, on the basis of his precious blood, there is a sufficient Savior for them (130).
Waldron misunderstands and misrepresents the distinction, “preceptive will/will of decree.” The distinction is not between a desire to save some (election) and a desire to save all (the well-meant offer). But, as the wording of the distinction itself makes plain, the distinction is between a desire, or intention, or purpose, to save only the elect (the will of decree) and the command, or precept, to all who hear the gospel, that they repent and believe (the will of precept). The preceptive will of God is His command, not the expression of His purpose, or intention. A precept is a command. It is not a wish. It is exactly the idea of the distinction in Reformed theology that the Bible often teaches that God commands (preceptive will) what He does not purpose according to His decree (will of decree). Similarly, He forbids (precept) what He has decreed (decree).
Here may be difficulty for the human comprehension. But there is no contradiction. God forbade Adam to eat the fruit (precept), whereas He had decreed that Adam would eat, in order that He might carry out His purpose of salvation in Jesus Christ (decree). God forbade Joseph’s brothers to sell him into Egypt, whereas He had decreed that they would sell him, so that Joseph might keep the family of Jacob alive. God forbade all the agents of the wickedness of bringing Jesus to the cross to perform their evil deeds, whereas He ordained that they would perform them in order to accomplish the salvation of many by the redemption of the cross. God commands all who hear the gospel to believe (precept), whereas by the very preaching of the gospel He hardens their hearts that they not believe, according to his decretal will of reprobation (decree). What God commands is one thing (will of precept). What He decrees is another thing (will of decree). Precept and decree involve no contradiction.
When Waldron inexcusably describes the preceptive will of God as God’s gracious intention, or purpose to save those whom He has not elected, he completely misunderstands the preceptive will of God, and brings God into conflict with Himself. “The revealed or preceptive will of God in the gospel is that he would have all come to Christ” (130). Now God has two contrary wills: a will desiring the salvation of all and a will desiring the salvation of some only. He is a God at cross purposes with Himself. And one of these wills—the one which Waldron and his free will colleagues emphasize—is a failure. All who hear the gospel do not come to Christ.
Likewise, Waldron’s appeal to a distinction between the “secret” and “revealed” will of God rests on a misunderstanding of the distinction. For Waldron, God’s revealed will is His purpose that all be saved by the gospel, inasmuch as God loves them all alike. God’s secret will, in contrast, is His election of some only. This is sheer contradiction in God with regard to the salvation of humans who hear the gospel. But this is inexcusable ignorance on Waldron’s part, ignorance that those who so heartily recommend the book ought in kindness, to say nothing of theological astuteness, to have called to Waldron’s attention. The secret will of God is what God has ordained in His eternal counsel, for example, that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would refuse to let God’s people go, in order that God might be glorified in Pharaoh’s disobedience. Pharaoh did not know this will, nor did he need to know it. Pharaoh knew, and only needed to know, God’s revealed will, which was the command of God to him by Moses, “Let my people go.” The precept did not contradict the decree. In fact, the precept served the decree. By disobeying the precept Pharaoh hardened himself so as to make himself ready for his decreed destruction.
Waldron makes the revealed will of God a purpose of God to save all who hear the gospel, in contradiction of the secret will of God’s predestination that only some be saved. Not only does this understanding of the distinction cause God to be at loggerheads with Himself and bring the gospel into utter confusion (does the God of the gospel will to save some, or all?), but it also is falsity on its very face. If the revealed will of God is taken to refer to God’s revelation in Scripture as to whether He purposes the salvation of all who hear the gospel, or of some only, the revealed will—the revealed will—of God plainly teaches that He wills to save some only, not all. Jesus told His enemies to their faces in John 10 that they were not of His sheep, to whom alone He willed (intended, purposed, desired) to give eternal life. It is the revealed will of God that God has no desire for the salvation of all who hear the gospel, indeed, of all to whom Jesus Himself preaches the gospel. In Romans 9, the Holy Ghost teaches that the purpose of God with some who hear the gospel is that their hearts be hardened so that they perish everlastingly. This is not the “secret” will of God, but the “revealed” will. God has made known that He does not will, or purpose, or intend, the salvation of all who hear the gospel. His revealed will clearly makes known His decree of predestination, that He purposes and intends the salvation of some only, in distinction from others for whom He purposes damnation. The revealed will makes known also that God designs and uses the preaching of the gospel as means of grace for the salvation of the elect only.
Waldron and his free offer allies are inexcusable in their opposition to this revealed will of God. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18). The text explains God’s will in the matter of the salvation of sinners. The text teaches that this will concerning salvation is particular, not universal. The text teaches that the will for the salvation of some only includes, as an essential aspect of this will, the will for the hardening and damnation of others. And this two-fold will of God regarding salvation is part of biblical revelation. It is the revealed will of God. Whether they receive it by bowing to the revelation, this will of God is made known to Sam Waldron and his free will allies, as well as to the PRC, unless they do not have John 10 and Romans 8 and 9, and many similar passages, in their Bibles.
To Waldron and his theological allies, who forever oppose and argue against this revealed will of God, that He is merciful in the gospel to whom He wills to be merciful, withholding His mercy from others, as though this truth would render God somehow unfair, if not hard-hearted, making Him the original “hyper-Calvinist,” comes the apostolic warning, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay,”etc. (Romans 9:20)
Let Waldron and his allies consider, whether their theology of the offer would occasion such an objection and necessitate such a warning. Who would object to the teaching that God loves all with a saving love and comes to all alike with the message, “I love you all alike, that is, with a saving love, and sincerely desire to save you all; now I offer all of you alike Christ and salvation; and (as this message implies) it is now up to you”? It is inconceivable that anyone would object, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will” (Romans 9:19, 20)
So important for Waldron’s defense of his theology of the well-mean offer is his mistaken understanding of the preceptive will of God that, with the exposure of this inexcusable error, his well-meant offer collapses.
“Argument” of Slander
Nevertheless, other aspects of his defense and promotion of the theory of the well-meant offer are noteworthy, if for no other reason than that they are part and parcel of the defense of the offer by many others. First, there is his repeated use of the tactic of slander to defend the free offer against the objection by the PRC. The slander is that the PRC are “hyper-Calvinists.” What makes the PRC hyper-Calvinists, according to Waldron, is their denial of “God’s indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners,” which desire “is the crux of the Free Offer” (9, 10). Waldron references this denial, which supposedly constitutes hyper-Calvinism, to a Protestant Reformed book. Hyper-Calvinism, of which false doctrine the PRC are the outstanding proponents in our day, is the denial “that God desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel” (33). Not only is the charge false, indeed slanderous, but it too, like the author’s explanation of the preceptive will of God, betrays ignorance, or malice, by its misunderstanding, and misrepresentation, of the error of hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is not the doctrine that God loves only some humans (with His saving love in Christ crucified) and in this love, and grace, wills to save some only in the preaching of the gospel. This doctrine is Calvinism, as a school-boy catechized in a Reformed church knows by heart and as even the world of ungodly intellectual scholarship knows, to say nothing of Calvinism’s religious foes. Hyper-Calvinism, which thinks to advance beyond this Calvinism (“hyper”!!!), denies that the church may seriously call (exhort, command) anyone to repent and believe who does not show himself as regenerated and already saved. The church may issue the gospel-call only to those who show themselves saved and therefore elect, adding the promise that one who believes shall be saved only to the ears of such a (supposedly) saved person.
Hyper-Calvinism is not the doctrine that God is gracious in the preaching only to the elect. This doctrine is Calvinism—pure, sound, orthodox, historic, creedal, biblical Calvinism. But hyper-Calvinism is the denial of the promiscuous call of the gospel on the (mistaken) ground of election. If Waldron refuses to accept the description of hyper-Calvinism by this reviewer, to whose book on hyper-Calvinism Waldron refers repeatedly, let him hear such an authority as Herman Bavinck. Undoubtedly referring to hyper-Calvinism, Bavinck describes those in the “camp of the Reformed” who “got to the point where they only preached the law to the unconverted and offered the gospel only to those who had already learned to know themselves as sinners and felt the need for redemption” (Reformed Dogmatics, tr. John Vriend, ed. John Bolt, vol. 4, 35).
It serves the purpose of the advocates of the well-meant offer to label those who deny the well-meant offer as hyper-Calvinists. But the charge is neither right, nor brotherly. It is theological slander. And it ought to cease, in the interests of theological accuracy, if for no other reason.
To put the best construction on it (I respond to slander with a judgment of charity), the charge that the PRC and others who deny the well-meant offer are hyper-Calvinists arises out of the conviction that the well-meant offer is necessary for the promiscuous preaching of the gospel, including the indiscriminate call of the gospel to all who hear, “Repent, and believe.” The thinking of Waldron and his allies is that without a theology of a (saving) love of God for all and a sincere desire of God for the salvation of all, a church cannot preach the gospel to all. This was exactly the charge of the Arminians against sound Reformed theology at the Synod of Dordt. Particular grace makes promiscuous preaching impossible. Dordt responded to this charge, or fear, as the case may be, in Canons, 2.5:
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting 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.
This article of the Canons does not respond to the Arminians’ charge by compromising Dordt’s confession of particular grace. It does not respond by affirming universal grace in the preaching in contradiction of particular grace in the decree. But the article demonstrates that Dordt’s confession of particular grace is, in fact, no hindrance to promiscuous preaching. Such preaching does not contradict the truth of particular grace, but is in perfect harmony with the truth of particular grace.
The preaching of the gracious promise is general, or “promiscuous.” The gracious promise itself, originating in God’s gracious will to save, is particular: “whosoever believeth in Christ crucified.” But the particularity of grace in no wise hampers or restricts the preaching of this particular grace, including the serious exhortation to all hearers to believe and the declaration to all that everyone who does believe shall be saved. Pure, sound Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism. To charge it with hyper-Calvinism is slander. By this time in the Reformed community, to continue to make the charge is deliberate slander, or inexcusable ignorance.
Where has Reprobation Gone?
Another feature of Waldron’s book that cries for notice is its failure to interact with the creedal, Reformed doctrine of reprobation. If Waldron even mentions reprobation, except to defend Iain Murray’s unconscionable elision of Arthur Pink’s treatment of reprobation from his—Murray’s—reprint of Pink’s Sovereignty of God, I missed it. Silence on reprobation in a book advocating universal grace in the preaching of the gospel is understandable. It is impossible to harmonize a saving love of God for all humans with Dordt’s and Westminster’s creedal doctrine of reprobation.
And then Waldron’s defense of Murray’s omission of Pink’s doctrine of reprobation from the reprint by the Banner of Truth is as significant as was Murray’s omission itself. Whether Pink changed his mind about the doctrine as he aged is not the important thing. What is significant is that ardent advocates of the well-meant offer are quite willing, if not eager, to banish the doctrine of reprobation to oblivion, and to defend those who do so. The reason is obvious and conclusive in the controversy over the well-meant offer: the doctrine of reprobation condemns the theory of the well-meant offer as heresy. It is impossible to reconcile the offer with reprobation. Since reprobation is an essential element of predestination, inability to reconcile with reprobation is inability to reconcile with predestination. Since predestination is the source and foundation of all salvation, inability to reconcile the offer with reprobation is, by virtue of this fact, to damn the offer as heresy.
If Pink did in weakness change his mind about reprobation (something that a reader of Pink finds difficult to accept), a lover of the gospel of sovereign grace would have included the chapter on reprobation in the reprint of Pink’s book, regardless of the change of mind of the author, unless the author strictly forbade doing so, which no one alleges. And if a lover of sovereign grace were reflecting on Murray’s omission of the chapter on reprobation, he would not defend the omission, but criticize it as fatal weakening of the gospel of salvation by grace alone. Murray did not do the one; Waldron did not do the other. Both declined on behalf of the well-meant offer.
Well-Meant Offer versus Limited Atonement
Noteworthy also is Waldron’s laborious effort to ward off the charge that the well-meant offer necessarily implies, and leads to, universal atonement. To this issue, he devotes an entire chapter. The Baptist theologian wants to maintain limited atonement. But his valorous efforts on behalf of a limited atonement, despite his confession of universal grace in the preaching, are futile. First, he has the weight of history against him. Again and again, theologians and churches have developed the theology of the offer into the doctrine of universal atonement, as Waldron himself acknowledges. Two well-known, fairly recent instances are the Christian Reformed Church, at the prompting of its theologian, Harold Dekker, and “Reformed Baptist” theologian, David Allen—Waldron’s colleague—in his recent book, The Extent of the Atonement. Both of these dramatic instances of the development of the well-meant offer into the doctrine of universal atonement are known to Waldron.
Second, the doctrine of the offer carries the seed of universal atonement in itself. If God loves all with a saving love and sincerely desires the salvation of all, He must have given Christ to die for all. For apart from the cross, there is no saving grace and can be no sincere offer of salvation, that is, an offer that extends to the hearer the grace of salvation in the desire of God for the salvation of that hearer. Without a cross for all, there can be no sincere desire of God for the salvation of all, nor a sincere offer to all. Here, Waldron is hoist with his own petard. His argument is that there can be no serious call, or command, or (rightly understood) offer, without a gracious, saving purpose of God in the command. But likewise, on Waldron’s reasoning, there can be no gracious, well-meant offer without a basis in universal atonement. A love that desires salvation without hypocrisy, as surely the love of God must be, must provide for this salvation in the only source and fountain, namely, the cross. Can an offer be sincere if there is no salvation provided for and available to the one to whom God makes the offer? If God says to a reprobate, “I love you with a saving love in Jesus Christ and ardently desire your salvation,” as is the theology of Sam Waldron, Joel Beeke, Richard Phillips, R. Scott Clark and a host of other theologians of the well-meant offer, does not the reprobate perceive God to be saying, “I gave Jesus Christ, whom I am now offering to you sincerely, to the death of the cross for you?” And is this not in fact what the preacher of the well-meant offer is actually saying? Offering salvation, he is well-meaningly offering Christ Jesus, and well-meaningly offering Christ Jesus he is offering Christ Jesus crucified and risen. There is no other salvation than that of the cross. There is no other Christ Jesus to offer than Christ Jesus crucified.
The Jesus Christ of the well-meant offer of Sam Waldron is both a deceiver and a failure. He is a deceiver in that there is, in fact, no salvation in His cross for many to whom He well-meaningly offers salvation. It is with Him as it would be with me, were I lovingly to offer a million dollars to a wretch on Skid Row, when in fact my bank account was empty. The Jesus Christ of the free offer is a failure inasmuch as many whom He lovingly, sincerely desires to save perish nonetheless.
Why are so many enamored of this “Jesus”? this Arminian and Pelagian “Jesus”? this impotent, beggarly “Jesus”?
The crux of the free offer is the cross of Jesus Christ. Is it for all indiscriminately, or for some only? Is it the source of the saving grace of God for all without exception, or the source of grace for the elect, and the elect only? And is it availing, not only in its accomplishment of redemption when Jesus died, but also today when it is preached. Or, is it inefficacious when it is preached, failing to save multitudes to whom it comes in the saving grace of God towards them? Genuine Calvinism confesses that the purpose of God with the preaching of the cross is the salvation of the elect, and the elect only, and that it is the will of God, the only will of God, “by the blood of the cross” “effectually [to] redeem…all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father” (Canons of Dordt, 2.8).
Waldron and his universal grace allies would respond that Christ did indeed die, two thousand years ago, for the elect, but that He ought to be preached today as crucified for all who hear the gospel. If God is proclaimed as loving all with a saving love for all, the cross must be preached as a cross for all, because God’s saving love is realized and revealed in the cross of Christ. In Waldron’s theology, however confused, the former truth is the decretal view of the cross, whereas the latter is the divine will of command. But the apostle proclaimed the cross to the saints at Ephesus and to the church down the ages as a cross for the elect church and for the elect church alone: “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it [the elect church]” (Ephesians 5:6). In the language of Waldron’s confused theology, Ephesians 5 teaches that the love of Christ and the cross are particular, not as the message of the will of the decree and of the secret will of God, but as the message of the will of precept and of the revealed will of God.
After Waldon has done his very best to reconcile his “Free Offer” with limited, or particular, atonement (something impossible to be done, as Waldron himself is forced to acknowledge), he throws up his hands in despair at accomplishing this impossibility. He does this by the hoary, familiar tactic of the advocates of the well-meant offer: he appeals to “mystery.” “[I] want to admit that there are mysteries involved in the relation of the free offer and particular redemption I do not fully understand” (129). What Waldron means by “mystery” is sheer contradiction that mocks both the believing mind and the harmonious revelation of the gospel in Scripture. What Scripture and the historic Reformed faith mean by “mystery” is essentially different: a truth that is unknown and unknowable to the natural mind of man, but that God has revealed by His Word and Spirit to His church. This revelation is not contradictory, and therefore unknowable, nonsense, as is Waldron’s theology of limited atonement (the gracious will of God for the salvation of some only) and of the well-meant offer (the gracious will of God for the salvation of all humans without exception). Appeal to “mystery” by the advocates of the well-meant offer at the point of the failure of the attempt to harmonize the offer with the particularism of the biblical gospel is both the admission of the defeat of the effort to harmonize and the warning that the free offer is the enemy of particular, sovereign grace in the body of Reformed theology, that is, in the confession of the gospel by the advocates of the free offer.
In short, the Bible does not proclaim a revealed message of salvation—a saving grace of God for everyone—that contradicts the eternal decree of election.
As for the text which Waldron makes the foundation of his defense of the well-meant offer, and with which he begins his book, John 5:34, it proves far too much, if it be explained as the expression of the well-meant offer. The text has Jesus saying to His Jewish enemies, “But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.” The explanation of Waldron is that Jesus purposed, intended, desired, came into the world to achieve, and worked at the salvation of every one of the Jews to whom He spoke, indeed of every Jew of the Jewish nation at that time, if not of all time. Because Jesus came to do the will of the Father who sent him (v. 30), if it is the will of Jesus to save all the Jews, head for head, this is also the will of the Father, that is, the will of election. And, if Sam Waldron’s explanation of John 5:34 is right, this was the will of the Father in sending Jesus into the world in the incarnation, as well as the will of the Father in all the ministry of Jesus, including His redemptive death, that is, universal atonement.
But, according to Waldron, the will of Jesus and the will of the Father in sending Jesus failed, an astounding admission and a blasphemous assertion. Jesus did not accomplish the salvation of many of the Jews. The reason was that the wicked will of many of the Jews frustrated the saving will of Jesus and of God His Father. Necessarily, then, the reason for the salvation of those Jews who believed was their own will, by which they distinguished themselves from their unwilling compatriots. This blatant heresy, Waldron gladly embraces, promulgates, and defends. Denial of this teaching of Sam Waldron brands one as a hyper-Calvinist!
No doctrinal error is too much in nominally Calvinistic circles today if only it serves to defend and advance the precious teaching of the well-mean offer! To this impotent offer (which saves not one human more than God has elected), the entirety of the gospel of sovereign, particular grace and of the Canons of Dordt is gladly sacrificed.
The contrary testimony of the rest of John’s gospel is not allowed to shed light on the passage in John 5. In John 10, Jesus states that He did not come to save all the Jews. He came to save those Jews who are His sheep, in that His Father gave them to Him. There were Jews who were not His sheep. Them, He did not come to save (vv. 1-30). In John 6:38, 39, Jesus teaches that He came down from heaven to do the Father’s will and that the will of His Father was that He save and lose nothing of all which the Father has given Him. In verse 44, He adds that the coming to Him which is salvation is not a matter of sinners accepting Waldron’s free offer, but the Father’s efficacious drawing sinners to Jesus. All of this, it should be noted, belongs to the revealed will of God.
When Jesus declares that all His ministry has as its purpose that “ye” might be saved, His reference is to the Jewish people who are God’s Israel, not every Jew who stood in His presence that day, or every Jew who was alive at that time, or every Jew who ever lived or would live. As Paul would explain in Romans 9, they are not all Israel, who are of Israel (v. 6). According to Romans 2:28, 29, “he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly…” As the same apostle will clarify in Galatians 3:29, even among the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews, it is only “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
In John 5:34, those whom Jesus willed to save, in accordance with the Father’s will of election, were the genuine Jews, all those, and those only, who were the true Israel of God, according to election. And every one whom Jesus willed to save would be saved. In them, Israel would be saved, not by their own willing, but by the will of God in Jesus Christ.
Do Sam Waldron and his free offer allies really want a gospel of a failed Jesus and of self-saving Jews? A gospel of “so that ye might be saved,” but of many, if not a majority, of these “ye” who are lost nevertheless? Is this really to be the message now of the faith of the Canons of Dordt and of the Westminster Standards? And can it really be the case that vast numbers of confessing Calvinists will allow themselves to be frightened by the bogeyman of hyper-Calvinism into embracing this heretical doctrine?
Compromise of the Gospel of Grace
The well-meant offer of the gospel fatally compromises the gospel of salvation by grace. This is the fundamental objection of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the well-meant offer. Our objection is not fundamentally that the well-meant offer, in the context of the doctrines of limited atonement and of predestination, is logically incoherent, although this is an objection, because the truth of Holy Scripture is not an unknowable mass of contradictory confusion. But the well-meant offer compromises the gospel of salvation by the grace of God. It is—essentially, inherently, obviously, and incurably is—the denial of salvation by the grace of God. It is the affirmation of salvation by the will of the sinner. If God loves all alike with His saving love (and the well-meant offer expresses saving love) and if in the gospel He comes to all alike with the same saving intention (and the well-meant offer has God coming to all who hear the gospel with a saving intention, even desire), the salvation of some, in distinction from others, is not the work of the grace of God (for He is gracious to all alike, with the grace of salvation [!]). The only explanation, then, of the salvation of some, in distinction from others, is that they themselves distinguish themselves by accepting the offer. Salvation is no longer the work of the grace of God. It is the work of the will of the sinner.
If the Reformed church world agrees that denial of the well-meant offer is hyper-Calvinism, it may slander me as a hyper-Calvinist to its heart’s content.
To be sure, the theology of the well-meant offer avoids the hyper-Calvinism that it presents as the main threat to Calvinism in our day. But the reason is that it is not Calvinism, the Calvinism of the Canons of Dordt and of the Westminster Standards, at all, whether hyper-, moderate, low, or hypo-or any other modifier. It is the heresy of Arminianism, cleverly disguised as the antidote to a hyper-Calvinism, which error becomes the bogeyman that is to scare Calvinists into the opposite error of universal, ineffectual grace—the well-meant offer of the gospel.
The theology of the well-meant offer—an ineffectual grace of God for all, implying that salvation depends upon the will of the sinner—may be approved by prominent theologians and even by a majority of Reformed churches, but it is disapproved by Holy Scripture: “[Salvation] is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy…Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:16, 18).