Herman Bavinck on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel




Reformed Dogmatics, reprinted 2004, Backer Academic edition, the following three quotes were compiled by David Ponter


But though He wills all creatures as means and for his own sake, He wills some more than others to the degree they are more direct and suitable means for his glorification.  God is a Father to all his creatures, but He is that especially to his children.  His affection for everything He created is not as deep as his affection for his church, and that in turn is not as great as his love for Christ, the Son of his good pleasure.  We speak of a general, a special, and a very special providence; in the same way we make as many distinctions in the will of God (as it relates to his creatures) as there are creatures.  For the free will of God is as richly variegated as that whole world is.  Hence, it must not be conceived as an indifferent power, a blind force, but as a rich and powerful divine energy, the wellspring of the abundant life that creation spreads out before our eyes.  In that world, however, there is one thing that creates a special difficulty for the doctrine of the will of God, and that is the fact of evil, both evil as guilt and evil as punishment, in an ethical as well as a physical sense.  Though evil is ever so much under God’s control, it cannot in the same sense and in the same way be the object of his will as the good.  Hence, with a view to these two very different, in fact diametrically opposed, objects we must again make a distinction in that will of God, as Scripture itself shows. There is a big difference between the will of God that prescribes what we must do (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; John 4:34; 7:17; Rom. 12:2), and the will of God that tells us what He does and will do (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:17, 25,32,35; Rom. 9:18-19; Eph. 1 :5, 9, 11; Rev. 4: 11).  The petition that God’s will may be done (Matt. 6: 10) is very different in tenor from the childlike and resigned prayer: “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42; Acts 21:14).  Over and over in history we see the will of God assert itself in two ways.  God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, yet he does not let it happen (Gen. 22).  He wants Pharaoh to let his people Israel go, yet hardens his heart so that he does not do it (Exod. 4:21).  He has the prophet tell Hezekiah that he will die; still He adds fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38:1,5).  He prohibits us from condemning the innocent, yet Jesus is delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23; 3: 18; 4:28).  God does not will sin; He is far from iniquity.  He forbids it and punishes it severely, yet it exists and is subject to his rule (Exod. 4:21; Josh. 11 :20; 1 Sam. 2:25; 2 Sam. 16: 10; Acts 2:23; 4:28; Rom. 1 :24, 26; 2 Thess. 2: 11; etc.).  He wills the salvation of all (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), yet has mercy on whom he wills and hardens whom he wills (Rom. 9: 18). 



Against this clear and consistent teaching of Scripture, the few texts to which the universalists appeal have little weight.  The vocable “all” in Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 2:9 (cf. 10) either proves nothing or proves much more than the universalists assert and would help support Origen’s doctrine concerning the restitution of all things.  The universalists themselves, accordingly, are compelled to restrict the word “all” in these passages.  Of greater weight are texts like Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; John 1 :29; 3:16; 4:42; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14, where the will of God or the sacrifice of Christ is linked with the salvation of all or of the world.  But none of these texts is incompatible with the statements cited above that limit Christ’s benefits to the church.  The New Testament, after all, is a very different dispensation from that of the old covenant.  The gospel is not restricted to one people but must be preached to all creatures (Matt. 28:19).  There is no respect of persons with God and no longer any distinction between Gentile and Jew (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 3:29; 10:11-13).  Indeed, even if in Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 20:28; 26:28; Romans 5:15,19; Hebrews 2:10; 9:28, there is mention of the “many” for whom Christ died, this is not grounded in the contrast that has often been insinuated into the text later, namely, that not all but only many will be saved.  The idea from which the reference to “the many” arises, however, is a very different one: Christ did not die for a few but for many) for a large multitude.  He gives his life as a ransom for many; He sheds his blood for many; He will make many righteous.  It is not a handful but many who by one man’s obedience will be made righteous [Rom. 5: 19].  Scripture is not afraid that too many people will be saved.  Therefore, based on that same consideration, it says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he wants all humans to repent and be saved, that Christ is the expiation of and has given his life for the world, and that the gospel must be preached to all creatures.  But when universalists deduce from this that the atonement is completely universal, they run afoul of both Scripture and reality, for the two seem to vie with each other in teaching that not all but only many learn of the gospel and attain genuine repentance.  In all these passages, therefore, we are encountering not “the will of God’s good pleasure,” which is unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule for our conduct, nor an “antecedent will,” which is anterior to the decision of our will and oriented to it, but the “revealed will;’ which tells us by what standard we are to conduct ourselves in the new covenant.  It gives us the right and lays on us the duty to bring the gospel to all people without exception.  For the universal offer of grace we need no other ground than this clearly revealed will of God.  We no more need to know specifically for whom Christ died than we need to know specifically who has been ordained to eternal life.  The calling indeed rests on a particular basis, for it belongs to and proceeds from the covenant, but it is addressed in keeping with God’s revealed will and with the inherently all-sufficient value of Christ’s sacrifice also to those who are outside the covenant in order that they too may be incorporated into that covenant and in faith itself receive the evidence of their election.



Third, though the church is not of the world it is nevertheless in it.  It lives and moves squarely within that world and is connected with it in numerous different ways.  Believers are brought in from the [whole] human race, and, conversely, there is much chaff among the wheat; there are branches on the vine that bear no fruit and must be eradicated.  When Christ went to stand in the place of his own, therefore, He had to assume the flesh and blood that is common to all people.  By his incarnation, He honored the whole human race; according to the flesh, He is the brother of all the members of the human family.  And also his work has value for all, even for those who have not believed and will never believe in Him.  For though it is true that Christ did not, strictly speaking, acquire the natural life by his suffering and death, yet the human race was spared on account of the fact that Christ would come to save it.  Christ is not the head of all human beings, not the prophet, priest, and king of everyone, for He is the head of the church and has been anointed king over Zion.  Yet all human beings owe a great deal to Christ.  The light shines in the darkness and illumines every person coming into the world [John 1:9].  The world was made through Him and remains so, though it did not recognize Him.  Also as the Christ, He gives to unbelievers many benefits: the call of the gospel, the warning to repent, historical faith, a virtuous life, a variety of gifts and powers, offices and ministries within the church, such as, for example, even the office of an apostle in the case of Judas.  “Without Jesus Christ the world would not exist, for it would necessarily either be destroyed or be a hell” (Pascal).  Even hanging from the cross, He still prays for forgiveness for the appalling sin being committed by the Jews at that very moment [Luke 23:34].


4:37-8, the following two quotes were compiled by Tony Byrne

3.  The offer of salvation on the part of God, therefore, is seriously and sincerely meant.  For in that offer He does not say what He Himself will do–whether or not He will bestow that faith.  He has kept that to Himself.  He only tells us what He wants us to do: that we humble ourselves and seek our salvation in Christ alone.  If it be objected that God nevertheless offers salvation to those to whom He has decided not to grant faith and salvation, then this is an objection equally applicable to the position of our opponents.  For in that case, God also offers salvation to those whom He infallibly knows will not believe.  It is the case after all, not only according to the Reformed but also according to all Christ-confessors, that the outcome of world history is eternally and unchangeably certain.  The only difference is that the Reformed have the courage to say that that outcome corresponds to God’s will and purpose.  Although it is beyond our comprehension, God must have been able to will all that is and takes place, subject to all his virtues and perfections, or else God would no longer be God.  History cannot and may not be a sparring partner for God.

5. Although through this call salvation becomes the possession of only a few, as everyone must admit, it nevertheless retains its great value and significance also for those who reject it.  For everyone without distinction, it is proof of God’s infinite love and seals the saying that He has no pleasure in the death of sinners but rather that they should turn and live (Ezek. 18:23, 32).  It proclaims to all that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the expiation of all sins, that no one is lost because the call is insufficiently rich and powerful, that no demand of the law, no power of sin, no rule of Satan can block its application, for the free gift is not like the trespass (Rom. 5:15).  Frequently, even for those who harden themselves in their unbelief, it is a source of various blessings.  The enlightenment of the mind, a taste of the heavenly gift, partaking of the Holy Spirit, enjoyment of the Word of God, the experience of the powers of the age to come–these have sometimes even come to those who later fell away and held the Son of God in contempt (Heb. 6:4–6).



The term “irresistible grace” is not really of Reformed origin but was used by Jesuits and Remonstrants to characterize the doctrine of the efficacy of grace as it was advocated by Augustine and those who believed as he did.  The Reformed in fact had some objections to the term because it was absolutely not their intent to deny that grace is often and indeed always resisted by the unregenerate person and therefore could be resisted.  They therefore preferred to speak of the efficacy or of the insuperability of grace, or interpreted the term “irresistible” in the sense that grace is ultimately irresistible.  The point of the disagreement, accordingly, was not whether humans continually resisted and could resist God’s grace, but whether they could ultimately–at the specific moment in which God wanted to regenerate them and work with his efficacious grace in their heart–still reject that grace.  The answer to this question, as is clearly evident from the five articles of the Remonstrants, is most intimately tied in with the doctrine of the corruption of human nature; with election (based or not based on foreseen faith); the universality and particularity of Christ’s atonement; the identification of, or the distinction between, the sufficient call (external) and the efficacious call (internal); and the correctness of the distinction between the will of God’s good pleasure and the revealed will in the divine being.  Whereas the Remonstrants appealed to Isa. 5:1-865:2-3; Ezek. 12:2; Matt. 11:21-23; 23:37; Luke 7:30; John 5:34; and Acts 7:51, and to all the exhortations to faith and repentance occurring in Scripture, the Reformed theologians took their cue from the picture Scripture offers fallen humanity as blind, powerless, natural, dead in sins and trespasses (Jer. 13:23; Matt. 6:23; 7:18; John 8:34; Rom. 6:17; 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 2:1; etc.), and from all the forceful words and images with which the work of grace in the human soul is described (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31; Ezek. 36:26; John 3:3, 5; 6:44; Eph. 2:1, 6; Phil. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:3; etc.).  So they spoke of the efficacy and invincibility of God’s grace in regeneration and articulated this truth in a confession at the Synod of Dort.




Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel