Loraine Boettner on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

1901-1990

 

 

The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 1932, Section 3, Chapter 21

[Objection:] It [Predestination] Precludes a Sincere Offer of the Gospel to the Non-Elect

1. THE SAME OBJECTION APPLIES AGAINST GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE

Although the Gospel is offered to many who will not, and who for
subjective reasons cannot, accept, it is, nevertheless, sincerely
offered to all.  The objection so strenuously urged on some occasions by
Arminians, to the effect that if the doctrine of Predestination is true
the Gospel cannot be sincerely offered to the non-elect, should be
sufficiently answered by the fact that it bears with equal force
against the doctrine of God’s Foreknowledge.  We might ask, How can the offer of salvation be sincerely made to those who God foreknows will
despise and reject it, especially when their guilt and condemnation
will only be increased by their refusal?  Arminians admit that God knows
beforehand who will accept and who will reject the message; yet they
know themselves to be under a divine command to preach to all men, and they do not feel that they act insincerely in doing so.

The difficulty, however, in both cases is purely subjective, and is due
to our limited knowledge and to our inability to comprehend the ways of
God, which are past finding out.  We do know that the Judge of all the
earth will do right, and we trust Him even though our feeble reason
cannot always follow His ways. We know definitely that abundant
provision has been made for all who will come, and that every one who
sincerely accepts will be saved.  From Christ’s own lips we have a
parable which illustrates the love of God for His children.  The father
saw the returning prodigal when he was still a great way off, and ran
and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the welcome given to this
prodigal God is willing to give to any prodigal.

2.  THE OFFER IS SINCERELY MADE

God commanded Moses to gather together the elders of Israel, to go to
Pharaoh and demand that they be allowed to go three days’ journey into
the wilderness to hold a feast and offer sacrifices.  Yet in the very
next verse God Himself says, “I know that the king of Egypt will not
give you leave to go, no, not by a mighty hand,” Ex. 3:18,19.  If it is
not inconsistent with God’s sincerity for Him to command all men to
love Him, or to be perfect (Luke 10:27; Matt. 5:48), it is not
inconsistent with His sincerity for Him to command them to repent and
believe the Gospel.  A man may be altogether sincere in giving an
invitation which he knows will be refused.  A father who knows that his
boys are going to do wrong feels constrained to tell them what is
right.  His warnings and pleadings are sincere; the trouble is in the
boys.

Will any one contend that God cannot sincerely offer salvation to a
free moral agent unless in addition to the invitation He exerts a
special influence which will induce the person to accept it?  After a
civil war in a country it often happens that the victorious general
offers free pardon to all those In the opposing army, provided they
will lay down their arms, go home, and live peaceable lives, although
he knows that through pride or malice many will refuse.  He makes the
offer in good faith even though for wise reasons he determines not to
constrain their assent, supposing him possessed of such power.

We may imagine the case of a ship with many passengers on board sinking some distance out from shore.  A man hires a boat from a near-by port and goes to rescue his family.  Incidentally it happens that the boat
which he takes is large enough to carry all the passengers, so he
invites all those on the sinking vessel to come on board, although he
knows that many of them, either through lack of appreciation of their
danger, or because of personal spite toward him, or for other reasons,
will not accept.  Yet does that make his offer any the less sincere?

“If a man’s family were with others held in captivity, and from love of
them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be
offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it
is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the
ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of
their number.  Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends and the provisions be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Calvinistic doctrine, has actually done.  Out of special love to His
people, and with the design of securing their salvation He has sent His Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to
accept it.”

– Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, II., p. 556.

When the Gospel is presented to mankind in general nothing but a sinful
unwillingness on the part of some prevents their accepting and enjoying
it.  No stumbling block is put in their way.  All that the call contains
is true; it is adapted to the conditions of all men and freely offered
if they will repent and believe.  No outside influence constrains them
to reject it.  The elect accept; the non-elect may accept if they will,
and nothing but their own nature determines them to do otherwise
“According to the Calvinistic scheme,” says Dr. Hodge,

the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation, that, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately.  Calvinism teaches that a plan of salvation adapted to all men and adequate for the salvation of all, is freely offered to the acceptance of all, although in the secret purpose of God He intended that it should have precisely the effect which in experience it is found to have.  He designed in its adoption to save His own people, but consistently offers its benefits to all who are willing to receive them.  More than this no anti-Calvinist can demand.”

Systematic Theology, II., p. 644

Arminians object that God could not offer the Gospel to those who in
His secret counsel were not designed to accept it; yet we find the
Scriptures declaring that He does this very thing.  His commands to
Pharaoh have already been referred to.  Isaiah was commissioned to
preach to the Jews, and in 1:18,19, we find that he extended a
gracious offer of pardon and cleansing.  But in 6:9-13, immediately
following his glorious vision and official appointment, he is informed
that this preaching is destined to harden his countrymen to their
almost universal destruction.  Ezekiel was sent to speak to the house of
Israel, but was told beforehand that they would not hear, Ezek. 3:4-11.
Matt. 23:33-37 presents the same teaching.  In these passages God
declares that He does the very thing which Arminians say He must not
do.  Hence the objection now under consideration has arisen not because
of any Calvinistic misstatement of the divine plan, but through
erroneous assumptions made by Arminians themselves.

The decree of election is a secret decree.  And since no revelation has
been given to the preacher as to which ones among his hearers are elect
and which are non-elect, it is not possible for him to present the
Gospel to the elect only.  It is his duty to look with hope on all those
to whom he is preaching, and to pray for them that they may each be
among the elect.  In order to offer the message to the elect, he must
offer it to all; and the Scripture command is plain to the effect that
it should be offered to all.  Even the elect must hear before they can
believe and accept, Romans 10:13-17.  The attentive reader, however,
will perceive that the invitations are not, in the strict sense, general, but that they are addressed to the “weary,” the “thirsty,” the “hungry,” the “willing,” those who “labor and are heavy laden,” and not to those who are unconscious of any need and unwilling to be reformed.  While the message is preached to all, it is God who chooses among the hearers those to whom He is speaking, and He makes this selection known to them through the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  The elect thus receive the message as the promise of salvation, but to the non-elect it appears only as foolishness, or if their conscience is aroused, as a judgment to condemnation.  As a rule, the non-elect are not concerned about salvation, do not envy the elect their hope of salvation, but rather laugh and scorn at them.  And since the secret as to which ones in the audience belong to the elect is hidden from the preacher, usually he does not know who got the message to salvation and who got it to judgment.  Among the elect themselves there are so many weaknesses, and on the other hand the evil one is so able to appear as an angel of light and to make such an outward show of good deeds and words, that the preacher usually cannot be sure of the outcome.  The effect of the preaching is not in the preacher’s hands, but in God’s hands; and it often happens that the sermons which seemed unsuccessful were strengthened and made effective by the Holy Spirit.

Yet while it is certain that the non-elect will not turn to God, repent
of their sins, and live good moral lives, it is, nevertheless, their
duty to do so.  Though members of a fallen race, they are still free
moral agents, responsible for their character and conduct.  God is,
therefore, perfectly consistent in commanding them to repent.  For Him
not to do so would be for Him to give up the claims of His law.  We
commonly hear the idea expressed that man is under no obligation to do
anything for which he has not full and perfect ability in himself.  The
reasoning, however, is fallacious; for man labors under a self-acquired
inability.  He was created upright and voluntarily sank himself into
sin. He is, therefore, as responsible as is the person who in order to
escape military service deliberately mutilates a hand or an eye.  If
inability canceled obligation, then Satan with his inherent depravity
would be under no obligation to do right, and his fiendish enmity
toward God and men would be no sin.  Sinners in general would then be
lifted above the moral law.

In conclusion it may be further said that even in regard to the
non-elect the preaching is not altogether vain; for they are thus made
the objects of general restraining and directing influences which
prevent them from sinning as much as they otherwise would.

 

 

 

Related Page

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel