The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Canons of Dort

For the interpretation of the Latin offero in the Canons of Dort, see R. Scott Clark’s article following the quotes from the Canons.


The Canons of Dort, 1619


FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 2. but in this the love of God was manifested, that He “sent his one and only Son into the world, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (1 John 4:9, John 3:16).

FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 3. And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tiding to whom He will and at what time He pleases; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal 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.

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 6.  What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law could do, that God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation; which is the glad tidings concerning the Messiah, by means whereof it has pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old as under the New Testament.

THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 7. This mystery of His will [the ministry of reconciliation through the tidings of the Messiah] God reveals to but a small number under the Old Testament; under the New Testament (the distinction between various peoples having been removed) He reveals it to many. The cause of this dispensation [the gospel dispensation as mentioned above] is not to be ascribed to the superior worth of one nation above another, nor to their better use of the light of nature, but results wholly from the sovereign good pleasure and unmerited love of God. Hence they to whom so great and so gracious a blessing is communicated, above their desert, or rather notwithstanding their demerits, are bound to acknowledge it with humble and grateful hearts, and with the apostle to adore, but in no wise curiously to pry into, the severity and justice of God’s judgments displayed in others to whom this grace is not given.

THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 8 As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.



On the Meaning of the Latin “offero” in Dort

R. Scott Clark, “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology”, in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries; Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, edited by David VanDrunen  Buy  2004, p. 169-170

Both Klaas Schilder (1890-1952) and Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) and more recently David Engelsma and Randy Blacketer have argued that when Dort and our theologians said [in Latin] “offero”  they only meant “to present” or “to demand.”

(Footnote: Herman Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, p. 33-38.  See also R. Blacketer, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal 35 (2000), 37-65.  [Caspar] Olevian’s [1536 – 1587] usage [as well-meant] was not unique.  Blacketer errs, in part, by using a modern dictionary of classical Latin to determine the meaning of the word The meaning of offero must be determined by its immediate context and its actual use in Reformed theology.  Blacketer’s essay fails to account for the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology, which is fundamental to this entire discussion.  Schilder also defined “offer” to mean “to present” or “to demand.”  See also A. C. DeJong, The Well-Meant Offer, 56-58.)

There is weighty evidence to the contrary, however.  For example, Caspar Olevian (1536-87) used this term and its cognates frequently to mean “to offer with intention that the offer should be fulfilled if the recipients meet the condition of trust in Christ.”  In his massive 1579 commentary on Romans and in his final commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, De substantia foederis gratuity inter Deum et electos [Of the Substance of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect] (1585), he used it frequently this way (e.g., “oblatum beneficium [a kind, favorable offer]”), just as Dort later used it.

(Footnote: See In Epistolam…ad Romanos notae [Notes on the Letter to the Romans] (Geneva: 1579), 6, 475; De substantia foederis gratuity inter Deum et electos [Of the Substance of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect] (Geneva, 1585), 2:29; 2:30-31; 2.48)

When our theologians wished to say “present” or “exhibit” or “demand,” they had other verbs (e.g., “exhibeo” or “mando”) with which to do it.  They did not need “offero” to perform the same function.  Rather, when our theologians spoke of the “evangelium oblatum,” that is, “gospel offered” in preaching, they believed that it entailed a well and sincerely meant revealed divine intention that whoever believes should be saved.  As we shall see below, the semantic range of “offero,” as it was used by the orthodox, is closer to “invitation” than “demand.”

There are good reasons arising from the Canons of Dort themselves, however, to reject the proposed reinterpretation of “offero.”  In 2.6 the Canons describe Christ’s sacrifice (hostia) as “oblatae,” “offered” on the cross.  While “presented” is not utterly remote from the sense of the text, “demand” and “exhibit” make little sense here The divines meant to say that Jesus gave Himself and his obedience as a sacrifice for us to the justice of God, in such a way that it was righteously received by God as payment for the sins of all believers, that is, the elect.  This is how the Vulgate and Theodore Beza’s Latin translations of Hebrews 10:18 used the cognate oblation (for the Greek prosphora).

(Footnote: Biblia Sacra Iuxta Vulgatum Versionem, ed. R. Weber et al. (Beuron and Tubingen: Deutche Biblgesellschaft, 1983);  Novum testamentum domini nostril Jesu Christi, ed. Theodore Beza (reprint, London: 1834.)



Joel Beeke on Dort

From his A Puritan Theology, “The Puritans on Coming to Christ”

The Canons of Dort explain the international Puritan and Reformed perspective [on the gospel call] well in head 3-4, articles 8-9 … The Canons make plain that there is no insufficiency in God’s willingness to save sinners. The invitation does not lie or deceive; it is a true, rich, full, free invitation. The gospel is a well-meant offer. Christ has declared Himself ready and willing to receive all who to come to Him and to save them … The call is based on the condition of faith, but it is a true invitation … Judgement day will confirm this truth. No one will stand before God on the last day and say … “I received the invitation, but I did not think it was sincere.” The call to come to Christ is a well-meant offer of salvation addressed to every human being.”


Delegates at Dort on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Dutch Annotations on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Dutch Annotations were Bible notes ordered by the Synod of Dort in 1618 and published in 1637

John Diodati’s Annotations on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Diodati was one of the 6 persons who wrote the Canons of Dort.  His Annotations were published in 1607.

Gisbertus Voetius on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Leiden Synopsis on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel  1625

This book of systematic theology was written by four professors at Leiden, Netherlands.  Three of them were delegates at the Synod of Dort: Johannes Polyander, Antonius Walaeus, Antonius Thysius.



Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in Confessions, Documents and Bible Notes

1600’s – Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel