The application and fruit of the principles used by Professors Murray and Stonehouse in their article, The Free Offer of the Gospel.
Having outlined the principles involved in the preface, there will necessarily be some recapitulation of argument in the demonstration of their consequent fruit, as the exposure proceeds. There is also the matter of the method of approach to the theological standards of Calvinism.
Professor Murray in his booklet, The Covenant of Grace, pages 4-5 speaks of a need in covenant theology for, "Correction, modification and expansion. He says, "Theology must always be undergoing reformation," and needs 'recasting' from one generation or group of generations to another. It is apparently on this basis that he introduces what is to him, a reconstruction, when he expounds the unilateral (one sided) nature of God's covenants. Robert Shaw in his Exposition of the Confession of Faith, pages 89-92, demonstrates that the Westminster divines held to this unilaterality, when they taught in connection with the covenant of grace, that faith was a condition of order or connection, an instrument of obtaining an interest in the salvation offered in the gospel, and was in no sense a procuring cause or condition of the covenant itself. While we admit that man must ever endeavour to improve his exposition of Scripture, we object to the notion that our theology needs reformation or recasting. If such were allowed it would mean the overthrow of the standards so thoroughly and ably stated by the Westminster divines. The same restlessness with the old expressions of theology appear to underlie the article which is the subject of this exposure. It may be said that their opponents and supporters have one point of agreement at least, and that is that the Professors by inability or design have found that the free offer of the gospel cannot be comprehended within the doctrine of decrees.
As has already been clearly indicated their doctrine constitutes a moderation or modification of the system of Calvinism, and appears to be an attempt to remove the offence which that system has always presented to the natural mind. Their modification is achieved by divorcing the revelation of God concerning the free offer, both as to its substance and open offer, together with an earnest desire and pleasure for the salvation of all, said to be contained in it, from His decretive will. The preceptive and revealed will is said to contain an earnest desire and pleasure for the salvation of all, while the decretive will contains a desire and purpose to save only some. This duplicity of desire and will in God as has been demonstrated in the preface, demands the Amyraldian order of decrees. It remains now to show the fruit of this order, to which the doctrine of the Professors' must be agreeable.
The following are the points of Amyraldianism as enumerated by Charles Hodge in his systematic theology:
1. The motive impelling God to redeem men was benevolence, or love to men in general.
2. From this motive He sent His Son to make the salvation of all men possible.
3. God in virtue of a universal hypothetical decree, offers salvation to all men if they believe in Christ.
4. All men have a natural ability to repent and believe.
5. But as this natural ability was counteracted by a moral inability God determined to give his efficacious grace to a certain number of the human race, and thus secure their Salvation.
Note: 'Hypothetical' means, founded on a supposition; conditional; assumed without proof for the purpose of reasoning and deducing proof; conjectural, (Webster).
The desire and will proposed by the Professors is much more substantial as to its content of purpose than this definition of hypothetical would require. Their doctrine is therefore well over the borders of Amyraldianism.
Three facts bind the doctrine of the Professors' irrevocably to the first three points enumerated above.
1. An ardent desire and will in God said to be connected with the free offer of the gospel, i.e., for the salvation of all.
2. The duplicity of desire, purpose, will and decree involved in such an assertion.
3. The Amyraldian order of decrees, the decree of redemption before the decree of election is the only order possible to apply to such a notion.
These factors are now self evident and leave the doctrine of the Professors' inextricable involved in the Amyraldian system. The fourth and fifth points of that system are to be applied by direct inference and consequence by reason of their inconsistent Calvinism as shown hereafter.
To modify any principle of Calvinism is to condition the whole system. Now that we have discovered the principles of their modification, we must hereafter interpret all that the Professors write in the light of their principles. Likewise we must interpret the doctrine and preaching of all those who support the same principles. Ralph Wardlaw, an independent theologian who propagated similar views in England and Scotland during the first half of the last century wrote that there are "Calvinistic views under three modifications: 1) Hyper-Calvinism; 2) Calvinism as more generally held by the orthodox; 3) Moderate, or what may be designated modern Calvinism, as held and ably elucidated by the late Andrew Fuller, Dr. Edward Williams, and now embraced by a growing proportion of Calvinistic ministers and professing Christians."
The grounds of objection established.
The Professors begin their article with the assertion that, "the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men?" The purpose and substance of their article demonstrates an answer to this question in the affirmative. The Professors seek to convince their readers that the basis on which God makes the free offer of the gospel, is that He has an earnest desire for the salvation of all men. This 'desire', it is asserted contains "a real disposition of lovingkindness" to all.
Such an assertion is at least startling to those who are of Calvinistic persuasion, for it must immediately be asked, among other things, how are we to maintain a difference concerning the principles of our system with those of Arminian persuasion.
How for example can we assert that God while He has a disposition of lovingkindness to all, and desires to save all, has not sent His Son into the world to die for all? And how can we assert that though this desire and lovingkindness to all remains, Christ in His great work of intercession does not intercede for all? How can we tell thinking people that we worship a Sovereign God who has a longing and desire which is opposed to His will and purpose. These questions cannot be dismissed as a mystery, else we are left with the situation that the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is also a mystery, and after all, both Calvinism and Arminianism are merely aspects of the truth of God's Word. In other words the difference between the two systems is but truth in degree, and any line of demarcation is obliterated. The doctrine of the Professors being a half way position, becomes the true Calvinism in the eyes of most, because it easily satisfies moderate-Calvinists and Arminians alike.
For many of us, the idea that God has a lovingkindness toward all, and a desire to save all, was the greatest obstacle to our embracing the Reformed faith. Had the Professors written that the real point in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can be said that God desires the salvation of all men, we should have agreed with them.
We therefore object to the article on the following grounds:
1. That the said point in dispute is one within the framework of the system of Calvinism.
2. That the answer given is destructive of the whole system of Calvinism.
If such objections can be sustained in the light of the Word of God, the principles of which are expressed in the Calvinistic and Reformed system of faith, then we cannot allow that the opinion in question is a matter of private interpretation, without recognising it to be opposed to the doctrinal standards of all the Reformed Churches.
The false confinement of desire, open offer and its substance to the revealed and preceptive will of God.
Let us proceed to the proof of our first objection. The Westminster divines have stated in The Practical Use of Saving Knowledge, Warrants to Believe, that, "the Lord maketh open offer of Christ and His grace by proclamation of a free and gracious market of righteousness and salvation, to be had through Christ to every soul without exception, that truly desires to be saved from sin and wrath."
Because there is a market, there are goods to be offered, and there is a manner of their disposal. Thus there is a distinction to be observed between the 'open offer' and the 'substance' of the offer, which had the Professors taken into account, they would never have advanced the proofs of their assertion, and still called themselves Calvinists. It would appear that they have concerned themselves only with the offer itself.
Now it is obvious that the desire of God in offering the gospel cannot be divorced from its substance, namely Christ and His grace,
If we say that a desire in God relates only to the 'open offer' of the gospel, and not to its substance, we divorce the desire of God from that which makes it possible , namely the merits and work of the Redeemer. In such a case the desire of God, and the satisfaction of Christ can have no reference in the offer to that which the work of redemption accomplished. It empties of its meaning, the cry of the Saviour, "it is finished." Desire and purpose can have nothing in common, nor could He have seen the travail of His soul and been satisfied. Thus we can see that it is an utter folly to refer the desire of God to the offer to all, and not its substance. (It would be an offer without a substance).
Howewer, if a desire to save all is related to the substance of the gospel, namely Christ and His grace, we are not Calvinists. In such instance we have the desire of God identified with the work of a Redeemer designed in its purpose to save all. If it does not, God has failed to provide a sufficient Saviour, and His desires and purposes are frustrated. In other words, such a notion is Arminian.
The Professors in the first paragraph of their article have written, "the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction ... respects, not the decretive will of God, but the revealed will." They also assert in the same paragraph that there is no ground for the supposition that the desire of God to save all refers to the decretive will. They admit that such a desire if related to the decretive will would mean a contradiction; God desiring to save the reprobate, while at the same time damning them.
At this point we may apply the 'coup de grace' to the argument of the Profesors.
On their own argument, a) The offer to all, together with the desire of God relates only to His revealed Will. But we have shown, b) That the desire of God related only to the offer to all, without respect to the substance of the offer to be an utter folly. c) We have also shown that a desire to save all related to the substance of the offer, belongs to the theology of Arminianism.
The device of relating both a desire in God to save all, and the open offer to all, to the revealed will only, does nothing but isolate the substance of the offer from the secret and decretive will of God, and is a theological absurdity.
The Professors are thus left in the following dilemma:
1) They must separate the open offer from its substance which is a complete and utter folly, or,
2) They must relate both the open offer and its substance, namely Christ and His grace, to the desire of God to save all, in which case the Professors have gone over to the camp of the Arminians.
The obvious contradiction arising out of the confinement of desire, substance, and open offer to the revealed will, and purpose, to the secret will, is not resolved by stating, "this is indeed mysterious, and why He has not brought to pass, in the exercise of His omnipotent power and grace, what is His ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of His will." It is rather not a mystery, but a theological fog created by the Professors which clouds the real issue for their readers. In the very next paragraph they state a contradiction of their own proposal, "We should not entertain however any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what He does not decretively will." It is indeed a strange device brought into the framework of Calvinism that a proposition is asserted, and then its contradiction admitted. The assertion of our Confession concerning the infallible rule of interpretation is cast aside. "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly, (W.C.F., 1:9).We have now sustained our first objection, and can assert that the proposition of the article in question that, "in connection with the free offer of the gospel God desires the salvation of all men", cannot be brought within the framework of the Calvinistic system. While we must allow men liberty of opinion and conscience, we cannot allow that such an opinion may be held as a matter of private interpretation, without recognising it to be opposed to the Westminster Standards.