Well Meant Hypocrisy – More Observations on the Free Offer

The so-called Well Meant Offer of the Gospel (WMO) has been a major point of contention in Reformed circles for decades. For those who might be unfamiliar, the divide this issue has caused among those calling themselves “Calvinists,” at least of the Presbyterian variety, is in large part the residual of the Clark/Van Til controversy that was settled, oddly enough in Clark’s favor, more than 50 years ago.  What is odd is that even though the complainants aligned against Clark were reprimanded for their unwarranted attack, those behind the attack, Cornelius Van Til, John Murray, Ned Stonehouse, and the rest of the faculty of Westminister Seminary continued their fight against Clark, only this time turning their guns on Clark’s defenders. Even today their many followers remain unrepentant and continue to attack those who side with Clark on this issue as “hyper-Calvinists,” “rationalists,” or worse.

So what’s at stake?  In my view it comes down to the coherence of Scripture.  Do the Scriptures present to the mind a logical system, or what the writers of the Westminister Confession call a  “consent of the parts”?  Or, do the Scriptures consist of disjointed, conflicting, competing, and even contradictory “truths”?  Like a lot of  new Calvinists, when I first started to struggle with the problem of predestination and God’s sovereign control over all things, particularly the means of salvation, it was important for me to understand how the pieces fit. As a typical card carrying Arminian, the idea of man’s inherent free will in salvation had been a self-evident truth if there ever was one.  Like most who have been indoctrinated into the Arminian system, when I was confronted by the faith of the Reformers I could see that what they believed, and the so-called  “Protestantism” I had been taught, were two mutually exclusive religions. Critical in my conversion and repentance was coming to grips with the so-called “Arminian” verses of Scripture; verses like 1 Timothy 2:4,  2 Peter 3:9,  Matthew 23:37, Ezekiel 33:11. What I found, and not surprisingly, was that my original understanding of these verses were paper thin, out of context, and could easily be interpreted to conform completely and in perfect harmony with the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty in salvation. More importantly, this discovery occurred simultaneously with my discovery of the Westminister Confession of Faith.

For the first time since accepting Christ and being called out of complete darkness at the age of  18 or 19 (I don’t remember the exact date) and then wandering around the wasteland of modern Evangelicalism for more than a decade, here in the Confession was a Biblically sound method for interpreting the Scripture. I learned that not only does Scripture interpret Scripture, but those things logically deduced from Scripture are Scripture too.  Further, all things taught in Scripture and those things necessarily deduced from them present to the mind a “consent of the parts.” Or to put it another way, Christianity is a rational system and the truth of the Christian system is evidenced by the logical harmony of propositions.  This was my introduction to the old Puritan idea of “the analogy of faith” (not to be confused with Van Til’s errant idea of analogy).  Interpreting Scripture was no longer the biblical equivalent of throwing Rune Stones where we are to glean whatever meaning we might choose in order to fit our own preconceived notions and presuppositions. Rather, the meaning of Scripture “is one and not manifold” and any interpretation must be understood in relation to all of Scripture. That means there can only be one correct interpretation and it must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture.

In my naivety, I thought that all those holding to the Confession and the Reformed faith must agree. Was I wrong.  It wasn’t long before I realized that most of those calling themselves “Reformed” gave the Confessional view of Scripture nothing more than lip service and instead embraced the idea that the Scriptures contain insoluble paradoxes which are nothing more than contradictions at least for the human existent. Rather than harmony in all that God has revealed in Scripture, these men actively advanced the theory that Scripture confronts the mind with antinomies, apparent contradictions, and paradoxes, believing that embracing these exegetical  “points of tension” is a sign of Christian maturity, even piety.

Now, the first thing to stress is that the fight over the Well Meant, Free, or Sincere Offer of the Gospel is that it has nothing to do with the universal and indiscriminate proclamation of the Gospel to all without distinction. What it does have to do with is question of whether or not God desires the salvation of the reprobate; i.e., those sinners God has willfully chose to pass over and who are foreordained to perdition.  In his book, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, Herman Hoeksema put the problem his way:

We may limit the controversy to this question: What must the preacher of the Gospel say of God’s intention with respect to the reprobate…? The answer to this question defines the differences between Dr. Clark and the complainants sharply and precisely.

The complainants answers: The preacher must say that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate through the preaching of the Gospel.

Dr. Clark answers: That is not true; the preacher may never say that in the name of God. And, in light of Scripture, he should say: God seeks his own glory and justification in preparing the reprobate for their just damnation even through the preaching of the Gospel.

Those Reformed men who side with Van Til, Murray and the other complainants and who say “yes” to the question, does God desire the salvation of the reprobate through the preaching of the Gospel, are in the sticky position of advancing a contradiction where God is said to desire “the fulfillment of something which he had…not decreed to come to come to pass” (John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel”).  Murray in his defense of the Free Offer recognized the sizable knot this position entails:

It must be admitted that if the expression were intended to apply to the decretive will of God then there would be, at least, implicit contradiction. For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction; it would amount to averring of the same thing, viewed from the same aspect, God wills and God does not will.

But how can we know what God desires except by what He says He will do and actually does?  Didn’t Job say; “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.” Not according to Murray.  The way he attempts to get around this impasse is by attempting to infer God’s desire for the salvation of the reprobate not from God’s “decretive will,” that is, not from what God says He will do and actually does, but rather from His “preceptive will” or His commands which tell us what we ought to do.  Murray writes, “in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace.” Well, how did Murray arrive at this conclusion?  Murray asserts a “disposition of lovingkindess” toward all those who hear the Gospel by claiming to have inferred it from Biblical precepts.  However, instead of solving the dilemma, Murray attempts to do what simply cannot be done. As Matthew Winzer points out in his excellent review of Murray’s piece, “Free Offer of the Gospel”:

This distinction between a decretive and a revealed (or preceptive) will of God is both sound and necessary, and one to which all orthodox Calvinistic divines have had recourse….  Such a distinction must never be understood as implying that God has two wills. For it is clear from the above definition that the word will is being used in two different senses, i.e., equivocally, having two distinct points of reference.

It is only the will of decree which is the will of God in the proper sense of the term, as an act of volition, for therein God has decreed what shall be done….

The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded ought  to be done by man. Whether man wills to do it is absolutely dependent upon whether God has decreed that he shall do it. So it is quite inappropriate to say that God wills something to be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will never pertains to the futurition  of actions, only to the obligation of them.

More to the point, Godwell Andrew Chan citing Luther in a slightly different context demonstrates that Murray’s elementary logical blunder isn’t by any means a new one:

Luther replied: “‘If thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing. As the logicians say, a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” On imperatives, Luther said that “by the Law (commands), God brings us to a knowledge of our impotence, if we are his elect; or else, if we are his proud enemies, he taunts and mocks us by his Law [compare Romans 3:20, 5:20, Galatians 3:19, 24].. Even grammarians and schoolboys at street corners know that nothing is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a simple imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning . . . ?” Luther’s biting condemnation applies to all theologians today who commit the same logical blunders.

Yet, in spite of such clear and unambiguous warnings, Murray along with the many who follow him, lumber on in their illogic libeling and slandering good Christian men as “rationalists” or “hyper-Calvinists” for failing to follow them in their error. Aside from Murray’s illogic and being “twice as stupid” as a schoolboy for attempting to infer something in the indicative from something written in the imperative, his exegesis of critical passages is at least as bad and are a major concession to Arminianism. He first tries to buttress, or, better, wrap his lapse in logic by misapplying and misinterpreting  Ezekiel 33:11. Murray writes:

In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness. And the word “desire” has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live.

And, a little later he adds:

It is not to be forgotten that when it is said that God absolutely and universally takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, we are not here speaking of God’s decretive will. In terms of his decretive will it must be said that God absolutely decrees the eternal death of some wicked and, in that sense, is absolutely pleased so to decree.

According to Murray, God is pleased to decree the eternal death of some, while at the same time desiring their salvation. This is absurd and simply asserting that the former is an expression of God’s “decretive will,” whereas the latter is only true of His “preceptive will,” accomplishes nothing. If God’s pleasure is an expression of His desire (I have no idea what else it could possibly entail) then Murray is right back affirming that God desires and does not desire the same thing, which is the salvation of the reprobate. In contrast to Murray, Calvin writes in his Institutes concerning this verse:

But our opponents are in the habit of quoting in opposition a few Scripture passages in which God seems to deny that the wicked perish by his ordination, except in so far as by their clamorous protests they of their own accord bring death upon themselves. Let us therefore briefly explain these passages and prove that they do not conflict with the foregoing opinion.

A passage of Ezekiel’s is brought forward, that “God does not will the death of the wicked but wills that the wicked turn back and live” [Ezekiel 33:11 p.].  If it pleases God to extend this to the whole human race, why does he not encourage to repentance the very many whose minds are more amenable to obedience than the minds of those who grow harder and harder at his daily invitations? Among the people of Nineveh [cf.Matthew 12:41] and of Sodom, as Christ testifies, the preaching of the gospel and miracles would have accomplished more than in Judea [Matthew 11:23]. If God wills that all be saved, how does it come to pass that he does not open the door of repentance to the miserable men who would be better prepared to receive grace? Hence we may see that this passage is violently twisted if the will of God, mentioned by the prophet, is opposed to His eternal plan, by which He has distinguished the elect from the reprobate.

Now if we are seeking the prophet’s true meaning, it is that he would bring the hope of pardon to the penitent only. The gist of it is that God is without doubt ready to forgive, as soon as the sinner is converted. Therefore, in so far as God wills the sinner’s repentance, he does not will his death. But experience teaches that God wills the repentance of those whom he invites to himself, in such a way that he does not touch the hearts of all. Yet it is not on that account to be said that he acts deceitfully, for even though only his outward call renders inexcusable those who hear it and do not obey, still it is truly considered evidence of God’s grace, by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us therefore regard the prophet’s instruction that the death of the sinner is not pleasing to God as designed to assure believers that God is ready to pardon them as soon as they are touched by repentance but to make the wicked feel that their transgression is doubled because they do not respond to God’s great kindness and goodness. God’s mercy will always, accordingly, go to meet repentance, but all the prophets and all the apostles, as well as Ezekiel himself, clearly teach to whom repentance is given.

Concerning the parallel verse in Ezekiel 18:23 Calvin writes:

God is said not to wish the death of a sinner. How so? since he wishes all to be converted. Now we must see how God wishes all to be converted; for repentance is surely his peculiar gift: as it is his office to create men, so it is his province to renew them, and restore his image within them. For this reason we are said to be his workmanship, that is, his fashioning. (Ephesians 2:10.) Since, therefore, repentance is a kind of second creation, it follows that it is not in man’s power; and if it is equally in God’s power to convert men as well as to create them, it follows that the reprobate are not converted, because God does not wish their conversion;for if he wished it he could do it: and hence it appears that he does not wish it.

In addition to Calvin above, I would recommend Matthew Winzer’s review of Murray linked above where he deals at length with Murray’s exegetical errors.  Also see Garrett Johnson’s, The Myth of Common Grace,  where he exposes Murray’s interpretive sloppiness with the help of Owen, Turretin, Gill, Clark and others.

Even aside from the exegetical laziness and obvious violations of the laws of logic, what I have always found particularly offensive in the defense of the WMO is precisely the tacit admission that on verses such as 2 Peter 3:9,  Matthew 23:37, Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11, and others that the Arminians are right.  Of course, the Arminans have the distinct advantage in their exegesis of not imputing irrationality to God simply because they credit man with having the power of salvation in accordance with free will. For the Arminian God’s universal desire for  “the fulfillment of something which he had…not decreed to come to come to pass” is contingent upon the will of man. If God’s will is thwarted, man is to blame. Man’s presumed “free will” is an easy escape. That’s because the God of the Arminian is impotent to do all His good pleasure for even one of his poor pathetic wicked creatures mired in the bondage of darkness, sin and death. Those who claim to be Reformed and who hold that God has decreed “whatsoever comes to pass” and who does all his good pleasure in heaven and on earth, have no such luxury.

Besides, to grant the Arminian exegetical position here is to run headlong into a glaring contradiction with the rest of Reformed theology and soteriology.   This is something that all the appeals to God’s decretive and preceptive will cannot assuage. Murray’s attempt to get around this is a colossal failure. Agreeing with Murray here is not thinking in submission to Scripture, rather it is the rejection of the very idea that the Scriptures are true, that God is the Almighty Sovereign Calvinists have always claimed, and is an admission that the Reformed faith is nothing more than nonsense. If God desired the salvation of all then all would be saved. Not so says John Murray and the rest of the “Free Offer” crowd.  Can there be any wonder why the Reformed faith is so anemic and why Calvinism remains in the backwaters of what passes for Evangelicalism?  The Arminians may be wrong, their doctrines may be unscriptural, and even rob God of His glory in salvation, but at least they don’t openly affirm contradictions and then have the gall to assert any moral superiority for doing so.

It should be pointed out that Murray is not the first Calvinist to make such concessions to the Arminian. Concerning 1 Timothy 2:4 Charles Spurgeon writes:

What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. “All men,” say they,—”that is, some men”: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said “some men” if he had meant some men. “All men,” say they; “that is, some of all sorts of men”: as if the Lord could not have said “all sorts of men” if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written “all men,” and unquestionably he means all men.

Spurgeon admits that he breaks with “our older Calvinistic friends” who have quite properly exegeted this passage as pertaining to all strata or classes of men and not all men in general. What he fails to say is that those older Calvinistic friends include Calvin himself who wrote concerning this verse:

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men;  although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the: will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception.

Calvin affirms in this verse precisely what Spurgeon denies. Even worse, Spurgeon admits his exegesis of this verse is inconsistent with the rest of his theology, which, I assume, he believes is also derived from Scripture. Therefore, it would follow that if Spurgeon is right, the Scriptures do not cohere. Spurgeon continues:

My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Notice, his exegesis results in a contradiction and renders his theology inconsistent. Yet, he is willing to allow this contradiction to stand because he believes he is being faithful to Scripture. The tragedy is that it is his errant understanding of this verse that has lead him into asserting a glaring and major inconsistency. Had he stuck with Calvin and the older Calvinists, not to mentioned the method of interpretation of the Westminster Confession outlined above, he would have avoided such a glaring contradiction in his own theology and would have remained true to Scripture. Further, and despite his seemingly pious willingness to surrender consistency in order to be true to God’s Word, he imputes irrationality to God.  Rather than this “inconsistency,” or better, contradiction providing the warning telling Spurgeon to go back and recheck his premises, he’d rather embrace nonsense and encourage others to do so as well. Spurgeon merely asserts that his exegesis of this critical verse is sound – even though he admits his exegesis results in a blatant contradiction and an inconsistent theology. Rather than just being the “forgotten Calvinist,” Spurgeon should really be called the “inconsistent Calvinist.”

As should be obvious, disagreeing with Murray, Spurgeon and others who have claimed a desire on the part of God for the salvation of the reprobate based on nothing more than fallacious reasoning and faulty exegesis is not “hyper-Calvinism.”  Nor is maintaining the coherence of Scripture and the analogy of faith “rationalism.”  Yet, for countless Christians, most recently James White and Robert Reymond, they are slandered as “hyper-Calvinists” and “rationalists” by the “Free Offer” crowd who knowingly advance nonsense while piously claiming to be thinking in submission to Scripture. This is a farce and one that all thinking Christians – especially those calling themselves Calvinists – should repudiate.

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22 Comments on “Well Meant Hypocrisy – More Observations on the Free Offer”

  1. justbybelief Says:


    It is ‘funny,’ in my reading and quite by ‘accident’ I came across this excerpt from Dr. G.H. Clark in Chapter 8, The Concept of Biblical Authority, of God’s Hammer: The Bible And Its Critics, pg 151, in the midst of this discussion of the so called well meant offer.

    Clark says: “There is no room for falsity in God’s speech. Therefore an evangelical must of necessity try to harmonize all Scriptural statements with each other. He may sometimes fail, either because he sees no solution or his solution is a blunder. But he must try, unless he wishes to charge God’s own words with falsehood.”

    The proponents of the so called well meant offer make God a liar.

    Having spent some time in Lutheran circles, or rather Melanchthonian circles, they charge us with rationalism for believing a statement like this from Clark. They believe we should just let the verses ‘stand’ as they read with no explanation. It is to bad they follow Melanchthon instead of Luther.


  2. brandon Says:

    It appears that Tom Ascol of the Baptist Founder’s Ministries has a correct, historic understanding of Hyper-Calvinism and is not willing to misapply the term.

  3. Sean Gerety Says:

    Maybe I should know who and what, but who is Tom Ascol and what is BFM?

  4. brandon Says:

    Tom Ascol is a rather prominent Reformed Baptist, executive director of:

    Founders Ministries is a ministry of teaching and encouragement promoting both doctrine and devotion expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Founders Ministries takes as its theological framework the first recognized confession of faith that Southern Baptists produced, The Abstract of Principles. We desire to encourage the return to and promulgation of the biblical gospel that our Southern Baptist forefathers held dear.

    A lot of people value what he has to say, so it was refreshing to hear his understanding of Hyper-Calvinism.

  5. bsuden Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the previous heads up on the OPC minority report. Was totally unaware it even existed. (Perhaps it needs to be promoted like Murray’s minority report on song in worship.) What I have seen previously is Dr. William Young’s The Free Offer of the Gospel (It is preceded by a few items “American presbyterians” will disagree with, ie. the original confessional views on
    Christmas and
    psalmody, but so be it.) I think it is included in Young’s Collected Works.

    As per Young’s implicit criticism of Murray’s version of the FO, it should be admitted by its champions that Murray’s version is a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty about God’s archetypal desires – or rather another instance of QIRC according to RSClark’s recent
    Recovering the Reformed Confessions. Coherence and consent are the issues. While Hoeksema and Clark may have denied, if not indeed did, the archetypal distinction, the real problem is the confusion of archetypal theology with revelation/ectypal theology, hence the “paradoxes” that must come.

    Or to put it another way, archetypal theology according to Clark’s intro to Murray becomes a “central dogma” that irrationally(!) trumps all. Not good.

  6. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Bob,

    I had forgotten about the minority report and just stumbled on it again. And, I agree, it needs to be promoted more, or at the very least cited every time Murray’s piece is advanced as settled orthodoxy.

    As for the archetype/ectype distinction, while I agree that it has become the philosophic justification for theologians to advance all sorts of nonsense, I don’t think it has always taken on the same meaning that it has been given by Van Til’s followers. I have a hard time imagining many of the old Puritan divines going along with VT’s doctrine of analogy and his complete denial of any univocal point of contact between God’s thoughts and man’s, not to mention Van Til’s resulting belief in biblical paradox.

    That is a question I need to look into some more since it certainly gives Vantilians like RS Clark some cover, perhaps with some justification or perhaps not. I don’t know? I remember reading something by, I think, Ames a long time ago which seemed so far removed from anything Van Til and his followers have advanced that it’s hard for me to see that the two were drawing the same distinction, even if they used some of the same words.

  7. bsuden Says:


    You can find both reports here.
    Note the qualification that precedes both!

    [Note: General Assembly reports (whether from a committee or its minority) are thoughtful treatises but they do not have the force of constitutional documents—the Westminster Standards or the Book of Church Order. They should not be construed as the official position of the OPC.]”

    Hmm. That wouldn’t mean that somebody is trying to foist this over on us as a done deal; that denial of the Murray FO is a QuestforIlligitimateReligiousCertainty, would it?
    I didn’t think so. Guess I can go back to sleep.
    Seriously, one can appreciate Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions without agreeing with all of it.

    VT can be confusing and unfortunately imo generates a lot of his own vocabulary. While it is true, we cannot know God as he is, by the same token, we can and do know God as he reveals himself in Scripture and that knowledge is not analogical or archetypal. To say that it is, is or leads to irrationalism/nonsense.

    IOW it might be said that to a boy with a hammer, everything is a nail. While the archetypal distinction arguably has been lost and only recently found, that doesn’t mean it can become the alpha and omega of one’s theology to the point that one must implicitly consider Turretin and Owen rationalists.

  8. rgmann Says:

    What it does have to do with is question of whether or not God desires the salvation of the reprobate; i.e., those sinners God has willfully chose to pass over and who are foreordained to perdition.

    Not only were the reprobate willfully passed over and foreordained to perdition, but their sins were not imputed to Christ and He did not die in their stead. Thus, those “Reformed” men who promote the WMO (and claim to believe in Limited Atonement) have God “desiring” to save those whom He has ordained to perdition and whose sins have not been atoned for in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross! Seems like “hypo-Calvinism” to me.


  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    It certainly explains the anemia Roger.

  10. Jim Says:

    Just found your blog through a link provided in a post on the Puritan Board.

    Good discussions related to the WMO. I sit in the same pew as Turretin and Owen on the atonement, et. al.

    I find myself in agreement with much of Clark, and generally agree with your take on the WMO. I was won over by Matthew Winzer’s critique of John Murray on the Free Offer, which you have linked in earlier posts.

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Jim. Winzer’s review of Murray is outstanding. I have to say I’ve been very encouraged by some of what I see on PB, particularly some of the comments by administrator Josh Hicks, who, despite having a pretty light trigger on his “moderator gun” (IMO all too typical for PB mods), has made some excellent arguments against the incoherence of the WMO. You should post the OPC minority report linked above. That too is a great refutation of the doctrines espoused in the so-called “Free Offer.” It was also written, in part, by Clark’s great defender in the OPC, Floyd Hamilton (who was also finally driven from the OPC because Van Til, Murray and the rest of the WTS crowd).

    For too long defenders of the WMO have acted like acceptance of Murray’s formulation was a settled matter of Reformed orthodoxy and the expressed position of the mainstream. It wasn’t even settled in the OPC. While perhaps still the majority position in most P&R denoms, it’s nice to see the idea of its imagined orthodoxy coming under considerable fire. I can say it used to be those who adhere to the WMO and the absurdity of God’s so-called “desire” for the salvation of the reprobate could libel and slander good Christian men from Clark to Hoeksema and everyone in between with impunity. Any deviation from Murray was considered a baldfaced confession of “hyper-Calvinism” (thanks to men like Ian Murray and lesser lights like Phil Johnson). I know of men who have been denied church office for opposing the WMO in P&R churches. If PB is any indication the tide is turning.

    Peace –

  12. Monty L. Collier Says:

    On The Free Offer Of The Gospel [FOG]:

    Sean, you nailed it by quoting Job 23:13!

    “But He [God] is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job 23:13).

    Let’s take a look at the teaching of Job 23:13 in simple syllogistic form.

    [First syllogism]
    (1) Anything God desires is something God accomplishes
    (2) The salvation of the elect is something God desires
    (3) The salvation of the elect is something God accomplishes

    The first syllogism is basic Calvinism, that is, basic Christianity. It represents the clear teaching known as the Absolute Predestination of God. However, if we replace premise (2) of the first syllogism with the main thesis of FOG, then the resulting syllogism (below) is no longer Calvinism.
    Consider the following:

    [Second Syllogism]
    (1) Anything God desires is something God accomplishes
    (2) God is One who desires the salvation of those reprobates who hear the Gospel (FOG)
    (3) Thus, the salvation of those reprobates who hear the Gospel is something God accomplishes

    Nowhere in the Bible do we ever read about God saving the reprobate. By definition, the reprobates are not saved. Furthermore, by definition, election is God’s desire to save some people. The Canons of Dordt, 1st Head, Article 7, states this clearly.
    Let’s take a look at a third syllogism. This syllogism will correctly teach the Biblical position concerning those reprobates who hear the Gospel preached.

    [Third Syllogism]
    (1) Anything God desires is something God accomplishes
    (2) God is one who does NOT desire the salvation of those reprobates who hear the Gospel
    (3) Thus, the salvation of those reprobates who hear the Gospel is something God does NOT accomplish

    The third syllogism is the basic teaching of Scripture. Judas and Esau, for example, were certainly exposed to the Gospel, but neither were saved, for God did not desire their salvation (Romans 9:9-22).

    Sola Fide,
    Red Beelte

  13. Bob S Says:

    Hi Sean,
    Enjoyed your comment over at Against Heresies on the free offer. Yes, Calvin or his translators used the term, but what did he mean by it, not what do we read back into it.

  14. WIlliam Tyndale Says:

    If we accept the Sovereignty of God, then we must accept that God knows all things – including whom He will elect. If we also accept that Christ had such knowledge while on earth, then how does one handle John 5:34 :

    But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
    John 5:34

    If Jesus knew who would be saved, then why say “might be saved”? Why say this to a bunch of hard-hearted, stiff-necked, stubborn Pharisees who wouldn’t listen (and, according to Isaiah, were not supposed to hear anyway)? Is He holding out unfounded hope (thus upholding the WMO doctrine) or does He really not know who “might” be saved (thus rejecting His Sovereignty – at least while on earth – as far as knowledge goes)? Or is there some uncertainty in who will and who will not be saved (regardless of whether the individual has anything that could be considered “free will” or not)?

  15. Sean Gerety Says:

    I don’t think there is any uncertainly in Jesus’ words at all and if his listeners would believe they would be saved. I would take Jesus’ words in v 34 to be figurative for in v 40 He tells those to whom his words were directed: “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” And, hammering that point home He adds in v 42, “But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.”

    Jesus concludes his discourse by rhetorically asking in v 47; “But if ye believe not his [Moses’] writings, how shall ye believe my words?” This too doesn’t imply that they could believe if they so willed (unless it was first granted to them). It was again to highlight their hypocrisy.

    FWIW I think defenders of the WMO are on much stronger exegetical ground if they stick with the so-called “Arminian” verses that they’ve historically based their doctrine on. It’s admittedly weird that so-called Reformed men from John Murray to Scott Clark would hang their hat on the “all” passages and then appeal to mystery and paradox, but it’s even weirder when they get miffed when they’re accused of the Arminianism their doctrine implies.

  16. WIlliam Tyndale Says:

    I can’t escape the fact that Jesus tells them – outright – that He is going through what must be a frustrating encounter with the Pharisees and holds out what appears to be hope for salvation. He doesn’t say to them, simply, “I say this to you to lay judgment at your feet” (i.e. you’ve had the Word preached, the testimony given and you have refused it from the very One whose word it is – you have no excuse) which we might expect given the state of the hearts of the Pharisees that Jesus clearly states (as you point out). To call his statement figurative is to remove much of the weight and force of the statement and, instead, say that He is REALLY saying that they can’t be saved because of what they are.

    I can’t say I have a perfect resolution to the conundrum myself, but if one is to take Christ at His word, it seems strict Sovereignty and WMO both have problems. Allowing for Christ’s limited Sovereignty and the Father’s absolute Sovereignty would be one way I could see to resolve this. But I don’t know many who hold such a subordinationist view (though there may well be those who do).

    On a related note…I wonder if use of different wills of God is a misuse of scripture. We understand a permissive will because we are finite in power and understanding. But God, who is not, need not “permit” anything. Indeed, for Him to passively will the salvation of all men yet not carry it out (assuming His Sovereignty in salvation) assumes He is awaiting the influence of another entity (such as, I suppose, the will of depraved man). And we are left with a God who has decided (at some point) to will something that He will not bring into being and which cannot be realized any other way.

  17. Sean Gerety Says:

    I don’t see how figurative or hypothetical language diminishes the force of Jesus’ words in the slightest? If they were really the theological experts they claimed to be they would have believed Moses. And, if they believed Moses, they would have believed Jesus. More importantly, Jesus said he knew them and he knew they didn’t even believe Moses’ words, much less His own. I am hard pressed to see Jesus holding out the “hope of salvation” to the Pharisees he was addressing, rather, and as mentioned, he was exposing their unbelief which itself is judgment.

    It is interesting that your comments also seem to recognize that the WMO is at odds with the idea of God’s sovereignty in salvation, which it is. This alone should be enough to show that the WMO is not Reformed.

    On the related note, I agree, there is no such thing as a “permissive” will in God as God is the first and ultimate cause of “whatsoever comes to pass.” Generally, WMO folks appeal to God’s “preceptive” and “decretive” wills arguing that God’s imagined desire for the salvation of all rests in God’s precepts or commands and that all men ought to believe the Gospel even if he didn’t decree that they would. The trouble is how do you get from all men ought to believe the Gospel to God desires all men to believe the Gospel? There is a leap in logic here that seems to fool a lot of unwitting ersatz-Reformed folks. As Luther notes above, you infer something in the indicative from something written in the imperative, but WMO folks try to anyway.

  18. WIlliam Tyndale Says:

    I don’t mean that figurative language diminishes Jesus’ words in general, but (if I understand you correctly) to ascribe figurative intent to Jesus’ statement “…these things I say,that you might be saved.” means Jesus isn’t saying (really) that they MIGHT be saved, but rather that they might (otherwise) have been saved had they not been blinded. In other words, Jesus is coming up against a roadblock in the impenitent hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts – that was proscribed by God. To my untrained ears, that sounds like a (modified?) version of the WMO.

    Of course, if one considers that the “might” is literal and there are multiple variables in play here (beyond mere Divine will to salvation), then the offer could, I suppose, be genuine and still contigent upon God’s will only.

    Do you know of any works that deal extensively with God’s Sovereignty in salvation and that address John 5:34 with more than just a passing reference? The only thing I’ve found thus far is Sam Waldron’s treatment of it. I’m looking for a non-WMO treatment. I’m not well read, theologically speaking, so there may well be some well known works that deal with it that I haven’t seen.

  19. Sean Gerety Says:

    FWIW I couldn’t find any commentaries that address John 5:34 with a specific reference to the WMO controversy other than Walton’s. I saw a reference made by neo-Amyraldian Tony Byrne to some comments James White may have made in reference to this verse, but I couldn’t find any. However, I would consider Matthew 23:37 to be a similar verse in that it would seem, at least on the face of it, to express a desire on the part of God for the salvation of those who will not be saved. It is without question a verse WMO advocates routine advance in their cause. I think Augustine’s exegesis can serve as a framework for understanding this verse and others like it:

    “Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? Or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together, but even though she was unwilling, He gathered together as many of her children as He wished: for He does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘He hath done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth’ (The Enchiridion, xcvii).

    And, along similar lines, a Reverend Stewart, who I’m unfamiliar with, has a similar take here:


    Anyway, I think you’re reading too much into the verse in that there is no question that the Pharisees Jesus was addressing “might” be saved, and in fact would be saved, if they believed, but it remains that Jesus said he knew them and knew that they did not have the love of God within them and this to their judgment and damnation. Again, hypothetically all might be saved, but only those whom God wills to save in fact will be saved. I don’t see why that is so difficult? That’s not to say that Arminians and WMO advocates won’t read verses such as these and use them to mitigate against God’s sovereignty alone in salvation by trying to advance a longing or desire on the part of God for the fulfillment of things God knows will never come to pass simply because He doesn’t will them, however this is to impute irrationality to God and is a clear abuse of Scripture and sound hermeneutics as the passage from Augustine should make clear.

  20. Hugh McCann Says:

    Rev Angus Stewart biblically defends Calvinism (w/ a lovely Northern Irish accent!):



  21. Hugh McCann Says:

    Per the Garrett Johnson piece mentioned in Sean’s article, let us not forget this resource for common grace and free offer articles: http://www.prca.org/pamphlets_and_articles.html

    And per Job 23:13, Ps. 115:3 ~ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

    & Ps. 135:6 ~ Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

    & of course, Numbers 23:19 ~ God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?


  22. Sean,
    I guess you will find me reading your old posts if you don’t mind, I have been studying the so called “Common Grace”, “Well Meant Offer of the Gospel” and “The Federal Vision”…and I’m thankful to found your blog and read some GOOD stuff here, thanks once again, your brother in Christ…


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