The Gospel for the Right “Sort of People” Who Accept the “Offer”?

Matthew Barrett, Salvation by Grace, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2013, p 78.

“Hoeksema argues that there can be no well meant offer of the gospel, which would imply and desires the salvation of the nonelect, for Scripture is clear that God determines to harden the hearts of the nonelect, not to save them. In fact, says Hoeksema, God does not even desire the salvation of of the nonelect, nor does God act favorably toward the nonelect, but only acts to further their sentence to destruction. When the gospel is preached it is simply a promise meant only for the elect. The only thing the nonelect receive in hearing this message is condemnation.”

A few responses from Mark McCulley

Throughout Barrett’s book the reference to “historic” or “traditional” Calvinism is used as a code word to mean the “universal sufficiency” view of Andrew Fuller. He wants to equate “old Calvinism” with the contested idea that “God loves everybody, at least enough to WANT TO save them. Barrett does not discuss the writing of Gerstner, Gordon Clark, and others who agree with Hoeksema in denying that God loves everybody.

Barrett simply quotes Anthony Hoekema, with whom Barrett agrees. From Hoekema’s Saved by Grace: “The Bible teaches that God seriously desires that all who hear the gospel should believe in Christ and be saved. To our finite minds it seems impossible that election and this should both be true… One type of rational solution is that of Hoekseam and the hyper-Calvinists. Since the Bible teaches election, it cannot be true that God desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes. Therefore we must say that God desires the salvation only of the elect among the hearers of the gospel. This kind of solution may seem to satisfy our minds, but it completely fails to do justice to Scripture passages (Ezekial 33:11, Matthew 23:37, II Corinthians 5:20, and II Peter 3:9).”

His finite mind is simply not satisfied with any idea that God loves some sinners and does not love other sinners, so he assumes that only other minds perhaps more finite than his own would be satisfied with a rational solution. His view does, you must remember, come along with some Bible texts referenced in parenthesis. But nowhere does either he show from the Bible that God loves the nonelect or desires the salvation of the nonelect. They simply begin with that assumption and then argue in a circle back to it.

Those who advocate the “free offer” are intentionally use the word “will” in a double sense so as to sneak in their assumption without making an argument for it. God’s law does not depend on the ability of humans to keep it for that law to be legitimate. God can and does command all sinners to believe the gospel. Barrett writes as if Hoeksema somehow denies that responsibility depends on ability, and that this is somehow in parallel to the Arminian argument that inability to keep the law would mean that we have no duty to keep the law.

But Hoeksema nowhere makes this argument, and Barrett is projecting it onto Hoeksema to avoid the read question which is about God’s supposed desire to save all sinners. Barrett assumes that God loves all sinners. When Hoeksema denies that, Barrett accuses Hoeksema of making duty depending on ability.

Barrett is doing exactly what Andrew Fuller did, which is confusing the gospel with the law, by making duty depend on God’s supposed desire to save that person. Instead of merely saying that God commands all sinners to believe the gospel, the Andrew Fuller assumption is that God commanding you to believe the gospel, must mean that God wishes (unsuccessfully in many cases) that you would believe the gospel.

In what way do we make a distinction between the command to believe the gospel and the gospel itself? is the command itself part of the gospel? Is the gospel in the end no different from law, with commands and “conditions”? In what way do we make a distinction between the promise of the gospel and the gospel itself? What is the promise of the gospel? Is the promise of the covenant that God loves everybody, or is it a promise that God only loves those in the covenant? Or only the elect in the covenant?

I will ask two questions.

1. Does God desire the salvation of the sinners who never hear the gospel? Barrett keeps saying that God desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel. What about those who never hear the gospel? Does God want them to be saved as well? If the gospel in the end is also the law, so that only those who hear the gospel can justly be condemned, how can those who never hear “the gospel” be justly destroyed by God? And why, if God really loved them, did God not send somebody with the gospel to these people? If Jesus died in order to condemn those who resist them, how can God condemn those who never heard of Jesus? Now it will be argued that these questions are another topic, and not appropriate for the book Barrett wanted to write.

If there can be no sin unless God has first somehow loved us and desired our salvation, then this changes everything about how we approach the Bible. Instead of beginning with our plight (before the law), the Andrew Fuller approach begins with good intentions from God, in which God’s love, is supposedly universally sufficient but in the end not enough to be the solution.

2. “When the gospel is preached it is not a free offer to whomever will believe, but rather it is simply a promise meant only for the elect”. What if I flip the phrases around here in the structure of this sentence? What if I “deconstruct” the implied difference? Are there any elect who will never believe the gospel? Are there any non-elect who will believe the gospel? How can the gospel be good news for who will perish to be told that those who won’t believe will perish? Thus far I leave out the word “election” (the word most Calvinists want to leave out when they do evangelism), but my point is that Barrett has not yet argued for a real difference between those who believe and those who are elect. The gospel is good news for those who believe. The gospel is good news for the elect. There’s no ultimate difference, unless you are somehow ashamed of the word “election” and want to leave it out.

Nathan Finn-”Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”

Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

Andrew Fuller made a distinction between “covenantal intent” and “the nature of the atonement itself”. We need to examine Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.

This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Fuller). All that talk about “ability” and “sufficiency” is a distraction from the greater question about the nature of the atonement. While I don’t see much in the Bible about the “duty” of unbelievers to believe the gospel, I don’t deny that all sinners are commanded to believe the gospel. Nor do I need to connect that command to some philosophical account of “ability”.

Election is God’s love, and when the Bible talks about God’s love, it talks about propitiation. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If all we can stipulate is that the appeasement of wrath will not work without our faith, then it’s not enough to add on that God sent His son to purchase our faith. The nature of the cross as God’s propitiatory love will not be proclaimed.

You can use the word without agreeing with the Bible about what it means. A propitiation for the non-elect amounts to nothing. Since there is only one propitiation, a propitiation for the elect which is also the same thing for the non-elect, amounts to nothing.

Those who defend the “offer” justify their version of grace (God loves everybody and wants everybody to be saved) as being the only perspective possible to us. We have to know we believe, before we can know if we are elect. I agree that knowing our election before we believe is impossible. Knowing our election is not our warrant to believe. (See Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings). But this is no excuse for leaving the doctrine of election out of the doctrine of redemption and propitiation by the cross. And it certainly no excuse for telling everybody that God loves them and wants to be their Father!

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9 Comments on “The Gospel for the Right “Sort of People” Who Accept the “Offer”?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Brain Vickers, Justification by Grace Through Faith, part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology , edited by Robert Petersen, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2013

    Vickers needs to fix his book by not thinking of imputation as God accepting faith as righteousness. But he won’t get to the bottom of the problem until he starts talking about election and the death of Christ being a particular propitiation only for the elect. He needs to ask himself: whose sins were imputed to Christ? (election) and when were those sins imputed to Christ by whom? (by God, not by sinners, by God before the propitiation, not after faith)

    Vickers begins by quoting Spurgeon on his conversion: “all this is for you”, “great drops of blood for you”. Then Vickers can say: well, I did not mean everybody, I meant only those who believe.

    But first, what’s wrong with talking about election, if indeed you believe in election? And second, unless you talk about justification of the elect by blood for the elect, you will –if even by silence-agree to the idea that everything is conditioned on faith. And then when it comes out that you agree that, in some sense, God Himself counts faith as the righteousness, you have at the end of the day simply reinforced the idolatry which conditions salvation on what God does in the sinners, instead of what God did in Christ.

    If the death of Christ was for all, then the decisive thing becomes regeneration in order to have faith. Soon after this, faith alone gets denied, faith gets redefined, and assurance is held hostage to perseverance not in faith but also in works.

    Faith gets seen not as empty hands but as the faithfulness which results from our regeneration. And so you join hands in the Southern Baptist Convention with those who say to everybody “the blood is for you”, just so long as they agree with you that regeneration causes the faith which works more than other sorts of faith. Instead of Christ dying for the elect, you have Christ’s death working for the right sort of people, the kind who persevere..

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Tom Nettles, By His Grace And For His Glory ” . from the chapter on world missions and ” bold evangelism ” .

    Offer is not used in Scripture to describe how God gives his gifts to men … Normally the word offer has too dormant a connotation to incorporate the vivid and active images picturing the effectuality of gospel preaching : the blind see , the dead live , the sleepers awaken , the sinners’ resistance is aggravated , and a sweet-smelling savor rises to the nostrils of God . In apostolic examples of preaching , we see little of what might be called ” offer ‘ and much of what is called ” command . ” Men are commanded to lay down arms and surrender to God , who demonstrates his sovereign holiness in all his actions — creation , providence , and redemption — and promises of forgiveness encourage those who truly comply . The unabridged version of the gospel simply cannot be contained within the normal connotations of the word off .

    Grace cannot be “offered .” Grace is purely within the sovereign preogatives of God , and those who argue for the validity of offering grace place themselves in the postion which they claim is so presumptuous in the hyper-Calvinist . To offer grace is to determine human responsibility from a supposed knowledge of the divine intentions toward all men in particular . Those who argue for general atonement on this basis pursue the same erroneous line of thought . Neither the evangelist nor the sinner need have guarantees that grace accompanies their interaction for the responsibility of either to be established . It is enough that both know that God commands all men everywhere to repent an . Grace is the sovereign bestowment of salvific blessings. Its appearance among men is purely a matter of sovereign discrimination . Such an understanding is nothing less than historic evangelical Calvinism . An ” offer ” of grace presupposes a redefinition of the word grace .

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Dr. T. David Gordon in his book “Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers” (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009)
    “Some of the neo-Puritans have apparently determined that the purpose of Christian preaching is to persuade people that they do not, in fact, believe. The subtitle of each of their sermons could accurately be: “I Know You Think You Are a Christian, but You Are Not.” This brand of preaching constantly suggests that if a person does not always love attending church, always look forward to reading the Bible, or family worship, or prayer, then the person is probably not a believer…”

    The hearer falls into one of two categories: one category of listener assumes that the preacher is talking about someone else, and he rejoices (as did the Pharisee over the tax collector) to hear “the other guy” getting straightened out. Another category of listener eventually capitulates and says: “Okay, I’m not a believer; have it your way.” But since the sermon mentions Christ only in passing (if at all), the sermon says nothing about the adequacy of Christ as Redeemer, and therefore does nothing to build faith in Christ.

    “It is painful to hear every passage of Scripture twisted to do what only several of them actually do (i.e., warn the complacent that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven). And it is absolutely debilitating to be told again and again that one does not have faith when one knows perfectly well that one does have faith, albeit weak and imperfect…”

    “So no one profits from this kind of preaching; indeed, both categories of hearer are harmed by it. But I don’t expect it will end anytime soon. The self-righteous like it too much; for them, religion makes them feel good about themselves, because it allows them to view themselves as the good guys and others as the bad guys – they love to hear the preacher scold the bad guys each week. And sadly, the temperament of some ministers is simply officious. Scolding others is their life calling; they have the genetic disposition to be a Jewish mother.” (pp. 83-84)

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Gatiss argues that Calvinistic hypothetical universalism is, in the end, still a variant of limited atonement: Christ died effectually for the elect and only conditionally for the non-elect. The conditional intent for the non-elect is not in place of particular redemption for the elect (as in Arminianism), but in addition to or prior to this effectual atonement for those who will believe (For Us and For Our Salvation, 99).

    It is hard to see what concrete advantage accrues to the non-elect by saying Christ died for them upon the condition that they believe, when God does not in fact grant the gift of faith to any of the non-elect. This is the same point made by Dabney, whom Crisp employs in making the case for hypothetical universalism, when he observes: “To say that God purposed, even conditionally, the reconciliation of that sinner by Christ’s sacrifice, while also distinctly proposing to do nothing effectual to bring about the fulfillment of that condition He knew the man would surely refuse, is contradictory. It is hard to see how, on this scheme, the sacrifice is related more beneficially to the non-elect sinner, than on the strict Calvinist’s plan” (Systematic Theology, 520).

    Hypothetical universalism appears to do more for the Calvinist’s psyche than for the state of the non-elect.

  5. SAM JAMES Says:

    Does the passage on Emmaus of Luke 24 teach us Christian Hospitality?

  6. Luke Christian Says:

    Yes I have the same Question. The two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them and take the stranger to dinner with them. None of us would do this.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu–some forms of “passive reprobation” say that there is a hypothetical offer of salvation to everybody conditioned on their repentance/faith

    But the promise of the gospel is not of law

    the promise is not to “a sort of people”

    the promise is to the unconditionally elect, who are in time effectually called

    so there is not even a hypothetical offer of salvation to the non-elect

    “to as many as believe” ALSO means “if God effectually calls you

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 10:16 But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message?

    I John 3:23 Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us.

    Philpot: As for that religion which tells us we must rejoice, because believers are told in the Bible to rejoice always, it savors to me too much of man’s power and free will to be of God. The religion i want is of the Holy Ghost. I know nothing but what the Holy Ghost teaches me. I feel nothing but what the Holy Ghost works in me. . I believe nothing but what the Holy Ghost shows me. I only mourn when the Holy Ghost smites me. I only rejoice when the Holy Ghost reveals the Savior

    Philpot—But it may be asked–Do you then set aside the two great commandments of the law–“You shall love the Lord your God” etc.. and “your neighbor as yourself?” No, on the contrary, the gospel as an external and internal rule fulfills commands.

    So does this mean that there are no more commands?

  9. markmcculley Says:

    irst they say, there is no priority between Christ’s person and Christ’s work

    second they say, you must be united to Christ’s person before you can have the benefit of Christ’s work

    so they have contradicted what they said about person and work

    third I ask, but how can you be united to Christ without first being imputed with the righteousness which Christ obtained by the work of His death?

    how can the holy Christ live in you before you are declared righteous?

    how could the Holy Spirit regenerate you and give you life before you even share in Christ’s death?

    fourth is what is almost never said, well Jesus died for everybody, Jesus has available righteousness enough for everybody

    assumed but not said, election is not about Christ’s death but about who the Holy Spirit chooses to give to so they can exercise faith and then that makes Christ’s death work

    assumed but not said, if the Holy Spirit does not choose to give you faith, you can still be fairly condemned because at least jesus died for everybody including

    so jesus died to make if just for God to damn you?

    if Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be sovereign enough to damn you?
    If Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be both just and the one who condemns you?

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