Thomas Boston’s Offer—Grace is a Right Even for the Non-Elect But God won’t Enable Them to Accept It
Two peculiar doctrinal statements were especially at the heart of the Marrow controversy. The first concerns the preaching of the gospel to all men indiscriminately—what the Marrow men describe as the “offer” (rather than the “call”). According to the Marrow theology, in the preaching of the gospel God in Jesus Christ, “God moved with nothing but his free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life” .
As confusing as the language is, specifically, the phrase, “deed of gift and grant,” it is evident that the statement intends to teach God’s would-be love to all humans who hear the preaching on the condition that they believe. Implied in this statement is the doctrine that Christ died for all humans without exception. The church must “go and tell every man, without exception, that here is good news for him! Christ is dead for him! and if he will take him, and accept of his righteousness, he shall have him”.
The language is odd . “Christ is dead”? And Christ is dead for every human who hears the gospel? Not: “Christ died for every human.” But: “Christ dead for every human.” Contrast this confusing statement concerning the extent of the atoning death of Christ the clear language of the Canons of Dordt— For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father, etc. (Canons of Dordt, 2.8).
If what orthodox Reformed theology regards as the external call of the gospel is, in fact, a gracious deed of gift and grant of Jesus Christ to every human who hears the gospel, , Christ must have died for all mankind lost, for every human without exception.
This fundamental statement of the Marrow theology is false on its very face. Christ is not dead! He is not dead in relation to anyone, including the elect. He died, in the past. But Christ is NOT dead. Christ is alive, having risen from the dead. In order to introduce into Reformed churches the doctrine of universal atonement (in support of their heretical teaching of the “offer”), without exposing themselves to the charge of teaching universal atonement, as would have been the case had they explicitly stated that the church may say to every human, “Christ died for you,” the Marrow men resorted to linguistic subterfuge: “Christ is dead for you.” This is despicable theology,
The Canons of Dordt make plain that the “offer” does not mean a gracious effort on God’s part to save all who hear, in view of a love of God for all hearers and with the desire to save them all. Head one of the Canons confesses the eternal non-election of some humans in a
hatred of God for them. Head two confesses that Christ died for the elect alone, according to God’s lasting love for them. Heads three and four confess that the saving call of the gospel, that which has its source in God’s election, is for some hearers of the gospel, not for all without exception.
With regard to the Marrow’s assertion that the gospel is a deed of gift and grant to all who hear, head two of the Canons teaches that Christ “purchased” for the elect, not only forgiveness and eternal life, but also faith itself (Canons 2.8).
The non-elect unbeliever does not have a warrant to believe in Jesus Christ. He does not have the ability. But neither does he have the right. Faith in Jesus Christ is a privilege, a right earned for the elect by the death of Jesus. “Warrant” implies right. The non-elect hearer
of the gospel has the DUTY to believe in Jesus, but he lacks both the ability and the right. This truth demolishes the theology of the Marrow.
If God in the gospel lovingly offers salvation to all humans without exception, on the ground of Christ’s death for everyone, Christ is not the whole savior. But the sinner himself, by his acceptance of the offered Christ, is instrumental in his own salvation. Indeed, the whole Christ is dependent upon the sinner’s acceptance. The Arminians call this acceptance “free will.” And the Marrow Calvinists call this acceptance “regeneration followed by instrumental faith”. But in both cases, Christ is not the savior because what God does to make the sinner accept Christ is the most fundamental part of salvation.
According to Thomas Boston. the offer is God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ to all who hear the gospel, including those who are not saved by the gospel. It is not a gift to effectually save anybody, but in such a way as to make Jesus available to all those God predestined to be in the same room with gospel preaching. . Boston uses the example of the gift of money to a poor man: “Even as when one presents a piece of gold to a poor man saying, ‘Take it, it is yours’; the offer makes the piece really his in a sense nevertheless, while the poor man does not accept or receive it, it is not his in possession, nor hath he the benefit of it; but, on the contrary, must starve for it all, and that so much the more miserably, that he hath slighted the offer and refused the gift”
Boston comments— This giving, which in light of I John 5:11 is certainly gracious on God’s part, does not, however, put anyone in possession of eternal life. It merely makes it possible for humans to take possession”of eternal life. This giving of eternal life by God in the offer is not to and for the elect, but to and for all who hear the gospel, including those who may be reprobate, and perish. The party to whom eternal life is given by the offer is not the election only, but mankind lost.” In the offer, there is a giving of Christ and salvation to many where there is no receiving, for a gift may be refused.”