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Online Text Sermon - The Free Offer of The Gospel

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Free Offer of The Gospel (Northern Synod meeting, Tain)
Sermon ID1103

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The expressions 'Free Offer' and 'Free Offer of the Gospel' have come to have a reference to at least two things: (1) the work of the Christian minister when he preaches the gospel to sinners; (2) the attitude or state of mind of that minister when he so preaches the gospel. These two factors are closely related.

The way in which a preacher understands the theology which undergirds his work will have an effect on the way in which he carries it out. To be more specific, the preacher's attitude to God, to the character and purposes of God, to the plight of the sinner and his eventual destiny all have a profound bearing on the manner in which he will present the message of the gospel to his audience. This is one reason why the New Testament lays strong emphasis on the need for preachers who are admitted to the work to be well-instructed in the faith. A man's theology governs his preaching in every way, both in its content and its manner of presentation.

Definition: The 'Free Offer' may be defined like this:

The invitation given by a Christian preacher to all sinners to believe in Jesus Christ, with the promise added that if they do believe they will receive at once forgiveness of all sins and eternal life.

Implied in the concept of this 'Free Offer' are these ideas:

The 'Offer' made is for all who hear it, whether they be elect or not;


These are chiefly of two kinds:

We look at these in turn now.

(a) First objection: 'Faith is not the sinner's duty.'

This view has been advanced by those who argue that the sinner cannot be required to believe because he suffers from the bondage of his will. Ability, it is argued, limits obligation. The sinner cannot come to Christ and therefore faith is not a duty. If a sinner cannot believe, how can the preacher require him to believe? This is the argument. It is based on man's inability.

It is common for those who deny the 'Free Offer' for this reason to affirm that in scripture there is no such thing required of sinners as 'duty-faith'. Sinners are 'dead in trespasses and sins' and so they have no ability to believe. If they have no ability to believe then they may not be exhorted by the preacher to believe.

This is the position taken by the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists, whose origins are in eighteenth century England. Their influential writers include John Gill, the Commentator; William Huntington, SS; William Gadsby of Manchester, the Hymn-writer; J.C. Philpot. It has its advocates today, such as George M. Ella and Peter Meney.

The generic name for this view is Hyper-Calvinism. To differentiate it with the next objection I call it "English Hyper-Calvinism", since it originated as a movement in England in the eighteenth century.

I shall look in a moment at this viewpoint and offer reasons why I regard it as wrong. But at this point allow me to say that these views have always had a restraining or cramping effect on preachers. The tendency of this view of the gospel is to make the preacher cautious and hesitant for fear of presenting the gospel more freely than is proper.

(b) Second Objection: 'God gives no "well-meant" offer to any but to the elect.'

This view is associated with the Dutch American theologian of the twentieth century, Herman Hoeksema, the founder of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, of which the year of origin is 1924. The argument is this: God has elected some sinners to eternal life and reprobated others; therefore God makes no promise or offer in the gospel to any except the elect. Implied in this view are the following points:

The following statements are taken verbatim from the "Brief Declaration of Principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America". They affirm that they repudiate as errors these points:

"That there is a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate, manifest in the common gifts to all men."

"That the preaching of the gospel is a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all that externally hear the gospel."


(a) Gospel Standard Objection

Objection: There is no duty-faith.

Explanation: By this is not meant that the sinner has no warrant to believe that 'Christ died for him' but no warrant to believe till he is awakened.

Response: A sinner's inability does not limit his obligation to believe. The sinner's true position before God is that he cannot believe but he must. ("The gospel vice").

Since the gospel comes to the sinner as both invitation and command, it is the sinner's duty to believe. Repentance and faith are both the duty of all who hear the gospel. This form of Hyper-Calvinism is a type of new legalism, by which men and women are led to think that they must not believe in Christ till they feel conviction. But the effect of this is to focus the sinner's mind on the measure and degree of his own conviction, rather than on God's free offer of Christ to all who want him.

Books for further Study

"The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation" by Andrew Fuller (1785). The great missionary expansion under William Carey followed.
"Spurgeon v. 'Hyper-Calvinism'" by Iain H. Murray; published by Banner of Truth.
"The Gospel Offer is Free" by David H.J. Gay; published by Brachus (2004). This is the reply to George M. Ella's book "The Free Offer and the Call of the Gospel" (2001).

(b) Critique of the Protestant Reformed view

Objection: There is no gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all who hear the gospel but only to the elect.

Explanation: God's will is one, not manifest. If he has eternally elected some only to eternal life it is wrong to suppose that he gives a well-meant offer of salvation to any but the elect only.

Response: The fact is that the Bible does speak of God as liking, wanting and wishing all sinners to be saved. This is a matter of divine revelation as well as his eternal election. Both are stated as revealed facts in scripture.

The way to be obedient to scripture is, not to stress one truth to the detriment of another, but to hold both truths at the same time, i.e. we must affirm both God's eternal election and his well-meant offer to all sinners who hear the gospel. We are obliged to do this because this is how God himself reveals his will to us. Put simply, it is this: God has fixed the number of the elect from eternity past; yet God desires every sinner who hears his gospel offer to receive it and be eternally blessed in Christ.If the question is now asked, "How can both things be harmonised?", we answer: "In this life we do not know."

Here we face Paradox or Antinomy, i.e. it is an apparent contradiction. But to us in this life it seems to be so. God cannot really have two contradictory wills. But so it now seems to us. These are usually referred to as God's secret will and his revealed will.

The preacher's duty is not to stumble over this mystery but to be up and actively presenting Christ to sinners - to all sinners.


There is ultimately only one standard against which all doctrines are to be tested, namely the Word of God. However both groups, those who affirm and also those who deny the 'Free Offer', would lay claim to being biblical and orthodox. For this reason it is important to check these doctrinal positions against our Subordinate Standards and against the teachings of our most respected Reformed writers.

The Westminster Standards surely teach that there is in the gospel an offer of grace made to all who hear it, both to the elect and to the reprobate:

WLC 68: "Are the elect only effectually called?"
"All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit, who for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ."

The Westminster divines in this statement show that 'grace' is 'offered' to the reprobate in the gospel but wilfully despised by them.

This term 'offer' is found elsewhere in the Westminster Standards:
Confession 10:2: "This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man; who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it."

It is clear that the Westminster divines had no inhibitions over the concept of a call or 'offer' of salvation to the non-elect, as they state:
"Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ..." (WCF 10:4).

It cannot be non-Confessional or Arminian to believe in God's 'Offer' to all sinners because the Westminster divines write of those who in church hear the gospel that the 'offers' of grace by Christ [are] to all the members of it [the visible, not invisible church]." In these "offers" people who are in the pew, as they hear the gospel, are informed "that whosoever believes in him [Christ] shall be saved, and excluding none that will come to him" (WLC 63).

The following words are familiar to many of our people from childhood:

WSC 86: "What is faith in Jesus Christ?"
"Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel".

Similarly, our children learn to say that "effectual calling is a work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered in the gospel" (WSC 31).

I believe these quotations show that our Free Church of Scotland's position on the 'free offer' is one of affirming and confirming it as the way by which the preacher is to present Christ to the lost.


Those who deny the 'Free Offer' come to their view by drawing wrong inferences from the teaching of scripture. In general this takes one of two forms. For convenience, they may be called: (a) the English Gospel Standard Strict Baptist view; and (b) the Dutch view, especially as this relates to the teaching of Herman Hoeksema.

(a) The English form argues like this:

  1. Sinful man cannot believe in Christ because he suffers from the bondage of the will;
  2. But if man has no ability to believe, it cannot be his duty to believe.
  3. Therefore faith is not a duty of any sinner.

The way this is expressed by those who hold this view is this: they say that they do not believe in 'duty-faith'. The practical effect on the preacher is that he teaches his hearers, not to come to Christ at once as a duty, but to search themselves to see if they have a due sense of their need of Christ. So, typically, the sinner is made, not to look out of himself to Christ who is freely offered to him by God, but to look inwards to see if he himself is duly awakened, or has sufficiently repented yet.

How are we to assess this type of teaching? It goes wrong by drawing a false deduction from an acknowledged truth of scripture. It is true that man cannot believe. But it is unscriptural to affirm that man is not obliged to believe. Ability does not limit our obligation. God requires every sinner to do what Adam was able to do before he sinned. Faith is man's duty. The fact that a sinner cannot believe is an aggravation of his guilt, just as it is an aggravation of every drunkard's guilt that he cannot give up his habit of addiction.

This type of bad reasoning on the part of English Hyper-Calvinists fails to see that there is a great difference between physical inability and moral inability. A cripple is not under obligation to walk; but an unbeliever is under obligation to believe in Christ, who is freely available to him as a Saviour.

Physical inability and moral inability are of a very different kind. A crippled man is not guilty for his infirmity as a wilful unbeliever is. The sinner's inability to believe arises from his perverseness. He cannot believe because he does not wish to believe in Christ. The sinner's inability is the bondage of his will.

So the true position we are to hold to is this: The sinner who hears the gospel cannot believe but he must. We refer to this as the 'gospel vice'. The preacher is to hold the sinner in the grip of this vice till the sinner cries to God in self-despair. It is at this point that God bestows saving grace. God is always ready to hear the sinner when his cry is, "Lord, save me or I perish." So the preacher must not offer Christ with any kind of reservation because he rightly understands that sinners have no ability to come to Christ.

(b) The Dutch way in which the 'Free Offer' is denied.

The problem is the same but the starting point is different:

God, who can do all things that he wills to do, has eternally elected some sinners to glory and passed by all others to suffer wrath.But, since God has willed not to save all, he cannot be said to desire or wish the salvation of any but the elect only. So we must not present the gospel to sinners at large in a way that implies that God makes a well-meant offer of salvation to any but to the elect.

We can see the force of that kind of reasoning. It has the appearance of being sound doctrine. After all, how can God be said to 'offer' salvation to those whom he has eternally willed not to save by an unchangeable decree of Reprobation? Surely, what God desires and sincerely offers is the same as what he eternally decrees, or determines? Put simply, the view here is this: How can God be said to desire what he does not decree? Is this not to make two wills in God? And how can he consistently make an 'offer' from God of Christ to the non-elect? If God had wanted them to be saved, he would have elected them. In that he has not so elected them God has shown surely that he has no love for the reprobate, that he gives nothing to them as a matter of grace (not even 'Common Grace'), and that he makes no well-intentioned 'Offer' of salvation to them when they hear the gospel preached. So the argument runs.

How are we to view this 'Dutch' way of denying the 'Offer'?
I regret to say that I believe it to be a departure from scripture - for this reason, that it presses human reason and human logic too far. To say that God's secret will is to save only the elect is, I agree, entirely true. But is it also true to say that God does not 'desire' the salvation of all men? I do not believe so. There are obvious passages of scripture which teach otherwise:

  1. 1 Tim. 2:3-4: "God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved" (Gk. thelo). I consider the meaning to be here that God desires all to be saved, even those whom he has not decreed to save. (For fuller discussion, see "The Gospel Offer is Free", David Gay, p. 75.)
  2. 2 Pet. 3:9: "The Lord is not slack... but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (Gk. boulomai). I believe Peter to announce here that God is not willing that any sinner, elect or otherwise, should be lost. (Again, see David Gay, p. 76.)
  3. Ezek. 18:23, 30-21 & 33:11: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and live?" "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, said the Lord God." Here we see God declaring that he would rather all sinners repented and were converted rather than that they should die in their sins and be eternally lost.

Where do these and similar texts bring us to? To this conclusion, that God reveals in the Bible -

There are two things here which appear to be in conflict:

  1. God's will of decree, and
  2. God's will of desire. (The Greek words thelo and boulomai can properly be used of both God's will and his wish, or desire.)

The danger is to start to reason like this, "God cannot possibly desire all men to be saved, or else he would have decreed them all to be saved. As God's will is one and undivided we must say that God both wills and desires the same thing." This is how some do argue. But the error is to use human logic so as to obscure the clear testimony of God's Word.


The problem we face is this. God's revealed will appears to conflict with his secret will. God appears to desire some things which he does not decree.

We must accept that both are true. This is a paradox, or antimony. Call it an apparent contradiction even, if you will. But both are revealed in scripture. If we are challenged to reconcile the secret will and the revealed will we must simply say, "We cannot". In this life we do not know how both can be true. But the Bible informs us that both are true. God's secret will elected some from eternity and passed by others. Yet he truly and really desires all who hear the gospel to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. It is pleasing to God when they do and it affords no pleasure to God when they do not believe.

I believe we can say just a little more. God is not only sovereign, but also constitutionally good, benign and affectionate. Such a God cannot but wish the best for his immortal creatures. But for reasons we do not understand, he has seen best to decree the eternal good of only some. Yet in this life God shows sinners very much kindness and even love, both in his daily providence and, more still, by offering them life in Christ. As a good judge, when sentencing a criminal to life imprisonment or death, so God passes sentence on the wicked. He must uphold the claims of justice, but he has no pleasure in passing sentence on them. So it is, surely, with the Almighty God. He would rather send men to heaven than to hell because he is by nature and constitution benign, kind and good.

It should not therefore upset us to say that God loves all sinners. By this we do not mean that he loves them with an electing love. But there is a love and goodness in God which he expresses in this life to the reprobate who hate him.

For God to 'offer' freely and sincerely both pardon and eternal life by Christ is the very highest expression of this love in God. The 'offer' is free and it is well-meant. If some sinners reject this 'offer' their blood is on their own head. They will die in their sins; but God has no pleasure in their death.


"God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined he is to pity." John Calvin

"The invitation to the wedding proposed in the parable (Mt. 22:1-14) teaches that the king wills (i.e. commands and desires) the invited to come..." Francis Turrettin

"From the very end of Christ's coming, it is evident that Christ is very willing and desirous that sinners should come unto him and be saved and refreshed by him. What was the end of Christ's coming? Matthew 18:11: 'For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.' Were not all lost in Adam? Are not all under the curse of the law?" William Greenhill (Westminster Divine).

"So oft as the Lord sends forth his ministers with offers of mercy to a sinful people, as oft is he lovingly calling them to come unto him." David Dickson

"Know then O unbelievers... as ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead be ye reconciled to God... O sinners! what hearts have ye, if ye can refuse the desire, the supplication, the entreaties of the whole Trinity? All the love of the Father, all the grace of the Son, and all the blessings that are enjoyed by communion with the Holy Ghost, all plead with you for compliance. Can ye refuse us then O sinners, O rocks, O hearts harder than rocks?" Thomas Halyburton

"His will as revealed... is an undoubted indication of what He wished or desired that men should do... In some sense, God wishes, as he commands and enjoins, that all his rational creatures should ever walk in the ways of holiness; and that all men, doing so, should be for ever blessed." William Cunningham

"God has unfolded for one and all alike the terms of reconciliation: He is willing, nay desirous, for his glory's sake, that men should everywhere embrace them; and for this end has committed to his church the ministry of reconciliation, charging it upon the conscience of her members to strive and pray that all without exception be brought to the saving knowledge of the truth." Patrick Fairbairn

"God desires the salvation of all men. This means... that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all and that his tender mercies are over all his works." Charles Hodge

"The sacred writers represent the common call as prompted by the compassion of God to the sinner, and expressive of his sincere desire that he would hear it." W.G.T. Shedd

Did Spurgeon believe God desires the salvation of all sinners? Indeed, he did! Hear him on 1 Timothy 2, 3-4:
"It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he wills it with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved. He willed to make the world, and the world was made: he does not so will the salvation of all men, for we know that all men will not be saved...

"What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I think 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.

"Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word 'wish' gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus - 'whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth'. As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are.

Then comes the question, 'But if he wishes it to be so, why does he not make it so?' Beloved friend, have you never heard that a fool may ask a question which a wise man cannot answer, and, if that be so, I am sure a wise person, like yourself, can ask me a great many questions which, fool as I am, I am yet not foolish enough to try to answer. Your question is only one form of the great debate of all the ages - 'If God be infinitely good and powerful, why does not his power carry out to the full all his beneficence?' It is God's wish that the oppressed should go free, yet there are many oppressed who are not free. It is God's wish that the sick should not suffer. Do you doubt it? Is it not your own wish? And yet the Lord does not work a miracle to heal every sick person. It is God's wish that his creatures should be happy. Do you deny that? He does not interpose by any miraculous agency to make us all happy, and yet it would be wicked to suppose that he does not wish the happiness of all the creatures that he has made.

He has an infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite omnipotence; and if anybody asked me why it is not, I cannot tell. I have never set up to be an explainer of all difficulties, and I have no desire to do so... I cannot tell you why God permits moral evil, neither can the ablest philosopher on earth, nor the highest angel in heaven."


His Last Sabbath Vol IV Memoirs of Dr Chalmers 1847

Re Extent of the Atonement

There are what are called Baxterian errors, I am aware, and one of these is in relation to the extent of the sacrifice of Christ; Baxter, I think, holding that Christ died for all men. Dr Chalmers answered "yes: Baxter holds that Christ died for all men; but I cannot say that I am quite at one with what some of our friends have written on the subject of the atonement. I do not, for example, entirely agree with what Mr Haldane says on that subject. I think that the word world, as applied in Scripture to the sacrifice of Christ, has been unnecessarily restricted; the common way of explaining it is that it simply includes Gentiles as well as Jews. I do not like that explanation, and I think that there is one text that puts that interpretation entirely aside. The text to which I allude is, that "God commandeth all men, everywhere to repent."' Here the Doctor spoke of the connexion between the election of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the freeness of the offer of the Gospel. He spoke with great eloquence, and I felt as if he were in the pulpit, as some of his finest bursts rolled from his lips. "In the offer of the gospel", said he, "we must make no limitation whatever. I compare the world to a multitude of iron filings in a vessel, and the gospel to a magnet."

My theology is that of Jonathan Edwards

Institutes of Theology Extent of the Remedy

P404 - 405
There must be a sad misunderstanding somewhere. The commission put into our hands is to go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven, and the announcement sounded forth on the world from heaven's vault was, peace on earth, good-will to men. There is no freezing limitation here, but a largeness and munificence of mercy boundless as space, free and open as the expanse of the firmament. We hope, therefore, the real gospel, is as unlike the views of some of its interpreters as creation in all . . .

We hope you may now understand that there is nothing in the doctrine of Predestination which should at all limit the universality of the gospel offer, and that in spite of that doctrine it is still this offer, honestly and affectionately urged on the one side upon each and upon every man, and received on the other in the very sense and character in which it is propounded - that is the great practical engine of all the success which Christianity meets with in the world.

P406 - 7
The advocates of universal redemption are quite at one with ourselves as to the reception which the universal offer should meet with from all men. It should meet with universal acceptance, and should be pressed too on universal acceptance. We are quite at one with them in what may be termed the practices of Christianisation. We only differ from them when we come to speculate on the results, and connect these either with the processes of cause and effect or with the preordinations of a God of whom we conceive that He foreknows all and overrules all. We agree in respect to the part which man has to do with the question. We differ in respect to the part which God has to do with the question. There is not an Arminian or Universalist who contends more zealously than we for the duty of the preacher to urge the offers of the gospel upon every man, and the duty of every man to accept of these offers. God has made the salvation of the gospel universal in point of proposition: the fault is man's if it be not universal in point of effect.

There never was a more injudicious management than to mix up the doctrine of election with the first overtures of the gospel, as if this would give a more pointed and particular application to them, instead of which it is the direct road to a darkening of the whole message and making the application of it impossible.

We strip our religion of its moral efficacy if we do not so represent it. It is not a limited, it is a universal offer in the gospel which is the instrument of every particular conversion. This is not superseded by the system of necessity.

God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, holds for the very same overtures to both, and the only distinction is that it is not responded to in the same way by both. The command on both to believe is alike imperative. The entreaty for both to return is alike importunate. The love wherewith God loved the world so as to send His only begotten Son into it, ought to be urged on both these inhabitants of the world - in the very same style on entreaty and unreserved assurance - and that for the purpose of awakening in them the same confidence, and calling for the same gratitude for the good-will from heaven thus manifested to the one just as it is to the other.

The Memoirs of Dr Chalmers Vol I Wm Hanna

1827 Appendix p529

The natural inability of man to accept the offers of the gospel no more supersedes the duty of the offerer than the impotency of the withered hand superseded the command of our Saviour that it should be stretched forth. Power was given in this instance along with the command, and it is given still along with the preaching of the gospel. Do, my dear Sir, continue to preach it freely, universally, urgently. It is well that you feel the impotency of the preacher's voice. But the inference from this is not that you are to chill, in obedience to any worthless dogma, the warmth and earnestness of your preaching; but it is that to preaching you must add prayer. Throw yourself upon God for the success of all your ministrations, while you suffer nothing to blunt the force or the fervour of these ministrations, and He will add the efficacy of His Spirit to the testimony of His word.

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