Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Free Offer

Yesterday was the second day of the FP Theological Conference. Unfortunately, I was only able to take some summary notes of a paper by Rev. Allan MacColl on The Free Offer. This is my paraphrased summary and not verbatim so it gives a flavour and any mistakes are mine. I hope it is printed and if so this may whet your appetite.

He began by noting that although the language of the free offer is part of the fixed doctrinal constitution of presbyterian churches it is still controverted. That is in Westminster Confession 7:3
Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
He emphasised the Father's gift in this offer. [See also Larger Catechism 32, 63, 67 and 68]

The paper was divided as follows:

1. Outline of positions on the issue

2. Biblical grounds for the orthodox position

3. Objections raised against the orthodox position

1. Outline of positions on the issue

A definition of the free offer was given along the following lines (paraphrased).

The assertion that God in bringing good news through preaching invites all who hear to accept without reservation.

The offer is free since there is nothing in the sinner to merit or deserve it and no requirement for God to give it.

Thomas Boston defined different kinds of faith in his View of the Covenant of Grace. These include  the faith of Christ's sufficiency, the faith of the gospel offer, faith of our right to Christ etc

Historically this is only a controversy within Calvinism. Arminians do not have this controversy. Yet they have difficulty in relation to the genuine freeness of the offer. Is it divine free grace or human free will?

There are various views as follows

1. No offer can be given to the unconverted. Promises are for the elect only.

2. Offer is based on a universal atonement

3. Westminster position i.e. there is a free offer but not it is not based on a Universal Atonement

4. A free offer but with qualified extent

This issue at stake is the basic issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. How can a dead sinner be addressed in terms of responsibility? Must we limit any offer to the elect only?

1. No offer to sinners

Very few Calvinists hold to this position. Mainly 18thc English dissenters and some Dutch. Some believer that the offer was a privilege given to Israel uniquely as a covenanted people. They separate if off as an Old Testament or Jewish privilege. Yet if only Jews were to be exhorted to believe - how could the gentiles be gathered in? How could they lay hold of a salvation not offered to them?

The most extreme view within this overall position is that it is not the duty of the non-elect to believe.
Yet God can command duty from the non-elect e.g. God's moral law.  Arminians say God does not command what creatures cannot perform. These Hyper calvinists say that God cannot command what  they cannot perform. The hyper-calvinist view leads to the conclusion that the more wicked a man becomes the less responsible he is. 

He quoted John Bonar's sermon that said that God can blame and punish man for what they cannot fulfil. He can demand it. God cannot demand anything other than spiritual service.

God has in fact decreed and ordained what He requires.

He referred to Luke 11:13 and quoted Shedd to the effect that as the atonement offered indiscriminately so the Spirit also is offered.

An anti-duty faith position tends to reflect a particular view of the Church i.e. gathered congregation in which the only preaching is about marks of grace.

2. Offer based on universal atonement

This is the Arrminian and Amyraldian view based on a spurious universal atonement. Scripture, however, makes Christ's intercession and atonement coextensive.

This universalist view has no definite salvation to offer.

3. Orthodox view of the Free Offer
The doctrine of the free offer has survived mainly unscathed down through the centuries in Scotland.  The Marrow controversy only served to strengthen adherence to it. The main oppenent of the Marrow was called Hadow - he said that every man's duty was to believe but yet the offer should only go to the elect. It was emphasised that the Marrow does not advance universal atonement.

4. Qualified extent

He referred to 20thc views such as Herman Hoeksema. He argued that offer means to present not invite. The offer is not well meant but mere command. There are dangerous consequences for those lacking assurance. These have no access to an offered saviour until doubts are resolved.

2. Biblical grounds for Orthodox position
Is 45:22

Is 55:1, 7

Matthew 11: 28

John 6:37

John 7:37

Revelation 3:20

Revelation 22:17

These texts show that the wicked and unrighteous are addressed with a conditional promise offer of pardon.

Christ's ambassadors commanded to preach the gospel Matthew 28:28. There are no distinctions who to offer to.  The nature of gospel requires this offer. They are to persuade men to personal acceptance of the offer.

The irony is that those who deny the offer only came to Christ through it whatever may be their understanding of how it happened.

Optative verses

These are expressive of desire in terms of what pleases God. Deuteronomy 5:29; 33:29; Matthew 23:27. There is a lot of Anthropopathism and anthropomorphic language in them. Nevertheless they contain something of what is pleasing to God and consistent with His nature as One who hates sin. Ezekiel 33:11. The decree of God is not in view here but rather His preceptive will.

It is inaccurate to say that God desires the salvation of all men and there are not two contradictory wills in God. Turretin is helpful in that he says it is inconsistent to say that God could intend the salvation of those whom He has reprobated. But He still acts seriously in calling them to receive the offer. God delights in the eternal life of a sinner and therefore demands that he turn.

Preachers must preach the gospel with love and an earnest desire for hearers to be saved. They will not be more compassionate than Christ when they do. The Holy Spirit causes this love to their neighbour.

3. Objections
Some wish to find a basis for the offer or grounds of the offer in the atonement. This has produced baleful consequences. It is trying to square a theological circle. There was much controversy in the Victorian United Presbyterian Church on this. We are not to base the offer on the sufficiency of atonement but we can offer it as altogether suitable and infinite.

Matt 5:43-48. God's general love for all men can provide a motive although not grounds for the offer.

Primary purpose special love of god to elect

William Cunnigham said that we must keep our warrant for preaching the offer and God's warrant for giving it strictly separate.

We should base the offer solely on the command of the Word not inferences such as the atonement or nature of God.

He referred to the Warrants and Motives to believe in the Sum of Saving Knowledge
1. God's hearty invitation,
2. His earnest request to be reconciled,
3. His command, charging all to believe,
4. Much assurance of life given to believers, etc.,
He also referred to John Colquhoun's excellent book on saving faith and its definition.

Objection that bible passages do not apply to all men is probably the most powerful objection.
But this leads to emphasising a certain degree of conviction in order to embrace these passages e.g. as a convinced sinner. It is easy for subtle form of self-righteousness to enter. It must be a hope based on the promises not our condition or feelings. We must not limit the offer to exclude any. We must press on sinners their responsibility for what they do with the offer. God has ordained means they are to use them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Occasions of grace

If you have read much of the Puritans on the subject of sin and temptation you will be aware that often they speak of avoiding occasions of sin. These may be circumstances, things, people or something else that may tend to incite or entice a person to sin. They may be difficult to discern and identify. But it is absolutely necessary to avoid them. John Owen wrote that "occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable". But also that "temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before". Achan found that the sight of the gold and continued looking at it was an occasion to his sin (Joshua 7:21). Probably the most obvious instruction against occasions of sin is the Saviour's instruction in Matthew 5:29.

Thomas Brooks wrote that one of Satan's devices against believers is "making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin". Brooks gives various considerations as remedies:

A. Certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
B. There is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
C. Saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
D. To avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace

John Preston also emphasised that avoiding occasions of sin is a mark of grace. Just like we should never put an occasion to fall in the way of anyone else we should avoid it for ourselves (Romans 14:13). Perhaps the classic case of avoiding occasions of sin is Joseph in the house of Potiphar not willing to be in the presence of Potiphar's wife much less listen to her words. Jonathan Edwards has a powerful sermon on this. One of the things that he says is "we ought to treat God as a dear friend. We ought to act towards him, as those that have a sincere love and unfeigned regard to him; and so ought to watch and be careful against all occasions of that which is contrary to his honour and glory".

But this post is entitled occasions of grace. And it is Edwards who lends the instruction on this also.
endeavour to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement. We are to avoid being in the way of temptation with respect to our carnal appetites. Job made a covenant with his eyes (see Job 31:1), but we ought to take all opportunities to lay ourselves in the way of enticement with respect to our gracious inclinations. Thus, you should be often with God in prayer, and then you will be in the way of having your heart drawn forth to Him...[He then speaks about the Lord's Supper]…Live in the practice of these inclinations. If you long after God and Jesus Christ,  then often go to God and Christ and converse with them.
This is very helpful. You can have the double spiritual effect of helping to reduce your occasions to temptation and sin by increasing your occasions to grace. The sermon on Song of Solomon 5:1 is difficult to come by online but is reprinted in various books. I took these words from a daily devotional drawn from Edwards. Below is the manuscript of Edwards' sermon.