Hyper-Calvinism, Rationalism, and Anti-Predestinarians

By definition, “hyper-Calvinism” is that doctrine which goes “beyond” (hyper) Calvin. Often, however, it is used incorrectly by critics of predestination to describe anyone who believes in reprobation. If teaching reprobation makes one “hyper-Calvinist” then Calvin would be “hyper-Calvinist” and that’s just silly.  Justin alerts us Phil Johnson’s response to the allegations about “hyper-Calvinism” emanating from the recent John 3:16 conference. Phil is right. The free offer of the gospel is at the center of the question. Let’s be clear here. Believing in predestination and reprobation does not make one a “hyper-Calvinist.” Denying the free-offer of the gospel does.John Murray wrote one of the best defenses of the free offer in recent times. I first posted Murray’s essay on the free offer about 8 years ago, so there is no reason why anyone at the John 3:16 conference could not know about that stout, exegetically rigorous defense of the free offer made by an equally stout confessor of absolute, double predestination and limited atonement.

Donald John MacLean has been writing about the free offer for some time and I’ve published an essay, in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, attempting to explain why real, honest-to-goodness hyper-Calvinists don’t accept the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel and what the theological basis, within confessional Reformed theology, is for the free offer.

Those predestinarians who deny the free offer usually do so because of some form of rationalism, i.e. they’ve set up things so that, unless they can provide a comprehensive explanation of how something works, it can’t be. Thus, because they can’t see how God can both predestine the elect and the reprobate and freely offer salvation to all, they conclude that it cannot be. They reject mystery. In contrast, the mainstream of orthodox Calvinism, including Calvin, has always embraced the mystery and paradox of the free offer. The Synod of Dort (whence the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism”) embraced this mystery:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons of Dort, 2.5)

Indeed, in my essay, I show that there is a connection between the rationalism of the hyper-Calvinists and the rationalism of Arminius and the Remonstrants (with whom apparently at least some of the speakers at the John 3:16 conference identified).

Ironically, the “evangelical” universalists and the “hyper-Calvinists” (we should speak of “hyper-predestinarians”) deserve each other! The universalists can’t see how it is that God can freely and genuinely offer the gospel to all unless it is the case that Christ actually died for everyone who ever lived and unless it is that Christ’s death has made it possible for all to be saved if they will only do their part. Methodologically, in both cases, what their nets can’t catch aren’t butterflies. The limits of their intellects are the limits of what God can or cannot do.

Orthodox, confessional Calvinism doesn’t limit God by the limits of our comprehension. We understand that God transcends our ability to comprehend Him. We may be wrong, but we really do believe that we’re following God’s Word when we confess both that God has known his elect from all eternity and that He reprobates some by passing them by and that Christ died for those whom the Father gave to him from all eternity (pactum salutis) and that God has ordained that the gospel of free salvation through faith alone (sola fide), by grace alone (sola gratia), in Christ alone (solo Christo) should be preached and offered freely to all as a “well-meant” offer of the gospel.

Further, confessional Calvinism teaches what it does, not because of some rationalist a priori about the way things “must be” or on the basis that “we all know that….” Rather, we teach and hold what we do because we believe it is taught in God’s Word. I wasn’t raised a confessional Calvinist. I was raised a Unitarian Universalist. I know this movement from the inside. Those folks are the rationalists. They are those who begin with the a priori about what can and can’t be about the way things work, and it is they who make deductions from their premise, and it is they who impute their way of thinking to us. This is nothing other than projection. We don’t operate like that. Our faith is full of mystery of paradoxes to wit, the holy Trinity, the two natures and one person of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility (who has flattened out that one but the anti-predestinarians?), the free offer, the true presence of Christ in the Supper, and means of grace (the Spirit operates through the foolishness of Gospel preaching) and that’s the short list.

How can we do it? We do so because we distinguish between the way God knows things and the way we know things. As I’ve argued at length in Recovering the Reformed Confession, this “categorical distinction” is fundamental to Reformed theology. In fairness to the critics of Reformed theology at the John 3:16 conference, many contemporary Reformed folk seem to have forgotten this distinction (hence the book) so we understand a little why critics might not know about this distinction. Nevertheless, it has been basic to Reformed theology from the beginning. Calvin articulated it very clearly as did the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy.

I have not listened to the lectures from the John 3:16 conference, but I have seen some of the fallout on the web and I have had lots of discussions with anti-predestinarians. I must say that, in most cases, I am more than a little disappointed with the poor scholarship on the part of many of the critics. They do not seem to know even the basics of Reformed theology. Here’s what I think happens—I have good reason for thinking thus: a college or seminary student hears an uninformed lecture about Calvin and Calvinism. The lecturer has not done due diligence, and the old Socinian and Remonstrant caricatures of Calvin or Calvinism are repeated as fact, and that distorted picture becomes the basis for a lifetime of thinking about Calvin and Calvinism. I’ve heard such lectures, and I’ve read them.

About a decade ago, the learned Baptist historian William Estep published a remarkably ignorant, misleading, and even bigoted essay in the Baptist Standard of Texas.  In this essay Estep repeats some of the most tired anti-Calvin bromides. I was shocked not that Estep rejected Calvin and Calvinism. I’m used to that. We’re part of a tradition in which tens of thousands were killed in one week in 1572. If you’re not ready for rejection, don’t become a Calvinist! I was not prepared, however, to see such a public display of gross ignorance about historical matters that could be corrected by doing the most basic research. If a senior scholar such as Estep was willing to publish this stuff, what must he say to his students? The thought of the hundreds and perhaps thousands of students who had been seriously misled about the nature of Calvinism by ill-informed lectures, for whom that might be their only exposure to Calvinism, was truly disheartening. I was and remain thankful for Roger Nicole’s gracious response.

I don’t expect anti-predestinarians to like my theology. I don’t expect them to agree with me, but I do reasonably expect them to be able to represent my theology accurately and to understand how I read the Scriptures and what the history of Reformed theology actually is, and what I actually confess. The amazing thing is that it is now so easy to find out what we actually believe. Indeed, it’s never been very hard. How difficult is it to read the Heidelberg Catechism? How hard is it to find out what actually happened in the Servetus case? (check out the bizarre discussion in the comments to Tom Ascol’s post!)

The great irony in all this is that, in American religion and religious studies, the anti-predestinarians are the overwhelming majority. The SBC may “only” be 6 million souls but I guess the overwhelming majority of them are not predestinarian. At most, the NAPARC churches count only 600,000 souls and probably fewer. Of the 60 million evangelicals in the USA only a handful are predestinarian. We’re a tiny minority. Why on earth do the critics in the SBC such as Estep and others find a handful of predestinarians so threatening? Who is attempting to drown whom here? Who, metaphorically, is turning whom over to the authorities for punishment?  Is it the mean old predestinarians or the peace-loving universalists? On what basis? The reaction of the anti-predestinarians appears to be driven by fear and ignorance and that’s a shame because it is so easily remedied.

Update 10 Dec 08

To my hyper-Calvinist friends and correspondents (see the combox below), I was reminded by a post on Reformation Theology by John Samson, of this verse: “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The English verb “to desire” translates the Greek verb which is usually translated “to will” (θελειν). Against the free or well-meant offer, it has been argued that we cannot speak of God’s will in two aspects or in two ways, that we must speak univocally. Univocity, however, assumes an intersection between the divine and human intellects, and that is, of course, a form of rationalism. It’s not Reformed theology, which is premised on the Creator/creature distinction.

Further, if God’s will can only be spoken of in one sense then we would become universalists! Nevertheless, we must deal honestly with God’s Word and recognize that, given the hiddenness of the divine decree, there is a genuine and true sense in which God must be said to will the salvation of all. It is in light of this sort of biblical language that the Reformed faith has historically taught the substance of what has come to be called the “free” or “well-meant” offer of the gospel.

The real issue here, as I argued in the essay in the Strimple Festschrift, (do the opponents of the Free Offer ever read anything but their own in-house stuff?) is not really what God’s Word says. The real question is why opponents of the Free Offer reject out of hand exegetical arguments for the free or well-meant offer? The answer is because they reject the premise on which that exegetical work is done, and the framework within which historic Reformed orthodoxy has read Scripture, namely, that all divine revelation is accommodated to human finitude, and that we humans have only analogical knowledge of God. Because of that fact, we cannot go behind the revelation of God in Scripture to some other a priori truth by which to leverage Scripture, and that Scripture reveals God as not willing the death of sinners. So God has spoken and so we too must speak to sinners, knowing that Scripture also says that the same God works sovereignly and freely through the preaching of the gospel to call his elect to faith in Christ. Praise God for his mercy and for his means of grace!

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  1. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Just a minor quibble. SBC has 16 million members, not 6 million. You are right. Most of them are not predestinarian. They probably have neither heard of or read the works of their early theologians (e.g. Boyce, Dagg, et. al.). Except for their Baptist distinctives, I think most of what these theologians have written about will be welcomed by confessional Reformed folk.

    I had doubts about the free offer myself in the past. But I now confess that there is no inconsistency in holding to it on the one hand, and affirming election and reprobation on the other. Thanks for posting.

  2. Albert,

    Well, that depends if you are counting dead people, “non resident” members, and the rest who are considered legitimate to our membership. Dr. Clark’s 6 million number, if SBC churches were consistent on the standards of membership, is right on (maybe even a little high). Anecdotally, I have discovered a handful of SB churches who have 20,000+ “inactive” members in each of their churches.

  3. Rafael,

    There is a debate in the SBC as to what the real membership is but I think the actual attendance is something like 6 million hence the number. I deleted your second comment as uncharitable. You certainly can’t know what you claimed. That belongs to the Lord, don’t you think? You don’t want to give ammunition to the anti-predestinarians do you? You don’t want to live up to their caricatures of predestinarians do you? I don’t think so.


    See Timmy’s comment above. I think 6 million is the number that Mark Dever uses. Still, 6 million is three times the size of the PCUSA or the ECUSA 6 times the size of all of NAPARC and 1/10 of all “evangelicals” in North America.

  4. Did John Gerstner deny that God freely offers salvation to all, including the reprobate? I read part of the introduction to John Murray’s essay, and I was surprised. I know of how close R.C. Sproul and Gerstner were.

    And how does God offer salvation to all, including the reprobate, if they are or were in areas where the gospel was not preached? I ask because as a person of Mexican descent, I think of my ancestors who were in the “New World” before anyone ever came over with the gospel. To my knowledge, the gospel has only been in the Americas for about five hundred years. Would it be a stretch to say that everyone before the gospel was preached was among the reprobate? Perhaps Murray answers some of these questions in his essay.

  5. Alberto,

    This is a very difficult question. This is partly why the Synod of Dort used the expression, “to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.” They were conscious of the fact that there was, to them, a “new world” out there (the Americas) to which the gospel had not yet gone widely.

    Of course we must trust the wisdom and goodness and justice and mercy of God. My approach to the problem is not to speculate about the fate of those who’ve never heard. I have my own opinion (I’m not a universalist) but I think the Synod was judicious. It should spur us on to advance the mission of the church, however!

  6. Hello Dr. Clark … the claim of “being too rational” was also used by the critics of Dr. Gordon Clark … namely Vantil, Stonehouse, and Murray. That is sadly … the default position… to advocate being irrational and illogical in defending the free offer. Rational and logical truths from the Gospel are hid in the closet … while irrational and illogical imaginations are advocated along with the usual appeal to paradox, mystery, and apparent contradictions within the Gospel to defend this sacred cow of the well meant offer/free offer.

    I do confess that the Gospel must and will be preached and should be preached indiscriminately to all men. The Gospel truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is a sharp two edged sword … a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death. The Gospel when preached in truth … rationally and logically… as the Gospel is …. softens the heart of the elect and hardens the heart of the reprobate … always has. Some are blinded and some are made to see the light.

    What Scripture rejects is that Jesus Christ … in the Gospel has a well meant intent to actually offer salvation to the reprobate to whom that Gospel truth is preached. Jesus does present the Gospel to all men indiscriminately, but Jesus does not “offer” reprobate vessels of dishonor the opportunity of salvation for them to possibly accept.

    It is no small wonder that John 3:16 is mentioned in this regard. Man by nature is an utter arminian (me too) and there just so happens to be modern day arminians parading around as supposed reformed calvinists in so called reformed churches. Wolves in sheeps clothing. For God so loved the world … ah yes… the love of God for all men head for head … how dare any sound christian deny that God loves all men. But you will hear crickets in the same epistle of John 17:9. Please understand my hesitation on allowing the free offer to stand uncriticised and in effect being railed on as a hyper calvinist by someone who in effect aligns with an arminian.

  7. Ray,

    I fear that you misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with being “rational.” I’m not sure it’s possible to be “too rational.” That’s not the problem. The problem is in failing to distinguish between what God knows and the way he knows it from the way we know things. It’s failing to uphold the basic Reformed doctrine of distinguishing between the Creator and the creature. I discuss this at length in the materials to which I referred readers above.

    The Synod of Dort saw no contradiction between definite atonement and the promiscuous, free, well-meant offer of the gospel. Again, I demonstrate that in the essay in the VanDrunen volume linked above.

    The question is not whether God is sovereign or whether Christ died only for the elect. These are non-negotiable biblical and Reformed doctrines. The question concerns the administration of the gospel. How should we address people? Should we say, “Whosoever will may come?” with the understanding that, out of the mass of damnable humanity. God has unconditionally elected some who will respond to that invitation with faith and repentance? That’s all we’re talking about.

    Your allegations of crypto-Arminianism are unfounded and uncharitable and grounded in misunderstanding.

  8. Dr. Clark … I do not understand why there needs to be an appeal to distinguishing between the Creator and the creature here unless the intent is to come up with an excuse for the Free Offer to be legit. Christ most certainly makes sense in what He says and it is easily understandable and makes sense by his elect because they have been given the power of God to believe. You center upon the “administration” of the Gospel. If the preacher does not preach the doctrines of predestination, election and reprobation, or limited atonement but rather contradicts them … then their is no administration of the Gospel … but the vain philosophies of men.
    My problem remains that those who are advocating the Free Offer mean that salvation is offered to the reprobate in the Gospel preaching. I have no problem to preaching and evangelising the Gospel to all men without discrimination. Maybe you yourself do not buy into this but most do and they do so on the basis of God’s common grace and also on the basis of God’s love for all men head for head.
    I hope you understand why I cannot advocate this. 1st because God does not love all men head for head, and 2nd because God’s grace is ever and only sovereign and particular and bestowed upon the elect alone. This does not make it impossible to preach the Gospel to all men indiscriminately to all … it is for those very reasons the Gospel should be preached regarding Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It surely does make it impossible to preach that God sincerely desires the salvation of the reprobate, when it’s clear He does not.

    I am sorry you think me uncharitable , but a sincere love for God and neighbor also involves speaking and defending the truth of the Gospel even when it is not instant in season. I know what I am by nature and without His power I would still be blinded to what He has preached in the Gospel.

  9. Ray,

    You don’t understand the appeal to the Creator/creature distinction?

    I have one question for you: Where were you when God spoke into nothing and from nothing but the power of his own sovereign Word and created all that is?

    See Job 38.

  10. No Dr. Clark …I do not understand why this is used to prop up the Free Offer.

    Maybe you could explain that because I think you use it to defend the idea of contradictions in Scripture along with appealing to paradox and mystery. 1st Corinthians 2 talks about mystery.

    You stated:Let’s be clear here. Believing in predestination and reprobation does not make one a “hyper-Calvinist.” Denying the free-offer of the gospel does.

    This is what I have a problem with and why I will call you on it. I have told you already I have no problem with the Gospel being preached to all indiscriminately … I have a problem with the administration of those who believe that God in the preaching has a desire for the salvation of the reprobate and offers the reprobate salvation via the Gospel. Salvation then becomes dependant upon the creature and not the Creator because then faced with this well meant desire by the Lord… the reprobate reject salvation … and Christ is there wringing His helpless hands , making salvation possible for the reprobate but there “will” is the deciding factor after all is said and done.

    Do you believe in common grace?
    Do you believe that God loves all men head for head?
    Do you believe salvation is dependant upon the creature?

    If your sincere in what you claim about wanting to recover the reformed confessions … you will reject all 3 above quite easily.

    As for your irrelevant question … I was within the determinate counsel of my covenant keeping and loving Triune God from before the foundation of the world.

  11. Ray,

    In the VanDrunen volume I explain why you’re having trouble with the Free Offer. You should read that essay. You should also read chapters 4-5 of RRC where I deal with this at length.

    It’s not a question of what has decreed. It’s a question how God reveals himself and how, as a consequence of that self-revelation, we should speak to others.

    It’s not a matter of propping. It’s a matter of beginning where Scripture begins and where Reformed folk have always begun. Read the essays and chapters. You may not agree but I think that, at least, you’ll better understand the questions.

  12. As to salvation being dependent upon the creature, no confessional Reformed minister advocating the Free Offer believes that. I think you know that. If you don’t well now you do. That sort of rhetoric is not helpful Ray.

    If you want to see what I teach regarding predestination you can follow the links I gave above. You should certainly do that and read the essays on predestination and limited atonement before you ask foolish questions.

  13. You may not like it … but you will have to admit that these are the default positions of those who consider themselves reformed and calvinist and defend the Free Offer.

    I do not mind reading books … I do not have time for reading excuses.

    Now it seems you want to give credance for a love of God for all men head for head … no doubt coming up with excuses why head for head maybe wrong terminology … glad to hear you reject free willism … and I hear crickets with respect to common grace. Yet 1 out of 3 would still make you sypathetic to arminian theology and easy to understand why you advocate the Free Offer.

    Are you a Billy or are you the Pastor?

    Billy: “Pastor, does God love everybody?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy” (smiles, pats him on the head).

    Billy: “How come it says in Romans 9 that he hated Esau?”

    Pastor: “Been reading your Bible, huh, Billy?” (still smiles). “Well, the Bible also says that God hates, but that only is talking about God’s secret decree, and as far as we are concerned, he loves everybody.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “If God tells us about his secret decree, is it still a secret?”

    Pastor: “Er, well, I guess . . . not, Billy, but I meant that we should realize that there is a way the Bible talks about God’s love for everybody, and that’s what we should think about, not the one or two places where it says God hates.”

    Billy: “Oh. How is it that God loves everybody?”

    Pastor: “Well, he gives everybody rain and sunshine, and he blesses the people of the Earth with a conscience so they know right from wrong, and he has given them many gifts which they use to make the world a better and safer place to live.”

    Billy: “Then he sends most of them to Hell?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “Is it love for God to give people good things for a few years to make them feel comfortable and worthwhile, and then send them to Hell?”

    Pastor: “Well, I . . . yes, it . . . is, I think because it would have been worse if, I mean it would be, um, well, it is, I guess, because he did not send them directly to Hell, but he allowed them to experience his goodness and his provision for his creatures. . . .”

    Billy: “Is it love to let someone experience something good they will remember forever and always hate God for, because that good thing they loved more than forgiveness?”

    Pastor: “Could we change the subject, Billy? I am not sure my answers are satisfying you.”

    Billy: “O.K., Pastor. Did Jesus die for everybody?”

    Pastor: “Why, sure, Billy.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “If Jesus died for everybody, why isn’t everybody going to Heaven?”

    Pastor: “Well, Billy, it’s because not everybody will accept him.”

    Billy: “But, Pastor, I thought Jesus saved us. You are telling me that we save Jesus.”

    Pastor (laughing nervously): “Of course not, Billy! I believe that Jesus saves us completely! However would you get the idea that I believed we save Jesus?”

    Billy: “Well, Pastor, you told me that Jesus died for everybody, and that only those who accept him will be saved. So, this means Jesus’ death and resurrection, what Jesus does, cannot save us of itself, but something more is needed, and that something more is what we do by accepting him. For those who do not accept Jesus, they will perish. That means that Jesus’ dying for them cannot help them. In fact, it means that Jesus’ work for them was a miserable failure. On the other hand, those who accept him make his work effective by their acceptance—they save his work from being a failure. Without us, Jesus and his work of salvation would be doomed! If Jesus cannot save us without the permission we give of our own free will, then we are the real saviors, and Jesus is the one we save! Wow! What would he ever do without us?!”

    Pastor: “Er . . . uh . . . that’s not what I mean. I mean if, it is , I said . . . no, I believe Jesus is the one who does the saving, Billy, it’s just that . . . God has made it so that we . . . are free to acc . . . meaning, we are, are . . . Billy, the Bible is mysterious. It seems to mean certain things, but it doesn’t really, like it says . . . you are using logic, Billy. The Bible is not logical and the truths are not something we can fit into our human minds.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor (now showing a slight frown): “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “When you say the Bible is not logical, does that mean the Bible does not make sense? ‘Cause you made sense when you said the Bible wasn’t logical. I think it was because you used logic that you made sense.”

    Pastor (now glowering at Billy): “No, Billy, I didn’t mean the Bible does not make sense. It does make sense, but just not our kind of sense.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “Why would God give a Bible to us that did not make our kind of sense?”

    Pastor: “Well, Billy, it’s not that . . . I think it’s . . . it makes sense, just does not give us the answers we like to hear, and says things that seem contradictory but really are not, to keep us from asking smart-aleck questions.”

    Billy: “So, God doesn’t make our kind of sense to keep us humble?”

    Pastor: “That’s right, Billy. God wants to keep us humble, so he does not let us think we can be absolutely certain about the things some proud people are certain about.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor: “Yes, Billy.”

    Billy: “Are you certain about what you just said to me?”

    Pastor (showing obvious irritation): “What do you think, Billy?”

    Billy: “I think you just called yourself a proud person, but I don’t know why, ’cause you are so smart and know so much about God, and how much he needs us.”

    Pastor: “Billy, why don’t you go out and play, like the other children?”

    Billy: “Why should I go out and play, when I can stay in here with you and learn how to save God?”

    Pastor: “You need to be careful, Billy. I never said we save God. You are the one who said that, remember. I simply believe our choices are significant, and God does not treat us like robots. He created us to have true human responsibility.”

    Billy: “Pastor?”

    Pastor (now looking quite angry): “This will have to be the last question, young man! I have important things to do and you should be outside playing.”

    Billy: “When God put Abraham to sleep, was he telling him what he thought of his ‘human responsibility’?”

    Pastor (seething): “I have a bad headache, Billy, and I can’t answer any more of your questions, but I can tell you this. Whoever has been teaching you has been telling you things a boy your age should not even be thinking about. It sounds like you have been learning some kind of hyper-Calvinism! You better be careful, young man!”

    Billy: “I don’t know about hyper-Calintisim, but I have been reading these things in the Bible. Thanks for straightening me out. I will try to cut these bad parts out. Can I borrow some scissors?”

    Pastor (rising from his chair): “Get out of here, you, you, you . . . !”

    Billy: “That’s O.K., Pastor. I’ll ask Joey. He was using some good scissors when we were cutting out our ‘friends with Jesus’ pictures for Sunday school. Good-bye.”

  14. Ray,

    I’m not crazy about the term “common grace.” I agree with the substance of the Three Points of Synod Kalamazoo (1924), however. Those points are basically sound.

    So, Kees Van Til (CVT), Murray, Stonehouse — they’re all “Arminians”?

    There are a whole series of links above.

    Is there a distinction between providence and predestination? Can we regard people as sinful creatures? Given that we don’t know whether one is elect or

    So, no Reformed orthodox theologian has ever said that there’s some sense in which God can be said to “love” the reprobate? If he said it, he’s an Arminian, right?

    Do you know who the reprobate are?

  15. Dr. Clark, you and I are too far apart here for any agreement. I made my points , you have probably seen them before. I scan your blog from time to time and came upon this article, which seemed to stand unchallenged.

    I can understand your not interested in rehashing points you have made in books. I do pray that you continue to preach the truth of predestination – election and reprobation … reprobation tends to get swept under the rug.

    I have 2 things I will give you … if you have time to can look them over.

    The first is by Prof. Herman Hanko where he deals with the “History of the Free Offer”. It may be you have read this already.


    Also , this past October … Rev. Angus Stewart was interviewed along with Rev. T. Ramsey dealing with “arminism/calvinism” in the U.K. … you can view it on You Tube.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond,

  16. Ray,

    I’ve read that piece. It was written in 1989, I think. In the piece I wrote for the VanDrunen volume, I interact with PRC writers at length. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons I wrote the piece. I have been quite discouraged at the response it received among PR readers. It was a “well-meant” and good faith attempt to engage the PRs and there’s been no serious, thoughtful interaction with it from PR quarters. The published review was mere venom. The PRs are welcome to their distinctive views but if they want to be considered part of the larger Reformed tradition, they have to take that tradition more seriously than they have thus far. I hope you’ll read the essay for yourself.

  17. Larger reformed tradition ? … as expressed in the last 30 years? No thank you … the reformed tradition of the last 30 years is nothing but blantant arminianism infiltrated in the majority of so called reformed churches.

    I went and had a look at the review and I now see why your discouraged with the PRC. You were firmly admonished for the written work you tried to pass off as reformed theology and doctrine. It seems Prof. Engelsma had some admonishment for you. Maybe you are above admonishment from an elder Professor. You were asked something:
    “I propose a simple test for Clark and all those who share his theology of preaching. Compare the well-meant offer with the Arminians’ conception of preaching as that conception was stated by them at Dordt in Articles 8-10 of “The Opinion of the Remonstrants regarding the third and fourth articles, concerning the grace of God and the conversion of man.” And then compare Hoeksema’s theology of preaching with the Reformed doctrine of preaching as outlined and condemned by the Arminians in the same articles of this “Opinion.”

    Maybe if your serious about interaction … answer that question and send an email to Prof. Engelsma. You would do well to learn from him. Is there any men that you actually interact with over at the PRC seminary? Any ministers? Maybe that is why your lacking serious, thoughtful interaction you hope for… when it is one on one.

    As for reading the essay … I will trade you … mail me a copy of the volume and I will mail you any one book from the RFPA you would like to read.

  18. Ray,

    I’ve read the RFPA stuff but you haven’t read my essay. You can get the VanDrunen volume for free from any public library (via inter-library loan) or via other private (seminary) libraries.

    When I say “broader” I mean from the last 450 years!

    The PR fellows are aware of my essay and chose to publish a nasty, fairly thoughtless review in their journal. I take it that they aren’t much interested in engaging the history of Reformed theology on this question because it threatens a PR distinctive.

  19. It seems odd to claim the PRC does not engage in the history of reformed theology on this topic when in fact I recently referred to you the article from Prof. Hanko which you said you read. The article is titled “The History of the Offer”.

    It is one thing to disagree with what was stated there by Prof. Hanko … but to state that the PRC is not much interested is plainly not true … you said you read that article … then how can you really mean to say … the PRC is not interested?

    Did it ever really occur to you that the well meant offer/free offer has and continues to threaten Reformed theology? You make that point somewhat with those who are anti predestinarian but advocate the well meant offer/free offer. You related to a recent John 3:16 conference where you deemed critics of anti-predestination-election/reprobation of not knowing reformed theology all that well.

    To sum up … those who advocate the well meant offer/free offer and those who are anti predestinarian are both guilty of adulterating confessional reformed distinctives.

    Both have the same basis – sympathy for arminian theology which corrupts confessional reformed theology.

    I doubt you have read all the RFPA “stuff” 🙂 pick a book any book and I will trade …

  20. 1. You haven’t even read my work. How can you make pronouncements in admitted ignorance?

    2. Making historical claims isn’t the same thing as serious historical research.

    The PR view, since Rev Hoeksema, has been that we must know what God knows, the way he knows it, in order to know anything. Reformed theology rejects that notion categorically. Reformed theology distinguishes between theologia archetypa and theologia ectypa. Hoeksema rejected distinction as making God into a “Janus.” Hoeksema rejected a fundamental Reformed doctrine in order to posit his rejection of the free offer. This is nothing if not rationalism.

    You’re right. We won’t agree and perhaps cannot because you proceed from a rationalist a priori which I cannot accept. I am bound to the Word of God and to speak as God’s Word requires and as we confess in ecclesiastical documents and in our classical Reformed theologies.

  21. Hi to everyone,

    Pastor David Silversides of the Loughbrickland RPCI deals with the free offer in one of his articles which may be read here:


    As its title suggests, he maintains that the free offer is both Biblical and Reformed. Near the end of the article, Silversides directs the reader to the “Sum of Saving Knowledge” by David Dickson and James Durham which shows what the Westminster Standards meant with the words “offer” and “free offer.” He argues that these words do not mean what people like Hoeksema (and the PRCA) think they mean. This is something we all should well consider since the Westminster Standards are REFORMED documents!

    Large portions of the “Sum of Saving Knowledge” may be read here:


    Pastor Silversides has a sermon on this here:


    In the combox section, he explains that the problem with those who deny the free offer is,

    “Assume absolute predestination and the free offer are incompatible. 2. Quote Scripture and Reformers teaching absolute predestination. 3. Conclude that Scripture and Reformers are opposed to the free offer. The falsehood lies in point 1. The free offer is an expression of God’s common grace (ie. those blessings he bestows in this life on elect and reprobate). That they result in greater guilt does not alter their nature as blessings.”

    I think that sums up the crux of the debate. Those who believe in the free offer affirm that there is nothing incompatible with co-existence of the free offer, and God’s decision to elect and reprobate.

    Thanks again for posting.

    P.S. Btw, Alberto and I are two different people. We are not related.

  22. Dr. Clark,

    While I agree that Hoeksema and the PR unfortunately deny the orthodox and confessional free offer – that God seriously promises/offers salvation to all who repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ – I do not think it can be argued that their opposition/objection to Murray’s version of the free offer is upon the basis that ‘we must know what God knows the way he knows it’.

    Rather Murray, due to confusion/equivocation, among other things, about Christ’s human and divine nature and his statements in Matt. 23:31, teaches that the free offer is a manifestation of an unrequited/unfulfilled desire of God for the salvation of all men/the reprobate.

    But one, if this unfulfilled desire truly is “archetypal”, it is categorically unknowable on our part.
    Two, as sovereign and omnipotent, God has no unfulfilled desires, if not that three, as impassable, he does not have emotions, passions and desires like men.

    In other words, to posit an unfulfilled desire that the reprobate are saved beyond the preceptual will, but that is not of the decretive will, is confusion. It borders on, much less partakes of the Amyrauldian compromises in attempting to bridge the differences between the orthodox and the Arminians. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the PR beef with Murray’s version of the offer.

    Further, Clark and the PR were concerned that if God is wholly the other and unknowable/incomprehensible, then the alternative according to Van Til and his analogical knowledge might seem to be skepticism, much more the liberalism which insists that man is so far beneath the transcendent God that he cannot and will not descend to our level, whatever the Scripture or Christ might say to the contrary.
    Yet if it is granted our intellect and knowledge cannot/does not ever intersect with God’s, still at some point, God’s knowledge/revelation must “descend” and intersect with our intellect and knowledge in order that what we know, even ectypally, is a genuine and true knowledge of God.

    In conclusion the debate is both confused and polarized with the PR denying both the confessional free offer and Murray’s version of the same, while the other side affirms both. Not to be Hegelian, but the truth in this instance partakes of both. The confessional free offer:yea; Murray’s free offer: nay.

    It is also commendable that PR remind us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation Rom. 1:16. If it wasn’t, no one would accept the free offer and we of all men, would be most miserable and still dead in our trespasses and sins.

    Thank you.

  23. Bob,

    Analogical knowledge isn’t “Van Til’s” it’s THE REFORMED approach to the question. Before you make up your mind I hope you’ll read the essay in the Strimple Festschrift where I offer a good deal of evidence to support this claim.

    The distinction between the way we know things and the way God knows things is essential to Reformed theology. Clark and Hoeksema explicitly rejected this distinction and they did so on rationalist grounds. Hoeksema looked the distinction in the eye and rejected it categorically. In so doing he cut himself and his followers off from the Reformed tradition on an essential point.

    Murray did not equivocate. Analogical knowledge is a third way between equivocation and univocal knowledge.

    I also defend this distinction in a chapter in RRC.

  24. Dear Dr. Clark:

    It appears to me that a defense of the Free Offer is being made here primarily (although certainly not exclusively) on two general grounds that I will summarize as Reformed tradition and Rationalism.

    First, in regards to the Reformed tradition, if this matter of common grace and free offer was so well-established by Reformed confessions, then why did not the CRC only appeal to them? Rather, at least as far as common grace is concerned, the CRC felt compelled to set up a new Reformed confession in 1924 in order to justify their action of ousting three CRC ministers from the CRC (which three ministers later formed the Protestant Reformed Churches a/k/a “PRC” or just “PR”) over this matter.

    Second, in regards to Rationalism, one should not set up a straw dog. The PRC have 20 articles at their web site on just “Common Grace and The Free Offer of the Gospel”. (As a side note, how many articles does the PCA or any other Reformed denomination have on this subject at their web site?) Here is the link. http://www.prca.org/pamphlets_and_articles.html#CommonGrace
    Anyone can read any of their articles there immediately for free. One can see there both the Scripture and Reformed confessions used by both sides of the issue. It is not helpful to just conclude that the PRC’s position is outside of Reformed tradition and too rationalist.

    Hyper-Calvinism is a label that too many sling when they are unable to defend their position with specific Scripture and with specific references to specific Reformed confessions.

    I grew up in the CRC and my great-grandfather was William Heyns, who was a Calvin Seminary Professor who wrote The Manual of Reformed Doctrine and who was one of the principles of the CRC during this time of 1924. I had every motivation to support common grace including the free offer. But, I came to the conclusion that there is no common grace and no free offer from my study of Scripture and Reformed confessions comparing the citations and arguments of both sides.

    In summary, the PRC deserves the respect warranted by the importance that they attached to this specific matter and its willingness to be ousted from the CRC over this specific matter. The PRC deserves the respect warranted by the fact that the CRC felt compelled to adopt a new Reformed confession in 1924 in order to deal with these three CRC ministers who later formed the PRC. They knew that an appeal to Scripture or existing Reformed confessions was insufficient. The PRC deserves the respect warranted by its 20 articles on this specific matter at its web site.

    In conclusion, it is not helpful for one to just generally allege that their position is not within the Reformed tradition or generally allege that they are too rationalist or even generally that allege that a position is in their book. One may come up with a different conclusion after reading some of the 20 PRC articles and other articles and books out there. But, the conclusion should come from a study of specific Scripture and specific Reformed confessions, not from a general allegation of Reformed tradition and Rationalism, nor from my own conclusion. Thank you.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Bill Hornbeck

  25. Dear Bill,

    I appreciate this post and your family heritage! I don’t use the term “rationalist” lightly. I don’t sling “hyper-Calvinist” around lightly. I came to those conclusions after reading a good deal of PR lit. I went back and read the original documents around the 1924 discussions and I agree that there was a good deal of politics involved but I also think that there were some important theological principles involved. I’m not crazy about the term “common grace.” I think it’s probably infelicitous. We used to speak of “providence.” That’s probably sufficient.

    If you’ll check out the essay you’ll see substantial interaction with Hoeksema and G. Clark and others.

    My interest is not in labeling folks, however. My interest is in helping the Reformed Churches recapture a profoundly important distinction, between the way God knows things and the way we know them, in order to get back our proper orientation.

    If you can’t or won’t read my essay then at read Polanus and Wollebius (it’s in English) for yourself, read Junius, and all the other authors I cite and from whom I learned this important distinction. You can also see this same sort of material summarized in vol 1 of Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics or in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

  26. Mr. Suden you stated: “While I agree that Hoeksema and the PR unfortunately deny the orthodox and confessional free offer – that God seriously promises/offers salvation to all who repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ “.

    Whoa just a minute here …

    If you reread my statements … you will find I stated no such thing … I did state a number of times … “What Scripture rejects is that Jesus Christ … in the Gospel has a well meant intent to actually offer salvation to the reprobate to whom that Gospel truth is preached. Jesus does present the Gospel to all men indiscriminately, but Jesus does not “offer” reprobate vessels of dishonor the opportunity of salvation for them to possibly accept.”

    Clarification is needed here between those who “repent and believe” and the “reprobate” … I’ll not let such confusion just slip by … I hope you can appreciate …why. Election and Reprobation – sovereign predestination. Only the elect will “repent and believe” and salvation is not only presented to them in the Gospel … it is attained for them …In Christ Jesus and Him crucified…. alone. Salvation is of the Lord.

  27. Thank you for your response, Dr. Clark,

    While I would agree that properly understood, analogical knowledge is the reformed position, it is really immaterial to my comments. (Neither do I think either Van Til or Clark were too clear about it at the time.)

    Rather my point again is that for Murray to assert that the free offer is an unfulfilled desire – which is beyond the preceptual will, but not of the decretive will -in God that all men/the reprobate are saved is confusion, much more amyrauldianism.
    Again, to the best of my knowledge, that is the PR objection to Murray’s version of the FO, analogical knowledge notwithstanding.
    Again/for that matter if the free offer really is indicative of an archetypal desire on God’s part, it is categorically unknowable/unassertable by Murray.

    Further Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9 and Matt. 23:37, Lk. 13:34 are the major passages or “Scriptural Basis” in Murray’s argument. Yet his exegesis and exposition of these same passages is a wide departure from that of Calvin, Knox, Turretin, Owen, and the Geneva, Dutch and Westminster Annotations. Time and time again, these commentators and commentaries contradict Murray’s comments and conclusions on the relevant verses. Could Murray’s exposition be right. Possibly, but it is highly doubtful.

    Yes, I have read your essay. As I said before it has the most thorough bibliography of any article I have seen on the topic pro or con.
    Yet again, the crux of the matter was missed. Even if Clark and Hoeksema were wrong on the archetypal/ectypal distinction – and I’ll grant you they were – Murray’s exegesis/exposition doesn’t have much, if any reformed historical background or foundation and is therefore highly questionable. That is a different matter entirely and in light of which, a charge of rationalism is insufficient to positively establish the orthodoxy of Murray’s version of the confessional free offer.
    Thanks again.

  28. Bob

    Are you sure Calvin’s exegesis of these verses is really that different from Murray’s?

    Of course different reformed theologians have understood these particular verses in different ways. Some (e.g. the great Puritan Thomas Manton) would basically sign up to all of Murray’s exegesis (it would be good for opponents of Murray to admit this) others most of it and some to only parts of it. (For myself I would have included some verses Murray excludes e.g. Rev 3:20 and probably excluded others). But however much some reformed theologians sometimes differed over the exegetical base for what they were proposing I don’t think the reformed churches ever ceased to confess the sincere and free offer of the gospel (e.g. WCoF 7:3).

    There are two other points I think need to be borne in mind. 1) We need to read the whole tradition and not just a few reprinted works to really understand what was going on. E.g. Sedgwick’s sermons on Rev 3:20 should play just as important a part as Owen’s early works. 2) We must read these old writers in the context of their overall theology (e.g. as set out in Dr. Clark’s essay) and not just cherry pick their exegesis of certain verses because it supports “us”. I am not accusing anyone here of this but I have seen it repeatedly in print and on the internet.

    Every blessing

  29. Dear Dr. Clark:

    Thank you for your gracious reply. Although we do disagree on this issue, you do have a commendable passion for helping the Reformed Churches.

    To draw a comparison, we do have to be aware of the use of literal and figurative language in the Bible. Although Christians have plenty of disagreements as to whether the meaning of a particular Scripture is literal or figurative, almost all of us knows that there is both literal and figurative languages in the Bible. So, as a layman with that understanding, I can begin to understand such similar Rationalism argument (based on “profoundly important distinction, between the way God knows things and the way we know them”).

    My concern is that when one uses different terms (such as Rationalism) not as familiar (even though they may be justified by being more specific or more applicable), it tends to abruptly end the argument and unfairly win the argument for the one using them. My concern is also that both literal/figurative arguments and Rationalism arguments can undermine Scripture. Instead of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) by which we compare Scriptures, we just label the Scripture as figurative or the conclusion as based on Rationalism. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

    I also do appreciate references. It is too time-consuming and too prone to error to repeat or summarize arguments carefully and skillfully built in a long article or book.

    I suppose for the limited purposes of this blog, we can only whet the reader’s appetite for the issue so briefly discussed therein. I also do recognize that there are Scriptures that can be used to support both sides of the issue.

    I will conclude with one Scripture to whet the appetite of the reader for further study (even though I understand that it is insufficient by itself to convince the reader), that is often repeated throughout Scripture, that is one of the reasons why I deny the free offer.

    “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,
    And David says,

    Here are other similar verses at this link –
    Click here: BibleGateway.com – Passage Lookup: Deut 29:4; Is 29:10; Matt 13:13

    Yes, we have the duty to preach the Gospel to all.
    No, in sending forth the Gospel, God does not show grace to all nor with a “well-meant” desire to save them all.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Bill Hornbeck

  30. Hi Bob … you stated “Further Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9 and Matt. 23:37, Lk. 13:34 are the major passages or “Scriptural Basis” in Murray’s argument. Yet his exegesis and exposition of these same passages is a wide departure from that of Calvin, Knox, Turretin, Owen, and the Geneva, Dutch and Westminster Annotations.”

    Well said. All I can do is shake my head when theologians … men who ought to know better … quote these verses in support of the Free Offer, God’s love for all men, or common grace. These are the same texts the arminians used to vindicate their positions with the reformers.

    One that especially makes me as disgruntled as a rugged Francicus Gomarus and swat someone up side the head is the arminian interpretation of Matthew 23:37.

    Hoeksema was spot on when he deals with the adocates of the Free Offer:

    “For it is more especially about the reprobate and their salvation that the complainants are concerned. Strange though it may seem, paradoxical though it may sound, they want to leave room in their preaching for the salvation of the reprobate. For the sake of clarity, therefore, we can safely leave the elect out of our discussion. That God sincerely seeks their salvation is not a matter of controversy. To drag them into the discussion of this question simply confuses things. The question very really concerns the attitude of God with respect to the reprobate. 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? And these, too, may be called by different names, such as, the impenitent, the wicked, the unbelievers, etc.
    The answer to this question defines the difference between Dr. Clark and the complainants sharply and precisely.
    The complainants answer: 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 the 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.
    That, in thus formulating the difference, I am not doing an injustice to the complainants is very plain from their own words. They say that in the preaching of the Gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to the reprobate, that He has no pleasure in their rejection of the offer, that he would have them, the reprobate, accept the Gospel, and that he would have them be saved. Besides, it is in this sense that they interpret Ezekiel 33:11: God has no pleasure in the death of the reprobate, he would have them live; and 2 Peter 3:9: God does not will that the reprobate should perish, but that they all come to repentance; and Matthew 23:37: Christ would have gathered the reprobate under his wings; and 1 Timothy 2:3, 4: God our Saviour will have all the reprobate to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth (13, 14). And it is with the doctrine of universal salvation in mind that they write: ìThe supreme importance for evangelism of maintaining the Reformed doctrine of the gospel as a universal and sincere offer is self-evidentî (14).
    Now, you might object, as also Dr. Clark does, that this involves a direct contradiction: God sincerely seeks the salvation of those whom He has from eternity determined not to save. Or: God would have that sinner live whom He does not quicken. Or: God would have the sinner, whom He does not give faith, to accept the gospel. Or: God would have that sinner come to Christ whom He does not draw and who cannot come.
    You might object that this is not rational.
    But this objection would be of no avail to persuade the complainants of their error. They admit that this is irrational. But they do not want to be rational on this point. In fact, if you should insist on being rational in this respect, they would call you a ìrationalist,î and at once proceed to seek your expulsion from the church as a dangerous heretic. The whole Complaint against Dr. Clark is really concentrated in and based on this one alleged error of his: He claims that the Word of God and the Christian faith are not irrational. According to the complainants, to be reasonable is to be a rationalist. They write that the trouble with Dr. Clark is that

    his rationalism does not permit him to let the two stand unreconciled alongside each other. Rather than do that he would modify the gospel in the interest of reprobation. [This, you understand, is a slanderous remark. – H.H.] Otherwise expressed, he makes the same error as does the Arminian, although he moves in the opposite direction. The Arminian cannot harmonize divine reprobation with the sincere divine offer of salvation to all who hear; hence, he rejects the former. Neither can Dr. Clark harmonize the two, and so he detracts from the latter. Rationalism accounts for both errors [13].

    To accuse the complainants of irrationalism is, therefore, of no avail as far as they are concerned. They openly admit – they are even boasting of – their irrational position. To be irrational is, according to them, the glory of a humble, Christian faith.
    We shall, therefore, have to prove to them that in their claim that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate in the preaching of the Gospel, they not only contradict themselves, but they directly contradict Scripture.
    And this we hope to do, not because Dr. Clark is in need of our defense, but because we are interested in the pure Reformed truth, and cannot allow it to be camouflaged and corrupted by some self-confessed irrationalists.
    But before we proceed to do so, we must prove two things: 1. That the position of the complainants is not irrational as they claim, but involves an Arminian conception of reprobation. 2. That their argumentation on this point in the Complaint is very superficial, and characterized by many errors.
    In this issue, we will have room to elucidate only point 1.
    After all, even though the complainants themselves insist on being irrational, we will have to deal with them according to the rules of logic. If they refuse to be treated rationally, they really forfeit the right to present a complaint to any assembly of normal Christians. And treating them as rational human beings, we must insist that they do not and cannot possibly accept the proposition: God sincerely seeks the salvation of those whom he has sovereignly from eternity determined to be damned.
    In other words: I know that they claim to believe this, but I deny their claim; I do not accept it.
    Hence, I must try to rationalize their position for them. How can any man, with a show of rationality, insist that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate? Only when they define reprobation as that eternal act of God according to which he determined to damn all those whom he eternally foresaw as rejecting the Gospel.
    In other words, I insist that the position of the complainants, as soon as you reject their claim to irrationalism, is purely Arminian. And their irrationalism is only an attempt to camouflage their real position.” The Clark-Vantil Contorversy.

  31. Ray,

    You keep confusing “rational” with “rationalism.” When I use the adjective “rationalism” I mean, in this case, the claim made by Hoeksema, G. Clark, and others that we can know something (anything) the way God knows it. This has been demonstrated to be flatly contrary to classic Reformed theology.

    Further, you claim a list of historic Reformed writers, but you actually quote Herman Hoeksema! This is very telling. It is also a classic case of “begging the question.” You assume what you set out to prove and then you cite a writer, whose connection to the tradition is in question, as proof of the connection.

    This is why scholars who actually read the Reformed tradition find Hoeksema and others implausible because Hoeksema, as I’ve shown, looked the Reformed tradition, on this question of rationalism, full in the face and rejected it as “Janus” theology.

    Contrast this with Calvin and Junius and the difference is clear. On these very closely related points, the free offer and analogical theology, Van Til was much more faithful to the tradition and so was Murray.

    We can and indeed must speak of the free offer because we cannot, contra Hoeksema, crawl behind God’s self-revelation, to some other basis for knowledge of God’s will. We recognize that God’s decretive will is eternally fixed but, as mutable, finite humans (finitum non capax infiniti) we are not capable of knowing what God knows the way he knows it. We don’t know whom God has elected and reprobated. Thus we speak, on analogy with Scripture, the way God speaks to sinners.

    The gospel is not a demand to repent and believe, as Hoeksema would have us think, it is an announcement of good news, that Jesus Christ is God the Son in the flesh, that he came for sinners, that he obeyed for sinners actively and passively all his life, and that his obedience is imputed to all who trust him.

    We are required by God’s Word and the Reformed faith to preach that gospel freely and to invite sinners freely knowing that behind that free, well-meant, offer of the gospel lies the eternal, immutable, sure decree of God to bring all his elect to justification and salvation sola gratia et sola fide.

    Ironically, you end up doing the very thing you hate. You end up committing the same sort of rationalist mistake that Arminius made and you end up agreeing with Klaas Schilder! You do it in different ways but you both confuse the decree with the administration of the covenant of grace. That’s the great irony. You attack Schilder for saying “all or nothing” or “head for head,” and I quite agree that Schilder’s reformulation of covenant theology was quite odd, unhelpful, and idiosyncratic but so was Herman Hoeksema’s! Herman and Schilder deserve each other. See Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry where this is discussed at length.

  32. Dr. Clark … I do know what God knows and I know it because He says so in His Word and by the power of His Spirit I can spiritually discern that which you so piously maintain is mystery and paradox.”For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God”. I can confidently say this on the basis of my Savior Jesus Christ and Him crucified … the gift of faith which He gives to all the elect and the elect alone. Lord’s Day 7 is clear what true faith is…. and it is no mystery or paradox or maintaining 2 wills of God.

    You assume too much. Do you think I would be so confident in answering you if I had not read much on the topic at hand. Do you assume that I blindly follow Hoeksema? Do you assume this is just some PRC thing? I have read articles and books that have dealt with the Free Offer and everything else that is attached to it. You also had opportunity to quote Calvin or other historic reformers yet your crutch to me is Murray and Vantil. I do not blindly quote Hoeksema for no apparent reason … I quote him because he dealt directly with the arminian babble you and Vantil, Murray, RB Kuiper, Stonehouse put forth (your parroting their vain complaints to Dr.G. Clark) and soundly showed how pathetic your remonstrant argumentation is. Of course your going to rail on me because I am showing just how contradictory your defense is. If arminians were actually logically consistent … they would no longer be arminians.

    Now you speak of God’s decretive will ….as opposed to what? Are you advocating that there are 2 wills of God? I have read the history … I am not surprised by yet another contradictory tactic.

    Then you proceed to drive some sort of wedge between the “command to repent and believe” and the “good news”. Let me simply say … there is no wedge … it is simply your vain imagination to vindicate a weak doctrinal point. The “sinners” you talk about in your 6th paragraph above… are the “elect” and I can say that confidently by the language you have used to define them…. surprisingly … I did not have to be omnipotent and sovereign to know their eternal destination to say that 🙂 I dare you to state that by your definitions these are the “reprobate”.

    you stated: “We are required by God’s Word and the Reformed faith to preach that gospel freely and to invite sinners freely knowing that behind that free, well-meant, offer of the gospel lies the eternal, immutable, sure decree of God to bring all his elect to justification and salvation sola gratia et sola fide.”

    Wow, how convient NOT to mention the reprobate … just the elect here. I noticed you stated “decree” here and not “the decretive decree”.No doubt I’ll be asked the question again ad nauseum if I know who the reprobate are 🙂 I wonder if you have been so confused as to think that Esau was really not hated by God but rather loved less.

    If that is not enough … then you claim I am an arminian rationalist and state that I agree with Schilder… and on what basis? …. why God’s sovereign decree and God’s covenant of all things. Again your driving a wedge where no wedge exists Dr Clark. I guess you… Dr. Clark (not Dr. G Clark .. let’s keep that straight too please 🙂 ) have all the right answers while those who lived these controversies and built upon them are obviously wrong and pig headed. You have some nerve. Maybe you ought to read or re read The Clark-Vantil Controversy. Oh that’s right … Hoeksema wrote it so it does not matter a pig’s ear.

    If you have something fresh from historic reformers (notice I said reformers not arminians parading as reformers…) that directly relates to the advocacy of the Free Offer with which to instruct and teach me, which opponents of the Free Offer have surprisingly not seen and read… I will be glad to see it and read it if you present it here.

  33. Ray,

    You and I know what God reveals but we don’t know what God knows the way he knows it. No mere creature can know that. According to Reformed orthodoxy — what do they know? — even Jesus’ human nature did not have what we used to call archetypal theology. If you’ll do a little prescribed reading you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. In his person Jesus was said by the older writers to have archetypal knowledge, but not in his human nature. Indeed, it was the Lutherans who taught that his human nature has archetypal knowledge.

    I think, judging by your answers, that you are well read in the Hoeksema/PR literature (and propaganda) but that’s not the same thing as reading the tradition. That’s what I’m trying to get you to do.

    I don’t think you’re an Arminian. I am saying that you, unintentionally, agree with Arminius on the rejection of the distinction between archetypal knowledge and ectypal knowledge. That’s ironic.

    Reformed orthodoxy does speak of two wills or two aspects of the divine will. We do not know the decree/will of God as it is in him. God is omniscient and incomprehensible. We are not.

    We’re writing from two different paradigms. My interest here is in preserving historic Reformed orthodoxy. You’re interest is in preserving PR distinctives.

    I hope you’ll read the essay and the sources.

  34. Donald John,

    “Are you sure Calvin’s exegesis of these verses is really that different from Murray’s?”

    I found less in Calvin than the others. While 2 Pet. and Matt. 23 are arguable, Calvin in his Treatises on Predestination and Providence clearly states that Ezek 18,33 is conditional and God’s pleasure refers to the sinner who repents, not the hypothetical repentance of a sinner who goes on in his sin (pp. 98-101, 274-277 in Cole’s transl., not that I’ve really seen anyone refer to the TOP&P besides Armstrong in his Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy and illegitimately if I remember correctly). Murray denies this understanding of the verses.

    The free offer is confessional: God freely promises salvation to all who repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet that God has an unfulfilled/archetypal/well meant desire, neither preceptual nor decretive, for the salvation of all men/the reprobate I don’t see in WCF 7:3, nor does it appear to be the majority position by any means in Calvin, Knox, Turretin, Owen, the Geneva, Dutch or English Annotations, Diodati, Leigh or Trapp.

    So what gives? Do these sources deny the archetypal distinction? Are they rationalists? Or is there a difference between the incomprehensibility and impassability of God and Murray in his zeal for the incomprehensibility of God combined it with a Quest for Religious Certainty and is reading an unrequited archetypal love of God for the reprobate into the Scripture?

    Dunno, maybe it’s just reader error by yrs truly, but Murray’s exegesis, exposition and conclusions don’t seem to add up to the multitude of counselors previous in the reformed tradition and church.


  35. Dear Bob

    Thanks for your reply. I was first alerted to the different ways Calvin handles this verse in Ken Stebbins’ work Christ Freely Offered. He notes that Calvin admits the least regarding this verse in his polemic work you refer to, is a bit freer in his Institutes and is most free in his commentary on the verse where he, as I read him, takes broadly the same exegetical stance as Murray. I also think the Westminster Annotations are open to the two standard reformed exegetical views on most of the texts in question e.g. from memory on Matt 23:37 they allow it to be either Christ as man or a reference to the revealed will.

    I think we do read the tradition differently. I treat some of the sources and men you mention in my thesis and come to opposite conclusions (but say on Knox I agree I didn’t see him using “desire”). If it ever sees the light of day hopefully you will be able to see my detailed understanding of their views. I have documented some of this on my blog but the best bits have been kept for the thesis 🙂

    In summary from my own fairly extensive research I think Ken Stebbins is correct in his book where he says “desire” (or equivalent) has been used in connection with the gospel offer by the great majority of reformed theologians from Calvin down. Stebbins himself argues for “delight” instead of desire.

    Every blessing

    PS Thank you for the brotherly tone in these comments. Too often these exchanges generate more heat than light. I am glad that has not been the case here.

  36. Thanks for yours, DJ

    Calvin imo can be all over the place, but all I have is translations, not the Opera. Haven’t seen Stebbins, but I ‘ll read anything. The best thing I have seen, though Dr. Clark disagrees, is Wm. Young’s comments on the FO. He does not agree with his friend John Murray though he makes no mention of him by name.
    The Westminster Annotations are not only, not the “Westminster”, but the English – I made the same mistake above – they are pretty sparse.
    While I too appreciate your affability in reply, I cannot say that the replies, of the combox variety that they are, have been that substantive or responsive. I do not question whether God delights or has desires per se. Rather does God have an unfulfilled archetypal will or anthropomorphic desire etc. in between, behind or above the preceptual and the decretive? Further, as important as the archetypal distinction is, I might be a little concerned that all questions could seem to be pressed into its mold just as Luther was said to view everything from the perspective of justification. As far as the charge of rationalism goes, it might seem to operate like some of the other PC code words in the secular realm. Anybody who questions the JMurray version of the FO is ipso facto guilty of the same and any reasonable discussion is over. I should like to think that I am capable of being persuaded, but respectfully, browbeating and propaganda (PRC or no) is what it is – or has been in other instances and to assert something is not to necessarily prove it.

    But even Homer (or John Murray?) nods, I am told and it is high time to do the same.

    cordially yrs.

  37. Thanks everyone for all of the interaction here. It is helpful, and the bibliographical references as well.

    I just have a few comments.

    Should we say, “Whosoever will may come?” with the understanding that, out of the mass of damnable humanity. God has unconditionally elected some who will respond to that invitation with faith and repentance? That’s all we’re talking about.
    -R. Scott Clark

    No, sir, that’s not all we’re talking about and you know it. I get incredibly frustrated by the amount of confusion that is introduced into this discussion by comments like that. Neither Clark nor Hoeksema nor Reymond nor White deny a proclamation of the conditional truth that God will forgive whosoever comes. What they deny is that God eagerly desires, wants to accomplish, the salvation of those He has ordained to reject it.

    You further confuse this issue to people like me trying to get a clear understanding of it when you twist certain statements to fit into your mold of paradox. You say the Canons of Dordt embrace your paradox hermeneutic. Article 2.5 from the Canons of Dordt says nothing about and has nothing to do with mystery and paradox. The only reason you think it does it because you think it articulates the same view as Murray, and that view is in fact contradictory, therefore the Canons must embrace your mystery/paradox view.

    Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons of Dort, 2.5)

    What does that say? It says that the promise of the gospel is a conditional statement that if people believe, they will be forgiven. This conditional forgiveness, along with the command to repent and believe in Christ’s work, should be proclaimed to everyone. Why? Because God desires to save the reprobate? That’s nowhere stated or implied.

    It does say that it pleases God to send the gospel to all persons. But the statement from Dordt does not elaborate on why it is God’s pleasure (meaning simply that He has providentially decreed it) to do so. The term “God’s good pleasure” refers throughout the Candons of Dordt to God’s providence (see Article 7, 8, 10, etc).

    So again, nowhere does the Canons of Dordt affirm your understanding of the free offer, and to assert that it does is misleading and incredibly unhelpful.

  38. Brandon,

    If you will read the essay in the Strimple Festschrift you’ll see documentation for my claims. For GC and HH the gospel essentially a demand to repent and believe. There is no “offer.”

    As I document in the Strimple essay, The Reformed orthodox repeatedly used the verb “to offer,” as in God “offers” benefits or grace or salvation.

    I don’t think you understand the basic problem.

    We can speak of God offering and and desiring because God speaks thus and we must speak that way because God speaks thus. We may and must because we don’t have archetypal knowledge. The most basic premise behind the rejection of the Free Offer is that rejection of the archetypal/ectypal distinction.

    I’m sorry that you’re frustrated but I don’t think you understand the most basic issue yet and that is because you’re still assuming GC’s and HH’s premise.

  39. I do understand the basic problem. The basic problem is that your views are contradictory yet you accept them anyways and then claim it’s because we simply cannot know things properly because we’re creatures, not Creators. Your view of logic destroys the Christian faith.

  40. Brandon,

    No, my views are no more contradictory than the doctrine of God is contradictory. Read any classic doctrine of God — of which Hoeksema is not a good example — and you will find them saying the same things that I say in the Strimple essay. There is always a certain degree of falsehood in our speech about God. He has accommodated himself to our weakness. We learned that from Calvin. All revelation is accommodated. This accommodation creates tension between the way God is, in himself, and the way we must speak about him. For example, in God, there are not “attributes” and yet we must speak of “attributes” in the plural in order to say anything about God. Our theologians have said this since the mid-16th century.

    Because Hoeksema and Clark rejected this basic truth, the fundamental distinction between the Creator and the creature, they were unable to grasp the doctrine of the free offer.

    Brandon, you’re frustrated with me, but I’m frustrated with folks trying to revise Reformed theology in their own image! Your post is a terrific example of what I call, in RRC, “Reformed Narcissism.” You’ve imputed your rationalism to Reformed theology and then demanded that we all follow you off the cliff!

  41. Brandon wrote: “Your view of logic destroys the Christian faith.”

    Amen and amen! Worse, Dr. Clark’s denigration of G.H.Clark, H. Hoeksema and the countless other Reformed men who have rightly denied and rejected Murray’s contradictory and self-refuting doctrine of the Free Offer (which was written in response to and as a result of Van Til’s unprovoked attack against Gordon Clark in the 1940’s) is unconscionable. Simply put, to call men who deny Murray’s formulation “Hyper-Calvinist” is sinful and is a willful violation of Ninth Commandment.

    R.S. Clark loves to wrap himself in tradition, but it’s a tradition he’s created in his own mind and one that is divorced of both the greater Reformed tradition (as Brandon so nicely demonstrates per his argument from Dort). I find it interesting that when Clark is pressed above by arguments that clearly demonstrate the errors in his doctrine, his reply is a link and a request to read some other book. ( FWIW the men over at Monergism share in Dr. Clark’s sin as they have linked the above article under “Bad Theology – Hyper-Calvinism” indirectly further libeling everyone from Gordon Clark to, most recently, James White.)

    I would like to see Clark interact with CRC professor Reymond Blacketer’s 2000 piece, The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation. Blacketer demonstrates that a denial of the WMO as advanced by R. S. Clark, Phil Johnson, John Murray and, of course, C. Van Til is not “Hyper-Calvinism.” While I love Dr. Clark and have appreciated his unwavering dedication to expose the false gospels of the so-called New Perspectives and damnable Federal Vision movements, Dr. Clark needs to come to his senses and repent. Of course this would mean that he would have to recheck his basic premise and divorce himself from Van Til’s entire incoherent and contradictory epistemological system. So while I will pray, I won’t hold my breath.

  42. If paying attention means that I have not followed everything you’ve ever written, then I’m guilty as charged. FWIW I searched your blog and the only thing I could find was concerning Blacketer was a piece concerning the end of the CRC as a confessional church. I’m surprised you didn’t provide a link.

    Regardless, asserting that the denial of the free-offer of the gospel as defined by you, Johnson and John Murray is hyper-Calvinism is just asinine and libels not only stalwarts of the faith, but as Blacketer shows, John Calvin himself. The one piece of poetic justice in this long battle against your doctrine and your horrible liable against good Christian men, is the wonderful irony of seeing Phil Johnson’s awful and shoddy Primer on Hyper-Calvinism being correctly employed by neo-Amyraldians like Tony Byrne and David Ponter — men who openly deny limited or particular atonement — and the rest of the John 3:16 crowd to slander Johnson’s personal friend James White. Like you, instead of admitting his error and correcting (repenting) of his misleading and false definition of “hyper-Calvinism,” Johnson instead prattles on incoherently merely asserting that the views of James White are not what he had in mind. Yeah, right. White’s views as he has publicly stated in his own defense and in direct response to the John 3:16 attack does not differ in the slightest from the position of Gordon Clark, John Robbins, Robert Reymond, Herman Hoeksema, those who wrote the OPC minority report in answer to Murray, and all of your detractors above, yet somehow magically James White gets a pass and does not deserve to be labeled a “Hyper” as Phil and you have define it. Oh, the things you can do when truth is analogical and Scripture is a morass of paradoxical, mysterious, and apparently contradictory propositions.

    Also, let me just add, you wrote: “Those predestinarians who deny the free offer usually do so because of some form of rationalism.” This is false. Predestinarians like Robert Reymond who deny Murray’s free offer do so because it rests on faulty exegesis of key passages of Scripture, and, as a result, imputes irrationality to God, and, I might add, to Scripture itself. This is anything but “rationalism.” You might have noticed, even if Johnson ignored it, James White used Reymond’s argument against Murray in his own defense in light of the John 3:16 attack. It is you, Johnson and the neo-Amyrauldians Tony Byrne and David Ponter, along with the rest of the Arminian camp, who deserve each other.

    But, you are right about one thing, those who oppose you do operate on an “a priori about the way things “must be”, and that is the unwavering belief that God does not lie, does not contradict himself, and that His Word does not end in insoluble paradoxes which are nothing more than contradictions in the minds of men, who, we are told (in the words of John Frame), are to have faith that there are no contradictions for God. We believe that the Scriptures present to the mind a consent of all and not just some of the parts and therefore God does not both desire and not desire the salvation of the reprobate even through the preaching of the Gospel. We operate on the a priori belief that if our understanding of Scripture ends in paradox, we know that the error lies in our understanding and that our interpretation must be, and not may be, wrong and we are without warrant to simply chalk up our own exegetical dissonance to Scripture (as many Vantilians surreptitiously do) . We believe truth is, by definition, non-contradictory. Therefore, the truths of Scripture are necessarily non-contradictory and this is, as the WCF states, one of the central evidences that the Scripture are in fact the Word of God. We believe, despite years of hearing the same Vantilian double-talk, especially by those God has place over us in positions of power and influence, that a paradox of Scripture that cannot be harmonized at the bar of human reason isn’t a paradox, but is a contradiction (despite the Vantilian’s faith in faith that there is no contradictions for God — something they cannot know based on their own professed doctrine of Scripture). As Robert Reymond points out, the interpretive framework that Murray used to build his case for his Free Offer doctrine have been understood by other Reformed exegetes in a way that does not end in paradox and “mystery.” We believe that the apparent contradictions of Scripture are signposts informing us that either more work needs to be done and/or that we need to recheck our exegetical premises. Herman Hoeksema put the problem his way in his book, The Clark-Van Til Controversy:

    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.

    In my opinion this isn’t merely a scholarly debate (as the John 3:16 fracas has again highlights) for the simple reason that those on your side have maliciously libeled and marginalized countless Reformed men as being outside the Reformed pale and are “hyper-Calvinists” on nothing more than your own Vantilian and irrationalist a priori about the way things “must be” or on the basis that “we all know that…” etc., etc.

  43. Just 2 more cents. Reading your post again (I’m considering using it for an upcoming blog of my own God willing), I was also struck by this remark:

    “Our faith is full of mystery of paradoxes to wit, the holy Trinity, the two natures and one person of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility (who has flattened out that one but the anti-predestinarians?), the free offer, the true presence of Christ in the Supper, and means of grace (the Spirit operates through the foolishness of Gospel preaching) and that’s the short list.’

    What first struck me is the implication that WMO deniers such as G.H. Clark, Reymond and others are anti-predestinarians. That’s just silly. Second, you can easily add to your list the simultaneous affirmation of salvation by faith alone and salvation by faith and works. As you know the FV men affirm both (Doug Wilson most certainly included, which explains why Vantilian Lane Keister gave him a clean bill of health on the Gospel claiming he was just “ambiguous” when it came to justification and the heart of the Gospel). So on what basis can you consistently, and based on your own belief in paradox and mystery, deny the FV men their own paradox and mystery when it comes to the doctrine of justification? You might recall that John Frame in his defense of Van Til (see “Van Til the Theologian”) stated years ago that the doctrine of justification is just as mysterious and paradoxical as those included in your list of “mystery of paradoxes.” What makes their paradox different from those on your list? It is similarly contradictory to the human existent. It is something that cannot be harmonized at the bar of human reason. Their arguments are as ambiguous and as misleading as any WMO advocate discussing the two wills of God by which they merely assert there is no contradiction in their contradictory doctrine. They too appeal to the Creator/creature distinction and Incomprehensibility as Van Til understood and defined them in their defense. Consequently, I don’t see as you have any epistemological ground at all to rightly oppose any of the FV men other than some fortuitous aberration to your own philosophy. What some might call a blessed inconsistency or perhaps just another in the list of “mystery of paradoxes.”

    Finally, after all this time I am still struck that you still doesn’t see the nexus between his own philosophy and the FV. You seem positively blinded by your own narrow understanding of “Reformed tradition” that you cannot see dangerous and debilitating affect your philosophy has had in the battle over the FV/NPP. FWIW Roman Catholics have the same blind spot when it comes to their own tradition.

  44. Sean,

    “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149-80.

  45. Yeah, I know. Your rebuttal consists in buying your book. Got it. Maybe someday I’ll get around to it. Let me ask, do you consider Frame’s defense of Van Til, or Bahnsen’s, or even the latest debased attack against Christianity as a rational faith by James Anderson in his, Paradox in Christian Theology, part of that “pattern of sound words” ? How about VT’s sustained attack against the use of logic in theology in his Intro to Systematic Theology? If so, please let me know since I’ve heard it all before and I really don’t need to read another regurgitation of ground already covered.

  46. The cost of the book (about $14 on Amazon) is not my problem. The cost of my time to wade through territory already covered by irrationalists and paradox mongers, some of whom arguably more skilled and capable than you, is the reason for my question. And, yes, we can know some of what God knows and in the way He knows it simply because He has revealed His mind to us in Scripture. Consequently, the propositions and words of Scripture convey literal meaning and provide a univocal point of contact between the Creator and His image bearing creatures. As Gordon Clark pointed out a long time ago, an analogy of the truth is not the truth and an analogy can only have meaning if there is a univocal point of contact (something, as you know, Van Til strongly denied).

    So, do me a favor, save that Vantilian canard that we cannot know anything as God knows it unless we can know it “exhaustively” and are ourselves omniscient for your susceptible and impressionable students and followers. Gordon Clark was right in his defense of the biblical doctrine of incomprehensibility and Van Til was wrong. You forget that it was Clark and his side that were the victors in their fight against Van Til and his associates. You also seem to forget that Van Til and his associates were the ones disciplined after their unprovoked and unconscionable attack on Clark and are the ones who sinfully continued the fight against Clark’s supporters after the issue was supposedly settled by the courts.

    Since you like links, I recommend you read Can the OPC be Saved . IMO your idea of the Reformed tradition has been the result of blindly following the widening and ever apostatizing ersatz-Reformed main tributary that resulted from the Clark/Van Til watershed some 70 years ago. Coming from a Unitarian background as you do, I can understand your error. You naturally went with the majority who have jettisoned their historic philosophic and Reformed moorings. Arguably, that might not have happened had Clark stayed in the OPC to continue his fight against VT and the Westminster cabal, something Dr. Robbins reported Clark regretted later in life.

    Needless to say, the WMO is a wonderful case in point since anyone can see the exegetical territory inhabited by WMO advocates, Murray included, is identical to that of the Arminians. You both interpret key passages of Scripture like 1 Tim 2:4, Ezek 18:32, 33:11 and similar verses in exactly the same way — only the Arminian, because of his errant belief in free will, doesn’t end up contradicting the rest of his theology.

    But, and FWIW, my issue with you comes down this: your piece is not only wrong and libelous, it is calculatingly prejudicial and assures that your students, and people who respect you and hold you out as some sort of standard bearer of Reformed tradition, will follow your UN-sound argument above that goes like this:

    1. Rejection of Marray’s contradictory doctrine is Hyper Calvinism
    2. _____ rejected Murray’s contradictory doctrine of the WMO.
    :. _____ is a Hyper Calvinist.

    Obviously, in the blank you can put Gordon Clark, John Robbins, Floyd Hamilton, Robert Reymond, Herman Hoeksema, David Engelsma, Matthew Winzer, James White, all of your opponents above, myself included, and on and on. Then to those who are inclined to take your word on things and who would never dare say to you “Hogwash,” will never take the time to openly and fairly examine arguments advanced by any of these men. Why? Because Dr. R. S. Clark says they are all “Hyper-Calvinists” and outside the Reformed tradition. Which would be all well and good if your major premise were at all true. But, it is not.

    And, finally, in another piece of tragic irony, your argument and support of Murray/Van Til/etc. on this score places you outside of the Reformed tradition even further than your harmony with Arminianism suggests. The Reformed tradition teaches that Scripture presents to the mind a consent of ALL and not just some of the parts (WCF 1.5) and the truths of Scripture, rightly divided, do not end in irresolvable paradox (which is nothing more than contradiction), antinomy, and incoherence all to be magically embraced via an appeal to an unbiblical idea of “mystery.” As the Confession teaches, the meaning of Scripture is one and not many. The “tensions” you men so love to revel in are the products of your own minds and the result of your defective, anti-biblical, and UN-Reformed presuppositions and philosophy. If more men would take the time to study the critics of the WMO and the entire bankrupt Vantilian philosophic and epistemic enterprise, they would see it for themselves. So, while I can understand you being prejudicial simply because if your argument above is false (which it is) it means you have a lot of rethinking to do, I just hope that your readers here will not be taken in.

  47. Dr. Clark,

    I recently read your article on the well-meant offer in “The Pattern of Sound Doctrine” book. Am I accurate in understanding you to say that one qualifies as a type of hyper-Calvinist if one denies that God desires the salvation of all men, since that is the same thing as denying the well-meaning disposition of God toward all those that hear the gospel offer? (see p. 154 in your article)

    I read Curt Daniel, Iain Murray, David Gay and Anthony Hoekema that way. For example, Murray summarizes his book on Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism this way:

    “The book is intended to show the momentous difference between evangelistic Calvinistic belief and that form of Calvinism which denies any desire on the part of God for the salvation of all men.”

    Iain H. Murray, “John Gill and C. H. Spurgeon,” Banner of Truth 386 (November 1995), 16.

    I happen to agree with Murray, if I am reading his correctly.

    • Tony,

      Thanks for reading the essay.

      My concern in the essay was not to define the adjective “hyper- Calvinist” but rather to explore and explain the reasons that undergird the rejection of the free or well-meant offer.

      The ground in many cases (I don’t claim all) and in the cases I cite, is the rejection of the TA/TE distinction and their reason for rejecting that distinction is rationalism.

      I tried to show that most of the tradition has had little difficulty in speaking to sinners the way Scripture does because they accept the TA/TE distinction.

  48. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for the reply. I realize that it was not your concern to define the adjective “hyper-Calvinist,” hence my above question(s) seeking clarification of the adjective, since it is used in your article. You wrote on page 154:

    “The controversy over the ‘Three Points’ of 1924 and the Clark case (1944–48) were concerned with the problem of hyper-Calvinism.”

    You also say [on page 164]:

    “…the Synod of Dort would have preachers make a well-meant offer of the gospel indiscriminately, despite the fact that not all hearers are elect…”

    Consequently, the reader is left with the impression that you’re dealing with a subject (the “free, serious, well-meant offer,” which you associate on pages 149, 174 and 176) which, when denied, constitutes a form of “hyper-Calvinism.” Also, that such a position is outside of the confessional boundaries of Dort [see pages 164, 165 and 169].

    Are my questions something you’re not interested in answering, at least in this context? Here, again, was my question: Am I accurate in understanding you to say that one qualifies as a type of hyper-Calvinist if one denies that God desires the salvation of all men, since that is the same thing as denying the well-meaning disposition of God toward all those that hear the gospel offer?

    Here’s are the associations I am making:
    1) The “free offer” is the same thing as the “well-meant offer” in your article and in the writings of John Murray.
    2) According to J. Murray the key point in dispute with respect to the free offer [writing in the context of his dispute with the Clarkians] is whether or not it can be said that God desires the salvation of all men in the revealed will. You quote Murray saying this [on 176–177], as does Iain Murray in his book.
    3) To deny God’s desire to save all men is therefore to deny “the key point” of the “free offer.”
    4) The denial of the free offer is a fundamental aspect of hyper-Calvinism.

    Is this thinking wrong, in your opinion? If so, where specifically?

    • Tony,

      At the moment I’m not very interested in the question “who is a hyper- Calvinist” because it become a political club with which to beat people.

      My interest is in helping those who want to be historically orthodox to recover the Reformed confession (defined broadly and narrowly — see RRC on this) or our theology, piety, and practice.

      Why don’t you tell me what YOU think and then we’ll talk.

  49. To clarify, you will notice that neither of my posts above ask “who is a hyper-Calvinist?,” except in so far as I named Gordon Clark, by implication [as you did in your article on page 154]. Rather, I am seeking to understand the concepts that people have in mind when they employ the term. If it’s fair to inquire about what concepts are necessarily involved in “Calvinism,” “Amyraldism,” “Arminianism,” “Semi-Pelagianism,” “Socinianism,” etc., then it seems fair to do the same with “hyper-Calvinism.” Any of these labels can be used as clubs [but may just be used as historical locators], yet Calvinists do not hesitate to use most of them when we think we have historical warrant to do so. People may hiss when they use any or all of these terms, but that need not be the case, as you know.

    Given that you used the term “hyper-Calvinism” in your article, I know that you think the label has conceptual content. What then is that content? Is that label [when not being used as a club] fairly or accurately used against those that deny the well-meant gospel offer? I think so, but I already said above that I agree with Iain Murray, Curt Daniel and Anthony Hoekema. What say ye?

    To elaborate further [in answer to your additional question(s)], I think one is a hyper-Calvinist if they:
    1) Deny God’s love for all mankind, AND/OR
    2) Deny God’s willingness to save all mankind in the revealed will [the well-meant offer], AND/OR
    3) Deny God’s gracious disposition toward all humanity [general grace], AND/OR
    4) Deny human responsibility to believe the gospel savingly [‘duty-faith]. AND/OR
    5) Think that God directly causes sin.

    I think such notions are blasphemous, so using the label “hyper-Calvinism” is actually describing things mildly.

    My question to you above, however, only concerns point #2. If the gospel offer is not ‘well-meant,’ then it must be ‘ill-meant,’ at least towards some. Certainly it is not non-meant. Is the idea of God giving an ‘ill-meant’ offer toward the non-elect a form of hyper-Calvinism, in your opinion, as an historical theologian?

    • Tony,

      Another reason for my reluctance to be drawn into this discussion is that I have come to have doubts about the pedagogical utility of the term hyper-Calvinism. Yes, I used the term because it was part of the historical debate surrounding the Three Points and the Free Offer. Yes, I tried to engage my friends in the Protestant Reformed Churches, who’ve indicated a desire to connect with the classic Reformed tradition. The review in their journal was quite disappointing. They cannot follow Hoeksema’s rejection of the TA/TE distinction and consider themselves classical Reformed. The same is true for the followers of Gordon Clark and others.

      Third, all of the points you give would have to be qualified. E.g. re the love of God for mankind. I would add, “in some sense.” Most of the Reformed I’ve read from the 17th century taught that, in some sense, God loves all humanity.

      I don’t want to fall into the the trap of so reacting to rationalism by flattening out revelation so that we deny the particularity of election. God has hated Esau from all eternity. We don’t know who the Esaus of the world are, so we preach the gospel to all, indiscriminately, because he has commanded us to do so and because he has revealed himself as desiring that none perish. Yet, we know that some will perish. God really does hate Esau. So the love he has for all his creatures is real but it does not obliterate the decree of reprobation.

      I’m trying to confess both things at the same time: the reality of the well-meant, promiscuous offer of the gospel, behind which lies the decree of unconditional election, and the reality of the decree of reprobation.

  50. Hi Dr. Clark,

    I can understand some doubt as to the pedagogical use of the term “hyper-Calvinist,” at least in some contexts of discussion, but the label does have some basis in history, as you know. The label even has a history in this post alone. For example, you say the following above:

    “By definition “hyper-Calvinism” is that doctrine which goes “beyond” (hyper) Calvin.”

    “The free offer of the gospel is at the center of the question.”

    “Believing in predestination and reprobation does not make one a “hyper-Calvinist.” Denying the free-offer of the gospel does.”

    “I’ve published an essay, in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, attempting to explain why real, honest-to-goodness hyper-Calvinists don’t accept the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel and what the theological basis is, within confessional Reformed theology, for the free offer.”

    “To my hyper-Calvinist friends and correspondents (see the combox below), I was reminded by a post on Reformation Theology by John Samson, of this verse: “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The English verb “to desire” translates the Greek verb which is usually translated “to will” (θελειν). Against the free or well-meant offer, it has been argued that we cannot speak of God’s will in two aspects or in two ways, that we must speak univocally.”

    “It is in light of this sort of biblical language that the Reformed faith has historically taught the substance of what has come to be called the “free” or “well-meant” offer of the gospel.”

    “The real question is why opponents of the Free Offer reject out of hand exegetical arguments for the free or well-meant offer?”

    I summarize the points of these statements as follows:

    A type of hyper-Calvinism is that view that goes beyond Calvin (or the Reformed faith) to the extent that it denies the “free” or “well-meant” offer of the gospel, since that is at the center of the question. Your essay is an attempt to show why real, honest-to-goodness hyper-Calvinists don’t accept the doctrine of the free offer. Some of your hyper-Calvinist friends need to be reminded that there is a sense (as John Samson shows) in which God desires the salvation of all men in His revealed will. To deny this truth is to deny the free or well-meant offer (since they are one and the same thing).

    Given your above statements and my summary of them above, I thought I would ask you personally if I am understanding you correctly, i.e. that a denial of God’s desire for the salvation of all men in the revealed will (which is the same as denying the “well-meant” offer) constitutes a form of hyper-Calvinism. However, not only do I not want to misunderstand you, but I also don’t want to pest you to answer a question that you’re not interested in answering. I can’t help but think that you have answered the question implicitly and affirmatively in your post above when viewed in conjunction with your essay, but I didn’t want to leave it as a mere inference of mine. If you don’t want to answer it explicitly, here, now, or in this context, then that’s fine. Clearly you think that one is significantly wrong and contrary to the Reformed Confessions if they reject the free or well-meant offer, so I applaud your stand on this topic, even if you’re reluctant to use a potentially abusive label to describe it.

    Also, I do realize that the issue regarding God’s love needs to be qualified. I also think that it is obvious to the most elementary student of Calvinism that we do not think God loves all men alike or equally. It’s usually among those who deny God’s common love that causes the need to add the qualifiers, even the qualification that we’re talking about the living non-elect or reprobates still on earth, and not necessarily those in hell. Basically, since the bible asserts so boldly so many times without qualifiers that God is loving, kind, gracious, patient and long-suffering toward all sinners, I am not worried when I don’t add those qualifiers all the time, especially when I am talking about it in the context of a professor who teaches the history of Reformed thought 😉

    Anyway, thanks for the brief interaction. If you’re inclined to answer my question explicitly in any future response, I would appreciate it. If you would rather not, then that’s fine as well. Either way, may God bless your ministry in all ways.

    “A well-wisher to the souls of men,”

    p.s. John Howe used that as a signature line occassionally 😉

    • Michael,

      On the free offer, see “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149-80.

      There you will see evidence from the primary sources that a good number of Reformed theologians from the classical period had no trouble speaking of the preaching of the gospel as an “offer.” Among that number is the Synod of Dort itself! No one could sanely accuse the Synod of being weak relative to Arminianism.

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