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John Owen on the Offer of the Gospel

March 14, 2007

Its really ironic that modern day hypercalvinists have worked so hard to allege that the Latin word for offer offero means merely to set forth, to present. That’s just not true. Back in the mid-’90s I accessed a number of standard Latin lexicons from the 16th- and 17th centuries and they included the standard definitions such as proffer, overture, etc. The problem is the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches are in a bind.

They want to say that they are not hypercalvinist because they hold to the “offer” of the gospel. And they think they can say this honestly because they define the Latin merely as ‘to present’ or ‘to set forth.’

The problem is, the classic hypercalvinists were correct. Even if we took the word to mean simply to present, our modern day hypercalvinists are still stuck. Take this for example, a sacrificial offering was presented in the temple, for the acceptance or rejection of the Deity. Even used as present, or set forth, in sacrifical language, it was a conditional setting forth which the deity, or Yahweh, were free to accept or reject. Offer never meant in sacrificial contexts as a declaration or setting forth of something or simple bringing something to someone.

The situation gets worse for our modern hypercalvinists. Let’s take David Engelsma’s book, Hypercalvinism and the Call of the Gospel. On page 48 he makes this allegation:

In the past, the word “offer” from the Latin word “offero” was used by the Reformed men to describe God’s activity in the preaching of the gospel because the word has originally the meaning “bring to (someone).” All Reformed men hold that Christ is presented in the preaching to everyone who hears the preaching. In this sense He is “offered” in the gospel. Calvin used “offer” in this sense, as do the Canons of Dort… But this is not the meaning of the word when it is used in connection with the universal love of God and a desire of God to save everybody.

It gets really silly when earlier Engelsma claims that the modern use of the word offer has an Arminian flavour (p., 19). Engelsma even notes De Jong’s point–which is actually spot on–that given these definitions, all the PRC preachers can do is preach facts about Christ (p., 32). Despite Engelsma’s denials, though, this has to follow because they cannot literally bring Christ to the hearer, but only statements/facts about Christ.

Okay so I have laboured long in introducing this. The question came to me in the mid ’90s is how does not prove or verify Englesma’s claims? I could just assert that offero also means proffer. I could cite dozens of classic and standard lexicons, all of which I know would be of no avail, as I am sure–indeed, I know–that they would all be discounted.

I chose two ways. Take Calvin, for example, I have searched his writings for his usage of the word and how he pairs it with other helper words. Thus I found time and time again he pairs offer with invitation and like words. This pairing disproves Engelmsa’s claims immediately. The fact that Calvin does it 100s of times is the icing on the cake. :-)

My other method was to examine the works of classic high–but not hyper–Calvinists who wrote in English to see if they similarly paired the word offer with other helper words. The other helper words often used were proffer, invitation, tender and overture. If these English High Calvinists (on the same stratum as Turretin, Polanus, etc), expressed themselves in this way, Engelsma is proven wrong again.

Of course the third way was to show that for men like Calvin, it was true that he thought God loves the whole human race and desires that all men be saved, so circumstantially and with strong inferential certainty, Engelsma is wrong again.

So now to John Owen. In the following extracts you will see how he pairs the word offer with proffer and tender. Owen is no friend to Arminianism, indeed, he disdained it. Only the foolish would then discard Owen’s witness here as irrelevant or wrong.

Once again, this list is informal and not exhaustive:

John Owen.

This, then, I say, is required to faith, or believing,—that we thus receive Christ. John 1:11, “His own received him not.” The not receiving of Christ for such purposes as he is sent unto us by the Father, is properly unbelief; and therefore, as it follows, the so receiving him is properly faith, or believing, verse 12. Thus, in preaching the gospel, we are said to make a tender or proffer of Christ, as the Scripture doth, Revelation 22:17. Now, that which answers a tender or proffer is the acceptance of it. So that the soul’s willing acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ for our righteousness before God, being tendered to us in the promises of the gospel for that end and purpose, from the love of the Father, is the main of that believing which is so acceptable unto God. Owen, Works, vol 9.

THERE being sundry places in holy Scripture wherein the ransom and propitiation made by the blood of Christ is set forth in general and indefinite expressions; as also a fruitlessness or want of success in respect of some, through their own default, for whom he died, seemingly intimated; with general proffers, promises, and exhortations, made for the embracing of the fruits of the death of Christ, even to them who do never actually perform it,—whence some have taken occasion to maintain a universality of redemption, equally respecting all and everyone, and that with great confidence, affirming that the contrary opinion cannot possibly be reconciled with those places of Scripture wherein the former things are proposed;—these three heads being the only fountains from whence are drawn (but with violence) all the arguments that are opposed to the peculiar effectual redemption of the elect only. Owen, Works, vol 10, Death of Death, Book 4, Chapter 1., p., 300, (DoD, p., 183).

A minister is not to make inquiry after, nor to trouble himself about, those secrets of the eternal mind of God, namely,—whom he purposeth to save, and whom he hath sent Christ to die for in particular. It is enough for them to search his revealed will, and thence take their directions, from whence they have their commissions. Wherefore, there is no sequel between the universal precepts from the word concerning the things, unto God’s purpose in himself concerning persons. They command and invite all to repent and believe; but they know not in particular on whom God will bestow repentance unto salvation, nor in whom he will effect the work of faith with power. And when they make proffers and tenders in the name of God to all, they do not say to all, “It is the purpose and intention of God that ye should believe,” (who gave them any such power?) but, that it is his command, which makes it their duty to do what is required of them; and they do not declare his mind, what himself in particular will do. The external offer is such as from which every man may conclude his own duty; none, God’s purpose, which yet may be known upon performance of his duty. Their objection, then, is vain, who affirm that God hath given Christ for all to whom he offers Christ in the preaching of the gospel; for his offer in the preaching of the gospel is not declarative to any in particular, neither of what God hath done nor of what he will do in reference to him, but of what he ought to do, if he would be approved of God and obtain the good things promised. Owen, Works, Death of Death, Book 4, chapter 1, section 3, (DoD, p., 188).

First, That God always intends to save some among them to whom he sends the gospel in its power. And the ministers of it being, first, unacquainted with his particular purpose; secondly, bound to seek the good of all and everyone, as much as in them lies; thirdly, to hope and judge well of all, even as it is meet for them, — they may make a proffer of Jesus Christ, with life and salvation in him, notwithstanding that the Lord hath given his Son only to his elect. Owen, Works, vol 10, Death of Death, Book 4, Chapter 1, section 3, p., 300. (DoD, p., 188).

The Lord hath in his counsel established it, and revealed in his word, that there is an indissoluble bond between these two things, so that “he that believeth shall be saved,” Mark 16:l6; which, indeed, is the substance of the gospel, in the outward promulgation thereof. This is the testimony of God, that eternal life is in his Son; which whoso believeth, he sets to his seal that God is true; he who believes not doing what in him lieth to make God a liar, 1 John 5:9-11. Now, this connection of the means and the end, faith and life, is the only thing which is signified and held out to innumerable to whom the gospel is preached, all the commands, proffers, and promises that are made unto them intimating no more than this will of God, that believers shall certainly be saved; Owen, Works, vol 10, Death of Death, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, p., 311, (DoD, p., 199).

To the second, That there is truth, as in all the ways and words of God, so in his offer of mercy to whomsoever it is offered. If we take the command to believe, with the promise of life upon so doing, for an offer of mercy, there is an eternal truth in it; which is, that God will assuredly bestow life and salvation upon all believers, the proffers being immediately declarative of our duty; secondly, of the concatenation of faith and life, and not at all of God’s intention towards the particular soul to whom the proffer is made: “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, and who hath been his counselors.” Owen, Works, vol 10, Death of Death, Book 4, Chapter 6, p., 383.

Now remember, historically, it was the hypercalvinists such as Hussey, Brine, Styles, who denied that there is a free offer of the gospel made to all in the gospel preaching. I have posted baseline statements from Hussey, the father of hypercalvinism, and by John Gill, the systematiser of the doctrine. These are baseline statements.

On the other hand, I have posted Calvin, Turretin and now Owen affirming the free offer and proffer of the gospel, as a conditional tender to all, with conditional promises. There is no way these men used offero merely as to set forth or to bring to someone.

So let us conclude: which group does the theology of the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia most resemble?

At every turn, it is shown that Engelsma’s Hypercalvinism and the Call of the Gospel is replete with deceptions and misdirective disinformation.

Take care,
ps, DeJong’s book, btw, is brilliant and a must read critique of Hoeksemian hypercalvinism.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 27, 2007 4:46 pm

    You must have read my mind with this post. You answered four specific questions I have been researching concerning John Gill and Englesma. Talk about two birds with one stone. I have been reading you blog for a couple of weeks while studying common grace. Thanks for creating such a great resource. This has become one of my favorite blogs. I will blogroll you.

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