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Vermigli on the Free Offer

September 28, 2007

But some man will say God by the prophet Jonah, said it should come to pass, that the city of Nineveh should be destroyed, and that after 40 days. And by Isaiah the Prophet h showed unto Hezekiah the king, that he should dye: which things yet came not to pass as they were foretold. Yet also the Lord himself in Jeremy the 18. Chapter thus speaks, “if any man speak of any kingdom; or nation, to root it out and to destroy it and they in the meantime repent, I also will repent me. And on the other side, if I shall speak to plant, and to build any kingdom or nation, and they in the meantime behave themselves wickedly, I will not perform these things which I have spoken. But we answer, that the promise whereof Paul here speaks depends not of any condition, as do a great many promises of the law, unto which pertain these threatenings which are now alleged yea the Apostle himself sufficiently expressed, of what kind of promises he speaks when he says, “By faith, that it should be of grace.” For if it consist freely, then hangs it not on any condition, or supposition, and by this means the promise can in no case be made frustrate. This may the easier be understand by a similitude: If a physician should by taking of any medicine promise health, but yet upon this condition, that he would have for his pains infinite sums of money, & that the sick person should observe a very hard diet, a poor man might easily answer that that promise of health is vain, both for that he has not the money to pay, and also for that being weak he is not able to observe the diet which is prescribed him. But contrariwise, if a man promise a medicine which he will give freely, neither requires any work of the sick person, but only that he would drink, or some other way receive his medicine, this promise is easily made firm. So undoubtedly stands the case here: the promise is offered unto us, and that freely. For only is of us required, that by faith we receive it. And this bus the first principal point, whereupon depends the certainty of the promise: namely, for that the promise consists of the Word of God, and is offered freely.   

Peter Martir Vermilius Florentine, Most learned and fruitful Commentaries of D. Peter Martir Vermilius Florentine, Professor of Divinity in he School of Tigure, upon the Epistle of S. Paul to the Romans: wherein are diligently & most profitably entreated all such matters and chief common places of religion touched in the same Epistle, (Imprinted at London by Iohn Daye, 1558), 91[b]-92[a].

David: I like this from Vermigli. What is interesting is that in Vermigli, the Law, as administered in the Mosaic Covenant, is a works or conditional covenant. All that was later predicated by later Calvinists to the “covenant of works,”  Vermigli, and his generation, predicated to the Mosaic Covenant. Thus when he speaks of a conditionless free offer, he means, on the one hand, there are no works or conditions of merit (or even contract merit) by which one must earn the thing proffered, or on the other hand, there are not works or conditions one must perform in order to obtain the approval of the offerer. In this sense, then, the free offer is conditionless. However, the offer is not absolutely without requirements. One must ‘have faith,’ one must ‘take up’ the offer. This sort of conditionality was identified in standard Reformed dogmatics as a ‘instrumental condition,’ or ‘condition sine qua non.’  

Overall, I just like this metaphor because it enables us to think of the conditional offer in a way that is non-meritorious (in any way) and yet conditioned instrumentally. Like this: imagine a father offering his son food, who would imagine that the father expected the son to somehow merit the father’s invitation and food? Even if the father were to require a condition (such as come to the table to eat), still there is no need to conceptualize this relationship by way of any merit-conditions, even by way of even contract-conditions. It is all just unnecessary and to do so adds nothing, but only detracts from our understanding of normal father-son relationships. And yet, in this metaphor, there is still present some aspect of law and duty operating between the father and the son. I think this is why Calvin so often connects the offer with the ‘fatherly invitation’ of God to men. For Calvin, the invitation comes from a father who seeks and wishes the well-being of his wayward son. I think Calvin was way more on track than many of our modern uber-calvinists.

If we go back to the metaphor of the doctor and the remedy, of course it has to be the case that the offer of the remedy has to be well-meaning. Even though certain hypercalvinists stumble on this, this truth should be so obvious that anyone who doubts it should be seen as being on the same level as a flat-earth advocate. Anyone who offers a cure to a sick man, that man can only be one of two options, well-meaning, or ill-meaning. If well-meaning, then that man truly does wish and desire in some meaningful and serious sense the health of the sick person: thus so with God. It is impossible to say that the doctor is sincere, and yet only so offers his cure with the singular intention that the man be made even more sick and debilitated than he already is. If this is true with regard to a human doctor, how much more so with regard to a God who is slow to anger, but quick to bless.


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