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John Murray on the Well-Meant Offer

December 5, 2008

Murray:

1) Introduction

It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men. The Committee elected by the Twelfth General Assembly in its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly said, “God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate” (Minutes, p. 67). It should have been apparent that the aforesaid Committee, in predicating such “desire” of God, was not dealing with the decretive will of God; it was dealing with the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction and that surely respects, not the decretive or secret will of God, but the revealed will. There is no ground for the supposition that the expression was intended to refer to God’s decretive will.

It must be admitted that if the expression were intended to apply to the decretive will of God then there would be, at least, implicit contradiction. For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction; it would amount to averring of the same thing, viewed from the same aspect, God wills and God does not will. The question then is: what is implicit in, or lies back of; the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word “desire” has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness. And the word “desire” has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live. It might as well have been said, “It pleases God that the wicked repent and be saved.”

Again, the expression “God desires,” in the formula that crystallizes the crux of the question, is intended to notify not at all the “seeming” attitude of God but a real attitude, a real disposition of lovingkindness inherent in the free offer to all, in other words, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.

Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.

2) Conclusions

(1) We have found that the grace of God bestowed in his ordinary providence expresses the love of God, and that this love of God is the source of the gifts bestowed upon and enjoyed by the ungodly as well as the godly. We should expect that herein is disclosed to us a principle that applies to all manifestations of divine grace, namely, that the grace bestowed expresses the lovingkindness in the heart of God and that the gifts bestowed are in their respective variety tokens of a correspondent richness or manifoldness in the divine lovingkindness of which they are the expression.

(2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

(3) Our Lord himself in the exercise of his messianic prerogative provides us with an example of the foregoing as it applies to the matter of salvation. He says expressly that he willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and protect.

(4) We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.

(5) We must conclude, therefore, that our provisional inference on the basis of Matt. 5:44-48 is borne out by the other passages. The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.

John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1976), 4:113-114 and 131-132.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2008 10:44 am

    “All Calvinists agree (and indeed all Christians) that not all human persons are saved. Arminians do champion the notion that God desires and intends the salvation of every person. Calvinists do not, but here, [John Murray]…[does] so teach…

    “As a Calvinist, not associated ecclesiastically with the tiny Protestant Reformed denomination and sharply divergent from some of her doctrinal positions, I feel it absolutely necessary to hold with her here where she stands, almost alone today, and suffers massive vituperation and ridicule from Calvinists (no less) for her faithfulness at this point to the gospel of God.

    I had the incomparable privilege of being a student of Professors Murray and Stonehouse. With tears in my heart, I nevertheless confidently assert that they erred profoundly in The Free Offer of the Gospel and died before they seem to have realized their error which, because of their justifiedly high reputations for Reformed excellence generally, still does incalculable damage to the cause of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel.

    It is absolutely essential to the nature of the only true God and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent that whatsoever His sovereign majesty desires or intends most certainly–without conceivability of failure in one iota thereof–must come to pass! Soli Deo Gloria! Amen and amen forevermore! God can never, ever desire or intend anything that does not come to pass, or He is not the living, happy God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob but an eternally miserable being weeping tears of frustration that He was unable to prevent hell and can never end it thus destroying Himself and heaven in the process.” (John H. Gerstner, Foreword, viii-ix, Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel, David J. Engelsma)

    With that, I am…

    Peter

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    December 8, 2008 10:56 am

    Hey Peter,

    David Engelsma is the now leading light of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Their theology is clearly and undeniably hypercalvinist. They deny three of the four markers of modern hypercalvinism: 1) the general love of God; 2) the general grace of God, 3) and the free, sincere and well-meant offer; and 4) that God desires the salvation of all men by will revealed.

    On the “offer” they recognize that a free offer has to be sincere and well-meant: else it must be hypocritical. The recognized that a free offer cannot not be called sincere if it is not well-meant. To that end, they have sought to convert the semantic meaning of the Latin offero to mean, ‘to present,’ etc.

    And so keep in mind, PRC theology in no way reflects traditional mainstream Calvinism on any of those 4 points.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    David

  3. December 9, 2008 6:37 am

    David,

    Thanks. I appreciate your site and have been rummaging through it of late.

    My purpose posting the Gerstner statement was its interesting admission that a) Murray obviously embraced the well-meant offer; b) but more importantly, that Gerstner appeared to imply that mainstream Calvinism had abandoned a solid gospel truth when it denied that the well-meant offer was non-biblical:

    “I feel it absolutely necessary to hold with her here where she stands, almost alone today, and suffers massive vituperation and ridicule from Calvinists (no less) for her faithfulness at this point to the gospel of God…With tears in my heart, I nevertheless confidently assert that they erred profoundly…[doing] incalculable damage to the cause of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel”

    Grace, David. With that, I am…

    Peter

  4. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    December 9, 2008 7:17 am

    Hey Peter,

    If you can, get a copy of Gerstner’s first edition of Wrongly Dividing. There his hypercalvinism comes out strongly too. For example, he says the reprobate only hear the sound of the call of the gospel to the elect, but they themselves are not called.

    Thanks and take care,
    David

  5. Peter permalink
    December 16, 2008 10:25 am

    David,

    I don’t know too much about this, and I am still looking into the subject. I was wondering, if the “call” the the reprobate was more of a command and that, done by Christians and not God himself directly. I think in the past, Christians have talked about the outward call and the inward call. The later done by the Spirit, who gives life to the spiritual dead. The former is done by Christians to the ends of the earth and to everyone [without first trying to find out who is elect]. Why is it needed to be said that God has a strong desires for the reprobate to be saved, and yet He does not decree for him/her to be saved? Is it possible that we are reading into the verses our Arminian leanings? It seems to me that that opens up God to be eternally sad, as if there was something preventing him from His desires to be done on earth or heaven.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Love the design of this site… you got skin!

  6. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    December 16, 2008 11:13 am

    Hey Peter,

    You say:

    I don’t know too much about this, and I am still looking into the subject. I was wondering, if the “call” the the reprobate was more of a command and that, done by Christians and not God himself directly.

    David: I cant cite all the verses, but Jesus said when you speak the Spirit and Jesus speaks through you. When they reject you, they reject Jesus. Paul says God is in us beseeching you. There are lots of verses which speak of God speaking in and through the ministerial word in Paul’s epistles. One day I should collate them.

    Also, the call is not bare command, but a call to come to something? The command to repent, is not the same as the Call. Call denotes the call to come to something. This is critical.

    And often invitations are put in the form of imperative mood. The Gospel reveals itself by way of invitation (proffer, offer, overture etc), call, command, conditional promise, and warning. No one point is to be emphasized at the expense of the other.

    Further, there are some who try to separate the human offer and offerer from the divine offer and offerer. That is not biblical tho.

    Peter: I think in the past, Christians have talked about the outward call and the inward call. The later done by the Spirit, who gives life to the spiritual dead.

    For Calvin, the Spirit is behind the external call too. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘come…'”

    Peter: The former is done by Christians to the ends of the earth and to everyone [without first trying to find out who is elect]. Why is it needed to be said that God has a strong desires for the reprobate to be saved, and yet He does not decree for him/her to be saved?

    David: if we remove this component, then there can be no well-meant or sincere offer. Both “sincere” and “well-meant” speak to the motive of the offerer. The terms never meant to simply speak of the truthfulness of the conditional proposition of the offer, in abstraction.

    Like this: I meet you. You obviously look hungry. I offer you lunch if you come inside the house. However, I only desire that you do not take up my offer. I have no desire at all that you be fed, that I be able to bless you in this way, that you be delivered from this hungry state. On no terms can my offer be sincere. The abstracted conditional truth statement–if you come inside, you will be fed–may be true, but my motives are hypocritical. Make sense?

    Peter: Is it possible that we are reading into the verses our Arminian leanings?

    David: Sure. But I offer the following considerations. That would make Calvin Arminian. :-) There is danger in your line of thought here. Could my acceptance of the Trinity possibly mean I am reading critical verses with Romanist leanings? Like the Trinity, what counts is that the free offer is biblical.

    Peter: It seems to me that that opens up God to be eternally sad, as if there was something preventing him from His desires to be done on earth or heaven.

    David: I offer the following considerations.

    When Paul says the Spirit is grieved because of our sin, is the Spirit eternally grieved? Has the Spirit ordained his own eternal sadness? This tells us instantly that such a rejoinder is not necessarily applicable.

    God himself speaks of his own wishing, his own lament, his own desire and delight that sinners obey and live (Ps 81:13, Eze 18:23, 33:11, Hos 11:8, etc).

    All our predications about God entail anthropomorphic elements. However, do our anthropomorphic language actually tell us something about God? Is there some corresponding analogical point of contact between the expression and the heart of God? That such a point of contact may seem mysterious to us is no reason that we should reject it as irrational: for then God himself reveals himself as irrational (above verses for example).

    Thats a start.

    Peter: Love the design of this site… you got skin!

    David: Not sure what the skin means, but the theme is certainly well-picked by a friend of mine.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    David

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