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Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

September 16, 2011

Link History to this thread:
7. Finally an Answer!
6. Restating the Problem
5. Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

4. When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?
3. When is an offer not an offer?
2.God and Green Spotted Unicorns
1. James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision

Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel


I. Introduction.
II. Assumptions.
III. The issue and the problem.
IV. What it means to make an offer.
V. The falsity of the conditional.
VI. The “conditional” considered as a proposal of means.
VII. What is Harry to believe?
VIII. Objections.
IX. The fact of the conditional proves unlimited satisfaction.
X. Conclusion.

I. Introduction:

Originally, I had proposed an argument that God cannot offer to forgive the non-died-for (NDF)1 because he is not able to confer forgiveness upon them, therefore, limited expiation and imputation of sin falsifies the sincere and free offer of forgiveness to all men. My argument is that given the proper and true definition of ‘offer,’2 God cannot sincerely, well-meaningly, genuinely, and legitimately offer to forgive a person for whom there is no basis of forgiveness available for that person. Thus, if God should offer forgiveness to someone for whom no forgiveness has been obtained or made possible by the death of Christ, such a divine offer would be insincere, disingenuous, illegitimate and ill-meant.3

The first serious response to our argument is that if the particularism of limited expiation and sin-bearing falsifies the free and sincere offer of the Gospel to all men, then so does the particularism of election and preterition. And so the argument unfolds: If the classic-moderate Calvinist can affirm that the particularism entailed in an election (and preterition) does not falsify the free and sincere offer of the gospel to all men, then, likewise, he should not object that the particularism entailed in a limited satisfaction for sin falsifies the free and sincere offer of the gospel to all men. Our response to this is that the particularism in both election and limited satisfaction for sin do not bear a univocal relationship to the gospel offer. I argue that the particularism in election and preterition entails a divine willingness to save some and not to save others, and this particularism is located in the secret will. On the other hand, the particularism of limited satisfaction entails an inability to impart salvation, an inability to impart the very thing offered with regard to the NDF.4 The problem should be clear when one realizes that the legitimacy and genuineness the divine offer is directly indexed to the availability of the thing offered.5 God cannot sincerely and genuinely offer what he knows he is not able to give. Under the terms of limited satisfaction, forgiveness of sins with respect to the NDF is impossible, and so for God to make a pretense of offering forgiveness to the NDF is insincere and a mockery.

This then leads to the second counter to our original argument. This second reply has two steps. The second objection first challenges the standard definition of the word “offer” by asserting that a simple statement of fact expressed in conditional form properly and rightly constitutes a legitimate and sincere offer.6 Thus, the argument goes, even on the supposition that a specific hearer is NDF, the conditional statement, “if you believe, you will be saved” made to that hearer, itself, constitutes a legitimate offer of salvation.7

Then the argument further attempts to validate the sincerity of that statement to that specific hearer on the basis of the following counter-factual supposition that, ‘An offer that is made to a given NDF person is sincere in that had that person believed, he would have obtained the offered salvation, because it would have turned out that he was died-for8 all along.’

The background assumptions in this line of rebuttal is that an offer is only insincere in that were a person to embrace the thing offered and were to fail to obtain the thing offered then, and only then, would the offer be insincere. To avoid this, with regard to the NDF, possible worlds logic is imported, such that, upon embracing the thing offered, it would turn out that the offeree was died-for all along.

The following response is primarily to the second of these two counter-arguments.

II. Assumptions:

1) Throughout this brief essay, my assumption is that whenever I speak of an offer, I am not speaking of any human offers,9 but only of the divine offer to humans. This removes all the pretended confusion.10

2) Throughout this essay I will use “Harry” as a representative of any given non-died-for person. Harry is both NDF and by extension reprobate.

4) Being a Christian, my assumption is that God does not, nor cannot, mock a sinner. God does not, nor cannot, propose a means of salvation to any man where there are no means, or any means apart from the person and work of Christ. God cannot make a pretense of proposing means of salvation to a person for whom no means has been obtained.

5) God cannot remit sin apart from a vicarious penal satisfaction.

6) God cannot remit sin apart from the person and work of Christ.

7) The rejection of Scotus voluntarism. Scotus voluntarism is the idea that God could have decreed to remit sin by any means he wished, such that the death of Christ as a penal satisfaction for sin was not necessary. However, Scotus, himself, was committed to the truth that once God had committed himself to remitting sin only by the death of Christ, he cannot now remit sin by any other means: only that it could have been otherwise. On the supposition of the rejection of voluntarism, God cannot in this world, nor in any possible world, remit sin apart from the death of Christ. These assumptions are aspects of his character and so are necessary aspects of his holiness. In no possible world can these suppositions be denied, unless one grants Scotist voluntarism.

8) The underlying assumption of this paper is that while possible worlds logic is interesting and helpful in many cases, the reality is, we live in this world. If a proposition cannot be validated on the terms of the actual world in which we live in, and in which God deals with us as men, then it is functionally false. God himself does not have recourse to possible worlds in order to validate his alleged sincerity or insincerity or truthfulness or untruthfulness in this world. If the offer of salvation to a NDF person cannot be validated on the terms of this actual world, then recoursing to possible worlds is meaningless and nothing but a speculative enterprise of a human mind already bent to rationalism.

9) While this essay does not deal with every counter-objection, it does assume that a counter argument which seeks to shift the problem to another issue or contention without dealing with the issue at hand is an evasion. It is not enough to counter, “but you have the same sort of problem over here.” Directing our attention to a second problem will not make the first one go away. Nor will it be allowed that any aspect of the secret will can falsify the sincerity or truthfulness of the revealed will.

10) While some of the footnotes in this paper supply extra supporting arguments and clarification, this essay is not able to give an exhaustive presentation of all its positive points, nor also exhaust the all the possible replies to all possible objections. Its aim is to only outline basic Reformed theology and that in response to the specific (hypercalvinist) challenge above.

III. The issue and the problem:

1) Is it true that a simple statement of fact expressed in conditional form legitimately constitutes an offer of something?

2) Can we evaluate this single statement as being true or false, with regard to the non-died-for, “If you believe, you will be saved”?

With regard to the second point, this is the statement that needs to be tested. Can that statement be true in this world, or any possible world?

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

It is not possible for any person in this world to be saved apart from the person and work of Christ.

While belief is a necessary condition for salvation, the satisfaction of Christ is the sufficient condition for salvation.

And so, importantly, on the truth that there is no penal satisfaction for Harry, the statement, “if you Harry believe, you will be saved” is false. For the sufficient cause–the satisfaction of sins by Christ–whereby Harry can be saved is inapplicable to Harry. The issue is only muddled when possible worlds inferences and logic are smuggled in.

IV. What it means to make an offer.

1) What is an offer?

The first thesis of this paper is this: it is dishonest to claim that a bare statement of fact in conditional form constitutes an offer. An offer is not a naked statement of a causal relationship, such as: “If P, then Q.” It is not that such a “definition” or meaning of “offer” is idiosyncratic, but that it’s just a falsehood.

If we use the same methodology we normally use to define any Greek or Hebrew word, one would look to the lexicography of the word.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists a few meanings for “offer,” all of which contain a common element. The main definition, in summary:

An act of offering, a holding forth, or presenting for acceptance; an expression of intention or willingness or to give or do something conditionally on the assent on the part of the person address; a proposal.

Further, offer, has a sacrificial aspect which retains the same basic elements.

The OED again,

to bring before, to present, offer, bestow… 1. to present (something) for God (or to a deity, a saint, or the like), as an act of worship… 3. to present or tender for acceptance or refusal; to hold out (a thing) to a person to take if he will….”

The Macquarie Dictionary says much the same:

“1. To present for acceptance or rejection; proffer: to offer someone a cigarette. 2. To put forward for consideration: to offer a suggestion. 3. To make a show of intention (to do something)….”

The Random House Dictionary gives such definitions:

1. To present for acceptance or rejection; proffer: He offered me a cigarette. 2. Propose or put forward something for consideration: to offer a suggestion. 3. To make a show of intention to (to do something): we did not offer to go first….

The listing goes on quite extensively. Synonyms are, proffer and tender.

This same basic meaning also holds good for the Latin root offero. Definitions 8 to 10 of the Oxford Latin Dictionary:

8. To hold out (a material thing) for a person to take….
9. To tender for acceptance, offer (help, resources etc)… to offer to perform, volunteer for (an action).
10. To offer one’s services, come forward as a volunteer, partner, ally…

English examples could be:

John offers his hand in marriage to Mary.
Peter offers a sandwich to Bill.
The priest offers is sacrifice to God in the temple.
Morgan offers a suggestion to Pierce.

In standard English, to offer something entails at least, a “something,” whether purely conceptual like a suggestion, or new state of affairs such as a relationship, as in a marriage, or a tangible, such as a sandwich, or even oneself. And with that, there is a willingness to impart the thing offered. I cannot think of an example where an offer of something is such that nothing is actually proffered to be given, or to be extended, or to be handed over, or imparted, and so forth.

So when is an ‘offer’ not an offer? When it’s nothing but a statement of fact, in the form of a simple or bare conditional. For example:

If you drink water, you will not die of thirst.
If you walk in the rain, you will get wet.
If you run, you will catch the bus.
If you eat this cooked chicken, you will be satiated.
If you refuse to believe, you will perish.

At no point in these or any other examples has anything actually been offered or tendered or proffered. Such bare statements, themselves, cannot constitute an offer of anything. Have I offered the dying man any water? No. Have I offered to make the man wet? No. Have I offered to help the man catch the bus? No. Have I offered the hungry man any chicken? No. Have I offered to cause or helped to cause the unbeliever to perish? No. I do admit that I have, indeed, described means by which something or some state of affairs is obtained, but in no way have I, for my part, offered to provide or give anything.

2) The second factual misrepresentation is that a simple statement of fact expressed in conditional form is not how the Bible describes offers of salvation. The Bible, itself, uses various words to define and delineate what it means when it speaks of divine or human offers11 of salvation.

For example, it refers to the call,

Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.12

Again Jesus with tender expression invites,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.13

This invitation to come to Christ is expressed to all who hear the words of Christ in gospel offer and proclamation. Invitations of the gospel are also variously expressed by John,

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.14

Here Jesus invites all, saying if you believe in me, you shall receive living water.

In Revelation, this idea is expanded:

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.15

The invitation expressed is connected with the call to come. This idea has its roots in the Old Testament:

Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.16

What is more, Paul himself outlines the message of the Gospel:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.17

From Paul, we can see that the object of the saving faith, by which the yet-to-be-converted Corinthians took their stand, was Christ and his person and work.

While these are but a small selection of verses which could be cited, the biblical idea is, undoubtedly, that a person is tendered something, and that person is invited to come or receive that which is so tendered, which will be given upon coming. In Biblical terms, the offerer is witnessing to the fact that the benefit of the person and work of Christ is available to that person, which they can obtain by the means of coming, resting, and trusting in Christ. What is more, the biblical offers direct the offeree to place his faith directly upon Christ, and not upon a proposition. The offer of Christ, the benefit of his person and work, is directly indexed to the availability of that benefit. And so also, the offer is tendered to all who hear the gospel call. The content of that invitation when more formally stated by Paul contains the propositions that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he rose again.

You will not find the gospel’s offers and invitations being described by way of a bare statement of fact in conditional form. You will see the description of the means by which one is saved prescribed and proffered, but the statement of the means, is not the offer of the means, itself, rather the offer contains this prescription of means.

3). The claim that the bare conditional statement constitutes an offer is also a distortion of the truth on the terms of what Calvinism, itself, has truly and traditionally embraced. It’s only the hypercalvinists in church history who have pretended to claim that a bare statement constitutes the proper proclamation of the gospel. The following is but a sample of the Reformed understanding of the well-meant offer of the gospel.18

For example, VanderKemp:

Do ye say, We trust not in our works, but in the merits of Christ through faith? But are ye implanted into Christ by faith, and do ye therefore bring forth fruits of thankfulness? this is well; but do ye think that works will not avail to save you, but faith only and do ye therefore live: as ye list, ye are then a reproach to our holy doctrine, and “the name of Cod is blasphemed through you, as it is written,” Rom. ii. 24. Your faith is without works, is a dead faith, as James speaks James ii. 17. Verily, your outward ado, and saying, Lord, Lord, will not procure you an entrance into the kingdom of God: Faith only, which works by love, avails in Christ Jesus,” Gal. v. 6. O that ye would all of you see your misery with anxiety, and that ye cannot deliver yourselves, that ye might cry out with concern, “What shall we do?” as those did, Acts ii. 37. Rest not, before ye are in the Son of God; he is willing and able to bestow a sufficient righteousness on you. Hear him cry to you, Isaiah xlv. 22 “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth : Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: to him shall men come.” Johannes VanderKemp, The Christian, Entirely the Property of Christ, in the life and death, Exhibited in Fifty-three Sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997). 503-504.

VanderKemp rightly highlights the point that in the gospel offer, God is not only willing, but that he is able to “bestow” life. For Vanderkemp, it is life itself being offered to the sinner.

From another perspective, a’ Brakel says:

The true means whereby we are called, however, is the gospel. “Whereunto He called you by our gospel” (2 Th. 2:14). The word “gospel” means a good tiding, the content of which is as follows: “Poor man, you are subject to sin and to the wrath of God. You are traversing upon the way which will end in eternal perdition. God, however, has sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a Surety; in His suffering and death there is the perfect satisfaction of the justice of God, and thus acquittal from guilt and punishment. In His obedience to the law there is perfect holiness, so that He can completely save all who go unto God through Him. Christ offers you all His merits, and therefore eternal salvation. He calls and invites everyone: “Turn unto Me and be saved, receive Me, surrender to Me, enter into a covenant with Me and you will not perish but have everlasting life.” This declaration is recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The first gospel declaration is found in Genesis 3:15, where we read that the Seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. Since then, God has frequently and in various ways caused the gospel to be proclaimed (Heb. 1:1). “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (Heb. 4:2).19

And again:

The External Call of the Gospel Comes to All who Hear the Gospel

Question: Does God call all who are under the ministry of the gospel, but who as yet are not saved, or does God call the elect only?

Answer: God calls all and everyone who live under the ministry of the gospel. This must be noted so that one may have liberty to receive Christ by faith, which one would not have if the gospel were not offered–and also in order that the justice of God would be acknowledged in punishing those who neglect so great a salvation and do not obey the gospel. The following must be noted in order that everyone may be convinced of this matter.

First, compare yourself with the wild Indians, who neither know Christ nor have knowledge of salvation. Do you not see that God deals differently with you than with them? Would you wish to trade places with them? Why not? Is it not because there is more hope for salvation where you are than where they are? Will not the condemnation of those who have lived under the ministration of the gospel, but who do not repent, be greater than the condemnation of the wild heathen? Why would this be if salvation had not been offered to you? This therefore proves that all who hear the gospel are called.

Secondly, everyone who is under the ministry of the gospel hears the voice of the minister as he preaches, exhorts, and rebukes. It is thus addressed to him who hears it. The minister is a servant of Christ, a “steward of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1), and an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore he who hears the minister hears Christ, and he who rejects the minister rejects Him (Luke 10:16). Consider also that the very words of God Himself are contained in Scripture. Since, therefore, everyone hears the voice of the minister and the very words of God resound in his ears, all that is said is addressed to him who hears it and he is called by the gospel.20

The famous Sum of Saving Knowledge, in its “Warrants to believe,” Describes the Gospel offer as a hearty invitation, a loving request, and a sweet invitation. The Sum for example:

He that, upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to him by the mouth of ministers, (having commission to that effect,) has embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and does purpose, by God’s grace, as a reconciled person, to strive against sin, and to serve God to his power constantly, may be as sure to have righteousness and eternal life given to him, for the obedience of Christ imputed to him, as it is sure that Christ was condemned and put to death for the sins of the redeemed imputed to him… That if any man shall not accept the sweet invitation of God, or the humble and loving request of God, made to him to be reconciled, he shall find he has to deal with the sovereign authority of the highest Majesty; for “this is his commandment, that we believe in him.”21

On the other hand, Iain Murray well describes the hypercalvinist concept of the gospel proclamation in Spurgeon’s time:

Hyper-Calvinists asserted the facts of the gospel, they taught that eternal life is the gift of God, bestowed solely on account of the work of Jesus Christ, and they upheld the supernaturalism of grace.22

And again:

Gospel preaching for Hyper-Calvinists means a declaration of the facts of the gospel but nothing should be said by way of encouraging individuals to believe that the promises of Christ are made to them particularly until there is evidence that the Spirit of God has begun a saving work in their hearts, convicting them and making them ’sensible’ of their need .23

A.C. de Jong makes the same point with reference to modern Hoeksemian hypercalvinism:

The question of faith as accepting certain belief-worthy propositions about God’s work in Christ and faith as a whole-soul commitment to God’s grace in Christ as this is carried to the sinner by means of the kerygma is important. As we saw earlier Hoeksema tended to transmute preaching into the report of certain objective truths. i.e., Truths which do not apply to all gospel addressed sinners. The herald may loudly proclaim the proposition that God will save sinners if they believe. but the herald may not personally address this truth. Who knows but that he might speak to a procreated object of sovereign wrath! The faith-response for Hoeksema must in the nature of the case terminate upon a body of propositional truth and not upon a personally spoken word of Christ, for the promise is always particularly addressed. It is only for the elect. He can scarcely avoid a conceptual abstraction of the knowledge of faith, that is certain truths which all gospel hearers can assent to as a probable interpretation of what Scripture teaches, from the fiducial aspect of faith which in some way makes that body of truth especially relevant for the elect who believe it. Implicit is the danger to make the intellectual assent predominant since the herald doesn’t dare to address the conditional promise to all sinners. Thus the herald calls the hearer to rest in the propositional exposition of God’s acts and hope for the seed of regeneration which will enable him to trust in these truths. The imitate and inseparable relation of knowledge to trust in faith and the significance of propositional truth for the cognitive aspect of faith remain significant points of contact with contemporaneous theological discussion.24

Earlier de Jong notes that this conception of the gospel offer and call does not comport to the biblical facts:

A call to repentance and faith which is universal demands a promise of salvation which is as universal as the call. If God calls sinners to turn, they must have someone to turn to. The call to repent and believe is a call to salvation. Thus God’s promise of salvation must be as universal, common, and general as the gracious summons to believe it. In faith we know that God’s offer is as unfeigned and serious for the unbelieving rejecter as it is for the believing accepter. Preaching is not in the first instance an explication of an objective set of circumstances and then a decision for or against the news report. Preaching is not in the first instance a communication of a certain truth, nl., that Christ died only for the elect or that all sinners are elected and reprobated in Jesus Christ. It is a gracious summons to accept Jesus Christ with all his benefits–faith inclusive–in the way of faith. To believe is to accept HIM, not some truth about him. As the sinner rests in Christ the truths concerning him light up the knowledge of faith.25

Thus, while it is true and correct that the gospel offer of salvation contains the condition, “if you believe, you will be saved,” it is not true that the simple assertion of that conditional is, itself, an offer. The attempt to assert that it is, indeed, an offer, is critical to the hypercalvinist position because as soon as one accepts what an offer of something truly entails, then we come back to God proposing to give to the NDF something that is not available for him to give, namely forgiveness of sins which was only obtained for the elect. It becomes dishonest of God to offer and tender a benefit of that satisfaction to someone for whom no benefit was originally obtained, or when that benefit was specifically and only obtained for someone else.

V. The falsity of the conditional: “if you believe, you will be saved” (with respect to the NDF)

To restate, the claim is that a bare conditional statement (which I will call ‘the conditional’) “if you believe, you will be saved” could be proposed to the NDF, and yet still be sincere, genuine and legitimate. The idea is, the statement to Harry, “if you believe, you will be saved” is true even if Harry never believes. What is more, even if Harry believes, it’s still true, because then it would have turned out that Harry was elect and died-for along.

The problem is that last idea has smuggled in possible world’s logic.

On this line of argument, the sincerity of the offer to NDF Harry can only be validated on the supposition of another possible world, wherein, in this other world, Harry was elect (Harry2) and therefore died-for, and so he could not fail to obtain salvation. The appeal to validate the sincerity of the offer to reprobate Harry (Harry1) in this world, by a process of trans-world validation is incoherent in that it attempts to justify the offer to reprobate Harry (Harry1) by the certainty that elect Harry (Harry2) could not fail to obtain the thing offered, in a world which does not actually exist and cannot exist.

This is nothing but a shell-game. The offer comes to reprobate Harry (Harry1), and is allegedly sincere, because were he26 to have taken up the offer, he would have obtained the thing offered. And this true because it would have turned out that he was died-for all along. Note the logical connectors there: because… because, and the pronouns seemingly referencing the same person. The problem is, reprobate Harry, to whom the offer was tendered, now disappears. God began his dealings with a non-died-for Harry (Harry1), only to end his dealings with a died-for elect Harry (Harry2).27

To labor the point:

1. God offers reprobate Harry (Harry1) salvation.
On the supposition that Harry1 believes,
2. God gives elect Harry (Harry2) salvation (the thing offered to Harry1)

Proposition 2. Has to follow because,

3. It turned out that Harry1 was elect and died-for all along.

The only way to avoid the self-referential absurdity is to posit two Harries, one reprobate and one elect: Harry1 and Harry2. That is, the sincerity of the offer to Harry1 is validated only on the basis of the sincerity of the offer to Harry2 (in another reality).

However, the obvious problem is, can the sincerity of the offer be validated to the Harry1 in this world, on the supposition that he is not died-for? No. But yet the contradiction in all this is: It can only be certain, and on the now unequal terms, that elect Harry (Harry2) would obtain the thing offered on the presupposition that he was died-for, which establishes our point. To be clear, we are not denying that had Harry believed, in this world, this would have been a different reality. What we are challenging is the assertion that a statement made to Harry1, can be validated on the unequal terms of another possible world, wherein the Harry2 is died-for (the unequal variable), while Harry1 is not-died-for.

The big problem is, there is only this world in actuality. And given that we only have this world, normal and intelligent people would reason in the other direction, the right direction. By this I mean, we have a conditional statement if you believe, you will be saved, made to Harry. The problem is, however, in this world Harry’s salvation is not possible as God has not sustained the penal basis whereby Harry can be justified and forgiven. Justification and forgiveness are preconditions causa sine qua non for salvation. No justification, no salvation. In this world, no possible means for justification has been secured for Harry by the death of Christ. Therefore, on these terms, it is not possible for Harry to be saved.

An illustration may help.28

Let us say, someone proposes this statement with reference to fallen angels: “if they believe, they would be saved,”29 would that statement be true or false? It would be false, and it would be false for the following obvious reasons.

Apart from the death of Christ, no person (angel or human) can be saved. The death of Christ did not lay down a means of forgiveness for fallen angels: in short, Christ has not died for fallen angels. Therefore, the statement with reference to fallen angels, “if they were to believe, they will be saved” is false. But supposing someone said to me, “Well, David, the conditional statement is true because were the demon to believe, it would turn out that Christ had actually died for angels as well as humans.30 Needless to say, such a reply should be seen as absurd without reservation. Normal and intelligent people take note that in the case of demons, the absence of a satisfaction for their sin in this world, precludes for them the possibility of salvation, hence the statement is deemed false.31

Now we can begin to understand the problem for Harry. In terms of limited satisfaction, it is the case that Harry is no less damnable than the demons. What is more, Harry is no more savable than the demons. This has to follow because both Harry (and all the NDF) are in the same categorical relationship to the death of Christ as are the fallen angels, that of absolute exclusion.32 They both stand on the same ground relative to the satisfaction of Christ, that of a complete absence of any penal relationship or judicial connectivity with the satisfaction of Christ. And so, while it is granted that demons may be more sinful, more evil and more deserving of death, even have a different ontology than humans, nonetheless, relative to the Christ, Harry (and all the NDF), is no less categorically excluded from the possibility of salvation than are demons: no more, no less and undeniably so.33

So while it is true in terms of simple biblical prescription that if Harry believes he would be saved, it is not true if Christ had not provided a satisfaction for his sins. Steve Costley explains the problem the limited atonement proponent has:

When we ask the question “what would happen to Judas if he had believed?” we are asking about a counter-factual conditional. The opponents of strict limited atonement often ask about what would happen in a hypothetical case where a person who is not elect, Judas for example, were to believe.

In logic, a “conditional” is a statement in the “if-then” form: if p then q, for example. The “p” is called the antecedent and the “q” is the consequent.

And the question about Judas is known as a “counterfactual conditional:” that is, Judas did not believe and he was not saved. Both the antecedent (Judas’s belief) and the consequent (Judas’s salvation) are known or believed to be counter to the facts.

When we ask the hypothetical question about Judas, we are actually not seeking information about Judas, his belief, or his salvation. Rather we are asking a question about the “if-then” statement itself. We are really asking about the underlying preconditions necessary to support the “if-then” statement.

In the case of Judas, when we ask the question, “What if Judas had believed?” we are asking about the necessary preconditions that would go into making the “if-then” statement a true one. If Judas had believed, what preconditions would be necessary for Judas to be saved?

As I see it, the death of Christ for Judas is a necessary precondition to making the “if-then” statement a true one. In order for Judas to be saved if he had believed, it would have been necessary that Christ had died for him as a precondition to his salvation. If Christ had not died for Judas, then if Judas had believed, he could not be saved and the “if-then” statement “If Judas believed, then he would be saved” is false.

Building on Nelson Goodman’s article,34 Jim Beale makes the following point,

[It] is clear that LA [limited atonement] itself provides the law and that this law itself prevents the consequent from following from the antecedent. So, according to Goodman’s treatment of counter-factuals, given LA it is not possible to infer “a person will be saved” from “he believes”–the law provided by LA will not permit the inference. So, according to Goodman’s development, under the terms of LA, in the case of the non-elect, it is false to say, “if you believe, you will be saved.”

Some simple illustrations.35 If I say, “if you strike the match, it will light” that statement is considered true under the normal laws and accepted general ideas pertaining to matches and what it takes to make one light. The general assumption is that a struck match will light when it’s dry, not broken, not yet struck, and so forth. However, if the necessary preconditions do not exist, then the conditional will be proved false. Supposing the match is wet, my saying to John “if you strike the match, it will light” is false. The lack of the necessary preconditions would falsify the conditional if John tested it by striking the match.

Or again, if I say, “if you get in your car and turn the key, you will be able to drive to Memphis.” This statement would be deemed true on the assumption of all things being equal, such as, gas in the tank, and so forth. However, if there is no gas in the tank, my saying to John, “if you get in your car and turn the key, you will be able to drive to Memphis” would be a false statement. Possible worlds logic will not put gas in the tank or make a wet match dry.

On the supposition, then, that Christ has not sustained a penal satisfaction for Harry (limited atonement) in this actual world, to say, “If you believe, you will be saved” is false: Because there is no other possibility of being saved apart from the person and work of Christ. It could only be true if there was a means of salvation apart from the space-time completed work of Christ in this world.36 This is not possible, even under the terms of Scotist voluntarism,37 as this world is now a fixed reality, and no additional sin–according the assumptions of limited expiation and limited imputation theology–can be imputed to Christ.38 Christ’s death is the sufficient condition for the possibility of forgiveness of sins and justification, and, therefore, for salvation. Without that sufficient condition in play with respect to any NDF, their salvation is impossible.

Is it possible for Harry to be saved apart from the person and work of Christ? No. Therefore, on the presupposition that Christ has not sustained a vicarious penal relationship with Harry (i.e., limited atonement), the statement39 to Harry, “if you believe, you will be saved” is false. It is as false for Harry as it would be if said to a demon. Indeed, in every possible world that statement to, or with regard to, any NDF person would be false. Indeed, “if you believe, you will be saved” can only be true on the supposition that Christ has made a penal satisfaction for that person.40

Moreover, normal people should not invent a possible world which does not exist in order to validate a false statement in this world, but should rather seek to resolve the problem on the terms of this world.

What then are the options for normal intelligent people, who are committed to life in this actual world when, on the supposition of limited satisfaction and imputation of sin,41 they are confronted with the statement (by a divine person no less) with reference to Harry,“if you believe, you will be saved”? As I see it, with respect to the death of Christ and the NDF, there are basically 4 options, with one or two ‘not so credible.’

1. Deny limited atonement and affirm the conditional [classic-moderate Calvinism].
2. Affirm limited atonement and deny the conditional [hypercalvinism].
3. Deny both limited atonement and the conditional [atheism?].
4. Affirm both limited atonement and the conditional [contradiction and irrationalism].

For our part, we are asking fellow Calvinists to embrace option 1. and abjure options 2-4. The value of option 1. is that it can and does affirm both the unlimited nature and scope of the satisfaction, with the limited intention to apply,42 and yet in so doing it sustains a robust platform for the sincere, genuine, and well-meant offer of the gospel to all men.

VI. The “conditional” considered as a proposal of means.

Let us set aside the question for the moment of whether a simple statement of fact expressed in conditional form is an offer or not. We still have to face the question, what does it mean to say to someone, “if you believe, you will be saved”? The statement tells the hearer that the means by which you are saved is by the means of belief. I cannot imagine this fact being denied on any intelligible basis.43 Thus, the statement, “if you believe, you will be saved” at least includes the proposal of means, whereby one may be saved.

If that is so, upon the supposition that the hearer is not died-for, how coherent is the divine proposal to this hearer, “if you believe you will be saved”? What sufficient means could or would God be proposing to the non-died-for? Could it be bare faith (no doubt a necessary condition), alone, apart from the vicarious satisfaction of Christ? No. So then, how intelligible would it be for God to propose a means for salvation, namely belief, to Harry, whereby it is alleged that through faith he will be saved, when all along there is no sufficient means (sufficient condition) whereby God, for his part, could save Harry? God would just be mocking Harry. God would be playing with him. God would tantalizing him with a lie.

Therefore (even apart from the question of what is an offer), on the terms of limited satisfaction and imputation of sin, the statement of fact expressed in conditional form, with regard to the non-died-for, as a proposal of means to salvation, is just as insincere, inchoate and dishonest. It is a lying proposal and there would be no way to absolve God from the charge of lying.

VII. What is Harry to believe?

The next problem is this: What does it mean for one assert “if Harry believes…? Believes what? What is God asking Harry to believe in or upon?

On the supposition that there is no just means whereby God may confer forgiveness and bestow salvation upon Harry, how is this sort of statement even intelligible: “if you Harry believe, you will be saved”? It is incoherent because what is God asking Harry to believe, and to believe in, and to believe on?

Certainly Harry is not being asked or invited, by God, to believe in a bare proposition, even in conditional form, namely ‘If you believe, you will be saved”? For this would only make that proposition, itself, the object of Harry’s faith. And certainly he is not being asked to believe in the bare propositions, ‘Christ died for sinners’ or ‘Christ died for sin.’ For again, this would only make such propositions the object of his faith.

The French Huguenot and Reformer explained it this way:

We should remember that this revelation of God’s will in the gospel consists of four parts. First, in Jesus Christ alone there is complete and perfect salvation; second, we receive this salvation by believing in him; third, when this gospel is preached to us, God reveals that he will make us participants in this salvation in Christ Jesus; and fourth, he commands that we believe the many testimonies of his good will, which he gives for the sake of our salvation. Now, the problem with believing lies in the last two parts. It lies in believing them with confidence, even though in reality they are firm and sure. “Behold,” says the apostle John, (‘this is God’s testimony namely that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). He says not only that this life is in his Son but also that he gives us this life and that the gospel testifies to this. Immediately before this verse he declared, “Anyone who does not believe God makes him a liar” (1 John 5:10). Thus, he has shown us enough to let us know that God wants us to believe him.

The apostle went even further in what he wrote to the Hebrews, Declaring, “Wanting to make abundantly clear to the heirs of the promise the immutable nature of his purpose, God swore an oath. God did this so that we might find strong encouragement in two unchangeable realities concerning which it is impossible for God to lie. They cause us who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope that is set before us. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the veil, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (Heb. 6:17-20). By this he teaches us first of all that whenever we hear the gospel, we must regard as true and sure that the counsel hidden in God’s heart concerning his will to save and to embrace us as his children has been revealed to us. In the second place, by this he teaches us that God desires that we believe in him. The last point is obvious from the fact that he has ratified the one and the same by his Word and by his oath. Both of these stand firm, for it is impossible that God should ever lie. The intent is that we have a solid basis for our comfort, which we will never experience unless we believe in him. Moreover, the disclosure of God’s counsel is called “the hope presented to us.” God wants us to hope. Indeed, he desires that the disclosure of his counsel will be a firm “anchor for the soul” for us. As a ship is secured by its anchor so that it cannot be driven by the wind, so God desires that the disclosure of his counsel through the preaching of the gospel will hold us fast and give us assurance in the face of every doubt about our adoption as God’s children. What is more, this disclosure enables us to enter heaven in the confidence that the forerunner, Jesus Christ, has obtained possession of it both for himself and for us. So here is a text that very clearly proves that God reveals and declares to you, whenever you hear the gospel, that it is his will to save you through his Son Jesus Christ. That is why he also wants you to believe him. When the apostle Paul says that faith comes by hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), he shows that you cannot believe in any way other than by hearing.

Now, faith is both the knowledge and the confidence that it is God’s will to save you and to embrace you as his cherished child in Christ Jesus. From this it follows that the gospel, which is proclaimed to you and heard by you, contains within itself a disclosure and a testimony that it is God’s will first to save you through Jesus Christ and second that you believe the witnesses whom he has provided for you to obtain eternal life. If the gospel proclaimed to you did not include the disclosure of God’s will that you believe that you are his child in Jesus Christ, then you would believe what you did not hear in the gospel and your faith would lack a solid foundation. You should remember that the gospel preached to you has as its content that it is God’s will for you to believe that in Christ you are his child. This you may not doubt. If you do, you are casting doubt on what you heard and are doing injustice to God’s truth.

Tell me, who has any right to doubt this? It is not enough to say in general,Whoever believes has eternal life.Instead, he commands you what to believe, saying,Believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). John also writes, “This is his command, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). Therefore, believing in the gospel or in the name of Jesus Christ is not simply affirming that salvation is in Christ Jesus and that those who so believe have eternal Life. Even the devil believes that, although he does not believe in the gospel nor in the name of Jesus Christ. No, first you must believe that in Christ Jesus there is salvation for you, as is written in Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. 9:6). Similarly, the holy angel announced to the shepherds, “Today… there is born to you a Savior” (Luke 2:11). Second, you must believe that it is God’s will that you are his child [and] believe that about yourself. This the devil can never believe, since the gospel is not for him. If God discloses his good favor, will, and love toward you, which he is doing, why do you doubt any longer? Is he not truthful? He will neither lie nor deceive. When he now commands you to believe all this, may you yourself still question whether or not you are truly worthy? By no means. You are obligated to obey him and therefore to believe that he loves you and that you are his child through Christ Jesus. Remember that it is written that whosoever believes (no matter what or who he may be) has eternal life (John 3:16). So it is not audacious to trust in him firmly. Instead, it is an act of obedience that is well pleasing to him. You bring him the honor he desires when you believe his holy Word and are thereby assured of his truthfulness.

When he causes the gospel to be preached, it is certainly the case that he is not saying, “I have come to save Simon Peter or Cornelius the centurion or Mary Magdalene.” He calls no one by the name given them by men at the time of their circumcision or baptism. Were that the case, we could certainly doubt our salvation, for then the thought would legitimately arise that not we but perhaps someone else with the same name was meant. But when you hear that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, then you have the choice either of rejecting the title “sinner” or of confessing that he means you because he has come to save you. Conclude boldly, then, that “Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, and I confess that that is also my name since I also am a sinner. Therefore, he has come to save me!” When he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), you must pay attention to the little word “all.” Christ here is addressing all who are burdened and feel the weight of their sins. Why do you still doubt that he is also speaking to you? Come instead to this conclusion. Because he says “all,” I have also been addressed, and he promises to give rest also to me. This is what Paul means when he writes that there is no preference of persons, for he “is Lord of all and is generous toward all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). Take refuge in him and believe in him. Then you will be assured that he is rich in mercy also toward you.

If three or four hundred citizens were exiled from a city for some criminal act, and if there were then announced a general pardon by which everyone banished from the city might freely return with full assurance that all their possessions as well as their personal honor would be restored, would you–supposing that you also had been one of the exiles and that the man proclaiming the pardon were an honest and trustworthy prince–then not believe that you were included in the pardon, even though your name was not specifically mentioned? And would you then not believe that upon returning to your own city all your possessions would be restored to you? Now, we have all been banished from the kingdom of heaven by Adam’s transgression. But Jesus Christ, who died for such exiles, has proclaimed a general pardon by the preaching of the gospel, which permits and even commands a return to heaven.

He is a truthful King, even Truth itself. Canceling that ban and gaining permission for us to enter heaven has cost him dearly, even the shedding of his precious blood. What reason can you have to doubt your pardon and your right to return to heaven? Although the name you received at baptism is not explicitly mentioned, you are nevertheless addressed by him since you belong to the number of those exiled. “Banished one” is also your name. Believe, therefore, that the Lord addresses you sincerely and that his will concerning you is exactly what he declares in his Word.44

Taffin is exactly right here. The gospel nor the offer of the gospel is a simple statement, “whosoever believes will be saved,” which is functionally equivalent to “if you believe, you will be saved.” As Taffin notes, even demons believe this. Indeed, if this conditional statement is the object of faith, then demons must be saved, because Satan and his demons are fully aware and committed to the fact that sinners are thus saved through faith; they believe the proposition to be true. For despite all their wickedness, this is the very thing they seek to overthrow and deny with regards to sinners and their salvation.

This incoherency should be evidence enough to demonstrate the problem in all this. Limited expiation and imputation of sins precludes the possibility of the NDF (non-died-for) from being asked to believe in Christ, or on Christ.45 It reduces the call to believe and to come to meaninglessness.

VIII. Objections.

In response to our argument there are two standard objections. I almost hesitate to respond to these objections as I believe it will only fuel the mis-direction. These objections are no more than evasions in that they do not deal directly with the problem at hand. Further, if these objections are true, they would prove too much.46 Even if they were valid, they would not falsify the fact that a limited satisfaction for sin precludes a sincere offer of salvation to the NDF, because the lack of a satisfaction for sin for the NDF eliminates the possibility of justification no matter what other conditions may or may not obtain.

1) The first objection is, given our claims, we should also admit that total depravity falsifies the conditional in that it falsifies the possibility of the NDF’s ‘believing.’ The idea is that the blade of our argument cuts both ways.

Firstly, if limited satisfaction precludes the possibility of the NDF from being saved, thereby rendering the conditional (on the terms of limited satisfaction) meaningless and false, shifting our attention to another problem area is not going to make the first problem go away: unless of course the intent is to encourage us to embrace two direct contradictions and not just one. Secondly, if it was the case that human innate depravity was a natural inability, wherein calling sinners to repent and believe would be comparable to calling sticks and stones to be believe,47 then the objection might begin to have some merit. However, the counter negates the important distinction between natural ability and moral unwillingness.48 The doctrine of innate depravity with regard to sinners, whether elect or non-elect, does not mean that any given sinner is naturally unable to believe, in that there is a natural barrier or a wont of natural capacity preventing belief. We are creatures of God, we have all the physical faculties in order to believe, and so our problem is not that we have bits missing, but that we are unwilling. Therefore, innate depravity does not instantiate any natural or physical barriers thereby preventing any sinner from believing if he so wishes. Thirdly, culpability is grounded in knowledge and natural ability. A being without any natural ability cannot be accountable for failing to perform what he is naturally unable to perform; and so the converse holds, that the sincerity and propriety of God’s invitations and commands presuppose the legitimacy of the natural-moral distinction. Granted, the distinction between natural ability and moral unwillingness is not without mystery and complexity, nonetheless, it has been embraced by many Reformed theologians. William Weeks gives the best explication of this point:

Objection 4. It is said, that if this doctrine is true, and God decrees and causes whatever takes place, then men cannot possibly help doing as they do, in all cases. And so, if they are finally damned, they are damned for doing, what they cannot help. And when God requires them to do otherwise than they do, he requires an impossibility which is manifestly unjust and cruel.

Answer. It is granted that to punish men for doing what they cannot help, or to require of them an impossibility, would be manifestly unjust and cruel. But this God does not do. He requires no more of men than they are able to perform; and he punishes them only for doing those things which they could and ought to have abstained from doing. When we speak, in common language, of ability and inability, can and cannot, possible and impossible, we always have reference to men’s power and faculties of body or mind, and not at all to their inclinations. If a man has all the power and faculties of body and mind which are necessary to do a thing, we say he is able to do it, whether he is willing or not. His ability and his willingness are different things, perfectly distinct. A man may be able to perform a piece of work, which he has no heart to perform, and which he is totally unwilling to engage in. And again, a man may be perfectly willing to do that which is not in his power, that which is entirely beyond his strength. One man may be able to march to the field of battle, but totally unwilling. And another may be perfectly willing to march to the field of blood, but through bodily infirmity may be unable. Ability and willingness must both united in the same person, before he will perform any thing, but they are perfectly distinct, and our willingness constitutes no part of our ability. It is true that willingness is sometimes styled moral ability; but it is evidently in a figurative and improper sense. According to the usual and proper meaning of the term, men are able to do every thing which they have bodily and mental strength sufficient to do, whether they are willing to exert that strength, and do the thing or not. Now, although God cannot justly require of men more than they are able to do, that is, more than they have bodily and mental strength sufficient to do, if they were so disposed; yet he may, and does, justly require of them many things which they have no disposition to do, many things which they are totally unwilling to perform. And though men cannot be justly punished for not doing those things which they are unable to do, yet they may be justly punished for not doing those things which they are able, but are unwilling to do. Men are able to comply with the invitations of the gospel, that is, they have all the bodily and mental powers that are necessary to do it, and God may justly require them to do it, whether they are willing or not; and if they do not comply, he may justly punish them for their disobedience. And his making some willing and others unwilling, does not interfere with the ability of any. Those who are unwilling are just as able as those who are willing, and are as justly required to comply. To substantiate the objection, it must be made to appear, that God imposes some constraint upon men, so that they cannot do the things he requires, even though they are willing, and desirous of doing them. This is taken for granted in the objection. This is the real meaning of the phrase, doing what they cannot help. The meaning is, that they desire and endeavor to do otherwise, but have not the necessary bodily and mental strength. If they had, they should do, otherwise. They would, but cannot. But the fact is directly the reverse. They can, but will not. They have the necessary bodily and mental strength, but have no willingness. And this, God is not bound to give them. Should any say, that God cannot justly require of men any more than he gives them a willingness to do, as well as bodily and mental strength, this would abolish all law, and destroy the distinction between right and wrong. For if God cannot require of men any more than he makes them willing, as well as able, to do, then, since they always do what they have both strength and will to accomplish, he cannot justly require of them any more than they actually perform. And if they always do all that he requires, there is no such thing as sin in the world. It is right, therefore, for God to require of them all that they have powers and faculties sufficient to perform, all that they are able to do; and if they fail of complying through unwillingness, it is right that they should be punished. But men have all the powers and faculties necessary to comply with the invitations of the gospel, and all the commands of God, and want nothing but a willingness. They can comply, but will not. When, therefore, God punishes them for not complying, he punishes them, NOT for what they could not help, but solely for refusing to do what they could but would not.49

And we have the fact that God throughout the history of redemption speaks to sinners, both elect and non-elect, calling them to repent, to circumcise their hearts, pleading with them, commanding them, and promising to bestow salvation upon those who repent and turn to God. God speaks to us, not as sticks and rocks, but as his volitional creatures, albeit now fallen. He can speak to us as we should be in Adam because in no way has God deprived us of any natural ability to believe. Therefore, he can require our belief and with all seriousness offer us life on the condition of that belief

2) The second objection approaches the defense of the conditional in the context of a limited satisfaction by again shifting the focus. This argument takes on a variety of forms, some of which are puerile to say the least.50 By way of reductio, the central idea is that, if a limited satisfaction for sin falsifies the conditional, then just as much election and preterition must falsify it. This is similar to the response James Anderson proposed, but with much less finesse. The same answer given to my friend James still holds. Firstly, the particularism entailed in a limited satisfaction is of a different kind, such that it of necessity precludes a sincere offer, but election and reprobation do not. For in the former, it is an inability to apply forgiveness, while in the latter it is an unwillingness to apply forgiveness. However, the sincerity of the offer of forgiveness is directly indexed to the availability of the provision to forgive and to the revealed will. The sincerity (or insincerity) of the offer, nor the offer of forgiveness, itself, is indexed to election or preterition.

Election and preterition do not put up road blocks preventing belief. It is exactly as the Westminster Confession states:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established [WCF 3:1].

Predestination, in itself, does not ensure that any given sinner sins or remains in unbelief.  In this same manner, predestination does not impose any constraints upon the sinner, or create any barriers preventing belief and salvation, but rather so works that the freedom of the sinner is sustained.  However, with regard to the NDF,  a limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect alone leaves an inexorable wall and barrier, thereby absolutely precluding any just means whereby God, for his part, may save the NDF, yet it is the very possibility of salvation which he purports to offer to them.

Secondly, this same basic question was raised by Abraham Booth against Andrew Fuller under different terms. Booth posed the challenge that because of the design to apply the satisfaction was as an expression of election, how is that not also inconsistent with the divine offers of pardon. Fuller replied:

It has been objected, though not by Mr. B., “how does the sufficiency of Christ’s death afford ample ground for general invitations, if the design was confined to the elect people? If the benefits of his death were never intended for the non-elect, is it not just as inconsistent to invite them to partake of them as if there were a want of sufficiency! This explanation seems to be no other than shifting the difficulty.”

To this I answer:

1. It is a fact that the Scriptures rest the general invitation of the gospel upon the atonement of Christ.–2 Cor. v. 19, 21; Matt. xxii. 4; John iii. 16.

2. If there were not a sufficiency in the atonement for the salvation of sinners, and yet they were invited to be reconciled to God, they must be invited to what is naturally impossible. The message of the gospel would in this case be as if the servants who went forth to bid the guests had said, “Come,” though, in fact, nothing was ready, if many of them had come.

3. If there be an objective fullness in the atonement of Christ sufficient for any number of sinners, were they to believe in Him, there is no other impossibility in the way of any man’s salvation to whom the gospel comes than what arises from the state of his own mind. The intention of God not to remove the impossibility, and so not to save him, is only a resolution to withhold, not only that which he was not obliged to give, but that which is never represented as necessary to the consistency of exhortations and invitations to a compliance. I do not deny that there is a difficulty; but it belongs to the general subject of reconciling the purposes of God and the agency of man; whereas, in the other case, God is represented as inviting sinners to partake of that which does not exist, and which therefore is naturally impossible. The one, while it ascribes the salvation of the believer, in every stage of it, to mere grace, renders the unbeliever inexcusable, which the other, I conceive, does not.51

Preterition is not an active work of God whereby he makes the innocent guilty, or the sinner more guilty, or prevents them from believing. Such an idea, Dort found repugnant and condemned as error.52 Dort also affirmed:

And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.53

However, a limited satisfaction for sin leaves in place such legal barriers between God and the NDF such that God, for his part, cannot save them.54

Thirdly, we can also approach the problem another way. In my original reply to Anderson I said:

The only avenue Anderson can have, as I see it, is to attempt to claim that we should see election as equally incompatible with a sincere offer (given our assumptions?). But on what grounds could he suggest that? and does he really want to argue that in the first place? Perhaps Anderson might say both election and limited atonement bare a paradoxical relationship to the sincere offer. My reply would be limited atonement and the sincere free offer entail a contradiction (you cannot offer what you are not able to give), while election and the free offer entail a paradox (one offers, by revealed will, what one does not intend to give, by secret will). We would say we are warranted in rejecting the contradiction, while retaining the paradox. Anderson could only claim that one can indeed sincerely offer what one is not able to give.55

The above is true because an evangelical Calvinist is committed to the following:

XV. He, who by calling men shows that he wills their salvation and yet does not will it, acts deceitfully, if it is understood of the same will (i.e., if he shows that he wills that by the will of decree and yet does not will it; or by the will of precept and yet does not will it). But if it refers to diverse wills, the reasoning does not equally hold good. For example, if he shows that he wills a thing by the will of precept and yet does not will it by the will of decree, there is no simulation or hypocrisy here (as in prescribing the law to men, he shows that he wills they should fulfill it as to approbation and command, but not immediately as to decree). Now in calling God indeed shows that he wills the salvation of the called by the will of precept and good pleasure (euarestias), but not by the will of decree. For calling shows what God wills man should do, but not what he himself had decreed to do. It teaches what is pleasing and acceptable to God and in accordance with his own nature (namely, that the called should come to him); but not what he himself has determined to do concerning man. It signifies what God is prepared to give believers and penitents, but not what he has actually decreed to give to this or that person.

XVI. It is one thing to will reprobates to come (i.e., to command them to come and to desire it); another to will they should not come (i.e., to nill the giving them the power to come). God can in calling them will the former and yet not the latter without any contrariety because the former respects only the will of precept, while the latter respects the will of decree. Although these are diverse (because they propose diverse objects to themselves, the former the commanding of duty, but the latter the execution of the thing itself), still they are not opposite and contrary, but are in the highest degree consistent with each other in various respects. He does not seriously call who does not will the called to come (i.e., who does not command nor is pleased with his coming). But not he who does not will him to come whither he calls (i.e., did not intend and decree to come). For a serious call does not require that there should be an intention and purpose of drawing him, but only that there should be a constant will of commanding duty and bestowing the blessing upon him who performs it (which God most seriously wills). But if he seriously makes known what he enjoins upon the man and what is the way of salvation and what is agreeable to himself, God does not forthwith make known what he himself intended and decreed to do. Nor, if among men, a prince or a legislator commands nothing which he does not will (i.e., does not intend should also be done by his subjects because he has not the power of effecting this in them), does it follow that such is the case with God, upon whom alone it depends not only to command but also to effect this in man. But if such a legislator could be granted among men, he would rightly be said to will that which he approves and commands, although he does not intend to effect it.56

We hold that evangelical Calvinists like Turretin, while not able to make the relationship between the sincere offer and their doctrine of limited satisfaction explicable, correctly affirmed the standard Reformed teaching (contra hypercalvinism) that the secret will never falsifies the revealed will. And ironically, the very answer Turretin sets out to rebut the Arminian is the same answer in essence which we now give to refute the hypercalvinist. And so, the sincerity and truthfulness of the offer and command to believe is indexed to the revealed will not to the secret will. However, the atonement is itself part of the revealed will in that it is a public satisfaction for sin, to which the offer is directly indexed.

Lastly, the paradoxical, though not contradictory, relationship between the secret will and the revealed will can be no less underscored in the following statements from Christ:

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.57

Jesus, having just asserted that only those who can know the Son, are those to whom the Son reveals himself to, immediately proceeds to give a gospel call and invitation. The gospel invitations are not voided by the secret will, nor are they indexed to the secret will. Nor is the secret will the platform which grounds the offers or its sincerity. Christ offers rest universally to all, and all who come will find it. However, this offer of rest is undeniably indexed to his person and work.

IX. The truth of the conditional proves unlimited satisfaction.

We are now in a position to present a basic transcendental argument for an unlimited and universal satisfaction for sin. So far we have seen that under the terms of limited satisfaction for sin, the conditional statement, with regard to the NDF and/or all mankind, “if you believe, you will be saved” is neither possible nor true. However, we know from Scripture that the conditional is actually what God says to sinners, all sinners, in the context of the gospel offer, and when he genuinely proposes to them means whereby one can be saved. Given that God does, indeed, speak in this manner, the conditional must be true. However, it can only be true on the terms of an unlimited satisfaction for universal human sin because of the impossibility of the contrary. It is impossible to be true on the contrary assumption of a limited satisfaction and expiation for sin.58

To restate the point, as God says truly to the elect and the non-elect, “if you believe, you will be saved” we must presuppose that it can only be true on the presupposition of a universal satisfaction for all human sin. Given that the conditional is true, an unlimited expiation for all sin must, likewise, be true.

X. Conclusion.

So if we recap the arguments.

I had proposed that is impossible for God to offer forgiveness of sins to the non-died for, because God cannot offer to confer what he does not have to give, or is not legally able to give.

I proposed that “offer” means “an offering to give something to someone if they are willing,” and that this offer is tendered to all, not just to the “willing.” I further argued that one criterion for sincerity59 and/or genuineness in an offer was that one must have and/or be able to give what one offers. This means that for God, he must have the legal ability to confer forgiveness upon those to whom he offers forgiveness. Limited atonement, as defined by Owen and the modern TULIP, denies God the ability to confer forgiveness of sins upon the NDF.

In response to my challenge, the following was proposed as counter-arguments:

a) that a simple statement of fact in conditional form constitutes a genuine offer of something.

b) that this conditional [so-called] offer is sincere on the terms that were a NDF person to have believed, he would not have failed to obtain the thing offered, and this, itself is validated, because it would have turned out he was died-for and elect all along.

Our response to these have been to counter:

1) That a bare statement of fact expressed in conditional form is, itself, not an offer, by any English definition of the word, but a statement of fact pertaining to how one obtains the thing offered. To claim that it does constitute a legitimate offer is nothing more than dishonesty. Further, that such definition is untrue to Scripture’s own description of God’s offer of salvation. And that such a definition is in opposition to true Calvinism’s own definition and exposition of the offer of salvation, and that, indeed, it turns out that, historically, it has been hypercalvinism that has resorted to reducing the offer of salvation to a simple presentation of facts in conditional form.

2) That the unstated assumption behind b) is that it relies in a trans-world logic to validate the sincere offer to the NDF person in this world.

3) To note that in the supposition that a given person has not been died-for, the statement, “if you believe, you will be saved,” is false, because there is no other possible means of salvation apart from the person and work of Christ. That is, that apart from the satisfaction of Christ it is not possible for them to be saved, so telling a non-died-for person that they will be saved if they believe is a false.

3) To demonstrate that even if we momentarily put aside the fact that a simple statement of fact in conditional form is not an offer, but grant that it must at least entail a proposal of means, I have shown that it still remains the case that God is proposing a means of salvation to the non-died-for when there are no means for their salvation. Therefore, with reference to the non-died-for, as a proposal of means and on the supposition that Christ has not sustained a penal satisfaction for the NDF, God would be lying.

4) That on the terms that there is no satisfaction for a non-died-for person, it is incoherent to ask them to believe, for what are they to believe? what are the to believe in? or on whom are they to believe upon?

5) That the two critical objections to our opening argument are invalid and are nothing more than evasions because they fail to deal with the specific and named problem at hand.

6) It is clear that the statement “if you believe, you will be saved” itself presupposes an unlimited and universal satisfaction for sin as a necessary precondition by which that statement can be true, in this world or in any possible world.

Thus, it is clear that some proponents of limited expiation and imputation of sin have attempted to hide the fact that a limited expiation precludes a sincere offer to the non-died-for, by attempting to convert what it means it to make an offer into a bare statement of fact expressed in conditional form, wherein they attempt to validate the sincerity of that bare conditional, with regard to the non-died-for, by way a trans-world validation, otherwise known as possible worlds logic. All of which, however, fails to validate the sincerity of God’s offer of salvation to the non-died-for in this actual world. And given that we live in this world, such an strategy must be rejected.

To close, Polhill’s comments are appropriate:

But if Christ [in] no way died for all men, how came the minister’s commission to be so large. They command men to repent that their sins may be blotted out for whom Christ was not made sin? They beseech men to be reconciled to God, but how shall they be reconciled for whom Christ paid no price at all? They call and cry out to men to come to Christ that they may have life, but how can they have life, for whom Christ was no surety in his death? If then Christ died for all men, the ministry is a true ministry as to all; but if Christ died only for the elect, what is the ministry as to the rest? Those exhortations, which as to the elect are real undissembled offers of grace, as to the rest seem to be but golden dreams and shadows. Those calls, which as to the elect are right ministerial acts, as to the rest appear as extra-ministerial blots and erratas. Those invitations to the gospel feast, which as the elect are the cordial wooings and beseechings of God himself, as to the rest look like the words of mere men speaking at random, and without commission; for alas! why should they come to that feast for whom nothing is prepared? How should they eat and drink for whom the Lamb was never slain? Wherefore, I conclude that Christ died for all men, so far as to found the truth of the ministry towards them.60



1. Whenever the term “limited atonement” is used in this paper, it refers directly to the doctrine that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ (limited imputation of sins) whereby Christ only sustained a limited satisfaction (limited expiation) for the sins of the elect alone. Christ did not sustain a penal relationship with the non-elect, the NDF. Classic-moderate Calvinism maintains that Christ sustained a universal satisfaction for all sin, which grounds (among other things) the free offer of the Gospel, while affirming unconditional election and preterition, and the other central truths of the Augustinian heritage.

2. Any English dictionary will give the same basic meaning, such as, “an offer is a willingness to give something to someone, if they are willing.”

3. The assumption throughout this paper is that an ill-meant offer is by definition insincere and a lying offer. This is obvious as the biblical offer, on its face, implies a willingness and a desire that the offeree take up the thing offered in order to be benefitted. Normal people reject the hypercalvinist notion that an offer to inflict suffering or to bring about affliction is not sincere and not well-meant. For this converts God into a monster, and such ideas are antithetical to mainstream Calvinism of both the standard high and classic-moderate wings.

4. Throughout this paper, salvation includes the ideas of forgiveness, pardon, and justification, etc etc.

5. This holds good for human offers also. If you are not able to legitimately offer something–and you know this–then any pretense of making an offer of it is illegitimate and disingenuous.

6. Though apparently, while this so-called offer may be legitimate and sincere, it can also be singularly ill-meant.

7. This objection fundamentally redefines the biblical doctrine of the gospel offer, and as such is probably not one a committed evangelical Calvinist would seriously propose. On the other hand, this definition of the gospel offer is more properly and naturally suited to the hypercalvinist.

8. And of course “elect.” I do not need to insert “elect” because on the terms of this argument it is redundant.

9. That is, human to human offers.

10. For example, as God suffers from no epistemological problems, human offers which rely on epistemological problems are not applicable analogies of a divine offer.

11. I mean here God speaking through the minister in the gospel calls and invitations.

12. Matthew 22:8.

13. Matthew 11:28-29.

14. John 7:37-39.

15. Revelation 22:17.

16. Isaiah 45:22.

17. Corinthians 15:1-7.

18. For documentation, go here,, and




22. Iain Murray, Spurgeon V. Hyper-Calvinism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 67.

23. Ibid., 69.

24. A.C. de Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Scholder (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954), 187-188.

25. Ibid., 111-112.

26. The careful reader should attend to the beginning of the equivocation, as “he” now becomes another Harry, a counter-factual Harry, namely, Harry2.

27. To extend the shell-game metaphor, God initiates his dealings with Harry on the assumption that he is the pea under shell one, but then it turns out that he was really dealing with the pea under shell two all along. This idea is inchoate unless we insert possible worlds logic and grant that we really have two Harries all along, one reprobate, in this world, one elect, in another possible world.

28. Like all examples, this one cannot be pressed to the extreme, but it is sufficient to make the point.

29. In a sort of perverse irony, under the hypercalvinist definition of “offer” as a simple conditional statement, “if you believe, you will be saved,” one has now actually offered the demon salvation.

30. We must not forget that some in the history of the Church have actually proposed that even demons will be finally saved on account of the death of Christ.

31. We could look at the problem from another angle. Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” The word there for “no longer” is ouketi. It’s an adverb of time. It’s never used as no other. Ouketi implies that there was once a sacrifice for their sin, but now there is not. Further, the ones who have received this knowledge are the ones in Hebrews 6, who have fallen away. Hebrews 6:4 and 6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit . . . and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

However this makes us uncomfortable, there is a situation where, due to sin, the benefit of the sacrifice is withdrawn, and it is impossible to renew such persons to repentance. There can be no possibility of forgiveness after that. Hebrews is a sermonic letter with the structure of homily then warning, homily and then warnings, and so forth. The various warnings corresponds to each other, and to this one, Hebrews 12:15-17:

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

All the warning passages relate to the same group, apostates, with the writer warning them by various theological implications and various angles about the dangers of apostasy. And so, though Esau sought his inheritance with tears, he could not obtain the blessing. There are plenty of implications for the current LA discussion. What is evident is that it is a case of “no sacrifice, no possibility of forgiveness,” that being so, then, likewise, no sincere possibility of an offer of forgiveness; for if God were to say to these apostates, “if you believe, you will be saved” it would be to tell them a lie. The absence of the necessary preconditions entails that the conditional relative to these apostates is false.

32. Keep in mind I am not talking about common grace, but the proper and direct penal relationship Christ sustained with the elect alone, to the exclusion of the non-elect.

33. Sometimes in classic-moderate Puritan literature, the problem was put thusly: “Christ cannot be offered to all, unless he first be offered ‘for’ all to the Father.

34. Nelson Goodman, “The Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals,” The Journal of Philosophy, 44, (1947): 113-128; c.f.:,_nelson_-_the_problem_of_counterfactual_conditionals.pdf.

35. The first of these examples I have borrowed from Nelson Goodman.

36. Indeed, if reprobate Harry were to have believed in this world, it would falsify limited atonement.

37. Even Scotus admitted that once the decree is fixed, there can be no alteration to that decree or to what that decree enacts and instantiates.

38. I should note all Christians are committed to the truth that no more sin could be imputed to Christ after his death. The imputation of sin to Christ was a once and for all event in redemptive space and time. Imputation of righteousness, however, is another matter, and may be considered as progressive with all propriety.

39. Again, keep in mind, this is a divine person making this statement to Harry.

40. On contra Scotist-voluntarist assumptions.

41. I.e., That Christ has not died for Harry or any NDF person; namely, limited atonement as described by the modern TULIP.

42. Following Shedd and Dabney’s lead on this, the high Calvinist must say that the extent of the satisfaction is delimited by the intent to apply the satisfaction. Classic-moderate Calvinists can affirm that the extent is for all, while the intent is for the elect alone. To diagram this:

High Calvinism: Limited intent and limited extent.
Classic-moderate Calvinism: Limited intent, and unlimited extent.
Classic Arminianism: Unlimited intent and unlimited extent.

43. That is, on the assumption that they want to be credible.

44. Jean Taffin, The Marks of God’s Children, trans by Peter Y. De Jong, edit., by James A. De Jong, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 42-6. C.f.,

45. If Jesus is not their judicially appointed Savior, that is, if Jesus has not sustained any penal relationship with the non-died for, how can they be asked to be believe in him as their Savior?

46. A case of cutting off the branch while sitting on it.

47. C.f., Stephen Charnock: Charnock uses the metaphor of God calling plants and beasts to repent.

48. I would argue that it is only upon the natural ability vs. moral inability distinction that such verses as Joshua 24:15 and Romans 10:6 can be explicated in a proper manner.


50. For example, the idea that the will of the Father can contradict the will of the Son, after the fashion of a human mother voiding the will and desires of her son, just does not deserve a response.


52. See for example, Dort’s rejection of errors, here:

53. Dort II.6.

54. God cannot save them, even though he apparently expresses both a willingness and a readiness to save them.


56. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (New Jersey: P&R, 1994), 2:507-509.

57. Matthew 11:27-29.

58. Assuming we do not want to embrace that which is truly contradictory.

59. At least this one criterion must be validated.

60. Edward Polhill, “The Divine Will Considered in its Eternal Decrees,” in The Works of Edward Polhill (Morgan, PA.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998), 165.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Flynn permalink*
    September 26, 2011 2:52 pm

    In the above essay I had said:
    Any English dictionary will give the same basic meaning, such as, “an offer is a willingness to give something to someone, if they are willing.”

    To which Steve Hays replied:
    And that’s entirely consistent with limited atonement. God will save whoever accepts the gospel. Only the redeemed accept the gospel.

    David now:

    The question is not what would have happened to Judas had he believed.

    The question is this: What are the necessary preconditions that must be present in order for God to make the statement to Judas, “if you believe, you will be saved,” and for that statement to be true?

    Hays needs to address and resolve this point, otherwise a limited satisfaction for finite sin falsifies the offer of salvation to Judas and all the non-died-for.


  2. Flynn permalink*
    September 27, 2011 10:23 am

    Steve quotes me as saying:

    The question is not what would have happened to Judas had he believed.

    I should add that I had also said this immediately after:

    The question is this: What are the necessary preconditions that must be present in order for God to make the statement to Judas, “if you believe, you will be saved,” and for that statement to be true? [See here.]

    Steve says:

    ii) Why isn’t the fate of Judas had he believed a relevant question? In Scripture, threats and promises are often presented in back-to-back fashion: If you do w, x will happen–but if you do y, z will happen.


    I can only conclude that Steve is either confused or evading the point.

    The point is, this is the very challenge we made: that God’s saying to the NDF, “if you believe, you will be saved” (or cognate conditional statements) is a false statement on the terms a limited satisfaction for sin. A limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect alone renders that statement false; as I have argued above.

    We are not disputing what would have happened to Judas had he truly believed.


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