History of the Free Offer
by Herman Hanko
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introduction to The History of the Free Offer, Professor Herman
Hanko writes, "It is difficult to find today a denomination, whether of
Reformed or Presbyterian persuasion, which has not committed itself,
either officially or unofficially, to the idea of the free offer."
The purpose of the book is not to examine in detail the
doctrinal issues involved in the free offer of the gospel but rather to
trace the development of the idea through church history. Professor Hanko
considers such issues as the origin of the free offer, how it crept into
the church, how it developed and if it has stood in the mainstream of the
development of the truth or otherwise. He answers the question, Is the
free offer really a fundamental aspect of Reformed theology, as many claim
it is, or is it something that has been consistently and repeatedly
repudiated by the church when it has stood doctrinally strong?
The book covers a broad sweep of New Testament church
history, from Augustine and the Semi-Pelagian controversy, through to the
Reformers Luther and Calvin, and on to more modern times with the
controversy in the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. The author covers
the Arminian controversy and the Synod of Dordt, the development of
Amyraldianism, Davenant and the Westminster Assembly, the Marrow
Controversy, and the opinions of early and later Dutch theologians.
The conclusion drawn is clear and unambiguous. At all
times in the history of the New Testament church concessions to the free
offer of the gospel have been made because certain ideas closely
associated with it have gained acceptance. These ideas include a certain
freedom of the will of man, a double will of God which both desires the
salvation of all men and the salvation only of the elect simultaneously, a
general grace which all receive and a special grace which is conditionally
granted upon the choice of the will, and a general love of God for all
which is expressed in the desire of God to save all. The author points out
that it is when these defective ideas gain acceptance in the church that
the free offer of the gospel is adopted as a natural and unavoidable
consequence. This was the case during the Semi-Pelagian controversy; it
was the case during Reformation times; it led to the development of
Amyraldianism; it was instrumental in the Marrow controversy; and it was
also the case during the controversy in the Christian Reformed Church in
1924. Indeed, in more contemporary times, it is precisely the case amongst
those who hold to the free offer today.
The book closes with an analysis and a positive
statement which covers some of the doctrinal issues involved. It sets
forth the truth of Scripture against the errors of the free offer. It
makes a clear distinction between the proper biblical position of the
preaching of the gospel and the false views: on the one hand, the free
offer of the gospel and, on the other hand, Hyper-Calvinism which limits
the preaching of the gospel to the elect alone.
Overall, the book is a fine history of the development
of free offer thinking that is both instructional and enjoyable to read.
Highly recommended for those who want to gain a better understanding of
the ideas and reasoning of those who promote the free offer and who want a
better idea of its historical development.
Terry Casey, Limerick