Some Further Objections to the Free Offer of the
Introduction and Clarification
Many today believe that on God’s part the gospel is a free
or well-meaning offer of salvation, by which they mean that
God expresses in the preaching a passionate or earnest
desire or want or wish that all who hear it be saved. We
strenuously object to this teaching.
We do not, however, object to the word “offer.” Scripture
does not use the word “offer” to describe the gospel but the
Reformed creeds do. We have no objection to the creeds.
Rightly understood, the word “offer” is not only acceptable
but emphasizes an important truth about gospel preaching.
The root meaning of the word is “to present” or “to show.”
The word is not used with that meaning anymore, at least not
in everyday speech. But it is with that older meaning that
the Reformed creeds use the word. Thus used, the word simply
emphasizes the important truth that the preaching of the
gospel must display Christ and make Him known to all who
There are few today, however, who speak of the gospel as an
offer and mean that Christ is “presented” in the gospel.
Most mean that in the gospel God earnestly desires the
salvation of absolutely all who hear and makes Christ
available to them. This teaching we oppose.
The Free Offer and Arminianism
There are two main theologies which teach the free offer of
the gospel in this wrong sense. In each case our objection
On the one hand, there are those who acknowledge that they
are not Reformed or Calvinistic. For them, the idea that the
gospel is anything but a well-meant offer is incredible. If
we may compare their system of doctrine to a jigsaw puzzle,
the free offer of the gospel is just another piece in the
puzzle. Into their picture, it fits nicely between the
teaching that Christ died for absolutely everyone and the
notion that man’s freewill choice determines if he will
saved by Christ.
In this system, sometimes called Arminianism, it is the free
offer of the gospel that gives men the opportunity to decide
for Jesus. When salvation is offered to them in the gospel,
they are able either to accept or reject the redemption
Christ purchased for them and for everyone by His
sacrificial death. Indeed, the gospel can only be an offer,
if salvation depends on man’s will and choice.
This alone ought to give Reformed men and women pause. A
teaching that fits so well into the Arminian picture of
salvation ought to be suspect.
In Arminianism, though, our objections are not only to the
free-offer teaching but to the whole system. We would not
discard just one piece of the jigsaw but the whole picture.
We do not want a system that makes man’s will, not God’s
will, God’s cross or God’s grace, the decisive factor in
salvation and that does not give all the glory to the Triune
The Free Offer and Reformed Theology
There are others, however, who are Calvinistic and Reformed.
They believe in unconditional election (Eph. 1:4) and in
particular redemption, that Christ died for His beloved
sheep alone (John 10:11, 15, 26). They believe, too, that
salvation, including faith, is a gift of God (Phil. 1:29).
Nevertheless, they reckon that the gospel is a well-meant
offer of salvation to all sinners who hear the preaching. In
their case, we object to their efforts to make the
free-offer teaching a part of Reformed theology and
Calvinism. Some of these objections follow.
If we also compare Calvinism and Reformed theology to a
jigsaw puzzle, then the free offer is like a piece that does
not fit—a piece from the wrong puzzle. No matter how you
turn it and try to force it, it will not fit. The thing to
do then is to throw it away the bad piece and to find the
piece that does fit. In the hope that this will be done, we
wish to show how and why an ineffectual desire of God to
save the reprobate does not fit into Reformed theology.
The Free Offer and the Nature of God
One place where free-offer teaching does not fit into
Reformed theology is in the whole area of theology proper,
i.e., the doctrine of God. Implicitly or explicitly, a
divine desire to save the reprobate denies fundamental
truths regarding the nature of the Most High Himself. To put
the matter bluntly, free-offer teaching leads to a different
conception of God than does the theology of those who reject
it. This alone, if true, ought to be enough to condemn
free-offer teaching in the mind and heart of every Reformed
The free offer denies, first, a basic truth about
revelation—the truth that all God’s revelation is
self-revelation, God’s making Himself known to us. No matter
what the content of that revelation, no matter how it is
given, it all, in the end, reveals who and what God is.
All God says and does, therefore, is a revealing of who He
is in Himself. That means, in turn, that God’s revelation
cannot contradict what He is in Himself. What He says cannot
be different from what He is. What He does cannot contradict
who He is. For example, since God is a just God, then none
of His works and words, whereby He reveals Himself, can be
unjust. We may not be able always to demonstrate to
unbelievers why God’s ways are always just but because they
are part of His revelation of Himself they cannot be unjust.
The logic of this is that, if any of God’s works or ways are
unjust, then He is also unjust in Himself, an unjust God.
And, if He is an unjust God, He is not God at all. So with
all His attributes.
The defenders of the free offer deny this, often explicitly.
They say in defence of the free offer that God can be
something different in His dealings with men from what He is
in Himself. Free-offer teaching says that He can desire to
save everybody, love them and be gracious to them in the
gospel, and yet be in Himself from eternity of a different
mind, will and heart concerning them. His revelation of
Himself in the gospel can and does contradict what He is in
If this is true, then revelation is not really revelation,
an uncovering and showing of who and what God is in Himself.
In fact, revelation would then tell the very opposite of the
truth about the nature and will of God—it would be a lie.
Put a bit more kindly, free-offer teaching says that God
does not tell those who perish the truth—especially not the
whole truth—about Himself. He speaks to them of love and
grace and mercy. He even does loving, gracious and merciful
things for them, the free offer claims, but in His own
heart, mind and will there is no grace or love or mercy for
them. He not only did not choose to save them but He did not
even intend to have His Son die for them or to give His
Spirit to them. What He says and shows in the gospel is not
the truth about who and what He is from eternity and in
Yet those who believe in the well-meant offer are not afraid
of saying this. They speak of two wills in God, a revealed
will to save absolutely all who hear the preaching
(expressed in the free offer of the gospel in time) and a
secret will not to save them (determined in eternal
reprobation). They may even say that God both hates (Rom.
9:13) and loves those who perish. That, however, only raises
further problems with Jehovah’s other attributes.
For one thing, it denies God’s oneness. His oneness means
that He is, in Himself and in His revelation, one and
indivisible. This is denied by those who hold to the free
They hold that God is of two minds, two wills, two hearts
concerning those who perish (contrary to Job 23:13). He
loves reprobate sinners and He does not love them (Ps.
11:5). He wills their salvation (in the gospel) and does not
will it (in eternal election). Nor are His revelation and
His eternal mind and will one and the same. In his
revelation He is one thing—in Himself another. No defender
of the free offer has ever shown how such teaching can be
reconciled with the fundamental teaching of Scripture, the
great “Shema” of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord
our God is one Lord.” Indeed, it cannot be reconciled with
God’s oneness. It is a piece that does not fit Reformed
Another aspect of God’s oneness is His absolute simplicity.
This means that there is no disharmony, no contradiction, no
imperfection, in God. In this sense also He is one and
undivided in His nature and revelation, His words and works,
and in all His attributes. The “theology” of the free offer
cannot be reconciled with God’s simplicity. It flatly
contradicts this crucial attribute by teaching that there
are contradictions and imperfections in God. Think for
example of the two-wills teaching, which is at the heart of
free-offer theology. Not only do the two wills contradict
each other but one will always remains unfulfilled and
unrealized with respect to all those who perish.
Nor are these the only attributes of God that are
contradicted by the free-offer teaching. Such teaching also
denies God’s unchangeableness (James 1:17). He changes His
mind and will and His word about those who perish, showing a
sincere desire for their salvation in the gospel and then,
in the end, damning them. He promises them eternal life in
the gospel but then does not give it, for He does not even
give them the necessary means in the death of Christ and the
work of His Spirit.
Free-offer teaching opposes the eternity of the Most High
too (Ps. 90:2). It teaches that there is love, a grace, a
mercy of God, which lasts as long as the gospel is preached,
whereas God’s “mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 136:1-26). His
eternal will, so they say, is only revealed in
The free offer even contradicts His sovereignty (Isa.
46:9-10) in that it teaches that there are in the gospel a
resistible grace and a divine love that do not save.
The truth is that the free offer of the gospel fits none of
God’s attributes. Is a grace that well-meaningly offers
salvation but does not give the means of salvation an
infinite grace? Is telling men that God loves them, while He
does nothing either in the cross or by the Spirit to save
them, in keeping with His truthfulness (Deut. 32:4)? Is it
divine wisdom well-meaningly to offer salvation to those
whom He excluded from it by eternal reprobation (Rom.
9:17-18, 22)? Is it really love to say to them that God
passionately desires their salvation while He secretly
What then? The free offer does not fit with revelation. It
does not fit the attributes of God. It does not fit the
doctrine of God. It fits nowhere. Nor can any defender of
the offer make it fit without bending or ruining other
pieces of the picture.
The Free Offer and the Five Points of Calvinism
There is, however, another part of the picture called the
Five Points of Calvinism. Every Calvinist knows and loves
the Five Points. Does the offer teaching fit there? Again
the answer is “No!” Consider the following.
Free-offer teaching contradicts the first of the Five
Points, the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity
means, very simply, that fallen man is “dead in trespasses
and sins” (Eph. 2:1). To offer something well-meaningly to a
dead man, wanting and intending him to have what is offered,
is both useless and foolish.
Free-offer teaching does not square with unconditional
election and reprobation (Westminster Confession 3:7), since
its offer is by its very nature conditional. It is
conditional in that its acceptance depends on the will of
the person to whom the offer is made. You cannot offer
something to a tree, which has no will. You cannot offer
something to someone who is asleep, whose will is not
active. Yet free-offer teaching says that God well-meaningly
offers something to those whose wills are inactive for good
and cannot—if you believe the Reformed truth of the bondage
of the will (Rom. 3:11; 8:7)—chose to accept it. A desire of
God to save the reprobate does not fit with the truth that
salvation does not depend on man’s will but wholly on God’s
eternal, unconditional will and good pleasure (John
Free-offer teaching does not reconcile with limited or
particular atonement either (Eph. 5:25). Almost inevitably,
it leads to a denial of limited atonement. An offer of
salvation in Christ is both insincere and empty, if Christ
did not die for those to whom the offer was made. Even men
who believe in particular atonement are forced to make
statements that deny limited atonement in their defence of
the free offer. In the very last paragraph of The Free Offer
of the Gospel, John Murray and Ned Stonehouse say, “It is
Christ in all the glory of His person and finished work whom
God offers in the Gospel.” How can he be so offered, if He
is not available?
The offer also denies irresistible grace. The offer is
supposed to be a kind of divine grace, yet the grace shown
in the offer is not only resistible but always resisted by
those who perish. Where, then, is the great Calvinist
doctrine of irresistible grace?
Nor can a gospel, which is only an offer, provide anything
of what is necessary for perseverance. The gospel is the
means of perseverance to the end but not if it is only an
offer. What can an offer do to keep us “through faith unto
salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet.
Here, too, the pieces of the jigsaw must be bent, forced or
cut to a different shape to allow the teaching of a desire
of God to save the reprobate to fit among them. The free
offer adds nothing positive to Reformed theology. It is a
piece from a different picture, that of Arminianism.
The Call of the Gospel
But what is the piece we are looking for? What is the gospel
if it is not a well-meant offer?
The answer is plain. The gospel comes with a command or
call, which is sovereign and powerfully irresistible to
awaken those dead sinners whom the Son wishes to quicken
(John 5:21), thus accomplishing what God eternally and
unchangeably willed, and applying the redemption that Christ
achieved for them on the cross. The gospel is also a means
of hardening, according to which the good pleasure of God is
sovereignly accomplished with respect to those who refuse to
repent and are punished for their sins (John 12:39-41; II
This is a truth largely forgotten today. Even those who are
not caught up in free-offer theology have for the most part
forgotten this great truth. Not knowing that the preaching
of the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom.
1:16), the means by which faith comes (Rom. 10:17), the way
in which we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd (John
10:27-28), they neglect preaching. Both preachers (who ought
to know better) and the members of their congregations (who
probably do not) are guilty. Not knowing that the gospel is
the effectual word by which God calls His people out of
darkness into light, the clear proclamation of the truth of
Scripture is replaced by appeals, emotional displays and a
hawking of Jesus Christ that makes Him little more than
something to be sold in the marketplace.
May God grant, therefore, not only a correct understanding
of what preaching is but also a revival of true preaching in
the church and in evangelism—preaching that is indeed the
power of God unto salvation to all those whom He has chosen
and for whom Christ died.