The Well-Meant Offer and Reprobation
and the Creeds
confessional Calvinism confesses not only the doctrine of election but
also of reprobation or preterition. These two together are called double
of Dordt, the original Five Points of Calvinism, teach the doctrine
of reprobation as part of the doctrine of predestination in Head
(Chapter) I, Article 15:
peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and
unmerited grace of election, is the express testimony of sacred
Scripture, that not all, but some only are elected, while others are
passes by in the eternal election of God; whom God, out of his
sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good
pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they
have wilfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving
faith and the grace of conversion; but leaving them in his just
judgement to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of
his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account
of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is
the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of
sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares him to be
an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.
Westminster Confession of Faith teaches it alongside election in
Chapter III, Articles iii and vii:
decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and
angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others
foreordained to everlasting death (iii).
of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of
His will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth,
for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by;
and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the
praise of His glorious justice (vii).
the Doctrine of Reprobation
Let us, then,
briefly review the essentials of the doctrine of reprobation.
reprobation, like election, is a decree of God. It is not an act of God
in history. It is not a reaction of God in time to men’s sins. Like
election, reprobation is eternal.
Second, it is
free and unconditional. It is not based on foreseen unbelief, no
more than election is based on foreseen belief. The Westminster
Confession of Faith emphatically repudiates a conditional
reprobation in Chapter III, Article ii (see below).
reprobation is a decree concerning specific persons: Esau, Pharaoh (Rom.
9:13, 17); Judas (John 13:18; Acts 1:25); Hophni and Phinehas, the two
sons of Eli (I Sam. 2:25); etc. It is not just a general decree to damn
whoever in time does not believe. In this also it is like election,
which is personal.
These are the
essentials of the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. All these points
together emphasise that reprobation, along with election, is sovereign.
is seriously neglected in Reformed churches today. It is seldom
mentioned in preaching. There is little or nothing written of it in
Reformed literature. So totally is the doctrine obscured today that it
is with some surprise that one finds a whole chapter on it in a book
like R. C. Sproul’s, Chosen of God. Many, who are acquainted with
Calvinism, would nevertheless have to say (like the disciples in
Ephesus—Acts 19: 1-2) when told about this doctrine, "We had not so much
as heard whether there be any reprobation."
convinced that one reason for this neglect is the fact that the doctrine
of reprobation is incompatible with the widespread emphasis on the
well-meant gospel offer. The teaching that God in the gospel intends and
desires the salvation of all who hear is, on the face of it, not
compatible with the teaching that God has eternally intended and willed
the damnation of some.
believe that the theology of the well-meant offer is also in conflict
with the simplicity and immutability of God, total depravity, particular
redemption, and unconditional election. But it contradicts none of these
other doctrines so plainly as it does the doctrine of reprobation.
Reprobation means exactly and explicitly the opposite of the well-meant
If you ask:
"What should the preacher say concerning God’s intention with respect to
those who go lost?" the answer of those who teach the well-meant offer
is: "God sincerely seeks their salvation through the preaching of the
gospel." The doctrine of reprobation says: "God has eternally and
unconditionally determined them to damnation." It ought to be evident
that the two cannot possibly be reconciled.
Reconcile Reprobation and the Well-meant Offer
(1) R. B.
What to those
who hold to the well-meant offer do, then? They do one of three things.
Some try to
hold both teachings in tension. R. B. Kuiper in his book,
God-Centered Evangelism, tries to do just that.
the obvious contradiction between them he says:
been argued that this doctrine (reprobation) rules out the universal
and sincere offer of the gospel. If God decreed from eternity that
some men would perish everlastingly, it is said to be inconceivable
that he would in time sincerely invite all without distinction to
everlasting life (God-Centered Evangelism, p. 35).
What is his
We may as
well admit, in fact it must be admitted, that these teachings cannot
be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic
is concerned, they rule one another out. However, the acceptance of
either to the exclusion of the other stands out condemned as
rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible word, is the
norm of truth. The word contains many paradoxes. The classical
example is that of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The
two teachings now under consideration can also constitute a striking
paradox. To destroy a Scriptural paradox by rejecting one its
elements is to place human logic above the divine Word (God-Centered
Evangelism, p. 36).
We do not
think much of this kind of "theology of paradox." We believe: (1) that
it makes theology impossible, for theology is the systematic (i.e.,
logical) arranging and harmonising of the truths of Scripture; (2) that
it makes apologetics (the defence of the truth) impossible in that no
teaching can be rejected because it contradicts other doctrines or even
scripture itself; (3) it is disguised neo-orthodoxy and Barthianism,
for, the very heart of "theology" of Karl Barth and neo-orthodox
disciples was this idea of paradox.
Barth and his
disciples taught that "truth" does not have to make sense or mean
anything. There can be contradictions and errors even in Scripture, but
it does not matter since faith has nothing to do with understanding. In
fact to try to understand and "put things together"—to try to make sense
of them—is to destroy faith. Thus we can "believe" that God can be
changeable and unchangeable at the same time. He can elect and reprobate
our Lord Jesus Christ and all men with him. Salvation can be for some
and at the same time for all. Faith, as kind of "leap into the unknown"
must not try to understand but believe.
who hold to the well-meant offer would reject the indictments of
neo-orthodoxy. Yet, in accepting the idea that there can be paradoxes,
contradictions and disharmony in God and His Word they nevertheless
accept the fundamental premise of neo-orthodoxy.
What is more,
in practice, the doctrine of reprobation gets very short shrift from
those who are trying to hold it in tension with the idea that God
sincerely desires and seeks the salvation of all men by the gospel. Who,
in preaching and teaching, even if he believes in reprobation, is
willing to go into a long, abstract and tedious explanation of how this
is possible because there are two wills in God and that this somehow
does not contradict His oneness, simplicity, and unchangeableness? It is
easier just to say pass over the doctrine of reprobation, especially
because it is so difficult. And that is exactly what happens. The
biblical doctrine of reprobation is denied more often by complete
silence than by the calumnies of those who hate it.
Murray and the "Banner of Truth"
the second way of dealing with the contradiction between reprobation and
the well-meant offer: silence. The doctrine of reprobation is simply
hidden away and never spoken off as though it were some kind of
"skeleton" in the Reformed closet. A good example of this approach is
found in what the Banner of Truth Trust has done to Arthur Pink’s great
book, The Sovereignty of
Many do not
even know that the Banner edition of this book has entirely removed
Pink’s chapter on reprobation, originally chapter 5, "The Sovereignty of
God in Reprobation" without even a hint that it is gone (in his
biography of Pink, Ian Murray only refers to some material which has
been edited out). It is true, the Banner and Mr. Murray try to justify
this and other omissions, but there is really no other explanation than
that they wish the testimony of Scripture concerning the doctrine of
reprobation to be silenced.
out this whole chapter there is the question of whether it is ethical to
edit a man’s works in that way, especially when one leaves the
impression that the editing involves some rather minor changes. That
question we put aside. What we wish to show is that Murray’s explanation
of the omission of the doctrine of reprobation holds no water.
It is in his
biography of Pink that he tries to justify the omission. He does this on
the ground of a supposed change in Pink’s views regarding the
well-meant offer and human responsibility. It is interesting, to say
the least, that it is the well-meant offer first of all and especially
that Murray uses to justify the omission of the chapter on reprobation
and this in spite of the fact that the chapter on reprobation does not
even mention the offer of the gospel.
to human responsibility the chapter on reprobation includes a strong
defence of human responsibility, one of the strongest in the book. Pink
certainly saw no conflict between it and reprobation. Nor is there any
evidence whatsoever that Pink ever changed his strong belief in
sovereign, double, unconditional reprobation. All Murray’s attempts,
therefore, to justify the omission of the doctrine of reprobation in the
Banner edition of
Sovereignty of God fall to the ground. In light, therefore,
of Murray’s "explanation," is it really too much to think that the
omission is due to the Banner’s strong emphasis on the well-meant offer?
This kind of
concealment is very prevalent. One would have a very hard time telling
from the collected writings of most modern Reformed authors or from the
collected sermons of most reformed preachers that they believe the
doctrine of reprobation, if indeed they do. It is, in most cases,
deliberately or otherwise, a doctrine denied by utter silence.
Berkouwer and Others
also those, however, who solve the dilemma of trying to hold reprobation
and a well-meant offer by denying or compromising the doctrine of
reprobation. G. C. Berkouwer, a Dutch theologian, does this. He teaches
that rejection (= rejection), is no more than God’s response to man’s
prominent in this connection is the fact that Scripture repeatedly
speaks of God’s rejection as a divine answer in history, as a
reaction to man’s sin and disobedience, not as its cause (Divine
Election, p. 183).
He does this
too, in the interest of maintaining "a general offer of grace" in the
gospel as the book, in chapters 6 and 7 clearly show.
a "Reformed" theologian from Fuller Theological Seminary has said much
the same thing:
means that any doctrine of reprobation is illegitimate by biblical
standards except that which biblical teachings sanctions:
that he who rejects God, God rejects (The Freedom of God, p.
condemns decretal theology because it conflicts because it conflicts
with a perceived universality of grace in the gospel:
Commitment to the decree of decretal theology, however, exacts it
toll: God loses his freedom, Christ is deprived of his pre-eminence
in the decreed purposes of God, and the gospel is so restrictively
defined that the church is no longer free to preach the it as good
news to ‘all nations and to every creature’ (The Freedom of God,
compromise the doctrine by teaching a conditional reprobation, i.e.,
that God eternally rejects some because he foresaw and foreknew their
unbelief. An example of such teaching is found in the writings of, D. S.
Arminian says that faith and works constitute the ground of election
we dissent, but if he says that foreseen unbelief and disobedience
constitute the ground of reprobation we assent readily enough (A
Syllabus of Systematic Theology, pp. 219-220, quoted from
Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 114).
But this is
an Arminian teaching explicitly rejected in the Canons of Dordt:
doctrine concerning election and rejection having been explained,
the Synod rejects the error of those who reach: that God, simply by
virtue of is righteous will, did not decide either to leave anyone
in the fall of Adam and in the common state of sin and condemnation,
or to pass anyone by in the communication of grace which is
necessary for faith and conversion (I, Rejection of Errors, 8).
Westminster Confession of Faith also rejects conditional reprobation
by insisting that both election and reprobation are "free" and by plain
God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed
conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it
as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions
then, there are others who only teach a single predestination, that of
election unto life. To them the words Boettner apply:
hold the doctrine of Election but deny that of Reprobation can lay
but little claim to consistency. To affirm the former while denying
the latter makes the decree of predestination an illogical and
lop-sided decree. The creed, which, states the former but denies the
latter will resemble a wounded eagle attempting to fly with but one
wing. In the interests of a ‘mild Calvinism’ some have been inclined
to give up on the doctrine of Reprobation, and this term (in itself
a very innocent term) has been the entering wedge for harmful
attacks upon Calvinism pure and simple. ‘Mild Calvinism’ is
synonymous with sickly Calvinism, and sickness, if not cured, is the
beginning of the end (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,
Not all, of
course, who compromise the doctrine of double predestination do so in
the interests of well-meant offer "theology." Even they, however,
destroy one of the great bulwarks that stands against the unbiblical and
dangerous teaching that God loves and wants to save all men.
and instances could be multiplied, but the point is clear. The biblical
doctrine of reprobation and the unbiblical doctrine of a well-meant
offer of grace in the gospel are not compatible. The widespread
abandonment and denial of the biblical doctrine of reprobation is in
proportion to the adoption of the well-meant offer as an explanation of
what God says in the Gospel. Nor will it do to try to hold both in
tension. Something has to give way, and in the church today it is the
doctrine of sovereign, unconditional, double predestination which has given way.