The Free Offer of the Gospel – Rejected By The Canons of Dordt

While the views of the Arminians did not include the error of a well-meant offer of the gospel as such, their general teachings were very much like those of well-meant offer defenders. The defenders of the well-meant gospel offer in the Reformed tradition appeal to the Canons in support of their view with an irony that cannot be overlooked.

The Arminians taught that fallen man’s will is free. The defenders of the well-meant offer also teach the free will of man. They do this by saying that God desires the salvation of all men and has done all that is necessary for man to be saved; but it now remains up to man whether he will accept the offered salvation.

Many who hold to the well-meant gospel offer deny that they teach that man possesses a free will. Nevertheless, their denial is spurious. (I will demonstrate this at a later date.)

The Canons teach total depravity. In Canons 3/4. B3-4 the fathers at Dordt reject the error of those…

“who teach that in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be present to it.”
(Article 3)

“Who teach that the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God.”
(Article 4)

Defenders of common grace teach that, although man is totally depraved, he is not absolutely depraved. This is an inexcusable playing with words, used only to deny an important point of the Canons [and the Word of God], the truth of total depravity.

The Arminians taught a “common grace,” that is a grace of God common to all. The Arminians meant by common grace those gifts which man did not lose when he fell. Those who hold to common grace teach much the same thing. Man is the object of the grace of God, which enables him to make a choice either for or against the gospel offer. The Canons say that Synod rejects the errors of those…

“who teach that the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (this is the only place in all the Reformed creeds were the term “common grace” is used – and its mention is in order to reject it.) (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, namely, the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on His part shows Himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since He applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion.”
(Canons, 3/4, B, 5)

The Arminians reduced the gospel to overtures of love, opportunities to be saved, expressions of God’s willingness to deliver from evil, and various pleadings and beggings to “close with Christ,” as the Marrow men were wont to put it. The common grace people say much the same. But the Canons say that the Synod rejects the errors of those…

“who teach that the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it) that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is more in harmony with man’s nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal good.”
(Canons 3/4, B 7)

Nor do the Canons hesitate to call this view “altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture.”

Finally, the Canons emphatically teach a limited atonement, or, as the doctrine is better called, a particular redemption. The Arminians taught a universal atoning sacrifice of Christ, which made salvation possible for all men. The common grace proponents are also compelled by their position to speak of an atonement of Christ that was for all men – at least in some important respects. The Canons reject that idea. In Canons 2.8 the fathers state with all the emphasis of which they are capable:

“For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and those only who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father…”

It is difficult to imagine how anyone can appeal to the Canons of Dordt in support of a well-meant offer of salvation.

By Herman Hanko

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