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A Critique of the "Free Offer of the Gospel"
as held by the Reformed Presbyterian Church
in Ireland and Others

Philip Rainey


Four main points will be considered:
1) For Whom Is the Gospel Good News?
2) The Call and Promise of the Gospel
3) The Meaning of Isaiah 55:1-3
4) The Serious Errors of Those who Hold the "Free Offer of the Gospel"


1) For Whom Is the Gospel Good News?

a) The Biblical Teaching

What is the gospel? It is the good news that God has given His only begotten Son to be the Saviour of His people. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). This promise for God’s particular people runs through the whole of Scripture:

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be (Gen. 49:10).
In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jer. 23:6).
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (Dan. 9:24).
Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).

Is the gospel "good news" for every man? No. It is only "good news" for (or, to the advantage of) God's elect people. For example, in Luke 2:10 the angel proclaimed the tidings of great joy "to all people." "All people" means all people without distinction; not all without exception. This is clear from other Scriptures:

Genesis 12:3. "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." The promise of God to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to those that blessed him; but God would curse those who cursed Abraham. The promise of God would be a blessing—good news—to those who received it; to those who rejected God and His ways and cursed Him there was no good news.
Psalm 72:17. "… and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed." This means that men in every nation shall be blessed by Christ. This is confirmed in Isaiah 2.
Isaiah 2:2-3. "And all nations shall flow unto it [i.e. the LORD's house] … And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob."
Isaiah 49:13. "Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted." In this verse, the joyful news is based on the promise of the Messiah announced in the preceding twelve verses.  The Messiah comes to comfort "his people."  The good news is for God’s afflicted people, elect Jews and Gentiles in the context.  Ultimately, their affliction is their own sins.  This is clear from verse 9: "That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth ..." The good news is for God’s people who are troubled by their sins.
Acts 13:47-48. Those Gentiles ordained to eternal life received the good news; it was for them. "For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
Romans 15:8. Jesus Christ confirms the gracious promises to His people. The promises of salvation are all particular. "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made onto the fathers."
Luke 2:11. "For unto you is born this day ... a Saviour." Who is the "you?" John 3:16-18 tells us: Jesus was given for "whosoever believeth" and for them the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16).

The gospel is grace only to the elect:

For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (Rom. 9:15).
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (II Tim. 1:9).

The preaching of the gospel is a "savour of death to some" (II Corinthians 2:15-16), and its purpose is to render them inexcusable and to harden them:

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him (John 12:37-41).
Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:18).
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed (I Peter 2:7-8).

As the grace of God to the elect, the gospel is good news only to those who believe:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom. 1:16).
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (I Cor. 1:18).

The elect believe the Christ of the gospel only because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts: "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (II Thess. 2:13).

b) What Supporters of the Free Offer Maintain

Supporters of the free offer hold that the gospel is good news to every person to whom it is preached. According to them, it is good news and "tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10) to the unregenerate also. It is a blessing and good news to those who are cursed by God and are being cursed ("And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed;" Gen. 12:3). But that is not what the Scriptures say. For the ungodly there is in fact only bad news: "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11).

The point here is that the unregenerate are under the curse of God. They have no desire for God. They do not hear the gospel as good news because it is the selfsame gospel that pronounces such awful woes upon their unregenerate, godless, unbelieving condition. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). But, if and when, by the almighty power of God they are once made aware of their awful condition by regeneration then and only then does the gospel become "good news." In fact, it is the only good news that that soul hears!

Those who hold and teach a grace of God for all in the preaching of the gospel—supporters of the free offer—are trying to "help" God along. They are saying more than they are authorized to say by God. They are conveying good news of grace, blessing, and great joy not only to God's people, but also to the wicked ungodly. They are saying that the promises of peace and salvation are for all men without exception, no matter whether they are God's people or not. How can God sincerely offer the gospel's blessing to a man in a state of enmity with Himself while at the very same time hating that man with all of His being? (See Appendix.)

If and when a man believes, or thirsts for righteousness, i.e. is spiritually awakened, then the gospel is good news for him. But not before then! If we say it is good news for him before that time, then we are overstepping the way of salvation as revealed in Scripture.


2) The Call and Promise of the Gospel

a) The Biblical Teaching

The gospel call is a call to all men without exception. It calls all men who hear it to "repent," "believe" and "come," but it is, as the Westminster Confession states, an effectual call only to the elect (9:1). Those elect are in God's time, regenerated and enabled to answer the call and to come savingly to Christ. The call of the gospel is clearly set out in the parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14), to which we shall now refer.

In this parable there were but two classes of people: those who came to the wedding feast and those who did not. There was one and the same general call to all. This was a serious call: Come to the wedding feast!

First, the king's servants went forth and called all of them who were bidden to come. They did not want to come and they did not come. We are told that they "went their ways" (v. 5). Some of them even murdered the servants! What was God's response? It was wrath (v. 7). Only wrath is mentioned in connection with such subjects.

It is worthy of note here, that we read of "my dinner," "my oxen," etc. (v. 4). It is not "your dinner" or "our dinner." This declares the king's kingship—his absolute rule, his dominion, his sovereignty. And God is the King of Kings who does as He pleases and in the manner He pleases. He bestows His choice pearls upon those whom He has chosen to receive.

Second, as many as the servants came across, those were bidden to come to the wedding (v. 9). So the servants went out and made the call and "gathered together all, as many as they found, both good and bad; and the wedding was furnished with guests" (v. 10). This latter call was an effectual one to all those "gathered together." The teaching here is that there is one and the same general call to all and all are bidden to come (vv. 3, 9). Everyone to whom the gospel is preached is "bidden to the wedding." In some, however, the Holy Spirit takes the preached gospel and effectually calls that sinner by applying the call of the gospel—the Word—to their hearts.

There is one gospel call, but for some it is made effectual; for others it is not.

We must remember the purpose of gospel preaching: to call God's elect from every nation and tongue and people unto Jesus Christ. The Reformed preacher knows that God will use his preaching to affect His own purpose. Therefore, he is absolutely assured that God will, in His own good time, certainly draw His elect unto Christ by the preaching of the gospel.

This does not mean that we say in the preaching of the gospel that one must know he is elect before he can come. We do not say that the external call is only to the elect or that the command to repent is only to them. We do not preach the call to "repent," "believe" and "come," only to those who show signs of regeneration. We address the call to all who hear, leaving the Holy Spirit to apply the word savingly to the elects' hearts.

If one asks, "How is this gospel call to be made in the preaching?" then the answer, briefly, is as follows. First, the Reformed preacher brings the truth of man's utterly hopeless and helpless sinful condition. He expounds the doctrine of total depravity. He sets forth the condemnation that awaits the wicked: temporal and eternal miseries, etc. Second, he preaches the person and work of Jesus Christ for His people in all generations. He preaches the message of Jesus and Him crucified. The wonderful righteousness achieved by Christ, through His shed blood; the justification achieved by His resurrection is all expounded. Thirdly, the Reformed preacher presents the call of the gospel to all who hear it—"repent," "believe," and "come to Jesus Christ."

The Reformed preacher does full justice to the tender, gracious promise of the gospel: he unreservedly promises mercy to the penitent, like Peter in Acts 2:37-39, when sinners "pricked in their heart … said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" The Reformed preacher assures all who believe that they have everlasting life and shall not perish; that those who come to Christ will in no wise be cast out (John 6:37). He will make it clear that these gospel cordials and promises are only for those who believe and who come.

The call of the gospel is universal: the promise of the gospel is particular.  God promises salvation only to the spiritually awakened sinner, who, full of penitence, desires the only medicine that can heal his sin-sick soul, and cries out with the publican of old, "God be merciful unto me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). The gospel publishes glad tidings for "whosoever believeth" that God's only begotten Son laid down His life for His people. This is the precious balm for the hearts that "labour and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28) under the overwhelmingly crushing burden of sin; and it is made only to those who are "athirst" for the "water of life" (Rev. 21:6).

Thus Pierre du Moulin rightly explains "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28): "those that are ... so thirsting, and so laden, were not unregenerate. For that very desire of salvation and the grace of God, and the sighs of the conscience, panting under the weight of sin, by which we are compelled to fly to Christ, is a part of regeneration" (Anatomie of Arminianism [London: T. S. for Nathaniel Newbery, 1620], p. 321; spelling and punctuation modernized).

The question arises as to what more the Reformed preacher ought to say. Anything less would be irresponsible and sub-biblical; anything more would be extra-biblical. But the latter is exactly what those who preach the "free offer of the gospel" are doing. They are saying more than they are called to say.

b) How Supporters of the Free Offer Add to God's Plan of Salvation

The Westminster Confession sets out the benefits of the covenant of grace in chapter 7. These benefits are made over to those who are included in the covenant. They are those who are promised the Holy Spirit and His blessings (7:3). In chapter 10, "Of Effectual Calling," the Confession explains how those included within the covenant of grace are regenerated and efficaciously called by His Spirit and Word. The Confession is emphatic: "All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ ..." (10:1). The gracious call of the gospel and its benefits are only for those "predestinated unto life," for those included within God's covenant of grace.

Those who preach "the free offer of the gospel" are preaching a grace of God for all men head-for-head. They say more than the Scriptures. They add to the doctrine of effectual calling by declaring that, even when a man is in a state of nature, there is grace and mercy for him; that in such a state there is a loving, gracious, and merciful promise for him (or, to his advantage), no matter what his state is. Yet alongside of this and at the same time, God hates that man and is angry with him each day (see Appendix). Not only is this highly confusing; it is unscriptural.

Those who engage in such teaching claim a well-meaning and sincere desire on God's behalf to save all who hear the gospel; to sincerely offer grace and salvation to everyone in the gospel; at the very least to enlighten the unregenerate somewhat in order they might partake of the gospel benefits well-meaningly offered them. The seriousness of such teaching is this: you cannot sincerely and well-meaningly offer someone something that you do not actually have. Therefore, to teach a well-meant offer of the gospel to all men is also to teach a gracious provision for all men. To say (or even to hint) that there is a death of Christ for all is an outright denial of the Reformed faith, which teaches particular atonement. If the supporters of the free and well-meant offer are alluding to this, then they will have to reject much of the Bible. If, on the other hand, they are not teaching such a gracious provision to all men, then their "free offer of the gospel" is nonsense, even a lie.

Let it be clearly said, grace and Christ are inseparable. No one can receive grace apart from Christ, the one "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). A grace of God that communicates nothing of Christ's righteousness is not truly grace because "grace reign[s] through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21).

The sum of the teaching of those who hold the well-meant offer is that they even before a man is regenerated there is grace and gospel privileges for him. Therefore, grace, the benefits of salvation, the promises of salvation, the food and drink of salvation, are well-meaningly offered to everyone who hears the gospel; everyone is told that these things are "for you." God is willing, God sincerely longs, that you might have these privileges; if you accept them, then they are yours.


3) The Meaning of Isaiah 55:1-3

a) A Misinterpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3

Recently a Reformed Presbyterian minister in N. Ireland gave the following interpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3. He began by drawing attention to those who, at the end of the seventeenth century, "limited the call of the gospel to those who showed signs of regeneration." He said that, in this view, only those who are referred to as being thirsty in Isaiah 55:1 were called by the gospel. This was, and is, wrong, according to the preacher. The truth is, according to this man, that "everyone thirsteth" means all men without exception. All men are thirsty and all men are trying to satisfy their thirst by spending money on that which is not bread etc. (v. 2).

The preacher went on to say that every person is in some way thirsting for God, but that the thirst mentioned in Isaiah 55:1 is not a thirst for righteousness. Everyone is engaged in trying to satisfy this inner longing for God. They are spending "money for that which is not bread," and labouring "for that which satisfieth not ..." (v. 2), and so the call of the gospel comes to all men and calls them to "eat ye that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness." They are called to "incline your ear, and come unto me" (v. 3).

We see how this line of reasoning ties in with the previous point, that the supporters of the free and well-meant offer add to the Scriptures. For all men there are gospel privileges and good scriptural food and drink. Furthermore, according to this preacher, "there is a God-shaped void within every man" that leads them to, in some way, seek God and to thirst for something better than that which they are at present experiencing in their lives. This sense of unfulfilment and unhappiness can only be satisfied by the gospel. All men are athirst, all men are called by these words, all men are well-meaningly offered such gospel privileges. There is absolutely no limit to either the call or the provision. All men thirst for God; all men are provided for.

This teaching is erroneous. The unregenerate are not in any way thirsty for God. In his unregenerate state, the wicked man does not want to come to Christ; he is not aware of his lost condition; he is satisfied with the pleasures of sin and the world and its food and drink; he is not seeking God. He does not even want to seek God. This is the clear teaching of Scripture:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Ps. 14:1-3).
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Rom. 3:10-12).

The wicked are full—full of unrighteousness. They are not hungry; they are satisfied by their own evil lusts; they "eat up my people as they eat up bread, and call not upon the LORD" (Ps. 14:4). They are thirsty for unrighteousness and hungry for the sweetmeats of the devil—"having eyes full of adultery ..." (II Peter 2:14). They are those that "walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness" and those who "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (II Peter 2:10, 15). The wicked are full of unrighteousness:

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom. 1:28-32).

As far as such people are concerned, they are getting along nicely. They do not see any need of being justified before God. They do not thirst for righteousness. The gospel is foolishness to such a person, for  "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14).  In the same way, the gospel was foolishness to the ungodly in Noah’s day before the flood.  We read in II Peter 2:5 that Noah was a "preacher of righteousness." Evidently, Noah preached to the people of his day, but to them it was foolishness and they just carried on in their wicked ways. God tells us about man’s total depravity in Noah’s day (and today):

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5).
… and the LORD said in his heart … the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth … (Gen. 8:21).

The natural man is full of evil.  Continually full of evil!

b) The True Interpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3

This will be considered under the following headings:

i) Who is here addressed by the prophet?
ii) What is their spiritual condition?
iii) What is the nature of the call and the benefits conferred therein?

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David (Isa. 55:1-3).

i) Who is here addressed by the prophet?

"Every one that thirsteth."

ii) What is their spiritual condition?

They are thirsty for God and his righteousness. This is clear from the preceding chapter: "This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD" (Isa. 54:17). In Isaiah 54:1-16, God comforts His church with gracious promises, even declaring, "In righteousness shalt thou be established" to those who were "afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted" (v. 11).

The spiritual condition of those "that thirsteth" is that they are thirsty for God’s righteousness—the "living water" (John 4:10)—and hungry for "that meat which endureth unto everlasting life" (John 6:27). They do not have anything to contribute to their satisfaction (no self-righteousness), hence the gracious provision is for "he that hath no money" (Isa. 55:1).  Indeed, as Mary testified, "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away" (Luke 1:53). There are some that God sends away empty; for them there is no gracious provision.

iii) What is the nature of the call and the benefits conferred therein?

It is an effectual call. The prophet calls all those "that thirsteth" to "come, buy, and eat." The call is to come to the gracious provision that God has made, and to be satisfied. Money gives means to someone; with money they have the means to attain that which is desired. But, those "that thirsteth" do not have any money; they do not have anything of themselves which will satisfy their thirsty souls. That is not to say that they do not have literal money; or that they do not have the means to attain some form of self-satisfaction or self-righteousness. Judas Iscariot bought himself what he thought was satisfaction by betraying the Lord; but he was very far from having satisfaction. Our first parents, after their fall, tried to stitch up a righteousness of their own, for "they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Gen. 3:7). They tried to get away from God and His righteousness, until the Lord issued that gracious call in Genesis 3:9: "And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?" Then God clothed them with "coats of skins" (3:21), a type of the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah 55:2 simply means that those "that thirsteth" were engaging their own strength and means in carnal religion—labours that could never satisfy them—just like the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. They were partaking of the religious dross which Paul calls "dung" (Phil. 3:8). All the things that Christians do in their own carnal strength are the things that the prophet is speaking of in Isaiah 55:2.

The benefits conferred in this gracious call are the privileges and the promises of the gospel: the water and the bread of life. The benefits are "the exceeding great and precious promises" (II Peter 1:3-4).

This is also the interpretation of Isaiah 55:1-3 (and Matthew 11:28) of Scottish Reformer and father of Presbyterianism, John Knox. Listen to his rebuke of his Anabaptist and free-willist adversary:

And wonder it is, that in the words of the prophet and in the words of our master Christ Jesus also, you see not a plain difference made, for the prophet calls not all indifferently to drink of these waters but such as do thirst [Isa. 55:1-3]. And Christ restrains his generality to such as did travail and were burdened with sin [Matt. 11:28]; such, I say, he confesses himself to call to repentance, but to such as were just and whole, he affirms that he was not sent [Mark 2:17] (On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist [1560], p. 118; spelling and punctuation modernized).

Later, Knox sets forth this truth positively:

That we thirst to do good, that we have some power to execute the same, this proceeds from the supernatural grace, by the which we are regenerate and newly born to a better and more godly life. Behold then what God works in his children: first, putting away their perverse nature [as to its dominion], he conducts and guides them by his Holy Spirit in obedience to his will (On Predestination, p. 177).

Likewise, in his great work against Arminianism, French Reformed theologian, Pierre du Moulin, writes,

They [i.e., the Arminians] scatter some little motives [i.e., appeal to certain texts?], as that Isaiah 55:1. They that thirst are invited by God, that is, those that are desirous of reconciliation with God, and of salvation. And that Matthew 11:28. They that are heavy laden are called, Come unto me ye that are weary and heavy laden: By those that are laden, are noted out, those that are pressed down with the conscience of their sins, and sighing under the burden of them: Therefore (say they [i.e., the Arminians]) they were already desirous of salvation, and were pressed down with the conscience of their sins, before they were [externally] called, and regeneration is after calling: And therefore in the unregenerate there may be a saving grief, and a desire of remission of sins; but I affirm that those men so thirsting, and so laden, were not unregenerate: For that very desire of salvation and the grace of God, and the sighs of the conscience, panting under the weight of sin, by which we are compelled to fly to Christ, is a part of regeneration: And that beginning of fear (if it be acceptable to God) is an effect of the Holy Spirit moving the heart: For what hinders, that he who thirsts after the grace of God, hath not already tasted of it, and as it were licked it with his lips? What hinders that he who is commanded to come to Christ, should not already move himself and begin to go, although with a slow pace? Doth Christ as often as he commands men to believe in him, speak only to unbelievers? Yea, this exhortation to believe and to come to him, doth especially belong to them, whose faith being new bred, and weak, doth strive with the doubtings of the flesh (Anatomie of Arminianism, pp. 321-322).


4) The Serious Errors of Those Who Hold the "Free Offer of the Gospel"

a) It Is Extra-Biblical

It is after the spirit of Uzzah, who would "help" God's work. II Samuel 6:6-7 says, "And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God."

b) It Results in a Failure to Declare the Full Counsel of God Against the Ungodly

The Bible declares woeful tidings against the unconverted:

God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11).
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

The free offer teaching promises grace and gospel benefits to all who hear the gospel, including the impenitent.  The Scriptures are clear—the only message to those who continue impenitent is one of God’s wrath. Ironically, the free offer men only succeed in confirming impenitent sinners in their natural complacency.  After all, if such people are assured that God loves them, yearns to save them and has made a gracious provision for them, then, naturally, they will think their plight is not so bad after all!

c) It Universalizes the Gracious Promises of the Gospel

The free offer teaches that since all men without exception are somewhat spiritually thirsty, then this spiritual food and drink is in some measure for them. Since the gospel call is a well-meant and a gracious offer to all who hear it, then the precious promises are also appended to this offer. Listen to Psalm 53:2-3: "God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." This makes it clear that no one in their natural state seeks God. The promise is always particular. Thus Peter preached, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). The free-offer men promise grace and gospel benefits to those who are not coming to Christ. This is the essence of their position. They are saying to everyone: "The gracious call and privileges are for you, and God wants you to have it; God wills you should have it." One could well ask the question, Where is the urgency in coming to Christ if in some measure a person already has the grace of God and access to gospel food and drink?

By By universalizing the gracious promises, it destroys the particular promise to the believer, and thereby fails to comfort the child of God in all of his struggles and trials. How can I be sure that my faith is true if everybody experiences a thirst for God and receives gracious news from heaven? Maybe my experience of salvation is just some general kind like that of many others? The comforting call and promise to the child of God contained in Isaiah 55:1-3 (which the Reformed Presbyterian minister universalized, as discussed under point 3 above) is lost.

d) It Makes Faith a Condition of Salvation

The gospel is well-meaningly offered to all, and if they trust in Christ then they will be saved. Faith becomes a condition, either implicitly or explicitly. Therefore the sinner may either accept or reject the well-meant and free offer of salvation; he may either accept or reject Christ. The point is that, in this matter at least, the sinner has the power within himself to do one thing or another. If those who reject the gospel had accepted it, then they would have been saved, because, after all (according to the free offer men), God really wanted them to obey the gospel and be saved.

If the gospel was preached faithfully, sinners would be told they do not, neither can they, have faith. This would be the case if the doctrine of total depravity was faithfully proclaimed. In the call of the gospel, God is not bringing some possibility of salvation to men which is dependent upon them exercising faith, and which contains the contingent possibility that such men might very well choose not to do so. There is absolutely no degree of indeterminacy present in the gospel call.

The only conclusion that can be deduced from the well-meant offer of the gospel is that, to some extent, the sinner's salvation depends upon his own choice. The impression is given that it is Christ AND me in salvation. Of course, the sinner is active in conversion, trusting in Jesus Christ alone. But even in this matter the word of God makes it clear that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Faith is given to the elect in order they should believe in Christ:

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29).
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

The act of trusting in Christ must not be presented as being, in some way, detached from God's revealed plan of salvation:

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Rom 8:29-30).

It must not be presented as being dependent upon the natural man himself. If it is—and with the offer-men it is—then the whole gospel of free grace is undermined, and the great truth that the apostle contended for against all those who sought to corrupt the gospel—"it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Rom. 9:16)—is lost.

e) It Denies the Doctrine of Total Depravity

If one holds to the doctrine of total depravity then it is impossible to hold the well-meant and free offer of the gospel. The man who is in a state of nature is described correctly in the Westminster Confession 6:6 as "bound over to the wrath of God, and the curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal." This should be preached making it clear that this is the state of all who are unregenerate, and that the promise of mercy is to those, and those only, who repent. The only message for those who continue in their sins is the wrath of God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11).
But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee (Deut. 28:15).

It is also worth remarking that the idea that the unregenerate man thirsts for God is explicitly condemned by the Canons of Dordt as as contrary to the truth of total depravity:

... the Synod rejects the errors of those ... 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. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture. Ye were dead through trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5); and: Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed (Ps. 51:10, 19; Matt. 5:6) (III/IV:R:4).

At best, the Reformed Presbyterian minister’s teaching on Isaiah 55:1-3 is confusing; a man either thirsts for God or he does not. At worst, it is the Arminian heresy condemned by our Reformed forefathers.



The teaching of the "free offer of the gospel" as held by Reformed Presbyterianism and others is a significant departure from the Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession and the Canons of Dordt. The free offer of the gospel is to be rejected for what it is: error.



God does not, of course, hate His elect, not even when they are in an unregenerate state. God eternally loves His elect:

But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut.7:8).
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee (Jer. 31:3).
I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob (Mal. 1:2).
As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated (Rom. 9:13).

It is true, nevertheless, that all men are wicked and sinful, are by nature children of wrath and are subject to all miseries (spiritual, temporal and eternal):

Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Eph. 2:3).
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son (Luke 15:21).
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5).
Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Eph. 4:18).
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

God eternally and unconditionally elects some and reprobates others (Westminster Confession 3:3-7). All men are indeed subject to the wrath of God by nature. But because of believers' eternal election in Christ their mediator (Westminster Confession 8:1), God does not burn against them in His holy wrath. He suffers us lovingly, like the father in Luke 15, until He brings us to repentance: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). For all the rest of mankind, however, what is stated in this discourse holds true: God does burn against them in all of His holy wrath and hatred.