Sunday, November 30, 2008

Minority Report of 15th General Assembly of the OPC

Here are the [majority and minority] reports of the 15th General Assembly of the OPC in 1948 with regards to the issue of the "Free Offer" or rather Well-meant offer of the Gospel. Thanks to Gordon Clark's allies, the doctrine of the Well-meant offer was not established as THE Orthodox position in the OPC, at least back then, and here is the minority report of that General Assembly, which should be very pertinent especially in light of the attacks of the Neo-Amyraldian Ponterites. As it has been said, those who refuse to learn form history will repeat it.

On the free offer of the gospel, the undersigned find themselves unable to concur with the report of the committee for the following two reasons:

  1. It is not clear that the exegesis and the conclusions drawn have been conclusively substantiated.
  2. The standpoint of the report goes beyond the expressions adopted by the Reformed churches in the past, and if it should become the viewpoint of our church, might result in the erection of barriers between our church and certain other Calvinistic groups.

What has been the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel? It is not the fact that "God freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation through Jesus Christ" (Conf. of Faith, Chapt. on God's Covenant with Man). It is not the gospel offer as God's revealed Word that is in dispute, but the element within the Divine will that prompts and grounds the offer. Nor is it even in dispute that God desires the salvation of sinners and proclaims to sinners, viewed simply as such, his desire for their salvation. The point or rather points in dispute appear to be the following:

  1. Whether the term "desire" is employed after the manner of man or whether it is to be understood literally as implying an emotion in God.
  2. Whether God desires the repentance and salvation of the reprobate sinner qua reprobate or whether God's desire refers to the connection between the repentance and the salvation of sinners, qua sinners.
  3. Whether God's desires are to be views by us as standing unreconciled with his decrees.

(1) This discussion of emotion is oriented not to the committee's report (which refrains from assertions concerning desire as emotion), but to the passage in the Complaint (p. 13, col. 2). That the term desire is employed after the manner of men and is not to be understood literally as implying an emotion in God may appear in view of the following Scriptural principles:

(a) There is frequent employment of anthropopathic language in Scripture, in which grief, anger, jealously, curiosity, and repentance are ascribed to Deity. Such Scripture passages teach that God acts in a manner which we are taught to view as corresponding to the manner of action of human beings moved by such passions. From these Scriptures the presence of such passions in God cannot be inferred.

(b) Elements in human desire unsuited to the perfection of God can be mentioned. Desire suggests a want or lack in the one who desires which can be fulfilled only by the gratifying of the desire. This is incompatible with the self-sufficiency of God. Desire is something weaker than the firm determination of the will. No such weak wishing can properly be ascribed to God whose will is firmly fixed and fixes all things. God has not a will that can be frustrated as well as one that cannot be.

(c) The particular passages of Scripture alleged to support frustratable desires no more prove desire as an emotion or passion in God than the assertion "it repented God..." etc. proves a real change of his mind, or that God actually desired to know that the wickedness of Sodom was as it had been represented to him.

This position, far from being rationalism, as the Complaint alleges, is in accord with the teaching of the Confession of Faith that God is without parts and passions. The eminent Westminster divine, Samuel Rutherford, says in connection with representations of distress, grief or sorrow in God: "'Tis a speech borrowed from man for there is no disappointing of the Lord's will, nor sorrow in him for the not-fulfilling of it" (Christ Dying..., p. 511). In connection with Ps. LXXXI:13, Rutherford remarks, "Which wish, as relating to disobeying Israel, is a figure, or metaphor borrowed from men, but otherwise sheweth how acceptable the duty is to God how obligating to the creature" (ibid, p. 513; note Complaint, p. 13, col. 2).

(2) That God desires the salvation of the reprobate viewed as reprobate is an absurdity not sanctioned by the language of Scripture nor precedented by the language of Reformed theologians. Two points are here involved:

(a) Does God desire the salvation of the reprobate, or is the object of his desire not rather the connection between the compliance of sinners with the terms of the gospel offer and their salvation? The Ezekiel passages make express the divine approbation of the connection between repentance and salvation. Samuel Rutherford, in reference to passages of gospel invitation, speaks of "A vehemence, and a serious and unfeigned ardency of desire, that we do what is our duty; and the concatenation of these two, extremely desired of God, our coming to Christ, and our salvation: This moral connection between faith and salvation, is desired of God with his will of approbation, complacency, and moral liking, without all dissimulation, most unfeignedly. And whereas Arminians say, we make counterfeit, feigned and hypocritical desires in God; they calumniate and cavil egregiously, as their custom is" (ibid, p. 511). Of God revealed will in the gospel offer Rutherford asserts: "it formally is the expression only of the good liking of that moral and duty-conjunction between the obedience of the creature and the reward; but holdeth forth not any intention or decree of God, that any shall obey, or that all shall obey, or that none at all should obey" (ibid, p. 512). To say absolutely, God desires the repentance and salvation of the reprobate is to go beyond the mode of expression. To say God desires the salvation of the penitent sinner, God desires that if any sinner repent, he be saved, is to give expression to the meaning of the Ezekiel and similar passages as understood by Rutherford. The gospel offer, in other words, is conditional or hypothetical and as such it is universal. This leads to a consideration of the second point:

(b) Does God desire the salvation of the reprobate, or is it the salvation of sinners as sinners which Scripture represents to be the object of the Divine approbation and complacency? Surely it is the latter. Nowhere in the invitations, exhortations, commands, expostulations or offers in Scripture are the reprobate singled out and made the objects of special Divine concern. Sinners without distinction or discrimination are invited in the external call of the Word.

(3) When God's free offer of salvation to sinners is understood in these terms, while an amazing and even inscrutable diversity within the Divine will is brought to light, it cannot be said that there is a logical conflict between the gospel and reprobation (Complaint, p. 13, col. 3), or that the two should be permitted to stand unreconciled alongside each other. It is not in accord with Reformed theology to assert or suggest that the Lord's will is irrational, even to the apprehension of the regenerate man. Rutherford argues against the Arminians that their view of the desires of God "maketh the Lord's desires irrational, unwise, and frustraneous" (p. 512). The denial of an unreconciled contradiction for our minds between God's desires and decrees is not to be identified with the denial of mystery in the will and ways of God or with the adoption of rationalism.

Wm. Young
Floyd E. Hamilton

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