David Engelsma, Reformed Free Publishing Association
Prof. Engelsma’s book which reveals the follies of what he terms preaching the ‘well-meant offer’ has been around for a number of years, providing much food for thought. This book has now been revised and reprinted. As the subject has become a common topic of debate amongst Reformed Christians, readers may value the comments of one long familiar with the book before purchasing it themselves, a purchase I urgently advise them to make.
Not that I can wholeheartedly recommend the entire work. The book has great strengths and most obvious weaknesses. Its main strength is that it examines the motives of those who claim that all who do not indiscriminately ‘offer’ Christ in the gospel are not preaching the gospel properly and are thus Hyper-Calvinists. Engelsma demonstrates that this opposition is not so much directed at hypothetical Hyper-Calvinism but is aimed against Calvinism itself. Engelsma also shows that a non-use of the term ‘offer’ does not make or break a gospel preacher who is called to present his message to saint and sinner alike.
One weakness of the book is that Engelsma has not researched the works of his supposed opponents well, and thus, at times, unwittingly misrepresents them, confusing friend with foe, and is not always aware of his real enemies. As a result of this, he both strives to remove the label of Hyper-Calvinist from himself and stick it onto those who are very obviously less ‘High’ than himself. Another weakness, seen from a European perspective, is that Engelsma writes not only with the North American scene in view but from the bird’s-eye position of his own tiny denomination, the Protestant Reformed Churches. Prof. Engelsma’s argument in his 1980 work was mainly with Arminians but now he sees the same Arminianism preening itself in the false feathers of formerly Reformed churches. Thus there is much local colour and even more denominationalism which may be off-putting for a European reader. Nevertheless, Prof. Engelsma does not seem to be aware of the great danger facing America at present from the British scene where the new Arminian face of Reformed thinking has caused far more havoc than in the States. The Banner of Truth’s present massive effort to have thousands of Iain Murray’s thinly disguised attack on orthodox Calvinism in his book Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism distributed free throughout the Southern Baptist churches by courtesy of the editors of the Founder’s Journal shows that they are intent on bringing down American Calvinism, too. True, they will have a tougher job changing Uncle Sam. The Banner has been alarmed at what they claim is a revival of Antinomianism amongst American Southern Baptists, which means that the doctrines of grace are being rediscovered in the Southern States. This, as a defence against the British onslaught, is better than the Boston Tea Party. The only updates in this direction is added criticism of Erroll Hulse who, as is well known, stands in a personal feud with friends of Prof. Engelsma, and a brief mention of Donald MacLeod.
After criticising the Arminianism of John R. Rice, Engelsma explains that the doctrine of supralapsarianism, to which he holds, does not automatically make a person a Hyper. In defining both supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism, however, Engelsma is obviously leaning on Turretin’s new definitions which do not reflect the thinking of the original Contra-Remonstrants. Engelsma thus holds that both views of predestination were high (some would say Hyper), whereas the original infralapsarians argued that God did not decree man to fall but created Adam as a perfect probationer who sadly misused this responsibility and trust given. This, of course, what the word literally means.
Next, the author traces the history of Hyperism through Hussey, Wayman, Brine and Gill and their supposed involvement in the Modern Question debate. It is strange that Engelsma does not list Skepp, who is usually imagined to be the ‘missing link’ between Hussey and Gill. Surprisingly, Engelsma borrows his history of Hyper-Calvinism from Peter Toon and Andrew Fuller, omitting here a positive reference to Hulse’s Reformation Today which was in the first edition. Toon could not have mixed up his facts more and Fuller’s definitions of orthodox Calvinists as being Hypers are pure vitriol. One would think it folly of an officer to accept his marching orders from the enemy, especially in times of war. Nor has Prof. Engelsma studied the enemy’s strategy carefully as Fuller, normally critical of Gill, supports him against Engelsma’s strictures in the work Engelsma quotes. Furthermore Fuller’s biographer Dr. Ryland stresses that both Gill and Brine did not share Wayman’s ‘High’ views and that Brine sought to mediate between the extremes of both sides. Ryland looks on Gill as being a ‘Lower’ Calvinist than even Brine and stresses that Gill did not take part in the Modern Question controversy. This was also emphasised by Gill’s biographer John Rippon. Gill was a professing sublapsarian as testified by his works, his contemporary friends and his two major biographers. He was also a firm critic of Turretin’s Hyper view of predestination and Arminian view of justification. Engelsma feels that Gill might have been forced into Hyper-Calvinist extremes through his debate with John Wesley. Gill’s writings against Wesley, however, show that he was not only a sublapsarian but, as a consequence of this, he rejected even Calvin’s view of double-predestination.
Next Engelsma turns to Gospel Standard Articles 26, 33 and 34 on duty-faith, duty-repentance and calling sinners indiscriminately to receive Christ. He judges them to be Hyper-Calvinistic. Personally, I find parts of these Articles foreign to experimental faith and the Scriptures but my favourite writers such as Bunyan, Hervey, Gill, Crisp, Romaine, Hawker and Berkof occasionally come up with very similar statements. It must also be said that there are ‘grey zones’ in most human creeds and Engelsma has perhaps lost sight of the overwhelming truths of the majority of the Gospel Standard Articles. I believe that the Gospel Standard ought to consider revising the articles Engelsma mentions but their articles on election and the fall are far less Hyper than Engelsma’s creed. People in glass houses . . .!
Engelsma now explains, on good grounds, that the term ‘offer’, because of Arminian misuse in connection with the theory of universal atonement, has lost its original Council of Dort meaning of presenting the gospel. As it is not a Biblical term, there is no harm in dropping it, especially as it has become a mere modern shibboleth or badge of respectability, irrespective of what gospel the badge-bearer represents. Engelsma’s alternative is to speak of a universal ‘serious call’, which he finds Biblical, arguing that many are called, though few are chosen. At times, his evangelical fervour in wishing to present the gospel to all, makes him rather overstep Dort’s wise findings which stipulate that the gospel is to be preached “to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.” Now and then, I believe that I caught Engelsma using ‘call’ as a synonym for ‘offer` and equally at times his ‘external call’ seems to contain a different gospel from his ‘inner call’ which would take the force out of his criticism of John Murray who has obviously a different gospel for his ‘free offer’ as he has for his addresses to believers. Nor have I yet understood exactly what Engelsma means by ‘the well-meant offer’. This is obviously a translation from the Dutch term ‘welmeenende Aanbieding’, which, one would think, ought to be translated ‘well-meaning offer’. But who or what is the subject of this offer and who is the object? This is not always made clear. The better phrase is obviously ‘universal offer’ as modern offer men speak of an atonement which is sufficient for all.
In Chapter 2, entitled The Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel, Engelsma discusses whether God’s grace is universal or particular. I cannot understand this debate for the same reasons that I cannot understand the contemporary controversy over the scope of God’s love. As God’s attributes are all eternal and God dwells in eternity and in him we live move and have our being and, as all that God does, He does well and as He pleases, I accept that God is grace and God is love and that God is not divided. I cannot conceive that God can be more or less gracious or more or less loving in His character. Engelsma seems to be arguing in this way to show that God’s decretum horrible which placed Adam in Paradise so that he must sin was proof that there is no common grace but rather a withholding of particular grace. Now to spread such a myth will strike many of us as being Hyper-Calvinism at its most hyperbolical. I must confess, I have never seen this macabre doctrine put so cold-bloodedly. The difference I see between Hyper-Calvinists and present Anti-Hyper-Calvinists is that the latter reject the true fall, believing that man only fell in his inclinations, whereas the Hyper-Calvinists reject the fall, arguing that it was a mock-up. Balanced John Gill rejected both views.
Engelsma now criticises the ‘free offer’ teaching of John Murray and Ned Stonehouse. Their view fails to convince because it introduces dubious text-critical methods and empties the gospel which is to be freely offered of the news which makes it ‘good news’. When the Banner of Truth Trust published this Liberal doctrine-bending in 1976, it was seen by many as the writing on the wall. Engelsma goes on to reject all theories of salvation based on human conditions. Engelsma names several Dutchmen who sin here but we are reminded that Iain Murray and Geoffrey Thomas have stated publicly that salvation is all of God but equally all of man. Engelsma also refutes the Remonstrant idea that condemnation comes from rejecting Christ. This view, as it became one of the pillars of Fullerism, is now widely accepted by the British Reformed establishment who have forgotten that man is already fallen in Adam and thus is already under condemnation for his sins. Logically speaking, according to this system, man is not truly fallen unless he rejects Christ. This leaves all those who have had no opportunity to receive Christ in a strange predicament. They are not fully fallen and are yet not fully saved!
Engelsma explains how ‘free offer’ theology is based on the doctrine of universal atonement. This is why Gill did not mind using the words ‘call’ and ‘invitation’ in conjunction with preaching but condemned the ‘universal offer’ approach which was accompanied with ideas of an indiscriminate universal atonement for every man, should he be that way inclined. Again, however, the scene has shifted. Today’s critics of their Aunt Sally Hypers virtually reject the idea of an objective atonement, whether universal or particular. The atonement is a kind of catalyse which releases salvation for all but secures salvation only for those who repent and believe, we are told. True atonement comes when it is applied and received in the act of believing. This is neither cheese nor chalk.
In Chapter 3, The Reformed Doctrine of the Call of the Gospel, Engelsma says how he wishes to steer his boat between the rocks of Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. Erroll Hulse comes in for some criticism here as he asserts that those who reject the universal offer are, by virtue of this rejection, Hyper-Calvinists who deny duty-faith and minimises the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners. Hulse even postulates that non-offer preachers bring death to those who succumb to their message.
Engelsma also takes up the oft repeated criticism of Hulse and Co who make-believe that preaching Christ rather than pontifically ‘offering’ Christ stops evangelism and missionary activity. Fuller thought this, too. When, at the end of his life, he realised that churches of the Hyper-Calvinists were full in comparison to those of the Association he had chiefly influenced, one wonders if the light then dawned and he saw the folly of his ways? Perhaps he did as he had a most blessed home-call, at peace with God.
Recently I was privileged to attend a Baptist church with an active membership of two thousand and an average Sunday attendance of 1,600. Conversions are frequent, baptisms often and the full gospel is always preached. The pastor is looked on by the neighbouring pastors as an Antinomian. How come their churches are so small in comparison? Please pull the other leg dear Brothers Hulse, Haykin, Murray, Oliver et al! When your own ministries become as successful as those of your Hypers, we shall take you seriously! Prof. Engelsma shows how God raised up an outstanding evangelist and missionary who did an enormous work of evangelism in his time, in spite of doctrines which would be considered ‘hyper’ today. That man was Paul of Tarsus. The unevangelised fields are still waiting for Arminians-cum- Fullerites to come over and do better.
Engelsma shows how the doctrines of grace are the true doctrines that promote evangelism. The great comfort of a preacher is to know that those who are sent by God, reap a prodigious harvest because God has his people everywhere where his preachers are sent. There is no such thing as indiscriminate preaching, whether with or without offers. The Lord is working His purpose out in preaching and the Spirit blows where He will as Christ brings home His Bride.
Chapter 4 is entirely new and deals with the question Is Denial of the well-meant offer Hyper-Calvinism. One might think that this question has been adequately answered already but Engelsma wishes to explain what in-fighting has been going on amongst the U. S. Reformed churches since the twenties. Modern Particular Baptists who have dropped the word ‘Particular’ and call themselves falsely ‘Calvinistic Baptists’ and those other brethren who advertise a non-particularism in the atonement, will do well to follow Engelsma’s arguments via Warfield that particularism in the atonement is the gospel and a rejection of this must be seen as a rejection of the immediacy of saving grace and thus a total rejection of Christianity.
In Chapter 5, The Historical Question, Engelsma argues that his position represents true, historical Calvinism. I would have been happier with an argument to prove that it is the Scriptural position. This is because each side in the modern fight for the title of ‘Strict Calvinism` as Fuller called his own highly Liberal system, is quite convinced that they are the true defenders of Calvinism, even if they have to throw out the Five Points to prove it! I must confess, I feel more at home with the teaching of Bunyan, Cowper, Gill, Hervey, Huntington and Hawker than Calvin. Not that Calvin does not thrill and inspire me but my other mentors’ faith seems to activate their ministry more experimentally, and I have learnt to know them as close friends and teachers. Calvin has always looked down at me superciliously. Perhaps it is a matter of personal reading and taste. Be this as it may, Engelsma’s brand of Calvinism is far more genuine than that of free-offerism who have rejected law and gospel for a shibboleth. On the doctrine of the covenants, especially, Engelsma beats his opponents hollow as today’s nominal Reformed people seem to have scrapped covenant theology completely.
Chapter 6 of Engelsma’s book deals with Calvin’s Doctrine of the Call, basing his remarks on Institutes, Book III, Chapter XXII, Section 10. I had some difficulty here as Engelsma has developed a terminology with which I am unfamiliar. Engelsma, however, represents Calvin correctly in his insistence on preaching the gospel to all as it comes as a savour of life unto life to some and as a savour of death unto death to others. Thus all to whom one is sent, must be given the full gospel. Calvin therefore speaks of a universal call and a special call or of an external and an effectual call. This is also Gill’s way of looking at preaching which I have never quite shared. I cannot accept that when God calls me to preach, he may call me merely to be ‘external’ in my preaching. All preaching in the Spirit is efficacious one way or the other. If the gospel presentation finds fertile soil, it is obviously efficacious. If it finds barren soil, it is still efficacious as God’s Word does not return to Him void put accomplishes its purpose. Preaching saves efficaciously and preaching condemns efficaciously. Engelsma, with his tongue in his cheek, concludes with the words,
“We have now found for the defenders of the well-meant offer of the gospel the original hyper-Calvinist – John Calvin himself.”
In chapter 7, Engelsma deals with Turretin’s Doctrine of the Will of God, viewing this successor of Calvin as the representative champion of Reformed thought. Perhaps it is only fair to point out that not all think Turretin comes any where near Calvin, and Gill leaves Turretin miles behind in evangelical theology. Engelsma, with real didactic skill, outlines the sections and subsections of Turretin’s highly philosophical jargon which boils down to the last Genevan Reformer teaching that God has no sincere desire to save all. Revelation 4:11, Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:35 and Matthew 4:29 put it much better.
Turretin is followed in Chapter 8 by Abraham Kuyper who was much more down to earth and whom I personally find understandable. Kuyper is still to be discovered by the British. On the Continent, he is a household word. There are a number of excellent inexpensive biographies on the second-hand market. Here Engelsma deals with Kuyper’s doctrine of particular grace which he feels could lead people wrongly to the conclusion that he was a free offer man, which he was not. Engelsma shows how Kuyper’s distinction between common and special grace falls flat as each is always trespassing on the other. Actually, this can be said of Engelsma’s particular grace as it so often seems, in a most positive sense, to be stretched far beyond the exclusive. Engelsma is rather hard on Kuyper for what his successors have done with his theological distinctions. This is like blaming Calvin for the paper Antinomians that are being put up.
Engelsma now returns to Erroll Hulse, and here I was compelled to smile. South African Hulse, who supports a common Dutch name, accuses Engelsma’s friends in the British Reformed Fellowship of teaching un-British theology. Yet Engelsma claims that Hulse is a disciple of Dutchman Kuyper, though he does not seem to know. This is obviously because of Hulse’s common grace theory. Hulse is described as being more confused than Murray and Stonehouse because of his extraordinary little booklet called The Free Offer. This was sent me several years ago by a friend who penned on the accompanying card, “Utter nonsense. Worse than Arminianism!” Murray confesses that his cut-down grace provides a cut-down gospel to match, but Hulse looks on the free ‘ common’ offer as providing all that a soul needs for his salvation and eternal happiness. But there is one big hitch! Here we have a gospel that saves, wrapped up as a gift in a packet which will never reach its destination as such packets are only conveyed by common grace and not saving grace. This section is ended by a fine list of reasons why the gospel should be preached to all men everywhere.
The final chapter is entitled The Threat of Hyper-Calvinism and Engelsma rightly sees the hue and cry concerning it as either ignorance or subterfuge. He nevertheless feels that Hyper-Calvinism is still a threat because there was such a thing in history and it may revive. Arguing from history is never Engelsma’s strength and he finally finds only one person, Joseph Hussey (1660-1726) who he feels really was an example of a ‘fully developed, hardened hyper-Calvinism.” Hussey, however, was an ardent opponent of ‘High’ Calvinism until he changed his views late in life. His supposed ‘Hyperism’ was combined with other far more serious defects concerning the person of Christ which made his influence minimal. Indeed, Engelsma may be right in one way here as Hussey is probably more well-known today than ever because of the huge ‘press’ Antinomian and Hyper-Calvinist hunters are giving him.
Engelsma’s book is extremely useful for those who wish to be introduced to the theological challenge of the Hyper-hunters. Someone must write a similar book for the British scene. The first edition had a good bibliography but no index. This edition has neither the one nor the other. The layout is also inferior to that of the first edition. Engelsma attacks the free offer men on a very narrow front. He could have examined their rejection of the Biblical teaching on imputation and justification. In steering his boat between Hyper and Arminian rocks, the reader will be frightened at times into thinking that the author is about to be shipwrecked now on one coast, now on the other. This ought to caution us about sticking labels on people. Engelsma’s own fluctuating Calvinism puzzles at times, particularly when he attacks those who are generally less high than himself. Gill would have provided Engelsma with a safer, less zig-zaggy, route through the opposing rocks.
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