Predestination and the Free Offer of the Gospel

David Dickson (1583-1663)
Therapeutica Sacra, pp. 124-127

Objection. But some there are who maintain the decree of Redemption and Covenant between God and Christ (which in substance, is one with the decree) to be absolute concerning the powerful and invincible conversion, perseverance, and salvation of the elect; but concerning the rest of the world, they tell us of a conditional decree of saving every one who shall believe in Christ Jesus—which doth make some difference from what is said before. [1]

Answer. There is indeed an offer to be made to all the hearers of the Gospel, to whom God in His providence doth send His messengers, who are appointed to make offer of peace and reconciliation through Christ, upon condition of hearty receiving it, even to such as the Lord knoweth will reject the offer altogether. Against whom, His sent messengers are to shake off the dust of their feet, for a witness against them (Mat. 10:13-15), which accordingly was done by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:46, 51), and our Lord made offer of Himself to His covenanted people the Jews, who did not receive Him (John 1:11-12). And this is to be done according to one of the articles of the Covenant of Redemption, concerning the prudent way and manner of Christ’s singling forth His own elect, from the rest of the world. But this doth no ways import, or infer, an universal conditional Redemption or any conditional decree of God. For, there is a vast difference between a conditional decree of God, and a decree for bringing about God’s purpose, by offering peace unto men upon a condition. 

A conditional decree presupposeth, that God is not resolved what to do about them to whom He shall make offer of peace upon condition, but that He doth suspend the determination of His own will, till the offer be made, and the man hath refused or accepted of the condition propounded unto him—which sort of decree cannot be in God, to whom are known all His own works, and all men’s works from the beginning (Acts 15:18), and who doth all things according to the determinate counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). But a decree to offer peace, upon condition of believing in Christ, is a wise mean both of hiding and executing His own secret decree, and putting the persons to whom He makes the offer unto trial. That after the drawing forth of the natural enmity and backwardness, which is in all men to come unto Christ, till they be drawn by God, He may have mercy on whom He will, and take the refuse at the hands of others for the glory of His justice and grace, according as He hath determined in Himself. The one way determineth man, as God willeth; the other way determineth God, as man willeth. [2]

Moreover, such a conditional decree concerning all the rest of mankind, beside the elect, is inconsistent with the Scripture, and the way of God’s dispensation toward the most part of mankind. For, it was not God’s purpose to make the offer of grace, upon condition of believing in Christ, to all and every man. “He sheweth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel, He hath not done so with any nation: and as for His judgments they have not known them.” (Ps. 147:19-20). This same doth Moses insinuate (Deut. 4:7-8). And for His dispensation, experience in all ages sheweth that the grace of the Gospel is not offered to all and every one. And so they cannot be said to refuse the condition who never have the offer of grace upon condition. For, our Lord giveth us ground so to reason, speaking of them who should refuse the offer of the Gospel, “if I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin” (to wit, the guiltiness of rejecting the offer made in the Gospel) “but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). Wherein also He giveth a reason wherefore the offer is made to them, whom He knew would refuse the offer, to wit, that they may be rendered inexcusable, and be without the cloak or pretense of this allegiance, that if they had gotten the offer, then would they have believed and repented. For, this is the pride of Adam’s posterity, they conceive they can believe and obey God if He shall be pleased to reveal His will to them. 

And this is suitable to the Covenant of Redemption, which, because it was not made for the saving of all and every man, therefore it was not God’s purpose to reveal His Gospel, and make offer of His grace to all and every one. But out of all sorts of men to call effectually the elect, sending the Gospel where they live, or bringing them to the place where the Gospel is preached, that the predestinate might be of purpose effectually called, and justified and sanctified and saved (Rom. 8.28, 30). And because the elect and predestinate were to live in the civil society of the rest of the world, it was agreed and decreed that the offer of the Gospel should be made to all indifferently where God should send His messengers. Because God had determined to bring about the salvation of the elect so wisely and holily as none of the hearers of the Gospel should be stumbled or hindered from embracing the offer made to all the hearers indifferently, without letting any man know of His election, till he have received Christ offered to him and other self-condemned sinners, or declaring any man reprobate in particular, to whom He maketh offer of grace.

[1] After responding to Arminian objections to the Calvinist doctrine of God’s decree, David Dickson handles this Hypothetical Universalist objection, and notes that the two positions are different.

[2] Francis Turretin remarks on the Hypothetical Universalist sleight of hand in arguing from an offer or promise to a decree: “From a promise to a decree, the consequence does not hold good. If God promises a thing conditionally, he has not therefore decreed conditionally to give it. It suffices that the thing willed is conditional; it is not required that the volition itself should be conditional (i.e., he wills indeed that salvation should be given under a condition, but does not will under a condition that salvation shall be given). He intends absolutely to promise salvation under the condition of faith (not that the decree should be designated as conditional, but that the connection between faith and salvation may be indicated). The foundation, therefore, of the truth of the gospel promise is not to be drawn from the decree of God concerning persons, but from his wise ordination of things (and the inseparable connection between the means and the end—of faith and repentance with salvation); not to teach properly what God has actually decreed to confer upon this or that one, but what is the way and what are the means and condition necessary in order to obtain salvation (and what is in store for those having that condition).” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology IV.xvii.44, vol. 1, pp. 414-415).

Turretin also explains how it is equally incorrect to argue for a conditional will or willingness (velleitas) in God rather than just a conditional decree: “The question is whether by a certain conditional decree (and most serious will), God determined to give salvation to each and every one under the condition of faith. Although sometimes the brethren may deny that they hold any conditional decree (but only a conditional will, in order to avoid the sentence passed in the French Synod against those who might with so to speak), yet they cannot deny that the chief among them were not shocked at the phrase “conditional decree” and that it repeatedly occurs in the writings of very celebrated men: Amyrald, Testard, Placaeus, Cappel, and others [e.g. John Davenant]. The thing itself which they maintain demands this. For since no act of proper and intrinsic will in God concerning the event of anything can be granted (which does not imply a decree), whoever recognizes a conditional will in God must necessarily admit a conditional decree in him.” (ibid., IV.xvii.9, vol. 1, p. 397, emphasis mine).

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