The Free Offer of the Gospel, John Murray, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, booklet, 30 pages, £1.25.
The prominence of the free offer of the gospel in the preaching of the Scottish Church since the Reformation is maintained in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It is written into those documents which proclaim what we believe the Bible to teach. For example, The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 7, affirms that God in the covenant of grace ” freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe”. The Shorter Catechism, answer 31, explains effectual calling as “the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel“. Answer 86 describes “faith in Jesus Christ” as “a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel“. The Larger Catechism, answer 32, sees the grace of God manifested in the covenant of grace “in that He freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by Him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in Him, promiseth and giveth His Holy Spirit to all His elect to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces”. The Sum of Saving Knowledge states that “in the Word of God preached by sent messengers, the Lord makes offer of grace to all sinners upon condition of faith in Jesus Christ” (head 3).
In the free offer of the gospel, Christ is proclaimed as a suitable and sufficient Saviour for sinners, and each sinner who hears is called, commanded, invited and besought to come as a sinner to Him for salvation. This does not imply ability but implies responsibility and provides encouragement. By this means, God effectually calls His people to the Saviour. They come as sinners on the authority of the Word addressed to them as such. William Cunningham sums up the position of our Standards and of our pulpits: “God has commanded the gospel to be preached ‘to every creature’. He has required us to proclaim to our fellow men, of whatever character, and in all varieties of circumstances, the glad tidings of great joy, to hold out to them, in His name, pardon and acceptance through the blood of atonement, to invite them to come to Christ, and to receive Him, and to accompany all this with the assurance that whosoever ‘cometh to [Him], [He] will in no wise cast out’. God’s revealed will is the only rule, and ought to be held to be the sufficient warrant for all that we do in this matter, in deciding what is our duty, in making known to our fellow men what are their privileges and obligations, and in setting before them reasons and motives for improving the one and discharging the other”. Cunningham’s last sentence puts Professor Murray’s booklet into context.
The booklet begins: “It would appear that the real point of dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men”. The significant question is said to be: “What is implicit in, or lies back of, the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction?” The author interprets various scriptures as proving that “there can be no room for question but that the Lord represents Himself in some of these passages as earnestly desiring the fulfilment of something which he had not in the exercise of His sovereign will actually decreed to come to pass”. He connects this with a general love of God for mankind, distinguished from saving love, and expressed in His providence (Matt 5:44-48), accounting for “the gifts bestowed upon and enjoyed by the ungodly as well as the godly”, such as rain and fruitful seasons, and for “the full and free offer of the gospel”.
In “Some Necessary Emphases in Preaching” (Collected Writings, vol 1) Professor Murray states that “it is only with the definiteness and particularism which characterises our reformed faith that Christ can be presented in all His fulness and freeness as a Saviour . . . . It is on the crest of the wave of the divine sovereignty that the full and free overtures of God’s grace in Christ break upon the shores of lost humanity.” He does not ascribe the preaching of the gospel to sinners to a universal saving love any more than to a universal atonement. But here and elsewhere he grounds the gospel call in desires on God’s part which He has purposed should not be fulfilled, and in a universal love which accounts for His providential dealings with men. It seems to this reviewer that, in his concern to find something additional to the mere command of God on which to base the overtures of grace, the author is betrayed uncharacteristically into strained exegesis, connecting what Scripture does not connect and reaching unconvincing conclusions which lack clarity.
Criticising the Declaratory Act of 1892, Rev J S Sinclair wrote: “We are fully agreed that all who hear the gospel are under obligation to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. But this obligation, we hold, rests upon the direct command of God, and the suitableness of the gospel provision to men as sinners, and not upon supposed universal love, or universal atonement, as seems to be the case here”. The preacher who goes forth to preach Christ to sinners has authority and sufficient reason for warmth, freeness and earnestness in the fact that he has the command of God behind him and that he has a Saviour to proclaim in whom even the chief of sinners may taste God’s saving love.
(Rev) H M Cartwright
A Call to Prayer, J C Ryle, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, booklet, 32 pages, £1.25, obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
Those acquainted with such works of Bishop Ryle of Liverpool (1816-1900) as Holiness and Practical Religion will find in this booklet that faithfulness, directness and sound Biblical teaching for which he is so well known. Ryle begins with the question, “Do you pray?” and deals with such matters as the necessity of prayer, its being a mark of a true Christian, its neglect, and encouragements to it. He goes on to address those who do not pray and faithfully sets their danger before them. In the last section, he speaks to those who do pray. “As a companion in the Christian warfare”, he offers a “few words of exhortation”, in which he commends spirituality, regularity, perseverance, earnestness and faith.
Scripture tells us that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16) and that “men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Man’s personal need for making his requests known unto God never changes, for his need of salvation never changes. The supreme encouragement which Christ Himself gives to needy sinners is clear: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt 7:7). The needs of the cause of Christ today demand from us fervent prayer, for God’s word to Israel is for us also: “I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them” (Ezek 36:37). Today there is surely a need for much secret prayer to the Lord that He would arise and have mercy on Zion; so this “call to prayer” is very relevant for the people of God. Personal holiness and a life near to the Lord can only be maintained where prayer is a constant exercise, and in our times we surely need to “search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord” (Lam 3:40).
Ryle’s A Call to Prayer is necessary reading, and its republication is most welcome. The handy size of the booklet and its low cost make it ideal for distributing to those who may require this call in a special way. May the call be heeded in our times!
(Rev) David Campbell