November 29, 2009

Iain Murray’s Review of David Silversides’ Book on the Free Offer

The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed

David Silversides; Foreward: J. J. Murray Marpet Press, 16 Edward Street, Kilsyth, Scotland G65 9DL, 128 pp., £7.95.

This is a valuable addition to literature demonstrating that the gospel is good news for every hearer. It is more particularly oriented to answering the teaching of the Protestant Reformed Church of America (PRC) – encouraged in Britain through the British Reformed Fellowship – that the 'free offer' only means that the gospel is to be preached to all; it is no expression of love in God for all. So the preacher must not individualize the message to convey to his hearers the belief that the gospel is sent for their salvation; he must rather confine himself to generalities (not knowing who the elect are). The reasoning behind this belief is that God only has love for the elect and so the love revealed in the gospel can only have reference to them. Contrary to this position, Mr Silversides argues that 'The overtures of the gospel are an expression of God's love', and he sets out to prove that, in addition to saving love, there is a love in God for all men. We believe he succeeds and he does so without any of the rancour that has sometimes disfigured disagreement among Christians.

The orientation of the argument as a response to PRC writers makes this work of value chiefly to those who have been influenced by the supposition that the PRC teaching represents the purest Calvinism. It is to counter that idea that the author makes effective use of many Reformed authors from the Reformation and Puritan periods, showing that divine love is not to be confined to the elect alone. The scriptural case is foremost but, for those unconcerned with the historical, the book is somewhat specialist. It is not impossible that the other side may also produce 17th-century quotations which appear to contradict those here given. The fact is that it was not until the eighteenth century that hyper-Calvinism really became prominent, and earlier Reformed writers were more concerned with answering Arminianism.

In order to keep what he considers the main point clear, Mr Silversides does not argue that the free offer proves that God desires the salvation of all to whom the message comes. But can the divine love, that the author wants to uphold, be without desire for the highest good of those loved? To side-line the question of desire will not, we think, blunt the hyper-Calvinist's claim that a free-offer, expressive of love to all, attributes two wills to God – fulfilled in the case of the elect and unfulfilled in the case of all others. But that charge needs to be met (as the author to some extent does) on other grounds. We do not think that Scripture allows us to make the question of God's desire secondary. In the words of Professor John Murray, 'It would appear that the real point in 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' (Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 113). Further on this point, see the chapter by John Piper on 'Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God's Desire for All to be Saved' in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, T. Schreiner and Bruce Ware (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995). We hope and believe that David Silversides' thorough work will be of help to many on this important issue.

Iain H. Murray
From the "Book Reviews," in Banner of Truth 507 (December 2005): 22.

Note: Observe carefully that Iain Murray, like Phil Johnson, appeals to Piper's article, but Murray explicitly does so to answer the issue of hyper-Calvinism on the primary subject of God's desire for the salvation of all men. Phil Johnson links to the same article in his Primer on Hyper-Calvinism, but wants to make the issue of God's universal saving desire secondary (in order to protect his friend James White from the charge), explicitly contrary to Murray. There is some difference between Murray and Johnson on this particular subject. Johnson is more with Silversides in making the matter secondary, unfortunately.

Moreover, Murray thinks God's universal love necessarily entails that God desires the highest good (i.e. the eternal salvation) of all men in the revealed will, therefore he says: "But can the divine love, that the author [Silversides] wants to uphold, be without desire for the highest good of those loved?" In addition to refuting Silversides (as Murray does), this also answers the Gillite position that God loves all merely in a temporal sense, but doesn't desire their highest good, or in the sense of their eternal salvation. As mainstream Calvinism teaches, God's benevolent love for all is necessarily associated with His desire to eternally save all in His revealed will.

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