July 30, 2017

Arthur W. Kuschke’s (1913–2010) Response to the Minority Report on the Free Offer of the Gospel

To give the reader some context, there was a dispute in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over the ordination of Gordon H. Clark in the 1940’s. It is sometimes called the Clark/Van Til controversy, but there were many more people involved. This dispute included 1) a legal question on the OPC meeting in which Clark was ordained, 2) the issue of divine incomprehensibility, 3) matters of the intellect, will and emotions, both in God and in man, 4) divine sovereignty and human responsibility, as well as 5) the free offer of the gospel. These are brought up both in the Complaint and in the Answer. It is the last topic that is the focus of this post. In Kuschke’s response below, he mentions both the committee report and the minority report. These are both contained in the original journal article, if one wishes to read them for further context.

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Salvation is to be received freely, and it is offered freely by Him who says, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).

There is no dispute among us [in the Orthodox Presbyterian Chuch] about the facts of election and reprobation. From the foundation of the world God has chosen some unto salvation in Christ. Others He has passed by and ordained to eternal wrath. But since these things are so, how is it that God freely offers salvation to all, both elect and reprobate, and with the offer reveals a desire that all should be saved? Here lies the question at issue in our church [the OPC]. Some say that in His universal offer God does reveal Himself as truly desiring the salvation of all, although for His own wise and holy reasons He does not decree to bestow salvation upon all. Others have been reluctant to use the word “desire”; they say God commands all men to come, but they question whether He in any way wills or desires that all should come.

The Committee Report

The committee report says plainly, “The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation  of love or loving kindness in the heart of God . . . The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fullness. The love or loving kindness that lies back of that offer is . . . the will to that salvation.”

And does God in some sense will the salvation of those whose salvation He does not decree? This is the very truth revealed to us, for example, in Matthew 23:37, in our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” The report says that we have here “the most emphatic declaration on the part of Christ of His having yearned for the conversion and salvation of the people of Jerusalem.” Moreover His will to bless them is sent in contrast with their will: “I have willed—ye have not willed.” The will of Christ is opposed to that which actually occurred, and He “therefore willed (or wished) the occurrence of that which God had not secretly or decretively willed.”

Ezekiel 33:11, according to the report of the committee, does not reflect upon the hidden will of God’s decree, but upon His will as made known to us in the gospel: “As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no delight (or pleasure) in the death of the wicked, but rather in his turning from his way and that he live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, and why will ye die, O house of Israel?” It is an oath-supported declaration of God’s will toward sinners, that He takes pleasure in or desires their universal repentance and life. The Committee report decides after a full discussion, that the same expression of God’s benevolence and lovingkindness toward mankind as a whole, both elect and reprobate, is also taught in II Peter 3:9—“The Lord . . . is longsuffering on your account, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The Minority Report

The minority report, though brief, takes up many points, and it does not seem needful to consider them all here. But two of the positions adopted call for serious attention: the view that “God has not a will that can be frustrated as well as one that cannot be,” and the view that, “the gospel offer . . . is conditional or hypothetical.”

The first assertion appears to do violence to the fact that there is a will in God which is grievously rejected by sinners. This is His revealed or preceptive will. And surely it is with this rather than His secret or decretive will that we are dealing in the doctrine of God’s universal offer of the gospel. The surprising failure to take note of this fact apparently accounts for a number of errors in the minority report. It condemns the idea that God has what it calls “frustrable desires,” as though God’s desires to save all were decretive. Samuel Rutherford’s admirable polemic, against the Arminian notion that it is God’s “intention or decree” to save all, is quoted; but such “intention” respects God’s decretive will, not His revealed will. That God desires the salvation of the reprobate is said to be “not . . . precedented by the language of Reformed theologians”; but Rutherford and Turretin, to mention only two, use this language when dealing with God’s preceptive or revealed will. The Complaint is alleged to say that “there is a logical conflict between the gospel and reprobation,” and to “assert or suggest that the Lord’s will is irrational” to us, but the Complaint does not take these positions and again, a failure in the minority report to discern between God’s decretive will and His revealed seems to account for such a misunderstanding. And yet the committee report makes the distinction plain in numerous places. In the exegesis of Isaiah 45:22, for example, the committee report says that it is surely God’s “pleasure that all repent and be saved. Obviously, however, it is not his decretive will that all repent and be saved. While, on the other hand, he has not decretively willed that all be saved, yet he declares unequivocally that it is his will, and, impliedly, his pleasure that all turn and be saved. We are again faced with the mystery and adorable richness of the divine will. It might seem to us that the one rules out the other. But it is not so. There is multiformity to the divine will that is consonant with the fullness and richness of his divine character, and it is no wonder that we are constrained to bow in humble yet exultant amazement before his ineffable greatness and unsearchable judgments. To deny the reality of the divine pleasure directed to the repentance and salvation of all is to fail to accept the witness borne by such a text as this to the manifoldness of God’s will and the riches of his grace.”

Is God’s Free Offer Conditional?

At the beginning of the minority report it is asserted that “God desires the salvation of sinners.” but later this expression is interpreted to mean that “God desires that if any sinner repent he be saved . . . The gospel offer, in other words, is conditional or hypothetical and as such it is universal.”

Here a serious confusion is obvious. To be sure there is a conditional element in the external call of the gospel: the promise of salvation is granted only on condition that the sinner repent and believe. God says, If you repent, I promise salvation. The promise on God’s part, and the enjoyment of salvation on the sinner’s part, do not hold good and do not go into effect without the conditions of repentance and faith. But is God’s command conditional? No, it holds good as a command regardless of the sinner’s obedience. The same is true with God’s offer; it is unilateral, its validity to sinful man does not depend upon reciprocal action on man’s part. God does not say, If you are in the position of accepting it, then I am in the position of offering you salvation. He says, I offer you this salvation: accept it. He says, Come to the waters, Take of the waters, look unto me and be saved.

The topic in view moreover is not just the offer, but the free offer, and the minority report in its title and at other places uses the word “the free offer.” To describe God’s offer as “free” is to follow the language of the Westminster Standards: “God freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ” (Confession, VII, 3) and “he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him” (Larger Catechism, Q. 32). The meaning of the word “free” as ascribed to God is given in Confession II, I, where in a list of God’s perfections He is said to be “most free,” and the Scripture proof is Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens, He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.” God is independent of man. His gospel offer, as “free,” does not depend upon man and is not conditioned upon man’s acceptance. It is unilateral and unconditional. He makes the offer to all men in their sins before they think of accepting it. To describe His free offer as conditional or hypothetical, as does the minority report, is a contradiction in terms.

It is also a grave impoverishment of the gospel proclamation. The very fact that the divine offer is free and unconditional reveals that salvation must be entirely by God’s power and by God’s initiative. His free offer does not bestow salvation and does not promise efficacious grace. But it is a valid universal offer. And as free that offer is itself a lovingkindness upon all; and it opens our eyes to God’s desire, so plainly declared in His word, that all should be saved.


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