A free offer - but you canít take it?
Calvinistic Christians believe in the universal free offer of the Gospel while denying universal human ability to believe.
Calvinism upholds whatever the Bible teaches, affirming all doctrines according to the analogia fidei, not allowing one doctrine to be eclipsed by another. At the same time it denies that there are paradoxes in the Scripture; there are ineffable mysteries (for instance, the Trinity and the hypostatic union) which are beyond comprehension, but different truths are never in contradiction one to another, or in seeming contradiction.
With this in view, Calvinism believes in the universal free offer of the Gospel, because true Calvinists bow down to the mandate of their Lord and Christ, in his last commandment, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature..." (Mark 16:15). Could language be more universal than this? And the gospel, according to the will of Christ, is to be proclaimed without "demanding" anything from the sinner, for even "repentance and forgiveness of sins" are to be preached "in His Name" (Luke 24).
The herald of the gospel is meant to explain several fundamental facts concerning salvation. He must proclaim Christ, who he is, and the nature of his accomplished salvation. His proclamation must include the facts:
1. That all have sinned (Romans 3:23);
2. That the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23);
3. And that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, by paying the penalty for sin by his death and resurrection (Romans 5:8).
Calvinists are not warranted to say indiscriminately to individuals, "Christ died for you." Christ himself never took this approach and neither did the Apostles. We do not find a single instance in Scripture of a Christian persuading an unbeliever, "God loves you, and Christ died for you," before he repented.
Indeed they proclaim Christ indiscriminately, to all sorts of people and to all sorts of individuals, telling them of God's invitation to respond to Christ personally in repentance and faith. "Come unto me..." (Matthew 11:28-30). There is certainly a need for personal response (John 1:11-12). The Holy Spirit and the church invite men to come to Christ (Revelation 22:17).
This they do knowing that not all are predestined unto eternal life, and yet they do it sincerely and without dissimulation, for the benefits of the gospel accrue to men if they repent and believe. The promises of God are conditioned upon faith, but he has nowhere and at no time promised to grant the gift of faith to all.
Predestination in no way hinders the zeal of the evangelist; rather the contrary. For as we know that God foreknows his own (though we have no idea who they might be) we can be sure that those (and only those) will finally believe and turn to Christ. For their sake the church is willing to preach the gospel far and wide. "For many are called but few are chosen.Ē The call goes out to all and sundry, but the fact that many continue in unbelief is to be traced to their corruption and sinfulness. "For men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light..."
As Calvinists present Christ to a fallen world they do not do so believing that people have power within themselves to turn to Christ. They do so because they believe in the power of the Spirit to resurrect dead bones and make them live (Ezekiel.). Their faith is in the power of God, not in the goodness of men.
Men are unable to believe: "How can you believe who receive honour from one another and not the honour that comes from the only God?" (free translation). "Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:65). "A man can receive nothing, except it be given unto him from heaven" (John 3:27; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7).
Because of original sin and all it entails, men are unable and unwilling to believe; but God can make them willing to believe. For what is impossible for men is possible with God!
Thus these two doctrines - the universal offer of the gospel and human inability - fit together and are faithfully preached by Calvinists without reserve.