Why the Free Offer Matters to Today’s Churches
For the next couple of months in this space where we have been taking some time to consider ways to help our prayer and worship life we are going to begin a spring series thinking through some of the unique things that were, and still should be, the identifying markers of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I am ARP on purpose. I am an ARP minister for the same reason I am not a Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran, because I believe that the warp and woof of the heart of the ARP, found in its history and confessions is the most Biblical form of the Church found on this side of Heaven. I also am firmly convicted that you should be ARP as well. If I didn’t believe that I’m not rightly sure I could keep my vows. Pragmatism or its dastardly cousin, convenience, have no place really in my soul or when it comes to what I’ve been called to do, nor should it in your heart. That may seem rude, but it is not.
To fulfill that mandate I will give y’all some history and background, quotes from ARP men, either Scottish Seceders, or American-born ministers from our denominational past and explain more about whatever subject is on tap for that week. We’ll take a look at matters like how the gospel is preached, how we understand the biblical covenants and their relation to life today, and the manner in which Presbyterianism is practiced. I hope you find the time we spend on this helpful. The goal here is also to help people within and outside the ARP know more about why we are and who we are.
It makes sense that to start this we need to begin with what is most important, and that is the gospel. Christ dead for sinners, raising them from the spiritual darkness, washing them in His blood, forgiving their trespasses, and making them new creatures in the restored light of Jesus’s countenance. That’s the main message our Lord gave to His infant bride in Matthew 28.
To begin let’s consider first what it is we mean when we say that in the ARP we believe in the “free offer of the gospel”. One of the earliest charges against Ebenezer Erskine and others rallying at Gairney Bridge was that they were being fundamentally “Arminian” in the way they presented the good news of Jesus to the lost. What I mean by that is some considered the freeness’ (that is a lack of stipulations either in the call or in the person receiving the call) of the offer being made sound as though both reprobates and the elect were considered able to respond in faith to what was being promised in the gospel.
In saying no more than what John Preston had noted in the 17th century, the Seceders believed that to rightly be consistent with the New Testament example of the Apostles that pastors were to preach to all who were gathered, that salvation rightly offered in Christ, was available to them, and mean it when they said it. That may not sound that controversial to our ears, but to many it can seem as if we are denying one of the tenets of the Reformed faith in that all have the ability to come to the knowledge of the truth, when we know that there are many who will never turn to the truth according to the Decrees of God. Let’s let John Brown of Haddington help us understand a little bit more about what is going on here. As one of the early systematizer’s of the teachings of the Seceder Church, and under whose professorship a whole army of early American ARP ministers would learn (including the founding pastor of Bethany ARP Church), he is the best one to get us started in comprehending what we are talking about today. Hear him:
“Though Christ effectually saves none but His Elect (Eph. 5:23). He is by Divine Appointment, grant, and office the Savior of the World, fit for all sinful men, and to whom they are all warranted by God to apply for salvation (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). His salvation is a common salvation (Jude 3) and his gospel is grace, which bringeth salvation in offer to all men that hear it (Titus 2:11, 1 Tim. 1:15). If Christ’s administration of the new covenant were not thus general and indefinite, some men would have no more warrant to hear the Gospel, or believe in and receive him for their salvation, than devils have, contrary to Mark 16:15-16.”
–John Brown of Haddington “Systematic Theology”, 244.
There we see a clear testimony that as Romans 5:6 tells us Christ died for the ungodly. We know from Romans 3 that all men are ungodly. So it stands to reason that the ungodly, regardless of their status in the Decrees, are to be called to repentance and faith in the Savior of the world. (John 3:17). Again, that does not in anyway nullify the fact Christ’s death is only for His sheep. (Matt. 1:21) nor does it fly in the face of election. (John 6:65, Matt. 24:31).
Brown goes on to say:
[If that was the case] they could not be condemned for their unbelief, according to John 3:18,36. The foundation of God’s general grant in Christ in the gospel as His ordinance to men for their salvation, and of His general administration of the covenant is Christ’s fulfilling the condition of the covenant, being infinitely valuable in itself and, intrinsically considered, a sufficient ransom for all men. (Acts 20:28).
He continues there to restate what I have said above about the characteristics of those who need the gospel. There is no human who does not require the satisfaction of Jesus Christ the righteous to gain entrance into the Heavenly kingdom.
To close this morning let’s ask a pertinent question: So What? How should this effect the preaching I hear at an ARP church each week, or even at a Presbytery or a Synod meeting? All proclamations of God’s word in our context should contain within them a gospel call, freely offered to all present in that place. We are never to be under the assumption that every person in the hall that day knows the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, even, or maybe especially, if it is the officers, elders and ministers, of His Church. An ARP Church must be a gospel, fire-breathing, house of hope for sinners. Not a lecture center of Reformed theology, but a place where men and women can come with the assurance that they will hear, with no strings-attached, the free offer of life eternal found alone in the Redeemer.
Another word to consider at this link.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church