A Quandary for Proponents of the Well-Meant Offer

Sinclair Ferguson is perhaps today’s leading proponent of the “well-meant offer of the Gospel,” the teaching that God desires the salvation of all men, elect and reprobate as well.

Proponents of the well-meant offer land into particularly difficult quandaries as the inherent unlimitedness of the position presses up against the limitedness of the Calvinist view of the atonement.

Consider Ferguson’s explanation of how the Christian is to be assured of salvation:

“Our ultimate confidence that God is for us cannot be found in our ability to interpret the providence of our own lives or the lives of others. But, according to Romans 8, there is one irrefutable reason for the Christian believer to be utterly convinced that God is for him or her. That reason is that he is the God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” – The Heart of the Gospel, p. 7.

Calvinists historically have understood the debated “all” references in the Scriptures, like that of Romans 8:32, to be referring to “all Christians” or “all of the elect” both of Jews and Gentiles. Arminians hold a different position, believing “all” to be referring to “each and every” person; so that Christ provides an unlimited atonement.

In which of these senses is Ferguson using the word “all?”

Does not his argument imply that he is the using the Arminian sense of “all” as “each and every?” In that case he presents a logically valid (though not sound) argument:
P1: Christ died for each and every person.
P2: You are a person.
C: Christ died for you.

But Ferguson is a Calvinist, is he not? So, shouldn’t he be using the Calvinist understanding of “all” as “all of the elect?” If so, his argument looks like this:
P1: Christ died for the elect.
P2: You are elect.
C: Christ died for you.

This argument is also logically valid, but it ultimately begs the question. “How do you know you are elect?” Does Ferguson answer this question by saying “Because Christ died for you”? How do you know Christ died for you? Because you are elect?

Is this argument “irrefutable?” Is it even meaningful?

11 thoughts on “A Quandary for Proponents of the Well-Meant Offer”

  1. I was not aware that Ferguson held this view.

    Doug, are you familiar with Sam Waldron’s new book on the well-meant offer? Dr. Waldron is a reformed Baptist (1689) whom I have great respect for and have learned a great deal from. But another 1689er friend of mine took issue with some statements in his new book, such as the following (I have not yet read the book):

    “Thus, it is clear that God wills, wishes, wants, and desires many things that he does not decree.”

    (Waldron, Sam. The Crux of the Free Offer: A Biblical, Confessional, and Theological Explanation and Defense of the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel (Kindle Locations 825-826). Free Grace Press. Kindle Edition)

    I would also find that statement problematic as it relates to the nature of the atonement, as well as explicit passages that speak to God’s doing whatever it is He desires (Psalm 33:10; 115:3; 135:6).

    I wonder if this is in any way related to whatever postion Ferguson holds, inconsistent as it may be. What do you think?

    Thank you for addressing this, and for your love of logic.

  2. Nick and Doug, see prof. Engelsma’s review of Waldron’s book in the Nov. 2019 PRTJ, p.100-115.

    https://www.prcts.org/journal

    “In which of these senses is Ferguson using the word “all?”

    Doug, in what sense do he then use the word ‘all’ in the rest of his article, from where the quotes come from? The quote itself answers it or not, because he says “…for the Christian believer…”?

    1. Well, here is a clearer writer on the subject of assurance:

      “Assurance of eternal life can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer. … if one knows, if one has a clear intellectual understanding that he believes, he should have legitimate assurance.” (Gordon Clark, First John, p. 161)

      The argument is that no one can believe unless the Holy Spirit works faith in him. And no one but the elect has the Holy Spirit. Thus, if you believe in Jesus Christ you are to be assured of your salvation.

  3. Good discussion! Thanks Proregno for the link to the great review. Is it any wonder that the advocates of the well-meant offer are VanTillian? It takes a mystic of high order to hold to the contradictions necessary for this to be true.

    On a sad note, some of the most vocal opponents of this doctrine maintained an infralapsarian scheme (Gerstner, Gill and Pink).

  4. When God saved me in 1967 at the age of 27, I didn’t know anything about a “well-meant offer,” or election or reprobation. All I knew was that I was a lost, guilty, Hell-deserving sinner, and that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) like me. The Holy Spirit used Romans 5:6-11 to show me the love of the Lord Jesus for me, and shortly after that I was reading Pink’s book on “The Sovereignty of God,” where I began to learn the great truths of God’s sovereign, electing grace. How I then began to rejoice to learn that God had loved me from eternity and called me effectually, revealing the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on Calvary’s cross as a substitutionary, propitiatory sacrifice to save a sinner like me (1 John 4:9-10)!

    1. John,

      It seems like you and I have a similar love of Pinks, The Sovereignty of God. The great blessing that book has been for Sovereign Grace Baptists and maybe some others too. Unfortunately, Banner of Truth has seen fit to abridge this classic work and remove some chapters and appendixes. If you have not already I invite you to read appendix 3 The Meaning of “Kosmos” in John 3:16 for a very stimulating and doctrinally satisfying look at the love of God.

      1. Thanks, Scott. I have the unabridged edition of Pink’s work on the sovereignty of God, which includes all the appendixes you mentioned. In my judgment, Pink has the correct interpretation of the love of God in John 3:16. You might be interested in checking out my book, “The Sovereign Grace Of God In Salvation,” which can be read free on-line at this link:
        http://www.angelfire.com/va/sovereigngrace/SovGrace14b.pdf
        It’s also listed on my website, “The Sovereign Grace Home Page,” at this link:
        http://www.sovereigngracehomepage.com

        1. Thanks John I will check out your book. I take every chance I get to let people know there are two versions of Pink’s book. A Southern Baptist friend of mine recently told me he was reading the Sovereignty of God to my unexpected surprise but when he showed it to me it was the Banner of Truth edition. I promptly gave him a spare copy of the real version.

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