The Offer of the Gospel [1]

by Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge

The Scriptures distinguish between the effectual call and the external call addressed in the Word of God to all to whom that word is made known. In this sense "many are called but few are chosen." God said by his prophet (Isa. 65:12), "I called, but you did not answer;" And our Lord said, "for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt. 9:13.)

This external call includes (1.) A declaration of the plan of salvation. (2.) The promise of God to save all who accede to the terms of that plan. (3.) Command, exhortation, and invitation to all to accept of the offer mercy. (4.) An exhibition of the reasons which should constrain men to repent and believe, and thus escape from the wrath to come. All this is included in the gospel. For the gospel is a revelation of God's plan of saving sinners. It contains the promise, Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. In the gospel God commands all men everywhere to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the gospel men are not only commanded but exhorted to return unto God in the way of his appointment. Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die, is the language which it addresses to all to whom its message comes. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. Look unto me all ye ends of the earth and be ye saved. The gospel moreover addresses the reason, the conscience, the feelings, the hopes and the fears of men; and presents every consideration which should determine rational and immortal beings to comply with its gracious invitations.

This call is universal in the sense that it is addressed to all men indiscriminately to whom the gospel is sent. It is confined to no age, nation, or class of men. It is made to the Jew and Gentile, to Barbarians and Scythians, bond and free; to the learned and to the ignorant; to the righteous and to the wicked; to the elect and to the non-elect. This follows from its nature. Being a proclamation of the terms on which God is willing to save sinners, and an exhibition of the duty of fallen men in relation to that plan, it of necessity binds all those who are in the condition which the plan contemplates. It is in this respect analogous to the moral law. That law is a revelation of the duties binding all men in virtue of their relation to God as their Creator and moral Governor. It promises the divine favor to the obedient, and threatens wrath to the disobedient. It therefore of necessity applies to all who sustain the relation of rational and moral creatures to God. So also the gospel being a revelation of the relation of fallen men to God as reconciling the world unto Himself, comes to all belonging to the class of fallen men.

The Scriptures, therefore, in the most explicit terms teach that the external call of the gospel is addressed to all men. The command of Christ to his Church was to preach the gospel to every creature. Not to irrational creatures, and not to fallen angels; these two classes are excluded by the nature and design of the gospel. Further than this there is no limitation, so far as the present state of existence is concerned. We are commanded to make the offer of salvation through Jesus to every human being on the face of the earth. We have no right to exclude any man; and no man has any right to exclude himself. God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. The prediction and promise in Joel 2:32, "And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered," is repeatedly renewed in the New Testament, as in Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13. David says (Psalm 86:5), "For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in loving-kindness to all who call upon You." The prophet Isaiah 55:1, gives the same general invitation: "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost." Our Lord's call is equally unrestricted, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28.) And the sacred canon closes with the same gracious words, "The Spirit and the bride say, ""Come.'' And let the one who hears say, ""Come.'' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." (Rev. 22:17.) The Apostles, therefore, when they went forth in the execution of the commission which they had received, preached the gospel to every class of men, and assured every man whom they addressed, that if he would repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ he should be saved. If, therefore, any one holds any view of the decrees of God, or of the satisfaction of Christ, or of any other Scriptural doctrine, which hampers him in making this general offer of the gospel, he may be sure that his views or his logical processes are wrong. The Apostles were not thus hampered, and we act under the commission given to them.

Is it consistent with the  Doctrine of Predestination?

This general call of the gospel is not inconsistent with the doctrine of predestination. For predestination concerns only the purpose of God to render effectual in particular cases a call addressed to all. A general amnesty on certain conditions may be offered by a sovereign to rebellions subjects, although he knows that through pride or malice many will refuse to accept it; and even although, for wise reasons, he should determine not to constrain their assent, supposing that such influence over their minds were within his power. It is evident from the nature of the call that it has nothing to do with the secret purpose of God to grant his effectual grace to some and not to others. All the call contains is true. The plan of salvation is designed for men. It is adapted to the condition of all. It makes abundant provision for the salvation of all. The promise of acceptance on the condition of faith is made to all. And the motives and reasons which should constrain obedience are brought to bear on every mind to which the call is sent. According to the Calvinistic [2] scheme, the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation, that, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately. Calvinism teaches that a plan of salvation adapted to all men and adequate for the salvation of all, is freely offered to the acceptance of all, although in the secret purpose of God, he intended that it should have precisely the effect which in experience it is found to have. He designed in its adoption to save his own people, but consistently offers its benefits to all who are willing to receive them. More than this no anti-Calvinist can demand.

It is Consistent with the Sincerity of God.

It is further said to be inconsistent with the sincerity of God, to offer salvation to those whom He has predetermined to leave to the just recompense of their sins. It is enough to say in answer to this objection, so strenuously urged by Lutherans and Arminians, that it bears with equal force against the doctrine of God's foreknowledge, which they admit to be an essential attribute of his nature. How can He offer salvation to those whom He foreknows will despise and reject it; and when He also knows that their guilt and condemnation will thereby be greatly aggravated? There is no real difficulty in either case except what is purely subjective. It is in us, in our limited and partial apprehensions; and in our inability to comprehend the ways of God, which are past finding out. We cannot understand how God governs the world and accomplishes his infinitely wise designs. We must be satisfied with facts. Whatever actually is, it must be right for God to permit to be. And it is no less evident that whatever He permits to be, it must be right for Him to intend to permit. And this is all that the Calvinistic scheme, in obedience to the Word of God, is constrained to assert. It is enough that the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, is to be made to every creature; that whosoever accepts that offer shall be saved; and that for the salvation of all, abundant provision has been made. What God's purposes may be in instituting and promulgating this scheme of mercy, has nothing to do with our duty as ministers in making the proclamation, or with our obligation and privilege as sinners in accepting his proffered grace. If it is not inconsistent with the sincerity of God to command all men to love Him, it is not inconsistent with his sincerity to command them to repent and believe the gospel.

  1. Taken form Hodge's Systmatic Theology, vol. II, pp. 641-645, "The External Call."
  2. The phrase Hodges uses is "Augustinian scheme" which he defines in vol. II pp. 331-353. I have substituted the more familiar phrase "Calvinistic."
Scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer

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