Charles Hodge on the Free Offer

Charles Hodge has an interesting sermon on 1 Tim 2:4 (Who will have all men to be saved) in his Princeton Sermons (rept. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979, 18-19).  There is much in this sermon that is important for understanding the free offer.

Hodge begins by explaining a key hermeneutical principle, “when a passage admits of two interpretations, the choice between them is to be determined … by the analogy of Scripture.  If one interpretation contradicts what the Bible elsewhere teaches, and another accords with it, then we are bound to accept the latter.”  This is standard.  Unsurprisingly, given Hodge leads with this he believes that 1 Tim 2:4 is capable of two interpretations [1].  First, “God wills, in the sense of purposing or intending, the salvation of all men.”  Second, “God desires the salvation of all men” [2].

Hodge argues that the first interpretation is impossible. He reasons as follows, “the purposes of God are immutable” but “all men are not saved” so to say that “God intends and purposes what he knows is not to happen is a contradiction.”  So, by necessity the second interpretation must be regarded as true, namely that “God desires the salvation of all men.”  But what does Hodge mean by this?

Well to declare that God desires the salvation of all men “means … just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies [are] over all his works … This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and on the work of redemption.”  Hodge cites, Ezek 33:11, Ezek 18:23, Lam 3:33, the parables of the prodigal son, the lost coin, the lost sheep and Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.  The sum of these verses is “that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when he permits them to perish … it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise.”  Hodge argues his understanding of the passage is correct in that “It does not contradict the Scriptures … or make God mutable or impotent … It agrees with the fact, that God is benevolent…”

Hodge concludes with some reasons why the truth that God desires the salvation of all men is important:

1) “Because all religion is founded on the knowledge of God and on the proper apprehension of his character.  We would err fatally if we conceived of God as malevolent.”
2) “[Because] the conviction that God is love, that he is a kind Father, is necessary to encourage sinners to repent.  The prodigal hesitated because he doubted his father’s love.  It was his hope that encouraged him to return.”  Hodge here is in perfect harmony with the greatest of Puritan preachers Thomas Manton, “There is nothing so necessary to draw us to repentance as good thoughts of God.” (Works, 21:463).
3) “[Because] This truth is necessary to restore our confidence in God.  It is the source of gratitude and love.”

Now in giving Hodge’s view here I am not necessarily endorsing his actual understanding of 1 Tim 2:4 (and far less saying it is the only understanding compatible with the well meant offer).  But what I am saying is that the thrust of his sermon is vitally important, and thoroughly reformed.

On another note, I was up at the Inverness branch of the Scottish Reformation Society this week giving a lecture on “James Durham and the Free Offer of the Gospel.”  The lecture was well received.  I don’t think it was recorded but I may try and turn the substance of the lecture into a journal article.

[1] It is interesting that Hodge doesn’t even give as an option in his sermon that “all men” does not mean “all men” but “all classes of men”.

[2] Maybe good old John Murray wasn’t such an innovator in maintaining God desires the salvation of all men after all 🙂

7 Responses to “Charles Hodge on the Free Offer”

  1. Greg MacDonald Says:

    Not recorded??! I didn’t even think of that. Just assumed it would be. If it really wasn’t then I would certainly like to see the substance of the lecture appear somewhere, soon!
    Good post. But go on, let us know what you think the text DOES mean…? What options has Hodge missed out and which do you favour?


  2. Hodge on the Free Offer « Heidelblog Says:

    […] November 15, 2008 in Free Offer of the Gospel, Preaching the Word, The Mission: Reaching and Teaching | Tags: evangelism, Free Offer of the Gospel, witness At James Durham Thesis. […]

  3. M Burke Says:

    Isa 46:10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
    Isa 46:11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

    Seems to blow this contention out of the water. Either God gets what he desires or He doesn’t.

  4. Michael Says:

    Excellent work; I appreciate this as it has helped me in my own thought processes on this issue.

    Sadly, in many churches that call themselves “Reformed,” any similar sermon would be dismissed as Arminian.

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Greg

    I’ll check but I think there was an issue with the recording as there was no microphone for the first 15 mins or so. I am unsure how to understand 1 Tim 2:4 myself. I find the appeal to the context of v2 to make v4 “all kinds of men” unconvincing. However, the weakness of making v4 “all men” is how to understand v6. How would you understand v4?


    Thanks for the encouragement. It is strange indeed that Hodge would be dismissed by any as an Arminian. But you are right; many would call this sermon Arminian which shows a lack of awareness as to what our great theologians actually believed.

    M Burke

    I’m not sure why you think the teaching of these verses contradicts what Hodge says? As I quoted above, Hodge begins his sermon here by using the very truth of these verses to show that God has not decreed the salvation of all men. No one is saying God intends the salvation of all men.

    Every blessing

  6. Ben Says:

    Thanks a lot for this. Is the sermon really only two pages long? I agree, we need more of this in our churches.

  7. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Ben

    Yes it was just 2 pages – but 2 very good pages!

    Also for others the talk on James Durham was recorded and will be appearing on the web shortly. I will link when it does.


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