Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) is one of the most significant of the Continental Reformed theologians yet is relatively unknown in Reformed circles today. This is a shame as he has many helpful things to say on the free offer of the gospel – but fear not for they are summarised below!
Wollebius begins his discussion of the free offer or “common call” of the gospel by noting that this is “common to the elect and reprobate” and that there is an effectual call that is “only to the elect” (133). He notes that the common call is an “invitation to the state of grace” (133). This is one reason why I cannot understand the claim that by “offer” 16th & 17thC theologians meant “present” or “exhibit”. No, no, and again no. “Invitation” (often coupled with “gracious”) was what they meant by offer, or to express it differently by offer they meant offer. R. Scott Clark drives a coach and horses through the argument that “offer” meant “exhibit” or “present” in his fine article “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel, and Westminster Theology,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple (ed. David VanDrunen; New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).
Wollebius emphasises the Trinitarian nature of the common gospel call, stating “The efficient cause of this vocation [calling] is the whole blessed Trinity: but particularly Christ the Lord; who as in the days of his ministration here on earth did immediately call sinners, so he doth now by the means of his ministers”. (133) Scripture references given are Matt 22:2-3, Mark 1:14-15 & 2 Cor 5:20. Important here is the fact that the call made by ministers is really Christ’s call, and in turn the call of the Trinity. It is not the minister’s offer only, he is but an ambassador; in reality it is a Divine offer.
Wollebius proceeds to define what he means by the gospel call, identifying two elements:
This is a helpful way of considering things. First, the benefit of redemption is “proffered” i.e. offered for acceptance or rejection. Second, there is a command to accept. The splitting out of these elements concisely illustrates that the gospel call was viewed as more than just a command by Wollebius – he also distinctly viewed it as an offer, citing 2 Cor 5:20.
Given that ultimately the justice of God will be glorified in the condemnation of the disobedient reprobate who reject the offer, can we speak of a sincere or well meant offer to the reprobate? According to Wollebius we can 🙂 He argues that “as for the reprobate, although they are not called with any purpose in God to save them, yet they are called seriously, and salvation is seriously promised to them on condition they will believe.” A few elements to note here. First, the gospel offer to the reprobate is sincere, they are not “mocked” by it. Second, the reprobate receive a promise from God. Third, this promise is conditional. A few people take issue with the language of conditions but, as long as we aren’t using it in a neonomian sense, it is simply standard Reformed theology. So, God’s promise to all in the gospel is sincere and therefore those who reject it are justly, as decreed by God, condemned for their unbelief, to the praise of his justice.
All quotes from the chapter “Of the common vocation to the state of grace” in John Wollebius The Abridgment of Christian Divinity (trans. Alexander Ross; London: Printed by T. Mab and A. Coles, For John Saywell, 1650), 133-135.