One of the gems that I have come across in looking at previous interpretations of the Westminster Standards on the free offer of the gospel is John Brown of Haddington’s understanding of Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 31*:
Q: What is effectual calling?
A: Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.Brown makes a number of vital points in relation to the free offer of the gospel while expounding this section of the catechism:
- He defines the offer of the gospel as Christ “holding forth himself as able and willing to save, and inviting sinners to receive salvation from him.” Two vital things here. First the gospel offer speaks of the willingness of Christ to save and second the gospel offer is an invitation (as opposed to being, say, a presentation of facts).
- He emphasizes the universal extent of the offer stating that Christ offers himself “to every one that hears the gospel, without exception”.
- He notes the offer is “earnest” and explains this as “all the divine persons do often, in the most engaging terms, and with the most powerful motives, beseech, intreat, and command us to embrace Christ”. This is key. The offer does not just come from the preacher but from God – fundamentally it is God’s offer. Also note that Brown emphasises the well meant nature of the offer.
- Finally the offer of the gospel is our warrant to come to Christ for “Q. What warrant have we to embrace Christ in the gospel? A. … Christ’s offer offer of himself to us … [and the Father’s] setting forth Christ as the great mean of salvation, which everyone of mankind hath a right and welcome to receive, John iii. 16.”
Of course John Brown (Haddington) was heir to the Marrow tradition of Boston & the Erskines so we would expect him to be good on the free offer of the gospel – and he is! The Marrow tradition represents Scottish Calvinism in all its glory.
*All quotations from John Brown, An Essay, Toward an Easy, Plain, Practical, and Extensive Explication of The Shorter Catechism (Philadelphia: Printed by Henry Frick for M’Carty & Davis, 1818), 142-3.