Iain H. Murray on the sincerity of God’s offer in the proclamation of the Gospel to the non-elect


“Finally, we can observe that the sincerity of God’s offer even to the non-elect is in accordance with the truth that God does desire, delight and approve of things which, for other reasons, He has not determined to carry into effect. This distinction can be illustrated from God’s commandments. His commandments express what He desires should be done. When the Israelites disobeyed them He cries – ‘O that my people had hearkened unto me.’ ‘O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river . . .’ (Ps. 81:3; Is. 48:18; Deut. 5:29). Unmistakably such verses express what was God’s desire. Yet we must say that though their actions were, in their own nature, displeasing to God, He had nevertheless willed and permitted such conduct for wise and holy ends. Similarly with the Gospel offer. God desires that everyone should believe it; He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11) but delights in their conversion [1] – thus Christ yearned for the salvation of the people of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37). Yet this desire, in the case of the non-elect, is for the fulfilment of something which in His inscrutable counsel and sovereign purpose He has not actually decreed to come to pass. This distinction between God’s desire and His will, or, more correctly stated between the will of God’s benevolence and His decretive will, underlies the free offer of the Gospel. [2] His benevolence and compassion, expressed in the universal call to repentance, extend to every creatures whom He has not decreed to save. At this mysterious evidence of the unsearchable character of God’s ways the humble believer stops and says with Calvin ‘we go no farther than the Lord leads us by his Word’.”

– Iain H. Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel: Viewed in the Light of the Marrow Controversy,” Banner of Truth 11 (June 1958), 13–14

[1] “God delights in the conversion and eternal life of the sinner, as a thing pleasing in itself, and congruous with his infinitely compassionate nature, and therefore demands from man as a duty due from him to turn if he would live.”

– Francis Turretin (1623–1687), quoted in W.G.T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, vol. II, p. 483 (1889 edit.)

[2] This distinction may be a new one to some readers but it is far from novel. John Calvin (1509-1564), in expounding 2 Peter 3:9 (God is “not willing that any should perish…”), distinguishes between God’s wish or revealed will and His determinate (hidden) purpose in the following words: “But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the Gospel. For God there stretches out his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead unto himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.”

John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on 2 Peter 3:9


3 thoughts on “Iain H. Murray on the sincerity of God’s offer in the proclamation of the Gospel to the non-elect

  1. Murray here cites a “will of benevolence” in God. This is the first time I’ve ever heard the term. It seems this is a third will alongside God’s prescriptive will and decretive will, is it not? I have been accustomed to reconcile the free offer with the sovereign decree of reprobation by understanding the free offer as a duty expressed and offered or “set before” the sinner to tell him what it is his duty to do, as Turretin puts it above, but not as though God has an unfulfilled wish or desire.

  2. @ highplainsparson

    Thank you for the comment, and well spotted!

    R.C. Sproul, in his book “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith”, ch 22, p. 67-69, describes God’s will as threefold:
    (a) Sovereign decretive will, the will by which God brings to pass
    whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens.
    (b) Preceptive will is God’s revealed law or commandments, which we have the power but not the right to break.
    (c) Will of disposition describes God’s attitude or disposition. It reveals what is pleasing to Him.

    If we would take Murray’s reference to “will of benevolence” and compare it to Sproul’s summary, we would have to say that it falls under the “will of disposition”, as Sproul calls it. If we take the verse in question, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9), we would not be able to regard it as God’s decretive will, since all men of course do not come to repentance, nor does it fall under God’s preceptive will (according to Sproul’s categories) since it does not fall under the category of prescription or prohibition as the law of God does, but rather expresses God’s desires. That being said, if you take the free gospel offer as a command to repent (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; and a number of other places but especially Acts 17:30), then yes, it would belong to God’s preceptive will. I am thus inclined to agree with you that it belongs to God’s preceptive will rather than a third will (will of disposition), but at the same time would suggest that this “will of disposition” (whether we regard it as legitimate or not) is perhaps what Murray had in mind.

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