Unconditional Offers

In the quiet summer months, politicians are away from Westminster so there is a lack of interesting news stories for many sections of our media. In the absence of a natural disaster or a Brexit-related prophecy of doom, the annual hand-wringing about A-level results has an assured future. If results are good, it shows how standards are falling and our education system has dumbed down. If results are poor, it shows how Britain is slipping off the world stage/government cuts to education are beginning to bite. A third chorus of protesting howls was heard this year when the number of unconditional university offers was revealed. These are offers that universities make to applicants which have no formal requirements. So having received one, a student might fail all three A-levels and still sail off into higher education the following September. The total made to teenagers from England, Northern Ireland and Wales has risen by 65,930 over the past five years - from 2,985 in 2013 to 67,915 in 2018. That’s quite a jump. Why is it the case?

Students are now worth over £9k per annum, with most courses lasting at least three years. Offer them university-based accommodation, and that’s further income. The more students they attract, the more revenue for the institution. This has always been the case, but tuition fees mean that universities are now being better recompensed for the students they admit. An unconditional offer is so attractive to a prospective student, that they are likely to ignore all other offers in order to accept it. All the worry and stress over A-level results and one’s future evaporate the moment one presses the Accept Offer button. 

The most august universities seldom make unconditional offers. Oxford and Cambridge, for example, have so many applicants that they need not resort to such bribery. They prefer to attach conditions to their offers: obtain 3 x A grades, and you can come to us. Fail to achieve that, and we’ll probably retract the invitation. Offers with no strings tend to come from institutions with less recognisable names or sparkling reputations. Often, however, they come from strong institutions such as Lancaster, which wishes to attract the cleverest applicants who might otherwise accept offers from the prestigious Russell Group universities, of which Lancaster, for reasons unknown to me, is not a part.

Schools, however, really don’t like unconditional offers. Their place in the league tables fall if A-level results drop; unconditional offers potentially discourage hard work and high achievement. If I can obtain a university place without stopping up late revising, why would I bother? To counter this, and to encourage industry in its students, institutions like Lancaster will often offer recipients of unconditional places a cash incentive of £2000 to get all As. Clever.

So much as I dislike them, if one were made to me aged 18, I’d seriously consider it. This whole discussion mirrors theological issues that have been raised throughout the ages. Most religions, including branches of Christianity such as Roman Catholicism, say that humans can indeed be saved and enter heaven but there are requirements that must first be met. Perform Hajj. Attend confession. Be celibate. Worship gods, etc. If I fulfil these conditions, I may attain the blissful state when I die. Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, says salvation is unconditional. Christ Himself fulfilled the requirements of God’s law; we must simply believe in Him to not perish and gain eternal life.

“But that means you can go on sinning!”, self-righteous legalists will object. Just as unconditional offers may result in idleness and indolence, so free grace, it is asserted, will result in greater impiety. Charles Spurgeon saw this coming:

No sooner is this doctrine set forth in a clear light than men begin to cavil at it. It is the target for all carnal logic to shoot at. Unrenewed minds never did like it, and they never will; it is so humbling to human pride, making so light of the nobility of human nature. That men are to be saved by divine charity, that they must as condemned criminals receive pardon by the exercise of the royal prerogative, or else perish in their sins, is a teaching which they cannot endure. God alone is exalted in the sovereignty of his mercy; and the sinner can do no better than meekly touch the silver sceptre, and accept undeserved favour just because God wills to give it:—this is not pleasant to the great minds of our philosophers, and the broad phylacteries of our moralists, and therefore they turn aside, and fight against the empire of grace. Straightway the unrenewed man seeks out artillery with which to fight against the gospel of the grace of God, and one of the biggest guns he has ever brought to the front is the declaration that the doctrine of the grace of God must lead to licentiousness. If great sinners are freely saved, then men will more readily become great sinners; and if when God's grace regenerates a man it abides with him, then men will infer that they may live as they like, and yet be saved. This is the constantly-repeated objection which I have heard till it wearies me with its vain and false noise. I am almost ashamed to have to refute so rotten an argument. They dare to assert that men will take license to be guilty because God is gracious, and they do not hesitate to say that if men are not to be saved by their works they will come to the conclusion that their conduct is a matter of indifference, and that they may as well sin that grace may abound.

The Doctrines of Grace Do Not Lead to Sin: Sermon No. 1735. Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, August 19th, 1883, at Exeter-Hall.

Universities employ the cleverest people in the world. Would they be so stupid to make unconditional offers to people incapable of tertiary education? Will not the grace of God, when truly and liberally applied to the human heart, not produce works of righteousness? Such works cannot save one, but they are the automatic and essential consequence of such an awakening.

In the gospel, God makes you an unconditional offer of a place in heaven at Christ’s expense. For heaven’s sake, accept it.


Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay