The best treatment of Calvin on the gospel offer is…

October 15, 2014

…undoubtedly the essay by J. Mark Beach in the Mid-America Journal of Theology entitled “Calvin’s Treatment of the Offer of the Gospel and Divine Grace“. It is a fair and balanced summary of Calvin’s teachings.

Here is Beach on the definition of “offer”:

The gospel is “the doctrine of salvation,” as such it “invites all to partake of salvation without difference….” Calvin then links the word invitare [invite] to offerre [offer]. “For Christ,” he writes, “is there offered, whose proper office is to save that which had been lost, and those who refuse [recusare] to be saved by Him shall find Him their Judge.” We should note that Calvin‟s language of “refusal” comports with the language of offer and invitation. It will not do to make these terms to mean Christ is “displayed” to sinners. Calvin‟s language is that a genuine invitation is given—a genuine offer and a genuine refusal.

Here is Beach on the “offer” as expressive of love:

Another place where Calvin speaks in clear gospel-offer language is Jeremiah 7:25-26. In his lectures on this text Calvin offers the following instruction: “We may hence learn a useful doctrine,—that God rises to invite us, and also to receive us, whenever his word is proclaimed among us, by which he testifies to us his paternal love.” Here Calvin defines the invitation as reception or at least demonstrates that the intention of invitation is reception; that is, the reason for God rising to invite sinners to himself is also to receive them. This invitation is nothing less than an expression of his “paternal love.”

Do read the whole article. It is very helpful.

Free Church School in Theology 2014

September 26, 2014

I had the privilege last week to be at the Free Church School in Theology. I was there to deliver a lecture on John Knox and John Calvin.  It was good to be there and to renew friendships.  Hopefully the lecture will be published but here is a little taster where I went on an excursus regarding James Durham and the call to the ministry.

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Neither Calvin, nor Knox, felt any internal call until the external call of the Church constrained them. And this I think presents a question to us regarding the relative balance we place between the internal and external call to the ministry. In neither of these men did the internal call come first, and in neither of these men did the internal call come until necessity was laid upon them by the church.

On this point James Durham (1622-58) has a very important essay in his Commentary on Revelation entitled “Concerning a Call to the Ministry and Clearness Therein”. While not neglecting the importance of the internal call Durham quotes a section from the First Book of Discipline (1560). He says, “the established doctrine of our church in the First Book of Discipline, in that head concerning Prophesying and interpreting Scripture … [is] Moreover men in whom it is supposed to be any Gift, which might edify the Church … must be charged by the Ministers and Elders to join themselves with the Session and company of interpreters, to the end that the Kirk may judge whether or not they be able to serve … in the vocation of Ministers. And if any be found disobedient, and not willing to communicate the Gifts and special graces of God with their brethren, after sufficient admonition, Discipline must proceed against them … for no man may be permitted to live as best pleaseth him, to live within the Kirk of God; but every man must be constrained by fraternal admonition, and correction, to bestow his labours, when of the Kirk he is required, to the edification of others.[3]

Perhaps this strikes some as unspiritual?  Surely an internal call is necessary? Well, yes but to what degree? A Durham would say, “there are more clear grounds to gather God’s mind from” regarding the call to the ministry than the internal call.  He states that “the effects of the Spirit fitting one with Gifts for the charge … whereupon weight may be more safely be laid, than upon any inward apprehending, or not apprehending of the Spirit’s motion, which is never given to us in anything, as the alone rule of obedience; and we must suppose the motion of the Spirit to be where these Gifts are, seeing the impulse hath always the Gifts with it, so we may gather the impulse from the gifts.”[4] A position echoed later in the Reformed tradition by no less than Robert L. Dabney.

Whatever our view of the call to the ministry, we can this day record our thanks that the little gathered congregation in St Andrews compelled Knox into preaching, and that Farel in Geneva compelled Calvin to give up his goal of a quiet scholarly life.  At least in these two instances the wisdom of the external call going before the internal call was justified of her children.

[3] Durham, Revelation, 75.

[4] Durham, Revelation, 73.

The book is on the way…

September 18, 2014

After a little longer than anticipated the thesis (quite significantly revised and enhanced in places) is on its way to being in print.

I can only apologise about the price – but I’m sure it is worth every penny! In all seriousness it is really for university libraries. However, I hope to begin work on a more accessible version soon.

The details are here:

http://www.v-r.de/en/title-188-188/james_durham_1622_1658-1036213/

The blurb is:

The free offer of the gospel has been a matter of significant debate within Reformed theology. However, despite this controversy, Reformed theologians such as James Durham preached a gospel offer which was a sincere and free invitation from God to all, to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour. This gospel offer expressed God’s grace and goodness to all.

Donald MacLean argues that Durham’s doctrinal position is representative of the Westminster Standards and embraced by his contemporaries and evidenced by the later disputes concerning the meaning of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“Our Plaine Confession”

May 4, 2013

“…this is our plaine confession, which we simply and boldly do affirme, that Rom. 8., this is a stable and immutable foundation, “The Lord knoweth his own, that no creature is able to seperat his Elect frome his love, which in Christ Jesus he beareth to them.’”
John Knox, Works, 5:256

Lots of very helpful material in Knox. Nearly finished a chapter on him for a forthcoming volume on Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland.

Thomas Chalmers

April 3, 2013

Thomas ChalmersMy friend Andy Murray (who fed me many times in my student days!) has posted an article of mine on Thomas Chalmers on his blog “Ragged Theology“. To visit the post go here:

The Life & Times of Thomas Chalmers

Andy’s blog is well worth reading on a regular basis.

John Murray on the Free Offer Again…

March 28, 2013

Here is a nugget from one of John Murray’s reviews:

It should be distinctly understood that the doctrine of universal atonement is not indispensable to, nor an inference to be drawn from, the free and full offer of the gospel to all. The Reformed doctrine of limited atonement stresses emphatically the universal offer of the gospel and the will of God to the salvation of all referred to in such a passage as Ezekiel 33:11. [However] The will of God expressed in the free offer must be distinguished from his decretive will.
John Murray, Collected Writings, 4:296

Is the Westminster Confession “scholastic”?

February 27, 2013

To follow in the footsteps of the Reformed orthodox, “we distinguish”! Here is Richard Muller on the issue of “scholasticism” and the Westminster Confession:

… the Westminster Confession, although produced in an era of scholastic doctrine, does not itself follow the method. As the theologians of the day would have noted, a confession is not “scholastic”; rather, it is positive or declarative and belongs to a genre parallel to that of a catechism … it is doubtless true that the architectonic vision and patters of definition found in the Westminster Assembly’s confession and catechisms reflect the concerns for clarity, precise definition , and logically presented argument characteristic of a mind trained in scholastic forms, but the documents themselves are not strictly “scholastic”.
Richard Muller, After Calvin, 27

Johannes Wollebius – Statements on Scripture

February 15, 2013

In a context where the evangelical doctrine of Scripture is being “rethought” in various places it is good to be reminded of the historic teachings of the Reformed churches on Scripture.  Here are some extracts from the great Reformed theologian Johannes Wollebius (all from Beardslee’s Reformed Dogmatics):

  • We … acknowledge no other basis for theology than the written word of God.
  • That the Holy Scripture is of divine origin and authority is a doctrine held without question among all Christians
  • Therefore, it is improper for a Christian to question whether Scripture, the Holy Bible, is the word of God. Just as in the schools there is no debate against anyone who denies postulates, so we ought to regard it as improper for anyone to be heard who denies the basis of the Christian religion.
  • The witness [to the divine quality of Scripture] is twofold … The primary witness is that of the Holy Spirit, both externally, in the Scripture itselt, and internally, speaking in the heart and mind of a believing person … The subordinate witness is that of the church.

May God’s word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path!

The Viva is Over … The PhD has been Awarded!

February 8, 2013

On Tuesday this week I was in Lampeter at the University of Wales Trinity St David. I was there to have my viva where I had to defend my dissertation “Reformed Thought and the Free Offer of the Gospel: With Special Reference to  The Westminster Confession of Faith and James Durham (1622-1658)”.  The outcome was the award of the PhD with no changes to the dissertation other than the  correction of typos- the end of 6 years hard study and writing! Soli Deo gloria!

The viva itself was a good experience.  I had been well prepared by my supervisor (Dr. Gwyn Davies) but he constantly emphasized you can never tell where the challenges are going to come from! In the event questions focused on:

  • How did the 17th C Reformed theologians make the case that a well meant gospel offer was consistent with a particularist soteriology?
  • Did they really in practice preach a well-meant gospel offer?
  • Why did I chose the three later controversies over the free offer that I did as evidence of “ongoing” disputes over the free offer? (I looked at the Marrow Controversy, the credal revision controversy in America leading up to the 1903 revisions to the Westminster Confession and the disputes over the “three points of common grace” in the Christian Reformed Church.)
  • Was James Durham’s theology sufficiently Trinitarian? Was it as Trinitarian as I claimed?
  • Had I given enough time to, and treated fairly enough, those who deny the Reformed tradition has held to a well-meant gospel offer?
  • What are the implications of a well-meant gospel offer for the doctrine of God?

But overall the conclusion of the viva was that the dissertation made its case in a convincing manner and was therefore passed. The external examiner was Rev. Professor Andrew McGowan and the internal examiner was Professor Densil Morgan. Thanks are due to both men for their challenges to, and engagement with the dissertation, but most especially to Professor McGowan as the expert in the area.

Well, now that the PhD is over … I have some articles I can finally get round to writing :-)

Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal 2013

January 24, 2013

Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, vol.3, 2013

Continuing the trend of only posting about new journals it is good to see that the 2013 Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal is now available.

The table of contents is below.  My copy is now in the post!

‘John Knox and the Destruction of the Perth Friaries in May 1559′
Douglas Somerset

‘The Covenanters, Unity in Religion, and Uniformity of Church Government in the 1640s: Presbytery by Coercion or Co-operation?
Jeffrey Stephen

‘The Scots Church in Rotterdam – a Church for Seventeenth Century Migrants and Exiles. Part I’
Robert J. Dickie

‘Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement and the Unity of the Visible Church. Part II’
Matthew Vogan

‘The Attitude of James Begg and The Watchword Magazine to the 1872 Education Act’
Andrew R. Middleton

‘The Witness of the Kames Free Presbyterian Church, Argyllshire’
Norman Campbell

‘Movements in the Main-Line Presbyterian Churches in Scotland in the Twentieth Century’
John W. Keddie

‘The Sabbath Protest at Strome Ferry in 1883′
Norman Campbell


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