Archive for April, 2007

Weekly Update 2

April 28, 2007

So second weekly update time. 

I thought I would post this time on Durham’s view of the purpose of the ministry as this sheds some significant light on his view of the importance of the free offer of the gospel.  To begin this discussion of Durham’s views here is a quote from his Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Naphtali Press, Dallas, 2001 (sadly now out of print – http://www.naphtali.com/#Christ%20Crucified).  When discussing the confirmations of the truth that every man has warrant to believe in Christ and take him as Saviour Durham states that this right to believe:

“May be confirmed from the end for which God appointed the Word and the ministry in his Church, even to make the offer of Christ and life through him (John 20:31, These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name); the Word is both written and preached for this very end.” p 88.

So it is evident for Durham that the offer of Christ and life through him is of the very essence of the minister’s work.  And further, Durham believes that this offer of Christ in preaching is one of the great confirmations that all sinners have a warrant to come to Christ for salvation.  The centrality of the free offer of the gospel to preaching is highlighted in several other places in Durham’s writings:

“When the Master sends out His servants in His name their great work is to invite to the wedding and to close the marriage.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, 2002, p44-45 (See https://store.ligonier.org/product.asp?idDept=B&idCategory=PU&idProduct=UNS01BH – buy it! ).

“The great work of the ministers of the gospel is to invite unto, and to endeavour to bring this marriage between Christ and souls to a close.”
ibid, p55

I could go on and on with further quotes. The point is clear – according to Durham proclaiming the free offer of the gospel is the central (though by no means exclusive) duty of the minister.

In this view of the chief work of the ministry, is Durham some kind of trail blazer coming to prominence in the 1650’s and revolutionising the hitherto settled reformed view that the core work of the ministry was to lecture on doctrine (see note 1) or some other thing?  Well, hear John Calvin commenting on 2 Corinthians 6:1 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom40.xii.i.html):

“Ministers are here taught, that it is not enough simply to advance doctrine. They must also labour that it may be received by the hearers, and that not once merely, but continually. For as they are messengers between God and men, the first duty devolving upon them is, to make offer of the grace of God, and the second is, to strive with all their might, that it may not be offered in vain.”

So there we have it.  The first duty devolving on ministers is to “make offer of the grace of God”.  And the second, to do all in your power that the offer is not slighted.  (My attention was drawn to this quotation by Stebbins’ work reviewed last week.)

So then for Durham, Calvin and the reformed tradition the free offer of the gospel is important enough to be the first duty of the minister of the gospel.

Comments, suggestions and constructive criticism welcome!

Work done this week:

* Finished Stebbins’ work on the free offer
* Progressed slowly with Durham’s Christ Crucified
* Began note taking on David Silversides’ “The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed”
* Continued motoring through the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology

Work for next week:

* Make some significant progress on Christ Crucified (otherwise the timetable is slipping)
* Continue with Mr Silversides’ work and the DSCHT
* Provide the ‘exciting’ quotes from Durham’s CC I promised last week
  

Note 1 – I am not criticising doctrinal *preaching*.  Indeed “free offer” preaching with its focus on sin, the atoning work of Christ, etc is inherently doctrinal.  I am against theological lectures mascerading as sermons!

First Weekly Update – 2

April 21, 2007

Part 2 of the first weekly update!

Key reading for this week has been Ken Stebbins’ helpful book Christ Freely Offered, Covenanter Press, 1996 (available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom).  Stebbins looks at three questions posed by the Protestant Reformed Church (Herman Hoeksema’s denomination) and analyses them in some detail.  His analysis of topics such as the love of God, common grace, the will of God and the free offer of the Gospel contain some helpful historical (and exegetical) material.

There are a number of particularly helpful features in Stebbins’ book:
* His historical survey demonstrates that the preponderance of reformed theologians have believed that God desires the salvation of all men.  What makes this admission refreshing is that when moving to a dogmatic evaluation Stebbins does not like the word ‘desire’ but prefers ‘delight’.  It is always refreshing to read a book which can not be summed up with “See, all the good guys agree with me.”
* His evaluation of the Puritan John Owen’s exegesis of some key texts (e.g. Ezek 18:23) exposes one of the few weaknesses in Owen’s otherwise fine defence of definite atonement “The Death of Death” (http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/item_detail.php?4552).  He also notes inconsistencies in Owen’s exegesis in DoD and in his use of texts in his later sermons.  That Stebbins takes the time to step back and critically evaluate the arguments in the DoD which is a “sacred cow” amongst the books defending definite atonement is again most welcome.  Stebbins also critically engages Owen’s absolute dichotomy between the secret and revealed will of God.  Again this willingness to probe and question is a delight (not a desire)!

There are, as in all works of men, a few weak points.  One I would highlight is that I don’t agree with his criticism of the Marrow Men (Boston, the Erskines, etc) as somehow deviating from orthodoxy in their theology.  Also I should highlight Stebbins’ preference for “God delights in  the salvation of all men” as opposed to “God desires the salvation of all men”.

Work done this week:

Read the majority of Stebbins’ book
Progressed with re-reading Durham’s Christ Crucified (Sermons on Is. 53) taking proper notes this time
Progressed with gleaning useful tit-bits from Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology

Key work to do next week:

Make significant progress on note taking on Durham’s Christ Crucified (some “exciting” quotes from this work next week).

First Weekly Update – 1

April 21, 2007

So here goes for the first weekly study update.

It has been a fairly productive week this week.  A couple of points to note (1 this post and 1 the next):

The Importance of Context

I have been struck again by the importance of context in interpreting the writings of others.  For those within the Reformed tradition the importance of context should come as no surprise.  One of the tools used in reconciliation of James and Paul according to the Reformed tradition can be summed up as, “See look at the context of their writings.”  Accordingly, the answer runs, “The context of one is legalism, context of the other is antinomianism so even though they appear to be saying diametrically opposed things they aren’t”.

Context is also important when investigating the views of non-canonical authors.  The context in which an author is speaking is key.  For instance the same author may appear to say something very different when engaged in polemics with an Arminian over limited atonement than in a “freer” exposition of a text where polemical concerns are not the overriding factor.  A classic example of how this works out in theological writing can be seen in Calvin’s exegesis of Ezek 18:23.

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Now Calvin expounds this verse in three different ways for three different audiences.  The following is as per my notes on Stebbins (see the next post for his work):

1) When dealing with Albertus Pighius in the highly polemical work “Concerning the eternal Predestination of God” Calvin’s exegesis is terse.  He takes these words to be a bare invitation (Eternal Predestination p106)
2) In the (slightly) less polemic Institutes Calvin is less cautious saying that these verses  speak of “God’s readiness to forgive the reprobate” (Stebbins’ paraphrase), “the great mercy and condescension of God” that “God is ready to pardon” and that they are an “evidence of the grace by which he reconciles men to himself (Institutes 3:24:15)
3) In his commentary on these verses Calvin is much freer stating “God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety…”

Of course Calvin himself was aware of the impact of polemics on what a person says, as he comments, “We ought especially to note that in all these passages Paul is not speaking simply but by way of controversy…” (Institutes 4:14:25).

Key lesson – Always compare a writer’s “simple” work with his comments on a topic when speaking “by way of controversy” to gain a fully rounded view of their opinion on a given subject.

The Thesis and The Blog

April 18, 2007

James Durham (1622-1658) and the Free Offer of the Gospel:

A Case Study in the Meaning of the Westminster Confession of Faith VII:III, “He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved”.

The purpose of this blog is to document my progress in the journey towards writing a 50,000 word thesis on the subject above.  Hopefully I will post every Saturday on the research that I have done during that week.