Archive for May, 2007

Weekly Update 6 – Postponed

May 29, 2007

Apologies but my post on Durham’s exposition of Revelation 3:20 is going to have to wait until this Saturday. Packing got in the way last Thursday night.

I’ll just post this piece of rich pastoral advice from Durham. I could have done with reading and applying this ten years ago.

“We are afraid that there is a fault among Christians, that [the] most plain and substantial truths are not so heeded, but some things [that] may further folk in their light, or tickle their affections, or answer a case, are almost only sought after. Which things (it is true) are good; but if the plain and substantial truths of the gospel were more studied, and made use of, they have in them that which would answer all cases. It is a sore matter when folks are more taken up with notions and speculations, than with these soul saving truths, as that Christ was born, that he was a true man, that he was, and is King, Priest, and Prophet of his church, etc, and that other things are heard with more greediness.”

Christ Crucified, p75

Don’t get me wrong, correct doctrine even on the “finer” points of theology is hugely important but I think the balance outlined by Durham above is helpful.

I had an enjoyable weekend away. A fine hillwalk on Saturday followed by edifying preaching on the Lord’s Day by Rev. Hugh Ferrier. I was particularly struck by the evening service on Jeremiah 14:8, “O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?”.  The sermons will eventually be posted on contains a wealth of good material. (Incidentally, I see Mr Ferrier preached on Rev 3:20 the week before last – I will need to listen to that before I do my post on Saturday!)

Weekly Update 5

May 19, 2007

So this week I’m going to post on Durham’s views on application in preaching.  These are found in an essay in his Commentary on Revelation (Old Paths, PA, 1658, rept 2000, p328-336) entitled, Some general Observations Concerning Preaching, and especially Application.  There is some classic material in here.

Durham goes through this subject in 20 separate points.  I won’t comment on all of them (though they are all worth commenting on!) but just pick out some relevant points.

‘Ministers in their application, ought to conform themselves to the case of the Church and persons to whom they Preach.’

So preaching should take account of who is in the congregation.  The same application is not necessarily appropriate for two different audiences, or indeed for different classes of people in the same audience.  So:

‘… this is a main qualification of a Minister of the Gospel rightly to divide the word of Truth, and not to follow all applications promiscuously and in heap together in any Auditory.’p329

Application must not ‘rest in the general’ but go on to the ‘particular’. p329

Ministers should make sure that the:

‘… practical matter [in the sermon] is near the power of Godliness, to wit, marking the Spiritual declining of the sincere, pressing the exercise of Repentance, and the performing of holy duties upon all; and, with all, most searchingly and convincingly striking at hypocrisy, presumption and self confidence…’ p330

Accordingly ministers should:

‘… not insist upon the most high sublime and obscure things, either in…  Doctrines, Reproofs, or Directions, such as are the more obstruse Questions of the Schools… but … [press] the most plain, obvious and uncontrovertible duties of Religion, to wit, Repentance, Self-examination, Faith, Zeal, etc… the most powerful preaching, is, in the pressing of them.’ p330

Moving on from these general points Durham comes to consider how Christ ‘proposeth the offer of the Gospel, and inviteth to believe (as to the Church of Laodicea)’.  (See note 1) .  Durham notes that in the epistle to Laodicea this proposing of the free offer of the gospel takes four steps:

1. Christ ‘Open[eth] their sinful dangerous and hypocritical case, and battereth down the[ir] ignorant self confidence’
2. Christ ‘proposeth the right remedy, to wit, Himself and His benefits, His imputed Righteousness’.
3. Christ ‘cleareth the terms upon which that gold and white raiment is obtained, under the expressions of buying, opening, hearkening, etc.
4. Christ ‘doth most sweetly, and yet most vehemently press it [the gospel offer]: partly, by condescending friendly to counsel and entreat; partly by making his offer large, free, and particular to any man that will open…’

Note the gospel offer is not mere command, not mere declaration of facts.  Rather it is an act of condescension by Christ, it is a ‘sweet’ entreaty that is large and free.  This point will come up again and again.  To declare facts and to command is not the free offer of the gospel as understood by Durham (or as I will argue the WCoF).  To be sure it is part of it, but it is by no means the whole.

Having defined the free offer in this manner Durham goes on to make this comment regarding Christ’s preaching:

‘We find, whatever the case of the people be that he [Christ] speaketh unto, the up-shot and scope of His message, is, ever to persuade a closing of the [gospel] treaty between him and them… whereby we may see, 1. What a Minister’s scope should be, and where at he should aim in conviction, reproof etc. and where he should leave his hearers, to wit, at Christ’s fee[t]..’ p331

So the aim of Christ’s preaching and the aim therefore of ministers’ preaching is to bring sinners to Christ.  This should be the key focus of application as Durham makes clear, noting that the Gospel should be preached so that hearers:

‘be put in mind of as much of the Gospel as may be a ground of his peace, if it should be improven, though he should never afterward hear any more… we conceive, that generally and usually its expedient to follow this manner; especially on Lord’s Days…’ p332

So, essentially, according to Durham each sermon should contain the sum and substance of the gospel offer, and most particularly on the Lord’s day.  To make this point more explicit hear what Durham says about the ‘fountain qualification of a Preacher’:

‘In all this [preaching], the Lord’s [Christ’s] way holdeth forth His great design of gaining them to whom He speaketh: so as it satisfieth Him not to exoner Himself (to speak so of Him) in doing of His Duty: but He is zealous to get it received; and in sum, to get them saved: therefore weightily doth He  follow it, inviting, exhorting, pressing and protesting as unwilling to be refused.  This indeed is a fountain qualification of a Preacher, to be travailing in birth till Christ be formed in hearers; and so to preach to them, as hungering and thirsting for their Salvation… nay, not only his own exoneration, and the justifying of God by making his hearers inexcusable; but a single serious desire to have them gathered and espoused to Christ…’ p334

This according to Durham is the spirit which should animate gospel preaching.  Little wonder with such passion for the salvation of sinners Durham believed the Gospel should be plainly preached in each sermon.  But further note that for Durham the ‘design’ of preaching is ‘to get sinners saved’.  The gospel may well become the savour of death but this is not its nature, rather it is the perversion of it by sin (all decreed by God, of course).  Hear Calvin on John 3:17:

‘[Christ] did not come to destroy; therefore it follows that the proper function of the Son of God in that whosoever believes may obtain salvation through Him… we should not regard anything else in Christ than that God out of his infinite goodness wished to help and save us who were lost…When elsewhere Christ says that He is come for judgement, when He is said to be set for the falling of many, it may be regarded as accidental, or so to say foreign.  For those who reject the grace offered in Him deserve to find Him the judge and avenger of such shocking contempt.
John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Vol 4, John 1-10, Eerdmans, Michigan, 1995

In summary:

 ‘Application is the life of Preaching… it is the main part of a Pastoral gift, dexterously to feed by Application…’

Well said, Mr Durham.

It would be remiss of me to close without highlighting the just comment of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship that applying the truths of Scripture in the manner outlined above is ‘a work of great difficulty… requiring much prudence, zeal, and meditation’.  Let us pray for our ministers that they would be helped by the Spirit as they seek to carry out this task.  See

Comments, suggestions and constructive criticism welcome!

I’m away next weekend as I’m joining my Uncle on his final Munro (33 years after his first) on Saturday.    So the blog will hopefully be updated on Thursday next week.

Note 1.
It is interesting to note that Durham applies Rev 3:20 to unbelievers.  This is, as far as I see, the standard use of the text in Reformed theology in the 17th C.  I will post on Durham’s exposition of this verse at some point.  In fact next week may be a good time to do that.

Weekly Update 4

May 12, 2007

A review of The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, by David Silversides (Marpet Press, 2005).
Available from

I read through this book last week and have been mulling over its contents this week.  In a sense it goes over the same ground as the work I highlighted a couple of weeks ago – K.W. Stebbins “Christ Freely Offered” in that the views of the Protestant Reformed Church on the Free Offer of the Gospel (and related topics) are examined and found wanting on exegetical and historical grounds.

Silversides’ position can probably be summarised in one comment, “The free offer is not merely a declaration of the facts and obligation of the gospel.  We regard it as also an expression of God’s love to all who hear it.” p45

The book itself is fairly short (83 pages plus appendices), which fits in with its origins as a conference address (Free Church School in Theology, Larbert, Scotland, September 2001).  But that should not leave the impression that the book does not cover weighty matters.  It does, and it covers them in sufficient depth to be satisfying.
Silversides considers in turn:

1) God’s Love and the Free Offer of the Gospel

2) Common Grace and the Character of God

3) The Free Offer as an Expression of Divine Lovingkindness

5) The Warrant of Faith

Silversides’ take on these issues in succinctly stated in his conclusion, “God’s common grace is manifested both in that the gospel is preached indiscriminately, and in the content of that gospel… The preaching of the gospel should include an overture of mercy to hell-deserving sinners, expressive of God’s love to all who hear it… It is a loving warning of the wrath of God and a gracious admonition to flee from danger to the offered Saviour… This overture of mercy includes a promise of forgiveness, on condition of believing, addressed to all who hear… The Reformers and Puritans (including the members of the Westminster Assembly) generally held to the above doctrine… it is just this doctrine that they intended by the term ‘free offer’.” p81-82.

A remarkably similar conclusion may be coming to a thesis near you soon….

Appendix 1 concerns the question of God’s desire for the salvation of all men.  Silversides argues that it is an appropriate form of expression but that it should not be made a test of orthodoxy.

Given it is similar to Stebbins’ work how do the two compare?  

First, I would recommend them both.  By and large they are very helpful in discussing the history of the doctrine of the free offer in the Reformed churches and also provide sound exegesis.  Personally though, I felt that at key junctures Stebbins’ book “packed more punch”.  His analysis at times was simply devastating.  However, I felt that Silversides’ work was more sure footed in dealing with historical theology.  The scope of the ground covered was greater and he avoided what I see as Stebbins’ significant error in regarding the Marrowmen as less than orthodox.

Here is one very important “quotable quote” from Silversides’ work.  The author is Samuel Rutherford (in case anyone was tempted to think it was Arminius!):

“It’s much worthy of observation, how that sweet evangelick invitation is conceived, Isaiah 55:1, Ho, every one that thirsts; the Heb. word ‘hui is alas, or ah, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come, buy, and eat: as if the Lord were grieved, and said, woe is me, alas that thirsty souls should die in their thirst, and will not come to the waters of life, Christ, and drink gratis, freely, and live.  For the interjection, (Heb. Hui) Ho, is a mark of sorrowing… it expresseth two things, 1. A vehemencie, and a serious and unfeigned ardencie of desire, that we doe what is our duty, and the concatenation of these two, extremely desired of God, our coming to Christ, and our salvation:  This moral connection between faith and salvation, is desired of God with his will of approbation, complacency, and moral liking, without all dissimulation, most unfeignedly; and whereas Arminians say, we make counterfeit, feigned, and hypocriticall desires in God, they calumniate and cavil egregiously, as their custom is.  2. The other thing expressed in these invitations, is a sort of dislike, grief, or sorrow; (’tis a speech borrowed from man, for there is no disappointing of the Lord’s will, nor sorrow in him for the not fulfilling of it) … God loveth, approveth, the believing of Jerusalem, and of her children, as a moral duty, as the hen doth love to warm and nourish her chickens… but there is no purpose, intention, or decree of God holden forth in these invitations called his revealed will, by which he saith that he intendeth and willeth that all he maketh the offer unto, shall obey and be saved.”  p67f.

Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, London, J.D. for Andrew Crook at the Green-Dragon in Paul’s Church Yard, 1647 p443f.

This is a significant quote which highlights a number of important points:
* Rutherford speaks of the gospel offer as a ‘sweet evangelick invitation’ showing he obviously believed it to be more than a mere presentation of facts or a command.* Rutherford speaks in ‘a speech borrowed from men’ showing his willingness to speak as scripture speaks whilst at the same time guarding against abuse of scriptural expressions by noting their limitations.
* Rutherford uses desire in connection with the revealed will of God and the gospel invitation.
* Rutherford was aware of the charge of inconsistency levelled against his views of ‘sweet evangelick invitations’ and election by Arminians.  He rejected this charge outright.

Next week I’ll be back to posting on Durham, and currently intend to post something on his view of the importance of application in preaching.  Hopefully this will shed some light on why the free offer was so prevalent in Puritan preaching.

Work done this week:

Progressed with re-reading Christ Crucified and not much else.  Was a slow week.

Key work to do next week:

Make significant progress on note taking on Christ Crucified

Weekly Update 3

May 5, 2007

I’ll begin this week’s update with something of a postscript to last week’s update.

“The necessary truths of the Gospel, as they tend to instruct, convince, convert, comfort… are the great task of a Minister, [and] are necessary to all people…”
James Durham, Commentary on Revelation, Old Paths Publications, Rept. 2000, p77 (Emphasis mine).

So again the great task of the minister is to be in the “necessary truths of the gospel” as they tend to “convert”.  That is the aim.

This quote came from an essay entitled “Concerning a Calling to the Ministry, and clearness therein”.  I may do a “random post” (i.e. unrelated to the free offer) on Durham’s essay.  If Durham’s recommendations were prayerfully followed through then the shortage of ministers may not be as great as it is.

Moving on now to this week’s update.

James Durham on “Duty Faith”

Durham has three sermons near the beginning of “Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53” where he works through the idea of “duty faith”.

Durham sets out his view plainly and clearly:

“It lies on all that hear the gospel to believe the report that it brings concerning Christ (see note 1), and by faith to receive him, who is held out to them in it…  They to whom Christ is offered in the gospel are called to believe; it is their duty to do so.”
Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Naphtali Press, Dallas, 2001, p86

That everyone who hears the gospel is duty bound to believe is, according to Durham evident from 5 things:
1) The gospel comes with a command “Believe, Come, ye that are weary, etc. Come to the wedding, Open etc.”.
2) It is the most important command,  It is “the sum of all Christ’s preaching (Mark 1:15) Repent and believe the gospel.
3) It is the “peculiar command that Christ has left… (1 John 3:22).  This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ.”  Durham again notes that it is the “peculiar command left to, and laid on ministers to press.”
4) The “great disobedience that he [God] quarrels for, is when there is not believing”.
5) “Look to the nature of the offer made by Christ, and to the end of it, and you will find that the great thing called for is the receiving of it, which is nothing but believing.”  Further “the subordinate end of preaching, to wit, the salvation of our souls, cannot be attained without faith.”
Ibid, p89.

Durham goes on to distinguish between true and false faith, the necessity of faith for salvation, scripture definitions of faith and closes the second of the three sermons with this appeal:

“You see then what you are called to.  It is to open to Christ, to come to him, to marry him, to roll yourselves on him, to commit yourselves to him, to give him credit, etc.  And is there any of these unreasonable or prejudicial to you?  And if they be very reasonable and advantageous (as indeed they are), we would exhort you to come to him, receive him…  Believe on him, and by believing, be united to him… give him the credit of saving your souls.  This we call for from you…”
Ibid. p99.

So there we have a classic Scottish exposition and practical use of “duty faith”.

Note 1:
What is this “report”?
“The preached gospel… if it were considered what the Lord’s end in it is, it would be the most refreshing news that ever people heard, to hear the report of a Saviour: that is, and should be, great and glad tidings of great joy to all nations… God has sent such a report to, and in it has laid Christ so near them, that he puts him home to them, and lays him before them, even at their feet as it were… all he calls for is faith…”
Ibid. p86

Coming next week:

A review of The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, by David Silversides.  This will include a vitally important extract from Samuel Rutherford.

Work done this week:
* Finished Silversides’ work on the free offer
* Progressed slowly with Christ Crucified

Work to do next week:
* Progress with Christ Crucified