Weekly Update 4

A review of The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, by David Silversides (Marpet Press, 2005).
Available from http://www.jamesdicksonbooks.co.uk.

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

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One Response to “Weekly Update 4”

  1. Weekly Update 17 - John Ball « James Durham Thesis Says:

    […] that God desires the salvation of the hearers of the gospel?”  (Remember Rutherford responded in his writings to an almost identical objection).  Ball answers, of course God desires the salvation of the hearers of the gospel.  Why else […]

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