Archive for June, 2007

Weekly Update 10

June 30, 2007

The Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards

Is the free offer of the gospel some small appendage to reformed theology that doesn’t really matter too much? Or is it at the core of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards which mark the high-water mark of reformed theology?

This is the question I want to look at in this posting. I want to do it by answering the question I posed last week which was:

“Interestingly, I think there are 12 distinct references to the free offer of the gospel in the Westminster Standards. Anyone care to try and come up with them?”

First I want to pick out the references in the The Directory for the Publick Worship of God. This profitable document can be found at

“To acknowledge our great sinfulness… yea, not only despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, but standing out against many invitations and offers of grace in the gospel; not endeavouring, as we ought, to receive Christ into our hearts by faith.”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Of Prayer Before the Sermon

This reference to the free offer comes in the section outlining how a Minister is to pray before they preach.  The particular point being made is that the minister is to confess the people’s sin of neglecting the offer of the gospel.  This section raises a number of interesting points:

• Those who never come to Christ still experience God’s goodness.
• They also experience Divine forbearance and longsuffering.
• But a blessing above and beyond these is the free offer of the gospel. That is, “not only” have they received “goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering” but, above and beyond these, they have received the “free offer of grace”.
• The free offer of the gospel is equivalent to an “invitation”.  There is no notion here of the free offer being merely a command or a presentation of facts.  No, quite simply it is a sincere earnest invitation.
• Of course there is an unspoken assumption here.  For the people to be guilty of “standing out against… offers of grace in the gospel” it presupposes that they receive the free offer of the gospel in their preaching!

“If it appear that he hath not a due sense of his sins, endeavours ought to be used to convince him of his sins… that he may be truly affected with and humbled for them: and withal make known the danger of deferring repentance, and of neglecting salvation at any time offered”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Concerning Visitation of the Sick

Those who penned the Westminster Standards were aware of their pastoral responsibilities. If someone outside of Christ were unwell, it was the duty of the minister when visiting them to point them to their need of salvation and the danger of neglecting the salvation that was offered to them.

“If he hath endeavoured to walk in the ways of holiness, and to serve God in uprightness, although not without many failings and infirmities; or, if his spirit be broken with the sense of sin, or cast down through want of the sense of God’s favour; then it will be fit to raise him up, by setting before him the freeness and fulness of God’s grace, the sufficiency of righteousness in Christ, the gracious offers in the gospel, that all who repent, and believe with all their heart in God’s mercy through Christ, renouncing their own righteousness, shall have life and salvation in him.”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Concerning visitation of the sick

The free offer of the gospel has other pastoral applications.  Reminding people of the “gracious offers in the gospel” can “raise up” the spirits of those who are downcast in their souls.

It is interesting to note the adjective given to the offer of the gospel is “gracious”.  The offer of the gospel (even to those who never believe) is gracious and flows from the goodness of God.

Second the Shorter Catechism. This can be found at

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Shorter Catechism, Q31

This question expounds basic reformed theology – irresistible grace.  But it is worth noting that in the work of bringing us to God, the Spirit draws us to Christ, enabling us to embrace him as he is “freely offered to us in the gospel”.  So fundamental to the Westminster view of the outworking of the Spirit’s drawing us to Christ is the free offer of the gospel.  It is as we receive this offer that we are drawn to Christ.

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
Shorter Catechism, Q86

This covers similar ground to Q.31 but this time from the perspective of faith. Again when we come to address the subject of faith, the free offer of the gospel is key. It is here we come to the pastoral implications of the free offer. How can I “receive and rest” upon him [Christ] unless he is offered to me?  How can I “receive and rest” upon him [Christ] if I don’t know whether he is willing to receive me?

Third let’s look at the Larger Catechism. This can be found at

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.
Larger Catechism, Q32

This question highlights a distinction between the grace of God being manifest in a common way and a special way.  The common grace is that God “freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him”.  The special grace is that God “promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith”.  So the free offer of the gospel is a manifestation of common grace or goodness. Interestingly of course this is set in the context of covenant (a point I highlighted last week).

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.
Larger Catechism, Q63

This question highlights the idea that receiving the free offer of the gospel is a “privilege”. Even though it may be rejected and become a “savour of death” (2 Cor 2:16), to be given the free offer in itself is a privilege and not a curse.

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
Larger Catechism, Q67

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.
Larger Catechism, Q68

These two questions and answers on effectual calling expand on the one question in the shorter catechism.  They highlight the difference between the elect and the non-elect.   But interestingly there is no difference when it comes to the free offer of the gospel.  Both receive this.  Both also see some work of the Holy Spirit in their lives but for the non-elect it is only “some common operations” for they are not objects of God’s “free and special love to his elect”.

Fourth let’s look at the Westminster Confession of Faith itself. This can be found at

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
WCoF 7:3

The interesting points here are:
• That the free offer is set within the context of covenant theology
• That the free offer is made to sinners as sinners
• The elect only will, in addition to receiving the offer, be enabled to accept (close with) the offer

This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
WCoF 10:2

This makes points which have already been covered by the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.

So I think we have seen that as far as the Westminster Standards go the free offer of the gospel is an important part of their system of doctrine.

• According to the directory of public worship the free offer permeates the preaching of the word and prayer in worship, and it should also be on your mind when visiting the sick.
• According to the shorter catechism the free offer is central to the doctrines of effectual calling and faith.
• The larger catechism adds common grace, covenant theology and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).
• The WCoF highlights covenant theology as the context for the free offer of the gospel

So if you disagree with the Westminster Standards doctrine of the free offer it is likely at the root you will find disagreement with at least one of the Westminster Standards views of:
• Preaching, prayer and the pastoral work
• Effectual calling
• Faith
• Common grace
• Ecclesiology

I’ve left out two references as I didn’t think they were germane to the thrust of this post. There are also other sections of the standards which speak to the offer of the gospel (e.g. WCoF 10:4) but I have only picked out sections which use the word offer.

Now the Westminster confession was not the first reformed confession to include the free offer of the gospel. See also:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.
39 Articles, Article 7

Article 8: The Serious Call of the Gospel
Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

Article 9: Human Responsibility for Rejecting the Gospel
The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).
The Canons of Dordt, The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Articles8& 9

Weekly Update 9

June 23, 2007

“A little view and short series of the gospel”

What kind of answer would you get if you asked a Puritan or seventeenth century Scottish Presbyterian to define the gospel in 200 words or less?

Well, of course you would get protestations along the lines of “My book titles are normally longer than 200 words; how can you ask me to define anything in less than a book title!!” But if you pressed the issue, what you would get is an answer along the lines of the following blog post.

That is because this week I’ve been thinking (in between reading Torrance’s Scottish Theology) about Durham’s “little view and short series of the gospel.” (Review of Torrance coming to a blog near you soon.)

This “short series” is found in Durham’s The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, r2002, p311-315.

Durham begins his “short series of the gospel” by defining to whom this gospel speaks: “This is the object of the gospel: sinners. The persons for whom Christ has made his testament, and to whom he has left his legacies are sinners, sinful men and women”.

Note the wide terms in which Durham begins. He does not define the object of the gospel as the elect, but more simply as sinners. That is the character of those whom Christ came to save – sinners.

He continues: “There is a grand design laid by God from eternity for the saving of many sinners, and for procuring to them remission of sins, the fruit of the ancient counsel of the blessed and glorious Trinity.”

Note well the Trinitarian thrust of Durham’s gospel. All the three all glorious and
ever blessed persons of the Trinity are intimately involved in our salvation.

(The following bit of my commentary here will probably only make sense if you are familiar with the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” school of historical theology. If you aren’t, move on and be thankful!)

One of T.F. Torrance’s big beefs with seventeenth century reformed theology is that it is not “Trinitarian” enough. Well here in Durham’s little “sum of the gospel” is a statement that our salvation is explicitly Trinitarian. Of course what Durham is referring to in talking about this “ancient counsel” is also known as the “covenant of redemption”. Now Torrance may not like that, but it can hardly be on the basis that it is not Trinitarian.

Durham continues: “What Christ aims at in all His ordinances is to get sinners pardoned and freed from the curse due to them for sin…”

Again what grabs the attention is the terms Durham uses to express the gospel. Christ aims at the conversion of “sinners”. The terms used are as large and indefinite as possible.

He continues: “There is a covenant well-ordered, suited, and fitted to promote this great and glorious end and design of saving sinners… There is a transaction between God and the Mediator; a Surety and Cautioner is provided to take on the debt of the elect, and to satisfy justice to the fullest for all their sins.”

But Durham is no Arminian, or even Amyraldian. While the covenant is “fitted” to promote the “saving [of] sinners,” the atonement is in no way to be construed as universal in extent. It is a full and complete satisfaction of justice for the sins of the elect. But the return to universal language is immediate…

“According to this covenant and transaction our blessed Lord Jesus has really, actually and fully satisfied for the sins of believers, according to his undertaking. So that, as in the counsel of God, that great trust was put upon him and he undertook the work of sinners’ redemption…”

So we are back with indefinite terms such as “sinners” and “believers”. But what is interesting here, and in the earlier posts, is the emphasis Durham puts on “covenant” in his “short series of the gospel.” The impact of Durham’s covenant theology on his understanding of the gospel offer is something I need to understand further.

Of course the section of the Westminster Confession I’m looking at in my thesis is section 7 entitled “Of God’s Covenant With Man”. And the specific section I’m doing a case study on is “Man, by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved…” So the fact that Durham puts the gospel offer in the context of covenant is in line with the Westminster Confession.

Interestingly, I think there are 12 distinct references to the free offer of the gospel in the Westminster Standards. Anyone care to try and come up with them?

Now we come to the piece de resistance of Durham’s “short series of the gospel”:

“As our blessed Lord Jesus Christ has purchased this redemption and remission, so he is most willing, desirous, and pressing that sinners to whom the gospel is offered should make use of his righteousness and of the purchase made thereby to the end that they may have remission of sins and eternal life… He [Christ] is (to speak with reverence) passionately desirous that sinners should endeavour on good ground to be sure of it [salvation] in themselves. Therefore he kindly puts it; in a legacy; makes a serious offer of it, and strongly confirms it to all who embrace it.”

So part of the “short series of the gospel” is that Christ is “willing, desirous, and pressing” that all to whom the gospel is offered have remission of sins. One of the “kind” expressions of this “passionate desire” is the “serious offer” of salvation.

So if you ever hear someone saying that it is wrong, unreformed, Arminian, and so on to preach of Christ (or the Father – for Durham says that as well, elsewhere) “desiring the salvation” of all hearers of the gospel, you now know that that is wrong. Now I am well aware that some reformed writers (e.g. Rutherford) pulled out of context can be made to seemingly disagree with what Durham preached above. But as we saw in Weekly Update 4, Rutherford actually does use “desire” in the same way as Durham does here. It is only when the word is being used while dressed up in an Arminian suit that he objects.

By the way, does anyone see in Durham a presentation of the gospel dominated by a priori conceptions of predestination, reprobation and limited atonement? No, thought not. Neither did I.

This week I’ve also been dipping into a 1996 Aberdeen University PhD thesis which covers Durham. It is entitled The popularisation of federal theology: conscience and covenant in the theology of David Dickson (1583-1663) and James Durham (1622-1658). The author is N.D. Holsteen. It makes an interesting read with some good helpful points, and also some points to disagree with.

I’m not sure what next week will cover yet. Maybe Durham on Common Grace.

Weekly Update 8

June 16, 2007

I am continuing to look at the views of the Puritan contemporary of James Durham, David Clarkson, on Rev 3:20. I am picking up where I left off halfway through the sermon.

Highlights of the post:
• The idea of the condescension of Christ pervades Clarkson’s conception of the free offer.
• Answers to:
o Are the gospel promises conditional on the recipient?
o Why is there a free offer of the gospel to ‘dead’ sinners?
o Did the Puritans believe in common grace?

Clarkson notes that the gospel offer is a mercy. To reject Christ as he stands and knocks is to sin, “Against mercy; mercy in its choice appearances and manifestations in the world; and against not only the mercy of God, but the indulgence of Christ. What more grievous offence than that which is against love, against mercy?” (Clarkson, Works, Vol 2, p60).

Clarkson highlights four ways Christ specifically shows mercy in the free offer of the gospel:
1) In that he shows “condescension” in stooping “so low as to stand at a polluted heart”.
2) In that he draws near, “coming to you, standing at your heart”.
3) In that he is “willing to come in”.
4) In that Christ is “waiting to be gracious”.

Clarkson makes a similar point to one Durham makes in a number of his sermons, that if God is not glorified in his mercy towards a sinner, he will be glorified in his justice. A solemn thought. (Ibid p64).

There is a very instructive section dealing with the condescension of Christ in the free offer of the gospel which I’ll quote here:

“Oh consider this! Let the wonderful patience of Christ in standing, let the gracious importunity of Christ in knocking lead you to repent… The Lord makes use of the wonderful strangeness of his condescension as a motive… to open to him, Jer xxxi. See how his bowels yearn to wretched sinners [Jer 31:20]… and hear him expostulating, wondering at thy delay to open to him… That Christ should stand and knock, that Christ should seek to thee, it is a new thing, a thing so strange and wonderful, as the like is seldom seen on the earth. It is as if a woman should offer love to a man… solicit… woo… seek love, when she should be sought to; forgets herself, her sex, her condition, against all custom… Thus far does the Lord stoop, thus strangely does Christ condescend, when he comes and offers love to sinners… He seems to forget himself (if we may say so) when he so strangely condescends to seek to sinners, to stand and knock at their hearts. This is a new thing, a wonderful thing; and since his love herein is so strange, so admirable, it should be a strong motive for sinners to entertain it.”
Ibid p64-65.

So for Clarkson one great motive for sinners to embrace Christ is his wonderful condescension in the gospel offer. For Clarkson this is an astonishing, almost a shocking thing, “against all custom”. Yet so it is.

The whole idea of the condescension of Christ in the gospel offer seems almost lost in present day preaching. We are rightly anxious to safeguard the glory of Christ – but surely one aspect of that glory is his act of condescension in the gospel offer?

This brings me to one of the interesting points in Clarkson’s sermon. A point which he acknowledged has been the subject of a “controversy started in this age” (Ibid p65). This is the conditional nature of the gospel promises. In order for Adam to be right with God there was a condition to fulfil, “This do, and live”. But in gospel times are there any conditions we have to fulfil to enjoy salvation? And if there are, in fulfilling them do they bring us any glory or merit?

Clarkson begins answering these questions by noting simply that Rev 3:20 “is propounded conditionally. Christ’s presence and communion with him is offered upon condition.” This verse therefore contains a promise “I will come in and will sup with him and he with me” which will be performed on the fulfilment of a condition, “If any man hear my voice and open the door”.

He then makes a general point, as noted above, that “the promises of the law, which belong to the covenant of works” are conditional. He then goes on to state that this is also true of “the promises of the gospel, special branches and articles of the covenant of grace”. Indeed “such is this text”. (Ibid)

Clarkson realises what he has just said is liable to cause “mistakes” and “controversy” and so he proceeds to explain what he said “in such a way as may prevent mistakes, and leave no room for any controversy” noting we are “to prefer truth and peace before contention”. (Ibid). To do this Clarkson notes 5 things he is not saying:

1) Performing this condition does not bring any merit to us, “When the condition is performed, we do not thereby deserve the Lord should bestow the mercy promised”.
2) Performing this condition is “not in the will, in the power of man, to perform”. See, I told you he was a “Calvinist”!
3) Our performing the condition does not change God or cause him to act otherwise than he intended.
4) God is not uncertain as to whether someone will fulfil the condition or not, as man is.
5) Even if we perform the condition it is still of pure pardoning mercy that Christ will enter in given how provoked he has been by our shutting the door for so long.
Thus there is no “shadow upon the glory of free grace to grant some promises to be conditional,” so long as we bear in mind the condition is no more than a “necessary antecedent” and not a meritorious cause.
(Ibid p65-66).

Moving on, what are we to understand by the “voice of Christ” in Rev 3:20? Well, it is “that which you hear principally in the gospel” (Ibid p67). Christ speaks in the gospel in different ways:

1) By command. Christ “exercises his authority as King and Lord of the world, sends out his royal edicts, his commands.” Indeed, “this is the great command of the gospel to open to him [Christ].” (Ibid p67)
2) By threatening. “If ye will not suffer Christ to enter into your hearts, ye shall never enter into his rest. This is his terrible voice; it can rend the rocks, and cause the mountains to tremble.” (Ibid p68)
3) By promising. Christ “promises his presence and fellowship with him to all that will open to him”. (Ibid)
4) By persuading. Christ “counsels, that is he advises; and he urges it, enforces his counsel with many motives and arguments.” (Ibid)
5) By entreaty. “Ministers of the gospel are Christ’s ambassadors; they are sent, employed, authorised by him. He gives them instructions to pray, to beseech sinners, and they do it… ‘in Christ’s stead.’ It is as if Christ should do it; it is as if he should with his own mouth pray, beseech, entreat you to open to him… And the wonder of Christ’s stooping so low as to beseech you, should be a strong motive to open…” (Ibid)
6) By reproof. Proverbs 1:23 “Turn you at my reproof”. (Ibid p69)

All these elements are involved in the proclamation of the gospel. To say the gospel is a command, or a presentation is not enough. To say that is to speak with a muted “voice of Christ”. To speak with the full voice of him of whom it was said “grace is poured into thy lips” Ps 45:2 is to add entreaty, promising and persuading to commands.

Clarkson turns his attention to the important question that every proponent of the free offer must face, “Why does the Lord call upon sinners to open, who can not of themselves open?” (Ibid p76). Clarkson provides four answers:

1) “Sinners were once able, but they have disabled themselves, they had power, but have wilfully lost it… We had power in Adam to obey Christ’s voice, but in him we sinned that power away… If you entrusted a man with a sum of money, and he go away and spend it in gaming, drinking and unwarrantable courses; will you not, therefore, think it reasonable to demand it of him? Will you lose power to ask what he owes ye, because he has prodigally spent it?” (Ibid)
2) “The word of Christ is operative. He many times empowers his word to effect what he calls for… He speaks to Lazarus who was dead… ‘Lazarus come forth;’ but there was a secret power accompanied the voice which made it effectual; he spake and it was done.” (Ibid p77)
3) “The Lord may call upon them to open who are not able, that they may go to him to make them able.” (Ibid)
4) “Sinners may do more than they use to do, than they are willing to do, and therefore there is reason to call upon them.” (Ibid p78)

On this last point there is a fascinating sermon by the Puritan member of the Westminster Assembly William Greenhill. The sermon is entitled “What must and can persons do toward their own conversion?” (Puritan Sermons 1659-1689: Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Richard Owen Roberts, Illinois, r1981). As the sermon is twelve pages long you can take it for read that his answer isn’t “nothing”. I will need to blog through this sermon at some time as I hope to bring Greenhill into my thesis given the insights into the free offer provided by his sermons on “Whosoever will, may come”.

Okay, you may think we have cleared that question up – it seems reasonable that we should offer the gospel to dead sinners. But along comes the Arminian question, wouldn’t it make even more sense if men had the power to believe, that is if common sufficient grace [to believe] were given to all men? Clarkson answers this objection in four ways:
1) He rejects that there is such a thing as common sufficient grace. “To grant that the Lord vouchsafes sufficient grace for the salvation of all and every man is both against Scripture and the experience of the world in all ages” (Ibid p78-79).
2) But there is such a thing as common grace and men do not make use of it. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes all more grace, i.e. more common assistance, than ever they make use of. He enables them to do much more towards opening to Christ… than they are wont to use, or willing to improve.” (Ibid p79).
3) Further, Clarkson says his definition of common grace embraces all that the ‘Arminian’ definition embraces. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes to those who enjoy the gospel, and to many of those who never open to Christ, all that sufficient grace which the patrons of free will contend for…” (Ibid). This includes “… arguments and motives… apt to persuade those who hear them… some illumination of the understanding, convictions of sin and misery, some common motions of the Spirit exciting the will to yield to Christ…” (Ibid).
4) But more than common grace is needed for the conversion of a sinner. “But we say more is needful… we hold that the Lord disposes his [special] grace so as to make both conversion and perseverance certain… to his chosen.” (Ibid).

I found this section fascinating. Clarkson’s answer is essentially this. “I too believe in everything you ‘Arminians’ term common grace but it is insufficient. In addition I believe in sufficient converting and persevering grace for the elect only.” I am not sure how common this type of answer was. Ah well – more research!

I’ll close with one further example of Clarkson “entreating” with unconverted sinners:
“All his knocking, calling has not prevailed. Is this nothing to you, all ye that pass by? See if there be any love like Christ’s love, and condescension like Christ’s, any patience, any importunity; and see if there be any hatred, contempt, neglect, unkindness, like yours. Shall Christ come to his own and his own not receive him? Would you have him still a man of sorrows and sufferings? Shall he have still occasion to complain, ‘Who has believed our report?’ Who has hearkened when I have called? Who has regarded when I have stretched out my hands? Who has yielded when I have entreated? Who has opened when I have knocked? Shall it be thus still with Christ? Shall he not have a place whereon to lay his head?” (Ibid p84).

Remember Clarkson had a reputation as one of the “harsher” Puritans. He was a colleague of John Owen. And yet this was how he preached. This I hope to show in my thesis is the Reformed and Puritan free offer of the gospel.

I’m afraid I’ll leave off Durham’s “Short Sum of the Gospel” until next week. There is more than enough in Clarkson to think through.

Weekly Update 7 (at last!)

June 11, 2007

First of all, apologies for the delay.”Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Rev 3:20

Last week (weekly update 6) I posted on Durham’s extensive comments on this verse and the epistle to the Laodiceans in general.

This week I am posting a few examples of how Durham used this verse in his preaching. I also look at the use of this verse by David Clarkson.

1. Durham

“This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of [the] parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes from His word. He says from there, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” It is as if he had said, “I come in my gospel to woo, and, if any will consent to take me on the terms on which I offer myself I will be theirs.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p46

So sinners do not have to stand back and wonder whether God is willing to save them. The willingness on the side of God is plainly set down in his word in Rev 3:20. Durham notes that Rev 3:20 teaches that God in the gospel comes to “woo” sinners. Amazing condescension!

“God will sometimes speak peace to them who are given to folly… He speaks peace to them… In His offering of peace to them, and by his meeting and treating with them in and by that offer, in His entreating or inviting them earnestly to come to Him who have wearied themselves and spent their labour on that which does not profit; pressing them to return and assuring them that he will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14), and preaching peace through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2); counselling them to come and buy eye salve of Him, and by His knocking and waiting at their door for admittance and entry (Revelation 3).”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p165

So the “offer of peace” is an “inviting them earnestly to come”. This earnest invitation is seen in Christ knocking at the doors of sinners’ hearts as in Rev 3:20.

I will let the next two quotes speak for themselves.

“Union with the Lord by covenant is accessible to a runaway sinner who has perverted his way… He will take away that exception of grossness of sin which might stand in the sinner’s way, were it even rotten hypocrisy, detestable indifference, and lukewarmness in the matters of God… Yet He even says to such… “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p261

“The offer of this gospel is… set out under the similitude of a standing and knocking and calling hard at sinners’ doors (Rev 3:20, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me)… and [in] Ps 24:7-10, it is cried, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be lift up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in; which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how near Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks’ hands.”
Christ Crucified, p80

2. Clarkson

One of the classic Puritan evangelistic sermons is David Clarkson’s (1621-1686) sermon on Rev 3:20 entitled Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Sinners (The Works of David Clarkson, Volume 2, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, r1988, p34-100). Clarkson was colleague and then successor to the great John Owen.

Before I post a few extracts it is interesting to note that Clarkson’s theology is described in the following terms in the introduction to his Works, “The doctrine of Clarkson is very decidedly Calvinistic, and is occasionally somewhat harsher than that of most of the puritan Calvinists.” (Works, Vol. 1, p x). So if you would expect someone to cut back on the free offer it would surely be someone like this. How then does he handle Rev 3:20?

He starts his sermon by highlighting that this text contains “something wonderful, worthy of admiration” (Works, vol 2, p34). But what? “That Christ should thus offer himself to sinners in a way of mercy, is a matter of admiration” (ibid). But more than this – come and wonder at those to whom Christ shows mercy, “See how he describes those to whom he offers love, ver. 17, Wretched and miserable, twice miserable, extremely miserable, and (which makes the gracious offer wonderful) wilfully miserable… And yet Christ will come and knock, and stand waiting, to show mercy to such sinful wretches; and continues thus, notwithstanding their obstinacy, their contempt of those gracious offers, and of Christ himself who makes them. Oh how wonderful is this!” (Ibid p37).

How does Christ offer himself? “He entreats. Here is wonderful condescension indeed, that the great God, speaking to the vilest of his creatures (so man is by sin) should use the language of entreaty… Yet thus does the glorious God to those that have showed themselves traitors, enemies to his crown and dignity; he comes to them, offers them his favour, his pardon, stands waiting for their acceptance. And when they are slow to accept it… he beseeches, he entreats them to accept of his favour, not to refuse a pardon… Oh how wonderful is this condescension!” (Ibid p39-40).

But surely the condescension of Christ goes no further than entreaty? “When he prevails not by coming, by standing, by knocking, by waiting, by beseeching, why this is his grief, his sorrow, and he vents his sorrow in tears. Behold the compassions of the Lord to obstinate sinners, as he expresses it over Jerusalem. Behold it, and wonder! He represents himself as clothed with the weakest of man’s infirmities; he falls a-weeping, Luke xix. 41,42… And O, did the Lord weep for those who will not weep for themselves? Oh how wonderful is this compassion! how full of wonder this condescension.” (Ibid p40).

Note that it is by preaching that this message is carried today, “The preaching hereof, in season and out of season is his [Christ’s] appointment, that therein sinners may see him daily set forth as crucified before their eyes, that they may behold him stretching out his hands all the day long unto them, that they may hear him, as though he were now, as in the days of his flesh, mourning, complaining, and weeping over them, Luke xiii. 34. How often would the Lord have gathered you! How often has he come, knocked, stood, waited, entreated, lamented! If it be a wonder that he will condescend to any of these for once, how wonderful that he should condescend to these so often!” (Ibid p41.)

How would you react if your pastor started preaching of Christ “weeping over” unbelievers? Is it proper to preach like this? Have you ever preached like this?

What is offered in the gospel? “He [Christ] offers (1.) his love; (2.) himself; (3.) his blood and all that he purchased by it; (4.) his comforts; (5.) his glory; and (6.) his kingdom” (Ibid p41.) In discussing the offer of “his blood” Clarkson phrases his statements in such a way as to be consistent with a definite atonement.

Clarkson asks how Christ knocks on the doors of sinners’ hearts, and gives four answers (Ibid p 52-55). First, by “checks of conscience” i.e. when our conscience accuses us this is Christ knocking for admittance. Second, by “acts of providence.” When we are blessed with the good things of this life we are to consider that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). When we are under afflictions we are to consider our weakness and go to Christ. The third and principal means of knocking is the preaching of the word. The final means of knocking is the operation of the Spirit. He notes that “Those that enjoy the gospel, and live under a powerful ministry, cannot but have experience of Christ’s knocking by his Spirit” (Ibid p55). It is evident at this point that Clarkson is speaking of common grace as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 68.

Christ’s standing at the door shows among other things, “His desire; his readiness to enter… If you see one standing at your door and knocking, how can ye interpret this, but that he is willing, desires to enter? Christ is more ready to come into sinners than they are to open to him. There is no bar, no backwardness on his part; he is at the door, and there he stands and knocks. That which keeps him out is the unkindness, the obstinacy of sinners, who will not open.” (Ibid p58).

Clarkson notes that Christ’s patience will one day come to an end. The Jerusalem that Christ wept over would be made desolate for despising the offer of the gospel, Luke 19:41-42. (Ibid p59).

The gospel offer shows, “The riches of the goodness and compassion of Christ to sinners… Oh the riches of his goodness, the wonders of his condescension, the greatness of his mercy… The Lord’s ways are not our ways. The Lord leaves not himself without a witness; gives clear testimony that he is abundant in longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that they should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]; that they should be as happy as that which is the happiness of heaven…” (Ibid p 60).

The reference to 2 Peter 3:9 in the above is interesting. The reformed tradition from Calvin onwards has been divided in its exposition of that verse. Clarkson here gives it a universal reference, as does Calvin himself. Many others restrict the reference to the elect.

There is more to come from Clarkson’s sermon next week – I’ve only covered the first half. This will include: in what sense may we speak of the gospel promise as conditional, in what sense does the reformed view of “common grace” differ from the “Arminian” one, and more in the vein of what I’ve posted above. Please remember that despite what you may be thinking after reading what I posted above that Clarkson is a “Calvinist” and this will come across next week more clearly.

I was going to post on John Flavel’s (200+ pages!!!) of sermons on Rev 3:20 but I didn’t have the time to go through them in depth as there was so much material in Clarkson.

One point of interest in the Flavel sermons though is that he calls James Durham a “judicious expositor” with reference to his views of Rev 3:20 (The Works of John Flavel, Volume 4, Banner of Truth, r1968, p19).

Now I’m not saying that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 is the only one offered in the “Puritan” era (see Matthew Poole for one other alternative). But what I would say is that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 was the most common one.

Next (now this!) week, in addition to finishing off Clarkson I’m going to blog through a very important section of one of Durham’s sermons which he introduced as “a short sum of the gospel”. This will introduce the importance of the doctrine of the covenant to the free offer.

I’ll actually spend most of this week reading through T.F. Torrance’s “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell”. Expect a fairly “trenchant” review when I’ve finished it.

Weekly Update 6

June 2, 2007

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Rev 3:20

How do you understand this verse? It surely can’t be an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be “Arminian” to understand it this way? In any case, isn’t it addressed to a church and so by its very nature addressed to believers?

Well according to Durham, yes this is written to a Church, and yet this still is an appeal from Christ to unbelievers, and no it isn’t Arminian to understand it this way. This needs some unpacking.

First let’s step into the classical Scottish doctrine of the Church.  It is fundamental to note that the Scottish theologians of Durham’s time did not view the Church as being comprised solely of those with saving faith in Christ.  Rather it is comprised of those who have been baptized as infants. This baptism was a parallel to the circumcision of the Old Testament, “Were they [old testament unbelievers] not members of the visible Church as you are, circumcised under the Old Testament, as you are baptized under the New?” Christ Crucified, p114.  So when people like Isaiah cry out “Who hath believed our report?” (Is 53:1) this cry can be echoed by ministers today regarding their Churches. Accordingly, Durham can state “… here in this city, where the gospel is preached to a great multitude of professing members of the visible Church, there are readily many that do not believe,” Christ Crucified p113.  For Durham, within the “visible Church” are “many that do not believe”.

Against this background, the fact that a letter is written to a Church does not exclude the fact that it may be addresed to, and applicable for, those who are unbelievers.   So there are no a priori theological reasons which dictate that Durham could not take Rev 3:20 as being addressed to unbelievers.

But we can go further and gather Durham’s view on the make up of the Laodicean Church to which Rev 3:20 is addressed.  According to Durham this church is “without anything to hide or cover… before the justice of God… without [Christ’s righteousness].” Commentary on Revelation, p269.  John Brown of Wamphray (a gifted Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham) went so far as to state that “a true visible church [may exist] without a single Christian in it; giving Laodicea as an example” (James Walker, The Theology and theologians of Scotland 1560-1750, p127).  Durham tentatively takes the same position as Brown – see p275-276 of the Revelation commentary.

To modern Evangelicals this may all seem a bit strange – a Church with no Christians?  However strange it may have been, this was the view of the Scottish Church in Durham’s time.

So to summarise, for Durham, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, and therefore Rev 3:20, is addressed to a group of unbelievers.  Rev 3:20 is an appeal addressed to unbelievers by Christ offering salvation to them.

“There is a wonderful depth of iniquity and hypocrisy in their case; but here is a far more wonderful depth and mystery of free grace and infinite love in the proposed cure.  It is proposed by way of offer under the expressions that belong to bargaining.”
Revelation, p271

So Christ shows the “mystery of free grace and infinite love” in the “offer” to the unbelieving Laodicean Church.  The gospel offer according to Durham is expressive of love.

In this offer the “wares proposed… [are] Jesus Christ himself”. Ibid.  So what is offered in the gospel is nothing short of Christ himself and all good things in him.

Durham calls particular attention to the “manner of Christ’s proposing the [gospel offer]”.   This is “I counsel thee, etc. which is not so proposed, as if it were left, indifferent to them to hearken or not… it is thus expressed, for these reasons… That thereby he may bear out his affection, who, as a friend, condescendeth to give them counsel in things that are of most concernment for their own good… It is thus expressed, to gain their consent the more willingly to the same: therefore in the Gospel He doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him… there is no sinner that heareth this Gospel, but he may think himself sufficiently warranted to close this bargain with Christ…” Ibid p272-273.

There are a number of key points brought out by this:

  • In the gospel Christ speaks to unbelievers as a “friend”
  • In the gospel Christ shows “affection” for the hearers
  • The gospel involves “condescension” on the part of Christ
  • The gospel is preached to unbelievers “for their own good”
  • It is preached in this manner “to gain their consent the more willingly”
  • In the gospel Christ “doth beseech and entreat”
  • This gospel preaching gives everyone a warrant to “close this bargain with Christ”

Durham goes on to note that Christ “loveth my visible Church” and that this gospel message calling for repentance “expresseth God’s love to them” Ibid p273.  Again note that this particular visible Church was made up entirely, in Durham’s opinion, of unbelievers.  So Christ loves unbelievers (not with an electing love, it should be noted).

Verse 20 is “a most instant and importunate pursuing of His offer”.  “Hearts naturally are as Castles shut and guarded by the devil against Christ: when He cometh with His Ordinances… notwithstanding of her many formal refusals.  Thus, He is said to stand at the door: whereby is holden forth… His patience that still waiteth on.” Ibid.

It is an amazing thing to see the patience of Christ in dealing with sinners who continually reject him! 

“He presseth [this offer]… by making His offer particular, as it were, bringing it to every man’s door, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, etc… What He [Christ] would have, is… hearkening to his voice, which he requireth…” Ibid.

Note that the gospel is not just a general message, rather it is a particular message to everyone who hears.

“This then is the duty called for, and the terms upon which the offer is made, to wit, Faith’s yielding to receive and admit Christ…The person called to this is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it to every hearer, as if it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou, etc.”
Ibid p274.

“It is Christ, making this offer.”
Ibid p274.

We cannot say the gospel offer is only the preacher offering; it is Christ’s offer.

I’ll probably post a few of Durham’s uses of Rev 3:20 in preaching next week, together with some other uses of Rev 3:20 by Durham’s contemporaries.

Appendix 1 

Standing away from all this for a second, Durham has a very interesting little section at the start of his exposition of the Epistle to the Laodiceans where he discusses the statement, “I would thou wert cold or hot”.  Durham notes that “It cannot be thought that he [Christ] commandeth them to be cold; nor doth it imply any will or desire in him for such things simply; (for it cannot be thought that he is so indifferent concerning these extremes…” So there is no “will or desire” in Christ that the Laodiceans be “cold”.  Rather, it is the opposite.  Durham goes on to note that it would be incorrect to proceed from this and say that there is any intention in God for the “salvation of all men” distinguishing his position (and Reformed theology generally) from Arminians.  This last point relies of the distinction between the revealed will of God and the secret will of God (or his decree).  At some point in the future this will be the subject of a post.