Weekly Update 12

Back to Durham at last!  But err…. not on either of the subjects I mentioned last week (common grace and the pastoral benefits of definite/efficacious atonement).  I will post on these subjects in the coming weeks but this week I want to post Durham’s responses to two common objections to accepting the gospel among hearers of Reformed preaching:

  • Election of a limited number of individuals to salvation
  • The inability of man to believe apart from special divine grace

First let’s set some context.  Durham has just gone through two vital areas with his congregation:

1) The “grounds that a lost sinner has to receive Christ”

These are “the fullness and sufficiency of the mediator Jesus Christ”, “the well orderedness, freeness and fullness of the covenant of grace” and “the nature of the offer of grace in the gospel” (Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel, Dallas, Naphtali Press, 2001, p124-125).

 2) The “warrants and encouragements a sinner has” to come to Christ

First, Durham notes the free offer of the gospel provides all the warrant anyone needs to trust on Christ.   “Do you not think that the offer of the gospel is a sufficient warrant, and ground of encouragement to believe on him?” p125.  He also makes the interesting statement “If you think Christ real in  his commands, is he not real in his offers?”  For Durham the gospel offer is “real”.  It is, and by its nature must be, genuine and well-meant.

Second, Durham notes that “He has so ordered the administration of this gospel, as he has purposely prevented any ground that folks may have of scaring  [fearing] to close with Christ” p125.  Durham notes Rev 22:17 Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely and comments “It is not only, to say so with reverence, those whom he [God] wills, but it is whosoever will” p125.  Durham goes on to note that Christ “sometimes weeps and moans because sinners will not be gathered (as Luke 19:41-42 and Matt 23:27).  Can there be any greater evidences of reality in any offer?” p125.  The last part here is very important.  For Durham it is impossible to conceive of an offer more genuine than the free offer in the gospel.  (This use of Christ’s weeping over lost sinners is similar to what we saw in Clarkson’s preaching a few weeks ago).

Durham also notes we receive a warrant to believe from “the manner and form of God’s administration” namely by “covenant and many promises” which God has ratified by an oath making them doubly sure.  The great command being to believe (1 John 3:23) also gives us warrant to take Christ as our Saviour (p126-127).

Durham concludes this section on warrants to believe, with a stirring exhortation:

“… we would again exhort you, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in his stead, not to neglect so great salvation.  O!  Receive the grace of God, and let it not be in vain.” p127

Having considered the grounds and warrants of faith, Durham proceeds to “remove a doubt or two, that may stand in the way of sinners resting on this ground”.  I’ll consider these in turn.

First Durham considers the objection from election.  “It may be some will say, that the covenant is not broad enough, because all are not elected, all are not redeemed nor appointed to be heirs of salvation…” p127.  Durham responds to this in two ways:

  • He denies that election is the cause of anyone’s unbelief.  “How absurd is this reasoning… we are… speaking… to the nature of the gospel; so that, whoever perish, it is not because they were not elected, but because they believe not; and the bargain is not of the less worth, nor the less sure, because some will not believe…”p127.
  • Durham says that to seek knowledge about whether I am elect or not before I will believe in Christ is to “overturn the whole course of Christ’s administration, and of the covenant of his grace” for “Did he [Christ] ever, a priori, or at first hand, tell folks they were elected? … God’s eternal purpose or decree is not the rule of our duty, nor the warrant of our faith, but his revealed will in his word…” p127.

So Durham essentially says, no one will be condemned on the ground of being non-elect so this should not be your concern.  Unbelief is what men will be condemned for so worry about that!  And in any case no one can know whether they are elect or not apart from coming to Christ.  So don’t worry yourself about the hidden things, look to the revealed will of God and act accordingly.

I think this fits in well with the WCoF’s direction that “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word…” http://www.epcew.org.uk/wcf/III.html

Next Durham considers the objection from the moral inability of man to believe.  “But secondly some may object and say, “I am indeed convinced that believing is my duty; but that believing being a thing I cannot do, why therefore should I set about it?”  Durham again answers in two ways:

  • First “This is a most unreasonable and absurd way of reasoning; for if it be given way to, what duty shall we do?  We are not of ourselves able to pray, praise, keep the Lord’s day, nor to do any other commanded duty; shall we therefore abstain from all commanded duties?  Our ability or fitness for duty, is not the rule of our duty, but God’s command; and we are called to put our hand to duty; in the sense of our own insufficiency, acknowledging God’s sufficiency; which if we did we should find it go better with us…” p127
  • Second “None that ever heard this gospel, shall in the day of judgment have this to object… that they would fain have believed, but their mere infirmity, weakness and inability did impede them.  For it is our sin and guilt that we are unable; yet where the gospel comes, that is not the controversy, but that folks would not come to Christ, would not be gathered, that when he would, they would not…” p128

So Durham answers that apart from God we are unable to do anything, but that doesn’t stop us going about other duties, so why should it stop us believing?  In any case, the real issue is not that “we would believe if we could, but we can’t”.  Rather it is that we are unwilling to believe, even though Christ is willing that we should come to him.

I think that gives quite a clear indication of how Durham responded to arguments against receiving the free offer of the gospel from election and moral inability.

Having discussed these momentus subjects Durham notes “If folks soberly and gravely considered of what concernment it is to make use of the gospel, and what depends on the profitable and unprofitable hearing of it, how serious would both speakers and hearers be?” p131.  The utter levity of a lot of modern “reformed” preaching (where jokes outnumber exhortations to believe in Christ) is a sad sign that we have lost sight of “what depends on the profitable and unprofitable hearing” of preaching, namely, the eternal destiny of souls.  How many today preach “as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men”?

I’ll close with a little plug.  If you go to the May edition of the Free Church Witness (http://www.freekirkcontinuing.co.uk/FCC/Witness%20and%20Explorer_files/wee05-07%20witness.pdf) then you will find an article Towards a Christian View of Recreation by yours truly.  It was on pages 8&9 in the print version  but the pages are a bit random on the online version when my article is on pages 15 & 18!  The mystery Puritan I quote is of course George Swinnock.  See, I do occasionally talk about things besides the free offer of the gospel!

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