Weekly Update 13

For the next few weeks I’m going to be blogging through one of the best sermons I have ever read.  It is Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations.  This sermon of Durham’s is found in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Morgan:  Soli Deo Gloria, p43-79.  It is the locus classicus for the free offer in Durham’s preaching, and probably for Scottish preaching of the mid-seventeenth century in general.  It was speaking of this sermon that Durham’s co-pastor and brother-in-law John Carstairs said:

…he [Durham] spoke some way as a man who had been in heaven, commending Jesus Christ, making a glorious display of the banner of free grace, holding forth the riches of it very clearly and convincingly. He brought the offers thereof very low, wonderfully low, so that, in hearing some of those sermons, particularly the one on Matthew 22, I was made to think that the rope or cord of the offer of salvation was let down and hung so low to sinners that those of the lowest stature among them all, though but as pygmies might catch hold of it, who through grace had any mind to do so. He so vehemently and urgently pressed home on so sweet and easy terms to be embraced that I have been sometimes made to wonder how the hearers could refuse or shift them.
Carstairs, pvii

I think that should whet appetites for the contents of this sermon!

Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations 

“All things are ready: come unto the marriage.”
Matthew 22:4

Durham begins his sermon by noting straight from the text:

The preaching of the gospel is like a man’s making a marriage for his son.
p44

This illustration of the gospel as a man [God] coming to woo for marriage is used again and again by Durham throughout his sermons.

God the Father, and the King’s Son the Bridegroom, are not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage. They would fain (to speak with reverence) have poor souls espoused to Christ.
p44

One of the most basic things assumed in asking someone to marry you is that you want them to say yes.  Otherwise why would you ask them?  So why does God, to speak with reverence, invite sinners to the marriage with Christ?  According to Durham the answer is because he “is not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage”.  Durham is quite happy here to follow the scriptural metaphor through to this conclusion – God is “real” in his offers as we saw last week.  Durham uses “desire” or “desirous” on a number of occasions in his preaching to speak of God’s attitude to the Gospel offer.

When the Master sends out His servants in His name their great work is to invite to the wedding and to close the marriage.
p44-5

We have seen this point before.  For Durham the great work of ministers is to invite people to come to Christ.  If a minister is not doing this, then they are failing in their great work.

When people are invited to this marriage, it is their duty … to come.
p45

Again we have seen this point before.  Durham believed in duty faith.  He stands in direct opposition to later hypercalvinistic developments as seen in e.g. John Gill.

I’m going to have to stop here as it is late.  The themes of God’s willingness to save sinners, of the importance of the free offer of the gospel to proper preaching and of duty faith are common in Durham and will recurr as we go through this sermon.

This week I’ve finished reading Thomas, G.M. The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus. Carlisle: Paternoster Publishing, Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs, 1997.  Though I wouldn’t accept a number of key points in his thesis he does a good job of touring round a number of neglected early reformed theologians.  He did highlight some comments made in submissions to the Synod of Dort which were essentially hypercalvinistic, which surprised me.  (Basically a couple of submissions said the gospel was only for “thirsty” sinners and nothing is offered to men in general.)  Given the actual wording of the Cannons, which we saw in weekly update 10, it appears Dort rejected these submissions out of hand – thankfully!

In terms of work coming up I have a bundle of theses to read through including:

Williams, C.A. The Decree of Redemption is in effect a Covenant: David Dickson and the Covenant of Redemption, PhD. Calvin Theological Seminary, 2005

Van Dixhoorn, C.B. Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly: The Making of a Pulpit Theology, MTh, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2000

Su, Yohan. The Contribution of Scottish Covenant Theology to the Discussions of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1648) and its Continuing Significance to the Marrow Controversy (1717-1723). PhD, University of Glamorgan, 1993

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4 Responses to “Weekly Update 13”

  1. A sister Says:

    Sir,
    I thank you for sharing your work by way of blog.
    Alas, the PRC and its sister organisation the BRF make great progress in producing a revisionist history of the puritans and reformers’ understanding of the gospel.
    I wish that the true way of it would be known more widely and the chill of their gospel dispensed with altogether.
    keep up the good fight.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Thank you for your words of encouragement!

    Also problematic for me, is the tendency for preachers who believe theoretically in the free offer to neglect it in their actual preaching. David Dickson says:

    “the preaching of the gospel is appointed by God as an ordinary means, no less for the conversion of men and women than for the advancement of those in grace that are converted.”
    Truth’s Victory Over Error, Reprint. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007, p194

    The tendency of modern preachers as I see it (even many of those who believe in the free offer) is to concentrate on the latter element of preaching (to build up Christians) to the neglect of the former (aiming at the conversion of sinners). We need to return to the balance of the preaching of men like Durham on this matter.

  3. James Durham again ¦ Theology Online: Theology, Back to the Basics Says:

    […] Durham Thesis blog has done it again. Go here for some nifty comments from Durham on the Will of God in relation […]

  4. Weekly Update 14 « James Durham Thesis Says:

    […] James Durham Thesis Exploring the views of James Durham on the Free Offer of the Gospel « Weekly Update 13 […]

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