Archive for August, 2007

Weekly Update 17 – John Ball

August 25, 2007

If William Ames is not that well known, then we may say John Ball (1585-1640) is almost totally forgotten.  Yet he was one of the most influential Covenant Theologians of his time in England.  His works on covenant theology are recognised as a significant influence on the covenant theology of the Westminster Standards.  Recently one of his books, A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace, has been reprinted:

This book was commended by six men who were commissioners at the Westminster Assembly. He was very well respected in his day. What does this influential Puritan make of the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel? (A similar story to last week – I don’t profess to be an expert on Ball so any corrections are welcome).

Every man called, whether he hearken to God’s calling or not, is bound to believe that Christ is offered to him as Saviour, so as if he believe he shall be saved: but that Christ died for him in particular for the impetration of righteousness… that he is not bound to believe…
Ball, John. A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London: Printed by G. Miller for Edward Brewster on Ludgate hill near Fleet-Bridge at the Signe of the Bible, 1645, p222-223

Ball sets out clearly that he does not believe in “universal redemption” and correspondingly we are not called by the gospel to place our faith in the tenet that Christ died for me.  Rather we are called to lay hold of the offered Saviour, and in believing we shall be saved.  As we see his views of the free offer, bear in mind he held to a definite atonement.  Also note Christ is offered even to those who never “hearken to God’s calling”.

There is one act of faith, whereby we believe that sins are pardonable: this is builded upon this ground, that Christ is an all-sufficient and efficient Saviour, in whose name Salvation is freely offered, by faith to be received. There is another act of faith whereby we rest upon Christ for salvation… There is the third whereby we believe that our sins are already pardoned…

Ball expands on this by explaining the actings of faith. First, because an all sufficient Saviour is offered to us (one who is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him) we may believe that our sins are pardonable. Based on this we rest on Christ for salvation. Then upon believing we have assurance that our sins are pardoned. Again note the central place given to the free offer of the gospel in the definition of faith. Without the free offer of salvation in Christ there can be no solid ground for faith.

As an aside. Ball believed in “common grace” which men could and sadly did “fearfully abuse” by their sins. Ibid. p230

That men are seriously invited to repent in the Ministry of the Word, and that the promise of Salvation is faithful and true, so that he that believeth shall never perish. These things be not questioned, nor whether some effects or benefits of Christ’s death be common to all men, but whether he died equally for all men, to purchase actual reconciliation for them on God’s part…

Note the vocabulary Ball uses here.  The gospel is a serious invitation.  It is not simply a command, not simply a declaration of facts – it is an invitation.  How many times have I said this now?  Again it is a serious invitation.  The free offer is not a sham – it is sincere and well meant.  Again Ball highlights his belief in a definite, efficacious atonement while not denying that some benefits of Christ’s death come to all men.  Durham says something very similar which I will share when I eventually get round to posting on his view of the atonement.

…but the invitation is general…the invitation is serious, shewing what God is well pleased with, and doth approve in us… he persuadeth with arguments in themselves forceable to move and incite, and what he will perform, if we make good the condition… no man of what state or condition whatsoever is hindered or kept back from coming to Christ by any cause efficient or deficient out of man himself…
Ibid. p243-245

Again there is no limit in the offer/invitation.  It is “general”.  Again God is “serious” in the offer.  By this Ball means God desires the salvation of those who hear the gospel.  If you don’t believe this read on!    Also note we can not blame the decree of God (election) for our unbelief.  The only cause of unbelief is our own wilful sin in rejecting Christ’s invitations to come to him. 

The Lord who doth whatsoever he will… in his deep and unsearchable council never intended to make every man actually and effectually partakers of the benefit promised… nevertheless, the invitation is serious, showing what we ought to do, and God doth approve and desire on our parts…

There we have it!  The invitation to come to Christ “is serious, showing what… God doth approve and desire“.  To say, as some do today, that the phrase “God desires your salvation” is Arminian would make John Ball an Arminian!  Of course he is as far from being an Arminian as North is from South.  Now Ball doesn’t believe God intends the salvation of all men.  What God intends he accomplishes.  Ball separates desire from intention.

They [Arminians] ask what sign doth God show of desire or approval that men should believe, when he gives them not power so to do. This that he commandeth, intreateth, persuadeth them to repent and believe, waiteth with long-suffering and patience for their amendment, promises mercy if they will return…

Along comes the Arminian who says to Ball, “You don’t believe in common sufficient grace, you don’t believe in a universal atonement.  How then can you say, without being hypocritical, 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 would he command, entreat, persuade them and wait with longsuffering on them?

… as God commandeth wicked men to repent and believe, so he testifieth what he doth desire and approve…

Again, for Ball, when God commands something it is a testimony he desires that is should be done.  When God commands the wicked to repent it is a testimony he desires them to repent.  You dont find this way of speaking in some passages in Owen.

As men are called to repent that they might live, and God doth in calling them avow it is his desire, they would repent that they might live, so the end of the invitation is life and salvation. This is manifest, in that the Lord doth earnestly again and again call upon impenitent and obstinate sinners to repent and believe, protesting that he desires not their death, but rather that they should repent and live…
Ibid. p247-248

And it keeps on coming!  It is God’s desire that wicked men repent.  God desires that even impenitent and obstinate sinners should be saved.

As an aside Ball speaks of “restraining grace or common gifts”.  Ibid. p337

Stepping back in Ball’s work here are his comments on John 3:16.  They are long, but important, so I would urge you to read them:

[On John 3:16] God so loved the world, (as we read in the Evangelist) that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the World: but that the world through him might be saved. And I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Here the motive from which the gift of Christ is derived is common love. The word World cannot be taken for the elect only: for then it will be as if it had been said, God so loved the elect, that he gave is only Son, that whosoever of them that believe in him should not perish. The world that Christ came to save, was that world in which he came; and that comprehends both believers and unbelievers: and in the same place, it is divided into them that shall be saved, and them that shall be damned: and there should be no force of reasoning in the latter place, if the world did not comprehend unbelievers under it.

Thus these passages are urged for universal redemption. But the principle texts speak plainly of the days of grace, when God sent his Son into the world, and when according to the prophesies and promises made before, the Gentiles were to be called to the faith, added to the church, and received into Covenant.

And the world is taken communiter & indefinite, for the world, as it is opposed to the Jewish Nation alone, not universaliter pro singulis, for every man in the world of what time or age soever, or of this time special. The sense then is, In the fullness of time, God manifested so great love unto the world of Jew and Gentile, not of the Jew alone, That he gave his only begotten Son, and in the Ministry of the Gospel, seriously invited them to believe, and entered into Covenant to bestow life and happiness upon the condition of their unfeigned faith on Jesus Christ. As God loved Israel, whom he chose to be his peculiar people under the Old Testament: so in times of grace he extended his love to the world of Jew and Gentile. And as amongst the Jews, so much love to the body of that nation , as to enter into Covenant with them, and vouchsafe unto them the means of grace, but unto some he showed more special love, so as to call them effectually, and make them heirs of salvation: In like manner in the last times or days of the New Testament God manifest so much love to the world, as it is opposed to the Jewish Nation, as that in the ministry of the Gospel he entreated them to be reconciled, and entered into a Covenant of Peace with them: but unto some he bare and manifested a more peculiar love, in that he called them effectually and made them heirs also.

There are a number of very interesting points here in this long quote:

  • The love in John 3:16 is common love.  This is the position of Thomas Boston & the other Marrowmen.
  • Ball rejects the argument that the world in John 3:16 is the elect, otherwise the text becomes a truism.  God so loved the elect that whosoever of the elect believe will not perish…  “Does this make sense” is Ball’s question?  This is the argument of my favourite theologian Robert Dabney who takes John 3:16 indefinitely.
  • Ball does not believe John 3:16 supports universal redemption.  Rather it speaks of the giving love in the gospel offer.  This is classic Marrow doctrine (i.e. Boston & the Erskine’s).
  • The love of John 3:16 extends as far as the preaching of the gospel.  It is not speaking of a saving love which applies only to the elect.
  • Note that for Ball the preaching of the gospel is a token of God’s love, even to those who never accept the gospel.
  • How common is Ball’s interpretation of the love in John 3:16 as non-saving general love amongst the reformed?  I think it is probably a minority view.  Calvin of course held this view.  We could add Thomas Manton, Thomas Boston, Robert L. Dabney and a small number of others.  But many other’s held John 3:16 to be speaking of a saving love to the elect e.g. Gillespie, Rutherford, Owen etc.

In order of fairness I should highlight that a portion of this quote was posted into the blogsphere by Marty Ford, John Owen researcher.

There are also a number of similar statements in Ball’s work:
Ball, John. A Treatise of Faith Divided into two Parts: The first shewing the Nature, The Second the Life of Faith. London: Printed for Edward Brewster, and are to be sold at his Shop at the signe of the Crane in Pauls Church-yard, 1657.

To quote them would make a long post inordinately long so I will stop here.

Next week I’ll be covering the significant Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham, John Brown of Wamphray on the free offer of the gospel.  Brown was a close associate and disciple of Rutherford.

Weekly Update 16 – William Ames

August 17, 2007

I know I still have to finish off Durham’s sermon Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations and I will do that.  But this week I want to share some of my reading of the Puritan William Ames (1576-1633).  Ames is most widely known today for his book The Marrow of Theology.  His importance to Puritan & Reformed theology should not be understated.  A recent doctoral dissertation on Ames has stated that Ames’ thought has a “seminal place in the development of the Reformed system”.  (Jan Van Vliet, William Ames: Marrow of the Theology and Piety of the Reformed Tradition, PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2002).  Such claims are well founded.

What then does Ames make of the free offer of the gospel and related topics?  (Caveat lector: I am no expert on Ames.  I have read a fair bit of him and I think I am representing him fairly but, as always, I am open to correction.)

 … it is not lawful to make the least delay at all in our conversion to God… As soon therefore as God shall require us to correct our lives, and to be converted , so soon ought this duty to be performed… Whosoever therefore shall keepe and nourish sinne against God’s Will… he thereupon doth bring upon himself a very grievous guilt.
The Works of the Reverend and Faithful Minister of Christ William Ames, London: Printed for John Rothwell, 1643, Of Conscience and the Cases Thereof The Second Booke, p6

First, we see here that Ames does not urge delay in conversion until we have gone through certain stages (preparationism – e.g. a prolonged period of labouring under conviction of sin before coming to Christ).  Now, today is the day of salvation, and there is no excuse for delay.  Second, we see Ames explicitly advocating ‘Duty Faith’.  To be converted is our duty.  Third, we see that Ames speaks of conversion as being God’s revealed will for us.

… by what motives may a [man] be stirred up to embrace the call of God… Fourthly, if he doe also consider what the cause is that moves God to call him, which he shall find to be nothing else but God’s incomprehensible mercy towards his enemy, Rom.8.10. 2 Cor.5.10. He must have a heart of Iron, that is not moved with such goodness as this, as we may see by Saul, 1 Sam.24.17.19.
Ibid, p12

Ames here states that the motive behind the gospel call is one of “incomprehensible mercy” and “goodness“.  His example is of David’s kindness in not killing Saul.  This is an important point.  Even for those who reject the gospel call God’s motive in calling them is still one of mercy and goodness.

[To obtain faith in Christ] … he ought to fasten the eyes of his mind, upon the promises of the Gospell; For the Gospell is the Ministry of the spirit of righteousness and of life, 2 Cor.3.6,8. the reason is, because Christ is neither offer’d of God, nor can be apprehended by man, but onely in the promises of the Gospell… Now in fastening our eyes upon the promises of the Gospell, we must consider first, that Christ onely is propounded in them, and that crucified, 1 Cor.1.23.34, & 2.2.2. Secondly, that in Christ there is a perfect sufficiency of redemption, and salvation, provided for them that be in him, John 3.16… Thirdly, that this grace is particularly offer’d to all those to whom it is preached, Mark 16.13.
Ibid, p13

Right.  For Ames the object of faith is Christ offered in the promises of the gospel.  This is standard doctrine but it is still worth pausing over because it highlights again the importance of the free offer.  It is impossible to “apprehend Christ” without the promises of the gospel being offered to us.  More precisely faith fastens on the atoning death of Christ and its sufficiency for all who will come to him as they are held out in the promises of the gospel.  Ames again states standard reformed doctrine when he notes the gospel is a particular offer to each hearer.  It is not an indiscriminate offer which is not really to you as an individual.  No, the offer of Christ is to each individual as if it were by name, to paraphrase Durham.

Now God is the object of faith, not as he is considered in himself, but as we by him doe live well. 1 Tim.4.10. We hope in the living God, who is the preserver of all men, especially of those that believe.
The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, London: Printed by Edward Griffen for John Rothwell at the Sun in Pauls Church Yard, n.d. The First Book of Divinity, p6

What I understand Ames as saying is that we don’t place our faith in an unknown or hidden God, but we place our faith in the God who has revealed himself as good to all men, and especially to those who believe in him.  The object of faith is God as he has revealed himself in Scripture.  I think his comment is along the same lines as Calvin’s, who also took Saviour to mean preserver:

… the word σωτὴρ is here a general term, and denotes one who defends and preserves. He means that the kindness of God extends to all men. And if there is no man who does not feel the goodness of God towards him, and who is not a partaker of it, how much more shall it be experienced by the godly, who hope in him? Will he not take peculiar care in them? Will he not more freely pour out his bounty on them? In a word, will he not, in every respect, keep them safe to the end?

Now, I’m more of a Marrowman (Thomas Boston, Ralph & Ebenezer Erskine) in my view of 1 Tim 4:10 in that I think Saviour means Saviour and not preserver.  I prefer their exposition that Christ is the Saviour of the world “by office”.  That is like a doctor would be the doctor of a town without actually healing every individual in that town.  He is still the doctor of all, but only those who go to him for healing are healed.

The offer, is an objective propounding of Christ, as of a means sufficient and necessary to salvation. 1 Cor.23,24. We preach Christ the Power of God and the Wisdome of GOD. Hebr.7.25. He is able perfectly to save those that come to God by him. Acts 4.12. Neither is there any other name under Heaven, which is given among men, by which we must be saved… The offer of Christ is outward, or inward… The outward is a propounding, or preaching of the Gospell or of the promises of Christ. Acts 9.15. That he may beare my name in the sight of the Gentiles… The promises as touching the outward promulgation, are propounded to all without difference, together with a command to believe them, but as touching the propriety of the things promised… they belong only to the elect… The inward offer is a spiritual enlightening, whereby those promises are propounded to the hearts of men… This is also sometime, and in a certain manner granted to those that are not elected. Hebrews 6.4 & 10.29. Mat.13.20.
Ibid, p110-111

The offer of the gospel involves a proclaiming of Christ’s sufficiency to save and that salvation is only to be found in him.  There is an outward offer of Christ, and preaching of the promise of the gospel which does not differ between the elect and non-elect.  But while the promise of the gospel belongs outwardly to all hearers the thing promised only belongs to the elect.  To explain, the promise believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved is a promise to all, but Christ and actual salvation in him will only belong to the elect.  Ames also endorses common grace in that the Spirit also works in the non-elect and is granted to them “in a certain manner”.

Preaching therefore ought not to be dead, but lively and effectual, so that an unbeliever coming into the Congregation of the faithful he ought to be affected, and as it were digged through with the very hearing of the Word, that he may give glory to God. 1 Cor. 14.25.
Ibid, p159

Oh what need there is of earnest lively preaching today!

Now here ariseth a question… Whether all and every particular man be meant thereby, when it is said, that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?… The patience of God according to its nature hath that use and end, to lead all sinners unto repentance, Rom2.14. and in that sense might their interpretation be admitted who understand these words and the like of all and every particular man; But… the Apostle in this place [2 Peter 3:9] hath special reference unto the elect…
An Analytical Exposition Of both the Epistles of the Apostle Peter, Illustrated by Doctrines out of every Text. London: Printed by E.G. for John Rothwell, at the Sun in Pauls Church Yard, n.d. p244 

This is Ames’ exposition of 2 Peter 3:9.  Ames believes this text relates only to the elect.  But what is interesting is that Ames admits that the exposition which sees this verse speaking of a patience and goodness of God to all men is theologically sound, it is just not the proper exegesis of this verse.  My own position is very similar.  I have no issues with the doctrine of Calvin in his comments on 2 Peter 3:9 below, I just don’t think they are appropriate to the verse at hand:

So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.

Next week I’ll share some thoughts on John Ball’s doctrine of the free offer.  He is a largely forgotten but hugely significant Puritan, whose works were influential at the Westminster Assembly.

Weekly Update 15

August 11, 2007

This is the third week of blogging through James Durham’s sermon Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations. One more week to go on this sermon. This sermon is found in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, p43-79.

It is the duty of all to whom the good news of this marriage comes to come to it, and, when they are invited to it, presently without all delay to yield.

Once again we see Durham clearly advocating what we would call “duty faith”.  Also for all who are invited the marriage is “good news“.  Further note Durham is appealing for an immediate response to the gospel.  He did not direct his hearers to go away and think about things.  No, his hearers were to come to Christ, “presently without all delay“.

All who come may expect a very good and heartsome welcome. None need to fear that they shall not be made welcome … The Lord will not look down on such as come; nay, He is waiting to welcome them, and to meet them, as it were, midway, as we see in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15).

The Lord is “waiting to welcome” sinners!  What a comforting truth.

There is very good news here … therefore I would exhort you all to believe this report. There are, alas, few who do indeed believe that the eternal God has this design of marriage between Him and sinners … believe that this is the good word of God … and that He is waiting to ratify them to all who give them credit … believe that this offer is really His.

The gospel is good news.  That is what it is – to all who hear it.  Also note, for Durham, the gospel offer is not man’s offer, it is God’s.  It would therefore not be correct to say that it is simply the preacher offering, it is the preacher offering in Christ’s stead.

Be holily amazed and wonder that the offer of this marriage comes to you, and that He is content to marry you.

It is a wonderful and amazing thing that the gospel should come and tell us that God is content to marry us in Christ.

What is our commission today? This is it … the King … speaks to you by us, and we speak to you in His name, and tell you that our blessed Lord Jesus is wooing you. We declare, publish and proclaim it.

What is the preacher’s commission?  To speak on God the Father’s behalf and proclaim that in the gospel Jesus Christ comes to woo all the hearers of it.  How many fulfil their commission?

Our Lord Jesus is not far to seek. He is here waiting to close the bargain with you. This is our errand, to proclaim these glad tidings to you … Is not the Father ready? He has given His consent. Is not the Bridegroom ready, when He has done so much … The feast is ready, the garments are ready … The contract is ready … He is ready to accept you if you will accept Him. Our blessed Lord Jesus says that He is content to marry you … there is in effect nothing wanting but your consent, and let that not be wanting, I beseech you.

In the gospel we have then the consent of God to close the bargain of salvation with us.  On the side of God, all things are ready.  All that hinders our salvation is our unbelief.

It is not one or two, or some few who are called; not the great only, nor the small only, nor the holy only, nor the profane only, but you all are bidden; the call comes to all and every one of you in particular, poor and rich, high and low, holy and profane. “Ho (proclaims the Lord, as it were, with an “Oh, yes!” in Isaiah 55:1), everyone that thirsts, come; and he that hath no money, let him come.” “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely” Revelation 22:17. Our blessed Lord Jesus … In His name we invite all of you, and make offer of Jesus Christ to be your Husband …

The gospel does not only come to “sensible sinners” as per later hypercalvinistic developments.  It comes to every hearer of the gospel.  All are invited.  Note also for Durham the gospel offer is not as it were an indiscriminate message that just happens to be proclaimed in a wide audience.  No, the gospel is a particular and specific invitation to each individual who hears.

We make this offer to all of you, to you who are atheists, to you who are graceless, to you who are ignorant, to you who are hypocrites, to you who are lazy and lukewarm, to the civil and to the profane. We pray, we beseech, we beg you all to come to the wedding … We will not, we dare not say, that all of you will get Christ for a Husband; but we do most really offer Him to you all, and it shall be your own fault if you lack Him and go without Him.

Again there is no limit of the offer to “sensible sinners” – even atheists receive this offer!  Note Durham’s descriptions of preaching the gospel.  It is praying, beseeching, begging.  Does this characterise the preaching of many today?

Before we proceed any further, we do solemnly protest and, before God and His Son Jesus Christ, take instruments this day, that this offer is made to you … that the Lord Jesus is willing to match with you, even the most profane and most graceless of you, if you are willing to match with Him. He earnestly invites you to come to the wedding.

Even the least sensible sinner in the audience receives the earnest invitation of Christ.

I would not put one of you outside the reach of this invitation. However carnal we may be in speaking His mind, yet we do not desire to obscure or limit our Lord’s grace. He calls all of you to the wedding … Come, then, oh, come and subscribe …

Again there is no limit on the gospel offer.

This is very well becoming … to make this offer to great and small, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, gracious and graceless, hypocrites and profane. There is here no exception of persons with Him; the blessed God is content to match with the most graceless and godless of you as well as with those who are gracious and godly.

No sensible sinner here!

There is joy in heaven at the conversion of a sinner, and the price was paid for the elect who are yet graceless as well as for those of them who are now gracious; for all were once in the same condition. Therefore do not look with straitened hearts on the rich and liberal allowance of our blessed Lord Jesus.

Durham believed in and preached a definite efficacious atonement – “the price was paid for the elect“.  But he was always conscious of the danger of his congregation drawing false conclusions from this and getting caught up in speculations as to whether Christ’s death was for them.  Durham therefore points to the character of those for whom Christ died – sinners.  Therefore he reasons, are you a sinner?  Then don’t exclude yourself, for Christ died for sinners.

We call you to believe, and we declare in His name that, if you will take yourselves to Him in good earnest, you shall be saved … You who are profane, take Him … You who are self-righteous, take Him … Whatever you are … take Him.

Again the gospel is to all hearers, not just a select few.

You must not delay to come and close the bargain; you must not put it off till tomorrow, nay, not an hour. All things are ready. Just now, now is the accepted time: here stands the blessed Bridegroom … We dare not be answerable to our Master, nor can we be answerable to our trust and commission, if we shuffle by or thrust out any of you if ye do not thrust out yourselves … let me beseech and beg you to come to the wedding.

There is to be no delay in accepting the offer of Christ.  It must be received now.  No preparationism here!  (The doctrine that sinners must go through certain prolonged stages before coming to Christ.)  Again note for Durham preaching the gospel involves begging and beseeching.

We cannot allow you an hour’s time to advise … close with Him presently, or you may never have the like opportunity … The King is on His throne … His servants invite in His name. Come, therefore; come without further lingering …

The offer must be accepted immediately because who knows if the hearers will live to receive another offer?

Weekly Update 14

August 4, 2007

This week I am continuing blogging through James Durham’s sermon 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.  I didn’t comment on the title of the sermon last week.  It is instructive to note that Durham does not say merely that gospel presentations are the strongest presentation of facts, or the strongest commands, rather the gospel is an invitation.  That in itself is an important point.

To recap last week we saw that God is “very desirous” that sinners come to Christ, that preaching this is the “great work” of ministers and that all hearers have a duty to come savingly to Christ.

They who come may expect a very hearty welcome; therefore they are invited once and again.

Those who respond to the gospel invitation are instructed that they need not fear what kind of reception they will receive from the Saviour.  They will receive a “very hearty welcome”.  For proof of this what more is required than knowledge of the fact that they have been invited repeatedly?

There is a marriage between Christ and souls held forth and made offer of in the gospel. We take this for granted …

If only this could be taken for granted today!

For those who are following Durham’s full sermon in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ I need to comment on Durham’s statement that the offer is made to the “visible church” p45.  First, I repeat the point that I have made a number of times now that the ecclesiology of Durham’s time was that the greater part of the visible Church are unbelievers.  So the fact that the offer pertains to the visible Church does not alter the fact that Christ is offered to unbelievers as unbelievers.  Second, in the context of his statement Durham explicitly notes that the Jews (in Christ’s time the visible church) rejected the offer of Christ.  So the offer was made to unbelievers who rejected it.  The offer is in no way confined to believers, or the elect.  Thirdly, that the offer is to the visible church is not the full story.  See the quote below from p52 where the gospel must be preached to the whole world.

This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes in His Word. He says from there, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will 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.”

There are a number of key points here.  First Christ gives his consent that he is willing to save them, to all who hear the gospel.  This is given in Rev  3:20.  (I have already covered Durham’s use of Rev 3:20).  Secondly Christ “comes in his gospel to woo”.  To preach the gospel is not to make a cold or indifferent statement of facts, rather it is to preach so as to woo sinners.

[The marriage between believers and Christ] is honourable and excellent in respect of its most notable rise, that is, from all eternity in the bosom of the Father. It bred in the King’s breast before the foundation of the world was laid; the covenant of redemption was then concluded, the contract of marriage there drawn, and the blessed project of it then laid down … The Father gives so many to the Son to be redeemed, of whom He willingly, readily, and cheerfully accepts, and offers to satisfy for them, which in due time He does.

Once again we see the importance of the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption for Durham.  Also note that for Durham although the gospel offer is universal, Christ’s satisfaction is not universal in extent.

Were there ever such easy terms and conditions? It is only, “Come to the wedding.” When the King comes a-wooing, let Him be welcomed with your heart’s consent …

It is not only Christ who comes wooing in the gospel, but the King, God the Father.  Amazing condescension!  Also note here that for Durham the gospel is conditional, but that it is the most easy of conditions, “come”.  I have already posted on how the Reformed understood the language of conditions in my posts on Clarkson.

O beloved hearers, all this is to let you see that our Lord is in earnest and very willing to espouse you; and indeed, it shall not be his fault if it is not a bargain.

In the gospel the Lord is “in earnest” and “very willing” to have us married to Christ.  There is no notion in Durham of an offer that is not “well-meant”.  (Indeed who is willing to charge the Most High with an insincere offer?)

There a ground had to be laid for peace with God the offended party who was to be Father-in-law. And here comes in the covenant of redemption. Psalm 40:6-7: “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; then said I, ‘Lo, I come …'” To take away the curse and reconcile the elect to God …

Again, the covenant of redemption!

The marriage must be proclaimed through the world by the preached gospel; the contract must be opened up and read, and sinners’ consent called for.

Ultimately, though the free offer comes through preaching, and preaching takes place in the visible church, the offer itself is for “the world”.  In time the world through the growth of the Church “must” hear this “preached gospel”.

Naturally we are given to slight Him in His offers, to refuse to open to Him, and to let Him in when He knocks … to refuse to entertain His proposal of marriage.

Durham holds to the moral inability of man to believe.  Yet he still believes God uses means, therefore he preaches as he does!

By the preaching of the gospel, whithersoever it comes, and by the great things made offer of therein, all things are made ready. Obstructions, and whatever may hinder the closing of the marriage are removed. The Father is ready, having declared His willingness to give His consent: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” (Matthew 3:17) … The Son is ready to take all by the hand who will embrace Him … The feast is ready, the fatlings are prepared, the promises are filled with every good thing … the contract is ready, and on offer of it made on the Bridegroom’s side …

There is nothing left undone on the side of God to hinder the receiving of the offer: “Obstructions, and whatever may hinder the closing of the marriage are removed“.  The Father is willing, as is the Son.  The promises have been made, and the offer of Christ and all good things in him is made.

“this … is preached every day to you.”

This sermon was not some one-off slip up by the otherwise “Calvinistic” Durham.  No, this is the bread and butter of his preaching.

Christ the Bridegroom and His Father are very willing to have the match made up and the marriage completed. Therefore He sends forth His servants with a strict commission, not only to tell sinners that all things are ready, and to invite them, but to compel them (as Luke has it in 14:23), to come in; to stir them up, and press them to it … The evidences of His willingness are many … as, that He has made the feast … and prepared so for it, and given Himself to bring it about, and keeps up the offer and proclamation of marriage even after it is slighted.

Again Durham highlights the willingness of the Father and the Son to have sinners married to Christ.  Durham also points out that it is not enough for preachers to proclaim facts i.e. “only to tell sinners that all things are ready“, they must go beyond that.  They must invite, and then go even further to labour that this invitation is received – “compel them“.

[In the gospel offer] the Father and the Son are most heartily willing; therefore they expostulate when this marriage is refused, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you, but you would not!” (Matthew 23:37). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou, even thou, hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace!” (Luke 19:42). All these sad complaints, that Israel would not hearken to His voice, and His people would have none of Him (Psalm 81:11), that He came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and that they will not come to Him that they might have life (John 5:40), make out His willingness abundantly and undeniably.

One key evidence of the willingness of the Triune God to save sinners is his response when the gospel is rejected.  Christ’s lament over Jerusalem and the “sad complaint” that God’s chosen Israel rejected him both point to the sincere and well-meant nature of the offer, demonstrating God’s willingness “abundantly and undeniably“.

The great work of the ministers of the gospel is to invite unto, and to endeavour to bring this marriage between Christ and souls to a close.

This to me is key.  For Durham, the greatest work a minister has to do is preaching the free offer of the gospel, and endeavouring to have it received.  No amount of sound doctrinal instruction, no amount of pastoral visitation, no amount of anything else will make up for a lack in this area. 

…request, entreat, persuade, pray and beg, yea command and compel them to come to the marriage.

Have you ever heard your preacher beg sinners to come to Christ?  Well according to Durham they should be.  But note further in Durham’s doctrine of preaching the minister is not really the one begging.  The minister is solely an ambassador.  He has no message of his own.  His words must be Christ’s words.  So behind the preacher’s begging is, as Durham highlighted so frequently in this sermon, the willingness of God to save sinners.  To quote Durham, “If any of you will say, “Because I was not elect, He [God] refused me,” then He [God] will answer, “How often would I have gathered you.”” p77.

This week I rattled through some works of William Ames and picked up a few valuable quotations that I may share at some point!