Weekly Update 19 – The Westminster Annotations

This week I’m going to take a look at the free offer of the gospel and related themes in a Scripture Commentary known as the Westminster Annotations.  This is essentially a Bible commentary produced by members of the Westminster Assembly and other Puritans (6 of the 11 known contributors were Westminster Assembly members).  William Barker in his book on the Puritans notes that the contents of these annotations can help us understand the Westminster Standards better. 

Some of the comments are rather brief and led good Mr Spurgeon to complain in his commenting and commentaries that, “The notes are too short and fragmentary to be of any great value”.  In one sense he is correct but they are still useful – especially for the student in historical theology!

Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament; Wherein the Text is Explained, Doubts Resolved, Scriptures Paralleled, and Various Readings observed. By the Joynt-Labour of certain Learned Divines, thereunto appointed, and therein employed, As is explained in the preface. London: Printed by John Legass and John Raworth, 1645

[The 1645 edition is not the best one to work with (1657 is the authoritative edition) but it is all I have to work with.]

He is bountifull to good men and bad, Matth. 5. 45. 1 Tim. 4 .10, yea to the beasts, Psal. 36 .6.
goodness] Or, mercy.

Comment on Ps 33:5

The annotations clearly teach God’s universal goodness.

He describeth after what sort God showeth himself to all his creatures, though our sins have provoked his vengeance against all: he shows himself mercifull, not onely in pardoning the sins of his children, but also in doing good to wicked men, albeit they feel not the sweet comfort of Gods benefits.
Comment on Ps 145:8

God shows himself to be merciful in doing good to wicked men.  Sadly they do not acknowledge this.

He speaketh this to commend God’s mercy to poore sinners, who rather is ready to pardon than to punish, as his long suffering declareth…
Comment on Ezek 18:23

God is more ready to pardon sinners than to punish them!  The evidence for this is his long suffering.

That ye may hereby declare your selves to be God’s children, who doth good to his enemies, whereas men naturally studie revenge…
Comment on Matthew 5:45

We are to be like God who does good to wicked men.

Uses “invited” for the gospel call.
Comment on Matt 22:4

Again we see the gospel offer is more than a command – it is an invitation.

He speaketh of his humane and ministeriall will; for his divine will could not be resisted by them.
Comment on Matt 23:37.

This is the comment on Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.  This is very poor and unnecessarily constrained exegesis.  As much as we see the free offer and related topics maintained in these Annotations there are times when a trajectory can be seen in some of the comments which could eventually lead to a John Gill coming along further down the path.  Much better on this verse is Dabney in his God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy:

“Such interpretations [as the one above], implying some degree of dissent between the two natures [of Christ], are perilous, in that they obscure that vital truth, Christ the manifestation to us of the divine nature. “He is the image of the invisible God;” “He is the brightness of his glory, and express image of his substance;” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; John 14:9.) It is our happiness to believe that when we see Jesus weeping over lost Jerusalem, we “have seen the Father;” we have received an insight into the divine benevolence and pity.”

See also Calvin’s comments where he clearly attributes Christ’s words to the Divine nature – “Christ, speaking in the person of God”.

Pitied him, that, having outwardly kept the commandments, which many did not, he should lose heaven nevertheless.
Comment on Mark 10:21

The Westminster Annotations, despite the poor exegesis of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem, do not commit the hypercalvinistic blunder of making the rich young ruler whom Christ loved elect.  They freely confess Christ loved this man and yet he “lost heaven” i.e. was never saved.

1 Joh.4.9. Mankind.
Comment on John 3:16

This comment on John 3:16 is fascinating.  All it says is mankind.  This calls for some comment.  Is the author here taking John 3:16 universally as John Calvin, John Ball and in later times Thomas Boston and Robert Dabney do?  Quite possibly.  Other Puritans of the time did e.g. Thomas Manton.  The Scottish Church at the time of the Westminster Assembly had, I think, settled on the view that John 3:16 pertained to the elect.  Rutherford and Gillespie argued for their position at the Westminster Assembly.  In England I don’t think the position was quite so clear cut (e.g. Manton).  What makes this especially interesting for me is that John 3:16 is one of the proof texts used by the Assembly for the free offer.  Also interesting is that John Ley who wrote the commentary on the Gospels was a member of the Westminster Assembly.  What is confusing though is that he also wrote the comments on Christ weeping over Jerusalem above.

By as much as appeareth unto us by his will revealed in the Gospel, he excludeth none by name, neither nation nor condition whatsoever, Matth. 28. 19. Mark 16.15. Or, all, may be taken, not pro singulis generum, but pro generibus singulorum.
Comment on 1 Tim 2:4

This is the exposition of God, who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  The first option given above is that this text speaks of the revealed will of God in the gospel.  Alternatively, we could take the text not as speaking of all individual men, but rather as all classes of men.  In which case the will spoken of here would be the will of decree.  Interestingly, George Gillespie seems to call the first position that we take this verse as speaking pro singulis generum “Arminian” in his “Treatise of miscellany questions”.  I’m not sure what the Westminster Assembly divine who wrote these comments (Daniel Featley) would make of that!  As an aside, the annotations clearly state that when we read in v6 who gave himself a ransom for all we are to understand all as “all that do believe in him”.

…or towards mankind, of which number we also are… Not any at all; by his directing and approving will, Ezek 33:11… Or, he speaks of God’s approving will, whereby he likes of repentance in any.
Comment on 2 Peter 3:9

The two standard reformed interpretations of 2 Peter 3:9 are given, namely that it can be read as an decretive will so that “all” are the elect or that it is the revealed will being spoken of so “all” really are all.

[Christ knocks] At the door of men’s consciences, both by outward means and inward motions, Psal.16.7 as one desirous of admittance; Cant.5.2.
Comment on Rev 3:20

Again we see Rev 3:20 taken evangelistically.  Also note that Christ, when he knocks on our hearts with the gospel, is desirous to come in.  The gospel offer is no fraud or sham.  It is well meant.

Next week I’ll probably pick up on Durham again and finish off the sermon on “Come for all things are ready”.  I am going to be very busy next weekend as I will be delivering three talks at our Church’s Young People’s Weekend Away.  Bear with me then if I post on the Monday rather than the usual Saturday!

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