Archive for December, 2007

Weekly Update 35 – Anyone for some Marrow?

December 29, 2007

William Greenhill will be back in the near future but I was looking over the Marrow of Modern Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg and Son, 1837) again this week and a few things struck me as interesting. 

Now given that the Marrow really came to prominence in Scotland in a controversy in the 18th C it is all too easy to forget that the original context of the work was mid 17th C.  Again, it is easy to forget (given how controversial the Marrow became in the 18th C) that the Marrow is really nothing more than a compendium of Reformed thought up to 1650 (with a bit of Luther thrown in for free).  According to its author “much of the matter contained in the ensuing Dialogue” came from the great figures of the development and codification of the Reformed faith e.g. Calvin, Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Ames, Peter Martyr, Polanus, Sibbs, Goodwin, Ball etc (p xx).  So really there should not have been much in the Marrow to complain about!

All this is interesting but what has it got to do with my thesis?  Well, for one the Marrow provides an insight into the general theological context in which the Westminster Standards were framed.  This is important for my work.  It also provides an insight into how mid 17th C theologians interpreted earlier Reformed theologians and used their works.  Again this is important.  Additionally, the Marrow was also cleared for the press by Joseph Caryl, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and was published with commendations from two other Assembly members.  So clearly there were members of the assembly who upheld “Marrow doctrine”.

Still, even though useful in these respects and though commended by 3 members of the Assembly we can’t argue for 1:1 identity between Marrow doctrine and the Westminster documents – can we?  Well, granted not on the basis I have provided above.  More work would need to be done – but has someone else done that work already?  Enter Thomas Boston!

Now in his notes on the Marrow, Boston has an extensive comment on the section, “God… moved with nothing but with his free love unto mankind lost, hath made a gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (p106).  Boston begins by noting that the phrase comes from Ezekiel Culverwell in a work commended by Westminster Divine William Gouge.  He then proceeds to identify this “gift and grant” with the gospel offer of John 3:16 explaining that: “Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made; and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant” (p106).  This speaking of the gospel offer as a “gift and grant” giving all sinners a warrant to believe in Christ is for Boston, “the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it doth indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption” (p106).  So a couple of points here.  Boston equates Marrow doctrine with “good old doctrine”.  For him it is nothing more or less than Reformed orthodoxy.  Secondly, Boston here relates the gospel offer to the sufficiency of the atonement (so did John Owen) but this is done in the context of rejecting a universal atonement/redemption.

But what specifically does Boston mean by “good old doctrine”?  Well, he means standard Scottish doctrine and he quotes James Melville to this effect.  But more specifically he means Reformed theology as set out in the great Reformed confessions.  He quotes Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3 (my thesis topic via James Durham), Westminster Larger Catechism 63 as supporting the “gift and grant” in the gospel offer (p106).  He also quotes Dort 2:5-6, ” Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.  And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.”  So for Boston, Dort and Westminster are one on the gospel offer and on Marrow doctrine.  Boston also quotes the Sum of Saving Knowledge, “Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16.”  Now the SoSK was, of course, written by James Durham and David Dickson.  Thus Boston aligns his view of the gospel offer with that of James Durham.

So for Boston, the Marrow theology of the free offer is the theology of Westminster Assembly and Dort and the Sum of Saving Knowledge and therefore of James Durham!  But is he right?….. yes 🙂  This is all very pertinent to my thesis and to the chapter I’m currently writing on: the free offer in the Reformed creeds.

Another item of interest is the proof texts that the Marrow uses to outline its doctrine of the free offer.  They are John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  Now what are two of the “proof texts” for WCoF 7:3? – yes, you guessed John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  More evidence for similarity of doctrine!

Weekly Update 34 – William Greenhill on “Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself”

December 22, 2007

“…And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Rev 22:17

William Greenhill (1597/8-1671) was a famous and influential Puritan minister.  He was one of those at the Westminster Assembly who argued for an independent system of Church government as opposed to Presbyterianism.  Poor ecclesiology aside 🙂 he says a number of helpful things, particularly relating to the free offer.  He has one work in particular dealing with the free offer which has been reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria as Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself – it is a series of sermons on Rev 22:17 (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999).  What I want to do is post on one small section of a sermon entitled “Christ’s Willingness to Save Sinners”.  [I will post more on this book at some point in the future].

Greenhill begins the section by noting that “it lies in the hearts of all sinners to question the willingness of God and Christ to save them and do them good” (p130).  He expands on the implications of this, “And here lies that which sticks with sinners, to question the willingness of God and Christ” (p131).  Again we see the pastoral importance of the well meant offer.  It is only an articulation of a well meant offer of salvation that can answer such concerns.  Greenhill proceeds, “Now Christ is very willing that sinners should come unto him, and I shall make this out in several ways.”  He lists 15 ways Christ shows this willingness.  I’ll cover some of them this week, and some next week.

Evidence 5 is particularly interesting.  We know Christ is willing to save us, because he commands us to come to him.  “This [willingness] appears from the commands of Christ.  When a thing is commanded, those who command would fain have it done.  Now the Lord Christ commands men to come unto Him.  He commands them to believe… so when God the Father and Christ the Son command us to believe, they are very willing that we should do so.  When princes send out their commands to the people to do such and such things, they are very desirous that they should be done.  So when God gives out His commands in the gospel, and when Christ commands men in the gospel to come, it is an argument that there is a strong will in Him for it to happen” (p135). 

Those familiar with current critics of the free offer will know that they view the above as “bad logic”.  Because we are commanded by God to do something, for them, is no indication that God is actually willing that we do it.  I’m not going to go into the why’s and wherefore’s of the arguments but just note how different that kind of reasoning is to this Puritan presentation of the gospel.  [How Greenhill’s comments here relate to some of the arguments of John Owen in The Death of Death will have to wait until another day!]

But is the gospel merely command – a presentation of some facts i.e. those who believe are saved and those who do not believe are damned?  Not for Greenhill.  Evidence 6 of Christ’s willingness to save sinners is, “Does not Christ sweetly invite you, and use sweet invitations and allurements to draw sinners to Him?”  One of the texts Greenhill uses to illustrate these “sweet invitations” is Rev 3:20. (Yes, this is another Puritan using Rev 3:20 evangelistically!  I don’t understand the aversion some modern “Puritans” have to the evangelistic use of this text.)  Commenting on this text, Greenhill says, “What sweet invitations have we from Christ!  How forward, how ready is the Lord Jesus to do poor sinners good!” (p137).

So is the gospel a command?  Yes, but we must not forget it is a “sweet invitation” as well!

So two evidences down – only 13 more left 🙂  I’m going to be without internet access for most of the next week (how will I cope!) and it is a general family time in any case so responses to comments (which are always valued and very welcome) will be slower than usual.

Weekly Update 33 – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

December 15, 2007

I’m currently in the middle of preparing to write up my chapter on the credal history of the free offer of the gospel in Reformed churches, with particular reference to the Westminster Standards.  This involves a lot of fairly dry reading.  So instead of posting on that I’m going to share a few gems from a minister who faithfully preached Christ and him crucified – Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843).  M’Cheyne was one of the greatest of the Reformed preachers of the 19th century and is an example of the preaching which has been heard in the Scottish church in all her best times.  May it please the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest field who are animated with the same Spirit!

When [Christ] wept over Jerusalem… there was much that was human in it.  The feet were human that stood upon Mount Olivet.  The eyes were human eyes that looked down upon the dazzling city.  The tears were human tears that fell upon the ground.  But oh, there was the tenderness of God beating beneath that mantle!  Look and live, sinners.  Look and live.  Behold your God!  He that has seen a weeping Christ has seen the Father.  This is God manifest in the flesh.  Some of you fear that the Father does not wish you to come to Christ and be saved.  But see here, God is manifest in the flesh.  He that has seen Christ has seen the Father.  See here the heart of the Father and the heart of the Son laid bare.  Oh, why should you doubt?  Every one of these tears trickles from the heart of God.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoirs and Remains, Banner of Truth, p472

M’Cheyne’s point here is that we can’t simply write off Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem as pertaining only to his human nature.  It tells us something about God.  This is in line with Calvin who believes that in his lament over Jerusalem Christ is speaking as God.  His thoughts are also echoed by Dabney who writes, “Christ [is] the manifestation to us of the divine nature…. 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. And therefore this wondrous incident has been so dear to the hearts of God’s people in all ages.”

Oh for the… [tenderness/mercy] of Jesus Christ in every minister, that we might long after all! … And here I would observe what appears to me a fault in the preaching of [today].  Most ministers are accustomed to set Christ before the people.  They lay down the gospel clearly and beautifully, but they do not urge men to enter in.  Now God says, ‘Exhort’ – beseech men – persuade men; not only point to the open door, but compel them to come in.  Oh, to be more merciful to souls, that we would lay hands on men and draw them in to the Lord Jesus…  How anxious was Jesus Christ in this!  When he came near and beheld the city he wept over it.  How earnest was Paul! ‘Remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears!’
Ibid, p402-404.

I think M’Cheyne hits on something absolutely crucial to the true nature of biblical preaching here.  What he is saying is that to declare facts is simply not enough.  True preaching is patterned after the tears of Christ and Paul.  There must be earnest beseeching and persuading to truly enter into the biblical concept of preaching.

Next week I’d like to post something on Rev 22:17 from James Durham and a member of the Westminster Assembly, William Greenhill.

PS These quotes originally came from David Gay’s book on the free offer: The Gospel Offer is Free, Biggleswade: Brachus, 2004.

Weekly Update 32 – WGT Shedd on WCF 7:3

December 8, 2007

W.G.T Shedd is one of my favourite theologians.  Of course, I don’t agree with everything he said but, taken as a whole, his Dogmatic Theology is a work of brilliance.

Among his many other works Shedd also has a small volume entitled: Calvinism: Pure and Mixed.  In this work Shedd has a chapter entitled The Westminster Standards and the Offer of Mercy.  What Shedd tries to do in this short chapter is clarify the teaching of the Westminster Standards on the free offer of the gospel.  The following are his comments on WCoF 7:3:

Confession vii. 3, declares that ‘man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that (legal) covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers 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’.  Two distinct and different things are mentioned here: (a) an offer of salvation; (b) a promise of the Holy Spirit to make the unwilling sinner willing to accept it.  The number of those to whom the offer of salvation is made is unlimited; [the number] of those to whom the promise of the Spirit to ‘make them willing’ is made, is limited by ‘ordination to life’ or election.  It is clear that God may desire that to be done by man under the influence of his common grace in the common call, which he may not decide and purpose to make him do by the operation of his special grace in the effectual call.  His desire that sinners would hear his universal call to repentance may be, and is unlimited; but his purpose to overcome their unwillingness and incline them to repentance may be, and is limited.  God offers Christ’s sacrifice to every man, without exception, and assures him that if he will trust in it he shall be saved, and gives him common grace to encourage him to believe.  This is proof that God loves his soul and desires its salvation.  But God does not, in addition to this universal offer of mercy, promise to overcome man’s aversion to believe and repent and his resistance of common grace.  Election and preterition have no reference to the offer of salvation or to common grace.  They relate only to special grace and the effectual application of Christ’s sacrifice.  The universal offer of mercy taught in this section evinces the universality of God’s compassion towards sinners.

W.G.T Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999, 26-27

Is Shedd being historically accurate in his description here?  Is that really what WCoF 7:3 means?  Coming to a thesis near you soon… (But if you are a regular reader here no doubt you will be able to guess my take on Shedd’s view!)

Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption”

December 1, 2007

One of Durham’s largest essays in his commentary on Revelation is entitled, “Concerning the extent of the merit of Christ’s death, or, if it may be accounted a satisfaction for all men” (Revelation, Old Paths, 2000, 378-412).  Some of the following is fairly heavy going but hopefully worth it.

In this essay Durham advocates the position that the sufferings of Christ are “not intended by Christ, nor accepted of by God as a price and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and for procuring of Redemption to them but only for some peculiarly chosen of God, and by his decree of Election separated from others” (p378).  He engages those whom he feels deny this position, while at the same time holding to a predestinarian system of theology i.e. not Arminians.  He names John Cameron, Richard Baxter, John Daillie and William Twisse as his opponents.  Twisse is a fascinating character who often is lauded by certain extreme predestinarians (usually opposed to the free offer) for having written a treatise, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessells of Mercy, consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessells of Wrath(Oxford: Printed by L.L. and H.H. Printers to the University for Tho. Robinson, 1653) and for advocating a supralapsarian ordering of the decrees.  It is one of the grand ironies of this whole debate that Twisse seems to have actually held some form of universal redemption (even if conditional).  Twisse was prolocuter (chairman) of the Westminster Assembly until he stepped down on grounds of ill health in 1645 – the WCoF was not approved by the Scottish Church until 1647.

I don’t want to post on all the details of Durham’s arguments so I’m just going to highlight a few of the more interesting and significant points he makes:

  1. The extent of the atonement is determined by the Covenant of Redemption (p378, 379).  The extent of the Covenant of Redemption is determined by a logically (not temporally) prior decree of election (p400).  The extent of the atonement is therefore particular not universal.
  2. Christ’s sacrifice “in respect of the person who died… may be and by Divines is said to be, of an infinite value” (p378).  But when we are speaking of the intent of Christ in laying down his life as a satisfaction that is where the Covenant of Redemption and particularity comes to the fore.
  3. Because of the Covenant of Redemption the atonement must secure its own application i.e. the salvation of those for whom it was offered.  That is, there was a bargain between the three Persons of the Godhead that a seed would be given to Christ on condition that he lay down his life for them – the Covenant of Redemption.  Now if Christ laid down his life as per the covenant for his sheep, and then they were not saved, the Covenant would have been broken by God.  Unthinkable! (p383).
  4. Durham believed that a universal redemption was pastorally harmful in that it “would weaken the redeemed’s consolation and enervat the grounds of their praise… to say that all are redeemed by Christ’s death, yet so, that the greater part of them shall never be justified… doth exceedingly weaken the redeemed’s consolation… [and is] derogatory to the solid consolation of the redeemed, whatever be pretended” (p384).
  5. Durham believed that a universal redemption, coupled with election did not solve any pastoral problems for “seeing the asserters of this conditional [universal] Redemption do admit of an absolute Election unto life as we do… then they will have the same cavils… to meet with: for, the connection betwixt Election, Faith, and Salvation is no less peremptor, (so that none can be believe and be saved but an Elect)…” (p408).
  6. A particular redemption does not cause any additional pastoral difficulties, even for the unsaved for, “this Doctrine of particular Redemption (to call it so) doth never make salvation impossible to any that will receive Christ and rest upon Him: but on the contrary, though it deny that all men are redeemed, or shall be saved,; yet it doth assert this Universal, that all whosoever shall believe, are redeemed and shall be saved…” (p386).
  7. Durham acknowledged that the common blessings that come on all men are consequences of Christ’s atonement and “largely speaking” are “contained in the Covenant of Redemption” (p392).  But “the proper fruit of Christ’s purchase… is saving mercies” (p391).  Durham is cautious and generally unwilling to speak of common mercies as a proper fruit of Christ’s death.  Why he takes this position is interesting.  Durham is attempting to guard against being forced to say that the proper fruit of Christ’s death is greater condemnation for the reprobate.  The reprobate enjoy common blessings and grace from God but ultimately they abuse these and receive greater condemnation than if they had never received these blessings.  Durham is anxious to argue that greater condemnation comes not “from the Gospels being revealed to such persons, but from their abusing and slighting of the same” (p392).  Durham does not want a fruit of Christ’s death to be greater condemnation, so we have to distinguish between the main intention of Christ’s death (redemption) and other consequences which are not proper fruits: “otherwise we might say, that the greater inexcusableness and condemnation of many Reprobates, are proper fruits of Christ’s purchase…” (p393).
  8. Christ’s satisfaction and intercession are of equal extent, and indeed “it is His satisfaction that regulateth (to speak so) his intercession” (p399).
  9. Durham argues that “world” in John 3:16 cannot be taken to mean “all men” (p405).   This was the standard Scottish view of the text at the time.  This is one of the few places I may not be on the same page as Durham – I’m more of a Marrowman myself.
  10. The free offer of the gospel is not endangered by a particular redemption for “neither doth this way [universal/conditional redemption] and the ground thereof give ministers any more solid ground to make the offer of the Gospel indefinitely in their public Preaching: for… we can assure hearers that whosoever believeth shall partake of life and of the benefits of Christ’s Redemption; and by virtue of the general Call and Warrant which we have in the Gospel, we may invite them to believe in Christ, [and] require faith of them…” (p409-10).

These then are some of the points Durham makes on the subject of particular redemption.  For me the two key points that emerge are:

  • The prominence of the idea of a Covenant of Redemption in Durham’s defence of particular redemption
  • The prominence of Pastoral concerns in Durham’s formulating of a particular redemption.  When Durham came to defend his doctrine of particular redemption he wasn’t simply engaging in ivory tower theology, rather he was defending a truth he believed helped him best in his Pastoral duties.