Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption”

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.

9 Responses to “Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption””

  1. Greg MacDonald Says:

    On point 9 – does your view not leave you with God sending the Son out of his general love to all men (which he does have) rather than his saving love to the elect?
    Also, re the last para, does this leave open to the accusation of working his theology from experience?
    Good post. I enjoyed it.
    PS nesschurch.co.uk now online

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Greg

    Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry I haven’t replied earlier but I was taking the prayer meeting on Tuesday and speaking at the YF on Thursday night so the blog has had to take a bit of a back seat.

    I’ll respond more fully tomorrow night D.V.

    Every blessing

    PS Liked the website – perhaps the links section needs slightly expanded though? 🙂

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Greg

    On point 9 – does your view not leave you with God sending the Son out of his general love to all men (which he does have) rather than his saving love to the elect?

    I hope not 🙂 My view is basically that of Boston, “John iii. 16, where, by the giving of Christ, we understand not only his eternal destination by the Father, to be the Redeemer of an elect world, and his giving him unto the death for them, in the fullness of time; but more especially, a giving of him in the word, unto all, to be received and believed in… The context also, to us, puts it beyond controversy; the brazen serpent was given, and lifted up, as a common good to the whole camp of Israel… So here, Christ is given to a lost world, in the word, that whosoever believes in him should not perish &c.” Essentially I am uncomfortable with the exegetical basis for limiting the scope of the verse. I know my view is a minority one, but it is not novel, e.g. Dabney, Calvin, Manton, Ball, Boston.

    Also, re the last para, does this leave open to the accusation of working his theology from experience?

    What I was trying to do here was counter the caricature that belief in particular redemption is a pastoral disaster. Works like T.F. Torrance’s and M.C. Bell’s on Scottish theology attempt to make this point strongly. Contra this I wanted to highlight that Durham actually believed that particular redemption was helpful pastorally as well. Of course I would argue strongly that it was exegesis of scripture that led Durham to particular redemption rather than simple pastoral expediency.

    Hope that helps make things clear and rescues my orthodoxy!

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  4. Steven Carr Says:

    Durham’s view of particular redemption sounds strangely similar to Thomas Boston’s. But that doesn’t surprise me.

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Yes, the Marrowmen were well read in earlier Scottish theology (and Reformed theology in general). They referenced Durham in their response to the general assembly, so were familiar with his works. They did differ with him on some issues e.g. exegesis of John 3:16, but on the subject of particular redemption they were aligned.

    Hope things go well in the move to Grand Rapids. One of my fellow countrymen is teaching at Puritan Seminary now – David Murray. I’m sure his teaching will be a blessing to you when you start at the seminary there. I have certainly profited from his preaching in the past.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  6. Steven Carr Says:

    When I visited Grand Rapids two weeks ago I was able to visit the seminary and sit in on a class taught by David Murray. He was teaching on the Pentateuch. It was excellent. I’m looking forward to it.


  7. Is a Universal Reference in the Atonement "Unreformed"? - Page 3 - The PuritanBoard Says:

    […] Originally Posted by armourbearer Where did Durham interpret Twisse this way? You have not brought forth any evidence to that effect. whose blog is this? Whoever it is, he addresses this. Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption” James Durham Thesis […]

  8. Is a Universal Reference in the Atonement "Unreformed"? - Page 3 - The PuritanBoard Says:

    […] brought forth any evidence to that effect. whose blog is this? Whoever it is, he addresses this. Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on Particular Redemption James Durham Thesis One of Durhams largest essays in his commentary on Revelation is entitled, Concerning the extent […]

  9. Particular Redemption Part 2 : Some Additional Resources | This Blog is Rated PG for Prophetic Guidance Says:

    […] puritan James Durham (1622-1658) wrote about particular redemption in his commentary on Revelation (starting on page […]

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