Archive for February, 2008

Weekly Update 43 – How not to use primary sources, and some praise of Dabney!

February 23, 2008

Well I’ve finally managed to get some writing done on my thesis this week.  The chapter I was meant to have finished by the end of January (The Free Offer in Reformed Creeds up to Westminster) is now around 50% done.

In writing up this week I came across one of the most egregious uses of primary sources I have yet discovered in my research.  There was an article in a respected academic journal which aimed to outline the view of the Synod of Dort on the free offer.  The author argued that Dort was against a free offer of the gospel.  After some general points the author examined two theologians in detail, Calvin and Turretin, (neither of whom were contemporary with Dort – one being dead and the other yet to be born!).  Anyway, the author’s thesis is that both these men denied that God desires (in any sense) the salvation of all men (and that they therefore deny the free offer).  He quotes the following from Turretin to support his case and demonstrate Turretin’s understanding of the gospel call:

“It is one thing to will reprobates to come, i.e. to command them to come … another to will that they should not come, i.e. not to will to give them the power to come.” (Turretin, Institutes, 15.2.15, P&R ed 2:507).

So the will of God, for Turretin, in the gospel offer is simply a command you see and nothing more.   Now I thought this quote was familiar to me but felt lacking so I checked the primary source.  I found that the quote misses out four words under the “…” – and can you guess what they are?  Well here they are – “and to desire it”!  So the quote actually reads:

“It is one thing to will reprobates to come, (i.e. to command them to come and to desire it) another to will that they should not come, i.e. not to will to give them the power to come.” (Turretin, Institutes, 15.2.15, P&R ed 2:507).

So the author is making a case that Turretin denies that God desires the salvation of all men while knowingly excluding from a quotation Turretin’s explicit statement that God does (in some respect) desire the salvation of the reprobate.  Is this a responsible handling of the primary sources – simply excluding material from quotes which don’t fit the polemic case at hand?  Now, I’m sure the author had his own understanding of what Turretin meant by “and to desire it” and would explain the phrase accordingly but to simply exclude it from the quotation seems unhelpful to me.  [I have left the author anonymous here, though of course I can’t do this in the actual thesis].

Anyway on to more pleasant things.  For some light relief this week I was reading a few extracts from a PhD thesis on one of my theological heroes, Robert L. Dabney.  As an aside I would commend his Systematic Theology to any interested readers as one of the best Systematics to read – infinitely preferable to Robert Reymond’s recent work which, despite its widespread acceptance, is defective in many areas (among which is the free offer of the gospel).  Dabney’s work was the first ST I read and every time I go back to it I appreciate it more e.g.  as I have read more of the “course reading material” Dabney assigns at the start of each lecture (Calvin, Turretin, Dick, Thornwell, Hodge, etc) I appreciate his interaction with these figures more fully.  Recent criticisms of Dabney as a theologian are unfortunate and misplaced – a correct estimation of Dabney is given by A.A. Hodge in stating that Dabney was “the profoundest thinker and writer on theological subjects, in my judgement, that America has produced”.  (Of course his views on race are to be utterly rejected.  Also don’t be put off by the first 130 pages or so of Dabney’s ST – very hard going.  After that it is all good until his consideration of the establishment principle.)

The Southern Presbyterians of the 19th C as a whole I find very congenial theological companions.  Thornwell, Dabney and Girardeau are all worth reading and studying.  Anyway, the PhD I was reading is called Reflections on the Life and Thought of Robert Lewis Dabney with particular Reference to his views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Free Agency by David Coffin (WTS, 2003).  As an aside, I think this thesis captures the essence of Dabney’s genius much better than Sean Michael Lucas’ recent biography (which is a good and informative read but doesn’t really convey a sense of Dabney’s greatness).  After recounting a theological controversy between Dabney and Girardeau, Coffin quotes the following moving account of their final meeting:

He [Girardeau] and Dr R.L. Dabney did not agree on every point in theology, nevertheless they were warm personal friends.  They had been chaplains together in the Confederate army, they were recognised as the two leading theological teachers of the Southern Presbyterian Church, and in most public controversies they were in harmony.  When, therefore, Dr. Dabney, himself afflicted with blindness, heard of the partial paralysis of his friend, he came to Columbia to visit him.  Their communion was sweet and in a measure the spirit of other days seemed to come back on them.  On Sunday, Dr Dabney preached to the large congregation… on the power of love.  The sermon was one of extraordinary power, and when he came in his discourse to the love of Jesus for his aged servants many in the congregation were weeping.  Dr. Girardeau himself was deeply moved, while the hearty congregational singing, unaccompanied by any instrument of music, seemed to greatly affect Dr. Dabney.  When the service was over the two men came down the aisle together; they were men of imposing presence, each like the son of a king; their faces showed the influence of chastening grace; their foreheads betokened the mighty intellects behind them; venerable men! dignity, goodness, and greatness sat with ease and naturalness upon them.  Dr. Girardeau said: “Doctor, that was a glorious sermon this morning.” Dr. Dabney replied, “This has been a sweet service to me, and the singing carries me back to old Tinkling Spring.” Dr. Girardeau said: “But what will it be in heaven?”  The answer of Dr. Dabney was lost in the trampling of the congregation.  And so blind, and lame these princes of Israel walked on, talking of the past and future worship of God.  A few months after this meeting they both joined the general assembly and church of the first born in the majestic worship of their God and Saviour.
George Blackburn, The Life Work of John L Girardeau, Columbia: The State Company, 1916, 367-8.

Like I said, very moving.

Weekly Update 42 – Robert Rollock (1555-99)

February 16, 2008

I came across an announcement of the reprinting of Robert Rollock’s Select Works this week.  That is good news – assuming [!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png][!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png]people will read Rollock as opposed to letting him gather dust on their shelves!  This has spurred me on to post some things from Rollock, who has long been recognised as an important figure in the development of Covenant theology e.g. Sherman Isbell notes, “Rollock was a seminal early exponent of covenant theology in Scotland” (Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, p726).

Rollock makes certain key points when discussing the free offer of the gospel.  They will be familiar to long term readers of the blog.

  1. Rollock emphasises the centrality of the free offer of the gospel for the ministry and preaching.  He noted that the “frail and poor creatures” who hold “such a high, excellent, and glorious office” are “to offer salvation to them who before were condemned and castaways… to the end that the gospel and the promises of mercy may profit and edify them.” (Sermon XVII in Select Works, 1:531).  This is expressed elsewhere in the direction “that they in their ministry might declare, and make manifest the gentleness and long-suffering of God towards all men…” (Of the Resurrection of Christ in Select Works, 2:532).
  2. Rollock distinguishes the free offer of the gospel and the effectual call which cannot be resisted, as he notes “the promise of the covenant, which is offered unto us in Christ, is of the mere grace of God… [this] grace may be called the grace of our vocation; this grace is common to all that are called, elect and reprobate.”  However, there is also “grace in our effectual calling [which] may be called the grace of faith, appertaining only to the elect; for it is given only to those that are predestinated to life everlasting to believe.”  Rollock explains in more detail, “For whereas there is a double mercy of God in our effectual vocation, to wit: First, an offering of Christ with all his benefits in the covenant of grace, or the Gospel ; secondly, faith to receive Christ being offered, (under faith I comprehend hope and repentance, which follow faith), therefore, in our effectual calling two graces must be understood ; the grace of our vocation, or of offering Christ unto us, and the grace of faith, or of receiving Christ by us.”  (Rollock, Select Works, 1:269-71).  Note Rollock’s identification of the external offer with grace, which even the reprobate receive.
  3. Rollock affirms that the free offer of the gospel is not an offer that is just presented to men in general, rather it is a specific offer and conditional promise to each hearer: “… it is to be noted of this object of faith, that it is special, that is, offered to me, to thee, and to every man specially and distinctly.”  So although it is true that “the promises and sentences of the Gospel be conceived generally, yet it is certain, that they are to be received particularly by every one, as if they were spoken to every one in several… the promise of the Covenant of Grace is conceived generally… but it is to be understood particularly and singularly by every one, as if it had been spoken to me, or to thee.”  This particular offer is important for assurance: “For seeing mercy is offered particularly to thee and to me, &c., and I again assent particularly to it; now am I certain of that mercy that it is mine specially, seeing I do already by faith and special application possess it.” (Rollock, Select Works, 1:197,214,217).

Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for Rollock’s Select Works.  They are well worth purchasing.

Weekly Update 41 – Random Quotes From David Dickson (and two from Durham!)

February 9, 2008

I’ve spent about 5 minutes on my thesis this week due to work pressures so I’ve not had time to pull anything together for the blog.  Here are a few quotes from Dickson from Therapeutica Sacra on various topics.

Revealed will/secret will distinction:

…the revealed Will of God in Holy Scripture; wherein is set down to us what we should believe, and what we should do, and what is the Reward of the Obedience of Faith, and what is the Punishment of Disobedience.

Duty faith:

… the Lord hath commanded to repent and turn unto him (offering Reconciliation in Christ) therefore it is my duty so to do.

Understanding of “he descended into hell”:

…not without ground have Orthodox Divines taken in Christ’s Sufferings in His Soul, and the detaining of His Body in the Grave (put in as the close and last part of Christ’s Sufferings) as the true Meaning of that Expression, He descended into Hell…

Definition of the Covenant of Redemption:

This Covenant of Redemption then may be thus described. It is a Bargain, agreed upon between the Father and the Son designed a Mediator, concerning the Elect (lying with the rest of Mankind in the state of Sin and Death, procured by their own Merit) wisely and powerfully to be Converted, Sanctified and Saved, for the Son of God’s Satisfaction and Obedience (in our Nature to be assumed by Him) to be given in due time to the Father, even unto the Death of the Cross.

Definition of the Covenant of Grace:

The Covenant of Grace is a Contract between God and Men, procured by Christ upon these Terms, that whosoever in the sense of their own sinfulness shall receive Christ Jesus offered in the Gospel, for Righteousness and Life, shall have Him and all the Benefits purchased by Him, according to the Covenant of Redemption; and that God will be his God, and the God of his Children.

Mosaic covenant – grace or works?:

Such was the Covenant, which the carnal Israelites made with God in the Wilderness, and which their Posterity did follow, turning the Covenant of Grace, whereunto God was calling them into a Covenant of Works of their own framing: For, the Grace which was offered to them in Christ, under the veil of Levitical Types, Figures and ceremonies, they turned into an external service of performance only of bare and dead Ceremonies, and into a Ministry of the Letter and Death: For they did not take up Christ to be the End of the law, for Righteousness to every one that believes in Him, but did think, that both the Moral and Ceremonial Law was given unto them of God, to the intent that they should do the external Works of the Moral Law so far as they could; and when they transgressed the Moral Law, they should flie to the Ceremonial Law, and make amends for their Faults by satisfying for their Sin by the external Sacrifice of some clean Beast offered to God, or by the washing of their body, and their Clothes.

Which is in line with what James Durham says:

Distinguish betwixt God’s intention in giving, and the believers in Israel their making use of this law; and the carnal multitude among that people their way of receiving it, and corrupt abusing it contrary to the Lord’s mind. In the first sense it was a covenant of grace: In the second, it turned to be a covenant of works to them; and therefore it is that the Lord rejects (as we may see, Isai. 1. 13. and 66. 2,3. Jer. 7. 22.) their sacrifices and services as not commanded, because rested on by them, to the prejudice of grace, and contrary to the strain and scope of this law complexly considered.
James Durham, The Law Unsealed, Edinburgh: Thomas Lumisden and John Robertson, 1735, p6

They would both direct, “Ye would distinguish betwixt this law, as given to Adam, and as given to Israel: for, as given to him, it was a covenant of works; but, as given to them, ‘tis a covenant of grace…” (Durham, p15).

The decree of election and unbelief:

First, God so executeth and perfecteth the Decree of Election, that in the mean time He hindereth none, of all the Hearers of the Gospel, from receiving the Grace of Christ offered therein. He excludeth no Man from embracing the Covenant; but, on the contrair, He opens the Door to all that are called, to enter into (as it were) the outer Court of His dwelling House, that they may so draw more near to Him; and so He doth not particularly manifest any Mans Reprobation.

Lots more helpful material, but I’d better stop now.  Hopefully back to Dickson on the free offer next week.

Weekly Update 40 – David Dickson (1583-1662)

February 2, 2008

David Dickson.  It is about time I posted something on him.  Professor of theology at Glasgow and then Edinburgh universities, co-author with James Durham of Sum of Saving Knowledge, close friend of Durham, profoundly respected in the Scottish church, prolific author and commentator – in short a mammoth figure in Scottish Reformed theology and well worthy of consideration.

Dickson’s most formal treatments of the free offer of the gospel are found in his Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1664).  [Sadly Dickson offers no comments on WCoF 7:3 in his work on the Westminster Confession Truth’s Victory Over Error.]  I am not going to comment in detail on his views on the free offer this week but I’ll just set some of the scene before picking up on Dickson again next week.

The main thing we must take heed to in this work, is to give to God entirely the Glory of His Grace and Power and Wisdom, so that the Glory of Mans Regeneration be neither given to Man, nor Man made sharer of the glory with God, but God may have the whole glory of His free Grace, because out of His own good-will, not for any thing at all foreseen in Man, He lets forth His special Love on the Redeemed…

This was the overarching theological commitment of all the Reformed figures I have covered on this blog – the entire work of salvation is of God’s grace, power and wisdom.  They all present their views of the free offer in a context where salvation is a result of God’s “special love” for the redeemed.  It is not possible to deflect the views of Durham, Dickson, Clarkson, Ball, Brown, Calvin, Sedgwick, Manton, etc by claiming they were somehow less than “Calvinistic” in their theology. 

These are the All Men whom God will have saved and doth save, 1 Tim. 2. 4. these are the All Men of whom the Apostle speaks, 2 Pet. 3. 9. God is patient toward us (to wit His Elect) not willing that any of Us should perish, but that we All should come to Repentance…

Dickson interprets 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9 as referring to the elect.  This was the standard Scottish view of these texts during Dickson’s lifetime.  I post this to note that there was diversity in understanding of individual texts amongst those theologians who held to the same overall view of the free offer and predestination e.g. for Calvin 2 Peter 3:9 refers to all men and for Thomas Manton 1 Tim 2:4 refers to all men.  Incidentally, I read the Scottish theologian Robert Rollock as implying a universal reference to 1 Tim 2:4, “… 1 Tim. ii. 4, after he hath admonished that we are to pray for all men, he addeth, that God will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. Out of which it followeth, that in the publishing of the Gospel, God hath respect not only of all men in common, but also distinctly of every several person; which regard also he will have us to have in our prayers.” (Robert Rollock, A Treatise of God’s Effectual Calling in Select Works of Robert Rollock (ed. William M. Gunn; 2 vols.; Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1849), 1:215).

Sometime Grace is taken for every Gift or Good bestowed by God upon the ill Deserver: In which sense, Gifts, common to Elect and Reprobate, are called by the name of Grace. Rom. 1. 5. Ephes. 4. 7.

Dickson has no problems with the terminology of “common grace”.  God bestows gifts and good things on the reprobate which is “grace”.  I am puzzled by the reference to Rom 1:5 and Eph 4:7 – neither of these texts seem to be speaking of common grace.

The Doctrine of Reprobation must not be determinatly applyed to any particular Person, how wicked soever he shall for the present appear; neither must the suspicion which any Man may have of his own Reprobation be fostered, because particular Reprobation of this or that person, is among the Secrets of the Lord, not to be medled with, whereof a Man may not give out Sentence before the Lord hath revealed His own Decree. But on the contrair, all the Hearers must be warned and pressed to be wary to entertain any hostile thought of God, or to foster suspicions of Him as implacable, but rather think of Him as their faithful Creator: Just indeed yet Merciful, Long-suffering and Bountiful, both to the kind and the unkind, as they shall find if they will seek Him…

Reprobation for Dickson is a doctrine that is to be preached.  But it is a doctrine that must be preached in such a way as to highlight the outworking of the decree of reprobation as it relates to individuals is archetypal theology i.e. unknown, and unknowable.  The doctrine of reprobation is not to shape my view of God’s relation to me as an individual – in this respect it is “not to be meddled with”.  Rather we are to beware of “hostile thoughts towards God” and take our view of God from him being our “faithful Creator”.  This is a helpful way of explaining the doctrine of reprobation – maintaining faithfulness to Scripture in preaching reprobation while guarding against driving men to despair.

I think these are four features which obviously influence what Dickson says on the free offer:

  1. An overarching commitment to God’s sovereignty
  2. A tendency to limit seemingly universal texts to the elect (limiting the exegetical base for the free offer)
  3. A commitment to common grace
  4. A doctrine of reprobation that places the outworking of the decree in  the secret things that belong to the Lord and directs men away from it to the revealed truths of the gospel that “whosoever will may come, etc”

Next week I’ll probably post on Dickson’s views on the free offer from Therapeutica Sacra and possibly the week after that from his commentaries.