Archive for April, 2008

Nine Marks of Gospel Preaching – Durham Style

April 28, 2008

Erroll Hulse has an interesting and helpful article “Spurgeon and his Gospel Invitations” in A Marvelous Ministry: How the All-round Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon Speaks to us Today (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993).  In this article he enumerates ten key features of Spurgeon’s gospel preaching.  I’ve omitted one of these points leaving nine and I’ll now proceed to highlight how they are also applicable to James Durham.

  1. “There was no restriction in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 52
    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 …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 60
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 60
  2. “There was great love in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 50
    The greatest complaint, weight and grief of an honest minister of the gospel, is this, that his message is not taken off his hand, that Christ is not received, believed in, and rested on…
    Christ Crucified, 73
    Why will God have Christ in the offer of the gospel brought so near to the hearers of it … Because it serves to commend the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.  When the invitation is so broad that it is to all, it speaks of the royalty of the feast, upon which ground (2 Cor 6:1) it is called grace, the offer is so large and wide.
    Christ Crucified, 83
  3. “There was the reality of death and hell in his invitations”
    Consider that death and life are now in your option, in your hand as it were; choose or refuse.  I speak not, nor plead here for free-will, but of your willing electing of that which you have offered to you … You may have life by receiving Christ, who is laid to your door, and if you refuse him, death will follow it.
    Christ Crucified, 85
  4. “There was a personal appeal in his invitations”
    You see then what you are called to.  It is to open to Christ, to come to him, to marry him, to roll yourselves on him, to commit yourselves to him, to give him credit etc.  And is there any of these unreasonable or prejudicial to you?  And if they be very reasonable and advantageous (as indeed they are), we would exhort you to come to him, to receive him, to apprehend him, to flee to him, to take hold of him, to marry him etc.  Believe on him, and by believing on him, be united to him, and get a right to him, and to all his purchase; give him the credit of saving your souls.  This we call for from you …
    Christ Crucified, 99
  5. “There was urgency in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 66-7
    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 …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 68
  6. “There was the offer of immediate justification in his invitations”
    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).
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 56
    Faith is … seeing Christ has satisfied justice for sinners, and his satisfaction is offered in the gospel to all that will receive it, even to all the hearers of the gospel; that sinners, in the sight and sense of their lost condition, would flee unto him, receive and rest upon him, and his satisfaction, for pardon of sin, and making of their peace with God.
    Christ Crucified, 123
  7. “There was urgent persuasiveness in his invitations”
    Do not only make an offer of marriage, but request, entreat, persuade, pray and beg, yea command and compel …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 56
    Seeing Christ comes near you in this gospel … I entreat you, while he is near, receive him, call upon him while he is near … open to him, take him in, give him welcome … O receive this gospel, give him room; while he is content to sup with you, take him in, make sure your union with him.  This is the end why this report is made, and Christ is laid before you, even that you may lay yourselves over on him.
    Christ Crucified, 84
  8. “There was a spirit of joy in the invitations”
    They who come may expect a very hearty welcome; therefore they are invited once and again.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 45
    The discovery of Christ Jesus, and the making him known, is the greatest news, the gladdest tidings, and the most excellent report, that ever came, or can come to a people … These are the good tidings, that Jesus Christ is come, and that he is Saviour by office.
    Christ Crucified, 73
  9. “There was a sense of God himself in the invitations”
    God the Father, and the King’s Son the Bridegroom, are not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage. They would fain (to speak with reverence) have poor souls espoused to Christ.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 44
    [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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 55
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 58
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 59

I would submit that these nine marks are common to all those who preach “Christ and him crucified” in a manner truly faithful to Scripture.

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Are You “Prepared” For This?

April 19, 2008

The rise and development of preparationism is an interesting subject.  Key in studying this, of course, is an accurate definition of what preparationism is and what it is not.  I take the following as the key point of genuine preparationism:

  1. The gospel offer is restricted to the “thirsty” or to those who have a “sense of sin” i.e. “sensible sinners”.
  2. The sinner must therefore be prepared before accepting the gospel offer by finding within himself an appropriate degree of conviction of sin.
  3. Consequently, the warrant to accept the offer of the gospel is placed within the sinner, for the gospel is only offered to sinners that are qualified or prepared.

My point in raising the issue of preparationism is to note how alien it is to Durham’s system of theology.  He explicitly denies this:

Grace does not stand precisely on forepreparations (where souls honestly and sincerely come), such as saying that you have not been so and so humbled, and have not such and such previous qualifications as you would have. Nay, in some way it excludes these, as offering to bring money and some price, which would quite spoil the market of free grace; nay yet, I say further, if it were possible that a soul could come without sense of sin, grace would embrace it…
Unsearchable Riches of Christ (rept.; Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 2002),156-7

There are some important elements here but the key point is that free and sovereign grace excludes the idea of “forepreparations”.  It is those without money who are invited to come and preparationism inverts this by demanding that a certain warrant must be produced by a sinner before they can come to Christ.  In another place Durham notes:

There is this prejudice in some that they think none can go and warrantably take hold of God’s covenant till they are so humbled, that they cannot go with convictions or challenges till they get some more deep heart work or are in a better and more tender frame … This in particular is one great prejudice that the devil labours deeply to possess the minds of awakened sinners with, to make them think that it is presumption for them … to come to Christ and by faith to close with Him unless they be so and so qualified.
Ibid
, 225-6

We see here Durham’s pastoral application of his anti-preparationism.  Sinners somehow feel that they have to produce a certain amount of conviction of sin before they can come to Christ but this is nothing more than a “great prejudice that the devil labours deeply” to drive into the minds of sinners.  It is therefore to be utterly rejected.

Now in saying all this I’m not denying the place of the law and of conviction of sin – indeed I would argue that the poverty of much modern evangelical (and dare I say Reformed) spirituality and theology is due to a lack of conviction of sin and consciousness of God’s holiness.  Again, I am not denying that it is only the sick who will seek a doctor.  (It is because people like Durham emphasised this truth that they are sometimes falsely called preparationists.)  But I am arguing that in no way is this a preparation for salvation in the sense of providing a warrant for us to come to Christ – all men have sufficient warrant to come by virtue of the free offer of the gospel (God’s hearty invitation, to use the phraseology of the Sum of Saving Knowledge).

This is the first time I’ve posted on Durham in ages – maybe this is the James Durham thesis after all 🙂

John Dick on what it means to be “Confessional”

April 12, 2008

What does it mean to be a Professor in a Seminary/College that subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith?  What does it mean to be a Presbyter in a Church which subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith?  John Dick explains:

He who holds the office that I have undertaken [Professor of Theology], must deliver a particular system [of doctrine], because it is the system of the church which has appointed him, and because he believes it to be true.  He must say also, that if you will be ministers of that church, you must adopt her creed, because she allows no other to be taught to the people.  But further than that he has no right to proceed … He calls upon you to inquire for yourselves, with earnest prayer for divine illumination, and to embrace the truth wherever you may find it.
John Dick, Lectures on Theology (4 vols.; repr., Stoke on Trent: Tentmaker, 2004) 1:15.

Now let’s unpack what he is saying:

  • Firstly, in a setting where professors subscribe to the Westminster Standards they “must” deliver the doctrine contained in them.  It is a sacred duty – no wiggle room allowed.
  • Secondly, someone should only be a professor in such an institution if “he believes it [the Westminster Standards] to be true”.  As soon as that ceases to be the case a professor can no longer fulfil his duty honourably.  W.G.T Shedd is very helpful at this point, “There may be honest heresy but not honest dishonesty. A heretic who acknowledges that he is such, is a better man than he who pretends to be orthodox while subscribing to a creed which he dislikes, and which he saps under pretence of improving it and adapting it to the times. The honest heretic leaves the Church with which he no longer agrees; but the insincere subscriber remains within it in order to carry out his plan of demoralization.” (Shedd, Calvinism Pure and Mixed, 152).  [NB: I’m not equating disagreement with any element of the WCoF as heresy!]
  • Thirdly, candidates for the ministry need to understand the duty of pastors in denominations which subscribe to confessions.  To be a pastor in a confessional denomination you must be prepared to “accept her creed” as the truth of Scripture and you must be able to teach congregations doctrine consistent with the confessional standards.
  • Fourthly, confessionalism does not ride roughshod over people’s consciences.  If, after being instructed about the doctrinal position of a church, you come to disagree with it, then, fine (albeit sad).  Scripture must be followed.  The entry to ministry in a confessional church is closed but that is better than going against conscience.

This all seems fairly straightforward to me and yet, as anyone who reads church history knows, terribly difficult to put into practice!

I know none of the above is related to the free offer but I am doing a case study of the meaning of a confessional document so posting on the implications of confessions for church life is related to my studies.  I’ll try and write something on the free offer in the course of next week – I nearly posted something on the Marrowmen and “preparationism” but got stuck halfway through.  I hope to get unstuck soon.

PS I wouldn’t necessarily say John Dick perfectly lived out the sentiments above.

Johannes Wollebius on the Free Offer

April 4, 2008

Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) is one of the most significant of the Continental Reformed theologians yet is relatively unknown in Reformed circles today.  This is a shame as he has many helpful things to say on the free offer of the gospel – but fear not for they are summarised below!

Wollebius begins his discussion of the free offer or “common call” of the gospel by noting that this is “common to the elect and reprobate” and that there is an effectual call that is “only to the elect” (133).  He notes that the common call is an “invitation to the state of grace” (133).  This is one reason why I cannot understand the claim that by “offer” 16th & 17thC theologians meant “present” or “exhibit”.  No, no, and again no.  “Invitation” (often coupled with “gracious”) was what they meant by offer, or to express it differently by offer they meant offer.  R. Scott Clark drives a coach and horses through the argument that “offer” meant “exhibit” or “present” in his fine article “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel, and Westminster Theology,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple (ed. David VanDrunen; New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).

Wollebius emphasises the Trinitarian nature of the common gospel call, stating “The efficient cause of this vocation [calling] is the whole blessed Trinity: but particularly Christ the Lord; who as in the days of his ministration here on earth did immediately call sinners, so he doth now by the means of his ministers”.  (133) Scripture references given are Matt 22:2-3, Mark 1:14-15 & 2 Cor 5:20.  Important here is the fact that the call made by ministers is really Christ’s call, and in turn the call of the Trinity.  It is not the minister’s offer only, he is but an ambassador; in reality it is a Divine offer.

Wollebius proceeds to define what he means by the gospel call, identifying two elements:

  • “the proffer of the benefit of redemption” (134)
  • “the precept of accepting it” (134)

This is a helpful way of considering things.  First, the benefit of redemption is “proffered” i.e. offered for acceptance or rejection.  Second, there is a command to accept.  The splitting out of these elements concisely illustrates that the gospel call was viewed as more than just a command by Wollebius – he also distinctly viewed it as an offer, citing 2 Cor 5:20.

Given that ultimately the justice of God will be glorified in the condemnation of the disobedient reprobate who reject the offer, can we speak of a sincere or well meant offer to the reprobate?  According to Wollebius we can 🙂  He argues that “as for the reprobate, although they are not called with any purpose in God to save them, yet they are called seriously, and salvation is seriously promised to them on condition they will believe.”  A few elements to note here.  First, the gospel offer to the reprobate is sincere, they are not “mocked” by it.  Second, the reprobate receive a promise from God.  Third, this promise is conditional.  A few people take issue with the language of conditions but, as long as we aren’t using it in a neonomian sense, it is simply standard Reformed theology.  So, God’s promise to all in the gospel is sincere and therefore those who reject it are justly, as decreed by God, condemned for their unbelief, to the praise of his justice.

All quotes from the chapter “Of the common vocation to the state of grace” in John Wollebius The Abridgment of Christian Divinity (trans. Alexander Ross; London: Printed by T. Mab and A. Coles, For John Saywell, 1650), 133-135.