Archive for July, 2008

Sedgwick on Preaching

July 29, 2008

Here is a beautiful quote by Obadiah Sedgwick on the true focus of preaching:

If believing in Jesus Christ be the only way of life, then Jesus Christ should be the main scope and mark of all our preaching and studying, I Cor, 2.2. I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified. It was the main theme and subject upon which that blessed Apostle did spend himself… So whether Ministers preach the knowledge of sin, or whether they strive to make men sensible of sin, or whether they let fire the arrows of Gods threatenings upon the conscience of sinners, or whether they touch on the mercy Seat; all the end and scope is, or should be, to bring men to Christ, to make Christ more glorious in the eyes of sinners, and to incline their hearts to accept and embrace him.  Christ may be preached two ways.  Either Explicitly, when he is in his person, or offices, or benefits, is the only matter which is handled and published. Or Virtually, when he is the end of the matter that is delivered.

The Humbled Sinner Resolved (London: Printed by T. R. & E.M. for Adoniram Byfield at the Bible in Popes-head Alley, neere Lumbard Street) 1656 p67

There are some modes of expression in the book which I am not sure of but that quote is a gem.

More from Manton

July 25, 2008

It’s been a while since I posted from Thomas Manton – his writings contain an embarrassment of riches on the free offer.  He has a series of sermons on Is 53 in vol 3 of his works (which I’m sure would make an interesting comparative study relative to Durham’s sermons on the same chapter if I had the time) .  One particularly important sermon is on Is 53:6 and this sermon sheds light on Manton’s understanding of the universal passages of scripture, as related to the extent of the atonement.  As interesting as this would be to post on I want to focus on a short section right at the end of his sermon which begins:

Though the efficacy and benefits be certainly intended to believers, yet God’s offer of Christ, and the publication of the gospel is general: Isa. lv. 1, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters;’ Rev. xxii. 17, Whsoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’   Such commands being rather an intimation of what he would have us do than what he intendeth we shall do; of the creature’s duty rather than of God’s [decretive] will.  It is the will of God’s pleasure that they ought to seek after an interest in Christ.  So it is said, 1 Tim ii. 4, ‘God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;’ voluntate praecepti, by the will of his command: and by virtue of this we are bidden to preach the gospel to every creature, Mark xvi. 16.  To the making it effectual, there is required not only God’s will, but God’s grace…
Thomas Manton, Works, 3:334

Now there is much here to comment on:

  1. Though the atonement is particular yet the offer of Christ is not limited but universal.
  2. We need to distinguish between the will of decree and the command.  Once we have done this we are perfectly at liberty to use the language of God’s willingness to save sinners.
  3. This willingness, in the sense of will of command, is for Manton the foundation of the gospel offer.
  4. Note Manton’s universal understanding of 1 Tim 2:4.  It is therefore inappropriate to speak of one “Calvinist” or “Augustinian” understanding of this verse, if by that is meant the text is limited by all “Calvinists” to the elect.

But we have a question here that we must address – given God’s universal sovereignty how can God be sincere in this offer?  Manton addresses this by arguing God is “serious,” “in earnest,” he “mocks no man.”  Manton offers three arguments to prove that “God is serious and in good earnest in these offers” (3:334):

  1. We know God is serious “by his entreaties.”  God “beseecheth you to take him.”  Texts such as Ezek 33:11, 2 Cor 5:20 are in scripture “to show that he is sincere and in earnest with all men.” (3:334).
  2. “Because it suiteth more with his delight that you should take hold of these offers and not refuse them.”  (3:334).  Again the text cited is Ezek 33:11.  Speaking of God’s “approbation or delight” he prefers that we accept than refuse the gospel offer.
  3. We know God is serious in offering Christ to us because he is angry when we refuse.  If God was not serious in his offers how could he be angry when we refuse?  Manton cites John 5:40 and Matt 23:37. (3:335).

Such is a Puritan defence of God’s sincerity of the gospel offer!

Of Covenants (1) – Works

July 15, 2008

James Walker is surely correct to note that “The old theology of Scotland might be emphatically described as a covenant theology” (James Walker, The Theology and Theologians of Scotland 1560-1750 (Rept. Edinburgh: Knox Press, 1982), 73.  To this generalisation James Durham in no exception.

As noted in the last post Durham embraced a threefold covenant scheme:

  1. A covenant of works (between God and Adam)
  2. A covenant of grace
  3. An covenant of redemption on which the covenant of grace is founded

This was the standard covenant theology of the later mid 17th century as Richard Muller notes:

“The reformed scholastics … develop[ed] the structure of the pactum salutis [covenant of redemption], foedus operum [covenant of works] and foedus gratiae [covenant of grace] as one of the central architectonic patterns of their systems”
Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 120.

This first post on Durham’s covenant theology will focus on the covenant of works.  This covenant receives no extended formal discussion in Durham’s works but it is important as it is “for Durham, foundational  to a proper understanding of the covenant of grace.” (Holsteen, Nathan. D. “The Popularization of federal theology: conscience and covenant in the theology of David Dickson (1583-1663) and James Durham (1622-1658).” Ph.D. thesis, Aberdeen University, 1996, 221).

Defenition

To understand the covenant of works we must go back to the garden:

The covenant of works between God and Adam. In that there was made an offer and promise of life on condition of perfect obedience so that, if he did that which was commanded him, he would live.
Unsearchable Riches, 254

So the parties to the CoW were God and Adam.  God promised Adam eternal life on condition of good works:

… as Adam had … the promise of life by the covenant of works; the condition of that covenant, viz. perfect holiness and obedience…
Heaven Upon Earth, 359

Now Adam was the “root of mankind” and so “he entered into a covenant or contract with them, and their posterity in them, to give them eternal life, upon condition of perfect personal obedience; withal threatening death in case they should fail. This is the covenant of works.” (Sum of Saving Knowledge, Head 1:2).  So Adam did not stand or fall alone but as a covenant head with “his posterity in him.”

In the CoW the reward promised goes beyond what Adam could have earned based on simple obedience:

If we look to works with respect to the Covenant of Works, even so works have no proper merit, nor proportion unto the things promised … therefore it is called a Covenant of Works: not because of the merit of the works; but in respect of the formality of the condition thereof, to wit, doing…
Revelation, 307

To summarise:

The sum of the covenant of works, or of the law, is this: ” If thou do all that is commanded, and not fail in any point, thou shalt be saved: but if thou fail, thou shalt die.” Rom. 10:5. Gal. 3:10,12.
Practical Use of Saving Knowledge

Sacraments

As an aside Durham viewed the tree of life as a ‘sacrament’ of the covenant of works as follows:

Thus the covenant of works had its sacraments; Adam had the tree of life for a sacrament to confirm him in the faith of that covenant…
Ten Commandments, 82

I shall give them to eat of the tree of life etc. Its an allusion to that tree planted in Eden, Gen 2.3. That tree was called the tree of life, etc. not for any physical efficacy that was in it, as the Papists gloss [comment] here (though God might have made it instrumental as a means on it) therefore, when sin entered, there was no use of that tree; neither could it do anything, but it was so called, to hold forth to Adam sacramentaly the eternity of life, which he might expect by keeping the Covenant of Works; that tree was given him to signify and seal up that life to him, on condition of obedience.
Revelation, 103

Broken

Adam fell.  The condition to inherit eternal life by the covenant of works was not met and Adam knew the reality of the threatening “if thou fail, thou shalt die.”  And we all know the effects of this for the curse of the CoW stands over us too.

…the covenant of works, which God made with man at the beginning, when he gave to him the promise of life upon condition of obedience … the first covenant was broken by Adam, and … this made him and all his posterity liable to the curse, as being guilty of his transgression.
Christ Crucified, 543

There is a sentence discovered, standing against them, and over their heads, by the covenant of works.
Chist Crucified, p562

Our first parents, being enticed by Satan … did break the covenant of works … and their posterity, being in their loins, as branches in the root, and comprehended in the same covenant with them, became not only liable to eternal death, but also lost all ability to please God; yea, did become by nature enemies to God, and to all spiritual good, and inclined only to evil continually. This is our original sin, the bitter root of all our actual transgressions, in thought, word, and deed.
Sum of Saving Knowledge, Head 1:3

That albeit the apostle himself, (brought in here for example’s cause,) and all other true believers in Christ, be by nature under the law of sin and death, or under the covenant of works, (called the law of sin and death, because it bindeth sin and death upon us, till Christ set us free; )
Practical Use of Saving Knowledge IV

Difference

Durham’s other key teaching on the CoW is that it is radically different from the Covenant of Grace.  They offer two entirely different ways of obtaining eternal life.  In the one we obtain righteousness before God by “doing” and in the other by “believing.”

But the Scripture does clearly difference the covenant of grace, and the covenant of works … The covenant of works respects the inherent righteousness, as the condition; the covenant of grace respects faith, taking hold of the righteousness of Christ…
Christ Crucified, 535

Consider how the apostle opposes the two covenants, the covenant of works made with Adam, and the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ … the Apostle opposes these two covenants … in this, the righteousness of the one covenant is doing, and the righteousness of the other covenant is by believing…
Christ Crucified, 586

This riddeth marches between the righteousness of the two covenants, that the one is inherent and consisteth in Works … the other is without us, and cometh by imputation… Philip. 3.9.
Revelation, 297

Understanding the distinction between the covenant of works and grace will lead us to say “Therefore I cannot be justified, or have righteousness by the works of the law” (Practical Use of Saving Knowledge II) and to flee from works righteousness to that salvation offered in the covenant of grace which is “by grace, through faith, not of ourselves but the gift of God.”

To close on a slightly controversial note I absolutely love John Murray as a theologian.  Aside from his brilliant general theological and exegetical work (esp. his Romans commentary) his emphasis on Sabbath observance, Psalm singing and (not least!) the free offer of the gospel are much needed in the reformed church of today.  Plus he was a highlander!  But this must be said, his tinkering with “one of the central architectonic patterns” of the reformed system in rejecting the covenant of works was, in my view at least, not helpful for reformed theology.  To be sure, for him, the difference was over terminology and not substance but terminology is not unimportant and in the hands of lesser mortals terminological differences can soon become theological ones.

The Gospel Message in 100 Words

July 10, 2008

Here is one of James Durham’s brief summaries of some cardinal gospel truths:

…the general truths contained in the gospel. As, that Adam was made according to God’s image; that he fell, and broke the covenant of works … that we are by that covenant under God’s curse; that Jesus Christ the Son of God, according to the covenant of redemption, entered himself cautioner for the elect; that he really died and paid their debt; that his purchase is made offer of in the gospel; and that according to the covenant of grace, there is a real absolution from sin, and an eternal happiness to be had at the great day through embracing of him.
Christ Crucifed, (rept. Dallas: Naphtali Press, 2001), 572

What is obvious from this quote is how integral covenant theology is to Durham’s conception of the gospel.  This sets up nicely the next three posts I’d like to do on the covenants of works, redemption and grace.

Rutherford: Is the preaching of the gospel Common Grace?

July 5, 2008

There are those who argue that it is “unreformed” to speak of a universal gospel promise to all who hear the preaching of the gospel.  There are also those who argue that it is “unreformed” to speak of the preached gospel as a common grace even to those who never believe.  By this standard Samuel Rutherford is unreformed.  Let me explain Rutherford’s position on all this and the gospel offer.

First Rutherford has no problem with the terminology of the gospel as an offer noting all who hear preaching “are under the call and offer of Christ in the Preached Gospel” (The Covenant of Life Opened (Edinburgh: Andrew Anderson, 1655), 86).

Second Rutherford argues that this preached Gospel contains a promise to all the hearers of it, even the reprobate.  Speaking on the basis of Acts 2:38-9, (Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call) he states:

“… the promise and word of the Covenant is preached to you … Now to Simon Magus and Demas, and numbers of such, Peter could not say the promise is made to you … if it only be made to really and actual believers … [but] an offer of Christ is made in the preached Gospel to you.  Then it cannot be denied, but the promise is to all the Reprobate in the Visible Church whether they believe or not, for Christ is preached and the promises of the Covenant are preached to Simon Magus, to Judas, and all the Hypocrites who stumble at the Word…”
Ibid, 87-8

This is really important for Rutherford as he argues that if there is no universal gospel promise there can be no “command … to hear the Gospel and the covenant offer made in Christ” and sinners can have no “warrant” to appropriate the gospel to themselves “until they be believers” and have a promise (Ibid, 89).  This would place sinners in a hopeless circle of despair i.e. I have no warrant to believe unless I believe but I cannot believe without some warrant (e.g. gospel promise to all).

Of course this general and conditional promise “believe and I will give you the Holy Spirit” is to be distinguished from the absolute promise made to the elect to give them a new heart which is not, by its very nature, common to all (Ibid, 92).

Thirdly it is necessary to distinguish between the will of God in the gospel offer and the will of God in the decree of election.  Rutherford notes that “the Reprobate in the Visible Church, be so under the Covenant of Grace, as some promises are made to them, and some mercies promised to them conditionally, and some reserved [i.e. to the elect] promises of a new heart, and of perseverance belong not to them.”  But this is not a problem because the conditional promises to all reveal “only the will of precept” (Ibid, 94).  So although “salvation be offered [to all] … [yet] it is intended in the Preached Gospel to none but to the elect..” (Ibid, 341).  The offer is the revealed will of God expressing his “approving, commanding and forbidding will … our obligation and duty … what is morally good and to be done” the later intention to only save the elect is God’s “purpose, or decree” (Ibid, 341-2).

Fourth this universal gospel promise or offer is an expression of God’s common grace and love.  Rutherford says that “It is a state of common grace to be within the visible church” i.e. to receive the gospel offer (Ibid, 107).  He further states, this external calling is of Grace and so Grace … For whosoever are called [externally], not because [they are] elect, but because freely loved of such a God… so are all within the Visible Church” (Ibid).

As an aside Rutherford speaks of the unconditional gospel promise where there is “no command” as follows:

… [Jer 31:31-33, Ezek 11:16-20, 36:25-27, Is 59:20-21] in a pure Evangelic way … the Lord speaks of the Covenant  … as principally it holds forth his Gospel promise, what he shall effectually do according to his decree … there is not one word of command in these places…
Ibid, 344

I need to read his explicit take on Luther as per Marty’s suggestions (too much fishing on holiday, not enough reading) but I suggest it is passages like this the Marrowmen were referring to as I mentioned here.