Archive for August, 2008

Rev 3:20 & Preparationism Again

August 30, 2008

I’ve discussed “preparationism” before here (along with some definition).  Recently while looking for some more Puritan works on Rev 3:20 I came accross this quote which combines an understanding of Rev 3:20 as a “conversionist appeal” with a disavowal of preparationism:

Fifthly, Get this principle riveted in your hearts, That the want of preparations or qualifications that many men lay great stress upon, shall be no impediment to hinder your soul’s interest in Christ, if you will but open to Christ, and close with Jesus Christ.  Rev 3:20, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open to me, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’  Pray tell me at whose door was this that Christ stood and knocked?  Was it not at the Laodicean’s door?  Was it not at their door that thought their penny was as good silver as any? that said they were rich and had need of nothing, when Christ tells them to their very faces, ‘that they were poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.’  None more unprepared, and unfitted for union and communion with Christ than these lukewarm Laodiceans; and yet the Lord Jesus is very ready and willing that such should have intimate communion and fellowship with him.

‘If any man will open, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’  The truth if this you have further evidenced, Prov i. 20-24, and viii. 1-6, and ix. 1-6.  All these scriptures with open mouth speak out the truth asserted, viz. That the want of preparations or qualifications shall not hinder the soul’s interest in Christ, if the soul will adventure itself by faith upon Christ.  I pray, what qualifications and preparations had they in Ezek. xvi., when God saw them in their blood, and yet that was a time of love…

Thomas Brooks, Works 3:204-5

So we see an evangelistic or conversionist use of Rev 3:20 in yet another Puritan and also we see Brook’s denial of “preparationism”.  None of this is to denigrate the importance of preaching the law or of conviction of sin – but neither of these is the warrant of faith.

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John Owen Conference

August 23, 2008

So this week was spent at the John Owen Today conference.  It was good to meet people I had only made contact with over the internet in the past (e.g. Marty Foord, Mark Jones and John Tweeddale) and to make new contacts.  This was the main benefit of the conference as not many of the papers were directly relevant to my thesis – I was unable to attend the most relevant paper (John Owen’s Gospel Offer: Well Meant or Not). 

The most thought provoking talk for me was the first of the conference by Prof VanAsslet on “COVENANT THEOLOGY AS RELATIONAL THEOLOGY: The Contributions of Johannes Cocceius and John Owen to A Living Reformed Theology”.  The particular point I found interesting was his stress on the relationship between the denial of a distinction between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace and eternal justification.  Essentially VanAsslet argued that a proper distinction between the covenant of redemption (the triune God’s eternal counsel) and the covenant of grace (the execution in time of this eternal counsel) helped prevent time (covenant of grace) being swallowed up in eternity (covenant of redemption) thus mitigating against eternal justification.  VanAsslet noted historically if the covenant of grace is collapsed into the covenant of redemption there is the danger of eternal justification emerging (e.g. Gill).

Moving away from the conference, and to keep this blog vaguely related to the free offer the question has again been raised in a recent article – just who is the gospel offered to and must they be sensible sinners.  (The inference of the article was sensible sinners).  Well lets see how James Durham would answer.  So Mr Durham, who is the gospel offered to:

“The person called to this, is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it so to every hearer, as it it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou etc … because where the Lord saith any man, without exception, who is he that can limit the same, where a person of whatsoever condition or qualification is found, that will accept of the offer according to the terms proposed?” (Revelation, Rept. Old Paths, 2000, 274).

Right so the gospel is offered to everyone who hears preaching.  But Mr Durham, are you really sure the gospel offer isn’t restricted to sensible sinners – I mean we would never offer the gospel to those most insensible of sinners, professed atheists, would we?

“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, Rept. Soli Deo Gloria, 60)

Finally I found out this week that there is an unpublished manuscript sermon by Samuel Rutherford on Rev 3:20!  I assume that Rutherford takes the same view of this verse as Durham i.e. it is an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers.  In which case this sermon is hugely significant for my thesis and would, perhaps, depending on its length, be worth transcribing and including as an appendix to my thesis.  I need to get up the the National Library of Scotland and read this sermon post haste!

John Knox and the Institutes of Calvin: A few Points of Contact in their Theology

August 18, 2008

Portrait of Knox copied from the original painting in the possession of Lord Torphichen at Calder HouseI’ve been working through V.E. D’Assonville’s work John Knox and the Institutes of Calvin: A few Points of Contact in their Theology (Durban, Nadal: Drakensberg Press,1969) this week.  While the book as a whole occasionally evidences a lack of theological insight and has some questionable historiographical methodology a number of important points are raised.

The first point he makes is regarding the influence of Calvin on the early theology of Knox i.e. before his time in Geneva.  D’Assonville comments that “Knox’s first doctrinal work … A vindication of the doctrine that the sacrifice of the mass is idolatry … follows Calvin quite closely in content, as well as citations. Whole dicta from the Institutes are such clear evidence that one can even prove to a great extent, which edition he used and in which language it was written.” (p2).

The second interesting point he brings out is evidence of Knox’s esteem of Calvin from his own writings i.e. D’Assonville quotes Knox speaking of “that most faithful servant of God, John Calvin” and stating that “we dissent not from the judgement of the reverend servant of Christ Jesus, John Calvin … I will faithfully recite his words and sentences in this behalf, written thus in his Christian Institutions.” This all from Knox’s preface to his work on Predestination (Knox, Works, 5:31; D’Assonville, p34).

The third useful point (especially for me!) is that he makes a statement almost identical to one I made in my thesis regarding constructing Knox’s doctrine of the free offer from his work on Predestination: “From beginning to end it [On Predestination] is written in highly controversial language, with little thetical [positive] exposition, since the subject is brought back to the antithetical conflict each time. How different Knox’s work may not perhaps have been, had he been instructed to choose his scheme himself.”  (p43)  The point I made was that the content of highly polemic works is often determined by the opponents views so it requires a lot of care to construct what positive doctrines are held from them, as they very clearly reveal what the author does not believe but not so clearly what he does believe, and in what proportion he would stress various truths.

Fourthly he has a helpful analysis of Calvin on the difference between the covenant of grace in the Old and the New Testaments: “With this it is clear that [for Calvin] there are really not two covenants but two administrations of one and the same covenant of Mercy. It may also be called two phases. And if we see this as two administrations, or phases, it once again points to a difference. But now this difference does not lie in the substance (sub-stantia) but in the manner of administration (modus administrationis). Calvin expresses this difference in the mode of exercise in the following points: 1. In the Old Testament God manifested the celestial heritage in earthly blessings … 2. The Old Testament “exhibiting only the image of truth, while the reality was absent, the shadow of the substance …” 3. There is a difference between the Law, “calling a doctrine of the letter” and the Gospel “a doctrine of the spirit.” However, this is not a difference in substance as of the Old Testament was not also an “Evangelium”… 4. The Old Testament is a testament of bondage and the New a testament of liberty… 5. The Old Testament is a covenant with one people only, viz. Israel; the New includes all peoples whom the Gospel of Christ reaches.” (p72).

Fifthly he highlights that Calvin held membership of the external visible covenant should not be conflated with election: “It becomes clearly apparent, over and over again, both from his Institutes and, in particular, from his commentaries on the Scriptures in which he refers repeatedly to [in] the Institutes, that, in his view covenant and election do not coincide! He does not accept that a child of the covenant is ipso facto elected for salvation. (Inst. III.xxi.7)” (p79).

Sixthly he demonstrates Knox held to the general offer of the gospel, “That there is a General vocation, by which the world by some manner of means is called to the knowledge of God, and a vocation of purpose, which appertaineth to God’s children only, I find in Scriptures.” (Knox, Works, 5:117).  He also notes the connection between infant baptism and the free offer or promise of the gospel, “… Knox (just like Calvin) never contended that the Baptism is a sign and seal of the election, but of the promise of the Gospel … And if the promise of the Gospel, and not individual election, is the basis of the covenant, the concept of the church must also necessarily be determined thereby.” (p80-1).

Finally he closes his work with a statement I’m sure all those who have engaged in historical research can agree with, “…objective historical analysis is still one of the most difficult tasks of the researcher.” (p91)

I’m off to Cambridge on Tuesday for the John Owen Conference which lasts until Friday at which point I’ll be joined by Ruth (+ children!) for a long weekend in Cambridge.  Should be (DV) a nice week of recharging the batteries.

Eternal Justification?

August 13, 2008

About the most worthwhile thing in R.T. Kendal’s book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979) is the following quote from Rutherford on eternal justification:

‘justification in God’s decree and purpose from eternity, is no more justification than Creation, sanctification, glorification, the crucifying of Christ, and all things that fall out in time; for all these were in the eternal purpose of God.’
Samuel Rutherford, Survey of Spiritual Antichrist (1648), ii.19.
p193

Along the same lines good Mr Durham says the following:

It is true, God’s purpose and decree of pardoning sin, is Eternal, as all the decrees are; But this actual pardoning of a sinner is no more from Eternity, than his creating or glorifying men, yea, in the same decree, he hath proposed the giving of both Repentance and Pardon, in the method laid down.
Commentary on Revelation (rept. Old Paths, 2000), 316

I’ve long been meaning to post on Durham and ‘eternal justification’ as he takes the opportunity to dissent from the idea a few times in his writings.  Maybe at some point I’ll find the time to write a post on it…

Durham on the Ministry

August 11, 2008

James Durham had strong views on the snares and difficulties of the Pastoral ministry.  Here are some of his insights:

Of all men in the world, Ministers are most obnoxious to this temptation of vanity, and seeking approbation from others; because, most of their appearances are in public before others, and that in the exercise of some Gift of the mind, which is supposed to hold forth the inward worth of a person more than any other thing. Now, when this meeteth with applause, it holdeth out a people’s estimation of such a person’s worth, which has a great subtlety in pleasing and tickling of him, and so is ready to incline him to rest satisfied therein.
p227

In anything it is difficult to remain humble but according to Durham it is especially difficult in the ministry.  Accordingly Durham notes:

Hence we see, That as often the most tender Christian is under the cross, so it is the most lively Minister who laboureth most under the sense of his own insufficiency and shortcomings in Gifts … who meeteth with most disrespect, and many disappointments amongst the people and such like; these are often blessed of God to keep such a person lively … O but Ministers that have a name, and some seeming countenance in the exercise of their Gifts, great applause and acceptation amongst the people, had need to be humble and watchful, lest they be liable to this charge, Thou hast a name that thou livest, but are dead!
p228

On a note more related to my thesis:

Many Ministers are not travailing in birth to beget souls, and to have success as to the Salvation of many, as well as outward fruits; but are at best studying to exonerate themselves as having being diligent in their duty.
p227

Alas, that Durham’s words are probably as true today as when he wrote them.

Oftentimes Ministers take more pains in external duties of their Ministry that are obvious to the view of others, that they do in the inward secret duties of Christianity upon their own hearts, such as self-examination, that making of their own calling and election sure, the keeping of themselves in the love of God, the exercising of Faith, Repentance etc.
p227

No doubt this is true of us all.  It is so easy for all outwardly to appear well while our inward spiritual life is withering away.

Durham criticises those who bring “forth of high notions and great words … yet in the meantime there was no care how to provide food … for hungry … souls.
p229

So he says:

…that is truly a learned Pastor, who can make Spiritual mysterious Truths most plain and palatable to the simplest hearer…
p255

Again in line with my thesis:

The great shot of all Preaching would be driven constantly, both in public and in private, to wit, the edification and salvation of the people, and the forming of Christ in them by travailing, as it were, in birth for that effect.
p248

Finally Durham gives advice which should be a watchword for ever ministry:

…it is not Gifts that commendeth a Minister to Christ, but faithfulness in improving the measure which he hath…
p249

Thomas Manton on the Ministry

August 4, 2008

One of the points I bring up in my thesis regards Durham’s view of the work of the ministry and how that relates to the free offer.  For Durham the great goal and aim of the ministry is as follows:

The great work of the ministers of the gospel is to invite unto, and to endeavour to bring this marriage between Christ and souls to a close.
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p55

Because of this understanding of the ministry the free offer is obviously of foundational importance for Durham.  Preaching on one of Durham’s favourite “free offer” texts (2 Cor 5:20) Thomas Manton says the following:

The great business of the ministers of the gospel is to persuade men to reconciliation with God.
Works, 13:295

Here Manton and Durham are in perfect alignment.  Manton expands on this later in his sermon, highlighting the solemn responsibility of ministers to discharge this great duty of theirs:

These messengers [preachers] are under a charge to manage God’s message with all wisdom and faithfulness, and diligence, Mark xvi. 15,16, to preach the gospel to every creature, to rich and poor, learned and unlearned.  And woe be to them if they be not diligent, warning every man, and teaching every man, that they may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, Col i.28 … If we have respect to our Lord we must be diligent in offering peace to all that are willing to repent and believe … You know the temptations, prejudices, and hatred of those you have to do with; therefore pray them to be reconciled.
Manton, Works, 13:302

Those who win souls are wise (Prov 11:30), may the Lord raise up preachers whose great desire is to be used by the Lord to turn many to righteousness (Dan 12:3).

On a related note I’m beginning to settle on studying Manton in depth when I finish Durham.  I think exploring Manton’s theology relative to the orthodoxy of Owen and the views of the proponents of Rigide Calvinisme in a Softer Dresse (Baxter, Howe etc) would be a worthwhile piece of work.