Archive for November, 2008

Musculus on the Unity of the Covenant of Grace

November 28, 2008

Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to PerkinsI’ve been slowly working through Richard Muller’s Christ and the DecreeIt is always humbling reading Muller as the range and grasp of his historical understanding is monumental.  If you want to know about Christology and Predestination in reformed thought from Calvin to Perkins then you need to read this book.  However by way of warning, to understand Muller a substantial dictionary is required (think sesquipedalian) as well as a copy of his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

Anyway as part of reading this book I came across this helpful quote on the unity of the covenant of grace from the little known (today) reformed theologian Wolfgang Musculus (enjoy!):

There are three principal times which embrace the whole world: the first which was before the law, the second under the law, the third after the law.  Then also there are three designated persons, the leaders of the separate times, Abraham, Moses, Christ.  And each time had its own dispensation [administration] of religion, which is called in scripture berith, i.e., pactum or foedus.  It does not follow, however, that there are three substantially distinct covenants (foedera) as far as the salvation of mankind is concerned.  There is one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. There is one Lord, saviour and redeemer of all, Christ Jesus; one Holy Spirit; one kingdom of the elect and blessed prepared since the beginning of the world; one grace of heavenly calling; one faith; one hope of life eternal; there is one body, one people, and one universal church of the elect properly so-called, which from the beginning of the world to its end embraces all the elect and the faithful: and (thus) there is a single and perpetual covenant of God with the elect in all things firm and sure, and there is one ongoing worship (pietas) and justification of believers.  Truly, the dispensation of this one covenant, grace, faith, church, religion and worship is not one and perpetual: rather it has been instituted in several ways and according to the quality of the times by the counsel of divine wisdom.
Wolfgang Musculus, Loci Communes, Chapter 14, p133b

What is Offered in the Gospel? (According to Durham)

November 24, 2008

What exactly is being offered in the gospel? 

In summary, Durham states that “Christ Jesus Himself, and His benefits” is what is offered.   That is, all the Son had done to redeem sinners is offered to us in the gospel, “This good and gracious bargain that is made between the Father and the Son, which is wholly mercy, is brought to the market and exposed to sale on exceedingly easy and condescending terms, and that to bankrupt sinners.”  To expand on this “peace and pardon, grace and glory, even all good things [are] offered to you freely!”  Or to phrase it differently, “Tell me, what is it that you would have?  Is it remission of sins?  ‘Tis here.  Would you have the covenant and promises?  Here they are: Is it Christ Himself that you would have, because you dare not trust a promise without a Cautioner?  Here He is.  Or would you have heaven and be eternally happy?  ‘Tis also here.”  

So Christ Jesus and all that he has done for the salvation of his people and the fruits of his death are offered to us in the gospel.  To quote John Murray, “it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel.”

This is a short extract from the talk I gave at the Scottish Reformation Society in Inverness.  I am hoping to get a slightly ammended version of the lecture published in the summer.  Watch this space.

PS Blogging may be slow over the month of December as we are moving to Cambridge shortly and internet access will be limited for the first few weeks.  Normal service will resume in the new year, DV.

Charles Hodge on the Free Offer

November 15, 2008

Charles Hodge has an interesting sermon on 1 Tim 2:4 (Who will have all men to be saved) in his Princeton Sermons (rept. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979, 18-19).  There is much in this sermon that is important for understanding the free offer.

Hodge begins by explaining a key hermeneutical principle, “when a passage admits of two interpretations, the choice between them is to be determined … by the analogy of Scripture.  If one interpretation contradicts what the Bible elsewhere teaches, and another accords with it, then we are bound to accept the latter.”  This is standard.  Unsurprisingly, given Hodge leads with this he believes that 1 Tim 2:4 is capable of two interpretations [1].  First, “God wills, in the sense of purposing or intending, the salvation of all men.”  Second, “God desires the salvation of all men” [2].

Hodge argues that the first interpretation is impossible. He reasons as follows, “the purposes of God are immutable” but “all men are not saved” so to say that “God intends and purposes what he knows is not to happen is a contradiction.”  So, by necessity the second interpretation must be regarded as true, namely that “God desires the salvation of all men.”  But what does Hodge mean by this?

Well to declare that God desires the salvation of all men “means … just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies [are] over all his works … This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and on the work of redemption.”  Hodge cites, Ezek 33:11, Ezek 18:23, Lam 3:33, the parables of the prodigal son, the lost coin, the lost sheep and Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.  The sum of these verses is “that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when he permits them to perish … it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise.”  Hodge argues his understanding of the passage is correct in that “It does not contradict the Scriptures … or make God mutable or impotent … It agrees with the fact, that God is benevolent…”

Hodge concludes with some reasons why the truth that God desires the salvation of all men is important:

1) “Because all religion is founded on the knowledge of God and on the proper apprehension of his character.  We would err fatally if we conceived of God as malevolent.”
2) “[Because] the conviction that God is love, that he is a kind Father, is necessary to encourage sinners to repent.  The prodigal hesitated because he doubted his father’s love.  It was his hope that encouraged him to return.”  Hodge here is in perfect harmony with the greatest of Puritan preachers Thomas Manton, “There is nothing so necessary to draw us to repentance as good thoughts of God.” (Works, 21:463).
3) “[Because] This truth is necessary to restore our confidence in God.  It is the source of gratitude and love.”

Now in giving Hodge’s view here I am not necessarily endorsing his actual understanding of 1 Tim 2:4 (and far less saying it is the only understanding compatible with the well meant offer).  But what I am saying is that the thrust of his sermon is vitally important, and thoroughly reformed.

On another note, I was up at the Inverness branch of the Scottish Reformation Society this week giving a lecture on “James Durham and the Free Offer of the Gospel.”  The lecture was well received.  I don’t think it was recorded but I may try and turn the substance of the lecture into a journal article.

[1] It is interesting that Hodge doesn’t even give as an option in his sermon that “all men” does not mean “all men” but “all classes of men”.

[2] Maybe good old John Murray wasn’t such an innovator in maintaining God desires the salvation of all men after all 🙂

The Biblical Basis for the Free Offer

November 8, 2008

What scriptural texts did Durham use to justify his definition of the free offer of the gospel?  Some key texts are as follows:

2 Cor 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”  For instance speaking of the duties of ministers Durham states, “it is their commission to pray them, to whom they are sent, to be reconciled; to tell them that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (as it is 2 Cor. 5:19-20), and in Christ’s stead request them to embrace the offer of reconciliation … This is ministers work, to pray people not to be idle hearers of the gospel…”[1]

Matt 22:4, “all things [are] ready: come unto the marriage.”  Durham states, “The offer of this gospel … is set out under the expression of inviting to a feast; and hearers of the gospel are called to come to Christ, as strangers or guests are called to come to a wedding fest (Matt. 22:2-4). All things are ready, come to the wedding, and etc.  Thus the gospel calls not to an empty house that [lacks] meat, but to a banqueting house where Christ is made ready as the cheer…”[2]


Is 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Durham expands on this verse, “The offer of the gospel is … set out often under the similitude or expression of a market where all the wares are laid forth on the stand (Isa. 55:1; Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, etc.).  And lest it should be said, or thought, that the proclamation is only to the thirsty, and such as are so and so qualified; you may look to what follows, Let him that has no money come; yea, come, buy without money and without price.”[3]


Rev 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”   Perhaps a verse that may surprise some of you, but Rev 3:20 was understood almost universally by the Puritans as an evangelistic appeal to unconverted sinners.  Durham it typical when he states, “The offer of this gospel is … set out under the similitude of a standing and knocking and calling hard at sinners’ doors (Rev 3:20, Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me) … which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks hands.”[4]  Or again, “He says from there, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’  It is as if he had said, ‘I come in my gospel to woo, and, if any will consent to take me on the terms on which I offer myself, I will be theirs.’”[5]


Ezekiel 18:31-32, “why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”  Durham explains, “Faith … is well expressed in the Catechism, to be a receiving of Christ as he is offered in the gospel.  This supposes that Christ is offered to us, and that we are naturally without him.  The gospel comes and says, ‘why will you die, O house of Israel?  Come and receive a Saviour.’”[6]


Matthew 23:37, Luke 19:41-2, Christ’s lament over Jerusalem, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.”  Durham uses this verse as follows, “Sometimes he complains (as John 5:40), Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life; and sometimes weeps and moans, because sinners will not be gathered (as Luke 19:41-42 and Matt 23:37).  Can there be any greater evidences of reality in any offer?”[7] Another example of Durham’s use of this verse is his statement that “[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.”[8]


Rev 22:17, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Durham uses this verse as follows, “grace says, Ho, come, and (Rev 22:17), Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.  It is not only, to say with reverence, those whom he wills, but it is whosoever will…”[9] Another of Durham’s uses of this verse is “This is our Lord’s farewell, that He may press the offer of the Gospel and leave that impression as it were, upon record amongst the last words of this Scripture; and his scope is to commend this Book and the offers He hath made in it, as most free and on terms of grace, wherein Christ aimeth much to draw souls to accept it…”[10]


I hope that gives you a flavour of some of the biblical basis Durham adduces for the free offer of the gospel.

[1] Durham, Christ Crucified, 79

[2] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80

[3] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80

[4] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80 

[5] Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 46

[6] Durham, Christ Crucified, 96-7

[7] Durham, Christ Crucified, 125 

[8] Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 55

[9] Durham, Christ Crucified, 125 

[10] Durham, Revelation, 992