Archive for January, 2009

Luther the Second Paul?

January 31, 2009

One of my favourite books is the Marrow of Modern Divinty with Thomas Boston’s notes.  Has to be up there in my all time top ten.  It gets the core of the gospel right and therefore is always a tonic to the soul.  Boston’s notes also add much value to the book as he provides some balanced commentary where the text of the Marrow is liable to various interpretations.  One of his excellent comments relate to Luther which I quote in full:

That great man of God, a third Elias, and a second Paul, (if I may venture the expression) though he was no inspired teacher, was endued with a great measure of the spirit of them both, being raised up of God for the extraordinary work of the Reformation of religion from Popery … The lively savour he had of the truths of the gospel in his own soul, and the fervour of his spirit in delivering them, did indeed carry him as far away from the modern politeness of expression as the admiration and affection of this last is likely to carry us off from the former … for my part I would neither use some of these expressions of Luther’s, nor dare I so much as in my heart condemn them in him; the reason is onr; because of the want of that measure of the influences of grace I conceive he had when he uttered these words.

Luther was a big influence on the Marrow theology which kept the flame of the Reformed faith burning brightly through some dark times in Scottish church history.

John Murray on the Free Offer

January 24, 2009

Some interesting thoughts from the great defender of the free offer of the gospel:

It is the word of reconciliation that is committed to the church, the proclamation of the reconciliation once for all accomplished when ‘God was reconciling the world unto himself in Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:19).  This is the gospel message.  The corresponding exhortation addressed to man is ‘be ye reconciled to God’ (2 Cor. 5:20).  And the import of this plea on Christ’s behalf is that men should enter into the relation constituted by ‘the reconciliation’ and appropriate the grace that it establishes and conveys.  No office possesses greater dignity and glory than the proclamation of the message and of the plea.  For it is as ambassadors on behalf of Christ, and as of God beseeching through them, that the preachers of the evangel pray men to be reconciled to God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).  All that the atonement means and secures is that of which sinners dead in trespasses and sins are invited to become partakers.  And the demand of Christ’s commission to his ambassadors is that he, in the integrity of saviourhood and lordship as prophet, priest and king, be presented to lost men for their faith, love, and obedience.  In this presentation there is no restraint.  He can not be brought too close to men’s responsibility and opportunity…

Two immediate thoughts:
1) Murray is correct in highlighting the dignity that belongs to the office of the ministry.
2) Murray is correct that the gospel does not offer half a Christ – it offers the whole Saviour in all the glory of his person.

Eternal Justifcation (Just for a change!)

January 21, 2009

David Dickson in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith Truth’s Victory Over Error discusses the question “Are the elect justified, until the Holy Spirit in due time actually apply Christ to them?”  He answers “No (Col. 1:21-22, Titus 3:4-7).”  He explains:

Well then do not the Antinomians err who maintain that the elect are justified from eternity, or when the price of redemption was paid?


By what reason are they confuted?

1. Because all that are justified have been strangers and enemies to God, and the children of wrath (Eph. 2:3; Col. 1:21; Titus 3:3; 1 Cor. 6:10-11).
2. Because none are justified until they believe in Christ; Galatians 2:16, ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even when we believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.’

So Dickson and Rutherford and Durham are all on the same page on “eternal justification”.  I hope to post a comparison of Durham’s sermon on “come for all things are ready” with Rutherford’s but time is difficult to find for any substantial blog posts these days.

Eternal Justification Again (Rutherford v Crisp)

January 14, 2009

One thing that is good about reading Rutherford is that he is clear about what he believes and does not believe, about theologians he finds helpful and those he does not.  One of those theologians he finds unhelpful is Tobias Crisp of Christ Alone Exalted fame.  According to Rutherford, Crisp is a “libertine,” an “antinomian”, and in his sermons “you will find grace turned into wantonness” and “much … to depress and cry down holiness.”  Now I have not read Crisp, and I know the accuracy of Rutherford’s reading of Crisp has been challenged but, leaving that to one side, I want to pick up on Rutherford’s use of Crisp as a springboard to critique “eternal justification.”

The theme of “eternal justification” recurs at various points in Rutherford’s corpus but I’m limiting myself to The Trial and Triumph of Faith at this point.  Anyway, he makes his position clear, “justification is a real favour applied to us in time, just as sanctification … We cannot be justified before we believe.”  He continues:

Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, to the Galatians, taketh for granted, that justification is a work done in time, transient on us, not an immanent and eternal action remaining, either in God from eternity, or performed by Christ on the cross, before we believe … we are justified by faith, which certainly is an act performed in time … Satisfaction is indeed given to justice, by Christ on the cross, for all our sins, before we believe … but … that is not justification, but only the meritorious cause of it … Justification is a forensical sentence in time pronounced in the gospel, and applied to me now, and never till the instant now that I believe.

Accordingly, justification is not “formally an act of the understanding, to know a truth concerning myself.”  Rather, it is “an heart-adherence of the affections to Christ, as the Saviour of sinners, at the presence of which, a sentence of free absolution is pronounced.”  Rutherford explains how the work of Christ on the cross relates to justification:

Christ taketh away our sins on the cross, causatively, and by way of merit, while as he suffereth for our sins on the cross … Now, this was the paying of a ransom for us, and a legal translation of the eternal punishment of our sins; but it is not justification, nor ever called justification.  There is a sort of imputation of our sin to Christ, and a sum paid for me; but with leave, no formal imputation, no forensical, and no persona law-reckoning to me, who am not yet born, far less, cited before a tribunal and absolved from sin.  When Christ had completely paid the sum, Christ was justified legally, as a public person, and all his seed fundamentally, meritoriously, causatively, but not in their persons.

So, when in time the believer is justified by faith “the believer’s person is accepted, reconciled, justified, and really translated by a law change from one state to another … There is a real removal of all sins…”  What Rutherford is doing is steadfastly refusing to collapse time into eternity and turn life into nothing more than a “tale that is told, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

Like I said before, the blog will probably be focused on Rutherford for a few more posts now.

Samuel Rutherford – An Extract

January 6, 2009

Based on my own reading Samuel Rutherford was a better preacher (or rather communicator) than James Durham.  Now, by that I don’t mean that his content is better, or that his theology is better, or more pastoral etc – if anything I think Durham’s content is better.  It is just that Rutherford has a gift of illustration and turn of phrase that Durham simply did not have – which makes him easier on the ear (or in this case the eye) and more memorable.  Here is a short extract from Rutherford preaching the gospel offer (bear in mind he was a supralapsarian!):

“For all things are now prepared” … Thus is mercy offered to the people of the Jews, where their God made all external means (as the word and sacrament) ready for them.  So he says, in Isaiah v. 4, What could I have done more to my vineyard, that I have not done.  (Isaiah lxv. 2), He stretches out His arms, and holds them out all the day long.  (Prov. i. 20). “Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets.”  Here God is crying shouting, and casting out His arms, Matt. xxii. 37, Luke xix. 40, crying and shedding tears.  He would have them turn and live.  But as it is true of the Jews, so it is of us…
Rutherford, Communion Sermons, 66-7.

Obviously Rutherford is using anthropomirphic/anthropopaphic language – God does not literally cry!  But in using these expressions he is simply being faithful to the language of scripture.  There should be more to come on Rutherford over the next few weeks.  Although having said that Rutherford is the better preacher I actually prefer Durham’s sermon on the wedding feast to Rutherford’s – though both are profoundly edifying.

PS It is a lot easier to stop blogging than start again!