Durham on Dort, the Objects of Predestination, and Unity

Was Durham Supra of Infra?  Hard to tell as most of his comments about this topic are in sermons where he dismisses the dispute as not edifying (bear in mind the context).  Of the few who have discussed this most have him tagged as infra but I’m not so sure we can really say  (and the drift of thought in Scotland at the time was probably Spura e.g. Rutherford and P. Gillespie).  Anyway here is an interesting passage from him on the liberty he wants to see on this matter in relation to Dort:

It is not to be thought that all orthodox divines are of the same mind in all things that are decreed in the Synod of Dort, particularly in reference to the object of predestination; yet the synod has not made any division by censuring of such, neither have these who differ from that determination broken off communion with the church, but have kept communion, and union in the church has not been thereby interrupted.  Yet those who apprehend themselves to be right cannot but think the other is in an error, and if this forbearance is not allowed, there can never be union in the church, except we should think that they behoved all to be in the same mind about such things, and there should never be a decision in a church, but when there is absolute harmony.

What is he saying here:

  • Not everyone who deserves to be classified “orthodox” agrees with Dort on the objects of predestination.  I assume Durham is of the opinion that Dort specified the objects of the decree of election in a broadly infralapsarian manner.
  • He believes Dort was within it rights to specify an answer to the question of the objects of predestination.
  • He commends the Synod for making that determination in a way that has not lead to division in the church.  I assume this relates to his understanding of the intentof Dort which must be that they wished to state their understanding of the reformed view without the intent of driving the other reformed view from the Church.
  • He commends those who “lost” over the objects of predestination at Dort with not disrupting the unity of the Church.
  • He correctly observes that there are issues where there can be disagreement without division/disunity.  Without some latitude on secondary issues there could be no unity and we would be in the position of denomination of no more that 3 churches.
  • The church can declare it’s mind on an issue (not related to the fundamentals) without necessitating that all agree with that decision on pain of discipline.

I think Durham in general combines well a desire for doctrinal precision and a determination to uphold that precision with a desire for the unity of orthodox believers.  See his Treatise on Scandal which if put into practice would leave us with less divisions in Reformed Presbyterianism than we currently have!

David Lachman’s helpful introduction to the modern reprint is available here:


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