Archive for the ‘Common Grace’ Category

The Week that Was… and Manton at last

September 22, 2008

So, no Thomas Manton so far but fear not for he is below.  But the absence of any posting was firstly due to accepting a job in London so we can go and live in Cambridge.  This decision was a hard one to make but it meant we can be back in a presbyterian church so we accepted.  Also Cambridge is a much better location while I am studying.  This meant a whole load of work before we could put the house on the market. 

Then along came appendicitis.  We were meant to go off on holiday on Saturday but I woke up with severe stomach pains and ended up in hospital instead of on the train to Scotland.  So I have a week of thesis writing up to look forward to instead of a holiday!

So, enough of me – on to Manton.  I’ve often thought that one of the hardest texts to preach on (bearing in mind WCF 3:8 – “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel”) is Exodus 4:21 “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”  How can the doctrine that “God himself hath a hand in the hardening of obstinate sinners” (Manton, Works 17:221) be preached?  I think Thomas Manton shows us how (Works, 17:221-240). 

Manton points out an important theological point we must safeguard when we come to verses like this, “God is not and cannot be the author of sin … God hath not brought upon any necessity of sinning; and God that is good, cannot be the cause of evil” (17:226).  Allied to this “In the explication of this matter … we must not say too much, lest we leave a stain and blemish upon the divine glory.” (17:226).  That is “God infuseth no hardness and sin as he infuseth grace.  All influences from heaven are sweet and good, not sour…” (17:226).

However, we must also avoid saying “too little” on this matter.  We must proceed with care and caution to explain what this hardening actually means.  So we must not confine hardening to “mere idle permission” or mere “desertion and suspension of grace … [though] this is a part but not all” (17:227).  But positively hardening is “desertion,” it is a delivering them “up to the power of Satan,” it is “an active providence, which disposeth and propoundeth such objects as, meeting with a wicked heart, make it more hard” (17:227-229).

How do we apply this to ourselves?  “God delighteth not in judgement, and therefore he hath made a precedent once for all; here is Pharaoh set up, that all succeeding ages may stand in fear.  God would not have us learn to our bitter cost, but take example by others. (17: 230).  Although there are many other applications, surely this is the classic application of Ex 4:21.

Intertwined with this doctrine of God’s hardening is the doctrine of common grace.  Manton lists one of the causes of God’s hardening as “apostacy from grace received” (17:235).  Heb 6:4-6 is the key text here.  What I want to note is that despite the abuse made of God’s gifts and the hardening and condemnation they lead to, still the original gifts are called common grace.  The abuse does not erase the original nature of the gift.

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.

“The Doctrine of Conversion in the Westminster Standards With Reference to the Theology of Herman Hoeksema”

March 29, 2008

This is the title of a helpful article by David Silversides in Reformed Theological Journal 9 (1993), 62-84.  Here are some thoughts and quotations I’ve gleaned from the article.

Now, justification is a real favour applied to us in time, just as sanctification in the new birth: ‘and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified’ (1 Cor. 6:11). Then were they sometime not washed.
Samuel Rutherford, Trial & Triumph of Faith, 1845, 91.

The Scots theologians of the mid 17th C seem to me to be quite opposed to any notion of eternal justification.  Things were not quite so uniform on this in England e.g. Thomas Goodwin.

The condition of the Covenant is faith: holiness and sanctification are the condition of the covenanters … This do was the condition of the Covenant of Works. This believe is the condition of this Covenant …
Samuel Rutherford, ibid, 87

The whole notion of “conditions” relating to the covenant of grace/gospel offer is something that is very interesting.  The Reformed divines (c.f. WLC Q&A 32) of the mid 17th C used the language of conditionality frequently but what they meant by “conditions” must be carefully understood.  I need to spend a fair amount of time expanding on this in the thesis which means a blog post on it will appear sometime.  Durham uses the language of “condition” everywhere but in one significant comment he says he doesn’t like the word very much!

God’s decree of election or His intention to save me, is not the proper object of my faith, but … Christ holdeth forth his rope to drowned and lost sinners, and layeth out an open market of rich treasures of heaven; do thou take it for granted, without any further dispute, as a principle, after to be made good, that Christ hath thoughts of grace and peace concerning thee, and do but now husband well the grace offered, lay hold on Christ, ay while he put thee away from Him, and if there be any question concerning God’s intention of saving thee, let Christ first move the doubt, but do not thou be the first mover.
S. Rutherford, A Sermon Preached to the Honourable House of Commons, 1643.
See also Trial p300.

A good example of gospel preaching.

If the anti-common grace position were correct, then Christ as God in no sense loved the reprobate even while they were in this world. As a man ‘made under the law’ the command “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” applied to Christ. Only two options are open. The first is an heretical division of the person of Christ, by maintaining that Christ loved only the elect in His divine nature but loved all men in His human nature. Clearly this must be rejected. The alternative is to say that Christ, in both natures, loved the elect only and that our obligation to love all men is founded on our ignorance of who the elect are. This means that we are required to love those whom God does not. Moreover, Scripture bases our obligation to love all men not on our ignorance of God’s mind, but the knowledge of it that we should have and our duty to be patterned after Him (Matt. 5:23-48).

Stark “either or” dilemmas are often double-edged swords but the above quote from Rev Silversides gets to the heart of a profound Christological problem for deniers of common love/grace.

… the Westminster Divines as a whole held to what became known as the doctrine of common grace in the sense that the Lord, in a variety of ways, displays his favour and lovingkindness even to the non-elect in this present life … The preaching of the Gospel and the overture of mercy which it includes is one part of that display of lovingkindness.

A sound piece of historical analysis.  This is what the Standards teach.

He offereth in the Gospel, life to all … [this is] God’s moral complacency of grace, revealing an obligation that all are to believe if they would be saved; and upon their own peril be it, if they refuse Christ … Christ cometh once with good tidings to all, elect and reprobate.
Rutherford, Trial, 129ff

Another good extract from Rutherford.

On another note my chapter “The Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Confession” is now finished!  Hurray!  Required before the end of June – two chapters on James Durham.  This is the meat of my thesis and should be a pleasure to write.

Weekly Update 42 – Robert Rollock (1555-99)

February 16, 2008

I came across an announcement of the reprinting of Robert Rollock’s Select Works this week.  That is good news – assuming [!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png][!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png]people will read Rollock as opposed to letting him gather dust on their shelves!  This has spurred me on to post some things from Rollock, who has long been recognised as an important figure in the development of Covenant theology e.g. Sherman Isbell notes, “Rollock was a seminal early exponent of covenant theology in Scotland” (Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, p726).

Rollock makes certain key points when discussing the free offer of the gospel.  They will be familiar to long term readers of the blog.

  1. Rollock emphasises the centrality of the free offer of the gospel for the ministry and preaching.  He noted that the “frail and poor creatures” who hold “such a high, excellent, and glorious office” are “to offer salvation to them who before were condemned and castaways… to the end that the gospel and the promises of mercy may profit and edify them.” (Sermon XVII in Select Works, 1:531).  This is expressed elsewhere in the direction “that they in their ministry might declare, and make manifest the gentleness and long-suffering of God towards all men…” (Of the Resurrection of Christ in Select Works, 2:532).
  2. Rollock distinguishes the free offer of the gospel and the effectual call which cannot be resisted, as he notes “the promise of the covenant, which is offered unto us in Christ, is of the mere grace of God… [this] grace may be called the grace of our vocation; this grace is common to all that are called, elect and reprobate.”  However, there is also “grace in our effectual calling [which] may be called the grace of faith, appertaining only to the elect; for it is given only to those that are predestinated to life everlasting to believe.”  Rollock explains in more detail, “For whereas there is a double mercy of God in our effectual vocation, to wit: First, an offering of Christ with all his benefits in the covenant of grace, or the Gospel ; secondly, faith to receive Christ being offered, (under faith I comprehend hope and repentance, which follow faith), therefore, in our effectual calling two graces must be understood ; the grace of our vocation, or of offering Christ unto us, and the grace of faith, or of receiving Christ by us.”  (Rollock, Select Works, 1:269-71).  Note Rollock’s identification of the external offer with grace, which even the reprobate receive.
  3. Rollock affirms that the free offer of the gospel is not an offer that is just presented to men in general, rather it is a specific offer and conditional promise to each hearer: “… it is to be noted of this object of faith, that it is special, that is, offered to me, to thee, and to every man specially and distinctly.”  So although it is true that “the promises and sentences of the Gospel be conceived generally, yet it is certain, that they are to be received particularly by every one, as if they were spoken to every one in several… the promise of the Covenant of Grace is conceived generally… but it is to be understood particularly and singularly by every one, as if it had been spoken to me, or to thee.”  This particular offer is important for assurance: “For seeing mercy is offered particularly to thee and to me, &c., and I again assent particularly to it; now am I certain of that mercy that it is mine specially, seeing I do already by faith and special application possess it.” (Rollock, Select Works, 1:197,214,217).

Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for Rollock’s Select Works.  They are well worth purchasing.

Weekly Update 29 – Obadiah Sedgwick

November 17, 2007

I’ve covered Rev 3:20 a few times on the blog, but it is a very important verse for understanding the free offer of the gospel in the C17 and so I don’t apologise for posting on it again.  This week I’ll share some of my notes on Obadiah Sedgwick’s work The Riches of Grace Displayed In the offer and tender of Salvation to poor Sinners (London, Printed by T.R. and E.M. for Adoniram Byfield at the Bible in Popes head Alley near Lumbard Street, 1657).  It is a classic Puritan study of Rev 3:20.

Sedgwick (1559/1600-1658) was an active member of the Westminster Assembly and a Presbyterian.  1658 is the same year that Durham died.

In reading the following, bear in mind that Sedgwick begins his exposition by explicitly denying that he is teaching free will or common sufficient grace, p9-12.  (Please note – when you read a Puritan/Reformed author denying common sufficient grace that is not the same as denying common grace.  Reformed/Puritan authors to a man held to the language of common grace while they denied the Arminian construct of common sufficient grace [every man is given enough grace to believe if he chooses to; the choice is his].  There is a difference!)

Now on to some of Sedgwick’s interesting statements:

1) Have you ever heard a preacher say “Christ is more willing to save you, than you are to be saved” and secretly winced and muttered “Arminian” under your breath?  Hear Sedgwick, “What is meant by Christ’s standing at this door… Christ is a thousand times more willing to come to thee, than thou art to come to Christ…” p4-5.  He also speaks of Christ’s “earnest desire” for admittance p5.

2) Rev 3:20 in its context is addressed to “a company of meer hypocrites” p13.  They were “a most destitute people: not a dot of goodness, nor any one rag of grace, nor good in any one part…” p14.  You get the picture.  Rev 3:20 is addressed in its original context to the unsaved.  Given this is what they believed is it any wonder that the Puritans applied this text evangelistically?

3) How does Christ address these unsaved hypocrites?  Unspeakable condescension – he begs!  “Yet at their doors does Christ stand and knock, He begs at the doors of beggars, mercy begs to misery, happiness begs to wretchedness, riches begs to poverty…” p15.

4) Sedgwick poses the question, “He [Christ] hath stood at our doors more than one day or night, more than one week or two, more than one year or two, more than twenty years or two.  Would he do this if he were not willing to come in and save us?”  p22.  It is not “unreformed” to speak of Christ’s willingness to save sinners.

5) Sedgwick pointedly applies the text to unbelievers: “The first use shall be a reproof unto all such who do shut the doors against Jesus Christ, against a willing Christ, a saving Christ, a Christ that stands and knocks… they are guilty of the greatest sin in the world, they despise the greatest, the kindest, yea, the only salvation of their souls.” p28.  They are guilty of rejecting Christ’s “offers” p30.

6) Sedgwick believes that an inability to see the willingness of Christ to save sinners is the root cause why many refuse to come to Christ even though they see that they are sinners: “The truth is, all that the troubled soul urgeth… is the questioning of Christ’s willingness to save it; All those objections of greatness of sinnings, of want of deeper humblings, and want of holiness, of long resistances… Arise from this suspicion, Christ is not willing to save sinners…”  p33.  That is why the free offer of the gospel is so important pastorally.

7) Sedgwick comments that “Jesus Christ waits long upon sinners, and earnestly labours with them for entrance and admission”.  p37.  Two examples Sedgwick gives of this are Christ’s thirty years in the flesh knocking upon the hearts of the Jews, and Noah preaching for one hundred and twenty years before going into the ark.  Of course, in both these instances, the knocking was rejected which confirms that Sedgwick believes Rev 3:20 applies to unbelievers who ultimately refuse to come to Christ.

8 ) The free offer in Rev 3:20 is an expression of love.  “What do these passages hold forth, but the great love of Christ, the long expectation of Christ, the earnest importunity of Christ with sinners to come and be happily conjoined with him.” p38.

9) Christ is sorrowful when his offer is rejected. “Christ hath stood at thy doors, with commandments in one hand, and with entreaties in another hand, he hath stood at thy doors with promises in his mouth, and with tears in his eyes; he hath stood at thy door with heaven in his fingers, and sorrow in his soul; with arms of mercy to clap thee, if thou openest; with floods of compassion to bewail thee, if thou refusest” p44-45.

10) Now in all this are we only speaking of Christ as man?  Where does the divine nature come into this?  “Christ is God, and because he is God he is merciful, willing to show mercy to sinners in misery, and unwilling to destroy them… God is a long-suffering God, and so is Christ; He is a much-suffering Christ, and a long-suffering Christ. 2 Pet. 3.9 The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. It is the greatest of mercy to be willing to pity or pardon sinners, and it is the greatest of goodness, to offer help unto them, And it is the greatest of patience to wait long on them.”  p49-50.  Note the universal application of 2 Peter 3:9.

11) Sedgwick comments: “Of the just cause of a sinner’s damnation: It is of and from himself: never lay it on God’s decrees, or want of means and helps.  What could I have done more for my vineyard, &c? Isa. 5. So what could Christ do more? he calls, and crys, and knocks, and entreats, and waits, and weeps, and yet you will not accept of him, or salvation by him? … I was offered Christ and grace, I felt him knocking by his Spirit but I slighted him, grieved him, rejected him, and now it is just with God to shut the door of mercy against me…” p55-6

12) Sedgwick believed that the “offer” is equivalent to a “beseeching” and that every hearer of the gospel has a duty to receive Christ.  p57.

13) The free offer comes to all who hear the gospel, not only to “sensible sinners” for: “There is a latitude, a full latitude in the offer of Christ and grace: No sinner (under the Gospel) is excluded by Christ, but by himself.  Although the Application of Christ be definite and particular, yet the proclamation is indefinite and general…” p76-7.

There is lots more in Sedgwick but I’ll stop here.  How typical is Sedgwick in all this?  Well the evangelistic application of Rev 3:20 was standard C17 fare and most of his language quoted above could have come from any host of C17 Reformed preachers/theologians, including Durham.  On some things e.g. the correct exposition of 2 Pet 3:9 there would be differences but overall what I’ve quoted above is pretty unexceptional stuff for the C17 Reformed.

Next week I’ll probably post on Manton’s exposition of Ezek 18:23.  Lots of important stuff in there.

Weekly Update 17 – John Ball

August 25, 2007

If William Ames is not that well known, then we may say John Ball (1585-1640) is almost totally forgotten.  Yet he was one of the most influential Covenant Theologians of his time in England.  His works on covenant theology are recognised as a significant influence on the covenant theology of the Westminster Standards.  Recently one of his books, A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace, has been reprinted:

This book was commended by six men who were commissioners at the Westminster Assembly. He was very well respected in his day. What does this influential Puritan make of the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel? (A similar story to last week – I don’t profess to be an expert on Ball so any corrections are welcome).

Every man called, whether he hearken to God’s calling or not, is bound to believe that Christ is offered to him as Saviour, so as if he believe he shall be saved: but that Christ died for him in particular for the impetration of righteousness… that he is not bound to believe…
Ball, John. A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London: Printed by G. Miller for Edward Brewster on Ludgate hill near Fleet-Bridge at the Signe of the Bible, 1645, p222-223

Ball sets out clearly that he does not believe in “universal redemption” and correspondingly we are not called by the gospel to place our faith in the tenet that Christ died for me.  Rather we are called to lay hold of the offered Saviour, and in believing we shall be saved.  As we see his views of the free offer, bear in mind he held to a definite atonement.  Also note Christ is offered even to those who never “hearken to God’s calling”.

There is one act of faith, whereby we believe that sins are pardonable: this is builded upon this ground, that Christ is an all-sufficient and efficient Saviour, in whose name Salvation is freely offered, by faith to be received. There is another act of faith whereby we rest upon Christ for salvation… There is the third whereby we believe that our sins are already pardoned…

Ball expands on this by explaining the actings of faith. First, because an all sufficient Saviour is offered to us (one who is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him) we may believe that our sins are pardonable. Based on this we rest on Christ for salvation. Then upon believing we have assurance that our sins are pardoned. Again note the central place given to the free offer of the gospel in the definition of faith. Without the free offer of salvation in Christ there can be no solid ground for faith.

As an aside. Ball believed in “common grace” which men could and sadly did “fearfully abuse” by their sins. Ibid. p230

That men are seriously invited to repent in the Ministry of the Word, and that the promise of Salvation is faithful and true, so that he that believeth shall never perish. These things be not questioned, nor whether some effects or benefits of Christ’s death be common to all men, but whether he died equally for all men, to purchase actual reconciliation for them on God’s part…

Note the vocabulary Ball uses here.  The gospel is a serious invitation.  It is not simply a command, not simply a declaration of facts – it is an invitation.  How many times have I said this now?  Again it is a serious invitation.  The free offer is not a sham – it is sincere and well meant.  Again Ball highlights his belief in a definite, efficacious atonement while not denying that some benefits of Christ’s death come to all men.  Durham says something very similar which I will share when I eventually get round to posting on his view of the atonement.

…but the invitation is general…the invitation is serious, shewing what God is well pleased with, and doth approve in us… he persuadeth with arguments in themselves forceable to move and incite, and what he will perform, if we make good the condition… no man of what state or condition whatsoever is hindered or kept back from coming to Christ by any cause efficient or deficient out of man himself…
Ibid. p243-245

Again there is no limit in the offer/invitation.  It is “general”.  Again God is “serious” in the offer.  By this Ball means God desires the salvation of those who hear the gospel.  If you don’t believe this read on!    Also note we can not blame the decree of God (election) for our unbelief.  The only cause of unbelief is our own wilful sin in rejecting Christ’s invitations to come to him. 

The Lord who doth whatsoever he will… in his deep and unsearchable council never intended to make every man actually and effectually partakers of the benefit promised… nevertheless, the invitation is serious, showing what we ought to do, and God doth approve and desire on our parts…

There we have it!  The invitation to come to Christ “is serious, showing what… God doth approve and desire“.  To say, as some do today, that the phrase “God desires your salvation” is Arminian would make John Ball an Arminian!  Of course he is as far from being an Arminian as North is from South.  Now Ball doesn’t believe God intends the salvation of all men.  What God intends he accomplishes.  Ball separates desire from intention.

They [Arminians] ask what sign doth God show of desire or approval that men should believe, when he gives them not power so to do. This that he commandeth, intreateth, persuadeth them to repent and believe, waiteth with long-suffering and patience for their amendment, promises mercy if they will return…

Along comes the Arminian who says to Ball, “You don’t believe in common sufficient grace, you don’t believe in a universal atonement.  How then can you say, without being hypocritical, that God desires the salvation of the hearers of the gospel?”  (Remember Rutherford responded in his writings to an almost identical objection).  Ball answers, of course God desires the salvation of the hearers of the gospel.  Why else would he command, entreat, persuade them and wait with longsuffering on them?

… as God commandeth wicked men to repent and believe, so he testifieth what he doth desire and approve…

Again, for Ball, when God commands something it is a testimony he desires that is should be done.  When God commands the wicked to repent it is a testimony he desires them to repent.  You dont find this way of speaking in some passages in Owen.

As men are called to repent that they might live, and God doth in calling them avow it is his desire, they would repent that they might live, so the end of the invitation is life and salvation. This is manifest, in that the Lord doth earnestly again and again call upon impenitent and obstinate sinners to repent and believe, protesting that he desires not their death, but rather that they should repent and live…
Ibid. p247-248

And it keeps on coming!  It is God’s desire that wicked men repent.  God desires that even impenitent and obstinate sinners should be saved.

As an aside Ball speaks of “restraining grace or common gifts”.  Ibid. p337

Stepping back in Ball’s work here are his comments on John 3:16.  They are long, but important, so I would urge you to read them:

[On John 3:16] God so loved the world, (as we read in the Evangelist) that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the World: but that the world through him might be saved. And I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Here the motive from which the gift of Christ is derived is common love. The word World cannot be taken for the elect only: for then it will be as if it had been said, God so loved the elect, that he gave is only Son, that whosoever of them that believe in him should not perish. The world that Christ came to save, was that world in which he came; and that comprehends both believers and unbelievers: and in the same place, it is divided into them that shall be saved, and them that shall be damned: and there should be no force of reasoning in the latter place, if the world did not comprehend unbelievers under it.

Thus these passages are urged for universal redemption. But the principle texts speak plainly of the days of grace, when God sent his Son into the world, and when according to the prophesies and promises made before, the Gentiles were to be called to the faith, added to the church, and received into Covenant.

And the world is taken communiter & indefinite, for the world, as it is opposed to the Jewish Nation alone, not universaliter pro singulis, for every man in the world of what time or age soever, or of this time special. The sense then is, In the fullness of time, God manifested so great love unto the world of Jew and Gentile, not of the Jew alone, That he gave his only begotten Son, and in the Ministry of the Gospel, seriously invited them to believe, and entered into Covenant to bestow life and happiness upon the condition of their unfeigned faith on Jesus Christ. As God loved Israel, whom he chose to be his peculiar people under the Old Testament: so in times of grace he extended his love to the world of Jew and Gentile. And as amongst the Jews, so much love to the body of that nation , as to enter into Covenant with them, and vouchsafe unto them the means of grace, but unto some he showed more special love, so as to call them effectually, and make them heirs of salvation: In like manner in the last times or days of the New Testament God manifest so much love to the world, as it is opposed to the Jewish Nation, as that in the ministry of the Gospel he entreated them to be reconciled, and entered into a Covenant of Peace with them: but unto some he bare and manifested a more peculiar love, in that he called them effectually and made them heirs also.

There are a number of very interesting points here in this long quote:

  • The love in John 3:16 is common love.  This is the position of Thomas Boston & the other Marrowmen.
  • Ball rejects the argument that the world in John 3:16 is the elect, otherwise the text becomes a truism.  God so loved the elect that whosoever of the elect believe will not perish…  “Does this make sense” is Ball’s question?  This is the argument of my favourite theologian Robert Dabney who takes John 3:16 indefinitely.
  • Ball does not believe John 3:16 supports universal redemption.  Rather it speaks of the giving love in the gospel offer.  This is classic Marrow doctrine (i.e. Boston & the Erskine’s).
  • The love of John 3:16 extends as far as the preaching of the gospel.  It is not speaking of a saving love which applies only to the elect.
  • Note that for Ball the preaching of the gospel is a token of God’s love, even to those who never accept the gospel.
  • How common is Ball’s interpretation of the love in John 3:16 as non-saving general love amongst the reformed?  I think it is probably a minority view.  Calvin of course held this view.  We could add Thomas Manton, Thomas Boston, Robert L. Dabney and a small number of others.  But many other’s held John 3:16 to be speaking of a saving love to the elect e.g. Gillespie, Rutherford, Owen etc.

In order of fairness I should highlight that a portion of this quote was posted into the blogsphere by Marty Ford, John Owen researcher.

There are also a number of similar statements in Ball’s work:
Ball, John. A Treatise of Faith Divided into two Parts: The first shewing the Nature, The Second the Life of Faith. London: Printed for Edward Brewster, and are to be sold at his Shop at the signe of the Crane in Pauls Church-yard, 1657.

To quote them would make a long post inordinately long so I will stop here.

Next week I’ll be covering the significant Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham, John Brown of Wamphray on the free offer of the gospel.  Brown was a close associate and disciple of Rutherford.

Weekly Update 11 – Postponed

July 7, 2007

Apologies but there won’t be an update this week. We have guests staying and there isn’t the time to gather together anything worth posting on. I do know what I’ll post on in the next couple of weeks:

• Durham on the pastoral benefits of believing in a definite (limited/efficacious) atonement
• Durham on common grace. I didn’t post on this last week as Durham’s essay on common grace in largely a friendly polemic against some of Richard Baxter’s views expressed in his Saints Everlasting Rest. I therefore needed more time to consider the relevant portion in Baxter’s work before I could fully grasp the context of what Durham was saying.

In the mean time here is a quote from Calvin on common grace which teaches us again regarding the importance of context in interpreting anyone’s writings. Hear Calvin:

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that truth shone upon the ancient jurists… philosophers… [they] who developed medicine… mathematical sciences. Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No… we marvel at them because we are compelled to recognise how pre-eminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognising at the same time that it comes from God?… Let us accordingly learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human virtue even after it was despoiled of its true good… we ought not to forget those most excellent benefits of the divine Spirit, which he distributes to whomsoever he wills, for the common good of mankind… Nor is there reason for anyone to ask, What have the impious, who are utterly estranged from God, to do with his Spirit? We ought to understand the statement that the Spirit of God dwells only in believers [Rom 8:9] as referring to the Spirit of sanctification through whom we are consecrated as temples to God [1 Cor 3:16].

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Vols.), The Library of Christian Classics Vol XX. & XXI, Ed. John T. McNeill, Trans, F.L. Battles, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, n.d., p273-275 (I know I should give the book, chapter, and subsection number but I don’t have the work to hand now or the time to look it up!)

So ok it is clear that Calvin believes in the common grace. The Spirit gives many “excellent benefits” to the “impious” for the “common good of mankind”. But lo and behold a few pages later Calvin says this:

“We have nothing of the Spirit, however, except through regeneration”.
Vol 1 p289

So here Calvin says only the regenerate have the Spirit. This quote could easily be highlighted by someone to “prove” Calvin did not believe in common grace/operations if the Spirit. Only the “regenerate” have the Spirit. Of course that would be an absolute travesty of Calvin’s actual views. For in our earlier quotation Calvin said “We ought to understand the statement that the Spirit of God dwells only in believers [Rom 8:9] as referring to the Spirit of sanctification”. So when Calvin denies the Spirit to the unregenerate he is speaking of the sanctifying activity of the Spirit.

This is why “proof texting” from Calvin (or Owen or Rutherford etc) is a dangerous pastime. Time must be taken to understand the context of any particular quotation and any other statements in the authors writings which impinge on the topic must be considered. To e.g. read a Display of Arminianism and then to thing you understand Owen’s mature thought and exegesis is a mistake. Now of course the fundamentals are unlikely to have changed, but emphasis may change and so may exegesis of particular passages.

Calvin very convictingly said, “If you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer ‘Humility’.”
Vol 1, p269

If you were to ask me the precepts of Historical Theology first, second, third, and always I would answer “context”!

Weekly Update 8

June 16, 2007

I am continuing to look at the views of the Puritan contemporary of James Durham, David Clarkson, on Rev 3:20. I am picking up where I left off halfway through the sermon.

Highlights of the post:
• The idea of the condescension of Christ pervades Clarkson’s conception of the free offer.
• Answers to:
o Are the gospel promises conditional on the recipient?
o Why is there a free offer of the gospel to ‘dead’ sinners?
o Did the Puritans believe in common grace?

Clarkson notes that the gospel offer is a mercy. To reject Christ as he stands and knocks is to sin, “Against mercy; mercy in its choice appearances and manifestations in the world; and against not only the mercy of God, but the indulgence of Christ. What more grievous offence than that which is against love, against mercy?” (Clarkson, Works, Vol 2, p60).

Clarkson highlights four ways Christ specifically shows mercy in the free offer of the gospel:
1) In that he shows “condescension” in stooping “so low as to stand at a polluted heart”.
2) In that he draws near, “coming to you, standing at your heart”.
3) In that he is “willing to come in”.
4) In that Christ is “waiting to be gracious”.

Clarkson makes a similar point to one Durham makes in a number of his sermons, that if God is not glorified in his mercy towards a sinner, he will be glorified in his justice. A solemn thought. (Ibid p64).

There is a very instructive section dealing with the condescension of Christ in the free offer of the gospel which I’ll quote here:

“Oh consider this! Let the wonderful patience of Christ in standing, let the gracious importunity of Christ in knocking lead you to repent… The Lord makes use of the wonderful strangeness of his condescension as a motive… to open to him, Jer xxxi. See how his bowels yearn to wretched sinners [Jer 31:20]… and hear him expostulating, wondering at thy delay to open to him… That Christ should stand and knock, that Christ should seek to thee, it is a new thing, a thing so strange and wonderful, as the like is seldom seen on the earth. It is as if a woman should offer love to a man… solicit… woo… seek love, when she should be sought to; forgets herself, her sex, her condition, against all custom… Thus far does the Lord stoop, thus strangely does Christ condescend, when he comes and offers love to sinners… He seems to forget himself (if we may say so) when he so strangely condescends to seek to sinners, to stand and knock at their hearts. This is a new thing, a wonderful thing; and since his love herein is so strange, so admirable, it should be a strong motive for sinners to entertain it.”
Ibid p64-65.

So for Clarkson one great motive for sinners to embrace Christ is his wonderful condescension in the gospel offer. For Clarkson this is an astonishing, almost a shocking thing, “against all custom”. Yet so it is.

The whole idea of the condescension of Christ in the gospel offer seems almost lost in present day preaching. We are rightly anxious to safeguard the glory of Christ – but surely one aspect of that glory is his act of condescension in the gospel offer?

This brings me to one of the interesting points in Clarkson’s sermon. A point which he acknowledged has been the subject of a “controversy started in this age” (Ibid p65). This is the conditional nature of the gospel promises. In order for Adam to be right with God there was a condition to fulfil, “This do, and live”. But in gospel times are there any conditions we have to fulfil to enjoy salvation? And if there are, in fulfilling them do they bring us any glory or merit?

Clarkson begins answering these questions by noting simply that Rev 3:20 “is propounded conditionally. Christ’s presence and communion with him is offered upon condition.” This verse therefore contains a promise “I will come in and will sup with him and he with me” which will be performed on the fulfilment of a condition, “If any man hear my voice and open the door”.

He then makes a general point, as noted above, that “the promises of the law, which belong to the covenant of works” are conditional. He then goes on to state that this is also true of “the promises of the gospel, special branches and articles of the covenant of grace”. Indeed “such is this text”. (Ibid)

Clarkson realises what he has just said is liable to cause “mistakes” and “controversy” and so he proceeds to explain what he said “in such a way as may prevent mistakes, and leave no room for any controversy” noting we are “to prefer truth and peace before contention”. (Ibid). To do this Clarkson notes 5 things he is not saying:

1) Performing this condition does not bring any merit to us, “When the condition is performed, we do not thereby deserve the Lord should bestow the mercy promised”.
2) Performing this condition is “not in the will, in the power of man, to perform”. See, I told you he was a “Calvinist”!
3) Our performing the condition does not change God or cause him to act otherwise than he intended.
4) God is not uncertain as to whether someone will fulfil the condition or not, as man is.
5) Even if we perform the condition it is still of pure pardoning mercy that Christ will enter in given how provoked he has been by our shutting the door for so long.
Thus there is no “shadow upon the glory of free grace to grant some promises to be conditional,” so long as we bear in mind the condition is no more than a “necessary antecedent” and not a meritorious cause.
(Ibid p65-66).

Moving on, what are we to understand by the “voice of Christ” in Rev 3:20? Well, it is “that which you hear principally in the gospel” (Ibid p67). Christ speaks in the gospel in different ways:

1) By command. Christ “exercises his authority as King and Lord of the world, sends out his royal edicts, his commands.” Indeed, “this is the great command of the gospel to open to him [Christ].” (Ibid p67)
2) By threatening. “If ye will not suffer Christ to enter into your hearts, ye shall never enter into his rest. This is his terrible voice; it can rend the rocks, and cause the mountains to tremble.” (Ibid p68)
3) By promising. Christ “promises his presence and fellowship with him to all that will open to him”. (Ibid)
4) By persuading. Christ “counsels, that is he advises; and he urges it, enforces his counsel with many motives and arguments.” (Ibid)
5) By entreaty. “Ministers of the gospel are Christ’s ambassadors; they are sent, employed, authorised by him. He gives them instructions to pray, to beseech sinners, and they do it… ‘in Christ’s stead.’ It is as if Christ should do it; it is as if he should with his own mouth pray, beseech, entreat you to open to him… And the wonder of Christ’s stooping so low as to beseech you, should be a strong motive to open…” (Ibid)
6) By reproof. Proverbs 1:23 “Turn you at my reproof”. (Ibid p69)

All these elements are involved in the proclamation of the gospel. To say the gospel is a command, or a presentation is not enough. To say that is to speak with a muted “voice of Christ”. To speak with the full voice of him of whom it was said “grace is poured into thy lips” Ps 45:2 is to add entreaty, promising and persuading to commands.

Clarkson turns his attention to the important question that every proponent of the free offer must face, “Why does the Lord call upon sinners to open, who can not of themselves open?” (Ibid p76). Clarkson provides four answers:

1) “Sinners were once able, but they have disabled themselves, they had power, but have wilfully lost it… We had power in Adam to obey Christ’s voice, but in him we sinned that power away… If you entrusted a man with a sum of money, and he go away and spend it in gaming, drinking and unwarrantable courses; will you not, therefore, think it reasonable to demand it of him? Will you lose power to ask what he owes ye, because he has prodigally spent it?” (Ibid)
2) “The word of Christ is operative. He many times empowers his word to effect what he calls for… He speaks to Lazarus who was dead… ‘Lazarus come forth;’ but there was a secret power accompanied the voice which made it effectual; he spake and it was done.” (Ibid p77)
3) “The Lord may call upon them to open who are not able, that they may go to him to make them able.” (Ibid)
4) “Sinners may do more than they use to do, than they are willing to do, and therefore there is reason to call upon them.” (Ibid p78)

On this last point there is a fascinating sermon by the Puritan member of the Westminster Assembly William Greenhill. The sermon is entitled “What must and can persons do toward their own conversion?” (Puritan Sermons 1659-1689: Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Richard Owen Roberts, Illinois, r1981). As the sermon is twelve pages long you can take it for read that his answer isn’t “nothing”. I will need to blog through this sermon at some time as I hope to bring Greenhill into my thesis given the insights into the free offer provided by his sermons on “Whosoever will, may come”.

Okay, you may think we have cleared that question up – it seems reasonable that we should offer the gospel to dead sinners. But along comes the Arminian question, wouldn’t it make even more sense if men had the power to believe, that is if common sufficient grace [to believe] were given to all men? Clarkson answers this objection in four ways:
1) He rejects that there is such a thing as common sufficient grace. “To grant that the Lord vouchsafes sufficient grace for the salvation of all and every man is both against Scripture and the experience of the world in all ages” (Ibid p78-79).
2) But there is such a thing as common grace and men do not make use of it. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes all more grace, i.e. more common assistance, than ever they make use of. He enables them to do much more towards opening to Christ… than they are wont to use, or willing to improve.” (Ibid p79).
3) Further, Clarkson says his definition of common grace embraces all that the ‘Arminian’ definition embraces. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes to those who enjoy the gospel, and to many of those who never open to Christ, all that sufficient grace which the patrons of free will contend for…” (Ibid). This includes “… arguments and motives… apt to persuade those who hear them… some illumination of the understanding, convictions of sin and misery, some common motions of the Spirit exciting the will to yield to Christ…” (Ibid).
4) But more than common grace is needed for the conversion of a sinner. “But we say more is needful… we hold that the Lord disposes his [special] grace so as to make both conversion and perseverance certain… to his chosen.” (Ibid).

I found this section fascinating. Clarkson’s answer is essentially this. “I too believe in everything you ‘Arminians’ term common grace but it is insufficient. In addition I believe in sufficient converting and persevering grace for the elect only.” I am not sure how common this type of answer was. Ah well – more research!

I’ll close with one further example of Clarkson “entreating” with unconverted sinners:
“All his knocking, calling has not prevailed. Is this nothing to you, all ye that pass by? See if there be any love like Christ’s love, and condescension like Christ’s, any patience, any importunity; and see if there be any hatred, contempt, neglect, unkindness, like yours. Shall Christ come to his own and his own not receive him? Would you have him still a man of sorrows and sufferings? Shall he have still occasion to complain, ‘Who has believed our report?’ Who has hearkened when I have called? Who has regarded when I have stretched out my hands? Who has yielded when I have entreated? Who has opened when I have knocked? Shall it be thus still with Christ? Shall he not have a place whereon to lay his head?” (Ibid p84).

Remember Clarkson had a reputation as one of the “harsher” Puritans. He was a colleague of John Owen. And yet this was how he preached. This I hope to show in my thesis is the Reformed and Puritan free offer of the gospel.

I’m afraid I’ll leave off Durham’s “Short Sum of the Gospel” until next week. There is more than enough in Clarkson to think through.