Archive for the ‘David Clarkson’ Category

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”.
(Ibid)

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.

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Weekly Update 7 (at last!)

June 11, 2007

First of all, apologies for the delay.”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.”
Rev 3:20

Last week (weekly update 6) I posted on Durham’s extensive comments on this verse and the epistle to the Laodiceans in general.

This week I am posting a few examples of how Durham used this verse in his preaching. I also look at the use of this verse by David Clarkson.

1. Durham

“This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of [the] parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes from His word. He says from there, “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.” 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.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p46

So sinners do not have to stand back and wonder whether God is willing to save them. The willingness on the side of God is plainly set down in his word in Rev 3:20. Durham notes that Rev 3:20 teaches that God in the gospel comes to “woo” sinners. Amazing condescension!

“God will sometimes speak peace to them who are given to folly… He speaks peace to them… In His offering of peace to them, and by his meeting and treating with them in and by that offer, in His entreating or inviting them earnestly to come to Him who have wearied themselves and spent their labour on that which does not profit; pressing them to return and assuring them that he will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14), and preaching peace through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2); counselling them to come and buy eye salve of Him, and by His knocking and waiting at their door for admittance and entry (Revelation 3).”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p165

So the “offer of peace” is an “inviting them earnestly to come”. This earnest invitation is seen in Christ knocking at the doors of sinners’ hearts as in Rev 3:20.

I will let the next two quotes speak for themselves.

“Union with the Lord by covenant is accessible to a runaway sinner who has perverted his way… He will take away that exception of grossness of sin which might stand in the sinner’s way, were it even rotten hypocrisy, detestable indifference, and lukewarmness in the matters of God… Yet He even says to such… “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p261

“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 hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me)… and [in] Ps 24:7-10, it is cried, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be lift up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in; which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how near Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks’ hands.”
Christ Crucified, p80

2. Clarkson

One of the classic Puritan evangelistic sermons is David Clarkson’s (1621-1686) sermon on Rev 3:20 entitled Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Sinners (The Works of David Clarkson, Volume 2, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, r1988, p34-100). Clarkson was colleague and then successor to the great John Owen.

Before I post a few extracts it is interesting to note that Clarkson’s theology is described in the following terms in the introduction to his Works, “The doctrine of Clarkson is very decidedly Calvinistic, and is occasionally somewhat harsher than that of most of the puritan Calvinists.” (Works, Vol. 1, p x). So if you would expect someone to cut back on the free offer it would surely be someone like this. How then does he handle Rev 3:20?

He starts his sermon by highlighting that this text contains “something wonderful, worthy of admiration” (Works, vol 2, p34). But what? “That Christ should thus offer himself to sinners in a way of mercy, is a matter of admiration” (ibid). But more than this – come and wonder at those to whom Christ shows mercy, “See how he describes those to whom he offers love, ver. 17, Wretched and miserable, twice miserable, extremely miserable, and (which makes the gracious offer wonderful) wilfully miserable… And yet Christ will come and knock, and stand waiting, to show mercy to such sinful wretches; and continues thus, notwithstanding their obstinacy, their contempt of those gracious offers, and of Christ himself who makes them. Oh how wonderful is this!” (Ibid p37).

How does Christ offer himself? “He entreats. Here is wonderful condescension indeed, that the great God, speaking to the vilest of his creatures (so man is by sin) should use the language of entreaty… Yet thus does the glorious God to those that have showed themselves traitors, enemies to his crown and dignity; he comes to them, offers them his favour, his pardon, stands waiting for their acceptance. And when they are slow to accept it… he beseeches, he entreats them to accept of his favour, not to refuse a pardon… Oh how wonderful is this condescension!” (Ibid p39-40).

But surely the condescension of Christ goes no further than entreaty? “When he prevails not by coming, by standing, by knocking, by waiting, by beseeching, why this is his grief, his sorrow, and he vents his sorrow in tears. Behold the compassions of the Lord to obstinate sinners, as he expresses it over Jerusalem. Behold it, and wonder! He represents himself as clothed with the weakest of man’s infirmities; he falls a-weeping, Luke xix. 41,42… And O, did the Lord weep for those who will not weep for themselves? Oh how wonderful is this compassion! how full of wonder this condescension.” (Ibid p40).

Note that it is by preaching that this message is carried today, “The preaching hereof, in season and out of season is his [Christ’s] appointment, that therein sinners may see him daily set forth as crucified before their eyes, that they may behold him stretching out his hands all the day long unto them, that they may hear him, as though he were now, as in the days of his flesh, mourning, complaining, and weeping over them, Luke xiii. 34. How often would the Lord have gathered you! How often has he come, knocked, stood, waited, entreated, lamented! If it be a wonder that he will condescend to any of these for once, how wonderful that he should condescend to these so often!” (Ibid p41.)

How would you react if your pastor started preaching of Christ “weeping over” unbelievers? Is it proper to preach like this? Have you ever preached like this?

What is offered in the gospel? “He [Christ] offers (1.) his love; (2.) himself; (3.) his blood and all that he purchased by it; (4.) his comforts; (5.) his glory; and (6.) his kingdom” (Ibid p41.) In discussing the offer of “his blood” Clarkson phrases his statements in such a way as to be consistent with a definite atonement.

Clarkson asks how Christ knocks on the doors of sinners’ hearts, and gives four answers (Ibid p 52-55). First, by “checks of conscience” i.e. when our conscience accuses us this is Christ knocking for admittance. Second, by “acts of providence.” When we are blessed with the good things of this life we are to consider that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). When we are under afflictions we are to consider our weakness and go to Christ. The third and principal means of knocking is the preaching of the word. The final means of knocking is the operation of the Spirit. He notes that “Those that enjoy the gospel, and live under a powerful ministry, cannot but have experience of Christ’s knocking by his Spirit” (Ibid p55). It is evident at this point that Clarkson is speaking of common grace as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 68.

Christ’s standing at the door shows among other things, “His desire; his readiness to enter… If you see one standing at your door and knocking, how can ye interpret this, but that he is willing, desires to enter? Christ is more ready to come into sinners than they are to open to him. There is no bar, no backwardness on his part; he is at the door, and there he stands and knocks. That which keeps him out is the unkindness, the obstinacy of sinners, who will not open.” (Ibid p58).

Clarkson notes that Christ’s patience will one day come to an end. The Jerusalem that Christ wept over would be made desolate for despising the offer of the gospel, Luke 19:41-42. (Ibid p59).

The gospel offer shows, “The riches of the goodness and compassion of Christ to sinners… Oh the riches of his goodness, the wonders of his condescension, the greatness of his mercy… The Lord’s ways are not our ways. The Lord leaves not himself without a witness; gives clear testimony that he is abundant in longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that they should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]; that they should be as happy as that which is the happiness of heaven…” (Ibid p 60).

The reference to 2 Peter 3:9 in the above is interesting. The reformed tradition from Calvin onwards has been divided in its exposition of that verse. Clarkson here gives it a universal reference, as does Calvin himself. Many others restrict the reference to the elect.

There is more to come from Clarkson’s sermon next week – I’ve only covered the first half. This will include: in what sense may we speak of the gospel promise as conditional, in what sense does the reformed view of “common grace” differ from the “Arminian” one, and more in the vein of what I’ve posted above. Please remember that despite what you may be thinking after reading what I posted above that Clarkson is a “Calvinist” and this will come across next week more clearly.

I was going to post on John Flavel’s (200+ pages!!!) of sermons on Rev 3:20 but I didn’t have the time to go through them in depth as there was so much material in Clarkson.

One point of interest in the Flavel sermons though is that he calls James Durham a “judicious expositor” with reference to his views of Rev 3:20 (The Works of John Flavel, Volume 4, Banner of Truth, r1968, p19).

Now I’m not saying that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 is the only one offered in the “Puritan” era (see Matthew Poole for one other alternative). But what I would say is that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 was the most common one.

Next (now this!) week, in addition to finishing off Clarkson I’m going to blog through a very important section of one of Durham’s sermons which he introduced as “a short sum of the gospel”. This will introduce the importance of the doctrine of the covenant to the free offer.

I’ll actually spend most of this week reading through T.F. Torrance’s “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell”. Expect a fairly “trenchant” review when I’ve finished it.