Archive for the ‘David Silversides’ Category

“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 4

May 12, 2007

A review of The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, by David Silversides (Marpet Press, 2005).
Available from

I read through this book last week and have been mulling over its contents this week.  In a sense it goes over the same ground as the work I highlighted a couple of weeks ago – K.W. Stebbins “Christ Freely Offered” in that the views of the Protestant Reformed Church on the Free Offer of the Gospel (and related topics) are examined and found wanting on exegetical and historical grounds.

Silversides’ position can probably be summarised in one comment, “The free offer is not merely a declaration of the facts and obligation of the gospel.  We regard it as also an expression of God’s love to all who hear it.” p45

The book itself is fairly short (83 pages plus appendices), which fits in with its origins as a conference address (Free Church School in Theology, Larbert, Scotland, September 2001).  But that should not leave the impression that the book does not cover weighty matters.  It does, and it covers them in sufficient depth to be satisfying.
Silversides considers in turn:

1) God’s Love and the Free Offer of the Gospel

2) Common Grace and the Character of God

3) The Free Offer as an Expression of Divine Lovingkindness

5) The Warrant of Faith

Silversides’ take on these issues in succinctly stated in his conclusion, “God’s common grace is manifested both in that the gospel is preached indiscriminately, and in the content of that gospel… The preaching of the gospel should include an overture of mercy to hell-deserving sinners, expressive of God’s love to all who hear it… It is a loving warning of the wrath of God and a gracious admonition to flee from danger to the offered Saviour… This overture of mercy includes a promise of forgiveness, on condition of believing, addressed to all who hear… The Reformers and Puritans (including the members of the Westminster Assembly) generally held to the above doctrine… it is just this doctrine that they intended by the term ‘free offer’.” p81-82.

A remarkably similar conclusion may be coming to a thesis near you soon….

Appendix 1 concerns the question of God’s desire for the salvation of all men.  Silversides argues that it is an appropriate form of expression but that it should not be made a test of orthodoxy.

Given it is similar to Stebbins’ work how do the two compare?  

First, I would recommend them both.  By and large they are very helpful in discussing the history of the doctrine of the free offer in the Reformed churches and also provide sound exegesis.  Personally though, I felt that at key junctures Stebbins’ book “packed more punch”.  His analysis at times was simply devastating.  However, I felt that Silversides’ work was more sure footed in dealing with historical theology.  The scope of the ground covered was greater and he avoided what I see as Stebbins’ significant error in regarding the Marrowmen as less than orthodox.

Here is one very important “quotable quote” from Silversides’ work.  The author is Samuel Rutherford (in case anyone was tempted to think it was Arminius!):

“It’s much worthy of observation, how that sweet evangelick invitation is conceived, Isaiah 55:1, Ho, every one that thirsts; the Heb. word ‘hui is alas, or ah, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come, buy, and eat: as if the Lord were grieved, and said, woe is me, alas that thirsty souls should die in their thirst, and will not come to the waters of life, Christ, and drink gratis, freely, and live.  For the interjection, (Heb. Hui) Ho, is a mark of sorrowing… it expresseth two things, 1. A vehemencie, and a serious and unfeigned ardencie of desire, that we doe what is our duty, and the concatenation of these two, extremely desired of God, our coming to Christ, and our salvation:  This moral connection between faith and salvation, is desired of God with his will of approbation, complacency, and moral liking, without all dissimulation, most unfeignedly; and whereas Arminians say, we make counterfeit, feigned, and hypocriticall desires in God, they calumniate and cavil egregiously, as their custom is.  2. The other thing expressed in these invitations, is a sort of dislike, grief, or sorrow; (’tis a speech borrowed from man, for there is no disappointing of the Lord’s will, nor sorrow in him for the not fulfilling of it) … God loveth, approveth, the believing of Jerusalem, and of her children, as a moral duty, as the hen doth love to warm and nourish her chickens… but there is no purpose, intention, or decree of God holden forth in these invitations called his revealed will, by which he saith that he intendeth and willeth that all he maketh the offer unto, shall obey and be saved.”  p67f.

Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, London, J.D. for Andrew Crook at the Green-Dragon in Paul’s Church Yard, 1647 p443f.

This is a significant quote which highlights a number of important points:
* Rutherford speaks of the gospel offer as a ‘sweet evangelick invitation’ showing he obviously believed it to be more than a mere presentation of facts or a command.* Rutherford speaks in ‘a speech borrowed from men’ showing his willingness to speak as scripture speaks whilst at the same time guarding against abuse of scriptural expressions by noting their limitations.
* Rutherford uses desire in connection with the revealed will of God and the gospel invitation.
* Rutherford was aware of the charge of inconsistency levelled against his views of ‘sweet evangelick invitations’ and election by Arminians.  He rejected this charge outright.

Next week I’ll be back to posting on Durham, and currently intend to post something on his view of the importance of application in preaching.  Hopefully this will shed some light on why the free offer was so prevalent in Puritan preaching.

Work done this week:

Progressed with re-reading Christ Crucified and not much else.  Was a slow week.

Key work to do next week:

Make significant progress on note taking on Christ Crucified