“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.”
How do you understand this verse? It surely can’t be an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be “Arminian” to understand it this way? In any case, isn’t it addressed to a church and so by its very nature addressed to believers?
Well according to Durham, yes this is written to a Church, and yet this still is an appeal from Christ to unbelievers, and no it isn’t Arminian to understand it this way. This needs some unpacking.
First let’s step into the classical Scottish doctrine of the Church. It is fundamental to note that the Scottish theologians of Durham’s time did not view the Church as being comprised solely of those with saving faith in Christ. Rather it is comprised of those who have been baptized as infants. This baptism was a parallel to the circumcision of the Old Testament, “Were they [old testament unbelievers] not members of the visible Church as you are, circumcised under the Old Testament, as you are baptized under the New?” Christ Crucified, p114. So when people like Isaiah cry out “Who hath believed our report?” (Is 53:1) this cry can be echoed by ministers today regarding their Churches. Accordingly, Durham can state “… here in this city, where the gospel is preached to a great multitude of professing members of the visible Church, there are readily many that do not believe,” Christ Crucified p113. For Durham, within the “visible Church” are “many that do not believe”.
Against this background, the fact that a letter is written to a Church does not exclude the fact that it may be addresed to, and applicable for, those who are unbelievers. So there are no a priori theological reasons which dictate that Durham could not take Rev 3:20 as being addressed to unbelievers.
But we can go further and gather Durham’s view on the make up of the Laodicean Church to which Rev 3:20 is addressed. According to Durham this church is “without anything to hide or cover… before the justice of God… without [Christ’s righteousness].” Commentary on Revelation, p269. John Brown of Wamphray (a gifted Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham) went so far as to state that “a true visible church [may exist] without a single Christian in it; giving Laodicea as an example” (James Walker, The Theology and theologians of Scotland 1560-1750, p127). Durham tentatively takes the same position as Brown – see p275-276 of the Revelation commentary.
To modern Evangelicals this may all seem a bit strange – a Church with no Christians? However strange it may have been, this was the view of the Scottish Church in Durham’s time.
So to summarise, for Durham, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, and therefore Rev 3:20, is addressed to a group of unbelievers. Rev 3:20 is an appeal addressed to unbelievers by Christ offering salvation to them.
“There is a wonderful depth of iniquity and hypocrisy in their case; but here is a far more wonderful depth and mystery of free grace and infinite love in the proposed cure. It is proposed by way of offer under the expressions that belong to bargaining.”
So Christ shows the “mystery of free grace and infinite love” in the “offer” to the unbelieving Laodicean Church. The gospel offer according to Durham is expressive of love.
In this offer the “wares proposed… [are] Jesus Christ himself”. Ibid. So what is offered in the gospel is nothing short of Christ himself and all good things in him.
Durham calls particular attention to the “manner of Christ’s proposing the [gospel offer]”. This is “I counsel thee, etc. which is not so proposed, as if it were left, indifferent to them to hearken or not… it is thus expressed, for these reasons… That thereby he may bear out his affection, who, as a friend, condescendeth to give them counsel in things that are of most concernment for their own good… It is thus expressed, to gain their consent the more willingly to the same: therefore in the Gospel He doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him… there is no sinner that heareth this Gospel, but he may think himself sufficiently warranted to close this bargain with Christ…” Ibid p272-273.
There are a number of key points brought out by this:
- In the gospel Christ speaks to unbelievers as a “friend”
- In the gospel Christ shows “affection” for the hearers
- The gospel involves “condescension” on the part of Christ
- The gospel is preached to unbelievers “for their own good”
- It is preached in this manner “to gain their consent the more willingly”
- In the gospel Christ “doth beseech and entreat”
- This gospel preaching gives everyone a warrant to “close this bargain with Christ”
Durham goes on to note that Christ “loveth my visible Church” and that this gospel message calling for repentance “expresseth God’s love to them” Ibid p273. Again note that this particular visible Church was made up entirely, in Durham’s opinion, of unbelievers. So Christ loves unbelievers (not with an electing love, it should be noted).
Verse 20 is “a most instant and importunate pursuing of His offer”. “Hearts naturally are as Castles shut and guarded by the devil against Christ: when He cometh with His Ordinances… notwithstanding of her many formal refusals. Thus, He is said to stand at the door: whereby is holden forth… His patience that still waiteth on.” Ibid.
It is an amazing thing to see the patience of Christ in dealing with sinners who continually reject him!
“He presseth [this offer]… by making His offer particular, as it were, bringing it to every man’s door, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, etc… What He [Christ] would have, is… hearkening to his voice, which he requireth…” Ibid.
Note that the gospel is not just a general message, rather it is a particular message to everyone who hears.
“This then is the duty called for, and the terms upon which the offer is made, to wit, Faith’s yielding to receive and admit Christ…The person called to this is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it to every hearer, as if it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou, etc.”
“It is Christ, making this offer.”
We cannot say the gospel offer is only the preacher offering; it is Christ’s offer.
I’ll probably post a few of Durham’s uses of Rev 3:20 in preaching next week, together with some other uses of Rev 3:20 by Durham’s contemporaries.
Standing away from all this for a second, Durham has a very interesting little section at the start of his exposition of the Epistle to the Laodiceans where he discusses the statement, “I would thou wert cold or hot”. Durham notes that “It cannot be thought that he [Christ] commandeth them to be cold; nor doth it imply any will or desire in him for such things simply; (for it cannot be thought that he is so indifferent concerning these extremes…” So there is no “will or desire” in Christ that the Laodiceans be “cold”. Rather, it is the opposite. Durham goes on to note that it would be incorrect to proceed from this and say that there is any intention in God for the “salvation of all men” distinguishing his position (and Reformed theology generally) from Arminians. This last point relies of the distinction between the revealed will of God and the secret will of God (or his decree). At some point in the future this will be the subject of a post.