Archive for the ‘John 3:16’ Category

Weekly Update 35 – Anyone for some Marrow?

December 29, 2007

William Greenhill will be back in the near future but I was looking over the Marrow of Modern Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg and Son, 1837) again this week and a few things struck me as interesting. 

Now given that the Marrow really came to prominence in Scotland in a controversy in the 18th C it is all too easy to forget that the original context of the work was mid 17th C.  Again, it is easy to forget (given how controversial the Marrow became in the 18th C) that the Marrow is really nothing more than a compendium of Reformed thought up to 1650 (with a bit of Luther thrown in for free).  According to its author “much of the matter contained in the ensuing Dialogue” came from the great figures of the development and codification of the Reformed faith e.g. Calvin, Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Ames, Peter Martyr, Polanus, Sibbs, Goodwin, Ball etc (p xx).  So really there should not have been much in the Marrow to complain about!

All this is interesting but what has it got to do with my thesis?  Well, for one the Marrow provides an insight into the general theological context in which the Westminster Standards were framed.  This is important for my work.  It also provides an insight into how mid 17th C theologians interpreted earlier Reformed theologians and used their works.  Again this is important.  Additionally, the Marrow was also cleared for the press by Joseph Caryl, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and was published with commendations from two other Assembly members.  So clearly there were members of the assembly who upheld “Marrow doctrine”.

Still, even though useful in these respects and though commended by 3 members of the Assembly we can’t argue for 1:1 identity between Marrow doctrine and the Westminster documents – can we?  Well, granted not on the basis I have provided above.  More work would need to be done – but has someone else done that work already?  Enter Thomas Boston!

Now in his notes on the Marrow, Boston has an extensive comment on the section, “God… moved with nothing but with his free love unto mankind lost, hath made a gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (p106).  Boston begins by noting that the phrase comes from Ezekiel Culverwell in a work commended by Westminster Divine William Gouge.  He then proceeds to identify this “gift and grant” with the gospel offer of John 3:16 explaining that: “Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made; and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant” (p106).  This speaking of the gospel offer as a “gift and grant” giving all sinners a warrant to believe in Christ is for Boston, “the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it doth indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption” (p106).  So a couple of points here.  Boston equates Marrow doctrine with “good old doctrine”.  For him it is nothing more or less than Reformed orthodoxy.  Secondly, Boston here relates the gospel offer to the sufficiency of the atonement (so did John Owen) but this is done in the context of rejecting a universal atonement/redemption.

But what specifically does Boston mean by “good old doctrine”?  Well, he means standard Scottish doctrine and he quotes James Melville to this effect.  But more specifically he means Reformed theology as set out in the great Reformed confessions.  He quotes Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3 (my thesis topic via James Durham), Westminster Larger Catechism 63 as supporting the “gift and grant” in the gospel offer (p106).  He also quotes Dort 2:5-6, ” Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.  And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.”  So for Boston, Dort and Westminster are one on the gospel offer and on Marrow doctrine.  Boston also quotes the Sum of Saving Knowledge, “Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16.”  Now the SoSK was, of course, written by James Durham and David Dickson.  Thus Boston aligns his view of the gospel offer with that of James Durham.

So for Boston, the Marrow theology of the free offer is the theology of Westminster Assembly and Dort and the Sum of Saving Knowledge and therefore of James Durham!  But is he right?….. yes 🙂  This is all very pertinent to my thesis and to the chapter I’m currently writing on: the free offer in the Reformed creeds.

Another item of interest is the proof texts that the Marrow uses to outline its doctrine of the free offer.  They are John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  Now what are two of the “proof texts” for WCoF 7:3? – yes, you guessed John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  More evidence for similarity of doctrine!

Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption”

December 1, 2007

One of Durham’s largest essays in his commentary on Revelation is entitled, “Concerning the extent of the merit of Christ’s death, or, if it may be accounted a satisfaction for all men” (Revelation, Old Paths, 2000, 378-412).  Some of the following is fairly heavy going but hopefully worth it.

In this essay Durham advocates the position that the sufferings of Christ are “not intended by Christ, nor accepted of by God as a price and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and for procuring of Redemption to them but only for some peculiarly chosen of God, and by his decree of Election separated from others” (p378).  He engages those whom he feels deny this position, while at the same time holding to a predestinarian system of theology i.e. not Arminians.  He names John Cameron, Richard Baxter, John Daillie and William Twisse as his opponents.  Twisse is a fascinating character who often is lauded by certain extreme predestinarians (usually opposed to the free offer) for having written a treatise, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessells of Mercy, consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessells of Wrath(Oxford: Printed by L.L. and H.H. Printers to the University for Tho. Robinson, 1653) and for advocating a supralapsarian ordering of the decrees.  It is one of the grand ironies of this whole debate that Twisse seems to have actually held some form of universal redemption (even if conditional).  Twisse was prolocuter (chairman) of the Westminster Assembly until he stepped down on grounds of ill health in 1645 – the WCoF was not approved by the Scottish Church until 1647.

I don’t want to post on all the details of Durham’s arguments so I’m just going to highlight a few of the more interesting and significant points he makes:

  1. The extent of the atonement is determined by the Covenant of Redemption (p378, 379).  The extent of the Covenant of Redemption is determined by a logically (not temporally) prior decree of election (p400).  The extent of the atonement is therefore particular not universal.
  2. Christ’s sacrifice “in respect of the person who died… may be and by Divines is said to be, of an infinite value” (p378).  But when we are speaking of the intent of Christ in laying down his life as a satisfaction that is where the Covenant of Redemption and particularity comes to the fore.
  3. Because of the Covenant of Redemption the atonement must secure its own application i.e. the salvation of those for whom it was offered.  That is, there was a bargain between the three Persons of the Godhead that a seed would be given to Christ on condition that he lay down his life for them – the Covenant of Redemption.  Now if Christ laid down his life as per the covenant for his sheep, and then they were not saved, the Covenant would have been broken by God.  Unthinkable! (p383).
  4. Durham believed that a universal redemption was pastorally harmful in that it “would weaken the redeemed’s consolation and enervat the grounds of their praise… to say that all are redeemed by Christ’s death, yet so, that the greater part of them shall never be justified… doth exceedingly weaken the redeemed’s consolation… [and is] derogatory to the solid consolation of the redeemed, whatever be pretended” (p384).
  5. Durham believed that a universal redemption, coupled with election did not solve any pastoral problems for “seeing the asserters of this conditional [universal] Redemption do admit of an absolute Election unto life as we do… then they will have the same cavils… to meet with: for, the connection betwixt Election, Faith, and Salvation is no less peremptor, (so that none can be believe and be saved but an Elect)…” (p408).
  6. A particular redemption does not cause any additional pastoral difficulties, even for the unsaved for, “this Doctrine of particular Redemption (to call it so) doth never make salvation impossible to any that will receive Christ and rest upon Him: but on the contrary, though it deny that all men are redeemed, or shall be saved,; yet it doth assert this Universal, that all whosoever shall believe, are redeemed and shall be saved…” (p386).
  7. Durham acknowledged that the common blessings that come on all men are consequences of Christ’s atonement and “largely speaking” are “contained in the Covenant of Redemption” (p392).  But “the proper fruit of Christ’s purchase… is saving mercies” (p391).  Durham is cautious and generally unwilling to speak of common mercies as a proper fruit of Christ’s death.  Why he takes this position is interesting.  Durham is attempting to guard against being forced to say that the proper fruit of Christ’s death is greater condemnation for the reprobate.  The reprobate enjoy common blessings and grace from God but ultimately they abuse these and receive greater condemnation than if they had never received these blessings.  Durham is anxious to argue that greater condemnation comes not “from the Gospels being revealed to such persons, but from their abusing and slighting of the same” (p392).  Durham does not want a fruit of Christ’s death to be greater condemnation, so we have to distinguish between the main intention of Christ’s death (redemption) and other consequences which are not proper fruits: “otherwise we might say, that the greater inexcusableness and condemnation of many Reprobates, are proper fruits of Christ’s purchase…” (p393).
  8. Christ’s satisfaction and intercession are of equal extent, and indeed “it is His satisfaction that regulateth (to speak so) his intercession” (p399).
  9. Durham argues that “world” in John 3:16 cannot be taken to mean “all men” (p405).   This was the standard Scottish view of the text at the time.  This is one of the few places I may not be on the same page as Durham – I’m more of a Marrowman myself.
  10. The free offer of the gospel is not endangered by a particular redemption for “neither doth this way [universal/conditional redemption] and the ground thereof give ministers any more solid ground to make the offer of the Gospel indefinitely in their public Preaching: for… we can assure hearers that whosoever believeth shall partake of life and of the benefits of Christ’s Redemption; and by virtue of the general Call and Warrant which we have in the Gospel, we may invite them to believe in Christ, [and] require faith of them…” (p409-10).

These then are some of the points Durham makes on the subject of particular redemption.  For me the two key points that emerge are:

  • The prominence of the idea of a Covenant of Redemption in Durham’s defence of particular redemption
  • The prominence of Pastoral concerns in Durham’s formulating of a particular redemption.  When Durham came to defend his doctrine of particular redemption he wasn’t simply engaging in ivory tower theology, rather he was defending a truth he believed helped him best in his Pastoral duties.

Weekly Update 19 – The Westminster Annotations

September 8, 2007

This week I’m going to take a look at the free offer of the gospel and related themes in a Scripture Commentary known as the Westminster Annotations.  This is essentially a Bible commentary produced by members of the Westminster Assembly and other Puritans (6 of the 11 known contributors were Westminster Assembly members).  William Barker in his book on the Puritans notes that the contents of these annotations can help us understand the Westminster Standards better. 

Some of the comments are rather brief and led good Mr Spurgeon to complain in his commenting and commentaries that, “The notes are too short and fragmentary to be of any great value”.  In one sense he is correct but they are still useful – especially for the student in historical theology!

Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament; Wherein the Text is Explained, Doubts Resolved, Scriptures Paralleled, and Various Readings observed. By the Joynt-Labour of certain Learned Divines, thereunto appointed, and therein employed, As is explained in the preface. London: Printed by John Legass and John Raworth, 1645

[The 1645 edition is not the best one to work with (1657 is the authoritative edition) but it is all I have to work with.]

He is bountifull to good men and bad, Matth. 5. 45. 1 Tim. 4 .10, yea to the beasts, Psal. 36 .6.
goodness] Or, mercy.

Comment on Ps 33:5

The annotations clearly teach God’s universal goodness.

He describeth after what sort God showeth himself to all his creatures, though our sins have provoked his vengeance against all: he shows himself mercifull, not onely in pardoning the sins of his children, but also in doing good to wicked men, albeit they feel not the sweet comfort of Gods benefits.
Comment on Ps 145:8

God shows himself to be merciful in doing good to wicked men.  Sadly they do not acknowledge this.

He speaketh this to commend God’s mercy to poore sinners, who rather is ready to pardon than to punish, as his long suffering declareth…
Comment on Ezek 18:23

God is more ready to pardon sinners than to punish them!  The evidence for this is his long suffering.

That ye may hereby declare your selves to be God’s children, who doth good to his enemies, whereas men naturally studie revenge…
Comment on Matthew 5:45

We are to be like God who does good to wicked men.

Uses “invited” for the gospel call.
Comment on Matt 22:4

Again we see the gospel offer is more than a command – it is an invitation.

He speaketh of his humane and ministeriall will; for his divine will could not be resisted by them.
Comment on Matt 23:37.

This is the comment on Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.  This is very poor and unnecessarily constrained exegesis.  As much as we see the free offer and related topics maintained in these Annotations there are times when a trajectory can be seen in some of the comments which could eventually lead to a John Gill coming along further down the path.  Much better on this verse is Dabney in his God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy:

“Such interpretations [as the one above], implying some degree of dissent between the two natures [of Christ], are perilous, in that they obscure that vital truth, Christ the manifestation to us of the divine nature. “He is the image of the invisible God;” “He is the brightness of his glory, and express image of his substance;” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; John 14:9.) It is our happiness to believe that when we see Jesus weeping over lost Jerusalem, we “have seen the Father;” we have received an insight into the divine benevolence and pity.”

See also Calvin’s comments where he clearly attributes Christ’s words to the Divine nature – “Christ, speaking in the person of God”.

Pitied him, that, having outwardly kept the commandments, which many did not, he should lose heaven nevertheless.
Comment on Mark 10:21

The Westminster Annotations, despite the poor exegesis of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem, do not commit the hypercalvinistic blunder of making the rich young ruler whom Christ loved elect.  They freely confess Christ loved this man and yet he “lost heaven” i.e. was never saved.

1 Joh.4.9. Mankind.
Comment on John 3:16

This comment on John 3:16 is fascinating.  All it says is mankind.  This calls for some comment.  Is the author here taking John 3:16 universally as John Calvin, John Ball and in later times Thomas Boston and Robert Dabney do?  Quite possibly.  Other Puritans of the time did e.g. Thomas Manton.  The Scottish Church at the time of the Westminster Assembly had, I think, settled on the view that John 3:16 pertained to the elect.  Rutherford and Gillespie argued for their position at the Westminster Assembly.  In England I don’t think the position was quite so clear cut (e.g. Manton).  What makes this especially interesting for me is that John 3:16 is one of the proof texts used by the Assembly for the free offer.  Also interesting is that John Ley who wrote the commentary on the Gospels was a member of the Westminster Assembly.  What is confusing though is that he also wrote the comments on Christ weeping over Jerusalem above.

By as much as appeareth unto us by his will revealed in the Gospel, he excludeth none by name, neither nation nor condition whatsoever, Matth. 28. 19. Mark 16.15. Or, all, may be taken, not pro singulis generum, but pro generibus singulorum.
Comment on 1 Tim 2:4

This is the exposition of God, who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  The first option given above is that this text speaks of the revealed will of God in the gospel.  Alternatively, we could take the text not as speaking of all individual men, but rather as all classes of men.  In which case the will spoken of here would be the will of decree.  Interestingly, George Gillespie seems to call the first position that we take this verse as speaking pro singulis generum “Arminian” in his “Treatise of miscellany questions”.  I’m not sure what the Westminster Assembly divine who wrote these comments (Daniel Featley) would make of that!  As an aside, the annotations clearly state that when we read in v6 who gave himself a ransom for all we are to understand all as “all that do believe in him”.

…or towards mankind, of which number we also are… Not any at all; by his directing and approving will, Ezek 33:11… Or, he speaks of God’s approving will, whereby he likes of repentance in any.
Comment on 2 Peter 3:9

The two standard reformed interpretations of 2 Peter 3:9 are given, namely that it can be read as an decretive will so that “all” are the elect or that it is the revealed will being spoken of so “all” really are all.

[Christ knocks] At the door of men’s consciences, both by outward means and inward motions, Psal.16.7 as one desirous of admittance; Cant.5.2.
Comment on Rev 3:20

Again we see Rev 3:20 taken evangelistically.  Also note that Christ, when he knocks on our hearts with the gospel, is desirous to come in.  The gospel offer is no fraud or sham.  It is well meant.

Next week I’ll probably pick up on Durham again and finish off the sermon on “Come for all things are ready”.  I am going to be very busy next weekend as I will be delivering three talks at our Church’s Young People’s Weekend Away.  Bear with me then if I post on the Monday rather than the usual Saturday!