Archive for the ‘Puritan Preaching’ Category

Ryken on Puritan Preaching

June 27, 2009

The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century series has been something of a mixed bag (as multi-author sets tend to be) but here is a good quote from Philip Ryken on the Puritan understanding of preaching:

The way the law leads men to Christ is by showing them that they will surely perish without him.  “Make known to the lost sheep the utter misery of their condition outside of Christ.  No one ever comes to Christ who stands on his own.  The Prodigal does not race back to his father until he has to, lest he perish on his own.”  While the law shows the sheep that they are lost, only the gospel will bring them home, and thus all preaching is to be evangelistic.  The main work of the gospel minister is to preach Christ, who is “the Alpha and Omega of the ministry.”  To preach Christ is to take his person, his work, and his benefits and offer them freely to sinners.
Philip Ryken, ‘Oliver Bowles and the Westminster View of the Gospel Ministry’ in J. Ligon Duncan, ed., The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, 2:421-2

Ryken here is writing on Oliver Bowles’ De Pastore Evangelico –  a work Durham was familiar with.  We have seen comments similar to Ryken’s before:

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; the Puritan position was, rather, that, since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic. 
‘The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel’, How Shall They Hear?, Papers Read at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, December 1959, p 11-21, Rept. Tentmaker

Who knows – Ryken and Packer might be right 🙂

Weekly Update 30 – Thomas Manton on the Free Offer

November 25, 2007

Thomas Manton is one of my favourite Puritans.  I never tire of reading his works, though I have a bit of a way to go before I have read them all – there are 22 volumes of them!  Manton was a hugely influential Puritan and well worthy of study.  There seems to have been a comparative lack of academic interest in Manton.  For instance in the Index to British Theses a search for John Owen turns up 18 results, Richard Baxter 19 results, Thomas Goodwin 8 and Thomas Manton 0.  That simply does not come close to representing the relative importance and abilities of these four men.

Where works have mentioned Manton they have sometimes incorrectly attempted to identify his theology with that of Baxter.  David Field in his recent work on John Howe helpfully counters this.  Field notes Manton’s respect for Baxter, “[Manton] was himself a fervent admirer of Baxter, considering himself not worthy to carry Baxter’s books after him.”  (David Field, Rigide Calvinisme in a Softer Dresse: The Moderate Presbyterianism of John Howe Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2004, 169).  Given the amount Baxter wrote I don’t think he could have carried his books even if he wanted to!  Now the fact that Manton admired Baxter does not necessarily mean Manton shared Baxter’s controversial theology – even Durham, who used Baxter as an almost constant sparring partner, recognised his learning and gifts.  Indeed Field correctly notes regarding Manton that, contra Baxter, “… his treatment of justification is fully in line with the Westminster Confession… and he strongly asserts particular redemption over against an Amyraldian understanding of the atonement.” (Field, Rigide Calvinisme, 169).

With Manton’s “orthodoxy” out of the way I now want to turn to his exposition of Ezekiel 18:23, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”  This is found in two sermons in volume 21 of his works.  There is so much in here I can’t cover it in one blog post but I hope to give a flavour of his exposition of this glorious verse.

Manton begins his exposition by setting out the pastoral importance of the free offer of the gospel.  If we have false views of God, that he is an “inexorable judge” then we simply have no grounds to turn to him for salvation.  Manton’s aim in these sermons is to counter this view of God which he feared was held by “many men” in the church: 

There is nothing so necessary to draw us to repentance as good thoughts of God. In the first temptation the devil sought to weaken the reputation and credit of God’s goodness… as if he were harsh, severe, and envious in restraining them from the tree of knowledge… In the bosom of the church this conceit possesseth many men’s hearts, that God is harsh and severe, and delighteth more in our ruin than salvation… Oh, what a monstrous picture do men draw of God in their thoughts, as if he were a tyrant, or an inexorable judge, that gave no leave for repentance, or left any hope of pardon to the guilty.
Works, 21:463

For Manton the idea that God should simply desire (yes, that word!) the destruction of the creature is unthinkable:

[Manton’s paraphrase of Ezek 18:23] Ye know it is evident that I have no such desire, no such pleasure.  It dareth not enter into your thoughts that I should take pleasure in the bare destruction of the creature.
Works 21:463-4

This is because Manton held that God was in his nature merciful and also had a general (non saving) love towards all men:

And as God is a merciful God, and loveth all the creatures which he hath made, so their life is more pleasing than their death; a thing more acceptable in itself to such a being as God is.
Works 21:464

Because of these general truths that he held (God does not desire the death of the wicked, God is merciful, God has a general love for all men) Manton is able to affirm:

That the repentance and salvation of the wicked is more pleasing to God than their death and destruction….  It is not all one to God whether ye repent or no… Our prejudices against God’s nature are so deep and inveterate that he needeth to interpose an oath.
Works 21:464

Now Manton is aware that what he is saying naturally raises some questions e.g. If what you are saying is true, why are the majority of people unbelievers?  Does that mean that God is unable to work out his pleasure?  Manton responds in three ways.

First, he notes that he is speaking “comparatively” not “absolutely”.  Of course, God “rejoiceth in the execution of his justice… but if you compare things with things he rejoiceth rather in acts of mercy than in acts of vengeance.”  Manton goes on to say in typically picturesque Puritan language, “Mercy, like live honey droppeth of its own accord.  He is forced to the other [judgement]; it is wrested from him.  Though the properties are equally infinite in God, yet they do diversely exert themselves towards men as to the effects.  Now the world is on trial.  God’s primary end is the conversion of the sinner; his second end the honour of his vindicatory justice.” (Works 21:465).  Manton’s last comment reflects the typical Reformed view that it is only per accidens (by accident) that the Gospel brings condemnation.  That is not its nature or end.

Secondly, Manton distinguishes between the secret and revealed wills of God.  He distinguished between God’s “liking and approbation” which is the revealed will and the “choice and resolved pursuit” which is the secret will.  So “God may be said to like the salvation of all men, yet not to intend it with an efficacious will.”  According to the revealed will we are at liberty to say that “He is unfeignedly pleased with the salvation of men”.  (Works 21:465).  Manton comments elsewhere, “Some scoff at this distinction, but the thing is as evident as daylight.” (Works 18:227).

Thirdly, Manton distinguishes the various ways God is related to us.  First, we are related to God as he is our sovereign Lord.  Here we are speaking of God’s sovereign will, his secret will and therefore we must note that “so God willeth not the salvation of all”.  That is to say he has not decreed it.  Now what we have here is a classic illustration of the dangers of “proof texting” from theologians.  If you went to Manton with the intention of proving that God does not will the salvation of all men, well there you have it.  But a couple of paragraphs earlier he had said that God does will the salvation of all men.  So the actual truth is that Manton does and does not believe that God wills the salvation of all men – it depends in what sense you are speaking.  Too often internet (and print!) polemics against the free offer ignore these distinctions and so make men like Manton and Durham stand on their heads.  Second, we are related to God as lawgiver where he tells us his “desire”.  Here we are dealing with the revealed will.  Thirdly, we are related to God as judge who does in this respect take pleasure in the execution of his justice.  Applying these to the free offer of the gospel Manton notes it is God as lawgiver, that is God as revealed, that we have to do with.  As revealed in the gospel God “did that for us which he was not bound to do, namely, in that he did provide us a Saviour, and open a door of hope for us… and call us to repent and believe in Christ, even every creature… with a promise of pardon, life, and salvation… he manifesteth the more grace and goodwill to our salvation, and that he is more ready to pardon than punish…” (Works 21:466-7).

Manton then moves on to argue that it would be “contrary… to the nature of God” to simply desire the (eternal) death of men.  Manton bases his arguments on God’s wisdom, goodness (“They were accounted monsters of men that glutted their eyes with cruelties; and can we imagine that God will make sport with the eternal ruin of his creatures.” Works 21:467) and mercy (“Therefore we ought to conceive of him that he can have no pleasure in our death, for mercy is an attribute that inclineth God to succour them that are in miseries.  How then can our destruction be more acceptable to God than our salvation?” Works 21:468).

Manton closes his sermon with seven evidences that God takes no pleasure in our eternal destruction (Works 21:468-71).  They are:

  1. God warns men that they are sinners.
  2. God “hath offered you free pardon upon the terms of faith and repentance… It is the great business of the Word to call men to faith and repentance… Surely God would not have given such directions, made such promises, found out such a way for our recovery, but he taketh pleasure in our conversion rather than our destruction.”
  3. God has provided a “redeemer”.  It is probably on the basis of sections like this that Manton’s position on the extent of the atonement gets questioned.  Manton makes his position on the extent of the atonement clear in his sermon on Is 53:6 where he explains what he means by seemingly universal statements (Works 3:328-331).
  4. “With what passionateness and meltingness of expression he wooeth me to return… such an affection God beareth to us that he expostulates, prayeth, entreateth that we would return and be reconciled.”  Manton cites Deut 5:29, Hos 11:8, Is 57:16, Ps 81:13, Matt 23:37, Luke 19:42.  It is interesting that Manton relates Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem to God rather than just to the human nature of Christ.
  5. God has, 2 Cor 5:20, “appointed men in our nature to offer you mercy”.
  6. God is merciful to all in providence.
  7. God welcomes all who turn to him.

There you have a typical Puritan exposition of the theological underpinnings and evidences for the free offer of the gospel.  As an aside Manton held to a universal application of 1 Tim 2:4: “It is the will of God’s pleasure that they ought to seek after an interest in Christ. So it is said, 1 Tim. 2:4, ‘God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;’ voluntate praecepti, by the will of his command: and by virtue of this we are bidden to preach the gospel to every creature… God is serious and in earnest in these offers and publications of Christ to all. That he mocketh no man you shall see: do but try him, accept him, and he will be as good as his word. It is not made to you fraudulently, and with an intent to deceive, but God is serious. God is bound to no man, and wicked men refuse him out of their own perverseness. And indeed we should rather admire his mercy that he giveth Christ to any, than quarrel at his justice that he doth not give him to all.” (Works 3:224).

I do like Manton!

Next week I’ll post something on Durham’s essay on the extent of the atonement where, among other things, he criticises William Twisse for his views on the extent of the atonement.  Yes, you read that right, Durham criticises the Prolocuter (Chairman) of the Westminster Assembly for his view of the extent of the atonement!  If you want to know why you’ll just have to wait until next week.

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 22 – More on Puritan Preaching

September 29, 2007

I had originally hoped this week to post some more Durham material, then I thought I would post some material on Robert Bolton but I haven’t managed to get either of these ideas into shape.  So I’m going to post further material from J.I. Packer’s essay, “The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel,” How Shall they Hear, Puritan & Reformed Studies, 1959, p11-21 (See note 1).

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgement on it, we cannot present Christ as a Saviour from sin and the wrath of God.

Packer is making a vital point here.  Only against the scriptural teaching on sin does the glorious truth that a Saviour is offered to us have any meaning.  Of course sin is not a popular word in our culture.  Has the culture influenced the pulpit?  Are sin and God’s judgement on sin preached in proportion with the weight given to them in scripture?

If the doctrines of total inability, unconditional election and effectual calling are true… Are we indeed entitled to make a ‘free offer’ of Christ to sinners at all?

Packer here highlights a potential dilemma.  Is ‘Calvinism’ compatable with the free offer of the Gospel?  How does he answer this dilemma?  The answer is twofold.

It would be tragic if the current return to Reformed theology, instead of invigorating evangelism, as it should, had the effect of strangling it; but it seems clear that many today have ceased to preach evangelistically…

First Packer laments that some have taken the free offer to be incompatable with “Calvinism”.  Packer regards this as tragic – so do I.  Speaking of the 1950’s and the return to “Reformed theology” Packer noted that because of this “many… have ceased to preach evangelistically.”  What a tragedy and what a misunderstanding of the implications of Reformed theology!  And yet, is the situation in Reformed churches much different today?  What proportion of Reformed churches habitually preach evangelistically?

In this situation, we return to the Puritans for further guidance.

Well this was a “Puritan and Reformed Study Conference” so his basic response is not primarily Scriptural but historical.  What light does Packer glean from the Puritans?

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; the Puritan position was, rather, that, since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic… The only difference was that some sermons aimed more narrowly and exclusively at converting sinners than did others.

I covered this last week.  Packer’s basic point is that historically the Puritans (“Calvinists”) were passionate proponents of the free offer of the gospel – so it is a grand mistake to think that “Calvinism” and the free offer are incompatable.

Observe how much they [the Puritans] took the word ‘gospel’ to cover. It denoted to them the whole doctrine of the covenant of grace… Thus, to preach the gospel meant to them nothing less than declaring the entire economy of redemption, the saving work of all three members of the Trinity.

But we should not be mistaken.  Puritan evangelistic preaching was not minimalistic.  It could not be summed up by “God has a wonderful plan for your life if only you let him”.  No, for the Puritans gospel preaching was preaching the full counsel of God.

The Puritan view was that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ meant teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace. To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this… In this way, they would say, preaching the gospel involves preaching the whole counsel of God. Nor should preaching the gospel be thought of as something confined to set evangelistic occasions, as if at other times we should preach something else. If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be, as Bolton said, at least by implication evangelistic.

Basically for the Puritans any and every doctrine or text could and should be applied evangelistically.  Indeed this is necessary to preach biblically.  For according to Packer, if we preach biblically, “one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be… at least by implication evangelistic.”

They [the Puritans] stressed the condescension of Christ. He was never to them less than the Divine Son, and they measured His mercy by His majesty. They magnified the love of the cross by dwelling on the greatness of the glory which He left for it. They dwelt on the patience and forbearance expressed in His invitations to sinners as further revealing his kindness. And when they applied Rev. iii. 20 evangelistically (as on occasion they did), they took the words ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ as disclosing, not the impotence of his grace apart from man’s cooperation (the too-prevalent modern interpretation), but rather the grace of His omnipotence in freely offering Himself to needy souls.

This is a point that has struck me in reading Durham and his contempories.  They dwell so much on the condescension of Christ in offering himself freely to sinners.  Packer’s explanation of the Puritan view of Rev 3:20 is very helpful.  My only caveat is that it was more than just “on occasion” they applied it evangelistically.

The persons invited and commanded to believe are sinners, as such. The Saviour is freely offered in the gospel to all who need Him. The question of the extent of the atonement does not therefore arise in evangelism, for what the gospel commands the unconverted man to believe is not that Christ died with the specific intention of securing his individual salvation, but that here and now the Christ who died for sinners offers Himself to this individual sinner, saying to him personally, ‘Come unto me… and I will give you rest’ (Mt. xi. 28). The whole warrant of faith – the ground, that is, on which believing becomes permissible and obligatory – is found in this invitation and command of the Father and the Son.

Returning to his original question about the compatability of “Calvinism” with the free offer Packer now touches on the extent of the atonement and the warrant of faith.  His explanation is sound and helpful.

The truth is that to all the Puritans it was one of the wonders of free grace that the Lord Jesus Christ invites sinners, just as they are, in all their filthy rags, to receive Him and find life, and they never waxed more impassioned and powerful than when dilating on what John Owen, in his stately way, calls ‘the infinite condescension, grace and love of Christ, in His invitations of sinners to come unto him, that they may be saved.’ (John Owen, Works, 1:422).

May the Lord of the harvest be pleased to send forth many labourers into his harvest field who would be as impassioned and powerful in preaching the free offer of salvation as the Puritans were.  The fields are ripe for harvest, but those who labour as Puritan preachers laboured, appear to be few.

Note 1
When I quote from John Owen I don’t endorse his views on church government (independency).  Similarly, when I quote Packer here I don’t endorse his position on Evangelicals & Catholics Together or his ecclesiological differences with Dr D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.

Weekly Update 21 – Puritan Preaching

September 24, 2007

I came across an important quote from the Puritan Robert Bolton (1572-1631) this week while I was on holiday.  It illustrates perfectly the Puritan idea of preaching:

[The Lord Jesus Christ] is offered most freely, and without exception of any person, every Sabbath, every Sermon, either in plain, and direct terms, or impliedly, at the least.
Robert Bolton, Instructions for a Right Comforting Afflicted Consciences, 1640, p185

So central was the free offer of the gospel to Bolton’s concept of preaching that it must be there in every sermon.  Now I’m not sure if many preachers, even among Puritans, fully lived up to Bolton’s ideal, but if you take Durham as an example you would struggle to find a sermon where Christ is not offered “impliedly at the least”.

Commenting on Puritan preaching a young J.I. Packer noted:

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; the Puritan position was, rather, that, since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic. 
‘The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel’, How Shall They Hear?, Papers Read at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, December 1959, p 11-21, Rept. Tentmaker – I am indebted to Packer’s paper for the Bolton reference.

Packer here is correct.  Most [I think all is stretching it a bit too far] sermons by the Puritans would be “to some extent evangelistic”.  Can we say that of modern preaching?  If not is it because modern sermons do not “declare Christ” as well as the Puritans did?

I’ll try and post some Durham later this week but I’m still working mostly on the secondary literature.