Archive for the ‘Rev 3:20’ Category

The Biblical Basis for the Free Offer

November 8, 2008

What scriptural texts did Durham use to justify his definition of the free offer of the gospel?  Some key texts are as follows:

2 Cor 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”  For instance speaking of the duties of ministers Durham states, “it is their commission to pray them, to whom they are sent, to be reconciled; to tell them that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (as it is 2 Cor. 5:19-20), and in Christ’s stead request them to embrace the offer of reconciliation … This is ministers work, to pray people not to be idle hearers of the gospel…”[1]

Matt 22:4, “all things [are] ready: come unto the marriage.”  Durham states, “The offer of this gospel … is set out under the expression of inviting to a feast; and hearers of the gospel are called to come to Christ, as strangers or guests are called to come to a wedding fest (Matt. 22:2-4). All things are ready, come to the wedding, and etc.  Thus the gospel calls not to an empty house that [lacks] meat, but to a banqueting house where Christ is made ready as the cheer…”[2]

 

Is 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Durham expands on this verse, “The offer of the gospel is … set out often under the similitude or expression of a market where all the wares are laid forth on the stand (Isa. 55:1; Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, etc.).  And lest it should be said, or thought, that the proclamation is only to the thirsty, and such as are so and so qualified; you may look to what follows, Let him that has no money come; yea, come, buy without money and without price.”[3]

 

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.”   Perhaps a verse that may surprise some of you, but Rev 3:20 was understood almost universally by the Puritans as an evangelistic appeal to unconverted sinners.  Durham it typical when he states, “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 will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me) … which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks hands.”[4]  Or again, “He says from there, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will 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.’”[5]

 

Ezekiel 18:31-32, “why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”  Durham explains, “Faith … is well expressed in the Catechism, to be a receiving of Christ as he is offered in the gospel.  This supposes that Christ is offered to us, and that we are naturally without him.  The gospel comes and says, ‘why will you die, O house of Israel?  Come and receive a Saviour.’”[6]

 

Matthew 23:37, Luke 19:41-2, Christ’s lament over Jerusalem, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.”  Durham uses this verse as follows, “Sometimes he complains (as John 5:40), Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life; and sometimes weeps and moans, because sinners will not be gathered (as Luke 19:41-42 and Matt 23:37).  Can there be any greater evidences of reality in any offer?”[7] Another example of Durham’s use of this verse is his statement that “[In the gospel offer] the Father and the Son are most heartily willing; therefore they expostulate when this marriage is refused, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you, but you would not!” (Matthew 23:37).  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou, even thou, hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace!” (Luke 19:42).  All these sad complaints, that Israel would not hearken to His voice, and His people would have none of Him (Psalm 81:11), that He came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and that they will not come to Him that they might have life (John 5:40), make out His willingness abundantly and undeniably.”[8]

 

Rev 22:17, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Durham uses this verse as follows, “grace says, Ho, come, and (Rev 22:17), Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.  It is not only, to say with reverence, those whom he wills, but it is whosoever will…”[9] Another of Durham’s uses of this verse is “This is our Lord’s farewell, that He may press the offer of the Gospel and leave that impression as it were, upon record amongst the last words of this Scripture; and his scope is to commend this Book and the offers He hath made in it, as most free and on terms of grace, wherein Christ aimeth much to draw souls to accept it…”[10]

 

I hope that gives you a flavour of some of the biblical basis Durham adduces for the free offer of the gospel.

[1] Durham, Christ Crucified, 79

[2] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80

[3] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80

[4] Durham, Christ Crucified, 80 

[5] Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 46

[6] Durham, Christ Crucified, 96-7

[7] Durham, Christ Crucified, 125 

[8] Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 55

[9] Durham, Christ Crucified, 125 

[10] Durham, Revelation, 992


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Rev 3:20 & Preparationism Again

August 30, 2008

I’ve discussed “preparationism” before here (along with some definition).  Recently while looking for some more Puritan works on Rev 3:20 I came accross this quote which combines an understanding of Rev 3:20 as a “conversionist appeal” with a disavowal of preparationism:

Fifthly, Get this principle riveted in your hearts, That the want of preparations or qualifications that many men lay great stress upon, shall be no impediment to hinder your soul’s interest in Christ, if you will but open to Christ, and close with Jesus Christ.  Rev 3:20, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open to me, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’  Pray tell me at whose door was this that Christ stood and knocked?  Was it not at the Laodicean’s door?  Was it not at their door that thought their penny was as good silver as any? that said they were rich and had need of nothing, when Christ tells them to their very faces, ‘that they were poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.’  None more unprepared, and unfitted for union and communion with Christ than these lukewarm Laodiceans; and yet the Lord Jesus is very ready and willing that such should have intimate communion and fellowship with him.

‘If any man will open, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’  The truth if this you have further evidenced, Prov i. 20-24, and viii. 1-6, and ix. 1-6.  All these scriptures with open mouth speak out the truth asserted, viz. That the want of preparations or qualifications shall not hinder the soul’s interest in Christ, if the soul will adventure itself by faith upon Christ.  I pray, what qualifications and preparations had they in Ezek. xvi., when God saw them in their blood, and yet that was a time of love…

Thomas Brooks, Works 3:204-5

So we see an evangelistic or conversionist use of Rev 3:20 in yet another Puritan and also we see Brook’s denial of “preparationism”.  None of this is to denigrate the importance of preaching the law or of conviction of sin – but neither of these is the warrant of faith.

John Owen Conference

August 23, 2008

So this week was spent at the John Owen Today conference.  It was good to meet people I had only made contact with over the internet in the past (e.g. Marty Foord, Mark Jones and John Tweeddale) and to make new contacts.  This was the main benefit of the conference as not many of the papers were directly relevant to my thesis – I was unable to attend the most relevant paper (John Owen’s Gospel Offer: Well Meant or Not). 

The most thought provoking talk for me was the first of the conference by Prof VanAsslet on “COVENANT THEOLOGY AS RELATIONAL THEOLOGY: The Contributions of Johannes Cocceius and John Owen to A Living Reformed Theology”.  The particular point I found interesting was his stress on the relationship between the denial of a distinction between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace and eternal justification.  Essentially VanAsslet argued that a proper distinction between the covenant of redemption (the triune God’s eternal counsel) and the covenant of grace (the execution in time of this eternal counsel) helped prevent time (covenant of grace) being swallowed up in eternity (covenant of redemption) thus mitigating against eternal justification.  VanAsslet noted historically if the covenant of grace is collapsed into the covenant of redemption there is the danger of eternal justification emerging (e.g. Gill).

Moving away from the conference, and to keep this blog vaguely related to the free offer the question has again been raised in a recent article – just who is the gospel offered to and must they be sensible sinners.  (The inference of the article was sensible sinners).  Well lets see how James Durham would answer.  So Mr Durham, who is the gospel offered to:

“The person called to this, is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it so to every hearer, as it it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou etc … because where the Lord saith any man, without exception, who is he that can limit the same, where a person of whatsoever condition or qualification is found, that will accept of the offer according to the terms proposed?” (Revelation, Rept. Old Paths, 2000, 274).

Right so the gospel is offered to everyone who hears preaching.  But Mr Durham, are you really sure the gospel offer isn’t restricted to sensible sinners – I mean we would never offer the gospel to those most insensible of sinners, professed atheists, would we?

“We make this offer to all of you, to you who are atheists, to you who are graceless, to you who are ignorant, to you who are hypocrites, to you who are lazy and lukewarm, to the civil and to the profane. We pray, we beseech, we beg you all to come to the wedding … We will not, we dare not say, that all of you will get Christ for a Husband; but we do most really offer Him to you all, and it shall be your own fault if you lack Him and go without Him.” (Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Soli Deo Gloria, 60)

Finally I found out this week that there is an unpublished manuscript sermon by Samuel Rutherford on Rev 3:20!  I assume that Rutherford takes the same view of this verse as Durham i.e. it is an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers.  In which case this sermon is hugely significant for my thesis and would, perhaps, depending on its length, be worth transcribing and including as an appendix to my thesis.  I need to get up the the National Library of Scotland and read this sermon post haste!

“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.
p66

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
p70

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.
p73-4

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).
p75

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.
p78

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
p78

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 34 – William Greenhill on “Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself”

December 22, 2007

“…And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Rev 22:17

William Greenhill (1597/8-1671) was a famous and influential Puritan minister.  He was one of those at the Westminster Assembly who argued for an independent system of Church government as opposed to Presbyterianism.  Poor ecclesiology aside 🙂 he says a number of helpful things, particularly relating to the free offer.  He has one work in particular dealing with the free offer which has been reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria as Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself – it is a series of sermons on Rev 22:17 (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999).  What I want to do is post on one small section of a sermon entitled “Christ’s Willingness to Save Sinners”.  [I will post more on this book at some point in the future].

Greenhill begins the section by noting that “it lies in the hearts of all sinners to question the willingness of God and Christ to save them and do them good” (p130).  He expands on the implications of this, “And here lies that which sticks with sinners, to question the willingness of God and Christ” (p131).  Again we see the pastoral importance of the well meant offer.  It is only an articulation of a well meant offer of salvation that can answer such concerns.  Greenhill proceeds, “Now Christ is very willing that sinners should come unto him, and I shall make this out in several ways.”  He lists 15 ways Christ shows this willingness.  I’ll cover some of them this week, and some next week.

Evidence 5 is particularly interesting.  We know Christ is willing to save us, because he commands us to come to him.  “This [willingness] appears from the commands of Christ.  When a thing is commanded, those who command would fain have it done.  Now the Lord Christ commands men to come unto Him.  He commands them to believe… so when God the Father and Christ the Son command us to believe, they are very willing that we should do so.  When princes send out their commands to the people to do such and such things, they are very desirous that they should be done.  So when God gives out His commands in the gospel, and when Christ commands men in the gospel to come, it is an argument that there is a strong will in Him for it to happen” (p135). 

Those familiar with current critics of the free offer will know that they view the above as “bad logic”.  Because we are commanded by God to do something, for them, is no indication that God is actually willing that we do it.  I’m not going to go into the why’s and wherefore’s of the arguments but just note how different that kind of reasoning is to this Puritan presentation of the gospel.  [How Greenhill’s comments here relate to some of the arguments of John Owen in The Death of Death will have to wait until another day!]

But is the gospel merely command – a presentation of some facts i.e. those who believe are saved and those who do not believe are damned?  Not for Greenhill.  Evidence 6 of Christ’s willingness to save sinners is, “Does not Christ sweetly invite you, and use sweet invitations and allurements to draw sinners to Him?”  One of the texts Greenhill uses to illustrate these “sweet invitations” is Rev 3:20. (Yes, this is another Puritan using Rev 3:20 evangelistically!  I don’t understand the aversion some modern “Puritans” have to the evangelistic use of this text.)  Commenting on this text, Greenhill says, “What sweet invitations have we from Christ!  How forward, how ready is the Lord Jesus to do poor sinners good!” (p137).

So is the gospel a command?  Yes, but we must not forget it is a “sweet invitation” as well!

So two evidences down – only 13 more left 🙂  I’m going to be without internet access for most of the next week (how will I cope!) and it is a general family time in any case so responses to comments (which are always valued and very welcome) will be slower than usual.

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.
p12

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?
p13

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…
p13

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.
p13

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.
p13

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.
p14-15

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.
p17

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.
p18

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.
p19

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).
p21

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 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!

Weekly Update 18 – John Brown (of Wamphray)

September 1, 2007

This week I’m looking at the views of John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) – has one name ever belonged to so many good theologians?  (John Brown Covenanter Martyr, John Brown of Haddington, John Brown of Whittburn, John Brown of Edinburgh).

The Dictionary of National Biography notes “Brown was respected by several theologians of his day: as early as 1637 Rutherford noted that he ‘saw Christ in [Brown] more than in his brethren’ (DSCHT, 98).  Robert Wodrow referred to him as a man of ‘very great learning, warm zeal, and remarkable piety’ (Wodrow, 1.304).”  He was well respected in Scotland and also spent many years as an exile in Holland so is an interesting connection point with continental theology.

Of Brown’s works only one has been reprinted today Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  It seems to have had various publishers and the Soli Deo Gloria seems out of print.  It is available here with a very tasteful cover!

What follows are his views of the free offer of the gospel.  Again I’ve read the sources and I think I’m representing him fairly but any corrections are welcome.

Brown, John. Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Or a Short Discourse. Pointing forth the way of making use of Christ, for justification, and especially and more particularly, for Sanctification in all its parts from Johan. XIV; Vers. VI. Rotterdam: Printed by H.G. for John Cairns, book seller in Edinburgh, and to be sold there, 1677.

Is it not a wonder that such an all sufficient Mediator, who is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him, should be so little regarded and sought unto, and that there should be so few, that embrace him, and take him as he is offered in the gospel.
p19

Brown, as a Reformed theologian, had no difficulty with the concept of the gospel as an offer.  It is standard reformed terminology.

… we Judge not the want of these requisites a ground to excuse any, that heareth the gospel, from the obligation to believe & rest upon Christ, as he is offered in the gospel.
p42

Again it is simply not true that Scottish theology was “preparationist”.  Yes Scottish theologians would talk about the necessity of conviction of sin (rightly) but, regardless of whether this was present, the duty to come to Christ was the same!  Note of course Brown believed in our obligation or duty to believe savingly on Christ – he believed in duty faith.

The soul must know, that He [Christ] is not only an able and sufficient mediator; but that also he is willing and ready, to redeem & save all that will come… Therefore it is necessary that the soul conceiveth not only a possibility; but also a probability of help this way; and that the dispensation of the gospel of grace, and the promulgation and offer of those good news to him, speak out so much that the patience of God waiting long, and his goodness renewing the offers, confirmeth this, that his serious pressing, his strong motives on the one hand, and his sharp threatenings on the other… his expressed sorrow & grief over such as would not come to him, his upbraidings & objurgations of such, as do obstinately refuse, and the like, put his willingness to save such as will come to him, out of all question… [there is] no impediment lying in the way, but their own unwillingness.
p49-50

Brown here discusses what sinners need to know before they will come to Christ.  First we need to know the sufficency of Christ to save us from our sins, second we need to know that God is willing to save all that come to him.  How are we to know God is willing to save us?  Well we live in a dispensation of grace where the good news of the gospel is offered to us.  This speaks to us of God’s patience and goodness to us.  But more than this we know God’s willingness to save all who come to him because he expresses grief and sorrow over those who do not come.  There is no reason that we will not be saved but our own unwillingness.

[Those who reject the gospel] as to them, all Christ’s entreaties, motives, allurements, patience and longsuffering, his standing at the door and knocking, till his locks be wet with the dew &c. are in vain: yea they are contemptuously rejected, despised, slighted, & undervalued.
p57-58

Again note Brown uses Rev 3:20 evangelistically.  Also important is Brown’s description of the gospel offer – it is an entreaty, an allurement.  Again, and I seem to say this every week, it is not simply a command, a statement of facts – it is so much more.

If it be asked what warrant have poor sinners to lay hold on Christ… Our absolute necessity of him… Christ’s all sufficient furniture, whereby he is a qualified mediator… His being appointed of the Father, to be mediator of the covenant… The Father’s offering of him to us in the gospel, and Christ’s inviting us, who are weary and heavy loaden; yea calling and commanding such to come to him… exhorting further and requesting upon terms of love, pressing earnestly by many motives, sending out his ambassadors to beseech, in his stead, poor sinners to be reconciled… all these are sufficient warrant…
p58-59

This discussion of the warrant of faith is important.  What is our warrant?  Our need, Christ’s sufficiency, that he is offered in the gospel, and that God has sent ambassadors in his stead to beseech sinners to come to him.

[Christ] is the Truth, in respect that he carryeth towards poor sinners in all things, according to the tenor of the gospel, and the offers thereof: He offeres himself to all freely, and promiseth to put none away that come to Him; and this He doth in truth… He giveth encouragement to all sinners to come; that will be content to quit their sins…
p208

Again the offer and promise comes to all.

Brown, John. An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Romans, with Large Practical Observations; Delivered in Several Lectures. Edinburgh: David Patterson, 1766

…God’s goodness… declares how ready he is to embrace sinners, and how unwilling and loath to strike and destroy them…
p50

The free offer of the gospel is an expression of the goodness of God.

So bountiful and liberal is the Lord Creator, in whom we live, move, and have our being, that even wicked, profane hypocrites, and such as delight in their wickedness, and are enemies to him, are participating of his goodness; general temporal favours, are even such getting from him: for God’s goodness was extended even to such here as were despising it. And so wonderfully good is our God, and such is his native kindness, or good nature, that he is ready, and prompt, as it were, to be employed by the creatures, and to do them good…
p51

God is good to all.  There is no denial of God’s goodness and favour towards those who are impenitent.

These expressions of bounty and longanimity in God towards the wicked, however they are not pledges of his favour and goodwill towards them, as they are unto his own; yet, in that they show what an one God is, and how well worthy to be turned unto, and contain in them some ground of hope, that he will welcome such as come, they have in them a manuducency unto repentance…
p51

This general goodness is not to be confused with God’s peculiar goodness to his people.  Nevertheless God’s general goodness is a testimony and ground of hope that he will accept all who come to him.

So dearly should all ministers love, and so earnestly should they desire the salvation of such as are under their charge, and also all Christians should so seriously desire the salvation of others, that they should be content to be at any loss imaginable and profitable, for the procuring of the same, and should think nothing too dear for that effert…
p342

Ministers are to desire the salvation of all their hearers.  Oh that many would feel this within them and preach with according love and passion!

This was the meeting [rejection] which God got at their hands, whom he invited both by his servants the prophets, and his courtesies, most tenderly and affectionately, as a loving father or mother stretcheth out their arms to imbrace their dauted children; and this he did not once or twice, but with great patience and longanimity all day long… he was weary in shewing kindness to them (all this is metaphorically spoken, the more to convince us both of his tender affection and long suffering)…
p423-424

God’s invitations are tender and affectionate.  Note the language Brown uses “as a loving father or mother stretcheth out their arms” to their children.  Sure this is a metaphor – but it is one designed to convince of his tender affection and long suffering to those who reject him.

Brown, John. The Life of Justification Opened. No publisher noted in book: 1695

There isn’t too much I want to cover here.  There are a few interesting points however in his appendix Arguments Against Universal Redemption.  (This argument is repeated in his treatise on Quakerism.)

First Brown argues that the Westminster Confession explicitly teaches definite (particular) atonement in 3.6, 8.1, 8.5, 8.8.  Many try to make the case that the WCoF does not explicitly rule out belief in a universal atonement.  What is interesting here is that a well respected theologian at the time of the assembly insists that it does.
p530

Second Brown’s first argument for definite atonement is from the covenant of redemption.
p530-531

Thirdly Brown contra Calvin and others I noted last week limits John 3:16 to the elect.
p533

Fourthly Brown commends Durham’s discussion of limited atonement in his commentary on Revelation calling him “learned & solid”.
p558

Fifthly there is a comment of Brown’s that needs explanation.  He criticises an Amyraut like positing of an “antecedent will for the salvation of all… as if God could not effectuate whatever he desired, or could not have a velleity towards anything, which either he could not or would not effectuate”.  The key word here is velleity which means an incomplete volition.  For Brown and Ball, as we saw last week, we cannot tie desire to intention.  What God intends he does.  That is not to say Brown would have a problem with the use of desire in general when referring to the revealed will of God in the gospel.  As we have seen repeatedly Durham doesn’t, so I don’t imagine Brown would either.
p561

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.