Archive for the ‘Rev 3:20’ Category

Weekly Update 7 (at last!)

June 11, 2007

First of all, apologies for the delay.”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.”
Rev 3:20

Last week (weekly update 6) I posted on Durham’s extensive comments on this verse and the epistle to the Laodiceans in general.

This week I am posting a few examples of how Durham used this verse in his preaching. I also look at the use of this verse by David Clarkson.

1. Durham

“This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of [the] parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes from His word. He says from there, “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.” 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.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p46

So sinners do not have to stand back and wonder whether God is willing to save them. The willingness on the side of God is plainly set down in his word in Rev 3:20. Durham notes that Rev 3:20 teaches that God in the gospel comes to “woo” sinners. Amazing condescension!

“God will sometimes speak peace to them who are given to folly… He speaks peace to them… In His offering of peace to them, and by his meeting and treating with them in and by that offer, in His entreating or inviting them earnestly to come to Him who have wearied themselves and spent their labour on that which does not profit; pressing them to return and assuring them that he will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14), and preaching peace through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2); counselling them to come and buy eye salve of Him, and by His knocking and waiting at their door for admittance and entry (Revelation 3).”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p165

So the “offer of peace” is an “inviting them earnestly to come”. This earnest invitation is seen in Christ knocking at the doors of sinners’ hearts as in Rev 3:20.

I will let the next two quotes speak for themselves.

“Union with the Lord by covenant is accessible to a runaway sinner who has perverted his way… He will take away that exception of grossness of sin which might stand in the sinner’s way, were it even rotten hypocrisy, detestable indifference, and lukewarmness in the matters of God… Yet He even says to such… “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p261

“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 hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me)… and [in] Ps 24:7-10, it is cried, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be lift up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in; which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how near Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks’ hands.”
Christ Crucified, p80

2. Clarkson

One of the classic Puritan evangelistic sermons is David Clarkson’s (1621-1686) sermon on Rev 3:20 entitled Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Sinners (The Works of David Clarkson, Volume 2, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, r1988, p34-100). Clarkson was colleague and then successor to the great John Owen.

Before I post a few extracts it is interesting to note that Clarkson’s theology is described in the following terms in the introduction to his Works, “The doctrine of Clarkson is very decidedly Calvinistic, and is occasionally somewhat harsher than that of most of the puritan Calvinists.” (Works, Vol. 1, p x). So if you would expect someone to cut back on the free offer it would surely be someone like this. How then does he handle Rev 3:20?

He starts his sermon by highlighting that this text contains “something wonderful, worthy of admiration” (Works, vol 2, p34). But what? “That Christ should thus offer himself to sinners in a way of mercy, is a matter of admiration” (ibid). But more than this – come and wonder at those to whom Christ shows mercy, “See how he describes those to whom he offers love, ver. 17, Wretched and miserable, twice miserable, extremely miserable, and (which makes the gracious offer wonderful) wilfully miserable… And yet Christ will come and knock, and stand waiting, to show mercy to such sinful wretches; and continues thus, notwithstanding their obstinacy, their contempt of those gracious offers, and of Christ himself who makes them. Oh how wonderful is this!” (Ibid p37).

How does Christ offer himself? “He entreats. Here is wonderful condescension indeed, that the great God, speaking to the vilest of his creatures (so man is by sin) should use the language of entreaty… Yet thus does the glorious God to those that have showed themselves traitors, enemies to his crown and dignity; he comes to them, offers them his favour, his pardon, stands waiting for their acceptance. And when they are slow to accept it… he beseeches, he entreats them to accept of his favour, not to refuse a pardon… Oh how wonderful is this condescension!” (Ibid p39-40).

But surely the condescension of Christ goes no further than entreaty? “When he prevails not by coming, by standing, by knocking, by waiting, by beseeching, why this is his grief, his sorrow, and he vents his sorrow in tears. Behold the compassions of the Lord to obstinate sinners, as he expresses it over Jerusalem. Behold it, and wonder! He represents himself as clothed with the weakest of man’s infirmities; he falls a-weeping, Luke xix. 41,42… And O, did the Lord weep for those who will not weep for themselves? Oh how wonderful is this compassion! how full of wonder this condescension.” (Ibid p40).

Note that it is by preaching that this message is carried today, “The preaching hereof, in season and out of season is his [Christ’s] appointment, that therein sinners may see him daily set forth as crucified before their eyes, that they may behold him stretching out his hands all the day long unto them, that they may hear him, as though he were now, as in the days of his flesh, mourning, complaining, and weeping over them, Luke xiii. 34. How often would the Lord have gathered you! How often has he come, knocked, stood, waited, entreated, lamented! If it be a wonder that he will condescend to any of these for once, how wonderful that he should condescend to these so often!” (Ibid p41.)

How would you react if your pastor started preaching of Christ “weeping over” unbelievers? Is it proper to preach like this? Have you ever preached like this?

What is offered in the gospel? “He [Christ] offers (1.) his love; (2.) himself; (3.) his blood and all that he purchased by it; (4.) his comforts; (5.) his glory; and (6.) his kingdom” (Ibid p41.) In discussing the offer of “his blood” Clarkson phrases his statements in such a way as to be consistent with a definite atonement.

Clarkson asks how Christ knocks on the doors of sinners’ hearts, and gives four answers (Ibid p 52-55). First, by “checks of conscience” i.e. when our conscience accuses us this is Christ knocking for admittance. Second, by “acts of providence.” When we are blessed with the good things of this life we are to consider that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). When we are under afflictions we are to consider our weakness and go to Christ. The third and principal means of knocking is the preaching of the word. The final means of knocking is the operation of the Spirit. He notes that “Those that enjoy the gospel, and live under a powerful ministry, cannot but have experience of Christ’s knocking by his Spirit” (Ibid p55). It is evident at this point that Clarkson is speaking of common grace as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 68.

Christ’s standing at the door shows among other things, “His desire; his readiness to enter… If you see one standing at your door and knocking, how can ye interpret this, but that he is willing, desires to enter? Christ is more ready to come into sinners than they are to open to him. There is no bar, no backwardness on his part; he is at the door, and there he stands and knocks. That which keeps him out is the unkindness, the obstinacy of sinners, who will not open.” (Ibid p58).

Clarkson notes that Christ’s patience will one day come to an end. The Jerusalem that Christ wept over would be made desolate for despising the offer of the gospel, Luke 19:41-42. (Ibid p59).

The gospel offer shows, “The riches of the goodness and compassion of Christ to sinners… Oh the riches of his goodness, the wonders of his condescension, the greatness of his mercy… The Lord’s ways are not our ways. The Lord leaves not himself without a witness; gives clear testimony that he is abundant in longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that they should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]; that they should be as happy as that which is the happiness of heaven…” (Ibid p 60).

The reference to 2 Peter 3:9 in the above is interesting. The reformed tradition from Calvin onwards has been divided in its exposition of that verse. Clarkson here gives it a universal reference, as does Calvin himself. Many others restrict the reference to the elect.

There is more to come from Clarkson’s sermon next week – I’ve only covered the first half. This will include: in what sense may we speak of the gospel promise as conditional, in what sense does the reformed view of “common grace” differ from the “Arminian” one, and more in the vein of what I’ve posted above. Please remember that despite what you may be thinking after reading what I posted above that Clarkson is a “Calvinist” and this will come across next week more clearly.

I was going to post on John Flavel’s (200+ pages!!!) of sermons on Rev 3:20 but I didn’t have the time to go through them in depth as there was so much material in Clarkson.

One point of interest in the Flavel sermons though is that he calls James Durham a “judicious expositor” with reference to his views of Rev 3:20 (The Works of John Flavel, Volume 4, Banner of Truth, r1968, p19).

Now I’m not saying that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 is the only one offered in the “Puritan” era (see Matthew Poole for one other alternative). But what I would say is that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 was the most common one.

Next (now this!) week, in addition to finishing off Clarkson I’m going to blog through a very important section of one of Durham’s sermons which he introduced as “a short sum of the gospel”. This will introduce the importance of the doctrine of the covenant to the free offer.

I’ll actually spend most of this week reading through T.F. Torrance’s “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell”. Expect a fairly “trenchant” review when I’ve finished it.

Weekly Update 6

June 2, 2007

“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.”
Rev 3:20

How do you understand this verse? It surely can’t be an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be “Arminian” to understand it this way? In any case, isn’t it addressed to a church and so by its very nature addressed to believers?

Well according to Durham, yes this is written to a Church, and yet this still is an appeal from Christ to unbelievers, and no it isn’t Arminian to understand it this way. This needs some unpacking.

First let’s step into the classical Scottish doctrine of the Church.  It is fundamental to note that the Scottish theologians of Durham’s time did not view the Church as being comprised solely of those with saving faith in Christ.  Rather it is comprised of those who have been baptized as infants. This baptism was a parallel to the circumcision of the Old Testament, “Were they [old testament unbelievers] not members of the visible Church as you are, circumcised under the Old Testament, as you are baptized under the New?” Christ Crucified, p114.  So when people like Isaiah cry out “Who hath believed our report?” (Is 53:1) this cry can be echoed by ministers today regarding their Churches. Accordingly, Durham can state “… here in this city, where the gospel is preached to a great multitude of professing members of the visible Church, there are readily many that do not believe,” Christ Crucified p113.  For Durham, within the “visible Church” are “many that do not believe”.

Against this background, the fact that a letter is written to a Church does not exclude the fact that it may be addresed to, and applicable for, those who are unbelievers.   So there are no a priori theological reasons which dictate that Durham could not take Rev 3:20 as being addressed to unbelievers.

But we can go further and gather Durham’s view on the make up of the Laodicean Church to which Rev 3:20 is addressed.  According to Durham this church is “without anything to hide or cover… before the justice of God… without [Christ’s righteousness].” Commentary on Revelation, p269.  John Brown of Wamphray (a gifted Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham) went so far as to state that “a true visible church [may exist] without a single Christian in it; giving Laodicea as an example” (James Walker, The Theology and theologians of Scotland 1560-1750, p127).  Durham tentatively takes the same position as Brown – see p275-276 of the Revelation commentary.

To modern Evangelicals this may all seem a bit strange – a Church with no Christians?  However strange it may have been, this was the view of the Scottish Church in Durham’s time.

So to summarise, for Durham, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, and therefore Rev 3:20, is addressed to a group of unbelievers.  Rev 3:20 is an appeal addressed to unbelievers by Christ offering salvation to them.

“There is a wonderful depth of iniquity and hypocrisy in their case; but here is a far more wonderful depth and mystery of free grace and infinite love in the proposed cure.  It is proposed by way of offer under the expressions that belong to bargaining.”
Revelation, p271

So Christ shows the “mystery of free grace and infinite love” in the “offer” to the unbelieving Laodicean Church.  The gospel offer according to Durham is expressive of love.

In this offer the “wares proposed… [are] Jesus Christ himself”. Ibid.  So what is offered in the gospel is nothing short of Christ himself and all good things in him.

Durham calls particular attention to the “manner of Christ’s proposing the [gospel offer]”.   This is “I counsel thee, etc. which is not so proposed, as if it were left, indifferent to them to hearken or not… it is thus expressed, for these reasons… That thereby he may bear out his affection, who, as a friend, condescendeth to give them counsel in things that are of most concernment for their own good… It is thus expressed, to gain their consent the more willingly to the same: therefore in the Gospel He doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him… there is no sinner that heareth this Gospel, but he may think himself sufficiently warranted to close this bargain with Christ…” Ibid p272-273.

There are a number of key points brought out by this:

  • In the gospel Christ speaks to unbelievers as a “friend”
  • In the gospel Christ shows “affection” for the hearers
  • The gospel involves “condescension” on the part of Christ
  • The gospel is preached to unbelievers “for their own good”
  • It is preached in this manner “to gain their consent the more willingly”
  • In the gospel Christ “doth beseech and entreat”
  • This gospel preaching gives everyone a warrant to “close this bargain with Christ”

Durham goes on to note that Christ “loveth my visible Church” and that this gospel message calling for repentance “expresseth God’s love to them” Ibid p273.  Again note that this particular visible Church was made up entirely, in Durham’s opinion, of unbelievers.  So Christ loves unbelievers (not with an electing love, it should be noted).

Verse 20 is “a most instant and importunate pursuing of His offer”.  “Hearts naturally are as Castles shut and guarded by the devil against Christ: when He cometh with His Ordinances… notwithstanding of her many formal refusals.  Thus, He is said to stand at the door: whereby is holden forth… His patience that still waiteth on.” Ibid.

It is an amazing thing to see the patience of Christ in dealing with sinners who continually reject him! 

“He presseth [this offer]… by making His offer particular, as it were, bringing it to every man’s door, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, etc… What He [Christ] would have, is… hearkening to his voice, which he requireth…” Ibid.

Note that the gospel is not just a general message, rather it is a particular message to everyone who hears.

“This then is the duty called for, and the terms upon which the offer is made, to wit, Faith’s yielding to receive and admit Christ…The person called to this is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it to every hearer, as if it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou, etc.”
Ibid p274.

“It is Christ, making this offer.”
Ibid p274.

We cannot say the gospel offer is only the preacher offering; it is Christ’s offer.

I’ll probably post a few of Durham’s uses of Rev 3:20 in preaching next week, together with some other uses of Rev 3:20 by Durham’s contemporaries.

Appendix 1 

Standing away from all this for a second, Durham has a very interesting little section at the start of his exposition of the Epistle to the Laodiceans where he discusses the statement, “I would thou wert cold or hot”.  Durham notes that “It cannot be thought that he [Christ] commandeth them to be cold; nor doth it imply any will or desire in him for such things simply; (for it cannot be thought that he is so indifferent concerning these extremes…” So there is no “will or desire” in Christ that the Laodiceans be “cold”.  Rather, it is the opposite.  Durham goes on to note that it would be incorrect to proceed from this and say that there is any intention in God for the “salvation of all men” distinguishing his position (and Reformed theology generally) from Arminians.  This last point relies of the distinction between the revealed will of God and the secret will of God (or his decree).  At some point in the future this will be the subject of a post.