Archive for the ‘Richard Baxter’ Category

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 27 – Justification: James Durham v Richard Baxter

November 5, 2007

Yes, I know I’m late but I managed to get thirteen thousand words of my thesis done last week so I hope I’ll be forgiven!

It were exceedingly profitable to be more in the study of justification, that is of the very marrow of the gospel, and is deservedly called articulus stantis, aut cadentis ecclesiae…
Christ Crucified, p592

Let’s heed Durham’s advice to be “more in the study of justification” which is “the very marrow of the gospel” and look at what he teaches on this subject.  I want to do this primarily through his essay on justification in his Commentary on Revelation [there is also much material on justification in Christ Crucified].  In order to understand Durham’s essay it is important to note that it is in reality a polemic against the views of Richard Baxter.  This may come as a bit of a surprise to some readers of the blog but Richard Baxter got his doctrine of justification all wrong.  A helpful summary of Baxter’s view is found in Von Rohr’s work, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986):

Baxter… [in] his distinctive view of justification… envisaged it as perfected by the good works of the believer…

Baxter affirmed that Christ satisfied the Lawgiver and so procured a change in the law. This new law is the law of the new covenant, which requires faith and brings justification to those who exercise it. So two kinds of righteousness are necessary for entrance into the new covenant: the righteousness of Christ… and the faith of the believer which is then imputed to him for righteousness… The former he considered “legal” righteousness and the latter “evangelical,” and they must remain together.

Baxter developed a view of justification as a continuous process which likewise drew criticism for its involvement of human effort. If one decisive moment in justification was its time of beginning in faith, “constitutive justification” in his terminology, an equally decisive moment will come at the culmination of life’s journey in the “declarative justification” of the last day when final judgement takes place. And through the journey there is “executive justification,” the bestowal of promised rewards along the way.

Durham’s essay Concerning the Way of Covenanting with God, and of a Sinner’s obtaining justification before Him. (Commentary on Revelation, 295-313) is where he tackles the views Baxter was advocating head on.

Durham states his own position clearly, in that given the existence of sin, “There being no remedy possible upon man’s side… there is an external righteousness provided, to wit, the satisfaction of the Mediator, which being imputed to the sinner, is in law to be accepted as satisfactory for him by virtue of the Covenant of Grace; and by virtue thereof, he is to be absolved, and discharged as if he himself had satisfied: this is the meritorious cause of our justification” (p195).

A number of points should be noted: 1) The righteousness required for justification is “external” to us 2) This righteousness becomes ours by “imputation” 3) The Covenant of Grace is key to understanding this 4) The meritorious cause of justification is not faith but Christ’s righteousness made over to us in the CoG.

Because God uses means to bring about our justification, faith receiving “the Gospel, as it is contained in the Word, and the Preaching thereof, is commonly called the external instrumental cause of our Justification” (p295).  Faith therefore can be called “the condition of the Covenant: because it is on this condition that Justification is offered to us” (p295).  Despite this “the immediate meritorious cause of our Justification, is Christ’s righteousness” (p296).  Thus Durham stands in direct line with Calvin, “Properly speaking, God alone justifies… we compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek Christ’s grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ… faith, even though of itself it is of no worth or price, can justify us by bringing Christ, just as a pot crammed with money makes a man rich. Therefore, I say that faith… is only the instrument for receiving righteousness.” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.7).

Given that faith is the condition of justification, for Durham, it is absurd to talk of an eternal justification, “That faith is necessary for Justification, so that none can expect to be justified but Believers, hath been hitherto almost among all uncontroverted till that of late Antinomians have opposed it; But the Scripture is very express… in cursing all that believe not, and declaring them to be under the curse…” p298.

For Durham the true position on justification can be ascertained by rightly distinguishing between “the righteousness of the two covenants”.  For the covenant of works the righteousness in justification is “inherent and consisteth in works” but in the covenant of grace it “is without us, and cometh by imputation… Philip. 3.9” (p297).  (Thus if you deny a CoW for Adam it may well lead to errors in justification!)

As well as stating his own position Durham “takes on” Baxter’s doctrine.  Durham is about the most irenic character you can come across in the 17th C so he gives Baxter all the benefit of the doubt he can.  Durham’s advice can be paraphrased as, “Learned Baxter, if in using these new terms and ways of expressing things about justification you really mean the same thing as I mean by my tried and tested terms then stop using your new expressions.  It isn’t big and clever, it is confusing, unclear and therefore harmful to the people of God.  If, however, by using different language you are indicating an underlying dissatisfaction with the standard doctrine of justification, then we have a real problem on our hands. ”

In Durham’s own (much longer – come on, he was writing in C17!) words, “there needeth be no great debate for terms of condition, imputation, instrument, etc. yet these still being used among Divines, we conceive there is no just reason to cease them, the use of them having now of a long time made them to pass in this matter without mistake… much less is their reason to cry down the matter expressed by them: And it cannot but be sad, that such new controversies should be moved.  We are persuaded, that reflecting on many worthy men, the obscuring of the trodden path by new Questions and Objections, the confounding of Readers by proposing, as it were, of a different strain of the Covenant, from what formerly hath been preached, the giving of an open door to propose new draughts in all things, and that not in expressions only, but also (as is alleged) in fundamental material things, etc. shall be more prejudicial to edification… for if by all this [your new expressions] the former Doctrine of Justification be enervated [weakened], where are we till now?  … what is the use of this … new mould [pattern] with so much professed danger in, and dissatisfaction with, the former? will it not be welcome to Papists, to have Protestants speaking in their terms, and homologating them in condemning the former language of the most eminent Reformers?” (p299).

How different is Durham’s attitude to the “arrogance of the modern” abounding today.  No delight in innovation here.  In its place a contentment with the terminology currently “used among Divines” and a distrust of anything that “condemns the language of the most eminent Reformers.”  His distinction between “terms” and “the matter expressed by them” is also helpful.  For instance, although I don’t agree with John Murray’s dislike for the term “covenant” in reference to Adam, his writings reveal that he held to the substance of what the older divines meant by that language and therefore there is no need to question his essential orthodoxy.

Moving particularly to Baxter’s errors, Durham argues that works properly cannot be a condition for our justification because “it obscureth the difference of the two Covenants, to wit, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace: for so works would still be the condition of the Covenant of Grace” and because “it doth propose something in ourselves as the immediate ground of our justification before God” which is anathema to Durham (p307-308).

He also argues that there is no distinction between legal and evangelical righteousness.  There is only one righteousness recognised in scripture, and that is perfect righteousness.  Further, the difference between the CoW and the CoG is not “that one requireth works perfectly holy as the condition thereof, and the other Evangelic works not perfectly holy… But the difference lieth in this, that our working is not to be the ground of our right to the inheritance, nor actually to preceed our right as in the Covenant of Works it was necessary, but believing and consenting only” (p301).  Besides, “When the Apostle opposeth the righteousness of the Law and Gospel, he opposeth not as it were a thousand talents to a penny, or one set of works to another, but the righteousness of Christ, or to be found in Him, to all kinds of works whatsoever…” (p301).

Durham also argues, contra Baxter, that justification is a once for all (as opposed to a continued) act.  He argues, “If instant upon believing one be justified and freed from the curse, and instated into friendship with God then it cannot be a continued act…” (p306).  Further, justification being viewed a continual act, implying future justification is pastorally dangerous.  Durham argues that if our justification is not complete and perfect (i.e. finished) then we do not have a “shield against all challenges, and a righteousness that can abide the trial in justice” (p306).

There you have it then.  James Durham v Richard Baxter on justification.  Needless to say, I believe Durham won the theological fight hands down.  I’ve tried to make the above as digestible as possible.  Durham’s essay contains many nuanced theological distinctions which are hard to condense accurately.

As to the contemporary value of this dispute – see if you doubt that a robust reaffirmation of Durham’s doctrine of justification is necessary in Reformed circles.