Archive for the ‘The ministry’ Category

David Murray on Preaching

December 18, 2008

I’m back on line after the move to Cambridge where we are now settling in well.  Over at the website of  the Puritan Seminary they have a blog where David Murray posts short video extracts.  One recent post that struck me was a short plea for preachers to be pleaders:

It is very much worth watching – I tried to embed it in the post but failed.  He also has a couple of recent posts on the interpretation of the Song of Solomon.  I hope to have a journal article out next year (DV) on the traditional reformed understanding of that book as represented primarily by James Durham.

I should post something more from Muller before the week is out.

Preaching and Application (again!)

October 30, 2008

It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close [searching] and lively [living] application.
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 147

Reformation Trust recently published An Introduction to CalvinismJoel Beeke’s Living For God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism.  I have not read most of this work yet but my eyes were immediately drawn to a chapter entitled “Applying the Word” in the section Calvinism in the Church.  In  this chapter Beeke highlights 10 elements of true “Calvinistic” preaching one of which is that “experiential Calvinistic preaching is applicatory.”  At which point I said “amen” and read on with enthusiasm.

Beeke’s desire in raising this point is that “it could be said of more ministers’ preaching today what has been said of Jonathan Edwards preaching: all his doctrine was application and all his application was doctrine.”  It is Beeke’s conviction that a “sermon that lacks application may be good teaching, but it is not preaching.”  Strong words, but fair.

He goes on to identify seven kinds of application (six from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship and one of his own):

  • Instruction: Doctrinal application
  • Confutation: Refuting contemporary error
  • Exhortation: pressing and admonishing the sheep to obey the imperatives and duties set forth in the text being preached, as well as expounding “the means that help to the performance of them.”
  • Dehortation: rebuking sin, stirring up conviction of its heinousness and hatred for it, as well as declaring its dread consequences and showing how to avoid it.
  • Comfort: encouraging believers to press on in the good fight of faith…
  • Trial: preaching standards and marks of grace for purposes of self examination and correction so as to stir up believers to do their duty…
  • Doxological: [To] bring people to sense the beauty and glory of God and his truth and to move them to praise Him…

This is the kind of preaching we need today.  Beeke also notes that preaching that is full of application “is often costly preaching.”  He continues, “As has often been said, when John the Baptist preached generally, Herod heard him gladly.  But when John applied his preaching particularly, he lost his head.”  But despite the cost that can be associated with faithful application the preacher can not simply avoid application because “every preacher will stand before God’s judgement seat  to give an account of how he handled God’s Word among the flock of sheep entrusted to him.”

Beeke concludes: “Preachers, I urge you to remember not to speak before people but to people.  Application is not only critical; it is the main thing to be done.”  Indeed, it is the main thing to be done, so that Spurgeon could say, “Where the application begins, there the sermons begins”.

Beeke’s other nine points are important too but I’ll only comment on one more (and only one element of that) and that is point eight: “Calvinistic preaching is sincerely earnest.”  Here Beeke makes the statement that “earnest experiential preaching avoids all levity.”  He quotes Baxter, “Of all the preaching in the world, I hate that preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity … instead of affecting them with a holy reverence for the name of God.”  There is much in Baxter I dissent from, but that quote is not one of them.  The tendency for inappropriate humour in the pulpit is another feature of modern preaching (and especially pasts of services devoted to children) I wish would change.

[All quotes, including Puritan ones, from Chapter 19 of Dr. Beeke’s book (p255-274)]

What is Wrong with Preaching Today?

October 11, 2008

In 1980 the President of Westminster Theological Seminary sent a letter to various senior pastors/theologians asking for their views on what were “ten serious failures of the Christian pulpit.”  One of the respondents was John R. de Witt then of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson.  His response was also published in the Banner of Truth Magazine (210, March 1981).  A number of the points he raised are of vital importance and as relevant today as they were in 1980.

De Witt’s first observation is that “the pre-eminent failing in the evangelical pulpit is a misunderstanding of the nature of preaching.”  His point here is that many preachers fail to recognise that the preacher is not to speak his own words – in the act of preaching he stands as an ambassador of Christ and should be speaking Christ’s words.  De Witt explains, “If we regard the sermon as the vehicle through which the Lord Jesus himself speaks – if, that is today, we hold that preaching in the biblical sense of the word is the principal means by which God addresses himself to sinners – this conviction cannot help but exercise a transforming influence on what we who are ministers do in the pulpit, and on how we do it.”  To me Dr de Witt’s observation here strikes a real cord.

De Witt’s second point is that he had observed “a want [lack] of ministerial earnestness”  Few preached “as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”  The causes he identified were a false view that everyone in the congregation is saved, a failure to hold together “in tension” the truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the influence of the spirit of the age “with its tendency to undervalue the awful consequences of sin and impenitence.”  Again, I can only say that De Witt’s observation is true.

The fourth point De Witt covers (I’m not going through each of his points) is a lack of “warm, pointed, applicatory preaching” perhaps due to an over emphasis on the redemptive-historical approach to scripture [not the principle itself].  Again as someone who has spent a lot of time reading old Reformed/Puritan sermons one of the main differences that jumps out at you is the sheer volume of application relative to modern sermons.  Good, helpful, edifying application is hard work, much harder than giving a “lecture” but it is surely central to any biblical conception of preaching.

Related to the area of application De Witt’s seventh point is that “in many Reformed churches preaching is insufficiently direct.”  Perhaps, de Witt posits, this is due to ministers assuming everyone before them is saved and therefore don’t need the direct preaching of the gospel.  For de Witt this is simply wrong.  “The gospel should be preached regularly to every congregation.  Covenant children must be told what their own covenant position means for them … They have to know they dare not take their position for granted.  Those born in Christian families are to come to Christ.  My own great homiletics teacher, Dr Henry Blast, used to tell us that we were to assume nothing with respect to the spiritual situation in our congregations.  And the longer I live and the more I preach the greater is the degree of my agreement with him.”

De Witt’s eleventh point (yes he overran!) is the demise of the “prophetic element in preaching.”  By this he meant the demise of the authority of the pulpit.  He stated “I grow weary as I think about the number of times, for example, when I have heard a minister beginning his sermon by saying there was something he wanted to ‘share’ with us from the Word of God.  I believe that the word ‘share’ in this context is singularly inappropriate.”  Instead of sharing “The minister must come from God, bearing God’s message, speaking God’s Word, standing in a sense even in God’s place, addressing us with that which in no way rests on his own authority.  The minister is a herald, and his sermon is that Word which he speaks in behalf of the One who sent him.  That, after all, is the meaning of the word ‘to preach’.  The relational, psycologizing, soul-bearing so-called preaching of the present time is in no way reflective of the biblical concept of the sermon.”

De Witt also highlights helpfully the need to pay attention to the form or aesthetic quality of the sermon, the importance of appropriate illustrations, how the general decay in classical learning is harming the pulpit, how congregations often push ministers to spend their time on other things detracting from the great work of preaching, and the necessity of a minister to be godly.  All helpful but I don’t have time to comment on them here.

So it suffices to say that I think de Witt is substantially correct in his analysis.  And if anything I would imagine in the intervening 30 years things have got worse not better.  But there is no cause for despair – there are still many who are workmen who have no need to be ashamed, who rightly divide the word of truth.  And the Lord of the harvest is able to send many more into his harvest field.

Thomas Manton on the Ministry

August 4, 2008

One of the points I bring up in my thesis regards Durham’s view of the work of the ministry and how that relates to the free offer.  For Durham the great goal and aim of the ministry is as follows:

The great work of the ministers of the gospel is to invite unto, and to endeavour to bring this marriage between Christ and souls to a close.
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p55

Because of this understanding of the ministry the free offer is obviously of foundational importance for Durham.  Preaching on one of Durham’s favourite “free offer” texts (2 Cor 5:20) Thomas Manton says the following:

The great business of the ministers of the gospel is to persuade men to reconciliation with God.
Works, 13:295

Here Manton and Durham are in perfect alignment.  Manton expands on this later in his sermon, highlighting the solemn responsibility of ministers to discharge this great duty of theirs:

These messengers [preachers] are under a charge to manage God’s message with all wisdom and faithfulness, and diligence, Mark xvi. 15,16, to preach the gospel to every creature, to rich and poor, learned and unlearned.  And woe be to them if they be not diligent, warning every man, and teaching every man, that they may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, Col i.28 … If we have respect to our Lord we must be diligent in offering peace to all that are willing to repent and believe … You know the temptations, prejudices, and hatred of those you have to do with; therefore pray them to be reconciled.
Manton, Works, 13:302

Those who win souls are wise (Prov 11:30), may the Lord raise up preachers whose great desire is to be used by the Lord to turn many to righteousness (Dan 12:3).

On a related note I’m beginning to settle on studying Manton in depth when I finish Durham.  I think exploring Manton’s theology relative to the orthodoxy of Owen and the views of the proponents of Rigide Calvinisme in a Softer Dresse (Baxter, Howe etc) would be a worthwhile piece of work.

Weekly Update 45 – Two Johns on Preaching, Systematics and being a Warrior

March 8, 2008

I’ve been very busy this week writing up, reading some more material, tracking down some new books, etc., so I’ve not had much time to dedicate to thinking about the blog.  Still waiting then to be put into digestible format are David Dickson’s views on the free offer and James Durham on the Lord’s day.

Once I finish this chapter on the Free Offer in the Creeds (which I am finding a bit of a bind to write up) and move straight into writing up the two chapters on Durham’s theology and understanding of the free offer of the gospel the blog should flow naturally from what I am writing up.  But at the moment things are slow.  So what follows is a fairly random selection of comments and extracts that I’ve been thinking about this week.

John Murray on Preaching

John Murray was a theologian whose writings I was taught to treat with the utmost respect when I was growing up.  Some of the older saints in the Highlands still speak with reverence of his preaching.  Murray spent a considerable amount of time thinking and writing about the free offer of the gospel (defending the traditional position) and here is one of his challenges about the practical outworking of the free offer:

It is a fact that many, persuaded as they rightly are of the particularism of the plan of salvation and of its various corollaries, have found it difficult to proclaim the full, free and unrestricted overture of gospel grace.  They have laboured under inhibitions arising from fear that in doing so they would impinge upon the sovereignty of God in his saving purposes and operations.  The result is that though formally assenting to the free offer, they lack freedom in the presentation of its appeal and demand.
John Murray, “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel,” Collected Writings, 1:81

Perhaps if more freedom were evident in the presentation of the gospel, conversions would be more evident also (with due deference to God’s sovereignty).

On the Value of Systematic Theology

There is a movement amongst certain sections of evangelical (& perhaps Reformed) thought to decry systematic theology.  John Dick in his Lectures on Theology has a few glorious statements in his introductory chapter which puncture the arrogance of these claims beautifully:

It is granted, that the Scriptures do not deliver religion to us in that artificial form which we find in the writings of the schoolmen … although there is certainly an approach to it in some parts of the Bible … but no man, I think, who is in possession of his senses, and understands what he is saying [ouch!], will deny, that religion is systematic.  The Word of God is not an assemblage of writings which have no other relation to each other but juxtaposition … There is arrangement here … although it may require time and patience to discover it … The study of the Scriptures is not recommended to us, that we may load our memories with a multitude of unconnected ideas, but that we may bring together and combine the truths which are scattered up and down in them, and thus “understand what the will of the Lord is.”
John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 1:6-7.

I am at a loss to understand the declamations which are so common against systematic Theology; and am disposed to think, that they are often as little understood by their authors, unless it be their design, as, in some instances, we have reason to suspect, to expose to contempt a particular set of opinions, to cry down, for example, not the system of Socinus or Arminius, but the system of Calvin.  Were their objections pointed against a particular system, as improperly arranged, as too technical in its form, or as encumbered with a multiplicity of useless distinctions; we might concur with them on finding the charge to be true.  But to admit, as they must do, that religion is not a mass of incoherent opinions, but a series of truths harmonized by the wisdom of God, and, at the same time, to exclaim against its exhibition in a regular form, as an attempt to subject the oracles of Heaven to the rules of human wisdom, is conduct which ill befits men of judgment and learning, and is worthy of those alone, who “know neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm”.
John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 1:7-8

He doesn’t mince his words, does he!  Systematic theology should be the crowning glory of Christian theological endeavour.  Historical theology is but a humble handmaid.

On being a Warrior (Polemic Theology)

A term of abuse which is often directed at those who value doctrinal exactness is to be called one of “Machen’s Warrior Children” (a reference to the founder of Westminster Seminary J. Gresham Machen).  This aversion to polemic theology is not new and has been well answered by John Dick:

In … Polemic Theology, the controversies are considered which have been agitated in the church … A polemic divine is a warrior; he goes forth into the field to encounter the adversaries of the truth.  The word has an odious sound, and seems to accord ill with the character of a teacher of religion, who ought to be a minister of peace.  On this ground Polemic Theology is often held up as the object of scorn … and it is loudly demanded, that the voice of controversy should be heard no more within the walls of the church, that the disciples of Christ should bury all their disputes in oblivion, and without minding differences of opinion, should dwell together as brethren in unity.  There is much simplicity and want of discernment in this proposal, when sincerely made.  It is the suggestion of inconsiderate zeal for one object, overlooking another of at least equal importance, accounting truth nothing and peace every thing … Often, however, it is intended to conceal a sinister design, under the appearance of great liberality; a design to prevail upon one party to be quiet, while the other goes on to propagate its nostrums without opposition … Nothing is more obvious, than that when the truth is attacked it ought to be defended; and as it would be base pusillanimity to yield it without a struggle to its adversaries, so it would be disgraceful … in one of its professed guardians not … to uphold the sacred interests of religion by his arguments and his eloquence.
John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 1:8-9

It is as if John Dick were writing today and not the best part of 200 years ago.  Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun!

Weekly Update 42 – Robert Rollock (1555-99)

February 16, 2008

I came across an announcement of the reprinting of Robert Rollock’s Select Works this week.  That is good news – assuming [!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png][!cid_image002_png@01C86C8F.png]people will read Rollock as opposed to letting him gather dust on their shelves!  This has spurred me on to post some things from Rollock, who has long been recognised as an important figure in the development of Covenant theology e.g. Sherman Isbell notes, “Rollock was a seminal early exponent of covenant theology in Scotland” (Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, p726).

Rollock makes certain key points when discussing the free offer of the gospel.  They will be familiar to long term readers of the blog.

  1. Rollock emphasises the centrality of the free offer of the gospel for the ministry and preaching.  He noted that the “frail and poor creatures” who hold “such a high, excellent, and glorious office” are “to offer salvation to them who before were condemned and castaways… to the end that the gospel and the promises of mercy may profit and edify them.” (Sermon XVII in Select Works, 1:531).  This is expressed elsewhere in the direction “that they in their ministry might declare, and make manifest the gentleness and long-suffering of God towards all men…” (Of the Resurrection of Christ in Select Works, 2:532).
  2. Rollock distinguishes the free offer of the gospel and the effectual call which cannot be resisted, as he notes “the promise of the covenant, which is offered unto us in Christ, is of the mere grace of God… [this] grace may be called the grace of our vocation; this grace is common to all that are called, elect and reprobate.”  However, there is also “grace in our effectual calling [which] may be called the grace of faith, appertaining only to the elect; for it is given only to those that are predestinated to life everlasting to believe.”  Rollock explains in more detail, “For whereas there is a double mercy of God in our effectual vocation, to wit: First, an offering of Christ with all his benefits in the covenant of grace, or the Gospel ; secondly, faith to receive Christ being offered, (under faith I comprehend hope and repentance, which follow faith), therefore, in our effectual calling two graces must be understood ; the grace of our vocation, or of offering Christ unto us, and the grace of faith, or of receiving Christ by us.”  (Rollock, Select Works, 1:269-71).  Note Rollock’s identification of the external offer with grace, which even the reprobate receive.
  3. Rollock affirms that the free offer of the gospel is not an offer that is just presented to men in general, rather it is a specific offer and conditional promise to each hearer: “… it is to be noted of this object of faith, that it is special, that is, offered to me, to thee, and to every man specially and distinctly.”  So although it is true that “the promises and sentences of the Gospel be conceived generally, yet it is certain, that they are to be received particularly by every one, as if they were spoken to every one in several… the promise of the Covenant of Grace is conceived generally… but it is to be understood particularly and singularly by every one, as if it had been spoken to me, or to thee.”  This particular offer is important for assurance: “For seeing mercy is offered particularly to thee and to me, &c., and I again assent particularly to it; now am I certain of that mercy that it is mine specially, seeing I do already by faith and special application possess it.” (Rollock, Select Works, 1:197,214,217).

Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for Rollock’s Select Works.  They are well worth purchasing.

Weekly Update 39 – ‘Concerning a Calling to the Ministry’

January 26, 2008

[This post is long.  The first half deals with Durham’s understanding of the call to the ministry.  The second half deals with some of Durham’s radical suggestions for overhauling the way men are called to the ministry.  If you are only going to read some of this post read the second half!] 

One of the most interesting essays in Durham’s work on Revelation is entitled “Concerning a Calling to the Ministry, and clearness therein” (Revelation, 66-77).

At the outset Durham highlights the importance of certainty regarding the calling to the ministry, “Ministers are but Ambassadors; and so for them to want [lack] clearness of the Lord’s Call, is to be uncertain whether they have a Commission or not…” (p66).  The whole area of the call to the ministry is an important matter. 

It is wise at the outset to clarify what we mean by “call” for in the words of Durham “When we speak of a call… it’s not to be understood, that men now are to look for an immediate and extraordinary Call… [but] in a mediate way” (p67).  A direct and personal (audible?) call from the Lord to leave our nets and become fishers of men is not for today.  Durham also addresses the area of our own desire urging that “great stress would not be laid on a man’s own inclination or supposed impulse” (p68).  He cites Moses, Jonah and Jeremiah as those who were truly called but had the opposite inclination!

So, negatively, the call is not “extraordinary” and it is not an “inclination”.  But positively what is involved in a call?

  1. Having the requisite gifts is “the great differencing Character of a Call”.  Although gifts do not finally “constitute” a call yet if a man is called God will give him the gifts. (p68).
  2. It is the recognition of the gifts by the church “that maketh a Call”. (p68).
  3. There must ultimately be a yielding to the recognition of a call/gifts by the church. (p69).
  4. God’s providence may, where there is doubt over a calling, clear matters for us.  If all other doors are shut to us which we might naturally have expected to be wide open, then it may be a sign to confirm a call to the ministry. (p69).

But what of the testimony of the Spirit – the inward call?  When asking the questions “how to discern it” and “what weight to lay on it” Durham confesses that “it is hard to decide therein: the operations of the Lord’s Spirit being mysteries… also the deceits of our own hearts are deep, and not easily reached.” (p69-70).  Despite this initial qualification he gives some helpful guidance:

  1. It is not unusual for the Spirit to create a desire in someone for the ministry when that is to be their calling. (p70).
  2. But this working of the Spirit is “not alike in all or equally discernible” (p70).
  3. For some it is powerful and direct but for others it may progress in stages e.g. a loss of interest in (or love for) our present calling, a love created for reading and studying, the heart becomes restless in all other things but the ministry etc. (p70).
  4. There is a difference between a call to “the study of Divinity” and “the Ministry”.  The former may be present without the latter. (p71).
  5. But we must be careful for “every impulse, which may be to the Calling of the Ministry, is not to be accounted an impulse of the Spirit of God” (p71).  If we are constrained contrary to our natural inclinations, with a motive for God’s glory and the edification of his people, with a willingness to submit to the judgement of the Church, with a desire for study, and with the appropriate gifts (p71-2) then we may trust it is a true calling.

An absence of this “impulse of the Spirit” does not mean there is no calling, for it may simply be that we do not discern one even though it is there, or it may be that the other elements of the calling (e.g. gifts) are sufficiently clear that this is not necessary (p72-3).

Having defined a calling to the ministry Durham went on to challenge the way the “calling to the ministry” worked out in practice.  This is where Durham’s essay gets interesting.  Everything else he says is eminently helpful, but fairly standard.  On the practical outworking of the calling to the ministry, however, he is quite radical.

His basic point was that he saw that “many” who “smother good Gifts which might be useful” thereby depriving the Church of faithful pastors because of their reluctance to put themselves forward for the ministry (e.g. due to “shame and modesty”).  Durham’s response was to advocate that it should not be left “unto men themselves alone” to decide “whether they will offer themselves to trial” for the ministry.  Rather the Church should be proactive and authoritatively “advise [men] to study” for the ministry.  This would bring more men with suitable gifts into the ministry and also might make those “ashamed to thrust themselves forward” who currently placed themselves before the Church without adequate gifts or calling. (p73)

For Durham, the Church proactively calling men to study was preferable to the situation of his day, where the Church was “almost, confined in her choice to a number that give themselves, or at most are designed by their Parents, or possible constrained by necessity to follow such a study” (p73).  For Durham the idea that a Church could call a man to train for the ministry without his prior indication of such a desire was eminently reasonable.  He argued that the Church was one body and that every member of the body had a duty to use their gifts in a way “as may most conduce for the good of the whole body”.  So if the Church deemed a member may most edify the body by being in the ministry there was no reason why the body might not “appoint him to the Ministry”.  The person so called would have a duty to accept this appointment because he has a “duty” to the body “which is to be preferred to any particular member’s interest”.  Durham argued this was the apostolic method. (p74).

Durham summarised his approach as “There would be some choice made in the designing of Youths for that Study (the Ministry): so that in an orderly way, some might be trained, and not have liberty otherwise to withdraw… We would not have Elections bound and limited to that number, so as either any whosoever thus trained up, might certainly be supposed as capable of being Ministers, or as if no Congregation or Presbytery might fix their eye upon, or give a Call unto any other.” (p74-5).

Durham argues that his position is that of the First Book of Discipline which he quotes “Moreover men in whom is supposed to be any Gift, which might edify the Church, if they were employed, must be charged by the Ministers and Elders to join themselves with the Session and company of interpreters, to the end that the Kirk may judge whether they be able to serve to God’s glory and the profit of the Kirk, in the vocation of Ministers or not.”  (p75 – italics as original). If those with gifts were not willing to comply they were to be subject to discipline!  Durham believed this approach “if it were zealously followed, might by God’s blessing prove both profitable, and honourable to the Church.” (p75).

Perhaps that all seems a bit radical?  Well the church in the UK has a shortage of Pastors, and people recognise the problem but relatively little changes.  Why not be radical and proactive?  Why not call men into training rather than waiting for them to (never) put themselves forward?

Weekly Update 36 – There is a Greenhill close at hand!

January 5, 2008

Back to the esteemed Westminster Divine William Greenhill and his work Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself.  Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson in their work Meet the Puritans comment that, “These sermons offer some fine material on… the free offer of the gospel.” (Meet the Puritans, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Book, 2007, p300).  Indeed!

Now last time, in my first post on Greenhill, I highlighted two evidences that Christ is willing to save sinners 1) His commands 2) His sweet invitations.  This week I’m going to pick up on some more of his 15 evidences that Christ is willing to save sinners.

Point 7 is particularly interesting and relates to the end and nature of the gospel ministry.  Greenhill writes that Christ’s willingness to save sinners appears “in that the Lord Christ has instituted and appointed… His ministers, and sent them to woo, entreat, beseech, and draw men unto Him” (p137).  For Greenhill, the very purpose of the ministry “is to make known His [The Lord’s] forwardness and readiness to receive sinners, and to go forth in His name, and to get them to come to Christ” (p137).  Greenhill notes that “the great work of the ministry is to make known the willingness of Christ, and to bring sinners unto Christ so that they might have mercy from Him” (p139).

How many today have this conception of the ministry?  I have highlighted several times on this blog Durham’s conception of the purpose of the ministry and it is the same as Greenhill’s.

Of importance to Greenhill is the fact that it is not merely the preacher who is beseeching sinners but “God beseeches sinners, and therefore we beseech you” (p139).  This flows from the nature of the ministry – the minister is only an ambassador with no message of his own; his duty is to relay his master’s message.  This also flows from the high view that the Reformed faith has of preaching.  The Second Helvetic Confession says, “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed…”  The faithful preacher speaks the words of God.  Again Durham makes this point repeatedly.

Point 10 highlights that it is “strong evidence that the Lord Christ is willing to save sinners and do them good in that He is grieved, troubled, and affected greatly that sinners will not come to Him” (p141).  Citing Christ’s Lament over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) Greenhill comments that “Christ is grieved to the heart that men and women do not come to him… Christ weeps over souls, families, and cities” (p142).  Oh for the compassion of Christ!

There is much of value in Greenhill’s other points but I’ll stop here.  I would like to return to Greenhill at some point in the future on the idea of preparationism (the sinner has to prepare himself for coming to Christ by so much mourning over sin, thus placing the warrant to believe in the sinner’s own sorrow) as a cursory reading of him may give the idea he leans towards this.

I’ve got a lot more material to post on the free offer from Durham and others but I may soon start mixing things up a bit and posting on some other aspects of Durham’s theology.  Various topics will probably come up e.g. the Call to the Ministry, Prophecy, Song of Solomon, the Sabbath.  He has many helpful things to say that are not related to the free offer 🙂

Weekly Update 25 – Durham on the ‘besetting sins’ of Pastors

October 20, 2007

Back to Durham – but not on the free offer.  This week I am taking a look at a very searching section of Durham’s Commentary on Revelation (Reprint. Willow Street: Old Paths Publications, 2000).  In this section Durham is answering the question What may make a Minister so ready to please himself in the having of Gifts, and a name before others, when yet he may be so faulty before God?  What he has to say is very challenging so read on with caution!

Of all men in the world, Ministers are most obnoxious to this temptation of vanity, and seeking approbation from others; because, most of their appearances are in public before others, and that in the exercise of some Gift of the mind… Now, when this meeteth with applause, it holdeth out a people’s estimation of such a person’s worth, which has a great subtlety in pleasing and tickling of him, and so is ready to incline him to rest satisfied therein.

Durham is here exposing what is one of the great dangers of the ministry – pride and vanity.  The subject of pride is a difficult one to address – if only those who are without sin on this subject were to mention pride then it would never be spoken on!  But I think what Durham says here is to the point and needs to be emphasised today.  It is all too easy if people look to you for advice, guidance and for feeding from the word of God to become proud.  So Durham’s warning has timeless application to the ministry.

I also think what Durham is saying has particular relevance in our age which is obsessed with “celebrity” – even in the Church.  If you are a “successful” figure and your ministry brings you attention then along comes the conference circuit, books, articles, book endorsements, etc.  To keep humble in such circumstances requires great grace.  As an aside, this “celebrity” culture in Reformed churches is not at all helpful.  I remember a night back home in Inverness.  One of the churches there had a “Reformed/Evangelical celebrity” speaking.  Another meeting was taking place at the same time to hear from a missionary about to set off for dangerous and lonely work in a Muslim country.  Which meeting had 20 in attendance and which had hundreds?  What does that say about the priorities of Christians today? (I was a student in Edinburgh at the time and so was at neither.)

Now to caveat all this slightly I should point out that some of the most humble Christians I know are ministers!

Many Ministers are not travailing in birth to beget souls, and to have success as to the Salvation of many, as well as outward fruits; but are at best studying to exonerate themselves as having been diligent in their duty.

It is so easy to slip into mere duty.  But to “travail in birth” over the salvation of souls – that is the difficult thing.

Oftentimes Ministers take more pains in external duties of their Ministry that are obvious to the view of others, than they do in the inward secret duties of Christianity upon their own hearts, such as self-examination, the making of their own calling and election sure, the keeping of themselves in the love of God, the exercising of faith, Repentance etc.

It is a great danger to put most effort into those duties that are open for all to see.  It is easy to appear externally well while neglecting the internal duties which cultivate true godliness.

Hence we see, That as often the most tender Christian is under the cross, so it is the most lively Minister who laboureth most under the sense of his own insufficiency and shortcomings in Gifts… who meeteth with most disrespect, and many disappointments amongst the people and such like; these are often blessed of God to keep such a person lively… O but Ministers that have a name, and some seeming countenance in the exercise of their Gifts, great applause and acceptation amongst the people, had need to be humble and watchful, lest they be liable to this charge, Thou hast a name that thou livest, but art dead!

There is a famous story around Spurgeon (I think) who had one member of his congregation who constantly criticised him.  Spurgeon thanked God for this member as they helped to keep him humble!  Durham makes a similar point here.  Are you suffering from criticism in your ministry?  Then maybe God is using that criticism as a means of grace to maintain humility.

Now just to try and get the balance right, Durham is not criticising successful (or fruitful) ministers – that is ministers whose labours are blessed by God to see many sinners saved.  Nor does Durham want ministers to be indifferent to this “success”, if I may call it that – they are to seek and labour that their ministries may be blessed.  But what is utterly abhorant to Durham is that any “success” or “gifts” should breed pride.  And in any case the gifts that ministers (or any Christians) have should not be a source of pride, for “it is not Gifts that commendeth a Minister to Christ, but faithfulness in improving the measure which he hath…” p249.

Weekly Update 15

August 11, 2007

This is the third week of blogging through James Durham’s sermon Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations. One more week to go on this sermon. This sermon is found in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, p43-79.

It is the duty of all to whom the good news of this marriage comes to come to it, and, when they are invited to it, presently without all delay to yield.

Once again we see Durham clearly advocating what we would call “duty faith”.  Also for all who are invited the marriage is “good news“.  Further note Durham is appealing for an immediate response to the gospel.  He did not direct his hearers to go away and think about things.  No, his hearers were to come to Christ, “presently without all delay“.

All who come may expect a very good and heartsome welcome. None need to fear that they shall not be made welcome … The Lord will not look down on such as come; nay, He is waiting to welcome them, and to meet them, as it were, midway, as we see in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15).

The Lord is “waiting to welcome” sinners!  What a comforting truth.

There is very good news here … therefore I would exhort you all to believe this report. There are, alas, few who do indeed believe that the eternal God has this design of marriage between Him and sinners … believe that this is the good word of God … and that He is waiting to ratify them to all who give them credit … believe that this offer is really His.

The gospel is good news.  That is what it is – to all who hear it.  Also note, for Durham, the gospel offer is not man’s offer, it is God’s.  It would therefore not be correct to say that it is simply the preacher offering, it is the preacher offering in Christ’s stead.

Be holily amazed and wonder that the offer of this marriage comes to you, and that He is content to marry you.

It is a wonderful and amazing thing that the gospel should come and tell us that God is content to marry us in Christ.

What is our commission today? This is it … the King … speaks to you by us, and we speak to you in His name, and tell you that our blessed Lord Jesus is wooing you. We declare, publish and proclaim it.

What is the preacher’s commission?  To speak on God the Father’s behalf and proclaim that in the gospel Jesus Christ comes to woo all the hearers of it.  How many fulfil their commission?

Our Lord Jesus is not far to seek. He is here waiting to close the bargain with you. This is our errand, to proclaim these glad tidings to you … Is not the Father ready? He has given His consent. Is not the Bridegroom ready, when He has done so much … The feast is ready, the garments are ready … The contract is ready … He is ready to accept you if you will accept Him. Our blessed Lord Jesus says that He is content to marry you … there is in effect nothing wanting but your consent, and let that not be wanting, I beseech you.

In the gospel we have then the consent of God to close the bargain of salvation with us.  On the side of God, all things are ready.  All that hinders our salvation is our unbelief.

It is not one or two, or some few who are called; not the great only, nor the small only, nor the holy only, nor the profane only, but you all are bidden; the call comes to all and every one of you in particular, poor and rich, high and low, holy and profane. “Ho (proclaims the Lord, as it were, with an “Oh, yes!” in Isaiah 55:1), everyone that thirsts, come; and he that hath no money, let him come.” “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely” Revelation 22:17. Our blessed Lord Jesus … In His name we invite all of you, and make offer of Jesus Christ to be your Husband …

The gospel does not only come to “sensible sinners” as per later hypercalvinistic developments.  It comes to every hearer of the gospel.  All are invited.  Note also for Durham the gospel offer is not as it were an indiscriminate message that just happens to be proclaimed in a wide audience.  No, the gospel is a particular and specific invitation to each individual who hears.

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.

Again there is no limit of the offer to “sensible sinners” – even atheists receive this offer!  Note Durham’s descriptions of preaching the gospel.  It is praying, beseeching, begging.  Does this characterise the preaching of many today?

Before we proceed any further, we do solemnly protest and, before God and His Son Jesus Christ, take instruments this day, that this offer is made to you … that the Lord Jesus is willing to match with you, even the most profane and most graceless of you, if you are willing to match with Him. He earnestly invites you to come to the wedding.

Even the least sensible sinner in the audience receives the earnest invitation of Christ.

I would not put one of you outside the reach of this invitation. However carnal we may be in speaking His mind, yet we do not desire to obscure or limit our Lord’s grace. He calls all of you to the wedding … Come, then, oh, come and subscribe …

Again there is no limit on the gospel offer.

This is very well becoming … to make this offer to great and small, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, gracious and graceless, hypocrites and profane. There is here no exception of persons with Him; the blessed God is content to match with the most graceless and godless of you as well as with those who are gracious and godly.

No sensible sinner here!

There is joy in heaven at the conversion of a sinner, and the price was paid for the elect who are yet graceless as well as for those of them who are now gracious; for all were once in the same condition. Therefore do not look with straitened hearts on the rich and liberal allowance of our blessed Lord Jesus.

Durham believed in and preached a definite efficacious atonement – “the price was paid for the elect“.  But he was always conscious of the danger of his congregation drawing false conclusions from this and getting caught up in speculations as to whether Christ’s death was for them.  Durham therefore points to the character of those for whom Christ died – sinners.  Therefore he reasons, are you a sinner?  Then don’t exclude yourself, for Christ died for sinners.

We call you to believe, and we declare in His name that, if you will take yourselves to Him in good earnest, you shall be saved … You who are profane, take Him … You who are self-righteous, take Him … Whatever you are … take Him.

Again the gospel is to all hearers, not just a select few.

You must not delay to come and close the bargain; you must not put it off till tomorrow, nay, not an hour. All things are ready. Just now, now is the accepted time: here stands the blessed Bridegroom … We dare not be answerable to our Master, nor can we be answerable to our trust and commission, if we shuffle by or thrust out any of you if ye do not thrust out yourselves … let me beseech and beg you to come to the wedding.

There is to be no delay in accepting the offer of Christ.  It must be received now.  No preparationism here!  (The doctrine that sinners must go through certain prolonged stages before coming to Christ.)  Again note for Durham preaching the gospel involves begging and beseeching.

We cannot allow you an hour’s time to advise … close with Him presently, or you may never have the like opportunity … The King is on His throne … His servants invite in His name. Come, therefore; come without further lingering …

The offer must be accepted immediately because who knows if the hearers will live to receive another offer?