Archive for the ‘The ministry’ Category

Weekly Update 5

May 19, 2007

So this week I’m going to post on Durham’s views on application in preaching.  These are found in an essay in his Commentary on Revelation (Old Paths, PA, 1658, rept 2000, p328-336) entitled, Some general Observations Concerning Preaching, and especially Application.  There is some classic material in here.

Durham goes through this subject in 20 separate points.  I won’t comment on all of them (though they are all worth commenting on!) but just pick out some relevant points.

‘Ministers in their application, ought to conform themselves to the case of the Church and persons to whom they Preach.’

So preaching should take account of who is in the congregation.  The same application is not necessarily appropriate for two different audiences, or indeed for different classes of people in the same audience.  So:

‘… this is a main qualification of a Minister of the Gospel rightly to divide the word of Truth, and not to follow all applications promiscuously and in heap together in any Auditory.’p329

Application must not ‘rest in the general’ but go on to the ‘particular’. p329

Ministers should make sure that the:

‘… practical matter [in the sermon] is near the power of Godliness, to wit, marking the Spiritual declining of the sincere, pressing the exercise of Repentance, and the performing of holy duties upon all; and, with all, most searchingly and convincingly striking at hypocrisy, presumption and self confidence…’ p330

Accordingly ministers should:

‘… not insist upon the most high sublime and obscure things, either in…  Doctrines, Reproofs, or Directions, such as are the more obstruse Questions of the Schools… but … [press] the most plain, obvious and uncontrovertible duties of Religion, to wit, Repentance, Self-examination, Faith, Zeal, etc… the most powerful preaching, is, in the pressing of them.’ p330

Moving on from these general points Durham comes to consider how Christ ‘proposeth the offer of the Gospel, and inviteth to believe (as to the Church of Laodicea)’.  (See note 1) .  Durham notes that in the epistle to Laodicea this proposing of the free offer of the gospel takes four steps:

1. Christ ‘Open[eth] their sinful dangerous and hypocritical case, and battereth down the[ir] ignorant self confidence’
2. Christ ‘proposeth the right remedy, to wit, Himself and His benefits, His imputed Righteousness’.
3. Christ ‘cleareth the terms upon which that gold and white raiment is obtained, under the expressions of buying, opening, hearkening, etc.
4. Christ ‘doth most sweetly, and yet most vehemently press it [the gospel offer]: partly, by condescending friendly to counsel and entreat; partly by making his offer large, free, and particular to any man that will open…’

Note the gospel offer is not mere command, not mere declaration of facts.  Rather it is an act of condescension by Christ, it is a ‘sweet’ entreaty that is large and free.  This point will come up again and again.  To declare facts and to command is not the free offer of the gospel as understood by Durham (or as I will argue the WCoF).  To be sure it is part of it, but it is by no means the whole.

Having defined the free offer in this manner Durham goes on to make this comment regarding Christ’s preaching:

‘We find, whatever the case of the people be that he [Christ] speaketh unto, the up-shot and scope of His message, is, ever to persuade a closing of the [gospel] treaty between him and them… whereby we may see, 1. What a Minister’s scope should be, and where at he should aim in conviction, reproof etc. and where he should leave his hearers, to wit, at Christ’s fee[t]..’ p331

So the aim of Christ’s preaching and the aim therefore of ministers’ preaching is to bring sinners to Christ.  This should be the key focus of application as Durham makes clear, noting that the Gospel should be preached so that hearers:

‘be put in mind of as much of the Gospel as may be a ground of his peace, if it should be improven, though he should never afterward hear any more… we conceive, that generally and usually its expedient to follow this manner; especially on Lord’s Days…’ p332

So, essentially, according to Durham each sermon should contain the sum and substance of the gospel offer, and most particularly on the Lord’s day.  To make this point more explicit hear what Durham says about the ‘fountain qualification of a Preacher’:

‘In all this [preaching], the Lord’s [Christ’s] way holdeth forth His great design of gaining them to whom He speaketh: so as it satisfieth Him not to exoner Himself (to speak so of Him) in doing of His Duty: but He is zealous to get it received; and in sum, to get them saved: therefore weightily doth He  follow it, inviting, exhorting, pressing and protesting as unwilling to be refused.  This indeed is a fountain qualification of a Preacher, to be travailing in birth till Christ be formed in hearers; and so to preach to them, as hungering and thirsting for their Salvation… nay, not only his own exoneration, and the justifying of God by making his hearers inexcusable; but a single serious desire to have them gathered and espoused to Christ…’ p334

This according to Durham is the spirit which should animate gospel preaching.  Little wonder with such passion for the salvation of sinners Durham believed the Gospel should be plainly preached in each sermon.  But further note that for Durham the ‘design’ of preaching is ‘to get sinners saved’.  The gospel may well become the savour of death but this is not its nature, rather it is the perversion of it by sin (all decreed by God, of course).  Hear Calvin on John 3:17:

‘[Christ] did not come to destroy; therefore it follows that the proper function of the Son of God in that whosoever believes may obtain salvation through Him… we should not regard anything else in Christ than that God out of his infinite goodness wished to help and save us who were lost…When elsewhere Christ says that He is come for judgement, when He is said to be set for the falling of many, it may be regarded as accidental, or so to say foreign.  For those who reject the grace offered in Him deserve to find Him the judge and avenger of such shocking contempt.
John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Vol 4, John 1-10, Eerdmans, Michigan, 1995

In summary:

 ‘Application is the life of Preaching… it is the main part of a Pastoral gift, dexterously to feed by Application…’

Well said, Mr Durham.

It would be remiss of me to close without highlighting the just comment of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship that applying the truths of Scripture in the manner outlined above is ‘a work of great difficulty… requiring much prudence, zeal, and meditation’.  Let us pray for our ministers that they would be helped by the Spirit as they seek to carry out this task.  See

Comments, suggestions and constructive criticism welcome!

I’m away next weekend as I’m joining my Uncle on his final Munro (33 years after his first) on Saturday.    So the blog will hopefully be updated on Thursday next week.

Note 1.
It is interesting to note that Durham applies Rev 3:20 to unbelievers.  This is, as far as I see, the standard use of the text in Reformed theology in the 17th C.  I will post on Durham’s exposition of this verse at some point.  In fact next week may be a good time to do that.

Weekly Update 3

May 5, 2007

I’ll begin this week’s update with something of a postscript to last week’s update.

“The necessary truths of the Gospel, as they tend to instruct, convince, convert, comfort… are the great task of a Minister, [and] are necessary to all people…”
James Durham, Commentary on Revelation, Old Paths Publications, Rept. 2000, p77 (Emphasis mine).

So again the great task of the minister is to be in the “necessary truths of the gospel” as they tend to “convert”.  That is the aim.

This quote came from an essay entitled “Concerning a Calling to the Ministry, and clearness therein”.  I may do a “random post” (i.e. unrelated to the free offer) on Durham’s essay.  If Durham’s recommendations were prayerfully followed through then the shortage of ministers may not be as great as it is.

Moving on now to this week’s update.

James Durham on “Duty Faith”

Durham has three sermons near the beginning of “Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53” where he works through the idea of “duty faith”.

Durham sets out his view plainly and clearly:

“It lies on all that hear the gospel to believe the report that it brings concerning Christ (see note 1), and by faith to receive him, who is held out to them in it…  They to whom Christ is offered in the gospel are called to believe; it is their duty to do so.”
Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Naphtali Press, Dallas, 2001, p86

That everyone who hears the gospel is duty bound to believe is, according to Durham evident from 5 things:
1) The gospel comes with a command “Believe, Come, ye that are weary, etc. Come to the wedding, Open etc.”.
2) It is the most important command,  It is “the sum of all Christ’s preaching (Mark 1:15) Repent and believe the gospel.
3) It is the “peculiar command that Christ has left… (1 John 3:22).  This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ.”  Durham again notes that it is the “peculiar command left to, and laid on ministers to press.”
4) The “great disobedience that he [God] quarrels for, is when there is not believing”.
5) “Look to the nature of the offer made by Christ, and to the end of it, and you will find that the great thing called for is the receiving of it, which is nothing but believing.”  Further “the subordinate end of preaching, to wit, the salvation of our souls, cannot be attained without faith.”
Ibid, p89.

Durham goes on to distinguish between true and false faith, the necessity of faith for salvation, scripture definitions of faith and closes the second of the three sermons with this appeal:

“You see then what you are called to.  It is to open to Christ, to come to him, to marry him, to roll yourselves on him, to commit yourselves to him, to give him credit, etc.  And is there any of these unreasonable or prejudicial to you?  And if they be very reasonable and advantageous (as indeed they are), we would exhort you to come to him, receive him…  Believe on him, and by believing, be united to him… give him the credit of saving your souls.  This we call for from you…”
Ibid. p99.

So there we have a classic Scottish exposition and practical use of “duty faith”.

Note 1:
What is this “report”?
“The preached gospel… if it were considered what the Lord’s end in it is, it would be the most refreshing news that ever people heard, to hear the report of a Saviour: that is, and should be, great and glad tidings of great joy to all nations… God has sent such a report to, and in it has laid Christ so near them, that he puts him home to them, and lays him before them, even at their feet as it were… all he calls for is faith…”
Ibid. p86

Coming next week:

A review of The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, by David Silversides.  This will include a vitally important extract from Samuel Rutherford.

Work done this week:
* Finished Silversides’ work on the free offer
* Progressed slowly with Christ Crucified

Work to do next week:
* Progress with Christ Crucified

Weekly Update 2

April 28, 2007

So second weekly update time. 

I thought I would post this time on Durham’s view of the purpose of the ministry as this sheds some significant light on his view of the importance of the free offer of the gospel.  To begin this discussion of Durham’s views here is a quote from his Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Naphtali Press, Dallas, 2001 (sadly now out of print –  When discussing the confirmations of the truth that every man has warrant to believe in Christ and take him as Saviour Durham states that this right to believe:

“May be confirmed from the end for which God appointed the Word and the ministry in his Church, even to make the offer of Christ and life through him (John 20:31, These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name); the Word is both written and preached for this very end.” p 88.

So it is evident for Durham that the offer of Christ and life through him is of the very essence of the minister’s work.  And further, Durham believes that this offer of Christ in preaching is one of the great confirmations that all sinners have a warrant to come to Christ for salvation.  The centrality of the free offer of the gospel to preaching is highlighted in several other places in Durham’s writings:

“When the Master sends out His servants in His name their great work is to invite to the wedding and to close the marriage.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, 2002, p44-45 (See – buy it! ).

“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.”
ibid, p55

I could go on and on with further quotes. The point is clear – according to Durham proclaiming the free offer of the gospel is the central (though by no means exclusive) duty of the minister.

In this view of the chief work of the ministry, is Durham some kind of trail blazer coming to prominence in the 1650’s and revolutionising the hitherto settled reformed view that the core work of the ministry was to lecture on doctrine (see note 1) or some other thing?  Well, hear John Calvin commenting on 2 Corinthians 6:1 (

“Ministers are here taught, that it is not enough simply to advance doctrine. They must also labour that it may be received by the hearers, and that not once merely, but continually. For as they are messengers between God and men, the first duty devolving upon them is, to make offer of the grace of God, and the second is, to strive with all their might, that it may not be offered in vain.”

So there we have it.  The first duty devolving on ministers is to “make offer of the grace of God”.  And the second, to do all in your power that the offer is not slighted.  (My attention was drawn to this quotation by Stebbins’ work reviewed last week.)

So then for Durham, Calvin and the reformed tradition the free offer of the gospel is important enough to be the first duty of the minister of the gospel.

Comments, suggestions and constructive criticism welcome!

Work done this week:

* Finished Stebbins’ work on the free offer
* Progressed slowly with Durham’s Christ Crucified
* Began note taking on David Silversides’ “The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed”
* Continued motoring through the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology

Work for next week:

* Make some significant progress on Christ Crucified (otherwise the timetable is slipping)
* Continue with Mr Silversides’ work and the DSCHT
* Provide the ‘exciting’ quotes from Durham’s CC I promised last week

Note 1 – I am not criticising doctrinal *preaching*.  Indeed “free offer” preaching with its focus on sin, the atoning work of Christ, etc is inherently doctrinal.  I am against theological lectures mascerading as sermons!