Archive for the ‘Thomas Boston’ Category

Assurance – Ryken on Boston

August 29, 2012

Product: Thomas Boston As Preacher Of The Fourfold State Image[M. Charles] Bell has not been alone in arguing that the later Calvinists ‘turned [man] back on himself to examine himself,’ replacing Calvin’s Christological basis for faith and assurance with a ‘subjective base intra nos in our own sanctification, and thus one lost the possibility of certainty.’ But this is to misunderstand both Calvin and later Reformed theologians, for whom assurance is based on divine activity – within as well as without the soul – and not simply on human initiative. The work of Christ inside us (intra nos) is capable of providing subordinate certainty just because it is the fruit of the work of Christ outside us (extra nos).
Philip Ryken, Thomas Boston as a Preacher of the Fourfold State, 176

Well said Dr Ryken! As an aside Thomas Boston as a Preacher of the Fourfold State is a pleasure to read.  It is very well written for a dissertation and provides a sound guide to one of the most important theologians of the Reformed tradition in Scotland .

It is available for a very reasonable £10 at Authentic Media.

The Law pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works – or Was it?

November 20, 2010

Samuel Rutherford:

But the truth is, the Law pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works.

1. The Law as the Law or as a Covenant of Works is made with perfect men who need no mercy; But this Covenant is made with sinners, with an express preface of mercy: I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, &c. … the end of the Lords pressing the Law was to bring them under a blessed necessity to seek salvation in their true City of Refuge Christ Jesus…

2. It was the covenant made with Abraham, which was a Covenant of Grace … there were some additions of special blessings, cursings, Ceremonial Commands that were not in the formerly proposed Covenant, Exod. 20. yet the same it was in substance, to love the Lord with all the heart, Deut. 2.10,12,13,14. The same with that of Abraham, Deut. 8.18. That he may establish his Covenant, which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day … Exod. 2.24. And God heard their groaning, and remembered his Covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob … the Lord expressly tells them Deut. 7.12. If thou hearken to these judgments to do them, it shall come to pass that the Lord thy God will keep unto thee the Covenant of mercy that he sware unto thy fathers, &c.

3. This covenant hath the promise of a circumcised heart, Deut. 30.6. and of the word of faith that is near in the mouth, and of the righteousness of faith clearly differenced from the righteousness of the Law by doing. For so Paul, Rom. 10.5,6,7 &c. expounds, Moses, Deut. 30.11, 12,13,14.

4. The Covenant of Works taught nothing of the way of expiation of sin by blood typifying the Ransom of blood that Christ was to pay for our sins, as this Covenant all along had sacrifices and blood to confirm it…

Thomas Boston:

…the preface to the ten commandments deserves a particular notice, in the matter, of the Sinai transaction, Exod. xx. 2. ” I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Hence it is evident to me, that the covenant of grace was delivered to the Israelites on Mount Sinai …

But that the covenant of works was also, for special ends, repeated and delivered to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, I cannot refuse, 1. Because of the apostle’s testimony, Gal. iv. 24. ” These are the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage” … 2. The nature of the covenant of works is most expressly in the New Testament brought in, propounded, and explained, from the Mosaical dispensation. The commands of it from Exod. xx. by our blessed Saviour, Slat. xix. 17—19. ” If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which ? Jesus said, Thoushalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery,” &c. The promise of it, Rom. x. 5. ” Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them” … 3. To this may be added the opposition betwixt the law and grace, so frequently inculcated in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. See one text for all, Gal. iii. 12. ” And the law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” 4. The law from Mount Sinai was a covenant, Gal. iv. 24. “These are the two covenants, the one from the Mount Sinai,” and such a covenant as had a semblance of disannuling the covenant of grace, Gal. iii. 17. ” The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was 430 years after, cannot disannul ;” yea, such a one as did, in its own nature, bear a method of obtaining the inheritence, so fat different from that of the promise, that it was inconsistent with it; ” For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise,” Gal. iii. 18. wherefore the covenant of the law from Mount Sinai could not be the covenant of grace…

Wherefore I conceive the two covenants to have been both delivered on Mount Sinai to the Israelites. First, The covenant of grace made with Abraham, contained in the preface, repeated and promulgate there unto Israel, to be believed and embraced by faith, that they might be saved ; to which were annexed the ten commandments, given by the Mediator Christ, the head of the covenant, as a rule of life to his covenant people. Secondly, the covenant of works made with Adam, contained in the same ten commands, delivered with thunderings and lightnings. the meaning of which was afterwards cleared by Moses, describing the righteousness of the law and sanction thereof, repeated and promulgate the Israelites there, as the original perfect rule of righteousness, to be obeyed; and yet were they no more bound hereby to seek righteousness by the law than the young man was by our Saviour’s saying to him, Mat. xix. 17, 18.  “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments—Thou shalt do no murder,” &c…

Thus there is no confounding of the two covenants of grace and works ; but the latter was added to the former as subservient unto it, to turn their eyes towards the promise, or covenant of grace : ” God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law ? it was added, because of transgressions, till the Seed should come,” Gal. iii. 18, 19. So it was unto the promise given to Abraham, that this subservient covenant was added ; and that promise we have found in the preface to the ten commands. To it, then, was the subservient covenant, according to the apostle, added, put, or set to, as the word properly signifies… it appears, that the covenant of grace was, both in itself, and in God’s intention, the principal part of the Sinai transaction: nevertheless the covenant of works was the most conspicuous part of it, and lay most open to the view of the people…

That the conditional promise, Lev. xviii. 5. (to which agrees Exod. xix. 8, and the dreadful threatening, Deut. xxvii. 26. were both given to the Israelites, as well as the ten commands, is beyond question ; and that According to the apostle, Rom. x. 5. Gal. iii. 10. they were the form of the covenant of works, is as evident as the repeating of the words, and expounding them so, can make it. How then one can refuse the covenant of works to have been given to the Israelites, I cannot see. Mark the Westminster Confession upon the head of the covenant of works: ” The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” And this account of the being and nature of that covenant is there proven from these very texts among others, Rom. x. 5. Gal. iii 10. chap. 7. art. 2.

Where Does this Leave Us?

Well, clearly without a reformed consensus.  And that should teach us to use moderate language on this subject.  Now historically I believe Rutherford’s views broadly represents the majority position and theologically (despite being a Marrowman!) I think Rutherford is right here.  Nevertheless, those who hold views equivalent to Boston’s have every right to present their position and attempt to persuade others of the validity of their understanding without having their “reformed” credential questioned (of course within the bounds of Confessional Orthodoxy and sound historical theology).  This debate will undoubtedly continue for some time!

Luther the Second Paul?

January 31, 2009

One of my favourite books is the Marrow of Modern Divinty with Thomas Boston’s notes.  Has to be up there in my all time top ten.  It gets the core of the gospel right and therefore is always a tonic to the soul.  Boston’s notes also add much value to the book as he provides some balanced commentary where the text of the Marrow is liable to various interpretations.  One of his excellent comments relate to Luther which I quote in full:

That great man of God, a third Elias, and a second Paul, (if I may venture the expression) though he was no inspired teacher, was endued with a great measure of the spirit of them both, being raised up of God for the extraordinary work of the Reformation of religion from Popery … The lively savour he had of the truths of the gospel in his own soul, and the fervour of his spirit in delivering them, did indeed carry him as far away from the modern politeness of expression as the admiration and affection of this last is likely to carry us off from the former … for my part I would neither use some of these expressions of Luther’s, nor dare I so much as in my heart condemn them in him; the reason is onr; because of the want of that measure of the influences of grace I conceive he had when he uttered these words.

Luther was a big influence on the Marrow theology which kept the flame of the Reformed faith burning brightly through some dark times in Scottish church history.

Weekly Update 35 – Anyone for some Marrow?

December 29, 2007

William Greenhill will be back in the near future but I was looking over the Marrow of Modern Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg and Son, 1837) again this week and a few things struck me as interesting. 

Now given that the Marrow really came to prominence in Scotland in a controversy in the 18th C it is all too easy to forget that the original context of the work was mid 17th C.  Again, it is easy to forget (given how controversial the Marrow became in the 18th C) that the Marrow is really nothing more than a compendium of Reformed thought up to 1650 (with a bit of Luther thrown in for free).  According to its author “much of the matter contained in the ensuing Dialogue” came from the great figures of the development and codification of the Reformed faith e.g. Calvin, Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Ames, Peter Martyr, Polanus, Sibbs, Goodwin, Ball etc (p xx).  So really there should not have been much in the Marrow to complain about!

All this is interesting but what has it got to do with my thesis?  Well, for one the Marrow provides an insight into the general theological context in which the Westminster Standards were framed.  This is important for my work.  It also provides an insight into how mid 17th C theologians interpreted earlier Reformed theologians and used their works.  Again this is important.  Additionally, the Marrow was also cleared for the press by Joseph Caryl, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and was published with commendations from two other Assembly members.  So clearly there were members of the assembly who upheld “Marrow doctrine”.

Still, even though useful in these respects and though commended by 3 members of the Assembly we can’t argue for 1:1 identity between Marrow doctrine and the Westminster documents – can we?  Well, granted not on the basis I have provided above.  More work would need to be done – but has someone else done that work already?  Enter Thomas Boston!

Now in his notes on the Marrow, Boston has an extensive comment on the section, “God… moved with nothing but with his free love unto mankind lost, hath made a gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (p106).  Boston begins by noting that the phrase comes from Ezekiel Culverwell in a work commended by Westminster Divine William Gouge.  He then proceeds to identify this “gift and grant” with the gospel offer of John 3:16 explaining that: “Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made; and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant” (p106).  This speaking of the gospel offer as a “gift and grant” giving all sinners a warrant to believe in Christ is for Boston, “the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it doth indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption” (p106).  So a couple of points here.  Boston equates Marrow doctrine with “good old doctrine”.  For him it is nothing more or less than Reformed orthodoxy.  Secondly, Boston here relates the gospel offer to the sufficiency of the atonement (so did John Owen) but this is done in the context of rejecting a universal atonement/redemption.

But what specifically does Boston mean by “good old doctrine”?  Well, he means standard Scottish doctrine and he quotes James Melville to this effect.  But more specifically he means Reformed theology as set out in the great Reformed confessions.  He quotes Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3 (my thesis topic via James Durham), Westminster Larger Catechism 63 as supporting the “gift and grant” in the gospel offer (p106).  He also quotes Dort 2:5-6, ” Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.  And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.”  So for Boston, Dort and Westminster are one on the gospel offer and on Marrow doctrine.  Boston also quotes the Sum of Saving Knowledge, “Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16.”  Now the SoSK was, of course, written by James Durham and David Dickson.  Thus Boston aligns his view of the gospel offer with that of James Durham.

So for Boston, the Marrow theology of the free offer is the theology of Westminster Assembly and Dort and the Sum of Saving Knowledge and therefore of James Durham!  But is he right?….. yes 🙂  This is all very pertinent to my thesis and to the chapter I’m currently writing on: the free offer in the Reformed creeds.

Another item of interest is the proof texts that the Marrow uses to outline its doctrine of the free offer.  They are John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  Now what are two of the “proof texts” for WCoF 7:3? – yes, you guessed John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  More evidence for similarity of doctrine!

Weekly Update 23 – Light from an unexpected source!

October 6, 2007

M. Charles Bell’s book Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985) is one book I have been working through recently.  It is ambitious in scope, in that it aims to give a tour of Scottish theology from John Knox to John MacLeod Campbell (against the background of Calvin) focusing on the issue of assurance and related topics.  A lot of neglected theologians are covered in the book and Durham gets a significant place in the book which is good in that it gives me plenty to work on in my thesis!

Nevertheless, this is not a book that is recommended bedside (or any other kind of) reading.  The author, in my opinion, misreads Calvin and then attempts to set him against 17th C Scottish theology. Incidentally, I think he has also misread Scottish theology to an extent (or at least cast it in as bad a light as possible).  17th C Scottish theology in this book is judged as being simply very bad theology.  The book then is, in my view, historically and theologically suspect.  Having said that the book is not all bad and if you have the ability to sift the (small amount of) wheat from the (large heaps of) chaff there are a number of interesting points made.  One of the best is in Bell’s discussion of Ebenezer Erskine on the gospel offer.  Here are a couple of good quotes.

[Ebenezer Erskine] teaches that only the elect shall savingly close with Christ in the covenant since ‘all saving influences’ of God’s Spirit are peculiar to the elect. (Works, Vol 1, p4,48)… such teaching is, for many, an obstacle to their coming to Christ… [Erskine’s] usual response is to assert that we have nothing to do with election since this is hidden in God’s secret will. (3:100,125,278,431). We should interest ourselves in God’s will as revealed in his promises… The promises, then, are a door by which faith may enter into the new covenant (3:261), and by them ‘the reprobate have as good a revealed warrant for believing as the elect have’ (1:387). In reference to God and his promises, Erskine states that we should view the Scripture’s promises as a genuine revelation of God’s thoughts and feelings towards us, ‘for unbelief is ready to suggest that he says one thing and thinks another’ (2:146). With this statement, Erskine brings us to the heart of the matter, and that is the issue of one’s doctrine of God.

Here Bell notes that Erskine believes and teaches election (for Bell that is a bad thing).  This raises questions in the minds of the hearers of the gospel – am I elect?  How does Erskine respond?  The same way Durham does, by directing us away from the hidden things to the revealed things.  And when we turn to the revealed things we see all, elect and reprobate, have the same warrant to come to Christ.  Interestingly, Erskine, just as Durham does, moves beyond this to assert the sincerity of God in the gospel offer.  Bell’s comment regarding those who have an issue with a genuine gospel offer is to the point, “the issue is one’s doctrine of God”.  If we are unable to maintain the sincerity or well meant nature of the free offer of the gospel then something has gone wrong with our doctrine of God.  Interestingly, D.B. Williams PhD thesis, Herman Hoeksema’s theological method (University of Wales, Lampeter, 2000) notes that Hoeksema’s views on “common grace and the well meant offer could not have been other than they were” given his theological method.  Therefore those who seek to evaluate Hoeksema on the free offer and common grace directly “have entered the Hoeksema edifice at the back door”.  It is his theological method that really drives his particular views.  So to get a handle on denials of the free offer we need to step back from the direct issues and consider theological method and the doctrine of God as well.  That is an important point.  (I haven’t read Williams’ thesis yet – the point I quoted here was from his abstract).

Erskine… urges us to realise that God’s heart as revealed in Jesus Christ is full of grace and love for lost sinners. He pleads that we ‘not think that a God of truth dissembles with you, when he makes offer of his unspeakable gift, or that he offers you a thing he has no mind to give.’ (1:220).

Now Ebenezer Erskine was a thoroughly orthodox Scottish ‘Calvinist’ – he clearly espouses a definite atonement.  Yet he also clearly maintains that the free offer is well meant.  God does not “dissemble” with us in the free offer.  That is, he does not give a false or misleading appearance; he does not put on an appearance of sincerity or merely feign an offer of salvation.  The free offer is genuine, well meant and is not an offer of a thing “he has no mind to give”.

John J. Murray, coming at this from an orthodox angle as opposed to Bell’s unorthodoxy, makes a similar point commenting on Thomas Boston (a close friend of Erskine):  “Boston shows us how to hold the doctrines of election and particular redemption together with the preaching of the full and free offer of Christ to all men.  Holding the most exalted Reformed orthodoxy we can invite sinners to the Lord Jesus… The love that flows from the heart of God to sinners as we see in the parable of the prodigal son is free and unconditional.  Are we guilty of hedging about the love of God so as to protect it? … it is … revealed as a love that desires the salvation of all men.  The offer of Christ and his benefits is a bona fide offer.  We as ambassadors for Christ beseech sinners in God’s stead.” (‘The Marrow Controversy – Thomas Boston and the Free Offer’, Preaching and Revival, The Westminster Conference, 1984).

Marrow theology is reformed theology at its best (and despite some different nuances, e.g. on the covenant of redemption, it is essentially the same theology as Durham).  Read Thomas Boston, Ralph Erskine and Ebenezer Erskine – they will do your soul good!