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Free Church School in Theology 2014

September 26, 2014

I had the privilege last week to be at the Free Church School in Theology. I was there to deliver a lecture on John Knox and John Calvin.  It was good to be there and to renew friendships.  Hopefully the lecture will be published but here is a little taster where I went on an excursus regarding James Durham and the call to the ministry.


Neither Calvin, nor Knox, felt any internal call until the external call of the Church constrained them. And this I think presents a question to us regarding the relative balance we place between the internal and external call to the ministry. In neither of these men did the internal call come first, and in neither of these men did the internal call come until necessity was laid upon them by the church.

On this point James Durham (1622-58) has a very important essay in his Commentary on Revelation entitled “Concerning a Call to the Ministry and Clearness Therein”. While not neglecting the importance of the internal call Durham quotes a section from the First Book of Discipline (1560). He says, “the established doctrine of our church in the First Book of Discipline, in that head concerning Prophesying and interpreting Scripture … [is] Moreover men in whom it is supposed to be any Gift, which might edify the Church … 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 or not they be able to serve … in the vocation of Ministers. And if any be found disobedient, and not willing to communicate the Gifts and special graces of God with their brethren, after sufficient admonition, Discipline must proceed against them … for no man may be permitted to live as best pleaseth him, to live within the Kirk of God; but every man must be constrained by fraternal admonition, and correction, to bestow his labours, when of the Kirk he is required, to the edification of others.[3]

Perhaps this strikes some as unspiritual?  Surely an internal call is necessary? Well, yes but to what degree? A Durham would say, “there are more clear grounds to gather God’s mind from” regarding the call to the ministry than the internal call.  He states that “the effects of the Spirit fitting one with Gifts for the charge … whereupon weight may be more safely be laid, than upon any inward apprehending, or not apprehending of the Spirit’s motion, which is never given to us in anything, as the alone rule of obedience; and we must suppose the motion of the Spirit to be where these Gifts are, seeing the impulse hath always the Gifts with it, so we may gather the impulse from the gifts.”[4] A position echoed later in the Reformed tradition by no less than Robert L. Dabney.

Whatever our view of the call to the ministry, we can this day record our thanks that the little gathered congregation in St Andrews compelled Knox into preaching, and that Farel in Geneva compelled Calvin to give up his goal of a quiet scholarly life.  At least in these two instances the wisdom of the external call going before the internal call was justified of her children.

[3] Durham, Revelation, 75.

[4] Durham, Revelation, 73.

The book is on the way…

September 18, 2014

After a little longer than anticipated the thesis (quite significantly revised and enhanced in places) is on its way to being in print.

I can only apologise about the price – but I’m sure it is worth every penny! In all seriousness it is really for university libraries. However, I hope to begin work on a more accessible version soon.

The details are here:

The blurb is:

The free offer of the gospel has been a matter of significant debate within Reformed theology. However, despite this controversy, Reformed theologians such as James Durham preached a gospel offer which was a sincere and free invitation from God to all, to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour. This gospel offer expressed God’s grace and goodness to all.

Donald MacLean argues that Durham’s doctrinal position is representative of the Westminster Standards and embraced by his contemporaries and evidenced by the later disputes concerning the meaning of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

John Murray on the Free Offer Again…

March 28, 2013

Here is a nugget from one of John Murray’s reviews:

It should be distinctly understood that the doctrine of universal atonement is not indispensable to, nor an inference to be drawn from, the free and full offer of the gospel to all. The Reformed doctrine of limited atonement stresses emphatically the universal offer of the gospel and the will of God to the salvation of all referred to in such a passage as Ezekiel 33:11. [However] The will of God expressed in the free offer must be distinguished from his decretive will.
John Murray, Collected Writings, 4:296

2012 – The Year in Retrospect

December 27, 2012

The plans for 2012 were outlined in this post. It is always sobering to look back and see how little of what is planned actually gets done! So here are the aims for 2012 with updates:

1) Finish the PhD … before the summer… without using up another family holiday :-)

Update: Not quite … but dissertation was submitted early October with viva scheduled for February 5th.

2) Deliver a lecture on “James Durham and the Free Offer of the Gospel” for the Scottish Reformation Society in Stornoway in February.

Update: Done. Audio from a very similar paper given in Inverness four years ago is available here. (Audio quality is not great.)

3) Present a paper on the Protestor/Resolutioner controversy at the Ecclesiastical History Society postgraduate colloquium in February.

Update: Done.

4) Work on said paper for publication in a journal: “Protests, Resolutions and the Piggy in the Middle: James Durham (1622-1685) and Schism in the Kirk”.

Update: Still a work in progress … hopefully next year, DV. The protestor/resolution controversy is full of lessons for the Reformed church of today … but untangling the history is very complicated.

5) Work on an article “Obadiah Sedgwick – A Study of his Soteriology and Federal Theology”.

Update: Nearly there … but that was also the case 9 months ago…

6) Possibly, time permitting, work on an article “Missing, Presumed Misclassified: Hugh Binning the ‘lost’ Federal Theologian”.

Update: This became a paper at the WEST research conference.  I will hopefully submit an article based on this for publication in early 2013.

7) Start another exciting (to me) project that I can’t say more about at the moment, but hopefully can shortly

Update: Time got the better of me due to finishing off the PhD so, alas, this never happened.

“A Puritan Theology” on the Well Meant Offer

November 19, 2012

Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life   -             By: Joel Beeke, Mark Jones    Joel Beeke and Mark Jones have recently produced an exceptional work A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. I hope to offer reflections on a number of the chapters in due course but here is an extract from the chapter “The Puritans on Coming to Christ” which touches on the free offer of the gospel:

“The Canons of Dort explain the international Puritan and Reformed perspective [on the gospel call] well in head 3-4, articles 8-9 … The Canons make plain that there is no insufficiency in God’s willingness to save sinners. The invitation does not lie or decieve; it is a true, rich, full, free invitation. The gospel is a well-meant offer. Christ has declared Himself ready and willing to receive all who to come to Him and to save them … The call is based on the condition of faith, but it is a true invitation … Judgement day will confirm this truth. No one will stand before God on the last day and say … “I received the invitation, but I did not think it was sincere.” The call to come to Christ is a well-meant offer of salvation addressed to every human being.”


John Knox (New Book)

October 29, 2011

If you want some good reading material on the great Scottish reformed John Knox then you should look no further than this new book by John J. Murray.

‘In these dark and depressing days for my beloved homeland, Scotland, it is so encouraging to be reminded that God often chooses such an unlikely backdrop to revive, reform, and renew His Church. May this short, pacy biography of John Knox keep us hoping and keep us praying, “Lord do it again.”‘

Rev Dr David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids.

More details here.

Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal

March 5, 2011

Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Volume 1, 2011A new journal published by the Scottish Reformation Society is now available and will be of interest to reformed Christians who have a love for the history of the Scottish Church.

Details are available here.  Highlights include:

Matthew Vogan, “Samuel Rutherford and the theology and practice of preaching”

John Keddie, “Professor James MacGregor: Theological and Practical Writings 1868-1881”

Roy Middleton, “David Hay Fleming (1849 – 1931), Scottish Church Historian and Antiquarian”

It is available for purchase here.




Reformed Theology vs Hyper-Calvinism

March 3, 2011

Michael Horton:

“Isn’t it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone? …

Here once again we are faced with mystery — and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff in speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9). Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages of Scripture, resolving the mystery in favor of the either-or: either election or the free offer of the Gospel.

More from this excelent article here:

Via Scott Clark:


The greatest blessing…

November 6, 2010

There can be, after the gospel, no blessing so high as that of the Sabbath, no privilege so great as that which it affords, no dignity so noble as that to which it introduces us.
B.B. Warfield, Shorter Writings, 1:309.

For more see:

John Knox and the Institutes of Calvin: A few Points of Contact in their Theology

August 18, 2008

Portrait of Knox copied from the original painting in the possession of Lord Torphichen at Calder HouseI’ve been working through V.E. D’Assonville’s work John Knox and the Institutes of Calvin: A few Points of Contact in their Theology (Durban, Nadal: Drakensberg Press,1969) this week.  While the book as a whole occasionally evidences a lack of theological insight and has some questionable historiographical methodology a number of important points are raised.

The first point he makes is regarding the influence of Calvin on the early theology of Knox i.e. before his time in Geneva.  D’Assonville comments that “Knox’s first doctrinal work … A vindication of the doctrine that the sacrifice of the mass is idolatry … follows Calvin quite closely in content, as well as citations. Whole dicta from the Institutes are such clear evidence that one can even prove to a great extent, which edition he used and in which language it was written.” (p2).

The second interesting point he brings out is evidence of Knox’s esteem of Calvin from his own writings i.e. D’Assonville quotes Knox speaking of “that most faithful servant of God, John Calvin” and stating that “we dissent not from the judgement of the reverend servant of Christ Jesus, John Calvin … I will faithfully recite his words and sentences in this behalf, written thus in his Christian Institutions.” This all from Knox’s preface to his work on Predestination (Knox, Works, 5:31; D’Assonville, p34).

The third useful point (especially for me!) is that he makes a statement almost identical to one I made in my thesis regarding constructing Knox’s doctrine of the free offer from his work on Predestination: “From beginning to end it [On Predestination] is written in highly controversial language, with little thetical [positive] exposition, since the subject is brought back to the antithetical conflict each time. How different Knox’s work may not perhaps have been, had he been instructed to choose his scheme himself.”  (p43)  The point I made was that the content of highly polemic works is often determined by the opponents views so it requires a lot of care to construct what positive doctrines are held from them, as they very clearly reveal what the author does not believe but not so clearly what he does believe, and in what proportion he would stress various truths.

Fourthly he has a helpful analysis of Calvin on the difference between the covenant of grace in the Old and the New Testaments: “With this it is clear that [for Calvin] there are really not two covenants but two administrations of one and the same covenant of Mercy. It may also be called two phases. And if we see this as two administrations, or phases, it once again points to a difference. But now this difference does not lie in the substance (sub-stantia) but in the manner of administration (modus administrationis). Calvin expresses this difference in the mode of exercise in the following points: 1. In the Old Testament God manifested the celestial heritage in earthly blessings … 2. The Old Testament “exhibiting only the image of truth, while the reality was absent, the shadow of the substance …” 3. There is a difference between the Law, “calling a doctrine of the letter” and the Gospel “a doctrine of the spirit.” However, this is not a difference in substance as of the Old Testament was not also an “Evangelium”… 4. The Old Testament is a testament of bondage and the New a testament of liberty… 5. The Old Testament is a covenant with one people only, viz. Israel; the New includes all peoples whom the Gospel of Christ reaches.” (p72).

Fifthly he highlights that Calvin held membership of the external visible covenant should not be conflated with election: “It becomes clearly apparent, over and over again, both from his Institutes and, in particular, from his commentaries on the Scriptures in which he refers repeatedly to [in] the Institutes, that, in his view covenant and election do not coincide! He does not accept that a child of the covenant is ipso facto elected for salvation. (Inst. III.xxi.7)” (p79).

Sixthly he demonstrates Knox held to the general offer of the gospel, “That there is a General vocation, by which the world by some manner of means is called to the knowledge of God, and a vocation of purpose, which appertaineth to God’s children only, I find in Scriptures.” (Knox, Works, 5:117).  He also notes the connection between infant baptism and the free offer or promise of the gospel, “… Knox (just like Calvin) never contended that the Baptism is a sign and seal of the election, but of the promise of the Gospel … And if the promise of the Gospel, and not individual election, is the basis of the covenant, the concept of the church must also necessarily be determined thereby.” (p80-1).

Finally he closes his work with a statement I’m sure all those who have engaged in historical research can agree with, “…objective historical analysis is still one of the most difficult tasks of the researcher.” (p91)

I’m off to Cambridge on Tuesday for the John Owen Conference which lasts until Friday at which point I’ll be joined by Ruth (+ children!) for a long weekend in Cambridge.  Should be (DV) a nice week of recharging the batteries.