Archive for the ‘Weekly Updates’ Category

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?

Weekly Update 14

August 4, 2007

This week I am continuing blogging through James Durham’s sermon Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations.  This sermon of Durham’s is found in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Morgan:  Soli Deo Gloria, p43-79.  I didn’t comment on the title of the sermon last week.  It is instructive to note that Durham does not say merely that gospel presentations are the strongest presentation of facts, or the strongest commands, rather the gospel is an invitation.  That in itself is an important point.

To recap last week we saw that God is “very desirous” that sinners come to Christ, that preaching this is the “great work” of ministers and that all hearers have a duty to come savingly to Christ.

They who come may expect a very hearty welcome; therefore they are invited once and again.

Those who respond to the gospel invitation are instructed that they need not fear what kind of reception they will receive from the Saviour.  They will receive a “very hearty welcome”.  For proof of this what more is required than knowledge of the fact that they have been invited repeatedly?

There is a marriage between Christ and souls held forth and made offer of in the gospel. We take this for granted …

If only this could be taken for granted today!

For those who are following Durham’s full sermon in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ I need to comment on Durham’s statement that the offer is made to the “visible church” p45.  First, I repeat the point that I have made a number of times now that the ecclesiology of Durham’s time was that the greater part of the visible Church are unbelievers.  So the fact that the offer pertains to the visible Church does not alter the fact that Christ is offered to unbelievers as unbelievers.  Second, in the context of his statement Durham explicitly notes that the Jews (in Christ’s time the visible church) rejected the offer of Christ.  So the offer was made to unbelievers who rejected it.  The offer is in no way confined to believers, or the elect.  Thirdly, that the offer is to the visible church is not the full story.  See the quote below from p52 where the gospel must be preached to the whole world.

This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes in His Word. He says from there, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” It is as if he had said, “I come in my gospel to woo, and, if any will consent to take me on the terms on which I offer myself, I will be theirs.”

There are a number of key points here.  First Christ gives his consent that he is willing to save them, to all who hear the gospel.  This is given in Rev  3:20.  (I have already covered Durham’s use of Rev 3:20).  Secondly Christ “comes in his gospel to woo”.  To preach the gospel is not to make a cold or indifferent statement of facts, rather it is to preach so as to woo sinners.

[The marriage between believers and Christ] is honourable and excellent in respect of its most notable rise, that is, from all eternity in the bosom of the Father. It bred in the King’s breast before the foundation of the world was laid; the covenant of redemption was then concluded, the contract of marriage there drawn, and the blessed project of it then laid down … The Father gives so many to the Son to be redeemed, of whom He willingly, readily, and cheerfully accepts, and offers to satisfy for them, which in due time He does.

Once again we see the importance of the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption for Durham.  Also note that for Durham although the gospel offer is universal, Christ’s satisfaction is not universal in extent.

Were there ever such easy terms and conditions? It is only, “Come to the wedding.” When the King comes a-wooing, let Him be welcomed with your heart’s consent …

It is not only Christ who comes wooing in the gospel, but the King, God the Father.  Amazing condescension!  Also note here that for Durham the gospel is conditional, but that it is the most easy of conditions, “come”.  I have already posted on how the Reformed understood the language of conditions in my posts on Clarkson.

O beloved hearers, all this is to let you see that our Lord is in earnest and very willing to espouse you; and indeed, it shall not be his fault if it is not a bargain.

In the gospel the Lord is “in earnest” and “very willing” to have us married to Christ.  There is no notion in Durham of an offer that is not “well-meant”.  (Indeed who is willing to charge the Most High with an insincere offer?)

There a ground had to be laid for peace with God the offended party who was to be Father-in-law. And here comes in the covenant of redemption. Psalm 40:6-7: “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; then said I, ‘Lo, I come …'” To take away the curse and reconcile the elect to God …

Again, the covenant of redemption!

The marriage must be proclaimed through the world by the preached gospel; the contract must be opened up and read, and sinners’ consent called for.

Ultimately, though the free offer comes through preaching, and preaching takes place in the visible church, the offer itself is for “the world”.  In time the world through the growth of the Church “must” hear this “preached gospel”.

Naturally we are given to slight Him in His offers, to refuse to open to Him, and to let Him in when He knocks … to refuse to entertain His proposal of marriage.

Durham holds to the moral inability of man to believe.  Yet he still believes God uses means, therefore he preaches as he does!

By the preaching of the gospel, whithersoever it comes, and by the great things made offer of therein, all things are made ready. Obstructions, and whatever may hinder the closing of the marriage are removed. The Father is ready, having declared His willingness to give His consent: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” (Matthew 3:17) … The Son is ready to take all by the hand who will embrace Him … The feast is ready, the fatlings are prepared, the promises are filled with every good thing … the contract is ready, and on offer of it made on the Bridegroom’s side …

There is nothing left undone on the side of God to hinder the receiving of the offer: “Obstructions, and whatever may hinder the closing of the marriage are removed“.  The Father is willing, as is the Son.  The promises have been made, and the offer of Christ and all good things in him is made.

“this … is preached every day to you.”

This sermon was not some one-off slip up by the otherwise “Calvinistic” Durham.  No, this is the bread and butter of his preaching.

Christ the Bridegroom and His Father are very willing to have the match made up and the marriage completed. Therefore He sends forth His servants with a strict commission, not only to tell sinners that all things are ready, and to invite them, but to compel them (as Luke has it in 14:23), to come in; to stir them up, and press them to it … The evidences of His willingness are many … as, that He has made the feast … and prepared so for it, and given Himself to bring it about, and keeps up the offer and proclamation of marriage even after it is slighted.

Again Durham highlights the willingness of the Father and the Son to have sinners married to Christ.  Durham also points out that it is not enough for preachers to proclaim facts i.e. “only to tell sinners that all things are ready“, they must go beyond that.  They must invite, and then go even further to labour that this invitation is received – “compel them“.

[In the gospel offer] the Father and the Son are most heartily willing; therefore they expostulate when this marriage is refused, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you, but you would not!” (Matthew 23:37). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou, even thou, hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace!” (Luke 19:42). All these sad complaints, that Israel would not hearken to His voice, and His people would have none of Him (Psalm 81:11), that He came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and that they will not come to Him that they might have life (John 5:40), make out His willingness abundantly and undeniably.

One key evidence of the willingness of the Triune God to save sinners is his response when the gospel is rejected.  Christ’s lament over Jerusalem and the “sad complaint” that God’s chosen Israel rejected him both point to the sincere and well-meant nature of the offer, demonstrating God’s willingness “abundantly and undeniably“.

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.

This to me is key.  For Durham, the greatest work a minister has to do is preaching the free offer of the gospel, and endeavouring to have it received.  No amount of sound doctrinal instruction, no amount of pastoral visitation, no amount of anything else will make up for a lack in this area. 

…request, entreat, persuade, pray and beg, yea command and compel them to come to the marriage.

Have you ever heard your preacher beg sinners to come to Christ?  Well according to Durham they should be.  But note further in Durham’s doctrine of preaching the minister is not really the one begging.  The minister is solely an ambassador.  He has no message of his own.  His words must be Christ’s words.  So behind the preacher’s begging is, as Durham highlighted so frequently in this sermon, the willingness of God to save sinners.  To quote Durham, “If any of you will say, “Because I was not elect, He [God] refused me,” then He [God] will answer, “How often would I have gathered you.”” p77.

This week I rattled through some works of William Ames and picked up a few valuable quotations that I may share at some point!

Weekly Update 13

July 28, 2007

For the next few weeks I’m going to be blogging through one of the best sermons I have ever read.  It is Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations.  This sermon of Durham’s is found in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Rept. Morgan:  Soli Deo Gloria, p43-79.  It is the locus classicus for the free offer in Durham’s preaching, and probably for Scottish preaching of the mid-seventeenth century in general.  It was speaking of this sermon that Durham’s co-pastor and brother-in-law John Carstairs said:

…he [Durham] spoke some way as a man who had been in heaven, commending Jesus Christ, making a glorious display of the banner of free grace, holding forth the riches of it very clearly and convincingly. He brought the offers thereof very low, wonderfully low, so that, in hearing some of those sermons, particularly the one on Matthew 22, I was made to think that the rope or cord of the offer of salvation was let down and hung so low to sinners that those of the lowest stature among them all, though but as pygmies might catch hold of it, who through grace had any mind to do so. He so vehemently and urgently pressed home on so sweet and easy terms to be embraced that I have been sometimes made to wonder how the hearers could refuse or shift them.
Carstairs, pvii

I think that should whet appetites for the contents of this sermon!

Gospel Presentations are the Strongest Invitations 

“All things are ready: come unto the marriage.”
Matthew 22:4

Durham begins his sermon by noting straight from the text:

The preaching of the gospel is like a man’s making a marriage for his son.

This illustration of the gospel as a man [God] coming to woo for marriage is used again and again by Durham throughout his sermons.

God the Father, and the King’s Son the Bridegroom, are not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage. They would fain (to speak with reverence) have poor souls espoused to Christ.

One of the most basic things assumed in asking someone to marry you is that you want them to say yes.  Otherwise why would you ask them?  So why does God, to speak with reverence, invite sinners to the marriage with Christ?  According to Durham the answer is because he “is not only content and willing, but very desirous to have sinners come to the marriage”.  Durham is quite happy here to follow the scriptural metaphor through to this conclusion – God is “real” in his offers as we saw last week.  Durham uses “desire” or “desirous” on a number of occasions in his preaching to speak of God’s attitude to the Gospel offer.

When the Master sends out His servants in His name their great work is to invite to the wedding and to close the marriage.

We have seen this point before.  For Durham the great work of ministers is to invite people to come to Christ.  If a minister is not doing this, then they are failing in their great work.

When people are invited to this marriage, it is their duty … to come.

Again we have seen this point before.  Durham believed in duty faith.  He stands in direct opposition to later hypercalvinistic developments as seen in e.g. John Gill.

I’m going to have to stop here as it is late.  The themes of God’s willingness to save sinners, of the importance of the free offer of the gospel to proper preaching and of duty faith are common in Durham and will recurr as we go through this sermon.

This week I’ve finished reading Thomas, G.M. The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus. Carlisle: Paternoster Publishing, Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs, 1997.  Though I wouldn’t accept a number of key points in his thesis he does a good job of touring round a number of neglected early reformed theologians.  He did highlight some comments made in submissions to the Synod of Dort which were essentially hypercalvinistic, which surprised me.  (Basically a couple of submissions said the gospel was only for “thirsty” sinners and nothing is offered to men in general.)  Given the actual wording of the Cannons, which we saw in weekly update 10, it appears Dort rejected these submissions out of hand – thankfully!

In terms of work coming up I have a bundle of theses to read through including:

Williams, C.A. The Decree of Redemption is in effect a Covenant: David Dickson and the Covenant of Redemption, PhD. Calvin Theological Seminary, 2005

Van Dixhoorn, C.B. Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly: The Making of a Pulpit Theology, MTh, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2000

Su, Yohan. The Contribution of Scottish Covenant Theology to the Discussions of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1648) and its Continuing Significance to the Marrow Controversy (1717-1723). PhD, University of Glamorgan, 1993

Weekly Update 12

July 21, 2007

Back to Durham at last!  But err…. not on either of the subjects I mentioned last week (common grace and the pastoral benefits of definite/efficacious atonement).  I will post on these subjects in the coming weeks but this week I want to post Durham’s responses to two common objections to accepting the gospel among hearers of Reformed preaching:

  • Election of a limited number of individuals to salvation
  • The inability of man to believe apart from special divine grace

First let’s set some context.  Durham has just gone through two vital areas with his congregation:

1) The “grounds that a lost sinner has to receive Christ”

These are “the fullness and sufficiency of the mediator Jesus Christ”, “the well orderedness, freeness and fullness of the covenant of grace” and “the nature of the offer of grace in the gospel” (Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel, Dallas, Naphtali Press, 2001, p124-125).

 2) The “warrants and encouragements a sinner has” to come to Christ

First, Durham notes the free offer of the gospel provides all the warrant anyone needs to trust on Christ.   “Do you not think that the offer of the gospel is a sufficient warrant, and ground of encouragement to believe on him?” p125.  He also makes the interesting statement “If you think Christ real in  his commands, is he not real in his offers?”  For Durham the gospel offer is “real”.  It is, and by its nature must be, genuine and well-meant.

Second, Durham notes that “He has so ordered the administration of this gospel, as he has purposely prevented any ground that folks may have of scaring  [fearing] to close with Christ” p125.  Durham notes Rev 22:17 Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely and comments “It is not only, to say so with reverence, those whom he [God] wills, but it is whosoever will” p125.  Durham goes on to note that Christ “sometimes weeps and moans because sinners will not be gathered (as Luke 19:41-42 and Matt 23:27).  Can there be any greater evidences of reality in any offer?” p125.  The last part here is very important.  For Durham it is impossible to conceive of an offer more genuine than the free offer in the gospel.  (This use of Christ’s weeping over lost sinners is similar to what we saw in Clarkson’s preaching a few weeks ago).

Durham also notes we receive a warrant to believe from “the manner and form of God’s administration” namely by “covenant and many promises” which God has ratified by an oath making them doubly sure.  The great command being to believe (1 John 3:23) also gives us warrant to take Christ as our Saviour (p126-127).

Durham concludes this section on warrants to believe, with a stirring exhortation:

“… we would again exhort you, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in his stead, not to neglect so great salvation.  O!  Receive the grace of God, and let it not be in vain.” p127

Having considered the grounds and warrants of faith, Durham proceeds to “remove a doubt or two, that may stand in the way of sinners resting on this ground”.  I’ll consider these in turn.

First Durham considers the objection from election.  “It may be some will say, that the covenant is not broad enough, because all are not elected, all are not redeemed nor appointed to be heirs of salvation…” p127.  Durham responds to this in two ways:

  • He denies that election is the cause of anyone’s unbelief.  “How absurd is this reasoning… we are… speaking… to the nature of the gospel; so that, whoever perish, it is not because they were not elected, but because they believe not; and the bargain is not of the less worth, nor the less sure, because some will not believe…”p127.
  • Durham says that to seek knowledge about whether I am elect or not before I will believe in Christ is to “overturn the whole course of Christ’s administration, and of the covenant of his grace” for “Did he [Christ] ever, a priori, or at first hand, tell folks they were elected? … God’s eternal purpose or decree is not the rule of our duty, nor the warrant of our faith, but his revealed will in his word…” p127.

So Durham essentially says, no one will be condemned on the ground of being non-elect so this should not be your concern.  Unbelief is what men will be condemned for so worry about that!  And in any case no one can know whether they are elect or not apart from coming to Christ.  So don’t worry yourself about the hidden things, look to the revealed will of God and act accordingly.

I think this fits in well with the WCoF’s direction that “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word…”

Next Durham considers the objection from the moral inability of man to believe.  “But secondly some may object and say, “I am indeed convinced that believing is my duty; but that believing being a thing I cannot do, why therefore should I set about it?”  Durham again answers in two ways:

  • First “This is a most unreasonable and absurd way of reasoning; for if it be given way to, what duty shall we do?  We are not of ourselves able to pray, praise, keep the Lord’s day, nor to do any other commanded duty; shall we therefore abstain from all commanded duties?  Our ability or fitness for duty, is not the rule of our duty, but God’s command; and we are called to put our hand to duty; in the sense of our own insufficiency, acknowledging God’s sufficiency; which if we did we should find it go better with us…” p127
  • Second “None that ever heard this gospel, shall in the day of judgment have this to object… that they would fain have believed, but their mere infirmity, weakness and inability did impede them.  For it is our sin and guilt that we are unable; yet where the gospel comes, that is not the controversy, but that folks would not come to Christ, would not be gathered, that when he would, they would not…” p128

So Durham answers that apart from God we are unable to do anything, but that doesn’t stop us going about other duties, so why should it stop us believing?  In any case, the real issue is not that “we would believe if we could, but we can’t”.  Rather it is that we are unwilling to believe, even though Christ is willing that we should come to him.

I think that gives quite a clear indication of how Durham responded to arguments against receiving the free offer of the gospel from election and moral inability.

Having discussed these momentus subjects Durham notes “If folks soberly and gravely considered of what concernment it is to make use of the gospel, and what depends on the profitable and unprofitable hearing of it, how serious would both speakers and hearers be?” p131.  The utter levity of a lot of modern “reformed” preaching (where jokes outnumber exhortations to believe in Christ) is a sad sign that we have lost sight of “what depends on the profitable and unprofitable hearing” of preaching, namely, the eternal destiny of souls.  How many today preach “as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men”?

I’ll close with a little plug.  If you go to the May edition of the Free Church Witness ( then you will find an article Towards a Christian View of Recreation by yours truly.  It was on pages 8&9 in the print version  but the pages are a bit random on the online version when my article is on pages 15 & 18!  The mystery Puritan I quote is of course George Swinnock.  See, I do occasionally talk about things besides the free offer of the gospel!

Weekly Update 11

July 14, 2007

John Calvin on Faith & the Free Offer of the Gospel

I will get back to Durham next week, DV, but I’m going to stick with Calvin for this weekly update. This week I’ve been typing up some of my notes on Calvin’s Institutes. One of the things that struck me was how similar Calvin’s definition of faith is to the Westminster Standards. I’ll take you on a tour of Calvin and highlight the similarities with Westminster.

We need the promise of grace which can testify to us that the Father is merciful; since we can approach him in no other way, and upon his grace alone the heart of man can rest… it would not help us to know at all that God is true unless he mercifully attracted us to himself. Nor would it have been in our power to embrace his mercy if he had not offered it… It will be rash for us to decide that God is well disposed towards us unless he give witness of himself, and anticipate us by his call… Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ.
John Calvin, Institutes Vol 1, p550-551 (I apologise again for the shoddy manner in which I am giving these references. Once again I lack the time to give the book/chapter/subsection numbers.)

There are a number of vital points to be drawn out here:
• Without the “promise of grace” salvation is impossible. We “need” that to know that “the Father is merciful”.
• If God had not “offered” his mercy to us in particular salvation would have been impossible. For unless God “anticipated” us his “offer” and “promise” and “call” it would have been “rash” for us to believe he were “well disposed towards us”.
• Faith must be “founded upon” the free offer of mercy in Christ.

So for Calvin the free offer of the gospel is so foundational to faith, that faith is (properly speaking) impossible without it. We saw a similar point from the Westminster Standards in Weekly Update 10.

Faith embraces Christ as offered to us by the Father (cf. John 6:29).
John Calvin, Vol 1, p552

This is virtually identical to the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q86 which is “Q. What is faith in Jesus Christ? A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”

So we need to be cautious when people draw a dichotomy between Calvin’s view of faith/assurance and that of the Westminster Standards. Especially given that the definition of faith is virtually identical and that the free offer of the gospel is the key to both! Perhaps it is because the free offer of the gospel has not received much attention in historical research that this view of a dichotomy has been allowed to develop?

Here, indeed, is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them.
John Calvin, Vol 1, p561

Appropriating the promises of mercy as true to us is the “chief hinge” of faith. Just as justification by faith alone, for Calvin, is the “chief hinge on which religion turns” so the free offer of the gospel is the “chief hinge” on which faith turns. It is that important.

We make the freely given promise of God the foundation of faith because upon it faith properly rests… Faith properly begins with the promise, rests in it and ends in it… Faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise… we must buttress [faith] with the promise of salvation, which is willingly and freely offered to us by the Lord… there is nothing that can establish faith except the generous embassy by which God reconciles the world to himself [cf. 2 Cor. 5:19-20]… the gospel is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ [2 Cor 5:18], no other sufficiently firm testimony of God’s benevolence to us exists, the knowledge of which faith seeks.
John Calvin, Vol 1, p575

So once again Calvin emphasises that the free offer of the gospel (“freely given promise”) is foundational to faith. It is the “willingly” and “freely” offered gospel promises which “buttress” faith. Indeed “nothing” can establish faith but the free offer of the gospel expressed in the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ which is a “sufficiently firm” testimony of God’s “benevolence” to us.

There is no promise of [God’s] which is not a testimony of his love… Nothing prevents [the wicked], in habitually rejecting the promises intended for them, from thereby bringing upon themselves a greater vengeance. For although the effectiveness of the promises only appears when they have aroused faith in us, yet the force and peculiar nature of the promises are never extinguished by our unfaithfulness and ingratitude. Therefore since the Lord, by his promises, invites man not only to receive the fruits of his kindness but also to think about them, he at the same time declares his love to man. Hence we must return to the point: that any promise whatsoever is a testimony of God’s love towards us.
John Calvin, Vol 1, p579

This is very interesting. To be given the free offer of the gospel is “a testimony of God’s love”. Even to those who reject the promises, “the peculiar nature of the promises are never extinguished”. Even to the wicked “any promise whatsoever is a testimony of God’s love”. Thus, for Calvin, the free offer of the gospel is an expression of God’s love, even to those who never believe.

Weekly Update 10

June 30, 2007

The Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards

Is the free offer of the gospel some small appendage to reformed theology that doesn’t really matter too much? Or is it at the core of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards which mark the high-water mark of reformed theology?

This is the question I want to look at in this posting. I want to do it by answering the question I posed last week which was:

“Interestingly, I think there are 12 distinct references to the free offer of the gospel in the Westminster Standards. Anyone care to try and come up with them?”

First I want to pick out the references in the The Directory for the Publick Worship of God. This profitable document can be found at

“To acknowledge our great sinfulness… yea, not only despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, but standing out against many invitations and offers of grace in the gospel; not endeavouring, as we ought, to receive Christ into our hearts by faith.”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Of Prayer Before the Sermon

This reference to the free offer comes in the section outlining how a Minister is to pray before they preach.  The particular point being made is that the minister is to confess the people’s sin of neglecting the offer of the gospel.  This section raises a number of interesting points:

• Those who never come to Christ still experience God’s goodness.
• They also experience Divine forbearance and longsuffering.
• But a blessing above and beyond these is the free offer of the gospel. That is, “not only” have they received “goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering” but, above and beyond these, they have received the “free offer of grace”.
• The free offer of the gospel is equivalent to an “invitation”.  There is no notion here of the free offer being merely a command or a presentation of facts.  No, quite simply it is a sincere earnest invitation.
• Of course there is an unspoken assumption here.  For the people to be guilty of “standing out against… offers of grace in the gospel” it presupposes that they receive the free offer of the gospel in their preaching!

“If it appear that he hath not a due sense of his sins, endeavours ought to be used to convince him of his sins… that he may be truly affected with and humbled for them: and withal make known the danger of deferring repentance, and of neglecting salvation at any time offered”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Concerning Visitation of the Sick

Those who penned the Westminster Standards were aware of their pastoral responsibilities. If someone outside of Christ were unwell, it was the duty of the minister when visiting them to point them to their need of salvation and the danger of neglecting the salvation that was offered to them.

“If he hath endeavoured to walk in the ways of holiness, and to serve God in uprightness, although not without many failings and infirmities; or, if his spirit be broken with the sense of sin, or cast down through want of the sense of God’s favour; then it will be fit to raise him up, by setting before him the freeness and fulness of God’s grace, the sufficiency of righteousness in Christ, the gracious offers in the gospel, that all who repent, and believe with all their heart in God’s mercy through Christ, renouncing their own righteousness, shall have life and salvation in him.”
The Directory for the Publick Worship of God, Concerning visitation of the sick

The free offer of the gospel has other pastoral applications.  Reminding people of the “gracious offers in the gospel” can “raise up” the spirits of those who are downcast in their souls.

It is interesting to note the adjective given to the offer of the gospel is “gracious”.  The offer of the gospel (even to those who never believe) is gracious and flows from the goodness of God.

Second the Shorter Catechism. This can be found at

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Shorter Catechism, Q31

This question expounds basic reformed theology – irresistible grace.  But it is worth noting that in the work of bringing us to God, the Spirit draws us to Christ, enabling us to embrace him as he is “freely offered to us in the gospel”.  So fundamental to the Westminster view of the outworking of the Spirit’s drawing us to Christ is the free offer of the gospel.  It is as we receive this offer that we are drawn to Christ.

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
Shorter Catechism, Q86

This covers similar ground to Q.31 but this time from the perspective of faith. Again when we come to address the subject of faith, the free offer of the gospel is key. It is here we come to the pastoral implications of the free offer. How can I “receive and rest” upon him [Christ] unless he is offered to me?  How can I “receive and rest” upon him [Christ] if I don’t know whether he is willing to receive me?

Third let’s look at the Larger Catechism. This can be found at

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.
Larger Catechism, Q32

This question highlights a distinction between the grace of God being manifest in a common way and a special way.  The common grace is that God “freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him”.  The special grace is that God “promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith”.  So the free offer of the gospel is a manifestation of common grace or goodness. Interestingly of course this is set in the context of covenant (a point I highlighted last week).

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.
Larger Catechism, Q63

This question highlights the idea that receiving the free offer of the gospel is a “privilege”. Even though it may be rejected and become a “savour of death” (2 Cor 2:16), to be given the free offer in itself is a privilege and not a curse.

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
Larger Catechism, Q67

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.
Larger Catechism, Q68

These two questions and answers on effectual calling expand on the one question in the shorter catechism.  They highlight the difference between the elect and the non-elect.   But interestingly there is no difference when it comes to the free offer of the gospel.  Both receive this.  Both also see some work of the Holy Spirit in their lives but for the non-elect it is only “some common operations” for they are not objects of God’s “free and special love to his elect”.

Fourth let’s look at the Westminster Confession of Faith itself. This can be found at

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
WCoF 7:3

The interesting points here are:
• That the free offer is set within the context of covenant theology
• That the free offer is made to sinners as sinners
• The elect only will, in addition to receiving the offer, be enabled to accept (close with) the offer

This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
WCoF 10:2

This makes points which have already been covered by the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.

So I think we have seen that as far as the Westminster Standards go the free offer of the gospel is an important part of their system of doctrine.

• According to the directory of public worship the free offer permeates the preaching of the word and prayer in worship, and it should also be on your mind when visiting the sick.
• According to the shorter catechism the free offer is central to the doctrines of effectual calling and faith.
• The larger catechism adds common grace, covenant theology and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).
• The WCoF highlights covenant theology as the context for the free offer of the gospel

So if you disagree with the Westminster Standards doctrine of the free offer it is likely at the root you will find disagreement with at least one of the Westminster Standards views of:
• Preaching, prayer and the pastoral work
• Effectual calling
• Faith
• Common grace
• Ecclesiology

I’ve left out two references as I didn’t think they were germane to the thrust of this post. There are also other sections of the standards which speak to the offer of the gospel (e.g. WCoF 10:4) but I have only picked out sections which use the word offer.

Now the Westminster confession was not the first reformed confession to include the free offer of the gospel. See also:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.
39 Articles, Article 7

Article 8: The Serious Call of the Gospel
Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

Article 9: Human Responsibility for Rejecting the Gospel
The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).
The Canons of Dordt, The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Articles8& 9

Weekly Update 9

June 23, 2007

“A little view and short series of the gospel”

What kind of answer would you get if you asked a Puritan or seventeenth century Scottish Presbyterian to define the gospel in 200 words or less?

Well, of course you would get protestations along the lines of “My book titles are normally longer than 200 words; how can you ask me to define anything in less than a book title!!” But if you pressed the issue, what you would get is an answer along the lines of the following blog post.

That is because this week I’ve been thinking (in between reading Torrance’s Scottish Theology) about Durham’s “little view and short series of the gospel.” (Review of Torrance coming to a blog near you soon.)

This “short series” is found in Durham’s The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, r2002, p311-315.

Durham begins his “short series of the gospel” by defining to whom this gospel speaks: “This is the object of the gospel: sinners. The persons for whom Christ has made his testament, and to whom he has left his legacies are sinners, sinful men and women”.

Note the wide terms in which Durham begins. He does not define the object of the gospel as the elect, but more simply as sinners. That is the character of those whom Christ came to save – sinners.

He continues: “There is a grand design laid by God from eternity for the saving of many sinners, and for procuring to them remission of sins, the fruit of the ancient counsel of the blessed and glorious Trinity.”

Note well the Trinitarian thrust of Durham’s gospel. All the three all glorious and
ever blessed persons of the Trinity are intimately involved in our salvation.

(The following bit of my commentary here will probably only make sense if you are familiar with the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” school of historical theology. If you aren’t, move on and be thankful!)

One of T.F. Torrance’s big beefs with seventeenth century reformed theology is that it is not “Trinitarian” enough. Well here in Durham’s little “sum of the gospel” is a statement that our salvation is explicitly Trinitarian. Of course what Durham is referring to in talking about this “ancient counsel” is also known as the “covenant of redemption”. Now Torrance may not like that, but it can hardly be on the basis that it is not Trinitarian.

Durham continues: “What Christ aims at in all His ordinances is to get sinners pardoned and freed from the curse due to them for sin…”

Again what grabs the attention is the terms Durham uses to express the gospel. Christ aims at the conversion of “sinners”. The terms used are as large and indefinite as possible.

He continues: “There is a covenant well-ordered, suited, and fitted to promote this great and glorious end and design of saving sinners… There is a transaction between God and the Mediator; a Surety and Cautioner is provided to take on the debt of the elect, and to satisfy justice to the fullest for all their sins.”

But Durham is no Arminian, or even Amyraldian. While the covenant is “fitted” to promote the “saving [of] sinners,” the atonement is in no way to be construed as universal in extent. It is a full and complete satisfaction of justice for the sins of the elect. But the return to universal language is immediate…

“According to this covenant and transaction our blessed Lord Jesus has really, actually and fully satisfied for the sins of believers, according to his undertaking. So that, as in the counsel of God, that great trust was put upon him and he undertook the work of sinners’ redemption…”

So we are back with indefinite terms such as “sinners” and “believers”. But what is interesting here, and in the earlier posts, is the emphasis Durham puts on “covenant” in his “short series of the gospel.” The impact of Durham’s covenant theology on his understanding of the gospel offer is something I need to understand further.

Of course the section of the Westminster Confession I’m looking at in my thesis is section 7 entitled “Of God’s Covenant With Man”. And the specific section I’m doing a case study on is “Man, by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved…” So the fact that Durham puts the gospel offer in the context of covenant is in line with the Westminster Confession.

Interestingly, I think there are 12 distinct references to the free offer of the gospel in the Westminster Standards. Anyone care to try and come up with them?

Now we come to the piece de resistance of Durham’s “short series of the gospel”:

“As our blessed Lord Jesus Christ has purchased this redemption and remission, so he is most willing, desirous, and pressing that sinners to whom the gospel is offered should make use of his righteousness and of the purchase made thereby to the end that they may have remission of sins and eternal life… He [Christ] is (to speak with reverence) passionately desirous that sinners should endeavour on good ground to be sure of it [salvation] in themselves. Therefore he kindly puts it; in a legacy; makes a serious offer of it, and strongly confirms it to all who embrace it.”

So part of the “short series of the gospel” is that Christ is “willing, desirous, and pressing” that all to whom the gospel is offered have remission of sins. One of the “kind” expressions of this “passionate desire” is the “serious offer” of salvation.

So if you ever hear someone saying that it is wrong, unreformed, Arminian, and so on to preach of Christ (or the Father – for Durham says that as well, elsewhere) “desiring the salvation” of all hearers of the gospel, you now know that that is wrong. Now I am well aware that some reformed writers (e.g. Rutherford) pulled out of context can be made to seemingly disagree with what Durham preached above. But as we saw in Weekly Update 4, Rutherford actually does use “desire” in the same way as Durham does here. It is only when the word is being used while dressed up in an Arminian suit that he objects.

By the way, does anyone see in Durham a presentation of the gospel dominated by a priori conceptions of predestination, reprobation and limited atonement? No, thought not. Neither did I.

This week I’ve also been dipping into a 1996 Aberdeen University PhD thesis which covers Durham. It is entitled The popularisation of federal theology: conscience and covenant in the theology of David Dickson (1583-1663) and James Durham (1622-1658). The author is N.D. Holsteen. It makes an interesting read with some good helpful points, and also some points to disagree with.

I’m not sure what next week will cover yet. Maybe Durham on Common Grace.

Weekly Update 8

June 16, 2007

I am continuing to look at the views of the Puritan contemporary of James Durham, David Clarkson, on Rev 3:20. I am picking up where I left off halfway through the sermon.

Highlights of the post:
• The idea of the condescension of Christ pervades Clarkson’s conception of the free offer.
• Answers to:
o Are the gospel promises conditional on the recipient?
o Why is there a free offer of the gospel to ‘dead’ sinners?
o Did the Puritans believe in common grace?

Clarkson notes that the gospel offer is a mercy. To reject Christ as he stands and knocks is to sin, “Against mercy; mercy in its choice appearances and manifestations in the world; and against not only the mercy of God, but the indulgence of Christ. What more grievous offence than that which is against love, against mercy?” (Clarkson, Works, Vol 2, p60).

Clarkson highlights four ways Christ specifically shows mercy in the free offer of the gospel:
1) In that he shows “condescension” in stooping “so low as to stand at a polluted heart”.
2) In that he draws near, “coming to you, standing at your heart”.
3) In that he is “willing to come in”.
4) In that Christ is “waiting to be gracious”.

Clarkson makes a similar point to one Durham makes in a number of his sermons, that if God is not glorified in his mercy towards a sinner, he will be glorified in his justice. A solemn thought. (Ibid p64).

There is a very instructive section dealing with the condescension of Christ in the free offer of the gospel which I’ll quote here:

“Oh consider this! Let the wonderful patience of Christ in standing, let the gracious importunity of Christ in knocking lead you to repent… The Lord makes use of the wonderful strangeness of his condescension as a motive… to open to him, Jer xxxi. See how his bowels yearn to wretched sinners [Jer 31:20]… and hear him expostulating, wondering at thy delay to open to him… That Christ should stand and knock, that Christ should seek to thee, it is a new thing, a thing so strange and wonderful, as the like is seldom seen on the earth. It is as if a woman should offer love to a man… solicit… woo… seek love, when she should be sought to; forgets herself, her sex, her condition, against all custom… Thus far does the Lord stoop, thus strangely does Christ condescend, when he comes and offers love to sinners… He seems to forget himself (if we may say so) when he so strangely condescends to seek to sinners, to stand and knock at their hearts. This is a new thing, a wonderful thing; and since his love herein is so strange, so admirable, it should be a strong motive for sinners to entertain it.”
Ibid p64-65.

So for Clarkson one great motive for sinners to embrace Christ is his wonderful condescension in the gospel offer. For Clarkson this is an astonishing, almost a shocking thing, “against all custom”. Yet so it is.

The whole idea of the condescension of Christ in the gospel offer seems almost lost in present day preaching. We are rightly anxious to safeguard the glory of Christ – but surely one aspect of that glory is his act of condescension in the gospel offer?

This brings me to one of the interesting points in Clarkson’s sermon. A point which he acknowledged has been the subject of a “controversy started in this age” (Ibid p65). This is the conditional nature of the gospel promises. In order for Adam to be right with God there was a condition to fulfil, “This do, and live”. But in gospel times are there any conditions we have to fulfil to enjoy salvation? And if there are, in fulfilling them do they bring us any glory or merit?

Clarkson begins answering these questions by noting simply that Rev 3:20 “is propounded conditionally. Christ’s presence and communion with him is offered upon condition.” This verse therefore contains a promise “I will come in and will sup with him and he with me” which will be performed on the fulfilment of a condition, “If any man hear my voice and open the door”.

He then makes a general point, as noted above, that “the promises of the law, which belong to the covenant of works” are conditional. He then goes on to state that this is also true of “the promises of the gospel, special branches and articles of the covenant of grace”. Indeed “such is this text”. (Ibid)

Clarkson realises what he has just said is liable to cause “mistakes” and “controversy” and so he proceeds to explain what he said “in such a way as may prevent mistakes, and leave no room for any controversy” noting we are “to prefer truth and peace before contention”. (Ibid). To do this Clarkson notes 5 things he is not saying:

1) Performing this condition does not bring any merit to us, “When the condition is performed, we do not thereby deserve the Lord should bestow the mercy promised”.
2) Performing this condition is “not in the will, in the power of man, to perform”. See, I told you he was a “Calvinist”!
3) Our performing the condition does not change God or cause him to act otherwise than he intended.
4) God is not uncertain as to whether someone will fulfil the condition or not, as man is.
5) Even if we perform the condition it is still of pure pardoning mercy that Christ will enter in given how provoked he has been by our shutting the door for so long.
Thus there is no “shadow upon the glory of free grace to grant some promises to be conditional,” so long as we bear in mind the condition is no more than a “necessary antecedent” and not a meritorious cause.
(Ibid p65-66).

Moving on, what are we to understand by the “voice of Christ” in Rev 3:20? Well, it is “that which you hear principally in the gospel” (Ibid p67). Christ speaks in the gospel in different ways:

1) By command. Christ “exercises his authority as King and Lord of the world, sends out his royal edicts, his commands.” Indeed, “this is the great command of the gospel to open to him [Christ].” (Ibid p67)
2) By threatening. “If ye will not suffer Christ to enter into your hearts, ye shall never enter into his rest. This is his terrible voice; it can rend the rocks, and cause the mountains to tremble.” (Ibid p68)
3) By promising. Christ “promises his presence and fellowship with him to all that will open to him”. (Ibid)
4) By persuading. Christ “counsels, that is he advises; and he urges it, enforces his counsel with many motives and arguments.” (Ibid)
5) By entreaty. “Ministers of the gospel are Christ’s ambassadors; they are sent, employed, authorised by him. He gives them instructions to pray, to beseech sinners, and they do it… ‘in Christ’s stead.’ It is as if Christ should do it; it is as if he should with his own mouth pray, beseech, entreat you to open to him… And the wonder of Christ’s stooping so low as to beseech you, should be a strong motive to open…” (Ibid)
6) By reproof. Proverbs 1:23 “Turn you at my reproof”. (Ibid p69)

All these elements are involved in the proclamation of the gospel. To say the gospel is a command, or a presentation is not enough. To say that is to speak with a muted “voice of Christ”. To speak with the full voice of him of whom it was said “grace is poured into thy lips” Ps 45:2 is to add entreaty, promising and persuading to commands.

Clarkson turns his attention to the important question that every proponent of the free offer must face, “Why does the Lord call upon sinners to open, who can not of themselves open?” (Ibid p76). Clarkson provides four answers:

1) “Sinners were once able, but they have disabled themselves, they had power, but have wilfully lost it… We had power in Adam to obey Christ’s voice, but in him we sinned that power away… If you entrusted a man with a sum of money, and he go away and spend it in gaming, drinking and unwarrantable courses; will you not, therefore, think it reasonable to demand it of him? Will you lose power to ask what he owes ye, because he has prodigally spent it?” (Ibid)
2) “The word of Christ is operative. He many times empowers his word to effect what he calls for… He speaks to Lazarus who was dead… ‘Lazarus come forth;’ but there was a secret power accompanied the voice which made it effectual; he spake and it was done.” (Ibid p77)
3) “The Lord may call upon them to open who are not able, that they may go to him to make them able.” (Ibid)
4) “Sinners may do more than they use to do, than they are willing to do, and therefore there is reason to call upon them.” (Ibid p78)

On this last point there is a fascinating sermon by the Puritan member of the Westminster Assembly William Greenhill. The sermon is entitled “What must and can persons do toward their own conversion?” (Puritan Sermons 1659-1689: Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Richard Owen Roberts, Illinois, r1981). As the sermon is twelve pages long you can take it for read that his answer isn’t “nothing”. I will need to blog through this sermon at some time as I hope to bring Greenhill into my thesis given the insights into the free offer provided by his sermons on “Whosoever will, may come”.

Okay, you may think we have cleared that question up – it seems reasonable that we should offer the gospel to dead sinners. But along comes the Arminian question, wouldn’t it make even more sense if men had the power to believe, that is if common sufficient grace [to believe] were given to all men? Clarkson answers this objection in four ways:
1) He rejects that there is such a thing as common sufficient grace. “To grant that the Lord vouchsafes sufficient grace for the salvation of all and every man is both against Scripture and the experience of the world in all ages” (Ibid p78-79).
2) But there is such a thing as common grace and men do not make use of it. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes all more grace, i.e. more common assistance, than ever they make use of. He enables them to do much more towards opening to Christ… than they are wont to use, or willing to improve.” (Ibid p79).
3) Further, Clarkson says his definition of common grace embraces all that the ‘Arminian’ definition embraces. “We grant that the Lord vouchsafes to those who enjoy the gospel, and to many of those who never open to Christ, all that sufficient grace which the patrons of free will contend for…” (Ibid). This includes “… arguments and motives… apt to persuade those who hear them… some illumination of the understanding, convictions of sin and misery, some common motions of the Spirit exciting the will to yield to Christ…” (Ibid).
4) But more than common grace is needed for the conversion of a sinner. “But we say more is needful… we hold that the Lord disposes his [special] grace so as to make both conversion and perseverance certain… to his chosen.” (Ibid).

I found this section fascinating. Clarkson’s answer is essentially this. “I too believe in everything you ‘Arminians’ term common grace but it is insufficient. In addition I believe in sufficient converting and persevering grace for the elect only.” I am not sure how common this type of answer was. Ah well – more research!

I’ll close with one further example of Clarkson “entreating” with unconverted sinners:
“All his knocking, calling has not prevailed. Is this nothing to you, all ye that pass by? See if there be any love like Christ’s love, and condescension like Christ’s, any patience, any importunity; and see if there be any hatred, contempt, neglect, unkindness, like yours. Shall Christ come to his own and his own not receive him? Would you have him still a man of sorrows and sufferings? Shall he have still occasion to complain, ‘Who has believed our report?’ Who has hearkened when I have called? Who has regarded when I have stretched out my hands? Who has yielded when I have entreated? Who has opened when I have knocked? Shall it be thus still with Christ? Shall he not have a place whereon to lay his head?” (Ibid p84).

Remember Clarkson had a reputation as one of the “harsher” Puritans. He was a colleague of John Owen. And yet this was how he preached. This I hope to show in my thesis is the Reformed and Puritan free offer of the gospel.

I’m afraid I’ll leave off Durham’s “Short Sum of the Gospel” until next week. There is more than enough in Clarkson to think through.

Weekly Update 7 (at last!)

June 11, 2007

First of all, apologies for the delay.”Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Rev 3:20

Last week (weekly update 6) I posted on Durham’s extensive comments on this verse and the epistle to the Laodiceans in general.

This week I am posting a few examples of how Durham used this verse in his preaching. I also look at the use of this verse by David Clarkson.

1. Durham

“This union [between Christ and his people] is made up by mutual consent of [the] parties, and this consent must be willing. His consent comes from His word. He says from there, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” It is as if he had said, “I come in my gospel to woo, and, if any will consent to take me on the terms on which I offer myself I will be theirs.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p46

So sinners do not have to stand back and wonder whether God is willing to save them. The willingness on the side of God is plainly set down in his word in Rev 3:20. Durham notes that Rev 3:20 teaches that God in the gospel comes to “woo” sinners. Amazing condescension!

“God will sometimes speak peace to them who are given to folly… He speaks peace to them… In His offering of peace to them, and by his meeting and treating with them in and by that offer, in His entreating or inviting them earnestly to come to Him who have wearied themselves and spent their labour on that which does not profit; pressing them to return and assuring them that he will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14), and preaching peace through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2); counselling them to come and buy eye salve of Him, and by His knocking and waiting at their door for admittance and entry (Revelation 3).”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p165

So the “offer of peace” is an “inviting them earnestly to come”. This earnest invitation is seen in Christ knocking at the doors of sinners’ hearts as in Rev 3:20.

I will let the next two quotes speak for themselves.

“Union with the Lord by covenant is accessible to a runaway sinner who has perverted his way… He will take away that exception of grossness of sin which might stand in the sinner’s way, were it even rotten hypocrisy, detestable indifference, and lukewarmness in the matters of God… Yet He even says to such… “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p261

“The offer of this gospel is… set out under the similitude of a standing and knocking and calling hard at sinners’ doors (Rev 3:20, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me)… and [in] Ps 24:7-10, it is cried, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be lift up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in; which is an earnest invitation to make way for Christ Jesus, wanting nothing but an entry into the heart, whereby we may see how near Christ comes in the gospel, and is laid to folks’ hands.”
Christ Crucified, p80

2. Clarkson

One of the classic Puritan evangelistic sermons is David Clarkson’s (1621-1686) sermon on Rev 3:20 entitled Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Sinners (The Works of David Clarkson, Volume 2, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, r1988, p34-100). Clarkson was colleague and then successor to the great John Owen.

Before I post a few extracts it is interesting to note that Clarkson’s theology is described in the following terms in the introduction to his Works, “The doctrine of Clarkson is very decidedly Calvinistic, and is occasionally somewhat harsher than that of most of the puritan Calvinists.” (Works, Vol. 1, p x). So if you would expect someone to cut back on the free offer it would surely be someone like this. How then does he handle Rev 3:20?

He starts his sermon by highlighting that this text contains “something wonderful, worthy of admiration” (Works, vol 2, p34). But what? “That Christ should thus offer himself to sinners in a way of mercy, is a matter of admiration” (ibid). But more than this – come and wonder at those to whom Christ shows mercy, “See how he describes those to whom he offers love, ver. 17, Wretched and miserable, twice miserable, extremely miserable, and (which makes the gracious offer wonderful) wilfully miserable… And yet Christ will come and knock, and stand waiting, to show mercy to such sinful wretches; and continues thus, notwithstanding their obstinacy, their contempt of those gracious offers, and of Christ himself who makes them. Oh how wonderful is this!” (Ibid p37).

How does Christ offer himself? “He entreats. Here is wonderful condescension indeed, that the great God, speaking to the vilest of his creatures (so man is by sin) should use the language of entreaty… Yet thus does the glorious God to those that have showed themselves traitors, enemies to his crown and dignity; he comes to them, offers them his favour, his pardon, stands waiting for their acceptance. And when they are slow to accept it… he beseeches, he entreats them to accept of his favour, not to refuse a pardon… Oh how wonderful is this condescension!” (Ibid p39-40).

But surely the condescension of Christ goes no further than entreaty? “When he prevails not by coming, by standing, by knocking, by waiting, by beseeching, why this is his grief, his sorrow, and he vents his sorrow in tears. Behold the compassions of the Lord to obstinate sinners, as he expresses it over Jerusalem. Behold it, and wonder! He represents himself as clothed with the weakest of man’s infirmities; he falls a-weeping, Luke xix. 41,42… And O, did the Lord weep for those who will not weep for themselves? Oh how wonderful is this compassion! how full of wonder this condescension.” (Ibid p40).

Note that it is by preaching that this message is carried today, “The preaching hereof, in season and out of season is his [Christ’s] appointment, that therein sinners may see him daily set forth as crucified before their eyes, that they may behold him stretching out his hands all the day long unto them, that they may hear him, as though he were now, as in the days of his flesh, mourning, complaining, and weeping over them, Luke xiii. 34. How often would the Lord have gathered you! How often has he come, knocked, stood, waited, entreated, lamented! If it be a wonder that he will condescend to any of these for once, how wonderful that he should condescend to these so often!” (Ibid p41.)

How would you react if your pastor started preaching of Christ “weeping over” unbelievers? Is it proper to preach like this? Have you ever preached like this?

What is offered in the gospel? “He [Christ] offers (1.) his love; (2.) himself; (3.) his blood and all that he purchased by it; (4.) his comforts; (5.) his glory; and (6.) his kingdom” (Ibid p41.) In discussing the offer of “his blood” Clarkson phrases his statements in such a way as to be consistent with a definite atonement.

Clarkson asks how Christ knocks on the doors of sinners’ hearts, and gives four answers (Ibid p 52-55). First, by “checks of conscience” i.e. when our conscience accuses us this is Christ knocking for admittance. Second, by “acts of providence.” When we are blessed with the good things of this life we are to consider that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). When we are under afflictions we are to consider our weakness and go to Christ. The third and principal means of knocking is the preaching of the word. The final means of knocking is the operation of the Spirit. He notes that “Those that enjoy the gospel, and live under a powerful ministry, cannot but have experience of Christ’s knocking by his Spirit” (Ibid p55). It is evident at this point that Clarkson is speaking of common grace as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 68.

Christ’s standing at the door shows among other things, “His desire; his readiness to enter… If you see one standing at your door and knocking, how can ye interpret this, but that he is willing, desires to enter? Christ is more ready to come into sinners than they are to open to him. There is no bar, no backwardness on his part; he is at the door, and there he stands and knocks. That which keeps him out is the unkindness, the obstinacy of sinners, who will not open.” (Ibid p58).

Clarkson notes that Christ’s patience will one day come to an end. The Jerusalem that Christ wept over would be made desolate for despising the offer of the gospel, Luke 19:41-42. (Ibid p59).

The gospel offer shows, “The riches of the goodness and compassion of Christ to sinners… Oh the riches of his goodness, the wonders of his condescension, the greatness of his mercy… The Lord’s ways are not our ways. The Lord leaves not himself without a witness; gives clear testimony that he is abundant in longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that they should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]; that they should be as happy as that which is the happiness of heaven…” (Ibid p 60).

The reference to 2 Peter 3:9 in the above is interesting. The reformed tradition from Calvin onwards has been divided in its exposition of that verse. Clarkson here gives it a universal reference, as does Calvin himself. Many others restrict the reference to the elect.

There is more to come from Clarkson’s sermon next week – I’ve only covered the first half. This will include: in what sense may we speak of the gospel promise as conditional, in what sense does the reformed view of “common grace” differ from the “Arminian” one, and more in the vein of what I’ve posted above. Please remember that despite what you may be thinking after reading what I posted above that Clarkson is a “Calvinist” and this will come across next week more clearly.

I was going to post on John Flavel’s (200+ pages!!!) of sermons on Rev 3:20 but I didn’t have the time to go through them in depth as there was so much material in Clarkson.

One point of interest in the Flavel sermons though is that he calls James Durham a “judicious expositor” with reference to his views of Rev 3:20 (The Works of John Flavel, Volume 4, Banner of Truth, r1968, p19).

Now I’m not saying that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 is the only one offered in the “Puritan” era (see Matthew Poole for one other alternative). But what I would say is that the Durham/Clarkson view of Rev 3:20 was the most common one.

Next (now this!) week, in addition to finishing off Clarkson I’m going to blog through a very important section of one of Durham’s sermons which he introduced as “a short sum of the gospel”. This will introduce the importance of the doctrine of the covenant to the free offer.

I’ll actually spend most of this week reading through T.F. Torrance’s “Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell”. Expect a fairly “trenchant” review when I’ve finished it.

Weekly Update 6

June 2, 2007

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Rev 3:20

How do you understand this verse? It surely can’t be an evangelistic appeal to unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be “Arminian” to understand it this way? In any case, isn’t it addressed to a church and so by its very nature addressed to believers?

Well according to Durham, yes this is written to a Church, and yet this still is an appeal from Christ to unbelievers, and no it isn’t Arminian to understand it this way. This needs some unpacking.

First let’s step into the classical Scottish doctrine of the Church.  It is fundamental to note that the Scottish theologians of Durham’s time did not view the Church as being comprised solely of those with saving faith in Christ.  Rather it is comprised of those who have been baptized as infants. This baptism was a parallel to the circumcision of the Old Testament, “Were they [old testament unbelievers] not members of the visible Church as you are, circumcised under the Old Testament, as you are baptized under the New?” Christ Crucified, p114.  So when people like Isaiah cry out “Who hath believed our report?” (Is 53:1) this cry can be echoed by ministers today regarding their Churches. Accordingly, Durham can state “… here in this city, where the gospel is preached to a great multitude of professing members of the visible Church, there are readily many that do not believe,” Christ Crucified p113.  For Durham, within the “visible Church” are “many that do not believe”.

Against this background, the fact that a letter is written to a Church does not exclude the fact that it may be addresed to, and applicable for, those who are unbelievers.   So there are no a priori theological reasons which dictate that Durham could not take Rev 3:20 as being addressed to unbelievers.

But we can go further and gather Durham’s view on the make up of the Laodicean Church to which Rev 3:20 is addressed.  According to Durham this church is “without anything to hide or cover… before the justice of God… without [Christ’s righteousness].” Commentary on Revelation, p269.  John Brown of Wamphray (a gifted Scottish theologian and contemporary of Durham) went so far as to state that “a true visible church [may exist] without a single Christian in it; giving Laodicea as an example” (James Walker, The Theology and theologians of Scotland 1560-1750, p127).  Durham tentatively takes the same position as Brown – see p275-276 of the Revelation commentary.

To modern Evangelicals this may all seem a bit strange – a Church with no Christians?  However strange it may have been, this was the view of the Scottish Church in Durham’s time.

So to summarise, for Durham, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, and therefore Rev 3:20, is addressed to a group of unbelievers.  Rev 3:20 is an appeal addressed to unbelievers by Christ offering salvation to them.

“There is a wonderful depth of iniquity and hypocrisy in their case; but here is a far more wonderful depth and mystery of free grace and infinite love in the proposed cure.  It is proposed by way of offer under the expressions that belong to bargaining.”
Revelation, p271

So Christ shows the “mystery of free grace and infinite love” in the “offer” to the unbelieving Laodicean Church.  The gospel offer according to Durham is expressive of love.

In this offer the “wares proposed… [are] Jesus Christ himself”. Ibid.  So what is offered in the gospel is nothing short of Christ himself and all good things in him.

Durham calls particular attention to the “manner of Christ’s proposing the [gospel offer]”.   This is “I counsel thee, etc. which is not so proposed, as if it were left, indifferent to them to hearken or not… it is thus expressed, for these reasons… That thereby he may bear out his affection, who, as a friend, condescendeth to give them counsel in things that are of most concernment for their own good… It is thus expressed, to gain their consent the more willingly to the same: therefore in the Gospel He doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him… there is no sinner that heareth this Gospel, but he may think himself sufficiently warranted to close this bargain with Christ…” Ibid p272-273.

There are a number of key points brought out by this:

  • In the gospel Christ speaks to unbelievers as a “friend”
  • In the gospel Christ shows “affection” for the hearers
  • The gospel involves “condescension” on the part of Christ
  • The gospel is preached to unbelievers “for their own good”
  • It is preached in this manner “to gain their consent the more willingly”
  • In the gospel Christ “doth beseech and entreat”
  • This gospel preaching gives everyone a warrant to “close this bargain with Christ”

Durham goes on to note that Christ “loveth my visible Church” and that this gospel message calling for repentance “expresseth God’s love to them” Ibid p273.  Again note that this particular visible Church was made up entirely, in Durham’s opinion, of unbelievers.  So Christ loves unbelievers (not with an electing love, it should be noted).

Verse 20 is “a most instant and importunate pursuing of His offer”.  “Hearts naturally are as Castles shut and guarded by the devil against Christ: when He cometh with His Ordinances… notwithstanding of her many formal refusals.  Thus, He is said to stand at the door: whereby is holden forth… His patience that still waiteth on.” Ibid.

It is an amazing thing to see the patience of Christ in dealing with sinners who continually reject him! 

“He presseth [this offer]… by making His offer particular, as it were, bringing it to every man’s door, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, etc… What He [Christ] would have, is… hearkening to his voice, which he requireth…” Ibid.

Note that the gospel is not just a general message, rather it is a particular message to everyone who hears.

“This then is the duty called for, and the terms upon which the offer is made, to wit, Faith’s yielding to receive and admit Christ…The person called to this is expressed thus, if any man, etc. which putteth it to every hearer, as if it went round to every particular person, if thou, and thou, or thou, etc.”
Ibid p274.

“It is Christ, making this offer.”
Ibid p274.

We cannot say the gospel offer is only the preacher offering; it is Christ’s offer.

I’ll probably post a few of Durham’s uses of Rev 3:20 in preaching next week, together with some other uses of Rev 3:20 by Durham’s contemporaries.

Appendix 1 

Standing away from all this for a second, Durham has a very interesting little section at the start of his exposition of the Epistle to the Laodiceans where he discusses the statement, “I would thou wert cold or hot”.  Durham notes that “It cannot be thought that he [Christ] commandeth them to be cold; nor doth it imply any will or desire in him for such things simply; (for it cannot be thought that he is so indifferent concerning these extremes…” So there is no “will or desire” in Christ that the Laodiceans be “cold”.  Rather, it is the opposite.  Durham goes on to note that it would be incorrect to proceed from this and say that there is any intention in God for the “salvation of all men” distinguishing his position (and Reformed theology generally) from Arminians.  This last point relies of the distinction between the revealed will of God and the secret will of God (or his decree).  At some point in the future this will be the subject of a post.