Archive for the ‘What is the gospel?’ Category

What is Offered in the Gospel? (According to Durham)

November 24, 2008

What exactly is being offered in the gospel? 

In summary, Durham states that “Christ Jesus Himself, and His benefits” is what is offered.   That is, all the Son had done to redeem sinners is offered to us in the gospel, “This good and gracious bargain that is made between the Father and the Son, which is wholly mercy, is brought to the market and exposed to sale on exceedingly easy and condescending terms, and that to bankrupt sinners.”  To expand on this “peace and pardon, grace and glory, even all good things [are] offered to you freely!”  Or to phrase it differently, “Tell me, what is it that you would have?  Is it remission of sins?  ‘Tis here.  Would you have the covenant and promises?  Here they are: Is it Christ Himself that you would have, because you dare not trust a promise without a Cautioner?  Here He is.  Or would you have heaven and be eternally happy?  ‘Tis also here.”  

So Christ Jesus and all that he has done for the salvation of his people and the fruits of his death are offered to us in the gospel.  To quote John Murray, “it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel.”

This is a short extract from the talk I gave at the Scottish Reformation Society in Inverness.  I am hoping to get a slightly ammended version of the lecture published in the summer.  Watch this space.

PS Blogging may be slow over the month of December as we are moving to Cambridge shortly and internet access will be limited for the first few weeks.  Normal service will resume in the new year, DV.

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The Gospel Message in 100 Words

July 10, 2008

Here is one of James Durham’s brief summaries of some cardinal gospel truths:

…the general truths contained in the gospel. As, that Adam was made according to God’s image; that he fell, and broke the covenant of works … that we are by that covenant under God’s curse; that Jesus Christ the Son of God, according to the covenant of redemption, entered himself cautioner for the elect; that he really died and paid their debt; that his purchase is made offer of in the gospel; and that according to the covenant of grace, there is a real absolution from sin, and an eternal happiness to be had at the great day through embracing of him.
Christ Crucifed, (rept. Dallas: Naphtali Press, 2001), 572

What is obvious from this quote is how integral covenant theology is to Durham’s conception of the gospel.  This sets up nicely the next three posts I’d like to do on the covenants of works, redemption and grace.

Nine Marks of Gospel Preaching – Durham Style

April 28, 2008

Erroll Hulse has an interesting and helpful article “Spurgeon and his Gospel Invitations” in A Marvelous Ministry: How the All-round Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon Speaks to us Today (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993).  In this article he enumerates ten key features of Spurgeon’s gospel preaching.  I’ve omitted one of these points leaving nine and I’ll now proceed to highlight how they are also applicable to James Durham.

  1. “There was no restriction in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 52
    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 …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 60
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 60
  2. “There was great love in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 50
    The greatest complaint, weight and grief of an honest minister of the gospel, is this, that his message is not taken off his hand, that Christ is not received, believed in, and rested on…
    Christ Crucified, 73
    Why will God have Christ in the offer of the gospel brought so near to the hearers of it … Because it serves to commend the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.  When the invitation is so broad that it is to all, it speaks of the royalty of the feast, upon which ground (2 Cor 6:1) it is called grace, the offer is so large and wide.
    Christ Crucified, 83
  3. “There was the reality of death and hell in his invitations”
    Consider that death and life are now in your option, in your hand as it were; choose or refuse.  I speak not, nor plead here for free-will, but of your willing electing of that which you have offered to you … You may have life by receiving Christ, who is laid to your door, and if you refuse him, death will follow it.
    Christ Crucified, 85
  4. “There was a personal appeal in his invitations”
    You see then what you are called to.  It is to open to Christ, to come to him, to marry him, to roll yourselves on him, to commit yourselves to him, to give him credit etc.  And is there any of these unreasonable or prejudicial to you?  And if they be very reasonable and advantageous (as indeed they are), we would exhort you to come to him, to receive him, to apprehend him, to flee to him, to take hold of him, to marry him etc.  Believe on him, and by believing on him, be united to him, and get a right to him, and to all his purchase; give him the credit of saving your souls.  This we call for from you …
    Christ Crucified, 99
  5. “There was urgency in his invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 66-7
    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 …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 68
  6. “There was the offer of immediate justification in his invitations”
    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).
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 56
    Faith is … seeing Christ has satisfied justice for sinners, and his satisfaction is offered in the gospel to all that will receive it, even to all the hearers of the gospel; that sinners, in the sight and sense of their lost condition, would flee unto him, receive and rest upon him, and his satisfaction, for pardon of sin, and making of their peace with God.
    Christ Crucified, 123
  7. “There was urgent persuasiveness in his invitations”
    Do not only make an offer of marriage, but request, entreat, persuade, pray and beg, yea command and compel …
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 56
    Seeing Christ comes near you in this gospel … I entreat you, while he is near, receive him, call upon him while he is near … open to him, take him in, give him welcome … O receive this gospel, give him room; while he is content to sup with you, take him in, make sure your union with him.  This is the end why this report is made, and Christ is laid before you, even that you may lay yourselves over on him.
    Christ Crucified, 84
  8. “There was a spirit of joy in the invitations”
    They who come may expect a very hearty welcome; therefore they are invited once and again.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 45
    The discovery of Christ Jesus, and the making him known, is the greatest news, the gladdest tidings, and the most excellent report, that ever came, or can come to a people … These are the good tidings, that Jesus Christ is come, and that he is Saviour by office.
    Christ Crucified, 73
  9. “There was a sense of God himself in the invitations”
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 44
    [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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 55
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 58
    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.
    Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 59

I would submit that these nine marks are common to all those who preach “Christ and him crucified” in a manner truly faithful to Scripture.

“The Doctrine of Conversion in the Westminster Standards With Reference to the Theology of Herman Hoeksema”

March 29, 2008

This is the title of a helpful article by David Silversides in Reformed Theological Journal 9 (1993), 62-84.  Here are some thoughts and quotations I’ve gleaned from the article.

Now, justification is a real favour applied to us in time, just as sanctification in the new birth: ‘and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified’ (1 Cor. 6:11). Then were they sometime not washed.
Samuel Rutherford, Trial & Triumph of Faith, 1845, 91.
p66

The Scots theologians of the mid 17th C seem to me to be quite opposed to any notion of eternal justification.  Things were not quite so uniform on this in England e.g. Thomas Goodwin.

The condition of the Covenant is faith: holiness and sanctification are the condition of the covenanters … This do was the condition of the Covenant of Works. This believe is the condition of this Covenant …
Samuel Rutherford, ibid, 87
p70

The whole notion of “conditions” relating to the covenant of grace/gospel offer is something that is very interesting.  The Reformed divines (c.f. WLC Q&A 32) of the mid 17th C used the language of conditionality frequently but what they meant by “conditions” must be carefully understood.  I need to spend a fair amount of time expanding on this in the thesis which means a blog post on it will appear sometime.  Durham uses the language of “condition” everywhere but in one significant comment he says he doesn’t like the word very much!

God’s decree of election or His intention to save me, is not the proper object of my faith, but … Christ holdeth forth his rope to drowned and lost sinners, and layeth out an open market of rich treasures of heaven; do thou take it for granted, without any further dispute, as a principle, after to be made good, that Christ hath thoughts of grace and peace concerning thee, and do but now husband well the grace offered, lay hold on Christ, ay while he put thee away from Him, and if there be any question concerning God’s intention of saving thee, let Christ first move the doubt, but do not thou be the first mover.
S. Rutherford, A Sermon Preached to the Honourable House of Commons, 1643.
See also Trial p300.
p73-4

A good example of gospel preaching.

If the anti-common grace position were correct, then Christ as God in no sense loved the reprobate even while they were in this world. As a man ‘made under the law’ the command “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” applied to Christ. Only two options are open. The first is an heretical division of the person of Christ, by maintaining that Christ loved only the elect in His divine nature but loved all men in His human nature. Clearly this must be rejected. The alternative is to say that Christ, in both natures, loved the elect only and that our obligation to love all men is founded on our ignorance of who the elect are. This means that we are required to love those whom God does not. Moreover, Scripture bases our obligation to love all men not on our ignorance of God’s mind, but the knowledge of it that we should have and our duty to be patterned after Him (Matt. 5:23-48).
p75

Stark “either or” dilemmas are often double-edged swords but the above quote from Rev Silversides gets to the heart of a profound Christological problem for deniers of common love/grace.

… the Westminster Divines as a whole held to what became known as the doctrine of common grace in the sense that the Lord, in a variety of ways, displays his favour and lovingkindness even to the non-elect in this present life … The preaching of the Gospel and the overture of mercy which it includes is one part of that display of lovingkindness.
p78

A sound piece of historical analysis.  This is what the Standards teach.

He offereth in the Gospel, life to all … [this is] God’s moral complacency of grace, revealing an obligation that all are to believe if they would be saved; and upon their own peril be it, if they refuse Christ … Christ cometh once with good tidings to all, elect and reprobate.
Rutherford, Trial, 129ff
p78

Another good extract from Rutherford.

On another note my chapter “The Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Confession” is now finished!  Hurray!  Required before the end of June – two chapters on James Durham.  This is the meat of my thesis and should be a pleasure to write.

Weekly Update 22 – More on Puritan Preaching

September 29, 2007

I had originally hoped this week to post some more Durham material, then I thought I would post some material on Robert Bolton but I haven’t managed to get either of these ideas into shape.  So I’m going to post further material from J.I. Packer’s essay, “The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel,” How Shall they Hear, Puritan & Reformed Studies, 1959, p11-21 (See note 1).

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgement on it, we cannot present Christ as a Saviour from sin and the wrath of God.
p12

Packer is making a vital point here.  Only against the scriptural teaching on sin does the glorious truth that a Saviour is offered to us have any meaning.  Of course sin is not a popular word in our culture.  Has the culture influenced the pulpit?  Are sin and God’s judgement on sin preached in proportion with the weight given to them in scripture?

If the doctrines of total inability, unconditional election and effectual calling are true… Are we indeed entitled to make a ‘free offer’ of Christ to sinners at all?
p13

Packer here highlights a potential dilemma.  Is ‘Calvinism’ compatable with the free offer of the Gospel?  How does he answer this dilemma?  The answer is twofold.

It would be tragic if the current return to Reformed theology, instead of invigorating evangelism, as it should, had the effect of strangling it; but it seems clear that many today have ceased to preach evangelistically…
p13

First Packer laments that some have taken the free offer to be incompatable with “Calvinism”.  Packer regards this as tragic – so do I.  Speaking of the 1950’s and the return to “Reformed theology” Packer noted that because of this “many… have ceased to preach evangelistically.”  What a tragedy and what a misunderstanding of the implications of Reformed theology!  And yet, is the situation in Reformed churches much different today?  What proportion of Reformed churches habitually preach evangelistically?

In this situation, we return to the Puritans for further guidance.
p13

Well this was a “Puritan and Reformed Study Conference” so his basic response is not primarily Scriptural but historical.  What light does Packer glean from the Puritans?

The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; the Puritan position was, rather, that, since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic… The only difference was that some sermons aimed more narrowly and exclusively at converting sinners than did others.
p13

I covered this last week.  Packer’s basic point is that historically the Puritans (“Calvinists”) were passionate proponents of the free offer of the gospel – so it is a grand mistake to think that “Calvinism” and the free offer are incompatable.

Observe how much they [the Puritans] took the word ‘gospel’ to cover. It denoted to them the whole doctrine of the covenant of grace… Thus, to preach the gospel meant to them nothing less than declaring the entire economy of redemption, the saving work of all three members of the Trinity.
p14-15

But we should not be mistaken.  Puritan evangelistic preaching was not minimalistic.  It could not be summed up by “God has a wonderful plan for your life if only you let him”.  No, for the Puritans gospel preaching was preaching the full counsel of God.

The Puritan view was that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ meant teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace. To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this… In this way, they would say, preaching the gospel involves preaching the whole counsel of God. Nor should preaching the gospel be thought of as something confined to set evangelistic occasions, as if at other times we should preach something else. If one preaches the Bible biblically, one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be, as Bolton said, at least by implication evangelistic.
p17

Basically for the Puritans any and every doctrine or text could and should be applied evangelistically.  Indeed this is necessary to preach biblically.  For according to Packer, if we preach biblically, “one cannot help preaching the gospel all the time, and every sermon will be… at least by implication evangelistic.”

They [the Puritans] stressed the condescension of Christ. He was never to them less than the Divine Son, and they measured His mercy by His majesty. They magnified the love of the cross by dwelling on the greatness of the glory which He left for it. They dwelt on the patience and forbearance expressed in His invitations to sinners as further revealing his kindness. And when they applied Rev. iii. 20 evangelistically (as on occasion they did), they took the words ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ as disclosing, not the impotence of his grace apart from man’s cooperation (the too-prevalent modern interpretation), but rather the grace of His omnipotence in freely offering Himself to needy souls.
p18

This is a point that has struck me in reading Durham and his contempories.  They dwell so much on the condescension of Christ in offering himself freely to sinners.  Packer’s explanation of the Puritan view of Rev 3:20 is very helpful.  My only caveat is that it was more than just “on occasion” they applied it evangelistically.

The persons invited and commanded to believe are sinners, as such. The Saviour is freely offered in the gospel to all who need Him. The question of the extent of the atonement does not therefore arise in evangelism, for what the gospel commands the unconverted man to believe is not that Christ died with the specific intention of securing his individual salvation, but that here and now the Christ who died for sinners offers Himself to this individual sinner, saying to him personally, ‘Come unto me… and I will give you rest’ (Mt. xi. 28). The whole warrant of faith – the ground, that is, on which believing becomes permissible and obligatory – is found in this invitation and command of the Father and the Son.
p19

Returning to his original question about the compatability of “Calvinism” with the free offer Packer now touches on the extent of the atonement and the warrant of faith.  His explanation is sound and helpful.

The truth is that to all the Puritans it was one of the wonders of free grace that the Lord Jesus Christ invites sinners, just as they are, in all their filthy rags, to receive Him and find life, and they never waxed more impassioned and powerful than when dilating on what John Owen, in his stately way, calls ‘the infinite condescension, grace and love of Christ, in His invitations of sinners to come unto him, that they may be saved.’ (John Owen, Works, 1:422).
p21

May the Lord of the harvest be pleased to send forth many labourers into his harvest field who would be as impassioned and powerful in preaching the free offer of salvation as the Puritans were.  The fields are ripe for harvest, but those who labour as Puritan preachers laboured, appear to be few.

Note 1
When I quote from John Owen I don’t endorse his views on church government (independency).  Similarly, when I quote Packer here I don’t endorse his position on Evangelicals & Catholics Together or his ecclesiological differences with Dr D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.

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.
p56

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).
p56

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.
p57-8

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.
p58

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.
p58

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.
p59

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 …
p60

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.
p60

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.
p61

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 …
p61

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.
p62

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.
p62

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.
p62-3

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.
p66-7

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 …
p68

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.
p45

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 …
p45

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.”
p46

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.
p48-49

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 …
p50

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.
p50

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 …
p52

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.
p52

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.
p53

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 …
p53-4

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.”
p54

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.
p55

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.
p55

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.
p55

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.
p56

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.
p44

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.
p44

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.
p44-5

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.
p45

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 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 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”.
p311-312

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.”
p312

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…”
p312

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.”
p312

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…”
p313

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.”
p313-314

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.