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!