January 30, 2015

A Gospel Appeal in One of Cuthbert Sydenham's (1622-1654) Sermons

"The blessed God was willing to manifest infinite goodness to the Creature, and to converse with them, and that all terrifying apparitions might be shunned, he appears as a man, that so we may have intimate fellowship and communion with him; with what a holy boldness may souls draw night to God, and delight to behold him, and converse with him, now [that] he is in such a habit of love and suitableness unto our own senses. Why art thou strange, poor trembling soul, and standest afar off, as it it were death to draw nigh? Of whom art thou afraid? What vision of amazement dost thou behold? Is God come down among men, and thou canst not look on him, lest thou die and perish forever? Why, cast one look more, and be not discouraged. It is true, God is come down, but not in flaming fire, not in the armor of justice, and everlasting burning, but clothed with the garments of flesh, and sweetly desires to converse with thee after thine own form. Nothing can be a stronger motive to allure poor souls unto terms of peace and love as this, that God is come down, not to consume them with the brightness of his glory, but to beseech them to see with their own eyes their eternal happiness. Let all poor souls come and put in their hands, and they may feel God's heart come, and behold life and immortality inhabiting the tabernacles of earth, and their own peace and eternal happiness in their own flesh. Who can make any excuse now that he believes not? Why do souls now stand off? What can be desired by lost souls more? Oh that I might see God, say some souls, why, he is come down in the likeness of man; he walks in our own shape; Oh, saith another, might I have my heart united to God; why, he is come down on purpose, and hath united our own nature to himself; God hath left all the world without excuse, he hath condescended below himself, that we might be above ourselves."
Cuthbert Sydenham, The Greatness of the Mystery of Godliness, Opened in Several Sermons (London: Printed for Richard Tomlins, at the Sun and Bible near Pye-Corner, 1656), 73-74.
"God himself is come into the world to offer the terms of love, and peace unto thy poor soul, because it was impossible for thee to come to God; he is come to thee, and hath laid aside, as it were, his own glory, while he converses with thee. This is no ordinary design that God hath to drive, when he is so wonderfully manifest in thy own flesh; when God manifesting himself as formerly, in Thunder and Lightening, with an innumerable company of Angels, all having their swords of justice and vengeance drawn; well might poor souls tremble, and run into corners, for who would ever be able to endure his coming; but lo poor souls, God is come in flesh, with an Olive branch of eternal peace in his hand, and bids you all be witness, he is not come to destroy, but to save..." Ibid., 77-78.
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January 29, 2015

Dr. Cornelis Venema on Christ's Disposition Toward Jerusalem; With His Refutation of James White on Matt. 23:37

Christ’s disposition toward Jerusalem

One of the themes running through the New Testament Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry is that of the unbelief and impenitence on the part of many of the children of Israel. Even though Christ went preaching the kingdom of God first to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” their response to His preaching was often one of hostility and rejection. Despite their abundant privileges and opportunities, they spurned the call to repentance and Christ’s invitations to receive the kingdom offered to them.

A remarkable instance of this pattern of unbelief and impenitence is recorded in Luke 13:34 (par. Matt. 23:37). After Jesus answers the question, “are there just a few who are being saved?” (v. 23), by commanding his hearers to “strive to enter by the narrow door,” He goes on to note how many fail to do so. Remarkably, many of those who will not gain entrance into the kingdom of God are people who knew the master of the house and even, by their own testimony, “ate and drank” with him. However, because they refused to enter when the opportunity was granted to them, they will find themselves outside the kingdom of God where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 28). Despite the fact that many will enter the kingdom, including some from “east and west and north and south,” there are some who are “first who will be last” (vv. 29-30). In the context, it is clear that Christ is warning many among the covenant people of God that, despite their many privileges and ample opportunity, they will not be saved.

What is important to our question is that Luke concludes this section of his Gospel by recording Christ’s lament over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 34). Within the context of Luke’s account, these words can only mean that Christ is lamenting the unbelief and impenitence of many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. What Christ expresses as His desire and wish for them, the text declares not to be their desire or wish. The language used to describe Christ’s lament, moreover, emphasizes the deep anguish and distress that He felt in the face of the unwillingness of many of Jerusalem’s inhabitants to be gathered under His wings. This language of being “gathered under His wings,” when interpreted in the light of the preceding discourse on the way of salvation or entrance into the kingdom of God, indicates that Jesus is speaking of their salvation.

It is difficult to see how this text could be taken in any other way than as an expression of Jesus’ heartfelt desire that the inhabitants of Jerusalem find salvation.5 It seems clearly to express a desire that could only arise from a compassionate and earnest interest in their salvation. If someone were to argue, for example, that this is merely an expression of Jesus’ human will as the God-man, two insuperable difficulties would arise. First, it would be inconsistent with an orthodox doctrine of Christ’s Person to suggest that any feature or expression of His humanity is not also to be ascribed to His Person. Even were we to grant for the sake of discussion that this lament arises out of a human compassion on Christ’s part for his countrymen, such compassion would necessarily belong to His Person.6 And second, the perfect harmony of the will of Christ with that of His Father militates against any suggestion that the desire expressed in this lament is somehow contrary to or different than that of the Father (compare John 12:49,50; 14:10,24; 17:8). The best reading of this passage is one that takes it for a simple declaration of Christ’s desire for the salvation of many who refused to believe and repent at the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.
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     5. Cf. James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), pp.136-9. White treats the parallel to this text in Matthew 23:37, and tries to argue that in the context Jesus is not speaking about the salvation of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem but only of the leaders of the Jews. On his reading, the text does not express any desire for the salvation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some of whom may be non-elect. Though White’s reading of Matthew 23:37 is rather unlikely, he neglects to note that the context in Luke 13:34 has to do with the issue of salvation or non-salvation, and that it speaks generally of many among the inhabitants of Jerusalem who forfeit their opportunity to enter into the kingdom while the door was open to them.
     6. In the doctrine of Christology, this follows from what is known as the “communion of the attributes” (communicatio idiomata) in Christ’s Person. All the essential attributes of deity and humanity must be ascribed to Christ’s Person. This accounts for such expressions as “the Son of God died” or “Jesus was almighty,” etc. Affirmations are made about Christ’s Person either by virtue of His being “true God” or being “true man.”
Cornelis Venema, "Election and the 'Free Offer' of the Gospel (Part 2 of 5)," The Outlook 52:4 (April 2002), 18-19. The other parts can be found in the 2002 (Mar.–July/Aug.) archive here (click).

Bio:

Dr. Cornel Venema is the President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary where he also teaches Doctrinal Studies. Dr. Venema is a contributing editor to The Outlook.

Cornelis Venema on Three Views of the Gospel-Call

Three Views of the Gospel-Call
To clarify what is at stake in the debate among Reformed believers regarding the so-called “well-meant offer” of the gospel, it may be helpful to distinguish three different views of the gospel-call.

The first of these views I would term a strong form of what is often called hyper-Calvinism. Though there are not many advocates of this view, it teaches that the call of the gospel addresses, strictly speaking, only the elect. Since gospel ministers are unable to discern infallibly who are and who are not elect, they should honor this restriction so far as possible by calling to faith and repentance only those who give outward evidence that they are being spiritually enlivened or illumined. This strong form of hyper-Calvinism actually denies the legitimacy of a general call of the gospel to all sinners without distinction, since the call properly invites only the elect to faith and repentance. Not only is the gospel-call not intended for the non-elect, but it is also misleading to address sinners indiscriminately with the call to faith in Christ and repentance. Such an indiscriminate call invariably leads sinners to conclude that they have the ability to do what the call demands. In a not-so-subtle manner, an indiscriminate preaching of the gospel to sinners leads them to the improper inference that they have it within their capacity to believe and repent as the gospel-call demands.

The second of these views I would term a mild form of hyper-Calvinism. In this view, the general call of the gospel is affirmed, though it is not regarded as a “well-meant offer.” When the gospel-call is preached, it must be preached indiscriminately to all sinners, summoning elect and non-elect alike to believe and repent. No limitation is placed upon the preaching of the gospel to all sinners without distinction. However, this general call of the gospel may not be presented in a conditional form. To say to sinners, “if you believe and repent, then you will be saved,” is to imply that the gospel promise is conditional. Whenever the gospel is presented as an “offer,” inviting sinners to do something in order to be saved, rather than as an “unconditional promise of salvation” to the elect alone, an Arminian doctrine of conditional election is either wittingly or unwittingly assumed. In the strictest sense, the promise of the gospel is unconditionally addressed to the elect alone. Great care, therefore, must be exercised in preaching not to suggest that the recipient is obligated to do something, with the promise of salvation hanging upon his performance of this obligation. Furthermore, in this milder form of hyper-Calvinism, the idea that God expresses any favorable disposition or desire that all sinners believe and repent is strongly resisted. The call of the gospel declares objectively that all sinners must believe and repent. But it does not spring from any good will or benevolent attitude on God’s part, or on the part of His human ambassador, toward all sinners. It does not express any desire for the salvation of its recipients, when those recipients are non-elect sinners. The call of the gospel is “good news” for the elect alone.

The third view of the general call of the gospel, which I regard as the more classic or historic view of the Reformed churches, does not merely insist that the gospel-call be indiscriminately extended to all sinners. It also insists that the call expresses something of God’s good will or desire with respect to lost sinners. In the call of the gospel, God declares what is, according to His benevolence and good will, genuinely pleasing to Him, namely, that sinners believe in Christ and turn from their wicked way. John Murray, in his essay, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” clearly summarizes this view of the gospel call:
The question then is: what is implicit in, or lies back of, the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word ‘desire’ has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation, but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.
According to this view, the gospel call is born from and expresses a compassionate disposition on God’s part toward sinners. It sincerely summons all sinners to embrace Christ for salvation, promising all those who believe and repent that God stands ready to show them mercy. In this view, those who minister the gospel should do so out of a heartfelt desire for the good of all sinners, seeking to secure their salvation by an urgent and compassionate ministry of the Word of God.
Cornelis Venema, "Election and the 'Free Offer' of the Gospel (Part 1 of 5)," The Outlook 52:3 (March 2002), 18-19. The other parts can be found in the 2002 (Apr.–July/Aug.) archive here (click). In part 4 of his series (on pp. 14-17), he argues that both Calvin (in his comments on Rom. 5:18; Matt. 23:37; Ezek. 18:23, 32; and 2 Pet. 3:9) and the Reformed confessions teach a well-meant gospel offer.

Bio:

Dr. Cornel Venema is the President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary where he also teaches Doctrinal Studies. Dr. Venema is a contributing editor to The Outlook.

January 26, 2015

James Votier (b. 1622) on the Offer and Tender of Christ in the Gospel

"There is a tender, or offer of Christ, and grace: God lifts up his Son upon the pole of the Gospel. Isai. 55.1. Ho every one that thirsteth come ye to the Waters, and he that hath no Money come; come ye buy, and eat. Christ comes and woos, and invites to himself. John 1.11. He came unto his own, and his own received him not: When he was on Earth, he made as gracious Offers as could be. John 7.37. Jesus stood and cried, because he would have all hear; and what was the matter? why, even this. If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink: Would it not melt a stony heart to take notice of such an Invitation? Neither is Christ silent since he went to Heaven. Revel. 22.17. And let him, that is a thrist come; and whosoever will, let him take the Water of life freely. These Words were spoken to John by Christ, since he left Earth.

Is not this able to dissolve a Rock? Doth not Wisdom daily send forth her Maidens to call in Souls? God comes to Souls with Christ, grace, Holiness, a new heart; and saith, what doest want? what wouldest thou have? doest blush at the thoughts of thy condition? I have that [which] will fit thee; there is nothing [that] can help thee but Christ and grace; here they are, I pray thee take them: Here is all in my Son, accept of him, and say not nay; to embrace my Offer is my desire, your duty: it will much please me, and pleasure you to take my tender; how many Motives in Scripture doth God use to force this his precious kindness upon us? Is not the Gospel for this very end to invite, call, allure? yet the Preaching of the Law is useful thereunto, and ordinarily precedes and goes before, that so people seeing the worst of themselves, may the better apprehend the worth of Christ; and knowing their own poverty, may the better know the price of Christ; that understanding the nature of sin, they may be brought out of conceit with themselves, and be willing to be made gracious; then doth the white of grace most appear, when the black of sin is set by it; and the excellency and need of goodness, when we see the danger of our own badness: a sense of distress puts on to fighting for deliverance; and what Saints experience almost tells them not, that conviction is Mid-wife to conversion."
J. Votier, Vox Dei & hominis. God's Call from Heaven Echoed by Mans answer from Earth. Or A Survey of Effectual Calling (London: Printed by T. C. for Nathanael Webb, and William Grantham at the Bear in Paul's Church-yard, neer the little North door of Pauls, 1658), 9-10. This book has an imprimatur by Edmund Calamy. Votier gives strong and universal gospel appeals on pages 180-206.

Bio:
Vortier, Volier, i.e. Votier, James (b. 1622). Born in Surrey. Son of Daniel Votier, M.A., rector of St. Petercheap, London (sequestered in 1645). Matric. at New Inn Hall, Oxford, 28 June 1639, aged 17. His first ministry was at Ilketshall St. Margaret, Suff. In 1658, when he published his "Vox Dei & Hominis," he was rector of Heveningham, Suff.; ejected, 1662. Licensed, 29, June 1672, as Pr. Teacher in house of Widow Craine at Spexhall, Suff. His age in 1690 was 68. [Calamy and Foster give his Christian name as James; he was licensed as Jacob; his sole publication has only the initial J.]

January 21, 2015

Robert Bolton (1572-1631) on the Causes for God's General Grace and Temporary Love

"There may another objection be made, and a doubt arise out of the point formerly delivered; for it may seem very strange, that God will bestow such excellent graces upon reprobates, who have no true interest in the everlasting covenant of mercy and peace, no part in the Lamb, no title or right to the glory of heaven. It will be thought, that they are jewels for the ears, and bracelets for the arms of God's children alone, and not to be thrown amongst the swine.

I answer; It is done especially for these causes:

First, that the glory of God's goodness might shine the fairer, and more brightly in the world, and among the sons of men. The whole world is thick embroidered, and every where beset with a wonderful variety of prints and passages of his goodness and bounty. Every creature in some measure or other doth taste of his liberality. In this great volume of nature round about us, we may run and read the deep impressions and large characters of kindness and love, which his merciful and munificent hand hath made in all places, in every leaf, page and line of it. Now as out of the bottomless Sea, and unexhausted fountain of his own goodness, he causes his Sun to shine as well upon the unjust as the righteous; his rain to fall as well upon weeds, thistles and thorns, as upon herbs, flowers and fruit trees. So many times he deals large doles of temporal happiness, and general graces, as well unto the reprobate as the true Christian. His dear, everlasting and special love belongs only unto his elect: But in general graces and temporary love, that I may so call it, he is bountiful many times, even to the reprobates; As they are content to serve him in many things, so he is willing to confer some blessings upon them. But as they will not part with their sweet sin, and their whole heart for his service, which he doth specially require; so he will not part with salvation and eternal life unto them, which above all things they ought most to desire.

Secondly, these gifts and graces are bestowed on the reprobates, especially for the good comfort and benefit of the elect: For all things in the world besides the elect, are for the elect's sake, as the elect in a more excellent and eminent manner for God's glory; and all things work together for their good. The very temptations of Satan, the use or loss of the creatures, the rage of the scorner, the cruelty of the persecutor, the moderation of the civil honest man, the illumination of the formal professor, afflictions and crosses, nay their own sins and infirmities; all these, and every thing else in the world makes one way or other for the good of God's children; nay, the world itself stands only unto the number of the Elect be accomplished: For when the last of God's chosen be once called and fitted with grace for heaven, it will presently flame with fire, the trumpet will sound, and we shall all come to the judgement of that great day. God therefore many times enlightens the reprobates with many gifts of the spirit, and common graces, that those whom he hath designed to salvation, may be the better by them. To this purpose in the Apostles time in the Primitive Church, there were many common gifts; as the gift of knowledge, the working of miracles, the word of wisdom, the power of healing, the discerning of spirits, the diversity of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, to all which if there were not added a justifying fruitful faith, a true love to God, his Word and service, and to true Christians, the gifts of regeneration, a dying to sin, a rising up to newness of life, the grace of hearty prayer, comfort in distress, and such like, which be infallible notes and marks of election; I say without these the former common graces did not save the owners, but only serve to edify others, and to enlighten the elect in the way to heaven. I do not doubt but ever since in the Church, and at this day, as God by his Almighty hand doth bridle and curb the fierce and bloody rage of persecutors, and cruel prophaneness, that his children may live peaceably by them; and as by his restraining spirit he breeds a moderation, ingeniousness, civil honesty, and just dealing in others; that they may enjoy their own, and live comfortably in respect of worldly matter. So I doubt not but he doth furnish some with many worthy and excellent gifts of his enlightening spirit, though they want sanctifying grace; that thereby the Elect may be furthered in spiritual matters, and guided in the ways of salvation.

Thirdly, their endowment with these graces make them more inexcusable. For whereas the Lord vouchsafeth them knowledge, some faith and joy in this Word, many notable gifts, a glimpse of the glory of heaven, and a taste of the powers of the world to come, and yet for all this they will not be drawn on to be thorough resolute, and true hearted for God's service, and servants; but ever when their chief carnal contentments are called into question, they start aside like a broken bow; I say they do herein clearly judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, Acts 13.46. and make the sentence of eternal condemnation more than most must against them. How will they be confounded and ashamed at the great and fearful day, when it shall appear before men and Angels, that the Lord in this life gave knowledge and profession of his truth unto them; let them have some tastes of the glorious comforts of his children, and the unfading treasures of eternal life; and told them by the Ministers of his Word, if they would utterly and resolutely wean and withdraw their affections from the world and earthly pleasures, and set their hearts upon things above, and become not almost, but altogether Christians; they should most certainly hereafter drink deep and large of the Well of life, and River of endless pleasure: Yet for all this, wretched and willful men, they would not part with the pleasures of one bosom sin or other, which they had presently in possession, for heaven hereafter, though they had the Word and promise of Almighty God for the performance of it in due time."

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Note: Observe how Bolton uses "general" or "common grace" interchangeably with "temporary love," kindness, mercy and goodness. They're all interconnected in his conception of common grace. Also, in his third point, observe how he's alluding to the point of Romans 2:4. Through "these graces," the reprobates are the more inexcusable, since they were not moved to repentance. In order to move them to repentance and eternal life was one of the reasons God showed them his grace, patience, mercy, goodness and kindness. The Puritan conception of common grace involves all of these ideas, not just part of these things.

January 20, 2015

Jeremiah Burroughs (c.1600-1646) on Hosea 9:15 and the Difference Between Temporal and Everlasting Love

And I will love them no more.

By [Love] here is meant, the communication of outward good things, for that carnal hearts account to be the only love of God: Indeed if they may have but outward prosperity here in this world, they make that an argument of God's love unto them: Well (saith God) though you have had many such kind of arguments of my love, (such fruits of my love) yet I will love you no more, I will take away all those privileges and good things that you have enjoyed, There are privileges and good things that you have enjoyed, There are privileges and good things that come from no other love but that which may be taken away; Oh! let not us be satisfied with those, let us be satisfied with nothing else but that which comes from everlasting love. You may have your outward estates, you may have comely Bodies, Health, Strength, Success in your labors, comings-in plentifully, yea, you may have Church Privileges, and yet all this [does] not come from the everlasting love of God, that can never be taken away; these fruits of God's love may be taken from you, and God may say as concerning all these, I will love you no more: but there are fruits of love, the sanctifying Graces of God's Spirit, the fruits of Electing love, and God can never say of these, I will love you no more.

No more.

After many deliverances that this people had in a way of love, God resolves with himself that he will have done with them, he will love them no more, he will deliver them no more: God may withdraw the sense of his love from his people for a while, but he manifests his love again, the afflictions of the Saints they are but a little cloud that soon passes over, the Sun soon breaks in again upon them, and Love shines; but the Sun of the wicked and ungodly sets, and never rises again: this is dreadful when a man's ruin, or a people's ruin is thus sealed by God, whatever mercies you have had heretofore, yet now there's an end of all, Adieu mercy, adieu love, I had gracious manifestations of them once to my soul, but they are now gone, I must never enjoy them more, now God hath changed his administrations towards me, I must expect nothing but wrath, the hand of his sore displeasure to cause ruin, and to be sunk everlastingly: Oh! let thy provocations of God be no more, do not thou add unto them; I have dealt falsely with God, dallied and trifled with the Lord, many times promising fair, but when I was delivered then have dealt wickedly with thee; but no more Lord: Oh! take heed, if thou addest any more unto thy wickedness lest that this dreadful sentence be pronounced in Heaven against thee, I will love thee no more. The words are in the Original, I will add no more; I have done enough already, I will do good to this wretched creature no more; my Goodness and Mercy hath had their turn, no more; Spirit strive with them, no more; Ordinances, no more do them any good; Mercy meddle no more with them, I will love them no more.
Jeremiah Burroughs, An Exposition with Practical Observations Continued Upon the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Chapters of the Prophesy of Hosea (London: Printed by Peter Cole, at the sign of the Printing-Press in Cornhil, near the Royal Exchange, 1650), 274-275.

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Note: Compare this verse (Hos. 9:15) with Jer. 16:5. Observe the interconnections between Burrough's notion of temporal love, common mercy, common grace, the goodness of God, and the Spirit striving in order to do good to those that ultimately perish (i.e. the non-elect). These theological associations are typical in Puritan theology. The idea of the Spirit of God striving with men goes back to Genesis 6:3. Again, to show the associations in Reformed and Puritan theology, observe these comments upon that text in the Geneva Bible, Matthew Henry and John Calvin:
"Because man could not be won by God's leniency and patience by which he tried to win him, he would no longer withhold his vengeance."—1599 Geneva Bible on Genesis 6:3

"Note, 1. The blessed Spirit strives with sinners, by the convictions and admonitions of conscience, to turn them from sin to God. 2. If the Spirit be resisted, quenched, and striven against, though he strive long, he will not strive always, Hos. 4:17. 3. Those are ripening apace for ruin whom the Spirit of grace has left off striving with."—Matthew Henry on Gen. 6:3

"For as long as the Lord suspends punishment, he, in a certain sense, strives with men, especially if either by threats or by examples of gentle chastisement, he invites them to repentance. In this way he had striven already, some centuries, with the world, which, nevertheless, was perpetually becoming worse. And now, as if wearied out, he declares that he has no mind to contend any longer. For when God, by inviting the unbelievers to repentance, had long striven with them; the deluge put an end to the controversy."—Calvin on Gen. 6:3
The point of the Spirit's striving is, of course, in order to "try to win them," or to "turn them from sin to God" through an "invitation to repentance." God was merciful, lenient and patient with them in order to bring them to salvation through repentance. This all accords with the Reformed and Puritan understanding of God's revealed will.

January 19, 2015

William Perkins (1558-1602) on Christ Standing and Knocking

I stand. Christ expresses his mind by borrowed speeches: for in this verse he compares every man to a house or householder, and our hearts to doors by which an entrance is made: and himself to a guest or stranger which comes to the house, and desires to be let in and entertained: yet not so much to look for kindness to be shown [to] him, as to show favor to us. By this similitude Christ purposes to show this Church, what his mind is toward it: and he expresses it by two signs here set down: first, a desire of their conversion, which he heartily seeks and looks for, I stand and knock. Secondly, his promise after their conversion, If any, &c. he will have fellowship, even mutual fellowship with them.

Now of the words in order as they lie. The scope and substance of them being thus first thus generally propounded, I here note two things. First, that this Church (if we regard the greater part of it) had no true fellowship with Christ as yet, nor Christ with them[?]: because he was not yet received into their houses, but stood at their doors which were shut. This may seem strange: but the cause is evident; the truth is, there were many good things in them: for they knew the Gospel and liked it, and professed it, and were partakers of the seals of the covenant: and yet they were tainted with one great sin of lukewarmness, which closed up the door of their hearts, so that though they had many good things, yet this one sin kept out Christ. By which we see, that one sin, in a man endued with many good graces, keeps out Christ, and bars him from all fellowship and society with him. Judas had many notable things in him; he forsook all, and preached Christ, and yet covetousness kept out Christ. Herod had so too, but incest kept the door shut against Christ. It is the nature of sin to cut a man off from all fellowship with Christ: and so we may have many excellent things among us, as the word and Sacraments; and yet if thou be a man which has but one sin (and nourishes it) it is a bar to keep out  Christ from entering. If you are given to  either to covetousness, drunkenness, fornication, adultery, theft, blasphemy, or lying, &c. that one sin whatsoever, will keep out Christ, so that he must be fain to stand and stay at the door, and so must abide as long as a man continues in any one sin. Therefore so many as have any desire to have fellowship with Christ, must have care to cut off all sin: for though you have knowledge, wit, memory, understanding and utterance, yet if you have but one sin, it takes away the very ground of all fellowship with Christ: that is, of all felicity and happiness.

In the original, it is not I stand, but I have stood. So Jer. 7:13. I have risen up early: and Isa. 65:2. I have stretched out my arm all the day long. And here, I have risen up early, and stood here long, all the day till night: for so much the word of supping imports; as if he should say, till supper time.

This shows Christ's exceeding patience, in waiting for the conversion of this people. He might in justice have condemned them for their sins, and have cast them to hell, and yet he stands still all the day waiting for their conversion, till he is fain to complain.

Now this place serves to show and set forth, and gives just occasion to speak of God's patience, in waiting for the conversion & amendment of a sinner. Now that which Christ says to them, may be justly said to us: he has risen up early, and spent a long day in waiting at our doors, above six and thirty years: therefore he may well upbraid us. Let us then learn to know the day of our visitation: for that is the day of a people's visitation, when the Gospel is preached and Christ stands knocking: therefore it stands us upon to labor to know this, and regard it. If we can resolve ourselves of this, then we practice the duty which Christ prescribes the church of Jerusalem: if we do not so, but shall let pass all the signs and tokens of God's mercy, we must look for the like end as Jerusalem had. So much for the first part, I stand at the door.
And knock. First he used means to enter when they had barred him out. Mark the unspeakable mercy of Christ: they by their sins stopped Christ from entering, yet he pursues them with mercy, and offers mercy to them that refused it, and contented themselves to lie and live in their sins. When Adam had sinned and fled from God, the Lord sought him out, and made a covenant of grace with him. So Isa. 65. the Lord saith, he was found of them that never sought him: they that never dreamed of mercy found mercy. In the parable of the lost sheep, that sheep which was left as a prey to the wild beasts, Christ sought it up, and brought it home. All these places tend to one end, to show the infinite mercy of Christ. This is true in all churches, yea in this of ours. If we have mercy, we have it before we seek it, nay when we refuse it, as much as in us lies. This should be an occasion to stir up our hearts to magnify Christ for his mercy: we should not let pass such considerations as these, but rather break out into praise of Gods love and mercy, which is a bottomless sea.

Quest. It may be demanded, how he knocks. Answ. The words precedent show the sense: for these words have relation to them. He said before, he would spew them out: then he gives them counsel. Now by so sharp a rebuke they might have despaired: therefore he shows, that by this threatening, and rebuke, and counsel, he knocks, that they might perceive they were not tokens of wrath but of mercy. So then this knocking is nothing else but the reproof, threatening, and counsel used before. He knocks when it pleases him to make men see their sin by such things.

Here then we are to mark the state of all people which have the ministry of the word, they have Christ among them, and he stands at the door and knocks at every man's heart. All threatenings of the law, reproofs of sin, exhortations, admonitions and promises, they are so many knocks of Christ. A great & unspeakable mercy, that the King of heaven and earth should do this: Now then does Christ knock thus by preaching, promises, and threatenings, &c. then we must not be so dull, dead, and backward, but show more zeal. If any man of great place and calling knock at your doors, what stirring is there, that you may receive him as is meet? Then what a shame is this, when Christ vouchsafes to deal thus mercifully with us? Again, in that Christ comes by the ministry of the Gospel to work our conversion, it serves to admonish us to turn with all speed, for we know not how long he will stand and reach forth the hand of his ministry to beat upon our hearts. Mark further; this knocking is not a light and soft kind of knocking, but it goes with crying; he both knocks and cries, it is an earnest knocking of one that would fain enter.

Seeing then Christ standing at the door of men's hearts knocks so earnestly to save men's souls, we again ought to be earnest to receive and embrace the Gospel. He knocks in good earnest, and we must accordingly by Gods grace be as earnest. So much for the first token of Christs love, his desire of their conversion, which he shows by two signs; first his waiting, secondly his knocking, and that joined with crying.
William Perkins, Lectures Upon the Three First Chapters of the Revelation: Preached in Cambridge Anno Dom. 1595. (London: Printed by Richard Field for Cuthbert Burbie, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard, at the sign of the Swan, 1604), 331-334. Some spelling changes have been made.

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January 18, 2015

John Bunyan's (1628-1688) Evangelistic Appeal in His Preface to The Jerusalem Sinner Saved

"One reason which moved me to write and print this little book was, because, though there are many excellent heart-affecting discourses in the world that tend to convert the sinner, yet I had a desire to try this simple method of mine; wherefore I make bold thus to invite and encourage the worst to come to Christ for life.

I have been vile myself, but have obtained mercy; and I would have my companions in sin partake of mercy too: and, therefore, I have writ this little book.

The nation doth swarm with vile ones now, as ever it did since it was a nation. My little book, in some places, can scarce go from house to house, but it will find a suitable subject to spend itself upon. Now, since Christ Jesus is willing to save the vilest, why should they not, by name, be somewhat acquainted with it, and bid come to him under that name?

A great sinner, when converted, seems a booty to Jesus Christ; he gets by saving such an one; why then should both Jesus lose his glory and the sinner lose his soul at once, and that for want of an invitation?

I have found, through God's grace, good success in preaching upon this subject, and, perhaps, so I may by my writing upon it too. I have, as you see, let down this net for a draught. The Lord catch some great fishes by it, for the magnifying of his truth. There are some most vile in all men's eyes, and some are so in their own eyes too; but some have their paintings, to shroud their vileness under; yet they are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; and for all these, God hath sent a Saviour, Jesus; and to all these the door is open.

Wherefore, prithee, profane man, give this little book the reading. Come; pardon, and a part in heaven and glory, cannot be hurtful to thee. Let not thy lusts and folly drive thee beyond  the door of mercy, since it is not locked nor bolted up against thee. Manasseh was a bad man, and Magdalene a bad woman, to say nothing of the thief upon the cross, or of the murderers of Christ; yet they obtained mercy; Christ willingly received them.

And dost thou think that those, once so bad, now they are in heaven, repent them there because they left their sins for Christ when they were in the world? I cannot believe, but that thou thinkest they have verily got the best on't. Why, sinner, do thou likewise. Christ, at heaven gates, says to thee, Come hither; and the devil, at the gates of hell, does call thee to come to him. Sinner, what sayest thou? Whither wilt thou go? Don't go into the fire; there thou wilt be burned! Don't let Jesus lose his longing, since it is for thy salvation, but come to him and live.

One word more, and so I have done. Sinner, here thou dost hear of love; prithee, do not provoke it, by turning it into wantonness. He that dies for slighting love, sinks deepest into hell, and will there be tormented by the rembrance of that evil, more than by the deepest cogitation of all his other sins. Take heed, therefore; do not make love thy tormentor, sinner. Farewell."

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The last paragraph seems to be echoed in Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), when he said (about the misery of the damned):
"And all this will be aggravated by the remembrance, that God once loved us so as to give his Son to bring us to the happiness of his love, and tried all manner of means to persuade us to accept of his favor, which was obstinately refused."

Joel Beeke and Mark Jones on the Universal Invitation to Come to Christ in Puritan Theology

The Universal Invitation to Come to Christ

William Ames (1576-1633) wrote that the redeeming work of Christ is applied through "union with Christ," and God accomplishes this union by "calling," which has two components: "the offer of Christ and the receiving of him."2 He then explained, "The offer is an objective presentation of Christ as the sufficient and necessary means to salvation. 1 Cor. 1:23, 24, We preach Christ...the power of God and the wisdom of God."3

Puritan ministers taught that Christ's call to come to Him is universal, that is, addressed to the whole world, to every human being. Christ says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, Christ calls, even commands you, to come to Him. As Thomas Boston (1676-1732) said, "This I will ever preach, that all, under pain of damnation, are obliged to come to him, and that they shall be welcome on their coming, be their case what it will."4 God commands all people everywhere to repent and come to Christ (Acts 17:30). Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) wrote that as surely as Christ the King has authority over all nations and all places, so also all persons are called to submit to Him and serve Him (Matt. 28:18-20).5

The Puritans represented God as lovingly and sincerely calling sinners to come to Him. Joseph Alleine (1634-1668), a Puritan minister with a great heart for evangelism, wrote, "The God that made you most graciously invites you. His most sweet and merciful nature invites you. O the kindness of God, His boundless compassion, His tender mercies!"6 Richard Baxter (1615-1691) thundered, "Shall the living God send so earnest a message to his creatures, and should they not obey? Hearken then all you that live after the flesh; the Lord that gave thee thy breath and being, hath sent a message to thee from heaven, and this is his message, 'Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?'"7 The Puritans therefore called everyone to come to Christ. They preached evangelistic sermons.8 They wrote long evangelistic tracts.9 They wrote manuals for ministers on how to direct people anxious about their salvation.10 James Janeway (1636-1674) and Cotton Mather (1663-1728) each published a book of stories about children coming to Christ and walking with Him faithfully to encourage children to embrace Jesus Christ offered to them in the gospel.11

The terms labor and heavy laden in Matthew 11:28 are universal in scope. Jesus is not saying that only those who have awareness of their sin are invited to come. He is not saying, as some hyper-Calvinists teach, that only sensible sinners are welcome to fall at Jesus' feet. He is not saying that only those in whom the Holy Spirit has begun to stir the waters of soul-interest are invited to come. Christ calls all people who are weary of toil, all for whom life is but a heavy burden (cf. Eccl. 1:8; Isa. 55:2), to come to Him for rest. Shepard imagined men's objections and answered that Christ offers Himself even to those who feel no need for him:
If I was willing to receive Christ, I might have Christ offered to me; but will the Lord offer him to such a one as desires not to have Christ?
Yes; saith our Saviour, "I would have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and you would not" [Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34]...
O, I fear time is past! O, time is past! I might once have had Christ, but now mine heart is sealed down with hardness, blindness, unbelief. O, time is now gone!
No; not so. See Isaiah 65:1-3, "All the day long God holdeth out his hands to a backsliding and rebellious people." Thy day of grace...still lasts.12
God has issued a universal call to come to Christ because all men, no matter how depraved and disabled by sin, possess an understanding and a will. As we will see, the Puritans denied that the fallen human will had the power to choose God, but Puritans such as Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) also insisted that a sinner is not "a beast"; instead, "man hath a faculty to understand and will, which makes him a man." Therefore, "the commands and exhortations are suitable to our nature."13 The Puritans did not treat men like blocks of stone or wood. They evangelized them as men with minds and wills, and thus with responsibility for their actions. This explains why, when the Puritans called men to come to Christ, they reasoned with lost sinners and exhorted them.14 The universal call dignifies its hearers as human beings endowed with intelligence, personality, and moral accountability.

Do you realize how this universal call magnifies the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do you see how willing Christ is to save sinners? He calls sinners to Himself to receive His rest with this promise: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:29-30). Christ calls sinners to Himself because He alone is the willing Savior—not because of our good works, our righteousness, or anything else. He calls sinners to Himself as the exclusive way of coming to God (cf. John 14:6). He is willing to save us, and we must come to Him to be freed from our burdens and enter into His rest.

Some might question this, saying, "If the call is universal and goes out to everyone, and not everyone comes, then the invitation must be insufficient." This is false reasoning. Think of Christian fleeing the City of Destruction in the tale of John Bunyan (1628-1688). Christian spoke earnestly to his family and neighbors, warning them of the wrath to fall upon their city. Most people responded to the warning by mocking Christian, but their refusal to listen did not make Christian's invitation to go with him insufficient or insincere. The warning itself was not insufficient or insincere.15

When you invite someone to a wedding reception and they decline to come, does that mean the invitation was not sufficient? Does it show insincerity on the part of the people who issued the invitation? No, the insufficiency in Christian's case was not in the warning but rather in the people who refused to heed the warning. So, too, there is no insincerity in the wedding invitation; the fault lies in those who refuse to come.

So it is with the call to come to Christ. There is no fault, insufficiency, or lack of sincerity in Christ's invitation; all blame rests upon those who refuse to come to Him for eternal life. This is clearly taught in the Canons of Dort. William Ames, an English Puritan, played a significant role in defending the Reformed faith in the Netherlands during the debates leading up to the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) and served as a theological consultant to the synod's moderator.16 The Canons of Dort explain the international Puritan and Reformed perspective well in head 3–4, articles 8–9:
As many as are called by the gospel are unfeinedly [sincerely] called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what will be acceptable to Him; namely, that all who are called, should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest, to as many as shall come to Him, and believe on him.... It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God...that those who are called by the ministry of the word, refuse to come, and be converted. The fault lies in themselves.17
The Canons make plain that there is no insufficiency in God's willingness to save sinners. The invitation does not lie or deceive; it is a true, rich, full, free invitation. The gospel is a well-meant offer. Christ has declared Himself ready and willing to receive all who come to Him and to save them. This is what Bunyan referred to as the conditional promise.18 This call is based on the condition of faith, but it is a true invitation. To all who come to Him, Christ freely gives eternal life, "even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12c). Nonetheless, no one comes to Christ simply because of this universal calling. In our fallen, helpless condition, we cannot and will not respond as we should. Our persistence in unbelief and sin keeps us from responding to Christ's call—the blame is wholly on us. Jesus said, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).

Judgment day will confirm this truth. No one will stand before God on the last day and say, "I did not think that the invitation was addressed to me, and therefore I did not come," or "I received the invitation, but did not think it was sincere." The call to come to Christ is a well-meant offer of salvation addressed to every human being.
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2. William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. and ed. John D. Eusden (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968, 157 (1.xxvi.1, 3, 7).
3. Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 157 (1.xxvi.8).
4. Boston, The Beauties of Thomas Boston, 263.
5. Thomas Shepard, The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 49.
6. Joseph Alleine, An Alarm to the Unconverted (Evansville, Ind.: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1959), 97.
7. Richard Baxter, A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live, in The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (London: James Duncan, 1830), 7:395.
8. Cf. Joel R. Beeke, "Evangelism Rooted in Scripture: The Puritan Example," in Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 143–69.
9. Such as Alleine's Alarm and Baxter's Call—see notes 6 and 7.
10. Solomon Stoddard, A Guide to Christ, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993).
11. James Janeway and Cotton Mather, A Token for Children (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994).
12. Shepard, The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer, 51.
13. Stephen Charnock, "A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration," in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (1864–1866; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 3:227.
14. E. F. Kevan, The Puritan Doctrine of Conversion (London: Evangelical Library, 1952), 7–13.
15. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 1–2, 4–7, 51–52.
16. John D. Eusden, introduction to The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames, 6–7.
17. Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson, eds., Reformed Confessions Harmonized (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 88.
18. John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor (1854; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 1:255.
Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 508-510.
"They [the Puritans] took care to show that coming to Christ is possible because Christ is not only willing but also able to save sinners. Not only does He hold out His hands, but He also takes sinners into His arms. Not only does He offer salvation, but He also secures salvation." Ibid., 510.
"Despite the freeness and graciousness of the gospel offer and Christ's willingness and ability to save sinners, many people do not come to Him." Ibid., 518.

Elnathan Parr (1577-1622) on Divine Permission and God's Decree

"Qu. But do you believe that God's providence extends itself to all actions of men, even to decree, order, and govern evil actions?

Ans. Yes indeed; I believe that even the evil Actions of Men, are not  only foreknown, but also decreed by God.

Explic. We need not fear to attribute evil actions to the decree of God, because the Scripture so speaks; only we must soberly and wisely understand it: namely, that Pharoah's cruelty, Shemei's cursing, Absolom's uncleanness, Judas' betraying of Christ, are not by his revealed will approved, but forbidden: and yet that by his good pleasure he will permit the same. Which permission we may not understand to be the cessation of his care and providence, or an idle winking at the matter, but joined with an active power, not of infusing evil into men, but first of taking away or denying his grace, and of delivering of them most justly to Satan, and to the lusts of their own hearts: And also of bounding their wills, purposes and Actions, and directing them to a good end. For God is so good, that he would never suffer evil to be, if he could not bring good out of evil [Parr seems to be alluding to Augustine here]. Even as the skillful Apothecary knows how to use poison well, and to the good of the Patient. And surely, this is a most pregnant proof of the powerful providence of God herein, when those Actions which are done by wicked men contrary to his will, yet are brought to serve and fulfill his holy will and purpose. For even as in an Army, one fights for praise, another for lucre of the spoil, another is egged forward by desire of revenge; yet all for the victory, and for their Prince: and as in a ship, some weigh up Anchors, others stand at the pump, others at the stern, and all by several works labor for the safety of the ship; so, whatsoever the wicked propound to themselves, yet the Lord orders all to his good pleasure, will they nil they: so that as an arrow flies to the mark which the shooter aims at, without any sense where it goes; So the Lord serves himself by the wicked, though they think not so much. Hence is it, that though the decree of God's providence (as has been said) is concerning those evil actions; yet neither is God guilty, nor man guiltless. God is not guilty, because he puts no evil into men, but uses them as he finds them, and so makes them to serve his glory, who may use what Creatures he will, and cannot use them, though they be evil, but well, because he is infinitely good. Neither is man guiltless, notwithstanding the Decree; for sinners are not excusable, because there is no force used towards them, but they follow their sins with great pleasure, and are [of a] very willing mind, and casting away the care of virtue, do of their own accord, yield themselves to their own lusts, respecting in their evil deeds only the satisfying of their own wills, and not the fulfilling of the will of God. The Jews did what the hand and will of God had determined before to be done to Christ; but they considered not that, but were led unto that sin, by the malice and covetousness of their own wicked and envious hearts, which were the true causers thereof. So that, (as Saint Augustine says) in one and the self same thing, God is just, and Man is most unjust, because in that one thing which they do, there is not one cause for the which they do the same.

Here further it is to be marked, that the Decree of God (in respect whereof all things are necessary) does not not take away contingency, which is, when a thing, when it is, had cause whereby it might have been otherwise. As the bones of Christ must be unbroken in regard of God's Decree, and yet they might have been broken in regard of their own Nature, and the freedom of the minds of the Soldiers. Neither may any think, that hereby are frustrated, deliberations, prudence, and use of means; for as God decrees the being of things, so also the means whereby such things shall be. As in regard of God's Decree, Lot cannot be burned in Sodom; but then he must escape, and hie[?] him away out of the City. David must overcome Goliath, but then he must take his Sling, with the smooth stones, with him. Manasses must be saved, because God has so decreed, but then he must repent and believe, which are the means of salvation appointed and decreed by God."
Elnathan Parr, The Grounds of Divinity (London: Printed by Edward Griffin, and William Hunt, 1651), 24. Some of the spelling has been changed.

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