September 18, 2014

Donald MacLean on the Term "Offer" in James Durham (1622–1658)

The Term “Offer”

From Carstairs’s quotation immediately above, it is already clear that Durham and his contemporaries were content with the terminology of “gospel offer.” There is little room for doubt or debate as to whether Reformed theology used the term “offer.”50 The area for examination, then, is not simply whether the Reformed used the term “offer,” but what they meant when they spoke of the “free offer of the gospel.”

In considering this, the first thing that needs to be defined is what exactly is being offered in the gospel? In summary, Durham stated that “Christ Jesus Himself, and His benefits” is what is offered.51 That is, all the Son had done to redeem sinners is offered 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.”52 To expand on this: “peace and pardon, grace and glory, even all good things [are] offered to you freely!”53 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.… Here He is. Or would you have heaven and be eternally happy? ’Tis also here.”54 So Christ Jesus and all that He has done for the salvation of His people and the fruits of His death are offered in the gospel. The position outlined above is expressed by John Murray as follows: “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.”55

Having seen what is offered, namely Jesus Christ and His benefits, it is now important to define what Durham meant by “offer.” Is it true that, as has been claimed, we should understand “offer” simply in the sense of “present or set forth,”56 or does “offer” mean something more than simply a presentation of facts? Is it true that the Reformed in the seventeenth century used offero, and its cognates, simply to denote “present”? This is the assertion of Raymond Blacketer who posits that oblato should not be translated as “offer” but as “present” or “exhibit” and that this accords with sixteenth- and seventeeth-century Reformed usage.57 This assertion has been called into question by Scott Clark who argues that “the semantic range of ‘offero,’ as it is used by the orthodox, is closer to ‘invitation’ than ‘demand.’”58 What of Durham — how does he define the term? And does his definition support the historical definitions of Blacketer or Clark? It is certainly true that, for Durham, Christ is presented and set forth in the gospel, but it is evident from the images he used to explain and define “offer” that, for him, it is not simply equivalent to “present” or “set forth.”

One of the most common images Durham uses to define “offer” is that of wooing and beseeching. He explains that “[t]he offer of the gospel…is set down under the expression of wooing…and supposes a marriage, and a bridegroom, that is by his friends wooing and suiting in marriage.”59 So, in understanding what the gospel offer is, it is appropriate to think of a man trying to persuade the woman he loves to marry him. This image, of course, carries with it more than a simple presentation of facts. It would be an absurdity for a man to try and win the affections of a woman simply by presenting a few facts about himself. No, the image carries with it the idea of an attempt to win the girl by earnest persuasion. And so it is with the gospel where Christ “doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him.”60 We can “[c]onsider further how our Lord Jesus seeks and presses for this satisfaction from you; he sends forth his friends and ambassadors, to woo in his name, and to beseech you to be reconciled.… He pleads so much and so often, and entreats every one in particular when he is so very serious in beseeching and entreating, it should, no doubt, make us more willing to grant him what he seeks.”61 From this one image alone it is clear that to “offer” is, for Durham, more than a presentation of facts.

Another common image in Durham to explain what he means by “offer” is inviting. Durham comments that “[t]he offer of this gospel…is set out under the expression of inviting to a feast; and hearers of the gospel are called to come to Christ, as strangers or guests are called to come to a wedding.”62 He also states that “the gospel comes to invite men to the wedding.”63 Particularly significant in considering the dispute over the meaning of the word offer is Durham’s denial that the gospel is simply a proclamation. He states that the gospel “not only proclaims, but invites; and doubles the invitation to come. It not only invites, but puts the invitation so home that people must either make the price…and buy or refuse the bargain.… [It] cries, ‘Come, buy! Come and enter the covenant freely.’ And this it does by a frank offer, by earnest and persuasive inviting, and by the easy conditions that it proposes the bargain on.”64 So it appears that the contention that by “offer” Reformed theology simply meant proclamation or presentation is inadequate, for the gospel “not only proclaims but invites.”

Durham also frequently uses the image of selling to convey the meaning of “offer.” “The offer of the gospel is…set out often under the similitude or expression of a market where all the wares are laid forth on the stand.”65 Another example of this is Durham stating “that there is a good and excellent bargain to be had in the gospel, and on very good and easy terms. ’Tis a market day, and indeed it would be a pity that such wares should be brought to the market and that few or none should buy; that Christ should (so to speak) open his pack and sell no wares. Therefore let me…persuade you readily and presently to embrace the offer of this richest bargain.”66 Again, considering this image, it would be generally agreed that it would be a poor salesman who simply declared facts about what he was trying to sell. Indeed, the very image of selling contains the idea of a willingness to sell and great effort to ensure that there is a sale.

This, then, is Durham’s understanding of “offer”— not simply a presentation of facts, not simply a command but wooing, beseeching, inviting, and selling.67 Clark and Daniel presented the understanding which best accords with the theology of Durham.
50. Curt Daniel observes: “It cannot be debated that the word was employed with all regularity throughout the Puritan era.” Curt Daniel, “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill” (Ph.D. diss., University of Edinburgh, 1983), 398.
51. Durham, Revelation, 271.
52. Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 144.
53. Ibid., 155.
54. Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 333.
55. Murray, “Free Offer,” in Collected Writings, 4:132.
56. Hanko, History, 89.
57. Blacketer, “Three Points,” 44–45.
58. Clark, “Janus,” in VanDrunen, The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, 169. Curt Daniel rejects arguments, similar to Blacketer’s, put forward by Herman Hoeksema in reference to the definition of offer. See Daniel, “John Gill,” 398.
59. Durham, Christ Crucified, 80.
60. Durham, Revelation, 272.
61. Durham, Christ Crucified, 475–476.
62. Ibid., 80.
63. Ibid., 213.
64. Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 151 (emphasis added).
65. Durham, Christ Crucified, 80.
66. Durham, Unsearchable Riches, 152.
67. So David Silversides is correct to note that the “term ‘offer’ did not mean merely to ‘exhibit’ or ‘present’ in a manner bereft of the connotation of an overture addressed personally to the hearers for their acceptance” (Silversides, The Free Offer, 65).
Donald John MacLean, "James Durham (1622–1658) and the Free Offer of the Gospel," Puritan Reformed Journal 2:1 (January 2010): 101–104. This paper is "is an amended version of a lecture given at the Inverness branch of the Scottish Reformation Society in November 2008" (ibid., 92n1). Dr. MacLean blogs at the James Durham Thesis. The subject of his doctoral thesis is, “Reformed Thought and the Free Offer of the Gospel: With Special Reference to  The Westminster Confession of Faith and James Durham (1622–1658)”. Vandehoeck & Rupprecht will soon publish MacLean's dissertation under the title James Durham and the Gospel Offer in Its Seventeenth-Century Context.

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