October 29, 2006

Another Excellent Quote from James Ussher (1581–1656) on Christ's Sufficient Redemption

The bond of this mysticall union betwixt Christ and us (as elsewhere hath more fully been declared) is on his part that quickening Spirit, which being in him as the Head, is from thence diffused to the spirituall animation of all his Members: and on our part Faith, which is the prime act of life wrought in those who are capable of understanding by that same Spirit. Both whereof must bee acknowledged to be of so high a nature, that none could possibly by such ligatures knit up so admirable a body, but hee that was God Almighty. And therefore although we did suppose such a man might be found who should perform the Law for us, suffer the death that was due to our offence and overcome it; yea and whose obedience and sufferings should be of such value, that it were sufficient for the redemption of the whole world: yet could it not be efficient to make us live by faith, unless that Man had been able to send Gods Spirit to apply the same unto us.
James Ussher, "The Mediatorial Office of Christ," in an Introduction to Puritan Theology: A Reader, ed. Edward Hindson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 125.

Bishop Ussher, in the above quote, doesn't ground the efficacy of our salvation in the sufferings and death of Christ, but rather in the Spirit who works according to the will of the Mediator who sent him. This quickening Spirit applies the work of the Son to the elect through faith. Ussher also affirms that the sufferings of Christ are "sufficient for the redemption of the whole world."

The editor of this book says "Though not a Puritan as such, James Ussher was a Calvinist and the Puritans esteemed him highly." Also, that "Cromwell admired him for his learning and Calvinism (p. 105)."

Among some popular "Calvinists" today in the blogosphere, his atonement views would be suspect at best, or, more probably, rejected as non-Calvinistic. That should come as no suprise. There were ignorant men in his day who treated Ussher "as if" he "had confirmed Papism" or "Arminianism," after he wrote one of the articles below. These buffoons apparently have some theological offspring among us today.

For more on Ussher, see the following:

October 26, 2006

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) on Laying Hold of Christ's Sacrifice

6. We must then lay hold on this sacrifice. The people were to be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, Exod. xxiv. 8, so must we with the blood of our Lamb. Thus only can it save us, 1 Peter i. 2. Thus is our Saviour described by this part of his office: Isa. lii. 15, 'He shall sprinkle many nations.' Our guilt cannot look upon a consuming fire without a propitiatory sacrifice; our services are blemished, so that they will rather provoke his justice than merit his mercy; we must have something to put a stop to a just fury, expiate an infinite guilt, and perfume our unsavoury services. Here it is in Christ, but there must be faith in us. Faith is as necessary by the ordination of God in a way of instrumentality, as the grace of God in a way of efficiency, and the blood of Christ in a way of meritoriousness of our justification. All must concur, the will of God the offended governor, the will of the sacrificing mediator, and the will of the offender. This will must be a real will, an active operative will, not a faint velleity. We must have a faith to justify our persons, and we must have an active sincerity to justify the reality of our faith. Christ was real in his sacrifice, God was real in the acceptation of it, we must be real in believing it. Rocks and mountains cannot secure them that neglect so great a sacrifice, that regard this atoning blood as an unholy thing. It is as dreadful for men to have this sacrifice smoking against them, and this blood calling for vengeance on them, as it is comfortable to have it pleaded for them and sprinkled on them. Why will any then despise and neglect a necessary sovereign remedy ready at hand? Is it excusable, that when we should have brought the sacrifice ourselves, or ourselves have been the sacrifice, we should slight him who hath voluntarily been a sacrifice for us, and cherish a hell merited by our sin, rather than accept of a righteousness purchased at no less rate than the blood of God? This sacrifice is full of all necessary virtue to save us, but the blood of it must be sprinkled upon our souls by faith. Without this we shall remain in our sins, under the wrath of God and sword of vengeance.
Stephen Charnock, "Christ Our Passover," in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 4:538.


October 24, 2006

J. C. Ryle (1816–1900) on John 6:27

John 6:27 "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."
When our Lord says, "The Son of man shall give you the meat that endureth to everlasting life," He appears to me to make one of the widest and most general offers to unconverted sinners, that we have anywhere in the Bible. The men to whom He was speaking were, beyond question, carnal–minded and unconverted men. Yet even to them Jesus says, "The Son of man shall give unto you." To me it seems an unmistakable statement of Christ's willingness and readiness to give pardon and grace to any sinner. It seems to me to warrant ministers in proclaiming Christ's readiness to save any one, and in offering salvation to any one, if he will only repent and believe the Gospel. The favorite notion of some, that Christ is to be offered only to the elect, – that grace and pardon are to be exhibited but not offered to a congregation, – that we ought not to say broadly and fully to all whom we preach to, Christ is ready and willing to save you, – such notions, I say, appear to me entirely irreconcilable with the language of our Lord. Election, no doubt, is a mighty truth and a precious privilege. Complete and full redemption no doubt is the possession of none but the elect. But how easy it is, in holding these glorious truths, to become more systematic than the Bible, and to spoil the Gospel by cramping and limiting it!
J. C Ryle, Expository Thoughts On The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3:353.


My observations:

1) Ryle apparently felt that he had to deal with certain hyper-Calvinistic notions in his day. They rejected free and sincere offers to all indescriminately. Nota bene: They were not against preaching to all, but apparently said "that grace and pardon are to be exhibited but not offered to a congregation." They were not against "evangelism" as such, but they were against free offers. Whoever says that they are not a hyper-Calvinist on the basis that they 1) believe in evangelism and 2) in preaching to everyone is ignorant about the history of hyperism. One can still be hyper and believe in our need to evangelize and preach to all. Some hyper-Calvinists just don't believe we are warranted to "offer" Christ indescriminately to all, especially if we are seeking to assure them that Christ, as a divine person, wants, wills or "ardently desires" (to use an expression used by John Murray and John Calvin) to save them. Ryle is dealing with the sort that think that Christ is only offered to the elect. Some hypers rejected the idea of offers altogether. Underlying all of this is the problem of not thinking of the revealed or preceptive will of God as truly a will.

Several months ago I spoke to Dr. Curt Daniel by phone. I asked him about his doctoral dissertation on hyper-Calvinism and if he would change anything that he wrote. As I recall, he only mentioned one thing. Instead of arguing that the essence of hyperism is the rejection of offers, he said it really boils down to a problem they have with the revealed will of God. I completely agree. That's why I keep posting material related to that subject. This problem is far more rampant among Calvinists than many people think. It just seems so normal to them to think along purely decretal lines. That type of thinking gets reinforced over and over again as they interract with other "Calvinists" online.

2) Notice that Ryle speaks of a "complete" and "full" redemption that belongs to the elect alone. He could, in a sense, be said to adhere to the doctrine of particular redemption. Only the elect are completely and fully redeemed because they alone fulfill the condition (because they are granted the moral ability to believe through regeneration) for their release from spiritual bondage. Christ redeemed all men sufficiently through what he suffered (he pays the ransom price of all - 2 Tim. 2:6), but not all have complete and full redemption, because they remain in unbelief. Ryle is basically saying what Peter Martyr Vermigli said long ago:
They [the anti-predestinarians] also grant that "Christ died for us all" and infer from this that his benefits are common to everyone. We gladly grant this, too, if we are considering only the worthiness of the death of Christ, for it is sufficient for all the world's sinners. Yet even if in itself it is enough, yet it did not have, nor has, nor will have effect in all men. The Scholastics also acknowledge the same thing when they affirm that Christ redeemed all men sufficiently but not effectually.
Vermigli, Works, v 8, p. 62.

And also Wolfgang Musculus:
That reprobate and deplorably wicked men do not receive it, is not through any defect in the grace of God, nor is it just, that, on account of of the children of perdition, it should lose the glory and title of universal redemption, since it is prepared for all, and all are called to it.
Wolfgang Musculus, Common Places, p. 151.

Though these men affirm a kind of universal redemption, it is not an equal universal redemption as non-Calvinists think. Rather, it is an "unequal universal redemption," as Richard Baxter would put it. It's not that there is an inequality in what Christ suffered, but there is an inequality in terms of his intention in suffering for the sins of the whole world. As the last Adam, he substitutes for all mankind in suffering the righteous requirement of the law, but he did not do so with an equal intention to save all. He especially wills the salvation of his elect.

Edmund Calamy argues the same basic position when he said in the debate on redemption in the Westminster Assembly:
I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense, but I hold with our divines in the Synod of Dort that Christ did pay a price for all, [with] absolute intention for the elect, [with] conditional intention for the reprobate in case they do believe; that all men should be salvabiles, non obstante lapsu Adami; that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving of Christ, and Christ in giving himself did intend, to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do obey.’…‘This universality of redemption does neither intrude upon either doctrine of special election or special grace.
Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, p. 152.

J. C. Ryle is taking the same position when he speaks of a "complete and full redemption" of the elect alone in the above quote.

3) Also, note what Ryle says about some who hold to the "mighty truth" of election. It's "easy," for some of them, "in holding these glorious truths, to become more systematic than the Bible, and to spoil the Gospel by cramping and limiting it!" These who virtually "spoil the gospel" would never think that they are doing that. It's just the case that they are blinded by a system and it's strong presuppositions that go undetected. The presuppositions are so strong in their minds that they don't even realize that they even warp sacred scripture to preserve the system. What causes such a "cramping" and "limiting" of God's generous gospel? It has to do with a diminished conception of the revealed will of God that issues in a strictly limited conception of Christ's death. This, in turn, results in limited offers (i.e. if they consistently reason out their views).

Take care that you're not guilty of "cramping" and "limiting" God's gospel in Christ in order to preserve a theological construct. Such cramping is totally unnecessary to preserve a classical and biblical view of Calvinism.

October 23, 2006

Donald J. Westblade on God's Will

Not infrequently, one encounters the protest that God is unworthily pictured as entertaining these same two conflicting wills about the salvation of the world. That God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9) is understood to preclude a call from God that discriminates, and discriminates effectually, for any purpose. The objection, however, does not square with common experience. Good parents who are not willing that their children should suffer injuries prefer a world in which their children do suffer some scrapes and falls in order to learn sturdiness and responsibility as they explore the limits of their abilities, to a world in which their children never experience the discipline of a misstep. An important official charged with law enforcement might be similarly of two minds if a close relative were taken hostage: she might be willing for personal reasons to pay any ransom or negotiate any concessions in order to obtain the loved one's freedom; at the same time she understands that her obligations to the public trust demand of her a steadfast will to refuse any concessions to the captors, lest their success encourage others to seek advantages by means of kidnapping.

To attribute two wills in a similar manner to God is no less consistent, no more an affront to his character, and no more anthropomorphic than to attribute one will to him. Even those who displace the point of effectuality from God's call to an alleged free will in the human agree (unless they are prepared to affirm an eventual universalism) that God elevates a will that the world should include people who in their freedom do perish over his will that not any should perish. This they can do only by assuming that Paul's view of God's overriding concern makes human freedom paramount. Yet Paul consistently awards pride of place instead to God's purpose to glorify himself.
Donald J. Westblade, “Divine Election in the Pauline Literature,” in Still Sovereign, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 69–70.

John Howe (1630–1705) on God's Will (part 2)

Unto what also is discoursed concerning anger and grief, (or other passions) ascribed to God, it will not be unfit here to add, that unless they be allowed to signify real aversion of will, no account is to be given what reality in him they can signify at all. For to say (what some do seem to satisfy themselves with) that they are to be understood secundum effectum, not secundum affectum, though true as to the negative part, is, as to the affirmative, very defective and short; for the effects of anger and grief, upon which those names are put, when spoken of God, are not themselves in him, but in us. But we are still at a loss what they signify in him. Such effects must have some cause. And if they be effects which he works, they must have some cause in himself that is before them, and productive of them. This account leaves us to seek what that cause is that is signified by these names. That it cannot be any passion, as the same names are wont to signify with us, is out of question. Nor indeed do those names primarily, and most properly, signify passion in ourselves. The passion is consequently only, by reason of that inferior nature in us which is susceptible of it. But the aversion of our mind and will is before it, and, in another subject very separable from it, and possible to be without it. In the blessed God we cannot understand any thing less is signified than real displacency at the things whereat he is said to be angry or grieved.

Our shallow reason indeed is apt to suggest in these matters, Why is not that prevented that is so displeasing? And it would be said with equal reason in reference to all sin permitted to be in the world, Why was it not prevented? And what is to be said to this? Shall it be said that sin doth not displease God; that he hath no will against sin; it is not repugnant to his will? Yes; it is to his revealed will, to his law. But is that an untrue revelation? His law is not his will itself, but the signum, the discovery of his will. Now, is it an insignificant sign? a sign that signifies nothing? or to which there belongs no correspondent significatum? - nothing that is signified by it? Is that which is signified (for sure no one will say it signifies nothing) his real will, yea or no? Who can deny it? That will, then, (and a most calm, sedate, impassionate will it must be understood to be) sin, and consequently the consequent miseries of his creatures, are repugnant unto. And what will is that? It is not a peremptory will concerning the event, for the event falls out otherwise; which were, upon that supposition, impossible; "for who hath resisted his will?" as was truly intimated by the personated questionist, (Rom. ix. 19;) but impertinently, when God's will of another (not a contrary) kind, i.e. concerning another object, was in the same breath referred unto, "Why doth he yet find fault?" It is not the will of the event that is the measure of faultiness; for then there could not have been sin in the world, nor consequently misery, which only, by the Creator's pleasure, stands connected with it. For nothing could fall out against that irresistable will. The objector then destroys his own objection, so absurdly, and so manifestly, as not to deserve any other reply than that which he meets with; "Nay, but who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?"

And what is the other object about which the divine will is also conversant? Matter of duty, and what stands in connection with it, not abstractly and separably, but as it is so connected, our felicity. This is objectively another will, as we justly distinguish acts that respect the creature, by their different objects. Against this will falls out all the sin and misery in the world.

All this seems plain and clear, but is not enough. For it may be further said, When God wills this or that to be my duty, doth he not will this event, viz. my doing it? Otherwise wherein is his will withstood, or not fulfilled, in my not doing it? He willed this to be my duty, and it is so. I do not, nor can hinder it from being so; yet I do it not, and that he willed not. If all that his will meant was that this should be my duty, but my doing it was not intended; his will is entirely accomplished, it hath its full effect, in that such things are constituted, and do remain my duty, upon his signification of this his will; my not doing it, not being within the compass of the object, or the thing willed.

If it be said, he willed my doing it, i.e. that I should do it, not that I shall, the same answer will recur, viz. that his will hath still its full effect, this effect still remaining, that I should do it; but that I shall, he willed not.

It may be said, I do plainly go against his will, however; for his will was that I should do so, or so, and I do not what he willed I should. It is true, I go herein against his will, if he willed not only my obligation, but my action according to it. And indeed it seems altogether unreasonable, and unintelligible, that he should will to oblige me to that, which he doth not will me to do.

Therefore, it seems out of question, that the holy God doth constantly and perpetually, in a true sense, will universal obedience, and the consequent felicity of all his creatures capable thereof; i.e. he doth will it with simple complacency, as what were highly grateful to him, simply considered by itself. Who can doubt, but that purity, holiness, blessedness, wheresoever they were to be beheld among his creatures, would be a pleasing and delightful spectacle to him, being most agreeable to the perfect excellency, purity and benignity of his own nature, and that their deformity and misery must be consequently unpleasing? but he doth not efficaciously will every thing that he truly wills. He never willed the obedience of all his intelligent creatures, so as effectually to make them all obey; nor their happiness, so as to make them all happy; as the event shows. Nothing can be more certain, than that he did not so will these things; for then nothing could have fallen out to the contrary, as we see much hath. Nor is it at all unworthy the love and goodness of his nature not so to have willed, with that effective will, the universal fitness, sinlessness, and felicity of all his intelligent creatures. The divine nature comprehends all excellencies in itself, and is not to be limited to that one only of benignity, or an aptness to acts of beneficence; for then it were not infinite, not absolutely perfect, and so not divine. All the acts of his will must be consequently conform and agreeable to the most perfect wisdom. He doth all things according to the counsel of his will. He wills, it is true, the rectitude of our actions, and what would be consequent thereto, but he first, and more principally wills, the rectitude of his own; and not only not to do an unrighteous, but not an inept, or unfit thing. We find he did not think it fit efficaciously to provide concerning all men, that they should be made obedient and happy, as he hath concerning some; that in the general he makes a difference, is to be attributed to his wisdom, i.e. his wisdom hath in the general made this determination, not to deal with all alike, and so we find it ascribed to his wisdom that he doth make a difference; and in what a transport is the holy apostle in the contemplation and celebration of it upon his account! Rom. xi. 33. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" But now, when in particular he comes to make this difference between one person and another, there being no reason in the object to determine him this way more than that, his designing some for the objects of special favor, and waiving others (as to such special favor) when all were in themselves alike; in that case wisdom hath not so proper an exercise, but it is the work of free, unobliged sovereignty here to make the choice; "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." Eph. i. 5.

Yet, in the meantime, while God doth not efficaciously will all men's obedience introductive of their happiness, doth it follow he wills it not really at all? To say he wills it efficaciously, were to contradict experience, and his word; to say he wills it not really, were equally to contradict his word. He doth will it, but not primarily, and as the more principle object of his will, so as to effect it notwithstanding whatsoever unfitness he apprehends in it, viz. that he so overpower all, as to make them obedient and happy. He really wills it, but hath greater reasons than this or that man's salvation, why he effects it not. And this argues no imperfection in the divine will, but the perfection of it, that he wills things agreeably to the reasonableness and fitness of them.
John Howe, "The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls," in The Works of John Howe (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), 2:386–389.

Also in John Howe, "The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls," in The Works of John Howe, 6 vols. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1862), 2:353–357.


October 17, 2006

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) on the Redeemer's Voluntary Suffering

4. How willingly then should we part with our sins for Christ, and do our duty to him! Oh that we could in our measures part as willingly with our lusts as he did with his blood! He parted with his blood when he needed not, and shall not we with our sins, when we ought to do so for our own safety, as well as for his glory? Since Christ came to redeem us from the slavery of the devil, and strike off the chains of captivity, he that will remain in them, when Christ with so much pains and affection hath shed his blood to unloose them, prefers the devil and sin before a Saviour, and will find the affront to be aggravated by the Redeemer’s voluntariness in suffering for his liberty. How willingly should we obey him, who so willingly obeyed God for us!
Stephen Charnock, “The Voluntariness of Christ’s Death,” in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 4:551.

Notice that Charnock is including unbelievers in his exhortation, and he says that Christ shed his blood to unloose them, with so much pain and affection. Some for whom Christ died may remain in their sins, which means Christ shed his blood for the non-elect as well.


On Natural and Moral Inability

I was recently questioned about the distinction between natural and moral inability. Here's my reply:

If we are to affirm that man is in fact responsible, then he must be just that: response-able. One of the reasons that hypers like to speak of man being "accountable" rather than "responsible" is because they overstate the T in TULIP. They deny any sense of ability in man to believe. What then do Calvinists mean when they speak of "Total Inability" if not that man is without any sense of ability to believe whatsoever?

I think it's better to speak of Total Moral Inability. It's not that man lacks the faculties with which to respond to God in repentance and faith, but that he lacks the desire or want to do so. Man's problem is not in their will power, so to speak, but in their WON'T power.

Fallen man is entirely corrupted by sin. It pollutes their entire persons: mind, body and will. Even though man is fallen and dead in trespasses and sins, they still have the image of God, which AT LEAST consists in their being rational moral agents. Sinners cannot complain that they have not the faculties with which to respond to God. They are constituted by God with minds to think and wills to act. This is what I mean when I speak of "natural ability."

When I speak of the "moral inability" of those still dead in trespasses and sin, I am saying that they're so fixed and determined in their stubborness that they do not even desire to turn to God in truth. The warped affections of their hearts (moral impulses) causes them to perpetually use their God-given intellectual and voluntary instruments (natural abilities or capacities) to play nothing but a cacophonous noise. They are content being in such a state of deadness until the Holy Spirit grants them a new heart with new affections, which creates new moral impulses to use their members (mind, body, wills etc.) to the glory of God.

I am distinguishing between man's constitutional (or natural) abilities and his moral abilities, but I don't want to suggest that we can separate them. They are, admittedly, interrelated. However, what the bible is constantly underlining when it describes our naturally enslaved state is our moral inability, and not our lack of constitutional capacities.

When God regenerates us, he doesn't give us new personalities or new faculties. It's just the case that our faculties are renewed even as our hearts are renewed. When quickened by the Spirit, our wills change because our spiritual affections have changed. The regenerate are now motivated by a love to God and the love of our neighbor. This is now our dominating moral impulse, even though we still struggle with remaining pollution (the flesh principle). Consequently, our minds are no longer "set on the flesh" as they once were.

Does that help you understand the distinction I am trying to make? "Ought" does imply "can" in some sense (in the sense that we possess the faculties with which to respond to God's commands), but "ought" does not imply "can" in another sense (in the sense that our mind and/or wills are morally neutral, or without a dominant moral impulse).

I then provided this quote by Stephen Charnock that relates to the same subject:
"(2.) It doth not disparage his wisdom to command that to man which he knows man will not do without his grace, and so make promises to man upon the doing it. If man indeed had not a faculty naturally fitted for the object, it might entrench upon God's wisdom to make commands and promises to such a creature as it would be to command a beast to speak. But man hath a faculty to understand and will, which makes him a man; and there is a disposition in the understanding and will which consists in an inclination determined to good or evil, which makes us not to be men, but good or bad men, whereby we are distinguished from one another as by reason and will we are from plants and beasts. Now the commands and exhortations are suitable to our nature, and respect not our reason as good or bad, but simply as reason. These commands presuppose in us a faculty of understanding and will, and a suitableness between the command and the faculty of a reasonable creature. This is the reason why God hath given to us his law and gospel, his commands, not because we are good or bad men, but because we are men endued with reason, which other creatures want, and therefore are not capable of government by a command. Our blessed Lord and Saviour did not exhort infants, though he blessed them, because they were not arrived to the use of reason; yet he exhorted the Jews, many of whose wills he knew were not determined to good, and whom he told that they would die in their sins. And though God had told them, Jer. xiii., that they could no more change themselves than an Ethiopian could his skin, yet he expostulates with them why they 'would not be made clean:' verse 27, 'O Jerusalem, wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?' Because, though they had an ill disposition in their judgment, yet their judgment remained, whereby to discern of exhortations if they would. To present a concert of music to a deaf man that cannot hear the greatest sound were absurd, because sounds are the object of hearing; but commands and exhortations are the object, not of this or that good constitution of reason, but of reason itself."
Stephen Charnock, "A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration" in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1986), 3:227-228.

For those interested, Jonathan Edwards makes the distinction in his work on the Freedom of the Will.

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) on Christ's Sufficiency

8. It is so acceptable to God, that it is a sufficient sacrifice for all, if all would accept of it, and by a fixed faith plead it. It is sufficient for the salvation of all sinners, and the expiation of all sins. The wrath of God was so fully appeased by it, his justice so fully satisfied, that there is no bar to a readmission into his favour, and the enjoyment of the privileges purchased by it, but man's unbelief. The blood of Christ is a stream, whereof all men may drink; an ocean, wherein all men may bathe. It wants not value to remove our sins, if we want not faith to embrace and plead it. As no sickness was strong enough against the battery of his powerful word when he was in the world, so no guilt is strong enough against the power of his blood, if the terms upon which it is offered by God be accepted by us. It is absolutely sufficient in itself, so that if every son of Adam, from Adam himself to the last man that shall issue from him by natural decent, should by faith sue out the benefit of it, it would be conferred upon them. God hath no need to stretch his wisdom, to contrive another price, nor Christ any need to reassume the form of a servant, to act the part of a bloody sacrifice any more. If any perished by the biting of the fiery serpent, it was not for want of a remedy in God's institution, but from wilfulness in themselves. The antitype answers to the type, and wants no more a sufficiency to procure a spiritual good than that to effect the cure of the body. He is therefore called 'the Saviour of the world,' 1 John iv. 14. And when the apostle, upon the citation of that in the prophet, that 'whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed,' concludes, that 'there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, but that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved,' Rom. x. 11, 13; by the same reason it may be concluded, that there is no difference between this and that man, if they believe; what is promised to one believer, as a believer, is promised to all the world upon the same condition. And when the apostle saith, ver. 9, 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe with thy heart, thou shalt be saved, ' he speaks to every man that shall hear that sentence. If any man believe, this sacrifice is sufficient for his salvation. As Adam's disobedience was sufficient to ruin all his posterity, descending from him by natural generation, so is this sacrifice sufficient to save all that are in Christ by a spiritual implantation. The apostle's comparison would not else be valid: Rom. v. 18, 'As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.' And if all men in the world were united to him by faith, there could not be any more required of Christ for their salvation than what he hath already acted; for it is a sacrifice of infinite value, and infinite knows no limits. Since it was sufficient to satisfy an infinite justice, it is sufficient to save an inexpressible number; and the virtue of it is in saving one, argues a virtue in it to save all upon the same condition. Who will question the ability of an almighty power to raise all men from death to life, that hath raised one man from death to life by the speaking of a word? If men, therefore, perish, it is not for want of value, or virtue, or acceptableness in this sacrifice, but for want of answering the terms upon which the enjoyment of the benefits of it is proposed. If a man will shut his eyes against the light of the sun, it argues an obstinacy in the person, not any defect in the sun itself.
Stephen Charnock, "The Acceptableness of Christ's Death," in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 4:563–564.

October 15, 2006

J. C. Ryle's (1816–1900) Meditations on The Cross of Christ

III. Let me show you why all Christians ought to glory in the cross of Christ.

I feel that I must say something on this point, because of the ignorance that prevails about it. I suspect that many see no peculiar glory and beauty in the subject of Christ’s cross. On the contrary, they think it painful, humbling, and degrading. They do not see much profit in the story of His death and sufferings. They rather turn from it as an unpleasant thing.

Now I believe that such persons are quite wrong. I cannot hold with them. I believe it is an excellent thing for us all to be continually dwelling on the cross of Christ. It is a good thing to be often reminded how Jesus was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, how they condemned Him with most unjust judgment, how they spit on Him, scourged Him, beat Him, and crowned Him with thorns; how they led Him forth as a lamb to the slaughter, without His murmuring or resisting; how they drove the nails through His hands and feet, and set Him up on Calvary between two thieves; how they pierced His side with a spear, mocked Him in His sufferings, and let Him hang there naked and bleeding till He died. Of all these things, I say, it is good to be reminded. It is not for nothing that the crucifixion is described four times over in the New Testament. There are very few things that all the four writers of the Gospel describe. Generally speaking, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell a thing in our Lord’s history, John does not tell it. But there is one thing that all the four give us most fully, and that one thing is the story of the cross. This is a telling fact, and not to be overlooked.

Men forget that all Christ’s sufferings on the cross were fore-ordained. They did not come on Him by chance or accident. They were all planned, counselled, and determined from all eternity. The cross was foreseen in all the provisions of the everlasting Trinity, for the salvation of sinners. In the purposes of God the cross was set up from everlasting. Not one throb of pain did Jesus feel, not one precious drop of blood did Jesus shed, which had not been appointed long ago. Infinite wisdom planned that redemption should be by the cross. Infinite wisdom brought Jesus to the Cross in due time. He was crucified by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.

Men forget that all Christ’s sufferings on the cross were necessary for man’s salvation. He had to bear our sins, if ever they were to be borne at all. With His stripes alone could we be healed. This was the one payment of our debt that God would accept. This was the great sacrifice on which our eternal life depended. If Christ had not gone to the cross and suffered in our stead, the just for the unjust, there would not have been a spark of hope for us. There would have been a mighty gulf between ourselves and God, which no man ever could have passed.

Men forget that all Christ’s sufferings were endured voluntarily and of His own free will. He was under no compulsion. Of His own choice He laid down His life. Of His own choice He went to the cross to finish the work He came to do. He might easily have summoned legions of angels with a word, and scattered Pilate and Herod and all their armies, like chaff before the wind. But he was a willing sufferer. His heart was set on the salvation of sinners. He was resolved to open a fountain for all sin and uncleanness, by shedding His own blood.

Now, when I think of all this, I see nothing painful or disagreeable in the subject of Christ’s cross. On the contrary, I see in it wisdom and power, peace and hope, joy and gladness, comfort and consolation. The more I look at the cross in my mind’s eye, the more fulness I seem to discern in it. The longer I dwell on the cross in my thoughts, the more I am satisfied that there is more to be learned at the foot of the cross than anywhere else in the world.

Would I know the length and breadth of God the Father’s love towards a sinful world? Where shall I see it most displayed? Shall I look at His glorious sun shining down daily on the unthankful and evil? Shall I look at seed-time and harvest returning in regular yearly succession? Oh! no! I can find a stronger proof of love than anything of this sort. I look at the cross of Christ. I see in it not the cause of the Father’s love, but the effect. There I see that God so loved this wicked world, that He gave His only begotten Son-gave Him to suffer and die-that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. I know that the Father loves us because He did not withhold from us His Son, His only Son. Ah! reader, I might sometimes fancy that God the Father is too high and holy to care for such miserable, corrupt creatures as we are. But I cannot, must not, dare not think it, when I look at the cross of Christ.
J. C. Ryle, “The Cross of Christ,” in Old Paths, 2nd ed. (London: William Hunt and Company, 1878), 250–53.

If any should complain that I speak too much on my blog about Christ and the cross, let them be ashamed and think more on Ryle's words above.

John Bunyan (1628–1688) on Christ's Sufficiency

Yea, where is that, or he, that shall call into question the superabounding sufficiency that is in the merit of Christ, when God continueth to discharge, day by day, yea, hourly, and every moment, sinners from their sin, and death, and hell, for the sake of the redemption that is obtained for us by Christ?

God be thanked here is plenty; but no want of anything! Enough and to spare! It will be with the merit of Christ, even at the end of the world, as it was with the five loaves and two fishes, after the five thousand men, besides women and children, had sufficiently eaten thereof. There was, to the view of all at last, more than showed itself at first. At first there was but five loaves and two fishes, which a lad carried. At last there were twelve baskets full, the weight of which, I suppose, not the strongest man could bear away. Nay, I am persuaded, that at the end of the world, when the damned shall see what a sufficiency there is left of merit in Christ, besides what was bestowed upon them that were saved by him, they will run mad for anguish of heart to think what fools they were not to come to him, and trust in him that they might be saved, as their fellow-sinners did. But this is revealed that Israel, that the godly may hope and expect. Let Israel therefore hope in the Lord, for with him is plenteous redemption.
John Bunyan, "Israel’s Hope Encouraged" in The Works of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 1:607–608.


October 11, 2006

John Bunyan's (1628–1688) Reprobation Asserted and the Death of Christ

Here is an interesting quote from John Bunyan's work Reprobation Asserted.

Whether God would indeed and in truth, that the gospel, with the grace thereof, should be tendered to those that yet he hath bound up under Eternal Reprobation?

To this question I shall answer,

First, In the language of our Lord, 'Go preach the gospel unto every creature' (Mark 16:15); and again, 'Look unto me, and be ye saved; all ye ends of the earth' (Isa 45:22). 'And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely' (Rev 22:17). And the reason is, because Christ died for all, 'tasted death for every man' (2 Cor 5:15; Heb 2:9); is 'the Saviour of the world' (1 John 4:14), and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

Second, I gather it from those several censures that even every one goeth under, that doth not receive Christ, when offered in the general tenders of the gospel; 'He that believeth not, - shall be damned' (Mark 16:16); 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his son' (1 John 5:10); and, Woe unto thee Capernaum, 'Woe unto thee Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida!' (Matt 11:21) with many other sayings, all which words, with many other of the same nature, carry in them a very great argument to this very purpose; for if those that perish in the days of the gospel, shall have, at least, their damnation heightened, because they have neglected and refused to receive the gospel, it must needs be that the gospel was with all faithfulness to be tendered unto them; the which it could not be, unless the death of Christ did extend itself unto them (John 3:16; Heb 2:3); for the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended. Besides, if by every creature, and the like, should be meant only the elect, then are all the persuasions of the gospel to no effect at all; for still the unconverted, who are here condemned for refusing of it, they return it as fast again: I do not know I am elect, and therefore dare not come to Jesus Christ; for if the death of Jesus Christ, and so the general tender of the gospel, concern the elect alone; I, not knowing myself to be one of that number, am at a mighty plunge; nor know I whether is the greater sin, to believe, or to despair: for I say again, if Christ died only for the elect, &c. then, I not knowing myself to be one of that number, dare not believe the gospel, that holds forth his blood to save me; nay, I think with safety may not, until I first do know I am elect of God, and appointed thereunto.
John Bunyan, "Reprobation Asserted," in The Works of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 2:348.


Several things are to be observed in this quote from Bunyan:

1) Christ is to be indiscriminately offered or “tendered” to “every creature” because he died for all. When Bunyan says Christ died for “all,” tasted death for “every man,” and is the propitiation for the sins of “the whole world,” he clearly does NOT mean merely the elect by these terms (see his comment about "every creature" toward the end). The free offer is grounded on Christ’s unlimited expiation of sin. This is his first point.

2) The “heightened” damnation of some of the finally impenitent who heard the call as recorded in scripture underlines the fact that they were sincerely offered Christ. The completely sufficient remedy of Christ’s death was “extended” to them through the gospel call, but they refused it. If there is no real sufficient remedy for them in Christ’s death, then the aggravation against their sin would not be increased.

3) The free offer of the gospel is related to the extent of Christ’s satisfaction. Since his satisfaction is unlimited, we may freely offer him. If his satisfaction itself were limited, then we could not freely offer him, nor would grace really be extended to reprobates for the taking. In effect, they (the non-elect) wouldn’t be hearing “good news” (the gospel). Hyper-Calvinists reason from a limited expiation in Christ’s satisfaction to either 1) limited offers or 2) no offers of grace. Bunyan seeks to refute their first faulty premise by arguing that Christ died for every creature. He grants that it would follow that if the expiatory death be limited to the elect alone, then we couldn’t sincerely offer Him to all. It’s just the case that the bible teaches that Christ died for all, and sincerely offered to all on that basis. There are some “Calvinists” today who maintain both a limited expiation and unlimited offers. Bunyan would think they’re inconsistent, and he’s right. By limiting the expiation in their theology, they're opening the door to a "limited offer" or "no offers of grace" (Joseph Hussey) type of theology, even though they vehemently deny it.

4) The warrant for sinners to believe in Christ is not merely in God’s command that they do so, but also in the fact that God, through the gospel call, “holds forth his [Christ's] blood to save me.” Anyone, whether elect or not, can be assured through the revealed will of God in the gospel that He has an interest in saving “me” in particular (whoever you are), because God has given Christ to die for all, not merely the elect. If it were the case that Christ died only for the elect, Bunyan thinks that one would be left in despair, wondering whether or not they are one of the elect to whom God is offering Christ. One would be left without warrant to believe, and trapped in an endless labyrinth of introspection/subjectivism.

October 5, 2006

One of My Favorite Calvin Quotes: On Romans 5:18

He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God's benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.—John Calvin on Romans 5:18
1) Calvin says that the gospel call is an "offer."

Some may object to the notion that the gospel is an "offer" or an "invitation," but not Calvin. He understood the conditionality of the gospel call and/or man's responsibility to believe. Though Christ died for you, he must be voluntarily "received" through faith in order to be justified.

2) Calvin says that the gospel is offered "through God's benignity."

God's offer of Christ to all that hear the gospel call is grounded in his goodness, kindness and love (or benignity). In other words, according to Calvin, it's a well-meant or sincere offer.

3) Calvin says that God benignantly offers Christ "indiscriminately to all."

It's not merely the case that we, in our ignorance of who is elect and who is not, are to offer Christ indiscriminately to all, but that God himself offers Christ through our gospel call in an indiscriminate fashion (to both elect and non-elect). God is not ignorant of his chosen ones, but he still offers Christ to all indiscriminately, i.e. even to the non-elect.

See this R. B. Kuiper quote for more on this subject.

4) Calvin says that Christ suffered "for the sins of the whole world."

Some may try to escape what Calvin is saying here, but the honest mind can see that the "all" who "do not receive him" are a subset of the "world." Calvin does not equate the "world" with the elect scattered abroad here. He clearly says that Christ suffered for the sins of some who do not receive him (i.e. the non-elect). One can find other quotes from Calvin where he says that Christ died for some who finally perish.

It does not follow that he thinks that Christ suffered for all with an equal intent to save all, so let not that straw man be erected. There are more options other than 1) Christ suffered only for the salvation of the elect or 2) Christ suffered for all with an equal intent to save all. The tertium quid is 3) Christ intended to suffer for the whole world sufficiently, but he especially (unequal intention) suffered for the elect. This is why Charles Hodge says in his Systematic Theology that, "it has in all ages been customary with Augustinians to say that Christ died 'sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter tantum pro electis;' sufficiently for all, efficaciously only for the elect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone." Richard Baxter rightly says in his work on Universal Redemption that:
When God saith so expressly that Christ died for all [2 Cor. 5: 14–15], and tasted death for every man [Heb. 2: 9], and is the ransom for all [1 Tim. 2: 6], and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world [1 Jn. 2: 2], it beseems every Christian rather to explain in what sense Christ died for all, than flatly to deny it.
My Concluding Remarks:

The righteousness of Christ propounded in the gospel is only efficaciously "extended" to the elect because they are morally enabled to believe by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, and thus they alone appropriate Christ's merit unto justification. This is the result of God's special, efficacious and eternal decree. There is a limitation in God's special intent (but this special intent does not negate the other intent to satisfy for all) that concerns the elect and also in the application of Christ's satisfaction, but there is no limit in the expiatory satisfaction itself.

He who does not speak according to the 4 doctrines above has departed from classical Calvinism. Does that make them wrong in their biblical interpretations or in their systematic theology? No, not on that basis. It will only make them historically wrong if they claim that Calvin said something different than the above. God requires that we be honest in all things, and that at least includes our interpretation of writings throughout church history.

This is one of my favorite Calvin quotes because it ties together the concepts of common grace/love, the ground of the well-meant gospel offer, and duty-faith. These are a cluster of biblical truths that stand or fall together, and the undermining of them (however subtle and gradual) besmirches the very heart and character of God as revealed in the gospel.

Update on 11-23-14:

On this Calvin comment, Beach writes:
In his Romans commentary, Calvin, commenting on Romans 5:18, writes the following: “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered [exposita est] to all.”56 Then he adds, “Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered [offerre] by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.”57 Calvin uses two different terms here: to set forth and to offer. The Latin term offerre can likewise mean to show or to exhibit. No doubt, a case could be made that Calvin is using these words as synonyms in this context. But a case can also be made that Calvin employs different terms in order to enrich and capture the full idea he wishes to convey. Indeed, the term offerre can also mean to offer, to present (for the taking or for acceptance); and in ecclesiastical Latin it gains the sense of to offer to God, to consecrate or dedicate, to devote.58 Consequently, we must let context determine meaning. Here Calvin draws a distinction between the offer of grace to all and the extending or receiving of what is offered. What is to be noted is that the offer is according to “the goodness of God” to all people “without distinction.” Hence his use of the phrase “Paul makes grace common to all men.” Also to be noted is that to limit the word offerre to the idea of a mere “exhibit” or “display” renders Calvin's sentence meaningless. Key is the phrase, “not all receive Him [Christ].” If Christ's sacrificial work is merely “displayed” to all people and not “offered,” the question of receiving Christ is irrelevant, for there is nothing to be received in a mere display. Calvin appears to use the word offerre as it corresponds to the word receive (apprehendere), a term that means to take hold of, to seize.59 Thus, his meaning is that what is offered is to be received, is to be seized, but of course not all do.
56. “Communem omnium gratiam facit, quia omnibus exposita est, non quod ad omnes extendatur re ipsa,” John Calvin, Ioannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. J. W. Baum, A. E. Cunitz, and E. Reuss, 59 volumes, Corpus Reformatorum (Braunschweig: Schwetschhke, 1863-1900), 49:101, hereafter cited as CO; English translations of Calvin‟s commentaries are taken from the Calvin Translation Society edition (Edinburgh, 1843-1855), cited as CTS, and from Calvin‟s New Testament Commentaries, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, 12 volumes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963-74), cited as CNTC (here, CNTC, Rom. 5:18 [1540/‟51/‟56], 117-118).
57. Calvin, Comm. Rom. 5:18 [1540/‟51/‟56], “Nam etsi passus est Christus pro peccatis totius mundi, atque omnibus indifferenter Dei benignitate offertur, non tamen omnes apprehendunt.” CO, 49:101; CNTC, 117-118.
58. See Charlton T. Lewis, ed., A Latin Dictionary: Lewis and Short (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1879), 1259; P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), 1242-43; Leo F. Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995), 179.
59. See Charlton T. Lewis, ed., A Latin Dictionary, 143.
J. Mark Beach, "Calvin's Treatment of the Offer of the Gospel and Divine Grace," MAJT 22 (2011): 63–64.

Erroll Hulse on 2 Peter 3:9 in Reformation Today

John Owen and 2 Peter 3:9

One of the readers of Reformation Today has pointed out that John Owen, a foremost and respected theologian, restricted the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9 to 'the elect'. The text reads as follows, 'The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness: but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.'

In seeking to refute Arminianism Owen became intolerant of the Arminian interpretations and said, 'I shall not need add anything concerning the contradictions and inexplicable difficulties wherewith the opposite interpretation is accompanied.' He also said, 'That to believe that God has the same will and mind towards all and everyone in the world is to come not far short of extreme madness and folly'
(Owen's works vol. 10, p. 348ff.).

We do not believe that God has the same will and mind towards all in the world in as much as he has by sovereign election determined to save a people for himself. We are dealing now with the question of his revealed will, in which he will have all to be saved. This Owen himself, and all the Puritan divines, maintained. The question before us is whether 2 Peter 3:9 should be included as one of the passages which either directly state or infer that God's revealed will is for all to be saved. Under pressure Owen sought to restrict it, but was it necessary to do so?

Since this issue arose from the article by Bob Letham, 'Theology well formed or deformed?', we have asked him to give us an exposition of 2 Peter 3:9. He has responded as follows:

The particularity of redemption is not endangered by adopting a more inclusive reference than Owen would allow. Indeed, Calvin himself understood Peter's language in precisely that way. However, we would all agree that our ideas should not rest on human authority or tradition, but on biblical exegesis.

There are, in fact, strong exegetical reasons in favour of viewing the clause in 2 Peter 3:9 ('God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance') as having a universal reference.

A problem surrounds the pronoun in the preceding clause (ύμας). If we allow that είς ύμας is preferable to both the textual variants (είς ήμας) and (δί μύας), the question remains: What is the extent of the reference of those to whom God's longsuffering (μακροθυμεί) is displayed? Is it displayed to the readers of the letter, to believers, only? Or is it shown to the ungodly as well? The personal pronoun itself has a built in ambiguity. Even if Peter intended it to refer particularly to the recipients of the letter there is no evidence that would demand its restriction solely to them. At least there is no certainty that the longsuffering of God is restricted to believers.

Even if we were to restrict the scope of God's longsuffering in 2 Peter 3:9 to believers, that of itself would not require us similarly to restrict the reference of the following clause since the latter might be intended to enunciate a general principle (God is not willing that any should perish) which would undergird the more pointedly specific statement that preceded (God is longsuffering toward you).

Elsewhere, Peter reflects on the longsuffering (μακροθυμεί) of God. In 1 Peter 2:20; 3:9, 14-17; 4:1, 12-19) he draws attention to the forebearance God showed in the days of Noah, prior to the Flood. Five factors are present in the context of 1 Peter 3:20 which are of importance for us:

1. the godly remnant (όλίγοι) who were eventually saved through water;

2. the ungodly to whom God exercised μακροθυμεί;

3. God, who exercised μακροθυμεί;

4. the preparation of the ark;

5. the eventual flood.

In the context of 2 Peter 3:9 the same factors are evident if we allow for developments in the history of redemption:

1. the churches to whom Peter was writing, who were facing mockery from their pagan neighbors (vv. 3-7);

2. the ungodly scoffers who were belittling the promise of Christ's return (vv. 3-7);

3. God, who is not slow in fulfilling his promise but exercises μακροθυμεί (vv. 8-9);

4. the Lord's promise of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (vv. 4,9,13);

5. the impending Judgment day in which the world will be destroyed by fire as at the Flood the world was destroyed by water (vv. 5-7, 10).

Peter evidently viewed the flood as a significant precursor (almost a type) of the Last Judgment, and thus the circumstances which attended that great cataclysm are seen as analogous to those which exist in these last days, the final age ushered in by the death and resurrection of Christ. He was probably echoing the teaching of Jesus himself (Luke 17:26).

In the days of Noah, God's longsuffering was specifically directed to the ungodly. Though they provoked him so intensely that he determined to destroy the world yet he allowed man a breathing space while the Ark was being constructed and also gave a promise of deliverance from the coming judgment through the Ark itself. Moreover, God's μακροθυμεί was manifested in conjunction with Noah's own preaching or proclamation (2 Peter 2:5) - whether this was by word or deed is of small account. Since there is this clear parallel between the days of Noah and the last days in which we are living it should not be difficult for us to see that God's continuing longsuffering is also associated with the distinctive proclamation of the last days, the promise of deliverance from the coming judgment-by-fire by Christ, and that it continues to be displayed towards the world of the ungodly. He could legitimately send all men to instant damnation yet he provides a time for repentance and extends a promise of mercy in Christ, which nevertheless is regarded with contempt (2 Peter 3:3f.).

Thus there should be no reason why the extent of reference of God's μακροθυμεί in 2 Peter 3:9 should not embrace a wider constituency than the recipients of the letter, or the elect, alone. In this case, the subordinate clause that follows, 'God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance', means precisely what it says and is therefore a reference to God's will as expressed in the gospel promise and not to his hidden will in election.
Erroll Hulse and Robert Letham, "John Owen and 2 Peter 3:9," in Reformation Today 38 (July–Aug., 1977): 37–38.

October 2, 2006

John Flavel (1630–1691) on Satanic Designs in Our Procrastinations

Flavel wrote:

Secondly, No sooner does the god of this world observe the light of truth begin to operate upon the heart, but he obstructeth that design by procrastinations and delays, which delude and baffle convinced souls; he persuades them if they will alter their course, it will be time enough hereafter, when such encumbrances and troubles in the world are over; if he prevail here, it is a thousand to one but the work miscarries. James 1: 13, 14. If the hearer of the word be not a doer, i.e. a present doer, while the impressions of it are fresh upon the soul, he does but deceive himself: For it is with the heart, as it is with melted wax; if the seal be clapped to it presently, it will receive a fair impression; but if it be let alone, but for a little while, you can make none at all; it was therefore David's great care and wisdom to set about the work of religion under the first impetus, or vigorous motion of his heart and affections. Psal. 119: 60. "I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments." Multitudes of souls have perished by these delays. It is a temptation incident to all that are under beginning convictions, especially young persons, whom the devil persuades that it were no better them madness in them to abridge and deny themselves so much delight and pleasure, and steep their youthful thoughts in such a melancholy subject as religion is.
John Flavel, “The Method of Grace in the Gospel-Redemption,” in The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel, 6 vols. (London: Printed for W. Baynes and Son, 1820), 2:460–461.


John Howe (1630–1705) on What the Gospel Reveals

Notice in the following quote that John Howe relates various controversial passages (such as 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16) to the revealed will of God, and speaks of this will as a "propension" (like R. L. Dabney) and "desire" (like John Calvin and John Murray):
3. It [the Gospel] also represents God to you as reconcileable through a Mediator. In that gospel peace is preached to you by Jesus Christ. That gospel lets you see God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, that sin may not be imputed to them. That gospel proclaims "glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will towards men." So did the voices of angels sum up the glad tidings of the gospel, when that Prince of peace was born into the world. It tells you God desires not the death of sinners, but that they may turn and live; that he would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth; that he is long-suffering towards them, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; that "he so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The rest of the world cannot but collect, from darker intimations, God's favourable propensions towards them. He spares them, is patient towards them, that herein his goodness might lead them to repentance. He sustains them, lets them dwell in a world which they might understand was of his making, and whereof he is absolute Lord. They live, move, and have their being in him, that they might seek after him, and by feeling find him out. He doth them good, gives them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with good and gladness. He lets his sun shine on them, whose far extended beams show forth his kindness and benignity to men, even to the utmost ends of the earth. For there is no speech or language whither his line and circle reaches not. But those are but dull and glimmering beams in comparison of those that shine from the Sun of righteousness through the gospel revelation, and in respect of that divine glory which appears in the face of Jesus Christ. How clearly doth the light of this gospel day reveal God's design of reducing sinners, and reconciling them to himself by a Redeemer!
John Howe, "The Redeemers Tears Wept Over Lost Souls," in The Works of John Howe, 3 vols. (London: William Tegg, 1848; repr., Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 2:336–337.


October 1, 2006

John Howe's (1630–1705) Allusions to 2 Peter 2:1

And whereas he hath himself founded a dominion over us in his own blood, did die, and revive, and rise again, that he might be Lord of the living and of the dead; and the eternal Father hath hereupon highly exalted him, given him a name above every name, that at his name every knee should bow, and that all should confess that he is Lord, to the praise and glory of God; and hath required that all should honour the Son as himself is to be honoured; hath given him power over all flesh, and made him head of all things to the church; was it ever intended men should generally remain exempt from obligation to observe, believe, and obey him? Was it his own intention to waive, or not insist upon, his own most sacred and so dearly acquired rights; to quit his claim to the greatest part of mankind? Why did he then issue out his commission as soon as he was risen from the dead, to teach all nations, to proselyte the world to himself, to baptize them into his name, with that of the Father and the Holy Ghost? O the great and venerable names that are named upon professing Christians! Could it be his intention to leave it lawful to men to choose this, or any, or no religion, as their humours, or fancies, or lusts should prompt them; to disregard, and deride his holy doctrines, violate and trample upon his just and equal laws, reject and contemn his offered favours and mercy, despise and profane his sacred institutions? When he actually makes his demand and lays his claim, what amazing guilt, how swift destruction must they incur, that dare adventure to deny the Lord that bought them! And they that shall do it among a Christianized people, upon the pretended insufficiency of the revelation they have of him, do but heighten the affront and increase the provocation.
John Howe, "The Redeemer's Tears, etc.," in The Works of John Howe, 3 vols. (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), 2:320–321.
And now, shall our Redeemer be left to weep alone over these perishing souls? Have we no tears to spend upon this doleful subject? O that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains! Is it nothing to us, that multitudes are sinking, going down into perdition, under the name of Christian, under the seal of baptism, from under the means of life and salvation! perishing! and we can do nothing to prevent it? We know they must perish that do not repent and turn to God, and love him above all, even with all their hearts and souls, and mind and might; that do not believe in his Son and pay him homage, as their rightful Lord, sincerely subjecting themselves to his laws and government. But this they will not understand, or not consider. Our endeavours to bring them to it are ineffectual, it is but faint breath we utter. Our words drop and die between us and them! We speak to them in the name of the eternal God that made them, of the great Jesus who bought them with his blood, and they regard it not. The Spirit of the Lord is in a great degree departed from among us, and we take it not to heart! We are sensible of lesser grievances; are grieved that men will not be more entirely proselyted to our several parties and persuasions, rather than that they are so disinclined to become proselytes to real Christianity; and seem more deeply concerned to have Christian religion so or so modified, than whether there shall be any such thing, or whether men be saved by it or lost!
Ibid., 2:322–323.


John Flavel (1630–1691) on Irrational Mirth

Inf. 5. How groundless and irrational is the mirth and jollity of all carnal and unregenerate men? They feast in their prison, and dance in their fetters. O the madness that is in the hearts of men! If men did but see their mittimus made for hell, or believe they are condemned already, it were impossible for them to live at that rate of vanity they do: And is their condition less dangerous because it is not understood? Surely no; but much more dangerous for that, O poor sinners, you have found out an effectual way to prevent your present troubles; it were well if you could find out a way to prevent your eternal misery: But it is easier for a man to stifle conviction, than prevent damnation. Your mirth has a twofold mischief in it, it prevents repentance, and increases your future torment. O what a hell will your hell be; who drop into it, out of all the sensitive and sinful pleasures of this world! If ever man may say of mirth, that it is mad; and of laughter, what does it! He may say so in this case.
John Flavel, “The Method of Grace in the Gospel-Redemption,” in The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel, 6 vols. (London: Printed for W. Baynes and Son, 1820), 2:438–439.


John Flavel (1630–1691) on the Misery of the Damned

Inf. 4. How inexpressible dreadful is the state of the damned, who must bear the burden of all their sins upon themselves, without relief, or hope of deliverance! Mark 9: 49. "where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched."

O! If sin upon the soul that is coming to Christ for deliverance, be so burdensome, what is it upon the soul that is shut out from Christ, and all hopes of deliverance for ever! For, do but ponder these differences betwixt these two burdens.

First, No soul is so capacious now, to take in the fulness of the evil and misery of sin, as they are who are gone down to the place of torments. Even as the joys of God's face above are as much unknown to them that have the fore-tastes and first fruits of them here by faith, so the misery of the damned is much unknown, even to them that have in their consciences now, the bitterest taste and sense of sin in this world: as we have the visions of heaven, so we have the visions of hell also, but darkly through a glass.

Secondly, No burden of sin presseth so continually upon the soul here as it does there. Afflicted souls, on earth, have intermissions, and breathing times; but in hell there are no lucid intervals, the wrath of God there is still flowing; it is in fluxu continuo, Isa. 30: 33. a stream of brimstone.

Thirdly, No burden of sin lies upon any of God's elect so long as on the damned, who do, and must bear it: our troubles about sin are but short, though they should run parallel with the line of life; but the troubles of the damned are parallel with the endless line of eternity.

Fourthly, Under these troubles, the soul has hope, but there, all hope is cut off: all the gospel is full of hope, it breathes nothing but hope to sinners that are moving Christ-ward under their troubles; but in hell the pangs of desperation rend their consciences for ever. So that, upon all accounts, the state of the damned is inexpressibly dreadful.
John Flavel, “The Method of Grace in the Gospel-Redemption,” in The Whole Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel, 6 vols. (London: Printed for W. Baynes and Son, 1820), 2:167–168.


John Flavel (1630–1691) on the Pains of Christ

The death of Christ, doubtless, contained the greatest and acutest pains imaginable: because these pains of Christ alone, were intended to equalize all that misery which the sin of men deserved, all that pain which the damned shall, and the elect deserve to feel. Now, to have pains meeting at once upon one person, equivalent to all the pains of the damned; judge you what a plight Christ was in.