May 30, 2011

Tom Ascol on John Gill's Federalism and Its Problems

Gill employs the retooled structure of English Federalism in his exposition of the works of God ad intra. All of the internal works of the Trinitarian persons take the form of covenant.21 The decrees of God must, therefore, be expounded along the lines of the federal construct. Since Gill radiates his soteriology from decretal ideas, the covenant becomes an essential principle in the organization of his theological system.22 He does not, however, develop his theology from within the federal structure. It is not his starting point. Rather, he employs the construct to serve his more foundational decretal interpretation of the Scriptures. God's decree, not the covenant, is the chief hermeneutical principle of his theology. The former gives form to and guides the expressions of the latter.23

By recasting Federalism along these lines Gill has significantly weakened one of that construct's chief assets. History is no longer meaningful, and man's responsibility becomes all but factored out of the salvation equation. The covenant of grace can no longer be set forth legitimately as a bonafide offer of salvation for all who will repent and trust in Christ as Mediator. As Gill himself consistently concludes, there are no offers of grace to any. His system precludes them. Evangelism is reduced to proclamation without invitation. The salvation which is to be proclaimed consists of the fulfillment of the covenant conditions by the Son, the certainty of the covenant blessings by the Father, and the bestowal of the covenant relationship by the Spirit. It is, in the words of Ivimey, a "non-application, non-invitation scheme" of preaching.24
21. Gill, Body of Divinity, 1:246–47, 300–303; Muller, "The Spirit and the Covenant," p. 8.
22. The whole second book of the first volume of Gill's Body of Divinity reflects this relationship (Body of Divinity, 1:246–365).
23. After describing the nature and perfections of God, Gill sets forth "the internal acts and works of God" and "his decrees in general" in the second book of his Body of Divinity (1:246). The ad intra works are God's "purposes and decrees" which respect "not only the affairs of grace, but those of providence; even the whole earth and all things in it" (ibid., 246–47). Gill fits Federalism into this outline, rather than allowing the covenantal approach to dictate the direction of his thought at the outset. This represents a decisive difference between his views and those of the English federalists who precede him. For this reason, although he does employ Federalism's structure and salient tenets, it is inaccurate simply to designate Gill without qualification as a "Covenant theologian" (as does Robinson, "Legacy of John Gill," p. 118; cf. Muller, "The Spirit and the Covenant," p. 12, and Toon, Hyper-Calvinism, pp. 111–15.
24. Ivimey, History of the English Baptists, 3:272. There can be little doubt that Gill's views logically lead to this conclusion. The next chapter considers the degree to which Gill consistently follows his own logic at this point.
Thomas Kennedy Ascol, The Doctrine of Grace: A Critical Analysis of Federalism in the Theologies of John Gill and Andrew Fuller (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989), 77–79.

May 17, 2011

Increase Mather (1639–1723) on the Means and Motive of Christ's Knocking

Quest. 2. How or by what means is it that Christ doth knock and call at the door of the hearts of men?

Answ. 1. Christ knocketh at the hearts of men by his Word; by his Epistle he knocked at the Laodicea's door: Hence in the Text Christ's voice is spoken of. When Christ's voice, his Word is heard, then is he knocking at the hearts of men; therefore the Word is compared to an Hammer, Jer. 23:29. Is not my Word like a Hammer, &c. An Hammer you know is an Instrument, whereby men sometimes knock and break open doors: So doth the Lord by the Hammer of his Word, knock and break open the doors of the hearts of sinners. The Lord knocks by the Promises of the Word, and by Threatenings also, these are knocking, awakening words indeed; so by Instructions and Exhortations, &c. Hence it is, that as for all men that enjoy the Ministry of the Word, whosoever they be that have the Gospel dispensed among them, Christ knocketh at their doors, and desireth entrance into their hearts.

2. Christ knocketh by his Works. There is a secret voice of the Lord to the Soul in every Providence, though few hear it, few understand it. As now by mercies, Rom. 2:4. The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. It should be so, this is God's end in bestowing mercies and good things upon the Sons of men; it is thereby to awaken and to stir them up to Repentance, that the Lord and they might come together. That Preservation, Provision, Protection, which the Lord in his gracious Providence is pleased to afford unto sinners: Those common mercies which he bestows upon the vilest of men, Food and Rayment, Health, Wealth, nay, every meals, and every nights rest and sleep, by all the Lord is knocking and calling upon men, that they would learn to know, and love, and serve him, that giveth all good unto them; as it is said, Prov. 18:16. A man's gift maketh room for him; even so Christ seeks for a room in the heart, by the gifts which he bestoweth, and is therefore most worthy to be received with the highest entertainment.

Again, the Lord knocketh at the door by Afflictions, as we see in this Context, Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten (saith Christ) and then it follows, I stand at the door and knock. How? even by chastening Dispensations of Providence: Therefore is that Mic. 6:9 Hear ye the rod. Affliction is God's rod; and an iron rod it is, whereby the Lord doth, as it were, rap at the door of secure sinners. If the Lord afflicteth a man, he striketh and giveth blows: Hence David saith, Remove thy [stroke] from me, I am consumed by the [blow] of thine hand, Psal. 39:10.

3. Christ doth call and knock at the doors of men's hearts, by the voice of his Spirit: It is said, Isa. 30:21. Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk therein, &c. namely, a word spoken by the secret whisperings of the Holy Spirit, saying to the sinner, Thou art out of the way; if ever thou desirest to be happy, thou must forsake this way thou art going in, and turn into a new, and another way. This is partly meant by the voice which my Text speaketh of, namely, the voice of Christ's Spirit: Sometimes a poor Creature begins to think seriously with himself, Am I in Christ, or out of Christ? Am I in a state of Nature, or in a state of Grace? If I should die in this condition, what would become of my poor Soul? Secret thoughts are darted into the heart of a sinner, that it is high time for him, to think of making his peace with God: He doth, as it were, hear a voice behind him saying, Man look about thee, there's one thing needful, and thou neglectest that, and in the mean time art taken up about needless vanities: Now these are the secret whisperings of the Spirit of Christ, whereby he knocketh and calls upon the hearts of men.

4. Christ knocks and calls upon the heart, by the voice of Conscience. A man's Conscience is God's Messenger, whereby he knocketh at the door, and speaketh home to the heart, Prov. 20:27. The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, searching the inward parts of the belly. So that the inward parts of the belly, that is to say, the most secret corners of the heart, are ransacked by the spirit of a man, by which the Conscience is meant. And when Conscience speaketh, the Lord speaks also; for Conscience is God's Messenger (as was said) it cometh armed with Authority in his name; and hence is said to be the candle of the Lord, because it is of the Lord's sending and setting up. The voice of Conscience is many times a roaring voice, whereby the Lord doth Awaken the most secure and sleepy sinners. Conscience hath a Commission, that I may so speak, not only to knock at the door, but if need be, to break the door down, rather than that the sleepy sinner should not be awakened.
Increase Mather, Some Important Truths About Conversion (London: Printed for Richard Chiswell, at the Rose and Crown in Pauls Church-yard, 1674), 88–92. This work has a preface to the reader by John Owen.


May 7, 2011

Alexander C. De Jong on an Obscuration in the Free Offer Debate

Hoeksema's doctrine of reprobation renders the reliability of God's unsimulated call to salvation disputable. He objects to the truth of a well-meant gospel offer because it implies that God wants all sinners to be saved in the way of repentance. He says,
en let er wel op, der leer [concerning the gospel offer as well-meant] is niet, dat het Evangelie door den prediker aan alle menschen moet worden verkondigd, zonder onderscheid, maar dat God zelf, ann alle menschen zijne genade aanbiedt, en dus daarmede de ernstige begeerte openbaart, dat het zal worden aangenomen door allen.141
In passing we wish to remark that it makes no difference in our problem whether a human, fallible preacher makes this offer of grace or God makes this offer. In the current discussions in the Protestant Reformed Churches Hoeksema is trying to use this argument.142 The late Dr. C. Bouma also used this distinction to plead for the legitimacy of a genuine offer of grace. At one point in his discussion he says that if God himself, "zonder tusschenkomst van menschen, kwam en zondaars het Evangelie predikte, dan stond de zaak anders."143 This distinction between noetically-limited heralds and the noetically-perspicuous God serves to obscure the real questions involved. In addition such a distinction neglects the truth that God speaks in and through the instrumentality of the preacher.
141. GCA, p. 9, 10. [Note from Tony: I tried to use Google Translate for the Dutch, so this quote may mean something like, "and please remember, [the] doctrine [concerning the gospel as well-meant] is not that the Gospel preacher is to preach to all men indiscriminately, but that God himself, offers his grace unto all men, and so thus reveals the earnest desire that it be adopted [accepted?] by all."]
142. Cf. SB, XXIX, 19, p. 437. "The Rev. De Wolf did not say: 'I preach to every one of you that, if you believe, you shall be saved.' This might pass, even though it would not be the whole truth.... But the Rev. De Wolf said nothing of the kind. He said: 'God promises salvation to everyone of you.'"
143. C. Bouma, Geen Algemeene Verzoening, p. 160. [Note from Tony: The Dutch may possibly mean "without interference from men, came and preached the Gospel to sinners, this would be different."]
Alexander C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Schilder (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954), 122–123.

Note: Frequently in conversations with those who have a problem with the free offer of the gospel, one will notice that they switch the topic from God himself sincerely offering to all that hear the gospel to the topic of noetically-limited preachers offering/preaching to all. As De Jong notes, this is done in order to obscure the real issues involved, i.e. the sincerity and well-meant nature of God's own offer to all, and what that presupposes with respect to God's revealed will. This switching of the subject is not new today.

Gardner Spring said:
If it be said, that in commissioned messages like these, God requires the ministers of the Gospel to make this indiscriminate offer of salvation, because they do not know who will accept them, and because it is not their province to distinguish between those who are and those who are not his chosen people; it must be born in mind that the offer is God's own offer, and that his ministers make it only in his name. He endorses it, and speaks through them. He knows who his chosen people are; and the gracious overture is made by his authority and on his behalf.

Augustine (354–430) on Loving the Man but Hating the Vice

Wherefore the man who lives according to God, and not according to man, ought to be a lover of good, and therefore a hater of evil. And since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, he who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice, nor love the vice because of the man, but hate the vice and love the man. For vice being cursed, all that ought to be loved, and nothing that ought to be hated, will remain.
Augustine, "The City of God," NPNF, 1st series, ed by Philip Schaff (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2004), 2:266.

[Note: It's important to read Calvin's reference to Augustine on this point elsewhere in his writings. Given what Augustine says elsewhere, and how Calvin interprets him, I don't think Augustine would have a problem saying God hates lost sinners, but he wants to qualify that by saying He hates them as sinful or living in vice, not their natures as human beings. See Aquinas' qualifications on this point (here and here) as well.]