The GospelArticle: The Sincere Offer by Travis Fentman
The Sum of Saving Knowledge, 1650, was written by James Durham and David Dickson, ministers and professors of theology in Scotland, representing the general thought of the time, and has been often reprinted alongside the Westminster Standards.
Sometimes the Sum of Saving Knowledge is interpreted as if the loving and gracious invitation of God to be reconciled is only speaking of the elect. This interpretation shows itself to be false on 3 accounts:
2. The “sweet,” “loving,” “gracious,” “invitation,” of God, that He “desires” people to take, is not made to the elect only, but is co-extensive with the revealed, outward call preached by ministers to people indiscriminately. It is on this ground that the gospel hearer (elect or reprobate) recognizes that God’s loving invitation is to him, and that God is requesting reconciliation and friendship with him, and this should break the sinner’s hard heart:
“8. That in the ministers’ affectionate dealing with the people, the people should consider that they have to do with God and Christ, requesting them, by the ministers, to be reconciled. Now, there cannot be a greater inducement to break a sinner’s hard heart, than God’s making a request to him for friendship; for when it became us, who have done so many wrongs to God, to seek friendship of God, he prevents us: and (O wonder of wonders!) he requests us to be content to be reconciled to him;
“He that, upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to him by the mouth of ministers…”
That the loving and gracious invitation of God, desiring to be reconciled, is co-extensive with the command of the outward call of the gospel, is clear, in that it is to everyone “who hears the gospel,” including the reprobate. The document explicitly mentions that this “sweet and saving command,” which is synonymous with “the sweet invitation of God” and “the humble and loving request of God,” is made to all in the visible church (elect and reprobate):
“1. That if any man shall not be taken with the sweet invitation of God, nor with the humble and loving request of God, made to him to be reconciled…
3. That every one who hears the gospel, must make conscience of the duty of lively faith in Christ; the weak believer must not think it presumption to do what is commanded; the person inclined to desperation must take up himself, and think upon obedience unto this sweet and saving command…
…And whosoever do refuse to repent of their bygone sins, are guilty of disobedience to this command given to all hearers, but especially to those that are within the visible church: for this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, saith he.”
3. When the Sum of Saving Knowledge qualifies Isa. 55 as inviting those “that truly desire to be saved from sin and wrath,” this is making the further Biblical distinction that God’s sincere invitation is not only to all who hear, but especially to those who are broken for their sin (Matt 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden…”), and it shows us how we are to come to God. This is related by Samuel Rutherford in hisChrist Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, part 2:
“…nor does the Gospel-promise offer immediate soul-rest to the hardened, and proud sinner, wallowing in his lusts, as he is a hardened sinner; nor is the acceptable year of the Lord proclaimed, nor beauty and the oil of joy offered immediately to any, but to those who are weary and laden, and who mourn in Sion, and wallow in ashes, Matt 11:28-30; Isa. 61:1-3. It’s true, to all within the visible Church, Christ is offered without price or money; but to be received after Christ’s fashion and order, not after our order; that is, after the soul is under self-despair of salvation, and in the sinner’s month…”
It should be noted that to affirm that the Sincere Offer of the Gospel is made to those broken by their sinfulness is not to deny that it is also made to those not broken by their sin as well, as Rutherford says.
Also, those who are broken for their sin and “labor and are heavy laden,” are not all elect. The crowd that Jesus spoke to (Matt 11:28), revealing His will that they should come to Him, included reprobates. Such a general work of the Holy Spirit that “convicts the world of sin” and makes them weary and heavy laden, is common to elect and reprobate alike, and preparatory law-work, as the writings of the Scottish puritans extensively demonstrate, does not guarantee one’s coming to Christ. Hence the gracious and loving request of God to be reconciled is made to “everyone who hears the gospel,” especially those broken for sin, and those desiring to be saved, elect and reprobate alike (Acts 17:27).
The Sum of Saving Knowledge
Warrants to Believe
FOR building our confidence upon this solid ground, these four Warrants and special Motives to believe in Christ may serve.
The First [Warrant] whereof is God’s hearty invitation, holden forth, Isa. 50:1-5
Ver. 1. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Ver. 2. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Ver. 3. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Ver. 4. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people, etc.
Here (after setting down the precious ransom of our redemption by the sufferings of Christ, and the rich blessings purchased to us thereby, in the two former chapters) the Lord, in this chapter,
1. Makes open offer of Christ and his grace, by proclamation of a free and gracious market of righteousness and salvation, to be had through Christ to every soul, without exception, that truly desires to be saved from sin and wrath: Ho, every one that thirsteth, saith he.
2. He invites all sinners, that for any reason stand at a distance from God,to come and take from him riches of grace, running in Christ as a river, to wash away sin, and to slocken wrath: Come ye to the waters, saith he.
3. Lest any should stand aback in the sense of his own sinfulness or unworthiness, and inability to do any good, the Lord calls upon such persons in special, saying, He that hath no money, come.
4. He craves no more of his merchant, but that he be pleased with the wares offered, which are grace, and more grace; and that he heartily consent unto, and embrace this offer of grace, that so he may close a bargain, and a formal covenant with God: Come, buy without money, (saith he,) come, eat: that is, consent to have, and take unto you all saving graces; make the wares your own; possess them, and make use of all blessings in Christ; whatsoever makes for your spiritual life and comfort,use and enjoy it freely, without paying anything for it: Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price, saith he.
5. Because the Lord knows how much we are inclined to seek righteousness and life by our own performances and satisfaction; to have righteousness and life as it were by the way of works; and how loath we are to embrace Christ Jesus, and to take life by way of free grace through Jesus Christ, upon the terms whereupon it is offered to us; therefore the Lord lovingly calls us off this our crooked and unhappy way with a gentle and timeous admonition, giving us to understand, that we shall but lose our labor in this our way: Wherefore do you spend your money (saith he) for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies, not?
6. The Lord promises to us solid satisfaction in the way of betaking ourselves unto the grace of Christ, even true contentment, and fullness of spiritual pleasure, saying, Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
7. Because faith comes by hearing, he calls for audience unto the explication of the offer, and calls for believing of, and listening unto the truth, which is able to beget the application of saving faith, and to draw the soul to trust in God: Incline your ear, and come unto me, saith he. To which end, the Lord promises, that this offer being received, shall quicken the dead sinner; and that, upon the welcoming of this offer, he will close the covenant of grace with the man that shall consent unto it, even an indissolvable covenant of perpetual reconciliation and peace. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you. Which covenant, he declares, shall be in substance the assignation, and the making over, of all the saving graces which David (who is Jesus Christ, Acts xiii. 34,) hath bought for us in the covenant of redemption: I will make a covenant with you, (saith he,) even the sure mercies of David. By sure mercies, he means saving graces, such as are righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, adoption, sanctification, and glorification, and whatsoever belongs to godliness and life eternal.
8. To confirm and assure us of the real grant of these saving mercies, andto persuade us of the reality of the covenant betwixt God and the believer of this word, the Father hath made a fourfold gift of his eternal and only begotten Son:
First, To be incarnate and born for our sake, of the seed of David his type; for which cause he is called here, and Acts xiii. 34, DAVID, the true and everlasting King of Israel. This is the great gift of God to man, John iv. 10. And here, I have given him to be David, (or born of David,) to the people.
Secondly, He hath made a gift of Christ to be a witness to the people, both of the sure and saving mercies granted to the redeemed in the covenant of redemption; and also of the Father’s willingness and purpose to apply them, and to make them fast in the covenant of reconciliation made with such as embrace the offer: I have given him (saith the Lord here) to be a witness to the people. And truly he is a sufficient witness in this matter in many respects:
(1) Because he is one of the blessed Trinity, and party-contractor for us, in the covenant of redemption, before the world was.
(2) He is by office, as Mediator, the Messenger of the covenant, and hath gotten commission to reveal it.
(3) He began actually to reveal it in paradise, where he promised, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent.
(4) He set forth his own death and sufferings, and the great benefits that should come thereby to us, in the types and figures of sacrifices and ceremonies before his coming.
(5) He gave more and more light about this covenant, speaking by his Spirit, from age to age, in the holy prophets.
(6) He came himself, in the fullness of time, and did bear witness of all things belonging to this covenant, and of God’s willing mind to take believers into it; partly, by uniting our nature in one person with the divine nature; partly, by preaching the good tidings of the covenant with his own mouth; partly, by paying the price of redemption on the cross; and partly, by dealing still with the people, from the beginning to this. day, to draw in, and to hold in the redeemed in this covenant.
Thirdly, God hath made a gift of Christ, as a leader to the people, to bring us through all difficulties, all afflictions and temptations, unto life, by this covenant: and he it is, and no other, who doth indeed lead his own unto the covenant; and, in the covenant, all the way on unto salvation: (1.) By the direction of his word and Spirit, (2.) By the example of his own life, in faith and obedience, even to the death of the cross. (3.) By his powerful working, bearing his redeemed ones in his arms, and causing them to lean on him, while they go up through the wilderness.
Fourthly, God hath made a gift of Christ unto his people, as a commander: which office he faithfully exercises, by giving to his kirk and people laws and ordinances, pastors and governors, and all necessary officers; by keeping courts and assemblies among them, to see that his laws be obeyed; subduing, by his word, Spirit, and discipline, his people’s corruptions; and, by his wisdom and power, guarding them against all their enemies whatsoever.
Hence he who hath closed bargain with God may strengthen his faith, by reasoning after this manner:
“Whosoever doth heartily receive the offer of free grace, made here to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation: unto him, by an everlasting covenant, belongs Christ, the true David, with all his sure and saving mercies:
“But I (may the weak believer say) do heartily receive the offer of free grace made here to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation:
“Therefore unto me, by an everlasting covenant, belongs Christ Jesus, with all his sure and saving mercies.”
The Second Warrant and special Motive to embrace Christ, and believe in him, isthe earnest request that God makes to us to be reconciled to him in Christ; holden forth, 2 Cor. v. 19-21.
Ver. 19. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Ver. 20. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. Ver. 21. For he hath made, him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Wherein the apostle teaches us these nine doctrines:
1. That the elect world, or world of redeemed souls, are by nature in the estate of enmity against God. This is presupposed in the word reconciliation; for reconciliation, or renewing of friendship, cannot be, except betwixt those that have been at enmity.
2. That in all the time bypast, since the fall of Adam, Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God, as Mediator, and the Father in him, hath been about the making friendship (by his word and Spirit) betwixt himself and the elect world: God (saith he) was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.
3. That the way of reconciliation was in all ages one and the same in substance, viz., by forgiving the sins of them who do acknowledge their sins and their enmity against God, and do seek reconciliation and remission of sins in Christ: For God (saith he) was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, by way of not imputing their trespasses unto them.
4. That the end and scope of the gospel, and whole word of God, is threefold:
(1) It serves to make people sensible of their sins, and of their enmity against God, and of their danger, if they should stand out, and not fear God’s displeasure.
(2) The word of God serves to make men acquainted with the course which God hath prepared for making friendship with them through Christ, viz., That if men shall acknowledge the enmity, and shall be content to enter into a covenant of friendship with God through Christ, then God will be content to be reconciled with them freely.
(3) The word of God serves to teach men how to carry themselves towards God, as friends, after they are reconciled to him, viz., to be loath to sin against him, and to strive heartily to obey his commandments: and therefore the word of God here is called the word of reconciliation, because it teaches us what need we have of reconciliation, and how to make it, and how to keep the reconciliation of friendship, being made with God through Christ.
5. That albeit the hearing, believing, and obeying of this word, doth belong to all those to whom this gospel doth come; yet the office of preaching of it with authority belongs to none, but to such only as God doth call to his ministry, and sends out with commission for this work. This the apostle holds forth, Ver. 19, in these words, He hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
6. That the ministers of the gospel should behave themselves as Christ’s messengers, and should closely follow their commission set down in the word, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; and when they do so, they should be received by the people as ambassadors from God; for here the apostle, in all their names, saith, We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.
7. That ministers, in all earnestness of affections should deal with people, to acknowledge their sins, and their natural enmity against God, more and more seriously; and to consent to the covenant of grace and embassage of Christ more and more heartily; and to evidence more and more clearly their reconciliation, by a holy carriage before God. This he holds forth, when he saith, We pray you, be ye reconciled to God.
8. That in the ministers’ affectionate dealing with the people, the people should consider that they have to do with God and Christ, requesting them, by the ministers, to be reconciled. Now, there cannot be a greater inducement to break a sinner’s hard heart, than God’s making a request to him for friendship; for when it became us, who have done so many wrongs to God, to seek friendship of God, he prevents us: and (O wonder of wonders!) he requests us to be content to be reconciled to him; and therefore most fearful wrath must abide them who do set light by this request, and do not yield when they hear ministers with commission, saying, We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
9. To make it appear how it comes to pass that the covenant of reconciliation should be so easily made up betwixt God and a humble sinner fleeing to Christ, the apostle leads us unto the cause of it, holden forth in the covenant of redemption, the sum whereof is this: “It is agreed betwixt God and the Mediator Jesus Christ the Son of God, surety for the redeemed, as parties contractors, that the sins of the redeemed should be imputed to innocent Christ, and he both condemned and put to death for them, upon this very condition, that whosoever heartily consents unto the covenant of reconciliation offered through Christ, shall, by the imputation of his obedience unto them, be justified and holden righteous before God; for God hath made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, (saith the apostle,) that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Hence may a weak believer strengthen his faith, by reasoning from this ground after this manner:
“He that, upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to him by the mouth of ministers, (having commission to that effect,) hath embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and doth purpose, by God’s grace, as a reconciled person, to strive against sin, and to serve God to his power constantly, may be as sure to have righteousness and eternal life given to him, for the obedience of Christ imputed to him, as it is sure that Christ was condemned and put to death for the sins of the redeemed imputed to him:
“But I, (may the weak believer say,) upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to me by the mouth of his ministers, have embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and do purpose, by God’s grace, as a reconciled person, to strive against sin, and to serve God to my power constantly:
“Therefore I may be as sure to have righteousness and eternal life given to me, for the obedience of Christ imputed to me, as it is sure that Christ was condemned and put to death for the sins of the redeemed imputed to him.”
The Third Warrant and special Motive to believe in Christ, is the strait and awful command of God, charging all the hearers of the gospel to approach to Christ in the order set down by him, and to believe in him; holden forth, 1 John iii. 23.
This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another., as he gave us commandment.
Wherein the apostle gives us to understand these five doctrines:
1. That if any man shall not be taken with the sweet invitation of God, nor with the humble and loving request of God, made to him to be reconciled, he shall find he hath to do with the sovereign authority of the highest Majesty; for this is his commandment, that we believe in him, saith he.
2. That if any man look upon this, commandment as he hath looked heretofore upon the neglected commandments of the law, he must consider that this is a command of the gospel, posterior to the law, given for making use of the remedy of all sins; which, if it be disobeyed, there is no other command to follow but this, “Go, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire of hell;” for this is his commandment; the obedience of which is most pleasant in his sight, Ver. 22, and without which it is impossible to please him, Heb. xi. 6.
3. That every one who hears the gospel, must make conscience of the duty of lively faith in Christ; the weak believer must not think it presumption to do what is commanded; the person inclined to desperation must take up himself, and think upon obedience unto this sweet and saving command; the strong believer must dip yet more in the sense of his need he hath of Jesus Christ, and more and more grow in the obedience of this command; yea, the most impenitent, profane, and wicked person must not thrust, out himself, or be thrust out by others, from orderly aiming at this duty, how desperate soever his condition seems to be; for he that commands all men to believe in Christ, doth thereby command all men to believe that they are damned and lost without Christ; he thereby commands all men to acknowledge their sins, and their need of Christ, and in effect commands all men to repent, that they may believe in him. And whosoever do refuse to repent of their bygone sins, are guilty of disobedience to this command given to all hearers, but especially to those that are within the visible church: for this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, saith he.