James Durham (1622-1658) And The Free Offer Of The Gospel -- By: Donald John Maclean

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:1 (Jan 2010)
Article: James Durham (1622-1658) And The Free Offer Of The Gospel
Author: Donald John Maclean

James Durham (1622-1658) And The Free Offer Of The Gospel1

Donald John Maclean

Richard Mouw has observed that the issue of the gospel offer “has been fiercely debated in just about every context where Calvinism has flourished.1 Indeed, it has probably stirred up more passions than any other theological topic within the Calvinist camp.”2 Whatever the hyperbole in this statement, it is certainly true that the gospel offer has been a controversial subject.

The Free Offer—An Area Of Debate

External critics of the Reformed faith have long argued that, given the Reformed commitment to divine sovereignty, no genuine free offer of salvation is possible. R. L. Dabney phrased their objection as follows: “If God makes proposals of mercy to men, who, he foresees, will certainly reject them and perish, and whom he immutably purposes to leave without effectual calling, how can his power and wisdom be cleared, save at the expense of his sincerity? or his sincerity at the expense of his wisdom or power?”3 A similar form of objection was also encountered in pastoral practice among Reformed churches where parishioners could struggle to reconcile sovereign unconditional election with the free offer. For instance, in his classic seventeenth-

century Scottish work of pastoral counsel, Therapeutica Sacra, David Dickson considers the objection, “How can this Offer of Grace to all the Hearers of the Gospel…stand with the Doctrine of Election of some, and Reprobation of others, or, with the Doctrine of Christ’s redeeming of the Elect only, and not of all and every Man?”4

The free offer of the gospel was not only a source of dispute in centuries past; recent literature provides plentiful evidence that the gospel offer is currently a source of controversy within the Reformed churches themselves. Several books have emerged which are broadly critical of the free, or well meant, offer. Examples here include Herman Hanko’s The History of the Free Offer, David Engelsma’s Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, and George Ella’s The Free Offer and the Call of the Gospel.5 Partly in response to these a number of works have emerged which largely defend the free offer. Examples here are John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel, Ken Stebbins’ Christ Freely Offered, David Silversides’ The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed, and David Gay’s T...

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