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Online Text Sermon - Ebenezer Erskine and the Marrow Controversy

Date14/03/2005
Time19:30
PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleEbenezer Erskine and the Marrow Controversy (Scottish Reformation Society Meeting (Poor Quality))
TextMeeting
Sermon ID1079

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The subject before us is that of Ebenezer Erskine, and I want to begin by giving you reasons why the subject is of importance to us today; first of all, because he bore a very great name. It may not be appreciated nowadays that in Scottish church history there have been six eminent men - some more eminent than others, to be sure - but six men who had the name of Erskine. By way of introduction, let me tell you about these men in a word of two.

The eldest of them was John Erskine, the Laird of Dun, a sixteenth century Scottish Protestant Reformer and a close friend of John Knox. Interestingly enough, it was he who introduced the teaching of Greek into Scotland. He brought a Frenchman across from France to come to this country to instruct young men in the Greek language that they might be well instructed and educated to teach the New Testament. He was the eldest.

The second of these is called Henry, Henry Erskine; he was a Puritan. You will know that in 1662 two thousand Puritans were cast out of their pulpits by the decree of the king of the day, Charles II. Henry Erskine was one of these. It was through him that the great Thomas Boston was converted at the age of 12. So we always carry together in our memories these three men: Thomas Boston, Ebenezer Erskine and Ebenezer's younger brother who had the name Ralph - Ralph Erskine.

The third in line - in the list of six Erskines - is Ebenezer himself, 1680-1754. He is noted as being the founder of the eighteenth century Secession Church, a minister in Stirling. As I have just said, his younger brother was Ralph Erskine, a minister in Dunfermline and noted for his very sweet preaching. He wrote a number of gospel sonnets; some of you will have known and read these sonnets no doubt. He was the fourth.

Then the fifth of these was a man by the name of Doctor John Erskine - a Church of Scotland leader of Evangelicals in the eighteenth century and a great supporter of George Whitefield and of the revival that occurred at that time in Cambuslang and Kilsyth. He was in Old Greyfriars Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. He was an unusual case of a thoroughbred evangelical who was at that time of a mixed denomination.

The sixth of them was a man called Thomas Erskine of Linlathen - nephew of Dr John whom I've just mentioned - and he was a nineteenth century man. I have to say, sadly, he became unorthodox. Of the Erskines he was theologically the weakest. He departed from the doctrine of Election and he had liberalising tendencies. The influence of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen was to weaken the theological understanding of men in this country.

Our concern is with Ebenezer Erskine, the eminent eighteenth century preacher, whose writings are very highly prized, even to this very day. All his writings take the form of sermons - they are profound, they are sound, they are theologically profitable and they are textual preaching. The method is to take a single text and to open it up with care, precision and application. His writings were quite early on translated into Dutch and have been copiously read by Dutch Calvinists in their own country and also in America. I was amazed to discover that in America and Canada, even to this day, the writings of the Erskine brothers are comparatively well known - better known I suspect than in this country now. Well, what else can be said about Ebenezer Erskine in general? Well, he was a champion for truth, and that's in a time when the Church of Scotland, sadly, was in decline. In general, let me say at this point, he spoke up for truth and for the honour of Christ in a difficult moment, and was regarded as one of the great heroes of Scottish church history. Indeed, it would be true, I think, to say that most of the spiritual life in Scotland in the eighteenth century was in the Secession Church. I think the reasons for that will become apparent as we proceed, and I give you, I hope, not too much but just a little more of the background and the reasons for the changes that occurred in the state church in this eighteenth century period.

The Secession denomination, of which he was the great leader, was thoroughly evangelical and you will be interested to know that it was he, together with his son-in-law, James Fisher, who wrote one of the most famous catechisms which has ever been written. It's usually called Fisher's Catechism but it was begun by Ebenezer Erskine and continued and completed indeed by his son-in-law whose name was James Fisher. It's an excellent book of theology, I think the best of all the catechisms which have ever been written - and there are quite a number of those, as you will know. There is a modern American reprint of James Fisher's Catechism. It's a marvellous piece of work and the date of the reprint: 'Belief Applications 1998'. So, these men are still being read in different parts of the world, and if you want an excellent Body of Divinity, all bound up so neatly and in very simple language, for use within the family, Fisher's Catechism is very hard to beat.

As a preacher Ebenezer Erskine excelled. There's an anecdote worth repeating like this: that an older minister was speaking in the eighteenth century to a younger minister of that day and he put this question to him. He said: "Did you ever hear Ebenezer Erskine in the pulpit?" The younger man said, "I'm afraid I never did." "Well," said the older man, "in that case, sir, you never heard the gospel in its majesty." He was a preacher who preached with simple language but profound thought. That, surely, is a perfect ideal for us all. Someone put it very well like this, "No preacher succeeded so well in bringing the Saviour and the sinner together." Isn't that a nice tribute to him? He was obviously a great soul-winner.

That's the man, in brief, that we are considering. I want now to give you a few more details of his life and background. His dates, first of all: 1680-1754. As I mentioned earlier, his father was Henry Erskine. He himself was an eminent Puritan preacher. Ejected from the church of the day, where he was a minister in a place called Cornhill in the north of England in the area of Durham. By the Act of Uniformity of 1662, he was one of 2,000 ministers who were put out of their pulpits because they did not conform to the unrighteous demands of the king of the day.

Ebenezer Erskine studied at the University of Edinburgh. You probably know that Edinburgh University was set up to be a fountain of pure Reformed Theology. It was just after the days of John Knox it was founded, and that's why it was set up. John Knox's son-in-law, John Welch of Ayr, who studied at Edinburgh University, drank in at the university the pure doctrine of the Reformed faith. It is worth our while remembering that that's why that university was instituted in the first place.

Having graduated, he became a minister in the year 1703. That makes him about 22 or 23 when he began in the ministry, and his first charge was a place called Portmoak. I don't know whether it exists today - you can probably tell me - it's in Kinross-shire. He was there for very nearly 30 years from 1703 to 1731. We're told that at Communion Seasons (this is the Church of Scotland you understand, the Secession Church didn't exist yet, that was later on; he was a parish minister), great crowds used to gather to hear this man preach. The custom then, as you know before, was that at Communion Seasons great crowds would gather often in the open air and these were frequently attended by wonderful showers of blessing. Many thousands of people would gather.

I have to say that the early theology of Ebenezer Erskine was mixed. It was not pure. It was a mixture of law and gospel. He was not clear-headed in his early teaching. It was only as time progressed that he managed to clarify his thinking on vital gospel issues. That shows that great men sometimes begin theologically rather weak and improve as they progress - so it was with him. He was to become profoundly influenced by something that I want to talk about rather fully in a moment, and that is the Marrow Doctrine.

He was influenced by these Marrow teachings later on, and when the Church of Scotland's General Assembly heard about the views of the Marrow Men they condemned those doctrines very sharply - in the year 1720. At that time Ebenezer Erskine, who saw the Marrow teaching as being the pure gospel of Christ, he and some others drew up a protest, which indicates to us, does it not, that we must never follow the multitude in church matters, we must be governed always and only by the Word of God and not by self interest; that was what he did. He and a small number of men in the Church of Scotland of that day - 1720 - drew up a formal protest at the way these Marrow doctrines were being unjustly challenged and condemned, as he believed.

In 1731 he was called to the West Church in Stirling. I think it was the third church in the city, and he's often associated more with Stirling than with his first charge. In 1732 he became Moderator of the Synod of Perth and he preached a sermon on that occasion. This gives you insight into the character of this man. He attacked the evils of the day, and the principal evil of the day was something known as 'Patronage', by which local landowners were given the great privilege of controlling whom the congregation would be able to call into their pulpit as their minister. The call to the minister was very much in the hands of the local landlord. This was a great abuse in the eyes of the evangelicals of the day, and amongst those was Ebenezer Erskine and he attacked it, publicly, in his moderatorial sermon at the Synod of Perth, 1732. He maintained that it is congregations and members of Christian congregations alone who should have the right to call their minister - something that we today I think take for granted but these men had to fight for these principles.

That was the beginning of his sorrows. The Synod noted that he had delivered this address and they said he was to be rebuked for his boldness in so preaching. Against this notification of rebuke, Ebenezer Erskine appealed to the General Assembly of 1733, the next year, so when the May 1733 General Assembly met they upheld the Synod's view and they rebuked him and admonished him about his views, which were in sympathy with the Marrow and against Patronage. He and three others protested and the effect was that as they protested against what the Assembly had done to them, all four of these men were deposed. We will meet their names by and by. As a consequence, they formed themselves into what was called the "Associate Presbytery", which later became the "Secession Church". We can say the Secession Church was the first main break away from the state church in the eighteenth century, and the year in which it occurred was this year 1733. It was a thoroughly evangelical church, Bible believing, gospel preaching, good doctrine, good discipline, worship of which we would all approve. They were excellent men.

In the course of the next few years the Secession Church underwent certain internal difficulties over what is called the "Burgess Oath of 1744". What was this Burgess Oath? It was an oath to be taken by the Burghers of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth - these three cities - and in all of these three cities the Secession membership was very strong. It was an oath to this effect: 'To endorse the religion professed in the realm'. The difficulty was that some people scrupled because they didn't approve of aspects of the religion which was endorsed within the realm. Unfortunately, the Secession Church broke into two at that very point. The year was 1747. The breaking of the Secession Church was known as the "Breach". I have to say to you that Ebenezer Erskine was on the more liberal side of that. He became a Burgher, as distinct from an Anti-Burgher. It all hinged round the question of interpretation: Was the taking of this Burgess Oath a compromise of Christian conscience or not? Was it an infringement of the crowned rights of Christ or not? It was a difficult decision and he came down on the more liberal side. He said that it was not a matter of compromise.

He died in 1754 - seven years after the breach. His memory lingered on, and on for a very long time and was greatly revered by the Disruption Men of 1843 in the next century. On the great Thomas Chalmers also, being raised up by God, he had a profound influence when the Spirit of God was beginning to breathe again upon Scotland and evangelical views were infiltrating pulpits far and wide throughout the nation. That then gives you a broad outline of this man's life, work, and influence.

I'm going to bear in mind that there are some young people here, so I'm going to take the liberty of giving you an anecdote. It's hard to believe this, but these two Erskine brothers were both born after their mother died. How do you like that? Let me explain. Henry Erskine's wife, Margaret, died and she was put into a coffin, but on her ring finger she had a very beautiful and expensive gold ring and the family wanted to take it off, so they tried to pull it off but they couldn't succeed - the finger was so swollen - so they left it on, and they put her in the coffin and buried the lady in the church graveyard. However, the sexton, who was officiating at the funeral, saw this beautiful ring and after nightfall he came with a sharp knife and he disinterred the coffin and the remains of the body - as he thought, got his knife and tried to make an incision. As soon as he cut the ring finger, blood spurted out and the corpse sat up. She must have been comatose obviously - this is quite true, this is well known, and she walked in her grave-clothes from the graveside to the manse which was just, no doubt, a few yards away. She knocked on the door and there her dear husband, Henry Erskine, who was sitting with his mourning friends around the fireside, said: "That knock!" he said, "I would swear that's my dear wife Margaret's knock. If only she were alive, it surely would be her!" When they opened the door she came in and they were astonished. These two sons, these great ministers, Ebenezer and Ralph, believe it or not, they were literally born of this mother who was as one raised from the dead. God's ways are strange.

I mentioned a little while ago this Marrow Controversy and this is absolutely the most important issue which was being faced by these dear men at this period. Ebenezer's whole life was deeply intertwined with this Marrow Controversy. It is to that now that I must turn.

The Marrow Controversy took place within the years 1718-1723, and it was this controversy that brought about the circumstances in which Ebenezer Erskine, from being quite an obscure character in many ways, was promoted to leadership, eminence and fame. That's the way God worked it. Bear with me while I give you a little of the background of the church history which lies behind the Marrow Controversy.

The period of persecution ended in 1688 - the Glorious Revolution. You will know that in the period from 1662 (the Act of Uniformity) to the end of the Covenanting period (1688), during those years roughly 18,000 Christians died, most of them in Ayrshire. If you've been down to Ayr and all round there you can see the monuments to this day where so many of them died. It's very well worth doing that. If you take a holiday down to Ayrshire and Lanarkshire you can see these very touching spots. The moors are still very much as they were in the days of our fathers where winds howl over large expanses of grass and shrub. They have never been occupied very much with human dwellings.

An Act was passed in 1689 which fixed the Church in Scotland. It's known as the Revolution Settlement. This Act was in some ways good and in other ways not so good. Let me explain briefly. There are at least three ways in which this Revolution Act, or Act of Settlement, was good (1689). First, it meant that all the Covenanting ministers who had been driven out of their pulpits were now welcomed back into the ministry of the church. There were about 60 of them left - most of them had died. The second good thing this Act did in 1689 was that it confirmed that the Westminster Confession would be the doctrine taught within the church. It was ratified by the Scots Parliament. Before that the Church of England's doctrines were being pushed upon the people and that was why they resented it, the Episcopalian influence. The third good thing that came out of this Act was that many laws enforcing Episcopacy upon the people were now taken away. So, what do we have? We have a Church of Scotland now united and with the Westminster Confession as its doctrine; it is a Presbyterian, as distinct from an Episcopalian, church. So those things were good.

But, what was bad was this - three things I think. First of all, Patronage was partially allowable; that is to say the congregation could now call its own minister but the local patron would have a say, to a large extent, in the appointment of a new minister. As time went on, his say increased and the congregation's rights to call a minister diminished. The second evil thing was that Episcopalian clergy who did not at all have an evangelical attitude to the preaching of the gospel - and in some cases they were no better than the Vicar of Bray, quite honestly - they were now allowed into the church. The idea was to reconcile everybody. Times of stress and times of conflict are nearly always followed by times when everybody is tired and anything goes. It's a great danger, when you've been contending and fighting for some principle and everybody is tired after a few years, the great danger is that you are so tired you lower your guard. That's what happened and these unworthy ministers were allowed in. It was a great mistake.

All of this had a deadening effect on the spiritual life in Scotland and that deadening influence came to be known with the word 'Moderatism'. Somebody described Moderatism as this: 'The preaching was cool and sharp like an icicle. It would warm no hearts. Clear enough, crisp in its way. At times it stated things reasonably accurately, but there was no fire, no passion.' Dr Lloyd-Jones defined preaching as "truth on fire". Well, there was a certain amount of truth in Moderatism but there was no fire.

The effect then was that as time went on, Patronage increased its influence and in 1712, a Patronage Act was passed by parliament - the Parliament of Great Britain - and this led to increasing abuse. For instance, unscrupulous patrons might keep a congregation pastorless so that the stipend money, which they would have to pay to him for his livelihood was kept actually by the patron; he would deliberately do this - this was actually something they did. It was a kind of stealing really. As the Church of Scotland developed a Moderate Party arose in the Church of Scotland. They actually chose that name themselves. They were people, as you know, more interested in the theatre and in general culture than they were in gospel truth and preaching. That's the kind of men these Moderates were.

So the Marrow was a controversy which arose in 1718 and lasted till 1723. It's necessary for me to explain what the Marrow is and how it got that name. In my hands I hold the book which the Marrow Controversy was named after; it's called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. As you can see, this is an old book. I think it was published in 1811 or something, so it's an old book. It's Thomas Boston's edition, which he himself brought out in about 1726 or thereabouts. He brought out a book which belonged really to the Puritan age, called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. It was a book written by a layman, not by a minister, in Puritan times called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Here it is, together with Thomas Boston's notes - a very famous book. In this book we are introduced to four different characters who were speaking one to another. The writer was very well studied in theology. He knew the Word of God, he understood it very well, and The Marrow of Modern Divinity is an excellent statement of gospel truth.

There are four characters in the book. There's Evangelista, the name given to the gospel minister. There's Nomista, given to a man who was a legalist, and there's Antinomista, he's the antinomian. Then there's Neophytes - he's the young Christian. So we have these four characters who go to the minister - Evangelista - and they put various points to him. The whole book is beautifully conducted - very courteous, there's no bad temper in it, no harsh speaking. Each of these various speakers makes a contribution and they are corrected by Evangelista. The writer of this book, who was himself a Puritan, composed the book in order to resolve some of the most sensitive and important spiritual and theological issues which we could ever study.

Let me tell you that Thomas Boston who was ordained in 1699, came across this book quite accidentally as a very young minister. It's one of the great providences of God. The year was 1700 and the place was the tiny parish of Simprin, deep down in the south of Scotland, which was his first charge. Thomas Boston had a first class theological mind. He was one of the greatest of Scottish writers of this period. He, as a very young man, came to work out in his own mind the relationship between two things: the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace: law as a covenant, law as a schoolmaster, law as a rule of life. These things have vexed the church, not because they are not clear enough in Scripture but because our perception of these doctrines has not been sharp enough. They are still vexing the church of this day and I have to say, in America, these issues are extremely relevant in many circles - both Presbyterian and Baptist. Thomas Boston was visiting some of his parishioners in Simprin and he came to a tiny cottage. As he was looking round the room in the cottage he noticed above the window head there was a little shelf and on the shelf two books. One of these was by Saltmarsh, the Antinomian - he wasn't interested in that. The other one was this book that I've lifted up to you: The Marrow of Modern Divinity written by a writer in, I think it was 1645, called Fisher. Thomas Boston took it down and leafed through it. To his amazement it was dealing with these very issues that were so important to his mind at that time. He took it away and read it and he was profoundly influenced by it.

The subject of The Marrow, which is the book here, is this: it is the greatest subject possible - the true nature of the gospel, as distinct from the law - the relationship of the law and gospel. My dear friends, this is as fresh and important a subject today as it ever was, and it was Ebenezer Erskine and his brother, Ralph Erskine, together with Thomas Boston - these three - who under God were profoundly used to help the churches in Scotland to get back to the authentic gospel as distinct from a declined gospel which was coming in at this time from Moderatism.

Let me then move on to talk about the true nature of the gospel. In Scotland at this time, in the state church, there were now two parties (this is the early eighteenth century - 1716, that sort of period, and onwards). On the one hand there were the Evangelicals - these were the ones who truly understood the Westminster Confession. On the other hand, there were the Moderates. The Evangelicals were Thomas Boston, the Erskine brothers, and a few others. And this is the difference: the Evangelicals emphasised that the gospel is God's free grace to sinners; it is God's promise of grace in Christ; that this promise is to be freely offered to all men; that assurance of salvation is founded on Christ and on the finished work of Christ; and that sanctification arises from the motives of obedience to God in the Christian life, which are the result of our love for Christ and gratitude to him for what he has done. That is a brief summary of the Marrow view of a number of subjects there on the nature of the gospel. I'll come back to summarise it still more just in a moment.

Let me turn now to the Moderate view so that we understand what their theological opponents on the other hand imagined to be the gospel. The Moderates were of a different mind. They said this: The gospel is a contract with mutual obligations; God does his part, man does his part - the two. The gospel offer, they said, in preaching is to be made not to all sinners but to sensible sinners (now the word 'sensible' is used in an old fashioned sense), sinners who are under conviction of their sins. Not to all sinners, promiscuously, but to sinners who are aware of their sins and have a certain measure of conviction, and a measure of desire for repentance. The gospel is to be preached to these, said the Moderates, but not to all. Then assurance is closely connected, they said, with a believer's good works. It is our good works which give us the basis of our own assurance. Obedience in Christians is brought about by the threatenings of God's anger.

You see we have two quite distinct attitudes to the nature of the gospel here. I'm going to summarise it, as I've promised, to show you the difference between these four fundamental elements in the Christian faith - Gospel, the Free Offer of the Gospel, Assurance and Sanctification. Let me first of all show you what the Evangelical view was, and then what the Moderate view was, and it will be quite plain what the difference between them is.

EvangelicalsModerates1. The Gospel:Is God's divine grace, His freely offered promise to those who believe in Christ.Emphasised that this was a mutual contract. God does something and we need to do something. A contract between the two parties.2. The Free Offer of the Gospel:Is to be preached to all sinners, without restraint and without qualification.No, the gospel must be preached only to 'sensible' sinners - sinners who feel their sins, sinners who are convicted of their need.3. Assurance:Is based on Christ's finished work. If you want assurance, you look to Him and to His cross. His finished work is the ground of our Christian assurance.Not so. Assurance in the Christian life is based on our own good works.4. Sanctification:Is driven, if you like, motivated by our gratitude to Christ for what He has done for us hell- deserving sinners, and a sense of obligation to obey Him as far as we can.Not so. Our sanctification is driven by threatenings of punishment so that if we do not do the will of God we shall be punished.

You can see this is a very interesting controversy, a very complex one in some ways. You see, there's truth, up to a point, on the Moderate side. It's not that the Moderates were absolutely wrong, it's that their emphasis was moving away from the New Testament; it was in the process of declining away. It wasn't the whole way away but it was going partly away. When Thomas Boston realised what was happening in the state church, round about the year 1717/18, he was deeply concerned and he, and other evangelicals like him, said they raised their voice in terms of the teaching of this book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity. What was happening to the Moderates? Well, this: two things were happening. The first thing was, they were moving into a position of Hyper-Calvinism in which they would not offer the gospel freely to all. And second, they were moving into a position of legalism in which there was a tendency to play up too much the works of the Christian and too little dependence upon Christ.

Ebenezer Erskine's life was extremely important because he was intimately involved with Boston and his brother and with some others in trying to bring men's minds generally in society back to what they regarded as the authentic Christian gospel. That's why these things are vital. So Let me say something now, in passing on, to the importance of this debate. On this date (round about 1720) Thomas Boston had been studying this book, The Marrow, for 20 (or more) years and when the Marrow debate occurred (1720) the whole of Scotland and the Lowlands was in a stir. It's hard for us to believe that today, but you see this was an age before television and mass media - the church was right at the heart of the life of the people of the country. What happened in the church was more important than almost anything at all. This debate affected thousands and thousands of people. It created a real stir in 1720. In the Church of Scotland in 1717 discussion arose over the nature of the gospel. Boston knew that The Marrow was the most helpful book that he knew so he spoke to a friend about this book. The outcome was that this book was republished in 1718 by a friend of his called James Hog of Carnock.

In the state church there was tremendous opposition to it. In 1720 the General Assembly condemned this book, and they put twelve questions to Ebenezer Erskine and to the Marrow Men (that's the title they gave to the supporters of The Marrow). These twelve men, in turn, gave marvellous answers - theologically very literate answers - to these twelve questions. But the General Assembly rejected them and condemned them. So Boston then published another edition of The Marrow with notes. As a matter of fact, that's the very one - 1726 - this is exactly what he published - and this led to widespread public interest in gospel truths.

Don't let anyone persuade you that controversy in matters of religion is always a bad thing. It need not be. Sometimes controversy, if you like, shakes the dust off things and concentrates public attention to central issues. This is what happened.

In 1733 there was the first major Secession in the Church of Scotland led by Ebenezer Erskine and a small number of ministers: Alexander Moncrieff, James Fisher and William Wilson. Thomas Boston did not enter the Secession Church. The obvious reason is that he died in 1732 and the Secession Church began in 1733.

This study of Ebenezer Erskine is valuable as it leads us to see the gospel more clearly. This is its great importance for our day. Calvinism, when it declines, always tends to become Hyper-Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism always restricts the free preaching of the gospel in one way or another. There are various ways in which this is done. I'm going to take three examples before I conclude.

This is true, isn't it: According to the Word of God, no man can believe the gospel? Jesus says that, John 6: "No man can come to me except the Father draw him." So, all who take the Bible seriously will agree with this statement: No one can believe the gospel. We say that's true. And then Hyper-Calvinism does a bit of 'deducting', or deducing, and the deduction is this: 'Therefore,' says Hyper-Calvinism, 'if no one can believe the gospel, faith is not a duty because God cannot require us to do something that we cannot do. And if man cannot believe then God doesn't require them to believe.' This is the way some Hyper-Calvinists argue. There is no duty for the sinner to believe. This is very common in some circles, especially in English Hyper-Calvinist circles. The conclusion is, therefore, that in preaching we must not press, or urge, or persuade sinners to believe until they feel convinced, or convicted, or awakened. That's one example.

Let me take a second example of how Calvinism can quickly, if we are not careful, become Hyper-Calvinism. This is a startling truth, again: Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect. I am sure everybody here believes that. It's true: He died for his sheep; He died for his bride; He gave his life for his elect; He didn't die for goats, and so forth. The great text book here, as many of you would know, is Owen's Death of Death in the Death of Christ. He argues the case I think, unanswerably, that there is such a thing as a 'limited atonement' - TULIP - limited atonement. So there's the truth. Christ did not die for all but for the elect. Hyper-Calvinism begins a deduction at that point: 'If Christ did not die for all, then God does not wish all to be saved, but only the elect.' Conclusion: 'We may not say to sinners that God desires them all to be saved.' That's the way that Hyper-Calvinism reasons.

Let me take a third and last of these three examples. Here's this certain truth: God loves the elect, and only the elect will be saved in the end. That's agreed. That's true. Then Hyper-Calvinism has its deduction and here it is: 'If God only wills the elect to be saved, then He does not love anyone except the elect. There is no sense in which God loves any sinner apart from the elect.' This is the way Hyper-Calvinism adds its deduction. Consequently it says: 'There is no such thing as a well-meant offer or a sincere offer to any but to the elect when the gospel is preached.' That is the way Hyper-Calvinism reasons.

I'm not going into Hyper-Calvinism - I've just given you these three - and they're not dead! They're in the world today - all over the world! These things are as alive today as they were in the days of Ebenezer Erskine. But, let me answer this Hyper-Calvinist way of reasoning.

The Bible in many places shows that God does desire all men to be saved. The Bible in many places shows that God does require the sinner to believe. The true gospel says this to sinners: 'You can't believe, but you must.' Both are true: you cannot, but you must! This is what our forefathers used to call 'the gospel vice'. It drives the sinner to despair, and so he cries out to God for mercy and God hears his prayer. The gospel vice: 'He cannot but he must'! And so, you see, the Hyper-Calvinist deduction is dangerously wrong.

Putting it another way, it is this: the Bible tells us that God elects some to eternal life; and the same Bible tells us God desires all men to be saved; he is not willing that any should perish; Christ wept over Jerusalem knowing that they were lost. And so somebody says: 'But how do you square this? How you do you explain this? If God has elected some and He's all-powerful, then obviously He deliberately leaves some out. He can't love them all, because that would mean that God's will would be frustrated.'

How do we explain it? The answer is: we must not try to. The Bible reveals both as a matter of revelation. This is what we call 'a biblical paradox' - a biblical antimony if you like - an apparent contradiction: that God should love the elect, but also in a sense loves the non-elect in this life, by pleading with them to come, and inviting them to come and setting reasons before them that they should come, even though they are not elect. This is the paradox which we are not to try to resume. The way our godly forefathers explained it is this: that there is in God a secret will and a revealed will, and the duty of the preacher is to preach the revealed will of God. The secret will and the revealed will are not in contradiction, but in this life they appear to be. They are not really in conflict but they appear to be. God desires all to be saved, and our duty is to preach to all that they are welcome to come - whether they have convictions or not, whether they feel a sense of inward guilt or not - they are all invited to come and all are welcome to come.

This is what the Erskine brothers, Thomas Boston, and others like them came to see very clearly. This was the contribution under God which they made. A contribution of that magnitude is something for which we should thank God. It has helped the church in Scotland and all over the world from that day to this.

Ebenezer Erskine died in 1754. His life and ministry were deeply respected then; it has been deeply respected since then. We thank God for the memory of these courageous men who put truth and conscience, righteousness and the gospel first, even though it entailed them in considerable personal inconvenience, labour and suffering, yet that was their duty and they did it, and the same duty is ours today.


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