I borrowed an old book from my dad when I was home last – the inside front cover reveals it was sold for “£2.50 NOT COMPLETE,” and neither it is; the last page stops half way through a sentence. Maybe some day I’ll get hold of a complete copy, but in the meantime there was enough to be going on with on the extant 488 pages, in spite of the lack of details about when it was published, who edited it, and why they misspelled the title in gold letters on the spine. So all I know is that its contents were written (or sometimes spoken?) by Ralph Erskine, whose portrait at the front looks a bit like this (with apologies for the exceptionally poor quality photo taken on my phone).
As it happens I did also know that he was a minister in Dunfermline in the eighteenth century and had a brother called Ebenezer who was also a minister. They were both highly regarded as preachers, and I have to say this book, The Beauties of Ralph Erskine, vindicates both that reputation and indeed its title, which he presumably didn’t bestow on it himself.
One very prominent theme which I was struck with several times is the clear and consistent teaching that, when the gospel calls people to repent and believe, it’s a call which goes out to everyone, everywhere, and demands to be taken personally and seriously by every individual who encounters it – it’s a universal call which everyone can take as addressed personally to themselves.
I think it’s in the universal call that Erskine locates the universal warrant to believe. What the warrant means is that, quite apart from the obligation which everyone is under to respond to the Saviour with faith and repentance, there is this aspect too – that nobody has a right to exclude themselves from the gospel call, and rather, that everyone has the right, in the warrant, both to listen to what the gospel message says about how perfectly suited the Saviour is to meet all their needs as sinners, and how infinitely capable he is of saving them completely and utterly from their sin and its consequences, and to take this Saviour to be a Saviour personally to themselves.
“There is a giving of Christ in point of exhibition and gospel offer; … and this giving is a foundation of our title to receive Christ, and our claim of right to take this gift out of the hand of the Giver. A right of possession none have, till they believe, and take the gift that is offered, but a right of access and warrant to believe, all have, whether they believe or not, or whether they take this gift out of God’s hands or not.
That Christ is God’s gift to a whole visible church in this sense is a great privilege, whatever the world may think or say about it, and it is a part of my errand this day, to tell you of it: if it be disgusting doctrine to any, and will not go down, we cannot help it; it is Bible doctrine, and gospel doctrine, and therefore we must preach it …
But, I think, it should be welcome doctrine to all that hear me, that Christ is given to all the people in this house, in the same manner that the manna was given to all the people of old, John 6:32 … It is such a gift and warrant, as warrants a man to believe, and receive the gift; for this end HE is given to a perishing world; ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life.’ …”
Nobody can exclude themselves – not with the excuse that they don’t know if God wants to save them, because whoever they are, ‘to you is the word of this salvation sent;’ ‘whosoever believes in him will not perish’ – and not with the excuse that it would be too bold and over-confident to take the Saviour to be their Saviour, because the very offering and announcing of the existence of a Saviour for sinners to believe on, is our warrant to do just that. Simply on the basis of hearing that God has provided this Saviour we are both obliged and warranted to believe in him for salvation – as Erskine points out, the Son of God was sent to the world for the precise end and purpose that whosoever believes on him would not perish, but have everlasting life.
I want to post some more excerpts from the book, hoping that the syntax etc isn’t too antiquated – his big-hearted, all-encompassing approach that excludes nobody and encourages everybody to come and share in this ‘so great salvation’ is spoken both authoritatively and kindly – I think it did me good to read it, and its a message that bears repeating.