without exception

Another excerpt from Ralph Erskine, the eighteenth century Scottish minister, following on from the previous.

“The person to whom Christ is offered in the gospel is no other than a lost sinner. Christ came to seek and to save them that were lost: I mean not only these who are sensible of [ie are conscious of, have a sense of] their lost state, but these in a lost state, whether they be sensible of it or not. If the gospel come to them, the offer of Christ comes to them. ‘To you, O men, do I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.’ We are warranted to preach the gospel to every rational creature. The offer of Christ comes to you.

Why, may not sin exclude us from the offer? By no means, for Christ came to save sinners, 1 Tim 1 v 15. If sinners were excepted, all mankind would be excepted, for all have sinned.

Is it to gross sinners? Yes, to gross sinners. ‘Come let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,’ Isa 1 v 18. To murderers of the Lord of glory was the offer made, Acts 2 v 41.

But are mockers and scorners under the offer? Yes: as you may see, Prov 1 v 22-23.

But what if a person cares not for the offer, and thinks himself happy enough without Christ? is Christ offered to such a person as this? Certainly he is. ‘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,’ Isa 55 v 1-2.

But if a man be convinced neither of sin, nor of misery, nor see any need of Christ, is Christ offered to him? Yes, undoubtedly he is. Rev 3 v 18. ‘I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed.’

Let them venture to shut the door of the gospel offer who will, we must open it in God’s name to all who hear this gospel, and tell them that Christ is offered to them, that he may be received by them; and if there were no offer, it would not be their duty to receive, and so unbelief would not be their sin. I say to lost souls, Christ is offered to those who are spoiled by the sentence of the law, arraigned, convicted and condemned, and accursed; the hand of the gospel promise holds out Christ to you, for, where Moses leaves you, there Joshua finds you; where the law ends, there the gospel begins; the law ends in the shipwreck of the sinner, in splitting him upon the rock of its terrors, and drowning him in the ocean of divine wrath, and sinking him to the depths of despair; and just there the gospel begins; it comes to the bottom of the pit of sin and misery, and offers a Christ, a Saviour! …

The soul that is shipwrecked by the law, and as it were all to pieces, to such an one the gospel offer is most welcome; for the hand of grace holds forth Christ, like a plank after shipwreck, a plank to swim ashore on. Such a soul is encouraged to see no other qualification required of him to come to Christ and receive him, but just that he is lost, which he finds himself to be; and there is no other condition or qualification required, but that you be a lost man, a sinful miserable person. Some will offer Christ on such and such terms, saying, You must be so and so humbled, so and so penitent, before Christ can be offered to you; so that a man that finds himself a lost, sinful, unhumbled, impenitent, wretched creature, can never come to their hand, or meddle with what they offer; just like a man holding out a cup of excellent wine to his friend and offering him a drink, but in the meantime he hath made the wine scalding hot upon the fire, so as the man to whom the offer is made dare not touch it with his lips; even so many offer Christ and hold forth the cup of salvation to the people, but they heat the gospel liquor as it were red hot upon the fire of the law, I mean with so many legal terms, conditions, and qualifications, that the poor soul that finds himself a lost sinner, every way sinful, destitute of all good qualifications, dare not come near, and thinks he may not, he ought not to come near with his lips to taste it. We need be at no pains to hinder sinners from coming to Christ to receive the offer, for they are unwilling enough of themselves. Besides that, they will never have a good qualification till they come to him, and receive him, and all good in him …”

Echoes here, of course, of Trail and Charnock, just seeing I’ve quoted them before.

15 thoughts on “without exception

  1. WCF 7 / III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

    The above is absolutely true. The term ‘freely offered’ is in its right context.

    That Christ came to save sinners, suffer the Just for the unjust, died for the ungodly and receiveth sinful men is the message of the Gospel. These glad tidings are to be preached to every creature.

    Under its message am I to ask myself if I am among the elect. No. ‘That is to look to high’ a minister once told me. Rather, am I an ungodly sinner, then for such He came, He suffered, He died and such He will receive.

    In saying that, scripture would tell us that election can be established. The Thessalonians were able to ascertain their state as such, ‘knowing brethren you election of God.’

    My problem is this. Can faith be required from those whom Christ by His Spirit has not quickened ? Surely the crux of the matter is that He is ‘freely offered’ to those given to Him from Eternity. 7 / III ‘ordained to eternal life.’ From such faith can be demanded as they have been enabled and made willing to believe.

    Is faith a gift bestowed or a duty imposed ?

    P.S. Your blogs are razor sharp. You’re obviously very well read. Keep up the good work. I like throwing ‘low bowlers’ into a debate. I will await your reply with baited breath. I have an impending sense that I am going to be shot down in flames.


  2. Yes, faith can be required from whose who have not (yet) been made able to believe. Think of the analogy of any duty that’s required under the Moral Law – the fact that a fallen sinner is actually unable to, eg, love their neighbour, with anything like the spiritual love that they should, doesn’t mean that they’re loosed from the obligation to do so. (I know that faith isn’t a duty under the moral law as such, but roughly speaking.)

    What people ought to believe is, that Christ saves sinners just like me — where believing means in the sense of acting on that conviction to actually go to Christ for the salvation he provides for just such a sinner as I am. There is no other option available to people who hear that they are sinners and Christ saves sinners: this they must believe. Faith is undoubtedly a gift bestowed, but equally it is a duty imposed.

    It’s quite right to say it’s aiming too high, to ask, am I elect. The question is, am I a sinner, and, does Christ save sinners? It’s only once a person *has* believed, that they begin to have evidence that they are elect. If you wait till you know you’re elect before you can believe, you’ll wait for ever, because you can’t know you’re elect until you believe. The Thessalonians gave *evidence* for their election – it was known by their work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope – it’s the same in principle for every elect person once they have been effectually called.


  3. but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent; Acts 17.30. Repentance being represented as a command, does not suppose it to be in the power of men, or contradict evangelical repentance, being the free grace gift of God, but only shows the need men stand in of it, and how necessary and requisite it is; and when it is said to be a command to all, this does not destroy its being a special blessing of the covenant of grace to some; but points out the sad condition that all men are in as sinners, and that without repentance they must perish: and indeed, all men are obliged to natural repentance for sin, though to all men the grace of evangelical repentance is not given.

    Here’s what John Gill says on repentance. I think it’s good.

    If you mean ‘required’ in the sense that unregenerate mankind are culpable as responsible creatures that they are by nature in a state of unbelief and impenitence then we might have a meeting of minds.


  4. Galatians 3.12 The Law is not of faith.

    The Law never demanded / required or imposed a duty of faith. I still see a ‘gift’ and a ‘duty’ to be diametrically opposed.

    The two are distinctly different. Duty is about Law. Faith is about Grace. Duties, when followed, produce efforts. Faith, when given, produces spiritual life. Efforts do not save sinners, but Grace does.


  5. Well but repentance is a gift (… a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance…) and also a duty (God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent). It’s not required under the Law, but the covenant of grace provides everything that the sinner requires: in the same way, faith is required, and in the covenant of grace, faith is given.

    Spiritual life produces efforts :-) Justification isn’t an end in itself, but only to lay the foundation for sanctification – Titus 2 – Christ gave himself for us, so that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. And Eph 2 – created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Not that the good works are part of justification, but zealous, effortful, painstaking, energetic works are very much required of the justified.

    What is faith anyway, if not just the right response and attitude of a sinner to the good news that God saves sinners for Christ’s sake – the failure to make that response to that revelation is simply inexcusable, wouldn’t you agree?


  6. I’m nighshift rather than an insomniac, hence the hour.

    Yes, repentance is a gift too.

    If you see faith and repentance as duties in the sense that John Gill (above) sees them, then I don’t have a problem with that.

    What you say on justification / sanctification is spot on. You cannot have one without the other. One cannot have a brazen altar independent of a laver.

    Toplady had it right.

    ‘Let the water and the blood from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt (justification) and power (sanctification).’


  7. I hope that we do actually have a meeting of minds! I worry that a lot of the controversy around the “free offer” is very needless, sometimes even merely terminological, and (if you’re in the UK) more of an import from US hyper-ish circles than anything we needed to concern ourselves with overmuch. At least in the FPs there has consistently been a forthright adherence both to the confessional position on the extent of the atonement and to the Marrow-style free offer. Even though faith and repentance are special blessings of the covenant specifically to the elect, it is the responsibility of all gospel hearers to respond with faith and repentance to what can rightly be called the gospel call, or offer, or invitation. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye, etc. The Practical Use of Saving Knowledge on the ‘warrants to believe’ are, like their title says, very practical — very helpful, and embedded in a theology which is (hopefully beyond all shadow of doubt) not going to undermine either human inability or the doctrine of election.


  8. Shibboleths and Sibboleths.

    Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters !

    Who is being addressed by the prophet Isaiah in 55.1 ? Everyone ? No ! It is a qualified invitation. Everyone that thirsteth.

    What then is their spiritual condition ? They thirst for the Fountain of Living Waters, they have found no satisfaction in the broken cisterns of this world.

    Those invited have been made the subjects of grace, here is the genuine / sincere free offer writ large !

    God Himself brought them to thirst in their experience and He alone will satisfy their longings. To such these the waters are both suitable and accessible.

    To quote Matthew Henry, “Where God gives grace, He first gives a thirsting after it; and, where He has given a thirsting after it, He will give it.”

    Who is like unto the LORD our GOD ? Psalm 113.5

    p.s. I have alot of respect for the FP CoS albeit they are a tiny remnant.


  9. In Isaiah 55:1 those who thirst could be anyone – certainly including people who thirst for the fountain of living waters, but not excluding people who are still hopelessly trying the broken cisterns – just as those who are invited to come and buy (in the same verse) are accused (in the next verse) of spending money hopelessly on ‘that which is not bread’.

    It’s certainly a fact that when God brings souls to thirst spiritually he will satisfy them, but the waters are both suitable and accessible even to people who are not apparently spiritually thirsty.

    Otherwise, we end up full circle, ie where salvation is only offered to people who are spiritually aware of their need of it, ie those who find something in/about themselves to qualify themselves as candidates for salvation (so to speak).
    Or, as Erksine says (above): “… a soul is encouraged to see no other qualification required of him to come to Christ and receive him, but just that he is lost, which he finds himself to be; and there is no other condition or qualification required, but that you be a lost man, a sinful miserable person. Some will offer Christ on such and such terms, saying, You must be so and so humbled, so and so penitent, before Christ can be offered to you; so that a man that finds himself a lost, sinful, unhumbled, impenitent, wretched creature, can never come to their hand, or meddle with what they offer …”


  10. The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day “evangelist. Christ is a Saviour for those realizing something of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, who feel the awful burden of it on their conscience, who loathe themselves for it, who long to be freed from its terrible dominion; and a Saviour for no others.

    AW Pink

    Without a knowledge of the plague, there can be no experience of the cure. Without sin and judgment being inwritten, so that one believes and trembles, then all need of the cross, all necessity of Golgotha, remains but a theory in the head.


  11. That is all true, Seceder, yet it is targeted at a slightly different question. If the question is, What kind of thing can a soul expect to experience in the process of being effectually called? then it’s quite right to say that typically there is a sense of the sinfulness of sin, etc. (And if the question is whether too much contemporary evangelism is weak on these points, the answer is undoubtedly yes! The church at large is fearfully reluctant to remind people of the sinfulness of sin, and pitifully unprepared to deal with people’s really burdened consciences. Granted.)

    But if the question is: Do I need to have a terrible sense of the sinfulness of my sin before I can come to Christ? then the answer is, No. People can and should come to Christ regardless of what their current state/relationship to God is, and regardless of what they feel about their current state/relationship to God.

    People who see no need of Christ are, after all, among those who need him the most – and are least of all to be excluded from the gospel offer.


  12. I am in entire argreement with you.

    The Good Samaritan when he ministered healing to the man who fell among thieves, ‘came where he was’ Luke 10.33. I like that !

    Is a great sense of sin essential, no? However some sense of it whether small or large is necessary to rightly appreciate Christ.

    Many soundly converted persons have a greater sense of sin post conversion than ever they had prior to it.

    I appreciate you come from an exclusive psalmody tradition but I like the hymns of Joseph Hart and in particular the following few lines.

    “Vain is all our best devotion,
    If on false foundations built;
    True religion’s more than notion,
    Something must be known and felt.’


  13. Helm –

    Let us suppose for a moment a preaching economy which was conducted in all its stages under uniform epistemic conditions, either in terms uniformly directed to the elect, or in terms uniformly directed to the reprobate. If this happened (as it has tended in fact to happen in some hyper-Calvinist settings), the hearers could not be invited to come to Christ, but first (by the terms of the preaching) they would each be forced to ask ‘Which am I? Am I among the elect, or among the reprobate? Do I fulfil the requirements or conditions or states of being among the former or among the latter?’ In these circumstances there could be no full, free invitation. The gospel could not be received ‘by invitation only’, but only through the fulfilment of some prior state or condition together with the assurance that such a condition had been fulfilled.

    In other words, under such terms ‘gospel preaching’ would have the effect not of turning men and women to face a Christ who invites freely and graciously, but of turning hearers in upon themselves in a search for sure signs of election. And such a turning in on oneself is but a very short step from a person being concerned about whether or not he is qualified to come to Christ, in which case there is the prospect of despair over what would be taken to be the marks of retribution, or presumption as to election. Either way, instead of facing Christ who has outstretched arms, a person would introspect. At such a point the ‘grace’ of Calvin’s gospel of free justification would be become legalistic by the need for the fulfilment of certain preconditions.

    Very small excerpt from http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2011/02/calvin-on-universal-preaching.html


  14. Cath,
    You’ll be pleased to know that I am now a firm believer in the ‘free’ or ‘well meant’ offer of the Gospel. I also now maintain that faith and repentance are duties incumbent upon all men everywhere. Why the change? Partly through further examination of scripture, the reading of ‘A View of Saving Faith’ by John Colquhoun and your blog which instigated the re-examination. So be encouraged, keep on with the blog.


  15. Well, well! :-)

    ‘A View of Saving Faith’ is an excellent book.

    (Just saw that quote on Paul Helm’s blog yesterday and added it here instead of starting a new post.)


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