Ezekiel Culverwell on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

1554-1631

 

 

A Treatise of Faith, 1648

pp. 35-36, this quote was compiled by Tony Byrne

Here if ever, is a fit place for all such Scriptures, as set out God’s mercy to poor sinners the more to persuade them to believe, as that of Ezek. 33:11. where the Lord swears by Himself; saying, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die oh house of Israel.’  And to like effect is that of St. Peter, ‘That God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ [2 Pet. 3:9]  Which Scriptures and many the like, are not to be understood of God’s determining will and decree, but of his revealed and approving will, which He would have us to know and believe, that thereby we might be drawn to rest ourselves upon him for salvation, which whosoever (though never so great sinner) shall do, he shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

p. 147-155, this quote was compiled by David Ponter

For the better understanding and practice of this duty, of particular application of God’s promises to our several necessities, that so we may thereby live by Faith, (which is the chief thing by me intended in this Treatise) we are advisedly to consider the nature and kinds of these promises (which be the foundation of our Faith), that so we may more soundly apply them to our several occasions and uses.

By God’s promises, I understand generally all those declarations of God’s will, wherein He offers us to his Word any good thing to enjoy: as on the other side, by threats are meant those declarations of his Will, wherein He denounces any evil against us for sin.  Both which He plentifully sets down in the Holy Scriptures to these ends, that by his promises He might allure and draw us to believe and obey his will; and by his threatenings He might scare us from sin: In all which God does declare his will after a double manner, either absolutely, or conditionally.  Absolutely, what He will most certainly do, any thing to the contrary notwithstanding.  As for example, “That there shall be no more waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.”  And, “in this same time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son,” which the Apostle says, is a word of promise: of this sort be all of God’s promises concerning salvation made unto the Elect, which cannot be made void by any means whatsoever.

The other manner whereby God does reveal his will, is not absolute, but (as it is commonly said to be) conditional, which is, when God declares his will, what He will do if we do our part, else not: this conditional promise well understood, may be born; otherwise misunderstood, it destroys the nature of the free and gracious promise of the Gospel, and in this respect confounds the Law and the Gospel, taking away a chief difference between the Covenant of Works (wherein God promised life upon the condition of doing all that was written in the Law, without which condition performed on our parts, God did not covenant to give life): and the Covenant of Grace, wherein God freely promised, not only life, as Jer. 31, from verses 31 to 35, read the place.  The like Ezek. 36:24, etc. “A new heart also I will give you”, etc.  In which, and the like many, is no condition expressed on our parts, but God himself makes capable of this grace whom He pleases.  How these are by us to be applied, afterwards I will show.  But now seeing very many, yea the most of the free gracious promises of the Gospel, be propounded with some condition, either expressed or necessarily understood, we are wise to consider them; As first in this, and the like many, the condition, or duty required, is expressed, John 3:15, “Whosoever believes in Christ, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Secondly, in others the duty is required for the attaining the thing promised, is necessarily understood, “the Son of Man is come to save that which is lost [Matt 18:11]: behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world [John 1:29]”; And the like many.  In all which Faith is necessarily understood for the obtaining of the benefit promised.  But yet in all these, Faith is no condition moving God to promise life; For first, Faith itself is part of the thing promised, and no man can believe except it be given him, and therefore an impossible condition to be performed of ourselves.  And to say as it is, Faith does apply the fruit and benefit of the promise to the believer (who alone shall enjoy the thing promised) and does not restrain the offer of grace: which general offer to all whom the Gospel comes, who as they have no Faith before they hear the promise made to them, so after hearing this promise made to them, if they believe not, they shall be condemned for not believing; as John 3:18.

Thus then I conceive all the conditional promises of the Gospel are to be taken, that God does freely offer mercy in what kind soever, and for the enjoying thereof, requires some duty of obedience at our hands.  Now we must first believe, and so obey, and then enjoy the thing promised; so that there is in us no cause of believing, but all is in God’s free promise: and our obedience only is an effect of Faith, and so a proof of Faith, no cause to move us to believe.  As for example, “If you forgive you shall be forgiven”: God freely offers pardon to us, and requires that we believing show mercy to others; As we read in the Parable, Mat. 18:32, “I forgave thee all the debt because thou desired me, should not thou also have compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee.” So then he that believes to find mercy, is thereby moved to show mercy, and certainly he that shows no mercy, indeed, receives none.

Besides this, there is another consideration of God’s promises which stands in the divers quality of the things promised, whereof some be wholly necessary for our salvation, and offered without any restraint, and are so to be believed, as faith and repentance.  Other things good in themselves, yet are not always good for us, but we may be saved without them and in some case, better want them than have them: as health, wealth, peace and all earthly blessings: yea, many common gifts of the Spirit at least the measure of them; as excellent wit, memory, knowledge of heavenly things, courage, liberality, gentleness, etc.  All of these be promised with limitation, so far as they be good for us, and no further and so far only are to be desired and believed.

Another needful consideration of God’s promises, that we may better make our use of them is this, “That God does proclaim in the Gospel his Son Christ, and all his benefits generally to all, and every Soul to whom the Gospel comes: so that everyone who hears the Gospel, ought to believe, which if he do not (which none can without special grace), yet this is his sin, and shall be his condemnation, for willful refusing mercy offered.  And therefore every one that will not perish must believe, that there is such mercy in God as He offers, and that He is able, willing, and faithful to perform his promise: that so believing he may enjoy the benefit of which otherwise he deprives himself.  This therefore I do before hand make known, that (seeing many worthy promises be thus generally propounded and set out, that we might by believing be made partakers of Christ), therefore none do shut out themselves, and so bring upon themselves more just damnation: as John 3.18 is plainly expressed, “He that believes not is condemned already,” verse 19, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,” etc.

 

pp. 184-186, This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne

Having in the former part of this Treatise sufficiently proved by many Scriptures this point, that Christ and his benefits be freely offered without exception to all mankind, as that one place Mark 16:15 expressly shows; I only now advise every one who is kept from believing by this, that he knows not whether he be contained under the pardon or no, not to look to God’s secret will, but to attend to God’s revealed will in his Word, wherein it is expressly said, That God would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]; and so oft.  That he desires not the death of a sinner [Eze. 18:23,32], that hereby he may be moved to seek and hope for that mercy, which God is so willing to bestow upon him, if the fault be not in his own self, as it was in the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, of whom our Saviour complained, saying, How often would I have gathered thy Children, as the Hen gathereth her Chickens under her wings, & ye would not? [Matt 23:37]

 

A further manifestation of this willingness in God to save sinners, may be seen in his gracious invitation of the unworthiest to come to the wedding of his Son [Mattt 22:2,3]: yea, more by his beseeching sinners to be reconciled to Him [2 Cor. 5:20]: and by the many and weighty arguments He uses to persuade men to believe, by the great rewards, earthly and spiritual, temporal and eternal, which all believers shall enjoy; and by the fearful woes which shall fall on all unbelievers, both in this life, and that to come, as plentifully is to be seen throughout the Scriptures.

 

 

A Brief Answer to Certain Objections Against The Treatise of Faith Clearing Ezekiel Culverwell from the Error of Arminius Unjustly Laid to his Charge, 1646, no page number, this quote was compiled by Tony Byrne

[Note that Culverwell’s statement below is consistent with Limited Atonement, which Culverwell asserts and argues for in his book Treatise of Faith, as documented below by Erroll Hulse]

I profess I cannot find any one clear place where [‘the world’] must of necessity be taken for the Elect only.

 

Erroll Hulse on Ezekiel Culverwell, from his article, Adding to the Church – The Puritan Approach to Persuading Souls

Even in Puritan times there were some who sought erroneously to impose rationalistic thinking into what essentially is a supernaturalistic framework by arguing that the Gospel was to be offered to the elect only.

This is illustrated by the appearance of an excellent evangelistic book by Ezekiel Culverwell in about 1644 [posthumously] with the title, A Treatise of Faith. The book provoked a charge of inconsistency [by hyper-calvinistic critics].  In reply he [Culverwell] acknowledged that the central issue,

‘indeed the only point in question is, whether salvation in Christ, be in the Gospel proclaimed and offered in general to all that hear it, or only to the Elect?’ 

To which he gave reply, ‘The former I hold and prove by most evident Scriptures, that is that Christ be in the Gospel offered in general to all who hear it’. (A Brief Answer to Certain Objections Against The Treatise of Faith Clearing Ezekiel Culverwell from the Error of Arminius Unjustly Laid to his Charge, 1646)

Culverwell then quoted the Synod of Dort as upholding his position:

‘It is the promise of the Gospel, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, should not perish, but have life everlasting: which promise together with the injunction of repentance and faith, ought promiscuously and without distinction to be declared and published to all men and to all people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the Gospel‘,

and,

‘But as much as many being called by the Gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in their infidelity, this comes not to pass for want of, or by any insufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ offered upon the Cross, but by their own default’.

Continuing in his defense Culverwell declares,

‘The general offer does not make all partakers of Christ: nor does the special partaking of Christ, hinder the general offer.  By offer I mean only the outward calling by the Gospel which none can deny to belong to many that are not chosen’.

In facing the challenge to produce any one Scripture to prove the general offer, Culverwell selects two examples, John 3:16 and Mark 16:15.  Since, he points out, John 3:16 speaks both of believers who are saved and unbelievers who perish, the text cannot be confined to the elect only.  Also when we are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature it is unreasonable to confine that to every elect creature.

While believing that, ‘no man can believe except it be given him’, Culverwell at the same time insisted on the necessity of the Gospel being preached to every creature, stating his case as follows:

‘either there must be some special mark of difference whereby it may be known, to whom the pardon is proclaimed, and to whom not, or else it must be general to all.  But there is no such special certain difference between sinners before faith, whereby one may know the pardon is granted to him.—The only way whereby any may know himself to be contained under the pardon, is this, that he hears that God in his Gospel does proclaim forgiveness of sin in Christ, without exception, to all sinners: that whosoever hears and believes shall be saved‘. (A Treatise of Faith, p. 151)

 

A Treatise of Faith (London: I.D. for Hen: Overton, 1633), p. 15

As quoted in the Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1718, p. 119, and referenced by Dr. David Lachman in The Marrow Controversy, 1718-1723: An Historical and Theological Analysis, Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1988. p. 22 

The Father hath made a Deed of Gift, and Grant unto all Mankind, That whosoever of them all shall believe in his Son shall not perish…

 

 

 

Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel