Site Meter
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|

Church History

(187 posts)

Life in the Holy Land

Todd Bolen is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, The Master’s College, Israel Bible Extension (IBEX), in the Judean Hills of Israel. He blogs at BiblePlaces Blog. Life in the Holy Land is an extensive collection of photographs, drawings, and maps of the biblical lands from the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ll let Todd tell you about it: I am a teacher in Israel. An hour from now I am going to drive down to the airport and pick up a group of 50 seminary students from the U.S. Three weeks from now, when they depart after their intensive studies of the land of Israel, their understanding of the Bible will be revolutionized. I love to watch the “lights go on,” and in more than a decade of doing this, I have never seen one person who didn’t feel like the trip was worth every penny. So I try to get as many people to Israel as I can. But some can’t come, for various reasons. And so I try to bring Israel to them. This I have been doing now for five years with the development of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. But recently I’ve decided that that is not enough. Modern photographs are great, but they are limited to showing life as it is today. So now I’m trying something new—to take people back to the land and peoples of Palestine in the 1800s. That’s not Bible times, to be sure, but it is traditional times, before the wave of modernization and the population explosion. You can see, from photo graphs of a hundred years ago, what the land looked like before four-lane highways and ten-story apartment complexes were built. You can see the ways of the native people, doing things the way they had for hundreds or thousands of years, before combines and railways forever altered agriculture and transportation. So how did the ancients plow and harvest? What was fishing on the Sea of Galilee like? How did leprosy affect its victims, and what does the imagery of Psalm 23 really mean? For this and dozens of other similar subjects, I created The travelers’ descriptions are unlike any that you can find today, and a picture, of course, is worth a thousand words. Life in the Holy Land is not only a trip across the world, it is a trip back in time. Life in the Holy Land will be an excellent resource for pastors, teachers, or anyone interested in the geography, history, and culture of the Holy Land. I also recommend Todd’s

The True Church

Tuesday··2006·11·21 · 3 Comments
Anyone who has debated much with Catholics has heard this question: “If the Catholic Church is not the true church, then where was the church for all the centuries between the alleged apostasy of Rome and the Reformation?” It’s a valid question, to which Dr. Luther provides a valid answer: In passing, I will here reply to the passage where you [Erasmus] describe it as unbelievable that God should overlook an error in His church for so many ages, and not reveal to any of His saints a point which we maintain to be fundamental in Christian doctrine. In the first place, we do not say that God tolerated this error in His church, or in any of His saints. For the church is ruled by the Spirit of God, and Rom. 8 tells us that the saints are led by the Spirit of God (v. 14). And Christ abides with His church till the end of the world (Matt. 28.20). And the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (i Tim. 3.15). This we know; for the Creed which we all hold runs thus, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ So it is impossible that she should err in even the least article. Even should we grant that some of the elect are held in error throughout their whole life, yet they must of necessity return into the way before they die; for Christ says in John 8: ‘None shall pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10.28). But what is hard and problematical is just this: ascertaining whether those whom you call the church were the church’or, rather, whether after their lifetime of error they were at last brought back to the truth before they died. It does not at once follow that, if God suffered all those consummate scholars whom you quote to err throughout so many ages, therefore He suffered His church to err! Look at Israel, the people of God. There, out of a great number of kings over a long period of time, not one king is mentioned who did not err. Under Elijah the prophet, all the people and every public institution among them had gone astray into idolatry, so that he thought he was the only one left; yet, while the kings and princes, priests and prophets, and all that could be called the people and church of God, were going to ruin, God had reserved seven thousand to Himself (cf. i Kings 19.18). But who saw them, or knew them to be the people of God ? And who will dare to deny that in our day, under these principal men of yours (for you only mention persons of public office and of great name), God has kept to Himself a church among the common people, while allowing all whom you mention to perish like the kingdom of Israel? For it is God’s prerogative to bring down the chosen ones of Israel, and, as Ps. 77 says, to slay their fat ones (Ps. 78.31); but to preserve the dregs and remnant of Israel, according to Isaiah’s words (cf. Isa. 10.22). What happened under Christ Himself, when all the apostles were offended at Him, when He was denied and condemned by all the people, and only Joseph, Nicodemus and the thief on the cross were preserved? Was it not the former group who were then called the people of God? Indeed, there was a people of God remaining, but it was not so called; and that which was so called was not it. Who knows whether, throughout the whole course of world history from its beginning, the state of the church has not always been such that some were called the people and saints of God who were not so, while others, who were among them as a remnant, were the people and saints of God, but were not so called?—as appears from the histories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Look at the time of the Arians, when scarcely five catholic bishops were preserved in the whole world, and they were driven from their sees, while the Arians reigned everywhere, taking to themselves the public name and office of the church. Yet under these heretics Christ preserved His church; though in such a way that it was not for a moment thought or held to be the church. Or show me a single bishop discharging his office under the kingdom of the Pope. Show me a single council at which they dealt with matter of religion, and not with gowns, rank, revenues and other profane trifles instead, which only a lunatic could consider the province of the Holy Ghost! Yet they are called the church, despite the fact that all who live as they do are lost, and are anything but the church. Even under them, however, Christ has preserved His church, though not so as to be called the church. How many saints do you think the Inquisitors alone have in time past burned and killed for heretical perversions, such as John Hus and those like him? And many holy men of the same spirit doubtless lived in their day. Why do you not rather marvel at this, Erasmus: Since the world began, there have always been superior talents, greater learning, and a more intense earnestness among pagans than among Christians and the people of God. It is as Christ Himself acknowledges: ‘the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of light’ (Luke 16.8). What Christian can be compared with Cicero alone (to say nothing of the Greeks) for ability, learning and hard work? What then shall we say hindered them from finding grace? For they certainly exerted ‘free-will’ to the utmost of their power! Who dare say that not one among them pursued truth with all his heart? Yet we are bound to maintain that not one of them reached it. Will you say in this case too that it is unbelievable that God abandoned so many great men throughout the whole course of history and let them strive in vain? Certainly, if ‘free-will’ has any being and power at all, its being and power must have been present with such men as these, in some one case at least! But it availed nothing; indeed, it always wrought in the wrong direction; so that by this argument alone it can be proved clearly enough that ‘free-will’ is nothing at all, inasmuch as one can show no trace of it from beginning to end of the world! But I return to the matter in hand. What wonder, if God should leave all the great men of the church to go their own ways, when He thus allowed all the nations to go their own ways, as Paul says in Acts (cf. Acts 14.16) ? My good Erasmus, God’s church is not so common a thing as the term ‘God’s church’; nor are God’s saints so promiscuously found as the phrase ‘God’s saints.’ The saints are pearls and precious jewels, which the Spirit does not cast before swine; but (as Scripture puts it) He keeps them hid, that the wicked may not see the glory of God! Else, if they were open to the recognition of all, how could they be so vexed and afflicted in the world as they are? So Paul says: ‘Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (i Cor. 2.8). —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 119–123.

The Gospel According to … Bozo?

Friday··2006·11·24 · 1 Comments
Church historian J.  A. Merle D’Abigne writes of the condition of the Church at the time of the Reformation: At the same time, a profane spirit had invaded religion, and the most solemn recollections of the Church; the seasons which seemed most to summon the faithful to devout reflection and love, were dishonored by buffoonery and profanations altogether heathenish. The humours of Easter held a large place in the annals of the Church. The festival of the Resurrection claiming to be joyfully commemorated, preachers went out of their way to put into their sermons whatever might excite the laughter of the people. One preacher imitated the cuckoo; another hisses like a goose; one dragged to the altar a layman dressed in a monk’s cowl. A second related the grossest indecencies; a third recounted the tricks of the Apostle St. Peter;—among others, how, at an inn, he cheated the host, by not paying his reckoning. The lower orders of the clergy followed the example, and turned their superiors into ridicule. The very temples were converted into a stage, and the priest into mountebanks. — J.  A. Merle D’Abigne, The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (Londo: D. Walther, 1843), 1:37–38. Clown Eucharist, Trinity Church, New York City Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? What they were doing five hundred years ago is being done today. Why? Because the spirit of the age during the sixteenth century is the spirit of our age. People want to be entertained, to have fun, to be made to feel good. Religious leaders want to fill their auditoriums and be admired and make people happy. That is the essence of the gospel in mainstream churches today. In five hundred years, human nature has not changed. Consequently, the methods of attracting audiences have not changed. Religious leaders are still selling the same sugar-coated garbage to those who love it so. At the same time, because human nature has not changed, the genuine need of sinners has not changed. Sinners do not need self-esteem. They do not need to be entertained. They do not need to go to “church” and be religious. They need the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not found in entertainment, fun, and games. It is found in the pages of Holy Scripture, and nowhere else. Pastors, preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2). Christians, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

Love for Souls

Love is naturally productive of love; it scatters heavenly sparks around, and these kindle the gentle flame where they fall . . . Let a minister of Christ ascend the sacred desk, with a heart glowing with the love of souls, and what an amiable, engaging figure does he make . . . Love gives a smooth, though sharp edge to his address. Love animates his persuasions and exhortations. Love breathes through his invitations and renders them irresistible. Love brightens the evidence of conviction, and sweetly forces it upon unwilling minds . . . My glorious and condescending Lord has appointed me the most pleasing work—the work of love and benevolence. He only requires me to shew myself a lover of souls—souls, whom He loves, and whom he redeemed—souls, whom his Father loves, and for whom he gave up his own Son unto death—souls, whom my fellow-servants of a superior order, the blessed angels, love, and to whom they concur with me in ministering—souls, precious in themselves, and of more value than the whole material universe—souls, that must be happy, or miserable, in the highest degree, through an immortal duration—souls, united to me by the endearing ties of our common humanity—souls, for whom I must give an account to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls. And, oh! can I help loving these souls? Why does not my heart always glow with affection and zeal for them! Oh! why am I such a languid friend, when the love of my Master and his Father is so ardent! when the ministers of heaven are flaming fires of love, though they do not share in the same nature! and when the object of my love is so precious and valuable! The owners of those souls often do not love them; and they are likely to be lost for ever by the neglect. Oh! shall not I love them! shall not love invigorate my hand, to pluck them out ill the burning! Yes, I will, I must love them. But, ah! to love them more! Glow, my zeal! kindle, my affections! speak, my tongue! flow, my blood! be exerted, all my powers! be, my life! if necessary, a sacrifice to save souls from death! Let labour be a pleasure: let difficulties appear glorious and inviting in this service. O thou God of Love! kindle a flame of love in this cold heart of mine; and then I shall perform my work with alacrity and success. —Samuel Davies (1724–1761), as quoted by Murray in Revival & Revivalism

A church is a society of Christians

Wednesday··2007·04·11 · 3 Comments
One of the books I am presently reading is Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray. The following quotation refers to a revival that took place in Virginia in 1787–1790. The most important consequence of the Great Revival for the Presbyterians was the new ethos which came to prevail in the churches. Old Side prejudices lost their hold and a ‘unanimity of sentiment’ came to distinguish the denomination in the South. The main cause for this was undoubtedly the priority now given to experimental religion. Prayer was restored to its rightful place and ‘fervent charity’ came to be expected among all Christians. The same influence inevitably brought a return to biblical standards of church membership. It was no longer assumed that those who attended church from birth were Christians, nor was ‘profession of faith’ henceforth taken as sufficient evidence of conversion. Ministers and elders considered how people lived, and what they did, as well as what they said. It was understood afresh that the true usefulness of the church is bound up with her spirituality and her unity. The premature admission of men and women and young people to the Lord’s Table (communicant membership), which had formerly been too common, now gave way to a more faithful examination of candidates. The wisdom of the counsel of John Blair Smith was universally recognized: ‘He advised those who were awakened not to be too hasty in professing conversion, and urged them to examine the foundations of their hopes well before they entertained a hope they had made their peace will God . . . Generally months, and in some instances a year or more was suffered to pass before they were received into the church.’ William Hill believed that the revival ‘gave a character to the Presbyterian Church of the South for vital, exemplary piety which has pervaded several States and given a tone to religious exercises far and wide’. How this affected the churches in practical way is well illustrated by a statement of principle drawn up by one of the many new churches of the 1790s: A church is a society of Christians, voluntarily associated together, for the worship of God, and spiritual improvement & usefulness.A visible church consists of visible or apparent Christians.The children of visible Christians are members of the visible church, though in a state of minority.A visible Christian is one, who understands the doctrines of the Christian religion, is acquainted with a work of God’s Spirit in effectual calling, professes repentance from dead works, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and subjection to him as a king and whose life and conversation corresponds with his professionSealing ordinances ought not to be administered to such as are not visible Christians.A charitable allowance ought to be made for such, whose natural abilities are weak, or who have not enjoyed good opportunities of religious instruction, when they appear to be humble and sincere.Children and youth, descended from church members, though not admitted to all the privileges of the church, are entitled to the instructions of the church, and subjected to its discipline.—Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 105–107. What would our churches look like today if this represented the general practice of congregations?

The Great Means

Charles Finney claimed that the right use of the right means would infallibly produce converts. He was, of course, wrong. But neither does God bring revival without the use of means. This the orthodox ministers who opposed and were opposed by Finney knew. Iain Murray writes: From the general introduction to the period of the Second Great Awakening we turn to some particular observations. In the first place, if it be asked, What special means were used to promote these revivals? The answer is that there were none. The significance of this fact will be more apparent in later pages. This is not to say that the spiritual leaders of this new era held the view that the gospel could be advanced without means being employed. They were united in regarding such an attitude as a serious abuse of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. As Ebenezer Porter affirmed: The God of this universe is not dependent on instruments . . . He could fill the world with Bibles by a word,—or give every inhabitant of the globe a knowledge of the gospel by inspiration. But he chooses that human agency should be employed in printing and reading and explaining the Scriptures. God is able to sanctify the four hundred millions of Asia, in one instant, without the agency of missionaries; but we do not expect him to do this without means, any more than we expect him to rain down food from the clouds, or turn stones into bread. These men were united in the belief that God has appointed the means of prayer and preaching for the spread of the gospel and that these are the great means in the use of which he requires the churches to be faithful. There are no greater means which may be employed at special times to secure supposedly greater results. It is therefore the Spirit of God who makes the same means more effective at some seasons than at others. This has perhaps not always been as evident as it was in 1800. Sometimes revivals have coincided with the emergence of hitherto unknown preachers whose abilities have been credited with securing change. But in the case of the Second Great Awakening, nearly all the preachers prominent at the outset had already been labouring for many years. . . . The facts are indisputable. A considerable body of men, for a long period before the Second Great Awakening, preached the same message as they did during the revival but with vastly different consequences—the same men, the same actions, performed with the same abilities, yet the results were so amazingly different! The conclusion has to be drawn that the change in the churches after 1798 and 1800 cannot be explained in terms of the means used. Nothing was clearer to those who saw the events than that God was sovereignty pleased to bless human instrumentality in such a way that the success could be attributed to him alone. . . . Jeremiah Hallock, a leader in Connecticut, wrote: ‘As means did not begin this work of themselves, so neither did they carry it on. But as this was the work of the Omnipotent Spirit, so the effects produced proclaimed its sovereign, divine author.’ Asahel Hooker, another eminent Connecticut pastor, drew the same conclusion after seeing the same change among his own people: ‘It is the evident design of Providence to confound all attempts which should be made by philosophy and human reason to account for the effects wrought without ascribing them to God, as the marvelous work of the Spirit and grace.’ —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 126–128.

Revival and a “spirit of intercession”

The following quotation from Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray continues in the same vein as the one posted earlier this week. . . . A Baptist author, . . . describing the revival at Hartford in 1798–1800 , wrote: ‘The Lord seems to have stepped out of the usual path of ordinances, to effect his work more immediately in the displays of his Almighty power, and outpouring of his Spirit; probably to show that the work is his own.’ Thus what characterizes a revival is not the employment of unusual or special means but rather the extraordinary means of blessing attending the normal means of grace. There were no unusual evangelistic meetings. No special arrangements, no announcements of pending revivals. Pastors were simply continuing in the services they had conducted for many years when the great change began. That is why so many of them could say, ‘The first appearance of the work was sudden and unexpected.’ Their theology taught them that there is no inherent power in the truth to convert sinners and they rejoiced in the knowledge that the size of the blessing which God is pleased to give through the use of means is entirely in his own hands. As William Rogers of Philadelphia wrote to Isaac Backus in 1799, ‘The revivals of religion which you speak of are peculiarly illustrative of the glorious doctrines of grace, —“the wind bloweth where it listeth”.’ On the subject of means, something needs to be said more particularly on prayer. As with the truth that is preached, prayer has no inherent power in itself. On the contrary, true prayer is bound up with a persuasion of our inability and our complete dependence of God. Prayer, considered as a human activity, whether offered by few or many, can guarantee no results. But prayer that throws believers in heartfelt need on God will not go unanswered. Prayer of this kind precedes blessing, not because of any necessary cause and effect, but because such prayer secures an acknowledgement of the true Author of the blessing. And where such a spirit of prayer exits it is a sign that God is already intervening to advance his cause. One thing that can be said with certainty about the 1790s, before any general indications of a new era were to be seen, is that there was a growing concern among Christians to pray. Later on, when the evidence of records from those years was compared, it was recognized that across the Union, from Connecticut to Kentucky, the 1790s were marked by a new spirit of intercession. —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 128–129

“Earnestness in prayer requires a true view of oneself”

Tuesday··2007·05·15 · 4 Comments
Iain Murray writes of “Five Leaders in the Northeast” during the Second Great Awakening: The secret of the influence of these men was that in their being much with Christ they were indeed the reflectors of ‘his beams’. But if it be asked how they attained to being such close disciples the answer may be surprising. It was not that they had reached some higher ground in the way of holiness. On the contrary, what marked them most was their low views of themselves. ‘The leading element of Doctor Griffin’s Christian character’, remarked Sprague, ‘was a deep sense of his own corruptions and of his entire dependence on the sovereign grace of God.’ ‘I fear that I am little better than a cumberer of the ground,’ Spring recorded in his diary, and Payson, similarly, often noted the pain of his unworthiness and his failure as a Christian. On 18 December 1817 he recorded in his diary: ‘Began to think, last night, that I have been sleeping all my days; and this morning felt sure of it . . .  How astonishingly blind have I been and how imperceptible my religious progress.’ again, in 1821 he told a ministerial friend, ‘My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, if find that most of my desires for the melioration of both proceed either from pride, or vanity of indolence.’ Statements such as these show us the nature of the relationship with God that these men had. Their felt need lay behind their frequent prayer and their dependence on Christ. Earnestness in prayer, says Payson, requires a true view of oneself: ‘You cannot make a rich man beg like a poor man; you cannot make a man that is full cry for food like one that is hungry: no more will a man who has a good opinion of himself cry for mercy like one who feels that he is poor and needy.’ —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 218–219.

Of whom the world was not worthy

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. —Hebrews 11:32–40 The Martyrdom of Polycarp Chap. IX—Polycarp Refuses to Revile Christ. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade hem to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their customs, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand toward them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” Chap. X—Polycarp Confesses Himself A Christian. And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortunes of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer and account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (Which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.” Chap. XI—No Threats Have Any Effect On Polycarp. The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.” But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him “I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despiseth the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and the eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” —The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:41. So Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, went to his death. Others continue to suffer for their faith today. A testimony sent to The Voice of the Martyrs from a believer in Myanmar (Burma): One day we were sitting at the temple entrance receiving collections from the people, one of the Christians passing by gave me a tract. I kept it to take home with me and read it later. When I read this tract it spoke of receiving the gift of eternal life when believing in Jesus Christ. I started to question and wonder, “How can we know eternal life? What is this eternal life the tract spoke of?” I asked my wife and children about the matter of eternal life, and they simply joked about it saying, “Father you are a good man, you will surely be a rich man in your next life.” But the thought would not leave me, I felt it deeply as I was growing older, When I die, will there be a place that I go to? So I kept thinking about this over and over in my heart and mind, until finally at midnight I called on Jesus, “Lord Jesus I believe, please give me eternal life.” The Lord Jesus heard my prayer and answered my call. Then the light shone into my soul, light in my heart which was great joy. Simply stated, I am at peace, a real peace in my heart which I had never experienced before, which is difficult to put into words. Early the next morning I knew in my heart that I must throw out the image of Buddha, which I had previously worshipped every day. Without speaking to my wife, I took the image and threw it into a small river near my village. . . . Please pray for me as I have been forced to leave my village, my wife and my two children who I love dearly. I pray that I may soon be able to return back to them. I love them but I cannot do what they have asked me to do—curse my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, come back to Buddha and my family. May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my family and my fellow-villagers. And I was thinking the other day about one time when someone chuckled a little about my faith, and how well I had taken it.

John Calvin’s Work Ethic

I picked up Steve Lawson’s little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin late last night and got about half-way through it before falling asleep. Calvin’s life is a monument to God in many ways. One of the things that impresses me about him is his incredible work ethic, driven by his passion for his calling to preach the Word. [Calvin’s] drivenness can been in his letter to one Monsieur de Falais in 1546: “Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.” It should be noted that Calvin had preached a mere twenty sermons that month and given only twelve lectures. He was hardly the idle servant he imagined himself to be. —Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 45. It can hardly be disputed that Calvin drove himself harder than was wise, and his health suffered for it. Yet such was his passion for preaching and teaching the Word that he simply could not do nothing, even when bedridden. Theodore Beza wrote of him, “He had no expression more frequently on his lips than that life would be bitter to him if spent in indolence.” Lawson writes: Eventually, Calvin did become an invalid, but he had himself carried to church on a stretcher in order to preach. —Ibid., 48. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to call in sick. This is a great little book that could easily be read in one or two sittings, and I encourage every pastor to read it. However, this is not just a book for pastors. We all need encouragement and inspiration to be passionate and diligent in our pursuit of God and his Word.

“founding our hopes on his promises”

Let us learn, therefore, not to become drunk on our foolish hopes. Rather, let us hope in God and in God’s promises, and we will never be deceived. But if we base our hopes on our own presumptuousness, God will strip everything away. This is one of our most essential doctrines, since human nature is so driven by presumptuousness. For we are so influenced by insupportable pride that God is forced to punish us harshly. We think we are so much higher than God that we ought to be more powerful than God. Consequently, seeing how inclined we are toward this vice, all the more ought we to pay heed to what Micah says here: that we must not rest content with the thought that whatever happens will happen. Rather, we must realize that so long as God’s hand is upon us, we are condemned to be miserable. For there is no other cure shy of our returning to God and founding our hopes on his promises. Therein lies our surest remedy, equal to any and all disasters that might befall us. —John Calvin, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 106–107.

Wanted: Luthers & Calvins

Monday··2007·10·29 · 3 Comments
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gift of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is one more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the alter, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. . . . I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to receive and bless His churches. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 132–133.

John Knox: Fruitful Years in Exile

The life of John Knox is largely a narrative of persecution. I was already aware of this as I began reading Iain Murrayé─˘s A Scottish Christian Heritage, but I was surprised to learn that among his experiences was nineteen months spent as a slave in a French galley, chained to a bench with six other men pulling a fifty-foot-long oar. Following his release in 1549, he enjoyed a scant four years of peace in England before é─˙Bloodyé─¨ Mary Tudor ascended to the throne and restored Roman Catholicism as the state religion (her half-brother and predecessor, Edward VI, had been Protestant). Knox fled England, ending up finally in Geneva. His exile ended in 1559, when Mary Tudor died, and the Protestant faith was publicly restored in England. His years of exile served as preparation for difficult years to come. é─˙Of the lessons he had learned during that period,é─¨ Murray writes, é─˙there are three which stand out:é─¨ What True Prayer Is, How We Should Pray, and For What We Should Pray. In another place he says that the Apostle Peter, as he sought to cross the water to Jesus, was allowed to sink because there was in him too much é─˛presumption and vain trust in his own strengthé─˘. é─˛Unless it had between corrected and partly removed,é─˘ he comments, Peter é─˛had never been apt or meet to feed Christé─˘s flocké─˘ this was surely what Knox himself was being taught. He says that he wrote so much on prayer because, I know how hard is the battle between the spirit and the flesh, under the heavenly cross of affliction, where no worldly defence but present death does appear. I know the grudging and murmuring complaints of the flesh . . . calling all his promises in doubt, and being ready every hour utterly to fall from God. Against which rests only faith, provoking us to call earnestly and pray for assistance of Godé─˘s Spirit; wherein, if we continue, our most desperate calamities shall be turned to gladness, and to a prosperous end. To thee alone, O Lord, be praise, for with experience I write this and speak. . . . 2. Knoxé─˘s lone exile made him and international Christian. Had he remained always in Scotland he might have remained as parochial as some of his contemporaries. It was in Godé─˘s design that he spent most of his time away from home among the English. These were the people against whom his forefathers had fought but in Christ the old enmity was gone. He was ahead of his time in foreseeing a common Protestant faith binding the two nations together, and that hope became central to his life. é─˛Grant, O Lord,é─˘ he prayed, é─˛we never enter into hostility against the realm and nation of England.é─˘ . . . 3. It was during Knoxé─˘s exile, and especially in the final years in Geneva, that the master-principles which governed his thought on Reformation came to maturity. In outline, they may be stated as follows: i. We exist for Godé─˘s glory; therefore zeal for the honor of God is essence of true piety; conversely, to despise God, to offend his majesty, is the darkest form of human depravity. The indignation Knox felt against Roman Catholicism sprang from this source. He saw it as a system bound up with giving to men and to idols that which belongs to God alone. . . . ii. Christians are bound to a universal obedience to the Word of God, no matter what the cost, no matter what the consequences. More particularly, nothing is lawful to the church unless it is to be found in Scripture. To quote the Reformeré─˘s later words to Queen Elizabeth: é─˛Whatsoever He approves (by his eternal word) that shall be approved, and what he damneth, shall be condemned, though all men in the earth should hazard the justification of the same. iii. The true church is to distinguished from the false church in this manner; the true has Christ as its living head, it hears his voice it, follows him, and a stranger it will not follow. This church, further, is to be kept separate from the world by the faithful exercise of discipline in order that reproach is not brought upon God by the character of ité─˘s members, so that the good is not affected by the evil, and so that those corrected may be recovered. é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 13é─ý15.

The Death of John Knox

Thursday··2008·12·11 · 5 Comments
I love reading of the last days of great saints. While death is a fearsome thing to most, for the believer it is a gateway into lifeé─ţlife like we have not yet known, and cannot imagine. At long last, we will be at home with the Lord, free from all pain and suffering, disappointments and failures, and, most wonderful of all, free from sin. It is a day we should all long for, and be able to say with John Newton, é─˙It is a great thing to die.é─¨ John Knox was such a man, and so was able to pass from this world in peace. Iain Murray writes, On Monday, November 1572, he insisted on rising and dressing but within half an hour he had to be put back to bed. To the question of a friend, Had he any pain?, he replied: é─˛It is no painful pain, but such a pain as shall soon, I trust put an end to the battle.é─˘ There was further intermittent conversation that day and the last reading of 1 Corinthians 15 at which he exclaimed, é─˛Is not that a comfortable chapter?é─˘ About eleven oé─˘clock that evening, he said, é─˛Now it is comeé─˘, and, lifting up one hand, he passed through his final conflict in peace. In the words on his secretary, Richard Bannatyne, In this manner departed this man of God: the light of Scotland, the comfort of the Church within the same, the mirror of godliness, and pattern and example of all true minister. é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 32é─ý33. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

é─˙except the other go with himé─¨

Thursday··2008·12·18 · 2 Comments
The following rather humorous anecdote from the life of the Scottish preacher Robert Bruce (1555é─ý1631, not Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, 1274é─ý1329) is also a good reminder to all preachers, as well as anyone who would be a witness for Christ. In other words, every Christian. é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 62.

My Master Calleth Me

Thursday··2009·01·01 · 2 Comments
Another testimony in death, this one from the Scottish preacher Robert Bruce: é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 56é─ý57.

The Conversion of Thomas Chalmers

Thomas Chalmers (1780é─ý1847), little known today, has been described by one biographer as é─˙the greatest spiritual force Scotland saw in the nineteenth century.é─¨ He is credited with the recovery of Presbyterianism in Scotland, leading to the é─˙Disruption of 1817é─¨ (a schism between Church of Scotland é─˙moderatesé─¨ and é─˙evangelicalsé─¨ over how much influence the State had in appointing ministers). Iain Murray writes that é─˙He was at the centre of a recovery which brought the churches of Scotland from mediocrity, indifference, and unbelief to new conditions of spiritual vitality.é─¨ But Chalmers had not always been the great man of God that he became. At the young age of eleven, he entered the University of St Andrews, and began his theological studies at fifteen with the intent of pursuing professional ministry. Of this time he wrote, é─˙St Andrews was at this time overrun with Moderatism, under the chilling influences of which we inhaled not a distaste only but a positive contempt for all that is properly and peculiarly gospel.é─¨ Chalmers became one of these Moderates. His view of ministry was that it was a good profession for making oneé─˘s name in the world. He devoted little time to pursuits of actual ministry, often leaving preparation for preaching until Sunday morning. é─˙After the satisfactory discharge of his parish duties,é─¨ he wrote, é─˙a minister may enjoy five days in the week of uninterrupted leisure . . .é─¨ In 1808, his career plans were interrupted. Intending to go to London é─˙to get introduced into some of the literary circles,é─¨ he instead found himself at the bed-side of a sister, who soon died. Then it was the death of a beloved uncle, followed by his own severe illness, which kept him in his own room for four months. During that time, Chalmers was converted, and his life was dramatically changed. Previously, ministry had consumed little of his attention, and genuine spiritual issues none at all. His energies had been directed towards the study of science and mathematics. Murray writes: é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 83. Chalmersé─˘s ministry was dramatically effected by his conversion. Murray quotes biographer William Hanna: His regular and earnest study of the Bible was one of the first and most noticeable effects of Mr Chalmersé─˘ conversion. His nearest neighbor and most frequent visitor was old John Bonthron, who, having once seen better days, was admitted to an easy and privileged familiarity, in the exercise of which one day before the memorable illness, he said to Mr Chalmersé─ţé─˛I find you aye busy, sir, with one thing or another, but come when I may, I never find you at your studies for the Sabbath.é─˘ é─˛Oh, an hour or two on the Saturday evening is quite enough for that,é─˘ was the ministeré─˘s answer. But now the change had come, and John, on entering the manse, often found Mr. Chalmers poring eagerly over the pages of the Bible. The difference was too striking to escape notice, and with the freedom given him, which he was ready enough to use, he said, é─˛I never come in now, sir, but I find you aye at your Bible.é─˘ é─˛All too little, John, all to littleé─˘, was the significant reply. é─ţibid., 84é─ý85.

Thomas Chalmers on Ministry

Thursday··2009·01·15 · 1 Comments
Iain Murray Summarizes some of Thomas Chalmersé─˘ thoughts on the work of the ministry: 2. Ministers should never rest satisfied without growth in personal holiness of life. Chalmersé─˘ private diary reveals a great deal of this: é─˛Advance the power and life of religion in my own hearté─˘ was his prayer. To friends he writes in similar terms: é─˛Pray unceasingly for the progress of His work in your heart . . . Strike the high aim of being perfect even as God is perfect . . . Never let go your aspirings . . . Oh! with what unceasing progress towards perfection should we be enabled to advance did we cast all self-seeking and self-confidence away from usé─ţdid we consent be altogether guided by His strength, and be altogether accepted in His pure and unspotted righteousness.é─˘ Andrew Bonar, one of Chalmersé─˘ students, used to repeat a saying heard when he was entering the ministry: é─˛Remember that very few men, and very few ministers, keep up to the end the edge that was on their spirit at the first.é─˘ It was a warning which could well have been heard from Chalmers. The prayerfulness and the desires after greater holiness which marked his early Christian life were with him to the end. 3. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their true work: é─˛Be assured that a single and undivided attention to the peculiar work of a Christian minister is the way of peace and of pleasantness.é─˘ One of the greatest struggles which Chalmers ever had was to break free from the many secular duties and activities which had come to be expected of ministers. For him it was imperative, if the church was to be revived, that preachers should be left to concentrate exclusively upon their proper calling. In Glasgow he had found that ministers were continually required to be at funerals (four at one funeral was considered a é─˛respectable numberé─˘), at committees of all the societies, at public functions of every kind, and so on. At one committee meeting, for example, arranged on behalf of the Town Hospital, he found himself with an honoured place among é─˛some of the gravest of city ministers, and some of the wisest of the city merchantsé─˘ to engage in a solemn and, at length, warm discussion on whether pork broth or ox-head should be served to the inmates of the Hospital! After such experiences at that time in his life he wrote: é─˛I am gradually separating myself from all this trash, and long to establish it as a doctrine that the life of a town minister should be what the life of a country minister might be, and his entire time disposable to the purposes to the purposes to which the Apostles gave themselves wholly, that is, the ministry of the word and prayer.é─˘ Speaking again of the secular duties to which so many ministers had given in, and which turned a preacher from being é─˛a dispenser of the bread of life into a mere dispenser of human benefitsé─˘, he says, é─˛This I have set my face against, and though I have a great deal of opposition to encounter, yet I am persuaded that I will have the solid countenance and approbation of all who value the pure objects of the Christian ministry.é─˘ 4. A minister must deal directly with the men concerning their need of salvation. é─˛Let us pray for that most desirable wisdom, the wisdom of winning souls.é─˘ é─˛A single human being called out of darkness, though he lived in putrid lane of obscurity, is a brighter testimony than all the applause of the fashionable.é─˘ This meant plain, direct preaching to the heart and conscience. Commending Alleineé─˘s Alarm, he warned against the é─˛diseased touchinessé─˘ of the age which disliked the urgent preaching of repentance. He told his prospective candidates for the ministry that their work must ot be to show their hearers the consistency between geology and the Bible, rather these hearers must be won é─˛by entering into the chambers of their consciences and telling them of that sin which is their ruin and of that Saviour who alone can hush the alarms of natureé─˘. é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 94é─ý96.

The Holy Spirité─˘s Office

Thursday··2009·01·22 · 2 Comments
The Holy Spirit is seen by many as a source of extra-biblical revelation to those who are é─˙sensitive to the Spirité─˘s leading.é─¨ The spiritually mature, those who are é─˙spirit-filled,é─¨ may receive a é─˙word from the Lord,é─¨ a é─˙word of knowledge,é─¨ or just some added insight that cané─˘t be had simply by reading the Bible. But the Spirit does not work that way. He uses a tool given for this purpose: the sword of the Spirit. Thomas Chalmers wrote: é─ţThomas Chalmers, quoted in Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 101.

é─˙all that is worth knowingé─¨

Thursday··2009·01·29 · 1 Comments
Some time ago, I was asked why, if I had already read the Bible, I would want to read it again, not just once, but over and over, as long as I live? Obviously, this question came from an unbeliever. But Ié─˘m afraid many Christians feel little need for repeated readings of Godé─˘s Word. Many who have professed faith for years still have portions of their Bibles that remain unread. Robert Moffat (1795é─ý1883), Scottish missionary to Africa, would have been bewildered by such attitudes. Moffat dedicated his life to bringing the gospel to the Bechuana tribes of South Africa. Much of that time was spent in translating the entire Old and New Testaments into Sechuana (the native language). Yet, near the end of his life, he still felt inadequate in his knowledge of Scripture. In a letter to Mary, his wife, he wrote: It was only yesterday, after laying down the Bible, that I wondered what kind of a mind I would have had if I had not the Book of God, the Book containing the astounding idea of é─˛from everlasting to everlastingé─˘, the development of all that is worth knowing . . . One would think, that as I have critically, and, I think, devoutly read and examined every verse, every word in the Bible, some a score of times over, I should not require to open the pages of that unspeakable and blessed Book. Alas, for the human memory! I read the Bible today with that same feeling I ever did, like the hungry seeking food, the thirsty when seeking drink, the bewildered when seeking counsel and the mourner when seeking comfort. Doné─˘t you believe all this? For alas, I read it sometimes as a formal thing, though my heart condemns afterwards . . . I am yet astonished at my own ignorance of the Bible! é─ţRobert Moffat, quoted in Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 266é─ý267.

Book Review: Augustine As Mentor

This is a review by Pastor Jerry Drebelbis, who has the dubious distinction of being my pastor. Augustine As Mentor: A Review By Jerome Drebelbisi    Take a moment and peruse the number of books written by or about Aurelius Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo, 354é─ý430 A.D. One reason for the numerous volumes is, in part, because Augustine, himself, was a prolific writer. More than 100 books along with sermons, letters and notes to friends and fellow church compatriots are attributed to him. So it is no wonder the copious number of books written about Augustine. Among these writings Edward Smithers, assistant professor of Church History and Intercultural Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, brings us another perspectiveé─ţAugustine as Mentor, A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders1.    Mr. Smithers believes that é─˙many pastors today . . . are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their soulsé─¨ (p. v). He is not alone in this concern. Anderson and Reese emphasize this same problem in the forward of their writing. We live in a world of é─˙disenchantment with é─˛knowledge for knowledgeé─˘s sake.é─˘é─¨2 If this spiritual isolation impacts church leaders today then what is the solution to escape the dilemma? Augustine as Mentor attempts to address this issue looking back at the beginning of the Church and one of its giants as a leader. Analysis:    The book divides into six chapters. Chapter one examines biblical examples of mentors in the first century. While the author admits that the word é─˙mentoré─¨ is not in Scripture he does recognize the discipline can take other forms, such as that of discipling. He uses Jesus and Paul as primary examples of those who mentored/discipled those around them. Numerous New Testament references are given to support the position.    Chapter two unpacks mentoring as it appeared in the third and fourth centuries. The author, with copious references, details the lives of men like Cyprian of Carthage, Pachomius of Egypt, and Basil. These men and others formed in the authoré─˘s view a backdrop and example from which Augustine developed his own style of mentoring.    Chapter three asks the question, who was Augustineé─˘s mentor? Obviously some time is spent examining the way Augustineé─˘s mother, Monica, influenced his spiritual development. Her example of holiness and practical faith are featured with numerous references to Confessions. The reader is then given a look at several of Augustineé─˘s friends and companions. Alypius, Evodius and Ambrose were not only close companions to Augustine but also mentors. Smithers convincingly argues that while he finds that Augustine wrote very little about Valerius, Augustineé─˘s predecessor, Valerius was his most é─˙significant mentor.é─¨3    Chapter four, the longest chapteré─ţ88 pages, brings the work to a climax. How did Augustine mentor others? The author draws from Augustineé─˘s forty years in the ministry, 391é─ý430, with citings from his numerous letters, books and preaching and supervisory method as examples of how Augustine discipled both subordinates and fellow bishops.    Chapter five gives us Augustineé─˘s thoughts on the subject. Once again from abundant references, the reader is given Augustineé─˘s perspective of how a mentor should live and work. Five principles are mentioned as the framework of a mentoré─˘s life. This leaves the reader wondering if Augustine, himself, adhered to his own ideals. The author answers the question by quoting Possidius, Augustineé─˘s friend and biographer; é─˙I believe, however, that they profited even more who were able to hear him speaking in church and seeing him there present, especially if they were familiar with his manner of life.é─¨4 In specific, Augustine lived what he preached and proclaimed. As great a man as Augustine was the author does admit that one failure, if we can consider it such, in Augustineé─˘s life was that few, if any, of his disciples followed in Augustineé─˘s example to defend the church from heresy or to supply others with theological thought and exegesis (p. 257).    The final sixth chapter is a short exhortation for leaders today. The author reminds the reader that a mentor must always be a disciple at heart, always learning, always growing in the faith, as did Augustine. He was disciple, mentor, leader, releaser of other into ministry, but most of all follower of Jesus Christ. The author leaves the reader with the question; é─˙will todayé─˘s church leaders intentionally look at leadership potential around them and search for able people to outshine them?é─¨ (p. 259). Synthesis:    The reader can be assured that Mr. Smithers is very familiar with the subject. The book is well documented referencing many sources both from early church writings to more recent analysis. One easily moves through the authoré─˘s thoughts as he presents his arguments for discipleship and mentoring. His style, easy to follow, often opens with a question. For example, é─˙How Did Augustine Mentor?é─¨ (p.134). The author then supports his answers by partitioning Augustineé─˘s life into various elements to demonstrate how Augustine mentored in each one, the monastery, books, letters, councils, etc.    While the book is well documented and thoughts expanded in an orderly fashion, progressing through the book becomes almost tedious. One wants to say, é─˙Alright, I get the idea; leté─˘s move on.é─¨ Unless the reader truly wants to know more about Augustine, for the average, sometimes overwhelmed, busy pastor, the book has too much detail. And while the book is true to its title, Augustine as Mentor, one wonders if Mr. Smithers is writing for the average church leader or his own colleagues.    The last chapter, é─˙Shepherding Shepherds Todayé─¨ is only two pages. While there is benefit in knowing about mentoring in the early church, more thought and space could have been afforded to application today. Many pastors are, like this one, interested in not only the what but even more so, the so what. In the final analysis the reader wants to know what the authoré─˘s suggestions are that he has gleaned from his study. What from the authoré─˘s perspective, in twenty-first century culture, does he believe the pastor can and should pursue in depth? With this question always in mind there is a disheartening realization that the reader is given 257 pages of information but only two pages of application. The reader may have been more ably assisted if the author had balance the work more evenly.    For example, one theologically prominent subject today is that of spiritual formation. Using Augustineé─˘s writings the author could easily have moved into this realm of current significance. After all, is this not what Augustine was attempting to do with his contemporaries? In other words Augustine, who relied upon his biblical and theological premises, challenged heresies like Pelagianism, Arianism. How could those thoughts apply to our relativistic postmodern culture? How could Augustineé─˘s thoughts have been organized to enhance oneé─˘s growth in spiritual formation? Answers to questions like these would have greatly enhanced the work. 1 Edward L. Smithers, Augustine as Mentor, A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2008. ↑ 2 Keith R. Anderson and Randy D. Reese, Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for seeking and Giving Direction (Intervarsity Press, Dowers Grove, 1999), forward. ↑ 3 Ibid, p. 112. ↑ 4 Ibid, p. 229. ↑ i Jerome Drebelbis has pastored Grace Evangelical Free Church in Beulah, North Dakota, for ten years. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity. ↑ 

Nothing but the Bible

Thursday··2009·02·12 · 2 Comments
Our generation is not the first to doubt the sufficiency of Scripture to change lives. In Robert Moffaté─˘s day, many believed that civilization needed to precede the gospel. Moffat and other pioneer missionaries challenged and disproved that theory. In 1816, Moffat was formally commissioned as a missionary of London Missionary Society and was sent to South Africa. Twenty-six years later, he could testify to the power of the gospel to transform lives. [wrote Moffat] in 1842, é─˛that the Gospel can transform these aceldamas [fields of blood], these dens of crime, weeping and woe, into abodes of purity, happiness, and love . . . We are warranted to expect, from what has already occurred, great and glorious results.é─˘ A moral improvement in society in general is not needed to prepare the way for spiritual success. On this point Moffat wrote:Much has been said about civilizing savages before attempting to evangelize them. This is a theory which has gained extensive prevalence among the wise men of this world, but we have never yet seen a practical demonstration of its truth. We ourselves are convinced that evangelization must precede civilization. It is very easy in a country of high refinement to speculate on what might be done among rude and savage men, but the Christian missionary, the only experimentalist, has invariably found that to make the fruit good the tree must first be made good. Nothing less than the power of Divine grace can reform the hearts of savages, after which the mind is susceptible of those instructions which teach them to adorn the gospel they profess.    This lesson needs to be remembered wherever the moral decay of society tempts Christians to suppose the plain preaching of the gospel cannot meet the situation. Moffat was certain that only one source is adequate to answer the effects of sin upon society, whether these are among é─˛barbariansé─˘ or é─˛the civilized nations of Europeé─˘: é─˛Nothing but the Bible can save man from his woes.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 269é─ý270.

é─˙if I could buy your soulé─˘s salvationé─¨

Thursday··2009·02·19 · 1 Comments
The demands on a pastor are many: he must be a scholar, a teacher, a preacher, and a counselor, just to name the most obvious of his duties. But before he can be an effective shepherd, he must meet a much more basic requirement: he must have a genuine love for the people in his care. Iain Murray offers an example of this pastoral love in the Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661): Samuel Rutherfordé─˘s Letters are unforgettable. Separated from his parish in days of persecution, he was forced to resort to letters, and the personal issues about which he writes show how his pastoral work was conducted, The spiritually cold, the sorrowing, the individual struggling with temptations, the believer lacking assurance, and many more, all have his attention and sympathetic interest. To an old man about whom he had some doubt he can write: My soul longeth exceedingly to hear how matters go betwixt you and Christ; and whether or not there be any work of Christ in that parish that will bide in the trial of fire and water. Let me be weighed of the Lord in a just balance, if your souls lie not weighty upon me. Ye go to bed and rise with me: thoughts of your soul, my dearest in the Lord, depart not from me in my sleep. You have a great part of my tears, sighs, supplications, and prayers. Oh, if I could buy your soulé─˘s salvation with any suffering whatsoever, and that ye and I might meet with joy up in the rainbow, when we shall stand before our judge! [Letters of Rutherford, p. 344] é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 126.

Engaging the Mind with Sound Doctrine

The gospel that saves souls and changes lives is not merely a message that inspires the emotions. It is a message that first brings the truth of Godé─˘s Word to the minds of listeners. The reason for this apostolic priority is twofold: first, as already said, it is the mind of man that has first to be engaged and convicted; second, it is the Word of God that the Spirit of truth honours and nothing will convince without his witness. These convictions were the starting point for the evangelical preachers of Scotland. They did not see themselves as in charge of the situation. They were only the spokesmen for God and real preaching must have with it something more vital than their speaking. It must be é─˛in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of Godé─˘ (1 Cor. 2:4é─ý5). Andrew Bonar understood this when he noted in his diary, é─˛It is one thing to bring truth from the Bible, and another thing to bring it from God himself through the Bible.é─˘ If the content of preaching is biblical, it follows that it will be é─˛theologicalé─˘, that is to say, it will concern the knowledge of God. é─˛Brethren,é─˘ Spurgeon could tell his students, é─˛if you are not theologians, you are in your pastorates just nothing at all. We shall never have great preachers until we have great divines.é─˘ Closeness to Scripture and love for sound doctrine belong together. History has proved that when the influence of true preaching is at its greatest, commitment to sound doctrine will ever be present. é─ţIain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 330é─ý331.

é─˙preach with a thrilling hearté─¨

We read last week of the need for preaching that engages the mind with sound doctrine. We must add to that imperative the truth that preaching can be doctrinally sound and yet lifeless. The preacher must not merely know the message, he must be owned by it. He must have experienced it, and lived it, in order to preach it as he ought. Ought not preachers themselves to live on the great fundamental truths of the gospel? Ought not our souls to be continually fed from them, and our hearts continually thrilling with them? Ought not a fresh glow to come over our hearts every day as we think of Him who loved us, and washed us from sin in His blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and to the Father? Give us the plainest preacher that ever was; let him preach nothing that a whole congregation do not know; but let him preach with a thrilling heart; let him preach like one amazed at the glory of the message; let him preach in the tone of wonder and gratitude in which it becomes sinners to realise the great work of redemption,é─ţnot only will the congregation listen with interest: they will listen with profound impression . . . We greatly need preachers for the people. A preacher to the people needs to be very clear in his views, homely in his style, full of illustration, direct and courageous in his application, rich in brotherly sympathy, and very warm and vigorous in delivery. Alas! they are not common. I believe that if only every tenth student that passes through our hands were a man of this stamp, we should soon see a change on the face of society. é─ţW. G. Blaikie, cited in Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), 333é─ý334.

Red and Yellow, Black and White

Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world; Red and yellow, black and whiteé─ţ They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. I sang that song as a child in Sunday School. Maybe you did, too. In these ridiculously sensitive times, I doné─˘t know if anyone sings it anymore, but the simple truth of it endures. Indulge me as I ramble a bit. While I sang and was taught that Jesus loves all children of all colors, all those children were really very far away. I knew a few of the é─˙red,é─¨ but é─˙yellowé─¨ and é─˙blacké─¨ were exotic varieties that I knew only from television and the pictures missionaries brought. This was not the result of racism. My family was not avoiding people of other ethnicities, choosing our neighborhoods according to who inhabited them; it was just the way it worked out. We couldné─˘t have integrated if we wanted too, because there just wasné─˘t anyone to integrate with. My life has been spent almost entirely in rural states where é─˙minorityé─¨ means German in a Scandinavian community or, as is our current situation, Norwegian in a German community. So I roll my eyes when some é─˙racial reconciliationé─¨ zealot contends that if I doné─˘t have any black friends, or if my church is all white, I have a problem that needs correcting. Sorry, but I cané─˘t help it; there are nearly as many snakes in Ireland as black folks in my county. So the lack of ethnic diversity in my community does not concern me. It is virtually unavoidable, however, that we are somewhat ignorant of the cultures that are not here represented. That is one reason I have been eager to read The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors by Thabiti Anyabwile. John Piper writes in the Preface:    In this book, we who are not African-American receive the double profit of not only reading across a culture but across the centuriesé─ţand thus across another culture. And, of course, that implies that the African-American reader will read across another culture as well. My guess and my prayer is that these unusual crossings will weave our lives and ministries together in ways we have not foreseen. é─ţJohn Piper, Preface to Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 9. That is my hope as well. I remember the first time I heard a black preacher on the radio, riding in the back seat somewhere in South Dakota. (This was back when pretty much everyone had AM radios in their cars, most had FM, and some had eight-track tape decks. Cassettes were a few years away. I was really young.) I have no idea what denomination he was, but he was wild. I doné─˘t mean like a loud-mouth yelling Baptist. He was as much singing as preaching, and was accompanied by an organ and drums. It reminded me a little of the é─˘70s rock-and-roll I sometimes listened to on the sly on my transistor radio. The congregation was clapping and hooting and holleringé─ţman, he was cool, and I took note of the time so I could try to catch him again. That was my introduction to black church. Since then, I have wondered about the state of churches that are predominantly black. Are they all marked by out-of-control emotions and shallow theology? How did they get this way? Have they always been this way? Apparently not. Thabiti introduces us to three black pastors whose lives spanned nearly two hundred years, and demonstrates that Americaé─˘s spiritual heritage was not passed down from Anglo divines only, but from godly, erudite men of African descent as well. And we would do well to learn from them. From the introduction:    As I have prepared for my own journey into ministry, wading through a truckload of trees used to print hundreds of books aimed at pastors, my experience confirmed that that old folk wisdom, é─˙all that glitters is not goldé─¨é─ţespecially when it is extolled as a new form of gold. As I have sought for a better way, a better understanding, and a biblically faithful perspective it has pleased my soul to realize that the old ideas are still the best ideas. Those who have gone before us, old friends with old ideas, have left a proven track record of faithfulness and fruitfulness. And the two do go together: where there is faithfulness, fruitfulness is sure to follow. We are told from the time we are schoolchildren that é─˙those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.é─¨ Maintaining an ignorance of history will not result in the replication of greatness and earlier success. Those who learn from history, who wisely consult those who have gone before, are the only ones who have a real chance at succeeding and avoiding pitfalls. Faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry require wisdom, hard work, time, and the providential blessings of God, all of which are enhanced by a humble study of our predecessors. The best place to learn and prepare for the ministry is still at the feet of the Master Himself, and from His apostles. Who would not want to study under Paul or Peter? To hear their account of firsthand experiences with our Lord? Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others are still available to us, to speak with us through Godé─˘s Word. And I trust that every faithful pastor is learning, studying, praying, and seeking wisdom and grace for the task from them. But also available to us are the é─˙lesseré─¨ luminaries, men who were not apostles but who were faithful students and shepherds. Christian history is filled with Spurgeons, Calvins, Luthers, and others who have had to answer tough questions, face uncertainties, and persevere in faith as they led Godé─˘s people. From them the wise pastor gains valuable insights and observes patterns of godliness for his own ministry. é─ţThabiti Anyabwile, ibid., 14é─ý15.

é─˙they watch for your soulsé─¨

Lemuel Haynes (1753é─ý1833) is one of three pastors profiled in Thabiti Anyabileé─˘s book The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors. Married to a white woman, and for thirty years the pastor of an all white congregation, to say he was unusual for his time is a huge understatement. Educated In Latin and Greek, and influenced by Calvinists such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and Philip Doddridge, he really blows apart our expectations. The following excerpt is from a sermon entitled The Character and Work of a Spiritual Watchman Described. The text is Hebrews 13:17, é─˙For they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account.é─¨ Delivered on 23 February, 1791, on the occasion of the ordination of Rev. Reuben Parmelee (1759é─ý1843), the focus is on the responsibilities of the shepherd. However, as with all biblical sermons, there is application for us all. In this portion of the sermon, the preacher is reminded that he must watch over the souls of his flock because they are prone to stumble and fall.    Being commanded to be the watchmen over the souls of men implies that they are prone to neglect or be inattentive to those souls. When one is set to inspect or watch over another, it supposes some kind of incapacity that the individual is under to take care of himself. The Scripture represents mankind by nature as fools, madmen, being in a state of darkness, etc. Men in general are very sagacious with respect to temporal affairs and display much natural wit and ingenuity in contriving and accomplishing evil designs; é─˙but to do good they have no knowledgeé─¨ (Jer. 4:22). This is an evidence that their inability to foresee danger and provide against it is of the moral kind. If there were a disposition in mankind, correspondent to their natural powers, to secure the eternal interest of their souls in the way God has proscribed, watchmen would in a great measure be useless. é─ţLemuel Haynes, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 26é─ý27. Although this sermon was directed toward shepherds, the application to the flock is to recognize that theyé─ţthat is, weé─ţneed to be watched over. We cannot trust ourselves outside of the communion of saints and the ministry of those God has placed over us. We are é─˙prone to neglect or be inattentiveé─¨ to the state of our souls. We must take care to watch ourselves, and to see that we are in a place and attitude in which we can be watched.

é─˙hearers also are to be examinedé─¨

Thursday··2009·03·26 · 1 Comments
We make much of the responsibilities of elders in the church. We expect a great deal from them, and, if they are faithful shepherds, they expect much of themselves. They work with tireless diligence to shepherd the flock the Master has entrusted to them, profoundly sensible of the burden they carry. And, while many congregations heap responsibilities and expectations onto the backs of their pastors that are both unreasonable and unbiblical, the charge given to them in Scripture is heavy enough. Yes, we are allé─ţbiblically or noté─ţaware of the responsibilities of our pastors. But how often do we think of our responsibility? Pastors do not work independently. The purpose of the sermon is not achieved until it has been received. He does the work of preparing and delivering; we do the work of hearing and responding. And it is no inconsequential thing how we respond to the exposition of Godé─˘s Word. The following is another excerpt from an ordination sermon preached by Lemuel Haynes in 1791. After charging the ordinand with his responsibilities as shepherd, Haynes turned to the congregation to call them to serve with their pastor in the mutual ministry of the Word. My brethren and friends, the importance of a gospel minister suggests the weighty concerns of your souls. As ministers must give account as to how they preach and behave, so hearers also are to be examined as to how they hear and improve. You are to hear with a view to the day of judgment always remembering that there is no sermon or opportunity that you have in this life to prepare for another world that shall go unnoticed at that decisive court. Your present exercises, with respect to the solemn affairs of this day, will then come up to public view. God, we trust, is this day sending you one to watch for your souls. Should not this excite sentiments of gratitude in your breasts? Shall God take so much care of your souls and you neglect them? How unreasonable it would be for you to despise the pious instruction of your watchmen! You would therein wrong your own souls, and it would be evidence that you love death. You must bear with him in not accommodating his sermons to your vitiated tastes because he must give an account. His work is great, and you must pray for him, as in the verse following the text, where the apostle says, é─˙Pray for us.é─¨ Since it is the business of your minister to watch for your souls with such indefatigable assiduity, you easily see how necessary it is that you do what you can to strengthen him in this work and that you minister to his temporal wants, so that he may give himself wholly to these things. The great backwardness among people in general with respect to this matter at present has an unfavorable aspect. é─˙Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vinyard and eateth not the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of their flock?é─¨ (1 Cor. 9:7). Doubtless this man is sent here for the rise and fall of many in this place. We hope he will be used as a mean of leading some to Christ; on the other hand, we tremble at the thought that he may fit others for a more aggravated condemnation. Take heed how you hear. é─ţLemuel Hanes, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 35.
The following quotation is taken from the farewell address of Lemuel Haynes on 24 May, 1818 to the congregation he had served for thirty years. All gospel ministers know experimentally, in some degree, é─˙the terror of the Lordé─¨ and are led to é─˙persuade mené─¨ (2 Cor. 5:11). The man who does not appreciate the worth of souls and is not greatly affected with their dangerous situation is not qualified for the sacred office. It was the saying of a pious minister who would arise at midnight for prayer, é─˙How can I rest, how can I sleep, when so many of my congregation are exposed every moment to drop in hell!é─¨ é─ţThabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 56. The preceding quotation applies, of course, to pastors. If a man is not burdened for the souls of his flock, he is not qualified to be their shepherd. But leté─˘s apply this principle more broadly. The Lord Jesus has sent each of us into the world with an assignment: to preach the gospel and make disciples. This is the office to which we are all ordained when we ourselves become disciples. If we are not burdened for the souls around us who are é─˙exposed every moment to drop into hell,é─¨ are we worthy of that office?

Who Is Sufficient?

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne (1811é─ý1893) was a free black, born in Charleston, South Carolina during the height of slavery. He joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1841, and in 1852 was, against his wishes, elected bishop of the New England Conference. His passion was for an educated church, beginning with the man in the pulpit. Thabiti Anyabwile writes, é─˙In [Payneé─˘s] view, an undereducated and ill-prepared minister was a scandal and affliction upon black churches.é─¨ (The Faithful Preacher, Part Two, Bishop Daniel A. Payne: A Vision for an Educated Pastorate)    At the General conference of 1852, Daniel Payne received from Bishop Morris Brown a last-minute request to provide the opening address. Payne proved é─˙instant in season, out of seasoné─¨ (2 Tim. 4:2) as he selected 2 Corinthians 2:16 and the theme é─˙Who is Sufficient for These Things?é─¨ perhaps the text indicated Payneé─˘s four-year-long resistance to and fear of being chosen as a bishop, but it also provided a short outline for a preacheré─˘s calling as Payne saw it. First the preacher is to preach the gospel. That vocation did not consist of é─˙loud declamation or vociferous talkingé─¨ or é─˙whooping, stamping and beating the Bible and the deské─¨ or seeing who é─˙halooes the loudest and speaks the longest.é─¨ Preaching the gospel, according to Payne, required acquainting man with the holy God of heaven, with mané─˘s just condemnation, with his need for the savior, and with the necessity of repentance and faith. Second, a faithful minister cultivates maturity in the flock and thereby é─˙train[s] them for usefulness and for heaven.é─¨ Third, a good pastor disciplines and governs the church. This difficult duty requires the pastor é─˙to make his flock intimately acquainted with the doctrines of the Christian Church, instruct them in the principles of Church government, reprove them for negligence and sin, admonish them of their duties and obligations, and then try and expel the obstinate, so as to keep the Church as pure as human wisdom, diligence and zeal, under divine guidance, can make it.é─¨ Payne could rightly ask along with the apostle Paul, é─˙who is sufficient for these things?é─¨ These tasksé─ţpreaching the gospel, cultivating Christian maturity in the congregation, and exercising biblical church disciplineé─ţwere only possible by fusing an educated mind with true Christian experience and piety while depending wholly on the sufficiency of God. The one who is sufficient for the life and work of the ministry is the one who é─˙lives the life of faith and prayeré─¨ and who seeks to fill é─˙his head [with] all knowledge and his heart with all holinessé─¨ in pursuit of his Lord. é─ţThabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 81é─ý82.

Christ the Model

Thursday··2009·04·16 · 1 Comments
A very short answer to a very important question: . . . who is sufficient to preach the gospel of Christ and govern the church that he has purchased with his own blood? Who is sufficient to train his host of the Lord and to lead it from earth to heaven? Who is sufficient to guide it through this war against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places, against all the hosts of earth and hell, and place it triumphant upon the shining plains of glory? Who is sufficient? I answer, the man who makes Christ the model of his own Christian and ministerial character. This man, and he alone, is sufficient for these things. é─ţDaniel A. Payne, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 88é─ý89.

The Ministeré─˘s Speech

From the é─˙Nothing New under the Suné─¨ file comes this quotation by Bishop Daniel A. Payne, from a sermon preached in 1859.    The moral character of the minister of Jesus, then must be so elevated that he will be an example to believers: a. In his words. This has reference to both his speech inside the pulpit and outside of it. No foolishness, no arrogant sayings, no ludicrous antidotes, no filthy comparisons, no vulgarity, no obscene epithets, no blasphemous expressions should ever come from his lipsé─ţdarkening, confusing, disgracing the text he has undertaken to expound. The doctrine, the pure doctrineé─ţthe truth the whole truth and nothing but the truthé─ţshould ever be his utterances, both inside the pulpit and outside of it. In the sanctuary and in the parlor, the lips of the righteous man must speak wisdom, and his tongue must talk of judgment, so that every word and all his words shall be é─˙like apple of gold in pictures of silveré─¨ (Prov. 25:11). The moral character of the minister of Jesus must be elevated, so he will be an example of the believer. b. In conversation, i.e., in conduct. Oh, how careful we should walk before God and man! Rudeness in behavior disgraces the ministeré─˘s character, for it lowers the dignity of the Christian ministry. So does buffoonery, especially pulpit buffoonery, in which some men seem to pride themselves. I have seen such men whom people fond of fun would just as soon pay twenty-five cents to hear as see a clown perform in the circus. é─ţDaniel A. Payne, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 92.

The Educated Wife

Some good words for the church, the family, and parents of daughters in particular:    There are also your daughters. They ought to be the objects of your special regard. To educate them in such a manner as to render them fit to do Christian work is the highest duty of the church herself. She can perform none higher, none more beneficial for the community. And whenever a young woman of talents and piety is found, who has aptness for teaching and who is desirous to qualify herself thoroughly for such a work but has not the means to meet the expenses, this church ought to undertake to educate her. Perhaps there is no greater power in a given community than that of educated women. I use the term in its broadest, highest sense, by which I do not mean a smattering, or even excellence in music, instrumental and vocal, in drawing and painting; nor do I mean a mere classical or scientific and mathematical training. But I do mean a Christian education, that which draws our head and heart toward the Cross, and after consecrating them to the cross sends the individuals from beneath the cross with the spirit of him who died upon it, sending them abroad well fitted for Christian usefulness, a moral, a spiritual power, molding and coloring the community, and preparing it for a nobler and higher state of existence in that world where change never comes, unless it be a change from the good to the better and from the better to the best. The past, the dark past is goneé─ţI hope forever gone. It was a time when ignorance sat in high places and ruled, when vice was as respected as virtue. The present and the future demands a different spirit and different conduct. The almighty fiat has gone forth. é─˙Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increasedé─¨ (Dan. 12:4). Hence the future demands educated women in order that there may be educated wives, and consequently educated mothers who will give to the race a training entirely and essentially different from the past. In other words, the future demands wives and mothers who will, like Susannah Wesley, convert the homestead into a schoolhouse, and that schoolhouse into the church where young immortals shall be trained for their heavenward flight. The wants of the race demand such women to descend into the South as educators, to assist in correcting the religious errors of the freedmen and to bridle their wild enthusiasm. These religious errors, the wild enthusiasm of the freedmen, are results of the slavery that had been operating on them and their forefathers for nearly 250 years and cannot be removed in a day, nor by one man, nor by one kind of human agency. The Deity does not operate upon humanity in that fashion. He applies a multitude of instrumentalities and different agencies to civilize and Christianize a race. But of these none are more potent than the educated wife, the educated mother, the educated school-mistress, but educated under the Cross and in the spirit of him who died upon the cross. é─ţDaniel A. Payne, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 109é─ý110.

What Color Is Your Church?

Can your church be described by the color of its members? That is, do you belong to a “black” church, a “white” church, etc? Maybe your community, like mine, is not ethnically diverse enough to manifest such distinctions. If it is, and your church does not reflect that diversity, you should probably be asking why that is. Why should there be churches made up of white Christians, and churches made up of colored Christians in the same community, and, where all speak the same language; why should white Christians and colored Christians not feel perfectly at home with each other in the same religious gatherings, if they are all Christians, if they all believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man, in doing by others as they would be done by, in loving each other as they love themselves, in their oneness in Christ Jesus, and if the same holy Spirit dwells alike in their all hearts? —Francis J. Grimk├ę, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 119–120.

Where Emotionalism Prevails

Thursday··2009·05·14 · 1 Comments
The following excerpt from a sermon preached in 1892 by Francis J. Grimk├ę (1850-1937) addressed the rampant emotionalism in the pulpits of black churches of his day. More than one hundred years later, we can see not only that the same tendencies still exist, but that Grimk├ę’s message applies equally to people of all colors. The emotionalism of, say, an American of Scandinavian descent may lack the exuberance Grimk├ę saw, but it is no less superficial and no less spiritually retarding. . . . where emotionalism prevails, there will be a low state of spirituality among the people , and necessarily so. Christian character is not built up that way. Such growth comes from the knowledge and practice of Christian principles. If the body is to grow, it must be fed, and fed on wholesome and nutritious food. The same is true of the soul; and that food is God’s Word , line upon line and precept upon precept. There is no other way to of getting out of the bogs and malarious atmosphere of selfishness and pride and ill will and hatred and the many things which degrade and brutalize into the higher regions of love and purity and obedience and felicity except by the assimilation of Christian principles, except by holy and loving obedience to the word of God. We cannot get up there by on the wings of emotion; we cannot shout ourselves up to a high manhood and womanhood any more than we can shout ourselves into heaven. We must grow up to it. And until this fact is distinctly understood and fully appreciated and allowed to have its weight in our pulpit ministrations, the plane of spirituality upon which the masses of our people move will continue to be low. Shouting is not religion. The ability to make noise is no test of Christian character. The noisiest Christians are not the most saintly; those who shout the most vigorously are not always the most exemplary in character and conduct. —Francis J. Grimk├ę, cited in Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway, 2007), 130–131.

To the Sources

Thursday··2009·05·28 · 2 Comments
Some time ago I heard a pastor express the following complaint: é─˙Some Calvinists are more Calvinistic than Calvin.é─¨ What he meant was that, while Calvin sought to develop a biblical theology, and largely succeeded, some Calvinists develop their theology beginning with Calvinistic presuppositions rather than Scripture.* Calvin would not have been pleased. Burk Parsons writes:    Christopher Catherwood, in his book Five Leading Reformers, offers a word of warning to all Calvinists: We must be é─˙Bible Calvinistsé─¨ not é─˙system Calvinists.é─¨ We can all too easily get sucked into what we feel is a neat system of thought, and forget that we ought to make everything that we believe compatible with Scripture, even if that means jettisoning ideas that flow well in a purely logical sense but are nonetheless incompatible with what the Bible teaches. Although Calvin did not make that mistake himself, it is arguable that many of his followers have done so over the ensuing centuriesé─ţand I include myself, as a Calvinist, in that caution!    Although I would argue that é─˙Bible Calvinismé─¨ necessarily, and rightly, engenders é─˙system Calvinism,é─¨ Catherwoodé─˘s admonition is one we all should heed with care. Calvin was a Christian who fitst and foremost lived and breathed the living and active Word of God, and all true Calvinists must follow his example. Calvin labored over his Institutes of the Christian Religioné─ţwhich is unquestionably the most majestic volume in all of human history next to sacred Scriptureé─ţin ordered to help those preparing for the pastoral ministry to study the Word of God and have é─˙easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.é─¨ According to Calvin, we are to be é─˙daily taught in the school of Jesus Christ.é─¨ Thus, we must be students of Scripture if we are to possess right and sound doctrine: é─˙Now in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can even get the slightest taste of right doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.é─¨ Elsewhere Calvin writes, é─˙Let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything of him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word.é─¨ This, writes T. H. L. Parker, é─˙is Calviné─˘s theological programmeé─ţto build on the Scripture alone.é─¨ The entirety of Calviné─˘s ministry was established fundamentally on the Word of God. In accordance with the Reformation credo ad fontes, é─˙to the sourcesé─¨ (particularly to the only infallible source), Calviné─˘s Institutes was a summary of the Christian religion according to Scripture. This was Calviné─˘s theological modus operandi, as Calvin scholar Ronald S. Wallace maintains: é─˙We could, of course, argue cogently that the whole of his later teaching and outlook developed from the Bible. He insisted always that tradition must be constantly corrected by, and subordinated to, the teaching of Holy Scripture.é─¨ é─ţBurk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 4é─ý5. *A note to Arminian readers who are now nodding gleefully at an apparent admission that Calvinism is certainly not biblically derived: This is no such confession, only an acknowledgement that some Calvinists are more systematic than biblical. Now consider whether or not you approach Scripture without presupposing Arminian free will.

The Heart of True Calvinism

To many people, Calvinism is nothing more than five points. But, while the five points are a fair partial summary of Calviné─˘s soteriology, that is all they are. Calviné─˘s theology was so much broader than that, and could by no means be reduced to any mnemonic acrostic (TULIP). Burk Parsons writes on é─˙the heart of Calvin and Godé─˘s sovereign mastery of it.é─¨ This is the essence of Calvinism. So what is true Calvinism according to Calvin? In one sense, Calvinism is as systematically profound as Calviné─˘s lifeé─˘s work, as historically extensive as all that has been deduced from Calviné─˘s writings during the past five centuries, and, as Calvin would have it, as doctrinally narrow as the sixty-six books of sacred Scripture. A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin livedé─ţinsofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God. As Christians, we understand that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. By His saving grace, the Lord has taken hold of our hearts of stone, regenerated and conformed them into spiritually pliable hearts, and poured into them His love by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. This was Calviné─˘s perception of the Christian life: If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lordé─˘s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are Godé─˘s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are Godé─˘s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are Godé─˘s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [cf. Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads Io our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone. [Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1]    We are not our own; we belong to the Lord. That confession, in essence, is the heart of true Calvinism. Our salvation belongs to the Lord, from beginning to end (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). He has captivated our minds and has made His light to shine abroad in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6, 10:5). Our whole being belongs to Himé─ţheart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Calvin proclaimed, and this is the foundation on which his life was established. The Lord took hold of Calvin, and Calvin thus could not help but take away é─˙dominion and rule from his own reasoné─¨ [ibid.] and yield it Lord alone. That is the glorious brilliance reflected by any study of Calvin. There was nothing in Calvin himself that was superhuman, super-theologian, or super-churchman. Calvin was a man whom God chose to call out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that he might go back into the darkness and shine brightly unto every generation of Godé─˘s people until Christ returns. é─ţBurk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 6é─ý7

On Pouring Out Your Heart

I appreciate pastors who can preach with passion. What I doné─˘t appreciate are those who preach about their passion. But let them be passionate about God and his Word, like Calvin: [Calvin] was a man who preached not himself, but the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1-2). According to Parker, Calvin é─˙had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in place of the gospel of the Bible: é─˙When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with usé─¨ [Parker, Portrait of Calvin, 83.]. Calvin was not concerned with offering to his congregation the quaint meditations of his own heart. Although it has become popular in many churches for the pastor to strive to é─˙pour out his hearté─¨ to his congregation, such was not Calviné─˘s aim in his preaching, for he had offered his heart to God alone. As a result, Calvin did not think it was profitable to share the ever-changing passions of his own heart, but to proclaim the heart of God in His never-changing Word. Calvin was not concerned that his congregants behold him but that they behold the Lord. This should be the aim of every pastor, and, if necessary, every pastor should place a placard behind his pulpit with the following words inscribed: é─˙Sir, we wish to see Jesusé─¨ (John 12:21). Such was Calviné─˘s aim in his preaching and in all his life. é─ţBurk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 7é─ý8
Yes, I really blew it. I doné─˘t know why, but I posted this a month early. Go ahead, have a chuckle at my expense, and then get a head start on celebrating. The links below are good, even if the date isné─˘t. On this date in 1509, John Calvin, or Jean Chauvin, was born in Noyon, Picardie, France. If not for his premature death on 27 May, 1564, he would be 500 years old today. Even so, his early demise notwithstanding, é─˙he being dead, yet speakethé─¨é─ţloudly and eloquently.  Watch as Steve Lawson discusses his book on John Calvin  Meet John Calvin, hymn writer: I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art  Watch as Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, Albert Mohler, and Ligon Duncan discuss why John Calvin is still important today Read Theopedia on John Calvin Read Calviné─˘s Commentaties, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and more at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Take advantage of he best deal youé─˘ll find anywhere on Calviné─˘s Commentaries Download the portrait of Calvin that hangs on my office wall, formatted for printing on 8½×11 stock (borderless)

The Gospel According to Calvin

Last week, Burk Parsons introduced us to the heart of true Calvinism. Today, we’ll hear from Sinclair Ferguson on Calvin’s gospel. For Calvin, the gospel is not predestination or election, the sovereignty of God, or even the five points of doctrine with which his name is so often associated. These are aspects of the gospel but the gospel is Jesus Christ Himself. That may seem a truism—who would think anything else? But this truth takes on fresh significance in Calvin’s understanding. By the time of the second (1539) and subsequent editions of the Institutes, Calvin’s ongoing study of Scripture had brought a new depth to his understanding of the gospel (he completed his commentary on Romans in the same year). With this new understanding, he insisted that salvation and all its benefits not only come to us through Christ but are to be found exclusively in Christ, crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning, and returning. Two considerations followed. First, Calvin realized that through faith in Christ all the blessings of the gospel were his. Second, he saw that his life must be rooted and grounded in fellowship with Christ. Perhaps it was the personal realization of this that led him to wax lyrical at the climax of his exposition of the Christological section of the Apostles’ Creed: We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” (1 Corinthians 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . . If we seek redemptioon, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Galatians 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his decent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in the resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. —Institutes, 2.16.19 Calvin had make a great discovery, one that dominated both his theology and his life: if Christ is our Redeemer, then Christ was formed in the incarnation in order to deal precisely, perfectly, and fully with both the cause of our guilt and the consequences of our sin. Union with Christ was the means the Spirit used to bring this about. —Sinclair Ferguson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 35–36.

A Sense of Eternity

It is always a difficult tension in the Christian life to live in this world, today, while remembering that we are in reality citizens of another world, the fulfillment of which is yet to come. It is commonplace today in Reformed theology to recognize that the Christian lives é─˙between the timesé─¨é─ţalready we are in Christ, but a yet more glorious future awaits us in the final consummation. There is, therefore, a é─˙not yeté─¨ about our present Christian experience. Calvin well understood this, and he never dissolved the tension between the é─˙alreadyé─¨ and the é─˙not yet.é─¨ But he also stressed the importance for the present of the life-focus on the future. Calvin sought, personally, to develop a balance of contempt for the present life with a deep gratitude for the blessings of God and a love and longing for the heavenly kingdom. The sense that the Lord would come and issue His final assessment on all and bring His elect to glory was a dominant motif for him. This, the theme of his chapter é─˙Meditation of the Future Life,é─¨ was a major element in the energy with which he lived in the face of the é─˙not yeté─¨ of his own ailments and weakness. When he was seriously ill and confined to bed, his friends urged him to take some rest, but he replied, é─˙Would you that the Lord when he comes, should find me idle?é─¨ By living in the light of the return of Christ and the coming judgment, Calvin became deeply conscious of the brevity of time and the length of eternity. This sense of eternity overflowed from his life into his work. It was so characteristic of him that it flowed out naturally in his prayers at the conclusion of his lectures. Here we see the wonderful harmony of his biblical exposition, his understanding of the gospel, his concern to teach young men how to live for Godé─˘s glory, and his personal piety. A fragment of one of these prayers, chosen almost randomly, fittingly summarizes this all-too-brief reflection of the heart for God that Calvin expressed in his learning and leadership: May we be prepared, whatever happens, rather to undergo a hundred deaths than to turn aside from the profession of true piety, in which we know our safety to be laid up. And may we so glorify thy name as to be partakers of that glory which has been acquired for us through the blood of thine only-begotten son. Amen. é─ţSinclair Ferguson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 40é─ý41

Calvin the Evangelist

Thursday··2009·06·18 · 4 Comments
As you are no doubt aware, Calvinists are not concerned with evangelism. Calvinism itself declares evangelism unnecessary. Right? History tells a different story, a story that goes back to Calvin himself. CALVIN AS PASTOR/EVANGELIST/MISSIONARYMost are aware of the stereotypical charge that Calvinists are concerned only about doctrine and are indifferent to evangelism and missions. It is further charged that Calvinism is actually counterproductive to the missionary/evangelistic enterprise. Not only is that historically untrue, as revealed by examining the roster of great evangelistic pastors and missionaries who were avowed Calvinists, (i.e., George Whitfield, Charles H. Spurgeon, William Cary, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), it is patently untrue of Calvin himself. Calviné─˘s passion as a pastor/evangelist was revealed in multiple venues. Calvin persistently evangelized to the children of Geneva through catechism classes and the Geneva Academy. Moreover, he trained preachers to appeal for men and women to follow Christ. The visitation of the sick prescribed an evangelistic inquiry. Even a cursory examination of Calviné─˘s sermons readily reveals an unquenchable zeal for men and women to be converted to Christ. But what about missions? In the Registry of the Venerable Company of Pastors, it is recorded that eighty-eight missionaries had been sent out from Geneva. In actuality, there were probably more than one hundred, and most of them were directly under Calvin. But missions work also went on at a more informal level. Geneva became a magnet for persecuted believers, and many of these immigrants were discipled and eventually returned to their own countries as effective missionaries and evangelists. As the troubled times in Calviné─˘s pastoral ministry subsided, the opportunity for intentional missionary expansion, and church planting ripened. The blessing of God upon the missionary endeavors of Calvin and the Geneva churches from 1555 to 1562 was extraordinaryé─ţmore than one hundred underground churches were planted In France by 1560. By 1562, the number had increased to 2,150, producing more than three million members. Some of these churches had congregations numbering in the thousands. The pastor of Montpelier informed Calvin by letter that é─˙our church, thanks to the Lord, has so grown and so continues to grow every day that we are preaching three sermons every Sunday to more than 5 to 6 thousand people.é─¨ another letter from the pastor of Toulouse declared é─˙our church continues to grow to the astonishing number of 8 to 9 thousand souls.é─¨ Calviné─˘s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries. This effort, coupled with Calviné─˘s support of the Waldensians, produced a French Huguenot Church that almost triumphed over the Catholic Counter-Reformation in France. Calvin did not evangelize and plant churches in France alone. Geneva-trained missionaries planted churches in Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Germany, England, Scotland, and the independent states of the Rhineland. Evan more astonishing was an initiative that sent missionaries to Brazil. Calviné─˘s commitment to evangelism and missions was not theoretical, but as in every other area of his life and ministry, a matter of zealous action and passionate commitment. é─ţHarry L. Reeder, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 67é─ý68

Calvin the Counselor

John Calvin is known today primarily for his work as a theologian. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the man who published as many as half a million words in his most prolific years had time for anything else. But though he was an almost constant writer, he was first and foremost a committed pastor, personally involved in the lives of his flock. This aspect of his life gives the lie to many popular representations of Calvin as a hard, cold academic. While most people (who are aware of Calvin at all) are only aware of his theological works, we also have a large bodyé─ţnumbering more than twelve hundredé─ţof letters. It is in these letters that we best see the pastoral character of John Calvin. W. Robert Godfrey presents an example: ENCOURAGEMENT TO A PERSECUTED SAINTMathieu Dimonet, a Reformed Christian from Lyon, was arrested on Jan. 9, 1553, and martyred on July 15 of that year. Shortly after his arrest, Calvin wrote to encourage him. . . . You need not be daunted, seeing that God has promised to equip his own according as they are assaulted by Satan. Only commit yourself to him, distrusting all in yourself, and hope that he only will suffice to sustain you. Further, you have to take heed chiefly to two things: first, what the side is you defend, and next, what crown is promised to those who continue steadfast in the Gospel.    Calvin writes that Dimoneté─˘s future is uncertain, but that even if he faces death, Godé─˘s love and provision are certain: We do not know as yet what he has determined to do concerning you, but there is nothing better for you than to sacrifice your life to him, being ready to part with it whenever he wills, and yet hoping that he will preserve it, in so far as he knows it to be profitable for your salvation. And although this be difficult to the flesh, yet it is the true happiness of his faithful ones; and you must pray that it may please this gracious God so to imprint it upon your heart that it may never be effaced therefrom. For our part, we also shall pray that he would make you feel his power, and vouchsafe you the full assurance that you are under his keeping; that he bridles the rage of your enemies, and in every way manifests himself as your God and Father.    On July 7, 1553, Calvin wrote again to Dimonet and others imprisoned with him in Lyon to assure them that God had promised them strength for what they must endure. Calvin writes, é─˙Be then assured, that God who manifests himself in time of need, and perfects his strength in our weakness, will not leave you unprovided with that which will powerfully magnify his name.é─¨ Calvin acknowledges that according to human reasoning their suffering is wrong, but he urges them to be confident in God and his purposes: It is strange, indeed, to human reason, that the children of God should be so surfeited with afflictions, while the wicked disport themselves in delights; but even more so, that the slaves of Satan should tread us under foot, as we say, and triumph over us. However, we have wherewith to comfort ourselves in all our miseries, looking for that happy issue which is promised to us, that he will not only deliver us by his angels, but will himself wipe away the tears from our eyes. And thus we have good right to despise the pride of these poor blinded men, who to their own ruin lift up their rage against heaven; and although we are not at present in your condition, yet we do not on that account leave off fighting together with you by prayer, by anxiety and tender compassion, as fellow-members, seeing that it has pleased our heavenly Father, of his infinite goodness, to unite us into one body, under his Son, our head. Whereupon I shall beseech him, that he would vouchsafe you this grace, that being stayed upon him, you may in nowise waver, but rather grow in strength; that he would keep you under his protection, and give you such assurance of it that you may be able to despise all that is of the world.    These two examples are only a brief sample of Calviné─˘s work of counseling as a faithful pastor. He sought always to minister the truth and comfort of Godé─˘s Word to the children of God. His counsel had both a tough realism and a sensitive compassion to it. He faced the miseries and struggles of this life straightforwardly, and he pointed Christians to Godé─˘s fatherly care both in this life and in the life to come. Above all, he encouraged Christians to look to Christ as the one who deserves the Fatheré─˘s love, and he assured them that while weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. é─ţW. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 90é─ý92

Calvin’s Institutes vs. Calvin’s Commentaries

Saturday··2009·06·20 · 2 Comments
John Calvin is famous—or infamous, depending on whom you ask—for his systematic theology. I’ve read portions of his Institutes in various electronic forms, and now that I’ve recently acquired a hard copy, I hope to get through it all. But I’ve been increasingly drawn towards Calvin’s expositional works (I just got a set of his commentaries, too!). Systematic theology is a necessary discipline, but exegesis must come before systematics. Phil Johnson writes of the relation between Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries: Some critics have imagined that they see numerous contradictions between Calvin’s Institutes and his commentaries, but on close inspection these invariably turn out to be differences in emphasis, determined by whatever text Calvin is commenting on in its native context. For example, Calvin’s famous remarks on John 3:16 are often singled out by Arminians as contradictory to fundamental Calvinist soteriology—especially the doctrines of election and effectual calling. Calvin writes: Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. . . . And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, trans. William Pringle (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963), 1:123–125.] In reality, nothing in those comments is the least bit incompatible with Calvin’s views on salvation or the doctrine he lays out in the Institutes. Calvin affirmed both the doctrine of election and the indiscriminate proposal of reconciliation in the gospel message. Like most strains of Calvinism even today, Calvin saw no conflict between the truths of God’s sovereign election, His well-meant proposal of mercy to all sinners, the sinner’s own duty to repent and believe, and the truth that sinners are so depraved none can or will respond to the gospel apart from God’s enabling grace. Half a century ago, a helpful review of Calvin’s commentaries in a theological journal gave this sound advice: The commentaries complement the Institutes. Many of the controversies which have racked and sometimes splintered the Reformed Churches could have been avoided if the commentaries had been studied as assiduously as the Institutes. The student who knows only The Institutes does not have a complete picture of the theology of the French reformer. Questions such as inspiration, natural theology, and predestination are dealt with in another way in the exegetical works of Calvin, This is not to say that there is any contradiction between the Institutes and the commentaries. They must be taken together, however, to get a clear understanding of Calvin’s theology. [Walter G. Hards, “Calvin’s Commentaries,” Theology Today (April 1959), 16:1:123–124.] The commentaries are at once warm and pastoral, powerful and lucid, sumptuous and scholarly. They are a remarkable achievement, and if this had been Calvin’s only contribution to the literature of the Reformation, his reputation as the greatest biblical thinker among the leading Reformers would have been secured. —Phil Johnson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 102–103.

Calvin in Letters

As we have previously seen, the pastoral character of John Calvin can perhaps be seen best in the more than four thousand of his letters that have been published. In these letters, a gentle, genuine concern, even for those who opposed him, is evident. Phil Johnson writes:    Most of Calviné─˘s letters convey the great tenderness of his pastoré─˘s hearté─ţespecially when he wrote to admonish or correct someone who was in error. The tone of the letters belies the modern caricature of Calvin as a stern, fire-breathing, doctrinaire authoritarian. Still, his passion for the truth, his vast knowledge of Scripture and church history, and his meticulous logic are perpetually evident. There are occasional touches of emotion, ranging from frustration to humor, and throughout we get the sense of a man who (while consistently plainspoken) was never aloof or unapproachable but always sociable, affectionate, and cordial. The letters give us the best and most intimate sense of Calvin as a man. Calvin corresponded with Laelius Socinus, the Italian father of the heresy known as Socinianism. Phil continues: [Socinusé─˘s] theology (such as it was) consisted of a particularly pernicious blend of skepticism and humanistic values, posing as Christianity but denying practically everything distinctive about the faith. Socinus was, in short, a theological liberal, and his system laid the foundation for deism, Unitarianism, and a host of similar variations, ranging from process theology and open theism to the pure skepticism of the so-called é─˙Jesus Seminar.é─¨ Like many of todayé─˘s é─˙Emergenté─¨ and post-evangelical writers, Socinus preferred to question everything rather than assert anything definitively. He lived for a time in Wittenberg, Germany, and while there, wrote to Calvin with a list of questions, which apparently were nothing more than thinly disguised protests against Calviné─˘s teaching. Calviné─˘s reply is full of good advice for many professing Christians in these postmodern times who like to toy with skepticism: Certainly no one can be more averse to paradox than I am, and in subtleties I find no delight at all. Yet nothing shall ever hinder me from openly avowing what I have learned from the Word of God; for nothing but what is useful is taught in the school of this master. It is my only guide, and to acquiesce in its plain doctrines shall be my constant rule of wisdom. Would that you also, my dear Laelius, would learn to regulate your powers with the same moderation! You have no reason to expect a reply from me so long as you bring forward those monstrous questions. If you are gratified by floating among those airy speculations, permit me, I beseech you, an humble disciple of Christ, to meditate on those things which tend towards the building up of my faith. And indeed I shall hereafter follow out my wishes in silence, that you may not be troubled by me. And in truth I am very greatly grieved that the fine talents with which God has endowed you, should be occupied not only with what is vain and fruitless, but that they should also be injured by pernicious figments. What I warned you of long ago, I must again seriously repeat, that unless you correct in time this itching after investigation, it is to be feared you will bring upon yourself severe suffering. I should be cruel towards you did I treat with a show of indulgence what I believe to be a very dangerous error. I should prefer, accordingly, offending you a little at present by my severity, rather than allow you to indulge unchecked in the fascinating allurements of curiosity. The time will come, I hope, when you will rejoice in having been so violently admonished. Adieu, brother very highly esteemed by me; and if this rebuke is harsher than it ought to be, ascribe it to my love to you. [Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation, 128é─ý129.]é─ţPhil Johnson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 105é─ý107.

The Holy Spirit & the Church

Thabiti Anyabwile writes on Calviné─˘s view of the Holy Spirit in the corporate life of the church: Calvin perceived the intertwining of Jesusé─˘ person and work with that of the Holy Spirit and the local church. According to Calvin: [Jesus] was anointed by the Spirit to be herald and witness of the Fatheré─˘s grace. We must note this: he received anointing, not only for himself that he might carry out the office of teaching, but for his whole body that the power of the Spirit might be present in the continuing preaching of the gospel. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.15.2.]    Calvin understood what some habitually forgeté─ţeffective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers Himself in the gospel. If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent. But Calvin reminds us also that the Spirit is necessary for producing the unity fitting for renewed life. In His atonement, Christ becomes é─˙our peace,é─¨ and purchases and makes for Himself é─˙one new mané─¨ (Eph. 2:14é─ý15). But the Spirit is the agent who applies this reality. Commenting on Ephesians 2:16é─ý19, Calvin writes, é─˙We must all participate in one Spirit.é─¨ That participation in the Spirit of God produces é─˙such a union among us as might show that we are in very deed the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough for us to be piled up together like a heap of stones, but we must be joined together with cordial affection.é─¨ [Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, 326.] Calvin unswervingly proclaimed that é─˙when Godé─˘s Spirit governs us, He reforms our affections in such a way that our souls are joined together.é─¨ [Ibid.] What a beautiful picture of life together in the local church. But this was no preacheré─˘s flourish for Calvin; he believed Scripture teaches that unity is a mark of the church of God. He writes: We must keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For here he puts down the unity of the Spirit as a mark that is required in the church and flock of God, insomuch that if we are divided among ourselves, we are estranged from God. And with this, he shows us what we have seen briefly before, which is that if we are not at one among ourselves, God disclaims us and tells us we do not belong to Him. This unity therefore is something which ought to be valued nowadays seeing it is the way in respect of which we are acknowledged as Godé─˘s children. [Ibid., 323.]    If this unity was to be prized in Calviné─˘s day, it is no less needed in our day. Unity in the truth and in Godé─˘s Spirit is essential. It must be among the ends for which gospel preachers and all Christians labor, remembering that our love and unity commend to a perishing world the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:20é─ý21). The twenty-first-century church needs a number of things, including a deeper understanding of saving faith and conversion, a greater desire for sanctification and deliverance from worldliness, a resurgence of powerful gospel preaching, and a unwavering commitment to unity in the church. Five hundred years after his life and ministry, Calvin teaches us that essential to meeting all of these needs is daily reliance on God the Holy Spirit, é─˙the chief key by which the gate of paradise is opened to us.é─¨ [Ibid., 207.] é─ţThabiti Anyabwile, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 105é─ý107.

Depravity According to Calvin

John MacArthur explains Calviné─˘s view of human depravity: The phrase é─˙total depravityé─¨ (not an expression of Calviné─˘s but a phrase descriptive of his view) has an unfortunate ambiguity about it. Many who are exposed to that terminology for the first time suppose it means Calvin taught that all sinners are as thoroughly bad as they possibly can be. But Calvin expressly disclaimed that view. He acknowledged that é─˙in every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout lifeé─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.3.]. Calvin suggested that such people (even though there are é─˙lapses . . . in their moral conducté─¨ [Ibid.]) are of commendable character, from a human point of view. é─˙They have by the very zeal of their honesty given proof that there was some purity in their natureé─¨ [Ibid.]. He went even further: é─˙These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging mané─˘s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout lifeé─¨ [Ibid., emphasis added.]. Nevertheless, Calvin went on to say, such thinking actually points the wrong direction. Instead, é─˙it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for Godé─˘s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardlyé─¨ [Ibid.]. Calvin was describing here what later theologians called é─˙common graceé─¨é─ţthe divine restraining influence that mitigates the effects of our sin and enables even fallen creatures to displayé─ţnever perfectly, but always in a weak and severely blemished wayé─ţthe image of God that is still part of our human nature, marred though it was by the fall. In other words, depravity is é─˙totalé─¨ in the sense that it infects every part of our beingé─ţnot the body only; not the feelings alone; but flesh, spirit, mind, emotions, desires, motives, and will together. Weé─˘re not always as bad as we can be, but that is solely because of Godé─˘s restraining grace. We ourselves are thoroughly depraved, because in one way or another sin taints everything we think, do, and desire. Thus, we never fear God the way we should, we never love Him as much as we ought, and we never obey Him with a totally pure heart. That, for Calvin, is what depravity means. Calviné─˘s thorough treatment of human depravity is one of his most important legacies. Next to his work on the doctrine of justification by faith, it may be the most vital aspect of his doctrinal system. He brought clarity to a crucial principle that had practically fallen into obscurity over the centuries since Augustineé─˘s conflict with Pelagius: to magnify human free will or minimize the extent of human depravity is to downplay the need for divine grace, and that undermines every aspect of gospel truth. Once a person truly grasps the truth of human depravity, the more difficult and controversial principles of Calvinist soteriology fall into place. Unconditional election, the primacy and efficacy of saving grace, the need for substitutionary atonement, and the perseverance of those whom God graciously redeems are all necessary consequences of this principle. é─ţJohn MacArthur, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 137é─ý138

Election and Foreknowledge

Friday··2009·07·03 · 1 Comments
In his chapter of the book John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, é─˙Election and Reprobation,é─¨ Richard D. Phillips presents John Calviné─˘s doctrine, as well as Calviné─˘s answers to some common objections. Of particular interest to me is his response to the position I formerly held:    First among [the objections to the doctrine of Unconditional Election] is the assertion that election is based on Godé─˘s foreknowledge. This approach seeks to counter Calviné─˘s doctrine of election by asserting that God foresees which people will believe His Word in the future, then predestines them for salvation on that basis. Likewise, God foreknows those who will not believe, and thus elects them for condemnation. Calvin explains, é─˙These persons consider that God distinguishes among men according as he foresees what the merits of each will beé─¨ [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics, XXé─ýXXI (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3.21.3.]. In reply, Calvin first notes that the true issue involves the origin of salvation. Under the foreknowledge view, Godé─˘s grace finds its origin in the worthiness of the recipient; since God can give grace only in response to foreseen merit, it is not His freely to give. But the Bible presents a different picture: as Calvin states, é─˙God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he willsé─¨ [Ibid., 3.22.1.]. Calvin then unfolds the teaching of Scripture, which insists that salvation originates not in the worthiness of the recipient but in the free grace of God. He notes that the Bibleé─˘s teaching that God chose His people before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) clearly means merit plays no part in their election. We are chosen é─˙in Christé─¨é─ţsince we have nothing in ourselves to commend us to Godé─˘s grace, God views us by our union with Christ. This shows that the elect possess no merit of their own for God to foresee. In fact, Calvin says, Ephesians 1:4 declares that é─˙all virtue appearing in man is the result of electioné─¨ [Ibid., 3.22.2.]. Here, then, is the question: is our faith the cause or the result of our election? If we are elected because of foreseen faith, then we can make no sense of Paulé─˘s teaching: é─˙He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before himé─¨ (Eph. 1:4). As Calvin explains, the foreknowledge objection inverts the order of Paulé─˘s reasoning: é─˙If he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be soé─¨ [Ibid., 3.22.3.]. This is abundantly confirmed in Paulé─˘s subsequent teaching, when he states that our election is é─˙according to the purpose of his willé─¨ (Eph. 1:5) and é─˙according to his purposeé─¨ (Eph. 1:9). Paul uses similar language in 2 Timothy 1:9, writing that God é─˙saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.é─¨ Preaching on this text, Calvin asserts: é─˙He saith not that God hath chosen us because we have heard the gospel, but on the other hand, he attributes the faith that is given us to the highest cause; to wit, because God hath fore-ordained that He would save usé─¨ [John Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons (1830; repr. Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 46.]. Therefore, instead of teaching that salvation originates in what God foresees in us, Calvin insists, é─˙all benefits that God bestows for the spiritual life, as Paul teaches, flow from this one source: namely, that God has chosen whom he has willed, and before their birth has laid up for them individually the grace that he willed to grant themé─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.22.2.]. é─ţRichard D. Phillips, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 147é─ý149.

Election and Assurance

Writing on é─˙The advantages of predestinationé─¨ according to Calvin, Richard Phillips presents the doctrine of election as a source of assurance to believers:    Calvin also saw the doctrine of predestination as possessing great pastoral value, especially in rightly grounding our assurance of salvation. But first he warned against a vain and dangerous attempt to base our assurance on direct knowledge of Godé─˘s decree. One must not attempt, he writes, é─˙to break into the inner recesses of divine wisdom . . . in order to find out what decision has been made concerning himself at Godé─˘s judgment seat.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.4.] No mere creature has direct access to Godé─˘s eternal counsel, so to seek assurance through knowledge of election is to be dashed against the rocks like a shipwrecked mariner. So how does the doctrine of election contribute to assurance? Calvin preached: é─˙How do we know that God has elected us before the creation of the world? By believing in Jesus Christ. . . . Whosoever then believes is thereby assured that God has worked in him, and faith is, as it were, the duplicate copy that God gives us of the original of our adoption. God has his eternal counsel, and he always reserves to himself the chief and original record of which he gives us a copy by faith.é─¨ [John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (1577; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 47.] Election is always é─˙in Christé─¨ (Eph. 1:4), so the distinguishing mark of the elect is their union with Christ in faith. é─˙Therefore,é─¨ Calvin explains, é─˙if we desire to know whether God cares for our salvation, let us inquire whether he has entrusted us to Christ, whom he has established as the sole Savior of all his people.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.6.] On this basis, true believers can and should look to the future without anxiety, knowing that their faith in Christ testifies to their eternal election. But this does not encourage presumptuous abuse of our privileges, since apart from discipleship to Christ our grounds for confidence vanish. Most importantly, Christians look for perseverance in faith not to themselves but to the promise of Christ: é─˙This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last dayé─¨ (John 6:39). Likewise, we rely for our perseverance in faith on the determination of Godé─˘s sovereign will, since, Paul writes, é─˙He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christé─¨ (Phil. 1:6). How many Christians stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God? The doctrine of election tells us that it was God who sought us and not we who sought Him; that God called us to Himself in time because He chose us in eternity. No longer seeking confidence in a decision we have made or in our feeble resolves for the future, we put our confidence in God, as Paul insists: é─˙Godé─˘s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: é─˛The Lord knows those who are hisé─˘é─¨ (2 Tim. 2:19a). Notice Calviné─˘s pastoral sensitivity as he preaches on this theme: We are as birds upon the boughs, and set forth as a prey to Satan. What assurance then could we have of tomorrow, and of all our life; yea, and after death, were it not that God, who hath called us, will end His work as He hath begun it. How hath He gathered us together in the faith of His gospel? Is it grounded upon us? Nay, entirely to the contrary; it proceedeth from His free election. Therefore; we may be so much the more freed from doubt. [Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness, 103é─ý104.] é─ţRichard D. Phillips, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 152é─ý153.

A Humble(d) Calvinist

Friday··2009·07·10 · 2 Comments
There are certain people to whom I may or may not be related who would dispute my humility, or might in Churchillian fashion say, é─˙Well, yes, but then he has good cause to be humble.é─¨ Calvinists in general are often characterized as lacking humility. While there no doubt are arrogant Calvinists, I believe this is a misrepresentation of Calvinists. We are, as our theology dictates, the first to admit that we have good reason to be humble, and no cause for pride. That is not to say that we doné─˘t struggle with pride the same as everyone else. But God is faithful to provide humbling experiences (Daniel 4:37), as he did on this day last month . . .

A Love/Hate Relationship

Tom Ascol and John Calvin on sin, and Godé─˘s simultaneous love and hatred toward sinners:    Godé─˘s response toward all sinners is anger and opposition. His wrath is provoked and stored up against all sin. The distinction that Roman Catholicism makes between venial and mortal sins is baseless. While Protestants rightly reject that kind of distinction theologically, it often subtly informs much of their thinking about sin and judgment. Many are under the false impression that Godé─˘s wrath in general, or hell in particular, is reserved for those guilty of é─˙major sins,é─¨ such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Lesser sinners are tempted to hope that their case is significantly different. This is why even the title of Jonathan Edwardsé─˘ famous sermon, é─˙Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,é─¨ so often evokes scorn. It is assumed that while it might be conceivable that some sinners would be in that horrible position, surely it is not true of all. To this Calvin answers, é─˙Every sin is a deadly sin!é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.59.] In saying this, he was merely echoing the prophet Ezekiel, who teaches, é─˙the soul who sins shall dieé─¨ (18:4, 20), and the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 6:23, é─˙The wages of sin is death.é─¨ Calvin exhorts Christians to acknowledge this fundamental, vital point of biblical teaching: é─˙Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal. For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes Godé─˘s wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which Godé─˘s judgment is pronounced without exception.é─¨ [ibid.] This is true even for those whom God chose before the foundation of the world to receive salvation (Eph. 1:4). Though they are the objects of eternal, divine love, they are nevertheless liable to Godé─˘s anger because of their sin. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this fact when he writes that Christians were é─˙by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankindé─¨ (2:3). This means that, before their conversion, the elect are both deeply loved by God and at enmity with Him. Calvin explains the matter quite starkly by quoting Augustine after invoking Romans 5:8: Therefore, [God] loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made. [Ibid., 2.14.4.] é─ţThomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 160é─ý161.

Calvin on Expiation

Tom Ascol and John Calvin on expiation (the taking away of sin, not to be confused with propitiation):    Christ accomplished [expiation] in His death. Paul writes that it was é─˙while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Soné─¨ (Rom. 5:10). What Jesus did on the cross removed the cause of the breach in the relationship between God and sinners. His death expiated our sins. Calviné─˘s comments on the announcement of John the Baptist upon seeing Jesus for the first time (John 1:29) underscore this truth. Calvin writes: The principal office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from this source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 1:63.]    In the old covenant, expiation of sins was portrayed by means of animal sacrifices. All of the ceremony surrounding the sacrificial offerings was designed to point to the work of Christ on the cross. Calvin elaborates: The sacrifice was offered in such a manner as to expiate sin by enduring its punishment and curse. This was expressed by the priests by means of the laying on of hands, as if they threw on the sacrifice the sins of the whole nation. (Exodus 29:15) And if a private individual offered a sacrifice, he also laid his hand upon it, as if he threw upon it his own sin. Our sins were thrown upon Christ in such a manner that he alone bore the curse. . . . [This describes] the benefit of Christé─˘s death, that by his sacrifice sins were expiated, and God was reconciled towards men. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, 4:124é─ý125.] é─ţThomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 164é─ý165.

To Will What We Ought

Thursday··2009·07·30 · 1 Comments
Arminians have often caricatured the doctrine of Irresistible Grace as dragging sinners, against their will, into the Kingdom of God. But that is not what any Calvinist believes, and it is certainly not what Calvin himself believed. Keith Mathison writes:    In 1542, the Dutch Roman Catholic theologian Albert Pighius wrote a work titled Ten Books on Human Free Choice and Divine Grace. Pighius was critiquing Calviné─˘s teaching on the subject of free will and predestination as found in the 1539 edition of the Institutes. In 1543, Calvin wrote a response to Pighius titled The Bondage and Liberation of the Will. This book contains Calviné─˘s most extended treatment of the relationship between Godé─˘s grace and mané─˘s will. In it, Calvin sums up his argument against Pighius in the following statement: But all that we say amounts to this. First, that what a person is or has or is capable of is entirely empty and useless for the spiritual righteousness which God requires, unless one is directed to the good by the grace of God. Secondly, that the human will is of itself evil and therefore needs transformation and renewal so that it may begin to be good, but that grace itself is not merely a tool which can help someone if he is pleased to stretch out his hand to [take] it. That is, [God] does not merely offer it, leaving [to man] the choice between receiving it and rejecting it, but he steers the mind to choose what is right, he moves the will also effectively to obedience, he arouses and advances the endeavor until the actual completion of the work is attained. [Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defence of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius, 114.]    Contrary to Pighius, Calvin affirms that grace is efficacious: [In the Institutes] I say, then, that grace is not offered to us in such a way that afterwards we have the option either to submit or to resist. I say that it is not given merely to aid our weakness by its support as though anything depended on us apart from it. But I demonstrate that it is entirely the work of grace and a benefit conferred by it that our heart is changed from a stony one to one of flesh, that our will is made new, and that we, created anew in heart and mind, at Transforming Grace length will what we ought to will. For Paul bears witness that God does not bring about in us [merely] that we are able to will what is good, but also that we should will it right up to the completion of the act. How big a difference there is between performance and will! Likewise, I determine that our will is effectively formed so that it necessarily follows the leading of the Holy Spirit, and not that it is sufficiently encouraged to be able to do so if it wills. [Ibid., 174.]    As we see, Calvin clearly taught that in order for man to be saved, the Holy Spirit had to work efficaciously and irresistibly to bring him from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life. In his teaching on the subject of saving grace, Calvin merely followed the doctrine set forth in the Scriptures. The doctrine of efficacious grace is necessary because of the state of fallen man. Man is born dead in sin (cf. Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13), with his mind and heart corrupted (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7é─ý8; 1 Cor. 2:14). He is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:20; Titus 3:3) and therefore unable to repent and come to God (Jer. 13:23; Matt. 7:18; John 6:44, 65). Because of this, man must be born again (John 3:5é─ý7). Those whom God elected and for whom Christ died are brought to life by the Holy Spirit (John 1:12é─ý13; 3:3é─ý8; 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 5; Titus 3:5). God gives them faith and repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 13:48; Eph. 2:8é─ý9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25é─ý26), and they are justified. é─ţKeith A. Mathison, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 173é─ý174.

Perseverence and Apostacy

Can Christians lose their salvation? Jesus said no, and that promise is repeated in the New Testament epistles. Yet anecdotes abound of those who have abandoned the faith. Many of us know someone who we believed to be saved, but has gone back to the world. Calvin said é─˙it happens daily.é─¨ Is this proof that salvation can be lost? Jay Adams writes: When, for instance, preachers from the heretical denomination called the Churches of Christ speak of é─˙the possibility of apostasy,é─¨ they mean that those who are truly saved may leave the faith, lose their salvation, and turn against the Lord Jesus Christ. Plainly, the Bible speaks about apostasy, but that is not what it means by the word. A very important verse that makes the truth about apostasy clear is 1 John 2:19: é─˙They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.é─¨ In this verse, John is addressing the fact that certain gnostic teachers who had been in the fold had left and had begun teaching their heresy. Previously, they had seemed to be true Christians, because they gave no outward indication of their heretical belief. But their false views of the nature of Christ solidified and came to the fore, and they found that they could no longer fellowship with genuine Christians. So they apostatized and denied that Christ died for our sins. In this verse, two important facts emerge. First, those who apostatized were never true believers. John says that by leaving they made it clear that this was so (é─˙they were not of usé─¨). While they had been a part of the visible church, they had never belonged to the invisible church. Their profession of faith was false. This problem of a false profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which we so often encounter in our churches today, was a problem in apostolic times and in the sixteenth century as well. In fact, Calvin describes it as a é─˙dailyé─¨ occurrence: Yet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christé─˘s, fall away from him again, and hasten to destruction. Indeed, in that same passage, where he declares that none of those whom the Father had given to him perished, he nevertheless excepts the son of perdition [John 17:12]. True indeed, but it is also equally plain that such persons never cleaved to Christ with the heartfelt trust in which certainty of election has, I say, been established for us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.7.]    Those who teach that believers may apostatize from the church disregard Johné─˘s plain explanation of the facts. We must not do so. Instead, we must maintain that those who denounce the faith never had true faith in the first place. They may have been among believers, but they were not of them. Otherwise, as John says, they would not have failed to persevere with them. Second, note the corollary: John affirms that é─˙if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.é─¨ True believers remain in the faith and in the church. They endure to the end. It is certainly possible for a believer to defect for a time, but, like Peter or John Marké─ţwho both had temporary lapsesé─ţin the end they repent and return. é─ţJay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 184é─ý185.

Perseverence vs. OSAS

Years ago, the doctrine of é─˙once saved, always savedé─¨ was a big stumbling block for me as I approached the doctrines known as é─˙Calvinism.é─¨ Having read and heartily agreed with The Gospel According to Jesus (ironically, I thought, by a Calvinist), I abhorred the notion that one could é─˙accept Jesusé─¨ and be secure in his salvation while living an unchanged life; and I still do. The doctrines known as é─˙Free Grace Theologyé─¨ are no less than anti-gospel heresies. But isné─˘t that the logical conclusion of Calvinism? If you have been taught the é─˙once saved, always savedé─¨ doctrine, you may think that there is no difference between that teaching and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But while it is certainly true that those who are once saved will always be saved, the concept of the perseverance of the saints encompasses a vitally important truth that is rarely emphasized by people who teach the é─˙once saved, always savedé─¨ view. That missing emphasis is the fact that a person is saved through perseverance, not apart from it. The é─˙once saved, always savedé─¨ view may lead those who hold it into quietistic thinking. That is to say, they may think that they have little or no part to play in maintaining their salvation, but that God does it all for them. While a person is not saved by works (as Romanists believe) and does not remain saved because of works (as the Churches of Christ believe), God saves only those who persevere in the faith. In a section of the Institutes of the Christian Religion titled é─˙Perseverance is exclusively Godé─˘s work; it is neither a reward nor a complement of our individual act,é─¨ Calvin writes: Perseverance would, without any doubt, be accounted Godé─˘s free gift if a most wicked error did not prevail that it is distributed according to mené─˘s merit, in so far as each man shows himself receptive to the first grace. But since this error arose from the fact that men thought it in their power to spurn or to accept the proffered grace of God, when the latter opinion is swept away the former idea also falls of itself. However, there is here a twofold error. For besides teaching that our gratefulness for the first grace and our lawful use of it are rewarded by subsequent gifts, they add also that grace does not work in us by itself, but is only a co-worker with us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.11.] Perseverance is the result of the work of the Spirit in believersé─˘ hearts. Nevertheless, it is a work that enables them to keep on believing, as Peter says. God does not believe for them. Rather, they are é─˙guardedé─¨ through faith. In John 15, we read about the sanctification that is necessary for a believer to be saved. [I.e., the sanctification that is always present, giving evidence of the fact that one is saved.] A so-called é─˙abidingé─¨ condition, which some Higher Life adherents take to mean a special sort of holiness, is not taught in the passage. That idea distorts the apostleé─˘s teaching. The Greek word meno, which the King James Version translates as é─˙abide,é─¨ means é─˙remain, continue, stay.é─¨ It does not refer to some special state of é─˙restingé─¨ in Christ that only super saints achieve. Rather, this abiding is equivalent to persevering in the faith. And it is true not of a select few, such as the apostles only, but of all Christians. Indeed, persevering in oneé─˘s faith in Christ is necessary not only for bearing é─˙much fruit,é─¨ as the passage teaches, but also for salvation. Unless one remains in the vine, é─˙he is thrown away like a branch and withers,é─¨ eventually to be burned up (v. 6). Jesus, therefore, commands, é─˙Abide [or remain] in my loveé─¨ (v. 9b). The apostles had to persevere in their faith or be cast aside like a branch broken off the vine, and the same is true for all believers. Christ, the Vine, requires every professed Christian to remain in Him by genuine faith or eventually be thrown into the fire. So perseverance is the result of true faith, nourished and maintained by the Spirit. But the believer himself must continue to exercise it. He may never sit back and say, é─˙Ié─˘m saved, I may do as I please, since I can never be lost.é─¨ To think that way indicates either that he has received very faulty teaching or that he is not a believer. No one who is truly converted can think that way for very long, if at all. True Spirit-given and Spirit-nourished faith leads to biblical thinking. A professed Christian must persevereé─ţremain, continue, stayé─ţin the Vine. Jesus spoke not only of believers remaining in Him, but also of His é─˙wordsé─¨ remaining in believers (v. 7). Moreover, in verse 14 He said, é─˙You are my friends if you do what I command you.é─¨ After justification, by means of divinely guarded faith, one remains in salvation by the work of the Spirit, who, through that faith, enables him to continue obeying Jesusé─˘ words and commandments. That is perseverance. This precious doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, coming down to us from the Reformation, must be preserved at all costs. We may neither abandon it nor compromise with those who would do so. The certainty of salvation, which Calvin so dearly wished his congregation to know and which he bequeathed to subsequent generations, must not be lost. é─ţJay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 187é─ý189.

Union with Christ (1)

When discussing biblical soteriology, we often speak of the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. Less often do we think of our union with Christ as vital to our salvation. Philip Ryken writes:    Apart from union with Christ, it is impossible to receive any of the saving blessings of God. Not even the cross and the empty tomb can save us unless we are joined to Jesus Christ. Calvin was emphatic: We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. . . . We also, in turn, are said to be é─˙engrafted into himé─¨ [Rom. 11:17], and to é─˙put on Christé─¨ [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.1.1.]    Simply put, if we are not in Christ, we have no part in His death on the cross to atone for sins and no share in His resurrection from the dead. We are not justified, adopted, sanctified, or glorified without being united to Christ. é─˙I do not see,é─¨ wrote Calvin, é─˙how anyone can trust that he has redemption and righteousness in the cross of Christ, and life in his death, unless he relies chiefly upon a true participation in Christ himself. For those benefits would not come to us unless Christ first made himself ours.é─¨ [Ibid., 4.17.11.] Union with Christ, therefore, is nothing less than a matter of spiritual life and death. é─ţPhilip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 193é─ý194.

Union with Christ (2)

Union with Christ confers upon us the dual benefits of justification and sanctification. That is, we are both declared righteous (justified), and made righteous.    The double benefit of justification and sanctification provides an immediate answer to the Roman Catholic objection that Calvin and the other Reformers wrongly divided these doctrines, or removed good works from their proper place in the Christian life. On the contrary, Calviné─˘s doctrine of union with Christ unifies his theology of salvation. Viewing both justification and sanctification from the perspective of union with Christ shows how intimately these saving benefits are related. Calvin was convinced that the several benefits of salvation, though distinct, could never be divided. To receive Christ by faith is to receive the whole Christ, not just part of Him. Thus, in coming to Christ we receive both justification and sanctification. To separate these benefits, Calvin said, would virtually tear Christ in two. But of course é─˙Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparableé─ţnamely, righteousness and sanctification.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.6.] A key text for Calviné─˘s doctrine of salvation was 1 Corinthians 1:30, where Christ is described as é─˙our righteousness and sanctification.é─¨ é─˙If you would properly understand how inseparable faith and works are,é─¨ Calvin wrote, é─˙look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, has been given to us for justification and for sanctification.é─¨ [John Calvin, Responsio, in Ioannis Calvini opera selecta, ed. P. Barth, W. Niesel, and Dora Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1926é─ý1952), 1:470.] First Corinthians 1:30 clearly distinguishes the two benefits of union with Christ, so that we comprehend Godé─˘s full work of salvation in declaring us and making us righteous. Yet justification and sanctification are also joined together as inseparable benefits we receive simultaneously in Christ: Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.16.1.] é─ţPhilip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 197é─ý198.

Tough and Tender

Jerry Bridges on Calvin on carnality vs. holiness, and personal discipline vs. charity towards others:    For Calvin, there is no such thing as the so-called é─˙carnal Christian.é─¨ Rather, he writes, é─˙The apostle denies that anyone actually knows Christ who has not learned to put off the old man, corrupt with deceitful lusts, and to put on Christ.é─¨ [Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, 20.] And again, é─˙[The gospel] will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.é─¨ [Ibid., 21.] He continues: é─˙Perfection must be the final mark at which we aim, and the goal for which we strive. It is not lawful for you to make a compromise with God, to try to fulfill part of your duties and to omit others at your own pleasure.é─¨ [Ibid., 22.] At the same time, Calvin guards against setting too high a standard for other believers. He writes, é─˙We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however much we may strive for it ourselves.é─¨ [Ibid., 21.] To use a contemporary expression, we should be tough on ourselves and tender with others. Unfortunately, the opposite is too often true. We expect a lot from others while excusing ourselves. While urgently pressing the importance of our diligent pursuit of holiness, Calvin is realistic about our meager attainments. He acknowledges that the vast majority of Christians make only slight progress. But this is not to excuse us. Rather, he writes, é─˙Let us not cease to do the utmost; that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment.é─¨ [Ibid., 23.] é─ţJerry Bridges, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 223.

Rules for Prayer

In the writings of John Calvin you will find a great emphasis on prayer in the Christiané─˘s life. Calvin considered habitual prayer to be so important that, according to Joel Beeke, é─˙Calvin focused more on the practice of prayer than on its doctrine.é─¨ The following guides are Calviné─˘s Rules for Prayer:    The first is a heartfelt sense of reverence. In prayer, we must be é─˙disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.4é─ý5.] Our prayers should arise from é─˙the bottom of our heart.é─¨ [John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 679.] Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that é─˙the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by Godé─˘s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.5.] The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance. We must é─˙pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,é─¨ maintaining é─˙the disposition of a beggar.é─¨ [Ibid., 3.20.6é─ý7.] Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with Godé─˘s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request é─˙with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.é─¨ [Ibid., 3.20.6; cf. Wallace, Calviné─˘s Doctrine of the Christian Life, 280é─ý281.] The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God. True prayer requires that é─˙we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,é─¨ trusting in Godé─˘s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.8é─ý10.] always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. [Ibid., 3.2.17.] Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: é─˙If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,é─¨ we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in Godé─˘s presence. [Ibid., 3.20.8.] The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope. [Ibid, 3.20.11é─ý14.] The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believersé─˘ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to é─˙ask in faith, nothing waveringé─¨ (James 1:6, KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, é─˙for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.é─¨ [Cited in Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 153.] Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such é─˙confidence is necessary in true invocation . . . which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.é─¨ [Commentary on Ephesians 3:12. For a helpful explanation of Calviné─˘s four rules of prayer, see Don Garlington, é─˙Calviné─˘s Doctrine of Prayer,é─¨ The Banner of Truth, no. 323é─ý324 (Aug.é─ýSept. 1990): 45é─ý50, and Stephen Matteucci, é─˙A Strong Tower for Weary People: Calviné─˘s Teaching on Prayer,é─¨ The Founders Journal (Summer 2007): 21é─ý23.] These rules may seem overwhelmingé─ţeven unattainableé─ţin the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. é─˙No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,é─¨ he writes. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.16.] But God tolerates é─˙even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,é─¨ allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in é─˙a babbling manner.é─¨ [Ibid.; John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 2:171.] In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, [Commentary on Matthew 21:21.] but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a é─˙lifting up of the spirité─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.1, 5, 16; cf. Joel R. Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 49. ] and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will é─˙change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.é─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.17.] Calvin concludes that é─˙Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.é─¨ [Ibid., 3.20.19.] é─ţJoel R. Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 236é─ý237.

A Theology of Prayer

The Prayer life of John Calvin reflects a profound sense of the majesty of God, and a deep appreciation for the privilege of communing with him in prayer. Joel Beeke writes: Throughout his writings, Calvin offers a theology of prayer. He presents the throne room of God as glorious, holy, and sovereign, while also accessible, desirable, and precious in and through Christ. Given the rich blessings accessible to us through prayer, those who refuse to pray é─˙neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed outé─¨ [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.1.] to them. They also commit idolatry by defrauding God, since prayerlessness is a blatant denial that é─˙God is the author of every good thing.é─¨ [Ibid., 3.20.14.] We must persevere in pursuing precious access to God in prayer, Calvin concludes. [Ibid., 3.20.51é─ý52.] Discouragements may abound and almost overwhelm us: é─˙Our warfare is unceasing and various assaults arise daily.é─¨ But that gives all the more reason to discipline ourselves to persevere in prayer, even if é─˙we must repeat the same supplications not twice or three times only, but as often as we need, a hundred and a thousand times.é─¨ [Cited in Hesselink, On Prayer: Conversations with God, 19.] Ceasing to pray when God does not answer us quickly is the surest mark that we have never become believers. [Commentary on Psalm 22:4; Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.] Calvin counsels believers not only to better methods of prayer, but to a deeper devotion and a surer access to the triune God who has given the gift of prayer. He modeled this prayer life by accompanying every public act with prayer, by providing forms of prayer, [John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments of the Church of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, trans. by Henry Beveridge (repr. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002)] and by appointing days of prayer for a variety of occasionsé─ţas well as privately in his own life. [Elsie McKee, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), 29, 167ff.] These merge well in the last prayer he records in his commentary on Ezekiel, which, because of failing health, he was not able to complete: Grant, Almighty God, since we have already entered in hope upon the threshold of our eternal inheritance, and know that there is a certain mansion for us in heaven after Christ has been received there, who is our head, and the first-fruits of our salvation: Grant, I say, that we may proceed more and more in the course of thy holy calling until at length we reach the goal, and so enjoy that eternal glory of which thou affordest us a taste in this world, by the same Christ our Lord. Amen. [Commentary on Ezekiel 20:44.]    Ultimately, for Calvin, prayer is a heavenly act, a holy and precious communing with the triune God in His glorious throne room, grounded in an assured eschatological hope. [Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.] é─˙Lord, teach us to prayé─¨ (Luke 11:1). é─ţJoel R. Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 241é─ý242.

Worldly Saints

Having completed John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, the next church history book in my queue is Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. Youé─˘ve no doubt heard the terms é─˙puritané─¨ and é─˙puritanicalé─¨ used pejoratively; but those who use those words in that way know nothing of the faith and character of the Puritans. In truth, most of us probably know little about them; so when I discovered Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, I knew I had to get it and put it near the of my to-read stack. The Puritans, as you likely know, were Calvinists. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that truth was extremely important to them. Ryken writes:    The Puritans placed a high premium on religious truth. The intellectual content of a personé─˘s faith was not an indifferent matter for them. Thomas Hooker claimed that é─˙all truth, though the least that God reveals , is it not better than all the world?é─¨ John Owen urged Christians to é─˙look on truth as a pearl, as that which is better than all the world, bought with any price.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 17. It should not be believed, however, that bare dogma was the sum of the Puritansé─˘ religion. The possibility that religious belief could be intellectual without touching the heart was very real to them. They were diligent in self-examination (perhaps sometimes too much so) as a defense against that deplorable condition.    The idea of cold or coldness and the synonyms for dull and dullness, were major spiritual aversions for the Puritans. Richard Rogers recoiled from é─˙the coldness and half-service . . . Which is in the world.é─¨ wile Cotton Mather warned, é─˙beware of . . . A strong head and a cold heart.é─¨ Samuel Ward recorded in his diary the self-accusation é─˙How on the 15 and 16 of February thou was very dull in Godé─˘s service.é─¨ as a counterpart to these rejections of coldness, zeal and zealous were recurrent positive value-terms in Puritan vocabulary. Spiritual complacency and mediocrity were the greatest of all Puritan aversions. Richard Baxter wrote, As mere idleness and forgetting God will keep a soul as certainly from heaven as a profane, licentious, fleshly life, so also will the usual company of such idle, forgetful, negligent persons as surly keep our hearts from heaven, as the company of men more dissolute and profane. [The Saintsé─˘ Everlasting Rest (Fleming H. Revell, 1962), 125.] Samuel Willard lamented that in New England é─˙forwardness and zeal for God is almost out of dateé─¨ while é─˙lukewarm-confession is much in credit.é─¨ é─ţIbid.

Sacred and Secular

The Puritans were known as a hard-working people. Even today, when the words “puritan” and “puritanical” are meant as insults, one hears references to the “puritan work ethic.” Few, however, understand the motivation for that ethic, which stemmed from a conviction that Jesus was Lord of all of life. Leland Ryken writes: To understand Puritan attitudes toward work, we must take a look at the background against which they were reacting. For centuries it had been customary to divide types of work into the two categories of “sacred” and “secular.” Sacred work was work done by members of the religious profession. All other work bore the stigma of being secular. This cleavage between sacred and secular work can be traced all the way back to the Jewish Talmud. One of the prayers, obviously written from the scribe’s viewpoint, is as follows: I thank thee, O Lord, my God, that thou hast given me my lot with those who sit in the house of learning, and not with those who sit at the street-corners; for I am early to work and they are early to work; I am early to work on the words of the Torah, and they are early to work on things of no moment. I weary myself, and they weary themselves; I weary myself and profit thereby, and they weary themselves to no profit. I run, and they run; I run towards the life of the age to come, and they run towards the pit of destruction. The same division of work into categories of sacred and secular became a leading feature of medieval Roman Catholicism. The attitude was formulated already in the fourth century by Eusebius, who wrote, Two ways of life were given by the law of Christ to his church. The one is above nature, and beyond common human living. . . . Wholly and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone. . . . Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. And the other, more humble, more human, permits men to . . . have minds for farming, for trade, and the other more secular interests as well as for religion. . . . And a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them. This sacred-secular dichotomy was exactly what the Puritans rejected as the starting point of their theory of work. —Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 24. The Puritans, following the lead of Luther and Calvin, believed that all honest labor was holy. The differences between sacred secular were extrinsic only. The most common, menial labor was intrinsically as valuable and God-glorifying as the most honored vocations, including preaching. According to Hugh Latimer, This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use so simple an occupation. Here he did sanctify all manner of occupations. —Ibid., 25. The Christian faith of the laborer was believed to sanctify the most humble calling. John Cotton wrote: Faith . . . encourageth a man in his calling to the homeliest and difficultest. . . . Such homely employments a carnal heart knows not how to submit unto; but now faith having put us into a calling, if it require some homely employment, it encourageth us in it. . . . So faith is ready to embrace any homely service his calling leads him to, which a carnal heart would blush to be seen in. —Ibid. This was the puritan’s view of every activity. Ryken continues: For the Puritans, all of life was God’s. Their goal was to integrate their daily work with their religious devotion to God. Richard Steele asserted that it was in the shop “where you may most confidently expect the presence and blessing of God.” The Puritans revolutionized attitudes toward daily work when they raised the possibility that “every step and stroke in your trade is sanctified.” John Milton, in his famous Areopagitica, satirized the businessman who leaves his religion at home, “trading all day without his religion.” . . . The Puritan goal was to serve God, not simply within one’s work in the world, but through that work. John Cotton hinted at this when he wrote, A true believing Christian . . . lives in his vocation by his faith. Not only my spiritual life but even my civil life in this world, and all the life I live, is by the faith of the Son of God: He exempts no life from the agency of his faith. And Cotton Mather said, A Christian should be able to give a good account, not only what is his occupation, but also what he is in his occupation. It is not enough that a Christian have an occupation; but he must mind his occupation as it becomes a Christian. With the Puritan emphasis on all of life as God’s, it is not surprising that a late seventeenth-century pamphlet entitled St. Paul the Tentmaker could note that the Protestant movement had fostered a “delight in secular employments.” —Ibid., 25–26.

The Puritans and Sex

Thursday··2009·09·03 · 15 Comments
We all know, don’t we, that the puritans hated sex and considered it to be exceedingly sinful. After all, that is what “puritanical” means, isn’t it? Well . . . maybe not. According to Leland Ryken, that attitude belongs to the Roman Catholics, particularly during the middle ages. Rome taught that sex, although less sinful for some than the alternatives, was always sinful, not in the act itself, but in the driving passions and resulting pleasure. This view was held by no less than our beloved Augustine, who commended married couples who abstained from sex! The Puritans rejected that attitude wholeheartedly, and made no secret of their opposing view. Ryken writes that “When a New England wife complained, first to her pastor, and then to the whole congregation, that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the church proceeded to excommunicate the man.” Catholic doctrine had declared virginity superior to marriage; the Puritan reply was that marriage “is a state . . . Far more excellent than the condition of single life.” Many Catholic commentators claimed that sexual intercourse had been the resultof the Fall and did not occur in Paradise; the Puritan comeback was that marriage was ordained by God, “and that not in this sinful world, but in paradise, that most joyful garden of pleasure.” . . . Given the Catholic background against which they wrote and preached, the Puritans’ praise of marriage was at the same time an implicit endorsement of marital sex as good. They elaborated that point specifically and often. This becomes clearer once we are clued into the now-outdated terms by which they customarily referred to sexual intercourse: “matrimonial duty,” “cohabitation,” “act of matrimony,” and (especially) “due benevolence.” Everywhere we turn in Puritan writing on the subject we find sex affirmed as good in principle. [William] Gouge referred to physical union as “one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage.” It was Milton’s opinion that the text “they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) was included in the Bible to justify and make legitimate the rites of the marriage bed; which was not unneedful, if for all this warrant they were suspected of pollution by some sects of philosophy and religions of old, and latelier among the Papists. William Ames listed as one of the duties of marriage “mutual communication of bodies.” So closely linked were the ideas of marriage and sex that the Puritans usually defined marriage partly in terms of sexual union. [William] Perkins defined marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh.” Another well-known definition was this: Marriage is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, according to the ordinance of God. . . . By yoking, joining, or coupling is meant, not only outward dwelling together of the married folks . . . but also an uniform agreement of mind and a common participation of body and goods. Married sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant. Gouge said that married couples should engage in sex “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” An anonymous Puritan claimed that when two are made one by marriage theymay joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musical instruments rightly fitted do make a most pleasant and sweet harmony in a well tuned consort. Alexander Niccholes theorized that in marriage “thou not only unitest unto thyself a friend and comfort for society, but also a companion for pleasure.” In this acceptance of physical sex, the Puritans once again rejected the asceticism and implicit dualism between sacred and secular that had governed Christian thinking for so long. In the Puritan view, God had given the physical world, including sex, for human welfare. —Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 42, 43–44.

The Puritans and Money

The Puritans, as we have seen, were industrious, hard-working people. This has led some to paint them as avaricious, materialistic capitalists. It is true that they were capitalistic, and it is them we have to thank (and thank them, I do) for American free enterprise. But it is not at all fair to call them greedy and materialistic. Their view of wealth was much the same as their view of work: that it was ordained by God, and therefore good in itself.    In affirming the goodness of money, the Puritans found it necessary to defend the legitimate aspects of money against its detractors. William Perkins did so in a sermon an Matthew 6:19-20, in which he listed what Christ did not forbid: Diligent labor in a main vocation, whereby [a person] provides things needful for himself, and those that depend on him. . . . The fruition and possessions of goods and riches: for they are the good blessing of God being well used. . . . The gathering and laying up of treasure is not simply forbidden, for the word of God alloweth herefor in some respect. 2 Corinthians 12:14.    The puritans had no guilt about making money; to make money was a form of stewardship. . . . [Richard Baxter wrote]: If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul, or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose a less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be Godé─˘s steward. In the broader context of Baxteré─˘s writing on economics, this call for efficiency and productiveness is simply evidence of common sense and a strong sense of wishing to be a good steward of Godé─˘s gifts. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 58. Likewise, the Puritans defended the concept of private property:    The Puritansé─˘ defense of private property was an extension of their belief in the legitimacy of money. William Ames wrote that private property is founded é─˙not only on human but also on natural and divine right.é─¨ Elsewhere Ames wrote that there is justice é─˙in the lawful keeping of the things we have.é─¨ when John Hull, one of the first merchant princes of Massachusetts, lost his ships to the Dutch, he took consolation in Godé─˘s providence: é─˙The loss of my estate will be nothing, if the Lord please join my soul nearer to himself, and loose it more from creature comforts.é─¨ but when his foreman stole his horses, Hull took the view that é─˙I would have you know that they are, by Godé─˘s good providence, mine.é─¨ é─ţIbid., 59. While the puritans believed that hard work was godly, and that the success gained thereby was good, it did not follow that success was an automatic sign of godliness, or that poverty was a sign of wickedness.    If godliness is not a guarantee of success, then the converse is also true: success is not a sign of godliness. This is how the Puritans understood the matter. John Cotton stated that a Christian é─˙equally bears good and evil successes as God shall dispense them to him.é─¨ Samuel Willard wrote, é─˙as riches are not evidences of Godé─˘s love, so neither is poverty of his anger or hatred.é─¨ Samuel Hieron said that just as many of Godé─˘s é─˙beloved servants do feel the smart of poverty, so even the most wicked . . . have a large Portion in this life.é─¨ é─ţIbid., 60. The Puritans believed that wealth was often a temptation and the cause of spiritual downfall. Yet they did not make a virtue of poverty.    The puritans did not idealize poverty as something to be sought. Contrary to Catholic monastic theory, the Puritans theorized that poverty is no sure way to avoid temptation. Richard Baxter commented: Poverty also hath its temptations. . . . For even the poor may be undone by the love of that wealth and plenty which they never get: and they may perish for over-loving the world, that never yet prospered in the world. é─ţIbid., 61. Further, the puritans believed that poverty existed to display Godé─˘s glory, both through the impoverished, and through the wealthy.    The Puritans also rejected the ethic of unconcern that is content to let the poor remain poor. In their view, poverty is not an unmitigated misfortune, but it is certainly not the goal that we should have for people. é─˙The rich man by liberality must dispose and comfort the poor,é─¨ said Thomas Lever in a sermon. é─˙God never gave a gift,é─¨ preached Hugh Latimer, é─˙but he sent occasion at one time or another to show it to Godé─˘s glory. As if he sent riches, he sendeth poor men to be helped with it.é─¨ Latimer even went so far as to say that é─˙the poor man hath title to the rich mané─˘s goods; so that the rich man ought to let the poor man have part of his riches to help and comfort him withal.é─¨ On the subject of poverty, then, the Puritans taught that it is sometimes the lot of godly and that it can be a spiritual blessing. It is not, however, meritorious in itself, and poor people require the generosity of people who have resources to help them. é─ţIbid.

Puritan Economic Ethics

In my previous post on the Puritans, I gave them credit for the American system of free enterprise. I even went as far as to call them capitalistic. That does not mean they were greedy opportunists. Capitalists may be greedy and unethical, but greed, corruption, and free enterprise are not inseparably linked, as the Puritans demonstrated. While they believed in a legal economic freedom, they did not believe they were morally free to do business as they pleased. It has become an axiom of modern business that the goal of business is to make as much profit as possible and that any type of competition or selling practice is acceptable as long as it is legal. The Puritans would not agree. For one thing, they looked upon business as a service to society. é─˙We must therefore think,é─¨ wrote John Knewstub, é─˙that when we come to buying and selling, we come to witness our love towards our neighbor by our well dealing with him in his goods.é─¨ William Perkins said, é─˙The end of a mané─˘s calling is not to gather riches for himself . . . But to serve God in the serving of man, and in the seeking the good of all men.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 69. While believing that their labors were a é─˙service to societyé─¨ for é─˙the good of all men,é─¨ they were not concerned with the pursuit of economic equality. A final force of modern life of which the Puritans would not approve is socialism, whether in its overt form of government ownership or in its subtle form of the welfare state. William Ames wrote, é─˙Ownership and differences in the amount of possessions are ordinances of God and approved by him, Prov. 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12.é─¨ John Robinson commented: God could, if he would, either have made mené─˘s states more equal, or have given every one sufficient of his own. But he had rather chosen to make some rich, and some poor, that one might stand in need of another, to help another, that so he might try the mercy and goodness of them that are able, in supplying the wants of the rest. é─ţIbid., 70.

Puritan Preaching

Puritan preaching was the bane of the Anglican establishment. Starved on a diet of liturgy and homilies prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, parishioners would travel for miles to hear the genuine preaching of Puritan pastors. Congregations sat with pleasure through typically hour-long sermons, usually two per Sunday. The Puritans favored é─˙painful preaching.é─¨ By é─˙painfulé─¨ they meant painstaking, meticulous, prepared with diligence to rightly divide the Word.    Despite their bent toward doctrine and theology, the Puritans overwhelmingly favored expository sermons that é─˙openedé─¨ the meanings of a specific biblical passage. William Ames paid his disrespect to topical preaching that slighted the announced text from the Bible: Ministers impose upon their hearers and altogether forget themselves when they propound a certain text in the beginning as the start of the sermon and then speak many things about or simply by occasion of the text but for the most part draw nothing out of the text itself.    The physical opening of the Bible in the pulpit during the service symbolized the aim of expository preaching, which was to unfold the latent meanings of a specific biblical text. This aim, in turn, determined the methodology of Puritan preachers, which was to tie the entire sermon to the chosen text in the Bible. William Chappell defined a sermon as é─˙a discourse on a text of scripture, disposing its parts according to the order of nature.é─¨ the Puritans were strong advocates of application in a sermon, as we will see, but it all started with the Bible itself. In the words of William Ames, é─˙first the things in the text must be stated. . . . In setting forth the truth in the text the minister should first explain it and then indicate the good which flows from it.é─¨ Of the customary three parts of a Puritan sermon, two were closely tied to the Bible itself. According to the Dictionary of Public Worship adopted by the Westminster Assembly, In raising doctrines from the text, his care ought to be, first, that the matter be the truth of God. Secondly, that it be a truth contained in, or grounded on, that text that the hearers may discern how God teaches it from thence. This conviction about the centrality of the Bible in preaching was reinforced by the practice of largely or exclusively limiting the details of the sermon to biblical material. William Perkins, for example, encouraged the reading of patristic sources in sermon preparation, but also the concealment if his study in the citations made from the pulpit. The effect of this type of biblical preaching has been well summarized by a modern scholar who studied a century of the St. Paulé─˘s Cross sermons preach in London: For the Puritans, the sermon is not just hinged to Scripture; it quite literally exists inside the Word of God; the text is not in the sermon, but the sermon is in the text. . . . Put summarily, listening to a sermon is being in the Bible. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 98é─ý99.

Puritan Preaching, Plain Preaching

As we have seen, Puritans preachers were diligent scholars, meticulous in their sermon preparation. But they were not show-offs, concerned with demonstrating just how scholarly they were. The purpose of their scholarship was to bring the message to all classes, from the most learned to the most simple. William Perkins theorized that preaching é─˙must be plain, perspicuous, and evident. . . . It is a by-word among us: It was a very plain sermon: And I say again, the plainer the better.é─¨ Richard Sibbes claimed that truth feareth nothing so much as concealment, and desireth nothing so much as to be laid open to the view of all: when it is most naked, it is most lovely and powerful.    And Henry Smith said that é─˙to preach simply is not to preach rudely, nor unlearned, nor confusedly, but to preach plainly and perspicuously that the simplest man may understand what is taught, as if he did hear his name.é─¨ Plain preaching was defined by what it lacked as well as by what it contained. What is avoided was such things as the é─˙heaping up of citations of Fathers, and repeating words of Latin or Greek.é─¨ What the Puritans did not want was a pastiche of quotations or an embellished style that called great attention to its own ostentatiousness. For Samuel Torshell it was a sign of bad preaching to é─˙tell you how many Fathers we have read, how much we are acquainted with the schoolmen, what critical linguists we are or the like. It is wretched ostentation.é─¨ Why did the Puritans dislike the high style in sermons? For one thing, they felt it diverted attention from the content of the sermon to the preacher, for whom the occasion became, in modern parlance, an é─˙ego trip.é─¨ In the ostentatious style, said Perkins, é─˙we do not paint Christ, but . . . our own selves.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 104é─ý105.

A Spiritual Assembly

Six hundred years ago, Jan Hus wrote that é─˙neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christé─¨ [The Church, ed. David S. Schaff (Charles Scribneré─˘s Sons, 1915), 66.]. One hundred years later, Luther echoed those words. That Reformation tradition was carried forward by the Puritans. Leland Ryken writes:    The greatest of all Puritan legacies in regard to ecclesiastical theory was also the most revolutionary in its time. It was the notion that the church is a spiritual reality. It is not impressive buildings or fancy clerical vestments. It is instead the company of the redeemed. The Puritans repeatedly showed their acceptance of Lutheré─˘s dictum that é─˙The church is a spiritual assembly of souls. . . . The true, real, right, essential church is a matter of the spirit and not of anything external.é─¨ For William Gouge the church consists of those who é─˙inwardly and effectively by the spirit . . . believe in Christ.é─˘é─˘ John Hooper denied that the church consists of é─˙bishops, priests and such other,é─¨ affirming rather that it is é─˙the company of all men hearing Godé─˘s Word and obeying unto the same.é─¨ Richard Baxter agreed: the church is é─˙a holy Christian society for ordinary holy communion and mutual help in Godé─˘s public worship and holy living.é─¨ Implicit in these definitions of the church is a Puritan preference for the invisible church over a type of institutional structure. The church is emphatically not the professional clergy and their rituals. é─˙What understand you by the church?é─¨ asked John Ballé─˘s Catechism. The answer: é─˙by the church, we understand not the pope. . . ; nor his bishops and cardinals met in general council. . . ; but the whole company of believers.é─¨ If the church is essentially invisible rather than institutional, its head is obviously not a pope or church council, but Christ. The Puritans reiterated this again and again, as when Gouge spoke of é─˙that church whereof Christ is properly head.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 115.

Simplicity in Worship

A key characteristic of Puritan life was simplicity; and nowhere was that simplicity more intentional than in their formal worship. Leland Ryken comments on what that meant, as well as what it did not mean. [T]he Puritans simplified church architecture and furnishings. They took images and statues out of churches. They replaced stone alters with communion tables. The multiroom floor plan became a single, rectangular room. The walls were painted white. The physical objects that would have caught oneé─˘s eye upon entering a puritan church were a high central pulpit with a winding stairway to it, a Bible on a cushion on a ledge of the pulpit, a communion table below the pulpit, and an inconspicuous baptismal font. All this simplicity should not be interpreted as an attempt to avoid symbolism. It was the symbol of Puritan worship, and it was a richly multiple symbol. Here in visual form was the Puritan aversion to idols and human intervention between God and people. Here was a sign of humility before God and His Word. Here was a sign of the essentially inward and spiritual nature of worship. Here was a reminder that God cannot be confined to earthly and human conceptions, that he is transcendent and sovereign. By calling their buildings é─˙meeting houses,é─¨ moreover, Puritans stressed the domestic aspect of worship as a spiritual family meeting with their heavenly father. This triumph of simplicity was not necessarily unaesthetic. The simple is a form of beauty as well as the ornate. Horton Davis calls the simple beauty of Puritan church architecture é─˙a study in black and white etching, rather than the colored and multi-textured appearances of Anglican . . . churches.é─¨ a study of Puritan vocabulary shows that é─˙nakedé─¨ was one of their positive words when applied to worship. In the Puritan Church, the individual worshiper stood é─˙nakedé─¨ before the light and purity of Godé─˘s word and presence. An authority on church architecture writes about Puritan churches, é─˙Clean, well-lighted, they concentrated on the essentials of Puritan worship, the hearing of Godé─˘s Word, with no distractions.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 121é─ý122.

Images in Puritan Worship

The word-based faith of the Puritans and their disdain for religious images has led some to conclude that theirs was an abstract religion, offering nothing concrete to enliven the imagination. But, while the Puritans did do away with all physical images, their worship was hardly lacking in imagery. As Ryken puts it, they é─˙expected the verbal imagination to do the work that Catholic/Anglican worship had placed on the visual and aural imagination.é─¨ Ryken likens Puritan worship to the plays of William Shakespeare, who é─˙was content with the scantiest of stage props and built scenery and imagery into the texts of the plays themselves.é─¨ Likewise, Puritan sermons contained ample imagery to engage the mind.    Puritan worship services . . . were far from being devoid of images and symbols. These were simply embodied in the sermon instead of visible to the eye in the church sanctuary. To test that thesis, I once randomly opened three books of Puritan sermons that a student had just brought in to my office. Here are the specimens that greeted me: The sinner is a bramble, not a fig tree yielding sweet fruit. . . . A wicked man, like Jehoram, has é─˙his bowels fallen outé─¨ (2 Chronicles 21:19). Therefore he is compared to an adamant (Zachariah 7:12) because his heart does not melt in mercy. Before conversion the sinner is compared to a wolf in his savageness, to a lion in his fierceness (Isaiah 11:16). . . . [Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes, 143.] Adamé─˘s posterity has not been so numerous as his sins. A little cloud, no bigger than a mané─˘s handé─ţso it seems at firsté─ţgrows and spreads to cover the whole hemisphere. The water at first seemed little and shallow, swells more and more from the ankles to the knees, from the knees to the loins, from there to the head until it grows into such a great river that it cannot be passed over. In this way grows sin. . . . It is as a snowball that grows bigger by rolling in the snow. [Ralph Venning, The Plague of Plagues, 165.] The law may chain up a wolf, but it is the Gospel that changes the wolfish nature; the one stops the stream, the other heals the fountain. [Samuel Bolton, The True Grounds of Christian Freedom, 84.] No worship service that includes such appeals to the imagination can be said to be excessively abstract. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 125é─ý126.

é─˙no small privilegeé─¨

Leland Ryken quotes Puritan Robert Coachman [Cushman] (1577é─ý1625): . . . it is no small privilege . . . to live in such a society, as where the eyes of their brethren are so lovingly set upon them, that they will not suffer them to go on in sin. é─ţRobert Cushman, The Cry of a Stone, cited in Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 133. Ité─˘s a nice thought, but I wonder, how many enjoy that kind of fellowship? Does anyone watch over us like that, and if so, do we appreciate it, or resent it? Do we watch over our brothers and sisters with that kind of love?

Puritan Interpretation of Scripture

Leland Ryken on Puritan hermeneutics: The logical starting place is the Puritansé─˘ belief that the Bible must ordinarily be interpreted literally or historically, not arbitrarily allegorized. To understand why the Puritans made so much of the literal or single interpretation of Scripture, we need to know something about the centuries-long Catholic practice of attributing allegorical interpretations to virtually all of Scripture. Catholic interpreters, for example, claimed that in the story of Rebekah, Rebekahé─˘s drawing water for Abrahamé─˘s servant really means that we must daily come to the Bible to meet Christ. The six water pots at the marriage in Cana refer to the creation of the world in six days. The womané─˘s comment in the Song of Solomon that é─˙my beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breastsé─¨ was interpreted as meaning the Old and New Testaments, between which stands Christ. Another commentator found the breasts to denote the learned teachers of the church, and yet another thought the verse referred to the crucifixion of Christ, which the believer keeps in eternal remembrance between his breasts, that is, in his heart. To the Puritans, such allegorizing was ridiculous and unreliable. é─˙The Scripture hath but one sense,é─¨ claimed Tyndale, é─˙which is the literal sense, and that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth.é─¨ Thomas Gataker agreed: é─˙Sir, we dare not allegorize the Scriptures, where the letter of it yields us a clear and proper Sense. We should pause to note what the Puritans did not mean when they insisted on the literal or plain interpretation of Scripture. They did not mean that the Bible is literal rather than figurative. William Bridge, for example, commented that é─˙though the sense of the Scripture be but one entire sense, yet sometimes the Scripture is to be understood literally, sometimes figuratively and metaphorically.é─¨ The Puritans did not even deny that there were allegorical passages in the Bible. James Durham wrote, é─˙There is great difference betwixt an allegoric exposition of Scripture, and an exposition of allegoric Scripture.é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 145.

Illumination for Interpretation

While Rome had held the clergy above the common people, declaring that only they could interpret the Scriptures, the Puritans followed the Reformers in insisting that the Holy Spirit illumines the mind of any Christian as he or she reads the Bible. é─˙Every godly man hath in him a spiritual light,é─¨ declared John White, é─˙by which he is directed in the understanding of Godé─˘s mind revealed in His word.é─¨ Thomas Goodwin said with equal confidence that The same Spirit that guided the holy apostles and prophets to write it must guide the people of God to know the meaning of it; and as he first delivered it, so must he help men to understand it. What are we to make of this confidence that the Holy Spirit guides us in understanding the Bible? We must realize that Catholic allegorizing of the Bible had obscured Scripture, in effect making é─˙the Pope the doorkeeper of Scripture, not the Holy Spirit.é─¨ Set in the context of ingenious Catholic allegorizing in which the Bibleé─˘s message was decipherable only by the clergy, the Puritan belief in the illumination of the Holy Spirit put the Bible back within the grasp of every reader. Thus John Ball could write: We are not necessarily tied to the exposition of Fathers or Councils for the finding out of the sense of Scripture. Who is the faithful interpreter of Scripture? The Holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture is the only faithful interpreter of the Scripture. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 146é─ý147.

Puritan Contextualization

A point that seems to come up continuously regarding biblical interpretation is that of context. The practice of wresting Scripture from its natural setting and interpreting and applying it in a user-friendly manner is nothing new. The Puritans were as insistent as good scholars today that a given passage in the Bible must be interpreted in its context. One of them wrote, é─˙It is the best rule to come to the understanding of the phrases of Scripture, to consider in what sense they were taken in that country, and among the people, where they were written.é─¨ William Bridge added, é─˙If you would understand the true sense . . . of a controverted Scripture, then look well into the coherence, the scope of and context thereof.é─¨ William Perkinsé─˘s stock questions for a passage were: é─˙Who? to whom? upon what occasion? at what time? in what place? for what end? what goeth before? what followeth?é─¨ é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 147.

Puritan Faults

Thursday··2009·10·15 · 4 Comments
To say that the Puritans were very serious thinkers is an understatement bordering on absurdity. This characteristicé─ţa virtue, reallyé─ţwas also the cause of their greatest faults. As much as I want to defend the Puritans and correct popular misconceptions about them, it cannot be denied that they had their faults, and that those faults provide impetus for the slanderous treatment they have received. And it seems to me that an almost pathological seriousness was at the root of all of their failings. In Worldly Saints, Leland Ryken includes a chapter called Learning from Negative Example: Some Puritan Faults. He lists the following (among others): An Inadequate View of Recreation The Puritans were opposed to sport on Sundays, and against gambling and certain sports such as cock fighting, but they were certainly not against recreation, as some have concluded. They considered it a good and necessary part of life. They believed this so strongly that in England in 1647, a Puritan-controlled Parliament decreed that on every second Tuesday of the month, all businesses were to be closed from 8 A.M. until 8 P.M. to give workers time for recreation. Ryken writes that American Puritan é─˙Thomas Shepard advised his son at college, é─˛Weary not your body, mind, or eyes with long pouring on your book. . . . Recreate yourself a little, and so to your work afresh.é─˘é─¨ [Worldly Saints, 190.] The problem with the Puritan view of recreation was that it was entirely utilitarian. They had no appreciation for the enjoyment of leisure as an end in itself. Its sole purpose was to refresh the body and mind for more work. The following statement from William Perkins is typical: In commanding labour, [God] alloweth the means to make us fit for labour. And therefore . . . he admitteth lawful recreation, because it is a necessary means to refresh either body or mind that we may better do the duties which pertain to us. . . . And therefore recreation . . . serveth only to make us more able to continue in labour. [Ibid.] Too Many Rules The Puritans were a disciplined people who enjoyed living well regulated lives. This virtue was carried out so enthusiastically that it often became the vice of legalism. Ryken writes that é─˙such legalism produced false guilt and a loss of discrimination about what constituted a serious sin.é─¨ [Ibid, 192.] The diary of sixteen-year-old Nathaniel Mather records, When very young, I went astray from God. . . . Of the manifold sins which I was then guilty of, none so sticks in my mind as that . . . I was whittling on the Sabbath Day; and for fear of being seen, I did it behind the door. A great reproach to God! a specimen of that atheism that I brought into the world with me. [Ibid.] Too Many Words Ryken writes: The characteristic Puritan style . . . is to take at least wice as many words as possible to express a thought. Like the poets of the Bible (but without their poetic conciseness and artistry), the Puritans seemed to search for ways to say everything at least twice in different words. A random specimen [Richard Sibbes] of such redundancy is this: God hath placed us in the world to do him some work. This is Godé─˘s working place; he hath houses of work for us: now, our lot here I to do work, to be in some calling . . . to work for God.é─¨ [Ibid., 194.] [Ibid., 194.] Too Much Pious Moralizing It seems they could not simply enjoy a worldly pleasure without finding some moral to teach or adding a theological qualifier. Ryken writes, é─˙When Cotton Matheré─˘s children fell sick, he would remind them of é─˛the analogous distempers of their soulsé─˘ and instruct them é─˛how to look up unto their great Saviour for the cure of those distempers.é─˘é─¨ [Ibid.] John Winthrop wrote to his wife é─˙that she was é─˛the chiefest of all comforts under the hope of salvation.é─˘é─¨ [Ibid.] My own analysis is that legitimate criticisms of the Puritans can all be boiled down to two causes: the chronic seriousness already mentioned, and a proclivity for taking every good thing to the most absurd extreme. It must also be noted that the most extreme examples are not necessarily representative of the Puritans in general. Ryken concludes:    I know of no group that has been more victimized by what today we would call its é─˙lunatic fringeé─¨ than the Puritans. I refer to individuals whose aberrations made them a liability to the movement or good people whose blunders have been paraded through the years to the discredit of the Puritans. Throughout subsequent history, anyone wishing to discredit the Puritans has found it easy to find material, which is usually far from the norm for Puritanism generally. [Ibid., 201.]

A Puritan Foundation

One last word from Leland Ryken on the Puritans:    We live at a moment in history when evangelical Protestants are looking for é─˙roots.é─¨ One of the foibles that some would foist on them is that the only traditions from the past to which they can return are the Catholic and Anglo-Catholic traditions. Like Nicodemus, who was a teacher in Israel but did not know about the New Birth, evangelical Protestants tend to be strangers to what is best in their own tradition. Puritanism can give us a place to stand. The Puritans believed that all of life is Godé─˘s. This enabled them to combine personal piety with a comprehensive Christian world view. Beginning with the premise that the Bible is a reliable repository of truth, the Puritans had a basis from which to relate their Christian faith to all areas of lifeé─ţto work, family, marriage, education, politics, economics, and society. The Puritané─˘s zestful approach to life and the world was fed by the spiritual springs of the new lifeé─ţprayer, Christian fellowship, meditation, preaching, and contact with the Bible. In Puritanism, a theology of personal salvation was wedded to an active life in the world. é─ţLeland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 220é─ý221.

é─˙This one booké─¨

It is with great pleasure, as usual, that I pick up another Iain Murray volume from Banner of Truth. This one, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, is different from the others Ié─˘ve read in a couple of ways. First, ité─˘s a paperback. (I pause here to direct a frown in the Banneré─˘s direction. It was never published in hardcover, so I couldné─˘t even track down a used copy, as I often do, and I can’t set it next to my cloth-bound Murray volumes on the shelf.) Second, it turns our critical eye one hundred and eighty degrees from its usual orientation, away from the Arminians, and toward the hyper-Calvinists. Murray begins with a little biographical information, and comments on the remarkable scope of Spurgeoné─˘s influence. Spurgeoné─˘s preaching ministry in London spanned thirty-seven years, from 1854é─ý1891. During that time, é─˙If we take into account [Murray writes] both his spoken and written words, it is estimated that each weak his é─˛congregationé─˘ amounted to about a million people.é─¨ Beginning in 1855, his sermons were published weekly, and also compiled in annually, the 63rd and final volume published twenty-five years posthumously. And that was just his preaching. In addition, he published é─˙about 50 other works and edited 28 volumes of The Sword and Trowel.é─¨ His publishers, Passmore and Alabaster, were kept busyé─ţand in businessé─ţwith publishing Spurgeoné─˘s works alone. Murray writes:    The obvious question is, how could any man retain such influence over so many people through such a long period? How can we account for the enduring interest? How could a man speak so often, and write so much, without losing his freshness and his appeal? It is true Spurgeon possessed unusual gifts, and that he worked very hard, but we cannot get anywhere near the real answer if we think merely in terms of what he was or did. The explanation lies in the Book that was in his hands, the Book that was his constant companion, and which he lived to preach and study. All the blessing he attributed to that source. His own thoughts, his own opinions, would have achieved nothing: é─˛é─˙The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soulé─¨; nothing else but the living Word of God will convince, convert, renew and sanctify. He has promised that this shall not return unto him void; but He has made no such promise to the wisdom of men, or the excellency of human speech. The Spirit of God works with the Word of God . . . All his paths drop fatness; but mané─˘s paths are barrenness.é─˘ In possessing the Bible Spurgeon believed that the church has an inexhaustible source of light and heat. What he said once of John Bunyan could be equally said of himself, é─˛Prick him anywhere and his bloodline is biblineé─˘. The content of his sermons and his books is plain, you might say, ordinary, Scripture. The energy of his prayerful adherence to Scripture is the true explanation of his work: é─˛The Bible is a wonderful book . . . You can use it for a lamp at night. You can use it for a screen by day. It is a universal book; it is the Book of books, and has furnished material for mountains of books; it is made of what I call bibline, or the essence of books . . . This one book is enough to last a man throughout the whole of his life, however diligently he may study it.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 12é─ý13.

Public Honor, Private Flogging

Throughout most of Spurgeoné─˘s ministry, both he and his wife suffered greatly with ill health. But rather than remonstrate bitterly with God, he recognized trials as a necessary part of his sanctification, and as a part of fitting him for ministry. As Iain Murray writes, Spurgeon believed that without without difficulties, he would have been ruined. Fallen men, though Christians, cannot long be surrounded by popularity and success without the special help of God. é─˛Our God takes care always to have the security that, if He works a great work by us, we shall not appropriate the glory of it to ourselves. He brings us down lower and lower in our own esteem . . . Some trumpets are so stuffed with self that God cannot blow through them.é─˘ é─˛You may rest quite certain that, if God honors any man in public, he takes him aside privately, and flogs him well, otherwise he would get elevated and proud, and God will not have that.é─˘ é─˛Many a man has been elevated until his brain has grown dizzy, and he has fallen to his destruction. He who is to be made to stand securely in a high place has need to be put through sharp affliction. More men are destroyed by prosperity and success than by affliction and apparent failure.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 17é─ý18.

Read, write, print, shout!

At the end of his notes on John 6:3, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following comment: Read, write, print, shout, é─ý é─˙Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.é─¨ Great Saviour, I thank Thee for this text; help Thou me so to preach from it that many may come to Thee, and find eternal life! é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 50.

Universal Invitation

Iain Murray presents four reasons for Spurgeoné─˘s vehement opposition to Hyper-Calvinism. The first is the universal invitation of the gospel, which the Hyper-Calvinists denied and assiduously avoided. Spurgeon believed that historic evangelicalism differed from Hyper-Calvinism over the persons to whom the promises of the gospel are to be preached. Hyper-Calvinism views gospel preaching solely as a means for the ingathering of Godé─˘s elect. It argues that such words as, é─˛Trust in Christ and you will be savedé─˘, should only be addressed to elect sinners for it is their salvation alone which the preacher should have in view. For a preacher to convey to his hearers the impression that they are all called to receive Christ, and to believe in him for salvation, is to deny, in the opinion of Hyper-Calvinists, the sovereignty of divine grace. It is to represent salvation as available to those whom God has excluded by the decree of election. Gospel preaching for Hyper-Calvinists means a declaration of the facts of the gospel but nothing should be said by way of encouraging individuals to believe that the promises of Christ are made to them particularly until there is evidence that the Spirit of God has begun a saving work in their hearts, convicting them and making them é─˛sensibleé─˘ of their need. Spurgeon rejected the placing of such a restriction upon the invitation of the gospel. The gospel is é─˛good newsé─˘ which God would have proclaimed throughout the world and to é─˛every creatureé─˘. Its message is not simply a statement of facts. It also contains clear, unrestricted general promises, such as, é─˛He that believeth on him is not condemnedé─˘ (John 3:18); é─˛Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be savedé─˘ (Rom. 10:13); é─˛Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freelyé─˘ (Rev. 22:17). So the preacher has not done his work when he has spoken of Christ and proclaimed the historic facts of salvation. From there he must go on to urge the reception of Christ upon all men. In the name of God he must assure all of the certainty of their welcome and forgiveness on their repentance and faith. Thus Paul said to all his hearers at Antioch in Pisidia: é─˛Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Mosesé─˘ (Acts 13:38é─ý9). The apostle evidently knew of no limitations. Christ was to be preached, é─˛warning every mané─˘é─ţany one, every oneé─ţé─˛and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesusé─˘ (Col. 1:28). Words could scarcely be more embracing and individual. Hyper-Calvinists argued that gospel promises and invitations cannot be made universal because saving grace is special and particular. Spurgeon replied by asserting that the language of Scripture can be given no other meaning. In a sermon entitled é─˛Apostolic Exhortationé─˘, on Peteré─˘s words to all his hearers, é─˛Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted outé─˘ (Acts 3:19), he says:    é─˛Peter preached the Christ of the gospelé─ţpreached it personally and directly at the crowd who were gathered around him . . . Grown up among us is a school of men who say that they rightly preach the gospel to sinners when they merely deliver statements of what the gospel is, and the result of dying unsaved, but they grow furious and talk of unsoundness if any venture to say to the sinner, é─˙Believeé─¨, or é─˙Repenté─¨. To this school Peter did not belongé─ţinto their secret he had never come, and with their assembly, were he alive now, he would not be joined.é─˘ In another sermon he refers to brethren who é─˛do not think it to be their duty to go into the highways and hedgesé─˘ and bid all, as many as they find, to come to the supper. Oh, no! They are too orthodox to obey the Masteré─˘s will; they desire to understand first who are appointed to come to the supper, and then they will invite them; that is to say, they will do what there is no necessity to do [i.e., present the gospel to those who are already saved]. In contrast with this, the apostles é─˛delivered the gospel, the same gospel to the dead as to the living, the same gospel to the non-elect as to the elect. The point of distinction not in the gospel, but in its being applied by the Holy Ghost, or left to be rejected of man.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 69é─ý71.

The Warrant of Faith

Wednesday··2009·12·02 · 1 Comments
Last week, I began looking at four reasons why Spurgeon rejected Hyper-Calvinism. The first was the universal invitation of the gospel, denied by the Hyper-Calvinists. The second is that it turned individuals away from their only sure warrant for trusting in Christ, namely, the objective commands and invitations of the gospel. Hyper-Calvinism denies such a universal warrant, applicable to all, and claims, instead, that Scripture only addresses invitations to specific peopleé─ţto the penitent, the é─˛heavy ladené─˘, to the convicted, to the é─˛sensibleé─˘ sinner and so on. Under such preaching, gospel hearers must first find some warrant within themselves for thinking that Christé─˘s invitations are addressed to them personally. Subjective experience is thus made a kind of necessary preliminary and qualification before anyone can trust in scriptural promises. Against this, Spurgeon held that the scriptural warrant for the unconverted to trust in Christ rests on nothing in themselves; the warrant lies in the invitation of Christ. His entire presentation of the gospel turned on the truth that no sinner has any more warrant than any other for trusting in Christ. The warrant lies in Scripture alone. Before a man has any willingness to be saved, it is é─˛his duty to believe in Christ, for it is not mané─˘s willingness that gives him a right to believe. Men are to believe in obedience to Godé─˘s command. God commandeth all men everywhere to repent, and this is his great command, é─˙Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be savedé─¨.é─˘ Christé─˘s ambassadors are authorised to call é─˛on all people of every clime and kindred, to believe the gospel with a promise of personal salvation to each and every one that believes.é─˘ The message is not, é─˛Wait for feelingsé─˘, it is, é─˛Believe and liveé─˘. é─˛I find Jesus Christ says nothing to sinners about waiting, but very much about coming.é─˘ To this the Hyper-Calvinists replied that if all are called to trust in Christ then such trust must involve them in believing a falsehood because Christ has not died for all. In their view, to preach a universal warrant is to deny that redemption is definite and particular. This was a further ground for charging Spurgeon with inconsistency, for he believed in particular redemption and yet summoned all to believe in Christ. But Spurgeon, along with Scripture, did not make, é─˛Believe that Christ died for youé─˘, part of faith to which the unbeliever is summoned. The call to the sinner is to commit himself to Christ, not because he has been saved but rather because he is lost and must come to Jesus in order to be saved. . . . To deny a universal warrant, and to require subjective experiences before Christ is trusted, is bound to lead to confusion and legality. Such teaching makes men look at themselves instead of the Saviour. It leads people to suppose that possessing a broken heart and feeling the burden of sin are some kind of qualification for believing. But this is to require a discernment on the part of would-be converts for which Scripture does not ask. The truth is that individuals under conviction are unable to understand themselves and it is common for those who are most burdened to fear that they have no true sense of sin at all. The Holy Spirit is indeed given to convict of sin but Scripture says nothing about him assuring the convicted of their convictions prior to faith. On this Spurgeon says in the same sermon on é─˛The Warrant of Faithé─˘:    é─˛I believe the tendency of that preaching which puts the warrant for faith anywhere but in the gospel command, is to vex the true penitent, and to console the hypocrite; the tendency of it is to make the poor soul which really repents, feel that he must not believe in Christ, because he sees so much of his own hardness of heart. The more spiritual a man is, the more unspiritual he see himself to be . . . Often the most penitent men are those who think themselves the most impenitent.é─˘    é─˛If we begin to preach to sinners that they must have a certain sense of sin and a certain measure of conviction, such teaching would turn the sinner away from God in Christ to himself. The man begins at once to say, é─˙Have I a broken heart? Do I feel the burden of sin?é─¨ This is only another form of looking at self. Man must not look to himself to find reasons for Godé─˘s grace.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 71é─ý74, 77é─ý78.

Spurgeon on Human Responsibility

The third reason given by Murray for Spurgeoné─˘s rejection of Hyper-Calvinism was the denial of human responsibility. Spurgeon regarded an emphasis on mané─˘s free-agency as absolutely essential to true evangelism. Because Scripture teaches that conversion is the work of God, Hyper-Calvinism fears to appeal for human action lest it interferes with God. But Scripture also presents conversion as the work of man and recognizes no inconsistency in calling upon men to be reconciled to God. Because it does not recognize this, Hyper-Calvinism fails to tell the unconverted that it is heir fault alone if they remain unsaved under the gospel and that their damnation will be their own work. Not only is faith in Christ a duty, but as Spurgeon often showed from Scripture, a refusal to believe on Christ will be found at last o be a greater offence than the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah. é─˛Is it not the very summit of arrogance and the height of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, é─˙God, I doubt thy grace; God, I doubt Thy love; God, I doubt Thy poweré─¨? I feel that, could we roll all sins into one mass,é─ţcould we take murder, blasphemy, lust, adultery, fornication, and everything that is vile, and unite them all into one vast globe of black corruption,é─ţthey would not even then equal the sin of unbelief.é─˘é─˘      In his autobiography Spurgeon reports how in his early days, before he came to London, he found himself with some ministers and others of Hyper-Calvinistic views é─˛who were disputing whether it was a sin in men that they did not believe the gospel.é─˘ The shock he felt on that occasion was to remain with him all his days: é─˛Whilst they were discussing, I said, é─˙Gentlemen, am I in the presence of Christians? Are you believers in the Bible or are you not?é─¨ They said, é─˙We are Christians, of course.é─¨ é─˙Then,é─¨ said I, é─˙does not the Scripture say, é─˛of sin, because they believe not on Me?é─˘ And is it not the damning sin of men, that they do not believe on Christ?é─¨é─˘      Spurgeon used this incident in the second sermon of the first volume of the New Park Street Pulpit, entitled é─˛The Sin of Unbelief, and, as we have seen, much of the contention of Hyper-Calvinism against his preaching concerned this point. é─˛I hold,é─˘ he says, é─˛as firmly as any man living, that repentance and conversion are the work of the Holy Spirit, but I would sooner lose this hand, and both, than I would give up preaching that it is the duty of men to repent and believe and that it is the duty of Christian ministers to say to them, é─˙Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.é─¨é─˘      Spurgeon frequently spoke against Hyper-Calvinism in his sermons. He did so at some length in an é─˛Exposition of the Doctrines of Graceé─˘ at the time of the opening of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861 when he forcefully repudiated any idea of fatalism and insisted, é─˛If he be lost, damnation is all of man; but, if he be saved, still salvation is all of God.é─˘ God did not make men to be damned but, as Spurgeon showed from the Westminster Assemblyé─˘s Larger Catechism, wrath is only inflicted on men on account of sin: é─˛This is no more than what the Methodist and all other Evangelical bodies acknowledgeé─ţthat where men perish it is in consequence of their sin.é─˘      In his Preface to the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit for 1863 he made what was possibly the last of his open appeals to those whom he describes as é─˛led captive by ultra-calvinistic theoriesé─˘, calling upon them to é─˛preach the whole gospel, instead of a parté─˘: é─˛Divine sovereignty is a great and indisputable fact, but human responsibility is quite as indisputable . . . Faith is Godé─˘s gift, but it is also the act of renewed manhood. Damnation is the result of justice, not of arbitrary predestination. O that the time were come when seeming opposites would be received, because faith knows that they are portions of one harmonious whole. Would that an enlarged view of the dispensations of God to man would permit men to be faithful to the human race, and at the same time true to the Sovereign Lord of all.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 84é─ý87.

The Universal Love of God

Spurgeon, contra Hyper-Calvinism, believed in the universal love of God for all men. He also believed, contra Arminianism, in the particular electing love of God for his chosen bride. From what [Spurgeon taught] on the universal love of God, Hyper-Calvinists deduced that Spurgeon did not believe in a special electing love which secures the salvation of all those for whom Christ died. Sometimes Christians of Arminian persuasion, with a superficial knowledge of Spurgeon, have reached the same conclusion on Spurgeoné─˘s position. But this is the same mistake as can be made in reading the Bible itself. All references to divine love in Scripture are not to be interpreted as universal (Arminianism), neither are they all to be made particular (Hyper-Calvinism). There is a differentiation observable in Scripture. In speaking to Christians Spurgeon would often make the difference clear: é─˛Beloved, the benevolent love of Jesus is more extended than the lines of his electing love . . . That [i.e. the love revealed in Matthew 23:37] is not the love which beams resplendently upon his chosen, but it is true love for all that.é─˘ Godé─˘s special love é─˛is not love for all men . . . There is an electing, discriminating, distinguishing love, which is settled upon a chosen people . . . and it is this love which is the true resting place for the saint.é─˘ Arminianism, by making universal benevolence the only love revealed in Scripture, denies the sovereignty of grace and leads men to suppose that God had to make salvation equally available to all. Hyper-Calvinism, on the other hand, denies, in the words of John Murray, é─˛that there is a love of God that goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love that comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of gospel proclamation.é─˘ While holding firmly to these important theological distinctions, Spurgeon did not believe that they were ones which had necessarily to be introduced in presenting the gospel to the unconverted and he warned against the kind of preaching which appears more concerned to safeguard orthodoxy than to save the lost. é─˛Many good people think they ought to guard the gospel . . . When we protect it with provisos, and guard it with exceptions, and qualify it with observations, it is like David in Saulé─˘s armour.é─˘ He refused to explain how men could be held accountable for not trusting in a Saviour in whom they were never chosen, on the grounds that Scripture itself offers no explanation. It was enough for him that there is a salvation to be preached with love to all and that he call all to come to Christ and to say, é─˛If he died for all those who trust him, I will trust him; if he has offered so great a sacrifice upon the tree for guilty men, I will rely upon that sacrifice and make it the basis of my hope.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 97é─ý99.

Spurgeon on Catholicity

Iain Murray lists four é─˙Lessons from the Conflicté─¨ with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeoné─˘s day. The first concerns the divisiveness of the Hyper-Calvinists, which Spurgeon deplored. Murray writes:    Genuine evangelical Christianity is never of an exclusive spirit. Any view of the truth which undermines catholicity has gone astray from Scripture. This was the point which played a considerable part in Spurgeoné─˘s inability to join with the Strict Baptists. He could speak of them as é─˛about the best people in the world,é─˘ but the practice of many of their churches in restricting the Lordé─˘s table to Baptists grieved him. Christians may be divided over their beliefs concerning the outward sign; they are not divided in the spiritual reality of symbolized: é─˛I always say to Strict Baptist brethren who think it is a dreadful thing for baptized believers to commune with the unbaptized: é─˙But you cannot help it; if you are the people of God you must commune with all saints, baptized or not. You may deny them outward and visible sign, but you cannot keep them from the inward and spiritual grace.é─¨ If a man be a child of God, I do not care what I may think about him é─ý if he be a child of God I do commune with him and I must.é─˘ But he saw this professed separation of Strict Communion Baptists from the rest of the visible church was frequently made the more serious by the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism. Its teachers, from Huntington onwards, has commonly made faith in election a part of saving faith and thus either denied the Christianity of all professed Christians who did not so believe, or at least, treated such profession with much suspicion. In so doing they had spread the idea that Calvinism is necessarily exclusive, that there is something inherent in its tenets which lead men to separate from others. Spurgeon deplored the way that the abuse of the doctrine of election had thus been used to foster division: é─˛We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians, é─ý not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of Godé─˘s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus. é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 110é─ý112.

The Doctrine of Election in Its Place

The second of four “Lessons from the Conflict” with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeon’s day: This controversy brings out the danger which is created when biblical truths are constantly presented to the non-Christian in the wrong order. Spurgeon believed all the truths commonly called Calvinistic but he did not believe that all the truths commonly so designated had to be presented to sinners in order to their conversion. As noted, he wanted to see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The tendency of Hyper-Calvinism was to make sinners want to understand theology before they could believe in Christ, as though “they cannot be saved until they are theologians.” But the non-Christian can hear “the soul and marrow of the gospel’, that is, Christ as the Savior, and see his responsibility to repent and believe, without understanding “the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic’. It is with his responsibility, says Spurgeon, that “the sinner has the most to do’, whereas God’s predestining grace is the subject of with which “the saint has most to do. Let him praise the free and sovereign grace of God, and bless his name’. In so thinking Spurgeon was surely siding with what the wisest preachers in the church had always taught. While Reformed Confessions may begin with statements on the doctrine of God and divine decrees, that is not where preachers and teachers need to begin in addressing men about salvation. In the apostolic teaching to the lost, recorded in the book of Acts, nothing is said of the doctrine of election, while in the Epistles “it is scarcely ever omitted’. In accordance with his approach, Calvin, in the later editions of his Institutes, moved his treatment of election to follow teaching on justification. He recognized that Scripture generally introduces the doctrine of election to show believers the security and certainty of their salvation and to make clear who made them to differ. But when election is constantly introduced as a preliminary to hearing the gospel it inevitably comes to be seen as though it were designed to limit or obstruct the salvation of men and women. No one put this point better than John Bradford, the English reformer, whose words were often quoted by Whitefield, “let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.” It ought not to be the business of the evangelist to teach God’s decrees to the unconverted. It is certainly God’s decree of salvation which is fulfilled in conversion but knowledge of that decree is no part of saving faith. As Crawford says, God’s decrees are his fixed purposes and his “secret designs for the regulation of his own procedure; but they are not rules of laws prescribed for the guidance of others . . . The doctrine of election is not to be regarded as what an apostle calls “milk that babes have need of,” but as the “strong meat that belongs to them who are of full age.” It ought not, therefore, to be prefixed to the calls of the Gospel, or placed in the fore-front of the calls and invitations which are therein addressed without restriction to all sinners. When so placed, it is apt to perplex and disquiet humble souls . . . No man can be of the number of the elect if he utterly neglects the appointed means of salvation; and no man can be of the number of the non-elect if he truly repents and unfiegnedly believes the Gospel. The salvation of a sinner is actually brought to pass, according to the plainest declarations of the Holy Scripture, in the way of faith and repentance, and no otherwise.” —Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 114–117.

The Vanity of Hyper-Calvinism

The third of four é─˙Lessons from the Conflicté─¨ with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeoné─˘s day is the vanity of expecting to answer every question satisfactorily to human reason. Murray writes: This controversy directs us to our need for profound humility before God. It reminds us forcefully of questions about which we can only say, é─˛behold, God is great, and we know him noté─˘ (Job 36:26), and, é─˛O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!é─˘ (Rom. 11:33). We do not know why God has purposed to save some and not others, nor why, given his desire for the good of all, many are left in their sin. We cannot say why his love to all men is not the same to the elect. We do not know how God works in us é─˛to will and to doé─˘ and yet leaves us wholly responsible for our own actions, nor how invitations to all to believe on Christ are to be harmonised with electing grace. As Crawford said, various attempts have been made to solve such mysteries, é─˛but, it must be owned, they have been signally unsuccessful.é─˘ He concludes: é─˛We do well to be exceedingly diffident in our judgments respecting matters so unsearchable as the secret purposes of God.é─˘ It is to be feared that sharp contentions between Christians on these issues have too often risen from a wrong confidence in our powers of reasoning and our assumed ability to draw logical inferences. It is arguable that in the eclipse of Calvinistic beliefs at the beginning of the eighteenth century, at a time when é─˛reasoné─˘ was being made the test of all religious belief, the would-be defenders of orthodoxy who became Hyper-Calvinistic fell into the very mistake which they were seeking to correct. As J. I. Packer writes, é─˛In an increasingly rationalistic age, the reaction itself was rationalistic, within the Reformed supernaturalistic frame.é─˘ Joseph Hussey, the standard bearer of the movement, certainly gave justification of that charge. The contentious spirit in which he advocated his views was a discredit to the truth. John Newton was not the only Calvinist to complain that in Husseyé─˘s writings, é─˛I frequently found more bones than meat, and seasoned with much of an angry and self-important spirit.é─˘ Spurgeon, like all the children of men, had to learn humility, and he was not always entirely blameless in this regard in his early years, but it was given to him to see how a system which sought to attribute all to the grace of God had itself too much confidence in the powers of reason. His mature judgment on that point, given below, constitutes a statement of great value. Probably as a young man Spurgeon was, at times, over concerned to assert his agreement with Calvin but in his deepening humility before God, and his refusal to trust in human reason, he truly followed in the spirit of that leader and of all true teachers in the church of God. It was Calvin, shortly before his death, who, on the words, é─˛have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?é─˘ (Ezek. 18:3) said this: é─˛If any one again objects é─ý this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, Godé─˘s will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we now look through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence (1 Cor. 13:12).é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 117é─ý119.

é─˙Doctrines are Christé─˘s garmentsé─¨

We will take a momentary break from our holiday frivolity to bring you a final installment from Iain Murrayé─˘s Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We will return tomorrow with more pointless drivel. The last of four é─˙Lessons from the Conflicté─¨ with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeoné─˘s day is that doctrine not kept in perspective can become a master rather than a servant. Iain Murray writes: The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when the acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power. As we have seen, in his early ministries Spurgeon was opposed by those who believed that the Hyper-Calvinism of such eighteenth century-Baptists as John Gill represented the purest Christianity under heaven. That interpretation of history he knew to be wrong, not simply because it fell short of Scripture, but because its effect was to reduce endeavors for the conversion of sinners. é─˛During the pastorate of my venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, this Church, instead of increasing, gradually decreased . . . But mark this, from the day when Fuller, Carey, Sutcliffe, and others, met together to send out missionaries to India the sun began to dawn on a gracious revival which is not over yet.é─˘ In this connection it is noteworthy that just as renewed understanding of the free offer of the gospel led to the age of overseas missions in England it did also é─ý by different means é─ý in Scotland. As James Walker writes, Boston and the Morrow men é─˛entered fully into the missionary spirit of the Bibleé─˘ and é─˛were able to see that Calvinistic doctrine is inconsistent with world-conquering aspirations and efforts.é─˘ Robert Moffat, Scots pioneer missionary in South Africa, was one of the outstanding results of this rediscovery. A Calvinist who made the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly one of the first publications of the infant missions press at Kuruman, Moffat had no hesitation in writing as follows in 1834: é─˛I see nothing in the world worth looking after if it has not a direct reference to the gory and extension of the Redeemeré─˘s kingdom; and were we always able to have a lively view of the myriads of who are descending into the horrible pit, our zeal would be proportionate. Much depends on us who have received the ministry of reconciliation, assured that God our Savior willeth the salvation of all.é─˘ To say this is not to deny that there have been preachers of Hyper-Calvinistic views whose preaching has been used In the conversion of many. Spurgeon was thankful for such men as John Warburton and John Kernshaw, men whose Christ-centeredness often enabled them to rise above their system. But in the hands of the general run of men who regarded Hyper-Calvinism as scriptural he believed the tendency of the preaching was inevitably injurious. By distorting and exaggerating truth the system misrepresented vital doctrines and made them offensive instead of appealing to the wider Christian world. He was convinced that the truths called Calvinistic would never be more widely received among the churches if the impression was allowed to prevail that these truths inhibited earnest evangelism, as they commonly did where Hyper-Calvinism became the accepted tradition. é─˛I have seen,é─˘ he says, é─˛to my inexpressible grief, the doctrines of grace made a huge stone to be rolled at the mouth of the dead sepulcher of a dead Christ.é─˘ Hyper-Calvinism still exists today but what is needed far more than a renewed controversy on the subject is living evidence that the doctrines of grace are harmonious with true evangelistic preaching. The ministries of such men as Whitefield, Spurgeon, and, more recently, Lloyd-Jones, proved that more than a thousand books could ever do. Such preaching can only come from a baptism of new and deeper devotion to Christ. Much more than a change of opinion is needed. Spurgeon labored all his ministry for purity of doctrine but his final word was always this: é─˛What is doctrine after all but the throne whereon Christ sitteth, and when the throne is vacant what is the throne to us? Doctrines are the shovel and tongs for the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christé─˘s garments; verily they smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory places, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for as much as the person, the very person, of our Lord Jesus Christ.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 120é─ý122.

Trusting Christé─˘s Merits

Pithy statement of the day: None can trust in the merits of Christ until they have renounced their own. é─ţJohn Wesley, quoted in Iain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 9.

Wesley on Faith

Thursday··2010·01·07 · 2 Comments
After reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, Ié─˘m shifting my attention to the other end of the soteriological spectrum in another historical volume by Iain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed. I know relatively little about John Wesley. My impression of him, from the little I have read about him, is that he was an Arminian unlike most Arminians I have known, and certainly unlike I was. I am eager to see if my impression is correct. If the following account of an exchange between Wesley and pseudonymous critic é─˙John Smithé─¨ is any indication, it is. é─˛You seem to me,é─˘ wrote é─˛Smithé─˘, é─˛to contend with great earnestness for the following system, viz., that faith (instead of being a rational assent and a moral virtue for the attainment of which men ought to yield the utmost attention and industry) is altogether a divine and supernatural illapse from heaven, the immediate gift of God, the mere work of omnipotence.é─˘ With obvious qualification, this was what Wesley believed; faith is supernatural, é─˛wrought in us (be it swiftly or slowly) by the Spirit of Godé─˘. He replied to é─˛Smithé─˘: Supposing a man be now void of faith and hope and love, he cannot effect any degree of them in himself by any possible exertion of his understanding, and of any or all of his other natural faculties, though he should enjoy them to the utmost perfection. A distinct power from God, not implied in any of these, is indispensably necessary before it is possible that he should arrive at the very last degree of Christian faith, or love, or hope. In order to his having any of these (on which very consideration I suppose St. Paul terms é─˙the fruits of the Spirité─¨) he must be created anew, thoroughly and inwardly changed by the operation of the Spirit of God, by a power equivalent to that which raises the dead, and which calls the things that were not as though they were.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 32é─ý33.

Wesley: A Man of One Book?

John Wesley claimed to be é─˙a man of one book.é─¨ Nevertheless, his system of thought, which became Methodism, was clearly molded by extra-biblical influences. Murray names these as é─˙High Church divinity, Christian mysticism, and Moravian evangelicalism,é─¨ and adds, é─˙It would be a mistake to suppose that the influence of the first two ended when he embraced the third.é─¨    High church thinking remained with him in more than one area. On baptism, for instance, he continued to believe that a decisive change occurs when a child receives the sacrament. Before that event original sin operates in its full power in all the sons of Adam, but in baptism the merit of Christé─˘s death begins to be applied to all and there is a general giving of the Holy Spirit sufficient to enable a response to the gospel. This was his teaching on é─˛prevenient graceé─˘. He also believed that the Lordé─˘s Supper could be viewed as a means of conversion. His é─˛Highé─˘ beliefs about the sacraments likewise may have entered into his readiness to allow unordained preachers to expound Scripture, whereas they were not to baptize or to administer the Lordé─˘s Supper.    From this same High Church came what can only be called a form of é─˛asceticismé─˘ which remained in Wesleyé─˘s thinking. High Church and mystical writers majored on self-denial. Certainly, self-denial is a Christian duty, and it was to contribute largely to the spirituality and vigour which would characterize Methodists. In Wesley, however, it could pass into asceticism, not simply in such things as early rising and abstinence from tea-drinking but, more seriously, in his whole view of marriage. To a young preacher who nearly fell into matrimony he could write, é─˛I congratulate you on your deliverance . . . remember the wise direction of ?ć Kempis, é─˙Avoid good women, and commend them to God.é─¨é─˘ . . . [Wesleyé─˘s own] marriage was a disaster. This might have been the case whoever he had married, given his estimation that celibacy remained a higher state, and that marrying for happiness was somehow beneath a Christian: é─˛I married because I needed a homeé─˘, he tells a correspondent, é─˛in order to recover my health; and I did recover it. But I did not seek happiness thereby, and I did not find it.é─˘ Who can be surprised?    . . .    Asceticism is not a charge which Wesley would have recognized, but there was another strand in his thinking that he willingly attributed to his early reading of High Church authors and the mystics. This was his teaching on é─˛Christian perfectioné─˘ . . . in its final form his teaching, in brief, was that the mature or é─˛perfecté─˘ Christian . . . can attain to loving God with heart and soul and strength before death, and so overcome all inbred sin that sinning may be said to have ceased. To describe this attainment he used several terms, é─˛full sanctificationé─˘, é─˛pure loveé─˘, é─˛Christian perfectioné─˘, and less commonly, the é─˛second blessingé─˘. This condition might be received by faith in an instant. é─˛Full deliverance from sin, I believe, is always instantaneous.é─˘ . . .    . . . it is no conjecture to believe that Wesleyé─˘s é─˛evidenceé─˘ for the opinion rested quite as much upon alleged experiences as upon any interpretation of Scripture . . . although Wesley criticized the mystic writers with the words, é─˛each of them makes his own experience the standard of religioné─˘, a propensity to depend on experience as a guide to truth also remained with him. For example, to support his assertion, given above, that full deliverance from sin, I believe, is always instantaneousé─˘, he adds, é─˛at least, I never yet knew an exception.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 44é─ý48.

é─˙repentance resulting in a changed lifeé─¨

In a Previous post on Wesley and Men Who Followed, I offered my impression of John Wesley as é─˙an Arminian unlike most Arminians I have known.é─¨ The é─˙men who followedé─¨ seem to fit that description as well. Among those men was William Bramwell (1759é─ý1818). Bramwell was zealous for the purity of the church, and lamented the fact that, in some instances, individuals were being received into membership without having proven the genuineness of their conversion. He deplored such lack of discipline, and avoided practices which might encourage false professions of faith.    In regard to seekers and the distressed there is a significant difference between Bramwellé─˘s practice and that of a later generation. Whereas he would sometimes invite the awakened and the concerned to meet with him separately for spiritual advice, there is no record of his calling people to meet at the communion rail or é─˛the penitenté─˘s benché─˘ at the end of a service. When the latter practice was first adopted by the Methodists it was only as a means to make counseling more easy and immediately available; but this was to prove a half-way to the practice of making coming to the front necessary for securing immediate professions of conversion. When that final stage came, the prevailing understanding of evangelism was very different from that of Bramwellé─˘s generation. And the final development encouraged the very danger of a premature profession that the earlier generation had tried to avoid. Bramwellé─˘s generation wanted to see repentance resulting in a changed life before they accepted any Christian profession. é─ţIain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 124é─ý125.

No Better Ways to Convert

Wednesday··2010·01·20 · 1 Comments
When John Wesley arrived in Ireland, he discovered a situation similar to ours in the United States. Substitute é─˙secular humanisté─¨ for é─˙Roman Catholic,é─¨ and é─˙evangelicalé─¨ for é─˙protestant,é─¨ and see if you doné─˘t agree. [Wesley] described his first contacts in Dublin as people who exceeded all he knew for their é─˛sweetness of temper, courtesy and hospitality,é─˘ but they were é─˛English transplanted into another soil.é─˘ They belonged to the Protestant establishment and it was from their number that the members of his first Society in Dublin came. Noticeably absent from the Society were the native Irish-speaking people, of whom Wesley said, é─˛At least ninety-nine in a hundred remain in the religion of their forefathers.é─˘ For this sullen majority he had genuine sympathy and regarded it as no surprise that they should live and die as Roman Catholics é─˛when the protestants can find no better ways to convert them than penal laws and act of parliamenté─˘. é─ţIain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 139.

The Disease and the Cure

Among the early Methodists used by God to cultivate the hard ground of Catholic Ireland was Gideon Ouseley (1762é─ý1839). Ousely serves as an example to those of us who would, because we lack great abilities or knowledge, do nothing. Iain Murray writes: In a lonely part of Ireland [Ouseley] acted simply because he was constrained to do so. In some respects he lacked the knowledge that was needed, and he was aware of it, but when the lack prompted him to stay silent other thoughts compelled him. He would say to himself, é─˛Do you not know the disease? And do you not know the cure?é─˘ And his conclusion had a divine authority about it, é─˛go then and tell them these two things, the disease and the cure; never mind the rest.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003), 166é─ý167.

Calvin on Thursday

I hang my head in shame; I have failed to read my quota of Calvin (or almost anything else) this week. So rather than read Calvin, I’m going to tell you why you should read Calvin. Oh, heck, I’m not even going to do that. I’m going to let Steve Lawson tell you as he discusses his little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin.

R. I. P. J. C.

Thursday··2010·06·10 · 7 Comments
One hundred and ten years ago today, Anglican minister John Charles Ryle went home (The 110th Anniversary of J.C. Ryleé─˘s Death). I suggest you observe the day by tossing out that cute little devotional youé─˘ve been reading and picking up a set of Ryleé─˘s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. I cané─˘t imagine a better daily devotional, short enough for daily reading, but long enough to say more than a T-shirt. The following sample is from his exposition of John 11:17é─ý29. The root of a happy religion is clear, distinct, well-defined knowledge of Jesus Christ. More knowledge would have saved Martha many sighs and tears. Knowledge alone no doubt, if unsanctified, only é─˙puffeth up.é─¨ (1 Cor. vii. 1.) Yet without clear knowledge of Christ in all His offices we cannot expect to be established in the faith, and steady in the time of need. é─ţJ. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Banner of Truth, 2012).

Marks of Authentic Revival

Among the books read but not blogged last year is The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steve Lawson. The é─˙Great Awakening,é─¨ of which most of you are likely to have heard at least a little, was a movement that took place in the American Colonies in the early 1740s. Through the preaching of pastors and evangelists such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, thousands were led to repentance and faith in Christ. The Spirit of God was clearly at work in an extraordinary way. People being what they are, however, the movement was not without attending problems. Along with the emotions such a movement would naturally and properly incite came emotionalism. In response to that emotionalism came questions and challenges to the legitimacy of the awakening. The theologians of Yale College were divided between supporters of the movement and those who, due to the accompanying excesses, opposed it. Jonathan Edwards supported the awakening, but recognized the reality of counterfeit revivals. In his commencement address at Yale in 1741, in which he expressed his support for the movement, he also addressed the nature of true revival. Steve Lawson writes, In an exposition of John 4:1é─ý6, Edwards identified five marks by which an authentic work of the Spirit is to be recognized. Such a true work, he said, é─˙(1) raises [peopleé─˘s] esteem of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world, (2) leads them to turn from their corruptions and lusts to the righteousness of God, (3) increases their regard for Holy Scripture, (4) establishes their minds in the objective truths of revealed religion, and (5) evokes genuine love for God and man.é─¨ Each of these, he believed, was present in the awakening. The message was published a month later under the title The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741) and was given wide circulation. é─ţSteve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 13.

Contemplating Death

Jonathan Edwards (via Steve Lawson) on death as a sanctifying agent: To help himself value his time, Edwards determined to keep an eye on the final hour of his lifeé─ţthe hour in which he would stand on the threshold of his entrance into the presence of God. In resolution 7, Edwards vowed: 7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.    This resolution was primarily intended to help Edwards in the mortification of his sin. He anticipated that asking himself whether he would engage in a particular activity if he had only one hour to live would help him steer clear of temptation. He was persuaded he would not want to pass into Godé─˘s presence after committing any sin. If he could say that he ought to avoid it at any point in his Christian walk. This perspective would restrain his sinful thoughts, activities, and words. Edwards often found much sanctifying value in focusing on the certainty of his death. When combating worldly thoughts, he wrote in his diary: é─˙Sabbath morning, Sept. 1. When I am violently beset with worldly thought, for a relief, to think of death, and the doleful circumstances of it.é─¨ Thoughts of death turned his mind to eternal realities, making worldly temptations of the moment seem empty and unattractive. Living as if he was in his last hour helped him keep sinful things at a distance. Thoughts of death also helped Edwards keep a proper perspective on possessions. In his diary, he asked himself a probing question: é─˙Monday, Feb.3. Let every thing have the value now which it will have upon a sick bed; and frequently, in my pursuits of whatever kind, let this question come into my mind. é─˛How much shall I value this upon my death-bed?é─˘é─¨ Edwards believed that contemplating his deathbed scene forced him to value what was most important in the present.    Contemplating his death even helped Edwards prepare himself for death. Edwards recorded: é─˙Friday morning, July 5. Last night, when thinking what I should wish I had done, that I had not done, if I was then to die; I thought I should wish, That I had been more importunate with God to fit me for death, and lead me into all truth, and that I might not be deceived about the state of my soul.é─¨ Though Edwards wrote these words as a teenager, in the full bloom of life, he wanted to be prepared to meet his Lord with His approval. Focusing upon the end of life had the effect of helping Edwards prioritize what was most important in his life. This perspective restrained his sinful thoughts, activities, and words. Further, it helped him choose the highest ends in life. Not all choices in the use of his time were between good and evil. Some of the most difficult choices were between good, better and best. Always living as if he were at the end of his life caused him to live for what is best, the glory of God. é─ţSteve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 96é─ý98.

A Sweet Discipline

Steve Lawson on Jonathan Edwardsé─˘ disciplined devotion to Scripture and the sweet reward it yielded: Edwards also strictly regimented himself in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, such as Bible study, theological readings, meditation, prayer, and singing. Such spiritual disciplines are necessary for spiritual health; as Donald Whiney writes, they promote é─˙intimacy with Christ and conformity (both internal and external) to Christ. For this reason, Edwards gave himself to spiritual disciplines with great diligence. We see a clear manifestation of this discipline in resolution 28: 28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same. . . . Edwardsé─˘ disciplined approach to Scripture was by no means drudgery for him. To the contrary, Bible intake delighted him because it yielded the knowledge of God. I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt an harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited in every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders. é─ţSteve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 113é─ý114.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ

This morning, I began reading the fifth volume in John Piperé─˘s biographical series, The Swans are Not Silent. In this volume, entitled Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton, Piper draws vital theological lessons from three men whose lives are chronicles of sacrifice and suffering for the sake of the gospel. In his introduction, he sets the tone by presenting an important fact of Christian life: suffering and martyrdom are not merely unfortunate results of service to Christ in a lost world; they are part of Godé─˘s design. Piper writes: The truth that is especially illustrated by the lives of these servants is that Godé─˘s strategy for breaking through Satané─˘s authority in the world, and spreading the gospel, and planting the church includes the sacrificial suffering of his frontline heralds. Again I emphasize, since it is so easily missed, that I am not referring only to the fact that suffering results from frontline proclamation. I am referring also to the fact that this suffering is one of Godé─˘s intended strategies for the success of his mission. Jesus said to his disciples as he sent them out: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) There is no doubt what usually happens to a sheep in the midst of wolves. And Paul confirmed the reality in Romans 8:36, quoting Psalm 44:22: As it is written, é─˙For your sake we are being killed all the say ling; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.é─¨ Jesus knew this would be the portion of his darkness-penetrating, mission-advancing, church-planting missionaries. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword (Romans 8:35)é─ţthat is what Paul expected, because that is what Jesus promised. Jesus continued: Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors an kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:17é─ý18) Notice that the é─˙witnessé─¨ before governors and kings is not a mere result or consequence, but a design. Literally: é─˙You will be dragged before . . . kings for a witness to them [eis marturion autois].é─¨ Godé─˘s design for reaching some governors and kings is the persecution of his people. Why this design for missions? One answer from the Lord Jesus goes like this: A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. . . . If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:24é─ý25) Suffering was not just a consequence of the Masteré─˘s obedience and mission. It was the central strategy of his mission. It was the way he accomplished our salvation. Jesus calls us to join him in the Calvary Road, to take up our cross daily, to hate our lives in this world, and to fall into the ground like a seed and die, that others might live. We are not above our Master. To be sure, our suffering does not atone for anyoneé─˘s sins, but it is a deeper way of doing missions than we often realize. When the martyrs cry out to Christ from under the alter in heaven, é─˙How long before you will judge and avenge our blood?é─¨ they are told é─˙to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had beené─¨ (Revelation 6:10é─ý11). Martyrdom is not the mere consequence of radical love and obedience; it is the keeping if an appointment set in heaven for a certain number: é─˙Wait till the number of martyrs is complete who are to be killed.é─¨ Just as Christ died to save the unreached peoples of the world, so some missionaries are to die to save the people of the world. é─ţJohn Piper, Filling Up on the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton (Crossway, 2009), 19é─ý21.

A High Price Tag

I scanned my shelves this morning and counted Bibles. In my office alone, I found three readeré─˘s Bibles, eight Study Bibles, one Parallel Bible, two Greek New Testaments, one Harmony of the Gospels, and one Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. If I lost all those, I could still find at least two complete Bibles and a couple of nearly complete Bibles in commentary sets, plus the Gospels, Psalms, and other books in various other commentaries. I also have a Douay-Rheims, a New World Translation, and an NIV parked between Charles Finney and Rick Warren, but Ié─˘m not counting those. Then there are the ten-or-so paperbacks Ié─˘ve got for giving away. If I went through the whole house, Ié─˘m sure I could find a dozen and a half more. The point, as youé─˘ve probably guessed, is that thaté─˘s a lot of Bibles. I admit that I seldom give much thought to this abundance of treasure. Only occasionally do I think of the history of the Bibleé─ţmy English Bible, to be preciseé─ţand what it cost and who paid the price so I could have just one. Five hundred years ago, men like William Tyndale paid the ultimate price to bring the Bible, in English, to common folks like me. Having promoted the Reformation teachings of Luther, Tyndale had fled King Henry VIII and England and gone into hiding on the continent. Eventually, Henry was é─˙inclined to mercy,é─¨ and an English merchant named Stephen Vaughn was commissioned to find Tyndale and ask him to return home to England. Vaughn, having found Tyndale, informed the King in a letter, é─˙I find him always singing one note.é─¨ John Piper writes:    The thirty-seven-year-old Tyndale was moved to tears by this offer of mercy. He had been in exile away from his homeland for seven years. But then he sounded his é─˙one noteé─¨ again: Will the king authorize a vernacular English Bible from the original languages? Vaughan gives us Tyndaleé─˘s words from May 1531: I assure you, if it would stand with the Kingé─˘s most gracious pleasure to grant only a bare text of Scripture [that is, without explanatory notes] to be put forth among his people, like as is put forth among the subjects of the emperor in these parts, and other Christian prices, be it of the translation of what person soever shall please his Majesty, I shall immediately make faithful promise never to write more, nor abide two days in these parts after the same: but immediately to repair unto his realm, and there most humbly submit myself at the feet of his royal majesty, offering my body to suffer what pain or torture, yea, what death his grace will, so this be obtained. Until that time, I will abide the asperity of all chances, whatsoever shall come, and endure my life in as many pains as it is able to bear and suffer. In other words, Tyndale would give himself up to the king on one conditioné─ţthat the king authorize an English Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew in the common language of the people. The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his lifeé─ţwhich it did five years later. é─ţJohn Piper, Filling Up on the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton (Crossway, 2009), 28é─ý29. Tyndale was forced to do all of his translating and writing as an exiled fugitive. Multitudes were tortured and killed for smuggling his books into England, or for simply possessing them. In 1535, he was befriended by an Englishman named Henry Philips. Philips, over several months, won Tyndaleé─˘s trust with the intention of betraying him. On October 6, 1536, at the age of forty-two, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake.

Of Slippery Slopes and Diving Boards

Tuesday··2010·08·17 · 4 Comments
Today, I test the results of yesterdayé─˘s post. I am too young to have known of the decline of Billy Graham as it happened. I have always been under the impression that his slide into ecumenism and theological liberalism began fairly late in life. Reading Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray, I am learning a different story. By the time Graham gained prominence on the word stage, his journey of compromise was already well underway. And while his descent into heterodoxy can be described as a slide, his embrace of ecumenism can only be called an enthusiastic leapé─ţwith a decidedly pragmatic motivation. Murray writes of a time in 1965 when Graham was seeking support for his crusade in London from Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who did not hold all Scripture to be the authoritative Word of God, nor did he believe in such doctrines as the penal, substitutionary atonement. . . . At first Ramsey opposed Grahams beliefs as heretical but he seems to have been charmed by the Americané─˘s amicableness when the two met at the New Delhi Third Assembly of the World Council od Churches. The evangelist has recorded how their friendship began on that occasion when he asked the archbishop, é─˛Do we have to part company because we disagree in methods and theology? Isné─˘t that the purpose of the ecumenical movement, to bring together people of opposing views?é─˘ Thereafter there was no more opposition. é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 40é─ý41.

Inspecting the Fruit

Wednesday··2010·08·18 · 2 Comments
When criticizing an evangelical idol like Billy Graham, one is often challenged with the claim that, as so much good is done, faults should be overlooked. Setting aside the seriousness of the faults in question, and the corresponding impossibility of letting them slide, we need to ask, has so much good really been done? Are these methods which we deplore really producing as advertised? The record says, é─˙No.é─¨ In 1968 the Evangelical Alliance, BGEAé─˘s first sponsor in Britain, published a report on evangelism that included a survey of eighty-five churches which had participated in Grahamé─˘s shorter London crusades of 1966é─ý67. Its authors (a large committee) concluded: On mass evangelism generally, the recurring theme was that the crusade did not make a lasting effect on the complete outsider. Even when they went, they either made no response, or made no lasting response . . . Church members, whether they went forward or not, found blessing and encouragement from the services, but the complete outsider tended to go back outside again. in the words of one comment, é─˛If they asked, é─˙What shall we do?é─¨ they seem to have been given little answer beyond é─˙to decide for Christé─¨ . . . On inquiry they were unable to give any real answer as to what this meant, other than they desired to live a better life. é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 56é─ý57. Now, leté─˘s go back a century and a half and examine the record of one of Grahamé─˘s most famous predecessors. Charles Finney preceded Graham in implementing results-oriented methods. Finney claimed that the right use of the right means was guaranteed to produce conversions, and there is no denying that his methods produced massive results. But what results? In Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray reported that . . . the permanent results were considerably fewer than had initially been claimed. In the course of time, Finney himself admitted this. Joseph Ives Foot, a Presbyterian minister, wrote in 1838: é─˛During ten years, hundreds, perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is easily admitted, that his [Finneyé─˘s] real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself, that é─˙the great body of them are a disgrace to religioné─¨.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 1994), 288é─ý289.

1 Corinthians 15:33

Evangelical icon worshippersé─ţthose who have not already skedaddled, that isé─ţwill be relieved to know that this will probably be my last mention of Billy Graham for the present time. Compromise with people of all theologies was a common thread running through Billy Grahamé─˘s ministry. In the effort to garner support for his evangelistic crusades, it seems there was no heresy he was not willing to let slide. As time passed, it was not merely his associations that were unorthodox; as the following account* of his embrace of inclusivism will demonstrate, his thinking was altered as well.    Achieving common ground with the Roman Catholicism is one of the things for which Mark Noll commends Graham. But agreement with non-evangelicals has gone still further. In 1978 McCallé─˘s magazine quoted Graham as having said, é─˛I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.é─˘ That statement alarmed supporters BGEA and Christianity Today was quick to claim that the evangelist had been misquoted. Subsequent disclosures would appear to show that it was Grahamé─˘s paper rather than McCallé─˘s which was inaccurate, for a Graham interview with Dr Robert Schuller on 31 May 1997 put the matter beyond doubt. Schuller has attained fame as the promoter of a liberal é─˛self-esteemé─˘ gospel which he preaches in his Crystal Cathedral in California. In the course of his discussion with Graham, conducted by means of a television link-up, Schuller asked for the evangelisté─˘s view on the future of Christianity. Graham answered by giving his belief about the final make-up of the body of Christ. That body would be made up, he affirmed, from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. And I doné─˘t think that we are going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at one time. I think James answered thaté─ţthe Apostle James in the first Council in Jerusalemé─ţwhen he said that Godé─˘s purpose for this age is to call out a people for his name. And that is what he is doing today. He is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.    Surprised by this, Schuller was anxious for clarification: é─˛What, what I hear you saying, that ité─˘s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?é─˘ é─˛Yes, it isé─˘, Graham responded in decided tones. At which point, his television host tripped over his words in his excitement, and exclaimed, é─˛Ié─˘m so thrilled to hear you say this: é─˙Thereé─˘s a wideness in Godé─˘s mercyé─¨.é─˘ To which Graham added, é─˛There is. There definitely is.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 73é─ý74. * Those who doubt the veracity of this account can easily find video of the Graham-Schuller exchange on YouTube.

é─˙worse than controversyé─¨

Last week, when I wrote about the need to be willing to objectively examine those whom we have admired, I had no problem following that with a few excerpts from Iain Murrayé─˘s Evangelicalism Divided on Billy Graham. I have always been in almost total disagreement with Grahamé─˘s theology and methods, and extremely dubious of their alleged results. The experience changes considerably when the spotlight is turned toward those whose work I have appreciated. In that same volume, Murray turns his attention toward evangelicals within the Anglican church, most notably, J. I. Packer and John Stott, and how they, Packer in particular, incrementally sold their evangelical birthright for a mess of unity-pottage. The story is exceedingly disheartening and difficult to summarize in a short space. The struggle during the 1960s and é─˘70s within the Church of England was between evangelicals and liberal anglo-catholics. In the beginning, evangelicals wanted to insist that the relatively evangelical Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (the churché─˘s official statement of faith) define who was an Anglican. The anglo-catholics wanted to accept anyone, regardless of profession, who was baptized into the church. As unity was pursued, compromise led to compromise, until those who had held the evangelical position became willing to call virtually anyone a Christian who wished to be called one. As Murray records, é─˙Those who deny the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ, [Dr Stott] affirmed, do not é─˛forfeit the right to be called Christiansé─˘é─¨ [Evangelicalism Divided, 119.]. How sad that these evangelical Anglicans forgot the words of their own Bishop Ryle: Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity . . . But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin . . . The old saying must never be forgotten, é─˙He is the schismatic who causes the schismé─˘ . . . Controversy in religion is a hateful thing . . . But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation. é─ţJ. C. Ryle, quoted in Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 141.

é─˙disturbing the baptizedé─¨

The twentieth century conflict between evangelicals and anglo-catholics in the Church of England was not the first of its kind. Two hundred years earlier, George Whitefield and John Wesley had preached the necessity of conversion, and defined the word é─˙Christiané─¨ in specific terms. It did not go over well with their Anglican colleagues. Iain Murray wrote:    The clergy immediately complained that such preaching was disturbing the baptized members of the church. As early as May 1742 Wesley and Whitefield were required to present themselves before the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite their attempts to avoid causing needless offense, this was only the beginning of the trouble. Given the situation, they knew that opposition was inevitable. Whitefield believed: é─˛It is every ministeré─˘s duty to declare against the corruption of that church to which they belong.é─˘ Thus when the Bishop of London accused him of saying that he preached é─˛a new gospel unknown to the generality of ministers and peopleé─˘, far from modifying his words, Whitefield replied: é─˘Tis true, My Lord, in one sense, mine is a new gospel, and will always be to the generality of ministers and people, even in a christian country, if your Lordshipé─˘s clergy follow your Lordshipé─˘s directions. Whitfield then went on to quote the bishopé─˘s counsel that a preacher should é─˛leave no doubté─˘ in their [sic] hearers é─˛whether good works are a necessary condition of your being justified in the sight of Godé─˘. Was the great apostle of the Gentiles now living, what anathemas would he pronounce against such Judaizing doctrine? . . . This is the great fundamental point in which we differ from the church of Rome. This is the grand point of contention between the generality of the established clergy and the Methodist preachers: we plead for free justification in the sight of God, by faith alone, in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, without any regard to works past, present, or to come.    In Whitefieldé─˘s eyes the bishopé─˘s counsel on the need for good works was as needless as it was false, and not surprisingly, for é─˛our pulpits ring of nothing more than doing no one any harm, living honestly, loving your neighbor as yourselves, and to do what you can and then Christ is to make up the deficiency.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 159é─ý160. The Archbishop of York went as far as to quote the Council of Trent against the evangelists: é─˙If any man shall say that justifying faith is nothing else but a confidence in the divine mercy, remitting sins for Christé─˘s sake, and that this confidence is that alone by which we are justified, let him be accursed. é─¨ The response of Whitefield and Wesley stands in stark contrast to that of Packer and Stott. Rather than enter into dialogue with enemies of the gospel, they stuck by their guns and, with direct confrontation, did not allow the fundamental issues to be obscured.    Neither Wesley nor Whitefield would be drawn into a general debate on the theology of the sacraments. Nor did they attempt to explain how the teaching of the Articles was consistent with the language of other parts of the Prayer Book. They simply stuck to their witness as evangelists and scorned the idea that baptism was enough to identify a Christian. Wesley writes: I tell a sinner, é─˛You must be born again.é─˘ é─˛No,é─˘ says you: é─˛He was born again in baptism. Therefore, he cannot be born again now.é─˘ Alas, what trifling this is! What, if he was then a child of God? He is now manifestly a child of the devil; for the works of his father he doeth. Therefore do not play upon words. He must go through an entire change of heart. In one not yet baptized, you yourself would call that change, the new birth. In him, call it what you will; but remember, meantime, that if either he or you will die without it, your baptism will be so far from profiting you, that it will greatly increase your damnation. é─ţIbid., 163.

Respectors of Persons

Friday··2010·08·27 · 2 Comments
Iain Murray offers one of the reasons he believes evangelicals of the twentieth century have not followed in the footsteps of the Whitefields and Wesleys two centuries prior: There is a prominent feature in the evangelical history of the eighteenth century which may explain why many evangelicals in Britain and the United States have taken a different course in these last fifty years. As we have seen, evangelical leadership today has been much concerned with a matter about which their predecessors took a very different view, that is, the approval and support of non-evangelical clergy and denominational leaders. Wesley and Whitefield lost any possibility of gaining the good opinion of their peers at the very outset of their work. But far from moderating themselves in an attempt to win it back, they regarded the very idea as a temptation to be resisted. In the midst of a worldly church they saw the bearing of reproach as a necessary part of being a Christian. é─˛In our days,é─˘ said Whitefield, é─˛to be a true Christian, is really to become a scandal.é─˘ The church leaders of the eighteenth century did their utmost to hinder other clergy from turning evangelical and one of the principal threats was the certain loss of reputation and preferment. Wesley said the é─˛great pains were takené─˘ to keep the number willing to take a bold stand few in number. Anyone who did so é─˛could give up at once all thought of preferment either in Church or State; nay, all hope of even a Fellowship, or a poor scholarship, in either Universityé─˘. For Wesley and Whitefield resistance to such threats was the duty of all who did not live for the approval of man. To clergy who failed to make such a stand a Scripture commands, Wesley said: é─˛You dare not: because you have respect of persons. You fear the faces of men. You cannot; because you have not overcome the world. You are not above the desire of earthly things. And it is impossible . . . till you desire nothing more than God.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 169é─ý170.

No One Reads Dean Ryle

Tuesday··2010·08·31 · 2 Comments
The following excerpt from Evangelicalism Divided is a good warning to those who abandon scriptural inerrancy and confidence in the actual words of Scripture. It should also be an encouragement to those ministers who remain faithful. The ministry of J. C. Ryle, first Bishop of Liverpool (1880–1900), was devoted to teaching what Scripture says, and the result has been the abiding faithfulness and relevance of his writings. By 1897, and estimated twelve million copies of Ryle’s tracts and booklets had been sold and his writings continue to be read world wide-today. Compare this with the work of his son, Herbert Edward Ryle, Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and ultimately Dean of Westminster. Herbert Ryle, in contrast with his Father, believed that verbal inspiration was ‘irretrievably shattered’. He probably agreed with his biographer that the tendency of the Evangelical Revival was towards ‘bibliolatery’. From the year 1916, Herbert Ryle was at work on a Commentary on the Minor Prophets and much of the work was done by the time of his death in 1924. Yet it was never published. A professor of theology, asked to evaluate it, considered the manuscript, ‘the work of a tired man’. It was probably already out of date. Today no one reads Dean Ryle of Westminister. —Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 205. The statement above concerning Herbert Ryle’s Commentary on the Minor Prophets—“It was probably already out of date”—deserves attention, as it exposes the dilemma of liberal scholarship. That dilemma is that, in order to be relevant, one must be on the cutting edge of current scholarship. In plain terms, that means the cutting edge of what liberal scholars are saying right now. Keep up, or be relegated to the dustbin of yesterday’s fads. The scholar who only seeks to be faithful to God’s Word has no such worries. Everything that really matters was written two thousand or more years ago. Everything since then only builds on that foundation. There is no pressure to be novel, only the responsibility to guard and accurately teach the ancient truths of God (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:15).

Do Not Forget

In this age of the therapeutic gospel, we see many Christians embracing notions unheard of by saints of the past. Among these is the idea that memories of past sins are harmful, that we need to forget them and move on. We even hear the absurd admonition to forgive ourselves. While it is certainly true that we ought not wallow in our past, that we do need to é─˙move on,é─¨ the idea of forgetting is quite new and unbiblical. Consider the advice given by Jonathan Edwards to one Deborah Hathaway, a recent convert who had written him for advice on living the Christian life: Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet do not forget them yourself: often remember, what a wretched bond-slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular act of sin before conversion, as the blessed apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting spirit, and his injuriousness to the renewed, humbling his heart, and acknowledging that he was é─˙the least of the apostles,é─¨ and not worthy é─˙to be called an apostle,é─¨ and the é─˙least of all saints,é─¨ and the é─˙chief of sinners.é─¨ And be often confessing your old sins to God, and let that text be often in your mind, é─˙That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Godé─¨ (Ezekiel 16:63). é─ţJonathan Edwards, A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 43.

We have an Advocate

Hereé─˘s a good follow-up to the previously-posted advice of Jonathan Edwards to Deborah Hathaway, this from the same letter: Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin and never think that you lie low enough for it. But yet be not discouraged or disheartened over it, for, though we are exceedingly sinful, yet, é─˙we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous,é─¨ the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness, infinitely overtop the highest mountain of our sins. é─ţJonathan Edwards, A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 44.

A Friendly Heart

Lemuel Haynes on the impossibility of faith preceding regeneration: It is necessary that we consider those things that are the attendants or consequences regeneration or the new birth, for there are no gracious or holy exercises that are prior thereto, to be sure, in the order of nature. Some seem to suppose faith to be before regeneration, but a little reflection upon the matter will show this to be wrong. By faith we are to understand a believing of those truths that God has exhibited in His Word with a friendly heart. Now, to suppose that a man believes this friendly heart antecedent to regeneration, is to suppose that a man is a friend to God while in a state of unregeneracy, which is contradictory to Scripture. Now, if to believe with a friendly and rightly disposed heart is absolutely necessary in order to constitute a true faith , and such a heart is peculiar to the regenerate only, then we must be possessed with this heart (which is given in regeneration) before there can flow from it any such exercises. So that the man must become a good man, or be regenerated, before he can exercise faith, or love, or any grace whatever. Hence we read of men’s receiving Christ, and becoming sons of God (John 1:12). —Lemuel Haynes, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, ed. Thabiti Anyabwile (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 32–33.

The Lord Reigns

The following is taken from a letter of Lemuel Haynes to his friend and first biographer, Timothy Mather Cooley. With respect to religion in these parts, although the year past some towns have been remarkably visited with divine influence, yet it is in general a very ignorant time. I think I never knew infidelity more prevalent. As you observe, Paine has advocates. I have attended to his writings on theology and can find little but invective and the lowest kind of burlesque. . . . We may rest satisfied that the Lord omnipotent reigneth. —Lemuel Haynes, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, ed. Thabiti Anyabwile (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 57. Haines refers here to the deist Thomas Paine, whose book The Age of Reason was a diatribe against Christianity. Notice, though, that rather than panicking and calling Christians to campaigns and protests and boycotts, he simply says, “We may rest satisfied that the Lord omnipotent reigneth.” If only American fundamentalists believed that!

God’s Decrees and the Use of Means

In his sermon, Divine Decrees (1805), Lemuel Haynes answers well the question, “Why, if God has ordained all that comes to pass, ought we to pray, or take action of any kind? Why not just passively see what happens?” Faith in divine purpose will excite the people of God to the diligent use of means, as He has appointed them as instruments by which he will accomplish His designs and has commanded them to be workers together with him; indeed, without the exertions of men, it is impossible that they should take place. God revealed to Abraham that his seed should go down into Egypt and at such a time be delivered, but this supposed series of second causes [was] all dependent on the first cause; without them the event could not take place. One was the edict of Pharaoh to destroy the male infants of the Hebrews, that Moses should be born and hid three months, that he should be educated at the expense of the King of Egypt, that the Egyptians should be visited with ten plagues, etc. I might with the propriety make the same remark with respect to the deliverance of Israel from Babylonian captivity and the birth and death of Christ. The people of God consider themselves as active instruments to bring about His holy designs and are, in a good degree, cured of that unreasonable temper of mind that will deduce a natural consequences from certain promises, in order to gratify a licentious conduct. The truly pious are pleased with the absolute decrees of God, as what will promote the greatest possible good. If it is desirable that all God’s counsels should stand, then it must be pleasing to saints to be in the use of such means as tend to bring them to pass—without which they cannot exist; this makes them cheerful in the service of God, as they are seeking the same glorious ultimate object with Him. Jochebed and her husband doubtless understood that God, by this remarkable child, designed the deliverance of the church from the iron furnace, which was an animating object; all they did in fitting him for this work afforded satisfaction. Although the children of God cannot always see the connection between means and ends, yet they put such confidence in the divine Being as delights their souls in preserving in the path of duty—believing that God will effect the greatest good by it. The friends of God delight in expressing their obedience to Him. The use of means affords them opportunity to glorify God and commend him the others if love and obedience are delightful exercises to the saints, then to express them will be pleasing. As God cannot exhibit any true virtue of moral excellence without pursuing a plan, so neither can we, unless we regard His will and interest and are workers together with Him. The humble Christian will feel his own weakness and insufficiency to do anything of himself and will see that all his sufficiency is of God, and his faith and hope will rest of His power and providence to do all—which will be a motive to diligence. This will be the foundation of his trust and will excite him to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God that worketh in him, both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12–13). This supported the parents of Moses amidst all their care about him and [was the reason] “They were not afraid of the king’s commandments.” Christians will diligently attend to means, as they will see much to be done. Wherever they turn their eyes, they will behold work laid out for them. It is criminal to stand idle in the marketplace. The good man will see enough to employ his head, his heart, his hands, and his temporal interest in the service of God. The reason that so many can find but little to do for God is on account of a slothful and indolent heart that refuses to labor. —Lemuel Haynes, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, ed. Thabiti Anyabwile (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 81–83.

Living in Expectation of Death

Lemuel Haynes on the benefits of thinking often of death, and living in its expectation: [T]hey who are properly looking out for death look upon it as an event to which they are exposed at any time, at any place, or on any occasion, at home or abroad, and they will endeavor not to engage in any work inconsistent with being called immediately before the bar of Christ. A willingness to depart out of time and to land on the shores of immortality comports with the nature of the duty under consideration. With what holy and ecstatic joy does the apostle, in the chapter and verse from which our text [2 Timothy 4:6–8] is selected, anticipate the approaching moment of his departure. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” In a word: to live as expectants of death is to do the work of every day in the day, that we faithfully discharge the duties we owe to God, to ourselves, and fellow creatures; that we live in the daily exercise of Christian graces and persevere in holy obedience, in a constant dependence on the mercy of God through Jesus Christ. —Lemuel Haynes, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, ed. Thabiti Anyabwile (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 87–88.

Sentiments of a Dying Father

My situation is very much as it has been—I think not very encouraging. I am in the hands of God and in a measure reconciled to His will; and it is impossible to determine what will be the issue of the disease. I hope I can say, “The Lord reigns; blessed be His name.” But you see what poor work I make of writing—should be glad to see you all before I die—I commit all to God. Oh! Remember your Creator! Let not the fashions of the world divert your minds from eternity! Your dying father, —Lemuel Haynes —Lemuel Haynes, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, ed. Thabiti Anyabwile (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 123.

Oh, yeah? Prove it!

Tuesday··2011·01·25 · 14 Comments
I have received some push-back (thanks to Tim Challies) on yesterday’s posting of John MacArthur’s comments on the charismatic movement. The content of the comments is no surprise, nor is what is conspicuously absent from them. This post is your opportunity to remedy that, and set me straight once and for all. The cessationist argument—my argument—begins with the fact that, according to Scripture, tongues will cease; that’s not debatable. The question is, when? Assuming (erroneously) that Scripture gives us no clue, how would we know? What if, like Noah, we were told of a coming event, but not told when it would happen, how would we know that it had? Well, it was easy for Noah: the flood came; he knew it had, and consequently, he didn’t lose any sleep about it as a future event thereafter. Cessationists believe the cessation has come, and that it came at or before the end of the apostolic age. We offer as evidence the only evidence there could be, the only evidence that should be necessary: Tongues are absent from church history. This post offers you an opportunity to refute that. This is not the place for philosophy or personal anecdotes. Your refutation must come in the form of citations from the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, or similar sources demonstrating that tongues were an issue among them. I am not asking for their opinions on the subject, or their treatment of any biblical text; I am not asking for your opinions; I am asking for historical evidence that they were actually experiencing these things. No anecdotes or opinions, only actual documentation from cited sources. Anything less will be deleted. Read before commenting You may offer direct quotes from orthodox sources (not pagans or heretics), e.g. the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans (as in comment #1) and discuss those quotes (as in comments #2, 3, & 4). You may not tell me what you think about cessationists charismatics this challenge MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, etc. I will delete my own mother’s comments if she violates these rules. What I want: Unmistakable accounts of legitimate tongues, e.g., And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” Acts 2:4–11 Is this not clear?

A Few of My Favorite Things

Wednesday··2011·05·18 · 4 Comments
This is exciting. Banner of Truth, my favorite publisher, is publishing a biography by Iain Murray, my favorite historian, of John MacArthur, my favorite preacher. This interview from the 2011 Shepherds Conference includes commentary on Murrayé─˘s biography (the relevant section begins at 31:40). John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock will be available from Westminster Bookstore in June. Clicking that link will contribute to the operation of this site, which is also one of my favorite things.

Slain by the Law

In The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton, an account is given of the conversion of a young girl named Susan Marble during a revival in Connecticut, 1820. The conditions leading to her conversion are instructive. She appears to have been a youth of remarkably amiable disposition. Her biographer, speaking of her state of mind while under conviction, says: é─˙It was peculiarly interesting to converse with her at this time. A person ignorant of the natural character of man, as delineated in the Scriptures, would think that one so young and amiable could need nothing new; yet, according to the estimate of the Saviour of sinners, she still lacked one thing. This she felt and deplored. What chiefly distressed her was the sinfulness and hardness of her heart, and its opposition to God.é─¨ I quote this remark for the purpose of turning the attention of the reader to the fact, that those who were converted under Mr. Nettletoné─˘s preaching, however young, and however amiable, were, brought to see the sinfulness and hardness of their hearts, and their opposition to God. Bennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 136é─ý137. On the methods leading to revival, Nettleton wrote, We have no new Gospel, no other terms of salvation than those that have always been held out for acceptance. The sinner has been taught invariably that he must not look for comfort without submission. And such has been the faithfulness of our spiritual teachers, that, in most cases, those who have been slain by the law, and brought to despair of climbing up some other way, have been led directly to the Saviour, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and who has always been ready and willing to receive them. Ibid., 138é─ý139.

Passed from Death unto Life

The following is a New England pastoré─˘s letter to Asahel Nettleton, describing the revival that was taking place in his region. Much of the language of the time seems odd and quaint to our ears, but I especially appreciate the descriptions of new converts. There is no talk of inviting Jesus into oneé─˘s heart, or making decisions for Christ. Converts are commonly said to have é─˙passed from death unto life,é─¨ and are now é─˙rejoicing in hope.é─¨ Dear Sir,é─ţI am prompted by my own feelings, and by a knowledge of your solicitude to communicate to the public such information as relates to the enlargement of Christé─˘s kingdom, to announce the fact, that God is in the midst of us displaying the wonders of His grace. About eight weeks since, it began to be manifest that the Spirit was moving upon the hearts of Godé─˘s people, and that sinners were no longer indifferent to the momentous question of the trembling jailer. Soon the voice of distress was heard; and soon, too, it was mingled with that of rejoicing and praise. The work has been still and powerful. Between ninety and a hundred are rejoicing in hope. At our last meeting of anxious inquiry, about one hundred and seventy were present, including sixty who hope that they have recently passed from death unto life. The work is still spreading, and has, perhaps, never been more interesting than at the present moment. In South Wilbraham, adjoining this place on the north, God is also doing a great work. Nearly forty have, within a few weeks, taken up hopes; and the revival is extending itself with singular power. These are the Lordé─˘s doings, and they are marvellous in our eyes. To Him be all the glory.é─ţYours very respectfully, Wm. L. Strong. Bennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 168é─ý169.

A Plain Preacher

Monday··2011·09·05 · 2 Comments
The final point in Nettletoné─˘s conclusion to his Lecture on Luke 16:19é─ý31: 7. Finally. We learn from this subject that our Saviour was a very plain preacher. é─˛Never man spake like this man.é─˘ Some think they should like to hear Christ preach. But while it is true that He spoke in the most melting strains to the penitent, it is also true that none ever preached so much terror to the wicked. Who is it that says: é─˛Wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat?é─˘ Who is it that says: é─˛Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it?é─˘ Who is it that says: é─˛Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?é─˘ Who is it that speaks of the worm that shall never die, and of the fire that shall never be quenched? Who is it that describes, in language inimitable, the solemnities of the last judgment: é─˛Then shall the King say to them on His left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?é─˘ The discourse before us, of the rich man and Lazarus, is also a specimen. How solemn it would be if a departed soul should come back from the invisible world, and enter this congregation! Do you wish to hear what such a soul would say? You shall be gratified. The Saviour holds him up, and makes him now speak to sinners in this congregation. He knows all the feelings of every damned soul in hell, and can tell us just what he would say. He holds him up to your view, and permits you to hear him speak. You hear him plead for one drop of water. You hear him beg that Lazarus, or some glorified saint, may be sent to warn you. Oh! with what importunity does he press upon you the duty of immediate repentance! é─˛Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.é─˘ And now you hear a voice from heaven proclaimé─ţand let it sound in every earé─ţlet it ring in every conscience: é─˛If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.é─˘ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 177é─ý178.

Unless Ye Repent

Of Asahel Nettleton’s Preaching, relatively little is preserved. The following is a rare full discourse. The time or attention impaired might want to skip to the fourth (and final) point. Some Who Are Living, Greater Sinners Than Some Who Are In Hell. Luke xiii. 1–5.—‘There were present, at that season, some that told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering, said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them; think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.‘ It is extremely natural for mankind to talk and complain of the sins of others. This we have all had occasion to witness. The same propensity existed in the days of our Saviour. ‘There were present, at that season, some that told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.’ The fact to which they alluded was this:—A number of Galileans refused subjection to the Roman government. And on a certain occasion, while they were assembled for religious worship, Pilate sent a company of armed soldiers, who slew them, and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. The persons who related this fact to our Saviour did it, doubtless, with feelings of self-complacency. This led Him to address them in the language of the text, which suggests the following thoughts:— I. Some sinners have already perished. II. They perished through their own fault, III. The greatness of their sufferings is proof of the greatness of their criminality. But, IV. The greatness of their sufferings is no evidence that they were greater sinners than those who are spared. I. Some have already perished. Of this the text is sufficient proof. ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ What a vast multitude perished in the time of the general deluge! And they were not only drowned, but they were damned. They are now spirits in prison. The inhabitants of Sodom perished. And they were not only destroyed from off the earth, but were cast into hell, and are now ‘set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.’ That some have perished, is evident from the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This was intended to give us a correct view of the invisible world. ‘The rich man died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.’ ‘Are there few that be saved?’ ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and shall not be able.’ Compare the character and conduct of multitudes who have died, with the declarations of Scripture, and we shall be compelled to admit the truth of the proposition we are considering. The fact, indeed, is acknowledged by all who believe the Bible, that some sinners have already perished. •          •          •          •          •          • II. They perished through their own fault. God never inflicts undeserved punishment. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ The very fact that they suffer, is proof that they were sinners, and deserved to die. ‘Who ever perished being innocent?’ The fact that all are sinners, shews that all deserve death. But this is not all. Even after they had sinned and deserved death, they might have been saved if they would. That they were not, was peculiarly their own fault. They had the offer of pardon. They were invited, entreated, and warned. The inhabitants of the old world were warned by the preaching of Noah, and by the strivings of the Spirit. The inhabitants of Sodom were warned by Lot. But they perished through their own neglect. They did not repent. The sinner sometimes says: What have I done that I should deserve death? It is not merely for doing, but for not doing, that the sinner must die. It is on the ground of neglect that Gospel sinners perish. They did not repent. ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’ ‘If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.’ The Bible does not say: How shall we escape if we lie, and swear, and cheat, and steal? but, ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’ It places the sinner’s condemnation on the ground of neglect. Nor can the sinner plead that he would repent if he could. He is as really criminal for not repenting, as for his overt acts of wickedness. ‘Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not.’ •          •          •          •          •          • III. The greatness of their sufferings is proof of the greatness of their criminality. They suffer only for their crimes. In this world, God often, and indeed always, inflicts punishment for less than the sinner’s real desert. But in inflicting punishment, either in this world or the world to come, He never exceeds the measure of the sinner’s desert. God has selected and set forth some sinners of the human race, as ‘examples to those who should thereafter live ungodly.’ The old world and Sodom are specimens. Their punishment was awful. But awful as it was, it did not exceed the greatness of their iniquity. In the greatness of their punishment we may read the greatness of their guilt. •          •          •          •          •          • IV. The greatness of their sufferings is no evidence that they were greater sinners than those that are spared. When God inflicts heavy judgments upon a people, we are apt to conclude that it is because they are greater sinners than others; and some seem to suppose, that if any are sent to hell, it must be only sinners of the worst kind—such as all would pronounce monsters in wickedness. This was the opinion of those whom our Lord addressed in the text. They supposed that the Galileans, on whom God permitted Pilate to inflict such signal vengeance, must have been greater sinners than others who escaped these sufferings. But this conclusion was erroneous. ‘Suppose ye,’ said our Lord, ‘that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay.’ There were sinners then living in Galilee whose crimes were as great as the crimes of those who had suffered the wrath of Heaven. Sinners who had gone to hell from Galilee were no worse than sinners then living there. The same was true of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. ‘Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ Sinners who had gone to hell from Jerusalem were no worse than some who were then living in that city. Again; sinners to whom our Saviour preached in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, were as great sinners as some who were then in hell. This our Lord explicitly told them. ‘But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.’ This sentiment was then true in our Saviour’s day. Sinners of other countries and of other times, who had gone to hell before them, were no worse sinners than many of the Jews then living. Indeed, our Saviour gave them to understand, that a more fearful doom awaited them than that which had overtaken the inhabitants of Sodom, although they ‘are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.’ Let us bring the warning home to this congregation. Suppose ye that sinners who have died and gone to hell from other places, were sinners above all the sinners dwelling in this place? ‘I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ To all of you who have not yet repented, this subject speaks a solemn warning. What think ye of sinners now in hell? Suppose ye that they were greater sinners than yourselves? They, no doubt, were great sinners, and deserved to perish. But for what crimes are they punished? Will it be said that their hearts were totally depraved? This is true. ‘God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ But the same is true of sinners now living. The eye of God is on every sinner’s heart. He takes cognizance of every thought and every imagination. These are all evil, only evil continually. Thousands of thoughts and imaginations which persons think little of, may be awfully wicked in the sight of God. Sinners who are now in hell had no love to God, and no love to the duties of religion. The same is true of all impenitent sinners now living. Will it be said that they resisted the strivings of the Spirit? And may not the same be said of you, my impenitent hearers? When the Spirit of God has moved upon your heart, and conscience has begun to awake, have you not laboured to silence your fears? •          •          •          •          •          • Will it be said that they lived long in sin? The same may be said of many now living. How many years of your probation have gone out? Thousands and millions have died younger than some of you. There are those here whose day of salvation has been prolonged beyond that of most of the human race. Many in this house are doubtless older, and have lived longer in sin, than many who are now in hell. Will it be said that they sinned against great light? The same may be said of sinners now living. Sinners in this house have enjoyed far greater light than many sinners now in hell. The inhabitants of the old world and of Sodom never enjoyed such light as sinners now living under the Gospel. They never enjoyed such privileges as are enjoyed by sinners of this assembly. Their light, when compared with yours, was like that of a taper compared with the noon-day sun. The guilt and punishment of sinners are to be measured by the light rejected. ‘He that knew his Lord’s will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Many in this house have known their Lord’s will for years, and have not yet done it. Were they stupid and thoughtless? So are you. Were they warned of God, and did they slight these warnings? Did they put far off the evil day, and vainly presume that there is time enough yet to secure their immortal interests? The same is true of you. Suppose ye that they were greater sinners than yourselves? ‘I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ Inferences. 1. Sinners often talk and complain of the sins of others when they have not repented of their own sins, and when they are greater sinners than those of whom they complain, and are every moment in danger of perishing for ever. •          •          •          •          •          • 2. God does exercise sovereign mercy. When our Saviour delivered this discourse, there were some of His hearers who were greater sinners than some in hell. These very persons were indebted to sovereign mercy. Nothing but sovereign mercy kept them from the world of woe. •          •          •          •          •          • 3. There may be redeemed sinners in heaven, who were greater sinners than some who are now in hell. •          •          •          •          •          • 4. The chief of sinners may be saved if they will repent. •          •          •          •          •          • 5. The least of sinners will be lost except they repent. •          •          •          •          •          • 6. There may be sinners now in this house who are more guilty than some who are in the world of despair. •          •          •          •          •          • —Bennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 185–192.
In a bit of sarcasm aimed at Free Willies and their charge that the doctrine of election destroys freedom and makes men machines, Nettleton proposes that we é─˙drop the doctrine of decrees.é─¨ It is a doctrine clearly taught in the Scriptures, that a change of heart is absolutely necessary to prepare sinners for heaven. é─˛Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.é─˘ We are also taught that God is the author of this change. é─˛Born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.é─˘ But if God cannot operate on the hearts of men without destroying their freedom, then we ought not to pray that God would renew the hearts of sinners. Surely we ought not to pray that God would convert men into machines. However wicked mankind may be, we cannot pray that God would stop them in their career of sin, because He cannot do it without destroying their freedom. When sinners have proud, stubborn, and rebellious hearts, we cannot pray that God would make them humble, submissive, and obedient; because He cannot do it without converting them into machines. When sinners are invited to Christ, they all, with one consent, begin to make excuse. And Christ declared: é─˛Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.é─˘ Sinners, then, are in awful condition. They will not come to Christ, and God cannot make them willing without destroying their freedom. What shall be done? It will be of no use to pray for them. Nor is it proper to pray for them; for surely we ought not to pray that God would do what He is unable to do. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 201.

Perseverance and Antinomianism

Nettleton answers the charge that the doctrine of perseverance breeds antinomianism: It is said: That if Christians believe that their salvation is certainly secured, they will feel that it is no matter how they live. This objection involves the grossest absurdity. It may be thus expressed: If we believe we shall certainly persevere, it is no matter how we live; because we shall certainly persevere, whether we persevere or not. If the righteous shall hold on his way, it is no matter if he stops, or even goes back. Nor is the supposition, that the belief of this doctrine tends to make the Christian careless, less absurd. It is true, that the formal professor, the self-righteous, the hypocrite, and all who esteem the service of God a weariness, and who are building their hopes of heaven on the sand, may think to find some relief in this doctrine. But the person who can thus pervert this doctrine has no evidence that he is a child of God. The objection involves this plain absurdity: I have evidence that I love God and the duties of religion; and now, since I shall certainly continue to love God and the duties of religion, I care nothing about the honour of God and the duties of religion. This objection, if made sincerely, is likely to prove that the objector has no religion, and that he would be glad to give up all attention to the duties of religion as an intolerable burden. No one who feels disposed to make this objection can possibly have good evidence that a work of grace has been begun in his soul. On the contrary, this disposition itself is positive evidence against him. Besides, there are many zealous Christians who firmly believe this doctrine. I adduce Paul as an example. He says: é─˛I am persuaded that neither life nor death shall be able to separate us from the love of God.é─˘ And yet Paul was not a careless Christian. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 204é─ý205.

Angelic Soteriology

Monday··2011·09·12 · 1 Comments
Angels believe the doctrine of perseverance. é─˙Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, é─˛Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!é─˘ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.é─¨ é─ţLuke 15:8é─ý10 If angels did not believe this doctrine, they could have no ground on which to rejoice. They must wait till the sinner gets to heaven. The true penitent will certainly arrive safe at the mansions of the blessed. A firm belief of this doctrine lays the only foundation for joy in heaven over his repentance. If angels did not believe this doctrine, their joy would be unfounded. Their language would be: That sinner has truly repented. He is now a child of Godé─ţan heir of heaven. But whether he will ever reach this happy placeé─ţwhether he will ever sing with us in glory, is a matter of great uncertainty. He may yet become a child of the devil, and an heir of hell. Could we know that he would certainly arrive safe at heaven, we might now tune our harps, and sing: Glory to God in the highest. But since we have already been disappointed, and devils and damned spirits are now triumphing over some at whose repentance we once rejoiced, it is best to wait and see how he holds out. Hear them triumph in the regions of despair: é─˛Ye angels,é─˘ say they, é─˛ye may suspend your songs, and hang up your harps. Let your joy be turned into mourning. Victory is ours.é─˘ What think ye, my hearers? Has there been joy in heaven over some who are now in hell? If they so rejoiced at the news of the sinneré─˘s repentance, what messenger shall carry back the mournful tidings that he is lost? é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 207é─ý208.


Nettleton on the conflict between the duty and inability of the unregenerate: Permit me here to remark, I have not asserted that the sinner is not under obligation to repent previous to regeneration. It is unquestionably the duty of every sinner immediately to repent. We are not considering now what is duty, but what is fact. It is the duty of sinners to do many things which they never have done, and which some of them never will do. It is their duty to stop sinning, and to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. So it is their duty to repent without delay. But they have not done it, and some of them never will. By this time some of my hearers will perceive a great difficulty in this subject. It is this: é─˛If sinners do not repent previous to regeneration, then you call on them to do what it requires almighty power to influence them to do.é─˘ This difficulty is not peculiar to this subject. It runs through the whole system of evangelical truth. There are many who think they see a great inconsistency in the preaching of ministers. é─˛Ministers,é─˘ they say, é─˛contradict themselvesé─ţthey say and unsayé─ţthey tell us to do, and then tell us we cannot doé─ţthey call upon sinners to believe and repent, and then tell them that faith and repentance are the gift of Godé─ţthey call on them to come to Christ, and then tell them that they cannot come.é─˘ That some do preach in this manner, cannot be denied. I well recollect an instance. A celebrated preacher, in one of His discourses used this language: é─˛Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.é─˘ In another discourse, this same preacher said: é─˛No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.é─˘ Now, what think you, my hearers, of such preaching, and of such a preacher? What would you have said had you been present and heard Him? Would you have charged Him with contradicting himself? This preacher, you will remember, was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! And, I have no doubt, that many ministers have followed His example, and been guilty of the same self-contradiction, if you call it such. Now, my hearers, what will you say? Will you say that the difficulty, so far as it relates to Christé─˘s preaching, can be easily explained? If it can, it can also be explained in reference to the preaching of others; and there is no cause of complaint. Or will you boldly assert that Christ contradicted himself? If you take this ground, you turn infidels at once. Or, will you say that you believe Christ to be consistent with himself, whether you can explain the difficulty or not? If so, why not say the same in regard to the preaching of His ministers, who preach in the same manner? I wish you to remember, that the difficulty complained of existed in our Saviouré─˘s preaching. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 215é─ý217.

In what court will you plead?

A sample of Asahel Nettletoné─˘s evangelistic preaching: But what must be the state of every sinner out of Christ? Sinner, in what court will you plead? At the tribunal of justice or of mercy? It is with the kindest intention that you are now called upon to hear that the sentence of eternal death is pronounced upon you, and that this sentence is holy, just, and good. Let the miseries of this lifeé─ţlet the messenger of death, and the dark world of woe, rise up to your view, and testify how awful is that law which condemns you! To vindicate the honour of this broken law, everlasting fire is prepared for the devil and his angels. Here they dwell in endless torments. These, 0 sinner! were once angels of light, and dwelt in the presence of God. But how are they fallen, no more to rise! They sinned against that God whose law now condemns you. é─˛The inhabitants of the old world, and of Sodom, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.é─˘ Out of Christ, you are condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on you. Out of Christ, all your actions hitherto are scanned by this perfect law, and not one sin is pardoned. Out of Christ, you stand this moment in awful hazard of losing your immortal soul, and suffering for every failure of perfect obedience to this holy law. Out of Christ, nothing but the mere mercy of that God in whose hand is your lifeé─ţthe mercy of Him whom you are continually provoking by your sins, this moment holds you from dropping into the flames of hell. What, then, must be the weight of your guilt? If one sin must send an angel of light into the bottomless pité─ţif, in consequence of Adamé─˘s sin, he, too, with all his posterity, might have been reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, without one offer of pardoning mercy,é─ţwhat must be your guilt, when every action is laid in the balance, and found wanting? Oh! that you might hear and tremble! When God in awful majesty pronounced this law from Mount Sinai, His voice then shook the earth, and they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more; for the guilty world could not endure that é─˛which was commanded.é─˘ But this law still speaks, however deaf, and however careless the sinner may beé─ţthis law still speaks, and proclaims approaching vengeance near. But, stop! the uplifted arm of vengeance is yet stayed. The collected wrath yet waits a moment. A voice from the mercy-seaté─ţa warning voice is heard. The Saviour calls. Haste, then, 0 sinner! haste to Christ, the only refuge from the storm, and covert from the gathering tempest. Then safe from the fear of evil, at a distance, you shall only hear the thunders roll; while pardon, peace, and eternal life are yours. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 287é─ý288.

Terrific Sermons

Asahel Nettleton on emotionally manipulative preaching: Terrific [calculated to terrify] sermons and other means are artfully contrived to stimulate the feelings of ignorant people. In compliance with the call given at the period of the highest excitement, they repair to the anxious seat by scores. As their fears are soon aroused, they are generally as soon calmed; and in a few days many profess to entertain hope. Many such converts soon lose all appearance of religion; but they become conceited, secure, and Gospel-proof; so that, while living in the open and habitual neglect of their duty, they talk very freely of the time when they experienced religion. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 289. There is no greater example of this method than Nettletoné─˘s famous contemporary Charles Finney. Later in life, Finney himself would confess, I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith . . . [But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state. [source]

To Know Others, Know Yourself

Tuesday··2011·09·20 · 2 Comments
To address the hearts of others, one must only understand his own. His mode of preaching, both to saints and to sinners, was solemn, affectionate, and remarkably plain. His style was simple, perspicuous, and energetic. His illustrations were familiar and striking; such as rendered his discourses intelligible to persons of the weakest capacity; and, at the same time, interesting to persons of the most cultivated intellect. He always commanded the attention of his audience. Every eye was fixed, and a solemn stillness pervaded the assembly. There was an earnestness in his manner which carried conviction to the minds of his hearers, that he believed what he spoke, and that he believed it to be truth of everlasting moment. There was also a directness in his preaching which made the hearers feel that they were the persons addressed; and such was his knowledge of the human heart, and of the feelings which divine truth excites when presented to the minds of unsanctified men, that he was able to anticipate objections, and to follow the sinner through his various refuges of lies, and strip him of all his excuses. So great was his skill in this respect, that it often seemed to individuals while listening to his preaching, that he must know their thoughts. And, in a certain sense, it was true. By knowing his own heart, he knew the hearts of others; because, é─˙as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.é─¨ He understood from his own experience what thoughts and feelings would be excited in the minds of sinners by the contemplation of particular doctrines. When, therefore, he exhibited these doctrines in his preaching, and perceived that the attention of his hearers was fixed upon them, he did know, to some extent, what were their thoughts and feelings; and this enabled him to adapt his instructions to their circumstances, and to give to each one a portion in due season. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 298é─ý299.

Divine Sovereignty Checks Fanaticism

It is widely believed that the Doctrines of Grace, commonly known as Calvinism, have no place in evangelistic preaching. These are details which ought to be left for later instruction. Asahel Nettleton disagreed. He felt it to be of the first importance to preach the doctrines of grace with great plainness in revivals of religion. He had no confidence in those revivals in which these doctrines could not be preached. His opinion was, that while the preaching of divine sovereignty and election, with their kindred doctrines, was eminently fitted to check fanaticism, and put a period to a spurious religious excitement, it was equally adapted to promote a genuine revival of religion. In Dr. Porter´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Żs Lectures on Homiletics, may be found the following reference to Dr. Nettleton´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Żs opinion and practice in relation to this subject:´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż ´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐ŻThe minister of Christ, whose experience and success in such season have been greater than those of any other man in modern times, observed to me: ´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐ŻI have seen churches run down by repeated excitements, in which there was emotion merely, without instruction.´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż ´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐ŻIn the first stage of a revival,´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż said he, ´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Żwhile depravity is yet ascendant, and conscience asleep, I would preach the Law, with its awful sanctions and solemn claims on sinners to be holy, and that immediately. But when the first moments of a revival are past, and sinners are settling down on presumptuous confidences, I would preach Election. Conscience is then roused enough to make a cord which sinners cannot break. Their own convictions are on my side, so that they cannot escape; and I would hold them fast, and repeat my strokes under the fire and hammer of divine truth.´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż ´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐ŻBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 310´┐Ż´┐Ż´┐Ż311.

Let Them Throw Mud

Advice from an unnamed friend of Asahel Nettleton on responding to criticism: All the advice which he received from that brother was contained in the following anecdote:—“A man once said to an aged clergyman, ‘My neighbours are slandering me, and what shall I do’—‘Do your duty,’ said the clergyman, ‘and think nothing about it. If they are disposed to throw mud, let them throw mud; but do not attempt to wipe it off, lest you should wipe it all over you.’” —Bennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 338. Mind you, good advice as this is, it doesn’t get us off the hook when the criticism is valid and acknowledgment or repentance is called for.

Charles Finney, Playground Bully

The more I learn about Charles Finney, a man whom I once ignorantly admired, the more convinced I become that he was not a saved man at all, but the worst of wolves in sheepé─˘s clothing. One need only to scan his Systematic Theology to conclude that he was not merely ignorant of the gospel, but actually rejected it and scoffed at it and its ministers. To read the testimony of his conversion is to witness an arrogant man creating a god in his own image with a religion to suit his own inclinations. Nowhere have I read of any manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in his attitudes and behavior. Rather, there is abundant evidence of a prideful, unteachable spirit, and a penchant for playing dirty and bullying his way to influence and control. As Finney plowed through New England, leaving a trail in which which General Sherman could have taken pride, local pastors appealed to Asahel Nettleton for support in opposing him. In the winter of 1826é─ý7, Nettleton conducted two interviews with Finney, and found him to be hopelessly intractable. In a lengthy letter to the Rev. Mr. Aikin of Utica, Nettleton gave a report of Finneyé─˘s behavior, and the plight of the local ministers, of which the following is an excerpt. The account which his particular friends gave of his proceedings is, in substance, as follows:é─ţHe has got ministers to agree with him only by é─˛crushing,é─˘ or é─˛breaking them down.é─˘ The method by which he does it, is by creating a necessity, by getting a few individuals in a church to join him, and then all those who will not go all lengths with him are denounced as enemies to revivals. Rather than have such a bad name, one and another falls in to defend him; and then they proclaim what ministers, elders, and men of influence, have been é─˛crushedé─˘ or é─˛broken down.é─˘ This moral influence being increased, others are denounced, in a similar manner, as standing out, and leading sinners to hell. And to get rid of the noise, and save himself, another will é─˛break down.é─˘ And so they wax hotter and hotter, until the church is fairly split in twain. And now, as for those elders and Christians who have thus been converted to these measures, some of them are sending out private word to their Christian friends abroad, as follows: é─˛I have been fairly skinned by the denunciations of these men, and have ceased to oppose them, to get rid of their noise. But I warn you not to introduce this spirit into your church and society.é─˘ And so brother Finneyé─˘s supposed friends, men of influence, are sending out word to warn others to beware of the evils which they have experienced. I heartily pity brother Finney, for I believe him to be a good man, and wishing to do good. But nobody dares tell him that a train of causes is set in operation, and urged on by his own friends, which is likely to ruin his usefulness. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 345é─ý346. It should be noted that while Nettleton called Finney é─˙brother,é─¨ and believed him é─˙to be a good mané─¨ at heart, that Nettleton had relatively little history to work with. Finneyé─˘s ministry, so-called, was only three years old. It was primarily his methods and treatment of the legitimate clergy that were under examination thus far. He had, as yet, published no serious theological works. Had Nettleton read his Memoirs and Systematic Theology, I believe he would have been considerably less fraternal in his assessment. Other than historical interest, I have two purposes for posting this today. First, Finney is still wields considerable influence today. Doctrinally ignorant and apathetic evangelicals, as well as some learned, orthodox ministers, generally ignorant of the real Finney, are happy to attach themselves to the legendary great evangelist, unaware that the legend is fiction, and the reality is deadly heresy. Second, Finneyé─˘s method of knocking down opposition is still being used today. Try speaking disparagingly of Billy Grahamé─˘s theology and methods (which are directly inherited from Finney), and see if you arené─˘t labeled something like é─˙an enemy of revivals.é─¨ No discussion will be allowed. That which is untouchable is simply declared untouchable, and your credibility trashed. The spirit of Charles Finney lives.

Nettleton on Submission to the Local Church

The following excerpt was written with itinerant evangelists in mind. I think it has good application for all who presume to conduct é─˙parachurché─¨ ministry. Christ did not found a parachurch ministry. He founded a church, and any formal ministry not under church authority lacks legitimacy, and risks damaging the legitimate ministry of the local church. There is another method of conducting revivals which may avoid these difficulties. Settled pastors occupy nearly the whole field of operation. They have, and ought to have the entire management in their own congregation. Each one has a right to pursue his own measures within his own limits; and no itinerant has any business to interfere or dictate. It will ever be regarded as intermeddling in other mené─˘s matters. If they do not choose to invite me into their field, my business is meekly and silently to retire. And I have no right to complain. But many young men are continually violating the rules of ministerial order and Christian propriety in these respects. Impatient to see the temple rise, they are now doing that which, it appears to me, will tend ultimately, more than anything else, to defeat the end which they wish to accomplish. They are now pulling down, in many places, the very things which I have been helping ministers to build up; and for which I have often received their warmest thanks. It is a sentiment which I have had frequent occasion to repeat to my young brethren in the ministry: é─˛Better forego the prospect of much present good, in your own opinion, than to lose the confidence of settled ministers, without which you cannot be long and extensively useful.é─˘ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 354.

Calamitous Zeal

Nettleton on emotionalism in evangelism: A powerful religious excitement, badly conducted, has ever been considered by the most experienced ministers and best friends of revivals, to be a great calamity. Without close discrimination, an attempt to raise the tone of religious feeling will do infinite mischief. This was the manner of false teachers: é─˛They zealously affect you; but not well.é─˘ It will be like that of Paul before his conversion, and like that of the Jews who were never converted, é─˛a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.é─˘ The driving will become like the driving of Jehu: é─˛Come, see my zeal for the Lord!é─˘ The storm, and earthquake, and fire, are dreadful; but God is not there. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 366é─ý367.

Two Kinds of Zeal

Nettleton quotes John Newton on the contrast between godly zeal and zeal born of spiritual pride: True and False Zeal. " />Zeal is that pure and heavenly flame The fire of love supplies; While that which often bears the name, Is self in a disguise. True zeal is merciful and mild, Can pity and forbear; The false is headstrong fierce, and wild, And breathes revenge and war. While zeal for truth the Christian warms, He knows the worth of peace; But self contends for names and forms, Its party to increase. Zeal has attained its highest aim, Its end is satisfied, If sinners love the Saviour’s name, Nor seeks it aught beside. But self, however well employed, Has its own ends in view; And says, as boasting Jehu cried: é─˙Come, see what I can do!é─¨ Dear Lord, the idol self dethrone, And from our hearts remove; And let no zeal by us be shewn, But that which springs from love. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 374.

Holding Back Hopes

Is it necessary to include the sinneré─˘s inability in our gospel presentation? Ié─˘ve said it is, to the objections of some. Asahel Nettleton believed strongly that it was necessary to destroy the sinneré─˘s hope in any native ability. In his own management in times of revivals, by preaching and personal intercourse, nothing was more deserving of being studied and imitated, than his thoroughness, caution, and discrimination. In these respects there was a heaven-wide difference between Dr. Nettleton and some of the most noted of his professed imitators. Being thoroughly é─˛rooted and grounded in the truthé─˘ himself, his presentations of it were clear, pungent, and searching. His revival topics were systematically and admirably arranged. In his discourses he began at the beginning. A full believer in the total depravity of the human heart, he arraigned sinners, whether young or old, as rebels against God; and made the threatenings of the law thunder in their ears, as but few preachers have power to do. With him, acting as an ambassador of Christ, there was no such thing as compromise. The rebels must é─˛throw down their arms,é─˘ and submit unconditionally, or he would give them no hope of pardon. Hundreds, if not thousands, can witness what a terrible dissector he was of the é─˛joints and the marrow.é─˘ At the same time that he shewed the impenitent they were lost, he made them feel that they had é─˛destroyed themselves.é─˘ It was difficult to say which he made plainesté─ţtheir danger or their guilt; their immediate duty to repent, or the certainty that, without being drawn and renewed by the Spirit of God, they never would repent. It was in vain for them to retreat from one refuge to another. He was sure to strip them of all their vain excuses, and deliver them over to their consciences, to be dealt with according to law and justice. He preached what are called the hard doctrinesé─ţsuch as divine sovereignty, election, and regenerationé─ţwith great plainness, discrimination, and power. His grand aim was to instruct, convince, and persuade; to this end his appeals were constantly made to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart. The passions he never addressed, nor were his discourses at all calculated to excite them. Any outbreak of mere animal feeling he was always afraid of, as tending to warp the judgment and beget false hopes. His grand aim was to instruct his hearers as thoroughly, and point out the difference between true and spurious conversion so clearly, as to make it difficult for them to get hopes at all without good spiritual evidence on which to found them. Knowing how apt persons are to cling to their hopes, whether good or bad, he depended much more upon holding them back, till they had good evidence, than upon shaking them from their false foundations. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 376é─ý377.

é─˙if he had been wicked enoughé─¨

Nettleton and the universalist: The man accordingly informed him, that, in his opinion, mankind received all their punishment in this life, and that all would be happy after death. Dr. Nettleton then asked him to explain certain passages of Scripture,é─ţsuch as the account of a future judgment in the 25th chapter of Matthew, and some others; merely suggesting difficulties for him to solve, without calling in question any of his positions. After taxing his ingenuity for some time in this way, and thus giving him opportunity to perceive the difficulty of reconciling his doctrine with the language of inspiration, he said to him: é─˙You believe, I presume, the account given by Moses of the deluge, and of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?é─¨é─ţé─˙Certainly,é─¨ he replied. é─˙It seems, then,é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton, é─˙that the world became exceeding corrupt, and God determined to destroy it by a deluge of water. He revealed His purpose to Noah, and directed him to prepare an ark, in which he and his family might be saved. Noah believed God, and prepared the ark. Meanwhile, he was a preacher of righteousness. He warned the wicked around him of their danger, and exhorted them to prepare to meet their God. But his warnings were disregarded. They, doubtless, flattered themselves that God was too good a being thus to destroy His creatures. But, notwithstanding their unbelief, the flood came, and, if your doctrine is true, swept them all up to heaven. And what became of Noah, that faithful servant of God? He was tossed to and fro on the waters, and was doomed to trials and sufferings for three hundred and fifty years longer in this evil world; whereas, if he had been wicked enough, he might have gone to heaven with the rest. é─˙And there were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which had become so corrupt that God determined to destroy them by a tempest of fire. He revealed His purpose to Lot, and directed him and his family to make their escape. é─˛And Lot went out and spake to his sons-in-law, saying, Up! get ye out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked to his sons-in-law.é─˘ They did not believe that any such doom was impending. They, doubtless, flattered themselves that God was too good a being to burn up His creatures. But no sooner had Lot made his escape, than it rained fire and brimstone from the Lord out of heaven, and they all, it seems, ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire; while pious Lot was left to wander in the mountains, and to suffer many grievous afflictions in this vale of tears; whereas, if he had been wicked enough, he might have gone to heaven with the rest.é─¨ After making this statement, he requested the man to reflect on these things, and bade him an affectionate adieu. é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 399é─ý400.

Christians in Hell

Matthew 2:23 and the saintsé─˘ perseverance: [Nettleton] once fell in company with two men who were disputing on the doctrine of the Saintsé─˘ perseverance. As he came into their presence, one of them said: é─˙I believe this doctrine has been the means of filling hell with Christians.é─¨ é─˙Sir,é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton, é─˙do you believe that God knows all things ?é─¨é─ţé─˙Certainly I do,é─¨ said he. é─˙How, then, do you interpret this text: é─˛I never knew you?é─˘é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton. After reflecting a moment, he replied : é─˙The meaning must be, I never knew you as Christians.é─¨ é─˙Is that the meaning?é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton é─˙Yes, it must be,é─¨ he replied; é─˙for certainly God knows all things.é─¨ é─˙Well,é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton, é─˙I presume you are right. Now, this is what our Saviour will say to those who, at the last day, shall say to Him, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunken in thy presence? &c. Now, when Saul, and Judas, and Hymeneus, and Philetus, and Demas, and all who, you suppose, have fallen from grace, shall say to Christ, Lord, Lord! He will say to them, I never knew youé─ţI never knew you as Christians. Where, then, are the Christians that are going to hell?é─¨ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 399é─ý400.

A Difficult Text

While it is difficult to say what is meant by some Scripture passages, we can always narrow the possibilities by eliminating interpretations that cannot be. For example: Said an individual to him: é─˙Do you believe in the doctrine of the saintsé─˘ perseverance ?é─¨é─ţé─˙It is my opinion,é─¨ he replied, é─˙that that doctrine is taught in the Bible.é─¨ é─˙I should like, then,é─¨ said the individual, é─˙to have you explain this passage, Ezek. xviii. 24: é─˛When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All the righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.é─˘é─¨ Said Dr. Nettleton: é─˙You have imposed upon me a hard task. That is a difficult text to explain; and what renders it the more difficult is, that the commentators are not agreed as to its meaning. Some have supposed, that by a righteous man in this passage, is meant a self-righteous man.é─¨ é─˙I do not believe that,é─¨ said the individual.é─ţé─˙Neither do I,é─¨ said Nettleton; é─˙for, in that case, it would seem to teach, that if a self-righteous man should persevere in his self-righteousness he would be saved. Some have supposed, that by a righteous man is meant one who is apparently righteous.é─¨ é─˙I do not believe that,é─¨ said the individual.é─ţé─˙Neither do I,é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton; é─˙for, in that case, the text would seem to teach, that if a hypocrite should persevere in his hypocrisy, he would be saved. You suppose, do you not. that by a righteous man in this passage, is meant a true saint?é─¨é─ţé─˙Certainly I do.é─¨ é─˙And you suppose, that by a righteous mané─˘s turning away from his righteousness, is meant falling away, as David did, and as Peter did?é─¨é─ţé─˙Certainly.é─¨ é─˙And you believe that David and Peter are now in hell?é─¨é─ţé─˙No, by no means. David and Peter repented, and were restored to the favour of God.é─¨ é─˙But,é─¨ said Dr. Nettleton, é─˙when the righteous turneth from his righteousnessé─ţin his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he dieé─ţin them shall he die. Now, if David and Peter did turn from their righteousness, in the sense of this passage, how can we possibly believe that they were saved?é─¨ The individual now found the labouring oar in his own hands; and after attempting for some time unsuccessfully to explain the difficulty in which he found his own doctrine involved, Dr. Nettleton said to him: é─˙If there is any difficulty in explaining this text of Scripture, I do not see but you are quite as much troubled with it as I am.é─¨ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 409é─ý411.

An Eye on My Great Sinfulness

Asahel Nettleton reveals the key to humility: Humility was a striking trait in the character of Dr. Nettleton. When a young man, he read in an old book this maxim: é─˙Do all the good you can in the world, and make as little noise about it as possible.é─¨ This maxim had great influence in the formation of his character. He treasured it up in his memory, and believing it to be in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel, he made it a rule of conduct. Hence everything like ostentation he abhorred. Few men ever had greater temptations to the indulgence of pride. His great popularity as a preacher, and the almost unparalleled success which attended his labours, even while he was but a youth, constituted a source of great danger. Many of his fathers and brethren in the ministry trembled for him, lest he should be lifted up with pride. But he seems to have been remarkably delivered from the power of this temptation. Notwithstanding his great popularity, he seems not to have been elated. He was modest and unassuming, and always sensible that the success which attended his labours was not owing to any goodness in himself, but to the sovereign grace of God. He was aware of his danger. Once, when asked what he considered the best safeguard against spiritual pride, he replied: é─˙I know of nothing better than to keep my eye on my great sinfulness.é─¨ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 420é─ý421.

Walk in the Light

The death of Asahel Nettleton, as told by his physician: Dr. Tyler thus narrates the closing scene:é─ţA short time before his death, when he was very ill, and when he thought it probable that he had but a short time to live, I said to him, you are in good hands. é─˙Certainly,é─¨ he replied. é─˙Are you willing to be there ?é─¨é─ţé─˙I am.é─¨ He then said: é─˙I know not that I have any advice to give my friends. My whole preaching expresses my views. If I could see the pilgrims, scattered abroad, who thought they experienced religion under my preaching, I should like to address them. I would tell them that the great truths of the Gospel appear more precious than ever, and that they are the truths which now sustain my soul.é─¨ He added: é─˙You know I have never placed much dependence on the manner in which persons die.é─¨ He spoke of a farewell sermon which he preached in Virginia, from these words: é─˙While ye have the light, walk in the light.é─¨ He told the people, that he wished to say some things to them that he should not be able to say to them on a dying-bed. And he would now say to all his friends, é─˙While ye have the light, walk in the light.é─¨ While making these remarks, there was a peculiar lustre on his countenance. I said to him, I trust you feel no solicitude respecting the issue of your present sickness. He replied with emphasis: é─˙No, none at all. I am glad that it is not for me to say. It is sweet to trust in the Lord.é─¨ During the last twenty-four hours of his life he said but little. In the evening of the day before his death, I informed him that we considered him near the close of life, and said to him, I hope you enjoy peace of mind? By the motion of his head he gave me an affirmative answer. He continued to fail through the night, and at eight oé─˘clock in the morning he calmly fell asleep, as we trust, in the arms of his Saviour. May all his friends remember his dying counsel: é─˙While ye have the light, walk in the light.é─¨ é─ţBennet Tyler, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton (Banner of Truth, 1975), 438é─ý440.

Still Preaching

Happy birthday, John Calvin—“though he is dead, he still speaks.” 505 Years Old and Still Preaching

Eternal Life Is More Sweet

John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester (1495–1555), was originally to die alongside John Rogers, but was instead taken to Gloucester to be burned before his parishioners, in front of his own cathedral. The day before his execution, Sir Anthony Kingston, whom the good Bishop had been the means of converting from a sinful life, entreated him, with many tears, to spare himself, and urged him to remember that ‘Life was sweet, and death was bitter.’ To this the noble martyr returned this memorable reply, that ‘Eternal life was more sweet, and eternal death was more bitter.’ On the morning of his martyrdom he was led forth, walking, to the place of execution, where an immense crowd awaited him. It was market-day; and it was reckoned that nearly 700o people were present. The stake was planted directly in front of the western gate of the Cathedral-close, and within 100 yards of the deanery and the east front of the Cathedral. The exact spot is marked now by a beautiful memorial at the east end of the churchyard of St. Mary-de-Lode. The window over the gate, where Popish friars watched the Bishop’s dying agonies, stands unaltered to this day. When Hooper arrived at this spot, he was allowed to pray, though strictly forbidden to speak to the people. And there he knelt down, and prayed a prayer which has been preserved and recorded by Fox, and is of exquisitely touching character. Even then a box was put before him containing a full pardon, if he would only recant. His only answer was, ‘Away with it; if you love my soul, away with it!’ He was then fastened to the stake by an iron round his waist, and fought his last fight with the king of terrors. Of all the martyrs, none perhaps, except Ridley, suffered more than Hooper did. Three times the faggots had to be lighted, because they would not burn properly. Three quarters of an hour the noble sufferer endured the mortal agony, as Fox says, ‘neither moving backward, forward, nor to any side,’ but only praying,‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;’ and beating his breast with one hand till it was burned to a stump. And so the good Bishop of Gloucester passed away. —Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 46—47. Words to live—and die—by: Life may be sweet, and death bitter, but eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death more bitter.

Pre-Reformation Ignorance

Ryle describes the spiritual state of England before the Reformation: Before the Reformation, one leading feature of English religion was dense ignorance. There was among all classes a conspicuous absence of all knowledge of true Christianity. A gross darkness overspread the land, a darkness that might be felt. Not one in a hundred could have told you as much about the Gospel of Christ as we could now learn from any intelligent Sunday School child. We need not wonder at this ignorance. The people had neither schools nor Bibles. Wycliffe’s New Testament, the only translation extant till Henry VIII’s Bible was printed, cost £2 16s. 3d.* of our money. The prayers of the Church were in Latin, and of course the people could not understand them. Preaching there was scarcely any. Quarterly sermons indeed were prescribed to the clergy, but not insisted on. Latimer says that while Mass was never to be left unsaid for a single Sunday, sermons might be omitted for twenty Sundays, and nobody was blamed. After all, when there were sermons, they were utterly unprofitable: and latterly to be a preacher was to be suspected of being a heretic. To cap all, the return that Hooper got from the diocese of Gloucester, when he was first appointed Bishop in 1551, will give a pretty clear idea of the ignorance of Pre-Reformation times. Out of 311 clergy of his diocese, 168 were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments; 31 of the 168 could not state in what part of Scripture they were to be found; 40 could not tell where the Lord’s prayer was written; and 31 of the 40 were ignorant who was the author of the Lord’s prayer! If this is not ignorance, I know not what is. If such were the pastors, what must the people have been! If this was the degree of knowledge among the parsons, what must it have been among the people! —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 62. * I.e., in 1890. Current value (2017), about $366 US dollars, by my estimation.

The Blood of a Duck and the Girdle of Mary

Added to the gross ignorance of the times before the Reformation was a deep-seeded superstition fostered, through deliberate deception, by the religious order of the day. Men and women in those days had uneasy consciences sometimes, and wanted relief. They had sorrow and sickness and death to pass through, just like ourselves. What could they do? Whither could they turn? There was none to tell them of the love of God and the mediation of Christ, of the glad tidings of free, full, and complete salvation, of justification by faith, of grace, and faith, and hope, and repentance. They could only turn to the priests, who knew nothing themselves and could tell nothing to others. . . . In a word, the religion of our ancestors . . . was little better than an organized system of Virgin Mary worship, saint worship, image worship, relic worship, pilgrimages, almsgivings, formalism, ceremonialism, processions, prostrations, bowings, crossings, fastings, confessions, absolutions, masses, penances, and blind obedience to the priests. It was a grand higgledy-piggledy of ignorance and idolatry, and service done to an unknown God by deputy. The only practical result was that the priests took the people’s money, and undertook to ensure their salvation, and the people flattered themselves that the more they gave to the priests, the more sure they were of going to heaven. The catalogue of gross and ridiculous impostures which the priests practised on the people would fill a volume, and I cannot of course do more than supply a few specimens. At the Abbey of Hales, in Gloucestershire, a vial was shown by the priests to those who offered alms, which was said to contain the blood of Christ. On examination, in King Henry VIII’s time, this notable vial was found to contain neither more nor less than the blood of a duck, which was renewed every week. At Bexley, in Kent, a crucifix was exhibited, which received peculiar honour and large offerings, because of a continual miracle which was said to attend its exhibition. When people offered copper, the face of the figure looked grave; when they offered silver, it relaxed its severity; when they offered gold, it openly smiled. In Henry VIII’s time this famous crucifix was examined, and wires were found within it by which the priests could move the face of the image, and make it assume any expression that they pleased. . . . At Bruton Priory, in Somersetshire, was kept a girdle of the Virgin Mary, made of red silk. This solemn relic was sent as a special favour to women in childbirth, to insure them a safe delivery. The like was done with a white girdle of Mary Magdalene, kept at Farley Abbey, in Wiltshire. In neither case, we may be sure, was the relic sent without a pecuniary consideration. Records like these are so silly and melancholy that one hardly knows whether to laugh or to cry. But it is positively necessary to bring them forward, in order that men may know what was the religion of our forefathers before the Reformation. Wonderful as these things may sound in our ears, we must never forget that Englishmen in those times knew no better. A famishing man, in sieges and blockades, has been known to eat mice and rats rather than die of hunger. A soul famishing for lack of God’s Word must not be judged too harshly if it struggles to find comfort in the most grovelling superstition. —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 63–65.

Death Is No Death

The following lines are attributed to John Hooper. Tradition says they were written in coal on the wall of the cell in which he was held before his execution. Content thyself with patience With Christ to bear the cup of pain: Who can and will thee recompense A thousand-fold, with joys again. Let nothing cause thy heart to fail: Launch out thy boat, hoist up the sail, Put from the shore; And be thou sure thou shalt attain Unto the port, that shall remain For evermore. Fear not death, pass not for bands, Only in God put thy whole trust; For He will require thy blood at their hands, And thou dost know that once die thou must, Only for that, thy life if thou give, Death is no death, but ever for to live. Do not despair: Of no worldly tyrant be thou in dread; Thy compass, which is God’s Word, shall thee lead, And the wind is fair. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 83.

Not Even In, With, and Under

As previously posted, the primary offense of the English Reformers was their denial of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. They were responding, of course, to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Following that post, I explained why the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation must also be rejected. It was interesting, then, to encounter Archbishop John Hooper rejecting the Lutheran language (without so identifying it) also. The following is from Hooper’s A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith. I believe that all this Sacrament consisteth in the use thereof: so that without the right use the bread and wine in nothing differ from other common bread and wine, that is commonly used: and, therefore, I do not believe that the body of Christ can be contained, hid, or inclosed in the bread, under the bread, or with the bread; neither the blood in the wine, under the wine, or with the wine. But I believe and confess the very body of Christ to be in heaven, on the right hand of the Father (as before we have said), and that always and as often as we use this bread and wine according to the ordinance and institution of Christ, we do verily and indeed receive His body and blood. . . . I believe that this receiving is not done carnally or bodily, but spiritually, through a true and lively faith; that is to say, the body and blood of Christ are not given to the mouth and belly, for the nourishing of the body, but unto our faith, for the nourishing of the spirit and inward man unto eternal life. And for that cause we have no need that Christ should come from heaven to us, but that we should ascend unto Him, lifting up our hearts through a lively faith on high, unto the right hand of the Father, where Christ sitteth, from whence we wait for our redemption. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 95–96.

Only an Instrument

Among the last writings of English Reformer John Bradford (1510–1555), as he awaited his death in the Tower of London. When I consider the cause of my condemnation, I cannot but lament that I do no more rejoice than I do, for it is God's verity and truth. The condemnation is not a condemnation of Bradford simply, but rather a condemnation of Christ and His truth. Bradford is nothing else but an instrument, in whom Christ and His doctrine are condemned; and, therefore, my dearly beloved, rejoice, rejoice, and give thanks, with me, and for me, that ever God did vouchsafe so great a benefit to our country, as to choose the most unworthy (I mean myself) to be one in whom it would please Him to suffer any kind of affliction, much more this violent kind of death, which I perceive is prepared for me with you for His sake. All glory and praise be given unto God our Father for this His exceeding great mercy towards me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 179.

Bishop Ridley versus Queen Mary

Among the English Reformers, Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500–1555) was closest to the throne, and therefore in the most immediate danger from a hostile sovereign. As chaplain to Henry VIII, father of Queen Mary, and finally, Bishop of London, conflict was inevitable. When Edward VI died in 1553, and his sister Mary, who, writes Ryle, “had a special dislike to him,” took the throne, Ridley was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The circumstances under which Ridley came into direct collision with Queen Mary before the death of Edward VI are so graphically described by Fox that I think it best to give them in the martyrologist’s own words: About the eighth of September, 1552, Dr Ridley, then Bishop of London, lying at his house at Hadham in Herts, went to visit the Lady Mary, then lying at Hunsden, two miles off, and was gently entertained of Sir Thomas Wharton and other her officers, till it was almost eleven of the clock, about which time the said Lady Mary came forth into her chamber of presence, and then the said bishop there saluted her Grace, and said that he was come to do this duty to her Grace. Then she thanked him for his pains, and for a quarter of an hour talked with him very pleasantly, and said that she knew him in the court when he was chaplain to her father, and could well remember a sermon that he made before King Henry her father at the marriage of my Lady Clinton that now is to Sir Anthony Browne, &c., and so dismissed him to dine with her officers. After the dinner was done, the bishop being called for by the said Lady Mary, resorted again to her Grace, between whom this communication was. First the bishop beginneth in manner as followeth: ‘Madam, I came not only to do my duty to see your Grace, but also to offer myself to preach before you on Sunday next, if it will please you to hear me.’ At this her countenance changed, and after silence for a space, she answered thus: ‘My Lord, as for this last matter, I pray you make the answer to it yourself.’ Ridley. ‘Madam, considering mine office and calling, I am bound to make your Grace this offer to preach before you.’ Mary. ‘Well, I pray you, make the answer, as I have said, to this matter yourself, for you know the answer well enough; but if there be no remedy, but I must make you answer, this shall be your answer, the door of the parish church adjoining shall be open for you, if you come, and ye may preach if you list, but neither I nor any of mine shall hear you.’ Ridley. ‘Madam, I trust you will not refuse God’s Word.’ Mary. ‘I cannot tell what ye call God’s Word that is not God’s Word now, that was God’s Word in my father’s days.’ Ridley. ‘God’s Word is one at all times, but hath been better understood and practised in some ages than in other.’ Mary. ‘You durst not for your ears have avouched that for God’s Word in my father’s days that now you do; and as for your new books, I thank God, I never read any of them, I never did nor ever will do.’ And after many bitter words against the form of religion then established, and against the government of the realm, and the laws made in the young years of her brother, which she said she was not bound to obey till her brother came to perfect age, and then she said she would obey them; she asked the Bishop whether he were one of the council? He answered, ‘No.’ ‘You might well enough,’ said she, ‘as the council goeth nowadays.’ And so she concluded with these words: ‘My Lord, for your gentleness to come and see me I thank you, but for your offering to preach before me I thank you never a whit.’ Then the said bishop was brought by Sir Thomas Wharton to the place where they had dined, and was desired to drink, and after he had drunk, he paused awhile, looking very sadly, and suddenly brake out into these words, ‘Surely I have done amiss.’ ‘Why so?’ quoth Sir Thomas Wharton. ‘For I have drunk,’ said he, ‘in that place where God’s Word offered hath been refused, whereas if I had remembered my duty, I ought to have departed immediately, and to have shaken off the dust of my shoes for a testimony against this house.’ These words were by the said bishop spoken with such a vehemency, that some of the hearers afterward confessed their hair to stand upright on their heads. This done, the said bishop departed, and so returned to his house. From the Tower Ridley was sent to Oxford in 1554, to be baited and insulted in a mock disputation; and finally, after two years’ imprisonment, was burned at Oxford with old Latimer, on 16 October 1555. Singularly enough, he seems to have had forebodings of the kind of death he would die. Humphrey, in his Life of Jewel, records the following anecdote: ‘Ridley, on one occasion, being tossed about in a great storm, exhorted his terrified companions with these words, “Be of good cheer, and bend to your oars; this boat carries a Bishop who is not to be drowned, but burned.”’ —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 184–186.

Five Hundred Years and Still Not Over

Happy Reformation Day. Carl Trueman lecturing on The Reformation at The Master’s Seminary

The Origin of the Five Points

Studying the history of the Doctrines of Grace, it should first be noted that the doctrines commonly known as “the Five Points of Calvinism” were not written by John Calvin, nor were they formulated in the handy TULIP acrostic. In 1610, one year after the death of James Arminius, and forty-six years after the death of John Calvin, the followers of Arminius presented a “Remonstrance” (protest) to the State of Holland. This protest consisted of five articles intended to correct what they considered errors in the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism (the Confessions of the Church of Holland). Roger Nicole summarizes the five articles contained in the Remonstrance as follows: I. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief. II. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved. III. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed. IV. This grace may be resisted. V. whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation. The last article was later altered so as definitely to teach that the trul regenerate believer could lose his faith and thus lose his salvation. However, Arminians have not been in agreement on this point. Some have held that all who are regenerated by the Spirit of God are eternally secure and can never perish. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 2. In response to the Remonstrants, a national synod was convened in Dordrecht (Dort), Holland in 1618. The majority of the synod was Dutch, but also included delegates from Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. Their purpose was to examine the Arminian articles in light of Scripture. After 154 sessions over the course of seven months, the Synod of Dort rejected the Arminian protest. Ben A. Warburton writes, The Synod had given a very close examination to the “five points” which had been advanced by the Remonstrants, and had compared the teaching advanced in them with the testimony of Scripture. Failing to reconcile that teaching with the Word of God, which they had definitely declared could alone be accepted by them as the rule of faith, they had unanimously rejected them. They felt, however, that a mere rejection was not sufficient. It remained for them to set forth the true Calvinistic teaching in relationship to those matters which had been called into question. This they proceeded to do, embodying the Calvinistic position in five chapters which have ever since been known as “the five points of Calvinism.” —Ibid., 4. How is it that these churchmen drew such a different conclusion from that which is held by the majority of Protestants today? The answer is quite simple: Salvation was viewed by the members of the Synod as a work of grace from beginning to end; They did not believe that the sinner saved himself or contributed to his salvation in any sense. Adam's fall had completely ruined the race. All men were by nature spiritually dead, and their wills were in bondage to sin and Satan. The ability to believe the gospel was itself a gift from God, bestowed only on those whom He had chosen to be the objects of His unmerited favor. It was not man, but God, who determined which sinners would be shown mercy and saved. This, in essence, was what the members of the Synod of Dort understood the Bible to teach. —Ibid., 5.

Arminian Philosophy

Packer on the philosophical basis of Arminianism: The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. . . . From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor (2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. (3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe. (4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe. (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him. —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 3. One must wonder what Arminians do with (1.) Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 (2.) John 6:37 (3.) Romans 9:11–13 (4.) Ephesians 2:8 (5.) John 6:37, 39–40. All of the Epistles, indeed, the entire New Testament, speak loudly against them.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.

Unformed and Inadequate

John MacArthur on the vagueries of early church atonement theory: Few would argue that the church fathers had a well-formed understanding of the atonement as a penal substitution, but Augustus Hodge pointed out that the idea of vicarious atonement was more or less implicit in their understanding, even if it was “often left to a remarkable degree in the background, and mixed up confusedly with other elements of truth or superstition.” Specifically, some of the fathers seemed confused about the nature of the ransom Christ paid—especially on the question of to whom the ransom was due. Some of them seemed to think of it as a ransom paid to Satan, as if Christ paid a fee to the Devil to purchase release for sinners. That is the ransom theory of the atonement. Nonetheless, according to Hodge, “With few exceptions, the whole church from the beginning has held the doctrine of Redemption in the sense of a literal propitiation of God by means of the expiation of sin.” Selected church fathers’ comments about the ransom of Christ should not be taken as studied, conscientious doctrinal statements but rather as childlike expressions of an unformed and inadequate doctrine of the atonement. Philip Schaff, commenting on the lack of clarity about the atonement in early church writings, said, “The primitive church teachers lived more in the thankful enjoyment of redemption than in logical reflection upon it. We perceive in their exhibitions of this blessed mystery the language rather of enthusiastic feeling than of careful definition and acute analysis.” “Nevertheless,” Schaff added, “all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century.” —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 147.

The Reformation: Augustine versus Augustine

Speaking of contradictions, I found this very interesting: In response [to Pelagius], Augustine strongly asserted the inability of unregenerate sinners to merit salvation. Moreover, he said, no one can believe in Christ apart from a sovereign work of God overcoming man’s sinful resistance. Augustine refuted the false notion that God merely looks down the proverbial tunnel of time and foresees the free will of man choosing Him. Instead, he developed a full-blown doctrine of predestination. He firmly maintained the biblical teaching on original sin, total depravity, sovereign election, monergistic regeneration, and absolute predestination. He saw man as hopelessly plagued by radical corruption and, therefore, unable to initiate or contribute to his salvation. By necessity, he viewed God as sovereign in the exercise of His saving grace toward elect sinners. Regarding election, Augustine taught that salvation is a sovereign gift, fixed in eternity past, irrespective of the merit of man. Augustine, Loraine Boettner argues, “went far beyond the earlier theologians, and taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purposes of redemption to the definite circle of the elect.” The whole race fell in Adam, Augustine maintained, so that everyone is born totally depraved and spiritually dead. Therefore, the human will is free only to sin, but not free to choose any good toward God. Thus, Augustine was the first theologian to carefully connect the biblical truths of man’s moral inability in sin and God’s sovereignty in election and regeneration. Augustine’s influence would dominate medieval Christianity and provide the chief stimulus for the Reformation. Though Augustine asserted salvation by grace, he maintained that the irresistible grace of predestination is applied by the sacrament of baptism. He also espoused progressive justification. He even held that some believers are not of the elect and will not persevere. Thus, his theological steps forward did not go far enough. Despite his advances in the areas of sin and grace, further clarity was needed on salvation by faith alone. The Reformation would be the triumph of Augustine’s views on sovereign grace, as held by the Protestants, over his views on sacramentalism and the church, as held by the Roman Catholics. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 27–28.

The Long Line

Speaking with converts to Roman Catholicism, I am told that the Roman Catholic church is the church Christ founded, and is therefore the true Church. Their perspective sees Catholicism as all there ever was before that upstart, Luther, went astray. In his book, Pillars of Grace, Steve Lawson exposes the fallacy of that view, showing that the Reformation was not the result of a Sixteenth Century spontaneous combustion, but of a divine fanning of a flame kept burning, though low at times, from the beginning. Though the gospel was corrupted, abandoned, and even repudiated by the Roman church, it was never lost to God’s elect. From Clement of Rome in the first century to Calvin of Geneva in the sixteenth, there is a progression in the church’s understanding of the doctrines of grace, a gradual maturation in the comprehension of these glorious truths. What began as mere restatements of Scripture grew into fuller descriptions of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. . . . Admittedly, these stalwarts had feet of clay. Though they helped bring great clarity to the church regarding many essential truths, they were capable of holding views that contradicted their own teachings. . . . They were not perfect men possessing infallible understanding. Rather they were flawed figures with fallible minds. But when it came to the truths about salvation, there was considerable unity in their growing understanding of sovereign grace. Throughout the first sixteen centuries of the church, this long line of godly men increasingly asserted the key aspects of God’s sovereignty in saving grace. A growing consensus concerning Scripture’s teaching on the doctrines of grace gradually emerged. From mere traces of these biblical truths in the teachings of the early centuries, the church’s understanding developed with time and came into greater focus. In spite of their many imperfections, God used these figures, to varying degrees, to document, define, and defend the doctrines of grace. In no period of history has God left Himself without a witness. In the second through fourth centuries, the Church Fathers spoke these truths, though they needed greater clarification. In the fifth century, God raised up Augustine, who brought further illumination to these doctrines. In the Dark Ages, this noble procession wore thin. Throughout the late medieval period, stalwarts for sovereign grace were often few. But in the Protestant Reformation, teachers of the doctrines of grace were plentiful and prolific. Through it all, God maintained a line of godly men, those who upheld the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). Throughout the flow of church history, God remains faithful to His cause. As Lord of the church, He guarantees the success of His truth. As the Author of Scripture, He ensures the triumph of His theology. From His throne above, our sovereign Lord sends forth faithful messengers to proclaim His supreme authority. By His Holy Spirit, God prepares the hearts of His people to embrace the teaching of sovereign grace, all in His perfect timing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 37–38.

Monergist Father: Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome (ca. a.d. 30–100) was among the first presbyters of the New Testament church. He was co-presbyter with Linus (mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21) and Cletus, both of whom most likely perished under Nero. He is thought to have been with Paul at Philippi around a.d. 57, and is generally believed to be the same Clement named by Paul in Philippians 4:3 among those “whose names are in the book of life.” His only extant writing is The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.* From this work, Steve Lawson draws out Clement’s understanding of sovereign grace. [T]he Apostolic Fathers did not engage in deep theology but primarily quoted Scripture to make their points. . . . Nevertheless, trace evidences of the doctrines of divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and preserving grace appear in embryonic form in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including First Clement. . . . the Early Church Fathers’ teachings regarding election and predestination were in complete harmony with the truths of Scripture but did not provide penetrating insights. Clement and the men who followed him affirmed individual truths but did not systematize these doctrines or address their cause-and-effect relationships. . . . Throughout his letter to the Corinthians, Clement asserts the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of this world: “The heavens move at His direction and peacefully obey Him. Day and night observe the course He has appointed them, without getting in each other’s way. . . . By His will and without dissension or altering anything He has decreed, the earth becomes fruitful at the proper seasons.” By divine direction, there is harmony in God’s creation. Clement states: “All these things the great Creator and Master of the universe ordained to exist in peace and harmony.” Here Clement, in a clear statement of divine sovereignty, declared that God directs whatsoever comes to pass. . . . Clement held that fallen man is so ruined in sin that he is incapable of saving himself. Having forfeited his moral ability to do good, man cannot present himself acceptable to God. Clement writes that we are “not justified of ourselves or by our wisdom or insight or religious devotion or the holy deeds we have done from the heart.” That is, no man has the innate ability to save himself. What is more, Clement teaches that all people come into this world spiritually dead in sin: “We must take to heart, brothers, from what stuff we were created, what kind of creatures we were when we entered the world, from what a dark grave he who fashioned and created us brought us into his world.” Fallen man must be raised to new life by God. . . . Given his belief in man’s inability to save himself, it is entirely consistent that Clement affirmed sovereign election. He wrote that the “elect” are “chosen of God,” using these biblical terms as synonyms for believers in Christ. In the opening sentence of his epistle, Clement states that believers are “those whom God has chosen.” He later adds that as the apostles preached the Word of God, “there was joined a great multitude of the elect.” He clearly believed the church to be the ingathering of God’s chosen ones. . . . Clement alluded to the truth that Christ’s death was intended for the elect, writing: “By love all God’s elect were made perfect. Without love nothing can please God. By love, the Master accepted us. Because of the love He had for us, and in accordance with God’s will, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us, His flesh for our flesh, and His life for ours.” With these words, Clement maintained that Christ sacrificially shed His blood for the elect. . . . Clement said that the sovereign will of God is ultimately the determinative factor in repentance. He states: “It is the will of God that all whom He loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent. He has established it by His almighty will.” With these words, Clement made a bold distinction between those whom God loves and the unbelieving. It is by God’s determinative will that those whom He loves come to repentance. The new birth is the result of His omnipotent will that cannot be resisted. . . . Finally, Clement asserted that the salvation God gives to His elect is an enduring work of grace, never to be reversed or undone. He says: “But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is His almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of His?” In other words, God holds His elect eternally secure by His omnipotent will. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 51–55. * Philip Schaff, The Anti-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:1–3.

Monergist Father: Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130–200) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor. He was a student of Polycarp, who studied under the apostle John. His writings demonstrate well an orthodox, biblical understanding of original sin and its effects: depravity and inability. Irenaeus acknowledged that Adam’s sin had brought about the devastation of the entire human race. Recognizing Adam’s role as the representative of all his descendants, Irenaeus asserted that when the first man sinned, all mankind transgressed with him. He writes: “Indeed we had offended [God] in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. . . . We were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” This is to say, all human beings are guilty because of Adam’s fall. In this state of depravity, Irenaeus argued, all men are ignorant of God. Concerning man’s inherent inability to know God, he states: “Since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.’” No one can come to a saving knowledge of God apart from being taught by God Himself. Similarly, Irenaeus affirmed that all men give themselves to the world system and their carnal desires. He writes, “Man . . . shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts.” In short, the spirit of this evil age rules over the rebellious hearts of all unconverted men. Irenaeus held that the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the spiritual, physical, and emotional death of all mankind. He says, “Eve . . . having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race.” The wages of sin is death, rendering man morally unable to please God. Neither does man have the spiritual capacity to come to Him. What can a dead man do? Nothing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 97–98. Like many of the Fathers, Irenaeus was not without contradictions. Along with his orthodox statements on inability, he also made conflicting statements on free will. Lawson offers a likely explanation for these conflicting messages. He wrote of fallen man possessing a power to choose whether to obey or disobey God and expressed confidence in human ability and moral freedom. He writes, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Similarly, he maintained that “it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” This inconsistency may have stemmed partly from the context in which Irenaeus lived and ministered. Like Justin Martyr, he was constantly embattled by Gnostic attacks. Gnosticism inaccurately “asserted that the Christian faith denied moral responsibility.” To counter this idea, the Apologists stressed man’s obligation. In so doing, they unfortunately weakened their position concerning man’s depravity, as well as God’s exclusive role in salvation. —Ibid., 98–99.

Unregenerate Hordes

In about the year 312, Emperor Constantine (274–337), on his way into battle, saw something he thought looked like a cross in the sky. This sign signified, according to a voice in his head, victory with a heavenly guarantee. Or maybe he had a dream the night before instructing him to decorate his soldier’s shields with crosses. Accounts of the legend vary. In any case, feeling his oats in a special way, he marched his army into battle against his rival Maximentius, who led a force twice as large as his own, and thrashed him soundly. There was now only one thing to do: declare himself a Christian. (Oh, yeah, and fish Maximentius out of the Tiber, where he had been drowned in the stampede of his fleeing army, decapitate his body and, as much as possible, purge his name from the Roman public record and smear whatever remained of it.) So Constantine “converted” and, aware of how awkward throwing himself to the lions would be, quite naturally lifted the ban on Christianity. This development was, of course, welcomed by believers across the empire. And who can blame them? The persecution under various emperors had been severe, but now, with the Emperor numbered among them, Christianity was now, and for the first time, cool. Little did they know the havoc this new-found liberty would wreak on the Church. But the official acceptance of Christianity brought with it significant dangers. At this time, hordes of unregenerate Roman citizens came into the church and were baptized as believers. The sacred thus merged with the secular, and the immediate result was doctrinal compromise, all for the sake of political expediency. Such concessions prepared the soil of the church for the corruptions of Roman Catholicism. In future years, such externalized religion would bear bitter fruit. Thus, popularity proved to be a greater threat to Christianity than persecution, and the church was weakened significantly. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 145–146. If I may editorialize a bit: The loss of meaningful church membership among post-Reformation Christians has had the same effect. I could easily pick on the Lutherans, who brought me up in the faith, for their Baptism + Confirmation = Membership formula, but most Baptists are at least as guilty for their Decision + Baptism method (Hello? Constantine, anyone?). Churches of all stripes—and I exclude apostate denominations from this accounting—have filled their rolls with unregenerate members as surely as did the church under Constantine. “And the church [is] weakened significantly.”

The Guest of God

Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329–379) was one of three* fourth century theologians from the province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. They are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil, like Athanasius, was compelled to counter the continuing influence of Arianism.† He also faced a new heretic, Eustathius, leader of the Pneumatomachians, who, in addition to his denial of the deity of Christ, claimed that the Holy Spirit was also a created being.‡ In those days, these conflicts were not merely debates among theologians; a faithful pastor might have to put his life on the line to stand for truth. Basil was willing. The reigning emperor in the East was Valens, who supported Arianism. When Valens announced that he would visit Caesarea, it was understood that the emperor would use this appearance to promote the heretical teachings of Arius. Imperial officers arrived beforehand to prepare for Valens’s visit by seeking to influence Basil through imperial promises and threats. But unlike other bishops, Basil could not be controlled by such tactics. A heated exchange ensued, with the praetorian prefect threatening Basil. But Basil replied: “Nothing more! Not one of these things touches me. His property cannot be forfeited, who has none; banishment I know not, for I am restricted to no place, and am the guest of God, to whom the whole earth belongs; for martyrdom I am unfit, but death is a benefactor to me, for it sends me more quickly to God, to whom I live and move; I am also in great part already dead, and have been for a long time hastening to the grave.” The prefect was taken aback. No one had ever spoken to him like this, he declared. Basil answered, “Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 168. * Also Gregory of Nazianzus (330–389) and Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s brother, ca. 336–after 394). † Find Phil Johnson’s lectures on Arianism (and other heresies) here. ‡ See The Book of St. Basil on the Holy Spirit in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series II, 8:2.

An Early Church Mother

Councils may convene and compose creeds, but heresy marches on. Though the Council of Nicaea clarified the church’s teaching on the divinity of Christ, Trinitarian orthodoxy remained under attack. Arianism had not gone away, nor had the Pneumatomachians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379–395) convened the Council of Constantinople in 381. The work of the council is summarized in the Constantinople Creed, which reiterates the deity of Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets.” The primary leader of the council was Gregory of Nazianzus (330–385). He was born to Christian parents; Gregory, his father, had been a heretic, but was converted through the witness of his wife, Nonna. Of his mother, he wrote, She was a wife according to the mind of Solomon; in all things subject to her husband according to the laws of marriage, not ashamed to be his teacher and his leader in true religion. She solved the difficult problem of uniting a higher culture, especially in knowledge of divine things and strict exercise of devotion, with the practical care of her household. If she was active in her house, she seemed to know nothing of the exercises of religion; if she occupied herself with God and His worship, she seemed to be a stranger to every earthly occupation: she was whole in everything. Experiences had instilled into her unbounded confidence in the effects of believing prayer; therefore she was most diligent in supplications, and by prayer overcame even the deepest feelings of grief over her own and others” sufferings. She had by this means attained such control over her spirit, that in every sorrow she encountered, she never uttered a plaintive tone before she had thanked God. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 181–182.

Monergist Father: Gregory of Naziansus

Of Gregory, Steve Lawson writes, “like others of his time, he did not grasp [the doctrines of grace] in a systematic way.” Still, the sovereignty of God and monergistic salvation are apparent in his writings. Gregory was a strong believer in God’s absolute sovereignty over the affairs of men, world events, and eternal destinies. In affirming the doctrine of providence, he writes, “Believe that the whole universe, all that is visible and all that is invisible, was brought into being out of nothing by God and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better condition.” Here he asserted that God controls all that He created. In a prayer in his eulogy for his brother Caesarius, he likewise addressed God with these words: “O Lord and Maker of all things, and specially of this our frame! O God and Father and Pilot of men who are Yours! O Lord of life and death! O Judge and Benefactor of our souls! O Maker and Transformer in due time of all things by Your designing Word, according to the knowledge of the depth of Your wisdom and providence!” These statements affirm the truth of God’s supreme reign over the world. . . . Gregory believed that the minds of fallen men are imprisoned in sin, a spiritual state that prevents them from understanding divine truth. Concerning this bondage, Gregory states, “For in no other way does the coarseness of a material body and a captive mind come to comprehension of God except by being helped.” Fallen men’s minds are so enslaved they cannot know God by their own initiative or intellect. . . . Gregory understood that believers were chosen by God before time began. Looking beyond the large numbers of people merely attending church, he affirms that salvation belongs to a chosen remnant: “God does not delight in numbers! ‘You count your tens of thousands, but God counts those who will be saved; you the immeasurable grains of sand but, I the vessels of election.” Gregory taught that the names of believers in Christ were recorded before they believed. He writes: “Perhaps you have heard . . . of a certain book of the living, and of a book of them that are not to be saved, where we shall all be written, or rather are already written.” This book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12) contains the names of all the saved; their names were written there long ago. Thus, election precedes faith. . . . No unconverted person, Gregory affirmed, can see or enter God’s kingdom apart from the new birth. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit who works this regeneration; no human being can cause himself to be born again. Gregory writes: “The divine Spirit created me, and the breath of the Almighty taught me; and again, ‘You will send forth Your Spirit and they will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth.’ He also fashions the spiritual rebirth. Be persuaded by the text: ‘Nobody can see the kingdom or receive it unless he has been born from above by the Spirit, unless he has been purified from his earlier birth.’” Gregory was clear that the Spirit is the sole Author of regeneration. . . . Commenting on Romans 9:16, Gregory argued that no man can choose what is right apart from the gift of the mercy of God. In other words, apart from sovereign grace, man cannot exercise his will to believe on Christ. He writes: For when you hear, Not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy, I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He says not of him that wills; that is, not of him that wills only, nor of him that runs only, but also of God. . . . Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. However much you may run, however much you may wrestle, yet you need one to give the crown. This statement gives the proper prominence to the priority of the divine will in the regeneration of elect sinners. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 186–190.

Disciplining an Emperor

Following his “conversion” in 312, Emperor Constantine decreed the legal toleration of all religions. He also reckoned himself to be the head of the church, “bishop of all bishops” and the “thirteenth apostle.” Thus, the distinction between church and state was compromised. Enter Ambrose of Milan (ca. 339–397), who dared insist that Christ was the sole head of the church, and furthermore, that all Christians were under that authority, including those that happened to be Emperors—namely, Theodosius I, successor to Constantine. In the year 390, a Thessalonian mob murdered the governor of Illyria. In vain, Ambrose urged Theodosius to exercise restraint. The emperor sent an army “to massacre the Thessalonians.” When his anger cooled, he tried to recall his army, but seven thousand Thessalonians had already been slaughtered. Bishop Ambrose courageously reacted in faithful pastoral fashion. Ambrose respected Theodosius because the emperor was a Nicene Christian who had called the Council of Constantinople (381), which decisively rejected Arianism. Nevertheless, when Ambrose heard of the slaughter in Thessalonica, he wrote a bold letter, calling the emperor to repentance. He wrote: I cannot deny that you are zealous for the faith and that you fear God. But you have a naturally passionate spirit; and while you easily yield to love when that spirit is subdued, yet when it is stirred up you become a raging beast. I would gladly have left you to the workings of your own heart, but I dare not remain silent or gloss over your sin. No-one in all human history has ever before heard of such a bloody scene as the one at Thessalonica! I warned you against it, I pleaded with you; you yourself realized its horror and tried to cancel your decree. And now I call you to repent. This letter was a harbinger of the confrontation that would follow. Theodosius came to church, pretending that he had not received the letter. But Ambrose courageously barred his entrance to the church. When the emperor claimed he had repented, Ambrose responded that mere words were not enough—his contrition of heart must be demonstrated publicly before he could receive the Lord’s Supper. Ambrose challenged the emperor with these words: “How will you lift up in prayer the hands still dripping with the blood of the murdered? How will you receive with such hands the most holy body of the Lord? How will you bring to your mouth His precious blood? Go away, and dare not to heap crime upon crime.” In response, Theodosius pointed out that King David had been guilty of murder, but that he had been forgiven. Without hesitation, the bishop answered, “Well, if you have imitated David in sin, imitate him also in repentance.” The emperor humbled himself, demonstrating the genuineness of his repentance by walking through the streets of Milan while confessing his sin. Ambrose nevertheless banned Theodosius from attending church for the next eight months. When the probation period was complete, the emperor was required to kneel before the congregation and publicly ask for God’s forgiveness. Theodosius complied. This was the first time a bishop had used his spiritual authority with an emperor. As Ambrose asserted: “The Church belongs to God, therefore it cannot be assigned to Caesar. The emperor is within the Church, not above it.” The point was clear. No emperor, no king, no president is the ruler of the church—Christ is. Like all believers, even the highest civil authority, in matters pertaining to the church, is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 199–200.

Monergist Father: Ambrose of Milan

The Monergism of Ambrose: Ambrose affirmed that God intended His grace for a chosen people. He writes: “The Law was given to the Jews, but grace was reserved for the elect. The Law was given that, through fear of punishment, it might recall those who were wandering beyond the limits of nature, to their observance, but grace to incite the elect both by the desire of good things, and also by the promised rewards.” . . . Ambrose also spoke of the elect as those who were chosen by God for salvation. He says: “Everyone can hear, but not everyone can take in what they hear with their ears. Only GodÔÇÖs chosen can do this. This is why the Savior says: ‘Let those who have ears to hear, hear.ÔÇÖ” . . . Ambrose understood that if any person is to receive salvation, the Holy Spirit must sovereignly apply saving grace. In other words, God must impart faith in Christ to the heart of a sinner before he can believe the gospel. Ambrose states, “God has concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy on all, so that the Grace would not be of him that wills, or of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy, that you should not justify yourself, but attribute all to God who has called you.” . . . Further, it is the Holy Spirit who causes the new birth, not men themselves: “Therefore, it is clear that the Holy Spirit is also the Author of spiritual generation, because we are created according to God, to be the sons of God. . . . He has made us heirs of supernatural regeneration.” . . . Commenting on Ephesians 1:13–14, Ambrose revealed that he understood that the gift of the Spirit is a guarantee from God the Father that He will complete the process of salvation in His people. He writes: “Recall, then, that you received a spiritual seal, ‘the Spirit.ÔÇÖ . . . God the Father sealed you and Christ the Lord confirmed you, placing the Spirit in your hearts.” . . . Further, Ambrose saw in John 10:27–30 the truth that God the Father and God the Son hold all believers eternally secure in Their saving hands. He states: “His [a believerÔÇÖs] soul perishes not forever, and no one snatches him from the hand of the almighty Father or the Son. For GodÔÇÖs hand that made the heavens firm does not lose those whom it has held.” . . . Ambrose was consistent in his teaching on divine sovereignty by asserting the doctrine of divine reprobation. He held that God not only chose a people for Himself, He passed over the nonelect, leaving them in their sin and subject to His just punishment. He writes: “The Lord considered and knew those that were His, and drew His saints to Himself; and those whom He chose not, He did not draw to Himself.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 203–207.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (1)

The freedom of the will according to Augustine: Asserting the bondage of the human will, Augustine states that when Adam sinned, he and all his descendants became enslaved to sin: “For it was in the evil use of his free will that man destroyed himself and his will at the same time. For as a man who kills himself is still alive when he kills himself, but having killed himself is then no longer alive and cannot resuscitate himself after he has destroyed his own life—so also sin which arises from the action of the free will turns out to be victor over the will and the free will is destroyed.” The will of man became bound to sin, unable to please God. To this point, Sproul remarks: “After the fall, Augustine said the will, or the faculty, of choosing remained intact; that is, human beings are still free in the sense that they can choose what they want to choose. However, their choices are deeply influenced by the bondage of sin that holds them in a corrupt state.” In short, unregenerate human beings cannot choose not to sin. Augustine adds, “Free choice alone, if the way of truth is hidden, avails for nothing but sin.” Augustine aptly described the sinful state of fallen man when he wrote in his Confessions that he was entirely enslaved by sin—mind, emotion, and will. He says: “I was bound by the iron chain of my own will. The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together—which is why I called it ‘a chain’—a hard bondage held me in slavery.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 236.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (2)

Augustine on election and predestination: Augustine writes: “Let us, then, understand the calling by which they become the chosen, not those who are chosen because they believed, but those who are chosen in order that they may believe. ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ (Jn. 15:16). For, if they were chosen because they believed, they would, of course, have first chosen Him by believing in Him in order that they might merit to be chosen.” . . . Augustine clearly affirmed that God’s choice of individual sinners is not based on anything in them. He writes: “This is the calling which he means when he says, ‘Not of works, but of Him who calls, was it said to her, “The elder shall serve the younger.”’ Did the Apostle say, ‘Not of works but of him who believes’? No, for he took this entirely away from man, so that he might give it all to God. Hence he said, ‘But of Him who calls,’ not by any kind of call but by that call whereby one becomes a believer.” . . . Furthermore, Augustine maintained that God’s choice of individual sinners to salvation was made in eternity past. He writes, “He knew all the names of His own saints, whom He predestinated before the foundation of the world.” He adds: “They were chosen before the foundation of the world by that predestination by which God foreknew His future actions, but they were chosen out of the world by that calling, by which God fulfilled that which He predestined. ‘For those He predestined, He also called,’ that is, with that calling which is according to His purpose.” . . . The reasons for God’s choice in election, Augustine declared, are incomprehensible to men. He writes: “As to why God delivers this person rather than that one, ‘How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways.’ For it is better for us here to listen or to say, ‘O man, who are you that replies against God?’ than to dare to explain, as if we knew, what God has chosen to keep a secret—God who in any event could not will anything unjust.” . . . Augustine did not see divine election as a harsh truth, but as a display of the unconditional love of God. He strongly denied that it diminishes or weakens God’s divine love in any respect. Rather, Augustine knew that election is a glorious display of God’s love in light of man’s corrupt and depraved nature. It is no wonder that he thus remarks, “He [God] loved us also before the foundation of the world, and then foreordained what He was to do in the end of the world.” . . . Augustine believed that God intentionally chose to set His love on a broad cross-section of sinners. He writes: “What is written, that ‘He wills all men to be saved,’ while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: ‘He wills all men to be saved,’ is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of men is among them.” Here Augustine affirmed the biblical teaching that the elect include those from every tribe, tongue, and nation. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 238–240.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (3)

Augustine on the intent and extent of the atonement: Augustine observed that Scripture presents more than one theme for the atonement, though the idea of substitution is predominant in his writings. With all the richness of the full counsel of God, Augustine addressed the sacrifice of Christ as a sin-bearing, punishment-canceling death. Admittedly, Augustine did not give as much attention to the extent of the atonement as he did to its accomplishment, and scholars disagree whether he ultimately taught limited or universal atonement. However, he did occasionally speak of the cross as having particular intent. Christ purchased the flock of God with the price of His blood (John 10:11, 15), Augustine said. He writes that the portion of the universal church composed of saved men “has been redeemed from all sin by the blood of the sinless Mediator.” Conversely, Augustine affirms that those whom Christ said were not His sheep were not purchased by His atonement: “He saw them predestined to everlasting destruction, not purchased by the price of His blood unto eternal life.” Only the elect were purchased by Christ; none for whom He died will suffer destruction. Augustine also stated that Christ died for those who are foreknown, predestined, and elected before the foundation of the world. Noting that Christ’s work on the cross delivered believers from eternal death, he says, “Those who belong to the grace of Christ, foreknown and predestined and chosen before the foundation of the world, . . . simply die as Christ Himself had died for them, that is to say with the death of the flesh alone and not of the spirit.” Because Christ died for those chosen and given to Him by the Father, they do not die a spiritual death. In perhaps his clearest comment on this doctrine, Augustine said that Scripture does not teach a universal salvation, but that Christ’s atonement was limited. Augustine argued that when Jesus says in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” He is not saying that all of mankind will be drawn to Him; rather, He is saying that all kinds of men will be drawn. Augustine writes: “All is limited by the context to mean ‘all sorts of people, all the predestinate. . . . All men either means men of all sorts or is to be taken with an implied limitation in justification.” These and similar texts of Scripture, Augustine affirmed, speak of a limited atonement designed for the salvation of God’s elect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 240–241.

The Evolution of Armininism

Although biblical monergistic soteriology has gained wider acceptance in recent years, the church in general is still bound to a synergistic system in which salvation partly depends on the action of the sinner. We know this as Arminianism, but it really goes back much further than Arminius (1560–1609), to a monk named Pelagius (360–418) who denied original sin and taught that man is born in the same spiritual state as Adam—his will is free and he is able to follow Christ by choice. Augustine, agreeing with scripture, took exception and refuted him. But that was not the end of the story. Here is the short version: Throughout the fifth century and into the sixth, the heretical teachings of Pelagius continued to trouble the church. Despite the official condemnation of Pelagianism by church councils in Carthage (418) and Ephesus (431), and notwithstanding the theological work of Augustine, the dispute between adherents of monergistic and synergistic regeneration escalated. In the century between Augustine’s death (430) and the Synod of Orange (529), many doctrinal battles were waged over the nature of God’s grace in salvation. Amid these controversies, a mediating view emerged, one that attempted to steer away from what many perceived to be the extreme views of both Pelagius and Augustine. This view, as noted in the previous chapter, was Semi-Pelagianism. This halfway position refused Pelagius’s man-centered doctrine that denied original sin and universal guilt. But Semi-Pelagianism also rejected Augustine’s God-centered stance on sovereign election and predestination. In short, Semi-Pelagianism insisted that the work of salvation is not exclusive to God. Rather, its adherents argued, man contributes to his salvation. In the view of the Semi-Pelagians, both divine grace and human free will are necessary in salvation. . . . Semi-Pelagianism was unwilling to accept the conclusions that Augustine’s theology demanded. As a result, this compromising stance mixed human ability with divine grace, producing a synergistic view of salvation. The Semi-Pelagians’ minds were more preoccupied with avoiding the inevitable consequences of Augustinianism than with preaching the full counsel of God. That bias drove them to avoid the exposition of such biblical truths as predestination. They produced a hybrid stance that misled many minds. . . . Although the Semi-Pelagians affirmed with Augustine that the whole human race fell in Adam and that sinners cannot believe in Christ without God’s grace, they resisted Augustine’s assertion of the total bondage of the human will. Instead, they maintained that Adam’s sin merely resulted in a moral sickness in the human race, not a spiritual death. They further insisted that although a sinner could not save himself, he retained the moral ability to believe in Christ. Consequently, they taught that man, though weakened by sin, still possesses a free will with moral ability. Conversion, they argued, is a joint venture in which God and man must cooperate. At its core, Semi-Pelagianism contended that the human will can resist the effectual call of God. This being so, predestination is nothing more than passive foresight by God. The Semi-Pelagians believed that predestination involved God merely looking down the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, then, in turn, He chose them. Election, they claimed, was God’s response to man’s initial step of faith. This same system of thought would arise again in opposition to the doctrines of grace during the Protestant Reformation in the form of Arminianism. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 255–256.

Monastic Monergist: Isidore of Seville

The fall of Rome in the fifth century marked the beginning of the medieval era. Civilizations crumbled as scholarship faded and literacy all but disappeared. True religion was eclipsed by superstition. During these Dark Ages, as the early medieval era is known, the Scriptures and other literature was preserved largely by monks who dedicated their lives to devotion, study, and service in monasteries. Although monasticism is, for the most part, associated with Roman Catholicism, monks like Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636), Gottschalk of Orbais (805–869), and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) preserved the doctrines of grace. As Steve Lawson writes, “A few isolated figures found their places in history as teachers of sovereign grace, for even amid dark times, God always has men who remain committed to the doctrines of grace.” Isidore of Seville was the youngest of a noble Roman family in Cartegena, Spain. Having lost his parents at an early age, his education was supervised by his brother Leander, writes Lawson, is considered by theologians and church historians to be “the foremost churchman of his time in Spain.” Isidore grew to be a great scholar and promoter of scholarship. “His spiritual leadership,” ">Lawson writes, “brought about a new day of learning in the Scriptures, and his influence promoted a new breadth of education. Through this resurgence, he had a profound impact on the educational practice of medieval Western Europe and the broader culture. Thanks to these successful efforts to educate the people, Isidore is considered one of the ‘brightest ornaments’ of the church of Spain.” The foundation of Isidore’s theology was his belief in the sovereignty of God. He acknowledged that everything that exists and comes to pass is a part of the master purpose of God. He writes: “There are many forces, virtues, in the arrangement of this world, angels, archangels, princes, powers, and every rank of the heavenly army; and He [God] is the Lord, Dominus of them. All are under Him and subject to His sovereignty.” . . . Moreover, Isidore maintained that God is all-powerful and therefore can accomplish all that He desires to do. He writes: “Shaddai . . . is ‘Omnipotent,’ because He can do all things, omnia potent; doing what He wished, but not undergoing what He does not want. If anything could happen to Him, He would by no means be omnipotent. He does whatever He wants, and thus He is omnipotent.” . . . Because of his strong commitment to Scripture, Isidore was convinced of the Augustinian doctrine of sovereign election, the biblical teaching that God freely chooses some to be His own. He writes, “In a wonderful way, the Creator who is just to all, predestines some to life.” Here Isidore distinguished between “all” and “some.” He taught that only some are predestined to salvation. However, he also contended that God is just to all. This is because God does not owe grace to any sinful creature. Consequently, God is absolutely free to bestow unmerited favor on whomever He chooses. Further, Isidore said the elect have been predestined to mercy and others to wrath. In commenting on Romans 9, he writes, “Some are predestined to His most gracious mercy . . . and made vessels of mercy; others, however, are considered reprobate and predestined to punishment, condemned, and are made vessels of His wrath . . . just as through the prophet God Himself says: ‘Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated.’” . . . Isidore also was less than explicit on the doctrine of God’s preservation of believers, but one comment strongly suggests he believed that Christians cannot fall from grace. He spoke of the Holy Spirit as a gift from God that is given to those who love God, that is, Christians. He writes: “So far as [the Holy Spirit] is a gift from God, it is given to those who, through it, love God. In itself, it is God; with us, it is a gift. The Holy Spirit is an everlasting gift, distributing to each person, as it wishes, its gracious gifts.” The Bible is clear that the Spirit’s abiding presence guarantees that believers are secure in Christ. The fact that Isidore here spoke of the Spirit as an “everlasting gift” may indicate that he believed that those who trust Christ cannot fall away from Him. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 261–263.

Monastic Monergist: Gottschalk of Orbais

By the ninth century, Semi-Pelagianism had gained a firm foothold in the church. Among the few who still held to the biblical doctrines of grace was a German monk, Gottschalk of Orbais (805–869). As a boy, Gottschalk was sent to the convent at Fulda where, at his father’s insistence, he took monastic vows. Upon reaching adulthood, he attempted to escape his vows on the ground that vows taken by a child should not be binding. His request was brought before the Synod of Mainz in 829, and was accepted. Maurus, the abbot of Fulda, not wanting to lose a promising pupil, appealed to the emperor. His appeal was successful, and Gottschalk was bound for life. He was, however, allowed to move from Fulda to Orbais, France. It was there that he began studying the writings of Augustine and embraced the doctrines of human depravity and sovereign grace. His awakening to these doctrines became the fuel for heated controversy. At the center of debate were the doctrines of election, predestination, and human will. Over a period od seven years, four synods were convened. “First, the Synod of Chiersy (853) adopted a Semi-Pelagian position, affirming the teaching of Maurus and Hincmar [Archbishop of Riems]. But the Synod of Valence (855) and the Synod of Langress (859) took a strong Augustinian stand. Finally, in an attempt to find unity, the conflicting parties met at Toucy in France in 860. This synod resulted in a devastating defeat for predestinarianism in France.” Gottschalk was interrogated and ordered to recant. Standing firm, he was condemned as a heretic. He was publicly flogged, his books were burned, and he was imprisoned in the monastery at Hautvilliers, near Reims. There he died in 869, having, in spite of a captivity-induced nervous breakdown, stood firm to the end. Gottschalk may be best known for his predestinarian teaching, but as I read Lawson’s summary of his theology, I was most impressed by his understanding of the atonement vis-à-vis predestination. Some seven hundred years prior to Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Gottschalk provided the first clear statement of a definite atonement in church history. His statement marks a major development in the church’s understanding of the extent of the atonement. In one of his few surviving statements regarding this doctrine, he succinctly writes, “Our God and master Jesus Christ [was] crucified only for the elect.” This statement testifies to Gottschalk’s belief in particular redemption for those chosen for salvation. Although previous men had made similar declarations concerning the basic aspects of this doctrine, Gottschalk was the first to demonstrate the strong relationship between predestination and the atonement. For Gottschalk, the doctrine of the atonement was a direct corollary of predestination. Gottschalk left no doubt that he believed no one can come to new life in Christ unless God wills it to happen. This means that those who do believe on Christ were predestined to do so. He affirms: “All those whom God wills to be saved without doubt are saved. They cannot be saved unless God wills them to be saved; and there is no one whom God wills to be saved, who will not be saved, since our God did all things whatsoever He willed.” He adds, “All those impious persons and sinners for whom the Son of God came to redeem by shedding His own blood, those the omnipotent goodness of God predestined to life and irrevocably willed only those to be saved.” Christ’s atoning work was particular to the elect. Gottschalk repeatedly turned to God’s Word to support this teaching. Commenting on Romans 5:8–9, he logically reasons, “If Christ died even for the reprobate, then the reprobate too, having been justified in His blood, will be saved from wrath through Him. But the reprobate will not be saved from wrath through Him. Therefore, Christ did not die for the reprobate.” With these words, Gottschalk resolutely affirmed that Christ died exclusively for the elect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 286.

Scholastic Monergist: Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm (1033–1109), Bishop of Canterbury, on divine sovereignty: If those things which are held together in the circuit of the heavens should desire to be elsewhere than under the heavens or to be further removed from the heavens, there is no place where they can be but under the heavens; nor can they fly from the heavens without also approaching them. For whence and whither and in what way they go, they still are under the heavens; and if they are at a greater distance from one part of them, they are only so much nearer to the opposite part. And so, though man or evil angel refuses to submit to the divine will and appointment, yet he cannot escape it; for if he wishes to fly from a will that commands, he falls into the power of a will that punishes. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 305.

The Bernardine Tradition

You may know Bernard of Clairvaux as the author of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and perhaps a few other hymns. What you might not know is the extent of his influence as a theologian. Steve Lawson writes, Bernard’s theological works closely hold to the truths of sovereign grace in salvation. This is not surprising, as his theology followed a strict Augustinian line. Because of this theological affinity and Bernard’s far-reaching influence, many scholars have contended that the Augustinian tradition, after the middle of the twelfth century, might more accurately be called the Bernardine tradition. For this reason, Bernard’s teaching was deeply appreciated by Luther and Calvin. Luther called Bernard “the greatest doctor of the church.” Calvin quoted Bernard in his Institutes of the Christian Religion more frequently than any previous nonbiblical author except Augustine, citing his works to support the doctrines of the bondage of the will, divine grace, justification by faith, and predestination. So immersed was Calvin in Bernard’s writings that “the French genius of Geneva may well have written his greatest works feeling the presence of the French genius of Clairvaux peering over his shoulder.” The Protestant Reformers merely brought to fruition that which Bernard had set out to accomplish in his own day. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 325.

Monastic Monergist: Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux on election: As a champion of biblical truth, Bernard argued that because of man’s sin and the subsequent bondage of the will, salvation is entirely of God’s grace. Those who receive the kingdom of God, he said, are those whom God previously foreknew and foreordained for salvation. Bernard says: “He says: Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke xii 32). Who are these? These are they whom He foreknew and foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren.” . . . This determinative choice was the beginning of an immutable process by which spiritually dead sinners are brought to eternal life. Bernard writes: “The mystery, hidden from eternity concerning souls that have been predestinated and are to be glorified, begins in some degree to emerge from the depths of eternity, as each soul, called by fear and justified by love, becomes assured that it, too, is of the number of the blessed, knowing well that whom He justified, them also He glorified (Rom. viii 30).” . . . Further, Bernard understood that sovereign election is rooted in the eternal decree of God. He states, “The decree of the Lord stands firm; His purpose of peace stands firm upon those who fear Him.” Elsewhere he adds: “He has made known his great and secret counsel. The Lord knoweth them that are his, but that which was known to God was manifested to men; nor, indeed, does he deign to give a participation in this great mystery to any but those whom he foreknew and predestinated to be his own.” . . . Citing John 15:16, Bernard declares that man is saved by God’s sovereign will: “For you have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you [John 15:16]; not for any merits that I found in you did I choose you, but I went before you. Thus have I betrothed you to Myself in faith, not in the works of the law.” It is through divine election that Christ receives His chosen people to Himself, not by their works. Bernard affirmed this truth in his own experience of grace. He writes, “Therefore my beginning is solely of grace, and I have nothing which I can attribute to myself in predestination or in calling.” . . . Bernard took the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9:16 at face value, accepting that salvation flows from the mercy of God, not from anything man can do: “We believe that it pleases the reader that we nowhere depart from the teaching of the Apostle; and wherever the argument may have wandered, we have often made use of his very words. For what else do we mean than what he says: ‘It is therefore neither of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy’?” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 328–329.

Made Forever Common

John Wycliffe (ca. 1330–1384) is best known for his translation of the Bible from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate to English. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had, until then, intentionally kept the Scriptures from the common people, and was not at all happy with Wycliffe. Canon of Leicester and historian Henry Knighton did not conceal his anger. The attitude of the clergy towards the common folk, and their self-ordained position as dispensers of grace, is plainly displayed in the following complaint: Christ delivered his gospel to the clergy and doctors of the church, that they might administer to the laity and to weaker persons, according to the state of the times, and the wants of man. But this master John Wickliffe translated it out of Latin into English, and thus laid it more open to the laity, and to women who can read, than it formerly had been to the most learned of the clergy, even to those of them who had the best understanding. . . . And in this way the gospel pearl is cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and that which was before precious both to clergy and laity, is rendered as it were the common jest in both! The jewel of the church is turned into this sport of the people, and what was hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and divines, is made for ever common. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 364. We, of course, are very grateful.

Scholastic Monergist: John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe on divine foreknowledge and foreordination: If Christ prophesied of certain events, certainly to come, such events have been or will be. The antecedent, namely that Christ has thus prophesied, is necessary, and the consequence is also necessary. The consequence is not in the power of any man, or of any creature; nor are the sayings of Christ, or the elections of his mind to be affected by accident. And therefore as it is necessary that Christ has foretold certain things, so it is necessary they should come to pass. By arguments of this kind also, we shew other events to be necessary, the coming of which has been determined by God. Nor will it matter, after what manner God may chose to inform us, that he had actually so determined before the foundation of the world. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 365–366.

Two Reformation Branches

Steve Lawson compares the German and Swiss Reformations: While Reformation fires were spreading throughout Germany, similar sparks were igniting in Switzerland. Nestled in the Alps, this loosely confederated nation was to play the pivotal role in the historic events of the Protestant movement. If a reformation is measured by its end rather than by its beginning, the Swiss reform movement was even more far-reaching than that which was birthed in Wittenberg. What caught fire in Switzerland soon extended to France, England, Scotland, Hungary, and Holland. Even parts of Germany adopted the teaching of the Swiss Reformers more fully than that of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. . . . Finally, the Reformation flourished in Switzerland because the country was a refuge for many believers fleeing persecution in their homelands. The Huguenots of France and exiles from Scotland and England escaped to safety in Switzerland. There they sat under biblical preaching by Swiss teachers with strong Reformed convictions. When the political climates changed in their native lands, these persecuted believers returned home and took with them the teaching of the Swiss Reformers. By this gathering and dispersal, the Swiss Reformation spread farther and wider than that of even Germany. . . . In many regards, the two major branches of the Reformation in Europe—the Lutheran movement in Germany and the Reformed movement in Switzerland—were much alike. Both were founded on the absolute authority of Scripture alone—sola Scriptura—in opposition to the tradition and leadership of Rome. The difference lay in the application of biblical truth to the church. At this point, the Swiss Reformers broke further from the Roman Catholic Church than did the Lutherans. This is to say, the Swiss leaders were more strict than the Germans in their interpretation and application of Scripture. Luther, for example, felt that the church could practice whatever was not contrary to the Bible, allowing for a smaller departure from the practices of Rome. With this understanding, the German Reformers first tried to reform the church from within. But the Swiss Reformers, including Ulrich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, chose to pursue only what is set forth in Scripture. The result was a more decisive break with Rome, an effort to bring reform from outside the Catholic Church. Another contrast between the German and Swiss movements had to do with their chief emphases.* Luther made justification by faith the article on which the church stands or falls. But the Swiss Reformers—who certainly preached this cardinal doctrine—were zealous for a more all-encompassing truth, namely, the sovereign grace of God in man’s salvation. Philip Schaff writes: “The Swiss theology proceeds from God’s grace to man’s needs; the Lutheran, from man’s need to God’s grace.” Consequently, Zwingli and Calvin subordinated every doctrine to the eternal predestination of God in sovereign grace. Luther clearly believed in the sovereignty of God in salvation and treated it as a part of the gospel of grace. But the Swiss Reformers treated God’s sovereignty as the first principle of Christian thought and emphasized it more prominently. In this sense, the Swiss had a higher trajectory than the Germans in their preaching and writing. While the Lutherans stressed sola fide (“faith alone”), the Swiss Reformers stressed soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”) more than even sola gratia (“grace alone”). Grace, they stressed, is the highest means to the ultimate end of God’s glory. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 427–429. * See also “Lutheranism versus Calvinism.”.

An Independent Work

Martin Luther is universally considered the father of the Reformation, and with good reason: he was the first, and suffered the wrath of Rome to a greater extent. All Reformation roads, however, do not lead back to Luther. In Switzerland, a priest named Ulrich Zwingli (less than two months younger than Luther), before having heard of Luther, was pursuing even more extensive reforms in the church. This is where the Swiss Reformation began. In December 1518, Zwingli’s growing influence secured for him the office of “people’s priest” at the Grossmünster (Great Cathedral) at Zurich. This pastorate was a significant position. Zwingli immediately broke from the normal practice of preaching according to the church calendar. Instead, he announced he would preach sequentially through whole books of the Bible. On January 1, 1519, his thirty-fifth birthday, Zwingli began a series of expository sermons through Matthew that were drawn from his exegesis of the Greek text. He continued this consecutive style until he had preached through the entire New Testament. This ambitious project took six years and prepared the ground for the work of reform that was to follow. . . . As Zwingli preached through the Bible, he expounded the truths he encountered in the text, even if they differed from the historical tradition of the church. This kind of direct preaching was not without challenges. In 1522, some of his parishioners defied the church’s rule about eating meat during Lent. Zwingli supported their practice based on the biblical truths of Christian liberty. He saw such restrictions as man-made. That same year, he composed the first of his many Reformation writings, which circulated his ideas throughout Switzerland. In November 1522, Zwingli began to work with other religious leaders and the city council to bring about major reforms in the church and state. In January 1523, he wrote Sixty-seven Theses, in which he rejected many medieval beliefs, such as forced fasting, clerical celibacy, purgatory, the Mass, and priestly mediation. Further, he began to question the use of images in the church. In June 1524, the city of Zurich, following his lead, ruled that all religious images were to be removed from churches. Also in 1524, Zwingli took yet another step of reform—he married Anna Reinhard, a widow. All of this appears to have happened before Zwingli ever heard of Luther. This was truly an independent work of God. By 1525, the Reformation movement in Zurich had gained significant traction. On April 14, 1525, the Mass was officially abolished and Protestant worship services were begun in and around Zurich. Zwingli chose to implement only what was taught in Scripture. Anything that had no explicit Scriptural support was rejected. The words of Scripture were read and preached in the language of the people. The entire congregation, not merely the clergy, received both bread and wine in a simple Communion service. The minister wore robes like those found in lecture halls rather than at Catholic altars. The veneration of Mary and saints was forbidden, indulgences were banned, and prayers for the dead were stopped. The break with Rome was complete. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 431–433.

Monergist Reformer: Ulrich Zwingli

The monergism of Ulrich Zwingli: Zwingli defined election as “the free disposition of God’s will concerning those who are to be saved.” Thus, God is unconstrained in His choice of whom to save. Zwingli adds, “In the predestination of men to salvation, it is the will of God that is the prime force, but His wisdom, goodness, and righteousness and other attributes assist.” Elsewhere he says, “It is election which saves us, and it is wholly free.” Finally he notes, “Election is a free, sovereign and authoritative disposition of the will of God concerning those who are saved.” . . . Zwingli taught that the choices God made in eternity past are irreversible. He writes: “God’s election stands fast and remains sure. For those whom He chose before the foundation of the world, He chose in such a manner, that He chose them for Himself through His son.” He adds, “The election of God stands firm and immovable.” . . . The act of believing does not number a person among the elect, Zwingli said. Long before a person believes, Zwingli contended, he was chosen by God in eternity past. He writes, “Those who are elect from eternity are surely elect before they believe.” The act of believing only reveals that one is a member of God’s elect. In fact, many such elect have not yet believed. Zwingli says, “Many are elect, who do not yet have faith.” . . . Zwingli had little to say about the extent of Christ’s atonement. However, in one place in his writings he declared that sovereign election is inseparably connected with the death of Christ. He explains, “Election . . . belongs to His goodness to have chosen whom He will, and it belongs to His justice to adopt the elect as His children and to bind them to Himself through His Son, whom He gave for a sacrifice to render satisfaction to divine justice for us.” This is a clear affirmation that the death of Christ was intended to save those who had been chosen by God. Thus, while it was not a major aspect of his teaching, Zwingli apparently held to the doctrine of definite atonement. . . . Zwingli also held to the eternal security of the believer. He states, “Faith is so efficacious, prompt and lively a medicine that whoever drinks it is safe and secure.” Though the elect may become temporarily ensnared in sin, Zwingli taught that they remain secure in grace. He says: “Even if one of the elect should fall into such horrible sins as are contrived by the impious and the reprobate; for the elect these are a cause for rising up again, whereas for the reprobate they are a cause for despair.” . . . Zwingli believed that those who hear and reject the gospel in unbelief are predestined to condemnation. He asserts, “As election is granted to those who are to be saved, one should not speak of election with regard to those who will be lost; the will of God does indeed ordain concerning them, but only to repel, reject and repudiate them, in order that they may be an example of His justice.” Zwingli distinguished between vessels of wrath prepared for destruction and vessels of mercy prepared for life (Rom. 9:22–23). God sovereignly grants mercy to the elect, but justice to the nonelect. He assigned the direct responsibility for unbelief not to God but to the individual sinner. Thus, God remains absolutely just in the eternal destiny of the nonelect. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 440–443.

Monergist Reformer: William Tyndale

William Tyndale (ca. 1494–1536) is most famous for producing the first English translation of the Bible, a crime for which he was finally burned. It is no overstatement, I believe, to say that it was Tyndale’s work, before anything else but the sovereign decree of God, that made the English Reformation possible. Influenced first by Luther, and then by Zwingli and other Swiss reformers, he has been called “the mighty mainspring of the English Reformation” and “the first of the Puritans, or, at least their grandfather.” Tyndale stands firmly in what Lawson calls “a long line of godly men” who learned and held fast to the doctrines of grace through the darkest years of church history. In advising the best way to read the Scriptures, Tyndale writes, “First note with strong faith the power of God, in creating all of nought.” . . . Further, he asserted that God possesses the supreme right to do with His creation as He pleases, saying, “God has power over all His creatures of right, to do with them what He will, or to make of every one of them as He wills.” . . . “God is free, and no further bound than He bindeth Himself.” . . . Tyndale maintained that man is so depraved he cannot see his need for grace. He writes, “We are as it were asleep in so deep blindness, that we can neither see nor feel what misery, thraldom, and wretchedness we are in.” . . . Tyndale was firmly convinced that God, acting in eternal, unconditional love, chose a people out of fallen humanity to be His own possession. He says, “Predestination . . . and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only . . . for we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us.” Salvation is impossible apart from divine election. Furthermore, it was not based on any supposed foreseen choice of God by man. Tyndale writes, “God chose them [the elect] first, and they not God.” . . . “In Christ God chose us, and elected us before the beginning of the world, created us anew by the word of the gospel, and put His Spirit in us, . . . that we should do good works. . . . Tyndale believed that divine election is inseparably linked to the irresistible call of the Spirit. All whom the Father has chosen, he maintained, are divinely brought to saving faith in Christ. This is a work God must do because man is dead in his sin and cannot choose to believe the gospel. Before anyone can believe, Tyndale writes, “the Spirit must first come, and wake him out of his sleep with the thunder of the law, and fear Him, and show him his miserable estate and wretchedness; and make him abhor and hate himself, and to desire help; and then comfort him again with the pleasant rain of the gospel.” Elsewhere he restates this work of the Spirit in these terms: “Note now the order: first God gives me light to see the goodness and righteousness of the law, and my own sin and unrighteousness; out of which knowledge springs repentance. . . . Then the same Spirit works in my heart trust and confidence, to believe the mercy of God and His truth, that He will do as He has promised; which belief saves me.” . . . Tyndale held that it is an evil thing to teach that man has free will to believe in Christ. He states: “Is it not a froward and perverse blindness, to teach how a man can do nothing of his own self; and yet presumptuously take upon them the greatest and highest work of God, even to make faith in themselves of their own power, and of their own false imagination and thoughts.” . . . “Beware of the leaven that says, we have power in our free-will, before the preaching of the gospel, to deserve grace, to keep the law of congruity, or God to be unrighteous. . . . And when they say our deeds with grace deserve heaven, say thou with Paul, (Romans 6) that ‘everlasting life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’” . . . Tyndale affirmed that no elect believer will lose his salvation. All who truly repent and trust Christ will never fall from grace. He says, “God’s elect cannot so fall that they rise not again, because that the mercy of God ever waits upon them, to deliver them from evil, as the care of a kind father waits upon his son to warn him and to keep him from occasions, and to call him back again if he be gone too far.” . . . “Life eternal and all good things are promised unto faith and belief; so that he that believes on Christ shall be safe.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 464, 466–467, 469–471.

Zwingli’s Sixty-Seven

In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. You already knew that—everyone does. What everyone does not know is that a little more than five years later, in 1523, Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli presented Sixty-seven Articles in Zürich, Switzerland. With all due respect to Luther, I find these much more interesting and edifying than the Ninety-five Theses. I think most true Lutherans will, as well. XXIV is my favorite. The Sixty-Seven Articles of Zwingli. The articles and opinions below, I, Ulrich Zwingli, confess to have preached in the worthy city of Zurich as based upon the Scriptures which are called inspired by God, and I offer to protect and conquer with the said articles, and where I have not now correctly understood said Scriptures I shall allow myself to be taught better, but only from said Scriptures. I. All who say that the Gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the Church err and slander God. II. The sum and substance of the Gospel is that our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, has made known to us the will of his heavenly Father, and has with his innocence released us from death and reconciled God. III. Hence Christ is the only way to salvation for all who ever were, are and shall be. IV. Who seeks or points out another door errs, yes, he is a murderer of souls and a thief. V. Therefore all who consider other teachings equal to or higher than the Gospel err, and do not know what the Gospel is. VI. For Jesus Christ is the guide and leader, promised by God to all human beings, which promise was fulfilled. VII. That he is an eternal salvation and head of all believers, who are his body, but which is dead and can do nothing without him. VIII. From this follows first that all who dwell in the head are members and children of God, and that it is the church or communion of the saints, the bride of Christ, Ecclesia catholica. IX. Furthermore, that as the members of the body can do nothing without the control of the head, so no one in the body of Christ can do the least without his head, Christ. X. As that man is mad whose limbs (try to) do something without his head, tearing, wounding, injuring himself; thus when the members of Christ undertake something without their head, Christ, they are mad, and injure and burden themselves with unwise ordinances. XI. Hence we see in the clerical (so-called) ordinances, concerning their splendor, riches, classes, titles, laws, a cause of all foolishness, for they do not also agree with the head. XII. Thus they still rage, not on account of the head (for that one is eager to bring forth in these times from the grace of God,) but because one will not let them rage, but tries to compel them to listen to the head. XIII. Where this (the head) is hearkened to one learns clearly and plainly the will of God, and man is attracted by his spirit to him and changed into him. XIV. Therefore all Christian people shall use their best diligence that the Gospel of Christ be preached alike everywhere. XV. For in the faith rests our salvation, and in unbelief our damnation; for all truth is clear in him. XVI. In the Gospel one learns that human doctrines and decrees do not aid in salvation. About the Pope. XVII. That Christ is the only eternal high priest, from which it follows that those who have called themselves high priests have opposed the honor and power of Christ, yes, cast it out. About the Mass. XVIII. That Christ, having sacrificed himself once, is to eternity a certain and valid sacrifice for the sins of all faithful, from which it follows that the mass is not a sacrifice, but is a remembrance of the sacrifice and assurance of the salvation which Christ has given us. XIX. That Christ is the only mediator between God and us. About the Intercession of the Saints. XX. That God desires to give us all things in his name, whence it follows that outside of this life we need no mediator except himself. XXI. That when we pray for each other on earth, we do so in such manner that we believe that all things are given to us through Christ alone. About Good Works. XXII. That Christ is our justice, from which follows that our works in so far as they are good, so far they are of Christ, but in so far as they are ours, they are neither right nor good. Concerning Clerical Property. XXIII. That Christ scorns the property and pomp of this world, whence from it follows that those who attract wealth to themselves in his name slander him terribly when they make him a pretext for their avarice and willfulness. Concerning the Forbidding of Food. XXIV. That no Christian is bound to do those things which God has not decreed, therefore one may eat at all times all food, from which one learns that the decree about cheese and butter is a Roman swindle. About Holiday and Pilgrimage. XXV. That time and place is under the jurisdiction of Christian people, and man with them, from which is learned that those who fix time and place deprive the Christians of their liberty. About Hoods, Dress, Insignia. XXVI. That God is displeased with nothing so much as with hypocrisy; from which is learned that all is gross hypocrisy and profligacy which is mere show before men. Under this condemnation fall hoods, insignia, plates, etc. About Order and Sects. XXVII. That all Christian men are brethren of Christ and brethren of one another, and shall create no father (for themselves) on earth. Under this condemnation fall orders, sects, brotherhoods, etc. About the Marriage of Ecclesiasts. XXVIII. That all which God has allowed or not forbidden is righteous, hence marriage is permitted to all human beings. XXIX. That all who are known as clergy sin when they do not protect themselves by marriage after they have become conscious that God has not enabled them to remain chaste. About the Vow of Chastity. XXX. That those who promise chastity [outside of matrimony] take foolishly or childishly too much upon themselves, from which is learned that those who make such vows do wrong to the pious being. About the Ban. XXXI. That no special person can impose the ban [excommunication] upon any one, except the Church, that is the [full] congregation of those among whom the one to be banned dwells, together with their watchman, i.e., the pastor. XXXII. That one may ban only him who gives public offence. About Illegal Property. XXXIII. That property unrighteously acquired shall not be given to temples, monasteries, cathedrals, clergy or nuns, but to the needy, if it cannot be returned to the legal owner. About Magistry. XXXIV. The spiritual (so-called) power has no justification for its pomp in the teaching of Christ. XXXV. But the laity has power and confirmation from the deed and doctrine of Christ. XXXVI. All that the spiritual so-called state claims to have of power and protection belongs to the laity, if they wish to be Christians. XXXVII. To them, furthermore, all Christians owe obedience without exception. XXXVIII. In so far as they do not command that which is contrary to God. XXXIX. Therefore all their laws shall be in harmony with the divine will, so that they protect the oppressed, even if he does not complain. XL. They alone may put to death justly, also, only those who give public offence (if God is not offended let another thing be commanded). XLI. If they give good advice and help to those for whom they must account to God, then these owe to them bodily assistance. XLII. But if they are unfaithful and transgress the laws of Christ they may be deposed in the name of God. XLIII. In short, the realm of him is best and most stable who rules in the name of God alone, and his is worst and most unstable who rules in accordance with his own will. About Prayer. XLIV. Real petitioners call to God in spirit and truly, without great ado before men. XLV. Hypocrites do their work so that they may be seen by men, also receive their reward in this life. XLVI. Hence it must always follow that church-song and outcry without devoutness, and only for reward, is seeking either fame before the men or gain. About Offence. XLVII. Bodily death a man should suffer before he offend or scandalize a Christian. XLVIII. Whoever through stupidness or ignorance is offended without cause, he should not be left sick or weak, but he should be made strong, that he may not consider as a sin that which is not a sin. XLIX. Greater offence I know not than that one does not allow priests to have wives, but permits them to hire prostitutes. Out upon the shame! About Remittance of Sin. L. God alone remits sin through Jesus Christ, his Son, and alone our Lord. LI. Who assigns this to created beings detracts from the honor of God and gives it to him who is not God; this is real idolatry. LII. Hence the confession which is made to the priest or neighbor shall not be declared to be a remittance of sin, but only a seeking for advice. LIII. Works of penance coming from the counsel of human beings (except excommunication) do not cancel sin; they are imposed as a menace to others. LIV. Christ has borne all our pains and labor. Therefore whoever assigns to works of penance what belongs to Christ errs and slanders God. LV. Whoever pretends to remit to a penitent being any sin would not be a vicar of God or St. Peter, but of the devil. LVI. Whoever remits any sin only for the sake of money is the companion of Simon and Balaam, and the real messenger of the devil personified. About Purgatory. LVII. The true divine Scriptures know nothing about purgatory after this life. LVIII. The sentence of the dead is known to God only. LIX. And the less God has let us know concerning it, the less we should undertake to know about it. LX. That mankind earnestly calls to God to show mercy to the dead I do not condemn, but to determine a period of time therefore (seven years for a mortal sin), and to lie for the sake of gain, is not human, but devilish. About the Priesthood. LXI. About the form of consecration which the priests have received recent times the Scriptures know nothing. LXII. Furthermore, they [the Scriptures] recognize no priests except those who proclaim the word of God. LXIII. They command honor should be shown, i.e. e., to furnish them with food for the body. About the Cessation of Misusages. LXIV. All those who recognize their errors shall not be allowed to suffer, but to die in peace, and thereafter arrange in a Christian manner their bequests to the Church. LXV. Those who do not wish to confess, God will probably take care of. Hence no force shall be used against their body, unless it be that they behave so criminally that one cannot do without that. LXVI. All the clerical superiors shall at once settle down, and with unanimity set up the cross of Christ, not the money-chests, or they will perish, for I tell you the ax is raised against the tree. LXVII. If any one wishes conversation with me concerning interest, tithes, unbaptized children or confirmation, I am willing to answer. Let no one undertake here to argue with sophistry or human foolishness, but come to the Scriptures to accept them as the judge (for the Scriptures breathe the Spirit of God), so that the truth either may be found, or if found, as I hope, retained. Amen. Thus may God rule.

Monergist Reformer: Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575), successor to Zwingli: “We, which condemn both Pelagius and Pelagians, do affirm both those things which they deny; to wit, that infants are born in original sin, and therefore that the sanctification of Christ is necessary unto them, without which they are not saved.” “For they are wrong, that think those that are to be saved to life are predestinate of God for the merit’s sake, or good works, which God did foresee in them.” “The second birth is wrought by the means of the Holy Ghost, which, being from heaven poured into our hearts, does bring us to the knowledge of ourselves, so that we may easily perceive, assuredly know, and sensibly feel, that in our flesh there is not life, no integrity, or righteousness at all; and so consequently, that no man is saved by his own strengths or merits.” “Faith is the mere gift of God because God alone of His power gives it to His elect according to measure; and that when, to whom, and how much He will; and that by His Holy Spirit.” “The saints are chosen in Christ by God unto a sure end.”—cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 491–494.

The Bull and the Owl

Martin Luther and John Calvin were two very different men, united in purpose, whom God used mightily. Though the two Reformers never met, they greatly admired one another’s works. Luther praised Calvin’s early writings, stating, “[His] books I have perused with singular pleasure.” Calvin, in turn, addressed Luther, twenty-five years his elder, as his “most respected father” and “a remarkable apostle of Christ, through whose work and ministry, most of all, the purity of the gospel has been restored in our time.” In fact, Luther may have helped bring Calvin to faith in Christ through his treatises The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church. Despite this mutual esteem, the two Reformers were as different as night and day. Luther was fiery, spontaneous, and explosive, while Calvin was more careful, pensive, and systematic. Luther has been likened to a bull, stubborn and strong-headed, whereas Calvin has been compared to an owl, wise and calculating. Luther was passionate, dynamic, and prone to exaggeration. Calvin was a logical systematizer, quiet, and thoughtful, with a far more stable character. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 501. Though vastly different in personality, when it came to theology, the two men were fundamentally the same, standing firmly on sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. And, as Lawson says, “Both were strict predestinarians of the Augustinian stripe. In short, these two magisterial Reformers were champions of the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace.  Calvin, however, went further than Luther in advancing these doctrines. He took the central tenets of the Reformation and fashioned them into a comprehensive body of divinity. “From the disparate, disorganized heritage of Luther and Zwingli,” Jonathan Hill writes, “[Calvin] forged a systematic version of the Christian faith and life that still profoundly influences modern Western society.” Whereas Luther emphasized justification by faith, Calvin took aim at a higher target, underscoring the glory of God in the display of His sovereignty in the world, both in salvation and in providence. Both Reformers were correct in their teachings in these areas, but Calvin gave a more comprehensive explanation of the many facets of the doctrines of grace. . . . Martyn Lloyd-Jones contrasts the two Reformers in this way: “Luther was a volcano, spewing out fiery ideas in all directions without much pattern or system. But ideas cannot live and last without a body, and the great need of the Protestant movement in the last days of Luther was for a theologian with the ability to arrange and to express the new faith within a system. That person was Calvin. . . . It was he who saved Protestantism by giving it a body of theology with his Institutes; and it is from this that the faith and the theology of most of the Protestant churches have sprung.” R. C. Sproul explains the roles these titans played as follows: Luther, being a brilliant student of language, brought to the theological table an uncanny ability to provide vignettes of insight into particular questions of truth. But Luther was not a systematician by nature, and so he could not be the theologian of theologians. He never developed a full-orbed systematic theology for the instruction of the church. That task in the sixteenth century was left to the genius of the Genevan theologian John Calvin. Calvin brought to the study of theology a passion for biblical truth and a coherent understanding of the Word of God. Of all of the thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvin was most noted for his ability to provide a systematic theological understanding of Christian truth.“Calvin’s great achievement,” Timothy George likewise argues, “was to take the classic insights of the Reformation (sola gratia, sole fide, sola Scriptura) and give them a clear, systematic exposition, which neither Luther nor Zwingli ever did. . . . From Geneva they took on a life of their own and developed into a new international theology, extending from Poland and Hungary in the East to the Netherlands, Scotland, England (Puritanism), and eventually to New England in the West.” William Cunningham adds, “Calvin was by far the greatest of the Reformers with respect to the talents he possessed, the influence he exerted, and the services he rendered in the establishment and diffusion of important truth.” Thus, it was Calvin, a second-generation Reformer, who brought order to the Reformed ideas that were emerging and fashioned them into a seamless tapestry of thought, a systematic whole that was exegetical, logical, and sound. It is no exaggeration to say he was the architect of Reformed theology. —Ibid., 502–503.

No Other Hope

In early 1564, Calvin became seriously ill. He preached for the last time from the pulpit of Saint Peter’s Cathedral on Sunday, February 6. By April, it was obvious that he did not have long to live. Calvin, age fifty-four, faced death as he had faced the pulpit—with great resolution. The strength of his faith, built on the sovereignty of God, appears in his last will and testament. On April 25, 1564, Calvin dictated the following words: In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows: In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, His poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of His gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing His mercy He has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by Him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, He has so far extended His mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of His gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which He has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in His gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which He has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of His death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying Him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before His face, bearing as it were His image. Three days later, on April 28, 1654, Calvin called his fellow ministers to his bedchamber and issued his farewell address to them. He cautioned them that the battles of the Reformation were not over, but only beginning: “You will have troubles when God shall have called me away; for though I am nothing, yet know I well that I have prevented three thousand tumults that would have broken out in Geneva. But take courage and fortify yourselves, for God will make use of this church and will maintain it, and assures you that He will protect it.” With that, he passed the torch from his feeble hands to theirs. Calvin died on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor. Calvin’s last words—“How long, O Lord?”—were the very words of Scripture (Pss. 79:5; 89:46). He died quoting the Bible he had so long preached. Appropriately, this humble servant was buried in a common cemetery in an unmarked grave—at his own request. Looking back on Calvin’s life, Beza concluded, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years . . . I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 510–511.

Monergist Reformer: John Calvin

To call John Calvin a monergist seems stupidly obvious, given that the fundamental doctrines bearing that description have—incorrectly—been given his name. Nevertheless, I will do so, if only for the sake of continuity. Besides, since “Calvinism” is a misnomer, and Calvin had no part in formulating the Canons of Dort (being excused from that assembly on the grounds of being deceased) or the TULIP acronym (no one really knows who invented that handy but misleading device), nor was he available to advise our Lord and his apostles in the original presentation of those doctrines, it is worth our time investigating whether Calvin was truly a Calvinist. To that end, I present for your consideration, courtesy of Steve Lawson, exhibits T, U, L, I, and P. Man is a slave of sin. . . . Man’s spirit is so alienated from the justice of God that man conceives, covets, and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous, and soiled. Because the heart, totally imbued with the poison of sin, can emit nothing but the fruits of sin. Yet one must not infer therefrom that man sins as constrained by violent necessity. For, man sins with the consent of a very prompt and inclined will. But because man, by the corruption of his affections, very strongly keeps hating the whole righteousness of God and, on the other hand, is fervent in all kinds of evil, it is said that he has not the free power of choosing between good and evil—which is called free will. . . . If you say that He [God] foresaw they would be holy, and therefore elected them, you invert the order of Paul. You may, therefore, safely infer, if He elected us that we might be holy, He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would be holy. . . . For when it is said that believers were elected that they might be holy, it is at the same time intimated that the holiness which was to be in them has its origin in election. And how can it be consistently said, that things derived from election are the cause of election? . . . I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins. . . . [Writing in 1 John 2:2, “and not for ours only,” John] added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. . . . The external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to Himself those whom He has called. . . . There is this difference in the calling of God, that He invites all indiscriminately by His word, whereas He inwardly calls the elect alone (John 6:37). . . . The gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God.” . . . We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. . . . [The elect differ] in no respect from others, except in being protected by the special mercy of God from rushing down the precipice of eternal death. . . . That they go not to the most desperate extremes of impiety, is not owing to any innate goodness of theirs, but because the eye of God watches over them, and His hand is extended for their preservation. —John Calvin, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 517–519, 521, 525–527.

Preaching and the Reformation

Steve Lawson on the Reformation as a revival of preaching: John Broadus, a noted nineteenth-century professor, identifies four distinguishing marks of the Reformation. Each of these is critical to our understanding of Luther and the Protestant movement. First, the Reformation was a revival of preaching. Broadus notes that during the Middle Ages, preachers were exceptions to the rule. The Roman Catholic Church had subjugated the pulpit to a subordinate, peripheral role. In its place were the Mass, rituals, and ceremonies. But the Reformation, Broadus writes, was marked by “a great outburst of preaching, such as had not been seen since the early Christian centuries.” All of the Reformers were preachers, not merely authors and lecturers. . . . As [E. C. Dargan] explains: “Among the reformers, preaching resumes its proper place in worship. . . . The exposition of Scripture becomes the main thing. . . . Preaching becomes more prominent in worship than it had been perhaps since the fourth century.” The Reformation historian Harold Grimm affirms this view, writing: “The Protestant Reformation would not have been possible without the sermon. . .  The role of the sermon in making the Reformation a mass movement can scarcely be overestimated.” Roland Bainton, a Luther scholar, also agrees: “The Reformation gave centrality to the sermon. The pulpit was higher than the altar.” . . . Second, it was a revival of biblical preaching. Broadus notes that the Protestant movement did not merely bring back preaching per se, but a certain kind of preaching—biblical preaching, that is, expository preaching. He writes: “Instead of long and often fabulous stories about saints and martyrs, and accounts of miracles, instead of passages from Aristotle and Seneca, and fine-spun subtleties of the Schoolman, these men preached the Bible. The question was not what the Pope said; and even the Fathers, however highly esteemed, were not decisive authority—it was the Bible.” . . . In the sixteenth century, Broadus explains, “The preacher’s one great task was to set forth the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Word of God.” Everything else the preacher did was secondary. With this new emphasis came a deeper study of the Bible: “Preachers, studying the original Greek and Hebrew,” he writes, “were carefully explaining to the people the connected teachings of passage after passage and book after book . . . , [giving them] a much more strict and reasonable exegesis than had ever been common since the days of Chrysostom.” . . . Third, it was a revival of controversial preaching. Broadus explains that as the Reformers preached the Bible, controversy inevitably followed. They maintained not only sola Scriptura—“Scripture alone”—but tota Scriptura—“all Scripture.” The Reformers believed that every truth was to be preached from their pulpits. Every hard saying was to be expounded. Every sin was to be exposed. After centuries of apostasy, the full counsel of God was suddenly preached, which brought unavoidable conflict in a slumbering church. . . . Fourth, it was a revival of preaching on the doctrines of grace. Broadus finally notes that biblical preaching in the Reformation elevated the truths of the sovereignty of God in salvation: “The doctrine of divine sovereignty in human salvation was freely proclaimed by all the Reformers.” In-depth biblical preaching always sets forth the doctrines of grace because they are so repeatedly taught throughout Scripture. A return to biblical preaching necessitates a return to preaching divine sovereignty in man’s salvation. The two are inseparably linked. Broadus adds, “Protestantism was born of the doctrines of grace, and in the proclamation of these the Reformation preaching found its truest and highest power.” . . . Standing at the headwaters of the Reformation was Martin Luther. This bold German Reformer became one of the greatest preachers in this remarkable time. His pulpit proved to be the first strong pulse in the heartbeat of the Protestant movement, pumping life into the body of Christ. Luther unleashed God’s Word on the European continent with the force of an electrical storm. The thunder and lightning of his biblical exposition were powerful in shaping this movement. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), xvii–xxi.

Whitefield’s Unintended Consequences

George Whitefield was only twenty-one when he was ordained to the Anglican clergy in 1736. Lee Gatiss writes, “He was for a time a chaplain at the Tower of London and preached in various churches in the City” and elsewhere, but being “often scathing about the lifeless, unspiritual nature of the clergy and their leadership . . . many churches were closed to him because of this.” Consequently, he gravitated toward open-air preaching, reaching enormous crowds. “The world became his parish.” Although it would be difficult to overstate the value of Whitefield’s ministry, it did not come without some negative, unintended consequences. Whitefield may be fairly criticised, however, for undermining the Church of England in one respect. As Packer insightfully puts it, he ‘did in fact unwittingly encourage an individualistic piety of what we would call a parachurch type, a piety that gave its prime loyalty to transdenominational endeavours, that became impatient and restless in face of the relatively fixed forms of institutional church life, and that conceived of evangelism as typically an extra-ecclesiastical activity.’ He may not have wished to have this effect, but involuntarily he did. It has taken evangelicals many years to rediscover the local church itself as a vehicle for evangelism and we must continue to value this God-given means for reaching our nation for Christ and not rely entirely on extra-parochial, parachurch missionary activity. A passion to see new spiritual life through evangelism must, rather, be part of the DNA of each local church, whatever is happening elsewhere. —Lee Gatiss, The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 28.

George Whitefield, Theologian

One modern biographer claims that Whitefield ‘showed no interest in theology’, but was more concerned with feelings, imagination, and experience. This is palpable nonsense . . . To quote again from Augustus Toplady, Whitefield was not merely an evangelist but ‘a most excellent systematic divine.’ His divinity began with an error-free Bible. ‘If we once get above our Bibles and cease making the written word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practice,’ he declared, ‘we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience,’ going on to speak of ‘the unerring rule of God’s most holy word’ (Sermon 2); elsewhere he only ever uses the word ‘unerring’ of Jesus (Sermon 58) or the Holy Spirit (Sermon 39). It was the quintessence of ‘enthusiasm’ said Whitefield, ‘to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written word; yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written word of God,’ every inward impression or suggestion being tested against that inerrant standard. . . . Taught by his trustworthy Bible, Whitefield was a Protestant. He rejected the infallibility and inerrancy of the Pope or the Church and settled instead on the scriptures themselves as the final arbiter of his faith. As a result, he could be somewhat vehement in his dislike of Roman Catholicism . . . Continuing to be taught by his trustworthy Bible, Whitefield became a Calvinist. Yet as he said in a private letter to John Wesley in August 1740, ‘Alas, I never read any thing that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and his apostles; I was taught them of God.’ Again, he wrote to another friend in 1742, ‘I embrace the calvinistical scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ, I think, has taught it to me.’ . . . He considered Arminianism, a progressive and liberal view of theology which downplayed the sovereignty of God in favour of a more liberated human free will, to be ‘antichristian’ both in principles and practice, and to share too much in common with Roman Catholicism, indeed, to be ‘the back door to popery’ (Sermon 14). . . . Whitefield, however, was a firm believer in the Reformed doctrine of salvation and Reformed biblical theology, or as it is often known, covenant theology. . . . Whitefield was in harmony with the Anglican and Reformed tradition in general, holding as he did to predestination and reprobation (Sermons 41, 44), the inseparability of justification and sanctification (Sermon 14), the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (Sermons 14, 44) and the perseverance of the saints (Sermons 60 and 61). No wonder when he returned from Georgia in April 1741 and met Wesley, who disliked these doctrines and crusaded against them, he told him plainly face-to-face that they ‘preached two different gospels.’ . . . Another Reformed doctrine which Wesley despised but which Whitefield gloried in was particular redemption, or as it is sometimes known, definite or ‘limited atonement.’ This is the teaching that the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption, and the Spirit’s application of salvation are all coextensive; that God planned to save a certain people, his sheep, his church, the bride of Christ out of the corrupt mass of mankind, and sent his Son explicitly to achieve this goal, and his Spirit then to draw the elect to Christ. The opposite, Arminian, theory was that Christ came to die for everyone indiscriminately, not to actually save them but to make them saveable, on condition that they repent and believe, which they have the power to do if they want to. Both views limit the atonement in some way, of course: the Calvinist limits the number of people ultimately atoned for (some people are completely saved) while the Arminian view limits the effectiveness of the cross (all people are potentially saved if they fulfil the conditions on their side). It is often asserted that belief in definite atonement saps the energy out of evangelism somehow. Yet reading and studying the example of Whitefield shows just how facile and superficial it is to claim that one cannot be a Calvinist – one cannot believe in a Father who unconditionally chooses, a Son who intentionally redeems and a Spirit who irresistibly calls only the elect – and still be a passionate evangelist. —Lee Gatiss, The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 29–32, 34.

Remember that Friends episode, in which Chewbacca, Hamlet, and Frodo . . .

The following passage stands out against so much of today’s preaching. Were he alive today, it is unlikely that George Whitefield would be making clever Star Wars references. God’s word was enough. Even a casual reader will quickly discover just how soaked in the Bible this preacher was. It was once said that John Bunyan’s blood was bibline, and it is clear that Whitefield shared this happy but uncommon condition, dropping allusions and quotations from all over the Bible into his preaching with great frequency. Some of these references are so obscure that it is unlikely many in the original audience understood them, even making allowances for higher standards of biblical literacy in those days. Why did Whitefield do this? One reason may be that scriptural allusions usually suggested themselves to him as most apposite first, before any illustrations taken out of popular culture or literature (though he is perfectly able to make such references where he feels it is appropriate). It may also be a function of the high regard in which he held the word of God. He believed in the power of the word to do God’s work, so that even a less well-known passage of the Bible may be used to awaken a dead sinner or prod a sleepy Christian or pique the curiosity of an onlooker. —Lee Gatiss, The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 40–41. Who follows this example today? John MacArthur comes to mind. I recall him once indicating that this was intentional, that he wanted his sermons to be relevant and understandable at any time and in any zip code—and so, I believe, they will be. Let the preacher understand.

Reformation Day, 2018

Here [in Romans 3:1–20] the question arises: How can a person be justified without the works of the Law, or how can it be that justification does not flow from our works? For St. James writes: “We see how that by works a man is justified, and and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). So also St. Paul: “Faith . . . worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); and: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). To this we reply: as the Apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace, so also he distinguishes between the works resulting from these. He calls those deeds “works of the Law” that are done without faith and divine grace, merely because of the law, moved by either fear of punishment or the alluring hope of reward. By works of faith he calls those deeds which are done in the spirit of (Christian) liberty and flow from love to God. These can be done only by such as are justified by faith. Justification, however, is not in any way promoted by the works of the Law, but they rather hinder it, because they keep a person from regarding himself as unrighteous and so in need of justification. When James and Paul say that a man is justified by works, they argue against the false opinion of those who think that (for justification) a faith suffices that is without works. Paul does not say that true faith exists without its proper works, for without these there is not true faith. But what he says is that it is faith alone that justifies, regardless of works. Justification therefore does not presuppose the works of the law, but rather a living faith which performs its proper works, as we read Galatians 5:67. By the law is the knowledge of sin (3:20). Such knowledge of sin is obtained in two ways. First, by meditation (of the Law), as we read in Romans 7:7: “I had not know lust except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” Secondly, by experience, namely, by trying to fulfill the Law, or we may say, through the Law as was assure to fulfill its obligations. Then the Law will become to us as occasion to sin, for then the perverted will of man, inclined to evil, but urged by the Law to do good, becomes all the more unwillingly and disinclined to do what is good. It hates to be drawn away from what it loves; and what it loves is sin, as we learn from Geneses 8:21. But just so, man, forced by the Law and obeying it unwillingly, sees how deeply sin and evil are rooted in his soul. He would never notice this, if he did not have the Law and would not try to follow it. The Apostle here only mentions this though, since he intends to treat it more fully in Chapters 5 and 7. Here he merely meets the objection that the Law would be useless if its works could not justify. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 59–60. Accordingly, [David], after he states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows forth the works of his hands, the ordered succession of days and nights proclaims his majesty” [Ps. 19:1–2 p.], then proceeds to mention his Word: “The law of the Lord is spotless, converting souls; the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones; the righteous acts of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening eyes” [Ps. 28:8–9, Vg.; 19:7–8, EV]. For although he also includes other uses of the law, he means in general that, since God in vain calls all peoples to himself by the contemplation of heaven and earth, this is the very school of God’s children. Psalm 29 looks to this same end, where the prophet—speaking forth concerning God’s awesome voice, which strikes the earth in thunder [v. 3], winds, rains, whirlwinds and tempests, causes mountains to tremble [v. 6], shatters the cedars [v. 5]—finally adds at the end that his praises are sung in the sanctuary because the unbelievers are deaf to all the voices of God that resound in the air [vs. 9–11]. Similarly, he thus ends another psalm where he has described the awesome waves of the sea: “Thy testimonies have been verified, the beauty and holiness of thy temple shall endure forevermore” [Psalm 93:5 p.]. Hence, also, arises that which Christ said to the Samaritan woman, that her people and all other peoples worshiped they knew not what; that the Jews alone offered worship to the true God [John 4:22]. For, since the human mind because of its feebleness can in no way attain to God unless it be aided and assisted by his Sacred Word, all mortals at that time—except for the Jews—because they were seeking God without the Word, had of necessity to stagger about in vanity and error. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.6.4. We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. —Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. 1: The Early Years, 1834–1859, comp. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (Banner of Truth, 1962), v.


Who Is Jesus?

The Gospel
What It Means to Be a Christian

Norma Normata
What I Believe

Westminster Bookstore

  Sick of lame Christian radio?
  Try RefNet