Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category
OK, folks, we are still in chapter eight, this time in paragraph six, which reads in the original as follows:
6. Although the price of Redemption was not actually paid by Christ, till after his Incarnation, (*) yet the vertue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the Elect in all ages successively, from the beginning of the World, in and by those Promises, Types, and Sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the Seed of the Woman, which should bruise the Serpents head; (h) and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World: (i) Being the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
* 1 Cor. 4.10. Heb. 4.2. 1 Pet. 1.10,11.
h Rev. 13.8.
i. Heb. 13.8.
Here I offer two questions for the price of one:
First, in modern glosses, the word “successively” is almost invariably dropped altogether. I am not sure why this is (enlightenment appreciated). However, my question is, what might be the precise signification of the word? Let me offer some possibilities (feel free to suggest others): could or does “successively” mean “in their turn” and/or “by increasing degrees” and/or “continuously”?
Second, and this is one where no-one has yet offered me a satisfactory answer, one of the proofs for the price of redemption paid by Christ following his incarnation is 1 Corinthians 4.10, which reads: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonoured!” I understand that in considering the reasons why certain proofs were chosen you have to take into account the whole interpretive tradition but I am intrigued by what the framers of this document intended, and am still trying to work out precisely what sense and nuance they had in mind. Any answers, ideas or suggestions are welcome.
So, fire away, with thanks.
Thank you, one and all, for your responses here and on Facebook to the question about Chapter 8, paragraph 2, of the Confession of Faith, and the reference to the Son as Creator.
I am glad to say that I am in agreement with those who have responded, and am glad to have my sense confirmed. In summary, here would be my thinking on the matter, working roughly from the lesser to the greater:
- The interpretation that the phrase refers to the Son himself is consistent with the normal grammar and punctuation of the confession here and throughout.
- The chapter and the paragraph as a whole deal with the person of Christ as Mediator, and one should anticipate that he would be the subject of such a statement. As David pointed out, the structure of the paragraph as a whole also points to the Son at this point.
- The historical antecedents (specifically the 1644/46 and the 1596 True Confession) carry us in this direction.
- It is consistent with the teaching of Scripture as a whole, and with the specific teaching of such portions as John 1.1-3, Colossians 1.16-17 and Hebrews 1.3, 10.
Because this online brains trust thing can be fun, another question will follow shortly.
In chapter 8 of the 1677/89 Baptist Confession of Faith, concerning Christ the Mediator, the second paragraph begins as follows (with original puncutation):
The Son of God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Fathers glory, of one substance and equal with him: who made the World, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made: . . .
Many of the modern editions basically read it as if it said that the Son of God is of one substance and equal with God who made the world and who upholds and governs all things he has made (i.e. they ditch the first colon).
Others of the modern editions read it as if it said that the Son of God is of one substance and equal with the Father. A second statement follows to the effect that the Son made the world and upholds and governs all that he made. In other words, they take the colon (as it often is employed in the confession) as starting a new clause concerning the subject of the paragraph, the Son of God.
Normally, one might turn to the commentaries on the Westminster Confession to see if any further light might be shed, but the phrase in question is introduced by the Baptists (the Savoy gents do not use it either). Without wishing to prejudice anyone in a particular direction by further discussing the punctuation of the Confession or considering which interpretation (if either) is more theologically full and/or accurate, or indeed by stating my own inclination, I wonder if any friends of the blog might opine on this one, especially Baptists who have taught this part of the confession.
Answers on a postcard, please, or failing that, in the comments section below. Thanks in advance.
Herman Bavinck on the witness of the Holy Spirit, in a way that makes most of us realise that we actually don’t think that much:
This threefold testimony is one and from the same Spirit. From Scripture, through the church, it penetrates the heart of the individual believer. Still, in each of these three forms, it has a meaning of its own. The testimony of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is “the primary motive toward faith or the principle by which, or the argument on account of which, Scripture become regulative (κανονικον) and non-apodictic (άναποδεικτον).” The testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church is “the other motive or instrument though which we believe. It is introductory (εισαγωγικον) and supportive (ύπουπγικον).” The witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer is the “efficient cause of faith, the principle by which or through which we believe. It is originating (άπχηγικον) and effecting (ένεργητικον).”
Given these distinctions, also the charge of circular reasoning usually advanced against the testimony of the Holy Spirit is invalidated. For, strictly speaking, the testimony of the Holy Spirit is not the final ground but the means of faith. The ground of faith is, and can only be, Scripture, or rather, the authority of God, which comes upon the believer materially in the content as well as formally in the witness of Scripture. Hence the ground of faith is identical with its content and cannot, as Herrman believes, be detached from it. Scripture as the word of God is simultaneously the material and the formal object of faith. But the testimony of the Holy Spirit is the “efficient cause,” “the principle by which,” of faith. We believe Scripture, not because of, but by means of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit relate to each other as object truth and subjective assurance, as the first principles and their self-evidence, as the light and the human eye. Once it has been recognized in its divinity, Scripture is incontrovertibly certain to the faith of the believing community, so that it is both the principle and the norm of faith and life.
Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic; 2003), 597-598.
via The Old Guys.
If Spurgeon were alive today, we would obviously need to ask him just to be clear on this matter, to tell us what he really thinks:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, honor the Spirit of God as you would honor Jesus Christ if He were present! If Jesus Christ not there! Do not ignore the Presence of the Holy Spirit in your soul! I beseech you, do not live as if you had not heard whether there were a Holy Spirit. To Him pay your constant adorations. Reverence the august Guest who has been pleased to make your body His sacred abode. Love Him, obey Him, worship Him!
Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to Him. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonored by persons—I hope they were insane—who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not, for some years, passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me and it may save them some trouble if I tell them once and for all that I will have none of their stupid messages. When my Lord and Master has any message to me He knows where I am and He will send it to me direct, and not by mad-caps!
Never dream that events are revealed to you by Heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Spirit. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God! Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already—He adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses.
I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Spirit by laying their nonsense at His door. At the same time, since the Holy Spirit is with you, Beloved, in all your learning ask Him to teach you. In all your suffering ask Him to sustain you. In all your teaching ask Him to give you the right words. In all your witness-bearing ask Him to give you constant wisdom and in all service depend upon Him for His help. Believingly reckon upon the Holy Spirit. We do not continually take Him into our calculations as we should. We reckon up so many missionaries, so much money and so many schools—and so conclude the list of our forces. The Holy Spirit is our great need, not learning or culture! Little knowledge or great knowledge shall answer almost as well if the Spirit of God is there—but all your knowledge shall be worthless without Him.
Let but the Spirit of God come and all shall be right. I would we took the power of the Spirit into our calculations always. You have a class at school and do not feel fit to teach it—ask Him to help you and you do not know how well you will teach! You are called to preach, but you feel you cannot—you are dull and your talk will be flat, stale, unprofitable. Bring the Holy Spirit into it and if He fires you, you shall find even the slender materials you have collected will set the people on a blaze! We ought to reckon upon the Spirit—He is our main force—what if I say He is our only force and we grieve Him exceedingly when we do not reckon upon Him?
Love the Spirit. Worship the Spirit. Trust the Spirit. Obey the Spirit, and, as a Church, cry mightily to the Spirit! Beseech Him to let His mighty power be known and felt among you. The Lord fire your hearts with this sacred flame, for as this made Pentecost stand out from all other days, may it make the close of this year stand out in our history from all other years. Come, Holy Spirit, now! You are with us, but come with power and let us feel Your sacred might!
Rich Barcellos offers some responses to typical objections to the Ten Commandments.
David Murray passes on from David Clarkson twelve reasons why public worship is better than private worship:
1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.
2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private.
3. God manifests himself more clearly in public worship than in private.
4. There is more spiritual advantage in the use of public worship.
5. Public worship is more edifying than private.
6. Public worship is a better security against apostasy than private.
7. The Lord works his greatest works in public worship.
8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven.
9. The most renowned servants of God have preferred public worship before private.
10. Public worship is the best means for procuring the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.
11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship.
12. The promises of God are given more to public worship than to private.
Interesting. Worth bearing in mind that this is no argument against private worship, rather fairly typical Puritan reasoning for the priority of public worship.
I posted this on “The Great God Entertainment” by A. W. Tozer over at Reformation21. It’s a stonker.
Concerning the humility and jealousy of the Holy Spirit posted at Reformation21.
The New Testament does not hide the fact that nearly every church in the Apostolic age experienced conflict. As the New Testament writers addressed these matters, they provided invaluable instruction on how believers are to think, act, and treat one another when conflict arises. By studying the churches in the New Testament and the instructions given to them regarding conflict, we can learn biblical principles for handling conflict in a constructive, Christ-honoring way.
So writes Alexander Strauch, going on to develop very helpfully some thoughts on how conflicts and their resolution often proceed depending on whether or not the saints are being properly governed by and responsive to the Holy Spirit.
Calvin on the witness of the Spirit:
For even if it [Scripture] wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God. But above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press; 1974) 1.7.5.
And a prayer before preaching from Spurgeon:
May the great and gracious Spirit, who is the only illumination of darkness, light up my mind whilst I attempt, in a brief and hurried manner, to speak from this text.
Both from the Old Guys.
As some of you know, the church I serve has been seeking to plant a church in a village just outside our town of Crawley. This work has brought us into and developed our contact with Pastor Barry King, who is involved in the Grace Baptist Partnership (essentially, the charitable organisation through which the church which Barry pastors seeks to pursue its church planting). Through this we came to know of a church planting project in Southall in West London, and last night we met with the three men who are heading up that work.
We are informed that Southall is home to the largest concentration of South Asian people outside the Indian sub-continent. More than 55% of the population is Indian or Pakistani. The town has ten Sikh gurdwaras, three Muslim mosques and two Hindu temples (not to mention the spiritualists around the corner). Spiritually it is a dark place, but the light is shining.
We met Vic Gill and Sonny Simak (the third brother, Sunny Kundhi, was not available) in the church building which they are hoping to buy as a home for the seedling Grace Church and a base for their gospel operations.
We were impressed by the fervour and commitment of these young men and the church they lead, and their determination and desire to have a witness for Christ in Southall. Their current concern is the purchase of the building, which they are offered at a very reasonable price, but which they need financial help to buy. This is especially significant because – as an existing church building – they already have a toehold in the town. If this building were to be bought out and the area developed, then the likelihood of obtaining planning permission for development or building of a new Christian place of worship is extremely slim.
To find out more, especially if you are interested in helping out, you can get information at the Grace Baptist Partnership Southall page or write with a request for information to gracebaptistpartnership[@]googlemail.com.
More importantly, please pray for this endeavour, that the opportunities for the preaching of Christ crucified might be taken faithfully, fearlessly and fruitfully, and that the kingdom would advance in this part of London.
Responding to an article in which the author claimed that Easter prevents his being a Sabbatarian, Iain D. Campbell at Reformation21 responds graciously with a piece on precisely why Easter makes him hold to a Lord’s day, concluding:
This has become something of a test case for interpreters and theologians, but I still feel obliged to argue for the abiding moral authority of all ten commandments; our point of departure is that the law is ordained by God, and recast in a new form in the new covenant era, as the law is now engraved onto new hearts by God’s Spirit. After all, that is what the Old Testament anticipated in Jeremiah 31:33: ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’.
It seems to me that the position that bests suits the biblical evidence is precisely that of the Westminster Confession of Faith, that the Sabbath of Sinai becomes the Lord’s Day of the resurrection, joyfully set apart by God’s people as their day of special witness and corporate worship. If we deregulate our time and make times of worship according to our own minds and consciences, we descend into the worst form of subjectivism and indiscipline in our Christian lives.
Christ deserves much more. He is our Lord. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He is Lord of all our days. Let us observe the rest he offers and the time for worship and devotion which he gives, that all our days shall be spent in happy service for him until he comes and brings the final Sabbath rest with him.
I am teaching through this topic in the church in Crawley at present, and – while I would doubtless have some slightly different nuances to Iain – I think we arrive at substantially the same place. Read all Iain’s brief piece here.
I am in a different situation, but I very much appreciated some of Josh Blunt’s insights as he moved from a deliberately trendy church-planting model to actually trying to establish a faithful congregation. His four posts (the titles are mine) are as follows:
1. It is the duty of every member to pray for his Pastor and Teachers.
2. They ought to show a reverential estimation of them, being Christ’s ambassadors, also called Rulers, Angels, etc.
3. It is their duty to submit themselves unto them, that is, in all their exhortations, good counsels, and reproofs.
4. It is their duty to take care to vindicate them from the unjust charges of evil men, or tongue of infamy, and not to take up a reproach against them by report, nor to grieve their spirits, or to weaken their hands (Jer 20:10; Zeph 2:8; 2 Cor 11:21, 23).
5. It is the duty of members to go to them when under trouble or temptations.
6. It is their duty to provide a comfortable maintenance for them and their families, suitable to their state and condition.
7. It is their duty to adhere to them and abide by them in all their trials and persecutions for the Word.
8. Dr. Owen adds another duty of the members to their Pastor, viz., to agree to come together upon his appointment.
Note that it is easy to profess all this, much harder to do it. Sometimes you find that the people most profuse in their praise of you are actually the ones who listen least to you.
Names or epithets and ascriptions applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:
- The Word
- The true light
- The only begotten of the Father
- Full of grace and truth
- Jesus Christ
- The only begotten Son
- The Lord
- The Lamb of God
- A Man
- The Son of God
- The Son of Joseph
- The King of Israel
- The Son of Man
An observation by one Aretius, recorded in JC Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on John, and passed on by adaysmarch.
David Murray has been looking at the issue of evangelistic preaching, in the following sequence:
- What is evangelistic preaching?
- Four kinds of evangelistic sermon.
- Why is evangelistic preaching so rare?
- Four characteristics of evangelistic preaching.
- Four (more) characteristics of evangelistic preaching.
It is a discussion both helpful and necessary. Head over and join in.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the main task of the church, via the Old Guys:
There are other agencies in the world which can deal with many of the problems of man kind. I mean by that, things like medicine, the State, even other religions, and cults, and psychology and various other teachings and political agencies. These are all designed to help, and to relieve somewhat, the human condition, to ease the pain and the problem of life and to enable men to live more harmoniously and to enjoy life in a greater measure. They set out to do that, and it is no part of our case to say that they are of no value. We must observe the facts and grant that they can do good, and do much good. They are capable in a measure of dealing with these things. But none of them can deal with this fundamental, this primary trouble at which we have been looking.
Not only that, when they have done their all, or when even the Church coming down to that level and operating on that level alone, has done her all, the primary trouble still remains. So I would lay it down as a basic proposition that the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy. I will go further; it is not even to make him good. These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were. But my point is that those are not her primary objectives. Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God. This really does need to be emphasize at the present time, because this, it seems to me, is the essence of the modern fallacy. It has come into the Church and it is influencing the thinking of many in the Church– this notion that the business of the Church is to make people happy, or to integrate their lives, or to relieve their circumstances and improve their conditions. My whole case is that to do that is just to palliate the symptoms, to give temporary ease, and that it does not get beyond that.
This is a cross-post from Reformation21.
Not long ago, the good Dr Trueman took up the question of why the label ‘Reformed’ is more often associated with Baptists than with Presbyterians.
I appreciated the irenic tone of Carl’s answer (appreciably and appreciatedly different to the caustic and dismissive attitude of some others), and I share a number of his underlying convictions. My intention in this post is not to start a fight with the esteemed Trueman or anyone else, nor to try to put clear blue water between churches like the one I serve and everyone else in the whole wide world, nor indeed to enter a competition about who is the most Reformed. (Indeed, I admit to a sinking feeling whenever someone – usually with a self-satisfied tone – takes it upon themselves to inform me that not only are they Reformed, but that they consider themselves to be very Reformed – whatever that means.)
Carl concluded his piece by saying that “the eclipse of Presbyterians in the evangelical world’s adoption of the term ‘Reformed’ is probably in large part a function of the transformation of the term’s meaning by the contemporary evangelical scene. This is not something I myself will lose any sleep over.” No more do I lose sleep over the strident demands of some Presbyterians that I relinquish any right to the label: I am happy to be a Reformed Baptist, a Particular Baptist, a confessional (or ‘1689’) Baptist, an independent Baptist, or whatever particular label enables someone to fit me fairly accurately into a fairly appropriate pigeonhole.
Similarly, I think that there is a degree of common ground between Carl and those of my ilk, stamp and kidney: I agree that the word ‘Reformed’ should mean more than ‘vaguely Calvinistic in its soteriology.’ I agree that the word ‘confessional’ is bandied around with some carelessness and a great deal of vacuity as a kind of synonym for ‘orthodox’. I further accept that real confessionalism – like any form of real conviction – enshrines certain proper distinctions (and, in degree, necessary divisions) over issues of the ordinances and ecclesiology (though it should be noted that soteriology raises its head here as well). Indeed, it is for these very reasons that when someone tells me that they are a Reformed Baptist, my response tends to be something like, “That’s great! Would you mind telling me exactly what you mean by that?”
Furthermore, I accept (without agreement) that for some Presbyterians (I am not suggesting that this is true for Carl), the historical narrative for the Reformed and the legitimate application of the word stop short somewhere in or around Dordrecht in the early seventeenth century (others would, perhaps, like to turn a little further back and south toward Calvin’s Geneva, some forward and west toward Westminster in the mid-seventeenth century). Indeed, I have seen one definition of ‘Reformed’ that included, as a fairly central element, the wearing of a Geneva gown in worship. Now if that isn’t an oddity, kindly fax me an explanation of what is!
But in the midst of it all, I find that nowhere does the good doctor properly allow for the kind of Reformed Baptist that I am and that many of my friends are, and neither do many of the discussions of this issue. I guess I am, in part, picking up on this because of Carl’s Anabaptist jibe of some moons ago, to which I responded with tongue equally firmly in cheek. But behind those friendly barbs and this post lies a more serious concern. In the discussion of what it means to be Reformed, and in the consideration of what it means to be a Reformed Baptist (or whatever else you wish to call us), I generally find that there is a gap on the spectrum that is overlooked or quickly dismissed, the gap that tends to be brushed over with the suggestion that there are Reformed Baptists who are not quite (or at all) Pipettes or a certain brand of Southern Baptists or Acts 29 types or SGM guys, but who actually – to use Carl’s words – “hold to more traditional forms of worship and polity.”
This post, after that long preamble, intends to introduce the small group of such men and churches more formally. And no, I do not presume to be any kind of appointed spokesman for all or part of that group. And no, I do not presume that relative smallness means that we have an innate claim to greater purity than anyone else (though it does have an effect on our visibility). Furthermore, we do not really have, as far as I know, any great gurus or monumental figureheads – I mean, we have enough personalities to start some miserable fights, but no name behind which we all line up. People might come to our churches and start throwing around the names of the evangelical and ‘Reformed’ celebrities and trying to figure out whether or not we are of Paul or Cephas or Apollos but – by and large – we do not neatly fit into such camps, although we have genuine and sometimes close affinities with several of them. It may be that part of the problem is that, historically, we did not have our roots in the US (although it is fair to say that the twentieth century resurgence – for the New Calvinists are not the first to use the word – among Reformed Baptists probably had a more American flavour than otherwise).
It was, indeed, the Anabaptists who provided the backdrop to some of the first public statements of those who would become known as Reformed Baptists, but not as some would imagine. The first Calvinistic or Particular Baptist churches in England had their origins in the 1630s when men like William Kiffin (and, later, Hanserd Knollys) sat under the umbrella of the Independent congregation usually known as the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey church. By the mid-1640s both Kiffin and Knollys had left the Jessey church to form distinctively Baptist congregations.
Perhaps the definitive breaking of cover for the Particular Baptists was their 1644 Confession. This is an important document: seven churches produced it in order to make plain their distinctive beliefs while putting distance between themselves and the excesses and errors of the continental Anabaptist groups on the one hand, as well as the General (Arminian) Baptists on the other. At this time (and, my, haven’t things changed!) the label ‘Anabaptist’ was a deliberate slur, designating the kind of people who could be relied upon to turn any society morally upside down within moments (“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”), and was readily slapped on people or groups which advocated the novel and dangerous notion that the church did not consist of everyone born into a particular nation-state under the auspices of its national church. Drawing on a couple of earlier documents, the 1644 was an important step at a point when an essentially Presbyterian Parliament was exercising unprecedented powers and the Westminster divines were recommending some fairly uncomfortable measures for those considered outside the fold. Revisions swiftly followed in 1646, several of which read as unnecessary attempts to appease the powers that be – this was not necessarily an advance, although the line was holding firm.
When Oliver Cromwell died and – after a period of confusion – Charles II assumed the throne, the Baptists were among those who faced severe persecutions. The full weight of a church and state, yoked together in oppression, came down on anyone outside the restored and vengeful Church of England (whether Baptist, Independent or Presbyterian, who were all now more or less beyond the pale). Persecution drove these groups more closely together than they could have been when some Presbyterians had been advocating the forcible sublimation of Baptists and their churches.
Out of this arose a desire on the part of the Baptist churches to demonstrate their common ground with their fellow pilgrims, while maintaining their own distinctive identity from the Paedobaptists on the one hand and the Anabaptists on the other (including the Constantinianism/Erastianism of the former and the wild political radicalism of many of the latter). The result was what is commonly called the 1689 (Second London) Baptist Confession of Faith. Some slight awkwardness arises from the fact that this confession was actually written in 1677, although it was not signed and published until 1689, the year of the Glorious Revolution, when there was a greater degree of freedom afforded to the men and churches responsible.
The 1689 (which I will call it for the sake of simplicity) takes a line from the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians through the Savoy Declaration of the Independents. Much water had passed under the bridge (and, indeed, over the Baptists) since 1644, and this document was the result of the mature thinking of the finest and godliest minds among the growing churches of the Particular Baptists. It is a great shame that many modern editions of the 1689 omit the introductory epistle “To the Judicious and Impartial Reader,” and what is simply entitled, “An Appendix,” both masterpieces of irenic polemicism, or polemic irenicism, depending on which side you like your bread buttered.
In the former, they explicitly link their work with the form and purpose of the 1644 Confession, while making plain that they wanted not only “to give a full account of our selves, to those Christians that differ from us about the subject of baptism” (I modernise the English slightly in this and the following quotes) but also a defence of the genuine godliness that the doctrine of the Particular Baptists was producing, a godliness that would have been recognised as essentially the same as that of other orthodox believers, tying it in with the work of the Westminster divines and the Savoy Conference. “We have no itch,” they wrote, “to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words, which has been, in consent and the holy Scriptures, used by other before us.” With a sincere spirit, they went on,
In those things wherein we differ from others, we have expressed our selves with all candour and plainness that none might entertain jealousy of aught secretly lodged in our breasts, that we would not the world should be acquainted with; yet we hope we have also observed those rules of modesty, and humility, as will render our freedom in this respect inoffensive, even to those whose sentiments are different from ours.
The Appendix is equally irenic and equally incisive. It begins:
Whosoever reads, and impartially considers what we have in our forgoing confession declared, may readily perceive, that we do not only concenter with all other true Christians on the Word of God (revealed in the Scriptures of truth) as the foundation and rule of our faith and worship. But that we have also industriously endeavoured to manifest, that in the fundamental articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.
What follows, having established this common ground, is a quite brilliant Baptist apologetic (and I do not say that simply because of my fundamental agreement with it), laudable for its clarity and brevity and simplicity, setting out key elements of the Baptist view of salvation, covenant, ordinances and church, concluding:
So may it be now as to many things relating to the service of God, which do retain the names proper to them in their first institution, but yet through inadvertency (where there is no sinister design) may vary in their circumstances, from their first institution. And if by means of any ancient defection, or of that general corruption of the service of God, and interruption of his true worship, and persecution of his servants by the Antichristian Bishop of Rome, for many generations; those who do consult the Word of God, cannot yet arrive at a full and mutual satisfaction among themselves, what was the practise of the primitive Christian Church, in some points relating to the Worship of God: yet inasmuch as these things are not of the essence of Christianity, but that we agree in the fundamental doctrines thereof, we do apprehend, there is sufficient ground to lay aside all bitterness and prejudice, and in the spirit of love and meekness to embrace and own each other therein; leaving each other at liberty to perform such other services, (wherein we cannot concur) apart unto God, according to the best of our understanding.
What needs to be understood is that these men were not trying to start a war, but neither would their consciences allow them to retreat. The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century unashamedly considered themselves as the heirs and the advancers – the third wave, if you will – of the Reformation.
Such an awareness was not misplaced triumphalism or mere bombast. These men and churches appreciated where they had come from, but they had clear views as to where they needed to go. In espousing their distinctive convictions they realised that they were in disagreement not only with the Anglican Church but also with fellow Dissenters – Presbyterians like Richard Baxter and Independents such as John Owen. They understood that the magisterial Reformers had struck the first blows, being responsible for exposing the corruptions of Antichrist and bringing important doctrines such as justification by faith to light. The second wave they identified in men like William Ames and later John Owen, who argued that on the one hand a true gospel church was comprised of professing saints, but on the other hand that the children of believers were still to be baptized by sprinkling. They appreciated that many of the Puritans had gone (far) beyond the half-way Reformation of Anglicanism (which – despite some outstanding men, and because of circumstances peculiar to the United Kingdom – stalled in its application of the same foundational realities), and how the Puritans pressed the principles of the Reformation into additional spheres of faith and life, many paying for it with their expulsion. But with the third wave the error of infant baptism was exposed. Now the Particular Baptists, self-consciously a part of this progress, were pressing those Reformation principles more fully into further areas of faith and life, not least the doctrine of the church, especially with regard to its very nature and its role and purpose on the earth.
This central issue and their sense of their place is evident in the preface to Philip Carey’s splendidly-titled A Solemn Call unto all that would be owned as Christ’s Faithful Witnesses, speedily and seriously, to attend unto the Primitive Purity of the Gospel Doctrine and Worship: or a Discourse Concerning Baptism (London,1690). Five prominent London Particular Baptists – William Kiffin, John Harris, Richard Adams, Robert Steed and Benjamin Keach, theological leaders among their brothers – put their names to this piece, arguing that “the true gospel visible church is to consist only of such as are saints by profession, and who give themselves up to the Lord and to one another by solemn agreement to practice the ordinances of Christ.” (For more on the doctrine of baptism these men held, see chapter 12 of Austin Walker’s The Excellent Benjamin Keach [Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2004].)
For all their esteem of the magisterial Reformers and for their ground-breaking labours, and for all their (and our) respect for the often underestimated and undervalued principles and practices that those Reformers embraced, Reformed Baptists cannot regard Geneva as the sole and abiding high-water mark of the Reformation. While recognising the genuine continuity between the Old and New Covenants, our forefathers – with modern Reformed Baptists of the same stripe – also recognised the genuine discontinuity that the Scriptures themselves demand.
In that respect, the principle of a gathered church of baptised believers, conducting itself in the holiness of renewed lives, was something to which those pioneers believed their brothers-in-arms had not attained. A failure to embrace this principle allowed a potentially fatal rot to set in. Again, Benjamin Keach made their convictions and concerns plain when he wrote Light broke forth in Wales, expelling Darkness (London, 1696):
I look upon Infant-Baptism to be one of the chief Pillars of the Romish Church, and of all National Churches and Constitutions in the European World; this is that Christendom that is so cried up, and the way of making and continuing the pretended Christian-Name; in the Anti-christian Church, and World, all are made Christian in their Infant-Baptism: And thus the inhabitants of the Earth are cheated, and deluded with a Shadow and empty Name that signifies nothing; and certain I am, until Christendom (as it is called) is Unchristianed of this pretended Rite, or Christendom, there will never be a thorough Reformation: I mean until they see that Christianity, or Christian-Name, which they received at their Infant-Baptism, signifies nothing, but throw it away as an Human Innovation, and labour after true Regeneration, or a likeness to Christ, and so believe and are baptized upon the profession of their Faith, according as in the Apostolical Primitive Church: ’Tis Infant-Baptism that tends to uphold all National Churches, and deceives poor People who think there were hereby made Christians. (234)
To those who follow these men, in terms of pursuing and applying the Biblical principles that have led and do lead to the reformation of the church, the Reformed or Particular Baptist activity of the seventeenth century was a further step in the right direction, and is an essentially healthy heritage. It is also a developing heritage, as the stream of Particular Baptist thought – with all its struggles and stands, its tensions and triumphs (in common with other traditions) – flows down through a host of gracious and godly men into the present day. (If you are interested in learning more about the men and the issues, you might begin with Robert Oliver’s History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1791-1892[Banner of Truth, 2006] or the volumes edited by Michael Haykin on The British Particular Baptists I, II and III[Particular Baptist Press].)
In speaking in this way, I am not trying to sneak in the assertion that we are ‘very Reformed.’ However, it ought to be recognised that these Particular Baptists, and those who follow them and take up in this sense the label of ‘Reformed Baptists’, were self-consciously advancing the cause of the Reformation by deliberately pressing its principles into every area of faith and life, even those which had been sacred cows beforehand. At the same time, they were concerned to emphasise their shared doctrinal and practical convictions with those who stood in the same stream of historic, orthodox, Reformed Christianity. (For a brief and popular treatment of both the common ground and the distinctive territory, I think one of the best documents that speaks to this definition of the Reformed Baptists remains the booklet, What is a Reformed Baptist Church? by Jim Savastio.)
And this is one of the particular blessings of a confessional inheritance with so much common ground. When I, as a confessional or 1689 Baptist, sit down with a Westminster Presbyterian or Savoy Congregationalist or Independent, I know just how much we hold in common, and I am able to enjoy fellowship with such a brother on a broad, deep, shared foundation. We also know, clearly and concisely, those issues on which we differ, and how and why we differ, and are therefore able to embrace one another as brothers who walk with a clear conscience before God.
But while we trace the spiritual history, let none of us forget the spiritual reality. Here faith and life must be joined or we will have nothing but painted fire. Surely the Reformed faith is far more than a particular historical connection, a certain theological tradition, or a series of dogmatic assertions. This grasp of things presumes a soul-conquering vision of the great God and Saviour lifted up; it embraces a soul-humbling conviction of one’s own natural sinfulness and wretchedness before that great and holy God; it supposes a soul-enrapturing reception of the grace of that great God and Saviour; and, it issues in a soul-encompassing consecration of the entire redeemed humanity of a saved sinner to the glory of the Lord. It was described, in its essence, by B. B. Warfield in his essay on Calvinism, as lying “in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. . . . when the sinful soul rests in humble, self-emptying trust purely on the God of grace” (Works [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991], 5:354-5).
Surely this is the core of the matter: being captured and captivated by the triune God, therefore seeing oneself in proper and humble perspective, both in terms of what we once were without grace, might still be apart from grace, and have now become because of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. What fools we would be to ignore the treasure and fight over the box! If our confessionalism of any genuine stripe – which provides what we are persuaded are Biblical boundaries and direction to the whole – does not involve and produce this vibrant spirituality, then surely it is missing the mark, a mere cipher, a pretty shell without any enduring substance. By this measure, perhaps we ought to ask whether or not we have quite so much scope for self-congratulation as we sometimes seem to imagine? For this view of God in Christ, with all its concomitants and consequences, ought to be what above all unites those who are Reformed, and what imposes those degrees of separation from those with differing views of God and of man.
So, when the issue of what it means to be Reformed gets discussed, we ask not to be lauded and applauded, so much as simply, accurately and fairly recognised as existing. It may be that you just did not realise that we exist. It may be that the kind of Baptist convictions – about soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, doxology and a whole bunch of other ologies – to which you have been exposed have left you with some serious and significant questions, and you have given up looking for the answers among Baptists. It may be that you have met some who take the name of Reformed Baptists who, through pride or ignorance, have left you with a sour taste in your mouth, for which I am sorry. It may be – and I say this in a spirit of straightforward inquiry and not backhanded accusation – that you would rather not acknowledge this part of the spectrum because it does not fit into your historical narrative, and rather upsets your carefully piled apple-cart. But please do not repeat the old saw about Anabaptism; if I might be so bold, it will not wash. Neither dismiss us with the vague assertion that there are some Baptists out there who are both Calvinistic in their soteriology and traditional or conservative in our doxology. That is not what we really are, certainly not all we are. An honest historiography surely requires that – if nothing else – those original Particular Baptists (discounting, of course, the apostles and the early church!) are at least considered on their own terms, and taken for what they believed themselves to be, even if you might disagree with them.
There are those who are still doing what our forefathers did (and, in fact, what their Reforming, Presbyterian and Congregational forefathers had begun to do): seeking to press the Word of God ever further and more firmly into the hearts and minds of the people of God, individually and corporately, so as to promote, under God, this full-orbed appreciation of and consecration to the Lord God. As such, the Particular Baptists are – or should be – not so much slipping back as stepping forward in reformation, finding the older paths and walking in them, and – in the spirit of fraternal encouragement – it would be remiss of me, even churlish, not to invite you to join us.
Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is both one with the Father and yet distinct from the Father. The doctrine of the “eternal generation” plays an important role in securing both points. This doctrine teaches that the Father eternally communicates the divine essence to the Son without division or change so that the Son shares an equality of nature with the Father (sharing all the attributes of deity) yet is also eternally distinct from the Father.
Although the eternal generation of the Son is affirmed in early confessions such as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed (AD 381) and post-Reformation statements like the Westminster Confession, several prominent evangelical theologians object to this doctrine on the grounds that it lacks biblical support. Evangelicals who reject this doctrine frequently point out that the Greek word monogenes (John 1:18; 3:16) does not mean “only begotten” but rather “unique.” Since the mistranslation of monogenes (allegedly) represents one of key lines of biblical evidence, one should dispense with eternal generation as a theological relic of a bygone era.
In light of this, how should we think about eternal generation?
Keith Johnson offers a fascinating, instructive, and stimulating answer to this question.
Stirring sanity from Spurgeon:
It is thought nowadays that a man must not try to proclaim the gospel, unless he has had a good education. To try and preach Christ, and yet to commit grammatical blunders, is looked upon as a grave offence. People are mightly offended at the idea of the gospel being properly preached by an uneducated man. This I believe to be a very injurious mistake.
There is nothing whatsoever in the whole compass of Scripture to excuse any mouth from speaking for Jesus when the heart is really acquainted with His salvation. We are not all called to “preach,” in the new sense of the term, but we are all called to make Jesus known if we know Him.
Has the gospel ever been spread to any extent by men of high literary power? Look through the whole line of history, and see if it is so. Have the men of splendid eloquence been remarkable for winning souls? I could quote names that stand first in the roll of oratory, which are low down in the roll of soul-winners. Those whom God has most honoured have been men who, whatever their gifts, have consecrated them to God, and have earnestly declared the great truths of God’s Word. Men who have been terribly in earnest, and have faithfully described man’s ruin by sin, and God’s remedy of grace—men who have warned sinners to escape from the wrath to come by believing in the Lord Jesus—these have been useful. If they had great gifts, they were no detriment to them; if they had few talents, this did not disqualify them.
It has pleased God to use the base things of this world, and things that are despised, for the accomplishment of His great purposes of love. Paul declared that he proclaimed the gospel, “not with wisdom of words.” He feared what might happen if he used wordly rhetoric, and therefore he refused the wisdom of words. We have need to do so now with emphasis. Let us trust in the divine energy of the Holy Ghost, and speak the truth in reliance upon His might, whether we can speak fluently with Apollos, or are slow of speech, like Moses.
Over at Reformation21, some thoughts on public worship as it relates to our singing:
The New Testament data with regard to singing in the worship of the church is, to put it bluntly, sparse. On the one hand, it seems strange that an issue which excited so little attention in the early church should be the sphere of so many of the worship wars which have erupted in recent years. On the other, perhaps it is precisely because the instruction is sparse and simple that we feel we have a right or even a need to develop our own principles and practice. . . .
I hope that these few thoughts will at least stimulate us to consider once again and more carefully, the hows, whys and wherefores of our sung worship, lifting up heart and voice in the right way and for the right reason, glorifying God and doing good to men as we sing a new song to the Lord.
Read it all if you’re interested.
I went out yesterday again to speak to the people in the village where we have been having evangelistic Bible studies. The first man I spoke to gave me an answer to which I am becoming sadly accustomed: “No . . . no . . . that’s not for me.”
I hear this so often, usually the moment someone knows that I am speaking to them about Jesus Christ. It becomes increasingly distressing the more often I hear it, and calls for prayers like this from Thomas Watson:
Oh, that the eyes of sinners may be speedily opened—that they may see the difference of things, the beauty which is in holiness, and the astonishing madness that is in sin!
HT The Old Guys.
Nice from Benjamin Keach (of whom more here), though the phrasing is of its time:
Before there can be any Orderly Discipline among a Christian Assembly, they must be orderly and regularly constituted into a Church-state, according to the Institution of Christ in the Gospel.
1. A Church of Christ, according to the Gospel-Institution, is a Congregation of Godly Christians, who as a Stated-Assembly (being first baptized upon the Profession of Faith) do by mutual agreement and consent give themselves up to the Lord, and one to another, according to the Will of God; and do ordinarily meet together in one Place, for the Public Service and Worship of God; among whom the Word of God and Sacraments are duly administered, according to Christ’s Institution.(1)
2. The Beauty and Glory of which Congregation doth consist in their being all Converted Persons, or Lively Stones; being by the Holy Spirit, united to Jesus Christ the Precious Corner-Stone, and only foundation of every Christian, as well as of every particular Congregation, and of the whole Catholick Church.(2)
3. That every Person before they are admitted Members, in such a Church so constituted, must declare to the Church (or to such with the Pastor, that they shall appoint) what God hath done for their Souls, or their Experiences of a Saving work of Grace upon their Hearts; and also the Church should enquire after, and take full satisfaction concerning their Holy Lives, or Good Conversations.(3)
And when admitted Members, before the Church they must solemnly enter into a Covenant, to walk in the Fellowship of that particular Congregation, and submit themselves to the Care and Discipline thereof,(4) and to walk faithfully with God in all his Holy Ordinances, and there to be fed and have Communion, and worship God there, when the Church meets (if possible) and give themselves up to the watch and charge of the Pastor and Ministry thereof:(5) the Pastor then also signifying in the name of the Church their acceptance of each Person, and endeavor to take the care of them, and to watch over them in the Lord, (the Members being first satisfied to receive them, and to have Communion with them.) And so the Pastor to give them the right Hand of Fellowship of a Church, or Church Organical.
A Church thus constituted ought forthwith to choose them a Pastor, Elder or Elders, and Deacons, (we reading of no other Officers, or Offices abiding in the Church) and what kind of Men they ought to be, and how qualified, is laid down by Paul to Timothy, and to Titus. Moreover, they are to take special care, that both Bishops, Overseers, or Elders, as well as the Deacons, have in some competent manner all those Qualifications; and after in a Day of solemn Prayer and Fasting, that they have elected them, (whether Pastor, &c., or Deacons) and they accepting the Office, must be ordained with Prayer, and laying on of Hands of the Eldership; being first prov’d, and found meet and fit Persons for so Sacred an Office: Therefore such are very disorderly Churches who have no Pastor or Pastors ordained, they acting not according to the Rule of the Gospel, having something wanting.(6)
(1) Act. 2.41, 42, 43, 44. Act. 8.14. Act. 19.4, 5, 6. Eph. 1.1, 2 and 2.12, 13, 19. Col. 1. 2, 4, 12. I Pet. 2.5. Act. 5.13, 14. Rom. 6.17. Heb. 6.1, 2.
(2) Rom. 6. 3, 4, 5. I Pet. 2.4, 5, 6. Eph. 2.20, 21. Col. 2.19.
(3) Psa. 66.16. Act. 11.4, 5, 6, &c., 23, 24. I Pet. 3.15. II Cor. 8.5. Jer. 50.5.
(4) Heb. 13.17.
(5) Pet. 5.1, 2.
(6) I Tim. 3.2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Tit. 1. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Tit. 1.7. Act. 6.6. I Tim. 5.22. I Cor. 9.16, 17.
Benjamin Keach, The Glory of a True Church, And its Discipline display’d