Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category
Chapter 20 of the 1689 Confession of Faith (“Of the Gospel, and of the Extent of the Grace Thereof”) opens with the following statement:
1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise, the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual, for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
To all you 1689rs (and others) out there, a question about the opening words: “The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life . . .”
Do you read that as a statement of consequence? Would an acceptable paraphrase be something like, “Because the covenant of works was broken by sin, and so made unprofitable to [not able to grant] life . . .” as if the covenant of works could and would have been profitable to life had it not been broken?
Or, if our confessing forefathers had wanted to say that, would they have said, “The covenant of works being broken by sin, it became unprofitable unto life, so God . . .”? In which case, what is the sense of the phrase as it stands?
A minor point, but interesting. Grateful for any thoughts in the comments. Thanks in advance.
I am writing not from the soft streets of Niddrie but from the rocky spiritual wastelands of middle England, from the London commuter belt, from . . . Sussex! Admittedly, I live in a \’new town\’ called Crawley, which has a reputation – perhaps unfairly – for being the local sinkhole (the descendants of London\’s dregs rehoused after the Second World War), so perhaps I get a little more credibility from those who count filth and crime as badges of honour. Indeed, Crawley is so little esteemed that one of the neighbourhoods to the east of the town, a richer part of this area, has removed the name from its signs so that it does not get dragged down to our level. That said, even though it is notoriously difficult to classify the middle classes (even the BBC says so), I don\’t think that there is much doubt that I try to reach many middle class people with the gospel. Many of my labours outside the church building are either in the town square, or door to door in a neighbourhood which calls itself – perhaps inappropriately – a village. Our church planting endeavours are currently centred on an undeniable village outside of Crawley that is the very picture of middle England. All this to demonstrate that I am, largely, in the environment that Mez describes as so unpromising a field for gospel labour.
And it is.
Read the rest of my friendly rejoinder to Mez McConnell at Reformation21.
Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience – a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.
See what those standards were at Reformation21.
At the risk of being trampled by the ireful in the latest slanging match over rap and hip-hop, I wonder if I might interject? It seems to me, watching from a distance and not trying to read every contribution, that the debate quickly escalates into absolute and swingeing declarations that fail to take account of the various issues that ought to come into play. I may be wrong, but I hope I can lob a few thoughts into the debate.
I suggest that there are at least three questions that ought to be asked in assessing not just rap and hip-hop but other musical genres and forms.
First, and most generically, in what ways can a Christian appreciate, enjoy and embrace either a form or genre of music in and of itself, or a particular instance of that form?
Second, and a little more narrowly, to what extent is a certain form or genre an appropriate vehicle for the communication of distinctively Christian truth?
Third, and most specifically, is this question: is a certain form or genre a legitimate and appropriate means for the corporate worship of the gathered church?
Read the explanations at Reformation21.
This day was the best that I have seen since I came to England. . . . After Dr. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Marshall prayed largely two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly, in a wonderful, passionate, and prudent way. Afterwards, Mr. Arrowsmith preached an hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr. Seaman prayed nearly two hours, then a psalm. After this, Mr. Henderson brought about a sweet discussion of the heated disputes confessed in the assembly, and other seen faults to be remedied. . . . Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing.
Read some lessions from Robert Baillie’s experiences at Reformation21.
Over at Reformation21 is a series on effective personal evangelism. For ease of reference, here are the links and topics:
This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but I am speaking out of a measure of experience myself and exposure to men I think are capable and faithful in carrying out this work. If we as individual Christians and members of gospel churches are to be effective personal evangelists, these are qualities that I think we must prayerfully pursue if we are to declare the gospel profitably and fruitfully. Not all Christians will be on the streets of our towns and at the doors of our communities. Some of us will do it sitting down over a cup of tea (other beverages are available) with a friend; some of us will do it around the dinner table or at the bedside, night after night, with our children; some of us will do it over a lunch time snack with a colleague; some of us will do it in a Bible study with our peers. However we do it, all of us have opportunities to make Christ known. I trust that these marks, rightly cultivated, will help us to be immediately effective in communicating the gospel faithfully to those who do not know our Saviour, and ultimately effective when we see God give the increase.
Mark Dever helpfully identifies five things mistaken for evangelism.
Stephen Rees of Grace Baptist Church in Stockport was asked this question by a correspondent:
We are thinking through the matter of whether or not to join a formal association of churches. We left the Baptist Union about fifteen years ago and have been formally independent, although we have enjoyed a warm informal relationship with other churches. We are now considering if it would be good to affiliate with the FIEC (Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) or the regional association of Grace Baptist Churches, or both. However, some friends have said to me that in their view linking formally with such organisations can be detrimental to church life. I am wondering if you are aware of any resources, or if you have written any yourself, on this subject …
Thoughts on evangelism drawn from Spurgeon’s three Rs.
For those intrigued by the Strange Fire conference, not least for those who have suggested that a debate might have been an appropriate way forward, it might be worth resurrecting the following exchange between Ian Hamilton and Wayne Grudem, in which – I would suggest – Ian Hamilton’s gently relentless drive toward faithfulness in handling the Scriptures rather undoes Wayne Grudem’s insistence that his position is credible.
Over at Reformation21, a couple of articles on street preaching:
- Thoughts on street preaching, looking at some of the qualities needed and offering some general counsels.
- Guessing and gauging the street preacher, answering a specific question about the qualifications and calling of street preachers.
Brief, wise words from Joe Thorn:
Of course it’s possible to be converted and not be a part of the local church. Possible. And dangerous. You see, the goal–the mission of the church–is not to see converts, but to make disciples. Conversion is but a part of that process. The making of spiritually mature disciples who obey Jesus Christ can only fully happen inside the church. It is in the church where we discover and exercise our spiritual gifts; where we bear one another’s burdens, exhort, encourage, and rebuke one another; where we share in one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father.
Preach the gospel. Preach the hope of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for sinners. Preach it with the aim of reconciling people to God and receiving them into the fellowship. The local church (in all it’s ministries and meetings) is “where it’s at,” not because it’s cool, entertaining, or perfect, but because that it is where Christ stands with his people, fellowshipping with them, and leading them through this life into the life to come.
Hello, the Baptist Confession Brains Trust. Another little teaser: taking into account all the previous acknowledgements and caveats about how we treat the Scripture references in the 1677/1689 Confession (here and here, plus the delightful fact that – in the original – the footnotes are letters that point forward across a phrase or clause, or phrases and clauses), what do you make of Chapter 15, “Of Repentance Unto Life”?
Specifically, I have questions about two paragraphs. Paragraph 1 in the original reads as follows:
1. Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having asometimes lived in the state of nature,(1) and therein served divers lusts and pleasures,(2) God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life.(3)
a Ti 3.2-5
Titus 3.2-5 reads as follows:
. . . to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit . . .
Taking this into account, would you place the footnote at point (1), (2) or (3), and why?
The second question is similar, and has to do with Paragraph 3, and for the sake of simplicity I have stripped out the extraneous detail:
3. This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self abhorrency; epraying for pardon,(1) and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well pleasing in all things.(2)
e Ez 36.31; 2Cor 7.11
Again, the two references are as follows:
Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. (Ezk 36.31)
For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2Cor 7.11)
Again, the question is whether you would put the footnote at point (1), at point (2), or at some other point, and why?
I am intrigued by this in part because most modern versions have the annoying habit of simply slapping any given footnote (which in modern versions is a number projecting back rather than a letter projecting forward) at the end of a sentence or paragraph by what seems to be thoughtless default. Anyway, I look forward to answers from any of the usual, and indeed any unusual, suspects.
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.