Puritan Prayer for World Mission (2)

By Joel Beeke

Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834),Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.


The Puritan Motivation for Missionary Prayer: The Efficiency of the Holy Spirit

The Reformation rediscovered the work of the Holy Spirit as opposed to that of human religious activity, such as the priestly administration of the rites of the church. Zechariah 4:6 says God’s temple will be built “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Calvin said, “We ought to be so dependent on God alone, as to be fully persuaded that his grace is sufficient for us” (Calvin, Commentary on Zech. 4:1–6). This belief led men and women to rely upon God in prayer and to resist their innate tendency to rely upon human ability. John Howe (1630–1705) wrote, “There is as great an aptness to trust in other means and let out our hearts to them. An arm of flesh signifies a great deal, when the power of an almighty Spirit is reckoned as nothing. And persons are apt to be very contriving, and prone to forecast, how such and such external forms would do our business and make the church and the Christian interest hugely prosperous” (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, 243). 
 
Scripture and experience also awakened Reformers to the reality of large-scale outpourings of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of many sinners, lifting up the church to new degrees of holiness. John Knox (ca. 1510–1572) wrote of a remarkable work of God in Scotland in 1559, saying, “God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds” (Murray, The Puritan Hope, 243). The Holy Spirit can do great things, far beyond our limited aspirations. 
 
Confidence in the promises of God and the power of the Holy Spirit should thus lead us, in the words of Howe, “to wait patiently and pray earnestly” for a worldwide spiritual harvest. We can be sure as well that “he will give his Spirit to them that ask him” (Murray, The Puritan Hope, 254-55).
 
The Instrumentality of the Gospel
John Calvin and the Puritans taught the doctrine of sovereign or unconditional election: that God has chosen certain individuals and ordained them to eternal life, to glorify His grace in their salvation (Eph. 1:4–6). At the same time, they said that God brings His elect to faith and salvation through the preaching of the gospel (Eph. 1:13). Therefore, the Reformers and Puritans labored to spread the gospel (Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 54–72, 143–69). They trained and sent out gospel preachers and prayed for the propagation of the gospel in the lost world.
 
William Perkins (1558–1602), a patriarch of English Puritanism, said a fundamental principle of Christianity is that Christ and His benefits must be applied to the soul by faith, and faith comes only by the hearing of the Word (Workes, 1:2). The gospel is “the instrument, and, as it were, the conduit pipe of the Holy Ghost, to fashion and derive faith into the soul: by which faith, they which believe, do, as with a hand, apprehend Christ’s righteousness” (Workes, 1:70). Perkins taught people to pray for God to send gospel preachers into the world. He wrote in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, “When we shall see a people without knowledge, and without good guides & teachers, or when we see one stand up in the congregation not able to teach, here is matter for mourning…. It is time to say, Lord, let thy kingdom come.” Perkins said Christians must pray for gospel ministers and “pray that their hearts may be set for the building of God’s kingdom, for the beating down of the kingdom of sin and Satan, and for the saving of the souls of his people” (Workes, 1:336, 339. These pages are consecutive in the book; the latter should read 337).
 
Christ has given His church the commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20). So Matthew Henry wrote, “Salvation by Christ should be offered to all, and none excluded that did not by their unbelief and impenitence exclude themselves” (Commentaries, 5:361–62). In light of Christ’s compassion and command to pray for laborers (Matt. 9:35–38), Henry said, “All that love Christ and souls, should show it in their earnest prayers to God…that he would send forth more skillful, faithful, wise, and industrious labourers into his harvest; that he would raise up such as he would own in the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints; would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and succeed them in it” (Commentaries, 5:105). God’s appointment and use of this great means of grace for the salvation of men encourages us to pray for the calling, training, and sending forth of men who will preach the gospel to the very ends of the earth. 
 
 

Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.

 

 



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Church Discipline (1)

By Henry Jansma

Throughout the length of our study we have underlined the narrative nature of the articles; thus the exposition on church discipline in articles 32-36 follows logically from the previous articles on the nature of the church, the gospel ministry, and the sacraments.

XXXII — OF THE MARRIAGE OF PRIESTS
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

The title of Cranmer’s 1553 original was, “The State of the Single Life is Commanded to No Man by the Word of God” and consisted of the first clause only: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded to vow the state of the single life without marriage, nor by God’s law are they compelled to abstain from marriage.” The second clause was added by Archbishop Parker in 1563, giving the positive and biblically faithful rendering of marriage and godliness.

The phrase, “to vow the estate of single life” is very specific and should not be understood as the single life in general. Both Archbishops Cranmer and Parker had the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy in mind. Parker particularly as the doctrine was affirmed by the Council of Trent in November 1563 and remains in force to the present day.

CANON I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is nothing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema.

One should also not make too much of the title change as has been done in the past. Some Anglicans have wrongly used the article as a proof-text for the idea that that the use of sacerdos rather than presbuteros proves that the Anglican doctrine has a more Catholic sacerdotal character than a Protestant ministerial one. The article is also used in the same manner to support the odd notion that the Anglican office of deacon was always understood as transitional office toward the priesthood rather than the vocational and permanent office in Christ’s church. A simple explanation of the title change is one that we have encountered before. It was to bring the Reformed Protestant Church of England into harmony with its continental brothers. The 1563/71 title, De conjugio sacerdotum is drawn from the earlier German Reformation confessions [Augsburg Confession 1530, Part II, article xxiii. Smalcald Articles, 1537, article 11]. The context of the German articles clearly addresses the Roman Catholic doctrine, and the Augsburg Confessional article gathers bishop, presbyter, and deacon in its exposition as we read here. The references never describe Protestant ministry as a sacerdotal one. Therefore article 31 is likewise specific toward Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrines.

It is important to note how once again the articles apply the rule of sola scriptura to the doctrine and ministry of the church. There is no prohibition in Scripture to celibacy or abstention from marriage. The article says that what matters is God’s law and godliness for everyone in the Church, and as far as sex is concerned, that means singleness or marriage. By the proper use of God’s Word (see Articles 6 and 20), our Anglican forebears ended the idea that celibacy was a godlier way of life, but at the same time added that there were high standards expected in marriage.

A wise Anglican will also read the article in light of the remaining historical formularies. The doctrine of marriage that underlines the article comes from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony which in its opening exhortation sets out the biblical description of marriage as well as its biblical foundation in the sadly neglected homily provided at the end of the service. It is worth quoting it in full here.

ALL ye that are married or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife, even as himself.

Likewise, the same Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaketh thus to all men that are married; Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them.

Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.

Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife. Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.

Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.

And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Next, the Anglican will study the Homily on Matrimony in the Second Book of Homilies for the effort of godliness in married life. Published in 1571, the same year the article was promulgated. The first part of the homily is taken from a sermon by the Lutheran reformer Vitus Theodorus (Veit Dietrich) of Nuremberg. He was Martin Luther’s housemate and confident, accompanying him to the Marburg Colloquy between Luther and Zwingli in 1529. The remainder of the homily is drawn from John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians, homily xxvi [Bray, Homilies 472].

Wherefore, for as much as matrimony serveth as well to avoid sin and offence as to the increase of the kingdom of God, you, as all other which enter that state, must acknowledge this benefit of God with pure and thankful minds, for that he hath so ruled your hearts that ye follow no the example of the wicked world who set their delight in filthiness of sin, where both of you stand in the fear of God and abhor all filthiness.


Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.



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Review of Gamble’s Christ and the Law

By Ryan McGraw

Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018).
 
This series of books introduces readers to historical figures and backgrounds surrounding the Assembly that produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. As the church approaches four-hundred years after the production of these documents, she must grapple with the fact that she needs to understand the different world in which they arose in order to keep using them today. Whitney Gamble’s contribution to this series is particularly important because she shows ably how the threat of antinomianism shaped the concerns of the Westminster divines and the documents that they produced at virtually every turn. Antinomianism did not necessarily mean the same thing in the seventeenth-century as it does now. Yet Gamble’s thorough contextual study of this issue will help readers both understand the theology behind the Westminster Standards and see parallels to contemporary issues that face the church today.
 
Strengths
This book is well-written, thoroughly researched, and clearly argued. Gamble wisely begins the narrative of antinomianism well before the first meeting of the Westminster Assembly, which turned its attention heavily to this topic for the first two months of its meetings. She appeals to how various authors used David’s sin, repentance, and restoration to illustrate the different theological positions involved (conclusion). This provides readers with a clear point of comparison that makes this study easy to follow. Antinomians, such as John Eaton, argued that God saw sin in David, but that he no longer does so in believers, because David belonged to the old age rather than to the new covenant (16). They also argued that faith was a means of realizing that one had already been justified rather than an instrument through which one receives justification (50-54). Gamble traces the initial effort of the Westminster divines to revise the Thirty-Nine Articles and their subsequent fresh formulation of issues such as justification, faith, repentance, and good works. She shows the thorny issues involved in the interrelationship between these doctrines and provides a faithful roadmap of the theological options available at the time. She concludes on the one that the Assembly’s work was largely a failure in that the Westminster Standards did not become the confession of the English church, yet, on the other hand, the continuing influence of these standards on the church world-wide is staggering (157). If antinomianism is integral to the history of these documents, then this study provides essential background to understanding what they mean.
 
Many of Gamble’s findings are important for historical and for contemtporary theology. For example, her assertion that associating the Sinai covenant with the covenant of works was a traditional antinomian move, while requiring some careful qualifications, is an important point in the historical development of Reformed covenant theology. She even challenges the valuable findings of Mark Jones on this point, arguing for a lesser degree of diversity within the Assembly over the nature of the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace (139). Gamble’s historical work will bring a fresh voice to the table in contemporary discussions of such issues. This is also true in relation to the question as to whether or not faith is a condition of the covenant of grace. Antinomians regarded treating faith as a condition of the covenant as legalism and they tended to dismiss imperatives in the Scriptures by relegating them to promoting the conviction of sin (50). What made the antinomian error so dangerous was that most of what the antinomians had to say was true. The covenant of grace depended wholly on Christ and not on believers or on their faith. The Holy Spirit did create an obedient disposition in Christians, making obedience natural and a matter of course. However, this did not remove the biblical realities that believers were united to Christ by faith and that they were “children of wrath” before they embraced him. Teaching that salvation does not depend on our faith is not the same thing as saying that Spirit-supplied faith is not a condition of entrance into the covenant of grace and of interest in Christ (144). Moreover, the fact that Christians are delivered from the law does not negate the fact that the Spirit writes the law on their hearts as they hear, study, and practice its teachings. This is a great benefit of union with Christ and one of the primary objects of redemption in Christ. Like most historical and contemporary errors, antinomianism was mostly right in what it asserted. Yet the places in which it was incomplete had, and continue to have, massive theological and practical implications. Gamble’s study has potential for clarifying such discussions.
 
Weakness
There is one significant weakness in this work. It is interesting that the author aimed initially to study debates between John Owen and Richard Baxter, yet, in the end, Baxter receives no mention and Owen only one passing reference. Gamble stresses the debates and writings of the Westminster divines to the neglect of the broader theological context, both in England and on the continent. This makes it more difficult for readers to understand where theological debates at Westminster fit in the broader Reformed world. For example, when treating the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, her analysis of the Assembly’s conclusions are sound, but it is surprising that she makes no reference to the background of this debate in the international controversy that started between Johannes Piscator and Theodore Beza. Her analysis of the Westminster Assembly’s minutes and related documents is superb, but the narrow context that she sets limits the reach of her work.
 
Studies like this one can help readers better understand the meaning of the Westminster Standards. The relatively recent publication of the Assembly’ Minutes and Papers adds a new dimension to such studies. While delving into these documents is not a sufficient cause of creating a broad picture of the development of the thought standing behind these doctrinal standards, it is a necessary one. Gamble’s book takes us one step closer to doing so in relation to a vital issue that touches many areas of the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.


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Book Giveaway Time!

By Tim Lee

Click on this link and follow the steps to register! https://reformedresources.org/register-to-win-a-free-copy-of-theoretical…

 
Deadline is February 15. U.S. & Canadian addresses only.


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Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

The 39: Church Discipline (2)

By Henry Jansma

Article 33 on excommunication is an excellent example of the second principle we have underlined throughout our study in how the Anglican confession is the sum of the historical formularies. 

XXXIII — OF EXCOMMUNICATE PERSONS, HOW THEY ARE TO BE AVOIDED
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

Article 33 repeats article 32 of Cranmer’s 1553 original. The only change is in the title. 1553’s “Excommunicate Persons are to be avoided” became “Of Excommunicate Persons, How They are to be Avoided.”  The article is another excellent example of sola scriptura. It intends the reform according to the Scriptures of the abuse of discipline by the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers were very conscious of the need for biblically faithful church discipline as they were also careful to avoid the corruption that had given rise to the Reformation in the first place, that one could buy oneself out of the consequence that their sinfulness has brought upon them. 

In the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer, there are many places dedicated to pastoral discipline. The instruction to the Minister at the beginning of the order for the administration of the Lord’s Supper alludes to the biblical pattern found in Matthew 18 and Titus 3.

If a Minister be persuaded that any person who presents himself to be a partaker of the holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the Sacrament to any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table; Provided that in case of grave and immediate scandal to the Congregation the Minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the latest and therein obey the order and direction given to him by the Ordinary; Provided also that before issuing his order and direction in relation to any such person the Ordinary shall afford to him an opportunity for interview.

Reading this rubric in light of article 33 and article 19 on the nature of the church as a local congregation of faithful people, we can see again see how our Anglican forebears avoided the pitfalls of the medieval church that preceded. The pattern is the congregation and its ordained ministers in the first order, then in more serious public moral failure in consultation with the bishop.

Within the text of Order for the Lord’s Supper is the provision for the announcement of excommunication as part of the public notices given before the sermon, the grace, and dismissal of the congregation before those who remain to gather to partake of the Lord’s Table.

Then the Curate shall declare unto the people what Holy-days, or Fasting-days, are in the week following to be observed. And then also (if occasion be) shall notice be given of the Communion; and Briefs, Citations, and Excommunications read. And nothing shall be proclaimed or published in the Church during the time of Divine Service, but by the Minister: nor by him any thing but what is prescribed in the Rules of this Book, or enjoined by the Queen, or by the Ordinary of the place.

At the Preface to The Commination, the order of prayer Cranmer added in 1552 for the First Day of Lent, commonly called “Ash Wednesday,” clearly underlines his intent: the desired restoration of the early church’s pattern of “godly discipline.” 

That at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted or notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen.

A further formulary, The Ordinal, also implies the exercise of godly discipline in the charge to those being ordained a priest or consecrated bishop to be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word.

And finally, the substance of the ministry of the word through the homilies assumes the exercise of pastoral exhortation and admonition, particularly in the following:

Book One Book Two
6. Christian Love 2. Against Idolatry
7. Against Swearing and Perjury 4. Good Works, Especially Fasting
8. Falling Away from God 5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness  
10. Civil Order and Obedicence 6. Against Excess of Apparel
11. Against Adultery 7. Prayer
  15. Worthy Reception of the Sacrament
  18. Matrimony
  19. Repentence
  20. Against Idleness
  21. Against Rebellion

 

When we gather what the formularies have set out as the marks of the church in word, sacrament, and discipline, one can outline an ascending order of seriousness and its pastoral response:

  1. Godly Exhortation – the ordinary work of the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace (Word and sacrament) that quietly moves the believer to put sin to death and to turn to Christ.
  2. Godly Admonition – the ordinary work of the Spirit through those same means to confront members tenderly in a warning of their danger and exhorting them to repentance and a more profound fidelity to Christ. 
  3. Humble Rebuke – the work of the Spirit in censure by confronting an individual member in setting out the specific character of his or her offense. Offering them reproof and exhorting them to repentance and more consistent fidelity to the Lord Jesus.
  4. Public Suspension – due to its public nature, a suspension is censure by the local church’s ordinary (the ordained presbyter) in which one is deprived of the privilege of participation at the Lord’s Table, of lay office, or of both. Those under discipline would still be allowed to sit under the Ministry of the Word, but would not be allowed to go forward to the Table. This is, in fact, the most crucial element in public church discipline: to bring the offender to repentance and, eventually, to restoration. Therefore, unless there are grave fears for the safety of others, no one under discipline should be prevented from attending divine worship and from listening to the word of God read and preached.
  5. Public Excommunication – is the most severe form of censure and is the last resort to be applied only in cases of offense made worse by persistent impenitence while suspended. It is the declaration by the ordained presbyter and in consultation with the presbyter consecrated to the episcopal office (bishop) that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ, taken instead as a “heathen or publican.”

Although the church discipline as described in the article has fallen into abeyance in the established Church of England and the American mainline Protestant Episcopal Church, Anglican’s today have an opportunity to restore the principles found in these formularies to their proper pastoral place in the life of the local church.

 


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For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)
  23. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 6 (Art. 24)
  24. The Sacraments: Part 1 (Art. 25)
  25. The Sacraments: Part 2 (Art. 26)
  26. The Sacraments: Part 3 (Art. 27)
  27. The Sacraments: Part 4 (Art. 28)
  28. The Sacraments: Part 5 (Art. 29)
  29. The Sacraments: Part 6 (Art. 30)
  30. The Sacraments: Part 7 (Art. 31)


Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

 

 

 



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

The 39: Church Discipline

By Henry Jansma

Article 33 on excommunication is an excellent example of the second principle we have underlined throughout our study in how the Anglican confession is the sum of the historical formularies. 

XXXIII — OF EXCOMMUNICATE PERSONS, HOW THEY ARE TO BE AVOIDED
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

Article 33 repeats article 32 of Cranmer’s 1553 original. The only change is in the title. 1553’s “Excommunicate Persons are to be avoided” became “Of Excommunicate Persons, How They are to be Avoided.”  The article is another excellent example of sola scriptura. It intends the reform according to the Scriptures of the abuse of discipline by the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers were very conscious of the need for biblically faithful church discipline as they were also careful to avoid the corruption that had given rise to the Reformation in the first place, that one could buy oneself out of the consequence that their sinfulness has brought upon them. 

In the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer, there are many places dedicated to pastoral discipline. The instruction to the Minister at the beginning of the order for the administration of the Lord’s Supper alludes to the biblical pattern found in Matthew 18 and Titus 3.

If a Minister be persuaded that any person who presents himself to be a partaker of the holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the Sacrament to any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table; Provided that in case of grave and immediate scandal to the Congregation the Minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the latest and therein obey the order and direction given to him by the Ordinary; Provided also that before issuing his order and direction in relation to any such person the Ordinary shall afford to him an opportunity for interview.

Reading this rubric in light of article 33 and article 19 on the nature of the church as a local congregation of faithful people, we can see again see how our Anglican forebears avoided the pitfalls of the medieval church that preceded. The pattern is the congregation and its ordained ministers in the first order, then in more serious public moral failure in consultation with the bishop.

Within the text of Order for the Lord’s Supper is the provision for the announcement of excommunication as part of the public notices given before the sermon, the grace, and dismissal of the congregation before those who remain to gather to partake of the Lord’s Table.

Then the Curate shall declare unto the people what Holy-days, or Fasting-days, are in the week following to be observed. And then also (if occasion be) shall notice be given of the Communion; and Briefs, Citations, and Excommunications read. And nothing shall be proclaimed or published in the Church during the time of Divine Service, but by the Minister: nor by him any thing but what is prescribed in the Rules of this Book, or enjoined by the Queen, or by the Ordinary of the place.

At the Preface to The Commination, the order of prayer Cranmer added in 1552 for the First Day of Lent, commonly called “Ash Wednesday,” clearly underlines his intent: the desired restoration of the early church’s pattern of “godly discipline.” 

That at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted or notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen.

A further formulary, The Ordinal, also implies the exercise of godly discipline in the charge to those being ordained a priest or consecrated bishop to be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word.

And finally, the substance of the ministry of the word through the homilies assumes the exercise of pastoral exhortation and admonition, particularly in the following:

Book One Book Two
6. Christian Love 2. Against Idolatry
7. Against Swearing and Perjury 4. Good Works, Especially Fasting
8. Falling Away from God 5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness  
10. Civil Order and Obedicence 6. Against Excess of Apparel
11. Against Adultery 7. Prayer
  15. Worthy Reception of the Sacrament
  18. Matrimony
  19. Repentence
  20. Against Idleness
  21. Against Rebellion

 

When we gather what the formularies have set out as the marks of the church in word, sacrament, and discipline, one can outline an ascending order of seriousness and its pastoral response:

  1. Godly Exhortation – the ordinary work of the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace (Word and sacrament) that quietly moves the believer to put sin to death and to turn to Christ.
  2. Godly Admonition – the ordinary work of the Spirit through those same means to confront members tenderly in a warning of their danger and exhorting them to repentance and a more profound fidelity to Christ. 
  3. Humble Rebuke – the work of the Spirit in censure by confronting an individual member in setting out the specific character of his or her offense. Offering them reproof and exhorting them to repentance and more consistent fidelity to the Lord Jesus.
  4. Public Suspension – due to its public nature, a suspension is censure by the local church’s ordinary (the ordained presbyter) in which one is deprived of the privilege of participation at the Lord’s Table, of lay office, or of both. Those under discipline would still be allowed to sit under the Ministry of the Word, but would not be allowed to go forward to the Table. This is, in fact, the most crucial element in public church discipline: to bring the offender to repentance and, eventually, to restoration. Therefore, unless there are grave fears for the safety of others, no one under discipline should be prevented from attending divine worship and from listening to the word of God read and preached.
  5. Public Excommunication – is the most severe form of censure and is the last resort to be applied only in cases of offense made worse by persistent impenitence while suspended. It is the declaration by the ordained presbyter and in consultation with the presbyter consecrated to the episcopal office (bishop) that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ, taken instead as a “heathen or publican.”

Although the church discipline as described in the article has fallen into abeyance in the established Church of England and the American mainline Protestant Episcopal Church, Anglican’s today have an opportunity to restore the principles found in these formularies to their proper pastoral place in the life of the local church.

 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)
  23. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 6 (Art. 24)
  24. The Sacraments: Part 1 (Art. 25)
  25. The Sacraments: Part 2 (Art. 26)
  26. The Sacraments: Part 3 (Art. 27)
  27. The Sacraments: Part 4 (Art. 28)
  28. The Sacraments: Part 5 (Art. 29)
  29. The Sacraments: Part 6 (Art. 30)
  30. The Sacraments: Part 7 (Art. 31)


Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

 

 

 



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Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Proto-Puritan William Tyndale (3)

By Bob McKelvey

His Translation Work

In my last post, we looked at William Tyndale’s life and work in “exile” in Europe to the time of his betrayal and death. As we noted earlier, he went there to carry on his translation work, because in England such was not only forbidden, but also found no willing printer.

Evidence existed for English Bible translation already before but especially during the 14thcentury.  John Wycliffe provided at least the inspiration though probably not the translation (his students did that), of the first whole Bible in English in 1382 (the wooden-awkward version) with a revision by 1395 (the more-natural-reading version) though from Latin and with handwritten copies only (no movable-type printing press until 1454). By 1408, unsanctioned English translations were forbidden, and by 1415, the Wycliffe Bible was condemned for burning. In the Lord’s gracious providence, many copies or portions escaped the flames as part of a grass-roots Wycliffite and “Lollard” (more eclectic) movement in different pockets across England and its various social classes. With this in mind, a Bible-grounded, anti-Romish, reform-minded, and straightforward approach (albeit with diversity) to the Christian faith likely impacted a young Tyndale and the burden he possessed for translation.  

Likewise, Tyndale mentions in The Obedience of a Christian Man(1528) his boyhood reading of  the “English chronicle,” denoting John Trevisa’s 1387 English translation of Ranulf Higden’s Latin Polychronicon(c.1326). Most important for Tyndale was Trevisa’s preface, which, among other things, justified the skillful translation of the Bible (with connections to preaching!) into English. Such reading no doubt sowed seeds in Tyndale’s heart for his future work. 

As mentioned in earlier posts, Tyndale learned Latin and Greek at Oxford, possibly furthered his Greek at Cambridge, and studied Hebrew while on the continent, possibly while in Worms (1526-27).  His expertise with these languages, for a man of his time, is nothing short of amazing. As Tyndale expert David Daniell observes, he “was a most remarkable scholar and linguist, whose eight languages included skill in Greek and Hebrew far above the ordinary for an Englishman of the time—indeed, Hebrew was virtually unknown in England”  (William Tyndale: A Biography, Yale, 1994, Kindle edition).

Tyndale’s translation skill was manifested in other works before his expertise in the Bible became known. Around 1522 (not for publication), he translated from Latin Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani(1503), ‘Handbook of a Christian Knight’, into English for John and Ann Walsh, as he sought to convince them of the corruption of the Roman church that withheld God’s truth from the people. Erasmus’s book, which leads the reader to Christ and into the Christian life according to the Scriptures and not the church who often twisted them, must have appealed to Tyndale, even if the work did so in a moralistic manner. Tyndale also translated into English around this time one of the orations of the Greek rhetorician (one setting forth the principles of persuasion), Isocrates (436–338 BC), to show Cuthbert Tunstall (himself skilled in Greek) his capabilities with the Greek language. Neither the Erasmus nor the Isocrates translations have survived.

By the time of Tyndale’s famous 1523 papal defiance and determined claim to provide Scripture to the plough boy (see our first post), he was already entrenched in New Testament translation work using Erasmus’s 3rdedition of the Greek New Testament (1522). Indeed, if God spared his then-threatened life, before “many years” the plough boy would know more of the Bible than the learned yet scornful opponent with whom he debated at the time.  

Tyndale’s goal as a translator was to be both faithful to the original languages and yet readable in common English. For him a good translation meant conveying the ancient meaning of the text to the modern reader/hearer. This demanded a balance between word-for-word formal equivalence and thought-for-thought functional equivalence. Again observes Daniell, “There are times when the original Greek, and for good reason even more the Hebrew, are baffling. A weak translator goes for paraphrase, or worse, for philological purity, and hang the sense . . . Tyndale is clear. With a difficult word or phrase, he understands the alternatives presented by technical semantics, or changes of tone or feeling, and goes for what makes sense.” He knew that translation involved interpretation, and that the latter demanded grasping the literal sense of the text without being literalistic. From such an approach, he saw the spiritualizing excesses of the fourfold method of exegesis so prominent in the medieval church but without becoming inflexible in his own interpretation of Scripture.  His balanced translation philosophy continues to inform us today.

Tyndale’s legacy as a translator is somewhat of a sleeping giant, more and more realized the more he is studied. Most importantly, the English Bible owes its greatest debt to him. For example, Daniell observes that the “Authorised Version of 1611, . . . took over Tyndale’s work” with 90% of the New Testament dependent on him. This figure also holds true for “the first half of the Old Testament, which is as far as he was able to get before he was executed outside Brussels in 1536.” Indirectly, through his translation work, Tyndale also greatly impacted the development of the English language, a fact that has been little appreciated close to 500 years after his death. Daniell provides a helpful summary (and for us, a fitting conclusion to this post) of these two areas:

“His unsurpassed ability was to work as a translator with the sounds and rhythms as well as the senses of English, to create unforgettable words, phrases, paragraphs and chapters, and to do so in a way that, again unusually for the time, is still, even today, direct and living: newspaper headlines still quote Tyndale, though unknowingly, and he has reached more people than even Shakespeare.”

Previous Posts:

1. Life in England

2. Life in Exile


Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is program coordinator of the Puritan Studies Program in connection with the Jonathan Edwards Center Africa at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is also lecturer in Historical Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in Johannesburg, South Africa, and extraordinary senior lecturer at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. He is the author of Histories that Mansoul and Her Wars Anatomize: The Drama of Redemption in John Bunyan’s Holy War and a contributor to Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism.



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Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

A Spiritual Measurement

By Patrick Ramsey

Are you physically healthy? You might answer that question by how you feel. You don’t feel bad, so you assume that you are in fairly good health. But if you wanted a more objective answer, you might visit the doctor’s office and undergo some tests. They would check your temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. They might also check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. There are many factors to consider in order to determine how healthy you are.

What about your spiritual health? How do you determine that? What would you say if your pastor asked you, “How is your relationship with God?” Once again, you could answer on the basis of your feelings. You feel close to God and therefore you believe that your relationship with God is strong. 

Although it is desirable to feel close to God, our feelings aren’t always an accurate gauge of our spiritual health. So, how would you objectively answer the question? What test or standard would you use to determine your spiritual health? One very popular test is consistency in personal devotions. Love for God is calculated by what we do in private. Consequently, our relationship with God will be good or bad depending upon how often we read the Bible and pray. Another test, albeit not as popular, is consistency in attending public worship. They key factor is how often we attend Sunday services and perhaps the midweek prayer meeting.

There is nothing wrong with either of these tests of spiritual health. However, they shouldn’t be the only tests you take. What would you think if the doctor’s office only checked your blood pressure? You need a well-rounded check-up for an accurate measurement of your physical health. The same is true for your spiritual health. And a proper spiritual check-up will include the love exam. Love for Christ is rightly measured by our love for one another.

If we love Christ then we will keep his commandments, including his command that we love one another. Thus, our relationship with Christ is directly tied to how we treat each other. The Puritan Ralph Venning said that we should never talk of friendship with Christ unless we obey him, and “it is the will and command of the Lord Jesus Christ that we love one another” (The Puritans on Loving One Another, pg. 40). Venning also said to read over 1 John 4:20 “not superficially, but seriously.” We do not love God if we hate our brother. 

Our relationship with God will suffer if we do not love one another. That is true regardless of how often we read our Bibles or attend public worship. Peter applies this principle to husbands: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).”

Love for one another is one means to gauge our walk with the Lord. So how is your relationship with the Lord? Are you walking in love? 

How are you treating the people closest to you? Spouses, siblings, colleagues and church members will have a harder time loving one another because they spend so much time together. Loving people from afar is a walk in the park compared to loving people in your own family or community. That is why it is easy to believe the lie that the grass is greener on the other side, and to think that if I were just in a different relationship, family or church, then life would be so much better. But if we love Christ and are his friends, then we will work on loving one another, especially those who are closest to us. 

And we can do this because of Christ’s love for us. He loved us so that we might love one another as he has loved us.

 


D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius’s The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Puritan Prayer for World Mission (1)

By Joel Beeke

Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834),Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.


The Puritan Motivation for Missionary Prayer: The Destiny of the Human Soul

Both the Reformation and Puritanism sought to strip away human ideas accumulated in the church over centuries and restore the divine Word to its authoritative place, directing and energizing God’s people. Since the Bible is a missionary book written by the God who sent His Son into the world to save sinners, it provided the Reformers and the Puritans with compelling reasons to pray for the lost world.

Christians of all times have been deeply affected by Christ’s words in Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Calvin commented, 

Christ reminds us that the soul of man was not created merely to enjoy the world for a few days, but to obtain at length its immortality in heaven. What carelessness and what brutal stupidity is this, that men are so strongly attached to the world, and so much occupied with its affairs, as not to consider why they were born, and that God gave them an immortal soul, in order that, when the course of the earthly life was finished, they might live eternally in heaven! And, indeed, it is universally acknowledged, that the soul is of higher value than all the riches and enjoyments of the world (John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 16:26).

John Flavel (1628–1691) observed that the human soul was specially created by God and thus has intrinsic worth and excellence, including the capacity for divine grace and glory. God prepared a place in heaven for souls that He purchased with the blood of His own Son. The actions of the soul have eternity stamped upon them, for every obedient action is a seed of joy and every sinful action a seed of sorrow (John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, 3:153–161). Flavel said, “The soul of man is the prize about which heaven and hell contend: the great design of heaven is to save it, and all the plots of hell to ruin it.” (Flavel, Works, 3:161) But though the soul is so precious, it may be lost forever in hell. (Flavel, Works, 3:180–181)

The value of a human soul remains the same, regardless of one’s nationality or social status. Matthew Henry (1662–1714) noted of Christ’s preaching in Matthew 9:35–38, “He visited not only the great and wealthy cities, but the poor, obscure villages; there he preached, there he healed. The souls of those that are meanest [least] in this world are as precious to Christ, and should be to us, as the souls of those that make the greatest figure…. Jesus Christ is a very compassionate friend to precious souls.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, 5:104)Such considerations led Reformed Christians to value the souls of all their fellow human beings and to pray for the extension of gospel preaching to the entire world.

 


Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.

 



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Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Leiden Synopsis and the Divine Attributes (2)

By Ryan McGraw

Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes and Divine Affections

Why does it seem like no two lists of the divine attributes are identical? The previous post showed that part of the reason for this is that God is an incomprehensible and simple being. He is simply always beyond our grasp even though he is within our reach. Yet is there any way of relating his attributes to one another that can help us know God better as he has revealed himself to us in Scripture? Antonius Thysius’ disputation on the divine attributes in the Leiden Synopsishelps us wade through these deep waters a bit by describing logical relationships between some of the divine attributes. While such logical relationships can break down quickly, they can help us develop at least a somewhat less hazy picture of what kind of God we have in view and enable us to remember his attributes better by relating them to one another. After summarizing his division of the divine attributes into incommunicable and communicable ones, this post briefly introduces some questions related to divine affections. I will conclude by using Thysius’ treatment of the divine attributes as a guide to evaluating at a glance the lists of divine attributes in the Westminster Catechisms and Confession of Faith.

While there were different ways of classifying divine attributes, Thysius opted to use the categories of incommunicable and communicable properties. This meant that some terms could be ascribed to God alone while others could be used both of God and of his creatures as reflecting God and as made in his image (165). The incommunicable properties were easier to number than the communicable ones because they included a relatively stable list of what was unique to God with no analogy in his creatures. According to Thysius, simplicity (“on which unity and immutability depend”), infinitude, eternality, and immensity are God’s four incommunicable properties (165). We looked at simplicity in the preceding post. Infinity, which was the second of four incommunicable properties, included eternity and “immeasurability” (immensitas), all of which he called “infallible marks of the Deity.” God’s spiritual essence entailed his simplicity, which is why simplicity qualified the divine attributes as a whole. In this sense, God was also “one,” both in terms of numerical oneness as the only true God and simplicity with respect to not being composed of parts (167). Immutability fell into this discussion because of the implication that the simple God is unchangeably who and what he is (167). Infinitude meant that God was “altogether free from any ending or boundary” (167). Eternality, the third incommunicable quality, meant that he had no beginning, no end, and no succession of time (169). This attribute included his independence. Fourth, and lastly, “immensity is the attribute of the essence of the infinite God, whereby He surpasses all boundaries of essence” (169). Omnipresence is an implication of immensity because if the creation cannot contain God then he also fills it even as he is not bound by it. Note that there is a partial pecking order among the incommunicable properties: simplicity/spirituality is the broadest general description of God; infinitude then encompasses and requires eternity and immensity. These attributes, in turn, imply others, such as independence, omnipresence, etc. While all divine attributes show how God is unique, this set of four attributes was viewed as having no parallels in creation.

Narrowing the list of communicable attributes and relating its terms to each other proved to be a bit more challenging. This is where lists of divine attributes admitted the most diversity among theologians. Communicable attributes are predicated both of God and of creatures by way of analogy (169). We should understand that this meant that we are analogous to God rather than God being analogous to us (181). In other words, we should understand ourselves in relation to God rather than God in relation to us. Reversing this order is one of the primary causes of idolatry, since the pagans remake God in their own images, supposing that God is altogether like them. Thysius sought to organize communicable attributes in a general way. He argued that life, wisdom, will, and power are foremost (169). He noted that even though these are “communicable” attributes, there remains an incommunicable element in them (171). For example, God alone is alive ultimately because he is the source of all life. From life, Thysius branched down into intellect and will, noting that, “This life of God exists in intellect and will” (171). Deducing further from intellect, he added that God’s knowledge, which with wisdom belongs to his intellect, terminates on himself ultimately (173). After distinguishing in passing between God’s efficient and commanding will, Thysius added that the divine will is free and immutable (175). All of these things are immanent in God and they grow out of his incommunicable qualities. As another example, divine power emanates from his potency (175). His potency is absolute in the sense that, “He also could not be capable of more, or less, but He can do all things which He can to do, and He performs his power upon whatever He wills to be, and that without labor or effort” (175). God’s dominion is related closely to this idea. Though this description of logical connections between the divine attributes is not as tight as his treatment of incommunicable attributes, it illustrates that such lists still reflected some attempt at logical arrangement.

Thysius turned next to divine affections, which he distinguished carefully from passions. These divine affections encompassed a good number of communicable attributes. He wrote,

God’s good affections (which in human beings are the passions), and the virtues of his intellect and will (which in mortals are the ethical and moral qualities which designate regulation of the affections), are: truth, love, goodness, gentleness, charity, generosity, mercy, and long-suffering, anger, hatred, justice, and also holiness, etc., and are truly and properly said of God (of course with the removal of every imperfection from them); and they are nothing other than God’s ardent will towards us, and its power and effect in creatures (177).

Two things are noteworthy here. First, this entire list of communicable attributes flows, in some sense, from divine will and from divine power. Life leads logically to intellect (including wisdom and knowledge), which then leads to will and to power, which finally encompasses all other communicable properties (see his examples on pp. 179-183). Second, “passions” in human beings correspond to “good affections in God.” This simultaneously shows a qualitative difference between divine and human “emotions’ and a relationship between them. God does not have passions because he is not moved from anything outside of himself like human beings are. Yet human passions reflect something true about God’s affections. Turretin went so far as to say that human beings would be without passions in heaven, though they certainly would not be without affections. This material not only illustrates how a Reformed author related divine attributes to one another. It should caution people in modern debates over whether or not God is “without passions” against treating terms like “passion,” “affection,” and “emotion” as purely synonymous.

            What can we learn from Thysius’ treatment of the divine attributes and can this help us understand the Westminster Catechisms and Confession of Faith better on the doctrine of God? The list of divine attributes in Westminster Confession of Faith 2:1-2 is difficult to navigate. Both paragraphs begin with incommunicable divine properties, though the first includes communicable ones while the second does not. Both paragraphs list what God is absolutely in himself and how he expresses his being in relation to his creatures. The Shorter Catechism sounds more like Thysius’ list, beginning with three incommunicable properties (spirit, infinite, eternal), adding unchangeable before moving fully to communicable properties. “Being” loosely equals Thysius’ placing “life” first among these. “Wisdom,” which would include knowledge, is one half of Thysius’ understanding of “intellect.” “Power” was tied to will in Thysius, while the Shorter Catechism omitted “will” and concluded with “holiness, justice, goodness and truth,” all of which Thysius classified as “good affections.”

In light of this post, the Larger Catechism Q.7 will be a bit more familiar:

God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Spirituality/simplicity leads to self-existence (aseity) and infinitude, which brings glory, blessedness, and perfection with it. All-sufficient and unchangeable are relative and absolute attributes, respectively, while the both are incommunicable. They are likely implications of eternality, which would include self-existence in Thysius’ treatment, though that attribute is mentioned separately here. The incommunicable and absolute qualities clearly end with incomprehensible, with a list of communicable attributes rounding out the list.

            The Leiden Synopsis helps us better understand the logical relationships between the divine attributes, but it does not solve all of our problems. The Westminster Standards sort of look like an outworking of Thysius’ logical relationships and they sort of do not. Other lists would look sort of similar and sort of different from both of them. This reminds us that every divine attribute implies and informs all of the others, and that beginning with any one of them leads us to marvel at the others. This is what divine simplicity and incomprehensibility mean in practice. We need to learn to make logical connections between God’s attributes. This will help us gain a better and full-orbed view of who God is and well as of what he does, which reflects who he is. Yet studying the divine attributes will always be, and should always be, a humbling affair. It is ultimately only in Christ that we see every facet of the incomprehensible God shine forth gloriously, making him apprehendable to us by faith.

Read the author’s previous article here


Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.



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