Puritan Preachers: John Preston

By Joel Beeke

We conclude our series on Puritan preachers (see #1, #2, #3) with John Preston (1587–1628), whose preaching can be described as preaching great gospel themes. He was more topical and organized by theological categories and questions than the verse-by-verse biblical expositions of John Calvin. Hughes Oliphant Old wrote:
The text is studied briefly in order to draw out of it a specific teaching or theme, and then this theme is developed in a number of points which are then supported by various arguments, drawn mostly from Scripture. They are illustrated by examples or illuminated by similes. Then, finally, they are applied to the lives of the congregation. In this respect Preston’s sermons resemble those of medieval Scholasticism. . . . Preston usually takes one verse and develops from it a theme or a number of themes (The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, 4:284).
We see an example of this method in The Breast-Plate of Faith and Love (1630), which is a classic statement of Puritan spirituality (see Old, Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 4:280–86). In the first section of the book, Preston preaches four sermons (117 pages) on a single text, Romans 1:17: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” He opens three doctrines: (1) that righteousness is revealed and offered in the gospel to as many as will take it, (2) that by faith we are made to partake of this righteousness, and (3) that faith has degrees, and every Christian should grow from one degree to another. We can see that Preston derives these doctrines from the text, but he spends little time in his sermons studying the meaning of the text. Rather, he moves quickly to ask questions about each doctrine, which he answers from other Scripture passages. In his first point about the righteousness revealed in the gospel, he queries: (1) Why is this righteousness revealed? (2) How does this righteousness save? (3) How is it offered to us? (4) To whom is it offered? (5) Upon what qualifications is it offered? (6) How is it made ours? (7) What is required of us when we have it? These questions are followed by two warnings to those who reject Christ or put off receiving Him, and then by three exhortations to receive Christ.
 
The result is clear, applied preaching of the gospel. Old commented: “These sermons may properly be regarded as evangelistic sermons. Their aim is the conversion of those to whom they are addressed. Preston is fully aware that he is preaching to baptized Christians, but he is concerned that his congregation enter into the full reality of which their baptism is a sign and a promise” (Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 4:281). Addressed to those inside the church, Preston’s evangelistic teaching focuses on the meaning of conversion so as to distinguish between true believers and mere nominal Christians.
 
In a sermon series based on 2 Timothy 1:13, A Pattern of Wholesome Words, Preston lays out some of his views of the work of the preacher. Irvonwy Morgan observes that here too we see Preston starting with a doctrine and then developing it by answering questions and objections. He says that preachers should generally avoid quoting the church fathers, though some exceptions may be allowed for more recent writers, such as Calvin. But they should study broadly in human learning and digest the material well so that they can preach the same truths simply and usefully, much as livestock eat hay but produce wool and milk fit for men (Morgan, Puritan Spirituality, 12–14.).
 
The preacher is an ambassador who speaks for God to the people as His public representative. He must interpret the Word by raising a doctrine from the text, supporting it with confirming Scripture passages, then making application of it to particular kinds of people. The text must be understood according to proper grammar; rhetorical devices, such as metaphors; the “scope” or purpose of the text; and the analogy of faith. Each sermon must be applied by deriving its inherent uses. In these things, Preston sounds very much like Perkins in his Arte of Prophecying. One also senses his medical training in the background as he describes how the preacher must apply a different cure to the fever of lust, the swelling of pride, the palsy of anger, the lethargy of idleness, the humor of vainglory, the pleurisy of security, and the unsavory breath of evil speech (Morgan, Puritan Spirituality, 13–14. “Humor” here probably refers to an imbalance in bodily fluids, which in the medicine of that time were believed to produce the temperaments of melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic, and sanguine). General applications are not nearly as helpful as speaking to specific sins.
 
The minister must preach the Word. Preachers should feed their flocks, preaching the Scriptures at least twice on the Sabbath and also catechizing. Morgan says, “The Word must be presented in a spiritual manner, plain and unadorned, and easy to follow” (Morgan, Puritan Spirituality, 14). However, the sermon should not be just a running commentary on the Bible, but a structured discourse with distinct points. It is said that the stones of the walls of Byzantium were fitted so closely together that the wall appeared as one stone. Preston quips, “This may be a commendation in a wall, but not in a sermon.” Also, beware of filling your sermon with material foreign to the Scriptures. Children may think that weeds in a cornfield are pretty, but the farmer knows they make it less fruitful. Even in making illustrations, the best material can be found in the Bible itself, though other illustrations are permissible so long as they do not merely please weak and flighty minds. We have already seen a number of Preston’s own extrabiblical illustrations (Morgan, Puritan Spirituality, 14–15).
 
In all things, the preacher operates as an instrument of the Spirit of Christ. He is totally dependent upon the Lord for any good results to come of his preaching. Preston says:
When Christ showeth himself to a man, it is another thing than when the ministers shall show him, or the Scriptures nakedly read do show him: for when Christ shall show himself by his Spirit, that showing draweth a man’s heart to long after him, otherwise we may preach long enough, and show you that these spiritual things, these privileges are prepared for you in Christ, but it the Holy Ghost that must write them in your hearts; we can but write them in your heads (The Breast-Plate of Faith and Love, 1:163).


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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.

Bite-Size Bunyan: Some Gospel Truths Opened (2)

By Bob McKelvey

The purpose of “Bite-Size Bunyan” is to share John Bunyan’s writings in summary form. Our second “bite” (see #1) concerns Bunyan’s work, A Vindication of the Book Called, Some Gospel- Truths Opened (1657), itself a response to Quaker Edward Burrough (1634-1663) who wrote The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace Contended For (1656) in response to Bunyan’s Some Gospel Truths Opened (1656).
 
Burrough, one of the most famous of the Quakers, was converted as a teen (1652) under the ministry of Quaker founder George Fox (1624-1691). Burrough is perhaps most famous for his successful (at least temporarily) appeal (1661) to Charles II to intervene against the severe persecution of Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In his debate with Bunyan, responded to A Vindication with Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth (1657) to which his mentor Fox added The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded (1659). Bunyan never responded, perhaps wisely.
 
Burrough manifests the standard Quaker emphasis on direct revelation from the inward light of Christ transforming the individual in a works righteousness scheme. Unfortunately, especially in his replies to Bunyan’s accusations and questions, Burrough at best lacked clarity and understanding and at worst was quite evasive and distortive. In general, he repeatedly denies charges leveled by Bunyan but without any refutation of substance and clear elaboration of theological convictions. We will consider two concrete examples.
 
First, let’s look at Burrough’s response to Bunyan’s question, “Was that very Jesus, that was born of the Virgin Mary, a real man of flesh and bones after his resurrection out of Joseph’s sepulchre, yea, or nay?” Here is the main section of Burrough’s answer in True Faith: “What the Scripture speaks of Christ we own to be truth, and own him to be what the Scriptures speak of him; and all men’s imaginations of him we deny, and their false interpretations of the Scriptures concerning him.” As you can see, he never answers the question, and such is not lost on Bunyan in A Vindication, who complains, “though you say you own him as the Scriptures speak of him, yet you deny him as the Scriptures speak of him . . .  as, for instance:” professing “Christ within” while denying “Christ Jesus in his person without,. . . though that is a truth, as is also the other.”
 
Second, consider Burrough’s denial that any Quaker has condemned Bunyan of witchcraft for preaching from the Scriptures, all of which “we do own.” Bunyan supports his claim by recalling the infamous account of Quaker Anne Blackly who reportedly told him in disputation, “To throw away the scriptures,” to which he answered, “No, for then the devil would be too hard for me.” Bunyan then claims that Blackly called his proclamation of the ascended Christ (as the God-man) as preaching “up an idol” with “conjuration and witchcraft.” 
 
In closing, we do well to hear some of the closing words of Bunyan who calls us to embrace the Christ without and within:
“See that you are labourers after a more experimental knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; fly more to his birth, death, blood, resurrection, ascension, and intercession; and fetch refreshing for your souls more and more from him without, through the operation of his Spirit within; and though the fruits of the Spirit be excellent, and to be owned where they are found, yet have a care you take not away the glory of the blood of Christ shed on the cross without the gates of Jerusalem, and give it them; which you will do, if you do content yourselves, and satisfy your consciences with this; that you find the fruits of the Spirit within you, and do not go for peace and consolation of conscience to the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.”


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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 Family Altar (1)

By Amy Mantravadi

If there is one Christian book that everyone seems to be talking about this year, it is The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. Subtitled “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation,” it discusses how can respond to changes in our culture through the development of communities loosely modeled on or inspired by the monastic order founded by Saint Benedict. One part of this strategy that Dreher says is absolutely critical is the maintenance of a vibrant Christian home life:
“Just as the monastery’s life is ordered toward God, so must the family home be. Every Christian family likes to think they put God first, but this is not always how we live…If we are the abbot and abbess of our domestic monastery, we will see to it that our family’s life is structured in such a way as to make the mission of knowing and serving God clear to all its members. That means maintaining regular times of family prayer. That means regular readings of Scripture and stories from the lives of the saints – Christian heroes and heroines from ages past…Living in a domestic monastery also means putting the life of the church first, even if you have to keep your kid out of a sports program that schedules games during your church’s worship services” (pgs. 124-125).
Would it interest you to know that this idea is not remotely new? Nearly four centuries before Dreher was lamenting the decline of Christian culture in modern America, the Puritans of 17th century England were searching for their own ways to maintain true religion in a largely hostile society. One such Puritan was Oliver Heywood, whose stand in favor of a Presbyterian form of church government and opposition to the Book of Common Prayer resulted in his ejection from the pulpit under the 1662 Act of Uniformity. He traveled the country preaching sermons at various locations, often in secret. This caused him to be excommunicated and suffer various other penalties and fines (Meet the Puritans, pgs. 340-341). Heywood knew what it was to face opposition for one’s faith. 
 
In the later years of his life, he wrote a treatise on family worship that was in its own way a revolutionary statement. It may not seem so at first glance, but the principles described in The Family Altar were meant to have a definite impact on society:
“Family worship will make up a defect in, or want of public ordinances; Providence may cast your lot in places where the streams of the sanctuary run low or muddy, in this case, house-wells may do you such service; when public persecution breaks up church assemblies, house worship will maintain religion in the world, and the private fire will break out into an open flame: what had become of religion had it not often lodged in private houses? This hath been God’s usual reserve to maintain the power of godliness; church history tells us, that the open profession of the gospel hath been at a low ebb, and this hath helped it to a glorious resurrection: ministers were banished, assemblies scattered, churches demolished, and scarce any appearance of public meetings; yet then the fire glowed hot at private hearths, and in God’s due time a door was opened for public assemblies: how much are we indebted to God for house altars! And such a day may overtake us again…” (The Whole Works of the Rev. Oliver Heywood, Volume 4:362-363)
Heywood witnessed with his own eyes godly churches shut down and godly ministers forced out of their pulpits. When he wrote about the need for family worship, he did so with a sense of urgency. He saw the need in his country for a return to true Christianity, even as many of us do in our own society. The solution he recommended is perhaps not the one that would leap to the forefront of our minds. He suggested starting with the most basic institution that God has established: the family. The institution of family worship was in Heywood’s opinion not only the most crucial task assigned to heads of household, but also a primary means of improving society:
“In vain do you complain of magistrates and ministers, while you that are householders are unfaithful to your trust. You complain that the world is in a bad state, what do you do to mend it? Do not so much complain of others as of yourselves; and complain not so much to man as to God, and plead with him for reformation, second also your prayers with earnest endeavours; sweep before your own doors; act for God within your sphere” (Works, 4:285-286).
In this series, we will examine just what Heywood meant by family worship and how we can implement it in our own homes today.


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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.

Union and Communion (6)

By Patrick Ramsey

The doctrine of union and communion with Christ provides a number of comforts or encouragements to Christians. I want to look at two in particular that some puritans highlighted: first, the dignity and honor that union with Christ bestows upon believers and second, the assurance that union with Christ grants to believers.
 
I don’t think that I am going out on a limb by saying that Christians, myself included, really have no idea how special they are. We just don’t get it. There are many reasons for this. One is that we are not recognized as special or treated with honor because we are Christians. People don’t look at a Christian like they look at royalty or a movie star or a sports star or a powerful politician or a wealthy businessperson. If they did, then we might well find it easy to believe that we are very important persons. But it is hard to think that way about ourselves when we are ignored, or worse, treated with contempt. Another reason is that we may not be all that successful. We have no plaques on the wall, no trophy case and no savings account. We are average, or below average. There is nothing great or noteworthy about us at all.
 
While you may not be great in the world’s eyes, or even in your own eyes, if you are a true believer, then you are united to Christ, and if you are united to Christ then “this speaks the excellency and dignity of your persons” (Thomas Jacomb). Christ is great and glorious, and you become great and glorious due to your personal and intimate relationship with him. When Esther married King Ahasuerus, she became queen and assumed all the honor, glory and privileges of being his queen. But, as Jacomb points out, “this is nothing to the honour which Christ hath put upon you in his joining and marrying you to himself.” For union with Christ brings us “into the full enjoyment of Christ, with all his riches, and all his glory” (Thomas Case). We share in all that Christ is and has, including his titles, dignities, offices, excellences, prerogatives, and inheritance. He is a son of God, so are you. He is a king, so are you. He is heir of all things, so you are co-heirs with him. Surely, Jacomb is correct to say that “the saint in his rags is greater than the sinner in his robes; for the one is in Christ, and the other is not, and that puts a superlative glory and excellency upon him.” And so, it doesn’t matter “what the world says or thinks of you” or “what your outward condition is in the world” (Jacomb), because you “have another rate and value set upon [you] in heaven” (Case).
 
Assurance of salvation is another comfort that union and communion with Christ brings to the believer. Marital unions are constantly being dissolved today but our union with Christ is indissoluble. Nothing will be able to separate us from Christ.  Our life is hidden with Christ in God and “therefore it is sure and safe” (Jacomb). In fact, “there is no more possibility of pulling the believer out of the bosom of Christ, than there is of removing Christ out of the bosom of his Father” (Case). Because Jesus lives, we shall live also. Death doesn’t even break our union with Christ because we die in the Lord. At death, our souls are united to Christ in heaven, and Christ is united to our bodies “in the grave, their very dust; they sleep in Jesus” (Case). Since we are and always will be united to Christ who has conquered sin and death, we will not lose our salvation but persevere in the faith until the end and we will be raised from the dead to eternal life on the last day.


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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.

39 Articles—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude (1)

By Henry Jansma

Having laid down the foundations of who God is and the rule of faith (Scripture is the final authority, supported by the creeds), the Thirty-Nine Articles continue with specific questions of salvation from article 9 to article 14—with article 11 on the justification of man at its center. There is a pattern here of guilt, grace, and gratitude that we should not miss as it also forms the structure of the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Articles 9 and 10 examine our guilt, our actual condition before God in two aspects: our original sin and our need of atonement, and the limitations on our free will and our need of God’s grace. Then comes grace, article 11 on justification, declaring what God does for us and how we receive Christ’s work. Articles 12, 13 and 14 examine the nature of our gratitude in response. Article 12 shows the proper sphere for our works after salvation; articles 13 and 14 set the limits and illustrate the perversion of works, the one seeking independence from God that compromises his grace towards us, the other condemning the view that works can go beyond God’s requirements. Both underlining how no human being can attain to God’s commands except Christ alone.
 
IX—Of Original or Birth-Sin 
Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, “Phronema Sarkos”, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin. 
 
Article 9 begins with the point that to understand the extent one must first understand the source of Original Sin. It’s not in our nurture (copying the bad examples from our parents or others around us, tracing their way back to Adam) that shapes our tabula rasa, our “neutral” human nature. This is the false teaching of the Welsh monk Pelagius (as the Pelagians do vainly talk). The article affirms that every single person born in Adam’s race is “inclined to evil.”
 
Our nature is now utterly corrupted at the deepest level as a result of the fall of Adam. It is of its nature inclined to evil and continually wars against God. We are all rebels against God. We are not as we should be. Even our noblest ‘natural’ desires that are weighed in the balance of God’s righteousness are found wanting.
 
The article continues next with the consequence of our rebellion: “and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.” God, our creator, call us to account for our guilt in Adam and our attitudes and actions. He will not allow our rebellion to go on forever. We are judged as being very far gone from our original righteousness. His judgment is to withdraw from us, to separate us from himself, but since God is the source of life, being cut off him means death. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We have “no hope and [are] without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). 
 
The article then concludes in examining the continuing presence of original sin in the believing Christian (in them that are regenerated). When we are born again by the Holy Spirit in repentance and faith, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6.14), but the presence of our sinful human nature remains. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). We are at war with the sinful presence that remains. Sustained by the Holy Spirit, we are moved ever deeper to the roots of our sinfulness. We are to resist submitting to our sinful desires (as the Apostle [Paul] doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin).
 
Our Anglican forebears began with the bad news in Article 9 “Of Original or Birth Sin” that shows how far our sinful corruption extends. And the Book of Common Prayer underlines the doctrine again and again in phrases like, “There is no health in us,” God alone being “from whom all holy desires do proceed,” and “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,” or “can do no good thing without Thee.” One thing that has got North American Anglicanism in the superficiality that it is in is that we have just not wanted to talk or examine this doctrine of how far the fall of man truly is. Indeed, the history of theology is a history of softening the sharp edges of Genesis 3. One only need to compare the confession in Morning and Evening Prayer of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with the confession in the Penitential Order that may preface Holy Communion Rite One in the 1979 Book of the Episcopal Church. Reformation Anglicans pray daily: 
 
“Almighty and most merciful Father… there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders…”
 
American Episcopalians may pray occasionally:
 
Almighty and most merciful Father…      But thou, O Lord…
 
Notice what’s missing? The modern liturgy has air brushed away what we are, even as believers! We are people who are continually dependent on God’s mercy, waging continual warfare between the presence of sin that remains by our human nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:1-8:30). We do not want to accept how far east of Eden we are! It has been said that the greatest doctrine to come out of the sixteenth century was not the solas of grace, Christ, faith, scripture, but the doctrine of the revealed fall of man because without it you don’t even look. “And anything defective and inadequate in this respect will assuredly bear upon the question of redemption, for in our consciousness of the nature and power of sin will tend not merely to a superficial statement of the Atonement of Christ, but to the destruction of the idea of atonement itself” (W.H. Griffith-Thomas, Principles of Theology, 170).


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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.

Book Giveaway: Beyond Calvin

By Danny Hyde

We’re giving away two (2) copies of Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition (Davenant Press) by Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Tomes.
Deadline to register is Friday, July 21.
 


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.

Book Review: Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (Vols. 1–2)

By Ryan McGraw

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae: Synopsis of a Purer Theology, by Walaeus et al., ed. Roelf T. te Velde, trans. Reimer A. Faber, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2015). 659 pages. Volume 1.
 
This translation introduces a historically important Reformed orthodox text to the English-speaking world. Four professors at the University of Leiden (Walaeus, Polyander, Thysius, and Rivetus) produced this text in 1625 in order to present a “purer” alternative to the theology of the recently expelled Arminians at the Synod of Dort. This is the first of three projected volumes, which include parallel Latin and English texts. Since this text remained important in the Reformed world at least through the end of the nineteenth century, modern students of Reformed theology should use it as a means of connecting them to historic Reformed teaching.
 
This work has many useful qualities. It is inherently important as a summary of Reformed theology of the time. Beginning theological students today are ordinarily surprised to learn that most Reformed authors in the past wrote their major theological works in Latin. This means that many modern readers are cut off from what is arguably the most significant era in the development of Reformed theology. Some sections in the Synopsis, such as disputation twenty-one on the Sabbath, express largely Dutch debates. However, most of the chapters will help readers better understand the substance and structure of Reformed orthodoxy from the doctrine of the knowledge of God and Scripture, through creation, man and sin, to the relationship and differences between the Old and New Testaments. The footnotes scattered throughout this volume will also help many readers understand better philosophical, theological, and historical references in the original text. 
 
The Synopsis, however, has some surprising deficiencies. Many discussions are incomplete or qualified inadequately. For example, Thysius mentioned, but largely omitted, the sufficiency of Scripture in his treatment of the perfection of Scripture, in favor of combating papal views of unwritten tradition (107). The definitions of theology, which occupied such a prominent place in other systems at the time, are stated and passed by on the first pages of the book in order to develop the doctrine of Scripture more rapidly. Sin is described as the absence of good having no metaphysical reality. However, this point can mislead readers without explaining that Reformed authors generally treated sin as an action directed to a wrong end instead of as non-being. Other topics, such as fundamental articles, the decrees of God (subsumed and renamed under providence), and the covenant of redemption, are omitted entirely. Covenant theology comes to bear directly only on disputation twenty-three, which addresses the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Covenantal terminology is not explained fully enough to be an adequate source for understanding the nuances of the Reformed development of the doctrine. Many doctrinal treatments in this work are too brief to help modern readers understand the theology standing behind these statements. Several positions are simply stated without argumentation from Scripture. Both of these points, surprisingly, stand in contrast to the shorter Compendium Christianae Theologiae from the same time period by Johannes Wollebius.
 
The Synopsis is a very important work of Reformed theology historically. While it is a must-read text from the time period, it will not likely be the best starting point for readers new to reading primary sources in Reformed orthodoxy. It is a synopsis of a broader theological tradition. Its primary value lies in teaching readers what questions to ask and where to look for theological expansion in other Reformed literature. It is possible as well that the English portion of this work might appear separately eventually at a lower cost, which would make it more accessible to a wider audience.
 
Synopsis Purioris Theologiae: Synopsis of a Purer Theology, by Walaeus et al., ed. Roelf T. te Velde, trans. Riemer A. Faber, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2016). 738 pages. Volume 2.
 
Volume 2 of the Synopsis treats a wide range of issues including predestination, Christology, the application of redemption, and the doctrine of the church and her ministers. The translation is clear and accurate. The inclusion of the Latin text alongside the English translation makes this volume even more useful, since many key theological terms are difficult to translate in a way that retains the technical vocabulary current in Reformed orthodoxy. For example, the translator renders, habitus spiritualis, as, “spiritual disposition” (276-277). While the translated text captures the meaning of this term correctly, readers unfamiliar with Latin theological terminology will not likely pick up on the technical language of habits and acts that was rooted in Medieval theology and flowed seamlessly into Reformed thought. Comparing key terms in the original text with their English equivalents enables readers to build a Reformed theological vocabulary in a way that furnishes them with vital vocabulary and its meaning and function in seventeenth-century theology. The footnotes added by the editors are helpful as well, since they provide historical background related to the authors cited, they explain the historical context at key points, and they include comparisons to contemporary authors across confessional lines. This increases the value of the translated text by making it serve as an introduction to early seventeenth-century High Orthodox theology. 
 
One useful feature of the Synopsis is the consistent application of trinitarian theology to the entire theological system. The authors appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity and to the appropriate works of all three divine persons in relation to each locus treated. Doing so was a standard feature of Reformed orthodox systems of theology that gradually disappeared in later times. This fact provides insight into the robust way that Reformed orthodox authors employed trinitarian theology in relation to the entire system of doctrine, which should offset the common criticism Reformed theology treated the Trinity merely as an appendix to the doctrine of God. 
 
As I noted in relation to the first volume, this work does not include a full treatment of every relevant scholastic question in relation to each locus. Its authors often included less material than the much shorter and slightly earlier, Compendium of Wollebius, as well in comparison to longer and later works, such as the Institutio of Francis Turretin. Questions that other authors addressed at length with extensive proofs and arguments, the Synopsis sometimes stated in a single sentence. However, the subjects treated by its authors clarify many important theological distinctions by providing clear definitions of terms and their use in Reformed thought. This means that while the Synopsis is somewhat incomplete compared to comparable Reformed systems, it nevertheless introduces readers to many key concepts in the context of the early seventeenth-century.
 
In spite of the cost of these volumes, this ongoing translation has potential to serve a diverse body of students. It will be invaluable to scholars of Reformed orthodox thought. Those familiar with the Latin language can use this publication to gain access to a carefully developed semi-critical text. The translated text will provoke thought and fruitful research as scholars interact with the Latin original. This work can serve Reformed pastors as well. The fact that many Reformed ministers no longer gain proficiency in the Latin language in their theological training means that they are effectively cut off from most of the classic systems of theology in their own theological tradition. It is important to understand how this system developed historically if ministers hope to understand where expressions in historic Reformed creeds came from and what they mean. Such material is also vital for evaluating continuities and discontinuities between classic and modern Reformed thought. This provides readers with more theological options to draw from as they grapple with interpreting Scripture in conversation with the church. For both of these audiences, these volumes are a welcome addition to Reformed literature in the English-speaking world for those who are willing and able to obtain and read them.


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.

Book Giveaway: Meet the Puritans

By Danny Hyde

Our friends at Reformation Heritage Books have given us a giveaway copy of Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson.

USA mailing addresses only. One entry per household. Deadline to register is Friday, July 7.

Enter here.



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.

Union and Communion (5)

By Patrick Ramsey

One of the great benefits of reading the Puritans is that they open our eyes to how wonderfully useful and practical doctrine is. “Theology,” William Ames famously wrote, “is the doctrine of living unto God.” The doctrine of union and communion with Christ is certainly no exception to this. In their sermons on this doctrine, they provided, as they were wont to do in their sermons, a number of practical uses. Also, some harnessed this doctrine in order to bring help and comfort to Christians in their time of need. Edward Reynolds expounded it in order to assure and comfort repentant Christians who had fallen into sin. Thomas Case, a Westminster divine, explained it in a work that he wrote to bring comfort to himself and his family on the death of his 10-year-old grandson, Benjamin, whom he was raising because the boy’s mother (Case’s daughter) had died in childbirth. In this article, I want to discuss two practical uses of this great doctrine, one for non-Christians and one for Christians.
 
One use for non-Christians is to motivate and exhort them to be united to Christ by faith. Reynolds said that “absolute necessity lies upon us having Christ because with him we have all things, and can do all things: without him, we are poor and can do nothing.” Thomas Jacomb made a similar point in one of his sermons on Romans 8. He urged his audience “to get into Christ” because union with Christ opens the floodgates. In terms of salvation applied, it is the fundamental blessing. Jacomb wrote:
“To enforce the exhortation [to endeavour to get into Christ], I will give you but one motive, but that will be a very comprehensive and considerable one: it is this, Union with Christ is the foundation of all good by and from Christ. It is the fundamental blessing, I mean with respect to application. There can be no application of what Christ hath purchased without antecedent union with his person; it is the very basis upon which all is built—the leading blessing—the inlet to all the grace of the gospel—the ground of all communion and communication. Ah, sinner! thou canst hope for nothing from Christ unless thou beest in Christ; without Christ and without hope go together, Eph. 2:12.”
According to Reynolds, heeding the exhortation to be united to Christ is all the more necessary and the neglect of it all the more sinful because Christ will not reject any person who sincerely comes to him. Indeed, Christ calls, invites, entreats and commands all to come to him.
 
One use of this doctrine for Christians is to assure and comfort them when they feel burdened by their sin. Reynolds encouraged repentant Christians who were “seriously and searchingly humbled with the sense and consciousness of some great relapse” to consider their union and communion with Christ. In so doing they would be reminded that they are safe, secure and saved in Christ because in him they possess the death and merit of Christ, the life of Christ, the sonship of Christ, the victories of Christ, and the benefit of Christ’s intercession. If Christ is in us and we in him, who can be against us? Certainly not our sins. Reynolds wrote: 
“The sum of all is this. Since we stand not like Adam, upon our own bottom, but are branches of such a vine as never withers; members of such a head as never dies; sharers in such a spirit as cleanseth, healeth, and purifieth the heart; partakers of such promises, as are sealed with the oath of God; since we live not by our own life, but by the life of Christ; are not led or sealed by our own spirit, but by the spirit of Christ; do not obtain mercy by our own prayers but by the intercession of Christ; stand not reconciled unto God by our own endeavours, but by the propitiation wrought by Christ, ‘who loved us when we were enemies, and in our blood’ who is both ‘willing and able to save us to the uttermost,’ and to preserve his own mercies in us; to whose office it belongs to take order that none who are given unto him, be lost:–undoubtedly that life of Christ in us, which is thus underpropped, though it be not privileged from temptations, no not from back-slidings, yet is an abiding life: he who raised our soul from death, will either preserve our feet from falling; or, if we do fall, will heal our backslidings, and will save us freely.”
In the next article, I hope to consider some more practical uses of the doctrine of union and communion with Christ.


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Book Giveaway: Gerald Bray on the Faith 39 Articles

By Danny Hyde

Thanks the our friends at The Latimer Trust in the U.K. we have four (4) copies of The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles by Dr. Gerald Bray to give away.

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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.