John Owen on Revival

Way back when (Feb. 15, 2010) in the previous incarnation of Meet the Puritans, I posted on John Owen’s use of the phrase “spiritual revivalls” (sic.). This post was subsequently cited in Kenneth J. Stewart’s Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (p. 103 n10) as the evidence that Owen made the earliest use of the term revival in English despite the Oxford English Dictionary’s attributing it to Cotton Matther in 1702. What follows is an expanded version of that orginal post.

If you listen to some of our modern American Reformed historians today, you’ve been led to believe that the buggaboo of (cue the spooky music) “revival” is an 18th century phenomenon of the First Great Awakening. You’ve been led to believe that every pastor who believes revival is a legitimate work of the Holy Spirit is a “revivalist” no different than Charles Finney and his ilk in the 19th century Second Great Awakening. There’s just one teeny tiny problem with this presentation: it doesn’t fit the evidence of history. The fact is, the concept of revival was not a 19th or even 18th century deviation from the Reformation. A case in point is the giant of 17th century English Reformed Orthodox theologian, John Owen. In “Letter 85: To Charles Fleetwood” written in 1674 (The Correspondence of John Owen, ed. Peter Toon, 159–160), Owen wrote at a time when he and his wife were sick, and he thought the Lord was preparing him for death. Listen to what he said to his close friend:

“The truth is, if we cannot see the latter rain in its season as we have seen the former, and a latter spring thereon, death, that will turne in the streams of glory unto our poor withering souls, is the best relief. I begin to feare that we shall die in this wilderness; yet ought we to labour and pray continually that the heavens would drop downe from above, and the skies poure downe righteousness—that the earth may open and bring forth salvation, and that righteousness may spring up together. If ever I return to you in this world, I beseech you to contend yet more earnestly than ever I have done, with God, with my own heart, with the church, to labour after spiritual revivalls.”

When I originally posted this quote from Owen in an effort to recover this part of our tradition, one historian immediately rebuked me for “going after one of our own” and “abandoning the cause” while saying a la the great wide receiver Rod Tidwell “Show me the Latin!” Unfortunately Owen wrote the letter in English. I guess this is the Reformed version of “98% of climate scientists agree.”

Notice again Owen’s last phrase above: “to labour after spiritual revivalls.” This exhortation was not penned by some 17th century Quaker or Shaker or 19th century advocate of “new measures” a la Finney, but arguably the greatest of English Reformed theologians. As a Reformed theologian this meant Owen believed Scripture to be principium cognoscendi—the basis of knowledge of God, his world, and his redemptive plan. We see that here in Owen’s letter as he looks to the pattern of the biblical prophets for spiritual revival, citing Isaiah 45:8, “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it” (KJV). Later, in his posthumously published treatise of 1684, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ (Works 1, 395–396), we read Owen describing the reality that Jesus Christ at times withdraws our experience of him from us because of our sins:

“Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us;—deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? Do we find an unreadiness unto the exercise of grace in its proper season, and the vigorous acting of it in duties of communion with God? and would we have our souls recovered from these dangerous diseases? Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone,—namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case; as shall farther be showed afterward.”

Here Owen wrote that faith in and meditation upon Christ and his glory was the means by which we are revived from our spiritual slumber. What is fascinating is what he goes on to say in this regard:

“Some will say, that this must be effected by fresh supplies and renewed communications of the Holy Spirit. Unless he fall as dew and showers on our dry and barren hearts,—unless he cause our graces to spring, thrive, and bring forth fruit,—unless he revive and increase faith, love, and holiness in our souls,—our backslidings will not be healed, nor our spiritual state be recovered. Unto this end is he prayed for and promised in the Scripture. See Cant. iv. 16; Isa, xliv. 3, 4; Ezek, xl 19, xxxvi. 26; Hos. xiv. 5, 6. And so it is. The immediate efficiency of the revival of our souls is from and by the Holy Spirit. But the inquiry is, in what way, or by what means, we may obtain the supplies and communications of him unto this end. This the apostle declares in the place insisted on: We, beholding the glory of Christ in a glass, “are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is in the exercise of faith on Christ, in the way before described, that the Holy Spirit puts forth his renewing, transforming power in and upon our souls. This, therefore, is that alone which will retrieve Christians from their present decays and deadness.”

Read closely what Owen says there. Some answered the question of how we are revived from spiritual decay by pointing to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. To this Owen agreed: And it is so.” What Owen did, though, was to make the distinction between the efficient cause of revival—the Holy Spirit—and the instrumental cause—our faith in Christ and meditation upon his glory. What this illustrates is this: say what you want about the First and Second Great Awakenings and modern-day “revivalism,” but the language and concept of “revival” is a part of the Reformed Orthodoxy of the 17th century that so many today who profess adherence to Reformed Orthodoxy reject. As a good Orthodox and Puritan theologian, Owen also noted in the above, that we labor for the Holy Spirit’s work of revival not as mystics, pietists, revivalists, or Pentecostals, but by the “diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation,” to cite the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 153. What are those means? There are many, such as meditation per Owen above, but especially the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. Use the means; wait for the Holy Spirit to bless them to our souls as he wills, when he wills, as much as he wills. This is Reformed revival according to John Owen.

Praying “in the Spirit”: Puritan Style

Many young evangelicals today are on the “Geneva” or “Westminster Trail.” Going out from the comforts of such evangelical churches is difficult and a great unknown. One unknown area is what churches in the Reformed tradition believe about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and prayer. Back at the 2010 Ligonier West Coast Conference I had the privilege of discussing my journey. This led to some wonderful conversations with some Assemblies of God brothers in attendance about the work of the Holy Spirit. In the end, I pointed them in the direction of the Puritans such as John Owen as a magnificent example of the depth of teaching in our tradition on the Holy Spirit. In a word, we are not afraid of him, but we have close communion with him.

One perennial passage Pentecostals (formerly being one myself) turn to as evidence of their belief and practice is Jude 20. In the King Jimmy it says, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.” Although John Owen did not exposit this passage (as far as I can tell), one of his contemporaries did. In his A Practical Commentary; or An Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of Jude, Thomas Manton gave a clear exposition (Manton, Works 5:334–341). According to Manton, the importance of praying “in the Holy Ghost” was that “God will own nothing in prayer but what cometh from his Spirit; any other voice is strange and barbarous to him” (Manton, Works 5:336). This was a common Puritan theme, which John Owen also expressed in these words: “It is the language of faith and love alone, and the like graces of his Spirit, that God hears in his worship. Other voices, cries, and noises he regards not; yea, at least, if not some of them in themselves, yet all of them when these are wanting, are an abomination unto him” (Owen, Works 9:74). In sum, since prayer in the Spirit is the only kind of prayer God receives, believers need to offer it. Yet Manton went on to say that it is “a work too hard for us.” This is why believers need the Holy Spirit: “we can babble of ourselves, but we cannot pray without the Holy Ghost; we can put words into prayer, but it is the Spirit puts affections, without which it is but a little cold prattle and spiritless talk” (Manton, Works 5:337).

Manton went on to explain this Spirit-filled prayer in some detail in terms of what the Christian was given by the Spirit in Christ in contrast with what mankind lost in Adam. Adam “maimed” humanity in terms of God’s gifts and graces. Because of this, and in order that believers’ prayers “may be answerable, the Spirit bestoweth upon us the gift of prayer” (Manton, Works 5:337–338). These gifts were both extraordinary in the days of the apostles as well as ordinary now in the lives of all believers. Of these ordinary gifts in relation to prayer, Manton described them as “special dexterity whereby men are able to put their meaning into apt words.” As ordinary gifts, the Holy Spirit uses the ordinary means of the lives of Christians to bring them about: hearing, reading, and meditating upon the Word, as well as conference with believers and other ordinary habits (Manton, Works 5:338).

Finally, Manton detailed how the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in prayer was either habitual or actual. The habitual assistance of the Spirit was his work whereby he implanted a new habitus into his new creatures that they might pray to him as they ought; a duty they could not perform previously. He “createth and preserveth these gracious habits in the soul, and doth excite the soul to act, and doth assist it in acting according to them” (Manton, Works 5:233; cf. 12:235). This habitus he described elsewhere as “the renewed soul” that was “the proper inward and vital principle” of all the new actions of believers (Manton, Works 5:232). Manton’s concern, though, was with the actual assistance of the Spirit, saying that although believers are regenerated and have a new habitus of prayer, they still needed to be “moved and assisted by the Holy Ghost” (Manton, Works 5:339). His movement of the believer was in terms of the time of prayer, the matter of prayer, as well as the manner of prayer in affection, confidence, and reverence (Manton, Works 5:339–340).

In a word, praying “in the Spirit” for Puritans such as Manton, meant that the child of God prayed because the Spirit of God gave him the ability to pray and to do so in complete reliance upon the Spirit himself. It’s relationship more than experience.

Puritan Preachers: Richard Rogers

Richard Rogers (1551–1618) is best known today for his massive Commentary on the Book of Judges, which is a collection of 103 sermons. In it we see that his preaching was very practical and experiential. For example, in Sermon 74, he describes the Holy Spirit’s inward work of conversion upon the soul: “While we give heed to the doctrine of the Lord Jesus, which is plainly, soundly, and powerfully taught us, the Lord enlighteneth us with grace and power of the Holy Ghost, and giveth us another heart to serve him (as he saith in Ezek. 36), than we had before” (pp. 655–656).

Here again we see the Reformed doctrine of predestination applied to the personal experience of salvation. Referring, like Perkins, to “that golden chaine” of Romans 8:30, Rogers said, “There is no other way to seek out the certainty of our election” apart from “the gift of faith, and the Spirit of God sanctifying” in our effectual calling. He explains that “predestination itself is manifested in time, by the enlightening and opening of the heart to receive the glad tidings of the gospel,” so that “Christ is embraced by faith” and “the Holy Ghost is given to the believer, who quickens the heart with spiritual grace.” God gives different degrees of grace to different people, but the work of salvation is fundamentally the same (p. 656).

God works by means, and the experience of conversion comes in stages. With respect to the beginnings of saving faith, Rogers says, similarly to Perkins, that first God is “stirring up in them an earnest coveting of these graces, a special hunger and thirst after them,” until He brings them to “the certainty and assurance of salvation.” God preserves and nourishes these strong desires for His grace in believers so that they continue to grow and to serve Him better (656).

The Seven Treatises consists of a seven-part exposition of true saving faith. In the first treatise, Rogers delineates the marks of those who are the true children of God. He describes conversion and how to discern true saving faith. The second treatise presents the godly life, one marked by keeping God’s commandments by faith in God’s promises. The third treatise teaches about the means of helping and growing true godliness. Rogers speaks of the public means of the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and public prayers. There are also private means of grace. Irvonwy Morgan writes: “Rogers distinguishes seven private helps to godliness. First, those which are practiced alone, namely watchfulness, meditation, and what he calls ‘the armour of a Christian’; then those which are practised with others, namely conference [godly conversation] and family-exercise [or family devotions]; lastly those which are common to both, namely prayer and reading” (The Godly Preachers of the Elizabethan Church, 129). There are also the extraordinary means of responding to God’s providence: solemn times of thanksgiving for periods of unusual blessing, and solemn times of fasting for periods of unusual affliction. The fourth treatise gives eight reasons why a Christian should practice the daily disciplines of godliness, and calls the reader to walk with God through nine daily duties. In the fifth treatise, Rogers examines the obstacles to walking with God, such as Satan, leaving our first love, and evil and worldly lusts. The sixth treatise offers a lovely view of the privileges of believers and how we may enjoy them. In the seventh treatise, he wraps up the book by answering objections.

Rogers’s Seven Treatises commends to us a Christianity that is both Reformed and experiential, characterized by a disciplined, wartime mentality operating with spiritual discernment. It engages the Christian to live each day with an eternal perspective, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He emphasizes the heart as the central arena where battles are fought and won. Rogers set a pattern for maintaining a careful walk of holiness. Such practical godliness leads in turn to pulpit proclamation that demands a high level of holiness from the people, and yet recognizes that we always fall short of the ideal.

Today, people are prone to say, “That’s legalism; it’s too high; it’s too hard.” They want an easy Christianity with a Christ who meets all their immediate desires. They may tolerate some discipline in the outward life to attain their earthly goals. However, it is common that they use the banner of “grace alone” to claim that spiritual blessings come easily once you find the right key, without pain, humbling, or wrestling against evil. They forget that “the grace of God” teaches us to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and instead “live soberly, righteously, and godly,” with our eyes fixed on the “blessed hope” of Christ’s appearing, all the while being “zealous for good works,” as Paul taught us (Titus 2:11–14). The Puritans preached discipline by grace and self-control in hope. Because they did so, they are models of Reformed biblical and experiential preaching.

Union and Communion (4)

In my last article, I noted that one theological use of the doctrine of union and communion with Christ is that it provides the framework to understand the proper role of faith in justification. Another theological use is that it helps us to understand and so answer the common objections to imputation.

One very important component of justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. As the Westminster Standards explain, God doesn’t justify us on the basis of something that we have done, including our act of believing in Christ. Nor does God justify us on the basis of something that has been done in us, that is, our being made righteous by the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather, God justifies us “only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.” To use a common metaphor, we are justified because we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

Not everyone agrees with this teaching, however, and the objections lodged against it are admittedly plausible.

First, it seems irrational. Ezekiel Hopkins noted that Roman Catholics (“Papists”) argued that it is “utterly impossible to become righteous through the righteousness of another, as to become healthful through another’s health, or wise by another’s wisdom.” Similarly, James Ussher addressed this same objection when he asked, “But how can Christ’s Righteousness be accounted ours? Is it not absurd to say that we are justified by Christ’s Righteousness, as that a Man should be fed with that Meat another eats? Or be warmed with the Clothes another weareth?”

Second, it seems unjust. God says that he will not acquit or justify the wicked (Ex. 23:7). Justifying the wicked and condemning the righteous are alike detestable to God (Prov. 17:15). Indeed, God pronounces a curse upon those who acquit the guilty for a bribe (Isa. 5:23). And yet God justifies the ungodly on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness? How is this not unjust? Are human judges supposed to do what God says and not what he does? Imputation seems contrary to the standards and dictates of divine justice.

Third, it seems untruthful. If we are justified on the basis of another’s righteousness then it seems that the judgment made in our favor is not according to truth. God considers something to be true that in fact is not true, namely, that the unrighteous are righteous. John Owen said that Roman Catholics (“Papists”) and others constantly cried out “that we affirm God to esteem them to be righteous who are wicked, sinful and polluted.” In short, imputation is a legal fiction.

The answer to the above objections is multifarious, but one aspect of it is the connection imputation has with union and communion with Christ. Ussher responded to the charge of absurdity by appealing to union with Christ. Christ’s righteousness that is accounted ours “is in Christ…the second Adam” and it is communicated to all who are “united as Members unto him.” And this should not “seem strange” since justification in Christ by Christ’s righteousness is comparable to our condemnation in Adam by Adam’s sin. Hopkins also referenced our union with Christ in reply to the charge of irrationality. He noted that the analogy with health and wisdom is off base because righteousness may be used in a “physical sense” (inherent righteousness) or in a forensic sense. To be healthy requires one to be personally, or physically healthy, but to be righteous doesn’t if it is used in a judicial sense. Thus, the personal (physical) and perfect righteousness of Christ, “who is our Surety, may become ours, and be imputed to our Justification” because by faith “we have a right and title to it; which right and title accrue unto us, by the promise and covenant of God, and our union to our Surety.”

The charges of injustice and legal fiction, which are similar, are likewise in part addressed by union and communion with Christ. Thomas Manton said that “none are accounted or accepted as righteous but those that indeed are so” because “God’s judicial acts are not grounded upon a fiction, but upon a truth.” This is why both Ezekiel Hopkins and John Owen were adamant in articulating that “Imputed Righteousness in not God’s accounting us righteous when we are not so (Hopkins).” It is not a “a naked pronunciation or declaration of any one to be righteous (Owen),” so that all that is required to justify “the most profligate sinner” is for God to “reckon him righteous (Hopkins).” Justification has to be based upon truth and reality. According to Owen and Hopkins this requires a communication, a grant or donation of Christ’s perfect righteousness (all that Christ did on behalf of his people) to the believing sinner (logically) before and for the purpose of his justification. In other words, God can’t judicially declare someone righteous who is not truly righteous and so Christ’s righteousness must truly become the sinner’s in order for him to be justified. However, and this is a key point, the communication of Christ’s righteousness unto justification does not become the believing sinner’s personal or inherent righteousness. It remains Christ’s personal righteousness. Nonetheless, it becomes “ours really and truly, in a law sense…it is our righteousness juridically (Hopkins).” The phrase “imputed righteousness” is typically used to refer to this and distinguish it from inherent righteousness by infusion. And it is this imputed righteousness of Christ that is the sole basis for our justification.

Stating the matter in this way, however, does not fully answer the charges. It is one thing to say that Christ’s righteousness truly becomes the righteousness of the believer, it is another thing altogether to show the justness of it. How is it right for God for justify us on the basis of someone else’s righteousness? In the words of John Owen, what is the “just and sufficient foundation” for imputation? That foundation is none other than union with Christ, that is, “our actual coalescency into one mystical person with him by faith (Owen).” And as we have noted previously, union with Christ leads to communion with him and all his benefits, including “communion with him in his merits, which are as fully imputed unto us for justification, as if his sufferings had been by us endured (Reynolds).” We mustn’t think of imputation as occurring between two strangers for then it would be susceptible to the charge of a legal fiction. Rather, imputation occurs between two parties that have become one legally and spiritually (1 Cor. 6:17). God, therefore, is not unjust to impute his righteousness to us “because [we] are mystically one: and this mystical union is a sufficient ground for imputation (Hopkins).”

39 Articles—The Rule of Faith (2)

We examined last time how Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states that the Bible is our sole authority for the source of Christian doctrine. It explained the concept of sola Scriptura and listed the books of the Old and New Testaments. Article 7 further clarifies an Anglican’s “rule of faith.” It explains the relation of the Old Testament to the New, and in explaining that relationship further explains which Old Testament laws are still binding on the New Testament believer. Thomas Cranmer’s original 42 Articles of 1553 had two separate articles brought together here by Archbishop Parker in 1563 because they dealt with related topics. 

VII — Of the Old Testament


The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore there are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

The article makes clear that the unity of the Testaments is an inevitable consequence of the principle of sola Scriptura: the Bible is one book, written by God himself, and it teaches one message of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and men. Therefore, the article says, we should not think that the Old Testament saints “did look only for transitory promises.” Taking the principle from the letter to the Hebrews, God’s people in the Old Testament recognized that what they knew was only a foretaste of much better things to come. Abraham was a believer just like us, trusting the promises of God for eternal life. He was “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Anglicans should preach and teach the redemptive-historical nature of the Old Testament, because it is full of the gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone, by faith alone. That is the main reason why services in the Book of Common Prayer will include an Old Testament reading and a psalm.

Article 7 refutes those who would build a wall between the Old Testament and the New and in so doing allow the same wall to be built between the New and our era by private inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The reasoning is the same. But Cranmer’s original article 19 on the Old Testament law ended with an extra warning which was not included here, but give us a clue as to the type of error Article 7 sought to refute: “wherefore they are not to be hearkened unto, who affirm that Holy Scripture is given only to the weak, and do boast themselves continually of the Spirit, of whom (they say) they have learned such things as they teach, although the same be most evidently repugnant to the Holy Scripture.” North American Anglicans understand all too well how false teachers in The Episcopal Church claimed that “the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing” as their reason for departing from the Bible’s unequivocal teaching on same-sex attraction and their rejection of article 7’s doctrine of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures that gather both the Old and New Testaments together as one. The Spirit and the Scriptures never contradict. The Old Testament and the New Testament always concur. 

The article continues by explaining the differences between the Old and New. The Old and New Testaments’ covenant of grace to salvation are the same substance but of differing administration. Therefore there are continuities and discontinuities of administration between them, especially in the application of Old Testament law. Article 7 divides the law using the three medieval categories of ceremonial, civil, and moral. This explanation was well known among the Anglican divines as they thought through the Bible theologically in light of the fullness of Christ.

  • The ceremonial law concerning priesthood and purity, sacrifice and Sabbath, has all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These rituals were “a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Jesus is our great high priest who completed the final and ultimate sacrifice. Thus these old ceremonies were a foreshadowing of Christ’s person and work. Therefore, as we will see later, one errs who argues that the nature of the church retains these categories and ceremonies. The articles remind us that there is no place in the Christian church for a special order of priests, altars, ritual washing, and sacrifices. Such practices obscure the glory of Christ’s office as Mediator and the once and for all nature of his sacrifice. The Lord Jesus Christ is our great high priest; the ordained are his ministers, not his priests.
  • The civil law concerning church-state relations and judicial punishments is also no longer binding on the Christian. It is because those laws were intended only for the Old Testament nation of Israel for a specific epoch in salvation history. Christian nations as they were understood at the Reformation are free to develop their constitutions and legal frameworks that reflect the administration of the new covenant.
  • The moral law is retained because it reflects the character of and what he expects of his people, for both Old and New Testaments retain God’s command, “Be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). The Ten Commandments remain and according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Anglicans should recite them on Sundays when the Lord’s Supper is observed. The response as each commandment is heard, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law” after each commandment, underlines for us how the Law convicts the sinner of his need of God’s grace and affirms his desire by God’s grace to pursue holiness as his adopted child. But what of the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath or Lord’s Day? It seems the clearer an Anglican’s understanding of the unity of the Old and the New as one covenant of grace, the more readily they are to set aside Sunday as one dedicated to Christian worship. One of the casualties of the liberal hermeneutic that broke the concurrence of Old and New Testament among North American Anglicans is the loss of the Lord’s Day. 

Wednesday @ Westminster: The Anointed Priest

Think about the last time you issued a challenge. It took a lot of confidence, didn’t it? Not only did you challenge someone else to do something, you challenged yourself to do the same. How much confidence would you need to be able to stand up in the midst of the world with the devil and his minions all around and say, “Who shall condemn?” (Rom. 8:34) Paul is not just asking a question here; he is confidently challenging anyone, if they dare to challenge his faith. Why? Because he is confident in Jesus Christ.

In particular, he is confident and so should we be in the anointed priest, Jesus. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks of his priesthood by asking, “How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?” It’s answer is, “Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of the people; and in making continual intercession for them” (Q&A 44). Christ’s death and intercession for us are found here in Romans 8.

The Condemnation

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) The world will. It will say to the government that we have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), since we proclaim another king; since we proclaim salvation outside of ourselves; since we proclaim a new life that requires renouncing the world. The world will persecute us and hate us like it did our Lord. The world will call us insignificant, behind the times, and dangerous. 

Yet we stand confidently against all it condemnation free from all fear.

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) Our own conscience seared by sin will. “You’re too sinful to be loved by God. You’re not good enough to be loved by God. You’re too inconsistent to ever believe that you were born again in the first place. You’ve not done enough good. You’ve not cleaned up your thoughts enough, your words enough, or your deeds enough.”

Yet we stand confidently against all it condemnation free from all fear.

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) The devil will. He is that ancient serpent who so craftily tempted our sinless first parents, and now he comes against you (Gen. 3). He is that accuser who entered the presence of God in order to get his hands upon Job so that Job who renounce his faith in the Lord, who now wants the same with you (Job 1). He is that powerful opposer even of our Lord himself in the wilderness, so uses Scripture to oppose you (Matt. 4). He is that enemy who sought to sift Peter like wheat through a sieve in the hopes that Peter’s faith would go right through (Luke 22). He is that deceptive enemy who disguises himself as an angel of light to get you to put your guard down (2 Cor. 11:14). He is that might foe that stands arrayed for battle against you, arrayed in the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6). 

Yet we stand confidently against all his condemnation free from all fear.

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) 

The Confidence

Against all these condemnatory foes, our confidence is not found in self, but in the Savior. He is our confidence. Even if your faith feels weak or feels like it is small, true faith has a measure of confidence because it is focused outside itself on Jesus Christ. Paul directs our faith to four aspects of the work of Christ here in Romans 8:34, with two of them reflected in the Larger Catechism: his crucifixion, his resurrection, his exaltation, and his intercession.

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) We are confident because of Jesus’ crucifixion: “Christ Jesus is the one who died” (v. 34). The world wants to persecute us and condemn us to death—so it also did with my Lord. My own sins want its wages of death. The devil wants me consigned to perdition. But I have Jesus.

His crucifixion is my redemption, the price that needed to be paid to free me from condemnation in hell. He gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). 

His crucifixion is my satisfaction, the punishment that was needed to remove God’s condemnation from me. As he said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

His crucifixion is my propitiation, the sacrifice that turns away the condemning wrath of God from me. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). 

His crucifixion is my expiation, the sending away of my sins forever from the presence of God so that I am not condemned. “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). 

His crucifixion is my reconciliation, bringing me from a status of condemnation into a status of peace with God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10–11).

What then shall we say to these things?

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) We are confident because of Jesus’ resurrection: “More than that, who was raised” (v. 34). Bring all the condemnation you want, O world, flesh, and devil, because Jesus’ resurrection is the proof of his being my perfect Savior. “If Christ has not been raised… you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But he has been raised! This is the proof of his sacrifice being accepted by God. This is the proof of his victory over sin, which leads to death. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57).

What then shall we say to these things?

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) We are confident because of Jesus’ exaltation: “Who is at the right hand of God” (v. 34). Not only was Jesus raised from the death, just to live again on earth—no, but he was then crowned at the right hand of God, the place of authority, dignity, honor, and power. Again, his exaltation is the validation of everything he did. And because he was exalted, now he can give eternal life to me. Even more, when Jesus entered into heaven at his ascension, he entered as my representative. This means that when Jesus was raised, I was raised; when Jesus’ humanity was accepted into heaven, my humanity was accepted into heaven. What condemnation can scare me? What condemnation can remove this from me? Thomas Manton once said that at the ascension Jesus “hath taken possession of heaven for, and in the name of, all believers, that in time they may ascend and be partakers of the same glory” (Works, 12:371).

What then shall we say to these things?

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) We are confident because of Jesus’ intercession: “Who indeed is interceding for us” (v. 34). My once dead, now alive, now exalted Savior is now interceding for me. 

He intercedes with his person. He literally is before the face of our heavenly Father, between us and any accusation or condemnation. As Hebrews 9:24 says, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Christ himself appears in the presence of God for me, for you!

He intercedes with his prayers, “always liv[ing] to make intercession for [me]” (Heb. 7:25). What is Jesus doing for you right now? He’s praying for you. What a Savior! And I want you to know that he does not now or forever forget you but “will take notice of our particular case . . . he knoweth us by name, and our necessities and wants, and doth particularly intercede for us. Nay, he is mindful of us when we are not mindful of ourselves, for his intercession doth make way for the effectual application of his grace to us when we think not of it” (Manton, Works, 12:373). Listen to that again: “he is mindful of us when we are not mindful of ourselves.” Amazing.

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34) Can you make that challenge today? Do you have that confidence today? Our confidence against all spiritual condemnation is found in Jesus Christ, the anointed priest.

Puritan Preachers: William Perkins

No Puritan was more concerned about preaching than William Perkins (1558–1602). Detesting the substitution of eloquence for the “lost art” of preaching, Perkins led a reformation of preaching. He did this in his instruction to theological students at Cambridge; in his manual on preaching, The Arte of Prophecying (Latin: 1592; English 1606), which quickly became a classic among Puritans; in advocating a “plain style” of preaching in his own pulpit; and, above all, in stressing the experimental application of predestinarian doctrines.
Joseph Pipa suggests three reasons why Perkins wrote his preaching manual. First, there was a “dearth of able preachers in Elizabethan England” (“William Perkins and the Development of Puritan Preaching.” PhD dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985, p. 86). By 1583, only a sixth of English clergy were licensed to preach, and even in 1603 there were only half as many preachers as parishes. Second, there were gaps in the university curriculum, with particular deficiencies in theology, preaching, and spiritual direction. Third, Perkins aimed to promote a “plain” style of preaching as opposed to the ornate style of high-church Anglicans (Pipa, “William Perkins,” pp. 87–88); the latter heaped up quotations from ancient authorities, often in Greek or Latin, together with many puns, extravagant and surprising analogies, rhymes, and alliteration.
Perkins’s model of preaching influenced generations to come. We see in The Arte of Prophecying several themes that contributed to Reformed preaching. I will illustrate these themes from his Commentary on Galatians 5:24 (“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts”), which is sermonic material edited for publication.

First, Perkins sets forth a high view of the Word of God. It is sufficient, pure, authoritative, and powerful while the sum of its message is the incarnate Christ and His saving work (The Art of Prophecying, in Workes, 2:731–732; Galatians, e.g., 4, 32, 139).

Second, Perkins calls preachers to study the Scriptures both accurately and wisely. Much of his preaching manual teaches principles of biblical interpretation. This must be: 1) theological, 2) broadly biblical—viewing any one text in the light of the teaching of the whole Bible, 3) historical, 4) prayerful, 5) literal and grammatical, 6) contextual, and 7) rhetorical—recognizing figures of speech (The Art of Prophecying, 736–749). For example, on Galatians 5:24 he opened by identifying the scope of the text (its purpose) as showing why no law puts a spiritual man under condemnation or bondage, thereby immediately connecting the text with the verse before it, “against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). He then interpreted the text to say that (1) “A Christian is one that is Christ’s”; (2) the flesh “is the corruption of the whole nature of man,” especially active in “inordinate and insatiable desires after the things of this world”; and (3) it is the work of a Christian man to crucify the flesh (Galatians, 397–98).

Third, Perkins instructs preachers to crystallize the meaning of the Scripture text into doctrine or distinct teaching. Some texts clearly express a doctrine. In other texts, the preacher may deduce doctrines through sound reasoning and logic. Doctrines derived from the Bible “by just consequence” should be confirmed by a few testimonies from other Scripture passages, but merely human testimonies do not have the authority to prove a point (The Art of Prophecying, 750–751).

We just saw above how Perkins’s interpretation of Galatians 5:24 led to three clear doctrines. He proceeded to develop these doctrines. For example, he listed five ways in which the Christian belongs to Christ: 1) by right of creation, 2) by right of redemption, 3) by the Father’s election and effectual calling, 4) by propagation from His blood, and 5) by our giving ourselves to Him in baptism (Galatians, 397).

Fourth, Perkins teaches preachers to make suitable application of the doctrine to people’s lives. The foundational question for application is whether the text is law or gospel. Law defines righteousness, exposes sin, and pronounces God’s curse on sin. Gospel reveals Christ and His benefits received by a fruitful faith (The Art of Prophecying, 752). Application came in many forms: 1) a positive doctrinal application, 2) a negative doctrinal application, 3) a positive practical application, and 4) a negative practical application (The Art of Prophecying, 756–758).

From Galatians 5:24 Perkins gave three “uses” for his first point on belonging to Christ, one for his second point on the flesh, four for his third point on crucifixion with Christ, and then ends with three more brief points on crucifying the flesh—eleven points of application for a single verse of Scripture. Unlike some Puritan preaching, he wisely scatters his applications throughout his exposition rather than reserving them all for the end after lengthy doctrinal discussions (Galatians, 397–400).

Another key to unlocking application is to consider the spiritual condition of those who hear the sermon. Perkins schematized listeners into seven categories (The Art of Prophecying, 752–756): 1) ignorant and unteachable unbelievers, 2) ignorant but teachable unbelievers, 3) those who have some knowledge but are not humbled, 4) the humbled, 5) those who believe, 6) those who are fallen, either in faith or in practice, 7) a mixed group.

Fifth, Perkins advises preachers to deliver their sermons with Spirit-worked liberty, sincerity, and power. He recommended that the preacher memorize an outline of his sermon and not be concerned about specific words. The minister should modestly conceal his scholarship, but preach with the demonstration of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:1–5). He explained: “The demonstration of the Spirit is, when as the minister of the Word doth in the time of preaching behave himself, that all, even ignorant persons and unbelievers may judge that it is not him that speaketh, as the Spirit of God in him and by him.” Spiritual preaching speaks with simplicity, clarity, the fear of God’s majesty, and love for the people. It avoids Greek and Latin words, entertaining stories, and jesting. Instead, it displays dignity, seriousness, ability to teach, authority as God’s messenger, and “zeal, whereby being most desirous of God’s glory he doth endeavor to fulfill and execute the decree of election concerning the salvation of men by his ministry” (The Art of Prophecying, 758–761).

Lastly, Perkins calls ministers to preach Christ. He concluded: “The sum of the sum. Preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ” (The Art of Prophecying, 762). In expositing Galatians 5:24, he preacheed Christ’s lordship over the saved soul; His redeeming death for sins; His providential care for His people and our committing ourselves to Him; and His conquering of our sins on the cross and in our hearts, and our imitation of Christ by faith in His finished work. Christ’s centrality and supremacy pervade his preaching, and in that Perkins is a model for us all.

Patrick Gillespie on the Covenant of Works (3)

In this third part (see parts 1, 2) of my annotated outline of Patrick Gillespie’s treatment of the Covenant of Works, the emphasis shifts from the existence and manner of transacting the covenant to its nature and breach. This material expands the gracious aspects of the Covenant of Works and begins to explain how Adam’s fall paved the way for the Covenant of Grace.

As in the previous posts, the material in [brackets] represents my commentary on the outline.

Outline

I. The nature of that covenant that God made with man in his innocence. (Positively and comparatively. p. 195)

A. The Covenant was made in man’s original integrity and as a public person (196). 1 Cor. 15; Rom. 5. [Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 22: “The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.” This wording anticipates Christ as an exception, since, though he was related to the elect as a true man, he did not descend from Adam “by ordinary generation.”]

B. It was founded on the integrity of his nature in terms of a natural righteousness that was properly his own (196).

C. God did not enter this covenant with Adam as his equal, but as Sovereign Creator (197). [This illustrates that defining covenant as “contract” or mutual agreement did not diminish God’s Sovereignty in making the Covenant of Works]

D. “The Covenant of Works had its rise from grace in God.” Others are unwilling to use grace in this connection and speak of “favor or mere goodness.” Citing John Cameron as an example (197). However, the condition was works, while the promise was gracious. Luke 17:19. [See note on God’s grace to sinless creatures in my previous post]

E. Even though this covenant arose from the grace of God, commutative justice is front and center in this covenant (198). Citing John Ball. [In other words, God would have exercised justice in fulfilling the gracious promise of the covenant.]

F. Though the reward of the covenant was to come through justice, yet merit had no place at all in this covenant. Citing Johannes Cocceius (198). “Merit had as little place in man’s integrity as demerit.” [This is why the promise of the Covenant of Works was gracious. The nature of the promise excelled the obedience required. Though a sinless creature did not deserve condemnation, perfect obedience would only make him an unprofitable servant without a gracious promise of everlasting life].

1. His obedience was only the duty that he owed to God.

2. Adam could not obey de facto [in fact] without some help from God.

3. The help that God provided him increased his obligation to obey God.

4. “There was an infinite disproportion between the work and the reward.” God is an infinite good and man’s obedience was finite.

G. The nature of this Covenant was of works and not of faith because works were the condition of life in opposition to the “law of faith.” Rom. 3:27; Gal. 3:12. However, neither does this exclude faith in this covenant (199). [Faith is considered here only as part of Adam’s obedience to God, rather than as the free reception of Christ in the Covenant of Grace.]

1. The law does not require faith in a Redeemer. It did not require faith as an organ to receive Christ, but faith as “a gracious act and work of the soul.”

2. The law did not promise righteousness as conditioned on faith, but as conditioned upon works (199-200). Gal. 3:10-12; Rom. 10:5. The law did not require one act of obedience, but it required perfect and perpetual obedience.

H. God transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam directly and without a Mediator (200). He had immediate communion with God without respect to Christ as Mediator (201). Nevertheless, the entire Trinity was at work in this covenant. [In other words, though Adam did not relate to Christ as Mediator he related to him as the eternal Son of God.]

I. The Covenant of Works was a possible way of life to Adam, though it is no longer so for us (201). Rom. 8:3 (202).

II. The breach of the covenant of works by Adam’s sin (202).

A. Adam was set over the family of earth, but not over the family of heaven. Eph. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:57 (202). [This prerogative belongs to Christ only.]

B. Adam enjoyed a heavenly communion with God even though he was in an earthly condition. This is evident from the image of God in Adam, but especially from God’s familiar converse with him (202). Divines disagree over whether Adam would have continued in the Garden or would be transported eventually to heaven, but we are unwise to inquire into such things, since Scripture does not reveal it (203).

C. Adam’s happiness in this covenant was mutable (203).

1. He was not predestined to eternal life in relation to this covenant.

2. He had neither actual influences towards perseverance, nor promises that he should do so.

D. Adam required God’s assistance for every act of obedience to God and to persevere in that obedience (203).

1. This was help from God as Creator only, and not as Redeemer (204).

2. This relation of dependence on God was inherent in the nature of a creature as related to his Creator (204). No creature can act independently from God. Adam required supernatural grace for actual obedience. Relying on God’s help was part of Adam’s natural duty. (205). [In his Pneumatologia, John Owen argued that Adam’s true failure in the Garden was ceasing to depend on the Holy Spirit for his obedience.]

E. God was not bound to keep Adam back from temptation (205).

F. Adam was exempted from the necessity of sinning, but not from the possibility of sinning (206).

1. There was no necessity in man’s nature to sin.

2. The power of the Devil was limited to “moral suasion.”

3. God gave men the necessary gifts and abilities to continue in righteousness, if he had improved them to this end (207). The Lord neither withdrew these gifts nor denied him assistance. [contra Romanism, though not cited here]

Summary

The primary thing that we learn from this section is that God created man as a dependent creature. Gillespie reminds us that we should never think of Adam before his Fall as an independent creature. Failing to depend on the Triune God for obedience inevitably leads to sin, whether for sinless or sinful creatures. Adam broke the Covenant of Works and all “sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression” (WLC 22). This paved the way for introducing the Covenant of Grace, which I will turn to in my next post.

Book Giveaway: Jesus Loves the Little Children

Thanks to our friends at Reformed Fellowship, we have four (4) copies to give away of Danny Hyde’s popular book, Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children. Kevin DeYoung says, “This is an intelligent, gracious, and careful explanation for why Christians ought to have their children baptized,” and Carl Trueman says, “Danny Hyde has a growing reputation as a thoughtful and reliable expositor of Reformed distinctives. For ministers wanting a concise explanation to give to church members and interested inquirers, this would be my top recommendation as an introduction to the issues and a clear exposition of the Bible’s teaching.”

Deadline is May 26.

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