The Family Altar (2)

In The Family Altar, the Puritan writer Oliver Heywood makes the case for family or household worship. We have already discussed Heywood’s belief that family worship is essential for the proper functioning not only of the family, but also the Church and wider society. We must now consider exactly what he meant when he spoke of a family altar: “By altar I mean (considered as an instance of synecdoche) all the worship of God to be performed in families” (The Whole Works of the Rev. Oliver Heywood, Volume 4:305). He also said: “Christian families are churches, and churches must have altars for God’s worship” (4:320).

Perhaps it sounds strange to refer to a family as a church. In fact, Heywood focused on three different spheres in which worship takes place: the congregation, the family, and in private. He never intended for worship at the family level to take away from the ministry of the Word to the congregation, and he used an analogy between the two to clarify that only certain families can be thought of in that way. 

“That is no church where there is no altar of God, but it is a synagogue of Satan. We cannot call every family a church, but a Christian pious family; and it is so called by the analogy or resemblance it bears to a church, from the worship of God maintained therein” (4:321). A truly religious family, according to Heywood, will “maintain God’s worship according to God’s institution, where the daily perfume of prayer ascends heavenwards” (4:319).

By family or household, Heywood meant all the people living under the same roof, whether or not they were related by blood. This would include the father, mother, children, and any servants. Nearly all of his book is addressed to men who were the heads of households. “But indeed the proper constituent, essential parts of a family are but these two, such as govern, and such as are governed. And ordinarily the person governing must set up this altar, and order the worship of God in his house or family together with the rest…” (4:309)

One of the chief biblical examples to which Heywood appeals is Jacob. He draws from this Old Testament patriarch to make the point that fathers serve as prophets, priests, and kings in their own household. “As holy Jacob, the famous patriarch, was a prophet to instruct his family in the true religion, and a king to govern them for God; so a priest to set up an altar, offer sacrifices and perform religious worship for and with his family: even the poorest man that has a family is to be a prophet, priest, and king in his own house.”

Once again, it may seem odd to speak of a father as being a prophet, priest, and king. Heywood certainly did not mean to imply by this that all heads of household receive the special gift of prophecy, that they ought to be offering up literal sacrifices, or that they were permitted to act as tyrants. He used this biblical model as an example for how husbands and fathers should take the initiative in instituting family worship and encouraging the spiritual development of the other members of the household. Importantly, he never saw this position as being one and the same with an ordained minister or usurping the ordinary means of grace in the church congregation.

“A master of a family should teach all under his charge as a master, yet not usurp the office of a minister, without a due call,” he wrote. “His teaching must not be in opposition, but in subordination to ministerial instruction; as families are subordinate to churches” (402-403). Here again, we see how Heywood viewed the different spheres of Puritan worship – congregational, family, and private – and wished for them to complement one another rather than being in opposition. He firmly believed that “the more a Christian is conversant with God and his family, the more will he prize and improve public ordinances” (4:308).

Even as family worship was a means to improve congregational worship, Heywood also taught that private prayer, often referred to as “closet prayer”, was an essential preparation for all other activities, including participation in household prayer. “Converse with God alone: first pray in your closets, and then you will be better able to pray in your families, both as to matter and manner: a frequent exercise of closet prayer will move you to converse with God: there you will find that God will suggest words to your minds, which you may employ in your families in prayer, and this course will embolden you before others…” (4:384)

We have now seen how family worship fits in with other forms of worship. In the next article, we will look at what Heywood believed should be the content of family worship times and some practical ideas for instituting this practice.

Union and Communion (7)

In this penultimate installment of the series on a puritan doctrine of union and communion with Christ, I want to consider the comfort “this glorious union with Christ” brings to dying saints and to “their surviving mourners” (Case).

Thomas Jacomb says that we have no reason to be afraid of death even though it is “the king of terrors (Job 18:14)” because it can’t dissolve our union with Christ. We remain in Christ in both life and death. Death is, indeed, a great destroyer. It dissolves the union between the body and the soul, and the union between husband and wife. It takes a parent from a child, a child from a parent, and a sibling from a sibling. However, death is not the ultimate destroyer because it can’t dissolve the union between Christ and the believer. Saints die in the Lord and they sleep in Jesus (Rev. 14:13; 1 Thess. 4:14). In fact, death works to the advantage of the believer because to live is Christ but to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).

In writing in the midst of his own personal grief, Thomas Case highlights the idea that Christ even remains united to our dead bodies. He notes that our “ashes are not laid up in the grave so much as in Christ.” And even though our bodies return to dust and may be scattered to the four corners of the earth, Jesus, who knows the stars by name, “knows every dust of [our] precious bodies, keeps them in his hand, and is as really united to them as to his own human nature in heaven.” Thus, Case encourages mourners to view their loved ones’ dust in an urn that Jesus himself is holding in his hands and “for which he himself will be responsible, and bring it forth safely and entirely in the morning of the resurrection [see also WSC 37].” Similarly, Jacomb wrote, “When the body of a child of God shall be no better than a rotten carcase, Christ will say, Oh yet this very carcase is precious to me, for it is in union with me!…The very dust of believers is valued by Christ, insomuch that he will not lose the least atom of it.”

This is indeed a comforting truth, not only because it teaches that our whole person is precious to Jesus, but it also reassures us of our own bodily resurrection. Eusebius tells us that the Romans would burn the bodies of Christians and scatter their ashes in the Rhone river in order to crush their hope in the future resurrection. But it doesn’t matter if our bodies return to dust in the grave or if they are burned and scattered in the wind so that all trace of them is gone. They are united to Christ and he will raise them from the dead and fashion them according to his own glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Since the head, that is Christ, is risen then it is sure that the members, that is believers, will rise also “by virtue of the union that is betwixt them (Jacomb).”

39 Articles—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude (2)

Article 10 is the second part of the Thirty-Nine Article’s explanation of our guilt. Article 9 describes our actual condition before God regarding our total depravity. It also makes it clear that while sin persists in the believer, God’s work in Christ does not condemn the believer. Article 10 continues the same theme in setting the limitations on our free will and our need of God’s grace. Indwelling sin binds the will of fallen humanity thereby making them unable to chose God or to respond to the gospel by their strength. 

X— Of Free-Will

The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

Archbishop Parker added the first clause from the text of the Württemberg Confession, a confession of faith in 35 articles compiled by Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) for presentation to the Council of Trent in 1552. But we should not draw the conclusion that Brenz’s influence makes our articles more Lutheran than Reformed, as some Anglicans suggest. As the later Harmony of the Confessions of Faith (1581) shows, both the Württemberg and the Articles are used in defense of Reformed doctrine against the Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Archbishop Cranmer took the second clause of the original article almost word-for-word the Latin from St. Augustine’s De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (Chapter 33).

Article 10 teaches four doctrines, the subsequent three based upon the first, our spiritual helplessness: “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God.” We are powerless to do God’s will. Sin is not, as the Roman Catholic taught, merely a tendency or a weakness towards doing wrong things, but was a status of death. And a dead man or woman can make no effort at all.

The article next underlines our need of God’s grace and mercy. The second doctrine is God’s response to our helplessness: “Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ.”  God’s mercy was manifested, established, demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here then is our comfort. The believer, however, could stand before a holy God as a righteous person if he threw himself upon God’s mercy and grasped Christ by faith and was clothed with Christ’s righteousness.

The third head of doctrine is in how the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ must be the primary work. We are unable to want it or even of understanding God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ until we receive it as a gift: “The grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will.”  “Prevent” being used here in the older sense of “precede.” There needed to be a transformation of the heart, so when God works in our lives, he gives us a right understanding of what is good according to his will. And we gain a desire to do it.

The fourth doctrine is in the continual working of God’s grace in our sanctification: “and working with us when we have that good will.” When we compare Article 10 with the other historical formularies, we find that The Book of Common Prayer makes repeated reference in the pattern of Anglican worship to our day-to-day need of God’s grace through the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • In the services of morning and evening prayer the minister prays: “O God, make clean our hearts within us.” The people then answer: “And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.”
  • The Collect (Public Prayer) for Easter Day says: “As by thy special grace preventing us… so by thy continual help.”
  • Then on the Lord’s Days after Trinity Sunday: “We, who cannot do anything that is good without thee” (9th); “Make us love that which thou dost command” (14th); “The frailty of man without thee cannot but fall” (15th); “Thy grace may always prevent and follow us” (17th); “Without thee we are not able to please thee” (19th).
  • The second Prayer of Oblation after Holy Communion likewise says: “And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good work as thou hast prepared us to walk in.”
  • And in one of the Collects that follow it, we read: “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help.” 

The First and Second Book of Homilies teach these same doctrines.

“For it is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature they should never have… As who should say, Man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds: as for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesu.”

“We are all become unclean: but we all are not able to cleanse ourselves, nor to make one another of us clean. We are by nature the children of God’s wrath: but we are not able to make ourselves the children and inheritors of God’s glory. We are sheep that run astray: but we cannot of our own power come again to the sheepfold; so great is our imperfection and weakness.”

“If after our fall we repent, it is by him that we repent, which reacheth forth his merciful hand to raise us up. If any will we have to rise, it is he that preventeth our will, and disposeth us thereto. If after contrition we feel our conscience at peace with God through remission of our sin, and so be reconciled again to his favour, and hope to be his children and inheritors of everlasting life, who worketh these great miracles in us? Our worthiness? our deservings and endeavours? Our wits and virtue? Nay verily: St. Paul will not suffer flesh and clay to presume to such arrogancy, and therefore saith, “All is of God, which hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ; for God was in Christ when he reconciled the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5.18-19).

God’s grace and mercy is an astonishing fact for those whom he loves. He loves those who if left to themselves, would continue hating him. When we see what we are truly, as articles 9 and 10 set out, we see what God is truly. And we know what our response must be: “Remember, I say once again, your duty of thanks: let them be never to want: still join yourself to continue in thanksgiving: ye can offer to God no better sacrifice; for he saith himself, It is the sacrifice of praise and thanks that shall honour me” (Psalm 50.23) [ibid].

Book Review: Anthony Burgess on the Law in Reformed Scholasticism

Stephen J. Casselli, Divine Rule Maintained: Anthony Burgess, Covenant Theology, and the Place of the Law in Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016). 188pages. [Book/ebook]

The function God’s law in Scripture has always raised difficult theological questions. With the advent of modern exegesis and theological methods, the proposed options for understanding divine law have only multiplied. In this climate, historical theology often challenges contemporary assumptions and pushes us beyond the bounds of current proposals. Stephen Casselli’s work on Anthony Burgess does all of these things and more. Since Burgess was a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly, this book helps explain the teaching of the Westminster Standards on God’s law, bringing a vital strand of the Reformed tradition into contemporary debates.

Casselli’s book is a useful introduction to Westminster’s teaching on God’s law. In six concise chapters, he introduces his topic, sets Burgess in his historical context, and then treats in order creation and law, the law in the Mosaic covenant, and the law/gospel distinction, followed by a conclusion. His findings include ideas such as the law as an expression of God’s nature, natural law and moral law, the threefold division of God’s law, the threefold use of God’s law, the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace, and the law and the gospel as expressing primarily the relationship between the Old Testament and the New. He delves deeply and broadly into British Reformed theology, introducing English readers to a wide array of important resources. Though Casselli writes historical theology, he does so with his finger on the pulse of today’s church by singling out law and creation (including the nature of natural law), law and covenant, and law and gospel (139-143). One of the most useful features of his analysis is his observation that Burgess distinguished between the law as a reflection of God’s character and the law as a covenant (61). This distinction undoubtedly undergirds chapter 19 in the Westminster Confession of Faith (“on the law of God”). The tendency in much modern theology to ignore or to deny this distinction renders this chapter in the Confession virtually unintelligible.

Though Divine Rule Maintained is well written and useful, some points require greater clarity. For example, Casselli treated natural law as virtually synonymous with moral law. Yet James Bruce shows helpfully in his recent work on Francis Turretin that natural law referred to natural relationships between God and people and between people and one another as created by God. The content of moral law was identical with natural law, but the relationship between them is that of underlying principle and its outward expression. A related issue is how Casselli classifies Reformed uses of law. Though he notes most of the vital components of Reformed teaching, such as the threefold division of law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial), the threefold use of the law, the law as a covenant of works, the law as the Old Testament, and the law as distinct from the gospel, he does not always distinguish these categories clearly. The most prominent example of this is his chapter on the law and the gospel, in which he states without explanation that Burgess treated the law as the Old Testament and the gospel as the New. While hinting at the fact that Lutherans dichotomized law and gospel regarding justification and showing that Reformed authors agreed with them over this point, he does not illustrate adequately how and why Reformed authors modified the law/gospel distinction. This reviewer has written elsewhere that Reformed authors treated the law as reflecting God’s character, which led to natural law as reflecting God’s relation to his creatures, which then led to moral law as its outward expression. This moral law was the bedrock of the three divisions and three uses of law. The gospel created these uses and divisions of the law. This raises the related issue that in Reformed theology, law as opposed to gospel referred to various things. It could refer to the covenant of works as opposed to the covenant of grace. It could refer to the Old Testament versus the New Testament. Or, it could refer to the Mosaic covenant versus the new covenant. The complexity of treating the law in Reformed theology reflected the diversity of the uses of law in Scripture. What Casselli highlights rightly is the close relationship between the law and covenant theology. However, his study raises a number of unanswered questions regarding the above Reformed uses of law. This may result from the virtual absence of Latin Reformed dogmatic works, without which readers lose some of the precise distinctions within Reformed orthodoxy as well as its international character.

Casselli’s book on Anthony Burgess on the nature and function of divine law cannot solve today’s theological difficulties. Scripture alone can serve this purpose. However, his work shows us that contemporary voices on the subject are not the only ones worth hearing. The church needs books like this one in order to help her read the Bible better by lifting her gaze from her current outlook to the horizon of church history. Though the church is not infallible, yet since Christ continues to direct her “by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture” (WCF 1.10), we do well to hear what she has had to say.

Patrick Gillespie: The Importance of the Covenant of Redemption

Mankind needs saving from God by God. As demonstrated in my previous posts on Patrick Gillespie (#1, #2, #3, #4), the broken Covenant of Works paved the way for the salvation of God’s elect in the Covenant of Grace. Yet in the sequel to his Ark of the Testament, Gillespie argued in The Ark of the Covenant that our salvation in the Covenant of Grace rested on the eternal Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son concerning the salvation of the elect (Ark of the Covenant, 1). This eternal Covenant received its highest expression and development in the mid to late seventeenth-century. In his preface to the reader, John Owen referred to Gillespie’s book as the most well ordered and best argued book that he had read on this subject (unpaginated [4]). While in recent centuries, many have rejected the Covenant of Redemption by collapsing it into the Covenant of Grace, Gillespie argued that the Father/Son covenant not only differed from the Covenant of Grace in substance, but that it ensured that the Covenant of Grace made between God and sinners in Christ rested on the free grace of God alone.

This post treats Gillespie’s arguments for the existence of the Covenant of Redemption and its nature. The two following posts will treat the relationship between the Covenants of Redemption and of Grace. The third and last in this series will address why Christ needed to be both God and man in order to fulfill the Covenant of Redemption as the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace. This material aims to illustrate why most Reformed orthodox writers, represented here by Gillespie, taught an eternal covenant between the Father and the Son and why this doctrine can continue to be helpful to the church today.

The tile of The Ark of the Covenant can potentially mislead modern readers. Only the first 144 out of 480 pages establish this doctrine. The remaining material expounds Christ’s work as Mediator of the Covenant of Grace. The link between the two uneven sections is that Christ’s covenant with the Father is the ground of his work as Mediator of the Covenant of Grace.

Gillespie established the Covenant of Redemption through two avenues. First, he identified all of the components of a covenant in the biblical descriptions of the eternal interchange between the Father and the Son. Second, he showed that the parties, conditions, and other components of a covenant differed in this Covenant from the Covenant of Grace. In my first post on Gillespie on the Covenant of Works, I noted his six components of a covenant. These include two or more parties, mutual consent to the covenant, mutual conditions, mutual engagements, the good of both parties, and inviolable force. Gillespie largely implied the presence of these qualifications in his first chapter through lengthy expositions of Scripture in which the components of a covenant are present in various dialogues between the Father and the Son. I will summarize his views here and then list some of his primary Scripture citations. The parties are the Father and the Son. The Son did not need to enter this covenant, but he did so by voluntary condescension (20, 36). The conditions were that the Father would give a seed and glory to the Son and that the Son would become incarnate in order to redeem the Father’s elect (2, 5, 39-40, 106). The Father engaged to bestow this seed and Mediatorial glory the Son and the Son engaged to do all that was necessary to save the Father’s elect. The covenant aimed at the good of manifesting God’s glory (41-42) and Christ’s exaltation as Mediator (106). Lastly, neither party could or would violate the terms of this covenant. Some of Gillespie’s favorite Scripture proofs included Isa. 59:20-21, Ps. 89 throughout, Isa. 53 throughout, Ps. 40 with Heb. 10, Ps. 2, Prov. 8:23-31, Phil. 2:5-11, and many others. While it is beyond the reach of this post to explain these passages, Gillespie argued that all of them reflected in one way or another the six components of a covenant listed above. Pages 51-112 explain each of these components in more detail. This relation of the Holy Spirit to this covenant also deserves some explanation, which I cannot do here.

Yet some may reply that this covenant represented merely eternal aspects of the Covenant of Grace rather than a distinct covenant. In response, Gillespie listed 9 ways in which the covenant of redemption differed from the Covenant of Grace.

  1. The covenant of redemption rises from grace in both parties, but in the covenant of reconciliation grace stands on one side only (117).
  2. “These covenants differ in the property of eternity.” While both are everlasting covenants, only the covenant of redemption is an eternal covenant.
  3. “The parties are different.” Jehovah and his Son are the parties in the covenant of redemption. In the Covenant of reconciliation, the parties are the Father, the Son, and the Spirit and elect sinners (118). The Covenant of Redemption is made with Christ “personal” while the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ “mystical,” or his church (119). Ps. 89:19.
  4. The Covenant of Redemption is between equals while the Covenant of Grace is not.
  5. There is no Mediator in the covenant of redemption (150). Prov. 8:30.
  6. “The promises of these two covenants are different.” For example, promises of a new heart and cleansing from idolatry belong to us rather than to Christ. In addition, Christ received promises of a throne at God’s right hand, a name above all names, dominion from sea to sea, all power in heaven and earth, etc. (121).
  7. The covenant of reconciliation has threats while the Covenant of Redemption has none. Heb. 2:3; 1 Cor. 16:22.
  8. The commands and conditions differ in both covenants. The conditions of the Covenant of Redemption are peculiar to Christ, such as taking on flesh, becoming surety, etc. Conversely, believing in Christ and repenting from sin belong to us as conditions and not to Christ. The conditions in the Covenant of Grace are also not causes of the things promised as they are in the Covenant of Redemption (122).
  9. Lastly, the Covenant of Redemption does not require our consent like the Covenant of Grace does. Prov. 8:22-31. All of these things give insights into common Reformed arguments why the Covenant of Redemption must be distinct from the Covenant of Grace

Why was distinction so important to Gillespie and how can it help us in modern theology? Pages 26-50 present arguments for the necessity of the Covenant of Redemption. Summarizing some of these arguments can help us understand better what this doctrine was designed to accomplish in Reformed covenant theology. This covenant represents God’s eternal purpose to glorify himself through exercising his justice and mercy in redemption (32). This covenant was necessary because the nature of Christ’s work could not be performed without a covenant, since it required commanding and obeying, sending and going, giving and asking (33). This covenant put the glory of the Triune God on display more clearly than in any other divine works (39-42). This covenant secured the salvation of the elect by God’s action alone, with the result that “all the hard labor is over” before the elect lift a finger to the work (45). Finally, the Covenant of Redemption cuts off all boasting and self-glorying in the redeemed, since the entire plan of redemption rests on Christ (50). While this brief sketch of Gillespie’s treatment of the Covenant of Redemption is underdeveloped in this post, it gives us enough material to rethink the doctrine and to study it further.

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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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.

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 (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.

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.

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).

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.