Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here


Week 7 (2/12-2/18): I.2.6 (pgs. 270–310)

In last week’s reading, Muller investigates the role of natural theology in the theology of the Reformed orthodox. (Nota bene: You may want to read Muller’s most recent review of Scott Oliphint’s book on Aquinas touching on this very topic in relation to Thomism here) Like last week, instead of simply summarizing Muller’s chapter, I want to focus on two different early modern Reformed expositions relating to natural theology from two different angles. First, we will look at Johann Heinrich Alsted’s brief treatment of natural theology in his Method of Sacred Theology. Then, we wish to summarize John Davenant’s treatment of Colossians 2:8 (ESV: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”).
 
Alsted
In his Methodus, Alsted lays out 14 Canons relating to his definition of natural theology. Alsted defines natural theology as “the wisdom of divine things which can be known by the natural light of the intellect.” Nature is the first of three ways by which God communicates theology (the others being by grace and glory). In his second Canon, Alsted quotes straight from Aquinas: “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” It is not of the nature of subordinate things (like natural theology) to undermine superior things (like supernatural theology): “Nature commends grace and grace emends nature” (Canon 4). Grace is not contrary to nature but above it (Canon 3). Alsted, like Aquinas, denies double truth. God is not contrary to himself. What he reveals in nature and what he reveals by grace must agree; “that which is philosophically true is also theologically true and the contrary.”
 
Interestingly (Canon 6), against the scholastics and various scientists, Alsted claims that natural theology falls under the discipline of theology, rather than metaphysics or natural science. Nevertheless (Canon 9), the beginning (fundamentum) of natural theology is twofold: reason and the experience of nature. The Bible itself (Canon 10) touches upon natural theology chiefly in the beginning of Genesis, the book of Job, Psalm 8, 19, and 104, and finally in the Book of Wisdom. Also corresponding with Aquinas, because natural theology is subjectively the product of the human intellect and is thereby imperfect and obscure, such theology must be perfected by grace (Canon 11). If this was true even for prelapsarian Adam, then it is especially true after the fall (Canons 12 and 13)! Hence (Canon 14), natural theology does not, nor cannot, lead to perfection.
 
Davenant
Consonant with Alsted’s scholastic treatment of natural theology, Davenant’s discussion of Colossians 2:8 explains the way in which philosophy is a handmaid to theology. He admits that philosophy can and has been used “beyond its proper bounds” (391). Still, that which has been “discovered, spoken, or written, by the light of right reason” is properly called philosophy and has a legitimate role in sacred theology (390). Davenant enumerates three ways in which philosophy can be abused and five ways it can be used in the cause of religion (394-399). First philosophy is abused when the fundamentals of true religion are reduced to the common principles of philosophy, resulting in the absence of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity such as the Trinity, incarnation, and justification by faith. Reason simply cannot reach to those doctrines which are to be apprehended by faith. Second, philosophy goes beyond its bounds when it applies its principles to things far above the order of nature. Just because people do not rise from the dead in the ordinary course of nature, does not mean that God cannot or does not do such a thing! A third abuse of philosophy is the subjection of theology to false philosophical conclusions, which leads to all manner of heresy. 
 
Philosophy, however, can be of great use to the theologian. First, true philosophy helps one understand Scripture. After all, without lexicons, the knowledge of the natural sciences, etc., how could we even interpret Scripture rightly? Second, true philosophy teaches us the rules and art of reasoning well. Supernatural theology is not irrational, even though its teachings ascend above where reason can reach. Third, philosophical knowledge can be both a tool to initiate one into the Christian religion as well as to fight against false theology. In other words, true philosophy has both a positive and negative apologetical role, commending the true religion and undermining objections to Christianity. Fourth, true philosophy and literature enriches our treatment of divine things. As Justin Martyr said (Cap. XIII), “whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians.” We should feel free to plunder the Egyptians. Finally, good philosophy flavors, as it were, our theology. Reading theology is simply better when the classical authors are used to illustrate and illuminate. 
 
Evident especially in Davenant’s treatment of philosophy is his belief that the discipline of philosophy is not only legitimate but plays a crucial role (albeit as a handmaiden) in the discipline of theology. Even so, both Alsted and Davenant recognize that philosophy and natural theology have their own principia cognoscendi (first principles of thought) and need supernatural theology to perfect their own imperfections. After all, as Aquinas once wrote: “Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.” 
 
Join us next Wednesday as Danny blogs through the reading for Week 8 (2/19-2/25): I.2.7 (pgs. 311–359).

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46) 

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)

Week 5: I.2.4 (pgs. pgs. 177–220)

Week 6: I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269)

Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017). 240pp. Hardcover. $19.99.
 
Many theologians have complained recently that Reformed theology has stressed the divine attributes to the neglect of divine triunity. Whether such an assessment of classic Reformed theology is accurate or not is debatable. However, Mark Jones does not make it necessary for his readers to choose between what God is and who God is. By mediating the doctrine of God through the person and work of Christ, he presents the attributes of God in a way that is devotionally trinitarian, aiming to deepen our experience of communion with our glorious God. Saturated with the best of classic Puritan and Reformed thought as appropriated to today’s church, God Is is both welcome and needed for promoting a God-centered view of Scripture, the gospel, and the Christian life.
 
Jones’ work is Christological. Each chapter explains the attributes of God from Scripture and in conversation with classic Reformed thought. The chapters are also short and ideally suited to personal or group studies. Such features make this work a valuable bridge between academic studies of Reformed orthodoxy and the rest of the Christian community, making useful distinctions available to all believers. Such features add simplicity and clarity to treating a subject that transcends our comprehension and excites our wonder at the glories of the Lord. The greatest benefit of this book, however, lies in Jones’ Christological focus. He shows how Christ, as the God-man, exemplified every divine attribute clearly and even uniquely. This makes the divine attributes preeminently relevant, since Christ is the heart of the gospel. The end result is that Jesus is the lens through which we see God more clearly and love him more deeply.
 
Jones’ work is devotionally trinitarian. Following his sections explaining each attribute of God and sharpening our focus on them in light of Christ’s person and work, Jones concludes his chapters with personal application. In doing so, he appeals frequently to the Spirit’s work in Christ and in believers in order to draw parallels between the two. The result is that contemplating the divine attributes is explicitly trinitarian and inherently devotional. The following example from his chapter on “God is Spirit” may whet readers’ appetites for more: “Worship in the Spirit is also worship in the truth. So as soon as we conceive of worship in the Spirit, we are also drawing our minds to the truth that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worship must be trinitarian if it is spiritual worship. Trinitarian worship is also Christ-centered worship, for the Spirit supernaturally enables us to call on Christ’s name, glorify his name, and rejoice in his name” (43). God Is can retrain us how to think the nature of God and the persons of the Godhead simultaneously. This is precisely the kind of thinking that the church needs.
 
The glory of God is the most relevant component of the Christian life because the gospel is ultimately about the glory of God more than it is about the salvation of sinners. Jones’ premise in writing God Is is that, “All that God is has relevance for us. If who God is has no relevance for us, then we have a problem with our conception of God” (106). We need a greater experimental knowledge of our great God. We need to know what he is and who he is in order to live in light of these realities, both now and through eternity. God Is can help us along the way. This book should be pleasing to the church because this reviewer believes that it is pleasing to God.

Introduction

The Lord’s Supper is an earthly encounter with the heavenly Christ, said the Puritans. In this they agreed with the teaching of John Calvin (1509–1564).[1] John Knox (c. 1505–1572), the link between Calvin and British Puritanism,[2] wrote that just as Christ said “he himself was the lively bread, wherewith our souls be fed unto everlasting life,” so Christ,

in setting forth bread and wine to eat and drink, he confirmeth and sealeth up to us his promise and communion…and representeth unto us, and maketh plain to our senses, his heavenly gifts; and also giveth unto us himself, to be received with faith, and not with mouth, nor yet by transfusion of substance. But so through the virtue [power] of the Holy Ghost, that we, being fed with his flesh, and refreshed with his blood, may be renewed both unto true godliness and to immortality.[3]

Thus “we receive Jesus Christ spiritually” in the Lord’s Supper.[4]

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) said of the Supper, “There is in this action more communion with God…than in any other religious act….We have not so near a communion with a person, either by petitioning for something we want, or returning him thanks for a favour received, as we have by sitting with him at his table, partaking of the same bread and the same cup.”[5] He explained, “Christ is really presented to us, and faith really takes him, closes with him, lodgeth him in the soul, makes him an indweller; and the soul hath spiritual communion with him in his life and death, as if we did really eat his flesh and drink his blood presented to us in the elements.”[6]

John Willison (1680–1750) wrote that in partaking of the Supper we should exercise a remembrance of Christ that is full of awe, reverence, broken-hearted mourning over our sins, hatred against our sins, thankfulness, and trust in Christ for our full justification. He wrote, “Our hearts should even burn with affection to him, when we remember the great floods of wrath that brake in upon Christ’s soul, and yet could not drown his love to us.”[7]

It is easy to understand why the Puritans, who had such a high view of the Lord’s Supper, placed such great value upon understanding the sacrament biblically and practicing it spiritually. This series will address two concerns at the heart of the Puritan treatment of the Lord’s Supper: doctrinal questions about its meaning and pastoral questions about its partaking.

Unappreciated today is that the Puritans were heirs of the Reformation debates concerning the Lord’s Supper. “From a modern point of view, the eucharistic controversies of the sixteenth century seem unchristian,” writes Thomas J. Davis. He said, “What one finds is that eucharistic theology was not simply about church ritual but, rather, it was about who God is, how God operates, how humanity is saved, where God might be found.”[8]

The Lord’s Supper became the focal point of doctrinal debates during the Reformation. Martin Luther (1483–1546) had led Reformation churches away from the Roman Mass as a continuing priestly sacrifice in which, by the miracle of transubstantiation, the flesh and blood of Christ are offered anew as an atoning sacrifice.[9] To be sure, some of the Protestant revulsion against the Mass arose from abuses acknowledged even by the Roman Catholic Church. One Roman Catholic scholar laments “the commercialization of the holy sacrifice” by which masses were sold by greedy priests promising release from purgatory, and health and prosperity in this life.[10] However, the most significant division between the Church of England and the Papacy in this matter was in doctrinal differences rather than practical abuses.[11] The English Reformer Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), together with Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500–1555) and John Bradford (1510–1555), sealed their doctrinal opposition to the Roman Mass with their own deaths during the Marian persecutions.[12] During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603), The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, ratified in 1571, codified for subsequent generations the English rejection of papist teachings about the Eucharist (Articles 28–31).[13]

By the time of the Puritans, theological differences had hardened between the Reformed and Lutherans, despite the efforts of Calvin and Beza.[14] Luther taught that Christ’s body and blood were so united with the elements as to be locally and physically present and so eaten with the mouth. By contrast, Calvin taught that by faith, partakers of  the Supper lift up their “hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him for our redemption” to be made partakers of Christ’s body and blood in a spiritual but nonetheless real manner.[15] This highlights a difference between Calvin and the Puritans. There is little emphasis of heavenly participation in the Puritans. Rather than lifting up our hearts to Christ and partaking of Christ on high, the Puritans stressed, as did Thomas Cranmer, that Christ comes down to us in the sacrament by His Word and Spirit, offering himself as our spiritual food and drink.

Luther’s teachings were influential in the English Reformation.[16] Yet Robert Barnes (c. 1495–1540) seemed to be the only English Reformer who adopted a Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper.[17] In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Luther’s writings continued to be translated into English but mostly on the subject of spiritual consolation through justification by faith, particularly in his commentary on Galatians.[18] His view of the Supper seemed to have had little impact on the Puritans, who asserted the Reformed doctrine of real spiritual presence, while rejecting the Roman Catholic idea of a corporeal or physical presence .

The Puritans opposed both the Roman Catholic and Lutheran positions that Christ was physically present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.[19] E. Brooks Holifield writes, “In their opposition to Lutheran and Roman Catholic doctrine, the Puritans were unambiguous.”[20] On the other hand, the Puritans did not follow Zwingli or the Anabaptists in de-emphasizing the physical sacraments.[21] While some Puritans had some Zwinglian tendencies,[22] most Puritans belonged to a more Calvinistic group. William Perkins (1558–1602) said, “We keep the middle way, neither giving too much, nor too little to the sacraments.”[23]


This post was adapted from Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 743–759.


 

Notes


[1] For primary sources on Calvin’s sacramental views: Treatises on the Sacraments, Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), 119–122, 163–579; Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 4.14, 17–18.

[2] On Knox’s role in transmitting the Genevan eucharistic liturgy to English Puritanism, see Stephen Mayor, The Lord’s Supper in Early English Dissent (London: Epworth Press, 1972), 1–12.

[3] John Knox, “A Summary, According to the Holy Scriptures, of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” in The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: The Bannatyne Club, 1854), 3:73.

[4] Knox, “A Summary… of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” in Works, 3:75.

[5] Stephen Charnock, “A Discourse of the End of the Lord’s Supper,” The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (1865; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 4:407.

[6] Charnock, “The End of the Lord’s Supper,” in Works, 4:408.

[7] John Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in The Whole Works of the Reverend and Learned Mr John Willison (Edinburgh: J. Moir, 1798), 2:88–89.

[8] Thomas J. Davis, This Is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 13–14.

[9] Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the elements of the Eucharist are physically transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ through a change of substance though not in appearance. It was affirmed as church dogma by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and again, contra the Reformers, at the Council of Trent (1551).

[10] Francis Clark, S.J., Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation, 2nd ed. (1967; repr., Devon: Augustine Publishing, 1981), 59. See Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), 146.

[11] Clark, Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation, 64.

[12] For the writings of British Reformers against the Papist view of the Supper, see “A Defense of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Saviour Christ,” in The Remains of Thomas Cranmer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1833), 2:275–463; Nicholas Ridley, A Brief Declaration of the Lord’s Supper (London: Seeley and Co., 1895); John Bradford, “Sermon on the Lord’s Supper,” in The Writings of John Bradford (1848–1853; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 1:82–110; Thomas Becon, “The Displaying of the Popish Mass,” in Prayers and Other Pieces (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), 251–86; Knox, “A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass Is Idolatry,” in Works, 3:29–70.

[13] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 505–507.

[14] E. Brooks Holifield, The Covenant Sealed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 4–26; Richard A. Muller, “Calvin on Sacramental Presence, in the Shadow of Marburg and Zurich,” Lutheran Quarterly 23 (2009): 147–67. Jill Raitt, The Eucharistic Theology of Theodore Beza: Development of Reformed Doctrine, AAR Studies in Religion, no. 4 (Chambersburg, Pa.: American Academy of Religion, 1972), 2–7.

[15] See “The Manner of Celebrating the Lord’s Supper,” in Calvin’s Treatises on the Sacraments, 119–22. John Knox agreed with Calvin, teaching that “as the only way to dispose our souls to receive nourishment, relief, and quickening of his substance, let us lift up our minds by faith above all things worldly and sensible, and thereby enter into heaven, that we may find and receive Christ, where he dwelleth undoubtedly, very God and very man, in the incomprehensible glory of his Father” (Charles W. Baird, Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches [repr., Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2006], 123–24).

[16] See Carl R. Trueman, Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers, 1525–1556 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

[17] Carl. R. Trueman and Carrie Euler, “The Reception of Martin Luther in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England,” in The Reception of the Continental Reformation in Britain, ed. Polly Ha and Patrick Collinson, Proceedings of the British Academy, 164 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 65–67.

[18] Trueman and Euler, “The Reception of Martin Luther,” in The Reception of the Continental Reformation, 68–76.

[19] See Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:75–76; Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), 17–19; Edward Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Edward Reynolds (1826; repr., Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 3:68–72.

[20] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 59.

[21] Ulrich Zwingli, Writings (Allison Park, Pa: Pickwick Publications, 1984), 1: 92–127; 2:127–45, 187–369. For a recent appreciative survey, see Bruce A. Ware, “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531),” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 229–47.

[22] See the discussion in Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 59.

[23] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:611.

 

Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here


Week 6 (2/5-2/11): I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269)

In one of the great modern westerns, Tombstone (1993), there is a conversation between two of the wild West's deadliest gunslingers...in Latin! The text of what Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo say is full of subtext. But it's the first line by Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) that sets the tone: in vino veritas, "in wine there is truth." Not only were Doc's words literally true as he was drunk, but they had the subtext that what he just said about hating Ringo was truly true.

What's theology? What does God know? What can we know? How do we know what we know? How do we know what we know is true? And how do we express it? That's what this week's reading is all about. Muller deals with the Reformed Orthodox discussion of the parts of true theology, so helpfully distinguished by Franciscus Junius as theologia archetypa, God's own knowledge of himself, and theologia ectypa, what we know of God. Let me encourage you to dive into Junius yourself Latíne and in Reformation Heritage Books' recently published English translation (hardcover or ebook).

Why this distinction? One of the insights Martin Luther rested on was the late medieval critique of Thomas Aquinas by men like John Duns Scotus. Aquinas said there was an anaology of being between God and man; Scotus said it was impossible for man to derive a description of God apart from an authoritative testimony from God himself. Hence Luther's theology of the cross—what God revealed—took precedence over the theology of glory—what God has kept hidden. John Calvin added to this the radical effects of original sin upon the mind of man so much so that apart from God's self-revelation, true knowledge of God is inaccesible to us. Therefore, Reformed Orthodox writers distinguished theology as God knows it (theologia archetypa) from theology as we creatures can know it (theologia ectypa), whether in this life as pilgrims (theologia viatorum) or the life to come (theologia beatorum). In other words, we as creatures before the Fall, after the Fall in sin, after redemption in Christ, and even in glory, are limited in what we can know of God. We know what God knows is reality; and what we can know is tethered to whatever he decides to reveal to us in a manner appropriate for our creaturely capacity.

Why is this distinction important? Let me illustrate. Currently I am preaching through the Gospel of John. The "prologue" (see P. J. Williams' critique of this terminology and concept) ends with this coup de grâce in 1:18: "No one has ever seen God; the only God [Son], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known" (ESV). The eternal Word (1:1-3) and Son (1:14) who became flesh and tabernacled among humanity as Jesus Christ (1:17) alone has been at the Father’s side or as our older translations put it, “in the bosom of the Father,” that secret place of perfect fellowship and intimacy. Therefore he alone has seen the Father. No creature has seen or known God in himself in perfection; only the Son, who is the same essence as the Father as God, has. God alone as archetypal theology. In fact, the contrast is made between the Son and Moses, who could not see God and live and so was hidden in a cleft of a rock (Ex. 33:18–20) and who said to the Lord, “I tremble” (Heb. 12:21; Ex. 19:16; Deut. 9:19). On the contrary, the Word (v. 1), the only Son (v. 14), the only God (v. 18) has seen the Father and lived to tell the story to us! In fact, John tells us this is why the Son came from fellowship with the Father into fellowship with us in our humanity; he came to reveal God. And this revelation is the Gospel or good news to fallen creatures like us. Our theology (theologia nostra) is derived from God's own revelation of himself in Christ. And how did the Son in flesh reveal the Father? In a manner suited to our capacity: in words like parables and sayings and in miraculous signs meant to point beyond themselvbes to truths about Him. So verse 18 of John 1 comes full circle to verse 1: the Word who was with God (v. 1) is at the Father’s side in his bosom (v. 18); the Word who was God (v. 1) is the only God [Son] (v. 18); the Word (v. 1) or self-expressive revelation of God has made the Father known (v. 18)ἐξηγήσατο—has exegeted or explained the Father to us! What a Gospel!

Doc Holliday said in vino veritas; Jesus said  ἐγώ εἰμι…ἡ ἀλήθεια: "I am the truth" (John 14:6).

And they say this stuff is stale!

Join us next Wednesday as Michael Lynch blogs through the reading for Week 7 (2/12-2/18): I.2.6 (pgs. 270–310).


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


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46) 

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)

Week 5: I.2.4 (pgs. pgs. 177–220)

My mother, like so many other mothers, used to tell me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all. This nearly ubiquitous phrase, which now thanks to the internet is the subject of countless memes, is thoroughly biblical, and so, not surprisingly, puritan. Here then, we have another example of a popular contemporary saying that has a connection with the puritans of old.
 
James 4:11 says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” To speak evil of another is to defame, slander or speak derogatorily about others, especially behind their back. Speaking evil can take many forms. Robert Johnstone, in his commentary on James (republished by the Banner of Truth Trust), wrote: “The sin of evil-speaking exhibits itself in mainly these forms: the propagation of what is known to be a calumnious lie,-the exaggeration or distortion of truth,-the hasty passing on of what may or may not be truth, but certainly has not been inquired into,-and the needless telling of what is known to be truth.”
 
Johnstone’s last form of evil speaking is worth highlighting: “the needless telling of what is known to be truth.” We might justify our evil speaking with the claim that it’s true, but if there is no good and necessary reason to expose someone’s fault, then we are speaking evil of one another. Proverbs 10:12 says “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”  
 
The destructive power of evil speaking or slander is well-known. We are able to destroy a person’s or a business’ reputation so that people will look at them differently or even stay away from them altogether. Slander destroys relationships, and may even tear apart best friends (Prov. 16:28). James Boice has said that “more damage had been done to the church and its work by gossip, criticism, and slander than by any other single sin.”
 
Why would we speak evil of one another? We might engage in it in order to retaliate against any real or perceived offences. Or we might tear someone down because of our selfishness. We enjoy gossip or we want to steal customers from a successful competitor. Or we might speak evil because of our pride. We are jealous of someone or we want to increase our own stature by putting others down.  
 
God, however, hates evil speaking. The Bible unequivocally and repeatedly condemns all forms of slander. According to James Adamson, the Old Testament denounces evil speaking, both against God and man, more than any other offense.
 
So, what does all of this have to do with the puritans and popular contemporary sayings? Well, this brings us to Matthew Henry and his commentary on James 4:11. He noted that “we must not speak evil things of others” even if they are true unless it is necessary to do so. “Our lips,” Henry wrote, “must be guided by the law of kindness, as well as truth and justice.” Shortly after that comment, he wrote what amounts to the saying our mothers have instilled in us: “where we cannot speak well, we had better say nothing than speak evil.” The surrounding context is worth quoting in full:
It is required of us that we be tender of the good name of our brethren; where we cannot speak well, we had better say nothing than speak evil; we must not take pleasure in making known the faults of others, divulging things that are secret, merely to expose them, nor in making more of their known faults than really they deserve, and, least of all, in making false stories, and spreading things concerning them of which they are altogether innocent.
Our mothers are right. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Silence, in those moments, is golden.
The Reformation’s rediscovery of sola scriptura reset both the authority of the Church (Article 20) and the authority of General Councils (Article 21) to their proper status. Article 20 makes it very clear that Anglicanism affirms the supreme authority of Scripture: “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written….it ought to not decree anything against the same”. The Church remains under the authority of Scripture, neither above it nor equal to it. Article 21 states that it was only because of the authority of Scripture that councils were granted an authority commensurate with their fidelity to the Scriptures.
XXI—Of the Authority of General Councils

General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.
This article dates from 1553, with some minor changes in 1563/71. Two influences of the time suggest its inclusion. The first is that at the time of the Reformation an effort was made to call a general council. Luther, Cranmer, and Calvin all had done so. The second reason is to reply to Pope Paul III’s convening of the Council of Trent in 1545. Trent’s convocation was already irregular, lacking the command of the Holy Roman Emperor and failing to gain the French crown’s support (which would suggest a reason why “commandment and will of princes” is placed here). Since Trent’s purpose was to counter the Reformation, Protestants were not invited. Despite the irregular convocation and absence of Protestant and Eastern Christian churches, the council proclaimed itself a general and ecumenical council and anathematized those who held to reformed views of justification and the sacraments. Therefore article 21 is one application of the principles underlined in article 20. 
 
Anglicans have always understood that the term “general council” to be those so-called “ecumenical” councils of the early church. Thus, we can see how Cranmer's Reformatio Legum (1552) accorded great honor and dignity to the first four councils: 
Although we freely grant great honour to the councils, and especially to the ecumenical ones, yet we judge that all of them must be placed far below the dignity of the canonical Scriptures, and even among the councils themselves we make a huge distinction. For some of them, such as the special four, Nicaea, first of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, we embrace ad accept with great reverence. And we make the same judgment with regard to many other which were held later on, in which we see and confess that the most holy fathers determined many things, in a most serious and godly manner, concerning the blessed and highest Trinity, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind procured by him. But we do not regard them as binding on our faith except in so far as they can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures. For it is most obvious clear that some councils have occasionally erred, and defined things which are contrary to each other, partly in our legal actions and partly even in faith. Therefore the councils are to be studied with honor and Christian reverence, but at the same time they are to be tested against the godly, certain and right rule of the Scriptures. 
It is also important to notice how the Reformatio sets the condition for later councils in greater detail that helps us understand that last sentence of article 21. When the church fathers determined matters of the Trinity, the person of Christ, and salvation in a “most serious and godly manner” (the inference is by the due consideration of Scripture, the source of godliness), then the later councils are to be affirmed. Thus, the other formularies rejected the councils which authorized the veneration of images at Nicea II (781) and the compulsory clerical celibacy of Lateran I (1123). But the double procession of the Holy Spirit (filioque) doctrine of the council of Florence (1439) and the council decisions of Constantinople II (553) and Constantinople III (680-1) concerning Christ’s person that reaffirmed Chalcedon, were retained. 

Although the Renaissance and Reformation concept of the "prince" hold little influence today, and the probability of another General Council remote, we should take note of the fallen nature of mankind that underlines the reality of past councils. Because all the ordained and lay leaders seated in our Anglican assemblies, synods, conventions, and colleges of bishops remain fallen. Anglicans ought to be wary of hastily declared decisions or “promptings of the Spirit” that overturn affirmations by early councils that have submitted to the scriptural scrutiny that our historical formularies have confirmed. The recent history of the Anglican Communion’s dissolution concerning human nature and sexuality or the cursory way the Anglican Church of North America has made the filoque an optional doctrine are two examples. Another concern has been the total failure in the application of discipline against those who have rejected scripturally faithful council decisions, not solely regarding the rejection of the decision, but in the rejection of the sole authority of the Scriptures that undergirds that decision.  
 
Anglicans must be clear: the church is not ultimately built on councils and synods, but “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2.19). There are no creedal or canonical teachings that contain any saving truth found outside of the Scriptures. Indeed, the saving truths of conciliar creeds and canons only derive their force from the Scriptures.
 
 

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Enter here.

My recent posts (1, 2) on Puritan Theology in connection with William Ames made a little light go on in my head (that happens every once in a while!) while reading Thomas Watson’s A Body of Divinity, his commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647, hereafter WSC) that was published posthumously in 1692
 
I may not be the first to notice this, but I was blessed to see the connection between the first answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) and the first of the Larger Catechism for that matter (both published in 1647) and Ames’s pronouncement, “Theology is the doctrine of living to God” (Theologia est doctrina deo vivendi). Remember, we said that Ames’s elaboration on this life (twenty years before the catechism) called it one “according to the will of God, to the glory of God, God inwardly working.” Ames also considered it as the “good life whereby we live to God” and how ‘doing’ theology demands “a spiritual act of the whole man, whereby” we are “carried on to enjoy God.” In other words, we do not get a good life as a result pursuing God, our enjoyment of him is the good life. 
 
Well, this certainly sounds to me like the thoughts underlying the answer to the very first question of  WSC. People with any exposure at all to this catechism usually know the answer to this beauty of a question.: "What is the chief end of man? A: man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."
 
Of course, the Catechism never asks, “What is theology?” and the Confession, as somewhat of a mini systematic theology, does not start with the detailed prolegomena (intro to theology) that Ames does in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity. Still, the Catechism, which seeks to impart essential theological truths to the common man, begins with a foundational question on the relationship between God and man related to the rest of its theology by catechesis. It is as if the Catechism suggests, “Listen, in the study of God, life unto him is what matters most.”  To begin with this question and answer, I believe, unmistakably and organically links Westminster theology to the “living unto God” (deo vivendi) experiential Calvinism of William Ames with its roots extending back through Perkins, Ramus, Beza, and Calvin. 
 
In his Body of Divinity, Watson substantially manifests this connection in his comments on WSC#1, even if he does not mention Ames explicitly. He calls pursuing the glory of the triune God “a silver thread which must run through all of our actions” (1 Cor 10:31). Such a pursuit involves appreciation, or setting God “highest in our thoughts;” adoration, or worshipping him according to his Word; affection or the “love of delight” in which we set our hearts upon God as our greatest treasure; and subjection, or devotion to his service.  
 
One of the ways we pursue God’s glory, claims Watson, is by “living to God” and not unto ourselves. He sees Christ as the foundation for such a life, since he died for us that we may no longer live for ourselves (e.g. pursuing money, satisfying appetites, or gratifying lusts) but for him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). In the end, we can never ultimately pursue that which benefits us or claiming for ourselves the glory that belongs to God with the “oil of vainglory” feeding our “lamp.” We live to him as we pursue his service and “lay ourselves out wholly” for him. 
 
The pursuit of God’s glory naturally leads us to “the blessed enjoyment of him” in this life and the one to come. He is the “universal good” we seek, “bonum in quo omnia bona, a good, in which are all goods.” God as the good we seek always satisfies, and enjoying him “is the highest felicity of which the soul is capable.” Even when we get to heaven, our greatest delights “are not carnal but spiritual” as we look forward to the eternal enjoyment of God. 
 
In this development, we have all of the essentials of Ames’s “doctrine of living to God.” In such a life, God acts on the soul which in turn willingly responds to and seeks him not so much for but as the good life. In this way, we enjoy him for his sake not even (ultimately) for the pleasure that we get out of the experience of such communion. May the Lord graciously provide such a good life to us all.
Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here


Week 5 (1/29-2/4): I.2.4 (pgs. 177–220)

In the most recent reading, Muller surveys the theological method of the Reformation and Post-Reformation Reformed orthodox. Instead of looking at Muller’s exposition, which included a lot of interesting tidbits (some of which I noted on Twitter), I thought it would be of value to analyze John Davenant's scholastic writing as an exemplar of the theological method in the Reformed orthodox period.
 
Take, e.g., Davenant’s Commentary on Colossians. This commentary, written in Latin, was clearly not intended for the masses, but for the educated in Europe. This much is clear from Davenant’s introduction, where he notes that this work was borne out of a scholastic context being “formerly delivered at the commencement of [his] Theological Professorship in the celebrated University of Cambridge.” Thus, this work was originally intended for theological students. The eminent Dutch Reformed theologian, Gisbertus Voetius, in fact, recommends Davenant’s commentary to his own students of theology. Given its length as well as its theological tangents, Davenant’s commentary is quite distinct in method from, say, the relative brevity of Calvin’s commentaries. Davenant is also quite polemical throughout the work, finding almost any opportunity to delve more deeply into a theological topic or to criticize Roman Catholic theology.
 
One can also get a sense of Davenant’s theological method by looking at his public lectures while he was at Cambridge on various theological topics, in this case, his theological Determinations. Davenant explains the reason for these disputations: “Professors of Theology, at the close of disputations, are accustomed to pass their sentence on the questions agitated before them. In the discharge of this office at Cambridge, I had to treat, with more or less copiousness, many theses, on various occasions.” Again, these lectures were published in Latin, and hence, were not intended for the general parishioner. In good scholastic form, Davenant takes a thesis to defend such as “Protestants cannot attend mass with a safe conscience,” gives the status quaestionis, and then argues from Scripture and antiquity (especially Augustine and Aquinas) for his thesis, oftentimes rebutting arguments against his position in the process. This method of discussing and defining the status quaestionis, culling arguments from Scripture and ecclesiastical history in support of one’s position, and rejecting the arguments of one’s adversaries manifests standard early modern scholastic method.
 
Finally, one can find Davenant at his most scholastic in his Latin treatises on the Death of Christ (De Morte Christi) and on predestination (De Praedestinatione et Reprobatione). The former treatise begins by giving a detailed history of the controversy and then proceeds to defend various theses. Notably, Davenant spends a significant amount of time explaining each thesis before offering arguments for the thesis along with responding to counter-arguments. While both works employ the use of syllogism, Davenant’s treatise on the Death of Christ is especially tight in its layout and argument. On the other hand, Davenant’s treatise on predestination, which William Cunningham thought to be the best in existence, focuses much more on rebutting Remonstrant and Jesuit formulations of predestination.
 
One can get a sense of the uniqueness of these two treatises by comparing them to others from the period. Take, for example, John Owen’s Death of Death. Owen’s treatise, unlike Davenant’s, is self-consciously intended to be accessible and non-scholastic. Not only is it published in English, but Owen admits to Baxter that he never intended the work to go into the complexities a scholastic treatment would demand: “I was desired and pressed to handle the things of that discourse in the most popular way they were capable of, and in the best accommodation to vulgar capacities, so that it is no wonder if some expressions therein may be found to want some grains of accurateness (though they have not one dram the less of truth) in a scholastical balance.” (Works, 10:435). In contrast, Davenant’s treatise demands a completely different level of engagement than Owen’s does. Owen’s work is much easier to read; Davenant’s work on the same topic is much more technical and nuanced. Compare, again, Davenant’s treatise on predestination with Davenant’s Amimadversions against Samuel Hoard (an English Remonstrant) on Predestination. While both touch on the doctrine of predestination, the latter is written in English (no doubt, because Hoard’s treatise was published in English) and follows a completely different method of exposition. Davenant writes what amounts to be a critical commentary on Hoard’s whole book! Even so, this treatise is quite technical because of the polemical context.
 
All of Davenant’s works mentioned above are scholastic insofar as they are for the educated and borne out of the theological education of the day. Still, there are significant methodological differences among his various works. Some begin with a historical introduction (such as De Morte Christi), while others begin with a prolegomena touching on definitions and first principles (as in De Praedestinatione). No doubt Davenant’s Colossians commentary is much closer to the biblical text than his Determinations on oft-debated theological topics. Method, genre, context, and aim all play a role in the theological method employed. Students of this period must be sensitive to these differences – differences which Muller aptly highlights in this past week’s reading.
 
Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 6 (2/5-2/11): I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269).

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46) 

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)

Amy Mantravadi joins us this week to discuss John Bunyan's A Discourse Touching Prayer. Read her third post below:


While John Bunyan spent much time dissecting the Apostle Paul’s statement that “I will pray with the spirit”, he by no means ignored the second part of that phrase: “I will pray with the understanding also”. (1 Corinthians 14:15 KJV) Bunyan taught that the only way to receive this understanding was 1) by the work of the Spirit and 2) through God’s Word.

“Prayer it is, when it is within the compass of God’s Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is beside the book,” he wrote, emphasizing the need for our heartfelt words to be backed up by biblical truth. Understanding is necessary for prayer, and Bunyan taught that “there is no understanding without the Word”. It is this combination of the Spirit of God and the Word of God that allows us to understand our sinful state and seek divine mercy through prayer.

He that hath his understanding well exercised, to discern between good and evil, and in it placed a sense either of the misery of man, or the mercy of God; that soul hath no need of the writings of other men to teach him by forms of prayer. For as he that feels the pain needs not to be taught to cry O! even so he that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taught of other men’s prayers as that he cannot pray without them.

The understanding that Bunyan envisioned was not a kind of dry knowledge, but an active comprehension of the things of God. He taught that once a person gained it, their prayer life would be transformed, even as they continued to grow in their understanding.

And understanding of the willingness that is in the heart of God to save sinners, there is nothing will press the soul more to seek after God, and to cry for pardon, than it. If a man should see a pearl worth an hundred pounds lie in a ditch, yet if he understood not the value of it, he would lightly pass it by: but if he once get the knowledge of it, he would venture up to the neck for it. So it is with souls concerning the things of God: if a man once get an understanding of the worth of them, then his heart, nay, the very strength of his soul, runs after them, and he will never leave crying till he have them.

Finally, Bunyan taught that this understanding gained through the Spirit gives us great confidence to pray to our God, for we realize what great mercy is available at the throne of grace.

Alas, how many poor souls are there in the world, that truly fear the Lord, who, because they are not well informed in their understanding, are oft ready to give up all for lost, upon almost every trick and temptation of Satan! The Lord pity them, and help them to ‘pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.’ Much of mine own experience could I here discover; when I have been in my fits of agony of spirit, I have been strongly persuaded to leave off, and to seek the Lord no longer, but being made to understand what great sinners the Lord hath had mercy upon, and how large his promises were still to sinners; and that it was not the whole, but the sick, not the righteous, but the sinner, not the full, but the empty, that he extended his grace and mercy unto. This made me, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, to cleave to him, to hang upon him, and yet to cry, though for the present he made no answer; and the Lord help all his poor, tempted, and afflicted people to do the like, and to continue, though it be long, according to the saying of the prophet (Hab 2:3). And to help them (to that end) to pray, not by the inventions of men, and their stinted forms, but ‘with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.’”

Bunyan’s writings on prayer are useful for anyone who seeks to gain a better understanding of how to pray with both spirit and understanding. They also provide a great deal of insight into the way Puritans thought about this essential part of the Christian life.

 


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


This book is available from Puritan Paperbacks under the title Prayer.  As it is in the public domain, it is also freely available in digital form

For previous posts in this series, see: 

John Bunyan on Prayer (1)

John Bunyan on Prayer (2)