Pray for Meet the Puritans editor, Danny Hyde, as he travels and speaks at the second annual Soli Deo Gloria Conference in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, March 23-Saturday, March 25. He will be joining MtPs friends, Lee Gatiss and Mark Jones as they speak on the theme La Reforma Continúa, "The Reformation Continues."

Watch the stream on Youtube (Iglesia Cristo rey Las Condes) and Facebook (Ministerios Soli Deo Gloria).

¡Gloria a Dios!

Last time we examined the Anglican principle in how the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer form the confessional structure of our theology and worship. This time, we need to illustrate how the Articles have an almost narrative structure. In other words, what is established in the Articles that preceded, inform the content of a subsequent article. This principle may be an obvious principle to many, but there is a failing within American Anglican thinking to interpret an article as a proof-text, as it were, of their theological presuppositions.
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.
Oliver O’Donovan reminds us that the exposition of our redemption in the life, death, and resurrection is the most weighty task in theology, and also the hardest. With the doctrine of the Trinity established in Article 1, the Thirty-nine Articles develops its doctrine still further in Articles 2 through Article 5, the doctrines of the person and work of Christ. The topic of Article 2 is the understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ in light of his gracious work to save: “The Son…took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin;” he “…truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.”
Like Article 1, this article substantially reproduces the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Article 3) via Cranmer’s “first draft” Thirteen Articles of 1538. Article 2 was intended to summarize the teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ from the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. According to Gerald Bray’s Documents of the English Reformation, Cranmer's added phrases concerning eternal generation and consubstantiality are original (p. 286). Only the last phrase, clarifying the atonement, was added in 1563. Cranmer’s original reads: “to be a sacrifice for all sin of man, both original and actual” to “to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for the all actual sins of men.”
The Article states that there are three things necessary for salvation to know:
  1. Christ is truly God, and he is truly man.
  2. Christ both truly God and man is united in one person. 
  3. Christ is our Savior. 
The Lord Jesus Christ is truly God because his essence or substance is divine. He has a whole and perfect divine nature. Complete in the Godhead, he is in an eternal and perfect relationship with the Father. He is wholly God and yet distinguishable in relation to the Father, as the Son (and he is begotten from everlasting of the Father). This relationality is termed his “generation” and is sometimes used synonymously with filiation.
When the Article refers to Christ as “Son,” we are not to think human terms, but of the precise language of the Nicene Creed (325AD) we regularly use in the Lord’s Supper of the Book of Common Prayer. When we use the term, Son, we do not mean that he is inferior to the Father, or that as the son he moves from non-being to existence, but an eternal and perpetual relation in the Godhead. It is an unchanging activity that is in God’s very essence as Trinity. We are aware of this relationship because as the "Word" of the Father, the Son perfectly and completely expresses the one and revealed the purpose of God.
To enable human beings to be in a real personal relationship with God and for the salvation of human beings to be accomplished, it was necessary for Jesus also to be truly human as he is truly divine. This is the incarnation, the conception by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Thus, Christ gained a full, true human nature. It is the incarnation that draws the two entire and perfect natures together in one Person, never to be divided. The two natures are distinct, not separate. This understanding was the fruit of centuries of reflection that culminated in the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Having established Jesus’ perfect divinity and humanity, the article summarizes how he is uniquely and perfectly the Savior of his people. Salvation is first rooted in the real historical events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In his human nature, the Lord Jesus “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.” His resurrection is set out in Article 4, but Article 2 sets his work both temporally and logically in his death. 
Article 2 emphasizes that Jesus’ death brings reconciliation with the Father and is an atoning sacrifice. The latter we understand readily, but what of the former when most of Scripture speaks more of us being reconciled to God? The article underlines the point that our real problem is that our sinfulness deserves God’s righteous anger, and only the death of the transgressor will satisfy the violation of his holiness. Article 2 stresses that Jesus is our Savior because he is “a sacrifice” for our original guilt and actual sins. It is a substitutionary atonement: Jesus according to his human nature dies in our place, satisfying God's perfect justice. The language change made in 1563 is the language used in the Roman Catholic view of the Council of Trent (1545-1563): that while Jesus’ death dealt with original guilt inherited from Adam, it required the sacrifices of Mass to deal with our actual sins. However, the Article affirms Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is sufficient in itself to atone. 
Although written to counter Roman Catholic theology, it is today’s Arminian Anglicans that have a lot of trouble accepting original guilt, and among Baptists, there is the "age of accountability" so that children are not born guilty or culpable before God until they reach a certain age when they can make their decisions. 
An Arminian Anglican would argue that we have Adam’s corrupt nature but not Adam’s guilt. Therefore human beings are corrupted physically and intellectually, but not volitionally. Therefore the will retains its ability to seek God through the invention of prevenient grace that replaces original guilt. God gives a prior grace that nullifies the legal guilt. When an Arminian Anglican insists that Article 17 (Of Predestination and Election) will allow a free will, they have forgotten the point in Article 2 points on the nature of Christ's atonement for Adam's guilt. We will need to revisit this principle when we come to Article 28 and the Prayer Book on the sacrament of baptism.
Continuing our series on the covenant theology of the Westminster Standards (see parts #1, #2), the third element of a covenant, namely conditions, may be the most controversial and perhaps the most confusing. In fact, at least some of the controversy over the conditionality of the covenant of grace is due to the confusion surrounding the meaning and use of the word “condition.”
Theological words and phrases may and do have multiple meanings. For example, the phrase “republication of the covenant of works” may refer to a number of different and quite distinct views. The same may be true of “the two kingdoms” or “covenantal justification.” Consequently, a person may hold to one understanding of republication, of the two kingdoms, and of covenantal justification and reject other understandings of those very same terms. Or a person may reject the terms themselves but keep the concepts and refer to them by different names. For example, a person may reject the term “covenant of works,” but still embrace the theology behind that term and refer to it by “covenant of life” or “Adamic Administration.”
All of this and more is true of the theological term “condition.” Many puritans used it and by it they generally meant whatever is required on our part in the covenant of grace. Although they were careful in their use of the word to avoid legalism, Arminianism and Romanism, they were sometimes still accused of all three. Of the puritans who embraced conditionality, some believed that faith, repentance, and obedience are all conditions, albeit in different senses; while others believed that faith is the only condition of the covenant. Samuel Rutherford, for example, argued that faith is the condition of the covenant while “holiness and sanctification is the condition of the Covenanters.”
There were some puritans who rejected the term “condition” altogether. Tobias Crisp argued that there were no conditions in any sense. Faith, thus, is not a condition or requirement of salvation, it is rather evidence of salvation. William Bridge wrote in 1667 that there were no conditions in the new covenant, which he limited to the elect, because if a requirement on our part is promised then it can’t be a condition. Even faith, therefore, is not a condition because God promises to give faith to his people.  ridge did, however, believe that faith, obedience and repentance are required in the covenant as duties.
In light of these disagreements, what do the Westminster Standards say about conditions and the covenant of the grace? Since, antinomianism, which categorically rejected all conditions, was considered to be a grave threat to orthodoxy in mid-17th century England, it is not surprising at all that not only the theology but the term “condition” is found in the Westminster Standards. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 says that the Lord requires man to have faith in order to be saved. Similarly, Westminster Larger Catechism 32 says that faith is required as “the condition to interest them [sinners] in him [the Mediator].” Although the Standards speak of repentance and good works as necessary for salvation in a broad sense, they do not employ the word “condition” with respect to either of them. Thus, strictly speaking only faith is the condition of the covenant of grace.
Since a good number of puritans believed that repentance and obedience are also conditions of the covenant, it is noteworthy that the Standards limit the condition to faith. What accounts for this? The Standards were probably so formulated in order to accommodate the views of those who limited the condition of the covenant to faith such as Samuel Rutherford. By affirming that faith is a condition, by not denying that repentance and obedience are conditions, and by expressing the necessity of repentance and obedience, the Westminster divines produced a document that rejected antinomianism on the one hand, and embraced the varied opinions concerning conditionality on the other hand. The Westminster Standards, therefore, are, at least with respect to the topic of covenant conditions, a fine example of a Reformed consensus document.

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The Puritans set high standards for preaching. They believed they should preach the Bible from their own experience of it and apply what they preached to the particular needs of their hearers. But as much as we admire the Puritans, we should not slavishly imitate them, but critically examine their approach to preaching. My topic for the next two posts is “Should We Preach like the Puritans?” In this first post I will answer “no.” In the second I will answer "yes.”
The Puritans followed an educational method called "Ramism" after French philosopher Petrus Ramus (1515–1572) who attempted to modify Aristotelian philosophy by orienting it toward practical godliness instead of intellectual speculation. In many ways, the Ramist approach helped Puritans to analyze a topic theologically and practically. However, Ramism also introduced a methodological complexity to preaching that few modern hearers can receive well. Let me offer some specifics.
1. Do Not Structure Sermons by Theology but Exegesis
The typical Puritan sermon began with an exegetical introduction that derived a specific doctrinal proposition. This was broken down into its parts and expounded. Finally, various applications were made. John Flavel’s (1628-1691) sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:30 is an example (Works 2:15–33). He began by speaking of the excellence of Christ and arguing that we must have his benefits applied to us. He then examined the four benefits: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This led to his main doctrine: “The Lord Jesus, with all his precious benefits, becomes ours, by God’s special and effectual application,” which in turn led to several doctrinal propositions and seven practical inferences. In print, the exegesis fills only three pages; the doctrines and applications occupy fifteen.
As much as we can learn from Flavel, I do not believe that this is the best way to preach today. I am not against topical or doctrinal preaching; in my Dutch Reformed tradition, we regularly preach based on the Heidelberg Catechism. However, the standard Puritan method places systematic theology in the foreground and the particular words of Scripture in the background. We would do better to reverse this and devote the whole sermon to expounding and applying the message of a particular text.
2. Do Not Multiply Points but Strive for Simplicity
The Ramist method analyzed a topic by dividing it into categories, and those categories into sub-categories with each level becoming more specific. The aim was to avoid abstract generalities and to discuss a topic with a level of detail and concreteness that facilitated practical application. For example, Peter Vinke's (d. 1702) sermon on original sin (Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, 5:115-134). His text was Romans 6:6, which he handled in a single page. After the intro, he propounded two main doctrinal headings and one practical. Point 1 has two sub-points; the first sub-point contains four sub-sub-points; the fourth of these sub-sub points contains two sub-sub-sub-points. You get the point! The outline contains sixty-four points organized in six descending levels.
Don’t try this at your church! The Puritan method system of education prepared people to listen in this way; ours does not. In all fairness, we should also remember that Puritan sermons as they appears in print may not reflect exactly how they were preached as authors would later revise them for publication. Nevertheless, the Puritan style of preaching involved a complexity of structure that most modern hearers cannot sustain well in their minds.
3. Do Not Overwhelm with Applications but Focus
The Puritans called applications “uses.” They developed multiple uses for different spiritual conditions of people as well as different kinds of applying Scripture. Their preaching was so rich in application that it functioned as a kind of biblical counseling from the pulpit. However, the effect of such elaborate schemes of application was to blunt the effect of the whole sermon. For example, consider a sermon by Thomas Manton (1620–1677) on Isaiah 53:5 (Works, 3:272-295). He had three main doctrines. The first had two uses, the first of which was consolation for the suffering, subdivided into people suffering at the hands of their families and friends, or from general rejection, legal injustice, and public contempt. The second doctrine had another two uses: confutation of theological errors of the Socinians and Papists and exhortation for people to look upon Christ’s suffering for sins with faith, love, and repentance from sin. The third doctrine was divided in two, each with two applications. From a single verse he made eight distinct applications.
If we visualize his uses, the effect is somewhat like shooting with a shotgun loaded with scatter shot. You may hit many targets, but you will not take any of them down. It is wiser to structure a sermon as a high-powered rifle with a scope. Make application with each main point of your sermon, but align the applications so that they all have one unified thrust, which is the main thrust of the text.
4. Do Not Preach Too Many Sermons on One Topic or Verse but Keep Moving
The Puritans’ thorough approach often resulted in extended sermon series, which you can see in their books, many of which consist of published sermons. Robert Traill (1642–1716) preached sixteen sermons on only one verse: John 17:24 (Works, 2:1-298). Thomas Hooker’s (1586–1647) sermons on Acts 2:37 and the breaking of the heart over sin prior to conversion fill seven hundred pages in the original edition (reprinted as "The Application of Redemption"). Hooker spent so much time on the series on contrition over sin that it could have made the love and forgiveness of Christ seem distant to his hearers. This method makes for excellent reading but will not work well as a series of messages today.
5. Do Not Preach with Too Many Cross-References but Only a Few
It is amazing to see the Puritans’ grasp of the whole Bible, especially knowing that they lived long before the days of Bible software and internet search engines. They drew proof texts from all over the Old and New Testaments. For example, Owen preached two sermons on Romans 1:16 (Works, 9:217–37), citing fifty texts; Flavel’s sermon on John 3:16 cites thirty-three texts (Works, 1:62–72).
The great strength of this is that it roots systematic theology in the whole Bible. This wide-ranging knowledge of God’s Word that men like these had at the tip of their tongues should humble us. However, the main text had a tendency to be obscured. We should use cross-references to confirm the doctrines we derive from the main text, but it is best to focus on an exposition of one text, and cite only one or two cross-references for each point. If you are going to preach Romans 1:16 or John 3:16, then allow that text to control your sermon and press its major thrust of application upon your listeners with all your might.
In critiquing Puritan preaching, we do not dishonor the Puritans as faithful servants of God, but only acknowledge that they were mere men, fallen and fallible, and men of a particular time and place. Even as we disagree with their methods, let us admire their zeal and effectiveness under the blessing of God’s Spirit.
In our previous three posts (#1, #2, #3), we considered questions on hell from Puritan Christopher Love’s Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In this post, we will examine his perspective on the controversial doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell. Again, I will pose the question he asks (specifically on this issue) then answer as if Love were speaking to us. We will then conclude with some analysis on his position. 
Did Jesus personally descend into hell as the place of torment? 
No. Related to the phrase in the Apostles Creed, “he descended into hell,” Jesus did not descend into hell literally or virtually. Likewise, the phrase must not be regarded as synonymous with the power of death.
First, Jesus did not descend into hell literally. Luke as a careful historian (see Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) does not mention this personal descent, which he would surely would have done had it occurred. Likewise, that Jesus rested in the grave the day he died denies a literal descent. In connection with physical burial, Jesus in his soul entered his Father’s presence (Luke 23:43). This occurred according to the promise made to the thief of entering paradise with Jesus “today.” The explanations for his physical descent are faulty. Such include the idea that he needed to: deliver souls out of hell; make further satisfaction due to the incompleteness of that on the cross, or “vanquish and overcome the Devil.” Indeed, Christ’s satisfaction was “finished” at his death (John 19:30) and he overcame the devil “by dying” (Heb 2:14). In the end, the physical descent “is both disagreeable to Scripture and Reason.”
Second, we must reject the idea that the phrase is synonymous with either “the power of death” or hell “virtually” by way of the cross. Such explanations corrupt “mens judgements more,” by dismissing the “generality of Intrepreters” who argue for the literal understanding of the phrase. So, rather than altering the phrase to make it more palatable, we need to do away with it entirely in the Apostles’ Creed.  So, while Love believed that Christ suffered the torments of hell on the cross, the use of this clause in the original Creed did not teach this. 
Most Reformed theologians differ with Love who wanted to take the phrase out of the Creed entirely. Many of such believe that the phrase is simply a synonym for death with “hell” denoting Hades or the realm of the dead.  Two other popular views were mentioned above by Love, namely, that the descent clause symbolizes Christ’s sufferings on the cross (implying descent before burial) or refers to the curse of death he endured. John Calvin held to the first of these two (Institutes 2.16.8-12) and The Westminster Larger Catechism set forth the second (see Q.50). 
Our own Danny Hyde’s In Defense of the Descent identifies six major interpretations of the descent clause, these two symbolic ones and four variances of the literal descent. He finally argues for a combination of the two symbolic views (as in Calvin’s 1545 Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Q&A 65-72) to teach: “As to the body of Jesus Christ, He descended into the state of death, As to the soul of Jesus Christ, He suffered the agonies of hell.” 
For Wayne Grudem in, "He Did Not Descend," the various interpretations are in some sense moot, since the clause did not appear in the earlier forms of the Creed and when it finally did was considered a synonym for burial. Such thinking, in line with Love, maintains that Jesus may have suffered the agonies of hell on the cross, but the original clause did not teach this.  
I am sympathetic with the doctrine Danny Hyde espouses in line with Reformed Orthodoxy. However, I am also sympathetic with Grudem that the Creed did not teach this originally when the clause eventually found its way into the text. Besides, the clause “he descended into hell,” fails to express such theology and remains “confusing” and “misleading.” Were we to ask the majority of Christians today what this clause means, such misunderstanding would quickly become apparent. 
I do not like changing creeds, especially when they unite the church through history preserving solidarity and in hope that nothing will stop the progress of the church. However, we cannot preserve unity at the expense of integrity. If the original usage did not teach this, we do not have the liberty to make the Creed say it, even if the thought is orthodox. In other words, the Creed cannot be treated as a wax nose shaped as we please while claiming, “Look, it’s the same nose. It’s all there after all, is it not?”
Many Americans despise such treatment of the Constitution by the Supreme Court who often maintain wording while transforming authorial intention. Many Evangelicals protested the same with the supposed creedal agreement between Catholics and Evangelicals in “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (1994). For example, how can we agree on the wording for the teaching of justification, when the words mean something different for the two traditions? Similarly, why do we feel at liberty to change the meaning of a clause in the Creed just so we can preserve its wording? Have we not detracted from the unity we supposedly enjoy with the original authors of the document? 
With this in mind, I believe we ought to remove the clause or at least clarify it in a modern form. So, our options are two: (1) Remove the clause entirely with an appeal to the earlier forms of the Creed and/or the idea that early usage of “he descended” simply repeats “was buried”;  (2) Modernize the language of the early usage to remove the confusion of descent into “hell,” which the majority of the Reformed do not hold in a literal sense. Why not say something like “he descended into Hades” (with a footnote indicating Hades as the realm of the dead) or “he went to the dead” (as some modern Lutheran forms do–contrary to Luther), which preserves early usage of the phrase? 
Some say that this changes the creed and detracts from ecclesiastical unity. I am perplexed by this as most Christians rightly allow and justify modern English translations of the Bible. Why not set forth modern versions of the Creed seeking to preserve not only original wording (formal equivalence/word-for-word translation from Latin) but also original meaning (functional equivalence/thought-for-thought translation). In the end, a good translation seeks to preserve both wording and meaning in a balanced manner. In this way, we can justify, for example, modern versions of the Westminster Standards (which I personally do not like but see how helpful they can be). So, if the clause “he descended into hell” causes confusion, why not modernize it without losing its meaning of being synonymous with burial? Let us be done with this clause, which most Christians fail to understand, not because it is unclear in English but just the opposite. 
Did Christ descend into hell? No and Yes, but let us clarify.
No doubt Simon Peter’s most memorable words were those of his great confession in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16). That’s a Bible verse to memorize, isn’t it? What we don’t often realize, though, is what Jesus goes on to say. Do you remember? Jesus tells Peter that this confession was revealed to Peter from heaven (Matt. 16:17). The true identity of Jesus as the “Christ”—the Messiah or anointed one—is a truth that God reveals to us. And this is a vital reason why we need to understand the meaning of this title. To understand his title—Christ—is to be illuminated and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 45 gives us background to this title and its significance as it foreshadows the coming of the Anointed One. The Psalmist praises Solomon as king in verses 1–9 and then praises his wife in verses 10–17. Note well the Psalmist's praise of Solomon. In verse 2 he speaks of his person, in verses 3–5 he speaks of his majesty, in verses 6–7a he speaks of his throne, in verses 7b–8a he speaks of his anointing, and in verses 8b–9 he speaks of his praise. In commenting on these verses John Calvin so masterfully showed how in praising Solomon and his wife the Psalmist speaks prophetically of Christ: “But as this excellence was displayed in Solomon so also did it shine forth more fully afterwards in Christ” (Psalms, 2:176).
What do we learn here about our Mediator who is called “Christ?”
Endowed with the Spirit
First, Jesus’ title “Christ” means he was endowed with the Spirit: “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Ps. 45:7). Later in the history of salvation, John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in this vein, saying, that God gives the Spirit to his Son “without measure” (John 3:34). Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 42 picks up on this and says Jesus was “anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure.”
Jesus was endowed with the Spirit above his companions and without measure in the plan and the council of redemption in eternity, but we see it especially in his life and ministry. From his conception and birth he was endowed with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). At his baptism he was endowed with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16). His temptation was the result of his being led and thrust out by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). His preaching was affected by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14, 18–19). Jesus is “Christ” because he was and is the Spirit-endowed and Spirit-filled man par excellence.
Equipped by the Spirit
Second, Jesus’ endowment with the Spirit was for the purpose of equipping him to act as our mediator by the Spirit. In the typological words of this psalm, the Spirit equipped him to “gird [his] sword on [his] thigh” (Ps. 45:3), to “ride out victoriously” (Ps. 45:4), and to fire his sharp arrows into the hearts of his enemies (Ps. 45:5). And this equipment by the Spirit “so set apart” (WLC, Q&A 42) our Lord from all others who call themselves the Christ (cf. Matt. 24:24), that he also is “fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation” (WLC, Q&A 42).
Solomon was equipped to be Israel’s king after David by an anointing. Solomon was equipped to be Israel’s wisest man so that peoples from all over the world came to hear his 3,000 written proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Yet Solomon was merely a king. He did not hold the offices of prophet, although his words speak prophetically, nor of priest. He held one office. Yet Jesus’ endowment and equipping by the Spirit enabled him to be set apart as our highest prophet, final priest, and greatest king. For example, all of Solomon’s wisdom pales in comparison to Jesus’, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). What a sufficient mediator and Savior Jesus is for sinners like you and me!
Our Experience
Let me conclude by answering the question of what does Jesus’ anointing mean for my Christian experience?
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One I experience assurance and confidence that he is my Savior. As my anointed prophet he saves me from my spiritual blindness and ignorance. As my anointed priest he saves me from my sins’ guilt before Almighty God. As my anointed king he saves me from my inability to serve the Lord so that I may join him on the field of battle against the corruption of my sins (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:518).
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One and I am united to him by faith I share in his anointing with the Holy Spirit. He is anointed above his companions; I am one of his companions; therefore I am endowed with and equipped by the same Holy Spirit. I am Spirit-filled!
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One and I share in him, I too am called to be a prophet to speak of the Lord in the midst of the world; I too am called to be a priest to pray to the Lord for the world; I too am called to be a king to fight against the world, my sin, and Satan.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Know it. Thank him for it. Live empowered because of it.
Meditation is a difficult duty. Most Christians struggle even with where to begin with respect to this duty. It is particularly important for us to mediate upon the Person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, since beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is the primary means by which we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). In his devotional work, The Glory of Christ, John Owen provided five useful helps to meditate on Christ as a divine/human Person. I pass these meditations along to you, hoping that they will increase your devotion to Christ (you can read the full section in Owen's Works, 1:312-322).
  1. Meditating on Christ is Useful: Consider that the knowledge of Christ as fully God and fully man in one Person is the most useful object of our contemplations and affections (1:312-314). Christ’s identity as the God-man places him in a unique position to make your redemption possible. He also reveals the glory of God to your understanding in a unique manner.
  2. Learn to Look for Christ in Scripture: Diligently study the Scriptures with the express purpose of finding the glory of Christ in them (1:314-316). The Scriptures assert that Christ is their primary object (Lk. 24:26-27, 45-46; 2 Cor. 3:13-16). The three primary ways that Christ is revealed in the Old Testament is by direct descriptions of his Person and incarnation, by prophecies concerning him, and by the Old Testament ceremonies of worship (Owen richly expands each of these). Yet there is also a devotional necessity for thinking through Scripture in terms of our relation to Christ. If we are convicted, then we need Christ for forgiveness and repentance. If we are exhorted to godliness, then we need Christ as our foundation and pattern. If we are suffering, then we must remember that we share in Christ’s sufferings. If we are comforted by God’s promises, then we must consider that all divine promises are yes and amen in him. Too often Christians read the Old Testament in a manner that is no better than the Jews. Even if we do not see Christ foreshadowed directly in various parts of the Old Testament, we must self-consciously take our knowledge of Christ with us while reading the Old Testament.
  3. Use What you Know Already: Meditate frequently upon the knowledge of Christ that you have already obtained, both from Scripture and from sermons (1: 316-317). Failing to use and to build upon the knowledge of Christ that we have already is, according to Owen, the “fundamental mistake” standing behind the lack of spiritual growth among so many Christians. This is the error of treating the doctrines of Christ as fundamental and basic, and thus taking them for granted. Owen adds that although we must not isolate ourselves from the world, we must love solitude as well. Without some measure of regular solitude, meditation upon the Lord Jesus Christ is impossible.
  4. Incorporate Thoughts of Christ into Your Life: Do not simply rely upon fixed times set aside for meditation, but think upon Christ at every possible occasion throughout the day (1:317-320). This is particularly important during those seasons in which Christ “withdraws” himself from our “spiritual experience.” If we know what it is like to “miss” Christ sometimes, then we should take comfort from the fact that this means that we have known what it is to have fellowship with him. When the comforts of communion with Christ diminish, we must seek him with the desperation of thirsty person seeking water. Christ sometimes acts in this way toward us for our good, since his withdrawals increase our dependence on him and the fervency with which we seek him. The truth is that Christ is always near to us, but, as Owen adds, “the principal actings of the life of faith consist in the frequency of our thoughts concerning him” (1:319).
  5. Be Thankful to Christ and Worship Him: Accompany your thoughts of Christ with admiration, adoration, and thanksgiving (1:320-322). The more we contemplate the glory of our divine/human Lord, the more we will realize that he is beyond the limits of our comprehension. This should lead us to love the Lord Jesus Christ with every faculty of our souls. In heaven, we shall exercise all of the faculties of our souls simultaneously in the worship and service of Christ, but in this world both our understanding and our strength is incomplete. Therefore, sometimes our thoughts of Christ should lead to admiration, at other times to adoration, and still at others to thanksgiving according to our understanding and our capacity. You must never lose sight of the fact that the purpose for which you know Christ is worship.
Owen closes this section with the useful reminder that meditating on the glory of the Person of Christ occurs only in the context of a heavenly-minded life. This is an important thought. Perhaps one reason why meditation is so hard for us is that we have not set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in everything that we set our hands to (Col. 3:1-2). Meditation on Christ’s glory can be a jarring, and sometimes painful, interruption if our minds are trained to run exclusively along the well-worn grooves of our earthly routine. Let us never forget that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world! Let us never be surprised at the difficulty of heavenly-mindedness on this side of glory! Let us make use of means to help us contemplate the glory of our Savior more fully! And may we come to our heavenly Father who is able and ready to help us learn to meditate on the glory of his Son through the power of his Spirit!
If the Lord’s Supper is a great blessing, then who should partake of it? In this sacrament, ordained of God, who should come to the table of the Lord? Knox was abundantly clear: "But the Supper of the Lord, we confess to appertain to such only as be of the household of faith, [and who] can try and examine themselves as well in their faith as in their duty towards their neighbours" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). It is only those who are “in Christ” and of age to examine themselves who should partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Knox focused often on the need for self-examination. He held that the Lord’s Supper should be partaken of "with all reverence, examining ourselves diligently before" (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:202.) Knox believed this should be done “because we are assured by the mouth of the apostle that such as eat of the bread and drink of that cup unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus” (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:202). Paul, Knox noted, exhorted "all persons diligently to try and examine themselves before they presume to eat of that bread and drink of that cup" because "the danger [is] great if we receive the same unworthily, for then we be guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord’s body" (Works, 4:192).
This self-examination should lead to practical consequences. Those living in open or grievous sin should not come to the Lord’s Table (Works, 4:193). Neither should those who are living in division with their brethren partake for "Such as eat or drink at that holy table without faith or being at dissention and disunion with their brethren do eat unworthily" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). Finally, those who lacked understanding of the nature the Lord’s Supper should not partake: "Moreover that the sacraments be rightly used, it is requisite that the end and cause why the sacraments were instituted be understood and observed, as well of the minister as the receivers" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:203). Conversely, those who should partake then were those who could "bring with them their conversion unto the Lord, by unfeigned repentance in faith; and in this Sacrament receive the seals and confirmation of their faith…" (Works, 3:74). The sacrament was then to be partaken of with “a truly penitent heart and lively faith" (Works, 4:192).
Church Examination
As well as self-examination, it was also the duty of ministers and elders to "take public and particular examination of the knowledge and conversation of such as are to be admitted to the table of the Lord Jesus" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). Therefore, "the administration of the Table ought never to be without that examination pass before, especially of those whose knowledge is suspect. We think that none are apt to be admitted to that mystery who cannot formally say the Lord's Prayer, the articles of the belief, and declare the sum of the law" (First Book of Discipline in Works, 2:240).
For Sinners 
But with all this said regarding self-examination - the Lord’s table, for Knox, remained a table for sinners: "For the end of our coming together is not to make protestation that we are upright and just in our lives, but contrariwise, we come to seek our life and perfection in Jesus Christ, acknowledging in the meantime, that we of our selves be the children of wrath and damnation" (Works, 4:193-194). Indeed "…this Sacrament is a singular medicine for all poor sick creatures, a comfortable help to weak souls, and that our Lord requireth no other worthiness on our part, but that we unfeignedly acknowledge our naughtiness and imperfection" (Works, 4:194).
Rather than testify of any worthiness in the recipient, the Lord’s Supper testified of the sole sufficiency of Christ: "we present ourselves to this his Table … to declare and witness before the world that by him alone we have received liberty and life; that by him alone thou dost acknowledge us thy children and heirs; that by him alone we have entrance to the throne of thy grace; that by him alone we are possessed in our spiritual kingdom, to eat and drink at his Table…" (Works, 4:195). Thus, the Lord’s Table is not first or last about any individual, but about the sole sufficiency of Christ, and the wonder of his saving work.
In my last article, I noted that a covenant has three basic elements: parties, promises, and conditions. The parties of the covenant of grace vary depending upon which perspective of the covenant is being considered. Externally or administratively speaking the covenant is between God and all professing believers, along with their children. Internally or effectually speaking, the covenant is between God and the elect. This important distinction pertaining to the parties of the covenant of grace will need to be kept in mind as we now turn our attention to the second basic element of a covenant: the promises.
According to the Westminster Standards, the promises of the Covenant of Grace are of two sorts, conditional and unconditional. God promises life and salvation conditionally. The Confession (ch. 7.3) and Larger Catechism (Q&A 32) both assert that God will freely give life and salvation in Christ Jesus to those who believe in Christ. These two sections of the Standards also state that God unconditionally promises to enable the elect to meet the requirements or conditions so that they will be saved. The Confession says that God promises “to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.” Similarly, but with greater detail, the Larger Catechism says that God “promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” In sum, the Covenant of Grace includes promises of grace and promises to grace. Samuel Rutherford nicely captured both types of promises, which he relates to the external and internal perspectives of the covenant. He wrote:
For all the promises belong not the same way, to the parties visibly and externally, and to the parties internally and personally in Covenant with God. So the Lord promiseth life and forgivenesse shall be given to these who are externally in the Covenant, providing they beleeve, but the Lord promiseth not a new heart and grace to beleeve, to these that are only externally in Covenant. And yet he promiseth both to the Elect.
The presence of conditional covenant promises provides an answer to an objection against infant baptism. It has been argued that the baptisms of non-elect infants are in vain because the promises of saving grace are not made to them. There is no promise or reality for baptism to seal because there is no underlying promise to regenerate and save. Thus, as John Tombes put it in his response to Stephen Marshall, “the seale is put to a blank.” But baptism is not sealed to a blank when it is applied to non-elect infants, or we might add to non-elect professing adults, because the sacraments, like the covenant promises they signify and seal, are conditional signs and seals. As Marshall said, “the receivers interest in that spiritual part of the Covenant, that is sealed to no receiver absolutely, but conditionally; in this particular, all Sacraments are but signa conditionalia, conditional seales, sealing the spiritual part of the Covenant to the receiver, upon condition that hee performe the spirituall condition of the Covenant” (Marshall also notes that baptism is not in vain because it is an “absolute Seale of the truth of the Covenant of grace in it self” and “an absolute obligation upon the receiver to a make good the Covenant on his part.”).
In short, God promises to save and does save the person who believes in Jesus; and he seals this promise and reality in baptism. This was true of circumcision in the Old Testament (Rom. 4:11). Baptism, therefore, is never in vain or set to a blank.