Joel R. Beeke, Debated Issues in Sovereign Predestination: Early Lutheran Predestination, Calvinian Reprobation, and Variations in Genevan Lapsarianism, vol. 42, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017). 252pp.

Predestination has frequently occupied the attention of those who are interested in the Bible and theology. Some people make the mistake of equating predestination with Reformed theology. Others react to this trend by underemphasizing the doctrine, noting that the Reformed system has many other distinctive features. This tendency to take opposite extremes is true in historical scholarship as well. While some have argued, mistakenly, that predestination was the central dogma, or teaching, of Reformed theology after Calvin, others have downplayed predestination as a vital component of Reformed thought. In Debated Issues in Sovereign Predestination, Joel Beeke presents a balanced approach to the subject. His treatment is a useful introduction to the distinction features of the early Reformed doctrine of predestination as compared to Lutheran theology and to later developments in Reformed thought. His clear and insightful analysis helps readers better understand the development of historic Reformed doctrine without over-exalting the importance in the Reformed system of theology.

The greatest strength of Beeke’s work is his simplicity and clarity. The author illustrates the Reformed doctrine of predestination by examining the related doctrine of reprobation. He describes the advantage of proceeding this way, writing, “The doctrine of reprobation acts as a hinge upon which the entire doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation turns…One’s view of reprobation functions as a window into his understanding of election” (66). The book is divided into three sections. The first treats predestination in early Lutheran theology, focusing on Lutheran, Melanchthon, and the Formula of Concord. The second section explores the doctrine of reprobation in Calvin’s theology throughout his career as a theologian and author. The third and last section of the book traces predestinarian themes in post-Calvin Geneva beginning with Beza, through Turretin, and into the thought of early Enlightenment professors of theology. His basic conclusion is that while Lutheranism tended to hesitate in either affirming or denying reprobation, Reformed authors regarded it as necessitated by Scripture and by logical inference from the implication of election to salvation. While Reformed authors later differed over the order of the divine decrees, these emphases remained consistent until the post-Enlightenment decline of Reformed theology. Beeke’s treatment of these themes is simple without oversimplifying the relevant issues. His explanation of various Reformed and Arminian positions on the logical order of the divine decrees in chapter thirteen is particularly clear and straightforward. These features and others make his book an excellent starting point for those desiring to understand the doctrinal and pastoral function of predestination in classic Reformed theology.

The only real drawback of this work is that the author depends on too many secondary sources or translated works in building his arguments. It is important in a work of this kind to draw primarily from Latin original texts rather than getting this material second-hand through other authors or through translators. However, Beeke more than makes up for this fact through the usefulness of his analysis. Drawing more fully from original sources in their original languages would simply make a good work even better.

Debated Issues in Sovereign Predestination presents the development of the Reformed doctrine of predestination coherently and in a straightforward manner. He does so through the lens of the place of reprobation in the Reformed system. The author neither overestimates nor underestimates the role of predestination in classic Reformed theology. Such clear and well-balanced analysis is precisely what is needed in good historical theology.

This review appeard in Mid America Journal of Theology, vol. 28, 185-187


Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.


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We complete our study of the Thirty-Nine Articles at Article 39, which also concludes its final topic: The relationship between the Christian and the commonwealth. Article Thirty-Nine addresses the distinction between the permissible swearing of an oath from rash and profane swearing forbidden by the third of the Ten Commandments. 

ARTICLE XXXIX — OF A CHRISTIAN MAN’S OATH
As we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.

Articles 37-39 were retained from Cranmer’s original 1553 Forty-Two Articles that were directed against the teaching of the Continental Anabaptists. The articles omitted in Matthew Parker’s 1563 revision concern soul sleep (1553/40), premillennialism (1553/41), a completed “spirit” resurrection (1553/39), and universalism (1552/42). Most argue that the omission of four articles was due to a changing religious/political map of the 16thcentury. What was thought a threat to the peace of the realm in anabaptist revolution in 1553 was less so by 1563. Such an argument may give a partly historical context, but we should also recall how the serious errors of soul sleep, literal premillennialism leading to moral license or rebellion, a "spiritual" or non-bodily resurrection, and universalism are still taught at present, either in heretical sects or in heretical mainline liberal denominations.

The wording of the article is unchanged from Cranmer’s original. Parker’s revision inserts a possessive pronoun "his" to underline that Christ and James are not of equal authority. For the final time, we may note our two principles: the doctrine of sola scriptura and the necessity in reading the historical formularies as a whole. Article 39 also summarizes the teaching of the seventh homily of the First Book of Homilies, Against Swearing and Perjury

Homily Seven sets out the argument in two parts. The first part explains that lawful swearing is not only permitted by God but commanded by him in Deuteronomy 6.13. Swearing is permissible in a court of law, in a contract, in holy matrimony, and in assuming public office. The Lord Jesus Christ also would preface his remarks with an oath, “Verily, verily,” and the Apostle Paul likewise in 2 Corinthians 1.23 when he called upon God as his witness. It explains that a lawful secular oath must have the three biblical hallmarks as found in the vows taken in baptism and marriage. When these three are present, God is glorified:

  1. The one who swears must tell the truth without partiality.
  2. The one who swears must do so advisedly and soberly, after serious thought.
  3. The one who swears must do so out of a zeal for truth and justice.

Therefore, a lawful swearing of an oath cannot be evil, because it is born in faith and love of neighbor, and its purpose is to accomplish many good and godly results (justice, judgment, and truth). The Lord Jesus prohibited rash, vain swearing (Matthew 5.33-37) as did the Apostle James in his letter (James 5.12). Such swearing holds God and neighbors in contempt.

The second part gives the pastoral application. Lawful oaths must be kept, as there are many Old Testament examples of the judgment that follows promises broken. Vows made contrary to God's law and neighbor must not be kept. Perjury is forbidden, because to break an oath sworn on God's Word is to curse it, rejecting both God's self-revelation, his commandments, and his promises.

Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum likewise repeats the sum of the article and the homily:

Furthermore, the Anabaptists even give up the lawful use of oaths, in this matter going against the teaching of the Scriptures and the examples of the fathers of the Old Testament, as well as the Apostle Paul, and even of Christ, even of God the Father, whose oaths are often recorded in Holy Writ  (Bray, Tudor Church Reform [2000], p.201).

The Heidelberg Catechism, published in the same year as the Thirty-Nine Articles, takes a similar position in its question 101: 

But may we swear an oath by the name of God in a godly manner? Yes, when the government demands it of its subjects, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth, to God’s glory and for our neighbor’s good. Such oath-taking is based on God’s word and was therefore rightly used by saints in the Old and the New Testament.

For most of human civilization, oath swearing was the corner-stone of both the political and spiritual world. One could argue that the Protestant Reformation in the 16thcentury came about through the swearing of oaths and promises to confessions of faith and secular princes. On the 4thof July Americans are reminded how 56 men in support of a Declaration of Independence “mutually pledge our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" to the cause of freedom from the tyranny of the British Crown.  

But to swear an oath of loyalty or obedience today, except in the military or in a court of law which exact penalties if broken, has little weight. Oaths taken at ordination or in the installation of the clergy are done with little thought as to the bearer's responsibility to keep the promises, to understand thoroughly what they have promised or to accept the consequences if their oaths are broken. How many ministers stand with "fingers crossed" when mouthing the words of an affirmation that they disagree? How many remain in an office rather than resign when the oath they took upon ordination is no longer in their best interest to keep?


Henry Jansma (@VicarsGarden) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Diocese of the Living Word in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)


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David Clarkson joined John Owen as a fellow minister in a church in London in 1682. Owen entered glory soon thereafter, joining the assembly of the righteous made perfect. Clarkson continued on, preaching in Owen’s pulpit for three more years until his own death in 1686. The Banner of Truth Trust first republished Clarkson’s Works (3 volumes) in 1988, and they remain in print today. Volume 1 contains a sermon on repentance based upon Luke 13:3, which I will draw upon for this article.

What is repentance? According to Clarkson, to repent is to turn from former evil ways (Ezek. 14:6). Turning involves two motions: A turning from something and there is a turning to something. In this case, it is a turning from sin and a turning to God or righteousness. Clarkson cites Athanasius as saying that repentance is when the mind is turned from evil to good.

Stated specifically and narrowly, repentance is the turning from evil and sin. And this turning involves three acts: “sorrow for sin, hatred of it, resolution to forsake it.” Sorrow is hearty because it affects the heart, and godly because it is “sorrow for sin, as it is against God.” Hatred for sin is profound and leads to a fight to the death. “He that repents will so hate sin as to seek its death, to crucify, mortify it, rejoice when it is wounded, love that word which smites it, have his heart rise at the approach of it, manifest an antipathy against it.” The resolve to forsake sin is just that: A resolve “never to sin more.” This is a present resolution; it is not enough to say “I will do it hereafter, when I have had a little more pleasure, reaped a little more profit by my sins. He that will not forsake it presently, to-day, while it is called to-day, has no true resolution, is far from truly repenting.”

What relationship does repentance have with the Gospel and the Law? Repentance has no relationship whatsoever with the Law, that is, with the covenant of works. There is no place for repentance in the covenant of works, because it doesn’t command repentance or promise any benefit upon repentance. Its promises pertain to perfect obedience only. Consequently, “they understand not the law, what the covenant of works is, who make repentance legal.”

Repentance functions within the covenant of grace. It is “an evangelical duty; a gospel, a new-covenant duty.” The Gospel requires and commands repentance (Acts 17:30). The Gospel, therefore, does not merely contain a news report about Jesus—it also includes our response to the news that Jesus is both Lord and Savior (see the post, What is the Gospel?).

What is the relationship between repentance and pardon of sins? Repentance is a necessary condition for pardon. “God offers, gives remission of sins, upon condition of repentance.” Solomon looked for pardon upon the condition of repentance (2 Chron. 6:26-27), and God grants repentance upon the same condition (2 Chron. 7:14). Clarkson observes that Christ does himself what he commands us to do. If our brother repents, we are to forgive him (Luke 17:3). Likewise, if we repent, Jesus will forgive us (Acts 3:19; 2:38; 1 John 1:9). 

Repentance, therefore, is an antecedent qualification, condition or means of life and salvation. It is antecedent because “there must be no salvation till first there be repentance.” It is a qualification because he “that is in love with sin, is not fit for heaven.” It is a condition, because without it you will perish (Luke 13:3). It is a means and way to life because it is Christ’s highway to life (Acts 11:18; 2:38). Clarkson further notes that repentance remains an antecedent condition for pardon after conversion (2 Chron. 7:14; Rev. 2:4-5; Rev. 3:3; Prov. 28:13).

Although repentance is a condition of the Gospel, Clarkson is careful to explain what kind of condition it is. It is not a legal or meritorious condition. God pardons us “when we repent, not because we repent; it is via, not causa; a duty, not desert; a means, no merit; a qualification, necessary ratione præsentiæ, not efficientiæ.” Repentance is a necessary condition with respect to its presence and not to its efficacy because it does not “satisfy God, or make any amends for the wrong sin has done him.” 

Repentance is a Gospel duty to turn from sin by being sorrowful for it, by hating it, and by resolving to forsake it. It is necessary for the remission of sins. God will only forgive the penitent. No repentance, no remission. 


D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.


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How can we be salt and light in our world, so that instead of being “trodden under foot” or “hidden under a bushel” (vv. 13, 15), we can resist evil and do good, and moving unbelievers to glorify God as our Father in heaven?  To answer that question, let’s listen to the wisdom of the English Puritans.


Matthew 5:13a says, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” Christ was praising and commending His disciples. Though the world may insult and persecute them, true Christians are a precious blessing to the world. Benjamin Keach (1640–1704) noted, “A little salt seasons much meat.”[1]Therefore, Christ gives us great encouragement here: though Christians be few, and the church small, compared to the wicked world, godly people are precious, needed, and influential in a degree far beyond their numbers. As Keach said, “The saints of God, and the faithful ministers of the gospel, are a great blessing to the world.”[2]

Notice the wide reach of our influence. As William Perkins (1558–1602) observed, Christ said that we are not just “salt” but “the salt of the earth,” implying that His disciples have a commission to make disciples not just in Israel but among all nations (Matt. 28:19).[3]Christ said likewise that we are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14, emphasis added). 

Notice also the calling we have to live in the world, though we are not of the world. Salt does no good until it is mixed with the food we eat. Matthew Henry (1662–1714) notes that the disciples “must not be laid on a heap, must not continue always together at Jerusalem, but must be scattered as salt upon the meat, here a grain and there a grain.”[4]We must not hide ourselves in a corner; it is God’s will that His servants be scattered abroad among the nations that this salt may benefit many.

Your Spiritual Saltiness Preserves the World

One of the primary uses of salt is to preserve food from decay. John Ley (1583–1662), a Westminster divine, explains the text this way, “I have chosen you to season and preserve those who are corruptible by sin: as salt suffereth not [does not allow] flesh to corrupt.”[5] In a world without mechanical refrigeration, salt was necessary to keep meat and fish from rotting.

As the salt of the earth, God’s people exert an influence of righteousness and goodness in a world that is corrupted by sin. Matthew Poole (1624–1679) said, “If it were not for the number of sound and painful ministers, and holy and gracious persons, the earth would be but a stinking dunghill of drunkards, unclean persons, thieves, murderers, unrighteous persons, that would be a stench in the nostrils of a pure and holy God.”[6] Keach likewise wrote, 

Salt is very profitable; it keeps and preserves meat from putrefying, which would soon stink, corrupt, and perish, was it not for it.... So the godly are most profitable in all the earth. They keep the world from being totally corrupted by evil and pestilent errors and heresy [and] from being spoiled by profaneness and hellish debauchery.... The world would soon grow much worse than it is, were it not for the saints and people of God. 

Keach pointed to three examples: ten righteous men would have been enough for God to spare Sodom; God blessed Laban for Jacob’s sake; and Potiphar for Joseph’s sake.[7]

Your Spiritual Saltiness Requires Grace and Holiness

Our Lord posts a warning for us in Matthew 5:13b: “But if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” We dare not assume that just because we name the name of Christ that we are the salt of the earth. It may be that instead of preserving the world, we ourselves are found to be corrupt and worthless.

Christ’s parable may puzzle us, for how can salt lose its saltiness? Our table salt is 97% sodium chloride, which is a stable chemical compound. However, the salts obtained from the Dead Sea in Israel consist of only about 15% sodium chloride, and the rest is other minerals. So it is possible for moisture to leach away the sodium chloride from a block of so-called “salt,” and leave behind minerals that are more suitable for paving roads than seasoning food.[8]

Christ challenges us, asking, “Are you truly salty? Or has the world leached away the Word from your heart?” If we lack the marks of saving grace that Christ outlines in the Beatitudes, we have no “saltiness”, and are  “good for nothing.” Henry said, “A wicked man is the worst of creatures; a wicked Christian is the worst of men; and a wicked minister is the worst of Christians.”[9]

For example, perhaps you claim to be a Christian, but are you meek, merciful, and a peacemaker? Or are you proud, quick to anger, and divisive in the church? Mark reports Christ as saying, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50). The grace that saves us is what gives us our “saltiness,” making us a blessing in the church, and enabling us to live and work harmoniously with our fellow Christians.

Perhaps you call yourself a Christian, but you bend and bow as the winds of culture blow. You do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, but long just to fit in, and so you change your colors like a chameleon. Saltiness requires us to obey God no matter what other people may think. Poole said, “In our Christian course we are not to trouble ourselves with what men say of us, and do unto us, but only to attend to our duty of holiness, and an exemplary life.”[10]

Has the grace of Jesus Christ made you the salt of the earth? As salt, true Christians exercise a powerful influence to hold back moral decay and divine judgment. However, they also provoke strong reactions. If you want to be the salt of the earth, you must be different from the world—not in a freakish or bizarre way, but in a way that honors your Almighty King.

Previous Posts:

  1. Salt and Light: Lessons from the Puritans

 

[1]Keach, Exposition of the Parables in the Bible, 53.

[2]Keach, Exposition of the Parables, 54.

[3]Perkins, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:222.

[4]Henry, Commentary, 1630.

[5]Westminster Divines, Annotations, on Matt. 5:13. On the attribution of the Westminster Annotationson the Gospels to John Ley, see Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520–ca. 1725(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 2:91n120.

[6]Poole, Annotations, 3:21–22.

[7]Keach, Types and Metaphors, 746.

[8]Holman Bible Dictionary(Nashville: Holman, 1991), 970; Carson, “Matthew,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:138. We should not take the parable of salt losing its flavor to imply that true Christians can totally and finally fall away unto damnation. “Where there is true grace in the heart, that will never be lost; but where many truths and gifts come by the gospel, they may be lost.” Burroughs, The Saints’ Happiness, 247.

[9]Henry, Commentary, 1631.

[10]Poole, Annotations, 3:21.


Joel Beeke(@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.


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His Covenant Theology

In our last post, we compared William Tyndale’s doctrine of justification with Augustine and Luther. This time, we will consider his Tyndale’s covenant theology, which played a vital role in his theology of justification. Next time, for our final episode on Tyndale’s theology, we will consider his convictions on the sacraments.

To begin, we should note that Tyndale used the terms “testament” and “covenant” and “appointment” interchangeably, though he employed “testament” in A Pathway into the Holy Scripture (1536) in the sense of a last will and testament regarding what Christ accomplished in his death. Primarily, his understanding of biblical covenants focused on a relational and familial agreement between God the Father and his people in Christ. 

Likewise, Tyndale saw covenants as the key to biblical interpretation and comprehending the gospel. He argued that the “covenants made between God and us,” are “right way, yea, and the only way, to understand the scripture unto salvation” (Prologue to Matthew, 1526). Carl Trueman goes so far as to argue that the concept of covenant “dominates all areas” of Tyndale’s later thought “from hermeneutics to the sacraments” (Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and the English Reformers 1525-1536, 1994).

Writing so early in the time of the Reformation, Tyndale exists as an early proponent of a Reformed covenant theology arising out of medieval theology. In line with such development, Richard Greaves (1967) and others observed two traditions in covenant theology arising in England with an eventual impact on Puritanism. The first represented a ‘moderate’ sort of Calvinism supposedly descending from the Zwingli-Bullinger-Tyndale tradition impacting the majority of Puritans with more of an emphasis on the conditional aspect of the covenant. The second strain manifested a ‘strict’ Calvinism highlighting the absolute and unconditional nature of the covenant, through the influence of the Calvin-Perkins-Ames tradition. 

John Von Rohr in The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (1986) rightly observed that Greaves reached too far in his categorization. Instead of an "either/or," the Puritans in general emphasized "both/and" in varying degrees. Von Rohr attests,

...the distinctive feature of the covenant as absolute is that it becomes God’s means of bringing to completion the covenant as conditional. For God’s chosen there is the divinely covenanted commitment that the conditions will be fulfilled by God’s own doing, and this commitment is without conditions. 

In other words, the gracious and unconditional activity of God leads to the conditional aspect of the covenant as summed in the biblical affirmation, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

This interplay between the unconditional (absolute by grace) and conditional (mutual according to obligation) clearly manifests itself in the theology of Tyndale. So, he says, the elect are “under the everlasting testament of God in Christ” (Pathway). Within such an arrangement, God made a familial “appointment betwixt him and us, in Christ’s blood” to “be a father unto us” (The Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, 1531) and in justification to “take them for his sons, and to love them as though they were full righteous” (The Sermon on the Mount: An Exposition of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew, 1533). 

Still, this absolute covenant obligates man, as it did with Abraham, to whom God promised “to be his God” while Abraham “promised for him and his seed to be his people, and to believe and trust in him, and to keep his commandments” (A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments, 1536). In another instance where Tyndale links the unconditional promise with the conditional obligation, he attests, “all the good promises which are made us throughout all the scripture, for Christ’s sake, for his love, his passion or suffering, his blood-shedding or death, are all made us on this condition and covenant on our party, that we henceforth love the law of God, to walk therein, and to do it, and fashion our lives thereafter, . . . because there is no promise made him, but to them only that promise to keep the law” (Sermon on the Mount).

Tyndale places no explicit emphasis on an initial covenant of works with Adam. However, he does manifest a two-Adam theology with the failure of the first undone by the second. Tyndale affirms, “By nature, through the fall of Adam, are we the children of wrath, . . . by birth, yea, and from our conception” and subject “to eternal damnation by the law, and are contrary to the will of God in all our will.” God’s sovereign initiative alone overcomes this bondage and condemnation, for, “[b]y grace (that is to say, by favour) we are plucked out of Adam the ground of all evil, and graffed in Christ, the root of all goodness” (Pathway). Tyndale also observes that Paul “likeneth Adam and Christ together, saying that Adam was a figure of Christ” and “as Adam is father of all sin, so is Christ father of all righteousness; and as all sinners spring of Adam, even so all righteous men and women spring of Christ” (Parable of the Wicked Mammon, 1527). At least in concept, but without mention of a covenant of grace and works scheme, Tyndale seems to allude to covenantal headship in the figures of Adam and Christ as they represent the sinner under condemnation and the elect under grace, respectively. 

With Tyndale limiting explicit covenant language to what we have in Christ, it is no surprise that he viewed the Mosaic covenant in an entirely gracious manner. The blood of sacrifices under the “old testament” (covenant) was offered to God and sprinkled on the people “to confirm the covenant and to bind both parties.” Such blood pointed ahead to the “better blood” of Christ and a “better testament” in him (Sacraments).

Note also, within the union with Christ language above (“graffed” or grafted into) in the Pathway, the mention of God’s eternal favor towards his children in the same paragraph: “In Christ God loved us, his elect and chosen, before the world began, and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of his holy gospel.” In line with our earlier mention of “the everlasting testament of God in Christ,”Another possible reference to this covenant is in The Testament of William Tracy Expounded (1535), where Tyndale testifies, “the treasure of his mercy was laid up in Christ for all that should believe, before the world was made; ergo, nothing that hath happened since hath changed the purpose of the invariable God.” Tyndale seems to be referring to these instances to an eternal counsel of redemption (pactum salutis) between the persons of the Trinity. Some may think that Ralph Werrell (The Blood of Christ in the Theology of William Tyndale, 2015) sees too readily “the covenant between the Persons of the Trinity” that “binds God to save his elect” in the writings of Tyndale, but the English Reformer made at the very least an implicit statement of this eternal inter-trinitarian covenant.

In summary, Tyndale made a significant contribution to the covenant theology emerging in England and abroad, yet more would be to come as the English Reformed entered the seventeenth century. Likewise, by the time of Tyndale’s death, there existed already the covenant groundwork of theologians such as Zwingli (e.g. the two-covenant scheme of works and grace), Oecolampadius (e.g. the covenant of redemption) and/or Bullinger (e.g. the bilateral nature of the covenant and covenant as key to the Scriptures).

We are not certain how aware Tyndale was of their work in this area or how much they impacted him. Still, we can appreciate Tyndale’s emphases: the fact that covenants between God and his people cannot be understood except in Christ alone and by grace alone yet, the intimate relationship between their unconditional and conditional elements (their bilateral nature), and the claim that covenants are key to understanding the Scriptures generally and the gospel specifically. Such would be held in common in the more mature covenant theology among the Puritans in the following century. 

Previous Posts:

  1. Life in England
  2. Life in Exile
  3. His Translation Work
  4. His Writings
  5. His Theology of the Word
  6. His Theology of Justification Considered
  7. His Theology of Justification Compared

Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is an OPC minister and serves as the Director of Research and Dean of Students at the Greystone Theological Institute. He is the author of Histories that Mansoul and Her Wars Anatomize: The Drama of Redemption in John Bunyan’s Holy War and a contributor to Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism. In connection with his Bunyan studies, he has written an allegory of his own, one for children: Nutonius of Acornshire.


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The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (and Larger) Catechism famously states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Some have asked whether this is actually one end rather than two, saying instead that man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Questions like these flow from the nature of theology itself. How we define theology largely determines how we will study theology and why we do so. The object of theology likewise both affects our definition of theology and the ends or goals of theology. Bernardinus de Moor (1709-1780) helps us wade though the implications of what it means that God is the object of theology, that man is its subject, and that God’s glory and man’s salvation are its ends. These questions bring us toward the close of traditional Reformed prolegomena and towards the commencement of the Reformed theological system proper, as we learn to study “the doctrine of living to God” in relation to all other things.

According to de Moor, God is the only proper object of theology (Continuous Commentary on Marckius, 1:259, Dilday Translation). Theology concerns the knowledge and the worship of God. This God reveals himself to us through Scripture and we can know him through Christ alone. God is always the formal object of theology, though the material object we are studying at the time may include man, creation, etc. God nevertheless remains the formal object of our studies, regardless of the material or secondary objects we consider. This God becomes our God only “as he is covenanted in Christ, just as he reveals himself to us in the Word” (1:259). In this way, the experimental, covenantal, and saving knowledge of God was never far from de Moor’s treatment of theology or of any of its topics. Theology is about knowing the right God in the right way, not merely about growing in speculative knowledge.

If God is the object of theology, then why does theology include the study of things like creation, man, and sin? De Moor answered that God’s works, including mankind, are secondary objects of theology only (1:259). We study them in theology only insofar as they relate to God and reveal God. God made all things, they are subordinate to him, and they tend toward him. De Moor appealed to the doctrine of sin to illustrate this point:

If you ask concerning sin, the treatment of which also enters into theology, in what manner it might be able to be referred unto God and divine things? I respond that, not as it is of God, but as it has a certain…relation to God, and lies under his Providence and Justice; Just as medicine treats of diseases and poisons, although its principal object is the healing of man (1:260).

This is an important point that can teach us how to understand everything around us, and even ourselves, theologically. The essence of a sinful life is to live without reference to God in this world (Ps. 14:1). De Moor reminds us that it is not only sinful to think and to live apart from God, but that we cannot even think about sin properly without reference to God.

What then is the subject of theology? De Moor answered that the subject of theology was the education of fallen mankind, “to whom this doctrine, like a plank after a shipwreck, was given, that he might rise again from his fall” (1:261, citing Ps. 19:7; 2 Tim. 3:17). Any revelation from God to man prior to his fall into sin was legal only. Yet all revelation from God to man after his fall, whether in the OT or in the NT, is “evangelical” and designed to save him from sin in Christ. This reminds us that the study of theology is always redemptive and designed to draw us from sin to God in Christ because the triune God revealed himself to sinners for this very purpose.

In light of its object and subject, theology has a twofold end. The “supreme end,” according to de Moor, is the glory of the triune God. The “subordinate end” is the salvation of God’s elect in Christ (1:262). However, these two ends are related intimately, because God shows his glory and the full spectrum of his attributes most perfectly in redemption. This is why the salvation of the elect is the subordinate end of revealed theology (1:262). God is glorified in all of the works of his hands, including creation and the just condemnation of sinners. Yet the triune God uses even these things to magnify his glory through the salvation of his elect.

So, is there one end of theology or two? The chief end of theology is the glory of God because the chief end of man is the glory of God. Man should study theology as a means to glorify God through Christ. Yet we should still likely distinguish the end from the means. God is always more important than we are. He is the goal and apex of all things. He is the aim of all true theology. Our redemption in Christ may put his glory on display more radiantly than anything else that he does, but our chief end is still his glory first and our happiness secondarily. Yet those who seek to make these into one goal instead of two are saying something true and important. Theology is not an exercise in abstraction, neither is it merely an intellectual affair. Those who study theology without their own salvation in view dishonor God and fail in the aims of theology. We must learn to use our theology to glorify God and to understand ourselves, and our world, primarily in relation to God. God’s glory must remain more important than our salvation, but we can never promote his glory if we neglect our salvation in Christ. Knowing God in Christ by the power of the Spirit must always be the mark of the true theologian even as it is the mark of the true Christian.


Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.


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Article 38 continues the final topic of the 39 Articles, the relationship between the Christian and the commonwealth. Article 38 considers the question of the extent to which a Christian’s worldly goods should be given over to the work of the church.

XXXVIII — OF CHRISTIAN MEN’S GOODS, WHICH ARE NOT COMMON
The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

Articles 38 preserves Cranmer’s original draft of 1553 with a clarification in the English translation of the Latin, Christianorum bona non sunt communia, "Christian men's good are not common." The article gives the necessary biblical correction to the over-realized eschatology of various Anabaptist sects on the Continent at the time which had also come to England. The Belgic Confession 36 and The Westminster Confession of Faith 26.1 both make similar prohibitions using similar arguments from Scripture against this teaching, which persisted well beyond the Reformation itself. Both the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Larger Catechism include such activities as a violation of the eighth commandment. Cranmer, who offers a fuller exposition in his Reformatio Legumas, explains how it is prohibited not only by the Decalogue but by the whole of Scripture: 

It is also proclaimed by some Anabaptists that there shall be a forced sharing of goods and possession, which they insist on so strongly, that they leave nobody without anything of his own. In this, they speak strangely, since they can discover that theft is prohibited by divine Scripture, and they can see that almsgiving, which we offer out of our own resources, is praised in both Testaments neither of which would be possible unless the ownership of their goods and possessions were left to Christians. There even emerge from the recesses of the Anabaptists some Nicolaitans, truly the most wicked of men, who argue that the use of women and even of wives should be promiscuously spread around by everybody. First of all, this evil and criminal desire of theirs is contrary to godliness and Holy Writ, and second, it contends violently against universal civility and that uncorrupted light of nature which has been lit in our minds (Bray, RL 2000 p. 199).

Thus Article 38 rests on the authority of the Scriptures arguing—as the New Testament does—that generous almsgiving and the sharing of the early Christians was not driven by any ban on private ownership. In Acts 5.4, Peter makes it very clear to the deceitful Ananias and Sapphira that their property was their own to keep or give away as they chose. There was no compulsion, but everything done remained under the Christian’s freedom of conscience. Moreover, the Apostle Paul makes the distinction between the believer’s possession of money and their love of it in 1 Timothy 6.10.

An Anglican finds further support for the article in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, which underlines the summary of God’s Law as our duty toward God and neighbor. The Christian is to love his neighbor as he loves himself, and to do to all men as I would have them do to them. Further study of the New Testament gives three principles of giving. A Christian is to give as God has provided (1 Corinthians 16.2); to give according to his or her ability (Acts 9.29); and, most importantly, to give according to his or her heart’s purpose (2 Corinthians 9.7 1 Timothy 6.17-19). The church of Jerusalem asked the apostle Paul to prioritize remembering the poor believer, the orphan, and the widow—something he was eager to do (Galatians 6.10).

I may be biblically justified in my stewardship and preservation of worldly goods, but the Scripture also commands that I share those things with those in need. They are God’s provision and gift, not my sole possession. There is a fine line between the attitude of "what is mine, is mine" and "what is mine is for God’s glory." Article 38 demands all Anglicans to know where the line is, particularly in an era when the prosperity gospel is taught and accepted by so many Anglicans today.


Henry Jansma (@VicarsGarden) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Diocese of the Living Word in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)


Read more in this series here!

 

One issue that is periodically debated in Reformed circles concerns the relationship repentance has with justification, and more particularly with forgiveness.  The Bible clearly states that repentance is necessary for forgiveness (Isa. 55:7; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). Accordingly, the Westminster Confession of Faith says that repentance “is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it (WCF 15.3).”  The bone of contention, therefore, is not if repentance is necessary, but how it is necessary.  Is repentance an antecedent condition or a consequent condition of forgiveness?  In other words, do you need to repent in order to receive forgiveness or do you need to repent because you have been forgiven? Does repentance precede or follow (logically or temporally) forgiveness?

This debate may seem to some to be an example of splitting hairs, not worth the time of day. But it is important for at least two reasons.  First, we need to be clear on what the Bible says we need to do or not do for forgiveness.  The forgiveness of our sins is no small matter.  Second, we need to avoid the twin errors of legalism and antinomianism, as well as falsely accusing the brethren of these errors.  A right understanding of repentance in relation to salvation will help us do that.

Does repentance precede or follow forgiveness? The answer will, of course, depend upon the meaning of the word “repentance.”  John Calvin often used it in a broad sense to refer to the “whole process by which a sinner turns to God and progresses in holiness (John Leith, John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, 66).”  Repentance in this sense follows forgiveness.  God doesn’t wait for us to be sanctified before he forgives us.  Repentance in the narrow sense, however—a sincere purpose of heart to turn from sin to God—precedes forgiveness.  This is how the Bible and the Westminster Standards use the word.

The Greek word for “repentance” literally means “knowledge after” and refers to a change of mind.  To repent is to renounce your sin and to have a desire to do what is right.  Repentance is more than admitting your fault.  A thief may admit that his stealing is wrong, but if he has no desire or intention to stop stealing then he is still impenitent.  He has confessed his sin, strictly speaking, but he certainly hasn’t repented of it.  Repentance involves hating your sin and wanting to change.  In the words of Isaiah 55, it is to forsake sin and turn to the Lord.  According to the Westminster Standards, repentance unto life is to turn from sin to God, “purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him, in all the ways of His commandments (WCF 15.2).”

Repentance must be distinguished from the works of repentance.  Paul made this distinction when he declared that all should repent and turn to God, and perform deeds in keeping with repentance (Acts 26:20; see also Luke 3:8). Repentance is saying no sin and yes to God.  It is purposing to walk with God, but not the actual walking with God; it is desiring to change your behavior, but not the actual change of behavior.  The actual walk or change is the fruit of repentance.  God forgives us when we repent, and not when we have sufficiently proved our repentance by our works.  Repentance precedes and fruit follows forgiveness.  

The same is true of us, since we are to imitate God (Eph. 4:32).  We are to forgive our brother after he says “I repent” and not wait until he produces the fruit of his repentance (Luke 17:1-4).  In fact, we are to forgive our brother even if he turns to us seven times in the same day and says, “I repent.”  Repentance is distinct from the works of repentance and it precedes forgiveness.  

Westminster divine Anthony Burgess argued, contrary to the antinomians, that repentance is not a sign that God has pardoned a man but “the means and Way God has appointed antecedently to pardon, so that where this goes before, the other comes after” and that the Scriptures regard repentance “as a necessary condition, without which forgiveness of sin cannot be obtained (Ezek. 14:18, 30; Matt. 3:2; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19).”

Witsius addressed this exact issue in his book on the English Neonomian-Antinomian debate at the end of the seventeenth century. He took the same position as Anthony Burgess.  He said that faith and repentance arise from a regenerated heart and both precede justification.  He wrote: “Hence it follows, that that act of faith, whereby we receive Christ for righteousness, cannot be exercised, without either a previous, or at least a concomitant repentance, and a purpose of a new life.  If therefore faith go before justification, as we have lately asserted; the same must be said of repentance, springing up together with it from the same principle of spiritual life.”

One objection to this position is that it compromises justification by faith alone.  If repentance is an antecedent condition to justification and pardon, then we are not justified by faith alone, but by faith and repentance. I have addressed this point elsewhere, but suffice to say that the doctrine of faith alone does not mean that faith is alone at the moment of justification or that other graces can’t be antecedently necessary.  The point is that faith is the alone instrument of justification and pardon.  

In 1774, James Fraser (of Alness) wrote that he knew that some people would not bear to hear that repentance is previous to justification.  Repentance for them must be wholly the consequence and effect of a sinner’s justification.  That was true before Fraser’s day and it remains true today.  Although many who hold this position, as Fraser notes, mean well, it is problematic because “it would direct them to express themselves in a way contrary to the language of Scripture, which calls on sinners to repent, in order to (and so previously to) the remission of sins.”

To teach that repentance follows justification and pardon is to teach contrary to the language and meaning of Scripture.  It is to teach that we can and should expect pardon without repentance because we are pardoned before (logically or temporally) repentance.  It is to teach a form of carnal Christianity because impenitent sinners are justified and pardoned.  It is to teach that we can receive Christ as Savior but not as Lord.  And it tends to produce false accusations of legalism and Neonomianism because it considers the Biblical position to be legalistic.

Repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.  We need to repent in order to be forgiven.  We need to proclaim to the ends of the earth “repentance for the forgiveness of sins…in Christ’s name” (Luke 24:47).


D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.


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This in the first in a multi-part series. Stay tuned over the next few months to read more on how the Puritans teach us to live in the world!


Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. —Matthew 5:13–16.

The world hates God. Therefore, the world despises godly Christians. Unbelievers often regard Christian humility as weakness of mind, Christian repentance as a pathological lack of self-esteem, Christian holiness as hypocrisy, Christian purity as priggish moralism, and Christian righteousness as the seed-bed of hatred and intolerance. To the fervent atheist, Bible-believing Christians are not only deluded, but dangerous. In our Western societies driven by rhetoric rooted in atheistic secularism—albeit sometimes comfortably padded with a superficial and rationalized shadow of Christianity—believers face increasing opposition and even hostility. Our brethren in Asia and Africa, however, know what persecution really is.

Before we become alarmed and fearful, however, we need to realize that this situation is nothing new. Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). It does not matter whether we live among people who are predominantly secular, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or, as Christ did, Jewish; if we live according to the Word of God, we will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12–15).

What then are Christians to do? Shall we resign all hopes of influencing the people around us? Shall we retreat and hide from the world until the Lord returns? Shall we relent and conform to the world as much as possible in order to win its smile and avoid its ire? 

Contrary to these fearful (and unbelieving!) responses, our Lord speaks a word of hope and issues a call to action.

First, he repeatedly declares God’s blessing upon the godly in what we call the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3–12. If we repent of our sins and turn back to God with poverty of spirit, hunger for righteousness, and mercy for hurting people, then no matter how the world may persecute us, we will inherit the kingdom of heaven. In Christ, we shall overcome the world.

Second, in Matthew 5:13–16, the Lord Jesus teaches us that godly Christians do indeed have a potent influence upon the world, for we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” However, we act as salt and light not by conquering our persecutors through physical force or hateful rhetoric, but precisely by being poor in spirit, mourning for our sins, meek in the face of anger and aggression, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful toward those in need, pure in heart, and peacemakers among men—the kind of people whom Christ blesses in His Beatitudes.

How can we be salt and light in our world, so that instead of being “trodden under foot” or “hidden under a bushel” (vv. 13, 15), we can resist evil, do good, and move unbelievers to glorify God as our Father in heaven?  To answer that question, I will draw from the wisdom of the English Puritans [1]. As the eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield (1714–1770) observed: “Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross. The Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this, no doubt, that made the Puritans of the last century such burning and shining lights” [2]

The Puritans lived under a cross of hostility, opposition, and persecution. Undaunted, they persevered, calling on God, serving Christ as Lord, and walking in the light of God’s Word.  They have many helpful things to say about how Christians should influence the world as salt and light [3].


[1] For Puritan sources on Matt. 5:13–16, see William Perkins, A Godly and Learned Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in The Works of William Perkins, Volume 1, ed. Stephen J. Yuille (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 222–42; Matthew Poole, Annotations upon the Holy Bible (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1853), 3:21–22; David Dickson, Matthew, Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 49–52; Anonymous (Westminster Divines), Annotations upon All the Books of the Old and New Testament, 3rd ed. (London: Evan Tyler, 1657), on Matt. 5:13–16; John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition upon All the Books of the New Testament, ed. W. Webster (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 55–58; Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints Happiness... Lectures on the Beatitudes (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), 242–60; Richard Baxter, “What Light Must Shine in Our Works,” in Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, Being the Morning Exercises (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 2:460; also in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991), 4:905–920; Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1630–31; Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), 746–47, 758–59; Exposition of the Parables in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1974), 52–61; Jonathan Edwards, “A City on a Hill,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 19, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, ed. M. X. Lesser (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 539–40.

[2]  George Whitefield, preface to The Works of that Eminent Servant of Christ Mr. John Bunyan, 2 vols. (London: W. Johnston and E. and C. Dilly, 1767), 1:iii.

[3] It should be noted that some Puritans, such as Perkins, Dickson, Trapp, Burroughs, and Henry, viewed Matthew 5:13–16 as referring primarily to the apostles and ministers of the gospel. See also George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in The Works of George Swinnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:26. In this regard they followed John Calvin, Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), on Matt. 5:13, 14–16. However, others, like Poole, the Westminster Annotations, Baxter, Keach, and Edwards, recognized that in the context of Matthew 5 Christ addressed all true disciples and heirs of God’s kingdom, both ministers and all Christians.


Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.


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