I have never taken part in an Evangelism Explosion course but I do know and have at times used one of their well-known diagnostic questions: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” This question is designed to discover if the person understands the gospel, and what or in whom the person is trusting in order to enter heaven. Are they trusting in Jesus or in the fact that they are a decent person?
 
Many, many years before Evangelism Explosion was founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy in 1962, Anthony Burgess, a leading member of the Westminster Assembly, asked a similar question. He was concerned that the necessity of repentance had led “ignorant and erroneous people” to think that repentance is the cause or ground of their salvation. He knew this to be true because of the answers to his own diagnostic question: “Ask why they hope to be saved or justified, why they hope to have their sins pardons; they return this answer, because they have repented, and because they lead a godly life: thus they put their trust and confidence in what they have done.”
 
Burgess’ diagnostic question is found in his book on justification, which was published in 1648. The primary focus of this book was to counteract the rising tide of antinomianism. One of the key doctrines of antinomianism was justification before faith and Burgess was at pains to demonstrate that a man is not justified until he repents and believes. The indispensable requirement of repentance, however, needed to be understood properly. It did not usurp the role of Christ’s work or merit in justification. In order to elucidate the role of repentance, Burgess appealed to the distinction between a qualification and a cause. Repentance is necessary as a qualification of the person to be justified, but it is not a cause of his justification or pardon. Only those who repent of their sins are justified but people are not justified because of or on the ground of their repentance. The grace of God is the efficient cause, the blood of Christ is the meritorious cause and repentance, if it must be understood in terms of a cause, is a material cause but only in the sense that it qualifies the subject and it has no influence regarding the mercy itself.
 
Burgess pointed out that this distinction between cause and qualification is a necessary one because without it we will either denigrate the proper role of repentance or we will steal the glory that is due to “Christ and his merits.” Burgess wrote: 
“So that by all this which hath been delivered, we may give repentance those just and true bounds, which Gods Word doth assign to it, and yet not give more then Gods Word doth. Nei∣ther may we think it a nicety or subtilty to make a difference between a qualification, and a cause; for if we do not, we take off the due glory that belongs to Christ and his merits, and give it to the works we do, and we do make Christ and his sufferings imperfect and insufficient…”
Burgess’ diagnostic question, or the EE one for that matter, may indeed be helpful in exposing moralism or legalism. However, I do think that we need to exercise caution so that we don’t jump to a wrong conclusion. If someone answers the question, “because I have repented and believed,” we shouldn’t automatically think that the person is a Neonomian. The “because” doesn’t have to be interpreted as meritorious. It could be instrumental with regards to faith and a qualification with respect to repentance, though person may not articulate it in those terms. And if that is the case, then they are right. It is not the only way to answer the question or the full answer to the question. But it is right because we need to repent and believe in order to be saved. In short, diagnostic questions are helpful but use them with wisdom.
 

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


 
Previous Posts in this Series
  1. "What would Jesus do?"
  2. "Just-as-if-I-never-sinned"
  3. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"
  4. "God won't give you more than you can handle"
  5. "God loves the sinner, but..."
The narrative of the Thirty-nine articles has set the primacy of the Scriptures as the principal means by which God is revealed and has set the details of the application of this same principle. Scripture alone determines the limits of the church’s authority in the formulation of doctrine and set the structure of ministerial calling and ordination. Article 24, the concluding article on the doctrine of the invisible and visible Church, the command to speak in a language understood by the people is no mere appeal to relevance in the modern sense but is a fidelity to the two-fold distinction of the Scriptures themselves.  
 
XXIV—Of Speaking in the Congregation in Such a Tongue as the People Understandeth

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded by the people.
 
The article was completely rewritten in 1563, most likely due to the pronouncement of the Council of Trent in 1562 that anathematized those who did not say the Mass in Latin. The 1571 final version corrected an omission in the English of the 1563 phrase in the Latin, et primitivae Eccleisae, “and the custom of the Primitive Church” also adding a revised title. To make plain the twofold distinction and the use of your vernacular language in Anglican church services, it may be helpful to read Cranmer’s original 1553 article, “Men must speak in the congregation as the people understandeth," and its reference to the Apostle Paul and 1 Corinthians, 
It is most seemly and most agreeable to the Word of God that in the congregation nothing be openly read or spoken in a tongue unknown to the people, the which thing St. Paul did forbid, except some were present that should declare the same [Bray, Documents, 298].
 
Article 24 affirms the twofold distinction of the Scriptures in its application to our worship. Previous articles have maintained a distinction, but no separation between Scripture and the Word of God. No access to the Word is available apart from Scripture–there is the outward, or external means in the reading and preaching of the Scripture, conjoined with the inward working of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Apostle Paul's teaching that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17) provides a normative statement for Christian worship. Our Anglican forebears insisted that the church’s worship must be in words of salvation accessible to all in their language, an outward fidelity to the unique nature of the Scriptures, and to be honoring of the Spirit inward work, as a fit instrument of his use. The task and purpose of the Holy Spirit are to make the Christian realize and gain greater clarity the meaning of their adoption as sons and daughters through Christ's redeeming work and to lead them into an ever-deeper response to God.
 
The writer of the Second Book of Homilies elaborated on this in Homily 9. He compares the Apostle Paul’s command that the gift of tongues should not be exercised in public worship without interpretation for the edification of the local body is compromised. 
First, Paul to the Corinthians saith: ‘Let all things be done to edifying’ (1 Cor. 14.26). Which cannot be unless common prayers and administration of sacraments be in a tongue known to the people… For, saith Saint Paul: ‘He that speaketh in a tongue unknown shall be to the hearer an alien’ (1 Cor. 14.2, 11), which in a Christian congregation is an absurdity. For we are not strangers to one another, but we are ‘the citizens of the saints and of the household of God, yea, members all of one body’ (Eph. 2.19; 1 Cor. 10.17, 12-12-27). And therefore, whilst our minister is in rehearsing the prayer that is made in the name of us all, we must give diligent ear to the words spoken by him and in heart beg at God’s hand those things that he beggeth in words. And to signify that we so do, we say, ‘Amen’ at the end of the prayer that he maketh in the name of us all. And this thing can we do not do for edification unless we understand what is spoken [Bray, ed. The Books of Homilies, Critical Edition359-360].
Intelligibility honors God the Holy Spirit is a guard against idolatrous worship, an affirmation of our adoption and union in Christ as believers, and the usual means of our edification. As the writer of the Homilies put it, "when prayers or the administration of Sacraments shall be in a tongue unknown to the hearers, which of them shall be thereby stirred up to lift his mind to God?" Obscurity is idolatrous.


 
Article 24 should also be seen as an introduction to the next major section in the Thirty-nine Articles on the sacraments, and particularly for North American Anglicans, is the application to the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. In a significant departure from the theology and structure of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the ACNA standard liturgy, and its rubrics concerning gestures, and actions during the communion service, obscure rather than clarify the gospel truths to which the sacrament points. There is a deliberate ambiguity that will inevitably lead to misunderstanding on the nature of the sacraments, particularly regarding the presence of Christ. The liturgy’s concluding "Additional Directions" allow reordering of the service according to the 1662 book, but there is no readily accessible source material included. It is clear that the ACNA sees the 1662 Lord's Supper as "a [notice – not ‘the’] standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline,” “expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues converted at the time” [ACNA Article 1.6, 7]. In other words, more historical document than biblically faithful standard. But has not Article 20 reminded us of the authority of the church in liturgy is only acceptable as far as it remains the faithful expression of the teaching of Scripture? 
 
The use of Latin in the liturgy no longer remains a barrier to a congregation, even in the Roman Catholic Church, yet fidelity to the Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit will always remain relevant. Article 24 should prompt us to ask challenging questions about our Anglican services, particularly with the 2019 publication of ACNA’s Book of Common Prayer. Are our Anglican services biblically faithful, comprehensible, and theologically sound? Do they obscure rather than glorify the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ? When we move away from the theology of the Reformation in our liturgy for the cause of an ecclesiastical party, we profess more of our factional pride than of our godliness at prayer.
 

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


 
For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)

 

Last time, we considered the Puritan doctrine of Scripture. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Scriptures primarily teach us “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.” The Bible as “a full and perfect canon” provides “the Credenda, what we are to believe; and the Agenda, what we are to practice” as it leads us into “the deep things of God” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity). And so the next question gets to the foundational “thing” in asking (Q4), “What is God?”  This sixth post provides (barely!) a sampling of the Puritan doctrine of God, by opening up the catechism answer, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice and truth.”
 
That God is a “spirit” (John 4:24) concerns his essence, says Thomas Vincent (1634–1678), as an “immaterial substance” (An Explicatory Catechism, 1675). Likewise, Edward Leigh (1602–1671), affirms that God as a spirit is “incorporeal” and “invisible,” and so “a most simple and noble being” (A Treatise of Divinity, 1646). God’s simplicity concerns the fact that he is not a compound of different parts or a sum of his attributes but a pure spirit identical to all his attributes in their unity. So, God is not “made up of” but “is” his attributes as we describe him both positively (what he is) and negatively (what he is not).
 
God as a spirit differs from humans (with immaterial souls) and angels (spirit beings) as finite and dependent. Instead, he as the infinite and self-existent spirit stands totally independent of his creation. His “aseity” thus calls attention to this independence from all things from which he needs nothing as the “all-sufficient” one (Westminster Confession of Faith, 2.2).
 
Regarding his attributes, characteristics allowing us to “better conceive . . . what he is” (Leigh),  the catechism answer unfolds with the clear distinction between God’s incommunicable and communicable attributes. Attests Leigh: “Some are Incommunicable and agree to God alone; as when he is said to be Eternal, Infinite. Others are Communicable in a sort with the creatures, as when he is said to be Wise, Good.” Even those communicated to us as the image of God “are not so in us as in God, because in him  they are Essential.” Likewise, the incommunicable ones are yet  “communicable to us in their use and benefit, though not in their Nature” or by way of operation rather than image (e.g. his omnipotence acts for us Phil 3:21). 
 
Turning to the incommunicable attributes, we find that God is infinite, or “without bounds, in regard to his being and perfection” (Vincent). Thus, God remains “incomprehensible” (Job 11:7) and without “measure” regarding place (Jer 23:24), time (1 Tim 1:17), and “all of his incommunicable attributes.” For example, God is “omnipresent” and so “present everywhere” because he cannot “be shut out from any place” or bound by space due to his immensity (Leigh). Likewise, God is eternal” which denotes that he has been and always will be without “beginning, ending, or succession” (Leigh).  Finally, God is unchangeable or immutable as he is “always the same without any alteration” in his “nature and essence” (Psa 102:25-27). In this way, God is  impassible (without “passions”, WCF 2.1), which means he cannot be affected or hurt by any external force (which does not mean the absence of emotions).
 
Regarding God’s communicable attributes shared with man, whose “changeable being” possesses these properties in a “finite and imperfect” manner (Vincent). Instead, God retains them all in an “absolutely perfect” way in his infinity, eternity, and immutability. So, God in his wisdom actively plans all things according to the knowledge he has of “both himself and all possible [and actual] things perfectly” (Psa 47:5). God in his power possesses the capability to “do all things” as the “almighty God”  (Gen 17:1) and while able to accomplish “whatever he pleaseth,” (Vincent)  he cannot perform that which is “contradictory” to his “divine, immutable, simple, most true and perfect essence” (Leigh). Likewise, Charnock (Existence and Attributes of God) argues that we must distinguish between his absolute power (“that which . . . is possible to be done”) and his ordained power (“that . . . which he has ordained or appointed”). God in his holiness exhibits himself as “infinitely pure” (Vincent) in all his ways (Psa 145:17), and with an “incommunicable eminency of his divine majesty exalted above. . .and divided from” all things  (Leigh).  God in his justice shows himself “infinitely righteous and equal, both in himself, and in all his dealings with his creatures” and which manifests itself in the “the punishment which he inflicted” on Christ. God in his goodness “is altogether good in himself, and the author of all good” (Psa 119:68) and shown towards sinful humanity through his “patience and forbearance,” which should lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4). Finally, God in his truth speaks of his being “sincere and faithful, free from all falsehood and simulation” (Titus 1:2) and manifests itself in the veracity of all Scriptural teachings, history, prophecies, promises, and judgments (Vincent).
 

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

  1. What is Puritan Theology?
  2. William Ames and Puritan Theologizing
  3. William Ames and Shorter Catechism Q&A 1
  4. The Two Lights
  5. Scripture
Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

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


Week 11 (3/12-3/18): II.1.1 (pgs. 23–62)
Scholarship and Perspectives on the History of the Doctrine of Scripture
Muller begins this second volume noting the various difficulties facing the history of the doctrine of Scripture in the medieval and early modern period. First, the doctrine did not receive an independent treatment (loci) until the middle of the 16th century. Second, the investigation itself assumes a distinction between Scripture as source and doctrine as result, which is not always evident in theologies previous to the medieval period. Thus, Muller writes, “the explicit examination of Scripture as the proper basis for theology...is only scantily addressed before the rise of fully developed theological systems" (p. 25). The church fathers appeal to the inspiration and authority of Scripture but do not declare it formally. Muller warns against what has sometimes been called “Whiggish” historical theology, which allows theological concerns to impinge on the historical discipline in an unhealthy way. Muller suggests that the two disciplines ought to be distinguished. Historical theology is tasked with investigation, not dogmatizing. 
 
The basic question Muller asks in this first section is: what are the continuities and discontinuities which exist as the doctrine of Scripture moves from medieval theology through the Reformation and into the post-Reformation context? The fundamental problem to reflect on, then, is the hermeneutical movement from authoritative Scripture to authoritative doctrine in the approach of the Reformed Orthodox in light of the medieval and Reformational approaches. 
 
Canon, Inspiration, and the Interpretation of the Bible in Medieval Scholastic Theology
Many histories of the doctrine of Scripture have given the impression that medieval theology approached the text with philosophical and theological assumptions which overrode textual and exegetical questions. Muller, however, claims that this is not the case. 
 
Interestingly, Muller points out that early medieval Bibles were not all agreed on what the biblical canon was; although, the Apocrypha were generally seen as “deutero-canonical.” Muller also notes the important role played by the medieval Glossa ordinaria. These running commentaries on Scripture began in the 12th century by Anselm of Laon and his pupils. The implicit assumption is that tradition and Scripture speak with one voice; the line between text and theology is not an absolute line. In the 13th century there was an increased emphasis on the original languages as well as the “literal” meaning of Scripture. This led to greater discussion of the merits of the medieval quadriga. As the scholastic era commenced, the literal meaning of the text is emphasized as having normative value in relation to the other three modes of reading Scripture. Muller demonstrates that the medieval doctors taught that the sacra pagina was to be the source of sacra theologia. Muller (p. 39) also notes Aquinas' distinction between inspiration and revelation as laying the groundwork for later theologizing about Scripture. The former term refers to “the movement of the Spirit elevating the mind toward and giving it the capacity of divine knowledge.” The latter refers to “the actual presentation of the intellect of otherwise inaccessible knowledge.” Whereas the prophets received revelation, the holy writers received inspiration. Muller says that inspiration deals more with the affections, whereas revelation deals more with the intellect. Interestingly, Bonaventure (disagreeing with Aquinas) argues that prophets are inspired as well as given new revelation (with the former grounding the latter).
 
Late Medieval and Renaissance Approaches to Scripture and Interpretation
According to Muller, the 13th and 14th centuries saw Scripture (because God was its chief author) as the materially sufficient norm and standard for theology. According to Muller, Duns Scotus is to be credited for much of the development of the doctrine of Scripture in medieval theology. Duns Scotus takes what has been called a “tradition II” understanding of the relationship between tradition and Scripture, which saw tradition and Scripture as coequally revelatory. One of the important questions raised by scholasticism was the relationship between rational and supernatural truth. The theologians of the late middle ages, by and large, did not see tradition and scripture as in conflict. The difference (following Oberman) one finds in the late medieval ages is over the nature of tradition. Some theologians saw tradition as an ongoing means of God's supernatural revelation while others saw Scripture as the norming norm while tradition stood in accord with Scripture.  Though the sacra pagina was seen to be distinct from sacra theologia, the late medieval theologians generally differentiated between those truths derived from express statements of Scripture and those judgments of the church. An important historical reality in this late medieval period is the movement of some theologians away from the quadriga towards a more literal (or grammatical-historical) hermeneutic. However others, still holding on to a strong quadriga with an emphasis on the three spiritual meanings as having a normative role for theological development, led to friction between the two models. Finally, Muller points out that some began to suggest that the Christological reading corresponded to the spiritual meaning, others suggested that the literal meaning is the christological meaning. When one looks at the beginning of the 16th C.  the humanists even give greater concern for the literal meaning, while frowning upon the scholastic method.
 
Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 12 (3/19-3/25): II.1.2.1-2 (pgs. 62–119).

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46) 

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)

Week 5: I.2.4 (pgs. pgs. 177–220)

Week 6: I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269)

Week 7: I.2.6 (pgs. 270310)

Week 8: I.2.7 (no post)

Week 9: I.2.8 (pgs. 360–405)

Week 10: I.2.9 (no post)

Richard A. Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017). 329pp. Hardcover. $45.00.
 
Richard Muller has gained a (deserved) reputation as one of the leading scholars of historic Reformed orthodox theology. He has, in large part, led the way in exploding historical myths, such as that of a pristine Calvinian theology that was fouled up by later Reformed writers through appropriating scholastic elements. He has done so by arguing that Reformed theologians developed their theology from Scripture through an eclectic dialogue with early church, medieval, and contemporary authors. Calvin did not single-handedly found a theological tradition. Moreover, later Reformed orthodoxy illustrates continuities and discontinuities with the Middle Ages as well as with the sixteenth-century Reformers. Such research has been useful, both in historical and contemporary theology, for a number of reasons. In this reviewer’s opinion, Muller’s primary contribution to both fields is that his work has enabled classic Reformed theology to speak more clearly with its own voice in its own context once again. Doing so has great potential to provide different options to the church today than what are current regarding both faith and practice.
 
Divine Will and Human Choice tackles the difficult age-old question of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. More specifically, whether and how the actions both of God and of humanity can be contingent and capable of contradictory or contrary choice. Muller treats this question with boldness, contradicting many respected historians on the subject, complexity, using uncommon scholastic terminology, and thoroughness, drawing from a wide range of primary source literature. The philosophical nature of the subject matter and the difficulty of the terminology for the uninitiated makes this work a particularly difficult read. This means that the subject matter, though profound and well argued in itself, will be rewarding to some readers and off-putting to others.
 
Muller’s analysis is bold. In treating issues related to divine will and human freedom in Reformed orthodoxy, he simultaneously builds upon and contradicts most respected scholars in the field, including Paul Helm, Antonie Vos, Andreas Beck, Willem van Asselt, Eef Dekker, Martin Bec, and many others. His primary contention is that that early modern Reformed authors developed a “robust doctrine of creaturely contingency and human freedom,” that drew from classic scholastic distinctions, in order to uphold the sovereignty of God’s decrees, while maintaining the distinction between necessary, contingent, and free events among his creatures (34). Contra authors such as Helm, Muller argues that this meant more than simply saying that free choice is compatible with divine sovereignty, since Reformed theology taught that mankind genuinely retained the power of contrary choice and of contrariety. Contra authors such as Vos, he argues that ascribing the power of contrary choice to mankind in a given action (“synchronic contingency”) does not necessarily entail a Scotist dominance in post-Reformation Reformed theology. Nor, he adds, did using the relevant scholastic distinctions result in an ontology because the only intent behind their use was to explain the interrelationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Leaving aside the complexities of such assertions for the moment, modifying or rejecting the conclusions of such a stellar collection of scholars is a bold move. However, such boldness does not make Muller’s arguments wrong. The topic treated in this book can be perplexing and if anyone is qualified to refine and even correct the arguments of other scholars in this area it is Muller. 
 
Yet Muller’s book is complicated as well. This point relates the character of the “scholastic distinctions” (34) that Reformed authors employed and how Muller explains them. Roughly half of the book evaluates debated interpretations of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus on the issue of the nature of contingency in divine and human choices. The second half of the book illustrates the influences and uses of these concepts among Reformed authors. Understanding his work requires a working knowledge of paired terms such as synchronic vs. diachronic contingency, necessity of the consequence vs. necessity of the consequent, scientia intelligentiae simplicis vs. scientia visionis, and, especially, simultaneity of potencies vs. potency of simultaneity. Put simply, Muller never really puts these terms simply. Synchronic contingency conveys the idea that when an event comes to pass, human beings retain the power of making alternate choices. Diachronic contingency asserts that though things could have turned out otherwise according to God’s will, the event or outcome of human actions is certain as it happens in time. The first term teaches that man could have done differently as a volitional creature. The second term asserts that man could not ultimately change the outcome because his freedom of choice is a “dependent freedom.” Necessity of the consequence means that an event must come to pass when it comes to pass through a volitional being, but not by any natural or inherent necessity in the thing itself (such as choosing to sit vs. choosing to run). Necessity of the consequent is a necessity that results from the nature of a thing (such as a rock falling). Human choice is involved in the former but not in the latter. Scientia intelligentiae simplicis refers to all possibilities that could come to pass in agreement with God’s nature (corresponding to potentia absoluta) and scientia visionis refers to God’s knowledge of what he has ordained to come to pass (potentia ordinata). Simultaneity of potencies means that human beings have the power to make more than one choice in any given circumstance. Potency of simultaneity refers to the (impossible) idea that human beings have the power of performing two contrary actions at the same time. The purpose of this complex set of terms is to show how and why God, as the first cause, foreordains whatsoever comes to pass without violating the wills of his creatures or eliminating the freedom or contingency of second causes. While such concepts can be inherently taxing, this reviewer finds it easier to understand them from reading scholastic authors directly than from reading Muller’s analysis of them.
 
In light of Muller’s reputation, it should not surprise readers that his book is thorough. Every scholar knows very little ultimately in relation to what he or she could know in his or her field of study. Research is nothing if not humbling. However, Richard Muller has read and knows more than all but a very small number of people will ever know. In spite of the work being challenging to process, it remains a wealth of information. The primary liability in this respect is that the publisher did not include a bibliography, enabling readers to follow up with sources cited.
 
In conclusion, Muller’s book is well-research, nuanced, and insightful, but it is not for everyone. His books are always worth laboring through, but they will not help all readers. The relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom will continue to be an important issue in both church and school. Yet Muller’s treatment of this subject, while highly important, will be inaccessible to most people. For those interested in a more straightforward and standard introduction to classic Reformed theology, his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics or his two volumes published with Oxford University Press are easier entry points. Yet for those who want (or need) to understand the medieval and Reformed terminological and philosophical underpinnings of the issue treated in this present volume, Divine Will and Human Choice will likely set the standard for years to come.

Christ’s Presence in the Lord’s Supper

“One reason why we so little value the ordinance [of the Lord’s Supper], and profit so little by it, may be because we understand so little of the nature of that special communion with Christ which we have therein,” wrote John Owen.[1] It's the nature of that special communion, or presence of Christ, that we turn in this post.

Edward Reynolds (1599–1676) affirmed “a real, true, and perfect presence of Christ” in the Lord’s Supper.[2] He said this was not merely Christ’s divine omnipresence, nor was it the physical presence of His human body. Christ is present “by the powerful working of his Holy Spirit” just as the sun is present to the earth in the shining of its warm rays.[3] Reynolds wrote, “The main end of the Sacrament … is to unite the faithful unto Christ.” Since our union with Christ is mystical and not physical, His presence is mystical and not physical.[4] It is indeed a union with Christ’s “sacred body” in heaven, but this does not require the physical presence of His body in the bread for communicants to receive the graces of His glorified humanity.[5]

William Perkins said there is a “sacramental union” between the signs and realities to which they point, which explains how sign and reality are often interchanged in Scripture (Gen. 17:10; Exod. 12:11; Deut. 10:16; Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20; John 6:51, 53; Acts 7:8; 1 Cor. 5:7; 10:17; 11:24; Titus 3:5). The sacramental union is not a natural union or “mutation of the sign into the thing signified” but a “respective” union, or union by way of analogy, so as to draw the soul of the Christian to consider the spiritual reality and apply it.[6] As a result, unconverted persons “receive the signs alone without the things signified,” while the converted “do to their salvation receive, both the sign and the thing signified.”[7] Matthew Henry (1663–1714) explained, “We live in a world of sense, not yet in the world of spirits; and, because we therefore find it hard to look above the things that are seen, we are directed, in a sacrament, to look through them, to those things not seen, which are represented by them.”[8]

Matthew Poole (1624–1679) wrote, “When he saith, Take, eat, he means no more than that true believers should by the hand of their body take the bread, and with their bodily mouths eat it, and at the same time, by the hand and mouth of faith, receive and apply all the benefits of his blessed death and passion to their souls.”[9] Thomas Doolittle (1630–1707) agreed, saying that the believer eats the bread and drinks the wine to signify “my union with Christ and enjoyment of Him; my feeding upon Christ by faith for the strengthening of the graces of God’s Spirit in my soul.”[10]

Some scholars say the Puritans became overly scholastic in their view of the Lord’s Supper. Holifield, for example, says that Puritan pastors performed the sacramental actions, “hoping that the service would thus convey doctrinal information.”[11] Contrasting the Puritan approach with Calvin’s approach, he says, “Calvin had been wary of overemphasizing the merely didactic possibilities of sacramental worship, but in Puritan circles the Lord’s Supper was unreservedly a vivid spectacle calling to mind the saving truths of the gospel.[12] The result of this distortion was that “Calvinist mystery collapsed under the weight of [the Puritans’] psychological explanation.”[13] In this, Holifield underestimates the role that truth played in the Puritan heart and invents a dichotomy that Puritans would have found unbiblical. For the Puritans, doctrinal information was not the antithesis of emotional engagement and Spirit-led worship. As Edwards wrote about his own preaching, “I should think...my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”[14] The Father seeks believers who worship in spirit and truth, and the third Person of the Trinity is the Spirit of truth who guides believers into truth (John 16:13).


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


 
Notes

[1] Owen, Works, 9:523.

[2] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:68.

[3] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:72.

[4] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:73.

[5] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:73–74.

[6] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72.

[7] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72–73.

[8] Matthew Henry, The Communicant’s Companion (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1843), 32.

[9] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (repr., London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969), 3:127.

[10] Thomas Doolittle, A Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998), 146.

[11] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 54.

[12] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 54, emphasis added.

[13] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 61.

[14] Jonathan Edwards, Select Works of Jonathan Edwards (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 391.

Previous Posts in this Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
Slogans are memorable, simple summaries of truths that are often quite complex. By design, therefore, they are not meant to convey every nuance of a particular topic. Unfortunately, this makes them liable to misunderstanding and misuse. A case in point is the saying that I want to look at in this article, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” Several puritans would have embraced this saying as they did in fact speak in these terms, but not in the way many might use it today. I will discuss the work of several puritans and then conclude with some summary comments.
 
Obadiah Sedgwick, a noted preacher and member of the Westminster Assembly, appealed to a two-fold love of God in order to answer the objection that God’s eternal love for his people rendered Christ’s work of reconciliation unnecessary (“Reconciliation needs not amongst friends, but between enemies.”). First, there is God’s love of benevolence (amor benevolentia). By this love God wishes and intends to do us good and it is compatible with God’s anger and wrath towards us due to our sins. God was “wroth with us for our sins, yet did so far love us, as to give us Jesus Christ for the pacification of that wrath.” Second, there is God’s love of friendship (amor amicitiae). This love is incompatible with God’s wrath, was procured by the death of Christ, and consists in being accepted by God “into a league of favour and kindness.” God, therefore, loved us with an eternal love of benevolence but he did not love us with a love of friendship until we were converted and united to Christ. What is important about this two-fold love of God is that we see how God can both love and hate the unjustified sinner at the same time. God benevolently loves sinners who are “in a condition of wrath.”
 
Samuel Bolton, a member of the Westminster Assembly from 1647 to 1649, argued that sin makes sinners who are outside of Christ (“under the Law”) the objects of God’s hatred, whereas sin makes believers the objects of God’s pity. This means that in the case of the unregenerate, God hates both the sin and the sinner, but with respect to the regenerate, God hates the sin but pities and loves the sinner. The reason for the difference is that sin in the unbeliever is his nature but it is only a disease in the believer. Bolton wrote: 
Men, you know, hate poison in a toad, but pity it in a man. In the one it is their nature, in the other their disease: Sin in a wicked man is as poison in a toad; God hates it and him, it’s his nature; but sin in a child is like poison in a man; God pities him, he pities the Saints for sins and infirmities, he hates the wicked.  It’s the ones nature, and the others disease…In a wicked man God hates both sin and sinner, but here [in the case of believers] he hates the sin, though he pities and loves the poor sinner, etc. He is displeased with sin, though he pardon sin in Christ.
John Davenant, a British delegate to the Synod of Dort, made similar comments in his book on justification. In response to the argument that God can’t justify a person who is still tainted with sin because God hates sin and must punish the person in whom it is found, Davenant essentially said that God hates the sin but loves the justified sinner. God hates the sin that remains in the justified and expresses that hatred by gradually eradicating it from the believer by his grace and Spirit.  But God does not hate them (their “persons”) because “Christ by his blood hath expiated their guilt.” Thomas Goodwin echoed these sentiments when he wrote, “And he, loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction.”
 
God’s relationship to sinners, as even this brief discussion suggests, is quite complex. At the very least, we need to distinguish between persons (believer and unbeliever), and types of love (benevolent and friendship) in order to properly understand how God relates to us (for a nuanced discussion on this saying go here.  This is why the statement “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” as a general blanket statement for all persons is not the most helpful. It is, however, helpful, at least for several puritans when it comes to God’s relationship with his redeemed people. God loves them and will not punish them, but he does hate their sin and will eventually fully cleanse them of it.
 
 

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


 
Previous Posts in this Series
  1. "What would Jesus do?"
  2. "Just-as-if-I-never-sinned"
  3. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"
  4. "God won't give you more than you can handle"
Meredith G. Kline. Genesis: A New Commentary. Edited by Jonathan G. Kline. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2016. Pp. xx +154. $19.95 (paper).
 
Nearly ten years after Meredith G. Kline entered into glory, readers are in possession of a new book: a short commentary on the book of Genesis. In the editor’s preface, Jonathan G. Kline (grandson of the author), recounts finding a typed manuscript of this volume among his grandfather’s papers and typesetting it for posterity purposes. Though Meredith G. Kline (hereafter Kline) published a similarly short, note-style commentary in 1970 as part of the revision of the New Bible Commentary, this earlier commentary was only an early snap-shot of his developing views on the role of Genesis as the “historical prologue” of the covenant treaty-document that is the canon of Scripture. 
 
Though Kline is known by many readers of this journal for the framework interpretation of Genesis 1-2, appropriation of 2nd millennium BC Hittite treaties for understanding of the form and function of Deuteronomy, and a distinctive typological approach to the works-principle in biblical covenant administrations, he must first and foremost be understood as a biblical-theologian in the tradition of Geerhardus Vos. Kline’s later work, in particular Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), reflects his more developed thinking on the role Genesis plays in setting the stage for the great redemptive-historical storyline developed throughout the remainder of the biblical canon. Since this book offered a paradigm-shaping treatment of Genesis that builds upon the work of Vos, the great value of Genesis: A New Commentary vis-à-vis his earlier Genesis commentary is that it incorporates the insights of Kingdom Prologue, modeling Kline’s approach to the biblical book via his more developed biblical-theological thinking. Whether or not readers of this review follow Kline in his particular theological formulations, they will find his treatment of themes and events beneficial for understanding Genesis in its full canonical significance.
 
Several strengths commend this volume to readers of this journal. First this work serves as an exemplar of a Klinean (and in many respects, Vosian) exposition of the book of Genesis. Kline’s name is often invoked in theological discourse, generally as providing exegetical support for or against theological positions, i.e., the Reformed resurgence of Two-Kingdom Theology, recent republication debates, Theonomy and Christian Reconstructionism, Monocovenantalism, etc. And while the fruit of Kline’s exegesis certainly gets employed in these debates, his exegesis as such is informative for any biblical scholar who affirms the essential unity of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Certainly there are times when Kline’s exegesis feels a bit fanciful (e.g., his treatment of Zechariah in Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001]), but in Genesis: A New Commentary, the insights remain quite restrained though still creative and fresh. Many readers lament our lack of actual biblical commentaries by Geerhardus Vos; but at least with Kline we have an example of how a Vosian biblical theology guides exegesis of an entire biblical book. 
 
Another strength of this volume is its value for orienting interpreters to significant biblical-theological themes in the units and subunits within the book of Genesis. Kline follows many interpreters by viewing the toledot formulae (אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדוֹת; cf. Gen. 2:4, [5:1], 6:9, 10:1, etc.), as a cue to its overarching organization. Lower level units within each toledot are also delineated, giving pastors guidance for selecting passages for preaching that cohere around a given theological theme emphasized by the book. 
 
There are several examples of this; I will note just a few. Kline regularly relates the theme of “supernatural intervention needed for fulfillment of divine promises” to the theme of “inadequacy of human resources to do so.” And so, concerning the birth of Jacob’s sons, Kline writes: “The account of their births continues the main theological emphases of the preceding narratives: the covenanted salvation is bestowed as a gift of divine grace in spite of human contrariness and as a miracle of divine power, not an achievement of human cunning” (102; cf. pgs. 54, 92). Kline further unpacks this theme against the NT backdrop, casting it in terms of the contrast between “the principles of faith and the works of the flesh” (103), especially as Rachel resorts even to mandrakes for their supposed ability to overcome her barrenness. (Cf. pg. 110 where Jacob’s prostration before Esau is also cast in terms of the “emptiness of the apparent victories [over Esau] he had won earlier by his works of the flesh.”) Other NT connections are highlighted in several places, usually in terms of typology (e.g., 58, 61, 80), but also in terms of prophetic fulfillment (e.g., 67, 77-78). As Kline’s notes are fairly brief, pastors will find a quick orientation to the theological profile of a passage within a short word count. 
 
Another benefit of this volume is its genuine improvement over Kline’s 1970 Genesis commentary mentioned above. While his remarks on the flood still reflect a hesitancy to be dogmatic about its extent, he has mitigated his language, no longer calling it “precarious” to assume that the flood had a worldwide extent (as he did in 1970), and instead stresses the fact that Scripture does, at times use “universal-sounding terms for more limited situations (cf. Dan 2:38; 4:22; 5:19)” (35), while still insisting that the central trunk of human history had been severed. While some readers will feel Kline has not gone far enough, we do see he has retreated from his earlier dogmatism in an effort to better account for the details of the biblical text.
 
Two other examples of welcome improvements are his treatment of circumcision in Genesis 17, and his thicker description of the role of the Ishmael toledot in Genesis 25:12-18. In the case of the former, the conclusions of Kline’s By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Sign of Circumcision and Baptism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968]) have been more meaningfully worked into the notes (68-70). And in the case of the later, while still quite brief, this reviewer found insightful Kline’s suggestion that “this genealogy of Ishmael serves to dismiss Ishmael from the context of the Abrahamic Covenant (at least, until its new covenant stage), leaving the premessianic future of that covenant to Isaac and his descendants” (89; emphasis added). The role of ethnic Israel vis-à-vis the nations is one Kline deals with elsewhere in his writings, and seeing how he applies it here, provides a fruitful line of inquiry in how to preach the Ishmael narratives.
 
A few items leave this volume open to critique. Those not convinced by his framework interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:4 will find his opening exegesis disappointing, though it should be noted that Kline does not defend or articulate the position per se, but mostly just assumes it. For example, his equation of the “bush of the field” (שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה) in Gen 2:5 with the plant life of Gen 1:11-12 is not defended exegetically, but simply asserted. Additionally, the note-style nature of this commentary causes Kline to be overly brief in areas that should be unpacked in more detail to be best appreciated. For example, his treatment of לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם in Gen 3:8 as the thunderous arrival of Yahweh in judgment, translating it as “The Spirit of the day” in place of the “cool of the day” found in many English translations, (made famous by his book Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), is merely hinted at in a single sentence (22). This is just enough to alert readers to this unique reading, but not enough to convince them of its legitimacy. Stray insights like these may even lead some readers toward viewing Kline’s exegesis as overly creative.
 
Kline’s treatment of Genesis 4 as the divine charter for the common-grace role of the city (26), which has wide ranging implications for discussions of the relationship between politics and the Christian faith, sounds also like a creative overstatement. And Kline’s discussion of Abraham’s receipt of the typological kingdom via “his faithful performance of covenant obligations,” linked directly to Christ’s own receipt of the eternal kingdom via his own obedience (62), muddies the discussion by its brevity, and will likely reinforce the views of those who feel Kline is imprecise, overly innovative, and thus to be read with suspicion.
 
Nevertheless, even readers critical of so-called “Klinean” thought will find that Genesis: A New Commentary provides a brief, but overall useful model for interpreting Genesis in an unashamedly covenantal, redemptive-historical manor. While the book does not sufficiently introduce Klinean themes to serve as an introduction to Kline’s thought (readers will still need to pore through Kingdom Prologue or acquire the newly published Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017] for that), it does illustrate how Kline approaches the text of Scripture in its progressively-unfolding, organic character. The editorial work by Jonathan Kline has not only ensured a cleanly-laid-out volume, it has added several helpful features, in particular the definition of Hebrew words in footnotes which Kline himself did not himself provide, and footnotes directing readers to Kline’s earlier works so as to compensate for the brevity of the commentary.
 
Genesis: A New Commentary is a welcome addition to the library of any pastor adhering to redemptive-historical preaching, and will be especially useful for students learning to apply the biblical-theological method to the individual passages of Genesis.
 
*This review will also be included in the forthcoming Mid-America Reformed Journal vol. 28 (2017).
We have seen how the Reformation’s rediscovery of sola scriptura reset both the authority of the Church and General Councils (Article 20 and 21) and how necessary it is that the visible church must remain within the bounds of the invisible or serious doctrinal error is the inevitable result (Article 22). Article 23 then applies sola scriptura in the calling of ministers.
 
XXIII—Of Ministering in the Congregation

It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.
 
The wording of the article has not changed from Cranmer’s 1553 original. The title dates from 1571 and the term “congregation” should be understood as it was in articles 19 and 20 that preceded it. 
 
Recalling article 17 on predestination and election, article 23's position in the narrative of the Thirty-nine Articles helps us to understand “lawfully called” ministers from a more biblical standpoint. The Bible has a number of things to say about election and calling. It stresses that the first and most fundamental calling of God who had decreed by his secret counsel to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ out of mankind and to bring them through Christ to eternal salvation as vessels made for honor. Hence God calls people by his Spirit working within them (invisibly) and by grace they obey the calling (e.g., Rom. 8:28-30). They are freely justified and made sons and daughters of God by adoption. Once we have been adopted into his family, we are called to walk faithfully in good works (visibly), being made in the likeness of Christ. This is the important invisible/visible distinction of Christ's church. Because Anglican theology sets out that the church of Christ is established by an inward call and election of God into an outward and visible congregation, one must understand the nature of a ministerial call similarly. 
 
The right to ministerial office is a right bestowed on individuals first by Christ himself, the Head of the Church, and any appointment without such a calling from him is null and void. This is the immediate and direct inward call of the minister. The right to exercise the office is conferred by Christ through the outward confirming call of the church by its authorized representatives, where the man is “tried, examined, and known to have such qualities that are requisite” [Cranmer, 1662 BCP Ordinal Preface], an ordination that solemnly sets apart (“sends”) the individual so chosen to the public office of ministry: “And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.” It would be wrong to see a minister’s inward calling merely as a subjective prompting of the Holy Spirit, countering the Anabaptist claim of the time and one that persists to this day.
 
Thus, the article sets its limits within sola scriptura. The office is Christ’s, and the title to enter into the office is from Christ also, “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God” (Heb. 5:4). It is the “Lord of the harvest” who is “to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). It is God, “who has made us sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:6). The first hallmark of a minister “lawfully called.” Next, we read how in Titus 1:5, Paul gives to Titus the responsibility of appointing elders in every town and is given the characteristics for which he should look. Both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 emphasize that godliness of character is primary. This is to be looked for both in their conduct and habits as well as in their family relationships. They are to be “above reproach” and therefore have a good public reputation. What is more, they should not be recent converts (1 Tim. 3:6), lest they become “puffed up.” There is an additional vital requirement for the presbyter/overseer (priest/bishop), they must be ‘able to teach’ (1 Tim. 3:2), “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The first duty of the presbyter/overseer is to preach and teach the pure word of God as Christ’s ministers, or the church is not established (Article 19).
 
A further historical note is in how article 23 sets out the office of minister in alignment with article 19 but with one subtle but significant change. Article 23 has the disjunctive “or,” “…the office of publick preaching, or the ministering of the sacraments in the Congregation… (…munus publice praedicandi, aut administrandi sacramenta), rather than article 19’s copulative “and,” “…the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments… (…Verbum Dei purum praedicatur et sacramenta…). When the articles were promulgated in 1571, it would not be unusual to go years without hearing a sermon preached. Nehemiah Wallington recorded how his father John, coming to London in 1572, went eight years without hearing a sermon preached at St. Leonard’s, Eastcheap (Hunt, Art of Hearing, 188). As Archbishop Grindal’s bold letter to Queen Elizabeth in that same year explained, “an infinite number of your Majesty’s subjects, for want of preaching of the word (the only ordinary means of salvation of souls)” are perishing [Collinson, Archbishop Grindal, 18]. All ministers were licensed to administer the sacraments and read sermons (hence Article 35), but not to preach. There was a want of preaching, more rather, of good preaching. Undermining the likelihood of systemic reform in preaching was the practice of pluralism which continued well into the 18th century. To increase a clerical stipend, pluralism granted ministers the right to hold pastoral office in multiple parishes of sufficient distance so that the pastor could not possibly officiate at each local church. It was often the case that one or more parish had no minister and no preacher. Striving to keep costs low gave the minister no real incentive to appoint an assistant curate in their place that was likely equipped or licensed to preach. The reform of the want of good preaching was glacially slow, and it would come at great cost to many godly ministers, receive many setbacks, and take many decades.
 

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


 
For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)

 

So, this is part 5 of a series I am just announcing now, which I hope is not too much of a distraction. We have looked at Puritan theology and theologizing in general in the first three posts. Then in the last, we gazed upon the natural and divine lights, as Stephen Charnock called them, denoting natural and Scriptural revelation respectively. We also saw the stepping-stone role of natural revelation to Scripture, the former of which allows sinners, argued John Owen, to “know” God but the latter alone to actually “come” to him savingly. In connection to what we have said already of the Scriptures as supernatural revelation, I want to treat the general Puritan doctrine of Scripture more fully in this post.
 
As heirs and reformers of the Reformation, the Puritans embraced the foundational principle of sola Scriptura, or salvation by “Scripture alone,” which gets emphasized right away in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of the Holy Scripture.” Likewise, the Shorter and Larger Catechism quickly stress the vital importance of Scripture, the former calling it the “Word of God” in which we find “the only rule to direct us” in our theology (living unto God). Indeed, the Confession refers to the Bible as “immediately inspired by God” (1.8) in the originals with “the Word of God dwelling plentifully” in even translations. For God to reveal himself to fallen humanity, he needed to stoop down and speak to us in a voice that came directly from him to us in manner that we can comprehend. After all, as theologians tell us, the finite cannot comprehend the infinite.
 
So, that God reveals himself supernaturally in his Word demands “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God” (WCF 1.6) for the “saving understanding” of what he reveals. Thus, John Owen ("The Reason of Faith," in Works, 4:49) argues that we must believe with a “divine and supernatural” faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit to embrace the Scripture as very Word of God along with the truths conveyed by the words. 
 
As we consider the doctrine of God’s Word in the Confession, we see that the Puritans emphasized the four major attributes (characteristics) of Scripture that are often highlighted today, namely, its: sufficiency, necessity, authority, and perspicuity.
 
The sufficiency (being adequate for faith and life) of Scripture appears in the very first section of the Confession as it states that the light of nature is “not sufficient” for us to know God in a saving manner. Scripture as special revelation makes up for that inadequacy as that revealing “all things necessary for [God’s] own glory, man's salvation, faith and life” (WCF 1.6). 
 
The necessity (being essential for faith and life) of Scripture manifests its intimate connection to sufficiency, since we cannot know God savingly without it. Thus, God revealed himself in special ways to his people and eventually superintended, by the Holy Spirit, the recording of such revelation to preserve the truth making “the Holy Scripture to be most necessary” (WCF 1.1). As Owen notes ("The Divine Original of Scripture," in Works, 16:319), the necessity of special revelation formerly demanded embracing “the word spoken,” but now the “word written.” The focus is now upon the written word, since the “former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people” (WCF 1.1) have ceased.
 
The authority (being supreme over faith and life) of Scripture “for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed,” does not depend “upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1.4). Indeed, the Puritans utilized natural theology with evidences internal and external to the Bible to manifest it as the authoritative Word. Yet, they also affirmed its “self-evidencing light” as divine truth that one “rejects at the peril of his eternal ruin” (Owen, "The Divine Original of Scripture," in Works, 16:322). Likewise, the Bible stands as “the supreme judge” in all theological “controversies,” as it exists as the final word with “the Holy Spirit speaking” in it (WCF 1.10).
 
The perspicuity (being clear in matters of faith and life) of Scripture meant that it so clearly sets forth “things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation,” that even the “unlearned” may understand them, even if all biblical teachings are “not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (WCF 1.7).  Truths less clearly “set down in Scripture,” may be “deduced” (reasoned as truth) “by good and necessary consequence” (a valid and demanded argument) from the entirety of Scripture (WCF 1.6).  Consequently, for the Puritans, “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself,” which means that we understand a murky passage “by other places that speak more clearly” (WCF 1.9). In this way, the Puritans affirmed the unity and harmony of all parts of Scripture, for God cannot contradict himself. The interpretative principle that Scripture interprets Scripture is often referred to as the “proportion of faith” (John Flavel) or the “analogy of faith” (Thomas Goodwin). 
 
There you have it, the doctrine of Scripture for the Puritans was a “S.N.A.P.” (sufficiency, necessity, authority, and perspicuity), as some like to call it today with a catchy mneumonic device (Hey, it helps my little brain). May we affirm and defend the same attributes for the Bible, the inspired and self-authenticating Word of God.
 

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

  1. What is Puritan Theology?
  2. William Ames and Puritan Theologizing
  3. William Ames and Shorter Catechism Q&A 1
  4. The Two Lights