W. Bradford Littlejohn and Scott N. Kindred-Barnes, eds., Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy, vol. 40, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017). 355pp. Hardcover. 

Historic Reformed orthodoxy was marked both by unity and diversity. The development of Reformed confessional theology, coupled with the scholastic method of teaching in the schools, resulted in a remarkable level of catholicity among Reformed churches without negating significant differences among Reformed authors in various parts of the post-Reformation world. With respect to this broader context, Richard Hooker’s relationship to Reformed orthodox theology has been debated widely among scholars. With the partial exception of Andrew Martin’s chapter on Hooker’s sacramental theology, the authors of this volume argue that readers should regard Hooker as a Reformed orthodox theologian. They do so more or less successfully due to the ambiguous way in which the editors of the volume describe what it meant to be Reformed. The scope and aim of this volume make it a provocative assessment of the bounds of Reformed thought in the context of the transition from Reformation to post-Reformation theology. This makes it an interesting test case for understanding the nature of post-Reformation theology more broadly.

The book is broadly divided into three sections, treating Hooker’s historical context and reception, his theological and pastoral method, and his relationship to Reformed orthodoxy. The strengths of the editor’s approach to their topic lies in the wide range of authors contributing to the book, in their contextual approach to understanding Hooker on his own terms and in his own context, and in their comparison of Hooker’s teachings to the broader stream of historic Reformed orthodoxy. Some of the most stimulating subjects treated include Hooker’s views on public worship, which stood at the heart of his controversy with “Puritanism,” his use of medieval scholastic theology and method, his treatment of the authentication of Scripture, his teaching on imputed and inherent righteousness, and his sacramental theology. These chapters and others help guide readers through some of the key relevant areas to Reformed theological method and of the Reformed system of doctrine. They essays are well researched and they seek primarily to ask historical questions rather the contemporary ones. This approach is potentially fruitful for modern theological debates, indirectly, since it allows historic authors to speak with their own voices and to raise their own concerns.

Though Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy achieves its aims generally, it raises some potentially problematic questions as well. The first is how one defines Reformed orthodoxy. The editors regard “the progressive liberation of historical scholarship from the straightjacket of confessional identity” (12-13) as a positive thing with regard to Richard Hooker studies. However, without confessional identity, as Historians such as Richard Muller have argued, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish Reformed theology from other branches of the Christian tradition. Since all theologians from this time period used an eclectic array of sources in building their theologies, and since they used a common scholastic method in their teaching, the bypassing a broad Reformed confessional identity runs the risk of transforming “Reformed” into a meaningless historical category.

Another potential liability of some of the essays in this volume is that they appear to take Hooker’s assessment of “Puritanism” at face value (59, 64, 76, 84, 148, etc.). This conception of “Puritanism” even led one author to conclude that we should not regard William Perkins as a Puritan (71). This is problematic, if for not other reason than the fact that much historical scholarship has treated Perkins as one of the primary architects of Puritan ideology. It is one thing to argue that Hooker drew precedents for his views from strands of earlier Reformed thought that stood in contrast to what he labeled as “Puritanism.” It is another thing to imply that many of these “Puritans” did not also stand in the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy. The true historical situation was more complex than this presentation makes it appear at times.

Some authors in this volume run the risk of oversimplifying historical positions as well. For example, one author argues that, in agreement with the British delegation at Dort, Hooker believed, “Christ’s death is actually applied to some reprobate insofar as God’s inward grace is granted to some within whom that grace does not lead eventually to eternal life” (291). This statement is potentially misleading. Most Reformed authors believed in distinguishing between common operations of the Spirit within the visible church and the saving work of the Spirit, which applied to the elect only. They rooted both sets of benefits in Christ’s death and in his work in sending the Spirit to the church. However, these common operations of the Spirit were not treated as equivalent to the Spirit’s internal saving operations, which the author appears to equate in Hooker’s thought. The block citation from Hooker he provides in the footnote appears to match better this reviewer’s distinction between non-saving and saving operations of the Spirit on account of Christ’s death than it does the author’s implication that some reprobate people in the church possessed “inward grace” that did “not eventually lead to eternal life.” This kind of oversimplification is closer to some modern theological debates than it is to those present in the late sixteenth-century.

Do the author’s of Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy prove successfully that Hooker fit within the mainstream of Reformed orthodox thought? In this reviewer’s opinion, the answer is yes and no. While Hooker clearly agreed with many aspects of Reformed thought more broadly, the evidence that the author’s present to prove their case appear better to substantiate Peter Lake’s earlier depiction of Hooker as a via media theologian. Like many authors from the time period treated, Hooker was an eclectic thinker. If shared ideas, sources, and methods make one a Reformed theologian instead of a Reformed confessional identity, then the authors prove their case clearly. However, if a Reformed confessional tradition remains a standard for assessing the ideas of historic Reformed figures, then Hooker is, in at least a few respects, the odd man out. While room for disagreement on this issue remains among scholars, the primary value of these essays is that they force readers to ask questions such as this one as they seek to understand the character of post-Reformation Reformed theology.

This review appeared previously in Mid America Journal of Theology, vol. 28, 212-214.


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


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Give us this day our daily bread.—Matthew 6:11

In A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson (1620–1686) presented over 150 sermons on essential Christian teachings, including a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Here is a brief section taken from his treatment of the fourth petition:


Thus we argue from the word "Give", that the good things of this life are the gifts of God; he is the founder and donor; and that it is not unlawful to pray for temporal things. We may pray for daily bread. Feed me with food convenient for me.' Prov 30: 8. We may pray for health. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.' Psa 6: 2. As these are in themselves good things, so they are useful for us; they are as needful for preserving the comfort of life as oil is needful for preserving the lamp from going out. Only let me insert two things: 

(1) There is a great difference between praying for temporal things and spiritual. In praying for spiritual things we must be absolute. When we pray for pardon of sin, and the favour of God, and the sanctifying graces of the Spirit, which are indispensably necessary to salvation, we must take no denial; but when we pray for temporal things, our prayers must be limited; we must pray conditionally, so far as God sees them good for us. He sometimes sees cause to withhold temporal things from us: when they would be snares, and draw our hearts from him; therefore we should pray for these things with submission to God's will. 

It was Israel's sin that they would be peremptory and absolute in their desire for temporal things; God's bill of fare did not please them, they must have dainties. Who shall give us flesh to eat?' Numb 11: 18. God has given them manna, he fed them with a miracle from heaven, but their wanton palates craved more: they must have quails. God let them have their desire, but they had sour sauce to their quails. While their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them and slew them.' Psa 78: 31. Rachel was importunate in her desires for a child. Give me children, or I die;' God let her have a child, but it was a Ben-oni, a son of my sorrow; it cost her her life in bringing forth. Gen 30: 1; Gen 35: 18. We must pray for outward things with submission to God's will, else they come in anger. 

(2) When we pray for things pertaining to this life, we must desire temporal things for spiritual ends; we must desire these things to be as helps in our journey to heaven. If we pray for health, it must be that we may improve this talent of health for God's glory, and may be fitter for his service; if we pray for a competency of estate, it must be for a holy end, that we may be kept from the temptations which poverty usually exposes to, and that we may be in a better capacity to sow the golden seeds of charity, and relieve such as are in want. Temporal things must be prayed for for spiritual ends. Hannah prayed for a child, but it was for this end, that her child might be devoted to God. O Lord, if thou wilt remember me, and wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.' 1 Sam 1: 11. Many pray for outward things only to gratify their sensual appetites, as the ravens cry for food. Psa 147: 9. To pray for outward things only to satisfy nature, is to cry rather like ravens than Christians. We must have a higher end in our prayers, we must aim at heaven while we are praying for earth. 

 

…If we are to pray for temporal things, how much more for spiritual? If we are to pray for bread, how much more for the bread of life? If for oil, how much more for the oil of gladness? If to have our hunger satisfied, much more should we pray to have our souls saved. Alas! what if God should hear our prayers, and grant us these temporal things and no more, what were we the better? What is it to have food and want grace? What is it to have the back clothed and the soul naked? To have a south land, and want the living springs in Christ's blood, what comfort could that be? O therefore let us be earnest for spiritual mercies! Lord, not only feed me, but sanctify me; give me rather a heart full of grace than a house full of gold. If we are to pray for daily bread, the things of this life, much more for the things of the life that is to come.[1]

 

To read more from and about the Puritans, check out Meet the Puritansby Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson (available at ReformedResources.org). 


More on Thomas Watson and Prayer:

• Meet a Puritan: Thomas Watson

• Thomas Watson’s Prayer (Part 1)

 Thomas Watson’s Prayer (Part 2)

 Thomas Watson’s Prayer (Part 3)

 Watson’s Morning Sermon

• Watson’s Evening Sermon


[1]Full text available at CCEL.

 

 

Stephen Geree was one of several puritan ministers who wrote against the so-called Antinomians during the 1640’s. His main target was Tobias Crisp. Crisp, who has been regarded by some as the high priest of English Antinomianism, moved to London in 1642 where he quickly became an influential leader of the antinomian movement. Although he died the following year, his influence continued to grow due in large part to the posthumous publication of his sermons, entitled, Christ Alone Exalted. Geree used this book as the basis for his polemic against Antinomian doctrine in 1644.

My goal is not to discuss or evaluate Geree’s analysis of Crisp or Antinomian doctrine in general. Rather, I would like to highlight his reasons for engaging this theological battle, for the manner in which he engaged it, and for his focus on Crisp. Vigorous polemic aimed at an individual is not a relic of a bygone era; it is very much a part of our own culture. Indeed, with the advent of social media, it seems like it is everywhere, which is why many people today are turned off by it and argue against it. While the misuse of something makes it look ugly, it doesn’t mean that it is bad in and of itself. Hence, we should ask if there are good reasons for Christians to critique individuals, including fellow Christians, forcefully and publicly? If so, what are some of those reasons? Geree may be of help to us in this regard, or at least serve to generate thought on the matter.

One reason Geree engaged in heated theological debate with the Antinomians was to defend the Gospel. He was convinced that the “Gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely overthrowne by this Antinomian, or rather Anti-evangelicall Doctrine.” If this hadn’t been the case then he would have held his peace and saved himself a “great deale of paines.” What made matters worse for Geree was that this “Anti-evangelicall Doctrine” claimed to be evangelical by “its seeming so much to magnifie the grace of God and Christ.” It was like sweet poison, which goes down so easily, or like a “guilded or sugared bait.” It deceived and entrapped unsuspecting Christians. Indeed, he testified that many people had been ruined by this error. Consequently, Geree didn’t hesitate to call them “mountebanks (con artists),” and “ignorant Quacksalvers, that doe but skin over the soares of mens soules, and doe not thoroughly cure their sinnes.”

The reason Geree engaged in the Antinomian debate is also the reason for his heated rhetoric. He didn’t pull any punches. He called it as he saw it because he believed that the Gospel and people’s lives were at stake. There was, however, another reason he used strong language at times, or as he put it, why he used “a little Vineger” now and then. He felt compelled to do so by his “adversaries.” He believed that his opponents had violently rejected his mild rebuke and doubled down on their errors. A soft touch would no longer do. Stronger medicine was called for. Geree explained:

And if at anytime I seeme somewhat harsh, know, that partly the cause itself, and partly the confidence of my adversaries, have compelled me hereunto. For having written most mildly some three or foure yeares agoe, I was answered so roughly and insolently, that made some judicious persons, that read both sides, admire. So that I saw a necessity of more roughness and smartness with this generation, when gentle medicines will not worke, then more bitter and biting must be used…This hath made me now and then use a little Vineger, which otherwise I have not used.

The reason Geree zeroed in on Tobias Crisp was because Crisp had many adoring fans and defenders. Rumor has it that Robert Lancaster, Crisp’s friend and publisher, wrote a pamphlet entitled, “Oh that Tobias!” though I have yet to confirm it. According to Geree, there were even some people who thought that Crisp could do no wrong and placed him in the same category as the apostle Paul. This led him to focus on Crisp and it forced him to rely on Crisp’s written words, even though he had heard Crisp preach, because Crisp’s admirers and friends would readily “deny what they have really held, as if they held no such thing.”

As I said at the beginning, my intention was not to evaluate Geree’s analysis of Crisp. He may be right or wrong on Crisp. The accuracy of his critique, however, does not affect his reasons for engaging in heated theological debate or for critiquing a particular individual. Drops of vinegar may well be in order when teachers are distorting the Gospel or leading people astray. They may be necessary when people are stubborn and stiff-necked in their errors. And they may be necessary when people harbor an unhealthy admiration for their favorite celebrity preacher.


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 Covenantsand author of A Portrait of Christ.

Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834),Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.


The Puritan Motivation for Missionary Prayer: Christ's Victory and God's Glory

The Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Missionary work finds its foundation in Christ’s mediatorial triumph over sin, death, and the world. Nonetheless, massive obstacles stand in the way of mission endeavors, such as distance; expense; language; culture; the sinful hostility and hardened hearts of fallen human beings; the sins and infirmities of Christians; coldness of heart, strife, and error in the church; and the wide-ranging opposition and destructive activity of Satan. Missionary work and missionary prayer must be fueled by confidence in the power of Christ enthroned as Head of the church and Lord of all to overcome these obstacles.

Though the government in Calvin’s homeland of France harshly suppressed evangelical preaching, Calvin wrote to the king: “Indeed, we are quite aware of what…lowly little men we are…. But our doctrine must tower unvanquished above all the glory and above all the might of the world, for it is not of us, but of the living God and his Christ whom the Father has appointed to ‘rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth’ [Ps. 72:8].”[1]The missionary prayers of the Reformers and Puritans sprang from a biblical vision of the sovereign Christ whose kingdom must fill the earth (Ps. 72; Dan. 2:34–35, 44).[2]

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) wrote An Humble Attempt to promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the last Time(1748). In this book he called for regular prayer meetings for revival and world evangelization. The motivation for this prayer, he explained, was that “it is natural and reasonable to suppose, that the whole world should finally be given to Christ, as one whose right it is to reign, as the proper heir of him who is originally the King of all nations, and the possessor of heaven and earth.” God the Father has made His Son the mediator of His kingdom and heir of all the nations (Ps. 2:6–8; Heb. 1:2; 2:8).[3]

In An Humble Attempt, Edwards argued for the great advance of the kingdom of God on earth. He cited as evidence the promises that all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14), all nations would serve the Messiah (Ps. 72:11, 17), all nations would come to the Lord (Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17), true religion would prevail throughout the world (Pss. 22:27; 65:5, 8; 67:7; 98:3; 113:3; Isa. 11:9; 54:1, 2, 5; Mal. 1:11), idols and idolatrous nations would perish from the earth (Isa. 60:12; Jer. 10:11, 15), and the full number of Jews and Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 11:12, 25).[4]In typical Puritan fashion, Edwards urged believers to turn these promises into prayers, calling upon the Lord to extend the kingdom of His Son. Christ’s victorious position at God’s right hand should move us to pray for God to establish Christ’s royal dominion (“the rod of thy strength”) in the very midst of His enemies (Ps. 110).

 

The Glory of the Living God

The very marrow of the Reformed movement was its God-centered­ness. The Reformers and Puritans were enamored with the sovereign God and overwhelmed with His majestic beauty.[5]The Puritans who composed the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) wrote, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” Thomas Watson (ca. 1620–1686) wrote, “Glory is the sparkling of the Deity.”[6]He said glorifying God consists of the following:

1)  “Appreciation. To glorify God is to set God highest in our thoughts…. There is in God all that may draw forth both wonder and delight; there is a constellation of all beauties…. We glorify God, when we are God-admirers.” 

2)  “Glorifying God consists in adoration, or worship…. Divine worship must be such as God himself has appointed, else it is offering strange fire (Lev. 10:1).

3)  “Affection…. It is intense and ardent. True saints are…burning in holy love to God.” 

4)  “Subjection. This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service.[7]

Watson also said, “We glorify God by laboring to draw others to God; by seeking to convert others, and so make them instruments of glorifying God.[8]The Great Commission is a further expression of the Great Commandment, for missions must be driven by love of God and longing for His name to be glorified by all nations in the earth. Calvin said God’s attributes “should captivate us with wonderment for him, and impel us to celebrate his praise.” He said further, “We should wish God to have the honor he deserves.” According to Christ’s command, Calvin urged us “to request not only that God vindicate his sacred name from all contempt and dishonor but also that he subdue the whole race of mankind to reverence for it.[9]

Experiencing God’s overflowing glory causes one’s heart to overflow in prayers for others. David Brainerd (1718–1747), missionary to Native Americans, wrote in his journal, “I saw that God is the only soul-satisfying portion, and I really found satisfaction in him: My soul was much enlarged in sweet intercession for my fellow men everywhere, and for many Christian friends in particular, in distant places.[10]Brainerd suffered from depression and severe hardships in his work. He died in his twenties after a long bout with tuberculosis. In all of that difficulty, he was sustained in missionary labor by his love for the glory of God. He wrote, “I felt my soul rejoice, that God is unchangeably happy and glorious; and that he will be glorified, whatever becomes of his creatures.[11]By the end of 1646, Brainerd’s illness was so severe that he could do little more than pray. But he had seen God work among the Native Americans he served, and he testified:

Prayer was now wholly turned into praise; and I could do little else but try to adore and bless the living God: The wonders of his grace displayed in gathering to himself a church among the poor Indians here were the subject matter of my meditation and the occasion of exciting my soul to praise and bless his Name…. I could only rejoice that God had done the work himself; and that none in heaven or earth might pretend to share the honor of it with him; I could only be glad that God’s declarative glory was advanced by the conversion of these souls, and that it was to the enlargement of his kingdom in the world…. Oh, that he might be adored and praised by all his intelligent creatures to the utmost of their powers and capacities.[12]

This vision for the glory of God in all nations also propelled William Carey to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” The flame of prayer for missions bursts forth from a heart in love with God. Thus the essence of all true missionary prayer is found in Christ’s words, “Hallowed be thy name!”

 


[1]. Calvin, Institutes, 12 [Prefatory Address to King Francis].

 

[2]. The subject of Iain Murray’s book, The Puritan Hope, is this vision and the eschatology connected with it.

 

[3].The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 5, Apocalyptic Writings, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 330.

 

[4]. Edwards, Works, 5:329–34.

 

[5]. Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism(Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 39–42.

 

[6]. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity(1692; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 6.

 

[7]. Watson, Body of Divinity, 78.

 

[8]. Watson, Body of Divinity, 16.

 

[9]. Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.41. 

 

[10].The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 7, The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 177. See Tom Wells, A Vision for Missions(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 121–29.

 

[11]. Edwards, Works, 7:275–76.

 

[12]. Edwards, Works,7:404.

 

 

At the time of his death, Puritan Richard Baxter (1615–1691) had published approximately 150 treatises, not including countless other letters and papers.[1] The following passage comes from A Call to the Unconvered to Turn and Live, which begins with a quote from Ezekiel:

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? —Ezekiel 33:11 (KJV)


Yea, heaven itself is ready: the Lord will receive thee into the glory of his saints; vile as thou hast been, if thou wilt but be cleansed, thou mayest have a place before his throne: his angels will be ready to guard thy soul to the place of joy, if thou do but unfeignedly come in. And is God ready, the sacrifice of Christ ready, the promise ready, and pardon ready? Are ministers ready, and the people of God ready, and heaven itself ready, and angels ready, and all these but waiting for thy conversion; and yet art thou not ready?

What! Not ready to live, when thou hast been dead so long? not ready to come to thy right understanding, as the prodigal is said to come to himself, when thou hast been beside thyself so long? Not ready to be saved, when thou art even ready to be condemned? Art thou not ready to lay hold on Christ who would deliver thee, when thou art even ready to drown and sink into damnation? Art thou not ready to be saved from hell, when thou art even ready to be cast remedilessly into it? Alas, man! dost thou know what thou dost? If thou die unconverted, there is no doubt to be made of thy damnation; and thou art not sure to live an hour ? And yet art thou not ready to turn and to come in?

Oh miserable wretch! Hast thou not served the flesh and the devil long enough yet? Hast thou not enough of sin? Is it so good to thee? Or so profitable for thee? Dost thou know what it is, that thou wouldst yet have more of it? Hast thou had so many calls, and so many mercies, and so many blows, and so many examples? Hast thou seen so many laid in the grave, and yet art thou not ready to let go thy sins and come to Christ? What? after so many convictions and gripes of conscience, after so many purposes and promises, art thou not ready yet to turn and live?

Oh that thy eyes, thy heart were opened to know how fair an offer is now made to thee! And what a joyful message it is that we are sent on, to bid thee come, for all things are ready.[2]

To read more from and about the Puritans, check out Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson (available at ReformedResources.org). 


[1] Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 66.

[2] Richard Baxter, A Call to the Unconvered to Turn and Live (Glasgow: Porteous and Hislop, 1863), 70, 71.

 

Theology is the doctrine of living to God. More specifically, we live to God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit. How we define theology determines how we study theology. If theology is merely the science of God, in which we study biblical data in order to talk about God, then open Bibles, clear thinking, and helps from church history are enough to get us going. However, if theology is about knowing the right God in the right way, and about making him known to others, then an accurate scientific system of doctrine is a necessary, but not a sufficient cause of true theology. The true theologian needs the Holy Spirit in his or her heart and saving faith to lay hold of God in Christ. We need a receptive tool to receive the theology taught in the Bible and to receive the God of the Bible through it. 

This led some Reformed theologians to treat the nature of faith before jumping into the doctrine of God and the rest of the system of theology. William Ames (1576-1633) is a preeminent example of doing this, and his Marrow of Theology became a standard text in England, New England, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. Later authors, like Peter van Mastricht, followed Ames’s example by placing saving faith at the outset of their systems, while the Westminster Confession and Catechisms brought in the topic to introduce the application of redemption. Faith fits well in both places, because faith in Christ is necessary to be a Christian as well as to study theology rightly. Ames’ treatment of saving faith shows us why faith is fundamental to studying theology.

Ames was not concerned with a generic faith in Scripture, let alone with a faith that is temporary or historical only, but with saving faith through which we come to know God. He defined faith as, “the resting of the heart on God, the author of life and eternal salvation, so that we may be saved from all evil through him and may follow all good (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, Eusden translation, 80; citing Is. 10:20, Ps. 37:5, and Jer. 17:7). Faith is an act of understanding, but it goes beyond this and affects the will as well. Its fundamental meaning is receptive (citing Jn. 1:12): “It is an act of the whole man – which is by no means a mere act of the intellect” (80). While the knowledge involved in faith is common among those who are saved and those who are not, the will, depending on this knowledge, lays hold of God in faith. The nature of faith is to receive divine testimony and to commit oneself wholly to God through it (81). This point is a summary of why we need saving faith prior to studying the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.

Questions arose in the seventeenth-century over the nature of saving faith, especially its relation to the doctrine of the assurance of salvation. Calvin and others taught that assurance was of the essence of faith because it rests on divine testimony, though this faith could be strong or weak in believers. The Westminster Confession of Faith, while not denying this point, stated, “This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it” (WCF 18.3). Their point was that it was possible to have an assurance of faith that would not fail us, while recognizing that the experience of this assurance fluctuates. The rest of the paragraph gives counsel how to foster assurance of faith, with the Spirit’s help, through using means. Earlier and later representatives of the Reformed tradition are basically in harmony, since all agreed that faith must be certain in its object, even though it could be stronger or weaker in its subject.

Ames treated this question with beautiful brevity and simplicity. He noted the infallibility of the object of faith while acknowledging the imperfection in the human subjects exercising faith. His statement is worth citing in full: 

Faith is not more uncertain and doubtful because it leans on testimony alone, but rather more certain than any human knowledge because of its nature. This is so because it is brought to its object on the formal basis of infallibility – yet because of imperfection in the inclination [habitus] from which faith flows, the assent of faith often appears weaker in this person or that person than the assent of knowledge (81).

It is the object that gives certainty to faith, especially as it relates to what we believe, rather than the believing subject. God is the proper object of faith as we “live well by him” (citing 1 Tim. 4:10). Christ is the mediate object, rather than the ultimate object, of faith because “we believe through Christ in God” (81; citing Rom. 6:11, 2 Cor. 3:4, and 1 Pet. 1:21). Scripture exhibits, or sets before us, God in Christ as the object of faith. Ultimately, our faith must rest in God rather than man, which drives us back to divine testimony, through which we receive strength from God to pursue that which is truly good. While the exercise of faith in us may be strong or weak, the object of faith is always mighty to save. This is why true faith, even if it is weak faith, always saves.

Because the heart rests on God through faith and because God in Christ is the proper object of faith, God’s authority “is the immediate ground of all truth to be believed in this way” (81). Faith depends on divine authority through divine revelation alone (citing 2 Pet. 1:20-21 and Jn. 9:29). Yet the act of believing in God depends ultimately on “the operation and inner persuasion of the Holy Spirit” (81; citing 1 Cor. 12:3). This simultaneously unites the faith that we believe with the faith by which we believe, and it makes Ames’ treatment of the object and act of saving faith fully trinitarian. This faith is “true and proper trust,” without entailing “a certain absolute confidence of future good” (82). Faith can refer generically to trust in anyone or anything, even if fruitless or groundless, though our concern should be genuine trust in God. This brought him back to his definition of faith: “To believe in God, therefore, is to cling to God by believing, to lean on God, to rest in God as our all-sufficient life and salvation” (82). The general assent of the “Papists” is false because it does not bring life. Our “special assent” that God is our God in Christ, however, is not the first act of faith, but it flows from faith. This is because faith unites us to God in Christ and we must first be united to him by faith before we can be assured of the fact. Faith rests on God’s authority in divine revelation, but it must take us through divine revelation to God himself.

This leads to the last matter, which is having and exercising faith. Ames wrote, “Faith is the first act of our whole life whereby we live to God in Christ” (82), which is why it comes early in the theological system as well. We must surrender ourselves to God in Christ “as a sufficient and faithful Savior” (82). When the Scriptures link faith to assent, trust is always included. Trust in God is both the essence of faith and the fruit of faith as we continue to receive Christ, who offers himself to us “in the present” (82). He concluded, “The firm assent to the promises of the gospel is called both faith and trust, partly because, as general assent, it produces faith, partly because as a special and firm assent, it flows from trust as it takes actual possession of grace already received” (83). Though “certainty of understanding” may be lacking at times, believers may yet have “true faith hidden in their hearts” (83).

Ames’ description of faith is somewhat circular on purpose. Faith includes trust and it produces trust. The whole Christian life is exercising trust in the God who has revealed himself as the object of faith in Christ through his Word. The Spirit enables this trust in God through Christ. If theology is the doctrine of living to God, then faith is the instrument by which we must live to God. Theological studies may increase knowledge, but without saving faith they will not produce true theology. Ames reminds us that how we begin studying theology determines where we go in our studies and whether or not we grasp the goal of studying theology. Faith is the receptive instrument of salvation and the instrument of becoming a true theologian.

His Theology of the Word
In our last post, we considered William Tyndale’s writings and will now examine his theology more closely touching on key themes. It was my intention to briefly discuss these in one post, but I quickly realized that such would simultaneously become too lengthy and superficial. So, I will treat key themes in Tyndale’s theology in at least the next few posts (ambiguity begets liberty!). 
 
Concerning the background to and the influences on his theology, we have made some brief observations already. The most extensive work done in this area is Ralph S. Werrell’s The Roots of William Tyndale’s Theology. Most importantly, Werrell shows the significant impact of the Wycliffite tradition (contrary to many scholars who downplay such) in tracing the roots of Tyndale’s thinking. This, in turn, goes hand-in-hand with Werrell’s assertion, “The source of Tyndale’s theology is Scripture.” In his development, Werrell does not ignore the influence of early Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli, but he does question (perhaps too strongly) how much Tyndale depended on them. In support of his claims, Werrell rightly calls attention to Tyndale’s original Scriptural thinking and confidence to depart from anyone who, as far as he was concerned, departed from the truth of God’s Word. 
 
Speaking of Tyndale’s doctrine of Scripture, he upheld the authority of Scripture as God’s Word in the tradition of Wycliffe and in line with other Reformers. Unlike Wycliffe, he rejected the Apocrypha and unlike Luther he embraced James as part of the canon. While Tyndale never made an explicit statement concerning the doctrine of inspiration, it is safe to say that he regarded the books of Scripture (the 66 generally recognized at the time), simply as the Word of God. 
 
In what could be his clearest statement on how Tyndale viewed the Bible, he connects inspiration and illumination (without the terms) attesting that as the Scriptures “came by the Holy Ghost, so must they be expounded and understood by the Holy Ghost. . . The scriptures spring out of God, and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us to Christ.” Notice the redemptive-historical sensitivity of Tyndale as he would have readers approach the Bible in a Christocentric manner with all things pointing to and leading from Christ. “Thou must therefore go along by the scripture as by a line,” continues Tyndale, “until thou come at Christ, which is the way’s end and resting-place. If any man, therefore, use the scripture to draw thee from Christ, and to nosel [nurse] thee in anything save in Christ, the same is a false prophet” (The Obedience of a Christian Man, 1528).
 
Tyndale also affirmed the self-authentication of the Scripture as the authoritative Word, which does not depend on the church. In his Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531), he discusses More’s argument that just as a letter gets authority from its sender, “so hath the scripture her authority of the church.” Tyndale objects with a resounding, “Nay,” for, “the scripture hath her authority of him that sent it, . . . of God.” Speaking of Scriptural authority itself, Tyndale claims that it “only is true” and is the “trial of all doctrine” (Obedience). He placed his own writing under such scrutiny with the challenge, “Whosoever, therefore, readeth this, compare it unto the scripture. If God’s word bear record unto it, . . . give God thanks. If God’s word condemn it, then hold it accursed” (The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, 1527).
 
Speaking of the sufficiency of Scripture for all matters pertaining to salvation, Tyndale tells us, “Read God’s word diligently and with a good heart, and it shall teach thee all things.” (Prologue to Numbers, 1534).  In critiquing More’s views on the Lord’s Supper, Tyndale alleges that More “blasphemed Christ and his sufficient scriptures,” with his argument, “They wrote not all things necessary for our salvation, but left out things of necessity to be believed.” This says Tyndale, makes “God’s holy testament insufficient and imperfect; first revealed unto our fathers, written oft since by Moses, and then by his prophets, and at last written both by his holy evangelists and apostles too” (The Supper of the Lord, 1533).
 
Tyndale’s burden to translate the Bible into English accentuates his conviction on its clarity. Such work “unlocked and opened” for them “all the scripture” in a manner in which “lay and unlearned people . . . read the scripture, and understand and delight therein.” Tyndale then sarcastically notes, “our great pillars of holy church . . . bark, and say the scripture maketh heretics, and it is not possible for them to understand it in the English, because they themselves do not in Latin” (A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments, 1536). This echoes his earlier criticism of the church’s claim (in Tyndale’s words), “the scripture is so hard, that thou couldst never understand it but by the doctors” (Obedience). Regarding the tendency of the church to hide and distort the truth, Tyndale observes, “all, that can read English, shall see the truth of God’s word openly bear down their . . . lies” (Supper). Such false teachers, Tyndale argues, must be rebuked with “the clear and manifest scripture” (Obedience).
 
In connection with the clarity of Scripture, Tyndale opposed the church’s complex four-fold method of interpretation (a matter I treated at length in an earlier post on Tyndale’s exegesis) in favor of the literal sense of Scripture. The church goes astray, he argues, in that “they rend and tear the scriptures with their distinctions, and expound them violently, contrary to the meaning of the text, and to the circumstances that go before and after, and to a thousand clear and evident texts” (Mammon). Tyndale calls attention here to the importance of surrounding context for determining the meaning of the text, which is coupled to viewing the entire canon of Scripture as the passage’s broader context. Thus, Tyndale was an early proponent of a contextual and holistic reading of the harmonized Word and the concept that the Scripture interprets Scripture:
 
One scripture will help to declare another. And the circumstances, that is to say, the places that go before and after, will give light unto the middle text. And the open and manifest scriptures will ever improve the false and wrong exposition of the darker sentences (Obedience).
 
Without a doubt, Tyndale helped set the stage for the straightforward hermeneutical approach of William Perkins after him and beyond for 17th century Puritanism and its lucid doctrine of Scripture in the Westminster Confession (1646).
 
Previous Posts:
  1. Life in England
  2. Life in Exile
  3. His Translation Work
  4. His Writings

Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is program coordinator of the Puritan Studies Program in connection with the Jonathan Edwards Center Africa at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is also lecturer in Historical Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in Johannesburg, South Africa, and extraordinary senior lecturer at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. 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 the last article, I noted the love that some puritans expressed for John 17 and for verse 24 in particular. Verse 24 is special because it teaches that Jesus desires us. He wants us to be where he is. In the present article, I want to look at the reason Jesus wants us to be with him. Jesus says he desires our presence so that we might see his glory.
 
To see Christ’s glory is not merely to observe it as a bystander. To see means to share or participate. Peter speaks of being a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed (1 Pet. 5:1). When your child runs and wins a race, you watch him compete and receive his gold medal from the bleachers. You see your child’s glory, and rejoice in it, but you don’t share in it. You aren’t up there on the stage getting a gold medal too. Jesus doesn’t merely want you with him so that you can see his glory as a bystander. He wants you with him so that you can see his glory as a fellow participant. He wants you up on the stage with him. He wants you to be glorified with him (Rom. 8:17).
 
Sharing in Christ’s glory comes in stages. The New Testament speaks of experiencing glory now (2 Cor. 3:18), at death (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21) and then finally in its fullness at the second coming (1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 1:6; 3:20-21). Since Jesus talks of glory in reference to where he is, which is in resurrected glory, the primary reference is to the glory we will experience at his second coming. Presently, Jesus is the only one to have experienced the fullness of glory. He is the only one to have been raised from the dead and to have put on immortality and incorruption. But he doesn’t want to be alone. He wants us, his bride, to be with him in that perfected state. He wants us, including our bodies, to be raised from the dead so that we might be like him and reign with him (1 John 3:2).
 
Thomas Manton said that Christ’s “heart is not satisfied till we be in like condition with himself.” Similarly, the 19th century Scottish preacher R.M. M’Cheyne said that heaven would be no heaven to Jesus, if we were not there. We are his jewels, his crown, and his joy. Jesus would not be happy in glory if we were not there. When a loving husband and father is promoted and required to move across the globe to a beautiful country, and to live in a beautiful house, he is going to want his wife and children to move with him. Life in that new and beautiful place won’t be complete until they join him. Heaven is not heaven for Jesus until we are there with him.
 
Although Jesus is primarily referring to the glory of the second coming, what he says here equally applies to our death. Jesus wants us with him. Since to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, the moment of our death is, at least in part, an answer to Jesus’ prayer. This is why I think that Manton was on point when he rhetorically asked, “Can a dying man have a sweeter meditation than Christ’s words? ‘Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am.’”
 
Not all verses are equal. Some are sweeter than others. Deciding which one is the sweetest, however, is a fool’s errand. Nonetheless, John 17:24 is up there with the best of them because it reveals to us an amazing truth: Jesus wants us to be where he is so that we might share in his glory.
For many, theology has a dry and arid connotation. For others, theology is the necessary objective backdrop for understanding the teaching of the Bible as a whole. For Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706), theology was “the doctrine of living for God through Christ” (8). This reminds us that theology is ultimately about knowing the right God, in the right way, for the right reasons.
 
He treated this description as synonymous with “the doctrine according to godliness” mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:3, which provided the primary exegetical basis of his chapter. As noted in a previous post, this was a common definition of theology among Reformed authors, with Mastricht’s addition of moving Christ into the definition explicitly rather than by implication. In fact, the theoretical-practical nature of his definition had the advantage of being implicitly trinitarian in the writings of most Reformed authors. Theology was the doctrine of living well and blessedly. This good and blessed life comes only by living for God, which we can do through Christ alone as the only Mediator between God and men. Yet without the Spirit, we cannot have genuine faith, through which we lay hold of Christ. Mastricht’s definition of theology has the double advantage of helping us understand classic Reformed approaches to theology as well as promoting a devotionally trinitarian way of doing theology. After tracing his development of each part of his definition, I will draw some practical conclusions from it, showing its advantages for the church today.
 
If classifying theology as a science is insufficient to capture the biblical scope of theology, then defining theology as a discourse concerning God is inadequate for reaching the ends of theology. Mastricht argues that this is so because Scripture treats theology as the words of life, living for God, and forming a life in a person that is directed towards God (98). Theology is the doctrine of living for God through Christ.
 
First, he noted, we must understand that theology is doctrine. This does not mean that theology rejects or bypasses the so-called “philosophical habits” of intellect, science, wisdom, prudence, or art (100. I have retranslated “understanding” and “knowledge” here as “intellect” and “science”). Mastricht concluded, “Theology is not so bound to any of these habits that the rest are excluded, but rather it contains the perfection of them all par excellence, for which reason we prefer the broader term ‘doctrine’ so that all the habits can be included in it” (100). God alone can teach us theology, both by revelation and by illumination. Doctrine includes the content of what we believe and it requires the faith by which we believe it.
 
Second, the object of theology is living for God (101). This is because theology is the only discipline that shapes the whole life, both morally and spiritually. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit forms the principle of life in believers as well as “forms all of our actions as a whole” (101). Theology is the noblest discipline, with life as its object, which is the noblest object of all. God is the ultimate end of this life, “(1 Cor. 10:31; Phil. 1:21) without whom all life’s actions will fly off track” (101). This life begins through the new birth and union with Christ through saving faith, which produces all good works in our lives. These works aim at God’s glory and they are according to his commands (102). In this respect, Mastricht reminds us that life in God by grace now differs from life in glory “by degrees” only rather than in essence (1-2).
 
Third, theology is the doctrine of living for God “through Christ.” He noted that is the point at which our theology differs from that of our first parents before the fall. Mastricht argued that theology must be the doctrine of living for God through Christ because sinners can neither live for God nor know God apart from Christ as Mediator (102. Citing Gal. 2:20; Jn. 15:5; Eph. 1:6). We can be pleasing to God only in Christ, with whom the Father is well pleased. This is where the Spirit came explicitly into Mastricht’s treatment of true theology. Christ procured the Spirit by his merit and the Spirit, in turn, makes us alive and leads us to God. Christ communicates to us strength for living for God by his Word and Spirit (103). This means that the life that the Spirit works in us is literally forming the life of Christ in us: “he himself lives in us (Gal. 2:20) and takes possession of all our faculties in such a way that in all things, at all times, and everywhere, Christ’s humility, obedience, holiness, and righteousness flourish and shine forth, and that Christ’s life, in all these ways, is made manifest in us (2 Cor. 4:11)” (103). This shows that Mastricht’s definition of theology is a shorthand way of pushing dependence on all three persons of the Trinity in the study of theology and, for that matter, every area of life.
 
Defining theology as the doctrine of living for God through Christ has several advantages. First, this definition of theology balances revealed truth with experienced truth. It shows us that the purpose of theology is not knowing about God, but actually knowing God. This involves both understanding doctrine and experiencing its power, which Scripture clearly has in view as its primary aim. Second, this definition recognizes that conformity to God is the primary end of knowing God. It is not merely right doctrine, or even justification, that is the end of theological studies, but sanctification and glorification. Third, this definition of theology is trinitarian rather than generic. This makes theology distinctively and unambiguously Christian. The church today needs to recover a balance between all of these elements. In this case, older approaches to theology may end up resetting contemporary theology by steering it back in the right direction. Scripture is about knowing the right God, in the right way, for the right reasons. Mastricht helps us remeber this as we develop a system of sound doctrine.
 

Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is Morton H. Smith Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

His Writings
In our last post, we considered William Tyndale as a translator and will now look at some of his writings before examining his theology more closely next time. Much of his writing occurred in connection with his translation work in the form of book prologues. So, by the time of his death, he had written introductions to 25 New Testament books (all except Acts and Revelation) and 6 Old Testament books (the Pentateuch and Jonah). In general, these showed dependence on Luther’s own German prologues but not without differences. For example, in the next post, we will consider how Tyndale departed from Luther on the doctrine of justification.
 
Tyndale also published two commentaries, The Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John (1531) and The Sermon on the Mount: An Exposition of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew (1533), both of which confront the church who distorted the law of God in a manner similar to the scribes and Pharisees. On a more practical level, both commentaries stress that justification comes not by observing the law but only through faith in Christ. Yet, the “keeping of God’s commandments certifies that we be in the state of grace” (First Epistle of St. John) and remission of sin in Christ leads us to “love the law truly” as that restored “unto her right understanding” (Sermon on the Mount).
 
Of his other works, we will consider four in more detail below. Others not treated here are his Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531), discussed briefly in our second post; and The Supper of the Lord (1533) and A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments (1536), surveyed in our next post. Another work to mention in passing is The Testament of William Tracy Expounded (1535), a last will and testament of Tracy (d.1530) and Tyndale’s commentary on it. His interest here may seem odd at first, until we recognize that Tracy, an Augustine scholar and possibly a Wycliffite, personally knew Tyndale and had a considerable impact on his theology. Tracy “was a learned man,” notes Tyndale, and more familiar with “the works of St Austin twenty years before he died than ever I knew doctor in England.”
A Pathway into the Holy Scripture (1536, from 1526)
This guide to reading the Scripture prefaced the 1526 Tyndale New Testament giving us the first taste of his actual writing. This brief but important treatise was later reprinted separately as A Pathway into the Holy Scripture (1536). The guide provides the reader with key biblical terms and concepts as helps for understanding the Bible. Early on, it introduces the Old Testament “wherein is written the law of God,” which condemns us as imperfect. This condition drives us to Christ who was foreshadowed in the Old and revealed in the New Testament “wherein are contained the promises of God.” This Evangelion (a term originating with Tyndale) concerns the good tidings to those who believe and have forgiveness “in the blood” of Christ who makes “satisfaction” for their “unperfectness.” In what is arguably the key statement in the book, Tyndale alludes to his covenant theology and how it relates to our redemption: “By grace. . . we are plucked out of Adam” to be ingrafted “in Christ” through whom God eternally loved us as “his elect” and “openeth our hearts” by the Spirit to believe when the “gospel is preached.” As a result, “we know him as our Father most merciful” and now “consent to the law” though with “frailty” standing in need of “the blood of Christ,” which “made satisfaction for the rest” of our imperfections. “By faith are we saved only,” Tyndale later notes, though such “be never without love and good works.” In summary, Christ acts in two ways for us: as a “Redeemer” and “an example to counterfeit,” the latter of which simply and positively means to imitate.
The Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1528)
This book expands upon Luke 16:1–13, otherwise known as the parable of “the unjust steward.” It is less an exposition of the parable and more a treatise on justification, as seen in the conclusion, for which Tyndale gives the heading, “A Short Rehearsal Or Sum of this Present Treatise of Justification by Faith.” In the work, Tyndale teaches that faith in Christ justifies us apart from good works and, on account of such, God will “count us for full whole.” At first glance, this sounds like being accounted righteous through the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith. Instead, Tyndale sees Christ’s blood making “amends” for the imperfections of our hearts that now, through the work of the Spirit, “consent . . . unto the law.” Indeed, “Christ is our Redeemer” who makes “satisfaction to Godward for all the sin which they that repent (consenting to the law and believing the promises) do, have done, or shall do.” We in “fragility” may unintentionally “fall a thousand times in a day,” but, if we repent, there is “always mercy laid up for us” in Christ. Still, “if works follow not, yea, and that of love, . . . thou mayest be sure that thy faith is but a dream” and even a dead faith, as James says. In summary, Tyndale expresses a gracious though renovative form of justification through the cleansing power of Christ’s blood to make us whole. Keep in mind, his thinking occurs early on in the Reformation before a clear theology of forensic justification was set forth. We will take this matter up in more detail next time.
The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528)
In the subtitle of this work, Tyndale proposes to consider “Christian rulers” and how they “ought to govern” along with making clear the “crafty” manner in which all “jugglers” carry themselves. These refer to the cunning authorities of the Catholic church who abused power, distorted the Bible (e.g. by arguing the necessity of philosophy “ere [one] can understand the scripture”), and manipulated people in the process. The church held people in bondage to the church and its works-based scheme of salvation. Tyndale’s exposure of such ecclesiastical oppression (e.g. the “pope’s false power”) did not suggest anarchy as a solution, for these were the very means used by the church. Instead, he advocates the proper obedience of a Christian to rightful authorities (as well as teaching “how” authorities “should rule”) and all according to the Scriptures. Such obligations extend to all areas of life under authority: Children unto their “elders,” wives unto their husbands, “servants” unto their “masters,” and subjects unto the civil magistrate. Even when the Christian suffers at the hands of unjust authority (e.g. the pope), the “peaceable doctrine of Christ” teaches us to leave vengeance to the Lord. Tyndale begins with an encouragement to read the Bible (in English) even though at the time it was at the “pain of life and goods.” He also declares that we can be “sure that the pope’s doctrine is not of God” with its focus on a worldly authority. Such evokes an ungodly fear among the people who then render impurely-motivated obedience. God’s Word resists such hypocrisy. Indeed, “if God be on our side,” it matters not “who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes, or whatsoever names they will” and blessed are those who suffer (and they must) in the Lord’s strength and for the sake of his kingdom. In connection with the false doctrine Tyndale discerns, he assaults the seven sacraments of Rome (and the false doctrine of “purgatory-pick-purse” along with them) leaving only baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are effective only by “faith in the promise” signified. Likewise, he rejects the blind “sophistry” of the four-fold method of exegesis while advocating the “one . . . literal sense.” This approach, in a very relevant manner, encompasses the various genres of the Scripture sought out “diligently” and understood figuratively (e.g. proverbs, similtudes, riddles, and allegories).
The Practice of Prelates (1530)
This attack on Roman Catholic “prelates,” or clergy with authority over others, sees the hierarchical polity of the Catholic church arising from a greedy ambition for power. Out of such, arose the papacy, in the tradition of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. At length, Tyndale unfolds what he sees as the corrupt papacy from its emergence to current times, and in connection with tainted monarchies such as that of Charlemagne, who “knew no other god but the pope,” Tyndale alleges. Within the papal hierarchical system in Tyndale’s time, he implicates the contemporary church in England under the influence of Cardinal “Wolfsee” Wolsey of York. Scripturally, Tyndale viewed Christ as the head of the church with preachers serving as “vicars” in his bodily-absence and for the furtherance of an other-worldly kingdom. Thus, Tyndale decries the worldly tendencies of prelates to “leave God’s word, and minister temporal offices” and at times in a most cruel and heavy-handed manner. In this way, he regarded the pope as a “wolf in a lamb’s skin” who calls himself “Servus servorum, the servant of all servants, and is yet found Tyrannus tyrannorum, of all tyrants the most cruel.” As his book subtitle, “Whether the king’s grace may be separated from his queen,” indicates, Tyndale eventually takes up the matter of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and dismantles the superficial biblical arguments devised by the English prelacy. In the process, he manifests a sophisticated yet sound hermeneutical approach with a three-fold understanding of the Old Testament law and how it applies today. Clearly, Tyndale sees no legitimate grounds for the divorce, and at the same time, he takes care not to out-rightly condemn it.
 
In summary, Tyndale was an intellectual and insightful writer whose writings were profoundly connected to his social, political, and ecclesiastical contexts. Yet, what emerges most prominently in his writing is a servant of Christ writing in the interests of his kingdom. As Tyndale attests of his translation work in his original New Testament preface, “I submit this book, and all other that I have either made or translated, or shall in time to come, (if it be God’s will that I shall further labour in his harvest,) unto all them that submit themselves unto the word of God, to be corrected of them.” Indeed, this could be said of all his writings. David Teems in, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God and English Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2012), rightly sums up Tyndale as a writer, “He was an exceptional writer—gifted, instinctual, intuitively spare. He was a bit of an anarchist (as the best writers often are). But his genius was useful to him only as it served a greater purpose, which for Tyndale was always spiritual.”
 
Previous Posts:

1. Life in England

2. Life in Exile

3. His Translation Work


Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is program coordinator of the Puritan Studies Program in connection with the Jonathan Edwards Center Africa at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is also lecturer in Historical Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in Johannesburg, South Africa, and extraordinary senior lecturer at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. 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.