John 17 sits alongside the other great chapters of the Bible such as Romans 8 and Psalm 23. Many people have sung its praises, including the puritans. Stephen Charnock wrote, “If any part of Scripture be magnified above another, this (John 17) seems to claim the pre-eminence.” A.W. Pink said that when John Knox was on his deathbed, he had this chapter read to him every day, and that Knox testified that it gave him great comfort and strength.
John 17 is a special chapter indeed. Of all the verses in this great chapter, verse 24 rises to the top. Thomas Manton wrote, “Every verse is sweet, but this should not be read without some ravishment and leaping of heart.” He also noted that another person has said that he wouldn’t want this verse left out of the Bible for all the world. What makes this verse so special? I will attempt to answer that question in this article and in the next one.
Jesus prays, “I desire…(ESV)” or in the words of the KJV, “I will…” Some puritans argued that Jesus is not asking for something, but declaring what he will do. Manton isn’t completely convinced of this view and acknowledges that the word might “bear a softer sense” in this verse because the same word is used to convey a desire or request in other passages (Mark 6:26; 12:38). On this understanding “it doth not express [Jesus’] authority so much as the full bent of his heart.” This is the proper interpretation. Jesus is sharing his heart’s desire with his Father in prayer. He is asking the Father to give him what he wants or desires. And what does Jesus want? Us. Verse 24 says that Jesus wants us, the people the Father has given to him, to be where he is. Jesus desires us.
John Piper’s most well-known book is probably Desiring God. In that book, Piper discussed how Christians long for God himself and how the “soul’s final feast” is “to see him and know him and be in his presence.” David exemplified this desire in Psalm 27. The one thing he asked for and the one thing that he sought was to dwell in the house of the Lord and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord all the days of his life. Our desire for God, however, is not unrequited. God desires us. Jesus asks and seeks for us. Indeed, he sought us before we sought him. If I were to write a book on John 17:24, I could call it “Desiring Us.”
Actually, I could write a book on the whole Bible called, “Desiring Us,” because the Lord’s desire for us is a thread that runs throughout Scripture. God saves us so that we might have fellowship with him (1 John 1:1-3). The heart of every biblical covenant is this: I will be your God and you shall be my people. When God redeemed his people out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, he had them make a tent for him and place it in the middle of the camp. By this action, God was saying that he would dwell with his people and go wherever they go, even when they go into the wilderness. Alec Motyer put it this way: “…the Lord in effect said: If you are camping, I want to camp too!”
God calls us, his people, the apple of his eye (Deut. 32:10), his treasure (Ex. 19:5), his portion (Deut. 32:9), and his bride (Rev. 21:9). Those are all terms of endearment. They express God’s love for us and his desire to be with us. Revelation 21:3 declares: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Jesus desires us. Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings, wants you to be with him. That is what John 17:24 teaches us and that is why it should not be read “without some ravishment and leaping of heart.”
Article 36 is the concluding article on church discipline. It concerns the public form for the ordination of ministers and the setting apart (consecration) of some presbyters to act as “overseers” or bishops.
XXXVI—Of the Consecration of Bishops and Ministers

The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated and ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.
Article 36 is a 1563 revision of Cranmer’s 1553 original which reflects the objections to the validity of Anglican orders by the Council of Trent. The 1553 original underlines Cranmer’s continued reliance on sola scriptura: the orders’ beauty of expression and godliness in character are due to their faithfulness to “the wholesome doctrine of the Gospel.” The 1563 revision affirms that both Ordinals authorized in the time of Edward the Sixth contain "all things necessary" for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons. Moreover, it asserts that those ordained according to those rites “be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.”
Article 36 must also be understood in light of article 23, "Of Ministering in the Congregation." As you may recall, article 23 underlines how those who assume the office of preaching the pure Word of God and of administering the sacraments according to Christ’s ordinance but be “lawfully called and sent to execute the same.” There must be a process of discernment so that the inward call by Christ as the Head of the Church is confirmed by those who constitute “men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send ministers.” The laying on of hands with prayer is central to this public confirmation. Because the public form for the ordination and consecration of ministers was published the year after (1550) the first of Cranmer’s Prayer Books (1549), article 36 affirms the validity of the ordination services in the Ordinal.
It is the Ordinal’s second edition which concerns us here. It was published as part of the new Prayer Book in 1552. And because of its fidelity to the “wholesome doctrine of the Gospel” sacerdotal customs that had arisen during the Middle Ages were removed, such as giving the Priest the Bible in one hand and the chalice or cup with the bread in the other. The differing vestments worn were now standardized to underline the common plurality of ministers and the balance of Word and sacrament. The form of consecrating a bishop or archbishop was simplified and any distinguishing vestments eliminated to underline their role as simply prima inter pares (first among equals). The exhortations and the questions put to the candidates in services make it clear that the hallmark of ministers is primarily to teach and to preach, and then logically to apply the gospel in the administration of the sacraments. 

The services remained unchanged until 1662 when certain verbal modifications were made and the words of ordination were expanded. The age of Deacons was raised from twenty-one to twenty-three. Deacons were also restricted to baptizing only “in the absence of the Priest.” New lessons and collects were added. The one significant change from 1552 reflects the prejudice of the Restoration bishops who also drafted the infamous 1662 Act of Uniformity. The 1662 Ordinal add directions for a bishop’s distinguishing vestment. 
But what arises in a direction does not obscure the theology of the Ordinal as the words of ordination itself give more evidence that Anglican ministry is a plurality of elders. The rubrics for the ordination of presbyter and the consecration of a bishop both have first-person plural pronouns. It is assumed the college of presbyters will gather for the laying on of hands. The words of ordination are even identical. 
  • The bishop and presbyters gather to lay hands upon the one to receive ordination: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands."
  • Archbishop and bishops gather in the same way to lay hands upon the one set apart as overseer: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands."
One could well ask why, in light of what the office of bishop has become in these days, is there more emphasis on parity rather than a difference in the historical formularies? The answer is in how our Anglican forebearers, having endured, exile, imprisonment, and even martyrdom in the Reformation era, understood the consequence of Christ’s redemption applied to his ministers in a way that escapes us today. In other words, the loss of Christ’s redemption by God’s grace alone through faith alone will lead to an enhanced sacerdotal ministry where human effort and status reasserts itself. When we grasp the fullness of the gospel equality before the cross, ministers realize that we are unworthy servants of God’s Word under the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head. A distinction is not hierarchy under Christ.
Recent revisions of the Ordinal in the Anglican Church of North America have tended to re-introduce ceremonies and variations of vesture in line with the doctrinal errors that obscure the clarity of the Gospel. Such changes go hand-in-hand with the modifications to the Communion services in the 2019 ACNA Prayer book, giving expression to a theology of Eucharistic sacrifice and a sacerdotal priesthood. Is it no wonder then, that the articles would be qualified to such as an extent in the ACNA as to make them useless in any real sense? Rather, it is article 36 that asserts the reformed Ordinal of 1552 that contains all things necessary for a biblically faithful ordering of presbyters and deacons, and the consecration of archbishops and bishops.

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.

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

I fully understand the criticisms of the popular saying “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Words are essential (Rom. 10:14-17; Acts 8:26-40).  Nevertheless, this saying does point to an important truth:
  • Yes, pastors need to preach the word of God boldly and faithfully.
  • Yes, missionaries need to be sent to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel.
  • Yes, it is appropriate to engage in all sorts of evangelistic activities that involve sharing the gospel.
But alongside of and in support of these things is the way we live, including and perhaps most especially, the way we live together. How we express and maintain the unity we have in Christ is a key component to our evangelism. Thomas Manton made this point in his sermons on John 17.
Upon observing that Jesus prayed that we may all be one so that the world may believe that the Father sent him (John 17:21), Manton said that the children of God ought to “express such fruits of their union with Christ that they may convince the world.” The fruits of union that he had in mind are:
  1. Love and mutual serviceableness to one another’s good.
  2. Holiness and strictness of life and conversation.
  3. A disdain for the baits of the world.
  4. A cheerfulness and comfortableness in the midst of troubles and deep wants.
  5. Faithfulness in the duties of your relations.
  6. A constancy in the profession of faith.
God uses our holy lives as individuals and as a church to convince the world by way of support and confirmation of the truth of the gospel. College basketball coaches may passionately and confidently preach to recruits that their program is the best one to prepare them for a chance to play in the NBA. But if no one from their program actually makes it to the NBA, then their message will fall on deaf ears. The message is either corroborated or undermined by reality. Likewise, the gospel message that Jesus has come to save sinners from their sins is either corroborated or undermined by Christians and the church. We either convince the world by our love for one another or we “breed atheism in the world” by our divisions in the church.
Manton says that God appeals to us who are union with Christ “for the truth and reality of his grace.” Christians, he says, are Christ’s epistle and that every Christian is to be a “walking Bible.” We are living proof of the reality of the gospel message. “In the scripture there is Christ’s mind in words; in a Christian there is Christ’s mind in deeds in his conversation.”
It is particularly important that we walk together in a manner worthy of the gospel because the world won’t be studying the Bible at home or getting up early on Sunday morning to attend church. They won’t read the Bible but they will read you and the church. If you are a “walking Bible” then they may “be convinced and preparatively induced by your lives.” But if not, then we provide “a dangerous temptation to atheism.” Bruce Milne put it this way in his commentary on John, “The biggest barriers to effective evangelism according to the prayer of Jesus are not so much outdated methods, or inadequate presentations of the gospel, as realities like gossip, insensitivity, negative criticism, jealousy, backbiting, an unforgiving spirit, a ‘root of bitterness’, failure to appreciate others, self-preoccupation, greed, selfishness and every other form of lovelessness.”
In his farewell prayer, Jesus prayed that we might all be one so that the world may believe that he is the Christ. The one thing that Paul wanted to hear about the Philippians was that they were standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Our unity is an essential component to our evangelism.
The church is to be a “walking Bible.”  

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I recently discovered a book on how not to lose your faith in seminary. As I read the book description, I simultaneously understood the reality of the temptation that the authors aimed at and I was thankful that the institution in which I teach self-consciously militates against such tendencies. It is possible to study theology and learn about the God of Scripture while growing distant from him while doing so, and even by doing so. The purpose of theology is the true knowledge of the true God. The good of our neighbors is one of its primary results. If we lose sight of this purpose, then studying Greek and Hebrew, church history, systematic theology, preaching, and other subjects related to the ministry can become abstract ways of holding the triune God at a distance rather than Spirit blessed means of knowing him more fully.

Defining Theology

How we define theology plays a large role in determining how we pursue the study of theology. While post-Enlightenment Reformed theology tended to define theology as a discourse concerning God and systematic theology as the science of God, classic Reformed authors generally defined theology as the doctrine of living to God and the system of doctrine as spiritual wisdom. Following in the train of Peter Ramus, William Perkins, William Ames, and many others, Peter van Mastricht defined theology as “the doctrine of living for God through Christ.” This had enormous implications for how he approached the task of theology. It potentially has equally enormous implications for how we pursue theology and whether or not the academic pursuit of theology draws us near to the triune God or drives us far from him. After noting how Mastricht defined theology, the bulk of this post will focus on how his theoretical and practical definition of theology shaped the academic pursuit of theology and what we can learn from this model today. A subsequent post will examine his definition of theology in more detail.

How we define theology has vital implications for how we study and teach theology. If our definition of theology is merely scientific and dry, then our pursuit and propagation of theology will likely be scientific and dry. Conversely, if our definition of theology includes the true knowledge of the true God, then even when we study academic and even dry theological works, then we knowing the right God in the right way will never be far away. As noted above, Mastricht defined theology as “the doctrine of living for God through Christ” (64). He noted that theology must be both theoretical and practical. He argued this point primarily from 1 Timothy 6:2-3, which indicates that God’s truth accords with godliness (66). Herman Bavinck would later echo Mastricht, who wrote, “Just as practice without theory is nothing, so theory without practice is empty and vain” (70). Theology is doctrine in that it involves teaching. However, it is the doctrine of living to God because this is the goal and meaning of life for human beings. These assertions reflect the idea that the Bible never speaks about the knowledge of God in abstraction. Eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (Jn. 17:3). There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Without faith in Christ, it is impossible to know the right God in the right way. For that matter, without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). If theology has any biblical meaning, then it must involve coming to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18). While these are my texts rather than Mastricht’s, they illustrate the value of his definition of theology. If theology is the doctrine of living for God through Christ, then should we not study theology, whether in church, in the seminary, or at home, aiming to live to the Triune God through what he teaches us about himself in his Word?

Why it Matters

What implications should the theoretical-practical character of theology have for the academic study of theology? Mastricht listed eleven (94-95). These points can help us understand the implications of classic Reformed definitions of theology more fully. He recommended the following:

  1. First, we should “presuppose the excellence, usefulness, necessity, sanctity, grandeur, and even the difficulty of theology.”
  2. Second, students must have a teachable, hard working, and pious character in order to study theology. John Owen, whose prolegomena Mastricht earlier cited (74), went so far as to say that students who had correct theological opinions yet were not born of the Spirit and united to Christ were Christian philosophers rather than true theologians.
  3. Third, theological students must aim in their studies at the glory of God, the good of the church, and their own salvation.
  4. Fourth, an “introductory curriculum” should include philology (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin), philosophy (logic, physics, metaphysics, mathematics, and “practical philosophy”), and history (including geography and chronology).
  5. Fifth, biblical studies follow, which should included theoretical and practical conclusions drawn from Scripture.
  6. Sixth, dogmatic or positive theology comes next, which introduces catechetical teaching and the system of theology taught in Scripture.
  7. Seventh, elenctic or polemical theology follows, by which we learn to refute errors.
  8. Eighth, practical theology flows out of the preceding, which includes moral, ascetic, casuistic, and political (church government) theology.
  9. Ninth, “antiquarian theology,” or the study of ecclesiastical history is helpful.
  10. Tenth, the process of continual hearing, reading, meditation, prayer, and disputation solidify and develop our skills as theologians.
  11. Eleventh, all of these studies should progress in an orderly manner over the years. He then recommends following a course of studies according to the standard counsel of authors such as Erasmus, Hyperius, Crocius, Alsted, “and the one to be considered above all, Voetius.”

Can students lose their faith while studying theology in theological seminaries? Can they transform reflections on the majesty of God for the purpose of serving the church, using every tool at their disposal to do so, into parsing words and memorizing vocabulary in order to pass tests? Of course they (we) can. Yet defining theology as the theoretical-practical doctrine of living to God through Christ makes it wholly our fault when this happens. Like studying theology in any context, the purpose of the academic study of theology is to know God and to make him known. Is it possible that defining theology in this theoretical-practical way might transform theological education today? It would at least remind both teachers and students of who they are and why they are doing what they are doing.


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

Congratulations to the two winners of Petrus Van Mastricht's Theoretical-Practical Theology Vol. 1: Michael M. from Spartanburg, South Carolina and Angela M. from Lakeside, California!
Enjoy Petrus Van Mastricht's Prolegomena! A big thank you to you both and all social media followers for reading Meet the Puritans!

Article 35 on the subject of "the Homilies" is unique among the reformed churches of Europe. We who live with the reprints of many seventeenth and eighteenth-century sermons preached by reformed pastors, it does not seem strange that doctrines should be set out in a sermon series. But there was no precedent for it at the time from either Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. Anglicans were the first (you're welcome!).
XXXV — Of the Homilies

The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies
1. Of the right Use of the Church. 
2. Against peril of Idolatry.
 3. Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
 4. Of good Works: first of Fasting. 
5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
 6. Against Excess of Apparel. 
7. Of Prayer.
 8. Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
 9. That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue.
 10. Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word.
 11. Of Alms-doing.
 12. Of the Nativity of Christ. 
13. Of the Passion of Christ.
 14. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
 15. Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
 16. Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
 17. For the Rogation-days.
 18. Of the State of Matrimony.
 19. Of Repentance.
 20. Against Idleness.
 21. Against Rebellion.
Article 35 is a 1571 update of Cranmer’s 1553 original that reflects the changes of the time. There was now a second series of Homilies to extend the teaching of the first series which was originally published in 1547. The first series (or book) of Homilies as a gospel instrument were a stroke of genius by Thomas Cranmer who as a man from the Midlands understood that there were both advantages and disadvantages in a country where one city, London, was both the financial and administrative capital with the two universities about nine hours ride or two days ride away from London. All the nation’s wealth and learning were loaded into the southeast of the country leaving a variegated religious landscape for most of England with the northern border still a disputed buffer zone with Scotland. It was faster to sail to the Continent than to go overland to Cranmer's hometown in Nottinghamshire. There were pockets of Reformation but gathered at market towns and ports with more access to Europe. But there were large regions languishing in a spiritual and social vacuum in the wake of the dissolution of the religious houses that provided most of what we might call today the social services and education. The new Tudor landlords that had assumed authority for a region of former monasteries may or may not be concerned with the souls of their people. There were new bishops and reorganized dioceses. In short, it was a pastoral challenge that would take more than 75 years to stabilize. One could even suggest it has never really been resolved. Cranmer had seen first-hand when living on the Continent the effectiveness of preaching from the pure Word of God and was convinced of its power. But in the shires of England, most of the clergy were local men who were literate but with no training in preaching. They did not have ready resources in books they owned or in the squire’s personal library. The many pastoral duties across a geographical area on a scale which would make a modern minister falter, also left them little time for preparation. 
Cranmer had experienced the same challenge on a smaller scale in the diocese of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII. His first experiment in a homiletical series was tested then. His solution was simple: give the minister a series of pre-written sermons to regularize the proclamation of the gospel and its application in the life of the Christian. Some of the sermons (or homilies as they were called at that time) were longer but could be divided up into sections for a sermon series. Ministers upon consultation with their local diocesan bishop, would either preach in conformance with the homilies or read them to their congregations. 
The homilies were meant to work alongside the various conventicles or “sermon workshops” we might say today. Conventicles were called within groups of parishes (deaneries) where local clergy would gather to preach and discuss their sermons under the mentoring of a more learned pastor authorized by their bishop to oversee their training. Although the conventicles became a political football with the Crown, the workshops were never completely eradicated. Bishops or local supporting gentry with a concern for the gospel would quietly support their work, particularly in areas where London was a very long way away. One need only point to the theologically rich sermons produced just a generation later as evidence and the hunger for good preaching in the shires that led to the establishment of a new locally funded institution of the lecturer. The lectureships were dedicated to preaching outside the established Sunday pattern. 
The first book of Homilies was written by a number of reformed churchmen, some are known to us. They can be divided into six doctrinal sermons and six sermons on the application of the doctrine in the life of the Christian. According to Gerald Bray's, A Fruitful Exhortation, we know who wrote all six of the doctrinal homilies, but only one of the application sermons (p. 5). The rest are anonymous. Cranmer probably wrote the sermon on Scripture and the trilogy on salvation (The Nature of Salvation, Faith, and the Relation between Faith and Good Works). The second book is much longer, about three times the length of the first edited by John Jewel. When first organized in 1563 there were twenty sermons, divided again into parts to form a series. Another was added in 1571 and in later editions two of the earlier sermons were divided, making one on Christ’s Passion for Good Friday and another on Rogation. Two of the sermons are adaptations of other reformed theologians. Idolatry is an adaptation of a Heinrich Bullinger work from 1539 with Gluttony and Drunkenness an adaptation of Peter Martyr Vermigli’s from 1571. The Homilies were thought of as two separate books, not being printed together until 1623. There is an entire cycle in the second book that covers the gospel days of the Christian year in Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, teaching a congregation their meaning and significance to the believer.
It is important to remember that the Homilies precede that of the Articles (which is why article 11 on justification references Cranmer’s homily on salvation by a different name) in their composition. They were written by reformed men like Cranmer, Edmund Grindal, and John Jewel or edited by them to express our common reformed heritage that they also brought to the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. A wise Anglican will read the homilies, the articles, and the other formularies as a unit where points of explanation and summary are joined to the application.  
Although we have new resources for the homilies in Gerald Brays’ popular A Fruitful Exhortation and Critical Edition, we are still waiting for a modernization of the text for use in small groups and adult Sunday School classes. Perhaps a patron and publisher will gather the necessary expertise to give us one. There are many idiosyncratic modernizations of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, for example, but what is sorely needed are quality modernizations of the formularies to the highest standard much along the lines of the work done by a translation committee that gave us the English Standard Version. With the modernization in place, a long-forgotten resource would find new use and value in an era where Christ-Centered preaching is little known among North American Anglicans.

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

For previous articles in this series, see here.

I have been warmly commending, Peter van Mastricht’s Theoretico-Practica Theologia for a decade. However, students have wondered whether my promises that someone was translating it into English were empty. Now that these promises are finally coming to fruition with the publication of this first volume, as one pastor asked me, “Why should I buy and read another systematic theology?”
One answer is to appeal to the glowing endorsement of the book from Jonathan Edwards, which is included on the back cover. Comparing Mastricht with Turretin, he noted, “they are both excellent.” Yet he added that Turretin was fuller on controversial points while Mastricht was better on the whole as a “universal system of divinity.” This led him to say that, as a whole, this book “is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting only the Bible.”
While a commendation from such a great luminary like Edwards will be enough to sell the set to many, others need more incentive. Below are four reasons why pastors should both buy Mastricht and not let him collect dust on their shelves. I will conclude with some suggestions on how to use this work in the ministry.
1. Mastricht wrote his theology for preachers
While modern pastors and students likely will not (and should not) adopt Mastricht’s exact method of preaching, they should learn from his goals. Today, it is common for men either to be academic theologians or to labor for the church without seeing any relevance of academic theology to the ministry of the local church. In the period known as Reformed orthodoxy, many ministers wedded a precise academic theology with the devotional needs of local congregations. The skill of translating content back and forth between these realms has become rare. Mastricht wrote his theology with scholastic precision without losing sight of the ministry and piety. This process should be a vital component of training pastors in every age.
2. Mastricht’s system was comprehensive
Mastricht wove exegesis, systematic theology, elenctic theology, and practical theology into a single system. He had something approaching the precision of Turretin and the devotion of Brakel. However, he neither reached the same level of precision as Turretin nor the same depth of devotion as Brakel. Yet few authors do everything that Mastricht does in a single volume. Turretin’s elenctic theology is fuller than Mastricht’s, but Mastricht includes it. Brakel’s pastor counsel is more robust than Mastricht’s, but he does not neglect it. At the same time, Mastricht’s exegetical and positive treatments of theology outstrip both of these other authors. While many classic Reformed authors included aspects of each of Mastricht’s four divisions in their theological systems, he is the only one that this author knows of that divided each chapter of his theology into these categories. This makes his work more comprehensive than most.
3. Mastricht’s theology was exegetical
Some readers enjoy the devotion of Brakel’s Christian’s Reasonable Service only to be disappointed with the quality of his biblical exegesis at points. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. While Mastricht’s devotional sections are not as searching or extensive as Brakel’s, his engagement with Scripture is often more satisfying. A good example is his treatment of the covenant of grace from Genesis 3:15. He drew out the idea that in the text there is a singular Seed of the woman and a corporate seed of the woman, both of which stand in opposition to the Serpent (singular) and his seed (plural). He thus established the union between Christ and his people in the application of the covenant of grace and showed the contrast and conflict between the church and the world. The basic ideas of his treatment of the covenant of grace as a whole were embedded in his exposition of this text. This pattern is true in virtually every chapter of his work. This feature not only makes modern readers grapple with and remember key passages of Scripture related to each doctrine. It gives us a window into understanding early-modern approaches to interpreting Scripture more fully. This is important because it represents a model of biblical interpretation that was unafraid of drawing theological conclusions and applications from Scripture, which can provide a refreshing challenge and compliment to modern biblical interpretation.
4. Mastricht’s theological system promotes devotion to the triune God
People do not frequently associate scholasticism with piety. Yet Reformed scholastic theological, such as this one, wove communion with God directly into their definitions and practice of theology. While earlier authors such as Junius, Polanus, and Wollebius addressed the godly character of the theologian in tandem with the nature of true theology, theologians of the Dutch Second Reformation often developed the practical implications of theology more fully. This is most obvious in one of Mastricht’s teachers, Johannes Hoornbeeck, who wrote a theological system dedicated exclusively to bringing out the practical implications of each doctrine. Mastricht falls solidly into this tradition. He frequently organized his praxis sections around the four uses of Scripture listed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He defined theology as the doctrine of living to God through Christ (per Christum). This makes it clear that the aim of theology was to know the right God in the right way, which is through Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. The Spirit makes this possible by using divinely ordained means to bring us to Christ and to make us like him.
The trinitarian devotion implied in his definition of theology carries through the entire work. Mastricht devoted a distinct chapter to each divine person as well as one to the doctrine of the Trinity more broadly. He also self-consciously wove the glory of the triune God into every locus of theology. While such trinitarian reflection and devotion was rare in English literature during the seventeenth-century, the Dutch concern over the Arminianism marginalization of the Trinity, who denied that the Trinity was a fundamental article of the faith, promoted a more robust use of the doctrine. Although academic theologians are giving increasing attention to the Trinity, these reflections rarely reach the average pastor, let alone Christians more broadly. This makes Mastricht’s way of doing theology is both timely and refreshing.
Most Latin Reformed theology will never be translated into English, but van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology certainly deserves to be. After buying Mastricht, how do you prevent it from collecting dust on your shelves? The best way is to plan how you will use it and when. This could involve breaking the work into segments that you can read one week at a time until you finish it. Some have done this with works, such as Bavinck, and have included friends to make it more profitable. You can also read sections based on what you are doing. For example, pastors administer the sacraments regularly. Pick up Mastricht on this subject next time you prepare for a baptism or for the Lord’s Supper (once this volume is translated). Or, read Mastricht on the Trinity while you are preaching through John’s gospel or on the attributes of God while preaching through the OT. Doing so prayerfully and regularly can only enrich and deepen your ministry. However you choose to read Mastricht, read him to grow in your affection for the Triune God and his Word. Let us show our gratitude to God who is providentially making this great work available to us in English by taking advantage of it in our studies.

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


A number of years ago, a young man who had been trained at a Reformed seminary that subscribes to the Westminster Standards was being examined for licensure on the floor of Presbytery. He was asked, "Is the covenant of grace conditional? If so, what is or are the conditions?" Without hesitation, the young man confidently said that it was unconditional. There were no conditions on our part in the covenant of grace. If I remember correctly, the young man also referenced Thomas Boston and the Marrow Men. The problem, however, was that the young man’s response was in direct violation of the teaching of the Westminster Standards! Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 says that the Lord requires man to have faith in order to be saved. Similarly, Westminster Larger Catechism 32 says that faith is required as “the condition to interest them [sinners] in him [the Mediator].”
This anecdote highlights the importance of Whitney G. Gamble’s book, Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly,” which has been recently published by Reformation Heritage Books. In the final paragraph of her book, she wrote,
Antinomianism as a religious sect only grew after 1650; among other things, it embodied an extremely influential approach to interpreting Scripture that continues to be seen and heard in sermons and commentaries today (157).
I believe she is absolutely correct. English Antinomian teachings, to one degree or another, have influenced and continue to influence the Reformed world to the point that we espouse similar doctrines in contradiction to the Westminster Standards (as was the case in the opening story) or even to the point that we interpret the Westminster Standards in light of them. There is a good deal of irony in this since Gamble shows in her book, as Ryan McGraw pointed out in his recent review of it, that the Westminster divines as a whole were deeply concerned about Antinomian teachings, and wrote their documents in light of them. In particular, the “specter of antinomianism created in the divines an urgency to explain clearly and carefully the doctrine of justification, the place of faith and works in salvation, the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and the role of Christ’s work in redemption” (84).
The role of faith in salvation, which is connected to covenant conditions, is an example of the influence of Antinomian teaching in the Reformed world. The Antinomians believed that faith was not a condition for justification at all, not even an instrumental condition. If faith was necessary in any sense for or unto justification then it would be a legalistic work (143). Faith, therefore, followed justification and declared to the believer’s conscience that one is justified in Christ (51). The divines “were keen to combat” this view of faith in justification (109). And yet, it is one that we find in Reformed circles, including in such stalwarts as Herman Bavinck and Louis Berkhof.
In order to protect the gospel from nomism, Bavinck argued that faith is “not an instrument…by which a person accepts Christ but is a sure knowledge and firm confidence that the Holy Spirit works in one’s heart and by which he [the Spirit] persuades and assures people that, despite all their sins they share in Christ and all his benefits (RD, 4:222).”  This is a classic English Antinomian position that was rejected by the Westminster Assembly. But that didn’t keep Bavinck from citing chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith to support his view! Contrary to Bavinck, WCF 14.2 says “the principal acts of saving faith are accepting...Christ alone for justification,” and WLC 73 says, “Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ...” Berkhof, who tends to follow Bavinck, essentially says the same thing (see this post). Since Bavinck and Berkhof are rightly held in high esteem, their influence will be great and will no doubt extend to their errors on justification.
This brings us back to the usefulness of Gamble’s book. Her book will help you understand the antinomian context in which the Westminster Standards were written. This in turn will help you properly interpret the Standards as well as to discern contemporary views that are contrary to them.
Article 34 on the traditions of the church is another excellent example of the application of sola scriptura among the formularies of the English Reformation. It addresses the issue of the uniformity of ceremonies in the church through what has already been established in article 6 on the final authority of Scripture, of the nature of local church in article 19 where the “pure Word of God is preached” with the sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance, and article 20 which establishes the limit of its authority to conformity with the Scripture.
XXXIV — Of the Traditions of the Church

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. 
Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
This article has a longer history than most of the Thirty-nine articles. Its life begins at the center of the Reformation of Europe. The first paragraph is drawn from Cranmer’s notes on the Augsburg Confession as well as the Thirteen Articles, article 5 on the nature of the church. Cranmer wrote the Thirteen Articles in 1538. They were discovered among his papers in the early nineteenth century. Written when Cranmer was still Archbishop under Henry VIII, it demonstrates how he already set the reformation in England as part of the wider Protestant Reformation. So, it is no surprise that Cranmer’s article 5 has language similar to article 7 of the Augsburg Confession
The church is the assembly of the saints in which the gospel is taught purely, and the sacraments are administered rightly. And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says [Eph. 4.5-6]: "One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…" [The Augsburg Confession Latin Text Article 7 p. 43].
Notice also the similarities with article 19 on the nature of the church. The worship is to state clearly and in detail, leave no room for doubt, that it is the gospel of Christ alone that is proclaimed. We bring nothing in sacrifice, save our souls and bodies in a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. 
Our Anglican forebears always recognized a Christian tradition, but only a tradition that is based upon or derived from Scripture, and not one that equaled or surpassed it. The reason is simple, the goal of Scripture is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator. Traditions, rites, and ceremonies must therefore be measured according to Scripture's purpose and aim. The need for such a measure is equally simple — the continuing presence of sin in the believer that required God’s grace to reveal himself to us. Christianity is a revealed religion. It is dependent upon God’s Word so that we may worship him with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12.28-29).
Cranmer knew how easily tradition might be corrupted by human sinfulness in human-made additions. The lesson of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32:4, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”) was not to deny the Lord God, but to represent him according to a fallen human understanding. Reformation according to the Word of God must necessarily strip away human conceit. As Cranmer reminds us in his 1548 work, "Of Ceremonies, Why Some are Abolished, and Some Retained" still found in our 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
This our excessive multitude of Ceremonies was so great, and many of them so dark, that they did more confound and darken, than declare and set forth Christ's benefits unto us. …Furthermore, the most weighty cause of the abolishment of certain Ceremonies was, that they were so far abused, partly by the superstitious blindness of the rude and unlearned, and partly by the unsatiable avarice of such as sought more their own lucre, than the glory of God, that the abuses could not well be taken away, the thing remaining still.
As the article’s last sentence confirms, the traditions and ceremonies pass through the grid of the sole measure of Scripture, “so that all things be done to edifying.” The article’s language alludes to Of Ceremonies use of 1 Corinthians 14. Article 34 in the same way takes Paul’s concern seriously, hence the open rebuke due to anyone who opposes an established practice that makes our Savior clear. Our practices must not go against Scripture because it is only by God’s Word that God’s people are built up. In other words, Anglicans must take care not to isolate edification from its fountain, the Lord Jesus. 
Article 34 thus confirms Christian liberty but only on the condition of this godly and what one might call a “gospel-chastened” conscience. Decisions concerning worship in the amount of water used in baptism, where the font is placed, what, if any musical instruments are played, how many passages of Scripture are read, how frequently we gather for the Lord’s Supper what type of bread, what color wine, what posture we should assume when praying in a service, what vestment a minister ought to wear as a sign of his office are continually tempered by the question, “Is the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ clarified or obscured by the practice?”
If there ever were a time for a fresh review of article 34 among North American Anglicans, it is now. I am often called to review new local parish liturgies drafted by Anglicans who have never actually officiated an Anglican service before. What I find is how an uncertain but very keen new minister will press into the order just about every liturgical possibility apart from the proverbial kitchen sink. The result is a turgid and confusing product that hinders edification of the body because the Lord Jesus himself is obscured. The 2019 ACNA Prayer Book is a retrograde step along similar lines. From the vantage point the historical formularies provide, begs this question: is the gospel understood clearly at all among Anglican ministers today? If we believe what we pray, one could conclude not at all.
There is a reason why the instructions in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are so spare. It is because its rites are simple, not simplistic. It’s simple because its goal is singular: that the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified. Christ, who is the gospel, is clearly set forth and explained in both its content and the structure of its rites and ceremonies. Do we truly think that we have a clearer grasp of the harm of rites and ceremonies than our Anglican forebears who spent a good portion of their lives under their weight? 
When asked by a new member why candles were not used in the worship at our parish of All Souls, Cherry Hill, I ask them to search through the prayer book rites of Morning and Evening Prayer, then The Order of the Ministration of Holy Communion to find them. They returned later, puzzled. “I couldn’t find them mentioned.” I smiled, “Indeed. That’s because they’re not there. But the Lord Jesus Christ, is.”

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

For previous articles in this series, see here.