The Thirty-nine Articles continue its narrative as it sets out a biblically faithful theology of God’s ordained means of grace in the sacraments. As we have seen in our study of other essential doctrines, the article begins with the general principles of the doctrine before continuing to a more specific examination. Articles 25 and 26 set out the general principles while articles 27-31 examine the specifics of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is not an exaggeration to write that articles 27-31 have become the most controversial among Anglicans since the 1830’s, guaranteed to fill Anglican discussion on social media within minutes. Indeed, if one were to imagine the Anglican equivalent of a red-rag to a bull, these articles are the ones that are today either championed, deplored, or simply ignored as “the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time” (Anglican Church in North America, Constitution & Canons 1.7). Why are they so controversial? The answer is obvious. They are the consequence of the doctrines that have preceded them.
XXV—Of The Sacraments

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.
There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.
Cranmer’s original 1553 was revised in its structure and length in 1563 and in 1571 that resulted in a more clearly written capture of Cranmer’s thought. In 1563 Cranmer’s 1553 final paragraph became the first paragraph of the revision (Sacraments ordained of Christ…), a new second (There are two Sacraments…) and third paragraph (Those five commonly…) were also added. The 1563 second paragraph is a slight revision of Cranmer’s original first paragraph. Then in 1571 most of Cranmer’s original second and third were restored in what became the last paragraph of the article of today (The Sacraments were not…).

 
The article begins with a negative. The sacraments are “not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession. The wording is usually associated with the Zurich Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. But one considers the 1553 context of Cranmer’s original Forty-two Articles, the reference is to the prevalent Anabaptist view rather than Zwingli’s more nuanced doctrine. They are “certain sure witnesses” that proclaim the gospel promises to us through our other senses. And “effectual signs of grace” to those who receive them with a believing heart. Notice how Archbishop Parker’s revision of Cranmer further strengthens the reformed character of the doctrine: the sacrament is only effective if the recipient has faith. They are Christ’s ordinary means of encouraging and strengthening the believer’s faith, particularly in times of difficulty, doubt, or despair. Rome and those who have been influenced by its teaching understand that the administration of the visible sign is a guarantee that the inward grace is made real in the recipient. If one were to favor the Roman view the balance of the article makes no sense. 
 
By 1563 it was a matter of historical record that Cranmer consistently defended the Reformed view in his disputation with Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner concerning the nature of our eating and drinking the Supper. We can also see how keeps a consistent Chalcedonian Christology we examined in article 2. God alone is infinite. No other creature possesses this attribute. Humans are finite. The reformed Christological position holds to the principle that the finite (humanity) cannot comprehend or attain the infinite (divinity). The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, even in the person of Christ. To do so robs Jesus of his true humanity and his office as our Mediator. The Lord Jesus having retained the attributes of his human nature has ascended. He, therefore, cannot be present locally but can be present truly by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son (Article 5). One can hear in Cranmer echoes of John Calvin's description of how the sacraments are spiritual food for spiritual people:
These things before rehearsed are sufficient to prove, that the eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of his blood, is not to be understood simply and plainly, as the words do properly signify, that we do eat and drink him with our mouths; but it is a figurative speech spiritually to be understand, that we must deeply print and fruitfully believe in our hearts, that his flesh was crucified and his blood shed, for our redemption. And this our belief in him, is to eat his flesh and to drink his blood, although they be not present here with us, but be ascended into heaven [Cranmer, Works, 115-116].
The article also says that the sacraments are "ordained of Christ," to be "duly used." To be "ordained of Christ" and to be "duly used" references article 19 on the nature of the church, that the sacraments are to be “duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance." Modern distinctions like “Sacrament of the Gospel” and “Sacrament of the Church” are to be avoided as being misleading, diminishing Christ’s sole authority as our Head. There are just two sacraments expressly commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, to which the promise of forgiveness of sin and union with him is signified: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The term “sacrament” requires no further distinction. Those wrongly called “sacraments” by the man or woman on the street in the 16th century (“Those five commonly called ‘sacraments…’” Quinque illa vulgo nominata sacramenta): absolution, confirmation, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction, lack the express command of the Lord Jesus or signify forgiveness of sin and union with him. 
 
In St. Paul’s warning of 1 Corinthians 11 that unworthily received (i.e., without belief and trust in Christ's substitutionary atoning death for us) they add to our condemnation. Cranmer repeated this warning in all three versions of the Book of Common Prayer's "Exhortation" before receiving the Supper, "For as the benefit is great if with true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood) …So is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily". Likewise, Cranmer's words of administration in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer service expresses this simple yet profound doctrine: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving." 
 
The article closes with a prohibition. The sacraments are not to be thought of as objects in and of themselves, but to be thought of as a means of God's grace. Therefore, the 1552 instruction at the end of the Lord's Supper grants the minister the right to take the bread home for his table, and the 1662 revision of the rubric by the Restoration Bishops instruct that the leftover elements be consumed after the divine service. Being contrary to the Scriptures, there is no justification to do anything else with them.
 

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


For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)
  23. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 6 (Art. 24)

 

We move on from discussing the Puritan view of God to consider the Trinity, the biblical doctrine of one God in three persons. Related to the one God (Q&A 8), the Larger Catechism (Q&A 9), affirms: “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties” (e.g. Matt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14, John 1:1, 10:30, Acts 5:3,4). Very simply, the teaching of the Trinity sets forth unity in diversity.
 
The Puritans stood as heirs of not only Reformation but also medieval trinitarian theology and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed behind it. William Ames, in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, (1627), provides an early expression of Puritan trinitrarianism at the start of Chapter 5, “Of the Subsistence of God”:
  1. The Subsistence of God is that one Essence, as it is with its personal properties.
  2. The same essence is common to three subsistences, and as touching the Deity, every subsistence is of itself.
  3. Nothing moreover is attributed to the Essence, which may not be attributed to every subsistence in regard of the Essence of it. 
  4. But those things that are attributed properly to every subsistence in regard of its subsistence, cannot be attributed to the Essence.
Presbyterian Francis Cheynell (1608–1665), member of the Westminster Assembly and champion defender of trinitarianianism (especially against Socinianism) echoes such thinking: “The Godhead does subsist in Father, Son, and Spirit, all three without any multiplication of the Godhead” with “three subsistences, but one substance or essence in this divine Triunity” (The Divine Triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit , 1650).
 
Notice in Ames and Cheynell the use of “subsistence” (a manner of personal existence) to speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Employing this Latin-based term (or the Greek-influenced hypostasis) rather than “person” helped to avoid the false accusation of teaching three essences as polytheists. Likewise, they used “subsistence” without implying a mere “mode” and getting charged with Sabellianism (modalistic Monarchianism). With the Reformed orthodox, the Puritans elaborated on the Triune God like Calvin: a “person” is a “subsistence” and “different from ‘essence.’” The three persons relate manifest “incommunicable” qualities proper to each while sharing the same “essence as a unity” (Institutes 1.13.2,6). 
 
Some criticized the use of terms such as “Trinity” and “subsistence” not found in the Bible. Thomas Vincent (1634-1678), certainly with a “good and necessary consequence” exegetical approach behind him, responds, “the things signified by the . . . Trinity. . . are in the scriptures,” therefore, “we may lawfully make use of such words” (An Explicatory Catechism, 1675). Vincent, in his own Trinity defense in The Foundation of God Standeth Sure (1668) sums up the argument for the Trinity “bottom’d upon the Scripture”: 
If the divine essence or Godhead is and can be but one, and the Father is God, and the Son God, and Holy Ghost God  [e.g. Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6; 1 Cor 8:6; John 1:1,3; Acts 5:3,4], and the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost be three distinct subsistents or persons; then there are three distinct subsistents or persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same single divine essence or Godhead. 
In a treatise on the person of Christ, Theanthropos; Or, God-Man (1660), John Arrowsmith (1602-1659) makes reference to the essence of God in relation to what we commonly call the “ontological” Trinity. He mentions the Opera ad intra, common internal operations of the Trinity, related to essence, and which “terminated” distinctly “upon some person in the Trinity.” Thus, the Father “begetteth” the Son, the Son “is begotten” of the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceedeth” from the Father and the Son. The Puritans affirmed as distinct yet inseparable (unified within the Godhead) such internal works exhibited eternally according to the properties of each person. 
 
Note, as well, the begetting and procession do not imply eternal subordination in the Godhead, yet an ordering of persons in communion with one another. So, maintains Leigh,  the Father is “first from himself,” the Son “second” in “filiation” by “eternal generation,” and the Holy Spirit as “third” as he proceeds “from the Father and the Son” (A Treatise of Divinity, 1646).
 
Regarding the eternal generation of the Son, the majority of Puritans affirmed the Nicene formula that he is “very God of very God” in the sense that the Father, notes Cheynell, communicates “that self-same divine and entire essence, which is in himself, by begetting the personal subsistence of the Son in the unity of the Godhead from the days of eternity.” Thus, they attested that the Father communicated divine essence to his eternally begotten Son who was at the same time autotheos or “God of himself.” Whether eternal generation referred only personally to Sonship or also essentially to deity, was a matter of debate, though the Puritans generally favored the latter in line with the Nicene Creed and universally affirmed the aseity (God ‘of himself’) of Jesus Christ and denied that his essence was begotten. 
 
Regarding the Holy Spirit as the third person, the Puritans accepted the orthodox double procession of the Spirit (by order and not subordination) “from the Father and the Son from all eternity” (LC, Q&A 10). This affirmation, “and the Son” (Latin, filioque), added to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the sixth century played a significant role in the East-West Schism (1054) of the church, with the East protesting double procession. Cheynell, rightly argues that denying the Spirit’s procession “equally from the Father and the Son” means that the “equality of the divine persons cannot be maintained if that principle be denied,” since the Son would be subordinate to the Father from whom alone the Spirit proceeds.
 
While discussing Christ as creator, Arrowsmith also mentions God’s “works ad extra” terminated outside and “common to all the three persons.” Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all create as “one Creator” with “one essence” and “the will of God” being  “the same in all the three persons.” Yet, as “different subsistencies . . . they have a distinct manner of working, even in this business of the Creation.” Regarding such operations, we commonly speak of the “economical” Trinity in terms of ordered activity in God’s relation to creation. Such work (e.g. redemption) was considered united as the expression of the one will of God (e.g. salvation by the Triune God) and yet with ordered activity carried out covenantally according to the distinct personal properties and without subordination (e.g. the Father appoints, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies redemption).
 
Vincent (The Foundation of God Standeth Sure) notes our struggle to understand and explain “this mystery” of the Trinity. Yet, it is clearly proven “from Scripture” as “one great fundamental point of our Christian faith, which all Christians are bound” by God “to believe.” 
 
Likewise, we must not only embrace the doctrine but also experience the reality. Our hearts must be stirred to life unto and communion with each of the persons of the Trinity as John Owen advocates wonderfully in Communion with God (1657). He sees this communion as “the mutual communication” of good between persons “delighted” in one another based on the “union between them.” Thus, the Triune God in each person communicates himself to us and we respond to him as he requires and delights with such “flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” If each person of the Trinity delights in this communion, why do we pursue it so meagerly? So, for example, when’s the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit?
 

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

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

In his discussion on the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas Watson notes that God does not lead anyone into temptation in the sense that he doesn’t tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). God doesn’t entice or encourage his creatures to sin. As Watson says, “He permits sin, but does not promote it…What king will tempt his subjects to break laws which he himself established?”

God, however, does test or try his people. In the KJV, Genesis 22:1 says that God "tempted" Abraham, but Watson carefully points out that “tempting there was no more than trying.” There is, therefore, a very important distinction between testing and tempting. God tests but does not tempt. To be sure, some tests that God gives include temptation. In the test, we are tempted to sin but we need to understand that God is not the one tempting us or enticing us to sin. Rather we are tempted by what has been called the trinity of evil: the world, the flesh and the devil.
 
God tested Adam in the Garden of Eden but it was Satan who was tempting him to disobey. God tested Abraham by telling him to go and sacrifice his son Isaac but Abraham would have been tempted to put his son above God by his own sinful desires. James says that each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Watson says that our own hearts are the greatest tempters and that everyone is Satan to himself (quisque sibi Satan est). Abraham, however, did not fall into the temptation. By faith, he passed the test (Heb. 11:17).
 
God also tested Israel in the wilderness to know what was in their heart, whether they would keep his commandments or not (Deut. 8). Israel was certainly tested when they had no water and food.  But God was not tempting them to complain and disobey. Rather, they were tempted to sin against God by their own sinful hearts. And, unlike Abraham, they fell into the temptation. In Deuteronomy 13, Moses says that false prophets who perform signs are divine tests designed to see if Israel will love God with all of their heart. God tests, the false prophets tempt. “He permits sin but does not promote it.”
 
Since God does not tempt us, what then does “lead us not into temptation” mean? To enter into temptation means to sin.  We see this in Mark 14:38 where Jesus warns his disciples to watch and pray so that they may not enter into temptation.  Jesus is not saying to watch and pray so that they won’t be tempted at all.  He is saying that they are going to be tempted and that they need to watch and pray so that they don’t sin.  
Thus, when we pray “and lead us not into temptation” we are asking God to enable us to overcome the temptation. We are asking him to keep us from sinning and to enable us to stand firm on the day of trial and testing. Thomas Watson says, “The meaning is, that God would not suffer us to be overcome by temptation; that we may not be given up to the power of temptation and be drawn into sin.” This is confirmed by the second clause of the sixth petition: “but deliver us from evil.”
 
The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, does not teach or imply that God tempts his people. God tests his people but he does not tempt them. We are tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil. Formidable foes to be sure, but defeated ones for those who are in Christ. So, pray and “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Eph. 6:13).”
In recent decades the evangelical church has seen a resurging interest in the practical aspects of Christian spirituality. Books on spiritual transformation and the spiritual disciplines line our shelves. Many of these are helpful, offering wise instruction on practices such as meditation, prayer, and fasting. But one discipline rarely appears in these catalogs of devotional habits: watchfulness.
 
Yet watchfulness is as necessary to a healthy spiritual life as meditation and prayer. Jesus tells His disciples to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). The letters of Paul, Peter, and John sound the same note, urging us to exercise moral vigilance and watchful prayer (1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 6:1; Col. 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 John 8). And Hebrews commands mutual watchfulness and exhortation while also reminding us to obey those leaders who keep watch over our souls (Heb. 3:12; 13:17).
 
All believers, regardless of their station and season in life, need to be watchful. Consider Beth, a married woman in her thirties with three children, six years old and under. She loves Jesus and thrived in her walk with Christ during her college and single years. But the domestic, often mundane challenges of motherhood are more difficult than Beth expected. She feels distant from God. She longs for the days when she could quietly spend hours over her Bible and journal. The chaos of corralling her children from one activity to another makes it hard for her to focus on spiritual things. Beth needs to become more attentive to her state of heart and learn how to stay connected to Jesus throughout the day.
 
Nathan, on the other hand, is a college-aged believer struggling with pornography. He feels terrible when he fails and quickly repents. While he tries to read the Bible and pray every day, he is missing something in his spiritual regimen. His use of time lacks intentionality. His quiet times are disconnected from his other habits in solitude. Despite regular sin struggles, he underestimates the danger of temptation. Like the disciples in the garden, Nathan needs to learn how to watch and pray against temptation’s subtle power.
 
Craig is a spiritually mature Christian man entering midlife. He has been married for twenty-five years and has four children in middle school and high school. He is a veteran lay leader in his church and enjoys a close walk with God. But Craig is saddled with many burdens, and his emotional resilience isn’t what it used to be. He faces new temptations in his fifties and needs Jesus more than ever. Paul’s words, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” echo in his mind. Craig is searching for practical ways to put this into practice.
 
While their seasons of life are quite different, Beth, Nathan, and Craig have a common need: the consistent exercise of vigilance over their hearts and active dependence on the Lord’s sustaining grace. As varied as their temptations are, Paul’s exhortation applies: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).
 
The Christian life is a journey, a race, and a battle. As pilgrims, we travel the long winding road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. As athletes, we are called to forget what lies behind and, with eyes fixed on Jesus, to cast aside every hindrance to completing the race of faith. And as soldiers, we must ready ourselves for battle by putting on the gospel armor and relying on the wisdom and strength of Jesus, our brother, captain, and king. These biblical metaphors have shaped the Christian imagination for centuries. Implicit in each picture is the need for eyes-wide-open watchfulness. 
 
Watchfulness consists of four essential ingredients: wakefulness, attentiveness, vigilance, and expectancy. Watching involves staying awake both morally and spiritually; paying attention to God’s word, to our own souls, and especially to Christ Himself; maintaining vigilance against our mortal enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil; and hoping in the Lord—in His promises and His return.
 
Charlotte Elliot’s hymn “Christian, Seek Not Yet Repose” captures the essential nature of watchfulness. Read and heed:
Christian, seek not yet repose, 
Cast thy dreams of ease away; 
Thou art in the midst of foes: 
Watch and pray.
 
Principalities and powers, 
Mustering their unseen array, 
Wait for thy unguarded hours: 
Watch and pray.
 
Gird thy heavenly armor on, 
Wear it ever, night and day; 
Ambushed lies the evil one: 
Watch and pray.
 
Hear the victors who o’ercame; 
Still they mark each warrior’s way; 
All with one sweet voice exclaim, 
“Watch and pray.”
 
Hear, above all, hear Thy Lord, 
Him thou lovest to obey;
Hide within thy heart His word, 
“Watch and pray.”
 

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Spiritual disciplines have now been a regular feature in Evangelical teaching on discipleship for several decades. This has been a good development, to the degree that it has led believers into renewed habits of bible reading, meditation, and prayer. 
 
Many of these books, however, freely utilize the devotional writings of contemplatives and mystics from medieval Roman Catholicism, Jesuit writings from the Counter-Reformation, and the devotional writings of the Quakers. These are often quoted alongside Reformed, Puritan, and Evangelical authors, while paying little attention to their original theological and ecclesiastical contexts. The result is that much Evangelical teaching on devotional practices is only loosely connected to a robust understanding of the gospel of grace, or worse, leads undiscerning believers into practices more characterized by mysticism, asceticism, and legalism, than the gospel-grounded, grace-oriented piety of which Calvin spoke, namely, “that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (Institutes 1.2.1). 
 
But godliness never flourishes unless it is planted in the fertile soil of God’s grace. Legalism subverts the gospel and obscures the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, which removes the debt of sin and cancels the curse of the law (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:13-14; Col. 2:11-17). Mystical experience, unmoored from God’s self-revelation in Scripture, leads to inflated emotionalism, but not genuine nourishment from Christ, the head of the body (Col. 2:18-19). And the practices of asceticism, while bearing a superficial resemblance to wisdom, are useless in truly mortifying the flesh (Col. 2:20-23). 
 
The Puritans understood this and left behind the greatest library of biblical, evangelical (that is, gospel-oriented), practical, devotional literature that the church has ever produced. At the headwaters of the Puritan movement was a “spiritual brotherhood” of pastors and preachers, centered in Cambridge, who were heirs of the Reformers who went before them, and fathers to the generations that followed. This brotherhood included Lawrence Chaderton, William Perkins, Richard Greenham, John Downame, and Richard Rogers, the author of Holy Helps for a Godly Life. Together, these men became the leading architects of the Puritan theology of godliness.”
 
Though not as famous as William Perkins, Rogers was a significant leader among non-conformists in Elizabethan England. Rogers, like Enoch, walked with God. And he wrote a massive travel guide to help fellow pilgrims in their journey. This guide, Rogers’ most important contribution to Puritan literature, was called Seven Treatises
 
Holy Helps for a Godly Life is a modernization of Rogers’ third treatise, which “lays forth the means, whereby a godly life is helped and continued.” These means, or helps (the terms are interchangeable for Rogers) are the spiritual disciplines, or what believers in the Reformed tradition sometimes call “means of grace.” While Rogers doesn’t use the full phrase “means of grace,” he does use the term “means” often, calling the focus of his third treatise, “the means whereby a godly life is helped and continued . . . As the Christian life does not begin without means, neither can it grow without them.” 
 
Rogers divides these means into public and private. The public means are the preaching of the word, the sacraments, and public prayers, with the singing of psalms. Rogers lists seven private helps, namely: watchfulness, meditation, putting and keeping on the Christian armor, reflection on personal spiritual experience, godly conversation with other believers and within one’s family, private prayer, and the reading of both Scripture and godly literature. Rogers also addresses two extraordinary means: solemn thanksgiving and fasting. 
 
Readers will benefit from Rogers most when they keep two things in mind: First, these helps are for Christians, that is, for true believers who have rested in the finished work of Christ for their justification. This is assumed by Rogers throughout, since he had already established it in the first treatise where he treats both man’s misery and God’s way of redemption from it, that is, the way of faith alone in Christ alone. Rogers could hardly be clearer on this point. “There is no way to receive Christ and all His merits (the full medicine of man’s misery) but by faith,” he writes. Secondly, the aim of these helps is to lead believers into both holiness and happiness. Rogers knew what modern believers sometimes forget: holiness is the way to true happiness. Discipline, though a restriction of sorts, leads to greater freedom. Godliness is the indispensable key to a life filled with spiritual comfort.
 

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.


 

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

 

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

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

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

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


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

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


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46) 

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Week 3: I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Week 4: I.2.3 (pgs. 149–176)

Week 5: I.2.4 (pgs. pgs. 177–220)

Week 6: I.2.5 (pgs. 221–269)

Week 7: I.2.6 (pgs. 270310)

Week 8: I.2.7 (no post)

Week 9: I.2.8 (pgs. 360–405)

Week 10: I.2.9 (no post)

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