Richard Alleine (1611–1681)
 
Life
The uncle and father-in-law of Joseph Alleine, Richard Alleine was born in Ditcheat, Somersetshire, where his father was rector of the parish church for more than fifty years. His father served as his tutor, preparing Richard to go to Oxford University at age nineteen. He completed a B.A. in 1631 at at St. Alban’s Hall and an M.A. at New Inn College in 1634. Alleine was ordained priest in the diocese of Salisbury on March 2, 1634. The following year he was appointed chaplain to Sir Ralph Hopton. Already before the civil war, Alleine began assisting his aged father at Ditcheat. In 1642, Richard Alleine moved to Batcombe, Somerset, where he ministered effectively for more than twenty years. He soon declared himself a Puritan by subscribing to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and then, five years later, to a local confession, “The Testimony of the Ministers in Somersetshire to the Truths of Jesus Christ.” Alleine was much loved in Batcombe for his preaching and his tender care of souls as evidenced in a collection of his sermons, Godly Fear (1664). Alleine was ejected from his parish in 1662 for Nonconformity. The passing of the Five Mile Act compelled him to take refuge in the neighboring village of Frome Selwood, where he continued to preach in private homes until his death in 1681. He was fined on several occasions for holding conventicles in other villages also, but due to his popularity, the magistrates dared not imprison him. 
 
Works
 
In Heaven Opened: The Riches of God’s Covenant, Alleine discusses the nature and blessings of God’s covenant with His people. Alleine outlines in great detail the roles of God, Christ, the Spirit, the earth, the angels of light, the powers of darkness, death, and the kingdom in the covenant. Then he speaks of the fruits of the covenant in the believer’s life. The book begins: “Good news from heaven! the day-spring from on high hath visited this undone world! After a deluge of sin and misery, behold the bow in the cloud! the Lord God hath made and established a new covenant, and this is it that hath cast the first beam on the dark state of lost and fallen man, and hath brought life and immortality to light. This covenant is the hope of sinners, and the riches of saints, the Magna Charta of the city of God. The forfeited lease of eternity renewed; God’s deed of gift, wherein he hath, on fair conditions, granted sinners their lives, and settled upon his saints an everlasting inheritance.”
 
Instructions About Heart-work is a little-known treatise that gives an extensive exposition of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” The author aims to teach readers the proper way to keep their hearts, stressing what is to be done on God’s part and on the believer’s part. The goal throughout is that believers may grow in exercising grace and in embracing full assurance of salvation. Like John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, which is also on Proverbs 4:23, Alleine’s work is packed with practical, spiritual instruction. No sin is left unexposed; no hypocrite is left excused. It is a most searching treatment of practical godliness that bears the mark of one personally sifted by God.
 
The World Conquered by the Faithful Christian usess the Pauline military motif of Christian warfare, viewing the believer’s existence in this world as a continual battle against evil within and without. He explains the believer’s armor, the believer’s enemies, and the believer’s victory. Most of the book focuses on how to obtain victory in spiritual warfare—victory in contentment, in a steady mind despite outward changes, in a willingness to die, in living by faith, in being crucified with Christ, in being sealed by the Spirit, in looking to the reward, and in heavenly joys. This book encourages battle-weary saints to stay the course, looking to Jesus. Alleine considers Sabbath observance and frequent attendance at the Lord’s Supper to be the Christian’s strength in a fallen world. In explaining proper self-examination for the Lord’s Supper.
 
Excerpted from Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 11–14.
 
**Support our ministry by purchasing this book from us at the "lower than Amazon" price of $20.
From time to time I am asked why as an Anglican I include reading the Puritans as a discipline in my daily office of prayer (Anglican clergy take an oath to pray through Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer). Many are scared off from reading the Puritans thinking they are too difficult to read. Others hear the echoes of a college lecture on the Puritans or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter warning them away. Others have a simple view of early Anglican history, thinking the Puritans were something other than Anglican. Thus most Anglicans (I can add Reformed and Presbyterians here!) combine all three to relegate the Puritans to "something Presbyterians and Baptists do.” Nothing can be further from the case! My role here at Meet the Puritans is to especially encourage my dear Anglican brothers and sisters to read the Puritans.
 
The Banner of Truth has done a great service for us through its Puritan Paperbacks series making their works accessible and readable. A good launchpad for Anglicans into the Puritans is to read Sermons of the Great Ejection. This little book is a collection of nine sermons preached in August 1662, the last Sundays before the new Act of Uniformity took affect. It recalls one of the great turning points in English Christianity—when nearly two thousand ministers left the established Church for conscience’ sake in what was called “The Great Ejection” into “non-conformity”. If the previous Act had remained in place (more about that later) these non-conforming ministers would have remained in their Church of England parishes.
 
I usually recommend this starter text for Anglicans for four reasons. 
  1. The first is that it is a fine introduction to Puritan preaching. Nothing is more important than to hear these ejected pastors speak for themselves. You will read an urgency in their preaching that we lack today. Their watchword was that of Richard Baxter’s: I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. 
  2. The second is that you get a range of different Puritans rather than one. And for Anglicans especially, eight were Anglican priests (read: presbyters/pastors) themselves, lawfully ordained in the Church of England. They are our heritage, don’t you think we should reclaim them?
  3. The third is that the sermons give you a sense of their heart before the Lord. This is the last opportunity these godly pastors will have to preach to the people for whom they have prayed, loved, and cared for over many years. You will be humbled by what you read. No calls of injustice or criticism of the government, but a solid and vital exhortation to the criticial doctrines of salvation. And for those of us who have paid the price of conscience for the sake of the gospel when were compelled to do the same, the former Episcopal Church bishop or rector who has been inhibitied and deposed will find comfort here.
  4. The fourth is that the issue of their day are directly relevant to our own: conformity. In a recent speech concerning the availablity of reproductive healthcare for women in the United States, a presidential candidate said, “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." When we proclaim the sovereignty of God, the elites of modern American society hear what they call “totalitarian thinking” that must be isolated and excised. Like the ejected of 1662, what it means to be a faithful believer before God and a faithful citizen of the commonwealth has changed. 
May this little book be an encouragement to people of gospel truth and integrity everywhere. I hope you will join me as we meet the Puritans in its pages over the coming months.
People are familiar with the English Puritans, but what about thier Scottish contemporaries? With this post I hope to begin a small series of posts on one of the great Scots theologians, James Durham (1622-1658). Whilst the name James Durham is relatively unknown today, he is one of the outstanding Reformed theologians of the Puritan age. In this post I give a brief sketch of Durham’s life and significance; in future posts I will unpack some of his teachings.
 
Durham’s Conversion
Durham was born in 1622 in the best of all countries (!), Scotland. However, as a young man he "did not stand well affected to the presbyterial government." Indeed, it was not until he was persuaded by his wife’s family to go and hear the minister Ephraim Melvin that he came to know Christ. Melvin preached on 1 Peter 2:7, "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (KJV) and it was said that the minister "so sweetly and seriously opened up the preciousness of Christ, and the Spirit wrought so on his spirit, that in that sermon he first closed with Christ."
 
Upon his conversion Durham’s life changed. Before he lived with all the leisure of young a country gentleman. Now it was said, "The young laird made no secret of his convictions whether in public or private, was zealous in personal devotion and conscientious in family worship, and now interested himself keenly in the welfare of the Church."
 
Durham’s Life in the Ministry
Durham’s life overlapped with many significant ecclesiastical and political events. He was involved in the Scottish army’s engagements during the English Civil War. After leaving the army he was ordained the year the Scottish Church adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) having been persuaded by David Dickson (Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University) to devote himself to the ministry.
 
After an initial pastorate, Durham was successively called to be Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University, chaplain to Charles II during his ill-fated initial period as King of Scotland, and after Charles’ flight into exile, Durham was again a Pastor in Glasgow. Durham also sat on many key committees of the Scottish Church and was instrumental in trying to hold the Church together through the disaster of the divisive Protestor/Resolutioner controversy. Durham died in 1658 at the young age of 36. Samuel Rutherford said that his death was a "real loss to the church of God."
 
Durham’s Significance
As can be seen from the positions the Scottish church called him to Durham was deeply respected in his day. William Blaikie rightly said, "It is certain that of all the outstanding preachers and theologians of that age none was spoken of with more respect and reverence by his contemporaries." These comments are borne out by the words of Robert Baillie, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and one of the Presbytery who ordained Durham, who said: "I did live to the very last with him in great and uninterrupted love, and in an high estimation of his remarkable accomplishments, which made him to me precious among the most excellent divines I have been acquainted with in the whole Isle." Such testimonies could easily be further multiplied, not least from John Owen and John Flavel.
 
Durham’s Writings
Durham’s biographer stated: "For six generations after Durham’s death his sermons, expositions and devotional writings were a delight and a strength to the religious of the land." It is to our detriment his writings are not better known today. A number, however, have been reprinted by Naphtali Press, Soli Deo Gloria, and the Banner of Truth. Stay tuned as over the coming weeks I hope we will be acquainted with a number of them on this blog.
 
Some of his key works are:
Why do I exist? This is what the opening question of the Westminster Larger Catechism is all about:
What is the chief and highest end of man?
Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. (Q&A 1)
Our Ultimate Question
“What is the chief and highest end of man?” This is our ultimate question and should be the heartbeat of who we are, thinking of it daily. This is what it is all about as a Christian. To have a “chief end” means that we were made for something, that we have a main purpose in life. And we have a “highest end,” among the many goals and accomplishments of our lives.
 
The Larger Catechism speaks of our chief and highest end as being twofold: “to glorify God” and “to enjoy God.” This is what Peter meant when he said that we are “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5) and when he said “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
 
Our Ultimate Goal
This is also our ultimate goal. Our forefathers were enlivened by the phrase soli Deo gloria—to God alone be the glory. What it says to the question of “why do I exist” is that we do not exist for ourselves—our needs, our pleasures, or our desires.
 
We exist to glorify God even before we have received anything from him. This is what Psalm 29 teaches when it says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (v. 2a). Literally this phrase in Hebrew is “the glory of his name,” but all translations say “the glory due his name” because that is an accurate interpretation of what is being commanded.
 
But what does it mean to “glorify” God? The Hebrew word kavod most often means heavy, or weighty. The weightiness of gold, for example, comes to mean that it is honored. To glorify God, then, is to consider the supreme worth of who he is, then to magnify and exalt his name above all others as the way to honor the excellent dignity of his greatness. We are called to hallow, honor, and lift up the name of the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 
We are to glorify God in our thoughts. Peter says to us, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13). Our glorifying of God begins with the head, trickles down to the heart, and then moves out to the hands. David says, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Ps. 145:5). How often do you think about God? Do you stop and think what he has done much?
 
We are to glorify God in our words. The work of Christ has made us a a royal priesthood for this purpose: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
 
We are to glorify God in our deeds. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Our heavenly Father has taken us, lifeless lumps of clay, and molded us into a masterpiece to bring him glory. Paul speaks of our deeds being for the glory of God when he says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Peter says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Notice that, as we glorify God in our deeds God uses these fruits of the Holy Spirit to cause the world to glorify God.
 
Our Ultimate Enjoyment
This is also our ultimate enjoyment. To “enjoy” God means to have fellowship with him. The Larger Catechism does not just say that we are to enjoy God, but that we are “to fully enjoy him forever.” As the great Benefactor of the covenant of grace, God gives us himself with all his benefits for our enjoyment. We enjoy him in this life by faith and in the life to come, in the fullness of sight and experience. We enjoy God in our present state of grace as in a glass dimly, but we will enjoy him in the future state of glory face to face. Now is the age of pilgrimage; then is the age of eternal rest. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
 
Why do I exist? I exist to give the God who made me glory with my whole being because he has given himself wholly to me. I also exist to enjoy this Triune God in this life by faith but in the life that is to come in fullness of sight and experience. As John Calvin said, “We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed” [Institutes, 3.7.1]

In 2016, every two months (Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Oct, Dec) we will be producing a Meet the Puritans Resource, which you will be able to find linked under Our Resources. These will be classic texts with introductions, footnotes, and modernized language. The purpose is to introduce you to the treasures of the Reformed tradition.

February's Resource is John Geree's once popular tract, The Character of an Old English Puritan:

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith, ed. J. Stephen Yulie (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009). 170pp.
 
When it comes to old books, I am a purist. Ordinarily, something is lost along the way in translations or abridgments. However, as a pastor, I have come to recognize that most Christians do not have adequate time or dedication to become familiar with the language of older authors. This means that a rich treasure of unparalleled Christian literature is lost to vast body of believers today. Reformation Heritage Books has sought to remedy this problem with the series, Puritan Treasures for Today. The books in this series are neither translations nor abridgments. Instead, the publisher has sought out authors who are familiar with the Puritans in order to smooth out difficult language for contemporary readers. The language is updated with great care in such a way that the original thought remains intact. Moreover, they have selected books that are short in length and that address issues of contemporary importance. The result is a series of small, inexpensive, and easily accessible books that bring the wisdom of the Puritans to a contemporary world. These small works encapsulate warm-hearted practical theology that is so rare in our age and that most church members do not know what they are missing.
 
The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock is the first installation in this series. This book is based upon his sermons on Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” In typical Puritan fashion, Swinnock begins with an overview of the Psalm in context, which gradually narrows to a brief exposition of his selected text. The subject matter is roughly divided into two parts. First, the concept that our flesh is fading and that we must consider death as an inevitable reality (chapters 1-8). Second, the glorious consideration that God alone is suitable to satisfy man’s soul (chapters 9-20). The book as a whole reads as an extended evangelistic tract that drives people to the conviction of their sins, faith in Christ, and the necessity of repentance. The most delightful part of the argument resides in the manner in which the author entices his readers by mediations upon the all-satisfying nature of God, so that every other means of satisfaction appears as dust and ashes by comparison. While it is true that sinners do not love God by nature, it is true as well that most people have never considered what the Bible says about the beauty and glory of the Lord. In chapter seventeen (“Choose God as Your Portion”), Swinnock becomes so enraptured with the pleasure that he finds in God that he bursts forth into exuberant doxology. In modern theology, this is often regarded as poor scholarship. In Swinnock’s time, it was treated as the apex of true theology.
 
Because the language of the book has been updated, you could even give this book to an unbeliever as an evangelistic tract and they would likely understand it. The only significant flaw in this work is an under-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. It is surprising that while the Father and the Son predominate in the author’s meditations on God’s glory, the Spirit is mentioned rarely if at all. Just like modern pastors, not all Puritans were created equal. Some were better systematic theologians (e.g., Owen, Goodwin, Manton, etc.) than others (e.g., Watson, Baxter, etc.). That caveat aside, this book is a feast for the soul. Swinnock’s use of illustrations rivals even Thomas Watson and the overall tone of the work is very comforting.
Joseph Alleine (1634-1668)
 
Life
Born at Devizes, Wiltshire, Joseph Alleine loved and served the Lord from childhood. A contemporary identified 1645 as the year of Alleine’s “setting forth in the Christian race.” From eleven years of age onward, “the whole course of his youth was an even-spun thread of godly conversation.” When his elder brother Edward, a clergyman, died, Joseph begged that he might be educated to take Edward’s place in the ministry of the church.
 
He began his studies at Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1649 and sat at the feet of such great divines as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. Two years later, he became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, whose faculty was more thoroughly Puritan. Alleine studied long hours, often depriving himself of sleep and food. He graduated with a BA from Oxford in 1653 and became a tutor and chaplain of Corpus Christi. He also devoted much time to preaching to prisoners in the county jail, visiting the sick, and ministering to the poor. 
 
In 1655, Alleine accepted the invitation of to become the assistant of George Newton, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset. Alleine rose early, devoting the time between four and eight o’clock in the morning to the exercises of private worship. His wife recalled that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?’” His ministry in Taunton was very fruitful. Richard Baxter recalled Alleine’s “great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures—so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Alleine was also an excellent teacher, devoting much time to instructing his people, using the Shorter Catechism. He was a passionate evangelist. One contemporary wrote, “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.”
 
Ejected for nonconformity in 1662, Alleine took the opportunity to increase his public labors, believing that his remaining time was short. He preached on average one or two sermons every day for nine months until he was arrested and cast into prison. The night before, Alleine had preached and prayed with his people for three hours and had declared, “Glory be to God that hath accounted me worthy to suffer for His gospel!” Alleine’s prison cell became his pulpit. Released on May 20, 1664, after about a year in prison, he resumed his forbidden ministry until arrested again on July 10, 1665. Once more released from prison, his remaining time was “full of troubles and persecutions nobly borne.” He returned to Taunton in February, 1668, where he became very ill. Nine months later, at age thirty-four, weary from hard work and suffering, Alleine died in full assurance of faith, praising God and saying, “Christ is mine, and I am His—His by covenant.”
 
Works
An Alarm to the Unconverted: A Serious Treatise on Conversion is an evangelical classic first printed in 1671. After 20,000 copies were sold it was reprinted in 1675 as A Sure Guide to Heaven and has been reprinted some five hundred times. This is a powerful manual on conversion and the call of the gospel. Alleine’s model of evangelism is well suited to correct today’s distortions of the gospel: 
All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. He loves not only the wages but the work of Christ, not only the benefits but the burden of Christ. He is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke. He takes up the commands of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ. The unsound convert takes Christ by halves. He is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification. He is for the privileges, but does not appropriate the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ.
In 1672, four years after his death, his Christian Letters was printed. These letters reveal the secret springs of his heart, exhibiting the fervor of an evangelist, the heart of a pastor, and the patience of a sufferer for Jesus Christ:
...you are a people much upon my heart, whose welfare is the matter of my continual prayers, care, and study. And oh! that I knew how to do you good...Ah: how it pities me to think how so many of you should remain in your sins, after so many and so long endeavors to convert. Once more, Oh! my beloved, once more hear the call of the Most High God unto you. The prison preaches to you the same doctrine that the pulpit did. Hear, O people, hear; the Lord of life and glory offers you all mercy, and peace, and blessedness. Oh, why should you die? Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely. My soul yearns for you (p. 11).
The Precious Promises of the Gospel is a booklet extracted from Richard Alleine's, Heaven Opened, as one of the two chapters written by Joseph Alleine. Impersonating God in addressing his people, Alleine provides us with a moving declaration of the loving, merciful heart of the Triune God, revealed in the promises of Scripture, which are woven into nearly every sentence.
 
Excerpted from Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 20–26.
 
**Support our ministry by purchasing this book from us at the "lower than Amazon" price of $20.
Christian zeal [is] indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love.
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2: Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 352.
Many churches today are looking less like armies engaged in war and more like people taking a nap. Who among us hasn’t seen this decay? Who cannot see a difference between the ancient church and us? In former days, a fire burned within Christians, but our hearts seldom, if ever, burn within us. Formerly, Christians seemed driven by a holy passion, but now little seems to motivate us. Christians of old were at war with their sin and strove for holiness by heavenly strength, but we seem to tolerate sin rather easily and are satisfied to do the minimum of what God requires of us. 
 
What has happened? God did not change; the power of salvation did not change; the call to holiness did not change; the threat of the enemy did not change. So why are so many Christians drowsy rather than being on fire for God? John Reynolds (1667–1727) once asked, 
How long shall we lie still under our formal complaints of the decay of Christian piety? How long shall we idly see the retirement of warm religion from the hearts and bosoms of its professors? Are we willing to yield to all the lukewarmness and degeneracy that has overspread us? [Even] the truly pious are dull and heavy in their religion, [and] march on wearily in their appointed race, as if either their Lord had lost His glory or His promise to them; or they [have lost] their faith and hope in Him.... Is it not time to proclaim among the churches, the message of the Mediator sent from heaven to the Church of Laodicea: Be zealous and repent?
—John Reynolds, Zeal a Virtue: Or, A Discourse Concerning Sacred Zeal (London: John Clark, 1716), 1-2.
Like the Laodicean church, too many of us have grown lukewarm. We are not zealous for the things of God. Where today do you find zeal for the honor and glory and holiness of God? Where do you see zeal to cut off the offending hand and pluck out the offending eye? Where is zeal for the advance of Christ’s kingdom, which overcomes all obstacles and perseveres to the end? Our lives are not marked by zeal, nor do they reflect the sacrifices necessary to strengthen and embolden true Christian zeal.
 
Our time is short, and the world around us pursues sin and selfish ambition with all its might. Will we then be cold for our Lord? Christ’s own example should motivate us. Zeal for His Father so consumed Jesus (John 2:17) that He took every opportunity in public and in private to speak of the salvation which He came to accomplish for His Father. Should we not do likewise? Peter tells us that Christ has left us an example so we might walk in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). If He is aflame with love for souls, with hatred for sin, with compassion for the hurting, with grief for the obstinate, should we not do likewise?  As Reynolds’s asked: 
Did He descend into our mortal flesh, that we should be unconcerned whether we be translated from the world, and go to His glory, or no? Did He abase Himself, and make Himself of no reputation, that we might be made indifferent towards His name and honor? Did He employ thirty years on earth, in an unwearied zeal for His Father’s glory, to excuse us from an emulous ardor [a burning desire to imitate him] in design and love? Did He lay down His life for our salvation, that we may be unconcerned, whether we are saved or no? Did He rise from the dead, and seat Himself in heaven, to excuse us from a solicitude about affairs, that are above, where He sits at the right hand of God? Has He told us of His resolution to return, and judge the world, that we may be secure, and negligent about the issue of that decisive Day? How contradictory to all His love and work is our lukewarmness in His ways? What ingratitude to Him is contained in the bowels of it? What contempt does it pour upon His blood and grace; upon His light and revelation; as if we looked upon them all as unnecessary, impertinent things? Most justly may He say to a lukewarm church, I will spew thee out of my mouth except thou repent.
—Reynolds, Discourse, 209–210.
Where then is your zeal? If you have read the Puritans, you may have noticed that their sermons, prayers, and writings encourage believers to “be zealous and repent,” to “put on zeal as a cloak,” to be “consumed with zeal for the Lord’s House and Name,” and to be “zealous for good works” (Rev. 3:19; Isa. 59:17; Ps. 69:9; John 2:17; Titus 2:14). From their sermons and writings, the series that follows will take a look at their vision for Christian zeal.
The best way to take down an opponent swiftly and decisively is to “go for the jugular.” This common idiom means to attack an enemy at his most vulnerable point and is derived from the fact that animals typically kill their prey by biting the jugular vein in the neck, causing the prey to bleed to death rather quickly. Like a roaring lion, Satan prowls around seeking to devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8). So where do you think Satan will try to attack them so that they will bleed to death?
 
Faith: The Christian’s Jugular?
The answer is faith. The Christian’s lifeblood is faith. He lives by faith. Puncture it and he will be in dire straits. John Ball in his excellent treatise on faith points out that Satan does all he can to keep the Christian from growing in faith because he knows that “faith is the band whereby we are knit unto Christ; the shield whereby we quench the fiery darts of the Devil, the ground-work of a godly life, and the safe castle of a Christian soul" (Treatise of Faith, 164-165).
 
The Love of God: Satan's Main Attack
Since saving faith believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word of God (WCF 14.2), there are many places where Satan may attack. But one place that he seems to zero in on is the love of God. This tactical move makes good sense. If we start believing that God is harsh and mean then we will begin to distrust him. If we think that God is waiting to pounce on us for the smallest infraction then we will begin to hate him. If we are convinced that God is out to get us then we will run from him instead of to him. Thomas Manton observed:
It is the grand design of Satan to lessen our opinion of God’s goodness…He seeketh to hide God’s goodness, and to represent him as a God that delighteth in our destruction and damnation, rather than in our salvation; as if he were inexorable, and hardly entreated to do us good. And why? That we may stand aloof from God, and apprehend him as unlovely. Or if he cannot prevail so far, he tempteth us to poor, unworthy, mean thoughts of his goodness and mercy.
Adam & Eve
Satan employed this strategy in the Garden of Eden to great success. He persuaded Adam and Eve that God did not have their best interest in mind and that he was holding them back from reaching their full potential. Despite the abundant evidence of God’s goodness, they believed the lie and rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit.
 
Israel
If such a plan could work in a perfect world, you can be sure that it will work in a fallen sin-cursed world where our trials, difficulties and hardships can be used by Satan to make us think that God does not truly love us. Israel is a case in point. The hardships they faced in leaving Egypt, in traveling through the wilderness, and in conquering the inhabitants of the land of Canaan led them to believe that God hated them and wanted to kill them (e.g. Deut. 1:27). And so they rebelled against him by deciding to elect a new leader and return to Egypt (Num. 14:4).
 
You
Faith, especially faith in the love and mercy of God, is your spiritual jugular vein. Satan will, therefore, go after it. He will try and convince you that God is after you or that he is fed up with you and that he wants nothing more to do with you. Do not believe his lies! Counteract them by feeding your faith with passages on God’s love for us in Christ Jesus such as Romans 8 or John 3:16. Manton rightly stated that one use of John 3:16 is to confute misapprehensions about the goodness of God “by due reflections on his love in giving his Son for the world.” That God gave his Son for sinners “showeth that he is fuller of mercy and goodness than the sun is of light or the sea of water.” Although there may be many reasons to doubt that God loves us in this sin-cursed world, Jesus overrules them all. He proves that God is full of mercy and goodness. He demonstrates that God is love.
 
Believe and you will quench the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph. 6:16).
Welcome to Wednesdays @ Westminster as we exposit and apply the teaching confessed in the Westminster Larger Catechism. First up is a brief introduction.
 
A Meaty Catechism
When our spiritual forefathers gathered at Westminster Abbey in the mid-1640s to express the Christian faith, they labored to produce a suitable catechism to teach the people. After many dissatisfying efforts, the Assembly ended up agreeing to write two catechisms. George Gillespie reported to the Scottish General Assembly that they wrote a shorter catechism, “to condiscende to the capaities of the common & unlearned” as well as a larger catechism, “for those of understanding.” of which George Gillespie said it was “for those of understanding” [Bower, 11]. This pastoral reality of the people led Samuel Rutherford to say the reason for two catechisms was that it was “very difficult...to dress up milk and meat both in one dish” [Mitchell, 418]. We still need this pastoral sensitivity to the people in our congregations. We need to be as “wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16) when it comes to instructing inquirers, new converts, covenant children, young people, those who enter our churches from non-Reformed backgrounds, and those who have been members in our churches for years. The Larger Catechism is meaty, but that meat can also be served in bite-sized portions, as I hope to show in this series.
 
A Neglected Catechism
Despite the esteem of the Larger Catechism by those who wrote it and approved it, when we as Reformed believers today think of the faith of our Reformed and Puritan forefathers, we most likely think of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. We have neglected the Larger Catechism. But it has been this way for quite some time. B. B. Warfield once said it “has taken a somewhat secondary place” [Warfield, 64]. In fact, there is no major commentary on it from the seventeenth century and only one from the eighteenth century—written by Thomas Ridgeley and entitled, A Body of Divinity (1731–1733).
 
Its neglect is one of the reasons I spent two years in my congregation’s evening service to preach through the doctrines contained in it (see here). If you are a pastor or teacher and have never taught through the Larger Catechism, it is a wonderful experience. The usefulness of it in our time and place cannot be underestimated. As Dr. W. Robert Godfrey once wrote,
Today the churches face a greater educational task than they have for several centuries. Doctrinal ignorance is widespread. Pastors and teachers are often looking for useful, effective study materials. In response to his need the church must reclaim its great educational resources from the past. The Larger Catechism is a neglected tool the church needs today to help believers develop vital and balanced Christian faith and life. [Godfrey, “An Introduction,” xviii]
 
An Outline of the Catechism
So what does the Larger Catechism teach? It teaches the height and depth, the breadth and length of the Christian faith as revealed in the Word of God. Having read it many times, but only just recently invested serious energy to study it and to present it to my congregation, I have come to see why it has been described as “a mine of fine gold theologically, historically, and spiritually” [Godfrey, “The Westminster Larger Catechism,” 129]. The basic outline of the Catechism is as follows:
Introduction (Q. 1–5)
Doctrine (Q. 6–90)
Duty (Q. 91–196)
 
As one used to the Heidelberg Catechism and its famous division into guilt, grace, and gratitude, I have found the Larger Catechism’s outline helpful as well. One with a keen historical sense notices right away the typical “Puritan” emphasis in this outline upon doctrine and duty, exposition and application. Our forefathers’ outline reminds us that our preaching and teaching must instruct the head, stir the heart, and move the hands in order for it be truly biblical as well as effective in the lives of our people. I look forward to exploring the details within this meaty, neglected, and helpfully outlined catechism with you in the series to follow.
 
Works Cited
John R. Bower, The Larger Catechism: A Critical Text and Introduction, Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).
W. Robert Godfrey, “An Introduction to the Westminster Larger Catechism,” in Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002).
W. Robert Godfrey, “The Westminster Larger Catechism,” in To Glorify and Enjoy God, ed. John L. Carson and David W. Hall (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994).
Alexander F. Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1884).
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Westminster Assembly and Its Work,” in Works, 10 vols. (1932; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).