Christ’s Presence in the Lord’s Supper

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Owen, Works, 9:523.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 54.

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

[13] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 61.

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

Previous Posts in this Series

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For previous posts in this series, see:

  1. What is Puritan Theology?
  2. William Ames and Puritan Theologizing
  3. William Ames and Shorter Catechism Q&A 1
  4. The Two Lights
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 9 (2/26-3/4): I.2.8 (pgs. 360–405)
This past week’s reading was especially apropros considering the third installment of Richard Muller’s review of Scott Oliphint’s book on Thomas Aquinas. In fact, there is even some overlap. In this blog post, I want to discuss two important points Muller makes in this chapter: the first, a methodological point and the second regarding the Reformed reception of philosophy. On pages 361-62 Muller writes: 
From a purely historiographical perspective, the problem of much of the theological scholarship on Protestant scholasticism lies in its neglect of the history of philosophy in the seventeenth century – not the history of philosophy writ large in the thought of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz, but the history of philosophy writ small, in the thought of the many significant thinkers in the academies and the universities, whose work has all too often been ignored in the broad surveys.
What Muller complains about here is what he identifies elsewhere as the “great thinkers” approach to history which has its dangers. In its most basic form as applied to Reformed theology, it means that we allow John Calvin, William Perkins, John Owen, and maybe Francis Turretin to set the standard for what Reformed theology looks like (and presumably the Reformed view of everything else!) in the early modern period – overlooking the massive amount of very influential theologians who have largely been lost to history. One reason for this “great thinkers” approach to history can be accounted for by the fact that scholarship often limits itself to modern reprints in English. The great thinkers approach to history is also sustained by the choices of various publishers. Which early modern thinker gets republished today is not always indicative of how influential such a thinker was in his own day. Gisbertus Voetius was far more influential for Reformed theology in the early modern period than nearly every Puritan. When was the last time you picked up and read anything by Voetius? How should one go about trying to discern, say, the early modern Reformed approach (if we can say such a thing; see point two below) to metaphysics? Nearly everything written in the early modern period on the topic from Reformed scholars in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland is in Latin, written by scholars we no longer read (nor have even heard of)! But that hardly means that such writings were not influential – sometimes massively influential – in their own day. 
This leads me to a second important point found in Muller’s chapter, namely, the eclecticism of philosophy practiced by Reformed scholars in the early modern period. There actually is not “a” Reformed philosophy to be found in the early modern period. To be sure, there is a broad Christian Aristotelian background which shapes the language and general metaphysical assumptions of the great majority of theologians and philosophers whether they be Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed, but that didn’t mean that they all saw themselves as Peripatetics (or followers of Aristotle). As Muller makes clear, the basic philosophical notions of act and potency, fourfold-causality, substance and accidents, hylomorphism, were all standard assumptions across the early modern theological landscape. Yet, once one went beyond these basic characteristics of Aristotelian thought, various disagreements and pluralities of thought respecting various knotty questions emerged, often with the incorporation of new discoveries such as those of Copernicus or the mechanical philosophy of Pierre Gassendi. Dogmatism in committing oneself to the various philosophical schools was often frowned upon. Even though some theologians and philosophers (including some Reformed) in the later 17th century sought to displace certain Aristotelian assumptions such as fourfold causality, this was often done piecemeal rather than as a wholesale rejection. In short, these observations are helpful reminders that history is messy and generalizations are hard to come by when thinking about the early modern period. Reformed theologians and philosophers did address many of the oft-debated questions found today in our universities and think tanks, but if you want to know what the early modern Reformed believed, you must go read them, widely and deeply.
Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 10 (3/5-3/11): I.2.9 (pgs. 406–450).

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)

Ulrich G. Leinsle, Introduction to Scholastic Theology, trans. Michael J. Miller (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010). 392pp. Paperback. $29.95.
For most Protestants, medieval theology is a strange world. We are familiar with slogans such as, post tenebras lux (“after darkness light”), in describing the Protestant Reformation. Terms like, “scholastic,” are customarily theological curse words in our circles. What possible interest could Reformed Protestants have, therefore, in a book introducing Scholastic Theology?
Contrary to popular misconceptions, the medieval period was not the dark ages as much as it was the “less light” ages. While many things were wrong and needed reform, many things were right as well. Scholastic theology was a means, primarily, of knowing and loving God and teaching others to do so. Ulrich Leinsle illustrates these things by treating the foundations and origins of scholastic theology from Augustine through the seventeenth-century, with some brief discussion of what came next. His material shows the continuities and discontinuities in theological method and University education from the middle ages through the post-Reformation period in a way that helps readers understand scholastic theology as a significant piece of church history. This is a mid-level text that will enable readers who love the Puritans and post-Reformation theology to see precedents both for Protestant theology and methodology in the medieval period.
One of the most useful features of Leinsle’s book is his focus on how various authors defined theology as a discipline and how this affected their treatments of the relationship between theology and philosophy. As is the case with many historical terms, such as Puritan, he begins his treatment by illustrating the difficulty of defining “scholastic theology” (1-8). He argues that it is easier to describe scholastic theology by its characteristics, methods, and goals than it is to define it (9-11). Scholastic theology was characterized by its preparatory studies (36, 88, 245, 259), reading and commenting on authoritative texts (lectio, and auctoritas), providing reasons (ratio) for received articles of faith (20-23), theological disuptations (disputatio), and providing a basis for the relationship between the text of Scripture and systematic theology (54-65, and throughout). Many of the authors treated are well know while many more will be largely unknown to the average reader. One recurring theme is that the goal of theology was generally treated as man’s blessedness in the beatific vision of God. This meant that theology had theoretical and practical components throughout (133, and throughout), with many authors defining theology as wisdom (sapientia) received through the Word and Spirit of God (155, 163, 179, 258, 315). These questions passed seamlessly into Protestant systems of theology. Leinsle shows throughout how situating the study of theology in rising Universities, coupled with the rediscovery of Aristotelian philosophy, led to an impetus to define theology as an academic science in order to justify its place at the head of the University curriculum. Scholastic theology admitted a wide array of opinions and schools of thought. Leinsle illustrates as well the increasing tension in medieval theology between the priority of lecturing on the Bible or on Peter Lombard’s Sententia (47). This tension carried over into the debates between Protestants and Roman Catholics, in modified forms, into the time of the Reformation (e.g., 259-260). One section worthy of note to students of the Puritans is the uncanny similarity between the structure and aims of scholastic sermons to the standard Puritan sermon (68-73). This illustrates simultaneously that the Puritans may have been closer to the middle ages than some are willing to admit and that the medieval scholastics could have a pastoral bent in their theology. These features and many others make Leinsle’s book a remarkably comprehensive introduction to its subject.
This reviewer’s only points of criticism relate to the author’s treatment of Protestant scholasticism. He argues that Protestant scholasticism had a markedly different character than its medieval and Roman Catholic counterparts (299). However, this is overstated. One of the remarkable features of Leinsle’s book is that those familiar with Protestant scholastic theology can find virtually every point of Protestant theological methodology in some part of medieval scholasticism. This is especially true, as noted above, in regard to questions as to whether theology is theoretical or practical and to the assertion that theology is spiritual wisdom. Placing “scholasticism” in quotation marks in connection to Post-Reformation Protestantism, moreover, gives the mistaken impression that Protestant scholasticism does not really pass muster as scholastic theology (299-300). However, if the author’s assertion is correct that scholastic theology was not restricted to any one school of thought, then Protestant scholasticism has as much right to the title as post-Trent Roman Catholic theology. The key issue was the development of an academic form of theological education largely through the Universities. Leinsle’s treatment of Protestant scholastics is also limited largely to Gerhard (Lutheran), Alsted (Reformed), and Wittich (Reformed-Cartesian). This bypasses some of the most formative architects of Protestant theological methodology, especially Reformed figures like Franciscus Junius and Andreas Hyperius. In short, Leinsle’s treatment of medieval and Roman Catholic scholastic theology is superb while his treatment of Protestant scholasticism is incomplete, if not dismissive.
Scholastic theology is precise and sometimes complex. This means that any thorough treatment of scholastic theology will likely have similar characteristics. Leinsle’s book, while not exactly an easy read, makes medieval scholastic theology about as easy at it gets. Scholastic theology is an important part of the history of the church. It is also woven into the heritage of Protestant theology. Leinsle’s book can help show that, while scholastic theology could run into excesses, scholastic influences were not always a bad thing.

Thanks to our friends at Latimer Trust we have two (2) copies of Pilgrims, Warriors, and Servants: St Antholin Lectures Volume 1: 1991-2000 edited by Lee Gatiss. This volume includes the following chapters:

  • J I Packer: "A Man For All Ministries: Richard Baxter 1615-1691"
  • Geoffrey Cox: "The Rediscovery and Renewal of the Local Church: The Puritan Vision"
  • Alister E McGrath: "Evangelical Spirituality: Past Glories, Present Hopes, Future Possibilities"
  • Gavin J McGrath: "‘But We Preach Christ Crucified’: The Cross of Christ in the pastoral theology of John Owen 1616-1683"
  • Peter Jensen: "Using the Shield of Faith: Puritan Attitudes to Combat with Satan"
  • J I Packer: "An Anglican to Remember - William Perkins: Puritan Popularizer"
  • Bruce Winter: "Pilgrim’s Progress and Contemporary Evangelical Piety"
  • Peter Adam: "A Church ‘Halfly Reformed’: The Puritan Dilemma"
  • J I Packer: "The Pilgrim’s Principles: John Bunyan Revisited"
  • Ashley Null: "Conversion to Communion: Thomas Cranmer on a Favourite Theme"
Enter here.

Papal Errors in the Lord’s Supper

The Puritans viewed transubstantiation as “repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason.”[1] John Owen (1616–1683) wrote, “This is one of the greatest mysteries of the Roman magic and juggling, that corporeal elements should have a power to forgive sins, and confer spiritual grace.... No part of Christian religion was ever so vilely contaminated and abused by profane wretches, as this pure, holy, plain action and institution of our Savior: witness the Popish horrid monster of transubstantiation, and their idolatrous mass.”[2] Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) explained, “The end of the sacrament is not that we may eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ without a metaphor. And if we should suggest a thing so horrid and so monstrous as the papists do in their doctrine of transubstantiation, would that be any benefit to us?”[3]


Perkins said the signs of the Supper do not change with respect to their “substance” but in their being set apart “from a common to a holy use.”[4] He refuted the doctrine of transubstantiation with these arguments: (1) How could Christ’s body literally be eaten before He was crucified? His disciples ate the bread in the first institution of the Supper. (2) The bread is broken into parts, but every communicant receives the whole body of Christ. (3) The bread is the “communion” of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 10:16) and therefore is not itself the body. (4) If this were truly Christ’s body, would that body not only be made from the substance of Mary but also “of baker’s bread”? (5) Over time, remainders of the bread will mold and leftover wine will sour, proving they retain their substance as food. (6) Transubstantiation overthrows the analogy between a sign and what it represents by replacing the sign with the reality.[5]

Transubstantiation turns bread into an idol, Perkins said, adding, “By this means, bread is exalted above men and angels, and is received into the unity of the Second Person” of the Trinity. Perkins said that this is evident in how Roman Catholics treat the bread after the Supper: “Therefore the Host (as it is called) or the bread in the box, carried in procession and worshiped, is nothing else but a wheaten or bread-god, and an idol, not inferior to Aaron’s calf.”[6] For this reason the Puritans objected to the Anglican practice of kneeling to receive the Supper, saying it implied the superstitious worship of the bread and cup.[7]

Perkins was willing to acknowledge that the Supper was a sacrifice of praise for Christ’s death on the cross and the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices in response to His mercies, accompanied by the sacrifice of alms given to the poor (Heb. 13:15–16; Rom. 12:1). In the Supper, Christ’s sacrifice is sacramentally present in the symbols and mentally present in the believing remembrance of communicants.[8]

But Perkins rejected the notion that the minister serves as a priest who offers a real, bodily sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, for the Puritans recognized “only Christ’s oblation [offering] on the cross once offered.”[9] He presented the following arguments:

  1. The Holy Spirit says in Scripture that “Christ offered himself but once” (Heb. 9:15, 26; 10:10). The Papist response that this is true of a bloody sacrifice but not the unbloody sacrifice of the mass fails to account for the teaching that without blood there is no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22). This distinction is not based on Scripture and so “is but a forgery of man’s brain.”
  2. The offering up of Christ’s substance in the sacrifice of the mass must either continue His sacrifice or repeat it, either of which implies that Christ’s work on the cross was incomplete (Heb. 10:1–3). But Christ said of His work, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
  3. Christ commanded us to partake of the Supper in remembrance (Luke 22:19), which means we look back to something done in the past, not something happening right now.
  4. The Scriptures teach that Christ did not hand off His priesthood to another but continues in it forever (Heb. 7:24–25). Human priests, if they indeed offered sacrifices, would be taking Christ’s place as the only Priest.
  5. If the priest does offer Christ’s real body and blood to God, that priest becomes a mediator between God and Christ. It is absurd for mere men to mediate for Christ.
  6. The fathers of the ancient and medieval church said the sacrifice of our worship and our eating of Christ are spiritual, not the drinking of human blood.[10]


The Puritans opposed the Roman doctrine that the sacraments had inherent power from God to confer grace; Perkins said the effect of a sacrament is subject to God’s will. He wrote, “No action in the dispensation of a sacrament conferreth grace as it is a work done, that is, by the efficacy and force of the very sacramental action itself.” On the contrary, the sacraments work by addressing the mind of believers with the promises of the covenant, leading them to consider those promises rationally and so be confirmed in faith, Perkins said. He also specified that the grace conferred is not the grace of justification but an increase of sanctification. “A man of years must first believe and be justified, before he can be a meet [qualified] partaker of any sacrament,” Perkins said.[11] To make a sacrament effective by doing the work (ex opera operato) makes it an idol, for only God can give grace.[12]


[1] “Westminster Confession of Faith” (29.6), in Westminster Confession of Faith (1994; repr., Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003), 117–18.

[2] John Owen, “Two Short Catechisms,” in The Works of John Owen, ed. William Goold (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 1:490–91.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons on the Lord’s Supper (Orlando, Fla.: The Northampton Press, 2007), 5.

[4] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:71.

[5] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:76. For further Protestant polemics against the Mass published in English, see Alexander Cooke, Worke, More Worke, and a Little More Worke for a Mass-Priest (London: Jones, 1628); David de Rodon, The Funeral of the Mass, or, The Mass Dead and Buried without hope of Resurrection, trans. out of French (London: T. H. for Andrew Clark, 1677); Owen, “A Vindication of the Animadversions on ‘Fiat Lux,’” in Works, 14:411–26; William Payne, The Three Grand Corruptions of the Eucharist in the Church of Rome (London: for Brabazon Ayler, 1688); and three sermons: Edward Lawrence, “There Is No Transubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper”; Richard Steele, “The Right of Every Believer to the Blessed Cup in the Lord’s Supper”; and Thomas Wadsworth, “Christ Crucified the Only Proper Gospel-Sacrifice,” in Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689 (repr., Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 6:453–529.

[6] Perkins, “The Idolatrie of the last times,” Works, 1:680. For “bread-god” the original text says “breaden god.”

[7] Mayor, The Lord’s Supper in Early English Dissent, 18–19, 50–51. See Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:80.

[8] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholike,” in Works, 1:593.

[9] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholike,” in Works, 1:593.

[10] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholike,” in Works, 1:594–95.

[11] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:610–11.

[12] Perkins, “The Idolatrie of the last times,” in Works, 1:680.


Previous Posts in this Series

  1. Introduction
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Is there a Christian out there who hasn’t heard this saying? Surely not. Despite its popularity, this saying is not universally loved. There are many people, of course, who believe it is true. Others are more cautious and hold it be true so long as it is properly understood. And there are some who don’t like it at all and believe that it is unbiblical. A google search led me to a sermon on this very saying, but I knew where the speaker stood on it before I started listening because the sermon was part of a series entitled, “God Never Said That.”
Some Puritans, however, did believe that God said it, or at least said something similar to it. William Bates (1625-1699) was a popular puritan preacher and after 1662 he became a prominent leader among the nonconformists and English Presbyterians. He was close friends with Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, John Howe, Thomas Jacomb and David Clarkson. In his sermon on Hebrews 12:5, entitled "How to bear Afflictions," Bates makes the point that God afflicts believers for their sins as their loving Father. God chastens his children in love and for their benefit. “The Devil usually tempts Men in a Paradise of Delights, to precipitate them into Hell: God tries them in the Furnace of Afflictions, to purify and prepare them for Heaven.”  
Bates also points out that God’s love in correcting his children is not like that of human fathers.  Human love is tainted with “irregular Passion, mixt with Ignorance, and prone to Error in Excess or Defect.” Consequently, parents may spoil their children or discipline them unnecessarily or improperly. God, however, disciplines perfectly because in him “there is a perfect Union of Wisdom and Love.” His wisdom is displayed in part by administering afflictions according to what each individual is able to handle, or in the words of Bates, “according to the degrees of Strength that are in his People.”  After citing 1 Corinthians 10:13, Bates writes, “As a prudent Physician consults the Strength of the Patient as well as the Quality of the Disease, and proportions his Medicine; so all the bitter ingredients, their Mixture and Measure, are dispens’d by the wise Prescription of God, according to the degrees of Strength that are in his People.”
Two other Puritans make similar points. First, Matthew Henry in his comments on 1 Corinthians 10:13 writes, “He is wise as well as faithful, and will proportion our burden to our strength. He will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able. He knows what we can bear, and what we can bear up against; and he will, in his wise providence, either proportion our temptations to our strength or make us able to grapple with them.”
Second, Anthony Burgess in his book on justification addressed the antinomian argument that the teaching that God afflicts his people for their sins greatly troubles them and makes their lives unbearable. In response, Burgess notes that God wisely afflicts his saints so that they will not fall into despair. He writes: “We give many Cordials and Antidotes against despair, while we say they are afflictions even for sin, for we add further that they are all bounded within a due measure; God considers our strength, and will lay no more then he will inable to bear.”
The saying, “God won’t give you more than you are able to handle,” does capture an important biblical truth. Certainly, God may give us more than we think we are able to handle. Moreover, God will give us the strength to handle what he brings our way. Nonetheless, it is also true that God takes our ability and maturity into account when providentially dispensing temptations and trials. As John Calvin says, God “regulates our temptations” according to “the measure of our power, which he himself conferred.” In other words, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
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"