For many, theology has a dry and arid connotation. For others, theology is the necessary objective backdrop for understanding the teaching of the Bible as a whole. For Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706), theology was “the doctrine of living for God through Christ” (8). This reminds us that theology is ultimately about knowing the right God, in the right way, for the right reasons.
 
He treated this description as synonymous with “the doctrine according to godliness” mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:3, which provided the primary exegetical basis of his chapter. As noted in a previous post, this was a common definition of theology among Reformed authors, with Mastricht’s addition of moving Christ into the definition explicitly rather than by implication. In fact, the theoretical-practical nature of his definition had the advantage of being implicitly trinitarian in the writings of most Reformed authors. Theology was the doctrine of living well and blessedly. This good and blessed life comes only by living for God, which we can do through Christ alone as the only Mediator between God and men. Yet without the Spirit, we cannot have genuine faith, through which we lay hold of Christ. Mastricht’s definition of theology has the double advantage of helping us understand classic Reformed approaches to theology as well as promoting a devotionally trinitarian way of doing theology. After tracing his development of each part of his definition, I will draw some practical conclusions from it, showing its advantages for the church today.
 
If classifying theology as a science is insufficient to capture the biblical scope of theology, then defining theology as a discourse concerning God is inadequate for reaching the ends of theology. Mastricht argues that this is so because Scripture treats theology as the words of life, living for God, and forming a life in a person that is directed towards God (98). Theology is the doctrine of living for God through Christ.
 
First, he noted, we must understand that theology is doctrine. This does not mean that theology rejects or bypasses the so-called “philosophical habits” of intellect, science, wisdom, prudence, or art (100. I have retranslated “understanding” and “knowledge” here as “intellect” and “science”). Mastricht concluded, “Theology is not so bound to any of these habits that the rest are excluded, but rather it contains the perfection of them all par excellence, for which reason we prefer the broader term ‘doctrine’ so that all the habits can be included in it” (100). God alone can teach us theology, both by revelation and by illumination. Doctrine includes the content of what we believe and it requires the faith by which we believe it.
 
Second, the object of theology is living for God (101). This is because theology is the only discipline that shapes the whole life, both morally and spiritually. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit forms the principle of life in believers as well as “forms all of our actions as a whole” (101). Theology is the noblest discipline, with life as its object, which is the noblest object of all. God is the ultimate end of this life, “(1 Cor. 10:31; Phil. 1:21) without whom all life’s actions will fly off track” (101). This life begins through the new birth and union with Christ through saving faith, which produces all good works in our lives. These works aim at God’s glory and they are according to his commands (102). In this respect, Mastricht reminds us that life in God by grace now differs from life in glory “by degrees” only rather than in essence (1-2).
 
Third, theology is the doctrine of living for God “through Christ.” He noted that is the point at which our theology differs from that of our first parents before the fall. Mastricht argued that theology must be the doctrine of living for God through Christ because sinners can neither live for God nor know God apart from Christ as Mediator (102. Citing Gal. 2:20; Jn. 15:5; Eph. 1:6). We can be pleasing to God only in Christ, with whom the Father is well pleased. This is where the Spirit came explicitly into Mastricht’s treatment of true theology. Christ procured the Spirit by his merit and the Spirit, in turn, makes us alive and leads us to God. Christ communicates to us strength for living for God by his Word and Spirit (103). This means that the life that the Spirit works in us is literally forming the life of Christ in us: “he himself lives in us (Gal. 2:20) and takes possession of all our faculties in such a way that in all things, at all times, and everywhere, Christ’s humility, obedience, holiness, and righteousness flourish and shine forth, and that Christ’s life, in all these ways, is made manifest in us (2 Cor. 4:11)” (103). This shows that Mastricht’s definition of theology is a shorthand way of pushing dependence on all three persons of the Trinity in the study of theology and, for that matter, every area of life.
 
Defining theology as the doctrine of living for God through Christ has several advantages. First, this definition of theology balances revealed truth with experienced truth. It shows us that the purpose of theology is not knowing about God, but actually knowing God. This involves both understanding doctrine and experiencing its power, which Scripture clearly has in view as its primary aim. Second, this definition recognizes that conformity to God is the primary end of knowing God. It is not merely right doctrine, or even justification, that is the end of theological studies, but sanctification and glorification. Third, this definition of theology is trinitarian rather than generic. This makes theology distinctively and unambiguously Christian. The church today needs to recover a balance between all of these elements. In this case, older approaches to theology may end up resetting contemporary theology by steering it back in the right direction. Scripture is about knowing the right God, in the right way, for the right reasons. Mastricht helps us remeber this as we develop a system of sound doctrine.
 

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

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

1. Life in England

2. Life in Exile

3. His Translation Work


Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is program coordinator of the Puritan Studies Program in connection with the Jonathan Edwards Center Africa at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is also lecturer in Historical Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in Johannesburg, South Africa, and extraordinary senior lecturer at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. He is the author of Histories that Mansoul and Her Wars Anatomize: The Drama of Redemption in John Bunyan’s Holy War and a contributor to Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism.

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

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Article 36 is the concluding article on church discipline. It concerns the public form for the ordination of ministers and the setting apart (consecration) of some presbyters to act as “overseers” or bishops.
 
XXXVI—Of the Consecration of Bishops and Ministers

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

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

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

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

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

Defining Theology

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

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

Why it Matters

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

For previous articles in this series, see here.