In light of Matt Foreman's insightful article, it seems appropriate to look at some practical advice from The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson.[1] Here's what Watson had to say about becoming a peacemaker:

How shall we attain to peaceableness?

1. Take heed of those things which will hinder it. There are several impediments of Peace which we must beware of; and they are either outward or inward.

a) Outward; as whisperers (Rom. 1:29)

There are some who will be buzzing things in our ears purposely to exasperate and provoke; among these we may rank Tale-bearers (Lev. 19:16). The Tale-bearer carries reports up and down, the Devil finds his Letters by this Post; the Tale-Bearer is an Incendiary; he blows the coals of contention. "Do you hear," saith he, "what such a one saith of you? Will you put up such a wrong? Will you suffer yourself to be so abused?" Thus saith he by throwing in his fireballs, foment differences, and set men together by the ears; we are commanded indeed to provoke one another to love (Heb. 10:24), but nowhere to provoke anger: We should stop our ears to such persons as are known to come on the Devil's errand.

b) Take Heed of Inward Hinderances[2] to Peace, such as:

i) Self-Love (φιλαυτία). "Men shall be lovers of themselves" (2 Tim. 3:2): And it follows, they shall be fierce (ἀνήμεροι; v. 3) The setting-up of this Idol of Self, hath caused so many Law-suits, Plunders, Massacres in the World. "All seek their own" (Phil. 2:21). Nay; it were well if they would seek but their own. Self-love angles away the Estates of others, either by force or fraud. Self-love sets up Monopolies and Enclosures; it is a Bird of prey, which lives upon rapine. Self-love cuts asunder the bond of Peace. Lay aside Self. The Heathens could say "We are not born for ourselves" (Non nobis solum nati).

ii) Pride (ἀλαζονεία). "He that is of a proud heart, stirreth up strife" (Prov. 28:26). Pride and Contention, like Hippocrates Twins, are both born at once. A proud man thinks himself better than others, and will contend for superiority. "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence" (3 John 9): A proud man would have all strike sail to him. Because Mordecai would not give Haman the Cap and Knee, he gets a bloody warrant signed for the death of all the Jews (Esther 3:9). What made all the strife between Pompey and Caesar, but pride? Their Spirits were too high to yield one to another. When this wind of pride gets into a mans heart, it causeth sad Earthquakes of division. The Poets fain, that when Pandora's Box was broke open, it filled the world with disease. When Adam's pride had broken the Box of Original Righteousness, it hath ever since filled the world with debates and dissensions. Let us shake off this viper of Pride; humility solders Christians together in Peace.

iii) Envy (φθόνος). Envy stirreth up strife; the Apostle hath linked them together (1 Tim 6:4). Envy cannot endure a Superiour; this made the Plebeian faction so strong among the Romans, they envied their Superiours: an envious man seeing another to have a fuller Crop, a better Trade, is ready to pick a quarrel with him. "Who can stand therefore envy?" (Prov. 27:4). Envy is a vermin that lives on blood; take heed of it; peace will not dwell with this inmate.

iv) Credulity (ταχυτείθεια). "The Simple believeth every word" (Prov. 14:15). A credulous man is a kin to a fool; he believes all that is told him, and this doth often created differences. As it is a sin to be a Tale-bearer, so it is a folly to be a Tale-believer. A wise man will not take a report at the first bound, but will sift and examine it before he gives credit to it.

2. Let Us Labour for those things which will maintain and cherish peace, such as:

a) Faith. Faith and peace keep house together. Faith believes the Word of God; the Word saith, "Live in peace" (2 Cor. 13:11). And as soon as faith sees the King of heavens Warrant, it obeys. Faith persuades the soul that God is at peace; and it is impossible to believe this, and live in variance. Nourish faith; faith knits us to God in love, and to our Brethren in peace/

b) Christian-Communion. There should not be too much strangeness among Christians. The primitive Saints had their love-feasts (ἀγάπαι). The Apostle exhorting to peace, brings this as an Expedient: "Be ye kind one to another" (Eph. 4:32).

c) Look not upon the failings of others, but their graces; there is no perfection here. We read of the "spots of God's children" (Deut. 32:5). The most golden Christians are some grains too light. Oh let us not so quarrel with the infirmities of others, as to pass by their virtues. If in some things they fail, in other things they excel. 'Tis the manner of the world to look more upon the Sun in an Exlipse, than when it shines in its full luster.

d) Pray to God that he will send down the Spirit of Peace into our hearts. We should not, as Vultures, prey one upon another, but pray one for another. Pray that God will quench the fire of contention, and kindle the fire of compassion in our hearts one to another.


[1] Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes, or a Discourse Upon Part of Christ's Famous Sermon on the Mount (London, 1671). 

[2] Original: "lets" (credit to Banner's 2014 edition for clarifying). 

Ben Ciavolella is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary. He works as a publishing assistant for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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"Applying the Beatitudes" by Matt Foreman

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A Small Book about A BIG Problem by Ed Welch

Sanctification, ed. by Jeffrey Stivason  [ Print Booklet  |  PDF Download ]

When I began to study the doctrine of good works in the Reformed tradition many years ago, I was astounded by a view that many Puritans, following in the footsteps of John Calvin, promulgated. These Reformed stalwarts taught that God graciously rewards eternal life to his people who persevere in good works to the end. I had been aware of the view that God graciously rewards good works in this life and that different degrees of rewards in glory will be measured out according to works.  But I don’t recall ever being taught or thinking that God actually rewards the gift of eternal life itself to works. Yet, this is what many of our Reformed forefathers taught. Samuel Rutherford wrote that the Scriptures teach that there is “a promise of life eternall, made to Evangelike and unperfect doing through the strength of grace.”  Commenting upon Romans 2:6-7, Matthew Henry said that “Heaven is life, eternal life, and it is the reward of those that patiently continue in well-doing.” George Downame argued that eternal life is “a free reward promised to our obedience.”  Anthony Burgess said that good works are necessary because “there are many promises scattered up and down in the Word of God: so that to every godly action thou doest, there is a promise of eternall life.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this Puritan teaching, because eternal life, as William Cunningham wrote, “is, no doubt, represented in Scripture as the reward of good works.” The problem though—and this is why many of us may find it surprising—is that this teaching seems to clash with salvation by grace alone and by faith alone.

The Puritans were aware of this potential conflict, of course, but they weren’t troubled by it for several reasons. First, the reward is of grace. Edward Veal noted that the term “reward” can be taken in two different senses: “one proper and of debt; the other improper and of grace.”  Our good works don’t even come close to deserving eternal life, and therefore the reward God promises to bestow upon them is due to his grace and kindness.

Second, the promise made to works is the same one that is promised and given to faith. This is one reason good works can’t be meritorious. You can’t merit by your good works that which you have already have been entitled to by faith in Christ. Abraham is a classic case in point.  Downame wrote:

“To this purpose let us consider the Lords dealing with Abraham, to whom the Lord at his first comming towards the Land of promise, made divers gracious promises, which afterwards hee often repeated. But when upon that Commandement of tryall to offer up his onely sonne, Abraham had by Gods speciall grace notably approved his faith and obedience; hereupon the Lord doth sweare, that he will bestow upon him the things which before hee had promised, as the reward of that his obedience, for so hee saith, because thou hast done this thing, and againe, because thou hast obeyed my voice. Can any man hereupon inferre that Abraham by his obedience had deserved these promises which God long before had made unto him, and oftentimes repeated? Nothing lesse, so God in his eternall Counsell hath to the Elect designed eternall life, as his free gift by Christ, Christ by his merits hath purchased it to bee our inheritance, God hath graciously promised to bestow freely this inheritance on them that beleeve in Christ: when as therefore God doth promise to reward our piety with eternall life, wee may not thinke that by our piety it is deserved, which God long before had decreed and promised, and Christ our Saviour had purchased for us. But though it bee a reward, yet it is a most free, and undeserved reward.”

Third, the puritans distinguished between the title to eternal life and the possession of eternal life (for more on this distinction, see this post). Jesus has fully accomplished salvation for us, including purchasing every grace needed to work out our salvation. Notwithstanding, God graciously promises eternal life to the one who believes and to “him that doth his commandments (Rutherford).” We are first given the right to eternal life by faith and then we are given “the crown of life in the possession thereof (Rutherford)” by means of good works.  This distinction is crucial, as is the order. We aren’t justified by our good works because they do not play a role in the granting of the right to eternal life, and because they are rewarded after justification. Indeed, we can’t be rewarded with eternal life in the sense of entering into its possession if we don’t already possess it by right. God rewards the works of justified believers—the only people who are, by the Spirit, able to perform works that are pleasing to God—and not unbelievers or those outside the covenant of grace. 

This is how the Puritans explained the Scriptural passages that call eternal life the reward of good works. And they were simply following John Calvin who, as Rutherford pointed out, called good works “the inferiour causes of the possession of life" (cf. Institutes 3.14.21).

D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.

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Antinomianism (Print Booket  |  PDF Download)


Herman J Selderhuis, Calvinus Pastor Ecclesiae Papers of the Eleventh International Congress on Calvin Research, vol. 39, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016). 467pp. Hardcover. $150.00.

Many scholars have demonstrated ably that John Calvin neither founded nor dominated a theological tradition. However, the fact remains that Calvin often stands a little bit taller than his contemporaries. Calvin studies are and will remain an important part of the history of Christian theology, likely until Christ returns in glory. The editors of this volume assert that even though some people thought that interest in Calvin studies would decline following the five hundredth anniversary of his birth in 2009, the opposite is the case. Calvin studies have exploded in recent years and, even though the field has become a virtual cottage industry, the editors argue that there is more room for further research than ever before. The chapters of this volume represent some recent scholarly labors towards this end. While these essays vary widely in quality, many of them provide thought provoking and fruitful insights into vital theological topics.

This volume covers a wide range of theological issues. All of the articles, with the exception of four, are in English (there are three in French and one in German). Some chapters stand out as particularly relevant to historical and contemporary theology, such as those on recent Catholic studies of Calvin (Rahner), conscience and natural law (Thompson), Calvin and Oecolampadius on the Eucharist (Burnett), Bullinger and Calvin on Genesis 17 and covenant conditions (Hilebrand), mystical union with Christ (Kim, in French), pneumatology and participation in the Trinity (Lett), and Calvin and Bullinger on justification and sanctification (Mock). Three chapters treat Calvin’s views of church discipline in several different connections (29-50, 51-64, 435-448). In particular, the chapter on “L’union mystique chez Calvin” (333-346) is an excellent counter to recent authors who attempt to equate Calvin’s view of union with Christ with Eastern views of deification. The author argues on the grounds of Calvin’s comparison of mystical union with the union of Christ’s two natures in one person (commincatio idomatum) and with the idea that Christ’s deity exists beyond the limits of his humanity (extra calvinisticum) that Calvin regarded any concept of deification to be impossible, leading to superstition and idolatry (340). At least in Calvin’s conception in his historical context, deification was not a proper way of speaking of union with Christ. The downside is that the article is in French, which limits its accessibility to many readers. A few chapters later, Jonathan Lett presents an alternative view of union with Christ in Calvin’s thought, filtering the issue through pneumatology instead of Christology (355-365). These chapters illustrate how this volume sometimes presents counter positions in ongoing debates in historical and contemporary theology. The same feature of contrasting views appears in the two chapters assessing whether Calvin read Chrysostom in Greek (347-354 and 423-434). In a work this size covering such a wide range of topics, there is likely to be something of interest to most readers.

Not all of the essays in this book, however, are of equal quality. In spite of the chastening hand of authors, such as David Steinmetz and Richard Muller, many Calvin scholars still persist to treat Calvin’s thought in relative isolation from his historical contemporaries. This can result in a truncated or distorted view of what Calvin meant or why what he said was stood out (or did not). While many of the authors in this volume set a broader context, many others still lack a broader investigation into the theological climate of the time in which he lived. In defense of the latter, however, Calvin’s collected works in Latin and French push well over 60 volumes, if we include his sermons. Mastering such a prolific author is a daunting task.

In addition to contextual issues, some authors in the work appear to overshoot their arguments or lack nuances in their analysis. For instance, Ward Holder argues that Calvin was inconsistent with himself in stating his sola scriptura principle, citing his failure to apply it regarding the authority of church councils and fathers (309). He notes, however, that other respected scholars, such as Irena Backus, have adopted a more conservative view, in which Calvin carefully subordinated the authority of councils to Scripture without removing all interpretive authority from them. Similarly, Joe Mock attributes controversially a secondary and subordinate justification by works to Calvin (394) and he notes, without adequate explanation, that Bullinger sometimes placed sanctification prior to justification (395). Broader contextual studies and the gradual reintroduction of scholastic precision into Reformed theology would have clarified such issues. For instance, later Reformed authors affirmed clearly a judgment according to works at the last day for those already justified in Christ and they also appealed to the distinction between habits and acts in sanctification in order to show how “sanctification” both preceded and followed justification, though in widely differing respects. The first habitual sanctification (regeneration) created a disposition that resulted in saving faith. The later active sanctification flowed from justifying faith into the rest of the Christian life. It is difficult not to the seed thoughts of such later developments in the formulations of Calvin and Bullinger, with the result that these authors may not be as “markedly different” (391) from each other (or from the later Reformed tradition) as Mock depicts them to be.

There is more to this volume of essays than this review can cover. Perusing the table of contents alone will likely spark the interest of many reading this review. Those wanting to avoid the high cost of the work can request it through the inter library loan services of their local public library. While we should not treat Calvin as though he single handedly shaped Reformed theology, we cannot afford to ignore him either. Calvin is still worth reading, and Calvinus Pastor Ecclesiae helps us join in conversation with others about him in relation to many issues. This can only help us grow in our understanding of Scripture and theology.

Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

Related Links

John Calvin: The Man and the Preacher [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

The Protestant Reformation and John Calvin [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Zeal for Godliness: Devotional Meditations From Calvin's Institutes (featuring Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Richard Phillips, Philip Ryken, Carl Trueman, Carlton Wynne, and more)

Calvin and Culture, edited by David Hall and Marvin Padgett

David's Son and David's Lord, edited by Ryan McGraw and Michael Morales

Satan tempts us to think that God is so indulgent that we need not fear punishment for our sins. Few of Satan's lies are more widespread and more dangerous today,

"God is a God of love. He does not punish. He never judges. God expects people to sin and simply overlooks our sin, much as would a lenient and permissive grandfather. So don't get too alarmed about sin."

Not true. Here we see Satan resorting to a common ploy: He obscures a portion of the truth to create a falsehood. God is indeed a God of love, but He is also holy. God forgives sin, but He is also a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). Although rich in mercy, God also cast the angels out of Heaven and expelled Adam from Paradise. God's patience is great, but He also destroyed the entire earth in a catastrophic flood. God displays compassion, but He also sent fire from Heaven to judge the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Nowhere is God's righteous anger against sin more clearly demonstrated than at Calvary. When the Lamb of God hung on the cross bearing the sins of all God's people, the thrice holy God poured out His divine punishment upon the Messiah. The Bible makes this clear: The God who gives grace is also the God who judges sin. 

It is an error—and sometimes a fatal one—to misinterpret God's patience as God's indulgence. God mercifully withholds chastisement as He calls us to repentance. But Satan tempts us to regard withheld punishment as God's lack of concern for our sin. We are then emboldened to continue in sin. “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4). The Holy Spirit displays God's goodness to us and directs us to repent; Satan tells us that God's goodness is evidence that He won't punish sin, and therefore we don't need to repent. 

God does not indulgently ignore our sins. “Do not be deceived," the Bible says to we who are so easily deceived. “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." (Gal. 6:7) There is a reaping that is inevitably linked to our sowing: If we sow in sinful actions, we will reap a harvest of sin's consequences (which include God's judgment). There are several good protections against temptation, but one of the best is a healthy fear of God's hand of punishment. 

Brooks cautions that we should be most alarmed over our spiritual health when we can break God's laws and not sense God's holy displeasure with us. “When God lets the way to Hell be a smooth and pleasant way," warns Brooks, it is "a dreadful sign of God's indignation against a man; a token of His rejection, and that God doth not intend good unto him."

Previous posts in this series:

Robert Spinney (PhD, Vanderbilt) is professor of History at Patrick Henry College, where he teaches American history and historiography. He is the author of City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago and World War II in Nashville: Transformation of the Homefront, as well as an American history textbook and numerous ministry-related booklets. Dr. Spinney formerly served as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, TN, and at Winchester Baptist Church in Winchester, VA.

Related Links

Overcoming Temptation by James Boice ( Audio CD | MP3 Disc | MP3 Download )

PCRT '89: Whatever Happened to Sin ( Audio CD | MP3 Disc | MP3 Download )

"The Labyrinth of Temptation": Calvin on Genesis 22 by Aaron Denlinger

Lead Us Not Into Temptation by Mark Johnston


Editors Note: This is the first post in a short-run series on Puritan Worship. 

I'd like to take you on a journey back through time to a Christian worship service in the Middle Ages. The year is 1413; we enter a large cathedral where the bishop is about to celebrate the Roman mass. Before us is a highly decorated altar, and at the center of attention is a cross with an image of Christ dying in agony. The bishop is robed in ornate vestments marking him as a special priest unto God. He enters the chancel of the church, the holy place set apart by a screen so that the people may not draw near. Aided by the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the angels, this priest has been authorized to apply Christ’s saving power through seven sacraments or sacred rituals of the church.

At the center of Rome’s sacramental system is the mass, the ceremonial observance based on the Lord’s Supper. The bishop performs the rituals of the mass by reciting prescribed prayers, bowing, kissing the altar, sprinkling holy water, making the sign of the cross, and chanting—a ceremony more complex than the Day of Atonement ritual performed by the Hebrew priests under the Old Covenant.[1] At its climax, the bread and wine are said to be changed in their essence, though not in their “accidence” or appearance. The priest then offers them up to God as the very body and blood of Christ. Though much Scripture is woven into the mass, it is spoken in Latin, and the common people can not understand it.

Worship in medieval Europe was a feast for the senses, but for many people it was a famine for the soul.

Now let's leap forward in history 230 years to 1643, still over three and a half centuries ago. We come to a Puritan worship service in New England. As we approach the building, we notice that the meeting house is remarkably plain, empty of images and visible art, yet clean, orderly, and attractive. There is no altar in the center of the far side of the meetinghouse, but instead, a high pulpit for the preacher. A table is placed before it at communion seasons to hold the elements for the Lord’s Supper.

The minister opens the service with a prayer. He reads a passage from the English Bible and offers a brief exposition of its meaning. The congregation sings metrical versions of biblical psalms from the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in America (1640). Then the minister prays briefly for the help of the Holy Spirit and preaches a richly biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical sermon. The sermon lasts for nearly an hour. Some people write notes as they listen. After the sermon, the minister prays again, praising God, asking for His grace, and praying for world missions. Throughout his prayer, his words and thoughts echo the Bible. The congregation then sings more psalms. If they take the Lord’s Supper, they do so with great simplicity, following the institution of the Supper by Christ and aiming at spiritual fellowship with the crucified and risen Christ. They sing another psalm. The minister concludes the service with a benediction. The people will gather again in the afternoon for a service similar in order and length.[2]

Our visits to a medieval service of 1413 and a Puritan service of 1643 reveal that huge changes have taken place. The Puritans reestablished the biblical basis for worship, engaged the common people in the praise of God, greatly simplified the service, made the Word of God central and pervasive, and emphasized spiritual and heartfelt devotion as opposed to ritual and set forms.[3]

What happened that explains this massive change in worship? It was the Reformation of the sixteenth century. But beforw we can look more closely at Puritan worship, we must consider its historical context and roots in the Evangelical Reformation.

The Roots of Puritan Worship

Martin Luther (1483–1546), the German monk by whom God ignited the Reformation, sought to bring the church under the Holy Scriptures. He cut back the seven sacraments to two, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[4] Luther taught that “true spiritual worship” is the “bowing of the heart” to God; in its essence, worship is faith.[5] He saw that worship was not man’s work to win God’s favor, but rather man’s trusting response to God’s promise in Jesus Christ. He put preaching of the Bible at the center of worship, translated the service into the language of the people, engaged the congregation in singing God’s praises, and transformed the mass from an atoning sacrifice into a thankful reception of Christ’s grace.[6] However, Luther remained rather traditional and conservative in his reforms of worship, seeking to take “the middle course” of removing gross idolatry but allowing human additions to worship if the church still found them helpful.[7] Luther’s view shaped the Church of England through men like Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), author of the Book of Common Prayer that shaped English worship for centuries.

Though the Lutheran arm of the Reformation retained some man-made rituals and images from medieval worship, the Reformed arm pursued a more consistently biblical approach to worship. John Calvin (1509–1564), the great Reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, believed that worship is the soul of a righteous life; it is one of the twin pillars of Christianity, the other being the gospel of Jesus Christ.[8] He said, “We are not to seek from men the doctrine of the true worship of God, for the Lord has faithfully and fully instructed us how he is to be worshiped.” He based this upon the sufficiency of Christ to be our whole wisdom, as taught in Colossians 2. Like Paul, Calvin condemned “self-made religion” (or “will worship,” Col. 2:23, KJV). Adding human traditions to or making innovations in public worship creates spiritual bondage.[9] This subjection of worship to the law and gospel of Christ is characteristic of Reformed worship.

Puritan worship, at its core, is Reformed worship.[10] Malcolm Watts, in his book, What Is a Reformed Church,writes, “‘Reformed worship’ is worship that is conducted strictly according to God’s written Word, which is ‘the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.’”[11] William Perkins (1558–1602), one of the fathers of the Puritan movement, gave this definition of worship: “The worship or service of God is, when upon the right knowledge of God, we freely give him the honor that is proper to him, in our hearts according to his own will.”[12]

Puritan worship aimed to fulfill the mandate of Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” In tracing out the principles of Puritan worship, I will present its foundation, its rule, its songs, and its spirit.


1. On the ceremony of the medieval mass, see Roger E. Reynolds, “Mass, Liturgy of the,” in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph R. Strayer (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982–1984), 7:181–97.

2. On the New England Puritan worship service in the 1640’s see Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 99, 103–126. In England, Puritan worship would often have incorporated more elements from the Book of Common Prayer, except where those elements were deemed unbiblical or superstitious.

3. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 111–28.

4. Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 36:124. On the church’s lack of authority to create a promise or sacrament without its divine institution in the Holy Scriptures, see Luther’s Works, 36:107, 289.

5. Martin Luther, The Adoration of the Sacrament, in Luther’s Works, 36:293.

6. Martin Luther, The German Mass, in Luther’s Works, 53:63–64, 68; Helmar Junghans, “Luther on the Reform of Worship,” in Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 212, 220–21.

7. Ulrich S. Leupold, introduction to Luther’s Works, 53:xiv; Martin Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, in Luther’s Works, 40:130.

8. Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.11; The Necessity of Reforming the Church, trans. Henry Beveridge (London: W. H. Dalton, 1843), 7. See Carlos M. N. Eire, War against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 198–200.

9. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 4.10.8.

10. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 663–66.

11. Malcolm Watts, What Is a Reformed Church? (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 46. He is quoting the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 2).

12. William Perkins, A Warning against the Idolatry of the Last Times. And an Instruction Touching Religious, or Diuine Worship (London: Iohn Legat, 1601), 176. Since I am citing the latter portion of Perkins’s work, henceforth it will be cited as Diuine Worship.

Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.

Related Links

Worship: The Chief End of Man (Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology 2019)

"Worship and the Christian's True Identity" by Jonathan Cruse

The God We Worship, edited by Jonathan Master

What Is the Lord's Supper? by Richard Phillips

Reformation Worship Conference: Anthology

Editor's Note: To read previous posts in this series, follow the links at the bottom of this post.

We have previously considered the doctrines of justification and sanctification in our salvation from and to the law in Jesus Christ. This post will focus more specifically on the “rule of obedience” God gave to man in “the moral law.” Such “is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments,” which themselves are abbreviated (Matt 22:37-40) in the duty “to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, 40-42). Let’s consider the general Puritan understanding of the moral law and its place in the Christian life.

First, the term “moral law” implies the threefold division of the law or its moral, ceremonial, and civil aspects. The roots of this division extended back through medieval (e.g. Aquinas) to patristic (e.g. Augustine) theology. For example, Aquinas made a distinction between the moral aspect related to universal and “naturally known principles . . . both in speculative and in practical matters,” the ceremonial concerning “universal principle about Divine worship,” and the judicial related to “general precepts of that justice which is to be observed among men” (Summa Theologica; I-II, Q. 99, Art. 4).

The Westminster Confession, in line with and developing from this medieval understanding and its Reformed clarification (especially in Calvin), speaks of these three aspects of the law: the moral as a “perfect rule of righteousness” before and after the fall; the ceremonial related in part to moral duties and “worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits” and so now “abrogated;” and the judicial given to Israel as a “body politic” coming to an end with Israel as a nation apart from the “general equity” (implied moral principles) in terms of remaining obligations (19:2-4). The moral law alone, in connection with associated principles garnered from the ceremonial and judicial, does “forever bind all” believers and unbelievers alike; which, in the Gospel, Christ does not “dissolve” but strengthens “this obligation” (19:5).

Second, God gave man the moral law before and after the fall and not just in the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic Covenant. The Confession identifies that, before the fall, Adam and Eve had “the law of God written in their hearts” (4:2; Rom 2:14-15) and such as a “covenant of works” binding them to perfect obedience with death “threatened . . .  upon the breach of it” (19:1). This indicates that the moral law was given before the Ten Commandments and then remained “a perfect rule of righteousness” after the fall and to be eventually “delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables” (19:2; Exod 34:1, Deut 10:4).

Still, apart from yet in conjunction with the Ten Commandments, man continued to have the law of God written on his heart. As Puritan Thomas Goodwin notes, men in Adam had the law of God as an “inward principle. . . written in their hearts,” and now, after the fall, “written”  as “a shadow of that full and perfect, exact copy of the whole and holy law” (The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 7, ed. James Nichol, 1863, Kindle edition). In this way, all men have the law of God of their hearts, albeit suppressed by their sinful opposition to it (Rom 1:18, 25).

Third, the moral law as a “rule of obedience” refers to the third use of the law. The Puritans in general, in line with the Reformers (even Luther with his strong law-gospel distinction), emphasized the three uses of the law. The law is that which restrains sin, shows us our failure driving us to Christ as the perfect fulfillment of  the law, and acts as a normative guide for the Christian life. The latter they held in opposition to Antinomianism, which affirmed the first two uses but denied the third in terms of its obligatory nature upon Christians freed from the law under the grace of the gospel. As Samuel Bolton notes, “If Christians are bound not to sin, then they are bound to keep the law” (The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 1645, Kindle edition).

Fourth, possessing the moral law as “rule of obedience” means that it can no longer be a covenant. In general, the Puritans affirmed that Christians are freed from the curse of the law but not from the demands of it. For example, Edward Fisher attests in The Marrow of Modern Divinity (as Evangelista) that regarding the law as a “covenant of works, [Christians] are wholly and altogether delivered and set free from it” and its “commanding and condemning power.” Indeed, prior to faith, “you were wholly under the covenant of works, as Adam left both you and all his posterity after his fall; so now, since you have believed, you are wholly under the covenant of grace.” Yet for those is Christ, “evangelical grace directs a man” to  “obedience” to “the ten commandments” as “the rule.” (The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1645; in The Fig Classic Series on Post-Reformation Theology, 2012, Kindle edition).

Summing all of this up, God has written his law on the hearts of Adam and his posterity as a covenant of works to be perfectly obeyed for eternal life. After the fall, man is incapable of such obedience to the law as more fully expressed in the Ten Commandments. In grace and in Christ, such has been perfectly fulfilled for believers delivered from their sin and accepted as totally righteous in their justification. Yet, the moral law remains a rule of life for all professing believers in their sanctification necessarily--though not meritoriously--in their ongoing salvation. In this way, we must take seriously the injunction by the writer of Hebrews, “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Previous Posts in This Series:

  1. Scripture
  2. God Is
  3. Trinity
  4. God’s Decrees
  5. Creation and Providence
  6. Covenants
  7. Christology

Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is an OPC minister and serves as the Director of Research and Dean of Students at the Greystone Theological Institute. 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. In connection with his Bunyan studies, he has written an allegory of his own, one for children: Nutonius of Acornshire.

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Grace Worth Fighting For by Danny Hyde

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The Gospel: What, Why, and How? Audio Disk Set  |  MP3 Disk Set  |  MP3 Download Set )

Antinomianism ( Print Booket  |  PDF Download )

Karma is a word that has been adopted from Hinduism and Buddhism to capture the saying, “what goes around, comes around.” What you do to others—good or ill—will eventually in some form or fashion be done to you. As is often the case with proverbs or maxims, this one is widely recognized as expressing an observable truth about the world. People can’t but notice that we tend to get what we give. Of course, this is not universally true because there are many exceptions to the rule. Nonetheless, as 19th century Presbyterian theologian William S. Plumer observed, “To a remarkable degree men are made to reap what they have sowed, to gather what they have strewed, and to eat the fruit of their own doings.”

The Puritans were not blind to this phenomenon. John Flavel said that it was clear “to every man’s observation” that the good and evil that is done to us “is accordingly repaid into the bosoms of them that are instrumental therein.” They also recognized that God was the one behind it all. Flavel ascribed it to God’s “over-ruling providence.” And Ezekiel Hopkins said that “God, by his governing providence, distributes rewards and punishments according to our actions.” Therefore, what goes around, comes around, not because of some cosmic principle or some mysterious force of nature, but because God is on his throne. In short, what people call karma is simply providential retribution.

There are many biblical passages (2 Sam. 22:26-27; 1 Kings 8:32; Ps. 17: 15-16; 18:25-26; 41:1-3; Prov. 3:33-35; 22:22-23; 26:27; Isa. 33:1; Matt. 7:2; Luke 6:37-38; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7-8; James 2:13) and examples (Jacob, Haman, David, Ahab, Jereboam, Joash, Daniel’s enemies, etc.) that teach this truth. Sometimes, as Flavel pointed out, “the retributions of providence” are quite exact. For example, God “made the very place of sinning the place of punishment” when he providentially ordered events so that dogs licked up Ahab’s blood in the same place dogs had licked up Naboth’s blood.

One objection to this doctrine are the many injustices in the world. The wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Flavel responded to this with the words of Augustine: “If no sin were punished here, no providence would be believed; and if every sin should be punished here, no judgment would be expected.” Moreover, God’s providence includes his mercy. He is kind and patient toward sinners so that they might repent (Rom. 2:4). Plumer wrote:

“The Almighty does not settle his accounts with his creatures every thirty days. He is long-suffering. He is patient under affronts. He forbears to execute deserved wrath upon offenders. This is one of the striking displays of the goodness of God designed to lead us to repentance. He bears with us. He is slow to anger. He is the God of patience. Long-suffering is of his very essence… Often for a long time he delays his judgments.”

The biblical doctrine of providential retribution should impact our lives in a number of ways. First, we should examine ourselves in times of adversity. If we don’t like how people are treating us, then we would be wise to look at how we have been treating other people. Second, we should acknowledge God’s justice in our suffering, especially “when sorrows come to us in the ghost of the wrong we have committed (Plumer).” Third, we should think twice before we sin. Knowing that what we do to others will be done to us ought to restrain us. Fourth, we shouldn’t feel compelled to avenge ourselves because God will take care of it. Vengeance is his, and he will repay (Rom. 12:19). Finally, we should be encouraged to love God and our neighbor. God notices the good that we do, and he will honor those who honor him (1 Sam. 2:30).[1]


[1] Commenting upon Ps. 18:25-27, John Calvin wrote: “The scope of the discourse is, that the people of God should entertain good hope, and encourage themselves to practice uprightness and integrity, since every man shall reap the fruit of his own righteousness.”

D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.

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Editor's Note: This post has been adapted with permission from Meet the Puritans, available at While there, be sure to also check out William Perkins: Architect of Puritansim.

William Perkins was born in 1558 to Thomas and Hannah Perkins in the village of Marston Jabbett, in Bulkington parish, Warwickshire. As a youth, he indulged in recklessness, profanity, and drunkenness. In 1577, he entered Christ’s College in Cambridge as a pensioner, suggesting that socially he nearly qualified as gentry. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1581 and a master’s degree in 1584.

While a student, Perkins experienced a powerful conversion that probably began when he overheard a woman in the street chide her naughty child by alluding to “drunken Perkins.” That incident so humiliated Perkins that he gave up his wicked ways and fled to Christ for salvation. He gave up the study of mathematics and his fascination with black magic and the occult, and took up theology. In time, he joined up with Laurence Chaderton (1536–1640), who became his personal tutor and lifelong friend. Perkins and Chaderton met with Richard Greenham, Richard Rogers, and others in a spiritual brotherhood at Cambridge that espoused Calvinist and Puritan convictions.

Cambridge was the leading Puritan center of the day. Perkins’s formal training was Calvinism within a scholastic framework. The strict scholastic training at Cambridge was modified somewhat, however, by Peter Ramus’s influence. Ramism had won the support of the Puritans, due to its practicality. Ramus, a converted Roman Catholic, had reformed the arts curriculum by applying it to daily life. He proposed a method to simplify all academic subjects, offering a single logic for both dialectic and rhetoric to make them understandable and memorable. Chaderton first introduced Ramus’s Art of Logick to Cambridge students, particularly to Gabriel Harvey, a lecturer who used Ramus’s methods for reforming the arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. 

Perkins was impressed with Harvey’s presentation and applied it to his manual on preaching titled The Art of Prophesying, or a treatise concerning the sacred and only true manner and method of preaching. Perkins’s training in Ramus’s method oriented him toward practical application rather than speculative theory, and gave him skills for becoming a popular preacher and theologian.

From 1584 until his death, Perkins served as lecturer, or preacher, at Great St. Andrew’s Church, Cambridge, a most influential pulpit across the street from Christ’s College. He also served as a fellow at Christ’s College from 1584 to 1595. Fellows were required to preach, lecture, and tutor students, acting as guides to learning as well as guardians of finances, morals, and manners.

On July 2, 1595, Perkins resigned his fellowship to marry a young widow. That motivated Samuel Ward, later Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, to respond in his diary, “Good Lord, grant...there follow no ruin to the college.” Men such as Ward counted it a great blessing to sit under Perkins’s teaching and to witness his exemplary living.

Perkins served the university in other capacities. He was dean of Christ’s College from 1590 to 1591. He catechized the students at Corpus Christi College on Thursday afternoons, lecturing on the Ten Commandments in a manner that deeply impressed the students. On Sunday afternoons, he worked as an adviser, counseling the spiritually distressed.

Perkins had exceptional gifts for preaching and an uncanny ability to reach common people with plain preaching and theology. He pioneered Puritan casuistry—the art of dealing with “cases of conscience” by self-examination and scriptural diagnosis. Many people were convicted of sin and delivered from bondage under his preaching. The prisoners of the Cambridge jail were among the first to benefit from his powerful preaching. Perkins “would pronounce the word damn with such an emphasis as left a doleful Echo in his auditors’ ears a good while after,” wrote Thomas Fuller. “Many an Onesimus in bonds was converted to Christ” (Abel Redevivus, 2:145-46).

Samuel Clarke offers a striking example of Perkins’s pastoral care. He says a condemned prisoner was climbing the gallows, looking half-dead, when Perkins said to him, “What man! What is the matter with thee? Art thou afraid of death?” The prisoner confessed that he was less afraid of death than of what would follow it. “Sayest thou so,” said Perkins. “Come down again man and thou shalt see what God’s grace will do to strengthen thee.”
When the prisoner came down, they knelt together, hand in hand, and Perkins offered “such an effectual prayer in confession of made the poor prisoner burst out into abundance of tears.” Convinced the prisoner was brought “low enough, even to Hell gates,” Perkins showed him the gospel in prayer. Clarke writes that the prisoner’s eyes were opened “to see how the black lines of all his sins were crossed, and cancelled with the red lines of his crucified Savior’s precious blood; so graciously applying it to his wounded conscience, as made him break out into new showers of tears for joy of the inward consolation which he found.” The prisoner rose from his knees, went cheerfully up the ladder, testified of salvation in Christ’s blood, and bore his death with patience, “as if he actually saw himself delivered from the Hell which he feared before, and heaven opened for the receiving of his soul, to the great rejoicing of the beholders” (The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History, pp. 416-17).

Perkins’s sermons were of many “colours,” writes Fuller. They seemed to be “all Law and all gospel, all cordials and all corrosives, as the different necessities of people apprehended.” He was able to reach many types of people in various classes, being “systematic, scholarly, solid and simple at the same time.” As Fuller says, “His church consisting of the university and town, the scholar could have no learneder, the townsmen [no] plainer, sermons.” Most importantly, he lived his sermons: “As his preaching was a comment on his text, so his practice was a comment on his preaching,” Fuller concludes (Abel Redevivus, 2:148, 151).

Perkins aimed to wed predestinarian preaching with practical, experiential living. He refused to see the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility as antagonistic but treated them as “friends” who need no reconciliation.

Like Chaderton, his mentor, Perkins worked to purify the established church from within rather than joining Puritans who advocated separation. Instead of addressing church polity, he focused on addressing pastoral inadequacies, spiritual deficiencies, and soul-destroying ignorance in the church.

In time, Perkins as rhetorician, expositor, theologian, and pastor became the principle architect of the Puritan movement. His vision of reform for the church, combined with his intellect, piety, writing, spiritual counseling, and communication skills, enabled him to set the tone for the seventeenth-century Puritan accent on Reformed, experiential truth and self-examination, and their polemic against Roman Catholicism and Arminianism. Fuller said of Perkins, who was disabled in his right hand, “This Ehud, with a left-handed pen did stab the Romish cause.” By the time of his death, Perkins’s writings in England were outselling those of Calvin, Beza, and Bullinger combined. He “moulded the piety of a whole nation,” H.C. Porter said (Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge, p. 260).

Perkins died from kidney stone complications in 1602, just before the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. His wife of seven years was pregnant at the time; she was caring for three small children as well as sorrowing over three children recently lost to various diseases. Perkins’s closest friend, James Montagu, later bishop of Winchester, preached the funeral sermon for Perkins from Joshua 1:2, “Moses my servant is dead.” Ward, deeply distressed, wrote on behalf of many: “God knows his death is likely to be an irrevocable loss and a great judgment to the university, seeing there is none to supply his place” (M. M. Knappen, ed., Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries, p. 130). Perkins was buried in the churchyard of Great St. Andrews. His sizable library was purchased by William Bedell, one of Perkins’s students who became bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh.
Eleven editions of Perkins’s writings, containing nearly fifty treatises, were printed after his death. His major writings include expositions of Galatians 1-5, Matthew 5-7, Hebrews 11, Jude, and Revelation 1-3, as well as treatises on predestination, the order of salvation, assurance of faith, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the worship of God, the Christian life and vocation, ministry and preaching, the errors of Roman Catholicism, and various cases of conscience. His writings, popularized for lay readers, are Bible-based in accord with the principles of literal and contextual interpretation established by the Reformers. They are practically and experientially Calvinistic, continually focusing on motives, desires, and distresses in the heart and life of sinners, ever aiming at finding and following the path of eternal life. For pietistic emphasis, Perkins usually uses a Ramistic method that presents the definition of the subject and its further partition, often by dichotomies, into progressively more heads or topics, applying each truth set forth.

Perkins’s influence continued through such theologians as William Ames (1576-1633), Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), John Cotton (1585-1652), and John Preston (1587-1628). Cotton considered Perkins’s ministry the “one good reason why there came so many excellent preachers out of Cambridge in England, more than out of Oxford.” Thomas Goodwin (1600- 1680) wrote that when he entered Cambridge, six of his instructors who had sat under Perkins were still passing on his teaching. Ten years after Perkins’s death, Cambridge was still “filled with the discourse of the power of Mr. William Perkins’ ministry,” Goodwin said.

The translation of Perkins’s writings prompted greater theological discussion between England and the Continent. J. van der Haar records 185 seventeenth-century printings in Dutch of Perkins’s individual or collected works, twice as many as any other Puritan (From Abbadie to Young: A Bibliography of English, mostly Puritan, Works, Translated i/o Dutch Language, 1:96-108). He and Ames, his most influential student on the continent, influenced Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) and numerous Dutch Nadere Reformatie (Further Reformation) theologians. At least fifty editions of Perkins’s works were printed in Switzerland and in various parts of Germany. His writings were also translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Gaelic, Welsh, Hungarian, and Czech.

Nearly one hundred Cambridge men who grew up in Perkins’s shadow led early migrations to New England, including William Brewster of Plymouth, Thomas Hooker of Connecticut, John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay, and Roger Williams of Rhode Island. Richard Mather was converted while reading Perkins, and Jonathan Edwards was fond of reading Perkins more than a century later. Samuel Morison remarked that “your typical Plymouth Colony library comprised a large and a small bible, Ainsworth’s translation of the Psalms, and the works of William Perkins, a favorite theologian” (The Intellectual Life of New England, 2nd ed., p. 134).

“Anyone who reads the writings of early New England learns that Perkins was indeed a towering figure in their eyes,” wrote Perry Miller. Perkins and his followers were “the most quoted, most respected, and most influential of contemporary authors in the writings and sermons of early Massachusetts.”

Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.

Randall J. Pederson (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an author and editor of several publications relating to Puritanism.

Related Links

William Perkins: Architect of Puritanism, edited by Joel Beeke and Greg Salazar

Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

The Works Of William Perkins, vol. 5

Satan tempts us to excuse or ignore our sin by showing us the sins of great men. We need not turn to tabloid newspapers to read of such sins; the Bible will suffice. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied. Jacob deceived his father and cheated his brother. David committed adultery and murder. Peter denied the Lord Jesus Christ and behaved hypocritically toward Gentile Christians. Satan tells us that such examples prove sin comes with few negative consequences. "These men continued to be useful servants in God's kingdom," Satan says. "They sinned, found forgiveness, and the whole mess was over. They recovered and all was well."

Satan also tells us that such examples prove that sin is inevitable. "There is no avoiding sin," the Devil says. "Sin will happen to the very best of men. God expects us to sin, so He is neither surprised nor terribly disappointed when we do sin. Don't get overly concerned about sin," the Deceiver tells us.

When Satan tempts us in this manner, he neglects to tell us the rest of the story. He hides the tears, heartaches, misery, and painful repentance that result from yielding to temptation. David's infamous sins with Bathsheba and Uriah were followed by his humiliating encounter with Nathan, his public disgrace, and his soul-wrenching repentance. We also know that God punished David for his sin. (See Psalm 51 and 2 Samuel 12:10.) Peter's denial of Jesus before a lowly servant girl resulted in a night of tears. According to early Christians who knew the elderly Peter, whenever the apostle heard a cock crow he would be reminded of his sins, fall upon his knees, and beg for pardon anew.

Great saints sin, but they also feel the pain of sin acutely. “Though God doth not, nor never will, disinherit His people for their sins," writes Brooks, "yet He hath severely punished His people for their sins."

Nor does Satan tell us that great men do not make it a habit to sin. They fall into sin, but they do not stay there. They are overtaken by sin; they do not remain in it. As Brooks put it, they fall accidentally, occasionally, and with much reluctancy; they do not sin obstinately, readily, delightfully, or customarily. Great saints grieve over and fight their way out of sin.

Seeing the sins of great men should certainly affect us: It should persuade us that sin is deceitful and powerful. It should convince us that we are not strong enough to experiment with sin. Every Christian should realize that he is not so mature that he is immune to the allure of sin. Great men's sins should cause us to fear sin all the more and be even more vigilant in resisting it. Believers who think they stand should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). It can encourage our own repentance when we see that even great saints sinned and yet found restoration through forsaking their sin.

Satan's showing us the sins of great men often has another effect: It encourages us to think that we lack the power to resist sin. "If that great saint could not resist temptation," the Devil tells us, "then how can you? You are much weaker than he!" We see godly Christians succumb to temptations and come to the conclusion that resisting sin is futile.

Not true.

“No temptation has you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are with the temptation will provide the way of escape a you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

This assures me that I always possess the ability to resist on temptations. I never face a temptation that is stronger the provision of God's grace. God is faithful to restrict temptations to snares I am able to resist. This verse also tells me that there is always a way to escape from the temptation without sinning. I can never surrender and cry out, “I can't endure this temptation any longer!" Because a sovereign God controls all events and gives grace, I am always able to endure it. The question is never whether I have the ability to resist this temptation to sin, because the answer to that question is “Yes.” Rather, the question Christians face is whether they are willing to resist this temptation to sin. The Bible tells me that I am never in a situation where I must sin. "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation.” (2 Peter 2:9).

Previous posts in this series:

Robert Spinney (PhD, Vanderbilt) is professor of History at Patrick Henry College, where he teaches American history and historiography. He is the author of City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago and World War II in Nashville: Transformation of the Homefront, as well as an American history textbook and numerous ministry-related booklets. Dr. Spinney formerly served as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, TN, and at Winchester Baptist Church in Winchester, VA.

Related Links

Overcoming Temptation by James Boice ( Audio CD | MP3 Disc | MP3 Download )

PCRT '89: Whatever Happened to Sin ( Audio CD | MP3 Disc | MP3 Download )

"The Labyrinth of Temptation": Calvin on Genesis 22 by Aaron Denlinger

Lead Us Not Into Temptation by Mark Johnston


This post takes a look at the new animated production of The Pilgrim’s Progress, produced jointly by Cat in the Mill Studio, Herald Entertainment, Revelation Media, and Vision Video. This movie cannot be ignored; it has become an instant bestseller, has spread rapidly worldwide. There are currently plans to have it translated into over a hundred languages, and it has already become the second-most watched movie on the mission field next to the Jesus movie. 

To be sure, this is not the high quality animation of such studios as Pixar or Dreamworks. Yet, produced at a fraction of the cost, the animation is good enough to capture audiences accustomed to the more elaborate productions. This, and the fact that the movie modernizes the language of Bunyan (increasingly difficult for modern ears to grasp), helps to explain the growing popularity of the movie. As for the characters, I enjoyed Evangelist the most, voiced wonderfully by John Rhys Davies (Gimli and Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings).

The Gospel message of the movie adds to its growing admiration. Executive producer Steve Cleary wants to broadcast the good news in a popular medium and in an attractive manner. Didn’t  Bunyan do the same in his allegory as he appeals to the “fowler” who seeks “to catch his game by divers means” (The Author’s Apology for his Book)? In this way, the movie heralds the Gospel effectively. Cleary also knows that while a “message” movie might communicate in an appealing way, it will not appeal to everyone. Many want the entertainment without the message, especially when it's this message.  

So, does the animation carry the message faithful to Bunyan? In general, yes. The film includes most of the main scenes from the book, with the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City depicting conversion and the Christian pilgrimage to glory. With that said, I was disappointed at times. 

Before commenting more, I confess (at the risk of sounding snobbish) that I’m not a big fan of movie adaptations taking undue liberty with an author’s original work and intentions, especially when they are misrepresented. For example, Disney’s three Chronicles of Narnia movies (2005-2010), while very entertaining and not without merit, so easily strayed from C.S. Lewis that they left me longing for the low-budget yet faithful BBC television-serial (1988-1990) with all of its rudimentary cinematography and special effects.

Of course, the ones who read the books first (and can remember the details!) tend to be the most frustrated with movie versions. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003) so much, as I couldn’t  remember enough of the discrepancies from the Tolkien trilogy I read 20 years earlier in high school. This common tendency helps account for the current movie’s popularity. Less and less people today, even in the church, have actually read The Pilgrim’s Progress and have little to nothing to compare the movie to.  

This animated version at times does depart from Bunyan, though not as much as the 1978 Pilgrim’s Progress movie starring Liam Neeson in his debut film role as Evangelist, and . . . Help, Goodwill, Knowledge the Shepherd, and even Christ on the cross! Interestingly, the animated version seems to follow this movie’s tendency for Apollyon to be transformed into different enemies with the Supervisor demon doing the same. Apparently, it was not enough to have Christian encounter real humans under the influence of the evil one as Bunyan did. 

In any event, let’s consider some areas of departure. First, some things get left out. Characters such as the following from the allegory you will not find:  Simple, Sloth, and Presumption; Formalist and Hypocrisy; Mistrust and Timorous; the four shepherds (Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere) at the Delectable Mountains, and Atheist. Likewise, you will find no Hill Difficulty,Valley of the Shadow of Death, or Enchanted Ground. I realize that a two-hour movie can’t cover everything.  Yet, considering that the  35-minute 1978 cartoon version produced by Baptista (edited from a longer 1950 version that I have yet to see) includes all of these, it’s hard to give a pass for these exclusions (By the way, if you want an animation faithful to Bunyan, get this one. It is low-quality outdated animation, but comes straight out of the allegory).

Second, and in connection with the exclusions,  the movie embellishes many details which, while entertaining, are unneccesary. For example, it starts way too slowly with all sorts of extra characters and scenes and with too much time lingering in the City of Destruction before the journey begins for “Christian Pilgrim” (never referred to as Graceless as in the book). The introduction includes various demons (most notably the Supervisor) and Apollyon himself who appear on several occasions, though the latter only emerges once in the book and the former not at all. One embellishment is the too-clever renaming of the City of Destruction with the backwards “Noit Curtsed” refashioned as “Not Cursed” by a demon named Lux. 

Third, and most troubling (and in connection with the embellishments), are the changes and/or misinterpretations of characters and scenes from the allegory. For example, near the wicket gate (representing faith in Christ), Christian gets pursued by flying demon-dragons (an embellishment) not just to the gate but beyond. In the allegory, Goodwill tugs Christian through the gate to avoid the arrows from the Castle of Beelzebub seeking to kill people prior to faith in Christ. Once in him, the arrows are meaningless. This fact seems to be lost in the animation’s dragons who soar over the gate wall in pursuit of Christian and are fought off by Goodwill.

Then, at the Interpreter’s house, the images covered misinterpret Bunyan, which begins with the change of Mr. Interpreter into a woman (albeit voiced elegantly by musician Kristyn Getty), when the allegory depicts a seventeenth-century pastor (an office limited to men for Bunyan), directing young Christians in spiritual matters. The episode of Passion and Patience seems at first to get the idea of waiting for one’s good things in the life to come. Yet, the later ‘Patience Path’ (an embellishment) near the cross incorrectly applies Patience to waiting to lose one’s burden of sin. The man in the iron cage crying, “No hope” (sadly with no explanation), is improperly linked with the cage later in Doubting Castle. In the allegory, the first cage indicates a professing yet not genuine believer given over to lusts and so apostacy (with no hope of release), while the latter denotes a true Christian’s loss of assurance due to spiritual declension. 

Then, at the Delectable (Delightful) Mountains, the four shepherds symbolizing pastors as spiritual guides are exchanged with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is revealed later in the Celestial City in the movie. This is more than just a replacement; it misses the warnings of the shepherds who, in the allegory, show Christian the ongoing dangers of  life and profession through the Mounts of Error and Caution and the Byway to hell.

In summary, I rejoice in the producers’ endeavor to share the gospel through this animated version and the success it has received. Still, in many respects, the movie does not remain true to Bunyan. Indeed, watch it and use it with others, but do so ready to explain the scenes and the discrepancies that occur. With this in mind, read the allegory if you have not already. May the animation spark a renewal of interest to read Bunyan’s classic work. 

Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is an OPC minister and serves as the Director of Research and Dean of Students at the Greystone Theological Institute. 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. In connection with his Bunyan studies, he has written an allegory of his own, one for children: Nutonius of Acornshire.

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