Last April I had the chance to hear D.A. Carson speak at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Speaking on the subject of redemption, Carson made reference to a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861) titled “Cowper’s Grave.” The poem opens,

It is a place where poets crowned may feel the heart’s decaying;  
It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying:    
Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence languish:        
Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish.        

While Cowper (1731–1800) may not qualify as a Puritan—and still less Barrett Browning—the poem captures redemption’s beauty in a way that the likes of Bunyan or Rutherford would have certainly appreciated. Cowper, who suffered from severe depression and mental instability, feared towards the end of his life that he was hopelessly reprobate.[1] Praise God that, as Barrett Browning concludes, those covered by Christ precious blood are never forsaken: 

Thus? oh, not thus! no type of earth can image that awaking,      
Wherein he scarcely heard the chant of seraphs, round him breaking,      
Or felt the new immortal throb of soul from body parted,
But felt those eyes alone, and knew,—“My Saviour! not deserted!”

Deserted! Who hath dreamt that when the cross in darkness rested,                
Upon the Victim’s hidden face no love was manifested?  
What frantic hands outstretched have e’er the atoning drops averted?      
What tears have washed them from the soul, that one should be deserted?

Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;        
And Adam’s sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father:        
Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry His universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”     

It went up from the Holy’s lips amid His lost creation,    
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!    
That earth’s worst phrenzies, marring hope, should mar not hope’s fruition,
And I, on Cowper’s grave, should see his rapture in a vision.[2]

[1] M.H. Abrams, ed., Norton’s Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1 (London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1986), 2526. 

[2] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Cowper’s Grave,”  accessed at

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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Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, God’s Ambassadors: The Westminster Assembly and the Reformation of the English Pulpit, 1643-1653, Studies on the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017). 215pp. Hardcover. $40.

There is a growing interest in the history—and especially the theology—of the Westminster Assembly. This body produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which many churches continue to love and use. Yet few may realize how much time and attention the Assembly devoted to examining ministers of the gospel and to developing the theology and practice of preaching. God’s Ambassadors introduces readers to the measures that the Westminster Assembly took to furnish the church with a “learned and godly” ministry. The author shows ably that the members of this Assembly sought to do this both in theory and in practice. This book presents groundbreaking research on a vital subject, both for those interested in historical-theological research and for those who desire to understand the historic Reformed view of preaching better.

Van Dixhoorn’s work is an important introduction to its subject. He divides his material into three sections. The first illustrates the historical context leading up to the Westminster Assembly and the dearth of sound ministers of the gospel at the time. Examining and procuring future gospel ministers was not part of the original task that Parliament assigned to the Assembly (42); yet the need to assess ministers who were ejected from their pulpits during Laudian persecution, coupled with a simultaneous need for new ministers, drew its attention in this direction. Van Dixhoorn shows how the Westminster Assembly examined every minister from 1643-1653 before each was examined by his local presbytery (50). The second section of the book highlights how the Assembly accomplished this in its day-to-day business. The third and largest section treats the theology of preaching that the Assembly developed to meet the needs of these examinations. The author illustrates their principles for preaching in light of the minutes and papers of the Assembly, the directory for preaching that they produced, and the writings of various Westminster divines. The result is a gripping introductory narrative of why and how the Westminster Assembly devoted so much attention to the subject of preaching.

This book has many virtues. The narrative itself is lively and interesting, including anecdotes such as a man having nightmares that, after hearing two long sermons, the dancing at his wedding was cancelled when the minister announced that there would be a third sermon. The historical sketch provided in the first two sections fill in many historical gaps surrounding the work of the Assembly, shedding light on its everyday work. Part three stands out for its interrelation of theological and practical questions, such as the interplay between learning and piety, the primacy of preaching in relation to the sacraments, the proper relationship between Bible reading and preaching, and especially preaching as it relates to Christ and the Holy Spirit.

In particular, chapter 11 explains the common conviction among Assembly members that ministers must preach Christ in all of their sermons. Chapter 12 compliments this material by showing the different methods that ministers recommended to accomplish this goal. Chapter 13 completes the picture by connecting the Spirit’s work directly to the content and the style of preaching. The last of these includes topics such as whether sermon manuscripts were permissible in the pulpit and how extemporaneous preachers ought to be in their sermon delivery (169).

The material on preaching Christ is particularly valuable in light of modern debates on this subject, since seventeenth-century authors approached this issue with different questions than those in the modern age. The author highlights that fact that, regardless of any discrepancies in their practices, Reformed authors believed that preaching Jesus Christ was synonymous with preaching the gospel (150), and that doing so was integral to the definition and task of preaching itself (146-147, 160). Their example can serve as a useful challenge to the church today as we wrestle with similar questions.

One last useful feature of God’s Ambassadors is that it opens avenues to pursue important underdeveloped questions. For example, how does the theory of preaching presented here comport with its continental counterparts? In addition, how consistently did the Westminster Divines and their contemporaries apply their theology of preaching in their sermons? While van Dixhoorn hints at the unity characterizing the answer to the former question (10) and the diversity that marks the answer to the latter one (99), he purposefully leaves the door open for other authors to answer them more fully. In this reviewer’s opinion, this is a strength rather than a weakness. Leaving such questions open keeps the size of this volume manageable, providing an introduction to the topic while promoting further study. 

God’s Ambassadors is not simply for historians. It can be useful to all believers, since all have a vested interest in the preaching of the Word of God. The author notes as well the potential that this material has to challenge modern preachers with the necessity of building a theology of preaching:

“Changing pastoral practice may in fact collate with trends in seminary curricula, as many centers for pastoral training provide courses on gospel content and gospel communication without offering the potential preacher a pulpit theology. This in turn may explain why they are so willing to give up preaching in exchange for other means of teaching and persuasion” (180).

This is precisely the kind of challenge that is need in the church today.

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

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His Sacramental Theology - The Lord's Supper

In our last post, we started on Tyndale’s theology of the sacraments first generally and then specifically with baptism. We will now finish up on Tyndale with his convictions on the Lord’s Supper. 

The majority of Tyndale’s sacramental writing centered on the Lord’s Supper. This makes sense, given the extensive focus on the topic in the 1520s. Such was marked by a united Reformation attack on transubstantiation and the related debate between the Lutheran and Reformed on the presence of Christ at the Supper. The deliberation reached its apex during the Marburg Colloquy (1529), which included most notably Luther and Melanchthon debating Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius. Tyndale himself entered into the general discussion with The Supper of the Lord (1533), even if it focused primarily on the attack of Catholic Sir Thomas More against Tyndale’s colleague John Frith (d.1533), martyred in part for his rejection of transubstantiation. 

Tyndale’s doctrine of the Supper placed considerable emphasis on the humanity of Christ (in union yet not commingled with his divinity) and a natural body located in only one location at a time. Thus, he challenged More, who scoffed at Frith’s argument that Christ’s body could no more be in two places at once than Frith’s own. The matter is vital, for transubsantiation necessitated the presence of Christ’s physical body and blood at innumerable masses simultaneously (while in heaven also). More claimed that if God told him he could be in fifteen places at once, More would accept it. 

Tyndale denied that just because “God may make his body in many places at once; ergo, it is so.” More is “too busy” thinking about what God may do and say (his absolute power) than what he actually does and says (his ordained power). Tyndale wants to know: Would More believe this idea “if Christ never told it [him]”? And if he has told this to More, Tyndale wants to know “where you spake with him, and who was by to bear ye record?” (Supper).  Clearly, Tyndale points the reader to what Christ has actually said and revealed in the Scriptures.

This he does especially from John 6, which while not directly about the Lord’s Supper, tells us how we should understand the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Regarding the offense that the Jews took about Jesus requiring that they eat his flesh and drink his blood, he makes clear that the key to understanding the Supper is to recognize Christ’s explanation, “ ‘My flesh profiteth nothing;’ meaning, to eat it bodily” as it is the Spirit, by and with the Word, that gives life. With this in mind, in the words of institution for the Supper, “Hoc est corpus meum” (This is my body), “est is taken for significat;” which means that the bread “signifieth my body” (Supper). Such an approach connected to John 6 was held in common with Zwingli and Oecolampadius (and Dutch humanist Cornelius Hoen before them).

For Tyndale, the bread and cup symbolized the body Jesus gave and the blood he shed for the forgiveness of sins of the believing eater. Tyndale defends such an allegorical (and literal, for that matter) understanding of Scripture from other texts such as 1 Corinthians 10, where consuming spiritual meat and drink means “to eat and drink Christ,” denoting nothing else than “to believe in Christ.” It is no mistake that he takes such an approach in line with “the opinions of Oecolampadius and Zuinglius,” mentioned specifically by Tyndale. The two argued, he observed, “This is my body, is as much to say as, This signifieth my body.” More had alleged that the two had misused church fathers such as “Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Austin,” while Tyndale appeals to quotes from the fathers arguing for a spiritual understanding of the sacrament (Supper).

Tyndale not only rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation (with explicit reference to Aquinas and the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215); he also opposed the Lutheran position of consubstantiation (without explicit reference to Luther). He refuted transubstantiation and consubstantiation together, since the latter position also supported the idea that the body and blood of Christ were in some way physically present with the elements. He summarizes those who support consubstantiation as saying,

As the Godhead and manhood in Christ are in such manner coupled together, that man is very God, and God very man; even so the very body and the bread are so coupled, that it is as true to say that bread is the body of Christ, and the blood so annexed there with the wine, that it is even as true to say that the wine is Christ’s blood (Supper).

Tyndale believed that there existed three positions: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the symbolic view. I use “symbolic” on purpose, because a “memorial” view does not characterize him. Nor does it represent Zwingli, who clearly affirmed the sacramental-though-spiritual presence of Christ at the Supper. In refuting the physical presence of Christ at the Supper, Tyndale did so without denying the spiritual by saying, “eating” is “none other thing than the belief in himself offered up for our sins.” Like Zwingli and Oecolampadius before him, for Tyndale, eating is believing (Credere est edere) as we feed upon the true “spiritual food and meat of our souls.” In the Lord’s Supper we are indeed remembering what Christ has done for us (“in remembrance of me”) but in true communion with our Savior. So, “we testify the unity and communion of our hearts, glued unto the whole body of Christ in love: yea, and that in such love as Christ at this his last supper expressed; what time he said, his body should be broken and his blood shed for the remission of our sins” (Supper).

In Tyndale, we can affirm support for Christ’s presence at the Supper with his appeal to the gathering of two or three in Matthew 18 (Sacraments), even if he does not explicitly discuss how Christ is present. We must remember that, at the time of Tyndale’s writing, the further elaboration of Calvin and others on the matter had not yet occurred. Would he have agreed with Calvin’s claim that in mystical union with Christ, the Spirit lifts us to heaven in the Supper to feed on the substance of Christ’s “vivifying body” (Confession of Faith concerning the Eucharist, 1537)? We cannot be sure; he may have challenged such an idea with his emphasis on “est is taken for significat.”

This much we can conclude: Tyndale rejected both transubstantiation and consubstantiation while affirming a true spiritual communion with Christ and his bride in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He was not where the Westminster Confession (1647) would be in affirming (in line with Calvin) that Christ’s body and blood are not carnally but “spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance” (29:7), but his thought helped to inform the formulation of Chapter 29 over a century later. 

Previous Posts:

  1. Life in England
  2. Life in Exile
  3. His Translation Work
  4. His Writings
  5. His Theology of the Word
  6. His Theology of Justification Considered
  7. His Theology of Justification Compared
  8. His Covenant Theology
  9. His Sacramental Theology — Baptism

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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Temptation is an issue that Christians rarely talk about these days. Even the word itself has quietly slipped out of religious use, becoming instead a term used to boost sales of perfume and chocolates. Attempting to create an electrifying name that would attract big audiences, television producers titled a reality show "Temptation Island." I know of no musical groups called The Blasphemers or The Compromisers, but one of Motown's most famous groups was named The Temptations. One grocery store chain called its new line of gourmet cookies—you guessed it—Temptations.

The word temptation once evoked a sense of seriousness and caution, much as did the words tuberculosis and heresy. To brand something a temptation was to give it the kiss of death. No respectable person would knowingly flirt with temptation. Now it is a word we say with a twinkle in our eye.

It would be bad enough if the word temptation had simply dropped out of common use, but it is worse than that. Temptation is no longer seen as a devilish strategy for encouraging Christians to sin. By losing the biblical concept of sin's enticing appeal, we have also lost (at least in part) the biblical diagnosis of how and why we sin.

Few subjects are as practical for the Christian as temptation. In all likelihood, you will be tempted to sin at least several times today. If you are a believer, then you know from experience that sin's seduction is frequent, unrelenting, and more successful than we would like to admit.

This series aims to reacquaint believers with the critical subject of temptation. More specifically, it is designed to equip you to resist temptation more effectively. This series also has a second goal: to familiarize you with a book about temptation that was written 350 years ago: Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) published Precious Remedies in 1652. Holding Brooks' book in my hands makes me feel like a football coach who will be leading his team into the Super Bowl in a few weeks... and who has obtained his opponent's entire playbook. Precious Remedies is something like Satan’s playbook; with withering thoroughness, it exposes the most common temptation strategies that the Father of Lies uses to damage God's people. It then supplies no-nonsense remedies that the believer can use to thwart Satan's assaults.

Because my burden is identical to that of Brooks, I will rely on the first section of Precious Remedies as a framework for discussing temptation. I will borrow some of Brooks' ideas and quote him occasionally. I will also include a few quotations from other Puritan pastors, in part to demonstrate that Brooks' ideas were shared by his peers in pastoral ministry.

But before we begin, why should Christians consider carefully the subject of temptation? Here are four reasons.

First, discussions today about combating temptation have gone the way of the dinosaur, yet virtually all honest observers agree that holiness among professing Christians is at low ebb today. Part of the reason we are not holy is because we rarely consider the old issue of temptation. The Bible establishes a direct causal link between our desires, temptation, and sin (James 1:14-15). Temptation is the door between holiness and sin, and Christians who are determined to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord must be determined to battle with temptation.

Practical Christian living often comes down to saying to oneself, “I am facing a temptation to sin. I will say 'no' to it.” “Learn to say no," advised Charles Haddon Spurgeon. "It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin." In everyday terms, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Christ almost always—and I am inclined to say always—involves resisting sin's temptations. However, naivete about the Devil's schemes allows temptation to flourish unchecked. If we don't see the enemy, he is free to plunder. Christians can only resist temptation effectively when they have reflected on how temptation works.

Second, discussing temptation means discussing Satan's activity in this present world. It is difficult today to speak about spiritual warfare, in part because of the excesses and downright nonsense of some who have used these concepts unbiblically. Our caution regarding the careless use of words like “Satan,” “the devil,” and “demons” often keeps us from talking about spiritual warfare at all. But a biblical understanding of temptation recaptures the truth; Satan's primary activity in this world is to tempt humans to sin.

Spiritual warfare (correctly understood) is warfare that takes place largely within a person’s soul. Satan tempts me to sin, while God's Word and God's Spirit call me to faith and obedience. We must recover this sense of daily spiritual warfare, or we will not recover daily biblical holiness.

Third, the joint treatment of temptation and Satan communicates this issue's seriousness. Temptation is not just a nagging desire to eat a little more chocolate; rather, it is the Prince of Darkness's activity that encourages me to commit cosmic treason against God. Sin is not merely a violation of abstract moral rules; rather, it is a personal defiance of the Creator's legitimate authority. Spiritual warfare is not an exotic topic reserved for charismatic preachers and Christian novels; rather, it is what happens every time I am tempted to sin.

Fourth, to expose Satan's tactics with regard to temptation is to win half the battle. Simply understanding temptation does not guarantee holiness. Exposed temptations still retain their fleshly appeal. Nevertheless, the sad fact is that many are far too easily sucked into sinful behaviors. We are, misled, tricked, and bamboozled by the Father of Lies. Often we do not even realize it. Fortunately, light dispels darkness, and masked sin is easier to resist than camouflaged sin

The first section of Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices is entitled "Satan's Devices to Draw the Soul to Sin." This section discusses twelve temptations and their “remedies" (to use Brooks' word). I will use Precious Remedies' twelve-point framework here to organize our own discussion. The posts that follow will match Brooks' identification of Satan's twelve most frequently used temptation strategies.

This series is not a shorter version of Brook’s book, but it uses some of Brooks' concepts as a starting point for its own treatment of temptation. I trust that these posts will prosper your soul. I hope they will also encourage you to read Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices for yourself.

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.

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How can we be salt and light in our world, so that instead of being “trodden under foot” or “hidden under a bushel” (vv. 13, 15), we can resist evil and do good, and moving unbelievers to glorify God as our Father in heaven?  To answer that question, let’s listen to the wisdom of the English Puritans.

Your Spiritual Light Must Be Seen in Your Works

Christ said, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:15–16a). It would be ridiculous to turn on a lamp and then hide it, when its very purpose is to illuminate the room. 

John Ley (1583–1662) wrote, “God intends that his graces given to his ministers or people, should be used for the good of others and not kept for their own good only.”[1]Keach said, “Though the saints should do nothing through vain glory, be seen of men; yet their good works, and holy walkings should be so done, that others should see them.”[2]

God’s glory becomes visible in the good works of His children. Baxter quoted Tertullian: “We do not talk great things, but live them.”[3]Examine yourself: Is your Christianity mostly talk, or is it the power of God producing good works? As a Christian, are you a great talker, or a great doer? Henry wrote, “Those about us must not only hearour good words, but seeour good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.”[4]Talk without action is like much wind without rain—barren, unfruitful, and likely to cause more harm than good.

Good works especially means works of practical love. Baxter said, “The dominion of love in the hearts of Christians, appearing in all the course of their lives, doth much glorify God and their religion.”[5]He exclaimed, “O, could we learn of the Lord of love, and Him who calleth himself Love itself, to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, and to do good to the evil, and pray for them that hurt and persecute us, we should not only prove that we are genuine Christians, the children of our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:44, 45), but should heap coals of fire on our enemies’ heads, and melt them into compassion and some remorse, if not into a holy love.”[6]

Love means not only showing kindness, but acting with justice and fairness. George Swinnock (c. 1627–1673) said, “True godliness payeth its dues to men, as well as its duty to God.... True holiness will provide things honest, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men.”[7]Swinnock observed that Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with two tablets in his hands; the Christian who enjoys communion with God shows it by his concern for both religion towards God and righteousness towards men.[8]

Swinnock also said that Christians must be “courteous” and not “rugged” with people. He counseled, “He that pleaseth all men in all things (indifferent) is the likeliest to save some (1 Cor. 10:33).... We may gain their love by soft words.... Courtesy, like the loadstone [magnet], will draw even iron to it.”[9]Courtesy goes with meekness: “Courtesy is a good servant, to wait upon meekness as its master,” Swinnock said. He observed, “The purest gold is soonest melted, and they are usually the best blades that will bend well. The lion of Judah for courage, was a lamb for condescension. The saint must learn of his Saviour to be meek and lowly of heart.”[10]Swinnock said, “The greatest conquest is to overcome ourselves, and the vilest bondage to be our own slaves (Prov. 16:32).”[11]

Your Spiritual Light Moves People to Glorify God

Christ said that the purpose of letting our light shine in good works is that that they may “glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16b). Ley said, “All good children seek their fathers’ honour,”[12]and so must we, if we are children of God. Poole said, “You are not in your good actions to aim at yourselves, to be seen of men, as Matthew 6:1, nor merely at doing good to others;... but having a primary and principal respect to the glorifying of your Father; for, ‘Herein is my Father glorified, if ye bear much fruit’ (John 15:8).”[13]

Why do our good works move men to praise God? You might think that good works can only win praise for us, since we do them. However, Christ assumed here that all our good works come from the grace that God planted in us (Matt. 15:13). Poole said that it is hard to understand how our good works result in men giving glory to God, “if they proceed from mere power and liberty of our own wills, not from his special efficacious grace.”[14]As the apostle Paul explained by divine inspiration, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Henry rightly concluded, “Let them see your good works, that they may see the power of God’s grace in you, and may thank him for it, and give him the glory of it, who has given such power unto men.”[15]

Your good works are a crucial complement to the preaching of the word. Baxter said, “The good works or lives of Christians is a great means ordained by Christ for the convincing of sinners, and the glorifying of God in the world. Preaching doeth much, but it is not appointed to do all.”[16]Henry said, “Let them see your good works, that they may be convinced of the truth and excellency of the Christian religion.... The holy, regular, and exemplary conversation of the saints, may do much towards the conversion of sinners.”[17]

Oh what a great responsibility we bear when we take the name of Christian! Baxter reminded us, “The world will judge of the scriptures by your lives, and of religion by your lives, and of Christ himself by your lives!”[18]Who is adequate for these things? Yet we remember that what the world needs to see in us is not perfect people who never did anything wrong, but sinners who have been saved by grace, are being saved by grace, and will be saved by grace. They need to see pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City, who stumble and occasionally get side-tracked on a by-path, but who press forward until we reach the kingdom of heaven. If we persevere in doing good even under persecution, we will overcome evil with good.

More In This Series: 

  1. Salt and Light
  2. Like a Little Salt
  3. Let the Light Shine

[1]Westminster Divines, Annotations, on Matt. 5:15.

[2]Keach, Types and Metaphors, 758.

[3]“Non magna loquimur sed vivimus.” Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:461.

[4]Henry, Commentary, 1631, emphasis original.

[5]Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:469.

[6]Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:470.

[7]Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in Works, 2:187–88.

[8]Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in Works, 2:189.

[9]Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in Works, 2:209.

[10]Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in Works, 2:211.

[11]Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in Works, 2:213.

[12]Westminster Divines, Annotations, on Matt. 5:16.

[13]Poole, Annotations, 3:22

[14]Poole, Annotations, 3:22

[15]Henry, Commentary, 1631.

[16]Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:490.

[17]Henry, Commentary, 1631.

[18]Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:490.

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.

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His Sacramental Theology - Baptism

In our last post, we looked at Tyndale’s covenant theology, which contributed to the development of a mature Englished Reformed theology in the following century. This time, we will treat Tyndale’s sacramental theology in general and then baptism specifically. Our treatment of the Lord’s Supper will have to wait until next time; this was originally one post and the last in this series but, alas, it was too long. 

In Obedience of a Christian Man (1528), Tyndale took aim at the Roman sacramental system, including its views on the two he deemed Scripturally genuine: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In general, Tyndale defined a sacrament as a “holy sign,” which “representeth alway some promise of God.” In the Lord’s Supper, for example, we have a promise “that his body was slain and his blood shed” for our sins, and believe so that we may  be “saved and justified thereby.” Otherwise, it  does not good, "though thou hearest a thousand masses in a day." As far as Tyndale was concerned, a sacrament is effectual only when joined to faith, which rejects the Catholic concept of an automatic conferral of grace in the sacrament itself (ex opere operato). 

So too, baptism as a “washing” does not automatically confer forgiveness of sins. It, like the Word of God verbally proclaimed, preaches visibly the promise “that we are cleansed with Christ’s blood-shedding.” Such cleansing is conferred on “all that repent and believe, consenting and submitting themselves unto the will of God.” With an allusion to baptism by immersion, Tyndale says that “plunging into the water signifieth that we die, and are buried with Christ, as concerning the old life of sin, which is Adam. And the pulling out again signifieth that we rise again with Christ in a new life, full of the Holy Ghost” (Obedience). Baptism symbolizes what Christ has done and how we respond to him in faith, without regard to whether the latter is expressed before or after baptism. 

In A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments (1536), Tyndale sees baptism replacing circumcision as a confirming “seal of the promise” of God’s covenant with both the unconditional and conditional aspects of the covenant affirmed: “to keep the promise in mind, that they might have wherewith to bind God . . . and bringing forth the obligation and seal thereof, in all times of necessity and temptation.” Tyndale sees continuity between the two signs (without denying discontinuity) in that they are applied to the posterity of believers (including infants not yet expressing faith) as confirming seals of covenantal promises and obligations. Additionally, the two both signified “entering into the body of Christ, . . . to die, to be buried, and to rise with him, to mortify our flesh, and to be revived in spirit” (Supper).

In the end, and in refutation of the church’s sacramental system, “it is the covenant only, and not the sign, that saveth us; though the sign be commanded to be put on at due time, to stir up faith of the covenant that saveth us.” So, regarding the subjects of  baptism (including infants), we are “bound to God, and God to us, and the bond and seal of the covenant is written in our flesh; by which seal or writing God challengeth faith and love, under pain of just damnation: and we (if we believe and love) challenge . . . all mercy, and whatsoever we need; or else God must be an untrue God” (Sacraments). 

Tyndale emphasized baptism as a covenant sign of promises and obligations, an entrance into the covenant community, empty apart from faith,  continuous with circumcision as a covenantal sign, and administered to covenant children. With these emphases, Tyndale’s baptismal-covenantal theology shows considerable affinity with his contemporary Ulrich Zwingli. 

Previous Posts:

  1. Life in England
  2. Life in Exile
  3. His Translation Work
  4. His Writings
  5. His Theology of the Word
  6. His Theology of Justification Considered
  7. His Theology of Justification Compared
  8. His Covenant Theology

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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Eating disorders can fall towards two extremes. Some abuse God’s good gifts by eating too much food or bad food; others starve themselves, perhaps attempting to lose weight or control their body in some other way. Similarly, baptism is often either abused or neglected. For example, some treat it as a savior rather than a means of drawing us to the Savior. While baptism is a great means of representing, sealing, and applying Christ to believers, it makes a poor Christ. Water without the Word is water only. Water with the Word is a sign. Only water with the Word and the Spirit’s blessing through faith seals saving grace to people.

For many Christians, baptism has little day-to-day relevance in the Christian life. This is why the Westminster Larger Catechism referred to “improving” (or applying) our baptism as a “needed, but much neglected duty” (WLC 167). In the conclusion (praxis) to his treatment of baptism, Peter van Mastricht presents eleven ways that believers can learn to apply what baptism signifies throughout their lives. These eleven instructions remind us that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time of its administration, but that it pervades our entire lives (WCF 28.6). We should follow Mastricht’s instructions especially when we witness baptisms, though the NT reminds us that its benefits should not stop there.

Mastricht’s first four exhortations reflect our relationship with God generally. 

1. Baptism should lead us to acknowledge the corruption of our nature and our personal sin. God’s people should receive circumcision (in the OT) and baptism (in the NT) as the washing of regeneration and renovation of the Spirit, without which no one can see the kingdom of God. This means that we should receive the thing signified—not the sign only—as we lay hold of the Christ who is set forth in baptism. 

2. We should give thanks to God for regenerative washing in the blood of Christ and by the purifying Holy Spirit. These are the things that God seals to us in baptism . In other words, baptism should make us thankful as well as humble in light of the work of the Son and the Spirit. 

3. We should put off more and more the body of sinful flesh, because in baptism we have died to sin. Baptism requires death to sin because we are united to Christ in his death. 

4. We should walk in newness of life in the renovation of the Spirit. Baptism presses new life in Christ, reminding us that putting off sinful practices is never enough. We must replace ungodly qualities with godly ones. Conviction of sin, hope in the saving work of the divine persons, putting off sin, and putting on righteousness fits well how Paul taught us to use our baptism in Romans 6.

Mastricht’s remaining seven exhortations show, in some measure, what following the first four look like in practice: 

5. We should cultivate communion with the church into which we have been planted by baptism. Just as baptism solemnly admits people into membership in the visible church, so also baptism promotes the communion of the saints in the church. This is why private baptisms should ordinarily be unthinkable. Taking baptism out of the worshiping congregation robs the church as a whole of its continued benefits. 

6. We should pursue actual spiritual union with Christ above all other things. After all, it is Christ whom we have put on in baptism (cf. Gal. 3:27). 

7. Baptism leads us to persevere in sound doctrine, into which we have been baptized (cf. Acts 2:41-42). 

8. Baptism teaches us to hold fast the promises of the covenant, which are held forth in baptism. By these promises, we renounce Satan, the sin of the world, and our own sins, committing ourselves wholly to God, who will faithfully keep his covenant promises.

9. We ought to be assured of the remission of our sins, since this benefit is held forth and sealed to us in baptism. In this way, baptism not only promotes repentance and obedience, but faith in the promises of God and in the God of the promises. 

10. We should use baptism to help us long for the Holy Supper so that we might be nourished and confirmed in the grace of the covenant. This is an excellent way of showing how the two sacraments should work together in the Christian life. Sacraments are covenant signs that seal covenant promises. 

11. Baptism directs us to keep faithfully whatsoever Christ commands us. This point virtually echoes the Great Commission and it serves as an excellent summary of the whole.

One of the greatest benefits of applying (i.e. improving) our baptism throughout our lives relates to our understanding of God: God designed baptism to help us keep the Gospel and the persons of the Trinity central throughout out lives. 

Perhaps Mastricht should have said more about the relationship between baptism and the church. The Apostle Paul certainly did. He could have added other things as well, such as the benefits of our adoption by the Father. Yet his exhortations on how to use baptism, without abusing it, provide us with something that we need. Baptism is not as important as preaching (Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 1:17). However, subordinating the sacrament to the Word does not mean that the sacrament is not important alongside the Word. Without the Word and the Spirit of God, the sacraments mean nothing and do nothing; with the Word and the Spirit of God, the sacraments become powerful instruments in God’s hands to teach us to live thankful and godly lives before him and with his people.

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

Related Links

1. Why Should Pastors Read Peter van Mastricht? by Ryan McGraw

2. When We Are Tempted to Sin, Look to Our Baptism by Leon Brown

3. Pastoral Perspectives on Baptism ( Print  | PDF Download )

4. How to Grow Your Faith: Why Baptism? by Robert Godfrey ( Audio CD  | MP3 Download )

Anthony Burgess (d. 1664) was a "sound and orthodox divine," distinguished for both his theological prowess and personal piety. Like many Protestants in his day, Burgess highly esteemed the doctrine of assurance, particularly as it played-out in the local church.[1]  Here are four of reasons he gave for why we can know assurance of salvation is possible:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith — 2 Corinthians 13:5

This Text is a sure foundation of that profitable and necessary Doctrine, viz. The Certainty that a godly man may have of that Grace which is wrought in him... . Before we come to the practical Questions about this Assurance of Grace, we will consider... The Possibility of it.

First, The Possibility of it is seen, in that the people of God have enjoyed it.

When David doth so often call God his God and his Portion, acknowledging with joy and thankfulnesse that he had forgiven his sins, doth not this suppose a Certainty? When that man said, O Lord, I believe, Did he speak he knew not what? And Paul, how often doth he manifest such an Assurance! and lest it should be thought he had it by some special Revelation, he doth Rom. 8. inferre this Assurance from those grounds, which are common to all the people of God, do not therefore think it impossible, saying, Who will go up to Heaven and bring a Revelation for me, that God is my God? for thou hast the same wayes to obtain it, as the people of God have had heretofore.

Secondly, The Possibility of it is seen in that a man may be assured of his dogmatical Faith;

That is, a man may be assured that he doth believe such Principles of Religion upon a divine ground; and if so, why not also that he loveth God and his children upon true Motives; as also that his Repentance hath all true Ingredients into it. And indeed if a man could not tell whether he did believe upon supernatural grounds, he could not truly but upon a bold venture say, he did believe in God in deed, that there is a Church of God, or a Resurrection of our bodies.

Thirdly, The Possibility of it appeareth from the Institution of Sacraments, as Signs and Seals particularly to witnesse Gods love to us;

So that as the appointing of Seals among men doth argue an intent of making bargains and contracts sure: Thus God appointing Sacraments in a visible particular Application, doth hereby declare his Will, that his Children should be sure; so that to overthrow Assurance is to take away the Sacraments; As a man doth prize that wax which is made up in a seal to confirm his inheritance to him, more then all the wax in the world; so do Christians look upon bread and wine consecrated and set apart for that use of signification and obsignation of the benefits of Christ, more then all other bread and wine.

Lastly, If Assurance were not possible, the defect would be either in the Object, or in the Means to attain it, or in the Subject.

In the Object there can be no defect, as all say, for Gods Promises are in Christ Yea and Amen; and no iota or tittle of Gods Word in the promising part of it, can any more passe away, then in the preceptive or threatning part of it. Then there can be no defect in the means to obtain it; for there is the Spirit of God efficiently to work it; There are the Sacraments appointed on purpose to confirm us; There are Ministers to instruct and inform about it. Neither is there any defect in the subject, for although the heart of a man be naturally deceitfull and full of crafty wickedness, so that the Scripture calls him a fool who trusteth in it; yet being now renewed by Gods Spirit, that guile and hypocrisie is in a great measure removed, and he doth not see and discern by his own strength meerly, but by the Spirit of God enabling and guiding of him; So that as Gods Spirit working by the Law, doth convince a man in particular of his sins, filleth him with despair of himself and every thing he doth, makes him to see he is an undone and a lost man; so the same Spirit through the Promise of the Gospel, doth perswade us of Gods love, revealing it outwardly in the Word, and shedding it abroad inwardly in our hearts.[2]

[1] Jonathan Master, "Assurance and the Means of Grace," On Reforming Worship, ed. by David Hall and Jonathan Master (The Covenant Foundation, 2018), 154-5.

[2] From Spiritual Refining: OR a Treatise of Grace and Assurance, (London: A. Miller, 1652), 22-24. 

Related Links:

  1. Assurance series by Joel Beeke ( Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4 )
  2. "Christian Assurance: Rome and Thomas Goodwin" by Ian Hamilton
  3. "Assurance: How do I know I am a Christian?" by Mark Jones 
  4. The Assurance of Salvation by Derek Thomas ( MP3 Disc  |  MP3 Download )

Which logically comes first: Faith, or repentance? This theological conundrum  has been debated from time to time within the Reformed world. It is important to note that the point of contention pertains to logical and not chronological priority. Most people do not argue that there is a time gap between faith and repentance.  They occur at the same time, which is the reason both sides are able to say that the Christian repents believingly and he believes penitently. The question deals with the logical order of faith and repentance.  

Sinclair Ferguson, in his book The Whole Christ, follows Thomas Boston in arguing for the logical priority of faith.  After approvingly quoting Boston that repentance comes after remission of sin, Ferguson says that “in the order of nature, in terms of the inner logic of the gospel and the way its ‘grammar’ functions, repentance can never be said to precede faith.”  He also seems to suggest that the Westminster Standards promulgate this view (pg. 101).  

The puritan John Ball, however, says that in one sense faith precedes repentance, but in another sense, repentance precedes faith.  He says that if faith is taken in the large sense “for a beliefe of the promise, if we repent and receive it, then faith is before repentance.”  A sinner, argues Ball, needs to know that God is merciful and gracious in order to repent of his sin.  After all, if there is no reason to think that God will not relent from treating you according to your sins, why bother turning from your sin to God?  Hence, Ball says that “there can be no turning without hope of pardon, nor coming home by hearty sorrow, without some expectation of mercy.”

But if faith is taken in a narrow sense “for that faith or beliefe whereby we receive, embrace, or rest upon the promise of God in Christ Jesus for pardon and forgiveness” then repentance “must goe before” because a person turns from sin in order to come to Christ.  “The motion is one, but the points are two.  For in drawing nigh unto Christ, the soul ariseth from sin: which may be called repentance.”

Herman Witsius, a Dutch theologian who wrote a book at the request of some Puritans, argued that faith and repentance spring up together “from the same principle of spiritual life.”  They intermingle and energize one another, so that it is impossible to determine, which one comes first.  A spiritually alive person sees “itself defiled and undone with innumerable sins” and simultaneously sees “Christ full of grace, truth and salvation.”  As a result, the person “with shame and sorrow” flies to Christ so that he may be justified and sanctified.

John Murray, in his modern classic Redemption Accomplished and Applied, favors Witsius’ position on this issue.  He says that the question of which one is prior is unnecessary “and the insistence that one is prior to the other is futile.  There is no priority.”  Faith and repentance are interdependent because faith is faith in Christ for salvation from sin.  Since “faith is directed to salvation from sin, there must be hatred of sin and the desire to be saved from it.  Such hatred of sin involves repentance which essentially consists in turning from sin unto God.”

What should we think of all of this?  John Ball makes a good point that a person will not repent unless he knows that God is merciful.  In that sense, a general faith does seem to precede and motivate repentance.  But by the same token, a person will not see his need for mercy unless he sees and hates his sin.  Repentance, thus, seems to precede and motivate faith.  At any rate, Ball, Witsius and Murray are correct that coming to Christ involves repentance.  We turn from sin (repentance) to Christ (faith).  Moreover, I think that Witsius and Murray are correct to say that faith and repentance are mutually dependent and belong together in the order of nature.  There is no priority, or at least we shouldn’t be dogmatic about which one might have the priority.  However, what we should be clear about and what we should proclaim, contrary to Boston, is that faith and repentance both precede justification and remission of sins (see my two previous posts on repentance: "David Clarkson on Repentance" and "Repentance and Salvation").

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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How can we be salt and light in our world, so that—instead of being “trodden under foot” or “hidden under a bushel” (vv. 13, 15)—we can resist evil, do good, and move unbelievers to glorify God as our Father in heaven?  To answer that question, let’s listen to the wisdom of the English Puritans.

The Lord Jesus Christ also says to His followers, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14a). This is all the more striking when we remember that in the previous chapter, Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah: “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matt. 4:16; cf. Isa. 9:2). Isaiah saw Christ as a great Light rising in the dark land of Galilee (Isa. 9:1, 6–7). Malachi saw Him as “the Sun of righteousness” arising “with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). Christ Himself says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Here in Matthew 5 the Lord Jesus says the same thing about His disciples: “Ye are the light of the world.”

As Christ dwells in them by His Word and Holy Spirit, Christians reflect and radiate the light of Christ into the world. Ley wrote that we are the light of the world, “not originally, like the sun, as Christ is (John 1:8–9), but by participation, as the moon... so are ministers (Rev. 1:20; John 5:35), as also are other Christians (1 Thess. 5:5; Phil. 2:15).”[1]We are “light in the Lord,” and through us, His light penetrates the darkness (Eph. 5:8, 13).

Your Spiritual Light​ Imparts Knowledge, Understanding and Joy

Light reveals truth, for with light comes sight—if there are eyes to see. Keach said, “Light discovers and makes manifest the nature of things to men.... So the saints of God, by their holy life and doctrine, reveal and make manifest, not only the works of darkness, but also the excellency of Christ, grace, and divine things to men.”[2]

Just as darkness can symbolize sadness and fear (Isa. 5:30; 8:22), so light refers to joy and freedom. We read in Ecclesiastes 11:7, “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” In Psalm 97:11, “light” is parallel to “gladness.” Keach observed, “The word or gospel of Jesus Christ is very pleasant, and a delightful thing.”[3]He also said, “It is a great blessing to enjoy the company of God’s people, to dwell among such whose conversations shine.”[4]“Conversation” here means “manner of life,” as it does in the KJV.

Here we see something of the paradox of being salt and light. Both salt and light can irritate, like salt in a wound or light glaring into the eyes. However, salt and light also give flavor and joy to life. Are you willing to live that paradox? The world will not know what to make of you. At times they will praise you; and then they will turn around and attack you.

The key to living this paradox is to remember that you are not salt and light in yourself, nor according to the world’s judgment of you, but only as you follow the unchangeable Word of God. Never think that you can be spiritual salt and light apart from truth of God’s Word and the grace of Jesus Christ. You may sting and irritate but you will not be a force for good in the world.  You may produce a lot of heat, but impart no light. A good flame produces both heat and illumination; Poole said that we are to be “not only a burning light, burning with love to God, and zeal for God, and love to and zeal for the souls of others; but also a shining light, communicating his light to others, both by instruction and a holy conversation.”[5]

Your Spiritual Light Should Shine in the Visible Church

Christ observes that “a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14b). Jerusalem was built on Mount Zion, “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth” (Ps. 48:2). The old Rabbis used to say, “He who has not seen Jerusalem in its splendor, has never seen a beautiful city in his life.”[6]Christ’s disciples marveled at the beauty of the temple buildings (Matt. 24:1). Here Christ says that His church is also a city set on a hill.

Our Lord’s point is that God has put us on display for all the world to see. He placards us for His own glory. We are His marketing plan. Ley wrote that, as dwellers in this city on a hill, “you must shew forth good example to others, far and near.... Your lives will be looked on, and scanned by all men; therefore see they be good.”[7]Poole said, “The church is often called the city of God.... It is as much as if our Saviour should have said, You had need be holy, for your conversation cannot be hid, any more than a city can that is built upon a hill, which is obvious to every eye. All men’s eyes will be upon you.”[8]

Perhaps you don’t like that. You’d rather that no one notices you. However, it cannot be avoided; every Christian is a billboard for Jesus Christ; or as Paul says, we are “epistles of commendation … known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3. As a caution to Christians, Henry warns us: “All their neighbours have an eye upon them. Some admire them, commend them, rejoice in them, and study to imitate them; others envy them, hate them, censure them, and study to blast them.”[9]Whether people love you or hate you, they will begin to watch you closely as soon as they hear that you profess Christ as your Lord and Savior.

You are not a light alone, however, but as a member of the church. As Jonathon Edwards (1703–1758) recognized, a city on a hill is not the image of an individual person, but a “professing society” or group of Christians living in fellowship together.[10]As he exhorted those in his church who professed conversion to Christ, the world was now waiting to see, “What a good spirit there appears amongst us; how ready we are to [do] good works; how ready to deny ourselves; how forward to promote any good design; how charitable, and how public-spirited we be; how ready to lay out our substance for the poor, or for the worship of God, and the like.”[11]

Are you a member of a biblical, Christian church? If so, then when outsiders look at you and your church, what do they see? Our Lord said in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Richard Baxter (1615–1691) wrote that our light shines when our churches are “well-ordered” under God’s word, confessing a common faith and promoting relationships of unity and harmony.[12]“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).

More In This Series: 

  1. Salt and Light
  2. Like a Little Salt


[1]Westminster Divines, Annotations, on Matt. 5:13. The ellipsis is “and the stars”; in the Puritan era the stars included the planets or “wandering stars,” as the ancients called them, which reflected the light of the sun.

[2]Keach, Types and Metaphors, 758.

[3]Keach, Types and Metaphors, 527.

[4]Keach, Types and Metaphors, 758.

[5]Poole, Annotations, 3:22.

[6]Sukkah 51b, Babylonian Talmud,, accessed June 28, 2016.

[7]Westminster Divines, Annotations, on Matt. 5:14.

[8]Poole, Annotations, 3:22.

[9]Henry, Commentary, 1631.

[10]Edwards, “A City on a Hill,” in Works, 19:540.

[11]Edwards, “A City on a Hill,” in Works, 19:557.

[12]Baxter, “What Light Must Shine,” in Puritan Sermons, 2:485–88.

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.

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