This in the first in a multi-part series. Stay tuned over the next few months to read more on how the Puritans teach us to live in the world!
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 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, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. —Matthew 5:13–16.
The world hates God. Therefore, the world despises godly Christians. Unbelievers often regard Christian humility as weakness of mind, Christian repentance as a pathological lack of self-esteem, Christian holiness as hypocrisy, Christian purity as priggish moralism, and Christian righteousness as the seed-bed of hatred and intolerance. To the fervent atheist, Bible-believing Christians are not only deluded, but dangerous. In our Western societies driven by rhetoric rooted in atheistic secularism—albeit sometimes comfortably padded with a superficial and rationalized shadow of Christianity—believers face increasing opposition and even hostility. Our brethren in Asia and Africa, however, know what persecution really is.
Before we become alarmed and fearful, however, we need to realize that this situation is nothing new. Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). It does not matter whether we live among people who are predominantly secular, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, or, as Christ did, Jewish; if we live according to the Word of God, we will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12–15).
What then are Christians to do? Shall we resign all hopes of influencing the people around us? Shall we retreat and hide from the world until the Lord returns? Shall we relent and conform to the world as much as possible in order to win its smile and avoid its ire?
Contrary to these fearful (and unbelieving!) responses, our Lord speaks a word of hope and issues a call to action.
First, he repeatedly declares God’s blessing upon the godly in what we call the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3–12. If we repent of our sins and turn back to God with poverty of spirit, hunger for righteousness, and mercy for hurting people, then no matter how the world may persecute us, we will inherit the kingdom of heaven. In Christ, we shall overcome the world.
Second, in Matthew 5:13–16, the Lord Jesus teaches us that godly Christians do indeed have a potent influence upon the world, for we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” However, we act as salt and light not by conquering our persecutors through physical force or hateful rhetoric, but precisely by being poor in spirit, mourning for our sins, meek in the face of anger and aggression, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful toward those in need, pure in heart, and peacemakers among men—the kind of people whom Christ blesses in His Beatitudes.
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, I will draw from the wisdom of the English Puritans . As the eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield (1714–1770) observed: “Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross. The Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this, no doubt, that made the Puritans of the last century such burning and shining lights” .
The Puritans lived under a cross of hostility, opposition, and persecution. Undaunted, they persevered, calling on God, serving Christ as Lord, and walking in the light of God’s Word. They have many helpful things to say about how Christians should influence the world as salt and light .
 For Puritan sources on Matt. 5:13–16, see William Perkins, A Godly and Learned Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in The Works of William Perkins, Volume 1, ed. Stephen J. Yuille (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 222–42; Matthew Poole, Annotations upon the Holy Bible (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1853), 3:21–22; David Dickson, Matthew, Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 49–52; Anonymous (Westminster Divines), Annotations upon All the Books of the Old and New Testament, 3rd ed. (London: Evan Tyler, 1657), on Matt. 5:13–16; John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition upon All the Books of the New Testament, ed. W. Webster (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 55–58; Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints Happiness... Lectures on the Beatitudes (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), 242–60; Richard Baxter, “What Light Must Shine in Our Works,” in Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, Being the Morning Exercises (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 2:460; also in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991), 4:905–920; Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1630–31; Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), 746–47, 758–59; Exposition of the Parables in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1974), 52–61; Jonathan Edwards, “A City on a Hill,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 19, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, ed. M. X. Lesser (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 539–40.
 George Whitefield, preface to The Works of that Eminent Servant of Christ Mr. John Bunyan, 2 vols. (London: W. Johnston and E. and C. Dilly, 1767), 1:iii.
 It should be noted that some Puritans, such as Perkins, Dickson, Trapp, Burroughs, and Henry, viewed Matthew 5:13–16 as referring primarily to the apostles and ministers of the gospel. See also George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in The Works of George Swinnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:26. In this regard they followed John Calvin, Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), on Matt. 5:13, 14–16. However, others, like Poole, the Westminster Annotations, Baxter, Keach, and Edwards, recognized that in the context of Matthew 5 Christ addressed all true disciples and heirs of God’s kingdom, both ministers and all Christians.
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.
John Geere (c. 1601–1649) was an ordained minister in Church of England, serving on the western border of England and Wales. Though aligning himself with both England’s Crown and Church, Geere did not conform to all the ceremonies of the Book of Common Prayer, and after 1624 he was silenced by the bishop of Gloucester.
The section below comes from his brief tract, The Character of an Old English Puritan (edited by our own Danny Hyde):
The Old English Puritan was one that honored God above all and under God gave every one his due.
Worship and the Word
His first care was to serve God, and therein he did not what was good in his own, but in God’s sight, making the Word of God the rule of his worship. He highly esteemed order in the House of God: but would not under color of that submit to superstitious rites, which are superfluous, and perish in their use. He reverenced Authority keeping within its sphere: but dared not under pretense of subjection to the higher powers, worship God after the traditions of men. He made conscience of all God’s ordinances, though some he esteemed of more consequence.
He was much in prayer; with it he began and closed the day. In it he was exercised in his closet, family, and public assembly. He esteemed that manner of prayer best, where by the gift of God, expressions were varied according to present needs and occasions; yet he did not account set forms unlawful. Therefore in that circumstance of the Church he did not wholly reject the Liturgy, but the corruption of it.
Reading and Preaching of the Word
He esteemed reading of the Word an ordinance of God both in private and public but did not account reading to be preaching. The Word read he esteemed of more authority, but the word preached of more efficacy. He accounted preaching as necessary now as in the Primitive Church, God’s pleasure being still by the foolishness of preaching to save those that believe. He esteemed the preaching best wherein was most of God, least of man, when vain flourishes of wit and words were declined, and the demonstration of God’s Spirit and power studied; yet could he distinguish between studied plainness and negligent rudeness.
He accounted perspicuity the best grace of a preacher: and that method best, which was most helpful to understanding, affection, and memory. To which ordinarily he esteemed none so conducible as that by doctrine, reason, and use. He esteemed those sermons best that came closest to the conscience: yet would he have men’s consciences awakened; not their persons disgraced. He was a man of good spiritual appetite, and could not be contented with one meal a day. An afternoon sermon was as pleasing to him as one in the morning. He was not satisfied with prayers without preaching: which if it were lacking at home, he would seek abroad: yet would he not by absence discourage his minister, if faithful, though another might have more lively gifts.
Philip McCosker and Denys Turner, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the Summa Theologiae, Cambridge Companions to Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 368pp. Paperback. $34.99.
Regardless of one’s theological convictions, it is undeniable that the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas is one of the most influential books in the history of the Christian church, and even in western civilization. This means that it is important for students of every Christian confession to have some familiarity with this work. While the Summa marks only a part of Aquinas’ thought and influence, it is arguably the most influential and studied portion of his work. The Cambridge Companion to the Summa introduces readers to the flow of thought in the Summa in a way that will help them appreciate its historical context, continued influence, and contemporary use. This comprehensive analysis of a classic medieval text can serve students of Reformed theology in particular by helping them discover how Aquinas is part of their catholic Christian heritage.
One of the primary benefits of the Cambridge Companion is its comprehensive analysis of the Summa read in light of itself. Its authors note repeatedly that few students of the Summa read it from cover to cover (e.g., 171, 241, etc.). Historically, this stemmed partly from the fact that, prior to the printing press, people rarely transcribed the entire Summa in a single edition (293). At the present day, students and scholars often read the sections of the Summa that interest them rather than pushing through the work as a whole. The authors of this volume write under the assumption that failing to read the entire Summa often leads to distorting Aquinas’ theology (241). Gilles Emery’s chapter on the Holy Spirit illustrates this point clearly, since Aquinas did not devote a distinct section to the Spirit’s work in salvation even though the Spirit pervades the whole.
While the authors of the Cambridge Companion do not all agree regarding the method and structure of the Summa, the general consensus among them is that Thomas wrote his work to train Dominican preachers to present the gospel. As such, the Summa moves from God himself, to God relation to all things, to God’s act of saving and restoring humanity in Christ. Keeping this fact in mind undergirds the sections of the book that treat, respectively, approaches to reading the Summa, the topics treated in it, and its historic and contemporary use. This full-orbed approach makes this volume an insightful means of understanding the Summa better on its own terms.
The Cambridge Companion to the Summa Theologiae can be particularly valuable to those interested in Reformed theology. Many modern students of Reformed thought might be aware of the contents of the Summa only indirectly in relation to issues such as apologetic methods, the relationship between nature and grace, sacramental theology, and other controverted areas. However, while reading the Summa, it does not take long to see Aquinas’ hand of influence in Reformed orthodoxy at almost every point of the system of theology. This includes areas such as God as pure act (98), the way in which the church collectively reflects the triune God (118), the concurrence of providence with second causes (125), the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life (136), the centrality of the resurrection in salvation (170), the vital relationship between word and sacrament (270-271), and many others.
Perhaps one of the great advantages of the Cambridge Companion to those interested in Reformed thought is that, with the exception of one chapter, this work does not have Reformed thinking in view directly. One of the outstanding features of Reformed orthodoxy was its discerning catholicity. Few things illustrate this feature of Reformed thinking more clearly than the way in which theologians critically incorporated ideas from the Summa into their systems. One did not have to be a full-fledged “Thomist” to learn something from Thomas. This is still true. This fact is often underappreciated in modern Reformed theology.
The Cambridge Companion to the Summa is an excellent starting point for understanding one of the most important books written in the history of the Christian church. The fact that many Reformed theologians and pastors may not agree with everything that Thomas had to say does not give them the excuse to ignore him. The ultimate aim of this volume is to press readers to delve into the Summa for themselves. It does so admirably by providing readers with the tools needed to read a thirteenth-century text more profitably.
This review appeared previously in Puritan Reformed Journal, 10:1, 304-306.
Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.
Article 37 introduces the final topic of the 39 Articles, the relationship between the Christian and the commonwealth. It is customary for North Americans to dismiss these articles as being very specific to England, but the same principle we have observed throughout our study continues here: the faithfulness of the Anglican articles to the principle of sola scriptura. Therefore, the principles underlined in the last three articles should be read closely rather than dismissed quickly.
XXXVII — OF THE CIVIL MAGISTRATES
The King’s (1662 – Charles II) Queen’s (1571) Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the King’s (1662) Queen’s (1571) Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.
It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.
The article first appeared in this form through Archbishop Parker’s 1563 revision of the Articles. Cranmer’s original replacing a shorter and stark statement on the royal supremacy either of the Crown: “The King of England is supreme head in earth, next under Christ of the Church of England and Ireland” or of magistrates appointed by the Crown: “The civil magistrate is ordained and allowed of God; wherefore we must obey him, not only for fear of punishment but also for conscience sake.” Parker’s revision of Cranmer’s original with the “King’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England… whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil…” broadens the principle and realigns it to reflect the Scriptures more closely.
Article 37 alludes to Matthew 22.15-22 (paying taxes to Caesar), 1 Peter 2.13-17 and Romans 13.1-7 where the Apostle Paul certainly demands, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” And the Apostle Peter likewise writes to his readers that they, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” How then are we to understand the article in the light of Scripture? This is where the 1662 Book of Common Prayer helps us. Once again, we apply our principle that the formularies must be understood as a whole for its confessional application.
First, we should consider how the pastoral prayer for the church of Christ is introduced as the minister invites the congregation to pray in the Order for the Lord's Supper: “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth.” Anglicans pray for the church of Christ here in earth. Anglicans affirm how Paul opens his epistles, "To the church of God that is in Corinth… To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints… To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus…" The formularies regularly affirm what is the doctrine of the church invisible and visible. There is no such category in the Scriptures or Anglican theology. We cannot escape God's grace exercised through the state. It is a retrograde step that most Anglican prayers for the church have excised Cranmer’s invitation to pray for the church here in earth. What we must, therefore unlearn is an understanding that the church and state are divided, making your spiritual life something of a private and individual concern. Far too much mischief and doctrinal error will certainly result!
Instead, the formularies make clear that there is a twofold understanding of God’s authority as exercised in the state and in the church militant here in earth. It is the government that bears responsibility for the ordering and shaping of society so that the gospel may flourish. The exercise of the church’s authority to preach the pure word of God and administer the sacraments according to Christ’s ordinance rests on the government's effectiveness in keeping the peace of the realm. Godly magistrates and princes establish the means for the visible church to complete its ministry. It is their God-given responsibility to ensure that true religion flourishes throughout the nation.
Yet consider how this goal is realized. The theology of the various Prayer Book Collects for the Queen's majesty, and the Royal Family confirm the goal is not gained by a national agenda, but by the salvation of the magistrate’s or prince’s soul coram Deo. Consider the collect for the Queen’s majesty:
O LORD, our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice how the collect begins in adoration and acknowledgment that our heavenly Father is the Almighty One and the fountain of all grace. They continue in the invocation of the Holy Spirit for their sanctification and growth in holiness, ending with a hope of their eternal salvation. This is why the article makes this important distinction: we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God's Word or of the Sacraments… This is allusion to article 20 that restrains an authority to God’s word written. The church militant serves the souls of the nation but cannot become a national church because the very authority the state applies is a derived authority from God as his word confirms. It, therefore, remains an authority that all believing Christians should honor.
It is also the reason why the article underlines the scriptural foundation of the magistrates’ authority in what is lawful that is, conforming to God’s Word: It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars. The law that gives the magistrate the right to command men to bear arms is the law of God itself. The same reasoning must underpin the article’s belief that the government has the right to apply punishment for those offenses that overturn the peace of the commonwealth, up to the death penalty itself.
From time to time I am asked by younger ministers who have discovered the formularies for themselves how they are to “handle” the prayers and references to the Crown or what collect should they use if asked to open a local government assembly. I have found that my years keeping the Prayer Book daily offices have inculcated the theology of the prayers for the Crown so that I may pray extempore for a magistrate and commend the same points. The advice I have given is to study these specific collects, not abandon them. Understand them thoroughly, and you will discover the rich gospel foundation they have. The main things are the plain things within them. And it’s much easier to achieve than the “what Anglican text can I find/parrot” method – and safer than a sweep of resources that may cloud your thinking toward godliness in prayer for a person or persons of an assembly who so desperately need salvation.
Henry Jansma (@VicarsGarden) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Diocese of the Living Word in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)
Meet the Puritans readers! This book is an excellent primer on an important article of the Westminster Confession. When the Westminster Confession says, "The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel...out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation," what does it mean? Enter for an opportunity to win a copy of this book to find out!
His Theology of Justification Compared
We've considered William Tyndale’s doctrine of justification; now we'll compare him with Augustine and Luther. Particularly, we’ll view Luther’s prologue to Romans alongside Tyndale, since the latter depended much on the former for the flow and content of the preface. Next time, we will consider his Tyndale’s covenant theology, which played a vital role in his theology of justification.
As seen in our last post, Tyndale affirmed justification as the remission of sins through the blood of Christ and received by faith alone. Such involved a sinner being made righteous immediately—not progressively—through the Spirit’s renovative work on the heart, in which faith is the believer’s righteousness continually perfected through the ongoing cleansing by Christ’s blood.
As mentioned earlier, Tyndale’s Wycliffite connections brought him under the influence of Augustine’s theology of grace and justification. As Alistair McGrath argues, justification for Augustine “is fundamentally concerned with `being made righteous’” as an inherent process graciously initiated by God. A renewal or real change in being, not just status, takes place as the Holy Spirit transforms a sinner to saint as a new creation beginning and making progress to final perfection. The process of justification by faith working in love (not faith alone) commences at conversion and continues throughout life. Fallen man’s inability to do good demands the Spirit’s gracious operation to begin justification, and such finds its foundation in God’s predestinating grace (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2005).
We hear the voice of Augustine clearly in Tyndale, though the latter clearly emphasized justification by faith alone, and not as a process but something immediate. Man’s fallen state necessitated the gracious work of the Spirit to transform the heart and work faith in it. McGrath rightly observes parallels between Augustine and Tyndale, but oddly claims that the Augustinian “emphasis upon the renewing and transforming work of the Holy Spirit within humans” in Tyndale “is quite distinct from Luther's emphasis upon faith.” Tyndale strongly emphasized justification by faith alone—and Luther, in his less mature convictions, did not deny justification as something inward and transformational. This leads me to believe that McGrath and Ralph Werrell (The Roots of William Tyndale’s Theology, 2013), who approves of such assessment, see too much distance between Luther and Tyndale with Augustine as a key factor in the analysis.
It is to Tyndale’s dependence upon and departure from Luther we will now turn, particularly by way of their prefaces to Romans.
Let’s begin with Luther’s position on justification, expressed in his 1519 sermon Two Kinds of Righteousness. Luther claims there that we are justified by faith alone through a righteousness “alien” to ourselves, that of Christ, which concerns his life, works, suffering, and death. In short, “he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he.” This righteousness is “instilled” in us, not imputed, and is not received “all at once” but “makes progress” as we drive away “the old Adam more and more” while receiving the new Adam, Christ, more fully.
Likewise, this righteousness “begins” inwardly by faith, as an “infinite righteousness” that “swallows up” all sin (in forgiveness) and grants us the “same righteousness” of Christ (though not fully) all “in a moment.” In other words, while the alien righteousness of Christ is instilled progressively, justification occurs immediately by faith. Thus, the beginning of Christ’s alien righteousness inwardly suffices to be declared infinitely righteous before God.
The lack of the forensic language of imputation and the presence of an instilled and progressive alien righteousness out of which our proper righteousness arises—yet has nothing to do with justification—may leave us perplexed. Still, Luther believed that to be united to Christ is to be declared forgiven and righteous through him totally. In this way, Luther seems to be moving toward a doctrine of imputation, even if the language is not clearly there.
Luther’s 1520 tract, The Freedom of a Christian, speaks of one who by faith has “sins remitted” and is “justified by the merits” of “Christ alone.” Likewise, as he did in his 1519 sermon, he evokes the image of Christ as a bridegroom to whom the “believing soul” is united and so possesses “all his good things” with sins “swallowed up” in him in whom the believer receives
“a righteousness which she may claim as her own.” While this may resonate with the language of imputation, there exists no evidence in the tract that Luther has moved beyond an alien-yet-instilled righteousness of Christ. In fact, he continues to speak of being justified “inwardly, and according to the Spirit.”
So, when we come to Luther’s 1522 preface to Romans, do we now find the language of imputation? Not clearly, as Luther still speaks of being “made righteous apart from all his works by faith alone” with good works (our proper righteousness) proving that one “is already inwardly just in the sight of God.” Again, Luther affirms immediate justification by speaking of one “already just” as he does in the next paragraph, “a person becomes just without works but doesn't remain without works once he has become just” (emphasis mine). A unique focus for Luther in this preface concerns the claim that God “reckons” faith “as justice for the sake of Christ our mediator.” God “gives” such faith, and through it a believer “becomes sinless and eager for God’s commands.” It appears that the use of “reckons” here is not imputation language; rather, Luther seems to see faith “as” our “justice” or righteousness, in that it unites with Christ who is our alien righteousness and becomes inwardly ours by that faith.
Let’s use this as a starting point for comparing Luther and Tyndale, whose preface (along with his other New Testament ones), just a few years after Luther, shows considerable dependence in terms of flow and content. As seen in the last post and in line with his Romans preface, Tyndale uses “reckon” to focus on faith being our righteousness in the sense of union with Christ who remits our sin and makes us perfectly righteous in the sight of God. For Luther, it lays hold of Christ whose alien righteousness (in addition to his forgiveness) becomes ours by that faith. For Tyndale, it lays hold of Christ whose blood is applied by the Holy Spirit to overcome our sin and make us perfectly righteous.
In their prefaces, we see the following agreement between them:
The main difference exists in that Tyndale more properly sees faith as our righteousness, while Luther more properly views the righteousness of Christ as that which justifies. In this way, I cannot agree with the substantial difference Werrell affirms between the two on justifying faith (“The Theology of William Tyndale,” PhD diss, University of Hull, 2001). Instead, Tyndale seems merely to expand on what Luther says about such in his preface.
Also, Werrell (The Blood of Christ in the Theology of William Tyndale, 2015) wants us to believe that the blood of Christ, while more ardently stressed in Tyndale, was not a focus of Luther, which seems incongruous with Luther’s own words:
They must, however, be justified through faith in Christ, who has merited this for us by his blood and has become for us a mercy seat . . .in the presence of God, who forgives us all our previous sins.
Christ’s blood was clearly a vital point for Luther, who viewed the remission of sin through the blood as part of our justification.
To be sure, Tyndale was not a Lutheran, and he differed with Luther in theological emphases. Likewise, Luther seems closer to the doctrine of imputation here than Tyndale. Still, for both, we are made righteous by Christ alone through faith alone as it unites us to him. Luther’s primary focus was on the alien righteousness of Christ making us righteous, while Tyndale’s was on the forgiveness of sins doing the same. In the process, they both showed dependence on Augustine’s concept of justification as being made inwardly righteous while departing from him on seeing justification as immediate.
Again—and this cannot be emphasized enough—both men wrote in the early stages of the Reformation. So, when we read them, we are times left wondering what they are saying in relation to justification in connection with regeneration and sanctification. Such concepts begged clarification. However, I would contend, they are both moving (Luther in a more pronounced manner) toward the theology of justification as an “act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q33). In this way, the similarities between them trump their differences.
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.
In a brief but hilarious reformation21 blog post, "Can You Speak Gospelese?", Paul Levy noted that the word “gospel,” had become “an adjective which if you want people to think you’re kosher in conservative evangelicalism you add it, seemingly, to everything.” Thus, there are churches, and there are gospel-centered churches. There is preaching and there is gospel-centered preaching. There is “gospel this” and “gospel that.”
Well, who doesn’t want to be kosher? So, let me say upfront that this website is a gospel-centered website, and this post is a gospel post.
In all seriousness, turning the gospel into a buzzword has its drawbacks, not the least of which is that it can obscure the meaning of the word. So, what is the gospel? Levy wrote: “the gospel is an announcement of news regarding the incarnate Son of God.” That is a fine definition. It becomes problematic, however, when we restrict it to that narrow definition, or set it in opposition to what we are called to do.
For example, Michael Horton has argued that the term “gospel” is a very precise term, a particular kind of word, or speech in the Bible. It is a victory announcement, and it refers to God’s promise of salvation in Christ. The gospel is not good advice, in that it never tells us something to do. The law tells us what we are to do, whereas the gospel tells us what has been done. Similarly, Tim Keller recently tweeted, “The Gospel is good news not good advice. Advice = what we should do. News = report of what was done for us.”
Many puritans, however, believed that the gospel could in fact be defined more broadly, so as to include what Horton and Keller refer to as “good advice.” Anthony Burgess argued that the gospel may defined “strictly” and “largely.” In the strict or narrow sense, the gospel is...
...a meere gracious promise of Christ to the broken heart for sin; and doth comprehend no more then the glad tidings of a Saviour…in a strict sense, it’s onely a promise of Christ, and his benefits [Luke 2:10].
But in a large or broad sense, the gospel...
...signifieth the whole doctrine, that the Apostles were to preach [Mark 1:1; 16:15].
This includes the commands to repent, believe and pursue holiness, as well as threatenings to those who do not obey the commands of the gospel. Samuel Rutherford wrote that the gospel as it contains the whole doctrine of grace and as it is taught by the prophets and apostles “is a promise of life eternall, made to Evangelike and unperfect doing through the strength of grace.” Although not a puritan, Herman Witsius noted in his book for puritans that,
...it is known to all who are acquainted with theology…that the gospel sometimes signifies all that doctrine which Christ and the Apostles delivered, in which are comprehended both commandments, and prohibitions, and upbraidings, and threatenings, Mark xvi. 15. compared with Matth. xxviii. 20. Rom. ii.16.
The puritans, I believe, are right to consider the gospel in this broad sense. Verses like 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 speak of obeying the gospel. How do you obey a report that only tells what has been done for us, and not also what we should do? We obey the gospel because the gospel commands. As the Reformation Study Bible says, “The gospel must be accepted, believed, and obeyed (1 Pet. 4:17). Its divine command is for absolute surrender to God through the peace made by Jesus Christ.”
Since the Bible doesn’t restrict the word “gospel” to a very precise meaning, we shouldn’t either. This is not to say that we can’t use the gospel in its narrow sense and distinguish between the gospel (what Jesus has done) and our response to the gospel (what we need to do). To do so is to distinguish between redemption accomplished and redemption applied, and that is a very helpful and necessary distinction. The point is that we shouldn’t oppose or separate them. The Bible binds them together and includes both under the term “gospel.”
Paul summarized the gospel he preached in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-5). But that is not all there is to the gospel, or even to the work of Christ. A summary of the gospel is just that—a summary—and it shouldn’t be set in direct opposition to its broader definition or fuller explanation.
There are some rather large problems that may arise when people limit the meaning of the gospel to its narrow sense. One potential problem is the unjust accusation of legalism or of mixing law and gospel. It is not necessarily legalistic to use phrases such as “living the gospel,” “obeying the gospel,” or “the conditions of the gospel.” But if you see what we do as only “law” and what Christ has done as only “gospel” then you will likely interpret the broad but biblical use of the term “gospel” as legalistic. Another potential problem is the minimization or outright denial of the conditions of the gospel, which is what the puritans called antinomianism.
What is the gospel? You can give a short or long answer to that question. You can answer it in terms of what Christ has done, or you can add what Christ requires of us in order to partake of what he has done. Here’s a brief example of the latter: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
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.
The doctrine of Scripture has often been the battleground on which the fate of true and false religion is decided. In the seventeenth-century, Roman Catholics taught the authority of Scripture, while denying its sufficiency and clarity. Socinians taught the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture, while restricting their reading of Scripture by the dictates of human reason. A spectrum of views on Scripture has persisted to the present day. Some deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible while maintaining its experimental power in the lives of believers. Others outright deny its unique status as the Word of God. Still others argue that only some books in the standard Protestant canon of Scripture are genuine, usually recognizing only those that they can accommodate to a particular theological hypothesis. What is often missing in older and contemporary debates about Scripture is a careful study of the Bible’s self-evaluation and the multi-faceted attributes ascribed to Scripture in its pages.
Peter van Mastricht’s treatment of the eight properties of Scripture is valuable in this regard. His teaching both took the Bible’s view of itself seriously and, as a result, it was multi-faceted. His view was largely representative of classic Reformed theology. Building on the premise that because true theology was supernatural (“the doctrine of living for God through Christ”), he concluded that the rule, or first principle (principium), of theology must be supernatural as well (113). In this sense, Scripture is “our axiom” (117) and Scripture is the doctrine of living for God as it is set forth in books (119). While revelation is a broader category than Scripture, God chose to reveal himself to mankind through Scripture due to the increasing brevity of human life, the increasing number of people on earth and the size of the church, the liability of oral tradition to corruption, “the weakness of human memory,” for “the stability of heavenly teaching,” and against “the perversity of heretics” who abuse unwritten traditions (119). The entire Trinity is the author of Scripture, from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit (125) as God communicates through Scripture his will towards human beings for their salvation. Mastricht’s treatment of the eight properties of Scripture, which I will summarize below, can help us gain a fuller picture of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture and its relevance today. Due to the depth of the subject, I will summarize rather than present all of Mastricht’s arguments:
1. Scripture possess divine authority (126)
Authority comes first because all other attributes of Scripture reflect this one. Reflecting the independent God, Scripture authority is “supreme and independent,” depending on God alone. He added that, according to 1 Peter 1:20, this is the “first article of faith” because without God speaking with authority in Scripture there could be nothing for faith to rest on. The power of Scripture comes from its authority. It decides controversies, directs our lives, and judges us all, “just as if God himself was speaking” (126).
2. Scripture is divine truth
Scripture can neither deceive nor be deceived. This means that doctrinal and historical aspects of Scripture correspond to the facts, practical statements agree perfectly with the will of God, prophecies, promises, and threats agree with future events, etc. (127). These things make Scripture preferable to every other form of divine revelation (citing Lk. 16:31; Gal. 1:8). The full canon of Scripture has also superseded them.
Third, Scripture has integrity.
This includes freedom from corruption and providential preservation (127). While Mastricht was aware of textual variants and diverse manuscripts, integrity meant for him what later authors would call the verbal inerrancy and infallibility of the original autographs of Scripture as well as the divine preservation of the text through transmission up to the present time (124).
4. Scripture possess sanctity, or holiness (127)
It is pure in itself and it is the source of our holiness through the Spirit’s blessing. This points out how Scripture reflects the character of God, who is its author. God has authority, he is the truth, he is sovereign, and he is holy. Therefore, Scripture bears the marks of its author.
5. Scripture is perspicuous (128)
This is why Scripture is called light, clear, and luminous. Perceived obscurities in Scripture are our fault rather than its fault. When we face difficulties in interpreting passages that appear obscure to us, then we must compare less clear texts with clearer parallel ones (analogia scripturae). This assumes that the Scriptures can be harmonized because the God of truth is their single author, even though he used a variety of inspired men with differing styles and personalities to write the biblical books.
6. Scripture is characterized by perfection (128)
It lacks nothing that we need to live to God, nor anything necessary for our salvation (2 Tim. 3:15-16). This included, in his view, both the closing of the canon and the content of the books within the canon. Scripture teaches these things explicitly and implicitly. Reason confirms this idea, as well, because Scripture could not be the rule of faith and morals unless it was perfect. It is perfect as the principiumof our faith; it is perfect in the whole because it is so in its parts; and the perfection of individual books points to the perfection of all of them considered together (128). The perfection of Scripture includes its sufficiency for everything that must be believed and done as well as for the edification of the church (129). This includes what the Bible teaches by implication, or, as WCF 1.6 put it around the same time period, “by good and necessary consequence.” While the sufficiency of Scripture has become a category of its own today, older authors enveloped it under the perfection of Scripture.
7. Scripture is necessary (129)
It is necessary for the true knowledge of the true God. The church and its members neither would nor could exist without Scripture. Keep in mind that this does not deny other forms of divine revelation prior to Scripture. Yet Mastricht gave several reasons why Scripture was superior to them all and why God chose to reveal himself in Scripture instead (130).
8. Scripture is effective (130)
This is why the Bible attributes power to Scripture. It is compared to things like a hammer, a two-edged sword, and thunder. Contrary to Lutheran opinion, which ascribed inherent power to the Word of God, Scripture is a moral instrument of the Holy Spirit with no independent power. He then listed ten ways that the Bible ascribes efficacy to itself, which readers can consult with much profit. In addition to the church fathers, Luther, and the Reformers, “a thousand other” believers have known the power of Scripture in their experience as well (131).
Mastricht’s treatment of the properties of Scripture is full and balanced. Note what appears to be missing, however. In modern debates about Scripture, infallibility has often taken pride of place, yet Mastricht does not name it explicitly. Yet infallibility is not excluded, if we understand the term rightly. Infallibility, in its modern senses, overlaps at least with “integrity” and “efficacy.” Many who deny infallibility treat it as a synonym for verbal inspiration. Others affirm infallibility by separating it from verbal inspiration, making it synonymous with providential preservation. Both options detract from Mastricht’s overall treatment of Scripture, which is representative of classic Reformed theology. We need a Bible that speaks to us with divine authority reflecting its divine author. It must be true in order to lead us to the God of truth. It must have integrity so that we can trust the God who gave it and who preserves it. It must be holy so that the Spirit can use it to make us holy. It must be perspicuous so that, with the Spirit’s help, we can understand it clearly for our salvation. It must be perfect and complete so that it is all we need for salvation through faith in Christ. It is most necessary because in it and through it alone that we hear Christ’s saving voice. It must be an effective instrument of the Spirit for our salvation; otherwise Christ’s voice will not penetrate our impenetrable hearts. Perhaps many false views of Scripture result from stressing one property of the Bible to the neglect of others. Mastricht gives us a wide picture of what Scripture is that is simultaneously biblical, Reformed, and refreshing.
Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.
His Theology of Justification Considered
In our last post, we looked at William Tyndale’s foundational theology of the Word of God. In this post, we make a start on his theology of justification. Next time, we will consider his dependence upon and departure from both Augustine and Luther on this key doctrine.
Let’s review what I mentioned in earlier posts: First, Tyndale believed that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from good works. Second, we are justified through the blood of Christ who makes “amends” for our imperfect hearts. Third, justification occurs through the work of the Spirit, which entails a renovative or transformative view of justification. Such thoughts need considerable clarification.
We begin with a key summary statement on justification in Tyndale’s Testament of William Tracy Expounded(1535): “Faith justifieth thee; that is, bringeth remission of all sins, and setteth thee in the state of grace before all works, and getteth thee power to work before thou couldst work.” Let’s open this up!
First, justification can be summed up as the “remission” or the forgiveness “of sins.” This sounds like he limits justification to a declarative pardon or what theologians call the non-imputation of sin, a view common in the early stages of the English Reformation. Indeed, Tyndale equates justification with pardon when he says that Christ came to “justify us, or purchase us pardon of our sins” (Prologue upon the Three Epistles of St John, 1526). Still, for Tyndale, this does not denote a forensic declaration founded on the substitutionary work of Christ.
Tyndale, like Augustine and early Luther (not without differences), refers to justification as being “made righteous.” In The Exposition of the First Epistle of Saint John (1531), Tyndale speaks of one “made righteous” or “born anew in Christ,” the Spirit having “healed his heart.” For Tyndale, faith (as a gift of the Spirit) “is our righteousness” (The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, 1527), which does not mean faith is reckoned or imputed as righteous. Instead, faith is our sufficient justifying righteousness by way of a graciously and Spirit-renovated heart. By faith, then, remaining sin is continually remitted through the blood of Christ in the justified-forgiven believer. Tyndale gives priority to the work of the Spirit who makes us righteous through faith and by the cleansing blood of Christ.
We find such themes coming together in a key passage in The Sermon on the Mount: An Exposition of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew (1532), which by no means clears up uncertainties about Tyndale’s position:
[W]hen I say faith justifieth, the understanding is, that faith receiveth the justifying. God promiseth to forgive us our sins, and to impute us for full righteous. And God justifieth us actively: that is to say, forgiveth us, and reckoneth us for full righteous. And Christ’s blood deserveth it; and faith in the promise receiveth it, and certifieth the conscience thereof . . . Now at the first covenant-making with God, and as oft as we be reconciled, after we have sinned, the righteousness cometh of God altogether. But after the atonement is made and we reconciled, then we be partly righteous in ourselves and unrighteous; righteous as far as we love, and unrighteous as far as the love is unperfect. And faith in the promise of God, that he doth reckon us for full righteous, doth ever supply that unrighteousness and imperfectness, as it is our whole righteousness at the beginning.
If we took this passage by itself, we might conclude that Tyndale affirms forensic justification by claiming God imputes or reckons us as “full righteous” on the basis of justifying faith. Yet, in the one “reconciled” or justified, remaining sin is overcome by the righteousness that “cometh of God altogether” by Christ’s satisfaction through faith. Such faith “is our whole righteousness at the beginning” and not simply that which is declared our righteousness. Thus, it does not appear that Tyndale uses the terms “impute” or “reckon” forensically. Instead, faith, as Christ’s Spirit-wrought gift, is constitutively our ongoing perfect righteousness continually cleansed of unrighteous imperfections by the blood of Christ. As Ralph Werrell clearly attests in The Roots of William Tyndale’s Theology (2013) and The Blood of Christ in Theology of William Tyndale (2015), Christ’s blood provides the key to understanding Tyndale’s views on justification.
By way of this Spirit-instilled faith-righteousness and the distinct partial-yet-overcome righteousness developing out of it, I hear echoes of Martin Luther’s early sermon Two Kinds of Righteousness (1519) where he makes a distinction between the “instilled” (yes, non-forensic!) and “alien righteousness” of Christ received by faith alone “not all at once” (yes, he says that!) and the proper yet imperfect righteousness of believers arising out of it. Yet, some key differences emerge, which we will discuss more in the next post. For now, we should note that, for Tyndale, this Spirit-wrought justification occurs instantly, not progressively, at the moment of saving faith. For example, in the same passage cited above from Mammon, Tyndale sees works as fruits in those who “were justified” already, a theme highlighted in several of his writings.
Second, coming back to The Testament, justification occurs by faith alone “before all works.” While the “alone” is not explicit here, it is implied, and clearly stated elsewhere. For example, in his prologue to the Johannine epistles, Tyndale speaks of being justified by faith and foundationally by Christ through “his works only, and with his blood-shedding, without and before all our works.” It should be noted, that in calling attention to Christ’s works, Tyndale does not allude to the active obedience of Christ but a life that is ultimately related to the work of satisfaction for sin as a perfect sacrifice. Also, in his Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531), Tyndale defends justification by “faith alone” against More’s distortion of the Reformation position. Thus, Tyndale is quick to affirm that “alone” does not mean “without all other company” in terms of God’s Spirit and the virtues that attend his work.
Third, and arising out of what we just observed, Tyndale says in The Testament that faith apart from works gets us “power to work.” This fits with the idea that faith is our righteousness from which all other righteous works flow. So, Tyndale attests in Mammon, “Neither do our works justify us: for except we were justified by faith, which is our righteousness, and had the Spirit of God in us, to teach us, we could do no good work freely.” These works flow necessarily from faith, which is “shewed” by the works. Thus, by works we “justified before the world” or affirmed as those “justified before God” (Prologue of James, 1526). Tyndale states the link between faith and works quite pungently in Mammon, where he asserts, “if works follow not, it is a sure and an evident sign, that there is no faith in the heart; but a dead imagination and dream, which they falsely call faith.”
In the end, Tyndale’s views on justification remain a little murky, with regeneration and justification and (to some extent) sanctification—later that century so carefully distinguished among the Reformed—somewhat conflated. Still, at some points, it seems like a forensic view on justification, at least in relation to the passive obedience of Christ, wants to break through. Furthermore, I believe that Tyndale’s emphasis on foundational role of Christ’s work of satisfaction contributes to the emergence of the mature Westminster doctrine of justification by faith alone expressed in the following century. Remember, refined theological distinctions did not take precedence in early Reformed thought. Likewise, he was denied further deliberation when his life came to an abrupt end in 1536, with the English Reformation only in its early stages. One hears the voice of both Augustine and Luther in Tyndale, but not without the English reformer's unique contribution. Such dependence and departure we will consider in the next post.
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 from Acornshire.
Before she was twenty, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) made a long and treacherous voyage to the New World with her husband and family. She would become America's first published poet; she would also endure a number of physical and spiritual harships. Through it all, her poetry showed a continual dependence upon the Lord. Bradstreet composed one such poem after surviving an affliction of tuberculosis:
Twice ten years old not fully toldSince nature gave me breath,My race is run, my thread is spun,Lo, here is fatal Death.All men must die, and so must I,This cannot be revoked;For Adam's sake this word God spakeWhen he so high provoked.Yet live I shall—this life's but small—In place of highest bliss,Where I shall have all I can crave;No life is like to this.For what's this life but care and strife?Since first we came from wombOur strength doth waste, our time doth haste,And then we go to tomb.O bubble blast, how long can'st lastThat always art a-breaking?No sooner blown but dead and gone,Ev'n as a word that's speaking.Oh, whilst I live this grace me give,I doing good may be,Then death's arrest I shall count best,Because it's Thy decree;Bestow much cost there's nothing lost,To make salvation sure;O great's the gain, though got with pain,Comes by profession pure.The race is run, the field is won,The victory's mine, I see,For ever know, thou envious foe,The foil belongs to thee.*