The doctrine of salvation (Soteriology) is necessarily intertwined with the doctrine of God (Theology Proper). Your understanding of what God does and how he saves will affect your understanding of who God is, and vice versa. The puritans faced this issue in their debates with the so-called Antinomians. As I noted in previous articles here and here, the Antinomians argued for their doctrine of justification before faith on the basis of God’s immutability, simplicity and impassibility. Their belief that faith was not a condition in any sense of justification shaped how they understood God’s immutability with respect to his interaction with the world.
Covenant theology bears a similar relationship to Theology Proper. How we understand God’s interaction with Israel in the Old Testament will shape our understanding of what God is like, and vice versa. The puritan John Ball seems to have understood this. In his treatise on the covenant of grace, Ball argued that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace. He provided many reasons for his position, one of which was the preface to the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6). The heart of the covenant of grace is captured by the oft-repeated refrain, “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Hence, when God said to Israel that he is their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, he was saying to them that he is “their King, Judge, Saviour and Redeemer: Spiritual Redeemer from the bondage of sin and Satan, whereof that temporall deliverance was a type (see also Westminster Larger Catechism, 101).” Since God redeemed Israel, it is implausible, in light of who God is, that he would bind them to a covenant of works in the land of Canaan. Would God deliver Israel out of bondage only to curse them by placing them under a covenant of works? Would he deliver them from the frying pan, only to throw them into the fire? Ball certainly didn’t think so. He wrote:
God never commanded his people, that he might set them on high above all people of the earth, and that they might be an holy people unto him and to avouch him to be their God by a Covenant of works: Moses would never have exhorted the people by Oath to bind themselves unto the Lord in a Covenant of Works: for that had been to bind themselves unto the most dreadfull curses, whereas they were to enter into the Covenant that they might prosper in all that they doe. That Covenant is of Grace, wherein the good things promised are all free and gracious: but it was of grace that God promised to be the God of Israel: and therefore the Lord, when he keepeth Covenant with Israel, is said to keep the mercy which he swore unto their Fathers, and when he established them for a people unto himselfe, and is their God, he is said to performe the Oath, which he swore unto their Fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace, 107).
By contrast, consider what T. David Gordon, a professor at Grove City College and proponent of a modern-day version of the doctrine of republication, had to say in his essay in the book The Law Is Not of Faith. He argued that the covenant God made with Israel after the Exodus was a works covenant, which cursed and enslaved them (TLNF, 251). Israel, therefore, went from bondage to bondage; from a hard taskmaster to a “frightening deity.” This is why Gordon concluded that the Mosaic covenant was no bargain for Israel and that they were justified in wanting to go back to Egypt. In other words, Israel was on the right track when they began to doubt’s God’s love for them by thinking that God had brought them out of Egypt in order to kill them in the desert. Gordon wrote:
If this [Sinaitic covenant] doesn’t sound like a bargain, recall that the original Israelites did not consider it a bargain either, and they resisted Moses’ efforts to engage them in it. All things considered, many of the first-generation Israelites, who received this covenant while trembling at the foot of a quaking mountain and then wandered in the wilderness, preferred to return to Egypt rather than to enter the covenant with a frightening deity who threatened curse-sanctions upon them if they disobeyed. I do not blame them; their assessment of the matter was judicious and well considered, albeit rebellious. The Sinai covenant-administration was no bargain for sinners, and I pity the poor Israelites who suffered under its administration…I would have resisted this covenant also, had I been there, because such a legal covenant, whose conditions require strict obedience (and threaten severe curse-sanctions), is bound to fail if one of the parties to it is a sinful people (TLNF, 251).
The theological and pastoral implications of this view of the Mosaic covenant are enormous. Unless we are willing to argue that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament, we need to ask: what does this view of the Mosaic covenant teach us about God? What does it say about his goodness and love, and the way he treats his people, whom he considers the apple of his eye? What does this view teach us about the law of God? How will it affect the way we think of and relate to God?
Covenant theology and Theology Proper are joined at the hip. They will shape and inform each other. That is why it is important to get both correct. If your covenant theology paints a perverse portrait of God, it's time to go back to the drawing board.
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 Covenantsand author of A Portrait of Christ.
Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834), Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.
The Method of Missionary Prayer
In all their ways, the Puritans were orderly, that is, they governed their lives by principles. This was so even in their prayers for the spread of the gospel in the world. While the Puritans resisted prescribed forms and relied on the Holy Spirit’s help for prayer, they also embraced methods of promoting and guiding such prayer.
A Passionate Missionary Tradition: The Westminster Standards
The first Puritan method was to build missionary prayer into the public worship of the local church. The Westminster Assembly, famous for its Confession of Faith and two catechisms, also produced the Directory for the Public Worshipof God(1644). The Directoryinstructed that the minister, prior to delivering his sermon, was to lead the people in prayer to confess sins and to pray for grace through Christ Jesus. He was also instructed
to pray for the propagation of the gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nations, for the conversion of the Jews, the fullness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist [the Roman Catholic papacy], and the hastening of the coming of our Lord; for the deliverance of the distressed churches abroad, from the tyranny of the Antichristian faction, and from the cruel oppositions and blasphemies of the Turk [the Muslim power]; for the blessing of God upon all the Reformed churches, especially upon the Churches and Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland…and for our plantations [colonies] in the remote parts of the world.
The Puritans were thus concerned that public worship regularly include prayer for the cause of Christ throughout the world, including world missions and the relief of the persecuted church suffering in Europe under Roman Catholicism and in the Middle East under Islam. Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism (1647) in its exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (Q. 191), said, “In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan; we pray, that the kingdom of sin, and Satan, may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in.”The Westminster Standards shaped the piety of generations of British, North American, and Australian Reformed Christians, leading many into intercession for the world.
Thomas Boston (1676–1732) preached a series of sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In his sermon on “Thy kingdom come,” Boston echoed the language of the Directoryand the Larger Catechism. He said this petition in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that the duty and disposition of God’s children is to desire His kingdom to come in, destroying the power of sin and Satan over men’s hearts. “Every saint prays it down,” he wrote. He said we are to pray for “the conversion of sinners to God, 2 Thess. 3:1, ‘Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified.’ Converts are the church’s children, for which she travails in birth, in her ministers and members, as naturally longing for the conversion of souls, as a travailing woman to see the fruit of her womb.” This petition also requires us to pray for God to overcome Satan’s opposition to the preaching and power of the gospel “and make the gospel triumph over them all.” Likewise, Boston said, God’s children must desire and pray for “the propagation of the gospel through the world, that it may be carried through all nations…that Christ may be King in all the earth.”
This pattern of praying was not merely a public formality, for it engraved itself upon the hearts of the people. The last words of English housewife Elizabeth Heywood (d. 1661) were a prayer “for the church of God, that the Jews might be converted, and that the gospel might be preached to the remainder of the Gentile nations.”May God make prayer for the nations so integral to our church’s worship that it will even be included among our own last wishes.
A Divine Missionary Book: The Holy Scriptures
The second Puritan method for praying for world missions was teaching people to pray the Scriptures. Matthew Henry wrote Method for Prayer(1710),which followed the Westminster Standards in providing prayers for “the lost world,” specifically for the spread of the gospel to foreign nations, the growth of the church by many conversions, the salvation of the Jews, the relief of the Eastern churches from Islamic oppression, and the blessing of the churches in English colonies such as America.
The key to Henry’s method was putting the words of Scriptures into the mouths of God’s people. Henry wove together the words of the Bible to impress upon the hearts of Christians in prayers such as these:
Let the people praise thee, O God, yea, let all the people praise thee.
O let thy salvation and thy righteousness be openly showed in the sight of the heathen, and let all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God.
O give thy Son the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession; for thou hast said, It is a light thing for him to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel, but thou wilt give him for a light to the Gentiles.
Let all the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ.
O let the gospel be preached unto every creature; for how shall men believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without preachers? And how shall they preach except they be sent? And who shall send forth labourers, but the Lord of the harvest?
O let the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
As these selections indicate, the Psalms contain many expressions of God’s dominion over all the earth and the future reign of the anointed King over the nations. According to the design of the Holy Spirit, the Psalter is a missionary hymnal and prayer book. Calvin and the Puritans loved the Psalms and sang from the Psalter every day.
The call of the gospel sounds forth in the version of Psalm 2 that appeared in the Psalter of Sternhold and Hopkins (1560), used in Britain and North America for many generations:
Now ye O Kings and Rulers all,
be Wise therefore and Learn’d:
By whom the matters of the World
be Iudged and discern’d.
See that ye serve the Lord above,
in trembling and in feare:
See that with reuerence ye reioyce,
to him in like manner.
See that ye kisse and eke [also] embrace,
his blessed Sonne, i say:
Lest in his wrath ye suddenly,
perish in the mid way.
If once his wrath neuer so small,
shall kindle in his brest:
Oh then all they that trust in Christ,
shall happy be and blest.
New England’s Bay Psalm Book(1640) celebrates the triumph of the gospel over all the earth in this version of Psalm 98:
Sing to the Lord a new song: sing
all the earth the Lord unto:
Sing to Jehovah, bless his name,
still his salvation show.
To the heathen his glory, to all
people his wonders spread.
For great is the Lord, much to be praised,
above all gods in dread….
Ye kindreds of the people all
unto the Lord afford
Glory and mightiness also
give ye unto the Lord. [Ps. 96:1–4, 7]
Likewise, the Scottish Psalter of 1650 foresees a world redeemed by Christ, renewed by the preaching of the gospel, and rejoicing in God, in its famous version of Psalm 100:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him and rejoice.
The greatest means the Lord uses to teach His people to pray for the world is the Word of God. If we want people to be faithful in praying for the spread of the gospel throughout the world, we should fill our worship services with the words of the missionary book. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The practice of singing the Psalms in public and family worship would help turn the church’s inward focus outward to a world that desperately needs to worship the true God.
Conclusion: “Walk over the vast ocean”
William Gurnall (1616–1679) asked, “Is there none, O man, that needs the mercy of God besides thyself?” In contemporary language, is there no one else that you want to be saved besides yourself? God gives us permission for our love to begin at home. So pray for your family. After that, consider what is happening in your neighborhood. Then pray for your community. Go on to pray for your nation, but do not stop there. As Gurnall said,
Let thy prayers walk over the vast ocean…. Visit the churches of Christ abroad; yea, the poor Indians and other ruins of mankind that lie where Adam’s sin threw them with us, without any attempt made as yet upon them by the gospel for their recovery, and carry their deplored condition before the Lord. Our Drake is famous for compassing the earth with his ship in a few years; thou mayst by thy prayers every day, and make a more gainful voyage of it too than he did.
. “A Directory for Publique Prayer, Reading the Holy Scriptures, Singing of Psalmes, Preaching of the Word, Administration of the Sacraments, and other parts of the Publique Worship of God, Ordinary and Extraordinary,” in The Westminster Standards: An Original Facsimile(1648; reprint, Audubon, N.J.: Old Paths Publications, 1997), 10.
. “The humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines…Concerning a Larger Catechism,” 62, in ibid.
.The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston(1853; reprint, Stoke-on-Trent, England: Tentmaker Publications, 2002), 2:578–80.
. Murray, The Puritan Hope, 99.
. See chapter 8 of this book.
.The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry(1855; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 2:48–49.
.The Booke of Psalms, collected into English Meeter, by Thomas Sternhold, Iohn Hopkins, and others: conferred with the Hebrew, with apt Notes to sing them withal(London: for the Company of Stationers, 1628; reprint, Columbus, Ohio: Lazarus Ministry Press, 1998).
.The Bay Psalm Book(1640; reprint, Bedford: Applewood Books, 2002), 185–86.
.The Psalms of David in Metre, according to the Version Approved by the Church of Scotland, and Appointed to be Used in Worship (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, n.d.).
. For a modern edition of the Psalms for church worship, see The Psalter(Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999). On the historic practice of Psalm singing, which has largely fallen out of favor in the contemporary church, see Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio, Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century(Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).
. William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour(1662–1665; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 2:524–25. Francis Drake (1540–1596) was an English sea captain who circled the earth 1577–1580.
W. Bradford Littlejohn and Scott N. Kindred-Barnes, eds., Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy, vol. 40, Reformed Historical Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017). 355pp. Hardcover.
Historic Reformed orthodoxy was marked both by unity and diversity. The development of Reformed confessional theology, coupled with the scholastic method of teaching in the schools, resulted in a remarkable level of catholicity among Reformed churches without negating significant differences among Reformed authors in various parts of the post-Reformation world. With respect to this broader context, Richard Hooker’s relationship to Reformed orthodox theology has been debated widely among scholars. With the partial exception of Andrew Martin’s chapter on Hooker’s sacramental theology, the authors of this volume argue that readers should regard Hooker as a Reformed orthodox theologian. They do so more or less successfully due to the ambiguous way in which the editors of the volume describe what it meant to be Reformed. The scope and aim of this volume make it a provocative assessment of the bounds of Reformed thought in the context of the transition from Reformation to post-Reformation theology. This makes it an interesting test case for understanding the nature of post-Reformation theology more broadly.
The book is broadly divided into three sections, treating Hooker’s historical context and reception, his theological and pastoral method, and his relationship to Reformed orthodoxy. The strengths of the editor’s approach to their topic lies in the wide range of authors contributing to the book, in their contextual approach to understanding Hooker on his own terms and in his own context, and in their comparison of Hooker’s teachings to the broader stream of historic Reformed orthodoxy. Some of the most stimulating subjects treated include Hooker’s views on public worship, which stood at the heart of his controversy with “Puritanism,” his use of medieval scholastic theology and method, his treatment of the authentication of Scripture, his teaching on imputed and inherent righteousness, and his sacramental theology. These chapters and others help guide readers through some of the key relevant areas to Reformed theological method and of the Reformed system of doctrine. They essays are well researched and they seek primarily to ask historical questions rather the contemporary ones. This approach is potentially fruitful for modern theological debates, indirectly, since it allows historic authors to speak with their own voices and to raise their own concerns.
Though Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy achieves its aims generally, it raises some potentially problematic questions as well. The first is how one defines Reformed orthodoxy. The editors regard “the progressive liberation of historical scholarship from the straightjacket of confessional identity” (12-13) as a positive thing with regard to Richard Hooker studies. However, without confessional identity, as Historians such as Richard Muller have argued, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish Reformed theology from other branches of the Christian tradition. Since all theologians from this time period used an eclectic array of sources in building their theologies, and since they used a common scholastic method in their teaching, the bypassing a broad Reformed confessional identity runs the risk of transforming “Reformed” into a meaningless historical category.
Another potential liability of some of the essays in this volume is that they appear to take Hooker’s assessment of “Puritanism” at face value (59, 64, 76, 84, 148, etc.). This conception of “Puritanism” even led one author to conclude that we should not regard William Perkins as a Puritan (71). This is problematic, if for not other reason than the fact that much historical scholarship has treated Perkins as one of the primary architects of Puritan ideology. It is one thing to argue that Hooker drew precedents for his views from strands of earlier Reformed thought that stood in contrast to what he labeled as “Puritanism.” It is another thing to imply that many of these “Puritans” did not also stand in the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy. The true historical situation was more complex than this presentation makes it appear at times.
Some authors in this volume run the risk of oversimplifying historical positions as well. For example, one author argues that, in agreement with the British delegation at Dort, Hooker believed, “Christ’s death is actually applied to some reprobate insofar as God’s inward grace is granted to some within whom that grace does not lead eventually to eternal life” (291). This statement is potentially misleading. Most Reformed authors believed in distinguishing between common operations of the Spirit within the visible church and the saving work of the Spirit, which applied to the elect only. They rooted both sets of benefits in Christ’s death and in his work in sending the Spirit to the church. However, these common operations of the Spirit were not treated as equivalent to the Spirit’s internal saving operations, which the author appears to equate in Hooker’s thought. The block citation from Hooker he provides in the footnote appears to match better this reviewer’s distinction between non-saving and saving operations of the Spirit on account of Christ’s death than it does the author’s implication that some reprobate people in the church possessed “inward grace” that did “not eventually lead to eternal life.” This kind of oversimplification is closer to some modern theological debates than it is to those present in the late sixteenth-century.
Do the author’s of Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy prove successfully that Hooker fit within the mainstream of Reformed orthodox thought? In this reviewer’s opinion, the answer is yes and no. While Hooker clearly agreed with many aspects of Reformed thought more broadly, the evidence that the author’s present to prove their case appear better to substantiate Peter Lake’s earlier depiction of Hooker as a via media theologian. Like many authors from the time period treated, Hooker was an eclectic thinker. If shared ideas, sources, and methods make one a Reformed theologian instead of a Reformed confessional identity, then the authors prove their case clearly. However, if a Reformed confessional tradition remains a standard for assessing the ideas of historic Reformed figures, then Hooker is, in at least a few respects, the odd man out. While room for disagreement on this issue remains among scholars, the primary value of these essays is that they force readers to ask questions such as this one as they seek to understand the character of post-Reformation Reformed theology.
This review appeared previously in Mid America Journal of Theology, vol. 28, 212-214.
Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.
Give us this day our daily bread.—Matthew 6:11
In A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson (1620–1686) presented over 150 sermons on essential Christian teachings, including a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Here is a brief section taken from his treatment of the fourth petition:
Thus we argue from the word "Give", that the good things of this life are the gifts of God; he is the founder and donor; and that it is not unlawful to pray for temporal things. We may pray for daily bread. Feed me with food convenient for me.' Prov 30: 8. We may pray for health. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.' Psa 6: 2. As these are in themselves good things, so they are useful for us; they are as needful for preserving the comfort of life as oil is needful for preserving the lamp from going out. Only let me insert two things:
(1) There is a great difference between praying for temporal things and spiritual. In praying for spiritual things we must be absolute. When we pray for pardon of sin, and the favour of God, and the sanctifying graces of the Spirit, which are indispensably necessary to salvation, we must take no denial; but when we pray for temporal things, our prayers must be limited; we must pray conditionally, so far as God sees them good for us. He sometimes sees cause to withhold temporal things from us: when they would be snares, and draw our hearts from him; therefore we should pray for these things with submission to God's will.
It was Israel's sin that they would be peremptory and absolute in their desire for temporal things; God's bill of fare did not please them, they must have dainties. Who shall give us flesh to eat?' Numb 11: 18. God has given them manna, he fed them with a miracle from heaven, but their wanton palates craved more: they must have quails. God let them have their desire, but they had sour sauce to their quails. While their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them and slew them.' Psa 78: 31. Rachel was importunate in her desires for a child. Give me children, or I die;' God let her have a child, but it was a Ben-oni, a son of my sorrow; it cost her her life in bringing forth. Gen 30: 1; Gen 35: 18. We must pray for outward things with submission to God's will, else they come in anger.
(2) When we pray for things pertaining to this life, we must desire temporal things for spiritual ends; we must desire these things to be as helps in our journey to heaven. If we pray for health, it must be that we may improve this talent of health for God's glory, and may be fitter for his service; if we pray for a competency of estate, it must be for a holy end, that we may be kept from the temptations which poverty usually exposes to, and that we may be in a better capacity to sow the golden seeds of charity, and relieve such as are in want. Temporal things must be prayed for for spiritual ends. Hannah prayed for a child, but it was for this end, that her child might be devoted to God. O Lord, if thou wilt remember me, and wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.' 1 Sam 1: 11. Many pray for outward things only to gratify their sensual appetites, as the ravens cry for food. Psa 147: 9. To pray for outward things only to satisfy nature, is to cry rather like ravens than Christians. We must have a higher end in our prayers, we must aim at heaven while we are praying for earth.
…If we are to pray for temporal things, how much more for spiritual? If we are to pray for bread, how much more for the bread of life? If for oil, how much more for the oil of gladness? If to have our hunger satisfied, much more should we pray to have our souls saved. Alas! what if God should hear our prayers, and grant us these temporal things and no more, what were we the better? What is it to have food and want grace? What is it to have the back clothed and the soul naked? To have a south land, and want the living springs in Christ's blood, what comfort could that be? O therefore let us be earnest for spiritual mercies! Lord, not only feed me, but sanctify me; give me rather a heart full of grace than a house full of gold. If we are to pray for daily bread, the things of this life, much more for the things of the life that is to come.
To read more from and about the Puritans, check out Meet the Puritansby Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson (available at ReformedResources.org).
More on Thomas Watson and Prayer:
Stephen Geree was one of several puritan ministers who wrote against the so-called Antinomians during the 1640’s. His main target was Tobias Crisp. Crisp, who has been regarded by some as the high priest of English Antinomianism, moved to London in 1642 where he quickly became an influential leader of the antinomian movement. Although he died the following year, his influence continued to grow due in large part to the posthumous publication of his sermons, entitled, Christ Alone Exalted. Geree used this book as the basis for his polemic against Antinomian doctrine in 1644.
My goal is not to discuss or evaluate Geree’s analysis of Crisp or Antinomian doctrine in general. Rather, I would like to highlight his reasons for engaging this theological battle, for the manner in which he engaged it, and for his focus on Crisp. Vigorous polemic aimed at an individual is not a relic of a bygone era; it is very much a part of our own culture. Indeed, with the advent of social media, it seems like it is everywhere, which is why many people today are turned off by it and argue against it. While the misuse of something makes it look ugly, it doesn’t mean that it is bad in and of itself. Hence, we should ask if there are good reasons for Christians to critique individuals, including fellow Christians, forcefully and publicly? If so, what are some of those reasons? Geree may be of help to us in this regard, or at least serve to generate thought on the matter.
One reason Geree engaged in heated theological debate with the Antinomians was to defend the Gospel. He was convinced that the “Gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely overthrowne by this Antinomian, or rather Anti-evangelicall Doctrine.” If this hadn’t been the case then he would have held his peace and saved himself a “great deale of paines.” What made matters worse for Geree was that this “Anti-evangelicall Doctrine” claimed to be evangelical by “its seeming so much to magnifie the grace of God and Christ.” It was like sweet poison, which goes down so easily, or like a “guilded or sugared bait.” It deceived and entrapped unsuspecting Christians. Indeed, he testified that many people had been ruined by this error. Consequently, Geree didn’t hesitate to call them “mountebanks (con artists),” and “ignorant Quacksalvers, that doe but skin over the soares of mens soules, and doe not thoroughly cure their sinnes.”
The reason Geree engaged in the Antinomian debate is also the reason for his heated rhetoric. He didn’t pull any punches. He called it as he saw it because he believed that the Gospel and people’s lives were at stake. There was, however, another reason he used strong language at times, or as he put it, why he used “a little Vineger” now and then. He felt compelled to do so by his “adversaries.” He believed that his opponents had violently rejected his mild rebuke and doubled down on their errors. A soft touch would no longer do. Stronger medicine was called for. Geree explained:
And if at anytime I seeme somewhat harsh, know, that partly the cause itself, and partly the confidence of my adversaries, have compelled me hereunto. For having written most mildly some three or foure yeares agoe, I was answered so roughly and insolently, that made some judicious persons, that read both sides, admire. So that I saw a necessity of more roughness and smartness with this generation, when gentle medicines will not worke, then more bitter and biting must be used…This hath made me now and then use a little Vineger, which otherwise I have not used.
The reason Geree zeroed in on Tobias Crisp was because Crisp had many adoring fans and defenders. Rumor has it that Robert Lancaster, Crisp’s friend and publisher, wrote a pamphlet entitled, “Oh that Tobias!” though I have yet to confirm it. According to Geree, there were even some people who thought that Crisp could do no wrong and placed him in the same category as the apostle Paul. This led him to focus on Crisp and it forced him to rely on Crisp’s written words, even though he had heard Crisp preach, because Crisp’s admirers and friends would readily “deny what they have really held, as if they held no such thing.”
As I said at the beginning, my intention was not to evaluate Geree’s analysis of Crisp. He may be right or wrong on Crisp. The accuracy of his critique, however, does not affect his reasons for engaging in heated theological debate or for critiquing a particular individual. Drops of vinegar may well be in order when teachers are distorting the Gospel or leading people astray. They may be necessary when people are stubborn and stiff-necked in their errors. And they may be necessary when people harbor an unhealthy admiration for their favorite celebrity preacher.
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 Covenantsand author of A Portrait of Christ.
Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834),Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.
The Puritan Motivation for Missionary Prayer: Christ's Victory and God's Glory
The Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Missionary work finds its foundation in Christ’s mediatorial triumph over sin, death, and the world. Nonetheless, massive obstacles stand in the way of mission endeavors, such as distance; expense; language; culture; the sinful hostility and hardened hearts of fallen human beings; the sins and infirmities of Christians; coldness of heart, strife, and error in the church; and the wide-ranging opposition and destructive activity of Satan. Missionary work and missionary prayer must be fueled by confidence in the power of Christ enthroned as Head of the church and Lord of all to overcome these obstacles.
Though the government in Calvin’s homeland of France harshly suppressed evangelical preaching, Calvin wrote to the king: “Indeed, we are quite aware of what…lowly little men we are…. But our doctrine must tower unvanquished above all the glory and above all the might of the world, for it is not of us, but of the living God and his Christ whom the Father has appointed to ‘rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth’ [Ps. 72:8].”The missionary prayers of the Reformers and Puritans sprang from a biblical vision of the sovereign Christ whose kingdom must fill the earth (Ps. 72; Dan. 2:34–35, 44).
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) wrote An Humble Attempt to promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the last Time(1748). In this book he called for regular prayer meetings for revival and world evangelization. The motivation for this prayer, he explained, was that “it is natural and reasonable to suppose, that the whole world should finally be given to Christ, as one whose right it is to reign, as the proper heir of him who is originally the King of all nations, and the possessor of heaven and earth.” God the Father has made His Son the mediator of His kingdom and heir of all the nations (Ps. 2:6–8; Heb. 1:2; 2:8).
In An Humble Attempt, Edwards argued for the great advance of the kingdom of God on earth. He cited as evidence the promises that all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14), all nations would serve the Messiah (Ps. 72:11, 17), all nations would come to the Lord (Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17), true religion would prevail throughout the world (Pss. 22:27; 65:5, 8; 67:7; 98:3; 113:3; Isa. 11:9; 54:1, 2, 5; Mal. 1:11), idols and idolatrous nations would perish from the earth (Isa. 60:12; Jer. 10:11, 15), and the full number of Jews and Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 11:12, 25).In typical Puritan fashion, Edwards urged believers to turn these promises into prayers, calling upon the Lord to extend the kingdom of His Son. Christ’s victorious position at God’s right hand should move us to pray for God to establish Christ’s royal dominion (“the rod of thy strength”) in the very midst of His enemies (Ps. 110).
The Glory of the Living God
The very marrow of the Reformed movement was its God-centeredness. The Reformers and Puritans were enamored with the sovereign God and overwhelmed with His majestic beauty.The Puritans who composed the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) wrote, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” Thomas Watson (ca. 1620–1686) wrote, “Glory is the sparkling of the Deity.”He said glorifying God consists of the following:
1) “Appreciation. To glorify God is to set God highest in our thoughts…. There is in God all that may draw forth both wonder and delight; there is a constellation of all beauties…. We glorify God, when we are God-admirers.”
2) “Glorifying God consists in adoration, or worship…. Divine worship must be such as God himself has appointed, else it is offering strange fire (Lev. 10:1).”
3) “Affection…. It is intense and ardent. True saints are…burning in holy love to God.”
4) “Subjection. This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service.”
Watson also said, “We glorify God by laboring to draw others to God; by seeking to convert others, and so make them instruments of glorifying God.”The Great Commission is a further expression of the Great Commandment, for missions must be driven by love of God and longing for His name to be glorified by all nations in the earth. Calvin said God’s attributes “should captivate us with wonderment for him, and impel us to celebrate his praise.” He said further, “We should wish God to have the honor he deserves.” According to Christ’s command, Calvin urged us “to request not only that God vindicate his sacred name from all contempt and dishonor but also that he subdue the whole race of mankind to reverence for it.”
Experiencing God’s overflowing glory causes one’s heart to overflow in prayers for others. David Brainerd (1718–1747), missionary to Native Americans, wrote in his journal, “I saw that God is the only soul-satisfying portion, and I really found satisfaction in him: My soul was much enlarged in sweet intercession for my fellow men everywhere, and for many Christian friends in particular, in distant places.”Brainerd suffered from depression and severe hardships in his work. He died in his twenties after a long bout with tuberculosis. In all of that difficulty, he was sustained in missionary labor by his love for the glory of God. He wrote, “I felt my soul rejoice, that God is unchangeably happy and glorious; and that he will be glorified, whatever becomes of his creatures.”By the end of 1646, Brainerd’s illness was so severe that he could do little more than pray. But he had seen God work among the Native Americans he served, and he testified:
Prayer was now wholly turned into praise; and I could do little else but try to adore and bless the living God: The wonders of his grace displayed in gathering to himself a church among the poor Indians here were the subject matter of my meditation and the occasion of exciting my soul to praise and bless his Name…. I could only rejoice that God had done the work himself; and that none in heaven or earth might pretend to share the honor of it with him; I could only be glad that God’s declarative glory was advanced by the conversion of these souls, and that it was to the enlargement of his kingdom in the world…. Oh, that he might be adored and praised by all his intelligent creatures to the utmost of their powers and capacities.
This vision for the glory of God in all nations also propelled William Carey to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” The flame of prayer for missions bursts forth from a heart in love with God. Thus the essence of all true missionary prayer is found in Christ’s words, “Hallowed be thy name!”
. Calvin, Institutes, 12 [Prefatory Address to King Francis].
. The subject of Iain Murray’s book, The Puritan Hope, is this vision and the eschatology connected with it.
.The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 5, Apocalyptic Writings, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 330.
. Edwards, Works, 5:329–34.
. Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism(Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 39–42.
. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity(1692; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 6.
. Watson, Body of Divinity, 7–8.
. Watson, Body of Divinity, 16.
. Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.41.
.The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 7, The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 177. See Tom Wells, A Vision for Missions(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 121–29.
. Edwards, Works, 7:275–76.
. Edwards, Works,7:404.
At the time of his death, Puritan Richard Baxter (1615–1691) had published approximately 150 treatises, not including countless other letters and papers. The following passage comes from A Call to the Unconvered to Turn and Live, which begins with a quote from Ezekiel:
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? —Ezekiel 33:11 (KJV)
Yea, heaven itself is ready: the Lord will receive thee into the glory of his saints; vile as thou hast been, if thou wilt but be cleansed, thou mayest have a place before his throne: his angels will be ready to guard thy soul to the place of joy, if thou do but unfeignedly come in. And is God ready, the sacrifice of Christ ready, the promise ready, and pardon ready? Are ministers ready, and the people of God ready, and heaven itself ready, and angels ready, and all these but waiting for thy conversion; and yet art thou not ready?
What! Not ready to live, when thou hast been dead so long? not ready to come to thy right understanding, as the prodigal is said to come to himself, when thou hast been beside thyself so long? Not ready to be saved, when thou art even ready to be condemned? Art thou not ready to lay hold on Christ who would deliver thee, when thou art even ready to drown and sink into damnation? Art thou not ready to be saved from hell, when thou art even ready to be cast remedilessly into it? Alas, man! dost thou know what thou dost? If thou die unconverted, there is no doubt to be made of thy damnation; and thou art not sure to live an hour ? And yet art thou not ready to turn and to come in?
Oh miserable wretch! Hast thou not served the flesh and the devil long enough yet? Hast thou not enough of sin? Is it so good to thee? Or so profitable for thee? Dost thou know what it is, that thou wouldst yet have more of it? Hast thou had so many calls, and so many mercies, and so many blows, and so many examples? Hast thou seen so many laid in the grave, and yet art thou not ready to let go thy sins and come to Christ? What? after so many convictions and gripes of conscience, after so many purposes and promises, art thou not ready yet to turn and live?
Oh that thy eyes, thy heart were opened to know how fair an offer is now made to thee! And what a joyful message it is that we are sent on, to bid thee come, for all things are ready.
To read more from and about the Puritans, check out Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson (available at ReformedResources.org).
 Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 66.
 Richard Baxter, A Call to the Unconvered to Turn and Live (Glasgow: Porteous and Hislop, 1863), 70, 71.
Theology is the doctrine of living to God. More specifically, we live to God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit. How we define theology determines how we study theology. If theology is merely the science of God, in which we study biblical data in order to talk about God, then open Bibles, clear thinking, and helps from church history are enough to get us going. However, if theology is about knowing the right God in the right way, and about making him known to others, then an accurate scientific system of doctrine is a necessary, but not a sufficient cause of true theology. The true theologian needs the Holy Spirit in his or her heart and saving faith to lay hold of God in Christ. We need a receptive tool to receive the theology taught in the Bible and to receive the God of the Bible through it.
This led some Reformed theologians to treat the nature of faith before jumping into the doctrine of God and the rest of the system of theology. William Ames (1576-1633) is a preeminent example of doing this, and his Marrow of Theology became a standard text in England, New England, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. Later authors, like Peter van Mastricht, followed Ames’s example by placing saving faith at the outset of their systems, while the Westminster Confession and Catechisms brought in the topic to introduce the application of redemption. Faith fits well in both places, because faith in Christ is necessary to be a Christian as well as to study theology rightly. Ames’ treatment of saving faith shows us why faith is fundamental to studying theology.
Ames was not concerned with a generic faith in Scripture, let alone with a faith that is temporary or historical only, but with saving faith through which we come to know God. He defined faith as, “the resting of the heart on God, the author of life and eternal salvation, so that we may be saved from all evil through him and may follow all good (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, Eusden translation, 80; citing Is. 10:20, Ps. 37:5, and Jer. 17:7). Faith is an act of understanding, but it goes beyond this and affects the will as well. Its fundamental meaning is receptive (citing Jn. 1:12): “It is an act of the whole man – which is by no means a mere act of the intellect” (80). While the knowledge involved in faith is common among those who are saved and those who are not, the will, depending on this knowledge, lays hold of God in faith. The nature of faith is to receive divine testimony and to commit oneself wholly to God through it (81). This point is a summary of why we need saving faith prior to studying the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.
Questions arose in the seventeenth-century over the nature of saving faith, especially its relation to the doctrine of the assurance of salvation. Calvin and others taught that assurance was of the essence of faith because it rests on divine testimony, though this faith could be strong or weak in believers. The Westminster Confession of Faith, while not denying this point, stated, “This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it” (WCF 18.3). Their point was that it was possible to have an assurance of faith that would not fail us, while recognizing that the experience of this assurance fluctuates. The rest of the paragraph gives counsel how to foster assurance of faith, with the Spirit’s help, through using means. Earlier and later representatives of the Reformed tradition are basically in harmony, since all agreed that faith must be certain in its object, even though it could be stronger or weaker in its subject.
Ames treated this question with beautiful brevity and simplicity. He noted the infallibility of the object of faith while acknowledging the imperfection in the human subjects exercising faith. His statement is worth citing in full:
Faith is not more uncertain and doubtful because it leans on testimony alone, but rather more certain than any human knowledge because of its nature. This is so because it is brought to its object on the formal basis of infallibility – yet because of imperfection in the inclination [habitus] from which faith flows, the assent of faith often appears weaker in this person or that person than the assent of knowledge (81).
It is the object that gives certainty to faith, especially as it relates to what we believe, rather than the believing subject. God is the proper object of faith as we “live well by him” (citing 1 Tim. 4:10). Christ is the mediate object, rather than the ultimate object, of faith because “we believe through Christ in God” (81; citing Rom. 6:11, 2 Cor. 3:4, and 1 Pet. 1:21). Scripture exhibits, or sets before us, God in Christ as the object of faith. Ultimately, our faith must rest in God rather than man, which drives us back to divine testimony, through which we receive strength from God to pursue that which is truly good. While the exercise of faith in us may be strong or weak, the object of faith is always mighty to save. This is why true faith, even if it is weak faith, always saves.
Because the heart rests on God through faith and because God in Christ is the proper object of faith, God’s authority “is the immediate ground of all truth to be believed in this way” (81). Faith depends on divine authority through divine revelation alone (citing 2 Pet. 1:20-21 and Jn. 9:29). Yet the act of believing in God depends ultimately on “the operation and inner persuasion of the Holy Spirit” (81; citing 1 Cor. 12:3). This simultaneously unites the faith that we believe with the faith by which we believe, and it makes Ames’ treatment of the object and act of saving faith fully trinitarian. This faith is “true and proper trust,” without entailing “a certain absolute confidence of future good” (82). Faith can refer generically to trust in anyone or anything, even if fruitless or groundless, though our concern should be genuine trust in God. This brought him back to his definition of faith: “To believe in God, therefore, is to cling to God by believing, to lean on God, to rest in God as our all-sufficient life and salvation” (82). The general assent of the “Papists” is false because it does not bring life. Our “special assent” that God is our God in Christ, however, is not the first act of faith, but it flows from faith. This is because faith unites us to God in Christ and we must first be united to him by faith before we can be assured of the fact. Faith rests on God’s authority in divine revelation, but it must take us through divine revelation to God himself.
This leads to the last matter, which is having and exercising faith. Ames wrote, “Faith is the first act of our whole life whereby we live to God in Christ” (82), which is why it comes early in the theological system as well. We must surrender ourselves to God in Christ “as a sufficient and faithful Savior” (82). When the Scriptures link faith to assent, trust is always included. Trust in God is both the essence of faith and the fruit of faith as we continue to receive Christ, who offers himself to us “in the present” (82). He concluded, “The firm assent to the promises of the gospel is called both faith and trust, partly because, as general assent, it produces faith, partly because as a special and firm assent, it flows from trust as it takes actual possession of grace already received” (83). Though “certainty of understanding” may be lacking at times, believers may yet have “true faith hidden in their hearts” (83).
Ames’ description of faith is somewhat circular on purpose. Faith includes trust and it produces trust. The whole Christian life is exercising trust in the God who has revealed himself as the object of faith in Christ through his Word. The Spirit enables this trust in God through Christ. If theology is the doctrine of living to God, then faith is the instrument by which we must live to God. Theological studies may increase knowledge, but without saving faith they will not produce true theology. Ames reminds us that how we begin studying theology determines where we go in our studies and whether or not we grasp the goal of studying theology. Faith is the receptive instrument of salvation and the instrument of becoming a true theologian.
Bob McKelvey (@mckelvrj) is program coordinator of the Puritan Studies Program in connection with the Jonathan Edwards Center Africa at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is also lecturer in Historical Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College in Johannesburg, South Africa, and extraordinary senior lecturer at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. He is the author of Histories that Mansoul and Her Wars Anatomize: The Drama of Redemption in John Bunyan’s Holy War and a contributor to Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism.