We are at the second of our reading the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection. This title is a collection of nine sermons recalls one of the great turning points in English Christianity—when two thousand ministers were deposed from the established Church in what was called “The Great Ejection.” The were unable for the sake of their conscience to conform to a series of Restoration Parliament laws of the Clarendon Code.
The second sermon in the collection is one preached by Thomas Brooks. In sharp contrast to last time’s Edmund Calmy, little is known of Brooks’ life except what he mentions in his writings. Brooks was ordained in 1640 serving for some years as a chaplain in the English Navy. He was made the rector of St. Margaret’s New Fish Street Hill near old London Bridge in 1652, serving there until the Ejection. He continued to preach in London, for some reason not suffering persecution like his colleagues. He remained in London during the Great Plague to minister to his parish even as other conforming ministers fled the City. Sadly, his old parish church was the first destroyed in the Great Fire the following year. It is thought Wren deliberately omitted St. Margaret’s from his rebuild of the City churches so that Brook’s pastoral base would be purged. Of all the Anglican Puritan divines republished by the Victorians in the 1840-60’s, Brooks was the most popular. He communicates profound truths in a simple manner and can be easily read by young and old. If limited to the purchase of a few Anglican Puritan works, be sure to buy and read Brooks. Nothing is known of the external circumstances of his last sermon at St. Margaret’s except that Brooks and his parish knew that he would not be allowed to preach to them again. The sermon is organized in two parts.
Part 1
The first part answers the question of the day: Why would men be in such opposition to the plain, consciencious preaching of the gospel? Brooks sets out the biblical position concerning man’s rebellion and his hatred of God. The second and third questions ask what are the personal and national consequences when the proclamation of the gospel is removed? Brooks does not pull any punches here and is worth a careful meditative study by today’s reader in light current events. Be encouraged by Brooks’ conclusion to this section: “When it is the nearest day, then it is the darkest. There may be an hour of darkness that may be upon the gospel, as to its liberty, purity, and glory; and yet there may be a sunshining day ready to tread on the heels of it” (p. 43).
Part 2
Brook’s second part is his “legacies” or parting thoughts for his congregation when he was no longer at liberty to teach them. I have spent the longest with the tenth:
Labour mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds. Labour for a healing spirit. Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous. God has made His wrath to smoke against us for the divisions and heart-burnings that have been amongst us. Labour for oneness in love and affection with every one that is one with Christ. Let their forms be what they will, that which wins most upon Christ’s heart should win most upon ours, and that is His own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father, what of the Son, what of the Spirit shines in this or that person? And accordingly let your love and affections run out (p. 46).
Clearly the caricature of Anglican Puritans as divisive is just that, a caricature. Rather they longed for the day when gathered into our heavenly Father’s bosom there will no longer be need of ordinances, of preaching or of prayer. They longed for that everlasting rest in sweet union with their Savior that shaped their days and their actions, as we read here in Thomas Brooks.
We began last time looking at James Durham’s essay, "Concerning Ministerial Qualifications." The post ended with the thought that “it is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” Nevertheless gifts are necessary, and Durham in his essay outlined three things that are prerequisites “for the complete qualifying of a Minster”, namely, “Gifts, Learning and Grace”. He pithily noted that learning enables a man to manage his gifts and grace sanctifies both gifts and learning.
However, while talents are necessary Durham wisely noted again that faithful ministers have differing degrees of gifts, learning and grace and so he “intends not to [specify] any rigid measure or degree in any of them.” With this noted we move to the first qualification Durham considers: “gifts.”
The Source of Ministerial Gifts
Durham stated that the gifts necessary for the ministry are “a fitness given by God, whereby one is capacitated for such a calling.” This means that man cannot make a minster. Yes the extent of gifts can be “improved” and “increased” but these gifts cannot be attained by “pains, skill or art” in themselves. The source of ministerial gifts is God, and in particular the risen and ascended Christ. Durham cited as proof Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12 & 14, 1 Timothy 4:14, and 2 Timothy 1:6.
The Gift of Aptness to Teach
The gift that Durham focused on was “aptness to teach” (διδακτικός; 1 Tim. 3:2). This ability to teach could be subdivided into two distinct gifts: 1) the gift of knowledge and 2) the gift of utterance. The gift of knowledge meant the “capacity to discern and conceive the things of God with some distinctness.” This is what Paul prayed for Timothy to have in 2 Timothy 2:7, “not as to a Christian simply, but at to a Minister.” But an understanding of the truths of scripture itself would be useless to a minister, unless they also possessed the ability to communicate those truths. Thus there had to be giftedness to “express and bring forth, for the edification of others, what they had conceived themselves.”
Not the Enticing Words of Man’s Wisdom
Durham was keen to ensure that this later gift of “utterance” was not confused with “the Rhetoric and eloquence of men.” True gospel preaching consisted in a “gift, and energy, or efficacy” which was distinct from mere oratory. To drive home this point Durham turned to 1 Corinthians 4:19 and its distinction between “word” and “power.” The “corrupt teachers at Corinth … abounded in human eloquence” and yet were “far from that power and life which a native ministerial gift hath with it.”
Now Durham was far from depreciating what he had already designated a key ministerial gift, the ability to communicate well. But he was keen to emphasise that communicating the gospel required a spiritual power. The gospel was to be communicated with “plain simplicity” rather than trusting in “human eloquence.” It was the simple truth of the word of God that would leave a mark on hearers if that truth was preached in “the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit and Power” (1 Cor. 2:4). This gift of “simple” preaching in reliance on God alone would make hearers say “doubtless God is here” (1 Cor. 14:25). It was this spiritual gift, above all others, that qualified the minister as one gifted in gospel teaching.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that Durham cites John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Robert Boyd in the course of his discussion that there is a “power” in preaching beyond rhetoric. Durham didn’t just cite his own particular brand of Scottish Presbyterians but looked to the wider Reformed tradition. If we are spiritual disciples of the Puritans (and I hope we are!) then we should, like them, read widely in the Reformed tradition.
All Things to All Men
A further element of “aptness in teaching” lay in a message which was tailored to speak to various kinds of individuals. The minister had to avoid “strengthening the wicked” and also avoid “making the righteous sad.” As such the message preached had to aim on the one had at humbling proud impenitent sinners but also to comfort God’s people and bring encouragement to them. The ability to do this demonstrated, for Durham, “true learning.”
The final element Durham mentions relating to the gift of teaching is that ability to preach with “authority.” He noted that the “Chief Pastor” of the church preached with great power and authority (Matt. 7:29). And so as ambassadors of the risen Christ, gospel ministers had to be able also to preach in such a way that the truth proclaimed was evidently the truth of God. This was a gift “given of God” where the Spirit accompanied preaching and brought it home to hearts and consciences.
Who is sufficient for these things? Thanks be to God that “our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).  Pray for your ministers that trusting in God’s sufficiency they will continue to exhibit the “aptness to teach” Durham speaks of.
Do you know God? How easy it is for us to profess that we do merely with our lips. The visible church of Christ is full of people who profess to know God, but do we really? To know God is to have knowledge of him, to actually know something about him. But to know God is also to have a deep, intimate, relationship with him through his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. So let me ask you again, do you know God?
One of the beautiful truths of the Christian life is we who “have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Gal. 4:9) also get to know him more and more over the course of our lives. You are called to this. Jesus calls you to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). The apostles prayed for this in the lives of their hearers, that they would be “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10) and that they would “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
So how can you and I grow in the knowledge of God? When I ask this question, I do not intend to answer it with techniques and tips. Those should be fairly obvious: reading, prayer, meditation, and conversation about God. Instead, the Westminster Larger Catechism focuses our minds and hearts upon the object of our knowledge—God: “What do the Scriptures make known of God? The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees” (Q&A 6).
God’s Being
I need to grow deeper in my knowledge of God’s being. He is a Spirit, he is eternal, he is infinite, he is immutable, and the list goes on of all the amazing attributes of our God that we need to know about him. Knowing whom he is in by knowing these attributes benefits us. These attributes of God increase our knowledge of God. But we must not stop there. Knowledge of God needs to lead us to know God. And to know God’s being beneficially is to know what he is for me, for us.
We come to have this knowledge by meditating upon such amazing texts of Scripture as Exodus 3 and the burning bush, Exodus 33–34 and Moses’ vision of the Lord, and Psalm 145 with all of God’s beauty portrayed in his attributes for us. Let me encourage you to do what the Puritans were known for doing. Pray God’s promises back to him and see how your prayer life, your confidence, and your wonder at God grow and grow.
God’s Persons
I need to grow deeper in my knowledge of God’s persons. Our God is not just a singular being off somewhere in space. We have a personal God whom we come to know in the Word is distinguished in three persons. Have you stopped to wonder at what it means that there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit?
The fact that Scripture reveals there is a Father and a Son means that they have eternally been a Father and eternally been a Son. The Father has always loved his Son. The Father has always related in the most intimate of ways with the Son. God is love.
The fact that there is a Son means he has eternally been so. Unlike us who came into being at a certain point, the Son eternally was begotten. He has eternally loved his Father. God’s relationship is eternal.
The fact that there is a Holy Spirit means that he has eternally proceeded from the Father and the Son, with whom he has eternally dwelt in the closest of love, fellowship, and unity.
Because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are persons, we can have a personal relationship this “one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” (Athanasian Creed). And this allows us to have personal communion with the persons of the Godhead, as John Owen so masterfully described in his treatise, Of Communion with God.
God’s Decrees
I need to grow deeper in my knowledge of God’s decrees. He planned from eternity to create all things. While it is important to learn about when God created, how long it took him to create, why he created, and in what way he created, we do not want to miss the most important point of all: God decided to create in the first place! When you think of the decree to create you should be filled with awe. The eternal God decreed to share his eternal life with you!
He also planned to save sinners for himself. Again, it is important to think about the order of the decrees—where in relation to his decree to create did he decree to save sinners—but do not miss the profit of meditating on the wonder that out of a fallen race God decided to salvage it! As you meditate upon Ephesians 1 do not forget to be filled with praise that God decreed your election, that he knew you before time began, and that he placed his love on you before you even knew it.
God’s Execution
I need to grow deeper in my knowledge of God’s execution. In the narrative of creation (Gen. 1 cf. Ps. 104) we read of a master builder, whose wisdom and skill are seen in every detail. We see the creativity and ingenuity of God in every genus and species of plant, animal, fish, and bird. We see his power in calling everything to be out of nothing and into nothing.
But it is when we meditate upon the execution of our redemption in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ that we particularly grow in our intimate, personal, and relational knowledge of God. God eternally decreed the execution of his Son that I might be a son (Acts 2:22–23). God set Christ forth, put him on display to display God’s wisdom, righteousness, and love for a lost sinner like me (Rom. 3:25).
So do you know God? Yes; now continue to grow. Grow from infancy to childhood and into adulthood. Grow from drinking merely milk to eating the meat of the Word. Come to know what your God is like and what your God does. Come to know how your God has eternally related within the persons of the Trinity and the who, how, when, where, and why of his plans and execution: that we might “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
John Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011). 124pp.
This is easily one of the most important Puritan books that I have read. It is deeply convicting, full of Christ, and loaded with sound pastoral wisdom on a vital, yet neglected topic. Flavel distinguishes between “the fear of the Lord” and sinful fear that results from unbelief. In essence, the fear of the Lord is the single and great remedy to all forms of sinful fear. In making such distinctions, he guides us through the much-neglected topic of how to walk in the fear of the Lord, in a way that is precise, pastorally sensitive, and that can help suffering Christians.
Flavel’s book is precise. Flavel began this work by distinguishing both the fear of the Lord and sinful fear from “natural” fear. While books on fear are a rare find at best today, and distinguishing fear into three or more kinds is even less common, such distinctions prevailed in other Puritans (Owen and Scudder, just to name two) and works on casuistry or Christian ethics. Flavel’s work represents how scholastic distinctions and precision enabled the Puritans to write such gripping and profound practical theology. Lack of precise distinctions in our theology often results in lack of precision or carelessness in expressing our love to Christ.
Flavel’s book is pastorally sensitive. In explaining the category of natural fear, Flavel notes that some people are more fearful by disposition than others are. There are also forms of “natural” fear that are not sinful. Even Christ was subject to “natural” fear as He contemplated the cross (8). “Natural” fear of punishment is also necessary in order to uphold civil order (21). This is a valuable point because it prevents Christians from confusing the humbly submissive fear of the Lord to a forced Stoicism that borders denying our humanity. After clearing away such confusion and establishing the parameters of the question, Flavel set forth the causes of sinful fear (chapter 4), its effects (chapter 5), its remedies (chapter 6), followed by answers to some objections (chapter 7).
Flavel’s book helps suffering Christians. At root, the author argued that ignorance of the provisions of the covenant of grace was the primary cause of sinful fear (31). The corollary to this is unbelief in God’s promises (35). As a result, “carnal fear is the very root of apostasy” (56). From this point on, Flavel turned his primary attention to sinful fear that results from persecution. Even good people may be overwhelmed and fall in such circumstances (68). He sought to counter this temptation through a series of useful meditations such as the following: “To trust in God in part and the creature in part is to put one foot upon the rock and the other on quicksand” (83). “No death is more honorable to God or comfortable to you as a violent death for Christ” (89). “An assured Christian is never a coward in suffering” (94). “Although a natural death has less horror, a violent death for Christ has more honor” (96). “A natural death in Christ is safe for us, but a violent death for Christ is beneficial for others” (97). “It is a great mistake to think that the strength of a natural constitution can carry anyone through suffering for Christ” (114). “In extraordinary trials we can expect extraordinary assistance” (117). 
Ministers often attest to the fact that there is sometimes a peculiar blessing of the Holy Spirit upon their preaching. When this happens, both the content and the form of delivery are blessed beyond the natural gifts of the pastor. I cannot help but think that this work represented one of those moments in Flavel’s ministry. Sometimes the profit that we receive from a book depends as much upon our own present spiritual condition as much as upon the inherent value of the material. This volume presents a clarion call to our present generation in which persecution is subtle and not recognized easily. It was edited and prepared for the average person in the pew and it fulfills its purpose abundantly.

In relation to this week's "Meet a Purtian," you can download a 5-part mid-week teaching series I did through William Bates' treatise, The Divinity of the Christian Religion. You can download the audio and .pdf outlines here.

William Bates (1625–1699)
William Bates was one of the most popular and esteemed preachers among the Nonconformists. A master of the Puritan "plain style" of preaching, his stress on piety earned him the name “silver-tongued.” He graduated from Queen’s College with a B.A. in 1645 and a M.A. in 1648. The following year he became vicar of Tottenham, Middlesex, and a few years later succeeded William Strong as vicar of St. Dunstan-in-the West. Like other Puritans, Bates often lectured at the famous morning exercises at Cripplegate Church.
According to Richard Baxter, Bates played a major role in negotiating for the restoration of Charles II. As a reward, he was appointed royal chaplain in 1660. That same year he was appointed as a commissioner for the approbation of ministers by the Rump Parliament and was given a doctorate in divinity from Cambridge University by royal mandate. The following year he represented the Presbyterians as a commissioner at the Savoy Conference, of which one purpose was to review public liturgy. 
In 1662, Bates was one of 2,000 ministers ejected by the Act of Uniformity. Yet he did not take offense. In his farewell sermon to the St. Dunstan’s church, he made no mention of the coming ejections, other than to say rather mildly in his conclusion that his Nonconformity was motivated only by his fear of offending God. He then added, “If it be my unhappiness to be in an error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 4:327). Bates labored for the next ten years in a variety of ways, often with men like Thomas Manton, Edmund Calamy, Richard Baxter, for the inclusion of Nonconformists within the Anglican church and for toleration of other churches. On two occasions, he addressed William III and Mary on behalf of his fellow Nonconformists. After his ejection, Bates often preached in the vicinity of St. Dunstan’s, most commonly at the house of the countess of Exeter and in a room over Temple Bar Gate, beside his old church. From 1669 onward he apparently served as one of the lecturers at a dissenting congregation at Hackney. In 1672, he was licensed as a Presbyterian teacher and was appointed to lecture at Pinner’s Hall (later called the Ancient Merchants lecture). When Daniel Williams was expelled from this lectureship in 1694, Bates surrendered his lectureship as well and founded the Salters Hall lecture, where he drew large crowds. Bates remained a leading Puritan until the end of his life in 1699, often being invited to preach at the funerals of close Puritan friends, including Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Jacomb, and David Clarkson.
The Complete Works of William Bates. Bates’s writings were first collected in a 1700 and in 1815 they were printed in four volumes. All of Bates’s writings convey good scholarship, wide reading, and careful writing. John Howe called Bates a “devourer of books,” and one who yearned to study about God and set forth His love and mercy: “Into what transports of admiration and love of God, have I seen him break forth,” Howe said (Works of Bates, 1:xviii). Bates' works are succinctly written and packed with edifying material. If you are looking for a Puritan who always writes well, is both practical and heavenly, and is never tedious, purchase Bates’s Works.
  • The Harmony of the Attributes of God (1674). His chapters on the mercy of God are some of the finest ever written on this precious subject. Here are four practical inferences Bates draws from reveling in the infinity of divine love:
  1. Redeeming love deserves our highest admiration and most humble acknowledgments.
  2. The love of God discovered in our redemption, is the most powerful persuasive to repentance.
  3. The transcendent love that God hath expressed in our redemption by Christ, should kindle in us a reciprocal affection to him.
  4. What an high provocation is it to despise redeeming mercy, and to defeat that infinite goodness which hath been at such expense for our recovery?” (1:329-340). 
  • The Four Last Things (1691). Some consider this Bates' greatest work. It is a short, poignant treatment on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.


*Free Resource

In 2011 Danny Hyde did a 5-part mid-week teaching through Bates' treatise, The Divinity of the Christian Religion. You can download the audio and .pdf outlines here.

Thanks to our friends at Crossway, we have one (1) copy of J.I. Packer's, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.

The deadline for entering is three weeks from today, Friday, March 25. The winner will be announced Monday, March 28.

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In our continuing series on the Puritan vision for Christian zeal (part 1, part 2), we now take up how they described its characteristics.
False Zeal
First, they described authentic zeal over against false zeal. Oliver Bowles (d. 1674) exhorted to be diligent that zeal has the right stamp since, “as every [other] grace, so zeal may and often does have its counterfeit” (Zeal for God’s House Quickened, London, 1643, p. 27). John Flavel (1628–1691) warned that an abundance of souls perish in the way because of false zeal (“Pneumatologia: A Treatise of the Soul of Man,” in The Works of John Flavel, repr. 1997, vol. 3:214). False zeal is such a grievous error threatening the church that its danger cannot be underestimated. Jesus teaches us that we can know the nature of a tree by its fruit (Matt. 7:20). So let us consider some of the signs of false zeal.
  1. It is the hypocritical zeal of Jehu who, in 2 Kings 10:16, boasts about seeing the glory of the Lord, but really has his eye on his own gain in the kingdom. It is Demetrius who cries out in praise of Diana but really cares only for her silver idols from which he makes money (Acts 19:23–28). Counterfeit zeal pretends to be pursuing God’s glory while it is really pursuing a selfish end. Just as in these cases we see only the image of faith, so we merely see the show of zeal without its true essence (2 Tim. 3:5).
  2. It is turbulent zeal, which is really bitter envy or jealousy (James 3:14). This zeal is a wildfire that transports men beyond all bounds. It is no longer a good servant but rules as an ill master (Samuel Ward, Sermons, p. 76). Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) wrote, “There is no true zeal to God’s glory but it is joined with true love to men; therefore let men that are violent, injurious, and insolent, never talk of glorifying God so long as they despise poor men.” (The Works of Richard Sibbes, repr. 1984, vol. 7:187).
True Zeal
The heavenly fire of Christian zeal is so different from the strange fires of false zeal that Ward said, “The true zealot, whose fervency is in the spirit, not in show; in substance, not in circumstance; for God, not himself; guided by the word, not with humors [emotions]; tempered with charity, not with bitterness: such a man’s worth cannot be set forth with the tongues of men and of angels” (Sermons, p. 77). True zeal is the divine grace that inclines all affections for God. There are many branches upon which this root bears fruit and many marks that indicate its true nature:
  1. God-centered zeal. Because the author and object of zeal is the living God, the zealous Christian has a fervent love for God and craves His presence. He grieves when God’s name suffers injury and is angry when His honor and cause are obstructed. Titus 2:14 says that Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” William Fenner commented, “Thou cannot possibly be one of God’s people, if thou be not zealous for God” (A Treatise of the Affections, p. 124). Zeal is inseparable from love for God because God is so glorious. Richard Baxter (1615–1691) wrote, “To love God without zeal, is not to love him, because it is not a loving him as God” (“A Christian Directory,” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, repr. 1990, vol. 1:383)
  2. Biblical zeal. In contrast to the false zeal that Paul refers to in Romans 10:2, sacred zeal is according to knowledge, meaning it is confined by the rules of Scripture. Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) wrote, “Zeal is like a fire: in the chimney it is one of the best servants, but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters. Zeal kept by knowledge and wisdom, in its proper place, is a choice servant to Christ and saints” (“The Unsearchable Riches of Christ,” in The Works of Thomas Brooks, repr. 2001, vol. 3:54–55).
  3. Self-reforming zeal. Brooks said zeal “spends itself and its greatest heat principally upon those things that concern a man’s self” (Works, vol. 3:55). Richard Greenham (c. 1542–1594) said, “For never can that man be zealous to others, which never knew to be zealous to himself” (“Of Zeale,” a sermon on Rev. 3:19, in The Works of that Reverend and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ M. Richard Greenham, repr. 1973, p. 118).
  4. Active zeal. Having knowledge of God, whom we love, we are zealous in devoting ourselves to the duties required of us in the gospel. We are busy and active, continually involved in holy exploits and executions. Sin deadens the heart to religious operations, for as the apostle says, “when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21). But, as Brooks notes, “the zealous soul is continually saying to himself, What shall I render to the Lord?” (Works, vol. 3:58–59) The zealous Christian is ready to perform whatever duty God places upon him (William Ames, Conscience With the Power and Cases Thereof, 3.6), whereupon he trusts in the Lord to bring strength out of his weakness. “Christian zeal is not to be confined at home, to our own personal goodness; but has a still wider scope,” John Evans said (“Christian Zeal,” in Practical Discourses, vol. 2:330).
  5. Consistent zeal. The bodies of cold-blooded animals take on the temperature of their environment. Warm-blooded animals have bodies which strive to maintain a steady temperature. The zealous Christian is a warm-blooded creature, resisting both the lethargy of cold-heartedness and the fever of fanaticism. Unlike that blind fury that caused Nebuchadnezzar to heat a furnace seven times hotter than normal, the zealous believer is not to be hot by fits, nor start out hot only to end up cold (Gal. 3:3), but must keep a continual temperature from beginning to end (Heb. 3:14). (Ames, Conscience, 3.6; Greenham, p. 116). John Reynolds quipped, “It may meet with storms, and stones, and stumbling blocks in its way; but its design and temper is to hold on, and march through all to the end” (Zeal a Virtue, p. 67)
  6. Sweet and gentle zeal. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) said that we must learn what it means to be a bold warrior for God from the Captain of all God’s armies: Jesus Christ. Christ boldly spoke against sin, hypocrisy, and false teaching. Yet, Edwards reminded us, when Christ was surrounded by enemies like “roaring lions,” He showed his strength “not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violence speeches,” but in “patience, meekness, love, and forgiveness.” (Edwards, Works, vol. 2:351) 
These are the ways to discern between false zeal and the holy zeal that the Holy Spirit ignites in our hearts for the things of God. We must be on guard to notice the difference. What makes counterfeit money dangerous is its close likeness to real money; only a trained eye can distinguish the authentic from a superior counterfeit. Likewise, counterfeit zeal closely resembles true spiritual zeal. We must have a discerning eye to determine what is false from what is real.
Understanding the relationship between believers and the promises of salvation is not too difficult. The same cannot be said, however, with respect to the many warnings found throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Do the curses, threatenings, and warnings apply to Christians or not? If so, how do they apply? Is it really possible for a Christian to take the threatenings of damnation seriously in light of Romans 8:1? May a Christian be assured of his salvation and at the same time tremble at the warnings of apostasy? Once again I will turn to John Ball for help in navigating the way through this challenging issue (Treatise of Faith, 64-66, 421-425).
Ball notes that we must believe the veracity of the warnings because they are part of Scripture. Even as we believe the promises of salvation because they come from God speaking in Scripture so we are to believe the threatenings. Furthermore, Christians don’t just believe that the warnings are true for unbelievers. They are to believe that they are true for them too because all Scripture, including the warnings, were written for their learning and instruction (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6). This means that a Christian who is sure of his salvation due to God’s promise, also knows for certain that “he should be damned, if he should go on in sin without repentance, and shall taste of much bitterness, if he grow indulgent to his corruptions.”
Since by true or saving faith a Christian “acts” upon “whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein (Westminster Confession of Faith 14.2),” it is appropriate to inquire about the “acts” of faith with respect to the threatenings. In other words, how should or rather how will the warnings impact us if we truly believe them? Ball mentions five acts of faith, all of which are worthy of further study (see pp. 423-425). I would like, however, to focus on the most obvious fact that we will “tremble at the threatenings (WCF 14.2),” and so be careful to pursue holiness. True faith, says John Ball, “worketh an holy fear and reverent awe of God in respect of his judgments.” “The threatenings are strong bridles to keep from naughtiness,” and the godly man believes them “to prevent falling into sin, and so into condemnation.”
Not everyone, however, agrees with the sanctifying use of the threatenings. There are some people who have argued that fear of punishment is not a sound motivation to Christian holiness. There is a plausibility to this position because the Bible also says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). What have Christians to fear if they are no longer condemned? Ball answers by noting that this argument only applies to final damnation. A justified Christian may experience fatherly correction in the form of temporal threats and punishments. He, therefore, ought to be motivated to holiness by fear of temporal punishments. But a justified Christian who is assured of his salvation in Christ Jesus ought also to have a healthy fear of the warnings against apostasy and thus final damnation. As Ball notes, it is possible to fear that which you are “infallibly assured to escape.” “The godly man’s assurance of God’s favour will stand well with reverence of his Majesty and fear of…the torments of Hell.” This is so in part because God’s sovereignty in salvation does not diminish our responsibility. We still need to persevere to the end in order to inherit the promises. And so the fear we have is not a “distrustful” fear that we will fall away and be damned but “a watchful fear of shunning and shrinking all means leading thereunto.” We fear “the torments of Hell, not as an evil [we] shall fall into, but which [we] shall escape by the constant study and practice of holiness.”
One last but by no means unimportant point on this issue. The warnings should never be considered apart from the promises, and vice versa. The two need to be mingled together and served together in order “to keep the heart in the best temper.” On the one hand, we will “grow overbold with God” if the threats do not make us tremble. On other hand, we will soon be “dejected” if the promises do not uphold us. Christians who continue to wrestle with sin require the sweetness of the promises and the tartness of the warnings to run with endurance the race that is set before them. As Ball says, “sour and sweet make the best sauce.”
If I asked you the name of Noah’s wife, would you answer, "Joan of Ark?" Sadly, many would today. The level of biblical illiteracy today among the professing Christian church is sad. Recently arch-atheist Richard Dawkins commissioned his foundation to survey those who claimed to be Christian in the 2011 census in England. One of his questions was which was the first book in the New Testament. Only 35% chose Matthew while 39% chose “Don’t know.” We often shudder at the so-called one thousand year old “Dark Ages,” but is it any different today? When the prophet Amos said the Lord was sending a famine he said it was not of bread or water “but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). One wonders if he didn’t foresee our day.
This is why Q&A 5 of the Westminster Larger Catechism is so vital. It is short but sweet:
What do the Scriptures principally teach?
The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
Note well that adverb, “principally.” The divines drew from their academic theological vocabulary and the concept of principia. These are fundamental principles. In Reformed Scholasticism there were two principia theologiae (foundational principles of theology): Scripture and God. But what are the foundational themes of Scripture? What we are to believe (Q&A 6–90) and what we are to be (Q&A 91–196). In other words, faith and obedience, grace and gratitude, gospel and law, theology and practice.
There are so many things found in the Bible and each of those details can consume us until eternity. But in order to give us the panoramic view of Scripture, the Catechism divides up the Word in a helpful summary. In his final epistle, Paul exhorted Timothy to follow (2 Tim. 1:13) and to guard (2 Tim. 1:14) “the pattern of sound words you have heard from me.” And Timothy was to do so “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
What We Are to Believe
What’s in the Bible? First, what we are to believe. Hebrews 11:6 states this point so well, when it says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seeks him.” In terms of what we are to believe, the Bible proclaims that we must believe that God is and that God rewards those who seek him.
We are to believe God exists. Recall what Q&A 2 has already said. There are three reasons we believe in God: creation, conscience, and the canon. These evidences are used by the Holy Spirit to lead us to a certain faith in God. Believing in God leads us to believe he is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Gen. 1:1). As those created, we also recognize that something is terribly wrong with us, and the world God created. That something is sin. And our sins cause in us the sense that God is also the Judge (Gen. 3). His perfect justice means that we are distant from him, that we are separated from him who is our life.
This is why we are also to believe God rewards those who seek him. But how can we seek him in our sinful state and how can we expect God to reward us? The answer is that God is not only Creator, Sustainer, and Judge, but that he is also Redeemer. He graciously draws us into his reward, which is a repaired covenantally intimate relationship with him. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit who leads us to Jesus Christ who leads us to the Father (Eph. 2:18).
What We Are to Be
What’s in the Bible? Second, what we are to be. What we believe about God causes us to be a certain way for God. When we read the Bible we learn about “what duty God requires of man.” This “duty” is in no way to be understood as an overly legal way of conceiving of the Christian life. Because of what Jesus has done for us both to justify and to sanctify us (Rom. 5–6), we willingly submit to this duty. Because of what we believe about God we understand what we are to be because we have been liberated from being “slaves of sin” to being “slaves of obedience” (Rom. 6:16), to being “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18), and to being “slaves of God” (Rom. 6:22). In the words of the Book of Common Prayer, we are now obedient to the God “whose service is perfect freedom.”
What are we to be as slaves? What is our service? It is a loving obedience to God as outlined by the Ten Commandments (Q&A 91–153). We are to love God above all else and love our neighbor with an equal love as we love ourselves. It is also diligent use of God’s outward and ordinary means of grace. We are to have a jealous devotion to the Word of God (Q&A 154–160). We are to have a thankful reception of the sacraments (Q&A 161–177). And we are to be committed to offering up our desires to God in prayer (Q&A 178–196).
The Bible is a big book, but we need not remain in the dark as to what is in it. Take it up and read, always asking yourself two questions: “What does this passage say about what I am to believe? What does this passage say about what I am to be?”