The great Scottish theologian and preacher James Durham (1622-1658) published a monumental Commentarie Upon the Book of Revelation in 1658 extending over 1000 pages. John MacLeod stated that Durham’s work “gives what, in past days, was the accepted Protestant view of that book.” (MacLeod, Some Favourite Books, Banner of Truth, 1998; pp. 29-30) Whilst Durham’s understanding of Revelation might not find many followers today, interspersed in the commentary are various theological essays (25 in all) which are of inestimable value.
I'd like to examine Durham’s essay entitled, "Concerning Ministerial Qualifications" (pp. 170-180), in two posts: first, with this introductory post and second, outlining Durham’s understanding of three key qualifications for the ministry: gifts, learning, and grace.
Of Angels and Men
Durham’s launching point for his consideration of ministerial qualifications are the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. In particular he takes his cue from the “angels” the letters are addressed to. But who or what are these angels? Well, for Durham they are gospel ministers. Turning to Malachi 2:7 he points out that priests were called “the messenger of the Lord of Hosts” and that “the original” could also be translated “the angel of the Lord of Hosts.” And so, just as priests were once called angels, now ministers, the “messengers” of the risen Christ are appropriately called angels. (pp. 42-43) (For those more controversially minded Durham also discusses why the designation of “the angel” of a particular church does not lead to a church structure with a Lord Bishop!)
Diversities of Gifts
With the angels identified as ministers Durham proceeds to note that in comparing the “angels” of the churches considered in Rev. 3 “we will find great difference.” The angel of the church in Sardis had gifts such that he “had a name that he was alive” (Rev. 3:1). This minister was obviously outwardly gifted. By way of contrast the “angel” of the church in Philadelphia had but “little strength” (Rev. 3:8). This minister had few of the natural gifts that would have marked out the minister of Sardis. Thus Durham notes that “there are different measures of gifts among ministers.” (p. 170) Yet, while there is a base line of “giftedness” none of the “angels” are in Revelation 2-3 are any the less ministers, because their gifts are less. Indeed it can be the very reverse.
The Least and the Greatest
Indeed, Durham goes on to note that for all his giftedness the minister of Sardis “is dead” (Rev. 3:1) and that the fruit of the ministry is only a “few names” (Rev. 3:4). By contrast for all his “little strength” the minister of Philadelphia “hath a good testimony of honesty and success.” (p. 170)
This leads to Durham to draw out a sobering point, and one that speaks clearly to our age which, if anything, makes an idol of “giftedness.” He states: “a sincere honest minster may have very mean gifts, either considered in themselves, or as being compared with others; and yet may be more faithful in improving of them, be more accepted of Jesus Christ with his small measure, and have more fruits and greater success, that others of more shining gifts without tenderness in their walk.” (p. 170) The least in giftedness may indeed be the greatest in usefulness (2 Cor. 4:7) 
As we consider Durham’s classic statement of the “Puritan” view of ministerial qualifications, it is important to bear in mind that “it is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” (Andrew A. Bonar, ed., Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne [1892; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1966], 282)

Statistics can be misleading if they are abstracted from the moment they are calculated. But in that moment, they reveal a glimpse of reality. The well-known church growth leader, George Barna, provides us an opportunity to glimpse the sad reality of the modern evangelical church as well as our culture. Back in 2000 one survey revealed that 75% of Americans agreed with the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” Then in 2005 another survey revealed that 11% of “born-again” Christians said they did not believe the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings. These statistics go hand-in-hand with the sad anecdotal reality that many of us have that Americans as well as professing Christians are turning from the Word of God to alternate spiritualities, different religions, to themselves, or to no religion at all for their version of the truth.

In such a time as this, people are asking in their own way, "Where is God’s authentic word?" This question is not new, though. Our forefathers had to ask and answer this question as well even in “better” times. The Larger Catechism asks the question, “What is the Word of God?” (Q&A 3) It’s answer should be well-known to us: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.” The Catechism then asks, “How doth it appear that the Scriptures are of the Word of God?”

The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

"What" and "how" are asked, which imply the question of where? In our time we need to proclaim that Holy Scripture, also known as the Bible, in which is contained thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New Testament, is where the authentic voice and word of God to humanity is found. But we also need to proclaim this confidently. How firm will you be when you co-worker tells you that they read a novel or saw a television program that said the manuscripts contradict themselves? How will you answer when you hear the assertion that the early church decided what books were Scripture by leaving out other viable books?

The Need to Find

There is an urgent need to find the Word of God in our time. In his second epistle to young pastor Timothy, Paul gives several characteristics of the “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1) in which the church has existed since the time of the apostles. First, the church exists in an age of apostasy from the true faith. Paul says “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). Second, the church exists in an age of ungodliness: “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2–5).

Now, stop and ask yourself this question: what is so different about Paul’s day and ours? The answer is absolutely nothing. In this age it is imperative that we to find God’s words to the world. His words are like a beacon in the darkness of falsehood and like a light that exposes the darkness of our sinful hearts. And when we find the Word, we find an anchor for our souls in the midst of the turbulent storms of false theology and false piety that beat against our faith.

The Place to Find

So where can we find the true Word of God? The place to find it is in what we call the “canon” of Scripture. A canon was an ancient way of describing what we call a ruler. Our ancient forefathers adapted this word for describing the Word of God, saying that we have in the Old and New Testaments the ruler, the true measure of authentic faith in God and genuine life before his face. In 2 Timothy 3:14 and 3:16 we learn of Timothy’s upbringing in the faith of the Old Testament. Yet Paul’s statement that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” extends to the New Testament, of which Peter equates Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16) and which our Lord himself says has come to an end with the Revelation of John (Rev. 22:18).

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are canonical because they are inspired, literally, “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). As Peter says, that breath of God carried along the writers of Scripture like a sailboat upon the water (2 Peter 1:20–21). These Scriptures are also sufficient. They are what we need to be “complete” and “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

But this is all assertion. How can I know this? There are so many religious books out there, after all. The Larger Catechism gives us several reasons by which we know the Scriptures we have are the very Word of God:

  • They are majestic and pure, as we would expect from the mouth of God. One reading of the Bible next to the Apocrypha, the Book of Mormon, or the Qu’ran will evidence this.
  • All the different parts of the Bible have a unity and consent, they all have the same scope or purpose, “which is to give all glory to God” (Q&A 4).
  • They give light and are powerful to convert sinners and to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.
  • The same Spirit who breathed them out also bears witness by and with them in our hearts. He alone is able fully to persuade us that these books are the very word of God.

The Practice of Finding

In the prophecy of Amos we read of a coming famine: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). We live in that day. What are we to do as God’s people? We need to engage in the practice of finding the Word, and when we find it, continue to mine it for its riches; continue to cultivate it for the food that it is to our souls; continue to go back to it like a well in the desert.

We are to meditate on the Word (Ps. 1:1–2; Col. 3:16). We are to conform our lives to the Word (Ps. 119:1–8). We are to express our utter thankfulness for the Word (Ps. 119:62; 164). And we are to contend for the Word (Jude 3). May God help us to do so for our souls’ sake, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our churches.

William Greenhill, Stop Loving the World, ed. Jay T. Collier (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). 73pp.
Worldliness is an increasing problem in Western Christendom. No one wants to admit that they are worldly, but the tragic fact is that Christians have often lost sight of how the Bible defines worldliness, replacing it with vague notions about what “those other people” are doing. In this second installation of Puritan Treasures for Today, Jay Collier has carefully updated the language of William Greenhill’s sermon on this topic. Jay is the editor for Reformation Heritage Books and he is well qualified for this task through his ample experience with using and reprinting Puritan literature. Greenhill was very influential in his time, but until now, few of his works have been reprinted. This old author can now serve as a fresh voice to help us address a contemporary problem.
This lengthy sermon has been divided into six chapters, resulting in a short and easily accessible book. Jay has done an excellent job with chapter divisions, subheadings, and bullet points, making the thought of the book easy to follow.
In this work, Greenhill plumbs into the depths of our hearts and asks hard questions. The problem with loving the world is that we hate it when our inordinate love is pointed out to us. Based upon the imperative in 1 John 2:15, the author summarizes John’s meaning: “Do not love the creatures of the world, the customs and fashions of the world, or the splendor, pomp, glory, and worship of the world. These three meanings of 'world' are all understood in our text” (p. 5). The topic of worldliness is extensive, but the primary test of worldliness is simple: is the glory of God and Jesus Christ the primary theme that sets the context for all the activities of our lives? (pp. 20-21). If we live for the next world rather than for the present world, then doing so will transform everything that we do in this life.
Two examples illustrate Greenhill’s point in a way that should strike home with modern readers. When we consider a calling in life, do we pursue that which profits us most or that which fits us best? (p. 39) If we are more concerned with our earthly profit than with a realistic and God-glorifying use of our gifts, then we are worldly to that extent. Another point is that our convictions must precede our applications (p. 65). Too often our tendency is to pursue what we want and then to justify it in hindsight by claiming that we are doing everything to God’s glory.
This reviewer thinks, for example, of Reformed Christians who drink too much beer and smoke too many cigars because it is their “Christian liberty” to do so. While there is nothing wrong with beer or cigars, obesity and cancer may lead us to question whether we have used these liberties moderately in Christ’s name, giving thanks to God the Father through him, or simply justified our worldliness in the name of Christian liberty. Greenhill does not let us get away with this kind of thinking. Instead, our lives must follow our convictions as the Word of God shapes them. We must live conscientious and self-consciously intentional Christian lives. This is the lion’s share of the cure to the worldliness that is creeping in unawares upon the Church today.
Read this book to be convicted, to pray, to repent, and to follow Christ more closely.
Isaac Ambrose (1604–1664)
Isaac Ambrose was the son of Richard Ambrose, vicar of Ormskirk, Lancashire. Entering Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1621, he graduated B.A. in 1624, and was ordained to the ministry. He became vicar of the parish church in Castleton, Derbyshire, in 1627, then served at Clapham, Yorkshire, from 1629-1631. The following year he received a M.A. from Cambridge. Through the influence of William Russell, Earl of Bedford, Ambrose was appointed one of the king’s four itinerant preachers for Lancashire, and took up residence in the town of Garstang. The king’s preachers were commissioned to preach the Reformation doctrines in an area that was strongly entrenched in Roman Catholicism. About 1640, Lady Margaret Houghton selected him as vicar of Preston. As long as Ambrose lived in Preston, he enjoyed the warm friendship of the Hoghton family. His sermon, “Redeeming the Time,” preached to the large congregation assembled for Lady Hoghton’s funeral, was long remembered in Lancashire.
When the first civil war began, Preston remained loyal to the king and became headquarters for the Royalists in Lancashire. Nonetheless, Ambrose declared himself a Presbyterian when he subscribed to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and was one of the ministers who served on the committee of Parliament appointed to oversee the ejection of “scandalous and ignorant ministers and schoolmasters” during the Commonwealth. Preston became a battleground between the opposing forces of king and Parliament. Ambrose was arrested twice for his Presbyterian beliefs, but he was quickly released on both occasions because of his friendship with the Hoghtons and other neighboring gentlemen and his own reputation for godliness.
Presbyterianism in Lancashire was served well by Ambrose in the 1640s and early 1650s, though not without strife. In 1648 he was a signatory of the harmonious consent of the Lancashire Presbyterian clergy, which expressed solidarity with the Westminster Assembly and opposed calls for toleration. In 1649, the local committee for the relief of plundered ministers ordered him to be briefly imprisoned in London. When Ambrose returned to minister in Preston, he faced ongoing persecution. Finally, in 1654, he gave up his post there, perhaps due in part also to illness (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 1:921). Ambrose moved north to become minister of Garstang, where he was ejected from his living in 1662 because of Nonconformity. He lived in retirement among his friends at Preston, dying suddenly of apoplexy on January 23, 1664. It was said of him: “He was holy in life, happy in his death, honored of God, and held in high estimation by all good men.”
Ambrose was a Christ-centered and warmly experiential author. He spoke of himself as a son of Boanerges and Barnabas, though his writings and ministry appear to have reflected more of the latter than the former as his writings are remarkably free of polemics. “As a religious writer Ambrose has a vividness and freshness of imagination possessed by scarcely any of the Puritan Nonconformists. Many who have no love for Puritan doctrine, nor sympathy with Puritan experience, have appreciated the pathos and beauty of his writings, and his Looking unto Jesus long held its own in popular appreciated with the writings of John Bunyan” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 1:800).
Prima, Media, et Ultima. Prima and Ultima were published in 1640 and Media in 1650. Prima presents the message of regeneration, Media presents sanctification and the spiritual duties that the believer should engage to grow in grace and deeper union with Christ, and Ultima deals with the last things—life, death, judgment, hell, and heaven.
War with Devils:Ministration of, and Communion with Angels (1674) traces the ways in which God’s divine messengers assist the believer at the various periods of life from birth to the judgment. According to Ambrose, angels defend and keep us safe from the temptations of the devil, and act as God’s servants and instruments of providence. Angels may work in our dreams and therefore we must be careful to discern the origin of our dreams to see if they are of God. This is Ambrose’s most speculative work.
The Christian Warrior: Wrestling with Sin, Satan, the World, and the Flesh (1661). Based on Ephesians 6:12, Ambrose presents three key truths: 1) all God’s people must be warriors, 2) we have powerful and malicious enemies to contend with, and 3) we must wrestle and strive against these enemies. He shows how Satan attacks us at different times and under different conditions in life, and how we can prepare to withstand his assaults. His ten ways to cope with sinful anger are most helpful. Ambrose’s directives are insightful, probing, and succinct. For instance, Ambrose advises, “Be not satisfied with sudden pangs of affection, but labor to preserve those impressions which the Spirit has made on your soul” (p. 69).
Looking Unto Jesus (1658). After a serious illness in the early 1650s, Ambrose wrote this devotional on what the Lord had done for his soul, stressesing identification with Jesus in thought and behavior; it soon became a classic of Christ-centered divinity. Ambrose describes numerous aspects of Christ’s ministry. For example, he presents Jesus’ ministry from eternity and his ministry during his life from a nine-point perspective: 1) knowing Jesus, 2) considering Jesus, 3) desiring Jesus, 4) hoping in Jesus, 5) believing in Jesus, 6) loving Jesus, 7) rejoicing in Jesus, 8) calling on Jesus, and 9) conforming to Jesus in a particular aspect of his ministry. Regarding conforming to Christ in his resurrection, Ambrose wrote, “Look much at Christ raised, Christ glorified. [Let us] see our own personal vivification linked inseparably unto, and bottomed immovably upon the resurrection of Christ. When we can by faith get a sight of this, how courageously and successfully the soul will grapple in the controversies of the Lord against the devil, and our own deceitful hearts…. O that I could set my faith more frequently on Christ’s resurrection, so that at last I could see it by the light of God to be a destinated principle of my vivification in particular!” (p. 503).
Excerpted from Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 11–14.
**Support our ministry by purchasing this book from us at the "lower than Amazon" price of $20.
We all have some idea of what zeal is, for to a certain degree we are all zealots. The question is not whether we are zealous but what we are zealous for. Zeal runs in our veins for what we love and against what we hate. We so passionately love some things, such as family, careers, and houses, that we are willing to make considerable sacrifices for them. Conversely, we hate oppression, a bad political decision, or gross injustice. Zeal is a two-way street. 
But the Christian isn’t simply called to generic zeal. What is missing today in churches is godly or sacred zeal. William Fenner (1600–1640) wrote, “Zeal is the fire of the soul…Every man and woman in the world is set on fire of hell or of heaven…Zeal is the running of the soul. If thou be not zealous for God, thou runnest away after the things of this world.” (A Treatise of the Affections [London: A. M. for J. Rothwell, 1650], 132–133). John Reynolds defined this zeal as “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men.” (Zeal a Virtue: Or, A Discourse Concerning Sacred Zeal [London: John Clark, 1716], 18) You see, zeal is not just one characteristic or attribute. Rather, as Samuel Ward (1577–1640) said, zeal is like varnish, which does not add color but gives gloss and luster to whatever it is applied to. (Sermons and Treatises [1636; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996], 72.) Fenner wrote, “Zeal is a high strain of all the affections, whereby the heart puts forth all its affections with might.” (A Treatise of the Affections, 118). Ward wrote, “In plain English, zeal is nothing but heat…. It is a spiritual heat wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Ghost, improving the good affections of love, joy, hope, etc., for the best service and furtherance of God’s glory.” (Sermons, 72). Think of zeal as a flame that brings a pot to a boil—it brings our affections for God’s cause to a boil. It enlivens and compels, stirs and empowers, directs and governs us as it sets our affections ablaze for the glory of God and the good of His church. Think of zeal as something that involves every duty and affection in the Christian life. 
This is the type of zeal that is lacking in our churches and hearts today. We may occasionally be zealous, but far too many men, women, and children do not have hearts ablaze for the glory of God. Given the lukewarm temperature of the church today, we could safely assume that most Christians have decided that holy zeal is not necessary. Friends, are you as zealous about God’s glory as you are about your reputation? Are you as zealous about church as you are about playing or watching sports? Are you as zealous about communing with the Holy Trinity as you are about talking to your friends? Are you as zealous about spiritual fitness as you are about physical fitness? Are you as zealous about reading and meditating on sacred Scripture as you are about watching a two-hour movie? Christopher Love (1618–1651) said many people “pant after the dust of the earth” (Amos 2:7): they are so eager in their pursuit of the world that they almost run out of breath (Ps. 59:6). By contrast, our attitude toward the things of eternity is more like Stoics without passion. We are “as hot as fire for earth and as cold as any ice for heaven,” Love said. “Oh, how many pant after the earth who have no breathing after heaven!” We are zealous about many things but not for the things of God.
Several years ago a controversy erupted concerning the doctrine of sanctification. One of the key participants emphasized that Christian obedience is “faith-fueled.” This important point, of course, was not in itself controversial and was wholeheartedly affirmed by everyone involved as far as I know. Christians run the race that God sets before them by faith. Faith is the foundation of obedience. Hebrews 11 makes that quite clear. The kind of faith that fuels obedience, however, is all-encompassing. It is not enough to believe in Christ for our justification. We also need to trust in Christ for our sanctification as John Ball (1585-1640) helpfully pointed out in his book on faith (Treatise of Faith, pp. 237-248).
Take for example a man whose marriage is in trouble. He knows that God commands him to love his wife but he is at his breaking point. He doesn’t think he can go on. How will he, on the one hand avoid an unbiblical divorce, and on the other hand, follow the Lord by learning to love his wife? According to Ball, at least part of the answer is by believing that God will enable him to love his wife. For as Ball perceptively observes, “If Christians be not persuaded that God will mortify their corrupt affections, and build them forward in holiness, they shall very much stagger, coldly set upon the practice of Christianity, be off and on, unstayed, often fainting at the difficulty of the work, dismayed at their manifold flips, strong corruptions, and little prevailings against them.” But on the other hand, if they are convinced that God will sanctify them and if they are “assured of victory from God in the end,” then they will be encouraged “to go about the practice of mortification with much readiness” and to “fight manfully against his lusts, and continue in the combat against them.” 
Doubt concerning the sanctifying power of God is a spiritual killer. If a marathon runner doubts he will be able to make it to the finish line then there is a good chance he will quit the race when it is hard. Likewise, if a Christian husband doubts he can love his wife, then there is a good chance that he will eventually give up trying. Faith in Christ for sanctification needs to kick into high gear when running the Christian race is hard. Christians need to believe that they are able to obey the Lord in order to obey the Lord.
Why should Christians believe that they can obey the Lord? John Ball provided a number of reasons:
  • First, the promises of salvation from sin include deliverance from “the power of sinne.”
  • Second, God promises in the covenant of grace to give his people a new heart and to put his Spirit within them so that they might be able to keep his commandments.
  • Third, Christ by his blood has purchased for his people “all spiritual blessings in heavenly things even all things that pertaine…to live godly in this present world.”
  • Fourth, God commands us to obey and “in the covenant of Grace, God giveth what he requireth.” Since God has promised sanctification, Christ has purchased sanctification, and God gives what he requires, the Christian has a right, even a duty, to believe that God will work in him and enable him to obey. In fact, “it is necessary a Christian should believe” because justification and sanctification go hand in hand. “If by communion in his death, we be delivered from the curse and malediction of the Law; by the power of his Resurrection, we are raised up to live unto God.”  
Christians are therefore able to obey the Lord Jesus. That is why the phrases “I can’t” and “that’s impossible” do not belong on a Christian’s lips. As Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) said in his sermon on Colossians 3:1, "The Power of Christ's Resurrection":
Therefore let none say, he cannot…unless thou wilt deny thyself to be a Christian at the same time. He that will be a Christian must pretend no impossibilities herein. Art thou risen with Christ? Then thou hast power to seek those things that are above, to be heavenly minded. A Christian or no Christian! God doth not as Pharaoh, bid us do our work, and we must gather straw ourselves; but he bids us do, and quickens us by his Spirit, and enables us to do. He fits us for such actions; he gives us power to do them. (Works 5:200).
So the next time you find it hard to obey the Lord, believe. Even as you believe in Christ for justification so believe in him for your sanctification.
"Can I know God exists?" This is what militant atheism of the Richard Dawkins stripe has stridently sought to convince us the answer is "No!" For a god they deny exists they sure do spend a lot of time talking about him! As we continue through the Westminster Larger Catechism, question and answer 2 gives us an answer:
How doth it appear that there is a God?
The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
We exist to glorify and enjoy God. But that begs the question of whether there are reasons for belief in a god in the first place. There are three offered in Q&A 2: the light of conscience, the light of creation, and the light of the canon.
Let me say a word about using the so-called proofs for God’s existence. They serve a twofold purpose. First, they are meant to bolster our own faith. We believe in order to understand, as ancient Christians used to say. We believe God exists and then we come to know that truth more and more over the course of our lives. Second, the proofs can certainly be used in witnessing to unbelievers, but in doing so, our expectation should be that they can only show that our faith is reasonable; they should not be expected to “prove” God outright. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
Light of Conscience
How can I know God exists? The light of conscience, or, as the Catechism calls it, “the light of nature in man,” which is within me testifies that he exists. Humanity naturally knows that God exists. For example, as Paul passed through Athens and went up to the Areopagus to testify to Greek philosophers, they had idols for every god. And just in case they missed one, they had one with this inscription: “To the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). Why would these great philosophers create idols? It was because God has set eternity in their hearts (Ecc. 3:11). They intuitively knew that there was something greater than them.
Because of this Paul’s words in Romans 1 take on significance. The fact that people deny God exists or do everything in their life to life as if he did not exist is evidence that on our consciences is the knowledge of God. Why would people need to go to such lengths if God did not exist? In our sinfulness we want to suppress the knowledge of God. But trying to do this is as effective as pushing down all the bubbles in a jacuzzi.
Light of Creation
How can I know God exists? The light of creation testifies that he exists. As with conscience, the Catechism says “the works of God declare plainly that there is a God.” In Psalm 19 David likens the heavens to a preacher, constantly proclaiming their Maker: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork, day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Ps. 19:1–2).
This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 1. God is knowable in creation. It is plain or evident to us. In the things God has made all humanity from the creation onward has testified of his creation. In fact, again Paul proves the positive by the negative. Because humans create idols according to their own image this proves that God exists, for where did the idea to make a god come from in the first place?
Light of the Canon
How can I know God exists? The light of the canon, the Word of God, testifies of his existence. The Catechism sets this final reason apart from the previous two by using two adjectives: “But his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.”
While conscience and creation reveal the existence of God, only the Word of God does so sufficiently. In Paul’s words, conscience and creation can only leave people “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). They can only testify that there is a God, while in the Word alone we have all that we need for a saving knowledge of God.
While conscience and creation reveal the existence of God, only the Word does so effectually. Only the Word, joined together with the Spirit of God, can bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Psalm 19 compares and contrasts creation and the canon. While creation proclaims the glory of God, the law of the Lord revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, and endures forever.
But it is not just the bare Word that does this. The Word is the instrumental cause of salvation, that is, it is the means by which the Lord brings us to faith. But the efficient cause, that is, the power that actually does the work, is the Holy Spirit alone. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (v. 4). As Paul went on to speak of the glories of eternity, he said, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v. 10a), and, “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (v. 12).
In saying this the Catechism reminds us that in all our evangelism, witnessing, testifying, and apologetics, we must reply upon the power of the Holy Spirit to use his Word to bring the world to faith in Christ. For what is the use of arguing over issues of the conscience and ethics or over issues of creation and teleology unless these lead people to encounter Christ himself in his Word?
"Preach it, brother!" We've all heard the exhortation. But what does it mean to preach? And how should one preach? In part 1 of my series on Puritan Preaching we looked at John's Bunyan's, The Pilgrim's Progress. Here I want to draw out the principles on preaching from the Westminster Assemby's (1643-1648) A Directory for the Publick Worship of God published in 1645. This guide to worship was meant to replace the Church of England’s mandatory Book of Common Prayer, yet without being imposed on churches.
In its fourth major section, “Of the Preaching of the Word,” the Directory called preaching, “the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel.” This being the case, the preacher should perform it as a workman in such a way that he need “not be ashamed, but may save himself and those who hear him.” The one called to preach should do so with the following characteristics:
  • Painfully, not negligently. Preparation for and the actual act of preaching requires diligence and exertion. Preaching is costly in preparation and delivery. There’s no place for slackers in the pulpit.
  • Plainly, that the "meanest” (most common uneducated) person may understand. Why are we trying to impress people with learning that often goes over their heads? Also, we must not forget to address even the young children in the congregation. As one homiletician once said, give your people a K.I.S.S.—Keep it simple stupid!
  • Faithfully, for the honor of Christ and the spiritual good of the people not our own gain or glory. We must humbly tell them what they need to hear without fear of even the biggest financial giver. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is very informative here: “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (ESV).
  • Wisely, unfolding the sermon in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail. We must give careful (not slavish) thought to how we say what we say for the greatest impact on all the hearers. This relates to both content and application. We cannot spend all of our time preparing the content of the message without concern for its structure and delivery. Fine cuisine does not belong on a paper plate.
  • Gravely, as becometh the Word of God, shunning anything that would leave people disgusted with us. For example, we can use humor appropriately without acting like a clown; speak plainly without being a trash-mouth; effectively use expressions and emotions without being a dramatist; and share personal experiences without speaking excessively and proudly of ourselves.
  • With loving affection, that people may see a godly desire to do them good. In Christ, lovingly plead with them for the good of their souls. Do our people come away with the conviction that we really care about them when we preach? Or, do they get the idea that we just want to beat them over the head with our big Bibles?
  • As taught by God, “and persuaded in his own heart” of the truth of Christ proclaimed. By all means, preach the whole truth, but also “earnestly” practice it “before the flock.” Great preaching is so easily undone by our failure to own it (not perfectly but truly) in an exemplary way.
While the Directory was not intended to be an exhaustive guide to homiletics (the art and science of preaching), it still provides helpful guidance for the preacher in the twnety-first century. Preach it, brother!
Richard Alleine (1611–1681)
The uncle and father-in-law of Joseph Alleine, Richard Alleine was born in Ditcheat, Somersetshire, where his father was rector of the parish church for more than fifty years. His father served as his tutor, preparing Richard to go to Oxford University at age nineteen. He completed a B.A. in 1631 at at St. Alban’s Hall and an M.A. at New Inn College in 1634. Alleine was ordained priest in the diocese of Salisbury on March 2, 1634. The following year he was appointed chaplain to Sir Ralph Hopton. Already before the civil war, Alleine began assisting his aged father at Ditcheat. In 1642, Richard Alleine moved to Batcombe, Somerset, where he ministered effectively for more than twenty years. He soon declared himself a Puritan by subscribing to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and then, five years later, to a local confession, “The Testimony of the Ministers in Somersetshire to the Truths of Jesus Christ.” Alleine was much loved in Batcombe for his preaching and his tender care of souls as evidenced in a collection of his sermons, Godly Fear (1664). Alleine was ejected from his parish in 1662 for Nonconformity. The passing of the Five Mile Act compelled him to take refuge in the neighboring village of Frome Selwood, where he continued to preach in private homes until his death in 1681. He was fined on several occasions for holding conventicles in other villages also, but due to his popularity, the magistrates dared not imprison him. 
In Heaven Opened: The Riches of God’s Covenant, Alleine discusses the nature and blessings of God’s covenant with His people. Alleine outlines in great detail the roles of God, Christ, the Spirit, the earth, the angels of light, the powers of darkness, death, and the kingdom in the covenant. Then he speaks of the fruits of the covenant in the believer’s life. The book begins: “Good news from heaven! the day-spring from on high hath visited this undone world! After a deluge of sin and misery, behold the bow in the cloud! the Lord God hath made and established a new covenant, and this is it that hath cast the first beam on the dark state of lost and fallen man, and hath brought life and immortality to light. This covenant is the hope of sinners, and the riches of saints, the Magna Charta of the city of God. The forfeited lease of eternity renewed; God’s deed of gift, wherein he hath, on fair conditions, granted sinners their lives, and settled upon his saints an everlasting inheritance.”
Instructions About Heart-work is a little-known treatise that gives an extensive exposition of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” The author aims to teach readers the proper way to keep their hearts, stressing what is to be done on God’s part and on the believer’s part. The goal throughout is that believers may grow in exercising grace and in embracing full assurance of salvation. Like John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, which is also on Proverbs 4:23, Alleine’s work is packed with practical, spiritual instruction. No sin is left unexposed; no hypocrite is left excused. It is a most searching treatment of practical godliness that bears the mark of one personally sifted by God.
The World Conquered by the Faithful Christian usess the Pauline military motif of Christian warfare, viewing the believer’s existence in this world as a continual battle against evil within and without. He explains the believer’s armor, the believer’s enemies, and the believer’s victory. Most of the book focuses on how to obtain victory in spiritual warfare—victory in contentment, in a steady mind despite outward changes, in a willingness to die, in living by faith, in being crucified with Christ, in being sealed by the Spirit, in looking to the reward, and in heavenly joys. This book encourages battle-weary saints to stay the course, looking to Jesus. Alleine considers Sabbath observance and frequent attendance at the Lord’s Supper to be the Christian’s strength in a fallen world. In explaining proper self-examination for the Lord’s Supper.
Excerpted from Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 11–14.
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From time to time I am asked why as an Anglican I include reading the Puritans as a discipline in my daily office of prayer (Anglican clergy take an oath to pray through Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer). Many are scared off from reading the Puritans thinking they are too difficult to read. Others hear the echoes of a college lecture on the Puritans or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter warning them away. Others have a simple view of early Anglican history, thinking the Puritans were something other than Anglican. Thus most Anglicans (I can add Reformed and Presbyterians here!) combine all three to relegate the Puritans to "something Presbyterians and Baptists do.” Nothing can be further from the case! My role here at Meet the Puritans is to especially encourage my dear Anglican brothers and sisters to read the Puritans.
The Banner of Truth has done a great service for us through its Puritan Paperbacks series making their works accessible and readable. A good launchpad for Anglicans into the Puritans is to read Sermons of the Great Ejection. This little book is a collection of nine sermons preached in August 1662, the last Sundays before the new Act of Uniformity took affect. It recalls one of the great turning points in English Christianity—when nearly two thousand ministers left the established Church for conscience’ sake in what was called “The Great Ejection” into “non-conformity”. If the previous Act had remained in place (more about that later) these non-conforming ministers would have remained in their Church of England parishes.
I usually recommend this starter text for Anglicans for four reasons. 
  1. The first is that it is a fine introduction to Puritan preaching. Nothing is more important than to hear these ejected pastors speak for themselves. You will read an urgency in their preaching that we lack today. Their watchword was that of Richard Baxter’s: I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. 
  2. The second is that you get a range of different Puritans rather than one. And for Anglicans especially, eight were Anglican priests (read: presbyters/pastors) themselves, lawfully ordained in the Church of England. They are our heritage, don’t you think we should reclaim them?
  3. The third is that the sermons give you a sense of their heart before the Lord. This is the last opportunity these godly pastors will have to preach to the people for whom they have prayed, loved, and cared for over many years. You will be humbled by what you read. No calls of injustice or criticism of the government, but a solid and vital exhortation to the criticial doctrines of salvation. And for those of us who have paid the price of conscience for the sake of the gospel when were compelled to do the same, the former Episcopal Church bishop or rector who has been inhibitied and deposed will find comfort here.
  4. The fourth is that the issue of their day are directly relevant to our own: conformity. In a recent speech concerning the availablity of reproductive healthcare for women in the United States, a presidential candidate said, “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." When we proclaim the sovereignty of God, the elites of modern American society hear what they call “totalitarian thinking” that must be isolated and excised. Like the ejected of 1662, what it means to be a faithful believer before God and a faithful citizen of the commonwealth has changed. 
May this little book be an encouragement to people of gospel truth and integrity everywhere. I hope you will join me as we meet the Puritans in its pages over the coming months.