Qualifications for Admission to the Lord’s Supper

Given the awesome potential of communion with Christ within the Supper, the Puritans took the matter of right participation seriously. The awakened conscience cannot consider partaking of such a sacred meal without asking, “What does God require of me?” Participation in the sacraments was not optional, though Perkins said sacraments were not “absolutely necessary” for salvation, but were only “a prop or stay for faith to lean on.” Those unable to participate because of an untimely death or geographic isolation were not condemned. Nevertheless, “contempt” for a sacrament by willful and unrepentant neglect did bring God’s condemnation upon the offender.[1] God’s people were urged to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and were not to avoid the question of how to  “communicate worthily.”[2]

Puritan writers paid close attention to the qualifications for admission to the Lord’s Supper. Most Puritans followed Calvin’s teaching that “if the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining upon blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears.”[3] Charnock wrote, “It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.”[4] Jonathan Edwards viewed the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament reserved for believers, celebrating the unity that they have in Christ. He wrote in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:17, “The Lord’s Supper was instituted as a solemn representation and seal of the holy and spiritual union Christ’s people have with ... one another.”[5]

Other Puritans, notably Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729) and William Prynne (1600–1669), did view the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance.”[6] This minority said the sacrament was also intended for unbelievers who had a basic knowledge of Christian beliefs as a means of their eventual conversion by “evoking their internal assent to the Gospel.”[7] This minority view was refuted by George Gillespie (1613–1648) and Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). Holifield summarizes,

Neither Rutherford nor Gillespie intended to rob the sacrament of efficacy. The Lord’s Supper was still “the nourishment of those in whom Christ liveth,” increasing “the conversion which was before” by adding “a new degree of faith.” Like Calvin, they linked sacramental efficacy with the doctrine of sanctification, which described the Christian’s growth in faith and holiness. Moreover, the sacrament sealed God’s promises to the elect. Since the seal applied to the worthy communicant “in particular, the very promise that in general is made to him,” he could leave the table with assurance of God’s mercy.[8]

            The emphasis on conversion as a qualification for communicants implied that young children should not participate in the Lord’s Supper.[9] The Westminster Larger Catechism fenced the Table against the “ignorant” (Q. 173), saying that one difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that baptism should be administered “even to infants,” but the Lord’s Supper is to be administered “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves” (Q. 177).

Perkins said that to be qualified to receive the Supper, one must have a knowledge of God, the fall of man, and the promise of salvation by Christ, plus true faith in Christ and repentance from sin, with faith and repentance being renewed daily. If a person with these qualifications hesitates at the Table because he feels he has “a corrupt and rebellious heart,” Perkins said, “thou art well disposed to the Lord’s Table, when thou art lively touched with a sense of thy crooked disposition.” Medicine is for the diseased.[10] That does not say that believers may come unrepentant over known sins, for “the Corinthians had both faith and repentance; yet because they failed in this point, of the renovation of their faith and repentance, they are said many of them to be unworthy receivers, and to eat judgment to themselves.”[11]

The Puritans did not require a believer to have full assurance to partake of the Supper. Assurance was desirable but not necessary.[12] Edward Taylor (c. 1642–1729) wrote, “It [assurance] is not that which anyone is to wait for in order to his coming to the Lord’s Supper.”[13] “It’s not the faith of assurance that is necessary to this ordinance,” Taylor said, “but of affiance and trust.”[14] Neither was moral perfection required. Edwards wrote: “Your sins need to be no hindrance. Christ procured those benefits for such. He gave Himself for such.”[15] Doolittle went further, saying a person may come to the Lord’s Table “if a man cannot say he loves God, and cannot say he has faith, but yet finds he hungers and thirsts for Christ.”[16] Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) summarized this thinking in stating, “A weak faith can lay hold on a strong Christ. A palsied hand may tie the knot in marriage.”[17] Henry made this practical appeal: “If thou doubt, therefore, whether Christ be thine, put the matter out of doubt by a present consent to him: I take Christ to be mine, wholly, only, and forever mine.”[18]


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


[1] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72.

[2] Larger Catechism, Q. 170.

[3] Calvin, Institutes, 4.14.9.

[4] Charnock, “The End of the Lord’s Supper,” in Works, 4:400.

[5] Edwards, Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 70, emphasis added.

[6] William Prynne, Lord’s Supper briefly vindicated, and clearly demonstrated to be a Grace-begetting, Soul-converting (not a meer confirming) Ordinance (London: Edward Thomas, 1657); Solomon Stoddard, An Appeal to the Learned, Being a Vindication of the Right of the Visible Saints to the Lords Supper, Though they be destitute of a Saving Work of God’s Spirit on their Hearts (Boston: B. Green for Samuel Phillips, 1709); Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord’s Supper, eds. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981).

[7] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 109–110.

[8] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 115. He cites, respectively, Samuel Rutherford, The Divine Right of Church-Government and Excommunication (London: Printed by John Field for Christopher Meredith, 1646), 340, 523; George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1985), 500; and Rutherford, Divine Right, 253.

[9] Cornelis P. Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 22–26.

[10] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:76.

[11] Perkins, “Of Divine or Religious Worship,” in Works, 1:713.

[12] Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 56.

[13] Edward Taylor’s Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper (Boston: Twain Publisher, 1988), 121.

[14] Taylor, Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, 189.

[15] Edwards, Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 156.

[16] Doolittle, A Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, 137. Cf. Edwards’s sermon “The Lord’s Supper Ought to Be Kept Up and Attended in Remembrance of Christ,” in Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 54–69.

[17] Watson, The Lord’s Supper, 73.

[18] Henry, The Communicant’s Companion, 73. Henry writes, “You think you are not serious enough, nor devout enough, nor regular enough, in your conversations, to come to the sacrament; and perhaps you are not: but why are you not? What hinders you? Is any more required to fit you for the sacrament, than is necessary to fit you for heaven?” (ibid., 70).

Previous Posts in this Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
  3. Christ's Presence in the Lord's Supper
  4. Biblical Simplicity in the Lord's Supper
Thomas Watson sang the high praises of contentment in his book The Art of Divine Contentment, recently republished by Soli Deo Gloria Publications. He wrote that he didn’t know of any ornament in religion “that doth more bespangle a Christian, or glitter in the eye of God and man, than this of contentment.”  
Watson defined contentment as “a sweet temper of spirit, whereby a Christian carries himself in an equal poise in every condition.” True contentment is a gift from above and is only found in those who have been born of the Spirit. “It is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of heavenly birth.”  
Contentment exists and flows from the heart.  It “lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root.” This is why difficult circumstances may not destroy a Christian’s contentment. “A bee may sting through the skin, but it cannot sting to the heart: outward afflictions cannot sting to a Christian’s heart, where contentment lies.” This is also why outward prosperity doesn’t necessarily produce contentment. “A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine.  Let a man have the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, a drop or two of discontent will embitter and poison all.” 
How do you know if you are content?  Here are four diagnostic questions based upon Watson’s book. 1) Do you silently, willingly receive God’s providential dealings with you or do you complain and grumble?  Watson carefully distinguished between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint. In the former “we complain to God,” and in the latter “we complain of God.” 2) Do you thank God in every situation? Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18. 3) Do you rejoice always? Phil. 4:4. 4) Do you ever use sinful means to get out of your troubled situation?
Watson had much to say about learning and pursuing contentment. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart since contentment lies in the heart.  Thus, “the way for a man to be contented, is not by raising his estate higher, but by bringing his heart lower.” And “the way to be comfortable, is not by having our barns filled, but our minds quiet.”
In typical Puritan fashion, Watson provided 18 rules for attaining “holy contentment.” The first is to advance faith and the last is to be much in prayer. In between, he said that we should often compare our condition. Specifically, he said that we should make a five-fold comparison. First, let us compare our condition with what we deserve. “If we have not what we desire, we have more than we deserve.” Second, let us compare our condition with others. When we do so we will see some have it better than us and some have it worse than us. Many of the saints listed in Hebrews 11 had to endure much more than we do today. Third, let us compare our condition with Christ’s upon earth. Fourth, let us compare our condition with what it was once. Fifth, let us compare our condition with what it shall be shortly.  
Watson’s book is very readable and contains a wealth of material on this important subject. He is one of, if not, the most quotable puritan. This book is not only worth reading for the subject matter, but it is also worth reading, especially for teachers and preachers, to learn how to illustrate truth with vivid word pictures. In this regard, I highly recommend Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson by Jack Hughes.

Biblical Simplicity in the Lord’s Supper

If the material principle of the Reformation was justification by faith alone, the formal principle was that Scripture alone is the rule of faith and obedience. The Puritans viewed this truth as nothing less than the enthronement of Christ as King among His people. Willison said a true sacrament must be instituted by Christ “to show that Christ is the sole king and head of the church, who alone hath the power to appoint her ordinances.”[1] The Puritans earnestly applied the principle of sola scriptura to worship. Owen wrote in question-and-answer format:

Q: What doth God require of us in our dependence on him, that he may be glorified in us, and we accepted with him?

A: That we worship him in and by the ways of his own appointment….

Q: How then are these ways and means of the worship of God made known to us?

A: In and by the written word only, which contains a full and perfect revelation of the will of God as to his whole worship and all the concernments of it....

Q: What is principally to be attended unto by us in the manner of the celebration of the worship of God, and observation of the institutions and ordinances of the gospel?

A: That we observe and do all whatsoever the Lord Christ hath commanded us to observe, in the way that he hath prescribed; and that we add nothing unto or in the observation [observance] of them that is of man’s invention or appointment.[2]

The Puritans also applied the principle of sola scriptura to the Lord’s Supper. Perkins wrote, “The right manner of using the Lord’s Supper … is the observing of the institution, without addition, detraction, or change.”[3] For this reason, the Puritans preferred to call the sacrament “the Lord’s Supper” rather than “Holy Communion” or “the Eucharist,” thus rooting it in the words of Scripture (1 Cor. 11:20).[4] For the Puritans, the sacrament revolved around the Word, especially Christ’s words of institution (Matt. 26:26–28, 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Perkins said, “Therefore this word in the administration of the sacrament ought to be pronounced distinctly and aloud, yea, and as occasion serveth, explained also.” He wrote, “All the efficacy and worthiness” of a sacrament depends on Christ’s words of institution.[5] Indeed, the elements of the sacrament are “visible words,”[6] “the signs representing to the eyes what which the word doth to the ears.”[7]

Each action of the Supper has spiritual significance. Perkins said the minister in his sacramental acts represents God: (1) by taking the bread and wine as a sign of the Father electing His Son to the office of Mediator; (2) by blessing it through the words of institution for sacred use as a seal of God sending His Son in the fullness of time to do His work; (3) by breaking the bread and pouring the wine as a seal of the death of Christ for our transgressions; (4) by distributing the bread and wine to the communicants as a seal of God offering Christ to all, but giving Christ only to the faithful to increase their faith and repentance.[8]

According to Perkins, the actions of the person who receives the Supper also symbolize spiritual events: (1) taking the bread and wine into his hands is a seal of apprehending Christ by faith, (2) while eating the bread and drinking the wine is a seal of applying Christ to himself by faith to increase his union and communion with Christ.[9] More than a century later, Willison attributed the same meanings to these sacramental actions of the minister and communicant, showing the continuity of the Puritan tradition.[10]

The simplicity of the form of the Supper was determined by biblical authority. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) instructed ministers to celebrate the Supper “frequently” as “most convenient,” especially after the morning sermon and prayers. The Presbyterian form for the Supper included the following parts: (1) a short exhortation on the blessings of the Supper and necessity of faith, repentance, love, and spiritual hunger; (2) a warning that the “ignorant, scandalous, profane, or those that live in any sin or offence” not partake, but that broken-hearted penitents should come; (3) the reading of the words of institution from a Gospel or 1 Corinthians 11:23–27 with explanation and application; (4) a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for the redemption of sinners by Christ, and petition for God’s blessing on the ordinance, “that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for us, and so to feed upon him, that he may be one with us, and we one with him”; (5) introductory words spoken by the minister to account for the actions performed: institution, command, and example of Christ—“According to the holy institution, command, and example of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, I take this bread, and, having given thanks, break it and give it unto you…”; (6) breaking the bread and distributing it, and the cup with the words of Christ, “Take ye, eat,” etc.; (7) an exhortation to walk worthy of the grace of Christ held forth in the sacrament; (8) a prayer of thanksgiving; and (9) a collection for the poor.[11] The Puritans concluded the Lord’s Supper service with the singing of a Psalm, following the example of Christ (Matt. 26:30).[12]

Since some aspects of the Supper’s manner of administration are not given in Scripture, Puritan practice varied. The ceremonial details of the Lord’s Supper were hotly debated at the Westminster Assembly; three weeks alone were spent on whether to seat communicants at a table.[13] In general, the English Independents celebrated the Supper every Lord’s Day, the Baptists once a month, and the Presbyterians four times a year. The Baptists at times preferred to celebrate the Supper in the evening, following scriptural examples (Mark 14:17; 1 Cor. 11:23).[14] But Willison, a Presbyterian, argued, “The circumstances of time, place and company, in the first administration, not being essential to the ordinance, were not intended for our imitation. We are no more required to receive it at night, than to do it in an upper room, with but twelve in company. Moreover, the time was occasioned by the Passover, that was always eaten at night, and in private families.”[15] The Scottish Presbyterians seated communicants at a table, while Independents carried the elements to people in the pews.[16] Within each group there were variations.

Regardless of the specifics of the Lord’s Supper, they were to be ordered for what Reynolds called the sacrament’s “most express end,” namely, “to celebrate the memory of Christ’s death and passion.”[17] This was not just a “historical memory” but what Reynolds called a “practical memory,” that is, the memory of faith, thankfulness, obedience, and prayer.[18] This leads us to the manner of spiritually partaking the Supper, as the Puritans understood it.


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


[1] Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:42.

[2] Owen, “A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God,” in Works, 15:447, 449–50, 462. See also William Ames, A Fresh Svit against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship (1633); George Gillespie, A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; repr., Dallas, Tx.: Naphtali Press, 1993).

[3] Perkins, “Of Divine or Religious Worship,” in Works, 1:713.

[4] Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997), 204. It should be pointed out, however, that the terms communion and thanksgiving (eucharisteia) are associated with the holy supper in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:16. Euchariasteia or giving of thanks, is part of the sacrament, as instituted by Christ (1 Cor. 11:24).

[5] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:71.

[6] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72; Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:611.

[7] Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:610.

[8] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:75. 

[9] Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:75.

[10] Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:74–78.

[11] “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God,” in Westminster Confession of Faith, 384–86.

[12] Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 216.

[13] Mayor, The Lord’s Supper in Early English Dissent, 76.

[14] Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 205–208, 213.

[15] Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:68.

[16] Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 214.

[17] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:87.

[18] Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:104, 107, 108, 110.

Previous Posts in this Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Errors in the Lord's Supper
  3. Christ's Presence in the Lord's Supper
Rik Van Nieuwenhove, An Introduction to Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 296pp. Paperback. $25.00.
Why review a book on medieval theology on a site devoted to Puritan and Reformed theology? At least two reasons are prominent. One good reason for doing so is that Reformed theology did not arise out of a theological vacuum. Puritans, such as William Perkins, went to great lengths to argue that Reformed theologians were really “Reformed Catholics.” Becoming familiar with the medieval (and Early Church) background of Reformed thought is an eye-opening exercise that illustrates the discerning genius of Reformed authors, including the Puritans. Another reason for reviewing a book like this is that medieval theology can seem to be both strange and complicated to modern readers. Most of us need a guide to help us wade through what are often deep theological waters.
Rik Van Nieuwenhove’s Introduction meets both of these needs admirably. Readers familiar with classic Reformed thought will see many points of convergence with medieval developments. Those who feel perplexed by medieval thought will find a clear treatment that focuses ultimately on trinitarian spirituality throughout. In short, this book indirectly adds a significant piece of the puzzle to understanding the catholicity, divergences, and developments of Reformed and Puritan theology.
Van Nieuwenhove’s book is clear and comprehensive, yet focused. The author begins with the premise that medieval theology was radically theocentric and trinitarian, with the Trinity shaping every aspect of the theology and spirituality of the figures treated in this volume (2). He divides his material into periods encompassing the fifth through tenth centuries, the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the systemization of theology in the thirteenth century, and the radical changes in theology and spirituality in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The figures he treats at length include Augustine, John Cassian, Boethius, Gregory the Great, John Scotus Eriugena, Anselm, Abelard, Bernard of Claireaux, William St. Thierry, Hugh and Richard St. Victor, Lombard, Aquinas, Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart, the trinitarian spirituality of Jan van Ruusbroec, and others. He argues that medieval theology as a whole is a “footnote to Augustine” (3), who looms large throughout the book. The author briefly, yet effectively, sets the shifting historical contexts of his subjects throughout and he illustrates the influences of politics, war, famine, pestilence, philosophical shifts, and many other factors on the authors treated. This feature helps readers understand why various theologians went in the directions that they did, for better or for worse, leading up to the eve of the Renaissance and Reformation periods. His focus on the Trinity and spirituality, along with a few other key emphases (284), unifies the book in a way that will interest many readers in light of the modern renaissance in trinitarian theology.
This book, indirectly, illustrates many points of convergence with later Reformed thought. A few examples can highlight this fact. Two of them relate to John Owen. First, Van Nieuwenhove shows that Hugh St. Victor described faith as giving subsistence to the things that we believe in our souls (131). In this respect, faith rises above opinion, since it involves certainty, yet it falls short of the full knowledge of God that we will receive in the beatific vision alone (132). In the opening chapters of his Reason of Faith, this was precisely how Owen defined the nature of that faith by which we believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Second, Aquinas treated the goal of charity as friendship with God, which is based on “some kind of communication” between God and us in Christ, by virtue of which God shares his blessedness with us (194-196). In the introductory chapters of Owen’s Communion with God, he defined communion as the sharing of good things among two parties, grounded on some union between them. He added that this ground was union with Christ in the covenant of grace. This illustrates both the reception and transformation of a medieval idea to meet the needs of Reformed theology. Third, Bonaventure taught that one of the personal names of the Holy Spirit was “Gift.” This was true, both in relation to the eternal processions within the Godhead and in his works in time, with the result that the Spirit is the archetype of all created gifts (220-221). This illustrates why, in Patrick Gillespie’s Ark of the Covenant, treating the Spirit as gift in the covenant of redemption did not violate classic trinitarian principles. Again, this example highlights the appropriation of a medieval idea in the context of a developing Reformed covenant theology. These examples, and many others, show how medieval theology can help make sense of where Reformed authors developed their ideas. Such instances are valuable for those of us who spend most of our time in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The author’s conclusion to his book illustrates its primary value: “Medieval theology offers an extraordinarily pluralist view on some of the most important theological issues… Yet this pluralism is supported by an overarching vision, which all major medieval theologians share, namely, that it is only in the fruition of God that our hearts can find ultimate fulfillment and peace” (284). Even though we, like our Reformed forefathers, will reject many points of medieval thought, we should resonate with the goals of the authors treated in this volume. Biblical Christianity has always aimed to press people to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (John 17:3). The Spirit has faithfully helped believers do this in every age and this book gives us a glimpse of how he has done so.
The Thirty-nine Articles continue its narrative as it sets out a biblically faithful theology of God’s ordained means of grace in the sacraments. As we have seen in our study of other essential doctrines, the article begins with the general principles of the doctrine before continuing to a more specific examination. Articles 25 and 26 set out the general principles while articles 27-31 examine the specifics of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is not an exaggeration to write that articles 27-31 have become the most controversial among Anglicans since the 1830’s, guaranteed to fill Anglican discussion on social media within minutes. Indeed, if one were to imagine the Anglican equivalent of a red-rag to a bull, these articles are the ones that are today either championed, deplored, or simply ignored as “the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time” (Anglican Church in North America, Constitution & Canons 1.7). Why are they so controversial? The answer is obvious. They are the consequence of the doctrines that have preceded them.
XXV—Of The Sacraments

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.
There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.
Cranmer’s original 1553 was revised in its structure and length in 1563 and in 1571 that resulted in a more clearly written capture of Cranmer’s thought. In 1563 Cranmer’s 1553 final paragraph became the first paragraph of the revision (Sacraments ordained of Christ…), a new second (There are two Sacraments…) and third paragraph (Those five commonly…) were also added. The 1563 second paragraph is a slight revision of Cranmer’s original first paragraph. Then in 1571 most of Cranmer’s original second and third were restored in what became the last paragraph of the article of today (The Sacraments were not…).

The article begins with a negative. The sacraments are “not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession. The wording is usually associated with the Zurich Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. But one considers the 1553 context of Cranmer’s original Forty-two Articles, the reference is to the prevalent Anabaptist view rather than Zwingli’s more nuanced doctrine. They are “certain sure witnesses” that proclaim the gospel promises to us through our other senses. And “effectual signs of grace” to those who receive them with a believing heart. Notice how Archbishop Parker’s revision of Cranmer further strengthens the reformed character of the doctrine: the sacrament is only effective if the recipient has faith. They are Christ’s ordinary means of encouraging and strengthening the believer’s faith, particularly in times of difficulty, doubt, or despair. Rome and those who have been influenced by its teaching understand that the administration of the visible sign is a guarantee that the inward grace is made real in the recipient. If one were to favor the Roman view the balance of the article makes no sense. 
By 1563 it was a matter of historical record that Cranmer consistently defended the Reformed view in his disputation with Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner concerning the nature of our eating and drinking the Supper. We can also see how keeps a consistent Chalcedonian Christology we examined in article 2. God alone is infinite. No other creature possesses this attribute. Humans are finite. The reformed Christological position holds to the principle that the finite (humanity) cannot comprehend or attain the infinite (divinity). The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, even in the person of Christ. To do so robs Jesus of his true humanity and his office as our Mediator. The Lord Jesus having retained the attributes of his human nature has ascended. He, therefore, cannot be present locally but can be present truly by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son (Article 5). One can hear in Cranmer echoes of John Calvin's description of how the sacraments are spiritual food for spiritual people:
These things before rehearsed are sufficient to prove, that the eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of his blood, is not to be understood simply and plainly, as the words do properly signify, that we do eat and drink him with our mouths; but it is a figurative speech spiritually to be understand, that we must deeply print and fruitfully believe in our hearts, that his flesh was crucified and his blood shed, for our redemption. And this our belief in him, is to eat his flesh and to drink his blood, although they be not present here with us, but be ascended into heaven [Cranmer, Works, 115-116].
The article also says that the sacraments are "ordained of Christ," to be "duly used." To be "ordained of Christ" and to be "duly used" references article 19 on the nature of the church, that the sacraments are to be “duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance." Modern distinctions like “Sacrament of the Gospel” and “Sacrament of the Church” are to be avoided as being misleading, diminishing Christ’s sole authority as our Head. There are just two sacraments expressly commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, to which the promise of forgiveness of sin and union with him is signified: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The term “sacrament” requires no further distinction. Those wrongly called “sacraments” by the man or woman on the street in the 16th century (“Those five commonly called ‘sacraments…’” Quinque illa vulgo nominata sacramenta): absolution, confirmation, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction, lack the express command of the Lord Jesus or signify forgiveness of sin and union with him. 
In St. Paul’s warning of 1 Corinthians 11 that unworthily received (i.e., without belief and trust in Christ's substitutionary atoning death for us) they add to our condemnation. Cranmer repeated this warning in all three versions of the Book of Common Prayer's "Exhortation" before receiving the Supper, "For as the benefit is great if with true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood) …So is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily". Likewise, Cranmer's words of administration in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer service expresses this simple yet profound doctrine: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving." 
The article closes with a prohibition. The sacraments are not to be thought of as objects in and of themselves, but to be thought of as a means of God's grace. Therefore, the 1552 instruction at the end of the Lord's Supper grants the minister the right to take the bread home for his table, and the 1662 revision of the rubric by the Restoration Bishops instruct that the leftover elements be consumed after the divine service. Being contrary to the Scriptures, there is no justification to do anything else with them.

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)
  23. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 6 (Art. 24)


We move on from discussing the Puritan view of God to consider the Trinity, the biblical doctrine of one God in three persons. Related to the one God (Q&A 8), the Larger Catechism (Q&A 9), affirms: “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties” (e.g. Matt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14, John 1:1, 10:30, Acts 5:3,4). Very simply, the teaching of the Trinity sets forth unity in diversity.
The Puritans stood as heirs of not only Reformation but also medieval trinitarian theology and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed behind it. William Ames, in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, (1627), provides an early expression of Puritan trinitrarianism at the start of Chapter 5, “Of the Subsistence of God”:
  1. The Subsistence of God is that one Essence, as it is with its personal properties.
  2. The same essence is common to three subsistences, and as touching the Deity, every subsistence is of itself.
  3. Nothing moreover is attributed to the Essence, which may not be attributed to every subsistence in regard of the Essence of it. 
  4. But those things that are attributed properly to every subsistence in regard of its subsistence, cannot be attributed to the Essence.
Presbyterian Francis Cheynell (1608–1665), member of the Westminster Assembly and champion defender of trinitarianianism (especially against Socinianism) echoes such thinking: “The Godhead does subsist in Father, Son, and Spirit, all three without any multiplication of the Godhead” with “three subsistences, but one substance or essence in this divine Triunity” (The Divine Triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit , 1650).
Notice in Ames and Cheynell the use of “subsistence” (a manner of personal existence) to speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Employing this Latin-based term (or the Greek-influenced hypostasis) rather than “person” helped to avoid the false accusation of teaching three essences as polytheists. Likewise, they used “subsistence” without implying a mere “mode” and getting charged with Sabellianism (modalistic Monarchianism). With the Reformed orthodox, the Puritans elaborated on the Triune God like Calvin: a “person” is a “subsistence” and “different from ‘essence.’” The three persons relate manifest “incommunicable” qualities proper to each while sharing the same “essence as a unity” (Institutes 1.13.2,6). 
Some criticized the use of terms such as “Trinity” and “subsistence” not found in the Bible. Thomas Vincent (1634-1678), certainly with a “good and necessary consequence” exegetical approach behind him, responds, “the things signified by the . . . Trinity. . . are in the scriptures,” therefore, “we may lawfully make use of such words” (An Explicatory Catechism, 1675). Vincent, in his own Trinity defense in The Foundation of God Standeth Sure (1668) sums up the argument for the Trinity “bottom’d upon the Scripture”: 
If the divine essence or Godhead is and can be but one, and the Father is God, and the Son God, and Holy Ghost God  [e.g. Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6; 1 Cor 8:6; John 1:1,3; Acts 5:3,4], and the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost be three distinct subsistents or persons; then there are three distinct subsistents or persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same single divine essence or Godhead. 
In a treatise on the person of Christ, Theanthropos; Or, God-Man (1660), John Arrowsmith (1602-1659) makes reference to the essence of God in relation to what we commonly call the “ontological” Trinity. He mentions the Opera ad intra, common internal operations of the Trinity, related to essence, and which “terminated” distinctly “upon some person in the Trinity.” Thus, the Father “begetteth” the Son, the Son “is begotten” of the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceedeth” from the Father and the Son. The Puritans affirmed as distinct yet inseparable (unified within the Godhead) such internal works exhibited eternally according to the properties of each person. 
Note, as well, the begetting and procession do not imply eternal subordination in the Godhead, yet an ordering of persons in communion with one another. So, maintains Leigh,  the Father is “first from himself,” the Son “second” in “filiation” by “eternal generation,” and the Holy Spirit as “third” as he proceeds “from the Father and the Son” (A Treatise of Divinity, 1646).
Regarding the eternal generation of the Son, the majority of Puritans affirmed the Nicene formula that he is “very God of very God” in the sense that the Father, notes Cheynell, communicates “that self-same divine and entire essence, which is in himself, by begetting the personal subsistence of the Son in the unity of the Godhead from the days of eternity.” Thus, they attested that the Father communicated divine essence to his eternally begotten Son who was at the same time autotheos or “God of himself.” Whether eternal generation referred only personally to Sonship or also essentially to deity, was a matter of debate, though the Puritans generally favored the latter in line with the Nicene Creed and universally affirmed the aseity (God ‘of himself’) of Jesus Christ and denied that his essence was begotten. 
Regarding the Holy Spirit as the third person, the Puritans accepted the orthodox double procession of the Spirit (by order and not subordination) “from the Father and the Son from all eternity” (LC, Q&A 10). This affirmation, “and the Son” (Latin, filioque), added to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the sixth century played a significant role in the East-West Schism (1054) of the church, with the East protesting double procession. Cheynell, rightly argues that denying the Spirit’s procession “equally from the Father and the Son” means that the “equality of the divine persons cannot be maintained if that principle be denied,” since the Son would be subordinate to the Father from whom alone the Spirit proceeds.
While discussing Christ as creator, Arrowsmith also mentions God’s “works ad extra” terminated outside and “common to all the three persons.” Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all create as “one Creator” with “one essence” and “the will of God” being  “the same in all the three persons.” Yet, as “different subsistencies . . . they have a distinct manner of working, even in this business of the Creation.” Regarding such operations, we commonly speak of the “economical” Trinity in terms of ordered activity in God’s relation to creation. Such work (e.g. redemption) was considered united as the expression of the one will of God (e.g. salvation by the Triune God) and yet with ordered activity carried out covenantally according to the distinct personal properties and without subordination (e.g. the Father appoints, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies redemption).
Vincent (The Foundation of God Standeth Sure) notes our struggle to understand and explain “this mystery” of the Trinity. Yet, it is clearly proven “from Scripture” as “one great fundamental point of our Christian faith, which all Christians are bound” by God “to believe.” 
Likewise, we must not only embrace the doctrine but also experience the reality. Our hearts must be stirred to life unto and communion with each of the persons of the Trinity as John Owen advocates wonderfully in Communion with God (1657). He sees this communion as “the mutual communication” of good between persons “delighted” in one another based on the “union between them.” Thus, the Triune God in each person communicates himself to us and we respond to him as he requires and delights with such “flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” If each person of the Trinity delights in this communion, why do we pursue it so meagerly? So, for example, when’s the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit?

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

  1. What is Puritan Theology?
  2. William Ames and Puritan Theologizing
  3. William Ames and Shorter Catechism Q&A 1
  4. The Two Lights
  5. Scripture
  6. God Is

In his discussion on the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas Watson notes that God does not lead anyone into temptation in the sense that he doesn’t tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). God doesn’t entice or encourage his creatures to sin. As Watson says, “He permits sin, but does not promote it…What king will tempt his subjects to break laws which he himself established?”

God, however, does test or try his people. In the KJV, Genesis 22:1 says that God "tempted" Abraham, but Watson carefully points out that “tempting there was no more than trying.” There is, therefore, a very important distinction between testing and tempting. God tests but does not tempt. To be sure, some tests that God gives include temptation. In the test, we are tempted to sin but we need to understand that God is not the one tempting us or enticing us to sin. Rather we are tempted by what has been called the trinity of evil: the world, the flesh and the devil.
God tested Adam in the Garden of Eden but it was Satan who was tempting him to disobey. God tested Abraham by telling him to go and sacrifice his son Isaac but Abraham would have been tempted to put his son above God by his own sinful desires. James says that each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Watson says that our own hearts are the greatest tempters and that everyone is Satan to himself (quisque sibi Satan est). Abraham, however, did not fall into the temptation. By faith, he passed the test (Heb. 11:17).
God also tested Israel in the wilderness to know what was in their heart, whether they would keep his commandments or not (Deut. 8). Israel was certainly tested when they had no water and food.  But God was not tempting them to complain and disobey. Rather, they were tempted to sin against God by their own sinful hearts. And, unlike Abraham, they fell into the temptation. In Deuteronomy 13, Moses says that false prophets who perform signs are divine tests designed to see if Israel will love God with all of their heart. God tests, the false prophets tempt. “He permits sin but does not promote it.”
Since God does not tempt us, what then does “lead us not into temptation” mean? To enter into temptation means to sin.  We see this in Mark 14:38 where Jesus warns his disciples to watch and pray so that they may not enter into temptation.  Jesus is not saying to watch and pray so that they won’t be tempted at all.  He is saying that they are going to be tempted and that they need to watch and pray so that they don’t sin.  
Thus, when we pray “and lead us not into temptation” we are asking God to enable us to overcome the temptation. We are asking him to keep us from sinning and to enable us to stand firm on the day of trial and testing. Thomas Watson says, “The meaning is, that God would not suffer us to be overcome by temptation; that we may not be given up to the power of temptation and be drawn into sin.” This is confirmed by the second clause of the sixth petition: “but deliver us from evil.”
The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, does not teach or imply that God tempts his people. God tests his people but he does not tempt them. We are tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil. Formidable foes to be sure, but defeated ones for those who are in Christ. So, pray and “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Eph. 6:13).”
In recent decades the evangelical church has seen a resurging interest in the practical aspects of Christian spirituality. Books on spiritual transformation and the spiritual disciplines line our shelves. Many of these are helpful, offering wise instruction on practices such as meditation, prayer, and fasting. But one discipline rarely appears in these catalogs of devotional habits: watchfulness.
Yet watchfulness is as necessary to a healthy spiritual life as meditation and prayer. Jesus tells His disciples to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). The letters of Paul, Peter, and John sound the same note, urging us to exercise moral vigilance and watchful prayer (1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 6:1; Col. 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 John 8). And Hebrews commands mutual watchfulness and exhortation while also reminding us to obey those leaders who keep watch over our souls (Heb. 3:12; 13:17).
All believers, regardless of their station and season in life, need to be watchful. Consider Beth, a married woman in her thirties with three children, six years old and under. She loves Jesus and thrived in her walk with Christ during her college and single years. But the domestic, often mundane challenges of motherhood are more difficult than Beth expected. She feels distant from God. She longs for the days when she could quietly spend hours over her Bible and journal. The chaos of corralling her children from one activity to another makes it hard for her to focus on spiritual things. Beth needs to become more attentive to her state of heart and learn how to stay connected to Jesus throughout the day.
Nathan, on the other hand, is a college-aged believer struggling with pornography. He feels terrible when he fails and quickly repents. While he tries to read the Bible and pray every day, he is missing something in his spiritual regimen. His use of time lacks intentionality. His quiet times are disconnected from his other habits in solitude. Despite regular sin struggles, he underestimates the danger of temptation. Like the disciples in the garden, Nathan needs to learn how to watch and pray against temptation’s subtle power.
Craig is a spiritually mature Christian man entering midlife. He has been married for twenty-five years and has four children in middle school and high school. He is a veteran lay leader in his church and enjoys a close walk with God. But Craig is saddled with many burdens, and his emotional resilience isn’t what it used to be. He faces new temptations in his fifties and needs Jesus more than ever. Paul’s words, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” echo in his mind. Craig is searching for practical ways to put this into practice.
While their seasons of life are quite different, Beth, Nathan, and Craig have a common need: the consistent exercise of vigilance over their hearts and active dependence on the Lord’s sustaining grace. As varied as their temptations are, Paul’s exhortation applies: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).
The Christian life is a journey, a race, and a battle. As pilgrims, we travel the long winding road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. As athletes, we are called to forget what lies behind and, with eyes fixed on Jesus, to cast aside every hindrance to completing the race of faith. And as soldiers, we must ready ourselves for battle by putting on the gospel armor and relying on the wisdom and strength of Jesus, our brother, captain, and king. These biblical metaphors have shaped the Christian imagination for centuries. Implicit in each picture is the need for eyes-wide-open watchfulness. 
Watchfulness consists of four essential ingredients: wakefulness, attentiveness, vigilance, and expectancy. Watching involves staying awake both morally and spiritually; paying attention to God’s word, to our own souls, and especially to Christ Himself; maintaining vigilance against our mortal enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil; and hoping in the Lord—in His promises and His return.
Charlotte Elliot’s hymn “Christian, Seek Not Yet Repose” captures the essential nature of watchfulness. Read and heed:
Christian, seek not yet repose, 
Cast thy dreams of ease away; 
Thou art in the midst of foes: 
Watch and pray.
Principalities and powers, 
Mustering their unseen array, 
Wait for thy unguarded hours: 
Watch and pray.
Gird thy heavenly armor on, 
Wear it ever, night and day; 
Ambushed lies the evil one: 
Watch and pray.
Hear the victors who o’ercame; 
Still they mark each warrior’s way; 
All with one sweet voice exclaim, 
“Watch and pray.”
Hear, above all, hear Thy Lord, 
Him thou lovest to obey;
Hide within thy heart His word, 
“Watch and pray.”

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.



Spiritual disciplines have now been a regular feature in Evangelical teaching on discipleship for several decades. This has been a good development, to the degree that it has led believers into renewed habits of bible reading, meditation, and prayer. 
Many of these books, however, freely utilize the devotional writings of contemplatives and mystics from medieval Roman Catholicism, Jesuit writings from the Counter-Reformation, and the devotional writings of the Quakers. These are often quoted alongside Reformed, Puritan, and Evangelical authors, while paying little attention to their original theological and ecclesiastical contexts. The result is that much Evangelical teaching on devotional practices is only loosely connected to a robust understanding of the gospel of grace, or worse, leads undiscerning believers into practices more characterized by mysticism, asceticism, and legalism, than the gospel-grounded, grace-oriented piety of which Calvin spoke, namely, “that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (Institutes 1.2.1). 
But godliness never flourishes unless it is planted in the fertile soil of God’s grace. Legalism subverts the gospel and obscures the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, which removes the debt of sin and cancels the curse of the law (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:13-14; Col. 2:11-17). Mystical experience, unmoored from God’s self-revelation in Scripture, leads to inflated emotionalism, but not genuine nourishment from Christ, the head of the body (Col. 2:18-19). And the practices of asceticism, while bearing a superficial resemblance to wisdom, are useless in truly mortifying the flesh (Col. 2:20-23). 
The Puritans understood this and left behind the greatest library of biblical, evangelical (that is, gospel-oriented), practical, devotional literature that the church has ever produced. At the headwaters of the Puritan movement was a “spiritual brotherhood” of pastors and preachers, centered in Cambridge, who were heirs of the Reformers who went before them, and fathers to the generations that followed. This brotherhood included Lawrence Chaderton, William Perkins, Richard Greenham, John Downame, and Richard Rogers, the author of Holy Helps for a Godly Life. Together, these men became the leading architects of the Puritan theology of godliness.”
Though not as famous as William Perkins, Rogers was a significant leader among non-conformists in Elizabethan England. Rogers, like Enoch, walked with God. And he wrote a massive travel guide to help fellow pilgrims in their journey. This guide, Rogers’ most important contribution to Puritan literature, was called Seven Treatises
Holy Helps for a Godly Life is a modernization of Rogers’ third treatise, which “lays forth the means, whereby a godly life is helped and continued.” These means, or helps (the terms are interchangeable for Rogers) are the spiritual disciplines, or what believers in the Reformed tradition sometimes call “means of grace.” While Rogers doesn’t use the full phrase “means of grace,” he does use the term “means” often, calling the focus of his third treatise, “the means whereby a godly life is helped and continued . . . As the Christian life does not begin without means, neither can it grow without them.” 
Rogers divides these means into public and private. The public means are the preaching of the word, the sacraments, and public prayers, with the singing of psalms. Rogers lists seven private helps, namely: watchfulness, meditation, putting and keeping on the Christian armor, reflection on personal spiritual experience, godly conversation with other believers and within one’s family, private prayer, and the reading of both Scripture and godly literature. Rogers also addresses two extraordinary means: solemn thanksgiving and fasting. 
Readers will benefit from Rogers most when they keep two things in mind: First, these helps are for Christians, that is, for true believers who have rested in the finished work of Christ for their justification. This is assumed by Rogers throughout, since he had already established it in the first treatise where he treats both man’s misery and God’s way of redemption from it, that is, the way of faith alone in Christ alone. Rogers could hardly be clearer on this point. “There is no way to receive Christ and all His merits (the full medicine of man’s misery) but by faith,” he writes. Secondly, the aim of these helps is to lead believers into both holiness and happiness. Rogers knew what modern believers sometimes forget: holiness is the way to true happiness. Discipline, though a restriction of sorts, leads to greater freedom. Godliness is the indispensable key to a life filled with spiritual comfort.

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


I have never taken part in an Evangelism Explosion course but I do know and have at times used one of their well-known diagnostic questions: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” This question is designed to discover if the person understands the gospel, and what or in whom the person is trusting in order to enter heaven. Are they trusting in Jesus or in the fact that they are a decent person?
Many, many years before Evangelism Explosion was founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy in 1962, Anthony Burgess, a leading member of the Westminster Assembly, asked a similar question. He was concerned that the necessity of repentance had led “ignorant and erroneous people” to think that repentance is the cause or ground of their salvation. He knew this to be true because of the answers to his own diagnostic question: “Ask why they hope to be saved or justified, why they hope to have their sins pardons; they return this answer, because they have repented, and because they lead a godly life: thus they put their trust and confidence in what they have done.”
Burgess’ diagnostic question is found in his book on justification, which was published in 1648. The primary focus of this book was to counteract the rising tide of antinomianism. One of the key doctrines of antinomianism was justification before faith and Burgess was at pains to demonstrate that a man is not justified until he repents and believes. The indispensable requirement of repentance, however, needed to be understood properly. It did not usurp the role of Christ’s work or merit in justification. In order to elucidate the role of repentance, Burgess appealed to the distinction between a qualification and a cause. Repentance is necessary as a qualification of the person to be justified, but it is not a cause of his justification or pardon. Only those who repent of their sins are justified but people are not justified because of or on the ground of their repentance. The grace of God is the efficient cause, the blood of Christ is the meritorious cause and repentance, if it must be understood in terms of a cause, is a material cause but only in the sense that it qualifies the subject and it has no influence regarding the mercy itself.
Burgess pointed out that this distinction between cause and qualification is a necessary one because without it we will either denigrate the proper role of repentance or we will steal the glory that is due to “Christ and his merits.” Burgess wrote: 
“So that by all this which hath been delivered, we may give repentance those just and true bounds, which Gods Word doth assign to it, and yet not give more then Gods Word doth. Nei∣ther may we think it a nicety or subtilty to make a difference between a qualification, and a cause; for if we do not, we take off the due glory that belongs to Christ and his merits, and give it to the works we do, and we do make Christ and his sufferings imperfect and insufficient…”
Burgess’ diagnostic question, or the EE one for that matter, may indeed be helpful in exposing moralism or legalism. However, I do think that we need to exercise caution so that we don’t jump to a wrong conclusion. If someone answers the question, “because I have repented and believed,” we shouldn’t automatically think that the person is a Neonomian. The “because” doesn’t have to be interpreted as meritorious. It could be instrumental with regards to faith and a qualification with respect to repentance, though person may not articulate it in those terms. And if that is the case, then they are right. It is not the only way to answer the question or the full answer to the question. But it is right because we need to repent and believe in order to be saved. In short, diagnostic questions are helpful but use them with wisdom.

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

Previous Posts in this Series
  1. "What would Jesus do?"
  2. "Just-as-if-I-never-sinned"
  3. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"
  4. "God won't give you more than you can handle"
  5. "God loves the sinner, but..."