Meditation is a difficult duty. Most Christians struggle even with where to begin with respect to this duty. It is particularly important for us to mediate upon the Person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, since beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is the primary means by which we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). In his devotional work, The Glory of Christ, John Owen provided five useful helps to meditate on Christ as a divine/human Person. I pass these meditations along to you, hoping that they will increase your devotion to Christ (you can read the full section in Owen's Works, 1:312-322).
 
  1. Meditating on Christ is Useful: Consider that the knowledge of Christ as fully God and fully man in one Person is the most useful object of our contemplations and affections (1:312-314). Christ’s identity as the God-man places him in a unique position to make your redemption possible. He also reveals the glory of God to your understanding in a unique manner.
  2. Learn to Look for Christ in Scripture: Diligently study the Scriptures with the express purpose of finding the glory of Christ in them (1:314-316). The Scriptures assert that Christ is their primary object (Lk. 24:26-27, 45-46; 2 Cor. 3:13-16). The three primary ways that Christ is revealed in the Old Testament is by direct descriptions of his Person and incarnation, by prophecies concerning him, and by the Old Testament ceremonies of worship (Owen richly expands each of these). Yet there is also a devotional necessity for thinking through Scripture in terms of our relation to Christ. If we are convicted, then we need Christ for forgiveness and repentance. If we are exhorted to godliness, then we need Christ as our foundation and pattern. If we are suffering, then we must remember that we share in Christ’s sufferings. If we are comforted by God’s promises, then we must consider that all divine promises are yes and amen in him. Too often Christians read the Old Testament in a manner that is no better than the Jews. Even if we do not see Christ foreshadowed directly in various parts of the Old Testament, we must self-consciously take our knowledge of Christ with us while reading the Old Testament.
  3. Use What you Know Already: Meditate frequently upon the knowledge of Christ that you have already obtained, both from Scripture and from sermons (1: 316-317). Failing to use and to build upon the knowledge of Christ that we have already is, according to Owen, the “fundamental mistake” standing behind the lack of spiritual growth among so many Christians. This is the error of treating the doctrines of Christ as fundamental and basic, and thus taking them for granted. Owen adds that although we must not isolate ourselves from the world, we must love solitude as well. Without some measure of regular solitude, meditation upon the Lord Jesus Christ is impossible.
  4. Incorporate Thoughts of Christ into Your Life: Do not simply rely upon fixed times set aside for meditation, but think upon Christ at every possible occasion throughout the day (1:317-320). This is particularly important during those seasons in which Christ “withdraws” himself from our “spiritual experience.” If we know what it is like to “miss” Christ sometimes, then we should take comfort from the fact that this means that we have known what it is to have fellowship with him. When the comforts of communion with Christ diminish, we must seek him with the desperation of thirsty person seeking water. Christ sometimes acts in this way toward us for our good, since his withdrawals increase our dependence on him and the fervency with which we seek him. The truth is that Christ is always near to us, but, as Owen adds, “the principal actings of the life of faith consist in the frequency of our thoughts concerning him” (1:319).
  5. Be Thankful to Christ and Worship Him: Accompany your thoughts of Christ with admiration, adoration, and thanksgiving (1:320-322). The more we contemplate the glory of our divine/human Lord, the more we will realize that he is beyond the limits of our comprehension. This should lead us to love the Lord Jesus Christ with every faculty of our souls. In heaven, we shall exercise all of the faculties of our souls simultaneously in the worship and service of Christ, but in this world both our understanding and our strength is incomplete. Therefore, sometimes our thoughts of Christ should lead to admiration, at other times to adoration, and still at others to thanksgiving according to our understanding and our capacity. You must never lose sight of the fact that the purpose for which you know Christ is worship.
Owen closes this section with the useful reminder that meditating on the glory of the Person of Christ occurs only in the context of a heavenly-minded life. This is an important thought. Perhaps one reason why meditation is so hard for us is that we have not set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in everything that we set our hands to (Col. 3:1-2). Meditation on Christ’s glory can be a jarring, and sometimes painful, interruption if our minds are trained to run exclusively along the well-worn grooves of our earthly routine. Let us never forget that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world! Let us never be surprised at the difficulty of heavenly-mindedness on this side of glory! Let us make use of means to help us contemplate the glory of our Savior more fully! And may we come to our heavenly Father who is able and ready to help us learn to meditate on the glory of his Son through the power of his Spirit!
If the Lord’s Supper is a great blessing, then who should partake of it? In this sacrament, ordained of God, who should come to the table of the Lord? Knox was abundantly clear: "But the Supper of the Lord, we confess to appertain to such only as be of the household of faith, [and who] can try and examine themselves as well in their faith as in their duty towards their neighbours" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). It is only those who are “in Christ” and of age to examine themselves who should partake of the Lord’s Supper.
 
Self-Examination
Knox focused often on the need for self-examination. He held that the Lord’s Supper should be partaken of "with all reverence, examining ourselves diligently before" (Scots Confession in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:202.) Knox believed this should be done “because we are assured by the mouth of the apostle that such as eat of the bread and drink of that cup unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus” (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:202). Paul, Knox noted, exhorted "all persons diligently to try and examine themselves before they presume to eat of that bread and drink of that cup" because "the danger [is] great if we receive the same unworthily, for then we be guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord’s body" (Works, 4:192).
 
This self-examination should lead to practical consequences. Those living in open or grievous sin should not come to the Lord’s Table (Works, 4:193). Neither should those who are living in division with their brethren partake for "Such as eat or drink at that holy table without faith or being at dissention and disunion with their brethren do eat unworthily" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). Finally, those who lacked understanding of the nature the Lord’s Supper should not partake: "Moreover that the sacraments be rightly used, it is requisite that the end and cause why the sacraments were instituted be understood and observed, as well of the minister as the receivers" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:203). Conversely, those who should partake then were those who could "bring with them their conversion unto the Lord, by unfeigned repentance in faith; and in this Sacrament receive the seals and confirmation of their faith…" (Works, 3:74). The sacrament was then to be partaken of with “a truly penitent heart and lively faith" (Works, 4:192).
 
Church Examination
As well as self-examination, it was also the duty of ministers and elders to "take public and particular examination of the knowledge and conversation of such as are to be admitted to the table of the Lord Jesus" (Scots Confession in Reformed Confessions, 2:204). Therefore, "the administration of the Table ought never to be without that examination pass before, especially of those whose knowledge is suspect. We think that none are apt to be admitted to that mystery who cannot formally say the Lord's Prayer, the articles of the belief, and declare the sum of the law" (First Book of Discipline in Works, 2:240).
 
For Sinners 
But with all this said regarding self-examination - the Lord’s table, for Knox, remained a table for sinners: "For the end of our coming together is not to make protestation that we are upright and just in our lives, but contrariwise, we come to seek our life and perfection in Jesus Christ, acknowledging in the meantime, that we of our selves be the children of wrath and damnation" (Works, 4:193-194). Indeed "…this Sacrament is a singular medicine for all poor sick creatures, a comfortable help to weak souls, and that our Lord requireth no other worthiness on our part, but that we unfeignedly acknowledge our naughtiness and imperfection" (Works, 4:194).
 
Rather than testify of any worthiness in the recipient, the Lord’s Supper testified of the sole sufficiency of Christ: "we present ourselves to this his Table … to declare and witness before the world that by him alone we have received liberty and life; that by him alone thou dost acknowledge us thy children and heirs; that by him alone we have entrance to the throne of thy grace; that by him alone we are possessed in our spiritual kingdom, to eat and drink at his Table…" (Works, 4:195). Thus, the Lord’s Table is not first or last about any individual, but about the sole sufficiency of Christ, and the wonder of his saving work.
In my last article, I noted that a covenant has three basic elements: parties, promises, and conditions. The parties of the covenant of grace vary depending upon which perspective of the covenant is being considered. Externally or administratively speaking the covenant is between God and all professing believers, along with their children. Internally or effectually speaking, the covenant is between God and the elect. This important distinction pertaining to the parties of the covenant of grace will need to be kept in mind as we now turn our attention to the second basic element of a covenant: the promises.
 
According to the Westminster Standards, the promises of the Covenant of Grace are of two sorts, conditional and unconditional. God promises life and salvation conditionally. The Confession (ch. 7.3) and Larger Catechism (Q&A 32) both assert that God will freely give life and salvation in Christ Jesus to those who believe in Christ. These two sections of the Standards also state that God unconditionally promises to enable the elect to meet the requirements or conditions so that they will be saved. The Confession says that God promises “to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.” Similarly, but with greater detail, the Larger Catechism says that God “promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” In sum, the Covenant of Grace includes promises of grace and promises to grace. Samuel Rutherford nicely captured both types of promises, which he relates to the external and internal perspectives of the covenant. He wrote:
For all the promises belong not the same way, to the parties visibly and externally, and to the parties internally and personally in Covenant with God. So the Lord promiseth life and forgivenesse shall be given to these who are externally in the Covenant, providing they beleeve, but the Lord promiseth not a new heart and grace to beleeve, to these that are only externally in Covenant. And yet he promiseth both to the Elect.
The presence of conditional covenant promises provides an answer to an objection against infant baptism. It has been argued that the baptisms of non-elect infants are in vain because the promises of saving grace are not made to them. There is no promise or reality for baptism to seal because there is no underlying promise to regenerate and save. Thus, as John Tombes put it in his response to Stephen Marshall, “the seale is put to a blank.” But baptism is not sealed to a blank when it is applied to non-elect infants, or we might add to non-elect professing adults, because the sacraments, like the covenant promises they signify and seal, are conditional signs and seals. As Marshall said, “the receivers interest in that spiritual part of the Covenant, that is sealed to no receiver absolutely, but conditionally; in this particular, all Sacraments are but signa conditionalia, conditional seales, sealing the spiritual part of the Covenant to the receiver, upon condition that hee performe the spirituall condition of the Covenant” (Marshall also notes that baptism is not in vain because it is an “absolute Seale of the truth of the Covenant of grace in it self” and “an absolute obligation upon the receiver to a make good the Covenant on his part.”).
 
In short, God promises to save and does save the person who believes in Jesus; and he seals this promise and reality in baptism. This was true of circumcision in the Old Testament (Rom. 4:11). Baptism, therefore, is never in vain or set to a blank.

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Young John Bunyan (1628–1688) hardly seemed fit for preaching. He was a coarse person with little education and a mouth full of foul language. He had lost his mother and sister to death and was exposed to the evils of military service before his seventeenth birthday. As a young man, he worked with his hands as a tinker or worker in soft metals. His soul was probably much like his body after carrying his sixty-pound portable anvil: outwardly tough and calloused, though inwardly bruised and burdened. Marriage to a church-going woman brought some moral improvement and produced much self-righteousness, but it was not until Bunyan overheard a few poor women talking about the new birth and the grace of God in Christ for sinners that he realized his greatest need.
 
The faithful pastor of those women, John Gifford, taught Bunyan about the grace of God. Bunyan read Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians and learned how Jesus Christ made satisfaction to divine justice for our sins by His death. Bunyan was transformed, and others soon called upon him to speak in meetings for evangelism and exhortation. Feeling very unworthy, he nevertheless was able to speak from his experience of the truth: “I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel, even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment.” He was not a fire-and-brimstone preacher who looked down on unbelievers, but one who lived with a “fire in mine own conscience.”
 
After two years, the Lord brought Bunyan to a stronger faith in Christ when He revealed Christ’s righteousness to Bunyan’s soul powerfully one day when walking through a field. Bunyan later wrote of this experience: “Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my afflictions and irons, my temptations also fled away. . . . Now I went also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God. . . . I lived, for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ. O I thought Christ! Christ! There was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes.”
 
Bunyan’s preaching changed substantially. While still attacking self-righteousness, Bunyan dwelt more upon Jesus Christ. Sin and Christ as the Savior of sinners became the major themes of his preaching. Through it all, Bunyan said, “I preached what I saw and felt.” His pastor John Burton (John Gifford had died) commended Bunyan as a man “not chosen out of an earthly, but out of the heavenly university, the church of Christ,” who “has not the learning or wisdom of man, yet, through grace, he has received the teaching of God.” Already the church had recognized Bunyan’s sound doctrine, holy life, and giftedness in preaching. 
 
Bunyan’s preaching soon provoked opposition. He was indicted around 1658 by the authorities for the offense of preaching without a license from church authorities in a village near his hometown of Bedford. A Cambridge scholar publicly attacked him the next year for preaching as a mere tinker and not a university-trained man. This prompted a fellow Baptist to say in Bunyan’s defense, “You seem angry with the tinker because he strives to mend souls as well as kettles and pans,” He pointed out that Bunyan did not preach on his own initiative but at the call of the church in Bedford. Bunyan was the target of rumors that he was a witch, a robber, and had two wives at once. However, Bunyan went on preaching.
 
When we read Bunyan’s treatises, we can almost hear the tinker’s voice as he preached in the villages of Bedfordshire. We sense his earnest desire that his hearers may be granted spiritual senses to see, hear, and taste invisible spiritual realities. He cried out, “O that they who have heard me speak this day did but see as I do what sin, death, hell, and the curse of God is; and also what the grace, and love, and mercy of God is, through Jesus Christ.” 
 
His preaching drew his listeners into the divine drama of salvation. He addressed people directly, graphically, and simply in common language. He answered their objections, and pressed them to respond. For example, Bunyan depicted the following dialogue on the day of Pentecost:
Peter: Repent, every one of you; be baptized, every one of you, in his name, for the remission of sins, and you shall, every one of you, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Objector: But I was one of them that plotted to take away his life. May I be saved by him?
Peter: Every one of you.
Objector:  But I was one of them that bare false witness against him. Is there grace for me?
Peter: For every one of you….
Objector: But I was one of them that cried out, Crucify him, crucify him; and desired that Barabbas, the murderer, might live, rather than him. What will become of me, think you?
Peter: I am to preach repentance and remission of sins to every one of you.
Objector: But I railed on him, I reviled him, I hated him, I rejoiced to see him mocked at by others. Can there be hope for me?
Peter: There is, for every one of you. Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Bunyan passionately urged his listeners to respond with faith in the warning of judgment to come as well the promise of forgiveness and life, by the grace of God: “Poor sinner, awake; eternity is coming. God and his Son, they are both coming to judge the world; awake, art thou yet asleep, poor sinner? Let me set the trumpet to thine ear once again! The heavens will be shortly on a burning flame; the earth, and the works thereof, shall be burned up, and then wicked men shall go into perdition; dost thou hear this, sinner?”
 
Bunyan pleaded with people to flee from God’s wrath: “The soul that is lost will never be found again, never be recovered again, never be redeemed again. Its banishment from God is everlasting; the fire in which it burns, and by which it must be tormented, is a fire that is everlasting fire, everlasting burning. That is fearful.” He continued, “Now tell [count] the stars, now tell the drops of water, now tell the blades of grass that are spread upon the face of all the earth, if thou canst; and yet sooner mayest thou do this than count the thousands of millions of thousands of years that a damned soul shall lie in hell.” 
 
While Bunyan pleaded with people to see the sinfulness of sin and the torments of hell, he also proclaimed the mercies of God: “Cast but up thine eyes a little higher, and behold, there is the mercy-seat and throne of grace to which thou wouldest come, and by which thou must be saved.” He added, “Coming sinner, what promise thou findest in the word of Christ, strain it whither thou canst, so thou dost not corrupt it, and his blood and merits will answer all.” 
 
Bunyan was particularly focused on moving his hearers to praise the Savior: "O Son of God! Grace was in all thy tears, grace came bubbling out of thy side with thy blood, grace came forth with every word of thy sweet mouth. Grace came out where the whip smote thee, where the thorns pricked thee, where the nails and spear pierced thee. O blessed Son of God! Here is grace indeed! Unsearchable riches of grace! Grace enough to make angels wonder, grace to make sinners happy, grace to astonish devils."
 
Bunyan’s preaching was not only doctrinal, dealing with the weighty matters of the faith; it was doxological, calling forth from awakened hearts the praise of their Redeemer: “O grace! O amazing grace! To see a prince entreat a beggar to receive an alms would be a strange sight; to see a king entreat a traitor to accept of mercy would be a stranger sight than that; but to see God entreat a sinner, to hear Christ say, ‘I stand at the door and knock,’ with a heart full and a heaven full of grace to bestow upon him that opens, this is such a sight as dazzles the eyes of angels.” 
 
Though sometimes slandered as an antinomian, Bunyan promoted the pursuit of holiness and godly behavior. We are justified by faith in Christ alone, but we demonstrate the reality of that faith by our good works. Bunyan preached that a holy life is “the beauty of Christianity.” He called men and women to turn from sin, “and let your minds and affections be yielded up to the conduct [guidance] of the word and Spirit of God.” He exhorted them to separate themselves from sinful occasions, sinful examples, and all enticements to sin. He warned, “A man cannot love God that loves not holiness; he loves not holiness that loves not God’s word; he loves not God’s word that doth not do it.”
 
Bunyan suffered for his preaching. In 1660 the authorities arrested Bunyan for non-conformity, failing to attend the services of the parish church, holding conventicles (illegal assemblies for worship), and preaching without a license from the Church of England. Bunyan was offered release if he promised to stop, but he refused, saying, “If I was out of prison today, I would preach the gospel again tomorrow, with the help of God.”
 
Though Bunyan remained in prison for years, the jailers occasionally gave Bunyan freedom to leave for short times and preach. George Offer noted, “It is said that many of the Baptist congregations in Bedfordshire owe their origins to his midnight preaching.” He also preached to those with him in prison, though at times he himself was deeply discouraged.
 
After twelve years, Bunyan was finally released in 1672, when King Charles II issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence. However, government officials quickly moved to restrict that freedom. Bunyan was imprisoned again from December 1676 until June 1677, when the Puritan theologian John Owen interceded with the Bishop of London for Bunyan’s release. Owen famously told King Charles II that he would gladly trade his vast learning for the tinker’s ability to touch men’s hearts.
 
Bunyan’s greatest book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, written in that prison, contains poignant examples of his lofty ideals for the ministry of the Word. In the house of Interpreter, the pilgrim sees a portrait on the wall. It is a picture of the kind of minister God authorizes to be a spiritual guide to others, one who “had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind his back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.” In the Delectable Mountains, the pilgrims meet shepherds of the flock for whom Christ died, teachers whose names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere. They showed the pilgrims the horrible consequences of doctrinal error, the dangers of spiritual blindness, the fearful reality of hell, and a glimpse of the glories of heaven. In the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s wife and children receive guidance from “Great-heart,” a valiant warrior well-equipped with sword, helmet, and shield. He teaches them of Christ, fights against a giant that assaults them in the way, and leads them safely past roaring lions—yet not of his own will or for his own glory, but as a servant of the Lord.
 
Bringing these images together, we see Bunyan’s vision of the godly pastor. He is a heavenly-minded man, scorning the pride and pleasures of this world to live for treasures that last. He is a humble man, enduring trouble and sorrow to care for the lambs of the Lord. He is a holy man, knowing experientially the truths that he declares to others and fighting with all his heart against the powers of darkness. In all things, he is a preacher of the Word of God, a living trumpet that sounds the alarm to sinners and lovingly calls them to God.
Biblical theology has become a popular topic in recent years. While all theology should be biblical, this oft difficult to define discipline stresses the gradual historical unfolding of God’s self-revelation in redemptive history. People like biblical theology because they want to understand the Bible better.
 
In this light, would it sound too good to be true if you discovered that John Owen wrote a long-lost early modern biblical theology? As you search the Internet, you might discover a volume by him entitled, Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ. Is this what it appears to be? Unfortunately, no it is not. This is an English “interpretation” of Owen’s Latin lectures to his students at Oxford bearing the title, Theologoumena Pantodapa, sive de Natura, Ortu, Progressu, et Studio Verae Theologiae… While few agree over how to translate the main title, the subtitle tells us that the book is about the nature, rise, progress, and study of true theology. This reviewer believers that, while it is not a biblical theology, this is one of Owen’s most important books. In it, he teaches us how to know God and how to grow in godliness as we learn theology through studying the Bible
 
What exactly is Theologoumena Pantodapa and why did the translator give the impression that it was a biblical theology? This work comprised most of volume 17 of the nineteenth-century Goold edition of Owen’s Works. When Banner of Truth reprinted this set, they removed volume 17, since most of its contents were in Latin. Stephen Westcott rendered the book into English in the late twentieth-century. Because Owen treated his subject by tracing the teaching of Scripture related to it from Genesis to the New Testament, Westcott chose to title the work, Biblical Theology.
 
Determining what Owen’s subject was shows us the true character and importance of this book. The Latin title is very similar to standard books on prolegomena (or, first principles) of theology from the time. For example, the title of Franciscus Junius’ (1545-1602) prolegomena is De Theologia Vera: Ortu, Natura, Formis, Partibus, et Modo. Owen’s preface and first four chapters treat the nature and definitions of theology. Book six applies the teaching of these chapters by teaching us how to study “evangelical theology.” The eighty-percent left in the middle shows the progress of the true and false knowledge of God throughout the Bible. Though it may be hard for many readers to fathom, Owen tells us that most of his book was a preface to what he really intended to write. He aimed to teach us the principles needed to know God, to study his Word, and to produce godly theological students.
 
Though it is plausible for the translator to mistake this volume to be a biblical theology, the poor translation quality goes beyond the title. The translator often misses Owen’s trinitarian themes, particularly references to the Holy Spirit. At times, full sentences from the original text are omitted while new sentences are added. The biggest frustration this reviewer faces in comparing the translation to the original is that the translator has reorganized the paragraph breaks continually, making it hard to track where he is in relation to the original. The translation is easy to read and the content is edifying, but most of the time it is like reading a paraphrase of Owen rather than reading Owen himself.
 
In spite of the deficiencies of the translation, why should English readers read this book?
 
First, we should read this English “interpretation” because those who cannot read Latin do not have any other options. Even if Owen did not write a biblical theology, this book will still help you understand the Bible better. The fact that most of the book is a “preface” to its primary aim does not make its contents less profound and helpful. Owen teaches us how to know God and how to study theology in light of what the entire Bible says about these topics.
 
Second, we should read this volume because of Owen’s trinitarian definitions of theology. He describes theology essentially as the doctrine of living to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. This means that true theology is not merely an intellectual endeavor. It is an act of communion with the Father, through Christ as the pattern and ground of our knowledge of God, by people who are born of the Spirit and are filled with the Spirit. This trinitarian description of theology is needed today because it simultaneously places God at the heart of the gospel and promotes personal godliness in every student of the Bible. A potentially misleading translation of Owen on these themes is better than no Owen at all.
 
If we learn anything from the strange case of an old Latin book with a misleading title in a loosely translated form, then maybe it is that there is not such a great dichotomy between what we now call biblical theology and theology in general. Christians have always wanted to know the Bible better and they have always recognized its historical character. If you read Owen’s so-called Biblical Theology prayerfully then you will read it profitably as well. However, if you think that what Owen has to say is worthwhile, then you can also click here to help fund and promote a new translation of his work.

Meet the Puritans is pleased to announce our first book, Knowing the Trinity: Practical Thoughts for Daily Life by Dr. Ryan M. Mcgraw. Dr. McGraw is not only a contributor to Meet the Puritans but serves as Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books including The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen and Is the Trinity Practical?, also available at the ReformedResources.org store.

It was John Owen who said, “there is no grace whereby our souls go forth unto God, no act of divine worship yielded unto him, no duty or obedience performed, but they are distinctly directed unto Father, Son, and Spirit” (Of Communion with God). Everything we do in relationship to our God is related to him as Triune. The reality, though, is that we hardly think of the Trinity except merely as a doctrine we affirm against false theologies. This is where Dr. McGraw’s work is so helpful. He seeks to explain and apply God as Triune for all of our lives: how we think, how we speak, and how we act. The Trinity is not just the structural background of Christian theology it is the substance of living out Christian faith, hope, and love in relationship with the one true God and with each person in particular as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Dr. Carl Trueman says of this book, "In the tradition of John Owen. Dr. McGraw here offers a lively and accesible account of the doctrine and its practical and doxological implications for every Christian."

In conjunction with his new book, Dr. McGraw also did two interviews recently about the theme of this book, which will be helpful preparation or follow-up to reading his book:

Christ the Center with Camden Bucey and Jim Cassidy

Iron Sharpens Iron Radio with Chris Arnzen

*Alternatively, you can give directly to the work of Meet the Puritans by donating $25 and receiving a copy of the book here.

In our previous posts (#1, #2), we considered questions from Christopher Love’s (1618-1651) Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In this post, we will consider some more key questions that he asks on hell before considering his position on the controversial doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell in the next post. Again, I will pose Love’s questions then answer them  in his words summarized, paraphrased, or quoted almost in the form of a catechism. 
 
What are the torments of the damned in hell? This very question makes our hearts “tremble” as we relate its answer. Hell conveys deprivation, for example, as being present means being kept from heaven and the presence of God. It also brings torments that are unceasing in body and soul, as the wicked: are made miserable in hell; experience agony entirely; suffer in a way that cannot be quenched or tolerated; undergo such forever with no intermission at all; suffer with a “society” of others making hell all the more grievous; endure such in a miserable place devoid of all comfort and pleasure; face cruel treatment at the hands of demons (Matt. 18:34) and the devil himself; and possess no hope that these “pains shall be ended.” In this way, sinners must tremble at what they will lose as they see the madness of failing to do so. Will they “run the hazard” of entering an eternal hell for the pleasures of sin in this life?
 
Are there degrees of torment in hell? Yes, contrary to the Stoics, who equate all sins and punishments. While all the latter share an eternal character, there exists degrees of pain in the eternal state (e.g. Matt. 10:15, 11:22, 23;14,15; Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11). Thus, as those “most eminent in grace” enjoy heaven more, those “most vile in sin” will suffer torment more. So, they who “rush into the vilest sins” should tremble.
 
Are the torments of hell eternal? Yes, for Scripture, refers to hell as unquenchable (Matt. 18:8), eternal (Jude 7), and everlasting in terms of torment (Matt. 25:46) and destruction (2 Thess. 1:9). The justice of God demands this, unless we escape them through Christ, who takes such on our behalf. 
 
Is there literal fire in hell? No, hell is not a physical or “corporeal” in terms of heat and light but one causing agony like a literal fire on the body. Still, there will be a corporeal fire in the resurrection, one that burns without consuming yet forever tormenting. In the end, we should not “Cavil about hell fire so much as to make it” our care to avoid it.”
 
What is meant by the worm that shall never die but shall gnaw the conscience forever? From Mark 9:44 and Luke 13:28, we are not understand this as a “corporeal worm, that shall be gnawing the flesh of the body, after the Resurrection.” Instead, it denotes the continual “gnawing” horror of consciences that were once hardened to and unbothered by sin. Furthermore, the gnashing of teeth in hell (Luke 13:28) refers to the “implacable enmity that the damned carry in their hearts towards all them that shall be saved.” Such individuals will express indignation toward Jesus Christ that he did not save them and they cannot take revenge upon him. They will be enraged that they spurned the opportunity to embrace Jesus Christ. Laments Love, “O this shall greatly torment the damned, even the thought of this, that they have had many an opportunity of grace here in this world, yet have neglected them all."
 
As you can see, Love’s answers to these questions seek to be straightforward and, more importantly, simply biblical. As we considered in our first post on hell, the church needs to declare such truths, for they are needful even if not desireable. This approach emerges as that which is truly “seeker-sensitive,” as it points men from the terrors of hell to the glories of heaven through Christ Jesus.
Protestants who are unfamiliar need to hear the voice of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in this anniversary year of the Reformation (see post 1). The Articles are also a great encouragement to those in North American Anglican churches who long for a continual reformation back to the Word of God. But before we begin to examine Article 1, I need to explain the unique confessional nature of the Articles as part of what Anglicans term the “historical formularies.” In other words, The Articles of Religion are not meant to stand alone, as it were.
 
The Articles in Relation to the Prayer Book
When we ponder the doctrinal statements in The Thirty-Nine Articles to which all ministers must subscribe, Anglicans do not simply finish there. We must go further. The Prayer Book is included in our subscription. The Prayer Book informs the Articles, the Articles regulate The Prayer Book. The doctrinal becomes doxological through the underlying theology of the authorized rites and order of worship in The Prayer Book. Anglicans may contemporize Prayer Book language so that it is understood clearly (Article 24), but they must not change its underlying theology. The Articles regulate The Prayer Book.
 
As Robert Barron wrote in the first line of an article on St. Augustine: “…in the end it all comes down to a correct description of God.” There is meant to be a proper balance between doctrine - proper descriptions of the realities of God with Christ at the center that glorifies the Godhead and is faithful to the scripturally sourced and regulated tradition of the church - and worship.
 
This is the genius of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). His theology is expressed in the Articles and Prayer Book. It is in the selection, arrangement, and composition of the prayers and exhortations, the selection and arrangement of daily Scripture readings (the lectionary), and in the stipulation of the rubrics for permissible liturgical action and any variations in the prayers and exhortations. Cranmer’s Articles, selections, and arrangements were based on established continental Reformed theology. He recast the principle of “the way we worship” is “what we believe” (lex orandi, lex credendi) to teach the English congregations the Reformed doctrines of Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, justification by faith alone, to the glory of God alone.
 
This is why The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were bound with the services of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer! It was so that people could see the doctrinal basis of the liturgy in the established church. Thus, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s order and liturgy retain a confessional quality. This is the Anglican principle of doctrine and worship being relationally constitutive. Let us examine this principle in the first article on the nature of God.
 
Article 1
I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 
This article is unchanged since Cranmer penned it in 1553. Gerald Bray comments that it has an underlying tri-fold structure: 
  1. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions. 
  2. Of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.
  3. The Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.
This language is repeated from article 1 in the Augsburg Confession (1530), as is the statement that both visible and invisible creation is accomplished and sustained by the Godhead as a whole: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But it would be wrong to think that Cranmer merely had the Augsburg in mind. The Augsburg article is much longer, with a preface that confirms that its doctrine is from the Nicene Creed. There is also a second paragraph that denounces the heresies of the church, including Islam among them. 
 
We get a clearer idea of what Cranmer was doing when we turn to the Book of Common Prayer. The article’s title and content correspond much more closely to the tri-fold structure of what is commonly called the Athanasian Creed, also known by its Latin title, Quicunque vult. For example the Athansian has: "And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity." We see it again in the special prayer ("collect") said on Trinity Sunday:
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee, that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen. 
The collect affirms that when we are clear about God’s revelation as Trinity, we remain “steadfast in this faith” and it will defend us. If we know the truth about God, it will defend us from serious heresies.
 
Cranmer again reprises the doctrine in his "Preface" that introduces the "Prayer of Consecration" in the Holy Communion communion service for Trinity Sunday:
WHO art one God, one Lord; not only one Person, but three Persons in one substance. For that which we believe of the glory of the Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or inequality. 
And when we examine the rubric for the Athanasian Creed we discover that at Morning Prayer it is to be said instead of the Apostle’s Creed in the worship on the five “evangelical feast days” (on these, see Danny Hyde's article) of the Reformed tradition (as well as another seven observable days in the calendar!).
 
Consider also that those evangelical feast days would have continued in a service of Holy Communion using Nicene Creed, add the Trinitarian structure of the additional collects for the evangelical feast days, we can readily see how the nature of Anglican worship remains confessionally and profoundly Trinitarian. Cranmer’s simple clarity and tri-fold structure in article 1 gains a depth, repetition, and further nuance throughout the Prayer Book.
As we've seen so far in our survey of John Knox's theology of the Lord’s Supper (part 1, part 2, part 3), it is ordained by God and Christ is present in the sacrament. It is also an inestimable blessing for God’s people and is for their benefit in many ways. Let me give a number of examples from his writings on this theme.
 
A Sign and Seal
The Lord Supper is a confirmation and seal of the promises of the gospel. In the sacrament Christ “confirmeth and sealeth up to us his promise and communion, (that is, that we shall be partakers with him in his kingdom)” (Works, 3:73). The Lord’s Supper then is a confirmation and pledge of the certainty of heaven to the believer. Listen to these beautiful words: “The Father … doth … acknowledge and avow us yet to be of his heavenly household. And to seal the same, his everlasting mercy, more deeply in our heart, and to declare the same before the world, he sendeth us to the table of his dear Son…” (Works, 4:123-124).
 
A Help to our Weakness
In the Supper Christ “maketh plain to our sense, his heavenly gifts; and also giveth unto us himself, to be received with faith…” (Works, 3:73). Because we are frail creatures it is a help to our faith to have plain and physical signs in the Lord’s Supper, to see signs that are visible to our senses of what Christ did for us in his once for all sacrifice for sin. Thus it is a great blessing that Christ condescends to strengthen our faith in this way. 
 
A Means of Sanctification
The Lord’s Supper is also an instrument in our sanctification. It impacts the lives of those who partake as “through the verity of the Holy Ghost … we, being fed with his flesh, and refreshed with his blood … [are] renewed both unto true godliness and to immortality” (Works, 3:73). 
 
A Time to Remember
The Lord’s Supper was also an occasion to remember the great work of Christ and praise his name as “by the same Sacrament, the Lord calleth us to remembrance of his Death and Passion, to stir up our hearts to praise his most holy name” (Works, 3:73). The Lord’s Supper then should be an occasion of great praise to God as we are called to remember Christ’s work for us (Works, 3:65).
 
A Pledge and Promise
The Lord’s Supper was also a pledge or promise to the Church that as long as the world endures Christ will have a people for “there is included and contained in this Sacrament, [a promise] that he will preserve his Kirk. For herein we be commanded to show the Lord’s death until he comes” (Works, 3:74). Whenever the sacrament is celebrated it is a reminder that Christ will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
 
Union With Christ
The Lord’s Supper also testifies to “the wonderful society and knitting together of the Lord Jesus and of the receivers” (Works, 3:74). It speaks to us then of our wonderful union with Christ. 
 
The Sheep and the Goats
The Lord’s Supper serves to make “a visible difference betwixt His people and those that were without His league” ("Scots Confession" in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201). The Lord’s Supper is a picture of the division that there is in the world, between those who are Christ’s body, and those who are not.
 
A Family Meal
The finally, but by no means unimportantly blessing noted here is that it the Lord’s Supper shows the “band of mutual love among us,” that is, among God’s people (Works, 3:74). The Lord’s Supper shows the unity of God’s people in that “herewith the Lord Jesus gathereth us unto one visible body, so that we be members one of another, and make altogether one body, whereof Jesus Christ is only head” (Works, 3:73).
 
Conclusion
Thus the Lord’s Supper is a great blessing designed to “exercise the faith of His children and by participation of the same … to seal in their hearts the assurances of His promises and of that most blessed conjunction, union and society which the elect have with their head, Christ Jesus” ("Scots Confession" in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 2:201).