What is the true test of sound doctrine? In a previous post, I introduced readers to the recent translation of Johannes Cocceius’ work on covenant theology. In that post, I noted in passing that Cocceius argued that Romans 11:33-36 should be a test of all sound doctrine, “that it may be evident whether it is to illustrate or obscure the glory of God” (The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God, 166). While doxology is not the only test of sound doctrine, this observation reflects Paul’s concern that the truth must accord with godliness (1 Tim. 6:3-6). Worship is one of the primary fruits of godliness and, as Cocceius argued in the context of this citation, the glory of God is the chief end of the covenant of grace. Cocceius can help us ask whether our theology not only includes right teaching, but holding right beliefs in the right way.
Cocceius drew nine tests for sound doctrine from Paul’s doxology in Romans 11:33-16, which in the translation of his work reads, “O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given to Him, that He might repay him? Because from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen!” His nine tests of sound doctrine illustrate how he makes readers think through the text of Scripture carefully as they read him, since he developed them from nine terms found in this passage. After describing them, I will make some general observations about them.
The benefits of using a doxology such as this one as a test of sound doctrine are many. First, this reminds us that the only reason for studying theology should be ultimately to know and worship the true God and to lead others to know and worship him through sound doctrine. Second, it shows how many false doctrines violate the rights of the triune God and detract from his glory. Many readers can likely supply their own examples at this juncture. Third, Cocceius reminds us that holding to sound doctrine involves more than being right. We must ask ourselves whether our doctrine leads to doxology. Do we use what we know for the glory of God and the good of others? Does our study of theology lead us to marvel at the majesty and the beauty of the Triune God more fully? Does it make us more like Christ in godliness? While doxology cannot be a substitute for prayerful Bible study, without it we risk missing the aim for which God revealed himself to us in his Word.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves. (2 Corinthians 7.1 KJV)
Every day think upon eternity. Oh, eternity, eternity! All of us here are, ere long – it may be some of us within a few days or hours – to launch forth into the ocean of eternity. …The thoughts of eternity would make us very serious about our souls. …Oh how fervently would that man pray that thinks he is praying for eternity. Oh how accurately and circumspectly would that man live who thinks that upon this moment hangs eternity. …The thoughts of eternity would keep us from grieving overmuch at crosses and sufferings of the world. Our sufferings, says the apostle, are but for a while. What are all the sufferings we can undergo in th world in comparison with eternity? Affliction may be lasting, but it is not everlasting. Our sufferings are not to be compared to an eternal weight of glory (p. 177).
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If I could have $5 for every time someone has asked me the question, “Who is your favourite Puritan to read?,” I suppose I’d be a wealthy man by now. Though I would probably answer that question today by saying, “Anthony Burgess—and he’s also one of the most neglected!,” for nearly two decades I would have said, “Thomas Goodwin.” I may be an oddball, but—dare I say it—I’ve usually gotten more out of reading Goodwin than reading John Owen.
The first collection of Goodwin’s works was published in five folio volumes in London from 1681 to 1704, under the editorship of Thankful Owen, Thomas Baron, and Thomas Goodwin Jr. An abridged version of those works was later printed in four volumes (London, 1847–50). This reprinted twelve-volume edition was printed by James Nichol (Edinburgh, 1861–66) in the Nichol’s Series of Standard Divines. It is far superior to the original five folio volumes.
Goodwin’s exegesis is massive; he leaves no stone unturned. His first editors (1681) said of his work: “He had a genius to dive into the bottom of points, to ‘study them down,’ as he used to express it, not contenting himself with superficial knowledge, without wading into the depths of things.” Edmund Calamy put it this way: “It is evident from his writings, he studied not words, but things. His style is plain and familiar; but very diffuse, homely and tedious.” One does need patience to read Goodwin; however, along with depth and prolixity, he offers a wonderful sense of warmth and experience. A reader’s patience will be amply rewarded. How should a beginner proceed in reading Goodwin’s works? Here is a suggested plan:
**Reformation Heritage Books has the twelve-volume set of Goodwin's Works for $220.
In and by [the Holy Spirit] [Christ] is present with his disciples in their ministry and their assemblies . . . The Lord Jesus hath told us that his presence with us by his Spirit is better and more expedient for us than the continuance of his bodily presence. . . As [the Holy Spirit] represents the person and supplies the room and place of Jesus Christ, so he worketh and effecteth whatever the Lord Christ hath taken upon himself to work and effect towards his disciples.