“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” ("Romeo and Juliet," II, ii, 1–2)
Juliet expressed her love for Romeo in these words. Her point was not that she loved the name of Romeo’s family, Montague, but that his name didn’t matter, as it was Romeo whom she loved. “What’s in a name?” Of course in the heat of passion and love we don’t usually express the best theology. Juliet’s dismissal of Romeo’s name for Romeo himself is a false dichotomy. You see, we love Jesus because his name tells us both who he is and what he has done for us: “You shall call his name Jesus, for [because] he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
“What’s in a name?” What’s the meaning of the name of our Savior, Mediator, and Redeemer? Before I explain let me answer an objection you may have or that others may charge. To study the name of Jesus seems to be childish and overly simplistic at best or downright misleading at worst. You see, you might be thinking this is a waste of our time as it is so simple and plain, but that attitude is rooted in a critical attitude. From the fourteenth century’s school of thought called nominalism all the way up to today’s so-called “Postmodernism,” the Western world has been bombarded by the critical thought that words do not have an objective meaning. In a word, it doesn’t matter what Jesus’ name means, after all, we just love the Lord. Why should I spend time thinking about the name when I could be living for the person? “We need deeds not creeds,” we are told today. Yet God calls us to love him not only by our deeds and in our hearts but also with our minds. The angel revealed to Joseph and Matthew wrote this account because the name matters. C. H. Spurgeon once said:
Oh, that Name of Jesus! I could talk till midnight of its depth and meaning, its sweetness, its power; and when the twelfth hour struck, you would say to one another, “Why, it is midnight, and the Pastor is only as yet upon the threshold of his theme!” There is so much to be said about the Name of Jesus that all the tongues of men and of angels would fail to tell the half thereof. It is the joy of Heaven above; and, meanwhile, it is the solace of sorrow below. Not only is it the most majestic Name, the most instructive Name, the most truthful Name, the most powerful Name, the most sanctifying Name, but it is also the most comfortable Name that was ever sounded in this valley of weeping. (Spurgeon, Only a Prayer-Meeting, 186)
So, the Greek Iesous comes from the Hebrew Yehoshua, which means “the Lord saves.” What do we learn from this?
Jesus is Definitely the Redeemer
The first thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He is Definitely the Redeemer. This is not a name he chose for himself. We’ve seen that in our own culture. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson changed his own name to Chad Ochocinco. This is not even a name Joseph and Mary gave him. They didn’t pull out the first century equivalent to the baby name books so popular today. No, this is a name God revealed through Gabriel to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying . . . you shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:20). God told Gabriel to tell them to name their baby boy, Jesus. Why? Because this name would signify who he was: the redeemer.
And that’s no insignificant fact. God, of course, knew what he was doing. He knew that this name meant something significant. No, that being said, Yehoshua and Iesous were common first century names. So it wasn’t as if this name would have been so scandalous to Jesus’ neighbors. He had an ordinary name among an ordinary town of Nazareth. As archaeologists have revealed, Nazareth was a town with about fifty small homes located in an area of about four acres. In our terms one acre would be like a football field, so Nazareth was the size of four football fields (“Nazareth Excavation Reveals Remains from Time of Jesus,” The Guardian, December 22, 2009).
But you see God gave this ordinary name to his Son but he also attributed the reality of the name to the child: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The whole history of redemption comes alive in Jesus, then. Here is the Savior promised from after the Fall of Adam, when the Lord God promised a seed to Eve who would crush the serpent’s head by bruising his own heel (Gen. 3:15). Here is the Redeemer whom the Lord promised to Abraham, saying, “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). Here is the tabernacle in the flesh (John 1:14). Here is the great sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement as well as the scapegoat (Lev. 16). Here is the prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15). Here is the warrior greater than Joshua. Here is the judge to end all judges. Here is David’s offspring to sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:14). Here is the coming son of the virgin (Isa. 7:14), the shoot from Jesse’s stem (Isa. 11:1), and the Lord who would rend the heavens and come down from Isaiah (Isa. 64:1). Shall I go on? Jesus is definitely the redeemer.
What does this mean for you? Since he definitely is the Savior, you are definitely to seek for your salvation in no one or no thing else besides him. You are to be content with him and his saving work in your life. You are to rest in him. You are to be bold and confident in bearing witness about him, because he definitely is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). You are to be ready to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15). You are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16).
Jesus Definitely Redeems
The second thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He Definitely Redeems. As the angel says, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Let me say a few things about this.
First, Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption was planned. The angel speaks prophetically from the vantage point of Joseph, “He will save.” Yet from God’s vantage point this was a plan that stretched back into eternity. In the Gospel of John we read over and over and over again Jesus’ words that he came to execute a plan that he and the Father purposed from eternity. In Jesus’ bread of life discourse he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:36), then Jesus says, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:39). Again, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer we read that the Father gave Jesus “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world . . . Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:2, 4, 6, 7, 9).
Second, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is powerful. He actually accomplished what he came to do for those whom he came for. “He will [definitely] save his people.” Paul’s “golden chain of salvation” expresses this best, when it says “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Why? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28–30). Listen also to Paul’s words about Christ’s powerful work for this church in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–27).
Third, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is personal. “He will save his people from their sins.” He did not come and die for a faceless mass or an idea of a church, but for distinct persons. Let me conclude by having you read how Jesus describes the personal relationship he has as shepherd with his sheep:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers . . . I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:1–5, 11–15).
What’s in a name? Your very salvation.
Several posts ago I began a series of short posts on Owen’s teaching on communion with the Trinity under the analogy of building an iPad (part 1, 2). This third and final post presents his teaching on all three persons in the Godhead.
What Does the Owen iPad Look Like?: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
This is where we should get excited. Owen teaches us how to have communion with each divine person jointly and distinctly. His book on Communion with God treats each person in turn with a practical aim. The Trinitarian blessing in 2 Cor. 13:14 can help us understand and remember how this works.
We hold communion with the Father primarily in love. Some Christians treat Christ’s intercession as though it is a cosmic wrestling match between the Father and the Son in which the Son (barely) prevails in holding back the Father’s wrath. Owen noted that this insults the Father. It is God the Father who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (Jn. 3:16). When John wrote, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16), he had the Father in view primarily, since the Father proved his love by giving us his Son. While all three persons love us and Christ’s love passes knowledge (Eph. 3:19), we should think of the Father primarily when we think of the love of God. This should comfort us and lead us to love the Father every time we say, “Our Father,” in prayer.
We hold communion with the Son in grace. While “grace” often means today, “I am a very bad person and I need to keep reveling in my justification before God,” Owen meant something different. Grace includes all of the benefits imparted to us by the Father through Christ. This means that Christ gives us everything we need for justification, adoption, sanctification, persevering in godliness, and glorification (Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:28-39). Christ is the wisdom and the power of God to salvation (1 Cor. 1:24), which includes more than forgiving our sins (1 Pet. 1:5). Since I am united to Christ’s person through covenant, I partake of all that Christ purchased. In practical terms, this means that you must go to Christ for everything. What do you do, for example, when you struggle with indwelling sin? You must go to Christ for the Spirit to grant you repentance and to practice obedience. If you are serious about this, then you must use the means that Christ gives you to put away sin, trusting in him to bless them. This includes meditation on the nature of sin, confronting yourself with Scripture, fervent prayer for help, Christian fellowship, public worship, sacraments, and other means by which Christ communicates himself to you. You need to be where Christ is and trust in his willingness and ability to enable us to live for his glory. We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
We hold communion with the Spirit in comfort. He creates and maintains fellowship between God and us. As the seal of our redemption (2 Cor. 1:22), he regenerates us and stamps us as belonging to God. As the down-payment of our salvation (Eph. 1:14), he gives us partial possession and a foretaste of heaven while we walk with God on earth. We cultivate communion with the Spirit by growing in personal holiness (Gal. 5:25). When we fall into sin, we live as citizens of hell though we are truly citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:21). Owen argued that to the extent that we cultivate communion with the Spirit we have already begun to enjoy heaven on earth. Elsewhere he wrote that if we do not trust in the Spirit to help us know the Lord, then we may as well burn our Bibles. We must cultivate fellowship with the Spirit by reading our Bibles on our knees in prayer and by promoting godly living through using the means of grace.
Conclusion: Why Do I Need an Owen iPad?
Now you have a task set before you. The application of Owen’s principles stretch into every area of theology and into every part of the Christian life. To see what this looks like, you can begin by reading my very inexpensive book on Owen. To see how this works and why, you can read my very expensive book on Owen. However, the best way to grow in loving fellowship with all three divine persons is to start reading Owen himself, beginning with Communion with God. Owen will help you stretch your minds and train your spiritual muscles in order to run the race set before you (Heb. 12:1-2). Take up and read and learn to love the Triune God and to walk with him in every area of life.
Like me, many young reformers of my generation and even younger came out of a myriad of non-Reformed but evangelical churches into a Reformed church. Recall the struggles. One of them, no doubt, was over the theology and practice of worship in a Reformed church. In former churches we were taught that the effectiveness of any given Sunday's "worship" (aka, the music) was to be measured by our subjective experience of it in terms of how "uplifted," "powerful," and "enlivening" it made us feel. This is why when we walked into a Reformed church for the first time and then walked out of its doors on that Sunday, it seemed as though all emotion was gone and that our subjective experience of worship was a moot point. "How could I have just worshipped God when I don't feel like it just did?"
So . . . what did the great Puritan, John Owen, say about our level of experiential delight in the weekly worship of God? Do we actually believe that worship should be a delight? Is it okay to feel anything in worship? Owen's A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament (1667) came to be known as "The Independents' Catechism" (Works 15:447–530). This treatise speaks to us today as we seek a helpful way forward for ourselves and our family, friends, and visitors to our churches who feel like we may be cold.
In one of the more beautiful and practical sections of this treatise, Owen spoke of our delighting in the divine service. Picking up in question and answer seven, we read Owen saying that when we gather for the divine service there are four “chief things that we ought to aim at in our observation” (Works 15:455–456):
  1. To sanctify the name of God.
  2. To own and avow our professed subjection to Christ.
  3. To build up ourselves in our most holy faith.
  4. To testify and confirm our mutual love.
Owen went on to explicate this first aim, or, chief end, of the Christians' observation of the divine service by further dividing it into five parts (Works 15:456–459):
  1. to reverence God’s sovereign authority in appointing his gospel institutions.
  2. to regard God’s special presence in his ordinances.
  3. to exercise faith in the promises of God annexed to his ordinances.
  4. to delight in his “will, wisdom, love, and grace” manifested in his gospel ordinances.
  5. to persevere in our observance of Christ’s ordinances.
For our purposes, here I want to focus in on the fourth point that Owen made, namely, that we sanctify the name of God in worship by our delighting in God's will, wisdom, love, and grace as they are manifested to us in the gospel ordinances (by which he means, Word, sacraments, prayer, and discipline). So what precisely does it mean to "delight" in worship?
First, Owen says what it does not mean. Our delighting in the service does not mean what he called a “carnal self-pleasing, or satisfaction in the outward modes or manner of the performance of divine worship.” What did Owen mean by this? He was saying that our delight in worship was not to be found in our sinful and experiential delights. In a word, worship is not about you! Further, he was saying this against those in his time who sought for delight in the outward form and beauty of the liturgy itself. Here Owen sought to cut off any idea that worship was for our pleasure, whether in serving our emotions or even serving our eyes, such as in the Mass or the English Prayer Book with its pomp and ceremony in the days of Archbishop Laud's high church experimentation. So our delighting in the divine service is not about "what we get out of it," to use an evangelical phrase. For many of us who became Reformed later, we get this. But here is where Owen warns us in a way we need to hear. We are not to find our delight in the divine service in the mere fact that our liturgy might have ancient roots, or in the trappings of candles, banners, crosses, incense, kneeling, coming forward for communion, vestments, the Geneva robe, or the fully printed-out liturgy itself. Owen is saying, be careful of the trappings of high church.
Instead of this, Owen said that our delighting in the divine service was rooted in “contemplation on the will, wisdom, grace, and condescension of God.” Our God has drawn near to us! And he has done so, as Owen wrote, “of his own sovereign mere will and grace." Why? Owen gave five beautiful reasons:
  1. so to manifest himself unto such poor sinful creatures as we are
  2. so to condescend unto our weakness
  3. so to communicate himself unto us
  4. so to excite and draw forth our souls unto himself
  5. and to give us such pledges of his gracious intercourse with us by Jesus Christ
When we gather for the Divine service (meaning, God's service to us in Word and sacrament and our service to him in prayer), we are to find our delight in our covenant God himself, not in anything else, whether within us or whether external to us that we have contrived. It is our communion with God that brings us delight and the means of grace serve to bring us closer to him that we might glorify him and delight in him.
Christian, God has so stooped down to you that he invites you into his heavenly presence in worship. What a privilege! Believer, delight in worshipping the Lord your God!
A condemned prisoner was climbing the gallows when William Perkins said to him, “What man! What is the matter with thee? Art thou afraid of death?” The prisoner confessed that he was less afraid of death than of what would follow it. “Sayest thou so,” said Perkins. “Come down again man and thou shalt see what God’s grace will do to strengthen thee.”
When the prisoner came down, they knelt together, hand in hand, and Perkins offered a powerful prayer of confession of sin. The prisoner burst out in tears. Then Perkins prayed the truths of the gospel. Now the prisoner wept for joy. The prisoner rose from his knees, went cheerfully up the ladder, testified of salvation in Christ’s blood, and bore his death with patience, as if he saw heaven opened to receive his soul. 
The Puritans did not lack evangelistic zeal.
Characteristics of Puritan Evangelistic Preaching
Consider how the Puritans differed from what is used in evangelistic preaching today.
Puritan preaching was thoroughly biblical. Unlike many modern-day evangelists, the Puritan preacher found his message in God’s Word. John Owen said: “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word” (Works 16:74). As Millar Maclure noted, “For the Puritans, the sermon is not just hinged to Scripture; it quite literally exists inside the Word of God; the text is not in the sermon, but the sermon is in the text. . . . Put summarily, listening to a sermon is like being in the Bible” (The Paul's Cross Sermons, 1534-1642 [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1958], 165).
Puritan preaching was unashamedly doctrinal. The Puritan evangelist saw theology as an essentially practical discipline. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “To them, systematic theology was to the pastor what a knowledge of anatomy is to the physician. Only in the light of the whole body of divinity (as they liked to call it) could a minister provide a diagnosis of, prescribe for, and ultimately cure spiritual disease in those who were plagued by the body of sin and death” (“Evangelical Ministry: The Puritan Contribution,” in The Compromised Church: The Present Evangelical Crisis, ed. John H. Armstrong [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998], 266). The Puritans preached the whole Christ to the whole man. They offered Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. They did not separate His benefits from His person or offer him as a Savior from sin while ignoring His claims as Lord. As Joseph Alleine wrote in his model of Puritan evangelism, An Alarm to the Unconverted, “All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. . . . He is willing to have Christ upon any terms; he is willing to have the dominion of Christ as well as deliverance by Christ” ([1671; reprint London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1959], 45–46. This book was reprinted again by Banner of Truth Trust in 1995 as A Sure Guide to Heaven, a title first used in 1675).
Puritan preaching was experimentally practical, explaining how a Christian experiences biblical truth in his life. Experimental preaching seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth, how matters ought to go, how they do go in the Christian life, and how they will go by Christ’s ultimate triumph in His elect. In a Christ-centered context, Puritan evangelism was marked by a discriminating application of truth to experience. Discriminatory preaching defines the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. The Puritans were very aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart. Consequently, Puritan evangelists took great pains to identify the marks of grace that distinguish the church from the world, true believers from merely professing believers, and saving faith from temporary faith. For example, in The Godly Man’s Picture (1666; reprint Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), Thomas Watson sets forth twenty-four marks of grace for self-examination.
Puritan preaching was holistically evangelistic. The Puritans used all of  Scripture to confront the whole man. They called sinners to faith and they called them to repentance. They preached the law and they preached the gospel. In the work of conversion God does not normally begin with a conscious decision of faith but with conviction of sin and a sense of total helplessness to obey God’s commands. They also taught regeneration that produces a new nature and holy living. 
The discrepancies between Puritan and modern evangelism should prompt us to revert back to the older message where the whole of Scripture is addressed to the whole man. 
The Method of Puritan Evangelistic Preaching
The greatest teacher of the Puritan “plain style of preaching” was William Perkins. Perkins, often called the father of Puritanism, wrote that preaching “must be plain, perspicuous [clear], and evident. . . . It is a by-word among us: It was a very plain sermon: And I say againe, the plainer, the better” (The Works of Perkins, 2:222. Cf. William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying [1606; revised ed., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996], 71–72; Charles H. George and Katherine George, The Protestant Mind of the English Reformation 1570–1640 [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961], 338–41). Henry Smith, another great Puritan preacher, said, “To preach simply, is not to preach unlearnedly, nor confusedly, but plainly and perspicuously, that the simplest which doth hear, may understand what is taught, as if he did hear his name” (Works of Henry Smith, 1:337. Cf. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were [Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986], 104–107).
Three characteristics associated with Puritan plain preaching need to be recovered by today’s preachers: 
Puritan preaching addressed the mind with clarity. They taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration. They understood that a mindless Christianity will foster a spineless Christianity.
Puritan preaching confronted the conscience pointedly. Plain preaching named specific sins, then asked questions to press home the guilt of those sins upon the consciences of men, women, and children. They believed that we must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.  The Puritans preached urgently, directly, and specifically.
Puritan preaching wooed the heart passionately. It is unusual today to find a ministry which both feeds the mind with solid biblical substance and moves the heart with affectionate warmth, but this combination was commonplace with the Puritans. They set forth Christ in His loveliness, hoping to make the unsaved jealous of what the believer has in Christ. 
Evangelism through Catechism
As much as the Puritans esteemed preaching as the primary means of evangelism, like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis.
Puritan catechizing reached evangelistically to children and young people by writing catechism books that explained fundamental Christian doctrines via questions and answers supported by Scripture. 
Catechism followed up preaching with personal instruction and examination. Catechism involves patiently teaching, gently examining, and carefully leading family and church members to Christ through the Scriptures—it took time and skill (Thomas Boston, The Art of Manfishing: A Puritan’s View of Evangelism [reprint Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1998], 14–15).
Catechism built foundations for lasting conversions. The Puritans were not looking for quick and easy conversions; they were committed to building up lifelong believers whose hearts, minds, wills, and affections were won to the service of Christ. How vastly different was that result compared to the results of today’s evangelists who press for mass conversions, then turn over the hard work of follow-up to others! 
Do you thirst to glorify the Triune God in your evangelism? Soon you shall pray your last prayer, read Scripture for the last time, preach your last sermon, or witness to your last friend. Then the only thing that will matter will be the gospel.
God wants Christians to baptize their infant children.
It took me a while to make such a claim. I was converted at 21 and spiritually raised in Arminian Baptist circles. Eventually, I embraced the “doctrines of grace” and joined a Reformed Baptist church where I started to struggle with my convictions on baptism.
I wrestled with my position for over two years. As a credobaptist (supporting believers-only baptism), I used the “the burden of proof” argument: If God wants us to baptize infants, show us a clear command or least an explicit example in the New Testament to do so. The paedobaptist (supporting children's baptism) must assume this burden of proof. 
Once, I laid this “burden” on a Presbyterian friend who responded, “For the sake of debate, I’ll assume the burden, but really it lies with you.” What? He was telling me that I needed to prove that God no longer deals with children now as he did under the Old Covenant. Eventually, I had to confess that the burden of proof to deny the obligation for baptizing infants was heavier than the one to prove it. So how did this happen?
I was helped, in part, by a lesser known Puritan, Zachary Crofton (1626-1672). This Irish Presbyterian minister moved to England (1646), where he pastored and was later ejected for nonconformity when Charles II was restored (1660). One of his works was on baptism: A Short Catechism Briefly Propounding, and Plainly Shewing the Vertue and Value of Baptism (London, 1663). Along the way, he asks: “But what is the interest of Infants in the Old Testament to us under the new?” After his general answer, he asserts:  “The Enemies of our Baptism, cry for an express command to baptize Infants; but instead of shewing any, we think we have good reason to say, we and such Infants, have by a long Tenure an interest in the Covenant.” Crofton turns the demand back on his opponents: “[S]hew us a clear Gospel Writ of Ejection, if you think now to dispossess us.”
Without equating the Old and New Covenants (and their respective signs of circumcision and baptism), Crofton highlights the continuity between them. He argues that we need a “clear reason” for changing our view of children as “holy seed to God” under the Old Covenant to “prophane and estranged to God” under the New. By implying the holiness of believers’ children here, he is not speaking of that which belongs to the regenerate alone but a “federal holiness by the extent of the Covenant” according to 1 Corinthians 7:14. This implies certain spiritual blessings for all children of believers whether elect or not. Crofton maintains that the credobaptist must show that God prohibits the sign of the covenant to infants or provide an explicit example of such an action. 
On the contrary, the New Testament shows otherwise. Most importantly, when thousands of Jews respond to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2, he tells them to turn from sin to Christ for forgiveness as manifested by baptism. He then assures them that this “promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (KJV). He sets their children apart from those who are “afar off,” as if to place them in a special category. How are we to understand this? The way a first-century Jew would, of course. They would have concluded that God views their children in this new era of the Savior, the New Covenant, in the same way as he did the Old—covenantally. In connection with the household baptisms of Acts, for example, the burden is upon me as a credobaptist to disprove the idea that children no longer received the sign of the covenant. By the way, it is not whether infants were present in these instances that matters most, but the covenant solidarity of households (e.g. Joshua 24;15) God continued to recognize.  
I had to admit that there exists no evidence that children were refused access to or were removed from (in the case of Jewish Christians) the covenant and all of its blessings. Such a transition would have caused an uproar in the church, and the silence regarding such speaks very loudly. In fact, in the one recorded controversy regarding covenant children (Acts 21:21-26) Paul affirms their ongoing status.
I used to be a Reformed Baptist, and, yes, I know the arguments against everything I said above. I am thinking about them right now! However, without time or space here to cover them, I urge you to at least consider, when it comes to convictions on baptism, with whom does the burden of proof really lie?
We really have a crazy-sounding religion. We confess that God exists as one, yet three. Totally irrational! We confess that one of those three, the Son, became a human by being born of a virgin. What a fantasy! We confess this God-man died on a common Roman cross to take away sins. Keep dreaming! We confess this God-man rose from the dead. Impossible! It’s no wonder the apostle Paul called the gospel “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18) and its ministers “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10). It’s no wonder that when Christianity is compared to Islam and Buddhism, for example, with their common sense approach of works earning rewards that we sound like proponents of a fairy tale. One comfort to us is the fact that our forefathers faced the same ridicule. As Tertullian said in his treatise, De Carne Christi, “On the Flesh of Christ”: "The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible" (ch. 5).
It’s that absurdity that is our wisdom; it’s that impossibility that is our confidence. In our previous meditation we explored why we need a divine Mediator. Here I want to meditate upon why we need a mediator who is also human using Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 39. In the words of Hebrews 2, this was “fitting” as the Son of God “had to be made like his brothers” (vv. 10, 17).
Necessary for His Work
The first reason why we need a human mediator is that is was necessary for his work. And there are several facets of this:
To Advance Our Nature
The Son had to be human in order “that he might advance our nature” (Q&A 39). This means that since humanity plunged itself into the cesspool of sin, it could not get itself out even to begin moving itself closer to God. Humanity needed a mediator who would step into the mess with it, and then be able to raise it from sin to righteousness, from earth to heaven. In the words of Hebrews 2, “it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (v. 16). Angels already dwell in celestially appropriate form, while we must be led there.
To Obey the Law
We need a fully human mediator who could “perform obedience to the law” (Q&A 39). Since we are incapable of offering to God the obedience he deserves and desires, we need someone else to do it for us, as us. In all my disillusionment during college that led me to study and explore world philosophies and religions, I discovered that this is a unique aspect to Christianity. No other system says that someone else does the work necessary for you. All others says it is up to your reason, your abstaining, and your doing. But we have a God who knows us better than that, don’t we?
To Suffer in Our Nature
And since God is just, humanity must suffer punishment for its inability to obey his laws and requirements. Therefore, if we are to be freed from this sentence, we need a mediator who must himself undergo that suffering. This is why we read that our mediator was made “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10) and that he become man in order to “make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). His entire life, we might say, was one in which he not only walked on the straight and narrow path alongside our steps on broad path of destruction, obeying for us; but that while he did so, he also carried our sins and experienced our suffering in body and soul, leading to the cross. He did this for you!
To Make Intercession as a Fellow Human
Finally, another aspect that makes our religion so wonderful is that our Savior and the salvation he gives us is not just a mater of this divine power, but of his human empathy. We read in the New Testament that he has “one origin” with us as humans, and that we are fellow “brothers” (Heb. 2:11). And since we share together in flesh and blood “he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14). As the Catechism says, Jesus has “a fellow-feeling of our infirmities” (Q&A 39). And with that “fellow-feeling” he makes intercession for us before the throne of God’s heavenly majesty. With that “fellow-feeling” his intercession for us is that much more genuine and comforting to us. He is able to save us because he “ever lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). And he intercedes for us, as us.
Necessary for Our Benefit
How does our mediator’s humanity benefit us? The benefit is, of course, that we are saved from sin. In particular, though, there are two ways we can distinguish this benefit:
To Receive Adoption
The first is that because we embrace the eternal Son of God who became man, we are made adopted sons of God (Gal. 4:5). The Son became human that humans might become sons. And now that we are God’s sons [and daughters], “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6) And as his adopted children, we are no longer slaves, but full heirs of all God’s riches (Gal. 4:7). We belong to the eternal family of God! We have full access to all the household blessings and comforts.
To Have Confidence
The other benefit is that we no longer live as strangers in utter fear of God, but have confidence to come before his throne—of grace! It is through our mediator, who is both divine and human, that we as God’s sons have confidence to draw near to that throne of grace and call him not only God and Lord, but Father. And we draw near to him in order to ask him for his mercy and grace to help us in our times of need (Heb. 4:16). Doesn’t this move your soul? You see, when we come before our Father, like our earthly fathers, we find that he already knew what we needed and prepared to give it to us according to his lavish love and great grace for us.
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity.” This story, this doctrine, is totally absurd, isn’t it? Yes, it is, to the mind of reason. Yes, it is, to the ways in which we do business, engage in politics, and operate with our neighbors in day-to-day life. But when we believe this absurd story we become wise in God’s eyes.
What do you do when two parties within the same Reformed tradition approach the issues from such different perspectives that they end up seeing one another as the devil? In the previous article in our series on lessons from an old controversy (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) we learned that one thing to do is to appeal for outside help. Another thing to do is to broaden our horizons in at least three areas.
First, we need to force ourselves to look at the issues from our opponents’ perspective and carefully consider and address their concerns. Our emphases and theological formulations are in part driven by our pastoral concerns and personal experiences. If we are not in tune with what is driving our opponents and vice versa then discord, rather than harmony, will be the order of the day. This is what happened to the Presbyterians and Congregationalists at the end of the seventeenth century in London.
After a failed attempt at reunion, the Presbyterians, tried again by asking the Congregationalists the reasons for their departure. The Congregationalists responded with a list of errors related to Arminianism that they believed needed to be rejected. The Presbyterians received them but also wanted their own concerns addressed and so added to the list a number of errors pertaining to Antinomianism. They then sent the full list of errors to the Congregationalists. The Congregationalists, however, ignored this communication because they firmly believed that Arminianism was the only problem. They were convinced that the Presbyterians needed to reject Arminianism, but that they were under no obligation to repudiate Antinomianism. Their utter disregard for the theological concerns of the Presbyterians was unloving as it was unwise. It displayed contempt for the Presbyterians and cast a shadow upon their orthodoxy. Consequently, it further damaged their relationship and the likelihood of reunion. Eventually, the Congregationalists did address the issue of Antinomianism with a tract in 1699 but only after it was far too late.    
The second way we need to broaden our horizons is in regard to our own outlook and ministry. Our theology will be skewed or unbalanced if we are focused on one particular error (or truth). For example, in the arena of soteriology, if our chief (or only) concern is Arminianism, as it was for the Congregationalists, then we will tend to stress the sovereignty of God to the detriment of human responsibility. By the same token, if we primarily worry about Antinomianism, as it was for the Presbyterians, then we will tend to stress human responsibility to the detriment to the sovereignty of God. The truth of the matter is that we need to be equally concerned about both errors. Anthony Burgess once insightfully said that every person has a Pope and an Antinomian “in his belly.” If the Congregationalists had been as concerned about Antinomianism as they were about Arminianism, and the Presbyterians as concerned about Arminianism as they were about Antinomianism then the two sides might well have been able to reconcile their differences.
A third and final way we need to broaden our horizons is to recognize and tolerate different formulations of Christian doctrine. In his final book on this controversy, Williams noted that the Congregationalists and Presbyterians formulated the doctrine of justification differently. But he also recognized, particularly in light of the Congregationalists’ tract repudiating Antinomian errors, that they did not differ from each other as much as some “weak persons” suggested. However, for the two parties to come together, especially on the matter of justification, they both had to be willing to recognize their differences as minor and be willing to tolerate them. Unfortunately, there were many in this debate that were reluctant or unable to do that.
One of the key lessons that I have learned from my historical studies is that the Reformed tradition is much broader than I had once thought. The Reformed didn’t always agree with one another and not just on secondary matters but also on important and fundamental doctrines like justification, atonement and Theology Proper. Unity, in the presence of disagreement, will thus require a certain amount of breadth and toleration. This is as true in the seventeenth century as it is today.
When the going gets tough in theological controversy, the tough get some perspective. They look at the issues from their opponents’ point of view and consider their concerns. They are careful to avoid being one sided in their theological views and pastoral ministry. And they are willing to tolerate differences within acceptable limits. In short, good controversialists, broaden their horizons.

Congrats to Ben F. in Witchita, KS, on winning Randall Perderson's, Unity in Diversity: English Puritans and the Puritan Reformation, 1603-1689 (Brill).

For our next giveaway, our friends at The Banner of Truth have provided us with a copy of the popular The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

We'd love to give away this volume! USA mailing addresses only. One entry per person. Deadline to register is Friday, October 21.

"This is our plaine confession, which we simply and boldly do affirme, that Rom. 8., this is a stable and immutable foundation, 'The Lord knoweth his own, that no creature is able to seperat his Elect frome his love, which in Christ Jesus he beareth to them.’" (John Knox, Works, 5:256)
Last time we saw that despite some disputes about his views, there was no compelling evidence to suggest anything other than Knox firmly held to a robust doctrine of predestination. Further evidence of Knox’s commitment to the absolute sovereignty of God in predestination can be seen when we examine how closely Knox’s doctrine of predestination is connected to his doctrine of God. Indeed his doctrine of predestination is in some ways a practical application of his understanding of the nature of God.
This is particularly true of the divine attribute of immutability. As Richard Kyle has noted “it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance that the concept of divine immutability played in John Knox’s thought.” (Kyle, “The Divine Attributes,” 164) As can be seen in his 1553 Declaration of the True Nature and Object of Prayer Knox felt to deny divine immutability was in effect to deny God. He said that anyone who “calleth in doubt” God’s immutability “maketh God a liar, and so far an in him lyeth, woulde spoyle God of his Godheid: For he can not be God except he be eternall and infallibill veritie.” (Knox, Works, 3:98)
Knox drew heavily on God’s immutability in his treatise On Predestination. He argued that God’s wisdom, will and counsels could not be subject to “mutabilitie, unstablenes, or change” for if they were “then his godly will and counsels did not depend upon himself, but upon his creatures; which is more then absurd.” He explicitly stated that “God's love and counsell towardes his Elect is stable, and that because it is grounded upon himself”. God’s changelessness guaranteed the certainty of the elects salvation. (Knox, Works, 5:394, 47)
Immutability was not the only attribute Knox closely related to predestination. He allied immutability with divine omniscience, making it clear that God was capable of neither “repentance” nor “ignorance” and therefore “what he once decreed, that he faithfully will perfourme”. Immutability was also combined with omnipotence and therefore God “may and doth performe whatsoever he will in heaven and in earth.” God was in no sense to be regarded as “impotent” – he could do as he pleased. Therefore, as in wisdom he has changelessly determined how to dispose all things, so he had the power to perform his will. Further, God’s wisdom meant for Knox, that he would not create without knowing and determining the destiny of any creature. To assert otherwise was to “deny his eternall knowledge, wisdom, and Godhead”. (Knox, Works, 5:45, 62, 166, 64)
In view, then, of this intimate link with the doctrine of God there seems no compelling reason to doubt the genuineness of Knox’s own statement on the significant of predestination: “the doctrine of God’s eternal predestination is so necessary to the Church of God, faith can never be truly taught, neither surely established.” (Knox, Works, 5:25)
Having seen how Knox linked predestination and his understanding of the attributes of God, next time we will examine some specific aspects of Knox’s doctrine of predestination.
Randall J. Pederson, Unity in Diversity: English Puritans and the Puritan Reformation, 1603-1689, vol. 68, Brill Studies in Church History (Leiden: Brill, 2014). 380pp. Hardcover.
*Click here for details on our current giveaway of this book.
“Puritanism” is so difficult to define that some historians have rejected it as a useful category. Randall Pederson has made a fresh attempt at navigating the minefield of defining this often-nebulous term. In doing so, he revives “Puritanism” for historical investigation and paves a way forward for future studies. While it is impossible for the daunting task Pederson has set for himself to be without limitations, he effectively demonstrates his thesis that Puritanism is a necessary term that is here to stay (36, 311). This is an outstanding study that should become a starting point for this subject.
This book is broad in scope, but focused in its aim. Pederson traces unity and diversity within Puritanism by special examination of John Downame, Francis Rous, and Tobias Crisp. Each section sets these authors in their historical contexts and examines unity and diversity within Puritanism in light of their teachings on the doctrine of God and humanity, predestination and assurance, the covenants of works and grace, justification and sanctification, law and gospel, and Christian life and piety. Downame represents the “precisianist” strain within Puritanism, Rous the “mystical” strain, and Crisp the “antinomian” strain. Pederson admirably demonstrates the common Puritan culture shared by such authors, in spite of their nuanced differences. The result is that readers leave with a slightly more focused idea of how to recognize a Puritan if he or she meets one.
However, Pederson’s study makes it somewhat difficult to distinguish Puritanism from Reformed orthodoxy. For instance, his descriptions of Downame (152) and Rous (161) representing the precisianist and mystical strains within Puritanism, respectively, do not distinguish them adequately from one another or from Reformed orthodox theology on the continent. Downame’s theology does not appear to differ much, if at all, from Reformed orthodoxy in general. Likewise, Rous’s “mystical” piety as tethered by Scripture does not appear to this reviewer to differ either from Downame or from continental emphases on union and communion with Christ. This is particularly evident by the translation and endorsement or Rous’ work by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Koelman (161). Crisp is the only author treated that stands out, due to his “antinomian” position regarding the time of justification being prior to conversion (254). We are still left largely with Pederson’s initial observation that we know instinctively that there is something distinctive about Puritanism (305). Pederson argues in the end that we should understand Puritanism as consisting predominantly of Reformed orthodox theologians, with acceptable diversity within the movement, and radical Puritans on its fringes (287). Perhaps in the final analysis, the primary factor that marked a Puritan was neither his orthodoxy nor his piety, but his desire to reform the church of England in light of both (301).
Greater interaction with continental theology would have strengthened this otherwise excellent study as well. A good example is the absence of continental sources treating theology as a “supernatural light” or gift of the Holy Spirit, which Pederson attaches to Rous as an example of his mysticism (185). However this position was standard in almost all Reformed theology textbooks at the time. In addition, his treatments of the law and the gospel in relation to each figure lacks theological nuance. Pederson treats the terms as though they related primarily to the grounds on which people should do good works. However, in Reformed theology law and gospel were used in widely differing ways. Law, for instance, could refer to the moral law, the covenant of works, the Old Testament, the Mosaic covenant (as opposed to the new covenant), and several other options. Evidence also suggests that Reformed uses of law and gospel differed from Lutheran ones due to the effects of covenant theology on such terminology. His discussion asks readers to use these terms to assess unity and diversity among Puritan authors before evaluating their meaning in Reformed theology.
History is messy. Its subjects do not always like to fit into the categories that we place them in. Pederson’s text is a great achievement. He introduces readers to the daunting literature on the subject and funnels his analysis through the lives and theologies of three previously neglected (313), but important, authors. Though he has not solved the problem of defining Puritanism with scholastic precision, he shows us that this is not necessary. The unity within Puritanism enables us to put its diversity in perspective. Anyone doing serious study on Puritanism should not pass by this text.