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.

  1. First, divine riches overflow in sound doctrine for the salvation of believers, of their seed, and for the conversion of unbelievers.
  2. Second, God demonstrates the depths of his wisdom in sound doctrine, demonstrating all of his perfections, especially his righteousness and mercy.
  3. Third, God shows the depths of his knowledge “in the disposition of all the works of God from eternity” so that nothing happens apart from the determination of his counsel.
  4. Fourth, his judgments are unsearchable. This includes condemning all for sin in Adam, redeeming the elect in Christ, judging between angels, leaving unbelievers without excuse, chastening the godly, and preparing the final judgment of all.
  5. Fifth, his ways are inscrutable in the execution of his decrees, especially in subjecting men to voluntary obedience to him, in permitting sin and disobedience, and converting some and hardening others through his Word (167).
  6. Sixth, his mind is unknown to his creatures unless he reveals himself to us by his Word and Spirit.
  7. Seventh, he supersedes the need for all counsel from others.
  8. Eight, sound doctrine excludes all merit from all creatures.
  9. Ninth, all things must be from God, through God, and end in the glory of God. Cocceius then applied this test in a paragraph to Socinians, Arminians, Roman Catholics, and others, who opposed sound doctrine and, in so doing, violated one or more of these principles in their teaching.

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.

Specific Directions for Mortification
Identify the Symptoms that Accompany a Lust
If the symptoms are deadly, the sin must be killed by special measures lest our lives end in hellish tragedy. A sin is deadly if it has become an established habit. When sin becomes rooted in our daily routines we have accepted it as part of us. A sin is deadly if it no longer stings our conscience. To casually dismiss sin under cover of God’s mercy is to turn the grace of our God into lewdness (Jude 4). A sin is deadly when its thought frequently becomes desire. Even without committing the act of sin, if we begin to love it the temptation has prevailed. A sin is deadly when one fights it only because of its penalties. If it is only law and not Christ’s love that restrains us from a sin (2 Cor. 7:1), that sin has conquered our affections and will. A sin is deadly when it is a punishment from God. God can harden our hearts toward sin as a punishment for neglecting to care for our souls (Is. 63:17). A sin is deadly when God has repeatedly warned us against it. If we habitually allow our sinful desires “to stifle conviction” we are “truly in a sad condition” (63).
Get a Clear Sense of the Sin that Troubles You
First, consider sin’s guilt. Sin downplays its guiltiness by darkening our minds so that we do not grasp its filthiness. Believers, therefore, must test sin’s evils against God’s love, mercy, grace, and assistance, remembering God’s great grief over the sins of his children.
Second, consider sin’s danger. Sin’s deceitfulness hardens our hearts (Heb. 3:12-13), weakens our assurance, and cripples our zeal. Sin can bring us under great chastisement. When God punished David’s sin, David lost his child, his reputation, and his peace (Ps. 89:32). Sin can sap our peace and strength. Abiding sin can cause us to finish our days dull to God’s kindness. Most dangerously, sin invites eternal ruin. In total sincerity God threatens with hell those who love sin (Heb. 3:12).
Third, consider sin’s present evil. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit whom God has given as a loving friend to cheer and guide us to glory. Sin wounds the Lord Jesus Christ who showed God’s great love for us by suffering in our place. Sin cancels our usefulness in this world.
Charge Your Conscience with Sin’s Guilt
First, consider indwelling sin in relation to God’s law. Believe that, because of your sin, you should drown under the unrelenting waves of God’s terror. Tremble before God’s throne of judgment, refusing to claim grace so long as you love sin.
Second, consider indwelling sin in relation to the gospel. “Look on him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you” (78). Consider God’s infinite patience and how often God has pulled you back from sin’s hardening. Reflect on God’s countless kindnesses to you. 
As long as your conscience is able to justify your failure you will never kill sin.
Desire Deliverance
“Do not let your heart be happy with your present condition, even for a moment” (81). In spiritual things the desire for “deliverance is in itself a grace which begins to conform the soul to the likeness of that which is longed for” (81). A heart that longs for deliverance from sin will “watch for all opportunities to gain advantage over its enemy” (82). “A strong desire sets faith and hope to work, and drives the soul in following hard after the Lord” (82).
Determine If Your Nature Is Fostering Your Sin
Our peculiar natures are prone to certain sins over others. Sins connected to our unique characters humble us as testimonies of our innate depravity. When sins stem from our dispositions we need to recognize Satan’s advantage and our need for diligence. Paul recognized and fought such sins by disciplining his body to keep it under control (1 Cor. 9:27). 
Consider Sin’s Prior Deception
The Bible warns us to consider our ways, past and present (Hag. 1:5). What kind of company tempts us to sin? What physical circumstances leave us weak? What thoughts lead us down the wrong road? If we will not watch the path we are walking we cannot expect to conquer sin.
Fight Sin at its First Sign
Do not allow sin to gain the smallest ground. Do not fix boundaries for sin saying, “Thus far I shall go and no farther.” “James teaches that sin is progressive (James 1:14-15)” (86). An unclean thought desires to have you immerse yourself in folly and filth. “If sin gains grounds in your affections, so that you delight in it, your understanding will also come to think little of it” (86). 
Humbly Meditate on Your Limitations
Meditate on God’s excellence and our distance from him and ignorance of him. Hearts that are humbled by God’s greatness are better framed to fight sin. 
Like Moses we only see God’s back (Ex. 34:5-6). We cannot bear the rays of his glorious being. We know him only in part (1 Cor. 13:11). God’s ways are past finding out; he cannot be conquered by our knowledge. God is like the plain face of the sun. “He is not seen, not because he cannot be seen, but because we cannot bear the sight of Him” (93). We lack the right words to speak of God. Even words like “infinity, eternity,” and “Trinity” help us love and admire God, not fathom him. Everything we know of him, even in the saving light of his Son Jesus, is limited (1 Cor. 13:12). The gospel only unveils enough of God so that we can trust in him and begin to desire more of him. 
Our own dullness to fully grasp God’s blazing majesty keeps us dependent on him and watchful of any behavior not suited to his glory. 
Wait for the Spirit’s Assurance of Sin’s Death
Resist the urge to fabricate assurance of forgiveness. We are tempted to do so in a number of ways. First, we fabricate assurance when we do not yet hate the sin from which we seek relief. We must not assure ourselves of God’s mercy when we “keep the sweet morsel of sin under their tongue” (106). Second, we fabricate assurance when we claim God’s promises in a purely rational and superficial way. It is possible to hastily claim a biblical word of promise without sincerely trusting in God to heal our wounds. Third, we fabricate assurance when we claim forgiveness for one sin but remain unrepentant over others. We will only be at peace when we have an “equal respect for all of God’s commandments” (112).
By contrast, God’s children know, by a “secret instinct in faith” when Christ speaks pardon (John 10:27). When Christ enriches our souls, humbles and cleanses us, then we may know that sin is being killed.
Trust in Christ for Deliverance from Your Sin
Meditate on Christ’s provision for killing your sin. Remember that Christ came to give repentance (Acts 5:31). Know that no matter how weak we are, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He can kill our enemies no matter their strength. He can renew our strength no matter our weakness. No matter how dry our souls are he can make rivers of living water come out of us (John 7:37-38).
Expect Christ to provide relief for your burden. Christ never fails those who expect his rescue. Christ is a merciful High Priest who pities us in our distress because he knows our weaknesses. Like the courses of sun, moon, and stars (Jer. 31:36) Christ is faithful to deliver promised help.
Place your hope in Christ’s death, blood, and cross. “Look upon him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, and dying” (128). He died to kill sin and to cleanse his people from sin’s every stain.
Trust in the Spirit for Deliverance from Sin
Trust in the Spirit to convict you of sin, to uncover its ugliness, and rebuke your defenses. Trust in the Spirit to reveal to you the fullness of Christ and his love for sinners. Trust in the Spirit to give you hope that Christ will grant relief from sin. Trust in the Spirit to bring the cross of Christ into your heart with its sin-killing power. Trust in the Spirit to be the author and finisher of your sanctification, despite your weak resolve. Trust in the Spirit to enable you to pray with sighs and groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26) through which you will find victory over your sin.
In 1656 Puritan Pastor John Owen felt concerned that professing Christians were too “at peace in the world” (vii). He also believed that much of the teaching against sin in his day produced “superstition, self-righteousness and anxiety of conscience” in the hearers (viii). So, Owen wrote a little book called The Mortification (or “Putting to Death”) of Sin in Believers based on the second half of Romans 8:13. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” 
This verse outlines the duty of all believers, those who are “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (v. 9). God encourages believers in their fight against sin. If we properly fight against sin we shall live. The means of mortification results in abundant life. But lest we become confident in our own strength we must know this, “It is a work of the Spirit, and it is by Him alone that we are to experience victory” (3). The Spirit empowers us to fight against indwelling sin in the same way that Christ crucified our former way of life in the cross (Rom. 6:6). As we put to death our sinful nature, our joy, comfort, and vigor increasingly come to life.
Principles of Mortification
Mortification is the duty of all believers (Col. 3:5; 2)
For six reasons, every believer must “Always being killing sin or it will be killing you” (5). First, believers will only be perfected in glory (Phil 3:12). We can only rest when sin is dead. Second, sin always works to produce bad fruit. “He that stands still and allows his enemies to exert double blows upon him without resistance will undoubtedly be conquered in the end” (7). Third, unchallenged sin becomes stronger and more deceitful. “Sin, if not continually mortified, will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, and soul-destroying sins (Gal 5:19-20)” (Page Number??) Fourth, God gives us the Holy Spirit and our new nature to oppose sin and lust (Gal. 5:17; 2 Pet. 1:4). We must not neglect his gifts. Fifth, believers grow weaker toward God as sin strengthens in them. Unexercised grace will languish. Sixth, our spiritual growth is our daily duty (2 Pet. 3:18). “He who does not kill sin along the way is making no progress in his [Godward] journey” (10).
Those who do not put sin to death do themselves and others great harm. They promote a form of godliness that has no power to acquire eternal life.
Mortification Is by the Spirit
Any merely outward attempt to kill sin—taking vows, imposing strict rules on our bodies (Col. 2:23), adhering to religious duties—will fail. If God has not promised to work through these means they are powerless. If we put confidence in our efforts, even in our prayers, self-discipline, and promises, we sidestep the power of the gospel. 
Mortification is accomplished by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us all the blessings we have in Christ including sanctification. God gives his Spirit to conquer our sin.
The Spirit mortifies our sin in a variety of ways. The Spirit causes us to abound in grace so that his fruit restricts the fruits of the flesh. The Spirit destroys our lusts. “He is the fire that burns up the very root of lust” (18). The Spirit causes believers to commune by faith with Christ in his death and sufferings. Without the Spirit’s help we would fight against sin but with no strength for the battle.
Even though the Spirit must put sin to death we are responsible for doing it with the Spirit’s help. 
Mortification Is of Great Benefit
To live a joyful spiritual life we must kill sin. Mortification of sin does not guarantees a pleasant life, as Psalm 88 makes plain. But without mortification our spirits cannot thrive. Failing to put sin to death will weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigor. David complained of being unsound, feeble, and crushed by sins he let live (Ps. 38, 40, 51, etc.). “Sin untunes…the heart itself, by entangling its affections” (23). The soul that is entangled with worldly pursuits cannot be full of God. “Sin will also darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace” (24). Sin is like a cloud that intercepts “all the beams of God’s love…” (24). Unmortified hearts are like fields so overgrown with weeds that no good crop can grow.
Explanation of Mortification
What Mortification Is Not
First, mortification is not the utter destruction of sin in this life. We aim for, and seek the death of sin in this life but experience it only in the life to come (Phil. 3:12). Second, mortification is not the changing of some outward aspect of sin. It is possible to exchange one sinful habit for another that is less obvious or less dangerous. But, mortification is not mere substitution. Third, mortification is not the improvement of our natural constitution. Even without a new birth someone might subdue the outward signs of depravity. But superficial change does not get to sin’s root. Fourth, mortification is not the diversion of sin. An old man might lust less than he used to. But “he that changes pride for worldliness, or sensuality for legalism” is not killing sin (29). Fifth, mortification is not the occasional victory over sin. Sometimes when we commit a great sin we scare ourselves into not committing it again. Or, when greatly travailed we resolve to stop sinning to free ourselves of sin’s weight. In both cases sin is not mortified but dormant.
What Mortification Is
First, mortification is a habitual weakening of the lust. A lust is a “depraved habit or inclination” that “darkens the mind, extinguishes convictions,” and “dethrones reason” (33). In mortification we weaken sin’s habit so it fights less violently. We must be “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Second, mortification is a constant fight and contention against sin. We need to identify the enemy against which we must fight “We cannot go forward unless we recognize the plague of our own hearts” (36). “We need to be intimately acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions which give lust its success” (37). We need to daily attack our lusts even when we think they are dead. Third, mortification is a degree of success in the battle. As the spirit gains strength against the flesh we will begin to experience the victory of faith. As sin dies the believer will know greater peace of conscience and be bolstered by greater hope.
Rules of Mortification
Only Believers Can Mortify Sin
Only those who are raised with Christ can put to death earthly desires. A man who tries to kill sin without being converted is like a man who tries to build a house without a foundation. “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ” (41). “A servant who is directed to pay a bill must first collect the money at the bank” (41). Likewise, before we fight sin we must receive, in the Spirit, the power for mortification.
In fact, seeking mortification without regeneration is risky for several reasons. First, the mind and soul are diverted from that which is most important. Those who feel sin’s weight need to sense their need of Christ and believe the gospel. But in their impossible fight against sin they are distracted from seeing Christ as Savior. Second, the effort can bring a false peace of conscience. If a person can remove the symptoms of sin they can be tricked to believe they are cured. Third, when an unconverted person fails to mortify sin over a long period of time he might despair over ever defeating sin.
A person who fights against sin without believing in Jesus is actually practicing self-justification not Christianity. 
The Only Goal Must be Universal Mortification
“He who truly and thoroughly seeks to mortify any disquieting lust, must be equally diligent in all parts of obedience” (53). We make a mistake if we think we can only fight against the few sins that trouble our conscience. In fact, it is impossible to fight one sin without wholeheartedly drawing near to God. We only truly fight sin when we love Christ because he went to the cross, and hate all sins that sent them there. It is true that sometimes particular sins trouble us more than others. But these more weighty sins are often tokens of our more general negligence. They can awaken us to a more thorough change of heart and walk. 
*All page numbers refer to the "Puritan Paperback' edition.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves. (2 Corinthians 7.1 KJV)
We are at the last of the works by Anglican Thomas Watson in our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection. “The Great Ejection” was the explusion of nearly 2,000 Anglican ministers from their cures in the 1662 Act of Uniformity. The final work is the transciption of Watson’s evening sermon preached on his final Sunday as pastor of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. These are his last words to the congregation and in it he gives a moving summary of the nature of pastoral ministry.
Watson returns to the triple pattern of Anglican preaching in an exegesis of the title, “dearly beloved”, the meaning of the exhortation, “Let us cleanse ourselves”, and the application how his hearers should be cleansed and sanctified, “having these promises.”
Taking the Apostle Paul as his example under his first point, he walks his congrgation through Paul’s letters to pause at each point where Paul sets the depths of his love before them. Ministers employ the head and the heart, writes Watson, “His head with labor and his heart with love.” He insists that the depth of love that Paul writes is true in all godly ministers of Jesus Christ. They are full of sympathy and affection toward those over whom God has made them pastor, how very true!  Why does such a love overflow like a spring? It is God’s grace. “Grace does not fire the heart with passion, but with compassion. Grace in the heart of a minister files off that ruggedness that is in his spirit, making him loving and courteous. Paul once breathed out persecution, but when grace came this bramble was turned to a spiritual vine, twisting himself about the souls of his people with loving embraces” (p. 162).
Watson explains the nature of God’s cleansing when he writes next of how God’s grace makes a man broken and builds him up again into His fit instrument, fit as an example of God’s mercy and fit as an instrument that exercises pastoral care in ardent love and affection because knotty and stubbon hearts among the congregation are softened by the fire of such love: “He is full of love, he exhorts, he comforts, he reproves, and all in love. He is never angry with his people except when they will not be saved. How loth is a minister of Christ to see precious souls like so many jewels cast over-board into the dead-sea of hell” (p. 163).
As Watson concludes he leaves his people twenty points of application in a metaphor of a last will and testament. The twentieth set the proper perspective of all he wrote of the loving pastor. I write this because some may read Watson’s description and think his outline of the pastor is mere hyperbole, spoken in the moment. In a time when so much is written of how pastors are to live almost defensively among his people in light of the hurt they receive, point twenty says it all. The extent to which a pastor ponders eternity, is his hidden resource.
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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Johannes Cocceius, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God, trans. Casey Carmichael, vol. 3, Classic Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016). 408pp. Hardcover.
Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) was one of the foremost figures in the so-called Dutch Further Reformation. He taught that doctrine alone could not save anyone (333), but that the truth must accord with godliness. Many who know his name today picture him as an early-modern proponent of biblical theology, as opposed to the logical deductions involved in what we call systematic theology. While this review will highlight the caricature involved in this assumption, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God represents the first English translation of his most famous (and partly infamous) book. This book is important because it provides English-speaking readers a glimpse into the development of Reformed covenant theology at its height. This review will illustrate some of Cocceius’ eccentricities, some of the potential benefits of his work, and assess the quality and use of the translation.
Some of Cocceius’ Eccentricities
By any account, Cocceius was an eccentric theologian. Contrary to some misconceptions, he was not an early father of modern biblical theology, who offered an alternative to systematic theology. As the late Willem van Asselt highlights in his introduction, Cocceius wrote his own Loci Communes and other seventeenth-century authors shared his concern for expounding the Bible in its historical context. The primary issues that divided Cocceian’s from the followers of his opponent, Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), were his teaching on paresis vs. aphesis (193, 228-230, 245, 295) and his teaching that the Sabbath required the sanctification of life rather than one day in seven (34, 203-205, 226). Later Cocceians often attempted to incorporate Cartesian philosophy into Reformed theology, which the Voetians opposed vigorously. Cocceius taught that the Old Testament saints received paresis, in which God passed over sins for Christ’s sake, but not aphesis, which entailed the actual forgiveness of sins. He argued that only under the New Testament did Old and New Testament saints receive both. His explanation of the covenant and testament of God was eccentric as well. He argued for five abrogations of the covenant of works that occurred through the introduction of sin (ch. 3), the introduction of the covenant of grace (ch. 4), the types introduced under Moses with their New Testament fulfillment (ch. 10), the death of believers (ch. 14), and the resurrection of the dead (ch. 15). In this way, he taught that the effects and power of the covenant of works were gradually abolished by the covenant of grace. He also distinguished sharply between common Latin terms for covenant in use in his day. Foedus was a generic term for covenants, while pactum and testametum described unilateral covenants. Foedus, by contrast, often referred to bilateral covenants. While these distinctions were not unusual per se, his overarching covenantal scheme was. He taught a standard view of the intra-trinitarian pactum between the Father and the Son in which the Son agreed to take on flesh to redeem the elect from the broken covenant of works, giving the Holy Spirit to them as a result. The covenant of grace, which began in Genesis 3:15, was a testamentum that found its highest expression in Abraham. However, the Mosaic covenant was another testamentum that was a legal administration of the covenant of grace (pages 205-226 provide 71 clarifications as to why this was not a covenant or works and why Cocceius retained a Reformed view of the law of God). The New Testament replaced this inferior testamentum, yet both testaments had subservient foedera attached to them requiring faith and repentance. Readers expecting a book that traces the gradual unfolding of covenant theology in Scripture along the lines of Herman Witsius (1636-1708) will be surprised, and possibly disappointed, by Cocceius’ presentation of the doctrine.
The Potenital Benefits of Cocceius
In spite of such peculiarities, Cocceius is worth digesting. He makes readers think carefully through biblical texts, for instance, when he presses the words of the doxology in Romans 11:33-36 as a test of sound doctrine (166-167). Cocceius’ ability to lead his readers to think through extended passages of Scripture in their original languages provides one of the greatest benefits of his text. His treatments of the sacraments of the Old and New Testaments are also superb, particularly in relation to Christ’s spiritual presence in them. Even his treatment of the five abrogations of the covenant of works has value, since he shows the gradual ways in which Christ removes every effect of the fall from His elect. While most readers will not likely choose to describe this process in terms of a five-fold abrogation of the covenant of works, the general idea is both sound and edifying. Cocceius is also historically important, since he was well respected and read widely even by those who disagreed with his teaching at points. In spite of the peculiarities noted above, he is actually relatively easy to digest and he offers much material that is calculated to stir up devotion to the Lord. His love for Christ is both clear and potentially contagious.
Comments on the Translation
As for the translation itself, it is generally readable, but often rough. The translator often attempted to shorten long Latin sentences by adding punctuation. However, this frequently results in incomplete sentences and arguments that can test readers’ concentration in following extended arguments. The translator often retains Latin diction as well and occasionally chooses ambiguous English words to render Latin terms into awkward English. He also sometimes translates pronouns as “he” when the context requires “she,” such as in the extended treatment of Ezekiel 16. In spite of these shortcomings, the translation still conveys the core of Cocceius’ thought while highlighting the fact that something will always be lost in translation.
This translation of Cocceius’ Covenant and Testament of God is an important benchmark in historical studies. While the Latin language makes most classic works of Reformed theology inaccessible to modern readers, it served as a means in the seventeenth century of securing an international exchange of ideas. While the gradual appearance of translations such as this one will (hopefully) spur some Reformed readers to learn how to read Latin, this book helps reveal a vital part of a vast treasure of classic Reformed literature. This is a heritage that is worth recovering.

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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:

  1. Begin by reading some of the shorter, more practical writings of Goodwin, such as Patience and Its Perfect Work, which includes four sermons on James 1:1–5. This was written after much of Goodwin’s personal library was destroyed by fire (2:429–467). It contains much practical instruction on enhancing a spirit of submission.
  2. Read Certain Select Cases Resolved, which offers three experimental treatises. They reveal Goodwin’s pastoral heart for afflicted Christians. Each addresses specific struggles in the believer’s soul: (a) “A Child of Light Walking in Darkness” is a classic work of encouragement for the spiritually depressed based on Isaiah 50:10–11 (3:241–350). The subtitle summarizes its contents: “A Treatise shewing The Causes by which, The Cases wherein, and the Ends for which, God leaves His Children to Distress of Conscience, Together with Directions How to Walk so as to Come Forth of Such a Condition.” (b) “The Return of Prayers,” based on Psalm 85:8, is a uniquely practical work. It offers help in ascertaining “God’s answers to our prayers” (3:353–429). (c) “The Trial of a Christian’s Growth” (3:433–506), based on John 15:1–2, is a masterpiece on sanctification. It focuses on mortification and vivification. For a mini-classic on spiritual growth, this gem remains unsurpassed. You might also read The Vanity of Thoughts, based on Jeremiah 4:14 (3:509–528). This work, often republished in paperback, stresses the need for bringing every thought captive to Christ. It also describes ways to foster that obedience.
  3. Read some of Goodwin’s great sermons. Inevitably, they are strong, biblical, Christological, and experimental (2:359–425; 4:151–224; 5:439–548; 7:473–576; 9:499–514; 12:1–127).
  4. Delve into Goodwin’s works that explain major doctrines, such as:
    1. An Unregenerate Man’s Guiltiness Before God in Respect of Sin and Punishment (10:1–567). This is a weighty treatise on human guilt, corruption, and the imputation and punishment of sin. In exposing the total depravity of the natural man’s heart, this book is unparalleled. Its aim is to produce a heartfelt need for saving faith in Christ rather than offer the quick fix of superficial Christendom.
    2. The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith (8:1–593). This is a frequently reprinted classic on faith. Part 1, on the objects of faith, focuses on God’s nature, Christ, and the free grace of God revealed in His absolute promises. Part 2 deals with the acts of faith—what it means to believe in Christ, to obtain assurance, to find joy in the Holy Ghost, and to make use of God’s electing love. One section beautifully explains the “actings of faith in prayer.” Part 3 addresses the properties of faith—its excellence in giving all honor to God and Christ; its difficulty in reaching beyond the natural abilities of man; its necessity in requiring us to believe in the strength of God. The conclusion provides “directions to guide us in our endeavours to believe.”
    3. Christ the Mediator (2 Cor. 5:18–19), Christ Set Forth (Rom. 8:34), and The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth are great works on Christology (5:1–438; 4:1–92; 4:93–150). Christ the Mediator sets forth Jesus in His substitutionary work of humiliation. It rightly deserves to be called a classic. Christ Set Forth proclaims Christ in His exaltation, and The Heart of Christ explores the tenderness of Christ’s glorified human nature shown to His people on earth. Goodwin is more mystical in this work than anywhere else in his writings, but as Paul Cook has ably shown, his mysticism is kept within the boundaries of Scripture. Cook says Goodwin is unparalleled “in his combination of intellectual and theological power with evangelical and homiletical comfort.”
    4. Gospel Holiness in Heart and Life (7:129–336) is a convicting masterpiece, based on Philippians 1:9–11. It explains the doctrine of sanctification in every sphere of life.
    5. The Knowledge of God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ (4:347–569), combined with The Work of the Holy Spirit (6:1–522), explore the profound work in the believer’s soul of each of the three divine persons. The Work of the Holy Spirit is particularly helpful for understanding the doctrines of regeneration and conversion. It carefully distinguishes the work of “the natural conscience” from the Spirit’s saving work.
    6. The Glory of the Gospel (4:227–346) consists of two sermons and a treatise based on Colossians 1:26–27. It should be read along with The Blessed State of Glory Which the Saints Possess After Death (7:339–472), based on Revelation 14:13.
    7. A Discourse of Election (9:1-498) delves deeply into issues such as the supralapsarian-infralapsarian debate, which wrestles with the moral or rational order of God’s decrees. It also deals with the fruits of election (e.g., see Book IV on 1 Peter 5:10 and Book V on how God fulfils His covenant of grace in the generations of believers).
    8. The Creatures and the Condition of Their State by Creation (7:1–128). Goodwin is more philosophical in this work than in others.
  5. Prayerfully and slowly digest Goodwin’s 900-plus page exposition of Ephesians 1:1 to 2:11 (1:1–564; 2:1–355). Alexander Whyte wrote of this work, “Not even Luther on the Galatians is such an expositor of Paul’s mind and heart as is Goodwin on the Ephesians.”
  6. Save for last Goodwin’s exposition of Revelation (3:1–226) and his only polemical work, The Constitution, Right Order, and Government of the Churches of Christ (11:1–546). Independents would highly value this polemic, while Presbyterians probably wouldn’t, saying Goodwin is trustworthy on every subject except church government. Goodwin’s work does not degrade Presbyterians, however. One of his contemporaries who argued against Goodwin’s view on church government confessed that Goodwin conveyed “a truly great and noble spirit” throughout the work.

**Reformation Heritage Books has the twelve-volume set of Goodwin's Works for $220.

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In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised he would build his church. How can this be, if he rose and ascended before its formal birth at Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles (ch.2)? The book itself helps us here as the “acts” of the Apostles were carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit. The book fulfills Christ’s promise in Acts 1:8 that the disciples would be witnesses everywhere geographically and to everyone ethnically once the Holy Spirit had come upon them. As the book unfolds, so the Church takes shape through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. Still, how does Jesus build his church if he is absent bodily? Simply, through the Holy Spirit.
In this way, we identify the resurrected and ascended Christ with the Holy Spirit through their joint activity in the progress of the church not in the sense that they were fused as one person in the loss of personal distinction. We see such identity in 1 Corinthians 15:45 where Paul calls Christ the last Adam as a “quickening” or life-giving “Spirit.” In 2 Corinthians 3:17 Paul also declares, “the Lord is that Spirit” who removes the veil of blindness to the Old Testament. Other verses such as Romans 8:9, Philippians 1:9, and 1 Peter 1:1 utilize the phrase the “Spirit of Christ”, which was used interchangeably with the Holy Spirit.
This identity between Christ and the Spirit existed in such 17th century Puritans as John Owen. In Pneumatologia: Or, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (1674; Works, vol. 3), he states that the sending the Holy Spirit was absolutely essential to the work to which Jesus called the Apostles as his “witnesses” in Acts 1:8. “Here lay the foundation of the church,” claims Owen. On the Spirit’s “presence and assistance alone depended the whole success of their ministry in the world.” By the promise of the Holy Spirit, Christ “founded the church, and by it he built it up.” Very simply, without the Spirit to build the church, it would come to an end: “no dispensation of the Spirit, no church.”
Owen also notes that is “the Holy Spirit who supplies the bodily absence of Christ, and by him doth he accomplish all his promises to the church.” The Spirit is the “vicar of Christ” (Vicarium Christi), the subsitiute who “represents his person, and dischargeth his promised work.” No doubt, Owen had in mind the pompous claims of popes [e.g. Innocent III  (1198-1216) and Boniface VIII (1294-1303)] for the title the “Vicar of Christ.” Such a role belongs to the Spirit alone. He attests: 
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.
Parallel to Owen, Sinclair Ferguson (The Holy Spirit) more recently notes, “Christ on his ascension came into such complete possession of the Spirit who had sustained him throughout his ministry that economically the resurrected Christ and the Spirit are one to us.” The risen Christ is a life-giving Spirit, “the source of our resurrection existence” and, according to  2 Cor 3:17–18, “the Spirit has been ‘imprinted’ with the character of Christ.” This does not nescessitate an “ontological fusion” obliterating “the distinction in Spirit” but “a complete intimacy of relationship between Jesus and the Spirit.” Similarly, Richard Gaffin identifies the “unity of Christ and the Spirit in saving activity” for a “functional, dynamic identity” of “essence and power” (Resurrection and Redemption).
What a glorious thought! Jesus Christ right now through the Spirit is building his Church to its completion. The very gates of Hades, the realm of the dead, cannot hold back the progress of this work (Matt. 16:18). Jesus guaranteed the victory, this trampling of the gates of death, through his own death and resurrection (Matt. 16:21).  Death as the wages of sin could not hold him, because he never sinned. The risen ascended Savior could send the promised Spirit to build the church, through whom he would not leave his disciples as comfortless orphans. He promised, “I will come to you,” and he did through the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17-18).  The work of the church did not depend on the disciples then and it does not depend on us now. What a relief!  What a caution (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 4:7).