I recently discovered a book on how not to lose your faith in seminary. As I read the book description, I simultaneously understood the reality of the temptation that the authors aimed at and I was thankful that the institution in which I teach self-consciously militates against such tendencies. It is possible to study theology and learn about the God of Scripture while growing distant from him while doing so, and even by doing so. The purpose of theology is the true knowledge of the true God. The good of our neighbors is one of its primary results. If we lose sight of this purpose, then studying Greek and Hebrew, church history, systematic theology, preaching, and other subjects related to the ministry can become abstract ways of holding the triune God at a distance rather than Spirit blessed means of knowing him more fully.

Defining Theology

How we define theology plays a large role in determining how we pursue the study of theology. While post-Enlightenment Reformed theology tended to define theology as a discourse concerning God and systematic theology as the science of God, classic Reformed authors generally defined theology as the doctrine of living to God and the system of doctrine as spiritual wisdom. Following in the train of Peter Ramus, William Perkins, William Ames, and many others, Peter van Mastricht defined theology as “the doctrine of living for God through Christ.” This had enormous implications for how he approached the task of theology. It potentially has equally enormous implications for how we pursue theology and whether or not the academic pursuit of theology draws us near to the triune God or drives us far from him. After noting how Mastricht defined theology, the bulk of this post will focus on how his theoretical and practical definition of theology shaped the academic pursuit of theology and what we can learn from this model today. A subsequent post will examine his definition of theology in more detail.

How we define theology has vital implications for how we study and teach theology. If our definition of theology is merely scientific and dry, then our pursuit and propagation of theology will likely be scientific and dry. Conversely, if our definition of theology includes the true knowledge of the true God, then even when we study academic and even dry theological works, then we knowing the right God in the right way will never be far away. As noted above, Mastricht defined theology as “the doctrine of living for God through Christ” (64). He noted that theology must be both theoretical and practical. He argued this point primarily from 1 Timothy 6:2-3, which indicates that God’s truth accords with godliness (66). Herman Bavinck would later echo Mastricht, who wrote, “Just as practice without theory is nothing, so theory without practice is empty and vain” (70). Theology is doctrine in that it involves teaching. However, it is the doctrine of living to God because this is the goal and meaning of life for human beings. These assertions reflect the idea that the Bible never speaks about the knowledge of God in abstraction. Eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (Jn. 17:3). There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Without faith in Christ, it is impossible to know the right God in the right way. For that matter, without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). If theology has any biblical meaning, then it must involve coming to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18). While these are my texts rather than Mastricht’s, they illustrate the value of his definition of theology. If theology is the doctrine of living for God through Christ, then should we not study theology, whether in church, in the seminary, or at home, aiming to live to the Triune God through what he teaches us about himself in his Word?

Why it Matters

What implications should the theoretical-practical character of theology have for the academic study of theology? Mastricht listed eleven (94-95). These points can help us understand the implications of classic Reformed definitions of theology more fully. He recommended the following:

  1. First, we should “presuppose the excellence, usefulness, necessity, sanctity, grandeur, and even the difficulty of theology.”
  2. Second, students must have a teachable, hard working, and pious character in order to study theology. John Owen, whose prolegomena Mastricht earlier cited (74), went so far as to say that students who had correct theological opinions yet were not born of the Spirit and united to Christ were Christian philosophers rather than true theologians.
  3. Third, theological students must aim in their studies at the glory of God, the good of the church, and their own salvation.
  4. Fourth, an “introductory curriculum” should include philology (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin), philosophy (logic, physics, metaphysics, mathematics, and “practical philosophy”), and history (including geography and chronology).
  5. Fifth, biblical studies follow, which should included theoretical and practical conclusions drawn from Scripture.
  6. Sixth, dogmatic or positive theology comes next, which introduces catechetical teaching and the system of theology taught in Scripture.
  7. Seventh, elenctic or polemical theology follows, by which we learn to refute errors.
  8. Eighth, practical theology flows out of the preceding, which includes moral, ascetic, casuistic, and political (church government) theology.
  9. Ninth, “antiquarian theology,” or the study of ecclesiastical history is helpful.
  10. Tenth, the process of continual hearing, reading, meditation, prayer, and disputation solidify and develop our skills as theologians.
  11. Eleventh, all of these studies should progress in an orderly manner over the years. He then recommends following a course of studies according to the standard counsel of authors such as Erasmus, Hyperius, Crocius, Alsted, “and the one to be considered above all, Voetius.”

Can students lose their faith while studying theology in theological seminaries? Can they transform reflections on the majesty of God for the purpose of serving the church, using every tool at their disposal to do so, into parsing words and memorizing vocabulary in order to pass tests? Of course they (we) can. Yet defining theology as the theoretical-practical doctrine of living to God through Christ makes it wholly our fault when this happens. Like studying theology in any context, the purpose of the academic study of theology is to know God and to make him known. Is it possible that defining theology in this theoretical-practical way might transform theological education today? It would at least remind both teachers and students of who they are and why they are doing what they are doing.

 


Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is Morton H. Smith Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

Congratulations to the two winners of Petrus Van Mastricht's Theoretical-Practical Theology Vol. 1: Michael M. from Spartanburg, South Carolina and Angela M. from Lakeside, California!
Enjoy Petrus Van Mastricht's Prolegomena! A big thank you to you both and all social media followers for reading Meet the Puritans!

 
Article 35 on the subject of "the Homilies" is unique among the reformed churches of Europe. We who live with the reprints of many seventeenth and eighteenth-century sermons preached by reformed pastors, it does not seem strange that doctrines should be set out in a sermon series. But there was no precedent for it at the time from either Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. Anglicans were the first (you're welcome!).
 
XXXV — Of the Homilies

The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies
1. Of the right Use of the Church. 
2. Against peril of Idolatry.
 3. Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
 4. Of good Works: first of Fasting. 
5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
 6. Against Excess of Apparel. 
7. Of Prayer.
 8. Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
 9. That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue.
 10. Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word.
 11. Of Alms-doing.
 12. Of the Nativity of Christ. 
13. Of the Passion of Christ.
 14. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
 15. Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
 16. Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
 17. For the Rogation-days.
 18. Of the State of Matrimony.
 19. Of Repentance.
 20. Against Idleness.
 21. Against Rebellion.
 
Article 35 is a 1571 update of Cranmer’s 1553 original that reflects the changes of the time. There was now a second series of Homilies to extend the teaching of the first series which was originally published in 1547. The first series (or book) of Homilies as a gospel instrument were a stroke of genius by Thomas Cranmer who as a man from the Midlands understood that there were both advantages and disadvantages in a country where one city, London, was both the financial and administrative capital with the two universities about nine hours ride or two days ride away from London. All the nation’s wealth and learning were loaded into the southeast of the country leaving a variegated religious landscape for most of England with the northern border still a disputed buffer zone with Scotland. It was faster to sail to the Continent than to go overland to Cranmer's hometown in Nottinghamshire. There were pockets of Reformation but gathered at market towns and ports with more access to Europe. But there were large regions languishing in a spiritual and social vacuum in the wake of the dissolution of the religious houses that provided most of what we might call today the social services and education. The new Tudor landlords that had assumed authority for a region of former monasteries may or may not be concerned with the souls of their people. There were new bishops and reorganized dioceses. In short, it was a pastoral challenge that would take more than 75 years to stabilize. One could even suggest it has never really been resolved. Cranmer had seen first-hand when living on the Continent the effectiveness of preaching from the pure Word of God and was convinced of its power. But in the shires of England, most of the clergy were local men who were literate but with no training in preaching. They did not have ready resources in books they owned or in the squire’s personal library. The many pastoral duties across a geographical area on a scale which would make a modern minister falter, also left them little time for preparation. 
 
Cranmer had experienced the same challenge on a smaller scale in the diocese of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII. His first experiment in a homiletical series was tested then. His solution was simple: give the minister a series of pre-written sermons to regularize the proclamation of the gospel and its application in the life of the Christian. Some of the sermons (or homilies as they were called at that time) were longer but could be divided up into sections for a sermon series. Ministers upon consultation with their local diocesan bishop, would either preach in conformance with the homilies or read them to their congregations. 
 
The homilies were meant to work alongside the various conventicles or “sermon workshops” we might say today. Conventicles were called within groups of parishes (deaneries) where local clergy would gather to preach and discuss their sermons under the mentoring of a more learned pastor authorized by their bishop to oversee their training. Although the conventicles became a political football with the Crown, the workshops were never completely eradicated. Bishops or local supporting gentry with a concern for the gospel would quietly support their work, particularly in areas where London was a very long way away. One need only point to the theologically rich sermons produced just a generation later as evidence and the hunger for good preaching in the shires that led to the establishment of a new locally funded institution of the lecturer. The lectureships were dedicated to preaching outside the established Sunday pattern. 
 
The first book of Homilies was written by a number of reformed churchmen, some are known to us. They can be divided into six doctrinal sermons and six sermons on the application of the doctrine in the life of the Christian. According to Gerald Bray's, A Fruitful Exhortation, we know who wrote all six of the doctrinal homilies, but only one of the application sermons (p. 5). The rest are anonymous. Cranmer probably wrote the sermon on Scripture and the trilogy on salvation (The Nature of Salvation, Faith, and the Relation between Faith and Good Works). The second book is much longer, about three times the length of the first edited by John Jewel. When first organized in 1563 there were twenty sermons, divided again into parts to form a series. Another was added in 1571 and in later editions two of the earlier sermons were divided, making one on Christ’s Passion for Good Friday and another on Rogation. Two of the sermons are adaptations of other reformed theologians. Idolatry is an adaptation of a Heinrich Bullinger work from 1539 with Gluttony and Drunkenness an adaptation of Peter Martyr Vermigli’s from 1571. The Homilies were thought of as two separate books, not being printed together until 1623. There is an entire cycle in the second book that covers the gospel days of the Christian year in Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, teaching a congregation their meaning and significance to the believer.
 
It is important to remember that the Homilies precede that of the Articles (which is why article 11 on justification references Cranmer’s homily on salvation by a different name) in their composition. They were written by reformed men like Cranmer, Edmund Grindal, and John Jewel or edited by them to express our common reformed heritage that they also brought to the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. A wise Anglican will read the homilies, the articles, and the other formularies as a unit where points of explanation and summary are joined to the application.  
 
Although we have new resources for the homilies in Gerald Brays’ popular A Fruitful Exhortation and Critical Edition, we are still waiting for a modernization of the text for use in small groups and adult Sunday School classes. Perhaps a patron and publisher will gather the necessary expertise to give us one. There are many idiosyncratic modernizations of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, for example, but what is sorely needed are quality modernizations of the formularies to the highest standard much along the lines of the work done by a translation committee that gave us the English Standard Version. With the modernization in place, a long-forgotten resource would find new use and value in an era where Christ-Centered preaching is little known among North American Anglicans.

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

For previous articles in this series, see here.

I have been warmly commending, Peter van Mastricht’s Theoretico-Practica Theologia for a decade. However, students have wondered whether my promises that someone was translating it into English were empty. Now that these promises are finally coming to fruition with the publication of this first volume, as one pastor asked me, “Why should I buy and read another systematic theology?”
 
One answer is to appeal to the glowing endorsement of the book from Jonathan Edwards, which is included on the back cover. Comparing Mastricht with Turretin, he noted, “they are both excellent.” Yet he added that Turretin was fuller on controversial points while Mastricht was better on the whole as a “universal system of divinity.” This led him to say that, as a whole, this book “is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting only the Bible.”
 
While a commendation from such a great luminary like Edwards will be enough to sell the set to many, others need more incentive. Below are four reasons why pastors should both buy Mastricht and not let him collect dust on their shelves. I will conclude with some suggestions on how to use this work in the ministry.
 
1. Mastricht wrote his theology for preachers
While modern pastors and students likely will not (and should not) adopt Mastricht’s exact method of preaching, they should learn from his goals. Today, it is common for men either to be academic theologians or to labor for the church without seeing any relevance of academic theology to the ministry of the local church. In the period known as Reformed orthodoxy, many ministers wedded a precise academic theology with the devotional needs of local congregations. The skill of translating content back and forth between these realms has become rare. Mastricht wrote his theology with scholastic precision without losing sight of the ministry and piety. This process should be a vital component of training pastors in every age.
 
2. Mastricht’s system was comprehensive
Mastricht wove exegesis, systematic theology, elenctic theology, and practical theology into a single system. He had something approaching the precision of Turretin and the devotion of Brakel. However, he neither reached the same level of precision as Turretin nor the same depth of devotion as Brakel. Yet few authors do everything that Mastricht does in a single volume. Turretin’s elenctic theology is fuller than Mastricht’s, but Mastricht includes it. Brakel’s pastor counsel is more robust than Mastricht’s, but he does not neglect it. At the same time, Mastricht’s exegetical and positive treatments of theology outstrip both of these other authors. While many classic Reformed authors included aspects of each of Mastricht’s four divisions in their theological systems, he is the only one that this author knows of that divided each chapter of his theology into these categories. This makes his work more comprehensive than most.
 
3. Mastricht’s theology was exegetical
Some readers enjoy the devotion of Brakel’s Christian’s Reasonable Service only to be disappointed with the quality of his biblical exegesis at points. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. While Mastricht’s devotional sections are not as searching or extensive as Brakel’s, his engagement with Scripture is often more satisfying. A good example is his treatment of the covenant of grace from Genesis 3:15. He drew out the idea that in the text there is a singular Seed of the woman and a corporate seed of the woman, both of which stand in opposition to the Serpent (singular) and his seed (plural). He thus established the union between Christ and his people in the application of the covenant of grace and showed the contrast and conflict between the church and the world. The basic ideas of his treatment of the covenant of grace as a whole were embedded in his exposition of this text. This pattern is true in virtually every chapter of his work. This feature not only makes modern readers grapple with and remember key passages of Scripture related to each doctrine. It gives us a window into understanding early-modern approaches to interpreting Scripture more fully. This is important because it represents a model of biblical interpretation that was unafraid of drawing theological conclusions and applications from Scripture, which can provide a refreshing challenge and compliment to modern biblical interpretation.
 
4. Mastricht’s theological system promotes devotion to the triune God
People do not frequently associate scholasticism with piety. Yet Reformed scholastic theological, such as this one, wove communion with God directly into their definitions and practice of theology. While earlier authors such as Junius, Polanus, and Wollebius addressed the godly character of the theologian in tandem with the nature of true theology, theologians of the Dutch Second Reformation often developed the practical implications of theology more fully. This is most obvious in one of Mastricht’s teachers, Johannes Hoornbeeck, who wrote a theological system dedicated exclusively to bringing out the practical implications of each doctrine. Mastricht falls solidly into this tradition. He frequently organized his praxis sections around the four uses of Scripture listed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He defined theology as the doctrine of living to God through Christ (per Christum). This makes it clear that the aim of theology was to know the right God in the right way, which is through Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. The Spirit makes this possible by using divinely ordained means to bring us to Christ and to make us like him.
 
The trinitarian devotion implied in his definition of theology carries through the entire work. Mastricht devoted a distinct chapter to each divine person as well as one to the doctrine of the Trinity more broadly. He also self-consciously wove the glory of the triune God into every locus of theology. While such trinitarian reflection and devotion was rare in English literature during the seventeenth-century, the Dutch concern over the Arminianism marginalization of the Trinity, who denied that the Trinity was a fundamental article of the faith, promoted a more robust use of the doctrine. Although academic theologians are giving increasing attention to the Trinity, these reflections rarely reach the average pastor, let alone Christians more broadly. This makes Mastricht’s way of doing theology is both timely and refreshing.
 
Conclusion
Most Latin Reformed theology will never be translated into English, but van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology certainly deserves to be. After buying Mastricht, how do you prevent it from collecting dust on your shelves? The best way is to plan how you will use it and when. This could involve breaking the work into segments that you can read one week at a time until you finish it. Some have done this with works, such as Bavinck, and have included friends to make it more profitable. You can also read sections based on what you are doing. For example, pastors administer the sacraments regularly. Pick up Mastricht on this subject next time you prepare for a baptism or for the Lord’s Supper (once this volume is translated). Or, read Mastricht on the Trinity while you are preaching through John’s gospel or on the attributes of God while preaching through the OT. Doing so prayerfully and regularly can only enrich and deepen your ministry. However you choose to read Mastricht, read him to grow in your affection for the Triune God and his Word. Let us show our gratitude to God who is providentially making this great work available to us in English by taking advantage of it in our studies.

Ryan McGraw (@RyanMMcGraw1) is Morton H. Smith Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

 

A number of years ago, a young man who had been trained at a Reformed seminary that subscribes to the Westminster Standards was being examined for licensure on the floor of Presbytery. He was asked, "Is the covenant of grace conditional? If so, what is or are the conditions?" Without hesitation, the young man confidently said that it was unconditional. There were no conditions on our part in the covenant of grace. If I remember correctly, the young man also referenced Thomas Boston and the Marrow Men. The problem, however, was that the young man’s response was in direct violation of the teaching of the Westminster Standards! Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 says that the Lord requires man to have faith in order to be saved. Similarly, Westminster Larger Catechism 32 says that faith is required as “the condition to interest them [sinners] in him [the Mediator].”
 
This anecdote highlights the importance of Whitney G. Gamble’s book, Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly,” which has been recently published by Reformation Heritage Books. In the final paragraph of her book, she wrote,
Antinomianism as a religious sect only grew after 1650; among other things, it embodied an extremely influential approach to interpreting Scripture that continues to be seen and heard in sermons and commentaries today (157).
I believe she is absolutely correct. English Antinomian teachings, to one degree or another, have influenced and continue to influence the Reformed world to the point that we espouse similar doctrines in contradiction to the Westminster Standards (as was the case in the opening story) or even to the point that we interpret the Westminster Standards in light of them. There is a good deal of irony in this since Gamble shows in her book, as Ryan McGraw pointed out in his recent review of it, that the Westminster divines as a whole were deeply concerned about Antinomian teachings, and wrote their documents in light of them. In particular, the “specter of antinomianism created in the divines an urgency to explain clearly and carefully the doctrine of justification, the place of faith and works in salvation, the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and the role of Christ’s work in redemption” (84).
 
The role of faith in salvation, which is connected to covenant conditions, is an example of the influence of Antinomian teaching in the Reformed world. The Antinomians believed that faith was not a condition for justification at all, not even an instrumental condition. If faith was necessary in any sense for or unto justification then it would be a legalistic work (143). Faith, therefore, followed justification and declared to the believer’s conscience that one is justified in Christ (51). The divines “were keen to combat” this view of faith in justification (109). And yet, it is one that we find in Reformed circles, including in such stalwarts as Herman Bavinck and Louis Berkhof.
 
In order to protect the gospel from nomism, Bavinck argued that faith is “not an instrument…by which a person accepts Christ but is a sure knowledge and firm confidence that the Holy Spirit works in one’s heart and by which he [the Spirit] persuades and assures people that, despite all their sins they share in Christ and all his benefits (RD, 4:222).”  This is a classic English Antinomian position that was rejected by the Westminster Assembly. But that didn’t keep Bavinck from citing chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith to support his view! Contrary to Bavinck, WCF 14.2 says “the principal acts of saving faith are accepting...Christ alone for justification,” and WLC 73 says, “Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God...as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ...” Berkhof, who tends to follow Bavinck, essentially says the same thing (see this post). Since Bavinck and Berkhof are rightly held in high esteem, their influence will be great and will no doubt extend to their errors on justification.
 
This brings us back to the usefulness of Gamble’s book. Her book will help you understand the antinomian context in which the Westminster Standards were written. This in turn will help you properly interpret the Standards as well as to discern contemporary views that are contrary to them.
Article 34 on the traditions of the church is another excellent example of the application of sola scriptura among the formularies of the English Reformation. It addresses the issue of the uniformity of ceremonies in the church through what has already been established in article 6 on the final authority of Scripture, of the nature of local church in article 19 where the “pure Word of God is preached” with the sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance, and article 20 which establishes the limit of its authority to conformity with the Scripture.
 
XXXIV — Of the Traditions of the Church

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. 
Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
 
This article has a longer history than most of the Thirty-nine articles. Its life begins at the center of the Reformation of Europe. The first paragraph is drawn from Cranmer’s notes on the Augsburg Confession as well as the Thirteen Articles, article 5 on the nature of the church. Cranmer wrote the Thirteen Articles in 1538. They were discovered among his papers in the early nineteenth century. Written when Cranmer was still Archbishop under Henry VIII, it demonstrates how he already set the reformation in England as part of the wider Protestant Reformation. So, it is no surprise that Cranmer’s article 5 has language similar to article 7 of the Augsburg Confession
 
The church is the assembly of the saints in which the gospel is taught purely, and the sacraments are administered rightly. And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says [Eph. 4.5-6]: "One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…" [The Augsburg Confession Latin Text Article 7 p. 43].
 
Notice also the similarities with article 19 on the nature of the church. The worship is to state clearly and in detail, leave no room for doubt, that it is the gospel of Christ alone that is proclaimed. We bring nothing in sacrifice, save our souls and bodies in a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. 
 
Our Anglican forebears always recognized a Christian tradition, but only a tradition that is based upon or derived from Scripture, and not one that equaled or surpassed it. The reason is simple, the goal of Scripture is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator. Traditions, rites, and ceremonies must therefore be measured according to Scripture's purpose and aim. The need for such a measure is equally simple — the continuing presence of sin in the believer that required God’s grace to reveal himself to us. Christianity is a revealed religion. It is dependent upon God’s Word so that we may worship him with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12.28-29).
 
Cranmer knew how easily tradition might be corrupted by human sinfulness in human-made additions. The lesson of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32:4, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”) was not to deny the Lord God, but to represent him according to a fallen human understanding. Reformation according to the Word of God must necessarily strip away human conceit. As Cranmer reminds us in his 1548 work, "Of Ceremonies, Why Some are Abolished, and Some Retained" still found in our 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
 
This our excessive multitude of Ceremonies was so great, and many of them so dark, that they did more confound and darken, than declare and set forth Christ's benefits unto us. …Furthermore, the most weighty cause of the abolishment of certain Ceremonies was, that they were so far abused, partly by the superstitious blindness of the rude and unlearned, and partly by the unsatiable avarice of such as sought more their own lucre, than the glory of God, that the abuses could not well be taken away, the thing remaining still.
 
As the article’s last sentence confirms, the traditions and ceremonies pass through the grid of the sole measure of Scripture, “so that all things be done to edifying.” The article’s language alludes to Of Ceremonies use of 1 Corinthians 14. Article 34 in the same way takes Paul’s concern seriously, hence the open rebuke due to anyone who opposes an established practice that makes our Savior clear. Our practices must not go against Scripture because it is only by God’s Word that God’s people are built up. In other words, Anglicans must take care not to isolate edification from its fountain, the Lord Jesus. 
 
Article 34 thus confirms Christian liberty but only on the condition of this godly and what one might call a “gospel-chastened” conscience. Decisions concerning worship in the amount of water used in baptism, where the font is placed, what, if any musical instruments are played, how many passages of Scripture are read, how frequently we gather for the Lord’s Supper what type of bread, what color wine, what posture we should assume when praying in a service, what vestment a minister ought to wear as a sign of his office are continually tempered by the question, “Is the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ clarified or obscured by the practice?”
 
If there ever were a time for a fresh review of article 34 among North American Anglicans, it is now. I am often called to review new local parish liturgies drafted by Anglicans who have never actually officiated an Anglican service before. What I find is how an uncertain but very keen new minister will press into the order just about every liturgical possibility apart from the proverbial kitchen sink. The result is a turgid and confusing product that hinders edification of the body because the Lord Jesus himself is obscured. The 2019 ACNA Prayer Book is a retrograde step along similar lines. From the vantage point the historical formularies provide, begs this question: is the gospel understood clearly at all among Anglican ministers today? If we believe what we pray, one could conclude not at all.
 
There is a reason why the instructions in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are so spare. It is because its rites are simple, not simplistic. It’s simple because its goal is singular: that the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified. Christ, who is the gospel, is clearly set forth and explained in both its content and the structure of its rites and ceremonies. Do we truly think that we have a clearer grasp of the harm of rites and ceremonies than our Anglican forebears who spent a good portion of their lives under their weight? 
 
When asked by a new member why candles were not used in the worship at our parish of All Souls, Cherry Hill, I ask them to search through the prayer book rites of Morning and Evening Prayer, then The Order of the Ministration of Holy Communion to find them. They returned later, puzzled. “I couldn’t find them mentioned.” I smiled, “Indeed. That’s because they’re not there. But the Lord Jesus Christ, is.”
 

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

For previous articles in this series, see here.

Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834),Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.


The Puritan Motivation for Missionary Prayer: The Efficiency of the Holy Spirit

The Reformation rediscovered the work of the Holy Spirit as opposed to that of human religious activity, such as the priestly administration of the rites of the church. Zechariah 4:6 says God’s temple will be built “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Calvin said, “We ought to be so dependent on God alone, as to be fully persuaded that his grace is sufficient for us” (Calvin, Commentary on Zech. 4:1–6). This belief led men and women to rely upon God in prayer and to resist their innate tendency to rely upon human ability. John Howe (1630–1705) wrote, “There is as great an aptness to trust in other means and let out our hearts to them. An arm of flesh signifies a great deal, when the power of an almighty Spirit is reckoned as nothing. And persons are apt to be very contriving, and prone to forecast, how such and such external forms would do our business and make the church and the Christian interest hugely prosperous” (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, 243). 
 
Scripture and experience also awakened Reformers to the reality of large-scale outpourings of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of many sinners, lifting up the church to new degrees of holiness. John Knox (ca. 1510–1572) wrote of a remarkable work of God in Scotland in 1559, saying, “God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds” (Murray, The Puritan Hope, 243). The Holy Spirit can do great things, far beyond our limited aspirations. 
 
Confidence in the promises of God and the power of the Holy Spirit should thus lead us, in the words of Howe, “to wait patiently and pray earnestly” for a worldwide spiritual harvest. We can be sure as well that “he will give his Spirit to them that ask him” (Murray, The Puritan Hope, 254-55).
 
The Instrumentality of the Gospel
John Calvin and the Puritans taught the doctrine of sovereign or unconditional election: that God has chosen certain individuals and ordained them to eternal life, to glorify His grace in their salvation (Eph. 1:4–6). At the same time, they said that God brings His elect to faith and salvation through the preaching of the gospel (Eph. 1:13). Therefore, the Reformers and Puritans labored to spread the gospel (Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 54–72, 143–69). They trained and sent out gospel preachers and prayed for the propagation of the gospel in the lost world.
 
William Perkins (1558–1602), a patriarch of English Puritanism, said a fundamental principle of Christianity is that Christ and His benefits must be applied to the soul by faith, and faith comes only by the hearing of the Word (Workes, 1:2). The gospel is “the instrument, and, as it were, the conduit pipe of the Holy Ghost, to fashion and derive faith into the soul: by which faith, they which believe, do, as with a hand, apprehend Christ’s righteousness” (Workes, 1:70). Perkins taught people to pray for God to send gospel preachers into the world. He wrote in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, “When we shall see a people without knowledge, and without good guides & teachers, or when we see one stand up in the congregation not able to teach, here is matter for mourning…. It is time to say, Lord, let thy kingdom come.” Perkins said Christians must pray for gospel ministers and “pray that their hearts may be set for the building of God’s kingdom, for the beating down of the kingdom of sin and Satan, and for the saving of the souls of his people” (Workes, 1:336, 339. These pages are consecutive in the book; the latter should read 337).
 
Christ has given His church the commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20). So Matthew Henry wrote, “Salvation by Christ should be offered to all, and none excluded that did not by their unbelief and impenitence exclude themselves” (Commentaries, 5:361–62). In light of Christ’s compassion and command to pray for laborers (Matt. 9:35–38), Henry said, “All that love Christ and souls, should show it in their earnest prayers to God…that he would send forth more skillful, faithful, wise, and industrious labourers into his harvest; that he would raise up such as he would own in the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints; would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and succeed them in it” (Commentaries, 5:105). God’s appointment and use of this great means of grace for the salvation of men encourages us to pray for the calling, training, and sending forth of men who will preach the gospel to the very ends of the earth. 
 
 

Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.

 

 

Throughout the length of our study we have underlined the narrative nature of the articles; thus the exposition on church discipline in articles 32-36 follows logically from the previous articles on the nature of the church, the gospel ministry, and the sacraments.

XXXII — OF THE MARRIAGE OF PRIESTS
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

The title of Cranmer’s 1553 original was, “The State of the Single Life is Commanded to No Man by the Word of God” and consisted of the first clause only: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded to vow the state of the single life without marriage, nor by God’s law are they compelled to abstain from marriage.” The second clause was added by Archbishop Parker in 1563, giving the positive and biblically faithful rendering of marriage and godliness.

The phrase, “to vow the estate of single life” is very specific and should not be understood as the single life in general. Both Archbishops Cranmer and Parker had the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy in mind. Parker particularly as the doctrine was affirmed by the Council of Trent in November 1563 and remains in force to the present day.

CANON I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is nothing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema.

One should also not make too much of the title change as has been done in the past. Some Anglicans have wrongly used the article as a proof-text for the idea that that the use of sacerdos rather than presbuteros proves that the Anglican doctrine has a more Catholic sacerdotal character than a Protestant ministerial one. The article is also used in the same manner to support the odd notion that the Anglican office of deacon was always understood as transitional office toward the priesthood rather than the vocational and permanent office in Christ’s church. A simple explanation of the title change is one that we have encountered before. It was to bring the Reformed Protestant Church of England into harmony with its continental brothers. The 1563/71 title, De conjugio sacerdotum is drawn from the earlier German Reformation confessions [Augsburg Confession 1530, Part II, article xxiii. Smalcald Articles, 1537, article 11]. The context of the German articles clearly addresses the Roman Catholic doctrine, and the Augsburg Confessional article gathers bishop, presbyter, and deacon in its exposition as we read here. The references never describe Protestant ministry as a sacerdotal one. Therefore article 31 is likewise specific toward Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrines.

It is important to note how once again the articles apply the rule of sola scriptura to the doctrine and ministry of the church. There is no prohibition in Scripture to celibacy or abstention from marriage. The article says that what matters is God's law and godliness for everyone in the Church, and as far as sex is concerned, that means singleness or marriage. By the proper use of God’s Word (see Articles 6 and 20), our Anglican forebears ended the idea that celibacy was a godlier way of life, but at the same time added that there were high standards expected in marriage.

A wise Anglican will also read the article in light of the remaining historical formularies. The doctrine of marriage that underlines the article comes from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony which in its opening exhortation sets out the biblical description of marriage as well as its biblical foundation in the sadly neglected homily provided at the end of the service. It is worth quoting it in full here.

ALL ye that are married or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife, even as himself.

Likewise, the same Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaketh thus to all men that are married; Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them.

Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.

Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife. Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.

Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.

And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Next, the Anglican will study the Homily on Matrimony in the Second Book of Homilies for the effort of godliness in married life. Published in 1571, the same year the article was promulgated. The first part of the homily is taken from a sermon by the Lutheran reformer Vitus Theodorus (Veit Dietrich) of Nuremberg. He was Martin Luther’s housemate and confident, accompanying him to the Marburg Colloquy between Luther and Zwingli in 1529. The remainder of the homily is drawn from John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians, homily xxvi [Bray, Homilies 472].

Wherefore, for as much as matrimony serveth as well to avoid sin and offence as to the increase of the kingdom of God, you, as all other which enter that state, must acknowledge this benefit of God with pure and thankful minds, for that he hath so ruled your hearts that ye follow no the example of the wicked world who set their delight in filthiness of sin, where both of you stand in the fear of God and abhor all filthiness.


Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018).
 
This series of books introduces readers to historical figures and backgrounds surrounding the Assembly that produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. As the church approaches four-hundred years after the production of these documents, she must grapple with the fact that she needs to understand the different world in which they arose in order to keep using them today. Whitney Gamble’s contribution to this series is particularly important because she shows ably how the threat of antinomianism shaped the concerns of the Westminster divines and the documents that they produced at virtually every turn. Antinomianism did not necessarily mean the same thing in the seventeenth-century as it does now. Yet Gamble’s thorough contextual study of this issue will help readers both understand the theology behind the Westminster Standards and see parallels to contemporary issues that face the church today.
 
Strengths
This book is well-written, thoroughly researched, and clearly argued. Gamble wisely begins the narrative of antinomianism well before the first meeting of the Westminster Assembly, which turned its attention heavily to this topic for the first two months of its meetings. She appeals to how various authors used David’s sin, repentance, and restoration to illustrate the different theological positions involved (conclusion). This provides readers with a clear point of comparison that makes this study easy to follow. Antinomians, such as John Eaton, argued that God saw sin in David, but that he no longer does so in believers, because David belonged to the old age rather than to the new covenant (16). They also argued that faith was a means of realizing that one had already been justified rather than an instrument through which one receives justification (50-54). Gamble traces the initial effort of the Westminster divines to revise the Thirty-Nine Articles and their subsequent fresh formulation of issues such as justification, faith, repentance, and good works. She shows the thorny issues involved in the interrelationship between these doctrines and provides a faithful roadmap of the theological options available at the time. She concludes on the one that the Assembly’s work was largely a failure in that the Westminster Standards did not become the confession of the English church, yet, on the other hand, the continuing influence of these standards on the church world-wide is staggering (157). If antinomianism is integral to the history of these documents, then this study provides essential background to understanding what they mean.
 
Many of Gamble’s findings are important for historical and for contemtporary theology. For example, her assertion that associating the Sinai covenant with the covenant of works was a traditional antinomian move, while requiring some careful qualifications, is an important point in the historical development of Reformed covenant theology. She even challenges the valuable findings of Mark Jones on this point, arguing for a lesser degree of diversity within the Assembly over the nature of the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace (139). Gamble’s historical work will bring a fresh voice to the table in contemporary discussions of such issues. This is also true in relation to the question as to whether or not faith is a condition of the covenant of grace. Antinomians regarded treating faith as a condition of the covenant as legalism and they tended to dismiss imperatives in the Scriptures by relegating them to promoting the conviction of sin (50). What made the antinomian error so dangerous was that most of what the antinomians had to say was true. The covenant of grace depended wholly on Christ and not on believers or on their faith. The Holy Spirit did create an obedient disposition in Christians, making obedience natural and a matter of course. However, this did not remove the biblical realities that believers were united to Christ by faith and that they were “children of wrath” before they embraced him. Teaching that salvation does not depend on our faith is not the same thing as saying that Spirit-supplied faith is not a condition of entrance into the covenant of grace and of interest in Christ (144). Moreover, the fact that Christians are delivered from the law does not negate the fact that the Spirit writes the law on their hearts as they hear, study, and practice its teachings. This is a great benefit of union with Christ and one of the primary objects of redemption in Christ. Like most historical and contemporary errors, antinomianism was mostly right in what it asserted. Yet the places in which it was incomplete had, and continue to have, massive theological and practical implications. Gamble’s study has potential for clarifying such discussions.
 
Weakness
There is one significant weakness in this work. It is interesting that the author aimed initially to study debates between John Owen and Richard Baxter, yet, in the end, Baxter receives no mention and Owen only one passing reference. Gamble stresses the debates and writings of the Westminster divines to the neglect of the broader theological context, both in England and on the continent. This makes it more difficult for readers to understand where theological debates at Westminster fit in the broader Reformed world. For example, when treating the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, her analysis of the Assembly’s conclusions are sound, but it is surprising that she makes no reference to the background of this debate in the international controversy that started between Johannes Piscator and Theodore Beza. Her analysis of the Westminster Assembly’s minutes and related documents is superb, but the narrow context that she sets limits the reach of her work.
 
Studies like this one can help readers better understand the meaning of the Westminster Standards. The relatively recent publication of the Assembly’ Minutes and Papers adds a new dimension to such studies. While delving into these documents is not a sufficient cause of creating a broad picture of the development of the thought standing behind these doctrinal standards, it is a necessary one. Gamble’s book takes us one step closer to doing so in relation to a vital issue that touches many areas of the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

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