Monday, October 22, 2007

God's 'Plants and Stampes': Civil War Preaching and Personal Application

Uncertain times demand certain preaching.

At the dawn of the 1640s, Charles I assembled the ‘Short Parliament’ only to dissolve it ‘shortly’ thereafter when it refused to grant him the money he needed to recover from the first of two Bishops Wars (Bellum Episcopale) with Scotland. Later in 1640, the ‘Long Parliament’ assembled and soon made it clear that they were interested in discussing only domestic grievances against the King. These grievances, largely religious in nature, would ultimately lead to the English Civil Wars.

With Civil War looming the Parliament quickly established a series of national fasts that called the nation to seek God’s wisdom in the seemingly inevitable conflict. To commemorate the fast, notable preachers delivered thundering messages to parliament. These preachers were mostly of a ‘puritan’ mind and saw this conflict as the opportunity to usher in a completed Reformation in England. Charles had long irritated the ‘godly’ through his partnership with Archbishop Laud, who had fitted the churches and chapels of England with ‘popish’ accoutrements in the 1630s. This was their chance for a grand reversal.

Stephen Marshall was a frequent ‘fast’ preacher. The following is an excerpt from Marshall’s sermon to the House of Commons on 17 November 1640. Listen as he calls parliament to carry out the business of Reformation in England:

"And then in your great Counsaile, bee yee purgers and preservers of our Religion. Looke thoroughly what is amiss, and pluck up every plant that God hath not planted; throw it to the Moales, and to the Bats, every ragge that hath not Gods stampe and name upon it."

This is a statement of what we might call the regulative principle. Marshall, and many preachers like him, believed that God’s ‘stampe’ was discernable. They also believed that God did not ‘rubber stamp’ everything that man considered acceptable in relation to worship. God’s stamp had two components: chapter and verse. The Bible provided certain criteria by which true and false religion could be separated.

This was the certainty that puritan preachers brought to the uncertain 1640s. It could be argued that puritan preachers had an elevated confidence in their ability to pronounce God’s approval or disapproval. I’ll admit that I do not have that same confidence in some cases. But I see at least three reasons for their confidence. First, they believed in the inspiration of Scripture (God has spoken). Second, they believed in the perspicuity of Scripture (God can be understood). Third, they believed they would give an account for how they applied Scripture.

Perhaps my inability to discern God’s ‘stamp’ reveals a deficiency in one of these three areas?

Even though Marshall preached in the context of an impending military conflict, his words carry a more intimate application. They remind me that I need to search for God’s stamp on the ways that I worship, the words that I speak and the passions I pursue. Rather than a passing glance, I ought to ‘look thoroughly what is amiss and pluck up every plant that God hath not planted’.



Copyright © 2008 Kristoforos Media. This layout made by and copyright cmbs.