Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Brief Tribute to Professor David F. Wright's Scholarship

Just today I found an interesting conference paper by David F. Wright. I thought I would post just a few sections as a tribute to his keen intellect. Volumes more could be written, but this is just a brief snapshot of his contribution to Reformation studies.

In March 2001 Dr. Wright presented "Martin Bucer and the Decretum Gratiani" at the 'Beitrage zum internationalen Symposium' on the interesting issue of Martin Bucer's frequent interaction with canon law (specifically the Decretum Gratiani). At face value, this component of Bucer's reform may suggest a legalism that would strain the philosophical underpinnings of the Reformation itself. But thanks to Professor Wright, we have a clever and nuanced explanation of Bucer's use of canon law. Bucer had a high regard for Scripture, calling it the 'canon of the Holy Spirit'. His highly selective use of canon law showed that he certainly elevated the text of Scripture above the text of the canons. As Professor Wright argues,

When Bucer invokes the Decretum, it is for the most part with some procedure or ordered practice in mind, and hence in connection with the prescriptive of precedent-establishing function of Scripture.

In other words, Bucer was a discerning reader of canon law, not a slave to its interpretations. Bucer sought to identify a 'consensus' position between previous judgements by the 'church' and the contemporary calls for reform. He was what Professor Wright called a 'consensual Reformer'. Although he sought consensus, he was still willing to draw clear lines of difference. Again, Professor Wright helps us:

So [for Bucer] there were popes and there were popes, and papal laws and papal laws, and Bucer is adept at disciminating...Reform was a return to earlier best practice, as documented by the noblest strata of the church's code of good practice.

Professor Wright concludes by reminding readers of the big picture:

Caution should be exercised in typifying this flavour of Reformation [Bucer's use of canon law] as legalistic, partly because among theologians and ecclesiastics who reckon too little with the genius of the Reformed tradition it is a much over-used term, but because also Bucer's fondness for appealing to the Decretum is more pastoral, even evangelistic than judgmental, the style of a churchman, a churchman of all the ages, or at least of as many as he can muster in his support.

Reading Professor Wright's treatment of Bucer reminds me that I have a tremendous way to go in this quest to understand great minds of great men who have gone before. Fortunately, our generation was blessed with a great man like Professor David F. Wright who helped us understand.

(Conference: Martin Bucer und das Recht: Beitrage zum internationalem Symposium, vom. 1. bis. 3. Marz 2001 in der Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek Emden)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In memoriam: Prof. David F. Wright

I have just learned of the passing of Prof. David Wright, an eminent scholar of patristic and Reformation history and theology.

From Dr. Larry Hurtado's notice: "Prof. Wright was a distinguished member of academic staff in the School of Divinity/New College, on staff for many years and internationally known for his many scholarly publications, awarded the DD as a higher doctorate for his publications and thereafter a personal chair in Patristic and Reformation Studies."

See also Ligon Duncan's comments and those of Derek Thomas, and hear how Wright helped prevent Carl Trueman from getting a job–from Trueman himself.

Humbled again ...

... by the puritans. How does my commitment to cultivate a close relationship with the Lord compare with that of Samuel Fairclough, whose biography was included in Samuel Clarke's Lives of Sundry Eminent Persons (1683)?:

"None surely can be found who walked in a more constant course of private duties such as Reading, Meditation, Self-examination and Prayer, which four duties he seldom or never divided one from the other; and by a daily performance of them all, he had much of his Conversation in Heaven, and lived in close Communion with God.

The sun is not more true to its time of rising and setting than he was to his stated course of secret Prayer, both Morning and Evening. So soon as he was awake (which was early every Morning till he was very old) he did immediately rise, and prostrate himself at Gods Foot-stool; after which he constantly read some portion of Scripture, upon which he did peruse the best Commentators and constantly (for some time) did meditate thereon, observing the counsel of Pythagoras to his Schollars ... if you will not purifie your food, and ruminate upon [chew] it, don't eat. But having thus digested truth himself, after some time he came down to perform Family worship ..."

Here's an echo from a modern voice, John Piper (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals):

"Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day ... Take one of your days off and go away by yourself and pray about how you should pray. Say to yourself right now: 'God help me to do something radical in regard to prayer!' Refuse to believe that the daily hours Luther and Wesley and Brainerd and Judson spent in prayer are idealistic dreams of another era."

NB: My primary intent here is not to glorify the puritans, nor to bring shame upon modern evangelicals, nor to exalt self-discipline for its own sake; it is to glorify God, who alone is worthy of such 'drastic' measures, and who alone provides the grace to accomplish them. I think people like Fairclough simply show us what life looks like when God is put in his proper place – when we "acknowledge him in all our ways" (Prov. 3:6) and "seek his kingdom and his righteousness" before all other things (Matt. 6:33). Glory to God alone.

The quote on Fairclough is cited in Dr. Simon Chan's excellent Cambridge dissertation, The Puritan Meditative Tradition, 1599-1691: A Study of Ascetical Piety.

Monday, February 18, 2008

William Perkins and a 'Case of Conscience'

One of William Perkins' well known works is:

A case of conscience the greatest that ever was, how a man may know, whether he be the son of God or no. Resolved by the Word of God (I am citing the 1592 edition; Available on Early English Books Online, from your local academic library.)

It is an interesting little work. The 1592 edition is joined to a treatise by Hieronymus Zanchius (Zanchi) which also addresses the ultimate 'case of conscience': the assurance of calling and election.

In the beginning of the work, Perkins presents this case of conscience in the form of a dialogue between 'The Church' and 'John' (the text from I John). The Church asks John a series of questions and the answers emerge from the text. He follows this dialogue with a similar conversation between 'David' and 'Iehova' (from the text of Psalm 15).

Perkins wanted readers to 'Use this labour of mine for thy benefit and comfort: and the Lord increase the number of them which may rejoice, that their names are written in heaven'.

I include just Perkins' treatment of I John 1:


CHAP. 1.

Manie among us denie the God-head, & many the Manhood of Christ.

1. That which was from the beginning (and therefore true God,) which wee have hearde (namelie, speaking,) which wee haue seen with these our eyes, which we have looked upon, and these hands of ours, have handled of that Word (not the sounding, but the essentiall word of the Father,) of life. (living of himselfe, and giving life to all other.)

Before you goe any further, this word of life is invisible: how then could it be seene?

(Yes) 2. For that life was made manifest, (to wit, in the flesh,) and we (I with many others) haue seen it, and beare witnesse, and publish vnto you, that eternall life, which was with the father (eternallie before this manifestation) and was made manifest vnto vs.

Menander, Ebion, and Cerinthus, hauing bin teachers among vs, confidently denie these thinges which you say: and they beare vs in hand, that they seek our good.

3. That (which I wil repeat again, for more certainties sake) which wee haue seen and heard, declare we vnto you, that ye may haue fellowship with vs, and that our fellowship also may be with the father, and with his sonne Iesus Christ.
4. And these things write we vnto you, that your ioy might be ful. (vz. might haue sound consolation in your consciences.)

Wel then, lay vs down som grou~d, wherby we may come to be assured, that we haue fellowship one with an other, and with Christ.

5. This then is the message which we haue heard of him, and declare vnto you, that God is light (vz. purenes it selfe, and blessednesse; whereas men and Angels are neither, but by participation) and in him is no darknes.

Some that make profession among us, continue still in their olde course and conuersation; and yet they say, they have fellowship with God.

6. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk (lead the course of our liues)
in darknes (vz. ignorance, error, impietie,) wee lie (dissemble) and do not trulie. (deal not sincerely.)

What then is the true marke of one, which hath fellowship with God?

7. If we walk in the light (lead the cours of our lives in sinceritie of life & doctrin) wee have fellowship one with another.

We are so defiled with sinne, that we often doubt, least wee have no fellowship with God.

The blood of Iesus Christ his sonne, cleanseth us from all sinne.

Some among us are come to that passe, that they say, they have no sinne: & that this estate is a signe of fellowshippe with God.

8. If we say that we have no sinne, we deceive our selves, (imagining that to bee true which is otherwise) & truth is not in us

How then may we know that our sinnes are washed away by Christ?

9. If we confesse our sinnes (namely, with an humbled heart, desiring pardon) he is faithfull & just (in keping his promise) to forgive us our sinnes, and to clense us from all unrighteousnes.
10. If we say (as they before named do) we have not sinned, we make him a liar (whose word speaks the contrarie,) and his worde is not in vs. (his doctrine hath no place in our hearts).


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