Monday, December 15, 2008

Joel Beeke: 'How to Read Thomas Goodwin'

Courtesy of Michael DeWalt's blog, Gospel-Centered Musings:

"How should a beginner proceed in reading Goodwin’s works? Here is a suggested plan. (Note: Books marked by * have been printed at least once since the 1950s.)
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 ..."

This makes my day ...

This won't seem like a big deal to many of you, but it struck me as a thing of beauty.

Recently, a fellow named Keith Mathison posted a list of what he feels are the "Top 5 Commentaries on Ephesians" on the blog of Ligonier Ministries.

In particular, I was very pleasantly surprised by how Mathison handled the work of Harold Hoehner, a scholar whose views are different from his own. To be specific, Mathison is a covenant theology guy, and Hoehner is, like me, a dispensationalist (I actually took a course or two from Hoehner while I was at Dallas Seminary).

Now behold:

Mathison writes with maturity and magnanimity. I understand that he is addressing a Reformed/covenantal audience, so I am not offended that he feels compelled to warn them about Hoehner's 'dispensationalism shining through.' I would do the same if I were presenting a covenantal text to a group of laity at my own church.

And I find it very big of Mathison that he can still recommend Hoehner's work, as something that contains material that will benefit his audience, even though he knows they will have to be discerning in their use of it.

Instead of hardening me in my own hermeneutical stance, I am drawn by Mathison's charity to open up to the claims of his tradition, and to dialogue. This is the way forward.

Thank you, Keith Mathison, for showing us how to agree to disagree. We need much more of this kind of thing in the evangelical 'discussion' that takes place on- and offline.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Audio on John Milton

Courtesy of the Andrew Fuller Center, which recently held an event "celebrating the life and thought of John Milton (1608–1674)."

Complete mp3 download here.

"Let it profit thee to have heard,
By terrible example, the reward
Of disobedience."

Paradise Lost, Book 6, lines 909-11

Monday, December 1, 2008

Guthrie: Conversion not one-size-fits-all

Recently I started reading The Christian's Great Interest, by Scottish puritan William Guthrie (1620–1669). In it Guthrie attempts to answer two questions:

  1. How shall a man know if he has a true and special interest in Christ (if he is a genuine, or 'saved' Christian)?; and
  2. What shall they do who want (lack) the marks of a true and saving interest in Christ?
Here I just want to call attention to Guthrie's treatment of conversion, which I believe helpfully moderates some unbiblical extremes to which evangelicals drift in our day.

To get right to the point, Guthrie observes that, in Scripture and in reality, God converts different people in different ways: some quickly and some slowly; some very early on in life, and some later–even during their last moments. Some must be softened by the preaching of the law, which leads them to Christ as a tutor (Gal. 3:24); while others can be won to Christ in a short time, without such lengthy preparation.

I think that if granted, his argument corrects those who hold that conversion is only valid when
  • it occurs at a discernible moment in time; or
  • it occurs very slowly; or
  • it is preceded by great inner turmoil and conviction.
To be fair, Guthrie does say that "men are ordinarily prepared for Christ by the work of the Law"–but this is not absolutely necessary.

Thus, I would conclude, the Lord could use a "Four Spiritual Laws" tract (or a Chick Tract), an altar call, or an entire childhood of Sunday school lessons in a Presbyterian church (or all of the above!) to draw a soul effectually to Himself.

We could discuss what we believe the best means of facilitating conversion are, but that will have to be another post on another day ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Pilgrims: The Next Generation"

From the Sacred Sandwich, a humorous site I recommend visiting often:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good resource on the Federal Vision?

I'm looking for a good book or website that covers the Federal Vision succinctly and objectively (as much as possible) -- the views associated, and perhaps also the controversy resulting.

You can use the comments to answer ...



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A book suggestion

Recently I found what looks to be a fun (but slightly irreverent) read on the New England puritans, called The Wordy Shipmates. Sarah Vowell, the author, has written a handful of similar works, and is a contributing editor for NPR's This American Life.

I haven't made it far into the book yet, but I've enjoyed what I've read so far, and I suspect a lot of you who contribute to and visit this blog would as well.

Here's a brief excerpt in which Vowell reflects on the differences between the religious separatists who established Plymouth in 1620 and the nonseparatists who settled Massachusetts Bay in 1630. As you'll see, she confronts the history from a perspective that is decidedly (post)modern and satirical, but not unsympathetic:
"I admire the Mayflower Pilgrims' uncompromising resolve to make a clean break, and their fortitude, so fundamental to the American national character that Sinclair Lewis called one of our core ideals 'Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm.'

Still, I find the Arbella passengers' qualms messier and more endearing. They were leaving for the same reasons the Pilgrims left, but they had either the modesty to feel bad about it or the charitable hypocrisy to at least pretend to. Maybe it's because I live in a world crawling with separatists that I find religious zealots with a tiny bit of wishy-washy, pussy-footing compromise in them deeply attractive. Plus, half the entertainment value of watching Massachusetts Bay come to life is witnessing all the tiptoeing and deference–frequently just a pretense of deference–to the crown. [John] Winthrop will spend most of his time as magistrate tripping all over himself to make sure King Charles doesn't get wind of any of the colony's many treasonous infractions. Because, unlike the Plymouth Separatists, the nonseparating Bostonians left England pledging to remain as English as beheadings and clotted cream."
Here's another, more punchy extract:
"I'm always disappointed when I see the word 'Puritan' tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys. Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to hell."
In spite of a few moments that would seem to betray a simplistic understanding of the theological issues behind the puritan dilemma (Arminianism is defined in passing as "the doctrine that a believer's salvation depends merely on faith ... at odds with the Puritans' insistence that salvation is predetermined by God"), Vowell holds her own fairly well as a non-religious historian writing on religious history.

If any of you have read this book or plan to in the near future, please let me know–I'd love to compare notes when we're both finished.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Point in Case

After reading a glut of modern folks examining the puritans, it is always interesting to read puritans talking about puritans. In this case, we see it in an explosive sermon preached by Thomas Case to 'sundry of the Honourable House of Commons' (The Long Parliament) in 1642. In this passage he offered his take on how Laudians and papists viewed puritans. Taking the tone of a satirist, Case preached:

Away with these Isaiahs, Jeremiahs, Habbakuks, these be troublers of Church and Common-wealth, men that are always bauling against Idolatry, and through the loyns of Idolatry, strike at any harmless and profitable ceremonies, whereby the people may be edified: men that are always preaching hell and the Law, and strictnesse and preciseness, that we do not know how to behave ourselves among them. If we must have preaching, let us have it of another strain. Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, oyled sermons...that may not disquiet and perplex tender consciences...*

Lets just call that a 'point in Case'.

*Case, Thomas. Two Sermons Lately Preached at Westminster, before Sundry of the Honourable House of Commons Corrected by the Author, Thomas Case Early English Books, 1641-1700 / 933:22: London : Printed by J. Raworth, for Luke Fawn, and are to be sold at his shop ... 1642.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stick around (please)

I want to thank all of you that have returned here from time to time to see what's happening at the Conventicle. We really appreciate it. Here's an update about me personally and about this site:

  • I'm still above ground, as you've probably deduced by this point in your reading. I have moved back to Texas and finished my doctoral thesis (the pre-examination draft), the abstract to which I've attached below, for anyone who's curious. My examination (viva) is scheduled for December. I appreciate your prayers.
  • For the time being, I've taken up full-time blogging as a profession. To this end, I launched The Daily Scroll last month -- a site that features links to posts and articles by Christians from an array of theological backgrounds. I think it will be useful for people who are interested in hearing what different individuals and groups are saying, in their own words. I welcome your feedback about the site! Email me here. I am hoping it will be lucrative, as well as edifying. (A site dedicated to discussion of my own hermeneutical tradition is also in the works, and should be 'ready for prime time' within the next month.)
  • The Conventicle is down, but most certainly not out! As I've mentioned here before, we are planning on launching an expanded Conventicle site, with a wealth of puritan-related resources. I am expecting this to go live within the next six months. In the meantime, the other contributors and I will continue our trickle of posts here. (I haven't forgotten that summary of Collinson's Elizabethan Puritan Movement I need to finish!)
Once again, thanks for your patience. Let's all keep the memory of the puritans alive!



As promised, the abstract to my thesis, "Puritanism's Ascetic Pedigree: Catholic Treatises and Protestant 'Counterpoysons' in Early Modern England":

Some scholars researching the puritans have noted parallels between their approach to spiritual formation and that of the monastic communities of the medieval and early modern periods. Specifically, an ascetic or pietistic orientation, emphasizing the methodical practice of spiritual disciplines such as meditation, has been acknowledged in both groups. Some have suggested that early puritan writers knowingly adopted elements of the Catholic ascetic tradition, but relatively little has been done to prove or disprove this claim.

An analysis of popular religious writings circulating in Elizabethan England reveals evidence supporting the notion that similarities between the two traditions were more than coincidental. During the Elizabethan period, several Catholic texts were illegally circulated in England, which taught monastic devotional methods in a basic format suitable for lay readers. These Catholic ascetic treatises, written by authors such as the Spanish Dominican, Luis de Granada (1505-1588), and the English Jesuit, Robert Persons (1546-1610), were patently unique among the approved religious texts sold in Protestant England. Their originality was underscored by Catholics, in fact, who criticized English Protestants because they had produced nothing similar.

However, in 1603, the puritan Richard Rogers (1550/1-1618) published a devotional guide called the Seven Treatises, significant features of which are reminiscent of this ascetic genre. Rogers and others portrayed his work as a “counterpoyson” to Catholic books, expressing confidence that it would effectively silence the boasts of Catholic writers who claimed to hold a monopoly on devotional instruction. It appears that Rogers composed much of his Seven Treatises in conscious emulation of the Catholic texts whose influence he hoped to suppress. What’s more, it is likely that his work inspired many seventeenth-century puritan writers, whose devotional manuals reflect the same ascetic emphases.

Such evidence suggests that the observed similarity between the puritans’ spiritual approach and that of the more ancient monastic-ascetic tradition was, in part, a result of their conscious imitation and adaptation of that tradition’s teaching, as it was expressed in these sixteenth-century Catholic ascetic manuals.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Christ, the Fountain-Head of Christian Dogmatics

I don’t read Dutch. I have little acquaintance with the Dutch Reformed tradition. Apart from occasional forays into Witsius, Voetius, and Cocceius, for my Owen thesis, and a little dose of Bavinck now and then to trace up the history of a certain doctrine, I’m really quite green to the Dutch trajectory of the Reformed tradition. This is an area I would like to work on more seriously in the long run. So I was especially delighted to have met Willem van Asselt and Gert van den Brink in person at the recent John Owen Today conference.

Gert, who has written a book on Witsius in Dutch, suggested that I should come to grips with Witsius in a more thorough-going way. This will certainly be on my list of long term projects. But for the coming weeks, I’ve settled for a more modern Dutch theologian to provide some respite from the increasingly belaboring task of writing up my thesis on Owen.

Jan Jacob van Oosterzee (1817-1882) was for some time Professor of Theology in the University of Utrecht. This is the same University at which Van Asselt is currently holding a Professorship and at which Gert is based. Whenever I take breaks in the coming weeks, I hope to read through selected portions of Oosterzee’s Christian Dogmatics: A Text-Book for Academical Instruction and Private Study, 2nd edition (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878).

Here’s an excellent starter I came across from his treatment of the sources of Christian Dogmatics:

“No one can be the Fountain-head for the investigation of Christian Dogmatics, but He who is its principal subject-matter, and who is not only the faithful witness, but Himself the highest revelation of truth in the domain of religion. True Dogmatics is thus, from its nature, Christo-centric; and nothing in regard to the doctrine of salvation can be acknowledged as truth, that is in irreconcilable contradiction with the word and spirit of Christ, the King of truth.” (p. 15)

“The claim that Christian Dogmatics shall be Christo-centric, does not denote that the Christology must therefore be treated of first of all; on the contrary, there are preponderating difficulties in this method. But this is the idea, that everything which Dogmatics has to teach concerning God, man, the way of salvation, etc., must be viewed by the light which streams forth from Christ as centre. This proceeds from His exalted character, and the best dogmatists of our own century place it constantly more in the foreground. (Liebner, Lange, Thomasius, and many others.) Christ as the highest revelation of God, must also be to the dogmatist the light of his science. As the King of truth is the head of the Church, so is He the heart of Christian Dogmatics. The so-called Modern Theology is therefore already condemned in principle, since Christ has either no place or a very unimportant one in its system, which exhibits an anthropo-centric character.” (p. 15)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The cry of English puritans

Thought I would share this, a classic expression of the puritan ethos, in a letter from two English clergy, Laurence Humphrey and Thomas Sampson, to Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger, in 1566:

Why should we receive Christ rather maimed than entire, and pure, and perfect? Why should we look for precedents from our enemies, the papists, and not from you, our brethren of the reformation? We have the same confession in our churches, the same rule of doctrine and faith; why should there be so great a dissimilarity and discrepancy in rites and ceremonies? The thing signified is the same; why do the signs so differ as to be unlike yours, and to resemble those of the papists?

From H. Robinson, ed., The Zurich Letters (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1842-45), 162; cited in Eamon Duffy, “Continuity and Divergence in Tudor Religion”, in Unity and Diversity in the Church, ed. R. N. Swanson (Oxford: Blackwell [for the Ecclesiastical History Society], 1996), 185.

Friday, August 1, 2008

John Owen Today Conference: Latest Updates

The entire programme of the conference is now finalised and available here.

Updates include the following:

1. Carl Trueman is unable to present a paper (to the disappointment of many participants I'm sure!). John Coffey will be taking Trueman's place, with a paper entitled, "John Owen, the Reformed Tradition and Religious Toleration."

2. Our very own Mr Tweeddale is now on board as well. He will be the second representative from New College, and of course, the second Conventicler at the conference. Check out the interesting title of his short paper on the conference website.

3. There'll be a demonstration of the Logos Bible Software on the Works of John Owen (17 vols.) with, I believe, an opportunity to purchase the software at a discount.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dave Walker knows my life

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Take this, Chris!

Here is my thesis thus far. I think I'll just hand this is at my viva.

I'm addicted to Wordle ...

Jonathan Edwards's sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God":

The Westminster Confession:

and to renew the pride of my Scottish friends, the Falkirk speech that William Wallace delivered, in Braveheart:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Conventicle, 95 Theses, and (!) my dissertation 'Wordled'

Is there any question which puritan gets the most coverage here? (Admittedly though, there's more than one puritan named 'John', not to mention that we also have a prolific contributor by that name).

And just for fun, here's the English text of Luther's 95 Theses:

And last--and yes, least--my doctoral dissertation. It may explain things a little to share the title, which is "Puritanism's Ascetic Pedigree: Catholic Treatises and Protestant 'Counterpoysons' in Early Modern England" (then again, maybe that just confuses people more):

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Conventicle Q&A with Dr Stephen Yuille

Dr Stephen Yuille is the preaching elder at Braidwood Bible Chapel in Peterborough, Ontario. He is also a part-time Professor of Biblical Studies with Toronto Baptist Seminary. His doctoral work on George Swinnock was undertaken at the London School of Theology.

George Swinnock is a lesser-known Puritan. For the benefit of our readers, could you give us a very brief introduction to his life and explain how his writings compare to better known Puritans like Sibbes or Owen?

Unfortunately, very little is known of Swinnock. He was born in 1627 at Maidstone, Kent. He was raised in his uncle’s house. This might mean he was an orphan – we don’t know for certain. He graduated B.A. from Emmanuel College (Cambridge) in 1647 and Balliol College (Oxford) in 1650. He then became pastor at St. Mary’s chapel in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. After eleven years, he moved to St. Nicholas’ chapel in Great Kimble, Buckinghamshire.

He had a family. We know this, because he makes several references in his writings to his wife and children. Of course, he was ejected for nonconformity in 1662. He survived for ten years by ministering in the home of Richard Hampden. Richard Hampden’s father, John, was famous for his participation in the parliamentary forces.

As a matter of fact, there’s still a memorial placard in his honour, located in the churchyard of St. Nicholas’ in Great Kimble. With the easing of political restrictions in 1672, Swinnock returned to Maidstone to become pastor. He died a year later at the age of forty-six. There are a few other details, but that is basically all we know about him.

As for his writings, I think they can be described in four words. (1) Theological. Swinnock is firmly rooted in Reformed theology, as particularly expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith. (2) Pastoral. Swinnock is a pastor-theologian. He’s rarely polemical. He’s chiefly concerned with the situational application of theology. This is evident in the fact that the vast majority of his writings are simply his published sermons. (3) Experimental. By this, I mean that Swinnock targets the heart. He most certainly doesn’t bypass the mind, but his primary goal is to stir the affections – the root of all action. (4) Colourful. Swinnock’s writings are packed with vivid illustrations, many of them taken from the realm of nature.

How did you come across Swinnock’s writings and what were the key factors that led you into doctoral research on him?

My wife’s parents live in a town in southern Ontario, where there’s a small Christian bookstore, connected with Reformation Heritage Books. Whenever we visit, I like to slip away to peruse the bookshelves for gems. On one occasion, I discovered Swinnock’s five volume set. As I was standing there, I read a sizeable portion of The Fading of the Flesh. I was hooked!

At the time, I was in the process of applying for admittance into the doctoral program at London School of Theology. For some months, I had been trying to define my area of research. I had set two criteria. First, I wanted to study an English Puritan, who was relatively unknown. No offense to all you Owen and Baxter scholars out there, but there are so many others! Second, I wanted to focus on the fear of God in Puritan theology and spirituality. Swinnock was a perfect fit.

Your doctoral work is now published under the title, Puritan Spirituality: the Fear of God in the Affective Theology of George Swinnock (Paternoster, 2007). Could you share with us the thrust of the book?

The preface provides a fairly concise summary of the book. It reads as follows:

“This book is about George Swinnock, a seventeenth-century English Puritan. It begins by defining his Puritanism as a spiritual movement to which political, ecclesiastical, and theological concerns were related in terms of cause and consequence. This is followed by an assessment of those influences that contributed in some way to the development of his spirituality.

Chapters three and four explore the foundation of Swinnock’s spirituality. At its root is a teleological understanding of the image of God in humanity that is based upon faculty-humour psychology. This means Swinnock views sanctification as the proper ordering of the soul’s faculties after the image of God. In other words, the head and heart perceive God to be the greatest good, resulting in renewed affections.

Chapters five to eight consider the expression of Swinnock’s spirituality. As a result of the proper ordering of the soul’s faculties, the individual delights in God’s law. Furthermore, the rational appetite exercises control over the sensitive appetite. According to Swinnock, this self-control (or moderation) is evident in every area of life – all actions, vocations, relations, and conditions.

To facilitate this mastery of the rational over the sensitive, he devotes himself to spiritual duties such as reading and praying. He views these as conduit-pipes whereby the Holy Spirit imparts grace to the soul. Among spiritual duties, meditation occupies the place of distinction for Swinnock by virtue of the fact that the mind is the leading faculty of the soul. It is, therefore, the principal means by which the Holy Spirit excites the affections.

This entire paradigm is included in Swinnock’s concept of the fear of God; hence, the title for this book: Puritan Spirituality: The Fear of God in the Affective Theology of George Swinnock. Throughout, Swinnock’s convictions are placed in a historical context, stretching back through Calvin to Augustine. In addition, they are expounded in the context of his contemporaries in order to confirm his place within the Puritan tradition.”

Earlier this month you published another book on Swinnock, entitled Trading and Thriving in Godliness: the Piety of George Swinnock (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008). “Thriving in godliness” is rather straightforward in meaning, but how should we understand “trading in godliness”?

I have Jay Collier at Reformation Heritage Books to thank for the title. He came across the phrase, “trading and thriving in godliness,” in Swinnock’s The Christian Man’s Calling. In this treatise, Swinnock takes 1 Timothy 4:7 as his text – “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

He proceeds to explain godliness and what it means to “discipline” oneself for the purpose of godliness. He mentions that the term discipline signifies “strip thyself naked,” noting, “It is a metaphor from runners or wrestlers, who being to contend for the prize, and resolved to put forth all their strength and power, lay aside their clothes which may hinder them, and then bestir themselves to purpose.”

By comparison, Christians “contend for a prize,” in that they pursue godliness. This means that they strive after it. In the midst of this discussion, Swinnock uses the term “trading,” which implies vocation. In other words, the pursuit of godliness should be the Christian’s chief calling.

Could you tell us about the aim(s) and content of your second book?

My first book is my PhD thesis. It’s an academic work. It isn’t beyond the grasp of the average reader, but it does require some familiarity with the subject matter. Thus, I felt the need to publish something that would appeal to an even broader readership – something with a more pastoral tone. And I wanted to provide a book that would lead people to read Swinnock for themselves. I think I’ve done that with Trading and Thriving in Godliness.

In your opinion, what relevance do Swinnock and his writings have for the individual believer and the church today?

I hope I’m not guilty here of over-simplification, but I believe the answer is fourfold.

First, Swinnock is God-oriented. To a great extent, modern-day evangelicalism isn’t. I believe we can say to evangelicalism what Luther said to Erasmus centuries ago: “Your God is too small!” Swinnock believes in an incomparably glorious God. He writes, “But now between God and us there is an infinite distance, and therefore there ought to be, if it were possible, infinite reverence; he is so vastly above and beyond all others in excellency, that he alone deserves the name of excellency, therefore his name is holy and reverend (Ps. 111:9) and he is to be greatly feared. The greatest excellency calleth for the greatest reverence.”

Second, Swinnock is Scripture-oriented. He has a very high view of Scripture’s authority and sufficiency. He believes the Bible is a “special treasure,” which God has deposited “into the hands of the children of men.” Therefore, it merits unrivalled devotion. This is extremely relevant in the midst of the church’s growing biblical illiteracy.

Third, Swinnock is Gospel-oriented. He affirms the radical depravity of man – sin has “debauched the mind,” “perverted the will,” and “enthralled the affections.” In a word, “sin has chained the whole man.” For this reason, he’s a firm believer in the need for God’s sovereign grace in the gospel. This is something we need today. We need a renewed appreciation of Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Fourth, Swinnock is Reform-oriented. He believes that the transforming work of God’s Spirit touches all of life – individuals, marriages, families, towns, and nations. In a day and age in which the gospel has been personalized and privatized to such an extent that it no longer has relevance beyond the parameters of “what it does for me,” Swinnock’s all-encompassing view of the reforming power of the gospel is very much needed.

These things give Swinnock’s writings an enduring quality. Why read a Puritan like Swinnock? What could a Puritan possibly teach us? I like the response, provided by Dr. J. I. Packer: “The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God.”

To put it another way, the Puritans (like Swinnock) were strongest where we are weakest. That’s why his writings are relevant today.

Thank you Dr Yuille for taking the time to do this interview! More significantly, thank you for calling attention to the challenge of godliness that Swinnock's writings present to Christians today.

More information on Dr Yuille's books can be found at Amazon UK and Reformation Heritage Books.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Christian Scholars, Please Write Plainly!

Some thoughts from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, writing in 1653 of his own writing:

'With regard to our manner of writing, or Latin diction, as some are wont to acquire great praise from their sublimity of expression, allow me but a word or two. Know, then, reader, that you have to do with a person who, provided his words but clearly express the sentiments of his mind, entertains a fixed and absolute disregard for all elegance and ornaments of speech; for, —

“Dicite, pontifices, in sacris quid facit aurum?"
“Say, bishops, of what avail is glitter to sacred subjects?”

In my opinion, indeed, he who, in a theological contest, should please himself with the idea of displaying rhetorical flourishes, would derive no other advantage therefrom but that his head, adorned with magnificent verbose garlands and pellets, would fall a richer victim to the criticisms of the learned.'

(Owen, Dissertation on Divine Justice, Preface)

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Book on Puritan Piety

Reformation Heritage Books has just published a new book by J. Stephen Yuille, entitled, "Trading and Thriving in Godliness: the Piety of George Swinnock".

The book description reads:

George Swinnock (1627–1673) was a gifted English Puritan, known for his vivid illustrations of biblical truth. In “Trading and Thriving in Godliness”, J. Stephen Yuille highlights Swinnock’s conviction that godliness is the primary employment of every Christian. Yuille’s introductory essay analyzes the influences on, groundwork for, and expressions of piety in Swinnock’s life and thought. The book also contains fifty selections from Swinnock’s writings, exemplify his teaching on the foundation, door, value, pursuit, nature, means, and motives to godliness.

It can be purchased here.

God willing, the Conventicle will be hosting an interview with Dr Yuille on his book sometime this month. Stay tuned!
*we're grateful to Jay Collier of RHB for notifying us of the book and for linking us up with Dr Yuille

Friday, June 13, 2008

Historian George S. Stuart on Charles I

From the series, 400 Years of English History. Stuart is a professional artist as well. The figurine you see at the beginning is his work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All right, fine - but did he really deserve decapitation?

The votes are in from our scholarly opinion poll. Apparently our readership favours puritans. (Who knew?)
Of 22 who weighed in:

14 (66%!) thought Charles I bore the brunt of the responsibility for the Civil War.

About one quarter (5 - 23%) believed responsibility was shared between him and the puritan/parliamentary party.

2 (9%) thought there were other causes worth discussing.

And none of you–no one!– felt the puritan/parliament were most responsible.

Monday, June 9, 2008

John Owen Today Conference: Update

Details of the papers to be presented are now available at John Owen Today.

Main Papers:

Willem van Asselt (Utrecht University, Holland), Covenant Theology as Relational Theology: The Contributions of Johannes Cocceius and John Owen to a Living Reformed Theology Today

Michael S. Horton (Westminster Seminary, California, USA), Sinai and Zion: The Mosaic Economy in Owen's Federal Theology

Suzanne McDonald (Calvin College, Grand Rapids, USA), Beholding the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ: Owen and the Reforming of the Beatific Vision

Sebastian Rehnman (University of Stavanger, Norway), John Owen on Faith and Reason

Alan Spence (United Reformed Church, London, UK), The Significance of John Owen for Modern Christology

Short Papers:

Gert van den Brink (Utrecht University, Holland), John Owen on Impetration and Application

Tim Cooper (University of Otago, New Zealand), John Owen and Richard Baxter

Martin Foord (Trinity Theological College, Australia), John Owen's Gospel Offer: Well-Meant or Not?

Lee Gatiss (independent), John Owen's View of Infants

Peter M. Head (Tyndale House, Cambridge, UK), John Owen and Brian Walton on the Integrity and Preservation of the Text of the Greek New Testament

Mark Jones (Leiden Universiteit, Holland), The Theology of Moses and the Sinaitic Covenant

Brian Kay (Fuller Theological Seminary, California, USA), Theology that Prays: Reconnecting Devotional Writing to its Theological Moorings

Ryan Kelly (Free University of Amsterdam, Holland), Reformed or Reforming? What Owen's 'Preface' to the Savoy Declaration says about the Complexity of Theological Codification in the Seventeenth Century

Taku Suda (University of Cambridge, UK), Christian Freedom and Pneumatology in the Theology of John Owen

Edwin Tay (New College, Edinburgh, UK), Christ's Oblation and Intercession: Its Development and Significance in John Owen

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Free for All: George Will on Charlie Rose, 4 June '08

Very little to do with puritanism, but highly entertaining (in my opinion).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Take our quiz scholarly opinion poll ...

C'mon. I know a lot of you know more about the Civil War than I do.

Leave a comment on this post if you wish to "nuance" your answer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Heads up! Great new blog!

A good friend of the Conventicle, Andrew Tooley (PhD student, Univ. Stirling), has started what promises to be an excellent, enriching treatment on the study of religious history with Dr. David Bebbington (Stirling) . . . "Exploring the Study of Religious History".

Andy writes, "This blog was established for those who are interested in the study of religious history and, in particular, for those who are studying expressions of evangelicalism throughout history with Prof. David Bebbington."

And what a nice banner photo! Makes me wish I had a kayak and a free afternoon . . .

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Brief Introduction

Although I have been registered for this blog for some months I must apologise that this is the first time I have got round to posting anything here. I notice that a few people have looked at my profile already so I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself.

I am actually an impostor, having studied Natural Sciences at University, however after graduating I came to my senses and made a switch to the Queen of Sciences. My initial research at Masters level was on Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, the famous author of the 'History of the Rebellion'. Clarendon, as I am sure many will know, was far from being a Puritan. Through him I gained an interest in seventeenth century Theology and also neo-Stoicism.

My original plan was to pursue a PhD looking into the theology of conscience and duty. However after rather a large number of very small changes my topic has transformed completely and I am now studying Richard Baxter and his Trinitarian Theology.

Baxter is a fascinating figure and seemingly much misunderstood. In academic circles there has been a tendency to attach a large number of contradictory labels to his name, while among Christians although often admired as a pastor his theology is usually treated as an embarrassing lapse. I hope to address some of these issues and to demonstrate the Trinitarian character of Baxter's much vaunted 'Mere Christianity'.

I think that is enough of an introduction for the present. On a personal level I have many sympathies with the Puritans, but as an Anglican and Royalist cannot quite bring myself to agree with their politics...

It is also worth noting that I am fanatical about dogs.

Synopsis of The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Parts 1-2

I’ve been meaning to post this for some time: a section-by-section synopsis of Patrick Collinson’s important, detailed history of The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. The book is divided into eight parts, each of which contains three to five chapters.

I've divided the synopsis into four bite-size installments. Of course, if you have the time, I recommend reading the entire thing.

In case you missed our 'Conventicle Q&A' with the author, check it out here.

Part One: Puritanism and the Elizabethan Church

  1. The Church of England and the English Churches
  2. 'But Halfly Reformed’
  3. The Beginnings of a Party
The common view prevailing among the English during the late sixteenth century was that the Church of England—its entire membership—were to be considered orthodox, as long as its doctrine were sound. By contrast, those who were eventually labelled puritans perceived a real difference between themselves and the nominal, lukewarm majority who claimed to be members of the church. Puritans are best distinguished from conformist Anglicans (a term that came into use in a later era), not by their theology, but by their “temperature”: they were “the hotter sort of protestants”, according to one Elizabethan pamphleteer.

There were several elements within the church that needed reforming at the beginning of the Elizabethan period. It was in financial disarray, its courts operated with a complexity that defied logic, many of its clergy were unlearned, and most importantly, there were no means in place by which to instill and enforce discipline in the leadership or the laity. In addition, semi-Pelagianism was rife in the populace–a quasi-Protestant set of beliefs one clergyman called “country divinity”.

William Whittingham was probably the most prominent leader of the movement at this early phase. He was among those who had spent time in Calvin’s Geneva during the reign of Mary I, and who now sought to bring Genevan influences to bear in the English Church. Some individuals joined the clergy in order to promote reform; others chose to remain outside the episcopal establishment. Many reform-minded ministers began to meet in small groups for mutual edification, after the pattern of the Continental Protestant churches’ presbyterian assemblies.

From the beginning, puritan ministers were supported by wealthy gentry who were sympathetic to their cause. Within the queen’s court, the puritans had good friends in Francis Russell, earl of Bedford, and Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. A number of gentry sent their children to be educated by puritan instructors in the universities.

Part Two: The Breach Opens

  1. ‘So Many Learned and Religious Bishops’
  2. ‘That Comical Dress’
  3. London’s Protestant Underground
  4. The People and the Pope’s Attire
In the years immediately following Elizabeth’s accession, the English Church’s more progressive, reform-minded bishops were able to interpret the Elizabethan Religious Settlement as they wished. Differences of opinion soon came to the fore, however, in what became known as the Vestments Controversy (1563-67). The queen and her archbishop, Matthew Parker, stipulated that all clergy were to wear the square cap, gown, tippet, and surplice, or be suspended. In March 1565, several refused to comply and were suspended, though before long, most did subscribe. The most obdurate protests came from Robert Crowley, John Philpot, John Gough and Percival Wiburn. The first puritan manifestoes (see one example, right) were printed and disseminated during these years.

Both proponents and opponents of vestments appealed to Protestant leaders in Geneva (Theodore Beza) and Zurich (Rodolph Gualter). Beza took a fairly moderate stance, urging dissidents in England to comply with official policy, while continuing to preach against vestments.

During the 1560s, a group of separatists and semi-separatists formed in London, in the Minories, Plumbers Hall and other areas. They were led by preachers John Field and Thomas Wilcox, and by other figures who were not affiliated with the state church. In 1567, around one hundred of their number were incarcerated because of their unsanctioned meetings. Many then became full-blown separatists.

Puritanism gained a fairly strong foothold among both laymen and -women; the latter, in fact, gave considerable strength to the movement. Puritan layfolk came to refer to themselves as “the godly”. For many of them, the clerical cap and surplice brought memories of the reign of Mary I, still fairly recent, when Catholic bishops and priests supervised the grisly execution of many Protestant martyrs. Negative images of Rome like this helped to foster views sympathetic to puritanism among the populace.

Parts 3-4 coming soon . . .

Get a copy:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Remembering John Stoughton

Dear Conventiclers,

I must apologise for my long absence. I have been busy getting married (see this and this: I’m the one in the white dress) and writing various chapters of my PhD thesis.

Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog might remember that rather than studying the Puritans per se, I am studying some nineteenth-century historians who wrote about them. One of my historians, almost entirely forgotten now, although I have mentioned him a few times before on the Conventicle, is called John Stoughton. I think he’s rather interesting. Here’s a short introduction to him (adapted from my first chapter).

John Stoughton was born in 1807 and brought up in Norwich. Two hundred years earlier, he would have lived in a Puritan heartland. He may well have fitted in.

His autobiography, Recollections of a Long Life (1894), reveals a warm-hearted man with an eventful upbringing. His father worshipped in Methodist congregation, but still considered himself to be a Church of England man. His mother was a Quakeress until she married.

Stoughton’s father died when he was a small child, and he spent a lot of his time in his youth visiting Bethel Hospital (a secure psychiatric hospital), where his grandfather was master. His autobiography details the rather gruesome end his grandfather met when one of the patients had an awful aberration, forgetting that the scythe he was holding was supposed to be for mowing the lawn.

When Stoughton was seventeen, he felt a call to Christian ministry, but because of his mixed background had no idea which denomination to choose. After researching different options, he decided that, although no existing church model seemed to fit exactly with New Testament teaching, he felt Congregationalism came closest. This decision set the path for the rest of his life. He left his training as a lawyer and began preparing to be a congregational minister.

Dissenting places of worship in Norwich - see especially the top left, Congregational Meeting House built 1693: thanks for this picture to

This involved moving to London. In the big city, Stoughton became deeply involved with the British and Foreign Bible Society, and was much moved by the members’ love of evangelicals from all denominations, and their reverence for the works of the Puritans (who they saw as theological antecedents of nineteenth-century evangelicals).

Stoughton became a co-pastor of a congregational church in Windsor in 1833, and moved to Hornton Street Church, Kensington, in 1844. He was, as I said, chiefly a pastor, but he also nurtured an unquenchable interest in Church History.

In 1848, his first volume on the Puritans, Spiritual Heroes, was published. In 1852 he wrote Lights of the World, which included mini-biographies of Bunyan and Baxter, as representative of ‘Spiritual Valour and Victory’ and ‘Earnest Decision’ respectively. At this stage he was rather polemical in favour of the Puritans, and not what might be called an ‘academic’ historian. But as his research progressed so his approach and writing-style developed, and he became increasingly interested in his primary sources. Ten years later, his Church and State Two Hundred Years Ago considered ecclesiastical affairs in England from 1660 to 1663. This was followed in 1867 by two volumes on Ecclesiastical History from the Opening of the Long Parliament to the Death of Oliver Cromwell in 1867, and then two more volumes on the history of the Church of the Restoration in 1870. In the end, Stoughton wrote another 5 volumes, moving his Church History forward in time to his own day. By this time he had altogether written 7 full-length volumes on the Puritan era alone, and many pamphlets and shorter works, and was widely respected in British Evangelical circles (both dissenting and Church of England). In 1872 he was given the chair of historical theology at New College (of Independent Dissenters), St John’s Wood, North London. He was also something of a public figure: in 1874 he spoke at the unveiling of the statue of John Bunyan in Bedford; in 1875 he performed a similar honour for the statue of Richard Baxter in Kidderminster. On both these occasions, he was considered a voice of articulate nonconformity.

He had various influential friends, including A.P. Stanley, who was Dean of Westminster, an important position within the Anglican Church.

Stoughton died in 1897. Shortly afterwards, a biography written by his daughter was published, A Short Record of a Long Life. He has a rather small (and not factually inerrant) article devoted to him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but these days he is almost forgotten.

Stoughton played, I believe, a significant role in the ‘recovery’ of Puritanism in Britain in the nineteenth century. As we can see, he was both a prolific and a respected figure in his day. Let’s remember him for these things.

Signing off for now,
Susan C (was Susan A)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are Narratives and Propositions Opposed?

Time and again in my personal conversations with others on the nature of Scripture and other related matters, I’ve found that narratives and propositions are set up as antithetical (on a related point see Helm's Deep). Why should they be? I’m unconvinced that they are so, or that the Reformed Orthodox presented theology in such a way that propositional truths were allowed to trump the Biblical narrative of redemptive history. Both forms were valid ways of communicating the Gospel and the truth of Scripture.

Recently, while reading the outstanding thesis by Henry Knapp entitled, Understanding the Mind of God: John Owen and Seventeenth Century Exegetical Methodology (Calvin Theological Seminary, 2002), I came across a quotation from William Perkins which proves the point. In his The Arte of Prophecying, Perkins presents the Gospel in both narrative and propositional forms (pardon the 16th century spelling):

The true Messias shall be both God and man of the seede of Dauid; he shall be borne of a virgin; he shall bring the Gospell forth of his Fathers bosome; he shall satisfie the Law; he shall offer up himselfe a sacrifice for the sinnes of the faithfull; he shall conquer death by dying and rising againe; he shall ascend into heaven; and in his due time he shall returne unto iudgement.

Iesus of Nazaret the Sonne of Mary is such a one:

He therefore is the true Messias.

In this syllogisme the Maior is the scope or principall drift in all the writings of the Prophets: and the Minor in the writings of the Euangelists and Apostles.

(cited in Knapp, 81)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Coming Very Soon: Puritans on Adoption by Joel Beeke

Thanks to Jay Collier, Director of Publications at Reformation Heritage Books and PhD student at Calvin Theological Seminary, for informing us about Joel R. Beeke's forthcoming book, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption.

Those familiar with Dr Beeke's superb writings on the Puritans, such as his groundbreaking The Quest for Full Assurance and his resourceful Meet the Puritans, will not want to miss his study on this neglected but important subject.

Below is the publisher's description. Release date is 3 June 2008. You can pre-order now here.

Title: Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption

Author: Joel R. Beeke, Foreword by Dan Cruver

Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books

Cover Type: Hardback

Pages: 134


The Puritans have gotten bad press for their supposed lack of teaching on the doctrine of spiritual adoption. In Heirs with Christ, Joel R. Beeke dispels this caricature and shows that the Puritan era did more to advance the idea that every true Christian is God’s adopted child than any other age of church history. This little book lets the Puritans speak for themselves, showing how they recognized adoption’s far-reaching, transforming power and comfort for the children of God.


“Dr. Beeke is well-known for his landmark work setting the record straight on the Puritan doctrine of assurance. Now he comes to our aid again with a superb treatment of the Puritans on adoption. I welcome his expert entry into this important field, and commend his keen insights and careful analysis to all who are interested in knowing ‘what the Puritans really said’ about adoption.”

Ligon Duncan

“In this short but spiritually substantive book, Dr. Beeke—a wise and careful ‘pastor theologian’ in the best sense of both words—introduces us to the Puritans’ comforting and transforming work on spiritual adoption. More than just historically informative, this volume should be warmly welcomed by all Christians who want to learn more about this crucial aspect of our identity as sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”

Justin Taylor


1. Introduction: Correcting a Caricature
2. The Greatness and Comprehensiveness of Adoption
3. Adoption Compared in the Two Testaments
4. What Adoption is Not
5. The Westminster Assembly’s Definitions of Adoption
6. The Transforming Power of Adoption
7. Pastoral Advice in Promoting Adoption
8. The Marks of Adoption
9. Transformed Relationships in Adoption
10. The Privileges and Benefits of Adoption
11. The Responsibilities or Duties of Adoption
12. Motives for Pursuing the Consciousness of Adoption
13. Warning, Invitation, and Comfort

Scripture Index

What are you waiting for? Pre-order the book for a whopping $10 (now that's a bargain, and for a hardback no less!) at Reformation Heritage Books.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Johannes Cocceius on Being a Theologian

'The doctor ecclesiae is certainly permitted to put forth definite theses and formulate them together into a compendium. The theologian must do so using evidence found in Scripture and comparing central themes in Scripture (analogy and typology), and employing the means of conclusions (syllogisms) and the formal tools of the scholastic method. Such compendia, however, should not be collections of abstract dogma, but are to be directed toward practical Christian devotion (doctrina secundum pietatem).

This practical orientation of doctrine also entails an apologetic element: the refutation of errors and the solution of perplexing questions. It also has a pastoral implication: those who learn this doctrine must, to the best of their ability, strive to become people “who are powerful in the Scriptures,” and who thus become heralds of the truth. They themselves must become prophets. As a result, there is the possibility for progression in the knowledge of the faith and in the teaching of the faith.

Moreover, the instructor who desires to remain true to the Scriptures must be careful with the words he uses. He will have to carefully examine, with the aid of philology, and very rationally and soberly, what the text actually says; and his expositions must only employ those words that are provided by the Scriptures themselves. The language of Canaan, the language of the Scriptures, is the instrument for setting forth doctrine. Cocceius emphatically repudiates “the leaven of the sophists”, subtleties of the type that had arisen in many a university theology faculty. Doctrine may not be encapsulated by terms that distort and obscure the original meaning of God’s words, with all their qualities and their richness.'

Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) (Brill, 2001), 125-126.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The strike continues

Rather than saying our blog is on hiatus, I think it would be more awesome, sweet, stupendous, good noble to say that we are on strike. A strike over what, you ask? Not sure. But here are some ideas I have been considering:

1) Until Edinburgh gets a Long John Silvers (or Red Lobster), I choose not to post.

2) Until the *Laudian* media start giving proper coverage to puritans and puritan related blogs, I choose not to post.

3) When all of the anonymous commenters of the entire blogdom write their real name, drop their moral outrage over book reviews and stuff, and say sorry for hijacking posts (I'm looking at you, 'anonymous'), I shall post again.

4) Until someone can give a satisfactory explanation for the dismissal of that Australian dude from American Idol, I shall post no more forever.

5) When Peter Jackson agrees to direct The Hobbit, I shall come down off the mountain (sporting a strike beard) with yet another post about obscure things to be read only by people who already know them.

Right, well I'm just brainstorming here. Until my next post: Power to the ____________ and down with _____________ for a better _______________. Join us as we strike for this.

(See you all when chapter 3 is done.)


Monday, April 7, 2008

Blogging may be hazardous to your health

... according to this NY Times article, which documents the recent deaths of two bloggers in the tech field.

But if you've been reading the Conventicle for long, you know we're not in danger of keeling over from a plethora of posts. "What's up with you guys?", some of you may be wondering. I just want to mention two points:

  1. We've all grown quite busy. Almost all of us have reached our final year of doctoral work (the "writing-up" phase), and one of us is getting married this month! This doesn't mean we've stopped posting for good – only that posts may come less frequently in the months ahead.
  2. We're in the process of planning a permanent Conventicle site, of which this blog will be only a part. Lord willing, it will provide a comprehensive collection of resources relating to puritan history, theology and spirituality. We hope to get it online by the end of 2008, if not sooner. Watch this space for updates.
Thanks for your patience! We've sincerely enjoyed getting to know the small community of "puritanophiles" who've stopped by on a regular basis here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Calvin Conference next year in Geneva

From the website of the Calvin Conference 2009 (May 24-27):

"The major scholarly event of the 'Calvin year' 2009 in Geneva, this conference will attempt to take the full measure of John Calvin's historical importance by exploring the extent and limits of his influence across the generations and around the world, from his lifetime until today, in the domains of theology, politics, culture, and social life. Contributions are invited from specialists in any field of specialization on any topic that directly engages with Calvin's real or putative influence, during his lifetime or during the generations following his death.

Each day of the conference will feature both large plenary sessions and numerous smaller panels. Special events are also planned.

Confirmed participants include Irena Backus, Emidio Campi, Olivier Christin, Denis Crouzet, John de Gruchy, André Encrevé, Max Engammare, F.W. Graf, Mark Greengrass, Berndt Hamm, Harro Höpfl, Diarmaid MacCulloch, George M. Marsden, Olivier Millet, Richard Muller, William Naphy, Heinz Schilling, Cornelis van der Kooi, Ernestine van der Wall, Avihu Zakai."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dr Packer Served 60 Days Notice

Dr Packer's spiritual authority as a minister of Word and Sacrament may be revoked.

Read more about it at Fulcrum, Anglican Mainstream, and

To hear from Dr Packer himself on the Anglican situation, search YouTube on St John's Shaughnessy. Let's keep him and others involved in prayer.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Preaching Imputation

Tobias Crisp (1600-1643), whose posthumously published sermons became associated with antinomianism, had argued in a sermon on Isaiah 53:6 that it was not merely sin’s punishment which the Lord laid upon Christ but sin itself, that is, both the guilt and punishment of sin. This was a fairly standard view of imputation among the Reformed orthodox. Liability to guilt and punishment are so interlinked that the imputation of one entailed the imputation of the other. Crisp is in good company here. Consider, however, the following statements by Crisp asserted on the basis of such an imputation.

"Christ himself becomes the transgressor in the room and stead of this person that had transgressed: so that in respect of the reality of being a transgressor, Christ is as really the transgressor as the person that did commit it was a transgressor before Christ took this transgression upon him.” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 82) Commenting on Christ being made sin in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Crisp was careful to qualify that the Apostle Paul was in no way referring to sin’s pollution of Christ’s essence nor was he suggesting that Christ performed any sinful act. Nevertheless, he insisted that Christ was a transgressor: “the Apostle’s meaning was, that no transgressor in the world was such a transgressor as Christ was. But still he was a transgressor, as our transgressions were laid upon him…” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 84).

On the other side of the imputation equation, Crisp reasoned, “If you will speak of one completely righteous, you must speak of this person, and know that Christ himselfe is not more righteous than this person is, that that person is not more sinfull then Christ was when hee took their sinnes on him…”; by the one sacrifice of Christ, “he hath perfected them that are sanctified.” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 90)

Remember that these statements of Crisp were made in his preaching. Owen was, of course, not capable of such unqualified assertions! And so he cautions with his characteristic distinctions.

“When our sin was imputed unto him [Christ], he did not thereby become a sinner as we are, actively and inherently a sinner; but passively only, and in God’s estimation. As he was made sin, yet knew no sin; so we are made righteous, yet are sinful in ourselves.” (Doctrine of Justification, XVIII)

“To say that we are as righteous as Christ, is to make a comparison between the personal righteousness of Christ and our personal righteousness, — if the comparison be of things of the same kind. But this is foolish and impious: for, notwithstanding all our personal righteousness, we are sinful; he knew no sin. And if the comparison be between Christ’s personal, inherent righteousness, and righteousness imputed unto us, inhesion and imputation being things of diverse kinds, it is fond and of no consequence. Christ was actively righteous; we are passively so.” (Doctrine of Justification, XVIII)

The comparison between Crisp and Owen is not exactly on the same level. Crisp's language is kerygmatic while Owen's is academic and used in the context of theological polemics. Yet if one is to preach imputation with all the cautions of Owen in place, I wonder how might that language sound?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Perkins and OT Types

Here's a fascinating, and I would say typically puritan (pardon the pun) use of two Old Testament types for a New Testament concept, from a discussion by William Perkins on the combat between the flesh and the Spirit in the Christian (Galatians 5:17).

I'm interested to hear some feedback – do you think Perkins was over-reaching in using these or not?:

"... hereby we are taught to be watchfull in prayer. Watch & pray (saith Christ, &c. for the spirit is ready but the flesh is weak.) Rebecca, when 2. twins strove in her wombe was troubled & said, why am I so? wherefore she went to ask the Lord, namely for some prophet. So when we feele this inward fight, the best thing is to have recourse to God by prayer, and to his word, that the spirit may be strengthened against the flesh.

As the children of Israel by compassing the city Jerico 7. daies, and by sounding rammes hornes overturned the walles thereof: so by serious invocation of Gods name the spirite is confirmed, and the turrets and towres of the rebellious flesh battered."
- from Two Treatises, I. Of the nature and practise of repentance. II. Of the combat of the flesh and the spirit (1593), 95-96.

I haven't decided whether these are legitimate types for the combat of the flesh and the Spirit, but I do covet the kind of familiarity with Scripture that can recognize such correlations.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Why I love Piper ...

"God has a counselor–It's called God. And He consults with nobody but Himself."

- John Piper, speaking on Romans 11:34:

Who has known the mind of the L
ORD, or who has been his counselor?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Keep it plain

"To preach simply is not to preach unlearnedly, nor confusedly, but plainely and perspicaciously, that the simplest which dooth heare may understand what is taught, as if he did heare his name".

- Henry Smith (1560-1591), called 'the silver-tongued preacher' in his day

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).

Monday, February 4, 2008

Geek comedy at its very finest ...

(HT: Matthew Bradley)

'The time is not long'

A riveting excerpt from Thomas Shepard's sermon series, The Sound Beleever (pp. 316-17), set into verse by Charles Hambrick-Stowe in his book on puritan spiritual practices, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (p. 61):

This is therefore the great glory
of all those whom God hath called
to the fellowship of his deare Son;

and which is yet more, blessed be God the time is not long,
but that we shall feel what now we doe but heare of,
and see but a little of,
as we use to doe of things afar off:

We are here but strangers, and have no abiding city,
we look for this that hath foundations;

and therefore let sinne presse us downe;
and weary us out with wrastling with it;

let Satan tempt,
and cast his darts at us;

let our drink be our teares day and night,
and our meat gall and wormwood;

let us be shut up in choaking prisons,
and cast out for dead in the streets,
nay upon dung-hills, and none to bury us;

let us live alone as Pelicans in the wildernesse,
and be driven among wild beasts into deserts;

let us be scourged, and disgraced,
stoned, sawn asunder, and burned;

let us live in sheep-skins, and goat-skins,
destitute, afflicted, tormented
(as who looks not for such days shortly?)

yet oh brethren, the time is not long,
but when we are at the worst,
and death ready to swallow us up;
we shall cry out,
Oh glory, glory,
oh welcome glory.

You can read this sermon series online or download a pdf through

Sunday, February 3, 2008

'Only a few can be learned, but all can be Christian'

Thought this was a great quote. Can you guess who wrote it (from a work called Adhortatio ad christianae philosophiae studium)?:

"To me he is truly a theologian who teaches not by skill with intricate syllogisms but by a disposition of mind, by the very expression and eyes ...

In his kind of philosophy, located as it is more truly in the disposition of the mind than in syllogisms, life means more than debate, inspiration is preferable to erudition, transformation is a more important matter than intellectual comprehension.

Only a very few can be learned, but all can be Christian, all can be devout, and – I shall boldly add – all can be theologians."

If you need a little help, see this article from Christian History & Biography that's just been published about him ...

Some hints: he famously argued with Luther over the freedom/bondage of the will, and his name rhymes with 'tea-jazz-Gus'


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