William Perkins and the Puritans

July 24, 2017 Leave a comment

From the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary comes this recent conference — about the life and works of William Perkins.  This set of five messages, including one from Sinclair Ferguson and another from Joel Beeke, considers Perkins’ life, writings, and the great influence he had on the English Puritan era.

Perkins’ life was relatively short – died at age 44, apparently from kidney stones – yet spanned the years of the Elizabethan age (1558 – 1602) as a transition between the 16th century Reformation on the European continent and the later English Puritan era.  The conference lectures consider the historical period, including Perkins’ own life – a rather rough person in his youth, similar to the young John Bunyan, but then saved and greatly used of God – and the chain/link of believers who were influences on Perkins, then to Perkins’ students and down to the next generation.  Perkins, a late 16th century supralapsarian English theologian and Cambridge scholar, wrote many early Puritan writings, which have recently been published in electronic format.  Several volumes are available now in Kindle format on Amazon; earlier this year, Challies’ Kindle deals  listed the first volume on special sale, and so I have this volume in my queue for future reading.  Sinclair Ferguson noted the relative scarcity of Perkins’ works in the late 20th century, as he described his trip to South Korea in 1990, meeting believers there — and his amazement at finding Perkins’ books available there but not to be found in Great Britain.

I previously learned of William Perkins from a J.I. Packer series on the Puritans which I listened to a few years ago.  These five conference lectures provide much more information, to build on that summary overview from Packer.  Perkins’ works include his perhaps best-known “golden chain,” as well as “a case of conscience” about the believer’s assurance, and “The Art of Prophesying” (the term used in the sense of preaching, the proclamation of the Word of God).  Conference lectures even include a “15 reasons for why you should read William Perkins.”  He especially influenced the Puritans, and is worth our reading as well.  A 2015 article from the Australia Gospel Coalition even lists William Perkins among the “Five Theologians You Should Know.”

 

 

Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Scripture’s Attributes and Importance

July 7, 2017 2 comments

In doing the 2017 Challies reading challenge, I’ve been going through my inventory of various free and low-cost books I have acquired over the last few years.  These include a free audio recording of Kevin DeYoung’s “Taking God at His Word,” a past selection from Christian Audio’s monthly free downloads (the Kindle version is currently on sale for $3.99); a recent Christian Audio free offer (The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, by Steven Lawson); and a Kindle book that was free at the time of its publication a few years ago, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism.  From reading these three books, plus the latter part of Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, I notice one common theme, expressed in different ways: the importance of Scripture.

Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word:  I had occasionally read blog posts from DeYoung, but not any books from him yet.  The reading style is easy and straight-forward, and the introduction gave me the impression of a too-easy, too-light book.  Yet the chapters of the book – though for a general  layperson audience — provide solid material, a good overview of the Attributes of Scripture.  I especially like his acronym SCAN:  Sufficiency of scripture, Clarity (or perspicuity), Authority, and Necessity.  Four different groups of people show a weakness in one of these attributes:  Sufficiency – the “Rank and file Christian;” Clarity – Post-Moderns; Authority – Liberal Christians; and Necessity – Atheists and Agnostics.  DeYoung’s popular style relates important ideas and responses to criticism of specific scripture accounts  with current-day analogies, including reference to popular fiction such as the characters from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  A notable example here is the book of Jonah, which Jesus refers to in statements that make it clear that Jonah was not merely a nice, moral literary story, but refers to actual historical events.

Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd Jones:  The latter part of The Forgotten Spurgeon addresses the downgrade controversy and the issue at stake — the authority of the Bible and the attack from increasing liberalism/modernism.  Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, in dealing with London during Lloyd Jones’ preaching ministry in the mid-20th century, serves as a type of sequel to the condition of churches in London, the result several decades after the downgrade controversy that had begun in the late 1880s.

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism focuses on a quite recent attack on scripture, this one especially concerned with the sufficiency of scripture.  Specifically, this book is one of several from the last few years that address the error of fallible prophecy, promoted by Wayne Grudem.  A detailed and informative book, it considers several scriptural passages and interacts with and responds to Grudem’s errors regarding Agabus as well as many other problems with Grudem’s handling of scripture.  The New Calvinist continuationist view, with new revelation that is vague and unclear, “fallible prophecies,” considers scripture as insufficient in itself.

 

The Happy Christian and Sad Christian: David Murray Conference

July 3, 2017 Leave a comment

In the last year I have come to appreciate David Murray, for his Reformed Christian perspective on Christian counseling, including his blog as well as his conference lectures on the topic of Christian emotions and counseling.   Last fall I listened to a Christian worldview conference which included one message from Murray; recently, my podcast feed brought another interesting series from him, the “2017 Heritage Conference” – a three part set done this May.  The set includes the introductory message on “Christian Emotion,” then “The Sad Christian” and “The Happy Christian.” Based on his books on these topics (which I have not read), these three messages contain a lot of good and helpful information.

While attending a work-place communication training class this past week, I recalled this series from David Murray; he provides a good reminder that we can learn some things from secular scientists and their studies – and expand on them to encompass a Christian worldview.  Murray mentioned the negativity bias that we all have (as a result of our sin nature), which was also referenced in the secular training class.  “The science of happiness” comes from recent secular studies which note the positive effects of happiness, and the connection between being happy and our overall health and success in life; we as Christians have greater reasons for joy/happiness, as well as more resources for overcoming sadness/depression.  The “happiness science” notes that 50% of happiness comes from our genetics; some people are naturally more happy, others more serious and sad.  Another 10% comes from our life circumstances.  The remaining 40% is our response to the events in our lives, the 40% that we have control over, our attitude toward life.

Among the highlights from these lectures:  the contrast between the creation, pre-fall perfect emotions, and our now disordered emotions.  We still have the same positive emotions, plus negative ones that were not experienced before the fall, yet in our fallen state, these emotions come up at the wrong time and place (happy at seeing something bad happen to someone else), or in excess/extremes: hedonism and stoicism.

A catchy formula:  “ES + IP = ER” – External Situation + our Internal Perception = Emotional Response

God gave us our emotions in the first place; God’s work in our lives includes His redeeming our emotions, to restore them:  adding to our positive emotions (love, joy, peace) – multiplying them, enhancing them, and using them; as Nehemiah found, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  God also uses our negative emotions to help us: to keep us safe in this dangerous, fallen world, to reveal our true heart values (we can measure our treasure by our feelings), and to highlight our sin and bring conviction of sin.

Christians get depressed, too — studies show that 20% of adults, at some point in their life, will experience depression.  Christians have more resources to deal with it, but also more reasons to become depressed (conviction of sin, and the notice of Satan).  Happiness, or joy, is not something that just happens without effort; as the US. “Declaration of Independence” even says, it is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  A biblical definition of Christian happiness: A God-centered, God-given, God-glorifying sense of God’s love, that is produced by a right relationship in Christ, and is sustained by loving worship of God and loving service of others.

The discipline of happiness includes recognizing several contrasts (ten in his book, of which several are listed in the “Happy Christian” lesson), between one thing that is greater than the other; neither is to be ignored completely, but one should be more prominent in our thoughts.

  • Facts > feelings — reference Psalm 77
  • Good news > Bad news — reference Philippians 4:6-8
  • Done > Do
  • Christ > Christians
  • Future > Past
  • Encouragement and praise > criticism
  • Giving > Receiving
  • Diversity > Uniformity  (biblical diversity:  people from different backgrounds and cultures, being together as a community of believers)

 

 

The Forgotten Spurgeon: The Controversy of 1864

June 27, 2017 4 comments

From the recent donation of free Christian books, I have been reading Iain Murray’s classic The Forgotten Spurgeon, a second-edition paperback (reprint from 1994).  As I have learned from reading it, it is not so much a biography of Spurgeon as a look at Spurgeon’s preaching ministry, centered around three major controversies he was involved in: his early years, then “the controversy of 1864,” followed by the later down-grade controversy.  At the time of Murray’s book (second edition 1973), Spurgeon certainly was more “forgotten,” especially the Spurgeon revealed in his sermons, and the 40+ years since then have benefited from the republication of Spurgeon’s writings – plus now especially our Internet age access to the complete collection of his sermons, all available free in PDF format at Spurgeon Gems.

From my continued sequential reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last 8 years (now reading the 1867 volume), much of what Murray brings up is already familiar territory, and much of the work consists of direct quotations from Spurgeon’s many sermons.  What I especially appreciate is Murray’s own commentary, providing more of the historical context of what was going on in England, and London specifically, during these years—beyond what Spurgeon directly mentioned in his sermons;  I have now reached the part dealing with the second controversy.  Less than two years ago, I read the actual sermons noted here:  #573, “Baptismal Regeneration” from June of 1864, #577, “Let Us Go Forth” later that month; and #591, “Thus Says the Lord—Or, the Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balance of the Sanctuary” from September of that year.  Much of the controversy is explained in the sermons themselves – the inward creeping of Roman Catholicism and formalism, and the teaching of baptismal regeneration of infants, in the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer;” sections of it directly quoted by Spurgeon.  The notes at the end of these sermons, listing the sermon numbers and dates as being a part of a series, brought to my attention that these sermons were considered of special importance at the time.  The references to the Book of Common Prayer, I connected in my own understanding, to my previous reading from Puritan writers, recalling especially the story of John Bunyan and some of his objections to the “Book of Common Prayer.”  In reading again about it now, it also relates to my recent reading about the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century (Sketches of the Covenanters, by J.C. McFeeters).

Iain Murray here contributes more of the historical background, which is quite interesting as a follow-up to the story of the Puritans and the Reformation in England.  The strife of the 17th century, between the Anglicans and the non-conformists, had been eradicated by the close of the 18th century.  A new controversy arose, beginning in 1833 (the year before Spurgeon was born) with the publication of tracts, ‘Tracts for the Times’, from Oxford; the initial excitement over the tracts died down by 1841.  The Tractarian view advocated apostolic succession from the times of the apostles, and appealed to the content in the Anglican Book of Prayer for its Anglo-Catholicism.  The weakness in the 19th century came from Evangelical Protestants who used the Book of Common Prayer understood in a non-Romanist way, and who even tried to argue for consistency between the two 16th century documents: The Anglican 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.  As Murray notes:

Significantly, the debate over Tractarianism demonstrated that the wheel had come almost full circle since Puritan times.  In the 17th century the prelates and authorities in the Church had complained that the Puritan scruples over full conformity to the Book of Common Prayer were groundless, seeing there was nothing in the Book which supported the errors of Rome.  To this the Puritans replied by pointing out the very things which – for an altogether different purpose — the Tractarians pointed out in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Puritans claimed that the Prayer Book revealed the insufficiently Reformed character of the Church of England; it allowed nests of Popery to remain, and to these, they prophesied, ‘the rooks’ would one day return.  But the strange thing was that it was now evangelicals who asserted that there were no ‘nests’ in the Prayer Book, whereas dignitaries and bishops began to talk about the ‘Catholic’ character of the Book.  Either the Puritans or the 19th century evangelical churchmen were wrong.

Murray also here contributes quotes from Spurgeon’s contemporaries, including J.C. Ryle, and indicates his own disagreement with Spurgeon here (regarding the position of infant baptism) while noting the distinction between his own (covenantal) view of infant baptism and certain ideas of baptismal regeneration that are indeed found in the Prayer Book:  evidence indicates that “a number of those associated with the formulation of the 1552 Prayer Book did believe  that an efficacy accompanied infant baptism at the time of its administration and it is very hard to deny that this belief is taught in the Catechism.”  Murray further adds that the “warrant for the administration of baptism to children is not qualified in the Prayer Book in terms of the covenant promises of God to believing parents.”

The reading here is interesting, both in terms of Spurgeon’s part and the overall situation, this part of church history that he was a part of. After this section in “The Forgotten Spurgeon” comes the “Down-Grade Controversy,” which I have only read a little about.  I look forward to reading this as well, in reference to Spurgeon’s later years (sermons I will eventually get to in the Spurgeon sermon volumes).

Reformation History Reading: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 1

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

For the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, and especially appropriate for this the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, I have read the first volume (out of five) of J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century.”  Available free in the public domain, Librivox recording has recently completed a full audio recording of the first volume; the complete work is also available in PDF format, 1137 pages plus footnotes.

The reading is straightforward and clear, and a good selection for audio listening.  Though of great length and detail, the material is interesting as it tells the story of the early years of the 16th century, especially with reference to Martin Luther and his life, but also including the major players in Luther’s life.  Chapters introduce and provide details concerning Melancthon and Erasmus, as well as lesser known figures such as Reuchlin, Spalatin, and Staupitz.  (Here the PDF version is helpful, for spelling so many German names.)  D’Aubigne’s narrative combines his own commentary on the important events, along with many personal letters of Luther and his friends, and interesting anecdotes, to provide a detailed picture of what was going on in early 16th century Germany.  The focus is mainly on Luther, but we also see the many influences on his life, the friends placed in his life at various points, and the rising support from the leaders, students and the common people of Germany.  The section on Tetzel, the itinerant indulgences merchant, provides rich details and humorous accounts, such as “the trick of a nobleman,” who obtained an indulgence for a future crime to be committed:

A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. “Most assuredly,” replied Tetzel, “I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose.” — “Well, then,” answered the knight, “I am desirous of taking a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me.” Tetzel made some objections; they came however to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.

Volume 1 book 4 deals with the events shortly after October 31, 1517, through the friendly session at Heidelberg in the spring of 1518 and the beginning persecution in Augsburg that fall.  This section shows Luther’s desire to remain loyal to Roman Catholicism and the Pope –even writing a respectful letter to the Pope, thinking that the Pope would agree with him—yet, in the face of unexpected opposition, his courage and boldness.  The Roman Catholic leaders expected a simple case of a humble Augustine friar who would quickly recant, and soon became impatient, seeing an unexpected quality in Luther.

A sample from Luther’s letters, shortly after the theses were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg:

They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgment they pass on me!……We can always see the mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own……Truth will not gain more by my moderation, than it will lose by my rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? If humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions.” –late 1517. From Volume 1 Book 3 Chapter 6.

Volume 1 is a great beginning to this History of the Reformation.  Since Librivox has now completed volume 1, I hope that they will soon add volume 2 and beyond.  Either way, I plan to read Volume 2 by next year, possibly in next year’s reading challenge.

2017 Challies Reading Challenge: Mid-Year Update

June 9, 2017 Leave a comment

In this previous post, I listed a set of 13 books to read, for the “Light Reader,” for this calendar year.  Since then, I have found that I can read many more books, and have gradually expanded the list, to a current list of 26.  As I near the end of these, I’ll update accordingly; again, as with the original list, the categories I’m using are not the actual set of 26 books for the Avid Reader, but include some books from other categories (beyond the “Avid Reader” list).  As noted before, the book list includes books I already own or have easy access to: free audio books as well as Kindle free and low-cost (sale) Kindle books.  Providentially, this year has also brought me many more paperback titles, thanks to a “used book sale” at church one Sunday this spring, as well as the large donation of free theology books from another church member cleaning out and sharing his large book collection.  From Challies’ daily-updated “Kindle deals” page I have also purchased a few more on-sale Kindle books.

The multi-format approach has worked well, with additions to the free audio book collection (past free offers including books from Kevin DeYoung and Steve Lawson), and, for Kindle books, the use of a simple Kindle book-stand on the counter while doing chores, and so I have completed most of the original 13 books – plus a few more in an expanded list.  For the 26 books goal, the following are now on the list:

From this expanded list, I have already completed three books: Walter Chantry’s Call the Sabbath A Delight and Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, and Sketches of the Covenanters, by J.C. McFeeters. Two others are in progress, nearing completion:  Sam Waldron’s The Lord’s Day and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World.

From the recent reading, I have especially appreciated Sketches of the Covenanters; published in 1913, available as a free recording from Still Waters Revival Books, the recording is older, from cassette tape, and it took a little while to get into it – but the overall history and events, along with many stories of individual martyrs, is quite interesting, a part of church history I had not been aware of.  Another good one (nearing the end) is Sam Waldron’s The Lord’s Day: Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice.  The book is not lengthy in pages, but good writing (sometimes complex thought, along with basic diagrams describing the concepts) and very detailed in its consideration of various issues, including many quotes from the early church and John Calvin, with a balanced presentation and responses to anti-sabbatarian ideas as well as a few ideas advocated by some sabbatarians.

Biblical Prophecies and Fulfillment: Michael Barrett Series

May 15, 2017 4 comments

The later messages in Michael Barrett’s “Refuting Dispensationalism” series  (see this previous post) consider another of Charles Ryrie’s distinctives of dispensationalism –  literal interpretation of prophecy – with a detailed look at some actual prophetic texts that have been fulfilled, to note some interesting features.  A key point here is that, contrary to the claim made by some, prophecy is NOT “as clear as yesterday’s newspaper.”

  • Prophecies Are Not Clear in the Details

The prophecy in 2 Kings 7:1-2 – Elisha, to the king’s captain who doubted Elisha’s prophecy about food in Samaria, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it,” had its fulfillment the next day, described in verses 17 through 20.  Yet the prophecy lacked details.  Surely, if the man had known the details, he would have taken steps to prevent its fulfillment!

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, but not Exact Date-Specific

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10) also had its fulfillment. About 70 years later, the people did return to the land of Israel.  But what was the starting point?  The deportation occurred in three stages:  605 B.C., 597 B.C. and finally, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Yet if we try to date the 70 years from any of these three points, to the later decree of Cyrus, none of these starting points matches exactly to 70 years.

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, But In Different Ways

Jacob’s last words to his twelve sons, in Genesis 49, includes a prophecy about Simeon and Levi in verses 5-7:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.

The later history of Israel proved the truth of this prophecy.  Yet though we might expect the same outcome for both tribes, the details proved otherwise.  Levi was scattered and not given a portion of land, but in a positive way – the Lord was their portion, they did not inherit a specific piece of land.  Simeon, though, was given land – land that was within the territory of Judah, such that they later lost their specific identity and are infrequently mentioned as a distinct tribe.  One prophecy about both sons and their descendants, meant fulfillment in very different ways.

Along with these interesting observations, in this series Dr. Barrett also provides guidelines for the proper interpretation of prophecies, including explanation of “progressive prediction” or “prophetic telescoping.”  Of particular note, Barrett disagrees with the “double fulfillment” or “multiple fulfillment” view of prophecy; a particular prophecy only has one meaning and thus one corresponding fulfillment; a particular scripture cannot mean one thing and also mean something else.  Yet we can see a progression in the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Isaiah 61:1-2 is a classic example; Jesus quoted verse 1 through the first phrase of verse 2, as being fulfilled at that time (His First Coming); He did not read the rest of verse 2, though – because that part refers to His Second Coming.

Overall I found this series helpful: a good overview of a few key issues identified by Ryrie as distinctives of dispensationalism, and considering specific points of scripture, and examples from scripture as a contrast to these points.