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Carl Trueman on John Owen

November 30, 2015 2 comments

Following the topic of church history and the Puritans, and having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation History lectures, I have now listened (available on sermon audio here to a 5-part series (with two additional messages after these five) from Trueman, on John Owen.

Much of the content is actually about the Puritans generally, with some overlap of the Reformation series as to the overall historical setting, along with descriptions of Owen’s theology in particular. Of note, Reformed theology in Owen’s day was more complex, more developed than in the 16th century, in part due to the heresy confronted in the 17th century: Socinianism. Owen’s view of the atonement comes out in a more detailed response to Socinianism. While John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and Twisse (the chairman of the Westminster Assembly) saw the atonement as not necessary–God COULD have provided redemption in another way, but He chose to do it that way—for Owen the atonement had to be done in that way, the blood sacrifice of the God-man, as necessary due to the character of God.

Among other interesting points: the Puritans, as authors of the Westminster Confession, did not hold to the idea of “proof-text scriptures.” The Westminster Confession document originally did not have scripture verses associated with the confession statements. They added these only at the request of Parliament. Still, their thinking was more the idea of, look at the scripture reference, and then refer to the 100+ commentaries that had ever been written on that text. As J.I. Packer also noted (in this series), here also from Trueman, the Puritan era was one of strong expository preaching, of very strong exposition of biblical texts.

The idea of the Covenant of Redemption (the agreement in eternity past, between the Father and the Son) first showed up, in Puritan writing, in 1638. Yet a criticism of that covenantal structure has been that the idea is “not very Trinitarian.” Here John Owen contributed and expanded the Trinitarian view of the Covenant of Redemption: the Spirit’s role also in this covenant. Trueman recommends reading this work, Owen’s Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, even before reading Owen’s other works such as “the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” or “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.”

Also generally recommended, especially for laypeople, are the Banner of Truth reprints, abridgements of John Owen’s works.  For people with more limited time (non-pastors, those busy working other jobs in the world), Trueman notes that the abridgements will at least give you Owen’s conclusions (without reading the many hundreds of pages of reasoning to how he got to those conclusions). As a beginner-level, Trueman suggests J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” which includes Packer’s quotes from Owen.

As with previous material from Trueman, this “John Owen conference” series provides good and helpful material, a good introduction to the overall Puritan authors and particularly the key features of John Owen and his writings.

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Commentary on 1 Peter, Persecution, and the “Court of Providence”

November 18, 2015 1 comment

From a commentary recommendation I once came across in the comments at Challies’ blog, I have been reading through Robert Leighton’s “A Practical Commentary on 1 Peter,” a classic 17th century work available on Kindle and elsewhere (1st two chapters at Gracegems), now nearing the end of 1 Peter 4. Though the language is 17th century English, the Kindle version occasionally has transcription mistakes, and the section on baptism (in 1 Peter 3) gets into too much paedobaptist Covenant Theology, overall this is a good detailed, devotional commentary on 1 Peter, a book I had wanted to study for its content on our daily life and dealing with persecution. This topic I see as also related to many things I have read from Charles Spurgeon, and a few previous blog posts (see this post regarding a Spurgeon sermon, this Spurgeon account of the wife with an unbelieving husband, also this one).

Throughout, the contrast between true believers and those who have an appearance of religion (but only superficial, outward) is well-defined, pointing out the true inner joy and thoughts of the believer, versus the lack of such understanding amongst the outward professors—and thus what causes them to scorn the real Christian. Continued mention is made of how outsiders think, their lives focused on “fun” and worldly entertainment, versus the believer’s perspective that simply has different tastes, differing ideas of what is fun and enjoyable. Consider this excerpt:

The Christian and the carnal man are most wonderful to each other. The one wonders to see the other walk so strictly, and deny himself to those carnal liberties which the most take, and take for so necessary, that they think they could not live without them. And the Christian thinks it strange that men should be so bewitched, and still remain children in the vanity of their turmoil, wearying and humoring themselves from morning to night, running after stories and fancies, ever busy doing nothing; wonders that the delights of earth and sin can so long entertain and please men… the ungodly wonder far more at him (the Christian), not knowing the inward cause of his different choice and way.

And

Oh! How much worth is it, and how doth it endear the heart to God, to have found Him sensibly present in the times of trouble, refreshing the soul with dews of spiritual comfort, in the midst of the flames of fiery trial.

Along with this reading, lately I have often considered what Spurgeon called the “court of providence,” as in his sermon #579  about the different ways that God works things out in our lives – in our lives today, with equivalent examples from scripture. The “court of providence” includes times when God raises up people as the means for deliverance (for example, Jeremiah in the cistern, delivered by Ebedmelech); sometimes by silencing enemies, or by raising up friends for them (Joseph in Egypt, so frequently shown favor in the eyes of men; also Ruth with Boaz, the infant Moses, and David’s help from Jonathan).

The Christian may expect that in the course of providence, when he meets with trouble, God will raise up for him at different times, and in unexpected quarters, persons who will take an interest in him, and be the means of working out his deliverance. God sits at the helm of providence, and when the vessel is almost on the rock, He can pilot it into the deep waters again; and when His servants have been obliged by the tempest to reef their sails, He knows how, as the Master of the seas, to change the winds to a gale so favorable that with all sails spread, they can fly before the gale to the desired haven. … Why, it could only have been because God has a way of touching human hearts and making them friendly to His own people! He pleads the cause of His servants. He does not violate the wills of their enemies, but He wisely turns those wills into the channel of friendship.

Reflecting on Spurgeon’s observations here, and other general teachings from Spurgeon, I have become more aware of the little events in my own life, the little kindnesses in which God shows favor. Well did Spurgeon often say it, that some will experience the trial out in the world, in the workplace, while others experience the trial in one’s own house (reference Micah 7:6); yet in God’s mercy, in such cases that one is viewed favorably and experiences relative calm in the workplace.  And in especially trying situations come amazing incidents of God’s providence; the one who resolves that routine auto maintenance can be done on Monday (instead of taking the car to the service shop on Sunday afternoon–following the precept of honoring the Lord’s day), experiences violent reaction at home–but the event works out amazingly well during Monday’s lunch-hour: the shop worker, after saying the wait is two hours, then moves that person’s car to the front of the line; and providentially, a fellow employee is also at the service place, recognizes the other person, and they have a nice conversation while waiting at the auto shop.

Leighton’s commentary on 1 Peter, and this frequent theme in Spurgeon’s preaching, are both helpful to understanding the experience of trials and persecutions in daily life–for relating these points to real-life experiences and the way God shows mercy and kindness to the believer in the midst of such events.

 

 

The Regulative Principle, and Spurgeon on “Thus Says the Lord”

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

From my current reading, Going Beyond the Five Points includes a helpful chapter on the Regulative Principle, explaining what it is (and what it isn’t), including the theological background of it (that public worship is something God gives us more specifics on, and holds a higher standard, than our everyday life) and the scriptural basis. Among the interesting points: the regulative principle – unlike what I always associated the idea with – does not necessitate exclusive psalmody or music without instruments. Such practices are often (but not always) associated with churches that hold to the regulative principle, but not a necessary conclusion — and as I have observed, at least a few current-day Reformed Baptists have stated their disagreement with exclusive psalmody. As noted in this chapter, the doctrine of original sin and infant baptism also have such historical association, but that does not mean that the one (infant baptism) follows from the other.

From my ongoing Spurgeon reading comes a sermon related to this overall topic. Though Spurgeon never mentions the term “regulative principle,” his sermon #591, “Thus Says the Lord,” is an interesting one in which Spurgeon addresses the emphasis found in so many scriptures, “Thus Says the Lord” as a way to address an error in the Anglican church and its “book of common prayer.” This message was one of several such messages from the 1864 volume in which Spurgeon – age 30 at this time, several years before the Downgrade controversy — first publicly addressed errors in the professing Christian church, publicly challenging those of the establishment (the Anglican Church) to prove their practice from scripture. (The issue here was infant baptism, including statements in the Book of Common Prayer, such as having godparents vow saving faith and commitment on behalf of the infant being “baptized.” In a style well familiar to modern-day blog readers – links to all the posts in a blog series – the notes at the end of this sermon list the numbers and titles in this series regarding this issue.)

Alongside specific comments that tell us about the controversy itself, and some of the specific criticism Spurgeon had experienced (and in this sermon he names names), Spurgeon continually emphasizes the issue of authority, the only authority as “Thus says the Lord.” His explanations relate to the 1689 Confession (which Spurgeon agreed with) understanding of the regulative principle, as he notes God’s concern for proper worship, as God wants it.  Here, strong words from Spurgeon about God’s authority in His Church:

“Thus says the Lord” is the only authority in God’s Church. When the tabernacle was pitched in the wilderness, what was the authority for its length and breadth? Why was the altar of incense to be placed here, and the brazen laver there? Why so many lambs or bullocks to be offered on a certain day? Why must the Passover be roasted whole and not boiled? Simply and only because God had shown all these things to Moses on the holy mount; and thus had Jehovah spoken, “Look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you on the mount.”

It is even so in the Church at the present day; true servants of God demand to see for all church ordinances and doctrines, the express authority of the Church’s only Teacher and Lord. They remember that the Lord Jesus bade the apostles to teach believers to observe all things whatever He had commanded them—and He neither gave to them nor to any man power to alter His commands. The Holy Spirit revealed much of precious truth and holy precept by the apostles, and to His teaching we would give earnest heed; but when men cite the authority of fathers, and councils, and bishops, do we give place for subjection? No! Not for an hour! They may quote Irenaeus or Cyprian, Augustine or Chrysostom; they may remind us of the dogmas of Luther or Calvin; they may find authority in Simeon, or Wesley, or Gill—we will listen to the opinions of these great men with the respect which they deserve as men, but having done so, we deny that we have anything to do with these men as authorities in the Church of God, for in the Church of God nothing has any authority but, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts.”

If you bring us the concurrent consent of all tradition—if you shall quote precedents venerable with 15, 16, or 17 centuries of antiquity, we burn the whole lot as so much worthless lumber, unless you put your finger upon the passage of Holy Writ which warrants the matter to be of God! You may further plead, in addition to all this venerable authority, the beauty of the ceremony and its usefulness to those who partake, but this is all foreign to the point, for, to the true Church of God, the only question is this—is there a, “Thus says the Lord,” for it? And if divine authority is not forthcoming, faithful men must thrust forth the intruder as the cunning craftiness of men.