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2020 Reading in Review: Reformed Confessions Study

December 18, 2020 2 comments

A year ago I reviewed the 2019 books and looked forward to a year long study through the Reformed Confessions. Now I’m nearing the end of this study, which included reading through the Westminster Daily readings, a calendar schedule to read through the Westminster Confession of Faith and its two catechisms, WLC and WSC, along with:

From my original plan at the end of 2019, I completed Spurgeon’s devotional Faith’s Checkbook as well as Thomas Boston’s Crook in the Lot.  I added Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity as commentary reading along with some of the questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but found that I could not keep up with the Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God in addition to the Confession commentaries — so I plan to resume reading that in the near future.  I’ve also heard of Thomas Manton’s work on Psalm 119 as highly recommended, another to start on for 2021.

A few thoughts on these Confession commentaries:  A.A. Hodge’s is a straightforward read, covering the basic doctrine, and understandable, and not too lengthy; the reading can tend to the dry side, just basic academic reading, but at the layperson level.   This commentary includes a section of questions to be answered, at the end of each chapter of the confession — useful for a group study with assignments or discussion, or perhaps for family worship and use with children. 

Ursinus’ 16th century commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism is interesting in that it comes from the main author of this well-known catechism.  It is far lengthier (PDF over 1000 pages), and the writing style and content rather tedious; some of this is of course the older English writing of this edition, the public domain one available from Monergism and elsewhere (as far as I know, this one has not been recently republished in a modernized form).  The content includes statement of each Heidelberg question and answer, followed by an exposition of that question/answer; the exposition frequently includes a number of ‘objections’ and answers to these objections–some of which may be familiar to current-day readers (and many that are not as clear, from long-forgotten objections that Ursinus was familiar with).  Ursinus’ commentary has some good sections in response to, say, antinomians, Anabaptists, and a group called ‘Ubiquitarians’ (which I learned was the 16th century name for what we refer to as Lutheranism), regarding such things as God’s moral law and the Reformed interpretation of the Lord’s Supper (as contrasted with Lutheran / Ubiquitarian Consubstantiation).  The objection responses are phrased in terms of major and minor propositions, with terms such as affirm, deny, and syllogisms, and sometimes these objection-abswer sections are rather lengthy, providing ‘too much information’ for the average 21st century Christian, issues about particular doctrinal points not necessarily relevant to understanding the original Catechism question.  

One off-putting aspect especially of Ursinus’ writing, is his occasional references to eschatology, in which he states amillennial assumptions as though a given, assumptions stated in passing and as though not to be questioned — when a clear exegesis of the text clearly does NOT support that view. As for example, this section, at the beginning of section III. WHAT IS THE RESURRECTION, AND WHAT ARE THE ERRORS WHICH ARE ENTERTAINED CONCERNING IT? (page 513 in the Monergism PDF file)

The word resurrection sometimes signifies in the Scriptures man’s conversion, or his resurrection from sin, as, “This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:5.)

Overall, the reading this year, the Reformed Confessions along with commentaries, has been a good study, covering the many different doctrines in the confessions and commentaries, and thus becoming more acquainted with the documents and the writings of these theologians from previous centuries.

Christology: David’s Son and David’s Lord (Review)

May 15, 2020 1 comment

I’ve enjoyed the Theology theme essay books recently published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, compilations of lectures on various doctrinal topics.  Previous posts here include reviews of Only One Way and Our Ancient Foe.  The latest offering is on the topic of Christology —  David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People.  As Mark Jones observed in Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest (see this previous post), the errors of antinomianism and legalism, common among Christians today, are resolved by a solid foundation of Christology.  This volume contains 11 contributions, from lectures originally delivered at the 2018 Spring Theology Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, from many theologians including Joel Beeke, Michael Barrett, G.K. Beale, Ian Hamilton, and several others.

A recent post included a close look at chapter 7 from this essay collection.  The other chapters are also helpful, with teaching on several points: Christ as our prophet, our priest, our king, His deity and pre-existence, His impeccability; also several essay expositions of particular texts such as Psalm 45, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 4.

It would be hard to pick one ‘best’ chapter, as this volume has many solid essays, including the chapter from the very quotable Joel Beeke, and Morales’ essay with parallels between Israel in the wilderness and Jesus’ later 40 days in the wilderness.  G.K. Beale’s writing, on the Genesis creation theme of being fruitful and blessings, a theme continued throughout the rest of the Old Testament, is also interesting.

Among the highlights, Joel Beeke (Deity and pre-existence of the Son of God; John 8:58) provided strong application, as in these selections:

Do you give Christ your heart in worship every day, and especially during Lord’s Day services?  To worship Him is to recognize that He is the One who meets all your needs and brings us true happiness.  He is worthy of your adoration and worship.  Tell Him, therefore, in public worship, as well as in private, that He is your highest love, your only Beloved without any competitors.

and

The fact that Christ has been faithful to His covenant and to His covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has shown Himself faithful to you?  The fact that Christ has been faithful to his covenant and covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now and forever more.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has delivered you from trouble?  Sometimes doubts arise within us because of various trials we encounter.  Are you prepared to counter these doubts by recounting His many deliverances?  Keep a record of the ways God has brought you through difficulties in the past.  There is wisdom in the children’s song, ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one.’

Throughout the book are also many quotes from the Puritan and other past writers, such as this great one from Edward Griffin, on Romans 8:32:

What could you wish for more?  What change can you desire?  In what single circumstance would you move for an alteration?  Our blessed Jesus governs all.  Would you take the government of a single event out of his hands?  To whom then would you commit it?  To angels?  They never loved like Jesus.  To chance?  There is no such love in chance.  To men?  Men never died to save your lives.  To yourselves?  Jesus loves you better than you love yourselves, and knows infinitely better what is for your good.  Come then [to Christ] …. and rejoice that this redeemed world is governed by the matchless love of him who died to deliver it from Satan’s oppression.

The book ends at an appropriate place, with Ryan McGraw on Christ’s Return and its importance, and how we should live in light of the Second Coming.  This section especially reminded me of the similar point made by J.C. Ryle in his Coming Events and Present Duties, and McGraw mentions J.C. Ryle, who reportedly “would look out his window every morning and say, ‘maybe today Lord,’ and every evening and say, ‘maybe tonight Lord’.”  This chapter includes quotes from Thomas Manton and Sinclair Ferguson, and mentions the appointed means by which we reflect on the Lord’s Return, including baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the observance of the Sabbath.  McGraw also emphasizes the beatific vision of heaven–the more traditional view of heaven–as contrasted with the “New Creation” model (reference this previous post, about Derek Thomas’ book Heaven on Earth’).

“David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People” is another great selection in the conference lecture series essays.  The essays cover several topics within the overall theme, with great expositions of Bible texts, and solid application to the Christian life.

Horatius Bonar, the Blessings and Curses, and Hermeneutics and Application

May 7, 2020 12 comments

It’s been ten years since I read Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks, and it’s time to revisit it, a good refresher, now that my overall doctrinal views in other areas – from the last several years of study – more closely align with the 19th century covenantal premillennialists.  (For reference, here are posts from 2010 on Horatius Bonar:  On Interpreting the Prophets  and On the Millennial Question.)

While reading through the Westminster Confession and catechisms (a calendar year reading), along with the scripture references, I noticed WLC question 28

Q 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

The punishments of sin in this world are either inward,
as blindness of mind,
a reprobate sense,
strong delusions,
hardness of heart,
horror of conscience,
and vile affections;
or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes,
and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments;
together with death itself.

The highlighted phrase in the answer, includes as scripture reference, a large section from Deuteronomy 28, verses 15-68 — which describes the prophecy regarding the nation of Israel in its apostasy.

Now, as I understand, the Westminster Divines added the ‘scripture proofs’ only upon request from the Parliament, and their intent was for people to focus not so much on the actual scripture proofs, but as a guide to their commentaries on the scripture references.  That would be the next step in a study here, to find and read their commentaries on this passage.  I understand the general application purpose—from apostate Israel and the temporal evils that befell them, to the general precept of what can happen, temporally, to unbelievers.  That unbelievers, along with the godly, suffer affliction in this life is clear from many places; Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot (which I’m currently reading), an exposition of Ecclesiastes 1:15, explains well the type of suffering experienced by everyone, and the purpose of that suffering in unbelievers, as contrasted with its purpose in the lives of God’s people.

Deuteronomy 28, though, includes very specific prophecies, regarding what would happen to the Jews in the centuries and millennia after Moses’s speech – specific things that were later experienced, including drought, defeated before enemies, property being given to the nation’s enemies, cannibalism, followed by being scattered throughout the world and even to the point that they would offer themselves as slaves to their enemies, but “there will be no buyer.”  If Deuteronomy 28 could be used as an application and a scripture reference for the temporal suffering experienced by unbelievers generally, then Deuteronomy 7:12-14 and 28:3-14 should equally apply in a general application sense to believers.   As both sets of passages apply to the same people group (in this case Israel, the Jewish church), I see that a general application could be made:  the one part, curses, applies to the unbelieving part of Israel (the visible members of the covenant community, who do not have the true inward saving faith), while the other part, the blessings, to the invisible church, those who actually are saved.  Yet the specifics of these passages, the primary meaning, has reference to the specific nation of Israel and its history, with specific, detailed curse events as well as detailed blessing events.

Horatius Bonar was writing in response to 19th century spiritualizing amillennialists, and provided a great lesson on plain-language literal hermeneutics and the treatment of prophecy in scripture, such as this chapter on Israel.  Regarding the idea of literal curses upon Israel (which were fulfilled, the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 28) versus “spiritual” blessings in Christ, Bonar observed:

Up to this hour, then, everything respecting Israel has been literally accomplished. Nothing in what has hitherto occurred in their strange history gives the slightest countenance to the figurative interpretations for which some so strenuously contend. Why is Israel still an exile, an outcast, a wanderer, if there be no literal curse? Why is Jerusalem laid in heaps, and Mount Zion ploughed as a field (Jer. 26:18)? Why is the crown of Samaria broken, its ruins rolled down into the valley, and its vines all withered from the mountain side (Jer. 31:5; Mic. 1:6)? Why is Lebanon hewn down, the oaks of Bashan withered, the roses of Sharon gone? Why do the fields of Heshbon languish? Why is the vine of Sibmah uprooted, the summer fruits of Elealeh faded, and why is Carmel bare? Why is baldness come upon Gaza, and why is Ashkelon cut off? Why is Ammon a couching-place for flocks, and the palaces of Bozrah swept away? Why is Moab fled, Idumea become a wilderness, and Mount Seir laid desolate? Why is all this, if there be no literal curse? And why, if there has been such a literal curse, is the literal blessing to be denied?

It is foolish to answer, as many do, “The spiritual blessing is far richer; why contend about blessings of meaner value?” Why? Because we believe that God has revealed them; because we believe that as God has been dishonored by Israel’s being an outcast from the land of promise, so He will be honored by their peaceful settlement again; because as we know He was glorified in leading up Israel, His firstborn, out of Egypt, from the tyranny of Pharaoh, through the wilderness into Canaan, so we believe He designs to glorify Himself by a second exodus, and a second establishment in the land given to Abraham and his seed; because as He magnified His name and power in the sight of the heathen by bringing His people out from Babylon after seventy years’ captivity, so we believe He will magnify that name again by leading them out of Babylon the Great, and planting them in their ancient possessions to inherit them forever; never to be disturbed by the enemy; never to hear the voice of war again.

Among the general principles that Bonar sets forth for the literal interpretation of prophecies regarding Israel, is this one:

When their scattering and their gathering are placed together, and when we are told, that as they have been scattered, so they shall be gathered. Very striking and explicit are the prophecies to this effect in Deuteronomy, where the plainness of the style precludes the idea of figures. How, for instance, could the most ingenious spiritualizer contrive to explain away such a passage as this,—“If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will he fetch thee; and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deut. 30:4)

Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks is still good reading, with Bonar’s rich prose style and use of scripture, and its explanation of solid hermeneutical principles.

On Benedictions, and Christ’s Ascension and Session

April 29, 2020 1 comment

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ‘Benediction’, as the ending in a worship service — practiced at confessionally Reformed church services.  I’ve heard it mentioned on podcasts, and also now observed it at a local church which we recently started attending (in person for a few weeks, before covid-19 shut churches down; and since then observed in online services).  I’ve also viewed this practice in a few other online church services in recent weeks.  The pastor speaks the words of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), with his hands lifted up high, with palms facing the congregation.

An essay book on Christology, David’s Son and David’s Lord  (a compilation from the 2018 Spring Theology Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary), includes a helpful chapter on this very topic — relating the Aaronic blessing of the priest upon the people of God, to the Ascension of Christ, to Christ’s means of blessing His people today.  Aaron’s blessing was the pattern for Christ’s ascension.  The connection from Aaron, to Christ our great High priest, to Christ’s body His church, is built on the covenantal understanding of the unity of scripture in all its parts, understanding that what was practiced by the Old Testament high priest, for God’s people then, was a type of Christ’s ascension and priestly work, as well as something that applies to God’s people throughout all time including us today.

Describing the activity in Numbers 6:22-27 and Leviticus 9:22, Ryan Speck in the chapter “Rejoice! The Triumphant Lord Jesus,” observes:

the priest lifted his hand high but with his palm stretched out towards the congregation.  Why? The minister is reaching high (to call down from the exalted God a heavenly blessing) and reaching towards the people (to place the blessing upon the people).

Then, the same things happened in Acts 1, when Christ blessed His disciples—and was parted from them:

Like the high priest when he came forth from the temple on great feast days, He lifts up his hands and blesses His disciples as the eternal High Priest.  And so, with outstretched hands, while the disciples look up to Him with receptive and worshipful hearts (Acts 1:9), He is parted from them and He, who had from all eternity been with the Father in divine glory, had again entered the Invisible World, and had returned to Him, but now with a human though glorified and heavenly body.  (Ryan Speck, quoting Norval Geldenhuys)

Importantly, explained in a Matthew Henry quote:

While he was blessing them, he was parted from them; not as if he were taken away before he had said all he had to say, but to intimate that his being parted from them did not put an end to his blessing them, for the intercession which he went to heaven to make for all his is a continuation of the blessing.  He began to bless them on earth, but he went to heaven to go on with it.

Christ’s intercession for His people today includes blessings upon us, in three ways.  The first of these is through the ministers at local church – the ministers of the Word that God gave to His church.

As you may hear Christ, the Good Shepherd, speak to you in the preaching of His word, so too you may receive Christ’s blessing to you at the end of the service. …As Aaron blessed the people and God promised that He Himself would bless them, so too Jesus calls His ministers to bless His people with the implicit promise that He Himself from heaven will bless them.  Thus, Christ’s blessing continues through the means of His church.

Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity, makes a similar point regarding the preacher as Christ’s ambassador, in question 31 on Effectual Calling (a recent reading, per the Westminster Daily calendar readings):

So, perhaps, you think it is only the minister that speaks to you in the word, but it is God himself who speaks. Therefore Christ is said to speak to us from heaven. Heb 12:25. How does he speak but by his ministers? as a king speaks by his ambassadors. Know, that in every sermon preached, God calls to you.

Christ also pleads with the Father, as our Advocate, to hear our prayers – the Old Testament incense type (here, I also note Revelation 8:4, which also makes this direct connection).  In addition, Christ intercedes for us with His own petitions.  Romans 8:26-27 is a good reference; Paul notes that the Spirit Himself intercedes for us, “according to the will of God.”  Ryan Speck here provides some interesting illustrations and descriptions, including an excerpt from John Bunyan’s Holy War:

When this petition was come to the palace of the King, who should it be delivered to but to the King’s Son? So he took it and read it, and because the contents of it pleased him well, he mended, and also in some things added to the petition himself. So, after he had made such amendments and additions as he thought convenient, with his own hand, he carried it in to the King; to whom, when he had with obeisance delivered it, he put on authority, and spake to it himself.

Or, in modern terms:

Have you ever, in frustration, screamed in your mind, ‘That’s not what I prayed for!’  Yet, perhaps, that irritating outcome resulted from Christ’s editorial work in your prayers, which means that unexpected and undesired answer is the best answer to your (edited) prayer.

Throughout this reading (the chapter on this topic), comes the amazing discovery / reminder, the reality hitting home in a real way, that whenever I pray, Christ is (really, actually) interceding and adding to the prayer, bringing it before the Father.  Such is a great point to remember, the great love and continual presence, and intercession on my/our behalf, of our great High Priest.

Scripture Interpretation, and Occam’s Razor

April 6, 2020 8 comments

I’m continuing through Zacharias Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, along with the Westminster Daily calendar readings.  In this first quarter of the calendar year, both of these teach about the person of Christ, the Trinity, and the Mediator, with some excellent material.

Along the way I have also discovered some additional online resources, as I continue to think through the implications of Reformed PaedoBaptism, and understanding its differences from the Particular Baptist/1689 Federalism version of Covenant Theology.  For one thing, though Facebook has a large, active group for 1689 Reformed Baptists, the best online forum for serious discussion of Westminster theology is the Puritan Board.  Though as some people have described, that its ‘heyday’ is past, 10-12 years ago — as Facebook has replaced it in sheer numbers and volume of group conversations — yet it still has good, in-depth discussion on a lot of theology topics.  Over the last several days, I’ve been reading through a recent lengthy thread in the Paedo-Baptism answers forum, learning a lot, and noting additional links to online material mentioned in the conversation.

A few other helpful resources I’ve found, for Paedobaptist articles interacting with and responding to 1689 Federalism:

One overall impression I now have, goes back to Occam’s Razor and the layman term description, that the simplest answer – the answer with the fewest assumptions – is generally the correct one.  Certainly it proved true for Copernican Astronomy (contrasted with Aristotelian), and I’ve seen that principle at work also in understanding Creation Science as contrasted with the complexities and ever-changing theories of old-earth/evolutionary views.

This same principle plays out in comparing the presentation of 1689 Federalism, with standard Reformed Theology.  As observed in the Puritan board comment thread — and I find agreement, from my reading a few years ago of several online articles as well as Denault’s The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (2013 Kindle edition) – the presentation is very difficult to follow and understand.  During my study of 1689 Federalism I grasped the basic idea, similar to the usage of terms by Charles Spurgeon, that “the Covenant of Grace = the New Covenant,” and that the New Covenant was ‘in promise form’ throughout the Old Testamant era, a separate promise running through yet distinct from the actual historical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.).  Beyond that level, though, the explanations become verbose and tedious.  As one comment described, the writers of an RB essay seek to bolster their position from so many sources, and redefine so many terms (Old Testament, Old Covenant, New Testament, New Covenant, Covenant of Grace, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant)—as does Pascal Denault in his, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, that one would almost have to write a book, or at least a lengthy essay in reply. And each of hundreds of points could then be argued and wrangled about! Also, “it is troubling to see the tortuous—one could almost call it labyrinthine—argumentation of their presentation on the covenants and the resultant disallowance of baptism for believers’ infants. Why can’t plain teachings of the Bible be presented simply?”

While granting that some paedobaptist explanations of Reformed Covenant Theology may also be presented in a complex way, overall I have found that online articles about Reformed paedo-CT are presented in a simpler, clearer way along with the scripture evidence.  The continuity and scriptures make sense, and without lengthy explanations to redefine terms. (It is also worth noting that not all Reformed Baptists follow 1689 Federalism; the third view, sometimes called ‘Modern RB,’ keeps the Westminster Standards version of Covenant Theology but with believers’ baptism instead of paedo.)

Further, the 1689 Federalism splitting of the Abrahamic covenant into two parts, to effect two covenants, one spiritual and one carnal/physical only, seems unnecessary complexity.  The attitude toward the Abrahamic land promises, the strong amillennial ‘replacement’ motif is also troubling; during my 1689 RB years, I identified instead with Charles Spurgeon’s beliefs, in the basic 1689 London Baptist Confession while strongly affirming the Old Testament’s prophecies regarding the future regathering of ethnic, national Israel and the land promises for Israel’s future.

As with science theories, and the plain language/normal reading hermeneutic applied to God’s word, the simpler explanation, “the answer with the fewest assumptions – is generally the correct one.”

The Covenant of Redemption, and Covenant Worship: Online Sermon Resources

February 17, 2020 4 comments

For study in the near future, I have several lesson series queued up, including two series on the book of Job, and a few Reformed Conference series from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, these links:

Currently, though, I’m enjoying a new resource I’ve recently discovered online: pastor/preacher Dr. Mark Winder, at nearby Wolf River OPC church and one of the contributors at the Reformed Forum (a different contributor than the one referenced in a recent post about hermeneutics).  I’ve listened to a few of his sermons, including an informative 12-part series ‘What is a Presbyterian?’  The first messages address general Reformed theology and basics of interpretation, including a section on Good and Necessary Consequences, followed by a few on covenant theology and covenant worship, then to more specific topics such as the role of children within the church and the church leadership structure.

These messages take a helpful and interesting approach, teaching various doctrines from Old Testament texts and showing the link to the New Testament practice.  For example, the Covenant of Redemption explained from Zechariah 6:9-15 —  a great Messianic passage describing ‘the branch’, the Messiah who would be a priest and a king.   Yet I had not considered Zechariah 6 in connection with the Covenant of Redemption.  Previous lessons I’ve heard over the years, such as several from S. Lewis Johnson, provided a good overview with a look at the Davidic covenant passages and the Upper Room discourse, especially Jesus’ words about the work of the Father and the Son, and the importance of the overall purpose of the Trinity and that the three members of the Godhead work together in agreement.  This message adds to the teaching, with the events in Zechariah 6 — emphasizing the joining of the priest and king offices in one person, and especially verse 13, “and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

The next message, on Covenant Worship, is an interesting take on New Testament church worship—from exposition of Psalm 95.  The Psalm is simple, yet expresses several good points regarding corporate worship, including the fact of corporate (plural, we), Who it is that we are gathering to worship, our great God and fellowship with Him; it’s not just about our casual fellowship with one another, but our great and holy God, and our attitude, to be joyful when we worship together.

It’s a helpful, informative series, that defines the important characteristics of Reformed and specifically (Reformed) Presbyterian churches — several topics and how they all relate together with biblical support and the unity of scripture in the Old and New Testament.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the messages, and then continuing on to the next Bible lesson series, from the several other series mentioned above.

The Lord’s Day, Household Baptism, and Good and Necessary Consequences

January 31, 2020 3 comments

Over the last few months off and on I’ve been studying the issue of baptism, and specifically paedo-baptism.  I grew up in a mainline Presbyterian church with minimal biblical instruction, and then walked away, an unbeliever for several years, until I was saved in my mid-20s while attending an Evangelical Presbyterian church.  Through God’s Providence, a few years later I came to a non-denominational Calvinist Baptist church–only knowing the basics of evangelical Christianity and completely ignorant of the Reformed Confessions and even of the 5 points of Calvinism.  In the following years, I came to understand Calvinism; in the last 10+ years, I studied through dispensational premillennialism to later historic premillennialism, then adding the Reformed Confessions and understanding of God’s moral law and the Lord’s Day Sabbath.

The issue of credo vs paedo- (or household) baptism is clearly a divisive one, and sincere, godly Christians have come to different conclusions on the matter.  A full study on the subject would take many posts, and many helpful articles can be found online.  My purpose here is to focus on one particular issue:  the doctrine of good and necessary consequences (WCF 1.6; see this previous post) and two Reformed doctrines that do not have direct, explicit New Testament verses, yet are inferred from the good and necessary consequences, and both of which involve the continuity of Old and New Testament practice.

The Lord’s Day Sabbath involves continuity: a practice observed in the Old Testament (back to creation), with changes in the New Covenant era that symbolize a new, greater meaning of the 8th day (1st day of the week) Lord’s Day observance.  Yet the critics respond with “Where is the New Testament verse saying that the Lord’s Day replaced the seventh day Sabbath?”  The doctrine is inferred, from a systematic study of the teaching in the old creation, through the Old Testament books, then Jesus’ stress on the day’s importance–He is Lord of the Sabbath, something He considered important and not just a Jewish ritual soon to be obsolete; then noted in the Resurrection accounts and the early church observance on the 1st day of the week, along with other NT references through to Revelation 1, where John mentions the Lord’s Day.

Household baptism similarly shows continuity and a pattern observed throughout the Old Testament, as early as Abraham and his household (long before Moses) as well as earlier references such as 1 Peter 3:20-22 in reference to Noah and the family with him in the ark during the flood.  The pattern continues throughout the Old Testament and the many references to households and the covenant community.  Then — like the teaching regarding the Sabbath — the gospels and Acts describe things that only fit within that Old Testament context, of continuing the covenant community concept.  Of the handful of baptism accounts in the book of Acts, a significant percentage of these are household baptisms, where the text states that the one person believed, and on account of that one person’s belief, the household rejoiced with him and everyone in the household was also baptized.  Verses in the New Testament epistles likewise reference the relation between Old Testament and New Testament symbols and their meaning (ref. Colossians 2:11-12), and also describe believers within the context of a covenant community which includes genuine believers alongside those who appear to believe for awhile, but later come out and depart from the faith (ref. Hebrews 10:28-29).  The household baptism is a “both/and” concept – both adult converts, and their household, those under the head of the family.

Again, this subject is greater than the scope of one blog post, and undoubtedly many would disagree with the teaching of household baptism, instead insisting on individual belief and individual baptism with belief required for baptism.  Yet as I clearly see it, both the doctrine of the Lord’s Day Sabbath AND the teaching of household baptism or “covenant baptism” are inferred in scripture, from the good and necessary consequences.  Both doctrines involve a systematic study and more continuity than discontinuity.  Both doctrines involve practices continuing from the Old to New Testament, with a change that symbolizes the truth in a greater, New Testament meaning.  Neither doctrine has any direct “proof-text” verse that explicitly states that the NT practice has continued with some change.  Both doctrines understand the relative silence (i.e., the lack of direct and explicit statements) in the New Testament, as indicating that the historic practice, as of the 1st century, did not radically change and was understood by the early church believers who had their Bibles, the Old Testament scriptures.  Both doctrines affirm that if the Old Testament practice was supposed to change (such as, to abolish the Sabbath concept, or the covenant changing from a community of families to only individuals) that the New Testament writers would have said as much; and therefore the silence instead confirms the original practice.

Historically, most “Baptist” Christians have been non-Reformed:  the Anabaptist groups, also the Southern Baptists and general Arminian Dispensational groups since the 19th century.  Yet among the Reformed, the Reformed Baptists are a relative minority in the larger group of Reformed paedo — and quite possibly this is the reason, or one major reason:  the inconsistency of accepting continuity on one Reformed issue (the Lord’s Day Sabbath) while rejecting the other continuity issue (household, covenantal baptism).

The practice of household baptism, including of young children, historically goes back very early in the church, as noted in the writings of Tertullian and others in the early third century.  This also explains and makes more sense of something I wondered about while studying medieval Europe history several years ago:  the early medieval practice of whole European nations being suddenly baptized, converted, Christianized, upon the profession of faith of the nation’s ruler.

A few helpful articles regarding household baptism:

Studying the Confessions: Chapter 1 and Scripture

January 16, 2020 1 comment

As I mentioned last month, one major study for this year is the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms.  Going through the Westminster Daily, the first few days’ readings are in the beginning questions and the first chapter, on Scripture.  I’ve added a few commentaries, including A.A. Hodge’s “The Westminster Confession: A Commentary” and Thomas Boston’s commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

I’ve also found out that many commentaries exist for the WSC, but very few (really only two) for the WLC; one of the two is reportedly suspect as having some Socinian tendencies; the other is only available in print, apparently no e-book.  Through some exploration of Sermon Audio for a few Reformed names I’ve heard recently, I came across one sermon series (with 104 sermons) on the Westminster Larger Catechism, from Daniel Hyde, which covers at least some of the WLC, and several other series from various Presbyterian churches posting to SermonAudio.

Along the way I’m also reading the ‘scripture proofs’ and noting any differences between the Westminster standards and the 1689 Baptist confession and catechism.  The scripture references remind me of what Carl Trueman has well explained: the Assembly was asked by the Parliament to provide these references, so the scripture verses were an ‘add on’; also, the scripture references there are to prompt the reader to go read not only the verses but the commentary books written by the Puritan Westminster Divines.  Well, at this point I am mainly reading the actual Confession and Catechisms along with the verses, as I don’t necessarily have the particular commentaries from Puritan authors on any or all of the particular verses.  Yet I find the Confession and Catechism commentaries helpful.  In reading some of the Bible verses, though, I am reminded of a few Charles Spurgeon sermons I’ve read and especially liked, such as Psalm 16’s ‘the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance,’ (referenced in the first question in both the WSC and WLC) and a verse that Spurgeon often referenced.

The Heidelberg Catechism also has a yearly plan, the Lord’s Day weeks 1 through 52 as outlined in the actual catechism, and Zachary Ursinus’ commentary is in the public domain and available at sites including Monergism.

The main focus of these first daily readings is on Scripture, and natural revelation as contrasted with special revelation.  Here, A.A. Hodge provides some interesting points, noting the difference between what natural man came up with in the early pre-Christian era, as contrasted with the supposed ‘natural theology’ of the German enlightenment rationalists of the 19th century, living in and experiencing the benefits of a Christianized society:

We must, however, distinguish between that knowledge of the divine character which may be obtained by men from the worlds of nature arid providence in the exercise of their natural powers alone, without any suggestions or assistance derived from a supernatural revelation — as is illustrated in the theological writings of some most eminent of the heathen who lived before Christ — and that knowledge which men in this age, under the clear light of a supernatural revelation, are competent to deduce from a study of nature. The natural theology of the modern Rationalists demonstrably owes all its special excellences to that Christian revelation it is intended to supersede. …

That the amount of knowledge attainable by the light of nature is not sufficient to enable any to secure salvation. ….    From the facts presented in the past history of all nations destitute of the light of revelation, both before and since Christ. The truths they have held have been incomplete and mixed with fundamental error; their faith has been uncertain; their religious rites have been degrading, and their lives immoral. The only apparent exception to this fact is found in the case of some Rationalists in Christian lands; and their exceptional superiority to others of their creed is due to the secondary influences of that system of supernatural religion which they deny, but the power of which they cannot exclude.

In the early questions, the Westminster and Baptist confessions and catechisms are very similar, yet I notice some interesting differences, particularly in the ‘scripture text’ references, with the WCF/WLC/WSC generally providing more scripture references including key texts such as Isaiah 59:21 and overall more references to Deuteronomy and the Old Testament.

Hodge’s commentary is good overall for the Westminster Confession, at a general level; it includes good explanations regarding natural and special revelation, and the difference between spiritual illumination and inspiration.  Hodge keeps to this basic level, though, not an expanded scope (or length required) for all details.  For example, January 10’s reading on WCF 1.6 includes the doctrine of ‘good and necessary consequences’.  (The LBCF equivalent has slightly different wording, ‘necessarily contained in Scripture’, which I wondered about–and from googling found the explanation for the different wording, that its writers held to the same concept just with different wording a generation later.)  Hodge provides a general overview of the paragraph, but nothing specific to the understanding of good and necessary consequences.  Online articles abound, though, on this specific topic, such as these helpful ones, which give interesting historical and scriptural explanation, including a few examples of this principle in scripture–such as Jesus’ inference, upholding the truth of the Resurrection from Exodus 3:6.

Thomas Boston’s commentary on the WSC is good and fairly in-depth, as far as I’ve read into the first volume and just the first three questions, as is Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg catechism.

Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Review)

January 6, 2020 2 comments

From free books provided (for this one, free copies provided at the local church), I recently read Mark Jones’ Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (from 2013).  Online articles at the time, including these two from Kevin DeYoung (this one and also this one), recommended it as one of a few books responding to the modern-day antinomianism error.

My study on this topic over the last few years has included some online sermon series including a 1689 confession series, Reformed articles and a few books such as Barcellos’ Gettting the Garden Right and R.C. Sproul’s Crucial questions booklet How Does God’s Law Apply to Me?.  Jones’ book covers a lot of similar Reformed understanding, with reference to the moral law and the third use of the Law and other doctrines that are taught in the Reformed confessions (and included in SermonAudio confession-study series).  Jones’ book is at a more academic level, with many quotations and footnotes, and especially looks at the historical situation in England in the 17th century.

Among the highlights:  discussion of Christ’s intercessory work and the importance of strong Christology, as well as the Reformed understanding of rewards (good works, chapter 16 in the 1689 LBC and the Westminster Confession of Faith), assurance, gospel threatenings (as different from Law threatening, the type to bring unbelievers to see their need of Christ, as the first use of the Law).  This book also covers the differences between Lutheran and Reformed views; though the Lutheran view includes the third use of the law, it emphasizes the first use, in contrast to the Reformed (Calvinist) emphasis on the third use.

Many good Puritan quotes are sprinkled throughout, such as this one from John Flavel:

I will further grant, that the eye of a Christian may be too intently fixed upon his own gracious qualifications; and being wholly taken up in the reflex acts of faith, may too much neglect the direct acts of faith upon Christ, to the great detriment of his soul.

But all this notwithstanding, the examination of our justification by our sanctification, is not only a lawful, and possible, but a very excellent and necessary work and duty.  It is the course that Christians have taken in all ages, and that which God has abundantly blessed to the joy and encouragement of their souls.

The discussion about law obedience versus gospel obedience reminded me of the first time I read this, and the encouragement in this explanation, well described by J.C. Ryle (excerpts from Holiness) — that the believer’s works (though imperfect) are yet acceptable and pleasing to God the Father:

Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin and merit heaven is simply absurd. …

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

This book includes a quote from Thomas Shepherd that well summarizes the difference between gospel obedience and law obedience:

the law calling and urging of it that so hereby we may be made just, it therefore accepts of nothing but perfection; but the gospel requiring it because we are perfectly just already in Christ, hence, though it commands us as much as the law, yet it accepts of less, even the least measure of sincerity and perfection mixed with the greatest measure of imperfection.”

The book is applicable to us in our day, in which antinomian teaching is quite common.  Jones interacts with current-day teaching, with quotes from and responses to Tullian Tchividjian (reference also old articles such as this one):

According to Tchividjian, ‘We’ve got work to do—but what exactly is it?  Get better? Try harder? Pray more?  Get more involved in church?  Read the Bible longer? …. God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ.  Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.’  How does this fit with Paul’s exhortation to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?  Paul surely did not reduce Christian living to contemplating Christ—after all, in 1 Thessalonians 5, toward the end of the chapter, Paul lists over fifteen imperatives.  But Tchividjian’s type of antinomian-sounding exegesis impacts churches all over North America.

The book covers many other interesting topics as well, even some quotes from Puritan writers about the ‘boring’ limited-selection preaching of the Antinomians.  The whole counsel of God includes so much more, the many doctrines set forth in the Reformed Confessions, beyond this limited issue that the antinomians wanted to continually ‘harp on’.  Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is another great and very informative book in the Reformed tradition, well researched and addressing this issue and how the Puritans responded to it.

Conference Lecture Series: The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century

October 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Among the conference lecture series I’ve recently listened to are two “Westminster Confession into the 21st century” (from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) conferences from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ archive – from 2004 and 2007.  As noted in a previous post these are the readings of scholarly papers, and so the audio recordings provide a type of “audio book” experience on various topics concerning the Westminster Standards and covenant theology.  The lectures feature a variety of speakers: some regulars within the Alliance conferences, along with a few well-known names such as Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson.  Some of the lectures are more interesting (and easier to follow) than others; the delivery of some is “abridged” with selected readings, skipping over some parts and then continuing to other sections, within the time permitted (about an hour).

The more recent conference lectures/journal articles, back to the fall of 2014, are also available online here.  The audio archive has the benefit of earlier material, such as the two I’ve been listening to:  2004’s Conference “The Richness of Our Theological Heritage” and from 2007, “Systematic Theology: Informing Your Life in Christ.”

The lectures assume a basic knowledge of the Westminster Confession and Reformed theology, and provide introduction to several interesting topics which would be good for further study, including:

  • The Scottish Covenanters and the history of the different sub-groups
  • Good and necessary consequences
  • Christian Liberty
  • The roles of systematic theology and biblical theology (redemptive historical) and the value of both

I’m still listening to the “The Richness of our Theological Heritage” series, and find these lectures another great educational resource, for “seminary-type” teaching beyond the layperson / general audience level.  The full collection, from all past conferences, is available here.