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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.

Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)

October 28, 2015 1 comment

From J.I. Packer’s concluding lectures on the English Puritans come the following insights on Puritan preaching. The Puritan preacher, a physician of the soul, had three areas of focus: preaching, catechizing the children (education), and counseling. The Puritans did not use the word ‘counseling’ or think of it as we do, yet that is what they did, and effectively so, through the “applicatory” part of their sermons, which was often a large part of the overall sermon. Packer observes the importance of this, something that has been largely forgotten and lost; much of what is now done in “Christian counseling” in the pastor’s office, could and should instead be done through the pulpit.

What Packer describes is exactly what I have observed in Spurgeon’s sermons, that very helpful, “practical” aspect which I first observed 5-6 years ago, when I began reading through Spurgeon sermons (along with J.C. Ryle), noting in agreement with another blog commenter (note this blog comment and later references to it, at this Pyromaniacs post from 2010) this feature of Spurgeon’s sermons; though Spurgeon is often known for his strong doctrinal stance quotes, in actual sermon reading this is what comes through. Not surprisingly, later on in this section of lectures, Packer himself noted Spurgeon as one who understood and exemplified this Puritan approach – that Spurgeon was experiential and applicatory from the word go.

As Packer further explained, in answer to a question: this approach was lost by the end of the 17th century, especially after the ejection of Puritan preachers in 1662, a time when the mood in England turned against serious preaching. The Anglicans were the only ones left as preachers, and the people generally went along with their method of stringing together three points, a light-weight approach to preaching. The Great Awakening preachers returned to the Puritan style – George Whitfield, John Wesley, and John Newton, as did Spurgeon in the 19th century and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. But as Packer notes: most have not thought it through; they haven’t seen how vital it is, and they think that “other forms (of sermon preaching) can make up for the fact that the preaching is weak.”

This application includes addressing the different types of people in the audience, with a word for each group. Each particular sermon may not address all the different people, but over a period of several weeks the various sermons will have something to say to each of the following groups:

  1. The “spiritually complacent” or hypocrites, who come to church as part of going through the motions; those who “need a bomb put under their seat,” to be awakened, to seek the Lord
  2. Those who are seeking in a general way, coming to find out general Christian teaching
  3. Those who “are not far from the kingdom,” who need specific guidance to come to Christ, to be taught the way of faith.
  4. Young Christians – often young in age, overall recent converts, the “little children” of John’s first epistle, who may be quite zealous for the faith though lacking maturity and greater understanding of doctrine.
  5. Mature believers. Often these are middle-aged or elderly, who need encouragement to continue, to keep on, to not flag spiritually as their bodies decline.
  6. Those in trouble, who have slipped badly in some moral issue, or are struggling with some temptation; though they may have kept it from others, yet they know of their failures. Perhaps they have almost yielded to a temptation, just generally struggling, or have experienced some personal trauma or disaster.

Puritan writing often expresses the application in terms of “use,” often with the words “use 1… use 2” etc., a feature I have seen in reading Puritan authors such as John Bunyan and Thomas Watson. Each of these areas of “use” follows from the text; given what this text says, what we are to consider, to apply in our lives positively, or to (negatively) depart from certain ideas we have that are contrary to scripture. Six of these “uses” are:

  1. Use of instruction or information
  2. Use of confutation
  3. Use of exhortation
  4. Use of admonition
  5. Use of comfort
  6. Use of trial   (self-examination)

The 5th one, use of comfort, again relates to the “counseling from the pulpit,” in which the preacher deals with actual questions from church members, including depressed people – who are very skilled at reasoning that excludes themselves from what the word of God says to everyone. And again I see this so descriptive of Spurgeon’s preaching, his constant emphasis on promises from God’s word, and reasons to reject such notions of why I am not fit to come to Christ.

Packer well summed up this overall issue:

We devote our pulpit ministry to teaching evangelical doctrine against liberalism or secularism, and when we’ve done that we think we’ve finished. We don’t do any serious applying, and we certainly don’t do this sort of applying. We don’t get within half a mile of doing any of our counseling from the pulpit. I think the Puritans have got something to say to us about this. I speak as to wise men and women, you judge what I say.