Wednesday, September 14, 2022

James Ussher and the Reformed Tradition, Anglicanism, and Justification…

James Ussher is in some ways the forgotten man of Anglicanism, otherwise known during his time as the Church of England/Church of Ireland. Why do I say that? Well, because among much of today’s Anglicanism his influence is simply overlooked. One reason may be that Anglicanism in many of its modern variations has moved away from identifying as a Reformed Protestant Church. And Ussher was certainly Reformed and arguably the most influential Reformed Anglican theologian of the 1600s. And as such he doesn’t fit the latitudinal templates of recent times. As to his influence outside of Anglicanism, even though he didn’t attend, Ussher’s theology had a significant impact on the Westminster Assembly and thus the resulting Confession of Faith. For some Anglicans that’s just a bit too “Reformed!”

All that to introduce the following excerpt from Harrison Perkins’ book James Ussher and the Reformed Tradition (page 78). One of the big debates at the Westminster Assembly was over a question concerning the imputation of Christ’s active or positive obedience to the believer as necessary for his justification. This was just one area of doctrine where Ussher’s theology was influential. Ussher connects Christ’s active obedience (fulfillment of the Covenant of Works where Adam failed) with the justification of those who trust in Christ. Perkins writes:

The second point drawn from the eschatological dimension of a covenant is the importance of the concept of justification.186 Because Ussher argued that justification was a status that Adam could achieve in his state of innocence, justification cannot be limited to the remission of sins. Justification includes the attainment of positive righteousness. If Adam had completed his task, he would have fulfilled everything the law demanded; he would be justified. This is one factor that makes the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience so important within the full scheme of Ussher’s doctrinal system. To attain an eternal condition of blessedness a person must be declared perfectly righteous,which remains the case even after the covenant of works was broken. The first Adam was the representative head that was supposed to fulfill the law for his posterity in the first covenant. According to Ussher, justification became a benefit of salvation in the covenant of grace because Christ was the second Adam who did fulfill the law and transfers that righteous status to all who accept it by faith.

186 The doctrine of justification and its links to the covenant of works are considered again in more extensive detail in Chapter 6. 

187 Snoddy, Soteriology, 113-22.

188 CUL MS Mn.6.55, fol. 29r (sermon on Genesis 6:5, dated August 1642).


The Irish Articles of Religion 1615, authored by James Ussher:

Article 21. Man being at the beginning created according to the image of God (which consisted especially in the wisdom of his mind and the true holiness of his free will), had the covenant of the law ingrafted in his heart, whereby God did promise unto him everlasting life upon condition that lie performed entire and perfect obedience unto his Commandments, according to that measure of strength wherewith he was endued in his creation, and threatened death unto him if he did not perform the same.

Article 35. 
Although this justification be free unto us, yet it cometh not so freely unto us that there is no ransom paid therefore at all. God showed his great mercy in delivering ns from our former captivity without requiring of any ransom to be paid or amends to be made on our parts; which thing by us had been impossible to be done. And whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any desert of ours, to provide for us the most precious merits of his own Son, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied. So that Christ is now the righteousness of all them that truly believe in him. He, for them, paid their ransom by his death. He, for them, fulfilled the law in his life; that now, in him, and by him, every true Christian man may be called a fulfiller of the law: forasmuch as that which our infirmity was not able to effect, Christ's justice hath performed. And thus the justice and mercy of God do embrace each other: the grace of God not shutting out the justice of God in the matter of our justification, but only shutting out the justice of man (that is to say, the justice of our own works) from being any cause of deserving our justification.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Our Daily Descent

 “What is man?”, the palmist asks. In this life I doubt we come to the full answer. John Calvin pointed in the right direction when he wrote that in order to get an idea of 'us' we need to start with God. For the truth of the matter is - "it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves"  [Psalm 100].

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone."Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Book 1.1

If self-knowledge begins with God, then apart from God any view of ourselves is distorted. The high regard we hold ourselves in since the Fall not only muddies a right understanding but is at the core of what ails us as sinners.  

I recently reread C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. I picked it up again because the theme revolving around the N.I.C.E. reminded me of the still ongoing CDC involvement in the Covid 19 pandemic mandates. But I digress. What is relevant to this post is a small excerpt:

“There,” he said, “a very simple adjustment. Humans want crumbs removed; mice are anxious to remove them…”

“How huge we must seem to them,” said Jane.

This inconsequent remark had a very curious cause. Hugeness was what she was thinking of and for one moment it had seemed she was thinking of her own hugeness in comparison with the mice. But almost at once this identification collapsed. She was really thinking simply of hugeness. Or rather, she was not thinking of it. She was, in some strange fashion, experiencing it. Something intolerably big, something from Brobdingnag was pressing on her, was approaching, was almost in the room. She felt herself shrinking, suffocated, emptied of all power and virtue. She darted a glance at the Director which was really a cry for help, and that glance, in some inexplicable way, revealed him as being, like herself, a very small object. The whole room was a tiny place, a mouse’s hole, and it seemed to her to be tilted aslant — as though the insupportable mass and splendour of this formless hugeness, in approaching, had knocked it askew. She heard the Director’s voice.

“Quick,” he said gently,“you must leave me now. This is no place for us small ones, but I am inured. Go! - That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Chapter 8 The Pendragon

The presence of God was pressing upon Jane which necessitated a shrinking or humbling experience, a reorientation. Her inflated sense of self rapidly shrank to that of a mouse. She was uncomfortably thrown off balance as the Divine hugeness descended into that room. Jane, a sinner, was experiencing the beginning of self-knowledge which only comes when one encounters God. She was descending. John Calvin wrote:

… the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. (Calvin, Book 1.1)

To come into the presence of our Creator shatters any illusion of creaturely independence and self-sufficiency. We are not our own and are undone before him. Apart from him we have no existence (Col 1:16-17). It is God who created us, as Genesis 1 teaches, and not we ourselves. The Christian life is one of being brought low to a restored (saved) position with God who is the only point of reference for all of creation.

The psalmist asks the question,  

what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:4-5) ESV

 "Lower than..." Our problem is not that we think too lowly of ourselves but too highly. We lift ourselves up. Yet God would have us brought lower (Luke 9:48b). Ever since Adam sinned man’s default orientation is to magnify himself. Most naturally we minimize our flaws and sins as we exalt ourselves in relation to others. Like crazed men we flee our created state of absolute dependence on God thinking our good lies in the opposite direction. 

This brings me to Thomas Cranmer’s 1662 BCP Office of Morning Prayer. In this daily liturgy the Christian is given a path of reorientation or, more to the point, sanctification through the confession of sin and trust in the gospel. 

At the beginning of MP there are several opening Scripture verses that essentially diagnose our condition and plight as sinners. We need forgiveness and we need righteousness. The standard of the Law is put before us:

When a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. (Ezekiel 18:27) ESV 

How does a sinner do this? He can’t. Morning Prayer then moves to an admonition, an appeal to all present to come down off our thrones. We are exhorted 

that we should not dissemble nor cloak [our sins and sinfulness] before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy. 

Our descent continues.

By nature we dissemble as to our true condition. Just think how difficult it is to honestly confess our sin to one we have offended. We don't want to go that low. We cloak and minimize our sin. In a word we need to approach the throne of grace with a sense of our dependency upon God: 

Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old (Lam 5:21).  

Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! (Psalm 38:22)

Or as Augustine wrote, "God command what you will and grant what you command." 

The General Confession of Sin follows:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

The confession of sin culminates in the acknowledgment of our condition. Due to our rebellion from God our Creator there is no health in us… we are miserable offenders. Brought lower still to our fallen, creaturely, and God-dependent state, the remedy of the gospel as declared in Christ Jesus is set forth! The minister then declares that through faith in Christ sins are forgiven: God pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel! The power to forgive sins is in the gospel.

I find it both amazing and uplifting that we then find only two psalms actually printed out in the 1662 BCP Morning Prayer office: Psalm 95 and 100. And they both echo the same truth.

Psalm 95 
6. O come, let us worship and fall down : and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
7. For he is the Lord our God : and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. 

Psalm 100 
2. Be ye sure that the Lord he is God : it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  

As his creatures, his sheep, his people our blessing is found with and in Christ Jesus alone who "
being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). 

For he has made us and not we ourselves.

Psalm 100

Jubilate Deo
O BE joyful in the Lord, all ye lands : serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.
Be ye sure that the Lord he is God : it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise : be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.
or the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting : and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Calvin: John 19.30 - “It is finished.”

"He repeats the same word which he had lately employed. Now this word, which 
Christ employs, well deserves our attention; for it shows that the whole accomplishment of our salvation, and all the parts of it, are contained in his death. We have already stated that his resurrection is not separated from his death, but Christ only intends to keep our faith fixed on himself alone, and not to allow it to turn aside in any direction whatever. The meaning, therefore, is, that everything which contributes to the salvation of men is to be found in Christ, and ought not to be sought anywhere else; or -- which amounts to the same thing -- that the perfection of salvation is contained in him…

"If we give our assent to this word which Christ pronounced, we ought to be satisfied with his death alone for salvation, and we are not at liberty to apply for assistance in any other quarter; for he who was sent by the Heavenly Father to obtain for us a full acquittal, and to accomplish our redemption, knew well what belonged to his office, and did not fail in what he knew to be demanded of him. It was chiefly for the purpose of giving peace and tranquillity to our consciences that he pronounced this word, It is finished. Let us stop here, therefore, if we do not choose to be deprived of the salvation which he has procured for us."
[emphasis added]

Calvin, John. Complete Commentaries, Gospel of John

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Dog That Didn't Bark - Cranmer, Bucer, Vermigli, and Baptismal Regeneration

For those unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes mysteries the phrase 'the dog that didn't bark' comes from one of Holmes’ cases. In the story there's been a murder and apparently the killer was able to commit that crime without the nearby guard dog barking and raising an alarm. For Holmes this was the 
crucial clue that led to the identity of the murderer. The reason the dog didn't bark was that the canine was familiar enough with the killer as to not be alarmed. This clue pointed to the owner of the dog as the killer and thus another case was solved!

In the following excerpts Rev. Arthur Roberts points out the key clue that directs us to the position held by the Church of England on baptismal regeneration, 1549-1552. But as J.I.Packer writes, 

because of the caution with which the Prayer Book and Articles were phrased back in the sixteenth century--so as not to give offense to people who believed in baptismal regeneration--an ambiguity is there.

The book containing the clue is: 

A Review of The Book of Common Prayer, Drawn Up At the Request of Archbishop Cranmer by Martin Bucer, Reg. Professor of Divinity at Cambridge
Briefly Analyzed and Abridged 
Arthur Roberts, M.A.  
Rector of Woodrising, Norfolk

The prayer book under review was the 1549 version. Martin Bucer's and Peter Vermigli's (nonextant) separate documents of criticisms and suggestions greatly helped in Cranmer's revision which led to the more Reformed 1552 BCP.

First some background laid out in the first part of the introduction, Roberts writes:

[W]hen Cranmer contemplated an improved edition of the Liturgy, he was anxious to consult the judgments of two learned foreigners, Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr. These pious and highly gifted men had been drawn over to our shores by Cranmer's importunities, and promoted through his means, to the two chairs of divinity in our two Universities – Martyr to that of Oxford, and Bucer to that of Cambridge. A high proof, undoubtedly it was, of the confidence which he reposed in their theological ability when he submitted a work of such national importance, and which he and his colleagues had so carefully compiled, to their revisal and correction; but it was more — it was a proof of his own modesty and self-distrust, and of the unfeigned anxiety he felt to retain nothing in his Liturgy but what was thoroughly scriptural and sound...

First, that it may be said to exhibit Peter Martyr's views and sentiments as well as those of Bucer; for, as Strype observes, — “Martyr agreed clearly in judgment with Bucer about the book, as he wrote to him..."

Roberts lays a bit of groundwork to enable the reader to see the clue that speaks so loudly from its silence:

II . The reader will observe that the emendations proposed by Martin Bucer in the First Prayer - book of King Edward VI. were neither few nor unimportant, but involved, on the other hand, some fundamental points of doctrine.

His concluding introductory remarks give us the clue that I am characterizing as the 'dog that didn't bark'.

III. It cannot but be regarded as a singular circumstance that not a word is said in these strictures upon that language of our Church in her Baptismal Service, which has occasioned so much controversy — especially as both Bucer and Martyr, during the time of their Professorships, delivered their minds so strongly as to the separableness of the outward sign and inward grace in infant, as well as adult, baptism; which (strong Calvinists as they both were) was of course to be expected. This circumstance, therefore, can only be accounted for by their considering our service to express nothing more than the language of charity and hope. It will be observed that, in dealing with the Confirmation Service, Bucer imagines the case of the catechumens being unregenerate, which sufficiently indicates his view of the subject. Doubtless had he so understood our formularie as divines of what are called, though not very correctly, the High - Church school, he would have taken great exception to them. As it is the men who think with him on the baptismal question may acquiesce as he in our baptismal forms though it were well, perhaps, if they were less capable of misapprehension.

Does this settle the matter among Anglicans? No way, after all we're talking Anglicans here. But in my mind this bit of actual history adds some weight to the Reformed Anglican position on baptism. 

Also see:

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Martin Luther's Church...

 May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Martin Luther, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis, 1957), XXII:55.

(H/T Gerda Inger)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Calvin: The Righteousness of Faith - The Righteousness of Christ

 “Now in speaking of the righteousness of faith scripture leads us to quite another place; that is, it teaches us to turn our attention away from our works to regard only God's mercy and the perfect holiness of Christ. For it shows us this order of justification: that from the beginning God receives the sinner by His pure and free goodness, not considering anything in him by which He is moved to mercy except the sinner's misery, since He sees him completely stripped and empty of good works; and that is why He finds in Himself the reason for doing him good. Then He touches the sinner with a feeling of His goodness so that, distrusting everything he has, he may put the whole sum of his salvation in the mercy which God gives him. That is the feeling of faith, by which a person enters into possession of his salvation: when he recognizes by the teaching of the gospel that he is reconciled to God because, having obtained the remission of his sins, he is justified by means of Christ's righteousness. Although he is regenerated by God's Spirit, he does not rest on the good works which he does, but is reassured that his perpetual righteousness consists in Christ's righteousness alone.”

John Calvin, The Institutes of Religion: The First English Version of the 1541 French Edition

Monday, September 6, 2021

Calvin: Justification Explained

“Lest we stumble from the first step (which would happen if we entered into dispute about something uncertain), we must first explain what these ways of speaking mean: "to be justified before God" and "to be justified by faith or by works." 

“That person is said to be justified before God who is counted righteous before God's judgment and is acceptable to His righteousness. Since iniquity is hateful to God, the sinner cannot find grace before His face; therefore, where sin is, there God's wrath and vengeance make themselves known. So that person is justified who is not counted as a sinner but as righteous, and for this reason he can rest tranquilly at God's judicial throne, before which all sinners stumble and are confounded. As when some person who was wrongly accused, when he has been examined by the judge and absolved and declared innocent, we say that he is justified in righteousness; so we say that a person is justified before God who, being separated from the number of sinners, has God as witness and proof of his righteousness. So we say that a person is justified before God by his works when there is such a purity and holiness in his life that it deserves the name of righteousness before God, or when by the integrity of his works he can satisfy God's judgment. On the contrary, that person is said to be justified by faith who, being excluded from the righteousness of works, by faith grasps Jesus Christ's righteousness and, clad in that, appears before God's face not as a sinner but as righteous.

“However, because the majority of people imagine a righteousness of faith mixed with works, let us also show (before we pass on) that the righteousness of faith is so different from that of works that if the one is established, the other is overturned. The apostle says that "he has counted all things as excrement to gain Christ and to be found in Him, not having his own righteousness which is of the law but that which is by faith in Jesus Christ, that is the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil. 3[8-9]). We see here that he compares the two things as opposites, and shows that it is necessary for the one who wants to obtain Christ's righteousness to abandon his own.”

John CalvinInstitutes of the Christian Religion: The First English Version of the 1541 French Edition

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Calvin: Forgiveness of Sins and Imputation of Christ’s Obedience

 The ground of our justification, therefore, is that God reconciles us to himself, from regard not to our works, but to Christ alone, and, by gratuitous adoption, makes us, instead of children of wrath, to be his own children. So long as God looks to our works, he perceives no reason why he ought to love us. Wherefore, it is necessary to bury our sins, and impute to us the obedience of Christ (because [his is] the only obedience which can stand his scrutiny), and adopt us as righteous through his merits.

John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church

Monday, August 30, 2021

A Case for the Reformed/Calvinist Roots of Anglicanism

The case for the Reformed/Calvinist roots of Anglicanism has been made by many Anglicans over the years; Augustus Toplady, J.C. Ryle, J.I. Packer to name a few. One can go back to primary sources such as the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which has always been included in the lists

of Reformed confessions along with the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (Dordt, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession). Unfortunately over the years the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion has undergone a number of reinventions by those who wished and largely succeeded to move the Church of England and worldwide Anglicanism away from its early Calvinist connections towards a more broad church or Anglo-Catholic position. Well, this just doesn't stand up when actual history is brought into focus.

Continental historians, both Protestant and Catholic, rank the Church of England among the Reformed Churches as distinct from the Lutheran, and her Articles are found in every collection of Reformed Confessions... the theological interpretation of the Articles by English writers has been mostly conducted in a controversial rather than an historical spirit. (Philip Schaff as quoted by J.I. Packer in his book The Thirty-Nine Articles - Their Place and Use Today, p 33)

One can have their own interpretation of the Articles, but not their own history. As Packer notes in the same book, "it is crooked thinking when the case for redefining Anglicanism is presented as the verdict of Anglican history" (p 36).

Below is an extended excerpt from what is commonly referred to as Nowell's Catechism. The catechism teaches the theology of Anglicanism as it stood a mere 16 years after the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer when it was officially adopted by the Church of England in 1572. It presents the Reformed teachings on justification and good works echoing Calvin as well as unpacking doctrines found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (esp. Chapter 11 - Of Justification and Chapter 16 - Of Good Works) sixty years before the Westminster Assembly met! Go figure...

Dive in. Carefully read and you'll find mainstream Reformed soteriology as held by Anglicanism in its earliest years.


From Nowell's Catechism:

Master:  Now thou hast declared the Creed, that is the sum of the Christian faith, tell me, what profit get we of this faith?

Student:  Righteousness before God, by which we are made.

Master:  Doth not then our own godliness toward God, and leading of our life honestly and holily among men justify us before God?

Student:  Of this we have said somewhat already after the declaring of the law, and in other places, to this effect. If any man were able to live uprightly according to the precise rule of the law of God, he should worthily be counted justified by his good works. But seeing we are all most far from that perfection of life, yea, and be so oppressed with conscience of our sins, we must take another course, and find another way, how God may receive us into favour, than by our own deserving.

Master:  What way?

Student:  We must flee to the mercy of God, whereby he freely embraceth us with love and goodwill in Christ, without any our deserving, or respect of works, both forgiving us our sins, and so giving us the righteousness of Christ by faith in him, that for the same Christ’s righteousness he so accepteth us, as if it were our own. To God’s mercy therefore through Christ we ought to impute all our justification .

Master:  How do we know it to be thus?

Student:  By the gospel, which containeth the promises of God by Christ, to the which when we adjoin faith, that is to say, an assured persuasion of mind and stedfast confidence of God’s goodwill, such as hath been set out in the whole Creed, we do, as it were, take state and possession of this justification that I speak of.

Master:  Dost not thou then say that faith is the principal cause of this justification, so as by the merit of faith we are counted righteous before God?

Student:   No; for that were to set faith in the place of Christ. But the spring-head of this justification is the mercy of God, which is conveyed to us by Christ, and is offered to us by the gospel, and received of us by faith as with a hand.

Master: Thou sayest then that faith is not the cause but the instrument of justification; for that it embraceth Christ which is our justification; coupling us with so strait bond to him, that it maketh us partakers of all his good things?

Student:  Yea forsooth.

Master:  But can this justification be so severed from good works, that he that hath it can want them?

Student:  No: for by faith we receive Christ such as he delivereth himself unto us. But he doth not only set us at liberty from sins and death, and make us at one with God, but also with the divine inspiration and virtue of the Holy Ghost doth regenerate and newly form us to the endeavour of innocency and holiness, which we call newness of life.

Master:  Thou sayest then that justice, faith, and good works, do naturally cleave thogether, and therefor ought no more to be severed, than Christ, the of them in us, can be severed from himself.

Student:  It is true.

Master:  Then this doctrine of faith doth not withdraw men's minds from godly works and duties?

Student:  Nothing less. For good works do stand upon faith as upon their root. So far, therefore, is faith from withdrawing our hearts from living uprightly, that, contrariwise, it doth most vehemently stir us up to the endeavour of good life; yea and so far, that he is not truly faithful that doth not also to his power both shun vices and embrace virtues, so living always as one that looketh to give an account.

Master:  Therefore tell me plainly how our works be acceptable to God, and what rewards be given to them?

Student:  In good works, two things are principally required. First, that we do those works that are prescribed by the law of God; secondly, that they be done with that mind and faith which God requireth. For no doings or thoughts enterprised or conceived without faith can please God.

Master:  Go forward.

Student:  It is evident, therefore, that all works whatsoever we do, before that we be born again and renewed by the Spirit of God, such as may properly be called our own works are faulty. For whatsoever shew of brightness and worthiness they represent and give to the eyes of men, since they spring and proceed from a faulty and corrupted heart, which God chiefly considereth, they cannot but be defiled and corrupted, and so grievously offend God. Such works, therefore, as evil fruits, growing out of an evil tree, God despiseth and rejecteth from him.

Master:  Can we not, therefore, go before God with any works or deservings, whereby we may first provoke him to love us, and be good unto us?

Student:  Surely, with none. For Gos loved and chose us in Christ, not only when we were his enemies, that is, sinners, but also before the foundations of the world were laid. And this is the same spring-head and original of our justification, whereof I spake before.

Master:  What thinkest thou of those works which we, after that we be reconciled to God's favour, do by the instinct of the Holy ghost?

Student:  The dutiful works of godliness, which proceedeth out of faith, working be charity, are indeed acceptable to God, yet not by their own deserving; but for that he, of his liberality, vouchsafeth them his favour. For though they be derived from the Spirit of God, as little streams from the spring-head, yet of our flesh, that mingleth itself with them, in the doing by the way, they receive corruption, as it were by infection, like as a river, otherwise pure and clear, is troubled and mudded with mire and slime, wherethrough it runneth.

Master:  How then dost thou say that they please God?

Student:  It is faith that procureth God's favour to our works, while it is assured that he will not deal with us after extremity of law, nor call our doings to exact account, nor try them as it were by the square: that is, he will not, in valuing and weighing them use severity, but remitting and pardoning all their corruptness, for Christ's sake and his deservings, will account them for fully perfect.

Master:  Then thou standest still in this, that we cannot by merit of works obtain to be justified before God, seeing thou thinkest that all doings of men, even the perfectest, do need pardon?

Student:  God himself hath so decreed in his word; and his Holy Spirit doth teach us to pray that he bring us not into judgment. For where righteousness, such as God the Judge shall allow, ought to be throughly absolute, and in all parts and points fully perfect, such as is to be directed and tried by the most precise rule, and, as it were, by the plumb-line of God's law and judgment; and therefore our works, even the best of them, for that they swerve and differ most far from the rule and prescription of God's law and justice, are many ways to be blamed and condemned; we can in no wise be justified before God by works.

Master:  Doth not this doctrine withdraw men's minds from the duties of godliness, and make them slacker and slower to good works, or at least less cheerful and ready to godly endeavours?

Student:  No: for we may not therefore say that good works are unprofitable or done in vain and without cause, for that we obtain not justification by them. For they serve both to the profit of our neighbour and to the glory of God; and they do, as by certain testimonies, assure us of God's goodwill toward us, and of our love again to God-ward, and of our faith, and so consequently of our salvation. And the reason it is, that we being redeemed with the blood of Christ the Son of God, and having beside received innumerable and infinite benefits of God, should live and wholly frame ourselves after the will and appointment of our Redeemer, and so shew ourselves mindful and thankful to the Author of our salvation, and by our example procure and win other unto him. The man that calleth these thoughts to mind may sufficiently rejoice in his good endeavours and works.

Master:  But God doth allure us to good doing with certain rewards, both in this life and in the life to come, and doth covenant with us as it were for certain wages.

Student:  That reward, as I have said, is not given to our works for their worthiness, and rendered to them as recompence for deservings, but by the bountifulness of God is freely bestowed upon us without deserving. And justification God doth give us as a gift of his own dear love toward us, and of his liberality through Christ. When I speak of God's gift and liberality, I mean it free and bountiful, without any our desert or merit: that it be God's mere and sincere liberality, which he applieth to or salvation only whom he loveth and which trust in him, not hired or procured for wages, as it were a merchandise of his commodities and benefits used by him for some profit to himself, requiring again of us some recompence or price, which once to think were to abate both the liberality and majesty of God.

Master:  Whereas then God doth by faith both give us justification, and by the same faith alloweth and accepteth our works, tell me, dost thou think that this faith is a quality of nature, or the gift of God?

Student:  Faith is the gift of God, and a singular and excellent gift. For both our wits are too gross and dull to conceive and understand the wisdom of God, whose fountains are opened by faith, and our hearts are more apt either to distrust, or to wrongful and corrupt trust in ourselves, or in other creatures, than to true trust in God. But God, instructing us with his word and lightening our minds with his Holy Spirit, maketh us apt to learn those things that otherwise would be far from entering into the dull capacity of our wits; and sealing the promises of salvation in our souls, he so informeth us that we are most surely persuaded of the truth of them. These things the apostles understanding, do pray to increase their faith.


In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified [i.e. accepted]; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause. (John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote)

See also this post:  John Calvin: The Recompense of Good Works

Saturday, August 7, 2021

What meanest thou by this word “forgiveness”?

What meanest thou by this word “forgiveness”? 

That the faithful do obtain at God’s hand discharge of their fault and pardon of their offense: for God, for Christ’s sake, freely forgiveth them their sins, and rescueth and delivereth them from judgment and damnation, and from punishments just and due for their ill - doing.

Cannot we then, with godly, dutiful doings, and works, satisfy God, and by ourselves merit pardon of our sins? 

There is no mercy due to our merits, but God doth yield and remit to Christ his correction and punishment that he would have done upon us. For Christ alone, with sufferance of his pains and with his death, wherewith he hath paid and performed the penalty of our sins, hath satisfied God. Therefore by Christ alone we have access to the grace of God. We, receiving this benefit of his free liberality and goodness, have nothing at all to offer or render again to him by way of reward or recompense.

Nowell’s Catechism 1572

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Benefits the Faithful Receive of the Death of Christ

From Nowell’s Catechism (1572):

Now rehearse me briefly and in a sum these most large benefits which the faithful receive of the death of Christ, and his most grievous pain.  

Briefly, with the one only sacrifice of his death he satisfied for our sins before God, and appeasing the wrath of God, made us at one with him. With his blood, as with "most" pure washing, he hath washed and cleansed away all the filth and spots of our souls; and defacing with everlasting fulness the memory of our sins, that they shall no more come in the sight of God, he hath cancelled, made void, and done away the hand - writing whereby we were bound and convicted, and also the decree by the sentence whereof we were condemned. All these things hath he done by his death, both for the living and for the dead that trusted in him while they lived.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Anglican Baptismal Regeneration: Yes or No?

 J.I. Packer's excellent new and final book, The Heritage of Anglican Theology, shows the value of putting theology in its proper historical context. An example is the selection below (pp 282-285) which helps bring clarification to often contentious debates over the Anglican doctrines of infant baptism and baptismal regeneration:

"A word must be said also about the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. In the early 1800s, the final court of appeal in matters of dispute about the doctrine of the Church of England was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Now, the Privy Council was a company of people who were thought of as the monarch's most intimate advisers. This committee was a subcommittee of that larger body consisting of experts in the law who functioned as the highest court of judicial appeal in England when legal questions arose about the meaning of the law. These were legal experts, all laymen, but competent at interpreting documents and checking the precedents of case law and so forth.

One case that eventually came before the Judicial Committee involved a scholarly clergyman named George Cornelius Gorham. The case was brought by a High Church bishop in Exeter named Henry Phillpotts. Gorham had been nominated to a pastorate in Brampford Speke, Devon. Phillpotts suspected that Gorham was an evangelical, and indeed he was. Phillpotts asked him some questions at the bishop's discretion, which Phillpotts expected would expose Gorham's evangelicalism and allow Phillpotts to pronounce him unfit to minister in the Church of England and therefore to refuse to institute him to the pastorate for which he had been nominated in that diocese.

One of the questions was whether Gorham believed in baptismal regeneration. Gorham said no. Phillpotts replied, in effect, "Then I am not going to institute you because the Prayer Book affirms baptismal regeneration, and the Articles do also."

Gorham, the learned man, replied that, on the contrary, that is an interpretation of the Articles and Prayer Book that some hold, but it is not the only possible interpretation, and it is not the interpretation that the authors of the Prayer Book and Articles--the sixteenth-century Reformers--held themselves. Phillpotts thought this was nonsense, but Gorham appealed the verdict of Phillpotts against him. Gorham was confident he could prove his case.

So he took Phillpotts to court, demanding to be instituted to the pastorate to which he had been nominated. The case ended up before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It took two years for the case to get there. During that time, an evangelical scholar named William Goode wrote a learned treatise canvassing all the Reformers who had ever hon into print on this subject. Goode's treatise was called The Effects of Infant Baptism, and the hinge of its argument was that all these Reformers had insisted that salvation is through being justified by faith alone, and without faith no one is justified.

That, of course, does not match baptismal regeneration. In all that the Reformers said about the effects of infant baptism they did not go as far as affirming baptismal regeneration. They did celebrate the fact that the rite of baptism--water on the forehead, representing going under the water--symbolizes, signifies, and personalizes the promise of Christ, the promise of new life to those who will receive it through faith. In baptism, that promise is personally delivered to the candidate. This includes infant baptism, which Anglicanism has always regarded as consistent with the institution of Christ.

As the infant grows up, he or she has to learn to exercise the faith that was in the hearts of the parents and godparents when they brought the child to baptism. Their faith was that God would work in their child's heart to bring that child to faith, and that God would sanctify the rite of baptism whereby, in his mercy, God would personalize the promise to this child. This would be explained to the child as soon as he or she were old enough to understand it. God then sanctifies all that as a means of grace to bring the child to a living, personal faith.

William Goode demonstrated all this in The Effects of Infant Baptism, and in 1850 the Judicial Committee found that Gorham's view was a permitted interpretation of Anglican doctrine. His claim was vindicate, and Phillpotts had to institute him. Otherwise, Phillpotts would have been breaking the law.

The Gorham case--decided in this way against a cherished Anglo-Catholic doctrine and decided by a company of laypeople, rather than by the clergy or by bishops--became a great cause of offense to High Churchmen and Anglo-Catholics who disagreed with the verdict (and with Gorham's view). Furthermore, they thought the church should settle its own legal problems, and that bishops and clergy--not secular lawyers--should be having the last word. One of the effects of the Gorham decision was quite a flurry of Anglican-Catholics becoming Roman Catholics. For the Church of England to settle matters of faith this way destroyed Anglican credibility, in their minds.

Today Anglo-Catholics who know about the Gorham judgment will smile and shake their heads and basically say, "It ought not to have been done that way." Remember, the verdict was only that George Gorham's interpretation of the church's foundational documents was possible. Certain of the Catholic clergymen will counter that is not the interpretation one ought to embrace. Thus, Anglican-Catholics go on maintaining baptismal regeneration.

Evangelical Anglicans, as you would expect, go along with the Gorham judgment, and they are backed by quite a bit of writing. But because of the caution with which the Prayer Book and Articles were phrased back in the sixteenth century--so as not to give offense to people who believed in baptismal regeneration--an ambiguity is there. It is a matter of fact, and some of us feel that this is a pity."

Relevant portions of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion [emphasis added]:

XI. Of the Justification of Man.

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XXV. Of the Sacraments.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

XXVII. Of Baptism.

Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

As we forgive those who trespass against us…

 “Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.”

- Henry Ward Beecher, Clergyman

Monday, June 28, 2021

Food For Thought: Preaching Christ as Food for Hungry Souls

The other day I came across this quote from Charles Jefferson who wisely observed,

“When the minister goes into the pulpit he is the shepherd in the act of feeding, and if every minister had borne this in mind many a sermon would have been other than it has been. The curse of the pulpit is the superstition that a sermon is a work of art and not a piece of bread or meat… Sermons, rightly understood, are primarily forms of food. They are articles of diet. They are meals served by the minister for the sustenance of spiritual life.”

In light of the above I thought I'd repost this entry from July 2011:

Following up on my two posts (here and here) concerning feeding the sheep through word and sacrament, I want to present a couple of analogies to hopefully amplify what I think is lacking in much of the preaching in churches today.

As a thumbnail sketch: most pastors preach from the Bible.  There is usually a text upon which the sermon is based.  The passage is often presented in terms of its historical, doctrinal, and character settings.  As one listens, he may hear that God is loving, gives grace, and that there is much to be thankful for as a believer.  The listener is encouraged to trust in God's faithfulness as lessons are drawn from the verses.  The believer is admonished to go forth with renewed obedience trusting in Jesus and the ever-present grace and help of the Holy Spirit.  In the same way God was faithful to [list any number of Biblical characters], he is faithful to you, the present day believer.  As the song says, "trust and obey - there's no other way..."  What is missing?
Analogy #1: Imagine you are plagued with a failing heart, one riddled with disease.  You schedule an appointment with a skilled surgeon.  You go to the hospital.  You're taken into the operating room and the doctor enters.  From his scholarly medical books he begins laying out before you the procedures that have been developed over many years that have been shown to be successful in curing heart disease.  He explains in detail the countless individuals who have benefited from these amazing techniques.  Step by step and precept upon precept the medical procedure is detailed.  He concludes by explaining how one can be healed and live a normal life as a result of this amazing wonder of medicine.  He smiles, shakes your hand, gives you a bill  having finished what he came to do.
Analogy #2:  Imagine that you and many others have been invited to a dinner party hosted by a highly-trained chef.  You arrive at the restaurant in a very hungry state.  Upon entering the reserved dining room you observe an elaborately prepared setting.  The finest linen, expensive china dinnerware, sterling silver utensils, and fine crystal glasses adorn the table.  Everyone sits down.  The chef enters.  Appetites are whetted and hopes run high for a much anticipated and needed satisfying feast.
The chef then opens his cookbook and spends the next forty minutes describing how the meal is prepared.  He shows pictures of each course of the dinner while reciting all the ingredients with their proportions and nutritional values.  Most of all, he stresses how delicious, healthful, and sustaining the food is.  He then thanks everyone for coming, bids them farewell until the next dinner party.  The people leave, duly impressed and yet wondering what the aching, empty feeling in their stomach could mean.  You think to yourself, "if only I can remember these recipes and apply them better to my life..."
Preaching is more than good scholarly biblical exegesis. Sheep need to hear why they are hungry and that they are prone to look for food in all the wrong places. Sheep need to be fed.

"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13) 

  "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." (John 6: 27).  

As Christians we all too often trust in our own judgments and seek our own misguided answers for what ails us.  Or even more often, we settle into the dull despair of guilt and condemnation, wondering whether the problem is that there is something uniquely wrong with me (unlike other Christians!), which keeps me at a distance from God's favor.  In this life believers will always be sinners/saints.  We believe in Christ, seek to be faithful (in our better moments), and yet often wander in the fog of our own failed devices.  We know something is wrong within. Exhortations to "trust and obey" only exacerbate the feelings of failure and spiritual hunger.

* Pastorsidentify what is going on in your sheep.  Diagnose it for what it is... our sinful beliefs and behaviors that still wage war against the spirit.  Though saved by the grace of God, sheep come to the church service wearied and dirtied with dust from the week's past sojourn.  Then having rightly diagnosed the inward reality of doubt and self-directed ways of the sheep, wash their feet by once again dispensing the heavenly food which is the Gospel.  Proclaim the Good News of Christ crucified that feeds, renews, sustains, and nourishes the believer's faith:

Oh people of God, what you have failed to do... Jesus has done for you, in your place, by his perfect obedience.  Even more!  Jesus, by his death on the cross, paid your penalty and cleanses you from the filth of all your sin (past, present, and future) which sin so stubbornly assails your conscience. This is God's unbreakable covenant in Christ’s blood for you.

Christians need to hear that their sin which so easily entangles them is in fact that which qualifies them for the remedy of heaven declared in gospel (Luke 5:31-32).  Real food - Jesus Christ crucified and risen for you - that removes sin and assures of God's love (Romans 5:8) now, tomorrow, and forever.  Serve the gospel food that feeds one’s faith and brings forth renewed a heart which redirects the will and bears the fruit of good works.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:
                                                      XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
Believers-still-sinners are fed by the Gospel preached; nourishing and strengthening a true and lively faith.  
And I will bring Israel back to his pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan, and his desire will be satisfied in the hill country of Ephraim and Gilead.  In those days and at that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.’ (Jer. 50: 19-20)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5: 6-10)

Monday, January 18, 2021

John Calvin: If You Keep My commandments, You will abide in My Love...

John Calvin unpacks the intersection between our obedience to Christ’s commands and God’s love for us in Christ:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my

Father's commandments and abide in his love. - John 15:10

For these two things are continually united, that faith which perceives the undeserved love of Christ toward us, and a good conscience and newness of life. And, indeed, Christ does not reconcile believers to the Father, that they may indulge in wickedness without reserve, and without punishment; but that, governing them by his Spirit, he may keep them under the authority and dominion of his Father. Hence it follows, that the love of Christ is rejected by those who do not prove, by true obedience, that they are his disciples.    

If any one object that, in that case, the security of our salvation depends on ourselves, I reply, it is wrong to give such a meaning to Christ's words; for the obedience which believers render to him is not the cause why he continues his love toward us, but is rather the effect of his love. For whence comes it that they answer to their calling, but because they are led by the Spirit of adoption of free grace?    

But again, it may be thought that the condition imposed on us is too difficult, that we should keep the commandments of Christ, which contain the absolute perfection of righteousness, -- a perfection which   far exceeds our capacity, -- for hence it follows, that the love of Christ will be useless, if we be not endued with angelical purity. The answer is easy; for when Christ speaks of the desire of living a good and holy life, he does not exclude what is the chief article in his doctrine, namely, that which alludes to righteousness being freely imputed, in consequence of which, through a free pardon, our duties are acceptable to God, which in themselves deserved to be rejected as imperfect and unholy. Believers, therefore, are reckoned as keeping the commandments of Christ when they apply their earnest attention to them, though they be far distant from the object at which they aim; for they are delivered from that rigorous sentence of the law,    

“Cursed be he that hath not confirmed all the words of this law to do them.”   (Deuteronomy 27:26)

John Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospel of John

Here are some related posts:

Christ's Active Obedience: The End of the Law Unto Righteousness To Everyone That Believes -

Obedience Envy? -

 Gratitude and Obedience:

Musings on Gratitude and Obedience

Justification to Life

Salvation Possessed By Faith — Expressed In Obedience