Monday, March 16, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #1

In what follows I would like to endeavour to reflect upon Acts 15 and what we can we can learn about the unity of the visible church and terms of communion by good and necessary consequence.

Acts 15v1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"

  • The church will often face those who wish to add to, diminish from or over extend the terms of communion established by the word of God. The principles of Acts 15 can be applied to all and any of these situations also. It is just as unscriptural to diminish from as to add to what God requires.
  • In this case there was addition to, but in much of the New Testament e.g. Corinth and Churches of Asia there was a laxity on these matters i.e. participation in idolatry and immorality. 
  • Differences in relation to terms of communion may often relate to correct interpretation of scripture including the prohibitions of the mosaic law and the degree of continuity between old and new treatments
  • Sometimes this may even impact upon and distort the teaching of the gospel and v24 subverts and plunders souls 
  • This will also subvert the foundations of the church

v.2-3 "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren."

  • Where terms of communion are distorted in this way division and strife inevitably results
  • Which will lead to permanent disunity (Rom 14:1)
  • It is our duty to resist and oppose false teaching and practice that subverts the unity of the church and the purity of the gospel in this area 
  • It is the role of church courts to handle such questions and to assert the scriptural view upon it.
  • Ignoring such questions or making them a matter of individual conscience will not settle them as they concern the whole church

Friday, November 14, 2014

the sum of the sum

William Perkins said to his student preachers at the conclusion of his Arte of Prophecying, "The sum of the sum: Preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ." See more at:

Friday, August 01, 2014

FP Church Website Re-launched

A lot of new material has been added to the now re-launched Church website. You can now find out a lot about the distinctives of the Church clearly explained from Scripture here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflections in the Psalms

C.S. Lewis once wrote a book Reflections on the Psalms but it is not very recommended reading because of his treatment of the doctrine of inspiration and the imprecatory psalms (or psalms of cursing). To reflect ‘on’ the Psalms seems to be the wrong approach – since it establishes a position of personal opinion above Scripture. This cannot be right: we come to the Scriptures with humility and trust in order to be changed by them, not to have our own assumptions reflected back at us unaltered.   We should not walk away from the mirror of Scripture without ‘looking’ intently into the ‘perfect law of liberty’ in order to continue in its precepts, remembering the way in which it has exposed our character (James 1:22-25). We should behold in that mirror ‘the glory of the Lord’ in order to be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (II Corinthians 3:18).

The Early Church Fathers (especially Athanasius (c. 296-373), Bishop of Alexandria) viewed the Psalms in this way. Athanasius is famous for his mighty defence of the deity of Christ. In his Letter on the Psalms, he praises the Psalter very highly:
[Within it] are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given…you learn aboutyourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill (p.19).
Athanasius stresses the singing of the Psalms – for him this is their primary use and purpose, and he finds a special benefit in this:
It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction…just as in a mirror the movements of our own souls are reflected in them an the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives (p.22-23).
Athanasius, together with all the Church Fathers as well as the apostles, also sees the Psalms as the Book about Christ, words that are His very own spoken about Himself: reflections of the perfect life of the perfect man. ‘And therefore, before He came among us, He sketched the likeness if this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as He revealed Himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own’ (p.24).

John Calvin continued the idea in calling the Psalter ‘an anatomy of all parts of the soul, since no one can experience emotions whose portrait he could not behold reflected in its mirror. Yes, the Holy Spirit has there depicted in the most vivid manner every species of pain, affliction, fear doubt, hope, care, anxiety, and turbulent emotion, through which the hearts of men are chased’.

As a book for corporate at least as much as individual praise the book of Psalms is also able to reflect and to change the Church as its songs are sung together (for the Church in the interpretation of the Psalms see Bishop Horne’s classic exposition).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

His righteousness complete by his Resurrection

Some notes from a sermon by one of our ministers some time ago.

John 20:1-8. There is much interest in the fact that John reached the grave before Peter, but the minister felt that might just have been the due to the fact that different people have different physiques and can run faster than others. What is significant is the word 'seeth' in John 20:6, which actually means that John 'studied' what he saw. The Scripture reference to the head napkin and the separate winding clothes disprove the Turin shroud's authenticity. The grave clothes had fallen in empty on themselves: Christ did not have to tear his way out of them, as His resurrection body was a spiritual body, real but capable of things the normal human body was not; this point is shown in His being able to walk through the door into the room where the disciples gathered later for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).

Many place emphasis on the incarnation, the child in the manger. But that is an incomplete Saviour. To fully satisfy divine justice, Christ had to suffer and die and rise again, His righteousness complete by his resurrection, His foes defeated.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

in one day

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Zechariah 3v9 "I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day".
1. the greatness of Christ's suffering; 2. the greatness of the strength of Christ, and 3. the greatness of His love.

Adam's one 'small' act of disobedience had massive repercussions for the millions of his descendants; one sin led to another and the corruption brought in by his one act of disobedience has led to an infinite number of sins. Each sin any one person commits can lead to  dreadful results too in future generations.

The minister laid emphasis on the sufferings being in Christ's human nature as the divine nature cannot suffer (an error, he said which is beginning to appear now). Also laid stress on His love to His own people and the great victory wrought.

Samson was a type of Christ. Just as Samson brought down the house of his enemies by heaving down the two pillars which held it up, so Christ leaned His strength against Sin and Death - the two pillars holding up the House of Satan. And just as Samson destroyed more of the Philistines in his death than he did in his life, so Christ caused great destruction to Satan in His own death.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

O send out thy light and thy truth

A few sermon notes from one of the ministers.

Psalm 43 v 3;4. "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God".

The desire is for a blessing on God's Word to his own soul, for the Word to be his guide. The first word in v3 is 'O'…how much meaning is in that one-vowel word of longing, which also appears at the end of v4. The psalmist is able to say that the Most High is "my God".

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 6 v5-6 "When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do".

Points made were: 1. the problem; and 2. the solution.

1. The hungry people would have been amazed to be told that the Most High was to use the events of that day by putting it into Scripture for posterity. The people had no food. Philip was looking at the problem, rather than looking at Christ. He was forgetting how the Saviour turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and how He healed many of their diseases in the previous few days. Philip was also forgetting the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament books which told of the Lord's dealings, for example the children of Israel being fed with manna and quails from heaven. Philip was overlooking the Lord's mercy, love, intercession and promises to His people.

2. The solution. The Lord told them to feed the crowd with the barley loaves and small fish. The barley bread was the least tasty of the Jewish baking, and small fish would be less tasty and substantial than large ones. So is the gospel to natural unregenerate man. It is insipid and without attraction to him.

The food was handed out by disciples but it was really Christ who was giving it to the people. Some in the crowd might have not wanted the food from them. So, we have to be careful that we're not looking to this preacher, or that one in particular, for a blessing. It's the Lord who's dividing the word of truth. An old elder used to say that if you're looking to man in the preaching, it's the man you will get; and if you're looking for Christ, it's Christ you will get.

The smallest fragment in the hand of the disciples was feeding the people. When you get a taste of Christ from one portion of Scripture or hearing preaching on one of His works or attributes, you are really getting Him all.

But how did He spread five loaves and two fish between twelve disciples in the first place? He had to break these items of food. In doing that, He was preaching Himself. He had to be broken Himself. As the great High Priest he was to offer Himself as a sacrifice. The veil of the temple was to be torn, just as His body was broken on the cross.

The fragments were gathered: it would be good for us to discuss the word and preaching afterwards so it sticks in the mind. Spoke of a man, over 100 years old, who'd emigrated to the USA from Scotland in his youth. One day the man remembered a church service back in Scotland, where the preacher had refused in tears to pronounce the benediction at the end of the service, asking the congregation how he could possibly bless them when they were not converted. This worked on the old man's conscience as he recalled it all these years later. It was blessed to his soul.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Galatians 6v14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”.

All religions in this world are either about salvation by works, or salvation by faith in the finished work of Christ. That has ever been the dividing line between spiritual life and spiritual death; it was the line between Jacob and Esau, Abel and Cain; it's the fundamental difference today, and the difference between those entitled to go to the Lord's Table and those who are not.

The Galatians people were showing signs of going back to works salvation. What uncertain creatures we are -- the Word, Spirit and experience teach us that. We have native antipathy to giving all the glory to Christ alone for salvation. But over against that, Paul states that he will not glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He had long experience of the years the locusts had eaten while he followed works, he'd spent long enough in the camp of glorying in other things, long enough with that cracked vessel.

Three headings: 1. Paul gloried in a great name. 2. Paul gloried in the cross. 3. The world was crucified to him.

1. Glorying in a great name. In Isaiah Ch 6 we see glory given to God. That vision was given to Isaiah at the beginning, to set his feet right. The angels are saying: "We never did anything glorious, we are less than nothing compared to the One who set His face as flint to go up to Jerusalem, saying 'To do thy will I take delight' ". The angels are saying: " God forbid that we should glory".

The Bible says that His name shall be called Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins. Joshua was a type of Christ. He cleared the land of giants so his people could have possession of the land. Christ came into possession, knocking down the walls of the Jericho of man's pride, slaying the giants of unbelief, striving with Satan in the wilderness. He has come as the New Testament Joshua to destroy the works of the devil, cast down his citadels. The possessions which the New Testament Joshua has gained for His people are the sure mercies of David in the covenant of grace.

Paul gloried in His name as Christ. Christ means anointed, the Messiah. In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed to speak with the authority of God. Moses stood face to face with God and came down from the mount with his face shining so much it had to be veiled. The prophets had to receive the Spirit -- that's what the holy anointing oil represented. Christ was THE Messiah, there were many prophets, but here is the One who is the voice of wisdom, able to speak a word in season to them that are weary. He also speaks with authority. He told Zacchaeus to come down at once from the tree. He pronounces that salvation has come to this house. He cries outside the grave of Lazarus and Lazarus comes forth. Lazarus comes forth and joins them so that the little family in Bethany can be remade. (In contrast to this level of authority, Paul had to ask for men to pray that he would be given a dorr of utterance).

Christ was anointed as a priest. Paul gloried in the High Priest who was holy, harmless and undefiled. Nothing less than this One, who was holy in Himself, would suffice; though He is bone of our bone and flesh o our flesh, He is nevertheless separate from sinners. This High Priest continueth ever, in the order of Melchisedec, without end of days, He is anointed as High Priest, continuing ever with divine power to take away sins. The divinity in the High Priest means he is able to save to the uttermost.

Christ was anointed as a King. There was one high point in the history of Israel’s kings and that wad the reign of David. The Lord over-ruled the waywardness of Israel in asking for a king – He is able to accomplish His purposes with means, above means, without means etc. Saul died, David anointed goes before in the house of his father. He was set apart to receive a kingly disposition, a nearness to the Lord, “a man after mine own heart” said the Lord. There was no time like the kingship of David in the history of Israel. His head was crowned with many crowns. Let us serve Him and pay Him allegiance. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to Christ in the stable. No doubt the wise men from the east gave Herod his place as an earthly king but there was no glory in Herod’s crown and scepter as there was in Christ’s. When men’s feet are “put upon the rock” there is praise for heaven’s King. Do you see anything in Him worth your allegiance and zeal?

2. Glorying in the Cross. Here is the cross of the same King. Christ died there, having lived a life of pain and sorrow. He was tempted in the wilderness. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. “Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow” he asks. He was the seed of the woman, promised at the gates of the Garden of Eden. His great purpose was to save by the cross. He was to turn the curse into a blessing, destroy the destroyer, tramp on the head of the serpent, tread the wine-press alone.

Wherever there is to be hope of cleansing the soul from sin, even one sinful thought, there must be the cross.

The cross was a public statement that the Second Adam was bearing away the curse. The two great elements to be seen at the cross are God’s love to His people, and the justice of God being set forth.

There are “songs in the night” at the cross. There is a dark night – see Psalm 130 – “if thou should’st mark iniquity, who shall stand?” Yet there is a song there too – “but yet with thee forgiveness is, that feared thou mayest be”.

Just as there was a  savour from the sacrifice Noah offered, on leaving the ark – a savour of rest, justice having been done on the wicked people – so there is a savour of rest and completion and satisfaction of divine justice at the cross of Christ.

3. Crucified to the world. Paul experienced an alienation from the world, its values, pomp, ceremonies and priorities.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man...

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 6v53

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

Christ is using a metaphor. V 30 shows the Jews looking for a sign. It seems they were trying to impose this thinking on the Saviour, that He should show them a sign like Moses had done. There are warnings in Scripture against this. "A wicked and adulterous generation require a sign, etc" -- this is a fruit of the native unbelief and unwillingness to accept the word of the Lord which has already ben given. Yet, in this case, Christ does use the idea of a sign.

The Jews at this point could not understand the significance of His words. Now we have the full revelation of Calvary, we can and ought to understand this figurative language here. The manna Moses gave was not THE life-giving bread; it was a miracle and sign and proof that God spoke by Moses but not THE bread. Christ points to this by saying "My Father giveth you the true bread" (v32)

In v53 Christ is giving the application of the metaphor.

1. The verse teaches there must be a receiving of Him. This is as fundamental as the Father giving Him, and He giving Himself on Calvary. A man is not a Christian unless he believes that the Father sent the Son to redeem. Christ came to do the will of Him that sent him. What a will that was, what requirements were attached to it! O how essential it is. Christ's life is not just an example or pattern of behaviour, but He lived that he might give His flesh for the world, (men of evrry kind, not just Jews). He was giving His life, it was substitution, one in the place of another, Christ crucified. This was the commandment of the Father. Christ gave Himself as a ransom for many.

But, it's equally essential that they would eat. There's a receiving of His flesh and blood by faith. It's  a spiritual receiving of the atonement.

2. The teaching is a distinguishing doctrine -- it discriminates between people.

3 These words are soul-humbling; it's a doctrine which offends or humbles.

4. It is a soul-satisfying doctrine. "My flesh is meat indeed". It is in proportion to their faith, that their soul gets satisfaction.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The thief's dying prayer

Luke 23v42, 43. "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise".

1. The unusual prayer. The thief preached before he prayed. He was the only person who defended Christ at the scene of the crucifixion. He never enjoyed spiritual fellow-ship with another sinner on this earth. The thief was on the cross, losing his ability to speak.

2. The prayer's content. The prayer showed that Christ was his Lord, the ruler of his life; he was not just seeing Christ as Saviour. We don't know if the thief could read, but he could see the inscription 'King of the Jews'. The words Jew and Judah means 'praise of God'.

3. Its answer. The phrase 'with me' is crucial. It refers to Christ bringing the thief close to Him, sanctifying him, and taking him into heaven as His brother. The thief would have heard the cry: "It is finished". This was the most joyous cry ever heard in the history of the earth. He'd have heard Christ commit His spirit into the hands of the Father. These were 'hands' that were as holy and just as himself. The most precious soul ever on earth was being committed to God the Father.

Friday, May 02, 2014

He that hath the bride

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

John 3v29. "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled". The words are those of John. Two points:

1. The unique privilege of the bridegroom. Christ is the bridegroom to the bride, His church. This was a marriage arranged beforehand, like all marriages. But this was arranged and covenanted for, in a past Eternity. There are no slip-ups in this marriage, nothing goes wrong.

2. The privilege of the bride-groom's friend. John was the special friend, like the special friend at Jewish weddings who waited for the voice of the groom. Eliezer spoke in this way on behalf of Isaac. John heard the voice of Christ. The voice was similar to the sound of the trumpet, blown at the Jubilee, when slaves were set free and debts wiped out. Again, the voice of Christ was like the sound of the bells on Aaron's garment. It's sounding showed that the High Priest had put the special garment back on, during the Great Day of Atonement and that his sacrifice on behalf of the people had been accepted. The atoning blood had been accepted. The golden bells and pomegranates hit each other, causing the sound. The golden bells signified the gospel, and they struck the pomegranates, these dried fruit signifying the finished work.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Every plant...

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Matthew 15v13: "But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up".

Points: 1. The greatest planting done by the father; 2. The Lord's people as plants; 3. Those that are not planted by the father.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest planting done by the Most High and is referred to often as a plant. He is the Rose of Sharon -- His name is as ointment poured forth. How few today love to think of the Godhead. He is the lily of the valleys  -  He is with His people in the dark valleys through which they travel. There are different valleys but the lily, Christ, is the same always.  He is the apple tree and the fruits of His death are sweet to His people. He is the Plant of Renown. He is the Branch. He is the True Vine.

2. The Lord's people are planted by Him. They are in the wilderness of this world. The Bible refers to the fir and the oak and the pine being found in the wilderness -- the place you would not expect to find these kinds of trees.

3. In the preceding verses the Pharisees are seen with their traditions of men, which Christ condemned. Unlike false plants such as the Pharisees, the Lord's people always have green leaves…see Psalm One.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Blessed are the meek"

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Matthew 5v5: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth".

This is one of the best known sections of the Bible. Men believe it provides an easy religion. The expressions in the first few verses can be heard in ordinary conversation. Yet people ignore the fact that Christs exhorts men to be perfect in this chapter. And that He exhorts to greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees.

Meekness is that evenness of temper, in the face of oppression from others, that does not go into sinful passions; and on the other hand does not go into undue sadness. It is a calmness of spirit. It was seen in its clearest expression in Christ. But was also seen in David as he faced rebellion and the loss of friends and opposition from within his family. Also seen in Moses despite all that he faced. All these graces in the first section of Matthew 5 complement each other; where one is, the others will accompany it in some measure.

The promise is that such will inherit the earth. Some have interpreted this to refer to the whole earth being filled with the knowledge of God in the days of the latter glory. But the minister said he leaned more to it being the blessing of contentment with our lot in providence, which the Lord gives to His own. Some have been poor materially and some not, but whatever their circumstances there is this blessing for the meek .

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Purge me with hyssop"

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Psalms 51v7 "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow".

This is one of the seven penitential Psalms. Augustine asked for all seven to be put on the walls of the room where he lay in his final illness.

Hyssop was  a plant used to sprinkle blood and water in the various ceremonies of the Old Testament. It was used for example to confirm that the leper -- formerly kept outside the camp -- was now cured and therefore clean. That is a picture of the saved sinner. The priests used hyssop in the sacrifices. And it was also used by Moses in making the covenant with the Most High on behalf of the people. In this Psalm, David is seeking that the Lord would expiate -- put away  -- the guilt and pollution and power of sin. The word purge in this verse was translated in Luther's German Bible by a word not found normally in English -- "un-sin me". All of these points have relevance to the sacrament of baptism. The sprinkling is a symbol, a sign, something that signifies the inner cleansing that must take place in the sinner. The person baptised is under the vows and in adult life we should all be considering whether we have fulfilled the blessings available in the visible church, of which we become part by baptism.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Switzerland Reformation Tour 2014

Switzerland Reformation Tour. A tour to Geneva and other Swiss towns associated with the Reformation

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

John Knox @ 500

As you may know 2014 marks the 500th centenary (as far as can be fairly assessed) of John Knox's birth.  On the right hand side of this blog you will find regular tweets of John Knox quotations, there is also a page at

You may also be interested in a conference on John Knox due to take place in April.

Why is there nothing else much - apart from a tour? Will there be a commemorative stamp? A google doodle home page? A photo call with the First Minister outside St Giles? Will the Established Church even acknowledge it?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guest Post: The Establishment Principle and the Unity of the Church #2

Mark Hausam's second post. 


At this point we can begin to see how the Establishment Principle (EP) supports the unity of the church of Christ.  We can see this partly by recognizing how societies that have abandoned (either explicitly or in practice) the EP and instead embraced a voluntaristic view of the relationship between church and state have correspondingly had trouble maintaining the unity of the church.

In the United States of America, for example, abandonment of the EP has gone hand in hand with abandonment of the concept of the formal unity of the church.  This can be seen by taking a look at the revised version of the Westminster Confession embraced by the mainstream Presbyterian tradition in the United States, in particular the section on the civil magistrate that corresponds to the quotation from the original version of the Confession quoted at the very beginning of this article:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance (Westminster Confession 23:3 as revised by American Presbyterian synods in 1788).
Notice the intertwining here of two ideas, 1. that the civil magistrate ought not to establish or even show any favoritism to any particular Christian denomination, and 2. that there are multiple legitimate denominations.  Historically, the embracing of denominationalism--the idea that there can be multiple, legitimate, de jure denominations--is what led to opposition to the EP.  If there is more than one legitimate denomination, then it wouldn't make sense for the civil magistrate to establish only one of them.  And yet the civil magistrate can't establish all of them, because they are not in full formal communion with each other and have contradictory teachings and practices.  An attempt to formally recognize all of them fully would result in a contradictory position for the civil government.  So the only solution was to disestablish them all and treat them all, in effect, as private organizations no different in principle from the Boy Scouts or a country club or any other purely voluntary, not-officially-recognized organization.

Disestablishmentarianism (that is, the abandonment of the principles of the EP) and denominationalism tend to reinforce each other in a society.  Historically, in Britain and in the United States in particular, the pattern seems to have worked in this way:  Before 1690, most Christians were opposed both to denominationalism and to disestablishmentarianism.  They believed firmly that the church of Christ is one and that the nature of the church is incompatible with idea of multiple de jure denominations, and they also believed firmly that the state should formally acknowledge the legitimate denominational church.  However, in 1690, toleration begin to be established in Britain.  Multiple churches were allowed to exist without hindrance.  This contributed more and more over time to the advancement of an agnostic attitude in British society, and people became more and more indifferent to the truth claims of the various churches.  This attitude of indifferentism, in turn, created a lack of concern for the unity of the church.  "Agreeing to disagree in a friendly and charitable manner" came to replace biblical unity as the ideal for the people of God.  Toleration and indifferentism combined led to the setting up of more and more denominations until the point was reached that most of the church and the broader society became used to having multiple churches and thought nothing of it, even embracing it as the ideal--the state we are in today, except that we've now gone even further and embraced non-Protestant forms of Christianity and even non-Christian religions and Atheism and Agnosticism into the mix.  Denominationalism and indifferentism, in turn, serve to reinforce the idea that the civil government should not establish a particular church, which then continues to reinforce denominationalism, which continues to reinforce disestablishmentarianism, and so on.

It is easy to see how an embracing of the EP would tend to be a scourge for denominationalism and would encourage concern for the formal unity of the church.  We don't tend to have a problem similar to denominationalism in the civil sphere.  That is, we don't live in societies where people go around joining themselves to a whole host of different civil magistrates based on their personal taste, agreeing happily to disagree:  "Oh, David Cameron is your Prime Minister?  That's nice!  My personal Prime Minister is Ed Miliband!"  This doesn't happen because we understand the concept that there is an officially recognized civil government.  A person doesn't get to be a civil magistrate simply be standing up and declaring himself to be one.  He has to be properly appointed and legitimately recognized.  Otherwise, he is not legitimate, however much he may protest that he is or wish to be.  Similarly, in the EP system, the church is formally recognized by the society.  One cannot simply decide to start a new denomination and have it be recognized as legitimate.  One has to go through the proper channels, and if one doesn't do so, one cannot be recognized as having any legitimate authority.  If a session, or a presbytery, decides to break from the rest of the established church, the society will view that session or presbytery as having forfeited its legitimate authority to function and will treat it accordingly.

Thus, an EP way of looking at things, in contrast with voluntarism, will make it impossible for a situation to arise in which the legitimate church can come to be viewed as being made up of multiple independent denominations.  Just as the fact that the federal government of the United States has an official position on who the legitimate governor of Utah actually is prevents multiple governors from being considered to be legitimate and accepted by different people in Utah, so the formal recognition of the true church by the civil government will have the effect of preventing multiple independent ecclesiastical organizations from being considered all to be legitimate, de jure churches (though it may still be recognized that those who are not members of the established, legitimate church may be, in fact, regenerated members of Christ's Body de facto or informally).  The question of the de jure legitimacy and authority of the various existing denominations and the mandate of the unity of the church must be faced whether or not the civil magistrate does his part by formally recognizing and establishing Christianity and the church, but if he does do his part, it makes it much harder for the society to forget the importance of these principles and these questions and for the indifferentism that allows denominationalism to flourish to become established.  In this way, the civil magistrate has a major role to play in taking order "that unity and peace be preserved in the Church."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: The Establishment Principle and the Unity of the Church #1

Mark Hausam lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, where he is an instructor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an instructor at the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy He is a member at Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT.  He is also the author of Why Christianity is True.  His blog can be found here

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

I have read the above-quoted portion of the Westminster Confession many, many times, but it was only recently that a particular phrase of it stood out to me, a phrase that briefly states an idea that I think is of enormous importance for the ideal of church unity.  In describing the duties of the civil magistrate relating to religion, the Confession notes that it is the civil magistrate's duty "to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church."  Particularly, I am now interested in the idea that part of the role of the civil magistrate is to help preserve "unity" in the church of Christ.


How does the civil magistrate help preserve unity in the church of Christ?  In order to answer this question, we need to look at the overall idea of civil government put forward by the Westminster Confession.  The Confession puts forward a biblical view of the relationship between civil government and religion that has come to be known as the Establishment Principle.  The Establishment Principle can be expressed in these two basic concepts:

1. The civil magistrate is not neutral in religious matters.  This non-neutrality is both a logical necessity and a moral imperative.  The civil magistrate is in the business of making and enforcing civil laws and public policies.  In order to do this, he (or they--I'll use the singular pronoun for shorthand while recognizing the diversity of forms civil government can take) must have in mind ideals as to how society should function, a hierarchy of valuable ends that are worth pursuing, beliefs about what is right and wrong and good and bad, a perspective on what the purpose of civil government is and thus what tasks he should be about, and so on.  But all of these ideals, beliefs, values, etc., are dependent upon which worldview is actually true.  If Agnosticism or Atheism is the worldview through which we should view the world, this will lead to a particular set of ideals, values, and beliefs.  If Islam is the correct worldview, this will lead to a quite different set of values and beliefs.  If Reformed Christianity is true, this will lead to yet another distinct set of beliefs and values.

Granting that this is the case, it is evident to the mind of man, whether illuminated by special revelation or not, that civil governments ought to base their laws and policies not on falsehood but on reality.  It would be absurd to hold that while it is good for individuals to base their lives on reality, it is perfectly reasonable and harmless for entire societies to be grounded in fundamentally false views about the nature of the universe.  This is why Atheists and Agnostics are so bent on bringing about a fully secular society.  A secular society is a society that assumes that we have no knowledge of the supernatural but only of the natural world.  Secularists like to present secularism as a neutral point of view upon which government can be based, but of course it is not neutral at all--it is the political instantiation of Agnosticism or Atheism.  How foolish, then, is it for Christians to advocate for a secular society!  Can we imagine Atheists advocating for a Christian or an Islamic theocracy?  Of course not.  And yet we see Christians all too often advocating for an Agnostocracy or an Atheocracy (though they don't put it so bluntly).

Both Christian common-sense, then, as well as the Bible, leads us to conclude that the civil government should not be secular but should be explicitly, officially Christian.  The civil magistrate should acknowledge and establish the true Christian religion and base his laws and policies on that truth.  We see this idea put forward, among many other places in Scripture, in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
The Westminster Confession summarizes this teaching in this way:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (WCF 23:1)

The civil magistrate is the "minister of God", whose job it is to keep the public sphere clear of evil and safe for the good as much as possible, judging good and bad and learning the rules and methods of his governing from the revelation of God.

Note also that these biblical principles do not lead to the conclusion that the civil magistrate should acknowledge and ground his laws in only some portion of God's revealed truth while neglecting other parts of it.  The established religion should not be merely a lowest-common-denominator, watered-down form of Christianity, but it should embrace the fullness of the the whole counsel of God.  Just as the individual, and the family, and the church, has no right to ignore any portion of God's Word, so the civil magistrate must also acknowledge all of it.  The church ought not to be simply "Christian" in a lowest-common-denominator sort of way, but it should have a confession that is distinctly Reformed and Presbyterian (because the Reformed faith, summarized in the Westminster Standards, is the full and purest expression of biblical Christianity).  Similarly, it is not just a watered-down Christianity that should be embraced by the civil magistrate and by the entire society, but true, biblical, Reformed Christianity.
2. The civil magistrate should not only acknowledge and establish the true religion in an abstract sense, but he should formally recognize the official rulers of the church.  It is not enough for Christians and for churches to acknowledge some abstract concept of "proper biblical civil governance."  We must fully and formally recognize the specific civil government that is set over us and the specific rulers who have formal rule over us in the civil sphere.  To put it more specifically, as an American, I cannot simply acknowledge the abstract principles of biblical civil government; I must also formally acknowledge my allegiance to the particular civil government set over me by the providence of God--the federal government of the United States of America, the government of the State of Utah, and the government of the City of Orem.  I must recognize and show proper respect and deference to all those who are formally recognized to have an official role in the functioning of these legitimate governments.  If I do not like the current president of the United States, I cannot simply ignore him and decide to set up my own president.  This would be rebellion against those who have lawful rule over me.

In the same way, the civil magistrate has an obligation not just to acknowledge in the abstract the doctrines of the true religion; he must also formally, explicitly, and officially recognize as established the true church of God.  He must formally acknowledge and recognize the sessions, presbyteries, synods, and national assembly of the true church of Christ in his nation.  He must recognize the formally-appointed officers who make up these ecclesiastical governing bodies.

The ideal the Establishment Principle points to is a situation where the society as a whole embraces a formal recognition of all of the leaders God has appointed over the people--both civil and ecclesiastical (and parental).  The society of the United States of America, for example, ought to acknowledge both an official body of civil governance and an official body of ecclesiastical governance, which bodies mutually and formally acknowledge each other and support each other in their distinct spheres of jurisdiction and activity.  Here in America, this concept is extremely foreign, as we have never had an officially-recognized established church.  In Scotland, on the other hand, this situation is at least in principle familiar (if not currently functioning in the best of conditions, to put it mildly).


Some Scripture Proofs of the Establishment Principle

2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. (1CH 13:1-8; 2KI 24:1-25) 2CH 34:33 And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.

2 Chron 15:12 And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; 13 That whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

2 Chron 19:8 Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. 9 And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. 10 And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass. 11 And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good. (2 Chron 29-30)

Ezra 7:23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? 25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. 26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. 27 Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem: 28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellers, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.

Ps. 2:10-12 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Ps. 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

Ps.22:27-28 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations.

Ps. 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

Isa. 49:23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

Isa. 60:12 For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.

Rom. 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

1 Tim. 2.1-2 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.

Rev. 19:16 And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Rev. 21:24, 26 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.

More Reading on the Establishment Principle

A paper on this topic can be found here, here and here and a useful booklet here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nailed or Mailed?'s hard for me to think those words without hearing my son saying them as 7 syllables with emphasis. He seems to have picked up some things about Martin Luther but I don't think he understands the question that interests me here. Did Martin Luther nail his 95 theses to the church door or send them in the post? A blog post here handles it fairly well. I think Melancthon is reliable.

Friday, December 13, 2013

No fool

A quick google shows me that this is not an original observation but here goes anyway.

Jim Elliot had a great quote:

He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

Allan Harman's biography of Matthew Henry quotes his father Philip Henry with much the same words:

He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.

–from Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, by Allan Harman, (Chritian Focus, 2012), Kindle location 345-47.

It would be remarkable if Elliott were not echoing Henry. Neither men were fools. They lived by these words. What about you?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Philippians 3 v 8-10, especially "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord".

Excellency here means heavenliness and majesty. Knowledge is not mere head knowledge, but that which fills the whole soul. The verses are about justification. Man does not have righteousness but the Lord Jesus has worked out a righteousness that is eternal and unchangeable. This is imputed in justification to the ungodly who believe in His name. Justification is forensic, it is a legal matter where the sinner is declared righteous -- a sentence is passed by the Judge.

Faith lays hold of Christ. In terms of time, faith and the sentence that the sinner is righteous happen at the same point. But in terms of logic, the declaration of the sentence happens first and then faith.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What think ye of Christ?

The following notes are fragments from a sermon preached by one of our ministers some years ago on the text "What think ye of Christ?" Matthew 22v42. The notes are only a summary and not a verbatim report of words that were used.

The Father testifies to what He thinks of Christ - "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased". The Father takes pleasure from all eternity in the infinite beauty and winsomeness and holiness and loveliness of Christ. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us.

One Puritan Divine said of Isaiah 6 that the angels do not have bodily parts but that the passage uses such words to allow our minds to understand something of them. The angels covered their eyes to show they are not worthy to look on Christ, covered their feet to show they are not worthy that He look on them, and that their wings signify that they go around serving him.

It is the view the Lord's people got in the Bible of his beauty and suitability that changed them.

The question remains for the sinner without Christ: "What think ye of Christ?"...why should the unrepentant or careless sinner be alone in the universe, not esteeming or valuing Him, while the Father and Spirit and angels and redeemed men say "He is altogether lovely".

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the "difference between obscure and difficult"

Notoriously, Jeanette Winterson is no friend to the evangelicalism that she grew up with. But as she explained on Start the Week and here she owes a vast debt to the Authorised (King James) Version and appraises its value and lack of difficulty.

"I did not find the language difficult and I was not unusual. The King James translation was written to be read out-loud – and that simple overlooked fact changes every argument about ‘difficulty’ and ‘comprehension’. If you do not believe me, try it for yourself.

Even now, when patterns of spoken and written English have changed considerably since my 1960’s Bible debut, the phrasing of the King James has a naturalness to it. Awkwardness disappears within a few chapters of vocal reading – providing that you will trust yourself and trust the text...King James does not use sub-clauses or dependent clauses; it is a direct English, and one you can still hear, even now, in northern speech...The language is grammatically uncluttered, but rich in vocabulary and image...There is a difference between obscure and difficult. I accept that by now, the King James version seems more difficult than it is, but its rewards are greater than its difficulty. And can someone please pinpoint for me the cultural moment when ‘difficult’ became a dirty word?"

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Conference #3

Dr R Dickie gave a very comprehensive paper on Martin Luther and some of his Writings.
He reminded us that books by Luther were being imported into Scotland by 1525 when the parliament prohibited it. It was scarcely successful given that by 1527 there was a subsequent ban on Scots promoting the teachings of Luther or even discussing them.

Part 1 covered the historical context of the transition into renaissance from late middle ages.
Part 2 discussed the theology of the Roman Catholic church, particularly referring to scholastic theologians.
Part 3 was Luther's early life and education. This covered the period up until around 1520
Part 4 looked more closely at developments that Luther encountered in questioning the theology of the medieval Church. He could not harmonise Augustine and Paul with the scholastics, particularly the view of the latter that faith is solely assent. In his lectures he began to attack Aristotle and the scholastics. Scripture became the final authority. His lectures to students on the Psalms 1513 - 1517 were important as he discovered Pauline theology there and saw Christ as key to the psalter. Before the 95 theses there were also 97 theses against scholasticism which ended by saying that they were in no way in conflict with the Church. The 95 theses contained no such qualification.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Conference #2

Dr A. Ross gave a paper on The Response of the Churches to the Challenges of Evolution in the 19th Century. It focussed largely on Scotland but also with reference to relevant matters in the rest of the UK and across in the USA.

He showed how the origins of the controversy lay in the debates over old earth geology. Some such as Charles Hodge encouraged old earth geology but then attacked Darwinism as atheism for denying design in nature. Old earth geology arose from Moderate ministers in the Church of Scotland and elsewhere but there were also secular enthusiasts such as James Hutton who was a deist.

There were various uniformitarian and catastrophic theories. Thomas Chalmers had the gap theory and did not change his views once converted. Darwin acknowledged a debt to Hugh Miller who advanced the day-age theory with the fifth and sixth day being geological ages. The Sabbath, Miller argued was an immensely protracted period ignoring the natural meaning of the language of Scripture. There was no protest within the Free Church at these views  A secular newspaper commented with the question could there be a more unfaithful reader of the Scriptures and noted that falsehood was being applauded in the Free Church. Such theories were now being taught in the Free Church colleges. Robert Rainey gave his inaugural lectures on theology and evolution.

Those who sought to respond were few. The english minister Rev George Bugg advanced "Scriptural Geology".  Among presbyterians, Robert Watts in Belfast successfully countered Evolution for at least a generation.

Why was there such capitulation? There was fear of denying a scientific advance such as the Copernican revolution but as Bugg pointed out the Copernicus theory was never a "heresy" against the Bible itself. The reality was that there was implicit trust of scientific academia. A problem that continues to this day.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Guest Posts

Two new guest posts on Mark Hausam's blog -
Part 1 and Part 2. These add to his 40 posts on the subject of schism and visible church unity and 36 posts on presbyterian church government.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

the phone hacking scandal and the NIV

At least twenty News journalists will face trial for phone hacking and/or corruption and could well face jail. While further focus centres upon the ethics of the News Corp Murdoch empire as the phone hacking scandal reignites, it is worthwhile pondering the NIV connection. Zondervan markets itself as the world's biggest publisher of bibles and the NIV is to this publishing company what News of the World was to News International (at least before it closed) - a cash cow, greedily milked for the past 23 years into Murdoch's billions. Did I mention that besides the immorality of his newspapers his empire comprises many pornographic TV channels? Harper Collins markets the Satanic Bible and books promoting sodomite immorality. It may also be worth mentioning that his empire controls exactly how much of the NIV and other versions you are allowed to quote. Would you buy a bible from Murdoch? Well, there are over 300 different types to choose from including Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing. What about the horrible histories theme 2:52™ Boys Bible ("Discover gross and gory Bible stuff")? NIV Faithgirlz! Bible ("Every girl wants to know she’s totally unique and special. This Bible says that with Faithgirlz!™ sparkle!") is another option. Of course they are printed in China, controversially given the degree of persecution of Christians there. 

Can anyone recall that it was this kind of profiteering out of religion that drove Luther to protest as he did on 31 October 1517? 

The Bible Industry. From Geez magazine, Fall 2009. Credit: Darryl Brown and Aiden Enns.

Conference #1

The FP theological conference in Glasgow was very profitable of a high standard and quite well attended although there was plenty of room for more. All the papers were heard in public. God willing, it would be good to be able to give some summaries of the papers given. I plan to start in reverse order and am indebted to a friend for notes of the last paper as it was the only one that I could get to. It must be strongly stressed that these notes are just a summary by way of paraphrase and not verbatim and things might have more meaning in their original context.

The last paper was by Rev. R. Macleod on The Covenant of Grace. He took Luke 14:12-30 as the focus, especially verse 17 "come, for all things are now ready". This speaks of how God has prepared a feast of the forgiveness of sins. He has appointed preachers of the gospel as his servants and the time of the feast is the availability of gospel ordinances. The persons of the Trinity prepared the Son of God as a feast for sinners. The invitation is to feast by faith on the Lamb of God who was offered on Calvary. This was a sacrifice of infinite merit because sin is an infinite evil. Christ is the surety of his people and his righteousness is the condition of the covenant. We must believe, yet by nature cannot. With God, however, all things are possible. The gift of faith is his to bestow.

Posted via Blogaway

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reformed consensus on 1 Cor 11:29 #2

Continuing from the previous post, we can demonstrate that the Westminster divines and a wide range of puritan authors held that 1 Cor 11:27, 29 and 32 indicate that unworthily partaking of the Supper would lead to chastisement but also damnation if not repented of.

In countering separatist arguments Samuel Rutherford said the following:
A worship corrupt by accident only through the fault of the worshipper, may and does make the Lord’s Supper damnation to the eater, and therefore the eater is forbidden so to eat. A worship in the matter and intrinsical principle unjust and sinful is defiled both to the man himself and to all that take part with him, as the teacher of false doctrine and all that hear and believe are defiled; but if the sin of an unworthy communicant even known to be so, is damnation to himself, and defiles the worship to others, then Paul would have said, he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own damnation, and the damnation of the whole church, and Paul should have forbidden all others to eat and drink withal, who communicates unworthily, if he allowed separation. But he says, he eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not to others.
David Dickson in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians makes it clear that the punishment of eating unworthily is "judgement, or temporal and eternal punishment, unless hee repent".

Richard Vines was one of the leading Presbyterians at the Westminster Assembly. He published A Treatise of the Institution, Right Administration, and Receiving of the Sacrament of the Lords-Supper. In this he deals extensively with the latter part of 1 Cor 11. Alluding to 1 Cor 11:29 and speaking of how Chrysostom says that just as bodily food can aggravate a disease albeit not in itself so the Lord's Supper may be the cause of spiritual death to the partaker yet not in itself, he says, "He that eats and drinks unworthily, eats damnation, drinks damnation to himself...So this Sacrament received by wicked men, aggravates their condemnation, not of it self, but through their unrepented sins" (p69).
That the Apostle in setting home the sin and danger of eating and drinking unworthily, speaks thundring and lightning in very pertinent, but yet new and unusual phrases, which...have no brother in any other part of Scripture, as guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating or drinking judgement or damnation, etc. full of terrour, and fit for compunction (p179)
The sin of receiving unworthily is largely insisted on in the following part of this Chapter, where the aggravation of this sin is shown by the special guilt that attends it, and that is a guiltiness of the Lords Body; by the particular cause of this guiltiness, Not discerning the Lords Body, by the judgement that Follows upon it, damnation or punishment; by the way of prevention of the sin, the guilt and judgement, and that is Self-examination, and Self-judging (p198)
Vines speaks of the danger of this sin of unworthily partaking. "'He eats and drinks judgement to himself'if he be a godly man that eats and drinks unworthily, or haply also damnation, if he be an hypocrite, for the word krima, may respectively extend to both. A strange phrase it is to eat and drink judgement, but it is sure as he eats of the Bread and drinks of the Cup unworthily, so sure is judgement to follow thereupon, or to accompany it, for he eats judgement, but it is to himself, not to others, except they be partakers in his sin, which may be divers ways (p385)

We might also refer to Thomas Vincent's Explication of the Shorter Catechism, officially commended by a large array of the most eminent Puritan ministers of the time.

Q. 11. What is the sin of unworthy receiving the Lord's supper?
A. The sin of unworthy receiving the Lord's supper is, that such are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord; that is, they are guilty of an affront and indignity which they offer to the Lord's body and blood. "Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."— 1 Cor. 11:27.

Q. 12. What is the danger of our unworthy receiving the Lord's supper?
A. The danger of our unworthy receiving the Lord's supper, is the eating and drinking judgment to ourselves; that is, provoking the Lord, by our unworthy receiving, to inflict temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments upon us. "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."— 1 Cor. 11:29, 30.

Likewise John Flavel:
Q. 10. What is the danger of coming to the Lord’s table without these graces?
A. The danger is exceeding great both to soul and body. (1.) To the soul; 1 Corinthians 11:29. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, (2). And to the body; 1 Corinthians 11:30. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Jonathan Edwards writes, “Those who contemptuously treat those symbols of the body of Christ slain and
His blood shed, why, they make themselves guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, that is, of murdering Him."

James Fisher comments:
Q. 27. What risk do they run who omit to examine themselves as to the above graces, before they come to the Lord's table?

A. They run the risk of coming unworthily.

Q. 28. What is it to come unworthily?

A. It is to come without any real sense, or consciousness of the need that we stand in of Christ, as "of God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," 1 Cor. 1:30.

Q. 29. What danger do they incur who thus come unworthily?

A. They eat and drink judgment to themselves, 1 Cor. 11:29.

Q. 30. In what sense can they who come unworthily, be said to eat and drink judgment to themselves?

A. In so far as by their eating and drinking unworthily, they do that which renders them obnoxious to the righteous judgment of God.

Q. 31. To what judgment do they render themselves obnoxious?

A. To temporal judgments, or afflictions of various kinds, in the present life; and to eternal judgment, or condemnation (if mercy prevent not) in the life to come, 1 Cor. 11:30, 32.

Joseph Woodward was a puritan minister in England settled at Dursley in Gloucestershire who declared his resolve to admit none to the Lord's Supper except those who had a credible profession.
A certain man obstinately said that he would not submit to examination and that if the minister would not give him the sacrament he would take it! In pursuance of this impious resolution, this man attended the church on sacrament day, but had scarcely set foot in the building before he fell dead, the Lord thus making clear to all the church members that the solemn admonitions addressed to the Church of the Corinthians by the apostle in the first Christian century were ageless in their solemn application.

The Reformed consensus on 1 Cor. 11:29

As we noticed in a previous post, the Westminster Assembly were very clear in their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29 and 32, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. The Confession states: "Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation."

We stressed that those who are not brought to repentance for partaking unworthily through chastisement are liable to damnation. In what follows we wish to make clear the Reformed consensus on 1 Corinthians 11:29, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. This is the context for understanding the statement in the Confession and other relevant parts of the Standards. Without this context we will try to force the interpretation of the Confession to our own preferences rather than acknowledge the plain sense according to the original intent. While the interpretations of former times are determinative of the interpretation of Scripture we ought to have the humility to take seriously how the Spirit has illuminated men of old with greater godliness and understanding of the Scriptures.

It is interesting that John Calvin, in opposing paedocommunion, makes clear that he regards damnation as a potential consequence of receiving unworthily:
He does not admit all to partake of the Supper - but confines it to those who are fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord.... ‘He who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body’ [First Corinthians 11:29].... Why should we offer poison - to our young children? 
The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation
at Geneva (1556) was used in Scotland following the Reformation. This makes very clear the same interpretation:
Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, he shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Then see that every man prove and try himself, and so let him eat of this bread and drink of this cup; for whosoever eateth or drinketh unworthily, he eateth and drinketh his own damnation, for not having due regard and consideration of the Lord's body.
so is the danger great if we receive the same unworthily, for then we are guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord's body; we kindle God's wrath against us, and provoke him to plague us with diverse diseases and sundry kinds of death.
Without making a minute examination of every key document or key minister that we might we shall pass to consider the views of Robert Bruce from the generation immediately following the Reformation. During his five sermons on the Lord's Supper, Bruce refers to the warning of damnation on those receiving unworthily.
Therefore come not to the sacrament, except you bring both faith and obedience with you. If thou come not with a heart minded to obey Christ, at least more than thou wast wont to do, thou comest to thine own damnation. And if thou bringest a heart void of faith, thou comest to thine own damnation.
He then deals with an objection regarding damnation upon an unbeliever who receives the Lord's Supper. It was objected that since an unbeliever could not receive Christ in a spiritual manner, he was not eating and drinking unworthily, and not therefore guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ. Interestingly, Bruce makes it clear that it is the elements that are being eaten and drunk and therefore whether or not the body and blood of Christ is spiritually received, there is still guilt. "Yet theyare accounted guilty of the body and blood of the Son of God, because they refused Him".
For when they did eat that Bread and drink that Wine, if they had had faith, they might have eaten and drunk the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. Now because thou refusest the body of Christ, thou contemnest His body; if thou have not an eye to discern and judge of His body that is offered thee. For if they had had faith, they might have seen His body offered with the Bread; by faith they might have taken and eaten that body. Therefore lacking their wedding garment, lacking faith whereby they should eat the body and drink the blood of Christ; lacking faith, which is the eye of the soul to perceive, and the mouth of the soul to receive that body which is spiritually offered ; they are counted guilty of the body and blood of Christ. 
if thou come as a swine or a dog to handle the seals of the body and blood of Christ...I say, mayest thou be reckoned guilty of His body and blood.

From Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 he shows that these are not real believers but apostates who in their apostasy crucify Christ again and are so guilty of his body and blood.

The wicked cannot eat the body of Christ; but they may be guilty of it. The Apostle makes this more plain yet by another speech which I have aforetime handled from this place. In Heb. vi. 6, it is said that the apostates, they that make grievous defection, "crucify again to themselves the Son of God;" and their falling away makes them as guilty as they were who crucified Him. He is now in heaven, they cannot fetch Him from thence to crucify Him : yet the Apostle says they crucify Him. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that crucified Him ; so that if they had Him on the earth, they would do the like : therefore they are said to crucify the Son of God. Likewise in Heb. x. 29, there is another speech: the wicked are said to tread the Blood of Christ under their feet. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that trode upon His blood. They are accounted for this reason to be guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not because they eat His body, but because they refuse it, when they might have had it.  
Now the time remains yet, wherein we may have the body and blood of Christ. This time is very precious, and the dispensation of times is very secret and has its own bounds ; if you take not this time now, it will away. This time of grace and of that heavenly food has been dispensed to you very long: but how ye have profited, your life and behaviour testify. Remember, therefore, yourselves in time, and in time make use of it, for you know not how long it will last : crave a mouth to receive, as well the food of your soul that is offered, as the food of your bodies : and take this time while you may have it, or assuredly the time shall come, when you shall cry for it but shall not get it ; but in place of grace and mercy, shall come judgment, vengeance, and the dispensation of wrath.

In a further post we wish to make extensive reference to the Puritans on this topic, God Willing.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Queensferry Paper

Photo: Flickr James B. Brown
Whilst leaving Dalmeny Station last week I noticed on a map that there was a street in Queensferry called Covenanter Lane. This rang a few bells in relation to the Queensferry Paper. It appears that this was the location from which Donald Cargill was nearly captured on 3 June 1680 while Henry Hall of Haugh Head was seized together with a draft document that came to be known as the Queensferry Paper. Hall later died of the wounds that he sustained. They were originally betrayed by the curates of James Hamilton and John Park, Ministers at Bo'ness and Carriden who notified the governor of Blackness Castle, Middleton. Park was deposed from the ministry some years later.

John Howie devoted a chapter to Hall in the Scots Worthies. He describes how when the persecuting governor discerned "the house where they alighted, he sent his servant off in haste for his men, putting up his horse in another house, and coming to the house to them as a stranger, pretended a great deal of kindness and civility to Mr. Cargil and him, desiring that they might have a glass of wine together. -- When each had taken a glass, and were in some friendly conference, the governor, wearying that his men came not up, threw off the mask, and laid hands on them, saying, they were his prisoners, and commanded the people of the house, in the king's name to assist. But they all refused, except one Thomas George a waiter; by whose assistance he got the gate shut. In the mean while Haugh-head, being a bold and brisk man, struggled hard with the governor, until Cargil got off; and after the scuffle, as he was going off himself, having got clear of the governor, Thomas George struck him on the head, with a carbine, and wounded him mortally. However he got out; and, by this time the women of the town, who were assembled at the gate to the rescue of the prisoners, convoyed him out of town. He walked some time on foot, but unable to speak much, save only some little reflection upon a woman who interposed, hindering him to kill the governor, that so he might have made his escape more timeously. At last he fainted, and was carried to a country house near Echlin; and although chirurgeons were speedily brought, yet he never recovered the use of his speech any more. Dalziel, living near-by, was soon advertised, and came quickly with a party of the guards, and seized him; and although every one saw the gentleman just a-dying, yet such was his inhumanity, that he must carry him to Edinburgh.

Photo: Flickr James B. Brown
But he died, on their hands, on the way thither; and made an end of this his earthly pilgrimage to receive his heavenly crown. His corpse was carried to the Cannongate tolbooth, where they lay three days without burial; and then his friends conveened for that end, to do their last office to him; yet that could not be granted. At last they caused bury him clandestinely in the night; for such was the fury of these limbs of antichrist, that after they had slain the witnesses, they would not suffer them to be decently interred in the earth; which is another lasting evidence of the cruelty of those times". A week later Margaret Wauchope was brought in  as a prisoner from Queensferry "for being accessory to Mr Cargill's escape". It seems likely that this was the lady who tended to his wounds and brought him to a nearby house where he sheltered in a barn for the night. Another man who took Cargill to a doctor, William Punton of Carlowrie was imprisoned in Edinburgh and heavily fined. Three days later Cargill was preaching in the fields in Lanarkshire.

A drawing of the house where the incident took place is available. The house was demolished in the 1930s but a photograph of it exists. It was called The Palace or Covenanters' House.

The Queensferry Paper is extensive and considered to be quite detailed and advanced. It is also said to contain republican political views. It was also called "The Fanaticks New Covenant". It was also called "Cargill's Covenant". There were no signatories and it seems likely that much though not all of it was the work of Donald Cargill. Cargill could not readily consent to all of its content, however. It was indeed expressed as a Covenant and was resolute in its language:
we cannot but with much trembling of heart renew our covenant, or engage anew, especially considering our own weakness and hazard; yet the clear conviction of duty, zeal to God’s glory, and love of Christ’s reigning, which is the highest duty that a man can perform to God, trusting in his mercy, who knows the integrity and rightness of our intentions, will both instruct, enable, accept, preserve and prosper us: we go on declaring those, and nothing but those to be our present purpose

It can be read here and here. Its key points have been summarised as follows.

1. To covenant with and swear acknowledgement of the Trinity and to own the Old and New Testaments to be the rule of faith.

2. To advance God`s kingdom, free the church from Prelacy and Erastianism, and remove those who had forfeited authority.

3. To uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with her standards, polity, and worship, as an independent government.

4. To overthrow the kingdom of darkness, ie Popery, Prelacy and Erastianism.

5. To discard the royal family and set up a republic.

6. To decline hearing the indulged clergy.

7. To refuse the ministerial function unless duly called and ordained.

8. To defend their worship and liberties, to view assailants as declarers of war, to destroy those assaulting, and not to injure any but those that have injured us