Monday, December 17, 2007

1893, 1900 and Church Authority

An article in the Free Presbyterian Magazine in 1901, written in Gaelic by John Macleod (later Principal), reflects upon the different stands taken in 1893 and 1900. The first was that of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the latter those of the Free Church of Scotland who had not joined with the Free Presbyterians and were refusing to join the union with the United Presbyterian Church which would form the United Free Church of Scotland. The article was entitled which may be translated as 'The Standing/Principle of the Churches'. The article has been translated from Gaelic by Mr Alan Boyd, Grimsay, North Uist. While it is true that John Macleod himself later joined the Free Church of Scotland it is clear that the views expressed in this article at the time reflect the Free Presbyterian position.

The focus is clearly on constitutional matters. The article was not written in order to heighten controversy or out of partisan bitterness. It concludes by observing 'it would benefit us to remember Dr Owen's wise words that the closer two bodies are to one another in confession and in principle, often the more contentious they are against one another – a thing that does not arise from love or envy for the truth but from the corruption that remaineth in them'.

The article makes some important points, however. It begins by describing the situation immediately before 1900 when the Free Church united with the United Presbyterian Church. 'Before the Union took place last year, we noticed if our memory serves us right, a section within the Free Church that at one time claimed to be of the same opinion as ourselves concerning the standing/principle of the Church. When we refused to depart a hair's breadth from that standing/principle, they accused us and said that that was not the time for bearing a distinct witness but that we ought to have kept the peace until the matter came to making a union with another body, and until a change would be made to the questions put to office bearers. At the time we noticed that of that body, very little was to be heard among them concerning the taking of a stand when the Union would come about. We are now pleased that when the Union did take place that many stood against it and refused to go in with it. They therefore proved what they meant before then that that was the time to stand separate from the majority who were determined on permanently backsliding. But there were some of them who went in with the union and who therefore ate their own words'.

Macleod then draws a comparison with the Ten Years Conflict before the time of the Disruption in 1843. 'Before the time of the Disruption when Patronage was in the Church of Scotland, the Church made a law in the year 1834 which gave great freedom to those whom the landlord was trying to impose a minister over them against their will. This law was called the Veto Act. The civil courts came to the conclusion that the church went outside its remit when it took this step and there was therefore no substance in the Act. The Moderates were against this act but when they got their own way after the Disruption, they did not repeal it. What did they mean by this step? They esteemed it as a dead letter because that was the mind of the law courts after it had been found, according to their opinion, as not being in harmony with the founding principles of the Church. They never as much as gave it a reverend burial. With that, they were in effect admitting that the Church was not an independent/voluntary/self-ruling organisation that had the ability to make laws that its members must obey'. The Veto Act was a measure which was introduced enacting that if a majority of the male heads of families, being communicants, in a congregation entered a positive dissent against a call that it should have the effect of nullifying a presentation by a patron. When presbyteries acted according to this it was overturned in the civil courts. The Moderates were accepting that any civil law has precedence over Church law and that the Church has no power to enact anything contrary to civil law. Anything that the Church legislates in conflict with civil law is beyond its powers and therefore a dead letter. This is how the Moderates regarded the Veto Act of 1834, there was no need to repeal it, it could just be ignored as inoperative because the Assembly had exceeded its powers in passing it.

It goes without saying that this view is Erastian and not at all correct in its understanding of Church authority. Macleod goes on to comment. 'Such was not the opinion of the Free Church of Scotland. That was not in the mind of the worthies who opposed the Union thirty years ago and that is not the principle on which we stood as a church when we refused to submit to the Declaratory Act in 1893. As far as we can see, the Free Church of Scotland, since the time of the Reformation, has always had such authority over its members that they are expected to be submissive to every law and statute she has made. Since we cannot be submissive to the courts of a Church that has in a perverse manner released her office bearers from the oaths to which they are bound, we had no alternative but to stand aside'. To speak of an act as a dead letter is to dismiss the true authority of the Church and its courts. This is a significant question when compared with the Disruption of 1843 because the issue at stake there, as Macleod indicates, was the relation of judicial and constitutional law. As James Bannerman put it 'The Church, as the visible society of professing Christians in the world, with its outward provision of authority and order and government, owes its origin to Christ as Mediator' not to the State, 'the Church must be free to judge and act for herself according to the law of Scripture, without responsibility to or interference from the State'.

Macleod points out that those who were professed constitutionalists but did not take the Free Presbyterian position in 1893 did so largely on the advice of lawyers who they consulted as to whether they would retain the property if they separated at that time. The Constitutionalists consulted eminent legal opinion about property in winter 1892-3 in Scotland and England but it was not favourable to their retaining property unless Union came about. Hence the tone changed decided to fight from within. According to Free Church Counsel Mr Johnson in the 1904 case, it was a case of waiting till the best legal grounds for contesting the property came up - 'we have certainly resisted, and when it comes to touch property, then is our opportunity'. Therefore they hung on even though they were unable to protest and certainly seemed to change very easily from their dissent in 1892 where they stated that 'the Church is left without any definite, fixed or authoritative standard of doctrine'. Macleod comments on this: 'We can give the benefit of the doubt to those who always confessed to be opposed to the change that was made at that time that they stayed in (as the terminology goes) on the advice of lawyers. This was the issue, and, if our memory serves us right, some of them were denying it at the time, that they didn't as a body admit to it at all that they had consulted lawyers. But if it is that it was on the advice of lawyers that they took the step that they did take, we think that they were of the same opinion concerning the power of the Church as were the Church of Scotland people after the Disruption when they would take nothing to do with the Veto Act [when they didn't touch the Veto Act]. After they thought that the Church had gone past her right [taken liberty of her position] in the presence of the Most High, they came to the conclusion that she exceeded her power among [the] people and that the Declaratory Act was not worth the paper it was written on'.

Macleod then brings in the fact that the Declaratory Act had been made the law of the Church under the Barrier Act. This is an act that required the consent of the majority of presbyteries before legislation could be made a binding law and constitution. The Barrier Act was necessary because only a third of the presbyteries was represented at any General Assembly. In order for the whole Church to express their mind on something – the Barrier Act allowed for all members of presbyteries to be consulted. 'If it was not that office-bearers had been asked to be obedient to the Church courts, they'd have had some foundation to support this opinion but we cannot see as things are at present that they had a foundation to stand on. The Barrier Act was made law in the Church of Scotland over two hundred years ago so that the whole Church could not be put under a law by one General Assembly alone. Each year there was only a third of the presbytery members at the Assembly and if every conclusion that the Assembly came to was binding on the whole Church, a third of the presbytery members – and indeed a fifth – could bind the whole Church'.

'When a new statute like this is being drawn up, often the office-bearers are not of the same mind. Those who are against it may either submit a dissent or a protest – that is, though they are against it, if they can cooperate with the body which made the new statute, they may [so do], in order to display such dissent or to publicize that it was against their wish that the thing was made. But if they are unable to cooperate with the new thing then it is a protest they will lodge or a "protection clause" stating that they are unable to be submissive in the courts regarding the matter. If they do get the opportunity to make a "protection clause" like this and to get it in writing in the Church books, then they are protected and a restriction is placed on the new statute. But if they fail to obtain this, they can be no longer obedient to the courts of the Church. We have no recollection of there having been such a "protection clause" allowed after the Church introduced a statute under the Barrier Act'.

This is because any legislation passed under the Barrier Act is 'a binding law and constitution' and if it is binding then disobedience to it is not possible. This was clearly the understanding of the Free Church General Assembly of 1893 when it instructed all inferior courts to disallow and delete (physically expunge) all protests against the Declaratory Act. (e.g. Synod of Glenelg, Synod of Caithness and Sutherland cf. Also case in Synod of Ross - Minutes of FC General Assembly Sat 20 May 1893 and Thurs 25 May 1893). At Dores and Dornoch where men had sought to subscribe the Formula expressly repudiating the Declaratory Act, this was disallowed. This showed that individuals were bound by the Act even in their consciences since it was impossible to protest against it in order to clear the conscience. Dr Rainy confirmed this in 1893 at the General Assembly where he states: 'A protest [against legislation under the Barrier Act] really meant a denial in the meantime, a denial of the validity of the action that was protested against, that it is null and void in an inferior court. They protested and appealed, they protested and complained, and their protest suspended the operation of the Act that had been passed until it was renewed. That was why there was no such thing as a protest against the decision of the General Assembly'. Elsewhere John MacLeod points out that, 'Defiant protests against the law of the Church are plain breaches of ordination vows. At ordination, every office-bearer vows submission to the lawful courts of the Church. Refusing to acknowledge a law of the Church is not obedience, it is contumacy'.

Macleod shows that Dr John Kennedy of Dingwall was clear on the principle that if anything is passed under the Barrier Act one would have to separate – because it would become constitutional. Sometimes questions have been raised as to what John Kennedy would have done if he had been alive in 1893, but it is quite clear from his own words that follow and elsewhere. 'Twenty years ago, when Dr Kennedy was protesting against the Disestablishment of the Established Church, he published a book to explain the matter to the people of the Highlands; in that Booklet, he clearly demonstrated the mind of which he himself was concerning the effect of this Barrier Act. He set his case as follows: "If the Assembly of 1880 had put to the presbyteries through the Barrier Act what the majority had agreed on, there would be no Free Church today. And what right do the Leaders have to be entangling the Church in things that they themselves wouldn't dare to commit themselves to? If they had given such support to that matter in 1880, I, as one, could no longer be connected with a Church that, by such, was forsaking its distinctive stance….and the connection would only have been broken by myself remaining faithful to the Free Church." Now, this was the mind of the minority in the Free Church until 1892 and it was on the basis of this principle that we took the stance that we took'.

Macleod makes it clear that the constitutionalists shared this understanding of the effect of the Barrier Act. We know that the leader of the Constitutionalists, Rev. Murdo Macaskill, Dingwall took the following view of protest :"To protest, for instance against the decision of the General Assembly as the final Court of Review, in a case at the bar is useless, and on the face of it, absurd. Again, to table an absolute protest against the validity of a General Assembly in any of its public Acts is plainly inadmissable, because it would be calling in question the supreme and rightful authority of the Court, itself, calling in question, in short, its right to exist, and disowning its authority. The immediate consequence of such action would necessarily be the disowning of an separation from the jurisdiction of such a Court by the protesters. Such was the nature of the action which resulted in the Disruption". (Ross-shire Journal Sept. 30, 1892).

Macleod applies these considerations to the situation in 1901. 'It's on the other principle [i.e. the Moderate principle as to Church authority] that the Free Church is today claiming its right for the name and place of the Free Church – that is that they were claiming that the Declaratory Act was a dead letter after it had been made law by the authority of the Church. But at the same time they clearly make public their mind as soon as they are vindicated by the courts of law that they would wish to repeal the Acts of Declension...We are of the opinion that they took the wrong step nine years ago and their feet are now "bogged down" in more ways than one. If they had taken a brave stand at that time, they'd have had an excellent opportunity and out of all probability, the Highlands at any rate would have been kept pretty well sound to the present day...Now when they attempt to repeal the "acts of Declension", it won't be easy to reconcile that with their opinion that the Act of 1892 was a dead letter. It was in 1892 that they changed their minds and it was the bad step that they took at that time that mostly stands against them today'.

The subsequent effects of that position are that, while the Declaratory Act was repealed when the property was secured through the law courts, the spirit of the Declaratory Act lived on in those individuals who made it public that they did not believe parts of the Westminster Confession (and therefore not the whole doctrine) but no discipline was applied. This was the case in the 1930s with Professors Mackay and Alexander who denied that God had so preserved his Word that it was 'by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages'. This was what was being taught to students for the ministry. Later people could express public disagreement with the Confessional position on six day creation, the papal Antichrist and other matters with impunity. No Declaratory Act had been passed but the spirit had lived on and so had the spirit of inaction in the face of it.
Kenneth MacRae wrote "The Resurgence of Arminianism" in the 1950s to protest against the laxity of views within the Free Church at the time as to Free Church principles and as to doctrine. Free Church men were looking favourably upon the Arminianism of Billy Graham, Keswick and the Faith Mission. They now viewed the issues of 1900 and before as related solely to Higher Criticism when, as MacRae well pointed out, the real issue was Arminianism. What was said to be a 'dead letter' proved to have a rather long life and influence.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Backsliding portrayed in the book of Hosea

'For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer' (4:16)

The Nature of Backsliding

It is spiritual whoredom, 'the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.' (1:2). 'For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD. Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.' (4:10-11). There is a drawing out of the heart after its own iniquity: 'they set their heart on their iniquity' (4:9)

It is a neglect of God and failure to call upon him through pride and sinful, wilful ignorance: 'They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me. Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this. Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.' (7:7-11)

'They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD. And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face' (5:4). Pride and idolatry are closely connected: 'When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding' (13:1-2)

This idolatry and pride is partly the sin of using the outward prosperity that God bestows not to glorify him but for our sinful ends 'As they were increased, so they sinned against me' (4:7). The backslider refuses to reverence God as he must be reverenced 'my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.' (11:7)

God's word is neglected 'I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.' (8:12). There is therefore a lack of knowledge: 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge' (4:6)

The Effects of Backsliding

Backsliding brings upon it the Lord's chastisement which is designed to provoke conviction on account of such sinful departures:
'behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts. And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them. And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the LORD' (2:6-13).

God's chastisements are just and in proportion to the backlider's departures: 'because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.' (4:6-7) 'Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty' (10:2)

God withdraws and leaves the backslider to himself - to be filled with his own ways - as a chastisement 'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.' (4:17) 'they shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.' (5:6)

'Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment. Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness. I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early'. (5:11-15)

The backslider is given up to barrenness and reproach: 'Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit' (9:16) 'Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation' (12:1) 'Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him' (12:14)

The Cure of Backsliding

Grace alone can cure backsliding.
'O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him' (14:1-4)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name'. (2:14-17)

'Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. (6:1-3)

Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God

Richard Sibbes has fourteen sermons on Hosea entitled "The Returning Backslider", preached in the 1620s were printed in 1639. Sibbes writes firstly of personal backsliding, an aggravation of sin, a sin against knowledge and with a high hand. It is spiritual adultery, a loathsome thing in the world. It brings shame into his life so that sinners are justly called fools. Sin robs a man of all that is good and great; it is the bane of all our comforts.

The only course of action for the backslider is to repent." Take your words to God and confess your sin to him." We are to attack the Goliath sin to which we are most addicted, whose death causes other lesser sins to flee. To encourage us in this enterprise let us look especially at the mercy of God which mitigates all God's other mighty awesome attributes. Labour for further assurance that you are his. The bedrock of assurance is found as you rest upon God in Christ. This God loves to show mercy to returning sinners. So Sibbes too seeks to encourage the penitent backslider. Preventing backsliding is crucial because it starts imperceptibly. Grow in your knowledge of God and his Son so that grace will grow. Confess your sin daily.

"Many think they have repented, and are deceived upon this false ground. They are and have been grieved for their sins and offences; are determined to leave and forsake them, and that is all they do. They never lay hold of Christ, and come home to God."

"They are cruel to their own souls that walk in evil ways; for undoubtedly God will turn their own ways upon their own heads."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Days of Humiliation

Tommorrow (12th December) has been appointed by the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland as a Day of Humiliation and Prayer throughout the congregations of the Church on account of the increasing manifestations of divine displeasure against the nation for our national sins. The following report shows much of this.

During the time of Westminster Assembly there were monthly Fast-Day Sermons before the Long Parliament for prayer and humiliation. John Wilson wrote a book that examined these, JF Wilson. Pulpit in Parliament. Puritanism During the English Civil Wars 1640-1648 (Princeton, 1969. Hugh Trevor-Roper, commonly unsympathetic, has a useful summary on 2007-12-11.

The fast day sermons reveal the interdependence of collective and individual piety in puritanism (cf. Wilson:166-196). Issues that concern collective identity on a local and national level are addressed, responding as they do to major critical events in the life of a community they participate in fostering the emotions of collective cohesion and belonging that such moments instinctively call forth. The note that John Preston strikes in his national fast sermons of the Caroline years is unambiguously that of the Old Testament prophets, as he urges repentance and immediate responsive action in the face of certain imminent judgement upon the nation and church as he sees it spreading from Europe. Preston emphasises the notion of ripe time, a dramatic sense of the moment when certain actions must be engaged. 'For all private actions, as well as for those that are publicke, there is a time…The times for the severall changes to which every man, every Common-wealth, and every Citty is subject, these times God hath assigned…and they are as bounds that cannot be passed'.

Puritan sermons generally urge an activistic rather than contemplative conclusion. Hence John Preston would apologize if he stayed too long in 'the doctrinal part' of the sermon since he held that the end of theology is in action. It seems clear that John Preston and Richard Sibbes gave most attention to the application part of the sermon. The direct application is the portion in which exhortation emerges most strongly, in contrast to the belaboured establishing of the text's content.

The purpose of the puritan sermon is that the application be enacted. When the sermon is said, the sermon has only begun to be done. As Watkins indicates, the puritan principle as reflected in their spiritual autobiographies was that, 'the only masterpiece worthy of the name was to be achieved in the most complex and difficult of all forms of creative endeavour: a human life'. The contrary mode of preaching at the time, High Anglican or Laudian, differs markedly in its insistent stress upon passive rather than active obedience.

When Revolution came in the 1640s, ministers were summoned to Parliament to preach upon monthly national fast days. Action continued to be the insistent note of such sermons. The role of the parliamentarians was given unambiguous statement by Edmund Calamy in particular:
'It is certain that God hath begun to build and plant this nation, and he hath made you his instruments'. The role of the ministry (as persecuted prophets) was given great emphasis, Marshall wondered whether 'the negligence and corruption of our governors' had accounted for the poor state of the clergy, and whether neglect of preaching had been 'one main cause of the ill success of so many former Parliaments?'. In one fast sermon, George Gillespie issued the blunt dictum, 'Reformation ends not in contemplation, but in action'.

Samuel Bolton's sermon to the House of Commons (March 2 1646), on the text Genesis 18:19 gives particular emphasis to direct application. On the 25th of the same month he would preach to the Commons Hamartolos Hamartia: Or The Sinfulness of Sin upon Matthew 1:21b: as John Wilson makes plain concerning this sermon, 'Bolton in effect applied it for his audience without the intermediate structure of doctrines and reasons'. In the prior sermon, however, Bolton immediately draws attention to the 'forme and matter of the text' in order to demonstrate that he derives his doctrine exegetically. After dwelling upon the form of the text, the doctrine is eventually stated that 'God doth communicate rare secrets to certaine knowne and chosen men'. Bolton first speaks of 'humbling, convincing, converting secrets'. This suggests a typical fast sermon which would involve great initial stress upon humbling followed by proportionate stress upon duty. Having spent only a brief space upon such secrets, Bolton breaks out in earnest exhortation:

Tell me, how doe these Secrets worke upon thee? art thou willing to take a pardon upon faire and honourable termes? wouldest thou doe any thing, suffer any thing, forgoe any thing, that thou mightest be at peace with this mighty God? Dost thou desire Direction from God, Reconciliation and communion with him? Why then I have some encouraging secrets to impart unto thee.

Bolton returns to the 'Gospell secret' and lists more secrets. When the last secret is arrived at it is clear that it corresponds most closely with the text since it concerns God's secret revelation of his future action. Bolton extends the possibility of being in the secret confidences of God, which in the midst of a military struggle was supremely inviting.

At this point Bolton inserts an anticipated objection along the lines "this is a secular not a religious secret". Bolton negotiates this objection with the answer that it is 'for religious purposes': such are edifying secrets. The 'secular' secret soon becomes a sermon in itself:

Abraham was not to repeate it as a story, but as a sermon to his Posterity, that they might behold the Majesty of Jehovah…and be perswaded to walke in the way of Jehovah.

The secular and religious can be rival motivations and allegiances rather than merely different spheres of public life: 'this Secret is not secular which takes within the heart from all secular accommodations, and teaches men to choose their seate or dwelling not for secular advantages, but for Spirituall accommodations'. Thus far the secrets have been only partially delivered, in truth Bolton is more concerned with the secrets of interiority and personal piety, much like Thomas Watson's Gods Anatomy Upon Mans Heart (1649) that sought to make examination of the hypocrisy of the Rump. Watson's doctrine was, 'The most secret Cabinet-designes of mans heart are all unlocked and clearly anatomized before the Lord'. Bolton soon proceeds to say that 'God knows our secrets'.

Presently Bolton drops the theme and takes up: 'Doct. It is our duty to endeavor to bring all that are under our command, to be at Gods command'. Bolton had only been demonstrating the 'forme' of the text and applying it; because this 'opening' of the text, has been mainly application the sermon seems almost back to front in structure. Bolton introduced the incentives to obedience before the teaching is developed.

The responsibilities of fathers to their families are then developed at great length as though this will be the central issue of the sermon. Eventually, however, the application comes, 'You that are Parliament men are Members of an Honourable House' 'the only way to preserve your Honour is to walke in the way of Jehovah' The appeal is to family identity, to a paternalist affection and duty: Bolton's purpose in developing the paternal role is the encouragement of those emotions and considerations. The climax of this mode of persuasion is not to bring a word from the Lord but to bring a word from the people, not to warn and rebuke the Parliamentarians in the name of God as had become the custom of fast day preachers but to appeal to their sense of community and collective identity, a mixture of patriotism and duty. The approach is surprising and striking in its expression:

But I am not worthy to advise a Parliament, the motion is humbly presented; and though it be rejected with smiles, I intend not tot appeal from you to the people: but give me leave in My Master's Name to present the Peoples Appeal to You. Consider the cries, and out-cries of the godly part of this kingdom for a Reformation, they speak plain, and tell you, that,
1.They have fasted, prayed, wept, for a Reformation
2.They have exhausted their Treasures, many of them
3.Adventured their lives, lost their limbs, their blood, their friends for Reformation
4.You have promised us a Reformation
5.And we have prayd for a Reformation
6.You are therefore in debt to us for a Reformation

The list continues to climax in emotional intensity in stating its grievances. Bolton moves between the things that are outwith the remit of Parliament such as house to house teaching and the purity of families as churches and the things that may be accomplished by legislation namely: educational reform and 'justice and judgement'. The principle undergirding this combination is the necessity of personal piety to collective piety as well as perhaps another principle, to which it seems to give new meaning: that politics is the art of the impossible.

Friday, December 07, 2007

More than a gap in your thinking?

Thinking without God - Man's Natural Condition

Man's condition by nature is Godless. He acts as though there were no God, he thinks and plans as if there were no God. In both his heart and his life he says, by implication: "there is no God" (Psalm 14:1). God is not in all his thoughts. This is the heart of man by nature, "there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11). Because God is not in all his thoughts "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [is] only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5).
Man sins and yet does not fear the retribution of God, he despises the forbearance of God's mercy and shrugs his shoulders, so to speak: "he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it" (Psalm 10:13).

It is not just that men forget God "days without number" (Jeremiah 2:32), fundamentally they do "not like to retain God in their knowledge" (Romans 1:28).We all know God but at the same time we do not know Him. He is the God who is "not far from every one of us" but He is also "the Unknown God" (Acts 17:27 & 23). Can it surprise us to read that the "thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 15:26)? The Bible also states in Psalm 10:4 that: "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts."

Perhaps you thought that only the very worst of the worst could be called "wicked": murderers, adulterers, extortioners and the like. The Bible, however, makes it clear that the wicked are God-rejecters and God-neglecters, they will not seek after God, He is not in all their thoughts. It is not a question of degree, that they are the worst, it is a question of nature. Do you have a heart that excludes God?

Godless Thinking in Daily Life

Intellectually speaking, those thoughts may be lofty, logical and admirable yet morally speaking because there is a proud, self-sufficiency underlying them they are tainted by the wickedness of a Godless heart. The Scriptures teach man that his highest reason for being on this earth and the deepest meaning of life itself is to glorify God in whatever we do, even in eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31). Yet man refuses to serve God. Thus, we read that even "the plowing of the wicked is sin" (Proverbs 21:4), because it is done without reference to the God on whom he is dependent for the skill and success of such work. The plans and thoughts of man's heart are unceasing, and yet they have no provision for the sovereign will of God. Men ought to say, if they understood aright, "if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that" (James 4:15). They ought to commit their plans to the Lord, who alone can establish them, but God is not in all their thoughts.

Godless Thinking in Religion

It seems absurd that man can pursue his Godless thinking into religion but only a little reflection confirms that this is so. Man takes his own way, according to his own thoughts, indeed false religion is always focussed on the works of man as the ground of salvation rather than the work of Christ. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Man will seek out his own inventions for his own glory, whether it be the blaspheming rationalistic theologian tearing at the Bible or the diligent churchgoer going about to establish his own righteousness. There are some on the other hand who will claim to be religious but they still believe that they can live their own life of disobedience (Deuteronomy 8:11, 29:19). Man will tailor things to himself; adding to what God has revealed and taking away from it at his own pleasure.

What man can pervert he will pervert. Even when he attends orthodox worship, man thinks he is doing God a favour and that there is merit in attendance. But he will not give the heart, his lips may express praise but his thoughts and heart are far from God (Proverbs 15:8, Mark 7:6). Men will also reason to themselves "I'm not as bad as others, God will accept me as I am", forgetting the holiness and justice of God. The reply that comes from God himself, however, is: "thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (Psalm 50:21). God is not in all the thoughts of the wicked.

The Remedy for Godless thinking

The gospel call comes to the sinner in terms of a command to repent (literally, a change of mind), and a command to abandon his Godless thoughts. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). Like the prodigal son, the sinner in conversion to God, comes "to himself" (Luke 15:17). There is a radical change, the thoughts are now taken up with God (Isaiah 26:8, Psalm 73:25). The believer "hates vain thoughts" but loves the Word of God (Psalm 119:113) which teaches him how to think aright. His mind becomes renewed and sanctified according to the truth. He will ask God to single out his offensive thoughts that they may be repented of (Psalm 139:23). Instead of an arrogant self-sufficiency and self-absorption he has the mind of Christ, an attitude of humility towards others (Philippians 2:5). Instead of God not being in all his thoughts, he seeks to glorify God in his body and in his spirit, which are God's by redemption through the perfect, finished work of the life-giving sacrifice of Christ.
Is this you?
If not, then "how long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?" (Jeremiah 4:14).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The history of the Communion season

From Leigh Eric Schmidt's book 'Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period' (1989) it appears that the history of the communion season begins very early in Scotland. Preparatory services, sitting at the table, tokens, self examination and fencing of the table were all always present from the beginning of the Reformation. Schmidt says that at least as early as the 1590s, Presbyerian resistance found partial expression in popular religious gatherings that were heralds of the later revivals and sacramental occasions. Thoughout the years 1587 to 1631 Robert bruce's preaching was popular. Bruce first officiated at the communion in Edinburgh in 1588, this resulted in 'elevated affections among the people, as had not been seen in that place before' and as Robert Wordrow described it an 'extraordinary effusion of the spirit'. Attendances were large from 1613 where Bruce was preaching at communions. Multitudes came from all corners to hear him. John Livingstone records: 'I had the advantage of the Acquaintance and Example of many gracious Christians, who used to resort to my Father's House, especially at Communion-occasions: such as Mr. Robert Bruce, and several other godly ministers'. From 1618 people withdrew from ministers who had accepted the articles of Perth and 'travelled abroade to seeke the Communion where it was minstred in puritie'. The thronged communions of 1620s were therefore testimony to the popular resistance to episcopacy. These involved outdoor preaching by a number of ministers to gatherings of many people where long vigils of prayer were held.

It was John Calvin, apparently, who first saw the usefulness of tokens for dealing with admission to the Lord's Table in decency and order. He wrote, "Each person should receive tokens of lead for those of his household who were instructed; and the strangers who might come, on giving testimony of their faith, should also receive tokens, and those who had none should not be admitted to the tables".

Calvin's proposal to use tokens was then adopted by the French reformed church. John Knox and other leaders of the reformed church in Scotland were in close contact with Calvin and the practice of using Communion Tokens came to Scotland.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Liberty of Conscience and Church Courts

Acts 24. 16. "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." Liberty of conscience is a vital subject but it has become a vexed point in modern times. Many people appear to have adopted what is basically the Baptist view of liberty of conscience. See for instance how the London Baptist Confession amends the Wesminster Confession.

WCF Chap 20 Section 2 says "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." This is often appealed to. Yet the Confession distinguishes between true liberty of conscience and pretended liberty of conscience. The latter seeks a liberty of conscience beyond the bounds of Scripture and which cannot be restrained by any lawful authority. Section 4 of chapter 20 deals with these biblical limits. This is the section removed by the London Baptist Confession. The appeal to liberty of conscience is not an uncomplicated one and does not automatically mean that Church courts do not have the right to restrain conscience in some ways.

How conscience may be compelled

George Gillespie stated: "If the thing be indifferent, I confess no man is to be compelled to it against his conscience, for this hath been the tyranny of Papists and Prelates, to compel men against their consciences to certain rites which themselves acknowledge to be merely indifferent, setting aside obedience to authority in such things, which (they say) is not indifferent. But if the word of God either directly or by necessary consequence, make the thing necessary, and such as we cannot leave undone without sin and breach of duty; if there be such an obligation from the word, then may a man be compelled to it, though against his conscience." (Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty). This is the balance of the Confession - that there is liberty of conscience and yet a man may be compelled against his conscience by the powers which God has ordained. In Section 4 of chapter 20 the Confession goes on to qualify and limit what it says on liberty of conscience: "And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the church."

Dr M'Crie notes that: "The design of section fourth is to guard against the abuse of the doctrine of liberty of conscience in reference to public authority. 'And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God.' He who is the Lord of the conscience has also instituted the authorities in Church and State; and it would be in the highest degree absurd to suppose that he has planted in the breast of every individual a power to resist, counteract, and nullify his own ordinances. When public and private claims interfere and clash, the latter must give way to the former; and when any lawful authority is proceeding lawfully within its line of duty, it must be understood as possessing a rightful power to remove out of the way everything which necessarily obstructs its progress. The Confession proceeds, accordingly, to state: 'And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature; or to the known principles of Christianity whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation, or to the power of godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices as, either in their own nature or in the manner of publishing and maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate.' Individual liberty is regulated by the principles found in Scripture and is limited by the mutual duties believers owe to one another, and by concern for the welfare of all men.

Conscience - internal and external aspects

We must draw a distinction between conscience in its internal and external aspects. Alternatively we may speak of conscience in its invisible aspect (a man's mind, his thoughts and beliefs) and in its visible aspect (when these beliefs opinions are expressed publicly either verbally or through action). This is in relation to the authority of both Church and State. "We say the magistrate or his sword hath nothing to do with the elect and internal acts of the mind, of understanding, knowing, judging or believing, but only with the external acts of speaking, teaching, publishing dangerous and pernicious doctrines to the hurt and destruction of the souls of others" (Rutherford, A Free Disputation, p.62). No magistrate can coerce or force someone to believe something; they can only prevent them from promoting such opinions as are contrary to the truth by preaching, printing, spreading of dangerous opinions, schismatic, pernicious, and scandalous practices, or drawing factions among the people.

The same principle obtains for Church courts." is certain that human laws, as they come from men, and in respect of any force or authority which men can give them, have no power to bind the conscience. For the business of our consciences is not with men, but with the one God, says Calvin. [Instit. lib. 4, cap. 10, sect. 5.] Over our souls and consciences, no one except God has any right, says Tilen. [Synt., part. 2, disp. 32, thes. 4.] From Jerome's distinction, that a king is in charge of the unwilling, but a bishop the willing, Marcus Antonius de Dominis well concludes: to be in charge of the willing as a flock removes all legal authority and power to command and force, and signifies only power to guide where, viz., the subject is at liberty to comply and not to comply, such that the one who is in charge has nothing by which to compel to compliance one who does not want to comply. [De Rep. Eccl., lib. 5, cap. 2, n. 12.] This point he proves in that chapter at length, where he disputes both against temporal and spiritual coactive jurisdiction in the church." Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies (Naphtali Press, 1993) I-4-3. pp. 12-13. Again Gillespie asserts the distinction between private opinions in the mind and public practices based on them. "I distinguish betwixt bare opinions or speculations, and scandalous or pernicious practices, as Mr. Burton doth in his Vindication of the Independent Churches, page 70. You must distinguish, saith he, betwixt mens consciences and their practices. The conscience simply considered in itself is for God the Lord of the conscience alone to judge, as before. But for a man's practices (of which alone man can take cognizance) if they be against any of God's commandments of the first or second Table; that appertains to the civil Magistrate to punish, who is for this cause called Custos utriusque Tabulæ, the keeper of both Tables: for this he citeth Rom. 13.3,4, and addeth: So as we see here what is the object of civil power, to wit, actions good or bad, not bare opinions, not thoughts, not conscience, but actions." (Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty).

The Reformers also made this distinction, Heinrich Bullinger said "...while false faith doth lurk and lie hid within the heart, and infecteth none but the unbeliever, so long the unbelieving infidel cannot be punished: but if this false and forged faith, that so lay hid, do once break forth to blaspheme, to the open tearing of God and the infecting of his neighbours, then must that blasphemer and seducer be by and by plucked under, and kept from creeping to further annoyance."(Decade 2, Sermon 8, p. 363 in Parker Society edition).

What we are establishing is that the distinction between internal and external acts of conscience enunciated by those who framed the Westminster Confession (viz. Rutherford and Gillespie) is encapsulated in the Confession itself in 20:4. The powers ordained by God have authority to restrain the public acts of conscience in this way. So Rutherford says "Christ hath left the consciences of false teachers and heretics under ecclesiastical censures of admonitions, rebukes, excommunication" (A Free Disputation, p.235). Thus the appeal to liberty of conscience is not an uncomplicated one and does not automatically mean that Church courts do not have the right to restrain conscience in some ways. While Church courts cannot impose aspects of faith and worship by their sole authority they can apply that which is in God's Word. "The dogmatic power of a synod is not a power to make new articles of faith, nor new duties and parts of divine worship, but a power to apply and interpret those articles of faith and duties of worship which God hath set before us in his written word, and to declare the same to be inconsistent with emergent heresies and errors." Notice that Gillespie highlights what the WCF highlights in 20:2, that our consciences are left free from "the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship" (my italics). To compel a man to believe something by force is persecution but to compel a man to desist from creating division, disorder, damage stemming from erroneous views and opinions and through expressing or acting upon them publicly is within the lawful powers of the Church and State. The Westminster divines were well aware of what persecution was from the Laudian inquisition of the 1630's which sought to punish men for their beliefs whether expressed or not.

An objection to this which Gillespie acknowledges is someone who may say when compelled to obey "I am brought into a necessity of sinning, for if I obey not, I refuse a duty; if I obey, I do it against my conscience. Answer. This necessity is not absolute, but hypothetical, is not per se, but per accidens, so long as a man retaineth the error of his conscience, which he ought to cast away. You will say again, supposing that my conscience cannot be satisfied, nor made of another opinion than now I am of, whether in this case, and so long as it standeth thus with me, may authority compel me to obey against my conscience, and so to sin? or whether ought they not rather permit me not to obey, because my conscience forbiddeth me. Answer. The thing being necessary, as hath been said, it is pars tutior, yea, tutissima, that a man be compelled to it, though it be against his erring and ill informed conscience. I know so long as he hath such an erring conscience he cannot but sin in obeying. But the sin of not obeying is greater and heavier: for this is a sin in the fact itself; that a sin in the manner of doing only, being not done in faith: this is a sin of itself; that is a sin only by accident: this is a sin materially; that is a sin only interpretatively to him, because he thinks so: this is a sin for the substance; that a sin for the circumstance: this cannot be made to be no sin, for the nature of the duty cannot be altered; that may cease to be a sin, for the man's conscience may through God's mercy and blessing upon the means, be better informed. So that there can be no doubt but this is every way a greater sin than that, and consequently more to be avoided." (Wholesome Severity)

Liberty of conscience is not the same thing as the right of free speech, the Confession does not uphold the unlimited right of free speech. Its position preserves the right of private judgement and rejects persecution, but it is against the very God-given role of the Church and State to permit heresy and division to burn uncontrollably. This is the sense of Act II 1846 which declared the interpretation of the Confession at this point. The Church did not regard her Confession "as favouring intolerance or persecuting principles", nor did she consider "that her office-bearers, by subscribing it, profess any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgement". Hence also The Practice of the Free Church of Scotland (and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland Manual of Practice), says: "That the Free Church maintains more emphatically that no authority in the hands of fallible men, such as the authority of the General Assembly, has any absolute rule over the consciences of believers, and that every one of her members may appeal to the Great Head of the Church against any such merely ministerial authority" (i.e. dissent with reasons) Chapter 4 Part 2.

Within the context of a Church court therefore, liberty of conscience is fully preserved when dissent is registered. The conscience is not compelled internally but able to be cleared. By dissenting with reasons a man keeps his conscience clear from the responsibility of what he does not approve of. He has no responsibility for the steps leading up to and the passing of a decision but not of obedience to it. Dissent is merely an expression of disagreement not of non-compliance. Non-compliance means resistance and disobedience. As the American Schism of 1741 highlighted, the issue is that of whether church courts have the authority and right to bind the consciences of dissenting members.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The nature of ordination vows

In the September 2007 Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland Rev. John Ross Inverness Greyfriars-Stratherrick reports on an induction and comments as follows on the vows put to the prospective minister.

'I wonder if it really is necessary to make an ordination a public display of the mysteries of the Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1842 or the Protest by Commissioners to the General Assembly of 1843, or a disavowal of all "Popish, Arian, Socinian, Arminian, Erastian and other doctrines doctrines, tenets and opinions whatsoever..." to say nothing of placing the candidate under reminder of the strictures of Act V, 1932. This all bemused most of the congregation and produced not a few a few stifled sniggers and embarrassed looks by those conscious of the presence of the local Catholic priest, whose kindly presence helped welcome Ricky and Melissa to the community. Might not these arcane memories of 'old unhappy, far off things and battles long ago' be better dealt with by the Presbytery in private prior to ordination? Surely induction questions, like those put to a bride and groom at a marriage, ought to be short, serious, and above all, obviously relevant, not detracting from the essentially joyous nature of the occasion by turning it into a public justification of the continued separate existence of the Free Church of Scotland'.

These comments fail to understand the true nature of the vows themselves as well as the their content. Ordination vows must be public, before the congregation who are receiving this minister or other office-bearer. It matters what the minister believes and is prepared to assert, maintain and defend. It matters what constitutes purity of worship. The climate of indifference to these solemn vows within the Free Church at present is truly alarming when we consider the true nature of such vows.

The solemn promises and declarations made at ordination - commonly called ordination vows- are in nature both an oath made in relation to man and vows taken with respect to God. (the Establishment in the Act for Settling the Quiet and Peace of the Church 1693 speak of the ordination vow as "the oath of allegiance"). Thus the whole of chapter 22 of the WCF is applicable. In relation to oaths the Confession says:
"WHOSOEVER takes an oath, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth. Neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.

An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt; nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics or infidels."

This makes it clear that an oath is to be taken clearly without mental reservation or interpretation different from those who impose it because that involves the individual in the sin of perjury. An oath also binds to performance although it is to one's hurt and even though it is made to those who are heretics or infidels - we cannot violate it (Ezek. 17:16, 18, 19; Josh. 9:18, 19; II Sam. 21:1), provided the object of the oath is not sinful. An oath is also to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. Thus there is to be no reinterpretation - the oath is to be understood in its prima facie sense.

"A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness." As Robert Shaw puts it, "the oath retains its high place among the solemnities of religion".
The fulfilment of vows is repeatedly enjoined in Scripture. "If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth." Numbers 30:2 "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee." (Deuteronomy 23:2) "He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not." (Psalm 15:4) "...yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it." (Isaiah 19:21) "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccl 5:4-5). "Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God:" (Psalm 76:11). "It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry." (Proverbs 20:25).

It is a solemn thing therefore to break ordination vows - it is to violate the third commandment. As James Begg put it: "To allege that they may afterwards set these avowals at defiance, and still retain their offices, is to outrage morality and overflow the liberty of the Church and her congregations".

Thursday, November 22, 2007

James Ussher and the Incarnation

I understand that the complete Works of Ussher are now online at Google

A striking prediction made by Ussher was posted here recently with some details of his life.

More books written by Ussher have been republished lately

Crawford Gribben has also written an excellent popular biography.

Ussher wrote a study of the person and work of Christ especially his incarnation. This is a remarkable piece of spiritual and theological insight written in a meditative spirit and one of my favourite pieces of writing. Read it here:

Here are a few extracts from Ussher's work on the incarnation:
"The Nature assumed, is the seed of Abraham, Heb. 2:16, the seed of David, Rom. 1:3. the seed of the Woman, Gen. 3:15, the WORD, the second person of the Trinity, being made FLESH, that is to say, Gods owne Son being made of a Woman, and so becomming truely and really the fruit of her wombe. Neither did hee take the substance of our nature onely, but all the properties also and the qualities thereof: so as it might be said of him, as it was of Elias and the Apostles; that hee was a man subject to like passions as wee are. Yea he subjected himself in the dayes of his flesh to the same weaknesse which we find in our owne fraile nature, and was compassed with like infirmities; and in a word, in all things was made like unto his brethren, sin onely excepted. Wherein yet we must consider, that as he took upon him, not an humane Person, but an humane Nature: so it was not requisite he should take upon him any Personall infirmities, such as are, madnesse, blindnesse, lamenesse, and particular kindes of diseases, which are incident to some onely and not to all men in generall; but those alone which doe accompany the whole nature of mankinde, such as are hungring, thirsting, weannesse, griefe, paine, and mortality."

When Moses beheld the bush burning with fire, and yet no whit consumed, he wondred at the sight, and said; I will now turne aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. But when God thereupon called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Draw not nigh hither, and told him who he was; Moses trembled, hid his face, and durst not behold God. Yet although, being thus warned, we dare not draw so nigh; what doth hinder but we may stand aloofe off, and wonder at this great sight? Our God is a consuming fire; saith the Apostle: and a question we finde propounded in the Prophet. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who amongst us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings? Moses was not like other Prophets, but God spake unto him face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend: and yet for all that, when he besought the Lord that hee would shew him his glory; he received this answer, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Abraham before him, though a speciall friend of God, and the father of the faithfull, the children of God; yet held it a great matter that hee should take upon him so much as to speak unto God, being but dust and ashes. Yea, the very Angels themselves (which are greater in power and might) are fame to cover their faces, when they stand before him; as not being able to behold the brightnesse of his glory.

"With what astonishment then may we behold our dust and ashes assumed into the undivided unity of Gods owne Person; and admitted to dwell here, as an inmate, under the same roofe? and yet in the midst of those everlasting burnings, the bush to remaine unconsumed, and to continue fresh and green for evermore. Yea, how should not wee with Abraham rejoyce to see this day, wherein not onely our nature in the person of our Lord Jesus is found to dwell for ever in those everlasting burnings; but, in and by him, our owne persons also are brought so nigh thereunto, that God doth set his Sanctuary and Tabernacle among us, and dwell with us; and (which is much more) maketh us our selves to be the house and the habitation wherein hee is pleased to dwell by his Spirit, according to that of the Apostle: Ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said; I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. and that most admirable prayer, which our Saviour himselfe made unto his Father in our behalfe. I pray not for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word: that they all may be one, as thou. Father art in me, & I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may beleeve that thou hast sent me. I in them, and thou in me, that they may bee made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou host sent me, and host loved them as thou host loved me."

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Importance of An Approved Translation Of The Bible

The following article explains the Importance of An Approved Translation Of The Bible for any Church.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Authority of Synods

The Westminster Confession of Faith 31:3 states that: "All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both." Although this is largely a refutation of the Romanist claim for the infallibility of councils, which may easily be disproved by reference to history as well as to the Word of God, it has relevance for the authority of synods and supreme courts of a Church. We know of no Protestant who has claimed infallibility for a Church Court, the issue really relates to the authority of the courts. Church courts can claim a ministerial power under Christ and his Word but not an absolute authority.

Private judgement and the decisions of synods

George Gillespie commissioner to the Westminster Assembly spoke of the fallibility of councils/synods in the following way. "We say that congregations ought, indeed, to be subject to presbyteries and synods, yet not absolutely, but in the Lord, and in things lawful; and to this purpose the constitution of presbyteries and synods are to be examined by the judgment of Christian discretion; for a synod is judex judicandus and regula regulata, so that it ought not to be blindly obeyed, whether the ordinance be convenient or inconvenient." An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the points of Ruling Elders, and of the Authority of Presbyteries and Synods. (Edinburgh: for James Bryson, 1641). pp. 127-128. See also, Works: A Presbyterian's Armoury, edited by William M Hetherington (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver and Boyd, 1844-46), p. 44.

Private judgement and conscience must be informed and ruled by the word of God. Samuel Rutherford also makes this clear in 'A Free Disputation against the Pretended Liberty of Conscience': "The imposing of synods is conditional not absolute as Libertines suppose, for after Synods impose, if believers after trying and due examining, shall find that truly and really the decrees are beside or contrary to the Word of Truth, the imposing neither is a just imposing, nor any imposing at all" (p.41). Thus the right of private judgement, the trying of Synod judgements by individuals is preserved as in WCF 20:2 "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." The same view can be identified as part of the Disruption Free Church of Scotland position. The Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1842 (a constitutional document for the Free Church of Scotland and Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland) states that church government is "ministerial, not lordly, and to be exercised in consonance with the laws of Christ, and with the liberties of his people." This ties in with the statement in the Free Church Practice (page 82, paragraph 4, 1st edition) "Although the General Assembly is invested with the power of regulating the whole action of the Church in its Synods, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions, still it is not regarded as having any lordly or absolutely binding authority. It is expected to act ministerially under Christ, and to carry out such rules as appear to harmonise with his own instructions in his Word."

The real authority of synods - binding not advisory

Yet while Synods cannot impose without the authority of the Word they do have real authority and are acting ministerially under Christ and in His name. Unless something is plainly contrary to the Word and its principles or in the case of matters of doctrine and worship beside it is the duty of those who are instructed to obey. But while Synods general and particular may and have erred and are not infallible WCF 31:3 states "It belongeth to synods and councils ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules for the better ordering of the publick worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of mal-administration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his word." In other words, Synods are not infallible but their authority is real and ordained so that unless obedience results in sin, private concerns should give way to public. Rutherford states that Synods must bind us to what is unsound and false or unjust or wicked must be beside or contrary to the word of truth before their judgements can be regarded as ultra vires (p.40). Men must hear the Church Matthew 18:17, 18, 19 20. As Rutherford puts it, "the authority of Synods consisting of six onely, differeth not in nature and essence, from a generall councell of the whole Catholike visible Church" (Due Right of Presbyteries, p.331). "Synods should take care that no man despise their Authority, as Timothie is exhorted by Paul but their Authoritie in matters of faith is conditionall, and so not nul".

"...we hold, when lawful Synods are convened in the name of Christ doe determine according to the word of God they are to be heard as Ambassadours who in Christs stead teach us, and what is once true and ratified in Synods in this manner is ever true and ratified as the reverend professours say and never subject to any further examination, and new discussion, so as it must be changed and retracted as false. For this is to subject the very word of God to retraction and change, because a Synod did declare and truely determine it in a Ministeriall way to be the word of God" (A Free Disputation, p.36).

This is borne out by the Scriptures in relation to the Synod of Jerusalem in Acts 15. They "ordained decrees," "laid a burden" upon the Churches, and enjoined them to observe certain "necessary things," and their decision was cheerfully submitted to by the Churches concerned - Acts 15: 28, 16:4. It was authoritatively decided (not by the apostles alone, but ' by the apostles and elders, with the whole church,' Acts 15:22) -- not for that church (Antioch) only, but for all others. Paul, therefore, in his next missionary journey, as he passed through the cities, ' delivered to them,' it is said, ' the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.' Acts 16:4. Thus the position that synodical authority is merely advisory and consultative not binding is quite false and unscriptural.

The controversy in America in the 18th century which resulted in the schism of 1741 in the Presbyterian Church centred upon this issue. As Charles Hodge put it in the history of the controversy, the issue became "whether a church judicatory had, on any occasion, the right to bind its dissenting members. This paper [from New Brunswick presbytery] seemed to allow, even in cases of appeal, nothing beyond advisory power either to synods or presbyteries. It was therefore regarded as a formal renunciation on the part of its authors, of the fundamental principles of presbyterianism." It is unpresbyterian and unconfessional to limit the power of synods to the extent that they cannot bind dissenting members.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sung Paraphrases

The Free Church of Scotland is currently promoting a revival of the use of paraphrases of various parts of Scripture as sung praise. As a point of historical interest, it appears that those who passed the Free Church 1910 Act in relation to Worship had the intention not to exclude the paraphrases but rather include them. Paraphrases were in use in 1910 and have continued to be. An attempt to make the FCOS position exclusive psalmody in the 1980s failed. The 1910 Free Church Act and the relating ordination vows only speak of 'inspired materials of praise' as well as 'the purity of worship presently authorised and practiced in the Free Church of Scotland'. The paraphrases were approved by General Assembly by an interim Act in 1781, permitting congregations "in the meantime" to use the Scottish Paraphrases "when the minister finds it for edification".

There is only a warrant for singing the psalms in public worship. It undermines the argument for scriptural warrant if we simply say that we sing scripture in order to be safe. The other difficulty is that the 67 paraphrases are of course very loose and half produced by hymn writes such as Doddridge and Watts. There are also 5 hymns approved together with the paraphrases which do not even attempt to be renditions of scripture passages. ttp://

The doxology was given up by the Scottish Church at the time of the Westminster Assembly for the reasons of uniformity and that there was no scripture warrant for singing this even though it was in the words of Scripture. The General Assembly's Act of 1650, which adopts the 1650 psalter excluded the use of other compositions and doxologies.

The following is from The Pattern On The Mount: Being An Essay On Purity Of Worship In Opposition To Recent Innovations by Walter Scott, 1877.

The Paraphrases had thelr origin during the dark days of Moderatism in the Established Church. The first collectlon of Paraphrases was published in 1745. lt was remitted by the General Assembly of the Church to the various presbyteries, after which it came to be used in worship. In 1775, a committee was appointed to
revise that collection, and, after being considerably altered it was again published and transmitted for the consideration of presbyteries on 1st June 1781 with a declaration allowing it "to be used in public worship in congregations where the minister finds it for edification." It was only partially adopted at this time but it
gradually came into general use throughout the church. It has continued in the Free Church and is also used in the United Prcsbyterian Church by permission of the Synod.The objections which militate against hymns apply equally to Paraphrases. In some respects they are more dangerous than hymns. Unlike hymns they profess to be a paraphrase or translation in verse of passages of Scripture, while in many cases, entirely misrepresenting the meaning of the sacred text. But what device has not been tried whereby to get something
of men into the ordinances of God? When the evil one cannot get man to give up the worship of God he does the next best by getting them to corrupt it. What God appoints is an ornament, hath beauty, is for glory, but let man set up ought in the worship of God, it hath no beauty but blackness, no holiness but iniquity and
God must be worshipped in the beauty of holiness. (1.Chron. 16:29) (Greenhlll on Ezekiel).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gunpowder plot and religious politics

RHETORIC OF CONFORMITY, 1603–1625 California: Stanford University Press: Stanford

Ferrell says "Sermons, not masques, were the major organs of political self-expression at the Jacobean court". Revisionist history of the period has tended to emphasise the Calvinist consensus of the English Church that reigned in the late Elizabethan period through to the end of the reign of James I. The Jacobean Church of England has been seen as an epitome of the so-called via media, a central idea in Anglican historiography. It began, however, as a politically convenient ideology.

Royal propaganda claimed that James governed by moderation but Ferrell reveals a fascinating study of government by polemic in these court sermons. James needed to counter Calvinist opposition in Parliament to his pro-Spanish foreign policy and this was reflected in the English Church. A subtle movement began to assert that a broader doctrinal and ceremonial complexion was necessary. Best
known of these court favourites, perhaps is Lancelot Andrewes whose anti-Calvinism and liturgical obsessions were also most pronounced. Loyal obedience to the king and the issue of kneeling to receive communion could be made conveniently interchangeable. A culture of flexibility towards nonconformity
previously had prevailed but there now emerged a policy and rhetorical strategy of isolating "extremism."

James found that this policy could be effective in Scottish as well as the English Church. Both Presbyterians and moderate Puritans could be identified as dangerously seditious. The Accession Day court sermons provided the perfect
opportunity to compare the two Churches and lambaste extremists. James I's realpolitik extended to using the Gunpowder Plot as a means of shielding loyal Roman Catholics while attacking Puritans as almost more dangerous than
"papist" plotters. In summary this is a valuable study showing how anti-Puritanism developed into anti-Calvinism in the period that led up to the Civil War.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Church of God Deserted and Reduced


James Ussher (1580-1655), was one of the greatest scholars and theologians of his time, a strong Calvinist who wrote and strongly influenced the Irish Articles of Religion. Philip Schaff wrote that "He was the greatest theological and antiquarian scholar of the Episcopal Church of his age, and was highly esteemed by Churchmen and Puritans, being a connecting link between the contending parties. He was elected into the Westminster Assembly of Divines, but the King's prohibition and his loyalty to the cause of the crown and episcopacy forbade him to attend". The following is a striking prediction of where the Western Church is and is heading at present.

THE Church of God on earth will be greatly reduced, as we may well imagine, in its apparent members, by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed indifference to any particular form of Christianity under pretence of universal toleration— which toleration will proceed from no spirit of charity and forbearance, but from a desire to undermine Christianity by encouraging and multiplying sectaries. The pretended toleration will go far beyond a just toleration, even as it regards the different sects of Christians. For Governments will pretend indifference to all and will give a protection and preference to none. All Establishments will be laid aside. From the toleration of the most pestilent heresies, they will proceed to the toleration of Mohammedanism, Atheism, and at last to a positive persecution of the truth of Christianity.

In these times the temple of God will be reduced almost to the holy place, that is to the small number of real Christians who worship the Father in spirit and in truth; and regulate their doctrine and worship and their whole conduct, strictly by the Word of God. The merely nominal Christians will all desert the profession of the truth when the powers of the world desert it.

This tragical event I take to be typified by the order to the Apostle John to measure the temple and the altar, and leave the outer court (National Churches) to be trodden under foot of the Gentiles. The property of ministers will be pillaged, the public worship insulted and vilified by these deserters of the faith they once professed, who are not called apostate because they were never earnest in their profession. Their profession was nothing more than a compliance with fashion. When this general desertion of the faith takes place, then will commence the sackcloth ministry of the witnesses. There will be nothing of splendour in the external appearance of these churches. They will have no support from Government, no honours, no emoluments, no immunities, no authorities, but that which no earthly power can take away, which they derived from Him who commissioned them to be His witnesses.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Household Baptism – A different approach

As is well known the Brethren are often differentiated into two groupings: Open and Exclusive. The Open Brethren have been largely Independent in terms of government. The Exclusive Brethren reject this Independency and 'maintain that they [the Open Brethren] have lost the truth of the Church and have become a system of independent gatherings quite contrary to the truth of the One Body "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth"'. They point out that 'there is one doctrine and practice which is held by all Open Brethren assemblies - except perhaps by one or two of exclusive origin - which is that baptism must be only for believers of a responsible age on confession of faith. Most meetings refuse to allow a person to break bread unless he has been baptised as a believer, and if he was baptised as an infant it does not count in their eyes. The doctrine of household baptism is rigidly rejected and no teaching of it would be allowed'. W.R. Dronsfield, The "Brethren" since 1870, London, Chapter Two, 2002.

There are many aspects of Brethren teaching that we cannot accept as scriptural. It is interesting, nonetheless to see how those who are not covenantal in theology but dispensational regarding the New Testament and the Church as entirely separate from the Old Testament do find household baptism within the New Testament. Most of the principles upon which Reformed writers would make their case are entirely the same as those referred to by the Brethren writers. This is because the basic principles of interpreting Scripture have been preserved. It shows that there is evidence enough in the New Testament for household baptism and that the crucial issue in the controversy relating to baptism is how the Scriptures should be interpreted. SM Anglin points out that "it is not a matter of command, but of acting according to the principles which Scripture makes known and establishes. We must remember that principles are not deductions or suppositions; they form an important part of the Word of God, and are for our guidance. We have before seen that there is no command to be baptized, and we have also shown that Scripture lays down no rules as to who should be baptized, but we have Scriptural teaching, principles, and practice to guide us."

It is not always appreciated that J.N. Darby held to household baptism. Volume 2 of his Letters provide some detail on his views. While rejected amongst the Open Brethren, household baptism has generally been held to by the various branches of the Exclusive Brethren. Writers belonging to these branches have sought to draw out some of the principles present in Darby's views. Some of the main writers are SM Anglin, FW Grant and CW Wycherley.

Is there a Command?

Anglin points out How often one hears it said: "We have the plain command of Scripture, 'Believe and be baptized' "; this is the stronghold of many, and yet there is no such expression in the Word, nor indeed any command to be baptized." "There are some who content themselves with asserting that there is no command in the Scriptures for baptizing the children of a believer, as though this settled the matter." This ignores that there is neither record nor command for a child of a Christian to be baptized as a believer. It is not, however, "a matter of command, but of acting according to the principles which Scripture makes known and establishes. We must remember that principles are not deductions or suppositions; they form an important part of the Word of God, and are for our guidance. We have before seen that there is no command to be baptized, and we have also shown that Scripture lays down no rules as to who should be baptized, but we have Scriptural teaching, principles, and practice to guide us. If any will go in for command, there is only one, and that possibly is too comprehensive for them, namely, Matthew 28: 19-20."

FW Grant says of this verse. "Let us notice first more fully the words of the commission: "Disciple, baptising and teaching," show in their order that the teaching is that which perfects the disciple,- necessarily, because a "disciple" is a scholar: the baptism only gives him his place as that; it is authoritative reception into the school. It is the marking off, in a world which has rejected Christ and His words, of those who receive them and thus acknowledge Him. It shows that the kingdom is not territorial, that people are not born naturally into it, that it is individual now, not national, as in the case of Israel. The meaning of it as a symbol shows much more than this. Whether this subjection to Christ is real or not remains to be determined, and is not to be settled beforehand by the baptizer; although, of course, that in which it is professed must not be suffered to lapse from its meaning and be trifled with by frivolous use.

We are told, however, that "Jesus made and baptized disciples" (Jno. iv. i), and that this gives a contrary thought. But, in fact, it only emphasizes what is true, - that it is the Word, the teaching, that really makes disciples, which is of course true. If we think of what is implied in discipleship, the Word is necessarily the fundamental thing, the water but the formal, although that too may have importance. Who would say that the dying thief was not a disciple, although he had no opportunity of being baptized? On the other hand, to say that Jesus "made and baptized disciples" does not necessarily mean that they were disciples first, as the second part of the statement may be explanatory of the former, and needed to complete the idea to be conveyed: as when it is said (Ex. xxix. 7), "Thou shalt pour it upon his head and anoint him," these two things are really one, and not different acts; and the last expression but explains the former."

In relation to Mark 16:16 Anglin comments. "Mark 16: 16 is a favourite passage with those who oppose household baptism, but it proves too much, for according to it a person is not saved till baptized; but these say you must be saved first and baptized after. The fact is, the Lord is there looking at salvation in its full sense, connected with the time we are here on earth as well as with eternity, and for this two things are necessary. The vital and by far the most important one is put first, viz. faith, and the other is baptism; it is not a question of which comes first in point of time, but both must be true of the person before he is saved in the sense spoken of there. We need hardly say that a person is fit for the glory – for heaven – the moment he believes, and, like the thief on the cross, could go straight to Paradise through virtue of Christ's work, but when one remains on earth, it is another thing; there is a place where Christ is professedly owned and the faith of Christ is acknowledged, and if not there previously, such an one should then be brought there. If previously there, of course he cannot be brought there, though not saved till he believes; and if not there when he believes he is not saved (as to his place on earth) till baptized, and thus brought there; and, if the head of a family, it is his privilege to bring his children there also, and train them up in the faith of Christ, counting upon God to give life and faith to them also. When this latter takes place they too are saved, as the two things are true of them – they are believers and are baptized; this is what Mark 16 teaches; but it is not faith to say, I will wait first and make sure that my children have faith and divine life, and baptize them then'; though, of course, if not baptized before they ought to be so then on the ground of professed repentance and faith.The verse, however, is in full keeping with household baptism, as, surely, one part of Scripture must be with another."

Baptism brings onto Christian Ground

Darby writes: "The question as to children is not are they converted, but are they to be left in the devil's dominion, or brought where the Holy Ghost dwells, to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?" As Darby taught, Exclusive Brethren authors teach that baptism brings a person on to Christian ground. Anglin writes "Scripture presents it to us as reception on to Christian ground, or position on earth, from amongst Jews or Gentiles. It constitutes the person baptized a Christian as to his position here on earth, and introduces him thereby into the outward privileges of Christianity." This is seen in Acts 10 when Cornelius and other Gentiles are baptised. Peter asks: "Can anyone forbid water that these should not be baptized?", etc.

Clearly baptism was connected with privilege in his mind, or else his words have no meaning; but it was not admission to the privileges of Judaism, or he would have said: "Can anyone forbid circumcision?" Thus, I may say, baptism supersedes circumcision, as Christianity supersedes Judaism. Here, again, it is not the obedience to a command by those baptized, but the reception of persons whom Peter saw ought to be received. God had already owned them and given them the greatest gift, making no difference between them and the circumcision, and thus the way to their reception was clear; Peter owns it, and says in substance to those with him (for his remarks and directions are addressed to his companions of the circumcision), bring them in, they ought not to be kept outside'; and this they did by baptizing them."

"When a Jew was thus awakened (as in Acts 2) would he be content to escape from the apostate condemned place himself and leave his family there? Surely not; but, as in Egypt of old, would say "not a hoof shall be left behind". He would not wait till they grew up leaving them to choose between Judaism and Christianity for themselves." (Anglin)

Baptism is connected with Christ's lordship and authority

These writers speak of baptism as "putting on Christ, which is connected with His lordship and authority; and with positional identification with Him on earth; for baptism relates entirely to our position on earth under God's government" (Anglin). As Wycherley points out Galatians 3: 27 says, "As many as have been baptized unto Christ have put on Christ" but the Baptist version of this would have to read 'As many as have put on Christ by faith ought to be baptized'.

In relation to Gal. 3:27 FW Grant writes: "in the words used, we have not, as so many suppose, any implication of necessary activity in the person who "puts on" Christ. The same word, only compounded with the preposition "upon," and in the first aorist middle, exactly as here, is used in 2 Cor. V. 2 for our "being clothed upon with our house that is from heaven," and we might there speak of "putting on" the resurrection body, or here of our being "clothed with" Christ. The responsibility of the baptismal place belongs to the one in it, however the grace of God may have wrought in putting him in. To a child who has been baptized in infancy - allowing for a moment that God has given them the privilege of this,- one could say, "You were clothed with Christ."

The exhortation in Rom. Xlii. 14 is not inconsistent with this. It is, what we have not in English, an in imperative in the past (the aorist), and means, "be as one that has been clothed with Christ."

If baptism is the putting on of Christ, even this does not necessarily imply any voluntary activity; for so it is said that "this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal immortality;" and man in dying puts off his tabernacle". Anglin says that in this passage in Galatians, the apostle "refers to their baptism, and says, as it were, You have put on Christ by your baptism (as many as were baptized), why put on Moses?' They were outwardly identified with Christ by their baptism – had put Him on. Just as of old Israel were baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All were baptized to him – men, women, and children – and therefore outwardly connected with him, and under his authority. How they might act afterwards was another thing, and whether they had faith or not remained for the wilderness to prove".

Grant writes that in 1 Cor 10 "Baptized unto Moses" has...the force of "set apart to Moses" as disciples. So those who were baptized with John's baptism were John's disciples. So have we found the Lord bidding to "disciple, baptizing." "Baptized unto the name of the Father" is discipled to the truth of what God is. "Baptized unto the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts xix. 5) must be similar in meaning". Anglin also states "Thus Jesus is Lord of all, and baptism is always to Him as Lord (see 1 Cor. 10: 2, "baptized to Moses"), and the one baptized is brought where His authority is acknowledged, and, as baptized to Him, is responsible to own it practically. It is only by His death we can have what is presented and enjoyed in Christianity. Therefore the apostle goes on, in Romans 6, to say, We are buried with Him by baptism unto death".

In relation to the phrase "One Lord One Faith One Baptism" in Ephesians 4, Grant writes: "One faith" evidently means what some would call one creed, not faith as the principle of dependence upon God, in which sense "one" faith would hardly be intelligible. In connection, then, with "one Lord, one faith," we have "one baptism." ..."baptism" by itself naturally means the rite; when used with other applications, other words are added in explanation. Water-baptism also, as we shall find fully as we go on, is that which is connected with the sphere of discipleship, that is, of the kingdom, as that of the Spirit is with the Church."

An Objective Ordinance

Darby resisted the idea that it was a sign that an individual was regenerated. "The state of individuals in their souls has nothing to do with it. It is not communion in the unity of the body, which is by the Holy Ghost". It is an objective ordinance, "it is the outward reception on earth which is before us". "Baptism is a privilege granted, which admits into the number of the faithful and into the great house". "The person is received outwardly into the habitation of God, as set up in this world. Ephesians 2: 22; 1 Timothy 3: 15." Darby believed that the Baptist "principle makes baptism the bond of the unity of the body, and through this they are Baptists – that makes them Baptists – but this very principle is quite false, and contrary to scripture". "It [i.e the 'baptist' system] then – without knowing it – accepts a principle which breaks down Christianity in its foundation, like him who keeps days, but in a more serious case, because they make the oneness of the body to depend on it." "God...has established a dwelling place consequent on redemption, where His blessings are". "Not that all were Israel which were of Israel, but these blessings were distinctively theirs – Romans 9: 1-6 – not amongst the heathen." He writes that "the Lord, and the faith – not personal, but the "one faith" – and baptism are associated. In the baptism of a child there is plain testimony to the need of Christ's death for its admission."

The House is Always Linked with the Head

"Noah's house went into the Ark with him, because they were his house, and because he was righteous (see Gen. 7: 1). If one had been an infant surely he had as much privilege as the oldest, not because of being an infant, but because one of Noah's family.

The Flood was part of God's governmental dealings with the earth, and it was in connection with these that they were thus privileged; but neither their privilege to enter, nor their relationship to Noah would have availed if he had not taken them into the Ark. Nor again, did being in the Ark affect their state of soul, nor give them faith; as we have each taken up afterwards as to their individual state, Shem being blessed and Ham cursed. Abraham acted on this, in his day, and in doing so made no distinction between Ishmael and Isaac. There was a very great distinction in other ways, as regarded personal faith, etc., but not in this. The point was that they belonged to Abraham – formed part of his house, and it was his responsibility – his act – flowing from what God had given and made known to him. He does not wait till Isaac grows up first to see how he will turn out, nor does he refuse Ishmael because he had no faith. Household baptism goes on the same principle.

In Abraham's case it took the form of a command, as afterwards connected with the legal system, but this does not touch the principle, which is just as clearly established in the New Testament. The Lord says of Zaccheus, "This day is salvation come to this house". Peter says, in Acts 2, "The promise is to you and to your children". Paul says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house". (Anglin)

The Head is Responsible for his Household

"God says of Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him", etc. Eli, on the other hand, receives the most withering reproof and judgment from God because he had failed to rule his house according to their position and privileges. Circumcised no doubt they were, and thus brought into what they were entitled to by birth, but now, being there, he was responsible to train them according to the place they were in. He was wrong, not in circumcising them first, but in not training them afterwards. This principle we have also in the New Testament. In Ephesians 6 we read, "Fathers … bring them (your children) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord". The father is responsible to do this. Eli, as we know, did much; he set his sons a good example, he taught them, and even reproved them; but he did not, for all that, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and God held him responsible for their wickedness. He might plead, as so many are ready to do, I cannot give my children a new nature, nor create in them desires for what is right and good; I must leave them with God to do that'; I answer, God holds each father responsible, as under the authority of Christ, and subject to Him, and in separation from the world. The whole house must be separated to Christ, and subject to Him. The wilderness might not appear to be such a pleasant place for the young ones who were baptized to Moses, as Egypt was; that was not the question, but their connection with God and with Moses, to whom He had given authority, and their complete separation from Egypt and its rulers. But let us bear in mind that, however attractive Egypt might appear as a place of self-gratification, it was the place of death. It represents the world in its independence of God and under His judgment – a place too of cruel bondage to God's people until delivered from its power.

The children of believing parents ought therefore to be in a distinct place from the world, to be trained up in the fear of the Lord...The children should form part of a Christian household, and baptism is the admission to the place of a Christian outwardly, as well as owning the lordship of Christ in the act. Is not the head of the house then responsible to own the authority of Christ as to every member of his house? Should he not put them on the ground where it is owned, and in the way that God has set forth? To refuse to do so, is either in effect saying that they are not different from the world, or else, to act on the principle of Cain, though unwittingly, in presenting something to God apart from death; that is, to act as though sin were not in the world, and children were not by nature sinful and at a distance from God.

It is another principle, that we cannot be in relationship to God apart from death – from that which sets forth Christ's death of which circumcision under law and baptism under Christianity are the symbols or figures – more fully expressed by baptism, as Christianity is above and beyond Judaism: one being a command as connected with a legal system, the other of grace, and connected with a dispensation of grace flowing from the death of Christ." (Anglin)

Illustrating the Principles

Anglin illustrates these principles by referring to instances in the Gospels where someone is blessed through the exercise of faith on the part of another. "In the first part of Matthew 9 we have the man with the palsy getting governmental forgiveness, and as a consequence perfect restoration to health, through the act of faith in others. It says, "Jesus seeing their faith. Clearly it was their act which manifested their faith, and the man is blessed. Another case is Acts 3, where the lame man is cured by Peter. In verse 16 Peter explains how it was effected. He says, "His (Christ's) name through faith in His name hath made this man strong", etc.; but where was the "faith in His name"? Not in the man, but in Peter. It may have resulted in faith on the part of the man afterwards, but this is not said directly, and certainly his faith is not the ground of his being made whole. It was Christ's name, and faith in His name on the part of Peter; and the blessing received related to God's governmental ways. "

Of such is the kingdom

Darby argues that the children of believers are said to be "of the kingdom of heaven" and therefore ought to be admitted to its privileges. "I know no administrative entrance to it on earth but baptism. It was the prescribed order down on earth". Wycherley wrote similarly: "If then there is an outward sphere, called the kingdom of heaven, and the children are to be received into it; and if the fathers get into this outward sphere by baptism, does it not follow that the children must come in by the same door?"

Now are they holy

Darby believed that there was a lot of clarity as to the status of the children of believers in 1 Corinthians 7:14. "But when I come to 1 Corinthians 7: 14, I think I get the question specifically decided. It is directly the subject. If a Jew married a Gentile he was profaned – not profane, a profane thing cannot be profaned – and was to send away his wife and children – see Ezra and Nehemiah: was it so under grace? No, the converse; the unbeliever was sanctified – opposite to profaned, not holy – and the children were holy, to be received, not cut off. Hence the word is "unclean," the force of which as precluding approach to the house of Jehovah in Israel is well known." "Thus we may see also why, going beyond the law, the children even of a marriage where one remains an unbeliever can be called by the apostle "holy." The words run thus (i Cor. vii. 13, 15) :- "And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by ("in") the wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband. Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy."

FW Grant commented on this verse: "The use of the word "unclean" explains the corresponding word "holy." It is not vital holiness that he is thinking of, but external position. According to the law the children of such a marriage could claim none; but grace goes altogether beyond law. It is not said of the unbeliever that he or she is "holy," as the child is; merely sanctified in the believer. The child has an acknowledged place as " holy" or "clean;" and this he takes to show that the marriage stands; for if the children were unclean, the marriage itself would be. Baptism gives this acknowledged place, a place in the kingdom of God, which under different forms runs through the dispensations.

"Clean" would not express for the Jew the thought conveyed by holy; that is, "consecrated, dedicated, or sanctified to God "; and hagios is the word which would be used in Greek for expressing this. To have said "clean" would have been enough to have proved the lawfulness of the marriage. The "sanctified" and "holy" were both needed in order to express the thought of relationship to God. The use of the two words, therefore, here, is every way significant. "

Wycherley writes: "The point of this scripture is the relative position of the husband and wife towards each other, which determines the relative position of the children towards the sanctuary. ... Under law, the Jew had to put away his strange wife; she was not "sanctified", and the children were illegitimate (unclean). Under grace "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband". This is, the marriage is valid, and the children are legitimate or "holy", and as such entitled to come into the congregation of the Lord (the outer court)."

Household Baptisms in Acts

Anglin comments interestingly upon the household baptism recorded in Acts 16.
Lydia and her House – Acts 16: 13-15 Anglin points out that while it is said of Lydia "whose heart the Lord opened to the Word" no such fact is recorded of her household baptised with her - that their hearts were opened. ..Lydia is not only brought on to the ground of Christianity herself, but has her house also brought with her, which was no light thing in that day, when surrounded by enemies of Christianity – both Jews and Gentiles. Lydia's house is a distinct case of baptism without the slightest intimation of any confession on their part, or work of God in them, and had these things been true of them as of her, surely it would have been mentioned, and, besides, verse 15 shows it was Lydia's act so to speak, that is, done on her responsibility. It is household baptism, clearly and simply set forth by Scripture, connected with the responsibility and faithfulness (as far as it went) of the head of the house – though a woman.

The Jailer and his House – Acts 16: 25-34. The apostle in answer to his inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" at once links his house up with him (see also chapter 11: 14). We then have the word of the Lord spoken "to all that were in his house", a term including more than "his house" in the previous verse. In the next verse baptism comes in, and it is himself and "all his" (not all that were in his house) who are said to be baptized; the distinction between the two is very clear and important. The jailer would be responsible for the baptism of his house – "all his", but not for others who might be in his house at the time – other jailers, servants, etc. "All his" would only include only those for who he was responsible on account of their relationship to himself, and would, therefore, take in the very youngest child. It may be said there is no proof he had any children, or, at least, young children. I answer, this does not at all affect the point, which is, that "all his" were connected with him in outward blessing and privilege, and therefore were baptized, and what is insisted on is that this principle includes the very youngest child. It was, as we have already shown, an instance of admitting the house, with the head of it, into the place of privilege. Are they entitled to this on account of their relationship? And if so, they assuredly ought to be baptized; and whether they are adults or infants is not the question, provided they are living in the house, and by relationship under the authority of the head of it.
The rendering of verse 34 in the Authorized Version is not quite correct. It is, in the original, "he rejoiced with all his house, he having believed in God". Note: The words "having believed in God" are in the singular number, and apply to the jailer only, and this is very important to note."


The Brethren case for household baptism is extremely interesting. Most of the principles upon which Reformed writers would make their case are entirely the same. The approach is simply slightly different. These selections represent a broad view of the way in which a non-covenantal Brethren/Dispensationalist interpretation of the Scriptures has found room for household baptism simply because as SM Anglin points out "it is not a matter of command, but of acting according to the principles which Scripture makes known and establishes. We must remember that principles are not deductions or suppositions; they form an important part of the Word of God, and are for our guidance. We have before seen that there is no command to be baptized, and we have also shown that Scripture lays down no rules as to who should be baptized, but we have Scriptural teaching, principles, and practice to guide us." The anti-household baptism position rejects clear scriptural principles that are obvious whether or not one follows the Reformed theology of the covenants. There is enough evidence in the New Testament to demonstrate the case for household baptism.