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.