Friday, September 26, 2008

The discipline of the Second Reformation

Much has been written on the subject of the discipline of the Scottish Reformation. There is for instance, Hay Fleming's Discpline of the Scottish Reformation . There is also 'The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland' By Margo Todd and 'The Uses of Reform: "godly Discipline" and Popular Behavior in Scotland and Beyond, 1560-1610'
By Michael F. Graham.

The Second Reformation continued this emphasis on a strong national church vested with extensive powers of discipline but there has been little treatment of this. Andrew Symington, however, comments appropriately 'The men of the Second Reformation brought every matter of faith, worship, discipline, and government, to the test of the divine word, applying this measuring reed to the temple, the altar, and them that worship therein'. The importance that they placed upon it can be seen in the way in which David Dickson and James Durham bring it into even the Sum of Saving Knowledge. 'God hath made a gift of Christ unto his people, as a commander: which office he faithfully exerciseth, by giving to his kirk and people laws and ordinances, pastors and governors, and all necessary officers; by keeping courts and assemblies among them, to see that his laws be obeyed; subduing, by his word, Spirit, and discipline, his people's corruptions; and; by his wisdom and power, guarding them against all their enemies whatsoever'. 'By kirk-government, he will have them hedged in, and helped forward unto the keeping of the covenant'.

There are key resources such as the Presbytery Book of Kirkcaldy which shows a remarkable thoroughness and consistency in discipline over a range of matters. Many modern church courts would grow very weary very soon at the volume of discipline cases that this presbytery dealt with.

Now the Acts of General Assembly from the Reformation through to the Second Reformation have been published online.

These acts show that the Second Reformation Church was not hesitant about enacting legislation relating to discipline at General Assembly level. They were concerned for uniformity, whereas many modern Presbyterians are wary of supreme courts dealing with matters of discipline or of being too black and white. Some argue that the supreme court does not have jurisdiction in these matters. The Second Reformation men were very specific and detailed in what they believed should be made a matter of discipline and what should be accepted and enforced as law by judicial process and what lower courts were obliged to carry out. The detail of the Larger Catechism on the Ten Commandments is consistent with this.

Act Sess. 21, August 29, 1639.—Act anent the keeping of the Lord's Day. Sess. 11, August 14, 1643.—Act against Masters who have Servants that Prophane the Lord's Day.
Sess. 5, Aug. 1, 1640.—Act for censuring Speakers against the Covenant.
Act for restraining Abuses at Pennie Brydals.
Act against Lykwakes.
Sess. Ult. Junii 18, 1646, ante meridiem.—Act against loosing of Ships and Barks upon the Lord's Day.
Sess. Ult., February 13, 1645, post meridiem.—Act for censuring the Observers of Yule-day, and other superstitious dayes, especially if they be Schollars.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Drawing nearer heaven through maximal use of the Scriptures

The following quotation from the Westminster divine William Twisse expresses very well the Puritan attitude towards the due use of necessary means particulary maximal use of the Scriptures and submission to their authority.

"There is a...fulness of faith that we should strive unto, and of knowledge as well as of holiness: For this life is our way to heaven, and still we must draw nearer thitherwards, by knowing all that we can know by the Word, Deut 29:29" (The Scripture's Sufficiency)

It is important to not that Twisse is evidently not referring to mere head knowledge but knowledge of how to glorify and enjoy God from the only rule to direct us how we may do this.

Phillipians 3:13ff. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended,but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before; I press toward the mark,for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus: Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded
and if in anything ye be otherwise minded; God shall reveal even this unto you; Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained,let us walk by the same rule;let us mind the same thing;

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Sighs of the Lord Jesus Christ

The tears of Christ over Jerusalem are astonishing - but equally astonishing are his sighs as recorded in the gospel. The sighs of Jesus (Mk. 7:34; 8:12; John 11:33) point us to the completeness of our Lord’s humanity - they are sinless expressions out of the fullness of the emotions shared as part of our humanity. Sometimes the sighs are in response to the unbelief of his hearers, before performing a miracle or in response to the evil of death.

When He unstopped the ears of the deaf man, he sighed and said, ‘Ephphatha, be opened’. Why was this? It was not a sighing at the greatness of the miracle required to heal the deaf. It was a response to the destructive effects of the Fall and of sin. When we sigh and cry for abominations we have something of that spirit (Ezekiel 9:4). There was a holy anger against sin in Christ but a tenderness and pity towards the man himself. He was the great High Priest who had compassion upon those that were ignorant and out of the way. How expressive it is when we read that He also looked up to heaven when he sighed. Can we fathom the depths of that sigh, any more than we can fathom the depths of the heart of the One greater than Solomon, who had ‘largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore’ (1 Kings 4:29)? As Samuel Rutherford has commented, when His holy heart was stirred it was like the stirring of perfume only the sweet savour of holy emotions arose, whereas when our heart is stirred it is often like the stirring of the bottom of a pond which brings foul smelling things from the bottom to the surface.

There was a prayer in this sigh. A sigh of intercession. When we read frequently of sighing in the psalms we ought to think of the sighs of Christ of whom the psalms speak. He came to enter into, in the fullest possible, yet sinless way, this world of sighing and tears. He could say Psalm 31:10, ‘For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing’. He was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. He could say in His extremity, ‘I am poor and sorrowful’ (Psalm 69:29). Intercession means intervention too, however. ‘For the sighing of the needy, now will I arise’ Psalm 12:5. Exodus 2:23, ‘the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage’. As the Lord visited His people then, so He came in a more glorious way as Immanuel, God with us. He came in order that the redeemed of the Lord would come again to the heavenly Zion, when ‘sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isaiah 35:10).

Friday, September 12, 2008

what the soul desires from divine forgiveness

John Knox in a treatise on Psalm 6 outlines some of the essentials that the soul desires from divine forgiveness. For the text of Psalm 6 see below. According to Knox there are four things that David seeks and could not be without:

“David, in sum, desires four things in this his vehement trouble. In the first verse, he asks that God would not punish him in his heavy displeasure and wrath. In the second verse, he asks that God should have mercy upon him. And in the third verse, he desires that he should heal him. And in the fourth verse, he asks that God should return unto him, and that he should save his soul. Every one of these things was so necessary unto David, that lacking any one of them, he judges himself most miserable. He felt the wrath of God, and therefore desired the same to be removed. He had offended, and therefore desired mercy. He was fallen into most dangerous sickness, and therefore he cried for corporeal health. God appeared to be departed from him, and therefore he desired that the comfort of the Holy Ghost should return unto him.”

This is well expressed in Isaiah 12:1 "And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me". The healing the soul needs is in relation to the effects and consequences of sin and backsliding. It needs the joy of salvation restored.

McCrie comments on this treatise by Knox "It is an excellent practical discourse upon
that portion of Scripture, and will be read with peculiar satisfaction by
those who have been trained to religion in the school of adversity". Knox refers to Psalm 6 in his treatise on prayer "Let no man think himself unworthy to call and pray to God, because he hath grievously offended his majesty in times past; but let him bring to God a sorrowful and repenting heart, saying with David, “Heal my soul, O Lord, for I have offended against thee". Knox writes in the treatise: "Here must I put you in mind, dearly beloved, how oft you and I have talked of these present days, till neither of us could refrain [from] tears, when no such appearance there was seen by man. How oft have I said unto you, that I looked daily for trouble, and that I wondered at it, that I did escape it so long? What moved me to refuse, and that with displeasure of all men (even of those who best loved me), those high promotions which were offered by him, whom God has taken from us for our offences?" It seems that the treatise was written either for his wife Marjorie Bowes or her mother, with whom he corresponded. The treatise was entitled "Fort for the Afflicted". The mother-in-law is described in the following way.

"On the one, according to Knox she was a person with strong convictions who at times strengthened even him when he was faint. This we may well believe, for she withstood considerable opposition, if not persecution, in her own family because of her faith. On the other hand, she had continual doubts and fears about her own spiritual condition: whether she had true faith, whether she was of the elect, whether she had committed the unpardonable sin. This uncertainty caused her constantly to consult Knox, and when he was not present to write to him. The letters in which he attempted to reply to her questions she kept and these provide us with a good insight not only into her problems, but into Knox himself." (W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God [New York, 1974], p. 79-80.)

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
2 Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.

3 My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?

4 Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.

5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

6 I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

7 Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

8 Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

9 The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

10 Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness

Archibald Alexander Hodge gave a very significant lecture upon his installation as Associate Professor of Dogmatic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, November 8, 1877. His theme was the necessity of doctrine in defence against the vague attacks made upon emphasising doctrinal distinctions.
Hodge asserts 'that the truth revealed in the Scriptures, and embraced in what evangelical Christians style Christian dogma, is the great God-appointed means of producing in men a holy character and life. At present neither the general truth of Christianity nor that of any particular system of theology claiming to represent it, is the question, but the truth of Christianity being assumed, we affirm that the truths set forth in the Word of God in their mutual relations, are necessary means of promoting holiness of heart and life'.

He makes the following vital affirmation:

'I therefore affirm my belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in their integrity are the Word of God, as a whole and in every part infallible and binding the conscience, and the only divinely authentic informant and rule of faith in matters of religion. Christian theology is wholly in the Scriptures, and is to be drawn from them only by legitimate interpretation. This is true of systematic as absolutely as of exegetical or of Biblical theology. The system lies in the relations of the facts, and their relations are deteremined by their nature, as that is disclosed by the words of the Holy Ghost. The systematic theologian as well as the exegete is only an interpreter; the one interprets the words and develops the revealed truths; the other interprets these separate lessons in their mutual light and reciprocal relations, and develops the revealed system.

More definitely I affirm, not as a professional propriety, but as a personal conviction, that the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly contain the system taught in the Holy Scriptures. Or rather, in the more absolute terms of subscription imposed upon intrants by the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, "I do sincerely own and believe the WHOLE DOCTRINE contained in the Confession of Faith, approved by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God, and do acknowledge the same as the confession of my personal faith, and will firmly and constantly adhere thereunto, and to the utmost of my power will assert, maintain, and defend the same." This is affirmed, not only because I believe this "whole doctrine" to be true, but because I also believe this "system of doctrine" to be the most complete and adequate presentation as yet attained by the Church of that truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which the Holy Ghost has declared to be "the power of God unto salvation." For therein Christ and His work is exhibited in their relation to human needs, experiences, duties, and destinies, and it is, therefore, the efficient instrument of forming character, of ruling action, and of effecting salvation'.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Israel knows what to do with lite Bible versions

Israel’s Education Ministry has banned a lite version of the Bible as
reported at Haaretz. "The Education Ministry is to ban Bible aid booklets that help elementary and junior high school students by “translating” the text into simple Hebrew". The whole debate on the issue is very significant in echoing the objections to modern English translations and the issue of preserving the biblical English of the Authorised Version.

“The idea of translating the Bible into simple contemporary language is ‘scandalous,’ Drora Halevy, the ministry's National Supervisor for Bible Studies, told Haaretz. The booklets present the text in ‘skimpy slang’ that cheapens the Bible,” she added. "Halevy is convinced that using the simple-language Bible will lead to the loss of Biblical expressions and idioms that are used in contemporary Hebrew. She asserts that the booklet's meager language drives children away from the Bible, rather than bring them closer."

“It’s a purely marketing initiative intended for the below-average; it's a disaster,” says Professor Yaira Amit, a Bible instruction expert. “This is a colossal failure of our education system that defies description,” says Professor Amit. “How come children used to be able to read the Bible? How come they used to be able to learn sections by heart? It was hard for them then too, but they dealt with it because they were told it was important." “We give precedence to shallowness and shortcuts in many areas of modern life. It’s OK in e-mails in which the message is the main thing. But where is the boundary? You cannot do away with cultural values.”

"Teaching experts lambast the booklets, warning that children will skip reading the Bible and opt for the simplified version. This will not only deteriorate Bible studies but also impact the Hebrew language, which is based on the Bible, they say". “The Bible is the Hebrew language’s dictionary. It's the foundation of everything, says linguist Zvia Valdan. “If you read it without the original expressions and rhythms, it will lose its impact and power.”

"Booklet publishers Rafi Moses and Reches Publications say the Bible is a foreign language to Israeli children, who need to read it in simple language to understand it. Halevy and other Bible and Hebrew language experts fear that children will simply not bother to read the Bible, but use the simple language version instead".

In the Bible Lite version everything is paraphrased. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is rendered “in the beginning God created the world.”

The man behind the Bible Lite version is a former Bible teacher and headmaster, and he indicates that he perceives it as a rewriting of Scripture. “When they first suggested [making the booklets] I was astonished. Why should we rewrite the Bible in a simple tongue?’ says Avraham Ahuvia, 87, of kibbutz Netzer Sereni.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A commendation of Presbyterian Church Government

"The Presbyterial Government; wherein is to be found such ample provision, and that according to the Word of God, for comely order against confusion; for peace and unity of the Church against schism and division; for truth of the faith against all error and heresy; for piety and unblameableness against all impiety and scandal of conversation [conduct]; for equity and right gainst all maladminitrations, whether ignorant, arbitrary or tyrannical; for the honour and purity of all Christ's ordinances against all contempt, pollution and profanation; for comfort, quickening and encouragement of the saints in all the ways of Christ; and consequently for the honour of God and our Lord Jesus Christ in all the mysterious services of his spiritual sanctuary".

From Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, or The Divine Right of Church Government, by sundry Ministers of London (c. 1646). James Bannerman in The Church of Christ says this “work contains an extremely able, thorough, and satisfactory discussion of most of the points relating to the nature of Church government as a Divine institution, and to the power or authority of the Church, its seat and exercise.”
It can be purchased here. It is a book that seeks to address the issues in a careful and positive way. It opens by statings this "Things are handled rather by way of Positive Assertion than Polemical Differentiation (which too commonly degenerates into verbal strifes, 1 Tim. 6:3-4, 2 Tim. 2:23, and vain-jangling, 1 Tim. 1:6); and where any dissenting opinions or Objections are repelled, we hope it is with that sobriety, meekness and moderation of spirit that any unprejudiced judgement may perceive we had rather gain than grieve those that dissent from us. We endeavor rather to heal up than to tear open the rent, and we contend more for Truth than for victory."