Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why December 25?

You won't find 25 December in the Bible. So where did it come from? Find out here. The article referred to is here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Saving Knowledge - part two

Following on from a previous post on The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

Dickson's Friendship with Durham

Robert Wodrow records that David Dickson 'had a wonderful opinion of great and worthy Mr Durham … He said somewhat to this purpose of Mr Durham, that ‘He was like a great bottle full of excellent good wine that when it did go to come out it could not well come out… ‘ so Mr Durham had little expression [in preaching or writing] but much good and great matter. (Analecta, 3:10)

Defining the Gospel Offer

Thomas Boston refers to the teaching of the Sum of Saving Knowledge in relation to the universal offer of the gospel, specifically to the following section, 'Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16.'

The Sum of Saving Knowledge also helpfully teaches that it is a hearty and free offer on God's part, speaking of offers of grace, sweet invitations, loving requests etc. This use of offer serves to interpret what the Westminster Standards mean when they speak of Christ and life being freely offered in the gospel. It does not merely mean to "present" or "exhibit":
'The Lord…Maketh open offer of Christ and his grace, by proclamation of a free and gracious market of righteousness and salvation…He inviteth all sinners, that for any reason stand at a distance from God, to come and take from him riches of grace, running in Christ like a river, to wash away sin, and to slocken wrath: ‘Come ye to the waters,’ saith he,'. 'But I (may the weak believer say) upon the loving request of God and Christ, made to me by the mouth of his ministers, have embraced the offer of perpetual reconciliation through Christ, and do purpose, by God’s grace, as a reconciled person, to strive against sin….' 'That is any man shall not be taken with the sweet invitation of God nor with the humble and loving request of God, made to him to be reconciled…'

The Gospel is presented in a covenant framework in the Sum of Saving Knowledge. C.G. M’Crie showed an animosity to this covenant language of market and bargain and a complete misunderstanding of its import:

…Federalism, as developed in the Sum, is objectionable in form and application. Detailed descriptions of redemption as a bargain entered into between the First and Second persons of the Trinity, in which conditions were laid down, promises held out, and pledges given; the reducing of salvation to a mercantile arrangement between God and the sinner, in which the latter signifies contentment to enter into covenant and the former intimates agreement to entertain a relation of grace, so that ever after the contented, contracting party can say, ‘Lord, let it be a bargain,’--such presentation have obviously a tendency to reduce the gospel of the grace of God to the level of a legal compact entered into between two independent and, so far as right or status is concerned, two equal parties. This blessedness of the mercy seat is in danger of being lost sight of in the bargaining of the market-place; the simple story of salvation is thrown into the crucible of the logic of schools and it emerges in the form of a syllogism. (Confessions, p. 72, quoted by Bell, 106)

As Durham clarifies it in one of his sermons: 'The gospel doth not, as it were, so much offer to make with you a bargain, as it offers you the benefit of a bargain already made, viz. with Christ.' Samuel Rutherford in the Covenant of Life Opened writes 'Gods bargaining with us depends not upon the equality between thing and thing, the work and the wage; But upon his own free pleasure of disposing of his own: And it is the froathinesse of our nature to judge the penny of Glory, that we get by labouring to be our own, whereas after the promise, and after we have fulfilled the condition, it is not ours, but Gods, and he calls it his own, and it is to be disposed on by the Lords free-grace. Friend, may not I do with mine own, what I please? Mat. 20.15.' 'The whole Gospel is the word of Grace, Acts. 20.32. Col. 1.6. the Bargaine a paction of Grace'. Rutherford consistently speaks of the Eternal Covenant between the Father and the Son as a bargain. It is made clear in the Sum that we buy 'without money'. '"Come, buy without money," (saith he,) "come, eat:" that is, consent to have, and take unto you all saving graces; make the wares your own, possess them, and make use of all blessings in Christ; whatsoever maketh for your spiritual life and comfort, use and enjoy it freely, without paying any thing for it: "Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price," saith he'.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Perilous Times

An extremely topical article on the moral state of the nation is to be found here under the above title. Here is an excerpt: 'John Owen affirms that one of the dangers of such times is that we are apt to have light thoughts of great sins and to countenance ourselves in lesser evils, seeing the greater abominations of other men. The spirit of the age can almost imperceptibly affect the Church of God and result in increasing conformity to the world, which in turn helps confirm the world in its ungodliness.'

These sentiments are found with other puritans. The New England Puritan Samuel Willard gives as a mark of perilous times, the appearance of sin in those with a profession of religion which goes without rebuke, but such men are in credit with the best. What sort of sins is Willard thinking of? He gives a few.
Sabbath breaking - 'where the strict observation of the Sabbath is lost, there the power of godliness is gone'. Contention and slander among the people of God. Frequenting public houses and the company of lewd and loose people. In brief not living soberly, righteously and godly in this present evil world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Making Shipwreck of the Faith

We are not as familiar with the Early Fathers as the Reformers and Puritans were. This is to our disadvantage. The following description by Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379), one of the great Cappadocian Early Fathers, is tremendously powerful and entirely appropriate as a description of the state of the Church in our own day.

To what then shall I liken our present condition? It may be compared, I think, to some naval battle which has arisen out of time old quarrels, and is fought by men who cherish a
deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight.

Look, I beg you, at the picture thus raised before your eyes. See the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack. With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out. Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost. To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.

From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are
dashed one against the other. Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are
deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on
their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants. Jealousy of
authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another. Think, besides all this, of the confused and unmeaning roar sounding over all the sea, from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from admiral or pilot can be heard. The disorder and confusion is tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness. Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into the deep.
Turn now I beg you from this figurative description to the unhappy reality. Did it not at
one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches?

In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of
opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken
down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the
first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and
falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies
in one another. And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to
the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their
allies, some from the blundering of their own officers. We see, as it were, whole churches,
crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while
others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of
the faith. And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of the world have caused the
downfall of the people with a violence unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind. The
luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been
driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the
Churches. The terror of universal ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger. Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind. So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of murder against one another. Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect. On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration. Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel. No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error.

Every one is a theologue though he have his soul branded with more spots than can be
counted. The result is that innovators find a plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while self-appointed scions of the house of place-hunters reject the government of the Holy Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches. The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office.

The result of this lust for ordering is that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else.So, since no human voice is strong enough to be heard in such a disturbance, I reckon silence more profitable than speech, for if there is any truth in the words of the Preacher, "The words of wise men are heard in quiet,” in the present condition of things any discussion of them must be anything but becoming. I am moreover restrained by the Prophet’s saying, “Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it is an evil time,” a time when some trip up their neighbour’s heels, some stamp on a man when he is down, and others clap their hands with joy, but there is not one to feel for the fallen and hold out a helping hand, although according to the ancient law he is not uncondemned, who passes by even his enemy’s beast of burden fallen under his load. This is not the state of things now. Why not? The love of many has waxed cold; brotherly concord is destroyed, the very name of unity is ignored, brotherly admonitions are heard no more, nowhere is there Christian pity, nowhere falls the tear of sympathy. Now there is no one to receive “the weak in faith,” but mutual hatred has blazed so high among fellow clansmen that they are more delighted at a neighbour’s fall than at their own success. Just as in a plague, men of the most regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others. Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage warfare is with our own people.

For all these reasons I ought to have kept silence, but I was drawn in the other direction
by love, which “seeketh not her own,” and desires to overcome every difficulty put in her
way by time and circumstance. I was taught too by the children at Babylon, that, when there
is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our
duty. They from out of the midst of the flame lifted up their voices in hymns and praise to
God, reeking not of the host that set the truth at naught, but sufficient, three only that they were, with one another. Wherefore we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth. Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day. A further powerful incentive to my undertaking was the warm fervour of your “love unfeigned,” and the seriousness and taciturnity of your disposition; a guarantee that you would not publish what I was about to say to all the world,—not because it would not be worth making known, but to avoid casting pearls before swine. My task is now done. If you find what I have said satisfactory, let this make an end to our discussion of these matters. If you think any point requires further elucidation, pray do not hesitate to pursue the investigation with all diligence, and to add to your information by putting any uncontroversial question. Either through me or through others the Lord will grant full explanation on matters which have yet to be made clear, according to the knowledge supplied to the worthy by the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Communion as Mutual Communication

John Owen in Volume 2 of his Works enlarges upon the subject'Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost'. He defines 'communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them.'

'Our communion, then, with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that unions which in Jesus Christ we have with him. And it is twofold: - 1. Perfect and complete, in the full fruition of his glory and total giving up of ourselves to him, resting in him as our utmost end; which we shall enjoy when we see him as he is; - and, 2. Initial and incomplete, in the first fruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace; which only I shall handle.'

While Owen stresses communion with each member of the Godhead, he also emphasises the role of Christ the Mediator in access to God and these communications.'In every thing wherein we are made partakers of the divine nature, there is a communication and receiving between God and us; so near are we unto him in Christ.'

'The Father will have him to have "in all things the pre- eminence," Col. 1: 18; "it pleased him that in him all fulness should dwell," verse 19; that "of his fulness we might receive, and grace for grace," John 1: 16. Though the love of the Father's purpose and good pleasure have its rise and foundation in his mere grace and will, yet the design of its accomplishment is only in Christ. All the fruits of it are first given to him; and it is in him only that they are dispensed to us. So that though the saints may, nay, do, see an infinite ocean of love unto them in the bosom of the Father, yet they are not to look for one drop from him but what comes through Christ. He is the only means of communications. Love in the Father is like honey in the flower; - it must be in the comb before it be for our use. Christ must extract and prepare this honey for us. He draws this water from the fountain through union and dispensation of fulness; - we by faith, from the wells of salvation that are
in him.'

'That which lies hid in Christ, and is revealed from him is full of love, sweetness, tenderness, kindness, grace. It is the Lord waiting to be gracious to sinners; waiting for an advantage to show love and kindness, for the most eminent endearing of a soul unto himself, Isa. xxx. 18...'

How do we cultivate this mutual communication? 'The way and means, then, on the part of the saints, whereby in Christ they enjoy communion with God, are all the spiritual and holy actings and outgoings of their souls in those graces, and by those ways, wherein, both the moral and instituted worship of God doth consist.'

Yet these return communications are all through Christ. 'Our returns are all in him, and by him also. And well is it with us that it is so. What lame and blind sacrifices should we otherwise present unto God! He bears the iniquity of our offerings, and he adds incense unto our prayers. Our love is fixed on the Father; but it is conveyed to him through the Son of his love. He is the only way for our
graces as well as our persons to go unto God; through him passeth all our desire, our delight, our complacency, our obedience'.

There are a few marks of this communion and mutual communication drawn from Song of Solomon chapter 2.

(1.) Sweetness."He brought me to the banqueting-house," 'The grace exhibited by Christ in his ordinances is refreshing, strengthening, comforting, and full of sweetness to the souls of the saints.'
(2.) Delight. "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love." 'Upon the discovery of the excellency and sweetness of Christ in the banqueting-house, the soul is instantly overpowered, and cries out to be made partaker of the fulness of it.'
(3.) Safety. "His banner over me was love," 'The banner is an emblem of safety and protection, - a sign of the presence of an host...[there follows a phrase well worth committing to memory] All their protection is from his love; and they shall have all
the protection his love can give them.'
(4.) Comfort. Supportment and consolation, verse 6, "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand does embrace me." 'Now, "the hand under the head," is supportment, sustaining grace, in pressures and difficulties; and "the hand that does embrace," the hand upon the heart, is joy and consolation; - in both, Christ rejoicing, as the "bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride," Isa. 62: 5. Now, thus to lie in the arms of Christ's love, under a perpetual influence of supportment and
refreshment, is certainly to hold communion with him.'