Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'behind the age'?

"These are held up as superstitious who claim a hearing for God when, on other days than Sabbath, He calls men away from the vanities of the world to consider things unseen and eternal. Those who attempt to fence the table of the Lord are represented as mystical and straight-laced and, because conservative of what is scriptural, they are said to be 'behind the age'. . . . To be behind an age that is drifting away from truth and ungodliness is the only safe, the only dutiful, position." (John Kennedy, The Present Cast and Tendency of Religious Thought and Feeling in Scotland,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the most beautiful thing under heaven

The true visible church, where God's ordinances are set up as he hath appointed, where his word is purely preached, is the most beautiful thing under heaven, and there is God's glory set forth and manifested more clearly than in all the Lord's handiwork beside in heaven or earth.
David Dickson

Saturday, June 19, 2010

a prisoner of God's kind providence

The online publication of old copies of the Free Presbyterian Magazine (beginning 1906) is a great provision. The following comes from a letter written by a Colin Mackenzie 4 South Erradale, Gairloch, who died in 1905. It is said of him that "It was apparent to those who knew him intimately that his trouble proved a spiritual blessing to him. He once mentioned with much solemnity and pathos that he had often, day and night, suffered from such excruciating pains that he was afraid he would be deprived of his reason, yet that that was but a trifle compared to the smallest part of a grain of the wrath of God on the conscience for a single moment. His very countenance bespoke the reality of what he said".

Though I am a prisoner of God's kind providence, yet I praise His thrice holy name that my bitter cup is mixed with His loving kindness; and He not only bestows upon me of His liberal
bounty, but in a wonderful way permits me to enjoy a fair share of the good things of this life.
A few weeks ago I was very much depressed and low in spirit, but now my hope seems to have revived a bit, and my confidence in God renewed. Yet I must confess I make little, if any,
progress on the way to Zion. I find my old enemy - the carnal mind - is still alive, and at times makes me cry out in despair of ever reaching that city of refuge. Oh, that my Redeemer would suffer me to crawl at His feet, and eat of the crumbs that fall off His table; and as a poor worm would find refuge under a stone, so would my:soul find a place of refuge under His wings. Then I would have confidence that He would not crush me, because He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Pardon me for talking, in my own illiterate way, of things too wonderful for me, of which I know so little. It would become me best to repent not only of my old sins, but of every-day thought, word, and deed, and come again and again to be washed in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Clothing ourselves and sanctifying the Lord's Day

John Willison - A Treatise Concerning the Sanctification of, and Meditations on, the Lord's Day

When you are up, hasten to put on your clothes, and spend as little time this day in dressing yourself as possible, that you may have time for secret duties, and retired converse with God. But, since the body must be clothed this day, let your thoughts be well employed in the time you are doing it: Think on sin, that was the cause of your soul's nakedness, and of your body's need of apparel. Remember from whom you have your clothes, to cover, keep warm, and adorn your bodies: even from God, it is his wool and his flax; therefore give thanks to him for your raiment, as well as your food. And though your clothes be not so fine as you would wish, yet mind, "that these of whom the world was not worthy, wandered about in sheeps skins and goats skins." And, if you be not so outwardly splendid as others, seek that decking which will "make you all glorious within." When others are following vain fashions seek ye to be "covered with the robes of Christ s righteousness." And, since you are this day to make a solemn appearance before God your heavenly Father, you must be sure, like Jacob, to come in the garments of your elder Brother, otherwise you cannot expect your Father's blessing. Put no confidence in your own righteousness; for it is no better than rags, or a garment full of holes, the least whereof is sufficient to let in the curse of God upon you. Therefore "put on the Lord Jesus," if you would this day appear before God, and be accepted of him. Take care also, that your bodies this day be gravely and decently appareled, and beware of pride and vanity this way, if ye would have God to own you; the adorning which he recommends, is not that "of plaiting the hair, wearing of gold, and putting on of apparel, but the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price," 1 Pet. iii. 3, 4.

Most people on the Sabbath are concerned to adorn their bodies with their best clothes; but, alas ! who among you is careful to attire his soul as he ought on this day, when he is going
to meet the blessed Redeemer of souls, the King of glory?

Vanity and gaudiness of apparel is opposite to the sanctification of the Sabbath. Some dress up themselves this day in such vain attire, and indecent fashions, as tend to draw the eyes of others to gaze upon them, and so their hearts to wander from God and his worship. Think what guilt you hereby draw upon yourselves, of the sins of others as well as your own. The practices of some heathens may put many professed Christians among us to the blush. Valerius Maximus tells of a heathen young man, named Sparina, who was exceeding beautiful ; but observing that many fixed their eyes on him, and fearing the consequences of it, he disfigured his face, lest his beauty should prove a snare to others. May not this heathen condemn such, who are so far from disfiguring themselves lest they should prove a temptation to others, that they disfigure their faces by painting and patching, to seem more beautiful than God has made them, without fearing
whatever the consequences of it may prove. Is not this a shewing a dislike of God s workmanship, and a desire to mend it? Jezebel was infamous for this art, and no sober woman should desire to follow her fashion. A Christian should be so far from being proud or vain of his apparel, that the sight of his garments should humble him, and keep him in mind how he came to need them: Was it not sin that stript man of his glory, covered him with shame, and put him to seek clothes for to hide it ? Would it not be distraction in a malefactor to pride himself in a stigma which he had got for a foul crime? Consider also the garments you are proud of, what they are: The beasts have the same naturally to cover them, and will you be proud of a beast s covering? It was the saying of a heathen to a vain gallant, "Why art thou proud of that which a sheep wore before thee?" Or, what though they be finer than wool? yet their original is no better, but rather worse: What are velvets, silks, and satins, but the excrements of a vile worm? and is that a matter to be vain of? Remember, that ere long God will cause thee to wear another suit thou wilt have small reason to be proud of ; he will even clothe thee with worms and putrefaction. May not the thoughts hereof keep you humble, and teach you to come to the church gravely and decently appareled? especially since you come into the presence of that God who resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why "in so far as" goes too far and not far enough

There are two Latin words that are essential when defining how a confession. The first is "quia" (Latin for "because") the second is "quatenus" (Latin for "insofar as"). Quia subscription (a Confession is adhered to because it fully agrees with Scripture is an entirely accurate summary of the Scriptures) implies that the subscriber believes that there is no contradiction between the Confession and the Scriptures. Quatenus subscription (the Confession is adhered to insofar as it agrees with the Scriptures) implies that the subscriber leaves room for the possibility that there might be a contradiction of the Scriptures in the Confession, implies suspicion that there are areas identified by the subscriber as unfaithful to Scripture and that on these points the subscriber must abandon the Confession and adhere only to the Scriptures. "Quia" subscription does not make the Confession inerrant it simply acknowledges that it is an accurate summary of Scripture. Samuel Rutherford said that a Confession is rather like a translation of the Bible into a language. The content is the same as the original but it does not have the exact verbal inspired, infallible authority of the original. The precise wording of a Confession is not infallible but the truth it contains is.

The historic view of the Reformed (and Lutheran) Churches has been "quia" subscription. This has, however, been consistently attacked by those who oppose the truth. The orthodox at the Synod of Dort maintained quia subscription while the Remonstrants (Arminians) supported "in so far as" (quatenus). Rather than plead for an overthrow of the Confessional standard and a new standard to be prepared from scratch, they plead for a loose subscription to the Confession that will allow them room to deny whatever they wish both now and in the future. If, after subscription, someone comes to the view that there is something in the Confession that they cannot agree to as biblical then they must resign their office. "In so far as" subscription subverts the very purpose of subscription because subscription is meant to make it absolutely clear what a Church and its office-bearers confess and believe. To say that one subscribes 'quatenus' (in so far as) is to say that one does not really subscribe to anything at all. It could mean that nothing is seen as scriptural in the document and therfore nothing subscribed and confessed. We must agree with the Lutheran C.F.W. Walther who said that Christians could subscribe even the Mohammedans’ Koran “insofar as” it agrees with the Word of God. A quatenus subscription allows the individual to maintain the appearance of agreement in doctrine while also reserving the right to disagree wherever it may suit him. A Confession should be made not in so far as (quatenus) it agrees with the Word of God, but because (quia) it agrees fully with the word of God, the unchanging standard.

Those who defend "in so far as" subscription try to argue that the danger of quia subscription is that it seems to place the Confession above Scripture. It is evident from quia subscription itself that Scripture is the norm and the sole authority, the Confession only derives its authority "because" it adheres to Scripture. Scripture itself demands confession of its truth, the deposit entrusted to the Church which is "the pillar and ground of truth" “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”. Acts 20:27 “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” 1 Tim 1:13 "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." 2 Tim 2:2 "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also".

Others try to say that "in so far as" really means the same as "according to the Scriptures" and it really has an orthodox sense. There is an obvious difference between “according to the Word of God” and “in so far as…consistent with the Holy Scriptures”. “According” means 'in full harmony, agreement, conformity and accord with' while “in so far as” bears the sense of ‘to the extent that’ and that what is referred to is not always the case or always possible. A mathematical way of expressing this difference would be that according is like = (equals/direct equivalent whereas in so far as is like >= (less than or equal to). We can use phrases such as "agreeable to the Word of God" "founded on God's Word" etc. but these never have the same in meaning as "in so far as". They are entirely different semantically. One expressing full harmony, agreement and accordance and the other expressing the conviction or at least possibility that the documents fall short of full consistency with Scripture.

Dutch example

The danger of the "in so far as" wording is best illustrated by the Dutch alteration of 1816. Until this point subscription was total but then there was a change to "we accept in good faith and heartily believe the doctrine, which according to God's holy word, is contained in the accepted forms of unity of the Netherlands reformed church". The difficulty with this change is that while it is basically orthodox and it was received by the orthodox in good faith that it was so- some were apt to take the phrase "which according to God's holy word" to mean that the doctrine was qualified and modified by their personal interpretation of the Scriptures. Rev. Molenaar, a contemporary wrote "Everyone who carefully considers this declaration, will see clearly that it does not say, that the Articles of our Church are according to God's Word, but with reservation, that one believes that doctrine which according to God's Word, is contained in the Articles of our Church. The subscription is therefore not made, because the articles are recognised as agreeable with God's word, but in so far as they are agreeable with God's word. Such a subscription can be made by every Christian faction, the papists can subscribe it, yes even the Jews can do it. If they had used the words in so far as, then every person would have noticed it and every one would have been on their guard" (Documenta Reformatoria Vol 2 p.114 letter of Rev. Molenaar in 1827).

'This, as well as others of the Protestant Churches on the Continent, once sound in the faith, may be reckoned on the side of Rationalism and Socinianism. This was effected not by any change in the standards, but by an alteration in the formula. The Dutch Reformed Church, by the alteration of a single word in the formula, completely altered the standard. The office bearers formerly adhered to the Confession because (quia) it was in accordance with the Word of God; now the formula runs, in so far as (quatenus) it is in accordance with the Word of God. By such a change their Confession became a totally different standard to them. 'The Government of the Kingdom of Christ, Part III. by James Moir Porteous chap VII.

Scottish Examples
Scottish Presbyterian history affords similar examples of the dangerous intrusion of quatenus subscription. In 1789 the Relief Church of Scotland Synod objected to the views of Rev. James Smith, Dunfermline. He had an erroneous view of the atonement but also belived that "systems of theology and creeds were too highly revered". Smith further declared that he was willing to subscribe the WCF only "in so far as it agreed with Scripture". The Synod opposed this as an obvious loophole for heretics to find refuge. They proceeded to pass the following resolution:
"That the minister who presides over the work of ordination or admission of any minister (not formerly ordained by any of the Presbyteries subject to the Synod) shall, in the Questions to be put to the person to be ordained or thus admitted, keep precisely to the Act of Assembly relative to that affair, and in particular shall not ask "Do you agree to the Confession of Faith in so far as it is agreeable to the Word of God", but put the Question in the identical words enjoined by the Assembly"

Similar examples can be found in the Victorian apostasising Free Church of Scotland. Take an instance at a service of ordination at Newton-on-Ayr in 1885. Some of the elders ‘although accepting the Confession of Faith substantially, stated privately that they accepted it (as it was accepted in the U.P. Church) only in so far as it agreed with the Word of God’ (Signal, May 1885, pp.129-32). The United Presbyterian questions at ordination of course required an acknowledgement of the WCF as "an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scripture".

In the Established Church of Scotland James Stuart, author of "The Principles of Christianity", when brought before the Presbytery of Edinburgh in January 1889 is reported as saying: “He could not see how the subordinate standard and the ultimate standard were on an equality. He regarded the sub-ordinate one as valid only in so far as it was based on the ultimate one.”

Moving on a century from Stuart we come to the Deed of Separation for the Associated Presbyterian Churches. This Deed states that the documents said to form their constitution, including the WCF are accepted only "insofar as each and every one of the documents is consistent with the Holy Scripture". This is a patent qualification and modifying clause pemitting individuals a declaratory Act to decide how far or to what extent each and every one of the documents is consistent with the Holy Scripture. On this basis any minister in the country could subscribe the subordinate standards - it opens things up wider than the Free Church Declaratory Act of 1892. An "in so far as" clause would ratifies any sort of cherrypicking at the Confession that the individual in their subjective judgement prefers. It is not only inconsistent with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland's Resolution on Creed Subscription but also the declaration in the formula to be subscribed by Probationers, Ministers, Elders and Deacons "that I do sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by former General Assemblies of this Church to be the truths of God; and I do own the same as the confession of my faith". Either the whole of the standards are biblical or the Church should determine which parts are not and eliminate them accordingly.

Given the history of the words, the APC "in so far as" clause is in the camp of the loosest confessional subscription and not total subscription. Any 21st century equivalent of Rev. James Smith, Dunfermline in the APC can say to himself, ”I want to subscribe to the Confession only in so far as it is consistent with Scripture. I look at the vows and they don't seem to allow for this but when I look at the Church's constitution I see that it explicitly receives the WCF only in so far as it is consistent with Scripture. I think to myself – the Church is making generous allowance for me and using the words I would use myself”. Thus he proceeds to subscribe in good faith. He does not need to declare it publicly or make any reference to any scruples he has with the Confession.

Note that he does not need to express anything publicly because he has a Declaratory Act in the Constitution of the Church which he may avail of. In the case of the Free Church Declaratory Act, men could appeal to the Act mentally in subscribing the constitution but did not need to make any public declaration of this. Noone was allowed to record the fact that they were not appealing to the Declaratory Act. Any APC ordinand or minister need only to make mental appeal to the “in so far as” clause. This would be dishonesty on the part of the individual but the Church has provided an opportunity that was not there before. The only way to prevent this from happening would be to return to the previous wording of full commitment to the doctrinal constitution as entirely Scriptural.

One tends to act carefully in preparing constitutional documents and select words carefully. For instance, the 1893 Deed of Separation is based upon the 1843 documents. The APC founders have been careful enough in the Deed of Separation of 1989 to specify "each and every one" of the documents. The question is, where was the need to depart from the existing wording of the constitution and adopt the "in so far as" clause? There has been enough controversy over such matters in the presbyterian history of Scotland that anyone with some degree of acquaintance with that would recognise the danger of revision.

When a Church says that it receives the subordinate standards "in so far as each and every one of the documents is consistent with Holy Scripture", it is not just providing a potential refuge for heretics but altering its own relation to its fixed doctrinal constitution. It is not saying what the individual is at liberty to do - it is saying how the Church receives the subordinate standards. It cannot change the Confession as agreed in 1647 but it can alter its relationship to it (as was done by the Free Church in 1892) - but it then becomes a different Church with a different constitution. The APC cannot claim to be constitutionally or morally the true Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

There is all the difference in the world between saying that I "sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith...to be the truths of God; and I do own the same as the confession of my faith" and saying that I agree with them only "in so far as" or to the extent that they are consistent with the Scriptures. In the one I am saying that there is nothing inconsistent with the Scriptures it is simply Scriptural truth gathered together, in the other I would be saying that I agree with them but there may be aspects that I do not consider to be consistent with Scripture or will not in the future consider to be consistent with Scripture and therefore I acknowledge only the parts that I consider to be consistent with Scripture.

But the APC also stands in the position of not making that full subscription itself and therefore backsliding from a full unequivocal profession of that body of truth in the WCF. It is the Church's duty to make its confession boldly and clearly and not to give an uncertain sound. It must be made clear that the Church holds to these documents because they do agree with Scripture entirely. To say that these are received only to the extent that they are consistent with Scripture is to cast a shadow on what is a true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The APC founders in preparing this wording failed to maintain their vows in relation to the Confession which are to "firmly and constantly adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power assert, maintain and defend the same".

When one approaches this issue from an historical perspective it is clear that an “in so far as etc.” clause for a Church's constitution is worse than unwise it is suicidal.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on earth was what was promised to Adam in the beginning but which he forfeited. Often the phrase heaven on earth is associated with establishing a utopian society or discovering a paradise but this is a very debased sense of the words when we consider them spiritually. There are various ways in which the phrase "Heaven on earth" has been used in an orthodox way. We might say that heaven on earth relates to the Christian life in a number of ways but chiefly three; Doctrine, duty and experience.

Martin Luther wrote that "doctrine is heaven". "I often advise, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth...Therefore there is no similarity at
all between doctrine and life. One point of doctrine is worth more than heaven and earth. This is why we cannot bear to have it violated". Doctrine is the mind of God unfolded and the eternal truth of heaven brought down to us. Zacharias Ursinus showed the connection between doctrine and comfort, particularly in the Heidelberg Catechism. Christ is the focus of all doctrine and the focus of heaven. Heaven is doctrine realised.

Many have found heaven on earth in serving God and doing His will and thereby glorifying Him. The Covenanter Donald Cargill believed that he would get a heaven here on earth in glorifying Christ. "God knows," said John Livingstone, "that I would rather serve God on earth, and then endure the torments of the lost, than live a life of sin on earth, and then have for ever the bliss of the ransomed." That is a testimony that it is not easy to attain to. Samuel Rutherford
described his own restoration from exile to service and the deliverance of the Church as "my second created heaven on earth". He "has turned my apprehended fears into joys, and great deliverance to His church, whereof I have my share and part", he said. Some of the puritans found it to be the case even in practical areas of obedience to God's revealed will. Richard Steele wrote that "A godly marriage is a bit of heaven on earth."

A.W. Pink makes Humble Heart to say "I cannot boast of my knowledge of God in Christ, yet by Divine grace this I may say: that I desire no other Heaven on earth than to know and to do God’s will, and be assured that I have His approval."

This brings us to experience, with which perhaps we most associate heaven on earth. The following anecdote perhaps defines much of what we think of as experiencing heaven on earth. "About the year 1785 the people of God had a remarkable blessing at a communion at Kilearnan [Ross-shire] and were filled to overflowing with the presence of God on the Sabbath. When the
congregation was dispersing a godly young man said to an aged woman a mother in Israel:-"Oh, would it not be well if what we now feel were to continue with us till we reached home". "Oh, Donald," she said, "it would be well if what we now feel were continued with us till we reached
the opposite bank of yonder stream, this is heaven on earth."

Thomas Brooks wrote of assurance as Heaven on Earth. Richard Sibbes writes helpfully on this: "Therefore let us labour first for interest in Christ's righteousness, and then for the righteousness of an holy life; for a conscience to justify us, that we have no purpose to live in any sin ; and a not accusing conscience will be a justifying conscience. What a blessed condition shall we be in, to be in Christ, and to know that we are so! the heaven on earth of
such a man as is in that condition! For which way soever he looks, he finds matter of comfort". Whether backwards into his own life of obedience or forward to heaven.

Christopher Love's wife wrote of him "He lived too much in heaven to live too long out of heaven; and sure I am that he lived a life of heaven on earth. His fellowship was with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." This is similar to what was said of Richard Sibbes; that heaven was in him before he was in heaven.

Richard Sibbes is perhaps the best writer on this subject, not surprisingly. He believes that heaven is an enlarging of our best experience here and an enlarging of our best parts to experience more of Christ. "Oh! beloved, what a blessed time will that be when this large heart of ours shall have that that will fill it; when the best parts of us, our understanding, will, and affections, shall be carried to that which is better and larger than itself, and shall be, as it were, swallowed up in the fulness of God...when a gracious heart expresseth itself, being full of joy, it expresscth itself in thanks and praises, in stirring up of others...Doth God
perform any promise, and so give cause of joy? let him sing. There is action for every affection, affection for every condition. And this may stir us up to begin the employment in heaven on earth here".

The employment of heaven is joy and praise. "Let us begin the employment of heaven beforehand.
For why doth God discover to us that he will bring us to glory? why doth he discover it to our faith, that excellent state? That we might begin heaven on earth, as much as might be. And how shall we do that? By the emploj'ment of heaven. What is that? ' Holy, holy, holy, Lord God
of hosts,' Rev. 4:8. There is nothing but magnifying and glorifying of God. There shall be no need of prayer. There are praises alway; and so much as we are in the praises of God, and glorifying of God for his mercy and love in Christ, so much we are in heaven before our time.
They that be in heaven are praising God, and so be they much in praising of God here. They that
be in heaven love to see the face of God, they joy in it. And they that be heavenly-minded here joy in the presence of God, in the word, the sacraments, and his children. If they be ascended in any degree and measure, this they will do. And then they will joy in communion with God all they can, as they do in heaven. You have some carnal dispositions that are never themselves but in carnal company like themselves. If ever we mean to be in heaven, we must joy in heaven on earth; that is, in them that be heavenly in their dispositions. If we cannot endure them here, how shall we ever live with them in heaven?"

We must be endeavouring after holiness without which no man shall see the Lord and seeking to have our affections set upon things above. Heaven on Earth is communion with Christ and the experience of His love. John Kennedy of Dingwall believed that "those who are heirs of heaven seek communion with Christ. They seek this now. This is their foretaste of heaven on earth, and this [they will have] in perfection in heaven at last.”

We ought to be encouraged that if we have any of this in any measure, there is heaven on earth in our experience, however, weakly we may perceive and recognise it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Richard Capel and the Special Providential Preservation of Scripture

Richard Capel (1586-1656) was a significant and very learned writer who has been called a "living library." This was first said of him in the memoir written by his friend Valentine Marshall. Marshall wrote that Capel ‘was a very living Library, a full store-house of all kinde of good Literature no lesse than a little University’ (Marshall, ‘To the reader’). Samuel Clarke in Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines, p. 311 also wrote:

He [Richard Capel] was a living library, a full storehouse of all good literature, a judicious preacher, and a sound orthodox divine.

Capel was also a Fellow of Magdalen College, where he tutored the poet George Herbert and William Pemble (whose works Capel later edited) amongst others. Richard Sibbes commended him in a preface to the book of as 'this godly Minister (my Christian friend) … [who] besides faithfulnesse, and fruitfulnesse in his ministry, hath beene a good proficient in the schoole of temptation himself’. When the sabbath-breaking Book of Sports was reissued in 1633 by Charles I, Capel declined to read it in his church and, voluntarily resigning his rectory, obtained from the bishop of Gloucester a licence to practise medicine. He settled at Pitchcombe, near Stroud. He is frequently mentioned as a Westminster Divine which is certainly true in the sense that he was nominated to the Westminster Assembly although there has been debate as to whether he ever took up his seat.

Richard Capel has some notable writings in relation to Scripture and its translation and special providential preservation. Capel's views point to the puritan consensus which produced with complete unanimity the chapter on the Holy Scriptures in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Capel's attitude to Scripture is best illustrated by the following quotation. "As faith worketh by love unto God, so it worketh by love unto his word. Love me, love my word: love a king, love his laws. So it did on David; so it should do on us: "O how love I thy law!" saith David. "O how love I thy law!" should every one of us say; not only because it is a good law, but chiefly because it is God's law".

Capel provides an important defence of the translation of Scripture into the languages of the world and states: “Translations are commanded by God, as Ordinance and constitution of Heaven itself”. Capel agrees with the Westminster Confession's ultimate appeal to the original languages of Scripture, the Confession states that "the Church is finally to appeal unto them" the original language texts preserved by Special providence. Capel points out that we do not believe that translations themselves are incapable of error so as to be our final appeal. "The translators and transcribers might err, being not...indued with that infallible spirit in translating, or transcribing. The Scriptures in their translated copies are not free from all possible corruptions."

Capel also points out that while we do not have the original autographs of the pen-men of Scripture and cannot we assert that every copyist was miraculously preserved from error, we should not therefore conclude that we cannot be certain of the true text. He alludes to a consensus then current, expressed in the Westminster Confession, that "The Old Testament in Hebrew...and the New Testament in Greek...being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical". Capel writes:

[W]e have the Copies in both languages [Hebrew and Greek], which Copies vary not from Primitive writings in any matter which may stumble any. This concernes onely the learned, and they know that by consent of all parties, the most learned on all sides among Christians do shake hands in this, that God by his providence hath preserved them uncorrupt. . . . As God committed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament to the Jewes, and did and doth move their hearts to keep it untainted to this day: So I dare lay it on the same God, that he in his providence is so with the Church of the Gentiles, that they have and do preserve the Greek Text uncorrupt, and clear: As for some scrapes by Transcribers, that comes to no more, than to censure a book to be corrupt, because of some scrapes in the printing, and ‘tis certain, that what mistake is in one print, is corrected in another.

It is not about holding up one particular manuscript as uncorrupt but rather the text as witnessed to by the majority of manuscripts. "To make one Copy a standard for all others, in which no mistake in the least can be found, he cannot, no Copy can plead this privilege since the first autographs were in being.” He asserts that we it is not just a matter of being able to say that "all saving fundamental truth is contained in the Original Copies, but that all revealed truth is still remaining entire".

There is a danger in using the fact of some errors in manuscripts and the loss of the original manuscripts to seek to deny special providential preservation. Capel rejects such claims as "terrible blasts, and do little else when they meet with a weak head and heart, but open the doore to Atheisme and quite to fling off the bridle, which onely can hold them and us in the wayes of truth and piety: this is to fill the conceits of men with evil thoughts against the Purity of the Originals: And if the Fountains run not clear, the Translation cannot be clean.” This is why this is such an important doctrine because the effects of not believing it

The publication of Capel's writing on this subject coincides with the year of publication for John Owen's work on providential preservation also. It is difficult to know whether Owen benefited from Capel's work but they certainly concurred. Owen writes in "Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures; With an answer to that inquiry How we know the Scriptures to be the Word of God": "The sum of what I am pleading for, as to the particular head to be vindicated, is, That as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were immediately and entirely given out by God himself, his mind being in them represented unto us without the least interveniency of such mediums and ways as were capable of giving change or alteration to the least iota or syllable; so, by his good and merciful providential dispensation, in his love to his word and church, his whole word, as first given out by him, is preserved unto us entire in the original languages; where, shining in its own beauty and lustre (as also in all translations, so far as they faithfully represent the originals), it manifests and evidences unto the consciences of men, without other foreign help or assistance, its divine original and authority".

Owen agrees with Capel that the idea that Scripture is no more preserved by special providence than any other book leads to atheism, because it overthrows the supernatural character of the Scriptures. "It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted … that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands". On the critical view: "There is nothing left unto men but to choose whether they will be Papists or Atheists". When supernatural revelation is undermined in these ways "we shall quickly see what banks are cut, to let in a flood of atheism upon the face of the earth". This has been proved not only in the experience of critics who have become atheists, but in history. Owen was right to view the emergence of biblical criticism with the greatest alarm because it has led to the Englightenment rejection of the supernatural character of the Scriptures with historical criticism, liberal theology and atheism in various forms.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

1611 and 2011

Has any other Bible version been the subject of an early day motion in the House of Commons? And a debate(9 Dec 2009 : Column 97WH)? Or the subject of a BBC documentary?

See here for a secular national initiative to mark the anniversary of the AV but here for a more appropriate series of events.