Sunday, 23 November 2008

Challenge to Paedo-baptists

The re-baptism of young believers who have already been baptised as covenant children is something that is becoming increasingly important for those of us who believe in and practice paedo-baptism.

A young member of ours in one of my former congregations, and whom I led to Christ in our home after I was sacked, was 'baptised' very recently in the Vineyard church at UUC.

Whilst we do not want to be sacramentalists, we have neglected the instruction of our people in this precious doctrine, and left them to the mercy of the Baptists whose simplistic doctrine and practice is all too appealing to the young Christian who wants to be obedient to Christ in all things.

In the presence of awesome majesty

Following is a paragraph from this initial draft of my Abbadie paper, which I hope you will find stimulating and refreshing. Hope you know God's blessing as you preach tomorrow, and that your time together is really blessed with God's special presence.

Here it is:

I must ask you, and myself, “When did I last truly acknowledge God and His wisdom when I reflected upon what I know about Him? When was my heart last moved to worship and praise when I thought about the little I already know about Him? When was my proud heart last slain by my tiny knowledge of God?"

I’m not going to answer these questions audibly, and neither are you; but what I am doing, and I hope you are going to do, is answering them silently as we stand before this awesome God. But answer them we must if ever God’s church is to re-discover that relationship with God, which is, ironically, proof that we believe that He exists. He’s there, but we know that if we come too close to Him, He will mess with our lives! He will search us, and show us what we really are like – and we couldn’t stand that! We have never really been intimate with God, and so used are we to this lukewarm relationship with Him that we imagine this is normal! And if this is normal, then there is no need to get closer to Him – that’s to be too extreme. So we all walk at a safe distance away from this “consuming fire,” and fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing pretty well.

Morbid introspection is self-destructive

I have been thinking about things and I think that to concentrate too much on our sinfulness will result in our feeling guilty and bad about ourselves, but will not bring us closer to God.

However, if we focus on getting intimate with God, and see ourselves as He sees us, then we will be drawn closer to the Lord, and in His light, will know how abhorrent we are by nature. But we also need to see how acceptable we are by grace.

I think the 'secret' - if there is one - is to get close to God. Now this is scary, for by nature none of us wants to get that close to His holiness. We must progress steadily in this direction, because "no man can see God and live."

I was working for about two hours on James Abbadie last night, and what a profound spiritual experience this was for me. So impressed was I with what this Huguenot saint of God was saying that I just had to stop and worship Him. His work on apologetics evoked praise from my heart, something that I ought to have expected to happen, but never thought would - not with a work on apologetics. I have not read Van Til's work on apologetics, but I wonder if he could have evoked worship from my heart as Abbadie did.

This is a superb work, and one that deserves to be much better known than it is in reformed circles.

Just a few more thoughts.

Onward and upward? No way!

The news you broke to me last night was most distressing and disappointing. I feel sick even as I write this. It is so difficult to believe that reformed Christian ministers could be so tunnel-visioned when the church at large is dying. I recall how Nero mused while Rome burnt!

What is happening within our reformed constituency? I am tempted to see traces of Romanism emerging where it was effectively thrown down. Is this the old Phoenix of Rome rising from the ashes of your church?

It seems that if you had done something very wrong, you would not have been treated in a more unchristian manner. Why do Christian ministers not want to move on spiritually? Why is it assumed that so long as we are theologically correct, that is all there is? Men who assume this position are also those who do not see that anything is missing from church life today. They are like those self-righteous men who need no repentance. How sad!

Why is it that those who oppose spiritual advance are not the liberals and ecumenicals, but the men of our own ilk? I suppose Christ was wounded in the house of His friends. How much more will we find it so.

What a commentary! What a judgement! I am tempted to ask how God can bless and use such a church, but then again I think that it is churches like this that need His blessing most. Then I wonder how they would react if God were to visit them as they worship Him so correctly. These are my reflections on the situation.

Whatever you do, do not give up. Like you, I too am convinced that you are on the right track. You will find this a very lonely pathway - indeed anyone who goes ahead of the crowd will leave themselves vulnerable to attack from every quarter. Tozer: "It is hard to draw a crowd where the only attraction is God." The crowd, spiritual and otherwise, will stay far away when God starts to work. They do not want to get too close to Him, for He has the habit of messing things up, just when we thought we had got it all sorted out. He is an uncontrollable God - sovereign, almighty, surprisingly gracious, the God who does those who-would-have-thought things amongst His people.

You have put your hand to the plough - you cannot turn or look back. Keep going forward - onward and upward. It is through much tribulation that we will enter the Kingdom of God. 'Going through with God' as the old preachers talked about is uncommon in much of today's preaching. We tend to shy away from the cross, because it is too painful - in fact, rather than being something that evangelicals admire and wear as a badge, it is in reality an instrument of death.

Do you feel yourself to be on it, my dear brother? Do you feel as if you are being crucified? The way of the cross leads home; it is the way to glory. It is even a prerequisite of blessing, for after the cross comes resurrection life and power.

State of land reflects state of church

I was thinking that perhaps the state of our land is an accurate reflection of the state of the church at present, and for decades. When the real spiritual life of the church 'waxes and wanes,' it is only to be expected that that of the state will follow. If this is a true observation, then God's people have much for which they will have to give answer; and on top of this, those church leaders who see no problems within their churches will have significantly more for which to give an account, because they are best placed and responsible to give the lead that is required to bring the church back to her roots, indeed to her raison d'etre.

It is most depressing that genuinely good men do not see the real spiritual challenges that are facing the church today. What is perhaps even more alarming is that those who do see it, prefer NOT to do anything to address it! I kept thinking of the righteous man who needs no repentance! How many there are of such good men.

I told you before that when I was a minister in PCI, the outgoing Moderator's address on the opening night of the General Assembly usually always reported on how great the church was. Our congregations are in good heart, faithful in service, good attendance at the ordinances, so many new communicants, good witness in the community, and so on. Yet in these very same churches, ministers were being 'crucified' by rogue elders and church members, supported by the church authorities! How strange!

We spoke about the lack of spiritual power and life that is evident in much church life. I have come to the conclusion that whatever system of doctrine we have embraced influences the spiritual temperature of the church. I think that Westminster theology as it stands may well have contributed to this unfortunate situation. Its insistence on the divine sovereignty in salvation and in everything else are truths in which Bible believing Christians rejoice, and hardly anything else gives us our moorings, especially when "things go against us to drive us to despair."

However, when the precious and twin doctrines of predestination and election are placed in the central or pivotal place in the theological vortex - if that makes sense - its cuts the nerve of evangelism and of holy living. Why get too concerned about evangelism when God will save those He wants, and when and how, anyhow! God's mysterious providence has been turned into virtual acceptance of the status quo - whatever comes to pass is God's doing, therefore we just accept it and go on, be it right or wrong (it can't be wrong because it was God's doing!). So because God allowed the Gay pride parade in Belfast means that it must have been His will for it to take place! No cognisance is taken of His moral law, nor of the fact that this was evidence of His permissive will. It we accept His permissive will as proof of what He is pleased with, then we really are down the Swanny!

And sadly, not one of our church leaders made any statement on this debauchery, the implication being that Sodomy is outside our remit as Christian Ministers. So the land is left, and has been left, without any moral leadership, thus sending out a very clear message that undermines morality and decency, and offends the living God.

I also wonder what the connection is between our (orthodox) theology and our (lack of) spirituality, and what impact the one has on the other. If our spirituality is such a matter of concern, ought we not to look at the 'cradle' out of which it was born, and in which it is being nurtured? If adherence to our theological standards is producing a spiritual coldness that few want to acknowledge, then, in order to improve the spiritual temperature/condition, might we have to re-examine our theological roots?

I think we might need to take a cold, hard, dispassionate look at the effect of Westminster-type theology on the spiritual condition of our churches. Is it the system itself that is at fault, or is it the uncritical acceptance of the system by its adherents that is the problem? Or, is it the over-riding desire to be regarded as good churchmen that is the problem? Such a desire accepts everything the church teaches and does without critically examining these activities, and leads the ecclesiastically ambitious to the place where they will not rock the ecclesiastical boat under any circumstances. If our respected church leaders claim that 'we are alright the way we are,' then we are alright! This magisterium sounds the death knell to spiritual vitality, and to any attempt to analyse what the older churchmen called "the state of religion" within the church and land. Perhaps, churches need a return to the annual "state of religion" report to its Assemblies and Synods, carried out by men of spiritual perception and discernment. If the denominations will not undertake this, then concerned Christians should undertake such a survey. Remember, the results are inextricably linked to the questions asked: ask the right questions, and you will get the rights answers! If you want a pre-determined result, ask the appropriate questions; but you will fool no one but yourself. The best questions to ask in any such survey are those very questions that the churches are heart scared of asking - the ones we have talked about for years.

Ministers have the most natural opportunity to 'go native' in carrying out such research - they see the spiritual condition of the church at close range, and as it really is. I could go on, now that I have started, but I must resist such an urge at this time.

These are just a few thoughts for your consideration. We will recommence our electronic conversations again, and hopefully between us all, bring some light to our current spiritual morass.


Read this review of Packer's "Among the Giants" by Dr Alan C. Clifford. One interesting point that Clifford makes is Packer's ambivalence about fully reforming the church order of Anglicanism - in light of the attitude of some of the Crieff ministers from the Church of Scotland.

Dr Alan C. Clifford: A review first published in the Evangelical Quarterly (EQ 65.3, 1993).
AMONG GOD'S GIANTS, J. I. Packer; Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 447pp., £9.99

This fine volume is a distillation of the author's life-long pursuit of Puritanism. The bulk of the material consists of papers originally given between 1956 and 1969 at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference (held at Westminster Chapel in London under the chairmanship of Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). The present reviewer had the great privilege of hearing most of them. Indeed, together with the chairman's concluding addresses (see D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth, 1987), Dr Packer's papers were always an annual highlight. Apart from the introduction, the other items are also republished pieces, the most recent dating from 1986. Among God's Giants must represent a pinnacle of popular scholarly publishing on practical puritan themes. It will surely establish itself as an indispensable starting point for all would-be researchers in the subject. The Puritans are presented as those 'Englishmen (some of whom eventually went to America) who embraced whole-heartedly a version of Christianity that paraded a particular blend of biblicist, pietist, churchly and worldly concerns' (p. 433). For all his scholarship, Dr Packer's concerns are far from being merely academic and antiquarian. This book has a timely, compelling and prophetic ring about it. In a scintillating and now famous typically graphic Packerian fashion, and inspired by the vivid picture of the giant Redwood trees of California, we are told that 'the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans' tower over 'the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string' (p.11). The author demonstrates this thesis with consummate ease from puritan to puritan. Thus we are introduced to John Owen, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards (yes, the American colossus was essentially 'puritan') and a host of other giants in the puritan brotherhood from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

For all his obvious relish for the Puritans, the author's treatment is far from being merely hagiographical. We see their feats and failures, excellences and excesses, intensities and idiosyncrasies in the context of the times. The variety and range of puritan thought cannot be missed either. Indeed, while Puritanism was virtually synonymous with biblicism, so there are as many differing perspectives in puritan studies as there are schools of biblical interpretation. Thus, within certain broad biblical parameters, one can almost make Puritanism say what you like! Dr Packer does not hide his preferences: for doctrinal orthodoxy he opts for Owen rather than Baxter on that 17th century hot-potato, the nature and extent of the atonement; for pastoral practice and evangelistic zeal, Baxter is his hero; for churchmanship, Greenham rather than Cartwright is his model. For all his general enthusiasm for the book's spiritual, pastoral and practical emphases, the reviewer remains unconvinced at certain key points of scholarly doctrinal interpretation.

First, Owen and limited atonement. Packer's introductory essay to the first Banner of Truth edition of Owen's Death of Death appeared in 1958. It now reappears as 'Saved by His precious blood' (pp. 163-95). In view of the later scholarly contributions of Basil Hall, Brian Armstrong, R. T. Kendall, Tony Lane, Curt Daniel and others, one might have expected an author's 'update' in response to the well-argued thesis that later Calvinists went beyond Calvin on the extent of the atonement, especially in the Bezan and post-Dort eras. Perhaps Dr Packer's simple reissue of his original essay indicates his continuing belief that Calvin and Owen said essentially the same thing (p. 175) and that Owen's case remains impeccably sound (p. 190). However, on a historical note arising from the author's churchmanship (p. 15), Bishop J. C. Ryle - rightly styled by Packer as 'the nineteenth-century colossus' (ibid.) - opposed exaggerated Owenite Calvinism in line with Calvin's teaching and the formularies of the Church of England. The same goes for earlier Anglican Calvinists like John Newton and Charles Simeon. While shunning Arminianism, they would surely judge Packer's passion for particular redemption as somewhat anomalous. On these and other points, the present reviewer takes issue with both Owen and the author in Atonement and Justification, English evangelical theology 1640-1790 - an evaluation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). He leaves it to the reader to judge the validity of his contention that Packer's unmodified 1958 claim for Owen (p. 178) is simply dated. In short, Owen has now been answered.

Second, Baxter and justification. In 'The Doctrine of Justification in Development and Decline among the Puritans' (pp. 196-232), there are a number of misleading observations. Indeed, several of Packer's detailed criticisms of Baxter's views are simply wide of the mark (pp. 208-10). Again, I refer the reader to my Atonement and Justification, pp. 191-4, 199, for details. One may add here that to blame Baxter for having 'sowed the seeds' of several subsequent doctrinal errors (p. 210) when he vigorously opposed them during his lifetime, is like blaming Calvin for hypercalvinism, and William Wilberforce for the American civil war! Surely, Baxter was somewhat over-reactionary, his theological grasp was not infallible; it could also be said, with equal justice, that Owen's doctrines of limited atonement and imputation had a formative influence on the growth of antinomian hypercalvinism. It is my belief that had the contending parties studied Calvin's precise statements on justification more carefully (a biblical via media between the embattled alternatives, in fact), English puritan theology would not have resembled the disarray of a civil war battlefield. Compared with the clarity of Calvin, Owen was, in some respects, as muddled as Baxter was in others.

One also questions Dr Packer's dichotomy between Baxter's 'disastrous' theological utterances and his 'praiseworthy' practical works (pp. 208-9). For Baxter, his work was all of a piece; hence the theological features lamented by Packer are clearly visible in the practical works. In view of this, one must ask just how disastrous Baxter's theology was? After all, his preaching of universal gospel grace turned Kidderminster upside down, and his stress on a loving, working godliness produced a sanctified society. Indeed, Baxter's ministry was unique, as Dr Packer readily admits with justified enthusiasm (pp. 53ff). So, could it be that the marginalising of Baxter's theology in favour of Owen's in the 'reformed camp' partly explains the general lack of popular impact of neo-puritanism today? A much desired Baxterian revival probably demands a far greater rehabilitation of Baxterian theology than Dr Packer is prepared to accept.

Third, Greenham and churchmanship. Dr Packer's book is something of a personal manifesto. For all its inspirational virtues, it inevitably raises the question of how he could ever be party to such an anti-puritan treatise as Growing into Union (1970). Indeed, the book precipitated a crisis and the cancellation of the Puritan Conference of that year. If this anomaly remains a mystery, the present work surely explains the author's continuing allegiance to 'conservative Anglicanism' (p. 15) and why secession was never an option, despite his obvious admiration for nonconformists like Baxter.

Here the model is evidently Richard Greenham rather than Richard Baxter (pp. 72-4). Greenham was a peace-loving parochial pietist of moderate puritan convictions, little interested in the more thorough reforming zeal of Thomas Cartwright and his fellow presbyterians. In fact he was sharply critical of them (p. 72). In his view, the primary need was a sound parochial ministry rather than a more reformed church order.

Doubtless Greenham's priorities were correct, but arguably, 'this ought he to have done and not to leave the other undone' (Mt.23:23). Indeed, a consistent Puritan would ask, had he not yielded on the essential puritan point of scriptural authority in the typical English spirit of Cranmerian compromise and procrastination? Likewise, Packer dismisses these 'presbyterian agitators' as 'doctrinaire' (p. 70), despite the scriptural soundness of their case (ibid.) and a willingness to suffer for it. The simple fact remains that men like Greenham helped consolidate a largely unreformed diocesan and parochial system by default. They simply 'did their own thing' like independents, oblivious to the wider demands of unfinished reformation business.

Besides, had Greenham done his duty, some of the more hot-headed 'Marprelate' Presbyterians might have been restrained. So, according to evidence supplied by Dr Packer himself, a rising torrent of frustrated puritan preachers had to resort to lectureships, there being no biblically constituted churches to call them (p. 75). Had Greenham and his friends shared Cartwright's conviction that 'the ministry of the Church of England was out of square' and acted accordingly, the progress of the gospel and the history of the next century and beyond - with its tragic sectarian proliferation - might have been different. Admittedly Queen Elizabeth was the chief obstacle, before whom Grindal and even Cartwright himself had to bow. Alas, England never had a reforming leader with the energy of Knox and the statesmanship of Calvin, and too few were ready to risk all for the glory of God like the Huguenots in France who, always faced by more formidable foes, were blessed from the start with a better churchmanship and a more balanced Calvinism.

My response to Dr Packer's book therefore parallels his own ambivalence about Baxter. As a presentation of practical puritanism, no praise for it can be too high.

While the style is brilliant, on certain detailed theological and ecclesiological themes, I beg to differ.

Amyraldianism is Authentic Calvinism

My friend, Dr Alan C Clifford, sent me this article which I thought was well worth sharing with you.

See what you think of it, and come back to me. Amyraldianism is a contextualised historical term for authentic Calvinism, and highlights our noble and blessed Huguenot heritage.

The Amyraldian position possesses five advantages. First, it provides an object lesson on how to avoid extreme reductionist hermeneutics. Theory is ever to be the servant not the master of the textual data. Second, it enables us to accept plain statements of Scripture as they are without forcing them into a theological mould, e. g. 'world' = 'the world of the elect' (as Owen maintains). How can Owenites criticise Roman Catholics and the cults for tampering with the text when they do likewise? Third, in keeping with God's plain declarations, it proclaims a universal compassion for the world without unwarranted restrictions. Thus the Owenite tendency to produce clinically-clear heads and callously-critical hearts is reduced. Sadly, not all Owenites are like Whitefield and Spurgeon whose compassion exceeded their creed. Fourth, it is, in the best biblical sense, conciliatory. Ralph Wardlaw considered that High Calvinism provided too easy an excuse for the Arminians to reject true Calvinism. Fifth, without prying into the profundities and complexities of God's inscrutable sovereign purposes, it enables us to pursue an uninhibited mission of mercy to a lost world. We leave the results to God. While faith is evidence of election, present unbelief is not necessarily proof of non-election. There is always hope for everyone we proclaim Christ to.
Amyraut's 'friends'
'For it is good for all men to hear [Christ's] voice and live, by passing to the life of godliness from the death of ungodliness. Of this death the Apostle Paul says, "Therefore all are dead, and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again." (2 Cor. 5: 14-15). Thus all, without one exception, were dead in sins, whether original or voluntary sins, sins of ignorance, or sins committed against knowledge; and for all the dead there died the only one person who lived, that is, who had no sin whatever, in order that they who live by the remission of their sins should live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for all, for our sins, and rose again for our justification…' (The City of God).
'Christ … suffered bitter death upon a tree, and bought man again with his precious blood, and after that returned again to his Father, for the salvation of mankind. … And thus Christ was without blemish, and was offered on the cross for the sin of all this world. … Other lambs in a manner put away the sin of one country; but this Lamb properly put away the sin of all this world' (On the Lord's Prayer and Sermons).
'It is certain that you are a part of the world. Do not let your heart deceive you by saying: "The Lord died for Peter and Paul; He rendered satisfaction for them, not for me." Therefore let every one who has sin be summoned here, for He has made the expiation for the sins of the whole world and bore the sins of the whole world' (Comment on 1 John 2: 2).
'True it is that the effect of [Christ's] death comes not to the whole world. Nevertheless, forasmuch as it is not in us to discern between the righteous and the sinners that go to destruction, but that Jesus Christ has suffered his death and passion as well for them as for us, therefore it behoves us to labour to bring every man to salvation, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be available to them' (Sermons on Job).
'Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him' (Comment on Romans 5: 18).
'God commends to us the salvation of all men without exception, even as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world' (Comment on Galatians 5: 12).
'This is His wondrous love towards the human race, that He desires all men to be saved, and is prepared to bring even the perishing to safety...It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world' (Comment on 2 Peter 3: 9).
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer stated that Christ 'by His own oblation ... satisfied His Father for all men's sins and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour'. Bishop John Hooper affirmed that Christ died 'for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, be now, or shall be unto the world's end'. Bishop Nicholas Ridley declared that the sacrifice of Christ 'was, is, and shall be forever the propitiation for the sins of the whole world'. Bishop Hugh Latimer preached that 'Christ shed as much blood for Judas, as he did for Peter: Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe, and therefore he was condemned'. Even particularist John Bradford admitted that 'Christ's death is sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect only'. The Elizabethan Anglicans were no different in their understanding. Bishop John Jewel wrote that, on the cross, Christ declared "It is finished" to signify 'that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind'. Elsewhere, he made clear that 'The death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world'. Richard Hooker stated an identical view when he said that Christ's 'precious and propitiatory sacrifice' was 'offered for the sins of all the world' (All extracts from the Parker Society Volumes).
'The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. ... That, however, many who have been called by the gospel neither repent nor believe in Christ but perish in unbelief does not happen because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, but through their own fault. ... [This] was the most free counsel of God the Father, that the life-giving and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect' (The Second Canon).
'I am ready to profess ... that every one who hears the gospel, (without distinction between elect or reprobate) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul, in case he believes and repent' (Works).
'I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines (e.g. Bishop Davenant) in the Synod of Dordt, that Christ did pay a price for all ... that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe' (Minutes of the Westminster Assembly).
'When God saith so expressly that Christ died for all [2 Cor. 5: 14-15], and tasted death for every man [Heb. 2: 9], and is the ransom for all [1 Tim. 2: 6], and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world [1 Jn. 2: 2], it beseems every Christian rather to explain in what sense Christ died for all, than flatly to deny it' (Universal Redemption).
'It is plain … that there is a sense, in which Christ may be said to have died for all, i.e. as he has procured an offer of pardon to all, provided they sincerely embrace the Gospel. Cf. John 3: 16, 6: 50, 51, Romans 5: 18, 8: 32, 1 Corinthians 8: 11, 2 Corinthians 5: 14, 15, 19, 1 Timothy 2: 4, 6, Hebrews 2: 9, 1 John 2: 2' (Lectures on Divinity).
When asserting the 'particular' efficacious redemption of the elect, Edwards still grants that 'Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; ...' (Freedom of the Will).
'Because the door of mercy is thus opened to the whole world by the blood of Christ, therefore, in scripture, he is called, the Saviour of the WORLD (1 John 4: 14); the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the WORLD (John 1: 29); a propitiation for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2: 2); that gave himself a ransom for ALL (1 Timothy 2: 6); and tasted death for EVERYMAN (Hebrews 2: 9)' (True Religion Delineated, Preface by Jonathan Edwards).
When he published The Marrow of Modern Divinity (1726), he was clearly happy to endorse the words (of John Preston): 'Go and tell everyman without exception that here is good news for him, Christ is dead for him'. In his own book A View of the Covenant of Grace (1734), Boston himself stated, '... the extent of the administration [of the covenant] is not founded on election, but on the sufficiency of Christ's obedience and death for the salvation of all'.
'If Christ died only for the elect, and not for all', then ministers 'are puzzled to understand how they should proceed with the calls and invitations of the gospel. ... Now for the specific end of conversion, the available scripture is not that Christ laid down His life for the sheep, but that Christ is set forth a propitiation for the sins of the world. It is not because I know myself to be one of the sheep, or one of the elect, but because I know myself to be one of the world, that I take to myself the calls and promises of the New Testament' (Institutes of Theology).
Commenting on John 1: 29, he wrote that 'Christ's death is profitable to none but to the elect who believe on His name. ... But ... I dare not say that no atonement has been made, in any sense, except for the elect. ... When I read that the wicked who are lost, "deny the Lord that bought them," (2 Pet. 2: 1) and that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," (2 Cor. 5: 19), I dare not confine the intention of redemption to the saints alone. Christ is for every man'. Commenting on John 3: 16 and appealing to Bishop John Davenant, Calvin and others, he concludes: 'Those who confine God's love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God's character and attributes. ... I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system' (Expository Thoughts on John's Gospel, Vol. 1).
'There is a sense ... in which Christ did die for all men. His death had the effect of justifying the offer of salvation to everyman; and of course was designed to have that effect. He therefore died sufficiently for all' (Systematic Theology).
He criticised Scottish theologian William Cunningham for taking a narrow view of the atonement's design. Dabney also distanced himself from John Owen's particularism: 'I have already stated one ground for rejecting that interpretation of John 3: 16, which makes 'the world' which God so loved, the elect world. ... Christ's mission to make expiation for sin is a manifestation of unspeakable benevolence to the whole world' (Systematic Theology).
For all his particularism, he still concedes that the 'Non-elect are said to have been sanctified in the blood of Christ, to have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, to have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, and to have known the way of righteousness (cf. Heb. 6: 3, 5; 10: 29; 2 Pet. 2: 20, 21). In this sense, therefore, we may say that Christ died for non-elect persons' (The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel).
'But look at [Christ's] death for a moment and consider it as an expiation for the sin of the whole world. What are we told about it? Well, those sufferings were enough, according to John, for all. Listen! 'He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world' (1 Jn. 2: 2). The whole world! ... The sins of the whole world he had borne upon Himself'.
'[If] ever you feel utterly helpless and hopeless, then turn back to Him, the Christ of the cross, with His arms outstretched, who still says: 'Look unto me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth'. It is there that the whole of humanity is focused. He is the representative of the whole of mankind. He died for all' (Aberavon Sermons).

Describing the indescribable

Last night was wonderful - the fellowship was rich, the discussion fruitful, and, I trust, there will be a fruitful outcome.
I hope also that the book will go some way to helping us arrive at a solution to the "big issues" that we have discussed and that exercise our hearts. It might be useful to read it through such lenses, asking the question, How can this understanding help to get the church back to the Bible, and preaching have restored to it the passion, power, anointing and unction of the Holy Spirit? Can this understanding help to get restored to us the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
I believe that this is a sovereign act of our gracious God, but He puts it into our hearts what He is about to do. We need to try to discern what it is He is about to do, and fall into line with His purposes.
Maybe this is not being put too well, but, as we said last night, it is very difficult to describe the indescribable.

Spirit-empowered preaching

We had a blessed time in the service of the LORD yesterday, and He was so near to us. People left the service and there was none of the trivia spoken that normally accompanies worshippers as they leave the services. There was that hush of eternity, that deeply spiritual presence, as if the Holy Spirit was carrying every word I had spoken right into the hearts of the hearers.

Whilst I had prepared in my usual thorough manner, I did not need my notes. This was the first time in years that I had had that precious experience. The message just flowed - I was preaching on Rom1:16f, and asked why is it that sinners need the Gospel? I made the point that if, as we believe, and as Paul states, "the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes," where there is no power, CAN THE GOSPEL BE SAID TO BE PREACHED?

Now this really challenged my heart - as I was preaching. What is missing from our preaching if the hearers do not feel the power of God in their midst and hearts? Is this a familiar question? I said that we were fooling ourselves if we believed that God's power attended the preaching if the Gospel of Paul was not being proclaimed.

This was a very special time - and in God's providence, it came at the perfect time for me. God is good, praise His glorious Name.

A Cocktail of Basic Unfaithfulness

I am finalising my paper for the AA conference in April, and am referring to our discussions on church life about "What is missing and how do we get it?"

The thought struck me that there is also something(s) "present" that ought not to be there, and I think we know what some of these are! It is a cocktail of basic unfaithfulness, control freakery, denomination before Scripture, our identity seeking to supercede all others, etc. The denomination's distinctives have to be preserved at all costs, even if certain ministers have to be removed. We just cannot have the church being expected to conform to Scripture in every aspect of its life. Indeed, today, ministers, like the police and army in Northern Ireland, can only minister "with the consent of the people."

Now where have we heard that principle before? This philosophy is enveloping the church, even the best churches. What controls many churches is not God's Word, but man's desires, what man finds tasteful and comfortable, acceptable, and included in this list is carnal subjectivity. It is not "Jesus Christ is Lord," but, "Church law is Lord," the eldership is Lord," the "Code is Lord;" indeed, anything will do. Choose your substitute for Christ, and away you go. And the church will support you.

But whatever you do, do not expect the church to live under Christ's Lordship as revealed in Scripture!

To a ministerial student

My friend, being the workaholic you are, you need to take things a bit easier - for your good, your wife's, the children's, and your ministry. I know how difficult it is to slow down; my saying this to you is like the kettle and the pot! We need to consider what message our body is sending out to us, and not ignore it. To do so is as foolish as to ignore a fuse that is ready to blow.

Evangelical glibness!

I think that part of the problem facing the church today is what I might call 'evangelical glibness,' especially when it comes to preaching and prayer. We utter fine words that have no personal impact on us. When did we last tremble at the thought of God? When did we last feel dread when approaching Him? When were our hearts last struck with the terror of coming to His word, or into His awesome presence?
Our churches, when praying at prayer meetings, constantly break the 3rd commandment, while at the same time, asking for God's blessing on their work. I was feeling scared at the prayer meeting this morning at church for the forthcoming mission when after every five or six words, the Lord's name was spoken by one pray-er. How glib!
I wondered, Does this person know to Whom he is talking, and is the Lord's name just a filler in an otherwise normal religious exercise? There is no sense of awe when we approach God in all His holiness. In fact, I, too, fall at this point, because I can write these awe-inspiring words without feeling their impact in my own heart. Oh, how hard and insensitive to God is my wicked heart!

We, I, need to get to know God - my current knowledge is so superficial, so theological, so correct, but not as experimental as it ought to be. This is still analysis - resolution still evades me. I suppose we need to wait upon God until we feel ourselves to be utterly dependent upon Him, feel our own loathsomeness in His sight, and grasp afresh His sovereign and wonderful grace. We need to meditate on what 'grace' means, what mercy, love, compassion mean. How fearful, yet how encouraging and welcoming these 'graces' are.

We speak of justice, but we do not feel that justice holds any fear for us, therefore we do not sense our dire need of God's grace and mercy continually. What does it mean to stand in the presence of our gracious God! What effect ought this awareness to have upon us! What fear, mixed with gratitude, ought this to instill in our souls!

 I think it was Robert Davidson in his OT textbook, The Old Testament, who spoke of the dread of YHWH, and of His other attributes. We need to get a proper balance between YHWH's dread and His grace. Both of these attributes will affect us profoundly once they grip hold of us, each doing its own special work within us. God's character must be appreciated experientially if we are to be like Him, and useful to Him.
Here, I am going to be a heretic for a moment: what if our doctrine of 'eternal security' really does cut the umbilical cord of the need for perseverance for us? Is that possible? What if our conviction about God's sovereignty causes complacency? It ought not to do so, but in effect, it does. What if we are content with the right religious words, religious symbolism, without experiencing the realities of what these precious terms include? Back to analysis again - forgive me.
Felt need of God can only come about when we see how puny our knowledge (Heb. yada') of God really is, and where we must go to get this matter sorted out. We must concentrate on getting to know God (yada') rather than just getting to know about Him. Theology is about getting to know about God - necessary to a point, no substitute for the real thing - personal, intimate, life-changing knowledge of God. Because we have not really met with God, we do not have a living and life-giving message from Him for the world or for the church, His people. Dr Ralph Davis in his commentary on 1 Samuel (p.42), says that unless YHWH gives the word, there will be none - "and turning out more graduates from theological seminaries or religious departments will do nothing to change that!" How correct.
Now sermon preparation must be disciplined, careful exegesis accurate, saying what the text says and no more (avoiding arid and at times dangerous speculation), but unless the fire falls on the preparation and delivery of the message, it will be cold and lifeless. I think the fire of heaven must be at preparation stage, as well as, and not only at, delivery stage. We ought to know (experience) God as we prepare our sermons, and while we deliver them.
At the end of the day, God does act sovereignly, deciding when and whom and how to bless. Only He can give us the hearts that really do cry out for Him, so we must sue Him for such hearts. We must get far more serious about God and with God than we have ever been before; but then the churches will not know how to handle us when such things begin to happen. Churches will only approve what they initiate. They feel the need to be IN CONTROL of everything and everyone that falls within their bounds.

The Lack of Honesty

One of the things that struck me recently was the lack of honesty that exists among Christians. I would have liked to have got copies of the last 30 years of Moderator's final reports to the General Assembly on how they viewed the spiritual condition of the church (PCI). My impression is, having been to about 15 of these opening meetings, their church (PCI) is much too spiritually healthy in its own eyes; the result: it does not need God to come by His Spirit and mess things up! We sing the words, "Let the fire fall." I ask, what would we do if God were to answer that prayer? How would we respond?

I think this is true of most, if not all, other churches. We are all much too healthy in our own eyes. Probably because we have taken our eye off Christ, the true mirror, and are content to look at our own reflection, and admire what we see!
I think the issue is much larger than the personal, though this is vitally important. Because we belong to connexional churches, is there not a case to be made that as well as personal renewal being needed, denominational renewal/reformation is also required? Personal renewal is our responsibility, but my experience is that trying to renew or reform a congregation or denomination according to the Scriptures is a perilous pathway to tread. Every church does that which is right it its own eyes, therefore, neither needs nor wants any spiritual change.

Too much glibness!

Was it William Cowper who wrote, "Oh, how I fear thee living Lord"? I can speak too glibly about the fear of God, but my hard heart does not feel what I say, alas. We are much too overly familiar with these dreadful words that they just trip off our lips with complete ease. Yet we are not familiar enough with the sweetness of our Lord.

Wasn't it Samuel Rutherford who majored on the sweetness of Christ? I think it was. We would gain great spiritual benefit if we were to meditate on the loveliness of the Saviour. Jonathan Edwards also made much of the sweetness of the Lord. Another of the great preachers of old, Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, said that for every time we look at our own wicked hearts, we need to look 10 times at Christ. Personally I don't look as much to Christ as I know I ought. We do not bypass Him - that's why we speak so much about Him - but by concentrating excessively upon us and our sin, are we not in danger of seeking to find our acceptance with God in another way and by bypassing Christ? Just a thought to ponder!

The Loveliness of Christ

I am thinking that perhaps we are becoming a bit imbalanced in that we may be spending too much time and energy dissecting our own hearts - a needed exercise - and not enough focusing on the loveliness and beauty of Christ. What an attractive thing it is to see Christ in all His beauty. Not that I have so seen Him, but I know that one day I shall see Him as He is (1 Jn.3). Real beauty is an attractive thing - even fallen beauty attracts us; but the beauty of Christ is lovely beyond description; I do not have the linguistic ability to write of my Saviour's beauty in superlative terms, another demonstration of my sinfulness.

I think the great expert on experiencing the loveliness of Christ was Samuel Rutherford. His letters are well wroth a browse.


Recently, I was on a business trip to the English Midlands, and because I was working on evenings, I had a bit of free time. Staying in a hotel on a road that went to Kidderminster , and realising that Kiddy was only about 16 miles away, I thought….

I decided to make the most of my time there, so after making inquiries about the best way to get there, I opted to go by train. As I approached the town, my levels of anticipation arose. Then having disembarked from the train, and made my way ‘down’ the street to the town centre, my excitement escalated with every corner I turned. I was expecting to see something that reminded me that I really was in Kidderminster , where the great Calvinist, Puritan and Presbyterian, Richard Baxter, ministered for some twenty years.

I was amazed that no one to whom I spoke in Kidderminster knew anything, or even much, about Richard Baxter. I told them he was their greatest son, but they were not a bit interested. The Waterstones bookshop carried none of Baxter’s titles, the reason being, when I enquired, that Head Office decides which books to stock!

The first ‘sign’ of Baxter was in my visit to Baxter United Reformed Church, which, I fear, ‘stole’ Baxter’s honoured name. My contention was validated when the one church member (?) whom I met knew nothing about him. Renovations were being carried out on the steeple, and only the cleaner was there. I asked her if this was the church that Baxter preached in, and she said she was only the cleaner and did not know. I retorted, “Oh, you’re not from Kidderminster , then.” And she assured me that she was. I thanked her and left.

Across the dual carriageway, I saw the statue of the great man. By a combination of Ulster charm, good looks and personality, and the over-ruling providence of God, I managed to persuade the vestry clerk to allow me inside the Parish church of St Mary and All Saints, which happened to be closed at that time.

What a joy and humbling experience that was. To reflect on what this great servant of God and of the Gospel achieved for Christ in that town and through that church was deeply moving. I could easily imagine the place filled to capacity with earnest hearers and anxious seekers after Christ as Baxter applied the Gospel as understood and taught by Calvin with clinical precision to men’s consciences – a skill we have all but lost today!

Having spent some seventy-five minutes there, and having been informed at the Parish church that Baxter’s pulpit now resided in the New Meeting House, I went to the New Meeting House where the Unitarian church meets, and providentially, the Secretary was there checking up on some electrical work that was being done. 

He very graciously took me inside. I not only saw the pulpit (dated 1621) from which he preached “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” ( Col. ), but was photographed standing in it. I felt so unworthy to even stand in that pulpit, yet it was a great privilege, and renewed a deep sense of our reformed heritage.

In these two churches, there was greater interest in the church and building, statues and stain-glassed windows, tombs and tables, etc, than there was in Baxter, although, to be fair, the Unitarian church possessed the four massive volumes of Baxter’s complete works and his pulpit, and held them with pride, while the Parish church had what is believed to be Baxter’s chair, and his resident preaching place for two decades.

What gripped me was the fact that neither the Anglican church nor the Unitarian church possessed anything other than a purely historical interest in Baxter. The fact has not really dawned on them that they are part of our great historical and reformed heritage, albeit in severely dilapidated form, of which they ought to be exceedingly proud. So rich is this heritage that they should have committed themselves to the self-same outlook as possessed Richard Baxter, and preserving it for generations to come, rather than embracing a ‘non-Gospel,’ thus becoming a caricature of their glorious past.

Clearly, it is because they have lost the Gospel that Baxter preached that they have very few attending worship – the Unitarians have 30 families, but only about 20 people attending the services, while the Anglicans have a small number of families and less attendees.

It is also very sad that these three apostate denominations (Anglican, United Reformed, and Unitarian) claim that Baxter’s teaching is the basis of their current ecumenical and liberal activities, as evidenced in their joint services with every religious grouping in Kidderminster – RCs, Jews, Muslim, Hindu, Sheiks, etc. They admitted that morally the town faces much the same problems that Baxter faced, yet they do not have the same message that can change the people’s lives in that situation.

Even if they did get a solid Baxterian minister who preached a Baxterian message in any of those churches, the church has been so discredited and the Christian faith so diluted by those given the solemn charge to maintain the true Gospel, that people just have no time for it. Were another “Reformed Pastor” to go and work there, his work would be cut out for him.

But Richard Baxter faced exactly the same situation. In a town of a few thousand poor people, he visited all the people and taught them the Gospel with a personal orientation that only he could have done. He records that when he went there in 1641 as ‘lecturer’ or preacher, hardly one from the streets of Kidderminster attended church or had any fear of God; but when he left twenty years later, there was hardly one who did not attend church or believe in God through Christ.

The incumbent at that time, Rev Dance simply did not preach very often, so Baxter had the door wide open for him to minister the Gospel there. Indeed, after the great ejection of ministers (in 1666) who refused to conform to Anglicanism’s man-made rules and regulations, Dance was reinstated as rector of Kidderminster, yet it is so significant that we remember and honour the name of Richard Baxter, but ask, Who was Rev Dance?

It is clear that had Baxter believed in a Gospel that spoke only of some kind of partial atonement having been made by Christ, and that for the elect only, he would not have been motivated to take that Gospel to every creature within his reach, either by his voice or his pen! Thankfully, he had a message that he could take to everyone and an offer of something substantial and essential that was real, so real that it applied to all who believed the Gospel. He impressed upon them the sin of rejecting the sovereign love of God whose Son had died for them, and urged them to repent of this and every other sin, and to put their trust in the all-sufficient Saviour of the world.

Sadly, these three churches today believe a very different gospel, “which is no Gospel,” (Gal.1:7). The upshot is their mistaken belief that Baxter would be very pleased with their understanding of his toleration and desire for Christian unity through biblical compromise on ‘matters indifferent’ – which they interpret to mean their all-inclusive ecumenical religious activities regardless of what the various participants believed, if anything. Baxter differed from modern day Kidderminster religious dwellers in that belief in and commitment to the all-sufficient Gospel of saving grace was the only basis for Christian fellowship, not the contemporary emphasis on religion, whatever it happens to be, as the binding glue of fellowship. Baxter could not have been more different.

It is nothing short of a shame that the memory of this great and honoured servant of Christ has been so demeaned by the contemporary religious community there. Had the church and its ministers stuck to the message that Baxter preached, it may be that these islands would not be in the moral mess we are experiencing today. May God raise up another man like Richard Baxter to herald Christ Jesus and His saving Gospel for the world, before it is forever too late.

Matters of church fellowship and compassion

The gradual departure of the churches from the historic reformed faith is an alarming reality of today's confused ecclesiastical context, and one that can only notch up an even greater departure from the faith by these churches.

The absence of compassion in confessing reformed churches is a measure of that departure from the truth. I think it is unfair to criticise Christians for their lack of real compassion, when they are shown a very poor example by the churches. In our family reading last night, we were reminded of the centrality of love as an expression of faith. If the church refuses to demonstrate genuine love for its members, then it is very difficult to insist that individual Christians show it. They do not have a credible mentor whose example they can safely follow.

This raises the interesting question as to the role and influence that Westminster theology has had on those who have embraced it. I do not subscribe to the criticism that because the Westminster Confession of Faith never mentions 'love,' the thing is thereby absent; for that would be a weak argument to forward.

But where it does fall down is its insistence on predestination being the central doctrine around which everything else revolves. This departure from Calvin is serious because his view was that 'faith' lies at the very centre of the reformed religion, not predestination or election. These two precious doctrines bring the greatest comfort and consolation imaginable to the Christian, and are the guarantee of the success of the evangelistic enterprise.

But when these two doctrines replace faith as the core, certain knock-on effects follow. One is the lack of compassion and love that are shown to those deemed to have transgressed - and that includes all of us! Where are the Christians who are prepared to throw their loving arms around the Christian brother or sister whose heart is longing for biblical comfort and consolation? Where is the genuine friendship that ought to be expected within a church fellowship? To whom does a needy Christian go in search of support? Or where does he turn when he has profound personal issues that must be addressed?

One way of refuting my contention is for someone who has embraced Wedstminster theology to rise above that confession and show the kind of love that heals and restores.

If anyone reading this knows of such a person, please let me know. This person will by definition have to be someone who is of the spiritual ilk of a Richard Baxter rather than that of a John Owen. What burdened Christians need is the milk of human kindness such as Baxter was known to have shown to his flock in Kidderminster. They certainly do not need the scholastic approach as used by the Owenites - they need real love.