Doctrine

Much Ado about the Sabbath

True words.

Gairney Bridge

The difference between the Puritan Sabbath and the Continental Sunday should not be exaggerated, especially so far as the actual practices of churches in the Reformed tradition are in view. To be sure, at the confessional level, there are differences, although these, too, are not as substantial as sometimes maintained. The Three Forms of Unity, the confessional standards of Continental Calvinism, do treat the Sabbath much less extensively and with a somewhat different accent than the Westminster Standards. But in the main, especially beginning in the seventeenth century following the Synod of Dort, British-American Presbyterianism and Continental Calvinism became of one mind on what Sunday observance should look like: in view of the continuing validity of the fourth commandment, Sunday is to be a day of rest from our daily work, devoted primarily to the worship of God.

Richard Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath” in The Westminster Confession into the…

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How to Preserve Heterodoxy

1. Teach something that contradicts the Bible, because you like it better than the biblical teaching.

2. Keep doing it for a long time, and make disciples who will teach it when you’re gone, preferably for centuries.

3. When someone points out that the Bible is clear on that topic, and shows from Scripture how your teaching is in the wrong, deflect by pointing out that Christians have disagreed on it for centuries, so it obviously could not be very clear in the Bible.

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Remembering Archbishop James Ussher

Arcbishop James Ussher (1581-1656)  is one of the most eminent, learned, and holy saints of church history.  Although he is often remembered for his dating of creation at 4004 B. C., he was much more than a historian.  It has been said that in his day, if all the Presbyterians had been like Samuel Rutherford, all the Congregationalists like John Owen, and all the Anglicans like James Ussher, they would have been able to find a way to be united in one fellowship.  All three were great friends and closer doctrinally than they were divided by the political matters that buffeted their day.  He’s a review I wrote of one of his most important doctrinal works a few years back:

Review of A Body of Divinity by Archbishop James Ussher

by

Riley Fraas

March 20, 2010 Archbishop James Ussher, A Body of Divinity: Being the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion, Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007. This short, 450 something page systematic theology book comes with impressive accolades.  A. A. Hodge regarded it as the most important book for understanding the theology of the Westminster Assembly, noting that it was available to all of the Westminster divines.  I can easily see why one would say this.  Ussher’s doctrine as expressed throughout the book reminds me greatly of the Westminster standards, including its main points of emphasis, its ordering, its language and terminology, and its style.  This is an invaluable resource for understanding the theology of the Westminster Assembly for all of us who look back to the Westminster Assembly as a formative event in the doctrine of the church (especially we [who are among the] Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists.)  Although Ussher did not attend the Westminster Assembly due to his political loyalty to the King as primate of the Church of Ireland, he was invited more than once. The book is a question and answer format which enthralls the mind and begs not to be put down.  This format reminds me of the Larger Catechism.  It is very readable.  At the same time, it is absolutely packed with sound doctrinal truth in such a way that instead of making for hard reading (like some other theologians who are too concise and do not explain their points thoroughly,) Ussher makes theological points easy.  Yet he says much in a few words.  His phrases strike to the root of matters which he addresses and make deep truths appear self-explanatory.  I find Ussher’s quality of making hard doctrines simple for the reader similar to the effect I felt when I first read Calvin’s Institutes. Ussher’s theology is warm and overflowing with praise to God.  It has a devotional quality to it which elicits true piety rather than simply engaging the mind in a scientific fashion.  One of his strengths is that he expertly provides the biblical basis for nearly all of the doctrines he asserts, going to great lengths not only to assert points of doctrine but to show that they are based on God’s revelation in the Bible.  Therefore this book is very useful to explain the biblical basis for the doctrines expressed in the Westminster Standards, which echo Ussher’s theology but only provide a few proof texts as references without illustrating how those Bible texts prove the doctrine which they express.  A high point in Ussher is his discussion of the external and internal evidences that the Holy Scriptures are God’s inspired word.  This section has the effect of fleshing out and proving the truth of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s most magisterial summary of the evidences of God’s inspiration of the Bible. Ussher has an experiential emphasis which applies the system of doctrine taught in Scripture to the main duties of the Christian life.  He answers not only what a Christian is to believe, but what he should do in light of these beliefs.  He therefore gives a lot of coverage to practical matters of the church and the Christian life, explaining in greater detail those Christian duties which are set forth in the Larger Catechism. This book deserves to be considered a must-read by all Reformed Christians who have attained a little more than the most basic understanding of the truths God’s word, along with Calvin’s Institutes and the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  I am almost inclined to think that this book would be even better than A. A. Hodge’s commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith as a text for elder training in churches.  It is not strictly speaking a commentary on the Westminster Confession, since it predates the Westminster Assembly by a few decades.  However by reading this book one would get an excellent grasp of the theology in the background of the Westminster Assembly which became framed in the great confessional documents which that body produced. One assertion which has been made about Ussher is that he was a “hypothetical universalist” in the vein of Moise Amyraut or Richard Baxter.  However, Ussher’s Body of Divinity proves that this assertion is false.  For example, in speaking of Christ’s office of priest, p. 150 reads, “What is his Priesthood?  It is the first part of his Mediation, whereby he worketh the means of Salvation in the behalf of Mankind; and so appeaseth and reconcileth God to his Elect”, and on p. 153 we find, “What profit cometh by his Sacrifice?  By his most painful Sufferings he hath satisfied for the Sins of the whole World of his Elect, and appeased the Wrath of his Father.”  Without a doubt Ussher places the decree of Christ’s Mediatorship logically after God’s decree of election, so that God’s intention in Christ was to save his elect and no one else.  That Ussher asserts on the other hand that Christ suffered “the whole Wrath of God due to the Sin of Man[1]” is a common understanding in Reformed orthodoxy.  Expressed in other words it is to say that Christ’s death was sufficient to expiate the sins of all of humanity, but effective only for the elect, as Heppe notes, “That the satisfaction of Christ would be sufficient to atone for sin-guilt in all men, if the Father would let it benefit them all, is generally recognized.  Cf. e. g., Riisen (XXII, 11): ‘…the satisfaction of Christ might be said to be sufficient for the redemption of one and all, if it had seemed good to God to extend it to the world[2].’”  Ussher is manifestly in line with Reformed orthodoxy both before and after his time on this point, and so the assertions that he was a hypothetical universalist are unfounded. Ussher’s Body of Divinity is recommended with heartfelt thanks to Solid Ground Christian Books for making it yet again available to the general public (notwithstanding one or two disagreeably baptistic footnotes by the editor who takes issue with Ussher on the usual predictable subjects.)  Please do pick up a copy and read it for yourself. Buy Ussher’s Body of Divinity here.  [Currently 5$ in hardback!]

[1] Ussher, p. 153.
[2] Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, London: Wakeman Great Reprints, 477.
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The Savoy Declaration of Faith on the Imperatives of the Gospel

creeds.net

creeds.net

Although it has become popular in certain theological circles to define the law/gospel dichotomy as being equivalent to the difference between the indicative voice: gospel, (that is, what Christ has done,) and the imperative: law, (that is, what God requires of us,) this is an artificial distinction.  The gospel itself, as the divines of the 1658 Savoy Assembly note, has precepts added to it and required in it, namely, “repent and believe”.  This is important for our understanding of the gospel.

From the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658), Chapter XX, Of the Gospel: The revelation of the gospel unto sinners, made in divers times, and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein…

Mark 15:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.*  

*Scripture proof added.  To my knowledge the Savoy Assembly did not produce a list of Scripture references to go with the Savoy Declaration of Faith. (1658)

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How Vast The Benefits Divine

toplady_a

National Portrait Gallery

How vast the benefits divine which we in Christ possess!
We are redeemed from guilt and shame and called to holiness.
But not for works which we have done, or shall hereafter do,
Hath God decreed on sinful men salvation to bestow.

The glory, Lord, from first to last, is due to Thee alone;
Aught to ourselves we dare not take, or rob Thee of Thy crown.
Our glorious Surety undertook to satisfy for man,
And grace was given us in Him before the world began.

This is Thy will, that in Thy love we ever should abide;
That earth and hell should not prevail to turn Thy Word aside.
Not one of all the chosen race but shall to Heav’n attain,
Partake on earth the purposed grace and then with Jesus reign.

“How Vast The Benefits Divine”, hymn by Augustus M. Toplady, 1774

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Reflecting on the truths of the Nicene Creed Today

Christmas is historically about affirming the truths expressed in the Nicene creed about the person of Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary.  As we enjoy this festival, let us reflect on these words:

The Nicene Creed (325 AD)

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(text from http://www.reformed.org)

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Man Addicted to The Law, Shrinks It

The duty of the law is impossible.  The apostle tells us ‘what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the weakness of our flesh.’  It could not justify us before God, it could not furnish us with any answer to his demands, when he shall all us to an account.  Man is mightily addicted to the legal covenant, therefore it is one part of a gospel minister’s work to represent the impossibility of ever obtaining grace or life by that covenant.  Man would stick to the law as long as he can, and will patch up a sorry righteousness of his own, some few superficial things.  He makes a short exposition of the law, that he may cherish a large opinion of his own righteousness; and curtails the law of God, that the ell may be no longer than the cloth, and brings it down to a poor contemptible thing, requiring a few external superficial duties of men.

528px-Thomas_Manton_2

Thomas Manton, “Sermon on Psalm 32:1-2”, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol II, Homewood, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008, 182.

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Only Definite Atonement Eliminates Boundaries

Boundaries of race, culture, origin, upbringing, and background are obliterated by the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. Christ has died for many of all nations and languages, and this unites them in Him. The alternative view of universal hypothetical atonement which is conditioned upon whether or not the hearer receives Him or not leaves room to think that some groupings of people may be more receptive because of some better qualities, morals, or readiness to accept the truth. So the universal atonement doctrine cannot provide any basis for undoing racism, nativism, or phariseeism.

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.  John 12:32

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Boring Grace? A review of “One Way Love- Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World”

Thanks David for posting this review. We would do well to remember that grace leads to repentance.

TheWeeFlea.com

Boring Grace

One Way Love – Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World

A Review.

 The reviews I read about Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love were so enthusiastic that I immediately shelved out the £7.99 for the Kindle version, stopped reading the latest Keller book and jumped in, looking forward to a stimulating and encouraging account of Gods grace in my exhausted world.   After all when The Gospel Coalition website carries several articles on the book, and when people as diverse as Billy Graham, Eric Metaxas, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Lee Strobel, Paul Tripp, Dr Iain Duguid, Max Lucardo, Sheila Walsh and Rick Warren so wholeheartedly endorse this book as life changing and like drinking from a fire hydrant, expectations are well and truly raised.   Were they met?

I loved the sub-title.   I don’t know Tullian, but what I have read of him, and by him, is excellent.  There is much to…

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Dubbed “Heretic” on Twitter by Rachel Held Evans

I had an interesting exchange today on Twitter with popular blogger and non-divisiveness guru Rachel Held Evans.

twitter2

Now, let’s lay aside the fact that the eternal economic subordination of Christ to the Father has been recognized by all orthodox theologians since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A. D.  My first thought at being called heretic on Twitter by Rachel Held Evans was confusion.  I mean, I thought we were just supposed to love and not divide over doctrine?  It’s only angry, conservative, evangelical, racist, misogynist, homophobic white men with entitlement complexes who throw around the “H” bomb!   (She has since tweeted me to the effect that she did not call me a heretic.  She only said that I was communicating heresy.  OK, semantics.)  “Dude”, certainly not something you would expect from the post-evangelical, progressive, millenial spokeswoman.

Moral of the story?  Snarky rebel bloggers like Rachel Held Evans should leave theologizing to the theologians, and they just might learn something.  (Yes, even complementarianism.)

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