Archive for February, 2007

Samuel Pearce: Instructive Views on War

February 26th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

Though Baptists have uniformly deplored war, they have nonetheless recognized that sometimes armed conflict is necessary. In the words of The Second London Confession of Faith, the so-called 1689 Confession of Faith, which functioned as the key Baptist doctrinal standard from Baptist origins in the mid-17th century down to the Victorian era: “New Testament teaching authorizes [kingdoms and states] to wage war when this is found to be just and necessary.” [The 1689 Confession 24.2 [A Faith to Confess : The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (8th ed,; Leeds: Carey Publications Lrd., 1997), 54].

To be sure, there needs to be determined in every individual case when a war is or it not a just war. But if that can be done, then the Baptists of those eras and succeeding ones have not had problems engaging in war. During the English Civil War (1642-1651), for example, numerous Baptists supported the cause of the Puritan Parliament against the King, Charles I (1600-1649). The London Baptist pastor William Kiffin (1616-1701), one of the key signers of the Second London Confession, contributed horse and riders for the Parliamentary cause in 1642. And documents from the late 1650s speak of Kiffin as a “captain” and “lieutenant-colonel” in the London militia.

A Christian attitude to war

Other examples of Baptist involvement in what were ruled just wars could be cited. But an extremely instructive approach to the whole issue of war can be found in the life of Samuel Pearce (1766-1799), the Calvinistic Baptist minister of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, from 1789 to 1799, an anointed preacher, and a zealous advocate of missions. Pearce was a key figure in the early years of the Baptist Missionary Society, which sent William Carey (1761-1834) to India in 1793. In fact, it was on a trip seeking to raise finances for this mission that Pearce contracted tuberculosis in the fall of 1798. By mid-December, 1798, he could not converse for more than a few minutes without losing his breath. Yet, as we shall see, Pearce’s passion for the salvation of the lost gripped him as strongly as the disease that was slowly killing him.

Writing to his close friend William Carey around this time, he told him of a plan to take the gospel to France that he had been mulling over in his mind. Now, at the time of this letter Great Britain and France were locked in a titanic war, what would be known as the Napoleonic War, that would last into the middle of the second decade of the next century and not be brought to a conclusion until 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. This war was the final and climactic episode in a struggle between the French and the British for world hegemony and one that had dominated the history of these nations during the 18th century. Not surprisingly, there was very little love lost between the British and the French. Pearce, though, was gripped by a far different passion than the hatred for the enemy that gripped many in Britain and France—his was the priority of the kingdom of Christ. In one of the last sermons that he ever preached, on a day of public thanksgiving for Horatio Nelson’s victory of annihilation of the French Fleet at the Battle of the Nile (1798), Pearce pointedly said:

Should any one expect that I shall introduce the destruction of our foes, by the late victories gained off the coasts of Egypt and Ireland, as the object of pleasure and gratitude, he will be disappointed. The man who can take pleasure at the destruction of his fellow men, is a cannibal at heart;… but to the heart of him who calls himself a disciple of the merciful Jesus, let such pleasure be an everlasting stranger. Since in that sacred volume, which I revere as the fair gift of heaven to man, I am taught, that “of one blood God hath made all nations,” [Acts 17:26] it is impossible for me not to regard every man as my brother, and to consider, that national differences ought not to excite personal animosities. [Motives to Gratitude (Birmingham: James Belcher, 1798), 18-19].

Here Pearce clearly indicates that while war may be a necessity, Christians should never harbour animosity towards their foes of their nation. To do so and to take delight in their deaths and destruction is to show oneself a stranger to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, who died to save his enemies. Moreover, such an attitude runs against the grain of sympathy that Christianity is meant to awaken and perfect, a sympathy that is rooted in the fact that all of mankind are made by the one true God.

The priority of the Kingdom of Christ

A few months later—when Pearce was desperately ill—he wrote a letter to Carey telling him of his plans for a missionary journey to France. “I have been endeavouring for some years,” he told Carey, “to get five of our Ministers to agree that they will apply themselves to the French language, … then we [for he was obviously intending to be one of the five] might spend two months annually in that Country, and at least satisfy ourselves that Christianity was not lost in France for want of a fair experiment in its favour: and who can tell what God might do!” What a remarkable attitude! In the midst of a horrific war with the French, when so many in England were rejoicing in the deaths of their foes, Pearce is longing for their salvation.

While Baptists have historically recognized the right of nations to go to war and for Christians to take up arms in wars that are just, Pearce’s attitude models how Christians should think and act in times of such wars. God would use British evangelicals, notably Pearce’s Baptist contemporary Robert Haldane (1764-1842), to take the gospel to Francophones on the Continent when peace eventually came, but Pearce’s anointed preaching would play no part in that great work. Yet his ardent prayers on behalf of the French could not have been without some effect. As Pearce had once noted on another occasion, “praying breath” is never lost.

Shifting & Consolidating: A New Look & Website

February 19th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

I have shifted all of my blog entries from Blogger to WordPress. I am deeply indebted to Darrin Brooker for help in this. Truth be told I was fed up with Blogger for a number of reasons, especially the inability of the system to provide good text graphics.

I am also hoping to consolidate all of my old FONTES website stuff under this new website–www.historiaecclesiastica.com. This will make things much easier to locate and consult.

The Floodlight Ministry of the Holy Spirit

February 17th, 2007 Posted in Theology

In all of the activities of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in the life of the Church is there one thing above all other things he is seeking to do? Is there, in other words, a centre to his work and ministry in the lives of Christians?

An answer to these questions can be readily found in John 16:13-14, verses which record important words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night of his betrayal.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

In the surrounding context Jesus is assuring his disciples that they will not be left alone when he returns to the Father after the cross and resurrection. Jesus will still be present with them, but not now via his Incarnate presence but rather by means of his Holy Spirit. He is thus helping them understand something of the ministry of the Holy Spirit after what we call Pentecost.

Now, in the words “He will bring glory to me,” we have set forth for us what J. I. Packer has rightly called the “Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role,” namely, “directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ.” This ministry of the Spirit in relation to Christ is what Packer goes on to call “a floodlight ministry.” [Keep In Step With The Spirit (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1984), 64, 65. A slightly revised edition has just been released by Zondervan (2005).]

Since 1985 I have had the privilege nearly every year of teaching at Séminaire Baptiste Évangélique du Québec, in Montreal, Canada (SEMBEQ), the French Fellowship Baptist seminary in the west end of Montreal, located on Gouin boulevard. The building that houses the seminary used to be a school and is located in a very prestigious area of the West Island of Montreal. I recall vividly one summer night after I had taught all day. I had decided to go for a walk in the neighbourhood. I noticed that a good number of the owners of the wealthy homes in the area had strategically placed floodlights around their homes so that passers-by like myself might ooh and aah about their achievements in stone and brick.

Now, if instead of focusing on the homes which were lit by the floodlights I had instead concentrated my attention on the floodlight themselves—“Oh, that’s an interesting-looking floodlight; I wonder where they bought it” or “what a lovely light that floodlight is giving; I wonder how powerful it is”—I would have missed the whole meaning and purpose of the floodlights. The owners of the homes had put the floodlights out in front so that I should look at their homes, not at the floodlights, the source of illumination.

So it is with the Spirit’s ministry. He has been sent by God the Father to focus our attention to Christ, to kindle in our hearts an unquenchable love for Christ and for his purposes, and to enable us to reflect faithfully his person and character. The Spirit has not come to primarily speak about himself. He has not been given to us so that we should focus primarily on him and his work. He has come to inhabit these mortal frames so that we should love Christ and adore him, and that we should seek to live each day in obedience to Jesus. The work and ministry of the Holy Spirit has this one indispensable genuine mark then: it is Christ-centred—it is designed to exalt him and glorify him in the minds and hearts of men and women, and boys and girls. As the great nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) once put it:

“If we do not make the Lord Jesus glorious; if we do not lift him high in the esteem of men, if we do not labour to make him King of kings, and Lord of lords; we shall not have the Holy Spirit with us. Vain will be rhetoric, music, architecture, energy, and social status: if our one design be not to magnify the Lord Jesus, we shall work alone and work in vain.” [The Greatest Fight in the World (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1891), 64].

Dr Bruce Metzger

February 14th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

I just heard of the death of Bruce Metzger, pre-eminent New Testament textual critic. A brief account here.

I heard Dr Metzger at McMaster Divinity College back in the 1970s and was deeply impressed by both his learning and his Christian demeanour. Over the years I have used a number of his books with great profit, especially those dealing with New Testament textual criticism and his superb work on the New Testament canon.

Praise the Lord for the gift of such a scholar.

One Night with the King

February 14th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

My wife, daughter and I watched the new movie about the story of Esther, One Night with the King, last night. Overall it was excellent. The costumes and sets sumptuous as one might expect of the Perisan Empire at its height. The acting was very good as well, though I found the Persian King a little stiff. And justice was done to the overall biblical text which was faithfully reproduced in the script. Scenes of prayer were especially done well.

Esther is, of course, a great story, easily adaptable to the media of film. Over the years it has helped me understand God’s sovereignty in history. This is very interesting since the name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the book. But the whole story is redolent with God’s providential workings on the stage of time and space.

It was interesting to see Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole together in the same film, reminsicent of that great blockbuster Lawrence of Arabia. Sharif plays Memucan and O’Toole the prophet Samuel. The latter is involved since a link is made between Haman the Agagite and the Amalekite king Agag (1 Samuel 15), whom Samuel told Saul to destroy along with all of his people. This link is something of conjecture.

Another piece of filler had Haman linking the Jews with the democratic-loving Greeks. Bring a lover of Greece—and rooting for their victory over Persia in the Persian Wars when I read those accounts as a young boy—and, since my conversion to Christ, a lover of ancient Israel as well, I found quite this link interesting. I didn’t feel this additional stuff about the Greeks, rooted in scholarly opinion that the feast that Ahasuerus throws at the beginning of Esther 1 was preparatory to his campaign to subdue the Greeks, detracted from the movie, which was superb and well worth one’s time.

And it was a love story to boot–very appropriate on the eve of St.Valentine’s Day

20 Things You Should Read

February 11th, 2007 Posted in Books, Puritans

I am always thrilled when someone recommends the riches of our Christian past. A new book from Tyndale House, entitled 20 Things You Should Read (2006) and co-authored by four writers—David Edwards, Margaret Feinberg, Janella Griggs and Matthew Paul Turner, each of whom takes turns introducing the various works—is a good way to dip into some of the riches of our heritage. The authors/compilers rightly emphasize that these works of the past reveal how our Christian forebears struggled with many of the questions we wrestle with and how their beautifully-framed answers still convey hope and inspiration (p.vi-vii).

The Christian writers chosen are quite eclectic, ranging from Augustine to Madame Guyon, Julian of Norwich to Karl Barth. Some readers, myself included, would question the wisdom of such a wide range of authors, but I was glad to see the two key Reformers Luther and Calvin included as well as Bunyan, Charles Wesley (interesting that John is not included), Whitefield and Spurgeon. All of the writings are taken from documents available on the net, but it is great to have them in one compass like this.

The omission of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards—both masters of spirituality—is curious. But any such collection is bound to omit favourite authors of other Christians.

I also felt that at times the introductory comments were not helpful in doing justice to the historical context of the various authors. To say, for example, that Augustine “partied like a rock star before his conversion” and that up until that event, which took place when he was thirty-one, he had led “a promiscuous, unruly lifestyle” (p.1) simply is not true. After a year or so of such living when he first went to university in Carthage, Augustine actually settled down to a fairly prosaic life, seeking truth in the cult of Manichaenism and the Platonic philosophy.

But the intended audience of the book is obviously young men and women who have not been interested in the riches of Christian authors of the past. And in recommending these riches to such, the book succeeds admirably.