Archive for March, 2007

One of Jonathan Edwards’ Pneumatological Convictions

March 29th, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards are well-known. They can easily be misconstrued, though. One might think that they were being attempted on the basis of native strength. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here is Edwards in his Diary for January 2, 1722 (less than a year after his conversion):

“I find, by experience, that, let me make resolutions, and do what I will, with never so many inventions, it is all nothing, and to no purpose at all, without the motions of the Holy Spirit; for if the Spirit of God should be as much withdrawn from me…, I should not grow, but should languish, and miserably fade away.”[1]

[1] Cited Sereno E. Dwight, “Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards, A. M.” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, revised and corr. Edward Hickman (1834 ed.; repr. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 1:xxiv].

Benjamin Keach & the Marrow of True Justification

March 24th, 2007 Posted in 17th Century

Solid Ground Christian Books is preparing to reprint Benjamin Keach’s The Marrow of True Justification (1692), which has as its main subject justification by faith alone, that central doctrinal feature of the Reformation.

Justification has proven to be a controversial issue down through the years. This is not surprising, since it undermines the perennial human desire to have human merit as the basis for salvation. But this doctrine is eminently biblical. Moreover, it glorifies God and puts human beings in their place in a God-centred universe. Controversy erupted over this doctrine towards the end of the Puritan era, and it has to be admitted that Richard Baxter (d.1691), such a good guide when it concerns Puritan casuistry and ethical issues, was behind the theological errors to which Benjamin Keach ably responds in this vital work.

But why reprint this work from a bygone day and old controversy? For the simple fact that theological error on this issue is not releagted to the past. As significant sectors of Evangelicalism career towards theological disaster in our day, this issue of how a person is made right with God has again become a matter of debate and acrimonious dispute. And here Keach can help us. So read this work! Defend with your last breath the biblical doctrine herein recommended! And glory in and glorify the God who justifies the wicked!

Andrew Fuller the Reader: A Conference at Southern

March 24th, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) is the most influential theological figure in 19th-century Baptist life and thought. C.H. Spurgeon once described him as “the greatest theologian” of his day. And Southern Baptist historian A.H. Newman was convinced that Fuller’s influence on American Baptist life was so large as to be almost “incalculable.” Despite this enormous significance, though, relatively little has been done recently to explore the nature and impact of his thought. In conjunction with the publication of the critical edition of Fuller’s works by Paternoster Press, this is the first of four conferences exploring Fuller’s world and his thought.

In this conference, North American and British scholars explore the theological influences that went into shaping Fuller’s thinking. Papers will explore the way that colossi of Christian thought, men like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, and other lesser-known figures played critical roles in shaping Fuller’s thought. This conference is a must for any Baptist keen to understand the roots of his or her heritage as well as for anyone interested in exploring the thought of a man who is, in his own way, a colossus in Church history.

The conference will take place August 27-28, 2007, at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. More details to follow.

I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

March 22nd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

When it comes to sin, human beings are prone to one of two errors.

Either, as in our day, they do not believe in it at all or have so watered it down that it is but a pale copy of the hideous reality; or, as in the Middle Ages, sin so grips the mind that the reality of a merciful God is practically regarded as little more than fancy and recourse had to others, like Mary, to find a balm for the troubled heart.

But as in a few other areas of the Christian life, Christian orthodoxy—oh what a lovely phrase that is in our day of rampant error—affirms both. Sin is real, far more real than we moderns—or should one say, post-moderns—like to admit. It goes down deep into the recesses of our being, and so leaves its ugly stain upon all of our thought and spoken words, upon our every act and gesture.

But, equally Christianity affirms that there is a God—the one, true and living God, who is the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—who ever delights in mercy, is slow to anger and pours out his kindnesses upon a thousand generations. It is He—and He alone—who forgives sin, casts our wickednesses into the depths of the sea, and removes them from us as far as the east is from the west. The forgiveness of sin is a reality, as real as earth and sky.

For the most wicked tyrant and murderer, for the vilest of men, there is offered a genuine place where their sin can be dealt with and the burden of it rolled from off their backs. But equally so, for the one who takes pride in his religious achievements and firm moral principles, but who is a stranger to living for God’s glory—for such pride and God-forgetfulness there is forgiveness as well.And the place to find this forgiveness? In Christ crucified alone.

The chorus by Ralph E. Hudson says it well:

At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away…

What a mercy to know such a God! How unspeakably rich those who know Him and the forgiveness he freely offers—yes, freely, but oh, at what cost to his dearest Son!

A Free Kurdistan

March 22nd, 2007 Posted in Current Affairs

.My father’s people are Kurds, my father being born in Kirkuk. And thus the stuff that has been going on in the Middle East for the past three decades has been of great interest to me.

Here are two excellent articles on Kurdistan by Michael Totten: The Kurds Go Their Own Way and this perspective on the Kurdish portion of Iraq. May God hasten the day when there is a utterly free Kurdistan, and my father’s people have their own homeland back.

HT: Tim Challies

Escape: A Book Review

March 22nd, 2007 Posted in Reformation

James R. Hughes, Escape (Xulon Press, 2006); 436 pages; ISBN: 1-60034-423-2; contact information:

Historical fiction is a tricky genre. The danger—one that faces all students of the past to some extent—is the import of present-day attitudes and ideas into the past and thus the production of a work rife with anachronism. This new work by James Hughes, an elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Canada congregation in Toronto, appears to avoid this problem and gives the reader a genuine feel for what it must have been like to have been a Protestant in Spain during the Reformation. Apart from the use of the word “wow!” on one occasion, nothing in the dialogue or descriptive content struck me as overtly anachronistic.

In some respects, is a classic love story about the triumph of true love. In other resects, the story is a depiction of the triumph of biblical truth over the forces of repression and ignorant superstition. Set against the backdrop of the Reformation in Spain and France and the attempts of the Roman Church, especially in Spain via the Inquisition, to exercise damage control, Escape relates the way that a young Spanish believer Bartolomé Garcia wins the love of his life, Catalina Mendoza, and at the same time—despite imprisonment and the martyrdom of his father, Juan Garcia (an actual historical figure who died for his faith in May, 1559—perseveres in his Christian faith.For Anglophone Evangelicals familiar with the story of the Reformation in the British Isles, Hughes’ book is a good reminder that other parts of Europe were impacted by Reformation truth, in this case, Spain and France. For a Calvinist like myself interested in the French Reformed cause, it was great to see depicted the way Calvinist doctrine and piety made great headway in France during this era.

I rarely read fiction these days, but this was a good read that I found hard to put down.

Patrick’s Bequest: St. Patrick’s Day Reflections on the Impact of the Life of “Holy Patrick”

March 17th, 2007 Posted in Church Fathers

After the death of Patrick in the 460s total silence reigns about him in the Irish Christian tradition until the 630s, when he is mentioned by Cummian, abbot of Durrow. In a letter to Segene, abbot of Iona, Cummian describes Patrick as the “holy Patrick, our father.” But this shroud of silence should not be taken to mean that Patrick was forgotten. His works, the Confession and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, were obviously cherished, copied and transmitted. Moreover, his missionary labours firmly planted the Christian faith in Irish soil, and left a deep imprint on the Celtic Church that would grow up from this soil.

Patrick speaks of “thousands” converted through his ministry,[1] including sons and daughters of Irish kings.[2] They were converted, he tells us, from the worship of “idols and filthy things.”[3] It is noteworthy that he here speaks of the worship practices of Celtic paganism with “scorn and dislike.”[4] In order to increase the range of his influence he ordained “clergy everywhere.”[5] Patrick never lost sight of the fact, though, that it was God’s grace that lay behind each and every success of his mission. “For I am very much God’s debtor,” he joyfully confessed, “who gave me such great grace that many people were reborn in God through me.”[6] Yet, his missionary labours were not without strong opposition, presumably from pagan forces in Ireland. In one section of his Confession he says: “daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity.”[7] He mentions two distinct occasions of captivity, one for two months and the other for a fortnight.[8] He also relates that he was in peril of death “twelve” times, though he gives no details of these lest he bore the reader![9] Patrick’s response to these dangers reveals the true mettle of the man.

I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere, as the prophet says: “Cast thy thought upon God, and he shall sustain thee.”[10]

There was not only external opposition, though. Many of Patrick’s Christian contemporaries in the Western Roman Empire appear to have given little thought to evangelizing their barbarian neighbours. As Máire B. de Paor notes: “there was seemingly no organised, concerted effort made to go out and convert pagans, beyond the confines of the Western Roman Empire” during the twilight years of Roman rule in the West.[11] Whatever the reasons for this lack of missionary effort, Patrick’s mission to Ireland stands in splendid isolation. As Thompson notes, what we find in the Confession is paragraph after paragraph on this issue, bespeaking Patrick’s uniqueness in his day.[12]Thus, when Patrick announced his intention in Britain to undertake a mission to the Irish there were those who strongly opposed him.

Many tried to prevent this my mission; they would even talk to each other behind my back and say: “Why does this fellow throw himself into danger among enemies who have no knowledge of God?”[13]

Patrick, though, was assured of the rightness of his missionary activity in Ireland. He knew himself called to evangelize Ireland.[14] He had a deep sense of gratitude to God for what God had done for him. “I cannot be silent,” he declared, “about the great benefits and the great grace which the lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity; for this we can give to God in return after having been chastened by him, to exalt and praise His wonders before every nation that is anywhere under the heaven.”[15]

The Celtic Church would inherit Patrick’s missionary zeal. His spiritual descendants, men like Columba (c.521-597), Columbanus (c.543-615), and Aidan (died 651), drank deeply from the well of Patrick’s missionary fervour, so that the Celtic Church became, in the words of James Carney, “a reservoir of spiritual vigour, which would… fructify the parched lands of western Europe.”[16] As Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire notes, it is surely no coincidence that what was prominent in Patrick’s life was reproduced in the lives of his heirs.[17] Patrick’s Celtic Christian heirs also inherited his rich Trinitarian spirituality, which, unlike his missionary passion, was central to Latin Christianity in late antiquity. Near the very beginning of the Confession Patrick sets out in summary form the essence of his faith in God.

There is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made man, and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; “and he hath given him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue shall, confess to him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God,”[18] in whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be, “judge of the living and of the dead,”[19] who will render to every man according to his deeds; and “he has poured forth upon you abundantly the Holy Spirit,”[20] “the gift” and “pledge”[21] of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey “sons of God…and joint heirs with Christ”[22]; and him do we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.[23]

The Old Irish prayer, The Breastplate of Patrick, though most likely written in the century following Patrick’s death, is an excellent example of the way in which Patrick’s Trinitarian faith was transmitted. In its opening and closing refrain, it declares:

I rise today with a mighty power, calling on the Trinity,with a belief in the threeness,with a faith in the oneness, of the Creator of creation.[24]

The credal statement cited above is the only place in the Confession where we can be sure that Patrick is referring to another work besides his Latin Bible. The Latin of the first half of this creed has the “balance and cadences of what passed for polished style in late antiquity” and is clearly not of Patrick’s own composition. And although the second half of the creed is filled with biblical quotation or allusion, it too has regular cadences.[25] It is most likely that Patrick is reproducing here a rule of faith used in the British Church to instruct new believers about the essentials of the Christian faith.[26]

R. P. C. Hanson, though, has probed further into the source of Patrick’s creed and has cogently argued that it essentially stems from one found in the writings of Victorinus of Pettau (d.304), who died as a martyr in the Diocletianic persecution. Certain additions have been made to Victorinus’ creed in light of the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century.[27] The mention above of Patrick’s bibliocentrism brings us to a final aspect of Patrick’s bequest to Celtic Ireland. His Christianity is “very much a religion of the book,” namely the Latin Bible.[28] Given the central place that the Bible held in his thinking, it is not surprising that the success of Patrick’s mission helped initiate an impetus among the Irish towards literacy. In fact, so profound was this impetus that by the seventh century the Irish had become major participants in one of the key aspects of the Christian romanitas of late antiquity: “bibliocentric literacy.”[29]

Such are some of the key aspects of the long-range legacy of the mission of Patrick, who had simply come to Ireland to pass on his faith in the “One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name” to the Irish. As he wrote in Confession 14, tying faith in the Trinity and his mission together:

In the light, therefore, of our faith in the Trinity I must make this choice, regardless of danger I must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God so that after my decease I may leave a bequest to my brethren and sons whom I have baptised in the Lord—so many thousands of people.[30]

[1] Confession 14, 50; see also Confession 38; Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus 2.

[2] Confession 41-42.

[3] Confession 41.

[4] R.P.C. Hanson, The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (New York: The Seabury Press, 1983), 111.

[5] Confession 38, 40, 50.

[6] Confession 38 [trans. Ludwig Bieler, The Works of St. Patrick, St. Secundinus: Hymn on St. Patrick (1953 ed.; repr. New York/Ramsey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, n.d., 32].

[7] Confession 55 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 38).

[8] Confession 21, 52.

[9] Confession 35.

[10] Confession 55 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 38).

[11] Máire B. de Paor, Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 23-24.

[12] E.A. Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick? (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1985), 82-83.

[13] Confession 46 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 36).

[14] See Confession 23.

[15] Confession 3 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 21-22).

[16] “Sedulius Scottus” in Robert McNally, ed., Old Ireland (New York: Fordham University Press 1965), 230.

[17] “Old Ireland and Her Spirituality” in McNally, ed., Old Ireland, 33.

[18] Philippians 2:9-11.

[19] Acts 10:42.

[20] Titus 3:5.

[21] Cp. Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:14.

[22] Romans 8:16-17.

[23] Confession 4 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 22).

[24] Trans. Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland. A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 161, 164.

[25] D. R. Bradley, “The Doctrinal Formula of Patrick”, The Journal of Theological Studies, N.S., 33 (1982), 124-133.

[26] Hanson, Historical Saint Patrick, 79, 81; Bradley, “Doctrinal Formula of Patrick”, 133.

[27] “Witness for St. Patrick to the Creed of 381”, Analecta Bollandiana, 101: 297-299.

[28] Joseph F. T. Kelly, “Christianity and the Latin Tradition in Early Mediaeval Ireland”, Bulletin of The John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 68, No.2 (Spring 1986), 411; Hanson, Historical Saint Patrick, 44-47.

[29] Kelly, “Christianity and the Latin Tradition”, 417.

[30]Confession 14 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 24).

Holiness in an Unholy World

March 2nd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized

The holiness of God is a fundamental conviction of the Bible. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” the prophet Isaiah heard angelic beings proclaiming in a vision of God that he had (Isaiah 6).

The holiness of God first of all means that God is completely different from his creation. He is the Creator, unique and in total control of all that he has made. Human beings—like every other creature in this universe, from galaxies to gnats, from mountains to moles—are limited in what we can do. Our knowledge is finite, never exhaustive. And our lives on this earth are relatively short in duration and often dogged by painful experiences—“nasty, brutish, and short,” is the way that one philosopher once described them. Not so God. He is immortal, can do all that his good pleasure decides, and has absolutely no limitations. To say God is holy is then to speak of his uniqueness and his otherness from his creation.

By extension, God’s holiness means that God is without any moral blemish. He, unlike humanity, has never erred, can never err, and will never err. Whether it has to do with matters of knowledge or moral issues, God is splendidly flawless. By contrast, human beings are not. We are flawed—far more flawed than most of us would like to admit. We tend to think of ourselves as “good” people. As Jesus Christ once said, though, there is none good but God alone. At the centre of what makes us who we are—what makes us tick, as it were—there is a “bentness,” a crookedness that makes us fail each other, hurt each other, and even hate each other. And only in the brilliant light of the moral perfection of God, do we see ourselves clearly for what we are: marred and broken creatures—yes, sinful creatures.

There is hope, though. And that is the gospel. We can find healing for our souls through the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for all the wrong that we have thought, said or done. Now, when we become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ (who, while fully sharing our humanity, never did, said, or thought anything wrong) and enter into a living relationship with the God who made the heavens and the earth and all that are in them, we discover that we have been given a passion to be morally pure like God. We hunger to be holy as he is holy. We desire to know what it is like to live in total harmony with ourselves and our fellow human beings. And we come to realize that holiness is a necessary pathway to true happiness. In fact, if anyone claims to know God, who is holy, and that person has no interest in living a life marked by holiness, there is something seriously wrong in their claim.

Trying to live in a holy way—to order everything we do or think or say from the point of view of God—and to do this from the core of our lives is not easy, for human societies are anything but holy. There is much that is beautiful in human culture and life, for which we thank God. But there is also much that is ugly and sinful. Not surprisingly, followers of Jesus Christ often find themselves at odds with their culture. Thus, there are constant temptations to give up living in a holy way. But God’s command to be holy as he is holy never ceases to resound in the hearts and minds of Christians. And the deep attractiveness of his total purity and utterly untainted character beckons us on along holiness’ pathway to heaven.

Two Lines from John Fawcett

March 1st, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

I am working on the hymnody of John Fawcett (1740-1817), an important Baptist figure in the North of England, and came across these great lines:

Depraved minds on ashes feed
Nor love nor seek for heavenly food.

Beddome Hymn: “Under Dark Providence”

March 1st, 2007 Posted in 18th Century

Here is a good hymn by Beddome (HT: Gray Brady: Hymn Dark Providence)—it well expresses my current feelings:

Under Dark Providence

Great God, how deep thy counsels are,
To mortals quite unknown;
In vain we search with curious eye,
For darkness veils thy throne.

Yet would we wish for grace divine,
To guide our mental powers;
And midst perplexing scenes of life
To know that thou art ours.

‘Let there be light,’ was once the word.
Oh be it so again!
What thou hast promised, Lord, we seek,
Nor let us seek in vain.