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Saturday, August 13, 2022

An unexpected visit to the National Gallery


The car started to make a funny noise as we travelled to London for a family visit. The idea was that we would stay in London from Thursday to Saturday and then set off to Eastbourne for a two week break. 

But as we turned off the M4 we noticed the car sounded a bit odd. Like our old school unleaded guzzling Ford Focus had transitioned into a whining elecric job. Freaky. On arriving at our destination a peek under the bonnet revealed a fluid leak. Not engine oil, but whatever it was, there was quite a bit of it. Too much to risk proceeding with our journey without getting it looked at. 

A visit to a garage on Saturday morning revealed that the power steering pipe needed replacing. Couldn't be done until Monday at the earliest. We were stuck. In London. Where there's always stuff to see and do.

Like arty stuff in an air conned gallery during yet another summer 2022 hot spell. And so we braved the sweltering Bakerloo line and headed for the effortlessly cool National Gallery. 

We hadn't visited for years, so it was like bumping into old friend after old friend as we wandered through the various exhibition rooms. There's Rembrandt as a young man and then as an oldie. The greatest self-portraits ever? And his epic Belshazzar's Feast. 

I wanted to see Turner's The Fighting Temeraire. There it was. Like, wow. The ghostly old ship being towed to the breaker's yard by the fiery, modern tug boat. That sunset. On the way we saw Gainsborough's portraits of gentry couples proudly posing on their estates, shooting a confident gaze at their  viewers. Placed next to tenderly intimate depictions of the painter's young daughters. 

Then the Monets and Reniors. Not to mention Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Chair and Wheat Field. It was the visual eqivalent of playing a setlist of all your favorite songs, with some welcome surprises thrown in. And this was a rushed 2 hour visit in which we sampled only some of the artworks on display in the grandeur of the National Gallery. All for free. To think, we could have been travelling to Eastbourne. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life, by Crawford Gribben


Crossway, 2020, 190pp

Crawford Gribben has written a full scale biography of John Owen entitled, John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat. This is something different. Here Owen's story is interwoven with his teachings on how the Christian faith casts light on every stage of life, from childhood to death and eternal life. Novices will find this a useful way of getting into Owen and will be stimulated to dive deeper. Seasoned Owen readers will discover fresh insights into some of his key writings. 

Childhood 

John Owen was a particular favourite among early Particular Baptists such as Nehemiah Cox. They valued his account of the relationship between the old and new covenants, which they saw as tending in a Baptist direction. Owen was an Independent and a paedobaptist, however. He wrote in defence of infant baptism, but he had a cordial relationship with the Particular Baptists.  Unlike other contemporaries he did not accuse them of being schismatic Donatists because they insisted on baptising believers who had been 'baptised' as babies. 

Owen's advocacy of infant baptism made for tensions in his ecclesiology. He acknowledged that in the apostolic church "all baptized initiated persons, ingrafted into the church" were recognised as "sanctified persons" (p. 57). Further, "the proper subjects of baptism" are "professed believers... and their infant seed" (p. 58). But this did not mean children of believers should be admitted to church membership, at least not until they had made a credible profession of faith. Admitting unconverted people into the church would have compromised the Independent's vision of churches as a gatherings of visible saints. 'Well, quite', Owen's Baptist friends may have been tempted to say. 

Issues of baptism aside, Owen firmly believed that the children of believers needed careful instruction in the faith. To that end he penned The Primer and The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ, Unfolded in Two Short Catechisms. These texts were intended to supplement the teaching children will have received in church meetings.   

Youth

The rise of William Laud not only made church life difficult for Puritan-minded types. It also made things rather challenging for godly students at Oxford and Cambridge. Certainly for Owen, whose dreams of pursuing an academic career at Oxford were dashed. 

Owen's university days had given him a good grounding in theology, but it was through the ministry of an unknown preacher in London that he was converted. Now he had an experiential knowledge of the truths he had studied so diligently at Oxford. 

Owen returned to the city in 1651, where he was appointed dean of Christ Church and then vice-chancellor of the university.  He took the opportunity to preach to the young people in his charge. Knowing the danger of having only an intellectual knowledge of the truth, the laid great emphasis on  practical godliness. John Locke was among Owen's students, but he didn't take kindly to the Puritan's attempts at fostering reformation among the student body.  

Two of Owen's sermon series preached to students at Oxford later became the basis of some of his most celebrated works, On the Mortification of Sin and Of Communion with GodIn the second title, Owen sought to show how the believer may enjoy distinct communion with each person of the Holy Trinity. He wanted his students not only to have a clear understanding of orthodox theology, but also to deep delight  in the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Middle Age

The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 spelled the end of Owen's role as a prominent public figure. He was dismissed from Oxford and had to keep a low profile, giving himself to pastoral ministry among Independent congregations. Owen now had to plead with the authorities to grant toleration to Puritans who would not conform to the Church of England. He argued that Nonconformists were law abiding citizens who sought to contribute to the common good of England. They were no threat to the established order and should therefore be accorded liberty to practice their faith free from persecution. Owen's ideas were later taken up by his old student, John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Toleration, which is often regarded as a key text in the development of classic liberalism. 

For Owen, middle age involved an experience of painful defeat that followed the collapse of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. But if this world often meant suffering for the godly, Owen consoled himself, "It is but yet a little while before it will be no grief of heart unto us for to have done or suffered any thing for the name of the Lord Jesus." (p. 116).

Death and Eternal Life

John Owen looked forward to better days for Christ's 'peaceable kingdom' on earth. Jesus would not, he believed, "leave the world in this state, and set up his kingdom on a molehill." (p. 128). But in later life he lost confidence in his ability to understand what God was doing in history. Gone was the old certainty that the Lord was on the side of Parliament, showing his approval by granting the Ironsides victory over the Royalists at Naseby and Marston Moor. After all, the Charles II was now King, and those identified with the Good Old Cause found themselves on the losing side. He reflected, "I do not know... a greater rebuke, in the whole course of my ministry, than that I have been labouring in the fire to discover the causes of God's withdrawing from us without any success." (p. 130). 

John Owen died on 24 August 1683. He knew that death is not a kindly friend, but an unnatural rending of body and soul due to sin. But death could be welcomed, none the less. For the believer death means the end of a lifelong struggle with sin and a departure from this world to be with Christ. Despite the disappointments and reversals he experienced of his earthly life, Owen did not die a broken, disillusioned man. One of his final works was Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, in which he sought to set forth his view of the supreme glory of the Lord Jesus. The believing soul, which has glimpsed the glory of Christ by faith will at last see him by sight. "the sight of God in Christ, which is intellectual, not corporeal; finite, not absolutely comprehensive of the divine essence, is the sum of our future blessedness." (p. 139). 

In his conclusion the author reflects on Owen's lasting impact on society and the the church. The old Puritan's ideas on religious toleration helped to sow the seeds of classic liberalism. His theological writings are the subject of renewed attention in the contemporary Evangelical world. 

Crawford Gribben has ably opened up John Owen's Christian vision for every stage of life. An excellent read. 

* I am grateful to the author for kindly sending me a free copy. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

A tough question

With Boris Johnson announcing that he is standing down as Prime Minister various candidates have been vying for his job. Now the list has been whittled down to the final two, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. It is up to Conservative party members to decide who will be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street. You would expect journalists to quiz the candidates on what they would do about the cost of living crisis if they gained power, would they cut taxes and so on. But these days it seems than no media interview or hustings event is complete without politicians being asked: ‘What is a woman?’ Tough question. 

The dictionary definition is ‘adult human female’. No surprises there. But giving that answer could get a politician into hot water with those who believe that anyone who says they are a woman is a woman. Even if their anatomy suggests otherwise. Debates over the ‘trans’ issue have become a highly contested aspect of today’s ‘culture wars’. Everyday words are changed to reflect this. In guidelines produced by one NHS trust ‘mothers’ are renamed  'birthing parents’, ‘fathers’ as ‘second biological parent’. There is great concern over the number of children being referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service because they believe they were born in the wrong body. The vast majority of children seeking help are girls. It was recently announced that the Tavistock child gender identity clinic is due to close, following criticism the quality of care provided in an independent review

Of course, people suffering from gender dysphoria should be treated with respect and given all the help they need. But there is no escaping biological reality. Each cell in our bodies either has two X chromosomes (female) or one X and one Y chromosome (male). That cannot be changed. It is the way God made us, “So God created mankind in his own image, male and female he created them.” The Bible honours the created differences between men and women, but also insists that male and female are of equal value and worth before God. 

Jesus counted women as well as men among his early followers. According to the gospel accounts it was women who first discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty and saw him risen from the dead. At the time of the early church society was deeply divided between ethnic groups, salves and masters, men and women. Yet the Christian message was one that brought people together. It teaches us that we are all sinners, but through Jesus we can be forgiven and be put right with God. To believe in him is to belong to his people, where there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

*For the August edition of various parish magazines 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Particular Baptists and Calvinistic Methodists on the Covenant of Grace

John Eilas (1744-1841)
Hanserd Knollys (1599-1691)














Chapter VII of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Savoy Declaration (1658) is devoted to 'God's Covenant with Man' (see this tabular comparison). The two confessions are not identical at this point. The wording  is different here and there. Savoy omits quite a bit of Westminster's paragraph 5 and the whole of paragraph 6. But they ave quite a lot in common. Both both the Presbyterians and Congregationalists were Paedobaptists, holding that the children of believers should be baptised. An essential element of Paedobaptist theology is that just as Abraham's offspring were to be circumcised, so the children of believers should not be denied the new covenant sign of baptism. 

That is why Westminster and Savoy say that the covenant of grace was 'differently administered' during the era of the law to what is now the case under the gospel (VII:5). In other words, the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants were administrations of the covenant of grace, as is the new covenant. Under all the various administrations the children of covenant members were to receive the sign of the covenant and either be circumcised (under the law) or baptised (under the gospel).  

The trouble with that is under the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, simply being a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh did not make a person a true believer in the coming Messiah. Paul says as much in Romans 9:6-13. How, then could the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants be administrations of the covenant of grace, when, according to both Westminster and Savoy, the covenant of grace was between God and the elect, who would most certainly be saved?
the Covenant of Grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (VII:3).

The framers of the Second London Baptist Confession (1689) denied that the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants were administrations of the covenant of grace. Rather, they were 'steps' under which the covenant promise of salvation was revealed until it was fully made known under the new covenant.

This covenant [of grace] is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament (VII:3). 

Accordingly, baptism is only for those who were ordained unto life and have been savingly engrafted into Christ, the evidence of which is their profession of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Chapter XXIX 2LBCF). 

Now, eyebrows might be raised at the idea of 'Calvinistic Methodism', thinking that Methodists were Arminians like John Wesley. But George Whitefield was both a Calvinist and a Methodist. So too were his Welsh counterparts, Daniel Rowland and William Williams. Second generation Welsh Calvinistic Methodists left the Church of England and formed their own church grouping. Their leaders such as John Elias and Thomas Charles were very much Calvinist in doctrine and Methodist in spiritual vibrancy. Their confession of faith reflects that. 

What I want to highlight here is how the Confession of Faith of the Calvinistic Methodists (1823) resembles the Second London Baptist Confession more than it does Westminster or Savoy in its treatment of covenant theology. Chapter 13 is entitled, 'Of the Eternal Covenant of Grace'. The confession says that the promises of the covenant of grace are given to 'Christ and his seed' and under this covenant this 'seed' will receive eternal life. That could not be said of all Abraham's natural descendants and regretfully, neither is it true of all children of new covenant believers. The final paragraph of Chapter 13 says,

God in his own time reveals this covenant through the gospel to all his people, and, by bringing them to approve and embrace it, brings them into the bond of the covenant, and into actual possession in their own persons of its grace, gifts, and privileges. The covenant of grace was revealed by degrees, and under various dispensations; but the gospel dispensation is the last and most glorious. This covenant is free, sure, holy, advantageous, and eternal.

Note the way in which the penultimate sentence seems to echo the emphasis of the Second London Baptist Confession. Contrary to Westminster and Savoy, the covenant of grace is not said to be 'differently administered' over time, but 'revealed by degrees, and under various dispensations: but the gospel dispensation is the last and most glorious'. That is more or less the equivalent of the 2LBC's  'revealed... by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament'. Quite how on this basis the Calvinistic Methodist fathers still went on to affirm infant baptism in Chapter 37 of the confession, I am at a loss to know. 

My point is that few would doubt that the early Welsh Calvinistic Methodist churches were part of the Reformed family. Their confession placed them in the mainstream of Presbyterian and Reformed thought. Particular Baptist teaching on the covenant of grace sprang up from within the Reformed churches, especially the Independents in the seventeenth century. But they saw with greater clarity that the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants could not simply be identified with the covenant of grace. They were 'covenants of promise' (Ephesians 2:12) in which the covenant of grace was progressively disclosed. 

All agree that the covenant of grace is with God and his elect people in Christ and made effective by the Spirit. The genius of the Particular Baptists was to follow the biblical logic of that position to say that  baptism should therefore only be administered to believers on profession of faith, who are then admitted to the membership of a local church. Doctrinally speaking, we are indeed Reformed Baptists. But that in itself is not sufficient, we also need something of the life and fire of the old Calvinistic Methodists. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The cost of living (Jesus' Way)

Here’s where I embarrass myself by writing an article on what the government needs to do to fix the cost of living crisis. Basically, they have to make sure that stuff is cheaper, and that people have enough money to pay for the stuff they need. I think that just about covers it. Agreed?

Whether Liz Truss or Rishi Sunack wins the Conservative leadership election, their success as Prime Minister will rest on coming up with  policies that address the cost of living crisis. Especially when it comes to fuel and food. It can’t be right that some people in our society will have to choose between heating and eating come the chilly winter months.

Jesus spoke about the cost of living too. According to the economics of the kingdom of God the gift of eternal life can’t be bought, but it will cost you everything. It can’t be bought because salvation is by God’s free grace, not our efforts. That’s why he sent Jesus to die for our sins so that all who believe in him may be forgiven and have the hope of glory to come.

While grace is free, it is not cheap. People may quite like the idea of eternal life, but strictly on their own terms. Well, no. Jesus wants disciples who will follow him, not consumers who just want what he has to give. The Lord Jesus challenged his would-be followers, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” He urged people to count the cost of discipleship saying, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” If we would truly live, we must die to self and follow Jesus. That’s the cost of living his way.

*For the July edition of local parish magazines. 

Friday, July 08, 2022

Pastors, bodily training is of some value

In one of the Bible's Horrible Histories moments Eglon the tubby tyrant is put to the sword by Ehud the left-handed judge. See Judges 3:12-30 for the lowdown. When Ehud stabbed the King of Moab in the guts with his sneakily concealed blade we are told, "And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the excrement came out." (Judges 3:22). Nice. 

Now, I don't think this episode is in the Bible first and foremost to shame us into keeping ourselves in trim. But it does seem that mention of Eglon's weight is meant to tell us something about his character. Similarly, when Eli fell backwards off his chair on hearing the Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant, we are told, "his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy." (1 Samuel 4:18). Eli and his sons had previously been accused of, "fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’" (1 Samuel 2:29). 

Gluttony is condemned in Proverbs 23:20-21, 28:7. According to Paul a distinguishing mark of "enemies of the cross of Christ" is that, "their god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19). Meanwhile, among the fruit of the Spirit is "self control" Galatians 5:23). While Paul urged Timothy to "train yourself for godliness", he also admitted, "bodily training is of some value" (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Too right. 

A recent government report revealed that around three quarters of those aged 45-74 in the United Kingdom are overweight or obese. Being overweight leads to a range of other serious health problems. According to a report in thebmj, "Covid-19 death rates are 10 times higher in countries where more than half of the adult population is classified as overweight". 

The answer to question 73 of The Baptist Catechism on the sixth commandment ("you shall not kill") spells out what is required in that commandment, "The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life (Eph. 5:28,29) and the life of others". That's why self control in diet, plus regular bodily exercise aren't optional lifestyle choices for followers of Jesus, but a matter of obedience to the Lord.

Now, the reasons why people become overweight are complex. Physical exercise isn't a possibility for people with debilitating illnesses that severely limit their movement. We know that. But in general terms regulating weight is about eating sensibly and taking regular exercise. Elders/overseers should model a life characterised by self control (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). How can we preach to others on that virtue (Titus 2:2, 5, 6, 12) when self control is conspicuously lacking in us?

Perhaps all this is easy for me to say as I've never had to battle with being overweight. My teenage nickname was 'Ribs the Mod' because I was skinny and a mod. Shortly after getting  married in my mid 20's I went up a waist size from 32" to 34", but I've remained that size until now (mid 50's). If I did one of those 'before and after' photos, all you'd notice is I now have less hair than 10 years previously. In fact few things bring out the Pharisaic 'older brother' in me than the hearty congratulations elicited by 'after diet' snaps, "‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving [slimming] for you and never disobeyed your orders [rarely ate biscuits]. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.'" (Luke 15:29). 

You want to know the secret of the 'Davies Diet & Exercise Regime'? Sorry to keep you in suspense until the end of the post. Here it is. Eat less stuff as you get older and your metabolism slows down. Rarely eat between meals. Spurn biscuits. Mostly. Enjoy a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg. Have a bit of a workout with some reps & a spin on an exercise bike most days. Go for a decent walk with your wife on your day off. Climb a mountain every now and again. Because bodily training is of some value. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

The labourers are few

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest 
to send out labourers into his harvest.
(Matthew 9:37-38)

I don't know of a church of any size that complains they have too many workers for what they are trying to do. The activities of larger (100ish) and middle-sized (50ish) fellowships are often staffed by a core of dedicated members, while others don't get so involved. The problem is even more acute when it comes to small churches (25 or less). If a small congregation has a pastor he is going to have top help out with a whole lot of stuff, especially if his fellow church officers have full time jobs on top of their church responsibilities. Yes, he must prioritise 'prayer and the ministry of the word', but not to the neglect of  pastoral visiting, youth work, taking school assemblies, admin, taking a turn on refreshments duties and so on. Plus, pastors should be active and engaged member of their local communities, serving as school governors, or whatever. 

Being a small church often means only having enough people to keep a modest programme of organised activities ticking over. You can forget about whizzy new initiatives featuring the latest evangelistic fad. OK, the toddler group or children's work could be ditched to make room for a new thing, but that would probably alienate those who attend the toddler group, or whose children enjoy coming to Friday Club. And so the church withdraws into ever decreasing circles, losing touch with the very people who may come to a 'new thing' if invited. Sometimes just managing to keep going with the help of God is an achievement in itself. 

Especially when you are labouring away in an unfashionable market town in the South West of England. Many Evangelical Churches within reach of a Uni seem to be packing them in. Ditto those based in multi-ethnic communities. Where you have a predominantly white British demographic such as in Wiltshire, not so much. It's not as if people in the South West are by and large 'too posh to pray' types for whom the eye of a needle is a tad on the narrow side. There are pockets of real deprivation in the South West that go unnoticed by tourists sampling the local delicacies (pasties, cream teas, Wiltshire ham and scrumpy). See this article by Rakib Eshan,  It's grim down South.  The stats for my home town of Westbury, Wiltshire can be found here:  Westbury Community Area

The hardest nut to crack when it comes to education England is the underperformance of disadvantaged white British children. The achievement gap between white British 'Pupil Premium' kids and others from more affluent homes was wide enough before the pandemic. Due to school closure it is now a mighty chasm. I would venture to suggest that a similar nut needs cracking when it comes to evangelising the UK. But there are limits on what smaller churches can do in terms of running organised activities to reach their local communities. We need help. But unlike in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers there is no sign of  Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan charging down the valley to join us in the fight. 

Evangelicals tend to avoid living and working in places like Westbury, Wiltshire. Evangelicalism is largely middle class and the middle classes often pursue careers that require a degree. Blue collar towns don't offer much in the way of those kind of jobs. But unless Evangelical Christians are prepared to live in towns such as Westbury they are not going to be able to engage with their neighbours and work colleagues in the area. Sometimes they do move here, but then attend a more middle class church elsewhere. The trouble is, it's unlikely the people they have got to know will travel with them to a nearby town or city if invited to a meeting. Small townies tend to be 'somewheres' with a strong sense of place, rather than 'anywheres'. That is even more true for villagers. And so while smaller churches are steadily tapping away at the nut and tiny fissures may appear, cracked it isn't 

If you want to be part of a rapidly growing church plant, or an overnight church revitalisation programme, small town ministry probably isn't for you. Things tend to happen slowly in small towns. Westbury has been waiting for a bypass for decades. Similarly it can take many years for a church to break down barriers and win people's trust. Even when that does happen the impact may not be seen in terms of extra folks attending services on a Sunday. The people most open to the gospel may not be a family with a professional dad and a stay at home mum and their young children, but an older couple whose advanced age and health problems militate against them coming along to meetings. It may have take years of pastoral care and meeting their practical needs before they become open to faith in Christ. 

That said, at least Westbury has a Grace Baptist Church, which is twinned with a fellowship in the village of West Lavington (see here for the Providence & Ebenezer website). Warminster, a few miles down the A350 has no Independent Evangelical or Grace Baptist Church at all. It would be great to see one planted, but who's going to do that? 

What's to be done, then? Small churches in small towns or in village locations need to keep on keeping on, doing what they can with the resources available to them. We are told, "let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9). Yes, we need more workers too. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38). Above all we need a mighty outpouring of the Spirit upon gospel churches of all sizes in these days, "Revive your work, O Lord in the midst of the years!" The hammer of the word in the power of the Spirit can crack any nut. 

By the way, I've noticed that church leaders serving hard up communities often have a thing with wearing hats. Mez McConnell has his beanies. Steve Kneale is seldom seen not sporting a baseball cap. Not to be outdone, here's one of me wearing a bucket hat. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The History of Christianity in Britain and Ireland: From the first century to the twenty-first, by Gerald Bray

IVP, 2021, 693pp

This looked like the book for me. The history of Christianity in these islands is a fascinating story. I've enjoyed some of the author's earlier writings Creeds, Counsels and Christ (Mentor) and The Doctrine of God (IVP). But I didn't get on with this title as well as anticipated. Bray writes very much from an Anglican perspective. His focus tends to revolve around the institutional church. Tables are given on how dioceses in England and Ireland developed over the centuries. Controversies in relation to the Established Church are discussed in some detail. The account can sometimes be a little dry and lacking in human interest, which is a pity as the Christianity in Britain and Ireland has produced some great characters. 

Plus, while billed as covering Britain and Ireland, England pretty much dominates, with occasional side glances at Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Even periods when a lot was going on in Wales like the Evangelical Revival in the 18th century and the other revivals that followed, little coverage is given here. The 20th century Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gets a mention, though. He is made to sound even more Welshy by the author referring to him as Dafydd rather than David Martyn. Inaccurately he is said to have called for Evangelicals to leave their denominations and join the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches), where in reality it was the BEC (British Evangelical Council). 

Not much is said about the impact of British Christianity on world mission. William Carey's pioneer work in India isn't mentioned, for instance. Were Baptists even a thing? Of course, in a work of this scale the writer will have to be highly selective, but a less Anglo-centric and Anglican-centric account would have made for a more rounded history. 

Gripes aside, there a good things here too. The shadowy origins of British and Irish Christianity are charted with care. The Medieval period isn't written off as a 'Dark Age' altogether devoid of gospel light. Take a bow, Anselm. Periods of Reformation and Revival and some of the key figures connected with them are given due attention. For an avowed Anglican Bray is highly sympathetic towards the Puritans and has little time for Charles I. 

The author's sweeping overview of the history of Christianity in these islands concludes with him charting the rapid decline in church attendance and influence in recent decades. The roots of decline are traced to factors in the Victorian era, where many people had a 'form of godliness', but knew little of its power. Bray makes it clear that where churches are growing in this secular age they tend to be biblically faithful, gospel preaching fellowships. Church groupings that have changed their beliefs to fit in with the times are on their way out. Maybe there was something to be said for Lloyd-Jones's 1966 call for Evangelicals to leave the doctrinally compromised denominations and come together to reach the nation for Christ? 

For now the church in Britain and Ireland finds itself 'singing the Lord's song in a strange land' as marginalised exiles. We must fight the good fight of faith and pray that our God will once more pour out his Spirit upon us in reviving power. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown

Audibe edition, read by Lucy Tregar

Thursday 2 June 2022 marked the beginning of Her Majesty the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations. It was also the day on which I finished listening to Anna Keay's gripping account of the time when Britain was without a crown. That wasn't an act party pooping Republicanism on my part. It just happened that being on holiday gave me time to listen to the final chapters of the author's book when sitting on Tenby beach. 

And a very splendid book it is too, brilliantly read by Lucy Tregar. The period of the Republic and Commonwealth is often thought of as a drab and colourless time. Puritan killjoys draped in Bible black endeavoured to suck the joy out of life with all the relish of a wasp stinging a small child. With them in charge living in these islands was about as much fun as Afghanistan  under the Taliban. 

Well no. Those old Puritans certainly took life seriously, but life in the Republic was far from dull. Radical political ideas were put to the test. Religious diversity and toleration were allowed to thrive. Within limits, of course. Almost recognisably modern newspapers began to roll off the presses. Even the formidably stern Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell was known to throw a decent party. With music and high jinx. Anna Keay depicts a vibrant and restless republic indeed.    

While the subtitle promises an account of Britain Without a Crown, it's mostly about England, with a nod to Scotland an occasional side-glance to Wales, but a good hard look at Ireland. Of course it all went pear shaped on the death of Old Noll. But when Britain had a crown again, Charles II did not attempt to wind the clock back and rule with the high handed pretentions of his father, Charles I. Monarchs would now be of the constitutional, not absolute variety. 

The author devotes two chapters each to nine characters from the period of the Republic. Some were movers and shakers, others more marginal figures. The personalities depicted span the Republican/Royalist divide. The lawyer John Bradford presided at the trial of Charles I and went on to become President of the first Commonwealth Council of State. The staunch Republican became disillusioned when the Commons-led Republic was supplanted by the rule of Cromwell as Lord Protector. While Bradford and his fellow Republicans were willing to execute a king, there were limits when it came to turning the world upside down. Gerrard Winstanley's Digger commune at St George's Hill was brutally crushed. The landowning gentry who dominated England's newfound Republic were not about to turn the nation into common treasury for all. 

How defeated Royalists fared during this period is illustrated by the poignant tale of what happed to Lord Derby and his redoubtable wife, Charlotte Stanley. They were actively involved in trying to overthrow the Commonwealth and suffered the consequences. The L’Estranges of Norfolk kept their heads down, but still faced decimation at the hands of the Republican regime. Had Cromwell and Co acted with greater magnanimity towards their defeated foes, maybe there would not have been such a clamour for Charles II to take the crown when the Lord Protector died. 

The religious ferment of the time the London-based mystic Anna Trapnel. People would hang on her words as the young woman emerged from trace-like states to utter her oracles. Trapnel's prophecies addressed political as well as spiritual matters, so the authorities kept a close eye on her. For a time she was carted off to Cornwall where she could cause less trouble. Little is said of more mainstream Puritan figures such as John Owen or Thomas Goodwin. Baptists barely get a look in. 

Marchamont Nedham was a newspaper man. Initially a Royalist critic of the Republican regime, he was imprisoned in the notorious Newgate Gaol. On escaping he did a reverse ferret and courted favour with high up figures in the Commonwealth. His publication, Mercurius Politicus  became the must-read journal of the period. Nedham was careful to maintain his loyalty to the Republic. He exploited his contacts for insider news. Nedham cultivated an array of foreign correspondents whose reports gave the paper international scope. His columns not only included news and comment on current affairs, but also adverts. Mercurius Politicus did not survive the return of the King. 

William Petty was a man of science. And by that he meant the empirical study of nature, not uncritical acceptance of the theories of the ancient Greeks. On the continent Galileo got himself into trouble with the Vatican for advancing Copernicus' heliocentric account of the solar system. The lack of a centralised religious authority in England created space for men like Petty to follow wherever the evidence of nature led them. Petty made his name by almost miraculously restoring Anne Green to health after she had been hanged for murder. Petty and a colleague were about to perform an autopsy on Green when  they noticed she wasn't quite dead. The scientist put his methodical approach to good use in charting the territory in Ireland that was due to be taken from Irish Catholic landowners and given to Protestants in their place. Cromwell's Irish campaign and the subsequent attempts at land clearance showed the Republic at its vindictive worst. As John Owen commented in a sermon to Parliament, “How is it that Jesus Christ is in Ireland only as a lion staining all his garments with the blood of his enemies, and none to hold him out as a lamb sprinkled with his own blood to his friends?”

The man who dominated the era of the Republic was, of course, Oliver Cromwell. Keay neither paints him as a 'boo-hiss' villain, or a plaster saint. Cromwell was a complex character. His conversion to Christ changed the course of his life. He was too humble to take the crown when it was offered to him. Cromwell sought to be attentive to the voice of God addressing him through providence. He could be magnanimous in victory and was tolerant of religious differences within reason. His main political aim was not to achieve a perfect constitutional settlement, but to secure a godly reformation in the land. His Major Generals worked hand in hand with Puritan pastors to achieve that goal in the face of sullen hostility from the masses. Cromwell was an uxorious husband and doting father to his children, yet he feared accusations of nepotism and was cagey about promoting his sons to high office. On the other hand, the Lord Protector could also be harsh, bad tempered and impulsive. Successive parliaments were called and then dissolved. Papist Ireland was treated most cruelly.  His providentialist view of history meant that the Lord who gave him victory at Naesby and Marston Moor must have approved of his political actions, when that isn't necessarily the case. Prosperity isn't always a sign of the Lord's favour and the lack of it a token of his displeasure, as the Book of Job testifies. 

Disappointingly, the author does not adjudicate on whether it is true that a monkey kidnapped the infant Oliver Cromwell and carried him to the roof of Hitchingbrooke House, only to deposit the future Lord Protector of England safely back in his crib. Be that as it may, when Cromwell died the Republic was doomed to collapse. It didn't help that Oliver appointed his unsuitable son Richard to succeed him, rather than the altogether more capable Henry. Cromwell's old generals George Monk and Thomas Fairfax were not Republican purists. They craved stability and concluded that only restoring the monarchy could rescue the nation from chaos. And so it was that Charles II was crowned king. The Republic was no more. 

Listening to this colorful and captivating account of life in Britain without a crown was a salutary reminder that as an attempt at securing a godly reformation, the Commonwealth era was a spectacular failure. Witness the return of 'Merrie England' with the accession of Charles II to the throne. The Puritans' Calvinist theology should have told them that only inward transformation by the Spirit can make a people godly. Political imposition by the State won't cut it. The early Particular Baptists understood this and argued for a clear separation between church and state. 
 
Given the patriotic fervor that greeted Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee celebrations it doesn't look as though Britain will be once more without a crown any time soon. Although King Charles III could always mess up spectacularly. Be that as it may, modern Britain would not be what it is today were it not for the Restless Republic depicted here. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The King of Love

Over an elongated Bank Holiday weekend a grateful nation paused to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. I well remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations way back in 1977. We had street parties, people merrily waved Union Jack flags and wore red, white and blue plastic hats. Much fun was had by all. Little did we think when we sang, ‘Long live our gracious Queen’, that Her Majesty would live to see her 96th birthday and reign over us for 70 years (so far).

The Queen’s reign has been so long that she seems like a living embodiment of modern British history. She has seen 14 inhabitants of 10 Downing Street, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson. Even the oldest of us has lived most of our lives under her rule. We don’t like to think that one day Her Majesty’s reign will end, but end it will. Prince Charles sitting in for the Monarch at the recent State Opening of Parliament  was a little glimpse of what’s to come. His time on the throne is bound to be short lived compared to that of his mother.

The Queen makes no secret of the fact that her dedicated service to the nation is inspired by her faith in a King far greater than even her royal personage. That King is Jesus. The Bible styles him, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. Death will not deprive him of his crown. In fact, it was by dying on the cross for our sins and being raised from the dead that he was enthroned as the world’s true Lord and King. His kingdom of love will never end.

In her message to the Commonwealth in 2011, Her Majesty the Queen, said: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

* For the June edition of various local parish magazines 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Confessing the Son's impeccability

In an earlier post I argued, 'No, Jesus could not have sinned, but he was tempted'. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith does not explicitly rule on whether Jesus could have sinned. Although it clearly states that he did not, 'The Son of God... [took] upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities of it, yet without sin'. (2LBC 8:2). But there are resources in the confession that help to throw light on the matter and point in the direction that the incarnate Son of God could not have sinned. See Chapter 8 of the 2LBC: 'Of Christ the Mediator'.

The confession acts as an aid to theological reflection by erecting a fence around the mysteries of the gospel, lest we stray out of bounds. Its teaching will help us think through whether Jesus could have sinned in the light of classic orthodox Christology. The Puritans who drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith and its offspring the Savoy Declaration and Second London Baptist Confession were not reckless revisionists. They were Reformed Catholics, who happily confessed the truths laid down in earlier creedal documents such as the Nicaean Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition. 

The Doctrinal Basis of the FIEC doesn't help us either way. It simply says, 'The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, and lived a sinless life in obedience to the Father.' (4. The Lord Jesus Christ). Traces of Nicaea and Chalcedon can be detected in the wider statement, but they are much more faint than in the 2LBC. 

Clear echoes of Nicaea may be heard in the language the 2LBC uses to describe our Lord. He is God's 'only begotten Son' (8:1), 'the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with Him who made the world' (8:2). The confession's account of the hypostatic union is thoroughly Chalcedonian, 'so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures [divine and human] were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.' (8:2). 

The doctrine of 'communion of attributes' is clearly spelled out, 'Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.' (8:7). This helps to explain statements in Scripture which seem to suggest that the divine Son suffered and died for his people: 'crucified the Lord of glory' (2 Corinthians 2:8), 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). Those things clearly happened to Jesus' as man, but we do not say that his human nature died for us, but the person of the Son gave himself to the cross in the mode of his human nature. 

What do these statements have to say to the question of whether or not Jesus could have sinned? Quite a lot. For Christ to have sinned his human nature would have needed to unhitch itself from the divine person of the Son, who cannot be party to sin, Hebrews 1:8-9. The confession rules that out by saying the two distinct natures 'were inseparably joined together in one person' (8:2). The communion of attributes also comes into play by underlining that all actions of the incarnate Son, according to both his  divine and human natures were actions of the person of the Son of God in whom they were united. That means any sin committed by Jesus' human nature would necessarily have been the sin of the Son of God, which is unthinkable. Christ could not have sinned by reason of his human nature's unbreakable union with his divine person. 

Paragraph 3 is also relevant, which I quote in full:

The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, in the person of the Son, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of mediator and surety; which office He took not upon himself, but was thereunto called by His Father; who also put all power and judgement in His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.

Here attention is given to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' human nature. The Spirit is given him 'above measure... to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of mediator and surety'. The Spirit's task was to fit Jesus to accomplish the work of redemption. Had Jesus sinned he would have disqualified himself from the office of mediator and surety. It was impossible that the Spirit should have failed in his work. It was impossible therefore for Jesus to sin. The Spirit-anointed Son finished the work the Father gave him to accomplish. 

The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto Him. (8:5) 

That the our Particular Baptist forefathers were Reformed Catholics is seen in the distinctively Reformed flavour of their treatment of Christ the Mediator. His work is placed in the context of the covenant of redemption, a hallmark of seventeenth century Orthodox Reformed theology,

It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man (8:1)

Taking a lead from John Calvin, Christ's saving work is set out in terms of his biblically assigned offices of prophet, priest and king. Contra Rome, no other mediator between God and man is recognised.  

This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ, who is the prophet, priest, and king of the church of God; and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from Him to any other. (8:9) 

They were not called 'Particular Baptists' for nothing: Christ's atoning work procured reconciliation 'for all those whom the Father had given him' (8:5). The benefit of his redeeming work is 'communicated to the elect in all ages' (8:6). 

Had Christ sinned the covenant of redemption between the persons of the Trinity would have been broken. The Lord will have failed in his work as mediator and surety of the covenant. Jesus the priest would need atonement for his own sin. The prophet of our God will have proven false. Christ the king will have been defeated. The Father also will have failed to uphold his incarnate Son by the power of the Spirit. Due to inseparable operations a failure of one person of the Trinity would necessarily involve the other two, which is unthinkable. With that in mind we have to say that the Son simply could not have failed to accomplish the work of redemption. In other words, it was impossible for him to sin.

Although there are differences of emphasis, the Second London Baptist Confession is in agreement with the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration on these main points, see here. It is unsettling, then to find that no less a 'Westminster man' than Charles Hodge arguing, 
This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare [not possible to sin]. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes, Kindle Edition, location 20205. 

Of course,  Hodge makes it clear that Jesus did not in fact sin, but he goes on to say,

Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people. (Systematic Theology, location 20205-20212). 

But later the Princeton divine states,

All Christ’s acts and sufferings in the execution of his mediatorial work were, therefore, the acts and sufferings of a divine person. (Systematic Theology, location 20232). 

Quite how that chimes with it being necessary for Jesus to be able to sin for him to face temptation I am at a loss to explain. I guess that 'even Homer sometimes nods' and great theologians don't always perceive the inconsistency of their arguments. 

But  why is this matter even important? Advocates of the view that Jesus could have sinned insist that in reality he did not. Supporters of the impeccability of Christ argue that the doctrine does not imply that his temptations were a sham. Very good. But it is important because admitting the possibility that Jesus could have sinned plays havoc with orthodox Christology. The union between the person of the Son and his human nature is rendered uncertain, rather than unbreakable. Due to the inseparable operations of the Trinity, a failure of the incarnate Son would have constituted a failure of the Father and Holy Spirit too. To be consistent Hodge and those who argue like him would have to say,
All Christ’s acts, sufferings [and any possible sins committed] in the execution of his mediatorial work were, therefore, the acts, sufferings [and sins] of a divine person. 

 You see the problem? 

Friday, May 20, 2022

No, Jesus could not have sinned, but he was genuinely tempted

Contrary to what John Stevens said in his tweet, I believe that Jesus was impeccable. Not only was he without sin, it was impossible for him to sin. Yet I also insist that Christ was not impervious to temptation. He 'suffered, when tempted' (Hebrews 2:18), experiencing the full force of Satan's attacks. How can both those points be true? 

1. The incarnate Son was a divine person with a human nature 

At the incarnation the Son of God took a human nature into union with himself. That personal union is unbreakable. For Jesus to have sinned his human nature would have needed to be able to detach itself from the person of the Son, for the Son as God cannot be party to sin.

The human nature of Jesus cannot act independently of the Son, for it is his human nature. Speaking abstractly, Christ's human nature is impersonal. It his no personhood of its own. But speaking concretely of the incarnate Christ, his human nature was in-personal. It existed in union with the person of the Son from the moment of its conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb.  With that in mind we do not say that the human nature of the Son died for our  sins, but that the Son of God died for us in the mode of his human nature.

That is why Christ cannot sin according to either nature; divine or human. The two natures are united in the person of the Son. To say otherwise and suggest that the human nature could act independently smacks of Nestorianism, the idea that the incarnate Son was an alliance of two persons, divine and human, rather than a divine person with a human nature. 

Donald Macleod cites W. G. T. Shedd to this end, saying, 'When the Logos goes into union with a human nature, so as to constitute a single person with it, he becomes responsible for all that this person does through the instrumentality of this nature... Should Jesus Christ sin, the incarnate God would sin.' (The Person of Christ, IVP, 1988, p. 230). Similarly, Oliver Crisp spells out the logical implication of holding that while Christ was sinless, he could have sinned, 'In short, if Christ really could have sinned - but did not - then he must have been able to choose to sin as the God-Man. (God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology, T&T Clark, 2009, p. 134). 

2. The Father promised the incarnate Son the help of the Holy Spirit 

Jesus was conceived in the virgin's womb by the power of the Spirit so that the nature he assumed might be fully human and yet without sin, Luke 1:35. Also, the Father promised his Son the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to enable him to accomplish the work of redemption, Isaiah 42:1, 61:1, Luke 3:21-22. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to live in obedience to the Father's will, that he might offer himself without blemish to God, Heb 9:13-14. 

It is inconceivable that Jesus could have sinned, as that would have constituted a massive failure in the work of the Spirit of God whom Christ received without measure from the Father. Not only the indissoluble union of Son to his human nature, but also the inseparable operations of the Trinity stand against the idea that Jesus could have sinned.

3. What the Son could not do as God he could do as man, but not sin

The incarnate Son did many things that God in himself could not do. That is the point of the incarnation. For human beings to be saved it was necessary for the Son to become man to suffer and die in our place. It fully consistent with God's character for the Son to become man to redeem us by his blood. Indeed, the cross is the great revelation of God's justice and love, Romans 3:25-26, 5:8. But it would have been inconsistent with God's character had Jesus sinned. God is love, but he also light and in him there is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5. Again, Donald Macleod this time in his own words, 

We may link the subject 'God' with many predicates. The Son of God may suffer, be tempted, may be ignorant and may even die. But we cannot link God with the predicate 'sin'. God cannot in any situation or for any purpose commit a transgression of his own will. He absolutely cannot be guilty of lawlessness. (The Person of Christ, p. 230). 

4. The the incarnate Son needed no capacity to sin to be truly human 

In the original article tweeted by Stevens, Matthew Corey asks, "What kind of humanity is Jesus redeeming if there is no capacity for sin?" (Unionized Perfection). This assumes that having a capacity to sin is a mark of authentic humanity. Presumably resurrected and glorified humanity will be incapable of sinning. That does not mean that in saving us God rescues us from being human, rather than redeeming humanity from its fallen state.  As Robert Letham points out,
If the quintessence of being human is found in heaven and consists., among other things, in freedom from the possibility of sinning, it follows that impeccability itself does not undermine the humanity of Christ in his state of incarnate weakness prior to the resurrection. (Systematic Theology, Crossway, 2019, p. 525)
Jesus was the 'Word made flesh' (John 1:14). He came, said Paul 'in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin' (Romans 8:3). The flesh he assumed was weak and mortal like ours, but it was the flesh of the Son of God and so was incapable of sinning for the reasons already given. Corey questions, 'If Jesus has no capacity for sin how was able to “become sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21).' But this it a category mistake. Paul was not saying that Jesus  "became capable of sinning for us" by virtue of his incarnation. Rather, he 'who knew no sin' bore the judicial penalty of sin on behalf of his people that 'so that in him we might become the righteousness of God'. Similarly in Romans 8:3, driving idea is the judicial condemnation of sin in Christ's flesh, not that he had a capacity for sin, 'by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh'. 

Robert Letham concludes his discussion of whether it possible for Jesus to sin saying,  'that since a sinful condition is not essential to human nature, the argument that impeccability undermines the reality of Christ's humanity and the genuineness of his temptations fails.' (Systematic Theology, p. 526). 

5. The incarnate Son was impeccable, but not impervious to temptation

The incarnate Son was impeccable from the moment of his conception. But that does not mean he was impervious to temptation, Luke 4:1-13, Hebrews 2:18. Adam was so made that it was possible for him not to sin, but he did sin. For Jesus it was not possible to sin, but that does not mean his temptations were like water off a duck's back. We do not find him resisting the devil by saying, 'You must be joking, I'm the Son of God and therefore impeccable, don't you know?' 

Jesus 'suffered when tempted' (Hebrews 2:18), combatting the evil one by wielding the sword of the Spirit (Matthew 4:4). While Satan sought to tempt Christ by appealing to his unique divine identity, 'if you are the Son of God...' (Matthew 4:3, 5), Jesus responded as one who had 'taken the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men' saying, 'Man shall not live by bread alone...', (Matthew 4:4). The incarnate Son 'learned obedience through what he suffered' (Hebrews 5:8) in the arena of temptation. Satan did did his worst, but 'full of the Holy Spirit' (Luke 4:1), and in humble dependence on the Father, Jesus vanquished the foe. As Hebrews insists, in Jesus our great High Priest we have 'one who was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin'. (Hebrews 4:15). Kevin Vanhoozer reflects,

There is no necessary contradiction between Jesus being "open" to temptation and the certainty of never sinning. The temptation was no sham, for it is precisely because Jesus resisted temptation that he could "feel" its full force. He was impeccable yet subject to real temptation in the way that an invincible army is subject to real attack. (Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 432. 

Could Jesus have sinned? No, but 'because he has himself suffered when tempted, he is able help those who are tempted.' (Hebrews 2:18). 

Monday, May 09, 2022

Ten Points on Reformed Baptist Federal Theology

1. God made a covenant of life with Adam, whom he appointed federal head of all humanity. This was a covenant of works, under which if Adam obeyed the Lord he and all in him would live for ever and enter God's Sabbath rest. If Adam disobeyed, he and all in him would die under God's judgement. (Gen 2-3, Rom 5:12-21, 2LBC 7:1).

2. God made a covenant of grace with his elect people, who were chosen in Christ for salvation before the foundation of the world and redeemed by his blood in the fullness of time. The covenant of grace is made effective by the power of the Spirit, (Ephesians 1:3-14).

3. The Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants were not administrations of the covenant of grace. They were 'covenants of promise' (Ephesians 2:12) in which the covenant of grace was progressively revealed 'until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament' (2LBC 7:3).

4. The old covenant (the collective name for the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants) was not a republication of the covenant of works. The law 'was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made'. (Galatians 3:19). The law also served as a rule of life for Israel, setting out their covenant obligations to the Lord. In her idolatrous disobedience Israel broke the covenant and brought upon herself its terrible curses, Leviticus 26:14-39. Unlike the covenant of works with Adam, for Israel there was a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, Leviticus 26:40-45. The Lord's deliverance of his people from captivity was typical of the greater exodus accomplished by the redeeming work of Christ (Jeremiah 23:7-8, Luke 9:31, Colossians 1:12-14).

5. Abraham was the federal head of the Abrahamic covenant in whom blessing was received (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:1-8). Moses was the mediator of the Sinai covenant (Exodus 20:18-21, 33:12-17), of which David and his royal line served as federal heads. As went the king, so went the people for good or ill, (1 Kings 9:4-9).

6. While the old covenant foreshadowed the covenant of grace, it was only in the new covenant that the covenant of grace was fully enacted. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 8, 9:15-22). Christ is both mediator and federal head of the new covenant, (1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:12-21).

7. During the Old Testament period people were saved by faith in the Christ who was yet to appear as mediator of a new and better covenant. (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15). Under the new covenant people are saved by faith in Christ who has come and accomplished the work of our redemption (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8).

8. The old covenant was with Abraham and his offspring, which is why all males descended from the patriarch were circumcised. But not all who belonged to Israel through descent from Abraham and circumcision believed and were saved (Romans 9:6, 27). Only a godly remnant knew 'circumcision of the heart' of which circumcision in the flesh was a sign (Deuteronomy 30:6, Romans 2:28-29).

9. As the historical enactment of the covenant of grace the new covenant is between God and the elect in Christ. The law is written on the hearts all new covenant people of God by the Spirit of Christ (Jeremiah 31:33, 2 Corinthians 3:3). All who believe in Jesus belong to the Israel of God, whether Jew or Gentile. Baptism is the sign that believers have been savingly united to Christ by the Spirit. (Galatians 3:27-29, 6:16). That is why according to the New Testament baptism invariably follows repentance and faith, and is linked to church membership. (Acts 2:38-39, 41-42).

10. As federal head of the new covenant, Jesus takes us not back to the beginning, but to the end of the road that Adam had to walk. (Herman Bavinck). In fact, we receive more in Christ than we ever would have had in Adam. For the riches of God's grace and the depths of his glory are  fully revealed only in Jesus, the last Adam, Romans 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, Ephesians 1:7-10, Colossians 1:27.