Thursday, September 29, 2005


When Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was ministering at Stockbridge, he encouraged his son, the future theologian-pastor Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1745-1801), to spend time learning the culture and language of the Oneida. The boy went with a missionary, Gideon Hawley, to an Oneida village at the head of the Susquehanna, about two hundred miles away from his family. The young boy was here from April 1755 to mid-January 1756. What amazing confidence the senior Edwards and his wife Sarah must have had in a sovereign God to send their son into such a potentially dangerous place!

In the winter of 1756, the situation did indeed become too dangerous for the young Jonathan and Gideon to stay with the Oneida. War was engulfing the western frontier and  the younger Edwards and Hawley trekked back to Fort Johnson, the fortified mansion of Sir William Johnson (1715-1774), now in present-day Amsterdam, New York. The young Edwards spent most of the winter there. The elder Edwards considered Johnson as “a man of not much religion” [James Thomas Flexner, Mohawk Baronet: A Biography of Sir William Johnson (1959 ed.; repr. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1989), 290]. What a contrast Johnson’s home would have been then to the godly home in which the younger Edwards had been raised.

Johnson was a remarkable Irishman, born and raised not far from Dublin, who had come to America at the age of twenty-two. An extremely tall man, gargantuan in his day, Johnson was a resourceful businessman and went on to create a mini-empire in the Mohawk Valley. Key to this empire were his own brains and his third wife, a Mohawk by the name of Molly Brant (c.1736-1796), or Koñwatsi’ tsiaiéñni as she liked to be known. Her younger brother was Joseph Brant (1742/43-1807), well-known in Ontarian history. But Molly was actually much more powerful than her brother in her day, because Mohawk society was matriarchal and she was the wife of the one of the most powerful British land barons in that area of the new world.

I visited Fort Johnson this past weekend, as well as the larger fortress-mansion that Johnson built nearby and which today is called Johnson Hall. I was reminded again of the turbulence of Jonathan Edwards’ world. Johnson himself was active in the French and Indian War (1755-1760), in which he saw action. He commanded forces at the important Battle of Lake George (1755), in which Edwards’ cousin Ephraim Williams was killed. A display case at Fort Johnson held a book that was open to an account of Ephraim’s death.

Johnson’s empire, though, was not to last. He died in 1774. Two years later, his family, loyal to the British crown like Johnson, took the British side in the civil war which we know as the American Revolution. In the turbulence that followed the entirety of the Johnson estates were confiscated by the American government and all of his labours were brought to naught. Flexner, in his biography of Johnson, indulges in counter-factual history and wonders what would have happened if Johnson had lived. Johnson might have secured the Mohawk Valley for the British and the course of the war might have been quite different (Mohawk Baronet, 352-356).

But Johnson did not have a role to play in the American Revolution, for he died in 1774. What a parable is his life of the folly of building kingdoms in this world. How different the empire-building, if it can be called that, of the two Jonathan Edwards, both father and son. In their books and preaching they sought to spread the rule of the King of kings, the Lord Jesus, and as such they built for eternity.

One wonders if Molly Brant later acquired the faith that was absent in her husband’s life. After the American Revolution she went to live in Kingston. There in the 1790s, possibly not long before her death, an anonymous traveller saw her in the Anglican Church and wrote this account: “in the Church at Kingston we saw an Indian woman, who sat in an honourable place among the English. She appeared very devout during Divine Service and very attentive to the Sermon.”

Monday, September 26, 2005


John D. Hannah, who teaches Historical Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, has written a review of A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), which are the papers of a 2003 conference on Jonathan Edwards held at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. It has just appeared in the e-zine, Reformation 21.  Read the review and then get the book and savour some very fine studies of the thought and life of this superb American theologian.

Hannah concludes the review thus:

“In a world where most celebrated figures are anti-heroes, Edwards is truly remarkable. He was a man, as [Mark] Dever and [Sherard] Burns demonstrate, that at times did not rise above the cultural presuppositions and blinders of his day (e.g., his aristocratic attitudes in a culture rejecting past conventions and his embrace of slavery). Though a genius by any cultural standards, his attempt to defend the Reformed faith with cleverly constructed and novel arguments at times seemed to take him to the edge of Orthodoxy though he was wise enough to know that some answers have not been revealed by the all-wise, incomprehensible God of the Holy Scriptures, as [Paul] Helms and [Sam] Storms ancillarily indicate. As…[John and Noël] Piper…indicate, [J. I.] Packer and [Donald] Whitney collaborate, Edwards’ spirituality is truly exemplary, as is his conception of God; he managed to put life in sync with his lofty encounter with the one whose name is above every name. I can heartily commend this popularly styled volume.”


Ever since I begin to read Baptist history in the 1980s, I have had a love for the lives and stories of our Baptist forebears. This past weekend I had the privilege of considering again the story of Abraham Cheare (1626-1668), pastor of a Calvinistic Baptist work in Plymouth during the period of the Commonwealth and also during the early years of persecution under the so-called “Merry Monarch,” Charles II (r.1660-1685).

The early years of Abraham Cheare are obscure. One recent writer names his father as a John Cheare, who leased a couple of fulling mills built by the Elizabethan naval captain Sir Francis Drake at Plymouth [C. E. Whiting, Studies in English Puritanism from the Restoration to the Revolution, 1660-1688 (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1968), 568-569]. Cheare himself described his parents as “mean,” that is lowly in social standing, “yet honest” [“Post-script” to his Words in Season (London: Nathan Brookes, 1668), 293]. Nathan Brookes, the publisher of one of his books, notes that his parents were also believers who took care to nurture their son in God’s ways [“The Publisher to the Reader” in Words in Season, (6)].  

Apart from a journey to London in the 1650s, Cheare appears to have spent the entirety of his life in the vicinity of Plymouth where he was born and raised. During the tumult and turbulence of the civil wars in the British Isles during the 1640s and 1650s he was able to avoid fighting with any of the armies, but he did serve for a time in the local militia at Plymouth (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 293). This was possibly during the long siege of Plymouth by the Royalist armies in 1643, a siege that failed to drive the Parliamentary troops out of the town or bring about its fall. At one point he also served as an army chaplain, but he was able to obtain a discharge after a few weeks (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 293-294).  

Around 1648, Cheare says that he was convinced “of his Duty to the Lord, by evidence of Scriptural Light” and he “joyned himself in an holy Covenant, to walk in all the Ordinances of the Lord blameless, to the best of his Light and Power, in fellowship with a poor and despised People” (“Post-script” to his Words in Season, 294). This “poor and despised People” were the Plymouth Calvinistic Baptists.

If this congregation had a preacher before Cheare, his name has not come down to us. Cheare is the first known pastor of this congregation. Though Cheare rarely left Plymouth, he was involved in the nation-wide church planting of the Calvinistic Baptists during the 1650s. He was in correspondence, for example, in January 1655 with a certain Robert Bennet about the organization of Calvinistic Baptists in the neighbouring county of Cornwall. And he was present as the pastor of the Plymouth Church at an important meeting of the Western Association of Baptist Churches in May, 1658, in Dorchester. On that memorable occasion some individuals who were sympathetic to the “Fifth Monarchy” movement—these were individuals who believed in using military violence to prepare for the establishment of Christ’s messianic kingdom—failed to convince the representatives of the churches in the Association, including Cheare, to publicly espouse the ideals and goals of this party.

Cheare proved to be a man with a wide knowledge of the Scriptures. This is well seen in Sighs for Sion, a tract that was published in London in 1656 by Livewel Chapman. (By the way, how typically Puritan is this man’s personal name! In other books that he printed, his first name is spelt “Livewell”). A second printing followed in 1657, which was also done by Livewel Chapman. Written mostly by Cheare, but with the help of four other Baptist leaders—Henry Forty, Robert Steed, John Pendarves (1622-1656) and Thomas Glasse—this tract essentially pled with the churches to which it was sent to overlook their differences of opinion regarding eschatology and to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit which the authors deemed vital if they were to see their churches quickened and strengthened (p.10-11).

Cheare and his co-authors cited examples of faithful praying from the Old Testament—such men as Nehemiah, Ezra, and Daniel—to stir up their readers to be fervent in prayer (p.12-13). In fact, the writers felt that God had already given the churches a taste of “this glorious blessing of the Spirit of grace and supplication”—a reference to Zechariah 12:10—and done great works on behalf of his people (p.15-16). But there had been defections from within their churches and “vain men,” in the words of Cheare and his colleagues, had attacked the Baptist position (p.17). Ongoing prayer for Christ’s cause to be honoured among them was thus still needed.

In a powerful exhortation the churches were urged to reflect on what kind of congregations they ought to be like. Were they the sort of people they should be, then, Cheare and his fellow authors wrote,

“the zeal of the Lord’s house would eat us up, and love of it would crucifie us more unto, and wean us from those interests of earth, and men, whereupon we have been apt to lean, and whereunto we have been deeply and dangerously engaged: causing us also to wait to be with Jesus, which is best of all; and in the mean time to pant, and thirst uncessantly, for that holy Spirit of promise, that alone can present us with the ravishing glory of that expected day, and raise up our spirits to a sweet and suitable disposition, according to the will of God, to wait and act aright toward it” (p.18-19).

Though so many things have changed between Cheare’s day and ours, our need is ultimately no different from that of the Baptists being addressed by Cheare and his friends. May the Lord grant us “to pant and thirst” without ceasing for the same Spirit of supplication that we might live for the glory that is to come!


Thursday, September 22, 2005


Blogging is undoubtedly bringing a batch of new terms into the English language: blogosphere, blogdom, bloggage are some that I have seen in recent days. One that I have just run across in relation to blogs focused on the Scriptures is “biblioblog,” which biblical scholar Mark Goodacre of Duke University has defined as “Blogs which have a primary focus on academic Biblical Studies” (NT Gateway Weblog).

This being so, I suppose that what I am doing here is an ecclesioblog, a “blog that is primarily focused on the history of the church.”  


Reformed Baptist Academic Press (Palmdale, California) are about to publish Nehemiah Coxe’s A Discourse of the Covenants. Edited by Ron Miller, James M. Renihan and Francisco Orozco, this important work by Calvinistic Baptist Nehemiah Coxe (d.1689), a one-time associate of John Bunyan (1628-1688), has not been reprinted since it first appeared in the 17th century. This is strange, for some of our Calvinistic Baptist forebears—men like John Sutcliff (1752-1814) of Olney—appeared to have deeply appreciated it.

Be this as it may, this fresh edition is extremely welcome. It clearly demonstrates that 17th century Calvinistic Baptists like Coxe—and his modern descendants in this century—are fully part of that stream of Reformed theology that has come down from the Reformation work of men like Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and Théodore de Bèze. More times than I can count—and personally I find it so frustrating—I have heard Reformed theology defined in such a way that it excludes those who hold to believer’s baptism. This valuable work will help set the record straight.


If you happen to read the post on Gill by President Bauder @ Nos Sobrii (mentioned in my previous entry), also read this earlier blog from him that deals with some recent discussions at John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist congregation on baptism and church membership: Presbygationalism. A very wise post on a vital issue for Baptists on how biblical church government should work.



I have long been interested in John Gill (1697-1771). In standard histories of the English Calvinistic Baptists he usually gets blamed for the decline that came upon this community in the 18th century. It’s a judgment that has poisoned many against his very name and they want nothing to do with the man. I think the actual impact of Gill upon the Baptists of his day, though, is far more positive than the usual reading of his life allows and a much more complex story than these histories present.

In this vein it was good to find this blog from Kevin T. Bauder, the President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota, about his reading of Gill: Biblical Languages Then and Now (@ Nos Sobrii ). Bauder begins thus:

“I’ve been spending a good bit of time lately in some of John Gill’s commentaries. His treatments are in certain ways typical of the Puritan writers (not that Gill was a Puritan—just that these similarities do exist). He was quite verbose, which does more than his profundity to account for the remarkable length of his volumes. He was skilled with logic and argued well. He was enormously learned by the standards of his day, and mastered the biblical languages to the level at which they were then known.”

He goes on to speak of the deficiencies of Gill’s knowledge by today’s standards. But I am thrilled that Gill is being read.              


In its early years, the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton, had a number of Presidents whose tenure in office was relatively brief. One thinks, of course, of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the theologian of the eighteenth century, who was there less than three months. Samuel Davies (1723-1761), who succeeded Edwards, was President for about nineteen months before he died. He was succeeded by Samuel Finley (d.1766), who was president from 1761 to 1766. And the very first president of the school, Jonathan Dickinson (1688-1747), was in office for but five months.

The longest serving of these early Presidents was Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716-1757), the son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards. He was in office for nine years. It was Burr who led the school from Newark to the village of Princeton in 1756, only to die the following year.  Only with the coming of John Witherspoon (1723-1794) in 1768 was this line of brief presidencies broken.

But linking together these short presidencies was a shared worldview that esteemed the Scriptures as the supreme source of wisdom and knowledge. It was a worldview that was in hearty agreement with Dickinson’s declaration about the educational ideal of the fledgling school when it first met in the parlour of his home: “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”

Toronto Baptist Seminary, where I serve as principal, was founded 180 years after the College of New Jersey in very different circumstances. But I hope we, as a school, share Dickinson’s passion for a Christ-centred education.

PS I am thankful to Pastor Ron Shinkle of Lemoyne Baptist Church, Toledo, Ohio, for drawing my attention to Dickinson’s statement.          

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


’Tis so good to see a dear friend, Heinz Dschankilic, entering the blogopshere with his new blog, QuoVadis . Check it out and read. Blog on, Heinz.          


Speaking of Arianism (see previous post), I recently worked through a biography of John Taylor (1694-1761), pastor of the Presbyterian work in Norwich, in his day one of the leading towns in England. Geoffrey T. Eddy, a Methodist minister based in Warwickshire, England, has produced a long-overdue biography of this noted Hebraist, strident critic of classical Calvinism, and eighteenth-century Arian [Dr. Taylor of Norwich: Wesley’s Arch-heretic (Peterborough, England: Epworth Press, 2003)].

Taylor became well-known for his Hebrew Concordance (vol. I—1754; vol. II—1757) that placed him in “the forefront of the leading Hebrew scholars of his day” (47). But he also became infamous for being a “radical champion of freedom of thought on theological questions” (40). Imbued with the optimistic confidence in human reason that was typical of so many in his day (154-155), he deprecated what he called “Athanasianism” because of what he believed to be its denial of God’s unity (40). Eddy thinks Taylor was probably closest to Arianism in his theological convictions (40, 150, 152).

And though he believed in the infallibility of the Scriptures, Taylor saw no foundation for the doctrine of original sin in Scripture (83). This led him to be the target of attack by two of the most famous Christian authors of that era, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who critiqued him in his The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1757), and John Wesley (1703-1791). Eddy details both of their responses. Of Edwards’ response he is very dismissive: “Modern readers are unlikely to think it worth while to plough through the book, based as it is upon a cosmology and a view of Scripture neither of which can any longer be the basis for argument” (96). At a later point, Eddy, with regard to what he believes to be Wesley’s failure to mount an effective response to Taylor, comments that the doctrine of original sin has “simply ceased to be credible” (121). Where then did Taylor stand when it came to salvation? His teaching was, Eddy says, “frank Pelagianism,” in which “we are saved by our own efforts, with a little help from the Holy Spirit” (119, also 152-153). Little wonder that many regarded Taylor as an arch-heretic.

Eddy relates the way that one of Taylor’s critics, a Calvinistic Baptist minister by the name of John MacGowan (1726-1780)—minister of the historic Devonshire Square Baptist Church in London and a man, in Eddy’s words, “over-addicted to irony and vituperation” (236, n.5)—attacked him. In a tract that appeared in the year of Taylor’s death, MacGowan depicted Taylor as now sinking down in hell in “despair, while the direful floods of omnipotent vengeance rolled upon him” (6). Eddy terms this book of the London Baptist the “weirdest of all the attacks” upon his hero (5). And yet, a careful reading of the words of the Lord Jesus about the final state of unbelievers would show that MacGowan was not so weird after all.

There is no doubt that much good biography is rooted in sympathy with one’s subject and in Eddy, John Taylor has found both a good biographer and admiring advocate. However, this reviewer would strongly dissent from Eddy’s dismissal of such critics of Taylor as Edwards and Wesley. They were no mean students of the Scriptures and sought to subject all their thinking to that body of divine truth. And they would have been very surprised to be told, as Eddy tells us, that when it comes to original sin, for example, they were simply under the thralldom of Augustine (xi)! They were certain—and this reviewer would say, rightly so—that this teaching has an apostolic ring about it. And they would have also rightly believed that what Taylor called Athansianism is nothing more, nothing less than a Scriptural view of the Godhead.    

Monday, September 19, 2005


The name of Henry Melvill Gwatkin (1844-1916) has long been a familiar one through his standard examination of Arianism, Studies of Arianism (1882), which remains a classical study of this ancient heresy and which I used extensively about twenty to twenty-two years ago while doing doctoral studies. How interesting to read this past weekend a “Memoir” of Gwatkin by T. R. Glover [The Sacrifice of Thankfulness (Edniburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1917), ix-xxiv], which I found in the Boyce Library at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Gwatkin was rendered deaf as a young boy by an attack of scarlet fever, but that does not seem to have curbed his intellectual development. He had a love for history from an early age and in time developed that requisite for good historical scholarship, accuracy, which, Glover recalls, was “always his passion.” This concern for accuracy gave him a wonderful knowledge of original sources. But he also had a concern for relating the past to the present—always a good quality in an historian, so preventing him or her from becoming a mere antiquarian.

His great goal in life to become a Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University was realized in 1891 when he was appointed in this capacity as a fellow at Emmanuel College—that one-time seedbed of Puritan preachers. Here he shone as a lecturer and tutor in church history. The notice of his life in the DNB recalled him as a “clear, witty, stimulating, and (when he chose) eloquent lecturer” [The Compact Edition of the Dictionary of National Biography. Volume II: Main DNB…Twentieth-Century DNB 1901-1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 2672, s.v.]. He also had the opportunity to provide spiritual counsel for many of the students that passed through Emmanuel’s halls. The last years of his life were spent during the terrible horrors of World War I, but he never lost a sense of the fact that “Eternal Love” in Christ “is sovereign,” as he put it in a letter he wrote in August 1916. That very month he was knocked down by a car that he had not heard because of his deafness. He died three months later.  

His Studies of Arianism is still a good study of the Arian controversy. How interesting to learn that he detested the burden of writing it. That “pestiferous book” he appears to have regularly called it. But how helpful it has proven to students of that heresy.

Next to this volume on the shelf was another by Gwatkin, The Eye for Spiritual Things And Other Sermons (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1906), a collection of sermons. In one of them he spoke on that famous text from Isaiah 6: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” It was preached in Girton College on January 27, 1901, and is entitled “The Death of Queen Victoria”—Victoria had died five days before on January 22. What powerful reverberations her death sent out to the four corners of that Empire that once ruled the waves. Gwatkin well knew, as he said, that England stood “at the parting of the ways. The Victorian age is ended” (35). It is a fascinating sermon. It calls its hearers to rely upon the Lord but has a long section in which Gwatkin speaks in distinctly messianic tones of England’s vocation and that of her people.

“England,” he wrote, “is as much God’s people as ever Israel was, and London just as much his dwelling as Jerusalem. Our land is as holy as Judah; our streets are as near him as the mercy-seat of old. …As he chose Israel to do one great work for him, so has he chosen England now to do another. …It is he who has made us as the stars of heaven for number, and given us western lands and southern seas for our inheritance. It is he who made peace on our soil, hardly broken by the tread of enemies for the best part of a thousand years—he, who gave the pride of the Spaniard to the winds before us, and scattered the fleets of France in the clash at Trafalgar” (34).

Gwatkin does recognize that God’s love for England is not because of “England’s righteousness.” And it “was not our own right hand—our wooden walls and streak of silver sea—that wrought salvation for us, but the Lord himself has been a wall of fire about us. Our fathers cried to him, and he delivered them in many a day of trouble and rebuke—to set our rule in the sea, and our dominion at the world’s end” (34-35).

And the task for which God had given England safety and succour? “If greatness is to be measured by power to do his work, ours is without question and by far the greatest of the nations. God never gave Israel a nobler task than he has laid on England—to witness of truth and peace and mercy to every nation under heaven” (35).

So thought one Anglican clergyman at the height of the British Empire. Such a reading of history is not one that is unique to the English Christians of that day. Christians in the late Roman Empire, after the Edict of Milan, also spoke in similar sacral tones of the so-called Christian Roman Empire. That God did greatly use the English to spread the gospel to the four corners of the earth in the “Protestant century,” namely the nineteenth century, is undisputed fact. But as that century wore on, much of English mission became increasingly intermeshed with the conscious dissemination of English culture and the importance of maintaining English hegemony over other cultures.

Though I was born in England, my roots, from my mother, lie deep in Irish soil. I am married to a Scotswoman and so my children have Irish and Scottish blood coursing through their veins. The Queen who died in 1901 was as much Ireland’s and Scotland’s Queen as England’s, yet there is nary a mention in Gwatkin’s sermon of these other two peoples from the British archipelago. And the Empire the English built and ran was secured as much by Irish and Scots as the English. Yet, not a peep from the Cambridge historian about this vital fact.

Well, this Anglocentric read of history is now history itself. And though I am deeply thankful to God for my birth in England, I cannot say “amen” to most of this sermon on Isaiah 6. God, in his mercy did secure England from the Spanish Armada and the despotism of Napoleon, but to what end? That Britannia might rule the waves? Or that English voices might proclaim the reign of King Jesus to the nations? Surely the latter. Did Gwatkin and those like him see the way they confused the two empires, Britain’s and Christ’s? Most probably not. How clear historical hindsight can be. And yet how blind we can be to similar errors. May we learn from the past and not make the same mistake!


As an inveterate lover of church history and books, I wholeheartedly recommend a daily dose of reading “stuff” from the past. In what has become a famous essay that C. S. Lewis initially wrote as an introduction for an anonymous translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, Lewis actually argued that for every book we read from the present, we also ought to read at least two from the past [“Introduction” to St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation (1944 ed.; repr. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1982)].

There may be some, though, who simply cannot meet such a commitment. For them, the next best thing might be to pick up a book of daily readings from a bygone era. Over the last few years, Terence Peter Crosby—one-time Secretary of the Evangelical Library in London, England, and holder of a PhD in Classics—has been making such volumes of extracts from the sermons of the so-called Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). The third volume in this series of extracts has just appeared. Entitled 365 days with Spurgeon (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2005), the selection is mostly taken from sermons preached from 1867 to 1873—roughly half-way through Spurgeon’s remarkable ministry.

In his day, some likened Spurgeon to a rocket on a stick: the rocket had gone up high and amazed all of the onlookers, but it would soon plummet to earth like a stick [“The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon”, The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, 15 (1866), 191]. But these prophecies were proven false. Spurgeon’s sermons proved indeed to be a long-lasting marvel that still delight readers. This is not at all surprising. After all, embedded within them were the riches that Spurgeon had himself mined from his reading of the past—that rich vein of piety and robust Calvinism from the Evangelicals in the century prior to that of Spurgeon and from the 17th century Puritans and the English Reformers in the 16th century.

And this newest volume from Crosby is vintage Spurgeon. Consider this portion of the reading for September 19, taken from a sermon that Spurgeon preached in 1867 on Psalm 31:19 and that was entitled “David’s holy wonder at the Lord’s great goodness”:

“The phrase ‘the fear of God’ is used, especially in the Old Testament, for the whole of piety. It does not merely signify the one virtue of fear—it does not signify that feeling at all in the sense of slavish fear—but it takes a wide sweep. The man who had the fear of God before his eyes, was one who believed in God, worshipped God, loved God, was kept back from evil by the thought of God, and moved to good by the desire to please God. …The fear of God, I say, was the expression used for the whole of religion.”

For each of the 366 extracts—one is included for February 29—Crosby has added a Scripture reading and a small section entitled “For Meditation.” Occasional, helpful notes for understanding historical allusions and facts mentioned in the sermons are also included. Subject and Scripture indices round out this very attractive reader. Pick it up and read it day by day. It will do wonders for your heart and mind.    


This afternoon I came across what promises to be an excellent blog that has just been launched: OneTrueGodBlog. Moderated by Hugh Hewitt, it features theological discussion between five Evangelical bloggers, including Dr Albert Mohler.

Hewitt makes the following remarks regarding the why of starting this new blog:“The first question should be: Why? The answer is because theology matters. A lot. I have asked these five excellent minds to ponder occasional questions from a layman that the layman thinks would be of interest to many more layman. I have discovered after 15 years in broadcast journalism that such questions and the answers they elicit are of great interest to the general public.”

Check it out.    

Saturday, September 17, 2005


As a logophile [“one who loves to discover new words that capsulize powerful thoughts” (Haykin, A New Dictionary of Theological Terms—!)], what a delight to find this one by a brother and friend, Tom Ascol: Ecclesiophilia. A recent blog from him sets this out as “unreconstructed” love of the church (see “Ecclesiophilia”, Founders Blog, entry for Tuesday, September 13, 2005). And he even defines himself as “an unreconstructed ecclesiophile.” What a great love to have and what a privilege to be given such a love!

Read the whole blog. He ends it this way—and I say Amen!

“How can those who love Christ not love what He loves? And if we love the church, should we not long to see local congregations flourishing in biblical vitality? Shouldn’t we grieve when we see churches floundering and even denying the clear commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ (church discipline)? Should we not commit ourselves to pray and labor for the biblical re-formation of local churches across our land and other lands?”



The Libri Carolini was drawn up by Theodulf of Orléans (c.760-821)—one of the key theologians of the Carolingian church and the author of the well-known hymn “All glory, laud, and honour”—in 790-793 and then later revised by him with the help of, among others, Alcuin of York (c.732-804)—the private tutor to Charlemagne and the head of the palace school at Aachen. It was a well-argued response by the Latin-speaking Carolingian Church to the iconodulist decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea (787). In essence, the Libri Carolini sought to refute this council’s advocacy of the use of icons as vehicles of worship and argument that such icons deserved the identical adoration as due to God. In light of recent discussions about worship and the so-called contemporary inability to primarily use words—notably the sermon—as a vehicle for worship, it has some interesting observations to add to these discussions.

Theodulf was a Visigothic churchman who was deeply influenced by the writings of Augustine, particularly the latter’s De doctrina christiana. This Augustinian work, which deals broadly with hermeneutics and was often treated as a manual for preachers in the early Middle Ages, provided Theodulf with the resources to argue that the Bible alone is “the material object to which the Christian can turn to gain knowledge of the spiritual realm, because it was granted by God for this purpose” [Celia Chazelle, “ ‘Not in Painting but in Writing’: Augustine and the Supremacy of the Word in the Libri Carolini” in Edward D. English, ed., Reading and Wisdom. The De Doctrina Christiana of Augustine in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 7]. Augustine was fairly severe on artistic representation. He argued that it was a “useless institution” that the serious student of Scripture needed to avoid. Relying on this Augustinian work, Theodulf was thus convinced that the Greek Orthodox advocacy of icons was due to their poor understanding of the beauty and riches of Scripture. The latter has all that a believer needs.

Celia Chazelle, in the above-cited article, notes that Theodulf’s critique is also tied up with “the concept that writing in general has greater merit as an instrument of communication than does artistic depiction” (“Not in Painting but in Writing” in  English, ed., Reading and Wisdom, 7). A picture, since it is material, does not partake of the spiritual realm. By definition, it must resemble that to which it refers and thus it cannot really inform its viewers about the realm of the Spirit. Words, on the other hand, are not so limited, for words are signs that do not have to resemble their subjects. And going along with this powerful advocacy of the written word and the supremacy of Scripture was an attempt to make Caorlingian society an increasingly literate culture.

Summing up the thrust of the argument of the Libri Carolini and its similarity to Augustine’s De doctrina christiana, Chazelle states:

“Both treatises insist on the supremacy of words as signs over all other forms of communication accessible to humans; both stress the difficulty, subtlety, and richness of written language, especially Scripture, and both maintain that the Christian who does not investigate the Bible’s language carefully or with sufficient grasp of the rules governing written language runs the danger of misinterpreting Scripture’s message. Both treatises make it clear that interest in artistic representations is incompatible with study of the Bible…” (“Not in Painting but in Writing” in  English, ed., Reading and Wisdom, 12).

There is much wisdom here and again a good reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.



Friday, September 16, 2005


Charles Dickens’ famous line in A Tale of Two Cities—“it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—seems well suited to contemporary western Evangelicalism. On the one hand, the last few decades have seen much to praise God for and much to rejoice about. In his goodness and grace, for instance, he has restored Reformed truth once more to a position of influence. And yet, as an increasing number of Evangelical authors have noted, there are still many sectors of Evangelicalism that are characterized by great shallowness and a trivialization of the weighty things of God. So much of Evangelical worship seems barren. And when it comes to spirituality there is little evidence of the riches that should be there, only poverty.

As it was at the time of the Reformation, when the watchword was ad fontes—“back to the sources”—so it is now: the way forward is backward. We need to go back to the spiritual classics of Evangelicalism to find the pathway forward. We cannot live in the past. To attempt to do so would be antiquarianism. But through their writings our Evangelical forebears in the faith can teach us much about Christianity, its doctrines, its passions, and its fruit.

And they can serve as role models for us. As R. C. Sproul has noted of such giants as Augustine and Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards: “These men all were conquered, overwhelmed, and spiritually intoxicated by their vision of the holiness of God. Their minds and imaginations were captured by the majesty of God the Father. Each of them possessed a profound affection for the sweetness and excellence of Christ. There was in each of them a singular and unswerving loyalty to Christ that spoke of a citizenship in heaven that was always more precious to them than the applause of men” [“An Invaluable Heritage”, Tabletalk, 23, No.10 (October 1999), 5-6.].
To be sure, we would not dream of placing these men and their writings on a level with the Word of God. As John Jewel (1522-1571), the Anglican apologist, once stated: “What say we of the fathers, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Cyprian ? …They were learned men, and learned fathers; the instruments of the mercy of God, and vessels full of grace. We despise them not, we read them, we reverence them, and give thanks unto God for them. Yet …we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience: we may not put our trust in them. Our trust is in the name of the Lord” [Cited Barrington R. White, “Why Bother with History?”, Baptist History and Heritage, 4, No.2 (July 1969), 85.].

When it comes to spiritual reading, the Bible occupies a unique and indispensable place. It is the fountainhead and source of the Christian faith. Anyone wishing to make progress as a disciple of Christ must be committed to regular reflection and meditation on the Scriptures. Blessed is the believer whose delight is in the Word of God, on which he or she “meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).

And as we seek to read the Scriptures meditatively, so the reading of these spiritual classics of Evangelicalism should differ from other types of reading. Whereas one reads a newspaper, dictionary or textbook for factual information or immediate answers to queries, in spiritual reading one seeks to inflame the heart as well as inform the mind. Spiritual reading, as Eugene Peterson has noted, should therefore be “leisurely, repetitive, reflective reading.” It should not be hurried, for attention needs to be paid to what the Spirit of God is saying through the text. And texts rich in spiritual nourishment beg to be re-read again and again.

We are not the first to read the Scriptures nor the first to meditate extensively on them. Christians of previous days also found strength and nourishment by meditating on the Word. And they recorded their wisdom for those who came after them in what we are in the habit of calling spiritual classics. Such classics thus have a way of sending their readers back to the Bible with deeper insight into the nature of the Christian faith and a greater desire to seek after Christ’s glory and blessed presence.

Monday, September 12, 2005


This past summer a friend of mine, Stephen Yuille, who is finishing a PhD thesis on the thought of the Puritan George Swinnock (1627-1673), introduced me to the work of this Puritan leader. I really knew little about Swinnock beyond the fact that he was an English Puritan. I relished the thought of learning more about Swinnock since I am always delighted to make the acquaintance of a fellow-traveler on the way to the heavenly kingdom. Of course, in Swinnock’s case he has already arrived! Swinnock’s piety and thinking is well encapsulated in one key thought: his passionate commitment to living life in the fear of God [Stephen Yuille, “The whole duty of man”: The fear of God in the spirituality of George Swinnock”, Eusebeia, 2 (Spring 2004), 43].

In Yuille’s thesis on Swinnock, I came across an intriguing text that fits well with the bookish theme of my last two posts. In his The Christian Man’s Calling [The Works of George Swinnock, M.A. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), I, 57], Swinnock offers this fascinating observation about why “ministers are often more exact in their printing than in their preaching”:

“ print, in a sense, for eternity. Sermons preached, or men’s words, pass away with many like wind—how soon are they buried in the grave of oblivion! but sermons printed are men’s works, live when they are dead, and become an image of eternity: ‘This shall be written for the generation to come.’ ”

Having just preached three times this Lord’s day I sense something of the truth of Swinnock’s observation.

When one compares, for instance, the printed corpus that we have of the sermons of George Whitefield (1714-1770)—pitifully few compared to the stream of preached speech that poured forth from his anointed lips—with that of the New England preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)—a truly massive amount of sermonic text—one can but confess the rectitude of Swinnock’s remarks.      

Saturday, September 10, 2005


“I would rather be a scribe in the house of the Lord than...”

Only about 10-12% of pagan society in the Roman Empire was literate and could read and write. The percentage would have been slightly higher in the Jewish world due to the necessity of knowing the law. Not everyone who could read could write. And those who could write in the neat book hand used for public reading were even fewer.

There is clear evidence that the Apostle Paul was included in the small group of those who could both read and write—see Galatians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; Philemon 19; 2 Thessalonians 3:17.A quick perusal of these verses indicate that the letter preceding these verses was written by what is called an amanuensis, a secretary. The verse from Galatians may well indicate something about the poor quality of Paul’s handwriting. This may well be why he employed an amanuensis. In only one of the Pauline letters do we learn the name of the Christian who penned Paul’s spoken word, and that is in Romans 16:22, Tertius.

In the book business of the ancient world, professional scribes operated at different levels. As Harry Y. Gamble notes in his authoritative work, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1995): “Some were calligraphers capable of writing a fine bookhand, others…were engaged mainly in documentary work, yet others were skilled at shorthand” (90).

Tertius was definitely a calligrapher. He may also have been gifted in shorthand, for Paul would probably have dictated the letter to Tertius who would have copied it down first in shorthand and then written it out in a fine bookhand. Finally, Paul would have checked it over before mailing it (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, 95-96). So Tertius was a professional.

The importance of Tertius’ role looms even larger when we recognize how important were Paul’s letters to his mission. The Pauline mission was deeply tied to his letters. The letters were a means by which he could be present with the congregations he had founded—cp. 2 Corinthians 10:9-11.In this Paul went against much of the ancient world’s wisdom about the value of the written word. For Greek thinkers like Socrates and Plato, the spoken word was far greater in value than the written word, for the former was deemed a living word. The word on papyrus or parchment, on the other hand, was a dead word, lifeless, unable to respond to questions, capable of misinterpretation. But this was not Paul’s view. For him, the written word was “living and active,” as the writer to the Hebrews says.

And Tertius got to put these life-giving words on papyrus! These words that converted the North African Augustine and later transformed him into the Doctor of Sovereign Grace. These words that wrought the Reformation in the conversion of the German biblical scholar Martin Luther. These words that flamed in the heart of English minister John Wesley and brought him to the new birth.

No, Tertius did not speak them. But he did the “lowly” task of putting them into the print-form of his day. And better to have been Paul’s amanuensis, inscribing text in the house of the Lord, than the Emperor ruling in the city which first heard the words Tertius wrote.           


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); “The word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8); “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

The true and living God loves words. As the Genesis text affirms: the universe—all that we can see and feel and hear and know and much more besides—came to be through his words. Not by silent fiat did he create. But by him speaking, all of it came into existence. And not like human words are these words of his. We humans speak, the air moves, and sometimes lives and history change, but these words are the product of time and eventually their impact will fade. But his words “will stand forever.”

No wonder he has his servant John call his dear Son, Jesus Christ, “the Word.” This One, the Word, is eternal, expresses all that is in the heart and mind of God and what he wishes to communicate with his rational creation. And it is this divine Word who brings new life and what he has accomplished through his words will stand forever.

And we who are believers in him are called to speak—not to keep silence, but to speak the “oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) that are encapsulated in the written revelation of the Scriptures. Calling on all and sundry, in the words of Augustine of Hippo (354-430), tolle lege, “pick up and read.”

Long before I became a Christian I loved words. Their sound and timbre, their mystery and allusions, their look on a page delighted me. I confess it: I am a logophile from way back! Becoming a Christian not only gave eternal meaning to this love but showed me why I loved words. God first loved words and I was a mere imitator.

And loving words I loved their print container—books. There is no doubt in this regard that I am a product of the Gutenberg world. Then came word processing. No problem here for a Gutenberg man, since I regularly convert processed word into hard copy, and now have mounds of it waiting to be filed!

But then came the blog and blogging. Though the words which describe these activities intrigued me, the prospect of having my words primarily on the screen and not in hand dismayed me. A day or so ago, Hugh Hewitt’s Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s Changing Your World (Thomas Nelson, 2005), recommended by a good friend, Clint Humfrey, convinced me otherwise.

May I blog for the glory of the Triune God and for the sake of his Word.