Sunday, October 30, 2005


An important Reformation hero to be remembered on the upcoming anniversary of Reformation Day (October 31) is Jane Grey (1537-1554). Her faith and witness, which shone out so strongly in the days before her execution on February 12, 1554, is a good reminder that the heroes of the Reformation are not simply the remarkable cadre of theologians that emerged at that time, men like Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, and John Calvin. But the faith that these Reformers sought to explicate and promote gripped the hearts of many who were not vocational theologians. Jane Grey was such a one. Only a day or so before her death, Jane wrote in her Greek New Testament a letter for her younger sister Katherine, who was fourteen. She was seeking to encourage Katherine to turn from the fleeting pleasures of this world to embrace Christ and find a treasure that is eternal. She wrote:

“I have sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the laws of the lord: It is His Testament and Last Will, which He bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy, and if you, with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire, follow it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. …as touching my death, rejoice as I do and consider that I shall be delivered of this corruption and put on incorruption, for as I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, find an immortal felicity.”

Here we see the typical Reformation love of the Scriptures: “it is more worth than precious stones.” And central to this love of the Scriptures is Jane’s clear understanding as to why they were given: to lead sinners—those whom Jane calls “us wretches”—“to the path of eternal joy” and “immortal and everlasting life.” Finally, she has an assurance of salvation, a basic datum of New Testament Christian experience that had been recovered by the Reformers.

If we ask why she had such an assurance, a final document that she wrote, also on the eve of her execution, tells us. She wrote the following three sentences in her prayer book, the first in Latin, then one in Greek and the final one in English: “If justice be done with my body, my soul will find mercy with God. Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God. If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour.” She has assurance of salvation because she stands justified before God, she has been made right with God, and thus is now confident of his favour.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Robert Haldane (1764-1842) was an important 19th-century Scottish Baptist leader whose ministry via the spoken word and written text deeply impacted Baptists in what was then British North America—now Canada—and Francophone Evangelicals on the European continent. Here is a fine little study of his naval days and links with Lord Nelson, whom I have been blogging about recently. A dear friend and colleague wrote it, Clint Humfrey @ Cowboyology: 'An Ornament to His Country'.

Clint ends it by saying: “Was Robert Haldane ‘an ornament to his country’ in the way that Horatio Nelson was? Certainly not. But in Immanuel’s land, Haldane’s name will be written in the greatest of books (Rev. 20:12), while Nelson may not even rank a mention.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Browsing through some blogs I came across a humorous reference to Ranelda Hunsicker’s David Brainerd (Bethany House Publishers, 1999) in Kim’s The Upward Call. See her post “Through the eyes of 21st Century Boys.”

Her thirteen-year-old son is reading the book, which depicts Brainerd on the front cover with a pony tail. She notes that his first remarks about the book were: “Hey! Sweet! He has a ponytail! Why can’t I have a ponytail?”

Kim later showed the book to his eleven- year-old brother, who is also going to read the book. His comment was: “He has the word nerd in his name.”

Kim’s comment to all of this typical young adolescent male talk (how well I know this because of one in my household!) was “I don’t know if I should laugh or bang my head against the wall.” I can sympathize!


Among the Ancients it was the Greeks who were most fascinated with the human body—witness their sculpture and passion for sports. Yet it was these very men and women who scorned the idea of a physical resurrection when they heard it from the lips of the Apostle (Acts 17:32).

Similarly our culture in North America is passionate about the human body and its various expressions—witness our sports, faddish diets, and the use of sex to promote everything from beer to cars. Yet, the preaching of the resurrection—“We believe in the resurrection of the body”—is rejected as nonsense or scorned as utterly naïve.

But such hope is what binds us to the community of saints throughout time. God’s people in the past had the conviction that with their bodily eyes they would see the King of glory. And with such a hope could they face down the complete disintegration of their physical frame.

Not for nothing has death sometimes been termed “the King of Terrors.” It seemingly destroys all that we are. The Christian, though, has a hope stronger than death: “sown in dishonour;…raised in glory;…sown in weakness;…raised in power;… sown a natural body;…raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44).

Though this body, so essential to my sense of identity, crumble into dust, the living God knows every molecule and every atom. And He will, in time, refashion all of them into a body totally controlled by the Spirit of His Son and covered with His glory.

“But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array…”

(William Walsham How, 1823-1897)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


We have been thinking of the Battle of Trafalgar in recent days (by the way, I hope to post something more on this in the next week) in which Napoleon’s fantasy of invading Great Britain was scotched once and for all. One of the elements in the British victory was the sense of personal loyalty that Nelson’s men felt towards him and Nelson to them. In Nelson’s words, “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” The phrase “band of brothers” is drawn from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a play from which Nelson frequently quoted. On this, see Adam Nicolson’s brilliant study, Men of Honour. Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero (London: Harper Collins, 2005), 125-127.

The phrase occurs in the speech of Henry V, as Shakespeare imagined it, on that day that he defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415.

“…Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
(Henry V, Act IV, Scene III, lines 58-68).

Reading George Grant’s blog— Grantian Florilegium—for today alerted me to the fact that today is St. Crispin’s Day, on which Henry V won his notable victory at Agincourt. Henry V did make a speech that day, though, of course Shakespeare’s words are not what he actually said. But there is no doubt that the speech is stirring stuff—the stuff on which young men feed mind and heart—and which Nelson knew could foster valour and heroism.

Now, if it be true that Nelson’s band of brothers were critical to his victory, how much more so is it in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Did not Paul have such a band on his missionary travels? And the Cappadocian Fathers when they sought to beat back Arianism? And William Carey in India? Far more has been accomplished for the Kingdom of God by such “bands of brothers” than by isolated stellar figures!


One of my heroes is Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), the finest Scottish hymn-writer of the nineteenth century. Bonar was born in Edinburgh on December 19, 1808. His father, James Bonar (1757-1831), was an elder in Lady Glenorchy’s Chapel, a bulwark of Edinburgh Evangelicalism that had been founded in 1774 with money donated by Lady Glenorchy (1741-1786), a wealthy patroness of Evangelical causes. However, James Bonar died when Horatius was but 13, and thus the greatest influence on him during his early years was his godly mother, Marjory Maitland Bonar (d.1854), and his eldest brother James (1801-1867), who, like his father, was an elder at Lady Glenorchy’s Chapel and was deeply involved in numerous Evangelical and philanthropic enterprises. There are no known details, however, of Horatius’ conversion.

Three influences

He was educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University before entering the Divinity Hall, where the Professor of Divinity was Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), whom the Scottish literary figure Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) pronounced to be “the Chief Scottish man of his time.” Chalmers had an enormous influence upon the young Bonar, who considered Chalmers the greatest Christian he ever knew.
     Another important influence on the young Bonar was some lectures on the Book of Revelation that were given in Edinburgh over the years 1828 to 1830 by Edward Irving (1792-1834). At the time Irving was one of the most popular Presbyterian preachers.  In 1833, though, he would be removed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland for espousing erroneous views regarding the humanity of Christ. Horatius Bonar, though, would have agreed with his friend Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) when the latter described Irving as “a holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors.”
     The long-lasting influence of Irving’s premillennial convictions on Horatius can be seen, for instance, in The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, a publication that he edited from 1848 to 1873 and that was designed to promote premillennial eschatology. More than a few of his hymns also sought to press home this prophetic perspective, for instance, “I know not in what watch He comes,” written in mid-March, 1880.  
     A third important influence with regard to Horatius Bonar’s spiritual growth during his days at the Divinity Hall came from a circle of friends that included three of his brothers, Robert Murray McCheyne, Alexander Neil Somerville (1813-1889), John Milne (1807-1868), and a number of other young men. As the biblical proverb puts it, these men shaped each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Leith and Kelso (1833-1866)

After being licensed to preach in 1833, Bonar’s first ministerial appointment was at Leith, the port of Edinburgh, where he worked as an assistant minister to James Lewis in the parish of St. John’s.  
     Word of Bonar’s effective ministry at Leith came to the ears of a newly established congregation in Kelso, the North Parish Church, which sent a deputation to hear Bonar preach and sound him out regarding a call to their church. Unanimously called to this work on November 30, 1837, Bonar would labour in the Scottish Borders for 29 years.
     It was at Kelso that Bonar’s gifts as an evangelist blossomed. The keynote that he sounded right from the start of his Kelso ministry was “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Bonar was rightly convinced that without this emphasis from the pulpit on the vital need for personal regeneration “all religion is hollow and superficial.”
     One of Bonar’s successors at Kelso was W. Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), who was minister there from 1877 to 1885 and who later became a well-known author and journalist.  Nicoll noted that Bonar’s ministry at Kelso was one of “quenchless zeal and unrelenting labour.  He set himself to evangelize the Borderland. His name was fragrant in every little village, and at most of the farms. He conducted many meetings in farm kitchens and village schoolrooms, and often preached in the open air.”  

A writing ministry

Bonar was also convinced of the importance of Christian literature as a vital means of evangelism and Christian nurture.  To that end he began writing while at Kelso a series of tracts and small booklets that could be printed cheaply and widely distributed.  From the titles of those written by Bonar—for example: Believe and Live, The Well of Living Water, Luther’s Conversion, The Lord’s Supper, Do you go to the Prayer-Meeting?—it can be seen that they covered a variety of subjects, but a central theme was evangelistic.  Other authors, including his brother Andrew (1810-1892), were also involved and the series became known as “The Kelso Tracts.”
     These tracts opened the way for larger literary endeavours. In 1845 his first book, The Night of Weeping; or, Words for the Suffering Family of God, appeared. It was followed by a flow of books, sermon collections and biographies. One of his most popular books was Bonar God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious, which was published in 1862. The book was translated into French, German, and Gaelic, and sold more than 285,000 copies during his lifetime. Bonar was also involved in the editing of a number of periodicals, including The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy mentioned above, and the widely-read Christian Treasury.
The Disruption of 1843

In 1843, there occurred what has been called the most important event in the history of nineteenth-century Scotland, namely the Disruption, which cut the Church of Scotland in two. Two issues were central to this momentous event.  First, whether or not a minister could be imposed on a congregation at the wish of a patron even when such a settlement was contrary to the will of the congregation.  Second, in connection with their objections to patronage, Evangelicals wished to revitalize the idea of pastoral ministry being a calling.  Those who wished to uphold the practice of parish patronage appealed to the civil courts, while Thomas Chalmers led those who wished to honour the sovereignty of Christ over the affairs of his Church and who maintained that the civil courts had no jurisdiction in the spiritual realm. Among those following Chalmers was Bonar.  
     Rather than abandon the Church’s independence from the state, Chalmers, Bonar and those like-minded decided to give up the privileges of establishment, which included such things as a financial security, a manse and a place of worship.
     All told, slightly more than 450 ministers out of an estimated 1,195 ministers separated from the Church of Scotland in May, 1843, to form the Church of Scotland Free (better known as the Free Church of Scotland).  Somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent—estimates vary—of the membership of the Established Church went with the Free Church.  

Chalmers Memorial Church, Edinburgh (1866-1889)

Horatius Bonar’s final sphere of ministry was in Edinburgh. He had received several calls to other spheres of ministry during his time at Kelso, but he never seriously considered leaving until called in June, 1866, to become the first minister at the newly established Chalmers’ Memorial Church (now St. Catherine’s Argyle Church).
     He would be there till his death on July 31, 1889. The congregation grew significantly under his Spirit-filled preaching, increasing from 61 in October 1866 to 805 in July 1888. He preached up until a year or so before his death in Edinburgh on July 31, 1889.

The hymns

Bonar had begun writing hymns in Leith for the children who attended the Sabbath school that he supervised.  There were over 280 of them present on any given Sunday. What struck him as he first watched them in 1833 during their times of worship was how fidgety many of them were. He soon came up with the idea of providing them with hymns of their own, set to tunes the children knew well and liked to sing. The experiment worked and he noticed a marked improvement in their paying attention during the times of worship in the Sabbath school.
     Just as the writing of small tracts had led on to bigger literary projects, so the children’s hymns eventually led, in 1836, to Bonar writing hymns that were for the use of older worshippers. The first of these was the well-known hymn, “Go, labour on; spend, and be spent.” It breathes the evangelistic passion that characterized Bonar’s ministry all of his life and ends, not surprisingly, on an eschatological note.
     Bonar went on to publish over 600 hymns and poems during the course of his life. Among them are such hymns as “I heard the voice of Jesus say,”—originally entitled by Bonar as “The Voice from Galilee”—his communion hymn, “Here O my Lord, I see Thee face to face,” and “Not what these hands have done”, a rich meditation on the central emphases of Reformed thought.  

Bonar’s significance

Bonar’s hymns have rightly led to his being regarded as the finest Scottish hymn-writer of the nineteenth century. His hymns and other literary works, moreover, reveal the rich vitality of nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian piety. As such, they are a marvelous resource for contemporary Evangelicals seeking to know something of their spiritual heritage.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I really appreciated Tom Ascol’s post “Bucket-worthy books” where he relates which books from his library he  stored in plastic containers in light of the impact of Hurricane Wilma. There is a poignancy to the post and a call for the rest of us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the direct path of this storm. As Tom shared, “It is an agonizing experience. Like most bibliophiles I have more books than container space. How do you decide which books are ‘bucket-worthy?’ ”

I note that Andrew Fuller’s Works found space in a bucket. As Tom said, “not because they are irreplaceable (although some of my early editions of his works would be harder to replace) but because my blood, sweat and tears mark their pages. Ditto John Gill's Body of Divinity.”

Tom concluded with an important reflection on the place of books in the Christian life: “Under God I owe much to my books. Through them I have been challenged, corrected, strengthened, rebuked, humbled, instructed and encouraged in my Christian life. The thought of losing any of them to wind or rain or storm surge saddens me. If God in His mercy and wisdom spares me that loss, I will once again be very grateful. If in His mercy and wisdom He does not, perhaps I will at least have those who are riding out the storm in buckets to help me in its aftermath.”

PS It appears that the books—and most importantly—the Ascols came through the storm safely. There are some pictures of Tom choosing which books are “bucket-worthy” on his daughter Becca’s Blog. See and scroll down to the sixth, seventh and eighth pictures.


Rightly has one recent observer/participant of Evangelicalism described it as being in a state of “free fall.” Increasingly Evangelicals are committed to fewer and fewer solidities of the faith. One that is being heavily challenged in our day is the doctrine of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement. For some this doctrine is only one option among  a number when considering the death of Christ. For others, the whole idea of the redemptive violence of the cross is increasingly problematic. See, in this regard, Steve Chalke’s views as detailed here: Steve Chalke and the Atonement - Update and reply by Daniel Strange.

For us, though, the words of B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) are still right on:

“Not only is the doctrine of the sacrificial death of Christ embodied in Christianity as an essential element of the system, but in a very real sense it constitutes Christianity.  It is this which differentiates Christianity from other religions.  Christianity did not come into the world to proclaim a new morality and, sweeping away all the supernatural props by which men were wont to support their trembling, guilt-stricken souls, to throw them back on their own strong right arms to conquer a standing before God for themselves.  It came to proclaim the real sacrifice for sin which God had provided in order to supercede all the poor fumbling efforts which men had made and were making to provide a sacrifice for sin for themselves; and, planting men’s feet on this, to bid them go forward.  It was in this sign that Christianity conquered, and it is in this sign alone that it continues to conquer.”

For another classical Evangelical statement on the cross, see the recent post “Spurgeon on substitutionary atonement” by Phil Johnson.



I have always considered it a great privilege that I did both my master’s and doctoral levels of theological studies at the evangelical Anglican seminary Wycliffe College, here in Toronto. There I was exposed to the scholarship and piety of such men as R. K. Harrison, Richard Longenecker, Jakob Jocz, Oliver O’Donovan, and Alan Hayes, and profoundly shaped by the Reformed worship of the Book of Common Prayer. For a while in the 1970s, a fellow-student and I—he coming from a non-denominational charismatic background and I from a Fellowship Baptist context—considered becoming Anglicans, for there was much that we found attractive in evangelical Anglicanism.

But I stumbled over two issues in particular, though I suspect there would be further issues today. First, I could not be reconciled to the idea of infant baptism. I could not—and still cannot— see any place for such a rite in the life of a church seeking to be in harmony with the New Testament. Then, there was one of the Six Principles of the College that well summed up the doctrinal orientation of the school. I could fully subscribe to five of the six, which encapsulated the Reformed piety of the Church of England when it was founded in the sixteenth century—for these principles, see “Six Principles” ( But I wrestled with the fifth one, which entailed subscription to “The historic episcopate, a primitive and effective instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church.”

As a student of Patristics, I knew something of the early roots of episcopacy. Ignatius of Antioch (died c.107) was clearly an early advocate of a threefold form of church government (bishop, elders, and deacons). But, as with baptism, I had to test episcopacy against the New Testament. And in that foundation document for the church, there are only two ongoing offices distinctly delineated—elders, sometimes called bishops or overseers, and deacons. Other ministries, like that of the Apostles, were foundational in the structure of the Church, but never intended to be ongoing. Moreover, studying the New Testament I was convinced that the congregation played a vital role in the governance of the Church. I thus embraced what John Owen (1616-1683), the “Calvin of England,” has called “the old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity.” For an historical study of this, see my “ ‘The old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity’: Congregationalism and Baptist life”, The Gospel Witness, 84, No. 5 (October 2005).

So I did not become an Anglican but stayed a Baptist, more firmly and consciously committed to our Congregational heritage. But I am so glad I went through the struggle of determining what church polity best reflected that of the New Testament church. It deepened my love for and commitment to our Baptist heritage.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


The story of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554)—reluctant Queen of England for a few days in the month of July 1553 and executed the following year—is one that has long intrigued historians of the Tudor era, particularly because of her role in the nefarious nexus of the politics of that day and also because of her remarkable faith. Faith Cook also owns that she has long been fascinated by Jane’s “pitiful and heroic story” (p.9). And in this book her fascination has produced a biography worthy of her subject: Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England (Darlington, Durham: Evangelical Press, 2004).

From a historiographical point of view, Jane’s story is a difficult one since it cannot be understood without due consideration of the politics surrounding her life. Jane was the grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s youngest and favourite sister, and thus was that wily monarch’s great niece. During her life she stood fourth in line to the English throne after Henry’s three children—Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth—and was elevated to the crown after the death of her cousin Edward VI. Cook does an excellent job of making the political backdrop to Jane’s life come alive, no easy task given the utter complexity of this background.

Much of the sadness of Jane’s life came from the way that many of those around her—in particular, her parents, Henry and Frances Grey, who were despicable social climbers—used her for their own selfish ambitions (see, e.g., p.36, 59-60, 147-148). In the midst of all this muck and murkiness, Jane, who was “highly articulate, strong-minded and determined—even stubborn” like many of her Tudor relatives (p.93) and who had a “fearless disposition” (p.100), shone as only a true Christian can.

Her final days, summed up Cook under the chapter headings “I Have Kept the Faith” and “A Crown of Righteousness,” indicate how, from a biblical perspective, the closing days of Jane’s life are to be understood. Cook is right: “her unswerving courage, even when the alternatives of life and death were set before her and depended upon the answers she gave, should not be forgotten” (p.10).


A couple of excellent blogs at this new blog by Coloratura Christian, the wife of a dear Christian brother.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Today is the 200th anniversary of the victory of the British fleet under Horatio Nelson over the French at Trafalgar. I would have first heard of Nelson when I was growing up as a young child in England in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There is no doubt that he was one of my childhood heroes.

Reading some of what has been written this past year on Nelson and this important battle has helped me revisit the story of this English hero. And it has prompted me to ask how we who are evangelicals are to remember this battle. Specifically, “should evangelical Christians praise God for Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar?” Stan Evers, pastor of a Calvinistic Baptist work in Potton, Bedfordshire, England, has sought to answer this question in an extremely thoughtful article entitled “Saint Nelson?” [Grace Magazine (October 2005), 5]. DV, I hope to find some time in the near future to reflect on his important answer to this question. For Stan’s article, read it on the Banner of Truth website: Saint Nelson? 

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Can a person love the Lord Jesus too much? Is there any limit to one’s heart-devotion to This Person? A discerning reader of the New Testament can answer both of these questions quite easily: absolutely not.

The New Testament is filled from start to finish with ardent devotion to Jesus Christ. He is declared to be the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom (Col 2:3), the One who sustains every particle of the universe and every fibre of our being (Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:3). He is set forth as the supreme reason for living (2 Cor 5:9). Gazing into his face one can see perfectly and without the slightest distortion the very glory of God (Heb 1:3). He owns angels (Mt 24:31) and they know well their Master and are not afraid to bow in worship before Him (Heb 1:6). To Him belongs the incredible privilege of bestowing the Spirit of God upon He wishes (Acts 2:33). And His Name is supremely precious, because by no other Name can sinners be saved (Acts 4:12).

Due to all this Jesus is worthy to be worshipped in the identical manner as God the Father (Rev 5). No praise, no depth of adoration is too much to give him. He is worthy of all of our being’s devotion for He is God, the great God come to earth to lay down his life for sinners (Jn 1:1, 14; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13).

Not to love him thus and to be devoted him without reservation is to dishonour God. It is the Father’s great delight that all honour the Son in this way. Little wonder that as Paul wraps up his great letter to the churches in Ephesus, he can declare:  “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph 6:24, ESV).

Outside of Scripture such extravagant love for Christ is well captured in the nineteenth-century hymn, “Jesus, Wondrous Saviour.” Its author, D.A. MacGrgeor (d.1890), was the Principal of Toronto Baptist College when he wrote it, and it came from a heart aflame with devotion for the Saviour:

“Jesus, wondrous Saviour! Christ of kings the King!
Angels fall before Thee, prostrate, worshipping.
Fairest they confess Thee in the Heaven above,
We would sing Thee fairest here in hymns of love.”

“Jesus all perfections rise and end in Thee;
Brightness of God’s glory Thou, eternally.
Favour’d beyond measure They Thy face who see;
May we, gracious Saviour, share this ecstasy.”


Wednesday, October 19, 2005


It is a commonplace to argue that the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone was immediately lost to the church at the end of the Apostolic era. Such is not the case, though.

Listen, for instance, to the following passage from Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians, which was written near the end of the first century A.D. Upon the patriarchs and the kings that ruled Israel, he says, “great honour and renown were bestowed; yet not for their own sakes, or because of their own achievements, or for the good works they did, but by the will of God. Similarly we also, who by his will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which alone Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time. Glory be to him for ever and ever, Amen” (1 Corinthians 22).

Or ponder the rich Pauline themes in this passage from the late second-century writing known as the Letter to Diognetus: “God…gave his own Son a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the pure for the evil, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins?  In whom was it possible for us who are ungodly and lawless to have been justified except in the Son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange!…Oh, the unexpected benefits!  That the iniquity of many should be hidden in the One Righteous Man and that the righteousness of one should justify many who are godless!” (Letter to Diognetus 9).

There is nothing in either of these texts in which the Apostle Paul would not have rejoiced. They are accurate renditions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone as he taught it.

There is evidence, however, that there were some early Christian authors who did not adequately grasp or express the biblical position found in these two statements. A key reason for this is the fact that Christian writers and authors of the first three centuries after the end of the Apostolic era were basically wrestling with the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ. And they focused upon these areas of theology because of controversies that had arisen with regard to them. When they did discuss issues relating to salvation, it was more in terms of the forgiveness of sins and the nature of eternal life, not justification. “Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition.” The lack of controversy about this issue also seems to have contributed to the ill-defined nature of patristic teaching on justification. See Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei. A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), I, 19, 23; Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1997), 358.

In the fifth century, however, such a controversy did occur and the main protagonists were Augustine and Pelagius. For Augustine, redemption is possible only as a divine gift. It is not something that we can achieve ourselves. Rather, it is something that has to be done for us. Augustine thus emphasizes that the resources of salvation are located outside of humanity, in God himself. It is God who initiates the process of salvation, not men or women. Thus, when Augustine discusses the meaning of justification by faith, he emphasizes that “justification is without antecedent merits and that works before faith are useless” with regard to salvation [C.P. Bammel, “Justification by Faith in Augustine and Origen”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47 (1996), 231. See also McGrath, Iustitia Dei, I, 23-36].

In one area, though, Augustine’s doctrine of justification and salvation may be faulted. This has to do with his understanding of the precise meaning of justification. Augustine understood this term to mean “to make righteous,” not “to declare/count as righteous.” Thus, for Augustine, justification is a process and not something that takes place at the moment of conversion (Bammel, “Justification by Faith”, 232-234). Despite his correct emphasis on the sovereign grace of God, Augustine’s interpretation of the phrase “to justify” is incorrect.

And it is Augustine’s incorrect rendering of the concept of justification that dominates the mediæval view of this term. His view of the sovereignty of God’s grace in the salvation of the sinner, though, was largely ignored in the mediæval period. In the words of Philip Edgcumbe Hughes: “Mediæval theology as a whole tended to be semi-Pelagian in character—that is, in expression, it avoided the extremes of Pelagianism proper; it regarded man as partially capable, as sick rather than dead because of sin, and thus as able in some measure to help towards his own salvation. But in practice the mediæval Church walked along the edge of the Pelagian precipice. Its members were taught to go about to establish their own righteousness” [“Justification by Faith: Distortions of the Doctrine”, The Evangelical Quarterly, 24 (1952), 88].

PS The above reflection assumes, of course, the traditional Reformed view of justification.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005


A few years after I had done my doctoral studies in fourth-century pneumatology and exegesis and had started teaching in the 1980s, I intuited that I would have to develop another area of scholarly expertise, for very few of the Baptist congregations with which I had contact were terribly interested in men like Athanasius (died 373) and Basil of Caesarea (c.330-379). At a much later date, when I had developed a keen interest in British Baptists and Dissenters in the “long” eighteenth century and was giving papers and lectures in this subject, I was increasingly conscious that while fare from this second field was quite acceptable to Evangelical audiences, a cloud of suspicion hung over the whole field of the Ancient Church.

Far too many modern-day Evangelicals are either ignorant of or quite uncomfortable with the Church Fathers. No doubt years of their decrying tradition and battling Roman Catholics with their “saints” from the Ancient Church have contributed in part to this state of ignorance and unease. An ardent desire to be “people of the Book”—an eminently worthy desire—has led to a lack of interest in other students of Scripture from that earliest period of the Church’s history after the Apostolic era. This should not be. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)—a man who certainly could not be accused of elevating tradition to the level of, let alone over, Scripture—once rightly noted: “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others” [Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1].

Thankfully, this has begun to change. We who are Evangelicals are beginning to grasp afresh that Evangelicalism is, as Timothy George has put it, “a renewal movement within historic Christian orthodoxy” [Promotional blurb in Williams, D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 1.]. We have begun to rediscover that which many of our Evangelical and Reformed forebears knew and treasured—the pearls of the Ancient Church.

The French Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564), for example, was a keen student of the Church Fathers. He did not always agree with them, even when it was a case of one of his favourites, like Augustine. But he knew the value of knowing their thought and drawing upon the riches of their written works for elucidating the Faith in his day.

In the following century, the Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683), rightly called by some the “Calvin of England” was not slow to turn to the experience of the one he called “holy Austin,” namely Augustine of Hippo (354-430), to provide him with a typology of conversion. See A Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit in The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (1850-1853 ed.; repr. Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), III, 337-366.

Yet again, the Particular Baptist John Gill (1697-1771) played a key role in preserving Trinitarianism among his fellow Baptists at a time when other Protestant bodies—for instance, the English Presbyterians, the General Baptists, and large tracts of Anglicanism—were unable to retain a firm grasp on this utterly vital biblical and patristic doctrine. Gill’s The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated was an effective defence of the fact that there is “but one God; that there is a plurality in the Godhead; that there are three divine Persons in it; that the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; that these are distinct in Personality, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” [The Doctrine of the Trinity stated and vindicated (2nd ed.; London: G. Keith and J. Robinson, 1752), 166-167]. But a casual perusal of this volume reveals at once Gill’s indebtedness to patristic Trinitarian thought and exegesis, for he is at home in quoting such authors as Justin Martyr (d. c.165), Tertullian (fl.190-220), and Theophilus of Antioch (fl.180).

One final example of earlier Evangelical appreciation of the Fathers must suffice. John Sutcliff (1752-1814), a late eighteenth-century English Baptist, was so impressed by the Letter to Diognetus, which he wrongly supposed to have been written by Justin Martyr, that he translated it for the The Biblical Magazine, a Calvinistic publication with a small circulation. He sent it to the editor of this periodical with the commendation that this second-century work is “one of the most valuable pieces of ecclesiastical antiquity” [ The Biblical Magazine, 2 (1802), 41-48. The quote is from p.41].

May the Lord enable us to be wise and discerning in our rediscovery of the Fathers.


Monday, October 17, 2005


The aim of this project is to publish a modern critical edition of the entire corpus of Andrew Fuller’s published and unpublished works. It is expected that this edition will comprise at least twelve volumes and take eight to ten years to publish. Discussions with possible publishers are currently underway. With an office at Toronto Baptist Seminary, Toronto, and, it is hoped, one in the United States, The Works of Andrew Fuller Project will also sponsor conferences and other educational enterprises, seeking to make the thought of this eighteenth-century Baptist thinker and his contemporaries available to the public.

Mission Statement and the importance of the project
The controlling objective of The Works of Andrew Fuller Project is to preserve and accurately transmit the text of Fuller’s writings. The editors are committed to the finest scholarly standards for textual transcription, editing, and annotation.  They are convinced that transmitting these texts is a vital task since Fuller is a central figure in Baptist history. His writings, not only for their volume, extent, and scope, but for their enduring importance, are major documents in the Baptist story.

From a merely human perspective, if Fuller’s theological works had not been written, William Carey would not have gone to India. Fuller’s theology was the mainspring behind the formation and early development of the Baptist Missionary Society, the first foreign missionary society created by the Evangelical Revival of the last half of the eighteenth century and the missionary society under whose auspices Carey went to India. Very soon, other missionary societies were established, and a new era in missions had begun as the Christian faith was increasingly spread outside of the West, to the regions of Africa and Asia. Carey was most visible at the fountainhead of this movement. Fuller, though not so visible, was utterly vital to its genesis. Moreover, as a missionary statesman, Fuller is still a valuable mentor.

History of Fuller’s Works
Fuller’s writings exist in three states: those published during his lifetime, those issued posthumously, and those still in manuscript (these are mostly letters, a few sermons and a diary). Up until now, scholars and general readers have had to rely generally on a nineteenth-century American edition that has been reprinted by Sprinkle Publications: The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: 1988; 3 vols.). The inadequacies of this edition include its incompleteness, the small font size of the text, and the lack of both critical annotation and adequate indices. A much better text to have reprinted would have been The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London: William Ball, 1837), which was published in 5 volumes and is much easier to read. It too though suffers from not being the complete works of Fuller and the lack of both critical annotation and adequate indices. Finally, there is a very rare 8-volume edition published as The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1825).

After Fuller’s death, there also appeared two volumes of additional writings, neither of which is readily available today: J. W. Morris, collected, Miscellaneous Pieces on Various Religious Subjects, being the last remains of the Rev. Andrew Fuller and Joseph Belcher, ed.,The Last Remains of the Re. Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, [1856]). The editor of this latter piece also brought out a selection of Fuller’s writings entitled The Atonement of Christ, and the Justification of the Sinner (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.).

What is missing from all of these collections is the massive correspondence of Fuller, which reveals the enormous influence that Fuller had in both Baptist circles and other realms of eighteenth-century Evangelicalism. Without the availability of these works, a proper appreciation of Fuller’s impact and achievement cannot be done.

The Works of Andrew Fuller Project will reproduce Fuller’s texts as he wrote them in manuscript or, if he published them himself, as they were printed in the first edition. The annotations that accompany each text will present textual problems and variant readings. In the prefaces and headnotes, the editors will seek to sketch the historical context and intellectual influences.

Revd. Paul Brewster who serves as the pastor of Barlow Vista Baptist Church in Hampstead, North Carlina, and is a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Dr. Crawford Gribben is a lecturer in the Department of English and American Studies, the University of Manchester, Manchester, and is the author of The Puritan Millennium: Literature & Theology, 1550-1682 (Four Courts Press, 2000); The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church (Evangelical Press, 2003); and his and Timothy C. F. Stunt, eds., Prisoners of Hope? Aspects of Evangelical Millennialism in Britain and Ireland, 1800-1880 (Paternoster, 2004).

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin is the Principal of the Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends, and his times (Evangelical Press, 1994), and The Armies of the Lamb: The spirituality of Andrew Fuller (Joshua Press, 2001).

Dr. Michael M. McMullen is Associate Professor of Church History at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri. He did his doctoral work on Jonathan Edwards at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and at Yale University. He has authored several books, including The Passionate Preacher: Previously Unpublished Sermons by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Christian Focus) and The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Broadman & Holman, 2003). He is also Associate Editor (Church History) for Oxford University Press’ New Dictionary of National Biography (2004).

Revd. Peter J. Morden is the Senior Pastor of Shirley Baptist Church, near Solihull, England. He is the author of Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth-Century Particular Baptist Life (Paternoster Press, 2003).

Dr. Tom J. Nettles currently serves as Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has published several works on the history of Baptist theology, including By His Grace and For His Glory (Baker, 1986).

Dr. Robert W. Oliver is the pastor of a Baptist church in Bradford on Avon, England. His doctoral work was on early English Strict Baptist History. Since 1989 he has also been Lecturer in Church History at the London Theological Seminary and is also currently Adjunct Professor of Church History, Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia (John Owen Centre, London).

Dr. Brian Talbot is the Pastor of Cumbernauld Baptist Church, Scotland. He is the author of The Search for a Common Identity: The Origins of the Baptist Union of Scotland 1800-1870 (Paternoster Press, 2003).

Revd. Nigel Wheeler is a Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast, N. Ireland, where he is doing his doctoral thesis on the ordination sermons of Andrew Fuller.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Doing history has been well likened to the construction of a building. To put up a well-constructed edifice one needs both bricklayers and craftsmen skilled in the details of construction, as well as architects to provide the schematic plans and overall guidance for the project. Similarly in the writing of history we need both the quarrying of primary sources and the detailed work of asking what this event or text means, as well as the overall vision of how a multitude of texts or events fit together. And just as it is rare to find one individual today who does both tasks in the building process—the actual building of the edifice and the drawing up of architectural plans—so it is rare to find historians who excel in both areas. Jaroslav Pelikan, though, is undoubtedly such a rarity as his The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1971)—the first volume of his magisterial five-volume The Christian Tradition: A History of The Development of Doctrine—demonstrates. Although this work is now nearly 35 years old, it is still a benchmark study in Patristics.

Pelikan is quite evidently at home with both the details of patristic scholarship—for example, the critical history of Ignatius of Antioch’s letters or the use of Scripture in the fourth-century Pneumatomachian controversy—and the overall sweep of doctrine in this formative period—for instance, the development of Christology. His perspective is informed by both rigorous, detailed scholarship and an authoritative grasp of the interconnectedness and main lineaments of Christian doctrine. And all of this is executed while being “passionately convinced of the lasting significance of the patristic achievement” [Henry Chadwick, “Book Notes: Pelikan, Jarolsav. The Christian Tradition. A History of the Development of Christian [sic] Doctrine. Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition”, The Journal of Religion, 54 (1974), 315].

No doubt Pelikan would agree with Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930)—in his words, the “high priest of Wissenschaft” [The Melody of Theology: A Philosophical Dictionary  (Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: Harvard University Press, 1988), 111]—that “the most important period of all [Church History] is the early Church—here are the measuring rods for all the rest… Because the decisive questions in Church history are raised in this first period, so the Church historian needs to be at home here above all” [Letter to Karl Holl, 1859, cited B. Drewery, “History and Doctrine: Heresy and Schism”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 23 (1972), 251-252.].

Pelikan is not only in agreement with this view of Harnack, but his five-volume history of Christian doctrine has been written in conscious response to Harnack’s Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (3vols., 1886-1889), a work that Pelikan notes has been “[s]uperseded but never surpassed,…the one interpretation of early Christian doctrine with which every other scholar in the field must contend” (p.359).


Now, one of the great themes of Harnack’s work is that the deep-seated patristic interest in dogma is actually an alien imposition of Graeco-Roman patterns of thinking upon Christianity, what he calls “Hellenization” (p.45, 55). Pelikan responds to Harnack’s accusation by emphasizing that Hellenization is not as widespread as Harnack believes. Pelikan examples the theological achievement of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, both of whom have been considered “consistent hellenizer[s],” but whose philosophical categories of thought, upon close examination, are seen to be profoundly modified in light of Scripture (p.46-55). Yet, as he also shows from the work of two very different authors like Tertullian and Gregory of Nyssa, early Christians found Graeco-Roman thought very difficult to avoid, especially when it came to the nature of the soul and the impassibility of God (p.49-54). In the final analysis, though, it is the various heretical systems opposed by the Fathers that reveal the deepest impress of Hellenization. In condemning them, the Church was seeking to protect Christian doctrine from the encroachment of secular thought (p.55).

Moreover, what is often considered the supreme symbol of Hellenization is the term homoousios, used, as is well known, by the Council of Nicaea in 325 to describe the ontological relationship between the Father and the Son within the Godhead. Yet, this use of this term actually draws a sharp line between the Christian faith and the philosophical perspective of the surrounding pagan culture of that day, namely Neoplatonism. Whereas third- and fourth-century Neoplatonism postulated “a descending hierarchy of unequal first principles” [R.M. Price, “ ‘Hellenization’ and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr”, Vigiliae Christianae, 42 (1988), 21], the homoousios unequivocally affirms the full deity of the Son and leaves absolutely no room for a subordinationist vision of the Godhead. In this respect, the final outcome of the Trinitarian discussion in the fourth century represents a de-Hellenization of dogma and one of the most profound challenges to Graeco-Roman thought in the ancient world.

Personally, I would find myself in broad agreement with Pelikan’s answer to what has been a major approach of numerous late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century students of Patristic thought. Nevertheless, there is room to ask if the very concept of the “Hellenization” of Christianity as enunciated by Harnack, a concept that demands a clear-cut and rigid demarcation between Judaism and Hellenism, is historically accurate. Or is it an explanation that is primarily ideologically motivated? Is it not the case that there was an extensive interpenetration of Jewish and Greek thought before the era of the Fathers, as seen, for instance, in the work of such figures as Aristobulus of Paneas, Philo, and even Josephus? For some of what follows, see Price, “ ‘Hellenization’ ”, 18-23.

Even in the New Testament one needs to take note of the ease with which the Apostle Paul can quote pagan sources in his sermon on the Areopagus and in Titus 1. Are the very sources of the Christian tradition then guilty of “Hellenization”? Or is it the case that the interplay of thought in the world of the New Testament and the Fathers is somewhat more subtle than the idea of “Hellenization” allows? What R. M. Price suggests with reference to the ante-Nicene authors may well be correct as a general principle with regard to this whole debate over “Hellenization” and early Christian thought:

“Grand vistas of hellenization…are a distracting irrelevance that distort the picture and raise the wrong questions. We need to draw a more intricate map of the intellectual world of the pre-Nicene period, with more attention to the subtle and undramatic gradations of the terrain” (“ ‘Hellenization’ ”, 22).

Pelikan’s response to Harnack’s thesis of “Hellenization” could have been strengthened if he had begun his account with the New Testament, thereby showing the strong links between New Testament thought and what followed [Robert L. Wilken, “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)”, Saturday Review, (August 7, 1971), 26]. Given Pelikan’s emphasis on the importance of biblical exegesis for the development of doctrine in the Patristic era this omission is strange indeed.

Pelikan on Augustine

Equally strange and startling is the lack of any real discussion of Augustine’s Trinitarian perspective. Augustine’s enormously influential Trinitarianism is summed up and dismissed in one sentence (p.224). This omission is also noticed by Chadwick, “The Christian Tradition”, 316 and Ernest L. Fortin, “Book Reviews: The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). By Jaroslav Pelikan”, Theological Studies, 33 (1972), 331. Pelikan is certainly aware of Augustine’s importance in this regard in Western Christianity (p. 67, 197, 350-351). Elsewhere, Pelikan can actually state that Augustine’s On the Trinity is, for the Latin West, “the classic summation of the central teaching of Christianity” and may rightly be reckoned as Augustine’s “most brilliant intellectual and theological achievement” (Melody of Theology, 16).

One wonders if there is more at stake here than simple oversight. For instance, it is noteworthy that Pelikan’s treatment of Augustine’s defence of the sovereignty of grace in the salvation of sinners is unmistakably critical of the North African theologian (p. 313, 321, 325). This is curious in light of the clear attempt by Pelikan to present the various heretics of the Patristic era—men like Marcion and Arius—in as sympathetic light as possible [I. John Hesselink, “Book Reviews: Jaroslav Pelikan. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 2 (1973), 375]. And even more curious when Pelikan later gave it as his opinion that Augustine is “arguably, the only figure from all of late antiquity…whom we can still read with understanding and empathy” (Melody of Theology, 17-18).

Other lacunas

The omission of Augustine’s Trinitarianism is one of a number of noticeable lacunas. Another is an examination of the Apostles’ Creed, which is without a doubt the most important of Western credal statements. There are a few brief mentions of it, but no real discussion (p.117, 150-151). For this omission, see Robert L. Calhoun, “A New History of Christian Doctrine: A Review Article”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40 (1972), 503.

The so-called Apostolic Fathers also receive scant attention, though they are important links between the Apostolic era and second-century Christianity. One thinks of Irenaeus of Lyons’ link with the Apostle John via Polycarp of Smyrna.

These omissions are matched by some odd inclusions. For example, Pelikan notes that among the defenders of the Nicene Creed, obviously Athanasius deserves “pride of place”, but, he continues, two other Eastern theologians deserve to be ranged alongside him, namely, “Amphilochius [of Iconium] and especially Didymus” (p.203). It is certainly curious to see Amphilochius mentioned, who, from a strictly theological perspective, is the least of the Cappadocian Fathers and whose written corpus that has come down to us is ever so slight.

A problem with methodology

But probably my greatest problem with Pelikan’s work has to do with his methodology. While it is encouraging to see him include in this study not merely formal theological works but also material drawn from the worship and liturgy of the church, his attempt to treat the church’s theology in isolation from the social and personal matrix in which it took shape is deeply regrettable. Pelikan states at the beginning of this study his desire to “listen to the chorus more than to the soloists” (p.122). But, as he came to admit in the fifth volume in this history of Christian doctrine, there “have been a few soloists…whose life and teaching have made them…major themes for the chorus, rather than primarily soloists in their own right” [The Christian Tradition. A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. 5: Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700) (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 7]. From the early Church Fathers he cites two—Origen and Augustine. If this be the case, then the lives of the theologians who produced the themes for the chorus must be considered.

As R.F. Evans stresses in one of his books on Pelagius: “the comparison of systems of thought involves an abstraction from the actual course of events. In theological controversies it is not in the first instance systems of thought which “confront” each other, but men—men who speak and write on concrete occasions, men whose thought may be in flux and may be bent by the very events of controversy in which they are participating” (cited Drewery, “History and Doctrine: Heresy and Schism”, 252).

Moreover, when we remember that the writings of the early Church were personal works, directed to specific individuals or to particular groups, and caught up in networks of personal relationships, Pelikan’s consideration of the doctrine of these works apart from their personal matrix is inevitably problematic. Consider, for example, Basil of Caearea’s On the Holy Spirit (375).

Basil of Caesarea & Eustathius of Sebaste

This work grew out of Basil’s controversy with Eustathius of Sebaste, one of his closest friends, indeed the man who had been his mentor when he first became a Christian in 356. Eustathius’ interest in the Spirit seems to have been focused on the Spirit’s work, not his person. For him, the Holy Spirit was primarily a divine gift within the Spirit-filled person, One who produced holiness [Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, “Eustathius von Sebaste,” Theologische Realenzyklopädie, 10 (1982), 548-549]. When, on one occasion at a synod in 364, he was pressed to say what he thought of the Spirit’s nature, he replied: “I neither chose to name the Holy Spirit God nor dare to call him a creature”! [Socrates, Church History 2:45. See Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 212].

For a number of years, Basil sought to win Eustathius over to a confession of the Spirit’s divinity. Finally, in the summer of 373 he met with him for an important two-day colloquy, in which, after discussion—much of which was recorded by two tachygraphers—and prayer, Eustathius eventually acquiesced to Basil’s view of the Spirit’s nature. At a second meeting Eustathius signed a statement of faith that affirmed the Spirit’s indivisible unity with the divine nature (Basil, Letter 125.3).

Another meeting was arranged for the autumn of 373, at which Eustathius would sign this declaration in the presence of a number of Christian leaders. But on the way home from his meeting with Basil, Eustathius was convinced by some of his friends that Basil was theologically in error. For the next two years Eustathius crisscrossed Asia Minor denouncing Basil as a heretic, for he claimed that the bishop of Caesarea was in reality guilty of Modalism.

Basil was so stunned by what had transpired that he kept his peace for close to two years. As he wrote later in 376, he was “astounded at so unexpected and sudden a change” in Eustathius that he was unable to respond. Finally, he simply felt that he had to speak. His words were those of one of the most important books of the entire Patristic period, On the Holy Spirit, written in 375 at the personal request of Basil’s friend, Amphilochius of Iconium. And Basil used as the basis of this work the shorthand record of his colloquy with Eustathius. Can the precise form of Basil’s pneumatology in this work be genuinely appreciated apart from some awareness of the context that drew it forth?

Clearly this work on the Spirit does not belong to the category of purely private and personal correspondence. It was intended to have a wider circulation well beyond its initial recipient. But it shows how Patristic writings and Patristic doctrine were frequently embedded in personal contexts. And for doctrine to be properly understood it must be seen in the matrix out of which it arose.

As Michael Blecker has rightly affirmed: “To do theology without history is to study cut flowers, not living plants.”


History has been enormously generous to Patrick of Ireland (c.390-c.460). Of the hundred or more saints whose memory was celebrated on a specific day by the mediaeval Roman Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the very few to survive in the modern calendar. The green of Ireland is remembered every year around the world on March 17 and Patrick is everywhere the symbol of Irishness. But, as others have noted, in so elevating Patrick to icon status, the true measure of the man has been obscured. In recent years there have been a number of excellent studies that have sought to illuminate the real Patrick and his world, such works as R.P.C. Hanson’s The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (1983) and Máire B. de Paor’s Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland (1998).

A more recent study of Patrick’s life is by Philip Freeman, professor of Classics at Washington University, St. Louis: St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). It is an extremely well-told account of the important Romano-British missionary. Freeman rightly assumes that the whole of what we can know about the historical Patrick must begin with his two undoubted writings: The Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. They reveal a passionate evangelist who willingly sacrificed his ardent desires to stay in Britain with family and friend to go to Ireland so as to take the gospel to the pagan Irish. Despite much opposition and threats on his life, his ministry was powerfully owned by God and the gospel proclaimed in much of the north of Ireland. In so doing Patrick laid the foundations for the Celtic Church, that bright light of early mediaeval Europe.

Freeman includes translations of Patrick’s two works in an epilogue (p.169-193). To someone used to a standard translation of these two works, like that of Ludwig Bieler, Freeman’s translation might seem somewhat loose and too colloquial. On the other hand, his translation does have the advantage of making Patrick and his world come alive.

Freeman knows that fourth- and fifth-century world well enough that he is able to effortlessly place Patrick’s thought and achievement in context. Rarely, in this blogger’s opinion, does his sketch of Patrick’s historical context need serious qualification. One such place, though, is his affirmation that Patrick was “likely baptized as an infant, a standard practice since the mid-third century” (p.13). Hendrick F. Stander, currently head of Greek at the Department of Ancient Languages at the University of Pretoria (South Africa) and J.P. Louw, also one-time head of Greek at the University of Pretoria until his retirement, have convincingly shown that infant baptism was not at all common in the Ancient Church until the fifth century [Baptism in the Early Church (Rev. ed.; Carey Publications, 2005)].

Another statement that needs some qualification is the assertion that besides Patrick’s two authentic works “there are simply no other documents from ancient times that give us such a clear and heartfelt view of a person’s thoughts and feelings” (p.xviii). Freeman reiterates this view later on in the book: “in Patrick’s Confession, unlike in any other contemporary letter, we have a window into the soul of a person” (p.143). In the context of this last remark, Freeman does mention Augustine’s Confessions. But Freeman believes Augustine’s work to be “a carefully constructed spiritual biography that still leaves a reader wondering just what kind of man the author was beneath the ornate and exquisitely organized prose” (p.143). Of Augustine’s exquisite Latin there is no doubt, but if any ancient document is revelatory of the author, surely it is this work!

Nor is Augustine’s Confession in a class by itself. Yet another ancient Christian work that open up a window into the affections and thoughts of an author is Gregory of Nazianzus’ On his life (De vita sua). Though highly elaborate in its Greek poetic construction, this is a work that gives the reader rich insights into Gregory’s unforgettable character, with all of its foibles and flaws.

These are quibbles, though, in a well-executed work that will hopefully expose a new generation of readers to the joy of getting to know one of the most extraordinary mission-minded Christians of the Ancient Church, Patrick. Not without reason did William Carey (1761-1834), the so-called “father of the modern missionary movement,” see in Patrick an exemplar.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


In Jane Austen’s early novel Northanger Abbey, one of the characters, Catherine Morland, states that history “tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences in every page; the men are all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome” [Northanger Abbey, ed. Claire Grogan (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1994), 122]. How accurately this statement reflects modern Western attitudes towards history! Generally speaking contemporary men and women in the West rarely think of going to history for wisdom. History, at best, contains stuff for entertainment. But wisdom? No, that’s found by looking to the present and to the future.

Tragically this modern attitude towards history is also characteristic of all too many 21st century Baptists. We have prided ourselves on being New Testament people who are not weighed down with the freight of church traditions. But we need an intimate knowledge of our history as Baptists. Why?

Well, many reasons could be given, but for starters, the study of Baptist history informs us about our predecessors in the faith—men and women like John Bunyan and Anne Steele, John Gill and Andrew Fuller, C.H. Spurgeon and Henrietta Feller, D.A. McGregor and T.T. Shields—those who have helped shape our Christian communities for both good and ill and thus made us what we are. Such study builds humility into our lives, and so can exercise a sanctifying influence upon us.

Reflecting on their lives and thought can also provide encouragement in being faithful for Christ in our day. To take but one example. In the English-speaking world, Baptists upheld the biblical doctrine of believer’s baptism for at least two and a half centuries before other Christian communities embraced this doctrine. It cost the Baptists much to do so. Since few Baptist churches before the 19th century possessed an indoor baptistery, baptism was usually done outdoors in a pond, stream, or river where all and sundry could come and watch. The Baptists were thus provided with excellent opportunities to bear witness to their distinct convictions and their commitment to Christ.

However, the public nature of the rite also exposed them to ridicule and censure. James Butterworth, who pastored at Bromsgrove near Birmingham from 1755 to 1794, could state at a baptismal service in 1774: “Baptism is a thing so universally despised, that few can submit to it, without apparent danger to their temporal interest; either from relations, friends, masters, or others with whom they have worldly connections” [Repentance and Baptism considered (Coventry, 1774), 36].

Andrew Fuller, the Baptist leader from the same century, found this out when he was baptized in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire. A couple of days after he had been baptized in the spring of 1770 he met a group of young men while he was riding through the fields near his home in Soham. “One of them,” he later recorded, “called after me, in very abusive language, and cursed me for having been ‘dipped’” [cited John Ryland, The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope, illustrated; in the Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (2nd ed.; London: Button & Son, 1818), 22].

It was the steel of such men and women, though, that preserved Baptist witness and so passed down a heritage to us. They thought it worth while to be “despised,” as Butterworth puts it. Shall we, their heirs, not seek to be as faithful in our day? And can we not draw courage to do so from meditating on their example?    

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Just noticed on Justin Taylor’s blog—Between Two Worlds—that this is Jonathan Edwards’ 302nd birthday. What a happy day that was for God’s people when Esther Stoddard Edwards gave birth to Jonathan!

Monday, October 03, 2005


The word “serendipity” and its adjective “serendipitous” were coined in the mid-18th century by Horace Walpole to describe the happy and beneficial discovery, by “accidents” and sagacity, of things that were not being sought.

My research assistant, Ian Clary, had one of these serendipitous meetings this morning that only God could arrange. And central to it was the 19th century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843). Read about it at: “A Little Encouragement from M'Cheyne.”


I have decided to change the name of my blog since I discovered a blog with the identical name this evening. The only difference between this blog and mine is that whereas mine has lege with a lower case ‘l’ it has this letter in upper case.

Since this blog is mostly about Church History, it made sense to call it “Historia ecclesiastica.” All of my previous posts have been saved under this new title.


I have long appreciated the work of Ben Witherington III, especially his commentary on Acts, which is superb. I just discovered his blog: Ben Witherington. He has this fabulous statement on friendship—a subject about which I have thought long and hard—at the close of a recent entry, “Tis a Gift to be Simple--the story of Kevin”:

“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”


For a number of years before I became a Christian in 1974 I was a Marxist. Now Marxists, like Christians, come in a various shapes and sizes and, dare I say, “flavours.” If you had asked me what type of Marxist I was in those days—circa 1967-1972—I would have given one of two answers: a Marxist of the ilk of Che Guevara (1928-1967) or a Trotskyite. Both are passionately committed to perpetual revolution and both are idealists, the latter definitely appealing to a young man like myself in the late sixties.

Reading through David Renton’s recent biography of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)—Trotsky (London: Haus Publishing, 2004)—brought back memories of that youthful idealism. Renton does an excellent job of detailing the career and thought of Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The book is very attractively produced and provides an excellent entry into the world of a key figure in the history of Marxism.

What especially struck me as I read the book was the naïve optimism of Trotsky. In his final political Testament, which he drew up not long before his assassination by a Spanish communist, he stated: “I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently an irreconcilable atheist” (p.143). Trotsky had resisted what he saw as the corruption of the Russian Revolution by Stalin and his henchmen. He believed that Stalinism was ultimately an aberration. Yet, he failed to see that the sort of dictatorship it begot in Russia is really endemic to Marxism—witness what we have seen in other countries such as Maoist China, Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime, and North Korea.

He was also convinced that “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full” (p.143). Here we see a profound optimism in humanity. What a contrast to Christianity, whose profound optimism is rooted in a perfect God, but which is pessimistic—we could equally say truly realistic—about mankind. It is God—not flawed humanity—that will cleanse this world of evil (cp. 2 Peter 3:12-13).

Sunday, October 02, 2005


In a recent blog, entitled “The Christian Faith,” Kevin Bauder discusses the relationship between correct doctrine, that is “orthodoxy,” fulfillment of the ethical commands of Scripture or “orthopraxy,” and what he terms “orthopathy.” Of the latter he writes:

“The Bible requires not only that we speak truly about God (orthodoxy) and obey Him (orthopraxy), but that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. …Doctrine is never…an end in itself. The purpose of doctrine is to teach us to love God aright. Obedience is never an end in itself. Obedience is always the overflow of a heart that finds its satisfaction in God rather than idols. In some senses, orthopathy is even more fundamental than orthodoxy and orthopraxy.”

What Dr. Bauder calls “orthopathy,” I have called “orthokardia”—literally “a right heart”—in the past. But I like Dr. Bauder’s term better since it is a better linguistic parallel to “orthodoxy and “orthopraxy.” I suppose “orthopathy” would literally translate as “right affection.” It is a good term for something that Christians of the past, men like John Calvin, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards, knew was vital. As Bauder goes on to state:

“Therefore, anything that misdirects our love will do severe damage to our Christianity. If we are taught not to love God, or to love something more than God, or to love God as a means rather than an end, or to love God with the wrong loves, or to love things that God hates, or to hate things that God loves, or to debase what is lovely, or to love what is base—if we are taught any of these things, then we are doomed to a stunted, shriveled version of Christianity, at best.

“That is why we cannot afford to take casually anything that shapes the affections. This is especially true of those works that are intended to reach the affections through the moral imagination. Such media as music, poetry, art, architecture, theater, and dance are enormously important to the Christian. Either they will propel us forward in the life of faith or they will devastate us.”

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Livewell Chapman, Abraham Cheare’s London publisher (see previous post but two), had started as an apprentice at the publishing house Crown in Pope’s Head Alley. This publishing house was owned by Benjamin Allen (d.1646) and his wife Hannah. After her husband’s death in 1646, Hannah ran the business by herself till she married Livewell Chapman in 1651. During the early part of her career as a publisher, she published a number of prominent authors, including Jeremiah Burroughes (1601-1646), John Cotton (c.1585-1652), Henry Jessey (1603-1663), and Vavsor Powell (1617-1670).

When she married Livewell, the books of Fifth Monarchist authors began to appear on their booklist. Livewell had clear Fifth Monarchist sympathies, which led to plotting and numerous problems with authorities in the 1660s after the restoration of Charles II. Livewell’s eschatological convictions eventually caused the financial ruination of his wife and family, for he spent so much time in prison. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that a misguided eschatology had such dire results.