Saturday, December 31, 2005


Another favourite author of mine is the poetess Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). She was born into a remarkably gifted family in London, December 5, 1830. Her parents, Gabriele and Frances Rossetti, were emigrés from Italy. Her father was actually a political refugee.

Christina was taken by them to be baptized at All Souls, Langham Place, which was not far from where the family lived. Though the family was gifted artistically, they had little money and seem to have struggled financially, despite the fact that her father was a Professor of Italian at King’s College, London. It was from her mother that she imbibed her Christian faith.

I love her poem that echoes that watch-cry of the Reformation, “Christ alone.”

None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other Hope in heaven or earth or sea,
None other Hiding-place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee.

My faith burns low, my hope burns low,
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.

Lord, Thou art Life tho I be dead,
Love’s Fire Thou art however cold I be:
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee.

What a possession to have going into this new year. Christ: life and fire, heaven and home, hiding-place from guilt and shame. It was having Christ that enabled Christina to live from day to day, for he was the only secure Hiding-place from guilt and shame.

She knew what a weight she bore—a weight all of us bear, though not all of us know it.

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
     Inalienable weight of care.
[cited Kris Lundgard, The enemy within (P&R Publishing, 1998), 21].

Where did that strength come from? From none but Christ—Christ alone!

Reader, do you know him? Is he to you what he was to Christina Rossetti? May He be yours as you enter this new year—and he will be Light and Life for all that this new year brings.



In a recent blog, I have been looking at the perennial tension between Spirit and structure. Lest any think I have erred in the direction of structure, let me share some thoughts from one of my favourite authors, the Puritan John Owen (1616-1683). And in this way indicate “my agenda” for the new year!

In his own day Owen was known as the “Calvin of England” [Allen C. Guelzo, “John Owen, Puritan Pacesetter”, Christianity Today, 20, No. 17 (May 21, 1976), 14]. More recently, Roger Nicole has described Owen as “the greatest divine who ever wrote in English” and J. I. Packer says of him that during his career as a Christian theologian he was “England’s foremost bastion and champion of Reformed evangelical orthodoxy.” [Cited Guelzo, “John Owen, Puritan Pacesetter”, 14; J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness. The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1990), 81]. Owen’s chief interest, though, was not in producing theological treatises for their own sake, but in order to advance the personal holiness of God’s people.

For Owen, genuine spiritual experience is vital. Owen asserts that ultimately it is the Spirit who gives the believer such experience: “He gives unto believers a spiritual sense of the power and reality of the things believed, whereby their faith is greatly established…”[A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Works, 4:64)].

It is these inner experiences that motivate external attendance on the various ordinances of the Christian life. “Without the internal actings of the life of faith,” Owen writes, “external administrations of ordinances of worship are but dead things, nor can any believer obtain real satisfaction in them or refreshment by them without an inward experience of faith and love in them and by them.” [The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (Works, 7:435).].

The importance that Owen placed on spiritual experience can be seen clearly and distinctly in the following quote—pardon its length:

“[L]et a gracious soul, in simplicity and sincerity of spirit, give up himself to walk with Christ according to his appointment, and he shall quickly find such a taste and relish in the fellowship of the gospel, in the communion of saints, and of Christ amongst them, as that he shall come up to such riches of assurance in the understanding and acknowledgment of the ways of the Lord, as others by their disputing can never attain unto. What is so high, glorious, and mysterious as the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity? Some wise men have thought meet to keep it veiled from ordinary Christians, and some have delivered it in such terms as that they can understand nothing by them. But take a believer who hath tasted how gracious the Lord is, in the eternal love of the Father, the great undertaking of the Son in the work of mediation and redemption, with the almighty work of the Spirit creating grace and comfort in the soul; and hath had an experience of the love, holiness, and power of God in them all; and he will with more firm confidence adhere to this mysterious truth, being led into it and confirmed in it by some few plain testimonies of the word, than a thousand disputers shall do who only have the notion of it in their minds. Let a real trial come, and this will appear. Few will be found to sacrifice their lives on bare speculations. Experience will give assurance and stability.” [A Practical Exposition Upon Psalm CXXX (Works, 6:458-459)].

Here then is a strong emphasis upon an experiential Christianity, one that is rooted in the Spirit’s application of biblical truth to the heart of the believer. And it is this sort of Christianity that we are seeking to promote to the honour and glory of the Triune God, one that preserves the biblical balance of Spirit and structure. May this God, the true and living Lord of the universe, enable in the year to come.

Friday, December 30, 2005


One of the great things about blogging are the utter gems one finds in other people’s writing. This is such a one from Charlene Dash, the spouse of a former student, Darryl: Walking Thoughts. It is a great reflection for the new year.

I love the lines near the end, where she concludes her reflection:  “Small, repetitive, daily living that, at best, will breathe life-giving love into toxic places, that is the work that the Creator designed. The location is inconsequential really. The blaze of glory is reserved for the Creator alone and, to the world around us, is often seen best when our living and doing is no more.”


In the nineteenth century books with titles like The End of Religion were written by those deeply antagonistic to Christianity as a worldview—men like Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Today, such books are being written by professing Christians. According to one blog entitled Jesus and the End of Religion the authors have a “deep conviction that Christianity as a religion has got way off track from the spiritually-radical, anti-religious message of Jesus” and that “Jesus did not intend to establish a new religion, Christianity. Instead he showed us a new way to approach God and others. Unfortunately, however, his simple message was quickly institutionalized. Despite its many adherents, the Christian religion has lost its way and is viewed negatively by much of the world because of its history and current distortions. In the spirit of Jesus’ message, it’s time for religion (especially Christianity) to die, and for the resurrection of new faith and life.”

There is little doubt that Christian faith communities are not always what they should be, but these statements basically write off the entire history of the Church! Can one read such statements and not see a reading of the second century and later through the old liberal historical paradigm of the development of the early church—charismatic and free and no institutional leaders up to the mid-first century as opposed to the second-century church with restrictions and rules and bishops and increasingly less freedom—nascent Catholicism? The problem with the paradigm is that it simply does not fit historically. Moreover, it puts you in the horrifying position of agreeing partly with the analysis of people like the followers of Herbert W. Armstrong who assert that for nineteen centuries the church had lost her way until Herbie came along! And it is all too easy to junk the entire past—how many times have Christians tried to do that from some radical Anabaptist types to various charismatic sorts in the Puritan and Enlightenment eras—and start over. But we cannot start over completely new, for the simple reason that the past is not so easily shaken off! To think otherwise, is sheer historical naïveté.


Continue to pray for our brother Don Whitney, coming home tomorrow after surgery and being in the hospital since the Tuesday before Christmas. The surgery was successful and he has been declared free of cancer—praise the Lord!—but there are some ongoing concerns for prayer. See his website for regular updates: The Center for Biblical Spirituality: The Website of Donald S. Whitney.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


And great stuff here on Mormonism by Russ Moore: From the Salt Lake to the Jordan River. A very Edwardsean response to this cult.


There is a lot of wisdom here in Carl Trueman’s latest look at blogging: The Theatre of the Absurd. Some great statements:

  • “the free access to public exposure which the web provides has facilitated what appears to be a dangerous confusion of categories, that of the right to speak with the right to be heard.”

  • “the danger of an uncritical attitude to the web and to blogging is that it comports very easily with the conversational model of theology which is now gaining currency among the advocates of advanced modernism (aka postmodernism) of the Western church situation… The absolute democratization of knowledge to which an uncritical attitude to blogging etc leads is, after all, inimical to any hierarchical view of truth, and thoroughly comfortable with the ‘this is my truth now tell me yours’ approach which is gaining ground even as I write.”

  • “the category of scholar is one which should be reserved for those who have established themselves in their chosen field by actual scholarly achievement, not by simply talking a good game. This credibility is achieved by consistent, careful and scholarly contributions to a field in terms of refereed publications which then enjoy currency among qualified peers outside the person’s immediate circle of epigonous friends.”

  • “pompous and arrogant numptiness”—I had never heard the word “numptiness” before I started reading Carl’s work—it is such a great word, one of those typical Britishisms that capture an entire world.


To be a Christian is to be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament. That is a given.

A second given is this: the New Testament is an ecclesial document. It is written from within the context of believing communities for believing communities. In fact, the idea of trying to be a Christian without the Church is anathema for the writers of the New Testament (see, for example, Hebrews 10:24-25).

And when you move out into the early patristic period up to the time of Constantine, say, the ecclesial focus is just as strong. How can one hope to have any idea of what Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c.110) is talking about, if one does not see his very heavy emphasis on the Christian community? Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) is the same. Where did Ignatius and Irenaeus get this ecclesial emphasis from? From the New Testament, of course! By stating that, I am not saying that these two early Fathers got their picture of the church entirely right. But there is a continuity between their ecclesial interests and those of the New Testament.

And it does not help to say that after the New Testament there was a calamitous falling away in which all of the key New Testament emphases were misplaced by the Ancient Church. That utterly fails to see how important the Scriptures were to those early Christian communities. Nor can this emphasis be written off with post-modern hermeneutical verve by claiming that this focus on the church is all about power. That too misses the point that the church was the context in which faith was nourished.

Then there are the third-century fathers like Tertullian and Cyprian. Both North Africans and both committed churchmen—and I say this despite Tertullian’s schismatic proclivities. Was it not Cyprian who argued that the person who has God for his Father must also have the Church for his mother? Again, the question is moot whether or not Cyprian got it all right when it came to ecclesiology—I personally think not. But his ecclesial interests are rooted in an ideological context that stretches back to the New Testament. And there would have been no Christian story if these men had not devoted their cares and toils to the communal expression of God’s people.

All of this to say this: George Barna’s Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary [see previous post, Barna, Bonhoeffer and true revolution] is so out of sync with the the New Testament and the realities of the Patristic era to be utterly laughed out of court, where it not for the dreadful ignorance about the Scriptures and the Patristic era that is increasingly apparent in North American Evangelical circles.

There will be some, I am sure, picturing themselves as brave souls going where few in our day have gone before—and so experiencing the adventure of the Christian life in all of its white-water intensity—who take up Barna’s suggestions and try to do Christianity without Church. In so doing, they will be sculpting their Christianity into the shape of our culture or sitting down to supper with the devil with a short spoon—either metaphor is frightening—and abandoning one of the key verities of the Faith.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


George Barna, that evangelical weathercock, has a new book entitled Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary. The title is typical for anyone who is a boomer and who cut their ideological teeth in the sixties. This one calls for a spiritual revolution that presents pristine first-century Christianity to a spiritually dessicated world, but does without the medium of the church, hence the subtitle.

I appreciate aspects of Kevin Miller’s critical review of the Barna volume  in Christianity Today—“No Church? No Problem”. Miller rightly observes that Barna’s “book merely reveals every thin spot in evangelical ecclesiology. We flamingly disregard 2,000 years of guidance under the Holy Spirit. We elevate private judgment above the collective wisdom of apostles, martyrs, reformers, and saints.” Here is Evangelicalism throwing the past and its caution to the winds and eloping with the fervently anti-institutional spirit of the age—a nymph with oh so many paramours. Nothing really revolutionary here. Just utter silliness and the giddiness of childish infatuation.

But as Miller rightly goes on to say, “Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of [Barna’s] Revolution for Life Together, the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany. Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church.”

Wise advice. I do not agree with all of Bonhoeffer’s views, but his Life Together is a classic about Christian community. And it is in the Church that the Father will be glorified (Ephesians 3:21).


Edward Trivett’s Christmas hymn—just found at Free St. George’s: “Our Christmas Message.” Was very surprised to see this. Then to read that this was “THE Christmas hymn in Norfolk two hundred years ago.”

Trivett (1712-1792), a Particular Baptist pastor, had a thriving ministry at Worstead, Norfolk, during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Would love to know where this hymn was found. Thanks to Free St. George’s for posting it. Though I do think the host of Free St. George’s must have been somewhat in jest to call it “THE Christmas hymn” of two hundred years ago!

Let me take this opportunity to thank him for his warm wishes of about ten days ago—“A word of Explication.” I am only very sorry that when we met recently at The Westminister Conference I did not take more time to get acquainted. My sincere apologies!      

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Speaking of the past, it has been an old habit of mine at this time of year to read something in keeping with this season that emanates from the past. This year it was Gregory of Nazianzus’ First Letter to Cledonius, also known as Letter 101. Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390)—or Greg Naz as my Doktorvater, John Egan, used to call him—has long been a favourite theologian. He could be a bit waspish at times—witness his On His Life. But what profoundity of theology he penned.

His letter to Cledonius was written in 382 and addresses a then-growing controversy surrounding how best to understand the Incarnation. How exactly are the two natures one in Jesus Christ? In some ways, it is a more difficult theological issue than the doctrine of the Trinity. Gregory is writing against Apollinaris, a long-time defender of Nicene Trinitarianism. Apollinaris seems to have regarded the deity within the person of Jesus Christ as serving instead of a human mind. Gregory rightly rejects this position. For, as he argues, what has not been assumed cannot be redeemed, or, in his own words: “the unassumed is the unhealed” (Letter 101.5) The Incarnation must involve the assumption of all that entails genuine humanity—including mind—otherwise redemption cannot come to that aspect of humanity.

It is rich theology and is a salutary reminder that there is far more to Christmas than even we believers often think! By the way, the translation I was reading is that of Lionel Wickham, St. Gregory of Nazianzus: On God and Christ. The Five Theological Orations and Two letters to Cledonius (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002). Frederick Williams, now teaching at Queens University Belfast, translated one of the theological orations; Wickham did the rest.    


There is no doubt that we who are Christians are called to love the past as a place of revelation and wisdom. There is no better example of this than the fact that over the past few days we who have been called by God to love the Lord Jesus have been celebrating a glorious event: the Incarnation of that Lord, even the Lord of Glory.

But this faithfulness to the past has another dimension—another horizon, as it were, namely, the present in which we demonstrate our faithfulness to that past. And as such, we must be very cognizant of the day in which live. Our call is not to antiquarianism—love of the past for the mere fact that it is past. That might be the mindset of the Old Order Mennonites or the Amish, but it is most certainly not our calling as faithful Christian disciples.

I do like what Kirk Wellum has recently blogged:  “By the gracious providence of God we live at a point in world history where we have the ability to speak to people as never before, in all sorts of different ways. This is one reason why some of us are blogging. We can speak to anyone who has access to a computer, no matter where they live in the world, and no matter where we are located, about the truth as it is found in Jesus. This is not a time to be lamenting that the past is past and the world as changed; it is a time to ask the Lord of the harvest to open our eyes and to sanctify our imaginations so that we might do what we can with the time we have.” [Bravo... Bravo!!!].

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Just read Tim Enloe’s entry On Being Amazed at Secularist Intolerance at his blog Societas Christiana. There is much that is good in Tim’s critique of contemporary Baptist thinking, but he seems to give the impression that Baptist thought per se is primarily beholden to the Enlightenment and its emphases on “(1) individual autonomy in matters of “value” (including religion and morals) and (2) the neutral Public Square.”

But the truth is that the same matrix that shaped the 17th century Presbyterians whom Enloe undoubtedly loves—and we too honour—shaped the founders of our Baptist witness, men like John Bunyan, Abraham Cheare, William Kiffin, and Hercules Collins. That witness persisted into the early nineteenth century largely unchanged. It was under the impress of revivalism, Jacksonian democracy, the romanticism of the Victorian era, and the acid-rain of liberalism, that Baptist values began to shift in the directions indicated by Enloe. But, it is important to remember, these things were not this way in the beginning. And our battle-cry must ever be, Ad fontes.  

Thursday, December 22, 2005


“What makes a blog a blog is the interaction between the writer and the reader.” This is a definition that I have seen a number of times regarding the nature of what constitutes a “blog.” It is not one that I personally buy into.

Lest I be accused of desiring to create my own meaning for a word, I refer to Hugh Hewitt’s Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s changing your world (Nelson, 2005)—the very book that got me into blogging—where Hewitt says that “blog” is simply short for “weblog, an online site that is update by its author(s) frequently” (p.xv). Nothing there about interaction between author(s) and reader(s).

Of course, this has a personal dimension! I have not activated the link that allows for comments on my various blog entries. The reason for this is not because I think myself above criticism. Hardly that! How do I expect to grow? For a Christian, growth is often a corporate experience. No, it is simply because I do not have the time to answer even the few comments that might come my way because of my blogging. My profile gives an e-mail link that enables people to contact me if they really want to.

In my opinion, then, responding back and forth to comments about a blog does add another dimension to blogging, but it does not define its essence.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


One of the marks of true Christianity is to care for widows (see James 1:27; Timothy 5:3-8). Andrew Fuller traced this in part back to the cross. As he wrote in a circular letter sent out to the Northamptonshire Association of Baptist Churches in 1815:

“It is one of the most endearing traits in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, while the salvation of the world was pending, he did not neglect to provide for his aged mother. Joseph is thought to have been dead for some years, and Mary seems to have followed Jesus, who, while upon earth, discharged every branch of filial duty and affection towards her. But now that he is going to his Father, who shall provide for her? Looking down from the cross on her, and on his beloved disciple, he saith to the one, ‘Behold thy son!’ and to the other, ‘Behold thy mother!’ What exquisite sensibility do these words convey! To her it was saying, Consider me as living in my beloved disciple; and to him, Consider my mother as your own. It is no wonder that ‘from that time that disciple took her to his own home’.” [The Situation of the Widows and Orphans of Christian Ministers].


George Grant has a simple response to those who see the famous carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a secret means of teaching the Christian faith. Grant dispels this “urban legend” and interprets it as a folk song

“just intended to generally and joyously portray throughout the Yuletide season the abundant Christian life, the riches of the Church’s covenantal inheritance, and the Gospel’s ultimate promise of heaven. Sing, therefore, with new gusto and zeal. For, “every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Even partridges, pear trees, and leaping lords!”

Check it out at: The Twelve Days of Christmas.  


Phil Johnson has an extremely helpful piece on the law and God’s character and why a distinction between the moral and ceremonial/civil law is tied to the divine character: Ex lex?

Monday, December 19, 2005


Please remember brother Don Whitney who announces on his website that he has colon cancer. Please be in prayer that God would grant Don a speedy and complete recovery. He faces his operation tomorrow. Specifically Don asks us to pray:

  • For God to be glorified in all these matters.

  • That the cancer will be entirely removed.

  • That no colostomy will be required.

  • That no infection will set in.

  • That the Lord will give me grace through the initial recovery period, particularly with the pain and the mental fog.

  • That no further treatment—including radiation and chemotherapy—will be needed.

  • For his wife Caffy, daughter Laurelen, and his Mother. As you can imagine, they will each have their own set of special needs as well.

  • For my/our witness to the medical personnel—to two in particular.

  • That I will be home for Christmas (this is especially important to Laurelen, who will also turn twelve the day after Christmas).

  • That this will not affect my ability to travel to long-scheduled speaking engagements in the last half of January nor my return to the classroom at the end of January.

  • For the Lord’s provision in the aftermath of major surgery, several days in the hospital, etc.

  • That this will cause me—and my family—to love and prize Jesus more, and be more like Him.


Among the books that I read on my trip to the UK last week was Daniel Webber, William Carey and the Missionary Vision (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), xii+116 pages. I have about sixty biographies of Carey and this is among the better. What follows is an initial reflection on the book.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Francis Wayland, the American Baptist theologian and educator, noted that the “names of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, in India, and of Fuller, Ryland, and Sutcliff” are as “familiar to us as household words.” [A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853), I, 121.] He was speaking for the Baptists of that day, on both sides of the Atlantic. But that was then, and the situation is quite different today.

Only Carey’s name is really well-known to the general Christian public today. This new study by Daniel Webber, the present Director of the European Missionary Fellowship (EMF), based at Welwyn, Herts., England, capitalizes on this fact, but seeks to present a side of Carey that is not that well-known, namely his time in England before he went to India in 1793 (p.ix). Webber especially wishes to lay before his readers “Carey’s passionate advocacy of world mission” and encourage them to reflect on how this passion of the eighteenth-century Baptist can inform the church’s ongoing responsibility (p.ix-x, 4).

The slim study contains just over fifty pages of textual introduction to Carey’s An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, originally published in Leicester in 1792 (p.53-100) and Andrew Fuller’s The Instances, the Evil Nature, and the Dangerous Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion, a sermon that Fuller preached in 1791 (p.101-116). As a study it has its origins in a 1993 lecture and subsequent publication that has long since been out of print. Webber has “fully revised” this earlier publication.

It is great to have the entire text of Carey’s Enquiry reproduced in a newly typeset format, since Parts II and III, Carey’s mini-history of missions and his “Operation World”-like survey of the world known to him, are usually omitted. Webber rightly identifies Fuller’s sermon as being central in the chain of events that convinced his and Carey’s fellow Baptists of the rightness of Carey’s vision.

Webber’s stated goal in the book is to detail Carey’s passion for world mission as displayed in his Enquiry. He only enters into biographical matters to further this end. As far as this goal is concerned, Webber does an excellent job. Carey’s biblical reasons for engaging in cross-cultural missions are delineated, his response to objections set forth and his practical recommendations for engaging in such mission discussed (p.13-35).

And yet, I was a little disappointed. Having long pondered and read about the story of Carey, I feel that the area of Carey’s story that is not well-known at all is the time in India. Given Webber’s goal in the book, this part of the story occupies only a small portion of the book (p.37-42). Yet, this is the truly unknown Carey. There is so much about Carey’s time in India that is not well-known, especially from 1812 onwards. Also I wish Webber had taken some time in examining Carey’s Calvinism (which he mentions on p.4). His theology totally undergirded his missionary thought and it strikes this reader that the latter cannot really be understood apart from it.

These quibbles aside, Webber well depicts the passion that burned in Carey’s heart and often he is able to aptly sum up Carey’s thinking and that of his closest friends with an apposite quote. For example, when many in England were clamouring for a portrait of Carey—for which Andrew Fuller told his friend in India that “eight hundred guineas” had been offered—Fuller rightly commented that such adulation posed a grave spiritual danger. But, he added, “if we be kept humble and near to God, we have nothing to fear” (p.41). It is noteworthy that the first clause is in the passive. Fuller’s prayer to God for himself and Carey was: “Lord, keep us humble and near to Thee.” Though we must use the means of grace to stay in the place of humility and use those same means to cleave to our God, ultimately this is his great work. If we are kept humble and near to him—then truly we have nothing to fear. And Webber is surely right to comment that in this statement we get “some insight into the spirit that prevailed both with Carey and his friend, Andrew Fuller” (p.42).

I noted one historical error: Samuel Pearce died in 1799, not 1792 (p.20). For details on ordering this book, its ISBN is 0-85151-921-0 and see William Carey.    


For a discussion of the papers presented at the Westminster Conference last week, which is where I was in London, see Wesminster Conference 2005 - 1 & Westminster Conference 2005 - 2 at Jenson’s Blog: Other reports are to follow.


Pastor Geoff Thomas of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth in Wales, who a real gift for writing, has a blog. Check it out here: GLog: Geoff’s Blog.


Two of my heroes would have celebrated their birthdays last week and I missed it. I had a good excuse—I was flying home from their native land and navigating through Gatwick and Heathrow airports! But check out Happy Birthday George Whitefield and Jane Austen and especially the quotes.


One of the things I have always loved about C H Spurgeon was his sense of humour—“impishness,” as Phil Johnson describes it. See the latest from Johnson at his blog: “A plea to would-be poets.”

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Being away for any length of time means that, while it was relatively easy to access my blog and those I normally read, it was not as easy to be writing up new blogs. I would like to note some entries at Nineteenth Century Baptist, the blog of Nathan Finn, that are worth reading. Check out these three: More on Baptist Confessionalism I recently came a..., Elias Keach on a True Gospel Church Elias Keach w..., William Carey’s View of History When I have the p...


Loving the Christian tradition is a sign of spiritual health. But we must read the past with discernment. Just as a malnourished individual must eat wholesome food and not simply anything he can lay his hands on simply because it is food, so must we be when it comes to the past. I suspect it is due to a malnourished involvement with the past that some recent authors are enthusing about some elements of Church History that our Evangelical and Reformed forebears threw overboard because of their dissonance from the standpoint of Scripture.

A good example has to be this recent post, “It Takes a Monk to Save a Civilization” by Ben House. This blog is building upon Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, which is a good read no doubt—especially for someone like myself with an Irish parent—but has some definite flaws from a historiographical vantage-point. For example, House states, “For a time, about all that stood between the preservation of European civilization or its descent into a true dark age was a hardy band of Irish monks who were dedicated to copying books and evangelizing people.” But what of the entire structure of the Byzantine Empire and its libraries and scholars?

Then, at the end of the post, House cites a couple of historians of the mediæval era like Christopher Dawson about the blessings of mediæval monasteries. Reading these quotes I hardly recognized the institutions that John Wycliffe (d.1384) and the early Reformers so heavily declaimed against.

The quote from Dawson’s The Making of Europe, runs thus: “The greatest names of the age are the names of monks—St. Benedict and St. Gregory, the two Columbas, Bede and Boniface, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus, and Dunstan, and it is to the monks that the great cultural achievements of the age are due, whether we look at the preservation of ancient culture, the conversion of new peoples or the formation of new centres of culture in Ireland and Northumbria and the Carolingian Empire.”

For a Roman Catholic historian like Dawson, the list of names in this quote can remain undifferentiated. They are all heroes of the faith in the Roman pantheon. But it will not do at all for a Reformed historian to cite such a list without making differentiation between, for example, the Celts and the Anglo-Celtic supporters of the Church of Rome.

House has a good point in his post that churches must function like beacons of light in our collapsing culture as monasteries once did in late antiquity. But that point must be made with care lest we forget what the monasteries came to represent in mediæval Europe.    


Speaking of reading books, here is some great wisdom on reading from the Scottish divine, Horatius Bonar: see Practical Wisdom From Horatius Bonar.    


This past week I have been in England and N. Ireland. It was a privilege to preach at Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church in Barnstaple, Devon, attend the Westminster Conference in London, and visit Queen’s University Belfast, and most importantly, enjoy sweet fellowship with some of the people of God.

And surely one of the best things about going away has got to be coming home. It’s not the journey that is so precious but the destination.

One of the other sweet things about travel is being able to read and reflect in airport lounges and on buses and so on. I thank God for a batch of a good books that I read on this recent trip.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I have been reading Daniel Webber’s William Carey and the Missionary Vision (Banner of Truth Trust, 2005). It is a fairly easy read at about 50 or so pages of textual introduction to Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792), a classic defense of missions, and Andrew Fuller’s The Instances, the Evil Nature, and the Dangerous Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion (1791), which played a vital role in garnering support for Carey’s vision as laid out in the Enquiry.

Found this great piece of advice by Fuller to Carey when certain of their friends were clamouring for a likeness of Carey to be made. “Eight hundred guineas have been offered for Dr Carey’s likeness!,” Fuller wrote to Carey in India. Fuller rightly feared such fame might go to their heads and he gave this advice to his friend as well as to himself: “if we be kept humble and near to God, we have nothing to fear” (p.41). It is noteworthy that the first clause is in the passive. Fuller’s prayer to God for himself and Carey was: “Lord, keep us humble and near to Thee.”

Though we must use the means of grace to stay in the place of humility and use those same means to cleave to our God, ultimately this is his great work. If we are kept humble and near to him—then truly we have nothing to fear.    

Friday, December 09, 2005


Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) wrote a number of key works defending the use of hymns in worship. In arguing for this he also wrote some of his own hymns. Now, it was Charles H Spurgeon who said of Benjamin Keach’s hymnody that the less said about it the better! But Paul Martin has an example of a good hymn by Keach—and a Christmas one to boot! Many thanks for this Paul: A Good Baptist Christmas Carol!

PS For a great book on Keach see the recent bio by Austin Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach (Joshua Press, 2004). A second edition is due out in the new year.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Here is an excllent Advent Meditation by my friend Clint Humfrey: C.S. Lewis and Cowboy Monasticism.


In this lively response to Scott McKnight’s take on Russ Moore’s review of the movie Walk the LineMcKnight, McLaren, and McAuthenticity—Moore compares the early Cash after his conversion to the early Augustine [presumably prior to the earth-shattering illumination that came when, in the mid-390s, Augustine realized that the entire Christian life is sheer gift] and Brian McLaren to Arius. A good read and response!


I have been immersing myself in recent weeks in Augustine’s thought—partly because of two courses I have been teaching on the North African theologian and also because of a major paper I have to give on his masterpiece The City of God (412-427) and its theology of history next week in London, England.

It is exactly thirty years ago that I first read this work in detail for a Master’s thesis. It has been said that if you get into Augustine there is the possibility you will never get out. But never to have read him—that is to miss one of the Church’s greatest gems. The Ancient Church has bequeathed to the Church of Christ five treasures:

  • The canon of the New Testament

  • The doctrine of the Trinity as hammered out by Athanasius and the Cappadocians in particular

  • Chalcedonian Christology

  • The early martyrs

  • And the theology of Augustine

Read Augustine, you will never regret it. Begin with the Confessions (397-401) and then move on to his City of God. His work on Trinitarian doctrine, On the Trinity (399-413) is also a must. Of course, there will be stuff you disagree with. But you will be joining a discussion circle that has involved some of the greatest minds in the history of the Church—Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther and Calvin, Owen and Warfield, to name just a few.

Anyway if blogging is rare in the next few days it is because I am focused on finishing this paper and then away in the UK from Dec 9 to 16.

Monday, December 05, 2005


A great quote from Edmund Burke (1729-1797) has been posted here by Kirk Wellum.

Reading this quote led me to think of that other famous quote often attributed to Burke, which runs something like this: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I say “something like” because it turns out there are dozens of variants of this quote!

For a thoughful study of these variants, see Martin Porter, “ ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ (or words to that effect): A study of a Web quotation” (January 2002; Porter actually concludes after an exhaustive study that Burke never said this second quote about the triumph of evil and good men doing nought! In this essay and a follow-up one (“Four Principles of Quotation: Being a follow up to A study of a Web quotation” (March 2002;, Porter rightly argues that for a quote to be used correctly it must be cited exactly from the source and something of the context knowable.

He therefore gives four principles regarding making quotations—this is a must for students of history and those aspiring to be historians.

Principle 1 (for readers): Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.

Principle 2 (for readers): Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source.

Principle 3 (for quoters): Whenever you make a quotation, give the exact source.

Principle 4 (for quoters): Only quote from works that you have read.  

PS I would wholeheartedly affirm Principles 1 and 3. Principle 2 seems to engender too much skepticism. And Principle 4 seems to be a little narrow.


I love what is going on at this blog, Free St. George’s. My wife is Scottish born and I have developed a keen interest over the years in many things Scottish. I was born in England, but in my “wilder”—or should I say “saner”?—moments I have wished I had been born a Scot! But providence being what it is, I had no choice over that!

But having a Scottish wife—with relatives connected to the Free Church and now the Free Church Continuing—has made me probe into my children’s rich Scottish Christian roots. And Free St. George’s is well on its way to becoming a treasure-trove of reflection on Scottish Reformed Christianity and its various highways and byways.

Keep up the good work, brother!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Love this quote from John Donne: “More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Found it as the sub-text of Emily Belli’s blog which inspired the name of her blog: Letters Mingling. Also think her latest post on Canadian politics is right on: “Enough is Enough.” Like her I am utterly sick of the Liberal government we have been saddled with for most of the past fifty years!


I am increasingly convinced that Evangelicals must study Patristics. Here is one good reason at The Eagle and Child: “Why I’m thankful for the DaVinci Code.”


Darrin Brooker is a very good friend, but not until last week did I discover that he has been blogging at Running Well since September! Here is what he calls “a shameless plug” for his Horatius Bonar CD—“Shameless Plug” (along with an endorsement from Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth)—and also a great quote from “Robert Haldane on Controversy.” This blog is highly recommended.


It is almost forty years ago to the day that my family emigrated from the United Kingdom to Canada. We arrived on December 6, 1965, in Toronto at what is now Pearson Airport after a stopover in Halifax. I well recall being struck by the cold in Halifax as we deplaned and walked into the terminal. From Toronto we came through to Hamilton by taxi where we stayed for a few weeks in the old Sheraton Connaught in downtown Hamilton while awaiting the house we were going to rent in Ancaster on Lover’s Lane. We had come to Canada because my father had taken up a teaching post at McMaster University in Electrical Engineering.

To be honest, I hated Canada at first. I had left two very close friends behind in England, Christopher Janaway and Harry Weinberg. We kept in touch by mail a little after I left, but I have essentially not heard from them for nearly forty years. And there were so many little things in Canadian culture I did not like. But I have grown to love Canada.

The high school I attended in Ancaster was Ancaster High and Vocational School (now simply Ancaster High School). We were there tonight, attending a performance of “Guys and Dolls” by Frank Loesser (1910-1959)—my daughter was playing in the pit orchestra.

Where my wife and I, and our son Nigel, sat in the auditorium was close to the wall on which were the pictures of the Principals from the past. The first two, Mr. Davidson and Mr. Rumball, were the ones who were Principal when I was there from 1966 to 1971. That Mr. Rumball would not have remembered me as a good student is an understatement!

Another Principal’s picture was there, whom I remember with much thanks. Mr. Richardson taught history when I was in Grades 12 and 13. Grade 12 we did “Revolutions,” which fascinated me at the time and gave me an opportunity to explore the French and Russian Revolutions in some detail. Mr. Richardson believed in getting us into the primary sources, something I have always believed makes for the best history teaching.

The motto of Ancaster High is Scientia est libertas—“knowledge is freedom.” I don’t think I paid it much attention during the time I was a student within her walls, though I was into freedom when I was there. Freedom from what I saw as the constrictions of western culture, freedoms from the rules of adults, freedom from the norms of society. But I traded one set of rules for the bondage of another conformity—conformity to the “freak” and radical student culture of the sixties.

It was not until I had left high school that I found the truth of Ancaster High’s motto: in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ there is freedom indeed!      

Friday, December 02, 2005


By and large the Trinitarianism of the Nicene creed remained unchallenged until the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Even during that most tumultuous of theological eras, the Reformation, this particular area of Christian belief did not come into general dispute, though there were a few, like Michael Servetus (1511-1553) in the sixteenth century, who rejected Trinitarianism for a Unitarian perspective on the Godhead. In the rationalistic atmosphere of the eighteenth century, however, the doctrine was heavily attacked and ridiculed as illogical.

During this period the English-speaking world saw the re-emergence of Arianism, the heresy of the fourth century which affirmed the creaturehood of Christ, as well as the rapid spread of Unitarianism. By the early nineteenth century the doctrine of the Trinity “had become an embarrassment, and the way was open to dismiss it as a philosophical construction by the early church.” [G. L. Bray, “Trinity” in New Dictionary of Theology, eds. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer (Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 694].

Benjamin Beddome’s catechism

Orthodox response to this attack on what was rightly considered to be one of the foundational truths of Christianity was varied. In certain evangelical circles the doctrine was an essential part of catechetical instruction. In 1752 Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795), the pastor of a Calvinistic Baptist work in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, drew up A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism by Way of Question and Answer. This catechism basically reproduced the wording and substance of an earlier catechism written by the seventeenth-century Baptist Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), but added various sub-questions and answers to each of the questions in Keach’s catechism.

The Scriptural Exposition proved to be fairly popular. There were two editions during Beddome’s lifetime, the second of which was widely used at the Bristol Baptist Academy, the sole British Baptist seminary for much of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century it was reprinted once in the British Isles and twice in the United States, the last printing being in 1849.

Teaching the doctrine of the Trinity

To the question, “How many persons are there in the godhead?,” Keach’s catechism gave the answer, “There are three persons in the godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.” Beddome faithfully reproduces this question and answer, but then adds five paragraphs of questions and Scripture texts as a further delineation of the subject [A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism by Way of Question and Answer (2nd. ed.; Bristol: W. Pine, 1776), 23-25.].

In the opening paragraph he argues first for the triunity of God from such passages as Genesis 1:26, where we have the statement “Let us make man” (KJV). Then, on the basis of Psalm 110:1 and John 14:26, Beddome affirms the distinct personhood of the Son and the Spirit respectively. This train of argument logically raises the question “May it with any propriety then be said, that there are three Gods?” To this Beddome answers with a resounding “No,” and in support of his answer he cites Zechariah 14:9 (KJV): “there shall be one Lord, and his name one.”

The next paragraph adduces texts where both the Son and the Holy Spirit are referred to as God. “Is the Son called God? Yes. Who is over all God blessed for evermore. Rom ix.5. Is the Spirit called God? Yes. Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lye to the Holy Ghost, thou hast not lyed unto men man but unto God. Acts v.3, 4.” There are a number of texts that Beddome could have cited as proof that the New Testament calls the Son “God.” With regard to the Spirit, though, apart from this passage from Acts there is no clear attribution of the title “God” to the person of the Spirit in the New Testament.

The divine attributes and activities that the Spirit and the Son share with the Father and are the sole prerogative of a divine being are the subject of the third paragraph, which runs as follows:

“Is the Son eternal as well as the Father? Yes. Before Abraham was, I am, John viii.58. Is the Spirit eternal? Yes. He is called the eternal Spirit, Heb. ix.14. Is the Son omnipresent? Yes. Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I, Mat. xviii.20. Is the Spirit so too? Yes. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, Ps. cxxxix.7 Is the Son omniscient? Yes. Thou knowest all things, John xxi.17. And is the Spirit so? Yes. He seacheth all things, 1 Cor. ii.10. Is the work of creation ascribed to the Son? Yes. All things were made by him, John i.3. Is it also ascribed to the Spirit? Yes. The Spirit of God hath made me, Job xxxiii.4. And is creation a work peculiar to God? Yes. He that hath built all things is God, Heb. iii.4.”  

The fourth paragraph seeks to prove the deity of the Son and the Spirit from the fact that both of them are the object of prayer in the Scriptures. To show this of the Son is relatively easy, and Beddome can refer to a passage like Acts 7:59 (KJV), where Stephen, the first martyr, prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” To find a text where the Spirit is actually the object of prayer is far more difficult. Beddome cites Revelation 1:4, where the “seven spirits,” which Beddome rightly understands to be a symbolic representation of the “one holy and eternal Spirit,” are included along with God the Father and Jesus Christ in a salutation to the seven churches in Asia Minor. This passage does clearly have significant Trinitarian import.

The fifth and final paragraph gives further scriptural support for the fact that there is a plurality within the Godhead. “Are divine blessings derived from all three persons in the godhead? Yes. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all, 2 Cor. xiii.14. Have each of these their distinct province in the affair of man’s salvation, Yes. Thro’ him we both have access by one spirit unto the Father” (Cor. 14).”

Beddome would have readily confessed this doctrine is a great mystery. But he was also well aware that, despite its mysteriousness, how necessary it is that the believer affirm it with all of his or her soul.