Friday, March 31, 2006


My friend Crawford Gribben, at his blog Anablepo , has drawn attention to a series of sayings of Thomas Manton (1620-1677) in a one-page broadsheet, Words of Peace, or Dr Mantons Last Sayings (London, 1677). Here are two excellent ones—the first one applies to some Christian bloggers I have occasionally read! And the second, well the second has a large application in our day, when, like the Athenians, so many love to entertain only the latest novelty:

  • 32. Some men love to live in the fire, and be always handling the red hot questions of the Age with passion and Acrimony: but alas! this doth no good.

  • 9. When a people begin to Innovate, ‘tis an hard matter to keep them within the bounds of any Moderation.

For other sayings from the list, see the blog of Ian Clary: Anablepo - Gems from Thomas Manton.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Found this collect—it sure reads like one—for St. Patrick’s Day on A shame I found it after the day. But I can use it for next year.

It is his blog for St. Patrick’s Day:

Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.


Generally speaking, in the last century or so, patristic exegesis has not been favourably regarded. F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), an Anglican Evangelical scholar of the Victorian era, could state in the first of his Oxford Bampton Lectures in 1885 with regard to the history of interpretation: “We shall pass in swift review many centuries of exegesis, and shall be compelled to see that they were, in the main, centuries during which the interpretation of Scripture has been dominated by unproven theories, and overladen by untenable results.” [History of Interpretation (London: Macmillan, 1886), 8]. When Farrar came to speak of patristic exegetes in particular he observed: “There are but few of them whose pages are not rife with errors—errors of method, errors of fact, errors of history, of grammar, and even of doctrine.” (History of Interpretation, 162-163).

Here Farrar puts more bluntly what many twentieth-and twenty-first century exegetes have generally believed about the Fathers and their interaction with the Scriptures. Although it is conceded that so-called pre-critical exegesis may have had some insights worth listening to, it has been generally believed that the bulk of the pre-critical tradition of exegesis is largely worthless.

Central to modern criticism of the Fathers has been their tendency to allegorize and to not focus on the “plain sense” of Scripture. By the way, Enlightenment distrust of tradition has informed this criticism far more than the dethroning of tradition by the Reformation. John Calvin, for example, viewed the Fathers as allies in the exegetical task. He could be critical of Origen’s allegorization, but by and large he valued the writings of the Fathers as aids for the reading of Scripture. [John L. Thompson, “Scripture, Tradition, and the Formation of Christian Culture: The Theological and Pastoral Function of the History of Interpretation”, Ex Auditu, 19 (2003), 24-27].

Now, at the heart of this modern criticism is an hermeneutical conviction, namely, that the meaning of a biblical text is simply and no more than what the author meant. The meaning of a text is thus solely determined by its human origin.

As a result of this bias against patristic exegesis, the biblical commentaries of the Fathers, chiefly those of the fourth and fifth centuries, remain almost completely unknown to biblical scholars. The work of some of the best exegetes among the Fathers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, for instance, thus remains almost completely unknown. [Gerald Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture” in Paul Helm and Carl R. Trueman, eds., The Trustworthiness of God. Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture (Grand Rapids/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 157-158]. This lack of interest in patristic exegesis is changing. Witness in this regard the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, edited by Thomas Oden and published by InterVarsity (2001–).

Moreover, beyond the commentaries there is an enormous wealth of exegetical comments that come in the course of other treatises written by the Fathers. These quotations must be used with care, since the Fathers’ quotations of the Scriptures were often more akin to allusion or rough paraphrases. What these allusions and citations indicate is that the minds of the Fathers were “steeped in the Bible.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 158). As Gerald Bray has noted, this “reflects a profound knowledge of Scripture that they would not have possessed if it had not been central to their faith.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 158). The Fathers are saturated with Scripture.

Responding to this distrust

Specifically, how are we to respond to the modern distrust of patristic exegesis? First, it needs to be noted that while the Church Fathers did resort to allegory, it was never regarded by them as the definitive hermeneutical tool or grid. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 157, 160-161). There are certain well-known biblical texts in which allegory was the prime vehicle of interpretation. One thinks of the Song of Songs, for example, or the parables of Jesus. As Bray notes: “even a cursory reading of ancient commentaries will reveal that it [i.e. allegory] was only one device among many, and that normally it was restricted to certain well-defined instances.” Also, as Bray points out, the Fathers did not consider allegory as a principle of interpretation in its own right. Any truths discovered by allegorization were already known by a literal exegesis of other biblical texts. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 161).

The importance of the actual text to the Fathers is well seen by contrasting Origen’s exegesis—often taken as the pinnacle of allegorization—with the way that Plotinus (c.204-270), the fountainhead of Neoplatonism, deals with the key influence on his thought, namely Plato. Plotinus explicitly refers to Plato about fifty times, though scholars have detected about 900 allusions to the Platonic corpus. On the other hand, Origen quotes so much of the Scriptures that large tracts of Scripture could be reconstructed from his quotes. In other words, it was not just the spiritual meaning of the Bible that mattered to Origen. He fully believed that “every syllable [of Scripture] came out of the mouth of God and enjoyed absolute authority over his mind and life.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 161-162).

Careful study of Origen’s exegetical practice reveals, as Brian E. Daly notes, a “constant concern for the smallest details of text and narrative and often an unexpected willingness to accept biblical passages as meaning what they say.” [“Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms” in Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, The Art of Reading Scripture (Grand Rapids/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 78).

Specifically, the Fathers resorted to allegory when a text in the Bible needed to be reconciled with clearer passages of Scripture. In other words, allegory was a way of dealing with more difficult texts of Scripture. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 163-164).

Eusebius of Emesa (died c.359) in Syria, could thus state that while the Christian commentator cannot rule out allegory it should not be used to excess. This statement occurs in a sermon on the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:18–19 et par.). Eusebius says that he knows of an allegorical interpretation of this text which depicts Jerusalem as the fig tree. But this must be wrong, Eusebius argues, since he did not make Jerusalem fruitless for ever. Euesbius then interprets the text and Christ’s words with regard to the circumstances of that time in history. [W. Telfer, “The Fourth Century Greek Fathers as Exegetes”, The Harvard Theological Review, 50 (1957), 95].


Here is a great little exercise over at Hymnody with regard to determining why one hymnal version is better than another: Exercise. The two, though quite similar, have very different thrusts. Looking forward to the answers!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


As a Calvinistic Baptist I owe a significant debt to early Anglicanism. My seventeenth-century forebears learned much of their Reformed theology from Reformed ministers in the Church of England and it was in the heart of that body that they were nurtured on the spirituality of the Reformation. And in the earliest days of that state Church no figure exercised as great an influence as the “reluctant martyr” Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the first Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Kenneth Brownell, an American who is pastoring in the U.K., has argued that Thomas Cranmer’s influence on the English-speaking Protestant world has been greater than any other figure except his contemporary John Knox (d.1572), and the eighteenth-century preachers George Whitefield (1714-1770), John Wesley (1703-1791) and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). “Few men,” Brownell writes, “did more to shape English Protestant spirituality and to drive into the soul of a nation the fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.” [Kenneth Brownell, “Thomas Cranmer: Compromiser or Strategist?” in The Reformation of Worship. Papers read at the 1989 Westminster Conference (London: The Westminster Conference, 1989), 1].

Cranmer’s greatest achievements came during the reign of Edward VI (r.1547-1553). By the end of 1547, the Evangelicals around Edward who were being led by Cranmer had, amongst other reforms, enshrined justification by faith alone in the Church’s official statements. Clerical marriage had been approved. Key Continental Reformers had been invited to come to England to help in the Reformation there, men such as the Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer (1491-1551), who went to Cambridge, Peter Martyr (1500-1562)—an Anglicized form of Pietro Martire Vermigli—who went to Oxford, and Jan Łaski (1499-1560), a Polish Reformer.

And in line with the aims of the Reformation throughout Europe, the worship of the church had been reformed. Cranmer’s work in regard to the latter is probably best seen in The Book of Common Prayer of 1552, which was intended to be the “basis of reformed Protestant worship,” [Diarmaid MacCulloch, “The Myth of the English Reformation”, Journal of British Studies, 30 (1991), 7-9] and which, as Peter Toon has recently noted, is “a near perfect embodiment of the principle of justification by faith.” [“Remembering Thomas Cranmer on the anniversary of his martyrdom” (].

One gets a marvellous insight into the heart of Cranmer’s Reformed thought by looking at his written prayers. Consider this portion of a prayer from the Communion service in which Cranmer trumpets forth that salvation is by Christ alone:

“Almighty God our heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again; hear us O merciful Father we beseech thee…” [The First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward the Sixth (London/Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons/New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910), 389; I have modernized the language].

The declaration that Christ’s death is “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction” for sin undercuts the entire theological edifice of mediæval Roman Catholicism. For that edifice—with its understanding of the mass as a re-presentation of  Christ’s sacrificial death for sin, both that of the living and of the dead in purgatory; with its indulgences and its rosaries and its pilgrimages and its relics—was built on the supposition that humanity can do something to earn salvation. But Cranmer was convinced that all human endeavours to make appeasement for our sins and gain merit in the eyes of God are utterly futile. Due to the fact that, in Cranmer’s words elsewhere, “all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds…be justified and made righteous before God.” [An Homily of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting in T.H.L. Parker, ed., English Reformers (The Library of Christian Classics, vol.26; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 262]. Christ’s peerless death is alone sufficient to appease the wrath of God against human sin and cleanse those who put their trust in him from all unrighteouness.

Little wonder then that Cranmer was of the conviction that salvation by Christ alone and justification by faith alone “is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve: this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and suppresseth the vainglory of man: this whosoever denieth is not to be reputed for a Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary to Christ and his gospel, and for a setter forth of men’s vainglory. (Homily of the Salvation of Mankind in Parker, ed., English Reformers, 266-267).

Here Cranmer identified what lay at the heart of the Reformation. The one side relied solely on the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death—“a setter forth of Christ’s glory” he calls each individual in this camp. The other side, which denied this biblical truth, Cranmer is convinced cannot be described as Christian, but must be seen as opposed to Christ and “a setter forth of men’s vainglory.”

Within a year or so of the publication of the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer the unbridgeable gulf between these two sides would plunge England, and Cranmer personally, into turmoil and bloody strife as the Roman Catholic successor of Edward VI, his oldest half-sister Mary I (r.1553-1558), sought to destroy the Evangelicals in England and Wales. Cranmer himself would give his life for being a “setter forth of Christ’s glory.” But like Cranmer’s fellow bishops, Hugh Latimer (c.1485-1555) and Nicholas Ridley (c.1500-1555), who were burned at the stake in October, 1555, Cranmer, when he died a martyr in March 1556—450 years ago this month—lit a candle for the gospel in England that could not be easily put out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A hearty thanks to Steven Dumas for inclusion in the top ten for the Bloghorn Leghorn Award:

Thursday, March 23, 2006


On “The Reformation21 Blog” the Historian penned the following remarks on March 22, the 450th anniversary of Thomas Cranmer’s death:

“Not to derogate from anything Rick [Philips] says about the need for principle, but the situation in the 1550s was a bit more complicated than just clear-sighted Christians being tried for their faith.  Arguably both Cranmer and Lady Jane Grey were guilty of treason—Cranmer was tried as such; and their theological views were at best only partial causes of their deaths—deaths which the politics of the time, and their involvement, made inevitable; and many who perished in the flames of the 1540s and 1550s were far from four-square Protestants; while others, who were thoroughly orthodox but not high-profile players in the rather sleazy politics of Edward’s reign, live peaceably during Mary’s time.  And many, many others simply flip-flopped with the policy of the time.”

Was amazed by these remarks, coming as they do from The Historian. It was 1555-1558 when the vast majority of the Protestants were martyred for their faith, nearly 300 by recent account. The vast majority of them died for their convictions that the core doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were unbiblical and abominable to God. While there are some reasons to raise queries about Cranmer, and even here The Historian is far too hard on him, the vast majority of these men and women died for the simple conviction that the Lord Jesus alone is Saviour and that faith alone in him saves.

Edward VI’s reign from 1549 to 1553, while yes highly politicized, was the period in which the Reformed faith took deep hold in England and that through Cranmer’s reforms, especially his 1552 Prayer Book. It is far too important a period to be simply written off as a time of “sleazy politics.”

Finally, when Cranmer was put on trial, yes, undoubtedly there were political reasons, but, in a sense, the English Reformation was being put on trial in his person. Or more accurately in his person and that of Ridley and Latimer, who were martyred in 1555, the English Reformation was being tried. And when God enabled them to endure to the end, the English Reformation was vindicated.

Monday, March 20, 2006


And here is another—this one is really a gem:

“The best preparation for prayer, I often feel, is the reading of history.”
[“True and false religion” in his Unity and Truth, ed. Hywel R. Jones (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1991), 161].


Yet another from the Doctor:

“Puritanism was not primarily a preference for one form of church government rather than another; but it was that outlook and teaching which put its emphasis upon a life of spiritual, personal religion, an intense realization of the presence of God, a devotion of the entire being to Him.” [From Puritanism to Nonconformity (2nd ed.; Bryntirion, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Evangelical Press of Wales/London: The Evangelical Library, 1991), 11].  


Martyn Lloyd-Jones, like his beloved Puritans, was a master of pithy statements. Students of history, ponder this one:

“What is needed today is for us to forget the nineteenth century completely and make a detailed study of the beginning of the eighteenth century” [“Religion Today and Tomorrow” in his Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989), 30].

There is a lot of wisdom in that remark.


Again and again there is evidence that Muslim claims that Islam is a religion of peace are dubious at best and downright deceitful at worst.

In Afghanistan—according to Western media no longer under the rule of the wicked “Taliban”—a Christian brother is on trial for his faith. His name is Abdul Rahman and he was converted sixteen years ago. He has now been put on trial and some of the star witnesses against him are his own family. Remember Mark 13:12.

The Trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah told the BBC that Rahman, 41, would be asked to reconsider his conversion. He said, “We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him,” the judge told the BBC on Monday.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam, but Rahman refused.

“He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one,” Wasi said. “We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty.”

This is an example of Islamic “tolerance” and “forgiveness”? I wouldn’t like to see what they do to their enemies!

These Muslim clerics should read some of our Baptist forebears to see what real tolerance is about. They could start with Roger Williams, for example. It was Williams who once reported that that quintessential Puritan Oliver Cromwell once maintained in a public discussion “that he had rather that Mahumetanism [i.e. Islam] were permittted amongst us, than that one of God’s children should be persecuted.” How different is the faith of the crucified Jesus than this so-called “religion…of tolerance.”

Brothers and sisters, remember those who are in prison, as if in prison with them (Hebrews 13:2)!

BBC News (March 20, 2006): Afghan on trial for Christianity This BBC News report has a number of other links.

Detroit Free Press (March 20, 2006): Afghan faces death for choosing Christianity


I have been pondering Paul Martin’s recent blog on Reform the Seminaries! The article that he refers to—Neela Banerjee, “Students Flock to Seminaries, but Fewer See Pulpit in Future”, The New York Times (March 17, 2006)—is mostly centred on the trend away from pastoral ministry in mainline denominational seminaries. Yet, the trend is not restricted to such institutions. Even in Evangelical schools, according to Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, this trend is quite evident.

Paul is convinced that money—ever a root of many evils—is at fault here. No doubt the cost of doing seminary today can introduce a pragmatic element into student recruitment and thus the catering to all kinds of extra-ecclesial ministries. But, at the core, surely the problem is theological? Is it not a loss of confidence in the church? Is George Barna’s recent registry of his loss of faith in the church a reflection of a widespread problem? If I am having problems with the church little wonder I would be reluctant to become its lead representative!

There is a circular action here: the move away from pastoral ministry in seminaries reflects a larger disenchantment with the church while at the same time this lack of passion for the church has become de rigueur in the theological academy and further fosters negative attitudes towards the church. Again, no wonder some megachurch/quasi denominational bodies have given up on the seminary and are starting their own schools for their own pastors.

Of course, the impact of seminaries upon the church is nothing new. I was reading this afternoon Joseph Stennett’s The Complaints of an Unsuccessful Ministry (2nd ed.; Circular Letter of the Western Association, 1753) ( Near the end of the circular letter, Stennett notes that if enquiry were to be made into the reasons for the “remarkable disregard the gospel meets with in our own times [i.e. the 1750s],” a number of reasons would be forthcoming:

  • First, there was a growth in a love of luxury;

  • Then, there was “pride in natural and acquired knowledge, which are too often the attendants of a long series of civil and religious liberty”;

  • Third, Stennett was not slow to take note of the fact that “our fountains of learning are corrupted.” What this meant was that “many unrenewed men, who are strangers to experimental religion themselves, have taken upon them to be the ministers of it to others.”

  • Finally, the preachers of Stennett’s day needed to be more like the Puritans of the previous century—“ whatever improvements we have made in the politeness of our address, I doubt we have lost much of that serious and striking manner, in which our fathers, in the last century, delivered this message to the consciences of men.”

I find it noteworthy that Stennett traces the problems of making inroads for the gospel in his day to what he calls “our fountains of learning.” In this regard, what was true then is true now. When a seminary begins to lose confidence in the Scriptures and drift from an orthodox Christian heritage, the growing “rot” of its teaching (see 2 Timothy 2:17) is spread far and wide through its graduates.

This brings me to a topic that has occupied much of my thinking over the past month or so: what is the raison d’être of the school, Toronto Baptist Seminary (TBS), where I am Principal? Surely part of it is to buck this trend that Aleshire comments on.

Toronto Baptist Seminary was founded in 1927 in the midst of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy to train pastors since it was rightly deemed that solid leadership in local Baptist churches was essential to the well-being of the movement. Over the years it has done this work faithfully as well as trained many others for other Christian vocations.  

We need to keep on doing what we have done historically. Now, more than ever, churches in the Greater Toronto Area need a school that will stress pastoral ministry as well as the training of potential missionaries. God helping us, we need to be a center for pastoral formation, and the training of church planters for here at home and for overseas.

Please pray for us that we might be found faithful!


Sunday, March 19, 2006


Great quote from the economist E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977), whose book Small is Beautiful (1973) is reckoned to be among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. While I would not agree with all of Schumacher’s thought, the following is very apropos and intriguing from a Christian standpoint:

“The essence of civilization is not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.”

[Cited Rod Dreher, “Mr and Mrs Crunchy”, The Sunday Times (January 1, 2006) (,,2092-1964887_1,00.html )].


The Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey has amassed a huge amount of bibliographical date relating to the life and times of William Carey and is a must see for anyone doing research on Carey and his times.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


I have been thinking about Patrick and the Irish in the last day or so, and the way in which the darkness of the fall of the Western Roman Empire—which was taking place during Patrick’s days—did not extinguish the light of the gospel. In the midst of darkness there was light that Patrick took to Ireland and the darkness of Irish paganism could not overcome it.

At the other end of the Graeco-Roman world, there was also light shining forth in the darkness. In this case it was the persecution of Armenian believers by Sapor of Persia. But out of that persecution came the translation of the Scriptures into Armenian. See the story of that translation by Mesrob Mashtots and Isaac (Sachak) the Catholicos here at .

Thanks to Radagast’s Church History Project (

Friday, March 17, 2006


Here are some more thoughts I have been having about Patrick on his day at the other place where I blog, Irish Reformation: Thinking about Patrick on St. Patrick’s Day.


The Spring tends to be a busy time for conferences. Here is one that looks like it will be excellent. It is hosted by Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship in Ancaster, Ontario, and will have Dr. Glendon Thompson, the Pastor of Jarvis Streeet Baptist Church, speaking on the Da Vinci Code: PBF Spring Conference.


One of the amazing things about the blogosphere is that even after a while blogging one can discover blogs of which one has never heard and that are absolute gems. My assistant Ian Clary e-mailed me about the blog of Guy Davies of Westbury, Wiltshire: “The Exiled Preacher.” I confess I had never even heard of it. But it is excellent.

Pastor Davies is a Welshman living in what he calls “voluntary exile” in Wiltshire. On St. Patrick’s Day—that celebrates another voluntary exile, namely Patrick the Romano-Brit, living in exile in Ireland for the sake of the Gospel—it is an appropriate find.    


On St. Patrick’s Day what else would an Irish Christian historian post about, but St. Patrick! Here is a post that appeared first on Irish Reformation and is reprinted here with some emendations.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire—its impact on Britain

When Patrick was born, the Romans had been in Britain for roughly 350 years. South of Hadrian’s Wall they had crisscrossed the land with a network of Roman roads. Urban centres of importance, such as York, Gloucester and London had been developed and dotting the countryside lavish villas had been built by upper class Romanized Britons. Among these wealthy Britons there grew to be an appreciation of and desire for Roman culture, and consequently they sought to ensure that their children received a proper Roman education.

At the close of the fourth century, however, the comfortable world of the Romanized British upper class was about to be shattered, never to be restored. During the last quarter of that century the Empire had suffered a number of severe body blows which would precipitate the total collapse of imperial rule in the West in the following century. Those momentous events were naturally not without impact on Roman Britain.

In the summer of 407 Constantine III, a usurper who had been elevated to imperial power by the legions in Britain, crossed the Channel, ostensibly to repel the barbarians. The legions would never return. In the years that followed, the British sought to organize their own defence against Saxon raiders from the east and hit-and-run attacks by Irish pirates from the west. But with the departure of the legions, economic and cultural decay started to set in. In the words of R. P. C. Hanson: “Towns began to be deserted, villas abandoned. No more coins were minted… The Roman system of education probably collapsed.” [The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (New York: The Seabury Press, 1983), 7].

But what did not collapse or leave with the Roman legions was the Christian witness on the island.

The British Church

While Patrick’s writings constitute some of the earliest literary evidence from an actual member of the British Church, there is written testimony going back to the second century regarding the presence of Christianity in the British Isles. The second-century Christian authors, Tertullian and Origen, both mention the existence of Christians in Britain, thus testifying to the fact that Christianity in Britain “was sufficiently well-founded and its membership sufficiently large that Christians in North Africa and Alexandria would know of its existence.” [Joseph F. Kelly, “The Origins of Christianity in Britain: The Literary Evidence” (Unpublished paper, May, 1983), 4-5].

How Christianity first came to the shores of Britain is impossible to determine. W.H.C. Frend has plausibly suggested that it was brought thither by merchants or by soldiers garrisoned in Britain. [“Romano-British Christianity and the West: Comparison and Contrast” in Susan M. Pearce, ed., The Early Church in Western Britain and Ireland (Oxford: B.A.R., 1982), 6].

When we turn to material evidence we find that archaeological excavations have brought to light villas that contain distinctly Christian mosaics. Archaeologists have uncovered Christian places of worship from the 4th and 5th centuries. The most interesting of these is perhaps at Lullingstone in Kent. There a villa was found that had been built towards the end of the 1st century A.D. and substantially expanded near end of the 2nd century by a man of some distinction and wealth. Near the end of the 2nd century the villa was suddenly deserted. The owner appears to have left in a hurry. “After lying derelict for over 50 years, it was reoccupied by a new family in the last quarter of the third century. …Then, about 360-70, the owner became a Christian, and part of the villa was converted to Christian use.” It was destroyed by fire in the early 5th century [Roger J.A. Wilson, A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain (London: Constable and Company Ltd., 1975), 52-53].

The early life of Patrick

Such is the context into which the life and career of Patrick must be placed, if it is to be properly appreciated. Now, the dates of Patrick’s birth and death have been, and still are, the subject of much debate. Hanson has put forward a fairly convincing argument in favour of placing Patrick’s birth c.389 and his death some 70 years later c.461, but he admits that these dates possess no finality. [R.P.C. Hanson and Cecile Blanc, Saint Patrick: Confession et Lettre à Coroticus (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1978), 18-21]. For other perspectives on Patrick’s dates, see E.A. Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick? (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1985), 166-175. For a strong argument in favour of a later dating, see David N. Dumville, Saint Patrick, A.D. 493-1993 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1993), 29-33].

What is certain is that Patrick is a product of Britain in the late fourth century and his missionary activity in Ireland falls mostly within the first half of the fifth century.

The broad outline of Patrick’s career is fairly plain. At the beginning of his Confession he tells us of his family background and how his life at home was traumatically interrupted—Confession 1:“I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a presbyter, of the village Bannavem Taburniae; he had a country seat [villulam] nearby, and there I was taken captive. I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people—and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep his commandments, and did not obey our bishops, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord “brought over us the wrath of his anger” [Isaiah 42:25] and “scattered us among many nations,” [Jeremiah 9:16] even “unto the utmost part of the earth” [Acts 13:47] where now my littleness is placed among strangers.” [Trans. Ludwig Bieler, The Works of St. Patrick, St. Secundinus: Hymn on St. Patrick (1953 ed.; repr. New York/Ramsey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, n.d.), 21, altered].

This text gives some indication of the general whereabouts of Patrick’s home: the village Bannavem Taburniae, or, as Máire B. de Paor spells it, Bannaventa Berniae. [Máire B. de Paor, Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 25-26]. Unfortunately this village has not been identified. Nevertheless, it is probable that this village was near the western or southwestern coast of Britain, where it would be within easy striking distance of Irish raiders. More importantly, the mention of his father’s villa (villulam) which was near this village provides solid evidence that Patrick was born into the upper crust of Romano-British society, and was accustomed to wealth and comfort.

Finally, Patrick’s description of himself as “most unlearned” (rusticissimus) is significant. A number of times in his Confession Patrick bemoans the fact that his education was deficient. For instance, in Confession 9 he admits:

“I have not studied like the others, who thoroughly imbibed law and Sacred Scripture, and never had to change from the language of their childhood days, but were able to make it still more perfect. In our case, what I had to say had to be translated into a tongue foreign to me, as can be easily proved from the savour of my writing, which betrays how little instruction and training I have had in the art of words.” (Trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 23. See also Confession 10, 12, 13, 46, 62).

While Patrick’s contemporaries were becoming progressively skilful in their use of Latin as a literary tool, he was a slave in Ireland, having to speak the language of his captors, Primitive Irish. His education in Latin had been severely curtailed and when, much later in life, he came to write the Confession, he often struggled to express himself clearly.

So, at the age of sixteen Patrick found himself violently torn away from all that was familiar to him and transported as a slave to the west coast of Ireland. As a result of this intensely traumatic experience, Patrick turned to God—Confession 2:

“And there [in Ireland] the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection and mercy on my youth and ignorance.” (Trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 21).

No longer a rebel, indifferent to the claims of God upon his life, Patrick sought to live a life in daily communion with God—Confession  16:

“After I came to Ireland—every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed—the love of God and his fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me—as I now see, because the Spirit within me was then fervent.” (Trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 25).

After six years in this state of captivity, Patrick managed to escape and eventually find his way back to his family in Britain. The period that elapsed between his return to Britain and his going back to Ireland as a missionary is quite obscure. We do know that in this period Patrick had a striking dream in which he sensed a call to return to Ireland to work among the people who had enslaved him (Confession 23-24).

It was also during this time that Patrick may have received some formal theological training in preparation for ordination as a deacon. In the course of this preparation, he became thoroughly familiar with the Latin Bible, so much so that he has on occasion been described as “a man unius libri” (“a man of one book”). [Christine Mohrmann, The Latin of Saint Patrick (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1961), 8].

“Bound by the Spirit”

At the end of this period, that is, around 432, he departed for the part of Ireland where he had been held captive. He would never return to Britain. As he wrote in his Confession 43:

“Wherefore, then, even if I wished to leave…and go to Britain—and how I would have loved to go to my country and my parents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows it that I much desired it; but I am bound by the Spirit [cp. Acts 20:22] who gives evidence against me if I do this, telling me that I shall be guilty; and I am afraid of losing the labour which I have begun—nay, not I, but Christ the Lord who bade me come here and stay with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord will.” (Trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 35).

And in another text from this same work he could state—Confession 37: “I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me.” (Trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 32).

These texts reveal a man who has a deep certainty of the will of God for his life: to live out his days in Ireland so that the Irish might come to know God as he had done. In the first text he says that he must do this because he is “bound by the Spirit.” This phrase, “bound by the Spirit” is drawn directly from Acts 20:22, where the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he is “bound by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem, despite the probability that he would experience much suffering there. The Apostle is committed to doing what he perceives as God’s will, no matter the cost. The clear implication in Patrick’s use of this term is that he shares the Apostle Paul’s depth of commitment to Jesus Christ and the extension of his Kingdom.

The legacy

The course of his travels in Ireland is not at all clear from his Confession, but it was probably restricted to the north. His ministry in Ireland was extremely successful, though he certainly had not evangelized the whole of Ireland by the time of his death, which cannot have been long after he wrote his Confession. Patrick speaks of thousands converted through his ministry (Confession 14, 38, 50), including sons and daughters of Irish kings (Confession 41-42). They were converted, he tells us, from the worship of “idols and filthy things.” (Confession 41). It is noteworthy that he speaks of the worship practices of Irish paganism with “scorn and dislike” (Hanson, Historical Saint Patrick, 111).

Yet, his missionary labours were not without strong opposition, presumably from the Celtic Druids in Ireland. In one section of his Confession he says: “daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity.” [Confession 55 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 38)].

Patrick’s response to these dangers reveals the true mettle of the man: “I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere, as the prophet says: ‘Cast thy thought upon God, and he shall sustain thee’.” [Confession 55 (trans. Bieler, Works of St. Patrick, 38)].

The Celtic Church inherited Patrick’s missionary zeal. His spiritual descendants, men like Columba (c.521-597), Columbanus (c.543-615), and Aidan (died 651), partook of this missionary fervour, so that the Celtic Church became, in the words of James Carney, “a reservoir of spiritual vigour, which would…fructify the parched lands of western Europe.” [“Sedulius Scottus” in Robert McNally, ed., Old Ireland (New York: Fordham University Press 1965), 230].    

Monday, March 13, 2006


When I think of grade school—the actual subjects being taught, I mean—two things come to mind: my utter delight in all things historical and my abysmal attempts at learning math. I only wish the latter had been this easy: see Homeschooling Our Kids Is Hard.    


The Evangelical Magazine was established in 1793 by a group of leading English Evangelical ministers, including Congregationalists such as George Burder (1752-1832) and Samuel Greatheed (d.1823) and such Calvinistic Baptists as Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825). From its inception till 1809, it served as the denominational journal for both the Congregationalists and Calvinistic Baptists. In fact, for a number of years it was the most widely circulated religious periodical in England. In 1809, the year that the Baptists withdrew from their involvement in the magazine and started their own periodical, The Baptist Magazine, the circulation of The Evangelical Magazine exceeded 20,000 [Southey’s Common-place Book. Fourth Series, ed. John Wood Warter (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850), 410-411].

Working through the first and fourteenth volumes today at McMaster University—the latter volume in relation to Abraham Booth—I came across this extract of a letter from the United States, dated May 10, 1793, and mailed from Philadelphia. The writer of the letter has been talking about the theological perspectives of the various denominational bodies of the country. He then says this about the Baptists:

“The Baptists are very numerous in the southern States. Some of them are Arminians, too many Antinomians, but the majority are real Calvinists, a good deal acquainted with experimental religion.” [“Extract of a Letter from a Minister in the United States of America”, The Evangelical Magazine, 1 (1793), 119-120].

I found the quote interesting because it is often argued today that Southern Baptist origins were not primarily Calvinistic. But this quote—albeit a generalized observation and needful of further historical evidence—speaks quite differently from this popular perspective. Like other Anglophone Baptists, Southern Baptist roots are overwhelmingly Calvinistic.

Friday, March 10, 2006


From the life of a great church historian of a bygone day, T. M. Lindsay (1843-1914), who taught at the Free Church College in Glasgow, here is a reason why church historians should not wear clerical dress: “Incident at Waterloo Station” by our friend at Free St.George’s.

Brilliant! Ah, those were the days!

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), an indefatigable and fearless Baptist theologian and minister, was an outstanding figure with qualities that make him one of the most attractive figures in Christian history. Many in his day and after could echo the words of his very close friend William Carey (1761-1834), “I loved him.” In fact, Charles Haddon Spurgeon once described Fuller as “the greatest theologian” of his century.

He was converted in November 1769 and baptized the following April. He subsequently joined the Soham church where his family went. Over the course of the next few years, it became very evident to the church that Fuller possessed definite ministerial gifts. Fuller, who was self-taught when it came to theology and who had been preaching in the church for a couple of years, was formally inducted as pastor on 3 May 1775. The church consisted of forty-seven members and met for worship in a rented barn.

Fuller’s pastorate at Soham, which lasted until 1782 when he moved to pastor the Baptist work in Kettering, Northamptonshire, was a decisive period for the shaping of Fuller’s theological outlook. It was during these seven years that Fuller began a lifelong study of the works of the New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), his chief theological mentor after the Scriptures. It was also in this period of time that he made the acquaintance of Robert Hall, Sr (1728-1791), John Ryland, Jr (1753-1825) and John Sutcliff (1752-1814), who would later become his closest ministerial friends and colleagues.

Battling High Calvinism

Finally, it was during his pastorate at Soham that Fuller decisively rejected High Calvinism (a.k.a. Hyper-Calvinism) and drew up a defence of his own theological position in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, though the first edition of this book was not published until 1785. Two editions of the work were published in Fuller’s lifetime. The first edition, published in Northampton in 1785, was subtitled The Obligations of Men Fully to Credit, and Cordially to Approve, Whatever God Makes Known, Wherein is Considered the Nature of Faith in Christ, and the Duty of Those where the Gospel Comes in that Matter. The second edition, which appeared in 1801, was more simply subtitled The Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ, a subtitle which well expressed the overall theme of the book.

There were a few substantial differences between this first edition and the second edition (1801), which Fuller freely admitted and which primarily related to the doctrine of particular redemption. The work’s major theme remained unaltered, however: “faith in Christ is the duty of all men who hear, or have opportunity to hear, the gospel.” This epoch-making book sought to be faithful to the central emphases of historic Calvinism while at the same time attempting to leave preachers with no alternative but to drive home to their hearers the universal obligations of repentance and faith.

With regard to Fuller’s own ministry, the book was a key factor in determining the shape of that ministry in the years to come. For instance, it led directly to Fuller’s whole-hearted involvement in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in October 1792 and the subsequent sending of the Society’s most famous missionary, William Carey (1761-1834), to India in 1793.

Fuller also served as secretary of this society until his death in 1815. The work of the mission consumed an enormous amount of Fuller’s time as he regularly toured the country, representing the mission and raising funds. On average he was away from home three months of the year. Between 1798 and 1813, moreover, he made five lengthy trips to Scotland for the mission as well as undertaking journeys to Wales and Ireland (1804). He also carried on an extensive correspondence on the mission’s behalf.

Other areas of controversy

Fuller also engaged in other vital areas of theological debate. In 1793 he issued an extensive refutation of the Socinianism of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)—The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems examined and Compared, as to their Moral Tendency. Due to the vigorous campaigning of Priestley, Socinianism, which denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ, had become the leading form of heterodoxy within English Dissent in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Fuller’s rebuttal of Socinianism well displays the Christocentric nature of eighteenth-century Evangelical thought. Fuller ably showed that the early Church made the divine dignity and glory of Christ’s person “their darling theme.”

In 1800 Fuller published The Gospel Its Own Witness, the definitive eighteenth-century Baptist response to Deism, in particular that of the popularizer Thomas Paine (1737-1809). This work was one of the most popular of Fuller’s books, going through three editions by 1802 and being reprinted a number of times in the next thirty years. William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who admired Fuller as a theologian and who once graphically described him as “the very picture of a blacksmith,” considered it to be the most important of all of Fuller’s writings. The work has two parts. In the first, Fuller compares and contrasts the moral effects of Christianity with those of Deism. The second part of the book aims to demonstrate the divine origin of Christianity from the general consistency of the Scriptures.

Responding to eighteenth-century easy believism

Yet another vital controversy in which Fuller engaged was that with the Sandemanians, the followers of Robert Sandeman (1718-1771), who distinguished themselves from other eighteenth-century Evangelicals by a predominantly intellectualist view of faith. They became known for their cardinal theological tenet that saving faith is “bare belief of the bare truth.” In a genuine desire to exalt the utter freeness of God’s salvation, Sandeman had sought to remove any vestige of human reasoning, willing or desiring in the matter of saving faith.

In his Strictures on Sandemanianism (1810) Fuller makes a couple of telling points. First, if faith does concern only the mind, then there would be no way to distinguish genuine Christianity from nominal Christianity. A nominal Christian mentally assents to the truths of Christianity, but those truths do not grip the heart and re-orient his or her affections. Then, knowledge of Christ is a distinct type of knowledge. Knowing him, for instance, involves far more than knowing certain things about him, such as the fact of his virgin birth or the details of his crucifixion. It involves a desire for fellowship with him and a delight in his presence.

The shape of his pastoral ministry

But Fuller was far more than an apologist and mission secretary. Alongside his apologetic works, Fuller exercised a significant pastoral ministry at Kettering. During his thirty-three years at Kettering, from 1782 to 1815, the membership of the church more than doubled (from 88 to 174) and the number of “hearers” was often over a thousand, necessitating several additions to the church building. Perusal of his vast correspondence—today housed in the Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, the University of Oxford—reveals that Fuller was first and foremost a pastor. And though he did not always succeed, he constantly sought to ensure that his many other responsibilities did not encroach upon those related to the pastorate.

Two examples well display his pastoral heart. After Fuller died, there was found among his possessions a small book entitled “Families who attend at the Meeting, August, 1788.” In it he wrote: “A Review of these may assist me in praying and preaching.” Then, among his letters there is one dated 8 February 1812, which was written to a wayward member of his flock. In it Fuller lays bare his pastor’s heart when he writes: “When a parent loses…a child nothing but the recovery of that child can heal the wound. If he could have many other children, that would not do it… Thus it is with me towards you. Nothing but your return to God and the Church can heal the wound.”

Final days

Fuller had remarkable stores of physical and mental energy that allowed him to accomplish all that he did. But it was not without cost to his body. What he called a “paralytic stroke” in 1793 left him rarely free of severe headaches for the rest of his life. And in his last fifteen years he was rarely well. Taken seriously ill in September 1814, his health began to seriously decline. By the spring of the following year he was dying. He preached for the last time at Kettering on 2 April 1815 and died 7 May. He was 62.His funeral was attended by an immense crowd which one estimate put at 2,000 persons.

At Fuller’s request, his old friend, John Ryland, preached the funeral sermon. Based on Romans 8:10, it included a brief account of Fuller’s final days and the following declaration made by Fuller in his last letter to Ryland. “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace,” Fuller wrote, “but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.”

I have never seen anyone dedicate a blog entry to anyone else, as we dedicate books to friends and colleagues. But there is always a first! So I would like to dedicate this entry on one of my favourite theologians to my mother, Theresa Veronica O’Gorman Haykin (1933-1976), who went to be with our Lord Jesus thirty years ago today. Praise the Lord for what Fuller calls “mere sovereign, efficacious grace” that saved her from hell.    


Good quote from William Carey in Matthew Sims’ post Business & the Kingdom for the Glory of God on his blog, Under Sovereign Grace.

I found the entry since he has listed my blog on his blogroll—though I am not sure why my blog is in the category of “Antilegomena”! I have been trying to figure out what’s debatable about my blog, but have come up with no answers. But it is a comfort that the antilegomena were eventually ruled to be in the canon!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


How right is that saying that God has no spiritual grandchildren. Time and again in the history of God’s people it becomes clear that organic physical links to faithful believers of the past ultimately count for very little. What is vital are the deeper links of spiritual affinity.

This story about a lineal descendant of Jonathan Edwards—obviously through one of his three sons—and her marrying a lesbian couple is clear proof of the above. According to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for March 6, 2006, “The Rev. Janet Edwards, 55, likens performing the ceremony to her famously orthodox ancestor, Jonathan Edwards, preaching to the Mohicans in the 18th century, when racism made Native Americans the object of scorn and fear. “I would say his acceptance of the Mohicans of the time is similar to my inclusion of gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered people now,” Janet Edwards said.”

Jonathan Edwards scholar Amy Plantiga Pauw, a theology professor at the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, agrees with Janet Edwards and says that her argument is persuasive. “There is a kind of parallel—Jonathan Edwards was not afraid to challenge so-called respectable Christians of his time,” Pauw said.

While there may be some similarity in the outward form of the radical bent of Jonathan Edwards and his physical descendant, there the parallel ends. Jonathan Edwards would have been horrified by his descendant’s actions and her justification of sin. And, it bears remembering that some of Edwards’ leading opponents were family members who shared with him a common grandfather, Solomon Stoddard.

For the story, see Lara Brenckle and Rick Wills,“Embattled cleric cites ancestor’s example”, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Monday, March 6, 2006) (; accessed March 8, 2006).

Thanks to Justin Taylor for alerting me to this story.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Two further and final remarks in this blog regarding the issue of caps.

Matthew Wireman, a student acquaintance from SBTS, pointed out that while caps in internet text do indeed signify yelling/screaming, caps “used in titles” do “not signify yelling or emphasis. Yes, even in the blog world CONTEXT IS KING!!”

And then Andrew Belli has reminded me that I have very good Scriptural precedent for caps, since the entire Greek NT would have been in caps—technically known as uncials. He also gave me a great title for this blog entry: DAS KAPITALS!

Hey, if capitals were good enough for the early Church, then they’re good enough for me!


A correspondent, Peter Foxwell, asked about where to start in reading the Church Fathers. There are a number of good places to begin.

For second-century apologetics, start with the Letter to Diognetus, a gem. Then, with regard to conversion, Augustine’s classic work of his conversion is fabulous, The Confessions. The earlier North African Father, Cyprian, also wrote a fascinating account of his conversion, The Letter to Donatus. Much smaller than the work by Augustine, but Cyprian’s work also has a keen emphasis on sovereign grace.

Much evangelism in the pre-Constantinian church was done in the courts of law, when Christians were on trial for their lives. For an account of martyrdom, see The Martyrs of Lyons, found in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius. On evangelism, there is another gem, the Confession of Patrick, a stirring defense of mission to Ireland in the world after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Then, in terms of doctrinal material, two musts are Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, and Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit. The former may have been written in response to the Arian controversy in the fourth century. The latter was the definitive work of orthodoxy in the midst of the Pneumatomachian controversy, which came at the tail-end of the Arian controversy and in which there was a battle about the deity of the Holy Spirit. Hilary of Poitiers’ On the Trinity or the Augustine’ work by the same name are very good responses overall to the Arians
Finally, a favourite of John Wesley, Macarius-Symeon’s Homilies, is an excellent analysis of the Christian life.
Of course, you won’t agree with everything, but these will give a good exposure to the best of the early Church.
Enjoy and be edified!


I tried the no-caps for my blog titles and frankly really did not like the look of it. But I would not have changed back if Gordon Woods had not e-mailed me and told me,

“Where in the Bible is ALL CAPS a sin?  Sure, in controverted posts and comments ALL CAPS is considered screaming, but what's the authority that is applicable to the title of your…posts?  The fact that in six months of posting no one has ever accused you of screaming your titles is sufficient evidence that ALL CAPS titles are not screaming and ranting.” 

Well, Gordon, you have convinced me. So, I am sorry, Reid, I think I going back to the caps. Trust you understand!


Our generation is afflicted with a kind of historical amnesia, which, unfortunately, has not left the Church untouched. In such an intellectual ambience, the question, “Why study the Fathers?” must be asked again and answered afresh. Listed below are a number of reasons that can be considered an initial step in this direction.

First, study of the Fathers, like any historical study, liberates us from the present. [C.S. Lewis, “De descriptione temporum” in Walter Hooper, ed., Selected Literary Essays (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969), 12]. Every age has a certain outlook, presuppositions which remain unquestioned even by opponents. The examination of another period of thought forces us to confront our innate prejudices which would go unnoticed otherwise. For instance, Gustaf Aulén, in his classic study of the atonement, Christus Victor, argues that an objective study of the Patristic concept of Atonement will reveal a motif which has received little attention in post-Reformation Christianity: the idea of the Atonement as a divine conflict and victory, in which Christ fights and overcomes the evil powers of this world, under whom man has been held in bondage. According to Aulén, what is commonly accepted as the New Testament doctrine of the Atonement, the forensic theory of satisfaction, may in fact be a concept quite foreign to the New Testament. As to whether he is right or not—and I think he is quite wrong—can only come by a fresh examination of the sources, both New Testament and Patristic.

Then, the Fathers can provide us with a map for the Christian life. It is indeed exhilarating to stand on the east coast and watch the Atlantic surf and hear the pound of the waves. But this experience will be of little benefit in sailing to England. For this a map is needed. A map based upon the accumulated experience of thousands of voyagers. Similarly, we need such a map for the Christian life. Experiences are fine and good, but they will not serve as a suitable foundation for our lives in Christ. To be sure, we have the divine Scriptures, an ultimately sufficient foundation for all of our needs (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But the thought of the Fathers can help us enormously in building on this foundation.

A fine example is provided by Athanasius’ doctrine of the Spirit in his letters to Serapion, bishop of Thmuis. The present day has seen a resurgence of interest in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is admirable, but also fraught with danger if the Spirit is conceived of apart from Christ. Yet, Athanasius’ key insight was that “from our knowledge of the Son we may be able to have true knowledge of the Spirit.” (Letter to Serapion 3.1). The Spirit cannot be divorced from the Son: not only does the Son send and give the Spirit, but the Spirit is the principle of the Christ-life within us. Many have fallen into fanatical enthusiasm because they failed to realize this basic truth: the Spirit cannot be separated from the Son.

Third, the Fathers may also, in some cases, help us to understand the New Testament. We have had too disparaging a view of Patristic exegesis, and have come close to considering the exposition of the Fathers as a consistent failure to understand the New Testament. For instance Cyril of Jerusalem in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:5, which concerns temporary abstinence of sexual relations between married couples for the sake of prayer, assumes without question that the prayer is liturgical and communal prayer. (Catechesis 4.25). Cyril may be guilty of an anachronism, for he was a leader in “the hallowing of the time,” that is, the observance of holy seasons. Nonetheless, there is good evidence that such communal observances, in some form or other, are quite early. The liturgical life of the Church of Jerusalem in the fourth century was not that of Corinth in the first, but nevertheless there were links. Possibly it is the Protestant commentators who are guilty of anachronism when they assume that Paul meant private prayer; such religious individualism is more conceivable in the Protestant West than in first-century Corinth.

As T.F. Torrance writes:

“[There is a] fundamental coherence between the faith of the New Testament and that of the early Church…  The failure to discern this coherence in some quarters evidently has its roots in the strange gulf, imposed by analytical methods, between the faith of the primitive Church and the historical Jesus. In any case I have always found it difficult to believe that we modern scholars understand the Greek of the New Testament better than the early Greek Fathers themselves! [Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1976), xii].

These three reasons are only a start towards giving a full answer to the question, “Why study the Fathers?” There are certainly other reasons for studying these ancient authors which may be more obvious or even more important. But these three reasons sufficiently indicate the need for Patristic studies in the ongoing life of the Church: to aid in her liberation for the Zeitgesit of the twenty-first century; to provide a guide in her walk with Christ; to help her understand the basic textbook of her faith, the New Testament.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My blog titles

Reid Monaghan ( noted that all of my titles of my blogs are in caps and in the blogosphere, normally caps signify “screaming or yelling”(Martin Lloyd Jones at Historia Ecclesiastica).

Thanks for the heads up. I did my first blog titles this way and then my pernickety desire for order & consistency kicked in and led to the fact that they are all like that. IT SHALL CHANGE! Thanks, Reid.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


My first reading of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was his book on the sermon on the Mount in the late 1970s. But it was not until I read the first volume of Iain H. Murray’s life of “the Doctor” that I experienced the deep impact of his life and thought [David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The First Forty Years 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982)]. Suffice it to say, that of all the Christian authors and expositors of the twentieth century, none has shaped my thinking as a Christian more than this man and his writing.

I believe with all of my heart that what Lloyd-Jones once remarked regarding Jonathan Edwards, that quintessential Evangelical theologian, could be said of Lloyd-Jones himself: “Nothing is more striking than the balance of this man. You must have the theology; but it must be theology on fire. There must be warmth and heat as well as light. In Edwards we find the ideal combination—the great doctrines with the fire of the Spirit upon them.”

Early years

Lloyd-Jones was born in Cardiff, Wales, on December 20, 1899. His earliest experiences of church life were in the Presbyterian Church of Wales, heir to the Evangelical theology and fervent piety of Calvinistic Methodism. The latter was birthed in the fires of the Evangelical revival of the 18th century and nourished on the majestic doctrines of Evangelical Calvinism. Sadly, by Lloyd-Jones’ day, the Evangelical fervour and spirituality of the denomination had largely fallen prey to liberal theology. Instead of Calvinism’s rich and majestic vision of a sovereign God rescuing fallen human beings through the atoning work of his Son, Lloyd-Jones was raised on a tepid diet of faith in social betterment through education and political action.

In his early teens his family moved to London. There, during the momentous days of World War I, he enrolled as a student at the medical school of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, from where he received his M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. degrees in July, 1921, and that October his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.). For the next three years, Lloyd-Jones worked closely with the physician to the royal family, Sir Thomas (later Lord) Horder (1871-1955), first as his junior house physician, then as his chief clinical assistant. In 1924 came a further honour when he received an important scholarship to study bacterial endocarditis.

Coming to Christ in the mid-1920s

Despite this dazzling rise to prominence in the medical world, Lloyd-Jones was having serious doubts about continuing in his chosen profession. In the words of his grandson, Christopher Catherwood, Lloyd-Jones was “struck by the ungodliness and moral emptiness of many of Horder’s aristocratic patients.” [“Martyn Lloyd-Jones” in his Five Evangelical Leaders (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984), 55].

He became convinced that the root problem of many of his mentor’s patients was ultimately spiritual. They were seeking to live out their lives with no conscious relationship to the One who had created them and sustained them every moment of their lives. Their need, though, highlighted his own personal need for such a relationship. In Lloyd-Jones’ own words:

“I am a Christian solely and entirely because of the grace of God and not because of anything that I have thought or said or done. He brought me to know that I was dead, “dead in trespasses and sins”, a slave to the world, and the flesh, and the devil, that in me “dwelleth no good thing”, and that I was under the wrath of God and heading for eternal punishment.
     He brought me to see that the real cause of all my troubles and ills, and that of all men, was an evil and fallen nature which hated God and loved sin. My trouble was not only that I did things that were wrong, but that I myself was wrong at the very centre of my being.” (Cited Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1:64).

Lloyd-Jones’ conversion, which he never dated, took place at some point in 1923 or 1924. Attending it was a call and a passion to preach the gospel in his native Wales.

His first talk in Wales was in April, 1925, when he gave an address on “The Problem of Modern Wales” from the pulpit of Pontypridd Baptist Church. He concluded on a note that would be prominent in his preaching throughout his life: “what Wales needs above everything today is…a revival,…a great spiritual awakening such as took place in the eighteenth century under the influence and guidance of the Methodist Fathers.” (Cited Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1:89).

Ministry in Wales, 1927-1938

At the end of 1926, he accepted a call to pastor Bethlehem Forward Movement Mission, a Calvinistic Methodist work in Sandfields, Aberavon. A few weeks later, on January 8, 1927, he married Bethan Phillips, whom he had loved for at least nine years prior to their marriage. Martyn and Bethan had a singularly happy marriage. According to their grandson, Christopher Catherwood, they “complemented each other and were able to strengthen each other” throughout their long lives together.

By the mid-1930s Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, characterized by a vigorous Calvinism, commitment to the vital spirituality of eighteenth-century Methodism, and concern for the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and revival, had made him known throughout England and Wales. So it was that he came to the attention of G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945), the well-known minister of Westminster Chapel in London. Hearing Lloyd-Jones preach in Philadelphia in 1937, Morgan determined to have the Welsh preacher called as his assistant.

At the time Lloyd-Jones was seriously contemplating leaving Aberavon. By the latter half of that year he had come to the distinct conviction that his work at Sandfields was over. The physical demands on his ministry were also telling on him and he sensed deeply the need for a change. One possibility was the principalship of the Calvinistic Methodist College in Bala, North Wales. But providentially, this offer of an academic position fell through and Lloyd-Jones went to Westminster on the eve of the World War II. As he would tell his biographer Iain Murray not long before his death, his life had witnessed a succession of events that he himself had never expected or planned on. His move to Westminster Chapel was certainly one of them. It turned out to be a crucial move, for being in the heart of London he was placed in a position to exercise an influence on the state of English-speaking Evangelicalism that would not have been possible if he had stayed in Wales. (Catherwood, “Martyn Lloyd-Jones”, 66).

At Westminster Chapel, 1938-1968

Lloyd-Jones served as Morgan’s associate pastor until the latter’s retirement in 1943. Lloyd-Jones then served as the sole pastor until his own retirement in 1968. The war scattered most of the large congregation that had delighted in Morgan’s preaching. Thus, when the war was over Lloyd-Jones had to rebuild the congregation from around one or two hundred. By the 1950s attendance was often close to two thousand. [For a brief discussion of the numbers that regularly attended the services at Westminster Chapel, see Michael A. Eaton, Baptism with the Spirit: The teaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 14 and 33, n.2].

What drew these people was the clarity of biblical exposition, the spiritual power, and the doctrinal depth of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching. In the words of John Piper: “Like Jonathan Edwards two hundred years before, he held audiences by the sheer weight and intensity of his vision of truth.” [“A Passion for Christ-Exalting Power: Reflections on the Life and Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones” (Audiotape; The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 30, 1991)].

When Lloyd-Jones had a bout of cancer in 1968, from which he made a full recovery, he took it nevertheless as a sign to step down from the pastorate of Westminster Chapel. The final years of his life were devoted to guest preaching and in particular to writing, preparing his expository sermons for publication.

The impact of his ministry

The impact of his ministry was felt far beyond the congregations that assembled week by week to hear him preach. For instance, his support of such organizations as The Banner of Truth publishing house and the annual ministers’ conference known as The Puritan Conference (later called the Westminster Conference) was vital in the recovery of biblical Calvinism in the world of western Evangelicalism. He was also an influential figure in the Inter-Varisty Fellowship and a key player in the formation of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

His final days were typical of the man. Dying of cancer, he had lost the power of speech. On Thursday evening, February 26, he wrote a note for his wife Bethan and their family: “Do not pray for healing. Do not hold me back from the glory.” [Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 747-748]. The following Lord’s Day, March 1, 1981, he entered into that glory, which had been the deepest motivation of his life and ministry.

Further reading

Beyond the books and articles cited above, see also:

  • Leigh Powell, “Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981): A Personal Appreciation”, The Gospel Witness, 60, No.2 (April 9, 1981), 8-11; 60, No.3 (April 23, 1981), 7-11.

  • Frederick and Elizabeth Catherwood, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Man and His Books (Bryntirion, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Evangelical Library of Wales/London: Evangelical Library, 1982).

  • J. I. Packer, “David Martyn Lloyd-Jones” in Charles Turner, ed., Chosen Vessels: Portraits of Ten Outstanding Christian Men (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1985), 108-123.

  • D. Eryl Davies, “Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: An Introduction”, Themelios, 25, No.1 (November 1999), 39-53.