Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Books of 2009

Here are the top ten books I read in 2009 (in no particular order; you can compare my 2008 list here):

1. Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion (Crown and Covenant, 1980).

Bushell makes a cogent and thoughtful argument for exclusive psalmody (the singing of only canonical psalms in Scripturally regulated worship). Though he did not convince me that only canonical psalms should be sung in worship, he did convict me that the singing of canonical psalms should be included in worship (inclusive psalmody).

2. D. G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestants in the Age of Billy Graham (Baker, 2004).

Hart’s radical thesis: “Instead of trying to fix evangelicalism, born-again Protestants would be better off if they abandoned the category altogether… Evangelicalism needs to be relinquished as a religious identity because it does not exist. In fact, it is the wax nose of twentieth century American Protestantism” (p. 16).

3. D. A. Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (B & H, 2008).

This collection of essays came from a conference held at SEBTS on the disputed ending of Mark (16:9-20). Chapters come from Dan Wallace (“reasoned eclecticism”), Maurice Robinson (Byzantine text), Keith Elliot (“thoroughgoing eclecticism”), and D. A. Black (multiple authorship theory), with a concluding essay from Darrell Bock. Wallace, Elliot, and Bock reject Mark 16:9-20 as authentic while Robinson and Black defend it. Reading this book reinforced my sense that modern textual criticism has been toxic for Biblical authority and further convinced me that Mark 16:9-20 is canonical.

4. Jacob Van Bruggen, The Ancient Text of the New Testament (Premier, 1976).

This respected Dutch scholar offers a convincing defense of the traditional text of the New Testament. I also read Van Bruggen’s The Future of the Bible (Nelson, 1978) which critiques the proliferation of contemporary Bible translations in the evangelical marketplace.

5. John Price, Old Light on New Worship (Simpson, 2005, 2007).

Price, a Reformed Baptist Pastor, makes a strong argument against the use of instrumental accompaniment in the singing of praise in corporate worship based on the Regulative Principle of worship.

6. Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009 (Oxford, 2009).

Wills offers an insightful, well-written history of Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary (and my alma mater) on its 150th anniversary. His thesis is that SBTS under Mohler has returned to the Calvinistic roots of its founders.

7. Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches (Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co., 1857).

Wayland offers interesting insights on the practices of Baptists in 19th century including areas of declension in preaching, worship, and ministry.

8. Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry: with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency (Banner of Truth, 1967 [original 1830]).

I finally finished reading through this classic work on the nature and practice of ministry. Its chapters must be slowly digested. Very dense with much to feed upon in every chapter.

9. R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confessions: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (P & R, 2008).

Clark makes a strong plea for robustly confessional churches that avoid the pitfalls of QUIRC (the quest for illegitimate religious certainty) and QUIRE (the quest for illegitimate religious experience). He has the audacity, among other things, to critique the influence of Jonathan Edwards among evangelicals, including how Edwardsian revival spirituality feeds the hunger for growth through experiences rather than through the ordinary means of grace.

10. Iain H. Murray, The Life of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 2007 [1982]).

Murray offers a warm, devotional biography of the famed Scottish theologian who labored at Westminster Seminary.

Other selected noteworthy reads in 2009:

Biographies: John Marshall, Life and Writings (Banner of Truth, 2005); Everett Gill, A. T. Robertson: A Biography (MacMillan, 1943); Bernard J. Honeycutt, The Sound of His Name (Banner of Truth, 1995); C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume I: The Early Years (Banner of Truth, 1962 [original 1897-1900]); Philip G. Ryken, The Life of Dr. James Montgomery Boice, 1938-2000 (Gerald Stevens, 2001); Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1969).

Textual and translation studies: Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (IVP, 2006); Theodore P. Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate (Institute for Biblical Studies, 1987); A. T. Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament (Doran, 1926); A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament (Doran, 1923); Alexander McClure, The Translators Revised (Maranatha reprint, 1858); Rolf Shafer, et al, Textual Research on the Bible: An Introduction to the Scholarly Editions of the German Bible Society (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2008); Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (Anchor, 2001).

Bible Commentaries: Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (IVP, 1983); William Hendricksen, Mark (Baker, 1975); D. Edmund Hiebert, The Gospel According to Mark: An Expositional Commentary (BJU Press, 1994); James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume I: Justification by Faith [Romans 1-4] (Baker, 1991).

Theology and Ministry: Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded (Moody [1996, 1995] 2007); Li Cheng, trans. Pak Shem, Song of a Wanderer: Beckoned by Eternity (Ambassadors for Christ, 2002); Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008); A. W. Pink, Profiting from the Word (Banner of Truth, 1970); Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Sixteen

Note:  This is the sixteenth and final entry in our series from Calvin's Institutes of church government and offices.

It remains to consider the form of ordination, to which we have assigned the last place in the call (see chap. 4, sec. 14, 15). It is certain, that when the apostles appointed any one to the ministry, they used no other ceremony than the laying on of hands. This form was derived, I think, from the custom of the Jews, who, by the laying on of hands, in a manner presented to God whatever they wished to be blessed and consecrated. Thus Jacob, when about to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, placed his hands upon their heads (Gen. 48:14). The same thing was done by our Lord, when he prayed over the little children (Mt. 19:15). With the same intent (as I imagine), the Jews, according to the injunction of the law, laid hands upon their sacrifices. Wherefore, the apostles, by the laying on of hands, intimated that they made an offering to God of him whom they admitted to the ministry; though they also did the same thing over those on whom they conferred the visible gifts of the Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6). However this be, it was the regular form, whenever they called any one to the sacred ministry. In this way they consecrated pastors and teachers; in this way they consecrated deacons. But though there is no fixed precept concerning the laying on of hands, yet as we see that it was uniformly observed by the apostles, this careful observance ought to be regarded by us in the light of a precept (see chap. 14, sec. 20; chap. 19, sec. 31). And it is certainly useful, that by such a symbol the dignity of the ministry should be commended to the people, and he who is ordained, reminded that he is no longer his own, but is bound in service to God and the Church. Besides, it will not prove an empty sign, if it be restored to its genuine origin. For if the Spirit of God has not instituted anything in the Church in vain, this ceremony of his appointment we shall feel not to be useless, provided it be not superstitiously abused. Lastly, it is to observed, that it was not the whole people, but only pastors, who laid hands on ministers, though it is uncertain whether or not several always laid their hands: it is certain, that in the case of the deacons, it was done by Paul and Barnabas, and some few others (Acts 6:6; 13:3). But in another place, Paul mentions that he himself, without any others, laid hands on Timothy. “Wherefore, I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). For what is said in the First Epistle, of the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, I do not understand as if Paul were speaking of the college of Elders. By the expression, I understand the ordination itself; as if he had said, Act so, that the gift which you received by the laying on of hands, when I made you a presbyter, may not be in vain.

Analysis:  Calvin commends the practice of laying on of hands to ordain elders and deacons.  This should not be done by all the people but by the ministers only.  The ordination by laying on of hands is useful to represent "the dignity of the ministry" as long as it is "not superstitiously abused."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Henry Scougal "On the Nativity of our Savior"

Should believers celebrate Christmas? This question has long divided Reformed Christians. The continental reformers were more willing to observe “Christian year” elements (including Christmas) as long as they did not contradict the gospel, while the English reformers were generally less tolerant of keeping unbiblical “holy days.”

Henry Scougal (1650-78) was a Scottish Puritan who defended the proper celebration of Christ’s birth. In his Christmas Day sermon “On the Nativity of our Savior” (text: Psalm 2:11), Scougal begins by noting that “the observation of festivals” has been “one of the balls of contention which have been tossed so hotly in the religious debates of this unhappy age.”

Though acknowledging “the abuses of this solemnity,” he makes it his work in this sermon “to persuade you to such a deportment on this festival, as may best suit with the holy life of that Person, whose nativity we commemorate.”

Scougal’s exposition of his text falls under two heads:

First, there is an exhortation to cheerfulness and joy. Scripture does not teach “that men ought always to be sad, under the notion of being serious; for cheerfulness enlightens the mind, and encourages the heart, and raiseth the soul (as it were) to breathe in a purer air….”

Christian joy, however, is not just “a levity of spirit.” Scougal notes, “we would not have a man’s whole life become a sport.” Real joy “springs from the sense of divine goodness” and “our sincerity in his service.”

Second, Scougal defines the right boundaries for cheerfulness and joy: “Rejoice we may, but it must be with trembling.”

“Hell is certainly in our creed, as well as heaven; and as the fear of it is ordinarily the first step of converion, so it may be of use to quicken us and push us forward all along, through our journey towards heaven.”

He then moves on to application under three heads:

1.  The excellency of the person who was born:

First, then, He was no common person whose birth occasions our joy. If we but fix our eyes on his human nature, and consider those excellencies that were obvious to the eyes of the world, we shall yet acknowledge, that never such a person appeared on the face of the earth….

He was God as well as man; and by communication of properties it may be said, that he whom we now behold in a cradle, has his throne in the heaven, and filleth all things by his immensity; that he who is wrapped in swaddling clothes, is now clothed in infinite glory; and he whom we find in a stable among beasts, is the same with him encircled with millions of angels; in a word, that great Person, whose nativity we celebrate, is divinely embodied, God made flesh. This union of the divine and human nature is a mystery great enough to confound our understanding, but not to trouble or shake our faith, who know many things to be, which we cannot know how they are, and are not able to give any account of the union betwixt the soul and the body, or of the parts of nature among themselves, which yet we never call in question….

2.  The design of his birth:

In a Word, CHRIST came into the world to advance the glory of GOD, and the happiness of the earth, by restoring us to the favor of our Maker, and a conformity to him. And certainly if we-have any sense of the evil of sin, or the misery of hell,-of the beauty of holiness, or the glory of heaven; it must needs be a matter of great joy to celebrate the birth of Him who loth deliver us from the one, and give us assurance of the other.

3.  The circumstances of it:

It remaineth that we yet speak of the nativity which we celebrate; and many things present themselves full of comfort and instruction. We shall only observe our SAVIOUR's coming into the world after that manner which did best suit with his design. Indeed, when a man should hear of the SON of GOD's coming down from heaven into the lower world, he would be apt to think that his ap­pearance would be with the greatest splendor and mag­nificence, and that the glory of heaven should continually attend his -person; at least, that all the Princes in the world should be summoned to attend his reception, and that the heaven should bow at his presence, and the earth tremble at the approach of his Majesty, and that all the clouds should clap together in an universal thunder, to welcome his appearance; but instead of all this pomp and grandeur, he slips into the world, is born in a village, discovered by some poor shepherds, and found by them in a stable, and such a homely cradle as that afforded, only attended by his poor mother, who, though of royal blood, had nothing but goodness to make her eminent; and his education was answerable to his obscure birth, and his whole life, a course of humility and self-denial. Now certainly this far best agrees with the design of his appearance, who came not on so mean an errand as to dazzle the eyes of mankind with the appearance of his glory, nor to amaze them with the terribleness of his majesty, much less to make a show of the riches and gal­lantry of the world among them, but to "bring life and immortality," and lead men to eternal happiness. In order to which it was necessary, that by his example as well as doctrine, he should disparage the vanities of the world, and bring them out of that credit and esteem they had gotten among foolish men.

Finally, Scougal ends with exhortation to proper observance of Christmas. Some take “the solemn anniversary, as if it were indeed a drunken Bacchus, and not a holy Jesus, whom they worshipped. What! because GOD became man, must we become beasts? Or think we to honor that Child with dissoluteness, who came to the world on designs of holiness."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Watson's Expanded View of the Fifth Commandment

My wife and I like to tell our children when we review the ten commandments in family devotions that our favorite commandment is the fifth: “Honor thy father and thy mother….” (Exod 20:12).

The old divines, however, saw the fifth commandment as having to do with much more than the parent/child relationship but with proper respect for and submission to authority, station, and office. The catechism asks, “What is required in the fifth commandment?” and answers, “The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honour and performing the duties belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, and equals.”

In Thomas Watson’s study on the Ten Commandments, he applies the fifth commandment’s charge “Honor thy father” to five different kinds of fathers: the political (the civil magistrate), the ancient (the elderly), the spiritual (pastors and ministers), the domestic (the master or employer), and the natural (the biological parent).

With regard to spiritual fathers (pastors and ministers), Watson says that they should be honored “in respect of their office.” This honor should be given to ministers in three ways:

1. By giving them respect.

Watson states, “Many can be content to know their ministers in their infirmities, and are glad when they have anything against them, but do not know them in the apostles’ sense, so as to give them ‘double honor.’ Surely were it not for the ministry, you would not be a vineyard, but a desert.” Ministers are to be respected because God has chosen them to bring to God’s people the Word and Sacraments (Ordinances).

2. By becoming advocates for them.

Understanding well the inherent nature of pastoral ministry, Watson charges that this will include, “wiping off those slanders and calumnies which are unjustly cast upon them (1 Tim 5: 19). Constantine was a great honourer of the ministry; he vindicated them; he would not read the envious accusations brought against them, but burnt them. Do the ministers open their mouths to God for you in prayer, and will not you open your mouths in their behalf? Surely, if they labour to preserve you from hell, you should preserve them from slander; if they labour to save your souls, you ought to save their credit.”

3. By conforming to their doctrine.

Watson concludes, “The greatest honour you can put upon your spiritual fathers, is to believe and obey their doctrine. He is an honourer of the ministry who is not only a hearer, but a follower of the word. As disobedience reproaches the ministry, so obedience honours it… You cannot honour your spiritual fathers more, than by thriving under their ministry, and living upon the sermons which they preach.”


Calvin on Church Government: Part Fifteen

Note: This is the fifteenth in our series from Calvin’s Institutes (Book IV; Chapter III):

The next question is, Whether a minister should be chosen by the whole Church, or only by colleagues and elders, who have the charge of discipline; or whether they may be appointed by the authority of one individual? Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected (creabant) two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult.

Analysis: Beyond the divine call, Calvin now asks about the human call (means) of men to ministry. According to Calvin, ministers should not be appointed by one minister, or by a group of elders, but by the body at large. In this sense, Calvin seems to argue for a kind of congregational church government in election of officers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Heidelcast

I have become a regular listener of R. Scott Clark's weekly podcasts (Heidelcasts).  Clark always has a fresh perspective on Reformed theology, evangelicalism, worship, etc.  Though I don't always find myself in agreement with him, I commend his blog and podcast, if you haven't already discovered it.  You can find the archive of past and present Heidelcasts here.

For starters, you might listen to Clark's critique of John Piper's invitation of Federal Vision proponent Doug Wilson as a speaker in his most recent Desiring God conference (part one and part two).


Calvin on Church Government: Part Fourteen

Note:  Part fourteen in our series from Calvin's Institutes on government and office.

But no sober person will deny that the regular mode of lawful calling is, that bishops should be designated by men, since there are numerous passages of Scripture to this effect. Nor, as has been said, is there anything contrary to this in Paul’s protestation, that he was not sent either of man, or by man, seeing he is not there speaking of the ordinary election of ministers, but claiming for himself what was peculiar to the apostles: although the Lord in thus selecting Paul by special privilege, subjected him in the meantime to the discipline of an ecclesiastical call: for Luke relates, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Why this separation and laying on of hands after the Holy Spirit had attested their election, unless that ecclesiastical discipline might be preserved in appointing ministers by men? God could not give a more illustrious proof of his approbation of this order, than by causing Paul to be set apart by the Church after he had previously declared that he had appointed him to be the Apostle of the Gentiles. The same thing we may see in the election of Matthias. As the apostolic office was of such importance that they did not venture to appoint any one to it of their own judgment, they 2325bring forward two, on one of whom the lot might fall, that thus the election might have a sure testimony from heaven, and, at the same time, the policy of the Church might not be disregarded.

Analysis:  Though staunchly defending the necessity of divine call, Calvin also aknowledges God's use of human means to set apart bishops.  The setting apart of Paul and others by prayer and the laying on of hands in Acts 13 provides the model for this.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Thirteen

Note:  This is part thirteen in this ongoing series from Calvin on church government and office.

The third division which we have adopted is, by whom ministers are to be chosen. A certain rule on this head cannot be obtained from the appointment of the apostles, which was somewhat different from the common call of others. As theirs was an extraordinary ministry, in order to render it conspicuous by some more distinguished mark, those who were to discharge it behoved to be called and appointed by the mouth of the Lord himself. It was not, therefore, by any human election, but at the sole command of God and Christ, that they prepared themselves for the work. Hence, when the apostles were desirous to substitute another in the place of Judas, they did not venture to nominate any one certainly, but brought forward two, that the Lord might declare by lot which of them he wished to succeed (Acts 1:23). In this way we ought to understand Paul’s declaration, that he was made an apostle, “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). The former—viz. not of men—he had in common with all the pious ministers of the word, for no one could duly perform the office unless called by God. The other was proper and peculiar to him. And while he glories in it, he boasts that he had not only what pertains to a true and lawful pastor, but he also brings forward the insignia of his apostleship. For when there were some among the Galatians who, seeking to disparage his authority, represented him as some ordinary disciple, substituted in place of the primary apostles, he, in order to maintain unimpaired the dignity of his ministry, against which he knew that these attempts were made, felt it necessary to show that he was in no respect inferior to the other apostles. Accordingly, he affirms that he was not chosen by the judgment of men, like some ordinary bishop, but by the mouth and manifest oracle of the Lord himself.

Analysis:  Calvin continues to insist that ministers are called first and foremost by the Lord himself and not by men.  Pastors must have a divine calling.

Spurgeon: On Religious Grumblers

…It is a dreadful thing to see a happy family of Christians broken up by talkative fault-finders, and all about nothing, or less than nothing. Small is the edge of the wedge, but when the devil handles the beetle, churches are soon split to pieces, and men wonder why.

The fact is, the worst wheel of the cart creaks most, and one fool makes many, and thus many a congregation is set at ears with a good and faithful minister, who would have been a lasting blessing to them if they had not chased away their best friend. Those who are at the bottom of the mischief have generally no part or lot in the matter of true godliness, but, like sparrows, fight over corn which is not their own, and, like jackdaws, pull to pieces what they never helped to build….

From Charles Spurgeon in John Ploughman’s Talk.

Calvin on Church Government: Part Twelve

Note: Here continues our series from Calvin’s Institutes on church government and office.

What persons should be elected bishops is treated at length by Paul in two passages (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:1). The substance is, that none are to be chosen save those who are of sound doctrine and holy lives, and not notorious for any defect which might destroy their authority and bring disgrace on the ministry. The description of deacons and elders is entirely similar. We must always take care that they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them; in other words, that they are provided with the means which will be necessary to fulfil their office. Thus our Savior, when about to send his apostles, provided them with the arms and instruments which were indispensably requisite (Luke 21:15; 24:49; Mark 6:15; Acts 1:8; 1 Tim 5:22). And Paul, after portraying the character of a good and genuine bishop, admonishes Timothy not to contaminate himself by choosing an improper person for the office. The expression, in what way, I use not in reference to the rite of choosing, but only to the religious fear which is to be observed in election. Hence the fastings and prayers which Luke narrates that the faithful employed when they elected presbyters (Acts 14:23). For, understanding that the business was the most serious in which they could engage, they did not venture to act without the greatest reverence and solicitude. But above all, they were earnest in prayer, imploring from God the spirit of wisdom and discernment.

Analysis: Calvin goes to the classic descriptions in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to describe the role of the “bishop.” He is to hold sound doctrine and live a holy life. As with deacons care is to be taken that “they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mounce, NIV 2011, and Modern Translation Musings

Zondervan announced in September that they would be offering a revision of the NIV in 2011 (the 400th anniversary of the KJV).   In October they also announced that Greek grammarian Bill Mounce was being added to the revised NIV translation team.  The irony here is that Mounce also served as NT chair for the translation of the ESV.  You can read Mounce's reflections on this here.  In his remarks he states that his decision to join the NIV team should not be interpreted as casting doubts on his support for the ESV.  He also refers to potential issues with the NIV with regard to gender-neutral language, concluding:  "But who knows where the NIV 2011 will go and how I will vote."

Here's the question:  Do we really need a revision of the NIV?  If Mounce applied a translation philosophy of which he approved in the creation of the ESV, what substantial changes would he offer in the revised NIV?  Are those significant enought to warrant another English translation in the already crowded modern Bible marketplace?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Jonathan Edwards' "Farewell Sermon"

One of the classic sermons of all time is Jonathan Edwards’ “Farewell Sermon” preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts on July 1, 1750 (read it here; listen to an abridged reading here). Edwards delivered the message after being forced out as pastor. He had served the church for 23 years. During his tenure, the congregation had experienced the Great Awakening of 1734-35 but also the controversy of the “young folk’s Bible” episode and Edwards’ rejection of the “half-way covenant.” Historian George Marsden provides an insightful analysis of this period of Edwards’ life in his respected biography of the great colonial pastor and theologian (see Jonathan Edwards: A Life [Yale University Press, 2003], chapters 21 and 22, pp. 341-74; quotes below are from this work).

According to Marsden, Edwards’ removal began with the pastor’s suggestion of revision of the church’s government that was perceived to be “antidemocratic” (see Marsden, pp. 345-46). Edwards presented his ideas in a series of controversial sermons in June 1748. This disagreement was accompanied by disputes over the standards of admission to membership. Marsden notes: “In the poisoned atmosphere…. Rather than engage the real issues, they [the church members] complained to each other about how Edwards had not been open and honest with them” (p. 348).

By December 1749 Edwards would write to a friend, “The tumult is vastly greater than when you were here and is rising higher and higher continually” (p. 357). Marsden adds, “During the next few months matters only got worse as the town and church majority pushed relentlessly for Edwards’ removal” (p. 357). By the Spring of 1750 the church had sought outside consultation from an ad hoc committee of neighboring churches. “Edwards was painfully exasperated that he could not get the townspeople even to listen to his views” (p. 359). Marsden adds that one of Edwards’ opponents, his cousin Israel Williams, “made several vehement speeches against [Edwards], calling him a ‘tyrant’ who was ‘unsufferable’ in ‘lording it over [his] people’” (p. 359).

A council met from June 19-22, 1750. Marsden observes, “The minority argued for slowing down the process so as to be able to seek reconciliation. The vocal townspeople would hear nothing of delay. Only immediate separation would do” (p. 360). Of great personal disappointment to Edwards was the fact that one of the leaders in opposition to him was a young lawyer named Joseph Hawley III, Edwards’ cousin and a young man he had once praised as “a worthy pious man” (p. 358). Marsden notes that Edwards had “probably acted as something of a guardian and mentor” to Hawley after the suicide of the young man’s father (p. 358). The volatile Hawley was now firmly set against Edwards, however, and “would countenance no delay or mediation” in seeking his removal. When the council asked the church to express its will on the continuation of Edwards’ pastoral ministry, only 23 male members voted for Edwards and 230 against him. The council then approved his dismissal while at the same time declaring Edwards “‘eminently qualified for the work of Gospel ministry’ in any church that shared his views” (p. 361).

Edwards preached the “Farewell Sermon” on July 1, 1750. In the message he paints a compelling scene of pastor and people meeting before the throne of God on Judgment Day. Marsden notes that “Much of the congregation must have sat in sullen indignation as Edwards implied that he would be exonerated while many of them would be found irredeemably guilty on the last day” (p. 362).

At the start of the sermon Edwards states:

Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must meet one another before Christ’s tribunal at the day of judgment.

Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must be parted in this world, how well soever they have been united. If they are not separated before, they must be parted by death, and they may be separated while life is continued. We live in a world of change, where nothing is certain or stable, and where a little time, a few revolutions of the sun, brings to pass strange things, surprising alterations, in particular persons in families, in towns and churches, in countries and nations. It often happens, that those who seem most united, in a little time are most disunited, and at the greatest distance. Thus ministers and people, between whom there has been the greatest mutual regard and strictest union, may not only differ in their judgments, and be alienated in affection, but one may rend from the other, and all relation between them be dissolved. The minister may be removed to a distant place, and they may never have any more to do one with another in this world. But if it be so, there is one meeting more that they must have, and that is in the last great day of accounts.

He later adds:

It often comes to pass in this evil world, that great differences and controversies arise between ministers and the people under their pastoral care. Though they are under the greatest obligations to live in peace, above persons in almost any relation whatever, and although contests and dissensions between persons so related are the most unhappy and terrible in their consequences on many accounts of any sort of contentions, yet how frequent have such contentions been! Sometimes a people contest with their ministers about their doctrine, sometimes about their administrations and conduct, and sometimes about their maintenance. Sometimes such contests continue a long time, and sometimes they are decided in this world, according to the prevailing interest of one party or the other, rather than by the Word of God, and the reason of things. And sometimes such controversies never have any proper determination in this world.

But at the day of judgment there will be a full, perfect, and everlasting decision of them. The infallible Judge, the infinite fountain of light, truth, and justice, will judge between the contending parties, and will declare what is the truth, who is in the right, and what is agreeable to his mind and will. And in order hereto, the parties must stand together before him at the last day, which will be the great day of finishing and determining all controversies, rectifying all mistakes, and abolishing all unrighteous judgments, errors, and confusions, which have before subsisted in the world of mankind.

Edwards and his large family “remained awkwardly in Northampton for a year” after the dismissal (p. 363). It is sometimes favorably noted that he did on a few occasions fill the pulpit at Northampton after his dismissal, but Marsden makes clear that the church “always did so as a last resort and with great reluctance” (p. 364). In fact, Edwards’ ardent opponents “unhappy to continue to endure their ousted pastor” eventually gained a vote in a public meeting that he not be invited again “even if it sometimes meant going without preaching” (p. 364). Edwards and his family eventually moved to Stockbridge in June 1751 where he took up ministry among the Mohican Indians. Marsden concludes his analysis of Edwards’ departure from Northampton: “Once the bonds of affection were broken, each side, as in any controversy, soon saw the other as unreasonable and even perverse. In the Northampton case, the intensity of the feelings were heightened by the fact that the two parties has once been great lovers, each of whom now viewed themselves as betrayed” (p. 374).


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Eleven

Note:  The discussion of calling continues in this eleventh part in our series from Calvin's Institutes on church government and offices.

Outer and inner call:

The subject is comprehended under four heads—viz. who are to be appointed ministers, in what way, by whom, and with what rite or initiatory ceremony. I am speaking of the external and formal call which relates to the public order of the Church, while I say nothing of that secret call of which every minister is conscious before God, but has not the Church as a witness of it; I mean, the good testimony of our heart, that we undertake the offered office neither from ambition nor avarice, nor any other selfish feeling, but a sincere fear of God and desire to edify the Church. This, as I have said, is indeed necessary for every one of us, if we would approve our ministry to God. Still, however, a man may have been duly called by the Church, though he may have accepted with a bad conscience, provided his wickedness is not manifest. It is usual also to say, that private men are called to the ministry when they seem fit and apt to discharge it; that is, because learning, conjoined with piety and the other endowments of a good pastor, is a kind of preparation for the office. For those whom the Lord has destined for this great office he previously provides with the armour which is requisite for the discharge of it, that they may not come empty and unprepared. Hence Paul, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, when treating of the offices, first enumerates the gifts in which those who performed the offices ought to excel. But as this is the first of the four heads which I mentioned, let us now proceed to it.

Analysis:  Calvin distinguishes between the "external and formal call" (conferred by men) to public ministry and the "secret call" (given by God alone).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thomas Watson on "holy conferences"

I concluded my teaching series last night on "The Christian Understanding of the Sabbath" by addressing practical issues.  One of the questions addressed:  "Apart from various prohibitions, what should I positively do on the Lord's Day?"  Among the suggestions:

Attend public worship
Read the Bible and Christian books
For parents:  teach children
Fellowship with believers (stay focused on spiritual topics)
Family worship and singing
Take a nap!

As a follow up to public worship, I added the comments by Thomas Watson in his discussion of the Lord's Day in The Ten Commandments wherein he urges "holy conferences" to discuss the day's sermon:

Having heard the word in a holy and spiritual manner, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the word. We are forbidden on this day to speak our own words, but we must speak of God’s word. Isa 58: 13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together; which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Good discourse brings holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. ‘Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another.’ Mal 3: 16. There is great power and efficacy in good discourse. ‘How forcible are right words!’ Job 6: 25. By holy conference on a Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another when he is frozen, and to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer confessed he was much furthered in religion by having conference with Mr. Bilney the martyr. ‘My tongue shall speak of thy word.’ Psa 119: 172. One reason why preaching the word on a Sabbath does no more good is because there is so little good conference. Few speak of the word they have heard, as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again, or as if it were a shame to speak of that which will save us.


Calvin on Church Government: Part Ten

Note: This is part ten in our series from Calvin's Institutes on church government and offices. Here Calvin begins to turn to the issues of calling and ordination.

Now seeing that in the sacred assembly all things ought to be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40), there is nothing in which this ought to be more carefully observed than in settling government, irregularity in any respect being nowhere more perilous. Wherefore, lest restless and turbulent men should presumptuously push themselves forward to teach or rule (an event which actually was to happen), it was expressly provided that no one should assume a public office in the Church without a call (Heb. 5:4; Jer. 17:16). Therefore, if any one would be deemed a true minister of the Church, he must first be duly called; and, secondly, he must answer to his calling; that is, undertake and execute the office assigned to him. This may often be observed in Paul, who, when he would approve his apostleship, almost always alleges a call, together with his fidelity in discharging the office. If so great a minister of Christ dares not arrogate to himself authority to be heard in the Church, unless as having been appointed to it by the command of his Lord, and faithfully performing what has been intrusted to him, how great the effrontery for any man, devoid of one or both of them, to demand for himself such honour. But as we have already touched on the necessity of executing the office, let us now treat only of the call.

Analysis: Calvin warns that irregularity in government is "perilous." Men should not presume to push themselves forward for the teaching office without a clear sense of call. In further entries Calvin will flesh out the meaning of a call to ministry.