23 October 2005

"All Creatures of Our God and King"

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

-- St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226. Majesty Hymns (Greenville, SC: Majesty Music, 1997): 58.

"On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses" (Zechariah 14:20).

21 October 2005

Andrew Fuller's Theology of Grace

15 October 2005

Affirmation of an Adolescent with a Hacky Sack, Standing in front of Starbucks in October

"I'm so sweet; I love it."

14 October 2005

Perspicuity of the Scriptures (Intro)

LBC2 1.7 "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)"

This statement in the Second London Baptist Confession intrigues me. (It comes over directly from the Westminster Confession.) I wish I could ask the pastors and theologians who penned the words a number of questions.

(1) The first question is philosophical or specifically epistemological. The God of the confessions is not a God I can comprehend. How can I be sure that any communication between us can be "plain," or "clear"?

(2) The last two questions are hermeneutical. First, does being "learned" help with understanding those "things in Scripture [which] are not...plain in themselves"? Or in other words what role does external learning have in exegesis?

(3) Second, what constitutes "due use of ordinary means"?

12 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 3 of 3)

As someone has already commented, John Gill's doctrine of eternal justification seems to have lead him into some form of "Calvinistic antinomianism." The problem is that term antinomianism has been abused almost as much as the term legalism. To clear up some of the confusion associated with this error, perhaps it would be helpful to divide the ways John Gill could have been called an antinomian into three categories.

(1) The term antinomianism has been applied to all those who see the Christian believer as free from the Mosaic law-covenant. Since the days of Zwingli, the Reformed tradition has proposed a theological unity of covenants. To use language that they would agree with, the Sinai covenant is an administration of the eternal Covenant of Grace, just like the New Covenant is. When Paul downplays the old covenant, he is generally referring to the legalistic interpretation of the covenant taught by the Judaizers. This understanding gave Zwingli, Calvin, and their followers a Scriptural basis for unity between church and state (on analogy with the theocracy of Israel) and for infant baptism (on analogy with circumcision).
Particular Baptists, while agreeing on the other essentials of the Covenant of Grace, generally defended a discontinuity between the Mosaic law-covenant and the New Covenant. This discontinuity was often in the background when Particular Baptists advocated a strict separation between church and state and adherence to credo-immersion. John Gill did teach this doctrine, but I do not consider it an error.
(Note that there is a strong subtradition of Calvinistic Baptists who do not maintain a discontinuity of covenants. Influential examples include James Petigru Boice and probably Carl F. H. Henry.)

(2) Antinomianism has been applied to those who teach that God's moral law is not the rule of life for believers. This is the most drastic definition of Antinomianism. Early examples of this error include some of Paul's Corinthian audience and probably John's opponents in his first epistle. Later on in church history, some of Luther's followers deemphasized or denied the fact that "the faith which saves is never alone." Also the Russian Orthodox monk Rasputin is reputed to have said something along the lines of "I will sin more so that God's grace will be greater." John Rippon is right when he calls these "infernal sentiments." Gill forthrightly condemned those who held these views in his day. Moreover he is too voluminous when it comes to "pracitical divinity" to be correctly categorized as this type of antinomian.

(3) Antinomianism has been applied to those who deny that sin has negative effects on the believer, especially as he relates to God. The main perpetrator of this heresy in Gill's day was probably Tobias Crisp (though my information on this is mostly through Rippon). While this category relates closely to the category above, it is not strictly the same type of antinomianism. Apparently based on the teachings associated with eternal justification, Crisp felt that a believer was so secure in his relationship with God that nothing he could do could ever impair or obstruct that relationship in any way. According to Rippon, Gill tried to nuance and correct Crisp's wording, but he did not fundamentally disagree with him.
However Gill did believe that sin does distract the believer from God and that it deadens his sensitivity to God. In his exposition of Hebrews 12:5, Gill is even willing to say that God uses "afflictive providences...by [which] he rebukes his people for their sins." Yet he still mitigates the force of texts which teach the believer's need for daily forgiveness of sin (e.g. Matthew 6:11-12). He understands these texts to refer to the Spirit's work in assuring the conscience that sins have already been forgiven on the basis of the believer's eternal union with Christ. But this text has Jesus teaching his disciples to ask for forgiveness daily. Assurance fits in here, but that is not what the text speaks to directly. The forgiveness here is relational ("Our Father" Matt 6:9); it speaks to progressive growth in our relationship with the holy God who has made us his children. To use modern categories, Gill seems to have emphasized the positional/forensic to the exclusion of the practical/relational.
In sum, to the question of antinomianism in Gill, we can give a resounding sic et non.

05 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 2 of 3)

As I currently understand it, the argument for eternal justification proceeds thus: Election and justification are correlated as aspects of union with Christ (or the federal headship of Christ over the elect). Because union with Christ entails pretemporal election, union with Christ itself is something that is pretemporal, occuring in eternity past. Justification, then, being an aspect of union with Christ, must also be pretemporal. This means that the elect sinner is, in the courtroom of God, declared righteous before conversion. Gill conceded that the sinner does not enjoy his position in Christ until he is converted, but he has the position nonetheless.
This is a real error of John Gill. On the point of eternal justification he is inescapably clear, and, despite his considerable erudition and despite his steadfast defense of other gospel truths, he seems to have ignored or explained away the true force of texts like Romans 1:17, "The righteous shall live by faith." Also the force of Paul's argument in Romans 3:21-31 is that justification is gained for individual through the instrumentality of faith. While Paul's emphasis is disqualifying works from justification, his thought also makes clear that justification is consequent to conversion in a Biblical ordo salutis. Finally the aorist tenses of Romans 8:30 must not be taken to indicate that predestination, calling, justification, and glorification have all occured in the pretemporal past. If this were true, eternal glorification, not simply eternal justification, would need to be posited. While I grant that it sometimes difficult to understand the relationship between the eternal decree of God and the temporal acts of men, the Biblical chronology is clear: calling and conversion precede justification.
The scope of implications for the doctrine of eternal justification are beyond my ability to address systematically, but I have already hinted at one implication to which I now turn. Because, in Gill's mind, God has declared the sinner righteous before conversion, conversion cannot entail trusting Christ in order to be justified. Instead conversion entails trusting Christ that one has already been justified from before the foundation of the world. Therefore, the unconverted cannot be exhorted to trust Christ for salvation. Instead, gospel truth is announced, "Christ infallibly saves those who trust in him." And then it is assumed that the elect among the unconverted will turn to Christ in faith and believe that they have been justified from the foundation of the world. So at least part of the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely is his doctrine of eternal justification.

03 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 1 of 3)

Two considerations nuance what I had thought about the preaching of the gospel in the doctrine and practice of John Gill. First Gill did not see himself as some sort of exception to the Great Commission. Like later Calvinists, Andrew Fuller and William Carey, Gill longed for the conversion of the Gentile. He, like they, drew confidence from the fact that God would redeem an innumerable host from the nations. (On this point it is interesting to note that he had a special passion for the salvation of Jews, perhaps springing from his interpretation of Romans 11 and from his familiarity with Hebrew literature.) He also proclaimed and defended the truths of the gospel from press and pulpit. The Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement, and free grace were central to his pulpit ministry. However, what Fuller and Carey practiced, which Gill would not, was "the free address to unconverted sinners," as Rippon calls it (p. 71). From what I can gather this means that he would not appeal to an unconverted person to repent and trust Christ for salvation. He may have said, "Christ will surely save all who trust in him," but he would never have told an unbeliever, "Trust in Christ; he will save you." So my first nuance is that Gill may have preached the gospel in some sense, but it really was missing an essential element.
Second the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely was not fully developed in my mind. Typically it is assumed that he refused to do so because he believed that the free address is an insult to divine sovereignty and that it is an affront to what God has revealed about the depraved human nature. Perhaps this assumption is true; I have not read enough to show that it is not. But there does seem to be, at least, a secondary reason for his refusal: the doctrine of eternal justification. This real error will have to wait for the second part of this series.

02 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Intro)

On more than one occasion I have had the opportunity to debate informally the doctrine of election with various friends and acquaintances of the Arminian and so-called Biblicist persuasions. Often those who disdain unconditional election say that it destroys evangelism. At this point in the argument, I have found it helpful to have a person I could point to as an example of someone who has taken my position too far and ignored the Biblical evidence. This tactic is helpful in showing by means of a foil that the traditional Calvinistic system really does pay attention to the text of Scripture and the various emphases of Biblical authors. "There are some who think that God's sovereignty negates our responsibility to preach the gospel," I say, "but that is not real Calvinism. That's Hyper-Calvinism." The unenviable position of historical example has typically fallen to a prolific Particular Baptist of the eighteenth century, John Gill.
Recently I have become slightly more acquainted with Gill's writings and with a glowing biography written by John Rippon, his immediate successor at the church where Gill pastored. My findings, still somewhat unruminated, follow.