The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Richard)

Richard, Guy M. The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008.

Given that Samuel Rutherford is the most important Scottish theologian of all time, one must ask why there is so little written about him. The same question applies to his many yet-untranslated works.  John Coffey’s standard-setting biography did much to address the problem, but it didn’t deal with his theology in full depth. There are quite a few hagiographical works about him, but they do little in the academic realm.

Rutherford’s Examen Arminianismi function as a systematic theology, as he viewed Arminianism as an attack on the whole of Christian doctrine.  Some areas, like his focus on the doctrine of God and the human will, are beyond compare.  His supralapsarianism demands to be taken more seriously.  That’s not to say he is always fair to his opponents, nor does he always give an in-depth analysis.  Earlier, I had asked why there isn’t much work on or translated by Rutherford these days.  I think I might know the answer. Turretin is still the gold standard.  Regarding divine justice, John Owen seems to have given the definitive response to Rutherford–and most of Owen’s stuff is already in English.

Abbreviations

EA: Examen Arminianismi

Key Theological Terms

Archetypal: the infinite knowledge God has of himself (26).

Ectypal: the theology which is available to the finite capacities of humans.

Duplex cognito Dei: the distinction between the knowledge of God the creator and the knowledge of God the redeemer (33).

Theologia archetype et ectypa

Like the rest of the Reformed tradition, Rutherford holds to natural theology (Divine Right, 66)..  As Richard states, “For Rutherford, natural theology not only exists, but it serves at least two important functions as well, as we will see–it renders all people without excuse before the divine tribunal; and it acts as an instrument in apologetics” (32).

Arminius, by contrast, on Rutherford’s reading, collapses the natural knowledge of God back into the supernatural knowledge with its doctrine of prevenient grace (36). Indeed, “all knowledge of the divine is supernatural.” This means, in the Arminian view, men and women already have supernatural knowledge of God prior to grace.

According to Richard, Arminius “redefines the scholastic distinction between theologia archetype et ectypa.” This means he collapses “Deus abscondita into Deus revelaturs” (42).

Scripture and Causes

Efficient cause of Scripture: God himself.
Formal cause of Scripture: divine truth
Final cause of Scripture: to teach us God’s holiness
Material cause of Scripture: subject matter

Doctrine of God

Rutherford inherited and upheld the traditional model of divine simplicity.  He did so, however, as an adherent of the nominalist schola Augustina moderna. Doing so allowed him to give a new angle on the traditional problem of divine simplicity: given that God’s attributes are identical, how can we distinguish them?  Rutherford notes that they aren’t “real distinctions (different res), nor are they formal distinctions…but they are distinctions of reason” (81).

From this He makes several deductions:  1) God isn’t perfectible; 2) He has being from himself

Rutherford’s rebuttal of Arminius on the Trinity is highly illustrative for us today. Arminius said the Father is ‘the source of the whole Deity’ (WJA, II, 693). This sounds like the Greek East, but the Eastern Fathers made sure that they weren’t saying that the Father is the source of the Son’s essence, only of his hypostasis. Arminius’s view is subordinationist.

The Knowledge of God

God’s own knowledge is twofold

Knowledge of himself.

Knowledge of objects outside himself

Simple Intelligence.  This is his natural knowledge. Knowledge of possibles.

Knowledge of Vision. This is God’s knowledge of all actuals.

Both Arminius and Rutherford held to a loosely Thomistic framework.  Arminius, however, denied that God’s knowledge involved causality (92).

Rutherford’s problem with Middle Knowledge is “that it makes the creature or fate the first cause of all things and the divine will the second cause, because God looks out of himself to see what free creatures would do before he makes his decree” (92). 

The Voluntas Dei

Although Rutherford is a voluntarist, this does not mean that the will functions independently of the intellect (95). The divine intellect logically precedes the will.  The intellect, though, does not “make” the will do anything.

Voluntas ad intra et ad extra

Ad intra: the divine will in God
Ad extra: the divine will towards objects outside of God.

Potentia absoluta et ordinata

Rutherford makes a distinction between omnipotency and sovereignty.  Omnipotency refers to the potentia absoluta.  The latter refers to the potentia ordinata. Regarding his absolute power, God can do all that is logically possible.  His decree limits this.  God’s immutability “restrains his potentia.”  Richard highlights a difficulty with this: if God’s immutability limits his sovereignty ad extra, why can’t other attributes do the same (99)?  I think there might be a way for Rutherford to get around this.  Will and intellect are primarily faculties, not attributes.  Moreover, take an attribute like mercy.  It’s easy to understand how the will acts.  It’s not clear how mercy qua mercy would act. In fact, the will would have to act for mercy to act.

Voluntas beneplaciti et signi

The voluntas beneplaciti is “the decree of God by which he determines all things” that come to pass (103).  The voluntas signi is the revealed will. These aren’t contradictory. He doesn’t command x and non-x at the same time.  However, he can permit something be done by his voluntas beneplaciti that he does not approve by his voluntas signi.

Premotion and the Voluntas efficiens et permittens

There is one more distinction. This allows Rutherford to maintain the free decisions of creatures. The voluntas efficiens is “the first and highest cause of all positive existents” (105).  This is the doctrine of physical premotion.  Richard footnotes a useful diagram by Van Ruler (“New Philosophy to Old Standards).

Prime Cause
a / \ c
Secondary Cause – Effect
    B

Supralapsarianism

Richard argues that Rutherfold has a supralapsarian framework with infralapsarian language. With the supralapsarians, Rutherford says election is prior to every other divine decree, “but [he] says nothing about reprobation” (118). (This is in the context of an unpublished mss.: University of Edinburgh Library, La.II.394, p.5). With this established, the rest of Rutherford’s comments on election are fairly standard among the Reformed.

He does speak of reprobation.  It has two acts. God passes over and withholds “efficaciou grace” (120).

He does have a positive argument for supralapsarianism. With others like Twisse, Rutherford says the “end must be acknowledged both first in intention, and last in execution” (121). God first decrees those who are to be saved, and then he decrees the means.  It would make no sense “decreeing the means to accomplish salvation before decreeing salvation itself.” 

Rutherford anticipates the argument that Turretin makes against supralapsarianism: does it make sense to speak of a decree about possible men?  Rutherford responds that “everyone who believes in the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo also makes a non-entity the object of the divine decree” (127).

The Atonement of Christ

Rutherford argues God is not obligated to exercise divine justice towards his creatures (134). Divine justice is an attribute ad intra. God’s will is hierarchically prior to justice. In other words, nothing ad extra can force God to exercise mercy. Lest this sound too severe, Rutherford does concede that there is a “relative necessity for him [God] to do so [i.e., act mercifully]” (135). 

This raises the other controversial issue for Rutherford on the atonement: could God have forgiven sinners apart from the death of Christ?  In terms of potentia absoluta, he could have.  Nonetheless, he has decreed potentia ordinata to forgive sinners by the death of Christ.

John Owen, by contrast, sees the justice of God as “the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature’, which is antecedent to all acts of his will’” (Owen, Works, X, p.498, quoted in Richard 136). Divine justice, then, is “the totality of the divine perfections.”  Carl Trueman has convincingly argued Owen’s case.  For Owen, the acts of God’s justice must conform both internally and externally (Trueman 93).

Soteriology

The material on covenant theology is fairly standard, so only a few comments will suffice. The covenant of redemption is “the relational context in which the decrees are given” (146). Richard has a good section on the nature of human willing. Does God’s grace violate man’s will?  No. Grace doesn’t “compel the will to act against its desires. It changes its desires” (174).

Conclusion

This isn’t merely a book on Samuel Rutherford. It is also a primer on Reformed categories.

Trueman, Carl. “John Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism.” Calvin Theological Journal 33 (1998), 87-103.

Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times (Owen)

Owen, John.  Searching our Hearts in Difficult Times.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2020.

Banner of Truth reformatted several treatises from volume nine of John Owen’s works. The material was compiled posthumously.  Notwithstanding, the first half appears to be a long Q&A session from a conventicle meeting.  This would have taken place at the end of Owen’s life and after the Great Ejection.  That’s important for a criticism I will make later. The second half are several jeremiads bemoaning the rise of Roman Catholicism in England.

The first half offers a number of litmus tests to see if you have grace in your heart and whether that grace is strong enough to enable you to persevere in times of trouble.  He begins on a strong note: “Put your faith to work in viewing him as he is represented in the gospel” (Owen 17). He warns of the danger of mere head knowledge (20), but intellectualism isn’t much of a problem for today’s church.

He fields a question on praying to Christ and whether it is lawful. He notes that “all our prayers to him as God and man in one person” (22).  When Christ is considered “absolutely, in his own person…he is the immediate and ultimate object of faith and worship.”  In such cases, as with Stephen, we may pray to him.  

Concerning his mediatorial office, though, “he is not the ultimate object of our faith and invocation.  Rather, we call upon God, the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ” (25).  Failure to note his mediatorship results in a contradiction: our faith would be on Christ and also on his mediation.  In conclusion, Owen notes “The Father is placed before us as the ultimate object of access in our worship; the Spirit is the effecting cause, enabling us this worship; the Son is the means by which we approach to God” (25).

Owen gives us a good guideline on rooting out habitual sin.  Simply because we have a particular sin or lust does not mean we have a habitual sin. A particular sin becomes a habitual sin when we give it a particular advantage (36).  If your soul is “grieved by it more than it is defiled by it,” then it probably isn’t a habitual sin (39). To the degree we consent, to that degree we are defiled.  

If you find arguments against a sin losing force, it is probably a habitual sin (40).  In other words, you are rationalizing.

Most of the book is quite excellent.  I don’t disagree with anything that is said.  I find it strange, however, that when he is speaking of renewing the grace and promises to us, he doesn’t mention the Lord’s Supper at all. To be fair, at this point in England finding reliable ministers might have made this impossible, and if so, then I don’t have any criticism of Owen. He does tell us to “labour to have the experience of the power of every truth in our hearts” (89). Formally, I have no problem.  The problem is “what do you mean by ‘experience’”?  We are starting to sound a lot like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we aren’t suggesting that Owen is presenting that.  This is where a robust view of the Supper fits perfectly.

Aside from those quibbles, this is quite a good read.

Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Ferguson)

Ferguson, Sinclair.  Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen.  Reformation Trust.

This book unites what never should have been divided: piety and scholastic rigor (and if you don’t like scholasticism, then John Owen isn’t for you.  Keep moving). Lawson’s preface is a bit on the nose in terms of the “long line of godly men.”  It reads like bedtime stories for the Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Notwithstanding, Sinclair Ferguson brings rigor and warmth to his subject.

We are treated with some crucial terminology regarding the Trinity and the Divine decree.

Opera trinitatis: the works of the Trinity, particularly that there is one external work.  As there is one divine will in the Trinity, all the persons are in the working.

Appropriationes personae: each person expresses his specific personhood both internally and externally.  As Ferguson points out, “There is a deep relationship between the dispositions and actions of each person of the Trinity and the nature of the Christian’s knowledge of and fellowship with that person. Our experience of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is shaped by the specific role that each plays in relationship to our lives and especially to our salvation.”

Communion with the Father

Scholastic methodology allows us to make distinctions concerning the phrase “God is love.” This ties in with the divine decree.  

  • Love of benevolence: God’s plan for our lives.
  • Love of beneficence: the love displayed in history that does good to all people.
  • the love of complacency: the love planned in Christ that we experience.

Conclusion: “Christ died for us because the Father loves us.”

Communion with the Son

Grace isn’t a substance.  It’s Jesus. The medievals said we have sacramental grace infused in us at baptism.  Our faith is later formed by perfect love, and this makes us justifiable.  Owen, as Ferguson says, combats this: “Through the work of the Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you.”

Conclusion: “It does indeed involve our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done; it also includes a willingness to give ourselves unreservedly to Him. But our communion with Him also enlivens and transforms the Christian’s affections.”

Communion with the Spirit

The same Spirit who kept Christ from corruption of sin in the Virgin’s womb also kept him from corruption in the tomb.

This is a nice primer on deep theology.  It can be read by a layman in one or two sittings.

Violence, Hospitality, Cross: Notes, 2

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Chapter 2: Limiting Hospitality

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56).  Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Chapter 3: Preferential Hospitality

In this chapter Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80).  Israel isn’t elected for her own sake.

While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history.  Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Today, we can make his argument stronger by linking the Canaanites with the demonic practices of the fallen beney elohim, per Michael Heiser.

Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

The chapter ends with some good comments on authorial intent, justice, etc.

Chapter 4: Atonement, Metaphors, and Models

This chapter links the two sections of the book.  We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms.  That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical.  Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal.  Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112).  He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Chapter 5: Modeling Hospitality, Atonement as Moral Influence

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading.  Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Chapter 6: Atonement as Mimetic Violence

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought.  Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism.  While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth.  If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence.  But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early?  Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

Chapter 7: Hospitality, Punishment, and the Atonement

Anselmian tradition: economy of exchange

Did Constantine Ruin Everything?

According to some feminist theologians, Constantine marked the shift from a more Christus Victor model to the satisfaction/substitution model.  Historically speaking, this is silly. The truth behind it, though, is that with Constantine and Christendom enshrined, there really wasn’t a point to the Christus Victor model anymore.

Boersma explores substitutionary and even penal language in the fathers.  It’s there, but I would caution against reading too much into it (and Boersma doesn’t).  There is no one atonement model and to say that the fathers taught penal substitution is misleading.  

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

Review: John Owen and English Puritanism

by Crawford Gribben. Oxford.

Image result for crawford gribben john owen

Crawford Gribben suggests, perhaps ironically, that John Owen’s life is shaped around a series of “defeats.” Although this text is part of Oxford’s series on historical theology, is weighted more towards biography than to theology, though Gribben is capable of skillfully surveying Owen’s theological developments.

Gribben gives considerable detail to Owen’s life in the Cromwellian era, both as a chaplain for the Irish invasion and as a courtier under Cromwell’s reign. On Gribben’s reading Owen isn’t necessarily opposed to Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, merely grieved at some of the (inevitable?) excesses of a shock-and-awe campaign.

What is even more shocking, though, is Owen’s hostility to Presbyterianism. He fully supported Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland (Granted, the Presbyterian’s decision to back the debauched pervert Charles II is fairly high on the stupidity list). Owen’s specific criticism of Scotland should be seen in the larger context of “exporting England’s revolution” (cited in Gribben 106).

Much of Owen’s hostility to Scottish Presbyterianism owes to the latter’s view of a “National Religion.” He minces no words. “An unjust usurper had taken possession of this house, and kept it in bondage; —Satan had seized on it, and brought it, through the wrath of God, under his power” (Owen 8:298).

The rest of Gribben’s narrative matches conventional accounts of Owen’s life. Now to the theology. One of the criticisms of the Goold edition of Owen’s works is that they are arranged topically rather than chronologically. For example, “A Display of Arminianism,” one of Owen’s earliest works, is in the same volume as Death of Death.

This is a fine volume that deals with many nuances of Owen’s life in a judicial and sensitive manner. Gribben writes with an easy and engaging prose style.

Review: John Owen on the Christian Life (Ferguson)

This book is exactly what you would expect from an Owen scholar writing on John Owen.  It is clear and rarely goes off rabbit-trails.  While it is old in some ways, and not every locus of systematic theology gets treated, a careful study of this work will repay pastoral ministry.

Ferguson begins with Owen’s covenant theology.  It seems, surprisingly, that Owen held to something like a “works-principle” in Sinai.  Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389). Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”

Covenant theology allows Ferguson to draw several inferences on soteriology: Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517). Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not identity the two.

Sanctification is the pinnacle of this volume. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56). The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Very thorough chapter on Assurance and why the believer may experience varying degrees of it.  This lets Owen talk about the sealing of the Holy Spirit.  Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

With the volumes numerous quotations from Owen, from almost all of his works, we recommend this as a handy guidebook to navigating Owen.

 

Outline John Owen on the Christian Life

Ferguson, Sinclair.  John Owen on the Christian Life.  Banner of Truth.

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The Plan of Salvation

  1. Doctrine of the Covenant
    1. The Covenant of Works. The reward of eternal life succeeds strict justice, since it is in the nature of a promise.  Further, there is a grace of promise, even if the covenant is not itself gracious.
    2. Covenant of grace: the conditions in the covenant of grace devolve on the mediator (JO: 11.210).
    3. Covenant of Redemption:
    4. Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
      1. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389).
      2. Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”
  2. Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517).

    Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not idenitfy the two.

Grace Reigns through Righteousness

  1. The effects of sin.
  2. Regeneration.
    1. Owen seems to favor “physical” language of regeneration (JO: 4.166; 10. 459; 11: 443, 448; 567). Physical is seen as the antithesis of moral.
    2. Even in effectual calling, the will is not compelled or destroyed. The will is passive in the first act, but in the moment of conversion it acts itself freely (Ferguson 44).
      1. Conversion is “wrought in us by God” (Phil. 2.13).
  3. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370.
    1. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56).
    2. The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Fellowship with God

Theme: God communicates himself unto us with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him (JO 2.8).

  1. Communion with the Father.
  2. Communion with the Son.
  3. Communion with the Holy Spirit.
  4. Indwelling. It is real and personal.
    1. Sealing.
    2. Anointing. We receive our anointing immediately from Christ in this way: Jesus communicates the Holy Spirit unto us (JO 4.393).
    3. Earnest.

The Assurance of Salvation

Several things in the Christian life mitigate against assurance: Our conscience, God’s law, and our natural sense of justice.

  1. (2) Practical rules for Assurance.
    1. Christ is the ultimate judge of our spiritual condition. He who bears witness to our condition has the same Spirit with us (Ferguson 108).
    2. Sometimes patient waiting is required (JO 6.554).
    3. Self-examination, especially of sins of youth.  Nonetheless, the foundation of assurance is Christ, not our self-examination so don’t spend too much time on this.  The foundation is Christ alone. The building is holiness.
    4. Don’t let complaints against yourself take away from vigorous actings of grace.
  2. Hindrances to assurance.
    1. Desire for extraordinary assurances.  We should seek the regular workings of the Spirit.  He does give extraordinary assurance, but we should be careful seeking that while burdened with doubts and anxieties.
  3. Sealing of the Holy Spirit
    1. Calvin taught that the Spirit of God is himself the seal (Comm. 2 Cor. 1.21ff).
    2. Perkins: Sealing of the promise to the believer in experience (Ferguson 117). This means the seal is an activity. However, this lead to a between regeneration and a subsequent activity of the Spirit in addition to his indwelling.
    3. Sibbes: We first seal God’s truth by our believing, and then God seals the Spirit on us (118).With later Puritans this comes very close to seeing 2 or 3 different classes of Christians.
    4. Goodwin: “An immediate assurance of the Holy Ghost, by a heavenly and divine light, of a divine authority…” (Goodwin, Works I:233).
    5. Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

Conflict with Sin

  1. Sin’s dominion ended. Owen makes a distinction between the dominion of sin and the influence of sin.
  2. Sin’s dominion is more than a force; it has the character of law.
  3. How do we know whether sin has dominion or not?

 

Scripture and Ministry

  1. Scripture. Owen locates Scripture’s authority primarily in God, rather than the autographa (Ferguson 185n 4).  God is the divine original, upon whom Scripture depends.
    1. Inspiration.  
    2. Authority of Scripture.  It is a correlate of the character of God (JO 16.303).
    3. Preservation of Scripture.
    4. Attestation of Scripture. The Scriptures are like light.  They are self-evidencing, but “light” is not “eyes.” Light does not remove men’s blindness.  Faith in Scripture finds its motive cause in Scripture itself, and in its efficient cause in the testimony of the Spirit.
    5. Understanding Scripture.
  2. Ministry.
    1. Gifts and graces.  A spiritual gift is not the same as the grace of the Spirit.  This explains how some “fall away.” Graces are evidences of the Spirit’s personal indwelling.
    2. Extraordinary gifts. Only differ in degree from other gifts.  This is a rather unique cessationist approach.

Sacraments and Prayer

  1. Have both objective and subjective content: they signify and seal (objective) yet the Holy Spirit is involved in each of the means of communication to ratify subjectively the objective message (Ferguson 211).
    1. Baptism. Ferguson calls attention to the quasi-Baptistic views of paedobaptists like Bannerman and Cunningham, who view adult baptism as the norm and infant baptism as the exception (215 n64).
    2. The Lord’s Supper. Our faith is directed to the human nature of Christ (220).
  2. Prayer.

Apostasy and its Prevention

  1. Danger of Apostasy. Those mentioned in Hebrews 6 received the outward benefits of the substance of the covenant.
  2. Apostasy from Gospel Doctrine.
  3. Apostasy from holiness of Gospel precepts.
  4. Apostasy from Gospel Worship.

Perseverance and the Goal

  1. Perseverance
    1. Immutability of the divine nature.
    2. Immutability of the divine purposes.
    3. Principium essendi of the covenant of grace
    4. Promises of God
    5. Mediatorial work of Christ
      1. He became a surety (JO 11:289).
      2. Satisfied requirements of divine justice.
      3. Intercedes for us.
  2. The Goal
    1. Eternal glory.
      1. The mind will be freed from all darkness.
      2. A new light, light of glory, will be implanted.
      3. Our body will be glorified through union with Christ.

 

Review: John Owen’s Trinitarian Spirituality (Kay)

Kay, Brian.  Paternoster Press.

Image result for brian kay john owen

How does one combine the gains of the so-called “Western” doctrine of God with the demands of spirituality and relating to the divine persons?  How do we avoid collapsing the unity into a pantheistic oneness (ala Meister Eckhardt)? It is John Owen’s genius, so argues Kay, that we maintain the gains of the Western doctrine while simultaneously relating to the three persons.

Kay hints at his conclusion but doesn’t fully develop it at this point: instead of “narrative theology,” which while helpful in capturing the dynamic movement of revelation, negates any need for space-time fulfillment.  Rather, we should follow the drama of the Covenant (Kay 38). Contra Nietzsche, a robust covenantal reading of Scripture means our “values” aren’t timelessly Platonic, but eschatologically appropriate (40).

For Owen there is an order of the divine communication: the Father’s love is the fountainhead, person and mediation of the Son is the substance, and the Holy Spirit infuses light et al (69).

And now Kay comes to the heart of the problem–given the West’s emphasis on the unity of the divine works ad extra, how do we account for issues like the Father’s speaking to the Son (John 12:23) and larger issues like the Covenant of Redemption? I think throughout the book Kay hints at an answer:  the drama of the divine covenants structures our language of the works ad extra, and so this isn’t a problem.

I think this is a tension but not an insurmountable problem.  In any case, it shouldn’t detract from Kay’s practical conclusions.  Our communion flows from our union. This contrasts with the medievals who reversed the order by placing “union” at the top of a ring of increasing levels of communion (118).

This book is very well-organized and argued.  I don’t think Kay solved all of the problems. I would have liked to see more discussion of Barth’s challenge to the Covenant of Redemption.  Nonetheless, while his thesis is quite good, it is the side issues that are extremely fascinating.

Review: John Owen, Communion with God

My copy of Owen was from his Works, volume 2.  Nonetheless, this review will also serve for the shorter Puritan Paperbacks edition.  following the review is an outline on the book.

Owen gives us a dense, thorough, yet manageable snapshot, not only of Reformed prolegomena, but of Trinitarian piety as well. Given the current (if overblown) popularity of the YRR crowd–who know not Turretin nor his principia–yet strangely seek Owen, Owen can give them a taste of proper Reformed theologomena. In many ways, this can function as a primer to systematic theology. So here it goes:

Basic definitions:

communion: A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8). The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ. Our union with Christ is mystical and spiritual, not hypostatic (313). He is the Head, we the members and he freely communicates “grace, righteousness, and salvation, in the several and distinct ways whereby we are capable to receive them from him.”

Sealing the Union

Any act of sealing always imparts the character of the seal to the thing (242). Owen is clear: The Spirit really communicates the image of God unto us. “To have the stamp of the Holy Ghost…is to be sealed in the Spirit.”

This isn’t the most concise treatment of the issues, but Owen is quite fine in his own way. His writing is only difficult when he gets off topic (as in his otherwise fine Vindication of the Trinity at the end of the volume). Some in the YRR make it seem like Owen is borderline incomprehensible. He isn’t.

Short Outline:

  1. That the saints have communion with God
    1. Communion as to state and Communion as to condition
      1. Things internal and spiritual
      2. Outward things
    2. Communion fellowship and action.
    3. Definition:   A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8).  The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ.
  2. The saints have this communion with the Trinity.
    1. The way and means of this communion:
      1. Moral and worship of God: faith, hope, love.
        1. For the Father: He gives testimony and beareth witness to the Son (1 John 5.9).
        2. For the Son:
        3. For the Holy Spirit:
      2. The Persons communicate good things to us:
        1. Grace and peace (Rev. 1.4-5)
        2. The Father communicates all grace by way of original authority (Owen 17).
        3. The Son by way of making a purchased treasury (John 1.16; Isa. 53.10-11).
        4. The Spirit doth it by way of immediate efficacy (Rom. 8.11).
  3. Peculiar and Distinct Communion with the Father:
    1. Our communion with the Father is principialy and by way of eminence (18).
    2. There is a concurrence of actings and operations of the whole Deity in that dispensation, wherein each person concurs to the work of salvation.
    3. If we speak particularly of a person, it does not exclude other media of communion.
    4. God’s love (19).
      1. God’s love is antecedent to the purchase of Christ.
      2. The apostles particularly ascribe love to God the father (2 Cor. 13).
      3. Love itself is free and needs no intercession.  Jesus doesn’t even bother to pray that the Father will love his own (John 16.26-27).
      4. Twofold divine love
        1. Beneplaciti:  Love of good destination for us
        2. Amicitiae: love of friendship (21).
      5. The father is the fountain of all following gracious dispensations:
    5. Communion with the Father in love
      1. That they receive it of him
      2. That they make suitable returns unto him.

Outline, John Owen *Mortification of Sin*

https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Owen_MortificationOfSin.pdf

Foundation of the Discourse

The relationship between justification and mortification is cause and effect (Owen 6).

Our duty: The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin (7).

The efficient cause of this duty: The Holy Spirit (“if by the Spirit”).  Mortification must be done by the Spirit. Every other way is vain.

What are the deeds of the body?

The body is the seat and instrument of the corruption of our nature (7).  It is the same as “the old man” and the “body of sin.”  The power of our spiritual life depends on how much we mortify the deeds of the flesh (9).

The Necessity of Mortification

We are obligated by the ferocity of the battle to be killing sin at all times.

  1. Indwelling sin is always with us even if judicial sin is negated.
  2. This sin is still active.
  3. If left alone, it will turn into greater sins (“scandalous and soul-destroying sins”).
  4. Our new nature and the Spirit is the principle by which we oppose sin.
    1. Gal. 5.17
    2. 2 Pet. 1.4-5
    3. Our participation in the divine nature gives us an escape from the pollutions of the world.
  5. If we neglect this duty, our soul is cast into a contrary condition.
    1. “Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart.”
  6. It is our duty to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Conclusion: notwithstanding our judicial freedom from sin, indwelling sin remains in the best of believers.

False Asceticism: Vanity of Popish Mortification

  1. The Holy Spirit is sufficient for mortification
  2. Popish Mortification
    1. The ways and ends of their mortification were never insisted on by God.
    2. The means that are appointed by God, and which they do use, are not used properly.  Fasting is important, but it should flow from the Spirit’s work of mortification.  Fasting and watching are streams, not fountains.
  3. The Work of the Spirit
    1. The Spirit will take away the stony heart (Ezek. 11.19; 36.26).
    2. This is a gift of Christ, and Christ, as the head, communicates his gifts to us.
    3. How does the Holy Spirit mortify sin?
      1. He causes our hearts to abound in graces and fruits that are contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5.19-21).
      2. The Holy Spirit, as our efficient, hits sin at the root.
      3. He brings us into communion with the cross of Christ.

Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Mortification

  1. The vigor of our spiritual life depends on mortification.
    1. Success in mortification won’t always lead to happiness, though.  A godly saint can mortify sin yet still face assaults (Psalm 88).
    2. Mortification shouldn’t be confused with the privileges that flow from adoption.
    3. Unmortified sin weakens the soul (Ps. 38.3).
    4. As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul.
  2. Mortification prunes all the graces of God.

Chapter 5-6

  1. What it is to mortify a sin.
    1. A habitual weakening of it.
    2. Constant fighting and contending against it.

Chapter 7: General Rules, and Rome’s false view, again

  1. Unless a man is a believer, truly ingrafted into Christ, this isn’t possible.
  2. It is the work of faith (Acts 15.9).

Chapter 8: Universal Sincerity for mortifcation

  1. Without sincerity and an aim at universal mortification, no lust will be mortified.
    1. 2 Cor. 7.1
    2. God sometimes suffers one lust to chasten our other negligences.

Chapters 9-11

  1. A lust that isn’t “loud” is often more dangerous.  It could be a sign of inveterateness.
  2. The heart often engages in self-deception.
  3. Guilt of the Sin
    1. The power of sin is weakened by grace, but not always the guilt is weakened.
    2. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin, so that you can let the Spirit work through you.
      1. Don’t fight guilt by your own righteousness.
      2. Let the law do what it is supposed to do.
      3. And then cry to God.

Chapter 12

I am going to call this one “Study as a mode of sanctification.”

  1. Let our meditations fill us with our low estate and God’s high estate
    1. It reminds us how weak in prayer we are.
    2. Even at our best we have feeble notions of God.
  2. The being of God.
    1. We have words and notions about the “things of God,” but not the things themselves.
    2. “We know him rather but what he does than what he is.”
  3. But what of the difference between believers’ and unbelievers’ knowledge of God?
    1. Their manner of knowing is different, not the content.

Chapter 13

  1. If you are upset by sin, don’t speak peace to your heart until God speaks.
  2. If we look for healing and peace, we must look to the blood of the covenant.
  3. How shall we know that God has spoken peace to us?
    1. We’ll know.  When God gives peace, he doesn’t go halfway.
    2. But he doesn’t necessarily do it right away.
    3. There is a “secret instinct in faith.”

Chapter 14

  1. Have faith that Christ is at work killing our sin.
  2. Expect in faith for a relief from Christ.
  3. Our old man is crucified with Christ, not in respect of time but of causality. If we act on faith in the death of Christ, then we can expect
    1. Power
    2. Conformity
  4. The Spirit alone:
    1. Convinces the heart of guilt
    2. Reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for relief.
    3. Establishes the heart in expectation of relief.
    4. Brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
    5. Is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
    6. Supports our addresses to God.