Review: Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming

Argument of Book: there exists a religious tribunal distinct from that of the civil magistrate.  This tribunal has the power of excommunication. In fact, Gillespie’s overall argument is quite simple, despite the learned discussions in the book.  Erastianism isn’t necessarily an outward threat to the church by the state (such as the IRS’s domination of the American church). It’s simply the state’s prerogative to control church discipline.Image result for george gillespie

I’m not going to spend too much time reviewing the arguments that the Jewish church had an ecclesial body distinct from the civil magistrate.  That’s not where the battle is being fought today.

Church and State, the Civil Magistrate

There is a distinction between magistracy and ministry; as such, there offices are also distinct (80).  Magistrates and ministers differ in their causes:

  1. The efficient cause: The king of nations hath instituted civil power; the king of saints ecclesial (86).
  2. Material: civil magistracy is punitive.  The magistrate has the sword, the minister the keys.
  3. Formal: the power of magistracy is architectonic and despotic and is immediately subordinate to God.  The ecclesial is diakonike and subordinate to Jesus as King of the Church.
  4. Final: magistracy is only for the glory of God as king of nations.  And while the magistrate ought to be a Christian, he is not participating as Christ’s sub-mediator.

Of the Twofold Kingdom

Jesus has dominion over all things as Son of God, but his special kingdom is the church, of which he is mediator. We are not separating the Person of Christ, but simply making distinctions.  Arguments proving it:

  1. Does Jesus reign over devils by his mediatorial work or by his divine power?  Obviously the latter. Therefore, it is a separate kingdom.
  2. His being the ‘heir of all things,’ receiving the heathen, relates to the church (94).
  3. In Scripture pagan civil governments are recognized as legitimate, even if they aren’t under Christ.

The Christian Magistrate

He may govern “in the church” but he may not govern the church. He governs not qua the church, but qua the commonwealth. For example, the magistrate must not have the power of church censures, but he ought to punish like sins with like punishments.  But he cannot do that if he has church censures, for the heathen must be punished civilly but the believer with church discipline (115).

Christ’s Visible Kingdom

Christ’s visible kingdom, distinct from his invisible one, is proved from Matt. 26.28, which cannot refer to his coming in glory, “for all that were then hearing Christ have tasted death” (137).

Good discussion of “cutting off” (26ff).  Gillespie argues that it usually means “removal from the sanctuary/holy people.”

Sacraments not converting ordinances

Gillespie on conversion: can be distinguished between habitual conversion and subsequent works of grace. Habitual conversion is the first infusion of life and habits of grace.

(1) That which is an instituted sign is not an operating cause whereby it makes that which is signified present where it is not (236).

(2) That which necessarily supposeth conversion and faith is not that which works conversion of and faith.  Smoke presupposes fire but it does not cause fire.

(4) If an ordinance is instituted for believers only (Lord’s Supper), then it isn’t a converting but a sealing ordinance.

(7) Those who come to the Lord’s Wedding Feast must have a wedding garment, but the unconverted do not have this.

(10) The prohibition against eating and drinking unworthily necessarily excludes the unconverted.

Extra: how can it be a pledge of union and communion with Christ when such a one is far off from Christ?

Messiah: Governor of the Nations

Messiah: Governor of the Nations of the Earth by Alexander McLeod, D.D.

This is a lengthy pamphlet outlining the basic Covenanter (and Reformed) view of Christ the Mediator and what this doctrine entails for the civil magistrate.  It is no small encouragement to see McLeod’s book back in print. His writing style is simple and forceful and never tedious. The essay is divided into three parts: Messiah as Mediator, the acts of the Mediator, and Objections Answered.

He begins the first part surveying the texts which prove that the Ascended Christ is the Lord of the nations. There is no point in this review to survey all of the texts—there are just too many. It is remarkable that McLeod so artfully weaves these texts into his argument in a way that doesn’t tire the reader.

Having established that Messiah is ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5), McLeod, ever taking his cue from Scripture, examines the ways in which Messiah executes his mediation. This section is interesting and future Reformed reflection should develop this thought even further. We know that God the Father has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11ff). Further, we Reformed folk do not simply believe in predestination in the abstract. Rather, we hold that predestination and election are actions that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) Therefore, we posit that Christ the Princely Mediator executes the decrees of the Father. More specifically and relevant to our purpose, he executes the decrees as they relate to the nations on earth.

The last section considers objections to this doctrine. Interestingly, McLeod does not consider unbelieving objections, which are likely tautologous, but rather he considers Christian objections. In many ways this section is logically unnecessary. If McLeod has demonstrated that the Bible teaches Christ is ruler of the nations on earth (Revelation 1:5), which he has and which it does, then there are no serious objections the Christian can advance against this doctrine. Granted, there are difficulties in our own spiritual life this may raise, and McLeod touches upon these, but there are no real logical objections by this point in the narrative.

The book can be read in an hour. It is short and pastorally written. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, so may we say of McLeod’s book, “Prick him. He bleeds Bibline.” This book can likely be purchased in bulk for very cheap. It deserves widest possible dissemination.