May 23, 2009

For Marty:

Felix Platerus (observat. lib. 1) hath a most memorable example of a countreyman of his, that by chance falling into a pit where frogs and frogs spawn was, and a little of that water swallowed, began to suspect that he had likewise swallowed frogs spawn ; and, with that conceit and fear, his phantasie wrought so far, that he verily thought he had young live frogs in his belly, qui vivebant ex alimento suo, that lived by his nourishment, and was so certainly perswaded of it, that, for many years following, he could not be rectified in his conceit ; he studied physick seven years together, to cure himself, travelled into Italy, France, and Germany, to conferr with the best physicians about it, and, anno 1609, asked his counsel amongst the rest. He told him it was wind, his conceipt, &c. but mordicus contradicere, et ore et scriptis probare nitebatur: no saying would serve : it was no wind, but real frogs – and do you not hear them croak ? Platerus would have deceived him, by putting live frogs into his excrements: but he, being a physician himself, would not be deceived, vir prudens alias, et doctus a wise and learned man otherwise, a doctor of physick ; and after seven years dotage in this kind, a phantasia liberatiis est, he was cured. (Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, I.3.2.3)


The Loquacity of Love

May 21, 2009

John Preston:

You shall find this to be the propertie of love, he that loveth, is very readie to speake of the party loved; love is full of loquacitie, it is ready to fall into the praises of the partie beloved, and so keep no measure in it, to abound in it, that is the disposition of every man that loveth… Doe you professe to love the Lord, and yet never delight to speake of him? nor delight to hear others speake of him? My beloved, this backwardnesse that is amongst us to holy and gracious speech, to speeches that tend to the setting forth of the Lords praise, shewes that love to the Lord Jesus is wanting among us… You know, when you love any, that love will teach you to speake, it will quicken the dullest wit and invention; love sharpeneth, and makest the rudest tongue eloquent. It is the nature of love to set the heart on worke, and when the heart is set on worke, the tongue will be as the penne, of a ready writer (The Breast-plate of Faith and Love, 5th ed., 1637, II.72-74).

Reflections on re-reading R.T. Kendall’s Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, Part 2 – John Preston and the Search for Assurance.

Kendall says:

In Preston’s thought federal theology has made full circle, now becoming in effect a covenant of works… The upshot is that we must concentrate on our attitude towards the Law rather than our receiving the righteousness of Christ . Preston urges that we must ‘labour’ to ‘grow to assurance of the forgiveness of our sinnes’. This assurance is in the end derived entirely from the reflective knowledge of our ‘sincerity’ to keep the Law.

The reality is not quite so straightforward, nor so helpful for Kendall’s argument. Whilst Preston can be considered an experimental predestinarian, and whilst there are passages in his writings that speak of the marks of sanctification testifying to the believer’s regeneration, there is another side to his thought that Kendall overlooks.

For example, having discussed the testimony of sanctification, he notes that many fail to persevere in the ways of godliness because they lack faith, ‘this maine grace, this root and foundation of all the rest’. Their good intentions come to nothing because they lack that ground. He continues (The Breast-plate of Faith and Love, 5th ed., 1637, I.183f),

Therefore labour to beleeve the promises, to be assured of salvation, that you are translated from death to life by an effectual faith: when this is done, you shall find that your purposes will hold, and till then they are in vaine.

And so againe, this should teach us, seeing all depends upon faith, when wee come to search, to consider what assurance wee have, that so wee may goe the right way to worke. For commonly, when we consider our estates, we look what fruits we have, what sincerity hath appeared in our life, and if wee finde that weake, we commonly conclude that our faith is weake also; and so the weaknesse of our sanctification weakeneth our assurance; but we should goe another way to worke: When we finde a weaknesse, we should goe to the promises, and strengthen our assurance: for there be two wayes to encrease assurance.

One is by the promises, the sure word on which faith is built.

The second is by the fruits of sanctification in our selves.

In a nutshell: ‘so assurance grounded upon the promise, it enableth, and inlargeth, and encreaseth sanctification, and sanctification encreaseth assurance’. Faith is the ground of all.

Gordon Help Us!

May 10, 2009



I experienced a very disconcerting moment at church this morning. Two people were leading the prayers, taking it in turns. Often we have Scripture used in the prayers. Normally fine by me, but it freaked me out a little today – hearing a prayer for our fearless leader Gordon Brown followed immediately by these words:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

I know that Gordon Brown believes that he has saved the world, revealed by his Freudian slip at that memorable Prime Minister’s Question Time – still on YouTube – but isn’t this going a bit far? Today’s papers show him to have the lowest popularity of any P.M. since polls began and Labour look set to be taken to the cleaners in the June elections. Maybe there is more to him than meets the eye and his millennial reign has just begun…

Fortunately, it turned out that these words are from Colossians 1:15-20, part of the text of the sermon later in the service.

Reflections on re-reading R.T. Kendall’s Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, Part 1 – Evangel and the Evangelists?

I recently re-read Kendall. This is a key text in the ‘Calvin and the Calvinists’ debate so getting a handle on it is important. I think I understood him better second time round, but there are things about this book which still mystify me. It’s not all bad and he did make me think hard but there are things here with which I strongly disagree and others which are beyond my understanding, at least in the sense of my being unable to fathom why he makes some of the assumptions and connections he does.  Perhaps some posts to follow on these. 

For now, an example of how his aversion to ‘voluntarism’ colours his reading of texts. He is discussing William Ames and the idea that assurance cannot be expected to come readily.

…he comes next to the question, ‘what a man ought to do that he may be a partaker of his grace?’. Ames gives a fourfold answer to show that there are ‘diverse duties, which ly upon a man about his vocation, and which both ought, and are wont ordinarily to be performed before the certainty of this grace can be gotten’. (1) One must have an estimation of God’s word ‘above all riches’. (2) One must ‘imploy his greatest care labour and industry, about this businesse’. (3) He must ‘with all diligence, care, and constancy, apply himselfe to the use of all those meanes’ which God hath provided. And (4) one must ‘sell all that he hath to buy this pearle’.

So far so good, but look where he goes with this.

Obviously this fourth statement suggests that we bargain with God in order to obtain grace. Ames realizes what is implied in these lines, and comments:

For although God doth freely bestow life upon us, and receive nothing at our hands in liew of it…Yet we ought to forsake all unlawfull things actually, and all externall and naturall goods also, in the purpose, and disposition of our minds, else we cannot obtaine the grace of God.

One may thus see how far the experimental predestinarian tradition has come towards an anthropocentric doctrine of faith. William Ames has taken the voluntarism that was begun in Beza’s theology and popularized by Perkins, and brings it to a logical conclusion. Man is thus seen earning God’s grace by a willingness to consecrate himself to a godly life. The irony is that this theology purports to lie in a thoroughly predestinarian system.

It’s so obvious isn’t it! And we must infer that the Apostle Matthew (13:45f) betrayed the pure unadulterated gospel of John Calvin. Also betraying the first generation Reformers is the Apostle John (Rev. 3:18). They’ve both been Beza’ed. Ok. Let’s remove tongue from cheek. It seems that Ames and many Puritans were prepared to go with the grain of Scriptural metaphor. They recognised that the Bible spoke of the human response to the divine offer of grace in both passive and active terms. Whatever else one may find objectionable in Ames, allow him to use biblical language unless able to prove that he does so in an unbiblical way. I’m not at all convinced that he does so at this point. Looks like a particular configuration of systematic theological concerns jumped the gun here!

More to follow…if I can find all those little scraps of paper…

Arthur Dent’s The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven is a great read. It’s colourful and direct. Whilst the dialogue is contrived in places this classic of late Elizabethan Puritan divinity still reads well. It was among the books that Ussher recommended to ordinands.

Among the social evils decried by preacher Theologus is pride in dress. The predictable anxieties about conspicuous consumption, foreign foppery, and chasing of fashions, all made possible by the growing urban economy and international trade, are all there, as is the blurring of boundaries when one dresses above one’s social rank. But the deeper problem is pride. Philagathus, the godly man, joins in and gets hot under the collar as he describes these dedicated followers of fashion:

Yet we see how proud many (especially women) be of such baubles. For when they have spent a good part of the day in tricking and trimming, pricking and pinning, pranking and pouncing, girding and lacing, and braving up themselves in most exquisite manner, then out they come into the streets, with their pedlar’s shop upon their back, and carry their crests very high, taking themselves to be little angels, or at least somewhat more than other women. Whereupon they do so exceedingly swell with pride, that it is to be feared they will burst with it, as they walk in the streets. And truly we may think the very stones in the street, and the beams in the houses do quake, and wonder at their monstrous, intolerable, and excessive pride. For it seemeth that they are altogether a lump of pride, a mass of pride, even altogether made of pride, and nothing else but pride, pride.

Let me just add that men do come under fire too, especially as Theologus discusses the judgement prophesied by Zephaniah on the ‘mincing minions of Jerusalem’. As I said, colourful stuff and some good theology thrown in. You can download it here. You might also want to look out for the Soli Deo Gloria reprint.

Fresh Air

May 7, 2009


It was good to have a break over Easter, with 10 days in Northern Ireland. Awesome scenery. The photo is of me, just below the summit tor of Slieve Binnian in the Mournes with the Silent Valley beneath. No snow on the tops this year, but great walking all the same. Just so I wouldn’t enjoy myself too much I took Jean Delumeau’s Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th – 18th Centuries  for holiday reading. Mrs. S. is beginning to worry about me.

I’m happy. I sit here listening to Beethoven, 2nd of the 6th, having put in a solid day’s writing. The last two months were research and reading and it’s always difficult to get back into writing when you have no momentum. But I did it and I’m happy. And tomorrow I plan to do it again. Meanwhile, a morsel from Arthur Dent…