April 1, 2010

From Francis Quarles, onetime secretary to James Ussher:

Those hands, which Heav’n like to a curten spred,
Are spred upon the Crosse: those hands which did
Consolidate the metals in the ground,
One of those metals gave those hands the wound:
See his hands spred, as if he meant to grace
His Executioners with his last embrace,
Nay, all the world: for if his fist can hold
The winds, his armes can all the world enfold.
See there Longinus with his ruder speare
Peirce his Diviner side, from whence appeare
Water and blood, whose white and red present
Th’ admitting and confirming Sacrament.
See here his feet nail’d to the Crosse, which done
Those feet with streames of purple did so runne,
That in one sense it might be understood
Our Saviours feet were swift to shed blood:
His hands and feet thus forced to obey
The cruell nailes command; may we not say
The Starre that out of Iacob shin’d so farre
Was then, or never made a fixed Starre?

(From Divine Poems on the Passion of the Christ, 1647)


Free Theses

March 27, 2010

The digital revolution trundles onwards. I have found EThOS rather poor to date. A few useful things there but some institutions are not cooperating readily and the backlog for digitization is lengthy which means that things happen slowly, or not at all.

Some British universities are setting up local digital archives and these will be worth watching.

The Edinburgh Research Archive has a few interesting doctoral theses online from the School of Divinity. The links below take you to a page where you can read the abstract and download a PDF if it tickles your fancy. The more interesting titles are:

Alan R. MacDonald, Ecclesiastical Politics in Scotland: 1586 – 1610

Michael A. Chandra, Ontological and value incommensuration: Marilyn McCord Adams on medieval and modern approaches to Theodicy

Hansang Lee, Trinitarian Theology and Piety: The Attributes of God in the Thought of Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) and William Perkins (1558-1602)

Hunter M. Bailey, Via Media Alia: Reconsidering the controversial doctrine of universal redemption in the theology of James Fraser of Brea (1639 – 1699)

Kin Yip Louie, The Theological Aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards

More will be added in time and you can sign up for email notifications.

Things are moving more slowly at DSpace at Cambridge but a taster is:

Gareth Atkins, Wilberforce and his milieux: the worlds of Anglican Evangelicalism, c.1780-1830

Nothing of note at the Oxford University Research Archive at this point in time.

Needless to say, anything really juicy will likely be embargoed but it is good to see theses made available to the research community without the hassle of inter-library loans, etc.

I have been surprised by the interest of some seventeenth-century theologians in the circumcision of Christ. Great significance is placed in this first shedding of his blood. This is a bond to his Father, signed in blood, whereby he put himself under the law on our behalf, binding himself to perform that obedience which we could not perform ourselves. This motif was commonplace, and is reflected in the Collect for New Year’s Day in the Book of Common Prayer. New Year’s Day was the traditional date in the West for the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord. Some, however, go further, developing an idea found in the Church Fathers that Christ’s circumcision foreshadowed the perfect circumcision of the cross (e.g. Ambrose, Epistola 78.2-4 (PL, 16, cols 1268A-C); Augustine, Epistola 23.4 (PL 33, cols 96-97; cf. Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 27). Christ was not only pledging obedience to the law but also pledging to pay the debt of penalty by which consciences would be made clean. These first drops of Christ’s blood were, for Ussher, ‘a pawn and pledge that all the rest should follow, that all the blood in his veins should be shed for the redemption of his Church’. The blood shed at Christ’s circumcision was thus an obligation for both his active and passive obedience, the fulfilment of the law in his life and the satisfaction of his suffering and death.

Ussher’s one-time secretary Francis Quarles saw fit to devote one of his Divine Poems on the Passion of Christ to this theme:

The seventh day from his birth, he did begin
Obedience to the law and pawnd his skin,
He would fulfil it; when Ziskas houre was come
He should expire, he bad them make a Drum
Of’s skin, conceited it would scare the foe
‘Twas strange antipothie, if it would do soe.
But this small peece of skin was such a spell
It scar’d the sootie Regiments of Hell.
It made the infernall Legions retreit
And did indeed what Zisca but conceit.
The drops this day effused, were but laid
For his Good Frydayes earnest, when he paid
For our Redemption blood in full summes,
Now it but drops, then in a tempest comes,
The circumcision of this infant did
Christen our New-Yeares day: that blood was shed
Did make a double Birth-day to appeare,
One of our happiness, one of the yeare.

[Ziska of course being the Hussite warlord who reputedly urged that a drumhead be made from his skin after he died, believing that the sound would frighten the enemy.]

Don’t see much of this around now, do you?

My review of Jonathan Moore’s ‘English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology‘ (Eerdmans, 2007) should appear very shortly in the Spring issue of The Seventeenth Century. I wrote this back in December and have purposefully avoided blogging my thoughts on the book up until now. The book was enthusiastically endorsed by Carl Trueman, Anthony Milton, Patrick Collinson, and others of similar stature which was why I felt some trepidation in criticising it in print. But you go with your gut, eh?

The book is, on several levels, excellent. It is a very helpful study of John Preston on the extent of the atonement and the universal offer of the gospel. There is some very useful material on Perkins. The discussion of the York House Conference is superb. And in some important respects it contributes to the historiographical discussion around the Calvin vs. the Calvinists debate. R. T. Kendall comes out very poorly.

The major flaw is in the imbalance with which Moore portrays English hyothetical universalism. He foregrounds the discontinuity with Perkins, that paragon of Elizathan Protestantism, to such an extent that any sense of continuity with other streams in the Christian tradition is eclipsed. From one who has clearly read Muller carefully, this lack of sensitivity to the continuity and discontinuity of theological trajectories is disappointing. Ussher becomes the grand-daddy of hypothetical universalism in Moore’s genealogy, something of a spontaneous mutation, desperately seeking a via media to take the heat out of the Remonstrant controversy on the eve of the Synod of Dort. Ussher clearly played an important role, but as a shaper of a tradition, rather than a pioneer. Richard Muller’s review, recently published, makes the same point – see below. 

I have spent a lot of time on this subject recently, looking at both Ussher’s interaction with patristic and medieval sources on the intent and extent of the atonement and his precursors in England. The evidence in  the manuscripts is clear that not only did Ussher stand in continuity with a pre-existing stream of thought within the Christian tradition (a point well argued by Muller), but that he did so self-conciously, and that he cannot be considered the pioneer in Protestant England. I hope to publish something on this soon and will be talking to journal editors in the near future.

In the meantime, enjoy Muller, read my review (out shortly), and do read Moore, because despite this serious flaw, it’s an important book.


This volume offers a detailed and finely argued exposition of the view of redemption expressed by John Preston both in his various writings and in his testimony at the York Conference in 1626. Where Moore clearly advances the discussion of both the York Conference itself and of early seventeenth-century British theology is in his clear identification of Preston’s teaching, together with that of several major contemporaries (notably John Davenant and James Ussher), as a form of hypothetical universalism, namely, the doctrine that Christ so died for the sins of the human race that, if all would believe, all would be saved. What Moore nicely shows is that the Reformed side of the debate was somewhat variegated, including hypothetical universalists as well as those who denied universal redemption and that previous analyses of the theological debates in early seventeenth-century England too simplistically identified the parties in debate as either Arminian or Calvinist. In effect, Moore resuscitates an issue recognized in the seventeenth century by Davenant, Baxter, and others, and noted with reference to the Westminster Assembly by Alexander Mitchell that there was an indigenous hypothetical universalism in British Reformed theology. Moore’s study, however, for all its excellent work on Preston and the York Conference, embodies two significant problems concerning perspective on and context of the materials examined. First, there is an underlying systematizing thread in the argument of the book that leads to claims that do not ultimately bear scrutiny concerning the interconnection of specific doctrinal formulations. Particularly in his review of William Perkins’ doctrine, Moore contends that Perkins’ supralapsarian predestinarianism together with his federalism “drives” him toward the conclusion of particular redemption, namely that the all-sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction yields no hypothetical offer of salvation to all people. However, particularism was hardly the exclusive characteristic of supralapsarian federalists. There is also a clearly particularist formulation concerning Christ’s satisfaction in the work of Perkins’ contemporary, Gulielmus Bucanus, who tended toward an infralapsarian doctrine of predestination and was no federalist. Similarly, a later Reformed orthodox thinker such as Turretin, a convinced infralapsarian and, although party to the two-covenant schema but not a federal theologian in the strict sense of the term, taught a clearly prticularistic doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction.

Moore also underestimates the presence of non-Amyraldian or non-speculative forms of hypothetical universalism in the Reformed tradition as a whole and thereby, in the opinion of this reviewer, misconstrues Preston’s position as a “softening” of Reformed theology rather than as a continuation of one trajectory of Reformed thought that had been present from the early sixteenth century onward. Clear statements of nonspeculative hypothetical universalism can be found (as Davenant recognized) in Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades and commentary on the Apocalypse, in Wolfgang Musculus’ Loci communes, in Ursinus’ catechetical lectures, and in Zanchi’s Tractatus de praedestinatione sanctorum, among other places. In addition, the Canons of Dort, in affirming the standard distinction of a sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the elect, actually refrain from canonizing either the early form of hypothetical universalism or the assumption that Christ’s sufficiency serves only to leave the nonelect without excuse. Although Moore can cite statements from the York conference that Dort “either apertly or covertly denied the universality of man’s redemption” (156), it remains that various of the signatories of the Canons were hypothetical universalists- not only the English delegation (Carleton, Davenant, Ward, Goad, and Hall) but also the [sic] some of the delegates from Bremen and Nassau (Martinius, Crocius, and Alsted)- that Carleton and the other delegates continued to affirm the doctrinal points of Dort while distancing themselves from the church discipline of the Belgic Confession, and that in the course of seventeenth-century debate even the Amyraldians were able to argue that their teaching did not run contrary to the Canons. In other words, the nonspeculative, non-Amyraldian form of hypothetical universalism was new in neither the decades after Dort nor a “softening” of the tradition: The views of Davenant, Ussher, and Preston followed out a resident trajectory long recognized as orthodox among the Reformed.

Calvin Theological Journal, 43(1), 150. (HT: Calvin and Calvinism)

I have just finished reading The Rise of Puritanism by William Haller. The book shows its age (publ. 1938 ) and the weaknesses of Haller’s method and controlling paradigm have been exposed by more recent studies. Despite these weaknesses I did find some interesting titbits and found my thinking stimulated.

One thing that didn’t ring true is an idea which is found in a few passages. Haller writes:

The spiritual attitude which the preachers endeavored to inculcate was one of active struggle on the part of the individual against his own weakness. The supreme image which, for that purpose, they sought to impress upon the minds of the people was that of the soldier enlisted under the banners of Christ. They could not and did not seek to eliminate all vestige of the doctrine of the atonement, but they made the atonement signify the appointment of the elect soul to join with Christ in the war against the eternal enemy…The Puritan saga did not cherish the memory of Christ in the manger or on the cross, that is, of the lamb of God sacrificed in vicarious atonement for the sins of man. The mystic birth was the birth of the new man in men. The mystic passion was the crucifixion of the new man by the old, and the true propitiation was the sacrifice of the old to the new.

Strong words. Surely he can’t be justifying this from the Puritan rejection of the liturgical calendar in their focus on the Lord’s Day. There is certainly a move towards interiorising biblical narrative in later Puritanism, especially as cognitive dissonance kicked in when hopes were dashed (see, for example, Crawford Gribben’s The Puritan Millenium) but at this point Haller is speaking of the pre-revolutionary spiritual brotherhood. I think he rightly notices a tendency in Puritan preaching to major on the ordo salutis rather than the historia salutis (though I suspect that would be true of most evangelical preaching), but the ordo relies on the historia. From reading Ussher, I can sense his wonder as he lingers and rhapsodises on the mysteries of the incarnation and the atonement. And yet Haller describes these as ‘those episodes of the Biblical story which the Puritans found least congenial and expressive’. 

Bonkers? Let’s open this one up for discussion. Did the Puritans dis the cross?

Book of the Year, 2007

December 31, 2007

Last post of the year before I head out to parteee!

‘Book of the Year’ for this blogger has to be Pierced for Our Transgressions. It is a timely defence of penal substitution and its elenctic method makes it very useful for reference as well as for reading through. The exegetical and systematic sections and well handled. The latter half of the book deals with a host of obejctions and will help the reader think these through. It is well organised and well written. Stott’s Cross of Christ might be more edifying on some levels but for those who want to get tooled up to deal with the most recent arguments against penal substitution, this has to be first choice.

The book arrived on the UK scene in the wake of Steve Chalke’s controversial remarks, and the debate continues to run. N.T. Wright has described PFOT as ‘deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical’. Jeffery, Ovey and Sach reply here.

Buy the book. Cherish the doctrine.

Happy ’08.

tncross2.jpgI have been mulling over the strongly visual dimension of Ussher’s preaching on Christ’s Passion. He seeks to paint a picture, directing our gaze to the cross, or more precisely, to the crucifixion. He invites his hearers to ‘conceive…imagine him before your eyes thus represented’, (Works 13.153). This surprised me. It wasn’t what I expected to hear from a churchman of puritan inclination living the midst of Patrick Collinson’s iconophobic and visually anorexic Reformed culture. So the question is, was Collinson wrong (some think so), or was Ussher swimming against the tide. That, and the capacity of the Puritan imagination up to around 1640, is something for me to work on.

In the meantime, consider the words of Luther written against the iconoclasts:

Of this I am certain that God desires to have his works heard and read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it. (Against the Heavenly Prophets, 1525)