Results tagged “Puritans” from Reformation21 Blog

A Mantle of Love for the Weak

On the night I proposed to Anna 15 years ago, she gave me a gift--an antiquarian edition of Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It is a work to which I returned many times over the past 15 years. The section on the riches and excellencies of Christ, by itself, makes this work a must read. The opening section on humility and gifts is one of the most soul strengthening and edifying chapters of any Puritan work I've read. But, Brooks' section on "the duties of strong saints to the weak" is something every believer should commit to reading, digesting and seeking to put into practice in all of our regular interactions with other believers. When he came to the ninth duty that God requires of spiritually strong believers in relation to spiritually weak believers, Brooks wrote, 

"The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is tcast mantle over the infirmities of the weak.

Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.

First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of religious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He that shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an earthen dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of clearing it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy.

Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness that is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never discover the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them. Ham was cursed for that he did discover his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it, but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. ix. 22. This age is full of such monsters, that rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice hath or will curse.

Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion that must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, 'Love,' says the wise man, 'covers all sin.' Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints. Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities."1

Thomas Brooks The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks vol. 3 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866) p. 101

The Three Greatest Reasons Christ Loves You

If a preacher had one sermon to preach to unbelievers he would likely preach something that follows the Apostolic pattern in the book of Acts. But what about when faced with the chance to give just one message to those who are Christians? Here there is, naturally, a lot more liberty. 

Usually, when I'm faced with a situation where I may never see the Christians I'm speaking to again this side of eternity, I speak to them about truths that are of special significance to Christians, such as the love Christ has for his bride (Eph. 3:19).

The Puritans sometimes get a bad rap for their theology, especially in the area of assurance of salvation. Yet, I gained full assurance of salvation from reading a Puritan, Thomas Goodwin. No Continental writer has quite given me a sense of Christ's love for me in the way that Goodwin did when I first read him on the heart of Christ in heaven towards sinners on earth. 

So, if you ask me what topic would I speak to Christians about if I had only one study/sermon, it would probably focus on the love of Christ for the church. Indeed, I recently had the privilege of speaking on the love of Christ for his bride in Brazil when I was asked to give an impromptu bible study one evening. 

How do you (a Christian) know that Christ loves you? How can you be assured of his love for you? Here below are what I believe are the three greatest reasons that Christ loves you.

1. The command of the Father on the Son. The Father gave Jesus a perpetual command to love sinners (see Jn. 6:37-40; Jn. 10:15-18; 15:10). Jesus remains in the Father's love by loving sinners. There can be no greater influence upon the Son to love us poor, miserable sinners than the command of the Father. Christ's failure to love us would actually be a failure to love his Father. 

Think of Christ's words to Peter in John 21:15-17. Christ asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter will show his love for Christ by feeding Christ's sheep. Now think of the Father asking the Son, "do you love me?" Son: "Yes, Father, you know that I love you." Father: "Die for my sheep, love my sheep, nourish my sheep."

Christ shows his love for the Father by loving those whom the Father has given to him. There can be no greater pleasure for Christ than expressing his love for his Father. This has massive implications for us: it means that Christ will show his love for the Father by loving us.

2. The work of the Spirit on the Son. Christ possessed the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34). He is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Upon his entrance into heaven, Christ received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to the greatest degree possible for any human (Acts 2:33; Ps. 45). As a merciful high priest, exalted in the heavens, the Spirit produces grace and mercy in Christ in a manner than even exceeded his grace and mercy on earth. Therefore, Christ, having the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), is even more patient towards sinners in Heaven than he was on earth. This partly explains why Christ said it was better for him to go than stay (Jn. 16:7).

As Thomas Goodwin said, "your very sins move him more to pity than anger." This is what it means for Christ to be a sympathetic high priest.

Christ's resurrected body made it possible for him to receive not only a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, but his resurrected body enabled him to receive an even fuller outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, as the exalted King. Thus Christ is more patient, loving, and merciful in heaven (i.e., in glory) towards sinners on earth than when he was in his state of humiliation. 

3. The holy self-love of the Son. As Christ saves and blesses his people, he is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners. He is more concerned for our salvation than we are. As a good husband, Christ loves his bride. But, remember, in loving his bride he is loving himself: 

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).

Why would Christ deprive his own body of grace? I can be sure that he will love me because I belong to him, and he would have to hate himself before he could hate me. Whatever grace, love, blessing, etc., we have received as Christians, we can be sure that we have received these graces because Christ loves himself.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me that: 

1) Jesus must love sinners in order to express his love towards his Father.
2) Jesus will be patient and merciful towards me because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon him in Heaven.
3) Jesus will love me because he is a good husband, so that by loving me more he is loving himself more.

If you're a Christian struggling with assurance, here, then, are three blessed reasons to be assured: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And guess what? How many of these reasons for Christ loving us have anything to do with things we do? The greatest reasons Christ loves you are entirely dependent not upon us, but upon the triune God, which really is good news.

The odd thing about some of the theology that comes from the camp of those who claim to emphasize grace in their preaching and teaching is that they don't always do a very good job of expressing the rich theology of grace found in the Scriptures. It is one thing to use the word grace a lot, but quite another thing to express a robust, trinitarian theology of grace that highlights the person of Christ in a manner that goes beyond over-used slogans. 

Personally, I'm glad that the three greatest reasons Christ loves me are not qualifications in me, but instead dependent upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Was Jonathan Edwards a Puritan?

Just who were the Puritans? Was Jonathan Edwards a Puritan? Was Matthew Henry a Puritan? Is Nacho Libre a Puritan? The answers to these questions are not uniform, but I think that once we answer the first question the following questions answer themselves. 

Around 1564 the term "Puritan" emerged, primarily as a pejorative term aimed at clergymen in the Elizabethan church who wanted further reformation to take place. They objected to wearing those things that look like dog collars, and wanted to cleanse the church of other "Romish" elements. This movement was peculiar to the Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These so-called "Puritans" experienced various successes and setbacks, with the major setback - probably a defeat - taking place in the early 1660s. Their glory years were the 1640s (Westminster Confession) and 1650s (Savoy). 

By the eighteenth century Puritanism was effectively dead. In fact, I think the movement died - though (thankfully) not the Puritans themselves - with the Act of Uniformity on St. Barholomew's Day (1662). John Bunyan even reminisces about "the Puritans": "the man was a godly old Puritan, for so the godly were called in times past." 

Puritanism moves to Dissent in 1660. But even if we allow for Puritanism to remain as a historical phenomenon after 1660, then surely the end date comes in 1689 with the Act of Toleration. After 1689 we have what has been called "Protestant Nonconformity."

In New England the context is obviously a little different, and the so-called Puritans were becoming "Yankees" by the early eighteenth century. "Puritanism" was displaced by "Evangelicalism." A state-supported church in New England was possible in the early eighteenth century, but even by the 1670s the church leaders could see the writing on the wall: that is, they could not depend on the civil leaders to take their concerns seriously (certainly not by the 1720s).   

Theologically, Puritanism was not quite as monolithic as we might think or as some might like to think. Sure, most were "Calvinists"; but there were Puritans who were Antinomians; others, such as John Goodwin, were Arminians, though John Goodwin enjoyed the great affection of his Calvinist friend, Thomas Goodwin. There were ecclesiological disagreements between the Puritans (even the Presbyterians disagreed with one another), but also some intense soteriological debates among them, too. 

The Puritan national church during the Cromwellian era (1650s) incorporated Baptists. In fact, as far as I am able to tell, paedobaptist attitudes towards the antipaedobaptists softened as the century wore on, especially after the Great Ejection! 

Thus the term "Puritan" to describe one's theology can pose all sorts of problems. Put together in a room a bunch of Johns, such as John Owen, John Bunyan, John Howe, John Milton, John Goodwin, John Cotton, and John Eaton (all "Puritans"), and you've got an almighty amount of disagreement between them. Add Baxter, who might just have "won" by poisoning them all with his medical home remedies - unless he decided to swallow another bullet for its good medicinal effects - and you don't just have disagreement, but theological carnage.

Politically speaking they are also at odds with each other. Oliver Cromwell and John Milton had much stronger radical sympathies than other Puritans. 

There are also major eschatological (remember: don't use that word in the pulpit) issues among the Puritans that require us to limit the term "Puritanism" to a specific historical context. The millennial glory that many of them hope would take place around 1660 proved to be a source of great embarrassment for those (Thomas Goodwin) who lived long enough to experience the 1660s-1670s.

So, was Jonathan Edwards a Puritan? No, he was not a Puritan. That may be a disappointment for some and a relief for others. But my admiration for the man doesn't depend on whether he was a Puritan or not. Edwards may have had the "spirit" of Puritanism in him, for he read them with profit. But he can't be described as a Puritan if the term is to have any historical meaning. There is also the fact that Edwards had a theology that was in some ways "innovative." But I don't think I want to get into that right now...

(BTW, Matthew Henry was also not a Puritan, even though his father was. Regarding Nacho Libre, I am inclined to believe he is the exception that proves the rule).

All of this is to say, I love most of the Puritans, but not all of them. Some of their theology disgusts me; some of their theology delights me. But if there is one label that ought to stand the test of the centuries it is "Confessional." 

Pastor Mark Jones is off to sing, "I am, I am, a real [Confessional] man."

Outstanding deal on "A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life"

While I hope to offer a review of Beeke & Jones on the Puritans in the not-too-distant future, let's just say that my exposure so far would make it the height of churlishness not to let you know that is doing it for $60 hardback but only $10.29 on Kindle, while the same generosity extends to UK readers: from about £72 for the hardback down to a quite staggering £6.48 for Kindle.

I will admit that, for the review, I was preparing that line about selling your second best pair of trousers in order to get your hands on this book. At those Kindle prices, we're talking about foregoing an unusually fine pair of socks. Honestly, for this price, it doesn't make sense not to. I don't know how long it will last, so enjoy it will you can!

Precious Puritans

In recent days a slur's been cast on certain giants of the past,
Who did - so goes the painful claim, despite their other rightful fame
As men of penetrating sight who sought to know and do what's right -
See nothing wrong with stealing men, but added their robust "Amen!"
To ownership of humankind, and seemed to be entirely blind
To all the horrors of the trade of God-made men by men unmade,
And treated more like wretched beast, as lower than the very least.
And these men, we are quickly told, in skilful form and language bold,
Were just the men whom we esteem, we preachers of more pallid sheen,
Our precious Puritans.

And good points made were quickly lost, ferocious swords were swiftly crossed,
And good intentions swept away by fierce contentions, great affray;
Thus back and forth the war has gone, and very little has been won -
And always in the firing line men once esteemed as leonine
But now, by some, dismissed and loathed, with flesh-trade guilt all darkly clothed,
Those precious Puritans.

And though I have no final word, I hope I might at least be heard,
For it's no battle that I seek, but rather come with spirit meek
(Not making accusations wild, but rather with intention mild -
No video in monochrome, all solemn glance and sombre tone,
No rumbling thud of pounding feet, no drum or bass to give the beat,
No shake of manacle or chain, no background moan of loss and pain,
But simple and straightforward verse, with rhythm tight and language terse)
And offer, though behind the time, this humbly-penned riposte in rhyme,
Some sad confusion to assess, some propaganda to address,
Hoping that I can make it plain that this is no mindless refrain
Of precious Puritans.

I will not speak of some who came and followed in their steps with shame,
Who on the Lord's day worshipped God, but in the week on men they trod;
Who preached of Christian liberty, but would not set the captive free,
Trapped by their culture and their time, committed this atrocious crime,
Who like us - as was pointed out, if we had entertained a doubt -
Were sadly warped, were crooked sticks, who truth and action did not mix
In every sphere, at every point, but got things badly out of joint,
Who failed at key points to apply the truth the Lord did well supply.
For there's no heart all free from sin, no life all pure without, within,
And all of us must humbly say that we too often walk that way.
But such were not, we must make plain, the men set up to take the blame:
Our precious Puritans.

Our men were of a different sphere, these men that we still hold so dear:
I hope that we can all agree that they preached truest liberty -
Knew what it was to be enslaved, and then by Christ redeemed and saved.
They hold up to our wondering gaze the glory-clothed Ancient of Days,
They point to the redeeming God, how on the fallen earth he trod,
And stooped to pains beyond compare to save his people from despair,
Who suffered hellish agony that Satan's captives might be free.
And in pursuit of what is right they also fought a costly fight:
The wisdom from on high pursued with hearts by Holy Ghost subdued
And sought a worship God required, believed the truth that God inspired,
Resisted fallen man's invention, clung to heavenly intention,
Who pressed for thorough church reform, would not accept the uniform
Demands of an oppressive state, but took their stand and faced their fate.
Others a gathered church desired, their hearts with saintly passion fired,
And some - whom I esteem as great - would separate the church from state
And Christ's law only would confess, even in time of deep distress.
As for these truths they did contend, for conscience' sake refused to bend,
They felt the fierce oppressive weight of persecution, human hate,
And many of these men of worth were made to wander on the earth,
Were put in chains and prisons black, suffered relentless, cruel attack,
Gave up their lives for truth believed, suffered through troubles unrelieved
Except by Jesus' presence bright, who strengthened them in all their fight.
Though evidently men of dust, we must confess these men were just;
Providing for the poor and needy, not vengeful, cruel, vicious, greedy.
These men were not a slave-ship's priest, but were themselves considered least,
Not seizing men, inflicting pains, but were themselves dying in chains,
Men who'd, in any time or nation, stand firm against abomination,
Commend no cruel human heist, but preach true liberty in Christ,
Defending what they most believed, holding to truth from God received;
And though at points we say that we don't quite see all the way they see,
We still believe that we can learn from men whose hearts for Christ did burn:
Though sometimes wrong, and sometimes odd, these men set out to walk with God,
These precious Puritans.

Who were they, then, these men of old, with silver tongue and spirit bold?
Arrayed before us we can see revealed in some new gallery
Of faith, these saints who took their stand, whose hope was in the Lord's strong hand:
Perkins is there to lead the van, declaring God's good will to man;
Beside him Ames, who makes us see the marrow of theology;
Rogers, whose preaching did inspire all men to come and catch the fire;
There's gracious Sibbes, with words so sweet, dispensing heavenly fruit to eat;
Charnock with thought of God profound, his character and work to sound;
Alleine, to rouse the sleeping man and make known God's redeeming plan;
Watson, promoting godliness, whose words instruct, rebuke and bless,
Whose illustrations let in light, adorning truth with language bright;
Ambrose holds Christ before our eye to follow, though we live or die;
Flavel, who helps us keep the heart, and labours with his holy art
To show to our so-clouded sense the mystery of providence;
Burroughs - a gospel man indeed, our hearts to bless, our souls to feed
With truths for peace with God and men, with humble heart and ready pen;
Caryl mines Job that we might know heaven's purpose in our pains below;
Clarkson who ranges through the Word to give us clear sight of the Lord;
John Bunyan, Christ's imagineer, from prison cell a heavenly seer,
Who leads us to the city bright, gives glimpses of where faith is sight;
Now Bridge who offers comforts sweet, to weary souls a holy treat;
Then Thomas Brooks, whose wisdom flows in simple and straightforward prose,
Who understands the battle well against the myrmidons of hell;
Coxe humbly holds before our face the wondrous covenant of grace;
Goodwin intends that we should know the heart of God to saints below;
Baxter, of everflowing pen, concerned for how we shepherd men;
Manton, who ranges far and wide, that we should know where to abide;
Then Keach, who boldly will assay, the church's glory to display;
And Rutherford, whose heavenly sense lends fiery wisdom to dispense;
Or Traill, who helps us hold our place concerning justifying grace;
The Vincent brothers trace God's ways through troubled and distressing days,
And hold up to our eyes the Lord, a Christ unseen, a Christ adored;
One more (if nothing else convince), among the Puritans a prince:
John Owen, vast of heart and mind, who to our God our souls would bind;
Some precious Puritans.

And, friends, the time would fail to tell of others who served God as well,
Who worked to spread the gospel sweet, prepared their hearers Christ to meet,
Whose words run down the years that we might profit from them readily.
For though their style is sometimes dense, they laboured hard to give the sense
Of God's own book, and then set out to fix our heart, to clear our doubt,
To train our hands for war, and raise our eyes to Christ, our hearts to praise.
And though we don't suspend our mind, and come with adulation blind
To worship any creature flawed, we love these men who loved our Lord,
And gladly we would sit and learn, and have our dull hearts made to burn
By men who loved the things we love, whose minds were set on things above,
Who - sometimes wrong and sometimes odd - yet followed Christ, and walked with God:
Those precious Puritans.

Though they are quaint, don't call them weird; a few may have that "epic beard"
But this apart, here we discuss some sinners saved by grace - like us.
And though we might not all agree on all of their theology,
I would suggest we owe them this, unless our target we would miss:
To understand just who they were, not carelessly their names to slur -
Not hurling charges without weight, though loaded with the painful freight
Of misery of ancient date, but first to stop, and think and wait.
First, these are not the men you seek, so pause before you boldly speak
And trample on the blameless name of those who don't deserve this shame.
Then, let us turn our gaze within, and each one deal with his own sin,
Assess the beam in our own eye before our brother's speck decry.
Again, we must then all contend, until this world comes to an end,
With truly Christlike bravery against all human slavery:
The slavery of souls to sin that keeps all mankind chained within,
That brings to every soul a blight and leads to that eternal night
To which the unsaved sinners go, the misery of hell below,
Which makes this our priority: to set such souls at liberty.
And then the vile cruelty of those who compass land and sea,
To still put fellow men in chains, subject them to appalling pains,
Inflict on those who are enslaved the foul desires of souls depraved:
I hope that we will not forget this battle is not over yet -
The awful horrors of the trade of God-made men by men unmade
And treated more like wretched beast, as lower than the very least.
For all such living what we need is vibrant godliness indeed,
And that, as I hope you can see, is just the speciality
Of 'Puritans' in every age, who turn on bended knee the page
Of God's own book and seek to know his wisdom for our life below,
Who seek a heart inflamed with love that looks to Christ enthroned above,
And long to come before his face as trophies of redeeming grace.
And when the war is fought and won, Christ's last triumphant stroke is done,
When pilgrims do no longer roam, when every child of God comes home,
We'll feel with perfect charity and see with utter clarity:
So all things reach the promised end, and every free man's voice will blend
In earnest praise and joyful song, a hymn to God both loud and long,
From saints without a single flaw, each ear now pierced against the door.
There will be many who have come to trust in the redeeming Son,
Who all were slaves, who now are free, enjoying heaven's liberty.
And there among them, bowing low, some men whose names we've come to know,
Who helped us on the way above, who join with us in songs of love,
With us, around the highest throne, our eyes all fixed on Christ alone,
His precious Puritans.