Results tagged “church history” from Reformation21 Blog

Origins of the Creed


If you were a Christian living in the great port city of Alexandria, Egypt in the year 320, your life would likely be full of excitement. Less than 10 years before, the great Emperor Constantine had defeated his enemies, ended Roman persecution of Christians, and granted Christianity the status of a favored religion. You no longer needed to fear arrest, torture or imprisonment simply for being a believer in Christ.

All across the city, the churches and the believers were emerging from the only life they had ever known--fear of opposition--and enjoying the fresh air of freedom. Alexandria was famous for its rich tradition of Christian thinkers; now more than ever, men were considering and expressing their faith. And so even if you were the humblest disciple in the city, you'd know something of the debates that soon began to swirl around the believing community. A highly-respected Presbyter--a mature, seasoned man who was an able preacher and popular pastor--was beginning to have a serious conflict with the city's Bishop.

The disagreement was doctrinal, and had everything to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The presbyter, Arius, used his popularity and abilities to spread his doctrine through the Christian population. One of the methods used among the people was a series of short choruses, sung or chanted by young and old, expressing Arius's particular doctrine. It was a brilliant method! The Scripture says that we are to teach one another in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs--and this is what the followers of Arius did.

One of their choruses is strikingly illustrative of their doctrine and method. Being a Greek speaking city, the chorus was in Greek, and consisted of only five words, only 7 total syllables (a perfect chorus). The first word and the last are the same, while the second and third words rhyme: "ην ποτε ὁτε ουχ ην" (ēn pote hote oukh ēn). You can hear that it is lyrical and simple. One author says that it was chanted over and over, in church and daily in the streets of the city by those who believed its doctrine.

What does it mean? It's somewhat difficult to render exactly into English, but it goes something like this: "There was when he was not." Repeatedly, in church and in the city, the huge community of the followers of Arius chanted this and similar choruses to teach, promote and strengthen their view.

The "he" is Jesus Christ--"There was when Christ was not." This small change in wording makes the chorus a little more startling, and perhaps easier for us to understand. In the doctrinal system of Arius and his followers, Jesus Christ, as great as he may be, is a created being, brought into existence by the power of the one true God. He is the firstborn of all creation--greater than all the rest for sure, but still--a created being--not deity. At some point in eternity, God created Jesus Christ. The chorus was a teaching tool, a piece of propaganda for Arius's doctrine.

As this teaching grew and spread, it was opposed by the bishop of Alexandria--Alexander (!). He understood the seriousness of the teaching and its implications, and so he held a public inquiry into the matter. This resulted in the suspension of Arius from his ministry. But that was only the beginning of the trouble... a trouble which would last for another 70 years!

Arius had powerful friends outside of Alexandria. In 324, when Constantine became sole ruler of West and East, he sought to develop favorable relationships with Christian leaders from the east. Among them were Arius's greatest supporters, who appealed to the Emperor to intervene and restore Arius to his position in the Alexandrian church. Feelings throughout the empire ran high. There was great debate, political maneuvering, and ecclesiastical disorder.

Seeing this, Constantine called a council, which would held at Nicaea in 325 under his personal control. With about 220 bishops in attendance, this has been called the first great council of the church. Through much debate, 218 of the bishops adopted a thoroughly orthodox creed, and Arianism--at least for the time--seemed to have been defeated.

There are two versions of this creed, a shorter and a longer. The Nicene Creed (proper) comes from the Council of Nicea in AD 325 and is the shorter version; a revised and expanded version (which is the more common creed today) comes from the Council of Constantinople in 381. The original form of the creed was intended to guard the deity to Christ; the second and expanded version speaks more directly to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

This creed is deeply rooted in the text of Scripture. The authors were committed to the authority of Scripture, and sought to mine its depths and express its doctrine carefully. Here is the revised Creed as found in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed is accepted by all branches of orthodox Christianity, and its doctrines are considered definitive. If any seemed to introduce a new doctrine, they were examined according to Scripture and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, and urged to conform to it.

James Renihan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is President and Professor of Historical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary, Mansfield, TX. His academic work has focused on the Second London Baptist Confession and its broader Puritan theological context. He has been published in many journals, and is the author of multiple books including Edification and Beauty, A Toolkit for Confessions, True Love, and Faith and Life for Baptists.

Related Links

Our Glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download  ]

Knowing the Trinity by Ryan McGraw

Retrieving Eternal Generation, ed. by Fred Sanders and Scott Swain

Athanasius (Christian Biographies For Young Readers) by Simonetta Carr

Dr. Watts' Scheme


Isaac Watts wrote nearly 600 hymns in the 18th Century. Churches around the world still sing many today. For instance, if you visited a congregation on any given Sunday in the English speaking world, it would not be a surprise for you to hear believers singing one the following hymns penned by the father of modern hymnody:

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed
Give to Our God Immortal Praise
How Sweet and Awesome is the Place
I Sing th' Almighty Power of God
Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun
Joy to the World! the Lord is Come!
Our God, our Help in Ages Past
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross 

Watts was much loved in his own day, as he is today, for his labors as the father of modern hymnody. Jonathan Edwards has noted that his congregation in Northhampton sang more Watts' hymns than they sang Psalms.(1) Watts' hymns were and are much beloved on account of the poetical beauty with which Watts frame his theological expositions.

Watts was not, however, immune to theological controversy. After his death, certain Unitarian theologians claimed that Watts' had cast off his earlier Trinitarianism and had embraced Unitarianism.(2) Additionally, both Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge strongly criticized Watts' Christological proposal concerning the pre-existence of the human soul of Christ.

Watts' writings on the Trinity and on the person of Christ certainly opened the door for confusion about the precise theological convictions that he held. For instance, in his 1722 publication, The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, Watts wrote the following:

"I infer that it can never be necessary to salvation to know the precise way and manner how one God subsists in three personal agents, or how these three persons are one God."

He did then nuance this statement, when he stated, "It is our duty to believe the general doctrine of the Trinity."

Underlying Watt's writings on the Trinity and on Christology were debates raging in England. The Socinians, Arians and Unitarians were all surfacing under the influence of false teachers coming out from orthodox Christian circles. One of Watts' 19th Century biographers, Thomas Milner, explained the background of the Trinitarian controversy in which Watts was engaged when he wrote,

"An eventful period now arrived in the history of protestant dissenters, the year 1719, in which the conference at Salter's Hall was held upon the Exeter trinitarian controversy. This unhappy dispute engaged the attention of the London ministers: to maintain the peace of the western churches was the ostensible object of their meeting; but principles were covertly propagated in the contest, which have proved destructive to most of the presbyterian congregations, at that time the pride and glory of nonconformity...At the period of the Salter's-Hall debates, Mr. Watts's opinions upon the Trinity coincided with those now entertained by the orthodox; but he was hurt by the divisions and strife he witnessed, and his love for peace led him to endeavour to conciliate the disputants by attempting a new explication of the doctrine. Here was his error: he sought to discover the modus of the divine nature, which to finite minds is inexplicable; and, as the inevitable consequence, he plunged into a labyrinth, and became at every step the more involved in uncertainty and doubt."(3)

Watts' disposition led him away from sharp conflict. He was, at heart, a peacemaker. This, no doubt, affected both his tone and his approach to the doctrine of the Trinity and to his Christology. Watts wanted to exercise charity toward those who were "on the fence," while not refusing to take a firm stand for the truth. In turn, he certainly came to err on some of his own proposals.

One of the most interesting developments in the theological controversies of Watts' day was his formulation on the person of Christ in relation to the other members of the Godhead. While seeking to refute the Socinian heresy that had made inroads in his day, Watts offered a new way to approach the subordination language of the Son in Scripture. It is clear that the Scriptures teach that the Son is in every way equal to the Father; and, it is clear that the Scriptures teach that according to his human nature, the Son was "for a little while made lower than the angels." The teaching of Scripture on these matters has most commonly been resolved by orthodox divines by distinguishing between the ad intra/ad extra distinction--as well as by the classification of the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity. Rather than simply adopting these categorizations, Watts developed his own explanation.

In proposition 5, in his book The Glory of Christ as the God-Man, he wrote,

"Whatsoever Scriptures represent Christ as existent before his incarnation in a nature inferior to Godhead do most naturally lead us to the belief of the pre-existence of his human soul.

If there be any such Scriptures they must refer either to the human soul of Christ (which was afterward united to his human body, or to some other super-Angelic nature, as some call it, which might belong to our Savior, besides his human soul."(4)

In response to Watts' teaching and the widespread confusion caused by it (many suggesting that Watts had given too much leeway to the Socinian heresy in this proposal), Edwards took to a fairly lengthy 13 point refutation of "Dr. Watts' scheme," as he called it. In his Miscellanies entry 1174, Edwards wrote,

"Reasons against Dr. Watts' notion of the Pre-existence of Christ's Human Soul.

1. God's manner with all creatures is to appoint them a trial before he admits them to glory and confirmed happiness. And especially may this be expected before such honor and glory as the creating [of] the world and other things which Dr. Watts ascribes to this human soul.

2. If the pre-existing soul of Christ created the world, then doubtless it upholds and governs it. The same Son of God that did one, does the other. He created all things, and by him all things consist. And, if so, how was his dominion confined to the Jewish nation before his Incarnation, but extends to all nations since? Besides, there are many things ascribed in the Old Testament to the Son of God, in those very places which Dr. Watts himself supposes to speak of him, that imply his government of the whole world, all nations--the same person that is spoken of as King of Israel.

3. According to this scheme, the greatest of the works of the Son in his created nature, implying the greatest exaltation, [was] his first work of all, viz. his creating all things, all worlds, all things visible and invisible, whether they be thrones and dominions, principalities or powers--or at least before ever he had any trial at all of his obedience, etc. At least this work seems much greater than judging the world at the last day, which the Scripture often speaks of as one of the highest parts of his exaltation, which he has in reward for his obedience and sufferings. And Dr. Watts himself supposes his honors since his humiliation to be much greater than before.

4. The Scripture represents the visible dominion of Christ over the world as a complex person, or sitting at the right hand of God and governing the world as the Father's vicegerent, as a new thing after his ascension. But by Dr. Watts' scheme it cannot be so.

5. Satan or Lucifer, before his fall, was the morning star, the covering cherub, the highest and brightest of all creatures.

6. On this scheme it will follow that the covenant of redemption was made with a person that was not sui juris, and not at liberty to act his own mere good pleasure with respect to undertaking to die for sinners, but was obliged to comply on the first intimation that it would be well-pleasing to God and what he chose.

7. According to that scheme, the man Christ Jesus was not properly the son of the virgin and so the Son of Man. To be the son of a woman is to receive being in both soul and body in a consequence of a conception in her womb. The soul is the principal part of the man, and sonship implies derivation of the soul as well as the body by conception. Not that the soul is a part of the mother as the body is. Though the soul is no part of the mother and be immediately given by God, yet that hinders not its being derived by conception, it being consequent on it according to a law of nature. 'Tis agreeable to a law of nature that, where a perfect human body is conceived in the womb of a woman and properly nourished and increased, a human soul should come into being. And conception may as properly be the cause whence it is derived as many other natural effects are derived from natural causes or antecedents. For 'tis the power of God [that] produces these effects, though it be according to an established law. The soul being so much the principal part of man, a derivation of the soul by conception is the chief thing implied in a man's being the son of a woman.

8. According to what seems to be Dr. Watts' scheme, the Son of God is no distinct divine person from the Father. So far as he is a divine person, he is the same person with the Father. So that in the covenant of redemption the Father covenants with himself, and he takes satisfaction of himself, etc., unless you will say that one nature covenanted with another, the two natures in the same person covenanted together, and one nature in the same person took satisfaction of the other nature in the same person. But how does this confound our minds instead of helping our ideas and make them more easy and intelligible.

9. The Son of God, as a distinct person, was from eternity. 'Tis said, Mic. 5:2, "his goings forth were of old, from everlasting." So Prov. 8:23, "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was." So he is called, Is. 9:6, "The everlasting Father." I know of no expressions used in Scripture more strong to signify the eternity of the Father himself.

10. Dr. Watts supposes the world to be made by this pre-existent soul of Christ, and thinks it may properly be so said, though the knowledge and power of this pre-existent soul could not extend to the most minute parts, every atom, etc. But 'tis evidently the design of the Scriptures to assure us that Christ made all things whatever in the absolute universality. John 1:3, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." Col. 1:16-17, "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist." Now if we suppose matter to be infinitely divisible, it will follow that, let his wisdom and power be as great as they will, if finite, but a few of those individual things that are made were the effects of his power and wisdom; yea, that the number of the things that were made by him are so few that they bear no proportion to others that did not immediately fall under his notice; or that of the things that are made, there are ten thousands times, yea, infinitely more not made by him than are made by himself, and so but infinitely few of their circumstances are ordered by his wisdom.

11. 'Tis said, Heb. 2:8, "Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him." Here 'tis represented that God the Father has put every individual thing under the power and government of another person distinct from himself. But this can't be true of the human soul of Christ, as it must be, according to Dr. Watts' scheme, let the powers of that be never so great, if they are not infinite. For things and circumstances and dependencies and consequences of things in the world are infinite in number and, therefore, a finite understanding and power cannot extend to them. Yea, it can extend to but an infinitely small part of the whole number of individuals and their circumstances and consequences. Indeed, in order to the disposing of a few things, in their motions and successive changes, to a certain precise issue, there is need of infinite exactness, and so need of infinite power and wisdom.

12. The work of creation, and so the work of upholding all things in being, can in no sense be properly said to be the work of any created nature. If the created nature gives forth the word, as Joshua did when he said "Sun, stand thou still" [Josh. 10:12], still is not that created nature that does it. That being that depends himself on creating power don't properly do anything towards creation, as Joshua did nothing towards stopping the sun in his course. So that it cannot be true in Dr. Watts' scheme that that Son of God, who is a distinct person from God the Father, did at all, in any manner of propriety, create the world, nor does he uphold it or govern it. Nor can those things that Christ often says of himself be true, as, "The Father worketh hitherto, and I work"; "Whatsoever the Father doeth, those doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:17, 19). 'Tis very evident that the works of creating and upholding and governing the world are ascribed to the Son, as a distinct person from the Father.

13. 'Tis one benefit or privilege of the person of Christ, when spoken of as distinct from the Father, to have the Spirit of God under him, to be at his disposal and to be his messenger, which is infinitely too much for any creature. John 15:26 and 16:7, 13-14; Acts 2:33."(5)

There are a few important take-aways for us from Edwards' refutation of Watts' Christological proposal. First, Edwards treated the subject with the gravity it deserved. He did not shy away from bringing the strongest refutation of Watts' novel proposal. Second, he did not deal with Watts in a overly ostracizing manner. Edwards continued to sing Watts' hymns in Northhamption. Furthermore, he spoke in many other places in his Works with gratitude for much of what Watts had written and done for the good of the church. Edwards tempered the need to bring strong correction to serious theological error with an appropriate manifestation of Christian love and gratitude for the gifts of his brother in Christ. 

Though we praise God for raising up Isaac Watts to fill our hymnbooks with some of the greatest hymns the saints will ever sing in this life, we must readily acknowledge--as did Edwards--the serious errors he proposed in his attempt to reconcile those with differing theological leanings. Watts' Christological scheme is a prime example of the deep waters of theological error into which we may wade if we are discontent with the otherwise convincing Trinitarian and Christological categorical distinctions that have been made from Nicea and Chalcedon to the post-Reformation scholastic era. 

1. See Edwards May 22, 1744 Letter to Benjamin Coleman;  Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn and Harry S. Stout, vol. 16, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1998), 144-145.

2. Scott Aniol "Was Isaac Watts Unitarian? Athenasian Trinitarianism and the Boundaries of Christian Fellowship," Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 22 (2017): 91-103.

3. Thomas Milner The Life, Times and Correspondence of the Rev. Isaac Watts (London: Thomas Richardson and Son, 1845) pp. 320-321

4. Isaac Watts The Glory of Christ as God-Man (London: Printed for J. Oswald, 1746) p. 153

5. Jonathan Edwards, The "Miscellanies": (Entry Nos. 1153-1360), ed. Douglas A. Sweeney and Harry S. Stout, vol. 23, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004), 89-92.

Continual Prayer for Revival


In the last post on the revitalization of the eighteenth-century Baptists, we considered the way in which prayer was a central cause. The passing years did not diminish John Sutcliff's (1752-1814) and Andrew Fuller's (1754-1815) zeal in praying for revival and stirring up such prayer. For instance, their friend John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825) wrote in his diary for January 21, 1788:

Brethren Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I kept this day as a private fast, in my study... and each prayed twice1--Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.2

The influence of Jonathan Edwards

And in 1789, the number of prayer meetings for revival having grown considerably, Sutcliff decided to bring out an edition of Edwards's Humble Attempt to further encourage those meeting for prayer. Measuring only six and one quarter inches long, and three and three-quarter inches wide, and containing 168 pages, this edition was clearly designed to be a handy pocket-size edition. In his "Preface" to this edition, Sutcliff reemphasized that the Prayer Call issued by the Northamptonshire Association five years earlier was not intended for simply Calvinistic Baptists. Rather, they ardently wished it might become general among the real friends of truth and holiness.

The advocates of error are indefatigable in their endeavours to overthrow the distinguishing and interesting doctrines of Christianity; those doctrines which are the grounds of our hope, and sources of our joy. Surely it becomes the followers of Christ, to use every effort, in order to strengthen the things, which remain. ...In the present imperfect state, we may reasonably expect a diversity of sentiments upon religious matters. Each ought to think for himself; and every one has a right, on proper occasions, to shew [sic] his opinion. Yet all should remember, that there are but two parties in the world, each engaged in opposite causes; the cause of God and Satan; of holiness and sin; of heaven and hell. The advancement of the one, and the downfall of the other, must appear exceedingly desirable to every real friend of God and man. If such in some respects entertain different sentiments, and practice distinguishing modes of worship, surely they may unite in the above business. O for thousands upon thousands, divided into small bands in their respective cities, towns, villages, and neighbourhood, all met at the same time, and in pursuit of one end, offering up their united prayers, like so many ascending clouds of incense before the Most High!--May he shower down blessings on all the scattered tribes of Zion! Grace, great grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!3

In this text Sutcliff positions the Prayer Call of 1784 on the broad canvas of history, in which God and Satan are waging war for the souls of men women. Prayer, because it is a weapon common to all who are "friends of truth and holiness," is one sphere in which Christians can present a fully united front against Satan. Sutcliff is well aware that evangelicals in his day held differing theological positions and worshiped in different ways. He himself was a convinced Baptist--convinced, for instance, that the Scriptures fully supported congregational polity and believer's baptism--yet, as he rightly emphasizes in the above "Preface," such convictions should not prevent believers, committed to the foundational truths of Christianity, uniting together to pray for revival.

Continuing in prayer

There is little doubt from the record of history that God heard the prayers of Sutcliff, Fuller, and their fellow Baptists. As they prayed, the Calvinistic Baptists in England began to experience the blessing of revival, though, it should be noted, great change was not immediately evident. For instance, in 1785, Sutcliff's close friend Andrew Fuller reported about their meetings for prayer:

It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revival of his blessed cause. Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect. We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.4

The stirring up of many to wrestle in prayer for revival was considered by Fuller as more than balancing the failure to increase the membership of the churches. And so it was resolved "without any hesitation, to continue the meetings of prayer on the first Monday evening in every calendar month."5

To be continued...

1. These would probably have been lengthy prayers of twenty minutes or so.

2. Cited Jonathan Edwards Ryland, "Memoir of Dr. Ryland" in Pastoral Memorials: Selected from the Manuscripts of the Late Revd. John Ryland, D.D. of Bristol (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1826), I, 17.

3. John Sutcliff, "Preface" to Jonathan Edwards, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the Last Time (1748 ed.; repr. Northampton: T. Dicey and Co., 1789), iv-vi.

4. Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in Complete Works, III, 318.

5. Cited Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), 230.

*This is the fifith post in Dr. Haykin's series, "Revitalizing an Eighteenth-Century Christian Community." You can find the previous posts herehere, here and here.

Faith at Work: Sola Scriptura


Tradition is helpful, but even Protestants can be guilty of treating Augustine and Calvin as a magisterium. This week, Dan Doriani encourages readers to have a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura.

The difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching is more subtle than people realize, for Catholics confess that Scripture is inspired, infallible, and authoritative. It is wise to remember, too, that the first Reformers were encouraged to study Scripture by scholarly Catholics: Staupitz told Luther to get his doctorate in biblical studies, Erasmus encouraged Zwingli's studies, and Faber Staupulensis and Lorenzo Valla inspired others. The difference lies in our views of the sufficiency of Scripture.    

The Catholic position is that Scripture is part of God's revelation. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said Scripture "is the true rule and a foundation of faith for Christians." Notice "a foundation," not the foundation. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) explained: "The controversy between the heretics [Protestants] and ourselves focuses here on two points: first, when we affirm that the Scripture do not contain the totality of necessary doctrine, for faith as for morals... Apart from the Word of God written, it is necessary to have his non-written Word, that is to say, divine and apostolic traditions."

So the RCC affirms prima scripture, the primacy of Scripture. Scripture is the primary source for theology, but not the final source. Tradition and church teaching effectively limit Scripture's authority. If a matter is uncertain in Scripture, and tradition has an authoritative interpretation, then it has the final word...

Head over to Place for Truth to read the rest of the article! 

We looked at the most popular posts from across Alliance websites in 2017. Did you miss one of these last year? Do you want to read one your favorites again? Just click the article title! 

10Calvin's Life: The Servetus Affair by Jeffrey Stivason

Opponents of John Calvin are quick to blame him for the trial and execution of Michael Servetus. But is that fair? Jeffrey Stivason offers a brief history of the event and Calvin's involvement. 

9. Marital Love Must Be Sexual by Joel Beeke

This is the last in a series of posts about the Puritan view of marriage. The Puritans emphasized the romantic side of marriage, and considered monogamous sexual union in marriage as holy, necessary, and good. 

8. No Little Women: Know What We've Got Before She's Gone by Grant Van Leuven

Grant wrote this beautiful piece in February, reflecting on femininity and the value of womanhood after the passing of his wife only five months earlier.

7. Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin by Nick Batzig

Should Christians watch a show like Game of Thrones, which is widely-acclaimed yet filled with explicit and debauched sexuality? Nick Batzig offers some insight into this divisive issue. 

6. Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity by Jon Payne

"So what does the Bible teach about our words?" Jon Payne asks this question in an age of obscenity. His answer: "God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing."

5. Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law by Richard Phillips

2017 was a year of conversations (and battles) over sexuality and gender. In this article, Richard Phillips navigates some difficult issues, pointing out both problems in the culture and pitfalls we face in the Church. 

4. A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement by Aimee Byrd

The Nashville Statement, published in late August, offers what many consider to be an orthodox and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Yet Aimee Byrd has a few reservations, particularly related to the CBMW's stance on gender roles and the Trinity. 

3. The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard Phillips

Some think it possible to flirt with liberal doctrines and still maintain orthodox faith in Christ. As the example of Fred Harrell shows, the slope towards heresy may be more slippery than they think. 

2. Sundays are for Babies by Megan Hill

Small children may disrupt your Sunday morning, but this day of rest is for them too! As Megan Hill remarks, "Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls." 

1. Pray for Your Church Leaders by Christina Fox

Church Leaders and their families carry heavy loads, beset on all sides with stress and temptation. Christiana Fox calls us to remember them in our prayers, knowing that "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). 

That's all for now. We look forward to 2018, and to another year of proclaiming biblical truth!


The Origins of a Great Christmas Hymn


One of my favorite hymns of the Advent and Christmas season is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel because of its rich use of biblical imagery to recount the prophetic references to the coming Christ. The Latin text for this hymn is found in a 1710 German publication but its roots go back to the early days of the Church. The familiar tune for the hymn, Veni Emmanuel, is a 15th century French melody that was paired with these texts in the 1851 publication of Hymnal Noted.

The text has its origins in the "O Antiphons"--a series of refrains sung on each day from December 17-23 during the evening Vespers service. Each one focuses on a different name of Christ in anticipation of the Incarnation. They occur as follows:

December 17--O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

December 18--O Lord (O Adonia)

December 19--O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

December 20--O Key of David (O Calvis David)

December 21--O Dayspring (O Oriens)

December 22--O King of the Nations (O Rex Gentium)

December 23--O With Us is God (O Emmanuel)

Boethius, who lived between 480-524, referenced these lyrics thus attesting to their use in the early 6th century. The beauty of these texts is their systematic combining of a descriptive name for Christ while referencing a prophetic passage from Isaiah that points towards the coming Messiah.

Following are the texts of the original antiphons as the influence for the later hymn text along with some of the Scriptural references:

December 17

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Isaiah 11:2 says, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." As Wisdom that comes from the mouth of God, Christ as the incarnate Word is also referenced (John 1).

December 18

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Isaiah 11:4-5 says,

"But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins."

December 19

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

In Isaiah 11, verses 1 and 10, we read,

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit..."

"...In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples--of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious."

December 20

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah 22:22 says,

"And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open."

December 21

O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah 9:2 says,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

December 22

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

Isaiah 9: 6 reads,

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

December 23

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Isaiah 7:14 says,

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

With these texts as a guide, poets began to paraphrase these words as hymn lyrics. One of the earliest known versions is the 8th century poem by the English poet Cynewulf. Other versions occurred in the following centuries, but the one that is most familiar is the text published in Germany on 1710. This version changes the order by placing the "O Emmanuel" verse first and adding the refrain, "Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel will be born for you, O Israel." The republishing of the text in another German hymnal in 1844 brought these words to the attention of John Mason Neale, the great translator of hymns who wrote the familiar English text most commonly in use today.

In 1851, Thomas Helmore paired Neale's text with a 15th century French tune and published them together in his Hymnal Noted. In 1861, Hymns Ancient and Modern, the highly influential and popular English hymnal, republished this pairing of text and tune and ensured the enduring use and popularity of this hymn. While several other melodies are used in various parts of the world, they tend to be German tunes that set different translations of the text.

The beauty of this hymn is the careful, systematic, and concise presentation of the prophetic witness to the coming of Christ and the expectation of what He will bring. As the Word Incarnate, He will fulfill the Law of God, bring justice and righteousness, deliver the people, reign as King, bring light to the darkness, save His people whom He created, and be Emmanuel, our God with us. This is the promise of the first and second coming of Christ, and for this we hope, wait, prepare, and pray.

Hymns Ancient and Modern,1861,

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Addition of the other two O Antiphons by H.S. Coffin (1916)

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Greg Wilbur is the Chief Musician and Liturgist at Cornerstone PCA in Franklin, TN. He is also the Dean of the Chapel, Senior Fellow at New College Franklin, a Christian classical college in Franklin. Greg has written numerous articles about worship, the arts, and education. You can find our more about his work at

Luther's Lion-Hearted Historians


Luther expressed his appreciation for history and historians on numerous occasions. History, he believed, provides fodder for both fear and praise since God is sovereign over the course of human events. History records and reminds us how God "upholds, rules, obstructs, prospers, punishes, and honors the world, and especially men, each according to his just desert, evil or good." History serves ethics by providing numerous examples of conduct to be emulated or avoided, and by providing a sense of national identity that is critical to the maintenance of public mores. Historians, therefore, "are the most useful people and the best teachers, so that one can never honor, praise, and thank them enough."

Luther also had thoughts on how history should be done (i.e. historiography). He shared those thoughts in 1538 in the preface to a German translation of Galeatius Capella's history of the reign of the Milanese Duke Francesco II Sforza. Given the attention Luther is receiving this year as an object of historical interest, it's intriguing to note how Luther himself believed historians should proceed with their task. Hearing Luther ruminate on the practice of history gives some insight into how he himself might have wished his own story told.

The historian, Luther opines, must be "a first-rate man who has a lion's heart, unafraid to write the truth." The reformer found few historians living up to this standard. "The greater number write in such a way that they readily pass over or put the best construction on the vices and deficiencies of their own times in the interest of their lords or friends and in turn glorify all too highly some trifling or vain virtue. On the other hand, they embellish or besmirch histories to the advantage of their father land and disadvantage of the foreigners, according to whether they love or hate someone."

Luther, it seems to me, understood well that history is a loaded enterprise because it traffics identities. The historian is never merely retelling things that have happened. Both in the selection of events depicted and in the manner of their depiction, the historian is constructing his subject's identity, and ultimately either vindicating or vilifying his subject. "Love or hate" for one's subject, as Luther puts it, heavily informs the identity ultimately constructed.

Luther's judgment that most historians lack lions' hearts and shy away from the truth may seem more pertinent to his day than ours. Early modern historians were generally more upfront than their present-day counterparts in acknowledging their "love or hate" for their subject(s), and in vindicating or vilifying accordingly. But I'm not personally convinced that all that much has changed between Luther's day and our own. Few historians in our day, it seems to me, really value truth above all else as they engage in the historical task. Few, for that matter, likely believe in "truth" as something distinct from their own or anyone else's interpretation of the facts at all, at least if pressed on the matter. The modern academy apes the Christian virtue of "truth" with its insistence on methodological objectivity, and promises/threatens those who pursue/reject that virtue the heaven/hell of tenure/termination. But the academy's watered down virtues and eschatological promises/threats aren't ultimately capable of producing Luther's longed-for lion-hearted historians. At best it will produce historians who are better at hiding their "love or hate," much as I surpass my own children's skill at masking the inherent self-centeredness that mutually characterizes them and me.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the Gospel holds greater resources than the modern academy for producing truth-tellers (Eph. 4:24-25), and thus Luther's lion-hearted historians. Just as the Gospel frees us to be honest about ourselves before God and others, rejecting efforts to vindicate ourselves, it ultimately frees to be honest about others and eschew efforts to justify or incriminate them -- the fate of our historical subjects, after all, pivots on the presence of God's grace towards them, not on our moral judgments, however subtly communicated, regarding them. Christians of all people should have less invested in their own or anyone else's identity than they do the truth, and more incentive to bear true witness about their neighbor, whether dead or alive, than others might have.

Regardless, two question persist: Would Luther have wished the same moral standards, for which he advocated, of historical writing in general applied to the historians and histories of his own life and doings? And (perhaps more pressing in our own historical moment) who among the historians narrating Luther this year will prove lion-hearted, and who will prove that some agenda -- love, hate, or otherwise -- ranks higher in their priorities than the truth?

Seminary changed my life. Spending time both inside and outside the classroom with my godly professors, learning from them, praying with them, and receiving counsel from them revolutionized my walk with Christ. I cannot remember a time when my professors were unavailable to meet with me. Everyone from Robert Godfrey to Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark to Dennis Johnson made themselves easily accessible. I graduated from seminary thankful for all the time (i.e., personal mentorship) they provided. 

As I look back on my experience, there are many things that I would change. Fortunately, those things that I would change have more to do with me than the faculty and curriculum. While I cannot mention that enough, there are a few things I would change regarding my learning experience (i.e., the curriculum). I share this one thing not to indict my seminary -- I love them a great deal -- but more as a reflection of my time in seminary now that I have been separated from that environment for a couple of years. You can think of this as the final evaluation that students had to complete upon graduation now two years removed.

I imagine that many of the reformed seminaries in America have similar curriculum. If so, maybe this will be of some help to them as well. If not, they can discard this post like many of the others I have written.

What I wish I had learned in seminary:

I have learned a tremendous amount from those in the reformed tradition. In particular, I am grateful for those American theological giants who helped mold me. Although dead, their words live. B. B. Warfield, Charles and A. A. Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, J. Gresham Machen, and many others were instrumental in my theological outlook both while in seminary and now, but what do these men have in common besides their theology and American citizenship? They are all white. Is that a problem? Absolutely not! Again, I am grateful for these men. They have shaped my understanding of the Bible. In fact, I still read their literature. I wonder, however, if others, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, have contributed to reformed thought in an influential manner much like the men listed above?

Why do I raise this question?

The vast majority of the time when an African-American or Latino was highlighted in my theological education, they were associated with liberation theology (of the negative fold). Is that all people of color in America have contributed to theology, or reformed theology more specifically? I would have never questioned this until I graduated from seminary and began reading more broadly. I can specifically thank Dr. Carl Ellis, Dr. Eric Washington and Reverend Thabiti Anyabwile. Some of the materials they have published, and classes they have taught, have helped me realize that people of color have contributed in a positive and influential manner to reformed thought. In other words, there is more to their theology than the social gospel. 

How can this help you? How does this help me?

First, it expands our view of church history and the theological contributions of others to the church. Secondly, and perhaps more subjectively, when I speak with many people of color, they believe that to be reformed is to be white. As they look at the dominant ethnic composition of reformed congregations, they see white skin and immediately make that association.  When I, therefore, as an African-American PCA pastor, come along side my brothers and sisters of color and begin explaining the truths of reformed doctrine, there is an association with reformed theology that I must overcome while explaining the biblical accuracy of reformed doctrine. That association is the "whiteness", at least in their minds, of reformed theology. If I, however, willingly acknowledge that our congregations may presently be composed primarily of white people, although I hope to see that change, but also share other information of which they are unaware, that will help them. Particularly, if I am able to demonstrate that there were people of color who contributed significantly to reformed theology, I can slay the notion, at least historically, that to be reformed means to be white and perhaps gain a greater hearing for reformed theology among my people of color.

We do this all the time. Whenever we appeal to history to help people more clearly see how a particular doctrine was rooted in the church for hundreds of years, we appeal to the history of the church to demonstrate the validity of that doctrine. While history, in this instance, may not provide all the help we require, it is an aid for us. It can help people move toward a certain denomination or doctrine when they more fully understand its roots in church history.

Final thoughts:

Learning about how African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color have contributed to reformed theology in America is something I wished I had learned in seminary. Although this a desire of mine now, I am confident that my former professors did not neglect this area to somehow degrade my educational experience. As I shared previously, those men, along with their teaching, changed my life. I still keep in touch with them; I am thankful for them! I love them. Nevertheless, what I would like to see in my seminary, as well as others, is a curriculum that provides the positive and influential contributions that people of color have made to reformed theology in America. They are out there. We simply must do our research to find them.

"The Pure Flame of Devotion"

Many readers of this blog will doubtless know the name of Michael Haykin. In November last year, Michael reached his 60th birthday, and was presented with a festschrift to mark the occasion, The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality. It is a fine volume, and the hardback is currently available slightly cheaper than the paperback at, and pretty much at the same price through suppliers at

With a rich selection of contributors (Douglas Adams, Peter Beck, Joel R. Beeke, Nathan A. Finn, Keith Goad, Crawford Gribben, Francis X. Gumerlock, David S. Hogg, Erroll Hulse, Clint Humfrey, Sharon James, Mark Jones, Sean Michael Lucas, Tom J. Nettles, Dennis Ngien, Robert W. Oliver, Kenneth J. Stewart, Carl R. Trueman, Austin R. Walker, Donald S. Whitney, Malcolm B. Yarnell, and Fred G. Zaspel) and such a fine theme, this is certainly worth looking into. Enjoy!

Wrestling with Fuller

Fuller, Andrew 2.jpgFor those who might be in the vicinity of Bulkington in the UK (not far from Coventry and Leicester), I hope to be at Bulkington Congregational Church this coming Monday (Mon 03 Feb) at 7.30pm for the first of this year's church history lectures. My subject is "Wrestling: The Life of Andrew Fuller." I will be attempting an overview of the life and labours of this man of God, drawing some particular lessons for our own day. All are welcome.

Luther Sends His Regards


Happy Reformation Day everybody.  If Chile can celebrate it than we certainly should too.


Here are two quotes to think about as you remember October 31, 1517.  The first is from Luther, the second comes from the Lutheran hymnal/service for Reformation Sunday.  Both have to do with the gospel.


Enjoy carving your Martin Luther pumpkin. Be sure to send the photos.


"What does amount to that we have the gospel in this little corner?  Just reckon that there is no gospel in all of Africa and Asia and that the gospel isn't preached in many parts of Europe, in Greece, Italy, Hungary, Spain, France, England, Poland."


Almighty God, who through the preaching of thy servants, the blessed reformers, has caused the light of the gospel to shine forth:  Grant, we beseech you, that knowing its saving power, we may faithfully guard and defend it against all enemies, and joyfully proclaim it, to the salvation of souls and the glory of your holy Name, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.


FB Meyer and Melbourne Hall


I am just back from preaching at anniversary services at Melbourne Hall Evangelical Free Church in Leicester. The most famous occupant of its pulpit was its first minister, F.B. Meyer MeyerFB.jpg(of whom a recent biography by Bob Holman was published by Christian Focus Publications last year). Meyer led seventy-seven members in constituting the church in September 1878. His warm evangelicalism and social conscience were mightily used to draw thousands to Christ in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.


Leicester (following on from Phil's recent post on the Islamicization of Britain) is apparently set to become Britain's first white minority city, and the housing in the vicinity of the church building is virtually a Muslim suburb of the city. It brings added meaning to the words above the door as one exits the sanctuary: 'the mission field starts here'. Pray for its current pastors, Paul Bassett and Gurnham Singh, as they lead this congregation in its worship and evangelism.



Here's one for the historians.

"Memory is much more significant than originality."

Samuel Wells, Improvisation:  The Drama of Christian Ethics, 147.