Friday, February 6, 2015

Augustus Toplady Responds to Walter Sellon

“I had before been delineated, by an Arminian helpmeet of Mr. Wesley’s, as ‘sitting in my easy chair, and enjoying all the comforts of life.’ One would think, that the see of Durham had been transferred to Broad-Hembury, and that the Devonshire Vicar was warmly enrobed in lawn and black satin. So much for my attitude and enjoyments; next for my titles; these Mr. Sellon enumerates. I am, it seems, (See the Gospel Magazine March, 1771) ‘A Flaming Calvinist;  A Dragon;  An Hooter; A Venomous Slanderer; A Persecutor, possessing the same butcherly spirit that was in bishop Gardiner; yea, ten times more; A Perfectionist; A malapert Boy, severely scratching and clawing with venomous nails; A Papist; A Socinian; A Mahometan; The greatest Bigot that ever existed, without one grain of candour, benevolence, forbearance, moderation, good-will, or charity; A wild Beast of impatience and lion-like fury; A Materialist’ - that is, an Atheist.

“A goodly string of appellations! And not a little extraordinary, that they should all centre in one and the same man! Being so uncommon a person myself, my writings too must be something singular. Take a description of them in the words of the said Sellon: ‘I find sophistry, fallacy, false insinuation, raillery, perversion of scripture and the church articles, self-contradiction, self-sufficiency, haughtiness, pride and vanity, glaring in almost every page.’

“Thus, enthroned in my easy chair, dignified with titles, and accurately developed as a writer, I only want a suitable address, to render my magnificence complete; and who so well qualified to prepare it, as the eloquent Mr. Sellon? Lo, he attends; and, respectfully advancing, pays me the following compliments: ‘Unhappily daring, and unpardonably bold, thy tongue imagineth wickedness, and with lies thou cuttest like a sharp razor. Thou hast loved unrighteousness more than goodness; and to talk of lies more than righteousness. Thou hast loved to speak all words that may do hurt, O thou false tongue.’ Such are the candour and politeness of these Methodists; and such are the arguments, by which they would persuade us, that Arminianism is the religion of the Church of England.

“These are the men that set up for ‘universal love;’ who call one another by the cant names of ‘precious believers,’ ‘most excellent souls,’ ‘charming children of God,’ ‘sweet Christians,’ and ‘the clean-hearted.’ If their hearts are no cleaner than their mouths, they have little reason to value themselves on their ‘sinless perfection.’ These are they who seek to bottom election on faith and goodness foreseen; of which foreseen goodness, humility and benevolence, meekness and forbearance, are, I suppose, some of the ingredients. Woe be to those ‘sweet Christians,’ if their election has no better foundation than their ‘sweet’ tempers, words, and works.

“And why all this torrent of abuse? The plain truth is this: I detected Mr. Wesley's forgeries, and chastised the forger. Hinc ille lacrymae. Hence the outcries of John himself, together with those of Thomas Olivers and Walter Sellon. The camp of the Philistines gave a scream, when they saw the levelled stone penetrate the brass of their Goliath's forehead: but of all the tribe, none screamed so loud as the frighted Walter; of whose talent at screaming, a specimen has been exhibited to the reader.”

Augustus Toplady, Introduction, Historic Proof Of The Doctrinal Calvinism Of The Church Of England, Works, Volume 1

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Resolution to the question of the apostatizing in Hebrews

Two factors have helped me come to, what I believe is a simple, yet thorough resolution to the troubling issue of apostasy in the book of Hebrews. They are (1) a consideration of the fuller context, more specifically, the occasional context of the book and (2) the paradigm of Covenant Theology.

A simple point to get is that the whole context of the book of Hebrews deals with the superiority of Christ over the Old Testament economy. The book was written, as its title suggests, to Hebrews – Jews, who might be tempted to return to the worship system of the Old Testament. I think all scholars are in agreement about this. This is the “occasional context,” as it is called; that is, the problem or occasion that prompted the writing of the Epistle. Hence the author goes to great lengths to constantly remind us that, despite all the glory of the Old Testament period and its ordinances, Christ is greater. Secondarily, we are informed of the abrogation of the Old Testament’s sacrificial system by Christ’s sacrifice.

Therefore if a person were wont to turn away from Christ to return to the sacrificial system of Old Testament worship, he would be going to something that had been completely evacuated of any meaning or efficacy. If one rejects the sacrifice of Christ, “there remains no other sacrifice for sin.” Not only so, but he would be denying the value of Christ’s sacrificial death. First of all, the Old Testament sacrifices were all forward-looking to the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for sin. Secondly, continuing in the practice of those sacrifices implies that atonement for sin has not yet been paid – hence it is a denial of Christ as our Surety.

As I said earlier, Covenant Theology provides a paradigm which completely obliterates all difficulty in handling this passage. The key to understanding it is this: God’s covenant people are not co-extensive with the elect.

Let me elucidate that a bit. All of Israel was God’s covenant people. However, not every single Israelite was among the number of God’s elect to salvation. Every Israelite did experience certain blessings as a part of the larger community of God’s people, but not every Israelite experienced the spiritual blessing of God’s regenerating work in his heart. Paul says, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Romans 9:6b) Every Jew was circumcised and offered the sacrifices prescribed by the Law. Every Jew experienced the blessing of God’s protection of the nation from invading armies, etc. But not every Jew was a child of Abraham by faith in the Promised Seed.

When we come to the New Testament, things are no different. We all willingly acknowledge that church membership is not co-extensive with salvation. Just because a person is a member of God’s covenant people (the Church), this does not automatically mean that he is a member of the elect. Therefore, like the unregenerate Jew, he may partake of many things which are blessings to his life. But these are not necessarily the spiritual blessing of new birth.

Applied to the “apostasy passages” of Hebrews, the difficulty is removed by noting that the writer is telling us that (1) the Old Testament sacrifices are forever done away with by Christ’s all-sufficient death. Hence a return to them would be foolish, because there no longer is any efficacy in them – not that there ever was efficacy in the actual sacrifice of a bull or lamb. The efficacy was in the forward-looking faith towards the Lamb of God sacrificed before the foundation of the world. If you don’t acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice for sin, that’s tough luck for you because there is no other sacrifice out there. The Old Testament ones have been abrogated. (2) Membership in the Christian Church is not co-extensive with membership in God’s elect. Therefore a person can attend at Christian worship and receive many blessings thereby and still perish, not because he lost his salvation, but because he was never among the elect in the first place.

This is why after the warnings given in chapter 6, the writer concludes by saying, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” (v 9). Understood any other way, this passage is impenetrable, I think, because we would seem to be left with a scenario wherein the writer warns about the possibility of losing one’s salvation by apostatizing from the faith, then concludes his warnings by saying that salvation cannot be lost. Hence I feel confident that the paradigm of Covenant Theology is the only way to navigate this passage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

John Owen - Baptism = Burial With Christ ≠ Immersion

The apostle, Rom. 6:3-5 is dehorting from sin, exhorting to holiness and new obedience, and gives this argument from the necessity of it, and our ability for it, both taken from our initiation into the virtue of the death and life of Christ expressed in our baptism; that by virtue of the death and burial of Christ, we should be dead unto sin, sin being slain thereby; and by virtue of the resurrection of Christ, we should be quickened unto newness of life; as Peter declares, 1 Pet. iii. 21. Our being buried with him, and our being planted together into the likeness of his death, and likeness of his resurrection, is the same with 'our old man being crucified with him,' (ver. 6) and the destroying of the body of sin, and our being raised from the dead with him, which is all that is intended in the place.

There is not one word, nor one expression, that mentions any resemblance between dipping under water, and the death and burial of Christ, nor one word that mentions a resemblance between our rising out of the water, and the resurrection of Christ. Our being 'buried with him by baptism into death,' (ver. 4) is our being 'planted together in the likeness of his death,' ver. 5.  Our being planted together in the likeness of his death, is not our being dipped under water, but ‘the crucifying of the old man,' ver. 6. Our being raised up with Christ from the dead, is not our rising from under the water, but our ‘walking in newness of life,' (ver. 4) by virtue of the resurrection of Christ; 1 Pet. iii. 21.

That baptism is not a sign of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, is clear from hence; because an instituted sign is a sign of gospel grace participated, or to be participated. If dipping be a sign of the burial of Christ, it is not a sign of a gospel grace participated; for it may be where there is none, nor any exhibited.

For the major: if all gospel ordinances are signs and expressions of the communication of the grace of Christ, then baptism is so: but this is the end of all gospel ordinances, or else they have some other end; or are vain and empty shows.

The same individual sign cannot be instituted to signify things of several natures. But the outward burial of Christ, and a participation of the virtue of Christ's death and burial, are things of a diverse nature, and therefore are not signified by one sign.

That interpretation which would enervate the apostle's argument and design, our comfort and duty, is not to be admitted. But this interpretation that baptism is mentioned here as the sign of Christ's burial, would enervate the apostle's argument and design, our comfort and duty. And therefore it is not to be admitted.

The minor is thus proved: the argument and design of the apostle, as was before declared, is to exhort and encourage unto mortification of sin and new obedience, by virtue of power received from the death and life of Christ, whereof a pledge is given us in our baptism. But this is taken away by this interpretation: for we may be so buried with Christ and planted into the death of Christ by dipping, and yet have no power derived from Christ for the crucifying of sin, and for the quickening of us to obedience.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tired of the Bible

"I am not ignorant, that as the Israelites loathed the manna, because that every day they saw and ate but one thing, so some there be nowadays, (who will not be holden of the worst sort) that after once reading some parcels of Scripture, so commit themselves altogether to profane authors and human lectures, because that the variety of matter therein contained doeth bring with it daily delectation, wherein contrarywise within the simple Scriptures of God the perpetual repetition of one thing is fashious and wearisome. This temptation, I confess, may enter in God’s elect for a time, but impossible is it that therein they continue to the end; for God’s election, besides other evident signs, hath this ever joined with it, that God’s elect are called from ignorance (I speak of those that are come to the years of knowledge) to some taste and feeling of God’s mercy, of which they are never so satisfied in this life, but from time to time they hunger and they thirst to eat the bread descended from heaven and to drink the water that springeth to life everlasting; which they cannot do but by the means of faith, and faith looketh ever to the will of God revealed by the Word, so that faith hath both her beginning and continuance by the Word of God. And so I say, that impossible it is that God’s chosen children can despise or reject the word of their salvation of any long continuance, neither yet loathe it to the end."

 John Knox – Letter of Wholesome Counsel

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gregory I on the Antichrist

I have however taken care to admonish earnestly the same my brother and fellow-bishop that, if he desires to have peace and concord with all, he must refrain from the appellation of a foolish title.  As to this, the piety of my lords has charged me in their orders, saying that offence ought not to be engendered among us for the appellation of a frivolous name.  But I beseech your imperial Piety to consider that some frivolous things are very harmless, and others exceedingly harmful.  Is it not the case that, when Antichrist comes and calls himself God, it will be very frivolous, and yet exceedingly pernicious?  If we regard the quantity of the language used, there are but a few syllables; but if the weight of the wrong, there is universal disaster.  Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others.  Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as above all men, so whosoever this one is who covets being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests.  But, since the Truth says, “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled,” (Luke 14:11; 18:14), I know that every kind of elation is the sooner burst as it is the more inflated.  Let then your Piety charge those who have fallen into an example of pride not to generate any offence by the appellation of a frivolous name.  For I, a sinner, who by the help of God retain humility, need not to be admonished to humility.  Now may Almighty God long guard the life of our most serene Lord for the peace of holy Church and the advantage of the Roman republic. For we are sure, that if you live who fear the Lord of heaven, you will allow no proud doings to prevail against the truth.

Gregory I, Epistle XXXIII. To Mauricius Augustus.

Can be found here

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