En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

  • Grab My Button!

    BWS tips button
    <a href="http://dadsdevoted.com"><img src="http://i496.photobucket.com/albums/rr323/baileytribe/blog/blckwhite_button.jpg" alt="BWS tips button" width="125" height="125" /></a><div style="border: 1px solid #DDD; margin: auto; padding: 5px 10px; background: #F8F8F8 none repeat scroll 0pt 0pt; overflow: auto; height: 100px; line-height: 1.5em;">***</div>

Posts Tagged ‘tyndale’

Ten Great Christian Biographies!

Posted by Scott on November 28, 2007

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. recommends: 

  

 We read biographies because worthy portraits of our fellow human beings help us to make sense of the world. We are especially fascinated by the lives of those who have made a difference in the world — whose mark remains visible even now. The lives of the famous and the infamous make for compelling reading.

As Benjamin Disraeli, a famous author as well as Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister, once remarked, biography is “life without theory.” In other words, at their best biographies take us into the real lives of real persons as they were really lived. No life can be reduced to a written biography, of course, and no biography can consider all aspects of even a single life. Every biographer picks and chooses from the available data of a life. Nevertheless, we are drawn into these lives as we read compelling biographies.

Reading the biographies of persons whose lives represent a significant influence on the Christian church is especially enriching. Each of the biographies listed below invites the reader into an adventure that is both literary and theological. These are ten of the biographies I consider most important from recent decades. They are listed in chronological order rather than by ranked importance.

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1967, revised edition 2000.

Brown’s rendering of Augustine is essential reading for the Christian serious about the history of the church. His revised edition makes use of valuable materials discovered since the book’s first edition was published in 1967. Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University, Brown reveals the genius of Augustine and takes us into his inner life and historical context. One cannot understand the Reformers without understanding the influence of Augustine on their theology and, specifically, their understandings of sin and grace.

Excerpt:

Not every man lives to see the fundamentals of his life’s work challenged in his old age. Yet this is what happened to Augustine during the Pelagian controversy. At the time that the controversy opened, he had reached a plateau. He was already enmeshed in a reputation that he attempted to disown with characteristic charm: “Cicero, the prince of Roman orators,” he wrote to Marcellinus in 412, “says of someone that ‘He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall.’ High praise indeed! — but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man . . . . If God permit me, I shall gather and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things which justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case. . . . For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress — by writing.”

G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas — “The Dumb Ox” (New York: Doubleday, 1933/1956).

Chesterton’s biographical portrait of Aquinas is masterful — as such because Chesterton wrote it as well as because it is about the most significant figure in medieval Christianity. This is a brilliant exercise in biography, and the most accessible way to understand Aquinas and his thought.

Excerpt:

Of the personal habits that go with the personal physique, we have also a few convincing and confirming impressions. When he was not sitting still, reading a book, he walked round and round the cloisters and walked fast and even furiously, a very characteristic action of men who fight their battles in the mind. Whenever he was interrupted, he was very polite and more apologetic than the apologizer. But there was that about him, which suggested that he was rather happier when he was not interrupted. He was ready to stop his truly Peripatetic tramp: but we feel that when he resumed it, he walked all the faster.

Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950).

If just starting to read Christian biography, start here. Bainton has written what must be the last century’s most popular and accessible biography of a Christian figure — at least among evangelicals. Luther comes alive through Bainton’s words, and in Here I Stand we find Luther in all his greatness, warts and all.

Excerpt:

Katie soon had more than Luther to think about. On October 21, 1525, Luther confided to a friend, “My Katherine is fulfilling Genesis 1:28.” On May 26, 1526, he wrote to another, “There is about to be born a child of a monk and a nun. Such a child must have a great Lord for a godfather. Therefore I am inviting you. I cannot be precise as to the time.” On the eighth of June went out the news, “My dear Katie brought into the world yesterday by God’s grace at two o’clock a little son, Hans Luther. I must stop. Sick Katie calls me.” When the baby was bound in swaddling clothes, Luther said, “Kick, little fellow. That is what the pope did to me, but I got loose.” The next entry in Han’s curriculum vitae was this: “Hans is cutting his teeth and beginning to make a joyous nuisance of himself. These are the joys of marriage of which the pope is not worthy.” On the arrival of a daughter Luther wrote to a prospective godmother, “Dear lady, God has produced from me and my wife a little heathen. We hope you will be willing to become her spiritual mother and help make her a Christian.”

David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

This is a remarkable biography of a remarkable man. As Daniell recounts, we all stand in Tyndale’s debt in ways most of us never consider. A martyr for the faith, a translator of incalculable genius, and a life at the center of a great epoch — in William Tyndale we meet a man who literally gave his life for the furtherance of the Word. Incredibly, no biography of Tyndale emerged in the six decades prior to Daniell’s work. His biography was worth the wait.

Excerpt:

That is Tyndale’s first page; it is possible for a late twentieth-century reader to see it as unexceptional, even mild, and ever rather over-obvious, and to begin to patronise Tyndale. Yet the page, printed in English in 1525, contained high explosive. Inside the reasonableness of tone, stating the need for a New Testament in English as, to borrow a phrase, a truth universally acknowledged; a truth so obvious that it would be superfluous to explain, and only those who were blind or malicious or mad could deny it, as it would be mad to say that the Bible in English would cause evil, darkness and lying — inside that mildness was an attack on the Church so dangerous that it could only be countered by the most vicious burnings, of books and men and women. These first sentences of Tyndale have a calm that suggests that Tyndale himself does not understand yet that this work, and he himself, will be answered with hatred and burning.

Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (London: Blackwell, 1993).

Oddly enough, John Calvin has not attracted the same volume of biographical attention that has collected around Martin Luther. This is a lack that cries out for attention, especially given the grotesque distortions of Calvin’s life and thought that prevail in so many quarters. Alister McGrath’s A Life of John Calvin is the best biography available at present, and it is well crafted for both academic and non-academic readers.

Excerpt:

His importance lies primarily, but by no means exclusively, in his being a religious thinker. To describe him as a ‘theologian’ is proper but misleading, given the modern associations of the term. A theologian is one who is generally seen to be marginalized as an irrelevance by church and academy alike, whose public is limited to a severely restricted circle of fellow theologians, and whose ideas and methods are generally derived from other intellectual disciplines. The originality, power and influence of Calvin’s religious ideas forbid us to speak of him merely as a ‘theologian’ — though that he certainly was — in much the same way it is inadequate to refer to Lenin as a mere political theorist. Through his remarkable ability to master languages, media and ideas, his insights into the importance of organization and social structures, and his intuitive grasp of the religious needs and possibilities of his era, Calvin was able to forge an alliance between religious thought and action which made Calvinism a wonder of its age.

George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

Yale University Press continues its invaluable service in publishing the collected works of America’s greatest theologian — a project that continues to amaze, volume by worthy volume. With George Marsden’s biography of Edwards, the press has now published the most important biographical work on Edwards to be released in recent decades as well. The work is massive (How could it be otherwise?) and bold.

Excerpt:

Jonathan’s exhilarating reading of Locke, Newton, and a host of other modern thinkers convinced him that he stood at a pivotal point in New England’s history. This sense grew out of his personal experience. During the early years of such reading, his orthodoxy stood on shaky ground. Almost all modern thinkers professed a defended Christianity; yet virtually all, like Locke, endorsed a broader, more tolerant, and more “reasonable” religion than Jonathan had learned in Connecticut. As a young teenager he had thought of many reasons to doubt the Calvinist teaching of the total sovereignty of God, and these new authors may have reinforced those doubts.

Soon, however, the effect became almost the opposite. Somehow in the midst of his study and his agonizing spiritual searching, his doubts about divine sovereignty dissolved without his quite knowing why. By the time of the electrifying ecstasies of his conversion experience in the spring of his first graduate year, he was also enthralled by a sense of a special calling. He felt called to use the new learning in defense of God’s eternal word.

Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, 2 volumes (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1970).

Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield is among the greatest in terms of sheer inspiration and the urgency of Whitefield’s example. Lessons from Whitefield are worth this two-volume biography and more, and Dallimore takes his readers into the heart of Whitefield’s life and ministry.

Excerpt:

Open-air preaching is now so commonplace that it is difficult to realize how outlandish it seemed then.  There had long been propaganda to the effect that any display of spiritual earnestness might lead to trouble — even to civil disorder — and the generality of Englishmen believed it.  Public opinion confined the clergyman to a narrow area of activity, and though this might include such things as drunkenness and gambling, it left no room for evangelistic fervor.  Whitefield knew that were he to preach in the fields his enemies would make loud outcry, hurling the word enthusiast, ridiculing him personally and using his action as a means of bringing the whole revival movement into disrepute.

But, being soon to return to America, Whitefield could not long delay his decision.  Accordingly, shortly after his correspondence with Harris, he made up his mind:  he would take the momentous step, making at least one attempt at the open-air preaching.

Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

A biography of twentieth-century America’s most notorious liberal pastor belongs on this list?  Yes — precisely for that reason.  Evangelicals need to understand why Modernism and Liberalism attracted so many followers, and what happened to the liberal churches and denominations as a result.  All of the other figures on this list would be in agreement in judging Harry Emerson Fosdick to be a heretic — and they would be right.  In his fascinating biography of Fosdick, Miller takes us into the culture and mind of liberal Protestantism through the life of its most influential preacher.  Evangelicals reading this biography will recognize that many of Fosdick’s most dangerous ideas are appearing once more, sometimes from the mouths and pens of some who claim to be evangelicals — as Fosdick also claimed to be.

Excerpt:

For Fosdick, the Bible cannot always be taken literally, but it should always be taken seriously.  For Fosdick, the Bible is not a revelation from God, but it is a revelation of God.  He maintained that the Bible contains the Word of God, but not that it is the Word of God.  It is an “invaluable laboratory manual which records all phases of man’s life with God and God’s dealing with men.”  It is “a priceless treasury of spiritual truth, and from it have come the basic ideas and ideals on which the best of our democratic culture is founded.”  It is “an amazing compendium of every kind of situation in human experience with the garnered wisdom of the ages to help in meeting them.”  Many critics found these statements appallingly sub-Christian.

D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1994).

Gresham Machen is the perfect character to follow Harry Emerson Fosdick, for in Machen we find orthodoxy’s greatest defender against the Modernist assault.  D. G. Hart provides a brilliant analysis of Machen’s life and impact in this interpretive biography.  Most importantly, Hart places the life of Machen in the context of Machen’s times and the crisis that conservative Protestantism faced in the early twentieth century — and in so many ways faces still.

Excerpt:

An extreme example of Machen’s concern for language came in the sermon that sent Henry Van Dyke looking for another church.  Here Machen parodied the liberal notion that each generation had to interpret the Bible or the creed according to its own time and place.  Did not the modernist preacher, Machen wondered, hold to a static view of language when it came to such questions as whether six times nine equaled fifty-four or whether the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia? Why, then, was the theological affirmation of Christ’s resurrection any different?  According to Machen, the standard liberal response was “Of course we accept the proposition that ‘the third day he arose again from the dead'” but because each generation has a right to interpret the creed in its own way “we interpret that to mean ‘the third day He did not rise again from the dead.'”  Machen’s own rejoinder was to fear for the future of language.  “If everything that I say can be “‘interpreted’ to mean its exact opposite, what is the use of saying anything at all?”

Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 1990).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for decades pastor at London’s Westminster Chapel, was one of the greatest expositors of the twentieth century.  Beyond this, he stood at the center of the century’s great events and controversies.  In Iain Murray’s wonderful two-volume biography “The Doctor” and his ministry are presented and interpreted by one who worked alongside Dr. Lloyd-Jones and knew him well.

Excerpt:

Parallel with Lloyd-Jones’ observance of the world around him, but ultimately more decisive, was the growing recognition which came to him of his own sinfulness.  He began to recognise that sin was much more profound than such acts are commonly recognised as immoral: there is a wrongfulness in man’s very desires.  What the Apostle Paul calls ‘the lusts of the mind’ — pride, jealousy, envy, malice, anger, bitterness –are all part of the very same disease.  Even in the mind, his highest faculty, man has become a fool.  As this fact slowly dawned on Lloyd-Jones at about the age of twenty-three, his estimate of his own life was changed.  The very debates which he had so enjoyed on religious subjects he discovered to be nothing but evidence of his own depravity. Preaching in later years on the ‘lusts of the mind,’ he made one of his rare personal allusions when he declared:  ‘As I was preparing this sermon it filled me with a loathing and a hatred of myself.  I look back and I think of the hours I have wasted in mere talk and argumentation.  And it was all with one end only, simply to gain my point and to show how clever I was.

More lists to follow.  Read, learn, enjoy . . . and suggest yet other biographies worthy of the serious Christian’s attention and reading.

ALSO RECOMMENDED READING BY SCOTT BAILEY 2007

-Scott Bailey 2007

Advertisements

Posted in *BIOGRAPHIES | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Puritan Evangelism-Did They Really?

Posted by Scott on November 9, 2007

Puritan Evangelism
How the Puritans evangelized in contrast to the modern age we now live in. How did they accomplish their evangelistic efforts to win souls?

by Dr. J. I. Packer
           M.A., Lecturer at Tyndale Hall, Bristol              

In the report of the Archbishop’s Committee on Evangelism, published in 1945 under the title: Towards the Conversion of England, the work of evangelism is conveniently defined as follows: “so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in fellowship of His Church.”             Did the Puritans tackle the task of evangelism at all? At first sight, it might seem not.  They agreed with Calvin in regarding the “evangelists” mentioned in the New Testament as all order of assistants to the apostles, now extinct; and as for “missions,” “crusades” and “campaigns,” they knew neither the name nor the thing.  But we must not be misled into supposing that evangelism was not one of their chief concerns.  It was.  Many of them were outstandingly successful as preachers to the unconverted.  Richard Baxter, the apostle of Kidderminster, is perhaps the only one of these that is widely remembered today; but in contemporary records it is common to read statements like this, of Hugh Clark: “he begat many Sons and Daughters unto God;” or this, of John Cotton, “the presence of the Lord…crowning his labors with the Conversion of many Souls” (S.  Clarke, Lives of 52…Divines, pp.131, 222, etc.)  Moreover, it was the Puritans who invented evangelistic literature.  One has only to think of Baxter’s classic Call to the Unconverted, and Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted, which were pioneer works in this class of writing.  And the elaborate practical “handling” of the subject of conversion in Puritan books was regarded by the rest of the seventeenth-century Protestant world as something of unique value.   “It hath been one of the glories of the Protestant religion that it revived the doctrine of Saving Conversion, and of the New Creature brought forth thereby…But in a more eminent manner, God hath cast the honor hereof upon the Ministers and Preachers of this Nation, who are renowned abroad for their more accurate search into and discoveries hereof.”  (T.  Goodwin and P. Nye, Preface to T.  Hooker, The Application of Redemption, 1656).             The truth is that two distinct conceptions and types of evangelism have been developed in Protestant Christendom during the course of its history.  We may call them the “Puritan” type and the “modern” type.  Today we are so accustomed to evangelism of the modern type that we scarcely recognize the other is evangelism at all. In order that we may fully grasp the character of the Puritan type of evangelism, I shall here set it in contrast with the modern type, which has so largely superseded it at the present time.             Let us begin, therefore, by characterizing evangelism of the modern type.  It seems to presuppose a conception of the life of the local church as an alternating cycle of converting and edifying.  Evangelism almost takes on the character of a periodical recruiting campaign.  It is all extraordinary and occasional activity, additional and auxiliary to the regular functioning of the local congregation.  Special gatherings of a special sort are arranged, and special preachers are commonly secured to conduct them.  Often they are called “meetings” rather than “services;” in any case, they are thought of as something distinct in some way from the regular public worship of God.  In the meetings, everything is directly aimed at securing from the unconverted all immediate, conscious, decisive act of faith in Christ.  At the close of the meeting, those who have responded or wish to do so are asked to come to the front, or raise a hand, or something similar, as an act of public testimony to their new resolutions.  This, it is claimed, is good for those who do it, since it helps to make their “decision” definite, and it has the further advantage of making them declare themselves, so that they may be contacted individually by “personal workers.”  Such persons may then be advised and drafted forthwith into local churches as converts.             This type of evangelism was invented by Charles G. Finney in the 1820’s.  He introduced the “protracted meeting,” or, as we should call it, the intensive evangelistic campaign, and the “anxious seat,” a front pew left vacant where at the end of the meeting “the anxious may come and be addressed particularly…and sometimes be conversed with individually.”  At the end of his sermon, he would say, “There is the anxious seat; come out, and avow determination to be on the Lord’s side.”  (See Revivals of Religion, especially chapter xiv).  These were Finney’s much opposed “new measures.”             Now, Finney was a clear-headed and self-confessed Pelagian in his doctrine of man; and this is the reason why his “new measures” were evolved.  Finney denied that fallen man is totally unable to repent, believe or do anything spiritually good without grace, and affirmed instead that all men have plenary ability to turn to God at any time.  Man is a rebel, but is perfectly free at any time to lay down his arms in surrender.  Accordingly, the whole work of the Spirit of God in conversion is to present vividly to man’s mind reasons for making this surrender – that is to say, the Spirit’s work is confined to moral persuasion.  Man is always free to reject this persuasion: “Sinners can go to hell in spite of God.”  But the stronger the persuasion is, the more likely it is to succeed in the breaking down of man’s resistance.  Every means, therefore, of increasing the force and vividness with which truth impinged on the mind – the most frenzied excitement, the most narrowing emotionalism, the most nerve-racking commotion in evangelistic meetings – was a right and proper means of evangelism.  Finney gave expression to this principle in the first of his lectures on Revivals of Religion.  “To expect to promote religion without excitements is unphilosophical and absurd…until there is sufficient religious principle in the world to put down irreligious excitements, it is in vain to try to promote religion, except by counteracting excitements…There must be excitement sufficient to wake up the dormant moral powers…”  And, since every man, if he will only rouse up his “dormant moral powers,” can at any time yield to God and become a Christian, it is the evangelist’s work and duty always to preach for immediate decision, to tell men that it is their duty to come to Christ that instant, and to use all means – such as the rousing appeal and the “anxious seat” – for persuading them to do so.  “I tried to shut them up,” he says of a typical mission sermon, “to present faith and repentance, as the thing which God required of them: present and instant acceptance of His will, present and instant acceptance of Christ” (Autobiography, p. 64).  It is hardly too much to say that Finney regarded evangelistic preaching as a battle of wills between himself and his hearers, in which it was his responsibility to bring them to breaking point.             Now, if Finney’s doctrine of the natural state of sinful man is right, then his evangelistic methods must be judged right also, for, as he often insisted, the “new measures” were means well adapted to what he held to be the end in view.  “It is in such practices that a Pelagian system naturally expresses itself if it seeks to become aggressively evangelistic” (B. B. Warfield).  But if his view of man is wrong, then his methods, as we shall see, must be judged disastrous.  And this is an issue of the first importance at the present time; for it is Finney’s methods, modified and adapted, which characterize most evangelism today.   We do not suggest that all who use them are Pelagians.  But we do raise the question, whether the use of such methods is consistent with any other doctrine than Finney’s, and we shall try to show that, if Finney’s doctrine is rejected, then such methods must be judged inappropriate and, indeed, detrimental to the real work of evangelism.  It may be said that results justify their use; but the truth is that the majority of Finney’s “converts” backslid and fell away, and so, it seems, have the majority of those since Finney’s day whose “decision” has been secured by the use of such methods.  Most modern evangelists seem to have given up expecting more than a small percentage of their “converts” to survive.  It is not at all obvious that results justify such methods.  We shall suggest later that they have a natural tendency to produce such a crop of false converts as has in fact resulted from their use.             The Puritan type of evangelism, on the other hand, was the consistent expression in practice of the Puritans’ conviction that the conversion of a sinner is a gracious sovereign work of Divine power.  We shall spend a little time elaborating this.             The Puritans did not use “conversion” and “regeneration” as technical terms, and so there are slight variations in usage.  Perhaps the majority treated the words as synonyms, each denoting the whole process whereby God brings the sinner to his first act of faith.  Their technical term for the process was effectual calling; calling being the Scriptural word used to describe the process in Rom. 8:30, 2 Th.  2:14, 2 Tim. 1:9, etc., and the adjective effectual being added to distinguish it from the ineffectual, external calling mentioned in Mt. 20:16, 22:14.  Westminster Confession, X. i., puts “calling,” into its theological perspective by an interpretative paraphrase of Rom. 8:30: “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism analyses the concept of “calling” in its answer to Q. 31: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”             Concerning this effectual calling, three things must be said if we are to grasp the Puritan view:                (i) It is a work of Divine grace; it is not something a man can do for himself or for another.  It is the first stage in the application of redemption to those for whom it was won; it is the time when, on the grounds of his eternal, federal, representative union with Christ, the elect sinner is brought by the Holy Ghost into a real, vital, personal union with his Covenant Head and Redeemer.  It is thus a gift of free Divine grace.                (ii) It is a work of Divine power. It is effected by the Holy Ghost, who acts both mediately, by the Word, in the mind, giving understanding and conviction, and at the same time immediately, with the Word, in the hidden depths of the heart, implanting new life and power, effectively dethroning sin, and making the sinner both able and willing to respond to the gospel invitation.  The Spirit’s work is thus both moral, by persuasion (which all Arminians and Pelagians would allow), and also physical, by power (which they would not).

            Owen said, “There is not only a moral, but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit…upon the minds or souls of men in their regeneration…The work of grace in conversion is constantly expressed by words denoting a real internal efficacy; such as creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart…Wherever this work is spoken of with respect unto an active efficacy, it is ascribed to God.  He creates us anew, he quickens us, he begets us of His own will; but when it is spoken of with respect to us, there it is passively expressed; we are created in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures, we are born again, and the like; which one observation is sufficient to avert the whole hypothesis of Arminian grace.” (Works, ed.  Russell 1,1, II. 369).  “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts (persuasion), the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door” (T. Watson, Body of Div., 1869, p. 154).  The Spirit’s regenerating action, Owen goes on, is “infallible, victorious, irresistable, or always efficacious” (loc cit.); it “removeth all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produceth the effect intended.” Grace is irresistible, not because it drags man to Christ against his will, but because it changes men’s hearts so that they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.” (West.  Conf.  X. i). The Puritans loved to dwell on the Scriptural thought of the Divine power put forth in effectual calling, which Goodwin regularly described as the one “standing miracle” in the Church.  They agreed that in the normal course of events conversion was not commonly a spectacular affair; but Goodwin notes that sometimes it is, and affirms that thereby God shows us how great an exercise of power every man’s effectual calling involves. “In the calling of some there shoots up very suddenly an election-conversion (I use to call it so).  You shall, as it were, see election take hold of a man, pull him out with a mighty power, stamp upon him, the divine nature, stub up corrupt nature by the roots, root up self-love, put in a principle of love to God, and launch him forth a new creature the first day … He did so with Paul, and it is not without example in others after him.” (Works, ed.. Miller IX. 279). Such dramatic conversions, says Goodwin, are “visible tokens of election by such a work of calling, as all the powers in heaven and earth could not have wrought upon a man’s soul so, nor changed a man so on a sudden, but only that divine power that created the world (and) raised Christ from the dead.”     

            The reason why the Puritans thus magnified the quickening power of God is plain from the passages quoted:it was because they took so seriously the Bible teaching that man is dead in sin, radically depraved, sin’s helpless bondslave.  There is, they held, such a strength in sin that only omnipotence can break its bond; and only the Author of Life can raise the dead.  Where Finney assumed plenary ability, the Puritans taught total inability in fallen man.             (iii)   Effectual calling is and must be a work of Divine sovereignty. Only God can effect it, and He does so at His own pleasure.  “It is not of him that willith, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).  Owen expounds  this in a sermon on Acts 16:9, “A vision of unchangeable, free mercy in sending the means of grace to undeserving sinners” (XV, I ff.). He first states the following principle: “All events and effects, especially concerning the propagation of the gospel, and the Church of Christ, are in their greatest variety regulated by the eternal purpose and counsel of God,” He then illustrates it.  Some are sent the gospel, some not.  “In this chapter…the gospel is forbidden to be preached in Asia or Bithynia; which restraint, the Lord by His  providence as yet continueth to many parts of the world;” while “to some nations the gospel is sent…as in my text, Macedonia; and England…”  Now, asks Owen, why this discrimination?  Why do some hear and others not? And when the gospel is heard, why do we see “various effects, some continuing in impenitency, others in sincerity closing with Jesus Christ?…In effectual working of grace…whence do you think it takes its rule and determination . . . that it should be directed to John, not Judas; Simon Peter, not Simon Magus? Why only from this discriminating counsel of God from eternity…Acts 13:48…The purpose of God’s election, is the rule of dispensing saving grace.”             Jonathan Edwards, a great Puritan evangelist, often makes the same point.  In a typical passage from a sermon on Rom. 9:18, he lists the following ways in which God’s sovereignty (defined as “His absolute right of disposing of all creatures according to His own pleasure”) appears in the dispensations of grace:” (1) In calling one nation or people, and giving them the means of grace, and leaving others without them. (2) In the advantages He bestows upon particular persons” (e.g. a Christian home, a powerful ministry, direct spiritual influences, etc.); (4) In bestowing salvation on some who have had few advantages” (e.g. children of ungodly parents, while the children of the godly are not always saved); “(5) In calling some to salvation, who have been heinously wicked, and leaving others, who have been very moral and religious persons… (6) In saving some of those who seek salvation and not others (i.e., bringing some convicted sinners to saving faith while others never attain to sincerity) (Works, 1838, II, 849 f.).”  This display of sovereignty by God, Edwards maintained, is glorious: “it is part of the glory of God’s mercy that it is sovereign mercy.”             It is probably true that no preacher in the Puritan tradition ever laid such sustained stress on the sovereignty of God as Edwards.  It may come as a surprise to modern readers to discover that such preaching as his was evangelistically very fruitful; but such was the case.  Revival swept through his church under his ministry, and in the revival (to quote his own testimony) “I think I have found that no discourses have been more remarkably blessed, than those in which the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty, with regard to the salvation of sinners, and his just liberty, with regard to answering prayer, and succeeding the pains, of natural men, continuing such, have been insisted on” (I. 353).  There is much food for thought here.

            God’s sovereignty appears also in the time of conversion.  Scripture and experience show that “the great God for holy and glorious ends, but more especially…to make appear His love and kindness, His mercy and  grace, hath ordained it so” that many of His elect people “should for some time remain in a condition of sin and wrath, and then He renews them to Himself” (Goodwin, VI, 85).  It is never man, but always God, who determines when an elect sinner shall believe.  In the manner of conversion too, God is sovereign.  The Puritans taught that, as a general rule, conviction of sin, induced by, the preaching of the Law, must precede faith, since no man will or can come to Christ to be saved from sin till he knows what sins he needs saving from. It is a distinctive feature of the Puritan doctrine of conversion that this point, the need for “preparation”  for faith, is so stressed.  Man’s first step toward conversion must be some knowledge, of God, of himself, of his duty and of his sin.  The  second step is conviction, both of sinfulness and of particular sins; and the wise minister, dealing with enquirers at this stage, will try to deepen conviction and make it specific, since true and sound conviction of sin is always to a greater or less degree particularised.  This leads to contrition (sorrow for and hatred of sin), which begins to burn the love of sinning out of the heart and leads to real, though as yet ineffective, attempts to break off the practice of sin in the life.  Meanwhile, the wise minister, seeing that the fallow ground is now ploughed up, urges the sinner to turn to Christ.  This is the right advice to give to a man who has shown that with all his heart he desires to be saved from sin; for when a man wants to be saved from sin, then it is possible for him genuinely and sincerely to receive the One who presents Himself to man as the Saviour from sin. But it is not possible otherwise; and therefore the Puritans over and over again beg ministers not to short-circuit the essential preparatory process.  They must not give false encouragement to those in whom the Law has not yet done its work.  It is the worst advice possible to tell a man to stop worrying about his sins and trust Christ at once if he does not yet know his sins and does not yet desire to leave them.  That is the way to encourage false peace and false hopes, and to produce “gospel- hypocrites.” Throughout the whole process of preparation, from the first awakening of concern to the ultimate dawning of faith, however, the sovereignty of God must be recognised.  God converts no adult without preparing him; but “God breaketh not all men’s hearts alike” (Baxter).  Some conversions, as Goodwin said, are sudden; the preparation is done in a moment.  Some are long-drawn-out affairs; years may pass before the seeker finds Christ and peace, as in Bunyan’s case.  Sometimes great sinners experience “great meltings” (Giles Firmin) at the outset of the work of grace, while upright persons spend long periods in agonies of guilt and terror.  No rule can be given as to how long, or how intensely, God will flay each sinner with the lash of conviction. Thus the work of effectual calling proceeds as fast, or as slow, as God wills; and the minister’s  part is that of the midwife, whose task it is to see what is happening and give appropriate help at each stage, but who cannot foretell, let alone fix, how rapid the process of birth will be.             

            From these principles the Puritans deduced their characteristic conception of the practice of evangelism.  Since God enlightens, convicts, humbles and converts through the the Word, the task of His messengers is to communicate that word, preaching and applying law and gospel.  Preachers are to declare God’s mind as set forth in the texts they expound, to show the way of salvation, to exhort the unconverted to learn the law, to meditate on the Word, to humble themselves, to pray that God will show them their sins, and enable them to come to Christ.   They are to hold Christ forth as a perfect Saviour from sin to all who Heartily desire to be saved from sin, and to invite such (the weary and burdened souls whom Christ Himself invites, Mt. 11:28) to come to the Saviour who waits to receive them.  But they are not to do as Finney did, and demand immediate repentance and faith of all and sundry.  They are sent to tell all men that they must repent and believe to be saved, but it is  no part of the word and message of God if they go further and tell all the unconverted that they ought to “decide for for Christ” (to use a common modern phrase) on the spot.  God never sent any preacher to tell a congregation that they were under obligation  to receive Christ at the close of the meeting.  For in fact only those prepared by the Spirit can believe; and it is only such whom God summons to believe.  There is a common confusion here.   The gospel of God requires an immediate response from all; but it does not require the same response from all. The immediate duty of the unprepared sinner is not to try and believe on Christ, which he is not able to do, but to read, enquire, pray, use the means of grace and learn what he needs to be saved from.  It is not in his power to accept Christ at any moment, as Finney supposed; and it is God’s prerogative, not the evangelist’s, to fix the time when men shall first savingly believe.  For the latter to try and do so, by appealing to sinners to begin believing here and now, is for man to take to himself the sovereign right of the Holy Ghost.  It is an act of presumption, however creditable the evangelist’s motive’s may be.  Hereby he goes beyond his commission as God’s messenger; and hereby he risks doing incalculable damage to the souls of men.  If he tells men they are under obligation to receive Christ on the spot, and demands in God’s name that they decide at once, some who are spiritually unprepared will try to do so; they will will come forward and accept directions and “go through the motions” and go away thinking they have received Christ, when all the time they have not done so because they were not yet able to do so.  So a crop of false conversions will result from making such appeals, in the nature of the case.  Bullying for “decisions” thus in fact impedes and thwarts the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Man takes it on himself to try to bring that work to a  precipitate conclusion, to pick the fruit before it is ripe; and the result is “false conversions,” hypocrisy and hardening.  “For the appeal for immediate decision presupposes that men are free to “decide for Christ” at any time; and this presupposition is the disastrous issue of a false, un-Scriptural view of sin.   

            What, then, were the principles that should govern evangelistic preaching?  In the first place, the Puritans would insist, it must be clearly understood that evangelistic preaching is not a special kind of preaching, with its own distinctive technique.  It is a part of the ordinary public ministry of God’s Word.  This means,  first, that the rules which govern it are the same rules which must govern all public preaching of God’s Word; and, second, that the person whose task it primarily is is the local pastor.  It is his duty in the course of his public and private ministry of the Word, “diligently to labour for the conversion of souls to God” (Owen).  What God requires of him is that he should be faithful to the content of the gospel, and diligent in imparting it.  He is to seek by all means to make his sermon clear, memorable and relevant to the lives of his hearers; he is to pray earnestly for God’s blessing on his preaching, that it may be “in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power”; but it is no part of his business to study to “dress up” the gospel and make it “appeal” to the natural man.  The preachers calling is very different from that of the commercial traveller, and the “quick sale” technique has no place in the Christian pulpit.  The preacher is  not sent of God to make a quick sale, but to deliver a message.  When he has done that, his work in the pulpit is over.  It is not his business to try and extort “decisions.” It is God’s own sovereign prerogative to make His Word effective, and the preachers’s behaviour must be governed by his recognition of, and subjection to, Divine sovereignty in this matter.             Does not the abjuring of appeals, and the other devices of high-pressure salesmanship which have intruded into the modern type of evangelism, make the preaching of the gospel a somewhat forlorn undertaking? Not at all, said the Puritan; those who argue so have reckoned without the sovereignty of God.   The  Puritan pastor had the same quiet confidence in the success of his evangelistic preaching as he had in the success of all his preaching.  He was in no feverish panic about it.  He knew that God’s Word does not return void; that God has His elect everywhere, and that through the preaching of His Word they will in due course be called out-not because of the preachers’s gifts and ingenuity, but by reason of God’s sovereign operation.  He knew that God always has a remnant faithful to Himself, however bad the times-which means that in every age some men will come to faith through the preaching of the Word.  This was the faith that sustained such Puritan pioneers as Richard Greenham, who after twenty years of faithful ministry, ploughing up the fallow ground in a Cambridgeshire country parish, could not point to any converts bar a single family.  This was the faith that God honored in Richard Baxter’s Kidderminster ministry, during which, over a period of seventeen years, by the use of no other means but sermons twice a week and catechetical  instruction from house to house, well over six hundred converts were gathered in; of whom Baxter wrote, six years after his ejection, that, despite constant exposure to ridicule and obloquy for their “Puritanism,” not one that I know of has fallen off from his sincerity.   Soli Deo gloria!

                        The issue with which we are confronted by our study of Puritan evangelism is clear.  Which way are we to take in our endeavours to spread the gospel to-day? Forward along the road of modern evangelism, the intensive big-scale, short-term “campaign,” with its sustained wheedling for decisions and its streamlined machinery for handling shoals of “converts?”  Or back to the old paths of  Puritan evangelism, the quieter, broader-based, long-term strategy based on the local church, according to which man seeks simply to be faithful in delivering God’s message and leaves it to the sovereign Spirit to draw men to faith through that message in His own way and at His own speed?  Which is loyal to God’s Word?  Which is consistant with the Bible doctrine of sin, and of conversion?  Which glorifies God?  These are questions which demand the most urgent consideration at the present time.

by J I Packer

-Scott Bailey 2007

Posted in J I Packer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »