I was talking with my wife about C.S. Lewis recently and she made an observation that I thought was quite engaging. She said that she had read that Lewis had wondered whether The Screwtape Letters would be complete without a companion work from the Heavenly perspective. My wife went on to state that Lewis finally decided against such a project. The Heavenly perspective was beyond our ken. I began to think of all sorts of connections. We simply cannot think the thoughts of the celestial beings in the presence of Almighty God. For one thing, though they are created, they are unfallen. I also thought that a book about cherubim and seraphim carrying out the decrees of the Heavenly Father (as opposed to the devils and the directives of their father below) would get too close to transgressing the distinction between our ectypal knowledge and the divine archetype. As the Protestant Scholastic theologians observed (following Medieval precedent), we can only engage in “our theology” (theology nostra), our theology on the way to the heavenly city (theologia viatorum). Still, for those who love the insights of C.S. Lewis, the wish for such a book can remain strong. Never mind, we have something better, the divine condescension, adapted to our creaturely, fallen understanding: the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

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Specifically, baptism is a sign and seal of the benefits of forgiveness (Acts 2:38 and 22:16) and of regeneration (Titus 3:5), a being incorporated into the fellowship with Christ and His Church (Rom. 6:4). Therefore baptism is ministered not only to such adults as have been won for Christ through the work of missions, but to the children of believers also, for they together with their parents are included in the covenant of grace, belong to the church (1 Cor. 7:14), and have been taken up into fellowship with the Lord. And when these children grow up, and by public confession personally acquiesce in that covenant, and have come to the years of discretion, and can distinguish the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:28), then they are called together with the whole church again and again to proclaim the Lord’s death till He come, and so strengthen themselves in the fellowship with Christ. For, although baptism and the holy supper have the same covenant of grace as their content, and although both give assurance of the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, the holy supper differs from baptism in this regard that it is a sign and a seal, not of incorporation into but of the maturation and strengthening in the fellowship of Christ and all His members (1 Cor. 10:16:17).

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine, trans. Henry Zylstra (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 541-542. Translation of Magnalia Dei (1909).

However, difficult it be for us to grasp, it is important we should recognize that God’s eternal decree gave the elect a super-creation subsistence before Him, so that they were capable of being loved and of receiving a grant of grace. In other words, in God’s eternal thoughts and foreviews, the elect were conceived and contemplated by Him in the Divine mind as real entities in a state of pure creaturehood, above and beyond any consideration of the fall. Even then they were “Blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” and “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:3,6). It is of great moment that the Church should thus be first considered by us, that we never lose sight of the original dignity and loveliness of the Church, anointed and blessed in Christ before the foundation of the world. Her state by the fall was not her original one, any more than her present state is the final one.

Arthur W. Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion (Pensacola: Chapel Library, n.d.), 61.

Those two sacraments have the whole covenant of grace with all of its benefits, in other words, they have Christ Himself as their content, and accordingly they cannot convey those benefits except by the way of faith. They were, accordingly, instituted for the believers and assure these believers of their portion in Christ. They do not precede the Word but follow it; they have not the power to grant a particular grace which cannot be given by the Word nor be accepted by faith; rather, they are based on the institution of the covenant of grace on God’s part and the confirmation of that covenant of man’s part.

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine, trans. Henry Zylstra (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 541. Translation of Magnalia Dei (1909).

The Scriptures are not laid down in a systematical form, though some of Paul’s epistles come near to it. Such a form would neither comport with the majesty of God their author, nor with the weak capacities of some men.—It would not shut up men to a diligent comparison of Scripture texts. It would not admit of such delightfully diversified connections of divine truths, nor represent them so suitably to the diversified conditions of men; nor could they be so usefully illustrated with a variety of historical facts.

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), p 58. Originally published as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion.

It is encouraging to see in this older author, this Scottish divine of the 18th century, that he was untroubled by the fact that the Bible was not written as a doctrinal handbook. What is more striking is how he was spurred on by it. If I could take one thing from this quote it’s how John Brown felt compelled to search the Scriptures by the fact that it is a collection of different writings, by different authors, in different genres. In fact, he found the diverse form of Scripture an encouragement to the enterprise of systematic theology.

Note also the spirit different from what one sometimes finds today. Too often I have heard the diversity of Scriptural writings put forward as an excuse for claiming contradiction and clouded obscurity for the Biblical message. Never mind that often proponents of Biblical obscurity (as opposed to perspicuity) need some confusion to cover for their unsound doctrines. No facile justifications for sloppy doctrinal formulations here!

John Brown, in contrast to modern evasions, strikes a balance. He points to the near systematical form of some of Paul’s letters. Doubtless Romans comes to mind as it has impressed Bible students through the centuries with it’s sustained thinking through glorious and awe-inspiring themes. May this meditation on the diversity of Scripture lead you to treasure the Bible more and more.

Courtesy of Heidelquotes.

Bavinck goes on in the passage from Reformed Dogmatics to emphasize that we never get the gospel abstracted from the law. This makes sense because by the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). We would neither know how great our sin and misery are nor how we are to thank God for such deliverance. It’s helpful to look at how Francis Turretin explains this matter of conditions:

We think the matter may be readily settled by a distinction, if we bear in mind the different senses of a condition. It may be taken either broadly and improperly (for all that man is bound to afford in the covenant of grace) or strictly and properly (for that which has some causality in reference to life and on which not only antecedently, but also causally, eternal life in its own manner depends). If in the latter sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised (Jn. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9). There is no other which could perform that office because there is no other which is receptive of Christ and capable of applying his righteousness. But in the former, there is nothing to hinder repentance and the obedience of the new life from being called a condition because they are reckoned among the duties of the covenant (Jn. 13:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:13).

(Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.3.15)

All of this points to the fact that whether we call the Covenant of Grace conditional or unconditional (a debate in Reformed theology that may never be resolved this side of glory), Scripture does relate election to the covenant and does so precisely for our comfort. If you call the covenant conditional, don’t forget that it’s all of grace, that even our faith, repentance and perseverance are gifts and that our God will not be frustrated in His purposes. God chose the weak things, the things that are despised, the things that are not to frustrate the things that are (see I Corinthians 1). If you prefer an unconditional covenant, remember that the Lord saved us by grace through faith and created us unto good works, even ordaining that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). There comes a point at which saying that the onus is on our shoulders to fulfill conditions, such that God’s grace is contingent on our performance, on what we chip in, that we’re left with a construct little different than Arminianism. Turretin says, “Although the covenant of grace be conditional, the promises of the law and the gospel are not therefore to be confounded” (12.3.6). And also this: “The covenant does not rest upon a condition in us, but upon the mere grace of God and his inviolable faithfulness and the infinite merit of Christ” (12.3.7). There is most certainly a place for clarifying the sense in which we talk of conditions in the Covenant of Grace.

For this is the design of the gospel, that Christ may become ours, and that we may be engrafted into his body. Now when the Father gives him to us in possession, he also communicates himself to us in him; and hence arises a participation in every benefit. Paul’s argument, then, is this— “Since you have, by means of the gospel which you have received by faith, been called into the fellowship of Christ, you have no reason to dread the danger of death, having been made partakers of him (Hebrews 3:14) who rose a conqueror over death.”

From Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians

The Westminster Directory of Public WorshipThe Westminster Directory of Public Worship by Sinclair B. Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship: Discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson brings to our time some deep wisdom for the public and private worship of God, along with two fine recommendations of the Puritan contribution to Christian ministry. The opening essays come from the pens of two Pastor-Scholars. Sinclair Ferguson’s piece deftly explains the Puritan model for the Minister of the Gospel. Ferguson conveys a concise history of the Reformation in England and Scotland and the high points of the Puritan care of souls with flowing prose.

Mark Dever takes up the Puritan view of preaching, explaining the teaching of the Westminster Directory with many delightful anecdotes and powerful quotations from the seventeenth century Puritans. Both Christian minister and layman will be blessed by meditating on these essays.

The Directory itself opens with an informative Preface giving the rationale for rejection of the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative approach found here. The pattern of the Directory lies in advising the minister on what sorts of things to pray, declare, and preach in worship rather than in setting out specific forms. It is fascinating to note, however, that an order of service emerges from the suggestions of Westminster. Even in the matter of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, many traditional elements remain. As William Maxwell put it, “Forms are inevitable in any act of public worship, unless it be a Quaker meeting.”

The chapter “Of Assembling of the Congregation” is filled with searching guidance on how to reverently frame one’s mind for worship. Even though the chapter has some clear marks of its time and place (seventeenth century Scotland and England), it remains powerful and timely. The chapters on prayer, especially the one on prayer before the sermon, are quite comprehensive in their coverage of the content of worshipful prayer. The chapter on preaching is a beautiful digest of Biblical exposition and application, making obvious the high regard found in the two opening essays. The chapters on the sacraments closely reflect the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The service of baptism presupposes infant baptism and presents some good suggestions for teaching the Biblical basis of the practice during its administration. The administration of the Lord’s Supper according to the Directory has a stately simplicity. One interesting aspect is that administration of the Supper seems to be “about” or “at” the table on which the bread and wine are placed. Of the remaining portions, it is worth mentioning that the chapter on visitation of the sick equips ministers with strong medicine for the soul while the body is ailing. The same chapter includes profound meditations on the transitory nature of earthly life and the glorious hope of heaven.

This book presents a wonderful and neglected monument in the tradition of Reformed liturgy. The Directory majestically reflects the reality that no set liturgies are set down in the Bible, in that way recommending the latitude, breadth, and discretion of its guidelines. I found myself missing an essay discussing the observance of the Sacraments or of some other element beside preaching and pastoral care. Still, what we have here is of such value that everyone interested in Biblical worship should prayerfully read this slender volume.

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