Dear Reader,

As we remember the Reformation another time this year, the sons and daughters of the Reformers need encouragement to hold on and not lose heart. The pressures to give up, sell out and make common cause with enemies of the Reformation are all around us. If only the call to change was overt and explicit. No, we cannot fall back into complacency for the dangers are subtle and attractive. Perhaps you have heard something like this:

The Reformed have to compromise because the passage of years have changed the relationship between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant world. Rome really isn’t that bad anymore. Just look, there’s a new, charming, more open Pope! Besides, the forces of secularism are mounting a major push against Christianity and Christian civilization and we need to put old doctrinal disputes to one side. The times are desperate and we have to unite with Roman Catholics against the onslaught of a more militant secularism.

Hopefully you can see through this deceptive call and not allow important issues to roll into one historic panic. Rome still holds to a false gospel, still adds to the word of God and still corrupts Christian worship with many serious abuses. Civilizations in crisis aren’t going to wipe away the Reformation’s conflict with Rome. Let’s reject the false dilemma. There are options besides joining Rome in her errors on the one side and turning a blind eye to the course of the world on the other.

Do you mostly receive and reservedly adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as sort of containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you promise that if at any time you find this system of doctrine out of accord with any of the fundamentals of your own system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your flock the changes which need to take place in the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms due to changes in your own views since the assumption of your ordination vow?

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 Bible, of course, is not a systematic presentation of theological data. Rather, it is the record of God’s redemptive revelation. Or, to put it in another way, it is a record of redemptive history. It is the historical record of what God has done–his redemptive acts, and also of what he has said. In other words, we find in the Bible not only the mighty acts of God, but also his own interpretation of those acts. There is much emphasis today on the idea that revelation is event or act, and that propositions are not revelational. A study of the Bible itself reveals a combination of both.

Morton Smith, Systematic Theology: Volume 1 (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 39.

I don’t think I could have said this any better so I will defer to a wise comment over at Greenbaggins. Here is an excellent run-down of why only those who just want Leithart off the hook can really be satisfied with the outcome of his trial:

The main arguments advanced by his supporters in the trial seem to be: “the PCA is too small already, we need to make sure the boundaries of what’s acceptable are large enough to include Leithart”, and “some reformed person at some time in history held one view similar to one of Leitharts, therefore he’s ok” (never mind the fact that finding someone who held to his system of doctrine would be difficult indeed, and that said view is contrary to the standards), and “our witnesses have more degrees than yours, please ignore the fact that they haven’t actually studied what he has written”. If those who support Leithart were loving of their confessional brothers in a Biblical manner, they would have at the trial demonstrated that a plain reading of Leithart and of the WCF (which we have all vowed is a faithful exposition of Scripture) are similar, rather than making the arguments that they did, and thus convince their confessional brethren of their error.

One thing I would add is that partly because Leithart’s defense counsel capitulated to the standards of secular courts did they spend so much effort flaunting the academic credentials of their witnesses (and their own) and playing presbyterian politics in the filth of personal destruction, especially the personal destruction of Lane Keister. Mark B. finishes strong, telling it like it is about the Leithart defense fund in the PCA:

Ask yourself this: Who are those decrying those who oppose the FV the loudest? Is it not those who would like to view our standards as something antiquated and restricting, who have to search for ways to show how they are in agreement with the standards, whose list of exceptions is almost as long as the confession, or who think that the WCF needs an update or rewritten, or maybe just CWAGA folk? Who are those who oppose the FV? Are they not those who see the WCF as faithfully summarizing what Scripture teaches? If we are a confessional denomination, how are we faithful to our vows?

Thanks, Mark B. Those following the judicial phase of the PCA’s FV woes should expect the outcome desired by the big-tent, latitudinarian, evangelicalism-friendly, Westminster-is-passé coalition. By all means pray, but I think it’s just sensible to expect the worst.

The Aquila Report is carrying the news that Robert L. Reymond has died. Today we mourn the loss of a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a past minister of the Presbyterian Church in America, a theological educator of many years, and the author of a major one-volume system of theology. Reymond also wrote monographs on various topics and contributed to “debate books.” The latter effort includes arguing (I’d say courageously) for a supralapsarian perspective in a multiple views book on the doctrine of election. We will certainly miss this teacher of the church but we can be happy for him that on the deep theological conundrums, faith has given way to sight.

Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John CalvinGrace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin by B.A. Gerrish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace and Gratitude is an impressive, scholarly examination of Calvin’s Doctrine on the Lord’s Supper, beginning in a seemingly unusual place. Starting with creation and God as the Fountain of All Good and a Benevolent Father, Gerrish takes up wider themes in Calvin’s theology, showing how these themes preoccupied Calvin the theologian and naturally played dominant roles in the shape of his Eucharistic theology.

Overall, Gerrish ably guides his readers through apt quotations of Calvin’s work. He also shows a superb conversance with the relevant background. Gerrish is particularly good in the early chapters at setting out Calvin’s intellectual world as well as the general history of thought on the goodness of God.

Gerrish occasionally reveals his bias as a mainline historical theologian of the 20th century, complete with ecumenical preoccupations. Even so, I am impressed that he mostly sets aside quibbles and modern critical concerns so that Calvin and his Reformation context receive deep appreciation.

The scope of this work makes it particularly valuable. Gerrish sets the stage with a statement of the issues and an exploration of Calvin’s “Sum of Piety” in the introductory chapter. Moving on through Calvin’s conception of a Benevolent Creator to Calvin’s theology of the Means of Grace and then his thought on Adoption, we finally get into the Lord’s Supper in the last two chapters only after discussing Calvin’s theology of baptism. Readers will enjoy the way the background on the major Calvinistic themes leads naturally to Calvin’s complex and poetic Eucharistic theology.

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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.