Calvin the Calvinist

December 9th, 2013

As might be expected from anyone who deals with the text being preached, in speaking of Ephesians 1:3,4 John Calvin devotes a good deal of time to the doctrine of election. In the second of 48 sermons on the book of Ephesians Calvin is concerned to magnify God and give assurance of our salvation (Calvin, John, Sermons on Ephesians, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p.26), and explains at length that it is necessary for the doctrine to be known and proclaimed (pp.25,26).

Calvin begins by highlighting the exclusivity of saving grace, as a way to emphasize its greatness (pp.22-24,26-28). While it is clear from the second of his sermons on Galatians that he believes in a general love of God for man as such, it is also clear that he understands that there is a grace confined to those who hear the gospel (pp.26,27), and in addition to that, a grace (a “double grace,” p.27) confined to the elect (pp.23,27). Calvin does not want anyone to surmise “that God’s grace is common to all men and that he offers and presents it to all men without exception” (p.22). He has some remarkably forceful words in this connection on page 27:

If this was done commonly and to all men without distinction, we should still have reason to magnify God. But now, when we see that some are hardened and others fickle, and that some go their ways without receiving any profit from what they have heard, and that others are altogether stupid, it is certain that it makes God’s grace more apparent to us, even as it is said by St. Luke that, at St. Paul’s preaching, as many believed as were ordained to salvation.

According to Calvin, God’s grace is made more apparent to us precisely because it is not indiscriminate. The fact that elect find mercy and the rest are hardened does not disparage, but rather magnifies God’s grace.

Election is demonstrated to arise from God’s free love and sovereign will (pp.26,30), and the notion that it is based on foreseen merits is exploded because it is from before the foundation of the world (pp.31,32) and that is in Jesus Christ (pp. 32,33). If anything needed to be added to the demonstration, the simple remark “all goodness comes from his election” (p.34) would suffice. Throughout the sermon Calvin has repeatedly emphasized the reality of human sinfulness, nowhere more vividly than in the hypothetical scenario he raises when explaining that God could not foresee what could never be (pp.31,32):

But how could he foresee that which could not be? For we know that all Adam’s offspring is corrupted, and that we do not have the skill to think one good thought of doing well, and much less therefore are we able to commence to do good. Although God should wait a hundred thousand years for us, if we could remain so long in the world, yet it is certain that we should never come to him nor do anything else but increase the mischief continually to our own condemnation. In short, the longer men live in the world, the deeper they plunge themselves into their damnation. And therefore God could not foresee what was not in us before he himself put it into us.

It is abundantly clear from just the one sermon that Calvin believes in total depravity, unconditional election, and at least the presupposition of limited atonement – exclusive grace. He is undoubtedly a person of much greater genius than many who have been given the label formed from his name; but the Canons of the Synod of Dordt are manifestly not contrary to the overall tenor of Calvin’s reading of Scripture.

Coleridge on Controversy

March 28th, 2008

Here are some striking words from Coleridge, which it is not hard to adapt to current controversies.

“Address Delivered at Bristol” from The Friend, First Section, Essay XVI

The man who would find truth, must likewise seek it with a humble and simple heart, otherwise he will be precipitate and overlook it; or he will be prejudiced, and refuse to see it. To emancipate itself from the tyranny of association, is the most arduous effort of the mind, particularly in religious and political disquisitions. The assertors of the system have associated with it the preservation of order and public virtue; the oppugners, imposture and wars and rapine. Hence, when they dispute, each trembles at the consequence of the others opinions instead of attending to his train of arguments. Of this however we may be certain, whether we be Christians or infidels, aristocrats or republicans, that our minds are in a state insusceptible of knowledge, when we feel an eagerness to detect the falsehood of an adversary’s reasoning, not a sincere wish to discover if there be truth in them;—when we examine an argument in order that we may answer it, instead of answering because we have examined it.
Our opponents are chiefly successful in confuting the theory of freedom by the practice of its advocates: from our lives they draw the most forcible arguments against our doctrines. Nor have they adopted an unfair mode of reasoning. In a science the evidence suffers neither diminution nor increase from the actions of its professors; but the comparative wisdom of political systems depends necessarily on the manners and capacities of the recipients. Why should all things be thrown into confusion to acquire that liberty which a faction of sensualists and gamblers will neither be able nor willing to preserve?

Obviously the example of the Federal Vision controversy leaps to mind. And Coleridge has some good warnings for us in this regard. If your claim is that Federal Vision doctrine (or the Truly Reformed doctrine of its vocal opponents) is scriptural, then it must also be a doctrine according to godliness. And so judging of the truth of the doctrine by the practice of its professors is not a heinous defection from the high standard of real rationality. Of course it is true that a graceless individual may say the truth, and a truthless individual be kind and polite. But if you maintain that your doctrine encompasses the Biblical teaching on salvation, assurance, growth in grace, the right use of the means of grace, and so forth, it is hardly unreasonable to request some demonstration of the beneficial effects of your right teaching: and where better to look for the fruit of that teaching than in the lives of its teachers?

Let me preface this by saying that my qualifications to express an opinion on fundamentalism are not so much scholarly as experiential. I am not drawing on my rather scanty reading of studies of fundamentalism, so much as on the fact that my upbringing was among fundamentalists. Of my American acquaintances, the majority in my generation wound up going to Bob Jones University –or to institutions which considered BJU as somewhat deficiently conservative. Harold Sightler was a familiar voice from his sermons on tape: my father was an admirer of Carl McIntire. I believe the first theological topic I became conversant with was the doctrine of separation: and I first learned to pour scorn on labels by being taught to see through those who mocked the pursuit of purity in the church as “secondary separation”. For many years I have been part of a church with historic ties to Dr. Ian R.K. Paisley. In my own upbringing, it may suffice to point out that I did not enter a movie theater for the first time until I was in my twenties, and drinking, smoking, gambling, and listening to rock music were all placed on the same level of unbelievable and intolerable wickedness which perhaps someone might have done once years ago before they were saved. I believe, in other words, that I have enough experience among the fundamentalists to say something about them.
And let me say as well that it is not my purpose to undervalue fundamentalism. They have certainly opposed liberalism and apostasy and compromise. They have not been afraid to call error by its own proper name. They have been generous: they have sent out many missionaries; they have been certain enough of the Bible to stand out against contemporary culture on the strength of it. I think it is indisputable that without them the numbers of those who actually believe that the Bible is God’s word would be much smaller. In my own experience, the most shining examples of hospitality, of generosity, of prayerfulness, of zeal have usually come from my fundamentalist, rather than from my Reformed or broadly evangelical acquaintances
And yet it is obvious on the face of it that there are problems within the movement. Doctrinal minimalism (and at least at times a sort of anti-intellectualism) is one point that springs to mind. Instead of keeping a full-orbed confession, they have deliberately shaved doctrinal statements down to a minimum. In close connection with this, there has been a massive emphasis on points of external conduct, and many are more zealous for maintaining a code of standards than for upholding the law of God or preaching the Gospel of Christ. They have seized on ancillary points (sometimes legitimate, sometimes without even that) and elevated them to absolute criteria for fellowship, obscuring more fundamental concerns. Naturally in many cases this has led to a great deal of hypocrisy.
Obviously in many cases there has also been an undue belligerence. The separatists have become schismatic, and in an ironic turn have become those who cause divisions, whom, according to the apostolic precept, we must avoid (Romans 16:17). In connection with this must be mentioned the lack of self-control manifested in fits of temper and self-righteous outbursts which have plagued many adherents of the movement. And of course there is a great lack of love manifested in and strengthened by this tendency. And these points often show up in graceless, legalistic, browbeating preaching which is nothing short of spiritual abuse of the sheep of God’s flock.
But these, I think, with the possible exception of the doctrinal minimalism, are symptoms rather than the disease itself (in part because of the exceptions which I, and anyone well acquainted with fundamentalism of the variety I am describing here can easily come up with). There is a common thread which binds these different defects together, and is clearly seen in the grasping for power and control, the hunger for notoriety, which can often be observed within the movement. Closely allied to this is the spin, the way of excusing or justifying or concealing obvious abuses within the institutions. Dissenters are vilified: people who leave are sadly prayed for as being in spiritual peril, or denounced as spiritual traitors. Authority and influence (legitimate or illegitimate) are systematically used and abused for the preservation of people and institutions, to achieve the continued hegemony of a particular leader, organization, or platform.
Our Lord makes two statements which I believe sum up the root of the problems that fundamentalism has been plagued with since its inception (to pursue this further may I recommend the sympathetic history by David O. Beale called In Pursuit of Purity and published by Bob Jones University press). These words cut through the pretenses and lay bare the real suppurating wound in the heart of this Christian movement.
John 5:44 “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”
John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
There is a real, in many cases a patent, ignoring or twisting of God’s word in order to maintain a certain position within the world of fundamentalism. Preachers who seem to be polar opposites in methodology and what theology they have, nonetheless invite one another to preach: politics dictates who is “godly” and “a good preacher” and “a great man of God”. Fawning introductions are given in introducing guest speakers. And of course this can only be sustained by a persistent refusal to look on anything except the outward appearance –and even that, only in a limited sense.
In what may seem like a paradoxical twist, the fundamentalists who are constantly mocked by the world, have developed a consuming concern for their own reputation for respectability. Many times this eagerness to be thought well of is concealed under or justified by an exaggerated concern to “have a good testimony”. This seems paradoxical, because of course many fundamentalists are perfectly willing to be scorned by the world and be written off as crazy, illiterate, behind the times, or fanatical. But those are not the points on which they pride themselves: their positive self-image does not depend on favorable views from the world. But it does depend on being perceived as godly, anointed, steadfast, fearless, in the right. This is the explanation of their externalism: “we must look godly.” This is the explanation for a lot of their rage: “those who might make us look bad must be so thoroughly discredited that no one who matters will ever believe them.” Hence the rather frequent question, “Are you going to take the word of some malcontent over that of these godly men?” But what if the malcontent has documents, recordings, witnesses? And what if the godly men aren’t actually godly?
In other words, my thesis is that the explanation for the defects of fundamentalism is almost brutally simple. They have fallen prey to worldliness. The pride of life has consumed them (see this previous post for a documentation of worldliness with regard to the ministry). Their zeal has become a zeal for their own righteousness –a paltry, external thing that must be propped up by unbiblical standards and maintained in the minds of other fundamentalists whatever the cost. We thought that in the last days men would be lovers of themselves (though we didn’t always see that it would be in their own self-righteous self-image); we knew that they would be boastful (though we haven’t always understood that it would be in how well they kept their precious standards); but what we didn’t see was that these people would be in the church, that they would have a very impressive form of godliness.
What if there was always a creeping worm of self-righteous pride at the back of this movement? And what if it has become a mighty dragon of worldliness, an insatiable longing for being acknowledged as godly? It would certainly not mean that there are no true believers within that movement: it does not mean that even among the leadership there are not many who will sit down in the kingdom with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, instances of people who having been redeemed by the Lord have become holy, and humble, and happy. But it does mean that many have lost their first love: it does mean that many have a name that they live and are, in fact, dead. And it does mean that we are called upon to turn away from such as have the form of godliness, but deny the power of it (2 Timothy 3:1-5).


November 23rd, 2007

There are days when you’re ashamed to be a Christian because you’re so evil.  And there are days when you’re ashamed to admit you’re a Christian because of how evil other Christians are.

Of course, Christianity is for evil people: it is about how God justifies the ungodly.  It is not about how the ungodly justify themselves.  And that is why it is not so much even the evil committed by Christians, as that evil self-righteously practiced in the name of Christianity that really nauseates you.  All Christians are sinners; but Christians ought to be people who admit their sinfulness and don’t seek for excuses.  If we look for forgiveness (as we do) then we can’t simultaneously look for ways to excuse or justify ourselves.  And we certainly can’t call our evil good and boast in our non-existent righteousness and claim God’s vindication.

Thank God that our allegiance to Christianity is not because of other Christians: individualistic as this may sound, it is because of Christ.  If it depended on other Christians, I would apostasize: if it depended on me, I would apostasize yesterday.  But Christ gives me no reason to depart from Him; Christ gives me no reason to behave in any way inconsistent with His perfection.

Sin, in ourselves or in others, is not a reason to depart from Christ: He is the Saviour of sinners.  But it is the fact that He is the saviour of sinners which should make us willing to admit that we are sinners.  It is the truth that God is both just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus that should make us most unwilling to justify ourselves.  The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is still in Scripture: and the word of Jesus still stands.  The man who craved mercy, acknowledging his sins, went home justified: the man who praised God for his own righteousness, who compared himself favorably to others, went home unjustified.

I understand that this is not the whole of Scriptural revelation: I understand that there is a legal and a societal innocence which gives you a platform from which to protest real injustice.

But I understand this too: that mud slinging and scandal mongering and rumor circulating and character assassination is behaviour logically inconsistent with the system of doctrine taught in Scripture (and summarized in the Westminster Standards).  When it boils right down to it, there are two charges we can throw around, which will stick to almost anybody.  The first is truly universal, and it is hard to think of anything worse to say: “You are a sinner”.  But the second reaches a greater depth still: “You trust that you are righteous and despise others” (Luke 18:9).  The man who confesses and forsakes his sins finds mercy: it is the one who covers it, whether with outright concealment, with excuses, with spurious justifications, who does not prosper.

And so to the TRs and the FVists, whose contentions of today made me think about this, and perhaps even to the smugly aloof from the current ecclesiastical dustup, a word: The fact that your opponent is wrong doesn’t mean that you are right.

Here are some comments on a book I happened across. I am glad I didn’t spend any money on it.

What Every Preacher Should Know!

The Pastor’s Success Handbook

by Hugh F. Pyle (SWORD of the LORD Publishers, Murfreesboro, TN 1981).

There is obviously a grave problem here. It is that the book sets out to do what its title promises: it tells you how to be a successful pastor. Now success seems to be defined primarily along two lines: soul-winning and church attendance (other points such as finances are means to these ends).

That soul-winning is a measure of success is seen in this statement from pp. 361,362: “After we got them saved most women looked around and realized that our ladies wore dresses to church. And most boys when they became Christians went out and got a haircut. If they didn’t they would often drift on to another church, but at least we had a chance to evangelize them first”

And to demonstrate that the size of the church is a measure of success to which other elements are subordinated see: the chapter, “Making Sunday Night Services Sparkle!” –the reason for attempting this is so that people return; p.89, which begins the chapter “Make a Joyful Noise!” which is about how to obtain a high profile for your church; p.103 “As you become successful and your church grows….”; he states this on p.317 saying with regard to the designing of bulletins, “…the Sunday morning crowd is already there when they get that bulletin. The big thing is to get them back that night!”; or the long discussion on naming your church on pp.341-343 introduced with the words, “Names can help to make or break a church. Think of the churches you know that are big and flourishing and then study their names.”; or this sage counsel: “Expository preaching—preaching through a book in the Bible—is another way of keeping things going, either on Sunday morning or Sunday night, and you may be able to go longer than two months on such a series. This is also true for Wednesday night studies. But watch your people. If the crowds begin to diminish and interest lags, I would abandon or postpone the series and move over into greener pastures.” (p.137)

A global statement is found on p.102: “A bus ministry will be rewarding. Souls will be won, families will be reached, children will be kept out of trouble, Christians will have a good opportunity to serve, people will know you love them, and your church will grow.”

Stemming from this telic error, the pastor is encouraged to follow a business model for his church. This can be seen in the book recommendations: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (p.22); or the instruction to occasionally read “a self-help book by an outstanding motivator in the business world. Or listen to the tapes of men like Clement Stone, Zig Ziglar, or “Tremendous” Jones” (pp. 53,54); again, on p.73: “Be Sure the Money Is Handled and Used in an Honest and Businesslike Manner” –a section heading which by itself is perhaps not objectionable: but in combination with his other statements reveals that he does consider the business world a model for the church. The recommendation to read motivational authors is emphasized again on p.238, speaking of books that it is good for the minister to have: “Every preacher should read some self-help and motivational books. One of the very best is See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar. Get it!” Or consider this quotation from p.371:

(25) Q: HOW DOES A PREACHER BUILD SELF-CONFIDENCE? A: Nothing succeeds like success. Keep working at those sermons and at that visitation until you see some results. Every victory should spur you on. Then read Zig Ziglar and other motivators. Listen to their tapes. Read Jack Hyles. Read Proverbs. And by all means, read the successful men of the Bible—Paul, John, Moses, David, Samuel, Abraham. It is not as much self-confidence as it is God-confidence!

Finally, here is a clear statement from p.64:

By the time the choir or quartet takes their seats, the pastor should already be making his next introduction or the song leader should be starting the next song. If there was as much “dead space” on television productions as in the average church service the sponsors would lose millions of dollars in advertising time.

Obviously it is a book of techniques, of methods for accomplishing your goals. As such the book itself, perhaps, cannot be criticized for not justifying the ends proposed or setting out the theology undergirding them: but the assumptions that emerge are a profound indictment of what “the Lord’s work” was conceived to be among the fundamentalists who bore the brand of The SWORD of the LORD”.

The good theology is conspicuously absent –to a woeful degree. Consider his book recommendations, from the chapter, “The Books I Would Not Part With” (pp.323-331). There is only one systematic theology, Chafer’s, which was recommended by another pastor. He cautions against A.W. Pink’s “extreme views on the sovereignty of God” (p.325); and there are only a few books that he mentions that I would consider worth reading: Pilgrim’s Progress, Young’s Analytical Concordance, Spurgeon’s Lectures to His Students, An All-Around Ministry, Memoirs of McCheyne, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries. He also mentions Baxter’s Saints Everlasting Rest as a book his readers should own, but follows up immediately: “…along with Finney’s Lectures on Revival and his autobiography.” We might think he is simply unaware of the issues dividing some of his recommended authors from others: but we should observe that he does note: “Keep in mind that I do not recommend all of the books mentioned for their doctrinal content, but many of them for their practical value.” But this is not all of the evidence. He comments on p. 152: “One noted British preacher and writer has stated (in a book I just finished reading) that does not believe in nor practice the public invitation!” Or consider this, from p. 153:

One advantage of the personal workers’ starting to move at the beginning of the invitation is that, psychologically, the movement is already right and sinners find it quite easy just to move out into the flow of those who are going forward to deal with others. That way the sinner cannot feel that he is all alone and that every eye in the congregation is upon him. He may even think that some of those going forward are making the decision he should be making and his resolve to go forward may be increased and made easier.

Perhaps more shocking is this, from pp. 154,155:

Don’t let the song leader change hymns during the invitation. If a change is to be made the pastor (or whoever has been preaching) will be the one to make such a decision. Sometimes, when no one is moving on “Just As I Am,” you might find it best to switch to “Almost Persuaded” or “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”. This advice is repeated on p.156, where we also have this somewhat moderating statement: “If no one comes after several verses are sung, and you feel you have delivered your soul and done all you can, then there is nothing to do but leave the rest up to God and conclude the invitation.”

This is not to deny that he says some true and accurate things. He is obviously sincere and well-intentioned. But that is scant comfort, for it means that he believes he is doing God service. He doesn’t seem to be a religious charlatan, in that he can make such statements as these (p.132):

They may not think of you as a jolly good fellow, or a good builder, or a fancy talker or a sharp administrator—but whatever else they think, make sure they think of you as a man of God! There is no substitute for that. And there’s a wide open market for such men. Be a prime minister!

“The man preaches as if God were at his elbow,” was said of one Spirit-filled preacher. Never forget that. You are representing Him. When you preach the truth it is God’s truth. You never have to apologize for that! Give them what God says. “Speak. . .all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word,” God told Jeremiah (Jer. 26:2). Notice, “diminish not a word“—don’t water it down, don’t softpedal the truth, don’t spread cool whip on the cancer of sin.

Still the other side of the book remains. The author seems quite unconscious of any tension: indeed, his lack of self-consciousness is one of the alarming features about this whole thing. It would seem that he has no qualms in instructing ministers whose ambition is success (defined in very visible terms) and whose model is business on how to use techniques built on a very inadequate doctrinal foundation to accomplish their goals.

So that ultimately the problem is that there is an essential and unrecognized worldliness about these separated, fundamental brethren.

And yet, I confess to a certain fondness for Dr. Pyle (Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple –p.7). His style at times is racy and vigorous, and always energetic (“hillbilly whang”, p.108; “Print an Attractive Card on Slick Stock and Salt the Town Down With It”, p.101.; [of visitors] “They will be less likely to be embarrassed to give you their card and meet the pastor this way than to have to be “shown off” and introduced to the entire twelve tribes of Israel at the morning service”, pp.52,53). What with one thing and another, though, in spite of such occasional flashes of earthy brilliance, I can’t bring myself to finish the book. Even the suspicion that I have, perhaps, through such foolhardiness consigned myself to unsuccessfulness does not cause me to move forward.

Studied Misrepresentation

August 15th, 2007

Samuel Johnson, Life of Dryden

[Speaking of Elkanah Settle’s response in kind to Dryden’s attack upon his drama, The Empress of Morocco: in the context provided by Johnson Settle’s response seems very just]

To say that his answer is equal to the censure, is no high condemnation. To expose Dryden’s method of analysing his expressions, he tries the same experiment upon the description of the ships in the Indian Emperor [one of Dryden’s plays] , of which however he does not deny the excellence; but intends to show, that by studied misconstruction everything may be equally represented as ridiculous.

And again we come back to this same point: without honesty, humility and charity controversy acts rather like Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, than like the glorious polemics of Paul which shed light on all areas of theology while arraigning and destroying an host of errors.

Rev. Matthew Winzer:

The external administration of the covenant in time to the visible church does not confer spiritual benefits, but only provides the means by which grace is administered. The means belong to all in the visible church. The grace belongs to the elect alone.

Define “Obscurity”

August 9th, 2007

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici, Preface

I have dwelt longer on this Subject than I intended; and longer than, perhaps, I ought; for having laid down, as my Foundation, that the Scripture is a rule; that in all things needfull to Salvation, it is clear, sufficient, and ordain’d by God Almighty for that purpose, I have left my self no right to interpret obscure places, such as concern the possibility of eternal happiness to Heathens: because whatsoever is obscure is concluded not necessary to be known.

Certainly all true Protestants can join in gladly affirming the first part of Dryden’s statement. The problem then is that it were only too easy to identify any part as obscure, and conclude it unnecessary to be known. But if it is absolutely unnecessary, why is it in Scripture at all? Here is another take on the matter:

G.N.M. Collins, “Knox and the Scottish Reformation” in Puritan Papers, v.2

[Recording a conversation between Knox and Queen Mary]

“Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and other [sic?] interpret in another. Who am I to believe? and who shall judge?” said the Queen.

“Madam,” replied Knox, “ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word, and further than that Word teacheth you ye shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself; and if there appears any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to himself, explains the same more clearly in other places.”

Here are two quotes from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (surely one of the most thrilling speakers to ever have been recorded: go to the ML-J recordings trust web site to see what I mean).

From: “Revival: An Historical and Theological Survey” in Puritan Papers, v.1 (this paper was read in 1959):

…We are told that must not talk about revival because we need reformation first. You cannot have revival, it is said, without prior reformation. You must be right with respect to your doctrine before you have a right to pray for revival. So we must concentrate on reformation alone. [Follows some discussion of the historical relationship between reformation and revival]

…There are people who say, “You have no right to talk about revival, you have no right to expect revival until people become Reformed in their doctrine.” The simple answer is that George Whitefield received his baptism of power in 1737, but did not become a Calvinist in his theology until 1739, when he was out in America. Revival had come to him, and through him to many others, before his doctrine became right. Exactly the same thing happened to Howell Harris in Wales. He had his great baptism of power in 1735, and it was only two or three years later that he came to see the truth doctrinally. Once more, therefore, I would use this argument. If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something. That is to put a limit upon God. It is to lapse into Arminian terminology and thinking, and to deny the fundamental tenet of the Reformed position. If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts. In the midst of such conditions God did this amazing and astonishing thing, even while some of the men He used were still confused in their doctrinal views. It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

And from: “Puritan Perplexities: Lessons from 1640-1662” in Puritan Papers, v.2. This paper was originally read in 1962

…concerned as we all are, or at any rate should be, with a true revival of religion, with a manifestation of the power of Almighty God amongst us, with a shaking and a bringing together of the “dry bones,” with a demonstration of the power of God and an authentication of His most holy word—concerned as we are about that, we must realize that there is nothing more urgently important than that we should examine ourselves. Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual. It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance. It is vital, therefore, that we should address ourselves to this whole problem of the condition and state of the Crhuch in order that we may obey the leading and prompting of the Spirit of God and prepare ourselves for the much longed for and looked for outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

Iain Murray records in his two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones (I don’t have it with me: I believe it’s the chapter in the second volume called “The Best of Men”) that Lloyd-Jones had a habit of speaking very positively. It is rather remarkable as you read his sermons the number of things than which nothing could be more important! (To be thoroughly fair, though, that concept is often limited with something along the lines of, “in this whole matter of our ______”.) Mr. Murray also remarks that on occasion Lloyd-Jones could argue quite strongly for the impossibility of anyone holding a position, which he might himself have held, and perhaps not even that long previously. From 1959 to 1962 is certainly not a tremendously long time: and yet consider these statements:


If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something.


Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual.


If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts.


It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance.


It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

(Do notice that the quotes are not sets: 1962 quotes contrasts with what is above and below.)

Now this sounds like a pretty frank contradiction. From 1959 to 1962 it would definitely seem that Lloyd-Jones has altered his opinion, or forgotten it, or been seized with a new leading idea. Can there be any doubt that he has drawn different conclusions from the teaching of history? Has he not fallen into what he at one point called Arminian terminology and thinking? But let us engage in a little game: let us do all we can to be medieval and “save the appearances”. Bonus points to anyone who guesses what other medieval practice is being followed here.

Notice a few facts before hooting that you knew that the Doctor’s anti-intellectualism (Carl Trueman’s word) would result in him becoming illogical. First, he states and argues very vigorously that you cannot say that reformation must precede revival. Second, note that reformation in 1959 is conceived of in primarily (not exclusively) doctrinal terms. Third, notice that in 1962 it is Laodiceanism, backsliding, apostasy that is conceived of as an hindrance to revival. When these points are taken into consideration, it is evident that while there is undoubtedly a verbal difference in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ statements, conceptually the difference may not be so unbridgeably vast. Doctrinal Calvinism is not a necessary antecedent condition for revival, indeed, doctrinal Calvinism would regard that view as quite non-Calvinistic. But moral and spiritual earnestness is necessary to revival: God pours water on those who are thirsty. And if we go further afield in these papers, we discover that in 1959 he spoke of two parts of revival, a stirring up of those who are in the Church (including the conversion of some who merely formal professors), and then a welter of conversions among those who are not. And if we postulate further that in 1962 his usage of the word “revival” had narrowed to that latter part, we may quite easily see that the contradiction is entirely verbal. Thus in 1959, he spoke of revival as including what in 1962 he had come to more narrowly call reformation. Now obviously, one cannot claim that reformation is a necessary antecedent condition to reformation! But even in 1959 he had stated quite vigorously that revival affects the church first of all. So it is a question of definitions: if we think of revival as God awakening a comatose church, then certainly nothing precedes it; if we think of revival as God doing a remarkable work of conversion in the community surrounding the church, then according to Lloyd-Jones in 1959 and 1962, reformation in the church does come before that. We can then distinguish some stages in the Doctor’s vocabulary: in 1959 reformation would be defined as: a return to Calvinism in the doctrinal realm, and revival is a work of God in two stages, one primarily in the church, and the other primarily in expanding the church. In 1962, though, reformation is conceived along the lines of repentance and a return to earnestness, and is thus more closely parallel to the first stage of 1959-definition revival, whereas by 1962 that word has been appropriated to the second part of that remarkable work of God. So I think that we shall not be forced to hypothesize an intervening brain fever or mini-stroke: no, Dr. Lloyd-Jones has simply become more precise in his vocabulary.

This grumble is not about other people’s historical ignorance (or my own).  No, it’s about a tendency to grumble about historical ignorance and not do anything about it.  We are silly creatures: and part of our silliness is that we sometimes feel that if we have grumbled about something we have done something about it.  It is as though we equated grumbling with action, complaining with reformation, querulousness with effort.  It is an easy mistake to make, I think; but in plain terms what this silliness results in is hypocrisy.  Because I may lament my ignorance quite movingly; but the proof that I am ashamed of it is that I take steps to remedy it.

Of course, here too there are pitfalls.  One such pitfall is that we read in the categories of our time.  What would Calvin have said to Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til?  That is not to say that Calvin doesn’t have an epistemology: but it is the wrong way to discover it to try to find out where he comes down on that particular divide.

And a still worse fault is people grumbling about other people’s historical ignorance, while being wildly ignorant themselves. It’s handy in a debate: moan about people’s ignorance of history, find a quote or two online, and you’ve triumphed.  (Here I would like to record that I was once hailed as “quite the source for historical theology” because I read through Calvin’s letters from the council of Ratisbon in order to be able to give an opinion in the discussion about it.  And yet those letters and a lecture I once heard about it were my only sources.  This is no reflection on the gentleman who was so kind as to make this statement: it is a comment on what is perceived as good research.)  Blaming other people for ignorance of topics we are ignorant of is a deeper hypocrisy than indulging in some well-meaning but ineffective lamentation.

So here is a suggestion: before again complaining about historical ignorance, take your best shot at answering a research question from the Matthew Poole project.  Here is a sample, but there are plenty more.

“Hence God is said to have set the beams of the chambers (namely, the upper chambers, as the Saxon rightly translates it) in the waters, Psalm 104:3, and (what is the same) above many waters, Psalm 29:3 (Gregorie’s Notes and Observations 23).” To which Saxon rendering is he referring?