Thursday, July 31, 2014

Free Ebooks from RC Sproul
Learning to share the gospel from the book of John
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, Florida, 32771
© 2014 Ligonier Ministries
You received this because you subscribed at
Update Profile or Unsubscribe | View Online
Call 800-435-4343 anytime.

Psalm 145:13

One of the most encouraging aspects about our Lord is the fact that he is eternal.  He has had no beginning and he has no end.  He is a timeless being who is not bound by limitations due to time and space.  All that exists was created and is sustained by him.  For those reasons all that exists belongs to him.  He is King and Ruler, of all.  And we do not want to miiss the truth that he is a benevolent sovereign, a loving King who is King of all.  Combine those two truths together and we get what the Psalmist is praising God for in Psalm 145:13.  “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.”

The point upon which the Psalmist’s mind rests is the eternity of the divine throne,—“thy reign is a reign of all eternities.” The Lord’s kingdom is without beginning, without break, without bound, and without end. He never abdicates his throne, neither does he call in a second to share his empire. None can overthrow his power, or break away from his rule. Neither this age, nor the age to come, nor ages of ages shall cause his sovereignty to fail. Herein is rest for faith. “The Lord (sits as) King forever.” “And thy dominion (endures) throughout all generations.” Men come and go like shadows on the wall, but God reigneth eternally. We distinguish kings as they succeed each other by calling them first and second; but this King is Jehovah, the First and the Last. Adam in his generation knew his Creator to be King, and the last of his race shall know the same. All hail, Great God! Thou art ever Lord of lords![1]
We never have to wonder who is going to succeed our Lord.  We never have to worry about the goodness of the one to follow because the One who reigns now will reign forever and has reigned forever.  Furthermore, he has demonstrated his grace and mercy and love in a manner that can never be exceeded and leaves no room to doubt just how benevolent a Sovereign we serve.

Other kingdoms have perished, and shall perish: but this shall endure for ever. Though it is as “a stone cut out without hands,” and neither founded nor supported by human power, it “shall break in pieces all other kingdoms, and shall stand for ever and ever.” “The gates of hell (with all their policy and power) shall never prevail against it;” no, nor against the (least) subject in it. Nay, when “the earth, and all that is therein, shall be burnt up and utterly dissolved,” this kingdom shall continue in its utmost vigour; nor shall its prosperity languish as long as God himself shall endure.[2]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The treasury of David: Psalms 120-150 (Vol. 6, p. 380). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[2] Simeon, C. (1836). Horae Homileticae: Psalms, LXXIII–CL (Vol. 6, p. 488). London: Samuel Holdsworth.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Wonder Working God by Jared Wilson

Jared Wilson remains one of my favorite authors.  His work is clear and forceful, even though there is much disarming and enlightening humor generously sprinkled throughout.  His desire is that the reader would love the Lord Jesus more and, through that love, seek to live a life that honors him by making him known.  This is another book that, I believe, will help many to that end.

This spring Wilson released The Storytelling God, a work that focused on the parables of Christ.  His newest work is a sequel of sorts(compendium?...follow-up? goes together well!).  In The Wonder Working God,Wilson takes the reader through the miracle of Christ, all the while pointing the reader to the Kingdom of God and the King himself.

In a work like this, on a subject like this, what words mean are of great import.  The way "miracle" gets tossed around in common speech and in Christian circles makes it difficult to get the proper understanding of the miracles of Christ.  In a world where many "feel no such compunction" to avoid cheapening the word "miracle" and where phrases like “Choose your miracle.” and “Every day is a miracle.” and others "proliferate in both spiritual and secular Western culture, popularized on TBN or the Oprah show.  In this milieu,(where) a miracle is a fulfillment of your personal dreams and ambitions, and the accumulation of accolades and treasures," it is crucial that we have a proper understanding of what a "miracle" actually is.

Wilson provides a good, working definition for this study where miracle is defined as "a supernatural act of God that glorifies Jesus."  He also explains how miracles are "normal" and "glimpses of the way the world is meant to be, glimpses of the way the world is actually becoming".  Wilson adds that, "In and through Jesus, the kingdom is coming, and God’s will is being done on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus’s miracles are the very windows into heaven, and through them heaven is spilling into earth like sunlight through panes whose shades have been violently rolled up."

Wilson covers Christ’s control over nature, his healings, his exorcisms, his resurrections and his own resurrection in order to help the reader see:

  1. The miracles demonstrate the “at hand”-ness of the kingdom of God.
  2. The miracles are acts of heavenly normalization, which is to say they are isolated snapshots of the transformation of the broken world to the way it will someday be.
  3. Because the miracles are acts of heavenly normalization, they are acts of revolutionary subversion against the corrupt course of the world and the realm of the Evil One.
  4. The miracles point to Jesus Christ himself as the source and summation of the three acts above.

Wilson's treatment of the eschatological wine of Cana is a great start.  His dealing with the feeding of the 4,000 continues well.  Encouraging the reader to see beyond simply the physical nature of this lesser known feeding miracle, Wilson points out that,

       In Christ, we are eternally satisfied, abundantly satisfied, mightily satisfied. And because the miracles are not ends in themselves but signs pointing to Jesus himself, we are reminded here that we are not merely saved but eternally saved, abundantly saved, mightily saved.
       Through the gospel, let us remember, we are satisfied with seven baskets besides: regeneration, pardon, justification, adoption, union, sanctification, and glorification—and still more. His mercies, like the bread of heaven sent to the children of Israel, are new every morning.
Wilson is immensely quotable.

  • Speaking of the situation before Christ calmed the sea--"The disciples’ snoring Sovereign is snoring because he is sovereign."
  • When Lazarus is called forth by Christ- "Lazarus does not need seven steps or tips about how to achieve a successful exit from the tomb."

  • Referencing the provision of water in the desert God gave the grumbling Israelites-- "he graciously turns their whine into water by instructing Moses to strike a rock."
  • Dealing with suffering and sovereignty--"the God of the Scriptures, the one true God, is sovereign over all things. And that is scary sometimes. It is spiritually discombobulating."

And even though they may exceed microblogging etiquete, his longer quotes are equally profound if lacking in 140-character pith.

On why Wilson confront false teachers, like Joel Osteen, publicly and harshly?
This is why: because he’s sending people to hell. He gives people who are suffering, poor, and in need of a theology of the cross of Christ a nonexistent genie in a magic lamp, and when they aren’t fixed, healed, or made prosperous, great doubt and confusion inevitably set in. They think: “Maybe God isn’t loving. Maybe God isn’t powerful. Maybe I don’t have real faith.” All because the prosperity gospelist has invited naïve people to ask comfort into their hearts and invite material goods to be their personal lord and savior. All their faith has been placed in mortal things and not on the God who purposes pain.
On the ultimate end of our ultimate enemy he adds,
      There is a well-worn rule of playwriting that goes like this: if you introduce a gun in the first act, it must get fired in the last. And because God is an excellent storyteller, what has been suggested in the first act (Gen. 3:15) shows up in the last:
       And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. . . . [A]nd the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20:2, 10)
On faith,
      Faith is an empty vessel. It’s an open hand. It’s an openness to be filled with Jesus. When we come to Christ in faith, we are saying, “I need you and I want you; therefore, I trust you to save me eternally.” Don’t bring any works. That’s not an empty hand. Don’t bring a sense of righteousness. That’s not an empty hand. Bring your messed-up, broken, sinful self. Jesus came only to save sinners. If you’re not a sinner, you can’t have Jesus.
       So, “all things are possible for one who believes” isn’t some inspirational, self-helpy Dr. Phil “keep your New Year’s resolutions” mantra. It is a promise that trusters in Christ will not be conquered.
Wilson adds five ways to battle unbelief which, coupled with his beautiful chapter on depression from Gospel Wakefulness, make a great starting point to encourage yourself and others to persist in faith and persevere even through the darkest of times.

Wilson closes with the resurrections Christ performs, culminating with the "cosmic exorcism" that was his very own resurrection from the dead.  "In the Gospels, we are viewing the kingdom of God coming into the world through the works and words of his Son, Jesus Christ, and he is steadily and certainly filling all things (Eph. 4:10). He fills even the grave with life."

     What may happen when the miracle of the gospel lands squarely in your heart, when it becomes real, the reality that God—as in, God—loves you?
... As it pertains to having the living God draw near to us, the experience of fear and trembling assumes it is truly God and the glorious Christ we have encountered and not some pitiful caricature. The god of the prosperity gospelists is a pathetic doormat, a genie. The god of the cutesy coffee mugs and Joel Osteen tweets is a milquetoast doofus like the guys in the Austen novels you hope the girls don’t end up with, holding their hats limply in hand and minding their manners to follow your lead like a butler—or the doormat he stands on. The god of the American Dream is Santa Claus. The god of the open theists is not sovereignly omniscient, declaring the end from the beginning, but just a really good guesser playing the odds. The god of our therapeutic culture is ourselves, we, the “forgivers” of ourselves, navel-haloed morons with “baggage” but not sin. None of these pathetic gods could provoke fear and trembling.
Wilson continues,
 But the God of the Scriptures is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24)...This is the God who leads his children by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. This is the God who makes war, sends plagues, and sits enthroned in majesty and glory in his heavens, doing what he pleases. This is the God who, in the flesh, turned tables over in the temple as if he owned the place. This Lord God Jesus Christ was pushed to the edge of the cliff and declared, “This is not happening today,” and walked right back through the crowd like a boss. This Lord says, “No one takes my life; I give it willingly,” as if to say, “You couldn’t kill me unless I let you.” This Lord calms the storms, casts out demons, binds and looses, and has the authority to grant us the ability to do the same. The Devil is this God’s lapdog.
       And it is this God who has summoned us, apprehended us, saved us. It is this God who has come humbly, meekly, lowly, pouring out his blood in infinite conquest to set the captives free, cancel the record of debt against us, conquer sin and Satan, and swallow up death forever.
This is a great book worth reading and sharing.  Short, clear, fun, encouraging.  Get one, gift one.  It is money and time well spent.

You can download a sample of the work here.  Be careful though.  While the sample is free, it will ultimately cost you the price of a book because it is hard to read some of this one and not want the whole thing!


“Into a world where naturalism is the prevailing philosophy, Jared Wilson casts a fresh vision for the wonder-working power of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. This biblically engaging, Christ-exalting, and never-boring book deserves your close and attentive reading.”
—Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“Christianity is supernatural. We read the Bible and see God doing things that can’t be explained rationally. That is the God we long for, One who can do extraordinary things in and around our ordinary lives. But Christianity is about God, not just what God does. I love this book, because Jared Wilson helps us worship the miracle worker, and not settle for just wanting and worshiping miracles.”
—Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; Vice President, Acts 29; Chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals; author, The Dude's Guide to Manhood
“Could it be that Jesus’s miracles were not the paranormal, but actually the true normal breaking into our world of paranormal sin corruption? Wilson gets to the biblical heart of why Jesus performed miracles—these harbingers of God’s mission to set right all that has gone so terribly wrong. Along the way, Wilson helps us hear what Jesus has to say to enlightened postmoderns, skeptics demanding apologetic proofs, and the paranormally fascinated. A soul-refreshing, gospel-drenched read.”
—Jon BloomPresident, Desiring God; author, Not by Sight and Things Not Seen

From the Publisher:
Do you believe in miracles?
Walking on water. Multiplying the fish and the loaves. Raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracles of Jesus may be well known, but they’re often misunderstood. In The Wonder-Working God, pastor Jared Wilson wants to help us see that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the miraculous events recorded in the Gospels.
From the humble wonder of the incarnation to the blinding glory of the transfiguration, this book shows how Jesus’s miracles reveal his divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.

* I received an ARC of this work from the publisher to offer a review.

John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter"

      Make no mistake: if He rose at all

       it was as His body;

       if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

       reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

       the Church will fall....

       Let us not mock God with metaphor,

       analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

       making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

       faded credulity of earlier ages:

       let us walk through the door.

       The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,

       not a stone in a story,

       but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

       grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

       the wide light of day.

       And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

       make it a real angel,

       weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

       opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

       spun on a definite loom.

       Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

       for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

       lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

       embarrassed by the miracle,

       and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter"

Sunday, July 20, 2014


P&R Publishing continues to release solid, edifying, interesting works on a regular basis. A new series of booklets seeks to aid the Church in embracing “secular” disciplines as areas of study that belong to God and should not be forfeited to the naturalist.

"The Faithful Learning series invites Christian students to dive deeper into a modern academic discipline. The authors, scholars in their fields, believe that academic disciplines are good gifts from God that, when understood rightly, will give students the potential to cultivate a deeper love for God and neighbor."

One of these works is by James Spiegel and sets out to show exactly what Athens has to do with Jerusalem and why “rigorous philosophical study is actually crucial for heeding Paul’s counsel” in Colossians 2:8.

Spiegel focuses mostly on the 20th century and showing recent developments in secular philosophy and the Christian response as well as unique Christian contributions to the world of philosophy.  He starts by showing the roots of logical positivism in the 1920’s and, although it had a relatively short shelf life, the residual “hyper-empiricistic, anti-metaphysical bent “that remained after its demise.  He also goes over philosophical behaviorism of Wittingstein and Ryle and the prominent and influential work of atheist Anthony Flew and his subsequent conversion to theism.  Spiegel moves quickly to the work of Alvin Plantinga, his God and other Minds, and the rise of reformed epistemology (the argument that belief in God is properly basic), and Nagel’s work on the problem of the mind to strict materialist.

Spiegel not only highlights Plantinga work and reformed epistemology but also his advice to Christian philosophers on how to interact with the philosophy community at-large.  Plantinga encourages the Christian philosopher to exhibit more autonomoy from the philosophy world, exhibit more integrity that all those around them, and exhibit more courage or Christian confidence on their work.  Spiegel, using the example of other Christian philosophers and what has contributed to their success also encourages the Christian philosopher to be resourceful, shrewd, and irenic in their interactions with others.  

 This is a great introductory booklet to really generate interest in philosophy and the role of the Christian in this discipline.

From the back cover:
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle . . . great philosophers have a lasting impact.  For them, words and ideas are power. They can turn a phrase inside out and flip an argument on its head. They can put a spin on the world. But this power may be used wrongly—and the best response is not to avoid it, but to learn how to use it rightly! In the words of the apostle Paul, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Are you ready to match wits?

James Spiegel insists that studying philosophy is not only intriguing and mind-opening, but also crucial to following Paul’s counsel. Find out how you can navigate ideas as a philosopher and distinguish between human wisdom and the wisdom of God. 

*I received a review copy from the publisher through Netgalley...but then I bought a copy.  Take that for what it is worth.  I really enjoyed this little book.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lincoln's Gamble

So often when people are pivotal in the accomplishment of something great they end up becoming something mythical in our imaginations.  We begin to see them as caricatures, good or bad, and very often miss the fact that they are people.  If this is true of anyone in American history, it is especially true of Abraham Lincoln.  The Western world has become inundated with Lincoln material from the time he stepped into office.  As Todd Brewster points out, we have seen,

Lincoln books on every conceivable aspect of his life and career, many of them setting out, Parson Weems style, to create the Lincoln legend: “Honest Abe,” “Abe, the Redeemer,” “Lincoln: Man of the People,” “Master of Men,” and, of course, “The Great Emancipator.” Thankfully, the trend long ago abated. A tempering of the Lincoln myth occurred in the post–World War II era, with some authors going too far in the other direction, laying him out to be racist, incompetent, devious, and certainly no subject for national reverence. Still, the cascade of Lincoln volumes has continued unabated, and a glance through the entire list shows just how inventive the researching mind can be. In addition to traditional biographies and histories there is The Life of Abraham Lincoln for Young People: Told in Words of One Syllable; The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln on the Coming of the Caterpillar Tractor; and, first published only a decade ago, The Physical Lincoln, including the following chapters: “Lips,” “Gut,” “Skull,” “Muscles,” “Skin,” “Eyes,” “Height,” and “Joints.” According to World Cat, the global online library catalog, 23,274 books and updated and new editions of books, have been written on Lincoln. (So how original am I? As you read this, you are holding the 23,275th.)

I will have to be honest, like the subject of this book, and point out that I fall just a bit short of having read 23,000+ books on Abraham Lincoln.  I feel safe in saying that Lincoln’s Gamble by Brewster, however, is one of the good ones.  Taking “one slice of Lincoln’s life”, the greatest slice, Brewster dives into the very real world that this very real person played the pivotal role in this very great event.

Brewster takes a focused look at the pivotal time of Lincoln’s presidency, the leading up to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  This “in-between moment” for Lincoln would end up cementing his mythical, hero, untouchable status in the minds of many, if not most.  This time, wrought with life, politics, war, fear, human frailties, human emotions, human prejudice, pragmatism, shortsightedness, grand vision, support, criticism, success, and failure—this was the time of Lincoln’s Gamble and this was the moment that the man Abe became the hero, the emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

Brewster does a great job setting the stage for Lincoln’s Gamble. He shows the world: cultural, political, and economic in which Lincoln found himself living.  He shows the men: generals, politicians, and friends that Lincoln found himself leading.  He shows the hardships: war, death, marriage, and parenting, that Lincoln found himself enduring.  All of this to set the scene for the greatest decision Lincoln would ever have to make—a decision that would affect millions for generations.  Maybe we elevate Lincoln as we do simply because he was able to persevere through all of this and actually make a decision, or even just keep going!  For a man to take an action like this in a cultural and personal vacuum would have been difficult enough, to do it in the midst of all that he did was nothing short of amazing.  And Brewster takes the reader on a tour Lincoln’s struggles and helps the reader to feel a bit of what Lincoln had to have felt during this time.

What do we find in all of this?  Abraham Lincoln was not perfect!  Don’t let pennies and $5 bills fool you, he was a real person with real flaws and real struggles.  For instance, would Lincoln be considered a racist today?  He was not an abolitionist, he favored colonization of the slaves, and saw white man as superior to “Negroes”.  But does that make him a terrible person, or simply a person.  One great benefit of this work is to see that Lincoln was a sinner, just like the rest of us.  Not only that, but it helps the reader to see that to impose 21st century norms on a 19th century figure is anachronistic and utterly unfair.  The caricature of Honest Abe the altruistic abolitionist is naïve and inaccurate.  But the fact that this crooked stick was used to draw a mighty straight line should give us pause and bring praise to our mouths for as long as we remember!  By the end of this book we should be able to say with W.E.B. Dubois that, “I love Lincoln.  Not because he was perfect, but because he was not and yet triumphed.”

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher to offer a review.
*Quotes are from an ARC from the publisher.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Pagan Heart of Today's Culture

P&R continues to release great booklets to equip the Church.  In the latest release renowned cultural critic Peter Jones has been enlisted to help explain the evolving worldview of a postChristian, postsecular Western world.  Jones sets out to display “the heart of our culture through a prism of isms”, specifically: postmodernism, Gnosticism, and polytheism.  Jones shows how these three “isms” are “strangely connected” and “help to explain the nature of today’s pagan worldview and its opposition to the truth of the Gospel.” 

Jones begins by giving brief and clear definitions of “modern” and “postmodern” and why he, and others, see our society as moving or even being beyond postmodernism and having moved into a “postsecular” age where metanarratives and absolute truths will once again begin to become prominent.  Jones sees growing discontent with the skeptical empiricism that voices itself in atheistic terminology and argues that atheism will soon be replaced with pantheism.  When the intolerant atheistic argument is replaced by the tolerance of pantheism, “this postsecular mystical search for meaning in the nonrational is to be observed in the return to the modern world of the ancient religious system known as Gnosticism.” 

Jones gives a detailed (for a booklet) look at Gnosticism and leads into a basic discussion of Oneism and Twoism, the topics for which he is well known.  He gives a taste of his arguments in this booklet but the reader is definitely left wanting more.  Jones cites frequently from a wide range of sources so the endnotes section turns into a pretty extensive “To Be Read” list for anyone who finds this work compelling, which should be anyone who reads it!

The new spirituality of our Western world is actually an old spirituality being repackaged and reintroduced.  Gnostic polytheism that seeks to destroy the Creator-creature divide by arguing that all is one is not the least bit new.  It does allow for the ignoring of a being that is Other (and thus anything he might say or require) and encourages a bowing of the knee to the Lord Tolerance—both of which any surface observation of our current culture would recognize as current and growing.

The postmodern destruction of secular rationalism has become the breeding ground of a renewed Gnosticism (seen in everything from academic philosophy to Jungian psychology to nominal Christianity) and the promulgation of Oneism, the worship of the creature.  Jones makes a compelling case as to why he sees this becoming the prevailing view and why the Christian needs to be prepared to address “the pagan heart of today’s culture.”  This is an alarm that needs to be sounded and Jones does it in a manner urgency and confidence befitting a worshiper of a sovereign God.  This is 50 pages worth reading and following up with some more of Jones’ work.  This is another great booklet from a great series.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


The Christian’s Attitude Toward Death
By Prof. Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D., LL.D.
For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For indeed, we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight): we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”—2 Cor. 5:1–10.
NOWHERE more fully than in the opening chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians does Paul describe the trials and distresses of the life that he was living as ambassador of Christ. He had been lately thrown to the beasts at Ephesus, and had escaped, almost miraculously as we may well believe, with bare life. While recovering, perhaps slowly, from the deadly injuries thus received, the news reached him of the threatening defection of the churches of Galatia, and of the danger of that in Corinth, and added mental to his physical distress. For the good of his children in the Lord he controlled the expression of his sorrows, and sent to each of these churches a letter of admonition and instruction, only venturing in that to the Galatians on the pathetic appeal which consisted in calling their attention to the large, misshapen, and painfully formed characters in which alone he could now scrawl the accustomed line or two which he added with his own hand at the end of his letters. Meanwhile things came once more to a climax at Ephesus. Under the leadership of one Demetrius, the craftsmen who made profit out of the service of Diana raised a tumult against the Apostle’s preaching; and assembling in the theater, “all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ ”—not the first instance in history, nor likely to be the last, when volume and continuance of sound are made to do duty for argument.
Warned by this that the public mind in Ephesus was no longer in a condition to profit by his preaching, Paul departs for Macedonia, apparently before the time appointed for the return of his messengers from Corinth, hoping to meet them on the road. But Titus does not come even at Troas (2 Cor. 2:13); and torn with anxiety the Apostle pushes on into Macedonia. There at length his returning messengers meet him, and, better than that, bring him good news. The Corinthians allow his authority, and have humbled themselves to his rebukes; and that beloved church at least has ridden safely over the crest of the wave that threatened to submerge it. The burdened heart of the Apostle overflows, and he writes to the Corinthians out of his very soul. For once we see within him, and learn how the stupendous trials which pressed upon him affected his thought and feelings.
Amid all these sufferings, the mere allusions to which, lightly touched as they are, appall us, he is upheld by his sense of the greatness of his work and of the greatness of his hope. Though his outward man is being literally worn away, he need not faint; for his inward man is being renewed day by day, and all this affliction, terrible as it is, is light compared with the eternal weight of glory which it is working for him. His courage draws its force, thus, from his confidence in his future reward. It is because he looks not at the things that are seen, which are temporal, but at those that are not seen, which are eternal, that he can bear all things. Like Moses, he looks unto the recompense of reward, and endures as seeing the Invisible One. Like Abraham, he is content to dwell in tents for a season, because he looks for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God. It is, indeed, with just this last figure that the Apostle expresses his feeling here. The reason of his strength, he tells us, is because “we know that if our earthly tent-dwelling be destroyed, we have a house from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.” What are earthly sufferings to one who looks upon his very bodily frame as but a tent, in which he sojourns for a time, and expects the laying of it aside to be merely a step toward entering into a mansion prepared for him by God himself?
The Apostle then contemplates the wearing away of his present body with patience. But we must observe that it is not exactly death that he longs for. He is burdened here, and sighs for relief from the burdens of this life, that somehow mortality may be swallowed up by life. But he shrinks from death. He could wish to be alive to greet the Lord when he comes, and so put on the habitation which is from heaven over this earthly tent, rather than be found naked on the coming of that glad day. Not that he expects to live until the Advent; he only could find it in his heart to wish it; he is in entire uncertainty as to the issue, and accordingly adds, “That is, of course, if, when we do put on” (or “when the putting-on time comes”) “we shall be found not naked.” How instructive meanwhile it is to observe this great soldier of the cross, who was “in deaths oft” and “died daily,” shrinking with purely human feeling from the act of death; how magnificent must have been his courage, a courage rooted in nothing human, but in a divine faith and hope. For scarcely has this cry of human nature escaped from him before he proceeds, as if quietly reasoning with himself, to declare that God has wrought us for the very purpose of swallowing up our mortality in life, and given us even here his Spirit as earnest of his intention. And his contemplation being thus withdrawn from self and cast on God, his shrinking from death disappears too. “Being, then, of good courage always,” he declares, “and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are away from home from the Lord (for it is by faith that we are walking, not by appearance), we are of good courage, I say, and are well pleased rather to go away from home from the body and go home to the Lord.” Thus faith conquers the natural fear of death. As much as he fears it, he longs for the Lord more, and the most direct path that leads to his side, however painful or even unnatural it may be, he will joyfully take.
Paul’s whole heart is now before us. He is burdened in this life and longs to be with his Lord. He could wish that the Lord would hasten his coming, and thus “clothe him upon” with immortality; but if this is not to be he earnestly desires even in nakedness of soul to be with him, and welcomes the fearful and unnatural portal of death as access to him. It is the model of the Christian’s attitude toward life and death and the life that lies beyond death. Let us seek to make it such for our bruised hearts to-day, and endeavor to understand from the Apostle’s uncovered soul what should be the attitude of our souls toward these great mysteries.
I. First of all, then, we may learn that this life which we are living here cannot be a satisfactory living to a Christian. “In this tent-dwelling,” says Paul, “we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven.” “We that are in the tent,” he repeats, “groan, being burdened, with a view to the swallowing up of mortality in life.” And lest we should think this a state of mind peculiar to himself, as one “in labors more abundant,” let us remind ourselves that he elsewhere represents it as characteristic of Christians, broadly declaring that they “who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” This is indeed the whole drift of that great chapter, the seventh of Romans, in which the conflict of the Christian life, that ineradicable strife between the implanted good and the natural evil within us, is vividly portrayed, ending with the heart-rending cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” It is a body of humiliation, as the Apostle elsewhere calls it, a body of death, a body of sin, with which our spirits are now clothed. How can we fail to long for deliverance from it?
One of the characteristics of the true Christian attitude, then, is that we should be dissatisfied with the life which we are now living in the flesh. This is, of course, not inconsistent with the contentment which is equally a mark of the Christian attitude. The contentment with his lot which the follower of Jesus is called upon to feel and to exhibit, is, at bottom, contentment with Christ and his provision for us, with God and his providential direction of us; so that whatever our Father in heaven sends us we are well content to receive, and whatever hardness he desires us to experience we are glad for his sake to endure. Paul longed to be delivered from this body of death, but he was no stranger to a Christian’s content. Years after this he writes to the Philippians that he still cherished his “desire to depart and be with Christ,” yet since living in the flesh meant fruit of his work and was needful for them, he was glad to forego what for him was “very far better,” and abide with them all for their progress and joy in faith. To be content to fill the place which God assigns us and to do the work which our Lord requires of us is quite consistent with the deepest dissatisfaction with our own Christian attainment and the most passionate longing to perfect our course. To speak of consistency here is indeed short of the mark. The very ground of our dissatisfaction with self is, that we are not what Christ would have us be and fall sadly behind filling the place for which God designs us. Just because we are content with him, we cannot be content with ourselves. And just so long as to us “who would do good, evil is present,” as, though we “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” we “see a different law in our members bringing us into captivity under the law of sin which is in our members,” we must cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?”
It is for us to ask our souls seriously this day whether this is the case with us. The human heart is very subtle; and it may be that some of us who would fain reply with a hasty “yes” may find cause, on consideration, to doubt whether our dissatisfaction is with self or with God—dissatisfaction with the dispensations of his providence, by which some messenger of sickness or sorrow or failure has visited us. In the bitterness of the moment we may feel glad to leave this world of our misery or our shame, not knowing that the long-suffering of God leadeth us to repentance. The truly Christian dissatisfaction is not such. It is with self and the meagerness of our Christian attainment. And it shows itself in an eager desire not so much to depart from the world as to depart from sin and to sit down in the heavenly places with Christ.
II. We cannot help observing, as a second important truth which we may learn from this unique record of Paul’s inner experience, that even to the Christian death remains an undesired guest. Although the Apostle groaned under the burden of his body of sin, and therefore eagerly wished to pass out of this bodily life, yet he expresses a strong desire not to die. He longed rather for the coming of his Lord, that he might go to him without dying. He shrank from death; and it cannot be wrong for other Christians like him to shrink from death. We learn from this at once that though this bodily life which we are now living in the flesh is an evil, and every truly Christian soul will long to be delivered from it, a bodily life in itself considered is not an evil, but a good, and every rightly constituted man must cling instinctively to it. Death is unnatural and rightly terrifies its victims. Even more—death is evil, sin’s offspring, Christ’s enemy, Satan’s servant; and every Christian heart must stand aghast before it. It is only because our Lord and Saviour lies now behind death that we can tolerate the thought of it. To whom of us has this dread presence not come to snatch from our arms one we loved better than life? It has been our comfort and joy that we were surrendering him to the even more loving arms of our Saviour. Since Christ has died, how much of the terror of death has departed! He has broken its sting, which is sin, by removing its strength, which is the curse of the broken law. Since he has lain in it, how much of the gloom of the tomb has gone! But have we not needed all this comfort which we could gain? The gloom of the tomb still overhangs it; it must, it ought to do so. And terrible death remains terrible still; it bears on its front still the dreadful legend which marks it as God’s threatened punishment of sin.
III. In its closest analysis, the horror which we have of death turns on the unnatural separation which it brings about between those life-long companions, the soul and the body. And this leads us to the third great truth which is here brought before us. It is plain that the state of the blessed dead between death and the resurrection, when considered in itself alone as a condition—apart from their case, circumstances, and situation—is an undesirable state, because a state of unnatural separation between soul and body induced by and the fruit of sin. We are apt to think more of the body bereft of its animating and informing principle: even the bodies of our beloved are dear to us. But it is observable that Paul’s solicitude seems to be less for the deserted body than for the naked soul. It is its unnatural and sin-born nakedness at death which appalls him; and in this unclothing of the soul he finds the horror of death.
In this sense the state of the blessed dead while awaiting the resurrection, as it is not their final state, is an imperfect state and therefore an undesirable state. In no other sense, however. It is a state of entire happiness; the soul is with the Lord. It is a state of, so far as the soul is concerned, completed salvation, finished sanctification, entire holiness. The Romish invention of purgatory, by which for the great majority of the saved a period of purification of longer or shorter duration and of greater or less suffering is interposed between death and “the going home to the Lord,” is not only a baseless but a wicked invention, at war with every statement of Scripture in the premises, and with every dictate of the truly Christian consciousness alike. The same is true, of course, of all the fancies of the so-called ethical theology of our day which agree in supposing the saved soul to carry remainders of sin with it into the other world, because in its subtle and often only half-conscious antagonism to the super-natural this school of thought finds difficulty in believing that God cleanses the soul at death from its remaining sin, according to his Word; and looks only for a self-cleansing by the soul itself in its own activity, which of course would be, however aided by the Spirit, gradual and slow. It is not only the Westminster Confession, but also the Scripture, which teaches in every form of language, and with every circumstance of emphasis possible, that “the souls of the righteous are at their death made perfect in holiness, and are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”
The sole element of truth in the teachings just adverted to lies in the one fact that redemption is incomplete until the resurrection. It is the soul alone which is immediately transferred into holy bliss. The body lies moldering in the grave; and though “even in death,” in the beautiful language of the Westminster Larger Catechism, the bodies of Christ’s members “continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls,” their redemption is not “full” until the resurrection. The salvation is complete, but it is as yet only an incomplete man that is saved. As the separation between soul and body is not natural to man, as God made man’s nature, but is the fruit of sin and the penalty specifically threatened to sin, the work of redemption is not “full” until Christ conquers his last enemy, Death, and comes again in triumph, reuniting the souls and bodies of all his saints.
It is not, indeed, a pleasant thought that Christ’s enemy, dreadful Death, retains dominion over even this lower element in our nature after death and on through what may well prove to be countless ages, until the Lord comes again in the epiphany of his glory, and in visible conquest over the last of his foes. Do we wonder, in view of such a fact, that the Old Testament saints, in the comparative twilight of revelation, sitting, if not in darkness, yet not yet in the full illumination of the day of salvation, could scarcely speak of death without a shudder, or of the land beyond death except as “a land of darkness and the shadow of death”? Or do we wonder that in the fullness of New Testament light the apostles teach us to long rather for Christ’s coming than for death, to wait for that rather than for this, with expectant patience indeed, but also with strong desire? Have we not, indeed, uncovered here the one secret of the gloom that hangs over the Old Testament allusions to the other world, and as well, of that strong emphasis that is placed in the New Testament on the Second Advent which has puzzled many, and which, being misunderstood, has given birth to much Chiliastic error? It was important in the period of preparation that men’s minds should not escape from the conception of death as the penalty of sin; and only when life and immortality were ready to be brought fully to light was it safe to make them fully understand the bliss that lay behind death. And now, when preparation has passed into the glorious reality of a completed sacrifice for sin, it is equally important that we should keep in mind that we do not obtain our entire salvation, that all the terrible harvest which springs from sin is not fully garnered by any one of us, until our enraptured eyes behold him who is the Redeemer from sin descending from heaven in like manner as he went into heaven. We are still reaping fruitage from our sin, even after we go abroad from the body and go home to the Lord, or, better, just because in order to go home to the Lord we must needs go abroad from the body.
Let us praise God that he saves the soul at once utterly; and, naked as it may be, takes it home to himself and grants it continual fruition of his favor, while it awaits in his sheltering arms the perfecting of its old companion the body. How great a mercy that our Lord enables us to know that our dead are perfectly holy and happy at once, and that it is only the insensate body that awaits in the disgrace of the tomb the great day when he shall come to be glorified in all his saints. But it is equally important to keep ourselves reminded that they gravely err who speak with scant respect of the body which has also in its measure been a habitation of the Spirit, and is also joined to the Lord, referring to the soul as released from a prison when it is freed from what they are pleased to term the clog of clay. We cannot emphasize too strongly that human souls were not created to exist apart from matter, and so far from needing to be separated from their bodies for their completest freedom, are incomplete and naked things away from their dwelling-houses of clay. It is the glory of Christianity to provide a salvation adequate to the whole man; and though it be only gradually realized, and the soul be taken to bliss long before the renewed and glorified body is prepared for it, yet it is accomplished in the end, and the complete man stands before his God, justified, sanctified, glorified. The saints of God have prelibations of their glory. Even in this world they are received into the number of his sons, and are made temples of the Holy Ghost. When their period of service below is accomplished, their spirits are cleansed from remainders of sin and received into the presence of God. But the day that marks the beginning of their heavenly perfection and of their completed bliss is not the day in which they believed, although in that act their whole salvation was in principle involved; nor yet is it the day in which they depart to be with Christ, although in that they enter into glory; but it is to be the day of Christ’s glorious coming and of the resurrection of the saints. And this is the reason of the emphasis on the Day of Judgment in the Bible; it is the day in which the inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for Christ’s people, shall be fully revealed.
IV. It is time that we were throwing stress, however, on a further blessed truth brought to us by this passage, and indeed underlying it as one of its foundations; and that is that this intermediate state of the blessed dead, although imperfect when compared with their final state, when the whole man shall partake of the divine glory, is, apart from that comparison, unspeakably blissful, and to be infinitely desired and longed for by every Christian soul. We remember that Paul, with a clear sense of all the unnaturalness of a separation of the soul from the body, yet wished rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord, and declared to depart and be with Christ to be “very far better.” Just so soon as he remembered that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, he desired to go away from home from the body that he might go home to the Lord. Perhaps no clearer insight could be given of the infinite bliss of the saved soul in heaven than is afforded by the fact that it is so great as to make it intensely to be desired even at the expense of so unnatural a mutilation. Paul does not conceal from his readers that he would rather, for himself, that the coming of Christ should be hastened, so that the conquest of Death, the last enemy, might be completed, and he be glorified, soul and body, without death. But presence with the Lord was so to be yearned for, that, if this was not to be, he was well pleased to depart from the body itself and go to the Lord. It is well to let our hearts dwell on this revelation of bliss. What comfort it brings us for those who have died in the Lord! And perhaps it may entice our own hearts to long to lay aside our body of sin and enter into the inheritance of the saints beyond the grave.
Let us note the superiority of their state to ours here. The evil of our present life is positive evil; all that can be called an evil in the soul-life in heaven is negative only. By which it is intended to say that the holiness and bliss of the disembodied soul in heaven is perfect of its kind; it has only not yet been made a sharer in so complete a glorification of human nature as is destined for it. While, on the other hand, in this life not only do we lag behind the positive attainment there and thus live on a lower plane, but there is a weight of positive evil upon us, a law of sin reigning in our members. Ah, if we could only catch a glimpse of what perfect holiness really is, how would we long to be separated from this body of sin and enter into it at any cost! We observe, therefore, that though the separation of soul and body is in itself an unnatural thing, the separation of our redeemed and sanctifying soul from this body of humiliation in which we now live is a thing to be greatly desired, not because it is a body, but because it is a body of sin. The bliss of the intermediate state is thus infinitely more to be desired than anything that can come to us on earth; it is only less desirable than the completed redemption which is yet to come.
And of this complete redemption it is the earnest and pledge. It is the completion of the salvation of the higher element of our nature, and bears in itself the prophecy and promise of the completion of the salvation of the whole man. It is to be desired, then, as the storm-tossed mariner desires the haven which his vessel has long sought to win through the tossing waves and adverse winds—gate only though it be of the country which he calls home, and long though he may need to wait until all his goods are landed. It is the end of the journey, when the friends come out to meet us. It is within the Father’s house, where the greeting rings, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” Should the prodigal be impatient for the coming of the robe? The bliss of the holy, happy dwelling with the Lord is such that even were there nothing beyond we should joyfully seek it; and it is the promise and the surety of a yet grander future.
But the Apostle throws his emphasis on the chief joy of the intermediate state. Christ is there. To go abroad from the body is to go home to the Lord. No wonder he prefers nakedness of soul with Christ to personal completeness away from Christ. And no wonder since his day many a bed of suffering has been smoothed, and many a soul has gone forth brightening the face of even the deserted body with its smile of joy as it hears the words of its Saviour, “To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” No wonder Christian song is vocal with the sigh
“O mother dear, Jerusalem!
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joys when shall I see?
O happy harbor of God’s saints,
O sweet and pleasant soil,
In thee no sorrows can be found,
No grief, no care, no toil!
“Jerusalem the city is
Of God our King alone;
The Lamb of God, the light thereof,
Sits there upon his throne.
Ah, God! that I Jerusalem
With speed may go and see,—
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Would God I were in thee!”
V. Do we not share these yearnings? May God grant that in his own good time each of us may indeed be permitted to join the innumerable throng of praising saints about his throne. Dare we confront the possibility that it may not be so? The Apostle seems to confront it. For, on reaching this point in his statement, he makes a sudden and strange transition. He had reached the climax: “We are of good courage, I say, and are well pleased rather to go away from home from the body, and go home to the Lord.” Here he might be expected to pause. But he continues; and the words which he adds demand our serious attention: “Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or away from home, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Thus he turns from the glories of his inheritance in Christ in heaven to the duties which he owes him on earth; from the consideration of what he may attain in him to the danger of losing it all; from the bliss of dwelling with Christ to the dread of standing before his judgment-seat. His purpose is obvious, and the addition of these solemn words ceases to be strange. It is not enough to contemplate the glories of heaven; we must seek to make those glories ours. They are given to whom they justly belong; we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ and receive according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. And note the finality of this judgment. The Apostle plainly does not contemplate the possibility of any reversal or of any change; the verdict upon what is done here is the irreversible doom of all the future. And therefore it behoves us to be well-pleasing to him.
Oh, the troops upon troops that have laid aside the trials and labors of earth, well-pleasing to their Lord, and entered into their rest with him!
“Death’s wings beat round about us day and night;
Their wind is on our faces now.”
While yet our farewell to them on this side of the separating gulf was sounding in their ears, the glad “Hail!” of their Lord was welcoming them there. May God grant to each of us to follow them. May he give us his Holy Spirit to sanctify us wholly and enable us when we close our eyes in our long sleep to open them at once, not in terrified pain in torment, but in the soft, sweet light of Paradise, safe in the arms of Jesus![1]

[1] Warfield, B. B. (1893). The Christian’s Attitude Toward Death. In Princeton Sermons (pp. 316–337). New York; Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards

Anyone interested in either the history of theology or in Reformed theology beyond 5 points and an affirmation of God’s sovereignty would do well to familiarize themselves with the resulting documents of the Westminster Assembly, the Westminster Standards.  The richness of these documents is put on display with J.V. Fesko’s new book from Crossway, The Theology of the Westminster Standards. 

Fesko introduces the reader to the Standards by emphasizing the need to understand them in their context, both of the “who” wrote them and the “when and where” they were written.  Fesko argues that a “challenge to a proper understanding of the Standards is when contemporary historians and commentators read the Standards through the grid of later theological developments.”  So, for this reason, he seeks to help the reader investigate the Standards “in their original context.”

“Early modern Reformed theologians had a slightly different outlook on life and theology than we do today, and despite whatever similarities in doctrine and conviction are shared with theologians in the twenty-first century, the differences can be significant.”

Part of reading the Standards in their context is attempting, as much as possible, to see arguments and interpretations through the eyes of the divines(those who framed the Standards).  While this is difficult, Fesko’s does well to take the reader into the theological world of the 17th century and, because of this, allows the reader to pick up on details of debates, discussions, and controversies that “often pass unnoticed by contemporary readers but were well known to theologians of the period.”

One of these details is an over-emphasis of the influence of the great Genevan reformer that modern readers so often impose upon the Standards, the divines, and early Protestantism as a whole.  Fesko goes to great lengths to slay the caricature, oftentimes wittingly or unwittingly perpetuated by its adherents-especially neo-Calvinists of the YRR variety, that Reformed theology as a whole and the Standards in particular are simply an outworking of the theology of John Calvin. Fesko shows that the divines of the Westminster Assembly quoted from a long list of theologians and traditions in floor debate and that Calvin, in comparison, fared pretty weakly to his counterparts.

Calvin’s esteem and perceived influence has been exaggerated in the present day. While Calvin was certainly influential, the extent of citations and correspondence between Calvin and other Reformers shows that in his own day Calvin was one theologian among many others…claims about Calvin’s supposed influence over the rest of the tradition should be governed not by contemporary estimation of Calvin’s theology but by historical primary-source evidence.

This, needless to say, is in no way to disparage Calvin.  But it is to emphasize the facts that the Standards were not the result of a monolithic school of thought and that there were many theologians and eras of theology that the Standards are indebted to beyond simply Calvin.

I was struck by how well the Standards themselves dealt with nuanced and controversial issues. In many areas the theological precision of the Standards truly stands out.  For example, in formulating the Standards position on the Word of God, the divines went to great efforts to combat the position of Rome on the supremacy of the Church over the Scriptures.

But embedded in this opening paragraph is a crucial element that distinguishes Reformed belief from Roman Catholic convictions and serves as a leitmotif throughout this first chapter on Scripture. Going back to the writings of Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) and earlier, Reformed theologians explained the nature of the Word in terms of the verbum agraphon et engraphon, the “unwritten and written word.” This was an important distinction, one that emphasized that God’s spoken Word took precedence over his written Word. It might not be immediately apparent, but giving priority to the unwritten (or spoken) Word of God meant that the Word of God existed first, prior to the church. By contrast, Roman Catholics argued that the church existed first and then created the Word. If the church existed first, then its authority was equal to that of Scripture; but if the Word existed first, then the church, naturally, was the product of the Word and hence subject to its authority.

       Bullinger, for example, writes, “Their doctrine, first of all taught by a lively expressed voice, and after that set down in writing with pen and ink, is the doctrine of God and the very true word of God.”  The Word of God begins not with what is written, which would naturally raise questions related to the Canon, but with what is spoken. The unwritten Word of God gives rise to the written Word of God. This type of distinction appears in the works of those such as Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563), Bucanus, and Leigh.  It was also confessed quite early in the Reformation in the Ten Theses of Bern (1528), which state, “The holy catholic church, whose sole head is Christ, has been begotten from the Word of God, in which also it continues, nor does it listen to the voice of any stranger” (§ 1). In other words, the divines do not advocate that the Bible itself is a dead letter, a book containing dusty propositions to be affirmed or denied. Rather, the written Word is a vehicle or instrument for the Word of God by which he continually speaks to the church. As Bullinger writes in the Second Helvetic Confession, “God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures” (1.1). And likewise, the divines affirm that the supreme authority in the church by which all controversies of religion are adjudicated is “no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (1.10).

The point here is that the Word produces the church; the church does not produce the Word.

While precise and often quite explicit, one area that Fesko highlights is the “deliberate ambiguity” of the Standards on certain issues, an ambiguity that “can only be discovered by reading the Confession and catechisms in tandem with the minutes of the assembly and works of the period.”  Whether ambiguous or direct, implicit or explicit, Fesko’s research allows the reader to hear much of the floor debate on issues like antinomianism, hypothetical universalism, millenarianism/chiasm, two Kingdoms, the regulative principle of worship, the papacy as antichrist, dual justification, and much more and to see why the divines said what they did…or did not.

 Fesko’s work on the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (IAOC) is a microcosm of the scholarship of this work.  Fesko’s attention to detail is second to none in this chapter and he makes his argument forcefully and graciously.  He compares the number of speeches for and against IAOC, he lists objections to IAOC and then the positive case made for it.  He also engages the implicit case against IAOC based on removal of “whole” and a comma that was mistakenly omitted from copies, as well as the cultural context of “obedience and satisfaction” as passive and active obedience.  In all of this, Fesko does not leave the novice in the dust and keeps the reader’s interest piqued.

Fesko presents the entire book in historical context.  He begins by looking at the assembly itself and what led to these theologians being gathered to amend the 39 Articles.  After introducing the historical context of the calling of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, Fesko proceeds to look at specific issues addressed in the Standards in light of debates at the Assembly and its immediate context because,

Historical context is all-determinative for understanding the theology contained in the Westminster Standards. As helpful and necessary as popular commentaries on the Standards are, a contextually sensitive reading of the documents must first be established. What political and theological concerns did the divines have, and how do these concerns appear in the Confession and catechisms? Who were the dialogue partners of the divines, whether positively or negatively?

So, I can definitely make the point that The Theology of the Westminster Standards is a pleasure to read.  While it gets pretty deep at points, Fesko seems to take care to never leave those without formal theological education in the wake of his scholarship.  While I am sure there are many who could/would argue the historical and/or theological nuances of Fesko’s conclusions, I am definitely not informed enough to even think of trying.  However, as one with relatively little interaction with the Westminster Standards prior to this work, I can assure you that this is a wonderful introduction to the history and theology of the Westminster Standards and time well spent for anyone with the least bit of interest in the British Reformation or Protestant theology. 

Fesko says from the beginning that the “aim of this study is to set the Standards in their original historical setting and explore the world of the seventeenth century…(and) my hope is that this brief exploration of the marvelous world of seventeenth-century Reformed theology will be interesting, instructive, and edifying for saints living in the twenty-first century and beyond.”

This is exactly what has been accomplished.  Fesko provides the reader with an historical theology of the Westminster Standards that will serve the Church for a long, long time. 

*I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

J. V. Fesko (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is academic dean and associate professor of systematic and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California. In addition to serving as an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, he is the author of a number of books related to the Reformation, including What is Justification? and Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine.


            “One of the ways of demonstrating the abiding relevance of our confessions is to understand the conversations and debates from which they emerged. John Fesko has done precisely this. Digging around each plant in the Westminster garden, Fesko exposes the rich soil that still nourishes our faith and practice. I picked up this book expecting to find a resource to be consulted, but found myself reading the whole work through with rapt attention. There is gold in these hills!”
            Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; author, Calvin on the Christian Life
“Finally we have a solid analysis and an expert portrayal of the theology of the Westminster Standards in which the time of its writing and its direct influence are also described. John Fesko has gathered an enormous amount of information that makes this book a sourcebook par excellence. He does the church and its theology a great favor with this overview, helping us to understand the Westminster Confession and catechisms not only in their theological context, but also in their relevance for today.”
            Herman Selderhuis, Professor of Church History, Theological University of Apeldoorn; Director, Refo500, The Netherlands

            “Drawing upon a significant body of recent research, John Fesko has written an admirably clear and accessible study of the teaching of the Westminster Confession. By situating the successive chapters in their original seventeenth-century setting, he provides an informed exposition of their content and significance. This study will be immensely useful not only for theological students, but for all who require a better understanding of the most important Reformed confession in the English-speaking world.”
            David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity and Principal, New College, University of Edinburgh
          “Seldom has an exposition of the Westminster Standards been as useful as John Fesko’s Theology of the Westminster Standards. Dr. Fesko understands the necessity of placing these monumental documents in their proper contexts. He has uncovered a massive amount of contemporary literature and expertly explains the theological statements of the Standards in the light of these works. For everyone interested in confessionalism, this is an essential volume. It will be a standard work for decades to come.”
            James M. Renihan, Dean and Professor of Historical Theology, Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies

            “Fesko’s volume is an outstanding and very welcome addition to the growing field of literature on the Westminster Confession of Faith. In these pages Fesko goes straight to the primary sources, skillfully mining relevant sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts in order to explain the historical and theological developments leading up to the assembly. Moreover, he provides fresh and insightful analysis of the theology of the Confession itself. Do you want to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Reformed faith in general, and the theology of the Westminster Confession in particular? If the answer is yes, then pick up and read this marvelous book. I heartily commend it!”
            Jon D. Payne, Presbyterian Church in America church planter, Charleston, South Carolina; Visiting Lecturer, Reformed Theological Seminary; Series Editor, Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament

            “This book is awesome!”
            Josh R. Skinner, Marketing Czar/Office Morale Monitor at TheTrailer Guys, Church Member at Calvary Baptist Church, Author of A Review of J.V. Fesko’s The Theology of the Westminster Standards