May 1, 2017

Sinclair Ferguson’s Doctoral Thesis on John Owen and the Christian Life

Here is a link to a copy of Sinclair Ferguson’s doctoral thesis on The Doctrine of the Christian Life in the Teaching of Dr. John Owen (1616-83):

Or check this page and search for "Ferguson, Sinclair." Once you're at the page, click on the small pdf icon.

April 24, 2017

Richard Muller on Divine Benevolence, Goodness, Longsuffering and Grace

benevolentia: literally, goodwill or good willing: a synonym for eudokia (q.v.) and favor dei, related also to the good pleasure (beneplacitum, q.v.) of God. The benevolentia Dei is one of the affections or attributes of God’s will. See amor Dei; attributa divina; bonitas Dei; voluntas Dei.
Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 58.
bonitas Dei: the goodness or moral excellence of God; a term used by scholastics in arguing that goodness belongs to God in an absolute sense and, with all the divine attributes (attributa divina, q.v.), is to be viewed as identical with the divine essence in its perfection. Thus God is good in se, in himself, and is the absolute good, the ground and standard of all created goodness. By extension, therefore, God is good respectively or in relation to his creatures. The bonitas Dei in relation to creatures is to be considered in three ways: (1) efficienter, or efficiently, as the efficient cause that produces all finite or created goodness; (2) as the exemplar or causa exemplaris, the standard or exemplary cause, of all created good, i.e., as the standard of good according to which goodness is created and judged; (3) as the summum bonum (q.v.), the highest good or final cause (causa finalis, q.v.), the ultimate end of all good things. Thus the bonitas Dei is most clearly manifest in the goodwill (benevolentia, q.v.) of God toward his creatures, specifically, in the positive attributes or affections of God’s will, grace (see gratia Dei), mercy (misericordia, q.v.) longsuffering (longanimitas, q.v.), love (see amor Dei), and patience (patientia, q.v.).
longanimitas: longsuffering; the patient bearing of an offense, particularly over a long period of time; thus, the willingness of God to endure the offense of sin rather than immediately annihilate the world in its wickedness. The longanimitas Dei is the affection of the divine will according to which God wills to await repentance and to allow millennia to elapse, for the sake of mankind, between the fall and the final judgment. Longanimitas is virtually synonymous with patientia, indicating the height of patience.
Ibid., 180.
gratia communis: common grace; i.e. a nonsaving, universal grace according to which God in his goodness bestows his favor upon all creation in the general blessings of physical sustenance and moral influence for the good. Thus, rain falls on the just and the unjust, and all men have the law engraved on their hearts. Gratia communis is therefore contrasted by the Reformed with particular or special grace (gratia particularis sive specialis, q.v.).
Ibid., 130.
gratia Dei: the grace of God; viz., the goodness of God (bonitas Dei, q.v.) toward mankind manifest as undeserved favor and, specifically, the cleansing power of God which renews and regenerates sinners.
gratia particularis sive specialis: particular or special grace; i.e., the grace of God that is given savingly only to the elect. The Reformed contrast this gratia particularis or gratia specialis with the gratia universalis (q.v.), or universal grace of the gospel promise, and with the gratia communis (q.v.), the common, nonsaving grace given to all. Lutheran orthodoxy argues against the concept on the ground of the efficacy of the Word and in the name of universal grace as a gratia seria, a serious grace or grace seriously offered to all, and therefore salvific.
Ibid., 131.
gratia universalis: universal grace; i.e. that grace of God in the universal call of the gospel according to which salvation is offered to all.
Ibid., 133.

Bernard Ramm (1916–1992) on the Need for Helps in Understanding the Bible

It is often asserted by devout people that they can know the Bible competently without helps. They preface their interpretations with a remark like this: “Dear friends, I have read no man’s book. I have consulted no man-made commentaries. I have gone right to the Bible to see what it has to say for itself.” This sounds very spiritual, and usually is seconded with amens from the audience.

But is this the pathway of wisdom? Does any man have either the right or the learning to by-pass all the godly learning of the Church? We think not.

First, although the claim to by-pass mere human books and go right to the Bible itself sounds devout and spiritual it is a veiled egotism. It is a subtle affirmation that a man can adequately know the Bible apart from the untiring, godly, consecrated scholarship of men like Calvin, Bengel, Alford, Lange, Ellicot, or Moule. In contrast to the claim that a man had best by-pass the learned works of godly expositors, is a man like Henderson, author of The Minor Prophets. He spared no mental or intellectual pains to equip himself with the necessary linguistic ability to understand the Bible, and then he read patiently and thoroughly in all the literature that might help him in his interpretation of the Scriptures. He consecrated his entire mind and all that that involved to the understanding of Sacred Scripture. This is truly the higher consecration.

Secondly, such a claim is the old confusion of the inspiration of the Spirit with the illumination of the Spirit. The function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth or to instruct in matters unknown, but to illuminate what is revealed in Scripture. Suppose we select a list of words from Isaiah and ask a man who claims he can by-pass the godly learning of Christian scholarship if he can out of his own soul or prayers give their meaning or significance: Tyre, Zidon, Chittim, Sihor, Moab, Mahershalahasbas, Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Geba, Anathoth, Laish, Nob, and Gallim. He will find the only light he can get on these words is from a commentary or a Bible dictionary.

It is true that commentaries can come between a man and his Bible. It is true that too much reliance on commentaries may make a man bookish, and dry up the sources of his own creativity. But the abuse of commentaries is by no means adequate grounds to forsake the great, godly, and conservative commentaries which have been to our blessing and profit.
Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 17–18. See also Richard Muller on the proper meaning of sola scriptura.

Incidentally, I have found that the best Puritan authors in the early modern era have the most marginal references to other sources (i.e. from the church fathers, the school-men, and to early Reformed commentators) for the reader to investigate.

John Chrysostom (c.349–407) on Applause During Sermons

Believe me, I speak not other than I feel—when as I discourse I hear myself applauded, at the moment indeed I feel it as a man (for why should I not own the truth?): I am delighted, and give way to the pleasurable feeling: but when I get home, and bethink me that those who applauded received no benefit from my discourse, but that whatever benefit they ought to have got, they lost it while applauding and praising, I am in pain, and groan, and weep, and feel as if I had spoken all in vain. I say to myself: "What profit comes to me from my labors, while the hearers do not choose to benefit by what they hear from us?" Nay, often have I thought to make a rule which should prevent all applauding, and persuade you to listen with silence and becoming orderliness. But bear with me, I beseech you, and be persuaded by me, and, if it seem good to you, let us even now establish this rule, that no hearer be permitted to applaud in the midst of any person's discourse, but if he will needs admire, let him admire in silence: there is none to prevent him: and let all his study and eager desire be set upon the receiving the things spoken.—What means that noise again? I am laying down a rule against this very thing, and you have not the forbearance even to hear me!—Many will be the good effects of this regulation: it will be a discipline of philosophy. Even the heathen philosophers—we hear of their discoursing, and nowhere do we find that noisy applause accompanied their words: we hear of the Apostles, making public speeches, and yet nowhere do the accounts add, that in the midst of their speeches the hearers interrupted the speakers with loud expressions of approbation. A great gain will this be to us. But let us establish this rule: in quiet let us all hear, and speak the whole (of what we have to say). For if indeed it were the case that we departed retaining what we had heard, what I insist upon is, that even so the praise is not beneficial—but not to go too much into particulars (on this point); let none tax me with rudeness—but since nothing is gained by it, nay, it is even mischievous, let us loose the hindrance, let us put a stop to the boundings, let us retrench the gambollings of the soul. Christ spoke publicly on the Mount: yet no one said anything, until He had finished His discourse. I do not rob those who wish to be applauded: on the contrary, I make them to be more admired. It is far better that one's hearer, having listened in silence, should by his memory throughout all time applaud, both at home and abroad, than that having lost all he should return home empty, not possessed of that which was the subject of his applauses. For how shall the hearer be otherwise than ridiculous? Nay, he will be deemed a flatterer, and his praises no better than irony, when he declares that the teacher spoke beautifully, but what he said, this he cannot tell. This has all the appearance of adulation. For when indeed one has been hearing minstrels and players, it is no wonder if such be the case with him, seeing he knows not how to utter the strain in the same manner: but where the matter is not an exhibition of song or of voice, but the drift and purport of thoughts and wise reflection (φιλοσοφίας), and it is easy for every one to tell and report what was said, how can he but deserve the accusation, who cannot tell what the matter was for which he praised the speaker? Nothing so becomes a Church as silence and good order. Noise belongs to theaters, and baths, and public processions, and market-places: but where doctrines, and such doctrines, are the subject of teaching, there should be stillness, and quiet, and calm reflection, and a haven of much repose (φιλοσοφία καὶ πολὺς ὁ λιμήν). These things I beseech and entreat: for I go about in quest of ways by which I shall be enabled to profit your souls. And no small way I take this to be: it will profit not you only, but us also. So shall we not be carried away with pride (ἐ κτραχηλίζεσθαί), not be tempted to love praises and honor, not be led to speak those things which delight, but those which profit: so shall we lay the whole stress of our time and diligence not upon arts of composition and beauties of expression, but upon the matter and meaning of the thoughts. Go into a painter's study, and you will observe how silent all is there. Then so ought it to be here: for here too we are employed in painting portraits, royal portraits (every one of them), none of any private man, by means of the colors of virtue—How now? Applauding again? This is a reform not easy, but (only) by reason of long habit, to be effected.—The pencil moreover is the tongue, and the Artist the Holy Spirit. Say, during the celebration of the Mysteries, is there any noise? Any disturbance? When we are baptizing (βαπτιζώμεθα), when we are doing all the other acts? Is not all Nature decked (as it were) with stillness and silence? Over all the face of heaven is scattered this charm (of repose).—On this account are we evil spoken of even among the Gentiles, as though we did all for display and ostentation. But if this be prevented, the love of the chief seats also will be extinguished. It is sufficient, if any one be enamoured of praise, that he should obtain it after having been heard, when all is gathered in. Yea, I beseech you, let us establish this rule, that doing all things according to God's will, we may be found worthy of the mercy which is from Him, through the grace and compassion of His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father together with the Holy Spirit be glory, dominion, honor, now and ever, world without end. Amen.
John Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles: Homily XXX,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. P. Schaff (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 193–194.

March 29, 2017

George Newton (1602–1681) on the Sin of Unbelief, the Father Begging, and the Son’s Death for Mankind

That it is a sin not to believe in Jesus Christ, is evident by that which hath been said, because it is the violation of a Law, the Law of faith. But more than so, it is a very great sin. It is a sin of no ordinary size; no, (my beloved) it is a sinning sin, it is abundantly, and out of measure sinful. It is a sin indeed to violate the Law of works which the Apostle styles Moses’ Law, because it was delivered by the hand of Moses: But it is a greater sin to violate the Law of faith, and that both with relation to the Father and Son.

First for the Father, it is an horrible indignity to him; it is the basest undervaluing and despising of his love that can be; he gives his Son out of his bosom, to suffer shame and death for poor Creatures, and having done it, he sends his Messengers to mind men of the danger they are in without Christ, and to exhibit and propose him to them as the means, the only means of their salvation: and as endeavoring to overcome men with his goodness, he doth in love and pity beg them, and beseech them to accept of it; And what is the event of this? why (my beloved) when he hath abased himself so low, and stooped so much below himself as to become a suitor to them to receive his Son, they carry matters so as if he stood in need of them; as if he came to make a motion to them for his own advantage; as if he knew not what to do, if they should refuse his Son. Is not this good usage? that when he hath descended so in ways of mercy, they should shake him off, and tell him in effect, that his proffered wares stink, and that they do not need him, nor his Son neither: he may go offer him to them that have a mind to him.

Oh what abuse of love is this! Oh what an high dignity! what an unsufferable provocation! even to incense the Lord so far, as to cause him to resolve that he will never stoop so low again; that he will never prostitute his Son again to the disdain and the refusal of a company of base unthankful men; that he will make them rue the time that ever they condemned this mercy to them.

Then for the Son (my Brethren) in the second place, it is an high affront to him, and so in that respect a great sin. It cost him dear to purchase and obtain remission and salvation for a company of lost creatures; indeed his dearest life, his dearest blood. And is it not an horrible indignity to slight and to despise so great salvation? to trample under foot the son of God; to scorn such rich and precious mercy? yet this all unbelievers do, if not in their intention, yet in the issue and event. Truly their sin in this respect, is greater than the sin of Devils, whose nature Christ hath not assumed (he took not on him the nature of Angels, but the seed of Abraham) for whom he never suffered, and to whom he was never offered; They will have something to excuse themselves withal, something to plead before the Lord in the great and dreadful day. Alas, may Devils say, there was no possibility of our recovery; there was no Mediator between God and us, to purchase and obtain our peace; there was no pardon tendered to us; but you had the eternal Son of God to die for you, (for you mankind) to shed his blood, and to lay down his life for you; and yet when all was done, and when he came and brought a pardon to you, sealed with his blood, and besought you to accept it, you even shut him out of doors, you would not look upon him, nor receive him; you baffled him, and dodged with him; Ah, (my beloved) what heart if it be truly touched, can hold from breaking under the sight and sense of such abominable and prodigious wickedness as this is?

And as the sin is great, so in the second place, the misery and condemnation will be great also. There will be no avoiding of it; for how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation! Heb. 2:3. There will be no enduring of it, it will be infinitely heavy; it will be easier for Turks and Pagans in the day of judgement than for such wretches. Alas poor souls, that as if their condemnation were not deep enough already, the incarnation, the passion, and the offer of a Saviour, the richest mercies in themselves, that ever were bestowed upon the Creature, should accidentally increase it. That Christ should die and shed his blood, to sink men deeper into hell, than if he had not died at all (for this is the event and issue of it) this is a lamentable thing indeed.

Other men within the Augustinian tradition who use the metaphor of God begging are the following:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), John Oldfield (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Daniel Williams (Puritan), Samuel Willard, Benjamin Wadsworth, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur and Fred Zaspel.


March 28, 2017

John Oldfield (c.1627–1682) on God’s Pathetic Begging, Philanthropy, and Willingness to Pardon

1. Will not God, think you, be most ready to do that which best pleases, and most honours him? and what’s that but pardoning the Penitent, embracing returning Prodigals? Do you question this? A great part of Scripture, yea, the very scope of the Gospel may convince you. Read Jer. 9:24; Mic. 7:18; Ex. 34:6–7; Isa. 55:7; Joel 2:12–13. Will you believe God upon his word? He hath told you, Ezek. 18:32 that he hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth: will you have his Oath? Ezek. 33:11. As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; [herein he hath pleasure:] turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, &c. If neither Word nor Oath will serve, yet I hope his Actings, and gracious Dispensations towards the sons of Men, towards yourselves, may pass for a Demonstration: Had God delighted in the Destruction; yea, had he not had unspeakably more delight in the salvation of poor sinners, would he have sent his Son? Would he have published the Gospel? Would he wait, and beseech, and so pathetically beg your souls? 2 Cor. 5:19. And for they own case, could not God have thrown thee into Hell so soon as thou wast born, if that had pleased him? Would he have been at so much cost and pains with thee? Or if thou now returnest, will he not accept thee; yea, meet thee while yet afar off, fall upon thy neck, and kiss thee, who hath been so long waiting that he might be gracious unto thee? And then for the honour of God; ‘tis true, he can get it in thy destruction, but he had rather thou wouldest give it him in thy Salvation: Such is his Philanthropy, and love to man, that he esteems that his greatest honour, which consists with his creatures greatest happiness. Let me speak a serious word; Which do you think will make the sweeter melody in God’s Ear? whether the eternal howlings and yellings of the damned, blaspheming, and tearing his Name in pieces; or the incessant Blessings and Hallelujahs of glorified Saints, singing Praises to him that sits upon the Throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever? And for you to whom I am speaking [Prophane sinners]. How singularly pleasing will it be to God? How delightful to the Angels, &c. to entertain you into their heavenly society? (to entertain you, I say, not such as now you are, but washed in the blood of the Lamb, clothed with white linen, which is the Righteousness of the Saints) read, and read again those three Parables of the Prodigal son, the lost goat, and lost Sheep, Luke 18. They tell you there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repents, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance; and for the glory of God, he will both get more by you, (for the Physician’s skill is commended by the desperateness of the disease he cures) and you will (at least endeavour) give him more than others: If we may imagine an holy strife and emulation among the glorified Saints, to excel each other in praising God; surely they that have exceeded others in sinning here, will in singing hereafter: they to whom most is given, will love most, admire most, and labour to rise highest in their praises: So that this may be helpful against any discouraging fears of being rejected; ‘Tis singularly pleasing and honouring to God that you should come in; you cannot suppose God unwilling to receive you upon your serious return, but you suppose him also false in his word, his oath deceitful in his actings, and unfaithful to the great interest of his own glory: all which is no less then blasphemy to imagine.
John Oldfield, The First, Last. Or, the Formal Hypocrite further from Salvation, (as to the Way of God's ordinary working) than the Prophane Sinner (London: Printed for R. Boulter, at the Turks-Head, in Cornhill, 1666), 95–98.


Other men within the Augustinian tradition who use the metaphor of God begging are the following:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Daniel Williams (Puritan), Samuel Willard, Benjamin Wadsworth, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur and Fred Zaspel.

March 26, 2017

John Frost (c.1626–1656) on God’s Universal and Peculiar Love

God makes demonstration of universal love to all his creatures, Mat. 5:44–45. in the exercise of his general providences, upholding and ordering all things as his creatures; so his tender mercies are over all his works, Psal. 145:9. But the love which he bears to his peculiar is a peculiar love; that the love of a Creator, this of a Father; that founded in his nature, the other in Christ.
John Frost, Select Sermons Preached Upon Sundry Occasions (Cambridge: Printed by John Field, Printer to the University, 1657), 209.


March 15, 2017

Vavasor Powell (1617–1670) on Christ’s Willingness to Save All and Sovereign Good Pleasure

Ob[jection]. But as Christ is willing to save all, so he is also, to give and impart all saving gifts, and graces unto all.

A[nswer]. Christ is willing to save all, and he is very free to give, and very free in his gifts, and graces; yet notwithstanding, he gives according to his good pleasure. As a charitable man, wishes well to all poor people, yet he is free to give his charity, to whom he pleaseth. And as it is [Rev. 17:17] said (in another case) Its God that puts it in men’s hearts, to do his will: So it may be said here, when God makes men willing, then they become willing, and when God works power, then men are enabled, and not till then: for no man (as Christ saith [in John 6:44]) can come to him except the Father draw him. And no man can have a sanctified will, till the Lord [Jam. 1:18] by his own will, begets it in him. Therefore you that are willing, oh, bless and praise God, who hath made you so! and you that are unwilling, pray and wait, for the day of his power in which you shall be made willing.
Vavasor Powell, Christ and Moses’ Excellency, or Sion and Sinai’s Glory (London: Printed by R. I. for Hannah Allen, at the Crown in Popes-head-Alley, 1650), 163–64. Some spelling has been modernized.


January 12, 2017

Antonius Walaeus (1573–1639) on the Grace of General Providence

In order to understand this correctly, it should be noted carefully that this ‘passing over’ [involved in pre-temporal preterition] does not remove or deny all grace from those who have been passed over, but only the grace that is peculiar to the elect. But the grace that is distributed to mankind in various amounts through the administration of general providence (whether under the law of nature or under gospel-grace) is not taken away by this act of ‘passing over,’ but rather is presupposed by it, since the non-elect remain under the general government of divine providence and under the exercise of their own free choice.