Archive for April, 2009

Defining Faith – Rutherford Style

April 25, 2009

How should we define faith?  Samuel Rutherford, via Guy Richard, is very helpful indeed.  Richard’s summary of  Rutherford is as follows:

Faith necessarily and in the first instance involves the intellect. Certain facts must be known and believed to be true.
But saving faith is more than that, because ‘it is not enough to salvation [simply] to believe that God is true in his Word’.  Saving faith also contains the voluntaristic element of trust or fiducia.  And, in continuity with Calvin, specifically, and Reformation and post-Reformation thinking generally – including such men as Musculus, Ursinus, Ames, Leigh, Ussher, and Macovius – Rutherford placed fiducia at the very center of his definition of faith:
‘True Faith in the Scriptures is not merely a firm assent [assensus] to the way of God, which is prescribed by Christ; this is the Historical and dogmatic faith of the Papists; but more than an assent [assensus] of the mind, true faith is determined by the heart’s trusting [fiduciam] in God through the Mediator, and by a fiducial [fiducialis] leaning upon him.
Richard, Supremacy of God, 187-8

Rutherford’s polemic here is directed against Arminian, as well as Roman, theology (those who know the modern American debate over the definition of faith should understand the irony in this!).  Richard’s goes on to explain:

By denying that fiducia is of the essence of saving faith, the Arminians are, as Rutherford sees it, placing their emphasis on the rational rather than on the experiential … As a result, the Christian life becomes primarily a rational pursuit rather than an intimate relationship … involving every faculty within the individual … they reduce the object of faith merely to factual information that must be personally understood, believed and trusted in. Such a view according to Rutherford, is wholly ‘misleading’ and ‘futile’,
‘[b]ecause the object of Faith, in this way of thinking, is not Christ … But the History of the Gospel, by which I firmly believe that I avoid hell and obtain eternal life only through Christ and his reasoning [rationem], as prescribed in the Gospel … [and because] to believe in Christ in this way is merely to believe in Christ recounting [narranti] that people obtain eternal life by repentance and faith: But this is an Historical faith, which is in the Demons and many of the reprobate.’
Ibid, 190-1

What is the implication of this definition of faith, involving as it does more than simple intellectual apprehension?  Well it should mean that preaching seeks to do much more than simply impart knowledge:

Rutherford, therefore, believes that every minister should preach in such a way as to appeal to and excite all the faculties of the soul, but especially the affections. A sermon that concentrates only on the presentation of information to the mind fails to excite the affections and, thus, leaves its hearers no better off in their pursuit of sanctification. Truth must be crafted and presented in such a way so as to encourage love in the affections for Christ.
Ibid, 203

Amen to that Mr Rutherford!

Rutherford, The Will of God and ‘Desire’

April 20, 2009

The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Studies in Christian History and Thought)I’ve been really enjoying Guy Richard’s work on Rutherford.  With Richard’s and Coffey’s complimentary studies Rutherford is well served in terms of fair representations of his life and theology.  Richard’s work is well written and a pleasure to read, but it is not “easy,” is fairly “in depth” and definitely requires concentration!  The best thing about the book is that he “gets” Rutherford and understands the theological tradition, and therefore the distinctions, Rutherford was working with.  [He is a country mile or ten ahead of me!]  One key distinction which bears on my own studies is over the will of God and how we understand the relationship between God’s commands (revealed will) and his decree (secret will).  What Richard’s says is eminently helpful:

…the voluntas signi, which is the ‘revealed’ (revelata), ‘approving’ (approbans), or ‘commanding’ (preacipiens) will of God, whereby he makes known to his creatures all that he approves of, as being ‘morally lawful and noble, even if the future actuality of … [those] good thing[s] may never by decreed by God.’  In this way God desires, approves, and commands many things to be done, which he decrees not to be done in actuality … For example Rutherford says that God ‘desires the obedience of Judas and Herod and Pilate‘, by his approving, commanding and revealed will, and ‘yet he decreed [by his hidden or decretive will] that they should crucify the Lord of Glory‘.
p103 [emphasis added]

So according to Richard, Samuel Rutherford, man of extremes that he was, had no difficulty with speaking of the “desire” of God (as defined above) for things he had not decreed.  Who would have thought it possible 😉

PS Much more to come from this book – it really is top notch.

Leighton, Lapsarianism and Blogs

April 18, 2009

I was working through Archbishop Leighton’s works (yes there are – sadly many- good 17th C Scottish theological works still on my ‘to be read’ list) and came across his take on the lapsarian controversy (Works 2:577):

To say the truth, I acknowledge that I am astonished, and greatly at a loss, when I hear learned men, and professors of theology, talking presumptuously about the order of the Divine decrees, and when I read such things in their works.

Now judging by the secondary literature Leighton was a good “Calvinist” – despite his conformity – but I’m not posting this to discuss the theological merit of his statement.  What struck me was that we have here an eminent and respected theologian expressing amazement at how bold some leading Reformed thinkers have been when speaking of the order of the Divine decrees.  If Leighton was astonished at leading Reformed theologians discussing these matters what would he make of today’s reformed blogs and discussion boards where dogmatic pronouncements about the various lapsarian positions are routinely made?  Indeed, perhaps this is the greatest danger of blogs/internet discussions – everyone has a platform from which to opine on areas where even the most qualifed theologians must tread with care.

Coming soon – some thoughts from this excellent book:

The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Studies in Christian History and Thought)

Does “offer” really mean present?

April 8, 2009

Not according to Durham as I have argued elsewhere:

One of the most common images Durham uses to define offer is that of wooing and beseeching. He explains that “The offer of the gospel … is set down under the expression of wooing … and supposes a marriage, and a bridegroom, that is by his friends wooing and suiting in marriage…” So in understanding what the gospel offer is it is appropriate to think of a man trying to persuade the woman he loves to marry him. This image, of course, carries with more than a simple presentation of facts. It would be an absurdity for a man to try and win the affections of a woman simply by presenting a few facts about himself. No, the image carries with it the ideas of an attempt to win the girl by earnest persuasion. And so it is with the Gospel where Christ, “doth beseech and entreat, etc. that thereby hearts may be induced to submit cheerfully to Him.” We can “Consider further how our Lord Jesus seeks and presses for this satisfaction from you; he sends forth his friends and ambassadors, to woo in his name, and to beseech you to be reconciled … he pleads so much and so often, and entreats every one in particular when he is so very serious in beseeching and entreating, it should, no doubt, make us more willing to grant him what he seeks.” So simply from this one image Durham uses it is clear that offer is, for him, more that a presentation of facts. 

Now who do you think understands 17th century English better-  Durham or modern critics of the free offer?