Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Role of Works at the Final Judgment

I have just read this 'Four Views' book edited by Alan Stanley.

Robert Wilkin gives the Dispensational View: works will determine rewards but not salvation. At the judgement seat of Christ (not the Great White Throne judgment) each believer will be judged by Christ to determine his eternal rewards, but they remain eternally secure even if the judgment reveals they have failed to persevere in good works, or even (apparently) in faith.

Tom Schreiner gives the more or less Reformed view - he makes a good fist of presenting the case for works being evidence that one is saved. Works provide a necessary condition, but not the final ground or meritorious ground, of salvation. The trouble is he does this without any reference to Romans 5:12-21 or even mentioning the word 'imputation' . It is all based on the New Testament text (or some of it) without reference to the riches of systematic theology (which of course is also based on the Bible's text) so it all seems a but thin even though correct as far as it goes.

James D.G. Dunn gives a 'New Perspective' view - that judgment is according to works, meaning based on works, but also according to faith. His very postmodern view is that since the New Testament appears to hold together 'justification by faith and not by works' alongside 'judgment according to works' (by which he means not what the Reformed view does, but that works have some merit) we should not blend them in such a way that one diminishes the force of the other. He is happy to allow Scripture to contradict itself.

Michael Barber gives the Roman Catholic view, that works merit eternal life, but that they are only possible because of the grace of God and though union with Christ by faith.

So different views are presented clearly, and as usual responded to by the others. Most noteworthy are: (i) the antinomian leanings of Dispensationalism, as works are not insisted upon as evidence of salvation'; (ii) Schreiner's failure to utilise the weaponry of Systematic theology and even of all of the NT to support his case; James Buchanan's 'Justification' has better arguments, written over 150 years ago; and (iii) the closeness in practice between the New Perspective (or at least Dunn's version of it) and the Roman Catholic views, even though in fact they are different in detail. Dunn makes comments actually rejoicing in ecumenical closeness between his view and the Roman view.

In the end both of them leave us leaning on ourselves rather than on Christ. It is difficult to see how either can give any assurance of faith - one is left trusting the mercy of God, not his justice in Christ; there is no assurance of judgment having already been passed on the believer in Christ. In both presentations Christ is almost finally irrelevant, certainly secondary.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Westminster Fellowship: The Law in the Believer's Life

Robert Strivens of LTS gave us today a clear introduction to this important but contentious subject.

First he outlined the more familiar Reformed view, basing himself on Ernest Kevan's 'The Grace of Law', and then outlined very helpfully the 'New Covenant Theology' (NCT) views of Wells and Zaspel, Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner.

Robert carefully indicated where these men differ as well as where their NCT becomes clear.

Discussion ranged widely. We discussed the Sabbath issue, noting the difficulties of the Reformed view as well as its basic correctness, and the difficulties of practising this theology without becoming legalistic. The need to argue our case more exegetically and with respect for the text was urged, rather than relying too much on systematic theology, especially Confessions, which however accurate they may be do not cut much ice with a younger generation of evangelicals. 'Is it in Scripture'?" is there challenge, and it is not an unreasonable one even though it can be pushed to unreasonable lengths.

The blessing of the law and of the sabbath was stressed, as well as the importance of the Creation roots of the sabbath and the moral laws generally.

One book I have recently read and would highly recommend is Mark Jones' 'Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?'. This is a fairly brief book (130 pages) but it covers an enormous amount of historical, biblical and theological material and I have found it immensely clarifying as well as challenging: how many times have I in an excess of zeal in one direction or another made statements in sermons that were either antinomian or legalistic? Two conclusions may be drawn: firstly, we should not judge men too harshly in their speaking or writing when they make an occasional statement which seems to be in error on either side. Secondly, we should nonetheless strive for precision of thought in preparation and of expression in preaching to avoid making mistakes. Who is sufficient for these things?

Oh yes - one major and helpful thesis of Jones' book is that the big failure of the antinomian is ultimately Christological. This is well perceived, and ironic, if true, as it is of course the mantra (which is what it can become) 'Preach Christ' is the very thing they are trying to do. Grace become their 'thing', a technique for the successful Christian life, and is divorced from the person and work of Christ in all his richness.

This was a very useful day, and it was good to see about 28 men there in the morning.

Union with Christ - Affinity Theological Study conference

About 65 of us gathered at the very ;peasant King's Park Conference Centre in Northampton last week for about 15 hours of concentrated study over three ays on the wonderful theme of 'Union with Christ.

Tim Ward, director of the Cornhill Training Programme, opened the batting (cricket metaphors were prominent during the conference) with the theme in Paul, focussing on Galatians. It was helpful to seeing the theme of 'union with Christ' as the 'webbing' against which Paul deals with particular themes e.g. justification. Even if it is not the particular theme Paul is dealing with, it is always there almost as an unspoken (though sometime every prominent) assumption in his whole schema.

Cornelis Bennema of WEST showed us the prominence of the them in John, especially in John 13-17.

Bob Letham gave us a good introduction to the theme in Calvin and spent time emphasising the importance of the Lord's Supper (or 'Eucharist' as Dr Letham likes to call it).

John V. Fesko of Westminster West provided insight into a debate that John Owen had with a William Sherlock, a Socinian (pretty much) in the 1670s, explaining why Owen had to write a vindication of his great work 'Communion with God'.

David McKay of Belfast produced a refreshingly straightforward introduction to covenant theology's understanding of justification and union with Christ, and Paul Wells formerly of Aix en Provence but now Eastbourne, produced the longest paper but a most helpful one on sanctification. But then, it is a big subject.

WE had all received the parers in advance and in theory e wet two have read them ; some had. The lecturers then give a short ( mostly ) introduction to the paper, and then we spent 45 minutes or so in discussion with set questions. These were really excellent, in my view, chaired helpfully by Paul Yeulett in our case and with Bob Letham in the group. We also enjoyed a very warm time of prayer in groups on Thursday evening.

This was a helpful conference, enhanced by excellent facilities and good food, in that something was learned from the papers, the theme of union with Christ was impressed upon us in all its importance, and the fellowship of kindred minds, albeit with some creative differences was precious.

What will we study in 2017? Someone suggested eschatology - not a bad idea and something new I think, if this were taken up.

John Owen's 'The Person of Christ' (Christologia)

We had a good day at the John Owen Centre Reading Group (which used to be called the Theology Study Group) on 23rd February. WE had set yourselves the challenge of reading our great mentor's work on The Person of Christ, the first work in volume one of the 16 volume set.

Reading it was a pleasure once one got into its 272 pages, including 27 page preface, but at times, with much else to do, I felt frustrated at not having time to do it justice, though I did get to the end. I had read it long ago, in about the year 2000, and was gratified to see some marginal scribbles along the way.

Owen gets rid of some inadequate formulations of the mystery of the incarnation and hypostatic union, and is magnificent on the functional importance of the doctrine of Christ's dual nature and unipersonality. Some of his passages rise to the sublime as he soars with his subject; some, it has to be said, plod clunkily along and take some deciphering.

His relatively brief section on the doctrine of the hypostatic union itself is faithful to Chalcedon and repays several readings and much study - more time than we had.

Owen is adamant that all the acts of the mediator are done by the person of the God-man and not by either one or the other nature.

Go to this book for yourself - there is no more edifying subject in all of theology than to study the person of Christ.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Westminster Conference 2014

We had an enjoyable couple of days in Regent Hall, Oxford Street, on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The theme was 'Authentic Calvinism' and one of the great games at the Westminster Conference is trying to see the link between the talks and the conference title, and indeed why one title is chosen one year rather than another.

Stephen Clark began with a good overview of Whitefield and Howell Harris, asking the question why such godly men seemed to be so unrealistic and out of touch with their humanity when it came to marriage. There is an ancient tradition of suspicion of sex and marriage in the Christian world, but the lack of self-awareness Harris and Whitefield showed and their insensitivity to the womenfolk in their lives spoke more of a super-spirituality in trying to reconcile their preaching ministries with the idea of marriage, than any deep rooted dualism or depreciation of marriage in general.

The discussion raised a number of interesting issues about whether there was a creation/redemption dualism in the 18th century. It certainly seems as if there was. The rationalism of the late 17th and the 18th century led to a reaction by the pietists, and ever since evangelicals have been prone to denigrate the mind, the body and culture in relation to the spirit. But the pendulum can swing in the other direction. We rarely seem to have recovered the harmony that the Reformers and Puritans generally seem to have displayed, better than their successors in the 18th Century.

The subject deserves to be discussed but perhaps a firmer historical or theological basis than the marriages of two unique figures (one of whom at least was probably mentally imbalanced at times) would be needed to ground the discussion.

Adrian Brake gave an excellent presentation on the life and legacy of Thomas Charles of Bala. Geoff Thomas chaired the discussion beautifully, asking a number men to give personal views on how we may in practice combine the life of the mind with a devotional heart. This changed the ethos of the day - we became more serious, and more practical.

Andrew Davies closed the day with a warm-hearted and erudite overview of the international nature of Calvinistic Methodism.

Wednesday began with Canadian Mark Jones speaking on antinomianism. His knowledge of the 17th century debates is vast and he has written a well regarded book on the subject. But his presentation was rather piecemeal and even very intelligent men who spoke to me afterwards had found him hard to follow. It would have been more satisfying to have had a cogent presentation of the subject; as someone said to me, his style would have been great for a seminar, but not the best for a conference like this.

But the discussion was helpful, and we managed to get it onto modern day problems.

Robert Strivens helpfully outlined the life and legacy of Richard Baxter, and we had a lively discussion as to what this legacy was. Robert made the point that his dodgy theology particularly on justification (and one might say the atonement too) did not seem to be very evident in his best known pastoral and evangelistic works -Call to the Unconverted and Saints Everlasting Rest.

Finally Andrew Young gave a good overview of the international ministry of John Knox - matching up with the international nature of Calvinistic Methodism (there, see, I got the connection).

The discussions as always contained many good points and some good questions, but rarely if ever soared to the level of a debate. But it was all heartwarming and edifying, and good to see old friends (and boy, are we all getting old together - not only grey heads, but the same grey heads, come to the Westminster Conference, which is even more worrying).

Thanks to the committee for putting the programme together - an enjoyable two days near lots of good coffee shops.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Seeking the Lord – RRF 2014

Few conferences are as unfashionable as the Reformation and Revival Fellowship, and few are as relevant.

We believe in prayer and preaching, and that is what we get.

The messages at Swanwick in November can be summarised under a few grace-filled imperatives.

Look: Graham Hind, MD of Evangelical Press, led us to Hebrews for the opening sermon, exhorting us warmly to look to Jesus as the full and final revelation of God, our present help and our future hope.

Seek: Kenneth Stewart of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church wonderfully applied the life of Asa focusing on ‘The Lord is with you while you are with him’ (2 Chron 15:2). We were reminded that though he initiates the covenant relationship, God in his dealings with us is responsive – if we seek him he will be found by us but if we forsake him he will forsake us (though not losing our salvation). This is not legalism but the normal covenantal relationship, based on and sustained by grace but calling forth wholehearted seeking.

Pray: the heart of seeking. It is labour; persist in it; wait in it.

Contend: Derek Cleave took us to Jude. We are to contend earnestly, by living the faith as well as watching for error. Most people slide into error not because they intend to, but through laziness and carelessness in handling what they read and hear. Like Asa, Noah, David and Gideon we can be most likely to fall when we are comfortable, perhaps with major battles fought and won behind us.

This was a delightful conference, rich in ministry and fellowship. These are all messages for the church today.

For full addresses or CDs visit www.reformation and or contact Jim Lawson 01642 648512.

Next year (16-18 November) the main speakers will be Joel Beeke and Geoff Thomas; please contact George McIntyre for booking: 01564 772966; .

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels

On Thursday we went on a family trip to the Tower of London. We saw the poppies of course but we spent most of the day in the Tower itself. The crowds were enormous - it took over an hour in the queue to see the Crown Jewels alone. I slightly surprise myself to say that I thought it was worth it. They were magnificent - and an official description of them is given below as I would probably get it wrong.

The religious connotations are interesting - the three swords of temporal justice, spiritual justice and mercy, for example; the orb representing Christ's rule over the earth; the two sceptres, one with the cross to represent temporal power, the other with the dove to represent equity and mercy; the St Edward's crown used for the coronation, the Imperial State crown used on other occasions, the Cullinan diamonds (the largest in the sceptre, the second in the Imperial state crown), the Koh i Nur in the late Queen Mother's crown. And all the gold plate used for the anointing and the eucharist.

We also went to see the White Tower, and walked around the walls. Then we walked to the Monument and climbed its 311 steps. Then a no. 15 bus up Fleet Street and the Strand and a meal in Northumberland Ave. Then a walk through Leicester Square to the M&M shop, and Piccadilly, and finally a quick photo by Harry Potter's Platform 9 and 3/4 on King's Cross Station.
A good day.

"The Crown Jewels, which are part of the Royal Collection, are displayed to millions of visitors every year, guarded by Yeomen Warders (‘Beefeaters’) in the Tower of London. The Jewel House at the Tower has been used for the secure storage of the precious ceremonial objects, commonly known as the ‘Crown Jewels’, since the early 14th century, when Westminster Abbey (the alternative store) was found to be unsafe. Although attempts have been made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower, notably by Colonel Blood in 1671, none have succeeded. The present display of the Crown Jewels was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994.

At the heart of the Crown Jewels display are the ceremonial and symbolic objects associated with the coronations of English Kings and Queens. These are usually referred to as the Regalia. They include the crowns of Sovereigns, Consorts and Princes of Wales, both past and present, sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets and robes, all of which have a specific part to play in the ritual of the English coronation service. Much of the Regalia is in use to the present day, a feature which distinguishes the English Regalia from most of its European counterparts

The oldest piece of the Regalia is the 12th century gold Anointing Spoon, used to anoint the Sovereign with holy oil. Apart from the three steel coronation swords (the Swords of Temporal Justice, of Spiritual Justice and of Mercy), this is the only piece that survived the destruction of the pre-Civil War Regalia in 1649-50. This destruction was ordered by Oliver Cromwell, following the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The gold objects, including pieces probably dating back to the time of Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, were sent to the Mint for melting down, and the gemstones were removed from their settings and sold. Cromwell was determined that these potent symbols of royalty and kingship should be completely eradicated.

At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, King Charles II ordered new Regalia, modelled on the forms of the lost Regalia used by his father. This new set of Regalia was completed for Charles II’s coronation on St George’s Day (23 April 1661) and cost the enormous sum of almost £13,000.

The principal piece of the Regalia is St Edward’s Crown, with which the new Sovereign is actually crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the coronation ceremony. This is made of gold and decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, including sapphires, tourmalines, amethysts, topazes and citrines, and weighs a substantial 2.23kg. It was last used to crown Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953.

The most famous of the crowns is the Imperial State Crown. This was re-made for the coronation of The Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1937 and is set with over 3,000 gems. The stones were all transferred from the old Imperial Crown, which had been re-made on a number of occasions since the 17th century, most recently for Queen Victoria in 1838. This crown incorporates many famous gemstones, including the diamond known as the Second Star of Africa (the second largest stone cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond), the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire, St Edward’s Sapphire and Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls. The Sovereign traditionally wears the Imperial State Crown at the conclusion of the coronation service, when leaving Westminster Abbey. It is also worn for the State Opening of Parliament.

The other principal pieces of the Regalia used during the coronation, all dating from 1661, are the Ampulla, the gold flask in the form of an eagle which contains the holy oil used for the Anointing; the Sovereign’s Orb, representing Christ’s dominion over the world; and the two sceptres, The Sovereign’s Sceptre with cross, now set with the First Star of Africa, representing the monarch’s temporal power under God and the Sceptre with Dove, representing equity and mercy. The Spurs, which are not worn, are there to represent knightly chivalry and the Armills or bracelets, represent sincerity and wisdom. A new pair of gold Armills was presented to The Queen by the Commonwealth for the 1953 coronation.

During the coronation service, following the Anointing, the Sovereign is invested with the Imperial Mantle of cloth-of-gold, woven with the National Emblems, and when invested, places on the altar the elaborately jewelled Sword of Offering. Both of these were made for George IV’s coronation in 1821.

Among the famous gem-stones on display at the Tower is the First Star of Africa, now mounted at the top of the Sovereign’s Sceptre. This is the largest flawless cut diamond in the world and weighs 530 carats. This and the Second Star of Africa of 317 carats (in the Imperial State Crown) were cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever found. Weighing over 3,000 carats, the Cullinan was given to King Edward VII by the Government of the Transvaal (South Africa) in 1907.

The legendary Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond, presented to Queen Victoria in 1850, is now set in the platinum crown made for the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother for the 1937 coronation. This diamond, which came from the Treasury at Lahore in the Punjab, may have belonged to the early Mughal emperors before passing eventually to Duleep Singh. It was re-cut for Queen Victoria in 1852 and now weighs 106 carats. Traditionally the Koh-i-Nur is only worn by a queen or queen consort: it is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.

Among the other notable jewels on display is Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, made for her in 1870 to wear as a light and comfortable alternative to the much heavier Imperial State Crown. The Imperial Crown of India, set with around 6,000 diamonds and magnificent rubies and emeralds, was made for King George V to wear at the Delhi Coronation Durbar in 1911. It has never been worn since.

In addition to the new Regalia, Charles II acquired a large quantity of new gold altar and banqueting plate, costing a further £18,000. A selection of this plate, including the Maundy Dish, still used by the Sovereign on Maundy Thursday, the St George’s Salts, formerly used at coronation banquets, and the Charles II font formerly used for royal christenings, together with the Lily Font, which is in current use and was made for the baptism of Queen Victoria’s first child, is also on view in the Jewel House".