Archive for the ‘Mark Horne’ Category

James Jordan recently pointed out in private conversation how appropriate it is, in John’s Gospel, that Nicodemus is present both to ask Jesus about being born again, and to see Jesus re-enter the womb of the mother.

Nicodemus rhetorically asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Then he gets to witness Jesus’ answer by being present for Jesus’ burial: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (compare Genesis 24.16a: “The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known”).

New birth as metaphor for resurrection should not surprise us.  It correlates to Adam’s first birth from the earth by the Spirit (thus, Paul’s direct comparison between Adam’s creation and Christ’s resurrection).  In fact, evidence for this idea fills the New Testament (see here or here for some further evidence).


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The machine works mechanically and it is flawless.

  1. Slander/libel a group of Presbyterian ministers as “Romanist” because robes and James 2 are no worse than praying to Mary or relying on purgatory to pay for unconfessed sins.
  2. Drive off anyone who disagrees
  3. Of that number, there may be a tiny minority of lost souls who have actually begun praying to Mary or deciding that the Pope must be submitted to–souls whom you have, in fact, encouraged to believe they might as well do so if they are going to allow for robes in worship leadership or regard James 2 as inspired.
  4. Watch with self-gratification the ones you have driven off gravitate to the Presbyterian ministers you have slandered/libeled–including the ones that have indeed broken away from the true Protestant faith.
  5. Watch those who the slandered/libeled Presbyterians are unable to bring to repentance go on to Rome or Byzantium
  6. Boast at your further proof that the ministers are “leading to Rome.”  Trot out testimonies from some people who were headed to Rome long before they ever heard of the “Federal Vision” as if they are exemplars of it.

Of course, no one is actually leading anyone to Rome.  A few are being driven there.

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There was a time, I think, when Evangelical Christianity in North America tended to be dominated by what might be (pejoratively) called a “retreatist” or even “defeatist” view of society. For various reasons, Christians believed that society was headed downhill and there was nothing the Church could do about it, and thus nothing they should do about it.

Then, at some point, we had the “moral majority” countersurge. The importance of voting and lobbying and other political activity was emphasized. (I think also the importance of involvement in real life ministry and outreach was also stressed—for example, we began to see many more crisis pregnancy centers. This was a good thing.)

While this latter view had some great features, I think it also was sometimes misdirected. For one thing, in my experience, it sometimes seemed like the message was going out that all Christians are called to be political activists.

Jesus has been raised up as, is now, and always will be “the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1.5). But it is important that we work for the acknowledgment of his Lordship in a way that is consistent with our witness to it. For one thing, if Jesus is now king of the universe, then we need to show by word and deed that we actually believe that to be the case, rather than slipping into the idea that we should or can “make” him king. The Gospel proclamation says that God has already done this (Acts 2.36; 1 Corinthians 15.1).

While it is true that political activism has some place in the way Christians acknowledge the Kingdom of Christ, making this too much of a priority is practical atheism. It can become a way of life that presupposes that human leverage is the key to how the world can be changed.

Here is a contrasting Christian view of political and cultural cause and effect:

The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them. In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15.1-7).

While Asa is exhorted to do something that, in context, was quite political, the reasoning and the aims are rather different than what I typically hear about among Evangelicals today. Do you want to see peace on earth? Do you want to see prosperity in the world? Then make sure the church worships God the way he wants and that pastors teach the truth.

The world isn’t changed by human manipulation–not even by Christian activism. The world is ruled by Jesus, and he evaluates and responds to us. Does he see a church living by faith according to every word that comes from His mouth? (Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4; 28.20) Or does he see a place of mostly erroneous teaching and other forms of unfaithfulness? When the church is unfaithful, God’s Word says that the world is given over to war and instability and fear.

Voting for, or even electing, the right candidate will not turn the situation around. A new outpouring of “Christian worldview” analysis and “Biblical solutions” are not going to help us. If God finds the Church “without a teaching priest and without law” then all these efforts will come to nothing.

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Hebrews 11 makes it very clear that Abram (later, Abraham) exercised saving faith from the time he left his home to go wonder in Caanan. He was justified at least from the time of the call in Genesis 12.1-3 on. Yet I keep reading people

  1. who think that any appeal to the fact that believers are justified in various events at various times repeatedly is an attack on “the doctrine of justification, and
  2. who treat Genesis 15.1ff as if it was Abram’s initial act of faith by which he was justified.

The two mistakes depend on one another. (1) forces people to adopt (2) and (2) is then used to support (1).

But the whole idea is wrong. Any reading of the text that takes the sequence from Genesis 12 to Genesis 15 seriously, and that also has regard for the inspired commentary on these events in Hebrews 11, has to reckon that Genesis 15 is the record of a special test of faith–much like, though not as intense as, the test in Genesis 22.

Just as the Westminster Confession assures us that “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified,” so also the Bible teaches that he continues to reckon as righteous and vindicate those that are justified. He does not do this by means of a mere assent, as James points out so emphatically in chapter 2 of his epistle, but on a basis of a true trust in God. This trust grows and matures as it passes through tests.

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Part One

Continuing through The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies:

The author gives some of his own appraisals rather than immediately quoting Durel, even though that is how he began his chapter. In Davies’ opinion, while the Puritans would invoke their own interpretation of Scripture in order to condemn, say, Calvin’s Church in Geneva when a difference was pointed out to them, they were ultimately ignorant of the greatness of the variance between their own convictions and those of the Continental Reformed Churches.

They would probably have been surprised had they realized the extent of their divergence from the customs of the Reformed Churches. They would have been even more amazed that, in certain features of her worship, the Established Church in England approximated more closely to the Reformed Tradition than they did themselves (p. 38).

The main point here was the use of written prayers, as opposed to only extemporaneous prayers, in public worship. Some Puritans, such as Richard Baxter, had no such scruples against using written prayers. But many did. Their influence is seen in the Westminster Directory, which Horton Davies says, “brought Puritan practice nearer to Calvin’s” (p. 39), but couldn’t actually include written prayers to be read in worship.

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The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies really valuable book for gaining historical perspective on the American Presbyterian scene. (I will note for the record that I don’t believe there is an objective definition for “puritan” and I wish historians would stop using it and instead speak of “English Calvinists” or “dissenters” or use some other label that actually designates a particular group by shared characteristics. But it is still a good book.) What is especially helpful is chapter 4: “Puritan Worship and the Continental Reformed Churches.”

Davies points out that it was “clearly the intention to bring English worship into line with Reformed practice” (p. 35). Furthermore, the Puritans would “appeal to the continental Reformed Churches for precedents.” Even the Separatists would do this.

Oddly, however, one John Durel, a Reformed pastor of a congregation in Savoy, France published an entire book arguing that the Anglicans were closer to the Reformed Churches than the Pruitans. It was entitled, A View of the government and Publick Worship of God in the Reformed Churches beyond the Sea (London 1662). On page 14 of that work, according to Davies, he wrote that the views held by the Westminster Assembly regarding the continental Reformed churches were, “mere Chimeras and Ideas; which, like the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, never existed but in their brain.”

Davies goes on in the chapter to examine Durel’s claims and evaluate them. As I have time I’ll post more about what he says on various practices and structures that the Puritans were advocating as “Reformed.”

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I’ve recently re-discovered an awesome theological resource, The Westminster Shorter Catechism Project. It is excellent, not least because it demonstrates the healthy diversity that has always been allowable in the Reformed Tradition until recently.

For example, consider the sources attached to Question and Answer #94:

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Chist, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

Among the links we have Matthew Henry and James Fisher.


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Ephesians is often treated as a pure type example of the Pauline method that “the indicative preceds the imperative.”

But what Paul does first is pray. Simply reading verse 3 and following involves readers in a prayer of thanksgiving to God–and much more so for those listening to the epistle read out loud in a Church gathering. This prayer then turns into a request for God to grant the Ephesians knowledge of what they have. And that practice, which involves the reader and listeners of the letter, sets the stage for the imperative at the end of the epistle, that the Ephesians should pray for everything.

God doesn’t begin with propositions. He begins by practice and teaching us by practice. That way we are in a position to understand both His propositions and his poems.

Theology should be compared more to dance than to book reading.

By the way, one of the astounding oddities I found reading the English translation of Bavinck’s first volume of Reformed Dogmatics (pp. 34, 35) is that he lists William Ames as a bad guy for defining theology as “the art of living to God.”

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All I can find are three quotations.  The first is from the Bible Presbyterians really good resource on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Matthew Henry has left the following testimony in his Treatise on Baptism: “I cannot but take occasion to express my gratitude to God for my infant baptism; not only as it was an early admission into the visible body of Christ, but as it furnished my pious parents with a good argument (and, I trust, through grace, a prevailing argument) for an early dedication of my own self to God in my childhood. If God has wrought any good work upon my soul, I desire with humble thankfulness, to acknowledge the moral influence of my infant baptism upon it.” (s0urce)

And then there is Alexander Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger:

Matthew Henry. “In baptism,” says he, “our names are engraved upon the heart of this Great high Priest. God doth in this ordinance seal and make over to us all the benefits of the death of Christ. Baptism seals the promise of God’s being to me a God.” Treatise on Baptism, p. 12, 40, 42.

And finally, there is a blogger who posts the following as from Matthew Henry’s “Treatise on Baptism.”

As far as the parents are concerned, we are sure, that the children are not so regenerated, as not to need good instructions, when they become capable of them, and yet are so regenerated, that if they die in infancy, parents may take comfort from their baptism in reference to their salvation: and as to the children, when they grow up, we are sure, that their baptismal regeneration, without something more, is not sufficient to bring them to heaven: and yet it may be urged, (as I said before,) in praying to God to give them grace, and in persuading them to submit to it.

This last sounds uncannily like something I’ve seen from Holifield’s The Covenant Sealed. Does anyone have access to Matthew Henry’s treatise so I can verify these quotations and see the context?

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Yesterday, I took part with my oldest son in a church-sponsored city outreach project (not because I’m especially prone to such behavior but because my son has a Boy Scout requirement that this would help him meet). Before we were sent out on our various jobs, the leader gave a devotional about the following text (unless he used Mark or Luke instead):

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When we read “sinners,” he pointed out, we tend to universalize the reference to cover everyone who sins–which is, in fact, everyone. But that is not the way the term is being used in this passage, he claimed. “Sinners” was not a term that could be legitimately applied to anyone and everyone who sinned. Rather, it referred to those who were regarded as having abandoned or compromised beyond recognitions the covenant of God the promised the forgiveness of sins–such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and even all non-Pharisees.

(He didn’t mention this, but it is obvious Paul uses the term, “sinner” the same way in Romans 5.8. If Paul had our modern definition of “sinner” in mind, he could not have said that Jesus died for us while we were “still sinners.”)

His point of application was, I thought, quite needful and helpful. By turning everyone into a “sinner” in order to universalize the need to grace, we have, he argued, escaped Jesus’ immediate point. Jesus’ point was that there are people who appear to be outside the pale, but to whom we are supposed to be in direct contact. Jesus wants us not to think of everyone, but especially of the people we would never consider worth spending time with.

I’ve heard people paraphrase Jesus’ last statement in the passage (“For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.“) as a statement that he came not to call the self-righteous, but those who acknowledged themselves as sinners. But there’s no indication that all of Levi’s friends were repentant in this way. I think it is much more probable that Jesus is saying that he, as a righteous man, wants to call sinners, and that if they are righteous, they will go an do likewise.

In my commentary on Mark, I veer away from the generic moral lesson that Jesus might have been teaching, to focus on Jesus’ claims about himself. But I don’t think this eliminates the possiblilty that Jesus is modeling an ethic for anyone who would want to demonstrate righteous behavior. Rather than calling one another, the righteous call those who are social outcasts to the covenant (c.f. Matthew 5.43-48; Luke 14.12-14; John 5.43, 44).

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