Saturday, March 27, 2010

John Forbes of Alford and Spiritual Experience

John Forbes of Alford (c.1565–1634) was the cousin of Andrew Meville. Forbes is not to be confused with his nephew, the Aberdeen Doctor John Forbes, of Corse (1593–1648). Forbes of Corse was very learned and indeed was taught by his uncle. He was also a very pious man who kept a diary of his ‘fearful wrestlings and comfortable victories through Christ’ and records a number of personal covenants with God: ‘the Covenant serveth to waken me to the careful avoiding of sin’. Strangely, however, he could not consent to the social and national covenanting of Scotland in 1638.

Forbes of Alford is an interesting individual not so well known as he ought to be. In 1593 he was ordained minister of Alford, Aberdeenshire. He was a stalwart defender of the spiritual liberties and independence of the Church. This was first evident when the privy council interfered with the proceedings of the synods of Aberdeen and Moray against the Catholic marquess of Huntly. The synods sent Forbes to London in March 1605 to seek redress from King James VI and I. The Synods commended ‘his fidelity and uprightness, and his sincere affection borne to the kingdom of God, his majesty's service and peace of the land’. Forbes ultimately succeeded in this difficult trip.

In July of the same year (1605) Forbes was elected moderator of the Aberdeen assembly. This assembly was held in defiance of the king's command, however. Along with others he was summoned before the privy council to answer. The ministers declined the jurisdiction of the council to deal with spiritual matters which were only to be judged by church courts of the kirk. They were imprisoned in Blackness Castle, tried for high treason and banished from the king's dominions for life. They sailed from Leith for Bordeaux on 7 November 1606.

After visiting Scots exiles in France, he was settled as pastor of a British congregation at Middelburg in 1612 after an interim period from 1610. He remained here for ten years. He was offered a return to Britain but on terms which would compromise his convictions and in 1616 the king who promised to revoke his sentence of exile, but this was not fulfilled. He is said to have been influential in organising the non-conforming British exiles and also upon the Dutch States-General. He greatly detested the set forms of the Prayer Book. He became pastor of the British church at Delft in 1621 where he preached to the Merchant Adventurers. In the same year he organised a classis or presbytery of the English speaking congregations in the Netherlands. Through the influence of Thomas Hooker, however, he seemed to be brought to lean to some Independent ideas. By 1634 he was removed by the influence of Charles I and Laud after a lengthy struggle. In August 1634 he died at Veere from 'a fit of the stone' which brought on a burning fever. He was aged about sixty-nine and was buried in the Netherlands.

In one of his last sermons at Delft Alford preached on 1 Tim 6:15 stating: "We must not obey the king against that king that made him a king".

He was the author of The Saint's Hope, and Infallibleness Thereof (Middelburg, 1608); Two Sermons (Middelburg, 1608); A Treatise Tending to the Clearing of Justification (Middelburg, 1616); A Treatise how God's Spirit may be Discerned from Man's Own Spirit (London, 1617); Four Sermons on 1 Tim. Vi. 13–16 (1635); A Sermon on 2 Tim. Ii. 4 (Delft, 1642); Certaine Records Touching the Estate of the Kirk in the Years 1605 and 1606 (Edinburgh, Wodrow Society, 1846).

He also wrote a Letter to the merchants adventurer at Stoad which was published at Middelburg in 1617.

In this he writes the following rich expressions of high spiritual experience:

So whatever the Word doth persuade our heart touching God and his love in Christ, that is the testimony of the spirit and therefore when hearing the word of God, our hearts receive any assurance or persuasion of redemption, or remission of sins &c the same must be the spirit's testimony... but still we must not mistake the spirit's testimony, for the spirit, by the word persuades in two manner of ways... specially - 1. when it witnesses and reveals of grace particularly to a man but imprints not the
thing revealed in the heart, neither seals it in the soul. 2. When the promise is written in the heart and sealed in the soul: this is the Covenant with the elect, assurance of God's effectual speaking, when he writes the testimony in the heart - the word must abide in the heart.

He also spoke of when the Spirit pours in the love of God and all the graces revealed in the Word and sheds them abroad in the heart as faith, and so makes the heart to receive, enjoy, and possess the promise by imprinting therein. So if a man could see the soul of a true child of God he should see engraven on it mercy, peace, love, righteousness, life, joy, and Christ himself and all the promises of God and Christ written therein...

...the saint will feel strange affects wrought in their minds, which they neither know whence they come and whereunto they tend...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Truth bears Repetition

Repetition is a key feature of the Scriptures. It is very remarkable
because not everything that could have been has been included about
the life of Christ, the history of Israel or of the early Church. Only
that which is necessary according to divine wisdom has been included.
Repetition draws out attention to key truths. When God says something
once, we must always listen, when He says something twice (Job 33:14;
Ps. 62:11) we must pay close attention and when He speaks three times
we must give ourselves wholly to it because it is being reinforced.
Every verse and word in Scripture is essential, there is nothing
included that is non-essential or merely to provide context. There is
no such thing as mere repetition in Scripture. Some phrases are
repeated hundreds of times such as the "name of the LORD". Christ
used repetition in His ministry, declaring the same truths on numerous
occasions. The gospels repeat many incidents concerning Christ three
times amongst themselves. Typology is, as it were, a way of
reiterating truths in Scripture.

The number of times that something is repeated is not an accident but
significant and with purpose. The phrase "and God saw that it was
good" is repeated seven times in Genesis 1:4-31. The phrase "He that
hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" is
also repeated seven times (Revelation chapters 2 & 3). There are also
seven repetitions of the word "blessed" in the book of Revelation
(1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14).

Counter-reformation Roman Catholic theologians such as Bellarmine
maintained that "many things not necessary have been written; as all
the histories of the old Testament, many of the new, some of the Acts
of the Apostles, and all the salutations in the apostolic epistles".
Post-Reformation theologians such as William Whitaker granted that
some of this information is not essential to the being of faith but it
is still essential to its wellbeing. That things are repeated in
Scripture does not make them redundant but underlines their necessity.
Whitaker states: "as to many things being frequently repeated, this
makes it still more a rule; since that repetition is
profitable to our better and surer understanding of what is said".

John Arrowsmith who was one of the Westminster Divines wrote
concerning repetition in Scripture in '"Theanthropos, God made Man."
The summary is pithy, concise and instructive.

1. In prayer, repetition serves to express fervency and earnestness.
Matthew 26:44

2. In prophecies, repetition serves to note the certainty of them. Genesis 41:22

3. In threats, repetition indicates unavoidableness and, perhaps,
suddenness. Ezekiel 21:27

4. In precepts repetition serves to note a necessity in performing
them. Psalm 47:6

5. In truths, repetition serves to show the necessity of believing
them and of knowing them. John 3:3, 5, 17

We take great exception, however, to the language of the Chicago
Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The "Chicago Statement on Biblical
Inerrancy" was produced at an international Summit Conference of
evangelical leaders, held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago in
the fall of 1978. This congress was sponsored by the International
Council on Biblical Inerrancy. The Chicago Statement was signed by
nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars, including James Boice, Norman
L. Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, Harold
Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Robert
Preus, Earl Radmacher, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and John

The Statement says in relation to translation:

the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians,
at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of
excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude
that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of
the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it
deals and also of the Holy Spirit's constant witness to and through
the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its
meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).

This is evangelical reductionism gone mad and an improper deduction
from repetition in Scripture. All we need from Scripture it says is
what is necessary for salvation. You may see how far it diverges from
Whitaker's view above and instead approaches the position held by
Bellarmine. The "assured results of science" have always been less
than assured in theological matters and here no less so. The fact is
that some translations do obscure the main matters and key doctrines
through inaccurate translation or through preference for corrupted
manuscripts. Some things are reiterated but not repeated in the same
way and that is an important distinction. Yet we ought to be thankful
that there is something of the truth remaining which can be used to
make one wise for salvation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the continual presence of God in our hearts

Every night before bed mark God's mercies to you as love tokens from your husband. What we should esteem of is the continual presence of God in our hearts, for therein stands our happiness, and our life, where the Lord is, there is life, liberty, and comfort. Your heart must ay be in heaven.

John Welsh of Ayr

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart

Duty must be cordial and hearty for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. The matter must swim not in the head or understanding, but it must be in the heart - not just persuaded but affectionately persuaded, loving and liking the thing - a heart business, a soul business, yea, not a business in the outer courts of the affections but in the flower of the affections and in the innermost cabinet of the soul where Christ is formed. Christ as the bridegroom will have the heart or nothing, love or nothing, marriage love which goeth from heart to heart, love of espousals or nothing.

William Guthrie, The Christian's Great Interest

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Clothing ourselves to the glory of God

Clothing (as opposed to insufficient covering) was first provided by God. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Thomas Boston writes "Our first parents made their first garments, and God made the next, which were effectual for the use of garments. Whence we may learn the utter insufficiency of our own righteousness to cover spiritual nakedness, and
the absolute necessity of the righteousness of God, the imputed righteousness, with its fitness eyery way to clothe the sinful soul".

The law of the first mention relates to the interpretation of Scripture by placing importance on the first mention of something in Scripture. Boston writes that it was "a humbling memorial to them of the spring of their ruin". we ought to remember that The least rag for our clothing, crumb for our food, breathing in God's air, etc. is what we deserve not at the hand of God, (Luke 17:10)". Here we see the principle that clothing is necessary due to the fall and that is God's right to order in general the nature of that clothing. The sinful natural tendency of man is to seek a covering that is insufficient in design, both in terms of distinction of the sexes and in terms of its function of preserving modesty. God's provision was designed to deal with both. Whatsoever we do we must do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Note number 3.

In his commentary on Ezekiel 16, the puritan William Greenhill considers “for what ends the Lord hath given apparel and ornaments”:

(1.) To cover man’s nakedness. God set man and woman naked in the world at first, that they might see they had nothing of their own, that all was the Lord’s who created them; but when they sinned in eating the forbidden fruit, they were ashamed of their nakedness, and sought to cover it, Gen. 3:7, 21; yea, God made them ‘coats of skins, and clothed them,’ ver. 21, that so their nakedness and shame might not be seen, that so modesty and chastity might be preserved: Hos. 2:9, ‘I will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.’

(2.) To arm and defend them against the injury of the air, the violence of wind and weather, heat and cold [Prov. 31:21; 25:20; Job 24:7] . . .

(3.) To distinguish one sex from another. God would not have men and women dressed and adorned alike; Deut. 22:5, ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment:’ God would not have men to be effeminate, nor women to be mannish . . .

(4.) To preserve the healthiness of our bodies. ‘Man is born to labour, as the sparks fly upward,’ Job 5:7; and man labouring, his body sweats . . . which our vestures receiving are to be changed, and so health preserved: so in time of sickness, Job 30:18 . . .

(5.) To notify the conditions, ranks, and places of men [Gen. 41:42; Esth. 6:8; Acts 12:21 ; Psalm 45:13, 14; II Sam. 13:18 ; Lam. 4:5; Matt. 11:8; 27:28] . . .

(6.) To adorn the body [Gen. 27:15; Isa. 52:1; Hos. 2:13 ] . . . Jer. 2:32 , ‘Can a maid forget her ornaments?’ Exod. 28:40, Aaron’s sons must have coats, girdles, bonnets, ‘for glory and beauty’ . . .

(7.) To testify grief or joy. Mordecai put on sackcloth in a time of mourning [Joel 1:13 ; Luke 15:22 ; Isa. 61:10; Eccl. 9:8] . . . (I have taken this from the booklet Christian Clothing which contains a lot of helpful information although there are various points that are a matter of debate amongst those that hold to gender-distinctive dress and roles)

There is a sensitive and adept treatment of the subject of gender-distinctive dress by a young woman here. The article is called "Decent and Distinct".

The verse Deuteronomy 22:5 is important here. "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God". Another blog demonstrates the historical interpretation and application of thishere and
here and here is another interesting contribution. (The writer seems to regard headcovering in I Cor. 11 as a cultural matter which is incorrect, it is an aspect of the public worship of God in all cultures for the New Testament Church). The author is American, so for pants read trousers.

The writer elsewhere notes the following in relation to Deuteronomy 22:5. "It doesn't say that the garment is an abomination or that the activity is an abomination. The person is an abomination. This is the only time in Scripture that a person is an abomination unto the LORD for doing something. Why? Because it attacks or rebels against God's design. At a root level, God is our Creator (Rom 1:25). He wants recognition of that by the acknowledgment of His design. It is also another way that those roles are preserved. Appearance is the primary way that roles are taught. This is why we have a gigantic passage in the New Testament that also deals with this issue (1 Cor 11:3-16)".

He continues:

It doesn't say "men should look like men and women should look like women." It says nothing about transvestism or Canaanite worship, some of the new inventions to avoid practicing the text. It says nothing about women putting on military gear. It doesn't say, "they both wore robes," because it isn't about removing distinctions. What it does say is that a man should not ever have on the woman's article and that the woman should not wear the male garment. It assumes that there is a male item of clothing designated to differentiate him from the woman, as well as a female item designated to differentiate her from the man.

He shows that this issue impacts upon men as much as women:

our culture has eliminated the male garment. There is none. The woman still has the skirt or the dress. The man has nothing...When the world did away with the male garment, Christians protested. When women started wearing pants, Christians opposed it. When Christian women started wearing pants, it wasn't because a group of godly women got together and prayed about it and sought God's will. No. It was a matter of rebellion and then the church went along with the world on this one. It's been so long since most churches practiced this, that it doesn't even seem like a biblical teaching any more.

Monday, March 08, 2010

the exclusion of conviction

Kenneth Clarke was on Radio 4's Any Questions last Friday stridently contemning all forms of extremism whether atheistic, islamist or those "way-out extreme evangelicals" (is that a description of all or only some evangelicals?). The idea was to make any kind of firmly held conviction a species of extremism, to exclude and marginalise it. Much better not to care about conviction and especially not about whatever convictions anybody else has. The absurdity of this position is of course not apparent to those who presuppose that you shouldn't have firmly held convictions but its circularity is reassuring to them. It's the conviction-rejecting politics of Gallio who "cared for none of these things" (Acts 18:17). Matthew Henry comments: "it was wrong to speak slightly of a law and religion which he might have known to be of God, and which he ought to have acquainted himself with. In what way God is to be worshipped, whether Jesus be the Messiah, and whether the gospel be a Divine revelation, are not questions of words and names, they are questions of vast importance. Gallio spoke as if he boasted of his ignorance of the Scriptures, as if the law of God was beneath his notice. Gallio cared for none of these things. If he cared not for the affronts of bad men, it was commendable; but if he concerned not himself for the abuses done to good men, his indifference was carried too far. And those who see and hear of the sufferings of God's people, and have no feeling with them, or care for them, who do not pity and pray for them, are of the same spirit as Gallio, who cared for none of these things."

Channel Four’s “Bible: A History” series contained a programme presented by Howard Jacobson. What he said about Richard Dawkins was similar:

“I don’t practise any religion nor worship any God, and fear all fanaticism and that’s bred by faith so I ought really to be sympathetic to Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’. But it moves me – to be frank – to fury. Partly because it assumes that men were stupid until science rescued them. Partly because its ignorance sees no reason not to remain ignorant of what belief is like for those who do believe. Partly because of its certainty, Where’s the point of attacking religion for thinking it has all the answers, when you think you have all the answers yourself? Blind faith is fatuous, but so is blind doubt. This is where I find myself: unable to share the faith of the religious, but unable to share the mockery of the atheists. The big question for me is how to believe, and not to believe, at the same time. Let’s confront the absolutists: those who absolutely believe and those who absolutely don’t.”

Though men think that they have found a position of safety, the no-man’s land between faith and unbelief is in truth a mirage.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Religious Blogosphere

Noone needs an academic research paper to tell us that blogging is big here. According to the mixture of metaphors in the title which examines the New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere, they focus upon the major mountains so to speak. Only one of which appears in my landscape, but they seem more interested in the discussion of religion and politics. I'm not sure that the paper gets behind many more interesting questions such as why people blog and what they do achieve or whether blogging encourages or discourages reading. There is an old survey that gets a bit nearer. Someone has produced some principles of Christian blogging, which is fair but essentially the principles ought to be the ten commandments as defined in their full biblical parameters by the Westminster Larger Catechism. I think that a clutch of relevant proverbs would help too, the following are starters. Proverbs 10:19 "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise". Proverbs 18:17 "He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him".

In my view onto the blogosphere, the best posts are as follows. Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, Number 5, Number 6 and Number 7.