Category Archives: puritans

The Puritan Consensus

Earlier I posted some quotes by the Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon about the age of the earth and related issues. I noted some surprise when I first read the quotes and asked a question about how it could be that Spurgeon, one well-versed in the Puritan and Reformed tradition, and one living in the midst of great scientific strides, would advocate for things like an old earth, animal death before the Fall, and a large amount of time between creation and Adam. It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would assume Spurgeon, a staunch defender against liberalism, to be a young earth creationist; I know that was my assumption.

So what are the reasons behind why he would hold the view he does? What sources did he read, theological or scientific, that led to the conclusions he drew? It could be that he held to the “Ruin-Reconstruction Theory” of creation, a view made popular by the Reformed theologian Thomas Chalmers. This view states that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that allowed for things like dinosaurs. While out of vogue today, it was something more common in Spurgeon’s. Ultimately, at least from the two quotes I posted, we can’t be sure. Another view at that time was the “Day Age” view, one that another noteworthy Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, held. Was Spurgeon reading Chalmers or Hodge? There’s a good chance he was, but I haven’t done the research to find out. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want to answer the question, “Did Spurgeon break with his theological tradition by espousing these views?”

It is well-known that as a young boy Spurgeon stumbled upon his preacher-grandfather’s book collection in a shuttered attic. At an early age he devoured the works of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the seventeenth-century Puritans, and eighteenth-century Evangelicals. He was reading Calvin, Bunyan, Henry, Whitefield. Likely Spurgeon had a photographic memory, and read voluminously. There can be no doubt that he imbibed the best theology the Puritan and Reformed tradition had to offer. As a Baptist, he demonstrated his Calvinistic stripes by publishing an edition of the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). His wife, Susanna, was responsible for distributing Reformed literature to pastors as she lived a life mainly as a shut-in. Wouldn’t one think that for a man was firmly entrenched in this older, orthodox literature, that he would have felt behooved to adopt another, more conservative view on creation?

The answer to this question requires a foray into times past to first of all see what the Puritan and Reformed tradition said about creation and the ensuing doctrines. A helpful resource is a recent essay by Robert Letham in the Westminster Theological Journal [69 (1999):149-174] called “‘In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.” Letham is a well-known Reformed theologian who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and is the author of a number of important books, in particular The Work of Christ is a personal favourite. In his article Letham surveys major thinkers in church history from the patristic period, beginning with Origen of Alexandria, and concluding with the period just before the Westminster Assembly in the mid-seventeenth century. Some church fathers, like Basil of Caesarea, held to what we call the “6/24 hour” view, while others like Augustine posited an “instantaneous creation”; Augustine also argued for what may be called a “literary” reading of Genesis 1. In the Middle Ages, Augustine’s view dominated and thus it is seen in the writings of Robert Grossteste and Thomas Aquinas. During the Reformation, Letham notes that not one Reformed confession (i.e. French Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.) has a statement about the creation days. Letham’s conclusion as to why the silence: “It was not a matter of definition since it was not a matter of controversy or even a point for discussion, despite the varying views in exegetical history” (p. 170). Great Reformed theologians like John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger don’t mention the creation days in particular—which Letham thinks is telling—and Calvin seems primarily concerned with refuting the Augustinian “instantaneous creation” view in his commentary on Genesis, though there is some indication that he may take the 6/24 hour view on the days. While that may be the case, Letham points out that Calvin saw the language of Moses in Genesis 1 as “accommodated,” so that the reader might be able to understand. Peter Martyr Vermigli, another important Reformed theologian, read the opening of Genesis with hints of allegory, and did not mention the six days of creation. All of this, it is significant to remember, during the period noteworthy for the science of Copernicus and Galileo.

The first Reformed confession to actually speak of the days of creation and such things is James Ussher’s Irish Articles (1615); Ussher is of course notorious for dating the creation at 4004 BC. As for the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, there was no consensus on the creation days. Richard Greenham doesn’t mention them, and William Perkins gives them scant attention. While the latter takes the days chronologically, he says that the first three days are not “solar days” because of the lack of sun. William Ames is important for understanding the view of the Westminster Divines, because he, like Calvin, is concerned to refute the Augustinian reading of creation as instantaneous. He does so with the language of “in the space of six days,” that was picked up by the Assembly. Ames likely did not believe that the days were solar days.

That takes us up to the time of the Westminster Assembly, but what of the Westminster Divines themselves? Letham gives a short space to the question and says: “The single most astonishing and noteworthy feature of English Puritan theology before 1647, and the Westminster divines in particular, is the virtually complete absence of interest in creation” (p. 173). Yet this was the time of the founding of the Royal Society, that was largely made up of Protestants, and it was a time of great scientific advance. Letham says that in his research he hadn’t found a single Puritan work on creation up until the time of 1647. Letham further adds: “One obvious conclusion is that the days of creation were not a matter of contention, although divergent views existed” (p. 173).

William S. Barker, now Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a published expert on the Puritans, continued Letham’s project by examining the writings of the Westminster Divines on creation in more detail. He did so in an essay called “The Westminster Assembly on the Days of CreationWestminster Theological Journal 62.1 (Spring 2000): 113-120 (the link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF if anyone wants it. Or, for the sum of the argument, see this statement by Westminster’s faculty here). Barker is concerned to show that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language of “in the space of six days” not be construed to mean that only a 6/24 hour view of Scripture is confessionally sound (the PCA creation report as well as the OPC’s agree with him). Rather, following Calvin and Ames, the language directly refutes the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation. This view was taught at this time by the Anglican physician Sir Thomas Browne in 1643, the year when the Assembly first began to meet. The language of “in the space of” doesn’t describe what a day was at the time of creation—some held it to be longer than twenty-four hours like John Lightfoot—but rather that it took longer than an instant for God to create. Barker notes that some Divines merely spoke of “six days” but did not get into the nature of what those days were, namely, Stephen Marshall, John Wallis, Thomas Vincent, and John Ball, who don’t go beyond that statement.

When turning back to Spurgeon, who bled Puritan theology as much as he did “bibline,” it is not at all inconsistent for him to argue for long ages or a gap theory, and still rightfully claim a Reformed heritage. The Second London Confession that Spurgeon reprinted uses the same language as the WCF about “in the space of six days,” and so the argument that the WCF was written to refute Augustinian instantaneous creation is just as applicable. Just like a minister in a Presbyterian church wouldn’t have to make an exception at this point in his confessional commitments, neither would Spurgeon. Nor was Spurgeon out of step with the Reformed theology of his own day. As historian R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster California, says in his recent book Recovering the Reformed Confession: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (p. 49).

This may not answer the question of source material, which is something I’d really like to get into with Spurgeon, it does answer the question that he stands firmly in line with the Puritan and Reformed tradition—because there was no consensus on creation in this tradition, and to hold a different view on creation is not to break with it.

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Four Questions

Tyler Horton runs the Me and Brooks blog, dedicated to things Puritan (generally) and Thomas Brooks (specifically). Tyler is wont to interview various he’s-and-she’s about Puritan-related topics, and I got held up with four questions dealing with how to define Puritanism; the subject of an essay I published in Puritan Reformed Journal. I’m thankful to Tyler for asking good questions and for posting my mediocre responses. The questions are:

1) I absolutely have always held “the notion that Puritanism was a monolithic movement distinguished by its piety, Calvinism, and anti-Anglican posture.”  What parts of that definition are misleading?

2) What is the danger in holding that previously mentioned definition of Puritanism?

3) Calling the Puritans “hot Protestants” or the “hotter sort of Protestant” appears to be a comment not just about their passion but also quality.  Were the Puritans simply the best Protestants of their day?  Are they the ‘hottest Protestants’ in Church history?

4) Can you break down your lengthy definition of a “Puritan” from the article into its essential elements?  What are the essential distinguishing features that need to be included in a good definition of the term?

You’ll have to click here to read my answers.

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Baptists and Reformed Orthodoxy

Continuity between Baptist theologians and the Reformed confessional tradition is clear in the use of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists as the basis for large portions of their Second London Confession of 1677 and 1688. The point can also easily be illustrated from the thought of major English Particular Baptist theologians, whose thought apart from the question of baptism, remained in continuity with Reformed orthodoxy. The internal Baptism debates over open or closed communion and over the singing of hymns in worship also had clear parallels among the Reformed.

Richard A. Muller, “Diversity in the Reformed Tradition: A Historical Introduction” in Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones eds., Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism RHT 17 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Reprecht, 2011), 28.

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SBJT 14.4 (Winter 2010)

The latest issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is now available. This issue deals with the subject of Puritanism. Here is a list of the contents:

Editorial: Stephen J. Wellum
Learning from the Puritans 2

Carl R. Trueman
Reformed Orthodoxy in Britain 4

Joel R. Beeke
Reading the Puritans 20

Michael A. G. Haykin
Word and Space, Time and Act: The Shaping of English Puritan Piety 38

Stephen J. Nichols
More than Metaphors: Jonathan Edwards and the Beauty of Nature 48

Andrew David Naselli
John Owen’s Argument for Definite Atonement in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Summary and Evaluation 60

Adam Embry
John Flavel’s Theology of the Holy Spirit 84

The SBJT Forum 100

Book Reviews 110

In the Forum discussion I have contributed a short piece on James Ussher’s ecclesiology.

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Ussher Thesis Abstract

The Gospel Witness published a copy of my master of theology thesis abstract in their October edition, I reprint it here:

Whenever I have a conversation about James Ussher (1581-1656), the subject of my recent master of theology thesis, the question about his view of the earth’s age comes up. Ussher is famous for nominating October 23, 4004 BC as the date that God created the heavens and earth. While biblical genealogy was an important aspect of Ussher’s studies, it would be an over-simplification to think that his Annals of the World is his most important work. In the nineteenth-century Ussher’s Works were compiled into seventeen volumes that ranged across a large territory of scholarship including church government, Pelagianism, the Septuagint, and the veracity of the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. Ussher was a biblical-theologian as well as a master text-critic, philologist and patrologist.

It is this last aspect of Ussher studies that I worked on for my thesis. In particular, I studied a document that he published entitled Immanuel, or, The Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God (1638). This short tract is a clear exposition of the person and work of Christ that is well-situated within the western theological tradition. My purpose was to trace the patristic language of Immanuel, evaluating how Ussher used key terminology that was crystallized at the Council of Chalcedon (451). In addition to this I also produced a critical edition of Immanuel comparing the eleven editions that had been published in Ussher’s lifetime.

This work was completed under the supervision of Michael Haykin, to whom I am profoundly thankful for all of the help that he offered. My readers were Dennis Ngien of Tyndale Seminary and Crawford Gribben of Trinity College Dublin. My experience both in terms of the research/writing and the defence was exceptional. I experienced great love and care from my brothers in Christ as I was challenged and encouraged in terms of the work I had done and the future course of continued education that I should take. Thank are also due to TBS for providing an environment where learning and piety are wed that makes academic studies profitable for both the academy and the church.

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Meditation 60b

The following is a poem by the great American Puritan poet, Edward Taylor (1642-1729), it is based on 1 Corinthians 10:4: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”

Ye Angells bright, pluck from your Wings a Quill.
Make me a pen thereof that best will write.
Lend me your fancy, and Angellick skill
To treate this Theme, more rich than Rubies bright.
My muddy Inke, and Cloudy fancy dark,
Will dull its glory, lacking highest Art.

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Hot Protestants – A Taxonomy of English Puritanism

Below is an article I wrote on how to define Puritanism.

Ian Hugh Clary, “‘Hot Protestants’: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism” Puritan Reformed Journal 2.1 (January 2010): 41-66. You can download it here.

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James Ussher – ODNB – Alexander Gordon – 1921-22

USSHER, JAMES (1581-1656), arch-
bishop of Armagh, second but elder surviv-
ing son of Arland (Arnoldus) Ussher (d.
12 Aug. 1598), clerk of the Irish court ol
chancery, by his wife Margaret (d. Novem-
ber 1626), daughter of James Stanyhurst
[see under STANYHURST, RICHARD], was born
in Nicholas Street, parish of St. Nicholas
Within, Dublin, on 4 Jan. 1580-1.  Continue reading 

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Puritan Reformed Journal – January 2010

The new issue of the Puritan Reformed Journal is now available – and it’s absolutely massive! There is a wide variety of topics covered and it looks excellent.

Check it out {HT: Meet the Puritans}:

Biblical Studies

The Jews’ View of the Old Testament—David Murray

An Everlasting House: An Exegesis of 2 Samuel 7—Maarten Kuivenhoven

Applying Christ’s Supremacy: Learning from Hebrews—Gerald M. Bilkes

Systematic and Historical Theology

“Hot Protestants”: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism—Ian Hugh Clary

John Bunyan and His Relevance for Today—Pieter Devries

Samuel Petto (c. 1624 –1711): A Portrait of a Puritan Pastor Theologian—Michael G.Brown

James Durham (1622–1658) and the Free Offer of the Gospel—Donald John MaClean

The Ceremonial or Moral Law: Jonathan Edwards’s Old Perspective on an Old Error—Craig Biehl

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John Brown on the Puritans

Last year I read the Christian Focus reprint of John Brown’s (1830-1922) The English Puritans: The Rise and Fall of the Puritan Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910). It was originally written at the end of the nineteenth century and comes from a strongly Congregationalist perspective as Brown was one of the leading Congregationalists of his day. The Monergism website has recently made available the CUP edition here. While this is definitely a worthy read – and I recommend anyone studying the Puritans to give it a gander – I do have certain reservations about some of his views. For instance, I don’t agree with his understanding of the limits of Puritanism. He sees Puritan beginnings in 1558 with the ascendency of Elizabeth I to the throne of England and its ending in 1658 with the death of Oliver Cromwell. While I can agree generally with his first date, I would place the latter quite a bit later. I agree with J.I. Packer who places the closing of the Puritan period with the death of John Howe in 1705. As well, as I noted, I believe his Congregationalist concerns colour his writing as well as some of his political views – which I have sympathies with on both fronts!

That said, give Brown a read – although I would also suggest reading more contemporary works like those of Packer, John Spurr, Geoffrey Nuttall, Peter Lake, John Coffey and others of that ilk.

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Christmas According to James Ussher

That blessed wombe of hers was the Bride-chamber, wherein the holy Ghost did knit that indissoluble knot betwixt our humane nature and his Deity: the Son of God assuming into the unity of his person that which before hee was not; and yet without change (for so must God still bee) remaining that which he was, whereby it came to passe, that this holy thing which was borne of her, was indeed and in truth to be called the SON OF GOD. Which wonderfull connexion of two so infinitely differing natures in the unity of one person, how it was there effected; is an inquisition fitter for an Angelicall intelligence, than for our shallow capacity to looke after, to which purpose also wee may observe, that in the fabrick of the Ark of the Covenant, the posture of the faces of theCerubims toward the Mercy-seat (the type of our Savior) was such, as would point unto us, that these are the things which the Angels desire to stoop and look into.

(James Ussher, Immanuel, or, On the Incarnation of the Son of God [1638]).

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The Athanasius of Our Century: Thesis Proposal

I just found out today that my thesis proposal for the master of theology program at Toronto Baptist Seminary was accepted. I will defend it (DV) in either late March or early December. My supervisor is Michael Haykin and hopefully Crawford Gribben and Dennis Ngien will be readers. This is all very exciting!

“The Athanasius of Our Century”: An Evaluation of James Ussher’s Immanuel In Light of Patristic Christology

Though he is relatively unknown today, James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh was one of seventeenth-century Britain’s most influential figures. If in the twenty-first-century Ussher is known at all, it would largely be due to his famous chronology Annales veteris et novi testamenti (1650-1654), a work of immense learning for its day and still popular amongst young earth creationists for its dating of the world’s creation at 4004 BC. If Ussher is to be remembered only for this singular writing project and not for his other important contributions to the academy and the church, the annals of history have played him a bad card. Ussher was nothing short of a prodigious scholar and committed churchman and it is this reputation that should be retained.

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Post-Reformation Digital Library

The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (I have their mug) at Calvin College and Seminary host the Post-Reformation Digital Library. It is a collection of documents from every thinker in the Reformed and Lutheran tradition from the Magisterial Reformation to probably the mid-eighteenth century. This included works by the Reformed orthodox as well as heretical groups such as the Socinians and Unitarians. There is also a good selection of secondary source material and links to sites dealing with patristic and medieval literature. This is a great one-stop-place for everything related to the study of this tradition and era. Most of what they’ve amassed comes from Google Books, so not a lot of it is newly scanned material. But it is great to have it all in one place. Here’s the material by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656):

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Libraries of Seventeenth Century Primates

Long Room

Long Room

Dr. Andrew Cambers of the University of Exeter has a 26 page report on the libraries of post-Reformation Primates in the British Isles. Of interest to myself is the section on James Ussher’s personal library of some 10,000 volumes which formed the bedrock of Trinity College Dublin’s library. Also included are Cranmer, Parker, Wolsey, Loftus, etc. It is hosted by the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the University of York.

Check out: “Archbishops and their Books: Ecclesiastical Libraries in Post-Reformation Britain.”

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Goodwin’s Christocentric Piety

My buddy Mark Jones has co-edited a book with Joel Beeke on Thomas Goodwin’s spirituality called: A Habitual Sight of Him. Judging both from what I’ve read on Mark’s blog and Goodwin’s own theological genius, this should be an excellent book. I’ll definitely be getting a copy. {HT: Thomas Goodwin}

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Calvin vs. the Calvinists

Twentieth century Calvin scholarship saw the rise of a theory that there was a stark theological divide between John Calvin and his later followers. Basil Hall, Karl Barth, R. T. Kendall and others have posited this view, and in a lot of circles it is bought into.

Richard Muller, historian at Calvin College, has written much to debunk this thesis. His works on Christ and the decree, Calvin and later Calvinists and his magisterial four volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics are just a smattering of ways in which he’s demolished the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” school.

My friend David Daniels, who writes at Wise Reader, has a great review of the four volume set at the Christian Week website. Read the review and if you’re so inclined, buy Muller’s works. Here’s a quote:

Muller will require focused, disciplined reading. But those who invest the time will find rich reward. And the 123-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources will provide a lifetime of further research for those so inclined.

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Ussher and Me

I first heard of James Ussher in 2003 when Dr. Haykin gave me a copy of Crawford Gribben’s The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church. Dr. Haykin and I have a shared interest in things Irish, so it was a welcomed gift. I remember travelling to Grand Rapids with Dr. Haykin in the winter of ’03 and we stayed at Joel Beeke’s in-laws, where I read The Irish Puritans before bed. I also took advantage of Dr. Beeke’s library and read through some of Ussher’s Works at the old PRTS library. As well, a PRTS student named Terry Klaver had also read Crawford’s book and we had some good discussions. Afterwards, Terry sent me a PDF of Ussher’s Body of Divinity in the mail (now published by SGCB). If memory serves, Dr. Haykin and I also spent some time at the Calvin Seminary library where I read up on Irish church history.

In the late spring of 2004 I had the joy of going with Dr. Haykin to Britain. While in Ireland, I got to meet Crawford and his wife Pauline. Crawford was nothing but encouraging in the hopes of recruiting another Ussher fan. I was thrilled and this sealed the deal for me in terms of developing an interest in Ussher. I think touring Trinity College, Dublin with Crawford solidified things. Later he and I met up again where he gave me a DVD containing PDF’s of Ussher’s Works. I feel like so much has been handed to me. God is faithful.

In the summer of 2004, as a bachelor-party gift, Greg McManus gave me a copy of R. Buick Knox’s biography of Ussher entitled James Ussher: Archbishop of Armagh. Greg and I had for a few years shared a strong interest in things Puritan. Greg has maintained and developed his interest in John Owen. Early on I waffled between who to study. For a while, after being kicked in the ecclesial pants by The Reformed Pastor, I thought of Baxter. Afterwards, largely due to Greg’s interest in Owen, I thought of studying Thomas Goodwin. It wasn’t until reading Crawford’s book that Ussher became a serious topic.

After dialoging with Dr. Haykin about my future, and his strong suggestion that I don’t neglect the Fathers, I came into contact with Alan Ford through email. He teaches at Nottingham and is the author of the recent definitive biography of Ussher called James Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England. Prof. Ford suggested looking at Ussher’s debates that he had with some Jesuits in Ireland over the early church Pelagian controversy. This then set me on a journey to study Augustine and Pelagianism, which I did my master of divinity thesis on. Dr. Haykin supervised and also had me read on Ignatius of Antioch, due to Ussher’s research on the authenticity of the Ignatian corpus.

This past year I began a master of theology in Puritan history. Having written papers on the English Reformation and Puritanism, I am now officially starting Ussher studies. It is 2009 and my interests in Ussher were started in 2003. It’s been six years before I could finally do some serious study on him!! But I’m thankful to finally get here. I just polished off Crawford’s biography for the second time – I appreciate it all the more now that I’ve read it after years of study. I am currently in the middle of Knox’s biography. After this I’ll turn to Ford, though I am currently reading his book The Protestant Reformation in Ireland 1590-1641.

This summer I will go through Ussher’s Works with an eye to his writings in ecclesiastical history, particularly patristics. My thesis, due in September, will be on Ussher as a patristic historian. This will hopefully get me prepared for a doctoral thesis on Ussher and the Pelagian controversy. All of this, of course, is in the Lord’s good timing.

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Goodwin on Weekly Communion

To cut the confusion: Mark Jones is doing his dissertation on the seventeenth century Puritan Thomas Goodwin. In light of this, Jones has a blog called Thomas Goodwin. So…at Thomas Goodwin he has a post on Thomas Goodwin on the Lord’s Supper. In it, he explains Goodwin’s view that the Supper should be administered every week, a position I adhere to. Here’s a block quote by Goodwin:

As good housekeepers have some constant provision of store, as corn, beef, and the like, beside all occasional dainties that, like fowl and fish, come in to their tables, so God hath laid up all spiritual provisions for us; and to be sure you have Christ himself for one standing dish continually served up to you … a dish that fills all, and serves all tastes … Many things in a sermon thou understandest not … but here to be sure (in the Lord’s Supper) thou mayest … Of sermons, some are for comfort, some to inform, and some to excite; but here in the sacrament is all thou canst expect.’

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“Puritanism On The Web”

I came across this website: Puritanism on the Web. It has some links to useful resources.

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Willem van Asselt site

Willem J. van Asselt is a very important scholar specialising in the post-Reformation period. He teaches church history at Utrecht University. He has wrriten numerous articles and major studies on Voetius, Coccejus and Protestant scholasticism. When dealing with Reformed orthodoxy in any way, van Asselt must be consulted.

Thankfully, he has a website! Much of his writings are available there for download as part of his bibliography. I highly recommend this as a resource for budding historians of this period.

HT: Thomas Goodwin

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