Faith Seeking Understanding

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Reprint of the 1891 edition; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 744 pgs. 

Summary: The letters of the pious, devoted, lover of Christ, Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford was entranced by Christ and had a moral imagination capable of allowing him to exhaustively incorporate the language of the Song of Solomon to describe his devotion for Christ: 

I would desire no more for my heaven beneath the moon, while I am sighing in this house of clay, but daily renewed feast of love with Christ, and liberty now and then to feed my hunger with a kiss of that fairest face. . . . have no other exercise than to lie on a love-bed with Christ, and fill this hungered and famished soul with kissing, embracing, and real enjoying of the Son of God (341-342). 

Yet, the reader cannot be distracted either by our eroticized imaginations or Rutherford’s stretched allegories. He writes with devotional power:

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J. D. Douglas, Light in the North: The Story of the Scottish Covenanters

The Paternoster Press, 1964, pgs. 220

Summary: A brief overview and assessment of the history and theology of the Scottish Covenanters by J. D. Douglas (1923-2003), a Scotchman and former editor of “Christianity Today” under Carl F. H. Henry.

Douglas argues that the Presbyterians in Scotland, when faced with the absolutism of the political theory of divine right of the house of Stuart (James VI, Charles I, Charles II, James VII), adopted “the Divine Right of Presbytery” (60).  Divine right for both kings and churches—Rome or the Scottish Presbyter—establishes an earthly authority as a little god. As James VI wrote to his son, that God had made Charles I, “a little God to sit on his throne, and rule over other men” (17). This god cannot be disobeyed in its realm of authority. 

The house of Stuart held to an Erastian policy that the king was the absolute head of the state and the church. And they were wont to require their subjects take oaths like the Test Act of 1661:

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Philip Aubrey, Mr Secretary Thurloe: Cromwell’s Secretary of State—1652-1660

London: The Athlone Press, 1990, 247 pgs. 

Summary: A concise consideration of the history and activity of John Thurloe (1616-1668), a Puritan lawyer and member of parliament, who became Secretary of State successively under the Rump Parliament, the Nominated Assembly, the Protectorate of Oliver and then Richard Cromwell, brought back as Secretary under Monck, and did some work for the restored Charles the II. 

His position as Secretary of State and Postmaster General also led to him being the head of domestic and international intelligence collection through both agents and the interception and monitor of the mail. Thurloe also had code breakers. For instance mathematician and pastor John Wallis (1616-1703), who helped develop infinitesimal calculus and the infinity sign, seems to have broken some of the codes “after supper” as a favor for friends (28). 

His success in intelligence gathering can be drawn from the following narrative:

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A Fragment on Why Unbelievers Seem to Subdue Sin

And the reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he hath many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies towards the satisfaction of self. John Owen, Mortification of Sin in Believers, in The Works of John Owen, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 24.

Those of us who have walked long in the church are often horrified at the eruptions of sin within the church both among the laity and clergy. We look across at the orderliness and often even kindness of the world with jealousy and frustration. 

Our generation is not alone in this experience. The Apostle Paul and the church throughout history cries out, “there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1). Too often we can say the same of greed, backbiting, gossiping, and pettiness.

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I Peter

  • Bruce B. Barto, et al., Life Application Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Peter and Jude
  • Gerald Bray, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude
  • John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Epistle of Peter
  • Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter
  • Peter H. Davids, NICNTThe First Epistle of Peter
  • John Gill, First General Epistle of Peter
  • Alexander Nisbet, 1 & 2 Peter
  • Thomas R. Schreiner, NAC: 1,2 Peter, Jude

Wolfhart Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1991, pgs. 69

Summary: Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014) was an Enlightenment theologian who worked to preserve much of the language of traditional theology while attempting to provide an academically acceptable explanation of Christian doctrine. 

An Introduction to Systematic Theology is a part of the M. Eugene Osterhaven Lectureship at Western Theological Seminary—a broadly evangelical school.  

Pannenberg establishes that Jesus is a historical person who is also in some sense the Son of God. And he defines the task of systematic theology as presenting a coherent explanation of the truth of Christianity:  “Whatever is true must finally be consistent with all other truth, so that truth is only one, but all-embracing, closely related to the concept of the one God” (6).

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John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; the Necessity, Nature, and Means of It; with Resolution of Sundry Cases of Conscience Thereunto Belonging

In The Works of John Owen, vol. 6, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, pgs. 1-86.

Summary: John Owen (1616-1683) is the prince of Puritans. His works are often dense, but decidedly evangelical and desire “universal obedience” to our Lord Jesus. Of the Mortification of Sin is a wholesome, practical, and academically sound consideration and development of the biblical doctrine of the mortification of sin.

Owen presents the argument from Romans 8:13, “If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live,” that “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin” (7).

This is necessary because while saving grace can never die, sanctifying grace must be renewed through the means of grace. “The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.” (9).

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Blaise Pascal, Pensées, and The Provincial Letters

The Modern Library, New York, 1941, 620 pgs.

Summary: Pascal (1623-1662) was a savant who made contributions in mechanical calculators, vacuum research, geometry, probability, and apologetics. He was a younger contemporary and antagonist of Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes somewhat purposely contributed to the rising skepticism of his age through modification of his Jesuit training. 

Pascal’s family, early in his life, had attached themselves to Jansenism within the French Roman Catholic Church. Jansenism was the last gasp of the Augustinian understanding of total depravity after the Council of Trent (1545-1563). They were also extreme rigorist in exhaustive confession in preparation for the mass, personal ethics, and separation from worldliness. 

The Jansenist and Jesuits tended to compete among the wealthy and the nobles in France as personal confessors. The Jesuits practiced a lax discipline that came to be known as probabilism.

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Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity

Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1983, 316 pgs.

Summary: Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686) was a Puritan, non-conformist, and godly preacher who co-pastored with Stephen  Charnock  (1628–1680). He preached a series of sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism which were then published after he is death as A Body of Practical Divinity.   

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) with the principal of his Pastors’ College, George Rogers, republished the work as the basic systematic theology of his college with an appendix on believer’s baptism. Banner of Truth republished the theology in three volumes: A Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments, and The Lord’s Prayer

A Body of Divinity book is divided into sections following the order of the catechism and extends to question 38, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?”  Each section begins with a statement of the subject being considered—i.e. “Christ the Mediator of the Covenant—a proof text, biblical explanation, theological development, responses to critiques, and then uses.

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