On Jurisprudence

Rulers are to rule in equity (Ps. 99:4; Prov. 17:26).  While even the humblest believer can recognize the rightness or wrongness of a case laid before him (1 Cor. 6), yet we are to exercise our senses in order to be able to discern good and evil in greater maturity (Heb. 5:14), especially as we are called to as mothers and fathers, elders and those who hold offices in business or the civil government.

History has bequeathed to us an extensive and profound collection of writings elaborating on what constitutes equity according to Natural Law.  This is a field in which believers can learn a lot in from natural men.

Many books of Church order are surprisingly sparse with respect to guidance in many particulars.  Rather than making things up as one goes, expand your awareness of the principles of equity and justice:

On Jurisprudence

Specifically, we have been happily surprised with how much profit, spiritual as well as natural, we have found in collections of Legal Maxims.

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“He loveth righteousness and judgment…”

Ps. 33:5

A New Translation of Rollock

There is a short tract in Latin on God’s decree of predestination by Robert Rollock, the early and formative Scottish theologian, which was left untranslated in his two volume Select Works.  It has now been translated and made publicly available for the first time.

Rollock here treats of the important distinctions to be recognized within God’s decree of predestination, especially as it comes to be variously executed through time in providence.  Of special interest is his formulations relating to what would be later known as the sincere free offer of the Gospel:

“Approval without the decree belongs to all good things with respect to themselves, though they are not at any time realized, of which sort are the conversion, faith, and salvation of reprobates; which God surely approves of simply, but does not decree to come about…  1 Tim. 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’”

Rollock’s early paradigm appears to have been influential through later reformed thought as reflections of it occur in later reformed scholastics, including in the Metaphysical Disquisitions of Samuel Rutherford at the end of his Latin treatise on Providence.

Treat yourself to some of the best reformed theology extant:

Rollock, Robert – A Brief Instruction on the Eternal Approval & Disapproval of the Divine Mind  1593/4  6 pp.  trans. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman

How does One Distinguish Between Legitimate & Illegitimate Authority?

Authority is not well understood by Christian people today.  For some it means, ‘You are required to obey what we determine.’  Right authority, however, is, ‘You are required to obey what God has determined.’

Many people can recognize authorities arbitrarily tyrannizing.  But that is only a negative recognition.  What is the positive side that characterizes, and is requisite for all legitimate authority?

Learn the Scriptural answer from our reformed forefathers, and let it re-form you, deeply:

That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences

An Extraordinary Calling

Sometimes persons claim to have an extraordinary calling to the ministry, not being under any Church government.  Is this legitimate?

Interestingly, this difficult, but Biblical topic of an extraordinary calling was well hammered out in the Reformation and puritan eras.  Rutherford, thankfully, seemed to treat every in and out of the topic in his controverting with congregationalists.

To be able to wrap one’s mind around the issues surrounding a Biblical and divine extraordinary calling is truly profound, coming to grips with the most foundational elements of ecclesiology and the will of God.

May this new page of resources be a great help to being able to carefully discern the Lord’s will in these matters:

On an Extraordinary Calling

Classifications & Degrees of Sin

Not all sins are the same, nor affect the believer, and God’s grace in them, the same.  Exploring the reformed material and distinctions on this new page of resources will help you to become much more acquainted with the nuances of our Lord’s will in these things.

Specifically, the Romanists distinguished between venial (light) sins, which need not to be forgiven, and mortal (deadly) sins, which extinguish the work of grace in the Christian.  While the reformed outright rejected the distinction in the Romanist sense, as all sins are worthy of condemnation, yet they not infrequently used the distinction nonetheless in Biblical and reformed senses.

On the Classifications & Degrees of Sin, & the Distinction Between Venial & Mortal Sin

A big thanks to Rev. Andrés Eduardo Garcia Gonzalez of Venezuela who provided most of the materials on the page.

Contra Romanism, the Apostate Church

What does one do when a very good defender of Romanist doctrines poses arguments that seem legitimate, and one is not able to answer them?

We have built a library of works (concentrated on the 1600’s) that systematically refute Romanism doctrine by doctrine in order that you can quickly skim through them, find your subject matter, and find in-depth, reformed, catholic, material refuting that exact point of Romanism, no matter how minute:

Romanism

Is the Roman Church, though apostate, a part of Christ’s visible Church?  Is the Roman ministry and Romish baptism valid?  There is immense confusion on these questions today, with many coming to the wrong answer.

The near-universal reformed consensus during the Reformation and puritan eras to these questions was ‘Yes’.  Find out the Biblical reasons for this.  The established Reformed Church largely defended the validity of her ministers on the validity of the Roman Church being a Church.  Yet they also were convicted that the Protestant separation from Romanism was morally and Scripturally necessary.

And lastly, may Romanists be saved?  Read the classic reformed answers to these questions on this new page.  See especially the Intro and the writings of Samuel Rutherford:

On the Roman Catholic Church being a Church, her Baptism being Valid, that the Reformers’ Ministerial Calling was Valid, the Necessity of Separation from Her & Whether Romanists may be Saved

Great News!

Phase 2 of Early English Books Online has just been made publicly available on the net (ahead of schedule); the collection has over 35,000 volumes, including many reformed and puritan works.

To celebrate, we have updated and collated as many volumes as we could find from Phase 2 for these two pages:

Every Reformed Systematic Theology Online  175+

Reformation & Puritan Bible Commentaries  705+

We are working on updating the rest of our pages with the newly available works as time permits.  Hopefully this can be done before the end of the year.

 

 

How Far Human Laws Bind the Conscience

One of the most constantly relevant and important ethical questions in the Christian life is how far human laws and commands bind us.  We are constantly presented with commands in school, work, in the family, in the Church and in our State which are less than obviously, morally necessary.

The best strand of historic, reformed theology, including Perkins and Rutherford, has answered that only God’s natural, moral and positive laws can bind creatures.  Human, positive commands bind only insofar as they reflect God’s laws.

While we are to honor God-given human authorities (by God’s moral law, the 5th Commandment) and are to seek to prevent scandal (by God’s moral law, the 6th Commandment), yet human authorities can add no morally binding obligation whatsoever to a matter; rather, they are to use their God given office, station, power and resources to enforce God’s moral law, and in so doing, they exercise true authority from God’s Will.

Hence human laws and commands bind only insofar as they reflect God’s laws in the situation, and to that degree only.  As all authorities have only been given authority from God for good, truth and edification, any action other than that is outside the powers of their office (ultra vires) and does not inherently bind.

All this is to say that all persons and authorities are to obey God’s natural, moral and positive laws, even when authorities do not rule accurately according thereto, as God is to be obeyed before men and as He is the Lord of the conscience alone.

Learn from the best of reformed theology and walk more closely in the Lord’s paths:

How Far the Laws & Commands of Human Authorities Bind the Conscience

On Arbitrary Laws & Implicit Faith & Obedience

God’s Law is the only thing that can morally bind his creatures, as there is fundamentally only one Lawgiver (Isa. 33:22; James 4:12).

Hence, all human laws and commands, including from those who hold public offices of God, only oblige as far those commands reflect God’s Law inherent in the situation itself, and to that degree.

Yet persons and authorities often expect to be obeyed simply because they have so willed it.  When you are presented with this unpleasant situation, here is a page of reformed resources that will help you understand this error (and the truth it opposes) better, and it will confirm you in walking in this life as a servant of God, and not of men.

On Arbitrary Laws & Commands

Likewise, to give anyone besides God our implicit faith and obedience (if they demand of us to believe or obey anything wherein a sufficient moral reason is not perceived or given to our conscience) is against the 2nd and 7th Commandments:

It is written: “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to…  love Him and to serve the Lord thy God…” (Dt. 10:12)  But to serve the will of man apart from being able to serve God’s will in the matter is idolatry, to enthrone service to the creature above God.  It is also to perversely give up our soul’s most precious inner-chamber, reserved for God alone, to be used by men.

On Implicit, or Blind Faith & Obedience

On Positive Laws

One of the most important ethical distinctions, extensively relevant to the Christian life and on which there is very little teaching in the Church today, is the difference between (1) Natural Law & (2) Positive Laws.

(1) Natural Law includes the inherent designs that God created into Creation, natural human inclinations and fundamental natural principles of obliging force.

(2) Positive Laws are all specific commands and laws of humans in society, which ought to be based on natural laws, though they inherently contain some amount of arbitrariness to them.

In necessity, Natural laws override Positive Laws.

A great familiarity with this distinction and its extensive relevance all around us is most needed during our societal response to COVID (some of which response is good and some of which is not adequately based on Natural Law), during riots and even in the very mundane issues of work and family life.

It also very much applies to the government of the Church and defending oneself under unjust Church discipline.

Further, the issue is theological:  God makes ethically binding positive laws, and He abrogates them.  Delve into the rich things of the Lord’s revelation and greatly expand your understanding.

Lastly, how far do positive laws bind the conscience?  In contrast to the fuzziness and lack of clarity on this point in the modern Church, there was a large puritan consensus on the matter which is both clear, precise and dead-on right.

Read the Introduction on the page and grow in your walking before the Lord and men:

On Positive Laws & Ordinances, & the Law of Nations

Church Ordinances & Order

The Reformation recognized that numerous commands in Scripture were for the good-order of the Church in their given context, and were not absolutely binding, without qualification, on all times and societies.

This Scriptural category of ‘Church ordinances’ was a common-place in Reformation theology, though it is virtually unrecognized in the conservative, reformed Church, especially among Biblicists.

With Churches adapting to the Corona outbreak, it is more necessary than ever to understand the ethical theology undergirding Church ordinances.  What is their binding nature?  May they be broken without guilt?

Read the Introduction and explore our Lord’s instruction with these reformed resources:

On the Ordinances, Order & Policy of the Church

Needless to say, it does not appear that any other significant collection on this topic exists on the net.  You will look in vain for a detailed discussion on this subject in modern systematic theologies, or any other theological book for that matter.

Tread in the old paths that were derived from the Word of God and have stood firm through many generations.

May the Magistrate Forbid Church Assemblies in a Time of a Severe, Spreading Disease?

May the Magistrate rightly quarantine and restrain assemblies, including those of the Church, upon sufficient natural and civil warrant?

Rutherford’s answer to that question was ‘Yes’, along with other reformed figures in that era, including the civil government of the Netherlands during the time of the Synod of Dort (1619).

The Reformation, Puritan and presbyterian doctrine, that the Church is subject to the Magistrate in legitimate civil laws and matters circa sacra (around the sacred) is evidenced even in our own day by civil governments (rightly) enforcing fire codes, zoning laws and sound ordinances, etc. upon churches.

See many theological points related to this topic documented from the Reformation and puritan eras, especially from Gillespie and Rutherford, on this new page:

On the Civil Magistrate’s Just Authority for Restraining the Congregating of Citizens, even the Church, and Quarantining, etc., with Sufficient Natural Warrant, according to God’s Moral Law

(The page does not address every issue that ought to be considered in relation to the current response to the Corona virus, such as, what churches should do if the magistrate does not have sufficient natural and moral warrant to forbid their assembly.)

The Puritans on Social Distancing & the Adaptation of the Church under Spreading Disease

The puritans very well knew about infection and had time-tested, common sense and effective protocols and practices for lawfully adapting and preserving the Church, according to God’s Word, in an epidemic.

There is nothing new under the sun, and their advice is still very good and effective in our day.  Glean wisdom from our godly fathers.

And if you have any love for the Church of Jesus Christ in this earth, share this webpage and help make it go viral:

Historic Reformed Quotes on Social Distancing & the Adaptation of the Church in a Time of Spreading Disease

In addition to these materials, we have also gathered material on the very related topics of:

On Works of Necessity & Mercy on the Sabbath  (including during Plagues)

On the Relations Between the 1st & 2nd Tables of the Law  (respecting public worship ordinances and our moral duty unto our fellow man)

The Puritans on Spreading Diseases

The puritans suffered through many spreading diseases and plagues and have given us:

(1) Careful and even handed, cautionary advice in such situations,
(2) noble and heroic examples to follow, and
(3) a wealth of moving and poignant spiritual treasure on this topic.

Feed your soul upon Christ during these times, and remember to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Mt. 22:36-38

On Spreading Diseases & Plagues

 

On the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha

Why should a Christian read a significant portion of the apocryphal literature?

Because falsehood and deception breeds on ignorance. The Truth does not fear the unknown, or anything at all; rather, it exposes darkness for what it is. Do not found your faith on ignorance. Have you found God’s Word to be true in view of every other option?

When every other alternative is surveyed and found out, it is seen that there are no competitors to God’s Word, no part of God’s Word has been lost, and necessarily, no other book will ever be added to the Canon of the inspired Word of God.

Here is a large collection of resources on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphia, demonstrating that the apocryphal books are not the Word of God, with an Introduction.

On the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha

And yet, nonetheless, many reformed theologians from the Reformation and puritan eras thought that the Apocrypha had some value both historically speaking and for religious edification (just as other religious books may have today).

Here is the start of a collection of commentaries on the Apocrypha, including from historic, reformed theologians (mainly in Latin):

Commentaries on the Apocrypha

Continuing Instant in Prayer

It is a joy at Thanksgiving to be around friends and family, giving thanks unto the Lord for his goodness to us.

As God wants us to be “continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12), may we long continue being stirred up giving Him the affections of our heart in converse with Him.

Unto that end, we have collected many resources on prayer which we hope will kindle much love and devotion to Him who ought to always have the first place in our hearts.

For pastors, we hope these resources will be of great assistance to you in leading your people to be “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. (Eph. 6:18)

Prayer

Who was the most in preaching on prayer?  From what has been handed down to us, and from what we have seen, Charles Spurgeon comes in first, Thomas Boston second, and Jonathan Edwards follows.

Works Against the Roman Apologist Bellarmine

The Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was the most important apologist in all of Church history for the Romanist Church.  Responses to his works numbered into the several hundreds.

As Bellarmine’s volumes of disputations covered most doctrines of the Christian faith in an orderly way, so full responses to them are virtually protestant systematic theologies.

This collection of over 155 works against Bellarmine serves as a full refutation of all the twisted doctrines of Romanism, the Antichrist.  Here you will find immensely helpful reformed treatises on the whole gamut of theology in both English and Latin.

Works Against the Roman Apologist Robert Bellarmine

New Translation from Rutherford

For the first time, here is over a hundred pages translated into English from Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism in Latin, for free and online.

Rutherford’s Examination was the closest thing he wrote to systematic theology.  As Arminians erred on nearly every point of theology, refuting their rising, popular system gave Rutherford the opportunity to survey nearly the whole gamut of theology.  Rutherford addresses topics here nowhere addressed in his books written in English.

The level of depth, detail and Scriptural, theological accuracy in this work far surpasses nearly anything available in English today.  Learn theology from the greatest Scottish theologian in Church history.

Rutherford, Samuel – Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism: the Tables of Contents with Excerpts from Every Chapter  trans. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman  1668 / 2019  135 pp.

The Covenant of Grace

We have recently beefed up our webpage on the Covenant of Grace.  Here you will find 30+ puritan treatises on the subject.  We will add more in the future.

There is much blessing to be found in this rich literature on God’s Covenant for those who have a tender spirit before their God and treasure his promises:

The Covenant of Grace

“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them his covenant.”

Ps. 25:14

Are Good Works Necessary for Salvation?

While historic Reformed Christianity has tenaciously held to Justification by faith alone, its consistent answer to the above question regarding the whole of our salvation has been: Yes.  The concept is inherent in numerous parts of the Westminster standards.

The new webpage below contains many resources on this subject (the most that is anywhere available, it is believed) that will be helpful to further understanding the Bible’s teaching that good works are necessary to salvation.

The Introduction on the webpage is rather full and walks through the numerous Biblical and historical issues surrounding the question and introduces one to the many distinctions that Reformed Orthodoxy from the 1600’s made about it.  The Introduction also distinguishes how the Biblical and orthodox teaching differs from modern heresies such as the Federal Vision, Norman Sherphardism and the New Perspective on Paul.

Numerous quotes have been translated for the first time from Latin from numerous of the older reformed theologians.  You will likely learn a lot.  May it be a blessing to you, and may we be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

The Necessity of Good Works