Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Desire of the Nations (2)

Long ago, and far far away, I set out with the good intention of summarising Oliver O'Donovan's book of the above title. Having completed a summary of chapters 1 and 2 I got lost in time and inertia. Meanwhile, however, I have discovered a good brief abstract of the book by David vanDrunen in 'Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms'. It is a footnote on page 431 (yes, it is one of those books with half page footnotes). So here is vanDrunen's precis of O'Donovan, slightly abridged by me.

Remember that vanDrunen is approaching O'Donovan from the perspective of the latter's handling of the 'two kingdoms' doctrine in Reformed theology, but it is nonetheless a helpful outline of O'Donovan's thesis.

O'Donovan acknowledges something of a two kingdoms reality in parts of the Old Testament, but he emphasizes Christ's proclamation of the kingdom which announces the unity of the religious and political realms under the reign of God and challenges the two kingdoms situation (ch.3).

In Christ's resurrection, the earthly powers have been subdued and made subject to divine sovereignty; yet the sovereignty of God is not now completely manifest, and the powers are still given a certain (secular) space and authority to exercise their judicial function, though they ought to serve the church's mission (ch. 4).

After Christ's ascension, therefore, the terms on which political authorities function are not the same as they were before; see also O'Donovan's 'The Ways of Judgment' (Eerdmans 2005), p 5. Society is to be transformed and its rulers disappear. Christendom (" the idea of a confessionally Christian government") is not a project of, but a response to, the church's mission, as the alien powers become attentive to the church. The Christian state may be disclosed from time to time but it should not coerce belief or try to protect its own existence (ch.6).

In 'The Ways of Judgment' he speaks of the redemptive, transforming work of the church, gospel, and Holy Spirit on the state as the sphere of human judgment and therefore argues that there is a place for mercy in civil judgement (ch. 6). Here he also discusses the proclamation of the cross and the coming of the kingdom as a challenge to the conditions of the earthly political authority and opposes an a-political theology disinterested in social life (231-34).

From the other direction, in 'The Ways of Judgment', he critiques the two swords idea, originating with Gelasius, for teaching that there are certain spheres of social life that are in principle beyond the reach of governmental intervention (62).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Packer and Spurgeon on Calvinism

I have just been re-reading Jim Packer's magnificent preface to the 1959 Banner of Truth edition of John Owen's 'The Death of Death' and came across amongst many other gems these comments on Calvinism:

'For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God - the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfillng the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves - does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners - men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners - the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man's own, or by soft-pedalling the sinner's inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour'.

'C.H.Spurgeon was thus abundantly right when he declared: " I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel...unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the Cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called" (Autobiography, Vol I chap XVI, p 172)'.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Calvin on Preaching

Every so often I like to read a book on preaching. It stops one getting stale. It reminds one of the greatness, indeed the impossibility, of the task. A good book on preaching will point one in the direction of some help to improve, and remind one of the immense resources available to the faithful preacher, both in terms of the Scriptures they preach and of the God who is the source, subject and sustainer of preaching.

Recently I re-read T.H.L. Parker's book on the preaching of Calvin, 'The Oracles of God'. There is something of neo-orthodox mysticism in Parker's writing, but it cannot hide the grandeur of Calvin's views on and practice of preaching. Some brief extracts:

On the nature of preaching: unlike Luther, Calvin insisted that without the attendant operation of the Holy Spirit, preaching is ineffective. He also taught however that insofar as it is the exposition and interpretation of the Bible, which is as much the Word of God as if men 'heard the very words pronounced by God himself', preaching is itself (derivatively or by association) the Word of God. Preaching must be from the Bible; it is only in the Bible that God speaks clearly and savingly to man. Biblical preaching is truly God speaking to the congregation.

Preaching is, secondly, the Word of God also because the preacher is sent and commissioned by God. He treads a fine line between Luther who said that whenever he got up to speak it was not his word but his pen was 'the tongue of a ready writer' and the opposite extreme of the Spirit being a fitful and unreliable presence. The fact that the pastor has been chosen by God to preach means that God will give him His Word to speak. He may be assured that God will as it pleases him give his Holy Spirit to make the preacher's words his Word. But the preacher cannot take for granted the presence of the Spirit.

Preaching is thirdly, revelation. It is by God's Word that God is known. Preaching is the Word of God when God speaks through the human words revealing himself through them and using them as the vehicle of grace.'In preaching, God shows himself, as much as is expedient for us' (Sermon on Ephesians). 'And what is the mouth of God? It is a declaration that he makes to us of his will when he speaks to us by his ministers' (Sermon on Deuteronomy). 'For St Paul does not want a man to make a parade of himself so that everyone applauds him and says "Oh what fine speaking..." No, not at all! He preaches so that God may speak to us by the mouth of man' (Sermon on 1 Timothy).

On the preacher's need for preparation and humility: 'When the preacher has done all that he can, there remains to him only to cry in helplessness, "Come, Holy Ghost!"'. What he has received, he must faithfully pass on. His life must ratify his doctrine. He must remember above all that he is sent 'to procure the salvation of souls'.

On the congregation: an absolute unconditional obedience is demanded of those who hear the Word of God preached. No-one has the right to disregard the preached Word merely because of the humbleness of the preacher, provided he is called of God.

As to form and style in preaching: gifts of eloquence are useful but everything must be subordinate to the great purpose of the preacher: to be understood by his congregation. All is aimed at proclaiming Christ to the people.

One final word on the nature of the Christian life: 'But assurance of salvation does not rest upon any earthly or human basis but only on the grace which God has shown us in Jesus Christ...When God's children reach the end of their endurance, so that they know not which way to turn, and there is no escape, yet they must not cease to hope that God will show himself to be their Father and Saviour, and that he will never fail them, as long as they trust in the promise that there shall be hope for hereafter for the oppressed; and they must not cease to look to the life that is prepared for them, though they see death before their eyes'.