Category Archives: History

Warfield and Infant Baptism

The last matter to be addressed in this review is Zaspel’s treatment of Warfield’s understanding and defense of infant baptism (515-526).  On this point, Dr. Zaspel is to be commended for striving mightily to get Warfield right, even though he personally disagrees with Warfield’s conclusion.  Zaspel points out that Warfield rejected baptismal regeneration (516), and affirms that the Princetonian saw baptism as a “visible monument of the covenant.”  In baptism, the benefits of the covenant are sealed unto believers and their children (517).

Zaspel, however, finds what he considers to be an inconsistency in Warfield’s various assertions about baptism–in one place Warfield affirms that the children of Christians are presumably saved, while in another place, he affirms that children still still need to be saved, and finally, in another place that many baptized Christian children may actually be lost and not be saved (529). While I would love to take up this matter and reply, this is not the place nor the point. I say this because even after noting the perceived inconsistency he sees in Warfield’s work, Dr. Zaspel charitably strives to give Warfield the benefit of the doubt, noting “because of the covenant promise” children of believers are presumed to be Christians (530).

I do have one brief quibble with Dr. Zaspel’s treatment of Warfield on infant baptism. When setting forth the key points in Warfield’ essay “The Polemics of Infant Baptism,” I find it rather interesting that Dr. Zaspel does not mention what is perhaps Dr. Warfield’s most salient point in his polemic–one which comes at the beginning of that essay, namely contention that all Christians, even Baptists, must baptize on the presumption that a person’s profession of faith is genuine. According to Warfield,

All baptism is inevitably administered on the basis not of knowledge but of presumption. And if we must baptize on presumption, the whole principle is yielded; and it would seem that we must baptize all whom we may fairly presume to be members of Christ’s body. In this state of the case, it is surely impracticable to assert that there can be but one ground on which a fair presumption of inclusion in Christ’s body can be erected, namely, personal profession of faith. Assuredly a human profession is no more solid basis to build upon than a divine promise. So soon, therefore, as it is fairly apprehended that we baptize on presumption and not on knowledge, it is inevitable that we shall baptize all those for whom we may, on any grounds, fairly cherish a good presumption that they belong to God’s people—and this surely includes the infant children of believers, concerning the favor of God to whom there exist many precious promises on which pious parents, Baptists as fully as others, rest in devout faith [B. B. Warfield, “The Polemics of Infant Baptism,” in Studies in Theology, 390].

I would have liked to see this point included in Zaspel’s discussion, but alas, I digress.

via Westminster Seminary California.

Of course, if everyone baptizes on “presumption,”–including adult professing believers–then all pastoral work and church ministry is also on presumption. One might ask what is left that isn’t “presumption.” In which case maybe we can move on and use a more serviceable and perhaps even Biblical word.

Like covenant.

Happy Birthday, Heidelberg Catechism: Here is John Nevin’s introduction to the author’s commentary

Among the reformers of the second generation, the race of distinguished men, who, though themselves the children of the reformation, were yet in a certain sense joined with the proper original Apostles of that great work, in carrying it out to its final settlement and conclusion, no one can be named who is more worthy of honorable recollection, than the learned and amiable author of the far-famed Heidelberg Catechism. In some respects, indeed, the authorship of this symbol must be referred, we know, to different hands. But in its main plan, and reigning spirit, it is the genial product, plainly, of a single mind, and to the end of time, accordingly, it will be known and revered as a monument, sacred to the memory of Zacharias Ursinus.

In one view we may say of the Catechism, that it forms the best history, and clearest picture of the man himself; for the materials of his biography, outwardly considered, are comparatively scanty, and of no very striking interest. He had neither taste nor talent for the field of outward adventure and exploit. His whole nature shrank rather from the arena of public life. In its noise and tumult, he took, comparatively speaking, but little part. The world in which he moved and acted mainly, was that of the spirit; and here, his proper home, was the sphere of religion. To understand his history and character, we need not so much to be familiar with the events of his life outwardly taken, as to know the principles and facts which go to make up its constitution in an inward view; and of this, we can have no more true or honorable representation, perhaps, than the likeness that is still preserved of him in his own Catechism. Here, most emphatically may it be said, that ‘• he being dead, yet speaketh.”

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Up from Augustine: thanks to Melanchthon

In Chapter 4, I turn to Luther’s early exegesis of Rom 3, as seen in his lectures from 1515. In contrast with Luther’s own description of his “Reformation breakthrough” later in life, I argue that Luther did not arrive at his new understanding of justification in a flash of inspiration inspired by Augustine; rather, his early treatment of Romans is unimpeachably Catholic and unmistakably Augustinian, although there are indications even in this early work that Luther is not entirely satisfied with Augustine’s view. In Chapter 5, I consider the ways in which Luther’s followers develop his critique of the Augustinian reading of justification in the first generation of the Reformation. Throughout this period, it was unclear whether Protestant exegesis of Paul would resolve itself into a repristinization of patristic theology, inspired in large part by Augustine, or whether it would develop into something genuinely new. The key turning point, I argue, came in the early 1530′s with Melanchthon’s rejection of Augustine’s transformative model of justification, and his adoption in its place of a strictly forensic construal of Paul’s key terms. Many of Melanchthon’s fellow reformers continued to operate within an Augustinian framework, however as Melanchthon’s terms passed into wider acceptance in Protestant exegesis, it became increasingly apparent that the Protestant reading of Paul could not ultimately be reconciled with patristic accounts of justification.

via Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Justification in development.

How to morally degrade people: a witness from Frederick Douglas

She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

. . . In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me.

When I went there she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. . . . Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.

The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded. . . .

Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me the newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.

(Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995, orig. 1885, p. 22).

via Slave-Holding as Character Suicide – Desiring God.

Why I suspect Jenny Geddes is a myth

Jenny Geddes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Some doubt her existence. I don’t have any reason to do so.

But she is invoked as a symbol of “grass-roots” resistance–a commoner taking matters into her own hands and speaking truth to power (or speaking an abdomen-torture curse). Even if she did all that, I’m still skeptical of the story.

The reason why Geddes is remembered (assuming she’s not made up) is that there were powerful rulers who wanted to resist and defeat English policy in Scotland. Otherwise she just would have been ejected, punished, and forgotten.

But even more, if she did indeed throw the stool in Church, is it likely she was ignorant of simmering resistance among her superiors? I don’t think so.

People talk a lot about the dangers of rebellion “from below” but they don’t want to face the truth: it almost never happens.

No, what happens is that powerful leaders use false witnesses (genuinely following them in a sense) and mob action to get what they want, hiding behind the myth of the popular revolt.

The public is taking its cues from the leadership; not the other way around. Even Eve was being manipulated by Adam. The Bush Administration was leaking classified documents to hurt its enemies long before Assange got into it. And lay people attack pastors after they see their own pastors doing it.

Gilgamesh and elusive immortality

Table 11 is especially interesting. First, the immortality is possible if Gilgamesh can stay awake and never fall asleep–a rather direct metaphor.  Then…

Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
“Gilgamesh, you came here exhausted and worn out.
What can I give you so you can return to your land?
I will disclose to you a thing that is hidden, Gilgamesh,
a… I will tell you.
There is a plant… like a boxthorn,
whose thorns will prick your hand like a rose.
If your hands reach that plant you will become a young
man again.

Hearing this, Gilgamesh opened a conduit(!) (to the Apsu)
and attached heavy stones to his feet.
They dragged him down, to the Apsu they pulled him.
He took the plant, though it pricked his hand,
and cut the heavy stones from his feet,
letting the waves(?) throw him onto its shores.
Gilgamesh spoke to Urshanabi, the ferryman, saying:
“Urshanabi, this plant is a plant against decay(!)
by which a man can attain his survival(!).
I will bring it to Uruk-Haven,
and have an old man eat the plant to test it.
The plant’s name is ‘The Old Man Becomes a Young Man.'”
Then I will eat it and return to the condition of my youth.”

At twenty leagues they broke for some food,
at thirty leagues they stopped for the night.
Seeing a spring and how cool its waters were,
Gilgamesh went down and was bathing in the water.
A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant,
silently came up and carried off the plant.

So a serpent takes away access to the tree of life?

There is also a line or two about trading animal skins for royal robes, but I may be getting overly suggestive.

Workers v. Warriors & Civilization (according to Laura Ingalls Wilder)

The canons leaped backward, the air was full of flying grass and weeds… Everybody was exclaiming about what a loud noise they had made.

“That’s the noise that made the Redcoats run!” Mr. Paddock said to Father.

“Maybe,” Father said, tugging his beard. “But it was muskets that won the Revolution. And don’t forget it was axes and plows that made this country.”…

Independence Day was over… That night when they were going to the house with milk, Almanzo asked Father:

“Father, how was it axes and plows that made this country? Didn’t we fight England for it?”

“We fought for Independence, son,” Father said. “But all the land our forefathers had was a little strip of country, here between the moutains and the ocean. All the way from here west was Indian country, and Spanish and French and English country. It was farmers that took all that country and made it America.”

“How?” Almanzo asked.

“Well, son, the Spaniards were soldiers, and high-and-mighty gentlemen that only wanted gold. And the French were fur-traders, wanting to make quick money. And England was busy fighting wars. But we were farmers, son; we wanted the land. It was farmers that went over the mountains, and cleared the land, and settled it, and farmed it, and hung on to their farms.”

From Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy, “Independence Day,” p. 179-181

(Living in Post-Civil-War America, I realize Mr. Wilder is engaging in some self-deception. But the ideals shouldn’t be lost even if their execution was far more tainted than he wants to admit.)

Pressing Onward

Forgetting is no mere force of inertia as the superficial imagine; it is rather an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of repression that is responsible for the fact that what we experience and absorb enters our consciousness little while we are digesting it (one might call the process “impsychation”) as does the thousandfold process involved in physical nourishment–so-called incorporation. To close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle of our underworld…; a little quietness, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness to make room for new things… that is the purpose of active forgetfulness, which is like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette; so that it will be immediately obvious how there could be no happiness, nor cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present without forgetfulness

–Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

–Apostle Paul, First Century

RePost: Martin Bucer Quotations

Here are some quotations I gleaned from Martin Bucer’s works:

Performative signs & what it means to receive in faith

And therefore, when the faithful, believing theses words and not doubting that they are addressed by the Lord to themselves (that they were in fact spoken only to them is proved by phrases in the context such as, “is given for you, is shed for you, is the new covenant,” which are all entirely alien to those who lack faith), truly eat the body of Christ and drink his blood, there is no reason based on the authority of Scripture which compels us on that account to tie the body of Christ to the bread in a physical manner, and not rather to confess that when Christ is eaten by faith by believers these words are completely fulfilled. The godly man hears that Christ offered bread to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body,” and believes that this is spoken to himself as well. Does he not truly eat the body of Christ even though no change occurs in the bread that he eats? A prince hands over to a judge elect a rod as the symbol of judicial authority, adding these words: “Behold, I hearby commit to you the authority of a judge.” The latter, believing his prince and accepting the rod, is at the same time constituted a judge, although the rod in itself remains nothing but a rod. Similarly by the symbol of the keys a person may receive the rights of the household, the keys remaining in their own essence the same as they were before.

Source: Martin Bucer, “The Eucharist: the 1526 Apology,” Martin Bucer, Courtenay Reformation Classics IV, p. 330.


John 6 & the Lord’s Supper

Christ said here, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you,” not meaning himself to be eaten except for salvation, which was his invariable objective in everything, having been sent into our midst by the Father for this very purpose. Why therefore should we conceive a different eating of his body from the one that he himself taught [i.e. in John 6] so fully? Nor do I doubt that this is the reason why John does not mention the Supper, which all the other Evangelists so carefully described, becaus of course he alone had given so lengthy an account of what Christ intended to emphasize most of all in the Supper. it is a highly improbable explanation that he failed to record the Supper because it had been described by the others, for on this basis he ought to have omitted a great deal else besides, especially in the narrative of Chrsit’s passion. Nor can the giving of his body to be eaten and his blood to be drunk be regarded as one of Christ’s commonplace actions, but obviously ranks with those that john labored most particularly to record. Therefore we have no doubt that the essential significance of Christ’s Supper was unfolded by John in chapter 6, though he counted it sufficient that the use of the signs had been related by the others.

Source: Martin Bucer, “The Eucharist: the 1526 Apology,” Martin Bucer, Courtenay Reformation Classics IV, pp. 327, 328.

Baptism = introduction/initiation into God’s service

I bold-faced a couple of expressions that reminded me of Turrettin’s expressions:

Now the reason why God authorized men to use a rite of this nature, involving immersion or washing or sprinkling with water and received at the hands of the official ministers of religion, as the means of obtaining the washing away of their sins and hence also as the regular mode of initiation to the service of God, is to be found in his purpose to confirm and stimulate to greater vigor in them by this procedure the first and foremost principle of our salvation, namely, faith in the remission of sins, that is, in our unmerited justification. For God himself formed us in such a way that whenever we are seriously promising or conferring invisible realities our natural inclination is to do so by means of signs perceptible to the senses. The same procedure can be observed among all peoples in important transactions of every kind, for it is in this manner that treaties are concluded, kings installed, marriages contracted, and sales executed. Consequently, as far as this use of symbols is concerned, God deals with us in terms of our own practice, as he is accustomed to do in other respects as well. And since the whole of the covenant he has made with us and our entire salvation (which is his primary consideration in all his dealings with us) have their beginning and basis in our persuasion that he pardons our sins, in his wisdom he has willed to confirm and stimulate our faith in this pardon principally by his own symbol, and particularly at the time when men consecrate themselves to his service in a special way. For on that occasion they reflect more closely on their own unworthiness and his goodness, and as a result more fully forsake self and dedicate themselves to him for a life of complete holiness and a true readiness to serve the needs of all men.His purpose, however, to present the remission of sins through the agency of public ministers of religion was not determined solely by the fact that it is appropriate for physical symbols to be conferred at the hands of men. It was also his aim by this means to knit his own more closely together and to each other, and to bind them more securely to submission to religious instruction and admonition in the congregation. This should result from their realizing that the men from whom they received the counsels of salvation and to whom they must cleave as fellow members in the same body are able to shut or to open heaven to them, and to retain or to remit their sins. The Church of God, of course, has always possessed this power, and God has never failed to make use of its exercise for the salvation of his own whenever the Church has languished in spirit and the light of knowledge.

It should now be clear from what we have said why God has required his Church in every age to use baptism and in this manner to introduce men to his service.

Source: Martin Bucer, “Baptism,” Martin Bucer, Courtenay Reformation Classics IV, pp. 287, 288.

Charles Hodge writes a letter to the Pope for the Presbyterian Church


To Pius the Ninth Bishop of Rome, —

By Your encyclical letter dated ____, __ 1869 you invite Protestants to send delegates to the Council called to meet at Rome during the month of December of the current year. That letter has been brought to the attention of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Those Assemblies represent about five thousand ministers and a still larger number of Christian congregations.

Believing, as we do, that it is the will of Christ that his Church on earth should be united, and recognizing the duty of doing all we consistently can to promote Christian charity and fellowship, we deem it right briefly to present the reasons which forbid our participation in the deliberations of the approaching Council.

It is not because we have renounced an article of the catholic faith. We are not heretics. We cordially receive all the doctrines contained in that Symbol which is known as the Apostles Creed. We regard all the doctrinal decisions of the first six oecumenical councils to be consistent with the word of God, and because of that consistency, we receive them as expressing our faith. We therefore believe the doctrines of the Trinity and of the person of Christ as those doctrines are exhibited in the symbols adopted by the council of Nice A.D. 321 [sic]; that of Chalcedon A.D. ___ and more fully of the Council of Constantinople A.D. ___. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. We believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. We believe that our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the prophet who should come into world, whose teachings we are bound to believe and in whose promises we rely. He is the High Priest of pro—-(?) whose infinitely meritorious satisfaction to the divine presence, and whose ever prevalent (?) intercession, is the sole ground of the sinners justification and acceptance before God. We acknowledge him to be our Lord not only because we are his creatures but also because we are the purchase of his blood. To his authority we are bound to submit, in his care we confine (?), and to his service all creatures in heaven and earth should be devoted.

We receive also all those doctrines concerning sin, grace, and predestination, known —- as Augustinianism; which doctrines receive the sanction not only of the Council of Carthage A.D. ___ and of other provincial Synods, but of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesis A.D., and of Zosimus, bishop of Rome A.D. ___. We therefore cannot be pronounced heretics without involving in the same condemnation the whole ancient church.

Neither are we Schismatics. We cordially recognise as members of Christ’s visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnestly desire to hold Christian communion with them; provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the word of God condemns, or that we should do what that word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault are with that Church and not with us.

But although we do not decline your invitation, because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence these principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent which represented, and still represents the Church over which you preside.

The most important of those principles are First, that the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, however, pronounces Anathema all who do not receive the teachings of tradition (Latin phrase–see Trent) as the Scriptures themselves. This we cannot do without receiving (?) the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees, who made void the word of God by their traditions –Matt. 15, 6. Secondly, the right of private judgment: When we open the Scriptures, we find that they are addressed to the people. They speak to us. We are commanded to search them. John 5, 39. To believe what they teach. We are held personally responsible for our faith. The apostle commands us to pronounced (sic) accursed an apostle or an angel from heaven, who should anything contrary to the divinely authenticated word of God. Gal. 1, 8. He makes us the judges, and has placed the rule of judgment into our hands, and holds us responsible for our judgments.

Moreover, we find that the teaching of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ not to the clergy only; much less to any one order of the clergy, exclusively, but to all believers. It is written, “Ye shall all be taught of God.” The Apostle John says to believers: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things . . . and the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teach you of all things, and is of the truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in it.” I John 3, 20.27. This teaching of the Spirit authenticates itself, as this same Apostle teaches us, when he says; “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself.” I John 5, 10. “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” Private judgment, therefore, is not only a right, but a duty; from which no man can absolve himself, or be absolved by others.

Thirdly, we believe in the universal priesthood of believers; that is, that all believers have through Christ access by one Spirit unto the Father. Eph 1,18; that we may come with boldness to the throne of grace ; that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4, 16. “Having, therefore, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; we may draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Heb. 10,19-22. To admit, therefore, the priesthood of the clergy, whose intervention is necessary to — for us the remission of sin and other benefits of the redemption of Christ, is to renouncethe priesthood of our Lord, or its sufficiency to —- reconciliation with God.

Fourthly, we deny the perpetuity of apostleship. As no man can be a prophet without the Spirit of prophesy; so no man can be an apostle without the gifts of an apostle. Those gifts, as we learn from Scripture, are, plenary knowledge of the truth derived from Christ by immediate revelation, Gal. 1, 13; and personal infallibility as — and —. And the seals of the apostleship were as Paul teaches us, when he says to the Corinthians, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” 2 Cor. 12, 12. As prelates claim to be apostles, and who demand the same confidence in their teaching, and the same submission to their authority, as that due to the inspired messengers of Christ, without pretending to profess either the gifts or signs of the apostleship, we cannot submit to their claims. This would be [to] render to erring men the subjection due to God alone or to his divinely authenticated and infallible messengers.

Much less can we recognise the Bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ on earth, clothed with the authority of even the Church and the word which was exercised by our Lord while here in the flesh. It is plain that no one can be the vicar of Christ who has not the attributes of Christ. To recognise the Bishop of Rome as Christ’s vicar is therefore virtually to recognise him as divine.

We must stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. We cannot forfeit our salvation by putting man in the place of God, giving one of like passions with ourselves the — of our — — life which only to him in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead.

Other and equally cogent reasons might be assigned why we cannot with a good conscience be represented in the proposed council. But as the Council of Trent, whose canons are still in force, pronounces accursed all who hold the principles above enumerated, nothing further is necessary to show [that] ourdeclining your invitation is a matter of necessity

Nevertheless, although we cannot return to the fellowship of the Church of Rome, we desire to live in charity with all men. We love all those who love or Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We regard as Christian brethren all who worship, love, and obey him as their God and Saviour; and we hope to be united in heaven with all who unite with us on earth in saying, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Rev. 1, 6.

Signed on behalf of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. of America.