Banner of Truth’s Puritan Classic Box Set

A Brief Initial Review

 

 

 

          Just released this month (November 2020), the Puritan Classics box set by Banner of Truth is a notable offering that stems out of the well-loved Puritan Paperback collection. Many pastors, like Steven Lawson and Kevin DeYoung, will be the first to tell you the influence these writings, and the collective offerings, have had on their lives. In this review, I’ll go through a quick overview of the presentation, content, and insight on the details of this setwhich may wind up being a compare and contrast between the hardbound and paperback editions, for good reasons that you’ll quickly understand.

          Let’s dive into the initial appearance out of the gate:

Presentation

          This is a 10-lb. box of blue goodness. Coming in at roughly 10″ x 8″ x 5.5″, this is a nice size set for any bookcase, shelf, nook or cranny that you might have. While these are certainly on the compact size of many theology-related book sets you’re likely to have, I think this bodes well for those looking to have a premier set of a sizeable “core” of the shorter Puritan writings Banner offers.

 

 

It is very worthwhile to compare the Puritan Paperbacks, physically, to these Puritan Classics. As you can see, these hardbound editions are are very similar in size to their paperback counterparts. I think this makes them attractive for those who appreciate the Puritan Paperback collection in their offering of compact editions, and simultaneously keeps them as a substitute, or alternative, to the paperbacks when it comes to the selected writings included in this new set.

 

 

You will certainly not be giving up a significantly larger amount of shelf space with these editions, compared to their paperback counterparts. The page dimensions themselves are nearly identicalthe hardbound pages being only a millimeter or two longer than the paperback’s; the only difference in width of the two presentation is, ultimately, the thickness of the bindings and covers.

 

 

I’ll get into the text differences momentarily, but the thicknessesoutside of, again, bindings and coversis related to material and format. I’m not certain of the papers’ gsm difference (paper thickness is measured as a by-product of weight in ‘grams per square meter’), but the new hardbound editions use a thinner paper stock, slightly larger margins, and smaller font (which I’ll get to). The effects are, in Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’ a 273-page hardbound edition vs. a 228-page paperback edition.

Content

          Inside the covers, we see even more similarities between the editions, which cements that this Puritan Classics set is, indeed, intended to be an ‘upgrade’ offering to the paperbacks in more than just substance. In keeping so closely with the form of the predecessor set, it doesn’t have any intention to outgrow the originals by much at all, both in size and content.

 

 

Taking font size out of the equation, the hardbound and paperback editions (of single works, that isnot in regards to the 5  volumes that include multiple works) are only several pages away from being identical. The new editions include a small bio offering opposite of the title page, but both contain the full biographical information sections just the same. The paperbacks also appear to have advertising info at the end of the book that these hardbound editions forego.

 

 

In regards to font, the Puritan Classics are typeset in a 10/13 split of Minion Pro font, whereas the Paperbacks employ 11/15 Sabon Oldstyle. With the aforementioned slight margin differences, this explains in totus the longer page count on the new offerings.

          By nature of the fonts, the Paperbacks have a more antique printing lookwhich I’ve come to love as a by-product of the many works sets and photolithograph editions of old works from the Puritans through Old Princeton theology writings that continue to be offered or exist in earlier form.

          The Classics set still retains a traditional font style, but is more modern in the crispness and consistency of the printing itself, lending to a much finer look on higher quality paper. As a result of the narrower, higher clarity font, the line spacing is increased as well. So, words per page is ultimately decreased, while maintaining a high ease of readability. The Paperbacks seem to angle for compactness and classic look, while the new Classics sacrifice both only minimally for a pleasurable page view.

 

          A single gold ribbon is the cherry on top, a simply yet appropriate addition to an already attractive royal blue, cloth-bound presentation.

 

 

Insight

          Now that we’ve gone through the physical and visual aspects, the last course of action is to run through thoughts on the broader substance of the collective writings themselves.

          The Puritan Paperbacks Series is made up of an ever-expanding 57-volumes, the most recent being Brook’s An Ark for All God’s Noahs and Traill’s Select Practical Writings. This Puritan Classics set takes 15 of those particularly renowned writings and puts them in a 10-volume offering. The selections are:

    • The Art of Prophesying — William Perkins
    • The Bruised Reed — Richard Sibbes
    • The Letters of Samuel Rutherford — Samuel Rutherford
    • The Loveliness of Christ — Samuel Rutherford
    • A Lifting Up for the Downcast — William Bridge
    • The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment — Jeremiah Burroughs
    • Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices — Thomas Brooks
    • The Reformed Pastor — Richard Baxter
    • The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil — Thomas Watson
    • The Doctrine of Repentance — Thomas Watson
    • All Things For Good — Thomas Watson
    • The Mystery of Providence — John Flavel
    • Facing Grief — John Flavel
    • A Sure Guide to Heaven — Joseph Alleine
    • Prayer — John Bunyan

 

          The listed selections truly are a ‘core’ of the shorter Puritan writings that Banner of Truth has produced, if not simply of Puritan writings across the board. Between providence, prayer, prophesy, repentance, grief, and many other theological and practical topics, the diversity and blend within this box set appears to be near ideal. While other titles could certainly merit argument to have been included in the collection, I really can’t imagine many having qualms with the selections included.

          A nice, albeit minor, addition to the set is the 32-page introduction booklet by the venerable Sinclair Ferguson. While there are tons of reviews/commentary surely to be out there on the individual works themselves, this brief booklet gives slight biographical information alongside explanatory notes on why the particular selection is included in the set. A small add-on, but certainly not insignificant to the set for the appreciative reader.

 

Conclusion

          It seems to me that this box set, if offered for any significant duration, will wind up being a Banner Classic offering itself. Excellent titles with exceptional variety in a well constructed and presented offering. Even though I have a fair number of these titles in my Banner works sets (if not in Puritan Paperback form), I am excited to enjoy reading in the more compact, easily manageable form of these Classics.

          If you’re looking, or even considering, grabbing this new Puritan Classics box set, the time is now. As Banner of Truth often does, this newly released set is currently discounted for a limited time (through year end, Dec. 31, 2020, from Banner direct, at least). To learn more or purchase, below are links to sellers that I personally recommend, along with their current prices:

          Simply ordering this box set alone, you can go with the cheapest offering, but also take a look at the other specials some of these sellers currently have going on. Banner is in the middle of a large sale, some titles and sets that cannot be had elsewhere for nearly the same price, so you may want to take advantage of it while you’re at it!

          For those who already know they’ll love this Puritan Classics box set and don’t have John Owen’s 16-volume set or many of his Puritan Paperback offerings, you may want to consider the sister set to Classic set Treasures of John Owen Box Set , released concurrently in as a green counterpart. Owen’s long list of offerings made it, acceptably, necessary to branch out his collection separately (and I don’t blame them). It also is on newly released discounted pricing for a limited time.

 

     When Churches (and Denominations) ‘Down Grade’

by Jared Payne

 

 

     We live in crazy times.

     Well, it is 2020 ; so I don’t suppose you need me to tell you that. And the topic at hand is of no real surprise. It has been discussed before and will be discussed again, but nevertheless it is worth our attention. I don’t seek to at all be comprehensive in my assessment, but it will be quite direct in application: So what is a ‘down grade’ anyway?

     The great C.H. Spurgeon notoriously used the term ‘down grade’ in 1887 to describe and detail the doctrinal drift and failings of evangelicals of the day. In truth, his analysis roots itself in the nonconformist history regarding the Church of England, after the 1662 Act of Uniformity. Not far beyond the height of the ‘Reformation’, the “protestant” church evolving out of the Catholic, the many individuals ejected and separated from the Church of England were forced to do so on their reforming basis — that is, they could not continue entertaining the popish traditions still being forced down the throats of pastors and congregations, exalting tradition over scripture ; common prayers and approved worship being legally required of these individual churches. These men ultimately stood, in peril of imprisonment or worse, to uphold their doctrinal convictions that were founded on sola scriptura. Within several generations, many were experiencing a certain drift, if not absolute loss, of this biblical, spiritual zeal for the word of God. Spurgeon describes it in part:

 

“In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation. Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless.” ¹

 

    If it, in large part, sounds eerily like the days in which we live, you aren’t alone in that assessment. These days we either seem to hear (all to often) a version of Christ which is separated so greatly from scripture that it becomes a fanciful creation, or we hear no Christ at all. We may be offered God the Son in fragments, but totally estranged from the Father and Holy Ghost. The variations and flavors are nearly endless in this day in age, rampant with social media and technological dissemination of ‘information’; but while the means are different, the effects on the people often isn’t at all. Spurgeon continues:

 

“[Those compromising doctrine] displayed, not only less zeal for the salvation of sinners, and, in many cases, less purity or strictness of life, but they adopted a different strain in preaching, dwelt more on general principles of religion, and less on the vital truths of the gospel. Ruin by sin, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and redemption by the blood of Christ–truths on the preaching of which God has always set the seal of his approbation–were conspicuous chiefly by their absence. In fact, the “wine on the lees well refined” was so mixed with the muddy water of human speculation, that it was no longer wine at all.” ¹

 

     If such descriptions didn’t ring a bell before, it ought to now. In our modern age, we are seeing even more liberalism seep into the Church at large. The same and more of which the likes of J. Gresham Machen and others fought so sternly against in the early 20th century as they watched the incredible days of Princeton Theology Seminary fall to the wayside. Such struggles have never truly ceased to exist. The Protestant church has always been in battle, when not lulled into a pacified state of prosperous times, over the degradation of Christian truths. Why is it so difficult to maintain orthodox, doctrinal truth that resists and detests gross error? To that we’ll turn to the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and his commentary appearing in the mid-20th century:

 

“There is always a process of change and of development, and unfortunately, as is true of nature, the process is generally one of degeneration. This, of course, is one of the main results of sin and of the fall. Sin has brought an element of degeneration into the life of man, and as a result of that, into the life of creation; so that even in the church herself there will be this tendency. In the New Testament you already see heresy, false teaching arising, subtle changes taking place with regard to what the Christian truth really is. The apostle Paul, in his great address in Acts 20, warns them of how, from among themselves, men will arise and teach false doctrines. Wolves, as it were, will come in and do harm to the flock of God. And this has continued ever since in the history of the church.

I shall never forget reading nearly forty years ago the opening sentence in a book on the subject of Protestantism. The first sentence reads thus: ‘Every institution tends to produce its opposite.’ That was the author’s opening sentence in a book on Protestantism, and the thesis of the book, of course, was to point out–and he was able to do it very simply–that the position of most of the Protestant churches today is almost the exact opposite of their position when they originally came into being….

…I could easily demonstrate this in the history of every denomination that is known to me personally, and of denominations and religious bodies in various other countries. This is a principle which we have got to recognize. It is no use assuming that because a thing started correctly it is going to continue to be correct. There is a process at work, because of sin and evil, which tends to produce not only change but even degeneration.” ²

 

     Nearly a century apart, we see that Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones do not speak of alternative realities within the church, but very much the same degrading taking place. It is always a conflict in which we have been a member of, and one we ought not to expect to be free from this side of Heaven. But while we are here, as stewards of Christ’s body, His Bride, we are called to defend it unceasingly. The truths of the gospel and our beloved scripture is far too important to let society, or worse, dictate.

     We know our Lord is sovereign and mighty; of that we should never be unsure. But we must remember that we are called to be tender to God’s word and His revelation–if there were ever a thing to be offended at, in a modern culture of perpetual offense-taking, for Christians it ought to be the perverting of holy truths and the gospel, the only good news with the power unto salvation of a lost and dying world.

     Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. It is all a blessing that we may be obliged to do in the name of our Savior. As Spurgeon adds, “Something will come of the struggle over The Down-Grade. The Lord has designs in connection therewith which his adversaries little dream of. Meanwhile, it behoves all who love the Lord Jesus and his gospel to keep close together, and make common against deadly error. There are thousands who are of one mind in the Lord ; let them break through all the separating lines of sect, and show their unity in Christ, both by prayer and action. Especially do we beg for the fervent prayers of all the faithful in Christ Jesus.”*

 

     Semper reformanda.

“Always reform! The church is always to be under the word; she must be; we must keep her there.” ²

 

 

 

 

¹   The Down Grade, The Sword and the Trowel, March 1887 (The “Down Grade” Controversy, Pilgrim Publications, 2009)

²   What is an Evangelical?, D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth, 2016 (various addresses compiled 1942-1977)

*   Preface to The Sword and the Trowel, March 1887 (The “Down Grade” Controversy, Pilgrim Publications, 2009)

 

 

John 5:2-9 NASB
[2] Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.
[3] In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;
[4] for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
[5] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
[6] When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
[7] The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
[8] Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”
[9] Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.

While we’re told little of the details about the healing waters of the Bethesda pool, we know that ‘at certain seasons’ God was healing His people here. When Jesus approaches, our attention is drawn to this afflicted man simply laying by the pool, no doubt in hopes of attending the ‘troubling of the water’, as the King James phrases, when an angel of the Lord would heal and make whole him that immediately entered in.

This poor man has been afflicted for the better part of 4 decades–since certainly before Christ’s birth–and is surely a pitiful sight to behold. The Lord knows, but inquires the man’s condition. As Matthew Poole comments:

“As man, [Christ] pitieth his case; he asketh him if he was willing to be made whole. Not that [Christ] doubted of his willingness; for what sick man was ever unwilling to be healed? besides that, he knew that the poor man lay there for that very purpose; but that he might make him declare his miserable, helpless state and condition, and draw out his faith and hope in himself…” *

The lame man, who appears to not know to whom he speaks, tells Christ that he has no one to help him, no one to get his person into the healing waters in time; what despair and utter sadness must this man have felt for so long!

My friends, this is all of us.

Does not the Christ who saves, and He alone, draw us up from our lame, downtrodden state as surely as He did this crippled man?

O how we dread our low condition, and the consequences of such, all the while failing to look outside of ourselves, our peers, this fleshly world–and to cry out for Him who alone can make us whole!

For so long this man has suffered–Charles Spurgeon asks, “What a long time to be afflicted, thirty and eight years! Have we not with us at this time some who have been afflicted with the soul-sickness of sin more than thirty and eight years?”**

Some of us, by the grace of God alone, have been healed of our infirmity–when once we were lost and dying in our unrighteousness; we now bring our alms of praise and worship to the feet of the cross, where our dear Saviour died for us; that we might finally be able to present ourselves blameless in front of the most holy Father!

Spurgeon continues:

“The Great Physician fixed his eye on him, for his was an extraordinary case…

[But] note that it does not say, “When the man saw Jesus,” but “when Jesus saw him.” He did not know Jesus; possibly he had not even heard of his healing power and compassionate love. He was not seeking Jesus; but Jesus was seeking him. It was so with many of us; and therefore we sing —

“Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed his precious blood.”**

It is the merciful hand of God that lifts us from our ruin, as we are utterly depraved and perverted from the undefiled image of God–in ‘knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness’ (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). As our Lord made aware with this man at Bethesda, we must recognize and acknowledge our condition for what it truly is; this ought to lead us to nothing but a pleading cry!

And if it is mercy we seek, in the Almighty alone such mercy can and is to be found.

“Come then, O sinner, look to Jesus Christ, the second Adam; quit the first Adam and his covenant; come over to the Mediator and Surety of the new and better covenant; and let your hearts say, ‘Be thou our ruler, and let this breach be under thy hand’ (Lam. 3:49).”

[Thomas Boston]***

Father,
We come humbly to you in gratitude, not deserving our portion, but ever owing praise and glory to Your name. May you search our hearts and expose our iniquities; give us joy and gladness in the true riches that are found in our assurance through Christ Jesus. Mold us and make us to be like none other; may this ever be our hope and our plea.
    Amen.

    References:
                          * Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, John V
                          ** Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible, John 5
                          *** Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State, Chapter 1

 

Luke 4:1-13 NASB
[1] Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness

[2] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.

[3] And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

[4] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.'”

[5] And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

[6] And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.

[7] Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

[8] Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”

[9] And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here;

[10] for it is written, ‘He WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,’

[11] and, ‘On their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'”

[12] And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”

[13] When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.


During times of temptation and suffering it’s helpful to remember the responses of Christ to the devil in Luke 4:

1) Man shall not live on bread alone
2) You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only
3) You shall not put the Lord your God to the test

Thoughts on each:

1) Food and water may fill a man’s stomach, but it is much more important what fills a man’s soul. Death through sin has been imputed on us all because of what dwells in our natural hearts.

2) Is what we do during these times glorifying to God or is it worshipping something else? Money, influence, earthly gratification & pleasure—none are worthy of replacing what we find in Him.

3) God created you and has provided you with everything you have. You are not your own. Don’t insist on God owing you an outcome—we’ve been given far more than we deserve. Instead, seek to do His will.


Father,

May we seek you and worship you alone in these days. May our hearts be intently set on Your will and Your word. Instill in us that which we lack to more fully glorify your name unto the world around us.

All glory, honor, and praise belong to You—the Almighty Creator and Cultivator of our hearts.

Amen.

“When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord! That I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
Crucifixion to the World, by the Cross of Christ. Gal. vi. 14.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1707
1940 Broadman Hymnal variation

For more information & history on this hymn and its history, click here.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion by the modern liberal that reading the Bible “a certain way”, e.g. to justify women not being in the pulpit, is the same justification for encouraging slavery. Any halfway responsible reader of the text doesn’t come to that conclusion.

We know Paul said in 1 Cor 7:21-23, “Were you called while a slave? Don’t let it concern you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of people.” So we are slaves to sin and this world or a slave to Christ, regardless of our earthly freedom.

He adds another dimension in Romans 6:20-22, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification-and the outcome is eternal life!”

But let’s also look at 1 Peter 2:18-20, “Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. …For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

We see such elements in the comprehensive view of Scripture:

1) Do your best in all that you do, for glorifying God in your abilities; this goes to ever facet of life. It worships God to joyfully do the best you can, no matter your situation.

2) If you’re bound in this world, you will find freedom in Christ; likewise, if you’re free in this world, you’ll find servitude in Christ. He fulfills our need in just the right ways; it may break us down or lift us up, but it is our sanctification and it is God’s glorification.

3) Suffering and enduring grief is to our benefit. When just it is our chastisement; but when unjust the Father attends, blesses, and cherishes these trials that glorify Him. To be like Christ, after all, if we read the Scriptures, would be utterly devoid of truth w/o suffering.

4) Plain and simple, we will all be slaves to something in this world – – we best flee from eternal wrath, and quit putting our emphasis on physical over spiritual well-being. The above passages, telling the Christian how to handle their situations, nor the verses telling master’s how to treat their slaves, encourage the Christian to partake in slavery. How many other facets of life (affliction, sickness, loss, et al) did Christ insist we turn to him from? If we focus on the carnal, whether in real life or in Scripture interpretation, I’m convinced we will undershoot the Heavens and wind up desperately far from our target.

To live is Christ & to die is gain. God is not unaware of your current situation, nor was He with any before us. Find comfort in His sovereign hand; Find joy in Him where the world wants you to wallow in sadness.

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” – Augustine of Hippo

“There are times when we suffer innocently at other people’s hands. When that occurs, we are victims of injustice. But that injustice happens on a horizontal plane. No one ever suffers injustice on the vertical plane. That is, no one ever suffers unjustly in terms of his or her relationship with God. As long as we bear the guilt of sin, we cannot protest that God is unjust in allowing us to suffer.” – R.C. Sproul

{Originally written on April 9, 2020}

“Why does evil exist?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Both, along with many similar questions, are oft received inquiries in the matters of Christianity & religion at-large. While many may have settled on solid answers to these questions (more regularly accusations), they appear time and time again. Truly a stumbling block for many, the knowledgeable responses to them can never be too firmly founded.

Charles Hodge included the topic in his “Systematic Theology” by 1873, to which I find his expositional commentary quite affordable:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“How can the existence of evil, physical and moral, be reconciled with the benevolence and holiness of a God infinite in his wisdom and power?

This is the question which has exercised the reason and tried the faith of men in all ages of the world. Such is the distance between God and man, such the feebleness of our powers, and such the limited range of our vision, it might seem reasonable to leave this question to be answered by God himself. If a child cannot rationally sit in judgment of the conduct of his parents, nor a peasant comprehend the affairs of an empire, we certainly are not competent to call God to account, or to ask of Him the reason of his ways. We might rest satisfied with the assurance that the Judge of all the earth must do right. These considerations, however, have not availed to prevent speculation on this subject. The existence of evil is constantly brought forward by sceptics as an argument against religion; and it is constantly in the minds of believers as a difficulty and a doubt. While it is our duty to obey the injunction, “Be still and know that I am God,” it is no less our duty to protest against those solutions of this great problem which either destroy the nature of sin or the nature of God…

The [scriptural] method of dealing with this question is to rest satisfied with the simple statements of the Bible. The Scriptures teach,

(1.) That the glory of God is the end to which the promotion of holiness, and the production of happiness, and all other ends are subordinate.

(2.) That, therefore, the self-manifestation of God, the revelation of his infinite perfection, being the highest conceivable, or possible good, is the ultimate end of all his works in creation, providence, and redemption.

(3.) As sentient creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God’s benevolence, so there could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and justice, if there were no sin.

As the heavens declare the glory of God, so He has devised the plan of redemption, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” (Eph. iii. 10.) The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is for creatures the highest good. And the promotion of that knowledge, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of the infinite God, is the highest end of all his works. This is declared by the Apostle to be the end contemplated, both in the punishment of sinners and in the salvation of believers. It is an end to which, he says, no man can rationally object. “What if God, willing to shew his wrath (or justice), and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” (Rom. ix. 22, 23) Sin, therefore, according to Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace its forgiveness. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun.

The glory of God being the great end of all things, we are not obliged to assume that this is the best possible world for the production of happiness, or even for securing the greatest degree of holiness among rational creatures. It is wisely adapted for the end for which it was designed, namely, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of God. That God, in revealing Himself, does promote the highest good of his creatures, consistent with the promotion of his own glory, may be admitted. But to reverse this order, to make the good of the creature the highest end, is to pervert and subvert the whole scheme; it is to put the means for the end, to subordinate God to the universe, the Infinite to the finite. This putting the creature in the place of the Creator, disturbs our moral and religious sentiments and convictions, as well as our intellectual apprehensions of God, and of his relation to the universe.

The older theologians almost unanimously make the glory of God the ultimate, and the good of the creature the subordinate end of all things. [German theologian, August] Twesten, indeed, says [in “Dogmatik, vol. ii. p.89.] it makes no difference whether we say God proposes his own glory as the ultimate end, and, for that purpose, determined to produce the highest degree of good; or that He purposed the highest good of his creatures, whence the manifestation of his glory flows as a consequence. It, however, makes all the difference in the world, whether the Creator be subordinate to the creature, or the creature to the Creator; whether the end be the means, or the means be the end. There is a great difference whether the earth or the sun be assumed as the centre of our solar system. If we make the earth the centre, our astronomy will be in confusion. And if we make the creature, and not God, the end of all things, our theology and religion, will in like manner be perverted. It may, in conclusion, be safely asserted that a universe constructed for the purpose of making God known, is a far better universe than one designed for the production of happiness.”
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Hodge does preface this final systematic explanation with other conceptual figments, such as sin being considered the necessary means to display and achieve the greatest good (espoused by theologians like Samuel Hopkins and Nathanael Emmons), but settles on a very structured approach, seeking not to rationally limit the infinite God or make happiness the end of creation.

I hope that you, too, find comfort in the sovereignty of God; that He does not merely use comfort, joy, and pleasure (for us) as an end to our being, but that He, alternatively, finds the most pleasure, the most good, and ultimately the most glory, in making Himself known to His children above all. It is fitting that, in order to contrast the righteous, glorious God of the universe, making his goodness & greatness more superlative than comparative must be done with the complementary likes of misery and ruin (simply put, sin). In the vein of what C.S. Lewis famously said in “Mere Christianity”:

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

{Originally written on February 24, 2020}

When J. Gresham Machen had little choice but to leave the liberalizing Princeton Theological Seminary, he and some other professors started the Westminster Theological School in Philadelphia, with the first graduating class in 1929.

What he battled nearly a century ago, we’re seeing a social movement towards some of the same, even within some of our seminaries and definitely among many of our churches (that aren’t already there). Here’s what he said about it:

“The answer is plain. Our new institution is devoted to an unpopular cause; it is devoted to the service of One who is despised and rejected by the world and increasingly belittled by the visible church, the majestic Lord and Savior who is presented to us in the Word of God. From Him men are turning away one by one. His sayings are too hard, His deeds of power too strange, His atoning death too great an offense to human pride. But to Him, despite all, we hold. No Christ of our own imaginings can ever take His place for us, no mystic Christ whom we seek merely in the hidden depths of our own souls. From all such we turn away ever anew to the blessed written Word and say to the Christ there set forth, the Christ with whom then we have living communion: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

“Liberalism was (and is) attractive. It appeared friendly because it refused narrowness. It brought compelling breadth to combat ostensibly unfriendly and bigoted Christian theology. It brought desirable warmth to combat allegedly cold Christian dogma. It offered a plausible platform, complete with a universalist parachute to provide a soft spiritual landing for all men everywhere.” – Rev. David B. Garner

{Originally written on February 22,2020}

J.I. Packer writes this in the foreword to his 1973 book, “Knowing God”:
“…Ignorance both of [God’s] ways and of the practice of communion with him…lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.”

 

TREND #1 –

 

“Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God. The modern way with God is to set him at a distance, if not to deny him altogether; and the irony is that modern Christians, preoccupied with maintaining religious practices in an irreligious world, have themselves allowed God to become remote. Clear-sighted persons, seeing this, are tempted to withdraw from the churches in something like disgust to pursue a quest for God on their own. Nor can one wholly blame them, for churchmen who look at God, so to speak, through the wrong end of telescope, so reducing him to pigmy proportions, cannot hope to end up as more than pigmy Christians, and clear-sighted people naturally want something better than this. Furthermore, thoughts of death, eternity, judgment, the greatness of the soul, and the abiding consequences of temporal decisions are all ‘out’ for moderns, and it is a melancholy fact that Christian church, instead of raising its voice to remind the world of what is being forgotten, has formed a habit of playing down these themes in just the same way. But these capitulations to the modern spirit are really suicidal so far as Christian life is concerned.”

 

TREND #2 –

 

“Christian minds have been confused by the modern scepticism. For more than three centuries the naturalistic leaven in the Renaissance outlook has been working like a cancer in Western thought. Seventeenth-century Arminians and Deists, like sixteenth-century Socinians, came to deny, as against Reformation theology, that God’s control of his world was either direct or complete, and theology, philosophy and science have for the most part combined to maintain that denial ever since. As a result, the Bible has come under heavy fire, and many landmarks in historical Christianity with it. The foundation-facts of faith are called in question. Did God meet Israel at Sinai? Was Jesus more than a spiritual man? Did the gospel miracles really happen? Is not the Jesus of the gospels largely an imaginary figure? – and so on. Nor is this all. Scepticism about both divine revelation and Christian origins has bred a wider scepticism which abandons all idea of a unity of truth, and with it any hope of unified human knowledge; so that is is now commonly assumed that my religious apprehensions have nothing to do with my scientific knowledge of things external to myself, since God is not ‘out there’ in the world, but only ‘down here’ in the psyche. The uncertainty and confusion about God which marks our day is worse than anything since Gnostic theosophy tried to swallow Christianity in the second century.”

 

“Ninety years ago C.H. Spurgeon described the wobblings he then saw among the Baptists on Scripture, atonement and human destiny as ‘the down-grade’; could he survey Protestant thinking about God at the present time, I guess he would speak of ‘the nose-dive’!”

[J.I. Packer, “Knowing God”, Foreword, p6-7, (1973)]

{Originally written on February 11, 2020}