From “A Golden Mine Opened.”
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The editors of the confession intentionally avoided addressing open and closed communion in order to allow more churches to be able to subscribe to the confession. The majority of its subscribers were advocates of closed communion, but there had been a strand of open-communion going as far back as Henry Jessey and others among the original Particular Baptists of the 1640′s. To accommodate those, and especially Bunyan, the confession is silent here.
By church-communion is meant “official church membership.”
They explain their rationale below.
Confessions do not exhaustively represent everything that a given church or association holds to be true. For that reason, a line has to be drawn somewhere by which some things are confessed and others not. Unity should be striven for, but never at the cost of truth. In this case the editors extended an olive branch to their open-communion brothers, and exhorted paedobaptists to do the same to them. Remember that through government power (whether controlled by Presbyterians, Independents, or Charles II), the Baptists were persecuted for their view on baptism. Because infant baptism, or christening, was a means of social and political enrollment and enforcement, failure to participate in this process was viewed as a breach of loyalty to the country. You were supposed to be registered in a given parish and required to attend the church of England within that parish. The Baptists did not submit to infant baptism, and they excommunicated their members who left for the church of England. This adds a certain character to their plea for tolerance beyond that of “let’s all get along.”
This is found at the end of the Appendix on baptism.
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Were the Reformers naively overtaken by the philosophy of their day? Did they intentionally or unintentionally rubber stamp Aristotle, Aquinas, Ramus and others? Or did they carefully consider and judiciously sift the thought of their contemporaries and those who came before them? Here, Beza tells us that much error crept in to the theology of the church Fathers through too high a view of philosophy, including that of Plato and Aristotle. These errors, combined with an allegorical hermeneutic, did much damage through the works of Origen.
How should a text be interpreted today? Beza identifies two kinds of interpretation, denouncing the first and approving the second.
Calvin made everyone afraid to write after him. That’s high praise!
So, no, the Reformers did not rubber stamp or naively follow the philosophy that came before them, nor were they allegorical, hasty, or simplistic exegetes of the Scriptures. Whether they were right or wrong in their conclusions about any given doctrine, they were, as the 17th century writers might say, men of parts who carefully and cautiously handled the Scriptures with the utmost of reverence and confidence.
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Howbeit, in that time, three evils did principally reign: first, that they that had been brought up in philosophy, did not remember that most grave and Apostolic sentence: Take you heed, lest any do spoil you through Philosophy. For besides that they had many vain speculations, as in the applying to the angels the imaginations of Plato, concerning the intelligences and spirits (the which error seems to have continued from the Apostles’ time, who condemn plainly the superstition about the angels) they did manifestly wrest(?) the word of God unto those lessons, that they had learned of the Philosophers. Hereof sprang the opinions, of the power and free will of man, which are altogether Aristotelicall, wherewith at this day the church of God is shaken, and had been trodden down long ago, had not Augustine (provoked by Pelagius) set himself against it: yet to passe many other things (which I would gladly to be covered as the faults of the fathers) he himself also sometimes bearing to high a sail, rushes upon the rocks of human philosophy. Yet there was another evil the worst of all, that like as with a deadly disease, all men’s minds were infected, with a marvelous desire to turn and transform all the Scriptures into allegories: in the invention whereof, every man thought every thing in this point to be lawful to himself. Origen surely seems to have given occasion to both those evils, of following the Philosophers, and also of the allegories: which was the most unpure writer (as I do take him) that ever did write upon the Scriptures.
There be two kinds of interpretations. The one is of that sort, which do not consider properly the thing itself, and what is spoken, but take in hand to declare, with what words any thing is spoken, changing only the phrases and the manner of speech. The which kind of interpretation, although it can scarcely, no not at all be rightly performed of him that understands not the thing it self, yet stands in the words.
The other kind is of them, which do declare the thing and matter itself with many words, and give the reasons. In the which kind of interpretation (in my judgment, and as I suppose in the judgment of all the learned, that have read his books) that noble John Calvin that man of blessed memory, and my father in Christ shall be found (so that no man may envy my saying) far to have passed and excelled all the writers both old and new.
Therefore, though I sometimes in certain places, not in any point of his doctrine (the which I have always marveled, to be most pure and sound in his writings, as in any other interpreter besides) but in the explication of certain places, do dissent from him: yet do I judge of his commentaries, that which Cicero did judge of Julius Caesar’s commentaries in a kind of writing far unlike (that is to say) that he made all men of any wit, afraid to write after him.
A careful examination and comparison of the Second London Baptist Confession (LCF) and the Westminster Confession (WCF) yields a variety of differences and nuances, some more obvious than others. One such difference is found in the second chapter, “Of God and of the Holy Trinity.” The London Confession is considerably more detailed and technical in its formulation of the doctrine of God (which is not to imply any lack of orthodoxy on the part of the WCF). This technicality is seen in the LCF’s use of “subsistence” instead of “person.” Compare the following:
Why the change? Or what’s the difference between Person and Subsistence? The short answer is that while there is no doctrinal difference, the term “subsistence” is more technical and carries less linguistic baggage. John Owen shows the agreement of the two terms:
Richard Muller provides the following definition for “subsistentia”: An individual instance of a given essence. [Subsistence has other meanings as well, in fact it is used in a different way in paragraph one to describe God's self-existence. His "subsistence is in and of himself" meaning that he derives his existence from himself. Or in another sense, his existence is not derived at all.]
Think about that for a moment. There is only one divine essence. Thus, three divine subsistences must all share one divine essence. How can one essence be distinguished into three subsistences but not divided? It is infinite. The essence of God is deity. The essence of man is humanity. Human nature is finite, thus no one else can subsist within my essence. I may share a common essence with humanity, but it is a divided, individual, and separated essence. A substance is an essence in existence, thus each human being is a different and separate substance sharing the common essence of humanity. But there is one divine essence and thus one divine substance, in which godhead the three persons of the trinity subsist.
This makes “subsistence” the perfect word for expressing the technical unity and trinity of God because it necessarily connects to a given essence, in this case the singular and unique essence of deity. “Person” carries with it the linguistic baggage of human personhood connected to human essence. Without proper definition, “person” can be easily misused. Trinitarian personhood is not human personhood. That being said, the WCF is in no way heterodox on the trinity. The term “person” is perfectly capable of carrying these theological distinctions. One must simply be careful. Consider the discussion of this anonymous writer. He begins by saying that the doctrine of the Trinity is practical to us because it helps us to know the one God that we love, worship, and serve.
Next he warns us of the need for precision because the Socinians (in their Racovian Catechism, see end of post) claimed that God was one person. Their fundamental flaw was to equate human personhood with divine personhood.
Persons are distinguished by personal relations and peculiar relative properties, as the LCF above made clear. Notice how in the midst of this he reminds the reader that “the divine nature is unchangeable and indivisible, and not multiplicable; therefore there is no proper action nor passion, as in nature, nor production of new being.” In other words, the eternal generation of the Son never “happened” because God is not bound by time, thus nothing can “happen” to him, i.e. no passion. He is pure being, no becoming. Thus the Son’s generation is eternal in the sense that it is atemporal. Were God bound by time, he would be changeable. Were the Son brought forth from the Father as we conceive of generation, then the nature of God would be both divisible, multiplicable, active, and passive in time (which it is not – he has no parts or passions).
Next he explains where we get the term “person” from and why we use it, acknowledging that there may be better ways to express the concepts. Once again he reminds the reader to separate ideas of human personhood from divine personhood. God is altogether other than we are.
In light of all of these careful nuances and important distinctions, we can safely conclude that while there is no doctrinal disagreement or difference between the two confessions, the LCF displays a careful desire for further technicality and precision and thus employs the term “subsistence” rather than person.
***A judicious and impartial reader pointed out to me that 2LCF 8.2 employs “person” while referring to Christ as the “Second Person” of the Holy Trinity. This is corroborative evidence of the fact that “subsistence” is a technical, not a doctrinal choice of language.***
John Norton on Passivity and Suffering
An vncomly sight indeed.
From Theodore Beza´s “A Confession of Faith.”
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Sins captive, grace abuser
Covenant breaker soules deceiver
Voyd of zeale filld with sin
Given up to die therein
To pretious truthes an enimie
Filld with pride and cruiltie
And fills larg tracts with fowle disgrace
Of truthes deare ones that hir imbrace
Till Antechrist shall ruind bee
Great combustions wee must see
With errors shall the world be led
But Christ his spouse himself will guide
From S. Shepard’s “The Times Displayed.”
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