An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

British Calvinists: John Forbes (1593-16448)

John Forbes (1593-1648) of Corse attended the universities of Aberdeen and Heidelberg. He was ordained by his father in Aberdeen. He became the first synod professor of divinity at King's College, Aberdeen in 1620. He died at Corse Castle (left).

Some of his writings are available here:

Monday, 21 April 2014

British Calvinists: John Preston (1587-1628)

John Preston (1587-1628) was born in Northamptonshire. He obtained a BA from King's College, Cambridge and then MA in 1611 from Queens' College, Cambridge. He was converted under the preaching of John Cotton. He then became ordained around 1611. Jonathan Moore describes him as "perhaps the most influential and esteemed leader of the godly in both church and state." 

He obtained his BD in 1620 and held numerous high level posts including dean of Queens',chaplain to Prince Charles and master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He attended the York House Conference in 1926 set up to bring a rapprochement between Arminians and Calvinists. 

Preston adopted a form of hypothetical universalism some time after 1615. He was a moderate and non-separating Calvinist, though he did much to help foster the growth of Puritanism during his time as master of Emmanuel.

Some of Preston's works are available here:

Saturday, 19 April 2014

British Calvinists: John Cotton (1585-1652)

John Cotton (1585-1652) was born in Derby. He received his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1603 and an MA from Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1606. At Cambridge he was influenced by William Perkins. He was ordained in 1610 and became the rector at St Botolph's in Boston, Lincs. He was anti-Catholic and pro-Puritan. He became increasingly concerned with the Established Church and he favoured presbyters over bishops. He attempted to follow Anglican practices while at St Botolph's but his conscience and convictions eventually prevented him from doing so.

When Charles I came to the throne in 1625 the Anglican church became more hostile to the Puritans. Archbishop Laud was ruthless in his attempts to put down puritan tendencies in the Established church. During this time many left England for the New World. Cotton was summoned to appear before laud, this was the catalyst that led Cotton in to hiding and eventually to  New England in September 1633.

He is reputed to have said "I have read the fathers, and the schoolmen and Calvin too, but I find that he that has Calvin has them all."

Some of his works are available here:

Thursday, 17 April 2014

British Calvinists: John Ball (1585-1640)

John Ball (1585-1640) born in Oxfordshire, he graduated from St Mary's Hall, Oxford in 1607/08. He was for a while a tutor in the home of Lady Cholmondeley where he became introduced to puritanism. He was ordained by an Irish Bishop and became curate at Whitemore, Staffordshire. he remained there for the rest of his life. 

He was an opponent of episcopal government and was imprisoned twice for his views. He also attacked the separatists. For him the Church of England was flawed but basically sound. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Skillen's The Good of Politics - a Review

The Good of Politics
A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction
James W. Skillen
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.
ISBN 978-0-8010-4881-4
Pbk, xxi + 214pp, £13.89

It's often said that religion and politics don't mix. It's also said that politics and religion should be avoided in polite conversation. In an interview for Vanity Fair magazine Tony Blair was asked about his Christian faith, Alistair Campbell, Blair's former communications Chief (aka spin doctor), immediately interrupted and said "I'm sorry, we don't do God".

Contrast this with a scene in the film Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce when considering giving up his political career for one in religion was visited by members of the Clapham Sect and Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson says to Wilberforce ‘We understand you are wondering whether to pursue politics or religion’. Hannah More responds: ‘We humbly suggest you can do both’.

That is the reformational response. We can serve God and do politics – in fact we can serve God in doing politics. Religion and politics do mix! In part this is why Skillen has written this excellent book, the title of which may seem to some Christians to be outrageous - how can politics be good?  

His main aim is to show the creational role of politics and thus politics can be good. The current Christian consensus is that politics is a necessary evil. Skillen exposes this misunderstanding and ably shows the creational role of politics.

This misunderstanding has been prevalent since Augustine. Augustine suggested that institutions of government are unnatural and are permitted by God only in response to sin as both a punishment and a remedy for our sinful condition. If this is the case, as Skillen points out, then natural law cannot provide a basis for unnatural institutions. This Augustinian-perpetuated error stems from not having a strong enough view of creation. God created humans for political life and thus it can be good and it is ‘not a neutral terrain’ (p. 118).

Skillen shows the deficiency of the Augustinian perspective in the first two sections - biblical and historical. In the third and final section he looks at what Christian political involvement might look like. Here he surveys important topics such a economics, the environment, education, family and citizenship as vocation.

This is an important book, it should be read widely - and not just by Christians who have an interest in politics - but by every Christian who is touched by politics. 

For my interview with Jim Skillen see here
The book is available in the States from Byron Borger's Heart and Minds Bookstore

David Gay: Septimus Sears A Victorian Injustice - a review

Septimus Sears
A Victorian Injustice and its Aftermath
David H. J. Gay
Biggleswade: Bracchus, 2010, pbk, 70pp, £2.75
ISBN 9780956023827

The content of this book was originally presented as a paper to the annual meeting of Strict Baptist Historical Society in 2009. It still bears the marks of a conversational lecture format and at times this does grate - but fortunately, content triumphs over style.

This book provides a brief introduction to the little-known Septimus Sears (1819-1877) - I would have like more biographical information - but the main topic is the debate between him and John Gadsby, the editor of the Gospel Standard (1870 - 1877) over the nature of the free offer of the Gospel.

Sears moved from a hyper-Calvinist position to a free-offer of the gospel position, however Gay feels he didn’t move far enough. Gay maintains that Sears held to an “incipient hyper-Calvinism”.

Gay examines three main primary sources: Sears’ 1841 letter to J C Philpott, his Memoirs and his preaching. Sears originally agreed with Philpott that although the first-century apostles preach and invited sinners we shouldn’t: we have no basis for copying the biblical examples. Sears somewhere between 1841 and 1865 changed his mind and thought that we should. 

In his memoirs Sears advocates warning sinners, inviting seekers and exhorting saints. Yet Gay’s examination of Sears’ preaching post 1865 shows that Sears told his hearers of the gospel invitation but offered no invite. It was more you are invited rather than I invite you to respond to the gospel. Despite this Sears was repeatedly taken to task by John Gadsby in the pages of the Gospel Standard for supposedly being too free in the way he addressed sinners. 

The issue seems to focus around the question of whether we should copy the apostles in the way they presented the gospel to sinners. In an Appendix Gay suggests that the first person to suggest that we shouldn’t wasn’t a Puritan but rather Revd Robert Hawker (1735-1823) of Plymouth in his The True Gospel: No Yea and Nay Gospel (1818), this idea was taken up and developed by J. C. Philpott. 

In this short book Gay has packed a lot of research. This not an issue that has gone away the debate still continues, many of the arguments are the same though the arguers have changed. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

British Calvinists: James Ussher (1581-1656)

James Ussher (1581-1656) was a scholar, a politician and a Church of Ireland bishop. He was born in Dublin and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. He became a professor of theology at Trinity College until 1617. He was ordained in 1601.

He was strongly anti-Catholic, one of of his works was An answer to a challenge made by a Jesuit in Ireland (1624). In his A discourse of the religion anciently professed by the Irish and British (1631) he made that the Church of Ireland was the rightful heir of St Patrick. 

He opposed the imposition of the 39 Articles upon the Church of Ireland and argued that the terms Puritan and Reformed were synonymous. 

From 1625-1656 he was the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. His work on chronology concluded that the earth was created in 4004 BC.

Oliver Cromwell ensured that Ussher's funeral was paid for by the state and held in Westminster Abbey.

Several of Ussher's works are available here:

Monday, 14 April 2014

British Calvinists: William Gouge (1578-1653)

William Gouge (1578-1653) was one of the "Westminster divines". Born in Stratford-le-Bow, Middlesex, he graduated from King's College, Cambridge with a BA in 1598 and an MA in 1601.  He was the nephew of Laurence Chadderton and William Whitaker. He was a fellow and lecturer at Cambridge in logic before he moved to St Anne's, Blackfriars when he was ordained in 1608.

He was a regular attender at the Westminster Assembly and was chair in 1644 of the Westminster Confession draft committee. Two of his key works were The Whole Armour of God (1615) and Of Domesticall Duties (1622). The latter was a rejection of the view, popular at the time, that husbands should beat their wives - but still stressed female subjection of wives.  

Some of Gouge's works are available here: