Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721): 6 marks by which true theology may be distinguished from false theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

According to Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721), in his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae (Chapter 1, p. 13), true theology bears six marks by which it may be distinguished from false theology. Of course, many others could be added to this brief list, but, generally speaking, these are helpful to distinguish true from false theology. It is a mark of true theology when:

  1. It gives the greatest glory to God (Rom 11:26; 1 Cor. 1:30-31).

  2. It draws every holy and blessed good thing out of God as its source (1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:8, 10).

  3. It expounds the true reason of reconciliation with God through the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:19-24; 1 Cor. 2:2).

  4. It humbles sinful man, convicts him of his sin and misery, and compels him to the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9-10).

  5. It demonstrates the true reasons for sincere piety, filial obedience, and genuine gratitude (Rom. 12:1; Ps. 2:11; Tit. 2:11).

  6. It consoles those whose consciences are terrified by the divine law and whose souls are poor in spirit, through Christ the Mediator and the promises of the Gospel (Is. 40:1; 61:1-2; Matt. 5:3; Lk. 2:24).

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) on the means by which to pursue theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

In chapter 1 of his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae, Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) briefly comments on the means which one should in the pursuit of theology. He lists five (p. 11):

  1. The pious and painstaking reading, meditation, and comparison of Holy Scripture [in the sense of interpreting Scripture by Scripture] (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:15).

  2. Faithful and effective prayer (Js. 1:5; Ps. 119:18).

  3. Humble reverence and pious practice toward God (Ps. 111:10; Jn. 5:42, 44; 7:17).

  4. The legitimate use of the writings of ecclesiastics.

  5. The study of the oriental languages, true and solid philosophy, history, etc.

Although he doesn’t elaborate, it seems natural to me that by “the writings of ecclesiastics” he would not only include official church documents such as creeds, confessions, and synodical decrees, but also the books which have been deposited in the church by individual theologians throughout its history. By “oriental” languages, no doubt, Leydekker has in mind the biblical languages (including Greek, of course), not only those which we would refer to as “oriental,” such as Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.

Just a few comments on the first four of these points.

Firstly, as Leydekker points out a few pages before, the external principle (principium externum) of all our theology is Holy Scripture, and the internal principle (principium internum) is the grace of the Holy Spirit, “internally teaching, instructing, and certifying the divinity and true sense of Holy Scripture.”  Hence the preeminence he gives to Scripture here.

Secondly, regarding prayer, notice his citation of James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Students of theology should not depend on their unaided reason, but should constantly look to God in prayer to enlighten their minds as they study.

Thirdly, theology is not merely an intellectual (i.e. theoretical) exercise. Reformed Orthodox theologians emphasised the practical nature of theology, and Leydekker is no exception. He says a few pages earlier that “the whole of theology is practical, inasmuch as it refers, directs, and leads every divine truth perceived by the intellect to practice.” After all, the very name of this blog, taken from Petrus van Mastricht, points to this: theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ; that is, doctrine (theoretica) is a means to an end, namely living (practica) unto God through Christ.

Finally, regarding the legitimate use of tradition (i.e. reading the ecclesiastics), see these posts from Richard A. Muller and Carl Trueman.

Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church

Benedict Pictet

 

The Swiss Reformed theologian Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) discusses the unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church in his Theologia Christiana, Book XIII, Chapter III. Below is my own translation:

1. Among the attributes of the Church, the first is its unity. For since it is a sacred society comprehending all the elect, it is necessary to have some  unity by which all those elect may be connected with one another; and this unity consists in those bonds which unite the members with one another.

2. Now as the Church may be considered in reference to either its external or internal state, so the bonds are of two kinds: some are internal, and others external; additionally, some bonds are essential, and others accidental.

3. The internal bonds are: (1) the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit is the soul of the Church; by this unity of the Spirit two [or more] societies, which are animated by this same Spirit, constitute one body, even though they may be entirely unknown to one another. Thus we constitute the true body together with the churches in distant parts of the world. (2) The unity of faith (Eph. 4:4), that is, one doctrine of salvation set forth in the Gospel, which is embraced by faith. (3) The unity of love [charitatis], which follows the unity of faith, and by which the faithful who are united to Christ by faith should be gathered among themselves in love, so that the unity of the Spirit may be kept by the bonds of peace (Eph. 4:3), wherefore love is called the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14). (4) The unity of hope (Eph. 4:4); that is, of the thing hoped for and of the heavenly inheritance to which we are all equally called.

4. The external bonds are: (1) the unity of sacraments, as the unity of baptism (Eph. 4:4); and (2) the unity of ministries.

5. These are essential bonds, but there are others which are accidental, which are: (1) agreement in all dogmas; (2) unity of the form of [ecclesiastical] government; (3) unity of the same [ecclesiastical] laws; and (4) unity of the same [ecclesiastical] discipline.

6. Schism is the rupture of the bonds which constitute the unity of the Church, but schism is to be distinguished in a twofold manner: as either universal schism, by which the general truths which constitute the foundation of Christianity are renounced, or as particular schism, by which [some] truths are renounced which are of great moment, but not those general truths [which constitute the foundation of Christianity].

7. Every separation is not schism, although every schism is separation; still, every unjust separation is schism. [Note: For more on schism, see these posts by Johannes Wollebius, Heinrich von Diest, Johann Heinrich Alsted, Pierre Jurieu, and Matthew Poole]

8. The Church is called holy, (1) because God has separated it from the world to be a peculiar people (Tit. 2:14); (2) because it devotes itself to holiness, not the shadowy kind of holiness as was the holiness of the Jewish nation; and (3) because it is purified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. It may also be called holy with respect to the doctrine which it teaches, in that the purity of its dogmas and the holiness of its precepts surpass whatever is read in legislators, hierophants, and philosophers, laudable as these may be.

9. It is called catholic, not only because of its orthodoxy, in which sense the Fathers employed the term catholic […], but (1) because it is dispersed throughout the whole world and is not affixed to a certain place, in contrast to the Old Testament Church which was confined within the narrow limits of Judea; (2) because it is read that in it there is no distinction of the race, order, or status of men, for there is no difference between Jew and Greek (Rom. 10:12; Acts 10:35); and (3) because it is bound to endure through all ages unto the consummation of the world.

John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679): Christ’s active obedience was entirely for us

John Brown of Wamphray Life of Justification Opened

 

In his The Life of Justification Opened, the Scottish Covenanter and exile to the Netherlands, John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679), argues strongly for the imputation of Christ’s active obedience against the Arminian Neonomian John Goodwin (c. 1594-1665), countering Goodwin’s The Banner of Justification Displayed virtually clause by clause.

According to Brown’s quotations from Goodwin, the latter provided the following eight reasons for why it was necessary for Christ to actively obey the divine law (instead of for the sake of imputing this righteousness to believers):

1. “To procure the greater authority and deeper reverence to the doctrine, which he taught.”

2. “The active obedience of Christ was serviceable to that same great end, whereunto our righteousness and obedience are subservient, viz. the glory of God, and the advancement of his kingdom.”

3. “The exemplariness of it.”

4. “It had an excellent importance to draw to imitation.”

5. “It was a means of continuing his person in the love and complacency of his Father, which was a thing of absolute necessity, for the carrying on of the great work of redemption: for if he had once miscarried, who should have mediated for him?”

6. “It was of absolute necessity to qualify and fit the Sacrifice for the altar, and render him a person meet [i.e. fitting/appropriate] by his death and sacrifice of himself, to make atonement for the world, and to purge and take away the sin of it.”

7. “As Christ was a sacrifice, so was he and yet is, and is to be forever a high priest (Heb. 7:27, etc.), and that righteousness of his we speak of, qualifieth him, that is, contributeth to his qualification for Priesthood, as well as it did for his sacrifice.”

8. “That holy pleasure and contentment, which Christ himself took in these works of righteousness, may be looked upon, as one considerable end [of obeying the law].

These are Goodwin’s reasons for why Christ had to actively obey the divine law, while completely rejecting the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers by faith. For our present purposes, we shall only consider Brown’s responses to Goodwin’s fifth, sixth, and seventh reasons (please note that I have in some places slightly edited Brown’s spelling as well as his punctuation for the sake of fluidity – Brown was one of those, writers, who wrote, like this, using, too many, commas).

Regarding Goodwin’s idea that perfect obedience was necessary for Christ’s Person, Brown answers (p. 103):

“As to His Person, He was God equal with the Father in power and glory: It were therefore blasphemy once to suppose that His person stood in need of this for any such end: or to suppose that He could have failed as to any act of obedience, and thereby have displeased God. Wherefore His obedience being the obedience of one who was and is God over all, blessed for ever, it could not be necessary to Himself unto any such end. Therefore it behoved to be wholly for us, for whom He was made under the law; as He was given to us, and born for us.”

Concerning Goodwin’s view that Christ had to obey the law in order to qualify as an appropriate sacrifice, Brown counters (p. 103-105):

“Shall we think that He, who was God, was not a fit enough sacrifice for the world; but that he must be made fit  and prepared by acts of obedience? And as for his human nature, which was no person, but did subsist in the divine nature, being assumed into the subsistence thereof, was it not sufficiently fitted to be a sacrifice by its personal union with the Godhead? Was it not thereby holy, harmless, and undefiled and separate from sinners, which is all that the Apostle requireth, Heb. 7:26? Was not the human nature personally united unto the Godhead from the very first moment of conception? The holiness then, that consisteth in acts of actual obedience, was not required unto this union: and after this union it was not possible that he could sin: as it is not possible that the glorified now in heaven can break the laws that we break here, while on earth; and yet it will not follow that they are under the same particular obligations to particular acts of commanded duties that we stand under. So nor was Christ, as to himself, under the obligation of the particular duties of the law, to which he willingly submitted himself and gave obedience; but all this was for us. Nor was this necessarily required to make his sacrifice holy; for his human nature, being once united to the divine, could not otherwise be but holy and without sin, and so a sinless and holy sacrifice. And withal we would take notice that the actions of the Mediator were the actions of the person, and not of either of the natures alone; and therefore must not be looked upon as the actions of a mere man. So that his acts of obedience were the acts of obedience of God-man, or of that person that was God.

He [Goodwin] needeth not then tell us that the absolute holiness and righteousness of the humanity itself was of necessary concurrence unto his obedience: for we grant it, and this flowed from the hypostatical union: but that which we deny is that there was an holiness and righteousness in acts of outward obedience to the law requisite thereunto, as if the human nature, by virtue of the hypostatical union, had not been holy and harmless antecedently unto those outward acts of obedience, and so had not been a sinless and holy sacrifice, if he had been offered up in his infancy, or before he was in capacity to do any commanded acts. He [Goodwin] needeth not say (as he doth pag. 204) that we conceive that Christ-man might have been righteous without doing the works of righteousness, which is all one as to say that he might have been righteous, though he had transgressed: for not to keep the law in those to whom the law is given, is nothing else but to transgress. For we neither do, nor need assert any such thing: for by virtue of the hypostatical union, he was righteous and could not transgress, or do anything contrary to what was imposed upon him: but we say that by virtue of this union, as to himself, the human nature was not under the law, as we are; but he was under the law that he might fulfil it for others, and not to fit and qualify him to be a meet sacrifice, as if for this his human nature had not been meet enough before.

To this he saith, pag. 205, Let this supposition be admitted, that Christ had suffered in the womb, and that this suffering of his had been fully satisfactory; yet had he been as perfectly righteous in this case, and consequently had kept the law perfectly, as now he hath done; for the law requireth of infants, during their infancy, nothing but holiness of nature. I answer (1) This is enough to confirm what we say, viz. that all his after actual obedience was not necessary to this end. (2) And beside, though this holiness of nature was conformed to the law upon the matter, yet it was not a formal obedience unto the law, if we speak of him in reference to himself; for the human nature had this holiness by virtue of the hypostatical union: and Christ, when the human nature was first conceived, was God-man, and the person was under no law, and so was not under the obligation of any such law, but was made under the law as Mediator. And so, for us, and not for himself; nor is it any more to advantage to except again and say, that His meaning is not that there was an absolute necessity that he should keep the law upon the same terms in every way, which now he hath done, as that he should perform the same individual acts of obedience, or the same number of acts, in case he had been called to suffer any whit sooner: but that until the very instant in which he should suffer, whether it were sooner or later, he should in all things submit himself unto the good pleasure of God. For it doth hence sufficiently appear that all his after obedience, in all these particular acts, was not necessary to fit him as a sacrifice, and so could not be necessary for himself. And therefore, seeing he had been a sufficiently holy sacrifice had he been offered up before the actual performance of these commanded duties in the law, it is manifest that these duties were not required unto the end alleged: but that, as he was made under the law for us, so all his actual obedience to the law was for us, and not for himself.  The Exceptor [Goodwin], in the end, perceiving the invalidity of all his own discourse here, closeth the matter thus, pag. 206, But however we suppose this necessity or use of the righteousness of Christ could not be sufficiently cleared; yet since there are many others of undeniable evidence, the position so much contended for, to wit, that the Godhead of Christ sufficiently qualified him for such a sacrifice as he was, makes nothing at all for the imputation of his righteousness. Therefore we shall not trouble either ourselves or our reader any further with untying an impertinent knot. What these others of undeniable evidence are, we have not yet seen: and, sure, this one ground is sufficient to demonstrate that his obedience to the law, in all points, was not for himself, nor to qualify him as a sacrifice, but for us: and therefore it must be imputed, and made over to us and become our righteousness, whereby and whereupon, together with his sufferings, made over to us also, we are to be justified and accepted of God as righteous; and not only have pardon of sins, but also a right to the inheritance, and to the reward promised upon obedience.”

Finally, if you have managed to bear with Brown up to here, he refutes Goodwin’s assertion that Christ’s active obedience was necessary to qualify him as our high priest (p. 105):

“Seeing it cannot be proved that his actual obedience to the law (which is the righteousness we are here speaking of) was necessary to qualify him to be a sacrifice here on earth, much less can it be proven that it was necessary to qualify him for his priesthood in heaven. And all these qualifications mentioned, Heb. 7:26, he had before that actual obedience was either performed, or he was in a capacity to perform it: and therefore his actual obedience was not necessary thereunto.”

John Calvin (1509-1564) on the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

220px-John_Calvin_2

 

Tonight in our Bible study/prayer group, as part of a series on prayer, we discussed Christ’s Parable of the Persistent Widow, also known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge. I was eager when I got home to read the comments of John Calvin (1509-1564) on this passage, and found them very edifying. Below is the biblical text (taken from the KJV), followed by Calvin’s comments:

Luke 18:1-8

1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Calvin comments:

“We know that perseverance in prayer is a rare and difficult attainment; and it is a manifestation of our unbelief that, when our first prayers are not successful, we immediately throw away not only hope, but all the ardor of prayer. But it is an undoubted evidence of our Faith, if we are disappointed of our wish, and yet do not lose courage. Most properly, therefore, does Christ recommend to his disciples to persevere in praying.

The parable which he employs, though apparently harsh, was admirably fitted to instruct his disciples, that they ought to be importunate in their prayers to God the Father, till they at length draw from him what He would otherwise appear to be unwilling to give. Not that by our prayers we gain a victory over God, and bend him slowly and reluctantly to compassion, but because the actual facts do not all at once make it evident that he graciously listens to our prayers. In the parable Christ describes to us a widow, who obtained what she wanted from an unjust and cruel judge, because she did not cease to make earnest demands. The leading truth conveyed is, that God does not all at once grant assistance to his people, because he chooses to be, as it were, wearied out by prayers; and that, however wretched and despicable may be the condition of those who pray to him, yet if they do not desist from the uninterrupted exercise of prayer, he will at length regard them and relieve their necessities.

The parties between whom the comparison is drawn are, indeed, by no means equal; for there is a wide difference between a wicked and cruel man and God, who is naturally inclined to mercy. But Christ intended to assure believers that they have no reason to fear lest their persevering entreaties to the Father of mercy should be refused, since by importunate supplication they prevail on men who are given to cruelty. The wicked and iron-hearted judge could not avoid yielding at length, though reluctantly, to the earnest solicitations of the widow: how then shall the prayers of believers, when perseveringly maintained, be without effect? If exhaustion and weakness are felt by us when we give way after a slight exertion, or if the ardor of prayer languishes because God appears to lend a deaf ear, let us rest assured of our ultimate success, though it may not be immediately apparent. Entertaining this conviction, let us contend against our impatience, so that the long delay may not induce us to discontinue our prayers.

7. And shall not God avenge his elect?That judge, whom Christ has described to us as altogether desperate, as not only hardened against the contemplation of God, but so entirely devoid of shame, that he had no anxiety about his reputation, at length opened his eyes to the distresses of the widow. We have no reason to doubt that believers will derive, at least, equal advantage from their prayers, provided they do not cease to plead earnestly with God. Yet it must be observed that, while Christ applies the parable to his subject, he does not make God to resemble a wicked and cruel judge, but points out a very different reason why those who believe in him are kept long in suspense, and why he does not actually and at once stretch out his hand to them: it is because he forbears. If at any time God winks at the injuries done to us longer than we would wish, let us know that this is done with a fatherly intention—to train us to patience. A temporary overlooking of crimes is very different from allowing them to remain for ever unpunished. The promise which he makes, that God will speedily avenge them, must be referred to his providence; for our hasty tempers and carnal apprehension lead us to conclude that he does not come quickly enough to grant relief. But if we could penetrate into his design, we would learn that his assistance is always ready and seasonable, as the case demands, and is not delayed for a single moment, but comes at the exact time.

But it is asked, How does Christ instruct his disciples to seek vengeance, while he exhorts them on another occasion, pray for those who injure and persecute you, (Matthew 5:44). I reply: what Christ says here about vengeance does not at all interfere with his former doctrine. God declares that he will avenge believers, not for the purpose of giving a loose rein to their carnal affections, but in order to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in his sight, and in this manner to induce them to rely on his protection. If, laying aside hatred, pure and free from every wicked desire of revenge, and influenced by proper and well-regulated dispositions, they implore divine assistance, it will be a lawful and holy wish, and God himself will listen to it. But as nothing is more difficult than to divest ourselves of sinful affections, if we would offer pure and sincere prayers, we must ask the Lord to guide and direct our hearts by his Spirit. Then shall we lawfully call on God to be our avenger, and he will answer our prayers.

8. When the Son of man shall come.By these words Christ informs us that there will be no reason to wonder if men shall afterwards sink under their calamities: it will be because they neglect the true remedy. He intended to obviate an offense which we are daily apt to take, when we see all things in shameful confusion. Treachery, cruelty, imposture, deceit, and violence, abound on every hand; there is no regard to justice, and no shame; the poor groan under their oppressors; the innocent are abused or insulted; while God appears to be asleep in heaven. This is the reason why the flesh imagines that the government of fortune is blind. But Christ here reminds us that men are justly deprived of heavenly aid, on which they have neither knowledge nor inclination to place reliance. They who do nothing but murmur against the Lord in their hearts, and who allow no place for his providence, cannot reasonably expect that the Lord will assist them.

Shall he find faith on the earth? Christ expressly foretells that, from his ascension to heaven till his return, unbelievers will abound; meaning by these words that, if the Redeemer does not so speedily appear, the blame of the delay will attach to men, because there will be almost none to look for him. Would that we did not behold so manifest a fulfilment of this prediction! But experience proves that though the world is oppressed and overwhelmed by a huge mass of calamities, there are few indeed in whom the least spark of faith can be discerned. Others understand the word faith to denote uprightness, but the former meaning is more agreeable to the context.”

Herman Witsius (1636-1708): Definition of a theologian

220px-Hermann_Witsius

 

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Franeker in 1675, Herman Witsius (1636-1708) spoke on the character of a true theologian (De Vero Theologo). Below is his definition of a theologian:

“By a theologian, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of divine things derived from the teaching of God Himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God and thus lives entirely for His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wiredrawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and His Christ. Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears but, impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behaviour, in harmony with their profession and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.”

This lecture can be found in his Miscellaneorum Sacrorum Libri IV, and, should you be interested, an English translation is available here.

William Beveridge (1637-1708): It is into the merit of Christ, that I resolve the whole work of my salvation

William_Beveridge

 

This excerpt from the Private Thoughts upon Religion of the Reformed Anglican William Beveridge (1637-1708) is pure gold:

“[T]ho’ it is the death of Christ by which I believe my sins are pardoned, yet it is the life of Christ by which I believe my person is accepted. His passions GOD accounts as suffer’d by me, and therefore I shall not die for sin: his obedience GOD accounts as perform’d by me, and therefore I shall live with Him. Not as if I believed that Christ so performed  obedience for me, that I should be discharged from my duty to Him, but only that I should not be condemned by GOD in not discharging my duty to Him in so strict a manner as is requir’d. I believe the active obedience of Christ will stand me in no stead, unless I endeavour after sincere obedience in mine own person: his active as well as his passive obedience being imputed unto none but only to such as apply it to themselves by faith; which faith in Christ will certainly put such as are possess’d of it upon obedience unto GOD. This therefore is the righteousness, and the manner of justification, whereby I hope to stand before the judgment-seat of GOD; even by GOD’s imputing my sins to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to me; looking upon me as one not to be punished for my sins, because Christ hath suffer’d, but to be receiv’d into the joys of glory, because Christ hath performed obedience for me, and does, by faith, through grace, impute it to me.

And thus it is into the merit of Christ, that I resolve the whole work of my salvation, and this not only as to that which is wrought without me, for the justification of my person, but likewise as to that which is wrought within me for the sanctification of my nature. As I cannot have a sin pardon’d without Christ, so neither can I have a sin subdued without Him; neither the fire of GOD’s wrath can be quenched, nor yet the filth of my sins washed away, but by the blood of Christ. So that I wonder as much at the doctrine that some men have advanc’d concerning free-will, as I do at that which others have broach’d in favour of good-works; and ’tis a mystery to me how any that ever had experience of GOD’s method in working out sin, and planting grace in our hearts, should think they can do it by themselves, or anything in order to it. Not that I do in the least question, but that every man may be saved that will (for this I believe is a real truth); but I do not believe that any man of himself can will to be saved. Wheresoever GOD enables a soul effectually to will salvation, He will certainly give salvation to that soul: but I believe it is impossible for any soul to will salvation of himself, as to enjoy salvation without GOD.”

– William Beveridge (1637-1708), Private Thoughts upon Religion, p. 90-93