cunningham and two senses

Since I mentioned Buchanan and Smeaton in the last post, it makes sense to move on to William Cunningham next. Cunningham was the Principal of the Free Church College from 1847 and his major published work was a two-volume historical theology.

This bit is related indirectly to the last post, but also interesting as an inssue in its own right.

“The Reformers did not teach that man was altogether passive, or the mere inactive subject of the operation of divine grace, or of the agency of the Holy Ghost, in the whole of the process that might be comprehended under the name of regeneration, taken in its wider sense. Regeneration may be taken either in a more limited sense – as including only the first implantation of spiritual life, by which a man, dead in sins and trespasses, is quickened or made alive, so that he is no longer dead; or it may be taken in a wider sense, as comprehending the whole of the process by which he is renewed, or made over again, in the whole man, after the image of God – as including the production of saving faith and union to Christ, or very much what is described in our Standards under the name of effectual calling.

“Now, it was only of regeneration, as understood in the first or more limited of these senses, that the Reformers maintained that man in the process was wholly passive, and not active; for they did not dispute that, before the process in the second and more enlarged sense was completed, man was spiritually alive and spiritually active, and continued so ever after during the whole process of his sanctification.” Cunningham, Historical Theology, Vol 1, p617; see also Vol 2, p411.

The biographical introduction, incidentally, says that his first ministerial charge began in Greenock in 1828 in “a sudden exigency of impatient Revivalism,” connected with John Campbell of Row. This phenomenon was characterised first by “sentimental Arminianism, but … eventually developed into mischievous Pelagianism,” and was accompanied by alleged speaking in tongues and miraculous healings. Cunningham was having none of it – “was convinced that ‘there was a perilous tendency in the views then current'” – and preached instead the pure gospel. Many people were converted under this ministry. But he was apparently very impressed by the revival-not-ism-s of 1859, they being evidently very different in nature.


‘about the law’

Following with interest the discussions unfolding on Ref21 and GB.

Three themes I find especially notable.

1) Of the exceptionally helpful points set out by Rick Phillips here , his point 6 in particular is something which (in my perception) if it was emphasised more would be very helpful – that in justification, faith is passive and receptive, while in sanctification, faith is active.

Here’s Smeaton on the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification (Smeaton being one of the early professors in the Free Church College, mid-C19th, and the excerpt being particularly pungent in the third para):

“… a marked line of distinction must be drawn between the prevenient grace of the Spirit and his cooperating grace. The former belongs to effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, and faith, in which the man with all his powers is the object in whom the Spirit operates by the Word; the latter belongs to his progressive sanctification, in which the Spirit calls into exercise the new powers of the renewed mind, and where there are no immediate actings of the Spirit superseding that cooperation.

“… The Holy Spirit does not move the hearts of regenerate men by mere power, but by another principle. He moves them by those spiritual powers or graces with which they are now provided. The Spirit which is in Christ without measure, is in them by measure as a Spirit of life, not moving the mind as a stone, or as a wheel, by mere power, but according to the new nature which has been created or formed in it. To lose sight of this is to ignore the fact that Christ is the source of the Spirit of life, and that the Christian has to add to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and all the various excellences which are in Christ Jesus. …

“The practical neglect of this distinction may sometimes be traced in Church history and on whole generations of men. The Lutherans, for example, though they spoke much and admirably of free grace and liberty, were too easily satisfied that the good tree, by the inevitable law of its existence, would bring forth its fruit. They neglected the due cultivation of the graces of the Spirit in the new creature. On the contrary, the Puritans pruned and cultivated the good tree with unwearied diligence, and made every Christian grace, after scriptural example, the subject of wholesome exhortation.” (Smeaton, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p211-212.)

2) William B Evans saying in the post which kicked the whole thing off, “The gospel involves freedom from both the penalty and the power of sin, and the latter is not simply to be collapsed into the former. … in dismissing legitimate biblical imperatives as “legalism” this attenuated gospel robs believers of the very resources they need for progress in sanctification.”

Which actually anticipates an excerpt from E Erskine I’d read recently and earmarked for future posting:

“I do not think that it is enough, when we are pressing any duty of the law, to come in with a direction or advice at the end, telling that all is to be done in the strength of Christ; we see here that God begins his sermon of morality to Israel from Mount Sinai with a revalation of himself as the Lord God gracious and merciful through Christ, ‘I am the Lord thy God,’ and lays this as the foundation of obedience to the following precepts. … Upon the other hand there is an error, I fear too common among some. Whenever they hear a minister pressing duty, immediately they conclude him to be a legal[istic] preacher, without ever considering upon what ground he doth it; for if he press the duties of the law upon the ground of covenanted grace, he acts according to his commision, and keeps the order and method that God has laid; but if this method be not followed, if the duties of the law be urged as the foundation  of our claim to the privileges of the gospel, or without keeping Christ and the grace of the gospel in the eye of the sinner as the foundation of duty, you may indeed conclude that it is legal[istic].” (Erskine, ed McMillan, p144-145.)

3) More generally, Phillips’ point 2 on how justification and sanctification are distinct from each other.

For what it’s worth, one of the most valuable resources on the doctrine of justification I’ve ever come across (not that, admittedly, I’ve read especially extensively) is James Buchanan’s Doctrine of Justification, first published 1867. Throughout this work Buchanan consistently emphasises the distinction between justification as Christ’s work for us and sanctification as the Spirit’s work in us, and a more cogent and learned and profound and lucid treatment is hard to imagine.

On Green Baggins, they’re recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity, which is unquestionably essential reading for this whole controversy, and I can personally vouch for its practical usefulness, except that in all ages and generations the Marrow has been found to be hampered by sadly infelicitous expressions which even dear Boston’s clarificatory notes don’t fully rescue it from. Buchanan came two centuries later and was chair of systematic theology in the Free Church College at the time when Reformed theology was at the peak of its attainments to date in terms of reverent rock solid understanding of scripture truth (while simultaneously on the brink of shortly disintegrating under the weight of rationalistic doubt, although that is a story for another day), and Buchanan, and Smeaton too, incorporate all the best of the Marrow doctrine in about as firm a grasp and careful an articulation of the scriptural teaching as you could wish for.

The paper trail:

  1. Evans – Sanctification and the nature of the gospel
  2. Lucas – A rejoinder on sanctification
  3. Philips – Seven assertions
  4. Evans – Sanctification and the gospel
  5. Lucas – A concluding contribution
  6. Evans – A question of balance?
  7. Levy – light relief

nearly gaelic spam

SEO must be the initials for some technical thingy that spammers assume you’d be interested in. Since I know nothing about it, the spam messages just sound homely and innocuous in a Gaelic sort of way. “Seall! Seo spam!”

To which you can only reply, “Glé mhath! S seo am buddon deleeʰt.”


without money and without price

Yesterday afternoon’s discussion concluded:

1) The basis of the free offer isn’t a universal love (even if by that you mean benevolence).

2) You don’t find your warrant to believe the gospel in God’s love for you but in his word to you.

With all due respect to the good people who say otherwise.


now is not the time

Just more or less repeating a post from eighteen months ago.

When life trundles on unremarkably, then is the time to notice and appreciate the power and goodness of God and cultivate responses of thankfulness and trust. When things become suddenly difficult, that’s no time to start finding out about the divine goodness. It’s not as if God changes with the changing circumstances: so while there’s time and opportunity, that’s when to realise that he is working all things together for good to those that love him. ‘And in the day of trouble great, / see that thou call on me.’


criminal, not political

“… it’s just about possible that you could see your actions refashioned into a noble cause if you were stealing the staples: bread, milk. But it can’t be done while you’re nicking trainers, let alone laptops.” (Here.)

Facebook buzzed yesterday over whether the riots could be called anarchism, and decided a better term was nihilism. I wondered whether an even better term would be anomie, and now Zoe Williams makes just that point.

“I wasn’t convinced by nihilism as a reading: how can you cease to believe in law and order, a moral universe, co-operation, the purpose of existence, and yet still believe in sportswear? How can you despise culture but still want the flatscreen TV from the bookies? Alex Hiller, a marketing and consumer expert at Nottingham Business School, points out that there is no conflict between anomie and consumption…”

There’s no cause, there’s no ideology, there’s no sense in it. Violence in a political cause you can understand, even if not excuse, but this is violence for its own sake. The “riot girls” video which has stayed firmly in the BBC’s top ‘most watched’ lists shows clueless teenagers, drinking stolen wine all night, treating it all as a bit of fun, and witlessly blaming variously “the government” (careless as to what party is even governing) and then “rich people”! but entirely lacking in any perceivable, far less coherent, justification. Obviously there are social and political and moral factors which can be identified by analysts looking on and can contribute to an explanation, but what’s motivating these people is no political project, no social ideology, no moral grievance.

“… these are shopping riots, characterised by their consumer choices: that’s the bit we’ve never seen before. A violent act by the authorities, triggering a howl of protest – that bit is as old as time. But crowds moving from shopping centre to shopping centre? Actively trying to avoid a confrontation with police, trying to get in and out of JD Sports before the “feds” arrive? That bit is new.”

They barely deserve to be dignified by the title riots. It’s empty, casual, self-indulging lawlessness, and simple moral wrong.

pagan britain

An excellent, thought-provoking essay by Dorothy Cummings McLean should be visible at this link here. She traces out the collapse of organised religion in the British Isles in the early 1960s and identifies some of the better known gods and rituals which have sprung up by way of replacement.

“The London teen who leaves a bottle of vodka for the shade of Amy Whitehouse is acting from the same religious impulse that inspired his Bronze Age ancestor to throw a gold coin in a stream.”

I’d like to come back to the more controversial aspects of this piece at some stage soon, but in the meantime the overall point is well made and it’s a very juicy read.