Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Experimental Christianity. 1. A Bibliography

'Experimental Christianity' is nothing more or less than the study of Christian experience. Of course it first presupposes that there is such a thing as Christian experience. The Christian who is one in name only has no experience because his faith is a mere notion, not a real movement of the heart. It is a work of man, not of God. Joseph Hart wrote:

Vain is all our best devotion,
If on false foundations built;
True religion's more than notion;
Something must be known and felt.
(Hymn 237 in Gadsby's, first part)

It is for this reason that we write this article, being fully persuaded that the Bible teaches that true Christians have an experience. Not a stereotyped experience, as some suppose, for God leads each of us by a particular way. In the 107th Psalm we read of the experiences of "the redeemed of the LORD." The Psalm opens, "O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." (verses 1, 2). We read then of the experiences of the redeemed of the LORD, first (verses 4-7) we read of those who were wanderers in the wilderness, then in verses 10-14 we read of those who sat in darkness. In verses 17 to 20 we read of those who were in afflictions, near to death. In verses 23 to 30 we read of those that go down to the sea in ships. Plainly it would be foolish for those who wandered in the wilderness to find fault with the experience of those who went down to the sea in ships simply because they did not wander in the wilderness. Christian experience is diverse, and one man's experienc e is unlike another man's. Yet all true Christians join in the refrain of the Psalm, "Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men." Yes, the wanderer in the desert must say to the man who went down to the sea, 'your experience is not mine', but he glorifies God in the experience of the other as he does in his own.

But I promised a bibliography of experimental Christianity. Frankly it might include every good Christian biography, and especially Christian autobiography, that was ever published. This is not exhaustive. It is not even comprehensive.

1. The Bible. The Bible is full of Christian experience. The historical books, Job, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, the Prophets... but to go on would just be to summarize the Bible's contents.

2. Good hymn-books. Throw out all the liberal hymnals, ignore those that are full of Keswick 'Victorious Christian Life' teaching or Victorian sentimentalism. They are worthless. No, take something like 'Christian Hymns' if you want a modern book. Or better still, go back earlier. Get Gadsby's Selection. It is published by Gospel Standard Publications, and a hardcover is very reasonably priced. You will find in it about 1150 hymns brimming over, not with turgid sentimentalism or cant phrases, but real Christian experience. You will find hymns forged in the crucible of suffering. Hymns by the invalid Isaac Watts, by the converted unbeliever turned suffering pastor Joseph Hart, by Cowper, who almost lost his mind, by the suffering invalid Augustus Toplady. Hymns you will be afraid to read because they are so full of true Christianity. Hymns for miserable Christians, for trials, for tempations.

3. Christian biography. Again, not the little digests of a person's life that tell you where they were at such-and-such a time, but those that are full of letters, of diaries, of the men or women themselves. Get autobiographies of men tried in all manner of afflictions. Samuel Rutherford. Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Books like John Warburton's 'The Mercies of a Covenant God'. It tells the story of a man who suffered in body and soul, a man God brought through trials and afflections that would have killed most modern Western believers. Think of it, having to live and work in a damp cellar because you cannot afford anything else, and not really being able to afford the cellar either. No welfare system, a young family (and a large one), and no apparent way to live. That was Warburton's experience, and God brough him through it all. "Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
Or John Bunyan's 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners'. Or Thomas Boston's 'Memoirs'. And we would mention in this connection the 'Bank of Faith' and 'Kingdom of God taken by prayer' of William Huntington, 'the Coalheaver'. Huntington was also brought through great suffering and God caused him to tell of it so that "men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."

4. Other books. Again, these are legion. Samuel Rutherford's 'Letters' is chief among them. "Hold off the Bible, such a book... the world never saw," Richard Baxter said. "For the last two hundred years have these powerful letters been as goads to stir up living souls to tgake the Kingdom of heavedn by violence," J. C. Philpot wrote in the 19th century. We could increase our commendations of the book by the thousands, but we will let John Wesley sum them all up: "Generally admired by all the children of God."
The Puritans knew true religion, and their works are full of experimental Christianity. Thomas Goodwin's works drip with it, for example.
Good sermons by godly men of the past will teach a lot about Christian experience. Spurgeon is full of it. So is Lloyd-Jones in his own way. J.C. Philpot, William Gadsby, John Kershaw, J.K. Popham and other Strict Baptist preachers overflow with Christian experience. Philpot's sermons on 'The Heir of Heaven Walking in Darkness', and 'Winter Afore Harvest' are particularly noted in this respect.

We do not know when we shall write on this subject again, but if the Lord will, we shall.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nelson Price does not know what Calvinists believe concerning perseverence

The following is a complete refutation of a passage in the review article : 'A Review of Calvinism and Southern Baptists' by Nelson Price

In this article Nelson Price makes the following remarks:


Southern Baptists are in general agreement on the concept of the security of the believer known as “once saved always saved” or preservation of the saints.

There is a slight semantic difference in what Calvinists believe on this topic. They believe in the perseverance of the saints.

(The following two paragraphs are a sidebar to the book review.)

Put side by side the difference becomes clear.

Preservation of the saints Perseverance of the saints
God does it Man does it
It is based on God’s promises It is based on man’s performance
It is absolute It is relative

Contrary to the concept of “it is all about grace” this last point actually means the Calvinists position on the subject is works based. This leaves some Calvinists hoping they have done enough good work. Baptist know for sure God has done a perfect work."

Nothing could be further from the truth than this disingenuous statement. The Calvinist does NOT believe that his salvation is conditional on his works. Let us see what official Calvinist documents have to say on the matter. We shall also look at two high Calvinists who no-one will accuse of Arminian tendencies.

First of all, let us see what the Westminster Confession, a document Dr. Price elsewhere regards as authoritative on the definition of Calvinistic belief, has to say:
"II. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof" (article 17, identical to chapter 17 of the 1689 Baptist Confession)

The Synod of Dort, generally regarded as THE standard of Calvinism, reads: "Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end." (Fifth main Point of Doctrine, article 3) Article 8 says: "So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God's undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out." The synod condemns those, "Who teach that God does provide the believer with sufficient strength to persevere and is ready to preserve this strength in him if he performs his duty, but that even with all those things in place which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God is pleased to use to preserve faith, it still always depends on the choice of man's will whether or not he perseveres." (second error rejected under the fifth head of doctrine)

Article 11 of the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 reads: "We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare;60 and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."

Article 4 of the Sandy Creek Association reads: "We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost."

The First London Baptist Confession of 1644 reads: "Those that have this precious faith wrought in them by the Spirit, can never finally nor totally fall away; and though many storms and floods do arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon, but shall be kept by the power of God to salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being formerly engraven upon the palms of God's hands." (Article 22)

William Huntington, a rather eccentric preacher accused by some of hyper-Calvinism, wrote in his personal Confession in 1745: "I believe, that wherever the Spirit of God begins a work of grace, the carries it on. What God doth, it is done for ever, all his work is perfect; the Spirit is a well of living water in the believer, that springs up into everlasting life; the Comforter abides for ever, he shall never depart from the chosen seed, world without end."

William Gadsby, in his Catechism, writes of believers: "they shall never perish; but, in spite of sin, Satan, the world and the flesh, shall have everlasting life; for their life is hid with Christ in God, and because He lives, they shall live also." (answer to Question 92)

Dr. John Gill, in his reply to John Wesley (who DID believe that our continuance in gace is conditional on our works) writes: "Blessed be God, we have a better foundation for joy and comfort than all this; the true believer, though he lives by faith, does not live upon it... a believer lives not on his faith, but upon Christ, and the grace of Christ, faith brings nigh unto him. He has better things than uncertain precarious frames to live upon and recieve his comforts from; even the unchangable love of God; the unalterable covenant of grace; the faithfulness of God, who, though 'we believe not, yet He abideth faithful' (II Timothy 2.13); absolute and unconditional promises; Jesus Christ, the same to-day, yesterday, and for ever; His precious blood, perfect righteousness, atoning sacrifice, and that fulness of grace which is in Him.
"To conclude: if a man may be confident of one thing in this world, he may be 'confident of this very thing', that in whomsoever, whether in himself or in any other, God 'hath begun a good work,' he 'will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ' (Phil 1.9); and that 'all' the true 'Israel' of God 'shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation' (Isa 45.17); and that not one of them shall eternally perish." ('Sermons and Tracts by the late Reverend and Learned John Gill, D.D.' (London, H. Lyon, 1815) Pp. 99-100).
The Carter Lane Declaration of Faith and Practice, drawn up by Dr. Gill, says: "We believe, That all those who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Spirit, shall certainly persevere, so that not one of them shall ever perish but shall have everlasting life." (article 9. Found On. P. 560 of the volume just referred to
If any Baptist may be said to have been a Calvinist, it is John Gill. In fact, Gill has been accused of being hyper-Calvinist. Yet Gill reprobated the very belief Price attributes to Calvinists as Arminian.

We see, then, that nine witnesses (and we could call dozens more) contradict Dr. Price. Seven of these are official statements of dorctine admitted by churches and two very high Calvinists. So why is Dr. Price so wrong? I can only assume that Dr. Price has not researched what Calvinists actually believe on this matter, but has accepted on second hand a bad criticism of the Calvinistic position. What Dr. Price has done is perpetuated a straw man. He has taken the word 'perseverence' and given it, not the meaning that Calvinists give it, but a definition devised by an unscrupulous anti-Calvinist in the past. This is a mean-spirited and just plain nasty way of dealing with someone you disagree with, and I am sorry that Dr. Price has been taken in by the word-games of the spiteful man who came up with this piece of nastiness. His criticism strikes at the Arminians, but it totally misses every Calvinist who ever lived.

I have already written to Dr. Price to make him aware of my concerns, and I have asked him to amend the article accordingly. If he does not do so, it evidences a refusal to be taught.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tolerance and that sort of stuff

What is 'tolerance'? It used to mean putting up with what you did not like. I 'tolerate' the neighbour's irritating outside telephone buzzer, for example. But a new meaning has been introduced by 'postmodern' types. Now 'tolerance' means accepting evyone as equally valid. And there's a catch. According to this new definition of tolerance, such 'tolerance' is only to be extended to the 'tolerant'. Eveyone else is 'intolerant' and therefore not worthy of tolerance.
A clever wheeze, this. It's a classic case of newspeak (for which see George Orwell's 1984). Just as in 1984 the Ministry of Peace dealt with war, so this 'tolerance' is really intolerance given a new name. The old concept meant that, as Christians, we allowed other religions to exist, though we disagreed with them and sought to evangelize their adherents who are going to hell. In new-style 'tolerance' that is 'intolerant'. No, the 'tolerant' thing to do is say they are all going to heaven. And that is why so many Churches have stopped talking about the Wrath of God, about Hell and judgement. Well, not on my watch. If that's 'intolerant', then I'm intolerant. But I'm not looking to persecute anyone. Some of my forefathers were refugees who fled to England because of religious persecution in France. Others were Primitive Methodists who were stoned and assaulted in the streets because they were not Church of England. THERE is real religious intolerance.

And finally, those Catholics who chased my forefathers out of France, those self-righteous Churchmen who wrecked the chapel where my Primitive Methodist ancestors worshipped, they tolerated those who agreed with them. There's nothing surprising about that. Any man can love a man who agrees with him. It's loving your enemies that is Christian.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why 'Strict'?

The term 'Strict Baptist' evokes the image of 'heavy shepherding' to many. In fact it is a term referring to Church order (it is in fact short for 'reSTRICTed Communion). Strict Baptists are Baptists who believe that the Lord's Supper is properly administered only to those who have been baptised. We find in the Scriptures no record of anyone being admitted to the Lord's Table who has not previously gone through the waters of Baptism, and therefore seek to follow the Lord's will in this matter. Because of this we have often been accused of being unloving. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the greatest defenders of the Strict Baptist position, Dr. Joseph Kinghorn of Norwich, was on excellent terms with many who were not Baptists, and acted as mentor to John Alexander, the Paedobaptist pastor of the Pinces Street Congregational Church. Yet Kinghorn would not admit Alexander to the Lord's Table because the Lord Himself had placed Baptism before the Lord's Supper.
We do not deny that those churches that differ from us are churches. Of course they are. Furthermore, we do not hold them to be wilfully disobedient. They are mistaken, and we will bear gently with them.
We know of no Presbyterian Churches that are NOT 'Strict Communion', that is, that do not require those coming forward to the Lord's Table to have first been baptised according to the Presbyterian understanding, and we think it strange that, according to the open communion principle, Baptist Churches should be the only ones that are NOT strict communion!

Day One.

Welcome to the Strict and Particular Blog. Unlike our other blog at Free St. George's, this is a more wide-ranging blog. Our subjects come from all over the place, but they will all be addressed from a Strict and Particular Baptist perspective. We may deal with Strict and Particular Baptist distinctives, or with current events, book reviews - indeed, just about anything.