Braving Hard Passages Podcast

Every pastor has encountered them.  Every member of the congregation has wondered after reading the title of the sermon and the accompanying text, “I wonder what he is going to say about this text?” Let’s face it some texts are difficult and when a preacher preaches through a book, well, he has no choice but to face them head on – and members of the congregation have to hear them!  So, today Jonathan and James will visit with Liam Goligher on the topic of braving hard passages.

What would you say about preaching through Song of Solomon? Should young pastors early in their ministry start teaching through difficult texts? Liam says, “Yes!”, and he has some good reasons why! Jonathan and James found out that Liam does not shy away from preaching through difficult passages of Scripture. Liam is the senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church and the voice of No Falling Word, a ministry of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He’s also known for his teaching series on the Trinity.

In fact, just for listening we are giving away Liam’s, “Trinity: The Eternally Divine Son.”  Just go to Reformedresources.org to get your copy!

Eternal Generation: Who Would Deny it?

While attending an academic conference this past year I went to a dinner with some friends and other conference attendees.  The conversation around the table was spirited, wide ranging and a lot of fun. At one point, the conversation turned to the eternal generation of the Son. In the midst of the discussion a man I had not met before said something to this effect, “I love Warfield but I just can’t understand why he rejected eternal generation.” His statement was not entirely accurate and in keeping with the mental sparring going on at our table I told him so. He did not agree.

Well, the conference is over and my table companions are all gone home. So, let me do some shadow boxing. Let me pose the question to my readers. Did Warfield reject the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son? Now, I have not changed my mind since the conference. So, the answer is no. Warfield did not reject the eternal generation of the Son.  But why would someone think that he had?

The answer can be traced to an article he wrote for the Princeton Theological Review in 1909 titled, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity.” In that article Warfield deals with Calvin’s seeming hesitations regarding the doctrine of eternal generation.  However, they are only “seeming hesitations” because a close reading of the article yields some concrete findings. For example, according to Warfield, Calvin did not reject the doctrine of eternal generation.  In fact, says Warfield, “We have just seen that Calvin explicitly teaches the ‘eternal generation’ of the Son…. It manifestly was a matter of fixed belief with him.”[1] But if Calvin affirmed the eternal generation of the Son, then what was the problem?  

Calvin’s problem was not with the doctrine of eternal generation per se so much as how “it was expounded by the Nicene Fathers.”[2] In other words, the fact of eternal generation as taught in the Nicene Creed was, for Calvin, not in dispute but the Nicene Father’s explanation of the fact was.[3]

The problem?

How can there be “a perpetual movement of the divine essence from the first Person to the second, always complete, never completed”?[4] Calvin seems to have found “this conception difficult, if not meaningless.”[5] To put it another way, how can there be a continuous act of generating when the three Persons have existed from eternity?

Consequently, Calvin argues for two axiomatic points. First, he argues that we ought to believe in and affirm the doctrine of eternal generation without trying to speculate on its nature. Second, not only must we affirm the eternal generation of the Person of the Son but we must also affirm the Son’s aseity as to his essence. To put it another way, if the Son (not to mention the Spirit) is of the same essence as the Father, then he is autotheos or God of Himself, that is to say there is a stress on the equality of the Persons sharing in the same essence. To these points, Warfield spoke emphatically,

In particular, it fell to Calvin, in the interests of the true Deity of Christ—the constant motive of the whole body of Trinitarian thought—to reassert and make good the attribute of self-existence (autotheotos) for the Son. Thus Calvin takes his place, alongside of Tertullian, Athanasius and Augustine, as one of the chief contributors to the exact and vital statement of the Christian doctrine of the Triune God.[6]

In addition Calvin made two striking points; first, he argued that to deny the quality of aseity to the Son or the Spirit would make them creatures of the Father. However, it’s the second of Warfield’s assertions regarding Calvin that is most interesting. Warfield argues that Calvin was far from novel on this point. In fact, he even quoted the Nicene Fathers themselves as asserting it “in so many words.”[7] So, does Warfield deny eternal generation? Not any more than Calvin.

 

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] Warfield, Benjamin B., The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 5, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 248.

[2] Ibid., 247.

[3] Ibid., 251.

[4] Ibid., 247.

[6] Warfield, Benjamin. B. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: vol. 2, Biblical Doctrines (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 171.

[7] Warfield, vol. 5.583.

Eternal Generation: A Confession of Historical Significance

The Presbyterian tradition has had a history of doctrinal slippage. This does not make the various Presbyterian denominations unique. Pretty much all theological traditions within Christendom have fumbled the theological ball at some point in history. This fact does not excuse the church from holding firmly to the faith once for all given to the saints. Nor does it justify a que sera, sera or whatever will be, will be attitude. Latitudinarianism and biblical orthodoxy make for uncomfortable bedfellows.

Maintaining biblical and theological orthodoxy, while at the same time recognizing that there is room for greater nuance and precision in many instances in doctrinal formulations, involves constant vigilance. One doctrine that has recently come in for questioning is the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God. Over the years there has been discussion as to whether John Calvin affirmed the teaching and theologians fall out on either side on that question. Our concern here is with the substance of the doctrine and how it was briefly yet clearly affirmed in one of the most significant confessions of Protestant Christianity. Of course, I am referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith. In WCF 2.3 (chapter two, paragraph or section 3), we find a brief reference to this essential doctrine:

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Take note of the italicized portion of this portion of the WCF. Eternal begottenness is another way of naming eternal generation. What this paragraph is detailing are the properties that are unique to each person of the Triune Godhead. These brief descriptions get to the heart of what distinguishes the Father from the Son from the Spirit. While affirming the unity of the Godhead (the doctrine of divine simplicity, etc), the Westminster divines are here affirming that the Father is, as such, unbegotten, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

As we think about this phraseology, let’s remember that language about God is what theologians call analogical. Our knowledge is analogical of divine knowledge and our existence is analogical of divine existence. This affirms that our existence, language, and knowledge is similar to and reflective of God’s being, language, and knowledge while at the same time denying identity between divine and human existence, language, and knowledge.

Having said that, these descriptions are grounded in Scripture and the actions of God in the history of salvation give us some indication of what he is like in himself. However, this revelation is not exhaustive of who God is. But it is true. God’s revelation of himself (in history, nature, and Scripture) is true but non-comprehensive.

The WCFs affirmation of eternal generation allows us to distinguish between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead while recognizing each and all are the whole God. God is not like a pie that can be divided into three slices. Specifically, we are saying that what distinguishes the Son from the Father and the Spirit is that he is eternally begotten or generated from the Father. That is, he is the Son and as divine his generation has no beginning or end. Unlike human generation there is no beginning in time nor is there an end to the birthing process.

If we deny eternal generation then we have nothing to say as to what differentiates the three persons of the Triune Godhead. The eternal generation of the Son is his own unique property that distinguishes him from the Father and the Spirit without undermining the reality of divinity simplicity (the doctrine that God is not made up of more basic parts like a brick wall which is made up many bricks and mortar in between the bricks which bricks and mortar can and do exist apart from the brick wall). The Father cannot be the Father without it having always been the case that the Son is the Son and the Spirit is the Spirit.

If we subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith we really ought to be familiar with what it says and be honest with ourselves and our churches if we disagree with such a basic tenet of the Christian faith.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Eternal Generation: Another Reason to Worship our God

            In 1650 amidst the rise of Socinianism in England, Francis Cheynell, a prominent Westminster Divine, wrote an apologetic of orthodox Trinitarianism, entitled The Divine Trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1] This work stood out as clear exposition of both biblical and historically orthodox Trinitarian theology.

            Most notable, Cheynell grounded the doctrine of Eternal Generation in the idea of God’s simplicity. This was as notable as it was surprising because of the Socinian’s understanding of God’s oneness, which caused them to deny the eternal generation of the Son. “The Socinians tell us, they cannot believe that the Father did beget a Son of his own substance, because God is eternal and unchangeable; the single essence of God is indivisible, and being most singularly one is incommunicable; part of the divine essence could not be communicated (they say) to the Son, because the essence is impartible, indivisible…”[2]

            But Cheynell rightly understood that the historic doctrine of simplicity (with its more complex nuances) undercuts (the simplicity of) mere oneness.[3] For Cheynell, it was divine simplicity that gave support to the idea of three eternal Persons, who in relationship to one another, were in essence one God. He asks us to compare John 10 verse 30 with verse 37, where Jesus says “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30) and then goes on to say that “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not” (John 10:37).

            Cheynell remarks that from these verses we can conclude “that Christ hath the same divine nature and Godhead with the Father; they both have the same divine and essential Titles and Attributes, and perform the same inward operations in reference to all Creatures whatsoever; and therefore [the Ancient Church Fathers] did farther infer that they had reason to use the word consubstantial… Christ doth lay claim to all that is natural, to all that belongs to the Father as God, [but] not to any thing which belongs to to him as the Father, as the first person of the blessed Trinity.[4]

            But in keeping with the doctrine of simplicity, Cheynell makes the point that just “as truth is not goodness, nor goodness truth, nor either of them unity, and yet all three are entity, so too the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father, nor is either of them the Holy Spirit, and yet all three are God.”[5]

            In our own day, James Dolezal has posited the same point when he writes that “if [Divine] simplicity and its unique requirements are denied, any number of compositional models of divine unity might adequately explain how the one God subsists as three distinct persons. And it is not apparent that a compositional model of divine unity must necessarily be monotheistic rather than tritheistic.”[6]

            And indeed, this is what Cheynell wants to argue, but he does so in an interesting move. The angle from which he addresses the eternal generation of the Son from the Father is that, in light of God’s immutable and simple essence, the eternal begetting of a Son is a truth which magnifies the glory of God in all his simplicity.

            He writes, “If God had been the Father of men and Father of Angels only, and not the Father of our Lord Jesus, he would not have been so exceeding glorious as he now is; for Angels have but a finite excellency. But when he begets a Son equal to himself, without any change in himself, and the begetting of this glorious Person is as eternal as the divine nature itself, this mystery is exceeding glorious and admirable, and like the Godhead incomprehensible… Behold how the Godhead shines gloriously not only in one single Person, but in Father and Son both, by this manner of subsistence; that every tongue may confess Jesus Christ to be God and Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[7] For Cheynell, eternal generation is part and parcel of why we worship and glorify God.

            In seeking to unpack even further the connection between simplicity and eternal generation Cheynell writes that “the essence of God is spiritual (John 4:24), and therefore the Son is not begotten of the Father’s seed, or any material substance, because God is a single and pure Act, who doth beget a Son within himself, essentially one with Himself, and therefore his Son doth not subsist out of himself (John 14:10; John 10:30), for an infinite nature cannot be poured forth beyond itself.”[8]

            Chad Van Dixhoorn understands Cheynell here to be arguing that “the will of the Father did not precede and produce the Godhead in the Son… In other words, the divinity of the Son is ‘native’ to the doctrine of the Trinity; there was no decision, no decree that initiates the Son into the fulness of the Triune being.”[9]

            And yet Cheynell is careful to distinguish between the Father and Son. Even though “Scripture saith that the Father and the Son are one, and that all three Persons are one…” Cheynell expresses the truth that “God doth make himself known to us in a way most suitable to our weak apprehensions [and that] we must needs apprehend that there is a Divine relation between the eternal Father and his coeternal Son, and conclude that these two are distinguished from, and in a well qualified sense opposed to one another with a mere relative opposition, for there can be no contrary opposition between the Persons. This Relative and friendly opposition assures us that the Father is not the Son, and that the Father did not beget himself, but did beget his Son.”[10]

            These distinctions arise out of each person’s relations: the Father subsisting in Himself as unbegotten, the Son eternally subsisting as uniquely begotten of the Father, and the Spirit as uniquely spirated from both Father and Son.

            And yet, in God’s simplicity, the Father’s begetting also points to who God is in Himself as Triune! “Eternal Generation points at a personal property considered after the manner of a vital Act. But then as this personal property and relation doth not differ really from the divine essence, so too this personal power of begetting doth not differ really from the Essential Power, because God doth beget a Son in the unity of his own divine essence.”[11]

            So much so is Cheynell jealous to uphold the unity and simplicity of the Triune God that he says, “If you were to ask ‘Where was God before the world was made?’ I answer, that he was then, just where he is now, in himself. If you ask where the Father was, I answer, in the Son; if you ask where the Son was, I answer, in the Father. If you ask where the Spirit was, I answer, he was both in the Father and the Son, and they both in Him. God was in all three persons, and all three persons in the Godhead, and in one another, and so they do, and will remain to all eternity.”[12]

            For Francis Cheynell, this glorious mystery of God’s Triunity, held in biblical balance by his unity and simplicity, is what should undergird our worship of God.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[1] The full title being, “The Divine Trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: The blessed Doctrine of the three Coessential subsistents in the eternall Godhead without any confusion or division of the distinct Subsistences, or multiplication of the most single and entire Godhead, acknowledged, beleeved, and adored by Christians, in opposition to Pagans, Jewes, Mahumetans, blasphemous and Antichristian Hereticks, who say they are Christians, but are not.”

[2] Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity, 190.

[3] Herman Bavinck writes that “The oneness of God does not only consist in a unity of singularity, however, but also in a unity of simplicity. The fact of the matter is that Scripture, to denote the fullness of the life of God, uses not only adjectives but also substantives: it tells us not only that God is truthful, righteous, living, illuminating, loving, and wise, but also that he is the truth, righteousness, life, light, love, and wisdom (Jer. 10:10; 23:6; John 1:4-5, 9; 14:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 John 1:5; 4:8). Hence, on account of its absolute perfection, every attribute of God is identical with his essence.” Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation vol 2, pg. 173.

[4] Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity, 26-27.

[5] Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity, 106.

[6] Dolezal, All That Is In God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism, 105.

[7] Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity, 55-56.

[8] ibid. 195. He continues, “There can be no essential change in the Son by this generation, because the generation is eternal, and the nature which is communicated by generation is unchangeable; the Father did unchangeably beget his Son, and his Son is unchangeably begotten. There is no shadow of changing or turning either in the Father of lights, or the Son of righteousness, because they are one and the same unchanging Jehovah (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6).

[9] Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Post-Reformation Trinitarian Perspectives” in Retrieving Eternal Generation, edited by Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain, 198.

[10] Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity, 102. And yet, says Cheynell, “God did not beget another God, for the Power of God is not, nay cannot be, exercised about anything repugnant to the Nature of God, and nothing is more repugnant to the Godhead then a plurality of Gods. Therefore, we must conclude, that the Father and Son are one and the same God. Now we are come to the Mystery which faith must receive and reason admire.”

The Joy of God’s Salvation

by Mark Johnston

In the American Declaration of Independence, ‘the pursuit of happiness’ was listed along with ‘Life’ and ‘Liberty’ as one of three ‘inalienable rights’ common to all people. It is a striking and curious inclusion. But, whatever lay behind its place in this history-making document, it recognises that joy lies at the very heart of our humanity.

Around 130 years earlier another distinguished group, the men of the Westminster Assembly, enshrined joy in a very different document: the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Answering the question, ‘What is man’s chief end?’ they not only stated: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God’; but added, significantly, ‘…and to enjoy him forever.’ This too, in the deepest possible way, acknowledges that to be joyful is of the essence of what it means to be human.

The Westminster divines were simply recognising the fact that joy is woven deep into the tapestry of God’s revelation in Scripture. From the pristine joy of Eden to the incomparably greater joy of heaven, it can be traced – even through the worst of times – through the history of redemption.

It is strange, therefore, that joy so often seems to be missing from Christian experience and, more so, even from worship. Even where Christians do seek to incorporate it into their life and worship, it often feels synthetic and comes across as a cheap imitation of the deep, enduring joy in the Bible.

This theme could hardly be more relevant to the world we live in. The American dream of ‘happiness’ seems further away than ever. The world at large appears to be sliding ever more deeply into a joyless existence. Yet the yearning for joy lives on, no matter how unattainable it may be.

So, in terms of gospel opportunity, for those who, in Adam, ‘have been subjected to a life of toil and misery’, Christ’s declaration, ‘I have come that they may have live and have it to the full’ (Jn 10.10) should be shouted loud and clear. But for that to happen, those who supposedly have this new life should display it in their own lives in order to commend it to others.

All of this gives good reason to explore the theme of joy in Scripture more seriously than perhaps we do. Indeed, nowhere should this be more so than in churches that claim to be ‘Reformed’. The Westminster Shorter Catechism was not compiled by men who treated doctrine lightly; yet they chose to embed joy in the very first line of the summary of all they believed. So, all who claim this heritage should be marked by joy in all its rich dimensions.

For this reason, it would seem there is a place in Place for Truth for a series of articles on joy.

From the outset we need to note a key marker the Bible itself lays down to understand the joy of which it speaks. However noble the ideal of ‘happiness’ in the Declaration of Independence may have been, it is undefined. So, almost universally, those who have pursued it have sought a version of happiness that is a merely human construct. People see wealth, success, sex and more besides as the key to pleasure, only to be painfully disappointed when they actually get what they want. The joy presented in the Bible is something very different.

Interestingly, this comes out most clearly in words penned by King David when he had all but lost this precious commodity. Ironically, it was at a time when he had pursued pleasure in the wrong way. Instead of finding deeper satisfaction, he allowed the joy he already had to slip through his fingers. In a moment of unrestrained lust he thought that sex with Bathsheba would take his enjoyment of life to new levels; but it had the opposite effect. It sank him into the lowest depths of misery he had ever known.

So, in his prayer of repentance and plea to God for help he cries out, ‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation’ (Ps 51.12). It is the combination of ‘joy’ bound up with ‘salvation’ that is ‘your’ [God’s] gracious gift that defines the uniqueness of the joy found in the gospel.

What we need is not ‘joy’ in some vague sense, or even a ‘joy’ that comes from ‘salvation’ in the multitude of ways this has been construed. Rather, the joy we need and the only joy that truly satisfies the human spirit is that which God alone can give, through his gracious salvation. In it God deals with the one thing that has plunged our race into misery – our sin, its guilt and its consequences – through the atonement he provides. But simultaneously he restores the joy that was lost to our race in Adam’s first sin: the joy of communion with God. The heart of God’s salvation is reconciliation: of God to sinners and sinners to God.

David knew the joy of communion with God, but tried to improve on it through his union with Bathsheba. The misery he brought on himself was more painful than he could have imagined: hence his longing to be restored. He discovered the hard way that there is nothing in the entire universe that can compare to the joy of God’s salvation.

We will explore this joy more fully in ensuing articles. The joy this world needs and unwittingly longs for is the joy that only God can give us through his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.



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Eternal Generation: An Introduction

Basic Biblical Trinitarianism teaches that God is one being with one divine essence but three eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons shares fully in the divine essence so that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God but there are not three gods. Similarly, there is a distinction in the persons, the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

Where this gets more complicated is when we begin to think about how God the Father is able to have a Son who is eternal? First, the Son must be eternal if he is truly God. This is both logically true and more importantly Biblically true. The Son was already existing “in the beginning” as John 1:1 states. The Son is the first and the last (Rev. 1:17, 2:8) and God blessed forever (Rom. 9:5) just like the Father. Equally, logically if the Son shares in the full glory of the Godhead (per. Jn. 1:1-3, 14, 18, etc.) then he must fully share in the divine attributes including eternality. There was never a time, or a point prior to time, when the Son did not exist.

Yet, a hallmark of sonship, in the creaturely realm, is that sons are generated. Sons come from their mother and father. We, of course, know more about this biological process than an ancient theologian. The basic point remains, when a father has a son, he has an offspring generated or ‘begotten’ from himself. The father passes something along to his son, specifically his DNA. In the ancient world, the concept of ‘sonship’ was more than merely biological. The son was an image of his father. As D.A. Carson puts it “your father determined your identity, your training, your vocation” (Jesus the Son of God, 20). There was a much deeper social connection, a good son reflected, represented, and carried on the attributes, identity, and status of the Father. To be a son was to be like the father. This is why in the Bible the phrase “son of” is often a descriptor regardless of biology or heredity. The doctrine of eternal generation helps us define the Sonship of God the Son.

Eternal generation of the Son means that from all eternity past, God the Father has begotten God the Son so that both are eternal, and equal in power, glory, and majesty but they also co-exist in a self-differentiated relationship. The Nicea-Constantinople Creed states that the only Son of God is “begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.” The Father is God and Light. The Son is God and Light but as God from God and Light from Light—eternally begotten. Typically, eternal generation understands that the Father communicates the divine essence to the Son in this eternal relationship and ordering (taxis), although some have suggested that eternal generation should be limited to the personhood of the Father and Son.

One Biblical passage that help us understand the doctrine of eternal generation is John 5:26.

John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

First, we notice that the Father has “life in himself.” He is self-existent and therefore dependent upon no one and nothing to sustain him. Second, the Father gives to the Son this unique attribute of the godhead to have life in himself. Third, the Son has life in himself. Points two and three almost seem contradictory: does the Son have life in himself? Yes. But how can that be if he is given this attribute or quality to have life in himself? Notice John does not say “The Son has life from the Father.” No! The Son has always existed. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Son does not come into being by a work of the Father. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the Son and Father that has existed for all eternity. The Father has always given to the Son, as to the ordering of the persons and divine essence, this “life in himself” quality. So, the Son is both eternally God and dependent upon nothing outside the godhead for existence and in a relationship where the Father is unbegotten and the Son is eternally begotten as to the order of the persons of the godhead. Further, we notice there is a difference between the Father and the Son in that the Father gives to Son this “life in himself” quality but it is not a reciprocal relationship, i.e. the Son does not give to the Father the “life in himself.” To make an analogy to human beings: the role and order of generation of father and son cannot be switched even when they share the same DNA—and DNA is passed between them. John’s gospel would seem to affirm what later Classical Trinitarianism defines: the Father is unbegotten while the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. [For a more detailed exegesis of John 5:26 see D.A. Carson “John 5:26: Crux Interpretum”].

For another Biblical text illuminating our path, we read in Hebrews 1:3a “He [the Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…” The Son radiates out the glory of God. This is not as a passive reflection but as one who actively shares in the glory of the God. Just as the Father has divine glory, the Son has divine glory. But the Son, as Son, is also the exact impress of the nature of the Father. The Son upholds the universe with the power and majesty of the Godhead. Yet, he is an imprint of the Father—so that to see the Son is to see the Father (Jn. 14:9). But the Father is not the imprint of the Father’s nature.

Finally, in 1 John 5:18 “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” The believer in Jesus is one who has been born from God—referring to the impartation of spiritual life at the new birth (1 John 5:1). We have become God’s children (1 John 5:2) through an imparting of eternal life. Who protects us? Jesus, the Son of God. He is identified here as “he who was born of God.” This does not mean there was a point when Jesus did not exist nor is this referring to Jesus’ incarnation. Rather it refers to the eternal sonship of the Son of God. Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father.

Eternal generation of the Son safeguards the Fatherhood of the Father and Sonship of the Son within the godhead while we maintain the unity. It also safeguards the full deity and eternality of the Son. Eternal generation of the Son says that the Father is eternally Father to the eternal Son. That the Father/Son relationship has existed from all time. There is an eternal oneness to their being and an eternal self-differentiation (Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, 20).

Eternal generation is not only a Biblical doctrine but it is a doctrine of the orthodox Christian faith. It is one that is to be believed and confessed. The doctrine of eternal generation is not useless undue speculation but a careful articulation of Biblical truth that protects us from grave errors of denying the deity of the Son on the one hand and on the other hand seeing the Father and Son as mere interchangeable entities in the godhead.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

Sources:

D.A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.

D.A. Carson “John 5:26: Crux Interpretum for Eternal Generation” in Retrieving Eternal Generation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017: 79-97.

Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2012.

Lucy Hutchinson – A Puritan Woman in Changing Times

Seventeenth-century England was a time of uncertainty, upheaval, and questions, a time of civil and religious wars, revolutions, plague and fire. Books and articles tell us of the people who made history: James VI of Scotland and I of England, Charles I and the regicides, Elizabeth the Winter Queen, the Puritans who fled to the Americas and those who crystalized Protestant doctrines in the Westminster Assembly. Few write about the common people who tried to make sense of those times. Lucy Hutchinson was one of these: an intelligent woman whose life became deeply entrenched in the political and religious struggles of her day.

Fervent Scholar and Devoted Wife

            She was born on 29 January 1620 in the Tower of London – the second of ten children. Her father Allen Apsley, lieutenant of the Tower with a limited education, provided his children with excellent tutoring. He particularly insisted in giving Lucy a strong foundation in the Latin language, which was still the gate to higher education.

            Lucy’s love for learning was impressive. Her mother found it troubling – a little inappropriate for a young girl. She encouraged Lucy to memorize sermons. Lucy complied, but continued to read love stories and poems, and wrote some of her own.

            Apsley died in 1630, leaving the family in debt. Lucy’s mother remarried, but the new union was unhappy and ended in separation. Lucy’s experience was very similar to what some children of divorced parents have to endure today. She was shifted between different members of her family. Because of financial need, she was pressured to marry soon and well.

            The pressure ended when she met her future husband, John. In reality, he was first intrigued by her when he visited her home in her absence and discovered her excellent choice of Latin books. Later, when he heard one of her poems being recited in the household of a common friend, he became obsessed with the desire to meet her in person.

            The actual meeting didn’t disappoint. Love and admiration were mutual. The couple married on 3 July 1638. The next year, they had twin children, Thomas and Edward, who kept Lucy busy. A third child was born in 1641.

            After some hesitation, John enlisted in the parliamentarian army. In 1643, he was appointed governor of Nottingham and of Nottingham Castle. These were turbulent times, culminating with the 1649 execution of Charles I. Things became more peaceful in the 1650s, and Lucy resumed her literary studies, translating Lucretius’s De rerum natura.

            Trouble resurfaced in 1660, with the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. As a signatory of Charles I’s death warrant, John was a marked man. He avoided arrest by recanting his republican stand, although Lucy said she tricked him into doing it.

            What little peace the Hutchinsons might have enjoyed ended abruptly three years later, when John was arrested for involvement in an armed uprising. In spite of his protests of innocence and Lucy’s pleadings with the House of Lords, the government kept him locked in Sandown Castle, Kent, where he died of complications of an illness. He left behind Lucy and seven of their children: four sons (Thomas and Edward, Lucius, and John) and three daughters (Barbara, Lucy, and Margaret). Two other children, another John and Adeliza, had died in infancy.

“Return, return, my soul”

            Like her mother, Lucy was left with debts to pay, which she resolved by selling John’s properties. Her main efforts were aimed at clearing John’s name, through a book later entitled Memoirs of the life of Colonel Hutchinson. Her vivid details of the civil war have made this work of great interest to historians.

            The narrative is interwoven with constant reminders of God’s providence, which must have been of personal reassurance to Lucy at a time of political and religious instability. A source of comfort were also the sermons of the well-known theologian John Owen, which she probably attended at the home of a common friend (the 1662 enforcement of the Act of Uniformity had outlawed Puritan preaching).

            Her admiration for Owen led Lucy to translate part of his Latin work Theologoumena pantodoupa, which was meant as an introduction to an explanation of true theology. It was also an important treatise in covenant theology.

            Lucy’s beliefs were clearly expressed in a warm letter to her daughter Barbara – an admonition to stand firm against the proliferation of heretical sects. The letter, posthumously published as On the Principles of the Christian Religion, is pregnant of a mother’s concern for her daughter and indicative of Lucy’s theological clarity.

            Her most creative work, however, is a biblical poem by a customary lengthy title, Order and disorder, Or, The World Made and Undone. Being Meditations upon the Creation and the Fall; As it is recorded in the beginning of Genesis. Published anonymously, this work has been consistently recognized as hers.

            The contents of the poem, in five divisions, are apparent in the title, but Lucy’s communication of the biblical events is remarkable. This is, for example, how she expressed the astounding revelation of the gospel in Genesis 3:15:

“Thy head shall break.” More various Mystery         

Ne’re did within so short a sentence lie.        

Here is irrevocable vengeance, here   

Love as immutable. Here doth appear                   

Infinite Wisdome plotting with free grace,   

Even by Mans Fall, th’ advance of humane race.      

Severity here utterly confounds,        

Here Mercy cures by kind and gentle wounds,         

The Father here, the Gospel first reveals,              

Here fleshly veils th’ eternal son conceals.    

The law of life and spirit here takes place,    

Given with the promise of assisting grace.

            With the gospel came also a prediction of a long-standing war between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the devil, a war Lucy had experienced in more ways than one, as she clung to the firm promise that, as strong as the forces of evil might seem, “their war must end in final overthrow.”

            The poem ends with an exhortation to trust God’s providence, “in which th’ obedient and the meak rejoyce, above their own preferring Gods wise choice,” finding consolation in knowing that He is both good and wise. But that’s not the only comfort. The greatest reward is God himself, and the only “real ill” is “divorce from him.” This last realization helps the believer to overcome all troubles and pain.

For in the crystal mirror of God’s grace        

All things appear with a new lovely face.      

When that doth Heavens more glorious palace show

We cease to’ admire a Paradise below,          

Rejoyce in that which lately was our loss,             

And see a Crown made up of every Cross.   

Return, return, my soul to thy true rest,         

As young benighted birds unto their nest,     

There hide thy self under the wings of love  

Till the bright morning all thy clouds remove.

            For Lucy, that bright morning was in October 1681, when she joined the Lord she loved.

[All quotations are from Lucy Hutchinson, Order and Disorder Or, The World Made and Undone. Being Meditations upon the Creation and the Fall; As it is recorded in the beginning of Genesis, Canto V, Printed by Margaret White for Henry Mortlock, 1679; online ed. Bartleby.com, 2009, http://www.bartleby.com/239/5.html].

Eternal Generation and Preaching the Biblical Gospel

Every Sunday I have the astoundingly gracious and mercifully miraculous privilege to preach God’s written word to some of God’s precious covenant people. But why does God require that his word is not merely read but preached? Put another way, wherein lies the difference between preaching and reading God’s word? Specifically, it has to do with God as Triune, and the capacity he gave us to reason and enter into the meaning of his word. As we hear the gospel faithfully preached, we are “entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture” not merely reading the Scripture, and this moves us into all the doctrines of the Christian faith.[1] Central to all Christian doctrines is the doctrine of the Trinity.            

Definitions of preaching abound but a biblically faithful definition goes something like this: Christian preaching is the Triune God’s ordained means by which he uses men filled with his Spirit to reveal the meaning of his written word to a particular congregation of the bride of Christ Jesus for the glory of the Father. Truly, more could be said. After all, I just defined preaching the gospel in relation to the infinite and eternal Triune God (it is the eternal gospel, Rev. 14:6)! Of course, more could be said! Let’s try.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms, among other things, that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the source of, and means, to all meaning. Put another way, we cannot understand the significance or importance (this is what is meant by meaning) of anything apart from understanding it in relation to something other than itself. This all reflects who God is as Trinity. God is real, true personal unity and real, true personal diversity simultaneously. Note that based on how I have described meaning and affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity that God is inherently meaningful, or we might say he is meaning-filled. In order for any of us to truly know, there must be true unity and true diversity simultaneously at the very essence of Reality and all realities. Realities can be distinguished from each other, yet they are also inherently united to each other. This dynamic marks what we call knowledge and meaning.

Do you realize that this dynamic of relating one thing to another is what human language both in its written and spoken forms is based upon? One word as subject related to another that is the verb and then another that is the object of the verb. Communicating in verbal and written languages happens because one word is related to another in a particular way and eventually something through these word relationships is affirmed. The very affirmation has to be meaningful in some way or there is nothing actually communicated. I recall a few years ago hearing a Christian apologist deny the affirmation a young man made regarding the meaninglessness of life. “Life is meaningless,” the young man stated. “You don’t believe that,” responded the apologist. Of course, the point was that the young man had made a grammatical statement that he believed carried meaning. The apologist eventually helped the young man see that his struggle was over the fact that he did not know the meaning of his life and life in general.

The gospel that Christian ministers are called to preach that reveals Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor. 1:23; 2:2) is about the Triune God. God’s word written and made flesh (God’s Son) reveals and glorifies God the Father (John 14:9; Heb. 1:1-4) by the power of God’s Spirit. God accomplishes this purpose because the Father not only sent the Son who reveals him (John 5:19-47; 12:44-5) but he, along with the Son, sent his Spirit so that sinners like you and me would know, believe, love and serve him (John 14:1-31; 15:26-27; 16:5-15; 1Cor. 2:1-16). Indeed, we would not know how to rightly reason about, or accurately assess the meaning of anything we experience in God’s creation apart from his word written, his word made flesh (Jesus), and his Spirit.

All this is to say that if anyone attributes anything to any one of the three persons of the Trinity that denies that particular divine person’s equality or unity with the other two persons of the Trinity, they have, at least in principle, failed to affirm the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. This means they have, in principle, failed to uphold the biblical gospel. How can one faithfully preach the gospel when one fails to reason in accord with the meaning of the text that reveals the equality or full divinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? They cannot. You see, in the end, the debate about the eternal generation of the Son has to do with the equality of God the Son with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This means it is a matter of the gospel and faithful preaching of it.   

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  


[1]B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Collected Works 2:133.

Justification, the teaching office of Rome, and confessing Protestants

My first exposures to Protestant-Catholic conversation were more like shouting matches than dialogues. Speakers took a confrontational approach and charges flew on both sides. In my mind, they sound roughly like this

      Protestants charge, “You…”                                

Preach salvation by works                             

Take Scripture from the people                      

Create rites, saints, and false means grace     

Rob Christ of glory and give it to Mary        

Tolerate a corrupt, oppressive hierarchy        

Deny the priesthood of believers                   

Form novel doctrines by papal decree           

Catholics reply “But you…”

Ignore the importance of works.

Trust Scripture to any interpreter

Ignore God-given sacraments and means of grace

Reject God’s blessing on Mary and other saints

Reject God-given leaders

Indulge the triumph of the individual

Invite ecclesiastical disorder and disunity

Is there a basis for constructive dialogue?

      There is reason to believe that confessing evangelicals could reduce the depth of their disagreements with Catholic theologians. The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic church, 1962-65, advocated increased dialogue with Protestants, the addition of Bible translations in the mother tongues of the faithful, and an increase in Bible study by believers. The results of the encouragement to study Scripture are visible in non-denominational Bible study ministries such as Bible Study Fellowship, where a large minority of students is Catholics. Vatican II did not adjust the Catholic position on justification, but it did allow dialogue and study of Scripture that inevitably led to a re-examination of the issue.

      For the next section of this blog, my primary source is The Catechism of the Catholic Church, “promulgated by John Paul II” in 1994 and 2000 (2nd ed.). It is right to give thanks for large stretches of The Catechism. Confessing evangelicals and Catholics agree on the person and work of Christ. We both assert that Jesus is fully God and fully man, God incarnate, the sinless redeemer who offered an atoning sacrifice for sin. He is the anointed Messiah and the unique, pre-existent Son of God. He is God in flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, Lord of all (paragraphs 422-86). The Catechism also says that Jesus’ atonement is offered by God’s grace and received by faith. Confessing evangelicals and Protestants differ sharply on the way grace is offered and how faith receives Christ. But we agree both on the person and work of Christ and the centrality of grace and faith.

      Take grace. The Catechism says “Grace is… the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God” (par 1996). It also says “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God.” It adds that it is also “free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (par. 150).

      So we agree that salvation rests on the work of Christ, that God’s grace enables us to call upon God, that faith adheres to Christ. We also agree that, in some sense, faith and grace necessarily brings personal transformation that manifests itself in works. With all these points of agreement, no wonder we quarrel so effectively when we differ, since important differences in our views remain, especially regarding justification. Michael Reeves summarized them this way in Why the Reformation Still Matters (32-33; the wording is mine)

Justification in Contrast

Protestant view of justification                             Roman Catholic view of justification

Justification is a forensic act                               Justification is a healing act

The problem: Mankind is guilty                           The Problem: Mankind is wounded

The dominant metaphor: the court                     The dominant metaphor: a hospital

Cure: Alien righteousness of Christ                   Cure: Inherent righteousness of believers

God imputes righteousness                                God imparts righteousness

Means: By faith                                                        Means: By faith, works, and sacraments

Justified in the present thru Christ’s work         Justified in the future, synergistically

Justification grants assurance                            It is erroneous to seek or assert assurance

Exploring agreement and disagreement on faith and justification

      It may seem a minor point, but the Catechism defines faith as assent, an intellectual act, while Protestants define it as assent and trust, an act of heart and mind. This explains at least part of the Catholic objection to the teaching of salvation by faith alone. Catholics say “Works are essential” because they prove there is more than intellectual assent. Protestants agree, but we say it this way: One receives salvation by faith and grace alone, but saving faith is never alone. Since real faith pervades the whole person, works inevitably follow.

      Let’s compare the way Protestants and Catholics view faith and works. We agree that no one is saved by works and agree that works necessarily accompany salvation. We disagree here: Protestants say works necessarily follow justification; they are a consequent absolute necessity. Catholics say works accompany justification as an antecedent absolute necessity: No works, no salvation. To sharpen the point, if one commits a mortal sin and does not repent, he or she is lost. “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever” (The Catechism, par 1033, 1854-61).

Faith, Works and Justification in Protestant and Catholic thought

No one says:                     Works -> Justification

The reformers say:           Faith    -> Justification; works necessary follow

Catholics say:                  Faith + works -> Justification

      We agree that salvation or justification is by faith in Christ, through grace. We agree that works are necessary but disagree as to why. Protestants say “Works show our faith lives.” Catholics say works complete our faith. The Catechism says “When it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body” (par. 1815).

      This connects to the question of assurance. Reformed thinkers insist that assurance of salvation is possible because salvation rests on the finished work of Christ. Catholics say one can be sure they are saved in the present by living faithfully and receiving the sacraments. The issue may be clearest in contrasting definitions of justification.  

Justification and sanctification in Westminster and Catholic Catechisms

      WSC 32: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.

      WSC 35: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

      A significant group of Catholics, as they study Scripture and dialogue with Lutherans, has moved toward the Protestant view of justification. The 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Catholic Church Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity with the Lutheran World Federation affirmed justification by faith, through grace, on basis of merit of Jesus, imputed:

Justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation… of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit…. We confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works (par. 11). 


      The document has elements that a confessing evangelical would question, such as this: “Justification is the forgiveness of sins… liberation from the dominating power of sin and death… and from the curse of the law…. It unites with Christ and with his death and resurrection… It occurs in the reception of the Holy Spirit in baptism” (par. 11). We notice the document implicitly combines justification and sanctification when it says justification is both “the forgiveness of sin” and “liberation” from sin’s power. Still, the first part of this formulation moves in the right direction.

      Nonetheless, the Catechism, promulgated by the pope 1994 and 2000, hence both before and after the joint document just cited, reaffirms the traditional Catholic formulation. It combines justification and sanctification. The Catechism, paragraphs 1989-90, says

Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man. Justification detaches man from sin… and purifies his heart of sin [We call this sanctification]. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals [Again, this is sanctification].

      Later paragraphs also combine justification and sanctification. “With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us” (par. 1991). Justification conforms us to the righteousness of God.” It “establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom” and “entails… sanctification (1992-5).

      As we appraise these developments, we offer three thoughts. First, a real difference remains on the doctrine of justification. We reaffirm that justification is a forensic and judicial act, distinct from moral reform. In Paul, the opposite of “to justify” is not “to corrupt,” it is “to condemn,” as we see in Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” Similarly, Jesus opposes justification to condemnation, but not sanctification when he says “By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37, cf. Prov 17:15). When we recognize that justification is a judicial act that rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, we reaffirm that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).  

      Second, there is reason to give thanks for points of agreement on Christ, the atonement, and grace (above). Third, the Catholic interest in dialogue and Bible study creates hope of progress and edification. Catholics helpfully remind proponents of cheap grace that real faith shows itself in works. Moral recklessness is no friend of the gospel. Let us hope that mutual study of Scripture will lead the whole church to affirm salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. 

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.

“IF YOUR AFFECTION SHALL BE INCLINED” – SOME MARRIAGE PROPOSALS OF PROTESTANT REFORMERS

“IF YOUR AFFECTION SHALL BE INCLINED” – SOME MARRIAGE PROPOSALS OF PROTESTANT REFORMERS

The Protestant Reformation created some new questions in love relationships. For example, what’s an appropriate way for a Protestant preacher to propose to a lady or, even worse, for a former monk to propose to a former nun, without aggravating the accusations of Roman Catholics who accused Protestants of lewdness and incontinence?

Martin Luther and Katharina Van Bora

            The story of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Katharina Van Bora (1499-1552) is well known. Whether he had ever entertained thoughts of marriage for himself, she resolved the issue by proposing to him.

            She had arrived in Wittenberg with eight other ex nuns, looking to serve God outside the convent. As it had become customary in these cases, the leaders at Luther’s church worked hard to find these women good homes and, whenever possible, good husbands. Katherine was hard to please. In the end, she said that she would only marry Martin Luther or his friend, Nicholas von Amsdorf.

            At first, Luther laughed at the prospects of getting married, but his friends convinced him to do it. After all, he had been teaching for some time about the benefits of marriage. It was time to put his own words into practice. Besides, he would have finally pleased his father, something he had unsuccessfully aspired to do in the past.

            Luther and Katharina married in 1525.  He was 41 years old and she was 25. The marriage was long and happy.

John Calvin and Idelette de Bure

            John Calvin (1509-1564) would have gladly remained single if his friends had not convinced him to marry. While he opposed mandatory celibacy, he found marriage unnecessary. The only way he could make sense of marriage for himself was to reduce it to a practical matter. “If I do it,” he wrote, “then it is to devote more time to the Lord and less to daily duties.”[1]

            If his friends were serious about finding him a wife, he handed them a job description: she had to be hard-working, obedient, thrifty, and willing to take care of him through his frequent physical ailments. She also had to speak French. This last item was non-negotiable. He turned down a woman when she asked for some time to consider it.

            After he refused a second proposal, most of his friends gave up the quest, except for Martin Bucer, a renowned match-maker. He suggested Idelette de Bure (c. 1500-1549), the widow of an Anabaptist, who had hosted Calvin on several occasions. Calvin recognized she was one of a kind (singularis exempli femina). They married in 1540. He was 31, Idelette a few years older.

            They stayed happily married in spite of health challenges and sorrows (including the infant death of their only son) until she died of an illness in 1549. Calvin, who had started the marriage as little more than a business transaction, was crushed by Ideletts’s death. “I am no more than half a man,” he said.[2]

Edward Dering and Anne Locke

            Edward Dering (c. 1540–1576), one of the most popular and fiery London preachers of his day, faced the matter of marriage proposal as a good Calvinist, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, remembering that, ultimately, all matters are firmly in God’s hands. “If your affection shall be inclined as I do wish it to be bent, the Lord’s name be praised. If you shall better like other where, I pray God bless you. I will endure my loss under this hope: when we shall have better eyes that shall be able to see God, our faith shall lead us both into a happy society.”[3]

            Dering’s letter must have worked because its recipient, Anne Locke (1530-after 1590), agreed to marry him. She was about 42 years old and her first husband, Henry Locke, had recently died of a stubborn illness. Dering was ten years younger than her, and might have reminded her of John Knox, another fiery preacher she greatly admired.

            Their marriage was short and troubled. His blazing sermons caused him to be suspended first from preaching and then from lecturing. The suspension was later revoked but his health began to give way, and he died of tuberculosis only four years after their wedding.

Heinrich Bullinger and Anna Adlischwyler

            In pursuing Anne Locke, Dering had followed the normal protocol of enlisting the help of a third party – in his case the wife of a friend. Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) opted for a more direct approach to pursue the object of his affections: Anna Adlischwyler (1504-1564).

            If Roman Catholics were horrified by the number of ex monks marrying ex nuns, Bullinger gave them a greater scandal to denounce. When he began courting Anna, she was still living in a convent. They were both 23 years old.

            He started with a very lengthy letter of proposal. Life in a convent, he explained, is not biblical, while marriage and procreation are. “Yes, you are young,” he wrote, “and God did not give you such a body, and did not create you so that you remain an eternal madam and do nothing so that fruit comes from you.”[4]

            After listing his qualifications, financial situation, personal integrity, and (of course) love for her, he asked her to take his proposal into careful consideration. “Read my letter three of four times, think about it, and ask God so that he tells you what his will is in this matter.”[5]

            One month later, he met Anna in church and she agreed to marry him. To avoid offending her elderly and invalid mother, however, they decided to keep their engagement a secret. This was also unconventional, because 16th-century engagements required the presence of witnesses.

            Anna remained in the convent for almost two years, until her mother died on 17 August 1529. Almost six weeks later, Anna and Heinrich finally married. The wedding was celebrated simply at a dinner table at the home of Heinrich’s brother Johannes, with Peter Simler (prior at Kappel) officiating. Far from being a dry and tedious ceremony, the wedding was livened by a love song written and sung by Heinrich for his “beloved hausfrau.

            Apparently, Anna took to heart Heinrich’s recommendation to be fruitful. The couple had eleven children in eighteen years.

John Hutchinson and Lucy Apsley

            John Hutchinson (1615–1664) found a way to a literary woman’s heart when he praised Lucy Apsley’s (1620–1681) interests before her beauty. He was perfectly sincere. He first became intrigued when visited her house in her absence and saw a stack of Latin books. When he asked who was reading them, Lucy’s younger sister told him it was Lucy. For John, it was love at first sight – with Lucy’s mind.

            “Then he grew to love to hear mention of her,” she recalled in her Memoirs, “and the other gentlewomen who had been her companions used to talk much to him of her, telling him how reserved and studious she was, and other things which they esteemed no advantage. But it so much inflamed Mr. Hutchinson’s desire of seeing her, that he began to wonder at himself, that his heart, which had ever entertained so much indifference for the most excellent of womankind, should have such strong impulses towards a stranger he never saw he heard.”[6]

            His interest in her climaxed when he heard one of her poems being recited at the house of a friend, the composer Charles Coleman. He could hardly wait to meet her in person, in spite of his friends’ warnings that she was not interested in men. “She shuns the converse of men as the plague,” they explained. “She only lives in the enjoyment of herself, and has not the humanity to

communicate that happiness to any of our sex.”[7]

            Finally, Lucy came back home, met John, returned his love and married him on 3 July 1638. She was 18, and John 23. Looking back, she recognized God’s hand in this chain of events, particularly since the purpose of her trip from home had been to meet a possible candidate for marriage. “Certainly, it was of the Lord (though he perceived it not),” she wrote, “who had ordained him, through so many various providences, to be yoked with her in whom he found so much satisfaction.”[8]

            The couple continued to love each other “in health and in sickness, in riches and in poverty,” through the commotion of the English Civil War. After avoiding (partly thanks to his wife’s intervention) a few arrests, John was imprisoned in October 1663 under suspicion of plotting against the king. The evidence was inconclusive, but he had been under suspicion for other charges for some time.

            He died of illness, due to the unhealthy prison environment. His wife continued to defend him after his death. Her book, Memoirs of the life of colonel Hutchinson, was written as an attempt to clear his name. The couple had nine children, but one died as a child.


[1] Alexandre Ganoczy, “Calvin’s Life”, in Donald K. McKim, The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 14

[2] Calvini Opera Omnia 15.867, as quoted in Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, IVP Academic, 2009, 172.

[3] Adapted from Patrick Collinson, Oxford Dictionary of Biography, Anne Locke.

[4] Heinrich Bullinger, Works 1, 138,28-139,4, as quoted in Rebecca A. Giselbrecht, Myths and Reality about Heinrich Bullinger’s Wife Anna, Zwingliana 38 (2011), 53-66.

[5] Ibid, 138, 16-20.