Musings 72

“While the Calvinistic doctrines were the language of our pulpits as well as of our Articles, the Reformation made a swift and extensive progress. But ever since our Articles and our pulpits have been at variance, the Reformation has been at a stand.” Augustus Toplady

Toplady was given to thoughtful and powerful statements. During the time of the Reformation the sovereignty and glory of God was the very heart of what was written and preached. The Gospel shone forth and a true reviving work was carried out in Germany and other nations as well. In a sense the Gospel shook the world and it was the Gospel of God and the glory of God that changed the world. But then the wisdom of men and the freedom of man began to take back over and slowly (perhaps not that slowly) the Gospel of God’s glory was replaced by the teachings of men which are man-centered. The men of old who spoke with great power still have their writings reproduced at times, but that is nothing more than washing the tombs of the old prophets while the new prophets are excoriated. It can be fashionable to speak highly of those have been dead a long time and yet resist those who believe the same things in the present time.

If it is true, as Toplady believed, that the advances of the Gospel were and are tied in to how we preach and teach Calvinistic doctrines, then this explains why the modern, professing Church is so weak in our day. It has left the glorious doctrines which the Church is supposed to stand for and proclaim. It has left that which God honors and that is the truth of the Gospel which is the truth of God Himself. The Gospel of grace alone is really the truth of God in Christ and how God saves sinners in and through Christ alone by grace alone. Any attempt to move from that truth in theory or practice is a move away from the Gospel.

William Hauge describes the early eighteenth century church provocatively in his recent biography of William Wilberforce. He speaks of the diluted nature of the Christianity preached in British pulpits, and of the “hypocritical and lackluster way in which it was practiced.” He describes an ecclesiastical establishment “mired in a period of place-seeing, money-grabbing and moral irrelevance.” When William Blackstone, a renowned lawyer at this time, had heard every preacher of note in London he concluded that none of their sermons contained more Christianity than the pagan philosopher Cicero. After listening to sermons in York, Henry Venn similarly concluded that “excepting a single phrase or two, they might be preached in a synagogue or mosque without offence.” One historian of this period candidly asserts that the established religion was regarded by most politician, and many churchmen too, as merely a valuable form of police control over the lower classes. He goes on to conclude that, “It must be admitted that the church of England during the eighteenth century is not an inspiring spectacle. Latitudinarian to a degree which makes it difficult to find any theological justification for its existence, at its highest it was an efficient instrument of statecraft, ad its lowest it was a nest of pluralists and mundane divines.”

The Latitudinarians were men who fought against the philosophical attacks on the Church at the time but that led to the Church becoming rational and moral with little regard for theology. Without theology, the Church has nothing distinctly Divine to proclaim. Without theology, the Church has no basis or standard for true morality or holiness. The Church took up arms in defense, but it did not defend what it should have defended and as such it revealed what it really was and what was really important to it. Theology is an utter necessity for the Church and when it is denigrated the Church will crumble. When the solid truths of Calvinism (the real heart of it) are attacked or dismissed as not that important the true Church will continue on, true enough, but there will certainly be a great weakening in the outer shell and in appearance.

It is vital for elders and preachers to take stands for vital truths for there is no Church and no Gospel apart from those truths. There is not a good reason that one can come up with for not standing on and teaching the vital truths of Calvinism. It is true that if we do so people will leave. It is true that if we do so it may be the reason that people give for there being division in the congregation. But we must understand that if we keep people and yet it is not because of the truth of Christ, then those people may not be converted at all. If we don’t teach solid doctrine because we are afraid that those truths will bring division, we must also understand that there is only true unity in the truth. Saying we believe in Calvinism is a terrible thing if we don’t teach it and proclaim it boldly.

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