Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola

“To Have the True Sentiment Which We Ought to Have in the Church Militant, Let the Following Rules be Observed.  Rule Thirteen: To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls.  Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.”

In the mid-sixteenth century, Europe was full of competing ideas regarding Christianity.  Many advocated reforms of varying kinds.  Some favored doctrinal and practical reforms, while others favored moral reforms.  A major component of the debates between the advocates of different kinds of reforms was the question of whether or not the Church could be trusted.  Could the Church’s claims of authority in spiritual matters be trusted?  Could it be trusted at all times?  Could it be trusted at all?  And how much?  Ignatius of Loyola claimed that the Church could be trusted unreservedly, and it should be trusted, even if one’s own senses say the opposite.  However, Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is both impractical and antithetical to the teaching of the New Testament, and it was therefore rejected by the Protestants.

The beginning of the Protestant Reformation is traditionally dated to October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg.  There had been movements advocating reform in earlier generations, yet there were two characteristics of this movement that set it apart from its predecessors.

First, the Protestant Reformation resulted in the permanent separation of a number of branches of Christianity from each other.  The most recent division had been the separation of the Greek churches in the east from the Latin churches in the west in 1054.  The reform movements in the centuries preceding the sixteenth century hadn’t resulted in an institutional separation from the hierarchical Church.

Second, the Protestant Reformation was discussed among the laity extensively in the common tongue.  It was not merely an academic debate in Latin among scholars and clergy.  Luther wrote his 95 theses in Latin with the intent of debating them with other scholars, yet they were quickly translated into German and dispersed throughout the land.  Both Lutheran and Reformed Protestants used the printing press to propagate their particular views among the common people, and in many areas of Europe there were public disputations regarding doctrinal disagreements.

The third through fifth decades of the sixteenth century, then, were an environment where the laity, not just the clergy or scholars, were discussing the current theological controversies.  This environment is the historical context in which Ignatius of Loyola wrote his Spiritual Exercises.  Following his spiritual conversion in 1521, Ignatius first composed Spiritual Exercises from 1522 to 1524, and he finally published it in 1548.  Europe was already discussing Luther’s and others’ teaching before Ignatius began work on his book, and when it was finally published, the Council of Trent had not yet finished responding to Protestantism.

Many parts of the Spiritual Exercises repeat ideas and practices that had been present in earlier moral reform movements, encouraging a more in depth practice of medieval piety without addressing doctrinal matters.  In the section where Ignatius asserts that the Church should be trusted unreservedly, however, he is presenting a list of eighteen rules that are all about the doctrinal debates of his day.  For example, the second rule addresses auricular confession, the third the Mass, the fifth vows of poverty, the sixth veneration of relics and praying to saints, the seventh fasting and penance, and the eighth images and ornamentation in churches.  Later, the fourteenth through seventeenth rules in this list advocate caution when speaking about predestination, faith, and grace.[1]

One could characterize this list of rules as eighteen rules for how to remain loyal to the Roman Church in a place and time where everybody is talking about the issues raised by the Protestants.  In addition, Ignatius’ book was written for the laity, not the clergy alone, and it was these people who were reading and discussing Protestant literature.  Yet if the common people would follow these rules by speaking well of the distinctly Roman features of Christianity, trusting the hierarchical Church in all matters, and not speaking much about predestination, faith, and grace, then popular support for Protestantism could be eradicated.

The advantage to Ignatius’ rule is clear.  Whatever the matter of debate, there is an answer: simply go with what the hierarchical Church says.  If the hierarchical Church says that bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ, though it does not appear so to one’s own eyes, then one simply needs to believe what the hierarchical Church teaches.  For those whose faith could be shaken by a multiplicity of voices all claiming that theirs is the correct version of Christianity, they can have assurance that they are indeed following the correct version because they’re doing what the hierarchical Church says to do and believing what the hierarchical Church says to believe.  It isn’t necessary to read the Scriptures (in the original languages if possible), carefully understand the various positions and the arguments for and against the different positions, and then make a choice about who to follow, whether the Romanists, the Reformed, the Lutheran, or one of the Anabaptist groups.  Instead, one can simply believe that God will not allow his one true hierarchical Church to err and then always know where to look to get the right answer for any theological question.

The first problem with Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen,” though is that it is impractical.  While it sounds useful in theory, in reality it doesn’t work.  The first question is determining who speaks for the hierarchical Church.  Is it the Pope or the Ecumenical Councils?  What if there are more popes than one, as there were in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, for example?  The popes claimed to have authority over the councils, and the Councils of Pisa and Constance claimed to have authority over popes.  How does one follow Ignatius’ rule when there are multiple popes and councils, all claiming to be the highest authority in the hierarchical Church?

Similarly, the second question is the same as the first, yet not chronologically concurrent.  If one decides in favor of popes and there is only one person claiming to be pope at a time, what then if the first pope says it’s black, the next pope says it’s gray, and the next pope says it’s white?  Is the way to follow the hierarchical Church to follow whatever the current pope says, even if it disagrees with his predecessors?  This line of thinking would have led believers to uncritically accept Monothelitism if they happened to live during the reign of Pope Honorius I in the seventh century.  The hierarchical Church condemned Honorius and his heresy afterwards.  If one believes that the pope is kept from error when speaking on matters of faith and doctrine, what should then be believed when the current pope says that an earlier pope taught heresy?

The third question that shows the impracticality of Ignatius’ rule is the question of interpretation.  What do you do when there are competing interpretations of what the hierarchical Church teaches?  Protestants hold to the infallibility of Scripture, yet Protestants disagree among themselves when they hold to different interpretations of Scripture.  Likewise, those who follow Ignatius’ rule are holding to the infallibility of the hierarchical Church, yet they would also disagree among themselves when they hold to different interpretations of what the hierarchical Church says.

The second problem with Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is that it is antithetical to Scripture.  Even if one were to suppose, for the sake of argument, that the hierarchical church always spoke with a single voice, never contradicted itself, and was never subject to differing interpretations, it still would remain a problem that Ignatius’ rule is not how Scripture teaches us to evaluate what teachers in the church say.

On the level of practical examples, one can consider how and why the apostle Paul taught that his teaching should be accepted.  Those in authority in the hierarchical Church have supposedly succeeded the apostles in the Church, so it would be incongruous for them to be more trustworthy than the apostles.  Yet Paul and the other apostles never taught that they should be believed simply because they speak for the Church.  Paul defended his arguments with Scripture, whether speaking to unbelievers in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2-3) or writing to believers in Rome (Romans 15:1-4).  The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were commended because they examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was true.

Along with the confirmation of their teaching by Scripture, the apostles’ teaching should be believed because it’s eyewitness testimony and was confirmed by miracles (Acts 10:41; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3).  This doesn’t correspond to Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen.”  The apostles’ teaching should be believed if it is supported by Scripture, involves eyewitness testimony, and is accompanied by supernatural signs.  Yet Ignatius says that the hierarchical Church should be believed unreservedly, even though it is not supported by Scripture, it doesn’t involve eyewitness testimony, and is not accompanied by supernatural signs.  In addition, Ignatius’ rule doesn’t take into account what the New Testament teaches about false teachers.  Almost every book in the New Testament speaks about false prophets or false teachers, all of whom are or were part of the visible church, and nowhere does the New Testament present the hierarchical Church’s decisions as the antidote to false teaching.

Concluding that Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is impractical and antithetical to Scripture, when then did the Protestant Reformers propose instead?  How did they view the authority of the hierarchical Church?  “I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other,” is a line traditionally ascribed to Martin Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Whether he actually said this or not, it exemplifies the Protestant response.  The hierarchical Church cannot be trusted unreservedly because it contradicts itself.

The Protestant confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in opposition to Ignatius’ rule and in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures, affirm that Scripture can be trusted, as “the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”[2]  What is to be believed is determined by Scripture, not the hierarchical Church.  In fact, the teachings of the hierarchical Church are themselves to be judged by Scripture.  It is “the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits are to be examined.”[3]

There came from the sixteenth century debates, then, two different irreconcilable views towards the relative authority of Scripture and the hierarchical Church.  Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” from his Spiritual Exercises chose the impractical and unscriptural view that the hierarchical Church should always be trusted.  The Protestants instead saw that unchanging Scripture needed to be viewed as the “absolute norm”[4] rather than the changing hierarchical Church, whose popes and councils have contradicted each other.









Ignatius of Loyola.  The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works.  Edited by George E. Ganss, S.J.  New York: Paulist, 1991.


Renihan, Mike, ed.  A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689”.  Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000.


Waldron, Samuel E.  A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  3rd ed.  Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1999.


[1]. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. by George E. Ganss, S.J. (New York: Paulist, 1991), 211-214.

[2]. Mike Renihan, ed., A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689” (Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000), 1.  See also Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Chapter 1 of the Savoy Declaration of Faith for virtually identical statements earlier from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

[3]. Ibid., 9.

[4]. Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 3rd ed. (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1999), 42.

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A Short Exegesis of Revelation 5:1-5


by Felipe Diez III

            John’s remarkable vision in Ch.4 of the great apocalypse is before Him, with a scenario he paints as exceedingly bright, bombastic, and remarkable. A great door, a voice, twenty four thrones with 24 elders seated on them, lamps, a rainbow, gems, a sea of glass, torches, and four living creatures uttering praises are listed. The chapter ends with the twenty four elders worshipping the Lord along with the creatures. This 5 verse short essay will raise several questions while attempting to make some sense of the text, referencing a few verses from the Old Testament which at times makes sense of the New, and vice-versa. Here is the text:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Verse one presents a scroll in the hand of the Lord, “Him who was seated on the Throne.” There is writing “within” and “on the back.” Presumably, the reason for this kind of writing is that it resembles a Roman contract with an external summary and details on the inside. Some more official contracts are written in this manner and it is probably that the scroll given to Ezekiel (2:9-3:3) was of similar nature. His scroll might have been smaller, containing words on only one side of it. At any rate, the scroll in Revelation 5 is sealed with 7 seals (the number generally thought to be one of perfection in Ancient Near East and biblical symbolism). The “and” at the beginning of all 5 verses (kai” in Greek) in the Greek manuscripts is significant, for repetition is of great importance for John and in biblical writing in general, especially as it is culturally and linguistically a way for Jews and other Semitic people to express boldness or importance in writing. Both Greek and Hebrew contain very few exclamation symbols as we do in our English language. The ESV translation of the verses provided above omits 2 “ands” from the 5 total found in the manuscripts. Other English translations omit even more to, in the opinion of the translators, simplify the translation although I would argue that this is faulty translation methodology.

The great scroll may symbolize the fact that in Roman law, a document was to be sealed with 7 witnesses. Considerable debate has occurred concerning the contents of the seal. Whether it is the whole of human history, God’s covenant blessings and curses, or the rest of what was to be John’s rendition of the content of the book of Revelation is not indubitably clear.  The strong angel in verse 2 poses a great question, but it does not seem seriously inquisitive. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (ESV) is not so much a question as it is a statement. The Greek reading is “tis axion estin anoixai to biblion kai lusai tas sfragidas autou?” In my opinion, a better way to translate this to English is “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose its seals?” It seems closer, in my opinion, to the original Greek, or at least a better choice of words. A couple of translations render it “break its seals” since to many modern translators it seems more linguistically feasible to use “break” than “loose its seals,” but although “lusai” (luo as the stem) can at times mean “to break”, and even could in this instance, the term “to loose” seems to better convey the idea of taking a seal apart. So I argue that “breaking” is not the best word to use for “lusai” but this is not at all a major issue in the verse.

Back to the strong angel’s question in verse 2. The focus of the question is not so much focused on the book itself, or the seal, or the contents of the scroll, but of “axion estin” or “who is worthy?” The questioning angel is not implying that, like for example King Arthur’s sword in that legend, any strong creature may be able to open the biblical seal. In that mythical story, the challenge posted to anyone was that a person able to take out Excalibur from the rock was automatically worthy to be King. In the biblical story, the King is able to open the seal because He is worthy. To put it another way, the angel could have just as well said: “None of us is worthy to do this, so I will point you to the Only One Who Is.” The use of the word ischuron” (strong) was possibly meant even to convey that the angel was posing a challenge (I’d like to privately think not too unlike the Excalibur one) to the other creatures, maybe even the demons?John’s use of spatial language (heaven, earth, under the earth) captures the weakness and fallibility of creatures in comparison to the Creator who is both able and worthy to open the seal with no difficulty. But since no creature was found “axion” (worthy) to open up the book nor peer into its contents, John began to weep loudly.

Why did John weep in verse 4? Was it a lack of faith, or a sudden outburst of mood caused by the ecstatic meta-vision? Many commentators suggest that the contents of the Great Will are precisely God’s will for His people and the universe – the whole of God’s plan, and John, in anticipation of this, could not fathom why it was so difficult to open. Perhaps he greatly desired to know exactly what was in it, and wept in frustration that the challenge went unheeded. Matthew Henry states: “Those who have seen His glory desire to know His will.” I will add that those who know His will desire to see Him glorified. An elder approaches John in verse 5, who apparently was at peace with the state of affairs and comforts the grieved apostle. “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.” (v.5a) these two names given to Jesus Christ are key to determining a great part of the key to understanding the situation. A cross reference of this passage is Genesis 49:8-12 where a blessing is given by Jacob to the tribe of Judah, the wellspring of David’s rule. 49:9a, “you are a lion’s cub, Judah,” may refer to the title “Lion” given to Jesus. This animal, being the “king of the beasts,” is adequate to relate Jesus to – just as adequate as “Lamb” referenced in verse 6. The lamb that was slaughtered for our sins in a weak and horrific state is now depicted as a triumphant Lion, completely glorified and worthy of all praise from all creatures in all areas of God’s creation.  “Enichesen” (conquers; has conquered) has to do with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins and His conquering of Satan, sin, and death, having perfectly obeyed the Father. His Person and Work make Him worthy of this great honor reserved only for Jesus. Now He can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5b). All of revelation up to this point has prepared John for the experience of finding out who it was that would have this honor, Him whom the living creatures and the 24 elders were worshipping in the previous chapter. At least concerning the living creatures and God’s people in the future, this praise is and will be eternal. The Lord has the right to create beings for Himself that will extol Him at all times, since He alone is worthy of worship. His Son is worthy to open the seals that announce a wonderful and powerful message which embody the verses to come. It is filled with as much apocalyptic imagery which becomes terrifying and at last exceedingly hopeful. Later chapters will reveal what this is.

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Mark Jones Identifies A Form Of Antinomianism

At stake is not whether certain theologians and preachers affirm the third use of the law, but what use is made of the law in preaching and teaching, and whether it is presented in all of its aspects: not only as terrible to sinners, but also as graciously guiding the converted—and not only irritating the unregenerate, but also encouraging the regenerate. Especially in preaching, where God’s people are gathered to worship, the law should be principally used as a gracious guide to the converted, as Calvin argued. But antinomian theology inverts this order and gives a preference to the terrifying aspect of the law in contrast to the sweet promises of the gospel. In short, the proof is in the pudding. One might theoretically affirm the third use of the moral law and yet preach only the second use.

There have been many controversies on the topic of antinomianism simply because of what people have failed or refused to say, rather than because of what they have affirmed. Our sins of omission are typically harder to identify than our sins of commission, and this is unquestionably the case when it comes to the subject of antinomianism. Thus, as this book has argued, and will continue to maintain, the problem of antinomianism is an acute one. This chapter has aimed to show that the moral law is friendly to the Christian and decidedly unfriendly to the non-Christian. The law is friendly to the Christian only because of Christ’s mediation, which makes us friends of God. And the law is friendly to the Christian because it is accompanied by the Spirit, so that our obedience may truly be said to be gospel obedience.*

*Jones, Mark (2013-11-10). Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (p. 60). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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The Doctrines of Grace in John 6

by Felipe Diez III

Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John begins with the miracle of the feeding of 5,000 people, which is also found in the Synoptic tradition. Following this wonderful sign of God’s providence, Jesus performs another miracle, this time, only in the presence of his disciples. He walks on water as another sign that establishes the power of the Messiah over the elements of nature. When he arrives on land, the crowds catch up to him, asking Jesus to perform more signs, in their unbelief, so that they themselves could eat again and marvel at what Jesus may be able to provide for them. They regarded Jesus as a prophet, and were seeking to assure themselves of his kingship by persuading Jesus to continue feeding them in the same way that Moses did, many thousands of years before, when the Israelites were stranded in the desert. Jesus reminds them that the miracle is not to be attributed to Moses, but to God, and that God is presently providing a wonderful sign in the Messiah Himself, for the people, who can deliver them from their spiritual hunger. In desperation, the people ask Jesus to “always give us this bread” (v.34) This essay will examine John 6: 35-45 exegetically, when the words of Jesus uncover the unbelief of the crowds, giving striking reasons as to their lack of faith in contrast with how Jesus relates to his small band of disciples in their own context of faith.

God sent his Son, the Messiah, into this setting, so that these very people, the house if Israel, would recognize their hunger for Him. The Person of Jesus Christ could satisfy a hunger that was spiritual and eternal – something that the people who had been fed did not seem to understand. They, reminding themselves of the great provision of Yahweh done through Moses in the desert, could not have imagined the even greater provision that God has provided in the Person of Jesus. However, such a great infinite treasure was patently rejected by most of the people out of misunderstanding, folly, and unbelief. The enigmatic but profound statement of Jesus “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 35a) was aimed at the crowds, even to the disciples, in order to expound this axiom that He is in fact the very culmination and center of God’s gracious providence for eternally hungry people. Verse 35b explains the ramifications of the benefits of coming to Jesus in great reverence for Him and not simply for a sign or a meal “he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” One could imagine the thoughts running through the minds of everyone who was there. There were no more signs by this Messiah to be performed, and no more food to be consumed, but simply a teaching that might have seemed to them as stale and confusing, in comparison to the miraculous feeding and His unusually quick arrival to the area across the sea. To Jesus, “coming” was synonymous to “believing,” it seems. And again, verse 36 is a clear example of Jesus not only having foreseen the people’s unbelief at that point, but stating what he has perceived in their hearts for perhaps a long period of time. “But I said to you that you have seen me, and yet do not believe.” We may be able to deduce from the word “said,” in past tense, that Jesus was speaking of a time, shortly earlier, where he had told the crowds a similar thing.1

God’s sovereignty in the words of Jesus

There exists a profound reason as to the people’s inability to believe, and this reason begins to unravel in the next verse, as Jesus commences what will be a magnificent and revealing discourse that not only exposes the hearts and intentions of the crowds, but of all people everywhere, at all times. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (v. 37). It may be reasonable to explain part b of this verse first by asserting that those who believe in Jesus and come to Him with faith will not be rejected. In other words, if there is a person who recognizes Jesus as Messiah and comes to him, that person will not turned away but received by Jesus. A believer can have assurance that she or he will not be “blocked” from the full forgiveness and acceptance of Christ. They will be included in the Kingdom, being granted the full benefits of adoption and eternal life. The reason that Jesus gives for the statement in part b of verse 37 is that the Father has already accepted believers who will most assuredly come to Christ in saving faith. The Father has granted these people to the Son, and the Son readily accepts them. The words “all” and “will” in this verse speak volumes of how God’s will and sovereignty come into play with regards to believing humans and how they react to Jesus. This verse gives the strong impression that every single person that the Father grants Jesus to be forgiven will come to Jesus to be forgiven with certainty. Dr. James White mentions:

“Christ is not speaking of theories here. He asserts plainly, without equivocation, that all that are given to Him by the Father will come to Him. Clearly we see here the complete sovereignty of God as the owner of all men. He is free to give men to the Son as their Lord and Savior.2

The logic follows that there cannot be anyone that the Father gives to the Son that will not come to the Son, thereby securing these people in full to be received by Jesus. So to state the reasoning of the passage fully, it can be stated that the Father does not fail to give the Son every single person that the Father has intended to give the Son. In the same sense, the Son does not fail to receive all of those that are given to Him because he wishes to do the will of the Father. Verse 38 states: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” Therefore, everyone that is “transacted” to Jesus (who was sent by the Father to receive the people) could never fail to be received by Jesus because Jesus came to do the perfect will of the Father. This, of course, he accomplished perfectly. None of those numbered will be turned away. Neither can they turn away if they wish because it is their full intention to arrive to saving faith at the feet of Jesus, whom He will “not cast out.” Their inclination is not to stay away from Jesus but to arrive to Him because the Father has already determined that they be inclined in this manner. There is a language of Sovereign guarantee in every sense in verses 37 and 38. There is no room for failure or error on the part of the Father and the Son.

Verse 39 graces us with an explanation as to what the will of God with regards to people who are drawn to the Son is. “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” Jesus reiterates the fact that his mission is to keep everyone (lose nothing) that the Father intended for him to receive without doubt. However, Jesus adds something that he has not said before, even in the whole of the chapter, which is his intention to raise “it” on the last day. Following the logic of the three verses we have already examined, it stands to reason that “it” refers to the people that are to come to Jesus that have been reserved by the Father, whose will is to finally have them raised up on the last day. This “last day” may refer to the resurrection of the dead for judgment or those that will be given new bodies in Heaven. These people will eventually be raised, judged, and glorified. They are not offered a “half salvation” or an “almost” salvation. White states:

“The Son is not simply charged with securing a hypothetical possibility of salvation for the elect, but with actually saving completely those who are the objects of God’s loving grace.3

Jesus here reveals4 the intention of the Father to give and to glorify everyone that He wills to be glorified. It is interesting to note that in verse 39, Jesus did not explicitly refer to the Father, but mentions “Him who sent me.” But in verse 40, the implicit reference is replaced: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” This is an expanded version of verse 39, where Jesus states that those people reserved for Him will have eternal life, thus strengthening the argument for the imminent glorification of said people by Jesus Himself. These people, no longer referred to as “it,” now are referred to as “everyone” in verse 40 – a more clear and transparent revelation that continues to unravel important information concerning the narrative’s development.

The Response of the People

            “Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of Heaven?’”  The Scriptures are not clear as to how many people out of the crowds did the grumbling, or if any had left by this point. One could only imagine the pain Jesus felt at their seemingly wholesale rejection of His words and His person. They took issue with the statement with respect to the origin of Jesus. Since Jesus was known by many in the crowds as simply a man with a family whose father was mentioned by name5, it struck them as absurd that Jesus would claim to have “come down out of Heaven.” Again, their unbelieving hearts are exposed in these two verses. This situation is also found in the Synoptic tradition when the people rejected Jesus for similar reasons. The four Gospel writers probably included this rejection of Jesus due to his humble heritage to make a strong point “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah. 53:3a)

The Response and Teaching of Jesus

Surprisingly, in John’s Gospel, Jesus answers the people in a very different manner when they rejected Him. This passage, upholding the sovereignty of God, records Jesus rebuking the grumbling Jews and uttering one of the most challenging reasons for the lack of faith of the crowds.

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.’” (verses 43 and 44)

After this rebuke in verse 43, Jesus continues with the phrase “no one can come to Me.” It seems that what is being implied here is that there is an inability for people to come to Jesus. The “no one” part is referring not only to those in the crowd, but to all people everywhere at all times. Jesus includes the word “unless,” which is being used as a conjunction, and which would lead one to the conclusion that there are people who could and will come to Jesus, but with a condition. Verse 34a addresses this condition: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” We can conclude that the conditions for being able to come to Jesus are if the people are “drawn” to Jesus. It is the Father who establishes and fulfills this condition: A person (A) cannot arrive (B) to Jesus (C) unless The Father (D) draws that person (E). So if the Father (D) does not draw the person (E), then it follows that the person (A) is unable to come (B) to Jesus (C). Since this passage exists in the context of belief and salvation, we can say that those whom the Father does not draw will not believe and be saved. This was the explanation give by Jesus as to why the grumbling occurred and why the crowds were ambivalent and even offended by the words of Jesus, namely, because they were those who manifested their unbelief. This leads us to the conclusion that the grumblers were those who were not drawn. It was not the purpose or desire of the Father to draw them.

            Verse 43 concludes with “and I will raise him up at the last day,” This is the third time in this discourse that Jesus repeats himself in this manner, but the crowds seem to ignore this. John probably recorded this saying in this way so as to highlight the importance of the theme of resurrection not only for Jesus but certainly for humans as well.

The Elect are Taught by God

Verse 45 provides some extra information that sheds light on the spiritual issues surrounding people who are elected by the Father to come to Jesus and also states the means that God uses to draw people to Jesus and why the people are possibly drawn in this way. “It is written in the prophets ‘and they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” In this verse, the elect are those who hear from the Father. Their spiritual ears are opened and they are ready to receive something from God. It is possible that John places the word “learned” after “heard” in order to convey the message that people who learn from the Father are those whose ears are open. One can make the argument that it is God who opens their ears to make them receptive to His teaching. Jesus appeals to the Old Testament to prove that all of those who come to Jesus have been taught by God to do so. They come because they are miraculously taught the way to salvation, and every one of them listens and obeys. In a section in John whose premise is somewhat similar to what occurs in part of John 6, Jesus prays:

“In John 17:2 Christ prays for those whom the Father has given Him, which is a definite number. ‘As thou has given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as thou has given him.’6

The Father teaches and the Son prays for these elect. There is a sense in which the elected people do not arrive “unlearned” like automatons, nor are they drawn as if there existed a direct violation of their intentions to come to Jesus. They are not puppets or robots, as these are unable to have a relationship with God in the first place since they are not even sentient beings. The elect are drawn because they are taught. The exact teaching of the Father to the people is not explicitly stated, but it is possible that what is being taught to the people is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who satiates hunger and thirst, and gives eternal life. This teaching would cause the people to perceive objectively that these benefits and even Christ alone is who they truly long for. By this means of teaching, the Father effectually draws people to the Son, as they have come to be enlightened by the teaching of the Father. Their hearts are now receptive to the Gospel, and the people cannot help but respond in gratitude, somewhat akin to a dying hungry beggar who has been told where to find food, and in his desperation, immediately runs to gather it. Christ, the “bread of life,” will supply eternal life in accordance with the teaching of the Father that causes them to believe.

The Crowds do not Believe

            So far, the exegesis presented for these 10 verses has relied heavily on logic and flow of an argument. As far as non-believers are concerned, the same logic would apply but in “reverse.” Since Jesus reveals that there is a group of people who are given to the Father to come to Jesus, it follows that the rest of the people who did not believe were in this state because they were not given to Jesus. Since these verses seem to have a universal application for all people everywhere at all times, we can state the issue in the following manner: There exist believers (A) and non-believers (B). The ones that are given to Jesus by the Father believe, and those who are not given to Jesus do not believe. Those elected to be believers (A) will always believe while those not given to the Son, the non-believers, (B) will never believe. Therefore, only believers (A) will be raised on the last day. The non-believers (B) will not be raised, which leads us to say that they will not experience eternal life. These passages do not imply that those who are not chosen “want” to believe or even “can” believe, and they are somehow impeded access to Jesus, thus pushing them away. Verse 37b makes this very clear. Non-believers have no intention or inclination to believe let alone come to Jesus. This is the condition of fallen humanity until the elect, from this mass of perdition, come to saving faith by a sovereign act of God. The response of the Jews in verse 41 exposes their nature. These are not people who possess a desire to hear Jesus and to believe his words. “How does he now say, I have come down out of heaven?” Verse 40 does not picture people who are being drawn to the teaching. There is a strong reason to believe that, in their unbelief, they are not being taught by the Father or being drawn to the Son. They do not want to be drawn or compelled to come unto Christ. All they bring to the table are questions, excuses, accusations, and grumbling of various kinds. It can be stated with reasonable certainty that the same is the case for any person who disbelieves. In essence, they are confessing (at least implicitly) that Jesus did not come down from heaven. And if anyone in the crowd is not stating this, they are certainly thinking in this manner. Jesus, because of his status as Prophet and Messiah understood this (v.64). This is why many who followed Jesus or who would otherwise have followed Jesus no longer did so. (v.66) In their view, Jesus is not the Person He says He is. In their minds, Jesus would never be able to satisfy them in the way that Jesus has offered that he would. His teaching and His words seemed to them so ridiculous, enigmatic, and harsh (v.60). This constitutes a negation of Jesus as the Son of God, akin to calling Him a liar – hardly a disposition of desire to come to Jesus! They have not been drawn by the Father, as it was not the Father’s intention to do so from the beginning, even from eternity past. This can be concluded in its finality and totality by their persistent incredulity. The same can be said of many people today.

The Belief of the Disciples

            How are the people that were drawn by the Father in this narrative? We must briefly mention the events after John 6: 35-45. Out of the whole of the people who were present that day to hear the words of Jesus concerning those who believe, it is important to note that His 12 disciples were there as Jesus spoke. After many of his other disciples had deserted Him (v.66), Jesus probed the faith of the original twelve in the next verse with the words “you do not want to go away also, do you?” In this statement, Jesus was not simply awaiting an unforeseen answer from the disciples, as He knew for sure that they would stay with Him (v.64b). He was simply testing them. Peter, the spokesman for the twelve, not only confessed that they had nowhere else to go (because Jesus had the words of eternal life), but that Christ was the Holy One of God. This is an explicit statement of belief as opposed to that of the crowds. (vv.67-69). However, Jesus did mention that one of the twelve would betray Him. John, in verse 71, puts an “aside” that it would be Judas Iscariot that would betray Jesus. Based on the narrative itself, it is reasonable to say that only 11 of the disciples out of the 5,000 who were originally fed were the ones who stayed with Jesus throughout His Sovereign discourse. Since the text of the narrative does not mention anyone else that explicitly believed in Jesus, it is safe to assume that the ones who believed and were drawn to Jesus by the Father were the 11 disciples that persevered in the faith with Jesus, even after His death and resurrection, and surely are to be raised on the last day.

Concerning Alternative Interpretations

            Some scholars have taken issue with the aforementioned interpretation of these passages either in total or in part, often due to their theological leanings. It, then, would be proper in some circumstances to discuss other passages where the topic of election seems to be stated at least implicitly. Since an exegesis of other passages of scripture that pertain to election in such a manner are beyond the scope of this paper, they will not be treated.7 However, there are several things that can be mentioned with regards to the thoughts of others whose interpretations may differ. Some have postulated that the election that seems to be implied in John 6: 35-45 is on the condition of foreseen faith. In other words, some theologians would posit that God draws people to Christ on the basis of faith that God foresees. Then, on that basis, he draws them. In essence, since God is omniscient, he would then know of the actions that people would perform even before those people are born. In the same way, those who end up not being drawn to Jesus would be those whom God foresaw would not believe, and on that basis, He would then enact His decision to not grant to them eternal life via Christ. An example is given by Norman Geisler here:

            “Therefore, if God has infallible foreknowledge of the future, including our free acts, then everything that will happen in the future is predetermined, even our free acts. This does not mean that our actions are not free; it simply means that God knew how we were going to use our freedom.8

To other exegetes, this interpretation may seem as though God’s Sovereign decrees are being usurped by people’s autonomous free choice, thus placing humans on the pedestal. Since to them, sovereignty can only belong to either God or man in totality, they would see any kind of “balance” as something that cannot be synthesized. They would argue that the text of John 6 does not warrant such an interpretation; that there is no place in this chapter where we experience a “passive” God. They would posit that there is no reason to believe that people are given to the Son on any other pre-condition than God’s eternal decree to have mercy on whom he pleases to have mercy. God, in John 6, is not drawing all people:

“…if we understand John 6:44 to say that every person is drawn, then we must conclude that every person will be raised up by Jesus for salvation on the last day. But this is Universalism.9

In this case, God’s mercy would be bestowed upon those who come to Christ as a pre-determined act of God’s unimpeded and impartial choice. Just as in the case of those who favor the “predetermined election” interpretation, the “conditional election” case can be determined (as some theologians would have it) by selecting other scriptures to support any kind of cumulative argument for any chosen method of interpreting John 6.

Some scholars and laypeople accept the “pre-determined election” interpretation, but consign it simply to the story itself. These would say that God is indeed electing human beings in such a manner that would not place the saving conditions on human choice. However, the scope of the passage would be limited only to this particular event. It would, according to them, not be an absolute certain way in which God deals with people everywhere. This view is scarcely argued and does not possess much of a following, since theologians from many camps would quickly state that the language that Jesus uses in key verses has a universal presupposition to it. “He who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” (v.35) There is no compelling reason to believe that “he” is confined to just the crowds. “You have seen Me, yet you do not believe” (v.36) does paint a slightly different picture. It is directed specifically to the crowds, but in a sense it can be applied to others who have heard the Gospel and rejected it. However, the “you” that Jesus speaks about here is limited to the crowd since it is doubtful that Jesus would be addressing the reader of the text as well. There seems to be no reason, in verse 37, to assume that the “all” that Jesus speaks about only refers to “all of those in the crowd.” The same can be said for the “all,  “everyone,” and “no one” in verses 39, 40, and 44 respectively. Other than the “you” reference in verse 36, there is no indication in the language that Jesus uses that would posit a “crowd only” exegesis.

The interpretation that seems to fit with the narrative would be that of God who has decreed to give people to the Son, without taking into account whether or not the people believed and disbelieved before God, in eternity past, made that decision. The reading of the text itself does not give us reasons to believe that people are in control of the situation, even though they still do retain their sinful wills to disbelieve. Those who are drawn do so because they have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36-26) and a gift from above (Eph. 2:8) and are receptive to the teaching of the Father whom they learn from. They will come to Jesus, not out of compulsion, but because they have miraculously realized by faith that he is the Son. These will by no means be cast away and will be raised on the last day.

This marvelous example of John’s exposition of election unto Christ depicts Jesus and the Father as working together in love and for reasons of love toward ill deserving humans. John 6:35-45 should not be viewed as a malicious wholesale rejection by the part of God to the crowds. It would be remembered, whenever it is read, as an instance of sovereign mercy and grace to those who have been chosen to be God’s people, not by their own intrinsic righteousness or merit, but by the decision of the secret counsel of the Lord to redeem equally undeserving people. We must bow our heads in thanks that Jesus accepts us and counts us among those who were drawn by the Father, selected to be raised with new resurrected bodies on the day of the Lord.


1 The verse that Jesus was possibly alluding to when he said “but I said to you” is the 26th verse of the same chapter when Jesus states prophetically that the people were not interested in believing and coming to Him or even the signs, but only for the sake of another meal. The people had indeed seen the signs in a physical sense, but not in a spiritual sense that would have led to their belief in Christ as a provision for their true needs – to be forgiven and filled with eternal life.

2 White, James. Drawn By The Father. Reformation Press. New York, NY, 2000, p. 20

3 Ibid. p.41

4 Here, Jesus reveals the intention of the Father to the crowd. In Luke 10:22, He again makes a similar revelation about the Father, focusing on the Person of the Father.

5 Similar occurrences are recorded in Mark 6:3, Matthew 13: 55-57, and Luke 4:22. Jesus responded in these instances by stating that “a prophet has no honor in his own land.” This was probably a typical reason for rejecting Jesus.

6 McMahon, Matthew C. The Two Wills of God: Does God Really Have Two wills? Puritan Publications, New Lennox, IL, 2005. p. 98. Dr. McMahon loosely argues that John 17 and John 6 are passages that pertain to election and reprobation in the Calvinistic sense.

7 A passage of scripture is almost never isolated. This is why systematic theology aims to take in consideration other passages – mostly those who seem to be more clear. In light of those passages, many systematic theologians would then interpret other verses that seem to be not as clear.

8 Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free. Bethany House Publishers. Ada, MI, 2001. p.45

9 Peterson, Robert A. and Williams, Michael D. Why I Am Not an Arminian. Inter Varsity Press. Downers Grove, IL, 2004. p. 167 [italics mine]

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Mark Jones On Antinomianism

From the pen of Mark Jones in his new book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?:

Perhaps the defining issue between the orthodox and the antinomians was not whether the moral law plays a role in justification coram Deo, but whether the moral law has any positive role in the salvation of believers. Or so the argument goes. Writing against the antinomians, Henry Burton (1578–1648) claims that they deny any use at all of the moral law: “They allow the law no further use, than as to be a School-master to bring us to Christ, and then farewell law.”85 They not only commit sins of omission, but heighten the problem by railing against ministers who “press the duties of sanctification.”86 Interestingly, Burton adds: “I should not have believed there had been such mouths of blasphemy in the world, had not mine ears been witnesses of them.” Como agrees that, from this perspective, the use of the law, while still of some value to the believer, is “primarily negative.”88 For the antinomians, the law “served, in short, to remind them how lucky they were to be free of it.”89

As is often the case in debates of this nature, the orthodox faced an almost insuperable problem, namely, that the antinomians spoke out of both sides of their mouths. A close reading of antinomian writings from the seventeenth century shows that they were not always clear. Ambiguity was a hallmark of their utterances on the law, and they lacked the sophistication found in the writings of men like Sibbes, Goodwin, and Owen. In fact, Ernest Kevan castigates the antinomian Robert Towne for speaking with “two voices” and notes how “exasperating” his arguments are.90 So when pressed on the issue, many antinomian theologians did not utterly reject any use of the moral law. But the accent in their preaching and writing was decidedly negative when speaking about the law’s role in the life of the believer. As Bozeman observes, “If they did not reject outright law’s claim to rule the saints, they did largely ignore it.”91 Como likewise suggests that what “was important was not so much what Eaton, Towne and other imputative antinomians said, but what they left unsaid, or rather, what they communicated through subtle and implicit cues and hints.”92

If believers keep the law, the antinomians said, it is simply because they are so enamored with their free justification. In their view, a true apprehension of free justification causes believers to do good works without any coercion from the law itself. So, in the words of John Eaton (1574/5–1630/31), believers who truly understand their free justification will walk in the steps of Abraham, “whereby like Abraham without the Law of the ten Commandments, we walk holily, soberly, and righteously in all God’s Commandments declaratively to man-ward, being zealous of good works.”93 Eaton does not deny that Christians will live “righteously,” but he goes against the orthodox when he claims that the commandments are unnecessary for holy living. Moreover, Eaton, like many of his antinomian contemporaries, speaks of keeping the law only in reference to mankind, not to God. Law keeping for the antinomians has a horizontal focus, and not also a vertical focus in terms of our duty toward God. The notion that “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does” was taken in an absolute sense by the antinomians, who typically missed the obvious Christological point about Christ’s ever-increasing glorification as the God-man.94 In the end, Como’s analysis of the antinomians is correct when he suggests that “despite their occasional suggestions that believers were to continue to make use of the Law, their deeply negative portrayal of the Decalogue . . . in fact invited listeners to reject the Commandments more decisively.”95 Thus, the use of the written law in sanctification was typically rejected by antinomian theologians, and their own rhetoric concerning the law was typically negative.*

Law as Law

What role, if any, does the law play in sanctification? Again, this question needs to be clarified. It does little good to claim, as many antinomians did, that the law does not give “ability” to perform the commands. This misses the point of the debate, for no one would have said that the law acted as “the wind behind the sails.” At stake is the question of how precisely the law does or does not aid the sanctification of the believer. The differences between the antinomians and the orthodox on this question are addressed in the minutes of Session 699 of the Westminster Assembly:

Resolved upon the Q.: ‘neither is it an evidence that a man is under the law and not under grace, when he refrains from evil and does good, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other.’ Resolved upon the Q.: ‘but rather a signe of the power of God’s grace in him, when the heart is subdued conscientiously to live according to the rule, though in things contrary to the dictate of corrupt nature, from the consideration of God’s goodness in rewarding freely those that do well, and of his justice in punishing them that do ill.’96

These words are clearly behind WCF 19.6, where it is said: “So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.”97 Most antinomians were of the view that Christians obey the law out of gratitude for all that the triune God has done for them. But Reformed theologians, while agreeing that gratitude is a motive for obedience, insisted on the necessity of law keeping because of the Creator-creature distinction (WCF 19.5). Not only can man not escape the obligation to keep God’s law, but man’s decision to keep God’s law because it is God’s law is in fact a sign of grace, not a sign of being unconverted or having a legalistic spirit, as the antinomians argued. Attached to God’s law are threatenings and promises, which are legitimate reasons why a Christian should keep the moral law.*

*Jones, Mark (2013-11-10). Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Kindle Locations 739-746, 746-767, 767-772, 772-791). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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The Magi – Exegesis of Matthew 2:9-12


by Felipe Diez III

Jesus is born in Bethlehem as was prophesied in Hosea 11:1. The Magi, who arrived to worship the child, had been summoned somehow by Herod. (v.7). This “summoning” is not part of my chosen section by a question that came to my mind was “how did they know Herod?” They must have been important and there may at least have been correspondence between them and Herod before this incident. But possibly, Herod may have met them when they arrived in the city, and since they were no regular set of travelers, through intermediaries (customs agents) inquired as to why men of their grand astrological caliber were here. Maybe Herod, who undoubtedly had noticed the large star, sought their counsel. In this ancient Near East setting, shared knowledge about the cosmos would have sparked wonderful conversations, especially by Herod, who possessed much time, money, and power. But Matthew spares us these details.

These four verses (9-12) of the 2nd chapter of Matthew’s Magi pericope are purely narrative, and form the beginning of an idea (“after they…”). As is common for this type of literary style, past-tense verbs or verb forms are used, such as eporeuthesan [v.9] (went / were gone) and in v.10, echaresan (“they rejoiced”). The wise men leave the presence of the king (or that general area) in this verse until they reach the vicinity where the child was. Any events in between were no events at all for Matthew, until of course there was rejoicing. The wise men found the large star again as they practiced their craft, yet this time, there was a final sign, perhaps of superior brightness. They had reached their destination and were ready to worship. Matthew’s narrative here is fairly short but standard for a biblical narrative, and there is room for speculation as to the time it took for the magi to get from Herod’s area to the vicinity where Mary and the child were. Almost nothing is said, also, of the interaction between the men and what the star itself signified. We may assume that since this was such a special occasion, that God had somehow brightened a star or planet in order to lead them to the child. Many Christians believe that divine providence played a great role in getting the wise men from their Persian estates to the little house – their destination which upon the knowledge of them being close to, brought them joy.

There seems to be a bit of a culmination effect in verse 10. Not only had this trip been a long one for the wise men, but theologically, Matthew thinks of it significant to express the fact that the wise men were happy upon their arrival. But what were they happy about? Had their craft of star-mapping given them such pleasure or had they reached a higher echelon of skill? I believe that Matthew has been not so much focused on the star itself but what the star signified. After all, the telos of the whole trip was to worship someone Who many of us believe the wise men knew next to nothing about? Did some kind of faith take them there? At any rate, it seems a bit odd that the wise men simply decided to travel to worship a little child. This is odd, since it is a behavior practically unheard of, unless they knew that the child was going to be or do somebody / something someday. The wise men had to have known that this young king was going to bring some sort of human paradigm shift to the area because His sacred nature had bought them a long way. This was not a socio-political circumstance. I believe there was a true desire for worship in their hearts, and that Matthew designates it as such.

Light is a theme that is connected to holiness. Holy men who have seen the brilliance of the throne of God (Ezekiel in particular did not feel holy) record highly abnormal and transcendent experiences in Scripture. In Jesus’s Baptism, there is record of the Holy Spirit illuminating Jesus like a dove when the Heavens open.  Where there is kingship of this magnitude, there is a heavenly light.

Verse 11 confirms what the true heart of the eastern worshippers as – that of true adoration (prosekunesan). They prostrated themselves, falling / bowing down (pesontes). One may imagine the surprised look on Mary’s face as these gentile Persians fell at the feet of her child. She knew the special nature of Jesus, but was Mary truly ready for some probably random gentile Persians to show up unannounced into the area to worship the child Jesus? It is more probable that they first made their intentions known somehow, in whatever regional set of protocols, and did not simply open the door in a sudden. The second part of the verse is common knowledge – the 3 gifts that were given to Jesus. (hence the mistaken interpretation that there were three men). This is no place for a discussion of the gifts themselves and their purpose, as there are many theories, but a short mention of a few details is in order. Gold is obviously of value – it is money.

Many theorists state that the frankincense was used for perfume. Incense was common in Persia. Myrrh, on the other hand, may be used as anointing oil. Some writers such as Origen posited that the gifts symbolized something spiritual. The text itself, however, only describes the type of gifts and leaves the matter there. Also, the religious views of the wise men are omitted by Matthew and we may only speculate as to whether or not they were truly Zoroastrians. At any rate, they came here not to impose Zoroastrian presuppositions but to bow down to the king of the Jews, whom they worshipped as though He were God. Frequently, Psalm 72:10 is invoked to shed light into the possibility that these men were themselves kings. Matthew, again, bypasses any desire to go into these details. He continues to use the idea of kingship to state, implicitly, that Herod was no true king. He had power, but in verse 12, something startling occurs. Sometime during their hours of sleep, the wise men had a dream or trance (onar). The interesting word here to designate the origin of the dream in this verse is chrematisthontes (they were imparted or warned). The word chrematizo means to impart revelation or warning, so in this usage, Matthew is stating that the magi were warned by impartation through a dream or trance. Presumably, as nearly all translations state, this was done by God’s action, although this is an implicit assumption. However, it is not unreasonable, for how could another autonomous divine benevolent agent whom Matthew would approve of warn them to go back to their country via another route to avoid the evil Herod? Even if the wise men employed some kind of Zoroastrian meditation, as some aver, it was clearly not nefarious and occultic of itself, since we need to understand v.12 in context of Matthean theology, not extrabiblical speculation. At any rate, Matthew continues to awe the reader with the fact that the Lord’s control and not the control of Herod or the Persians is the one driving the story, since it is the story of Jesus and His Lordship.

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Watson, Charnock, and the Prophet Isaiah


by Felipe Diez III

             A vast amount of books and sermons produced by British Puritans in the 1600s have been considered by many to constitute a fruitful example of biblical exposition, faithful systematization of doctrine, and a commitment to Reformation principles which extol Scripture and the sovereignty of God. It may be stated that the tumultuous times in which they lived contributed to their uncompromising ideals, including the opposition to certain mandates of the Church of England. Such rejection of the national Church served as a catalyst for Puritan thought, identity, and practice. The analysis and evaluation of Puritan works has been, and will continue to be of great profit to Christian scholarship and to God’s Kingdom.

This essay will examine the usage of key scriptures in the book of Isaiah found in Thomas Watson’s “The Doctrine of Repentance” and Stephen Charnock’s “A Discourse of the Pardon of Sin” with the aim to analyze patterns of use by both Puritans. Both works, written during the same time period, touch upon the paramount and lofty subjects of repentance and forgiveness. The aim of this essay is to identify possible correlations of language usage by both men based on certain clues. These may be deduced from their treatment of certain texts in the book of the Prophet Isaiah, included in both primary sources in this study that belong to the two Puritans consigned to this study. It will be argued as a probability, such as would constitute something beyond a reasonable doubt, that the reason for any existing correlation in their writings is due to some factors that affected the men as they lived during that period. Taken into careful consideration are the place where they studied, the documents they may have read, and how their strong Calvinistic espousal of Sola Scriptura may have led to an emphasis on their doctrine. These historical factors will be explored throughout the essay as the Isaiah usage is examined. No definitive arguments will be given in the attempt to confidently fuse together the reality of seventeenth century Puritan England as an indubitable explanation of Watson and Charnock’s citations. I do not intend to overstate my claims. Rather, some evidence will be stated and evaluated that seems to point in a direction of an argument for the aforementioned possibility of citation patterns and their respective conclusions.

Thomas Watson’s book is primarily focused on individual repentance. Although he does give passing mention of God’s gracious role in forgiveness, the majority of his content defines repentance, the necessity and benefits of it, reasons for and consequences of not repenting, and the gravity of sin in the eyes of God whereby He demands contrition of heart for the forgiveness of transgressions.

Stephen Charnock’s sermon, on the other hand, deals more explicitly with the issue of God’s pardoning of sinners, how He goes about doing so, what is takes for Him to be able to forgive sins, and what the Scriptures say that God has promised for the repentant. In both works, there are overlapping situations where both God and people are mentioned. What will be considered is how both men’s angles are expressed with special attention given to a handful of Isaiah verses that one or both men use, keeping in mind the peculiarity of such usage.

Early in “The Doctrine of Repentance,” Watson elucidates, in a question and answer format, as to how sorrow for sin should be expressed. The question is: “But how great must sorrow be for sin in all?”1 It is followed by “Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God than for the loss of dear relations.” ‘In that Day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth’ (Isa. 22.12).2 Watson proposes that genuine repentance is something that God commands. It must exceed simple human sorrow for less important reasons. A few pages later, in a subheading that reads: “We must confess our sins with a resolution not to act them over again,”3 Watson follows with: “…many seem to kill their sins in their confessions and afterwards let them grow as fast as ever. ‘Cease to do evil’ (Isa. 1.16). It is vain to confess, ‘We have done those things we ought not to have done’, and continue still in doing so.”4 Biblical repentance demands a resolve to cease wrongdoing.

It is interesting to note that Watson places many verses in early Isaiah chapters. These chapters are filled with great judgment, condemnation, oracles of impending destruction, and calls to repent. Since Watson’s work mostly encompasses repentance, it would make sense to cite verses where the Prophet deals primarily with that issue. His book, in later chapters, occasionally addresses promises on condition of repentance. Isaiah also follows the same theme of “condemnation that leads to restoration.”5

Puritans are noted for their zeal. In his book, Watson explains that a true Christian will experience great zeal against sin:

“David did by sin defile his bed; afterwards by repentance he watered his bed with tears. Israel had sinned by idolatry, and afterwards they did offer disgrace to their idols: ‘Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver’ (Isa. 30.22)”6

Having now examined three examples of usage, Watson has clarified his message. He has presented a “boldly repent, despise the sin, and cease its practice” prescriptive pattern.

As strict biblicists, Puritans employed a certain method of communication using plain language, frequent scripture citations, logic, the analysis of arguments, and common examples bathed in scriptural terminology. This expository philosophy in writing and preaching allowed for the thorough examination of a structured topic with supporting verses, or the examination of a scripture with a commentary designed to engage and

strike the heart, dissecting its content for the purpose of producing the desired reaction. Francis J. Bremer comments:

“At the heart of this [communication] approach is the Puritan emphasis on the inerrancy of Scripture. The Word of God as revealed in the Testaments was the basis of all religious knowledge and, properly explained, was sufficient for men…this scripture focus is evident in the content of Puritan religious writings, in the frequent citations of Scripture to underline truths, and in the fact that even when they used their own words Puritan clergymen evoked biblical images and biblical language…throughout the process the focus was kept on Scripture. Puritans believed in the overall consistency of the books of the Bible, and in developing their message they frequently drew connections to other verses that reinforced their point or put it in a richer context. This pattern of collating various texts was an important element in the development of the argument.”7

Watson’s book resembles the above writing approach in various ways. After the chapter “A Serious Exhortation to Repentance,”8 there appears a personal message:

“Let me in the next place persuade you to this great duty of repentance. Sorrow is good for nothing but sin. If you shed tears for outward losses, it will not advantage you. Water in the garden, if poured in the sink, does no good. Powder for the eye, if applied to the arm, is of no benefit. Sorrow is medicinable for the soul, but if you apply it to worldly things it does no good. Oh that our tears may run in the right channel and our hearts burst with sorrow for sin!”9

Messages of this sort often appear in Puritan books. He proceeds with the subheading: “Repentance is necessary for all persons.”10 followed by a short paragraph:

“Thus God commands all men: ‘now God commandeth all men every where to repent’ (Acts 17.30). It is necessary for great ones: ‘Say unto the king and unto the queen, Humble yourselves’ (Jer. 13.18). The King of Nineveh and his nobles changed their robes for sackcloth (Jon. 3.6). Great men’s sins do more hurt than the sins of others. The sins of leaders are leading sins, therefore they of all others have need to repent. If such as hold the scepter repent not, God has appointed a day to judge them and a fire to burn them (Isa. 30:33).”11

Four verses are referenced in this paragraph, mostly from the OT. Many such instances occur in Watson’s book. The “sins of the leader” argument continues with: “if oaths and drunkenness, if perjury and luxury will make a people guilty, then it is to be feared England is in God’s black book.”12 Watson is chastising England due to his espousal and understanding of Puritan Theonomy, namely, the nation’s need to be governed by God’s law as an elect nation. Bremer states:

“Joined with a belief in the communion of elect saints was a belief shared by most Puritans of the late Elizabethan and early Stuart era that England itself was an elect nation – not in the sense that all English men and women would be saved, but that the social nation should and could be reformed and that even the reprobate could be improved by instruction.”13

A key Isaiah scripture used by both Watson and Charnock is Isaiah 55:7. As he describes the concept of “turning from sin,” Watson states (followed by a little example): “This turning from sin is called a forsaking of sin (Isa. 55.7), as a man forsakes the

company of a thief or sorcerer”14 and a few pages later cites a portion of it: ‘Let the wicked forsake his way’ (Isa. 55.7). A real penitent turns out of the road of sin.”15

Stephen Charnock, in his sermon “A Discourse on the Pardon of Sin,” cites the same verse, not in the context of a topical book, but of a Puritan sermon:

“The debt you owe is a vast debt, but Christ’s satisfaction is of a greater value; a king’s revenue may well pay a beggar’s debts, though she owe many thousands the first day of marriage. Multiplied sins upon repentance shall meet with multiplied pardons: Isa. 55:7, ‘abundantly pardon.’ We cannot vie our sins with God’s mercy.”16

Charnock’s focus here is on the pardon of God while still mentioning repentance. Since this is a sermon on forgiveness, it would be appropriate to focus on pardon while still mentioning “debt” and “repentance,” so hearers and readers can understand who it is that God pardons and why. Another verse used by both men is Isaiah 43:25. This is one of the few times an Isaiah verse is cited by Watson in the context of pardon late in his book:

“The Lord will never in a judicial way account for them [sins]. When He pardons, God is as a creditor that blots the debt out of his book (Isa. 43.25). Some ask the question, whether the sins of the godly shall be mentioned at the last day. The Lord said he will not remember them, and he is blotting them out, so if their sins are mentioned, it shall not be to their prejudice, for the debt-book is crossed.”17

As for the same verse, near the beginning of his sermon, Charnock states:

“Covering, as it alludes to the manner of writing, and so is the same with blotting out: Isa. 43:25, ‘I, even I, am he that blots out thy transgression;’ whereby is implied, that sin is a debt, and pardon is the remitting of it.”18

Slightly later in the sermon, Charnock states after a numbered subheading:

“(2) Not imputing. Not putting upon account, not charging the debt in a legal process. To this is equivalent the expression of not remembering: Isa 43:25, ‘I will not remember their sins.’”19

And in the third and last citation of Isa. 43:25, Charnock continues:

“This prerogative [to pardon] he glories in as peculiar to himself; the thoughts of this honour are so sweet to him, that he repeats it twice, as the title he will not share with another: Isa 43:25, ‘I, even I, am he that blots out thy transgressions.’”20

A portion of Isaiah, dealing with Jesus, sin, forgiveness, and promise that Watson does include in his book is the messianic prophecy of chapter 53, used several times in Charnock’s sermon, in particular verses 6, 7, and 10, in three paragraphs. A key section that has been used to formulate the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (penal) would be crucial in a sermon that deals with sin, pardon, and how God is able to be just and at

the same time justify sinners. Charnock states: “He is the scape-goat upon whom our sins are laid, Isa. 53:6. Our sins are made Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness is made ours”21 A paragraph later, Charnock continues: “God did not only consent to it [the sacrifice], or give a bare grant, but it was a propense and affectionate motion of his heart: Isa. 53:10, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise him.’”22 The next paragraph goes back a few verses: “When he was afflicted and oppressed, he murmured not at it: Isa. 53:7, ‘He opened not his mouth, he opened not his mouth.’ It is twice repeated, to shew his willingness.”23

Charnock’s sermon is based on Psalm 32: 1,2, which reads: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputes not iniquity.” This is placed at the very beginning of the sermon. Afterwards, a list of headings that comprise doctrines are listed to organize the future contents. These are: “I. The nature of pardon. II. The author of it, God. III. The extent of it, transgression, V. The effect of it, blessedness.”24 This was a typical way to write sermons, as expressed by Bremer:

            “In sermons, and occasionally in other writings, he did so by starting with the announcement of a scriptural text to be explained. After explaining the meaning of the passage itself, the minister then stated the specific doctrines he would explore. He often examined reasons for the doctrines, stating possible objections and then refuting the objection.”25

An example of a possible objection (in the form of a question) and a refutation (in the form of an answer) in Watson’s book is when an imaginary person asks:

“Question 1: Suppose a person has wronged another in his estate and the wronged man is dead, what should he do? Answer: Let him restore his ill-gotten goods to that man’s heirs and successors. If none of them be living, let him restore to God, that is, let him put his unjust gain into God’s treasury by relieving the poor.”26

Both Puritans studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, founded by early Puritans27 where Puritanism in general was taught and nurtured. Martin Garrett writes:

“Emmanuel did indeed grow into a powerfully Protestant oak. The openness with which it declared its Puritan allegiance at times enraged the Church establishment. They [fellows and scholars] did not wear their surplices or hoods at services. They engaged in their own “private course of public prayer, after their own fashion,” rather than following the Book of Common Prayer.”28

Emmanuel graduates were invited to participate in the Westminster assembly. These included: John Cotton, John Wallis, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burroughs, Anthony Burges, and Peter Sterry. The Westminster Confession of Faith, developed during the 1640s by this Assembly, systematized doctrine in a way that reflected Calvinistic principles of sola scriptura. They took what the Magisterial Reformers began and polished it further, at least in the theological sense. Author Gary Crampton states:

“According to the Puritans, the Christian’s axiomatic starting point is that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God. The Puritan worldview, therefore, is founded on divine, propositional revelation: Scripture and its self-authenticating claim to inspiration. This is why the Westminster Confession of Faith begins with the chapter called “Of the Holy Scripture.”29

The Westminster Confession states: “IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God”30

John Owen, a contemporary of both Charnock and Watson echoes the Confession:

“It is solely on the evidence that the Spirit of God, in and by the Scripture itself, gives unto us that it was given by immediate inspiration from God; or, the ground and reason whereon we believe the Scripture to be the Word of God are the authority and truth of God evidencing themselves in and by it unto the minds and consciences of men.”31

Thomas Watson, having lived in the thick of all this tempestuous conflict, seems at times to use terminology that resembles Westminster. Perhaps the environment fostered by Emmanuel, the Puritan divines who drew up the Geneva Bible and later the KJV, the Westminster Assembly developments, and some political and social tensions had an impact in his thought and pen.

The Westminster Confession subheading “Of Repentance unto life32 part III includes the phrase: “[a penitent person] grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.”33

Watson writes: “[if] people are not turned from their sins, they are still the same as they were…though men have seen so many changes without, yet there is no change wrought within: ‘the people turneth not unto him that smiteth(Isa. 9.13). How can they say they repent who do not turn?34 A few pages later he writes: “(Isa. 1.16) go, steep yourselves in the brinish waters of repentance. Then, says God, I will parley with you”35

He quotes again: “For some of the Jews who had a hand in crucifying Christ, upon their repentance, the very blood they shed was a sovereign balm to heal them: ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’ (Isa. 1.18).”36

Watson references Jesus here: “See his Commission: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted’ (Isa. 61.1).”37 Watson considers “true repentance” to be the only way (in faith) to please God. He will not listen to wicked people unless they repent. However, Jesus forgives. No sin is too great (even that of the Jews who crucified Jesus) that God cannot or will not pardon. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, in the same section on Repentance, the following quotes that seem to corroborate with or fit within Watson’s citation framework:

“pardon…is the act of God’s free grace in Christ.”38 And later, “there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent…of particular sins”39

Stephen Charnock’s sermon provides an excellent Isaiah quote for this context:

Christ hath so compounded the business with divine justice, that we have the sins remitted, never returning upon us, and the renewal also of remissions upon daily sins, if we truly repent…yet the covenant of God stands firm, and he will not take away his kindness (Isa. 54:9,10).”40

Having compared verses from Isaiah cited by these two theologians in their works, we may be able to detect some possible similarities in usage and correlations in the way that they understood repentance and forgiveness as it relates to God as He has revealed himself in Scripture alone and by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Some identifications with the Westminster Confession of Faith have possibly served to connect these thoughts and ideas that were probably unique to the Puritans who built their legacy and thrived in learning institutions such as Emmanuel College where they plied their trade as uncompromising biblicists, non-conformists, and people of God.


1 Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance. (Peoria, IL: Versa Press, 2009), 23.

2 Ibid., p. 23, 24. The verse is used twice in the book to convey this point. (italics mine)

3 Ibid p., 33

4 Ibid., pp. 31,32 (italics mine). Only the last part of the verse is quoted. The whole reads “wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.” He may not have found it necessary to quote the rest since “cease to do evil” was sufficient to make his point. On page 59, the same verse is used in part, consisting of “wash you, make you clean.” There, the topic deals with God’s purity vs. man’s impurity, so the selective use is contextual yet not careless.

5 Around half of the 25 total verses that Watson uses are found in early Isaiah chapters.

6 Ibid., p.95 (italics mine).This verse, again, is cited in part to make a point. The original verse reads “and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.” The other usage of the same verse on page 108 just mentions the “menstruous cloth” part of this scripture.

7 Francis J. Bremer. Shaping New Englands: Puritan Clergymen in Seventeenth Century England and New England. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994), 25-26. [brackets mine]. Watson and Charnock held to this philosophy although the term “inerrancy” used would not have been relevant to them since the discussion of inerrancy was not an issue of their time. They placed an emphasis on studying the whole of the Bible. Since most of it is composed of Old Testament writings, they probably studied the OT more often. This may serve to explain why most verses in Watson’s book are from the OT.

8 Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance.

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Ibid., pp.63 – 64. The Isaiah scripture is included for relevance to the context of this essay.

12 Ibid., p. 64

13 Francis J. Bremer. Shaping New Englands, 16

14 Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance, 52

15 Ibid., p.54. Watson does not cite the whole verse for contextual reasons. The rest of the verse reads: “and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

16 “Stephen Charnock. A Discourse of the Pardon of Sin. Puritan Sermons.” http://www.puritansermons.com/charnock/charnoc6.htm (accessed  April 10, 2011).

17 Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance. (Florida: The Banner of Truth: Re-Published by Puritan Publications, 2009), 98. [brackets mine]

18 “Stephen Charnock. A Discourse of the Pardon of Sin. The KJV says “blotteth” instead of “blots” and has “transgression” in the plural. Maybe he took some liberty with the text since it was a sermon rather than an academic treatise.

19 Ibid. (italics mine). He now quotes the second half of the verse this time.

20 Ibid. (italics and brackets mine). Charnock’s quote is now closer to the KJV. This time, he only replaces “blotteth” for “blots.” Both this and the first time he cites the verse, it is the first part of it.

21 Ibid. The key words here are “he” “sins” and “laid.” Sins were laid on Christ by God.

22 Ibid. (italics and brackets mine). Later in the sermon, he quotes more of the same verse.

23 Ibid. (italics mine). Again, Charnock quotes key words and phrases liberally.

24 Ibid.

25 Bremer, Francis J. Shaping New Englands: p.25

26 Watson, Thomas. The Doctrine of Repentance, p. 23

27 Watson was graduating when Charnock was entering. There is a chance that, it being a small school, they may have met, known of one another, or studied under the same tutors. They later ministered at Crosby Hall in London where there is a greater chance that they assuredly would have met and maybe worked together since they both served there during the 1670s. Even with all this evidence, whether or not they influenced each other remains a question.

28 Martin Garrett. Cambridge: A Cultural and Literary History (Northampton, MA: Interlink Publishing Group, 2004), 127 [brackets mine].

29 Gary W. Crampton. What The Puritans Taught. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria  Publications, 2003), 5,6.

What added to this cultural development was the publication of the King James Authorized Version (1611).

Watson and Charnock would probably have immersed themselves in the Confession and the KJV for use in sermons and writings. It should be noted that the Puritanical presuppositions were axiomatic only in a natural and possibly fideistic manner, and not by philosophical definition. Therefore, Crampton’s anachronistic use of the words “axiomatic” and “inerrant” is only useful if one understands that the words were not employed by the Puritans. Since the Bible had not yet been cast under a shadow of serious doubt, no kind of philosophical theory of apologetics had been devised. The Bible itself was its own defense and confirmation, and this fact remains so.

30 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1994), 1180.

31 Gary W. Crampton. What The Puritans Taught, 7.

32 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1186.

33 Ibid., (brackets and italics mine)

34 Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance., 56 [brackets mine].

35 Ibid., p. 59

36 Ibid., p. 78

37 Ibid., p. 60

38 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1186.

39 Ibid

40 “Stephen Charnoch. A Discourse of the Pardon of Sin.

Bibliography of Sources

-“Alumni Cantabrigienses: Cambridge University Press 10 volumes, 1922 – 1958”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alumni_Cantabrigienses (accessed April 10, 2011)

-Bendall, Sarah. Brooke, Christopher. A History of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

London: Boydell Press, 1999.

-Bremer, Francis J. Shaping New Englands: Puritan Clergymen in Seventeenth

Century England and New England. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.

-Brown, John. The English Puritans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

-“Charnock, Stephen. A Discourse of the Pardon of Sin. Puritan Sermons.”

http://www.puritansermons.com/charnock/charnoc6.htm (accessed  April 10, 2011).

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Publications, 2003.

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