Westminster Assembly Project to Publish Studies via RHB

Chad van Dixhoorn and the Westminster Assembly Project are adding to the minutes and papers to be published by OUP a series at Reformation Heritage Books. According to the release from RHB, this new series will include

the six chief works authored by the Assembly for covenanted uniformity of religion in England: the Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, Directory for Public Worship, Directory for Church Government, and The Psalter. Each volume will contain a historical introduction, a critical text, and multi-column comparisons of original manuscripts and early editions. The inaugural volume, The Larger Catechism, has been prepared by John Bower and scheduled for a launch in March 2010.

They also plan to publish previously unpublished MSS and other significant works. In addition to paperbacks and hardcover books they’re also providing electronic access to publications by Assembly members in their original form. Free PDF downloads will be made available through the Westminster Assembly Project website.”

For more information on the Westminster Assembly Project, visit www.westminsterassembly.org. Information on Reformation Heritage Books can be found at www.heritagebooks.org and www.heritagebooktalk.org.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Have you written a review of Robert Letham’s book The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Context (http://www.amazon.com/Westminster-Assembly-Theology-Historical-Reformed/dp/0875526128). He comes out strong by saying that the minutes and other records show that “Covenant of Works” was never interpreted the way Meredith Kline interpreted it. Some FVers are taking this to prove their side: http://www.leithart.com/2009/11/27/letham-contra-kline/. I thought maybe you could respond to this. Is Letham a Federal Visionist?


    • Robin,

      I have the book, I’ve seen that section but no I’ve not reviewed it. Letham’s argument here is what is known as “special pleading.”

      The WCF uses the expression “covenant of works” no less than 4 times. Despite the smoke and mirrors on the part of those who want expressions such as “covenant of works” to go away and despite the claims of those who want to make the covenant of works into a Klinean peculiarity the fact remains that the divines taught expressly that Adam had to perform works. That he was under the law, not under grace. Yes, there were debates about these things in the 17th century but the divines chose not to say that God made a covenant of grace with Adam. They chose instead to say that God condescended (they didn’t even use the word “graciously”) to make a legal covenant with Adam. This is because, unlike those who’ve been influenced by Barth, Berkouwer, and the Torrance theology, they understood the difference between law and grace and they understood that the covenant of works is “law” not grace and that the covenant of grace is just not, not a covenant of works disguised as grace.

      The Barth-Berkouwer-Torrance view is that we know a priori that God could not have entered into a strictly legal relation with Adam. Well, as Barth knew and as Berkouwer and the Torrances should have known (its not clear to me that they understood this) the Reformed theologians of the 16th and 17th century didn’t have a problem with saying that God freely, even graciously entered into a legal, probationary covenant with Adam. That God did so graciously or freely or by voluntary condescension (which shows that the divines were focused on the freedom of the divine will not, strictly considered, “unmerited favor”) did not make the covenant of life/works/nature any less legal. The divines did not describe the fall as a fall from grace but in terms of the transgression of the law.

      Notice that, in 7.2, the divines make the condition of the covenant not cooperation with grace or even faith but “upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” Obedience is about law.

      In case we missed in ch. 7, once more in ch 19 the divines spell out the legal nature of the covenant of works:

      “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.”

      Notice too how in 19.6 the divines twice spell out the difference between the way believers are under the law, not as a condition of acceptance with God but as rule for the Christian life, and the way Adam was under the law or the way unbelievers are under the law:

      Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works

      If the prelapsarian covenant was not a legal covenant, not a “do this and live” covenant, the contrast in ch 19 (twice!) makes no sense.

      Once more, in 19.6, the divines contrast grace and law by appealing to the distinct natures of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

      lthough not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works

      “Due” is about wages. “Gift” is about grace. They connect “due” to “the covenant of works.”

      If we don’t begin with the assumption that God could not have created a purely legal covenant with Adam, the WCF makes perfect sense. We only have to resort to sleight of hand if we begin with an assumption which is not implicit in the WCF.

  2. Do you think Robert Letham is a Federal Visionist? I’ve never seen him say anything else that makes him sound like that.

    • No, I don’t think so but obviously his revisions of cov theol (eg, no covenant of redemption, no cov of works) help facilitate the FV. See CJPM – above & left.

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Very very off topic (I know)…

    I am wondering if you have given any thought to the revelation that Pope John Paul II used a belt to beat himself with a belt and sometimes slept on the floor in order to draw closer to God. This news was made public in the last few days. It is interesting that while debates about justification may seem purely theoretical at times they can have very practical implications. Remember too that Pope John Paul II is on a “fast track” to sainthood, as the current Pope has eliminated the normal five-year waiting period which must pass between the a person’s death and his/her eligibility to start the path to formal sainthood. I am surprised I have not heard much in the way of commentary about this from Protestants, either Reformed or Evangelical.

    • William, this scribe expects nothing from evangelicals. Christianity Today is tempermentally and doctrinally disabled. I am not sure what other news outlets might say, but cheery optimism and hope would be rather ill-grounded. Calvin’s larger point in Book IV.8-1-9 addresses this papist insult to Christ, this papist attack on Christ’s work, this horror show re: justification by faith alone and this horrible example to the world…demonstrating that that odious regime remains incorrigible, obstinate, impenitent and defiant. That story will not be told.

      Calvin continues his review of the Papacy, but enlarges upon the “issue of the limitations of church authority (4. 8.1-9).”

      This section of the Institutes has applications to charismatics with their extra-canonical revelations, TBN enthusiasts with their numerous charlatans, hucksters of prosperity and related enthusiasms, antichristian Popedom, and contemporary evangelicals with their absence of Confessional boundaries and insights. Calvin discusses the limits of the church’s doctrinal authority, including the Mosaic priests, the prophets, and apostles along with (8.6) the outline of the scriptural foundation of the Word of God for the Old Covenant. These limitations apply to bishops (senior presbyters, and Calvin uses the term bishops thus far in Book IV), presbyters, deacons, church decrees, councils whether provincial or general, and the priesthood (of all believers).

      As to Popedom, that antchristian dominion, as well as this particular re: JP2, his practice of self-flagellation, and the Bavarian German Shepherd, Joe Ratzinger, the title of Calvin’s chapter eight (Book IV) says it all:


      • And frankly, while thinking about the trial exams of John Philpott (I’ve read them closely and repeatedly having the trial transcripts…about thirteen of them…about 18 months in the Tower) in London at the hands of Ed Bonner, London’s chief-presbyter, he constantly referred to Romanist leaders as “Baalamites.” Not exactly a charming or endearing thing to say to Bonner or the lords of the realm.

        They also used the “numbers game” with Philpott, to wit and in essence, “Look, John, the numbers are against you. Can’t you see that? Take a look around England, will you? North, south, east and west. Can’t you see that you’re all alone? The Queen, these lords here, and the rest of the realm. Surely you’ll recant, repent and and you’ll be spared you the flames.” The numbers game like Joe Osteen and Rich Warren. Doctrine by the numbers.

        John Philpott was consistent, resistant, and responded with “Scriptures say….” And, he could converse and make his way around the leading church writers of the ages too…embarrassing Bonner at points. But, he didn’t buy the number game and didn’t hesitate to call the Pope “that man of sin” and a “Baalamite.”

        You won’t find this in modern news outlets or Christianity Today.

        Oh yes, he went to the stake in 1555 at the young age of 44.

    • A really powerful moment of self-“flatulation” does in fact seem like some sort of religious experience. Then again, so does a good belch when you’ve drunk too much soda or beer. 🙂

  4. Perhaps even more off topic, who knew that Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s PBS-series fame was an ordained PCUSA minister? (In Riddleblog’s mention of Gumby’s creator, it somehow reminded me of Roger’s original profession.)

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