Richard Greenham On Law And Gospel

What are the principal parts of God’s Word?

The law and the gospel.

What do you call the law?

It is that part of the word that commands all good and forbids all evil.

What if we could keep the law?

Then we should be blessed.

What if we break the law?

Then we are subject to the curse of God, and to death and damnation.

What do you call the gospel?

It is that part of the word which contains the free promises of God made unto us in Jesus Christ without and respect to our deserving.

What does that work in us?

It works in us a true and lively faith in Jesus Christ, whereby we lay hold of the free remission of our sins in him and the true repentance of them.

What must we learn by the whole word of God?

Two things: First, to make a right and sound entrance to our salvation. Secondly, how to increase and continue in the same unto the end.

What is required for our right and sound entrance to our salvation?

Three things are required: first, to know and to be persuaded of the greatness of our sins and the misery due to the same. Secondly, to know and be persuaded how we may be delivered from them. Thirdly, to know and be persuaded what thanks we owe to God for our deliverance.

—Richard Greenham (c.1535–94), A Short Form of Catechizing (Spelling modernized; HT: Chris Gordon).

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  1. Only a saved person can say “It works in us a true and lively faith in Jesus Christ, whereby we lay hold of the free remission of our sins in him and the true repentance of them”. Others must say “It may work in us … ” or “It is designed to work in us … ” or some other such phrase.

    • Q. 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?

      A. From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.>/blockquote>

  2. Strictly speaking, in this passage also, “we” and “our hearts” should be replaced by “the elect” and “the hearts of the elect” respectively, but it isn’t as obvious, since “by faith only” seems to imply some sort of conditionality.

  3. John,
    Why would a simple Christian, confessing the historic Reformed Christian faith in the historic words of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A.65) want to “clarify” all that, instead of confessing those words as the content of his religion?

  4. Both of you,
    Have I misunderstood the situation? I thought the Reformed Paedobaptist catechisms were to be taught to and repeated by all members of the Visible Church Community whether fit to come to the Lord’s Table or not; so that not everybody for whom the catechism is written necessarily professes to belong to the Invisible Church.

    • That you feel the impulse to revise the language does illustrate one of the differences between the Baptist and the Reformed conception of the church.

      In the confessional Reformed churches we catechize our children to confess what we believe. This is what we believe. We don’t wait for them to have an experience before they confess it. We don’t know when or where the Holy Spirit works (John 3) but this is what the Scriptures teach, what the church believes and what believers confess. We catechize them, we pray for them, we expect (but don’t presume) that the Spirit will give them life and with that life faith to receive all that is promised.

      Yes, we understand that our assemblies are mixed but we also understand that most are professing the faith. We ought to challenge those who profess falsely (hypocrites) but we accept, on the judgment of charity, the profession of members in good standing who are not under discipline for denying their profession.

      To change “we” to “elect” requires an unhealthy inward turn away from Christ and his promises to to me and to the question: “am I elect?” which Calvin and the Reformed orthodox strongly discouraged. The question is: do I believe? If the answer is yes, then that answers the question, am I elect? To sit around trying to decide, in the abstract, whether one is elect is the caricature of Reformed theology and piety but not our actual theology or piety.

      It is the elect alone who receive the benefits but that truth does not obviate the corollary that the same God who elects administers his sovereign, mysterious saving purposes through the visible church. As part of that administration, we confess the faith together.

    • I’ve been in a Bullinger state of mind of late:

      “Let Christ, therefore be the looking glass, in whom we may contemplate our predestination.” 2nd Helvetic Confession

  5. The truly Reformed Paedobaptist church with which I am most familiar is the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Free Presbyterians (S) tend to leave it quite late before they proceed to the Lord’s Table, men in particular. I do think it undesirable that adherents should have words put into their mouths virtually stating that they personally are regenerate when they have uncertainty about it; they might as well go the whole hog and participate in the Lord’s Supper. It is an inch given, following which the Federal Visionists have taken a mile. I would have expected “we catechize our children to confess what we believe” to mean “we catechize our children to confess about the Faith what we believe about the Faith”, not “we catechize our children to profess about themselves what we believe about ourselves”.
    I accept what you write about the use of “elect” – “those being saved” would be better.
    As regards what you write about your attitude towards adherents who do not yet profess to belong to the Invisible Church, or who may even die without so professing, the same attitude ought to prevail in Baptist churches towards unbaptized attending community members (I’m glad to say that in the church of which I am a member it does). After all, under the Old Covenant those who died before they could be circumcised were not counted as being outside the Covenant, e.g., Bathsheba’s firstborn.

    • John,

      You’re making the same mistake as John Piper. Baptism is the sign and seal of initiation. Communion is the sign and seal of covenant renewal. They are quite different in function. As I’ve explained at great length, baptism does not unite the baptized ipso facto to Christ. That’s the FV error. Baptism of infants is a matter of the administration of God’s covenant of grace. It’s not magic. The FV is magic. There’s a huge difference.

      We, the visible church, make a confession of faith. We catechize our children, pray with and for them, and when they are ready, they make profession of faith before the elders. That only happens by the grace of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit. Baptists have no advantage here. They simply postpone the sign of initiation and conflate it with the sign of covenant renewal because of their over-realized eschatology but they’re still depending on the Holy Spirit to work faith in the hearts of their children, just as we are.

      When a covenant child has come to faith or comes to consciousness of the new life and faith that the Spirit has wrought, we expect the child to use the words he has been taught and we accept that profession. It may come at different times. Some children profess faith when they are younger and some when they are a bit older. Calvin thought that children should be able to profess faith by 10, probably because he assumed a model wherein children were catechized by 10—because they started very young. I tend to favor something like that but some traditions delay profession until 15 or even later.

      We (parents, pastors, and elders) are not God. We are mere mortals. We only know what people say and what we can see. If people say that they believe and we see no evidence to the contrary, we must accept that profession of faith.

      We are going to live in mixed congregations until Christ returns. That’s the nature of this period of redemptive history. You seem to have an over-realized eschatology. You want more of heaven now than can be enjoyed.

  6. “Communion is the sign and seal of covenant renewal” – That means the person taking communion is not professing to be a member of the Invisible Church, just of the visible church in the same way that the baptized infant is? You follow Solomon Stoddard?!?!?!?!?!

    • No this is the teaching of the Reformed churches in their confessional documents. Have you never read the Belgic Confession?

      We believe and confess that our Savior Jesus Christ has ordained and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper to nourish and sustain those who are already born again and ingrafted into his family: his church.

      Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal– they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.

      Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten– that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.

      To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.

      Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.

      Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood– but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.

      In that way Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven– but he never refrains on that account to communicate himself to us through faith.

      This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates himself to us with all his benefits. At that table he makes us enjoy himself as much as the merits of his suffering and death, as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of his flesh, and relieves and renews them by the drinking of his blood.

      Moreover, though the sacraments and thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers.

      Finally, with humility and reverence we receive the holy sacrament in the gathering of God’s people, as we engage together, with thanksgiving, in a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, and as we thus confess our faith and Christian religion. Therefore no one should come to this table without examining himself carefully, lest “by eating this bread and drinking this cup he eat and drink to his own judgment.”78

      In short, by the use of this holy sacrament we are moved to a fervent love of God and our neighbors.

      Therefore we reject as desecrations of the sacraments all the muddled ideas and damnable inventions that men have added and mixed in with them. And we say that we should be content with the procedure that Christ and the apostles have taught us and speak of these things as they have spoken of them

      Or Heidelberg Catechism 75 ff?

      Q. 75. How art thou admonished and assured in the Lord’s Supper, that thou art a partaker of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all his benefits?

      A. Thus: That Christ has commanded me and all believers, to eat of this broken bread, and to drink of this cup, in remembrance of him, adding these promises:a first, that his body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and his blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes, the bread of the Lord broken for me, and the cup communicated to me; and further, that he feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with his crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.

      Q. 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ?

      A. It is not only to embrace with believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin, and life eternal;a but also, besides that, to become more and more united to his sacred body,b by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heavenc and we on earth, are notwithstanding “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone”d and that we live, and are governed forever by one spirit,e as members of the same body are by one soul.

      A. In the institution of the supper, which is thus expressed:a

      “The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and: said: eat, this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying: this cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

      For, as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor 11:23-26).

      This promise is repeated by the holy apostle Paul, where he says “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor 10:16,17).

      Q. 79. Why then doth Christ call the bread “his body”, and the cup “his blood”, or “the new covenant in his blood”; and Paul the “communion of body and blood of Christ”?

      A. Christ speaks thus, not without great reason, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life;a but more especially by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood by the operation of the Holy Ghost as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him;b and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours, as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.

      In the context of Reformed theology, which was well established before Stoddard and Edwards, “renewal” did not mean that the sacrament was the means by which people were given new life (regeneration) but rather the conscious taking up for one’s self of the promises offered in the Gospel and the restatement of the promises by the minister is part of the administration of the holy supper.

      Petrus van Mastricht, whom Edwards read, distinguished baptism as the sacrament of initiation of the supper as the sacrament of nutrition. That is all that is meant by “the sacrament of renewal.”

      He image comes from the biblical and Ancient Near Eastern pattern of covenant making and renewing.

  7. Of course the sacrament is not a means of giving new life. But it is plain from both the confession and the catechism that no-one has any business taking the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper unless they believe themselves to be born again, not just covenantally but also in practice and experience, i.e., that they in practice HAVE this new life. This is more than covenant renewal, this is testimony. The type in the Old Testament was that no male was to participate in the Passover unless his foreskin was fully and permanently removed, a permanent physical reality and type of the permanent spiritual reality of having been born again.

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