The Eucharist and the Mode of Christ’s Flesh

Before High-Church Institutionalism roasted Nicholas Ridley at the stake, he was engaged in a number of eucharistic disputes.  He said, in short, that all sides agreed that Christ was “present” at the Eucharist.  The point, though, was how he was present.   Ridley hit the nail on the head.   All sides, even the most dualistic Baptist, will agree with the “real presence of Christ.”  For the Christian, when is Christ not present?  The point of dispute, though, is the mode of Christ’s presence (this was why the debate between Ligon Duncan and Keith Mathison was so frustrating; Duncan might have been correct that Calvin never said it that way, but still…).

Is Christ present in the bread and wine in such a way that wee are consuming his hemaglobins?  This raises a deeper question:  is Christ consubstantial with our humanity?  Most traditions (correctly) say yes.  Does this consubstantial humanity reside in the consecrated bread and wine?  Note how the High Churchman answers:   supposedly the bread and wine represent, among other things, the human nature of Christ.  Let’s consider what a human nature entails (and keep in mind, when Christ offered the first Eucharist, he did so with his pre-glorified humanity.  This means that whatever the phrase “This is my body” entails, it can only refer to the pre-glorified humanity.   Can a human nature exist outside a person?  Classical Christology, with its doctrine of anhypostasia, says no.   Natures do not exist outside of hypostases.  So, when I see the Lord’s Supper, if the bread and wine represent the humanity of Christ, is the hypostasis of Christ present?  It must be, on this reading, because of the doctrine of an/enhypostasia.  But if this is the case, what of the fact that multiple Suppers are being celebrated at the moment?  Does this mean that there are multiple hypostases of Christ?  The conclusion appears inevitable.  But dear reader, is this not Nestorianism in its most crass form?

On the other hand, if the human nature fully shares in the divine, with a real communication of attributes from the divine to the human, then we lose any real sense of a true humanity of Christ.

Recommendations for the seminarian

College was one of the more delightful social experiences for me.   I truly got to explore my faith through reading.  Sadly, seminary was one of the worst–if not the worst–experiences of my life.  I’ve beaten up on RTS Jackson in the past–and I always shall–but some problems were mine.   Anyway, if a  young seminarian reads this and takes these reading recommendations to heart, then some good will come of it.  I am not an expert, but I have read an insane amount so I know a little on these issues.

These are book/learning recommendations that should be with the student always.  These are not books to be read once and set aside, but to continually guide the reader.  I am leaving out biblical commentaries, since there are so many.

Thales to Dewey by Gordon Clark.  I don’t want to get into the Clark-Van Til debate, but even if Van Til were correct, and I don’t necessarily think he is, his writing style and worldview is so abstract and borderline incoherent that I seriously question how useful it can be.  It’s not simply a matter of understanding Van Til, but of knowing that the person with whom you dialogue also understands Van Til, a point that even Bahnsen conceded.  Clark on the other hand has a clear and warm writing style, and hits upon deep issues.

Thomas Reid: Inquiry and Essays.  Okay, I doubt this will help your preaching much, but Reid helped me a whole lot with foundational issues, and he cleared away a lot of the Van Tillian debris.  For what it’s worth, Hodge wrote volume one of his systematic theology with Reid in mind.

Church History

History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker.  There are probably better sources, but Walker has stood the test of time.  He is more critical than I am of the biblical account, but his critical resources pay off well centuries down the road.

Schaff, Philip.  Church History set.  Seven volumes, which is probably too much to have on the immediate shelf, but covers more detail than Walker


Hodge, Charles.   There is no way of knowing who has the best systematic theology.  It depends on what you are looking for.  Against evangelical feminism and Arminianism, Wayne Grudem is the best.  Against Anchoretism and Catholicism, Hodge is the best.  And since Reformed folk are leaving in droves, Hodge is the need of the hour

Edwards, Jonathan.  Complete Works.  Not everything Edwards said is good, and Hodge/Dabney take him to task.  However, is worldview is “God-soaked” and Lloyd-Jones recommended every young pastor to read through Edwards.


Anything by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Also get the audio sermons.

On why Perry Miller wanted Jonathan Edwards to be John Locke

Regarding Miller’s landmark study on John Locke Jonathan Edwards…

Miller, Perry.  Jonathan Edwards.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1949 [2005].

The late John Gerstner described this book as one of the most important books written on Jonathan Edwards.  And when he said this in the 1960s, he was correct.  Edwards studies has exploded since then.  One must be careful of being too critical of Miller’s work.  When he wrote this few academics took the Puritans or Jonathan Edwards seriously.   Now we have almost a glut of material.   For all of Miller’s faults, he did the the project started.

Miller offers two keys to interpreting Edwards’ life and thought:  the philosophy of John Locke and the internecine politics of New England.   To phrase it more precisely:  Jonathan Edwards’ use of John Locke was a focused and indirect attack on the soon-to-be-labeled “Old Lights” in New England (pp. 3-35).  This is (allegedly) seen in Edwards’ early sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” from which we understand that the senses in themselves do not deceive (45, emphasis added).  This is very important for Miller’s reading of Edwards’ reading of Lock, for this is how Miller will interpret Edwards’ work The Religious Affections.  In short, Miller reads Edwards as saying “God does not impart religious truth outside sensory experience” (55).

No doubt Edwards was enthralled with John Locke early on.  Further, Miller does cogently argue that Edwards’ use of Locke allowed him to formulate his ideas the way he did.  However, few of Edwards’ modern interpreters have placed the same level of importance on Locke as Miller did.  George Marsden suggests, pace Miller, that Edwards, like any respectable New England thinker of his day, tried to keep apace of modern intellectual currents and this meant reading men like John Locke (Marsden, 60ff).

Nonetheless, there are aspects of John Locke’s thought that did leave a permanent impression on Edwards.  Miller asserts, “Metaphysically, this led to the immense conclusion that the entire universe exists in the divine idea” (Miller, 63).  Indeed, Edwards will further develop this idea in his defense of Original Sin, arguing that in the realm of the mind all of humanity, like an atom, is a single concept (278).  Miller suggests it but doesn’t develop the conclusions:  Edwards had implicitly rejected the older substance-ontologies for an ontology based on mind and atom.

Divine Causality

Edwards understands “cause” to mean “a sequence of phenomena, with the inner connection of cause and effect still mysterious and terrifying” (79).  Cause, for Edwards, is not simply that which determines an effect.  Rather, it is that which is “necessarily antecedent” (257).  The first premise in the argument against free will:  perception is not the import of an object, for the object is without significance, but the object as seen, the manner of view, and the state of mind that views. Miller adds another premise to clinch the argument:  just as the will follows perception’s view of things, rather than the things themselves, so the will lies within the tissue of nature and is caused by something external to it (257).

Against Modernity

Miller sees Edwards as an enlightened critic of modernity, and he places Edwards within a larger anti-modern narrative.   In discussing the implications of a Lockean-Newtonian worldview, Miller notes that the “science” of modernity cannot answer the basic questions upon which it is founded:  if atoms are so hard that they never break, how small is the smallest atom (83)?  Said another way:  if atoms are the fundamentally smallest entity in the world, of which all other entities consist, and that is all reality is, then what holds the atoms together?  Is that which holds atoms together also made up of atoms?  And so the questions could go on.   The important point, though, is that the aforementioned questions represent a fatal weakness in modern Scientism.   Scientism of its day could not answer one basic question:  what holds the atoms together?  Miller has a simple answer:  magic (83).   Unfortunately, Miller does not pursue this.  Many of the Enlightenment thinkers were deeply involved in the occult and Miller could have had a field day exploring this.

Now, I like beating up unbelieving science as much as the next guy, but this picture has largely eclipsed Jonathan Edwards.  Yes, Edwards would have been aware of this discussion.  Further, Edwards would have been a critic of modernity, but as Marsden notes elsewhere, this isn’t the heart of Edwards, and Miller has wasted a lot of time shadow-boxing dead Englishmen.

The Religious Affections

This is the weakest and most frustrating part of Miller’s narrative.  Miller is insistent that Edwards be read according to Locke’s dictum that what we can know, we can know from sense experience.  During the Great Awakening, so the argument goes, many people had “visible signs” of something at work.  Miller, being a pagan, has no understanding of the Holy Spirit, and can only see external effects.   Missing this key fact, virtually everything he says about Edwards from this point on is painfully incorrect.  The reader is encouraged to consult Iain Murray’s biography on this point.

Conclusion: Pros and Cons

Like any work by Perry Miller, the prose is a delight to read.  Unfortunately, that is why the book is misleading.  Much of Miller’s scholarship on Puritanism has since been refuted.  The Puritans didn’t invent the idea of “covenant” to soften a mean God.   To the degree this might have been the case in New England owes more to the structurally flawed nature of Congregationalism and the Half-way covenant than it does to Reformed theology.   And to the extent that Miller captures on key ideas in Edwards, he tends to overplay minor issues and miss major points.   Further complicating things is that none of Miller’s quotations of Edwards point the reader to specific works.  Perhaps accessible editions of Edwards’ corpus weren’t available then (it’s amazing to think of how much good Banner of Truth Trust has done the world on this point).

On the other hand, when it comes to Edwards’ major doctrines Miller summarizes Edwards quite well, and for what it’s worth, cuts off Arminianism at the knees.  Should you read this book?  I suppose.  Any major work on Edwards should consult Marsden first, then Murray, and lastly Miller.

Samuel Rutherford and Baptist Scholarship

John Coffey has filled in a woeful lacuna in Reformed historical scholarship:  the absence of a good, critical, and thorough biography of the Covenanter Samuel Rutherford.  In fact, Coffey goes on to say that there is not a decent biography of an Scot between John Knox and figures early in the 18th century.

Coffey, John.  Religion, Politics, and the British Revolution:  The Mind of Samuel Rutherford.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford Cover

In terms of scholarship the book is first-rate.  The bibliography alone is worth purchasing the book.  There is one problem, though:  Coffey is a baptist.  Now, I am not being mean or parochial in saying that.  Coffey himself admits it.  I bring that up because the Baptist worldview necessarily entails certain things about covenants, politics, and even how one views salvation.    Coffey himself admits this colors his conclusion somewhat (Coffey, xi).   At the end of the book Coffey will disagree with Rutherford’s worldview, but until then he does a wonderful job explaining it.   The book is divided into eight chapters, with six analyzing different aspects of Rutherford.

In terms of actual biography, Coffey stays to the main tradition and simply updates older scholarship. Of interest is his suggestion that Rutherford fornicated in his youth (37).  Coffey admits there isn’t decisive evidence for it, but suggests he did anyway.  Myself, I’ll stick with the evidence and just say, “I don’t know.”  In explaining his life Coffey points out how various religious communities have approached Rutherford.  Evangelical pietists (likely Banner of Truth) have focused on Rutherford’s letters and its warm piety.   Theonomists and the Christian Right in America focused on Lex, Rex, claiming Rutherford anticipated Lockean ideas of liberal democracy.   Thankfully, Coffey buries the Christian Right myth by pointing out, contrary to Francis Schaeffer, that there is no evidence that Locke or Witherspoon ever read Rutherford (12).

The Scholar

The chapter on Rutherford the scholar examines his academic upbringing.  Of particular note is the various strands of post-Renaissance and Reformation secular learning that was employed at various universities.  Rutherford will later synthezie Thomism and biblical law and the beginnings of the former regarding Rutherford are found here.  Coffey’s discussion of Ramism is intruguing.

The Pastor

Continuing with the more biographical strand, Coffey recounts the various troubles Rutherford got into as a pastor.   I won’t say more since this information is readily available elsewhere.

The Reformed Theologian

This is where the money begins.  Despite much of Coffey’s antipathy towards Rutherford, Coffey does a fine job explicating Rutherford’s high Calvinism.  He begins by burying earlier Calvin vs. the Calvinists theses, showing that they reflect more of Barth’s disciples than they do of Calvin.   Therefore, Rutherford can be seen continuing Calvin’s high predestinarianism within the framework of a covenant and using a different grammar than Calvin, but all the while staying faithful to the Reformed tradition.    First, we must see Rutherford’s foil:  Arminianism.

Arminianism:  divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below).  Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes.  Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy.  True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

Divine Premotion: in responding to the Molinists, Rutherford fell back on an old Thomist idea–God acts on secondary causes to produce actual effects (125).   Rutherford’s other views led to a supralapsarianism with its strengths and weaknesses.

Covenant theology:  This will come into play later in the section on politics, but I will deal with it now to show that Coffey misunderstands Rutherford on one key point (more on that below).  Coffey correctly places Rutherford in the line of John Knox, not John Locke.   Rutherford’s covenant theology also functions as a prism by which he will launch his political theology.   Coffey will later charge Rutherford with trying to force “Reformed Christian” rules on an ungodly Scotland.  Further, Coffey argues that this is inconsistent:  how can one force the covenant of grace on those who do not necessarily have grace?   There are many lines of response, but my main thought is, “So what?”   Anyone who’s spent more than fifteen minutes reading ethics knows that is does not always correspond to ought.  For example, I know unregenerate people in America might want to commit murder–they’ll never change.   Should I then, as a magistrate, not pass a law against murder?

Natural Law:  Coffey suggests that Rutherford forged an uneasy connection between natural law and biblical law.  Lex, Rex was written to justify resistance to the king.  Contra Locke, Rutherford argued that the fundamental unit is not the individual, but the covenant community.  The making of a king, therefore, has two dimensions:  his immediate authorization from God, and the mediate authorization through the covenant community.  Civil society, Rutherford would argue, is natural in radice and voluntary in modo.

Covenant and resistance:  The people (we will leave that term undefined for the moment) could resist an ungodly king if he broke the covenant.  Coffey suggests that Rutherford was embarrassed by the New Testament injunctions against rebellion.  I think Coffey is embarrassed.  True, the New Testament warns against lawless rebellion, but these ethical commands, like all ethical commands, have to be applied in day-to-day situations.  What about the numerous Old Testament commands to rebel against lawfully-ordained tyrants?  Did God change his moral standard?   Rutherford actually mentions these verses, but Coffey doesn’t deal with them

Coffey, however, is to be commended for calling to light some humorous comments from Rutherford.   One of the planks of natural law reasoning is the command to preserve our own life, other things being equal (interestingly, Jesus’ command to love others as ourselves is meaningless if the following premise is not granted).  Rutherford asks, “If an Irish criminal, who happens to be deputized by the king, is about to kill us, natural law requires us to unhorse him and then engage in reasoning.”  Rutherford does list a number of other situations where armed resistance is the only moral option:  if the deputy/king wants you to sodomize someone, violate a woman, etc., only a morally-diseased person will plead pacifism in that case.  That last line is from me, not Coffey.

Ecclesiastical Statesman: Coffey shows remarkable restraint on Rutherford’s presbyterianism.   There is not much to add to this chapter.

National Prophet:  This is where Coffey starts to get annoyed at Rutherford.  He suggests that Rutherford’s covenantal theology, which included the non-elect, was in tension with his ideas of a “purged and renewed Scotland.”  There is tension in how Rutherford applied it, and I think Rutherford can be justly criticized on those points, but I see no tension in the thesis itself.  Of interest is Rutherford’s exegesis of Isaiah 49, wherein he sees Scotland prophesied as one of “the isles.”  We may laugh at such exegesis, but I think there is something to it.  Rutherford’s point, though, is that Scotland had received and banqueted with Christ, and then her nobles forsook him.  Which leads Rutherford to his next point, judgment.

Apocalypticism.  Coffey has an interesting chapter on Rutherford’s apocalyptic language, but like all academics, he misses the larger point.  Not once does Coffey rightly identify this for what it is: historicist eschatology.  This is an old Protestant reading of Scripture and how Coffey, who has done thorough research on everything else, missed this point is beyond me.  Congruent with my own interests, though, is Rutherford’s awareness of that great champion of Protestantism, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (230, 239), whom Rutherford calls “a latter day Gideon.” (Coffey is somewhat smug in noting Rutherford’s dismay at Gustvus’ death, as though this disproved Rutherford’s eschatology.  I think there are answers here, but I won’t waste time responding to them).

Conclusion and Critique

In terms of thorough scholarship, this book is to be commended.  There are few modern (if any) biographies on Rutherford.  The price, unfortunately, will deter many from buying it.  The book has its imperfections, though.  Coffey criticizes Rutherford on the last page as pursuing the wrong causes.  He should have pursued an evangelical pietism instead (258).  This is ironic because Coffey earlier criticized pietistic readings of Rutherford.  We grant with Coffey that Rutherford faced a difficulty in applying the covenants to a largely unregenerate nation, but so what?  We must be faithful to the Lord regardless of what the situation looks like.  If the world and nation are dark and opposed to us, it is precisely at that moment that we press the Crown Rights.

Rutherford’s Covenant Theology

This is leading to a main point in my review of Coffey. I am indebted to Drake Shelton for his hard and thorough work on this.

Samuel Rutherford had earlier proposed a more traditional view that the eternal Covenant is called the Covenant of Redemption as is made between the Father and the Son. This is distinct from the Covenant of Grace which is made between God and all those who profess faith. The promises of the covenants are different.  To Christ it was promised, upon supplying the condition of the terms of the Covenant of Redemption, to be rewarded by being seated at God’s right hand, to rule over the whole world, to have a an elect seed and be the mediator of his people.  These rewards are not promised to those in the Covenant of Grace.  The promises to those in the Covenant of Grace include the remission of sins, being accounted righteous in Christ, the adoption as sons, a new nature, and holiness among others.  These are not promises that Christ received. It was because Christ’s humanity was NOT “the form of man’s redemption” that the COR was distinct from the COG. Samuel Rutherford says,

“Whosoever receives in his body the Seals of the Covenant of Grace, Circumcision, and Baptism, and yet needs no putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by Circumcision, and needs no forgiveness of sin, no regeneration, no burying with Christ in Baptism, as Colossians 2:11 , 12; Romans 6:3-5, and eats the Passover, and needs not that the Lamb of God take away his sins, as John 1:29 since he is holy, and without sin, he must be under the Covenant, and God must be his God, in some other Covenant than sinners areChrist must have received Seals for other uses and ends, then sinners received them” (Covenant of Life Opened, pg. 418)

If one affirms that Christ is in the same COG as sinners, he cannot escape from Robinson’s argument that this is an ipso facto admission that Christ is a Son of God by adoption as believers are, and not by nature…

Rutherford says of the Covenant of Redemption,

“it is an eternal transaction and compact between Jehovah and the second Person the Son of God, who gave personal consent that he should be the Undertaker, and no otherChrist is predestinate the head, the firstborn of the house, and of the many brethren, and say Amen to the choice, and we are chosen in him, as our head, and he was foreordained the Mediator, and the Lamb before the foundation of the world was laid, to be slain for our sin.” (pg. 429-430)

The Sum of Saving Knowledge states,

“2b The sum of the Covenant of Redemption is this: God having freely chosen to life a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, to God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature, of a soul and a body, to personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even to the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase to them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading there to, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fulness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the foresaid bargain, made before the world began, he is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits of the elect; and that he does by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them, through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings”

Here Rutherford and the Sum of Saving Knowledge affirm clearly that the same Eternal Person who authored the COR is the same Person who suffered on the cross. This person was not a product of the union between human and divine but was an Eternal Person who assumed a human nature.  This was the point that convinced me of the hypostatic union a year ago.

So what does it mean to be united to Christ? First, it means that Christ represents you in the Covenant of Redemption. This is a Representational Union. See Samuel Rutherford, Covenant and Life Opened and my article concerning it here. Second, it means that the Ideas in the Logos are directly and univocally impressed upon the mind of a man. Isa 53:11 By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. These Ideas are not just general propositions that all men receive but the propositions of special revelation written upon the heart. No doubt the Scholastic and the Easterner will flip the script when they read this so I have provided articles here and here in reply regarding the Logos and Saving Faith.


An Arminian Theodicy

Arminianism:  divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below).  Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes.  Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (Coffey, 119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy.  True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

If Judith be canonical

…then inerrancy must be abandoned.  Consider the chronology:

We have a seventh century B.C. Assyria, under the rule of a sixth century Chaldean (Babylonian) king, invading a fifth century restored Judah, with an army led by a fourth century Persian general (Holofernes was the Persian general under Artaxerxes III in the successful campaign against Egypt in the fourth century B.C.). In truth, no major attacks were made on Jerusalem while under Persian rule in the fifth and fourth centuries (an unprecedented period of peace for war-weary Canaan).

Similar problems can be leveled at Tobith.   Anchorites have tried to exonerate these two books, but their attempts prove my point.  Jimmy Akin suggests either (1) the errors are traced to bad manuscripts, or (2) they are fairy tales.  The problem with (1) is that Akin gives us no examples of this being the case, nor does he list any scholars who take that position.  (I am not an expert on apocryphal manuscript traditions, but I doubt many are; I have, however, read a good bit on the Apocrypha and for a time argued for it, and I never came across that claim.  There are no doubt minor manuscript variances–that is true with any document.  What the Anchorite needs to show, though, is that there is a significant error or variation at this particular point.  No argument was given, though).   Affirming (2) effectively concedes the point.  You can’t hold to inerrancy and call key parts of the Bible, which are presented as history, fairy tales.