In this short video Pastor Jonathan and his wife Angela discuss 'conversion experiences' - including when/how they each came to know the Lord in their lives, and their thoughts on conversion, and living each day for the Lord.
Please find attached here the presentation notes from the historical lecture delivered on 1 February 2019 by Pastor Jonathan Arnold.
Intro to the Reformation
It was a solemn period for Roman Catholics in certain areas of England, monasteries were being destroyed but the reformation in England had not yet started. Henry had not yet broken from Rome! What was the occasion for this destructive act? It was Thomas Cromwell on the order of Roman Catholic Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII Chancellor. Little did Wolsey know his successor would employ this same tactic to pave the way for the Reformations progress in England. However, we are not here to talk about Cardinal Wolsey, in fact Wolsey met his demise for failing to solve the King ‘special matter’ that would facilitate the Reformation in England.
This paper is about his successor Thomas Cromwell. Who helped resolve this special matter which illuminated the first glimmers of the English Reformation.
Today in this brief presentation I will talk about: Cromwell’s early life, his reforms and break from Rome, his Protestant influences, his link to the English Bible, his demise, and what we can learn from this unique and interesting historical character.
Thomas Cromwell’s life and administration spans part of the reign of Henry VIII and the Reformation in England. The English Reformation was not one particular event that can be linked to a date but it was a long process. The term ‘English Reformation’ has several aspects: a break from obedience from Rome, state control over the church, the removal of Catholic power structures and institutions such as monasteries, a change from Catholic worship and amended of worship to a more protestant form. Though the date of each change can be traced to a legislative change or canon, who was behind it and what was the motive are more difficult questions. Thomas Cromwell carried out a number of reforms to state and the church. He was one of the key people in this ‘Reformation’, a great administrator, faithful to the crown, a protestant but with flaws. Undoubtedly Thomas Cromwell’s work has a profound impact on English History, Protestant history.
If Henry’s motives of breaking from Rome where spurious, the carrying out of that break eventually had Thomas Cromwell as the architect. He was a self-made man who rose from dire poverty, Cromwell brought the English language Bible to England and Wales, stabilized the English economy and as a “man of laws” changed the very face of Parliament, introducing the notion that governmental laws could and should be established and approved through representation of the people.
Cromwell was born in Putney, Surrey in 1485. His father was a blacksmith and owned an inn and brewery. He left his family at a fairly young age and travelled to the continent, we think spending time in the low countries and France. Eventually he ended up in Italy and was taken under the wing of Francesco Frescobaldi and Italian merchant. At some point prior to 1515 (when he was first married) he returned to England. Tragically his first wife and two daughters died. He established himself as a merchant and lawyer in London, secured a seat in the House of Commons in 1523 and became a member of Grays Inn in 1524. It was during this period, roughly 1516-1530 he is under the authority of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor and chief advisor to the king. One of the reason Cardinal Wolsey picked him up to work for him was because he wanted his tomb to be prepared by the best artists/sculptures, who were, of course, Italian at the time. However, in 1529 Wolsey fell from power over King Henry VIII’s marriage annulment to Catherine of Aragon. Intriguingly Henry decided to take this tomb being prepared for Wolsey for his own, although he was never buried there. In fact, there are two angels in the Victoria and Albert Museum that you can go and see, and Nelson was buried in the black casket!
Cromwell managed to avoid the taint of being an advisor to Wolsey and by the end of 1530 he was appointed to the King’s privy council. Cromwell seemed cultured and charming, he even tried to look after widows, there are numerous letters where this is clear. Cromwell was seen as a shining light and in Wolsey’s absence was given more responsibly. He was to be the King’s chief minister in 1534 until his downfall in 1540.
Cromwell’s Reforms and a break from Rome
One of the most well-known reforms Thomas Cromwell enacted was the dissolution of the monasteries. But this was not his or Henry’s novel idea. It was first suggested by a Roman Catholic - Cardinal Wollsey. From 1526 to 1529 Cardinal Wolsey suppressed 29 monasteries with the permission of the Pope to fund Ipswich College and Cardinal College in Oxford which became King Henry VIII college and then Christchurch College. It was founded in the grounds of one of the suppressed monasteries (St Frideswide’s). Wolsey saw this as part of his legacy and his plans were expensive and extravagant. It is right to say there were previous suppressions on religious houses and disbursement of their revenues but nothing on this scale. There lands and goods were to be sold. This in turn created a considerable amount of legal work, and Cromwell's skill in land conveyancing marked him out as the best man for the job. On 28 July 1524 he supervised the resignation by Sir John Longevile to Wolsey of his patronal rights in Bradwell Priory, Buckinghamshire. Another twenty-eight monasteries followed, with Cromwell and his team responsible in each case for selling their lands and goods. By August 1526 the documents relating to the houses which had been suppressed to fund the Oxford college alone filled thirty-four bags.[i]
Cromwell's enthusiasm for his work is very apparent. On 2 April 1528 he wrote to Wolsey concerning Cardinal College:
The buyldinges of your noble colledge most prosperouslye and magnyfycentlye dothe arryse in suche wise that to every mannes judgement the lyke thereof was never sene ne ymagened having consideracyon to the largeness beautee sumptuous Curyous and most substauncyall buylding of the same.The monastic foundations Wolsey suppressed totaled an income of £1800.[ii]
Cromwell’s part in the English Reformation has been much debated. There was an argument that he hatched the plan to break with Rome and whispered it in Henry VIII ear to release him from his marriage. However, evidence suggests he was rising the ranks in court through 1530 1532. In fact, it was where the colleges were built that the King wanted possession of the land - this called upon Cromwell’s legal skill to transfer ownership. Cromwell gained credibility with the King. When the king’s policy of forcing the pope to come to terms had proved to be a failure (following Acts that placed pressure on the clergy in England)[iii]. It was, to all appearances, Cromwell who then came forward with a clear notion of how to achieve Henry’s purpose without the Pope. His policy consisted in making a reality of some large claims to supreme power that Henry had uttered at intervals.
He proposed to destroy Rome’s power in England and to replace it by the royal supremacy in the church. He was behind the first attacks on the papacy (1532) and the act against the payment by bishops of their first year’s revenue to Rome. He secured the submission of the clergy to the king in matters of legislation, and in 1533 he secured the passage of the Act in Restraint of Appeals to Rome, preventing ecclesiastical appeals to Rome (in matrimonial and testamentary cases). Its preamble embodied his political theory of the sovereign national state. Thereafter he was in complete control of the government, though he remained careful to pretend to be acting on the king’s authority. In 1534 he completed the erection of the royal supremacy with the passage of the Act of Supremacy.[iv] This confirmed the King’s rights of visitation as the supreme head of the church in the realm.[v] Cromwell was then made vicegerent by the King outranking another clergy.
After the break with Rome the monasteries existed as the main power structure and source of income of the church, they were gradually dissolved with the smaller first (less than 200) and then the larger monasteries until in 1540 Waltham Abbey was dissolved. A year before the first Act of dissolution the Valor Ecclesiasticus, which was a survey of the finances of the church in England, Wales and some parts of Ireland in 1535 (not attempted since 1291) was completed.
The plan of dissolution was brought before parliament was in the spring of 1536. In the preamble of this act which was enacted to appropriate the smaller religious houses to the King we read:
“Forasmuch as manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is daily used and committed among the little and small abbeys, priories, and other religious houses of monks, canons, and nuns… and albeit that many continual visitations hath been heretofore had, by the space of two hundred years and more, for an honest and charitable reformation of such unthrifty, carnal, and abominable living, yet nevertheless little or none amendment is hitherto had…"
Richard Hoyle argues a clever strategy was taken to the dissolution act as it contained an escape clause for smaller monasteries that were worthy to be preserved, so any member of parliament could conceive that this didn’t apply to their local monasteries or house and vote in favour. Hoyle argues this was a mark that the government could not secure the conscious approval of Parliament, but a gradual approach worked. Following this Act the houses were surveyed and monks and nuns dispersed, items sold off and new tenants brought in.
In 1539 when the second dissolution Act came before parliament Darmaid MacCulloch argues this was recognised as a fait accompli after already approving the 1536 preamble. Some argue that this was a strategy from the beginning as viewed through the evidence of Thomas Cromwell’s office papers – but it is the only archive to survive and the vision may have been less consistent.
Thomas Cromwell and Protestant influences
Some say Cromwell was a political pragmatist using religion for political ends. But I think the evidence yields something far deeper seated in my view. Cromwell was protestant early on.
As early as 1524, Cromwell showed plainly his desire to reform the Church in England through his association with merchants such as Thomas Somer, a stockfishmonger who was a known smuggler of evangelical heretical books, including Tyndale's New Testament[vi].
In a letter around 1527 a young Myles Coverdale wrote to Cromwell requesting books to help advance his studies, and in a eulogy laden with evangelical catch phrases he praised Cromwell for 'for the fervent zeall, that yow have to vertu and godly study' (State papers, 1.384).
On the 19 November 1530 four men crossed Tower Bridge, John Purser, John Tyndale, Thomas Somer and an unnamed apprentice from the city. Above their head - pecasse contra mandata regis – to act or play against their king. Their crime? To distribute William Tyndale’s practice of prelates. They had stuck to themselves pages from Tyndale’s works that were subsequently burnt and they were pilloried as a warning to others. This demonstrates the dangerous game Cromwell was playing as a protestant in the Kings court.[vii] There was hope Cromwell’s influence would save them, but he could not.
By 1530, Thomas Cromwell's faith demonstrated decisively a commitment to fostering of “the new learning” within the realm. Within a year, he was smuggling and organizing the translation and printing of Lutheran works, most notably The Apology of the Augsburg Confession by Philipp Melanchthon. With Sir Thomas More and John Stokesley, Bishop of London, actively pursuing heretics and burning smugglers at the stake, Thomas Cromwell took dangerous risks to foster his reformist religious agenda – all activities known, and likely far more unknown, accomplished with great secrecy before his service to or any protection from King Henry VIII.
For example, early in 1531 he persuaded the king to allow William Tyndale safe passage back to England only months after Henry had denounced him as a heretic. Stephen Vaughan (Cromwell’s Friend) was given the task of negotiating this with Tyndale in Antwerp. It looked possible until Vaughan sent a letter that included a copy of William Tyndale’s Answer to Thomas More, defending his enthusiasm for an English Bible. Henry was furious, and Cromwell sent a strongly worded letter ordering Vaughan to have nothing further to do with Tyndale. However, from the subsequent replies from Vaughan, he clearly has the impression that Cromwell encouraged continued contact with Tyndale – possibly indicating a secret postscript with Cromwell’s letters to keep communication. After two further meetings Cromwell gave up. [viii]
Thomas Cromwell and the English Bible
After the staunch Catholic, Sir Thomas More, had been executed on 6th July, 1535. Miles Coverdale felt safe enough to return to England. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, were now the key political figures in England.
In 1536 Parliament met and following the unsuccessful trip of Edward Fox to the Dukes of Saxony (Lutheran), Cromwell and Cranmer help draft something called the Wittenberg Articles, Henry disliked them greatly and asked a compromise reached. The result? The 10 articles, they expressed reservation about purgatory, mentioned justification and faith, but included three sacraments: baptism eucharist and penance. Thomas Cromwell in sending the agreed instruction of parliament and the king out went beyond what was agreed by ordering every parish church should provide copies of the Bible in English and Latin. He attacked the cult of the saints and the use of images. This raised some opposition and there was the well know pilgrimage of grace in Yorkshire that resulted in rebel-controlled areas, Henry would eventually put down these uprisings but only after some months and some rebel controlled areas,
Cranmer and Cromwell still wanted the Bible to be available in English. This was a controversial issue as William Tyndale had been denounced as a heretic (and his supporters mentioned above) and ordered to be burnt at the stake by Henry VIII eleven years before, for producing such a Bible. The edition they promoted, although mainly the work of Tyndale, had the name of Miles Coverdale on the cover. Cranmer approved the Coverdale version on 4th August 1538, and asked Cromwell to present it to the king in the hope of securing royal authority for it to be available in England.[ix]
Henry agreed to the proposal on 30th September 1538. Every parish had to purchase and display a copy of the Coverdale Bible in the nave of their church for everybody who was literate to read it. "The clergy was expressly forbidden to inhibit access to these scriptures and were enjoined to encourage all those who could do so to study them." Cranmer was delighted and wrote to Cromwell praising his efforts and claiming that "besides God's reward, you shall obtain perpetual memory for the same within the realm."
The Swiss Reformed connections
During Cromwell’s time in office there were negotiations with the Smalcaldic league in Germany and the Augsburg confession was translated into English in hope, however, Henry did not take it up – although that might have been Cromwell and the translator Richard Taverner’s aim[x]. It is alleged that Cromwell used is powers from protestant ends, maybe even linked to the Reformers in Switzerland. There is a fascinating link now being exposed between him and the Swiss reformers and not the Germany and it is argued in a recent book that he had significant meetings with Swiss reformers.
In 1537, at the height of his career, he did something very dangerous for no seemingly political gain: he established semi-clandestine relations with the far‑away Swiss city of Zurich, simply because its thoroughgoing (and non‑Lutheran) version of the reformation was the one he wanted England to follow, despite the king's evident hatred of Zurich's brand of Protestantism.
There was a student exchange between Zurich and Oxford in 1537/38, host of young swiss men came across, hosted by the Marquis of Dorset, (family name Grey, later lady Jane Grey, whom Cranmer would support to take the throne.
What caused Cromwell’s demise? An issue with Henry’s marriage? His religious beliefs? His possible claim to the throne through a relative?
It is well known Cromwell arranged a marriage that was politically advantageous, Henry was not impressed with Anne of Cleaves, his third wife-to-be, when he saw her and immediately was not interested. This was a grave problem for Cromwell and contributed to his demise. Cromwell's fall cannot be attributed to any one mistake or decision, although the Cleves marriage was the single most important factor in undermining the king's confidence in him. It was also a problem particularly difficult for Cromwell to resolve, as Henry's divorce from Anne would only lead to the king's marrying Norfolk's (opponent of Cromwell) niece, Katherine Howard, thereby further threatening the minister's position.
As loyal as Thomas Cromwell was to Henry VIII through his ten years of faithful service, eventually he crossed the religious line of the King over an issue the monarch never wavered upon. The truth of the matter was that Thomas Cromwell had clear links to Lutherans and Reformers who did not take the middle road so often held by Henry VIII.
King Henry VIII, though hateful of the papacy, still held close many Roman Catholic tenants, particularly the notion that abundant good works combined with faith were needed for salvation. This disagreement in religious belief ultimately became a sticking point in the King Henry VIII's relationship with his most faithful servant, enabling the king to ultimately order Cromwell's execution after his detractors, most notably Stephen Gardiner and other high-ranking conservative clergy, along with Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, orchestrated Cromwell's arrest and imprisonment upon certainly false charges.
Two days after Cromwell suffered, in a blunt statement intended to show his determination to end the years of religious strife since the break from Rome, Henry ordered the executions of the three evangelicals arrested in March, as well as three conservatives loyal to Rome.
King Henry therefore executed Cromwell for the ‘right’ reason: he was a heretic. But there was more beyond religion and marriage. Cromwell married his son Gregory to Queen Jane Seymour's sister, and thus made himself King Henry VIII's uncle by marriage. Henry made a specialty of killing people who were potential dynastic rivals to himself and his children, so even if Cromwell had not been a Protestant, he might have had his head chopped off to stop him taking the throne. You did not have to make the attempt, you just needed someone with a grudge to whisper to the king that you might try.
John Foxe, later writing about Thomas Cromwell, described him in the following manner:
In this worthy and noble person, besides divers other eminent virtues, three things especially are to be considered, to wit, flourishing authority, excelling wisdom, and fervent zeal to Christ and to his gospel. First, as touching his fervent zeal in setting forward the sincerity of Christian faith, sufficient is to be seen before by the injunctions, proclamations, and articles... that more cannot almost be wished in a nobleman, and scarce the like hath been seen in any.
It is a bit over the top but undoubtedly Thomas Cromwell has protestant beliefs. His political cunning was something we would balk at today, but he accomplished a break from Rome and an administrative reform that set England on a protestant path, of sorts. Thomas Cromwell was a complex historical figure, and opportunist, an emphatic Protestant – who was used greatly to improve Protestantism in England.
[i] Leithead, H. (2009, May 21). Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540), royal minister. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Retrieved 1 Feb. 2019, from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6769.
[ii] Leithead, H. (2009, May 21). Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540), royal minister. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Retrieved 1 Feb. 2019, from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6769.
[iii] It began in 1530 with individuals such as Wolsey being charged with praemunire and latter a wider group of English clergy (such as the entire Canterbury clergy in convocation ). This concept of ‘praemunire’ was from the legislature from the 14th Century that had been unused for many years but was resurrected to prevent the Pope from interfering with Crown rights when presenting clergy to benefices. In an Act of Parliament in 1531 a pardon for clergy was to be given for a ‘subsidy’ of 100,000 pounds. This was a practical demonstration of the Crown over the church and a foreshadowing of what was to come. This formed part of a strategy by Henry to bring pressure on the clergy and bend the Pope’s will to grant a marriage annulment.
[v] MacCulloch, D., 1995. Henry VIII and the Reform of the Church. In: D. MacCulloch, ed. The Reign of Henry VIII - Politics, Policy and Piety. s.l.:Palgrave, pp. 170.
[vi] Cross, C., Loades, D. M., & Scarisbrick, J. J. (2002). Law and government in Tudor England: Essays presented to Sir Geoffrey Elton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 34.
[vii] Fudge, J. D. (2007). Commerce and Print in the Early Reformation. BRILL.
[viii] Leithead, H. (2009, May 21). Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540), royal minister. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Retrieved 1 Feb. 2019, from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6769.
[ix] Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 294
[x] Pragman, James H. “The Augsburg Confession in the English Reformation: Richard Taverner's Contribution.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 11, no. 3, 1980, pp. 75–85. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2540156.
Please find attached here the notes from a history presentation delivered at our recent Friday Fellowship on 07 December 2018. Delivered by Angela Platt, the Pastor's wife.
December 1842 Elizabeth J.J. Robson, an evangelical Quaker writes in her diary; she expresses significant concern about her spiritual state, due to her feelings…
"Oh, may my prayers be more sincere: for I fear, that though I read the Bible every night on retiring to rest, and endeavour to enter into stillness and a prayerful spirit, yet it is more show than reality."
Again she expresses a similar sentiment a few years in March 1844:
"I am sometimes tempted to fear that the work of true religion has not yet even begun in my heart..."
She clearly endeavours to live a life fully devoted to God, but in 1842-44 frequently expresses concern that she is not 'feeling' enough to convince herself that she is a Christian. Her spirituality appears to be, at least somewhat, contingent on how much she 'feels' - whether that be love to God, closeness to his Spirit, or a change in her heart...
I came across this pious Quaker's diary more or less serendipitously; one of the subjects of my research is a well-known Quaker female named Elizabeth Robson, who was engaged in ministry throughout the UK; her husband, Thomas Robson, was also a Quaker minister. They even travelled to the USA together. So when I found a diary in the British Library titled 'Memoirs of Elizabeth Robson' I was naturally excited - and then discovered these women were not one and the same. The Elizabeth Robson mentioned above is a rare jewel - a religious ‘average person’ who was sincere about her religion, though not a minister in her denomination. Indeed, across all denominations it is rare to find much information about religious people who were not directly involved in ministry.
We know very little about Elizabeth; we know she married another Quaker, Joseph John Robson, in 1853 - they lived in Saffron Waldon. In the 1850s she joined a committee for the 'Girls British Schools' in which they would conduct 'bible visiting' - travelling to various schools to teach Scripture to the children. As noted above, by her commitment to read it each day - the bible was supremely important to Elizabeth, as it was generally to evangelical Quakers of this period.
The bulk of this research on Elizabeth is derived from her memoirs, which include segments of her diary. This diary is mainly filled with reflections on her spiritual life and condition. She began writing a diary in adulthood in the 1840s, in order to track the 'progress of religion in her soul'. Writing diaries was a common occupation of religious men and women in this period - across denominations. It served both public and private benefits - privately, it allowed the author to see how God had worked in their life and trace their spiritual progress; 'publicly' it was often read and used by close family members and friends of that person, as a source of encouragement; diaries were also typically used to collate memoirs of individuals after they had died - which is precisely how this memoir of Elizabeth was created.
The supreme emphasis on Elizabeth's diary appears to be on religious feelings - not uncommon for other diaries found in this period, especially those written by evangelical women. A few months after her concern expressed in March 1844 (in the quote shown here which I mentioned earlier*) Elizabeth feels reassured since she has recently experienced greater feelings for God. In July 1844 she notes:
"I have lately felt more earnest desires after God, more than usual the need of being washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb…"
Elizabeth evidently made a strong connection between her feelings and her spiritual condition. When feelings were present, she was comforted and assured of her relationship with God; when feelings were absent or weak, she was spiritually anxious. The year before, in 1843, she wrote in her diary:
"Oh, that I could feel it more, and endeavour more earnestly to love and serve my God, for I know not that another year may be granted me...I want to feel the vitality of true religion; I Want to come to Jesus in true humility of soul, and to feel sufficiently my need of a Saviour."
This emphasis on feelings was not unusual, nor was it restricted to Quakerism alone. Jane Attwater, a pious Baptist woman who was heavily involved in intellectual ministry in the late 18th - early 19th centuries also interposes frequent thoughts of 'feelings' in her diaries - which cover over 30 years of her life. She notes in 1776:
"May I never be left to lukewarmness but be ever zealous… I trust I now feel something of love to Christ but the mutability of my state makes me fear I shall not always profit what I not feel …”
This also wasn't strictly related to women, as men commented on the desire for religious feelings in their diaries as well. David Everard Ford, a well-respected Congregational minister and composer of hymns in the late 18th century, wrote the following in his diary during a turbulent spiritual period:
"Something is wrong between my soul & God. Most earnestly do I desire restoring grace...I would wish to feel it...God has done great things for me, & I ought to be glad...Lord, help me!" (1844)
When studying history it is important for historians to consider the context of the contemporaries of hte period in order to understand why they did/believed certain things (whether we agree with them or not). Also, as Christians, we of course want to analyse the principle of the behaviour - do we agree with their sentiments? The remainder of this presentation will extrapolate the context and principle of these feelings-orientated sentiments.
The Context: Salience of Feelings
The evangelical revivals were renowned for explosions of emotion, meetings of Whitefield and Wesley were often accompanied by great bodily expressions of feelings, which would seem to confirm that something spiritual was occurring. It would be remiss to presume that emotions were a new characteristic in 18th century religion; one only has to read Puritan writings in the 16th and 17th centuries to note that feelings were an important part of spiritual life. Protestant Reformation historian Alec Ryrie comments on the importance of feelings:
"Feelings might provide testimony on a whole range of subjects, but in particular they could provide unparalleled evidence - perhaps the only true evidence - of election and of salvation…"
However, 18th century evangelicalism did note a shift in the presentation of these emotions as their manifestation became more institutionalised. The impact of this can be seen in changes in preaching and doctrine. Preaching changed, as sermons which appealed simply to the conscience and moral duty were joined by appeals to emotional religion - that listeners would be inspired to be grateful to God for his abundant grace. Conversion was becoming greatly experiential; Evangelicalism saw religion as to be a natural expression - one with roots in the feelings of the heart. Indeed, a significant aspect of these feelings came at the point of conversion, wherein Christians believed they needed to experience a great explosion of terror-feelings in order to be truly saved - this was part of Christian experience.
This was especially evident in the revival meetings which were often classified by their intense and visible feelings due to the spiritual experience taking place. (In this image you see a well-known picture of George Whitefield preaching outdoors - with some evidence of emotion - though this is no where near the rowdy emotions displayed, according to some accounts with people shaking trembling, screaming, wailing on the floor… there were even designated 'anxious seats' in some church meetings for people to occupy themselves if such activities overcame them.
Spirituality was tied up with feelings. Good feelings, such as compassion, were to be cultivated, while bad feelings - such as anger or envy, ought to be repressed. Emotion was a determinant of one's spiritual state; it revealed the truth of their hearts. One who loved God would certainly feel love for God. On one occasion when Wesley tried to explain the nature of spiritual affections he drew an analogy - if one has ever loved or been loved by another human, then it should be known how to love God - it would be felt.
'I ask you, men, how do you know when you love your wives? Ye wives, how do you know when you love your husbands? Ye parents, how do you know when you love your children The answer is, 'I feel it'
As the evangelical revivals arose in the 18th century, heart religion became a central feature of its message - 'true religion' and 'experiential religion' were often discussed in diaries, letters, and sermons. People wanted the true and full experience of spirituality - and the absence of these feelings was cause for worry. And with all this emphasis on emotional output, emotions became a frequent barometer for one’s spiritual state.
Thoughts on feelings today?
There are a plethora of thoughts on feelings today - ranging from the emphasis on experience and feelings within high calvinist reformed traditions in which you find assurance in experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit within you (which could be interpreted as a type of feelings) to the opposite side of the spectrum wherein tolerance and liberalism have catalysed themes such as 'love wins' in which good and happy feelings are emphasised over doctrine. As I am unable to cover all of these diverse spectrum today, I will emphasise thoughts from a few people who fall within the 'reformed camp' in the 20th-21st centuries.
John Piper - The Duty of Delight
John Piper is a renowned part of the 'reformed movement' in the USA who has coined something he calls the theory of 'Christian hedonism' - which encourages believers to find ultimate joy or happiness in Christ. He not only believes that happiness and joy are important parts of our relationship with God, but takes it further and argues we have a 'duty to delight in God'. Indeed, his 'mantra' for his ministry is 'God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.' In one example, John Piper tries to explain these theological view through an example of his marriage. John Piper gives an illustration in which he brings flowers for his wife on their 50th anniversary, and explains that he wants to spend the evenign with her to celebrate, because it would make him happy. He suggests she would not be offended, because:
"Because she is glorified when I'm satisfied in her…[She] feels treasured right now because [I found] joy in [her]..So don't go to church and say, 'That's what Christians do...Ring the doorbell, and when God opens the door say, 'Nothing would make me happier than to meet you here because I need you.'
Peter Masters, Commenting on John Piper
Peter Masters, the long-time Senior Pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle sees merit in Piper's emphasis on delighting in God, but critiques this view for its 'single-minded' focus on emotions.
"When delight is everything, doctrine suffers a setback. When subjective emotions are unduly elevated, the proving and testing of all things becomes impossible."
This is probably a fair assessment. While Piper's emphasis on the emotionally positive elements found in a relationship with God are valuable, it is true that the singular emphasis could be problematic. I would add, to Masters' concern, that it runs the great risk of developing a theology wherein assurance is found based on emotions. It risks placing us in a situation like Elizabeth J.J. Robson where we never feel that we are feeling enough. Emotions themselves become a spiritual barometer. And I say this as one who has benefited substantially from John Piper's ministry - nonetheless, it is always beneficial to be aware of potential side effects of even best-intentioned theologies.
Many people have approached his teachings with a view that they must have feelings – which can have detrimental consequences. I would tend to suggest that feelings are a gift – something which certainly will arise, and will be embraced in full in the new heaven and earth…but not something by which we can expect to measure our spiritual life in our present condition.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers a balanced view in the early 20th century, he he comments on emotions. He firstly suggests they should not be central to our life:
“[We must]...avoid the incitements and the temptations of Satan to give feelings this great prominence at the centre. Put at the centre the only One who has a right to be there, the Lord of Glory, Who so loved you that He went to the Cross and bore the punishment and the shame of your sins and died for you. Seek Him, seek His face, and all other things shall be added unto you."
But, nonetheless, Lloyd-Jones still believed that feelings an important part of our make-up. Lloyd-Jones sought a balanced approach, wherein emotions were valued, but not supreme. They were important, but not a measuring stick…
"I regard it as a great part of my calling in the ministry to emphasize the priority of the mind and the intellect in connection with the faith; but though I maintain that, I am equally ready to assert that the feelings, the emotions, the sensibilities obviously are of very vital importance. We have been made in such a way that they play a dominant part of our make-up. Indeed, I suppose that one of the greatest problems in our life in this world, not only for Christians, but for all people, is the right handling of our feelings and emotions"
Thus, feelings are an important part of the religious life of Christians, in the past and today. As noted by some 19th century dissenters, it is too easy to place an over-emphasis on the emotions, and use them as a spiritual barometer, instead of appreciating them as a benefit of Christian experience and life. This over-emphasis then transitions into problems with assurance, which manifest when one does not 'feel' that they 'feel' enough to be a Christian.
I will conclude with a few statements by contemporaries of the period in which I began - the early modern era, to deal with the conundrum of feelings and assurance - how does one have the latter if the former is lacking.
In the Reformation Era, when dealing with this conundrum, William Perkins argued that God's promises must be relied upon, rather than wavering emotions. One of the true marks of faith was the trust of God's promises over feelings.
"...we must not live by feeling, but by faith…"
John Angell James was a 19th century contemporary; a Congregationalist preacher who published a plethora of sermons and pamphlets to encourage 'godly living', especially in the family setting. And he had much to say about this emphasis on feelings, which he saw rising rapidly under evangelical influence, and he reprimands those who venture to gain assurance from these feelings...
"Oh! Say some...now I have had such deep convictions, and such melting of heart, I think I may hope.' But is not this putting their feelings in the place of the work of Christ?...But, perhaps, you think this deep experience would be a stronger ground of confidence to go to Christ. Is not his word, then, a sufficient warrant? Do you want any other warrant, or can you have any other? Is not his invitation and promise enough? What can your feelings add to this?"
And finally, I shall finish with a quote by David Everard Ford, already noted above - who despite evidently struggling with this tension between feelings and assurances, recognises the value of having feelings, but likewise does not place too much stock in them:
June 1844: "My Master knows that I love him; but my hope depends not on my love to him, but on his to me."
In this live episode, Pastor Jonathan and his wife describe their thoughts when they began ministry at Westminster Baptist Church. The duration is approx. 15 minutes. To view these episodes when they go live, please follow us on facebook here.
Throughout history the church has produced confessions, some to counter certain heresies, at other times to set a standard for membership or demonstrate denominational orthodoxy. Accordingly, the authors of a confession complete two major tasks while generating a confession:
Here at Westminster Baptist Church, we align ourselves with the London Baptist Confession, a confession generated in the 17th century; its first version completed in 1644, rewritten in 1677, and published in 1689 after the passage of the Toleration Act. This confession is an eminently valuable gem of systematic theology, and one we are privileged to access and be encouraged by in the 21st century
What does this mean:
Why do we align ourselves with this confession
Although we appreciate the eminent value of this confession, a caveat must be elucidated. And that interjection is this - the confession is still a man-made resource by which we can learn and teach.
I am not fond of the following objection to confessionalism - ‘I just believe the bible’. Indeed, the intention of most confessions is to set out what the Bible says.
However, we must emphasis the unique purity of the Word of God. Proverbs 30.5 says every word of God is pure. Indeed, the bible is infallible, unlike man-made resources.
It should therefore be our chief aim in our confessions, preaching and writing to be grounded in the scriptures. Confessions, as noted, are an excellent means of succinctly iterating our beliefs in a systematic way, though they are not comparable with the scripture itself. As with all man-made resources, they should be viewed with a modicum of skepticism - tested against scripture, ruminated upon. Indeed, confessions are more like a commentary - an aid to scripture - never to be equivocated with scripture itself. Indeed, to quote the 1689, ‘scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience’.
It is my hope that Westminster’s members will continue to grow in knowledge and appreciation of the Second Baptist Confession, given its immense value, while also continuing to ruminate upon all the truths it contains, test them with scripture, and consider their veracity for themselves.
Recently I completed a year in the ministry. Reflecting on the past year I would say being a Pastor convinces you of your own inadequacy, your need of reliance on Christ and requires much patience from your family. Two of these are matters the 'how to do' Pastoral books (at least ones I have read) say little about.
It is a great weight to have the tremendous task of declaring the whole counsel of God and to have under your Pastoral care, a flock, a group of God’s people (of even a small number). Yes, I had some training (though not as much as some). Yes, I felt a calling (as did the church). Yet when the magnitude of such a responsibility dawned on me I recognised my own adequacy.
I believe this is something of what Paul sought to express in 2 Corinthians.
To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2.16
This is a tremendous comfort. Even the great apostle Paul when confronted with preaching the Gospel, with its vital message and divisive impact being (according to God's grace) a savour to life or death, concludes with this phrase 'who is sufficient for these things?' I think that is what I mean when I say I have felt my own inadequacy. It is not a questioning of my calling but the result of a firmer grasp of the importance of the task of preaching and pastoral care.
John Gill comments on the verse above: ‘who is sufficient for the preaching of the Gospel? no man is sufficient of himself, very insufficient in the best sense, and none so but by the grace of God, and gifts of his Spirit; or who is sufficient to give success to the Gospel when preached? none can do this; Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God alone that gives the increase.’
A Pastor has no room for arrogance given the immense task of the ministry and our personal weakness, yet as faithful servants called to such a privileged office in the New Testament church we would do well to heed the psalmist.
Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies. Psalm 108.12,13
Who is sufficient for these things? No one, without the Lord's sustaining hand.
Pastor Jonathan Arnold
Jonathan Arnold has been the minister at Westminster Baptist Church since April 2016. Please follow this blog for brief occasional biblical/theological studies and devotional words.