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Hermeneutics, Puritan-style

J.I. Packer, in his book A Quest for Godliness, states that Puritanism was "... above all else, a Bible movement."  It is only natural then, that the Puritans would have specific principles governing their interpretation of Scripture.

Packer points out six principles which governed their interpretation.

Scripture was to be interpreted 1) literally and grammatically, 2) consistently and harmonistically, 3) doctrinally and theocentrically, 4) christologically and evangelically, 5) experimentally and practically, and 6) with a faithful and realistic application

I loved the passage that Packer used to demonstrate the 4th principle.  This is from John Owen:

Keep Jesus in your eye, in the perusal of the Scriptures, as the end, scope and substance thereof:  what are the whole Scriptures, but as it were the spiritual swaddling clothes of the holy child Jesus?  1. Christ is the truth and substance of all the types and shadows.  2. Christ is the substance and matter of the Covenant of Grace, and all administrations thereof; under the Old Testament Christ is veiled, under the New Covenant revealed.  3. Christ is the centre and meeting place of all the promises; for in him the promises of God are yea and Amen.  4. Christ is the thing signified, sealed and exhibited in the Sacraments of the Old and New Testament.  5. Scripture genealogies use to lead us on to the true line of Christ.  6.  Scripture chronologies are to discover to us the times and seasons of Christ.  7. Scripture-laws are our schoolmasters to bring us to Christ, the moral by correcting, the ceremonial by directing.  8. Scripture-gospel is Christ's light, whereby we hear and follow him; Christ's cords of love, whereby we are drawn into sweet union and communion with him; yea it is the very power of God unto salvation unto all them that believe in Christ Jesus; and therefore think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul and scope of the whole Scriptures.

Packer recommends adopting the principles which governed the Puritans in their interpretation of Scripture.  To that end, he provides some excellent questions which we can ask ourselves as we study:

  1. What do these words actually mean?
  2. What light do other Scriptures throw on this text?  Where and how does it fit into the total biblical revelation?
  3. What truths does it teach about God, and about man in relation to God?
  4. How are these truths related to the saving work of Christ, and what light does the gospel of Christ throw upon them?
  5. What experiences do these truths delineate, or explain, or seek to create or cure?  For what practical purpose do they stand in Scripture?
  6. How do they apply to myself and others in our own actual situation?  To what present human condition do they speak, and what are they telling us to believe and do?

I would say that those questions are certainly a far cry from the typical "What does this mean to me?"

I can see how the Puritan approach to hermeneutics has influenced the way we study the bible today; well, some people.  Sad to say, many of the principles of the Puritans have been abandoned altogether. 


Righteousness Exceeding That of the Scribes and Pharisees

This is the title of a chapter in Martyn Lloyd-Jones's Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.  In this chapter, he outlines what the errors were in the religion of the Pharisees, errors that Jesus spoke out against.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:20 that if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the pharisees.  Lloyd-Jones points out was wrong with the Pharisees:

The trouble with the Pharisees was that they were interested in details rather than principles, that they were interested in actions rather than in motives, and that they were interested in doing rather than being.

I found this personally convicting.  How often am I more concerned with the details than I am the bigger picture?  To flesh out the principles for holy living takes work.  It takes thought and it takes prayer and it often takes solitude and silence.  We don't live in a world where those two latter things are easily pursued.  In fact, some would shrink away from the prospect.  But we must know why we do what we do.  It is often easy to have all of our moral ducks in a row, and yet be very hard hearted.  Our motives must be pure.


Heart Aflame - March 21, 2010

Psalm 24:3

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in his  holy place?  It being very well known that it was of pure grace the God erected his Sanctuary, and chose for himself a dwelling-place among the Jews, David makes only a tacit reference to this subject.  He insists principally on distinguishing the Israelites from the false and bastards.  He takes the argument by which he exorts the Jews to lead a holy and righteous life from this, that God has separated them from the rest of the world, to be his peculair inheritance.  The rest of mankind, it is true, seeing they were created by him, belong to his empire; but he who occupies a place in the church is more early related to him.  All those, therefore, whom God received into his flock he calls to holiness; and he lays them under obligations to follow it by his adoption.  Moreoever, by these words David indirectly rebukes hypocrites, who scrupled not falsely to take to themselves the holy name of God, as we know that they were usually lifted up with pride, because of the titles which they take without having the excellencies which these titles imply, contenting themselves with bearing only outside distinctions; yea, rather he purposely magnifies this singular grace of God, that every man may learn for himself, that he has no right of entrance of access to the sanctuary, unless he sanctify himself in order to serve God in purity.  The ungodly and wicked, it is true, were in the habit of resorting to the tabernacle; and, therefore, God, by the prophet Isaiah (1:12), reproaches them for coming unworthily into his courts, and wearing the pavement thererof.  But David here treats of those who may lawfully enter into God's sanctuary.  The house of God being holy, if any rashly, and without right, rush into it, their corruption and abuse are nothing else but polluting it.  As therefoere they do not go up thither lawfully, David makes no account of their going up; yea, rather, under these words there is included a severe rebuke, of the conduct of wicked and profane men in daring to go up into the sanctuary, and to pollute it with their impurity.


For book lovers

R.C. Sproul has a list of books that he recommends for Christians who love to learn.

Check it out here.


Thinking ahead to the Cross

In two short weeks, it will be Good Friday.  I thought this passage from Martyn Lloyd-Jones's book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount was quite a good one in light of the coming of Easter.  As I ponder the Cross, I find this very instructive.  This comes from a chapter which deals with Matthew 5:17-19:

The purpose of the cross is not to arouse pity in us, neither it is merely some general display of the love of God. Not at all! It is finally understood only in terms of the law. What was happening upon the cross was that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was enduring in His own body the penalty prescribed by the holy law of God for the sin of man.