Two Great Tastes that DO Go Great Together

The latest from OHS Horton is a must-read. Is he rebuking the Outhouse in the following concluding points?

1) Regardless of the historical accuracy of our definitions, what we call “pietism” today is different from the piety exhibited in the Reformed and Presbyterian heritage. To the extent that “pietism” conjures the picture of a personal relationship with Christ and an immediate work of the Spirit over against the public means of grace and ministry of the church, it is inimical to Reformed piety.

2) At least in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, “confessionalism” is just as unhelpful a description. I know what it means to be confessional: it’s to affirm that Scripture so clearly reveals “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” that churches can recognize and affirm this faith together across all times and places. But what exactly is a “confessionalist”? Typically, this is a swear-word hurled at those who are simply confessional. However, sometimes it is worn proudly as a label by anti-pietists. If “pietism” sets the inward work of the Spirit over against the external means of grace, “confessionalism”—in some versions, at least—simply reverses the antithesis. This is a dangerous opposition that is foreign to the Reformed confession. And that leads to the third point.

3) For some—on both sides of the debate, “confessionalism” is in danger of becoming identified with extreme views that are opposed to the actual teaching of our confessions. The Belgic Confession treats the marks of the true Christian (faith in Christ, following after righteousness, love of God and neighbor, mortification of the flesh) in the same article as the marks of the true church (Art 29). Although assurance of God’s favor is founded solely on his promise of justification in Christ, “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 86). Personal faith, repentance, and growth in godliness are enjoined in the Westminster Confession (chapters 13-16). There is no hint of the public and corporate means of grace being opposed to one’s personal relationship to Christ. It would be ironic—and tragic—if “confessionalism” became identified with positions that are actually inimical to the confessions themselves. Jonathan Edwards and John Williamson Nevin have become flag-bearers for Calvinistic “pietism” and “confessionalism,” respectively. However, in my view, both are somewhat idiosyncratic representatives of the Reformed tradition. To move beyond polarization, we need to include more mainstream voices through the ages.

Discuss (and/or repent)…

This entry was posted in Calvinism, Christian life, Compare and Confess, Confessionalism, Confessions, Ecclesiology, High church calvinism, History, Horton, Introversion, Mike Horton, Nevin, Pietism, Quotes, Reformed Confessionalism, Reformed piety, Revivalism. Bookmark the permalink.

94 Responses to Two Great Tastes that DO Go Great Together

  1. Zrim says:

    At least in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, “confessionalism” is just as unhelpful a description. I know what it means to be confessional: it’s to affirm that Scripture so clearly reveals “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” that churches can recognize and affirm this faith together across all times and places.

    This is a little confusing. It almost seems like he’s making a distinction between confessional (good) and confessionalism (bad). I am reminded of Murray’s distinction between revival (good) and revivalism (bad), which I always found unhelpful because I see no principled difference. Murray’s distinction forgets a another category that can be set against revival and revivalism, namely reformation. Is there really a principled difference between confessional and confessionalism? I suppose it sounds good if one wants to remain above the fray, but in the end I am not sure it’s a helpful distinction.

    But if all one means by “confessionalism” (bad) is that a view is engendered that is antagonistic against personal faith and instead finds refuge in externalistic forms then isn’t true that pietism is just as prone to such hypocrisy? But as far as I understand it, confessionalism has nothing at all to do with that. In point of fact, it seeks exactly what its detractors claim to be after, the nurturing of personal faith. Maybe what throws some off is that confessionalism is actually about cultivating a faith so personal and meaningful it is actually considered a vice, not a virtue, to let it smolder on the surface. The analogy I always think of is marriage. That’s the most intimate personal relationship one can have in human, temporal terms. It’s a relationship best nurtured quietly and without much fanfare (unless we’ve let romanticism in). Pietism is to a better religious devotion what romanticism is to a mature marriage. So if we think two married adults relating to one another like thirteen-year-olds is good then probably we think getting giddy with God is good as well. Sorry if that offends some, but I think confessionalism is about cultivating a religious devotion that takes our personal relationship with God seriously.

  2. RubeRad says:

    I am reminded of Murray’s distinction between revival (good) and revivalism (bad), which I always found unhelpful because I see no principled difference.

    Well then it would seem you are the target of the immediately-preceding bit of Horton’s article: “Pro-revival Calvinists include the Puritans and the great Princetonians (Alexander, Hodge, and Warfield), not just Edwards and Whitefield. So the debate over the meaning and legitimacy of “revival” is in-house. There is no historical justification for pro-revival or anti-revival Calvinists to write each other out of this heritage.”

    Perhaps it is fair to define Pietism as piety at the expense of confession, and Confessionalism as confession at the expense of piety (but of course, everybody thinks they have just enough of both).

    I think it’s quite striking, though (I had never noticed before), that Belgic 29 has marks of a true Christian right there next to marks of a true Church. Why did it take this Presbyterian this long of rubbing shoulders with confessionalist 3-formers to discover that?

  3. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    I agree with the final point about Edwards and Nevin being polarizing figures. As much as I do appreciate him, I certainly would not point to Nevin as one of the best representatives of the Reformed tradition (and, of course, I’d certainly not point to Edwards). I would point to him as a good example of how a strongly Calvinistic ecclesiology and sacramental theology might express itself in contradistinction to revivalistic innovation, but that’s a different matter than who I’d consider a “go to guy.” (Btw, for me, it’s Calvin first, Bavinck second, and after those two it depends on what the issue is. For instance, I’d go immediately to Warfield on Scripture, but not for a whole lot else.)

    The hard thing about finding “more mainstream voices” is that the Reformed tradition is itself variegated in a lot of ways, and it was from the outset. (This is one of Muller’s major theses.) I could point to Calvin, of course (and I would), but people who have trouble with Nevin’s ecclesiology and sacramental theology are likely to have the same problems with Calvin’s, so they’d opt on that particular topic to go with a later theologian like a Hodge or a Cunningham or a Dabney or a Warfield. Whenever you’re talking individual theologians doing their work within a somewhat diverse tradition you’re going to have varrying degrees of affinity between them–even those closest to the “center.” And, of course, what exactly “the center” is, is part of the whole question.

  4. cath says:

    If it’s not TMI, I danced a little presbyterian jig on reading Horton’s article.

    There is a lot to be said for keeping religious experience private – especially, the less a person says about their own, the better. But it’s not so completely secret and mysterious that nothing at all can be said about it. There are, at the very least, things we’re supposed to confess: effectual calling, regeneration, and sanctification have been well enough understood by orthodox divines to be incorporated into the Reformed Church’s confessions. These are all largely hidden works, often imperceptible to the human observer except in the long term, and especially in the context of someone brought up in the church (the orthodox, rightly worshipping church). But Scripture and history warrant us, if not necessitate us, to be clear on what these things are, and how they do (even if eventually, slowly, slightly) manifest themselves in the consciousness of the person who has been called and regenerated and is being sanctified.

    The trouble seems to be that as soon as even this level of *doctrine about experience* is so much as mentioned, the air becomes thick with accusations of introspection, revivalism, pietism, and worse. It’s very clear what confessionalists are *against,* but even when there are statements right there in the confessions for making use of, there is a bit of a gap where positive descriptions of what you’re *for* should be. Given the multiplicity of wrong ways of “doing piety”, a straightforward statement of what the right way is, is intrinsically more helpful than shooting down all of enthusiasm’s endlessly sprouting tentacles. The way to do this, which apart from being right in itself would also seem the most automatic and natural for people who already understand the benefit of a confession, is to go only as far, but every bit as far, as the confession itself does.

  5. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    It should also be noted that even with the differences between them, Nevin himself expressed much appreciation for Edwards and also Whitefield. He extolled their preaching, and said they had “the power of God in them,” which is why they didn’t need to resort to the mechanistic “New Measures” like what Finney and his cohorts attempted. So, even from the perspective of the figures themselves, pitting them entirely against each other is overly simplistic. Nevin was “anti-crisis-momentism,” but not necessarily “anti-Edwardsian.”

  6. sean says:

    “In the UK, people come to hear what is said; they do not particularly care for who is saying it. This is subtly evident in the way events are marketed in the two countries. It also points to a major cultural difference. In the US in general, there is great suspicion of institutions yet huge and often naïve confidence placed in individuals. This is part of what makes celebrity culture so important, from politics to the church”

  7. Zrim says:

    Rube, who said I was “writing pro-revivalists out the heritage”? If anything, the anti-revivalists are simply asking to be included. Have you forgotten the concept around here? But when I think pietism I think of a piety that conceives of things in terms of experience. Confessionalism conceives things in terms of faith. And, at the risk of sounding Biblicist, since faith is the overwhelming biblical category it sure seems to me that confessionalism has the Bible on its side.

    Cath, what is confessionalism for? It’s for the institution that God has ordained to nurture the gospel, the church, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. It’s for the sacraments he has ordained to affirm the faith he has created by the liberal preaching of his gospel. It’s for the authorities he has ordained to oversee, protect, instruct and shepherd his flock and their children. Is that a straightforward enough way of stating what doing piety the right way is?

    Jonathon, it may be overly simplistic to say that confessionalism is “anti-Edwards.” It may be that what some confessionalists are trying to say instead, despite even Nevin’s praise for 1GA figures, is that it’s hard to see how you get the 2GA without the 1GA. I mean, it’s not as if Finney dropped out of the clear blue sky; the way had to be paved. Also, I wonder if Robinson might go down easier for those who choke on Nevin’s ecclesiology and sacramental theology (“The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel”).

  8. RubeRad says:

    Rube, who said I was “writing pro-revivalists out the heritage”? If anything, the anti-revivalists are simply asking to be included.

    The revivalists have occupied the Evangelical party-house, and are taking over the Reformed cabana, which is why we’ve taken refuge in the Outhouse. But the point is not to cast too wide a net or tar with too wide a brush when we fight back.

    But when I think pietism I think of a piety that conceives of things in terms of experience. Confessionalism conceives things in terms of faith.

    If the marks of the true church present themselves to our experience for judgment, why not the marks of the true Christian — albeit more privately than publicly, as Cath aptly described.

    It is by the marks of the church that “one can be assured of recognizing the true church,” so how can we have assurance of ourselves? WCF 1.5 “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” 16.2: “good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance.” (also HC 86) 18.2 “an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.”

    Not to mention that the sacraments, which are experiences God has given us at least partly for our assurance (which HC affirms repeatedly).

    Come to think of it, all this is adding up to Christianity being the “Show Me” religion; our faith would certainly end up very weak without all this experience to assure us!

  9. RubeRad says:

    Soooo, I was just having a Quiet Time, working on my Relationship with my Divine Buddy, and He Spoke to me in a fresh, new way from Col 2:18-19:

    Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

    That first part, that would be pietism. That second part (“holding fast to the head…”) speaks more of experience which is decent, and in order. It all sounds so organic, it makes me think Cath is onto something what with all that “hidden”, “imperceptible”, “long term”…

    So if we could get away from the disputed term “pietism,” I’m thinking the confessions hold forth piety, but what you are against (and should be) would better be called mysticism.

  10. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Actually, I agree with you re. the 1st GA v. the 2nd GA. My only point was about Nevin v. Edwards, considered as such. Nevin may have thought in his own private reflections that Edwards led to Finney, but in his public writings he’s not entirely down on Edwards, while he utterly loathes Finney.

  11. Zrim says:

    Rube, like I have said before, I’ve nothing categorically against the subjective or the experiential. I just think it should be taken way more seriously and soberly than revivalism-pietism seems to allow (sorry, I’m sticking to the terms). So I think you’re right, Col 2:18-19 sort of says it all.

  12. Rob H says:

    So where’s the definitive work on this? Sounds like it’s a subject that has not been dealt with thoroughly. There’s a middle-ground between extremes that maintains the tension between them and I would think there’s more than just a debate.

  13. RubeRad says:

    Perhaps Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice? But mostly in there RSC talks about Exclusive Psalmody (actually its kissin’ cousin Exclusive Canonicity), Strict Sabbatarianism, and Strict Subscriptionism. So I dunno, maybe somebody else will pipe in with suggestions?

    How about John Owen’s classic Mortification of Sin (here’s a PDF) — but of course that would be just the piety part, not the tension part.

  14. Rob H says:

    Owen’s Mortification is a great thing. I don’t recall being led to consider confessional worship in there.

    You know, Rube, the mission to explore Gordon’s lectures has developed some thoughts in my head concerning this. Piety seems more inclined toward the image thing, eh?

  15. cath says:


    … Is that a straightforward enough way of stating what doing piety the right way is?

    It’s straightforward and excellent as a statement of the context where piety can be expected to exist and be nurtured … but it doesn’t say much about piety itself.

    It’s as if there’s a chef who shows me round the kitchen, pointing out the oven, the copper-based pans, the knife block – then takes me to the dining room to see the beautiful white tablecloths and immaculately arranged cutlery and condiments – and then I ask, So what’s on the menu? And he looks aghast and says, Are you some sort of gluttonist or something? Too much salt is bad for your heart! Haven’t you heard of anorexia? bulimia? Back to the kitchen so we can admire Gordon Ramsay’s latest publication! Why won’t you just be satisfied with the know-how and the apparatus?

    The Confession of Faith majors on bread and butter piety. It doesn’t rule out the possibility of occasional caviar, but that’s not the issue here. The concern is what ordinary piety we can expect to have (not see in others, not necessarily ecstatically enjoy, but just have) when we gather for corporate worship and in between times of corporate worship. What Westminster expects, for ordinary, is constant diligence, reverence, sorrow for sin, thankfulness, desires, fervency, … LC 154-175. See also the “communion in glory with Christ” which belongs to all believers in this life, just as part and parcel of salvation, LC83. What Westminster enjoins is standard Reformed piety: if it looks like pietism, you’re using the wrong yardstick.

  16. cath says:

    Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State
    Guthrie, The Christian’s Great Interest
    Watson, A Body of Divinity
    Goodwin, Justifying Faith
    Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture
    => These are all expositions of doctrine for the purpose of practical application (aka piety).

    Any of the Puritan literature that deals with marks of grace and mentions something like ‘love for the Word preached’ is there and then assuming all you could wish for about orthodox doctrine proclaimed by ordained preachers.

    They wouldn’t have considered liturgical questions to enter into the essence of the faith – as in, the wearing or not of vestments is a dispute which has its own place, but a strong view one way or the other isn’t particularly to edification, so a discussion of things like that wouldn’t really be expected to feature in a pastoral devotional treatise.

    (Oh – another excellent option would be John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, particularly his comments on “conversion”.)

    Incidentally, when I see “pietism” I mentally translate it into “enthusiasm,” or what I’ve also seen described as “fanaticism”. It really isn’t the same as Reformed piety at all, because behind it is something simply quite different from Reformed orthodoxy.

  17. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Charles Hodge’s “The Way of Life” is the first work that comes to mind for me. There’s me recommending Hodge… 😉

    And then of course there’s always the Heidelberg catechism–in my opinion the greatest balance of doctrinal clarity, churchly sensibility, and warm piety of all confessional documents.

  18. Zrim says:

    Cath, instead of a fine dining analogy I’d rather a simple, ordinary and tasteful home and hearth where reverence and decorum is the order of the day, but not the kind that comes with caviar, chefs and tuxedos. The kind that comes from being in the presence of a holy father who has numbered the hairs of our heads and has invited us to drink deeply and buy without price.

    I get the suggestion that a staid, comported and institutional confessionalism lacks any appreciable warmth. But it’s like suggesting that those who disdain public displays of affection or wearing hearts on sleeves are devoid affections or hearts altogether. I often wonder if the more demonstrative ever consider that the comported have every bit as much heart but have a different idea about the time and place for it.

  19. RubeRad says:

    Listening to a recent WHI on the way to work, they were recommending as a Reformed alternative to mystical/pietist standards like Thomas a Kempis, My Utmost for his Highest, etc. Bonhoefer, Life Together.

  20. cath says:

    Fine dining … whatever. Change it to my granny and her griddle, and the question remains. Where’s the porridge?

    The persistent allegation that it’s all about public displays of affection is as irrelevant to what I said as a lecture on eating disorders when I only wanted my standard cup of tea.

    Does this sound okay as an example of institutional confessionalism: “We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.”

  21. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Well yeah, *Life Together* is great, and it’s a work that Reformed folks could certainly agree with and benefit from. I’d certainly recommend it as well. Nevertheless, Bonhoefer was Lutheran (with some Barthian leanings), not Reformed.

  22. Zrim says:

    Cath, I just dropped a note at your house. And if I get what you were saying over there, you are not in fact content with your standard cup of tea and bowl full of mush (where that is corresponding to the cup and loaf). You ask there, “In a context where a high view of the spirituality of the church and a habitual due use of the corporate means of grace have been attained, what next?” I won’t repeat my answer here that I dropped off there, but suffice it say that I find the very question rather staggering. God feeds us and you still want to know what’s next? But maybe a portion of my answer: How about the final consummation where faith will become sight, that reality to which the shadowy sacramental signs point? I get that it takes long range outlooks to see that but I really do think that’s the point, instead of expecting sight to come before its due time, which I can’t but think lurks beneath the “what’s next”? inquiry.

  23. RubeRad says:

    That may be, but it was Horton that came up with the suggestion (called it “fabulous”), and Dad Rod that affirmed, not the other way ’round (and Dad Rod that caveated against some of Bonhoefer’s other work)

  24. cath says:

    Well, I don’t think you do get what I was saying over there.

    There are two separate questions. One: what the ordinary life of the believer in the church looks like. Two: how to understand extraordinary occurrences in the church.

    Here, I’ve asked you what the ordinary life of the church looks like. You respond by telling me about what to believe and which forms to use in worship. I ask you what is the effect of doctrine and what is the manner of worship? (which is all the ‘what next’ question meant in its context.) But all you do is send me back to the doctrines and the forms again.

    In other words, you don’t seem to accept what the confession itself says about the effect of doctrine in the life of a regenerate soul, or what it says about the manner of the believer’s worshipping. I agree with you on Reformed ‘theology’, I agree with you on Reformed ‘practice,’ but talking to you about Reformed ‘piety,’ the third leg of the stool, is like pinning jelly to the wall. (No connection to fore-going food analogies.) All I’ve been concerned about here is the problem which (as far as I understand) Horton’s post raised: there are people who claim to adhere very closely to the confession, but they’re actually very choosy about which parts of the confession they’re prepared to confess. When their particular bugbear is something called “piety”, their a-confessionalism manifests itself in what appears to be extreme discomfort with what the confession teaches about piety. That undermines the claim to be confessional, and is at odds with the Reformed heritage.

    I’m much happier talking about the ordinary life of a believer than extraordinary events in the life of the church. By their very nature, extraordinary things are harder to understand than ordinary things and demand more careful analysis. That doesn’t mean the extraordinary is to be loathed and abominated in the way that you seem to want – it just takes a bit more caution. We can talk about the extraordinary if we must, but it’s going to be even more tricky in the absence of consensus about what the confession even teaches about the ordinary.

  25. RubeRad says:

    As a veteran of two years of life in the U. K., let me step in here and maybe translate between the two of you, in case language is preventing you from understanding each other.

    When cath says “jelly”, what she means is “Jell-O”.

    Carry on.

  26. Rob H says:

    …which does not spread on biscuits.

  27. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Yes, I’d say it’s fabulous too. Not denying that… just sayin
    B. wasn’t a “Reformed” theologian.

  28. cath says:

    Thanks 🙂

  29. Zrim says:

    Cath, it seems to me you are still wanting to know what piety looks like to the confessionalist mind. It looks like adhering to the church and attending to the means of grace. You ask, “Then what?” And I say, “What more could there possibly be?”

    You then accuse me of having extreme discomfort with the confession that teaches about piety. I am flummoxed, for in making my simple point I think immediately of something like Belgic 28 which reads:

    We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.

    But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body.

    And to preserve this unity more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to God’s Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, in order to join this assembly wherever God has established it, even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result.

    And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.

    So I reiterate my observation that it sure seems to me that while s/he isn’t antagonistic toward it, the Edwardsian also isn’t content with ordinary, routine and institutional piety. To the confessionalist, this is enough, to cling to the church and that which constitutes her, namely her proclaimed Word and sacraments. And being content with what God has ordained makes all the difference between the Reformed pietist and the Reformed confessionalist.

  30. RubeRad says:

    Again I find that my inter-continental experience might be of use. Cath, he doesn’t mean ‘cookies’, he means something more like ‘scones’.

    As you were…

  31. dgh says:

    Zrim, well said.

    Cath, what’s up with the distinction between the ordinary life of the believer and the extraordinary occurrences in the church? Aren’t the extraordinary occurrences bound up with the extraordinary experiences of believers? So you seem to want to affirm the ordinary, but leave room for the extraordinary. Why would the extraordinary be possible, now that the canon is closed and the charismatic gifts have ceased? I don’t know if you’re willing to admit it, but the point of revivals is to introduce an extraordinary experience into the life of the believer, one that radically changes his life. Confessional piety leaves the Damascus Road experience to when Christ actually shows up.

  32. Bruce Settergren says:

    He might not be able to speak in tongues but he sure can interpret.

  33. cath says:


    That article from the BC is a statement of the doctrine of the church, but not a statement of doctrine about godliness. The latter is addressed in, eg, articles 22 and 24 – faith embraces Jesus Christ, and the new man lives a new life, indeed a pious and holy life. It’s actually flat contrary to the Reformed confessions to say that it’s enough to cling to the church: the Reformed confessions unanimously and consistently insist that this is not enough: there must be a receiving and embracing of Christ himself. That’s Christ proclaimed in the Word and through the sacraments, but Christ himself, and nothing less.


    The ‘extraordinary’ I want to leave room for is not qualitatively different from the ‘ordinary’ – it only means an increased degree of what the Holy Spirit normally gives. The canon is closed and charismatic gifts have ceased, but the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing in the church, in regeneration and sanctification, and sometimes he works more powerfully and evidently than at other times.

    To say “the point of revivals is X” is to foist onto me a view of revival which I don’t accept, namely that revival is something which people *do* with some aim or other in mind. Revival in my understanding is when the Holy Spirit works more powerfully than normal, so the point of revivals is to achieve his aim of regenerating and sanctifying souls (in a ‘wind bloweth where it listeth’ kind of way). In other words, revival in the traditional sense of ‘a remarkable effusion of the Spirit’ is not in any sense a ‘second blessing,’ or necessary for the believer to experience.

  34. Zrim says:

    Cath, I don’t really understand what you mean that BC 28 is “a statement of the doctrine of the church, but not a statement of doctrine about godliness.” It sure seems to be plainly saying that godliness is synonymous with cleaving to the church. I don’t at all disagree that faith embraces Jesus Christ, but my point is that a faith that embraces Jesus Christ also necessarily embraces his church and sacraments.

    I understand you want to say that “revival” is an extraordinary work of the Spirit (and not human device). The problem, as I see it, is that even when “revival” is understood as the work of the Spirit it doesn’t take long for people to think it must also be more or less normative—all the protestations of the (good) pro-revivalists notwithstanding. And perhaps more distressing for me is how to dare question the idea that marked enthusiasm is synonymous with an obvious work of the Spirit is anathema. Look, I don’t have any problem with anyone experiencing more affect than another. My problem is with the assumption that more affect means more Spirit.

  35. cath says:

    The faith that embraces Jesus Christ certainly ought to embrace his church and sacraments – fine – but tell me more about the faith that embraces Jesus Christ? Surely the very fact that there is Article 22 ‘Faith in Jesus Christ’ as well as Article 28 shows that godliness is not synonymous with joining yourself to the church in the BC. (I trust you don’t really, really mean synonymous, otherwise that’s another heinous error from whose jaws you’ll need to snatch yourself next…)

    On “it doesn’t take long” – so again the biggest objection just boils down to this slippery slope argument? Because there does exist counter-evidence to the claim that the extraordinary work of the Spirit inevitably becomes normative. And even if there wasn’t, surely the better remedy would be to affirm an accurate interpretation of the Spirit’s work while resisting the misinterpretations?

    On anathema – yes, you’re not the only one who’s been there. But that partly adds to the necessity of having something positive to confess about what the Spirit does do. A conviction that regeneration (eg) is an immense work of divine power goes a good way to defuse the allegation that your Pentecostal friends (eg) might make that you deny the activity of the Holy Spirit altogether. Can’t help wondering sometimes if the urge to experience a second blessing etc comes partly from a failure to appreciate the vast blessedness of being effectually called at all (to go no further). There is kind of a two-fold remedy then for the ‘QIRE’ – on the one hand, cling to the legitimate/ordained means of grace, and on the other hand, strive for greater clarity on what we do actually confess about religious experience.

    I too have a problem with the assumption that more affect means more Spirit.

  36. dgh says:

    Cath, what you think of revival is not what history reveals in my somewhat humble opinion. I know you’re a fan of Murray’s distinction, but it just doesn’t hold up. The FPGA has so much man-made stuff going on that it makes Finney’s new measure look restrained. So unless you’ve led a revival — I mean — simply watched the Spirit awaken in an extraordinary way, then it is possible to talk about “the point” of revivals. The FPGA was a movement that people publicized and identified with — sort of like a certain coalition we’ve been hearing about.

  37. Walt S. says:

    The Westminster Confession and Catechisms were drafted by “Puritans.” From these documents one cannot detect any internal conflict between a high view of the church’s ministry (Word, sacrament, and discipline) and a clear delineation of the need for personal conversion and piety. It was not a “church-within-a-church”—the truly regenerated remnant within the institutional church—that these divines encouraged, but a visible church truly reformed according to God’s Word. Anyone looking for a clear line between confessional orthodoxy and concern for personal piety will not find much support in these writers. The body of their work, from Perkins to John Owen, exhibits a fuller range of interest than “pietism versus confessionalism” might suggest.

    Right. Why does this need to be said? To be confessional is to be pious and lawkeeping.

    it is nevertheless true also that confessional Protestants have often prayed for special periods of awakening and revival

    One thing’s for sure: we need a massive recovery of confessional Protestantism (esp. the doctrine of the church), quia subscription and attention to Word and Sacrament this very instant or there soon won’t be a Protestant church around to debate this over. Despite the high birthrates of NAPARC parishioners, the churches don’t seem to grow generation-to-generation. In fact many appear to have negative demographic momentum.

  38. Zrim says:

    Cath, does godliness ever include not cleaving to God’s church, and does ungodliness ever cling to God’s church? It seems to me no in both cases. That’s all I mean. So if one is clinging then I don’t see how anyone can question whether 22 applies to the clinger. Unless he’s a pietist who demands more. Does a man love his wife who remains faithfully married to her all his life? I say yes. I’m not a romantic who demands more inward evidence beyond external duties; I trust that the inward is there if the external is demonstrated. Does a man love his wife who professes great inward affection for her but neglects his external obligations? I say no.

  39. RubeRad says:

    One thing’s for sure: we need a massive recovery of confessional Protestantism (esp. the doctrine of the church), quia subscription and attention to Word and Sacrament this very instant

    Sounds like we need a revival of confessionalism…

  40. cath says:


    What sort of man-made are we talking about for the FGA? Finney’s (?semi-)Pelagianism made it inevitable that he would reach for the measures he did, and so carnage ensued, but his theology and practice were new on the scene at the time, weren’t they?


    I can give you a “no in principle” but in practice the church has always seen separatists who were godly and ecclesiastics who were ungodly [or at any rate unorthodox]. AW Pink and John Henry Newman, for examples respectively. Godliness is primarily about God and the person’s relationship to God, over and above the degree and depth of their knowledge of doctrine, and over and above the appropriacy of the means they might use (where relationship means both the external relation in terms of the adoption of justified sons, and also the internal relationship in terms of the childlike disposition of the Father’s children – both union and communion).

    Yes, you can only have union and communion with God in Christ revealed in the Word, and yes, you can only have communion with God in the due use of the ordained means, but the core, the essence of religion is the union and communion with God in Christ by the Spirit, and essence is obscured, even if not diluted, by the relative emphases of your position. Imo.

  41. Zrim says:

    Cath, I agree with you that hypocrites abide and true souls can be outside the church. But in the militant age all we have to gauge the inward reality is the external situation. I can’t see how it is possible to regard anyone who remains outside the church as godly, even though it is certainly possible. And to pursue those inside the church in order to verify their inward godliness is turning up inward stones, instead of simply being content with their external status until given some external reason to doubt it.

    So when you speak of “the essence of religion” being one’s personal union and communion with God, I don’t really quibble. But when you suggest that emphasizing one’s institutional status is to obscure that essence instead of magnify it I wince. When my daughter’s boyfriend pleads with me his inward affection for her but refuses to institutionalize it, I can only doubt his profession. When he does institutionalize it, I have no reason to doubt it (what more can he do?). So it seems to me that when you say my institutional emphasis obscures the essence of love it seems an awful lot like saying that the father who demands vows on his daughter’s behalf is left-of-center. That’s fine, and I’m used to it, but I don’t see how that squares with a conventional view of marriage. And similarly, I don’t see how your idea that institutional emphasis obscures squares with conventional views of piety. The emphasis on the relational over the institutional seems pretty progressive to me.

  42. RubeRad says:

    That analogy seems to me to play toward Cath’s point. Your daughter’s husband can take the vows and wear the ring, and yet do all sorts of things that would give you reason to doubt his affection. Even aside from explicit tomcatting or physical abuse, he could insult her, ignore her, take her for granted, etc. How would you feel if you were over to their house for dinner and saw him treater her as if he didn’t like her at all? Who knows, all of this could happen even if there were a weekly ceremony to renew their marriage covenant…

  43. cath says:

    If “we” means the church, then yes definitely, the only gauge we have is the external situation. Membership of the church doesn’t require personal salvation, just a credible profession (or uncontradicted profession in the case of adult baptism). Unless there is serious, deliberate heresy and disobedience (and even then…), nobody should be in the business of judging anyone else’s inward condition.

    But there are two further contexts where the internal matters – one, in terms of the church’s teaching about the nature of godliness, and two, in terms of an individual within the church evaluating their own relationship (union and/or communion) with God.

    Re emphasis, Westminster has Chapter 21 on Religious Worship, Chapter 25 on The Church, and Chapter 30 on Church Censures, but all of Chapters 10-18 on ‘union and communion’-type doctrines (plus 27-29 on the sacraments). It’s not that institutional status and outward forms are unimportant, and indeed I can’t help stressing that the care and respect which you folks have for them is very refreshing. But in terms of reflecting the balance and the priorities of the Confession itself, taking union-and-communion entirely for granted – as something scarcely needing mentioned, something there isn’t very much to say about, a mere quibble, even when it’s the very point under discussion – seems to leave something lacking. According to the Confession, the Church has something definite to teach on the nature of godliness, and it surely can’t be progressive to want her to teach it.

    And when the church does teach her own doctrines about godliness, that is surely helpful on the individual level, both for the purpose of a firm doctrinal understanding what Christ has done in the work of redemption and how the Spirit applies it, and also for the purpose of establishing whether this redemption has been applied in a person’s own experience. The session is only interested in a credible profession, fair enough, but then there’s the matter of your own conscience and God’s judgment to satisfy too.

  44. cath says:

    This is true – or erring in the other direction, if you saw them trying to maintain a perpetual experience of what I think Zrim has aptly described as adolescent romanticism or something to that effect. In either case, the answer, or certainly the complete answer, isn’t to keep harping on about vows and rings, but should also include something on the nature of the relationship as it ought to be, and the intrinsic goodness and worth of the relationship as it ought to be.

  45. Zrim says:

    Rube, I’d reiterate my previous point about “being content with their external status until given some external reason to doubt it.” So a husband mistreating his wife does give rise to doubt his inward affection. But the one who professes to love and yet refuses to wed still give rise to even greater doubt.

    And, Cath, before you dismiss one way to correct a malcontent husband as “harping on about vows and rings,” it does seem to me that a reminder of vows is indeed a powerful way to induce someone to live up to his avowed station.

    You said, “Membership of the church doesn’t require personal salvation, just a credible profession…” This is odd to me. I wonder what you think a credible profession means? Does it not imply personal salvation? Can we not regard the one who has given a credible profession to enjoy personal salvation? If not, then what is the point of giving a credible profession? The only thing I can think of is to meet some sort of mere ceremonial requirement. And that’s the irony to me of bifurcating a credible profession and personal salvation. Isn’t that what pietism means to avoid? But confessionalism thinks that the external and internal are organically related. A credible profession is not an empty externalism—by definition it means personal salvation.

  46. RubeRad says:

    No, credible profession does not by definition mean personal salvation, it means by definition that we extend the judgment of charity that someone has personal salvation. It would be perfectly easy for someone to learn enough of the right things to say to give a profession that anyone would credit. I don’t know how often that happens, that the church gets intentional moles, but because of the doctrine of perseverance, we know that many who have given credible professions, and then fall away, “do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” (LC 68)

  47. cath says:

    Um. Just what Rube said.

    Anyone who has personal salvation is under obligation to make profession, but a profession is absolutely not the definition of personal salvation.

    Nor is it a mere ceremonial requirement. It is conformity to God’s ordained requirements for how a professed believer should act – formally identify themselves with God’s church, attend the public worship of God, submit to the government and discipline God has instituted, and partake of the means God has provided for the nourishment of faith.

    For those who have the internal, the internal and external are organically related. But if someone has nothing internal, there’s nothing organic about them at all.

  48. Zrim says:

    Rube, I think you’re over-reading my statement a bit. Maybe it’s my fault for using what I consider shorthand.

    I understand that there is no one-to-one correspondance between visible and invisible membership. All that I have said thus far has been to make the judgment of charity case. What I have heard from Cath is that institutional membership is great but not enough. I am saying that it is great and enough, which seems to correspond with the pathos of a judgment of charity. What I hear from Cath is that we extend a judgment of charity but then demand more scrutiny. I don’t understand why. It just seems to me that to extend a judgment of charity we are saying that all the inward realities are there, until something external suggests otherwise. Cath seems to not want to wait until we have reason to doubt, but instead wants to press matters further. I can’t help but think this impulse is a variation on prying into matters off limits.

  49. cath says:

    Phew. And with one bound, Jack was free.

    We-the-church exercise a judgment of charity, and we-other-believers exercise a judgment of charity. But for each individual, their own profession is a matter of life and death: do they themselves personally have the inner reality to match their outward profession. That is a serious matter which is not at all off-limits – i) the confession is full of teaching about the objective union and its benefits and the subjective communion and its comforts, and ii) people are under obligation not to make false claims about themselves to and in the church.

  50. Zrim says:

    Agreed, Cath.

    It seems to me that Reformed confessionalists and Reformed piestists agree that here is both an inward/personal and outward/institutional aspect to faith, but the RC puts the accent on the latter and the RP on the former. This accenting can make for a relatively different understanding of what the other aspect’s nature is. IOW, to accent the institutional nature of faith seems to yield a different kind of inward/personal piety, perhaps one that is more subdued and restrained but no less fervent and serious.

  51. RubeRad says:

    And you must admit it is refreshing to find Piety that draws from and relishes, the confessional artifacts, rather than considering them dead(ly) weight.

    I can’t imagine that very many anti-confessionalist (anti-doctrinal?) pietists have ever read WCF, SC, LC, HC, … I bet if they did, they would see how much they tend to and support piety, and would come out much the better for it.

  52. dgh says:

    Cath, the man-made I’m talking about is much on display in Stout’s biography of Whitefield. Manipulation may well have been going on a hundred years before Finney. I know your guy who distinguishes revival from revivalISM doesn’t like the Stout book. But it is eye-opening when a critical gaze is cast in the direction of pietism, not just the dead-orthodoxy charge hurled at confessionalists.

    As for teaching on the nature of godliness, I’ve sat for sometime under preaching that says much about union and communion, and I’m still wondering how it leads to godliness. I’m not saying it doesn’t. I just haven’t seen anyone connect the dots well. Meanwhile, what happens when the union and communion teaching of the Standards is a bit more specific (let’s say LOTS!) than sixteenth-century creeds.

  53. Zrim says:

    Rube, well, Finney was a Presbyterian. With all that venom about “paper popes” it doesn’t appear his reading of the forms helped much. I know, me and my “pessimism.”

  54. cath says:

    Manipulation “may well have been” ? In what way? Does this just refer to the things which people like JE acknowledged occurred but expressly repudiated?

    Preaching – hard to comment when lacking any idea of what preaching you’ve sat under, but the general point is that if something is done badly it should be done better, rather than rejecting the whole concept. Eg presumably there are people who preach even say the doctrine of the Trinity in a way that doesn’t connect the dots to godliness as it should, but that doesn’t mean we abandon the Church’s teaching on the Trinity, as opposed to recovering a more scriptural way of preaching it.

    More specific – but the creeds are only summary statements, whatever they tackle. Is it necessarily a problem that Charnock wrote as much as he did on the Existence and Attributes of God, when the doctrine occupies only a few sentences in the Confession. I can imagine there could be a problem if preaching on a doctrine goes beyond the Confession in terms of becoming ‘speculative’ or taking it in a tangent the Confession doesn’t license, but then that’s a doctrinal problem, not a “piety” problem.

    I do wonder sometimes about the closeness of the relationship between between varieties of doctrine and varieties of piety. As in: it is very close – sentimental ‘piety’ stems from sentimental thinking, hankering after ‘gifts’ stems from not appreciating the canon being closed, etc. So when there’s something not quite right about people’s expressions of religiosity, the root cause is probably going to be some problem in knowledge or understanding of some doctrine somewhere along the line. So that substituting “exuberant” piety with “restrained” piety is (perhaps) only addressing the symptom, not the underlying cause?

  55. dgh says:

    Cath, so what would it take for you to see problems with the First Pretty Good Awakening? Or is this a closed book, an unalloyed blessing, because it is a revival and not revivalism?

  56. cath says:

    Jonathan Edwards is pretty thorough in his criticisms of those aspects of the FGA which couldn’t be justified from scripture – laymen giving authoritative exhortations, claims to immediate revelation, censuring ministers and members in good standing as unconverted, …

    => It wasn’t an unalloyed blessing, but there were good things about it, and a bit of nuance is needed in evaluating it.

    And the context, both in terms of doctrine (Calvinistic vs Pelagian) and practice (ordained means vs new measures) make the FGA much closer to something that can be given alloyed approval as a revival than is Finney’s revivalISM.

  57. Eliza says:

    Are you from Edinburgh?
    In any event, I totally agree with your perspective and all the writers you quote.
    You have more time than I to argue those points!
    Do go to Old Life Theological Society and argue there as well!

  58. Nate Ostby says:

    The canon is closed and charismatic gifts have ceased, but the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing in the church, in regeneration and sanctification, and sometimes he works more powerfully and evidently than at other times.

    And that is the problem. Someone who is out to defend the FGA (or FPGA) as a “revival” just knows that the Holy Spirit “worked more powerfully”. On what basis does any human know that?

  59. Zrim says:

    Nate, that is a good question, and not just because I asked one of Cath’s peeps at her place the same one. Why is it obvious that the Spirit was at work in these “revivals” and why is it that to question it is met with such resistance?

    The answer given was that great loyalty and longevity to the Word and sacraments ensued thereafter. But isn’t there also great loyalty to the Mass? Does that mean the Spirit is at work in the Mass? Isn’t a better indicator of whether the Spirit is at work the three marks?

  60. Nate Ostby says:

    Ah, thanks Zrim. I hadn’t seen your question over there, but I suppose there’s some cliché about “great minds” or something. It bothers me that people seem to think they can tell when the Holy Spirit is working “more powerfully.” Call me a Biblicist, but I think John 3 is still in the Bible.

  61. Nate Ostby says:

    Also, if the reason is “loyalty and longevity” then why were the revivalists speculating while the events themselves were going on what the Spirit was and was not doing ? And if “loyalty and longevity” are the two marks of revivals then why the FGA?

    I’ll take the three marks any day over that.

  62. cath says:


    Thanks! I am indeed from Edinburgh! All you folks should come and visit some day!

    Nate and Zrim,

    Regeneration is the sole work of the Holy Spirit. Every time someone is regenerated, we can only conclude that the Holy Spirit was at work. When more than usual numbers of people are regenerated, why would we not conclude that the Holy Spirit was at work more powerfully then than at other times? Revival (not -ism) is only an increased degree of what the Holy Spirit does normally, and if we can tell when he works normally, what’s the difficulty with agreeing that we can also tell when he does more of the same?

    On loyalty to the mass etc – your argument here proves too much, and I thought so at the time. The point in the original context (NI in 1859) was actually to grant you that the three marks are the surest indicators, and to say, We gather that the Spirit was then working because of the attachment to the true preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments which were manifested not only at the time but ever since. I don’t understand why for you longstanding loyalty to the Word and Sacraments does *not* count as the first two of the three marks, unless you’re simply determined a priori that anything ever associated with the R-word is an unalloyed disaster.

    John 3 says that we can in fact ‘hear the sound’ and see the effects of the Spirit’s work, just that we’re unable to humanly account for it.

  63. Nate says:

    So you have actual knowledge of when people are or are not regenerate? Unless you consider yourself to be part of the Godhead, I’m guessing you mean that sometimes there are some people who outwardly profess faith. And if that is the case, how do you know that people aren’t making false professions due to excitement about human devices (good publicity, anyone)?

    The Spirit hasn’t revealed when and where He works “more powerfully.” Even using the phrase “more powerfully” presupposes that you can account for the action of the Spirit, which you can’t.

    This is the problem with revivalism. Those who defend it seem to be downright obsessed with the whole thing. And I have to ask, what’s the point? If you’re trying to duplicate these things (read: make them normative), I think the better model is reformation (read: the three marks of the visible church). Why can’t we be satisfied with that, and leave the rest to God?

  64. Nate says:

    Also, you still haven’t answered the questions right above your post.

  65. Zrim says:

    Cath, Nate beat me to the question about regeneration–it sseems like more assumptions about things we’re really not privy to. But to build on it, why look to human experience or phenomenon to account for the Spirit’s work at all? Why not only look for the three marks if they are indeed “the surest indicators”?

    It seems to me that this tick is a way of measuring the Spirit’s work by results instead of obedience. Results are great, but obedience is what matters.

  66. cath says:


    I have repeatedly said that I don’t defend revivalism, and that revivals are not normative. Nor am I obsessed either with revivalism or with revival. The people who seem to be obsessed with revivalism are those who see any mention of piety or godliness and immediately assume it’s equivalent to the silliest revivalistic excesses. How revival/ism has even arisen in a discussion ostensibly about everyday confessional piety is a bit of a mystery to me, as it is clearly a digression.

    Excitement about human devices is a hallmark of revivalism, and does not belong to revival. In a context where true doctrine is preached and the ordained means are duly used, if there is an increased number of cases of regneration among unbelievers and increased degree of sanctification among existing believers – which is to say, a greater degree of the Spirit’s ordinary ongoing work in the Church – then one conventional way of describing this situation, either in the past or in the present, has been “revival”. Just because some Arminians and Pelagians put their dodgy theology to practice in new measures and call the resulting hullabaloo “revival” is no reason to decide that the orthodox in the due use of the ordained means can never witness varying degrees of the Spirit’s work.

    The phrase “more powerfully” refers to the observable outcome of the work of the Spirit and presupposes nothing whatsoever about accounting for it, which we can’t.

    Persistently confounding revival with revivalism makes you persistently misrepresent people who share your Confession and leaves you unable to account for large quantities of historical data from around the confessionally Reformed world.


    The three marks are the marks of the kirk. If you’re looking at something on a church-wide scale, then these are the marks to use in your evaluation.

    If you’re looking at something on the individual level, then we’re talking regeneration and sanctification. The Spirit’s work is all about human experience – it is his work to apply (in the personal experience of individual human beings) the redemption accomplished by Christ for those particular individuals. WCF 10, 13, 14, 16, et passim.

  67. Eliza says:

    Cath: I have a relative studying in Edinburgh right now!

    I have found in my OPC that revival is regarded with suspicion and outright alarm. This I find very surprising! Just as the English word “gay” should not be hijacked by a particular group of people, neither should the word “revival” come to be interpreted only as the excesses, the methods, and the style of Finney, etc.

    Revival means simply the work of God in the soul of man in a way that brings increased holiness and spirituality (virtues of the Holy Spirit–love, joy, peace). I guess many Americans associate it with the odd sign in front of a church “Revival Here Saturday Night” which is really quite off and unscriptural. People don’t dictate revival.

    The Psalms have several references to revival. The more one sings them, the more one will understand that concept.

  68. cath says:

    Hey, looking for something completely different, I’ve just come across a 3-part series on the Heidelberg Catechism in the Banner of Truth magazine (Feb, Mar, Apr 2008) titled ‘A Catechism on the Holy Spirit,’ by some guy called Daniel R Hyde.

    “The Person of the Holy Spirit works personally upon the Christian … the Person and work of the Holy Spirit are our intimate link to Jesus Christ. It is to the Holy Spirit that we look for more and more of our Saviour’s power and work in our lives.”

    Youse kept that one very quiet…

  69. RubeRad says:

    The three marks are the marks of the kirk. If you’re looking at something on a church-wide scale, then these are the marks to use in your evaluation. If you’re looking at something on the individual level…

    This is why I find perhaps most striking from Horton:

    The Belgic Confession treats the marks of the true Christian (faith in Christ, following after righteousness, love of God and neighbor, mortification of the flesh) in the same article as the marks of the true church (Art 29)

    We do confess that there are Marks of a True Believer. (Admittedly, these are more subjective than the Marks of a True Church, but they must be somewhat observable, otherwise why would they be called “marks”?)

  70. cath says:

    Yes – the serious point wrt the Hyde series was just that there is plenty to be confessed on all these piety-related points (and that approach, wielding the Confs/Cats for the purpose of positively affirming what is believed, is what should ideally come naturally when these issues arise).

  71. Nate Ostby says:

    Sorry Cath, I don’t accept the distinction between revival and revivalism. So I’m going to continue to refer to all of it as revivalism. Sorry if that bothers you.

    The people who seem to be obsessed with revivalism are those who see any mention of piety or godliness and immediately assume it’s equivalent to the silliest revivalistic excesses.

    I didn’t assume anything of the kind. You’d do well to read what I wrote on my own terms, not yours.

    Excitement about human devices is a hallmark of revivalism, and does not belong to revival.

    I’d say that was demonstrably present in the FGA.

    In a context where true doctrine is preached and the ordained means are duly used, if there is an increased number of cases of regneration among unbelievers and increased degree of sanctification among existing believers – which is to say, a greater degree of the Spirit’s ordinary ongoing work in the Church – then one conventional way of describing this situation, either in the past or in the present, has been “revival”. Just because some Arminians and Pelagians put their dodgy theology to practice in new measures and call the resulting hullabaloo “revival” is no reason to decide that the orthodox in the due use of the ordained means can never witness varying degrees of the Spirit’s work.

    The phrase “more powerfully” refers to the observable outcome of the work of the Spirit and presupposes nothing whatsoever about accounting for it, which we can’t.

    The big a priori underneath all of this is that you know what happened during these times was caused by the Spirit. How do you know that is the case? Lots of people being regenerated? Prove it. Lots of sanctification? Prove it. The evidence points in the opposite direction. The Reformed churches certainly didn’t benefit from it.

    When I used the phrase “account for” the work of the Holy Spirit, I meant exactly what you’re doing, i.e. saying that what happened between 1730-1740 in the colonies was the work of the Spirit. You’re assuming that you know something that you can’t possibly know.

    I’ll repeat my previous questions. 1. If the reason [we can tell something is a revival] is “loyalty and longevity” then why were the revivalists speculating while the events themselves were going on what the Spirit was and was not doing? 2. If “loyalty and longevity” are the two marks of revivals then why defend the FGA?

    If you agree with us that the FGA shouldn’t be normative for us today, then why are you defending it? At least in my case, that’s the whole point. We don’t know very much about what happened, we certainly don’t know if the Holy Spirit was causing it, and it shouldn’t be held up as the standard for what we should desire for the church today.

  72. cath says:


    continuing to refer to “all of it” as revivalism is blithely assuming a priori what still needs to be proved.

    So far in this thread, we’ve had “may well have beens” and “demonstrablys,” and very little in the way of concrete evidence. Since I’m more familiar with revivals (and revivalism) in the British Isles, more details about what you find problematic in New England would be informative, but a say-so remains somewhat less than compelling.

    You are also less than confessional in your demands for “proof”. WCF 16:2: Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith. Etc. Whatever gives credibility to a profession of faith in ordinary circumstances is the same as gives credibility to a profession of faith in unusual circumstances.

    What are you wanting to account for? The events in the colonies? You accused me of trying to account for the work of the Spirit, which is sovereign and so unaccountable, but which is nevertheless discernible in its effects or outcomes. We cannot tell whence it comes and whither it goes, but we do hear the sound thereof. If there was any instance of regeneration and any instance of increase of grace in the colonies 1730-1740, that was the work of the Spirit. That is perfectly knowable, and in fact we’re supposed to confess it: WCF 13.1.

    The “if…” section of your questions 1 and 2 doesn’t accurately characterise what I’ve been saying. It’s loyalty to the Word and sacraments that matters. Looking back from where we are now, the denominations originally under discussion in Northern Ireland in 1859 have continued (so my commenter said) to manifest the first two marks which the Scots and Belgic Confessions list as the notes of the kirk. It was an analysis of a particular event which took in its aftermath, something which needs to be done for individuals too (perseverance). If Denomination X at time 1 manifests the marks, undergoes Event Y at time 2, and at time 3 continues to manifest the marks at least as clearly as before, it hardly seems reasonable to conclude that Event Y wreaked havoc on the nature and identity of the denomination.
    And, at the time when the event itself was ongoing, the same criteria need to be applied. Both if you’re looking at an individual claiming conversion, and if you’re looking at a church claiming revival, the standard criteria are, what do they believe and how do they behave? doctrine and duty, faith and obedience. To the extent that the 1859 awakening, or the FGA, or Shotts, or Kilsyth, or Stewarton, or Cambuslang, or, or, or … were characterised by regeneration and sanctification in the context of true doctrine and the due use of ordinary means, to that extent we have evidence that the Spirit was at work, call it what you will.

    On what’s normative – for the church in the entire NT era, the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer, all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. All these ordinary means have extraordinary effects when the Holy Spirit works (ie are made effectual for salvation), but what’s worth defending about revivals, and what distinguishes them from revivalism, is that sometimes these very ordinary means have effects which are even more extraordinary than usual. In the sense that revivals are characterised by more regenerated unbelievers and more sanctified believers, this is indisputably something desirable for the church today (there are never enough believers, the saints are never sanctified enough). But in the sense that pining for the extraordinary spoils our appreciation of the divine enormity of the ordinary, revivals, even good revivals, shouldn’t be held up as the standard for what we should desire in the church today. These are the only ways I’ve ever heard of revivals being related to the church today by those who defend them (not revivalism).

  73. Nate Ostby says:


    The context of your conversation with Dr. Hart was the FGA, not anything that happened in Britain.

    I’d say that distinguishing revival from revivalism rests on a pretty huge a priori, but obviously that isn’t getting us anywhere. I don’t find the argument for it convincing.

    I’m either being extremely unclear or you’re misreading my questions (I choose the former). My question is this: how do you know that what happened in the colonies was the work of the Spirit? I’m clear on the fact that people who are effectually called are sanctified. I just don’t know how you get from there to being certain that those things actually happened during the FGA. Of course we would both give the judgement of charity in cases of public profession. But you seem to be claiming to know for sure if someone is or isn’t regenerate. If I’m reading you wrong there, a simple clarification is all that’s needed.

    Also, you haven’t given any evidence that the FGA was a good thing, and you’re faulting us for not giving any evidence. Surely you’re aware of the schism in the Presbyterian church in the colonies that happened as a result of the events surrounding the FGA. That’s a good thing? This might be less well-known, but there was a huge decline in reformed worship during the era as well. Dr. R. Scott Clark has mentioned in a lecture that church attendance actually declined after the FGA. Quoth Dr. Clark, “If that’s a revival I don’t want one.”

    You are also less than confessional in your demands for “proof”. WCF 16:2: Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.

    You are being less than charitable. I’m well aware of what the confession says about the fruits of true faith. Again, prove that those fruits actually accompanied the FGA.

    I didn’t ask about the events in Ireland. I asked about the events in the colonies. Maybe I should have been more specific, although I did explicitly mention the FGA in my second question. So, to be clear, I was asking about the FGA. I think you’re picking nits with the formulation of the questions, but again, for clarity, I meant loyalty to the Word and sacraments and longevity. I think Edwards’ speculation about the movements of the Spirit are fairly indefensible in light of the Creator/creature distinction.

    But in the sense that pining for the extraordinary spoils our appreciation of the divine enormity of the ordinary, revivals, even good revivals, shouldn’t be held up as the standard for what we should desire in the church today.

    That’s all I was looking for. Thanks Cath. And that is exactly how I’ve heard revival talked about. So again, my point is that we don’t know a whole lot about what the excitement in the colonies was about. We certainly do not know that it was caused by the Holy Spirit, and (something we agree on?) we shouldn’t hold those events up as the standard for the church today.

  74. Nate Ostby says:

    Correction: I should have said your conversation with Dr. Hart on this thread… etc.

  75. Zrim says:

    Cath, I’ll be looking for someone to attend the means of grace. I don’t know how to discern regeneration and sanctification otherwise.

  76. Zrim says:

    Eliza, I’ll take the older terms mortification and vivification to indicate the work of God in the soul of man. I happen to think the terms one uses both expresses and nurtures the sort of piety one has, and I find that those who use revival have little to no use for mortification and vivification because it doesn’t seem zippy enough.

    So the more I sing the Psalter the more I’ll get revivalism? How would you like it if I said, “The more you read the Bible the more you’ll get confessionalism”? Feels a tad condescending, doesn’t it?

  77. Zrim says:

    Looking back from where we are now, the denominations originally under discussion in Northern Ireland in 1859 have continued (so my commenter said) to manifest the first two marks which the Scots and Belgic Confessions list as the notes of the kirk.

    So how does this affirm revival-o-sity as the work of the Spirit, Cath? To continue to manifest the marks affirms the work of the Spirit, regardless of extra/ordinary phenomenon. But it does seem to me we have to construe either phenomenon as more consonant with the Spirit of God than the other. And confessionalism says that the ordinary combined with the marks is to be esteemed while extraordinary is suspect; revival-o-sity says the extraordinary combined with the marks is to be esteemed while ordinary is suspect.

  78. Eliza says:

    Yes, it’s in the Psalms.
    Vivification is the word you’ve chosen because you don’t like the connotation that you have inextricably linked with the revival. Other people (like Cath and myself) don’t have a problem with revival per se. The abuse of something doesn’t make its proper use wrong whether one is talking about words or events & actions.

  79. Nate says:

    If the psalms talk about “revival” then it sure is ironic that we lost psalm-singing during the FGA.

  80. cath says:

    BC29: “recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.”

  81. cath says:

    Eliza, Edinburgh is a great place to study. Sorry missed out your comment in the melee last night. Feel free to drop me an email any time.

    Increased holiness is virtually synonymous with vivification.

  82. cath says:


    In this thread it was only the FGA that was mentioned, but the “loyalty and longevity” meme came from a parallel discussion over on my blog about what happened in Northern Ireland in 1859 and was discussed there in that context.

    I don’t claim that you can know for sure that someone is regenerate. All you can do is give the judgment of charity – those who confess true doctrine and live upright lives are to be recognised as those who have been effectually called and are being sanctified. But what I am saying is that if that’s the conclusion we draw from the evidence (ie looking at the evidence we conclude regeneration has taken place etc) then we can only attribute that to the work of the Holy Spirit, because both regeneration and sanctification are his works and his alone.

    If that’s how we deal with evidence at the level of the individual professing believer, it’s also how we deal with evidence at the level of the history (or the present) of the church more widely. What we have in the 1730s or the 1850s etc are historical phenomena – so it’s a historical question, do we see there things which we are warranted to attribute to the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Part of the evidence that should be taken into consideration for such a historical question might include the accounts of eyewitnesses in New England. One eyewitness commented in 1742 on imprudences, irregularities, errors of judgment, and made no attempt to excuse them. But he said that there was nevertheless a great increase of a spirit of seriousness and sober consideration of the things of the eternal world, a great disposition to hear the Word of God preached, and to attend on the public worship of God and all external duties of religion in a more solemn and decent manner. Through the greater part of New England (he said) the Holy Bible is in much greater esteem and use than it used to be, and many have been brought to a new and great conviction of the truth and certainty of the things of the gospel, and a firm persuasion that Christ Jesus is the Son of God and the great and only Saviour of the world.

    Each of these things is only something which should characterise any ordinary believer at any time in the history of the church, but according to orthodox observers, or at least the orthodox Jonathan Edwards whose observations I’ve abridged there, these things were noticeably more apparent in the 1730-40s than they were before. In terms of how to interpret this evidence, there’s no reason a priori to rule out a line of argumentation that goes: these marks, being the marks of a true believer, can only exist where the Spirit is at work; therefore the Spirit is at work.

  83. cath says:


    I don’t see how that follows at all (that one is more consonant with the Spirit than the other) – why can’t we say he does both? Neither needs to be suspect. Analogously – some people are converted suddenly from a life of blatant godlessness, and others gradually have their eyes opened to the gospel they’d always been brought up with – both are equally the work of the Spirit, even though they’re so different from each other.

    In other words, if ‘extraordinary’ is restricted to ‘degree’ rather than ‘kind’ then we can all keep constant our commitment to true doctrine and right practice, and just leave the Spirit to bless the word and the means when/where/how/how many/how intensely he chooses.

  84. Nate says:


    Thanks for the explanation. I eventually figured out that I was melding two parallel conversations. Sorry for the confusion. But I think if we apply the criteria to the FGA, it doesn’t hold up.

    That’s fine as far as it goes, but what of the problems? Don’t we also have enough evidence of negative effects (i.e. more than just isolated incidents of enthusiasm) to be more cautious about the FGA? Edwards’ observations weren’t universally agreed upon even in his own day. My concern is that the FGA is usually viewed as some kind of unqualified golden age, when the evidence points to it being fairly detrimental to Reformed piety and practice, if not theology.

    As long as we’re not trying to make the FGA the standard for today’s practice, I’m fine with disagreeing over how optimistic we should be toward it.

    The revival paradigm seems to not-so-subtly shift the emphasis from faithfulness to results. I think that’s pretty significant.

  85. Eliza says:

    Hymns came in with Isaac Watts (1707).
    If you don’t think the Psalms talk about revival search a concordance. Use “quicken” in the KJV and see what you find.
    No doubt errors occurred in the First Great Awakening (we need search no further than Edwards himself for proof), but revival does not necessarily entail error either in worship or life.l

  86. Nate says:

    Yes, I’m aware that Watts started writing hymns before the FGA. So are you arguing that the FGA didn’t play any role in displacing the psalms in worship?

    Looking for “revival” in the psalms seems like an obvious anachronism to me. If all you mean is “regeneration” then why not just say that?

  87. Zrim says:

    Eliza, one advantage of vivification is its almost invulnerability to abuse, like revival. When is the last time you heard of “vivificationism”? But I’m glad I don’t have to torture a distinction between that and vivification the way you guys have to with revival and revivalism.

  88. Zrim says:

    Sorry, Cath, but I do think we have to make judgments and take sides. I know, that makes for judgmentalism. But there is a difference between judgment and judgmentalism. See, I can do it, too, but only when it makes sense.

    For the record, my own conversion leaned a lot more toward sudden than gradual (though not from “blatant godlessness” but from a more sanguine godlessness), and I’m still more suspect of sudden conversions than gradual ones.

  89. cath says:


    It would undoubtedly be a mistake to see the FGA as an unqualified golden age – the problems associated with the FGA are widely acknowledged, including by Jonathan Edwards (and for that matter by Iain Murray), and acknowledged *as problems* which can’t be commended or defended.

    On the other hand, it would also be a mistake to see it as an unmitigated disaster.

    Re emphasis, it depends which paradigm you mean. A paradigm which emphasises “results” over faithfulness is indeed problematic, but that emphasis belongs more to revival*ism* (and the kind of critique of that emphasis I hear from the guys around here is very welcome). The approach which on the other hand continues to emphasise faithfulness while leaving open the possibility that the ordained means can be blessed in remarkable ways doesn’t, I think, need to be classified as belonging to the same paradigm.

  90. cath says:

    Ach well, for me it’s the other way round … er, wait a minute though, I thought we had a pact not to share?

    Thankfully the Confession licences neither our suspicions – it only acknowledges the processes common to both kinds of conversion (enlightening the mind in the knowledge of Christ and renewing the will he doth persuade and enable…) and says nothing about timescales.

  91. Eliza says:

    Reverting to Horton’s quotation at the head of this thread, I wonder if he finds the work of God always tied to the preaching and sacraments (“the ministry of the church”)? I wonder if he thinks that the Holy Ghost does not work “immediately” upon a person?

    If he thinks either of these two things, is he not heading in the direction of a church mediating grace?

  92. RubeRad says:

    My guess is that Horton would be at least qualifiedly warm to both of those assertions. Or at least, while affirming that God can work apart from the means of grace, and “immediately”, He has not promised to, and nobody should expect Him to.

    Regarding your use of the excellent word “immediately”, see here

  93. dgh says:

    Cath, excitement about human devices was all over the First Pretty Good Awakening. Even Edwards writing books about it was an indication of excitement, and the content of his writing did attribute the revival in some measure to human devices — such as a series of sermons on justification.

    Do ordinary pastors write books about the conversion of one person? Do regular pastors write books about the observance of the Lord’s Supper one Sunday?

    In other words, all of the publicity extended to the FPGA was a human device and someone like Ben Franklin recognized he could make money from it.

    It seems to me that if you take a close look at the FPGA and see all of its warts, you have a hard time concluding that it was the work of the Spirit. For those who may have been converted it, that was the work of the spirit. But could they have been converted without all the publications? Yes.

    And the bigger question is whether they actually needed to convert. If you read Edwards on some of the people in his congregation, some were actually quite devout but they felt compelled to have an additional blessing (wasn’t called second yet). Why would a work of the Spirit cause people to doubt the faith they already had, no matter how small it might be? If mustard seeds move mountains . . .

  94. cath says:

    Well, I think I still want something more significant than a series of sermons and a couple of books. In any other context I can only imagine you classifying a series of sermons on justification as part of the ordinary means of grace, not “human devices” at all. The content of what Edwards wrote directly contradicts the claim that his intention was to attribute the revival to human devices – in fact what he talks about is the Spirit granting a great outpouring of blessing through the Ordinary Means.

    Not sure about ordinary/regular pastors but it’s hardly unheard of for pastors to write books about conversion in general – William Guthrie, Philip Doddridge, Archibald Alexander, John Murray, John Blanchard, John Cheeseman – and there are plenty of spiritual memoirs of individual people’s conversions (Elizabeth West, Thomas Scott, …) – and mountains of literature on the right receiving of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew Henry’s Communicant’s Companion, JW Alexander, …). It’s not as though either topic is out of bounds for a pastor to tackle, so I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this.

    Publicity – even granting that this is one of the warts, the claim has never been that the FGA was wart-free. All we’re asked to accept about these awakenings, as far as I understand it, is that, judging by what we know of the Spirit’s work in ordinary circumstances, in these awakenings we can see him working in an unusual degree of what he ordinarily does. Accepting this interpretation does not include regarding enthusiasm or bad practice as benign or positive or integral parts of the revival (or the Spirit’s work) itself.

    On conversion and the devout – this is definitely a more significant question (principle/doctrine as opposed to interpretation of providence). Assuming there is a difference between being devout on the one hand and being converted and devout on the other hand, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the work of the Spirit included making the merely devout start seeking the reality of religion as well as the forms. On the other hand, if someone has small faith, it’s small faith in the great Saviour – someone with small faith doesn’t need to be converted; their faith is the evidence that they are indeed already converted. But small faith is never enough – so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the work of the Spirit included making the small of faith realise that they needed to grow in grace. In other words, the Spirit’s work doesn’t include making people doubt *the faith they have*, but it does include both making people worry about their souls if they actually lack faith in the midst of their religiosity, and also making converted people strive for a greater measure of what they already have.

    (Hope it’s not too late in the day to add this comment. I’ll be away from the comupter for another few days now so will probably make this my last!)

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