Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jonathan Edwards: Some Circumstantial Evidence

Note: this is the first part of a draft of an article which considers Edwards's relation to Calvin and also to Reformed Orthodoxy.

In the course of his great work The Freedom of the Will Jonathan Edwards had this to say about one of his notable theological predecessors

However the term 'Calvinist' is in these days, among most, a term of greater reproach than the term 'Arminian'; yet I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction's sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing everything just as he taught. (The Freedom of the Will (1754), ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 1957), 131 )

Some years earlier, writing to Joseph Bellamy, he advised

But take Mastricht for divinity in general, doctrine, practice and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity; and it is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion. (Edwards to the Reverend Joseph Bellamy, January 15th, 1747, (Works, 16.211)

This is a reference to Petrus Van Mastricht (1630-1706), Professor of Theology at the University of Utrecht from 1677 until his death. He was the author of a number of works, but Edwards undoubtedly refers to Theoretico-practica Theologia, published in two volumes in 1682 and 1687, and which was reprinted a number of times.

I think that it is fair to say that the tone of Edwards is somewhat different in these two extracts, each of which has become well-known. Writing about John Calvin, and in public, he seems to be rather tetchy and grudging, expressing both puzzlement and indignation that anyone should think that he (of all people!) should take Calvin to be a human authority, despite being willing, for the sake of a label, to be called a Calvinist. He is not in thrall to Calvin, asserting his theological autonomy or independence at this point.

In the case of his letter to Bellamy, Edwards’s words were for Bellamy’s eyes only, and he is more relaxed, even fulsome. Of all the theological books that he has ever read, when one is looking for an all-round theological authority and guide, van Mastricht’s lengthy scholastic treatment is the best of the bunch, coming second only to the Bible itself!

Edwards exhibits some historical awareness in delivering these two different verdicts. When he wrote to Bellamy, Edwards was preoccupied with the Arminian issue, a concern that was to lead to the Freedom of the Will in 1754. Calvin could not be of much direct help to him there. To pitch John Calvin into the middle of the Arminian controversy would have been to court the charge of anachronism. Van Mastricht could be of more direct help, since in the post-Synod of Dort world of the late seventeenth century, he was a leading anti-Arminian theologian. But it seems that it was not his ability in handling the Arminian controversy, but in his comprehensiveness, that Edwards thought that Van Mastricht’s strength lay. And in any case, advising his student on which textbook to use was a rather different undertaking than disclosing to the world those theologians whose name he was willing to take.

In making comparisons between Edwards and these two earlier Reformed theologians that he mentioned, it should be borne in mind that while they each wrote a major systematic work of theology as a magnum opus. Edwards never did. Though even here the hints that he provides of how he might have tackled such a challenge reveal an approach that differs both from that of Calvin and of Van Mastricht. In a part of another letter which has also become well-known, this time written to the trustees of Princeton towards the end of his life, Edwards told them that he intended to write a ‘great work called A History of the Work of Redemption’, which would be ‘a body of divinity in an entire new method, being thrown into the form of a history.’ (Jonathan Edwards to the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, October 1757, Works, 26:727).

It seems to be clear from this proposal, and what he left to us in his History of the Work Redemption, a series of sermons posthumously-published in 1772, that what Edwards intended was what is nowadays called a ‘redemptive-historical’ theology, what is currently regarded as biblical theology rather than as systematic theology. Yet in the covenant theology in the Reformed tradition there was already such a treatment, and Edwards must have been very familiar with it, with the writings of Johannes Cocceius and of Herman Witsius. From what he wrote, he seemed to be proposing something rather in the historical vein of the covenant theologians, yet with its own unique method. This is another example of Edwards’s boldness and his willingness to innovate, while at the same time keeping within, while even touching, the limits of the boundaries of Reformed orthodox theology.

Besides that, Edwards’s writing style does not correspond either to that of Calvin or Van Mastricht. Like much that he gave his hand to, he was very self-conscious about what he was doing. He was self-conscious of his writing style, and deliberately sought to cultivate it by reading widely and no-doubt disciplining himself in the characteristically Edwardsean way. What emerges is sharply different from the rhetorical style of persuasio that Calvin exhibits in the Institutes, and on the other hand Edwards avoids the formalities of scholasticism. But these stylistic differences need not be altogether exclusive of each other. The Baptist theologian, John Gill, a contemporary of Edwards, some of whose writings were known and used by him, combined a rather orotund, stately eighteenth century prose style with the observance of scholastic distinctions, as is evident in his Body of Divinity. In Edwards’s case the style is certainly that of the eighteenth century. Yet unlike Gill he employs scholastic distinctions in a minimal way.

When all is said and done, the fact is that Edwards’ writings show little direct influence of either theologian. Although he occasionally quotes from Calvin there is little if anything from Van Mastrict, despite Edwards’ high praise of him. However, what has to be borne in mind is that Edwards sees himself writing for diverse readerships. Of his three great works, the Freedom of the Will (1754) is written for his fellow-theologians of a Reformed stamp in New England and beyond, and their Arminian opponents; and the Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin (posthumously published in 1758) was intended to outflank the Arminian threat to New England by mounting a root and branch attack on what Edwards regarded as the ultimate enemy, European Deism. It is only his Religious Affections, the first of these three renowned books to be published (1746) that was designed for the domestic New England market.

But how is it possible to make these distinctions about different audiences with any confidence? Partly, of course, by their subject matter and provenance. The Affections arises directly out of the New England revivals and their abuses, a matter of acute concern both to the supporters of the revivals and to their critics. The book had its origins in courses of sermons to Edwards’s Northampton congregation. The other two works are concerned with two fundamental topics in Christian dogmatics, and in particular in theological anthropology. In writing these two books Edwards’s attention focussed on the Colleges of New England and their alumni, and on Europe, whose latest radical ideas were beginning to reach the ears of those on the other side of the Atlantic.

There is another sign of the fact that Edwards had different audiences in mind; the footnotes he employed, and the figures whom he engaged in intellectual combat, or from whom Edwards garnered support, those who appear in the main text. So, for example, the footnotes in the Religious Affections are references to, and citations from, a whole range of Puritan writers from old England and New England - such as his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, Thomas Shepherd, William Ames, John Flavel, William Perkins, John Preston, John Owen, Samuel Rutherford, Anthony Burgess and Theophilus Gale. In addition he cites Francis Turretin, John Calvin, and Martin Luther. The only exception to this roll-call appears to be John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist, and Jeremiah Jones, who wrote on the canon of Scripture. He mentions John Locke, but only en passant along with Cicero, Addison and others.

These lengthy citations from his Puritan forbears were partly a matter of presentation and partly of theological politics. Those chiefly cited were the New England theologians Shepherd and Stoddard, the first a theologian of considerable authority in that community, the second Edwards’ grandfather, but more importantly his predecessor in the Northampton pulpit. Edwards clearly wanted it to be known that he had their endorsement for his teaching on the revival, particularly the careful discriminations he makes about the signs of genuine faith on the one hand and of hypocritical or self-deceiving faith on the other. So here, in the Religious Affections, his grandfather and Thomas Shepherd and the other Puritans, were still speaking. He invites his readers to draw the obvious implication that each would have approved of the revivals and of Edwards’s role in them.

But was the value placed on these writers a sign of their persisting influence? For such puritan writers, the scholastic methods of distinction and disputation were a dominant intellectual influence. Theologians such as Owen and Turretin and Rutherford were in the front rank, men who were able to turn out scholastic Latin disputations at will. Owen and Rutherford locked horns over standard issues in scholastic theology, such as the necessity of the atonement. Rutherford was highly regarded by Gisbertus Voetius, Peter Van Mastricht’s forerunner in theology at Utrecht. The scholastic Latin works of the Scottish theologian were published in Holland as well is in Edinburgh. Had he wished, Rutherford could have occupied a chair in theology there. Ames and Preston were similarly influential.

Despite this roll-call of scholastically-minded Reformed thinkers, I do not think that this is very good evidence that Edwards was nothing more than an eighteenth-century exponent of Reformed Orthodoxy. For the reason that he cited all these theologians was not on account of their scholastic skills, but for a rather different skill. Each was, in Edwards’s eyes and in the eyes of the ministers of New England, masters of practical and especially of ‘experimental’ divinity. That is, they were practiced in the testing of the soul, and in providing written guides for others to test their own souls, over this grand question: Is my conversion real or counterfeit? Do I exhibit the signs of grace? What are these signs? As part of their general outlook on religion, such divines held that first thoughts are not always best thoughts, nor first feelings best feelings. Many who were religious will be barred when they reach the gates of heaven. Of the ten virgins, five of them were wise, but five foolish. When the coming of the bridegroom was announced, five had no oil in their lamps. The Religious Affections is a work of such divinity on a grand scale, with an orderliness and a penetration that surpassed Edwards’s teachers, a response called forth by the expressions of heightened feeling as well as the bodily contortions of those affected by the revival.

It is true that in pursuit of such practical divinity fine discriminations were called for. In a work from which Edwards quoted, Pneumatologia, or a Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, (1674) John Owen had agonised over the distinction between an account of regeneration which was the outcome merely of moral persuasion, and one which is truly spiritual, the direct renewing of the Holy Spirit. In making such a discrimination Owen certainly exhibited scholastic skills. But the scholastic apparatus was fragmentary, and its language incidental. This was not controversial divinity against the Jesuits or Socinians. These practical preachers used their analytic skills like skilled physicians, to deal with the spiritual problems of the pew, cases of conscience. It was for this reason that Edwards appealed to them, not because they set out their grand theological vision in scholastic terms, or sought to overturn errant divinity, though some of them, such as Owen, were certainly scholastic theologians in both those senses as well.

So a sign of Edwards’s orientation is through this litany of familiar Puritan preachers and practical divines, and the frequent citations of Scripture. Yet, in addition to this, another voice can be heard, the voice of John Locke, as evident in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. As is well known, this philosophical work bowled over the young Edwards when he first read it, and it continued to influence them until his dying day. The last of his great works, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin, makes significant use of Locke. But in the Religious Affections Locke appears incognito. For Edwards to have cited him, to have footnoted the Essay for his readers, would have been a distraction. It may even have aroused their suspicions. In the Affections Edwards was seeking to analyse the character of (in the Lockean terminology he adopted) ‘new simple idea’, a new sensation, not a phantom, nor a mere image, but a new reality, like none experienced before. And the question was, what are the characteristics of the presence of this new simple idea, so that a person will know either that he has experienced it, or that he has not? This is the Puritan doctrine of the Spirit’s regeneration, dressed in new verbal clothing.

So, having in the first Part of the Religious Affections shown the importance of the affections, and in the second Part delineated a series of signs which are neither here nor here, in the third Part, which Edwards calls ‘the trial of religious affections’, he sketches no less than twelve signs ‘Shewing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections’. And what is the character of such affections? ‘[H]ere is, as it were, a new spiritual sense that the mind has, or a principle of (a?) new kind of perception or spiritual sensation, which is in its whole nature different from any former kinds of sensation of the mind’. (205-6) It is ‘the giving of a new sense’, a ‘spiritual sense’. (206) It is not a new faculty of the soul or a natural habit but ‘a new foundation laid in the nature of the soul’, (206) ‘sensations of a new spiritual sense’ (271) a sense of the ‘supreme beauty and excellency of the nature of divine things, as they are in themselves’. (271) Edwards’s point is stark: regeneration is not the raising or exalting of what is already present in fallen human nature; this is, at best, mere imagination or moral reformation. Nor is it merely religious excitement of one kind or another. It is a novel intrusion, a new idea, a new sense, a ‘sense of the heart’. (272)

Intriguing as its presence is to modern students of Edwards, the influence of Locke here ought not to be exaggerated. For here at least the influence of John Locke is confined to the re-expressing in Lockean terms of what was the common coin of Puritan practical divinity. Puritans such as John Owen used the image of ‘light’ and ‘illumination’, keeping fairly close to the language of the New Testament, to convey the supernatural character of Christian conversion. In his work on the Holy Spirit mentioned earlier, which Edwards quotes, Owen had written of a ‘new, spiritual, supernatural, vital principle or habit of grace, infused into the soul, the mind, will, and affections ... a new principle of spiritual life’. (Pneumatalogia, or, A Discourse on the Holy Spirit (1674), The Works of John Owen ed. W.H. Goold (1850-3), (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1966), III. 329-30). ’There is, therefore, an effectual, powerful, creating act of the Holy Spirit put forth in the minds of men in their conversion unto God, enabling them spiritually to discern spiritual things’. (332) God ’communicates a light unto our minds, and that so as that we shall see by it, or perceive by it, the things proposed unto us in the gospel usefully and savingly’. (333) This is not quite the Lockean language of sense or sensation. Owen retains the scholastic terminology of habits, while using language that made the transition to the Lockean terminology of ‘new sense’, ‘sensation’, a ‘new simple idea’ fairly easy to make. My own view is that Locke’s influence here is merely terminological. Using Locke’s terms, Edwards sharpened and renewed the standard teaching on regeneration and its call signs.

John Calvin's Commitments

Calvin did not commit himself to any version of the doctrine of definite atonement. This, at least, is what I think. His thought is consistent with that doctrine, that is, he did not deny it in express terms. But (by other things that he most definitely did hold to) he may be said to becommitted to that doctrine. The distinction is an important one in order to avoid the charge of anachronism. Calvin lived earlier than those debates that led to the explicit formulation of the doctrine of definite atonement in Reformed theology. He did not avow it in express terms, but nor did he deny it. But (I shall argue) in his lifetime he held to certain positions which taken together may presume the doctrine. Note that such a conclusion is not equivalent to an affirmative answer to the question ‘Had Calvin been present at the Synod of Dordt, would he have given his assent to the doctrine of definite atonement?’ A ‘Yes’ to this would leave open the question of whether in the interval between Calvin’s last published word and the early years of the seventeenth century his doctrinal commitments may have changed. That may or may not be a reasonable assumption to make.

I made such claims in Calvin and the Calvinists, published almost thirty years ago, (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982). So this piece involves a trip down memory-lane. Here is what I wrote:

Calvin, not being a universalist, could be said to be committed to definite atonement, even though he does not commit himself to definite atonement. And, it could be added, there is a sound reason for this. There was no occasion for Calvin to enter into argument about the matter, for before the Arminian controversy the extent of the atonement had not been debate expressly within the Reformed churches. (18)

A person may be committed to a doctrine without committing himself to it. How so? Because the proposition or propositions that a person believes may have logical consequences that that person does not realise, (even though such consequences may, to later students, be as plain as a pikestaff). Why may this be so? Perhaps through a simple failure of logical perception, by simply not noticing that p and q entail r, or that accepting the truth of p and q raise the probability of r to a high degree. Or perhaps because such logical consequences had not been brought to that person’s attention, perhaps because he had better things to do. One result of controversy may be that those in the controversy, and bystanders too, come to have their noses rubbed in some of the logical consequences of the positions being argued over. (Think of the connection Christ drew between ‘God is the living God’ and ‘Abraham, having died, nevertheless lives on and will be resurrected’. (Matt. 22.29-32) Or consider early Christological debates and the role that they played in refining understanding of the person and natures of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, seeing that p entails q might make a person affirm q. Or seeing that p entails qmight provide a reason for him to deny p. The question, Was Calvin committed to definite atonement? may lead to us asking another question: Is it plausible to believe that, had the fully developed doctrine of definite atonement being available to Calvin, he would have embraced it? Or would he have back-peddled to a vaguer or to a contrary view? But in asking and attempting to answer such questions the mists and fogs of anachronism begin to form.

One commentator has called this distinction between being committed to and committing oneself to a ‘mystery’. But to my way of thinking there does not seem to be anything that is in the least mysterious about it. To use the language of philosophers, belief is referentially opaque; it is not closed under entailment.

A case study – Calvin’s Sermon on I Timothy 2.4

To Illustrate further the intelligibility and the plausibility of the distinction between being committed to, and committing oneself to, I shall consider Calvin’s sermon on I Timothy 2. 4 (inJohn Calvin’s Sermons on Timothy and Titus, facsimile edition, Banner of Truth, 1983). Calvin preached these sermons in 1554-5 and they were originally published in 1561, the English translation being published in 1579. The sermon considered to be considered here covers pages 148-160. The text is: ‘[God our Saviour] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’

As you might expect, Calvin is chiefly concerned with giving his views on the sense and reference of ‘all men’ and in the course of discussing this he commits himself to the following claims.(The English has been slightly updated, but not by much).

(1) Saint Paul speaketh not here of every particular man, but of all sorts, and of all people. (149)

(2) Saint Paul ‘s meaning is not that God will save every particular man, but he saith that the promises which were give to one only people, are now stretched out through all the world. (149)

(3) As Saint Paul speaketh now of all nations so speaketh he of all estates, as if he should say, that God will save Kings and magistrates, as well as the least and baser sort. (150)

(4) It is good to beat down the follie, or rather the beastliness of them that abuse this place of Paul, to make the election of God, a thing of naught, and utterly to take it away. (150)

(5) These beastes….pretend that it standeth in the choice of men to save themselves, and that God letteth us alone, and waiteth to see whether we will come to him or not, and so receiveth them that come unto him. (150-1)

(6) How can it be that we may be partakers of that salvation which is offered unto us in the Gospel, unless God draw us to it by his holy spirit?(151)

(7) And what are they, that the father giveth to Jesus Christ? They whom he hath chosen, and whom he knoweth to be his. Seeing the case standeth so, that God hath given us to his son to be kept and defended, because he had chosen us before, and Jesus Christ promiseth and witnesseth that none of us shall be lost, but that he will bestow all the might and power of his Godhead to save and defend us, is not this a comfort surpassing and surmounting all the treasures in the world? (154)

(8) For….the gate of Paradise is opened unto us, when we are so called to be partakers of that redemption, which was purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. (156)

Selective quotations, to be sure, but also representative quotations. What is Calvin committed to by them? I suggest the following propositions:

  1. The ‘all men’ of the text means all sorts of men, geographically and socially (1), (2), (3)

  2. The text, so interpreted, is consistent with God’s election of some to eternal life (4)

  3. Salvation does not depend merely on the will or choice of man. (5)

  4. No-one can partake of salvation unless God’s Spirit draw him. (6)

  5. Those whom the Father gives to Jesus Christ are (only) those whom he has chosen, whom he knows to be his. (7)

  6. Christ promises that none of those chosen beforehand will be lost. (7)

  7. Our calling to be partakers of the redemption purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ opens to us the gate of Paradise. (8)

But by what he is committed to in 1 - 7 is Calvin also committed to the idea that Christ atoned for a definite number of men and women? Calvin says that the Father gives the chosen to be Christ’s, and that Christ promises that none of these chosen beforehand will be lost. Those chosen beforehand are called (by God’s spirit, not by their own independent choice), to be partakers of the redemption purchased for them by Christ.

Is Calvin here teaching definite atonement? Almost, but not quite. Propositions 5, 6, 7 and 8 are consistent with definite atonement. But do they entail definite atonement? Perhaps they do. But do they entail that Calvin believed them to entail definite atonement? I don’t think so. And this is why: because Calvin does not say, nor say anything equivalent to saying, that Christ purchased redemption only for those who are chosen, those who are called and who partake of his redemption. To say that Christ purchased salvation and that only those who are chosen are saved may be to presume that Christ intentionally purchased salvation only for those who are saved. But that's not the same thing as saying that this is what Christ did.

It’s that close.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Natural Law & the Two Kingdoms - Further Remarks

In some earlier posts we have been thinking about the two kingdoms view of the Christian, his faith and culture. Here I shall touch on two or three further issues.

The Two Kingdoms Tradition

It is important to stress that this is a tradition, beginning explicitly perhaps with Luther and Calvin, but having antecedents in Augustine and Gelasius. It does not invalidate the coherence and integrity of that tradition to note that the conditions under which the conceptuality of two kingdoms originated are not identical with present day circumstances, just as present-day conditions are not uniformly the same across the board. To think like this is to commit what I call the Occasionalist Fallacy, the view that the validity of a claim or idea or opinion, is confined to the context of its first utterance. Accepting this opens the door to a rather radical relativistic outlook.

Portability is inherent in the very idea of a tradition, which maps a continuity of thought and action through a changing world. It is a great good to be able to do this, even though we might be rather quizzical about what exactly counts as the tradition. What gives it its identity, through all the changing scenes of life? We can often provide answers such a question, even though any tradition may have fuzzy edges. At the other end there is need for sensitivity to anachronism, taking care not unwarrantably to impute conditions to the past which only obtain in the present.

These generalities of common sense have been suggested because, for example, it is said that Calvin’s distinction between the two kingdoms is different from such a distinction today, because in Calvin’s Geneva the church and the state were fairly coterminous, and so the relations between church and state were rather different from those in modern liberal democratic arrangements. And so, it is suggested (I think) that it is wrong to lift Calvin’s view of the two kingdoms from its Genevan habitat and parachute it into the present day. Indeed, it can’t be done.

Good point, perhaps? But not a point of sufficient strength as to overturn the integrity of the two kingdoms idea in nations, such as the U.S.A., or in many of the states in Europe and the former British Empire, in which the state is at arm’s length from the church, and where there is a measure of religious toleration, freedom of assembly etc. For the idea of two kingdoms, the one earthly and the other heavenly, with Christians with a foot in each, is sufficiently robust to withstand quite a bit of transplanting. As can be seen in this extract from Calvin.

The former species has its seat within the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely, honourably and modestly. The former has it life within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom. (Inst. III.19. 15)

That seems pretty clear. I can’t imagine that Calvin thought that these views applied in Geneva, but not, say, across the lake in France, where the kingdom and the Reformed church were far from coterminous. In Calvin’s Geneva, the magistrate’s work in the ‘civil kingdom’ included the positive upholding of true religion by supporting the services and discipline of the church in various ways, though not by duplicating them or replacing them. It is obvious that Calvin’s view of the spiritual calling of the church is different from his notion of the magistrate’s role in civil society even in a situation in which, it is judged, the magistrate also has the duty to uphold true religion. On Sunday the magistrate takes his place in St. Peter’s, like any other professing Christian in Geneva.

Were it proposed that the magistrate’s duty vis a vis religion is rather different, as it was, say, by the time of another Frenchman, Pierre Bayle, then it does not follow that this change carried with it the collapse of the very idea of two kingdoms. It certainly didn’t in Bayle’s case, and it is hard to see that at this point he made some intellectual error. The idea of the two kingdoms did not drop dead, it morphed. It became a tradition of thinking about the faith and the surrounding culture, no matter the constitutional character of that culture.

English Dissent

Similarly, in the world of early English Dissent, in which the churches who declined to join the established Church of England in the form it took at the Restoration came to have a separate identity which was at one and the same time not supportive of (nor supported by) Anglicanism, while at the same time being intensely patriotic, upholding the Protestant character of the establishment. This situation is more complex than that of Calvin’s Geneva, but nonetheless there grew in nonconformity, just because of its dissent from the Church of England, congregations that were independent of the state, and whose culture developed through being denied the educational advantages (if that is what they were) exclusively enjoyed by Anglicans. For instance, the nonconformist constituency led to the creation of Dissenting Academies, and lay at the basis of the Whig Party, the party of industry and banking and personal liberty, rather than the Tory Party, the party of the landed establishment and Anglican hegemony, where the writ of Anglicanism ran more securely through the Vicar and the Squire than it did in the cities and manufacturing centres of the North of England. (I paint with a broad brush, you understand).

To my knowledge, the industry and culture of the Dissenters, the world of Bunyan and Defoe and Joseph Priestley, strengthened by the talents of the influx of Huguenot refugees, never regarded itself as ‘Christian culture’. If anything that might be thought to be much more of a temptation for the establishment, for whom church and state remained in strong association, and in which the elements of a ‘confessional state’ remained intact, at least until the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. Though there's little evidence of a self-conscious 'Christian culture' in this period, as far as I can tell.

Independents/Congregationalists and Presbyterians did not have to free themselves from a religious establishment in order to maintain the spirituality of the church. For after 1688 those individuals and congregations who were prepared to obey the Act of Uniformity were debarred from the establishment, while enjoying limited toleration by the terms of the Glorious Revolution in both its ecclesiastical and its political expressions. The law granting such toleration varied from time to time, but in general they were at first constricted in the manner in which they may freely assemble, and from centres of learning, such as Oxbridge.

As a consequence, the two kingdoms view finds fairly pure expression in the culture of Dissent, at least in its early years. So for them, clearly, there is Christ’s eternal kingdom, finding present expression in the congregations of Christendom, and there is the temporal kingdom, finding partial expression in the restored monarchies of England subsequent to 1662. The two kingdoms are clearly not the same. In some places this distinction between two kingdoms came to be weakened over the years, as Dissenting churches took on the role of providing primary and also secondary education, and entertainment, for the general populace.

The Visible and Invisible Church

It is suggested that to identify the spiritual kingdom with the visible church with the church as in ‘church and state’ shows confusion in that it goes against the clear practice of John Calvin who identified the spiritual kingdom with the invisible church.

But a glance at the Institutes will show that this is not the case. Take the quotation above, from III.19.15. Following this there is a short discussion in which he relates the spiritual kingdom to the church, in the following terms

Again because even in those constitutions which seem to relate to the spiritual kingdom, there may be some delusion, it is necessary to distinguish between those [constitutions] which are to be held legitimate as being agreeable to the word of God, and those, on the other hand, which ought to have no place among the pious…For the present, also, I defer speaking of ecclesiastical laws, because that subject will be more fully discussed in the Fourth book when we come to treat of the power of the church.

Ho! Ho!, what’s this, then? Calvin introduces the distinction between the two kingdoms and almost immediately, before needing to dip his quill into the ink again, he refers to the constitution of the church (as relating to the spiritual kingdom) and to its power. When we turn to his treatment of the power of the church in Book IV, what do we find? We find a chapter ‘Of the Power of Making Laws. The Cruelty of the Pope and His adherents, in This Respect, in Tyrannically Oppressing and Destroying Souls’ (Ch.10) And we find such remarks as these:

‘They [the Pope and his adherents] say that the laws that they enact are spiritual, pertaining to the soul, and they affirm that they are necessary to eternal life. But thus the kingdom of God, as I lately observed, is invaded’. So where are we? The kingdom? The church? The church, visible or invisible? In the realm of the church, the visible church, that spiritual kingdom where souls are saved, where God is worshipped, and so on. He goes on

What I contend for is, that necessity ought not to be laid on consciences in matters in which Christ has made them free; and unless freed, cannot as we have previously shown (Book.3.19), have peace with God. They must acknowledge Christ their deliverer, as their only king, and be rule by the only law of liberty – namely, the sacred word of the Gospel – if they would retain the grace which they have once received in Christ: they must be subject to no bondage, be bound by no chains. (IV.10.1)

Pretty clear, would you not say? In the church Christ rules his people by the perfect law of liberty, and it is vital, Calvin thinks, for perseverance and persistence in grace, that God’s people should be free of man-made chains. Calvin sees no 'dualism' between the the church, the present locus of Christ's spiritual kingdom, having rules, order, provided they no not impose non-scriptural requirements.

Duplex or Monoplex?

I’ve heard it said that the fact of the operation of natural law, which is a central plank of the platform of the two kingdoms view, is a revealed doctrine of Holy Scripture, and so is subordinate to it. This is rather like saying that the existence of the Sea of Galilee is a revealed doctrine. Scripture mentions the Sea, and asserts its existence, or uses language which entails such assertions. But the Bible is not an exclusive channel of knowledge that there is such a Sea. Likewise, the Bible, in places such as Romans 1 and 2, and Acts 14 and 17, asserts that there is a natural knowledge of God, giving instances of it. For stay-at-home, Bible-loving people, maybe these passages are their chief source of the view that there is a universal sensus divinitatis, or the operation of a conscience in every human spirit. But when Paul in Acts 17 quoted from Aratus and Epimenides the Cretan, he was using his general knowledge, just as earlyish Reformed theologians quoted the sentiments of heathens such as Cicero, or the reports of contemporary explorers, to the same effect. It is central to Paul’s argument (and to Calvin’s in Book I of the Institutes) that such knowledge is real and general, and hence empirically identifiable in the usual ways.

Besides, if we take the view that it is only from the Bible that we gain positive information about the universality of the sensus divinitatis, and the operation of natural law, we jeopardize a fundamental distinction in Reformed theology, the duplex cognitio dei, the two-fold character of the knowledge of God. This is sometimes expressed in terms of the distinction between general and special revelation. We find ourselves replacing it with the monoplex cognitio dei. General revelation is swallowed by special revelation.

I think we ought to hesitate before going down that particular path.