30 October 2007

downame on the word of god

In his The Sum of Sacred Divinity (1630), John Downame provides an extended treatment of the Word of God as that is given to us in Christ, entrusted to the church in the Scriptures, and proclaimed for humanity's salvation (for a brief biography of Downame, see my introduction to "Downame on the Visible Church").

The following are some excerpts from Downame's discussion (spelling and usage updated):

The prophetical office of Christ respects a church and people, in bestowing upon them his Word and the fruit it brings forth by the working of the Spirit: for these three - prophet, Word, and church - have a perpetual relation unto one another. Wherefore in handling the prophetical office, the Word of Christ is first to be spoken of and then his church.

The Word of Christ is all the holy doctrine that he has taught from the beginning, concerning our salvation through him, wherein observe:

First, Christ is the matter and only subject and substance of the Word. In that regard, he himself is called "The Word" (Jn 1:1) or "The Word of God" (Rev 19:13). Because of him and him alone it is that there are in the Word so many glorious and excellent speeches, and the doctrine of the gospel has the name of "the Word of Christ" (Col 3:16). So as it is not any natural knowledge that this doctrine teaches, but heavenly and supernatural which was not in Adam before his fall, though he was perfectly holy and endued with all manner of natural understanding.

Secondly, he himself, as he is the matter, so he is the author of the Word. In which respect the Scripture gives these names unto him: first, he is called "the Speaker" and interpreter of the Father's will (Dan 8:13), to which place it may be the Apostle has some eye, when he says, "Take heed you do not resist him who speaks," or "the Speaker," meaning Christ (Heb 12:25); secondly, "a Doctor" or "a Teacher" (Mt 3:10); thirdly, "a Prophet," the Head and Lord of the prophets (Dt 18:15; Acts 3:22); fourthly, "an Apostle" (Heb 3:1); fifthly, "the Angel of the covenant" (Mal 3:1).

And that we may know with what graces our Savior Christ is furnished for so great a work, "all the treasures of knowledge and understanding are hidden in him" (Col 2:3), yea, he is "Wisdom itself" (1Co 1:24) or "the Wisdom of God" (Lk 11:49) and called, as by a proper name, "one who understands riddles" (Dan 8:23), this is, one who has all hidden things numbered before him already told, and as we say, at his fingertips, which as occasion serves, he utters to his church.

Wherefore, here is the touchstone of all truth and there is no truth concerning God and our salvation in Christ, but in the Word, our Savior himself bearing record, "Your Word is truth" (Jn 17:17).

Touching the outward instruments, which it has pleased him to use in the delivery of his Word, sometimes he spoke by his own voice from heaven, sometimes by the ministry of his holy angels. But specially this outward ministry is either his own which he executed personally himself when he was upon the earth (described in Isaiah 42:1-7, in regard whereof he is call a minister, "the minister of the circumcision," Rom 15:8, and a "Servant," Isa 42:1) or it is of his servants from the beginning of the world of whom he says, "He that hears you, hears me; and he that receives you, receives me" (Lk 10:16). Of whose ministries and functions, we shall have cause to speak hereafter.

Therefore, Christ's office of a teacher did not first begin when he took our flesh upon him, for it was his Spirit that spoke in the prophets long before he came into the world, as the Apostle bears record, "The fore-witnessing Spirit of Christ that was in the prophets declared the sufferings that should befall Christ and the glory that was to follow" (1Pe 1:11). And that which is in the Psalms, "Today, if you will hear his voice" (95:7), the Apostle to the Hebrews refers to the voice of Christ (Heb 3:7).

Thirdly, I note the perfection of this doctrine that Christ has opened the whole will of his Father fully and perfectly in every age and never left his church without a full and perfect direction of all things necessary for their salvation, for Moses says, "Behold, I set before you this day life and death" (Dt 30:15), which he could not have said unless there had been a certain direction to lead them unto life. And when he charges, "Not to add to the words the he gave them in commandment nor to take away from them" (Dt 4:2), does it not prove that the same was perfect?

Fourthly, the subject of the Word being Christ, it is more particularly the covenant made in him, which by the Word is promulgated and offered unto all and his Spirit makes effectual to as many as receiving the same by faith, make themselves worthy of it.

This covenant being distinguished by the "Old Testament" and the "New," as before has been declared, the publication of the Old Testament in and through Christ to come was called "the promise" (Acts 13:32; Gal 3:17); when he was exhibited and had come indeed, that worthy welcome message was termed "the gospel" or good news and glad tidings (Acts 13:32; Mk 1:1).

But it is the glory of Christ's administration, whether in his own person when he was among us or by his servants, that the outward dispensing of the Word is accompanied with an inward working of the Spirit, of which both parts his prophetical office stands, herein differing from all other ministers, who only preach the Word, set on the outward element (Mt 3:11) plant and water (1Co 3:6), but the whole blessing comes from him, for his teaching opens men's minds "that they may understand the Scriptures" (Lk 24:15) and bestows other grace which the Word brings forth, even in the wicked, by a general working of his Spirit, as we are taught by the parable of the sower (Mt 13:24) and have Herod (Mk 6:20) and the Jews (Jn 5:35) for an example.

[At this point Downame speaks at length regarding the visible church. Later he returns to the ministry of the Word as that is given to the church visible.]

Christ not only gathers a church unto himself, a precious possession out of the world and the delight and joy of the earth, but he garnishes it also and sets it forth with many goodly ornaments and rich endowments, which the Apostle calls "gifts" (Eph 4:7-8). Some for the public, some for a man's own private use.

Of these, the first are certain rich jewels of inestimable price and value: his Word, sacraments, and other holy things, which Christ has laid up in the Ark of his church and committed to their care, as a treasure which he will trust none but his church withal. As under the law, in the Holy of Holies (wherein was the Ark) were kept the "Tables of the Testament" (the Word), "the golden pot that had manna" (a sacrament), and "Aaron's rod that had budded" (for a sign against the rebellious; Num 17:10; 1Co 4:21), his Word to be preached, sacraments and other holy things to be administered. Here therefore are the lively notes and marks of a church (Mt 16:19). The Scripture styles them by the name of "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 28:19-20).

The prime and principal is his Word (whereof we have spoke already), the treasure of all heavenly knowledge. This, says the Apostle to the Romans, is "the chief" (of those excellencies which the Jews had above other men) "that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom 3:2). Or, as the prophet speaks, the "excellencies of the law" (Hos 8:12). Wherefore God's Word and precepts Daniel many times calls "things deposited" (see also Paul, 1Ti 6:20 and 2Ti 1:14). In regard whereof, the church is said to be "the pillar and seat of truth" (1Ti 3:15), for the truth of God is no where to be found but there. It is error, lies, superstition, and deceit, whatsoever comes not from hence. The church only is the golden candlestick figured in the law, which holds up the eternal truth of God to give light unto all the world and there light is to be had, when darkness covers the whole of the earth beside.

Preaching, for the form and manner of it, is an instruction by word of mouth, opening and interpreting the Scriptures, rendering the sense thereof, drawing the doctrines that are to be gathered from them, making use and profit of it for the edification and building up of our faith, which the Apostle, by a metaphor from the sacrifices of the law, called "cutting aright the Word of truth" (2Ti 2:15). It stands not in the bare and naked reading of them. And that you may see, Nehemiah 8:8-9, where "the people abiding in their standing, the Levites taught them the law, first reading it distinctly, then rendering the sense of the Scripture itself." So Luke 4:17-21, our Savior coming into the synagogue, there was given him the book of the prophet Isaiah, which when he had unfolded it, read a portion of the Scripture, he folded the book and gave it to him that waited and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue, being fastened upon him, he began to say to them, "Today is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears."

And of this instruction by word of mouth, it pleased God to make choice, rather than of reading, for that it pierces deeper into the heart and mind of man and more affects him and that through the blessing of God, uses the zeal of the speaker for the quickening and putting of life into that which is spoken. The argument, matter, or subject must be of and concerning Christ, by teaching our own corruption and impotency to fulfill the law and therefore the necessity we have to fly to him which is made unto us of God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, that he that glories might glory in the Lord. Wherein it differs from the ministry of Moses or of the law, as the Apostle does oppose them, "Who also has enabled us to be ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit" (2Co 3:6). So Romans 1:1-4, he shows, he was "called to be an Apostle and set apart to preach to the gospel of God, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." And Romans 10:8, "This is that Word of faith that we preach."

In like sort it is said of Philip, when he came down unto Samaria, that "he preached unto them Christ" (Acts 8:5). Peter also, Acts 10:43-44, declares the sum of all that which he was charged of God to preach unto the people to be this, that "by his name should everyone that believes in him receive forgiveness of sins."

The part of this instruction in the church are doctrine and exhortation, both comprehended (Ro 12:7-8). Doctrine, by laying forth the truth and confuting of contrary errors, that so the purity of faith may always remain found and uncorrupt in the church. Exhortation, which sharpens the Word and sets an edge upon it, by applying the same and making use of it, as the necessity of people requires. And these two aptly answer to the two parts of the soul of man - his mind or understanding and his will and affection - both which, by these means, God provides for.

From here Downame continues by speaking of the administration of the sacraments, the nature of the ordained ministry, and of the character and extent of the Scriptures. Perhaps I'll blog some of that at some later point when time permits.

What strikes me most about Downame's account of the Word of God is how profoundly christocentric it is, beginning with Christ as the Word of the Father who is the ultimate content, subject, matter, and speaker in all of Scripture. Secondly, I appreciate Downame's emphasis upon how God has designed that we should receive the Word through the instrumentality of human speakers who not only read the Word, but explain it and press it into our lives.