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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What's the Difference?

Recently I was handed the question, "Does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have any theological differences with the commentaries of C.H.Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, Horatius Bonar, Andrew Bonar, J.C. Ryle, L.R. Shelton, Jr.?"

My response follows:

The works of the men whom you have mentioned are found generously in the libraries of men in the OPC. We certainly see them as men who embrace the Reformed doctrine of salvation (soteriology) in God's electing grace (by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone). Each of those you have mentioned would have seen himself as deeply indebted to the Reformation and to the older Puritan writers.

Of the list, the two Bonars were Presbyterians, Ryle was a bishop in the Church of England, and Spurgeon, Pink, and Shelton were Baptists.

That statement, in itself, says something about their doctrine of the church (ecclesiology). But it also points to their difference in views in regards to the sacraments (sacramentology).

Presbyterians are committed to the Presbyterian form of government, which stands over against the hierarchialism of the Church of England on the one hand, and independency or congregationalism of the Baptist churches on the other hand. In Presbyterianism the emphasis is upon the governance of the church through elders (presbyters) who may be ministers or ruling elders who together hold office and share rule in the church. Presbyterianism, also, sees biblical warrant for the various judicatories of the church: sessions, presbyteries, and synods or general assemblies. To my knowledge Ryle, Spurgeon, Pink, and Shelton did not particularly address themselves to ecclesiology in most of their writings.

For them and for many of the older Puritans, the great tendency is to focus on individual salvation in what might be called experimental (or experiential) religion in which the doctrines of grace are dealt with in terms of the order of salvation (predestination, election, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification), applicable to the individual believer.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms, however, very much emphasize what might be called the history of salvation, the doctrines of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and the theology of the church as church, collectively rather than individualistically. That is not to deny the order of salvation applicable to individuals but to also give due weight to the whole scope of redemption in the church, and the corporate expression of the kingdom of God coming to bear in the church in the world.

And, of course, in terms of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Presbyterian confession and standards emphasize them as sacraments, serving not merely as ordinances given to the church, but also means of grace through which the Spirit is communicated, not in any mechanical or magical sense, but as the administration of the signs and seals of the Lord's covenant of grace.

Baptists and Presbyterians think quite differently about baptism and children in the church. Whereas Presbyterians receive the children of believing parents as holy and thus set apart to the Lord and rightly the recipients of baptism and included in the church, the Baptist writers tend to view their infants as little devils, not members of the church, and not to baptized until they profess faith. The Presbyterians see them as those privileged to be born and reared in the bosom of the church and to be treated as such, with the ongoing call to repentance and faith in keeping with their covenant status.

Assuming that Ryle and the Baptists you mentioned were true to their convictions, Anglican and Baptistic, respectively, they would not have been able to be ordained in the OPC. Even so, we would still rejoice in those many places where we so wholeheartedly agree with them in the things of God.

In Christ,


  1. Hannah's middle name is Bonar, after Horatius. I chose Bonar. Dave chose Hannah.

  2. Christy,
    I did not know that. Thanks. Give my greetings to Hannah and Lydia and to all the Donovans in NC.

  3. If you will permit me a note of frivolity on a serious subject, I'm reminded of a limerick I learned while at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford:

    There once was a preacher named Spurgy,
    Who wasn't too big on liturgy.
    But his sermons are fine;
    I preach them as mine!
    And so do the rest of the clergy!

    Kathy H.