Puritan Works on ‘Gifts of the Spirit’

November 21, 2009

David White recently asked the following question:

I looking for material on the Reformers and Puritans exposition on ‘the gifts of the Spirit”. I am not doing this for modern charismatic motives but for research. I have a MA from Manchester England in which I wrote on Calvin and the Threefold Ministry of Christ and I want to follow up the section on Christ the Prophet.

I am fully aware of the views on tongues and prophecy etc but am concerned with the way the other gifts were seen especially to develop the way Calvin mentions there function in Rom.12. I am looking for expositions on 1 Cor. 12-14; Romans 12; Eph. 4 etc. I have all Calvin’s works.If you have any suggestions I would be thankful.”

The only book I know on Calvin and charismatic gifts is a doctoral dissertation written at Aberdeen in 2005. It is by Gilbert, Daniel and is entitled: The pneumatic charismata in the theology of John Calvin: a study of Calvin’s pneumatology, focusing on his concepts and interpretation of the pneumatic charismata in his life and works. (Aberdeen, 2005)…

As for the Puritans, the pickings are a bit better. I would suggest you start with an article by Dr. Byron Curtis entitled, “‘Private Spirits’ in The Westminster Confession of Faith § 1.10 and in Catholic-Protestant Debate (1588-1652),” It is in the Westminster Theological Journal 58 (Fall 1996), 256-67. Dr. Curtis takes the position that the Westminster divines allowed for some kind of continuing private revelation.

Next I would look at an article that takes issue with Dr. Curtis’ conclusions by Garnet H. Milne, “‘Private Spirits’ in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in Protestant-Catholic Debates: A Response to Byron Curtis,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (Spring 1999), 102-11

Thirdly, you could look at a third article in WTJ by Dean R. Smith, “The Scottish Presbyterians and Covenanters: A Continuationist Experience in a Cessationist Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (Spring 2001), 39-63.

Fourthly, Philip A. Craig has written, “‘And Prophecy Shall Cease:’ Jonathan Edwards on the Cessation of the Gifts of Prophecy,” Westminster Theological Journal (Vol. 64, No. 1 Spring 2002)

The footnotes to these articles would be an invaluable source for further bibliography.

Lastly, I came across an answer to this very question by Dr. Wayne Grudem. It appeared on Tim Challies’ website. You can read it here. In it Grudem reproduces an interesting note he received from J.I. Packer:

“I think it is somewhat of a historical aberration that cessationism – that the leaders of the Reformed movement have been cessationist. This was certainly not true in the seventeenth century among Puritans in England, for instance, like Richard Baxter. In The Christian Directory he has a number of statements that align almost exactly with my view of the gift of prophecy. And I quote those in the back of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. I took a couple of pages from Baxter’s The Christian Directory and I faxed those to J.I. Packer and said, “It looks like Baxter holds the same view of prophecy that I do.” Packer faxed me back and said, “Yes, you’re right. This was the standard Puritan view. They weren’t cessationists in the Gaffin sense.” Let me just find that. Jim Packer gave me permission to quote that. I am quoting John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, Richard Baxter. I quote this on page 353 to 356 of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Packer, whose doctoral dissertation at Oxford was on Richard Baxter’s works, sent back the following: “By the way, some weeks ago you faxed me an extract from Baxter about God making “personal, informative revelation” (those were Packer’s words). This was the standard Puritan view as I observed it – they weren’t cessationist in the Richard Gaffin sense.” That’s J.I. Packer’s personal fax to me on September 9, 1997 and I quoted it by permission.

I am not sure that we should look at Richard Baxter as THE representative Puritan and there are scholars who would question using that term to describe him at all. That’s not an issue on which I am competent to comment, but it’s one more lead.

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6 Responses to “Puritan Works on ‘Gifts of the Spirit’”

  1. Jim,

    There are a few other helpful works, that deal more with the subject of prophecy than gifts per se. Milne, who you have already mentioned, wrote a doctoral dissertation that wipf & Stock has recently published under the title, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation.There is also Beth Yvonne Langstaff’s 1999 Princeton dissertation “‘Temporary Gifts:’ John’s Calvin’s Doctrine of the Cessation of Miracles.” You can get a hold of a copy through UMI. I am not sure how good the latter is, but I know that Milne’s work is outstanding.

  2. In regard to Milne’s 2007 book, mentioned above: I bought a copy last year, and find it to be well done, though I want to go through it all very carefully. In my too-brief review of his criticisms of my 1996 work, I think they are worth serious consideration.

    I wonder if C van Dixhorn’s (sp?) work on the records of Westminster Assembly debates might shed more light upon the hypothesis I tendered in my 1996 article that WCF 1.10 is a compromise statement between strict cessationists, general cessationists, and continuationists.

  3. Oh, yes, another Puritan work on charismata, more extensive than Baxter’s comments in _The Christian Directory_, is the trology of sermons by Assembly member William Bridge called _Scripture Light the More Sure Light_ or similar title. In the Works of William Bridge, published by Soli Deo Gloria.

  4. Hey, Byron! Thanks for your comments. I haven’t read Bridge on Scripture Light, but he is easily one of my 100 favorite Puritans. He is superb! Good to hear from you.

  5. […] There is an interesting post over at J.O.B.’s Journal on the teaching of Calvin and the Puritans on the continuation/cessation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. You can read it here. […]

  6. This has been a wealth of information. Thanks to all participating!

    Cheers, Jesse

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