Larry Birger, Jr.
It has often been the case that the best writing, and the most precise and orthodox theology, have arisen from controversy. Examples are numerous: Paul's epistles to the Galatians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Hebrews, and the young pastor, Timothy; the epistles of Peter, John, Jude, and James; faithful Athanasius standing against the Arian majority; Luther's immortal refutation of Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will; Calvin's Institutes; John Knox's Appellation to the Nobility of Scotland; the productions of the Westminster Assembly; Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, Thomas Edwards, Daniel Cawdrey, and the Presbyterian London Ministers (at the time of the Westminster Assembly) concerning church government; John Brown of Wamphray, Robert M'Ward, and others regarding the Protester/Resolutioner controversy and its fruits (see especially an outstanding book entitled, The Protesters Vindicated); Alexander Shields, classic Hind Let Loose; James Renwick's Informatory Vindication; Andrew Clarkson's Plain Reasons for Presbyterians Dissenting From the Revolution Church in Scotland; the Reformed Presbytery's Act, Declaration, and Testimony for the Whole of Our Covenanted Reformation and indeed, the list could easily fill this foreword (the reader is strongly encouraged to consult the ever-growing publication list of Still Waters Revival Books for these and other outstanding works).
Neither should we expect things to be different today. Our beloved apostle has forewarned us: "there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Cor. 11:19). Thus, although we are not to be contentious, contention for the sake of the truth cannot and must not be avoided. Paul says, "we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention" (1 Thess. 2:2), and in Jude we are exhorted "that [we] should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). The book you now hold, penned by ruling elder and ministerial student, Greg Barrow, is a modern example of such faithful contending and orthodox doctrinal precision.
Since Barrow's work was born of controversy, it is necessary to give an historical overview of this conflict, that the reader may read most profitably and intelligibly. Richard Bacon published, "A Defense Departed" his alleged refutation of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton's (PRCE), "A Brief Defence of Dissociation in the Present Circumstances" (FREE at http://www.swrb.com/ newslett/actualnls/BriefDef.htm) in early August of last year (1997) on the web page of the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, Texas. However, we do not begin here in our historical survey. Neither do we proceed from the point of an earlier (and similar) slander from the pen of Brian Schwertley, minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). Schwertley's "Open Letter to Reformed Pastors, Elders, and all Brethren in Christ," was circulated via the Internet in April of last year. The scandalous lies of these modern malignants (who pervert the righteous ways of the Covenanted Reformation) are certainly germane; indeed, Barrow's book is directed primarily at Richard Bacon. Nevertheless, to understand truly the nature and importance of our current conflict, and therefore the paramount importance of Barrow's book, we must first turn our gaze backward threeandahalf centuries.
Some 350 years ago, our faithful Reformed forefathers in Scotland took hold of the covenant of grace in their National Covenant, by this means fulfilling their duty and privilege as Christ's witnessing church in the British Isles. Thus was born the Second, or Covenanted Reformation of religion in those Isles, sustained and greatly furthered by the swearing of the Solemn League and Covenant five years later. The latter "covenanted uniformity of religion" undergirded the work of the famous Westminster Assembly, and bound the covenanting churches and nations to the adoption and implementation of that Assembly's work (the Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Directory for Public Worship, and Form of Church-Government). Sadly, of these churches and nations Scotland was most faithful to pay her vows, and only for a brief time. In 1650, a deadly, Church-dividing blow was dealt by the majority of backsliding civil and ecclesiastical leaders in their support of the "Public Resolutions." England and Ireland had already broken their sacred bond. The next four decades were times of bitter and often unrelenting trial for the faithful, protesting remnant (which included such men as Samuel Rutherford, Archibald Johnston of Warriston, James Guthrie, Patrick Gillespie, John Brown of Wamphray, Robert M,Ward, William Guthrie, Donald Cargill, Richard Cameron, and James Renwick), who themselves by God's grace were unrelenting in their testimony against the covenant-breaking Resolutioners and the defections in Church and State. Though the merciless persecution by the civil and ecclesiastical tyrants ended with the Reformation-denying Revolution settlement of 1688, the blessed but short-lived Covenanted Reformation has been, and continues to be, opposed by many, ignored by or unknown to others, and embraced and loved by only a faithful few, who, like their fathers (and unlike the RPCNA today) truly wear the name, "Covenanter."
There have been many in the last three centuries who have gloriously praised the work of the Westminster Assembly, yet there has been at best only an incomplete adherence to the Assembly's doctrine and practice. Many factors have contributed to this, of which the foremost must certainly be our wretched failure to receive the love of the truth. Consequently, our righteous God has given the people and nations professing His name over to a profound blindness, in keeping with His fearful threatenings in the Scriptures (2 Thess. 2:10-12; Rom. 1:28; etc.). This "judicial blindness" has led to an increased preaching, publishing, and practicing of numerous errors condemned by our forefathers as Popish on the one hand, and schismatic and Independent on the other, in so-called "Protestant," "Reformed," and "Presbyterian" churches. Richard Bacon exemplifies this dreadful dynamic in our day.
As we see, then, our quarrel goes back over three hundred years and really, back to the dawn of the human race. Our contending is for nothing less than the Crown Rights the comprehensive Crown Rights of the blessed promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, which are denied, trampled, and usurped on all sides. The Serpent and his seed throughout the millennia have unceasingly sought and fought to strip the Lamb of God of his due honor and glory in Church and State. The Lamb and his followers have continually met them in battle, being made strong through his Spirit and Word, and through his might "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). By such faithful contendings, God has graciously granted two major Reformations in days past: we stand desperately in need of a third. There is great cause for rejoicing in Zion, however, for an increasing number of God's people are beginning to be awakened, and to return to the blessed biblical attainments of the Covenanted Reformation. We are hopeful that the prayers of the faithful Covenanters of old are being answered: that the rediscovery of their precious principles and practices are nothing less than a prologue to the third reformation and the worldwide overthrow of Antichrist.
Lamentably, the defection and backsliding we've inherited place us at a great disadvantage. We know we must return to the old paths (Jer. 6:16), and we earnestly desire to walk in the footsteps of the flock (Song 1:8). Yet a substantial gap separates us, in our current condition, from our forefathers. Christ's beloved Church today is ignorant of many fundamentals of Protestantism, unable to derive the benefit we ought from faithful teachers of old. To make matters worse, men like Richard Bacon and Brian Schwertley are further confusing Christ's already confused and scattered sheep with their shoddy scholarship and lying publications. A bridge traversing this chasm of ignorance and confusion, and an antidote to the Popish and Independent heresies of blind guides is desperately needed, that we may sit at the feet of our faithful Reformed forebears and fully partake of the Scripture truths which will make us free and effective in our service to the Lord, to each other, and to our countries. In light of this need, and believing that the old Covenanter truths are indeed a testimony against modern backsliders and hopefully the prologue to a glorious Third Reformation, I earnestly commend to you the following volume. Barrow has faithfully and skillfully produced the clearest and best "Covenanter Primer" that has yet appeared in the recent resurgence of the full-orbed teachings of the Protestant Reformation.
In The Covenanted Reformation Defended Against Contemporary Schismatics, Barrow accomplishes at least three important tasks. As the full title indicates, Richard Bacon has manufactured a controversy involving faithful Covenanters whom he disparagingly designates, "Steelites." The first objective, then, is to vanquish without hope of resurrection the slanderous caricature Bacon has made of the Covenanter position and the PRCE (and other modern Covenanters). In the second installment of "Bacon Bits" (the preliminary response to Bacon's essay; FREE at http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualnls/BaconBit.htm), I anticipated that Barrow's refutation of Bacon would be "nothing less than an annihilation." My expectations were completely justified. If Bacon has any integrity and humility, he will with profound shame beg the PRCE, the Church at large, and most importantly the living God to forgive him for ever emitting his literary refuse.
Second, in keeping with the ninth commandment Barrow vindicates the good names of modern and historical brethren. Bacon has, in "Defense Departed" and elsewhere, blackened the names and doctrines of quite a number of godly men, and even General Assemblies (see for example, #3 Bacon Bits, by Greg Price). One especially relevant modern instance (see Appendix G) is that of Kevin Reed, founder of Presbyterian Heritage Publications. Reed was the recipient of Bacon's Popish clubbing in his atrocious little work, The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness: A Reply Against those Claiming to be True Presbyterians Separating in Extraordinary Times.
Finally, and most importantly, Barrow provides the bridge back to the teachings of our Reformed forefathers, his work serving as a skillful and much needed "Covenanter Primer." His explanations of key (and ill-understood, in our day) doctrines of the Reformation are the clearest I've ever read. His numerous citations of non-Covenanter writers demonstrate that these doctrines are not at all peculiar to Covenanters, and indeed, that they are foundational to Protestantism. That these doctrines are not understood by the pastors and people of our day is a heartbreaking commentary on how far we "Protestants" have fallen from the Protestant Reformation. "My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.... My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.... Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.... Jesus answered and said unto [Nicodemus], Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (Jer. 50:6; Hos. 4:6; Matt. 15:14; John 3:10). That Barrow's book has now appeared is an overjoying sign of God's favor and mercy toward his Church. "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.... And he gave some... pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine..." (Rom. 5:20; Eph. 4:11-14).
The format of this book has been necessitated by the essay it refutes. Bacon has uttered numerous falsehoods and smears in his scurrilous attack, and in the body of his work Barrow has responded to four primary misrepresentations. In each case he obliterates these falsehoods, and with remarkable restraint (given the outrageousness of Bacon's accusations and assertions) lovingly and firmly calls Bacon to repentance. In the appendices, "in-house" disputes are dealt with, additional historical materials presented and discussed, and (as noted) Kevin Reed's Protestant contendings for private judgment (concerning church leaders and their teaching and governing) are vindicated.
After briefly and graciously stating the disposition of the PRCE toward Bacon, and their desire for his reclamation, "Defense Departed's" two opening sentences are first dealt with. These state, "I believe it is fairly certain, even as we prepare to place these words and history before the view of the world, that many will regard this dispute to be little else than a 'tempest in a teapot.' In large measure I find I must agree." Thus the man frequently contributing to the newsletter presumptuously named after the Covenanter emblem ("The Blue Banner") at once falsifies it and despises the faithful labors and shed blood of our Covenanted ancestors. Among others, Barrow incisively quotes J. C. McFeeters in reply:
The blood of the martyrs imposes obligations upon posterity from generation to generation. The martyrs deeply felt their responsibility for the Church, her purity, doctrines, discipline, membership; for her loyalty to Christ, her separation from the world, and her administration in the Holy Spirit. Their zeal for the House of God brought them to the front; their passionate love for Jesus Christ placed them on the firing line. There they met every attack made upon Christ and His House; there they stood for the royal rights of Jesus and the honor of His kingdom; there they fell under the murderous fire, giving place to their successors. These soldiers of Jesus knew how to die, but not how to retreat. They did their work well, yet necessarily left it unfinished. The victory was assured, though not in sight. The death-stricken hands reached the blood-stained banner out to another to be carried forward. This war still rages. The supremacy of Jesus Christ is yet disputed; His royal rights are yet usurped by mortals; His Bride, the Church, still halts amid many opinions; the ordinances of grace are unblushingly corrupted; the teachings of the Gospel are adroitly doctored. The attacking forces are active, determined, and numerous, as in the days of the martyrs. The tactics differ, but the fight goes on. Heavy, heavy are the moral obligations, that fall to the successors of those who gave their lives for the truth. To recede would be cowardice, desertion from the ranks, perjury within the Covenant, treason against Jesus Christ. Is this too strong? Listen: "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." Surely the times call for Christian Soldiers; yea heroes; possibly, martyrs. Do Covenanters feel their obligation to the Lord? (Sketches of the Covenanters, pp.401-403).
The second misrepresentation of which Barrow skillfully disposes is Bacon's allegation that the PRCE claims they are the only duly constituted church on the face of the earth. Bacon exhorts, "The error into which you have fallen is serious and until you come out of the little group which claims that they alone of all the inhabitants of the earth have a true constitutional church, you will continue attached to the dead body of human tradition." This emotive smoke screen is dispelled quickly and readily, first, by noting that Bacon has therein made such an unqualified charge as to be useful only in misleading the ignorant or unwary reader. Barrow thus asks, "What does he mean by 'true constitutional court' or 'true constitutional church'? Does he mean constitutionally true as to the 'being' of the church, or constitutionally true as to the 'well-being' of the church? Shouldn't he define what he means before publicly making such a serious accusation? Instead, he begins and ends his Defense Departed without ever qualifying these terms. He leaves it to the imagination and emotion of the reader to wonder whether the PRCE thinks they are the only Christian Church on earth."
Barrow leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader, though, as he proceeds to lay forth in unmistakably clear terms the classic Reformed distinction between the
"being" and the "well-being" of the visible church. This chapter alone is worth one hundred times the price of the book. He explains:
There is an important distinction to be made between the being (esse) of a church and its well-being (bene esse). Dear reader please, always keep this distinction in mind, or you will fail to understand both the Scriptures and the reformers (and the men of the PRCE) on this vital matter. What is necessary to the "being" of a true church is something considerably different from what is necessary to its "well-being." Since the term "true church" can be applied to both its "being" and "well-being" it is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE to qualify which "true church" one is referring to, especially when making public charges. Speaking of a "true church" as being essentially true tells us that a church is Christian as opposed to Pagan; while speaking of a "true church" relative to its "well-being" tells us whether a particular Christian church is being faithful to God's Word. While the former distinguishes between the Church and the world, the latter distinguishes between the faithful and the unfaithful churches among those bodies which profess Christianity.
In light of this distinction, he clearly displays the disposition of Covenanters:
I have shown by this first distinction that one mark alone is sufficient to constitute an essentially true visible church, viz, the profession of the true religion [cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, 25:2, and Larger Catechism, Q. 62 LB]. This single mark is used to designate a Christian church from a Pagan church. The PRCE unequivocally states that the one remaining church calling itself the "presbytery"of the Reformation Presbyterian Church is a truly constituted visible church as to "essence" or "being" as are particular Roman Catholic, Arminian, or Baptist Churches. This applies equally to any other particular church who essentially retains the profession of the truth. (emphasis added).
In his skillful and easy-to-follow discussion, he treats the reader to a delightful feast of citations from Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Confession of Faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Francis Turretin, John Calvin, the Presbyterian London Ministers (at the time of the Westminster Assembly), John Anderson, James Bannerman, James Renwick, Thomas M,Crie, and the Reformed Presbytery, all clearly supporting the classical Protestant position of the PRCE and all revealing the embarrassingly impoverished and confused state of Bacon's scholarship on this fundamental point of Protestantism.
The third misrepresentation Barrow takes up is Bacon's malicious and misleading charge that "Essentially the difference between the Reformation Presbyterian Church and Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton is that the Reformation Presbyterian Church maintains that a church can be truly and biblically constituted without swearing the Solemn League and Covenant and the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton claims that a church is not a properly, truly, biblically constituted church if it has not formally adopted the Solemn League and Covenant" ("Defense Departed"). A lengthy discussion of the true Covenanter position on the Covenants follows, expounding many important Scriptural and historical features of public social covenanting in general, and of the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant in particular. Again, a wealth of historical citations are presented, showing that these distinctions were widely recognized amongst the best Reformed teachers and were not Covenanter peculiarities. In the process it is seen how Bacon's misapprehension of the crucial being/well-being distinction regarding the visible church leads him to make such a scandalous accusation, and how (as usual) Bacon stands at odds with the plain, fundamental Reformational teaching on numerous key points.
Here Barrow picks up where he left off in the previous chapter, discussing how covenants like the Solemn League and Covenant were intended not to define the visible church as to her being, but to promote, preserve and protect her as to her well-being. He states:
This leads us to consider the next topic which stands in need of clarification. Mr. Bacon, either by ignorance or design, has directed all the attention to the wrong question. He wishes to make the PRCE say that it is necessary to take the Covenants in order to be a Christian church (esse [i.e. "being" LB]). A more informed opponent would understand that the question truly revolves around whether or not it's necessary to the "well-being" of a Christian church to keep the promises representatively made by their forefathers. Taking the Covenants are not an absolute necessity to the essential constitution of the church and we have never, in any of our writing or preaching, said they were. Instead, we have maintained that, in a covenanted land where lawful promises have already been made, they are necessary to keep for the "well-being" of our constitution and for the integrity of our witness for Christ. Lawful promises must necessarily be kept, and covenants once made, are necessary to own, adopt and renew, lest we open ourselves to the charge of taking the Lord's name in vain (emphases added).
Finally, Barrow tackles what has become perhaps the most oft-repeated falsehood about the PRCE, and Covenanters in general: that we tyrannically impose the traditions of men upon the consciences of Christ's sheep by requiring unscriptural terms of communion. In an amazing display of moral baseness too foul and too obvious to be dismissed as simply scholastic incompetence, Bacon constructs the grossest caricature of our terms of communion. He says, "The Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton has adopted this entire line of thinking by the approach of 'first accept the doctrine, then you can understand it later.' But this is the very kind of implicit faith required by Rome and condemned by our confession.... But one must remember that the Steelites invest a similar meaning in the term 'historical testimony' that the Romanist does with his 'inspired tradition of the fathers,' ("Defense Departed"). Although Barrow's previous refutations of Bacon's errors and libels were impressive and devastating, they may seem like a warm up when compared to this chapter. True Protestant principles shine resplendently herein, especially when compared with Bacon's tawdry substitutes. Indeed, so thoroughly, so embarrassingly, so irrefutably are Bacon's lies exposed in the light of the truth that if one did not keep in mind the wickedness and vehemence of his attacks on the Scriptural doctrines of the Reformation, he would be tempted to pity Bacon.
A simple enumeration of some of the topics covered in this chapter will suffice as an overview. These include: the nature of terms of communion; an expose of Bacon's and modern "Reformed" churches, Popish notions and triple standards for communion; the danger of modern, latitudinarian schemes of church union; a description of how one becomes a member of the PRCE; how subscribing Confessions, Catechisms, Directories for Worship and Church Government, Covenants, and uninspired historical testimony are all required by Scripture as terms of Communion; and more. Particularly instructive and devastating for those modern churches (like the OPC, PCA, and RPCNA) claiming to uphold the Westminster Confession of Faith is the discussion of the teaching of the Westminster Standards (and various Reformed divines) concerning church membership and communion privileges. Especially careful attention should be given to this section. Immediately before his brief but powerful conclusion Barrow wipes out perhaps Bacon's most ridiculous claim: that by our sixth term of communion ("Practically adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour by walking in all His commandments and ordinances blamelessly") we have hereby become guilty of teaching works righteousness. Whatever crumbs of credibility Bacon had after all that preceded, they are here forever swept away.
The appendices of this work largely cover matters related to the dissociation of the PRCE from the pretended Reformation Presbyterian Church "presbytery". Whereas Bacon alleges vociferously that vows were broken in dissociating, Barrow proves first, that no vows were ever taken, and second, that if they had been taken, a vow to something sinful (i.e. unlawful associations with covenant-breaking denominations) is no lawfully binding vow, but must be repented of. This is further corroborated by letters from former Reformation Presbyterian Church ministers Bruce Robinson and Jerry Crick, who both deny that any vows constituting a presbytery were sworn. Both men also considered their involvement in this group to be sinful Independency, penning words of heartfelt sorrow over such Christ-dishonoring activity as they, too, separated from their unlawful association (leaving only the Session of Bacon's church maintaining that vows constituting a presbytery were ever taken). A third appendix discusses the alleged rejection of modest means of reconciliation by the PRCE, showing that this charge instead rests squarely upon Bacon.
The fourth appendix, the Form of Examination for Communion approved by the Scottish General Assembly of 1592, sheds further, detailed light upon Barrow's discussion of truly Protestant requirements for coming to the Lord's Table. The fifth appendix provides the reader with a complete list of the Terms of Communion of the Puritain Reformed Church of Edmonton. The sixth appendix makes an important qualification of the discussion of the visible church, explaining that although hypocrites do partake of the sacraments, this is only an external participation and not an effectual means of grace to them. Finally, as noted, in the seventh appendix Bacon's Popish heresy which denies to individual believers the right of private scriptural judgment of the doctrines, officers, ordinances, government and discipline of the church is succinctly destroyed.
The net result of Greg Barrow's obliteration of Richard Bacon's strident slander is the clear exposition of the classical Protestant doctrines and practices of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton, and modern and historical Covenanters. Dear reader, you hold in your hands a treasure of inestimable value. In the love of Christ I earnestly plead with you to read it: read it carefully; read it diligently; read it prayerfully; read it repeatedly (and buy copies for your friends and enemies, and urge them to read it). For the doctrines and practices it expounds and defends are nothing less than a testimony against malignant error, a lifting up of the true and faithful Blue Banner, and hopefully, by the grace of God, a humble contribution to the coming third Reformation and the worldwide overthrow of Antichrist. Nowhere else will you find such a "Covenanter Primer" to guide you skillfully and safely back to the old paths, wherein is rest for your souls and for the entire Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many today are proclaiming, "Peace, peace,, when there is no peace." Barrow proclaims to you the true peace, the scriptural balm of healing for the festering, debilitating wounds of Christ's beloved Church!
We have now at last... for the preservation of ourselves and our religion from utter ruin and destruction, according to the commendable practice of these kingdoms in former times, and the example of God,s people in other nations, after mature deliberation, resolved and determined to enter into a mutual and solemn League and Covenant.... And this Covenant we make in the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD, the Searcher of all hearts... most humbly beseeching the LORD to strengthen us by his HOLY SPIRIT for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings with such success, as may be deliverance and safety to his people, and encouragement to other Christian churches, groaning under, or in danger of, the yoke of antichristian tyranny, to join in the same or like association and covenant, to the glory of GOD, the enlargement of the kingdom of JESUS CHRIST, and the peace and tranquillity of Christian kingdoms and commonwealths ("The Solemn League and Covenant," introduction and conclusion).
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.... In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.... One shall say, I am the LORD's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.... And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee (Jer. 6:16; 50:4-5; Is. 44:5; Zech. 2:11).
Larry Birger, Jr.
January 9, 1998
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