Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Chapter 2 - On Marriage

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We have been blogging through C. C. Jones’ book The History of the Church of Christ slowly but surely (find past posts here). The design of the book is “to unfold the institutions and doctrines and  ordinances of the Church as they are revealed throughout the entire Scriptures, at the precise time that they first appear in the History…” (20). Thus in chapter 2, he examines the creation ordinance of marriage.

He lays down a large number of passages throughout the Bible that speak to the way God watched over the marriage relationship, forbade violations of its purity, regulated it strictly when polygamy blemished it, and restored it to its original form in the days of Jesus Christ. God’s providence keeps in step with His word, ensuring that there is an equitable number of males and females at marriageable ages, and stretching forth his hand against those who would transgress his law. Marriage shows itself written on the hearts of men, as all nations “attach a peculiar value and sacredness to it” (21).

The ordinance of marriage is the foundation of all societies and governments, and it “partakes also of the nature of a civil institution,” as seen by God’s regulations regarding it when the Church was a state under the old covenant. Jones notes that these laws have been adopted to some extent in all civilized and Christianized nations, and that any attempt to contravene God’s laws have only led to misery, for such efforts are “a direct assault upon the very nature of man itself, a blow levelled at his social peace and prosperity, an attach upon the order and purity of society, and an infidel trampling under foot of the law of God, which will meet with rebuke and sore punishment at [God’s] hands” (22). He reminds us of the sobering words of I Timothy 4:1-3 that class forbidding marriage with “doctrines of demons,” and points out the Roman Catholics as the most glaring offenders in this respect.

Jones sees marriage as “the most tender, perfect, and intimate union formed among mortals,” from the following reasons: 1) the peculiar manner of Eve’s creation; 2) from Adam’s reception of Eve from the hand of God; 3) from the union being voluntary, founded upon mutual esteem and affection – which “ an inalienable right in, and possession of each other’s persons, and of each other’s services and property, for mutual enjoyment, comfort, and support, while spared together in life” (23); and 4) from the union being compared to the union of Christ and the Church.

Marriage is not obligatory on any but those to whom it is given, but it is permanent upon all who enter it – neither “difference of age, or standing, or from contrariety of temper, or intemperance, or feebleness of health, or loss of reason, or for unbelief, or heresy, or schism, or diversity of faith, [may] ever be admitted to effect a dissolution” (24). Jones comments upon Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7, which some suppose are a discouragement to marriage. He disagrees, for he deems that verse 26 makes it clear that Paul was dealing with a specific distress that made marriage optional for that season. Yet even during that time marriage was not a sin (vs. 28), and was even doing well (vs. 38), and Paul’s aim in speaking as he did was to prevent those in that day from “trouble in the flesh” (vs. 28).

Jones comments on the laws of consanguinity and affinity found in Leviticus 18 and 20, as well as the exception that a man marry his dead brother’s wife, so as to raise up an offspring to his brother. Jones ties the latter to the coming of the Christ, explaining that its design was “to preserve distinct the families of the descendants of Abraham, and so render perfect and clear the genealogy of our Lord, and the fulfillment of the promise that He should be of the seed of Abraham” (25). Once Christ had come, there was no longer a necessity for the exception. But the laws of consanguinity and affinity, Jones argues, were not ceremonial and thus temporary. His remarks are worth citing in full, given the unfamiliarity of the church today with the Scriptural basis of Westminster Confession of Faith 24.4:

[The laws of consanguinity and affinity] form no part of the ceremonial law instituted by Moses, but is wholly moral in its origin and design, which were to preserve the people of God from the corrupt practices of the heathen, as expressly stated in Leviticus 18:24-30 and 20:22, 23; and to furnish the Church in all ages with a law regulating a matter of so great importance, which otherwise would have been left in confusion and perplexity. In this light is the law interpreted and applied in the New Testament, and is thereby acknowledged and established as the law of the Church under the New as well as the Old Dispensation. The reference made is by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 5:1. He brands the connection, the marriage of a son with a stepmother, as incest, and says it is such incest “as is not so much as named among the Gentiles,” and condemns the transgressor to excommunication (verses 2-5)! By what law? The law of nature? Nay, verily, but by the law of God, given to His Church ages before. The prohibition of this very connection is found in Leviticus 18:8, and 20:11; and moreover this very case is singled out and cursed in the curses afterwards to be uttered from Mount Ebal. Deuteronomy 27:20. If the law in Leviticus is not the law of God’s Church, then has the Church no law at all upon so important a matter! And who can give a reason why the Lord should give a law regulating marriage to His Church of old, and of authority for centuries, and a law to distinguish His people from the heathen, and to preserve them from their pollutions, and now, in these latter days of brighter glory and perfection in that Church, that that law should be set aside! The propriety and necessity of the law are as strong as ever. The Church under the Old and the New Dispensation is one and the same, and this law once given has never been repealed, but confirmed by an Apostle, and consequently remains in force. (26-27)

Jones closes the chapter by observing the ends of marriage: to promote 1) the happiness of mankind; 2) the legitimate propagation of our species; 3) the perpetuation of a pure, holy, and honorable seed in the Church; and 4) the purity of life and manners on the earth. One of the purposes that marriage does not have is to be a sacrament, declares Jones. First, a sacrament is for the Church alone – but marriage is common to all mankind. Second, a sacrament has an outward sign of an inward grace – marriage has neither. Third, a sacrament represents Christ and the benefits of the new covenant – marriage represents neither in a sacramental sense, argues Jones, notwithstanding Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:22-23. These verses no more make marriage a sacrament than John 15:1-6 makes a vine a sacrament, or any other passage that compares the relationship between Jesus and His people to some created thing makes that thing a sacrament. Jones notes the irony of Roman Catholics asserting that marriage is a sacrament, but then excluding their priests from it, and stigmatizing it as unclean. A sacrament is for all God’s people, and none may be excluded.

With this Jones lays down his pen on the topic of marriage, and readies it to reflect on the covenant of works in the garden of Eden. To be continued…

 

Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Chapter 1

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C. C. Jones begins the body of his book The History of the Church of God During the Period of Revelation with the reminder that the Bible doesn’t start with argument but with assertion, and it doesn’t appeal to reason but to faith. We receive by faith the truths that there is a personal God distinct from creation, and that the heavens and the earth are not eternal. To these truths our reason and our conscience give unqualified assent.

The great end of all created things, and thus of the Church itself, is the glory of God. This church is not made up of all mankind, but of a part only - and at some point in time this part was separated from the rest of humanity. The early parts of Genesis show us the events leading up to the church being set apart as the people of God.

Jones first considers the creation of man in his primitive, perfect state. Man was made in the image of God - but of what did this image consist? Jones contends that it did not consist in his body, as wonderful as it is, since God is without a body. Rather, it consisted in the rational, immortal, and accountable soul, which was immediately created by God and not from any preexisting matter (as was the body). “The body, with all its powers and members, is but the instrument of the soul, “a tabernacle in which it dwells while conversant with this lower world” (17). Clearly Jones believed in the resurrection of the body, but he does not at this point in his book connect that truth to the embodied state of man at creation.

The likeness of the soul to God is found in its spiritual nature (it is immaterial and immortal); in its knowledge (of the created world, of God, and of his law); in righteousness; in holiness; in happiness; and in dominion over the creation. Jones’ discussion of the knowledge of Adam in the Garden is worth quoting in full:

This understanding [God] called into exercise immediately after his creation, and also inspired him with an amount of knowledge, which at that time he could have obtained in no other manner. For example, He revealed Himself to man, and inspired him with a knowledge of Himself as his God and Creator. He inspired him with a knowledge of all the beasts of the field, and every green thing suitable for food, and of times and seasons, and the methods of cultivating, dressing, and keeping the garden of Eden; of the origin of Eve, of the nature, the tender devotion and perpetuity of the marriage relation, and its precedence over any other relation which might exist among men. But what is of special interest to us, his knowledge extended to all his relations to God and to his companion, and consequently to all his duties growing out of those relations. In a word, he had the law of God written in his heart, which, in the absence of a written revealed law, is denominated the law of nature; and such was the extent of his knowledge in respect to God and his duties, and such the correctness of the operations of his understanding and the purity of his conscience, that he needed no other teacher beyond himself. He was a law unto himself. He knew how to regulate his heart and life that he might be acceptable to God. He was not created and thrown an infant upon the world, but a full-grown man in the perfect maturity of his powers, both of mind and body, and that mind enlightened and expanded, free from every defect, and set in healthful motion by the inspiration of the Almighty, and by his immediate presence and communion. Col. iii. 10. (18)

It’s also worth hearing how Jones’ describes the happiness of man as created in the image of God: “So man is like Him in this respect also; for, as a result of the purity and perfection of his nature, and the just and holy exercise of all his powers, both of body and mind, he was happy. Yet not happy in and of himself, as God is; for he is but a creature, and his turning and consecration must be to God, who alone could be his satisfying and exhaustless portion. His chief end therefore was to glorify and enjoy Him, and while he attained that end he was happy” (19). By implication, to turn away from God and toward sin would lead only to misery.

The primitive and perfect state of man is proven not only by the history of his creation, but also from his ruin, and his redemption in Christ - to be reintroduced into the favor and presence of God, the lost image of God must be restored in the soul of man. Jones does not focus much upon the image of God that is retained after the fall (although surely he would affirm that spirituality and dominion, as well as knowledge in some sense, remain in fallen man), but gives his attention primarily to that image of God lost in the fall and repaired in redemption. This is not surprising, given the similar emphasis in the Westminster Standards; but it is unfortunate, given the discrimination made even by the Westminster divines in their individual writings. One hopes that as he expounds mankind in the state of sin, as well as the Noahic covenant, he will take notice of the fact that man is still in the image of God even after the fall.

Join us again soon as we continue to work out way through this book!

Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Introduction

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We continue in our slow-walk through Charles Colcock Jones’ The History of the Church of God in the Period of Revelation with this summary of his introduction. The introduction covers twelve pages, and in it Jones hits the following notes:

  • The Bible is the only authoritative source of church history, and since our Father has chosen to make a written revelation, it is thus necessarily necessary. (i)

  • When we don’t experience or know “the inward and spiritual experience of the truth and living power and grace of the Holy Scriptures,” then we’re open to all sort of other standards for faith and practice – and often we end up holding to deism or other forms of unbelief. (i-ii)

  • Many see the Bible as insufficient to teach us about the church’s constitution and government, and so they look to reason, traditions, expediency, or supposed new revelations. They argue backward in time rather than forward from Scriptural principles either expressly set down in the Bible or deduced by good and necessary consequence. (ii-iii)

  • In the Bible God has “revealed his Church upon earth in its origin, covenants, constitution, doctrines, ordinance, members, officers, government, and discipline.” The writings of uninspired men, as they are valuable, only teach us what they have learned from the Scriptures and from observation, and are but witnesses. The Bible is sufficient to teach us about the history of the Church – and the fact that it was revealed slowly over time doesn’t argue against its sufficiency, for “as far as [the Scriptures] were at any time composed, so far were they an all-sufficient source of the history of the Church.” (iii-iv)

  • Jones will begin the history of the church with its first existence, not in the middle, i.e., the birth of Jesus. Thus they overlook the foundations of the church, for just as a child attaining majority age is not a new man, just as the sun hidden behind clouds then emerging brightly into the clear skies is the same sun, so “no new Church, distinct from the old, was set up by our Lord at His coming.” (v-vii)

  • Jones states that history may be written in two modes: inductively (from the facts to our conclusions), or what we might term the “magnet over iron filings” method – in Jones’ words, “to elaborate our theories, and then so to collect, and arrange, and color our facts and events, as to unite them into the support of our theories.” We must reason from, not unto, facts. (v-vi)

  • To start with the Bible, and with the origins of the church, is to give the student a resting place for his mind and conscience. Whether we’re trying to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, or looking for the origins of the covenant of works and grace, or looking for the first organization of the visible church, or the orders of the ministry, or sound doctrine, we must go to the Bible. (viii)

  • Jones believes that his work is unique, even though the ideas of the true history of the church is far from being new. He aims to begin at the beginning and unfold the origin, the covenants, the doctrines, the rites and ceremonies, the ordinance, the members and officers, the order and discipline, and the progress of the church from the old covenant to the new covenant. (ix)

  • He adopts a threefold division: from the foundation of the church after the fall to the call of Abraham; from the call of Abraham to the coming of Jesus; from the coming of Jesus to the close of the New Testament canon. It’s as we come to rightly understand church history in the inspired Scriptures that we will be able to navigate ecclesiastical history after the death of the apostles. (x)

  • His practice will be to unpack the whole of Scriptural revelation of a particular doctrine or rite or office in the Church, when it is first introduced in the Bible. “The reader will consequently be able to trace truth and error to the precise time and place of their appearance in the Church, and be armed for the support of the one and for the overthrow of the other. And it will be sometimes seen that, far away in the depths of the earlier history of the Church, serious and long-established errors and exhausting controversies are met and settled with a few but effective blows of the sword of the Spirit.” (xi)

 So from an authoritative and sufficient Bible, Jones will seek to unpack Biblical theology in Biblical order. It will be a fun ride, so make sure to stay with us!

Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Preface

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One of the purposes of Log College Press is to encourage God’s people in the 21st century to read the writings of American Presbyterians in the 18th and 19th centuries. But let’s be honest - it’s often difficult for God’s people to find the time and motivation to read 21st century Christian authors. So I want to walk slowly through a book from our site by means of short chapter summaries, in hopes that even if readers of this blog aren’t actually able to download the book and read it for themselves, they will at least have a better idea of what it’s about and benefit from some of its main points. I’m starting with Charles Colcock Jones’ The History of the Church of God in the Period of Revelation, a book I’ve wanted to read for some time. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this experiment as this miniseries proceeds in future weeks, Lord willing.

Jones (1804-1863) was reared in Liberty County, Georgia, in the famous Midway Church. He attended the theological seminaries at Andover and Princeton, graduating in 1830. He is sometimes called the “Apostle to the Slaves” for his missionary efforts among the Africans in the antebellum South. In addition to his evangelistic labors, he also pastored First Presbyterian Church in Savannah (1831-1832), had two stints at Columbia Theological Seminary (1835-1838 and 1847-1850), and was a Corresponding Secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions in Philadelphia (1850-1853). More about Jones can be found in a chapter in Iain Murray’s Heroes, Erskine Clarke’s Dwelling Place, as well as the biographical resources on the Log College Press site (such as Henry Alexander White’s Southern Presbyterian Leaders).

Jones’ History was originally material delivered in his lectures to the classes at Columbia Seminary. Unfortunately, one evening in 1850, his house and all its contents was destroyed by a fire. Writing in his own words in 1860, “We saved nothing but our lives, through the tender mercy of our God. The manuscripts of twenty years, and the Lectures with them, then perished.” He moved to Philadelphia to serve the denomination, but poor health caused him to resign three years later. During the last ten years of his life he devoted himself to rewriting his lectures on the history of the Church. It was a joyful endeavor, giving him something to do with his time that would also be useful to Christ’s kingdom – but it was task completed in the midst of much suffering. Jones’ son, Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., who published the work four years after his father had passed away (and who had hoped to publish a second and concluding volume to this book, a desire that unfortunately never came to fruition — one wonders in what archive the manuscript pages for volume two now resides! — tells us that the work “was prepared by [his father] with a trembling hand, and amid great feebleness and physical depression. It was composed during moments of comparative freedom from pain, in the quiet of his own retired home, and for years occupied his serious thought, careful study, and prayerful consideration.”

As this volume is concerned with the history of the Church in the Old Testament period of revelation, Jones’ work is a rich combination of what we would call today biblical theology and systematic theology. He explains, “It becomes me to advertise [to] the reader that the work is not what is commonly called ‘A Bible History,’ nor is it a connection of Sacred and Profane History, nor is it a History of the Antiquities of the Jews, nor a History of that people as a nation. Their History is necessarily given, but as the visible Church of God. Nor is it a work on Chronology, or Prophecy. It is strictly what it purports to be: a History of the Church of God; and nothing is introduced but what we have thought essential to the proper composition of such a History.” Writing with a particular eye to ordinary members of Christ’s Church, Jones desired his book to be a reference book for the whole family, a source-book filled with answers to a wide array of questions concerning the Church of Jesus Christ. He knew his work could not be comprehensive, but he sought to speak where Scripture spoke, and to do so as plainly as possible. He understood that his interpretations of sacred writ would not be agreed upon by all his readers, but he trusted that the Holy Spirit indwelling all true believers would lead them to the truth.

Thus we embark upon a slow walk-through of a book that deserves to be better known. May the Lord bless these posts to the building up of His body. And of course, better than reading these posts would be to read Jones himself! So click here to download the book and read along with me.

The Glory of Woman, according to Charles Colcock Jones

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Iain Murray writes that

[Charles Colcock Jones] believed that only Christianity teaches the proper relation between the sexes and is unique in its power to elevate womanhood…. On this subject he preached one of his best-remembered sermons, 'The Glory of Woman Is the Fear of the Lord'. Much in that sermon reflected his own experience, beginning with his opening sentence: (Heroes, p. 246).

Here is that opening paragraph by Charles Colcock Jones, Sr.:

No one thing in social life, more distinguishes a Christian from a heathen country, than the consideration in which females are held, and the important and influential station which is assigned them in society. As the farther you depart from Christianity, the deeper is the degradation of females, and the more miserable and polluted the state of society; so, the nearer you approach to Christianity, and the purer its nature and the more efficient its influence, the higher is the perfection of female character, and the more virtuous and happy the community at large.

Read the rest of Jones’ sermon here. It is both a tribute to the godly woman, as well as an encouragement to women to pursue godliness and the fear of the Lord.

This post was inspired by a friend who shared the quote.