Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reformed historicism or Reformed cessationism?

I’m going to briefly discuss the relationship between Reformed historicism and Reformed cessationism. I’m not going to assess the truth or falsity of these positions. Rather, I’m simply interested in their mutual consistency, or lack thereof.

Right now I’m using “cessationist” in the narrow sense of Calvinists who deny the occurrence of postapostolic miracles. Not all cessationists are that extreme. But I’m confining myself to the extreme version.

(I don’t use “extreme” as a pejorative adjective. Sometimes the true position represents a logical extreme.)

Reformed historicism applies various NT prophecies to various events and institutions throughout the course of church history.

I don’t use the adjective “Reformed” to suggest that cessationism or historicism are Reformed distinctives. Rather, I’m referring to a subset of cessationists or historicists who happen to be Reformed.

Calvinists who take this position tend to pride themselves on their strict subscription to the Reformed confessions, catechisms, and creeds, &c.

Let’s begin with a summary of the evidence by Francis Nigel Lee, who is, in his own right, a very traditional, confessional Calvinist:

14. Calvin indicated that though the AD 600 Gregory the Great was the first bishop at Rome to be called sole pope, Gregory himself had regarded that new title as a mark of antichrist! Yet Calvin saw especially the AD 1415 papal burning of Huss as a clear evidence of the antichristian nature of the papacy. On Daniel 12:4ff, Calvin commented in 1561: "At the present time, in the papacy . . . impiety prevails."

15. Calvin especially insisted that both II Thessalonians 2:3ff and I John 2:18 & 4:4ff clearly brand the pope as antichrist. Romanists, said Calvin, were wrong to regard antichrist as a yet-future tyrant who would harass the church for but three and a half years. Even a ten-year-old, stated Calvin, can see that the centuries-long papacy is itself indeed antichrist! Yet the papal "antichrist will be annihilated by the Word of the Lord . . . Paul does not think the Christ will accomplish this in a moment . . . Christ will scatter the darkness . . . before His coming" by "the preaching of this doctrine." For "we fight by Christ’s power, and are armed with God’s weapons . . . We are victorious . . . We can no more be conquered, than can God Himself . . . Victory is certain!"

16. Calvin’s views were expounded in Britain especially by his student John Knox together with the rest of the "six John’s" in the 1560 First Scots Confession. There, the Protestants’ "True Kirk is distinguished from the filthy synagogues" of Romanism. Especially against the latter, the Confession sounds the trumpet blast: "Arise, O Lord, and let Thy enemies be confounded . . . Give Thy servants strength to speak Thy Word in boldness, and let all nations cleave to Thy true knowledge!"

17. The Calvinistic Second Scots Confession of AD 1580 also known as the Scottish National Covenant denounces "all kinds of papistry in general. We detest and refuse the usurped authority of that Roman antichrist. Many are stirred up by Satan and that Roman antichrist to subvert secretly God’s true religion . . . We therefore . . . protest!" Indeed, this Protestant ‘protest’ was effective. For the Preamble to the 1618ff international Calvinistic Decrees of Dordt declared that also in Holland "the Church was delivered by the mighty hand of God from the tyranny of the Romish antichrist and the terrible idolatry of the papacy." Christians were leaving Romanism, Revelation 18:2-4!

18. The 1646 Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith denounces "popish monastical vows." It denies "the pope any power or jurisdiction" over magistrates, citing here not only II Thessalonians 2:4 but also the ‘666’ passage of Revelation 13:15-17. It calls "papists . . . idolaters." It describes "the popish sacrifice of the ‘mass’ . . . [as] most abominably injurious to Christ’s one sacrifice." Indeed, it terms "transubstantiation . . . repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason" and indeed "the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries."

19. More specifically, the Westminster Confession further insists about deformed churches, that "some have so degenerated as to become synagogues of Satan. Revelation 18:2; Romans 11:18-22 . . . The pope of Rome . . . is that antichrist . . . that exalteth himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. Matthew 23:8-10; II Thessalonians 2:3-4, 8-9; Revelation 13:6."

20. Finally, the Calvinistic Westminster Larger Catechism insists that, in the Lord’s Prayer, the petition ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ is a plea for the destruction also of the ecclesiastical antichrist and indeed precisely through the good works of the Spirit-empowered Church as Christ’s own spiritual weapon! "We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in, [and] the Church furnished with all gospel-officers and . . . purged from corruption." Further, "we pray that God would so over-rule the world and all in it that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected [and] Satan trodden under our feet. Romans 16:20!"

Before proceeding any further, we should also spell out what some of the NT texts on the Antichrist have to say:

“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thes 2:9-11).

“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (Rev 13:13).

These passages, and other suchlike, are clearly describing the same general phenomenon. It’s a Scriptural motif.

Several consequences follow from this hermeneutical position:

i) If, a la historicism, we apply these prophecies to the church age, then historicism entails a belief in postapostolic miracles. These are not divine miracles, to be sure. They are demonic or diabolical miracles. But they are still miraculous.

They differ in their source of origin. And the devil, as a finite agent, can’t do whatever God does. But he does enjoy superhuman powers. And he can transfer those powers to demoniacs.

ii) Not only is that true in general, but if we identify the papacy in particular with the Antichrist, then–ironically enough–a Reformed historicist is committed to the occurrence of Catholic miracles. For the pope and his minions would have the same preternatural powers as the Bible ascribes to the Antichrist and his functionaries.

On this view, Catholic miracles would be demonic or diabolical. But they’d be miraculous all the same.

iii) This, in turn generates a dilemma for the confessional Calvinist. You can relieve the contradiction by either ditching confessional historicism, or by ditching confessional cessationism, but I don’t see how you can logically maintain both positions at once.


  1. 1.) Do you know if you even have any historicist readers? Have you ever met one? Or are you just fishing for a target?

    2.) So is poor ol' Vincent Cheung now out of the doghouse with you? He says cessationism is rebellious, "evil and dangerous."

  2. Thanks Steve,

    As per your final point(at the risk of sounding hyperpreterist)-
    do I still have to abandon my cessationism if I regard those passages as referring to "this generation" (as Paul suggested in a previous post)?
    Sorry if I missed that argument in a previous post.

    Would also appreciate some comment on this discussion-
    According to Wiki- 10% of husbands should be doing time for "spousal rape".

    Thanks again,

  3. James V.

    In answer to your #1, I am one, and I happen to know of at least four others in the world. So there.


    “1.) Do you know if you even have any historicist readers? Have you ever met one? Or are you just fishing for a target?”

    As I already made clear in my post, the point of my post is to test the consistency of those who identify themselves as confessional Calvinists. How committed are they?

    Since you’re not offering a direct counterargument, but resorting to diversionary tactics, I see that I succeeded in smoking out one of the culprits. Thanks for illustrating my point.

    “2.) So is poor ol' Vincent Cheung now out of the doghouse with you? He says cessationism is rebellious, ‘evil and dangerous’.”

    As I said in my post, I’m not assessing the pros and cons of cessationism. Rather, I’m discussing the logical relationship between historicism and cessationism.


    “As per your final point(at the risk of sounding hyperpreterist)-_do I still have to abandon my cessationism if I regard those passages as referring to ‘this generation’ (as Paul suggested in a previous post)?”

    Cessationism and partial preterism are logically compatible–in a way that cessationism and historicism are not.

    As for “spousal rape,” that makes more sense in a domestic setting as coercive as Afghanistan.

    In the US, where couples freely choose their mates, marriage involves implied consent for conjugal relations, so the charge is far more ambiguous.

    This could easily become another weapon in the hands of the radical feminists–the way charges of child molestation became the weapon of choice in custody battles. Or the Duke Lacrosse players.

    Dorothy Rabinowitz has written on these sorts of issues.

    Moreover, if we’re going to be egalitarian about this, then spousal abuse is a two-way street. It would be sexist for a feminist to always cast the wife in the role of the victim.

  5. Besides Luther healing a demoniac girl, Myconius of consumption (tuberculousis), and Melancthon on his deathbed; apparently Calvin moved in the gift of prophecy and/or the word of knowledge.

    The following quote is from:

    The Suppressed Evidence by The Rev Thomas Boys, M.A. published 1832

    direct link

    It is certain, also, that Calvin occasionally predicted future events; and the fulfillment of his predictions is distinctly recorded by Beza, in the character of his biographer. For example : Matthaeus Gribaldus, a follower of the heresy of Servetus, having been brought to him, Calvin predicted to him that a heavy judgment was about to befall him for his impiety. On this Beza observes,

    " Accordingly, what Calvin at that time predicted to him, namely, that a heavy judgment from God was about to befall him for his obstinate wickedness, that he after-wards actually experienced*."

    Thus the event confirmed the prediction.

    But one of the most remarkable circumstances of a supernatural kind, recorded in the life of this Reformer, is the manner in which he was miraculously made acquainted, at Geneva, with a battle that was being fought near Paris. That is, he was miraculously made acquainted with it at the time of its occurrence, and many days before the arrival of the intelligence.

    " One thing must not be omitted, that on the nineteenth of December" (1562), "Calvin lying in bed sick of the gout, it being the Sabbath-day, and the north wind having blown two days strongly, he said to many who were present, Truly I know not what is the matter, but I thought this night I heard warlike drums beating very loud, and I could not persuade myself but it was SO. Let us therefore go to prayers, for surely some great business is in hand.' And this day there was a great battle fought between the Guisians and the Protestants not far from Paris, news whereof came to Geneva within a few days after +."

    See also The Ministry of Healing by A.J. Gordon


  6. I also posted the following at Beggars All

    Years ago chatting with skyman in #ProsApologian he noted that he couldn't track down the quote of an alleged prophecy of Jan Huss about Luther. Skyman wasn't sure if the alleged prophecy dated back to the time of Luther and back to Huss.

    Apparently, and according to the following book (written 1832), Luther was aware of the prophecy and applied it to himself..

    Here's a variation of the prophecy:

    "This day you roast a goose ("Huss" means "Goose" in the Bohemian language); but an hundred years hence you shall hear a swan sing ("Luther" means "swan" in German), that you shall not roast."

    Here's a quote of what appears to be Luther's applying it to himself...

    "In God's name and calling, I will tread upon the lion and adder, and trample the young lion and dragon under foot. This shall commence during my life, and be accomplished after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me, writing out of prison to Bohemia: 'Now shall they roast a good' (for Huss means a goose), 'but an hundred years hence shall they hear a swan sing, that they shall be forced to endure.' So must it be, God willing."

    Here are links to the book titled:
    The Suppressed Evidence:
    Or, Proofs of the Miraculous Faith and Experience of the Church of Christ In All Ages

    It contains interesting footnotes
    see pages 72-75


    Also, I wonder if there's any truth to the following...

    "The evening before October 31, 1517, the Elector Frederick of Saxony had a dream which was recorded by his brother, Duke John. The dream, in short, is about a monk who wrote on the church door of Wittenberg with a pen so large that it reached to Rome. The more those in authority tried to break the pen, the stronger it became. When asked how the pen got so strong, the monk replied "The pen belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old." The Elector was unsure exactly what the dream meant, but believed he had an interpretation which he thought may be accurate. The very morning he shared his dream, Martin Luther was posting his theses."

  7. Hi, Annoyed Pinoy,

    As I'm sure your also aware, the are also documented cases in which Spurgeon exhibited preternatural knowledge.

  8. *****
    The following are two passages about the noted Calvinist Baptist Preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. They are taken from two different books. One is a biography of Spurgeon written by a friend (which can be accessed at, and the other is from Spurgeon's own autobiography!!!!

    " A man was won for Christ because the preacher pointed to him and said, "There is a man sitting there who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays; it was open last Sabbath morning. He took ninepence and there was fourpence profit on it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence." The man was afraid to go and hear Spurgeon again for fear he might tell the people more about him, for what he said at first was all true. But at last he came, and the Lord met with him.
    One Sunday evening Mr. Spurgeon, pointing to the gallery, said, "Young man, the gloves you have in your pocket are not paid for." After the service a young fellow came beseeching him not to say anything more about it, and the circumstances led to his conversion. "

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon A Biography by W.Y. Fullerton chapter 13 A Chapter Of Incidents (a copy of this biography can be found at

    ***** *****
    " While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!" A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man, "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.'"

    Spurgeon then added this comment:

    I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did [Spurgeon is alluding to John 4:29 where Christ supernaturally knows the hidden secrets of "the woman at the well"]; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly." And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, "The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door."- "
    The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 2 (Curts & Jennings, 1899), 226-27 [as taken from the book The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms]

    ***** *****
    " ...Yea, the prophecies of private men, such as Agabus, and others, in the apostle's time, and in later ages, are not to be slighted; though instances of this kind are rare in our times, and things of this nature should not be precipitantly, and without care, given into: but rather prophesyings here intend the explanation of Scripture, and the preaching of the word... "John Gill Commentary (John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible) on 1 Thess. 5:20 [John Gill's excellent commentary can be accessed at]

    Apparently John Gill was not a strict cessationist, and believed that on rare occasions, the Holy Spirit can, in modern times, inspire prophetic utterances through Christians. Though, he makes it clear that such prophecies must be tested by the higher authority of inspired Scripture. This is made clear by his comments concerning the very next verse.

    "...try their gifts, and attend to their doctrines, yet do not implicitly believe everything they say, but examine them according to the word of God the test and standard of truth; search the Scriptures, whether the things they say are true or not. Not openly erroneous persons, and known heretics, are to be heard and attended on, but the ministers of the word, or such who are said to have a gift of prophesying; these should make use of it, and the church should try and judge their gift, and accordingly encourage or discourage; and also their doctrines, and if false reject them, and if true receive them. "

    The next quote might explain why John Gill was open to the possibility of modern prophetic utterances.

    ***** *****
    The following is an extract from a biography of the noted Baptist theologian John Gill. (A SUMMARY OF THE LIFE, WRITINGS, AND CHARACTER, OF THE LATE REVEREND AND LEARNED JOHN GILL, D. D.

    " He [John Gill's father Edward Gill] was even strongly persuaded, that this child would be a Minister of the word; and he always retained a firm belief of it, when things seemed to be unpromising. He had other impulses, relative to his son, and to other persons and things which had their exact accomplishment: and this must be acknowledged by all who knew him, that he was not a man of a fanciful and melancholy disposition, nor given to enthusiasm [the word "enthusiasm" back then referred to "super-spiritual" fanaticism/mysticism].

    The morning this first-born son of his was brought into the world, one Chambers, a Woodman, came to his house with a load of faggots for fuel ["faggots" back then meant "a bundle of sticks or twigs bound together as fuel"]: and, as he was unloading his faggots, Mr. GILL came out of his house to him, and, with a great deal of joy, told him, that he had a son born to him that morning. At that very moment, as the Woodman affirmed, a stranger passed by whom he never saw before, nor since, who added, "Yes, and he will be a Scholar too, and all the world cannot hinder it." This the Woodman, who was reckoned a man of sobriety, honesty, and veracity, constantly and confidently affirmed at different; times, without variation: and even years after when inquired of concerning it; nor could he have any sinister end to avail himself of, in contriving such a story, and persisting in it. However, Mr. GILL’S son, as soon as he was capable of instruction, discovered a very great aptitude for learning, and imbibed it in as fast as it could be given: so that he was quickly out of the reach, and in no need of a common teacher of children... "

    From this biographical account, a Christian apparently had either the gift of prophecy (or word of wisdom/word of knowledge), and prophesied correctly that the infant just born would grow up to be the brilliant theologian we know as John Gill. Either that, or the stranger was an angel who took the form of a human being to deliver such good news. This is suggested by the the statement "...a stranger passed by whom he never saw before, nor since..." It follows the pattern of other claimed modern angelic visitations, where the stranger who is suspected to be an angel is never seen of again. (For more modern examples of claimed angelic visitations from a Christian point of view see A Rustle of Angels by Marilynn Carlson Webber and William D. Webber. As well as, When Angels Appear by Hope MacDonald.)

  9. annoyed pinoy are a charismatic?

  10. LonelyBoy,

    Yes, I'm what some call "Reformed and Charismatic."

    However, being a Baptist theologically, some people would say I might be a Calvinist but definitely not "Reformed." (not holding to things like infant baptism etc). Also, while I have no problem with the term "charismatic", it can have a negative connotation for some people, so "continuationist" might be a better term. So, more precisely, and with less ambiguity, I'm "Calvinistic and Continuationist." (heh)

    Here's a link to an article I wrote years ago where I give quotes showing that charismatic-like manifestations have happened in the Church down through history. One can skip my introduction and go directly to the question. I haven't read my introduction in years and I suspect it's just too wordy.

    Btw, the quotes with a yellow background are not we well documented (if at all).

  11. "Since you’re not offering a direct counterargument, but resorting to diversionary tactics..."

    This is multiperspectivalism, right? If logic works, try that. If not, blow smoke. If that isn't enough, blast somebody's motives. You make me see Poythress in a whole new light!


    "This is multiperspectivalism, right? If logic works, try that. If not, blow smoke. If that isn't enough, blast somebody's motives. You make me see Poythress in a whole new light!"

    Thanks for never missing a chance to corroborate my charges. When I charge you with failing to provide counterarguments, you respond by failing to provide counterarguments.

    You've been bluffing your way through this debate for some time now.

  13. Samuel Rutherford has written,

    "[3.] There is a 3rd revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things to come even since the ceasing of the canon of the word, as John Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, have foretold things to come, and they certainly fell out. And in our nation of Scotland, Mr. George Wishart foretold that Cardinal Beaton should not come out alive at the gates of the Castle of St. Andrews, but that he should die a shameful death; and he [Beaton] was hanged over the window that he did look out at, when he saw the man of God [Wishart] burnt. Mr. Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange. Mr. John Davidson uttered prophesies, known to many of the kingdom, diverse holy and mortified preachers in England have done the like."