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By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
November 13, 2021

The witnesses to sovereign grace within the Church of England throughout the generations are legion. The army of Augustinian warriors for the triumph of the gospel is renowned for its many champions who have wielded the sword of truth valiantly, and planted the banner of victory firmly in the paces where they have fought so tirelessly and triumphantly in their time.

Citations of the eminent names inscribed upon the heroic rolls of our history of testimony to the divine salvation, wrought for mankind, occur frequently, and many of these testifiers become relatively familiar to the adherents of our Communion through festivals of remembrance, occasional popular biographies, and brief sketches of their exploits. But there are numerous omissions from the ranks of honor that are not normally recognized as our allies in the cause that evangelicals so keenly espouse.

Somehow these advocates of the pure gospel of God are overlooked and other camps within the borders of our Communion associate with them, regarding them as normally or nearly their own by a common conviction, unaware of their deep attachment to tendencies of theological thought that do not chime with the major emphases that characterize the particular movement with which these mistaken supporters happen to identify. This is not so much a matter of "partisan possession" (all Christians may legitimately appreciate any person who is deemed a sincere servant of God), but it is to truncate the stature of certain worthy individuals who are seen to be beyond easy or clear category, particularly in any narrow sense of churchmanship.

Lovers of the Gospel of grace alone, need to know that resources of faith are available to them
in corners they may have not yet investigated, and that these rare exponents of the precious gospel often bring nuances to our understanding that are delightfully enriching. They relieve us of inevitable cliches that can sadly sometimes cause our discourse to become a little arid and predictable. It is possible to re-conceptualize eternal truth with refreshened expression - hence the value of worthy hymnody, religious poetry, and lively, analogical, affective imagery in our prose.

Theology is not a chessboard upon which players seek to trump each other for personal gratification, but a wide range of adventurous exploration and enquiry wherein to discover, through the guidance of Word and Spirit, the gems and nuggets of divine wisdom, the beauties of salvation, and the accumulative force of artfully connected divine truth.

Sometimes the sensitivities and sensibilities of "surprising folk" can open up vistas of comprehension that enlarge the confined appreciation of our "home nurture" and enculturation as believers from our conditioned backgrounds (which always harbor limitations). Scripture contains its facticity and its poesy, both the chronologist and its Isaiah. With one we are accurately informed, with the other we take to wings of wonder at the marvels of God's mind and his dear ways above and among us.

Those allies of our cause that follow below enable us to notice yet more stalwarts of our Reformational faith whether, in one case, they preceded the great liberating event of the 16th century, or loyally adhered to it after its establishment.

John Colet and John Donne

John Colet (c1466-1519) is one of the remarkable men of his era. Personable and a man of true piety, Colet was a figure of liberal financial generosity due to his inherited prosperity (his father was lord mayor of London), and he shone with popularity among the courtiers and members of high society of his day. King Henry on one occasion declared him his most trusted source of wise counsel, who even prevailed in powers of persuasion that altered the mind of the monarch in proposing a policy of war at an inopportune time. Colet was a brilliant academic, educated at Oxford, friend of Erasmus, and like his great colleague a competent translator of the New Testament. Colet ministered as dean of St. Paul's from 1505 until his death.

Theologically, his great moment was in 1497 when, returning to Oxford, he delivered his expositions of the letters of St. Paul. In these lectures he presaged the theology of Martin Luther who was fourteen years of age at the time. Most historians belittle this foreshadowing of Luther's doctrinal revolution because of Colet's limited appeal (campaign) for radical reconstruction of theology in the Catholic Church. Yet he critiqued many of the abuses maintained within the church and was often gently suspected of heresy. The fact is that he was a man of the Renaissance, a movement which gave scope for the Reformation and its free enquiry, a man honest in his interpretation of Scripture, and as all Catholicism is meant be, a follower, by force of orthodoxy, of the teaching of Augustine on Grace.

Justification: Wherefore St. Paul concludes that being justified by faith, and trusting in God alone, men are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and restored to grace, that they may stand before God, and themselves remain sons of God, and look for the certain glory of the sons of God.

He of His grace imparts himself to those who believe and trust in Him, who have also been taken and drawn away by Him from unbelief, that they may trust in him alone, and believe that by no other means whatever can they be justified than by divine grace.

So also at this time, he who trusts in God, believing that he has both the power and the will, and that his dealings with his Son have been such as they have been (namely, that he was both incarnate, and died, and was raised again, for the redemption of the human race and its reconciliation to God): -- he, I say, who firmly believes and constantly keeps this mystery and sacrament, has therein enough for his justification and salvation. Exposition of Romans pp 8-9.

By "mystery and sacrament" Colet alludes to the historical and actual wonder and sign of Christ's atoning work.

Free Will, Grace, and Election: Now if there was such a force in sin, and that too the sin of one man, for destruction, then ought there to be a much greater force and power in grace, for quickening men, and restoring them to an entire and sure salvation. And that this is so, one may discern even from hence; namely that, whatever grew from one sin, for destruction (and there did grow sin manifold and infinite) when the tale thereof was all made up, and the virulence of the disease, as it were, at fever height, then at the same time all-powerful grace, by its prevailing and marvelous force, dispelled it, and destroyed all the sin. For it was mightier to take away the evil when completed, than [the evil was] to begin. Thus it happens that men being laid hold of by the love and grace of God, and drawn to God, will, if they have hope, be more firmly and strongly sustained and preserved unto life by that same prevailing grace, than they had been thrust down and kept under sin unto death. Sin is indeed a violent and aggressive thing; but the glorious power of sweet and pleasant grace, that works softly and marvelously, and with a sweet and wonderful effect, nothing can resist. Wherefore we must believe that grace, which reconciles to God, has far more power in the world than sin, which estranges from God. And hence that the righteousness and obedience of Christ has far more power to recall to God men who are to be recalled, than the sin and disobedience of Adam had call them away from God.

But because men of themselves, such was their own weakness without grace, were unable to do otherwise than sin. And so, as sin grew and gathered strength. It was needful, for the healing of mankind, that saving grace should then much more increase and abound; that men, being justified by it, might be able through Jesus Christ to attain eternal life.

And they who are loved and inspired by God are called, to the end that having received love, they should in turn love God that loves them, and should long for, and await him in love. This awaiting and this hope come of love. Our love towards him is in truth because he first loved us. As St. John writes in his Second Epistle: Not that we first loved God, but that he loved us, even though worthy of no love, as being ungodly and unjust, rightly destined to everlasting destruction. But certain ones, whom he knew and whom he would, did God love; by loving, called; by calling, justified; by justifying, glorified.

This gracious love in God, and charity towards men, is itself their calling and justification and glorifying; nor do we mean anything else by so many terms than one thing, namely God's love towards those whom it is his will to love. In like manner, when we say that by grace men are drawn, are called, are justified, are glorified; we signify nothing else than that men return the love of a loving God.

For even Abraham and Israel themselves could not demand anything as of their own right; but, if they sought to be counted among the sons of God, they must look for that from the divine election. In this the purpose of God cannot be baffled. For what he has determined and promised in the future, depends not on the wills of men, but on his own power and choice. This is what St. Paul teaches the Jews, when he says that not all the seed of Abraham are children of Abraham, nor all Israelites, who are born of Israel. But they who are so, are the promised and chosen by God's free will; even as Isaac and Jacob were, whilst Ismael and Esau were disowned and rejected . . . These are they who have attained to the faith of Abraham, that were so acceptable to God, and to the vision of Israel. These again are they whom God himself has decreed to be faithful and believing, that is seeing. These in sooth are the true children of Abraham; and, because elected to the faith of Abraham, children of God, and truly Israelites, because through faith they see God. These lastly, are they whom God has promised and purposed and predestined to be children of Abraham, that is, representers of the faith of Abraham; and Israelites, that is seers of God. These are called children of the promise and election of God; being verily born, nay rather re-born, of the promised seed, even Jesus Christ, of whom the Isaac of promise was a type.

Wherefore let everyone consider, who is pondering in a purblind way on the divine and arbitrary election of men to heavenly life, -- let such consider, I say, in the first place, how great is the sublimity and loftiness of the divine majesty, and how it surpasses by the vastest possible interval not only weak men but the most exalted angels; so that not even the highest spirits of all know all things that are of God, who dwelleth, as St. Paul elsewhere says, in the light which no man can approach unto.

Colet responds to the divine election in the only way a regenerate person can possibly do; with humility on our part before the wisdom and power of the divine counsels. Exposition of Romans.

JOHN DONNE (1573-1631)

John Donne is far more familiar to most folk than his predecessor at St. Paul's John Colet. His fame extends from his great metaphysical poetic compositions, his many preserved sermons as Dean of the City Cathedral, and his writings in flowing prose. Even so, many biographers, both Christian and secular, fail to accurately describe his theology as decidedly Reformational.

Perhaps John Carey gives us the fairest, most reliable and insightful account of the fascinating life of the man deemed to be the "second Augustine" (Isaak Walton), and he reviews the verse, prose and sermonic output of Donne with immense attractiveness and authority. (John Donne: Life, Mind &Art, Faber, London,1981)

"The aim is to lay bare the shaping principles of Donne's imagination and to show these operating as decisively in his choice of theological doctrines as in his exploration of the psychology of love in the 'Songs and Sonnets' (flyleaf). Donne's foundational principle as to the Creator [who is also our wondrous Redeemer] was God's, "mind-obliterating supremacy." Carey does not approve the Dean's theology, but he is honest enough to acknowledge its moderate Calvinistic character. "Donne, like most of his countrymen, believed that God, before he made the world or any souls to put in it, chose some souls for salvation . . . 'God did elect mee, before he did actually create me,' as Donne explains. This was at 'the first judgment, before all times' when God separated 'those who were his, the elect'. The others were rejected out of hatred 'for their sins [and stubborn impenitence] which he foresaw'. Carey caricatures Donne's belief as to sovereign grace, criticizes it sharply in scalding tones, but at least details it, even if not sympathetically and certainly in a manner devoid of Scriptural understanding. "'We must abstaine', Donne instructs, 'from enquiring.' {see the sagacity of Article 17] 'the mysteries of Christianity 'are not to be chawed by reason, but to be swallowed by faith'" (pages 241-243).

It is estimated that John Donne referred to St. Augustine about seven hundred times in his available sermons. "It is overwhelmingly clear" notes William H. Halewood, "that St. Augustine is Donne's most heavily used nonscriptural source and that St. Paul is his favorite source in Scripture. This pattern of preference in authorities could probably be shown to be almost a standard Reformation pattern and reflects the characteristic Reformation intensity of interest in the great Pauline and Augustinian themes of man's sin, God's mercy, and the process by which mercy acts on sin." (The Poetry of Grace, the chapter The Tradition of Grace, p60, Yale 1970).

St. Augustine's soteriological theology derived from the apostle Paul was standard for John Donne. He is consistently aligned with the thought of the great church father and bishop of Hippo whose stamp is powerfully present in the age of the Reformation, which happened to be an event determined by the resurgence of the great man's compelling biblical thought. "Augustine mines Paul for quotations and devotes much energy to the explication of the Pauline text. Section 32 of the Enchiridion, for example, is in toto a glossing of Romans 9:16, 'So then it is not of him who willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.' The 'true interpretation' of Paul here, according to Augustine, is that every step of the process of man's salvation is taken by God -- 'the whole work belongs to God, who both makes the will of man righteous, and thus prepares it for assistance, and assists it when it is prepared'" (Halewood p38). Incidentally, it was Romans 9:16 that brought Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine (1290-1349) to his fully Augustinian position. "Augustine was, of course, immediately accessible to seventeenth-century religious poets, and the age knew him intimately. He 'fills the whole century,' as a modern student (Henri Marrou) has written of his influence in France'" (Halewood p45).

Hale continues in his outline of Donne's theological drift, "When Donne is not fending off the Puritans, his differences from them on the matter of grace [their too familiar way with mysteries, he alleges in active controversy] seem slight enough . . . he allows 'infallibility' and seems to mean nothing different by it (i.e. irresistibility): grace can deal definitively with the most resistant will, as in the case of the thief crucified with Christ, whose conversion illustrates 'the infallibility, and the dispatch of the grace of God upon them, whom his gracious purpose hath ordained to salvation: how powerfully he works; how instantly they obey' (Sermons, 1:254).

Without such Grace and such succession of Grace, our Will is so far unable to pre-dispose itself to any good, as that we have no interest in ourselves, no power to do anything of, or with our selves, but to our destruction. Miserable man! A toad is a bag of poison, and a spider is a blister of poison, and yet a toad and a spider cannot poison themselves; Man has a dram of poison, original sin in an invisible corner, we know not where, and he cannot choose but poison himself and all his actions with that; we are so far from being able to begin without Grace, as then when we have the first Grace, we cannot proceed to the use of that without more. [Sermons, 1:293]

Halewood comments, "He is as precise as Taylor in his use of the nomenclature of Reformation theology. The grace which provokes the faith which leads to justification is preventing or prevenient: 'no man can begin it, no man can proceed in it of himself. The desire and the actual beginning is from the preventing grace of God'" (Sermons, 2:305). Halewood p63.

Of John Donne and the Synod of Dort, Jeanne Shami writes: "I will argue that the doctrinal positions Donne articulates for the Church of England in these sermons are very similar to those of the English delegates to the Synod of Dort (1618-19) . . . he does so on the model of 'blessed sobriety' offered by the English delegates to Dort . . . he understood the need for 'sobriety', a quality he attributed to Dort for its way of handling dispute , , , In commenting on the dangers of internal religious division, Donne's sermon preached April18, 1626, asks it hearers to contrast the 'blessed sobriety' (7:127) with which doctrines were delivered by the English delegates at the Synod of Dort with the continuous wrangling of the Council of Trent . . . Donne is equally critical of the pope's refusal to determine the 'the concurrence the grace of God, and the free will of man' (7:125) . . . By contrast with the absolutism of the pope and this council, Donne offers the example of the English divines at Dort who modified the narrow views of those 'over-good husbands of God's large and bountiful Grace (7:136) the Gomarus Calvinists, with their sentence 'that all men are truly, and in earnest called to eternal life, by God's Minister (7:127)' . . . the Dort decrees are characterized as the product of sober and painstaking deliberations, the kind of deliberation vetoed by the prerogative of the pope at Trent . . . Peter McCullough has argued that Donne was doctrinally an Arminian while rejecting political association with them. However Donne's public statements on these doctrinal issues suggest that Donne, like the English delegates to Dort, was working with 'blessed sobriety' to temper the practical issues of predestination ( a doctrine he accepts) and to articulate for the Church of England a place on the spectrum between those who limit God's scriptural offers of grace unnecessarily and those who exaggerate human free will. ( Brief and scattered summary of "Speaking Openly and Speaking First, John Donne, the Synod of Dort, and the Early Stuart Church", John Donne and the Protestant Reformation. edited by Mary Arshagouni Papazian, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2003 pp 35-65).

It is very clear as to where two of our strong allies stand, thus far, in our survey of allegiance to the Doctrines of Grace. Augustinianism matters to the Ecclesia Anglicana, and it defines the character of our 16th century constitution. The question is how much the articulation of the doctrine of Electing Love matters to us and as to whether we can keep pace with our allies. Doctrine is very shallow and lamentably weak in all the expressions of Anglicanism in our time. Which affiliation truly measures up to the forthright and sober standards of Colet and Donne, two major representatives of our historic Communion to whom we could well pay heed?

We simply skirt around the great issues of our faith and that is very sad.


Part Two: Poets Corner. George Herbert et al.
Part Three: The Case of Richard Hooker.

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