Samuel Rutherford and the prophecies of the Reformers

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
If Rutherford were writing this today maybe he’d choose not to use the word “prophecy” in relation to things the reformers said, since the concept has become so abused. I remembered an old thread where this was talked about (you participated there Daniel but it was a long time ago); I thought Rev Winzer had some good points. He (and Chris made the same statement) said that the subject is ”best discussed under extraordinary providence, or perhaps, because that phrase is usually associated with miracles, it would be best to call it unusual providence.“ He also noted a quotation from Robert Blair concerning times of suffering, “which are times when the Lord will often undertake for His people in unusual ways.”

Jeri, I think those observations are useful (though I would question the claim about the immediate witness of the Spirit); do you have a link to the specific thread? In the section cited in the OP, Samuel Rutherford is very clear in distinguishing between the prophecies of the Reformers and immediately inspired prophecies. Consequently, these prophecies could not have been the product of immediate inspiration. The prophecies that Rutherford has in mind, which Perg cites in his post, seem to have been accurate predictions.

We could argue that these "prophets" were providentially guided to make accurate predictions, but were not immediately inspired to make infallible predictions. If their predictions had turned out to be mistaken, they would not have been false prophets; instead, they would simply have made predictions that turned out to be wrong.

Perhaps the best conclusion we can reach is to argue that Rutherford uses the word prophecy in an improper or looser sense than we normally employ the term in theological discourse. And let us not forget, we often use terms like "prophet" or "prophesy" rather loosely ourselves, such as someone's insight into a particular matter was "prophetic." We can recognise that they had remarkably accurate insight into future probable future events without concluding that they were immediately inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce an infallible prophecy.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
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eri, I think those observations are useful (though I would question the claim about the immediate witness of the Spirit); do you have a link to the specific thread? In the section cited in the OP, Samuel Rutherford is very clear in distinguishing between the prophecies of the Reformers and immediately inspired prophecies. Consequently, these prophecies could not have been the product of immediate inspiration.
That thread is here.

And right, the case was being made that Rutherford did not believe the Spirit any longer immediately inspires prophecies or immediately witnesses truth to the heart of the elect.

Later in the thread Rev Winzer says that what was going on with these men in their sometimes speaking so presciently was a case of the “general principles of the Word illuminating men who were wise observers of providence, zealous promoters of the cause of Christ, valiant in spiritual warfare, and fervent prayers in the Spirit. If a man has prayed importunately until he has received an assurance that God is going to answer his request, he will know something of the secret of the Lord.”
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Later in the thread Rev Winzer says that what was going on with these men in their sometimes speaking so presciently was a case of the “general principles of the Word illuminating men who were wise observers of providence, zealous promoters of the cause of Christ, valiant in spiritual warfare, and fervent prayers in the Spirit. If a man has prayed importunately until he has received an assurance that God is going to answer his request, he will know something of the secret of the Lord.”

That is an extremely ad hoc definition. I almost agree with it, but he is qualifying it so much to deny any possibility of communication from God. If that's what prophecy means or entails, then most of the church age has been one of continuing prophecy.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Found it. I remembered the Baby Warfield comment and that's what it took to find it. MW's position is basically Blair's cited above and also in at the link. It is not in the paper I don't think but like the account the RPCNA minister gave of washing dishes and suddenly knowing a fellow elder had died, in the mid or late 1960s, there was a gas station attendant, a WW2 vet, where my dad would take by twin brother and I to get ice cream (my first experience with soft serve I think) and cheap gas, who also was a twin, who said he knew the instant when his brother was killed. That is not prophecy so much as maybe there are some linkages between folks who are very close that they some how know these things. Not sure how common it is. I add it as simply a second account of the kind of thing the RPCNA minster gave.
https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/517/page-3#post-83857
Durham and Gillespie had statements on this as well. I thought my paper from years ago was posted on PB but I cannot find it. I will see if I can upload.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I make predictions all the time and a lot of them are accurate. Some of them are based on general scientific laws. Others are based on knowledge of character and personality. Others occur when playing chess or some other such game. Since all knowledge is a revelation from God, I could make claims to divine revelation: mediate revelation, mediated by the things that are made and the moral and physical laws God governs the world by.

I'm not going to call myself a prophet just because I can make observations and (fallibly) predict based on general principles (combined sometimes with intuition) in the world.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Come to think of it, I've actually recently had one of these sort of experiences of making a true prediction (of a nature that is most directly based in theology) about a specific event. It is most fascinating to me because I was more aware of the different theological interpretations that could be put to the mechanism (before I was a cessationist, I would have had no other framework than "God told me" and likely would have interpreted my experience accordingly and thereby missed/would not have paid attention to certain facts within that experience), so I could put them to the test.

In this event, I had a sudden flash of insight into the theological interpretation of a particular providence in my life that then allowed me to conclude that a specific thing was going to happen.

Tracing the source of the insight, I have no reason to believe anything more happened than a combining of 1) an application of the general principles of the Word that show how God generally works, 2) an understanding of the way God has generally dealt with me in my life, and 3) connecting these two things together in my mind and seeing their application to my particular situation. Though I prayed earnestly for the event to not happen, nevertheless, it fell out the next week (as predicted).
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
That is an extremely ad hoc definition. I almost agree with it, but he is qualifying it so much to deny any possibility of communication from God. If that's what prophecy means or entails, then most of the church age has been one of continuing prophecy.
Jacob, it’s only fair to say that your saying it is ad hoc is your opinion, and an assertion.

A clarifying question: By “communication from God” do you mean immediate communication/inspiration?

Rev Winzer’s thoughts on this are to me a well-thought-out solution that speaks to the sovereignty of God in bringing about these unusual providences of foresight on the part of those in extraordinary times; for the encouragement and benefit of the church, and the rebuke of the wicked and proud. Yet also preserves Reformed doctrine concerning the Spirit’s work of immediate inspiration in the church having been finished.
 

Jeri Tanner

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That is not prophecy so much as maybe there are some linkages between folks who are very close that they some how know these things. Not sure how common it is. I add it as simply a second account of the kind of thing the RPCNA minster gave.
I do believe there are many things about the soul and the mind of man that are very wonderful, and there’s no accounting for them in only a materialistic way.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Jacob, it’s only fair to say that your saying it is ad hoc is your opinion, and an assertion.

ad hoc = refining your definition in light of the problem in such a way to make an original statement void.
A clarifying question: By “communication from God” do you mean immediate communication/inspiration?

Fair enough, as not all communication is propositional. Inspiration hinges on different nuances. Were Phillip's daughters inspired? Yes, but not like Scripture. As to immediate communication, I don't think that is always the case. If God chooses to speak by a sign, then the sign is a medium and hence, not immediate.
Yet also preserves Reformed doctrine concerning the Spirit’s work of immediate inspiration in the church having been finished.

If by "immediate inspiration" you mean what Scripture is, then I agree. So do Grudem, Keener, Storms, and Michael brown.
 

Jeri Tanner

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ad hoc = refining your definition in light of the problem in such a way to make an original statement void.
I don’t think MW made Rutherford’s original statement void. Rutherford was careful to show that those men didn’t expect their words to carry any authority and that people didn’t sin if they disbelieved them (meaning those men didn’t believe they were receiving immediately inspired communication). As I understand it Rutherford didn’t expound anywhere so as to shed more light on what he thought was happening when these men spoke presciently. So MW’s thoughts are an attempt to put into words, in light of their own and Rutherford’s words, what was happening when those men spoke as they did. MW doesn’t deny that the Spirit was at work in this; but how to talk about that. Everyone is free to come up with their own thoughts on how to put into words was happening but thoughts will vary widely of course depending on one’s views on continuationism.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Rutherford was careful to show that those men didn’t expect their words to carry any authority and that people didn’t sin if they disbelieved them (meaning those men didn’t believe they were receiving immediately inspired communication).

That is word for word what Charismatics like Grudem and Michael Brown say. If that is what Rutherford means, then I am with him.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Rutherford was careful to show that those men didn’t expect their words to carry any authority and that people didn’t sin if they disbelieved them (meaning those men didn’t believe they were receiving immediately inspired communication).

That is word for word what Charismatics like Grudem and Michael Brown say. If that is what Rutherford means, then I am with him.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
That is word for word what Charismatics like Grudem and Michael Brown say. If that is what Rutherford means, then I am with him.
Rutherford is commenting on a different situation; not the ordinary, regulated prophesying of public worship (1 Corinthians 14), and not the sort of thing Grudem talks about re listening for God’s leading/voice inwardly.

Rutherford is talking about an “unusual providence” in that unique time of reformation, and to quote Robert Blair again, “which are times when the Lord will often undertake for His people in unusual ways.”
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Rutherford is commenting on a different situation; not the ordinary, regulated prophesying of public worship (1 Corinthians 14), and not the sort of thing Grudem talks about re listening for God’s leading/voice inwardly.

Rutherford is talking about an “unusual providence” in that unique time of reformation, and to quote Robert Blair again, “which are times when the Lord will often undertake for His people in unusual ways.”

I understand the difference, but Rutherford's position is light years from, say, Earl40 who doesn't believe this stuff happens anymore.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
I understand the difference, but Rutherford's position is light years from, say, Earl40 who doesn't believe this stuff happens anymore.
Well, I would let Earl speak for himself. I don’t think what Rutherford was talking about has happened since the time of the reformers.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Well, I would let Earl speak for himself. I don’t think what Rutherford was talking about has happened since the time of the reformers.

That's one way of looking at it, but an ultra-cessationist can point out that if you let the cat out of the bag for the Scots, there is no logical reason to stop it there
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I understand the difference, but Rutherford's position is light years from, say, Earl40 who doesn't believe this stuff happens anymore.

It comes down to if one speaks of the future. Is it based on immediate or mediate revelation from God? If immediate write it down as scripture. That is hardcore Ed. :)
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
That's one way of looking at it, but an ultra-cessationist can point out that if you let the cat out of the bag for the Scots, there is no logical reason to stop it there

If one reads hagiography, or believe many accounts of stories people tell today, one should believe in every account one reads or hears about.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
It comes down to if one speaks of the future. Is it based on immediate or mediate revelation from God? If immediate write it down as scripture. That is hardcore Ed. :)

That has nothing to do with "mediate" vs "immediate." Communication is always mediated. This is Philosophy of Language 101.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
That has nothing to do with "mediate" vs "immediate." Communication is always mediated. This is Philosophy of Language 101.

So you think God mediates to people like He did toward the Apostles, prophets in scripture, and Jesus?
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
That has nothing to do with "mediate" vs "immediate." Communication is always mediated. This is Philosophy of Language 101
The WCF speaks of the Scriptures being "immediately" inspired. It would be good to understand its terminology (which comes from Rutherford, it seems; Garrett Milne's book on Cessationism talks about this some too).
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
The WCF speaks of the Scriptures being "immediately" inspired. It would be good to understand its terminology (which comes from Rutherford, it seems; Garrett Milne's book on Cessationism talks about this some too).

I understand that. My point is that language is always a medium.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
So you think God mediates to people like He did toward the Apostles, profits in scripture, and Jesus?

That's not how "mediate"is being used. Language isn't immediate. God could put a thought in someone's head, but even that thought, if it is to be in any case, cognitive, is going to be through language. There is no Parminidean realm of pure presence.

Read Augustine on signs vs. things.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
That's not how "mediate"is being used. Language isn't immediate. God could put a thought in someone's head, but even that thought, if it is to be in any case, cognitive, is going to be through language. There is no Parminidean realm of pure presence.

Read Augustine on signs vs. things.

If God directly puts a thought in your head or however He did with the writers in scripture...write it down and pass it off as such.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
It comes down to if one speaks of the future. Is it based on immediate or mediate revelation from God? If immediate write it down as scripture. That is hardcore Ed. :)
Earl,
I'd be interested to know of any theologian who shares your view. To begin with, much Biblical prophecy has nothing to do with predicting the future. Moreover, Scripture itself talks about people "prophesying" whose words are not written down in its pages. For example, Numbers 11:25-26; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 14:1-3. None of that depends at all on your view of cessationism vs continuationism.
I've argued elsewhere (see the Festschrift for Vern Poythress) that everyone functionally operates with a broader and a narrower definition of prophecy: "Prophecy" (with a capital "P") which is "Thus says the Lord" standard revelation from God (which no theologian I know of identifies exactly with Scripture) and "prophecy" (small "p") which covers a wider range of Spirit-inspired phenomena. The difference lies in what they call the wider range (though William Perkins called his preaching textbook "The Art of Prophesying" and Dick Gaffin talks in Perspectives on Pentecost about the "prophethood of all believers"), which suggests that thoughtful cessationists are not quite as closed to the continuation of "prophecy" as you might think (I suspect Rev. Winzer's distinction is an attempt to address the same issue). The differences tend to lie in whether they think NT prophecy has a "P" or a "p" - and therefore whether "P/prophecy" continues. I've argued that (contra both Gaffin and Grudem) both kinds of prophecy exist in both Old and New Testaments; "Prophecy" has ceased, with the completion of the major events of redemptive history, but "prophecy" in the sense of the wider work of the Spirit continues. Having said that, it's probably better not to call such things "prophecy" but use more precise language like "extraordinary providence", because the average person in the street (like yourself) hears "prophecy" and immediately thinks "infallible prediction of the future".
 
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