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A Puritan’s Perspective of Galatians 2:20

June 7, 2010

Introduction

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[1]

Galatians 2:20 is one of “those” verses, and the Puritans are some of “those” people.  They are both difficult to put in neat structured categories and tend to invoke interesting reactions.  Galatians 2:20 provides a concise, mysterious, and powerful picture of the Christian life incorporating within one small verse elements related to justification and the spiritual life that flows from one who has been reconciled with God in redemption.  The Puritans, on the other hand, were a group of religious non-conformists seeking to remove the lasting elements of Catholicism from the church.  As a group, they loosely began in the early to mid 1500’s and were, as a recognized group, essentially over by the late 1600’s.[2] As Lea aptly admits, “Just as it had a vague beginning it gently slides into obscurity.”[3]

In light of those observations, the purpose of this article will be to summarize and critique William Bridge’s (1600?-1671) perspective of Galatians 2:20[4] as presented in a series of five sermons preached over eight weeks in 1648.[5] Before beginning, a couple of qualifications need to be made.  Constructing someone’s exegetical thoughts from a sermon is generally a challenge.  This work proves to be no exception.  Since the Puritans were so keenly focused on application, care must be taken in this reconstruction, because their sermons are not intended to be read as exegetical commentaries.   Additionally, this article will seek to focus on those exegetical insights that are granted to the reader verses Bridge’s points of application.[6]

 

The article is by Adam McClendon, a Ph.D. student in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Click here to read his entire paper.


[1]The Holy Bible : English Standard Version.(Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Gal 2:20b.

While most English translations place “I have been crucified with Christ” at the beginning of verse twenty, most commentators place it at the end of verse nineteen.  Bridge alludes to the implications of the believers having been crucified in Christ throughout sermons one and two, specifically in his discussion related to justification.  Nevertheless, it seems that he understood this phrase to belong to verse nineteen which is why it is not formally mentioned in relationship to the text of 2:20.  As a result, “I have been crucified with Christ” is not included in this citation.  For discussion concerning whether it should be included with nineteen or twenty see Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 41 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990, 92).

[2]Both a concise definition concerning who the Puritans were and clear dates concerning when they may have begun or ended are beyond the scope of this paper.  Nonetheless, a few comments seem warranted here.  The beginnings and ending of Puritanism as well as what parameters define the category itself are difficult to determine.  They are a people passionate for purity in the Christian life who regularly demonstrated a heart devoted to God and his word.  For the Puritan, no authority equaled that of God’s, not the King’s and certainly not the Pope’s.

Two brief complications in providing a specific definition of the group will be mentioned.  First, one has to determine whether Puritanism should be seen foremost as a political, theological, or spiritual movement. (See Stephen J. Yuille, Puritan Spirituality: The Fear of God in the Affective Theology of George Swinnock [Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2007], 8-17.)  Certainly components of all three can be seen.  Second, the word “Puritan” was generally not self-descriptive but was used pejoratively similar to modern day terms such as “bigot, killjoy or extremist.” (John Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” in The Advent of Evangelicalism, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Steward [Nashville, TN: B&H Academics, 2008], 255.)  Puritans were in a variety of churches and many if not most of their leaders were pastors.  There were no “First Puritan Churches” or “Puritan meetings”; rather, the term described a group of people from a variety of backgrounds over an extended period of time who were functioning in various locations and vocations from Old to New England.

Concerning their dates, because of their separatist leanings and the persecution they endured, some might argue that the Puritans as a group ended in 1689 with the passage of the Act of Toleration; however, at minimum, it should be acknowledge that there were a variety of theological elements that brought cohesion to those who would be within this group that did not immediately dissipate with the passing of the Act of Toleration.  For a basic, but incomplete, list of some of those characteristics, see Kapic, Kelly M. and Randall C. Gleason, eds., The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23-32.

For more information concerning these and other difficulties see “Puritanism: The Problem of Definition” in Basil Hall, Humanists and Protestants 1500-1900 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 237-254; Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” 255-8; Kapic, The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, 16-8; Thomas D. Lea, “The Hermeneutics of the Puritans,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (1996): 271-2; Barrington R. White, Barrington, ed. The English Puritan Tradition (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), 12.

[3]Lea, “The Hermeneutics of the Puritans,” 272.

[4]For another extended treatment of this passage by a Puritan, see Richard Sibbes, “The Life of Faith,” and “Salvation Applied,” in Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, vol. 5 (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 357-408.

[5]See “Background” below for more detailed information concerning the sermons.

[6]One of the real treasures of Bridge’s sermons is his application.  While these are not examined in this article, here are a few specifically related to Christ in the believer.  1. Christ in us results in a deep satisfaction in life.  2. Christ in us results in an inseparable communion with Christ.  3. Christ in us results in a life that we proclaim to others.  4. Christ in us results in a forgiven and forgotten past.  5. Christ in us results in finding our identity in Christ.  6. Christ in us results in a “more blessed and glorious Communion with Christ than the other way.  For Union is the root of Communion…” (Bridge, 84.)  7. Christ in us results in the ability to “come with boldness unto the throne of grace, and with unlimited expectations of mercy from God…” (Ibid., 86.)  8. Christ in us results in the experience of “life, growth, and conviction” (Ibid., 15-20.)  9. Lastly, Christ in us results in the ability and responsibility to follow God’s law.

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