Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stephen Charnock (1628-1680): An Introduction

The Puritan Stephen Charnock was born in 1628 in St. Katherine Cree, London. He was the son of Richard Charnock, who was a solictor (attorney) in London. 

At the age of 14 he attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a Puritan stronghold, under the tutelage of William Sancroft, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is likely where Charnock was converted in two different ways - first to the cause of Christ as he received God's grace - and secondly to the Puritan cause. 

He received his degree, the bachelor of arts, in 1646, and began ministering in Southwark, London and serving as chaplain to a private family. This was right around the beginning of the English Civil War. 

In 1649, we was made a Fellow of New College, Oxford by the Parliamentary Visitors where he was to receive his Master of Arts degree in 1652. By 1652, he was made Senior Proctor of the University, a post he held until 1656, when he left for Ireland with Richard Cromwell, the Lord Protector Oliver's brother, who was the governor of Ireland. He served as Richard's chaplain and preached regularly. His preaching made a profound impact there. While there, he received the honorary degree of Bachelor in Divinity, a gift of Trinity College, Dublin.

Charlock returned to London in 1660, an inauspicious moment when at the restoration of Charles, he lost his post in Ireland and because of the Great Ejection and the draconian legislation that made up the Clarendon Code, was not able to man a ministry post in England. He was ejected from the Established Church in 1662, under the terms of the Act of Uniformity. In 1666, Charnock lost his personal library in the great fire of London. He continued his ministry in secret as a non-conformist, visiting the Reformed centers in Holland and France. He continued to study and write. His life was noted for its piety, scholarship, and extraordinary command of the languages of the Bible.

In 1675, when restrictions began to be relaxed against the non-conformists, Charnock took up a co-pastorate with the great Puritan Thomas Watson at the congregation at Crosby Hall, Bishopgate Street, London. He remained there until his death in 1680 at the age of 52. The presence of these two great Puritan voices at Crosby Hall made it a significant bastion of Puritan non-conformism while their ministry continued there.

It was Charnock's intention during the years spent at Crosby Hall that he would complete a "body of divinity" - what we would now call a systematic theology. His most famous work, The Existence and Attributes of God, were originally delivered as fourteen discourses to his congregation. These discourses, now assembled and published in his Existence and Attributes book, were the limit of his work on the body of divinity. Nonetheless, the represent the high point and classic Reformed treatment of the doctrine of God. The Discourses is marked by profound thought, and humble adoration of God.

The only work that Charnock published during his lifetime was the sermon "The Sinfulness and Cure of Evil Thoughts." After his death, his Oxford friends Richard Adams and Edward Veal, prepared Charnockx' paper and manuscripts for publication. The complete works of Charnock are available today in a five volume set of his complete works available from Banner of Truth.

Also, do not miss the interesting account of Charnock’s life and character by William Symington available to be read freely online at the Banner of Truth Trust.

The contents of his complete works in the five-volume set are as follows:

VOLUME ONE contains a helpful introduction to Charnock’s life and work by James McCosh, and the first eight discourses on The Existence and Attributes of God, opening with ‘A Discourse of Divine Providence,’ based on 2 Chronicles 16:9. In this Charnock sets forth the doctrine of providence with great clarity, and then applies it to instruct, comfort, and exhort the people of God.

VOLUME TWO continues and concludes Charnock’s magnum opus, ‘A Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God’ with the remaining six discourses. Topics include: the existence of God; practical atheism; God’s being a Spirit; spiritual worship; the eternity of God; his immutability; his omnipresence; his knowledge; his wisdom; his power; his holiness; his goodness; his dominion; and his patience. Each discourse first expounds, then applies, the text of Scripture on which it is based.

VOLUME THREE concerns the work of regeneration, by which spiritually dead sinners are raised to new life in Christ. It is perhaps surprising that present-day Christians seem so often to be confused about what it means to be born again. Whatever the reasons for this confusion, the fault cannot be laid at the door of previous generations of preachers and writers, particularly Puritans like Charnock, who took immense pains to search into and explain the doctrine from Scripture.

VOLUME FOUR contains fifteen further discourses of primary importance to Christians in every age. The first six discourses – all on texts from the Gospel of John – focus on the knowledge of God in Christ as the only way to eternal life and happiness, showing that true and saving knowledge of God is only in and by Christ, that conviction of sin by the Spirit of God is the way to this knowledge, and that to remain in unbelief is to remain in misery under the wrath of God. The Lord’s Supper and related matters form the subject of a second group of discourses.

VOLUME FIVE contains a further nineteen discourses. By way of contrast with the earlier volumes – most of which are based on texts from the New Testament – five of the discourses here draw on texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. Many of the topics addressed are of perennial interest to all Christians: the necessity of Christ’s death, and the necessity of his exaltation; Christ’s intercession; God in Christ as the object of faith; afflictions; mortification; the stability of the church; delight in prayer; the sins of the regenerate; man’s enmity to God; and the pardon of sin.

For further reading:

The wonderful work Meet the Puritans edited by Beeke and Pedersen recommends the reader to pursue the following significant works by Charnock:

Christ Crucified: A Puritan’s View of Atonement (CFP; 207 pages; 1996). Edited and introduced by Maurice Roberts, this edition is easier to read than the original work. Linking the Old and New Testaments, Charnock explains how Christ’s sacrifice fulfills the Old Testament requirements. He particularly illustrates the importance of the Passover and shows how Christ is the Passover for believers. These sermons focus on the Lord’s Supper (its end, subjects, unworthy receiving, and self-examination) and Christ’s death (its voluntariness, acceptableness, and necessity).

Divine Providence (IO; 150 pages; 2005). Based on 2 Chronicles 16:9, Charnock explains God’s providence with depth of insight, and presents its various uses with pastoral and experiential care. This is a standard Puritan treatment of providence, second only to that of John Flavel’s Mystery of Providence. This present reprint is taken from the 1864 James Nichol edition of Charnock’s Complete Works.

The Doctrine of Regeneration (GM; 306 pages; 2000). This treatise proceeds from the necessity of regeneration to its nature, its author (God as the sufficient author and sole agent), and its instrument, the gospel. Charnock closes the book with these words: “Before you wait upon God in any ordinance, plead with him as Moses did in another case, to what purpose should I go, unless thy presence go with me?”

The Existence and Attributes of God (Baker; 1,149 pages; 2000). Originally a private journal, this voluminous and magisterial work was first published in 1681–1682 as volume 1 and 2 of his works in the Nichol series (without Charnock’s essay on providence). It is a treasure of sound theology, profound thinking, and humble adoration of God. The following discourses are included: the existence of God, practical atheism, God as Spirit, spiritual worship, the eternity of God, the immutability of God, God’s omnipresence, God’s knowledge, the wisdom of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, the goodness of God, God’s dominion, and God’s patience.

J. I. Packer writes of this classic, “The discourses are the product of a big, strong, deep, reverent mind; they are in every way worthy of their sublime subject and are one of the noblest productions of the Puritan epoch. Charnock displays God’s attributes as qualities observable in the concrete actions of the living God of which the Bible speaks. The technical terms, and sometimes, arguments of scholastic theology are employed, but always with a biblical orientation. Charnock has no desire to speculate but only to declare the works and ways, the nature and character, of the God of the Bible” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, 2:411).

This is the work on the character and attributes of God. It should be read by every serious Christian. The twelfth discourse on the goodness of God, covering nearly 150 pages, is unsurpassed in all of English literature.

This edition is prefaced with an interesting account of Charnock’s life and character by William Symington. Charnock spent the last three years of his life writing his magnum opus. Apparently, he intended to preach an entire “body of divinity” but he came no further than the attributes of God before being translated to glory at the age of fifty-two.

The Knowledge of God (BTT; 604 pages; 1995). This fourth volume of Charnock’s works contains the following discourses: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of God in Christ, conviction of sin, unbelief, the misery of unbelievers, signs of unbelievers, the end of the Lord’s Supper, the subjects of the Lord’s Supper, unworthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper, self-examination, the knowledge of Christ crucified, Christ our Passover, the voluntary death of Christ, the acceptableness of Christ’s death, and obedience. This volume is weighty and a bit tedious, yet is eminently scriptural and experiential.

The New Birth (BTT; 544 pages; 1996). Originally the third volume of Charnock’s works, this collection contains discourses on regeneration, the Word as instrument of regeneration, God as author of regeneration, and the cleansing virtue of Christ’s blood. Though repetitive, this volume provides a first-rate exposition of one of Christianity’s most fundamental doctrines.

Truth and Life (BTT; 592 pages; 1997). This fifth and concluding volume of Charnock’s works contains discourses on the necessity of Christ’s death, Christ’s exaltation, Christ’s intercession, the object of faith, afflictions, the removal of the gospel, mercy received, mortification, proving weak grace victorious, the sinfulness and cure of thoughts, the church’s stability, the fifth of November (an anniversary of English deliverance), delight in prayer, mourning for other men’s sins, comfort for child-bearing women, the sins of the regenerate, the pardon of sin, man’s enmity to God, and chief sinners as the objects of God’s choicest mercy. Also included is an index to Charnock’s works in the Nichol series.