For those of you interested in the Reformed doctrine of the church (ecclesiology), I highly recommend Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God. Robinson was an “old school” Presbyterian pastor and professor in (West) Virginia and Kentucky in the mid-19th century. This book, The Church of God, is based on the inagural lectures he gave on the occasion of his newly accepted role as seminary professor of Danville Theological Seminary in 1857. The general premise of the book is that theology and ecclesiology are intimately related. In other words, in this book Robinson shows how Reformed and biblical theology works out into Reformed and biblical ecclesiology.
In roughly 100 pages, Robinson first explains how the doctrine of the church relates to the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), Calvinism (specifically election), and the gospel. This section reminded me of Geerhardus Vos’ emphasis on redemptive history. The second part of the book is basically a biblical description of the church with an emphasis on the covenants. I appreciated this section because he explained the organic, familial, and historical aspect of the church with an emphasis on the Abrahamic covenant. The third part of the book is where Robinson explains the spiritual aspect and government of the church. In a covenantal and redemptive historical way, this is where he explains the role of the teaching elder, ruling elder, and deaconate. The last part of the book has to do with worship and the sacraments. Here Robinson touches upon the regulative principle of worship along with the meaning and significance of the two Christian sacraments.
One quote worth noting here is Robinson’s affirmation of a two-kingdoms distinction as well as an explanation of natural law. I’ve edited it very slightly to make it easier to read.
“Touching the distinction between the ecclesiastical power and the civil power – which latter is ordained by God also – the points of contrast are so numerous and so fundamental…. For they have nothing in common except that both powers are of divine authority, both concern the race of mankind, and both were instituted for the glory of God as a final end. In respect to all else – their origin, nature and immediate end, and in their mode of exercising the power – they differ fundamentally.”
“Thus they differ in that the civil power derives its authority from God as the Author of nature, whilst the ecclesiastical power comes alone from Jesus as Mediator.”
“[Thus they differ] in that the rule for the guidance of the civil power in its exercise is the light of nature and reason, the law which the author of nature reveals through reason to man; but the rule for the guidance of ecclesiastical power in its exercise is that light which, as Prophet of the Church, Jesus Christ has revealed in his word.”
Robinson goes on to explain a few other differences between the church and magistrate, namely that the church has to do with spiritual and religious matters while the state deals with political matters (and not vice-versa). He also mentions a few other differences like discipline methods and leadership. Robinson also strongly speaks against a confusion of church and magistrate; he said a confusion is “dangerous and corrupting.” In fact, by blending the two what often happens is that “the Church of the Martyrs” becomes “the Church of the Moderates.”
This contribution by Robinson around 150 years ago is a pretty significant discussion about the intersection of Reformed theology and ecclesiology. Robinson shows well how the two go hand in hand. Though the language is a little archaic, our readers who have an interest in this topic will be able to profit from it quite a bit. It isn’t overly lengthy (though there are 100 more pages of various appendices) and therefore not overwhelming to make it to the end. Get this one, read it, and use it in the future when you study the Reformed doctrine of the church as it relates to the covenants, election, and the gospel.
The above quotes are found on pages 65-67 and 96 of Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God: An Essential Element of the Gospel.