The Puritan Exegesis Project: William Cowper on 2 Cor. 5:5

The old bishop of Galloway was highly commended by Spurgeon for his striking clarity and evangelical warmth. Cowper wasn’t exactly a ‘Puritan’ – he took an Episcopal bishopric after years of serving the Scottish Presbyterians. Nevertheless he maintained scripture priority over the sacrament and (expository) preaching as the means by which the Spirit normally conveys faith to believers. For Cowper, the Word, Promises, Sacraments, and Seals can make us no better in this life or the life to come except by receiving the earnest of the Spirit “into our hearts.”

A fine example of Cowper’s talent for doctrinal/practical exposition comes from his treatise: A Defiance to Death (4th ed. 1629). Defiance to death is for the most part a running commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, stopping at key words and phrases to illustrate the text with biblical and extra-biblical examples. The outset of Cowper’s argument is to address the fear of death and even find comfort in the conclusion that the life of faith finds death to be no more than “translation” and an exchange for the better (dissolution). The certainty of this is grounded in the Word, “And … we know it by the persuasion of faith, which is proper onely to Gods elect children effectually called.” This already sounds like a recipe for tensions and butting heads, so what’s the solution?

Writing on vs. 5, Who hath also given us the earnest of the Spirit , Cowper finds the substance of the Apostle’s certainty. No matter how little grace we receive, says Cowper, God shall increase it through the giving of the Spirit. From Eph. 1:13, Acts 8:27 and 10:1, the Sprit leads and directs the Church and her ministers by the grace of the Word:

“Thus we see, how God, who gives the grace, gives it by the ministry of the Word. God hath linked in one chaine all the meanes of salvation, and man should not presse to sunder them: they who call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved: but how shall thy call on him, who on whom they beleeve not? How shat they beleeve but by hearing? How shall they heare, but by preaching? & how shall men preach, except they be sent? I will not so be content with preaching, that I neglect praier, that I despise preaching: for he can never reciece grace from God, who despises the meanes by which it pleases God to give it.” (Cowper, 1629, p. 565)

2 Responses

  1. Great word. It’s so tempting to forget the means that God has given to receive his grace. The Spirit meets us in the Word and the proclamation of it. So thankful for that.

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