“The grand instrument”: Thomas Dunscombe on the importance of the Bible | Michael Haykin

by | Mar 21, 2022 | Church History

 

The people called Baptists have historically been a people with a high view of the Scriptures. The eighteenth-century Baptist pastor John Sutcliff (1752–1814) put it this way: “[T]he word of God … is called the Bible, the Book, intimating there is none like it. Its divine origin, its high authority, its unrivalled excellency, place it on a throne before which every other book must bow.” [1] John Sutcliff, On Reading the Word of God, Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association (Kettering: J.G. Fuller, 1813), 2. As such, Baptists have been profoundly shaped by a loving interaction with and heartfelt submission to the Bible. In their doctrine, their life together, and their spirituality they have been a people of the Book.

 

Consider, for example, the witness of Thomas Dunscombe (1748–1811), the third minister of the Baptist congregation in the Oxfordshire village of Cote, spelt Coate in the eighteenth century. [2]On Dunscombe’s life and ministry, see especially Stanley, Church in the Hop Garden, 128–154. Also see Account of the Bristol Education Society: For the Year Ending June, 1802 (Bristol: Harris and … Continue reading Dunscombe had been born in the West Country, at Tiverton in Devon, in 1748. In April of 1770, he matriculated at Bristol Baptist Academy, where he studied for the next two years till 1772, when he was asked to be the supply preacher at Cote after the death of the previous minister, Joseph Stennett. [3]On Dunscombe’s life and ministry, see especially Stanley, Church in the Hop Garden, 128–154. Also see Account of the Bristol Education Society: For the Year Ending June, 1802 (Bristol: Harris and … Continue reading After a year of supply preaching, Dunscombe accepted a call to the Cote pastorate in June of 1773 and was ordained on August 4, 1773. His teachers from Bristol, Hugh (1712–1781) and Caleb Evans (1737–1791), father and son, both preached on the occasion.

 

Exactly twenty years later Dunscombe was asked to deliver a memorial address for Caleb Evans, at the Bristol Baptist Academy. In the course of this address, he made the following remarks about the Scriptures:

“God and his Word … are distinct, but ought never to be divided. We should acquire a habit of intercourse with God himself by meditation and prayer; and we should seek an intimate acquaintance with his Word. … His word is his voice; what that says to us, God says to us; to consult that, is to consult him; to be guided by that, is to be guided by him. … [I]f we want to find out the mind and will of God, if we wish to have his counsel and direction, we must go to the Word of his grace [Acts 20:32]: let but his word “dwell in us richly in all wisdom” [cf. Colossians 3:16] and it will be “a light to our
feet and a lamp to our path” [cf. Psalm 119:105]. [4]Thomas Dunscombe, The tribute of affection to the memory of the late Doctor Evans
(Oxford, 1792), 24, 25, modernized.

 

Here Dunscombe emphasized a critical principle of the Reformed tradition that goes back to John Calvin. [5]See John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.7, 9. To read the Scriptures is to hear the voice of God; God and his Word are inseparable. Dunscombe continued by emphasizing that the Scriptures are “the grand instrument” that God uses to bring sinners to faith in Christ and then to sanctify those who have been converted:

“God, in all his processes with us, uses means; and if we were to trace effects up to their causes, we should find that his Word is the grand instrument which his Spirit uses in all his transactions with us and influence over us. Is an impenitent sinner alarmed? What is it produces the alarm? It is the revelation of God’s wrath which the Bible contains, and which the Spirit of God impresses on his mind. Is a penitent sinner encouraged and comforted? It is in consequence of recollecting or of being reminded of the proclamations and the tidings which the Gospel addresses to such as are of a broken heart and of a contrite Spirit. There is nothing deeply, lastingly, and profitably impresses the mind but the word of God … [So] if we take the Word of God for our guide, it will edify us, it will sanctify us, and it will support and comfort us. [6]Dunscombe, Tribute of affection, 25–26, modernized.

 

Little wonder that Dunscombe finished this mini-reflection upon the Scriptures by emphasizing that “there is a plenitude, a perfection in the Holy Scriptures,” for it speaks to every aspect of the human condition. [7]Dunscombe, Tribute of affection, 27.

References

References
1 John Sutcliff, On Reading the Word of God, Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association (Kettering: J.G. Fuller, 1813), 2.
2 On Dunscombe’s life and ministry, see especially Stanley, Church in the Hop Garden, 128–154. Also see Account of the Bristol Education Society: For the Year Ending June, 1802 (Bristol: Harris and Bryan, [1802]), 20; Roger Hadyen, Continuity and Change: Evangelical Calvinism among eighteenth-century Baptist ministers trained at Bristol Academy, 1690–1791 (Milton under Wychwood, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire: Nigel Lynn Publishing, 2006), 230.
3 On Dunscombe’s life and ministry, see especially Stanley, Church in the Hop Garden, 128–154. Also see Account of the Bristol Education Society: For the Year Ending June, 1802 (Bristol: Harris and Bryan, [1802]), 20; Roger Hadyen, Continuity and Change: Evangelical Calvinism among eighteenth-century Baptist ministers trained at Bristol Academy, 1690–1791 (Milton under Wychwood, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire: Nigel Lynn Publishing, 2006), 230.
4 Thomas Dunscombe, The tribute of affection to the memory of the late Doctor Evans
(Oxford, 1792), 24, 25, modernized.
5 See John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.7, 9.
6 Dunscombe, Tribute of affection, 25–26, modernized.
7 Dunscombe, Tribute of affection, 27.

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