What Is The Perspicuity of the Sciptures?

The word ‘Perspicuity’ is derived from an old Latin term that means “to see through” (i.e. transparency”). It refers to the ability to see something with clarity and sound understanding and judgement. According to dictionary.com, it means “clarity, plainness, intelligibility”. As applied to the Holy Scriptures, it means the ability of the reader to understand and apply the plain meaning of the Scriptures without specialized scholarship or mystical gifts.

What the Argument Is

In this article, I hope to show what the Scriptures say of themselves – that is, they are meant to be read, heard, and understood by ordinary believers.

What the Argument is Not

The argument for the perspicuity of the Scriptures is NOT to say:

  • That God has not gifted men in the church with special abilities to understand and teach the Bible (1 Cor 12:28, 1 Tim 3:2, 2 Tim 2:24)
  • That the Scriptures can be understood apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-14, Mark 4:11)
  • That there are no mysteries in the Scriptures (Eph 3:3-6)
  • That everything in the Scriptures are equally clear (2 Pet 3:15-16)

The argument is simply that the Bible was written in such a way that the common reader and hearer can understand it and apply it to his life without being an academic or cleric. Education and ministerial training are great aids to understanding, but they have also been abused to the point that men have been enslaved and greatly deceived by both. In fact, the pulpit and seminary are most often the source of heresy – not the pew.

The Bible Affirms It’s Own Clarity

  • The people of Israel were to read the Scriptures (Law and Prophets) during their gatherings (Acts 13:1)
  • The people of Israel (and strangers) were to hear the Scriptures read at every 7th Feast of Tabernacles so that they might learn to fear God (Dt 31:10-13)
  • The people of Israel were commanded to meditate on the things they were taught and to teach them to their children (Dt 6:6-7).
  • Many Psalms praise or bless those who meditate on God’s teaching (Ps 1:2)
  • The Scriptures are said to “make wise the simple” (Ps 19:7, Ps 119:130)
  • The Scriptures are said to be a lamp to make our path known (Ps 119:105)
  • The Kings of Israel were commanded to read the Scriptures so that they might learn to fear God and follow His ways (Dt 17:19-20)
  • Jesus criticized the scribes and elders for not knowing the Scriptures (Mt 12:5, Mt 22:29, Mk 12:24)
  • Paul said that Timothy understood the Scriptures from the time he was a child (2 Tim 3:15)
  • The Gospel of Luke and book of Acts were written by a Gentile to a Roman citizen so that he might understand the things about Jesus and the early church
  • The New Testament epistles were not written to clerics, but to whole churches, and were designed to be read to the entire congregation (1 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:2, Phil 1:1).

Why Do We Not All Understand the Scriptures the Same?

If the Scriptures were inspired by God, and if they were intended to be understood, and we cannot understand them, then the fault must necessarily lie in us and not in the writings themselves. In fact, Jesus criticizes those who should have known the Scriptures the best (scribes, Pharisees) for not knowing them. Many times Jesus upbraids them with “have ye not read?”. Aside from this, Paul teaches us that the Bible is a Spiritual book, that it is foolishness to the unbeliever, and that it must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2). In fact, Jesus teaches that the eyes and ears of the unbelievers are hardened so that they cannot see and they cannot hear (Jn 12:20). So, we must conclude that, though the Scriptures were written to ordinary people with the intention of being read and understood, people who are unbelievers cannot understand because of their lack of faith. Those that do believe still have difficulty understanding because of remaining in-dwelling sin. The day is coming when believers will know perfectly (1 Cor 13:12). For now, it is left to us to study, pray for guidance and wisdom, be humble and charitable with our brothers, and to continue in patience with the understanding that God’s Word was given to us to be understood and so that we might be nourished by it.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Rom 15:4).

For more, see The Clarity of Scripture.


Baptist Confession, Chapt 1, Section 7

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)

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What Is the Inspiration and Authority of the Bible?

In the last post, I showed that the Bible is the Word of God – that is, it is God’s will, purpose, and instruction as it is revealed to man.  If the Bible, indeed, claims this for itself (that is that all its words come from God), then “to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, page 73). Therefore, all Scripture is inspired by God, and is Authoritative over man.

The Inspiration of Scripture

  • According to Bible Gateway, there are 413 times where the Old Testament contains the words, “Thus saith the Lord…”. For example, “…thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste…” In fact, God spoke through the prophets too many times to number.

So the Bible clearly claims that some of it’s words come directly from God, but what about the other words? Are the other words derived from men’s ideas?

  • According to 2 Tim 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works“.
  • According to the Apostle Peter, no Old Testament prophetic word represents the prophets own ideas – “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Pet 1:20-21, NIV)
  • The Apostle Matthew claims that Jesus’ birth fulfilled what the Lord had spoken, in quoting the Prophet Isaiah – “all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet” (Matt 1:22).
  • The historian Luke records the Apostle Peter quoting Davids words as words which the Holy Ghost spoke, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16).

In addition to these, there are many more references to New and Old Testament Scriptures as being the words of the Holy Spirit or words that the Lord spoke. Given all this weight of evidence, we must conclude that the Bible considers itself to be the very Word of God. What is left, then, is not for man to rationalize whether it be so, but rather to obey it.

How Are We Convinced That the Bible is the Word of God?

Christians do not come to trust the Bible because of it’s internal testimony or due to any external investigation of its truth claims, but rather through the inner working of the Holy Spirit when one reads it. For 1 Cor 2:10-14 proclaims:

God hath revealed them [His Truths] unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. …Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. …But the natural [unsaved] man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1643), Chapter 1, claims:

IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (2 Pet 1:19, 1 Thes 2:13)

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture…yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (1 Jn 2:20, 1 Cor 2:10)


Why We Must Obey Scripture

The following are excerpts from Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, entitled: The Authority of Scripture

There can be no doubt whatsoever that all the troubles in the Church to-day, and most of the troubles in the world, are due to a departure from the authority of the Bible.

…We all therefore have to face this ultimate and final question: Do we accept the Bible as the Word of God, as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, or do we not? Is the whole of my thinking governed by Scripture, or do I come with my reason and pick and choose out of Scripture and sit in judgment upon it, putting myself and modern knowledge forward as the ultimate standard and authority? The issue is crystal clear. Do I accept Scripture as a revelation from God, or do I trust to speculation, human knowledge, human learning, human understanding and human reasons Or, putting it still more simply, Do I pin my faith to, and subject all my thinking to, what I read in the Bible?

…The Protestant position, as was the position of the early Church in the first centuries, is that the Bible is the Word of God. Not that it ‘contains’ it, but that it is the Word of God, uniquely inspired and inerrant. The Protestant Reformers believed not only that the Bible contained the revelation of God’s truth to men, but that God safeguarded the truth by controlling the men who wrote it by the Holy Spirit, and that He kept them from error and from blemishes and from anything that was wrong.

…It was that alone that enabled Luther to stand, just one man, defying all those twelve centuries of tradition. ‘I can do no other’ he says, because of what he had found in the Bible. He could see that Rome was wrong. It did not matter that he was alone, and that all the big battalions were against him. He had the authority of the Word of God, and he judged the Church and her tradition and all else by this external authority.

…How can we fight the devil? How can we know how we are to live? How can we answer the things we hear, the things we read, and all the subtle suggestions of the devil? Where can I find this truth that I must gird on, as I put on all this armour of God? Where can I find it if I cannot find it in the Bible? Either my foundation is one of sand that gives way beneath my feet, and I do not know where I am, or else I stand on what W. E. Gladstone called ‘The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture’.

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What is The Word of God?

After reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text on the Word of God, I’ve come up with the folloiwng definition:

The Word of God is God’s directive will revealed to human beings

The Bible represents God’s Word to us in several forms.

Christ is the Word of God

First and foremost, Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of the God’s character, nature, will, and purposes.

  • [Jesus] was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. (Rev. 19:13)
  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-14)
  • That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (1 John 1:1)

God’s Direct Address

There are several times in Scripture when God speaks his word directly to human hearers.

  • God spoke to Adam and Eve (Gen 2-3)
  • God spoke to Noah (Gen 8)
  • God spoke to Abraham (Gen 12-17)
  • God spoke to Moses (Ex 6)
  • God spoke to Israel (Ex 20)
  • God spoke audibly at Jesus’ baptism
  • etc.

God’s Indirect Address

God’s most usual form of address before the coming of Christ was through prophets. In these instances God communicated his message through a mediator who spoke that message to the people. Though the number of those occassions are too numerous to list, a few examples are given.

  • And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan (1 Chr 17:3)
  • And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. (Jer 1:9)
  • For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (Jn 3:34)
  • For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Pet 1:21)
  • etc.

God’s Creative Word

There is a particular instance where God’s creative power, in speaking the universe into existance, is a demonstration of God’s Word: “ Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Heb 11:3).

The Preached Word

The preached word, especially gospel preaching, is mentioned MANY times in the New Testament as the Word of God, e.g. “Now the parable is this: The seed [i.e. gospel preaching] is the word of God“.

The last words Jesus left his followers before his assention to Heaven was for them to preach the gospel in all the world – “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The books of Acts is the record of God’s Word going to all these groups of people.

  • And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly (Acts 6:7)
  • Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John (Acts 8:14)
  • That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea… (Acts 10:37)
  • And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. (Acts 11:1)
  • etc…

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17)

The Written Word

Of course, the only enduring, trustworthy, and sure Word of God that we have available for us today are those words of God which have been recorded in the Scriptures. God himself wrote the Ten Commandments, all the rest of Scripture has been written by human hands through the superintending work of the Holy Spirit. These things were written for a permanent record:

  • Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever (Is 30:8).
  • Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book (Jer 30:2).
  • I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches… (Rev 1:11)
  • For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Rom 15:4)

The Scriptures were written by those inspired by the Holy Spirit, and have been recorded for our study and edification. They are the only form of God’s Word that we can have before us to study, analyze, compare, meditate on, and be changed by.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Conclusion

God has revealed His power and his Will to mankind in many ways throughout history. Today, God’s normal way of revealing Himself to mankind is through the Scriptures. Our consciences must be bound to the Word of God. To do anything other is neither right nor safe.

I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

– Martin Luther

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. (Mt 4:4)

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him”. (Pr 30:5)

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What Is Systematic Theology?

Definition of Systematic Theology

According to Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology “involves collecting and understanding all the relative passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic” (Systematic Theology, page 21). Systematic Theology then, is a “whole of the Bible” summary of what the Scriptures teach regarding the major doctrines of Scripture, including:

  • The doctrine of the Bible
  • The doctrine of God
  • The doctrine of Man
  • The doctrine of Christ
  • The doctrine of the Holy Spirit
  • The doctrine of the Redemption of Man
  • The doctrine of the Church
  • The doctrine of the Last Things

Difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology

There is often-times a rivaly between Systemic and Biblical theologians. But, of course, all Christian theology is ‘biblical’ in that it is derived from the Bible. Biblical theologians study the scriptures in terms of how particular Biblical doctrines are developed over time or during particular epochs of revelation. A Systematic theologian, on the other hand, studies doctrines based on an all-of-the-Bible summarizing approach. In fact, the two methods are not opposed to each other, but rather go hand in hand. The task of Biblical Exegesis cannot proceed without some systematic understanding of the nature of God and man. Conversely, the systematic theologian cannot begin his summarizing work without first analyzing each of his texts within their historical context.

Difference between Systematic Theology and Bible Doctrine

There is no real distinction between Systematic Theology and Bible Doctrine. According to Webster, doctrines are principles that are taught. Bible Doctrines, then, are the various topics that the Bible teaches on. In fact, Dr. Grudem says that a Bible doctrine is “simply the result of the process of doing systematic theology with regard to one particular topic” (Systematic Theology, page 23).

Why Should Christians Study Systematic Theology

Every Christian has a ‘system’ of theology in that every believer believes ‘something’ about the major topics of Bible Doctrine: God, Man, Sin, and Salvation. Whether this collection of beliefs is well-researched, carefully organized, and set down; or whether they are comprised of a disorganized, inconsistent, and private collection of shallow proof-texting and tradition – each Bible student must has some ‘system’ of beliefs (whether he is willing to admit to it or not).

The Bible doctrine of the nature of God, for example, must make use of a “whole of Bible” approach in order to come to a complete understanding. The Bible teaches that God is love, but it also teaches that he has righteous indignation against sin. The Bible teaches that God is merciful and gracious, but it also teaches that He is perfectly Holy and Seperate from sinners. The Scripture, on one hand, teach that prayer changes man’s circumstances, but it also teaches that God’s plans are not subject to change and emotion. Simple proof-texting, or mere Evangelical sentimentalism is not sufficient to summarize everything the Scripture teaches on this and all other doctrines and without detailed study, leaves the Bible student unbalanced and shallow.

How Should Christians Study Systematic Theology

According to James P. Boyce, Bible students should study the Bible’s doctrines:

  1. With reverence for truth, and especially for the truth taught in the Word of God.
  2. With earnest prayer for Divine help.
  3. With careful searching of heart against prejudice.
  4. With timidity, as to the reception and propagation of new doctrine.
  5. With a spirit willing and anxious to examine, and to accept whatever we may be convinced is true.
  6. With teachable humility, which, knowing that God has not taught us in his word all the truth that exists, not even all the truth on many a single point, accepts with implicit faith all that he has taught, and awaits his own time for that more full revelation which shall remove all our present perplexities.

Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. (Ps 119:111)

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Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

Today is, in the United States, the national observance of Thanksgiving to God for all his blessings in 2015 and commemoration of the first American Thanksgiving which took place in the Plymouth Colony in 1621.

Background

Special days of fasting and mourning for sin and special days of feasting and celebration were common and frequent elements in the life of the 17th Century Puritans. What made that first recognized Thanksgiving celebration on US soil, in 1621, to be such a notable event is the fact that it is the first that was thoroughly documented. Those Plymouth Pilgrims suffered so many great difficulties in their first year in the New World, in their quest for religious freedom, that the first great harvest that God bestowed upon them was incredibly sweet.

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year! It is the quintessential Protestant Holiday! It is the hearty, sincere, and humble acknowledgement that every good gift comes from the Father above (Ja 1:17) and it is a day to remember the great history and great blessings that we have as a free people in this country.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (Ja 1:17)

Necessity of Thanksgiving

Christians are commanded by Scripture to be thankful people. No people have received as much as we have, and consequently, no other people should feel as compelled as we are to live our lives in a state of constant gratitude and prayer.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (I Thes. 5:18)


Elements of Thanksgiving Worship

Some traditional elements of Thanksgiving worship that you can use in your family gathering today include: the recitation of Psalm 100, recitation of Puritan Minister Edward Reynold’s Prayer of Thanksgiving from the 1662 BCP, and hymns of Thanksgiving.


Psalm 100

A Psalm of Praise; or rather of thanksgiving. This is the only psalm bearing this precise inscription. It is all ablaze with grateful adoration, and has for this reason been a great favourite with the people of God ever since it was written (Charles Spurgeon).

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness:
come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the LORD he is God:
it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the LORD is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.

On this Psalm, Charles Sprugeon comments:

In all our public service the rendering of thanks must abound; it is like the incense of the temple, which filled the whole house with smoke. Expiatory sacrifices are ended, but those of gratitude will never be out of date. So long as we are receivers of mercy we must be givers of thanks. …Be thankful unto him. Let the praise be in your heart as well as on your tongue, and let it all be for him to whom it all belongs. And bless his name. He blessed you, bless him in return; bless his name, his character, his person. Whatever he does, be sure that you bless him for it; bless him when he takes away as well as when he gives; bless him as long as you live, under all circumstances…

Prayer of Thanksgiving

;Almighty God,
Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.

We bless you
for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world
by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray,
give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Thanksgiving Hymns

In honor of that first great Pilgrim harvest in Plymouth, let us sing “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” and as we remember the great harvests the Lord has brought in our own lives this Thanksgiving, let us also remember the great harvest which is yet to occur at the last day (Matt 13:24-30).

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take the harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Giving angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In the garner evermore.

Then, thou Church triumphant come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All be safely gathered in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In God’s garner to abide;
Come, ten thousand angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home!

 

We Gather Together

This Dutch hymn was written in 1597 to celebrate Dutch independence and freedom from Wicked Roman Catholic oppression.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:19-20)

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Benjamin Keach’s Articles of Faith, 1697

Recently, the 1689 Federalism Blog posted some excerpts from Benjamin Keach’s 1697 Confession of Faith, written for the Baptist Church at Horsley-down, England. A church which would later be moved by the famous Baptist Pastor John Gill to Carter Lane, Southwark, and then to New Park Street, where it was pastored by Charles Spurgeon!

Regular readers of the Abraham’s Seed blog, and those interested in Baptist history, need no introduction to Benjamin Keach.  He was an early founding father of the Baptist faith who suffered for preaching and teaching the ‘faith once delivered.’ He was a prolific author and teacher who was very influential in the early movement. Two of Keach’s most famous contributions to the Baptists are his Catechism and his introduction of congregational hymn signing. A couple short biographical sketches of Keach are provided below:

The link below will take you to a new page on the blog that contains a confession of faith that Keach authored for his church at Horsley-down in 1697. It would seem that the 1677 confession had fallen into disuse (due to high printing costs) and Keach wanted to leave behind a brief summary of the doctrine which he taught before leaving his pulpit. The confession is a masterful summary of Christian doctrine and closely follows the Baptist confession and Keach’s Catechism (Keach’s congregation was apparently well taught).

Keach’s Confession

I took the text of the confession from the one scanned and put online by the University of Michigan’s Early English Books project.  Please read and enjoy and let me know of any typing errors you find.

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Reformation Sunday

Hopefully you took time today to reflect on the rich heritage that has been handed to us as heirs of the Reformation! In the spirit of Reformation Sunday, here is a clip from the 1953 movie Martin Luther.

Sola Scriptura et Semper Reformanda

For more on Protestantism, see What Protestants Believe.

Luther at Speyer

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.  (Ps 16:6)

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Bach’s Reformation Day Cantatas

Reformation500

Luther “wrote [the 95] theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517,” wrote Phillip Melanchthon. Protestants have celebrated this event since the late 16th century, and October 31th became Reformation Day in the Protestant areas of Germany in the early 18th century.

The famous composer J. S. Bach wrote cantatas for Reformation Day. For the one in 1727, he wrote the following cantata, based on Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is our God (“Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”).

And for the Reformation Day of 1725, he wrote this one.

Let us, with Bach, rejoice and be glad.

Post Tenebras Lux

For more information on these cantatas, see here and here.

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Happy Reformation Day 2015!

95ThesenOn this day in 1517 Martin Luther tacked the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the initial blow in what eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.

During the Reformation, the Bablyonian captivity of the church was broken, the power of anti-christ was weakened, and the Word of God was given back to the people of God.

The Protestant Reformers fought for the following 5 ideals, referred to as the 5 Solas:

1) Scripture Alone
2) Faith Alone
3) Grace Alone
4) Christ Alone
5) Glory to God Alone

Each year on Reformation Day, I write up a short bio on one of the heroes of the Reformation. This year our annual Reformation Day series will focus on Martin Bucer – reformer of the Southern German, Swiss, and English churches.


Martin Bucer is one of the most prominent, yet least known, reformers. He was born in Alsace Region (of present day France) in 1491 and began his religious career as a Dominican Friar at 15 years old. He was later sent to Heidelberg (1517) to further his education at the famous University there. He was strongly impressed after hearing Martin Luther‘s debate at Heidelberg in 1518. He had dinner with Luther and was solidly impressed with his teaching and understanding of the Scriptures. Later, after continuing his own Biblical studies and reading the works of Luther, he was converted and fully committed to the reformation cause. Interestingly, Bucer was to stand with Luther before the Diet of Worms in 1521. He was later released from his monastic vows, and by 1522, he was excommunicated from the Roman church. He (scandalously) married a former nun in 1522 and had 13 children.

Bucer moved to Strasbourg to become a Protestant Pastor in 1523. He pastored there for 25 years. Strasbourg was then a German city and capital of the region of Alsace (today French). It had (and still has) an enormous cathedral. Calvin labored there when he was exiled from Geneva from 1538 to 1541. The mass was abolished in Strasbourg in 1528 and soon after a Christian college and seminary were established. Bucer also established Christian schools in Strasbourg, wrote many Bible commentaries, and traveled and wrote extensively in support of the reformation.

After the Smalkaldic War, he refused to compromise with the Interim of the Diet of Augsburg, and was forced to leave Strasbourg. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer invited him to England to be a professor of theology at Cambridge University. There, he wrote perhaps his most famous work, De Regno Christi (On the Kingdom of Christ), for King Edward VI in 1550. He labored as an advisor to both Archbishop Cranmer and King Edward VI and was influential over the reformation of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1552.

Bucer died in England in 1551. Statesman John Cheke wrote a fitting eulogy:

We are deprived of a leader than whom the whole world would scarcely obtain a greater, whether in knowledge of true religion or in integrity and innocence of life, or in thirst for study of the most holy things, or in exhausting labour in advancing piety, or in authority and fullness of teaching, or in anything that is praiseworthy and renowned.

After his death, Bucer was buried with high honors at Cambridge, but “Bloody” Queen Mary had his body exhmmed, so that he could be tried, condemned as a heretic, and burned. Later, Queen Elizabeth reversed Mary and restored Bucer’s honor.

Martin Bucer was very influential over the Protestant theology of Germany, Switzerland, and England and was a peaceful link between the German Lutherans and Swiss Calvinist reformation movements. He was a prolific author and his writings had a great impact on better known reformers, including John Calvin.

His motto was: “Wir sind Christgläubig, nicht kirchgläubig.” (“We believe in Christ, not in the church.”)

Some helpful resources for further study of Martin Bucer are Wikipedia and Theopedia, and Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church, Volume VII”.


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Notes on Hebrews 4:3-10

For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest1: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works2. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if [Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God3. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

  • 1. Ps 95:11
  • 2. Gen 2:2
  • 3. Matt 11:28-29

Contextual Background: The author is here writing to Hebrew Christians who are in a very real danger of turning from their Christian profession back to Judaism. Additionally, the preceding argument from Chapter 3 is that many Israelites died in the wilderness, not seeing the promised land, because they were mere professors of faith, but did not have true saving faith – “we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19). This should cause us to take some time for self reflection – “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb 3:12). How do we know that we have true saving faith? We are told that “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Heb 3:14).

Furthermore, the author is continuing his theme of how the New Covenant is superior to the Old. These verses are in the midst of the larger argument begun in chapter 3 in which the writer is providing evidence about how Joshua led his people into a temporary rest, but Christ, has already entered the eternal rest, and will lead his people into it.

 

literally: if they shall enter into my rest…

  • This means “they shall NOT enter into my rest” (Hebrew elliptical oath)
    • Who did God say would not enter his rest in Ps 95:11? According to Heb 3:11, they were those that had “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God”.

…although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

  • God finished His work of creating on the seventh day and rested (Gen 2:2)
  • This rest was commemorated by Israel in its weekly Sabbath. (Ex 31:17)
  • The author is reminding us that although the seventh day is ‘a’ rest of God mentioned in the Bible, it is not ‘the’ rest of God that was offered to the Hebrew people after the Exodus (and which is the present focus). This Old Covenant rest of God, which the Hebrews rejected through unbelief, was a rest from slavery and war in the land of Canaan
  • This promised land rest was that referred to in chapter 3, and, which is used as a type here of the future eternal rest of God in Heaven – “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (verse 9)

they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief…

The word “preached” here means “evangelize.” The same root word is rendered “gospel” in verse 2. This shows us, First, that God has employed only one instrument in the saving of sinners from the beginning, namely, the preaching of the gospel, cf. Galatians 3:8. Second, that the demand of the Gospel from those who hear it is faith, taking God at His word, receiving with childlike simplicity and gladness the good news He has sent us. Third, that “unbelief” shuts out from God’s favor and blessing. …Solemn warning was this for the Hebrews whose faith was waning. (AW Pink)

For if [Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God

  • The author of Hebrews always makes contrasts between the old and new covenant (better covenant, better promises, etc). Here he is presenting a better rest than that enjoyed under the Old Covenant
  • When Ps 95 (the chapter the author is here explaining) was written, the Israelites were enjoying rest from their enemies in their own land. The author here reminds his readers that this was only a temporary and typological rest, which only points to the better and eternal rest yet to come
  • [The Jews had] external types to guide them; not so have we, nor have we indeed any need of them, for the naked truth itself is set before our eyes. …Christ [does not] extend his hand to us, that he may conduct us by the circuitous course of types and figures, but that he may withdraw us from the world and raise us up to heaven. Now that the Apostle separates the shadow from the substance, he did so for this reason, — because he had to do with the Jews, who were too much attached to external things. (Calvin)

  • There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God
    • The Jews enjoyed a type of rest in their own land
    • Believers experience, in this life, a rest from slavery to sin.
    • However, there remains a future promise of eternal life in peace and rest

For he that is entered into his rest he also hath ceased from his own works, as God from His

  • “…rest is not enjoyed till work is ceased from. This world is full of toil, travail and trouble, but in the world to come there is full freedom from all these.” (Pink)
  • Many commentators (Pink, Calvin, Gill) take the “he” here to mean Christ. They understand this to mean that Christ has finished his work on the earth (John 19:30) and has entered His rest, just as the Father finished his work on the sixth day of creation and entered His rest. Evidence of this is seen in verse 11, where the emphasis is then shifted from the ‘he’ of verse 10, to ‘us’

Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
(Matt 11:28-29)

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