Book Alert! RFPA Releases “1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church” by M.Kamps

1834-HdeCock-MKampsLast week the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) released its latest publication, and it is a unique and significant volume. 1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church by Marvin Kamps is the story of a godly Dutch Reformed churchman who seceded from the apostate state church in the Netherlands in the early 19th century to form the church anew according to the Word of God and the Reformed confessions.

It is a story that needs to be told, not only because it is not well-known (much of it being hidden behind the Dutch language and limited English resources), but also because it set the stage for subsequent reformation in the church in the Netherlands and beyond (America, e.g.). Much of the present Reformed church world with its roots in the Netherlands can trace its heritage back to Hendrik De Cock and the secession he led out of the Dutch state church. And of course, because many Reformed churches have long-departed from this heritage, the story of De Cock and his restoration of a truly Reformed church needs to be uttered as a call to return to the “old paths” of the gospel of sovereign grace and true worship.

Here is part of the author’s conviction as expressed in the “Preface”:

The Reformed churches today that are faithful to their name are the continuation of the reformation of 1517 and 1834. These reformations of the church were a return to the Bible. Often it is said that the significance of 1834 is that it constituted a return to the Canons of Dordt. Although this is true, it is an incomplete statement. My thesis is that in 1834 De Cock and his congregation returned to the Bible and therefore to the Reformed creeds. Many will disagree with this understanding of 1834. Let the reader judge.

And then he issues this challenge to us:

Do we share in the Secession fathers’ confession, witness, struggle, and walk before God? Do we today treasure De Cock’s spiritual legacy as our spiritual father? Are the Reformed creeds still our heartfelt confession? Or have we consciously rejected that confession of the fathers and returned to the apostate teachings and way of life championed by the false church?

This is a beautifully-produced book (490 pages), complete with pictures from the age as well as seven appendices containing significant translations of original documents relating to the 1834 reformation in the Netherlands.We take the opportunity to thank Mr.Kamps for his diligent work resulting in such an important book.

We hope this book is widely received and welcomed, not only by those of Dutch Reformed heritage but by all who have come to know and love the Reformed faith and by all who love and want to learn from the history of Christ’s church in the world.

How the Scots Changed the World (including the Sabbath) – Aaron Denlinger

How the Scots Changed the World by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The third main feature article in this month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine) is penned by Dr.Aaron C. Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You will recall that this month’s issue is devoted to “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation’, since this year is the 500th anniversary of Knox’s supposed birth. Denlinger’s subject is the above-linked article, “How the Scots Changed the World”, and it is another interesting and instructive piece.

Of particular interest to me was his last section where Denlinger treats the Scottish Reformers’ influence on the sabbath. I quote from that part of his article, encouraging you to read all of it. We Dutch Reformed folk can trace a similar influence on the sabbath to the Reformation in the Netherlands; but we are thankful for the Scottish Presbyterian impact on the Lord’s Day too.

The Sabbath

The early modern Kirk was notable for its emphasis upon keeping the Sabbath holy, coupled with a strong distaste for observing any other “holy days.” Insistence upon observing the Sabbath in fulfillment of the fourth commandment was, again, a characteristic of Reformed thought more broadly, though it may have had deeper roots in Scotland than elsewhere. For example, legislation passed under the eleventh-century Scottish Queen Margaret, intended to reform the church and nation, stressed the people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Unique to the Kirk at the time of the Reformation, however, was the insistence that no other days be credited with religious significance. In fact, when asked in 1566 to review the Second Helvetic Confession, a respected document penned by the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, the Scots felt compelled to offer qualified appreciation of the text, calling attention to their disapproval of the confession’s tolerance for the celebration of Christmas, Pentecost, and Easter, “feast days” with no warrant in Scripture.

The Kirk, to be sure, never entirely succeeded in discouraging Christmas festivities in Scotland, and rarely have churches or Christians elsewhere in the world embraced the Kirk’s argument for the complete eradication of a Christian calendar, and thus the refusal to attribute religious significance to any day beyond Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Kirk’s general privileging of a weekly rhythm for work and Sabbath rest over a liturgical calendar year orienting believers toward various seasons and days defined by Christ’s earthly ministry has affected attitudes toward both worship and work throughout the world. Fewer holy days translates, not only linguistically but also socially and historically, into fewer holidays. What sociologists have called “the Protestant work ethic”—an orientation in historically Protestant countries toward good, honest, hard work—is arguably the fruit of not only a general emphasis in Reformation thought on the godliness of every vocation but also a peculiar insistence in Scotland that believers should pause every Sunday for worship and respite, and more or less work the rest of the time.

Why I Don’t (and You Shouldn’t) Observe Lent

Why I Don’t Observe Lent.

LentIf you have ever wondered why we Protestants (Reformed and other branches) do not (and ought not) observe the season of Lent as mandated by the Roman Catholic Church and currently practiced by many Protestant churches and inividuals, this article by PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) elder Roland S.Barnes is a good place to start (posted March 3, 2014). He does a fine job of summaring the history of the development of this forty-day season and why the Reformation opposed the observance of this period of self-denial and fasting.

And as he explains well, this does not mean that we are against self-denial or fasting, or the commemoration of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I quote from a few relevant paragraphs here and encourage you to read all of it. Though a bit long, it will strengthen you as a Protestant – and as Reformed. And, if you are in the mood, here’s another fine one that appeared on The Aquila Report‘s Top 10 list this week: “Playing With Lenten Fire” by OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) elder D.G.Hart.

…What started out with a full-blown deprecation of things which are lawful, food, sex, marriage, etc., has degenerated into rather trivial acts of denial, such as giving up chocolate or coffee. Of course, fasting is good as an expression of self-denial, but for the Church to decree such seasons for fasting as Lent, and thereby bind the consciences of believers, is contrary to the instructions given by the Apostle Paul. In addition it can be asked why would one voluntarily place himself under such rigorous regulations concerning food when Christ has set His people free from such regulations. Lent became a season of penance; forty days of sorrowful penance while waiting for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. Nowhere in scripture is there any prescription for such an observance. The forty years that Moses worked for Jethro were preparatory for his mission to rescue the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. His forty days of fasting on Mount Sinai were preparatory for the reception of the convenantal law of God. The forty days of fasting by Jesus were preparatory for spiritual battle in the wilderness. There is no pattern set forth in scripture for forty days of mourning over sin, especially when Christ has offered immediate forgiveness to everyone who repents.

…The Reformers viewed the Christian Sabbath as both a weekly celebration of the victory of the resurrection and a weekly practice of self-denial; that is, fasting from the pursuit of labor and entertainment. This weekly observance puts a curb on self-seeking pleasure and works against the self-indulgence of “Fat Tuesday.” Self-denial then becomes a way of life, the normal practice of piety, and not a seasonal event. The observance of fasting, praying, self-denial, and sober-minded reflection in the life of a believer is to be commended. I suppose someone may wish to do so as a matter of habit and regular observance by keeping some form of “Lent.”

However, the mandated observance of Lent along with its extra-biblical requirements of abstinence from things that are not withheld from us by God in His word is another matter altogether. What merit or benefit is there in abstaining from something which God Himself has given us to enjoy and to bless our lives? If something is sinful, we ought to abstain from it, fast from it, every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year. If something is not sinful and not forbidden to us by God in His Word, then we are free to partake of it or not partake of it as our conscience is our guide.

“Give Me Scotland, or I Die” – J.Knox/Burk Parsons

Give Me Scotland, or I Die by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014Today we can introduce the March issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional periodical. This being the 400th anniversary of the supposed year of John Knox’s birth, “TT” has devoted this month’s issue to “John Know & the Scottish Reformation”. Which makes this an interesting and significant issue.

The story of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland has all the elements of the Reformation in other countries, but with its own unique twists and turns according to the sovereign will and hand of God: incredible bravery and boldness on the part of the Protestants, brazen resistance on the part of the Roman Catholics, political intrigue, and agonizing yet joyous martyrdom.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to the subject of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland under the above title. I encourage you to read it so that you may see in brief what was at stake in this part of the Reformation and how God used Knox to claim this land and its church for Him. After you have read this, go on to read the first main feature article, “The Scottish Reformation” by Stephen J. Nichols. It is a good read and will help you see the “big picture” of what God was doing in Scotland.

Here is an excerpt from Parsons’ article introducing this issue:

Perhaps more than anything else, John Knox is known for his prayer “Give me Scotland, or I die.” Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.

Although Knox had been imprisoned and enslaved, and though he was often infirm and under threat of persecution, he consistently lived out his theology, believing that “one man with God is always in the majority.” As such, the prayers of one man heard at the throne of God were a threat to the throne of Scotland. During the time of the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation, Knox’s ministry of preaching and prayer were so well known that the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”

More on Janus – and the Reformed Truth

HHoeksemaAn alert reader quickly pointed out after yesterday’s post that Rev.Herman Hoeksema had made reference early in PRC history to the Roman god Janus, and that set me to finding that quote. I was able to find it on the PRC website and share it with you today, not only because it follows nicely from Wednesday’s word feature post, but also because it ties in well with our “historical archive” features on Thursday this year.

TripleBreach-HH_Page_1Rev.H.Hoeksema refered to the two-headed god Janus in his early pamphlet A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth, (the images are of two recent reprints of this work-cjt), a powerful critique of the CRC’s three points of common grace adopted at the Synod of 1924. As he is defending the Reformed truth of God’s sovereign, particular grace (i.e, that God’s grace – which is only of one kind, viz., saving – is only ever given and shown to His elect people in Jesus Christ) over against the serious error of the first point of common grace (as adopted by the CRC and defended by Prof.L.Berkhof of Calvin Seminary) that the preaching of the gospel in its general proclamation is grace for all who hear it, Hoeksema found in the Roman god Janus a fit illustration of this self-contradicting position.

Here is the pertinent part from The Triple Breach:

It is even emphasized that Synod plainly declared in the first point that the saving grace of God is shown only to the elect unto eternal life.

Is all this not thoroughly Reformed and free from the taint of Arminianism?

We answer affirmatively. What Prof. Berkhof writes in the above citation is undoubtedly Reformed. And the same is true of the first point in as far as it declares that the saving grace of God is bestowed on the elect only.

But let us not be deceived by these declarations of soundness in the truth.

For, the fact is, that the first point reminds one of the two-faced head of Janus. Janus was a Roman idol, distinguished by the remarkable feature of having two faces and looking in two opposite directions. And in this respect there is a marked similarity between old Janus and the first point. The latter is also two-faced and casts wistful looks in opposite directions. And the same may be asserted of the attempts at explanation of the first point that are offered by the leaders of the Christian Reformed Churches. Only, while the two faces of old heathen Janus bore a perfect resemblance to each other, the Janus of 1924 has the distinction of showing two totally different faces. One of his faces reminds you of Augustine, Calvin, Gomarus; but the other shows the unmistakable features of Pelagius, Arminius, Episcopius. And your troubles begin when you would inquire of this two-faced oracle, what may be the exact meaning of the first point. For, then this modern Janus begins to revolve, alternately showing you one face and the other, till you hardly know whether you are dealing with Calvin or Arminius.

The quotations cited above from Prof. Berkhof’s booklet on the three points show you only one of the faces, the Reformed face of this Janus; and if you inquire of him when he turns this face towards you, he speaks: the saving grace of God is only for the elect unto eternal life and is bestowed on them alone!

But now compare the following from the same booklet: “The general and well-meaning offer of salvation is an evidence of God’s favor toward sinners, is a blessing of the Lord upon them” (page 21). Lest we should misunderstand the professor and imagine that he has reference only to elect sinners, he adds in the same paragraph: “Scriptures teach us without doubt, that we must consider the offer of salvation a temporal blessing also for them that do not heed the invitation,” that is, therefore, for them that are designated by the Word of God as reprobate ungodly.

To prove this assertion the professor continues on the same page of his booklet: “That God calls the ungodly to repentance is presented in the Holy Scriptures as a proof of His pleasure in their salvation.” Of course, this may pass, as long as you demand no further definition of “the ungodly.” No one, to be sure, denies that God has pleasure in the salvation of ungodly men. But as soon as you generalize this and say that God has pleasure in the salvation of all the ungodly, that on His part He is willing to save all sinners, you depart from the plain Reformed line of faith and thinking. I am confident that no Reformed man will deny the truth of this statement. And yet, Prof. Berkhof departs exactly in this way from the Reformed truth.

I realize that I have somewhat pulled this out of its context, and so there is a lot more you need to read to understand fully the point “H.H.” is making. But I hope you get the gist of Hoeksema’s point. For all its mythical status, Janus is indeed an apt picture of the error of the first point of common grace.

Z.Ursinus on Jesus’ Birth of the Virgin Mary

HC-Q&A 1-GermanToday marks the end of our year-long, special Thursday posts on the Heidelberg Catechism, as we noted its 450th birthday (1563-2013). We are concluding with the commentary of one of the chief writers, Zacharias Ursinus, on the fourteenth Lord’s Day of the HC. Here he is explaining the HC’s treatment of the statement in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”

Last week we focused on the first part of that confession; today we focus on the second part, that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. May this be a fitting conclusion to our study of the beloved “HC” this year.

He was born of the Virgin Mary. It behooved the Messiah to be born of the Virgin according to the predictions of the prophets, that he might be a High Priest without sin, and the type or figure of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of the will of flesh, but of God. Hence it is added in the Creed, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary :

1.   That the truth of the human nature assumed by the Son of God might thus be signified, that is to say, that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and was born a true man from the substance of Mary his mother; or, the flesh of Christ, although miraculously conceived, was nevertheless taken, and born of the Virgin.

2.   That we may know that Christ has descended from the fathers from whom Mary also was, that is to say, that he was the true seed of Abraham, being born from his seed, and that he was the Son of David, being born from the daughter of David, according to the prophecies and promises.

3.   That we may know that the Scriptures are fulfilled, which declared, “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent s head.” (Is. 7:14Gen. 3:15.) From this fulfillment of prophecy, by which it was foretold that Christ should be born of a Virgin of the family of David, and that by a miraculous conception, which the prophets did in a manner foretell, it is most clearly manifest that this man Jesus, born of the Virgin, is the promised Messiah, or the Christ, the redeemer of the human race.

4.   That we may know that Christ was sanctified in the womb of the Virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and is, therefore, pure and without sin.

5.   That we may know that there is an analogy between the nativity of Christ, and the regeneration of the faithful; for the birth of Christ of the Virgin is a sign of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

New Book on the Heidelberg Catechism: “Living and Dying in Joy” – C.Vonk

Living&DyinginJoy-CVonk-2013I just finished cataloging a new title for the PR Seminary library, and because it is a new work (in English) on the Heidelberg Catechism and comes highly prized, I thought I would make note of it here today. The book is titled Living and Dying in Joy: A Devotional Guide to the Heidelberg Catechism by Cornelis Vonk (1904-1993), a Reformed preacher and pastor in the Netherlands (For an interesting biography of this man visit this page.). It is an abridgment (259 pp.) of Rev.Vonk’s more detailed commentary (in Dutch) which appeared as part of De Voorzeide Leer (The Aforesaid Doctrine). This new publication is translated by Nelson D.Kloosterman, edited by Jordan J.Ballor, and co-published by Christian’s Library Press and Paidea Press (just released) right here in Grand Rapids, MI.

In his “Foreword” Rev.F. van Deursen, who sat under Vonk’s preaching and teaching, says this about this work:

…This is a revised and abbreviated edition of the extensive explanation that Vonk himself wrote with his own hand. This smaller volume shows with special clarity that what the church confesses in the Heidelberger has been drawn thoroughly from Scripture and is according to Scripture. It will certainly be able to serve as a brief introduction to Christian doctrine, for example, for those desiring to become members of the church.

People can use this little volume in other ways, however. Because it contains many cited Scripture references, a family with growing children can read through this book for mealtime devotions in the span of seven weeks….

And the publisher has this note on the back of the book by way on introduction:

The title of this commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism takes its inspiration from the catechism’s second question, which asks “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” The comfort referred to is that which is described in the famous first question and answer, the comfort of knowing “that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The Christian art of living and dying in joy is explored in this guide to the catechism, which focuses on the biblical background and exposition of the grand themes of misery, redemption, and gratitude. This translation is published on the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism as an aid to the devotional reception of this historic and continually relevant symbol of the Reformed faith.

The Seminary bookstore will be carrying this title, so let us know if you are interested in obtaining it. Or you may contact the publisher directly at the link provided.

Z.Ursinus on Jesus’ Conception by the Holy Spirit

HC-CRCBookletAs we near the end of our special Thursday posts on the Heidelberg Catechism for this year – marking its 450th birthday (1563-2013)! – I thought it fitting to include the commentary of one of the chief writers, Zacharias Ursinus, on the fourteenth Lord’s Day of the HC. Here he is explaining the HC’s treatment of the statement in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”

May his thoughts fill us with some of the wonder of the miracle of God’s love and grace we celebrate in this season of the year. (Next week, D.V., we will conclude with his thoughts on the phrase “born of the Virgin Mary”.)

What, therefore, does the conception of Christ by the Holy Ghost signify? Three things are comprehended in it. 1. That Christ was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin, by the immediate action, or operation of the Holy Ghost, without the seed and substance of man, so that his human nature was formed from his mother alone, contrary to the order of things which God has established in nature, as it is said, “The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” (Luke 1:35.) If it be here objected, that God has also formed us, we reply, that we have been formed mediately, and not immediately as Christ was, from which it is evident that the examples are not the same.

2.   The Holy Ghost miraculously sanctified that which was conceived and produced in the womb of the Virgin, so that original sin did not attach itself to that which was thus formed; for it did not become the Word, the Son of God, to assume a nature polluted with sin, for the following reasons: 1 . That he might be a pure sacrifice ; for it behooved him to make satisfaction for sin. 2. That he might also, by his purity, sanctify others. 3. That we might know that whatever the Son says is truth ; for that which is born of flesh, which is sinful, and not sanctified, is flesh, falsehood and vanity.

Obj. But Christ was born of a mother that was a sinner. Therefore he himself had sin. Ans. The Holy Ghost knows best how to distinguish and separate sin from the nature of man ; for sin is not from the nature of man, but was added to it from the devil.

3.   That the hypostatical union of the two natures, the divine and the human, was formed by the same Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin, immediately and at the very moment of his conception.

The meaning, therefore, of this article, he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, is, that the Holy Ghost was the immediate author of the miraculous conception of the flesh of Christ that he separated all impurity of original sin from that which was thus conceived, and united the flesh with the Word in a personal union in the very moment of conception.

The Heidelberg Catechism in the Church Order of 1563

Throughout this year on Thursdays we have focused on the wonderful Reformed confession, the Heidelberg Catechism. We have done this as a small way to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the HC this year (1563-2013). As we near the end of the year, we have a few more things we wish to mention here.

Inside title page of the 1563 HC German ed

Inside title page of the 1563 HC German ed

One is to note the place which the HC was to have in the new liturgy of the Reformed churches in Germany and beyond according to the Church Order which was also adopted in 1563. In the precious little facsimile of the first German edition of the HC recently given to the PRC Seminary by the German delegation at our October conference on the HC, there is an historical introduction (in the back) by Dr.W.VerBoom. Here he describes the role which the HC was given in the Reformed liturgy:

Also interesting is the position of the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’ in the church order of 1563. We first have a baptismal liturgy. Then follows the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’. Then a form for the profession of faith, with a liturgy for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Thus we find this pattern: first, the child is baptized. Then the baptized child is taught the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’, after which it professes his or her faith and is admitted to the church which celebrates Holy Supper. The ‘Heidelberg Catechism’ forms the pathway for the baptized child, from his baptism to his confession and partaking of the sacrament. Thus we can call the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’ a baptismal catechesis. It wants to teach the baptized child of the church how to live as a baptized child (p.156).

Lecture at Calvin’s Meeter Center Today on the HC at the Synod of Dordt

donsinnema-tccFor those in the area who may not be aware of this but who are interested, there is a lecture on the Heidelberg Catechism at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon in the H.Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (fourth floor of the Hekman Library at Calvin College). “The Heidelberg Catechism at the Synod of Dordt (1618-19)” will be presented by Dr.Don Sinnema, recently retired professor of theology at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL.

Here is the brief description of the speech as found on the Meeter Center website:

The Heidelberg Catechism came up in a variety of discussions at the Synod of Dort. These included discussions of: how best to teach the catechism in the home, school and church; Arminian observations on the catechism with suggestions for revision; the response of the Palatine (Heidelberg) delegation to the Arminian observations; a review and approval of the catechism; and guidelines for catechism preaching.

Some of the professors and students of our Seminary will be attending this (and maybe the librarian!). You are welcome to join us.

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