Word Wednesday – “Semper Reformanda”

Last year for our “Word Wednesday” feature during Reformation week we focused on one Reformation motto in Latin: post tenebras lux.

semper reformandaThis year let’s consider another familiar one: semper reformanda. The meaning simply is: “always reforming”. We may know it more fully by the statement, “Reformed and always reforming.”

This important motto refers to the fact that every truly Reformed church will always be a reforming church, that is, a body of believers who are constantly striving to ensure that she remains faithful to the Word of God on which her faith, life, and worship are based. After all, that’s what the Re-formation was about – the re-forming of the church according to the Scriptures, as the church’s only authority (sola Scriptura!). And, after all, that’s what it means to be – and stay! – Reformed: always to be conforming to the Bible’s teachings with regard to doctrine, walk of life, and worship practices.

If you wish to explore this motto and subject further, I can point you to a couple of places:

  • This 2009 Tabletalk article by Michael Horton under the title “Semper Reformanda”.
  • This 1981 Standard Bearer article (actually, there are three of them) by Herman Hanko, which is the text of a Reformation Day lecture he gave in Hudsonville PRC on Oct.30, 1980. Here is part of what Prof.Hanko said that night at the beginning of his lecture:

When we give to our churches the name Reformed, we mean that we want our spiritual lineage to be traced back to that mighty event: We want to claim Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers as our spiritual fathers. Once a year on Reformation Day we look back to that event which happened over 450 years ago and point to it with thankfulness to God and say to others and to ourselves, “That event belongs to our history as Reformed churches.”

But there is surely more. When we call ourselves Reformed, we insist that we are re-formed. And we are not only re-formed because 450 years ago the church was re-formed by the hand of God, but we are re-formed and, therefore, Reformed because reformation is always, in every moment of the church’s life, the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. That is why a motto of the Reformed Churches for the last 450 years has been: “Reformed, yet always reforming.” By this motto our fathers meant to emphasize that it is the essential mark of being Reformed that the church is always reforming. The two go together and are inseparably connected. You cannot, says this motto, claim to be Reformed unless you are a church always reforming. The one mark, which clearly marks churches that belong to the Reformation is the mark of continuous reformation within her own ecclesiastical life.

That is the question, therefore, that faces us tonight. Are we as a church always reforming? This is a question which faces all of us.

And, I might add, still a question worth considering. This week of marking the great Reformation. And in all the days ahead. How “Reformed” are we, really?

A Prisoner Letter re the Heidelberg Catechism

Prison ministryLast Saturday the Seminary received another letter from a prisoner – from a regular contact in California. He had requested and received our Reformed confessions booklet (“Three Forms of Unity”), and has been studying especially the Canons of Dordt and the Heidelberg Catechism. He is also a Standard Bearer subscriber. He is a fairly new believer and is eager to grow in his faith. I thought I would give you a glimpse of where he is at and what he desires, since it truly is inspiring.

Here’s part of what he wrote:

As you know, I am young in the Lord, going on 2 years now. So please bare (sic) with me. because I don’t want to write anything contrary to the gospel as you know it, again I’ve just come to the theology of the Canons of Dordrecht. Before I was a pentecostal for almost 6 years. I have never heard of Calvinism or Arminianism before 2 years ago. My extent of Calvinism is the Canons but I’m not sure if that qualifies me as Calvinistic.

I wanted to make a request. I have been trying to come by sermons preached on the Heidelberg Catechism or articles like the one on Lord’s Day one in the ‘Standard Bearer’ that was celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg. I would like to receive these sermons regularly. I think that reading the sermons will build up my knowledge of the Heidelberg Catechism and help me to put to memory each Lord’s day. I would like sermons from strong calvinists, whose writings are like, when you read it you can’t forget it.

Yesterday I responded and sent him the first part of Rev.R.Kleyn’s series on the “HC” (LD’s 1-6) from the “SB”, since these are fine introductory articles on the catechism and include study questions at the end. What a privilege to be able to help this man in his spiritual growth! I am including him in my prayers too. Will you join me in doing so – for David and others like him?

Augustine: Preacher, Exegete, Biblical Apologist

SB-Oct15-2014-AugustineSuch is the title of the article penned by Missionary-pastor M.McGeown in the recent special issue of the Standard Bearer (Oct.15, 2014), marking the life, work, and writings of the great church father Agustine (AD 354-430). Last week we called attention to a sermon by Augustine; today we highlight his relation to the Scriptures.

This is part of what Rev.McGeown has to say about Augustine as a biblical preacher and expositor (emphases are mine):

From the beginning of his Christian pilgrimage, when, as a young man, he heard the call, Tolle lege, tolle lege (“Take up and read”), and his eyes lighted on Romans 13:12-14, until the end of his life, when, on his deathbed, he asked that the penitential psalms be written out for him, so that he might read and mediate on them, Augustine loved the Scriptures. As bishop of Hippo, Augustine aimed to preach biblical sermons, and, as a writer, Augustine saturated his treatises and letters with quotations from the Bible.

Augustine was also a churchman, one who loved the church, one who pursued his theological studies in the church and for the sake of the church, and one who revered the tradition of the church, developing that tradition and defending it against heretics, both inside and outside the church.

…There can be no doubt that Augustine the preacher—with the other church fathers—revered Scripture. For Augustine, Scripture was the very Word of God. Quotations could be multiplied, but, in the interests of space, we offer only one. In a letter to Jerome, Augustine writes, “I have learned to do only those books that are called the Holy Scriptures the honor of believing firmly that none of their writers have ever erred. All others I so read as not to hold what they say to be truth unless they prove it to me by Holy Scripture or clear reason.”[1]

 Augustine was not content merely to admire the Bible. He labored to expound the Bible. Marveling at the detail of Augustine’s exegesis in his commentaries and sermons, one scholar writes, “Augustine finds a great deal in his chosen texts—partly because, being thoroughly convinced of their divine authority, he expects to find a great deal in them.”[2]

[1] Cited in A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word: Martin Luther, Doctor of Sacred Scripture (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1969), 125.

[2] Thomas Williams, “Biblical Interpretation” in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (eds. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (Cambridge: [Cambridge Companions Online] Cambridge University Press, 2006), 60.

To learn more about this special Reformation issue of the “SB”, visit this page. To receive this issue or to subscribe to the “SB”, visit its homepage.

Faith and Works – Biblical Dichotomies – Cornelis Venema

Faith and Works by Cornelis Venema | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Oct 2014The final article on “Biblical Dichotomies” featured in  this month’s Tabletalk (Be aware, I have not referenced them all here.) is by Dr.Cornelis Venema (Mid-America Reformed Seminary) and titled “Faith and Works” – an important subject to every Protestant, especially in this time of year (Oct.31, Reformation Day).

In light of the historic significance of these two words, Venema carefully distinguishes yet relates these two concepts in Scripture. This is a “good read” this week as we recall the Lord’s work in leading His church to a recovery of the heart of the gospel, justification by faith alone.

I give you a small portion of his article here, encouraging you to read the rest of it at the Ligonier link above.

In these verses (Romans 3:19-21 – cjt), the Apostle paints a remarkable portrait of all sinners in the presence of God’s judgment seat. In the whole world, no one can be found who, by the standard of perfect obedience that the law requires, is able to offer a case upon the basis of their works that would exonerate them from God’s condemnation. Left to themselves, all sinners must acquiesce to the sentence of condemnation and death. This is what we deserve from God, and none of us can speak a word in our defense that would establish our innocence. Nothing sinners have done or will do could possibly warrant the pronouncement of their righteousness before God.

And yet, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God justifies—declares righteous—those who embrace the gospel promise by faith alone. Out of sheer grace, God the Father grants and imputes to believers the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Through faith, believers are united to Christ and become partakers of Christ’s righteousness, which consists in His perfect obedience to all that the law of God requires and in His substitutionary endurance of the law’s penalty in the atonement.

When it comes to the believer’s justification, faith is the exclusive instrument that finds in Christ and in His saving work a full and complete satisfaction of all of the requirements of the law. Faith is not a human achievement, but the end of all boasting before God (Eph. 2:9). For this reason, John Calvin speaks of faith as a “passive” reception of what Christ has done to secure the believer’s right standing and acceptance before God. Calvin adds that faith is like an “empty vase” that is filled with the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of the believer’s right standing before God and inheritance of eternal life. When faith sings, it always sings of Christ alone: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

More on Sunday Observance from John J. Timmerman

The fundamental outline of Sunday, its mood, church services, and dominant activities were not enormously changed by the thirties and forties. What is certain is that none of us has escaped the indelible impressions of that Sunday. To me the Sunday of my boyhood in Iowa and my youth in New Jersey meant two things supremely. Sunday was to be markedly different from Thursday in church attendance and in other activities which should be spiritually centered, positively contributory to the distinctiveness of the day. The second, in that honorific and stilted phrase, was the preaching of the word. The latter is still, however brilliant or bumbling it may be, the heart of Sunday services. I am thankful for the spiritual insight and inspiration I have received over the years from many sermons. To have attended half of them would have impoverished me; to have fragmented the spirit of the day with antithetical secular diversions would have made it almost indistinguishable from Thursday (p.63).

Markings on loong journey-TimmermanTaken from the essay “Whatever Happened to Sunday?” in Markings on a Long Journey: Writings of John J. Timmerman. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982.

For my previous post from this article, go here (Oct.15, 2014).

Augustine – Homily on John 10:1-10

SB-Oct15-2014-AugustineThe quotation below is found in the new Reformation issue of The Standard Bearer (October 15, 2014), a Reformed semi-monthly magazine published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. This special issue is devoted to the church father Augustine, and the opening meditation is an excerpt from a sermon (homily) of Augustine based on John 10:1-10.

Notice how the doctrines of sovereign grace permeate what he says in this section while acknowledging the mixed nature of the church in this present world.

12. You hear, brethren, the great importance of the question. I say then, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” He knoweth those who were foreknown, He knoweth those who were predestinated; because it is said of Him, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified. If God be for us, who can be against us?” Add to this: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not with Him also freely given us all things?”

But what “us”? Those who are foreknown, predestinated, justified, glorified; regarding whom there follows, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Therefore “the Lord knoweth them that are His;” they are the sheep. Such sometimes do not know themselves, but the Shepherd knoweth them, according to this predestination, this foreknowledge of God, according to the election of the sheep before the foundation of the world: for so saith also the apostle, “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” 

According, then, to this divine foreknowledge and predestination, how many sheep are outside, how many wolves within! and how many sheep are inside, how many wolves without! How many are now living in wantonness who will yet be chaste! how many are blaspheming Christ who will yet believe in Him! how many are giving themselves to drunkenness who will yet be sober! how many are preying on other people property who will yet freely give of their own! Nevertheless at present they are hearing the voice of another, they are following strangers.

In like manner, how many are praising within who will yet blaspheme; are chaste who will yet be fornicators; are sober who will wallow hereafter in drink; are standing who will by and by fall! These are not the sheep. (For we speak of those who were predestinated,—of those whom the Lord knoweth that they are His.) And yet these, so long as they keep right, listen to the voice of Christ. Yea, these hear, the others do not; and yet, according to predestination, these are not sheep, while the others are.

For information on how to receive this issue or to subscribe, visit the Standard Bearer website.  Or you may visit this news item about it on the PRC website.

Biblical Dichotomies: Clean and Unclean – Benjamin Shaw

Clean and Unclean by Benjamin Shaw | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Oct 2014Part of my Sunday magazine reading included this featured article on another “biblical dichotomy” in this month’s Tabletalk. “Clean and unclean” are two more significant opposites in Scripture, and as Dr.B.Shaw demonstrates, we need to understand them properly in order to understand the gospel correctly.

This time I quote from the end of the article, urging you to start at the beginning and read it all.

By this statement (Mark 7:14-23 ~cjt), Jesus is telling the people that those laws of clean and unclean were intended to be a picture that showed them that the totality of their lives was, by nature, unclean. Uncleanness was not sin, but it was a picture of sin. As it was almost impossible to get through a day in ancient Israel without contracting some sort of uncleanness, the Lord by these laws was showing how thoroughly sin had corrupted human life. There was really no escaping it. In reality, their hope was not to avoid uncleanness. Instead, their hope was to be delivered from it. As the author of Hebrews says, the blood of bulls and goats only sanctified for the purification (or cleansing—again, an obvious allusion to the cleanness laws) of the flesh. It is only the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences from dead works to the true service of the living God (Heb. 9:13-14).

So the next time you read through Leviticus 11-15, slow down. Read the details. Contemplate how deeply sin affected the ordinary life of the ancient Israelite. From that, be reminded how deeply, and how thoroughly, sin affects your life. Give thanks that you do not live under the burden of the shadow of the law, with its washings and its sacrifices. Rejoice that you live under the easy yoke of Christ, whose blood has cleansed your conscience from dead works and enables you to serve, from the heart, the living God.

 

The Blessed Trinity – Prayer and Praise

This morning in my home church (Faith PRC) we will hear the gospel contained in the truth of the Trinity, as taught us in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 8, Q&As 24-25. So simply stated, yet so wondrously profound. I cannot comprehend the Tri-unity of my God; but I believe it with all my head and heart because this is how He has revealed Himself to me. My one God and Father is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thinking about my post for this Lord’s Day, I found this prayer/devotion in the book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett (Edited by Arthur Bennett; Banner of Truth, 1975). It is simply titled “The Trinity”, but it too contains profound truths concerning our Triune God.

May it lead us to contemplate with awe our amazing God, and to fall down before Him with deep praise according to the depth of His Being.

Three in One, One in Three, God of my salvation,

Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,
I adore thee as one Being, one Essence,
one God in three distinct Persons,
for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom.

O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;

O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature,
shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,
wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;

O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart,
implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus.

Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,
for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous,
so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion;

O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;

O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace
thou hast exhibited Jesus as my salvation,
implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart,
made me one with him for ever.

O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,

O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,

O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities,
to show me my need, to supply words, to pray within me,
to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.

O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,
thou hast commanded me to ask for those
things that concern thy kingdom and my soul.

Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

This is a video of Max Maclean reading this devotional, if you prefer to have this devotional read to you.

Blessing and Cursing – T.D. Alexander

Blessing and Cursing by T. Desmond Alexander | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Oct 2014Last week we began to introduce the October issue of Tabletalk and its theme of “Biblical Dichotomies”. Today we can continue by considering the next feature article, “Blessing and Cursing”, by Dr.T.D. Alexander (Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, N.Ireland).

Alexander explains well these two dichotomies found throughout the Scriptures, tying it especially to Jesus Christ, in Whom alone fallen sinners are blessed.

I leave you with his starting point and encourage you to follow through and read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

 Although it is rarely noted, the concept of blessing lies at the very heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul highlights this in his letter to the Christian believers in Galatia. In vigorously defending the inclusion of Gentiles within the people of God, he writes, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ ” (Gal. 3:8). As Paul goes on to emphasize, the blessing given to Abraham comes to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ (v. 14).

Paul’s observations recall how the concepts of blessing and cursing are highly significant within the book of Genesis. At creation, God blesses humanity when He instructs them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Unfortunately, Adam and Eve’s subsequent disobedience of God brings them under His condemnation. Blessing gives way to cursing, as God pronounces the punishments that will blight the lives of Adam and Eve and their descendants (3:16-19). God’s curses upon humanity bring hardship for both man and woman, affecting the whole of creation.

Against this background, God summons Abraham to initiate a process by which blessing may be restored to people everywhere.

Prayer is “lovers’ talk” – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoFrom the first chapter (“The Idea of Prayer”) of Herman Hanko’s book When You Pray: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006), which our discussion groups at Faith PRC begin studying tonight:

Prayer is to the Christian what breathing is to a healthy person. Without breathing a person cannot live. Without prayer a Christian dies. Breathing is spontaneous; in many ways so is prayer.

Prayer is like a river that returns to its source, for prayer has its power in the Spirit of Christ working life in the heart of God’s child; that life returns again in prayer to God who gave it. It is the expression of the thirst for God that makes a stag panting after water brooks an apt simile (Ps.42:1).

Prayer is lovers’ talk, for it is a holy conversation between the living and eternal God and the redeemd child of God in which both speak to each other in the most intimate relationship of love.

Prayer is a child coming to his Father, knowing that his Father loves him and will provide for him in every need. We must begin our prayers, the Lord says, with ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ (p.1).

At the heading to this chapter Hanko also has this wonderful quotation from Charles H. Spurgeon:

Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father’s face, and live in thy Father’s love.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 496 other followers