John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday night, it is time for another “Refo Thursday” feature.

As we have mentioned several times here already this year, the Christian History Institute (which also publishes the magazine Christian History – issue #120 is about Calvin and the Reformation – cf. image here) has a special post each week featuring various aspects of the Reformation.

It is called “Refo Thursday” (“your weekly throwback to the Reformation” [in their words] – connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017), and usually features a quote from one of the major Reformers and a brief video on an aspect of Reformation history.

Today’s short video, featuring Karin Maag from the Calvin Meeter Center and Michael Horton from Westminster Seminary (West-CA), focuses on John Calvin’s attempts to bring reformation to Catholic France, his home country, by writing his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – from Basel, Switzerland.

Listen in and learn about how Calvin viewed himself and the other Reformers as more “catholic” than the Roman Catholic Church.

Gospel Truth: Justification as Imputation – D. J. Engelsma

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017In chapter eight of his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes plain that the saving act of God in justification involves imputation. He explains:

Justification is imputation. It is the divine act of imputing, or reckoning, the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the guilty but elect sinner. To the account of the elect sinner, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness consists of Jesus’ lifelong obedience to the will of God and of his atoning suffering and death. The believing sinner experiences this imputation as the forgiveness of his sins – the lifting of sin’s guilt, which guilt exposes the sinner to God’s punishment of sins – and as the sinner’s standing before God the judge as one who has fully accomplished all that the law of God demands of him – the possession of perfect obedience to the ten commandments of the law of God.

But that is not all that the believer experiences through this gracious act of God:

Removed is all shame, the deep shame of being a sinner. Bestowed is honor, the genuine honor of being a righteous man or woman.

Gone is fear, the worst of all fears, namely, being an object of the wrath and curse of God and therefore facing the certain punishment of eternal damnation in hell. Present, by justification, is confidence, the all-important confidence of being the object of God’s favor, ending in eternal life and glory in body and soul in the day of Jesus Christ [pp.108-109].

Later in that chapter Engelsma warns about the danger of corrupting this central gospel truth of justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

Confusion of sanctification with justification, confusion of God’s work of imparting obedience with his act of imputing righteousness, is necessarily corruption of the gospel of grace. This confusion is not harmless. It prevents the publican from going down to his home justified. It is attempted robbery of the people of God of their joy and peace. It detracts from the obedience of Jesus Christ as the complete righteousness of the believing sinner, as though the obedience of the sinner must be added to the obedience of Jesus for the sinner’s righteousness with God [pp.112-13].

In the end this is the issue:

In the saving act of justification, it is all or nothing. Either Jesus’ obedient life and atoning death are all of the sinner’s righteousness with God (by justification), or if Jesus’ obedience must be complemented by so much as one small work of the sinner himself (as an infused righteousness), Jesus’ obedience is of no account for the sinner’s justification whatsoever [p.113].

Your Mind Matters (2) – J. Stott

mind-matters-stottI have tried to show how basic is man’s rationality to the great doctrines of creation, revelation, redemption and judgment. God has constituted us thinking beings; he has treated us as such by communicating with us in words; he has renewed us in Christ and given us the mind of Christ; and he will hold us responsible for the knowledge we have.

Perhaps the current mood (cultivated in some Christian groups) of anti-intellectualism begins now to be seen as the serious evil it is. It is not true piety at all but part of the fashion of the world and therefore a form of worldliness. To denigrate the mind is to undermine foundational Christian doctrines. Has God created us rational beings, and shall we deny our humanity which he has given us? Has God spoken to us, and shall we not listen to his words? Has God renewed our mind through Christ, and shall we not think with it? Is God going to judge us by his Word, and shall we not be wise and build our house upon this rock?

Taken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott, p.26.

The Place of Entertainment in Our Lives – M. Wittmer

TT-July-2017As already noted here this month, the July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment.” The final featured article is by Dr. Michael Wittmer, who teaches systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary here in town.

In “Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment” Wittmer answers two questions relating to the Christian’s proper use of entertainment – when to engage it and how to engage it. When he answers that first question of “when,” he points out that we may enjoy entertainment regularly. But to that he also adds this adverb: selectively.

Under that second point he has some good thoughts that I share with you today.

Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location [place in our lives]. Solomon says there is ‘a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,’ and so on (Eccl.3:1-8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings [I can relate to that!], and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content – I’m writing this sentence in the morning – rather than consuming what someone else has produced.

When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.

isn’t that a helpful point to guide us in when to use entertainment? I don’t think I ever looked at using leisure time that way before – using it to be creative and productive instead of just using someone else’s creativity and productions. I find that insightful and instructive.

Now, about the two appeals to “common” grace in this issue in defense of the Christian’s use of entertainment: I would also like to comment on that in the near future, because grace and entertainment certainly have an intersection; it’s just not “common.”

What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.

The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language

This fascinating “book-smuggler” story was included in the posts sent by email from “Atlas Obscura” this week. Discover a clever means these Lithuanians devised to preserve their language against Russian attempts to dominate them and control their lives and religion.

Two editions of the same prayer book. The book to the left is Cyrillic and was printed by Russia. The book to the right is Latin Lithuanian and was illegal under the ban

Here is part of the story as it relates to the language issue and how these “book smugglers” saved the true Lithuanian language:

Language had long been a point of contention in Tsarist Lithuania. In the middle of the 19th century, in order to assimilate the peasant class, the Russian scholar Alexander Hilferding proposed that the Lithuanian language, which uses a Latin alphabet, be converted to a Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The Lithuanian press ban was therefore an attempt to eradicate the Lithuanian language and promote loyalty to the Russian cause. Lithuanian children were also required to attend Russian state schools, where they would learn the Cyrillic alphabet through books printed by the Russian government.

According to historians, Russia thought little of the ban when they first initiated it. They didn’t see Lithuanians as belonging to a unique nationality, and they assumed that resistance, if anything, would be minimal.

They were wrong.

Almost immediately, individuals sprung up to spread Lithuanian writing. Since they couldn’t publish books in their homeland, many Lithuanians began printing them abroad and smuggling them back into their own country.

Thus appeared the first of the knygnešiai—or book-carriers—who, in a desperate bid to save their language, transported books across the border and illegally disseminated them throughout Lithuania.

Initially, the knygnešiai worked alone. They carried books in sacks or covered wagons, delivering them to stations set up throughout Lithuania. They performed most of their operations at night, when the fewest guards were stationed along the border. Winter months—especially during blizzards—were popular crossing times.

Lithuanians went to great lengths to conceal their illegal books. TheForty Years of Darkness by Juozas Vaišnora reports of female smugglers who dressed as beggars and hid books in sacks of cheese, eggs, or bread. Some even strapped tool belts to their waists and pretended to be craftsmen, disguising newspapers under their thick clothes.

Find the full story at the link below, along with several related images and maps.

Source: The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 7:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Many Sides of Martin Luther – L. Roper and R. Kolb

In this significant anniversary year of the great Reformation, inaugurated through the work of the German monk Martin Luther, books on this key figure abound.

A recently published one obtained for the seminary library is Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (Random House, 2017). Lutheran theologian and historian Robert Kolb wrote a brief review of this new title on the Gospel Coalition website, which I reference here today.

While Kolb has good things to say about this fresh study of Luther, he is also not afraid to offer constructive criticism.

He introduces Lyndal’s book this way:

Lyndal Roper—professor of history at Oxford—has written a new biography of Martin Luther titled Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet.

Her goal is neither to “idolize” nor “denigrate” Luther, nor does she “wish to make him consistent.” She aims instead to understand him and the “convulsions” both he and Protestantism in general unleashed (xxx). Roper examines Luther’s relationships with family, mentors, and students; his theological and pastoral concerns; and his sociological context to give readers a fuller picture of the man and his time.

At another point he offers this criticism where the author treats Luther’s manifold relationships, including those with his students:

Further, her treatment of Luther’s students is curiously lopsided. Roper focuses on one student with whom he had severe difficulties, Johann Agricola. Though she doesn’t ignore the theological side of their rupture, she could’ve made clearer how serious Agricola’s confusion of law and gospel was for Luther. She doesn’t counterbalance this story with examples of the warm relationships Luther enjoyed with many students who adored him. The book also could’ve benefited from a more thorough examination of Luther’s complex relationship with Philip Melanchthon.

As we go through this year you are encouraged to find a good biography on Luther to refresh your Reformation history and to strengthen your appreciation for God’s work through frail and faulty but gifted servants such as this staunch German Reformer.

Source: The Many Sides of Martin Luther

Resurrection: The Benefits of a Reset – D. Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017This past Sunday I spent part of the day reading the last chapter in David Murray’s practical and profitable new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

You will recall that each chapter calls us (men in particular) to bring the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have us recheck and reset the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The final chapter is headed by the words “Repair Bay 10,” but it is really a summary of all the benefits we receive when we reset our lives biblically. Which is why its main title is “Resurrection.”

There are so many good sections in this last chapter – just the headings give us men encouragement about the changes this reset can bring to our lives: new pace, new conscience, new honesty, new contentment, new selectivity, new energy, new joy, new theology, and so on. Let me quote from two of the sections that I find representative and encouraging.

The first is “new sensitivity,” where Murray writes in part:

Reset garage produces a much better and humbler understanding of our humanity. We now keep our eyes on the dashboard and know which warning lights to look out for and what they mean – warning signs that we previously would have ignored, minimized, or resented. We’re sensitive to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational changes, and collaborate more knowledgeably with the biological rhythms of our bodies. We sense the monthly mix, the weekly beat of six days of work and one day of rest, the daily cadence of work and sleep, the regular tempo of hunger and thirst, and even the pulses of dynamic energy that peak a few times a day, enabling us to find our flow state and do our best work. Going forward, we are much more attuned to this God-given rhythm, and, instead of fighting it, we have gotten with the groove and beat of God’s order in our lives [pp.180-81].

The second is the last section, “new horizon,” where the author points us to our great hope:

Prior to Reset garage, many of us hardly ever looked up. We just saw the next to-do item, put our heads down, and plowed through it. We saw the next meeting, the next report, the next business trip, the next sermon, the next book, the next counseling session, and so on. But we never saw the next life.

Reset garage has resurrected resurrection hope. The mini-resurrection we’ve experienced has given us a taste of the ultimate resurrection ahead, when every ache and pain, every cry and depression, every loss and weakness will be no more. It has also slowed our pace enough to allow us the time and space to look ahead and enjoy that view, to anticipate that final destination, where we will experience that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed’ (Rom.8:18). A grace-paced life transports us into a grace-and glory-filled eternity [pp190-91].

And with that in view, Murray calls us with the inspired apostle to run our race, so that we may receive the prize of sovereign grace – eternal life with our heavenly Father in Christ.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

July 2017 “Standard Bearer” – Isaiah’s Vision of the Holy God

The July 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and is its custom, this is the annual PRC Synod issue.

SB-cover-July-2017

Prof. R. Dykstra  summarizes synod’s work and decisions with an editorial that points to the spiritual aspect. Titled “The Effectual Fervent Prayer… Synod 2017,” his article emphasizes how the diligent prayers of the delegates and of the churches’ members carried synod along in its deliberations, especially in those times of overwhelming labors and discussions.

Rev. G. Eriks, the president of the PRC Synod of 2016, delivered the pre-synodical sermon on Monday night, June 12, in Hudsonville PRC. His message from Isaiah 6:1-4 (“The Vision of the Holy God”) set the tone for synod, as you will see from this quotation:

In this vision, God gives us motivation. What we need more than anything else right now is to see the glory of our holy God. Without this, what we fall into is the motivation of doing things to please man or to seek our own glory and honor. This a danger also for the men who are being examined by synod. May the motivation in the answers you give be the glory and honor of the God who is holy, holy, holy.

In this vision, God sets before us what we must be most concerned with in all of our work and in all of our conduct as a synod – the glory of the thrice holy God. God is glorified when we do things His way. We must not be concerned when it comes to protests and appeal with who wins and who loses. We must be concerned with God’s glory. When we are concerned with the glory of God, we will do things in His way instead of attempting to manipulate or to get our way. God is glorified when we work together to understand and apply what God’s Word and the confessions say about the issues before us.

We need the knowledge of God’s holiness because seeing God’s glory qualifies us for the work. This is what qualified Isaiah to be His servant in Judah at this time. In the verses following the text, Isaiah goes from shattered to saying confidently, “Here am I; send me.

As delegates to synod, we also are forged by the living, holy God to be faithful servants of His with this vision of God’s holiness. We are qualified as those who know the holy God. We are qualified, not because we are gifted and wise enough, but because we are forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. The God who calls us to the work will equip and strengthen us for it. We are qualified as those who know God and His mercy. We are qualified as those who have been and are in the presence of this thrice holy God.

Sem-grad-7-1

Besides a special picture section of the delegates and work of Synod 2017 and the seven candidates who were examined, this issue contains a couple of letters and responses, and two articles from regular rubrics: “True Worship” by Rev. R. Kleyn (“Believing and Confessing”) and “The Reformation and the Lord’s Supper in Worship” by Rev. C. Griess (“O Come, Let Us Worship”).

To receive this issue or to subscribe to the SB, contact the publisher at the link above.