Reformation Day 2019: Calvin on Justification by Faith Alone in Christ Alone: The Hinge and the Pernicious Hypocrisy

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Back in 2006 Presbyterian pastor/theologian Robert Reymond penned a powerful piece for The Trinity Review in which he defended the great Reformation gospel truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, especially in the face of the then fresh errors of what became known as Federal Vision teaching.

As we mark the 502nd anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation today, it is good to contemplate and embrace anew the glorious gospel that Luther, Calvin. and the other magisterial Reformers restored to the church over against the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.

Below is a portion of Reymond’s article, which is worth reading in its entirety, since the errors of Rome have infiltrated modern Evangelicalism, including many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. May we take heed and take heart in this ongoing battle for the “hinge” of gospel truth over against its “pernicious hypocrisy.”

In the sixteenth century John Calvin termed the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ the main hinge on which religion turns (Institutes, 3.11.1), the sum of all piety (Institutes, 3.15.7), and the first and keenest subject of controversy between Rome and the Reformation (Reply to Sadoleto). He treats justification by faith in his Institutes, Book 3, Chapters 11-19. Here Calvin first defines what he means by justification:

…he is justified who is reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man; and for that reason, he stands firm before God’s judgment seat while all sinners fall. If an innocent accused person be summoned before the judgment seat of a fair judge, where he will be judged according to his innocence, he is said to be justified before the judge. Thus, justified before God is the man who, freed from the company of sinners, has God to witness and affirm his righteousness [Institutes, 3.11.2];

…justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man [Institutes, 3.11.2].

He then declares that the ground of our justification is Christ’s righteousness alone:

Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness [Institutes, 3.11.2];

…since God justifies us by the intercession of Christ, he absolves us not by the confirmation of our own innocence but by the imputation of righteousness, so that we who are not righteous in ourselves may be reckoned as such in Christ [Institutes, 3.11.3].

…the best passage of all on this matter [2 Corinthians 5:18-21] is the one in which [Paul] teaches that the sum of the Gospel embassy is to reconcile us to God, since God is willing to receive us into grace through Christ, not counting our sins against us. Let my readers carefully ponder the whole passage. For a little later Paul adds by way of explanation: Christ, who was without sin, was made sin for us,î to designate the means of reconciliation. Doubtless he means by the word reconciled nothing but justified. And surely, what he teaches elsewhere – that we are made righteous by Christ’s obedience – could not stand unless we are reckoned righteous before God in Christ and apart from ourselves [Institutes, 3.11.4, emphasis supplied].

Calvin then addresses the error of virtually all of professing Christendom, namely, the pernicious hypocrisy that we obtain righteousness before God by faith in Christ plus our own works of righteousness:

…a great part of mankind imagine that righteousness is composed of faith and works [but according to Philippians 3:8-9] a man who wishes to obtain Christ’s righteousness must abandon his own righteousness…. From this it follows that so long as any particle of works-righteousness remains some occasion for boasting remains with us [Institutes, 3.11.13].

…according to [the Sophists, that is, the medieval Schoolmen of the Sorbonne, the theological faculty of the University of Paris], man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration. [But] all works are excluded, whatever title may grace them… [Institutes, 3.11.14].

…Scripture, when it speaks of faith-righteousness, leads us…to turn aside from the contemplation of our own works and look solely upon God’s mercy and Christ’s perfection [Institutes, 3.11.16].

[The Sophists] cavil against our doctrine when we say that man is justified by faith alone. They dare not deny that man is justified by faith because it recurs so often in Scripture. But since the word alone is nowhere expressed, they do not allow this addition to be made. Is it so? But what will they reply to these words of Paul where he contends that righteousness cannot be of faith unless it be free? How will a free gift agree with works? With what chicaneries will they elude what he says in another passage, that God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel? If righteousness is revealed in the Gospel, surely no mutilated or half-righteousness but a full and perfect righteousness is contained there. The law therefore has no place in it. Not only by a false but an obviously ridiculous shift they insist upon excluding this adjective. Does not he who takes everything from works firmly enough ascribe everything to faith alone? What, I pray, do these expressions mean: His righteousness has been manifested apart from the law; and, Man is freely justified; and, Apart from the works of the law?î [Institutes, 3.11.19]

As we were made sinners by one man’s disobedience, so we have been justified by one man’s obedience. To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own [Institutes, 3.11.23].

Book Alert! New Title Commemorating Dordt’s 400th – “For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation”

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Now available from the Reformed Free Publishing Association is a new title commemorating the 400th anniversary of the “great Synod” of Dordt (1618-19). The work is titled For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation: 400 Years of the Synod of Dordt, edited by PRC Seminary professor Ronald Cammmenga. The work is a compilation of the speeches given at the April 2019 conference sponsored by the PRC Seminary marking Dordt’s 400th.

The publisher gives the following for its description:

Among Reformed Christians, the celebration of the anniversary of the Synod of Dordt (1618–19) is second only to the commemoration of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Indeed, marking the anniversary of the “great synod,” as it soon was called, is commemoration of the Reformation. For mainly Dordt’s accomplishment was the preservation of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace, which was restored to the church through the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary held a conference to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the Synod of Dordt. For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation includes all the presentations made at this conference, plus a bit more. The book explores the heritage that faithful Reformed churches ought to esteem, as that heritage was defended and handed down by the Synod of Dordt.

The chapters included in this book are written by: Rev. Angus Stewart, Prof. Brian Huizinga, Rev. Mark Shand, Prof. Douglas Kuiper, Rev. William Langerak, Prof. Ronald Cammenga, and Prof. Barrett Gritters.

Some of the subjects covered are Dordt’s doctrine of the covenant, reprobation (and election), the call of the gospel (over against the free offer), the Church Order, the five points of Calvinism, and assurance of salvation. All set against the background of the attacks on sovereign grace by the Arminians (Remonstrants) in seventeenth-century Holland (the Netherlands). In that context, the “great synod” was an international synod and brought together the best theologians from across Europe to set forth the “canons” that would refute the Arminian heresies troubling the Reformed churches and bring her peace through the establishment of the truth of the gospel.

Included in the book are an historical overview of the times and the controversy, and two appendices, one summarizing the various sessions of Dordt and the other being the opening sermon by Reformed pastor Lydius Balthasar (which you may also read here – click on the November 2018 issue of the PRT Journal).

The book is highly recommended for your reading enjoyment and edification, even if you heard the speeches. And if you missed those, read the book and watch the videos here.

Make this title one you add to your personal, family, and church libraries.

Saved by Grace: Called Efficaciously

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called. Romans 8:30

In the previous chapter we discussed regeneration, or the new birth.
We explained that regeneration is that marvelous work of God through the Spirit of Christ whereby the sinner is translated from death into life. The new birth is a spiritual resurrection. It is the implanting of a principle of new life. That new life is different from the old life of sin not only in that it is holy but also in that it is heavenly. The new birth is a birth from above. Through it we become spiritual citizens of the New Jerusalem and, in principle, strangers in the earth.

But suppose now that no other operations of grace followed that of regeneration: would such a regenerated sinner of himself develop into a conscious and living believer in Christ? In the new birth the sinner receives new spiritual powers or faculties, the power of faith, and the power to repent, the power to embrace Christ and all His benefits. But if nothing else is done to that reborn sinner, will those powers of themselves spring into activity, so that the sinner now actually believes and repents, enters into the state of reconciliation, and receives the forgiveness of sins? Perhaps you reply: of course not, such a regenerated man must be brought into contact with the gospel! Well, suppose then, that you give him a Bible to read, or that some preacher instructs him and makes him acquainted with the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, will he merely through that contact with the Scriptures come to conscious saving faith, so that he actually repents and believes? Not at all. The wonderful work of regeneration as we discussed it in the previous chapter must be followed by another stage in the great work of salvation, a work, too, which is accomplished by the same Spirit Who regenerated the sinner. The seed of the new life that was implanted into his heart must be quickened into activity if it is to bear fruit, by the calling. The sinner must be called by grace.

Very often we read in the Bible of this calling of the sinner. The apostle Paul writes that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11 :29) To the Corinthians he writes: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” (I Corinthians 1:26) And in Hebrews 3: 1 the “holy brethren” are called “partakers of the heavenly calling.” The apostle Peter admonishes us: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (II Peter 1: 10) The Lord Jesus tells us that He is “not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13) The saints are named “the called of Christ Jesus,” and they are “called to be saints,” and “the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 1 :6, 7; 8:28) In I Corinthians 1: 23, 24 the apostle states that the preaching of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” God’s people are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that they “should shew forth the praises of him who hath called (them) out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9) And they are called unto glory and virtue. (II Peter 1: 3) And not only do the Scriptures thus directly speak of the calling, but they also furnish us with concrete illustrations of what this calling should be. They call the sinner to repent and believe, the thirsty to drink, the hungry to eat, the weary to rest, the wicked to turn from his evil way.

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“Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1) “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 45:22) “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, a house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33: 11) “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11 :28) “Repent ye therefore, and be converted.” (Acts 3: 19) “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16: 31)

You see from all this how important is the calling as a part of the work of salvation by grace. It is through this calling that the sinner comes to true repentance, so that he is filled with sorrow after God, that he comes to the water of life to drink, and to the bread of life to eat, that he is translated from darkness into light, from the state of enmity into that of reconciliation with God, and that he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and is saved. Without and apart from this calling, the gospel of the crucified Christ is a stumblingblock to him, foolishness, and a savor of death unto death; but through the saving efficacy of this calling all this is changed, so that Christ becomes the power and the wisdom of God, and the gospel is a savor of life unto life unto the smner.

The calling, then, is that work of God’s mighty grace in Christ, through the Spirit, and by the preaching of the gospel, whereby the sinner is changed from darkness into light, so that he repents and consciously embraces Christ and all His benefits.

Finally, this divine calling is always effectual. This does not mean that the preacher may expect that all who come under the external preaching of the Word are also called unto salvation. Always there is a twofold effect; the preaching is a savor of death unto death, as well as a savor of life unto life. But the elect are surely called. They receive the hearing ear, the seeing eye, the willing heart. They hear the Word of God, and they tremble. They are sorry for their sins, and repent. They cry out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” and receive forgiveness. They hear the voice of Jesus say to them personally, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest!” And they come to Him and do find rest. They hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and know that they are of His sheep. And they follow Him, and He gives them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand. For the gifts of God and the calling are without repentance. For “whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

We are called by irresistible grace unto virtue and eternal glory!

wonderofgrace-hhTaken from chapter 6, “Called by Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.50-57. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

How Can We Encourage Our Pastors? Show Them Loving Kindness

Earlier this month we pointed out that October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” and we referenced a new book written by Christopher Ash called The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) (The Good Book Company, 2019). At the end of that post we mentioned that Ash calls attention to “seven virtues of church members that impact our pastors.” In this post we want to return to those and draw special attention to one of them.

Those seven virtues that, when displayed by church members, give godly pastors encouragement in, excitement for, and energy for their labors are as follows (I give them just as the author does):

  1. Daily repentance and eager faith [here he has in mind the core traits of a true Christian]
  2. Committed belonging [here is is talking about how we live faithfully in the church]
  3. Open honesty [by this he means living without pretense and being open toward the man who is called to care for you]
  4. Thoughtful watchfulness [here he has in mind helping your pastor grow and maintain his personal spiritual life . Interestingly, the first thing he mentions specifically is giving him time (and money!) to read. But I’ll pass on that one this time. But please, do it!]
  5. Loving Kindness [this is the one I’ll come back to]
  6. High expectations [here he means holding your pastor to the highest standard while also letting him be human – like you!]
  7. Zealous submission [put yourself under his ministry and show you submit to the Great Shepherd he serves and shows]

Now, let’s come back to #5 – Loving kindness. Why? Because it may seem so obvious (shall we be mean and cruel to Christ’s shepherds?!), and yet it is so easy to miss. Because, yes, people can be and are sometimes UN-kind to their pastors, and that includes you and me. Here are some worthwhile thoughts about what practicing loving kindness toward our pastors will mean to them.

Kindness is a powerful and beautiful expression of the love of Christ. …There is no doubt in my mind that churches that show kindness will have still better pastors as a result; for it is only natural that their pastors will return to their pastoral leadership with a fresh determination to love and care for, to teach and to preach to, and to pray for these who have loved them so.

If we show no kindness to our pastors, God still calls them to love, to care, to preach, to pray, and to do all their pastoral work towards us in the spirit of the Lord Jesus – who loved those who were his enemies and gave himself for them on the cross. But our pastors are not the Lord Jesus, and it is a normal and natural dynamic that if we demonstrate kindness to them, it is easier for them to give themselves gladly in caring for us.

A little farther on he writes,

…perhaps the most significant things in a pastor’s work are not so easily measurable – the labouring in prayer, the time-consuming and emotionally draining visits, the weeping with those who weep, the showing of the kindness of Christ to men and women as our pastors hold out to us the word of life. We want our pastors to be kind. But the opposite is also true: our kindness counts with them. We must never underestimate the significance of our simple, practical, loving kindness to our pastors.

And then at the end, he includes these penetrating words [yes, let them sink in!]:

One hindrance to kindness is the feeling that our pastors and their families ought to be living lives of sacrificial service to Christ. I have known churches that worry that, if they are too soft with them, their pastors may become lazy or soft in their discipleship. This – if we do feel it – is perverse. Certainly, they ought to be taking up the cross daily, saying no to self, and living lives of sacrifice for Jesus and his gospel. But so ought we and every disciple. It is one thing to make sacrifices for oneself; it’s quite another to seek to impose sacrifices on others.

What level of loving kindness are you showing to your pastor and his family? What can we do to increase that? Let’s commit to showing them the kindness of God that we ourselves have received, and in that way too encourage them in their labors.

Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 10:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

U. Zwingli’s Defense of His Protestant Preaching, 1523

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Earlier this month – Protestant Reformation month – we called attention to a special anniversary being commemorated this year: the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Reformation (1519-2019), begun through God’s servant Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) especially in the city of Zurich.

We pointed out in that post that the Reformation in Switzerland truly began when Zwingli began preaching through the Bible in January of 1519. It revolutionized the church – and the city! – so much so that Zurich’s city council called for public debates on whether or not Zwingli was truly preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church had her representatives there too (from Constance), who accused Zwingli – as they did all the Reformers – of false teaching and misleading the people.

The most significant of these debates was held on January 29, 1523, at which Zwingli first produced his “Sixty-Seven Articles” defending his biblical preaching and teaching.  Those articles represent an early Swiss Reformation confession, similar to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

For our purposes in this post, we quote the opening remarks of Zwingli at this debate, as found in Selected Works of Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), edited by Samuel M. Jackson (Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania, 1901). His appeal is standard for the Protestant Reformers: Scripture alone. Pay special attention to that as you read through his opening statement.

What follows is the heading to the disputation and then Zwingli’s words.

ACTS OF THE CONVENTION HELD IN THE PRAISEWORTHY CITY OF ZURICH ON THE 29TH DAY OF JANUARY, ON ACCOUNT OF THE HOLY GOSPEL—BEING A DISPUTATION BETWEEN THE DIGNIFIED AND HONORABLE REPRESENTATIVE FROM CONSTANCE AND HULDRYCH ZWINGLI, PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, TOGETHER WITH THE COMMON CLERGY OF THE WHOLE TERRITORY OF THE AFORESAID CITY OF ZURICH, HELD BEFORE THE ASSEMBLED COUNCIL IN THE YEAR 1523.

Then Master Ulrich Zwingli spoke in answer, and his remarks in the beginning were as follows:

Pious brothers in Christ, Almighty God has always shown His divine grace, will and favor to man from the beginning of the world, has been as kind as a true and almighty father, as we read and know from all the Scriptures, so that everlasting, merciful God has communicated His divine word and His will to man as a consolation. And although at some times He has kept away this same word, the light of truth, from the sinful and godless struggling against the truth, and although He has allowed to fall into error those men who followed their own will and the leadings of their wicked nature, as we are truly informed in all Bible histories, still He has always in turn consoled His own people with the light of His everlasting word, so that, whereas they had fallen into sin and error, they may again be lifted by His divine mercy, and He has never entirely forsaken them or let them depart from His divine recognition.

This I say to you, dear brethren, for this purpose. You know that now in our time, as also many years heretofore, the pure, clear and bright light, the word of God, has been so dimmed and confused and paled with human ambitions and teachings that the majority who by word of mouth call themselves Christians know nothing less than the divine will. But by their own invented service of God, holiness, external spiritual exhibition, founded upon human customs and laws, they have gone astray, and have thus been persuaded by those whom people consider learned and leaders of others to the extent that the simple think that such invented external worship is spiritual, and that the worship of God, which they have put upon themselves, necessarily conduces to happiness, although all our true happiness, consolation and good consists, not in our merits, nor in such external works, rather alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom the heavenly Father Himself gave witness that we should hear Him as His beloved Son. His will and true service we can learn and discover only from His true word in the Holy Scriptures and in the trustworthy writings of His twelve apostles, otherwise from no human laws and statutes.

Since now certain pious hearts have ventured to preach this by the grace and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, and to bring it before the people, they call these preachers not Christians, but persecutors of the Christian Church, and even heretics. I am considered one of these by many of the clergy and the laity everywhere in the Confederation. And although I know that for the past five years I have preached in this city of Zurich nothing but the true, pure and clear word of God, the holy Gospel, the joyous message of Christ, the Holy Scripture, not by the aid of man, but by the aid of the Holy Ghost, still all this did not help me. But I am maligned by many as a heretic, a liar, a deceiver, and one disobedient to the Christian Church, which facts are well known to my Lords of Zurich. I made complaint of these things before them as my Lords; I have often entreated and begged of them in the public pulpit to grant me permission to give an account of my sermons and preachings (delivered in their city) before all men, learned or not, spiritual or secular, also before our gracious Lord, the Bishop of Constance, or his representative. This I also offered to do in the city of Constance, providing a safe permit was assured me, as has ever been done in the case of those from Constance.

At such request of mine, my Lords, perhaps by divine will, you have granted me permission to hold a discussion in German before the assembled Council, for which privilege I thank you especially as my Lords. I have also brought together in outline the contents and import of all my speeches and sermons delivered at Zurich, have issued the same in German through the press, so that every one might see and know what my doctrine and sermons at Zurich have been, and shall be in the future, unless I am convinced of something else.

I hope and am confident, indeed I know, that my sermons and doctrine are nothing else than the holy, true, pure Gospel, which God desired me to speak by the intuition and inspiration of His Spirit. But from what intent or desire God has wished such things to take place through me, His unworthy servant, I cannot know, for He alone knows and understands the secret of His counsels. Wherefore I offer here to any one who thinks that my sermons or teachings are unchristian or heretical to give the reasons and to answer kindly and without anger. Now let them speak in the name of God. Here I am.

Raised with Christ – Glorious Gospel Miracle and Mystery!

Eph-2-5-6What a miracle is this! You and I, my brother and sister, ‘have been raised with Christ’!

What is this mystery? What will it be? That we are buried with him in his death, are raised with him, and are seated with him in heaven? It’s that we have become one vine with him, equalized with him in his death and therefore also in his resurrection.

…He [Christ] assumed the office of Messiah. …He became the head of a new humanity and thereby included all those who would become children of God. He embraced them in his high-priestly heart. In an act of eternal love, he incorporated us into himself, after the Father gave us to him.

From that moment on, we live in him. In his heart! In his high-priestly person! From that moment, we were in him. We were still impure and unholy in all our sins; but he carried them all the away as the Lamb of God.

So he stood there, then, with all God’s children bound up in him. …The entire race of the elect was bound up in the Son of Man. Because of this, Christ sank down under the flood of unrighteousness belonging to God’s children that poured over his heart. These are the sins that oppressed him with ‘the enormous burden of God’s anger.’

This is how he met death, descended to hell, and was buried under a curse. But naturally, not he alone but also we with him, since we were in him. Where he descended, we descended as well. We were buried with him in his death. When he died, we died. When he lay in the grave, we lay in that grave, bound in his heart. In him, in a shared lot with him!

And when he rose again, broke the bonds of death, and triumphed over hell and the grave, the Messiah did not dismiss us from his heart. He didn’t simply leave us lying in the grave, my brother and sister, to triumph only by himself. No, he took us along with him in his resurrection. Along with him out of the grave! When he stepped back into life, we stepped over the threshold with him, out of ruin and raised to new life. When forty days later he ascended to heaven, he did not leave us behind here on earth. But he held us close, bound in his heart. And he took us above with him so that we have now been seated with him in heaven. And because he is praying for us in his heart, we may be at peace in that heart of his.

So now do you understand?

…’Child of God’ is definitely a title of honor that belongs to you.

…It is yours by right, on the basis of pure grace!

Taken from the new translation by James A. De Jong of Abraham Kuyper’s Honey from the Rock (Lexham Press, 2018), pp.226-229.

This particular meditation (#71 of Volume 1) is titled “We Have Been Raised with Him” and is based on Ephesians 2:6 (cf. above).

New Book Alert and Review – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating

dating-differently-JEngelsma-2019Just off the presses and at the warehouse is the latest Reformed Free Publishing Association’s (rfpa.org) title – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating. It is with high anticipation and great excitement that we welcome this new book. And we may add that we are deeply grateful it has been written, as it not only fills a gap in the RFPA’s publications, but also in the writings of the Protestant Reformed Churches and in the offerings of the broader Reformed book world.

The author is Rev. Joshua Engelsma, a 2014 graduate of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and currently pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Northwest Iowa. It is evident from the outset that pastor Engelsma writes not only out his own life experiences in dating and entering into marriage, but also out of his own pastoral experience. The chapters breathe genuine concern for the young people of the covenant as well as love for God, the church, and his own wife (to whom the book is affectionately dedicated). As you read through the book, you feel that you are being addressed by a true friend (a tried and tested friend!) who cares about how you go about making one of the most important decisions in life: whom you will marry. Young people – even very young people – will find a faithful guide here. And so will parents, pastors, and counselors involved in nurturing the youth of the church and kingdom of God.

But let’s find out a bit more about Dating Differently. What is it about and what makes it different from other Christian books on dating?

The publisher gives the following as a brief description:

We’re bombarded with antichristian messages everywhere in life, and from casual hookups to casual sex, our culture’s messages on dating are no different.

But Christians don’t have to follow these norms. The Bible gives us a better way.

It’s a way of chastity and wisdom. A way that understands that marriage—the end goal of dating—is for life. The person you marry will shape who you become spiritually. And that person will also be the father or mother to the children God is pleased to give you some day.

Pastorally and accessibly, Joshua Engelsma answers the practical questions of Reformed, Christian dating based on the truth that we must date differently—with marriage as the goal and scripture as the guide.

That description reveals the antithetical nature of this work – so vital in this age in which we and our young people are living! The author strives to guide the young people of the church in spiritual separation from the godless world in which we live, as well as from the apostate church world and its false guidance about dating. Rather, he shows them how to be devoted to God and to Jesus Christ as they date and prepare for marriage, or are called to singleness in their Christian lives.

With regard to the specific content, Dating Differently is comprehensive, as the chapter list indicates:

  1. Preface
  2. Is there help?
  3. Where’s this headed?
  4. When should I start?
  5. Who’s the one?
  6. What’s there to do on dates?
  7. What’s the place of my parents and others?
  8. What about sex?
  9. What if I’m single all my life?
  10. When do I get married?
  11. Conclusion

You will note from these chapter titles that Pastor Engelsma covers all the basics of dating with a view to marriage, including that question about being and remaining single, which he shows is also a good way of the Lord. And you will discern from this content that the author does not shy away from the tough issues involved with dating as a Christian – issues such as recreational dating vs. dating with a distinct purpose (marriage); who takes the lead in dating (male headship and male leadership while maintaining the full spiritual equality of the woman); the role of parents (maintaining parental authority over against the autonomy of the young man/young woman); and the place of sex in dating (none – it must be saved for marriage!).

While reading through the manuscript the publisher sent me, I was also struck by the practical nature of this book. In some cases, with very personal and practical subjects like this, pastors write out of principle (as they should!) but fall short on being practical, and the result is a book that is sound but not in touch with the real world of its main objects. That is not true of Dating Differently. Pastor Engelsma writes about dating in a most principled manner (grounded in Scripture) while also being personal and practical. Being not that far removed from the dating years, he writes as one who knows that world well and relates it practically so that young people can relate to his wise counsel. That means the book is also clear and direct without being condescending or condemnatory. Young people will receive the practical guidance because they sense the author knows his subject – and them.

Need an example of that principled practicality found in the book? Here’s a snippet from chapter 4, “When should I start?”

If you are fifteen or sixteen and consider yourself ready to date, take a moment to stop and think about the future. If you start dating now and continue to date the same person, when you graduate from high school you will have dated for two or three years. Two or three years is a long time to date, enough time for you to know whether you can marry this person or not. Are you ready at eighteen, freshly graduated from high school, to get married? As a young man, are you going to be ready to support a wife and family? As a young woman, are you ready to be a wife and possibly a mother? Or do you have plans of going to college and getting a degree? If so, do you think that after three years of dating in high school you are willing to wait through four more years of college before getting married? Is that really wise?

Perhaps there are some of you who at sixteen are ready for all this. But as a general rule, most are not. If you are going to date, be sure that you are spiritually mature.

But the book doesn’t simply cover these varied dating topics in a general or vague way. The author is Reformed and approaches all these subjects in a Reformed way. That means, first of all, that he is committed to showing young people how they must date according to the Word of God. That’s the guide he uses and points the reader to throughout. Each chapter is replete with Scripture references, and the study questions at the end of each chapter also point the reader to the Bible. Such an approach shows that the author is interested in confronting his readers with God and His way, not man and his way.

In addition, the author is Protestant Reformed, and writes from the precious and precise perspective of the PRC’s teaching on marriage – the Bible’s teaching! – often lost and forsaken in the Reformed world today. He explains that particular position in the Preface:

There are plenty of other books on dating on the market, some worthwhile, others not. In part what makes this book unique is that it is written from the viewpoint of the biblical, historically Reformed view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life, with divorce permitted only in cases of fornication and all remarriage forbidden while one’s spouse is living. This precious truth, still maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches in which I serve, is applied in the pages that follow to the practical subject of dating.

It should be evident by now that I highly recommend this short but trustworthy Reformed guide on dating. I encourage our young people – and their parents – to get this book and read it promptly. And then apply it, personally and practically. Use the wisdom found on its pages. And, of course, the book will also benefit pastors and teachers, elders and grandparents, and single believers. Add it to your personal or family library. Get one for your church library. Think about giving one as a gift to your local community library. Reading and following God’s way of dating as outlined in this title will reap a beautiful and blessed covenant harvest.

The book retails for $16.95 but can be purchased at a discounted price by joining the RFPA Book Club. Visit the RFPA website for more information and for ordering.

Nota bene: I plan to return to this book in future posts for some choice quotes, demonstrating the truth of what I have posted here.

Addressing a Generational Crisis: Tabletalk Magazine – October 2019

We are halfway through the month and we ought to introduce the October 2019 issue of Tabletalk, the monthly devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries.  This month has a striking theme: “From Generation to Generation,” and the featured articles let the old speak to the young and the young to the old. It is a wonderful testimony to the unity of the church of Christ and the continuity of God’s covenant of grace.

Burk Parsons sets the tone and shows the need for this issue with his introduction, “The Divorce of Generations.” Here are some of his opening thoughts:

We are in a crisis, and it is one of the greatest crises we have ever encountered. While the world has always faced this issue in one way or another, the church has only begun to acknowledge the reality of it, and it is growing. This crisis is not merely one involving anti-establishment impulses or anti-tradition feelings that we have observed, off or on, throughout history. Nor is it simply a matter of typical teenage rebellion. Rather, it is a problem that has emerged in some ways in every age bracket.

This crisis, simply put, is the divorce of generations. Younger generations have divorced themselves from older generations, and older generations have all but given up on younger generations. While I am speaking generally, this crisis is the source of numerous other troubles in various contexts—the classroom, the workplace, the home, the state, the church, and the world. For when younger generations seek to sever all ties with older generations, the very fabric of civilization begins to rip apart. When younger men and women reject and repudiate the authority of older men and women, they are walking a path to their own demise.

That is why, in this issue, we have sought to publish articles that speak from generation to generation—from the older generation to the younger generation and from the younger to the older.

And the special articles definitely address this crisis in the church and covenant community. Let me give you a taste from each side, as we hear first from an older saint to a younger, and then the other way around. In Geoff Thomas’ address, he calls the young to “Take Sin Seriously,” pointing out powerfully for our benefit:

See the judgment of sin that fell on the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. What do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit think of sin? Consider the end of the Son whom God the Father loves. There is no father more loving than the Father and no son more beloved than the Son. Yet, the Son bore our sins in His own body on the cross. The Son of God became the Lamb of God. He who knew no sin was made sin for us. But God the Father did not spare Him. There could not be a gram of compromise as far as sin was concerned. God did not restrain one stroke of His rod of justice in displaying how worthy of condemnation sin is. It pleased the Father to strike Christ dead. The Father lifted up His rod, and Christ took it on Himself—in our place.

All this indicates the seriousness with which God views sin, and how inexpressible is all that God endured in order for pathetic folk like us to be delivered from iniquity. And you can shrug? You can nod and yet carry on sinning in deed and word and attitude and omission?

Unbeliever, Jesus Christ is everything sinners need. He can satisfy all your desires and can snap those mighty chains that attach you to sin. Christian, young and old alike, put to death remaining sin. Strangle it and give it not a breath. Starve it. Refuse to feed it with a single tidbit. Take sin seriously because you take the righteousness and blood of Christ seriously.

And then hear this younger voice from Joe Holland, as he pleads with the older to “be patient with us as we learn”:

But now I come to the hardest part: my request of you.

As the young and old stand on either side of this age gap, one of us must make the first move. I wish I could lay the burden on us both. But the pride, frailty, and instability of youth place us at a woeful disadvantage. Older saint, we need you to make the first move and keep pursuing us. We need you to seek, mentor, disciple, and love the younger Christians in our church. I’m asking you to be patient with younger Christians with a patience such as our Lord Jesus exemplified. When we act in pride, please patiently endure us. When we are slow to listen, please patiently tolerate us. When we are quick to speak, please patiently listen to us with a knowing smile that we’ll one day learn was pity mixed with grace. When we give you the look of resentment and dismissal, please patiently receive that insult and be ready to forgive us. Please patiently correct us, pray for us, and stand with us. If you don’t move first, if you don’t stay near us with a Christlike patience, then this gap will remain between us, to the detriment of us both.

Please, older Christian, be patient with us as we learn.

There is much to profit from in this unique issue. Make a point to read some articles before the month is out. Better yet, seek out an older saint or a younger saint at church and make an effort to listen and to speak. Yes, in that order.

Source: Latest Issue – October 2019

Expository Listening: Honoring God by Hearing and Doing His Word

God is most honored when your life lines up wholly with His Word and His Word is lived out practically in your life (Titus 2:5,8,10). Your life makes God and His Word either look good or bad. Nothing brings greater reproach on God and His Word than when those who profess to be Christians don’t live according to the principles of God’s Word. It causes people to conclude, ‘If that’s what comes out of going to church and hearing all those sermons from the Bible every day, then I don’t want anything to do with the Bible.’ But when others perceive that hearing and putting into practice biblical preaching has had a life-changing effect on you, that wil pique their interest and give you an opportunity to share with them the truth of God’s Word and how they too can honor God with their life (Matt.5:16; 1 Pet.2:12). In this way, good listeners multiply themselves, as the seed of the Word reaps a bountiful harvest.

Realizing that the reputation of God and His Word are at stake should provide all the incentive you need to carefully listen to and live out every sermon you hear so that your life accurately reflects what the Bible teaches.

But for added “punch” the author includes this “stirring exhortation” of Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs to his congregation at the end of Sunday sermon,

I beseech you, brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ this morning that you who are hearers of the Word would glorify the Word, and glorify the name of God in the Word. Oh, that not one of you would be a disgrace or shame to the Word of God! …You should rather think thusly: ‘It would be better for me that I should die, and that I were under the ground and rotting there, than that the Word of God should ever be disgraced by me….’ If ever you have gotten any good by the Word, you should go away with this resolution: ‘I will labor all the days of my life to honor this Word of God that I have gotten so much good by.’ If this were but the resolution of every one of your hearts this morning, it would be a blessed morning’s work.’

expository-listening-ramey-2010Taken from chapter 6 of Ken Ramey’s book, Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word , (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010). This chapter treats James’ teaching to the first-century church in James 1:19-25 and is titled “Practice What You Hear” (pp85.ff.). We considered an earlier part of this chapter in August but this ending was also worth quoting.

Shall we remember to listen this way on the morrow and live this way in the week to come?

Published in: on October 12, 2019 at 8:57 PM  Leave a Comment  

Motivating Our Pastors to Joy in Their Work

October is “Pastor Appreciation” month, and though some may view this as another contrived calendar event (a “Hallmark holiday, if you will”), I believe it warrants some attention.

We should know how difficult the life and labors of our pastors is. We should be aware of how they spend themselves for the ministry, working hard and long to prepare gospel messages each week, caring for the sick and weak, leading Bible studies, teaching catechism, chairing church meetings, etc. And they are also real people, with real marriages, real families, and real needs themselves. Your struggles and mine are also theirs. Do you get discouraged in your work? So do they. Do you get down about how well you are doing in life? So do they. Do you worry about your children and parents and fellow saints? So do they. Do you fight sin daily and find the constant battle not worth it sometimes? Do you want to give up and give in? So do they.  Do you wrestle with doubts and fears about your spouse, your family, the church? So do they.

And yet they encourage us and motivate us in our life and work. What a blessing their preaching and pastoral care is to us! They lift us up and pick us up and lead us on, week after week. We need them and their faithful labors. And they need us too. We need to motivate them and help lift them up too!

A book I pulled out of the seminary library today with this in mind speaks to this powerfully. Christopher Ash as written a wonderful little book called The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) (The Good Book Company, 2019). In his second chapter titled “Why Would You Want to Care for Your Pastor?” Ash references Heb.13:17, which reads: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (KJV) He then goes on to write this:

Just look at those last two words: ‘to you.’ I can see that making their work a joy would be good for them, and that if it is a burden, it will be tough for them. But for us?! How so?

Answer: unless there is at least some whisper of joy in their hearts as they do their work, some spring of gladness in their step, they will never persevere to the end. And – and this is the point – it is we who will suffer. Instead of being well taught – faithfully preached to with insight and depth – instead of being patiently prayed for, instead of having our souls guarded from evil, instead of being lovingly equipped, instead of being well led in our churches, we will be harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, at the mercy of all kinds of destructive evil. And our churches will be shallow places of immaturity and instability, at the mercy of every whim of cultural pressure or theological oddity.

It is therefore in our own interests, to say nothing of love for the pastor, that we should make their work a joy and not simply a heavy and gloomy burden. If you and I truly grasp the extent to which healthy pastoral oversight is a team effort – a two-way dynamic in which we , as church members, play as critical a part as our pastors – then, and only then, will we be urgently motivated to learn the better to care for them. You and I have it in our power to demotivate our pastors, so that they are gradually ground down into a slough of despond from which they will be utterly unable to do us any good at all. But we also have it in our power so to cheer them up, so to put a spring in their step, that they will gladly do for us all that we hope and pray. [pp.32-33]

From there he lays out “seven virtues that we as church members can learn, and that can make our pastor’s work a joy.” (p.33) In a future post this month we can reference those seven virtues.

For now, let’s ask ourselves: What am I doing to make my pastor’s work in my church a joy, in the midst of all the difficulties, discouragements, and disappointments he faces? Shall we start with caring about him in our hearts and bringing his needs to the throne of the Great Shepherd whom he represents and under whom he labors?

 

Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 10:59 PM  Comments (1)