J. Calvin’s Doctrine of Scripture – D.Kuiper

sola_scriptura_small01One of the featured articles on the PRC website this month focuses on John Calvin’s doctrine of the holy Scripture. It was originally written for the special Reformation issue of the Oct.15, 1993 Standard Bearer and was penned by Rev. Dale Kuiper (1935-2014), then pastor of SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

For this Saturday night we quote a part of this important and profitable article, encouraging you to read all of it at the link provided above. Or you may find the link to its original source here (and while there, you will see the other articles related to the theme of the Reformation’s doctrine of Scripture in that special issue).

In chapter seven [of his Institutes] Calvin teaches that unless the authority of Scripture is firmly established, doubts will flourish in them in the mind and there will be a lack of reverence for the Word. “But since we are not favoured with daily oracles from heaven, and since it is only in the Scriptures that the Lord hath been pleased to preserve his truth in perpetual remembrance, it obtains the same complete credit and authority with believers, when they are satisfied of its divine origin, as if they heard the very words pronounced by God himself” (p. 85) He calls it a pernicious error that the Scriptures derive their authority and weight by the suffrages of the church, or that the church decides what reverence is due the Scriptures, and what books comprise the canon.

Calvin destroys the argument that the Scriptures depend on the church’s decisions by quoting Ephesians 2:20, where we read that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If the foundation of the church is Scripture, Scripture precedes the existence of the church, and the church cannot exist without Scripture. How, then, can she be the judge of them? “Wherefore, when the church receives it, and seals it with her suffrage, she does not authenticate a thing otherwise dubious or controvertible; but knowing it to be the truth of her God, performs a duty of piety, by treating it with immediate veneration” (p. 87).

…Calvin insists that the principal proof for the authority of the Bible is derived from the character of the Divine Speaker. “The prophets and apostles boast not of their own genius, or any of those talents which conciliate the faith of the hearers; nor do they insist on arguments from reason; but bring forward the sacred name of God, to compel the submission of the whole world” (p. 89). He immediately adds that “the testimony of the Spirit is superior to all reason. For as God alone is a sufficient witness of himself in his own word, so also the word will never gain credit in the hearts of men, till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit” (p. 90). What must we think of Calvinists who wonder at the nature and extent of biblical authority in the twentieth century? Why appoint committees to study such a question? It is faithless conniving against the fundamental principle of the Reformation.

“This diamond Jesus Christ.” – Martin Luther

reformation-in-lit-smellie-1925Another interesting book that is part of the T. Letis collection (and that was also part of the library of Prof. D. Engelsma) is The Reformation in Its Literature by Alexander Smellie (Andrew Melrose, London/New York, 1925 – also author of The Men of the Covenant).

The book is a wonderful study of the Reformation from the viewpoint of the major works of literature that it produced – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to Calvin’s Institutes to Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Last evening I read chapter three, “The Deep Heart of Martin Luther,” a study of Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Part of that chapter focused on the Reformer’s view of Jesus Christ – a gem of a section. This is part of what Smellie had to say:

But Luther has a still vaster and sweeter word for us to set over against the battalions of our adversaries – the word ‘Christ.’ ‘This diamond Jesus Christ,’ ‘this precious pearl Christ’; no jewel can be compared with Him. Those of us who wish to see what endless resources the Reformer finds in Our Saviour and Lord must return to Hermann’s wonderful book, The Communion of the Christian with God, and must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the chapter which is headed ‘Luther and Christ.’  How he retained the Christological dogma of the Mediaeval Church in which he had been nurtured, but breathed into it a vital and ardent and magnificent content. How he was sure of the Deity of Christ, and believed that ‘the man who seeks salvation will stop trying to help himself only when he knows that God has helped him.’ How he was just as rejoicingly certain of Our Lord’s humanity, and rose from the humanity step by step to the vision and conviction of the Deity. ‘For the Scriptures begin very gently, and lead us on to Christ as to a Man, then afterwards to a Lord over all creatures, and after that to a God. So do I enter delightfully and learn to know God. But the philosophers and the all-wise men have wanted to begin from above; and so they have become fools. We must begin from below, and after that come upwards.’ How, in short, confidence in Christ is all that poor sinners need; for He is the true and faithful Lover of those who are in trouble and anguish. He is the merciful High Priest of the wretched and the fearful (pp.65-66).


The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Justification

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016A week or so ago we pointed to some new Reformation books that have been published, one of them being Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).

The first chapter gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church – justification, or as the book has it in the subtitle, “How Can We Be Saved?” After giving an account of how Luther was led by the Lord to rediscover this truth of salvation, the authors summarize “Luther’s theology of justification” this way:

  1. Justification is a forensic act by which a believer is declared righteous. Justification is not a process by which a person is made righteous. ‘Forensic’ means legal – it invokes the image of a law court. It involves a change of status – not a change of nature.
  2. The cause of justification is the alien righteousness of Christ. It is not inherent within a person or in any sense said to belong to us. It is ‘imputed’ or reckoned to us. It is not ‘imparted’ or poured into us.
  3. Justification is by faith alone. We contribute nothing. Christ has achieved everything for us already.
  4. Because justification is an act of God and because it is based on the finished work of Christ, we can have assurance (p.32).

A few paragraphs later the authors raise the question,

So, does justification still matter? The answer must be a resounding yes. Nothing maters more than justification by Christ alone through faith alone. If justification by faith seems obvious to you, then it is because of Luther. But we must not presume on his legacy.

Many attempts have been made to move the center ground of Christianity elsewhere. But the fact remains that the biggest problem facing humanity is God’s justice. God is committed to judging sin. And that means he is committed to judging my sin. This is our biggest problem because that means an eternity excluded from the glory of God (p.34).

To which they add,

This is why Luther described justification as ‘the summary of Christian doctrine’ and ‘the article by which the church stands or falls.’

But it is not just at a doctrinal or ecclesial level that it matters. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God, and I question my future with God. But day after day the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul (p.35).

Good things to think about as we remember the Reformation and give thanks for the gospel of grace restored to the church in the sixteenth century.


Special Reformation Issue on M.Luther – Oct.15, 2016 Standard Bearer

The annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and it truly is a special issue – entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”


As you will see from the above cover and table of contents, the issue contains a variety of articles on Martin Luther and the beginning of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to his struggle for assurance to his views on Scripture and the church.

There is much edifying reading here, and you are encouraged to make this reading a priority this month as we remember God’s work in His church in the past. To obtain your issue or to subscribe to this Reformed magazine, visit the SB link above.

For today, let’s hear Luther himself, as found in his commentary on Galatians 2:19 (Kregel, 1979), quoted in the “Meditation” for this issue.

Christ, with most sweet names, is called my law, my sin, my death, against the law, sin and death: whereas, in very deed He is nothing else but mere liberty, righteousness, life, and everlasting salvation. And for this cause He is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me, and quicken me. So then, while Christ is the law, He is also liberty: while He is sin (for ‘He was made sin for us’), He is righteousness; and while He is death, He is life. For in that He suffered the law to accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to devour Him, He abolished the law, He condemned sin, He destroyed death, He justified and saved me. So Christ is the poison of the law, sin, and death, and the remedy for the obtaining  of liberty, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Thus Paul goeth about to draw us wholly from the beholding of the law, sin, death, and all other evils, and to bring us unto Christ, that there we might behold this joyful conflict: to wit the law fighting against the law, that it may be to me liberty: sin against sin, that it may be to me righteousness: death against death, that I may obtain life: Christ fighting against the devil, that I may be the child of God: and destroying hell that I may enjoy the Kingdom of heaven (p.87)

The Prayers of J. Calvin (29)

JCalvin1On this third Sunday of Reformation month 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-eighth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:12-19, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:15, “And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim”:

But we may hence learn this important truth, – that God had never bound Himself to any people or place, that He was not at liberty to inflict punishment on the impiety of those who had despised His favours, or profaned them by their ingratitude and their sins.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for we see that it is an evil as it were innate in us, that we become elated and proud whenever God deals bountifully with us; for we so abuse His favours as to think that more liberty is given us, because God has bestowed on us more than on others. But there is nothing more groundless than this presumption; and yet we become thus insolent whenever God honours us with peculiar favours.

Let us therefore bear in mind what is taught here by the Prophet, – that God is ever at liberty to take vengeance on the ungodly and the ungrateful.

With that general comment, Calvin turns his attention to the Romish church:

Hence it also appears how foolish is the boasting of the Papists; for whenever they bring against us the name of the apostolic throne, they think that God’s mouth is closed; they think that all authority is to be taken away from His Word. In short, they harden themselves against God, as though they had a legitimate possession, because the gospel had been once preached at Rome, and because that place was the first seat of the Church in Italy as well as in Europe. But God never favoured Rome with such a privilege, nor has He said that His habitation was to be there.

…Now, since Shiloh and Jerusalem, and so many celebrated cities, where the gospel formerly flourished, have been taken away from us, it is not to be doubted but that a dreadful vengeance and destruction await all those who reject the doctrine of salvation and despise the treasure of the gospel.

Since then God has shewn by so many proofs and examples that He is not bound to any places, how stupid is their madness who seek, through the mere name of an apostolic seat, to subvert all truth and all fear of God, and whatever belongs to true religion (pp.382-383).

And so Calvin concludes this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are inclined not only to superstitions, but also to many vices, we may be restrained by Thy Word, and as Thou art pleased daily to remind us of Thy benefits, that Thou mayest keep us in the practice of true religion, –

O grant, that we may not be led astray by the delusions of Satan and by our own vanity, but continue firm and steady in our obedience to Thee, and constantly proceed in the course of true piety, so that we may at length partake of its fruit in Thy celestial kingdom, which has been obtained for us by the blood of Thine only-begotten Son. Amen

Funeral Sermon on the Death of Martin Luther (1) – Justus Jonas

The T. Letis collection in the PRC Seminary library contains a wonderful assortment of books on the great Reformer Martin Luther (You may also find information on this collection on the Seminary’s library webpage.).


Among them is a rare and significant first edition book containing Two Funeral Sermons on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther, Delivered at Eisleben, February 19th and 20th, 1546, by Dr. Justus Jonas and Pastor Michael Celius (Translated by Rev. E. Greenwald and published in Lancaster, PA by the Junior Missionary Society of the Church of the Holy Trinity (Evangelical Lutheran) in 1883 (cf. the title page above). At this link you may read this book online, and you will also find reprints of it on Amazon.

The Preface contains a note concerning how this book (originally in German) came into that church’s library and was subsequently translated and published by the young people in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth (1483-1883).

Last evening I read the first of these sermons, the one by Dr. Justin Jonas, who was “a professor at Wittenberg, an intimate friend of Luther, and accompanied him to the Diet of Worms, was at the Conference at Marburg, and at the Diet of Ausburg.” In addition, Jonas “went with Luther to Eisleben, and was present at his death. He assisted Luther in the translation of the Bible, and was eminent for his learning” (E. Greenwald in the Preface).

For this Thursday, let me give you a portion of that wonderful sermon (based on  I Thess. 4:13-18), not to praise the man Luther, but to magnify the grace of God to him, and through him to us Protestant Christians and churches.

Dr. Martin Luther also possessed many other eminent gifts. He was an extremely powerful orator. Particularly, he was a most able interpreter of the entire Bible. Even the officials of the court have, in part, learned from him to speak and write in pure German. For he has restored the German language, so that the people again read and write the German language correctly, as many in the higher ranks of society are compelled to acknowledge and testify. How eloquent a man, and eminent a writer, Dr. Martin Luther was, we often learn from little things, as from his letters. However, his numerous books and other writings sufficiently prove it. The master is known by his work. Of his extraordinary natural talents I will say nothing, only I will refer all God-fearing and devout Christians to his books, postils, and commentaries for proof. They will learn from them what an eminent orator, preacher, and bishop they have had in him. Would to God Germany had many such men and bishops, for she needs them much.

Dr. Martin Luther also possesses, in large measure, the grace of God, the illumination of the Holy Ghost, and the true knowledge of God and Christ. These gracious gifts were not permitted to decline in him, but he increased them daily, by the diligent use of the holy divine Scriptures, their careful study, and the devout reading of them for forty years. He was well acquainted with the entire Bible, which he read through so many times that the whole was clear to his mind. This habit the good, dear man, pursued steadily from his 24th until his 63rd year, and until he died (pp.8-9).


Of the Church (1) – M. Luther’s “Tabletalk”




The true church is an assembly or congregation depending on that which does not appear, nor may be comprehended in the mind, namely, God’s Word; what that says, they believe without addition, giving God the honor.


We tell our Lord God plainly, that if he will have his church, he must maintain and defend it; for we can neither uphold nor protect it; if we could, indeed, we should become the proudest asses under heaven. But God says: I say it, I do it; it is God only that speaks and does what he pleases; he does nothing according to the fancies of the ungodly, or which they hold for upright and good.


The great and worldly-wise people take offence at the poor and mean form of our church, which is subject to many infirmities, transgressions, and sects, wherewith she is plagued; for they say the church should be altogether pure, holy, blameless, God’s dove, etc. And the church, in the eyes and sight of God, has such an esteem; but in the eyes and sight of the world, she is like unto her bridegroom, Christ Jesus, torn, spit on, derided, and crucified.

The similitude of the upright and true church and of Christ, is a poor silly sheep; but the similitude of the false and hypocritical church, is a serpent, an adder.


Where God’s word is purely taught, there is also the upright and true church; for the true church is supported by the Holy Ghost, not by succession of inheritance. It does not follow, though St Peter had been bishop at Rome, and at the same time Christian communion had been at Rome, that, therefore, the pope and the Romish church are true; for if that should be of value or conclusive, then they must needs confess that Caiaphas, Annas, and the Sadducees were also the true church; for they boasted that they were descended from Aaron.


It is impossible for the Christian and true church to subsist without the shedding of blood, for her adversary, the devil, is a liar and a murderer. The church grows and increases through blood; she is sprinkled with blood; she is spoiled and bereaved of her blood; when human creatures will reform the church, then it costs blood.


The form and aspect of the world is like a paradise; but the true Christian church, in the eye of the world, is foul, deformed, and offensive; yet, nevertheless, in the sight of God, she is precious, beloved, and highly esteemed. Aaron, the high priest, appeared gloriously in the temple, with his ornaments and rich attire, with odoriferous and sweet-smelling perfumes; but Christ appeared most mean and lowly.

Wherefore I am not troubled that the world esteems the church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country-people, covetous men, and drunkards, condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us. To please the good is our virtue.

Taken from The Tabletalk of Martin Luther (ed. Thomas S. Kepler; Baker reprint, 1979). You may also find this online at CCEL.

William Tyndale: Neglected Reformer

One of the Reformation’s often forgotten and neglected leaders is William Tyndale (1494-1536), the English theologian, linguist, and martyr through whom God gave us the first major English Bible. This forgetfulness and neglect of Tyndale is being remedied by several new works on the man and his work.

tyndale-teemsRecently, Steven Lawson has written a fine book on him under the title The Daring Mission of William Tyndale (Reformation Trust, 2014). Another title I recently purchased for the Seminary library (and in Kindle format for $.99) is David Teems’ Tyndale:the Man Who Gave God an English Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2012). I am currently reading this title and it is a very good read.

Allow me to give you a taste of Teems’ portrayal of Tyndale and his translating work on the Bible:

He is always moving. He has little choice. The threat level suspends between orange and red. The heat is never off. He is nomadic. And as we might expect, his work reflects this condition. …Tyndale must think and write while on the run. His text, therefore, has a modern economy and a pace that moves it along evenly. And though he is neither truculent nor combative by nature, he is not afraid to strike when that is all that is left to him, when the bullies rant.

Even his Englishing of the Scriptures has something to tell us. To William Tyndale, the Word of God is a living thing. It has both warmth and intellect. It has discretion, generosity, subtlety, movement, authority. It has a heart and a pulse. It keeps a beat and has a musical voice that allows it to sing. It enchants and it soothes. It argues and it forgives. It defends and it reasons. It intoxicates and it restores. It weeps and it exults. It thunders but never roars. It calls but never begs. And it always loves. Indeed, for Tyndale, love is the code that unlocks and empowers the Scripture. His inquiry into Scripture is always relational, never analytic.

img_0346Also recently, this post on Tyndale was made by Timothy Paul Jones. Here is part of the introduction. You will also find an interesting video presentation on the man and his significance at the link below.

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake. He was only forty-two years old or so at the time, but the work he had already accomplished in those four decades of life would change the world. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: “If you can read, thank a teacher.” Another bumper sticker—or Bible sticker, perhaps—would be every bit as appropriate: “If you can read the Bible in English, thank William Tyndale.”

After graduating from Oxford University and studying at Cambridge University, William Tyndale became a chaplain and tutor for a wealthy family. One evening, a visiting priest challenged Tyndale’s interpretation of a difficult text. During the debate, the priest declared his perspective on the value of Scripture.

“We had better be without God’s law than the pope’s,” the priest said—in other words, “It would be better to be without God’s law than to be without the pope’s law.”

“If God spares my life,” William Tyndale retorted, “I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than you do.”

Source: Church History: How William Tyndale Changed the World – Timothy Paul Jones

A Century of Change: A Survey of the 16th Century – Nicholas Needham

tt-oct-2016Yesterday before worship services I read some more articles in the October issue of Tabletalk.  One of the featured ones on the 16th century age of the church is Dr. Nick Needham’s “A Century of Change” (author of 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power), a profitable survey of the entire period of Renaissance and Reformation.

While I appreciated many things about this article, his section on the timeliness and influence of Gutenberg’s printing press I found especially satisfying. I give you a portion of that section, encouraging you to read the rest at the Ligonier link below.

And while you are there, read Dr. Jon D. Payne’s article “Why Study Church History?” Well worth your time too, just in case you wondered whether you should bother with the first article.🙂

The Printing Press Just as important as the Renaissance for the Reformation was the revolutionary new way of disseminating information—printing by movable type. Perhaps one of the basic reasons why previous movements of evangelical reform did not capture the public mind (one thinks of the Waldensians, the Lollards, and the Hussites) was that they came on the scene before the printing press had been invented.

In a Europe dominated by the Roman Catholic establishment, the intellectual spread of new “unofficial” ideas was far more difficult before the introduction of movable type.

The invention of printing by movable type was the information revolution of the late Middle Ages. Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, was the great pioneer in the 1450s. By 1500, more than two hundred printing presses were churning out books throughout Europe. Gone were the days when scribes (usually monks) had to copy literary works by hand. For the first time, a publisher could make thousands of copies of a book easily and quickly and put them into mass circulation. This meant that ideas could spread much more rapidly than they could before. It also meant that the ability to read became more highly valued.

As a result, the reforming ideas of the Renaissance were able to flow across Europe relatively easily, and in their wake, the even more radically reforming ideas of Luther, Zwingli, and others. We might say that printing enabled the Reformation to “go viral” in a way that simply would not have been possible in a previous age. The new information technology turned out to be God’s gift to His people.

We can discern the alignment between the printing revolution and the spread of the Reformation in a single fact: it was cities and universities that first embraced the Reformation. In England, for example, London fast became the nation’s hotbed of Protestantism. Here were the great printing presses. Here, too, was a thriving port where merchant ships could bring in Protestant literature from Continental Europe.

Source: A Century of Change by Nicholas Needham