Why the Reformation Still Matters

The October 2017 issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine), without surprise or embarrassment, features a tribute to the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). And we are glad they did.

The issue is packed with informative and inspiring articles on this indispensable movement, and you are encouraged to read them for your personal benefit this month and beyond. Here is a sampling of the main articles:

  1. The Power of the Gospel – Editor Burk Parsons
  2. Luther and His Significance – Stephen J. Nichols
  3.  Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide – Guy P. Waters
  4. The Geography of the Reformation – Ryan Reeves
  5. The Women of the Reformation – Rececca VanDoodewaard
  6. Continuing the Reformation – W. Robert Godfrey
  7. The Ninety-Five Theses (the final article has all 95 as set down by Luther himself)

For today, I reference the first main article, “Why the Reformation Still Matters” by Michael Reeves. I post a few sections from the beginning and the end of his article, for these give answer to his own implied question. Find the rest at the link below, where you will also find the other articles.

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

And this is the end of Reeves’ thoughts:

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

Source: Why the Reformation Still Matters

How to Contemplate Christ’s Holy Sufferings – M. Luther

Luther&LearningFor this second Sunday in October – Reformation 500 month – we post one of Martin Luther’s most popular sermons, a Good Friday sermon titled “How to Contemplate Christ’s Holy Sufferings.” It was preached in the early years of the Reformation and first published in 1519, undergoing several editions.

We post a few paragraphs from the third point of the sermon (yes, Luther also had three points to his sermon!), which is called “The Comfort of Christ’s Sufferings.”

…When man perceives his sins in this light and is completely terror-stricken in his conscience, he must be on his guard that his sins do not thus remain in his conscience, and nothing but pure doubt certainly come out of it; but just as the sins flowed out of Christ and we became conscious of them, so should we pour them again upon him and set our conscience free. Therefore see well to it that you act not like perverted people, who bite and devour themselves with their sins in their heart, and run here and there with their good works or their own satisfaction, or even work themselves out of this condition by means of indulgences and become rid of their sins; which is impossible, and, alas, such a false refuge of satisfaction and pilgrimages has spread far and wide.

…Then cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4, 25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.

For the full sermon and many others, visit this site.

 

TODAY! 4-6 p.m. ET – Radio Interview with Prof. David J. Engelsma on “Gospel Truth of Justification”

You may have remembered and listened in on previous interviews Chris Arnzen of “Iron Sharpens Iron” has had with Prof. David Engelsma (emeritus professor, PRC Seminary) about his books. This afternoon (only 1 hour away from now!) Chris will conduct another live interview with Prof. Engelsma, this time about his newest book, Gospel Truth of Justification (RFPA, 2017).

Below is the notice that the RFPA put out this week and again today as a reminder:

On Friday, September 1, Prof. David J. Engelsma will be interviewed by Christopher Arnzen on his radio program “Iron Sharpens Iron” from 4-6 pm EST.

The subject will be his recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification. You can go to the website www.ironsharpensironradio.com and click on live stream to tune in and listen from any device. The program can also be listened to by phone (563)999-9206, following the prompts and press #3 for Christian Radio.

Be sure to tune in Friday!

Now that the live interview is done, if you would like to listen to the interview as recorded, Chris A. has generously allowed it to be posted. You find the mp3 file here.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — Radio Interview with Prof. David J. Engelsma on Gospel Truth of Justification

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].

“The Benefit of Christ” – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – S. Carr

In this year of noting and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we may well judge that nothing significant came out of Italy for the Protestant cause. We might think that, with Italy being the bastion of Roman Catholicism, no Reformers arose and no reforming work was carried on. But this would be a mistake and would short-change the work of God’s mighty grace in His church, also in this Catholic stronghold. Shall we forget men such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and Bernardino Ochino?

As noted author (especially of children’s literature) Simonetta Carr points out in this brief article posted on the “Place for Truth” website (under “Cloud of Witnesses”), there was another influential Italian man – Benedetto da Mantova (1495-1556), “an obscure Benedictine monk,” who penned a very significant book for that time – perhaps “the most influential book you have never read,” or even heard of.

Listen to what Carr has to say about this man and his book:

It was 1543. North of the Alps, Protestant reformers were busy publishing books. In Rome, the papacy was busy banning them. Still, the publishers in Venice, a proudly independent republic with a reputation of opposition to the pope, were persistent. That year’s best-seller was an Italian essay by a characteristically long name: Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Cristo crocifisso verso i cristiani (Most useful treatise on the benefit of Jesus Christ crucified for Christians). It was called, for short, IlBeneficio di Cristo (The Benefit of Christ).

A Much Hated Best-Seller

According to the Italian theologian Pier Paolo Vergerio (1498-1565), the book sold 40,000 copies in six years in Venice alone – an impressive number at that time. It was an immediate success, especially among the group of Italian reformers – including high-ranking nobles and cardinals – who had been unsuccessfully trying to fight Rome’s corruption and promote a return to the original Scriptures (ad fontes). In this 70-page treatise, they found a concise explanation of important doctrines on which the church had not yet reached an official consensus, such as justification by faith alone.

Want to know more about Benedetto and his banned book? Read on at the link below. Or read The Benefit of Christ yourself at this link.

And marvel at and celebrate what God worked through this minor Italian reformer. Ah, the power of the pen – and the truth of the gospel!

Source: The Benefit of Christ – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – Place for Truth

Why the Reformation Matters: Because of Union with Christ

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016You can probably guess what critics of the Reformation said about all this [justification by faith and adoption by the Spirit, because of the believer’s union with Christ]. That this is a doctrine of comfort was precisely the problem, they said, for this message is simply too comforting. If our anxieties about our guilt and standing before God can be washed away so freely in Christ, what possible motivation are we left with to pursue lives of holiness? But, understanding that salvation is union with Christ, Calvin was not troubled for a moment, and replied as follows:

If he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and at the same time, Christ never is where His Spirit is not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor.i.30) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigor, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ Himself; and wherever Christ is not, there is no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification [quoted from A Reformation Debate, ed. John C. Olin, 1966].

Which leads the authors to comment further:

That is, we have not been united to Christ so we can get some other reward: heaven, righteousness, salvation, or whatever. We do not, as Calvin put it, seek ‘in Christ something else than Christ Himself.’ The great reward of union with Christ is Christ. Knowing and enjoying him is the eternal life for which we have been saved. It is why, in his earliest years as a young believer, Calvin began identifying himself as ‘a lover of Jesus Christ.’

Taken from Chapter 6, “Union with Christ” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.124-25.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future

This month (May 2017) Tabletalk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special issue. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

Featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

In his editorial, Parson writes about the nature of the magazine as Reformed:

Tabletalk is Reformed, and we mean it. We are not ashamed of being distinctively Reformed in all that we do. We are Reformed because we believe that to be Reformed is to be biblical. To be Reformed is not only to stand firmly on the same doctrine as our Reformation forefathers, it is to stand firmly on the Word of God. To be Reformed is not only to believe that God is sovereign over salvation, but to believe that He is sovereign over everything. To be Reformed isn’t simply to accept the doctrines of grace, but to take great comfort in them, to teach them graciously, and to defend them courageously. To be Reformed is to believe that God has one glorious covenantal plan of redemption, and that He is carrying out that plan. To be Reformed is not to give mere lip service to the historic Reformed confessional standards, but to affirm them heartily and study them diligently. To be Reformed means not only that we are professing members of a local Reformed church but that we are regular, active worshipers and participants in the life, community, and mission of our local churches as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. To be Reformed is not to be a complacent, smug, arrogant, or apathetic people, but to be a gracious, dependent, humble, prayerful, evangelistic, joyful, loving people who believe that God not only ordains the end of all things but that He ordains the means of all ends in us and through us by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit for His glory alone.

In the final article of this issue various editors answer questions about the magazine. The opening one gives a bit of the history:

TT: How did Tabletalk begin? How has the magazine changed over the years?

TT: To answer that question, we have to go back to Martin Luther. Luther was a great teacher. He taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by writing books. But, like any good teacher, he taught in the ordinary moments of his life. He taught when fellowshipping with believers. These teachings, gathered by his students over a lifetime of ministry, became the first Table Talk. Table Talk was a book, a collection of sayings. These sayings came from conversations that were often had while talking over a table—that is, while sharing a meal with Martin Luther.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is also a great teacher. Every moment with him is an opportunity for learning. Casting a backward glance at Luther’s Table Talk, Dr. Sproul began Tabletalk in 1977, after the Ligonier Valley Study Center had been in existence for several years. It began as a newsletter with Dr. Sproul’s column, Right Now Counts Forever, and an assortment of other content. It was black and white, and it came in a large newsletter format. Then, in 1989, Tabletalk became a daily Bible study magazine and changed to a digest format. Now, forty years from its start, Tabletalk continues. Today, the magazine enjoys a circulation of more than one hundred thousand and a readership of more than 250,000 people, and it still serves as a tool for teaching the Bible to people around the world.

For more on this issue and its special articles, visit the link below or this one.

Source: Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future by The Editors of Tabletalk

A Very Special Reformation 500th Book: Gospel Truth of Justification

The Reformed Free Publishing Association has just released its latest publication – a title timed for this year’s 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – and a very special title it is.

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed by David J. Engelsma brings to the foreground the central truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the core doctrine rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers beginning with Martin Luther – justification by faith alone in Christ alone, wholly apart from the works of the sinner or the merits of any saint.

The publisher has this description on its website of the new title:

AD 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ. In 1517 the Reformer Martin Luther affixed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the act by which Jesus Christ began his reformation of his church. Essential to this Reformation was the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone. This book on justification is intended by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and the author to celebrate that glorious work of Christ.

But the purpose is more than a celebration of the beginning of the Reformation. It is to maintain, defend, and promote the Reformation in the perilous times for the church at present. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is so fundamental to the gospel of grace that an exposition and defense of this truth are in order always. The true church of Christ in the world simply cannot keep silent about this doctrine. To keep silent about justification by faith alone would be to silence the gospel.

In a recent email announcing the book, the publisher included these pertinent words, part of the author’s “Preface”:

Many churches today proclaim the false gospel, that is no gospel, of righteousness and salvation by the works and will of the sinner (Rom. 9:16). Today the churches with the most exalted reputation for Reformation orthodoxy are helpless, apparently, before the onslaught of the federal vision.

At such a time as this, a work that echoes Luther’s “here I stand” with specific regard to the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation is not only appropriate, but necessary. Clearly, unequivocally, creedally, biblically, the gospel truth of justification by faith alone, without works—any works, all works! Only the alien, perfect work of the Son of God in our flesh, Jesus the justifying Christ of God! Received by faith alone!

Protestantism, Protestantism in North America, Protestantism worldwide, especially Reformed and Presbyterian Protestantism, again hear this gospel, believe it, confess it, and defend it!

We will be referencing this work again this year, but we make this initial notice of it for your benefit.

Add it to your “must read” Reformation books this year. Be prepared to dig deep into the heart of the gospel, the need for which now more than ever the church and true Protestants need to proclaim, defend, and develop. Here is a great place to begin.

P.S. And yes, the PRC Seminary library does have it – two copies, in fact.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Grace

In Roman Catholicism grace was seen as a ‘thing,’ a force or fuel like Red Bull. Catholics would pray, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace,’ as if Mary were wired with spiritual caffeine.

…That is nothing how Luther and his fellow Reformers saw grace. For them, grace was not a ‘thing’ at all; it is the personal kindness of God by which he does not merely enable us but actually rescues and… freely gives us himself. Or, to be more precise: there is no such ‘thing’ as grace; there is only Christ, who is the blessing of God freely given to us. That being the case, Luther tended not to talk much about grace in the abstract, preferring to speak of Christ. For example:

  • Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ… the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life.

In other words, the grace and righteousness we receive in the gospel are not something other than Christ himself: ‘Christ… is the divine Power, Righteousness, Blessing, Grace, and Life.’

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), Chapter 4, “Grace”, pp.88-89.