John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end this is the issue:

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

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

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

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

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

He introduces Lyndal’s book this way:

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Many Sides of Martin Luther

“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.

Key Quotes From Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” | Monergism

As the heading above indicates, the referenced article from the website Monergism.com provides “key quotes” from Martin Luther’s classic work The Bondage of the Will.

That work is a response to the Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus, who, while critical of Roman Catholic teaching in some areas, strongly defended her views on salvation, free will, and grace.

Luther obliterated Erasmus’ arguments and posited in their place the truths of salvation by grace alone due to the total sovereignty of God and the utter inability of the sinner.

Monergism gives a short introduction before providing some of Luther’s powerful answers to the man from Rotterdam. Here is part of that introduction:

The following quotes hit the crux of the issue: whether Christ alone saves or whether salvation is synergistic cooperation of man and God. This is still extremely relevant for today’s Christian, for many of us carry the unbiblical assumption that Erasmus held, which wrongly concludes any command from God to believe or obey the gospel, must somewhow imply the moral ability to to do so. Large numbers of evangelicals today make this same jump in unaided logic and build a whole theology on it but as Dr. Luther said to Erasmus, “when you are finished with all your commands and exhortations … I’ll write Ro.3:20 over the top of it all” (“…through the law comes knowledge of sin.”). In other words, the commands exist to reveal not our ability but rather our inability, and this moral impotency does not take away our responsibility to obey.

And here are a few of the “key quotes”; to find more visit the link below.

And, let me add, in this year of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the 16th century, it would be good for us to read (or re-read) this mighty classic of Protestantism.

“For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“…’if thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty. pg 157

“the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.” pg. 160

Speaking to Erasmus, “Throughout your treatment you forget that you said that ‘free-will’ can do nothing without grace, and you prove that ‘free-will’ can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? pg 159

“The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done.” pg 161

Source: Key Quotes From Luther’s Bondage of the Will | Monergism

New Reformation Titles 2017 (1)

Protestants-Ryrie-2017During this year of noting and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017), it is fitting to call attention to some of the new and newly reprinted books on the history and figures of that great event.

So far this year we have had opportunity to point to a few, but today I give you part of my seminary library list of new Reformation books acquired and processed in the first two quarters of this year. The list is not exhaustive but selective of the more noteworthy ones we have obtained.

I hope this also gives you some ideas for your own reading profit this year, as well as for building your own library. I plan to do the same for future

*Note: The format reflects that found in the library cataloging program I use, not that ordinarily used in bibliographies.

  • Ulrich Zwingli : Shepherd Warrior / William Boekestein. — 1st-pb. — Fearne, Ross-shire, GB : CF4Kids, 2016.
  • Being Protestant in Reformation Britain / Alec. Ryrie. — 1st-pb. — Oxford, United Kingdom : Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Beyond the Ninety-Five Theses : Martin Luther’s Life, Thought, And Lasting Legacy / Stephen J. Nichols. — 1st-pb. — Phillipsburg, NJ : P&R Pub., 2016.
  • The Life and Times of Martin Luther : Selections From D’Aubigne’s Famed History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century / J. H. (Jean Henri) Merle d’Aubigne, 1794-1872. ; H. White. — 1st-hc. —  Chicago : Moody Press, 1950.
  • Protestantism After 500 Years / Thomas Albert Howard, editor. ; Mark A. Noll, 1946- , editor. ; Jr. Witte, John. — 1st-pb. — New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • John Knox / William M. Taylor. — reprint-pb. — Lexington, KY : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
  • Luther : Belofte en Ervaring / W. van ‘t. Spijker. — 1st-hc. — Goes : Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1983.

Katharina-Luther-2017

  • Katharina and Martin Luther : The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk / Michelle Derusha. ; Karen S. Prior. — 1st-hc. — Grand Rapids : Baker Books, 2017.
  • Luther In Love / Douglas Bond. — 1st-pb. — Inkblots Press, 2017.
  • Reformation Marriage : The Husband and Wife Relationship in the Theology of Luther And Calvin / Michael Parsons, 1949-. — reprint-pb. — Eugene, OR : Wipf & Stock, c2005 / 2011.
  • Meet Martin Luther : A Sketch of the Reformer’s Life / Anthony T. Selvaggio. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, Michigan : Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Reformation-Women-VanDoodewaard-2017

  • Reformation Women : Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth / Rebecca VanDoodewaard. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, Michigan : Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.
  • The Reformation : What You Need to Know and Why / Michael Reeves. ; John Stott. ; Lindsay Brown. ; Julia E. M. Cameron. — 1st-pb. — Peabody, MA : Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2017.
  • Four Hundred Years : Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results, In The Year of the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation. / W. H. T. (William Herman Theodore) Dau, 1864-1944. ; C. Abbetmeyer. ; Arthur H. C. Both. — reprint-pb. —  Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing / Forgotten Books, c1916.
  • Protestants : The Faith That Made the Modern World / Alec. Ryrie. — 1st-hc. — New York : Viking, 2017.
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse : Religion, War, Famine, and Death in Reformation Europe / Andrew Cunningham, Dr. ; Ole Peter Grell. — 1st-hc. — Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, c2000.

bookstore-june-2017

Allow me also to put in a plug for the seminary bookstore, where we have a goodly number of new and used books, including a significant Reformation section. Prices are the best we could find, especially on the used books, where many are only $1 and $2.

Feel free to visit us this summer! We are here every day!

The Price of Knowledge – Refo Thursday – Christian History Insititute

Yesterday’s “Refo Thursday” post from the Church History Institute (focusing on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) looks at the significance of the development of the printing press on the Reformation.

In his post Dan Graves references Erasmus and his use of this means for the promotion of his Greek NT, among other things. He says in part (read the rest at the link below the quotation),

Thanks to the development of the printing press, books were coming down in price during Erasmus’s years (c. 1466–1536), but he was preparing scholarly versions of hitherto unprinted manuscripts for the press, and that was not an inexpensive task. He had to correspond with scholars across Europe, visit libraries, and pay for hand-copying. It’s a cinch he wasn’t picking up ten books for four bucks. In fifteenth-century England, one could still rent a cottage for a year for six shillings—the price of a moderately-priced book. In fact, his work was so expensive he had to beg large sums from patrons all over Europe. He remarked that it cost him and his co-workers more in time and money to restore the works of Jerome than it cost the saint to write them.

Of course, we also know how much the press was used by Luther and the other Reformers to advance the cause of the Protestant Reformation. The Word of God in print and the doctrines rediscovered by the Reformers in that Word could not have spread among the common people without the printing press.

In the video below Dr. Karin Maag (Director of the Meeter Center for Calvin Studies at Calvin College) gives a short talk about the impact the printing press had on the Reformation – and vice versa.

Source: Blog: The price of knowledge | Christian History Insititute

A (New) Little Book on the Christian Life – J. Calvin

Reformation Trust (part of Ligonier Ministries) has recently issued a fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life, which they have titled A Little Book on the Christian Life (2017). They sent me a review copy, and today I make you aware of it by way of this post.

Drawn from his larger work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, this book has gone through several editions and translations over the years, perhaps most popular the one by Henry Van Andel (former professor of Dutch at Calvin College), an English translation of a Dutch edition titled Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life (Baker, 1952). This one remains in print from Baker (2004). More recently The Banner the Truth has also published a fresh edition under the title A Guide to Christian Living (2009).

In their “Preface” to this new edition from Reformation Trust, the editors, Aaron C. Denlinger and Burk Parsons, briefly trace the history of this fine little book, explaining why a new translation was made. They also intend this popular work to be issued in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation celebrated this year.

For our purposes today, we quote from the first chapter, which is titled “Scripture’s Call to Christian Living.” Here is Calvin in his own words:

To begin with, what better foundation can Scripture give for the pursuit of righteousness than to tell us we should be holy because God Himself is holy? Moreover, when we were scattered and wandering like sheep, lost in the maze of the world, God found us and gathered us to Himself. When we contemplate this relationship between ourselves and God, let us remember that holiness is the bond of our union with Him. Not, of course, because we enter into fellowship with Him by the merit of our own holiness. Rather, we first of all cling to Him, and then, having received His holiness, we follow wherever He calls us. For it is characteristic of His glory that He has no fellowship with sin and impurity. Holiness is the goal of our calling. Therefore we must consistently set our sights upon holiness if we would rightly respond to God’s calling. To what purpose did God pull us out of the wickedness and pollution of this world – wickedness and pollution in which we were submerged – if we allow ourselves to wallow in such wickedness and pollution for the rest of our lives? [pp.6-7]

If you have never read this classic of the Reformed Christian faith, you are urged to do so this year as part of your Reformation heritage reading. The book is reasonably priced and may be found in multiple formats on the Reformation Trust website. Highly recommended – a must for every true believer.

Why the Reformation Still Matters: Because of the Theology of the Cross

So God can be  known only by those to whom he gives faith. Salvation is by grace alone. We are used to that idea. But it is the same with our knowledge of God. It is not just our salvation that is by faith alone and grace alone. We do not contribute to our knowledge of God. It is all God’s doing. Our knowledge of God is by grace alone. You do not know God because you were cleverer than other people or have greater spiritual insight or spend more time in contemplation. You know God because he has graciously revealed himself to you in the message of the cross. It is an act of grace. God reveals himself in a hidden way in order to safeguard the graciousness of revelation.

So the cross subverts all human notions of glory. The message we proclaim – the message of Christ crucified – is foolishness and weakness in the sight of the world. This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, in many ways Luther’s theology of the cross feels like an extended meditation of 1 Corinthians 1.

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Chapter 5, “The Theology of the Cross” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.104.

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