“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

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)

October “Tabletalk”: The Doctrine of Scripture – Stephen Nichols

tt-oct-2016Yesterday I began diving into the October issue of Tabletalk – and I mean diving! This issue has ten rich and rewarding (deep!) articles on the church in the sixteenth century, as the monthly devotional magazine continues its series on each century of church history.

That means, of course, that this issue is on the Reformation, and it is covered well, with articles ranging from “The Necessity of the Reformation” (Dr. R. Godfrey) to “The Reformation of Education” ( Dr. P. Lillback). And, yes, worship, justification by faith alone, the sacraments, and marriage are also covered.

But the theology of the Reformation begins with the doctrine of Scripture, which is treated ably by Dr. Stephen Nichols and is the article I chose to feature today.

Below are a few of his paragraphs; find the rest at the link at the end. In addition, by all means read editor Burk Parsons introduction – “Truth and True Peace.”

The Reformation was built upon the Bible, so we should not be surprised to find in the Reformers a robust doctrine of Scripture. One helpful construct to unpack the doctrine of Scripture involves four key terms: authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency. Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli stated the authority of Scripture rather clearly by drawing attention to the two-word Latin phrase Dominus dixit, meaning “Thus says the Lord.” The Bible is God’s Word, therefore it is true; therefore, it is authoritative; therefore, it is inerrant; therefore, it is infallible; and therefore, it is our only sure guide.

John Calvin famously likened Scripture to spectacles. Apart from Scripture, we misread the natural world, human nature, and the Creator. Scripture alone gives us the clear picture of who God is, who we are, and what God’s plan for the world truly is. Without Scripture, we stumble around in the dark. Scripture is necessary to see the world rightly.

Source: The Doctrine of Scripture by Stephen Nichols

“The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic.” – Martin Luther

bondagewilllutherIn Martin Luther’s introduction to his classic work On The Bondage of the Will (Cole ed., Baker reprint, 1976) he gives some fundamental principles for refuting Erasmus’ Diatribe (in which the latter defends free will). His starting point is the authority of the Bible as God’s Word.

Another of those principles is the clarity of holy Scripture. Erasmus (following the medieval sophists of his day) claimed that the Bible was so unclear that Christians could not make definite assertions about doctrine (such as free will and man’s total depravity). Luther demolishes this argument on the basis of the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture.

One of his classic statements is found in this “Introduction”:

The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic, nor are what He has written on our hearts doubts or opinions, but assertions more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience. (p.24)

But later he also has this to say:

But, that there are in the Scriptures some things abstruse, and that all things are not quite plain, is a report spread abroad by the impious Sophists; by whose mouth you speak, Erasmus. But they never have produced, nor ever can produce, one article whereby to prove this their madness. And it is with such scare-crows that Satan has frightened away men from reading the Sacred Writings, and has rendered the Holy Scripture contemptible, that he might cause his poisons of philosophy to prevail in the church.

This indeed I confess, that there are many places in the Scriptures obscure and abstruse; not from the majesty of the things, but from our ignorance of certain terms and grammatical particulars; but which do not prevent a knowledge of all the things in the Scriptures. For what thing of more importance can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulchre, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light, Christ made man: that God is Trinity and Unity: that Christ suffered for us, and will reign to all eternity?

Are not these things known and proclaimed even in our streets? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find remaining in them? (pp.25-26)

As children of the Reformation. are we certain about this clarity of the Bible? And if we are, do we embrace wholeheartedly the truth (assertions) contained in them? Do we hear, see, and believe (receive) the Christ revealed in them?

As we worship our God today and hear His Word read and sung and preached, let us be true Protestants and bow before the pure, clear revelation of our God in His Savior-Son.

The Origin (and Security) of the Church – John Muether

TT-Sept-2016As we have noted here before, this month’s Tabletalk carries the theme of “The Church,” with eight-plus (brief) articles dedicated to explaining the Reformed doctrine of the church.

As we contemplate the Lord’s Day tomorrow and prepare to exercise our place in Christ’s body, part of which is worship, we may benefit from the thoughts of Dr. John R. Muether (professor of church history and dean of libraries at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL and an OPC ruling elder).

He wrote an article on “The Origin of the Church” and, strikingly (for our doctrinally weak age), roots the church in the eternal counsel of God, specifically, the covenant of redemption and sovereign election in and by the Triune God.

He has some excellent points by way of application of this truth, two of which I include here – his closing paragraphs. Deep thoughts, but rich thoughts. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is supremely practical and comforting, as you will see again. And that, in turn, should lead us to deep praise to our Savior God.

The eternal counsel of peace highlights the Son as the “surety” of the covenant, and so we find in Christ alone the hope and security of the church. “All that the Father gives to me will come to me,” Christ assures us, “and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The “peace” of this covenant is purchased for us according to Christ’s priestly office, maintained and defended by His kingly office, and revealed by His prophetic office. Because the God who decrees the church is the same God who sustains the church, the future of the church is in God’s hands. This encourages us to see the church with the eyes of faith. It is bigger and stronger than its frail and precarious human expression suggests. Though despised and disparaged by this world, the church is the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8) that will prevail against all of her enemies.

Finally, the eternal origin of the church provides our assurance of faith. Commenting on God’s words in Jeremiah 31:3 (“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”), Geerhardus Vos famously wrote, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” That everlasting love finds expression in the covenant of redemption. As the Heidelberg Catechism beautifully puts it, the church is “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member” (Q&A 54).

Source: The Origin of the Church by John Muether

New and Noteworthy Publication: The Reformed Baptism Form by B. Wielenga

A new and noteworthy publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association has been released and may be noted here for your profit. The book is titled The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, authored by Bastiaan Wielenga, translated by Annemie Godbehere, and edited by David J. Engelsma.

In a special blog post yesterday (Sept.12), the RFPA addressed the importance of this newly translated work:

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide. It is certainly the most read in the churches. In its original form dating from the late 1500s, soon after the Protestant Reformation, it received its present form and official standing from the Synod of Dordt in 1618/1619.

In various languages, including the Dutch, the Form functions at the baptism of adult converts and of the infant children of believers in many Reformed churches everywhere in the world. By virtue of its use to administer, solemnize, and explain the sacrament of baptism, this form is read in the worship services of Reformed churches more often than any other creed or form, with the exception of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Lacking has been a thorough, faithful, sound commentary on the Baptism Form in the English language.

This lack is now met by a translation into English for the first time of the authoritative, if not definitive, commentary on the form by the highly qualified and esteemed Dutch pastor and theologian, Dr. B. Wielenga, Ons Doopsformulier (in the English translation of the commentary, The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. Kok of Kampen published Wielenga’s commentary in 1906.

The 448 page commentary includes chapters on “The Doctrine of Baptism in General”; “The Doctrine of Infant Baptism in Particular”; “The Prayer before Baptism”; “Admonition to the Parents”; and the “Prayer of Thanksgiving after Baptism.”

The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers, and other vitally important truths related to the sacrament, including the relation of the covenant and election. 

It is also intensely practical, considering such matters as whether the officiating minister should sprinkle once or three times; whether it is proper to make of the administration of the sacrament an occasion for the gathering of relatives and friends; and, more significantly, whether parents and church are to regard and rear the baptized children of believers as regenerated, saved children of God, or as unsaved “little vipers”—in which (latter) case, of course, no rearing is possible.

The author was determined to explain the language itself of the form, avoiding the temptation to introduce convictions of his own. Written clearly and simply so as to be of benefit to all Reformed believers, the commentary also gives the Reformed pastor deep insight into the sacrament of baptism and its administration. This is a book that will help all Reformed Christians, pastors, and churches to be Reformed in thinking and practice with regard to the sacrament of baptism, especially with regard to the baptism of the infant children of believing parents.

To order the book, visit the RFPA website, www.rfpa.org, or email them at mail@rfpa.org.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — The Reformed Baptism Form

The Church and Her Head – Guy Waters

TT-Sept-2016On this first Lord’s Day of September I began digging into my new issue of Tabletalk, the always-profitable devotional magazine produced by Ligonier ministries. And, by the way, the daily devotions continue the study of the Gospel According to Mark.

This month the theme is “The Church,” with eight-plus articles dedicated to explaining the Reformed doctrine of the church. Editor Burk Parsons introduces it with his article “Our Family Forever,” while Dr. Guy P. Waters leads off the featured articles with his, “The Head of the Church.”

Though brief, it is a fine summary of what it means that Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, His body. After explaining the doctrine of Christ’s headship over the church, Waters has a fine application section at the end. It is from this that we quote today.

To read the rest of his article as well as to find other articles on the church, use the link Ligonier below.

Why is the headship of Jesus Christ over His church important for the life of the church? As Christians, it is both our duty and delight to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9). Since the church is the place where Christ’s lordship is on unique display in this world, how could a believer refuse to be part of the church of Jesus Christ? Our commitment to Christ requires us to commit to His church. This commitment means that we join a local church where the Word is purely proclaimed. It also means that we honor our vows of membership. For most churches, including my own (the Presbyterian Church in America), these vows include a commitment to live godly lives, to participate in and support the “worship and work” of the church, and to “submit . . . to the church’s government and discipline.”

Resolving to submit to the church’s government and discipline is difficult and countercultural. But it is also necessary. How can we live under Christ’s lordship in this way? Those who are called to be elders in the church should remember that they serve under the authority of Christ. They are servants, not lords. They are ultimately accountable to Christ for all that they teach and do in the church. But theirs is an important office. Through their labors, Christ is visibly governing His church.

Christians obey their leaders in the church because Christ has commanded them to do so. But Christian obedience is never blind. Like the Bereans, we measure everything our leaders say against the standard of God’s Word. God alone is Lord of the conscience. For government to work properly in the church, Christians must know their Bibles well and develop the capacity to discern biblically all that they hear and see in the church. It is in this way that Christ is glorified in His church’s government.

King Jesus often does extraordinary things through ordinary means. The church’s life and government are no exception. How does your involvement in the church put on display the reign of Jesus Christ?

Source: The Head of the Church by Guy Waters

“Let the church… emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God! H.Hoeksema

Blessed, indeed, are the people who know this God who is God blessed forever. It is true that God is God, and therefore he cannot be comprehended. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite; time cannot compass eternity. But there is a difference between knowledge and comprehension, and comprehension is not necessary for knowledge. Although in the very testimony that God is God the church confesses that God cannot be comprehended, she also proclaims that he is knowable, and that he is known. He is known because he has revealed himself. He has revealed himself not merely as god, but also as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves his church with an eternal and unfathomable love; who reconciles his people to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; who delivers them from the power of sin and death; and who gives them life eternal in the knowledge of himself.

We know God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and not merely with our head, intellectually, as theology knows him; we also know him with our heart, spiritually, so that we taste that he is good and the overflowing fountain of all good. We know him and have fellowship with him, and we hear him tell us that we are his friends, his sons and daughters. We know him, and in this knowledge we have eternal life. “This is  life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Let the church of Jesus Christ in the world clearly understand her calling and emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God!

This is another quote from the very first message broadcast on the Reformed Witness Hour (celebrating 75 years in 2016!), “God is God”, based on Isaiah 43:12 (“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.”) and delivered by Rev. Herman Hoeksema, pastor of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHBesides being published in individual leaflet form, this message was later published by the RFPA in book form, along with the other messages in this series on the doctrine of God and another on the doctrine of man that followed it. That book is titled Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006). The quote is taken from p.12.

The Christian and Suffering – R.C. Sproul

TT-Aug-2016Last night in our home church (Faith PRC) our Seminary intern, Justin Smidstra, brought a comforting message to us from James 1:2-4 about our calling to rejoice in the midst of all the trials God gives us in this life.

That tied in nicely to the article I read by Dr. R.C. Sproul Sunday morning. Writing in his usual column “Right Now Counts Forever,” Sproul explained the difference between and the connection between “bearing and enduring” as found in I 1 Cor.13:7.

For our profit today as we start a new work week and begin to face the manifold trials God places on our path, I quote a section from that article. May it give us proper perspective and enable us by God’s abounding grace to “count it all joy” when we fall into these trials.

Pain and suffering tend to eat away not only at our love but also at our faith, because we begin to wonder if God is loving and if He is even real. We ask how in the world He can let this relentless pain grip our lives. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our attention on the Word of God. We are told not to be surprised when suffering comes our way. The New Testament doesn’t say that suffering might occur—it says it’s a certainty. Remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 when he talks about what he bore for the sake of the gospel: beatings, stonings, being left for dead, shipwrecks, days and nights at sea, fighting with wild beasts, and constantly being the target of human hostility. Why was he willing to bear those things? Because he understood the divine purpose for suffering and the divine promise not only of relief from suffering, but of the redemption of the suffering itself. In this interim between Christ’s resurrection and return, Christians are called to participate in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). By bearing and enduring pain, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus and mirror and reflect Him to onlookers. Pain and suffering are opportunities to show the love that God has shed abroad in our hearts.

Source: Bearing and Enduring by R.C. Sproul