449 Years of Our “Only Comfort in Life and Death”

A Wordle of the Catechism

On January 19, 1563 the first edition of the Heidelberg Catechism was sent to the printers by Elector Frederick III. The catechism, penned by Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, has served as a masterpiece of theological and pastoral wisdom from God’s Word for Reformed Christians for centuries.

Q. 60 How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that – though my conscience daily accuses me, that I have greatly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil – nevertheless, God, without any merit of mine, but only by His mere grace, grants and imputes to me: the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefits with a believing heart.

What’s so great about the Heidelberg Catechism? Here are ten characteristics for you: Continue reading

Edwards’ Resolutions

Of all things penned by the inestimable Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758), his “Resolutions” is one of the more widely known works alongside “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” As we come into a new year (2012), it is helpful to revisit his ideas, his zeal, and his resolutions for considering how we will conduct our own lives in the time God grants to us.
Penned in a span of two years, when Edwards was himself barely out of the teenage years and just embarking on adulthood, these words stir our souls and challenge us to behold God’s grace work powerfully in our own lives.

Briefly, Desiring God lists the Resolutions according to topic and with subheadings. Steve Camp gives us a good perspective on how Edwards viewed these Resolutions as a mature man and seasoned Christian later in life.  Without any further ado, the Resolutions.

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Edwards’ Resolutions (1722 – 23)
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it. Continue reading

Aquinas and Calvinism

I once remember hearing that not only was the predestination of John Calvin not unique, it wasn’t even controversial among the deeper thinkers in Christian history. In fact, no less than Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) could said to be something of a “5 Point Calvinist!”

The idea that Aquinas had a clear and strong view of predestination should be beyond dispute. No only does Aquinas’ masterpiece, Summa Theologica, contain several pertinent sections related to predestination, but Robert Mulligan translates several other relevant sections from his writings in Thomas Aquinas: Providence and Predestination (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1953). He can say things like, “Clearly predestination is like the plan, existing in God’s mind, for the ordering of some persons to salvation. The carrying out of this is passively as it were in the persons predestined, though actively in God. When considered executively in this way, predestination is spoken of as a ‘calling’ and a ‘glorifying’, thus St. Paul says, ‘Whom he predestinated, them also he called and glorified.'” (Mulligan, 164).

But can Aquinas account as a 5 Point Calvinist? I rooted around for some quotes, and all of the following come from the Summa unless otherwise noted. Any emphasis is added by myself.

Total Depravity

“I answer that: Man’s nature may be looked at in two ways: first, in its integrity, as it was in our first parent before sin; secondly, as it is corrupted in us after the sin of our first parent. Now in both states human nature needs the help of God as First Mover, to do or wish any good whatsoever, as stated above. Continue reading

Luther and the Jewish Question

Since yesterday was Reformation Sunday, our talks among the congregants eventually drifted to the question of charges of antisemitism toward Martin Luther. As a Protestant, Reformational Christian, I deeply admire Luther for what he did and accomplished, but never venerate the man nor overlook his (many) flaws and faults. His writings against the Jews are one of his flaws that we justly decry and lament. Like Zwingli’s maiden or Calvin’s handling of Servetus, these are historical instances that need to be placed in their context, condemned for what was sinful, and examples to learn from.

The first thing to remember when thinking about this subject is how Luther’s contemporaries thought about the Jewish question. In the 1530’s and 1540’s, the whole question of how to relate to Jewish people and the Judaic belief system was a highly charged and volatile issue. Writers from both the Catholic and Protestant perspectives both defended and attached Jews for everything from heresy, usury, treason and anarchy, and the ritualistic murder of children. Further, in a point that is often overlooked, there is a difference in Christians writing “anti-semite” material vs writing “anti-Judaic” material. The first attacks an ethnic people group, the second attacks a religion and belief system at odds with the claims of Christianity. The first is decidedly anti-Christian, the second is decidedly necessary for Christian apologists (see: the entire book of Galatians). Continue reading

Owen’s Two Definitions of Sanctification

Compare these two definitions of sanctification. The first comes from John Owen’s Works, the second from the Savoy Declaration of Faith, a document Owen, Goodwin,and many other influential congregationalist ministers had a large role in forming.

Owen’s Works, 3:386

Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Savoy Declaration of Faith

Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification
They that are united to Christ, effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also further sanctified really and personally through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened, and mortified, and they more and more quickened, and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

What strikes you from these two definitions? The first seems to emphasize the Spirit while the second emphasizes (union with) Christ. The first mentions the imago Dei while the second mentions other facets of the ordo salutis. The first treats sin in its staining effects, whereas the latter looks at sin in its power. The first thinks of vivification in terms of “obedience” while the latter speaks of “holiness.” Only the first mentions covenant (“new covenant”), while only the latter mentions mortification. Both are clear that it is by “virtue” of Christ’s death and life/resurrection. Both are speaking of progressive, not definitive, sanctification.

So why the difference(s)? Can any Owen scholars weigh in and touch on the various emphases? Clearly, Savoy 13 is not very original to Owen or the congregationalist ministers, as it reads very similar to the WCF (click here for a comparison and scroll down). Is that the only difference here, or are there other factors at play behind these two very similar yet different definitions of sanctification?

A Short Biography of Gisbertus Voetius (1589 – 1676)

Gijsbert Voet (English – Gilbert Foot) not only overlapped with Herman Witsius (1636 – 1708) for 40 odd years, but he was an important subject in the Dutch Reformed world in which Witsius lived and breathed. Not only was Witsius heavily influenced by Voetius, but Witsius’ own work was – in a sense – an attempt to reconcile the best of Voetius and Johannes Cocceius and their respective methodologies. Any careful study into Witsius must grapple with Gijsbert Voet, and hopefully the following biography presents a clear albeit brief look into this important Dutch father.

Biography of Voetius
Born in the small fortified city of Heusden as the son of Paulus Voet and Maria de Jongeling, Gisbertus (or Gijsbert) Voetius’s early years were dominated by the experience of war. Heusden was on the front line in both a military and a religious sense, as it was situated on the southern bank of the river Meuse that would later form the borderline dividing Catholic and Protestant parts of the country. Voetius’s relatives were directly involved in the conflict with Spain. Grandfather Nicolaas Dirkszoon Voet, heir to a Westphalian noble family, died in prison in ’s Hertogenbosch where he was kept on account of his support of William the Silent. Several members of Gijsbert’s mother’s family would flee the city, leaving all their possessions behind in order to accompany the Prince of Orange to Breda. Voetius’s father meanwhile saw his own property being demolished in the rampage around Heusden. Having joined the State militias for a second time in 1592, he was killed in the siege of Bredevoort in 1597, leaving behind the sickly Maria with four children. Continue reading at Witsius On the Web…

Liberal, ahistorical Scholastics?

Leithart comments:

In a Mars Hill Audio interview, Ellen Charry observes that the Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century, even before the Enlightenment, had a tendency to detach truth from historical reference. The truth of theology was seen in the coherence of the system of truth found in Scripture, rather than a truth of reference to historical events.

Charry’s comment was a passing one, no doubt a drastic oversimplification. Protestant scholastics, after all, defended the historical reliability of Scripture as well as its systematic coherence. But, the comment seems worthy of investigation, since it might provide a historical link between Protestant scholasticism and the development of liberal theology.

Maybe there is some truth to this claim, especially since “the Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century” (no reference to confessional position, orthodoxy, etc.) is a pretty wide generalization. I didn’t listen to the interview, and like Leithart noted, it was a passing comment.

That said, there are important nuances to this idea. If by “Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century” one is referring to Reformed Scholastics like Cocceius, Voetius, Brakel, Turretin, Owen, or Witsius, then qualifications should be noted. These qualifications follow in patterns that we, and Charry?, may not quickly set upon. First, the scholastics (and Protestant scholastic era) were some of the best with historically-referent theology, and secondly, despite their connections with history, some of these theologians were quickest into the liberal slide. Continue reading

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

On August 24, 1572, one of the more tragic events occurred in the wars of religion throughout France. Especially within Paris, France, tensions between the Papist Parisians (the majority) and the French nobility and laity that held to the Reformed faith – referred to as Huguenots – were at a premium. After a failed assassination attempt on Admiral de Coligny, a noted Reformed Christian, on August 22, the animosity reached an all time high.

The Huguenot Cross

Catherine de Medici was the queen mother, and by urging her son Charles IX that Reformed Huguenots were a political threat to the stability of Paris and France, de Coligny was assassinated just before dawn on August 24. Following his death, rioting broke out in Paris, which then swept through the country, where neighbor turned on neighbor, and the Catholic majority looted and murdered their Reformed countrymen in a tragic event for the Reformed faith. Continue reading

Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Ordinances

The Genevan Book of Order

The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc.
Used in the English Congregation at Geneva (1556)

Of Ministers and Their Election
What Things are Chiefly Required in the Pastors and Ministers

First, let the church diligently consider that the minister which is to be chosen[a] be not found culpable of any such faults which St. Paul reprehends in a man of that vocation,[b] but contrariwise endowed with such virtues, that he may be able to undertake his charge, and diligently execute the same. Secondly, that he distribute faithfully the word of God, and minister the sacraments sincerely,[c] ever careful not only to teach his flock publicly, but also privately to admonish them;[d] remembering always, that if any thing perish through his default, the Lord will require it at his hands.[e]

a. Acts 1:21-23; 13:2-3; 14:23 Continue reading

Brakel on Typology

Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635 – 1711) was a prominent Dutch theologian and pastor at the end of the High Orthodoxy in the Netherlands. His magnum opus is The Christian’s Reasonable Service, which is (overall) a marvelous combination of dogmatic and practical theology, certainly in the vein of the Nadere Reformatie tradition. For excellent treatments of the Dutch churchman see Bartel Elshout’s resource-rich site.

Brakel is very careful in describing typology. He argues that, unless clear boundaries are given, every star, tree and worm will turn into a type of Christ at the hands of less-than-skilled interpreters. So he lays down the following rules for a type: “If one is to designate something as a type, the following must be true:”

  1. It must have been appointed by God to be a type.
  2. Types had been given to the church of the Old Testament in order that during that time frame she would thereby look unto Christ and believe in Him.
  3. Types were a necessary component of Old Covenant worship such that those who did not use these types for their intended purpose were in sin.

“When these three criteria are absent, however, one may not appoint or designate something as a type” (Volume IV, p. 382).

At first glance, these seem like excellent rules. Continue reading