Posts Tagged ‘reformation’

A Classical Analysis of Puritan Preaching
ARTICLE BY JOSEPH STEELE AUGUST 2010
INTRODUCTION

Reformed Christians are indebted to the Puritans for a variety of reasons, not the least of which for their contribution to preaching. In many ways, Puritan preaching was the very heartbeat of the Puritan movement. It would be no exaggeration to say that without Puritan preaching there would have been no Puritans. To quote Irvonwy Morgan, “Puritanism in the last resort must be assessed in terms of the pulpit.”[1]

But what exactly is Puritan preaching? How may it be properly distinguished from other forms of preaching? Why has its influence been so palatably felt by succeeding generations? In answering such questions the author will invoke a somewhat atypical method of inquiry. To the author’s knowledge, no such inquiry has hitherto been attempted.

Most readers will be familiar with the trivium or three-fold classical approach to learning. As a means of conveying information to the student, the classical method employed three distinct, yet progressive stages: (1) grammar; (2) dialectic; and (3) rhetoric. According to this classical schematic, the initial phase of learning any subject necessarily involved learning the basic facts about the particular subject, otherwise known as its grammar. The next phase of learning required the student to master the principles or inter-relatedness among those basic facts, thus arriving at a “whole” picture of the individual, basic parts. This second phase is known as the dialectic phase. Lastly, the student was expected to be able to express, either vocally or literarily, the totality of what he had learned in the first two phases. This final expressive phase is known as the rhetoric phase.

We may illustrate a contemporary use of the trivium via the following example: Consider how a mother might teach her four-year old son how to read. Most would agree that she should begin by having the child learn the foundational facts about our language. This will involve memorizing the alphabet and its corresponding sounds. Over time the child will eventually learn the identification and usage of verbs, nouns, and adjectives. In short, the child will learn the grammar of our language. But grammar alone is not sufficient for knowing how to read and write. The child must eventually learn the proper relationships between nouns and verbs, between sentences and paragraphs, between words and books. In short, the child will learn the dialectics of language. But what good is knowledge of language if one is ill-equipped to convey such knowledge to others? Not much. Therefore the child must learn how to express what he has learned. He must learn how to write and speak for himself. In short, the child must eventually learn the art of rhetoric.

How may this author best convey the characteristics and importance of Puritan preaching?–perhaps by explaining them in the classical pattern of the trivium. This paper will therefore chart the foundational facts of Puritan preaching (i.e., its grammar), the principles or inter-relatedness among those facts within Puritan preaching (i.e., its dialectic), as well as the art of expressing the sum total of that knowledge (i.e., its rhetoric).[2] Ultimately, it is the author’s goal that this brief synopsis of Puritan preaching will be useful to the reader (and by extension the church) by engendering better preachers and better listeners of a most lovely gospel.

PART ONE: THE GRAMMAR OF PURITAN PREACHING

~God’s Word as Grammar~

“Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you.”
–Thomas Watson

Just as essential as phonics is for teaching a child how to read, so too the Bible was the sine qua non of Puritan preaching. The Puritans were not just Theo-centric, they were Word-centric. The full-orbed implications of the Reformation maxim sola scriptura were writ large upon the face of Puritan preaching. The lives of the Puritans were uniformly shaped by the revealed will of the Triune God contained in sixty-six books which they believed were divinely preserved for the good of God’s people. Accordingly, the Puritans “loved, lived, and breathed Scripture, relishing the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. They viewed Scripture as God speaking to them as their Father, giving them the truth they could trust for all eternity.” [3]

The main concern of Puritan preaching was to transmit God’s infallible word to His people. Puritan preaching was marked by an unadulterated concern to search the Scriptures, collate their findings, and apply them to all areas of life. [4] For the Puritans, all theological language was ultimately God’s language (provided it is true). To that end, how could a preacher possibly endeavor to employ God’s Word from the pulpit without making strident and vigorous effort to understand it not just generally, but particularly? The Puritans aimed simultaneously for telescopic knowledge of the Scriptures as well as for microscopic knowledge; their sermons exhibit appreciation for the texture of both systematic and biblical theology. Indeed, this is hardly surprising because, “Puritan preachers received the Bible as a coherent unit rather than a random collection of unconnected fragments.” [5]

The puritan conviction about the centrality of the Bible in preaching was reinforced by the practice of largely or exclusively limiting the details of the sermon to biblical material. [6] Puritan preaching was expository in nature, meaning that the entire sermon was to be inextricably tied to the text. The mere establishment of a connection between the sermon and the text was not sufficient for Puritan preachers. Quite the contrary, for, according to the Puritans, “The sermon is not just hinged to Scripture; it quite literally exists inside the Word of God; the text is not in the sermon, but the sermon in the text….Put summarily, listening to a sermon is being in the Bible.” [7]

~Christ as Grammar~

“Exhibit as much as you can of a glorious Christ. Yea, let the motto upon your whole ministry be: Christ is all. Let others develop the pulpit fads that come and go. Let us specialize in preaching our Lord Jesus Christ.”
–Cotton Mather

To be Word-centered is to be necessarily Christ-centered. The Puritans understood this architectonic principle and their preaching reflected it. According to Beeke, Puritan preaching “focuses on God’s written Word, the Bible, and His living Word, Jesus Christ.” [8] In accordance with scriptural data such as Luke 24:44-45 [9] and John 5:39 [10] the Puritans read their Bibles through rose-colored lenses tinted by the blood of a crucified savior and risen Lord. It was their goal in every text to solidify that the “great theme and controlling contour of experiential preaching is Jesus Christ, for he is the supreme focus, prism, and goal of God’s revelation.” [11] Hence William Perkins, the great Puritan homiletician, writes that the heart of all preaching is “to preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.” [12]

This twin focus upon God’s Word and the agent of that Word, namely Christ, was the essence of Puritan preaching. Every nuance and detail of their sermons was a mere reflection and out-working of those twin principles. Christ and His Word were the most basic facts of Puritan preaching–indeed they were the grammar of Puritan preaching.

PART TWO: THE DIALECTIC OF PURITAN PREACHING

We have argued that the grammar (most basic and foundational component) of Puritan preaching is the Christo-centric Word of God. This Christ-centric Word was to Puritan preaching what phonics is to the four-year old boy learning to read–it’s everything. And yet, at the same time it’s not everything. Knowing what God said in a particular text is not alone sufficient for transformative, God-exalting preaching. If God’s word, together with proper exegetical and hermeneutical principles, forms the “parts” of preaching, what may we say about the “whole” of preaching? How are preachers to bring their exegetical spade-work to bear upon an audience that, according to God’s word, is totally depraved and spiritually rent asunder by sin? It is in response to that question that our concept of dialectic becomes important. We said earlier that the dialectic addresses the inter-relatedness of foundational facts, and it is precisely within this inter-relatedness that several important dialectics emerge in Puritan preaching. These dialectics are evidential of specific ways in which the foundational facts of Puritan preaching are crystallized and brought to bear upon the parishioner’s mind.

~Organizational Dialectic~

“The receiving of the word consists of two parts: attention of mind and intention of will.”
–William Ames

The very essence of the dialectic in the trivium schematic is the organization it provides for the individual parts. Organization gives a global perspective to what would otherwise be isolated localities. Sentences and paragraphs are to the student of reading what sermon outlines are to the preacher. We might put it this way: just as Greek philosophers were expected to learn the laws of logic, so too Puritan preachers were expected to learn the laws of sermon organization. Puritan sermons were slaves (in a good sense) to methodology and organization. Puritan sermons were intentionally logical, they were–to borrow a phrase from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones–logic on fire. The Puritans were deeply concerned (perhaps too much) about form and structure within their sermons. As contemporary preachers of the gospel, we would be wise to mirror their concern.

William Perkins’ suggested preaching format that appears at the end of his The Art of Prophesying is a cogent example of the logical progression and systematic organization that marked Puritan sermons. Perkins advocates that preachers ought to:
1. Read the text distinctly out of the canonical scriptures.
2. Give the sense and understanding of it being read, by the scripture itself.
3. Collect a few and profitable points of doctrine out of the natural sense.
4. To apply, if he have the gift, the doctrines rightly collected to the life and manners of men in a simple and plain speech. [13]

Because of their deep and reverential commitment to the scriptures, the Puritans often belabored certain points of doctrine with seemingly excessive detail and scriptural proofs. They did this not because they particularly enjoyed prolixity of speech but because they “felt constrained to proceed to buttress each doctrine with the examples and testimonies of Scripture […] to ensure that the doctrine adduced from a specific text had the whole weight of Scripture behind it.” [14]

Ryken provides two very helpful windows into the organizational framework of a puritan sermon:

The Puritan sermon was planned and organized. It may have been long and detailed, but it did not ramble. It was controlled by a discernible strategy and it progressed toward a final goal. The methodology ensured that the content would be tied to Scripture, that the sermon would involve an intellectual grasp of the truth, and that theological doctrine would be applied to everyday living. [15]

The Puritan sermon quotes the text and “opens” it as briefly as possible, expounding circumstances and context, explaining its grammatical meanings, reducing its tropes and schemata to prose, and setting forth its logical implications; the sermon then proclaims in a flat, indicative sentence the “doctrine” contained in the text or logically deduced from it, and proceeds to the first reason or proof. Reason follows reason, with no other transition than a period and a number; after the last proof is stated there follow the uses or applications, also in numbered sequence, and the sermon ends when there is nothing more to be said. [16]

The Puritans stressed organization because they believed in the primacy of the intellect. They believed that grace enters the heart through the mind. According to Packer, “God does not move men to action by mere physical violence, but addresses their minds by his word, and calls for the response of deliberate consent and intelligent obedience. It follows that every man’s first duty in relation to the word of God is to understand it; and every preacher’s first duty is to explain it.” [17] It is the preacher’s job to explain the Bible in a clear, organized manner so that the sheep may approach it and feed upon it.

~Applicatory Dialectic~

“It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close and lively application.”
–Richard Baxter

Church pews are full of people who “know” the central tenants of the Christian faith and yet sadly remain unchanged by them. There are also people in the pews that sincerely love the doctrines of the Christian faith but remain perpetually unsure of their practical relation to daily life. The Puritans were keenly aware of both of these phenomenons. Consequently, the Puritans labored to bring the text of scripture to bear upon the individual consciences of each and every listener. Puritan preachers worked hard to be practical, for they realized that “doctrine is lifeless unless a person can ‘build bridges’ from biblical truth to everyday living.” [18] Thus Thomas Hooker can write, “When we read only of doctrines these may reach the understanding, but when we read or hear of examples, human affection doth as it were represent to us the case as our own.” [19] The puritans achieved practicality in preaching predominantly through the use of application. [20]

The breadth of Puritan application was anything but narrow. Ryken summarizes William Perkins’ seven categories of application from the Art of Prophesying, depending on the individual conditions of the listeners:

I. Unbelievers who are both ignorant and unteachable….II. Some are teachable, but yet ignorant….III. Some have knowledge, but are not as yet humbled….IV. Some are humbled….V. Some do believe….VI. Some are fallen….VII. There is a mingled people…. [21]

Perkins’ application matrix did not stop here for he devised six types of application to all seven types of listeners in any one sermon. Taken to its full extent, every doctrinal statement of the sermon would require forty-two distinct applications in order to make application to every class of listener. This was, of course, not possible. But according to Packer,

[…] anyone making an inventory of puritan sermons will soon find examples of all forty-two specific applications, often developed with very great rhetorical and moral force. Strength of application was, from one standpoint, the most striking feature of Puritan preaching, and it is arguable that the theory of discriminating application is the most valuable legacy that Puritan preachers have left to those who would preach the Bible and its gospel effectively today. [22]

It is clear that Puritan preachers were not content with the bare relaying of facts and information. Instead, their preaching was oriented toward specific goals and the best way to accomplish this, in their mind, was to strike at the center of the listener’s conscience. What better way to accomplish this than through personal application of the text? According to Beeke, “Applicatory preaching is the process of riveting truth so powerfully in people that they cannot help but see how they must change and how they can be empowered to do so.” [23] This type of preaching, as one might expect, was inherently confrontational without being cruel. Applicatory preaching is not “safe” preaching, for it involves meddling with the minds and wills of men. Beeke illustrates it well,

[…] applicatory preaching is often costly preaching. As has often been said, when John the Baptist preached generally, Herod heard him gladly. But when John applied his preaching particularly, he lost his head. Both internally in a preacher’s own conscience, as well as in the consciences of his people, a fearless application of God’s truth will cost a price. [24]

God, we suspect, would have it no other way.

~Discriminatory Dialectic~

“There is not a sermon which is heard, but it sets us nearer heaven or hell.”
–John Preston

When children are learning to spell errors are legion. One soon discovers that the discriminatory use of a dictionary is quite necessary. The discriminatory function of the gospel is similar to the discriminatory use of a dictionary–they both divide truth from error. Once all the data of scripture has been assembled for a particular text, the Puritan preacher was aware that the conclusion of that data would necessarily provoke distinctions among his audience. Truth by definition is exclusive and therefore any pulpit proclamation of the truth would divide the hearers in some way. This division in the Puritan mind was both unavoidable and absolutely necessary.

The purpose of Puritan preaching was never peripheral. Rather, it was preeminently bent toward the producing and sustaining of the new birth. Such a purpose obviously presupposed that some men were yet spiritually dead. A common theme in Puritan preaching, therefore, was the elucidation of a dividing line between the saved and the lost. If what the Bible says is true (and the Puritans believed it was) then preachers were under necessary compulsion to draw such a line in nearly every sermon. [25] And not just draw the line, but know how to influence those on either side of the line. The Puritan Joseph Hall put it this way, “The minister must discern between his sheep and wolves; in his sheep, between the sound and the unsound; in the unsound, between the weak and the tainted; in the tainted, between the nature, qualities, and degrees of the disease and infection; and to all these he must know to administer a word in season.” [26]

Discriminatory preaching, says Beeke, “clearly defines the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, opening the kingdom of heaven to one and closing it against the other.” [27]

The Puritan preachers did not follow this discriminatory model of preaching because it was faddish to do so. They followed it because they saw it in the Bible. In the Puritan mind, Jesus was the greatest of the discriminatory preachers. His sermon on the mount was the magnum opus of pulpit discrimination. Puritan preachers understood well that granting a false security to spiritual hypocrites was the most destructive of spiritual medicines.

PART THREE: THE RHETORIC OF PURITAN PREACHING

We have discussed at length both the foundational facts of Puritan preaching, namely its reliance of the Christo-centric Word of God, as well as various dialectical devices that the Puritans employed to bring those foundational facts of Scripture to bear upon the minds of men. We are now prepared to discuss various factors that shaped the actual delivery of Puritan sermons. It is not our goal to investigate the technical components of such delivery (i.e., its length, volume, syntax, etc.) as much as it is the man behind the delivery. Puritan preachers did not ascend their pulpits as mere voice boxes. They went instead as whole men, bearing the full integration of flesh, personality, and spirit. They did in fact bear a common allegiance in the science of rhetoric, but their rhetoric was not a naked science. Their proclamation of the Word of God–as heralds of Christ–gives evidence of spiritual vitality in fullest measure.

~Sanctified Rhetoricians~

“If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly,
more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.”
–John Owen

Puritan preachers understood well the danger of pulpit hypocrisy. Since preaching was an inherently spiritual activity, it was therefore impossible to proclaim the importance of spiritual life via a life that was itself spiritually malnourished. Both Puritan preachers and their congregations placed a high premium upon the importance of having “godly” ministers of the gospel. The Puritans understood that the relationship between the pastor and his congregation was symbiotic. If the pastor was spiritually stagnant how could the congregation expect a living flow from his mouth? William Perkins stated it well, “He [the pastor] must first be godly affected himself who would stir up godly affections in other men.” [28] The record of Perkins’ life confirms this for he was greatly loved by his congregation for his purity of life. It is said of Perkins, “He lived sermons, and as his preaching was a comment on his text, so his practice was a comment on his preaching.” [29]

Acute knowledge of the cause-and-effect relationship between the preacher’s personal character and his fruitfulness as a pastor led the Puritans in the constant pursuit of a sanctified life. They knew that their ministries depended upon it. Indeed,

A minister’s work is usually blessed in proportion to the sanctification of his heart before God. Ministers must therefore seek grace to build the house of God with sound experiential preaching and doctrine as well as with a sanctified life. Our preaching must shape our life, and our life must adorn our preaching. [30]

The Puritan David Dickson is famous for charging a minister at his ordination to study two books together: the Bible, and his own heart. [31] Packer notes, “Their strenuous exercise in meditation and prayer, their sensitiveness to sin, their utter humility, their passion for holiness, and their glowing devotion to Christ equipped them to be master-physicians of the soul. And deep called to deep when they preached, for they spoke of the black depths and high peaks of Christian experience first-hand.” [32] The Puritan John Boys summarized it timelessly, “He doth preach most who doth live best.” [33]

~Spiritual Rhetoric~

“Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts, the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door.”
–Thomas Watson

The Puritan preachers were men of robust intellect and disciplined study. History shows us that they prepared their sermons carefully with painstaking and meticulous detail. [34] Their appreciation for sound logic and intellectually stimulating argument is largely lacking for parallels in the history of humanity. The Puritans were not, however, foolish enough to depend upon their intellect and study for the gathering of souls and the perfecting of the church. They knew fundamentally that preaching, though highly dependent upon the intellect, was reaching for a goal that the intellect could not definitively move, namely a dead soul.

They prayed. In fervent prayer they sought the Spirit to accompany their work in the pulpit. Anyone who envisions Puritan preaching as devoid of spirituality and anchored in a logical quagmire has yet to understand it. Baxter writes, “Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent.” [35] John Bunyan picks up the refrain, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed….Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.” [36]

In short, the Puritans believed in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit when it came to conversion. They understood that the ultimate success of gospel preaching was not left to the man in the pulpit. Packer speaks for the Puritans when he says, “Man’s task is simply to be faithful in teaching the word; it is God’s work to convince of its truth and write it in the heart. The Puritans would have criticized the modern evangelistic appeal, with its wheeling for ‘decisions,’ as an unfortunate attempt by man to intrude into the Holy Spirit’s province. It is for God, not man, to fix the time of conversion.” [37]

~Simple Rhetoric~

“It is a by-word among us: It was a very plain sermon: And I say again, the plainer, the better.”
–William Perkins

Despite the proclivity of words that dominated the speech patterns of their day, Puritan preaching was aimed endlessly at simplicity. “Plain speech” was their consummate goal. It bears saying that our present culture’s love for verbal paucity and childish grammatical construction may make us the least qualified to evaluate the actual impact of such an aim. Our present culture seems ignorant of the fact that one can speak long and yet be simple.

It was specifically William Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying that forever changed the homiletical landscape of Puritan England. Perkins was primarily responsible for the universal adoption of the new Reformed method by the seventeenth-century Puritans, a method which was characterized by a plain style of preaching that delivered sermons in an easy to grasp progression of exegesis, doctrines, proofs, and uses. [38] Unfortunately, to be sure, this “plain” preaching was not always quite so plain. Nevertheless, Puritan preaching must be judged less by its supposed “plainness” and more by its results. According to Pipa, “In our day Puritan preaching is considered prolix and scholastic, yet in its time, Puritan preaching revolutionized England and paved the way for the Long Parliament and the Westminster Assembly.” [39]

It is the author’s conviction that current students of Puritan preaching often equate mistakenly the Puritan concept of “plainness” with lack of complexity. Puritan preachers like Perkins were aiming for simplicity of speech and unadorned logic, not necessarily brevity and anti-complexity. Their style may have been difficult as times, but its theological and practical fruit are undeniable even up to our present hour. At the end of the day we can only say that the proof is in the pudding. The plain style of preaching advocated by Perkins did not return void in Puritan England and left an indelible mark on the face of Christianity for enduring centuries.

According to Ryken, “Plain preaching was defined by what it lacked as well as by what it contained […]. What the Puritans did not want was a pastiche of quotations or an embellished style that called great attention to its own ostentatiousness.” [40] The Puritans understood the tendency for men in the pulpit to make preaching into a mere exercise of ego. Instead of rendering praise unto the Triune God, the congregations of such men would be tempted to render praise unto the medium and not the source. William Perkins was a staunch critic of such ego-centric preaching.

Contra Rome, Puritan preachers wanted the Word of God living in the minds of men and that meant communicating it in such a way so as to insure its lodging. Richard Sibbes claimed that “truth feareth nothing so much as concealment, and desireth nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all: when it is most naked, it is most lovely and powerful.” [41] Puritan preachers endeavored to reach all men with the gospel, both the learned and the unlearned. This meant writing sermons that common folk could imbibe and learned men could appreciate. William Perkins obviously understood this for it was said of his preaching, “His sermons were not so plain but that the piously learned did admire them, nor so learned but that the plain did understand them.” [42]

~Sincere Rhetoric~

“I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
–Richard Baxter

All of the aforementioned culminated in what scholars often refer to as experiential or affective preaching. Beeke defines it as such,

preaching that seeks to explain in terms of biblical, Calvinistic truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and the end goal of the Christian life […] it addresses the entire range of Christian living, focusing heavily on a believer’s well-being and maturity. With the Spirit’s blessing, the mission of such preaching is to transform the believer in all that he is and does to become more and more like the savior. [43]

All in all, experiential preaching characterized the Puritan preacher’s sincere desire to measure the experienced knowledge of himself and his congregation against the touchstone of Scripture. Experiential preaching was more than anything else an appeal to both the heart and minds of men, women, and children. It aimed to change them, not just land on them. Richard Baxter carries the meaning well when he says,

As man is not so prone to live according to the truth he knows except it do deeply affect him, so neither doth his soul enjoy its sweetness, except speculation do pass to affection. The understanding is not the whole soul, and therefore cannot do the whole work….The understanding must take in truths, and prepare them for the will, and it must receive them and commend them to the affections;…the affections are, as it were, the bottom of the soul. [45]

Puritan preaching was not lecturing; it was a desperate calling unto souls. It was a sincere plea to be right with God at the expense of all else. Because of its magisterial content, preaching ought to be a serious and sober engagement. According to Richard Baxter, “Of all the preaching in the world, I hate that preaching which tends to make the hearers laugh, or to move their minds with tickling levity and affect them as stage plays used to, instead of affecting them with a holy reverence for the name of God.” [46]

CONCLUSION

This paper has charted the foundational facts of Puritan preaching (i.e., its grammar), by which we refer to the Puritan’s extreme reverence for and submission to the Christo-centric Word of the Living God. We also observed three main principles of interrelation (i.e., its dialectic) which Puritan preaching used as a means of conveying the truth of that Christo-centric Word, namely organization, application, and discrimination. Lastly, we explored the Puritan art of expressing the sum total of its homiletical knowledge (i.e., its rhetoric) as seen in the spiritual character of the preachers themselves and the simple and sincere style of their preaching.

Hopefully the reader has gained a renewed appreciation for the significance of Puritan Preaching for the ultimate sake of preserving that which the modern church is far too prone to forget. If we are to avoid the eclipse of affective gospel preaching in our own day we must become students of the Puritans for they–perhaps more so than any other epoch of redemptive history since the Apostolic age–embodied the essence of biblical preaching. History has indeed validated the truthfulness of that statement because (to the author’s knowledge) preaching modeled after the Puritan method has never failed to benefit the church and thus give pleasure to Him who gave himself up for the church.

Husband to Elizabeth and father of four. Joe is a a student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. Joe served as an active duty officer in the Marine Corps for eleven years and is currently serving as an instructor pilot in the Marine Corps Reserves. An aspiring pastor, Joe travels to Europe this summer to investigate Reformed church planting amidst American military communities stationed abroad. http://www.reformation21.org/

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.

From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.

In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.

Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”

Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.

The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”

And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.

The Emperor himself later indicated his regret that he even gave Luther a safe conduct, and immediately put a new price on his head. As Luther was leaving the city, his friends staged a kidnapping to protect him and took him away in a fast horse through the forest. They hid him for a year in Wartburg at the castle disguised as a knight. During that year, Luther undertook the task of translating the Bible from the biblical languages into German. And that perhaps was his most important legacy of that time – that he made the Bible available to the common people. And with that the Reformation was born.

—R.C. Sproul

A Puritan\'s Mind

The term “Molinism” was recently brought to my attention. As I was doing some research I found this article on APM’s website and it seemed to me to offer the best summary of what I had been reading. This “doctrine” is more prevalent in the church today than I had thought. Take a read and let me know what you think.

The Heresy of Middle Knowledge

by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

It is interesting to me to see what errors the Devil will keep alive during our present age in terms of the heresies many good men have put to rest by their orthodox pens. Some heresies have been thrown by the wayside; they have come and gone. Others are still in full bloom. Those who think they have a handle on Biblical theology, but have been led astray by these errors and their own twisted thinking have resurrected some again. And it is equally interesting to me that the more harmful errors and heresies at hand surround the doctrine of God or the doctrine of Christ. In this paper, the heresy I am re-refuting surrounds Theology Proper, or the doctrine of God. It is specifically in terms of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, or His Omniscience. The error is called Molinism, or Middle Knowledge (Today Open Theism is its close brother.).

It is unsure as to whether Luis de Molina (1535-1600) actually spawned the doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Others such as Fonseca and Lessius have put forth the same ideas. Whether Molina himself began it is of no consequence. What is important is that it be rejected by orthodox Christians as heresy. In 1609 the Roman Catholic church decided to allow this idea as something acceptable. However, upon close scrutiny, it is easily distinguished as something unbiblical and unorthodox.

According to Molina (as we will presume it was his idea since the term has been deemed thus by his own name) God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, middle and free. Natural knowledge is God’s knowledge of all possible worlds, i.e. all that concerns the necessary and possible in God’s understanding (this is orthodox). Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of this actual world. By a “free act,” He is able to know what He knows absolutely (this is also orthodox). Molina, however, said this knowledge is not something that is essential in God, which is ludicrous in and if itself. Lastly, middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way He knows other things absolutely. Thus, this middle knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of what men will do. God, in His “omniscience”, waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice to be saved.

The real basis for this doctrine is not the Bible, but a twisted form of logic. The Molinian logician will argue that an action must first occur before it can be true. God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred. God, then, becomes dependent upon the acts of men instead of on His own eternal decrees. And since the actions of men are contingent, the knowledge of such acts would be contingent as well. The Molinian logicians will also argue this in the manner of something being true. The free acts of men cannot be true acts until they are actually acted. Thus, God cannot know something as true until men, in time, act out their free choices. Then God’s knowledge becomes true.

It is certainly easy to see what the doctrine of Middle knowledge is attractive here. Men are ultimately their own little saviors, and every good Roman Catholic loves the idea of working for their own salvation. Secondly, it seems to provide answers to “theological conundrums” such as “hell” and the “problem of evil.” In reality, all of the above is but part of the Molinian facade.

In this position it seems that the Jesuits were simply attempting to preserve the heretical doctrines mustered up by the semi-Pelagians. Today, those who hold to Molinism simply reject the biblical data of God’s eternal decrees, His omniscience and His omnipotent power wielded in the doctrine of Continuous Creation. Molinism is not compatible with these doctrines. Molinians must simply deny most of the Bible in order to hold onto these ideas while at the same time exalt other portions of the Scriptures which they think holds their view together. They must simply deny texts such as Isaiah 46:10-11 because it is incompatible with their “logic;” “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.” Whenever men are placed in the driver’s seat of the future, God is diminished in His glory and the depravity of those men bolts to the forefront; then, doctrines such as Molinism rise to the surface. In light of the Biblical data, and logical reasoning itself, this doctrine comes to naught. The only reason why anyone would continue to hold this doctrine is due to unbelief – they reject the God of the Bible.

Turretin states the heresy and objections well, “The question is not whether God knows future contingencies…Rather the question is whether they belong to a kind of middle knowledge distinct from the natural and free [knowledge He already possesses of all things]. The latter we deny…therefore the question is whether besides the natural knowledge (which is only things possible) and the knowledge of vision (which is only of things future), there may be granted in God a certain third or middle knowledge concerning conditional future things by which God knows what men or angels will freely do without a special decree preceding (if placed with these or those circumstance in such an order of things). The Jesuits, Socinians, and Remonstrants affirm this; the orthodox deny this.” (Institutio, v1, Page 214)

Middle Knowledge is a non-entity. The reasons for this are many: First, both natural and free knowledge embrace the knowing of all things for God. There is nothing left to know after these. There is nothing in the nature of any thing whatsoever which is not possible or future. God’s knowledge cannot be said to move out of these bounds. He knows all things possible or future before the foundations of the world. Middle knowledge, then, is a non-entity. Second, no future conditional thing can be knowable before the divine decree. Thus, things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Third, all things are under the power of God’s providence, and thus, no thing can be independent of that providence. Fourth, the Bible does not ascribe to God any type of knowledge this is uncertain (the author is aware of the resurgence of “Open Theism” which is adequately dealt with by Bruce Ware in his book, “God’s Lesser Glory”). Molina would have God confused about all things since God’s knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of men. Thus, any knowledge about any thing in the created order would necessitate that all knowledge God has about the universe would be contingent upon the free acts of men in that universe – which is nonsense. God, then, would simply be a resurrected kind of “Zeus” figure from ancient mythology. Fifth, middle knowledge destroys the dominion of God over creation since all acts are not preformed by God’s decree, but the acts itself. Man, then, becomes “God.”

Molina did not place truth in is proper context. God’s knowledge of reality is not based upon that which is contingent, but His own nature. This means that God’s knowledge is not contingent on the condition of the things known. It based on His asiety, or His necessary being. Since God’s being is necessary in this manner, everything in known to Him is necessary not contingent. If God’s knowledge is dependent on the free actions of men, then God is not really God at all. It would be just as well to bow down to a graven image or an idol made from your own hands. He would have no power to act independently of men, nor would he have the power to enact any change whatsoever, not even the act of creation.

There is no position in between the two poles of logic – God is the cause of all things, both primary and secondary means, (this Calvinism affirms) or, He is dependent upon other free acts (Roman Catholicism and Arminianism affirms). God is either cause, or He is effect. The epistemological nature of God’s knowledge will not allow Him to become an Olympian god who peers over the clouds to see what trickery men have played against Him that day. Efficacious salvation would be impossible with such a “god.” How could Zeus ensure the salvation of any individual if the individual is the author and finisher of his own faith? Molinism does not only deny the cardinal doctrines of Theology Proper, but also denies the depravity of man at this point (and this the usual goal of such doctrines – to relieve man of his true misery and place in his hands a form of “power” that the serpent tempted Eve by).

Turretin sums up these ideas nicely, “The cause of the existence of thing differs from the cause of their fruition. Second causes can concur with God to cause the existence of a certain thing because they exist and are active at the same time with God. But no second cause can concur with him to cause the futurition of things because futurition was made from eternity, while all second causes are only in time. Hence it is evident that the futurition of things depends upon nothing but the decree of God, and therefore can be foreknown only from the decree.” (Institutio, v1, Page 218)

Brief Scriptural Support for the infinite knowledge of God and His power, and the Biblical denial of Molinism:

Acts 17:24-25, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

Col. 1:17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

Acts 17:28, “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…”

Rom. 11:33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?”

Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.”

Heb. 4:13, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Acts 15:18, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

Ezekiel 11:5, “Then the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said to me, “Speak! ‘Thus says the LORD: “Thus you have said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith substantiates the orthodox position on this subject in chapter 3:1-3 – On God’s Decree.

I. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]

1. Psa. 33:11: Eph. 1:11: Heb. 6:17

2. Psa. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; see Hab. 1:13

3. Acts 2:23; 4:27-28: Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,[4] yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.[5]

4. I Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21-23

5. Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels[6] are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.[7]

6. I Tim 5:21; Jude 1:6; Matt. 25:31, 41

7. Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Prov. 16:4

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground …; but because even were there no dangers … I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success … But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God” – Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 313-314.

Reformation Theology

I speak for many when I say that I have not always embraced the doctrines of grace or what is commonly called Calvinism. Its actually unfortunate that a man’s name is associated with the doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin was not the first to articulate these truths, but merely was the chief systematizer of such doctrines. There was actually nothing in Calvin that was not first seen in Luther, and much of Luther was first found in Augustine. Luther was an Augustinian monk, of course. We would also naturally affirm that there was nothing in any of these men that was not first found in Paul and Peter and John in the New Testament.

Even now, I have no desire to be a Calvinist in the Corinthian sense of the word – a follower of John Calvin, per say. Though I believe Calvin was a tremendous expositor of the Scriptures and had many great insights, I am not someone who believes he was in any way infallible. I am with Spurgeon who declared, “There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer – I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.” (C. H. Spurgeon, a Defense of Calvinism)

In coming to understand these doctrines that are now so precious to me, I now realize that there were fortresses built in my mind to defend against the idea of God being Sovereign in the matter of salvation. Such was my total depravity! These fortresses were not made of stone and brick but of man made ideas – concepts that I believed Scripture taught with clarity. These fortresses did not come down easily. In fact, I believe it is a work of Divine grace in the heart not only to regenerate His people, but also to open hearts and minds, even of His own people, to the truth of His Sovereignty in election.

There are many false concepts about Calvinism. Here are five that are very common:

1. CALVINISM DESTROYS EVANGELISM

I think some Calvinists do have an aversion for evangelism, and this is something that needs to be addressed whenever this tendency is seen, yet both historically and biblically, nothing could be further from the truth. It is quite easy to prove that the whole missions movement was started by Calvinists who believed Christ had His elect sheep in every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Romans 8 and 9 teaches election clearly, and Romans 10 tells us of the necessity of preaching the Gospel. How shall they (the elect) hear without a preacher? Romans 10 is in no way a contradiction to Romans 8 and 9.

Divine election is the only hope of evangelism. No one we speak to about Christ is beyond hope, for God may well have ordained from all eternity that our conversation or preaching is to be the very means by which He would achieve His ends – the gathering of one of His elect sheep into the fold! What a privilege to be used by God in this way.

Divine election should never undermine evangelism. In fact, the truth about election should cause us to continue to proclaim Christ, even when results may not come immediately. The concept of election should actually fuel our evangelism when mere human emotion wanes. We should remember that God has His elect sheep who will hear His voice and will follow Him when we preach the Gospel of Christ. So then faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

Election is not a hindrance to evangelism. It simply explains to us why some believe the Gospel and why some do not. Jesus said to one group hearing Him “you do not believe because you are not My sheep” (John 10:26) and Luke explained the evangelistic results of the early church by declaring, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

2. CALVINISM APPEALS TO THE PRIDE OF MAN

Sadly, some Calvinists do reek of pride and give off an air of being better than those around them, but such is a total betrayal of biblical Calvinism. If we recognize our total depravity or radical corruption, we understand that there was absolutely nothing in us that caused God to look down upon us to show us such favor. The only thing we can say in response to His electing grace is “Lord, why me?”

Romans 9:11-16 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

“God intentionally designed salvation so that no man can boast of it. He didn’t merely arrange it so that boasting would be discouraged or kept to a minimum – He planned it so that boasting would be absolutely excluded. Election does precisely that.” – Mark Webb

3. CALVINISM STUNTS HOLINESS

I have heard this mentioned a few times recently and just scratch my head in wonder about it. One great example are the Puritans, who were strong Calvinists and yet were driven by a desire for holiness. But some see this as a contradiction in terms. Where they get this, I do not know.

God Sovereignly elects some people to salvation but this in no way diminishes our responsibility to make sure that we who profess faith in Christ, actually possess the faith that saves. If you and I do have the real thing and not some fraudulent kind of substitute for the genuine faith that saves.. if we really have the real thing.. there will be evidence to show it. The Scripture, and true Calvinism, teaches us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. I find this to be the biblical mandate rather than simply recalling a time when we raised a hand or walked an aisle, which is what most Christians have been taught. The call to holiness is a call all true Christians will heed for without it, no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

4. CALVINISM TEACHES THAT MEN ARE MERELY ROBOTS

Calvinists believes in man’s will. Man always chooses what he most desires at the moment of choice. You are choosing now to read this sentence when there are literally billions of other sentences out there waiting to be read.

Why do you read this sentence right now?

The answer is because at this very moment, this is your strongest desire. It is impossible for you to be reading something else – right now anyway. And this will be the case until a stronger desire for something else (like answering the phone or taking a shower, or going for a walk) rises up in your heart. The heart and the will are inseparably connected.

What we need is not “free will” but wills made free. This is because by nature our hearts only want independence from Christ. We love darkness rather than light. Jesus said, “No man CAN come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). Calvinists take these words seriously as well as Christ’s words in John 3 which tells that unless a man is first born again (or born from above) he cannot enter or even see the kingdom of God.

“If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knows nothing of grace, and he has not learnt Jesus Christ aright.” – Martin Luther

George Whitefield, perhaps the greatest Evangelist in church history once declared, “I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave free-will in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things . . . I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to do of His good pleasure.” – Works, pp. 89-90

“If the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair all hope that anyone would be saved.” – R. C. Sproul

“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, “You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.” My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will. Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven.” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

5. CALVINISM DIMINISHES THE GOD OF LOVE

I think for many, this is the big one. They have a concept concerning the love of God that while very popular, is not particularly biblical. They believe (as I once did) that if God is love, he loves all people in just the same way. I believe God does love everyone in some sense, but He has a love for His Son which is greater than His love for demons, and a love for His sheep which is greater than His love for the goats. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Christ gave Himself for the church in a way He did not for Walmart or McDonalds. No one would ever say about a husband “wow, look at the way this man loves his wife, and the great thing about his love for her is that he loves everyone else’s wife in just the same way.”

This is a truth that needs to be taught with great care because so many have false concepts stemming from being raised on inaccurate teaching about the love of God. We must be patient with such people when pointing them to the biblical texts. Some people think John 3:16 destroys divine election, but of course it does not. Yet a false concept brought to the Scripture text often confirms people in their opposition to what the Bible actually teaches.

However we interpret the words, “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” I think if we believe the Bible, we all have to admit that in some sense, God had a greater love for Jacob than He did for Esau, or else words mean nothing.

John 17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

God, moved by love for His name and for us, sent His Son into the world to actually save elect sinners, not to merely try to do so. He went all the way in His love for us and did all the work in raising us from spiritual death by a work of supreme, matchless, measureless grace. Because salvation is of the Lord, all the glory for our salvation – absolutely all of it, goes to God alone. Calvinism affirms this.

“The doctrines of original sin, election, effectual calling, final perseverance, and all those great truths which are called Calvinism—though Calvin was not the author of them, but simply an able writer and preacher upon the subject—are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the Gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now, I do not ask you whether you believe all this—it is possible you may not; but I believe you will before you enter heaven. I am persuaded, that as God may have washed your hearts, he will wash your brains before you enter heaven.” C. H. Spurgeon

Originally posted by John Samson. For more info click the link provided at the top of this post.


Prays Mill Baptist Church

Every year during the fall, the air becomes crisp, the days shorter, and the end of October is marked by a celebration known to us as Halloween. However, on October 31st – something greater than Halloween should be recognized – especially by the protestant church. In the year 1517, on October 31st, a man named Martin Luther nailed a document to the Castle door in Whittenberg. That single document, known to us as The 95 Theses, literally sparked the great Reformation and led to the intense hatred of Martin Luther by the Pope and all of Rome.

The Catholic Church was guilty of perverting the message of grace by offering the forgiveness of sins through the sale of indulgences. Martin Luther had seen enough. After being saved by the grace of God, he was moved by the Holy Spirit to take a stand against the teachings of Rome. That passion was based upon his love for Holy Scripture.

Luther’s love prompted the sacrifice of himself

In order for us to understand the magnitude of Luther’s stand in 1517, we must understand the religious climate and rule under which Luther lived. He was involved in the Catholic religious system. All persons within the Catholic Church were forced to submit to the Pope and his rule or face excommunication – or even death! Luther’s love for the Word of God (which he called the external Word) prompted him to reject the indulgences and false sense of forgiveness provided by the Catholic Church. When Luther said, “Here I stand…” it was a pure stand of opposition – not one of selfish ambition. Luther never intended to receive fame, spark a reformation, or get his name “tagged” on thousands of blog sites in the years to come! Luther was motivated by a love for the Word which drove him to stand up in the face of a powerful giant – even if it cost him everything. Even if it cost him his life.

Luther’s love prompted the sacrifice of his time and energy

Luther’s deep love produced rigorous labor in the Word. Martin Luther was not a lazy man. No man can lead a reformation while approaching ministry casually. Luther’s love for the Word of God produced labor that shaped the German language and enriched it with his translation of God’s Word. Luther did not have the ability to utilize Logos or any other computer program in his translation work. Intense and unwavering labor was the product of Luther’s love for God’s Word.

“Sunday 5:00 a.m. worship with a sermon on the Epistle, 10:00 a.m. with a sermon on the Gospel, an afternoon message on the Old Testament or catechism. Monday and Tuesday sermons were on the Catechism; Wednesdays on Matthew; Thursdays and Fridays on the Apostolic letters; and Saturday on John.”1 Although times have changed since the 1500′s, it should be noted that Luther was passionate about preaching the Word. It drove and powered his desires. Luther called the Word of God – “The external Word” – and that External Word dominated Luther’s passions.

“In 1522 he preached 117 sermons in Wittenberg and 137 sermons the next year. In 1528 he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two-and-a-half days.”2 It should also be noted that Luther’s preaching was not the same message warmed up each week. His preaching was the byproduct of his intense study which took place each day. Martin Luther translated, wrote, and preached without modern “helps” that are available through computers, the internet, and the thousands of commentaries that we have available to us at the click of a button. When it comes down to it, Martin Luther was a “work horse” who lived to preach the Word – and as a result – we are still talking about him today. Luther’s life has left a mark on the world and it has also provided writings that are still worth reading. John MacArthur once said in a sermon – “You cannot just role out of bed and lead a reformation.”3 I believe he is correct. Luther did not just wake up and seek to lead a reformation. The Reformation was the byproduct of relentless study and passionate preaching straight from the Word of God.

Luther’s love prompted the proclamation of God’s Word

Luther called the Word of God the “external Word” because it was outside of man and his ability to mold it into something of his own thinking. God’s Word was not the product of man – it was the divine revelation of God. Therefore, Luther would often refer to it as the external Word in order to make that point. Luther was not a secluded theologian who only came out of his office for personal pleasure. Luther spent years faithfully preaching and teaching the Word to people. It was not enough to study, translate, and write for Luther! He had a burning desire to preach the Word of God. “Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom … Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3,000 sermons. Frequently he preached several times a week, often two or more times a day.”4 Luther put emphasis on the Book! He loved it and he preached it! “Luther had one weapon with which to rescue the incarnate Word form being sold in the markets of Wittenberg. He drove out the money changers—the indulgence sellers—with the whip of the “external Word,” the Book.”5

Luther’s love prompted the Reformation

The goal of Martin Luther was not the Reformation. However, God used a man who had an intense and unwavering love for Him to spark it. How did Luther come to know God and His love? It was through the Word of God – the divine revelation – the external Word – that God revealed Himself to Luther. It changed Luther from a religious Catholic scholar to a man who loved God and became saturated with His Word. This spark turned into a flame that roared through Wittenberg and through the world liberating our worship from the rule of the Catholic system and spreading the Word to the common person. It was not a superficial love or a selfish love. It was a genuine love for God that was rooted in a Book – the Word of God! October 31st 1517 should always be remembered. It changed the Luther and it changed the world – for the glory of God.

We should be forever grateful that God raised up a man who would risk everything to stand up against the perverted teachings of Rome. Today, we experience ultimate religious freedom. It wasn’t the case in 1517! Although Pope Leo X called Luther “a wild boar (pig)” – he should be remembered as a faithful soldier of the cross who sparked something greater than Halloween known to us as the Reformation!

Luther wrote, It is vain to rely on salvation by letters of indulgence, even if the commissary, or indeed the pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity (#52 of 95).6

Pastor Josh Buice

*You can see why we miss Pastor Josh…

Wonderful article I found on Reformation21 Blog

John Bunyan believed that Christians are saved by grace. Of course. It was what everyone seemed to say. The thought left him pretty miserable, though. In fact, when he really thought about it, it left him profoundly depressed. God is gracious, he knew: but how gracious, exactly? And that made him wonder: ‘my peace would be in and out, sometimes twenty times a day; comfort now, and trouble presently’. ‘But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever (Heb. 13.8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations had fled away; so that, from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me now; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God.’ It wasn’t that we are saved by grace; what sent Bunyan home rejoicing was that we are saved by grace alone. And therein lies a world of difference. Now one might have thought that merely adding that word ‘alone’ would have set Bunyan free. But no. And to really skip with Bunyan, we must follow the White Rabbit into a very topsy-turvy world. Down the Rabbit Hole… Above ground, life is simple and obvious. Common sense rules. And breathing in this sensible air, I wonder ‘who am I?’ Well I am me, of course. My own man. And whatever that silly old codger John Donne said, it is obvious that each man is, in fact, an island. So what is grace? Some sort of stuff given to me, a sort of force God gives to help me. But then down the hole we go, passing such weird sights as Romans 5: ‘sin came into the world through one man’ and ‘many died through one man’s trespass’. What madness is this? I die, not because I’ve done wrong, but because of Adam? Indeed, and more: ‘as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous’ (vv18-19). So I don’t die because of my own sin, and I don’t live because of my own righteousness. My actions really do not determine my destiny. It is because of the sin of Adam than anyone sins and dies. It is because of the righteousness of Christ that anyone comes to life and righteousness. Now undoubtedly this is strange; but is it unfair? Quite the opposite, said Augustine as he took on ‘each man is an island’ Pelagius at the beginning of the fifth century. For if each person suffers only for their own sin, what of the child born handicapped? Her problem can only be her own fault. Well, OK, perhaps this isn’t unfair. But how can this be that Adam sins and I die, that Christ obeys and I am given life? Further down the hole we go, to 1 Corinthians 15: ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ What can he mean? The answer lies at the very bottom of the tunnel, with the very first fruits of all, in Genesis 1. There, on the third day, we see the firstfruits of creation. And something that the repetition of the text makes striking is that these fruits are ‘seed-bearing’. The plants bear fruit ‘in which is their seed’. The next generation is contained within them. Thus what happens to the fruit will happen to the seed. So it is with Adam and Christ. They are the firstfruits of two very different crops: Adam is the fruit of death, and all his seed ‘in him’ die with him; Christ is the fruit of life, and all his seed ‘in him’ live with him. Mankind, then, is not, in fact, a vast throng of separate individuals, but is instead made up of just two persons: Adam and Christ. Each one of us is merely a seed in one of those fruits, dependent for our fate, not on ourselves, but on the one we are in. One sees much the same thing in Hebrews 7, with the story of Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek. According to Hebrews, Abraham’s great grandson, Levi, could also be said to have paid that tithe ‘through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.’ Yet to be born, Levi was considered to be still ‘in Abraham’. He was, after all, Abraham’s descendant, his ‘seed’. He was still in the old fruit. What Abraham did, he did. … and Up into the Sunshine In this strange new world of the Bible, then, salvation is not so much about each individual being given some thing called grace; it is about being snipped out of one plant, Adam, and grafted into another, Christ. But with that comes the liberation and the joy. Christ bore the death penalty of sin for us: in him, we bore it too. Christ was then raised from the death he did not deserve and was declared righteous: in him we were given new life and declared righteous. Like fruit in a seed, like Levi in Abraham, Christians are hidden in Christ, and all his is theirs. For all that we speak of grace, and however strongly we speak of it, we will remain prisoners of spiritual insecurity for as long as we imagine that we are independent islands. And rightly so: all spiritual blessings are to be found in Christ alone. Just read Ephesians 1 for an avalanche of verses to prove that. There is no hint of salvation to be found anywhere else. God only ever blesses through Christ. He is the vine of God’s blessing. And the only way to be blessed is to be grafted into him. But to know that we are now hidden in Christ and clothed with him is what will really ring the joy-bells. It was just so that John Calvin summed up his teaching on justification in his Institutes: ‘as Jacob did not of himself deserve the right of the first-born, concealed in his brother’s clothing and wearing his brother’s coat, which gave out an agreeable odor, he ingratiated himself with his father, so that to his own benefit he received the blessing while impersonating another. And we in like manner hide under the precious purity of our first-born brother, Christ, so that we may be attested righteous in God’s sight… And this is indeed the truth, for in order that we may appear before God’s face unto salvation we must smell sweetly with his odor, and our vices must be covered and buried by his perfection.’ How Pilgrims Progress It was just this that Bunyan grasped when that sentence fell upon his soul, ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven’. And when he saw that, how could he fear any more that all was not right? Now all his hope and all his confidence was to be found outside himself, independent of how he was feeling and doing – in Christ. He says he therefore went home rejoicing. That was true in the moment, but it might be more accurate to say he went out rejoicing, for that message turned Bunyan into perhaps the most winning evangelist of his generation. Thousands were turned to the happy message of a God who does not merely help us by ‘grace’ but who totally accepts sinners in Christ. If we simply speak of salvation by grace, people will imagine grace to be that force God gives to help us where we are at. And thus they will lack the joy-giving confidence and appeal of Bunyan’s gospel of grace alone, of actually being found secure in Christ. The other thing, of course, is that grace can be thought of quite impersonally, as if being a believer is merely about believing promises and getting blessings. And if that is it, what’s to stop the Christian living in mere servile obedience to God? But Bunyan’s discovery was that we are united to Christ, to know and love him personally from the heart, to know and love the Father as our Father, to be known and loved as children of God. It’s not quite that we get ‘grace’: we get Christ. Saved by grace? No, we have a better gospel than that.

Dr. Michael Reeves is the Theological Advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), a charity supporting evangelism in higher education throughout the United Kingdom. He is the author of books such as The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (Broadman & Holman, 2010)