Rome, the Radical Reformation, and Exegesis (Muller)

 Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was brought about by a return to Scripture and it’s teachings.  Obviously, this is a huge discussion and it’s even hard to know where to begin when discussing this topic.  What got me thinking of this today is a paragraph I read in Richard Muller’s volume on “Holy Scripture” from his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics set.  I’ll put the quote below (I broke it up to make it easier to read).  Notice Muller’s excellent comments on the radical Reformation.

The Reformers, operating at least initially in the context of traditional Catholicism, were able to adjust and revise certain key doctrinal points—like the doctrines of justification and the sacraments—by recourse to exegesis, while at the same time assuming the churchly stability of the larger body of doctrine.

(It was one of the functions of the radical Reformation, perhaps most forcefully in its antitrinitarian moments, to test this assumption and to demonstrate the impossibility of holding on to the larger body of traditional dogmatic formulations when the tradition as a whole was set aside.)

The Protestant orthodox, however, were left with the task of reconstructing a churchly and confessionally governed dogmatics in the context of a hermeneutical revolution. Doctrines like the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the fall and original sin, which had developed over centuries and with the assistance of an easy mingling of theological and exegetical traditions and of an exegetical method designed to find more in a text than what was given directly by a grammatical reading, would now have to be exposited and exegetically justified—all in the face of a Roman Catholic polemic against the sole authority of Scripture as defined by the Reformers over against the tradition and the churchly magisterium, a polemic made all the more telling by the presence of the teachings of the Radicals.

 Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy;  Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 443–444.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

“…Mid All Harms” (Luther)

 Here’s a great Reformation hymn with an excellent structure: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It’s by Martin Luther and it’s called “We All Believe in One True God.”

We all believe in one true God,
Maker of the earth and heaven,
The Father who to us the power
To become his sons have given.
Soul and body guard us, guide us,
‘Mid all harms will keep and cherish,
That no ill shall ever betide us.
He watches o’er us day and night,
All things are governed by His might.

And we believe in Jesus Christ
Lord and Son of God confessed
From everlasting days with God
In like power and glory blessed.
By the Holy Ghost conceived,
Born of Mary, virgin mother,
That to lost men who believed
He should Savior be and Brother;
Was crucified and from the grave,
Through God, is risen,
Strong to save!

We in the Holy Ghost believe,
Who with Son and Father reigneth,
One true God; He the Comforter,
Feeble souls with gifts sustaineth,
All his saints, in every nation,
With one heart this faith receiving,
From all sin obtain salvation,
From the dust of death reviving;
These sorrows past, there waits in store
For us, the life forevermore!

Martin Luther, from “We All Believe in One True God” found in The Hymns of Martin Luther.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


The Pity and Presentness of God (Melanchthon)

 We might sometimes forget the many difficulties the Protestant Reformers faced in their efforts to reform the church according to the Word.  It’s not like everyone appreciated what they were doing and flocked to their churches.  Many reformers faced a lot of hardships, hostility, and hatred from all different kinds of people.  I’m sure many of you know the stories.

In light of the difficulties the reformers faced, Phillip Melanchthon (d. 1560) preached a comforting sermon on John 10:28 called “The Safety of the Virtuous.”  In the sermon, Melanchthon said that this verse often raised him “up out of the deepest sorrow” and drew him as it were, “out of hell.”  I recommend reading the whole sermon, but here’s one excellent section of it that I appreciated:

For to this end are we laden with such a crowd of dangers, that in events and occurrences which to human prudence are an inexplicable enigma, we may recognize the infinite goodness and presentness of God, in that He, for His Son’s sake, and through His Son, affords us aid. God will be owned in such deliverance just as in the deliverance of your first parents, who, after the fall, when they were forsaken by all the creatures, were upheld by the help of God alone. So was the family of Noah in the flood, so were the Israelites preserved when in the Red Sea they stood between the towering walls of waters. These glorious examples are held up before us, that we might know, in like manner, the Church, without the help of any created beings, is often preserved.

Many in all times have experienced such divine deliverance and support in their personal dangers, as David saith: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord taketh me up”; and in another place David saith: “He hath delivered the wretched, who hath no helper.” But in order that we may become partakers of these so great blessings, faith and devotion must be kindled within us, as it stands written, “Verily, I say unto you!” So likewise must our faith be exercised, that before deliverance we should pray for help and wait for it, resting in God with a certain cheerfulness of soul; and that we should not cherish continual doubt and melancholy murmuring in our hearts, but constantly set before our eyes the admonition of God: “The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your heart and mind”; which is to say, be so comforted in God, in time of danger, that your hearts, having been strengthened by confidence in the pity and presentness of God, may patiently wait for help and deliverance, and quietly maintain that peaceful serenity which is the beginning of eternal life….

Phillip Melanchthon, “The Safety of the Virtuous” in The World’s Greatest Sermons (vol 1), p. 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Paul or the Papists? (Latimer)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice

Hugh Latimer was a 16th-century English preacher who came out of the Roman Catholic church to join the Reformation because of its biblical foundation and emphases. The following is a selection from a 1552 sermon by Hugh Latimer which contrasts the Roman Catholic view of salvation with the Reformation view.   You can read more about it in chapter three of The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God.

The papists, which are the very enemies of Christ, make him to be a Savior after their own fantasy, and not after the word of God; wherein he declares himself, and set out and opened his mind unto us. They follow, I say, not the Scripture, which is the very leader to God, but regard more their own inventions; and therefore they make him a Savior after this fashion. They consider how there shall be, after the general resurrection, a general judgment, where all mankind shall be gathered together to receive their judgment: then shall Christ, say the papists, sit as a judge, having power over heaven and earth: and all those that have done well in this world, and have steadfastly prayed upon their beads, and have gone a pilgrimage, etc., and so with their good works have deserved heaven and everlasting life,—those, say they, that have merited with their own good works, shall be received of Christ, and admitted to everlasting salvation.

As for the other, that have not merited everlasting life, [they] shall be cast into everlasting darkness: for Christ will not suffer wicked sinners to be taken into heaven, but rather receive those which deserve. And so it appeareth, that they esteem our Savior not to be a Redeemer, but only a judge; which shall give sentence over the wicked to go into everlasting fire, and the good he will call to everlasting felicity.

And this is the opinion of the papists, as concerning our Savior; which opinion is most detestable, abominable, and filthy in the sight of God. For it diminishes the passion of Christ; it taketh away the power and strength of the same passion; it defileth the honor and glory of Christ; it forsakes and denies Christ and all his benefits. For if we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.

Therefore, learn here, every good Christian, to abhor this most detestable and dangerous poison of the papists, which go about to thrust Christ out of his seat: learn here, I say, to leave all papistry, and to stick only to the word of God, which teaches thee that Christ is not only a judge, but a justifier; a giver of salvation, and a taker away of sin; for he purchased our salvation through his painful death, and we receive the same through believing in him; as St Paul teaches us, saying, Gratis estis justificati per fidem, “Freely ye are justified through faith.” In these words of St. Paul, all merits and estimation of works are excluded and clean taken away. For if it were for our works’ sake, then it were not freely: but St. Paul saith, “freely.”

Whether will you now believe St. Paul, or the papists? …

-Hugh Latimer (see p. 80-81 of The Irrepressible Word of God).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Crespin, the Reformation, Martyrs, and Scripture (Manetsch)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice In his contribution to The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God, Scott Manetsch spends some time discussing a book by Jean Crespin.  Crespin was a French Protestant who found refuge in Geneva where he set up a printing press around 1550.  He printed all sorts of Reformation material, including commentaries, Bibles, catechisms, and so on.  One of his more popular publications was something he penned himself: The Book of Martyrs.  It was updated and published thirteen times until its final edition in 1570.  As the title suggests, The Book of Martyrs is a compendium of stories about Protestants being killed for their faith during the Reformation.

We can learn a lot from Crespin’s book.  One of the major things we can learn from The Book of Martyrs is, as Manetsch notes, that “for sixteenth-century Protestants, the Bible was the people’s book.”  Manetsch gives several examples from Crespin’s book that highlight the centrality of Scripture in the Reformation.   One specific example that stuck out for me was the story of Jean Rabec’s trial and martyrdom:

The trial of Jean Rabec provides a good example of how Protestant martyrs appealed to Scripture’s authority against their Catholic opponents.  Rabec had once been a Franciscan monk who, having tasted evangelical teaching, renounced his monastic vows and relocated to Lausanne to study theology at the city’s Reformed academy.  After completing his studies, he returned to the city of Angers as a missionary to share with his fellow countrymen ‘the inestimable treasure of the Lord’s grace’ and, if possible, to ‘rescue from the abyss of hell those who were perishing.’

In August of 1555, Rabec was arrested and imprisoned when he was caught reading aloud the first edition of Crespin’s martyrology to a group of onlookers.  During the long trial that followed, Rabec was rigorously questioned by episcopal judges as to his views regarding the intercession of the saints, the Virgin Mary, purgatory, the pope, auricular confession, the Mass, transubstantiation, baptism, Catholic traditions, and monastic vows.

From his prison cell, Rabec wrote a precious letter describing his responses to his interrogation.  When asked about praying to the saints, he responded that the practice was ‘not acceptable, inasmuch as it cannot be proven from Scripture.’  When asked about papal authority, he answered: ‘I do not believe that there is any other head of the Church than Jesus Christ, inasmuch as Scripture proposes no other.’  Regarding the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception, Rabec was even more direct: ‘You have as the foundation of your [belief] an explanation based in the human brain; as for me, I have the Word of God.  Judge who is the most wise, God or you; and what is most certain, his judgment or yours?’  At one point in the trial, Rabec paraphrased the famous statement by Luther: ‘I would place more value in the words of a child who has the Word of God than the rest of the whole world who does not have it.’

After months of intense interrogations and cruel treatment, Rabec was finally excommunicated as a heretic, defrocked, and sentenced to death by burning….

Scott Manetsch, “I Have the Word of God” in The Reformation and the Irrepresible Word of God, p. 28, 30, 32.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002


“We Are All Hussites” (Luther)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) Martin Luther (d. 1546) thought very highly of John Huss (d. 1415).  Luther first read Huss when he was newly ordained at the church in Erfurt.  Here’s how Luther explained it:

‘When I was a tyro [novice] at Erfurt …I found in the library of the convent a volume of The Sermons of John Huss. When I read the title I had a great curiosity to know what doctrines that heresiarch had propagated, since a volume like this in a public library had been saved from the fire. On reading I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill. But as the very name of Huss was held in so great abomination that I imagined the sky would fall and the sun be darkened if I made honourable mention of him, I shut the book and went away with no little indignation. This, however, was my comfort, that perhaps Huss had written these things before he fell into heresy. For as yet I knew not what was done at the Council of Constance’ (Mon. Hus. vol. i. Preface).

A few years later Luther wrote this to Spalatin:

‘I have hitherto taught and held all the opinions of Huss without knowing it. With a like unconsciousness has Staupitz taught them. We are all of us Hussites without knowing it. I do not know what to think for amazement.’

Luther was also instrumental in having Huss’ letters translated and published in Germany.  Here’s an excerpt from Luther’s introduction to the German edition of Huss’ Letters:

Observe… how firmly Huss clung in his writings and words to the doctrines of Christ; with what courage he struggled against the agonies of death; with what patience and humility he suffered every indignity, and with what greatness of soul he at last confronted a cruel death in defence of the truth; doing all these things alone before an imposing assembly of the great ones of the earth, like a lamb in the midst of lions and wolves. If such a man is to be regarded as a heretic, no person under the sun can be looked on as a true Christian. By what fruits then shall we recognise the truth, if it is not manifest by those with which John Huss was so richly adorned?’

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 1-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Let No Tribulation in Christ’s Cause Discourage Us (Wyche to Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) In the early 15th century John Wycliffe’s influence was still being felt in the Western church even outside of England.  However, many church leaders were not fans of Wycliffe’s critique of the church nor did they favor major reformation of the church.  In fact, in a papal decree Pope Gregory XI called Wycliffe “the master of errors.”

John Huss, a Bohemian reformer, followed in Wycliffe’s footsteps.  In fact, when the church leaders in Prague burned many of Wycliffe’s books in 1410, Huss and others were excommunicated for not giving up their copies of Wycliffe’s books and for “opposing the Catholic faith.”  There’s more to the story, of course, but one thing worth noting is that an English Lollard (someone who agreed with Wycliffe) named Richard Wyche heard about the incident and wrote a letter of encouragement to Huss – whom he had never met.  I’ll post the letter from Wyche to Huss below.  It is slightly longer than I usually like to post, but it is worth reading as an edifying piece of pre-Reformation literature:

I rejoiced above measure when our beloved brethren came and gave testimony to us of your truth, how also you walked in the truth. I have heard, brethren, how sharply Antichrist persecutes you in vexing the faithful servants of Christ with diverse and unheard-of afflictions. And surely no marvel if amongst you (as it is so almost all the world over) the law of Christ be grievously impugned, and that red dragon with his many heads, of whom it is spoken in the Apocalypse, have now vomited that great flood out of his mouth whereby he goeth about to swallow up the woman. But the most gracious God will deliver for ever his only and most faithful spouse. Let us therefore comfort ourselves in the Lord our God and in his innumerable goodness, hoping strongly in Him who will not suffer those that love Him to be unmercifully defrauded of any of their purpose, if we, according to our duty, shall love Him with all our heart. For adversity should by no means prevail over us if there were no iniquity reigning in us. Therefore let no tribulation or anguish for Christ’s cause discourage us; knowing this for a surety, that whomsoever the Lord vouchsafes to receive to be His children, these he scourgeth; for so the merciful Father wills that they be tried in this miserable life through and in persecutions that afterwards He may spare us. For the gold that this high Artificer hath chosen He purgeth and trieth in this fire, that He may afterwards lay it up in His pure treasury. For we see that the time we shall abide here is short and transitory; the life that we hope for hereafter is blessed and everlasting. Therefore, while we have time, let us strive earnestly that we may enter into that rest. What other things do we see in this frail life save sorrow, heaviness, and sadness, and that which is most grievous of all to the faithful, too much abusing and contempt of the law of the Lord?

Let us therefore endeavour ourselves, as much as we may, to lay hold of the things that are eternal and abiding, despising in our mind all transitory and frail things. Let us consider the holy fellowship of our fathers that have gone before us. Let us consider the saints of the Old and New Testaments. Did they not all pass through this sea of tribulation and persecution? Were not some of them cut in pieces, others stoned, and others slain with the sword? Some of them went about in sheepskins and goatskins, as the apostle to the Hebrews witnesses. Surely they all kept the straight and narrow road, following the steps of Christ, who said: ‘He that ministereth unto Me, let him follow Me, and where I am,’ etc. Therefore let us also, who have such noble examples given us of the saints that went before us, laying aside as much as in us lies every weight, and the sin which compasseth us about, run forward with patience to the battle that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon the Author of faith, and Jesus the Finisher of the same, who for the joy that was set before Him suffered the cross, despising the shame. Let us call upon Him who suffered much reproach of sinners against Himself, that we be not wearied, fainting in our minds, but that with all our hearts we may pray for help from the Lord, that we may fight against his adversary Antichrist, that we may love His law, that we be not deceitful labourers, but may deal faithfully in all things according as God vouchsafes to give us, and that we may labour diligently in the Lord’s cause under hope of an everlasting reward.

Behold therefore, Hus, most dearly beloved brother in Christ, although in face unknown to me, yet not in faith or love (for distance of place cannot separate those whom the love of Christ doth effectually knit together), be comforted in the grace which is given to thee; labour like a good soldier of Jesus Christ; preach; be instant in word and example, and recall as many as thou canst to the way of truth; for the truth of the gospel is not to be kept in silence because of the frivolous censures and thunderbolts of Antichrist. And therefore to the uttermost of thy power strengthen thou and confirm the members of Christ who are weakened by the devil; and if the Most High will vouchsafe it, Antichrist shall shortly come to an end. And there is one thing wherein I do greatly rejoice, that in your realm and in other places God hath stirred up the hearts of some men that they can gladly suffer for the word of Christ even unto imprisonment, banishment, and death.

The above quotes are taken from Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 32–34.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015