Justified by Faith without the Law and Works (Bullinger)

Here’s a nice excerpt on justification by faith alone by Henry Bullinger. It’s found in the first Decade of Bullinger’s sermons. I’ve edited it slightly for readability:

But, honored brothers in the Lord, good works here come into no jeopardy to be set aside, because of this doctrine, which teaches that faith alone justifies. Thus did the apostles of Christ teach; why then should we not teach so too?

As for them that think this doctrine, whereby we do constantly affirm that faith alone without works doth justify, to be contrary to religion, let them blame the apostles of Christ, and not find fault with us. Moreover, whereas we say, that the faithful are justified by faith alone, or else by faith without works, we do not say, as many think we do, that faith is only alone (fidem esse solam), or utterly destitute of good works: for wheresoever faith is, there also it shews itself by good works; because the righteous cannot but work righteousness. But before he works righteousness, that is to say, does good works, he must of necessity be righteous: therefore the righteous does not attain to righteousness that goes before by works that follow after.

Wherefore that righteousness is attributed to grace: for the faithful are freely by grace justified in faith, according to that saying, “The just shall live by his faith;” and after that they are justified, they begin to bring forth the works of righteousness. Therefore, in this discourse I mean not to overthrow good works, which have their due place and dignity in the church among the faithful before the face of God: but my mind is, by all the means I may, to prove that the grace of God, and increase (meritum) of the Son of God, is overthrown and trodden under foot, when we join our merits and works to the merit of Christ, and to faith, by which we take hold on Christ.

For what can be more manifest than this saying of the blessed apostle? “If we be saved by grace, then not now works; for then grace is no more grace. But if we be saved by works, then is it now no grace; for the work is no more work.” Rom. 11. Wherefore these two, grace and merit or work, cannot stand together. Therefore, lest we should overthrow the grace of God, and wickedly deny the fruit of Christ’s passion, we do attribute justification unto faith only, because that faith attributs it to the mere grace of God in the death of the Son of God.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The First and Second Decades, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 118–119.

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

The Reformation and Its Letters (Benedict)

Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism

Those who are familiar with the history and literature of the Reformation know that it was a time of much writing. The printing presses of the day – a relatively new technology in the early 16th century – seemed to be working around the clock to get Reformation literature into the hands of the people. And letters! The Reformers wrote so many letters to so man people and groups. Thankfully many of these letters have survived and we can still read them today.

Speaking of letters, I was amazed when I learned that the Heinrich Bullinger (b. 1504) was an even more prolific letter writer than Calvin or Luther, for example. No doubt many letters of the Reformers have been lost so we will never know exactly how many letters they wrote. But on this topic, read this fascinating paragraph by Philip Benedict in Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed:

The wide dissemination achieved by the writings of Bullinger, Vermigli, and Musculus spread their ideas far beyond the original heartland of the Reformation. So too did a final aspect of their work, their letter writing. Letters were one of the major means churchmen used in this period to keep abreast of events unfolding throughout Europe, to advise and console kindred spirits in distant lands, and to win converts to their views. Their reach extended beyond the original recipients, for edifying letters were often copied and passed along to other potentially interested parties without the express consent of their authors, who wrote in full awareness of this possibility. No Protestant reformer appears to have kept more couriers busy carrying letters to distant lands than Bullinger. Some fifteen thousand letters to and from him survive, more than ten times as many as survive for Zwingli and more than three times as many as for either Luther or Calvin, although it is impossible to know the fraction of each one’s correspondence lost or destroyed. Like Zwingli, Bullinger conducted his most intense epistolary relations with correspondents in and around Switzerland, most notably with the cities of Bern, Basel, Chur, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Saint-Gall, Constance, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg. Unlike his predecessor (Zwingli), he also corresponded frequently with people in England, Poland, Hungary, France, and Italy.

Benedict goes on to note that a team of scholars started publishing Bullinger’s letters in 1973. However, since there are so many of these letters it will take well over 100 years to translate them all at the current pace. As a side, I’m very thankful for men and women who painstakingly translate Reformation literature!

Here’s the citation for the above quote: Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed, p. 63.

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

The Gospel is Sprinkled Throughout Scripture (Melanchthon)

Philip Melanchthon’s Loci Communes Theologici (Fundamental Theological Themes) was published early on in the Reformation – in 1521 when Melanchthon was only 24 years old. Melanchthon’s Loci is something of a summary of the main Christian themes in Scripture. Martin Luther hailed the Loci more than once and said it should be included in the canon of the church – that is, in the church’s essential theological books. To be sure, it is an excellent piece of Reformation literature that is well worth reading. Below is a section I ran across this morning which I thought was quite helpful:

 So far do I write on the promises [of God], all of which ought to be related to that first one which was made to Eve. It signified to Adam and Eve that sin, and death, the penalty of that sin, would at some time be abolished, namely, when the progeny of Eve should bruise the head of that serpent. For what do the head of the serpent and its cunning signify but the kingdom of sin and death?

If you should relate all promises to this one, you will see that the gospel is sprinkled throughout the whole of Scripture in a remarkable way; and the gospel is simply the preaching of grace or the forgiveness of sins through Christ. And yet as I said a little while ago, all promises, even those of temporal things, are testimonies of the goodwill or the mercy of God; he who trusts in them is righteous because he thinks well of God and has given praise to him for his kindness and goodness.

He who hears the threats and acknowledges the history does not yet believe every word of God; but he does who, in addition to the threats and the history, believes also the promises. It is not merely a matter of believing the history about Christ; this is what the godless do. What matters is to believe why he took on flesh, why he was crucified, and why he came back to life after his death; the reason, of course, is that he might justify as many as would believe on him. If you believe that these things have been done for your good and for the sake of saving you, you have a blessed belief.

Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes “Justification and Faith” in Melanchthon and Bucer, p. 104-105.

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

The Duties of the Church (Bullinger)

Henry Bullinger’s mid-sixteenth century publication, The Decades is a four volume collection of sermons on the main points of the Christian faith. The Decades is something like Calvin’s Institutes in structure, content, and character. These sermons by Bullinger are worth reading!

In the fifth book of The Decades, sermon 1, Bullinger wrote on the church. After discussing the church militant/triumphant, visible/invisible, the marks of the church and the power of the church, Bullinger gave a nice summary statement on the duties of the church. These paragraphs are a biblical summary of what the Christian church should look like. It is true that there is no perfect church, but by God’s grace we should strive for these biblical goals and duties. (Notes: I’ve edited the following slightly for length and readability. The two translations I have go back and forth using “it” and “she” to refer to the church.)

For the church executes that power which it hath received of God most carefully and faithfully, to the end that it may serve God, that it may be holy, and that it may please him. And that I may reckon up some of her duties specially: first of all it worships, calls upon, loves and serves one God in Trinity; and takes nothing in hand without having first consulted with the word of this true God.

For she orders all her doings according to the rule of God’s word: she judges by the word of God; and by the same she frames all her buildings, and being built maintains them, and being fallen down she repairs or restores them again. The assemblies and congregations of saints upon earth she fervently furthers and loves. In these things it hearkens diligently to the preaching of the word of God: she is partaker of the sacraments devoutly, and with great joy and desire of heavenly things.

It prays to God by the intercession of our only mediator Christ with a strong faith, fervently, continually, and most attentively. It praises the majesty of God for ever, and with great joy gives thanks for all his heavenly benefits. It highly esteems all and every the institutions of Christ, neither doth it neglect any of them. But chiefly it acknowledges that it receives all things belonging either to life, salvation, righteousness, or felicity, of the only Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ; as as the one who alone chose her, and then by his Spirit and blood sanctified her, and made her a church, that is, a chosen people, whose only king, redeemer, high priest, and defender, he is, and without whom there is no salvation.

Therefore in God alone by our Lord Jesus Christ she only rests; him she only desires and loves; and for his sake she rejoices to lose all things that belong to this world, yea, and to spend her blood and her life. And therefore it cleaves unto Christ by faith inseparably…for without Christ nothing at all in life seems to be pleasant.

It is exercised with afflictions, but yet never overcome. It keeps unity and concord carefully. All and every the members of her body she most tenderly loves. It does good unto all men, as much as power and ability will suffer. It hurts no man. It forgives willingly. It bears with the weak brother, till they be brought forth forward to perfection. She is not puffed up with pride, but through humility is kept in obedience, in modesty, and in all the duties of godliness.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fifth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), 46–47.

My prayer is that we, as members of Christ’s church, do our Christian part to help the body of Christ reach these great biblical goals for God’s glory and the good of other people in – and outside of – the church. Churches that reflect these biblical goals shine brightly in the midst of the surrounding darkness!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Calls You So Graciously (Zwingli)

Huldreich (Ulrich) Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, was born in 1484, the same year as the German Reformer, Martin Luther. Zwingli is often known today for his memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper. However, there’s a lot more to Zwingli’s labors and teaching than a certain view of the Supper. He did clearly preach the truths of Scripture and criticized the doctrinal and moral abuses of the church in his day. Below is one excellent example found in his published sermon called “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word.”

Illustration: A man is longing for his soul’s salvation, and he asks a Carthusian: Dear brother, what must I do to be saved? And the answer will undoubtedly be this: Enter our order, and you will assuredly be saved, for it is the most rigorous. But ask a Benedictine and he replies: It is worth noting that salvation is easiest in our order, for it is the most ancient. But if you ask a Dominican he will answer: In our order salvation is certain, for it was given from heaven by our Lady. And if you ask a Franciscan, he will say: Our order is the greatest and most famous of all; consider then whether you will find salvation more easily in any other. And if you ask the Pope he will say: It is easiest with an indulgence. And if you ask those of Compostella they will say: If you come here to St. James you will never be lost and you will never be poor.

You see, they all show you some different way, and they all contend fiercely that their way is the right one. But the seeking soul cries out: Alas! whom shall I follow? They all argue so persuasively that I am at a loss what to do. And finally it can only run to God and earnestly pray to him, saying: Oh God, show me which order or which way is the most certain. You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards as sure and certain. Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.

But why do you not say: Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves; but you are the only, unconcealed good; show me the way of salvation? And the Gospel gives us a sure message, or answer, or assurance. Christ stands before you with open arms, inviting you and saying (Matt. 11): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” O glad news, which brings with it its own light, so that we know and believe that it is true, as we have fully shown above. For the one who says it is a light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light. In his Word we can never go astray. We can never be deluded or confounded or destroyed in his Word. If you think there can be no assurance or certainty for the soul, listen to the certainty of the Word of God. The soul can be instructed and enlightened – note the clarity – so that it perceives that its whole salvation and righteousness, or justification, is enclosed in Jesus Christ, and it has therefore the sure comfort that when he himself invites and calls you so graciously he will never cast you out. 

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word”, in Zwingli and Bullinger, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953) p.83-83.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002