Young People, most of you have had the benefit of a solid, Reformed education in our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. Do you value that education? In a time when the wicked of this world are wrangling over the poor schools in our land, does not the presence of our own schools inspire thankfulness in your hearts? Certainly, they are a treasure that should be maintained and developed. Therefore, this book by Prof. David Engelsma is heartily recommended. It is called Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant. In this book, Prof. Engelsma succinctly explains how we are to go about running a Protestant Reformed Christian School.
In fact, one of the best features of this book is that it is short and sweet. It is a book that can be read by anyone that is zealous for promoting Christian education. However, as a young person, you may be thinking that this is not important right now. It is important, and Prof. Engelsma is sure to include you also. On page 18 he says that “all of the covenant people should take an interest in this basic aspect of the covenant of God.”
Reformed Education was originally published in 1977 by the Federation of Protestant Reformed School Societies after Prof. Engelsma taught a “mini-course” on the same subject. Since then, it was reprinted in 1981, by our own young people’s societies. Because the book has been out of print for a long time, the 2000 reprint by the Reformed Free Publishing Association is very welcome.
Except for a thorough editing job, some added references, and a new section on home-schooling, the content of the book is the same as in the previous editions. Yet, this book is not out of date because many of the same issues dealt with in this book are still relevant.
Furthermore, the Christian school is still the demand of the covenant even as it was twenty years ago. This is the clear point that Prof. Engelsma continually makes throughout the entire book. He especially shows this in the first chapter where he explains that the basis of the Christian school is the covenant. In the covenant, we have a relationship with our God. We know that He is our God and that we are His friend-servants. Yet, this covenant extends not only to us but also to the whole creation. As Prof. Engelsma explains on page 4, “God’s covenant is cosmic. It extends to, and brings into its compass, the entire creation of God and all creatures in the creation, organically considered. This is an aspect of the covenant that is of greatest importance for Christian day school education by virtue of the fact that the Christian school gives instruction concerning the whole of creation.”
Prof. Engelsma also points out that the covenant is graciously continued in our generations. Therefore, the parents of the church are called to bring up their children in the fear of God’s name. This is the covenantal demand from God. It is for this reason that we set up schools. According to Prof. Engelsma, we are not to set up schools to try, “to get the children saved” (8). Neither must our schools, “rest on the foundation of the [postmillennial] determination to make a grand, earthly kingdom” (8). Finally, our schools must not be based on a “negative” reaction against “the evil of the state school” (8).
The author continues his treatment of how we are to run our schools by explaining the place of the Scriptures in our schools. He rightly emphasizes the unspeakable blessing that we have the freedom to teach every subject through the spectacles of the infallible and inerrant Holy Scripture. Furthermore, the value of Reformed Education is that it gets down to the nitty gritty: how our teachers should use the Scriptures in our schools. Prof. Engelsma emphasizes that the Scriptures should permeate all of the subjects. Therefore, to merely have a Bible class does not comprise Christian education. In fact, Prof. Engelsma even recommends that parents should be able and willing to teach Bible to their own children:
As regards Bible as a subject, even though tradition weighs heavily against doing so, it would be in keeping with the idea of the Christian day school to drop Bible as a separate subject in the curriculum. Teaching Bible is not something that parents cannot do themselves, or ever may be unable to do themselves. It is, in fact, something that they should do themselves. It might be beneficial for parental exercise of their calling that parents knew that they, not the school, would have to perform this task. The teaching of Bible, as a distinct subject now, is not the reason for establishing Christian schools and may hinder the accomplishing of the real purpose for the school as regards Scripture. (33-34)
What is the purpose of the school as regards Scripture? Prof. Engelsma says, “Scripture must be taught thus: as the foundation, light, and center of every subject” (34). This is especially true when our teachers impart how we live in this world. This is the subject of chapter three, “Reformed Education and Culture.” In this chapter, Prof. Engelsma tackles the difficult question of what our worldview and what our view of culture should be. In other words, how ought we to live as a Christian in every sphere of life? To answer this question, Prof. Engelsma warns us against the danger of building a Christian culture that is founded on common grace. Over against many in the church world who can see no way to live in this world apart from holding to common grace, we reject it because it wrongly, “compels the people of God to join in with the world in their development, to make a contribution” (47). However, in our rejection of common grace, we must not fall into the error of world-flight which, “advocates physical separation from the world, shunning normal, earthly life” (49). Rather, our Christian school should teach the antithesis between two cultures of the wicked and the righteous. As Prof. Engelsma says, “It teaches discrimination between them. It instructs the covenant child to pursue the one way and reject the other” (59). While Prof. Engelsma does not like the term “culture,” he says that the Christian school is, “instrumental in producing a Reformed culture.” The school does this not by helping to set up a carnal kingdom, but by teaching the children to live every day of their lives, “in obedience to the law of God and to God’s glory, using to the utmost of their power the abilities that God has given” (59).
The fourth chapter deals with the calling of the Protestant Reformed teacher. Since many of you may be contemplating teaching, I ask you to read this chapter. It is especially helpful because it summarizes what a teacher should be. Teachers should realize that they are the humble servants first of all of God Who has called them. Second, teachers must work diligently to prepare themselves academically and spiritually to be the humble servants of parents. Indeed, Prof. Engelsma calls for a unity between home and school: “The home and school must be one in mind, one in will, and above all, one in heart as to who the child is, what the required instruction and discipline are, and who God is” (78).
This brings us to the point of the last chapter: What is the aim or goal of the Christian school? To do this, Prof. Engelsma explains his goal for the Christian school. That goal is the following: “Our goal is a mature man, or woman, of God who lives in this world, in every area of life, with all his powers, as God’s friend-servant, loving God and serving God in all of his earthly life with all his abilities, and who lives in the world to come as a king under Christ, ruling creation to the praise of God, His Maker and Redeemer” (84).
Lest we rely on our own strength to achieve this goal, Prof. Engelsma reminds us to place our trust in God and remember that the ultimate goal for our whole life is the glory of His Name. He states on pages 93-4, “But this is God’s work. Here, Christian teachers and Christian parents rest. The covenant is God’s. The covenant promise is gracious. They depend on no man. God makes covenant children. God brings them to spiritual manhood. God works in them to will and to do the life and labor of the kingdom.” For all of you young people who have been brought by God to maturity through the instrumentality of our Christian schools, it is your calling to prepare yourselves to maintain these schools. The book, Reformed Education, will help you. I again recommend this work to anyone who is zealous for the instruction of the covenant seed. It can be purchased by writing to the RFPA, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville MI 49418, USA, or by calling 616-224-1518.
“Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion…The LORD is His Name” (Amos 5:8).
Everything was going well for Israel. The people were building houses of hewn stone and planting vineyards in their fields. The armies were winning battle after battle under the leadership of King Jeroboam II. Although the nation had suffered under the Syrians in the rule of Jehoahaz, we read that under Jeroboam II the nation of Israel recovered Hamath and even took Damascus! It certainly was a golden age of physical prosperity.
In these circumstances, God sent His prophet Amos out of the fields of Tekoa. Through Amos, God decreed that a word be spoken against Israel. We read, “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel” (Amos 5:1). From a physical point of view, many in Israel thought that it certainly was not time for lamentation, for Israel was prosperous! Furthermore, they “served God” in solemn assemblies, in offerings, and in songs. Therefore, they did not want to hear Amos’ warnings of judgment. Rather, they attempted to silence him and told him to prophesy no more among them (Amos 7).
However, God would have nothing of their hypocrisies. We read in Amos 5:21, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.” Israel did not thank God for saving them by the hand of Jeroboam II (II Kings 14:27). Therefore, God pronounced judgement upon them: “But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose Name is the God of hosts” (Amos 5:26, 27).
In addition to the judgment decreed in Amos 5, God also issues the command to repent and believe. In verse four we read, “For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live.” The reason for this is given in verse eight where God says that they must seek Him because He is the God who made all of the creation. You will note that in verse eight, the words “Seek Him” are in italics. This means that these words are not in the original Hebrew. Nevertheless, I believe the translation stands. Amos declares to Israel: “Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion!”
Israel had to hear this warning because of their idolatry and image worship. However, of interest to us is Amos’ rebuke against the worship of the stars by the children of Israel. Did you notice that in Amos 5:26? The worship of the heavenly bodies is a very old sin. Certainly Solomon was right when he said that there is nothing new under the sun. This sin even appears today. The modern term for it is astrology. Since this article is to be on the study of the heavens from the spectacles of Scripture, I want to clearly distinguish between astrology and astronomy. Astrology is the superstitious belief that somehow the position of the stars affects human events. This ought to be rejected by us. For example, none of us should read or make use of the daily horoscope in the newspaper.
The study of astronomy is completely different. Astronomy is the science of the celestial bodies. For example, astronomers seek to find out properties of different planets and stars, such as their magnitude, composition and distance from the Earth. Therefore, the Christian can make use of astronomy provided he or she views its findings through the spectacles of Scripture. In fact, Calvin maintained that astronomy is a worthy study. Significantly, he refers to it in favorable terms in his commentary on Genesis 1:16. We read: “this study [of astronomy] is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”1
However, there must be an extreme caution here because the findings of modern astronomy are full of evolutionism. This basically is the idolatry of creature worship, because the evolutionist finds the origin of life in “nature” itself. To those who espouse such beliefs the command of Amos rings out! “Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion!”
I’d like to show in the rest of the article how modern astronomy attacks the record of Holy Scripture. I want to do this because our young people will run into these arguments if they take science courses either at a secular college or at a Christian college which teaches theistic evolution. Furthermore, I think that at times we focus so much on battling the false teachings of evolutionism in geology and biology to the detriment of our battle against the false teachings of astronomy. Third, I want to do this because I believe that the Reformed Christian should know something of the wonder of God’s creation of the heavens. Those who have seen the beauty and splendor of the numerous galaxies and nebulae certainly know whereof I speak. By refuting the attacks of evolutionism in astronomy, we can see more clearly the glory of God in the heavens.
The first attack against Holy Scripture is rooted in the theory of the Big Bang. This false teaching, you will remember, maintains that the universe began when all of the matter in the universe was more or less in one dense mass. From this mass, the universe began to expand in an explosion called the Big Bang. Among other so-called proofs, scientists base this claim on measurements that the more distant a galaxy is, the faster it is going. Their conclusion is this: If we use astronomical formulas to find the distance to the galaxy and divide that by the velocity of the galaxy, we can find how long the galaxy has been traveling. The answer, according to scientists, is about 9 billion years.2 Do you see what they are assuming?
The second attack comes from the false teaching that the age of the earth can be computed using the evolutionary track of stars. However, the theory of star evolution is different from the theory of the evolution of living things because stars, of course, are non-living. Rather, according to scientists, star evolution is the theory that over their “lifetime,” almost every star changes in temperature and luminosity according to a predictable pattern. For example, an evolutionary “track” for a star about the size of the sun would go something like the following. First, the star would start out as a “main sequence” star, that is, a “normal star.” Then, after millions or billions of years (scientists say that it depends on the mass—the bigger the star, the shorter the “lifetime”), the star begins basically to run out of nuclear fuel (hydrogen). Therefore, the star cools and expands to become a red giant star. It stays this way for 1 billion years. After this, the star goes through various stages until it becomes a nebula and finally a white dwarf.
Now, if you think that all of this sounds quite complicated, you are correct. In fact, not one scientist has ever seen a star go through the entire cycle! Rather, through convoluted computer models, scientists think that they can piece the evolutionary track together by looking at stars which illustrate the different stages of the track. A very generalized example of this would be to trace the growth characteristics of humans not by watching a human through his or her lifetime, but rather by studying a diverse group of humans on one day in an airport. If you would see that one seventh of the people were children, you could assume (they say), that humans spend one-seventh of their life as a child. Nevertheless, scientists are so foolish to assume that since there are white dwarf stars or stars at other stages, the universe must be at least 12 billion years old. What folly this is! Do you see a pattern emerging?
The pattern I refer to is that both of these false teachings are based on assumptions that are blatantly contrary to Scripture. That is, both examples assume ahead of time that the creation’s processes have been working exactly the same way for millions of years. This philosophy is called uniformitarianism. How should we reject this philosophy when we hear it in our college science classes? This is an important question because we can easily argue with the evolutionists on their own ground. That is, we try to disprove their claims using science. Although we may be able to corner them on a small point with such arguments, the fact remains that we will have to keep up with numerous “new discoveries.”
Over against this, I believe that we should persuade men by using the Holy Scriptures. How do we do this? First, we must confess that our belief in a literal six-day creation is based only on faith. This is the clear teaching of Hebrews 11:1-3 which says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Secondly, it is important that we use texts that explicitly reject uniformitarianism. II Peter 3:3-7 is one of those texts:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.
The point is that the Earth perished in the Flood. This is the death-blow to uniformitarianism because this philosophy maintains that the Earth has remained exactly the same for billions of years. At this point, you may ask, “Why do many people hold to such a theory?” The reason is that they are willingly ignorant, that is, they willingly deny that God sent a worldwide flood and that He created the worlds.
In my view, these arguments also apply to the findings of astronomy. Our calling is to believe by faith that God made the heavens. This gives great joy and comfort to us because we know that God controls the stars. They are not independent of God as the astrologers have to say. As a result, we can study the heavens without fear but rather with awe. Furthermore, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty implies that we do not have to be scared of science altogether. We can use science to gain useful information. Some of this information causes us to bow in fear and reverence. I have in mind the astounding orderliness of the rotation of the planets and the infinite vastness of the universe. This inspires us to praise God and confess, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). The answer is that He, out of His mercy, has elected us to be conformed unto the image of His Son. Because of this, He regenerates us so that we believe in Him. Therefore, when we see the awesome constellation of Orion in the southern sky of winter, we answer the call of God in the prophet Amos. We seek Him that made Orion. Jehovah is His Name!
- The context of this quote is Calvin’s explanation of the “greater light” and the “lesser light.” The problem, according to Calvin, was this: “Moses makes two great luminaries; but the astronomers prove by conclusive reasons, that the star of Saturn, which, on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon.” What is the answer to this problem? Calvin states, “Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.” What follows is what I quoted in the body of the article.
- The scientists also falsely “reason” that since those galaxies are billions of light years away, the light that we see from them is billions of years old. Therefore, according to modern scientists, the universe is at least that old.
Reflecting back upon the past century, we can see that the world has gone through many changes in a short period of time. Modern man extols this progress and growth in technology. For many in this world, this is all that they care to talk about. “We must live for the here and now!” is the spirit of the day. The truth is that the people of this world, while involved in the hustle and bustle of modern life, could care less about the unfolding of God’s counsel in history. Sure, the world has an interest in “history.” But, young people, what are they interested in? A study of their writings will show us that they study history to document the accomplishments of man and the military, political, and ideological advances of the great civilizations of the past. Although these writings are very valuable for the Christian to read, providing that he sees them through the spectacles of Scripture, the fact remains that the world’s purpose in recording “history” is to further the cause of the establishment of the kingdom of man on this earth.
In contrast to the writings of worldly historians, the Reformed Christian views history in a completely different manner. We see history as the unfolding of God’s sovereign purpose to glorify Himself by saving a church in His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the coming of Christ to save His church is at the center of all history. All of the other events are only sidelights which serve God’s purpose.
Because the book proceeds with this solid basis, Prof. Herman Hanko’s Portraits of Faithful Saints is a wonderful, accurate survey of the lives of saints whom God used to build His church. Furthermore, this is a history written from a uniquely Protestant Reformed perspective by a professor who taught church history at the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches for many years. His book is a compilation of articles which appeared in the Standard Bearer from 1989 to 1997. The popular rubric was called, “Cloud of Witnesses,” after the well-known text in Hebrews 12:1.
The purpose of the book, as revealed in the dedication, is to remind particularly us young people to hold fast to the faith of our fathers. In a day when the churches push church history into a dusty corner of a theological library and place innovation and will worship on the foreground, it is refreshing to read a history book that is written from a truly Reformed perspective.
Prof. Hanko begins his book with the Ancient (100-750 A.D.) and Medieval (750-1517 A.D.) periods. In these parts he draws on his vast experience of teaching church history to give us interesting accounts of men and women of the early church who fought for the basic truths that we hold so dear in our creeds. Moreover, it is good to see a section on medieval saints. Often we forget that there were people of God who lived in those dark days when the church was under the mysticism and idolatry of the papacy. Yet, as Prof. Hanko states, “In treating men of this period . . . we have to deal with men who carried the freight of Romish error with them. In spite of this, they were men who were, for one reason or another, outstanding men in the history of the church, or who were representative of various currents of thought in the days in which they lived. We shall have to tolerate their mistakes.” After such a statement, was there anybody faithful to the Word? Yes, there is an excellent example. His name is Gotteschalk, of whom Prof. Hanko states: “Gotteschalk was a lonely voice in a barren wasteland.” This was because Gotteschalk amazingly stood for the Augustinian truth of double predestination in a time when Rome was running madly after the error of semi-Pelagianism!
Out of the darkness of the Middle Ages, God by His sovereign will brought about the great Reformation. While many evangelicals today want to mitigate the importance of the Reformation by striving to reach agreement with Rome, it is abundantly clear through Prof. Hanko’s treatment of the Reformers that he sees the Reformation as a purifying wonder work of God. Prof. Hanko rightly states that the Middle Ages were dark ages indeed!
When we consider the atrocities which Rome committed against the followers of the Reformation, we can see how black the night was before Luther and Calvin. The fact remains that Rome has never repented of her persecution of the faithful saints of God. Moreover, although modern Protestant Churches think that Rome has reformed herself, Rome has never recanted her abominable “anathemas” of the Council of Trent. The papal decree of the year of jubilee in 2000 and its indulgences clearly proves this. Prof. Hanko minces no words in his judgment of Rome’s wickedness: “When God brought Reformation in the sixteenth century, the pages of the history of the Reformation were written in the blood of the saints which still cries out for vengeance” (71).
Against the dark background of Rome’s outrages, it is exciting to see a book which deals with the development of the Reformed faith. I especially enjoyed the book because it includes not only prominent but also obscure Reformers from many eras. Have you heard of Peter Martyr Vermigli or Peter Datheen? Vermigli was a reformer in Italy and in England, and Datheen was the “father” of our Reformed liturgy. With regard to the post-reformation period in the Britain and the Netherlands: are you acquainted with people such as Samuel Rutherford and Franciscus Gomarus? Both of these men were intimately involved in the construction of two great creeds that have come down to us from the Reformation, namely, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dordt. One wonders today whether any book written by a modern author from evangelicalism would even talk about Gomarus’ life. If they did, they surely would not speak as favorably about him as Prof. Hanko does because Gomarus was a stubborn man.
However, Prof. Hanko is honest in that he clearly states the weaknesses of the Reformers of the past and present. It is easy for us to stand in awe of the workload and production of some of God’s chosen servants. For example, I am still amazed as to how God used men such as Calvin and, more recently, Herman Hoeksema to advance His Truth. However, we must remember that these men also had their faults. This reminds us that these people were only instruments in God’s hand. God revealed His Truth to them by the Holy Spirit, so that the glory is due to Him alone. Calvin was always at pains to point this out. He frequently says in his works that we must always live our lives in humble reliance on our sovereign God.
The sovereignty of God is at the basis of Reformed doctrine. We must be thankful to God that He led our forefathers to this Truth. Specifically, we must give praise to God for giving us our own Protestant Reformed Churches, and for giving to us men such as Hoeksema and Ophoff. Prof. Hanko treats the lives of these two men in the concluding chapters of his book. After covering their history, he gives us a warning: “The generation that led the Protestant Reformed Churches to the marvelous truths of Scripture that are our heritage has died and been gathered unto their fathers. Shall another generation arise which knows not the Lord? God forbid it” (420).
Therefore, let us as young people strive to know the doctrines of the Word of God. Let us also remember the works of God in church history. Young People! Buy this book and read it! It is not difficult to read. In fact, since the chapters were originally magazine articles, each chapter can be read independently as part of your devotions, a feature which allows one to read a chapter at a time without losing the thought of the book. It has been carefully detailed and prepared by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. It can be purchased by writing to the RFPA, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville MI 49418, USA, or by calling 616-224-1518.
Having looked at Martin Bucer’s history in our first article, how should we remember Martin Bucer? First, we should remember that he was a reformer who diligently, and at times stubbornly, fought for unity in the church. This was a worthy goal. Members of the church should seek to unite, but that unity must be on the basis of the truth. The problem was that Bucer was so desirous of concord that he would do almost anything, even compromise the truth. He manifested this ecumenical spirit especially during the Lord’s Supper strife and the attempted reunion of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. Second, we should remember Bucer as a great reformer who developed the truths of the Reformed faith, especially the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, although Bucer should be considered a great reformer, his ecumenical activities are very disturbing to Reformed Christians who desire to have church unity based on the truth alone.
To analyze Bucer’s ecumenism we will first examine Bucer’s place in the Lord’s Supper strife, a schism over Christ’s presence in the supper which, you will remember, was between the Lutherans based in Wittenberg and the Zwinglians based in Zurich. The Lord’s Supper strife began in 1522 when Carlstadt, an Anabaptist who was originally a fellow reformer with Luther at Wittenberg, began to teach the radical doctrine that the Lord’s Supper is merely a passionate recollection of Christ’s death, that is, he taught that Christ’s body is not present in the sacrament. Therefore, in Carlstadt’s view, the sacrament is not a means of grace. This radical move so infuriated Luther that he never budged from his view of consubstantiation, the view which claims that the substance of Christ’s body is present with, around, and underlie elements of the Lord’s Supper. As a result, Luther also stated that unbelievers who take the sacrament actually eat the Body of Christ, albeit to their condemnation. In contrast to Luther stood Zwingli’s teaching that the Supper was a mere memorial. He based his view on his interpretation of Luke 22:19, namely, that when Christ says, “This is my body,” He is really saying, “This signifies my body” (Engelsma, “Lord’s Supper,” 8-10).
During this strife, Bucer desperately looked for opportunities to forge a compromise that would preserve the unity of Protestantism. Mainly, he tried to do this in two ways. First, he constantly stated in numerous conferences (which he usually set up to hammer out the problem) and in correspondence that the quibble was merely over words. Therefore, to get both sides to agree to a common confession, Bucer chose to explain the sacrament in ambiguous words. For example, witness these words of the Tetrapolitan Confession of 1530: “In this sacrament his true body and true blood are truly given to eat and drink, as food for their souls and to eternal life” (Eells, 100). Second, to convince both sides that they were really in agreement, Bucer made erroneous distinctions concerning the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For example, Bucer made a distinction which “saved the day” at the conference which resulted in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, a concord between the Lutherans and most of the southern German cities (the Swiss cities did not subscribe). Bucer’s distinction “solved” the dispute over whether the unbeliever receives the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. According to Engelsma, Bucer accomplished the compromise with Luther through making a “dubious distinction,” namely, that there are “… two kinds of unworthy partakers, those who are merely weak, and therefore, do receive Christ, and those who are ungodly, and therefore do not receive Christ” (Engelsma, “Lord’s Supper,” 20). The Wittenberg Concord, therefore, did not truly solve the problem. Soon, Bucer found this out. Although he labored ceaselessly to achieve a compromise, both sides hated him. Thus, Bucer finally decided to not talk to anyone about the issue (Eells, 224). In retrospect, it is sad that this strife occurred. Although we do not condone the underhanded tactics1 that Bucer used at times, we can only commend Bucer for his work to achieve a concord. Our forefathers should have labored diligently to truly hammer this problem out.
Although Bucer should be commended for his work as mediator in the Lord’s Supper Strife, we cannot accept his desire to achieve a reunion with the church of Rome. Here is where we see that Bucer was a “Fanatic of Unity.” Although there are many details to this attempted reunion which we can talk about including the fact that the Turks were threatening Germany, we shall only speak of the climax of Bucer’s efforts in the years 1540-1541. During this period Rome and the Protestants came very close to unity. First, while the official Colloquy of Worms of 1540 was deadlocked, Bucer and Capita met secretly with a moderate Roman Catholic group including Veltwyck and Gropper to write up a document that would serve as the basis for concord at the upcoming Diet of Regensburg.2 In this document, which became known as the Regensburg Book, Bucer and Capita compromised with the Roman Catholics on different issues including the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, by God’s grace, the subsequent Diet of Regensburg of 1541 failed especially because of disagreement on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Naturally and justly, Bucer incurred a flood of severe criticism because of his concessions. Luther said, “Bucer, the rascal, has absolutely lost all my confidence” (Eells, 296). Calvin, Bucer’s colleague at Strasbourg, condemned Bucer for his “ambiguous and dissimulating formulae concerning transubstantiation” (Quoted in Engelsma, “Fanatic,” 27; Eells, 278-301). This also should be our reaction to Bucer’s ecumenism. We must not follow Bucer’s example as the modern ecumenists do who see Bucer as their stimulus. Instead, we must vigorously defend the truths of sovereign grace with sharp statements of belief. Specifically, we need to defend the truth of justification by faith alone over against the ambiguous confessions of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.3
Although Bucer compromised the truth at the Colloquy of Worms and Regensburg, we must see him as a man who both influenced many streams of Protestantism and developed much of what we know today as the “Reformed Faith.” His influence on Calvin and Calvinism was great. First, he developed a sound method of exegesis which Calvin saw as his “model” for writing commentaries (Engelsma, “Reformed,” 4). Second, Bucer had a high doctrine of predestination which, according to Stephens, shaped all of his theology (23). Bucer taught double predestination unconditioned by foreseen faith (Bucer, tr. Wright, 96-97, 102). Therefore, he taught predestination not as a cold doctrine, but as the doctrine which assures one in the faith (Bucer, tr. Wright, 99-101). Third, Bucer rejected the humanistic idea of Erasmus (already in 1524) on free will by teaching, in Engelsma’s words, that, “Predestination controls the calling… in this way, that there must be a work of the Spirit in the elect before they hear and believe the Gospel, to enable and empower them to believe” (Engelsma, “Reformed,” 12). Fourth, Bucer started the practice of confirmation, or confession of faith, probably as a response to the Anabaptists (Wright, 31). Fifth, Bucer gave us the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper, the view which is beautifully confessed in the thirty-fifth article of the Belgic Confession. Engelsma explains: “In the good providence of God, the pressure of the upper millstone of Wittenberg and of the nether millstone of Zurich produced in Martin Bucer the solid meal and the exhilarating wine of a unique, Biblical doctrine of the Lord’s Supper”(Engelsma, “Lord’s Supper”, 12). Sixth, Bucer stressed the doctrine of Sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in the seventh place, he taught that “there cannot be a Church without Church discipline” (Bucer, tr. Wright, 31). Moreover, he taught that discipline was only the duty of the consistory of the church, not the state, albeit they had a “supervisory” role (Burnett, 223). Discipline was extremely important for Bucer because he sincerely believed the truth of Ephesians 2:10, namely, that the elect are predestined unto good works (Stephens, 71). However, to Bucer’s dismay, the laity and the magistrates of Strasbourg never completely accepted Bucer’s system. Thus we can see that Bucer contributed extensively to Reformed Doctrine, particularly by his development of our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.
Martin Bucer influenced not only Calvinism but also other branches of Protestantism. He was known in all of Europe as an effective reformer, and many sought him “as an organizer and counselor in establishing their churches on a reformed basis” (Eells, 119). For example, he accomplished reformation in many cities such as Ulm, Augsburg and Constance. This is the reason why Thomas Cranmer desired that Bucer come to England after Bucer was exiled from Strasbourg in 1548. There, Bucer labored as a Theology professor at Cambridge (when he was not ill) where he wrote one of his most important works, De Regno Christi (On the Kingdom of Christ), for King Edward VI. This work was Bucer’s program to create a true Christian commonwealth in England. While the work was never implemented because of the subsequent reign of Mary Tudor, De Regno Christi illustrates that Bucer did not quite understand the truth that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual and is identical with the church.4
In conclusion, we can see that Martin Bucer was of great importance to the Reformation because of his extensive work of reforming the church in doctrine and life. Nevertheless, we must not emulate his drive for unity because he sometimes compromised the truth to achieve a mere outward unity. In doing so, Bucer did not make things better; he made them worse.
1 For example, in 1526, when he was translating Bugenhagen’s work on the Psalms into Latin, he took the liberty to translate the passages that favored Lutheranism into statements that favored Zwinglianism.
2 It should be noted that Charles V called this Diet for mostly political reasons, namely, the ominous threat of a Turk invasion.
3 I encourage our readers to study Prof. Engelsma’s recent articles on this subject in the Standard Bearer.
4 With much regret, we must say that Bucer’s writings concerning divorce and remarriage are, according to Engelsma, “licentious” (Marriage, 223). De Regno Christi is one such work because part of the book is on the subject of divorce and remarriage.
Burnett, Amy Nelson. The Yoke of Christ: Martin Bucer and Christian Discipline. Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994.
Common Places of Martin Bucer, D. F. Wright, tr. and ed. Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972.
Eells, Hastings. Martin Bucer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931.
Engelsma, David J. Marriage, the Mystery of Christ and the Church: The Covenant-Bond in Scripture and History. Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1998.
“Martin Bucer’s ‘Calvinistic’ Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 22.1 (1988): 3-29.
“Martin Bucer—‘Fanatic of Unity.’” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 22.2 (1989): 18-35.
“Martin Bucer: Reformed Pastor of Strasbourg.” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 21.2 (1988): 3-24.
Stephens, W. P. The Holy Spirit in the Theology of Martin Bucer. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1970. ♦
Right now you may be sitting at the kitchen table or in your favorite chair. Look out the window. Perhaps you see the brilliant colors of spring, the beautiful white of the dogwood trees and the rich colors of the tulips. Open your front door. What do you hear? Most likely you hear the birds filling the creation with their song. Maybe you hear some birds which you have not heard for awhile! Take a sniff of the air. It even smells like spring! Open your Bible to II Peter 3. Take a look at verse eighteen. The creatures of creation around you are growing. Young Person, how about you? Are you growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ! Also, are you interested in your personal growth so that you might, by God’s grace, be of service to God’s church?
Spring and Summer are wonderful seasons of the year. Through the whole winter we can not wait until the time of year when the earth will again be enveloped in green. But have you ever thought that winter serves a good purpose? Often we are cooped up in our house with nothing to do. Therefore, we take the opportunity to read and study God’s Word (do we?). But, when the winds of summer blow, we often slack off on our devotions. Is it the same way with you?
This summer I encourage you to make a change. For those of you who regularly study God’s Word, I commend you and encourage you to press on. Resolve, by God’s grace, to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word. This is an extremely important matter because John 17:3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Therefore, when we are engaged in Bible study, we must approach the Scriptures with great seriousness. After all, when we read the Word of God, Christ speaks to us.
The Scriptures speak much about the matter of studying the Bible. In Acts 17:11, Luke reports that the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to test the preaching of Paul. In Deuteronomy 17:14-19, God instructs the people that the future kings of Israel must be kings which read and study the law all the days of their life. Because we are kings according to Revelation 1:6, surely we must do the same. Finally, Psalm 1:2 says that the law of God ought to be our meditation day and night. Therefore, the Bible teaches us that we must have daily devotions.
If we meditate on God’s Word every day, then we will be able to edify our fellow saints in the Truth. For, although it is true that we, personally, must grow in the faith, it is so that we might serve the kingdom of God. This means that we are to talk about the Scriptures with our fellow believers. We do not do this as often as we should. We ought to remember the teaching of Proverbs 27:17, namely, that when we as friends and fellow saints talk of the wondrous deeds of God it is as if we are iron sharpening iron. Undoubtedly, we all have experienced this phenomenon in a Bible study. After we have done our preparations (We do prepare for Bible study, don’t we? Else Bible study will be fruitless.), our friend at Bible study always brings up an important point that we missed. We need each other not only to remind us about the doctrine of Scripture but also to admonish us in the application of that doctrine in our daily life.
Although we must speak to one another about spiritual things during the week, this is especially true on the Sabbath Day. What do you talk about at church, young people? Are your subjects of discussion edifying your fellow believers? Or, as soon as we file out of the church building after the worship service, do we forget the sermon altogether and begin talking about sports or about the latest gossip? If this is so, we need to make a change. We need to involve ourselves in activities that build up the saints. Maybe that means that we discuss an aspect of the sermon. Or, maybe we can involve ourselves in teaching the children of the church in Sunday School. This activity will take more study on our part, but God is pleased to use the faithful work of His saints to build up His Church.
You may ask, how should I go about studying the Scripture? I recommend that you begin an organized study of the Scriptures. Maybe that means that you will study a certain book of the Bible or a certain doctrine of the Scriptures. There are many study guides to be found including guides available through the Reformed Free Publishing Association. In your study, you may choose to follow the guide’s format, but may I propose a system which Rev. R. Hanko gave in the Standard Bearer of August 1, 1982?
In his articles on Bible study, Rev. Hanko gives some important advice about how the Bible itself commands us to conduct Bible study. This list summarizes what Rev. Hanko says in his articles, so if anyone wants to read his full article, I refer you to it.
A. Rules for spiritual preparation:
1. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. Leave time for mediation upon the passage under study, probably after all other work with the passage is finished.
B. General rules:
- Determine what kind of literature is being studied: poetry, prophecy, history, etc.
- Attempt to divide the passage into sections or determine where the passage being studied begins and ends.
- Define the theme of the book in which the passage is found and the place of that theme in the rest of Scripture.
- Write down all questions.
C. Rules concerning the actual interpretation of the passage:
- Determine the main point of the passage.
- Take note of any problems of grammar and interpretation.
- Identify the important words or concepts in the text.
- Study these words or ideas in the light of the rest of Scripture by looking up and studying all the important texts where the same word or words are used.
- Compare the text as a whole with similar or related passages from the rest of the Bible.
- Take a close look at the passage in light of the immediate context as well as the context of the whole book and ask how the text fits into that context.
- If necessary look for background material on history, chronology, customs, etc.
- Look for Christ in the passage and how the text brings the Gospel of Christ.
- Try to set out clearly the application of the text-what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Rev. Hanko states that the last two points are very important and require much meditation. We need to see where Christ is in our passage of study and we must apply that Word unto our lives. When we do these things we will grow in the grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We can and must do this because Christ said in John 15:8, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” ♦A
If we would ask anyone to name the key Reformers of the Reformation, it is doubtful that Martin Bucer would be named. Unlike Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, Martin Bucer has no Protestant group which directly claims him as their spiritual father. As a result, he has never received very much attention by historians. However, interest has increased in recent years for two reasons: 1) many are now seeing his importance to Protestantism and 2) the modern ecumenical movement sees him as an “example” (We shall examine this ecumenicity of Bucer in a future article, D.V.). These two stimulants explain in a nutshell Bucer’s influence on the Protestant world. Although he was a Reformer who at times compromised the truth in order to achieve “unity”, we must view him as Calvin did, namely, as “… a man of revered memory, and an eminent teacher of the Church of God”… (Calvin, 2).
Who was Martin Bucer and what was he like? First of all, Bucer (or Butzer) was an extremely busy man. While racing all over Europe for most of his life in efforts to establish concord between rival groups of Protestants and laboring tirelessly with the quill in his hand, he still had time to head a large family which often hosted many guests. For this much credit is due to his faithful wife, Elizabeth, who in many ways resembled Katherine Luther. Thus, she is the eminent example of a faithful wife because she guided the house even while her husband was off arranging and attending numerous conferences (not to mention his busy pastoral duties).
At these colloquies, Bucer was often the man who did much of the talking. In fact, Luther once called him a “Klappermaul” (“Chatterbox”) and Charles V called him a “windbag.” Nevertheless, we must view Bucer as a man who was skilled in debate. Everybody knew that he was a persuasive man: some even feared to debate him! Therefore, we can understand why Bucer often desired to speak to people in person rather than by letter. Yet, Bucer was also a man who composed countless polemics, commentaries, and expositions. However, his works, written in terrible penmanship, were often thrown together because he was so busy (Eells, 66). And to top it all, Bucer suffered from many physical ailments (Hall, 146). Truly, this was an age of great men of God.
* * * * * * * * * *
Martin Bucer was born in the Alsatian city of Selestat on November 11, 1491. At ten years old, his parents left him to his grandfather apparently because they were too poor or because they thought that he could get a better education in Selestat than in Strasbourg, the city to which Bucer’s parents were heading (Eells, 2). However, his grandfather later desired that he stop his studies and become a shoemaker. Because Martin wanted an education, he received his grandfather’s permission to enter the Dominican monastery of Selestat. But, after he became a Dominican friar in 1507, he found that he hated the life because he was forced to study “sophistical legends” and the writings of Thomas Aquinas.1 Therefore, through the help of a patron, he was obtained a transfer to the Dominican monastery of Heidelberg in 1517. While in Selestat and Heidelberg, Bucer studied medieval scholasticism2 and, more importantly, humanism.3 Thus, Bucer was a well educated man with a desire to become a second Erasmus (Eells, 3-4).
The event which changed his life was the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. Luther, the Reformer who was well-known already because of his ninety-five theses, so captivated Bucer that he became Luther’s disciple. Because Bucer advocated humanism and the teachings of Luther, he was finally forced out of the monastery in 1520. Forthwith, he came under the influence of the humanists Sickingen and Hutten, who arranged a priestly post for him in Wissembourg. At Wissembourg, Bucer boldly advanced the Reformation by debating with the local monks. In that debate he stood for the truth, challenging the monks by saying that they could stone him if he could not prove his doctrines from Scripture. Thus, Bucer became a marked man by the Roman Catholic Church. However, it was only after he married Elizabeth Silbereisen that he was excommunicated in 1523. Although he was protected in Wissembourg for a while, he was forced to flee to Strasbourg in 1523 when Hutten and Sickingen were defeated (Eells, 4-18).4
There he was elected to the post of St. Aurelia’s in 1524, the first of many posts in Strasbourg, a place where he would stay for twenty-four years. While at St. Aurelia’s, Bucer began the work of reformation immediately. Already in 1524, he ordered that the bones of St. Aurelia be removed because it was a pilgrimage shrine. Naturally, the Roman Catholics of Strasbourg were not pleased. Therefore, Bucer and the other Strasbourg reformers had to do spiritual battle with men like Conrad Treger, an Augustinian provincial. By the strength of God’s grace, these men were able to defeat Treger by standing on the truth of sola scriptura over against Treger’s position of the authority of church councils. In the following years they continued the Reformation of Strasbourg by setting up an education system in the city, commencing public lectures on Scripture, and starting poor relief. By 1526, Strasbourg was clearly a Protestant city that boasted a foursome of gifted Reformers, namely, Capito, Hedio, Bucer, and Zell. Nevertheless, it took until 1529 for the pastors of the city to persuade the magistrates to abolish the mass (Eells, 32-53).
Although the magistrates worked with reformers on the preceding matter, their unwillingness to abolish the mass shows that Strasbourg was relatively tolerant of other beliefs. This was especially the case with the Anabaptists, many of whom flocked to Strasbourg.5 As a result, Bucer had to struggle to save not only the city but also Capito from Anabaptism. The triumph finally came in the Strasbourg Synod of 1533. At that Synod, many important events happened. First, the leaders of the Anabaptists were stopped. Melchior Hoffman was jailed and Schwenckveld was told to leave the city. Second, Capito became firmly opposed to Anabaptism. Third, the Synod adopted a new code of ecclesiastical ordinances and a system of church discipline which included a “compulsory observance of infant baptism” and “a primitive system of religious instruction for children” (Eells, 154). These ordinances show Bucer’s firm belief in church discipline, a belief which we will consider in our next article (Eells, 146-159).
Along with his desire that Strasbourg be a Protestant city, Bucer wanted it to be a center of theology. Thus, the academy of Strasbourg (which later became Strasbourg University), founded in 1529, needed to be the best in Europe. To accomplish this, Bucer recruited gifted men from all of Europe including a young theologian who had been ousted from Geneva. His name was John Calvin. In his stay at Strasbourg (1538-1541), Calvin and Bucer mutually influenced each other. As a result, the doctrines of Calvinism which we know today were honed. In fact, Bucer so influenced Calvin in the areas of exegesis and church discipline that Pauck can even say that “The type of church which we call Calvinistic or Reformed is really a gift of Martin Butzer to the world, through the work of his strong and brilliant executive, Calvin” (Quoted in Engelsma, 4). It was Bucer who prodded Calvin to marry Idelette de Bure. However, in the same period, Bucer lost his wife, three children, and his friend Capito to the plague. Soon after this tragedy, Bucer married Capito’s widow, Wilbrandis Rosenblatt, a woman who already had been widowed by two other great reformers, Cellarius and Oeclampadius.
However, Bucer’s days were limited in Strasbourg because after the defeat of the Protestant Smalkald League in 1546-1547, the Diet of Augsburg decreed the Augsburg Interim of 1548. This decree was in essence a forced compromise between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants of Germany. Because this Interim conceded key doctrines and was imposed by force, Bucer would have nothing to do with it.6 On account of his rejection, he was told to leave the city (Eells, 393-400).
Although he was an exile, Bucer was still held in such high esteem all over Europe that many groups desired his help. Finally, Bucer decided to go to England and help with the Reformation there. In England he died on March 1, 1551. He truly was a giant of the Reformation as can be shown through the action of Mary Tudor. In the words of Engelsma: “In her own way, even Mary Tudor, the infamous ‘Bloody Mary,’ acknowledged the greatness of Bucer when upon her accession to the throne of England, not only did she burn Lattimer, Ridley, and Cranmer alive, but also Bucer dead. She had his body dug up from the grave, and the remains chained to a post and burned”7 (3). During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Bucer’s body was ceremonially rehabilitated.
1 Aquinas was a thirteenth century medieval scholastic.
2 This was a system of philosophy and theology used by medieval theologians. It was based upon the logic of Aristotle and the writings of the church fathers.
3 This was the intellectual and cultural movement, begun during the Renaissance, that stemmed from the study of classical Greek and Latin.
4 Hutten and Sickingen were humanists who tried to use the Reformation as a way to advance their own desire to construct an independent Germany by physical force.
5 Anabaptists were not the only ones that came. Bucer had to refute Servetus in a public lecture in order to root out the “poisonous weed,” namely, his false doctrine concerning the Trinity. ❖
Calvin, John. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Vol. 1. William Pringle, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961.
Eells, Hastings. Martin Bucer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931.
Please note that I use this work as my main source of Bucer’s history.
Engelsma, David. “Martin Bucer: Reformed Pastor of Strasbourg.” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 22.1 (1988):3-29.
Hall, Basil. “Martin Bucer in England.” Martin Bucer: Reforming Church and Community. D. F. Wright, ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1994.
Imagine that you are fishing in a picturesque canyon river in a remote part of the United States, surrounded by majestic mountains on either side. The combination of water, wildlife, and trees provide you with a breathtaking view. As you wade a few feet over and cast a line down river, you think that everything seems perfectly peaceful. When suddenly you hear a faint rumble in the distance. “It is just a plane or maybe a distant thunder,” you think, shrugging off any possibility of danger. Then over the next couple minutes you notice that the sound of the rumble is increasing until you turn around and see a wall of surging water crashing down the canyon. “It’s a flood!” you exclaim. To your utter dismay you find that there is absolutely no place to run so that finally the leaping waves of the raging stream grab hold of your life. You realize that you are completely powerless, as if you are a lamb within the jaws of a ferocious lion or a bird caught in the fowler’s net. Then out of nowhere you are plucked up out of the swelling tide by a rescue helicopter and placed on the safety of a high mountain, where the waters can not reach. What would you say to the person who saved you out of the flood? I am sure that your thanksgiving would never cease.
We, the church of Jesus Christ, are continually in similar circumstances spiritually. The Devil, our own sinful flesh, and the wicked world are constantly trying to drag us down into the pit of hell. Indeed, the Devil, “walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Left to ourselves, we would be no match to the traps and stratagems of these evil enemies. In an instant we would be overwhelmed by them were it not for Jehovah. For He alone, not any man, is able to save us from the spiritual flood of temptation and persecution, the power of which is infinitely greater than any natural flood.
Therefore, we must praise God as David does in Psalm 124, as versified in Psalter #353, stanza 1: “If that the Lord had not with us remained, When cruel men against us rose to strive, We surely had been swallowed up alive.” How is this possible when it seems as if every moment we are going to be brought down?
To answer this question we must remember that this whole Psalm rests on the foundation of the sovereign providence of Jehovah as is beautifully confessed by David in verse 8. There he declares, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” In this confession, we along with David acknowledge that Israel, the church, is saved from the surging flood because God is the Mighty Creator of the universe. What a wonderful comfort this is! But there is more! Jehovah not only has created the universe but He also preserves and rules the world by the Word of His power. He controls all of our enemies so that they will never pluck us out of His hand. “Blessed be Jehovah, Who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth,” because He controls their every move so that through their persecution and temptations we are made ready to live with our Lord. Praise Jehovah! ❖
October is here again. The time of year when most of us are well back into the normal routine of school, work, and church life. For some of you, this means the demands of learning at the university level. The first few weeks of school are past, and you are starting to get deep into the material. Your classes may be in Philosophy, the Sciences, or Business. Right now, you are probably thinking that the teaching at the university is contrary to what you have learned in our Christian schools. Therefore, there may be questions arising in your mind about the material you are studying. Perhaps you were intimidated by the learned doctor who stood lecturing in front of you today, directly challenging the truths of Scripture. What should you think? What are we as Christians to think about the wisdom of this world as it is evident in the institutions of higher learning? Is it true wisdom? According to Scripture it is not. There God says that He destroys the wisdom of the wise and reveals true wisdom unto those who are the simple of this world. This true wisdom is the knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ, and the keeping of His will in all our lives (Prov. 9:10, Deut. 4:6).
The fact that God reveals His truth to the humble of this world implies that His Word is clear to even the simplest of minds. This is what we call the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible. God restored this truth to His church through the work of the men of the Reformation like Martin Luther and John Calvin. They stood over against Rome which taught that only the clergy could read and understand the Scriptures. About this teaching of Rome, Calvin comments on Psalm 119:130 with these words: “Let the Papists mock, as they are accustomed to do, because we would have the Scriptures to be read by all men without exception; yet it is no falsehood which God utters by the mouth of David, when He affirms that the light of His truth is exhibited to fools (that is, to the “simple” of vs. 130, MPF).”
The Reformers were not content only to speak against Rome on this issue, but to act by translating the Scriptures into the languages of the common people. Just think of the persecutions men like William Tyndale and John Wycliffe endured because they translated and distributed the Bible. Are we as zealous for this truth today when men of higher learning cast doubt upon the perspicuity, infallibility and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures?
This is exactly what these men do when they teach the vain philosophy of higher criticism! Man attempts to explain the Scriptures through Science so that the miracles are denied and ultimately the whole gospel. The schools of higher learning also cast doubt on the Holy Scriptures when they openly contradict God’s Word by promoting both materialism and the pursuit of honor in this world. These philosophies are very real temptations for us, especially our young people. Therefore, we all must be awake and ready to do battle with them because in many colleges these greedy philosophies are promoted vigorously. They tell us that we must have confidence in our own strength until we achieve our dreams. To the world this is wise. Therefore, the men of this world busy themselves with many years of study so that they can be great men, the “teachers” of this world.
Over against these false teachings the Word of God says that, “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b), so that even the smallest child or simple person who has faith in Jesus Christ can say, “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). Against this truth the world can only stand and mock saying, “The simple are most wise?” They are like the Pharisees of Jesus day who mocked the man born blind. After Christ healed this man, he manifested his faith in thanksgiving to God. Upon hearing this confession, the Pharisees proudly responded, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?” (John 9:30- 34). This response of the Pharisees was pure unbelief, and those who repeat the same words today do the same. They want nothing to do with Christ because they don’t want to give God all the glory. Christ’s suffering on the cross is foolishness to them because they refuse to heed the command of Jesus in Matt. 18:3 where He says, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” They will not obey the gospel’s command to repent and confess that they are blind. Their pride will not allow it, for God hardens them by the preaching of His Word.
On the other hand God uses this same preaching to open the eyes of His elect. He does this by making them realize that by nature they see not. Our Lord teaches us this truth when He says, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (John 9:39). Christ came into this world to blind those who seem to be “wise” in this world, the “teachers” in the universities who teach contrary to God’s law. And Christ also comes to reveal Himself to those who are the “blind” of this world. In God’s school of wisdom the only pupils are “little children.”1 He reveals Himself to them because then at the Judgment Day He will receive all the glory for the salvation of His people, and the “wise” of this world who think they prosper by their own hand will be exposed as fools.
He reveals Himself to His children in the way of their meditation upon Him (Psalm 119:99b). His Word may be clear to all His people small and great, but only if it is studied. I fear that we often lose sight of this truth because we think that we know all that there is to know about the Scriptures. There must be development in wisdom through study but only in childlike dependence upon God. In this way Christ makes us, the simple, truly wise for He makes us to know God and Himself and this knowledge is eternal life (John 17:3). With this in mind, we need not be afraid of the learned university professor who may laugh at us for we rest on God’s Word in Psalm 19:7b, the versification of which is the familiar words of Psalter #40, stanza 1: “His truth makes the simple most wise the truth that is sure evermore.” ❖
1Calvin Commentaries, I Cor. 1:17
The command of Christ that we watch for His second coming is seen often in Scripture. The reason for this exhortation is that we, “know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 25:13). Because of this uncertainty on our part, we must keep a constant watch. The opposite of watching as we learn from various passages is sleeping. Just as sleep is the greatest temptation for a guard keeping watch during a lonely dark night, so it is for the Christian who at times thinks that he is all alone and that his Saviour will never come. Nevertheless, we as young people must still watch. We do this through prayer as our Lord has commanded us. But, as I want to show in this article, we must also watch for the sudden coming of our Lord Jesus Christ by being awake and paying attention to the Word preached in the public worship services of the church.
The seriousness of the calling to listen attentively is brought out when we notice that the Word being preached is the very Word of Christ. Christ is the One who preaches to us just as He preached peace unto the Ephesians as we read in Eph. 2:17. When we remember that we must be watching at all times for Christ then it follows that we will desire to know as much as we can about Him and about His coming. What better place is there to do this than in the House of God during public worship? It is in public worship on the Lord’s Day that we hear the voice of Him for Whom we are watching!
We must watch for Christ Who is the Sun of Righteousness. It is He alone Who shines the rays of truth and right into our dark hearts, “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6). He enlightens us also because He is the Light as Jesus says in John 8:12: “I am the Light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Because He is the Sun of Righteousness and the Light, He is also, “the Dayspring from on high [that] hath visited us” (Luke 1:78). He is the One for Whom the Old Testament saints were watching. He is the One Who finally came in the darkest hour of the many years of silence as the Dayspring to lead us out of the weary night.
Because of this work of sovereign grace in our hearts, we as the people of God are called “the children of the day” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14a). We are both of these things as Paul teaches also in I Thessalonians 5:5-6 where he says: “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” Here again, the Word of God brings up our calling to watch because Christ has shined the Light into our hearts. He has opened our eyes so that we are able to watch. Therefore let us watch out of thanksgiving to Him.
As the children of the day Christ has also given unto us confidence that when He comes again we will not be overtaken suddenly as by a thief. This is our great comfort as Christians. Christ has led us out of the darkness of sin so that when the Day of the Lord comes we shall not be as the unbelievers who have no escape! We have no fear of the end of the world!
This confidence only comes in the way of watching. Therefore we must not sleep as the wicked men of this world do. Yet this is so easy for us to do because of the weakness of the flesh. Think of parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. Before the Bridegroom came back, all the virgins were sleeping including the wise virgins. Or think of Peter who declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33). Yet, after Jesus commanded him to watch with Him while He prayed to God, Peter fell asleep. Upon seeing Peter sleeping, Jesus says, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:40b-41).
Although the passage just quoted doesn’t focus on Peter’s calling to watch for Christ’s second coming, the command of our Lord Jesus is the same to us today. We must watch and pray, not sleep, because we are weak. We watch and pray for Christ’s second coming by worshipping God on the Lord’s day in spirit and in truth. Our minds must be vitally interested in the congregational prayer that is offered up so that we can make that prayer our own. When we sleep, it is impossible to do this. In congregational singing, our hearts ought to meditate on the words while we sing with all our strength. During the sermon we need to concentrate on the Word spoken and apply that Word unto our own lives by faith.
We can only do this when we are awake. Therefore we should prepare ourselves by getting enough sleep on Saturday night. In the worship service we must not, “sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” When we sleep in the worship service we are indeed doing as “others”, which undoubtedly is referring to unbelievers. Although the text is talking about sleep in a spiritual sense, we must conclude that when we physically sleep in a worship service we act like unbelievers for we manifest an indifference to the Word spoken.
On the other hand, we should not either be like the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 15:7-8 where Jesus says, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you saying, This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” This text makes plain that even though we may be wide awake in a worship service, and outwardly looking as though we are listening, if our heart is far from God we are spiritually sleeping. We are not following Christ’s command to worship in spirit and in truth.
When we worship God in the way He has commanded us then we will find joy in our God and confidence that at the last day we will be justified in our Lord Jesus Christ. Worshipping God’s way is being awake and watching for the coming of His Son Jesus Christ. Worship is not a time for sleep. The true worship of God that comes from the heart is because of the work of Christ Who makes us arise out of sleep and become the children of the day. So fellow young people let us watch and not sleep in the worship services of the church for by this we show to all the world our thankfulness to God for His sovereign wondrous work of transforming us from darkness into light. In this way our God alone will be glorified.
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:11-12). ❖
There is no question that the many victories of the Islamic empire in the 7th and 8th centuries terrorized the lands in their path. In a short period of time Tierney says that, “The followers of a new prophet, Mohammed, snatched away from the Byzantine Empire all the ancient Christian lands of the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa” (81). After these triumphs, the Mohammedans accompanied by the Berbers from North Africa invaded and conquered Spain in 711. What lay before them was the whole continent of Europe, the land of Luther and Calvin, and for most of us, the land of our forefathers.
The danger was very real as Tierney explains: “No one thinks of the seventh and eighth centuries as a great age in the history of Europe – but if the events of that period had turned out differently, there might never have been a Europe at all” (81). The main event he refers to is the Battle of Tours: “the scene of the great victory won by Charles Martel over the Saracens [Mohammedans, MPF], AD 732, which gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam” (Creasy 157). When reading about this battle the truth that God protects His church stares you in the face. God used the Battle of Tours to save His church, though weak, from the rule of the dreaded Mohammedans.
The sovereign control of God in this victory becomes evident when you look at the state of Frankish Gaul (now France) before Tours. During that time the Merovingian line of kings ruled Gaul beginning with the reign of Clovis in the early 6th century. Although his reign was strong, the line of succeeding rulers gradually decreased in power. The region they ruled had been converted to Christianity by Scotch and Irish monks, but Schaff says that much of the Christianization, “was a wholesale conversion, or a conversion of nations under the command of their leaders.” He goes on to say that the conversion was mostly superficial for the barbarians were children in knowledge (17-19). Moss says that Frankish Gaul under the Merovingians was marked with famine, murder, and sudden death. Beggars and highwaymen infested the roads, and the churches were not safe from rapine (195).
The situation with the rulers themselves was no different. The Merovingians were constantly feuding and warring against each other. The worst of these rulers were Chilperic, the grandson of Clovis, and Fredegund his wicked wife who once had an assassin kill Chilperic’s brother, Sigibert, with a poison dart after Sigibert defeated Chilperic in 575 A.D.
In time the degenerate Merovingians were overcome by the Carolingians, who used the office of the mayor of the palace to usurp the crown. The event that marked the overthrow was the Battle of Tertry in 687 AD. After that battle, Theodoric III was made ruler of all Gaul. He ruled until 714, when Pepin II was made king. His illegitimate son’s name would be known as Charles Martel.
That was the Gaul the Mohammedans saw from Spain. It’s no wonder that Gibbon says: “The decline of the French monarchy invited the attack of these insatiate fanatics.” This campaign of the Mohammedans (summ. from Gibbon, 1855ff) led by the great Abderame started with a defeat at Toulouse by the Franks under the leadership of Eudes, a noble from the province of Aquitaine (Southern Gaul) who usurped the title of “King”. But this defeat only fueled a revenge among the Mohammedans so that they attacked and captured Narbonne from the hands of Eudes.
Eudes, seeking any way to stop the imminent onslaught on the rest of Gaul, even gave his own daughter in marriage to a Moorish rebel leader to persuade his army to fight Abderame’s army. This rebel leader was defeated and Abderame sent the daughter of Eudes to Damascus. Abderame proceeded to defeat a Christian army at Arles, allowing his forces to pass over the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers. There, Eudes again met Abderame only to be crushed by the Mohammedans. Following this victory over Eudes, the Mohammedans overran Aquitaine, spelling its apparent end. At this point Gibbon admits that, “A victorious march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire” (1859). Who could stop Abderame and his host of Mohammedans?
When considering the extent of the Mohammedan conquest into Gaul we must understand that Tours and the river Loire are in the middle of France. The Battle at Tours was no border skirmish because the whole southern part of Gaul was under Islam at that time. To increase the serious nature of the battle we must note that, according to Moslem chroniclers, the Moslem army, “brought with them all their armor, and whatever they had, as if they were thenceforth always to dwell in France” (Creasy, 163). Charles Martel knew the danger of the Moslem threat but he waited until the Moslems reached Tours to confront Abderame. Historians list different factors why Charles waited so long, but the fact remains that Charles was ready to meet Abderame with a prepared army exactly at the right time considering that some of his troops were at the end of their allotted time.
So Charles, an experienced leader by this time through wars against the Frisians and Germans, finally collected his forces and went to meet Abderame at Tours. The well-conducted march by Charles covered many hills by Tours so that they surprised Abderame when they attacked. Six days of desultory combat ensued with the Moslem horseman and archers holding the advantage. Then on the seventh day, “At last they set themselves in battle array, and the nations from the North standing firm as a wall, and impenetrable as a zone of ice, utterly slay[ed] the Arabs with the edge of the sword” (Creasy, 164). The next morning Charles Martel’s army was ready to fight again, but there were no Arabs! They sent out men to see if the Arabs were setting an ambush, but that was not so. The mighty Abderame had been slain, and the Arabs were in retreat! Europe was saved from Islam!
But, before we give the credit to Charles Martel and his army let us see that it was God who stopped Abderame and his Mohammedans. God protected Europe from the religion of Islam. A religion which probably would have supplanted Christianity in Europe, just as it did in North Africa and other parts of the then known world. The life under Islam would indeed have been miserable. In addition to all the abominations of this false religion, consider what Schaff has to say about the reward for the Moslem conqueror: “Concubinage with female slaves is allowed to all without limitation. The violation of captive women is the legitimate reward of the conqueror” (189).
From such atrocities God saved His church! After such a victory the question arises: What then happened in the Christian lands of Europe? One would think that all of Europe should have turned to God in thanksgiving, and that the truth would be treasured as never before. But instead of thanksgiving, the church centered in Rome wrongfully began to ally herself with the state. Yes, indeed Christianity was being spread in the wake of Tours by missionaries such as Boniface, but at this time Rome began to build its power as Von Ranke says:
“The Pope of Rome—allied himself with this prince [Charles Martel, MPF] and his successors; as he received assistance from them, and bestowed in return the favor and protection of the spiritual authority, the compound of military and sacerdotal government which forms the basis of all European civilization from that moment arose into being.”
From that time conquest and conversion went hand in hand. “As soon,” says the author of the life of St. Boniface, “as the authority of the glorious Prince Charles over the Frisians was confirmed, the trumpet of the sacred word was heard.” (2-3) That the pope was beginning to increase in power is also Schaff’s point in connection with the coronation of Charles Martel’s son, Pepin, by Pope Zacharias (741-752). Schaff says, “this elevation and coronation was made the basis of papal superiority over the crowns of France and Germany” (234).
When reading about the rise of the power of Rome and the events of the dark ages following the battle of Tours it is hard for us to see God’s plan in it all. At times we ask ourselves whether God had His church in Europe at all. These problems are solved when we see how God used the Battle of Tours and all the subsequent events of 800 years to bring about the great Reformation of the 16th century.
God brought about the Reformation by means of such men as Gottschalk who lived in the 9th century. He was a man who lived during a time when the church was apostate. He taught the views of the great Augustine such as election and reprobation, and he was persecuted for it. Another man God used to bring the Reformation was the pre-reformer John Huss who was burned at the stake because he preached the truth over against mighty Rome.
The lives of these men and others such as the Waldensians show us that God did have his church during the Middle Ages even though the instituted church was hopelessly apostate. He showed this also through preserving His Word during these dark days. Therefore, we see that God always preserves His church on this earth. He preserved it through means such as the victory at the Battle of Tours.
We as Christians give the praise and glory for this victory to our King Jesus Christ. This is only one event in history that Christ uses to bring about His second triumphant return to this world. He is the King who said in Matthew 28:18b to His disciples after His resurrection: “All power is given unto me in Heaven and in Earth.” Our King’s power was mightily evident at the battle of Tours. No mere man or all the host of Mohammedanism can stop God who says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10b). ❖
Creasy, Edward Shepherd. Decisive Battles of the World. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1900.
Gibbon, Edward. Vol. III of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3 vols. New York: Heritage Press, 1946.
Moss, H. St. L. B. The Birth of the Middle Ages, 395-814. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1935.
Schaff, Philip. Vol. IV of History of the Christian Church. 6 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891.
Tierney, Brian, and Sidney Painter. Western Europe in the Middle Ages, 300-1475. New York: Knopf, 1970.
Von Ranke, Leopold. History of the Reformation in Germany. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1905.
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