The Necessity of Reforming the Church by John Calvin

Calvin’s treatise on The Necessity of Reforming the Church is a plea to Emperor Charles V to hear the cause of the Reformation. Calvin pleads that their cause is right and just, because it is based on the word of God. Their cause is necessary, because Rome has become thoroughly corrupt in her doctrine, worship, and institutional life. The reformers are fighting on behalf of God so that “religion might be purged from these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous” condition (39).

Reformation in the church is absolutely necessary because it relates to the pure worship of God. Reformation returns the doctrine, preaching, sacraments, and government of the church back to the biblical pattern, so that God may be worshipped aright. Calvin points out that the “whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption” (23). Rome has thoroughly corrupted the true worship of God by her false doctrines, wicked human traditions, and vain superstitious. Calvin therefore justifies the reformation and insists that the “uniform characteristics of a well-ordered church are the preaching of sound doctrine, and the pure administration of the sacraments” (127).

In setting forth the principles of worship, Calvin is a polemicist. Very logically, he sets forth the errors of the Romish church, his rejection of them on the basis of scripture and the ancient church, and then proceeds to establish the positive principles. Reformation in the church of Jesus Christ is not only a rejection of false doctrines and corruptions, but also a positive development and increased understanding in the truth.

First, Calvin rejects all kinds of things that are not approved by the word of God. God “disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word” (18). Calvin remarks that when the word of God is absent, “divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness; when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions; when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and his glory laid prostrate” (38). Heresies and schisms “arise when a return is not made to the origin of truth, when neither the Head is regarded, nor the doctrine of the heavenly Master preserved” (132).

Second,   true   worship   must   never be based on our own opinions or emotions.   Calvin   wisely   recognizes the foolishness of the depraved sinner, even though he may be a child of God. He writes that “such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray” (16). So we must “reject all human devices which are at variance with his command” (17). God “rejects and even abominates everything relating to his worship that is devised by human reason” (49). He is displeased when men, “overleaping the boundaries of his word, run riot in their own inventions” (96). God’s authority is established in worship when “we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty” (17).

Third, Calvin rejects worship that is not sincere, or one that does not flow out of true faith. God condemns and prohibits “all fictitious worship” (17). Rome is guilty of grave hypocrisy in her worship of God, especially in her many ceremonies. She has invented “an immense number of ceremonies”, whereby “men are vainly occupied with numbers of them that are both frivolous and useless” (22). These ceremonies mock God by causing men to think that “they have fulfilled their duty as admirably as if these ceremonies   included   in   them   the whole essence of piety and divine worship” (22). By “means of external ceremonies, like specious masks, we hide the inward malice of the heart” (51). God therefore “rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience” (23).

Fourth, human tradition must pale in comparison to the word of God in worship. Calvin rebukes the traditions of Rome for enslaving the Christian’s conscience. These traditions “had either been tyrannically imposed to hold consciences in bondage, or were more subservient to superstition than to bondage” (77). Although Calvin does not reject traditions which keep the church functioning decently and in good order, he recommends that we must “look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe” (17).

So important is the glory of God in worship that Calvin grounds true worship in the being of God. First, he writes that the chief foundation of worship is “to acknowledge him to be, as he is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation” (16). Those who worship him must desire to “ascribe and render to him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in him alone, and in every want have recourse to him alone” (16). In our worship, “we manifest for him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency” (16).

Second, because God’s will alone determines His worship, His word prescribes what may be allowed in worship. The word of God is the only authoritative rule for worship. The word alone “discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated” (23), since God “must be worshipped in spirit and in truth” (17). True doctrine “regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation” (15). True doctrine maintains proper worship in the church, since “the word of God furnishes a standard…for every thing” (35). When reforming the worship of the church, the reformers sought “to read the scriptures, in laboring diligently to make them better understood, and in happily throwing light on certain points of doctrine of the highest practical importance” (40).

Third, the administration of the sacraments is an important part of worship. Calvin contends that in the Romish   church,   “seven   sacraments were received without any distinction, though Christ appointed two only, the others resting merely on human authority” (29). The “two which Christ instituted were fearfully corrupted” (29). That is because the Romish church “fasten[s] upon the sign instead of the thing signified by it” (31). God’s people must come by faith to participate in these two sacraments. Only by faith “they may inwardly discern the thing which is visibly represented: that is, the spiritual food by which alone their souls are nourished unto life eternal” (70). Furthermore, the preaching of the word must always be accompanied with the sacraments, because “there is no use in the sacraments unless the thing which the sign visibly represents is explained in accordance with the word of God” (31).

Fourth, proper church government must be exercised because the office-bearers watch over the worship of the church. It must be a “spiritual government which Christ recommended” (33). Calvin writes that in condemning the papacy and the hierarchical form of church government, they have restored the pastoral office, “both according to the apostolic rule, and the practice of the primitive church, by insisting that everyone who rules in the church shall also teach” (71). Those who are elected must be “in the presence of the people, before the eyes of all, that he may be approved as fit and worthy by the testimony of all” (73). None “are to be continued in the office but those who are diligent in performing its duties” (71). No man “is a true pastor of the church who does not perform the office of teaching” (33). Teaching is so important in the worship of the Reformed church that Calvin is able to say: “none of our churches is seen without the ordinary preaching of the word” (71).

Fifth, true worship must be simple. It must be devoid of all kinds of “frivolous performances altogether alien from the command of Christ” (33). We must in no respect detract “from the spiritual worship of God” (46). Worship is simple because “God requires us to worship him in a spiritual manner” (41).

True   prayer   is   an   important   part of worship. Calvin writes that “by discarding the intercession of the saints, we have brought men back to Christ, that they might learn both to invoke the Father in his name, and trust in him as Mediator” (51). The child of God must pray first “with firm and solid confidence”, and then secondly, “with understanding also” (51). He must not be muttering “over confused prayer in an unknown tongue” (51). Prayers “proceeding from true faith obtains favor with God” (55). The design of true prayer is to “make God the conscious witness of our necessities, and as it were to pour out our hearts before him” (56).

The worshipper himself must be a regenerated child of God, offering sincere praise and worship to God. God “looks to the faith and truth of the heart” (47). Men must worship God “neither in a frigid nor a careless manner” (41). “True and sincere worship”, Calvin asserts, is “taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures” (16). Only a believing child of God will humble himself before God in worship, and “by this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reign in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives” (16).

When true worship is restored, the child of God receives the blessed fruit of assurance. He is able to rest in Christ “with firm and solid confidence, feeling assured that Christ is so completely his own, that he possesses in him righteousness and life” (25). Calvin’s treatise is powerfully polemical in establishing not only the cause of the reformation, but also the biblical principles of worship. The regulative principle, held fast by Calvin and the reformers, is a legacy left to us, the children of the reformation. We will be faithful to maintain it, so that “the pure and legitimate worship of God” (13) is upheld in our churches.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 48


Remembering 500 Years of the 1517 Reformation: Hugh Latimer

I thank God most heartily that He hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God with this kind of death.”

Hugh Latimer, in response to his persecutors before being burnt at the stake

Source: Portraits of Faithful Saints by Prof Herman Hanko

Speaking the Truth in Love and Boldness

Ephesians 4:14, 15: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

The voices of the reformers whom God used in the sixteenth-century Reformation of the church call down the centuries to Reformed churches today to speak the truth of God’s Word with love and boldness. First among these voices is the thunder of the man whom God used to begin the Reformation on October 31, 1517: Martin Luther. The truth of God’s Word that Luther recovered for the church is summarized in what we as Reformed people know and call the “five solas of the Reformation” or of the Reformed (biblical) faith: salvation from sin is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in Holy Scripture alone to the glory of God alone. In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther asserted that this truth is “the true treasure of the church… the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62).

The heart of the gospel truth that the Reformation calls the church today to proclaim in love and with boldness is the truth of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Martin Luther, the first among the reformers whom God used to restore this precious, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-inspired, soul- comforting doctrine to his church, called this doctrine of justification by faith alone “the article of the standing or falling church.” Luther loved this truth with his whole heart, putting all the tremendous gifts God gave him in the service of this truth, exerted himself to exhaustion to teach this truth to the church, and relentlessly resisted the attacks of the pope, the Anabaptists, the devil, and the world who were against this truth. Luther proclaimed the gospel truth of justification with love and boldness!

But what does it mean to speak the truth in love and with boldness? What is love? What is boldness? Can they go together? In other words: Is it possible to proclaim the truth in love and with boldness? And if so, how do we do it?

The text in Ephesians 4:14, 15 is often quoted to caution or even to rebuke the man in the church who speaks the truth with boldness—what others judge in their worldly wisdom to be excessive boldness. The text in Ephesians 4:14, 15 is quoted for that purpose by those in the church herself who are uncomfortable with another member of the church, boldly setting forth the truth of the Word of God and defending that truth from her enemies of the old, but especially of the new day.

Such a use of this text belies a grave misunderstanding of this Word of God. The grave misunderstanding is that speaking the truth in love and speaking the truth with boldness are mutually exclusive activities and attitudes. Where the truth is spoken in love, boldness is to be excluded. When the truth is spoken with boldness, love is not there. Such a misunderstanding of this text is held by many, many even who claim to be children of the Reformation and will have conferences this year celebrating the 500th   anniversary of the Reformation. Whatever many today understand by “love,” it does not include or have room for “boldness.” At the same time, whatever they may understand by “boldness,” it does not include “love.” But this is wrong.

Speaking the truth in love and with boldness was really summed up by Luther when he said: “A good preacher [we could add, “a good Christian”, JL] must be committed to this, that nothing is dearer to him than Christ and the life to come.”

Speaking the Truth in Love

Love in the text in Ephesians 4:15 is first of all love for the truth itself. This is clear from the verse itself. “In love” modifies “speaking the truth.” In order to speak the truth in love, you must first of all love the truth that you speak. If you do not love the truth, you will not speak the truth. Or, you will try to camouflage or color or shade the truth or try to rub the sharp edges off or blunt the force of the truth. All of this amounts to not speaking the truth in love. To love the truth means that you hold to the truth with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, make a conscious choice to speak the truth wherever God gives you opportunity, and a conscious choice to reject the lie.

To love the truth is to love the true God and the God who is the truth, as Deut. 32:4 teaches: “He is the Rock, his word is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” Love for God is possible because God first loved us, when he chose us in eternity as His elect people in Jesus Christ. We love Him because He first loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We know this because God has revealed Himself and His love to us in His Holy and Divine Word. To love the truth is to love the Word of God which is the divinely inspired (God- breathed, II Tim. 3:16) and infallibly written Scriptures. To love the truth of the Word of God means, as Reformed people, that we also embrace the summary of the Word of God in the Reformed creeds: the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.

From all of this it is evident therefore, that speaking the truth in love is purely a gift of God’s grace. By nature we are liars, love the lie, cleave to the lie in our hearts, speak the lie, and live the lie. The lie always boils down to what Satan told Eve in the Garden: “Ye shall not die, but ye shall be as gods [really, “as God”], knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4, 5). What this means practically is that we abandon God’s revealed way of salvation in Christ Jesus alone, and seek to save ourselves by our works, and mount up to heaven by our own merits. The result of this foolishness is uncertainty, doubt, and despair.

The apostle Paul uses two vivid figures in Ephesians 4:14 to illustrate what happens to those who do not love the truth. The first is of a ship tossed to and fro on the waves of the sea. The second is of a leaf or a straw blown by the wind. The southern United States was recently struck by two massive hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. These hurricanes caused great waves to form on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane winds were registered at speeds as high as 140 miles per hour! Photographs of the aftermath showed sailboats tossed by the waves onto beaches and reefs, their sails in tatters,   and   widespread   devastation on account of the screeching winds. One who does not love the truth is like a sailboat without a sail, rudder, or captain on hurricane-force waves, or like a leaf or palm branch tossed on hurricane-gales. Moreover, one who does not love the truth, and thus cling to the truth with all their heart, is an easy target for the “sleight of men” that is, liars and deceivers—heretics—who in their cunning craftiness lie in wait to deceive them.

In contrast to the destruction that threatens those who do not love the truth, those who love the truth and speak the truth in love grow up into Christ their Head in all things. They mature in their knowledge of God’s Word, their understanding of who Christ is and what He has done for them, and what this means for them, namely, that they edify one another in love in thankfulness for the love of God shown to them in Christ. This is the blessing of God that attends those who speak the truth in love.

Speaking the Truth with Boldness

The most common word translated “boldness” in the New Testament means simply to be free and unreserved in speech (2 Cor. 3:12), speaking openly and frankly (John 7:13, 26; 18:20), i.e., without concealment or ambiguity (Mark 8:32; John 11:14). It means to have freedom and confidence in speaking, as Peter preached on Pentecost (Acts 2:29), as Peter and John   spoke   before   the   Sanhedrin (Acts 4:29, 31), as Paul spoke during his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:31), and as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke, so that the people were “astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:28, 29). Boldness in speech arises out of a free and fearless confidence in the heart. This confidence has its source in and relies upon God, and in the truth of God’s sovereignty in all things. Such boldness comes from being thoroughly convicted of the truth of the Word of God. The utterly courageous and fearless man, woman, young person, or little child is the one who takes his or her stand absolutely upon the Word of God. The captive little Israelite maid that waited on the wife of Naaman the Syrian was bold when she told her mistress “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy” (II Kings 5:2, 3)—as bold as Elijah who thundered against Ahab: “I have not troubled Israel; but thou [Ahab], and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim” (I Kings 18:17, 18).

Martin Luther wrote that boldness means “no matter what happens, you should say: ‘There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I remain too; where it goes, I go too. The Word must stand, for God cannot lie [Heb. 6:18], and heaven and earth must go to ruins before the most insignificant letter or tittle of his Word remains unfulfilled” (What Luther Says, ed. Ewald Plass, p. 68).

Boldness insists on the Bible’s teaching concerning our salvation: that it is by faith alone in Christ alone, without any works or merit of ours at all. Said Luther:

Now if a different way to heaven [than Jesus Christ alone, JL] existed, no doubt He [God] would also have recorded it—but there is no other way. Therefore, let us cling to these words, firmly place and rest our hearts upon them, close our eyes, and say: ‘Although I had the merit of all saints, the holiness and purity of all virgins, and the piety of St. Peter besides, I would still consider my attainment nothing. Rather, I must have a different foundation to build on, namely, these words: God has given His Son so that whosoever believes on Him whom the Father has sent out of His love shall be saved.’ And you must insist confidently [that is, boldly, JL] that you will be preserved; and you must boldly take your stand on his words, which no devil, hell, or death can suppress… “ (What Luther Says, ed. Ewald Plass, p. 67-68).

Boldness, therefore, is love, love of God and His Word set on fire for God’s glory. Boldness is to speak the Word of God in all its fullness out of faith in God. Thus, boldness also is not natural to any of us, anymore than love for God is natural to any of us. It is a work of God’s grace alone. Boldness is given, preserved, and exercised through the power of the Spirit of Christ who unites us to faith to Christ, our bold Savior.

Boldness, Not Pride

Here, then, is how we answer the question: “But, how does boldness differ from pride?” Pride is confidence in ourselves; boldness is confidence in Jesus Christ alone. A proud man, woman, young person, or child relies upon what he has done, is always thrusting his works in God’s face, and trumpeting his own merits; a bold man, woman, young person, or child looks only unto and rejoices in what Christ has accomplished—both in His active obedience to God’s law His whole life, and His atoning death on the cross in our place by which He satisfied God’s justice and merited for us eternal life— and rejoices in the free imputation of what Christ has accomplished to all God’s elect. Pride forsakes the Word of God for the doctrines of men and of devils, man’s philosophies, man’s archeological findings, man’s science, man’s reason, man’s feelings, man’s experiences, or tries to add all of these things to the Word of God. Boldness clings to and takes its stand upon and abides by faith in the Word of God alone and the Word of God as it is summarized in the Reformed confessions.

Boldness, therefore, is humility. Boldness is love: love for God, for Christ and for the gospel that our salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). Boldness is evidence that that love of God dwells within us, for “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:18). Loving God, we are bold in God, which is to say, humble before Him and His Word, so that we speak it.

Martin Luther was humbled by the truth of God’s grace to him, an unworthy sinner, and thus was bold in preaching Christ and His cross as the central message of Scripture and the only way of salvation for all who repent and believe in Him. “We preach always Him, the true God and man who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. This may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it.”

Luther also preached to the people in the pew to be bold in Christ and to demand that their minister preach Christ to them. In a sermon on Matt. 11:25-30 that he preached on February 14, 1546, shortly before his death, in his birth-town of Eisleben, Germany, Luther declared: “The hearers must say, ‘We do not believe our pastor, unless he tells us of another Master, one named Christ. To Christ he directs us; what Christ’s lips say we shall heed. And we shall heed our pastor insofar as he directs us to the true Master and Teacher, the Son of God.” Luther was not giving hearers, his or any hearers today, free license to disregard their pastor. He was admonishing them to be like the Bereans: to hear him diligently as he alleged Christ out of the Scriptures, and then to search the Scriptures to see that their pastor indeed preached Christ.

Contending for the Faith

Speaking the truth in love and with boldness means contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This is not only the calling of the minister in his pulpit and the professor in his study and lecture hall, (although it is their calling)! But it is also the calling of the father in the office, the mother in her home, the young person at college or work, and the little child on the playground. Moreover, Luther teaches us that we must contend especially for those truths of the faith under attack at the moment, and that if we do not we are not faithful to the calling of God’s Word in Jude 3 to contend for the faith. He declared:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Contending boldly for the truth will embroil the minister, professor, and lay believer in controversy. Luther said that the trouble with bold preachers—we could add, also, bold lay believers—”is not that they are often misunderstood. To the contrary, they find themselves embroiled in controversy because they are distinctly clear”.

Nevertheless, the believing minister, professor, or lay person who is convicted of the truth of God’s Word, loves that truth with his whole being, and is committed to speaking that truth is of the conviction also that to abandon the truth of God’s Word is to abandon God Himself. Luther said that he could endure everything, by God’s grace and with the comfort of the Spirit of Christ, but he could never abandon the Holy Scriptures, because they reveal God and testify to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the conviction of every believer which God gives by faith in Christ and strengthens through the means of earnest prayer.

Especially to ministers Luther charged: “The faithful shepherd is one who not only feeds his flock, but also protects it. This happens when he points out heresies and errors.” To point out heresies and errors involves looking beyond the evil lifestyles of people to the false doctrines that underpin such ungodly living. It is all very well to condemn sins in the lives of God’s people, but they must know also the sinful teaching and doctrine of devils that gives rise to such living. In perhaps some of his most popular and well- known words, his Table Talk, Martin Luther said:

“When I can show that the papists’ doctrine is false, which I have shown, then I can easily prove that their manner of life is evil. For when the word remains pure, the manner of life, though something therein be amiss, will be pure also. The pope has taken away the pure word and doctrine, and brought in another word and doctrine which he has hanged upon the church. I shook all Popedom with this one point, that I teach uprightly, and mix up nothing else. We must press the doctrine onwards, for that breaks the neck of the pope.”

To press the doctrine onward today means that we declare that Jesus alone saves sinners by the blood of His cross and His perfect obedience imputed unto them. This doctrine alone breaks the neck of the pope yet today, and the neck of the Federal Vision, which is leading even those churches which call themselves Reformed and Presbyterian back to the pope in Rome. The Federal Vision teaches that God establishes His covenant in His (common) grace with all the baptized children of believers, elect and reprobate alike. The doctrine of Rome teaches that the covenant depends for its continuance, maintenance, and fulfillment in heavenly perfection upon the good works of the baptized child, especially the good works of faith and the obedient works of faith. If the covenant depends upon the child, then the child’s salvation is partly based on grace in Christ, and partly upon the child’s own good works. In fact, the child’s good works are the main thing. This is the doctrine of Rome. To break the neck of this doctrine in our own churches, we must press and preach the heart of the gospel: justification for sinners by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone. Only this gospel boldly declares the Word of God alone, to the glory of God alone.

The opposition that Luther, and all the Reformers, experienced for the truth’s sake only made Luther proclaim the truth more boldly. He said his enemies forced him to take refuge in the Word, like a bear hiding in a cave, where he eagerly read and studied. Then, he emerged more convinced of the truth than ever, more in love with his God, and more determined to defend the truth and his God against the enemies. In love for God, God’s Christ, God’s Word, and God’s people, Luther boldly contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, with the boldness whose confidence is in God and Christ alone by faith.

For all of us, spiritual children of Martin Luther and the Reformation, to speak the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Holy Scripture alone, to God’s glory alone in love and boldness means to speak the truth whenever and wherever Christ gives us opportunity, and leave the results to our sovereign God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). This is the call of the Reformation of the sixteenth-century to us today in A.D. 2017!

Written by: Jonathan Langerak Jr. | Issue 46

Remembering 500 Years of the 1517 Reformation: Polycarp

I have served Him for eighty-six years and He has never done me any wrong. Why then should I blaspheme against my King and Saviour?…I bless thee for deigning me worthy of this day and this hour that I may be among Thy martyrs and drink of the cup of my Lord Jesus Christ…”

Polycarps answer when he was put on trial by the Romans and an excerpt of his final prayer on the burning stake

Source: Portraits of Faithful Saints by Prof. Herman Hanko

Remembering 500 Years of the 1517 Reformation: Guido de Bres

My lady, the good cause for which I suffer and the good conscience God has given me make my bread sweeter and my sleep sounder than those of my persecutors. It is guilt that makes a chain heavy. Innocence makes my chains light. I glory in them as my badges of honor.”

Source: Hanko, H. (1999). Portaits of Faithful Saints. Jenison: Reformed Free Publish- ing Association. Retrieved from Reformed Free Publishing Association:

Remembering 500 Years of the 1517 Reformation: Martin Luther

Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone; it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand. I can not do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”


Reformed Youth Seminar: The Life of Martin Luther

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Ps 46:1


During the recent Reformed Youth Seminar, Professor Hanko (or “Prof”, as we affectionately call him) gave us a sermon outlining the major points of the life of Martin Luther, one of the key persons who shaped the Protestant Reformation which brought us out of the evils of apostate Roman Catholicism. He also illustrated the blessedness of being able to see God’s hand behind every step of our lives through reviewing the life of Luther and his own, and emphasized on the importance of being faithful to God’s Word no matter the cost.

Comparing his own life and work to that of Luther’s and of the other Reformation fathers, Prof refers to himself as a pygmy in the presence of giants. But as corrected by his colleague, he states that although we might seem to be pygmies, we stand on the shoulders of those spiritual giants and therefore are able to see further than they could. He refers to the development of doctrinal truths throughout the years, which God has beautifully refined through history in order that biblical truths are preserved, and heresies pinpointed and thrown out.

The life of Luther shows how God prepared him for his life’s work at each step of the way: the death of his friend which made him think more about his purpose in life, his experience in the terrible storm in which he swore an oath to become a monk if God spared his life, his struggle with being right with God, and his steadfastness before the Roman Catholic empire where he held on to what he was convinced was the truth. Now, there are certain doctrines here that we can take note of and apply to our lives, and I would elaborate by first highlighting the key points of Luther’s life as spoken by Prof.

Luther, in his early years, was a bright student and was on his way to being a lawyer, which by his father’s thinking was the ticket to a luxurious life and retirement for Luther’s parents. It was going well until he was caught in a storm which seemed to him was the end of his life. There, he begged God through Saint Anne to spare his life with a promise to become a monk if he survived the storm. He survived, and had to keep his promise despite the protests of his friends and of his father.

After entering the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg and being convinced of the graveness of his sins, Luther sought to seek redemption from God by doing every work of penance ever prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. The source of what troubled him is found in Romans 1:17 which states, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” His struggle was with the phrase “the righteousness of God”.

While Luther interpreted the phrase to mean that a man has to be righteous on his own in order that he could be right with God, his attempts to placate God through his acts of penance and by confessing every single sin to the head of his monastery did not seem to be working as he still found no peace within himself. It was only on one particular day of his preparation for being a priest, studying deep into Scripture alone in a tower of the monastery, known to us as the “Tower experience”, when Luther finally realised that the term the “righteousness of God” did not describe an attribute of God in which He is so holy and thus wishes to punish every sinner, but instead is the free gift of righteousness – granted through faith – imputed by Christ’s death on the cross unto believers. Christ’s death washes away all the sins of His people, and that is what makes sinners righteous before God. This is what the prophet means by “the just shall live by faith” in Habakkuk 2:4.

A few years on, Luther had to deal with the orator and defender of Catholicism, Johann Eck, publicly debating on the issue of how they judged the truth. Eck’s stand was that the truth was to be determined by the church passed down from the councils of earlier times, the tradition of popes, and by the church which made decrees regarding various items of Scripture. This meant that one could live his life as he pleased, committing various gross sins while still being a member of the church – but if one deviated even a little from the doctrines of the church, he would face the wrath of the church. Luther, at that time, still believed in the traditions and the authority of the church in all various matters, but held on to the truth of being justified by faith alone. Eck then accused Luther of being a follower of John Hus, implying that Luther was teaching heresy and was worthy of being burnt at the stake. John Hus was an early reformer who believed in the authority of Scripture over the authority of the church. Luther, after reviewing the writings of John Hus, maintained that God’s Word, Scripture, is the authority of all doctrine and all of life – justi cation by faith alone, apart from the works of the law! This gave Johann Eck complete victory over Luther in the debate by being able to brand Luther as a heretic.

Nonetheless, the debate with Johann Eck was the starting point of Luther’s conviction and maintenance of his stand of being justified by faith alone and Scriptures as the only authority. From there, he went on back to Wittenberg to drive away teachers of mysticism – heretics which took over Luther’s place whilst he was away – by just preaching a series of eight sermons. Also, the conviction gained from the debate gave Luther courage to stand alone defending the truth before the Imperial Diet of Worms, which is the council of the Holy Roman Empire. Present were the Emperor, his servants and princes, and other powerful men including the elite of the Roman Catholic Church, each of them having the authority to end the life of whoever ticked them off. Luther had to face the Diet alone as none of his colleagues were permitted to attend the trial.

Luther was strongly advised by all his colleagues not to go to the Diet as the danger of Luther being taken away as a heretic and being killed was very great due to the immense combined power of the Diet. But Luther was convinced of the truth of God and the dangers which awaited him did not deter him from his conviction for the cause of Christ. The reply to his friends was that he had a mighty defender, God Himself. This courage to face imminent doom undoubtedly came from God.

During Luther’s trial, he was given opportunity to recant his teachings before the Diet passed a verdict. Luther, after reviewing his past works in the books he wrote placed before him, was convinced that what he wrote and had been teaching over the years was indeed truth, and held on to his stand. The Catholic Church wanted him killed immediately, but by the Emperor’s promise of safe conduct, Luther made it out of Worms.

God indeed is our refuge and strength! The words in this statement are found in Psalm 46:1, out of Luther’s favourite Psalm of which he composed the well- known hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. One who looks at Luther’s life and sees God’s hand behind it, preparing Luther every step of the way, will not find it a mystery where Luther got his inspiration to write the hymn.

This truth of God reminds me of the theme for our recent Covenant Keepers camp, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, which states, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” God, as Author of all that is in existence, not only determines the pathway of our lives, but, as Prof rightly states, also grants us the vigour and enthusiasm to do His work!

Nearing the end of the sermon, Prof quoted from Matthew 24:12-13, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” Prof emphasised the use of two words in the text – “many”, being plural, and the word “he”, a singular. It is evident in Scripture and thus we can expect that, like Luther, we will one day stand alone in contending for the truth. Are we ready for it?

God’s grace is greater than any human resistance, piercing through the hard outer shells of our stubbornness and disbelief, and softens our hearts with the grace that brings us to faith in Christ. The grace that brought Luther to Christ bound his conscience to the Word of God and with the courage which ows directly from God, Luther stood his ground in many instances in order to defend the truth. Can, and will, you and I do the same to defend the truth which we love?

One of the ending words of Prof in his sermon was a quote from Luther, saying that the busier we get, the more we need to seek God in our devotions. We as servants of the living God require very much the direction of our Master, lest we go astray and fall into the cunning pits and snares of the devil, enticing us to embrace earthly comforts and to forget our purpose and calling as sojourners to lead godly lives and to gather the church. Will we dedicate our time to constant prayer and the reading and meditation of God’s Word?

May we embrace our calling with joy and courage, knowing that God is our ever-present aid and guide. Let us, like Luther, put on the whole armour of God and our battle cry echo the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:31: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”

Defend the truth of the Bible, and spread the good news of the righteousness of God imputed to believing sinners through Jesus Christ crucified on the cross, and we will be able to sing the words of the versi cation of Psalm 46 in Psalter 126 with meaning:

“God is our refuge and our strength, our ever present aid, And, therefore, though the earth remove, We will not be afraid.”

Written by: Milton Ho | Issue 6

Reformation Lectures: 1) The Authority of Scripture | 2) Comfort – The Spirit of Truth


This is an extremely important topic as it is the key idea of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century. Martin Luther established many important and fundamental truths for church life and church government, as well as directions and guidance for the Christian home. Luther stood firmly on the authority of Scripture (being the gift of God) as the absolute rule in church confession and daily Christian living. However, this is being systematically denied and rejected, both by Reformed and Presbyterian churches today. Scripture brought tears to believers and theologians at the time of the Reformation but people now make Scripture a toy, less than what God intended it to be for the church.

One of the powerful enemies that held Europe in its grip was the Renaissance. It came and swept through Europe, causing many to be led away from the truth. Renaissance ideas denied that man needed the Scripture and taught that man stood as king in the centre of the universe and that he was in full control of his own life. The Renaissance focussed on human reasoning while the Reformed faith rested on Faith alone (Sola Fide). Another threat was the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church itself. It taught that Mary was sinless and that she ascended to heaven without dying. Renaissance gradually became the mother of modern philosophy; Scripture is no longer needed as we are capable of studying all things ourselves and reason with it. Theism, a system of thoughts which believe that God is the creator but denies sin, atonement, and providence has become part and parcel of conservative Christianity.

Many churches today are gradually plagued by the belief that scripture has both a divine and human element and so is tainted and influenced by human writers. Higher critics who try to tear God’s Word apart and try to interpret God’s Word through man’s view ultimately deny the authority of scripture. What is your view on the Scriptures? We can do nothing apart from the Scriptures!

In Part 2 of the lecture, Professor Hanko talks about the Comforter. Christ promised to send the comforter to the distressed disciples at the last supper, and assured them that He would be with them to the end of the world. The comforter came through the Holy Spirit, that is, the spirit of truth. We have greater blessings today than the disciples had at that time because His spirit dwells in the church forever. The Spirit of Truth is also known as ‘the subject of truth’. There is no other way to know the truth other than through the Holy Spirit. He will teach us all truth and comfort us in all sorrow and trouble. He knows all the minute details of the elect, and will search out his elect in the remotest parts of the world. He brings to them the scripture through the power of the exalted Christ to salvation and faith in Jesus Christ. In this way, His elect are given the knowledge of truth. The wicked has no knowledge of truth because they hate and despise the truth. Only through the Holy Spirit is the hardened heart changed and renewed, and willing to follow the Saviour and surrender his life to Him. Only through the scriptures is the truth revealed. The devil cunningly robs the church of its truth through subtle heresies, coupled with materialism and worldliness, causing the church to fall. However, there is always the remnant that God preserves through history. There is no room for tolerance of and compromise with heresies. It is therefore the calling of the church of Jesus Christ to develop the truth. Many churches today are not strong enough to do it because they are not willing to read theological books and thus lose their way through confusion. What our church teaches is nothing new and, more than ever, we need to maintain what our forefathers have taught as the Comforter guides us along.

Written by: Yeong Kah Pik | Issue 6

Book Review: Portraits of Faithful Saints

Title: Portraits of Faithful Saints Author: Herman Hanko
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 1999
Hardback, 450pp

As we all know, the Reformation Day Conference 2010 has just happened recently to celebrate the Great 16th Century Reformation. Thus, tying in with this joyous occasion, it is fitting that this book is highlighted in this issue of Salt Shakers.

Portraits of Faithful Saints, as the title suggests, tells of faithful saints of God who stood for the Truth in spite of heavy opposition. The author of this book writes about 55 persons. Though some of them did not stand for the exact doctrines we hold today, still they played major roles in developing the Reformed doctrine we know today. All of this rich history is summarized into ve parts and fty-two chapters. This book covers extensively the history after Christ’s birth; from the death of the Apostle John to the controversy of common grace in the PRCA.

The book has its limits; the author is not able to go into every bit of detail in each individual’s life. Thus, the author gives some suggested readings rather than a bibliography, as he had consulted so many books that he couldn’t possibly list them all for us. But still, the author is able to explain to us the major events of the individual’s life, ending off each summary with a conclusion that may be applicable to us. This trait makes the book very useful to the reader.

Another unique trait of this book is that it brings out men who worked ‘behind the scenes’ during the Reformation. When we think of the Great Reformation, many of us tend to link it with Martin Luther and John Calvin. But what about people like William Farel and Ulrich Zwingli? The many men who helped in the Reformation are names we never heard of before. It is wrong to ‘conclude that they are of little or no importance in the understanding of the Reformation.’ The author states this conclusion as ‘a sad mistake.’ (Page 168) And it truly is, for without knowing these men, we will not be able to fully see how the Reformation slowly spread throughout the world.

This book is very important, due to the fact that its rich history concerns us as the descendants of our Reformed forefathers. How are we to truly understand the Reformed doctrines unless we know of the history behind it, with all the blood, sweat, and tears these faithful men have shed for us? God has so graciously preserved the in uential works of His saints for His own. And thus it is a great gift to receive (and be) the fruit of the Reformation. May we be able to realize this great truth that lies beneath CERC and not be ignorant of this rich history and God’s wondrous Works; like the Israelites were in Judges (2:10) which the author speaks of in the ending of the last chapter of the book.

Ending off, I would like to quote from the book. It asks, ‘shall another generation arise which knows not the Lord? May God forbid it. (Page 420)’ I truly hope that we will not be a generation which knows not the Lord.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 5