The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther

Luther

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Some readers might recall the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon documentary released a couple of years back, directed and produced by my good friend, Stephen McCaskell. Well, Stephen is back on the trail, this time hoping to produce a documentary called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.

At the moment, he is seeking to raise the necessary remaining funds through a Kickstarter campaign. At time of writing, he’s about 25% of the way there – only another $15000 (CAD) to go. Bear in mind that this means that a $100 CAD pledge is only about £55-60 GBP or $80 USD. There’s more bang for your buck here, so you can pledge more than you think!

Here’s the promotional trailer:


If you have a minute and a few shekels to spare, please consider heading over to Kickstarter to help. The Spurgeon documentary has been viewed over 120000 times, and seems to have been much appreciated. The Luther project promises to be just as excellent and just as profitable.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 6 May 2016 at 07:39

The liberation of Latimer

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I got home in the small hours last night, driving back from the Bulkington Lecture (more details to follow) where I had a thoroughly delightful time lecturing on the life of Hugh Latimer and enjoying fellowship with some of God’s people afterward (I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy fellowship with others of them, I mean that they weren’t all there . . . oh, you know what I mean). Anyway, this morning I woke to this little nugget from Luther, the truth that set Latimer free from his spiritual bondage. Quite glorious:

Because an eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin – for God cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably – redemption was not possible without a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin, to assume the guilt, pay the price of wrath and thus abolish sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of undending wrath and death.

via The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 April 2012 at 07:27

Luther on repentance

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In 1521 Luther wrote:

This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being, but becoming, not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

How true and how refreshing!

HT Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 12:40

Posted in Christian living

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Luther on the marks of a good preacher

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In two posts, Carl Trueman goes to Luther’s Table Talk to identify nine marks of a good preacher:

The first five are: ability to teach; possession of a good head; eloquence; clarity of speech; and a good memory. The list is interesting because it focuses first on practicalities, things often lost in the romantic spiritual notions of ministry we often have. In short, the person should be able to think and speak clearly, two traits which are often intimately connected. It seems like common sense, but these basic elements are often neglected by churches, seminaries, sessions, elder boards, presbyteries and classes. To put it bluntly: if you cannot put a decent, clear sentence into English and speak it in a way that others can understand, you are not called to the ministry, no matter how much that inner voice tells you that God is calling you to preach, or your mum tells you you’d make a wonderful pastor.

For further comment on the first five, see here; the second four are here.  As usual with Mr T (and, for that matter, Mr L), it’s stimulating stuff.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 August 2010 at 08:20

Posted in Pastoral theology

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Luther’s loving rebuke

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Justin Taylor points us to Luther’s loving rebuke to his friend, Philip Melancthon, written in a letter dated 27 June 1530.  Faithful indeed are the wounds of a friend (Prv 27.6):

Those great cares by which you say you are consumed I vehemently hate; they rule your heart not on account of the greatness of the cause but by reason of the greatness of your unbelief. . . .

If our cause is great, its author and champion is great also, for it is not ours. Why are you therefore always tormenting yourself?

If our cause is false, let us recant; if it is true, why should we make him a liar who commands us to be of untroubled heart?

Cast your burden on the Lord, he says. The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him with a broken heart. Does he speak in vain or to beasts? . . .

What good can you do by your vain anxiety?

What can the devil do more than slay us? What after that?

I beg you, so pugnacious in all else, fight against yourself, your own worst enemy, who furnish Satan with arms against yourself. . . .

I pray for you earnestly and am deeply pained that you keep sucking up cares like a leech and thus rendering my prayers vain.

Christ knows whether it is stupidity or bravery, but I am not much disturbed, rather of better courage than I had hoped.

God who is able to raise the dead is also able to uphold a falling cause, or to raise a fallen one and make it strong.

If we are not worthy instruments to accomplish his purpose, he will find others.

If we are not strengthened by his promises, to whom else in all the world can they pertain?

But saying more would be pouring water into the sea.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 March 2010 at 10:15

Stuart Olyott on Luther’s mistake

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Stuart Olyott has an excellent short article in the December 2009 issue of the Banner of Truth Magazine (information and subscription here – warmly recommended), reflecting on Luther’s retrospective on the progress of the Reformation. Luther said:

I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble . . . I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.

Stuart is dealing with the error of ‘mediate regeneration’, an error which he perceives gripping a vast swathe of British evangelicalism. (Incidentally, my interest in this article was piqued because I was thinking of preaching on the Spirit’s illuminating work this Lord’s day – I may not, but I should like to soon.) Stuart describes this error in this way:

Mediate regeneration teaches that when the Holy Spirit transforms somebody into a new creature in Christ, he uses an instrument to bring this about. That instrument is the Word—the Holy Scriptures. The work of the Spirit is so intimately connected to his instrument, that we can say that the Word of God actually contains the converting power of the Holy Spirit. If you let the Word loose, you are letting the Holy Spirit loose.

To put it another way: the Spirit, or the principle of new life, is shut up in the Word, just as the life-giving germ is shut up in the dry seed. Just sow the seed and people will get converted! If they don’t, it will be because they have persistently resisted the appeals of God’s Spirit coming to them through that Word. His power is resident in the Word, but that power has been resisted. Where the gospel has little success, there is a human explanation.

So Luther should not have baldly said, “I left it to the Word” because the Word, apart from the Spirit (who is not bound to the word in the way wrongly suggested) accomplishes nothing.

Stuart’s point is that the Spirit works with the word (cum verbo) and not simply through the word (per verbo). While it is and always remains the true Word of the living God, yet without the operation of the Spirit on the heart of the man reading it, it remains as dry as a stick to him. Regeneration is an immediate operation of the Spirit of Christ on the heart of a man making him spiritually alive and aware, and therefore able to comprehend the truth. But the Spirit does not use the truth to accomplish that regeneration; the effect of regeneration is spiritual comprehension of the truth.

Isn’t this splitting hairs? No, says Mr Olyott:

A biblical mind-set ticks completely differently. It goes like this:

  • Although the Word can bring a new spiritual life to birth and visibility, it can never bring about the generation of that new life. God himself must do that, by a direct action of his Spirit within the human soul.
  • We can preach, teach, persuade and print until we are blue in the face, but nothing will get done unless the Lord himself accompanies the Word. All men and women are spiritually dead, and will remain so for ever, unless the Lord brings them to life.
  • It is not enough then to sow the Word, making its meaning plain while we do so. We must have dealings with God, pleading with him to do what only he can do, that is, to work by direct action within people’s souls.

What will be the effect of such a Biblical state of mind?

Where the biblical mind-set rules, you will find preachers who ‘pray through’—men who strive and agonise and prevail in prayer, until the Lord accompanies their preaching in an obvious way.

  • Where the biblical mind-set rules, you will find crowded prayer meetings filled with believers who storm the throne of grace, determined that by sheer importunity they will persuade God to accompany the word to be preached.
  • Where the biblical mind-set rules, you will find gatherings of Christians beseeching the Lord to pour out his Spirit in awakening power. Of course you will! They understand all too well that no spiritual work will get done anywhere, however much sowing takes place, unless the Lord himself changes rebellious hearts and gives to them spiritual life and appetite.
  • But the biblical mind-set does not rule. Most British preachers study more than they pray. Countless believers do not go regularly to church prayer-meetings, or, if they do, fail to plead with God for his blessing upon the preaching. Prayer for revival has almost left us. The error of mediate regeneration is slowly but surely strangling us, and things will go from bad to worse unless we repent.

Stuart is not saying anything new. The 1689 Confession of Faith contains a chapter on the gospel and its gracious extent. The fourth paragraph, in its usual pithy and dense fashion, makes the same point as Stuart, which I give in a slightly modernised format:

The gospel is the only outward [external] means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and, as such, is fully sufficient for this purpose. However, in order that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is also necessary an effectual, insuperable [irresistible] work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul to produce in them a new spiritual life.8 Without this, no other means will accomplish their conversion unto God.9

8 Ps 110.3; 1Cor 2.14; Eph 1.19-20  9 Jn 6.44; 2Cor 4.4, 6

I feel the charge of spending more time bending over a commentary than bending my knees in prayer. I see all around me men and women who have heard and are hearing the truth as it is in Jesus without any spiritual comprehension of that truth, and I see the desperate necessity of a direct work of God’s Spirit upon their hearts if they are to believe. They are, many of them, competent, intelligent professionals, some eminent in their spheres, but they cannot see the truth. They never will, unless the Holy Spirit opens their blind eyes.

The story is told of how William Wilberforce once took William Pitt, Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister, a man of intellectual penetration and brilliance, to hear Richard Cecil, an evangelical minister of the gospel with a reputation for sweetness and clarity. As the brilliant Pitt came out of the church, having heard the gospel plainly and powerfully declared, he blinked in the sunlight. “You know, Wilberforce,” he said, “I have not the slightest idea what that man has been talking about.” What was missing? The blessing of spiritual enlightenment for which Wilberforce had been praying, a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit enabling even the most humanly brilliant of men to grasp the simple truth of the good news in Jesus Christ. Truly, the kingdom advances “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zec 4.6).

Let us not, then, fall into the sterilising error of mediate regeneration, but pray for the Spirit powerfully and savingly to accompany the Word preached.

An outline of the life of John Calvin #1 The early years

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(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  (Listen here or a slightly developed version here)

It is 500 years since God brought John Calvin into this world. During 2009, many Reformed churches and Christians in particular are remembering with gratitude this gift of Christ to his church. Publishing houses are producing books at a rapid pace of knots, articles, papers, conferences, and website and blog postings proliferate. But who was he? Perhaps for some who would or should know about this man of God, he is little more than a name on the pages of history: we are aware of him, but we do not know him. This brief biography is intended to provide an outline of his life sufficient to provide men and women of the Reformed and other traditions with some notion and understanding of the man we are remembering.

john-calvin1John Calvin was born on 10 July 1509, in a place called Noyon (about sixty miles north-east of Paris) in the province of Picardy (the wide, flat region in which the First World War’s Battle of the Somme would later be fought).  His father – Gérard Cauvin – held legal office in the service of the bishops of Noyon, and wanted his son to enter the church, an environment that had seen its fair share of storms in past decades, and would soon grow far stormier still.  Martin Luther was 26 years old in 1509, and already teaching at Wittenberg; Ulrich Zwingli was only two months younger than Luther.  Philip Melancthon was twelve years older than Calvin.  Henry VIII ascended to the English throne in the year of his birth.  In 1517, when Calvin was only eight years old, Luther would post his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church.

Calvin’s father used his influence to obtain for his son a chaplaincy at Noyon Cathedral when Calvin was 11 (a far from rare practice), and the income helped to fund his education.  The brilliant young man was privately tutored, before being sent to Paris at the age of 14 to study theology at the University.  He first attended the Collège de la Marche, then the Collège de Montaigu, where he received the equivalent of his Master of Arts in 1528 at the unusually young age of 17.  In God’s kindness, some of Calvin’s fundamental instruction was given by the brilliant Latin scholar Mathurin Cordier, and he obtained a first-class education.

At about the same time as he received his M.A., Calvin’s father changed his mind about his son’s future, and directed him from theology to study law at the University of Orléans.  It was here that Calvin learned Greek, and developed his powers of analysis and rhetoric – not unhelpful skills for a man whom God was making a minister of the gospel.  Within a year, Calvin was sufficiently advanced to begin teaching incoming scholars.

He moved on to Bourges in about 1529, returning to Noyon for the burial of his father, who had died quite suddenly.  Released from his father’s seemingly quite heavy governance, Calvin spread his wings as a humanist, publishing his first and only humanist work at the age of 23, a commentary on the younger Seneca’s De Clementia (On Mercy).  There is little evidence there of any Christian thought, but much of a brilliant mind and a firm grasp on a wide range of classical and historical source material.  In the same year, 1532, he received his doctor of laws degree.  Calvin’s fierce dedication to study during these years was near-legendary, but almost certainly laid the foundation for his subsequent struggle with ill-health.

But this was a significant year for more reasons than these: Calvin had been exposed to some of Luther’s teachings, which were by then widely circulated.  His own cousin, Jean Pierre Olivétan, had been attracted to Lutheran teaching, and Calvin had studied alongside Olivétan for a period.  But where and when, in the midst of all this, did God give Calvin a heart of flesh?

There is no reference to a human agent nor to a definite moment in the only plain record of this event known to come from Calvin’s own pen, which I give in a translation furnished by Robert Reymond.  It comes from Calvin’s “Preface” to his Commentary on the Psalms:

I tried my best to work hard [in the study of law], yet God at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence.  What happened first, since I was too obstinately addicted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, was that God by an unexpected [or ‘sudden’] conversion [subite conversione] subdued and reduced my mind to a teachable frame.  And so this taste of true godliness . . . set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies [in law] more coolly, although I did not give them up altogether.

Scholarly debate continues from all sides of the historical and religious spectrum as to the occasion, speed, and possible catalysts of Calvin’s conversion.  It does seem to have happened rapidly, although there are some evidences of and possible references to a longer preparatory period.  What we can say is that once it had occurred, there was no looking back.  With his customary tenacity and vigour of mind and heart, Calvin embraced the new teachings that accorded with the Word of the living God, and his life was never again the same.  So complete was the transformation that when his friend, Nicholas Cop, Rector of the University of Paris, delivered an address advocating reform of the church on All Saints’ Day of 1533, many thought that Calvin might be the true author of the piece (and it is possible that this was the case).  Not only did Cop have to flee, but Calvin himself was lowered by sheets from a window and escaped the city dressed as a manual labourer.

Calvin travelled on, finding rest where he could, and already being tracked down by friends (as well as hunted by foes) because of his gifts and understanding.  He studied the Scriptures, and by May 1534 had resigned his holdings in the Roman Catholic church.  By 1535 he was forced to leave France altogether, departing from the relative safety and scholarly enjoyments of a place called Angoulême, and heading to Basel in Switzerland.  There he wrote the preface for the French translation of the Bible made by his cousin Olivétan.  In France, some of Calvin’s dear friends were already dying in martyr’s fires at the hands of Francis I of France.  By 1536 Calvin had completed and published the first edition of what has become known as Protestantism’s magnum opus, his Institutio Christianae Religionis, or The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Repeatedly revised and expanded to its final form, this was originally a fairly brief outline of the true Christian faith designed to demonstrate to the persecuting French monarch the realities of the belief and lives of the Protestants of France (it was, in fact, dedicated to Francis I, opening with an extensive letter to the king).  At the young age of 26, Calvin’s grasp on the fullness of God’s revelation, and his genius for precise statement and comprehensive organization and systematization of the truth, were becoming more publicly evident.

Later that year Calvin moved on again to Italy with a friend, du Tillet, whose home at Angoulême had provided a temporary French hiding place.  A brief return to Paris followed, before Calvin headed to Strasbourg in July of 1536, determined to live a life with his head among his beloved books.  Avoiding a raging war between Francis I and Charles V of Spain, he took a long detour south, arriving in Geneva for an overnight stay.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  (Listen here or a slightly developed version here)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 January 2009 at 08:40

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