Category Archives: Church History

“Then Luther arose” by John Calvin

“At the time when 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;

when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ;

when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain;

when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation;

when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;

then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition.

The same course we are still pursuing in the present day.”

—John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, Trans. Henry Beveridge (London: W.H. Dalton, 1544/1843), 39-40.

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“The way of the cross is the Savior’s way” by D.A. Carson

“The way of the cross is the Savior’s way. Those who claim all the blessings of the new heaven and the new earth in the present time frame have not come to grips with New Testament eschatology.

True, the age to come has dawned, and the Holy Spirit himself is the down payment of future bliss; but it does not follow that all material blessings, prosperity, and freedom from opposition are rightfully ours now.

Even John, who of New Testament writers is most inclined to focus attention on the already-inaugurated features of the age to come, makes it clear that the Christian can in this age expect hatred, persecution, and even violence.

Perhaps this chapter, taken by itself, might prove depressing to some. It is helpful to remember that the biblical passage being expounded, John 15:17–16:4, does not stand in isolation. It is the counterpoint to intimacy with Jesus Christ and rich fruitbearing in the spiritual life.

To know Jesus is to have eternal life; and this is worth everything. In ultimate terms, the acclaim of the world is worth nothing. That is why the dark brush strokes of this passage, 15:17–16:4, far from fostering gloom and defeat, engender instead holy courage and spiritual resolve.

Meditation on these verses forges men and women of God with vision and a stamina whose roots reach into eternity. It calls forth a William Tyndale, who while constantly fleeing his persecutors worked at the translation of the Bible into English. Through betrayal, disappointment, and fear, he struggled on until he was captured and burned at the stake. His dying cry revealed his eternal perspective: ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!’

In a similar vein, William Borden prepared for missionary service in the Muslim world. Born to wealth, he poured his money and his example into missions. After the best of training at Yale University and Princeton Seminary, he arrived in Egypt to work with Samuel Zwemer. Almost immediately he contracted a terminal case of cerebral meningitis. His dying testimony did not falter: ‘No reserve; no retreat; no regrets.’

C.T. Studd, born to privilege, gifted athletically, and trained at Eton and Cambridge, turned his back on wealth and served Christ for decades against unimaginable odds, first in China and then in Africa. He penned the words:

Some want to live within the sound
of church or chapel bell;
I want to build a rescue shop
within a yard of hell.

This is the passion we need: a passion that looks at the mountainous difficulties and exults that we are on the winning side. By all means, let us face the worst: Christ has told us these things so we will not go astray.”

–D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 130-132.

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“The Word did everything” by Martin Luther

“The Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.

In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example.

I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.

And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it.

I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 51; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 77.

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“O the sweet exchange!” by The Epistle to Diognetus

“When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last His goodness and power.

O, the surpassing kindness and love of God! He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead He was patient and forbearing. In His mercy He took upon Himself our sins. He Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

For what else but His righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?

O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of One should justify many sinners!”

The Epistle to Diognetus, 9:2-­5, in The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 709–710.

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“A unique phenomenon” by Johann Nepomuk Huber

“Augustine is a unique phenomenon in Christian history. No one of the other fathers has left so luminous traces of his existence. Though we find among them many rich and powerful minds, yet we find in none the forces of personal character, mind, heart, and will, so largely developed and so harmoniously working.

No one surpasses him in wealth of perceptions and dialectical sharpness of thoughts, in depth and fervor of religious sensibility, in greatness of aims and energy of action. He therefore also marks the culmination of the patristic age, and has been elevated by the acknowledgment of succeeding times as the first and the universal church father.”

–Johann Nepomuk Huber, Die Philosophie der Kirchenväter (Munich, 1859), 312. Cited in Philip Schaff, “Prolegomena” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1 Ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 1:9-10.

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“Reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers” by Christopher Hall

“Learning to read the Bible through the eyes of Christians from a different time and place will readily reveal the distorting effect of our own cultural, historical, linguistic, philosophical and, yes, even theological lenses. This is not to assert that the fathers did not have their own warped perspectives and blind spots.

It is to argue, however, that we will not arrive at perspective and clarity regarding our own strengths and weaknesses if we refuse to look beyond our own theological and hermeneutical noses. God has been active throughout the church’s history and we rob ourselves of the Holy Spirit’s gifts if we refuse to budge beyond the comfort zone of our own ideas…

Many postmodern interpreters doubt the possibility of genuinely entering another’s world. I disagree, but realize the task is a formidable one, requiring certain dispositions on the part of the voyager. Foremost among these is humility– a willingness to admit that our own self-estimation is often inflated and exaggerated. We must be convinced that the church fathers, people who spoke differently and lived strangely– at least at first glance– actually have something they can teach us.

Our ability to learn from them will largely be determined by our willingness to remain quiet and simply listen, perhaps listen more fervently than we have for a long time. In turn, our willingness to listen will be influenced by our expectations, hopes, prejudices and presuppositions. Some of us, especially those unfamiliar with the world of patristic thought, will have to trust the testimony of many who have come before us or have recently discovered the riches of patristic exegesis…

Listening will not come easily. We will struggle to overcome deep-set suspicions. Past prejudices will need silencing. Some of us will be tempted to react too quickly to perceived error. We will need to familiarize ourselves with new words, themes and concepts. And yet the effort will prove rewarding if we persevere…

My counsel is to surround your entrance into the world of the fathers with humility, self-awareness, a listening ear, prayer and a sense of humor. It is better to chuckle at the periodic patristic quirk than to allow our self-righteous anger to wall off their insights. We are all prone to error. We are all quick to spot the exegetical log in our brother or sister’s eye.

We are all apt to be blind to our own weaknesses in reading Scripture. We are all hermeneutically disabled in one area or another.How can we hope to understand the Bible if we needlessly cut ourselves off from our own community’s reflection and history? We need one another and each other’s insights, past and present, if we are to understand the Bible. The desert fathers were especially sensitive to the necessity of humility and community if one was to comprehend Scripture…

We will occasionally find the fathers infuriating, dense and perplexing. At other times we will wonder, Why have I never seen this in the Bible before? Why was I never taught this? How could I have been so blind? In their best moments the fathers will lead us into a renewed sense of wonder, awe and reverence for God and the gospel. Through the fathers’ influence, prayer and worship may well become more frequent companions to our exegetical study.

And though greater familiarity with the fathers will periodically magnify their own weaknesses, our own blind spots will be much more clear to us because of the time we have spent with figures such as Augustine, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Ambrose or Gregory the Great. What are the blind spots in our culture or our own lives that need to be exposed to the light of ancient wisdom?…

Simply put, reading the fathers can be surprisingly relevant for the contemporary Christian because the fathers tend to grasp facets of the gospel that modern sensibilities overlook. They hear music in Scripture to which we remain tone-deaf. They frequently emphasize truths that contemporary Christians clearly need to remember.”

–Christopher Hall, Reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 35-38.

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“By comparison, we are pygmies” by Donald Macleod

“We can never be content with parrot-like repetition of the definitions of the past. Yet it would be presumptuous to speak before we have listened to the fathers. Men like Athanasius and Augustine, Basil and Calvin, are the Newtons and Einsteins of theology. By comparison, we are pygmies. Our only hope of far-sightedness is to stand on the shoulders of the giants.”

–Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 16.

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