Reformation Subjects (35)

The articles in this section cover various subjects relating to the great Reformation of the church in the 16th century, including the major Reformers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

Luther's Struggle for Assurance

This article was first published in the October 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer, a special Reformation issue commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Great Reformation and Luther's 95 Theses.

Luther's Struggle for Assurance

God in His wise and wonderful providence raises up special men and women for His church in special times. One such man was Martin Luther, as we well know.

What was special about Luther was not just his intellectual gifts and abilities, though they were outstanding, but also his acute spiritual sensitivities. Luther was a man through whom emotions rolled like great tsunamis at times, but emotions that were tied to an overwhelming God-consciousness, an awareness that afflicted his conscience in his early life to the point of despair again and again. Was there no way out for a damn-worthy sinner?

A God-consciousness with an acute sensitivity to sin that Luther never lost. A man raised up by God whose intense spiritual struggles with their resolution resulted in determining the very course of history and of Western civilization from the sixteenth century onward.

When it comes to the Reformation, our attention usually focuses on Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg on All Hallows’ Eve of October, 1517. The controversy that followed set in motion an avalanche that brought down not only Rome’s domination in ecclesiastical affairs, but changed the whole civil and social landscape of Europe, fragmenting Europe into Protestant versus Romish camps of loyalty. Nothing was ever the same in Europe once the fires of controversy sparked by Luther’s Ninety-five Theses began to burn across the continental landscape.

But we must understand that the controversy unleashed by the Ninety-five Theses was the result of a deep spiritual struggle, a ‘controversy’ that had taken place in Luther’s own heart and soul in the years prior to their posting.

The Ninety-five Theses drawn up to challenge Rome’s abuses and man-invented doctrines (largely meant to profit Rome’s financial interests) were preceded by another event that had taken place in Luther’s soul some four years prior, the exact date of which is not known (sometime in April or May of 1513 scholars think), known as the ‘tower experience.’

It was as he was studying Scripture, sequestered in a tower in Wittenberg, confronted again by that dread phrase “the righteousness of God,” a phrase found so often in the Psalms and Romans, that Luther, as if struck by a bolt of lightning from heaven, suddenly grasped the gospel significance of Paul’s statement in Romans 1:17 that “the just shall live by faith”, and that “therein is the righteousness of God revealed.”

Luther later described the event in these words:

Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven….”1

That Luther would describe the proper understanding of the phrase “the just shall live by faith” in terms of “rebirth” and “paradise” and a opening of the “gates to heaven” indicates just how deep his prior struggle with his own sin and guilt had gone, as well as with God’s holy, righteous character and just wrath. So deep as to despair of the possibility of his own salvation, and so overwhelming that he acknowledged later that he came not only to dread the phrase “the righteousness of God,” but that in time he came to hate it. It was a righteousness so high that it was bound to find fault with and defeat all of his attempts to please God by his most zealous, ardent labors of obedience and penance and contrition. Why even try?

A God, a so-called ‘Father,’ impossible to satisfy or please. And having required the impossible, this Al mighty God then judging one to have failed and punishing one for the failure. And then, evidently, taking pleasure in casting the guilty one into eternal torment. Who could speak of any hope for mercy to be found in such a demanding, even heartless, God?

Luther the monk, a tormented soul.

As we know, what drove Luther to seek refuge in a monastic order was a great thunderstorm that broke over his head as he traveled on an open road to Erfurt. As the lightening strokes crackled around him, he pled with St. Anne (the virgin Mary’s mother) to petition God to spare him, and if she would, he would take the vows of a monk. Luther’s dread certainty was that if he died at the age of 21, he would be consigned to eternal damnation, that was all.

Spared, Luther per his vow, entered an Augustinian order.

Whatever Rome’s theological weaknesses in Luther’s day might have been, challenging the truth of God as the almighty and righteous Judge, and calling into question the reality of everlasting punishment were not among them.

Roland Bainton has it nearly right when he states that under Rome’s influence “The entire training of home, school, and university [and monastery] was designed to instill fear of God and reverence for the Church.”2 It would be more accurate to say that Rome intended a child’s entire training “to instill a [dread] fear of God primarily in the interests of reverence for the Church and unquestioned submission to her bishops.”

Who will save a man from this dreadful, most righteous, judging God? Only mother Rome, mother Church. “You will do as we, the magisterium, say, or else we will turn you over to this God!” The whole emphasis of Rome’s theology was in the service of her own supreme authority and enrichment. Lack of assurance profited her. How much money will a man not give in exchange for his own soul when death looks him in the face? And in the late Middle Ages incurable diseases and death loomed like a specter over the whole of life, from the cradle on.

To use the wording of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 12), the great error of Rome was not her insistence that “…by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment.” Rome drove that home. The great error of Rome was her answer to the question, what is “…[the] way by which we may escape that punishment and be again received into favor?”

Rome’s prescribed ‘way’ had precious little to do with Christ and the mercy of God through His Son as the Mediator and sacrifice for sin and sinners.

To be sure, Christ by His blood and atoning suffering (as made by and taught in the mass) obtained a treasury of forgiveness and pardon. But now the great question: what had one done to deserve (merit, earn the right) to lay hold on that forgiveness and sacrifice for oneself?

For Rome, it was and is a matter of penance, and penance is a matter of doing. Have you done all that is required of you? And have you ever done enough?

This is why the conscience-stricken Luther (and many other earnest seekers of forgiveness and deliverance from hell fire) entered monasteries. There, through the discipline of their monastic order, they could devote the whole of their waking hours to prayers and devotions, to penance and afflicting oneself for one’s sins. There one could avoid the fleshly temptations that loom so large outside the cloister walls. There, free from worldly intrusions, lay the best possibility for doing what Rome required for earning forgiveness and being free of the corrupting influence of the fleshly appetites stimulated by the world. There a man’s righteousness could be obtained at last, or at least the assurance that God at last was satisfied with one’s sincere endeavors.

So Luther hoped.

It was not to be, not with Rome’s system of penance and merit, and not for a man with as acute a sensitivity to sin as Luther’s, and his knowledge of how holy and righteous God was.

Just how acute his spiritual sensitivities were is revealed in Luther’s account of his experience as he presided over his inaugural mass as a newly ordained priest in 1505 (age 23). He related:

When I read the words, “Thee, therefore, most merciful Father,” etc. and thought I had to speak to God without a Mediator, I felt like fleeing….

At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, “With what tongue shall I address such majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? …Shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, ‘I want this, I ask for that?’ For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God.”3

For a man with such an acute awareness of his own deep-rooted corruption and of God’s high righteousness, Rome’s system of penance offered no solace.

Lifting his analysis from Luther’s Table Talk, Bainton makes the following commentary about Luther and the inadequacy of Rome’s sacrament of penance, a sacrament that required that the penitent

…should confess all their wrongdoing and seek absolution. Luther endeavored unremittingly to avail himself of this signal mercy…. He confessed frequently, often daily, and for as long as six hours on a single occasion. Every sin in order to be absolved was to be confessed. Therefore the soul must be searched and the memory ransacked and the motives probed…. Luther would repeat a confession, and to be sure of including everything, would review his entire life until [his] confessors grew weary [of his recitation]….

…Luther’s question was not whether his sins were big or little, but whether they had been confessed. The great difficulty which he encountered was to be sure that everything had been recalled. He learned from experience the cleverness of memory in protecting the ego, and he was frightened when after six hours of confessing he could still go out and think of something else which had eluded his most conscientious scrutiny.4

With those who would speak critically of ‘this’ Luther, asserting that such a burden of guilt and fixation on failures ‘to measure up’ were simply the psychological residue of a man having been raised by a demanding and austere father (labeled a “father-complex”), we sharply disagree.

We do not deny that God used Luther’s upbringing to mold and shape facets of his character (as God uses every man’s upbringing to this end to some degree), but to relegate Luther’s conviction of his own deep-rooted corruption and unrighteousness before a just and holy God to the category of a “father-complex” is mistaken to the extreme.

The simple fact is that Luther’s fierce struggle with his guilt and unworthiness was not an indication of some lamentable psychological disorder, but was nothing less than the workings (stabs) of the Holy Spirit on the acutely sensitive conscience with which God had formed Luther from the womb. Luther was exactly correct in his self-appraisal, where every man, left to himself and his own labors, stands before God, worthy of eternal damnation.

And it was this deep internal struggle, bordering on despair at times, that drove Luther to go back to ponder again and again Paul’s statement that “the just (the righteous) shall live by faith.” Paul, the former blasphemer, seemed to ground all of his comfort and assurance, all his hope and joy in that truth. How could that be?

And then, when the Holy Spirit determined “The time is now!”, the gospel truth suddenly dawned on him. Suddenly, the scales fell from his eyes. Paul was not talking about the righteousness of God as God judges a man, but the righteousness that God grants to one who simply believes and puts his trust—the whole of his trust—in the atoning blood and sacrifice and perfect obedience of Christ.

And what righteousness is that? Nothing less than the “righteousness of God!” God’s own righteousness is granted and imputed to one who comes in faith. And if it is God’s own righteousness that is granted to one’s account, how can God ever find fault with that righteousness?

The just (those justified by God) shall live (escape the sentence of wrath and death, and go free) by faith. No need for meritorious works or trying to do enough, which will always fail. Simply believe God’s Word and work in Christ the Righteous one, and by faith lay claim to the righteousness God worked through Christ’s suffering, death, and obedience. No wonder Paul gloried not in his own works but in the cross, Christ crucified, and in Him alone. By faith alone means trusting in Christ’s atoning work alone.

All this God accomplishing in a most righteous and unassailable way. God’s own righteousness provided by God Himself for sinners standing in the need of mercy and grace.

That God had provided for sinners a perfect righteousness to make their very own in this manner was a revelation to Luther. This God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, was a most merciful Father after all.

Scales of blindness fell from Luther’s eyes. Peace and assurance flooded his soul. The gospel was made plain. Righteousness and mercy have kissed.

Luther had to tell others, which he did, in Wittenberg for four years as a Bible lecturer.

But it was this “tower experience” that drove him in the end to nail the Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, not only to refute and expose the monstrous errors of Rome that obscured and mutilated that liberating gospel, but also to begin to publish what had set his own soul free from its bondage of guilt and torment, so that others might glory in the same gospel of almighty God that he now did.

Thanks be to God for a man so spiritual as Luther.

1 Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), 65.

2 Bainton, Here I Stand, 27.

3 A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969), 28.

4 Bainton, Here I Stand, 54, 55.


Luther and the Church

This article was first published in the October 15, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer and was part of a special issue commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation.

Luther and the Church

Reformed ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) treats the following topics: the nature of the church, the gathering of the church, the attributes and marks of the church, the power and government of the church, and the means of grace of the church. In his ecclesiology, Luther disagreed with the other Reformers on some matters (especially on the sacraments), but in the main points there is considerable unity.

Luther was not a systematizer of doctrine. Unlike Calvin, he did not write an Institutes of the Christian Religion or his own dogmatics. Many of his works are polemical, written in the heat of the battle. Luther simply did not have time to engage in the quiet scholarship of a systematic theologian. This makes the task of seeking to define Luther’s doctrine of the church—or, for that matter, Luther’s doctrine of anything—a challenge. Luther’s Works are voluminous, but none of them is devoted to pure ecclesiology.

Nevertheless, we can identify some characteristics of Luther’s ecclesiology.

First, Luther was clear on the nature of the church. The medieval papacy defined the church as the pope and his clergy. The Roman church, therefore, was a hierarchical institution. Indeed, the common people as such did not constitute the church. In opposition to this, Luther viewed the church as the spiritual body of Jesus Christ made up of believers. In fact, insisted Luther, if the pope and his clergy are not believers (which is entirely possible, for Luther viewed the papacy as Antichrist), they are not the church at all. In 1537, Luther wrote in the Smalcald Articles, “For, thank God, [today] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (Part III, Art. XII). Elsewhere, in his Large Catechism, he wrote, “I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms” (Art. III).

What to us is obvious was to the ecclesiastical world of Luther’s day revolutionary: the church is the company of believers (and their children), or, as the pre-Reformer Jan Hus had expressed it, “the church is the company of the predestinate.” Such a definition of the church, when believed, was a deathblow to the pretensions of the Roman See. No wonder Luther was labeled a Hussite or a Bohemian heretic (Hus was from Bohemia)!

Second, Luther was clear on the attributes of the church. What Luther could retain from the ecclesiastical tradition that preceded him, he retained, if it was in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. Luther believed what Christians in every age have confessed in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe one holy, catholic church.”

Luther did not deny, or even attack (as his opponents alleged) the unity of the church. Luther never intended to create a second church to rival the Roman church. Luther denied that the Roman church was the church. It was, and had become, a wicked, degenerate counterfeit of the true church. What Luther did (and what Calvin and the other Reformers did after him) in establishing congregations on the basis of the Word of God was to continue the one church of Jesus Christ. Luther’s close friend and ally, Philip Melanchthon, wrote in the Augsburg Confession,

It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places (Art. VII).

For Luther, the holiness of the church did not consist in the superstitious piety of monks and nuns, or in the superficial holiness of ceremonies, pilgrimages, indulgences, and relics. Rather, the holiness of the church is a spiritual holiness worked in believers by the power of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God and the use of the sacraments. Therefore, for Luther, not only is the church holy, but the holiness of the members necessitates their membership in the church. Outside of the church holiness is impossible.

The Holy Ghost effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ…. I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: by the Christian church…. But outside of this Christian church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness (Large Catechism, Art. III).

In his commentary on Psalm 118, he writes:

Anyone who hesitates to boast and confess that he is holy and righteous is actually saying, “I am not baptized. I am not a Christian. I do not believe that Christ died for me. I do not believe that He took away my sins. I do not believe that His blood has cleansed me, or that it can cleanse me. In short, I do not believe a word of what God has declared of Christ and all Scriptures testified.” What kind of person thinks or says such things?1

Rome boasted in the church’s catholicity, by which she meant one hierarchical center (the Roman See) from which the “Vicar of Christ” ruled over all churches and all peoples. Luther rightly rejected this, for the Catholic Church is not where the pope rules (where Peter is, as Rome expressed it), but where Christ is, whether in Wittenberg, Germany; London, England; or Zurich, Switzerland. (Had the church spread further in Luther’s day, he would undoubtedly have included places in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, for example). “Where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church” (Large Catechism, Art. III). To turn that around, where Christ is preached (wherever that might be), there the Holy Ghost does create, call, and gather the Christian church. It is precisely because Christ is not preached under the papacy that there is no church there, her boasts of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity notwithstanding.

Third, Luther was clear on the marks of the true church. If the church is a holy assembly of believers, the marks of the true church must be pure preaching, because pure preaching creates believers and strengthens the faith of believers; and the faithful administration of the sacraments, because by baptism and the Lord’s Supper the faith of believers is nourished.

For Luther, the church was much more important than it seems to be for many modern evangelicals, many of whom despise the church by living in isolation from it. Carl Trueman explains: “For Luther, however, the idea that private Bible study might be a universal staple of the Christian life would have been bizarre: after all, few of his parishioners would have been able to read, even if they could afford a book.”2 “Luther’s piety was rooted in the gathering of the church, in the Word preached more than the Word read, and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”3

The preaching of the gospel was for Luther primary in the church, for in the preaching of the gospel the believer was confronted with Christ. Indeed, such a confrontation did not take place in the private reading of the Scriptures, at least not to the same degree and with the same effect. For Luther, this had important pastoral implications. Again, Carl Trueman beautifully sets forth the views of Luther: “The person whose life is falling apart and who is tempted to despair needs to know Christ, and knowing Christ requires knowing who he is and what he has done.”4 He will hear who Christ is and what Christ has done in the preaching in the true church. He will not hear it at home, and he certainly will not hear it in the false church.

Elsewhere, Trueman describes Luther’s church-orientated approach to counseling:

One could imagine a person seeking Luther’s advice for, say, struggles with assurance. Luther’s first question of him would almost certainly be, “Are you going to church to hear the Word and receive the sacrament?” If the answer came back in the negative, it is safe to assume that Luther would send the person away to attend church for a few weeks before he would consider giving him individual counsel. If the person had excluded himself from the objective means of grace, not only would spiritual problems be expected, but also Luther could really offer nothing else to help him.5

Let that be a warning (and an encouragement) to the struggling saint who is tempted to forsake the means of grace today!

Finally, Luther loved the church. His great grief was to see what he called the “Babylonian Captivity” of the church, and his great desire was to see the church restored to her biblical foundations. Above all, Luther saw himself not as a mighty Reformer, or even as a great spiritual leader, but as a humble yet thankful member of the church:

I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the faint-hearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who believe in the forgiveness of sins, and who suffer persecution for the sake of the Word which they confess and teach purely and without adulteration.”6

That, too, is our thankful confession. We love the church, for in the church we find Christ.

1 Cited by Eugene F. Klug in “Luther on the Church,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 47, no. 3 (July 1983), 197.

2 Carl R. Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 22.

3 Trueman, 23, emphasis added.

4 Trueman, 130.

5 Trueman, 120-121.

6 Klug, “Luther on the Church,” 201.


Ulrich Zwingli: Swiss Reformer (2)

This article first appeared in the September 1, 1992 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written by Prof. H. Hanko (professor of church history in the PRC Seminary) for the rubric "Cloud of Witnesses."

(Note: In the last article, we began to discuss Zwingli's work as a reformer. We continur that discussion now.)

Zwingli the Reformer

The Reformation spread through Switzerland in a way different from the spread of the Reformation in any other land. Upon a petition from a reformer or a group of reformers, the ruling Council of a Swiss city would order a disputation to which the public was invited. Reformers and Roman Catholic theologians would carry on the disputation by debating a specific matter of reform. In every instance where a disputation was held, the Council in charge made the rule that the disputation had to be conducted on the basis of the Scriptures alone. This put the Roman Catholics at a decided disadvantage, for there were very few theologians of note who knew anything about the Scriptures, while the reformers had studied them intensely. Further, it is obvious to any one that those Romish practices against which the Reformers protested simply cannot be supported by Scripture in any way. 

The first disputation in Zurich ended in a complete victory for Zwingli and his fellow reformers, and the Council instructed Zwingli "to continue to preach the holy gospel as heretofore, and to proclaim the true, divine Scriptures." 

Just prior to the disputation, Zwingli had published 67 articles of faith. This document is an important historical document because it constitutes the earliest declaration of the Reformed faith. A few articles will indicate some of the basic beliefs of Zwingli.

All who say that the gospel is nothing without the approbation of the Church, err and cast reproach upon God. 

The sum of the gospel is that our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, has made known to us the will of his heavenly Father, and redeemed us by his innocence from eternal death, and reconciled us to God.

Therefore Christ is the only way to salvation to all who were, who are, who shall be.

Christ is the head of all believers who are his body; but without him the body is dead.

All who live in this Head are his members and children of God. And this is the Church, the communion of saints, the bride of Christ, the Ecclesia catholica.

Christ is our righteousness. From this it follows that our works are good so far as they are Christ's, but not good so far as they are our own.

These truths are now very familiar to us, but if one will only think of writing them in the context of 1000 years of papal error, it will give him a sense of how great a work of God was performed in the Reformation. 

With the Reformation firmly established in Zurich, it quickly spread to other parts of Switzerland. From Zurich it spread to Glarus, Schaffhausen, Appenzell, and the city of St. Gall. The spread continued when the leading canton of Bern adopted Reformation principles and proceeded to introduce them into the cantons of Vaud, Neuchstel and Geneva - where Calvin was later to do his great work. In every case the Reformation came by way of a leading reformer working closely with Zwingli, and by a Disputation ordered by the Council. Of interest are the ten theses or Conclusions adopted as a confession of faith in Bern. They read in part:

The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, and abides in the same . . . . 

The Church of Christ makes no laws and commandments without the Word of God....

Christ is the only wisdom, righteousness, redemption, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world....

The mass as now in use, in which Christ is offered to God the Father for the sins of the living and the dead, is contrary to the Scripture. . . .

As Christ alone died for us, so he is also to be adored as the only Mediator and Advocate between God the Father and the believers.

Scripture knows nothing of purgatory....

The worship of images is contrary to Scripture.

All to the glory of God and his holy Word.

The high water mark of the Swiss Reformation was reached in 1530 when Zurich, Bern, Base1 and most of north and east Switzerland were Re- formed and no longer Roman Catholic. 

Two important events, in addition to his reformatory work, belong to this period in Zwingli's life. 

The first was the controversy with the Anabaptists. 

Anabaptism arose in Zurich during Zwingli's work there. It was a grievous threat to the well-being of the Reformation, for it was not only a doctrinal departure from the truth of Scripture, but it was, in some branches of the movement, a radical movement opposed to the authority of the magistrate and intent on setting up a kingdom of heaven upon earth.1 Zwingli and his followers were fiercely opposed to Anabaptism, as well they might be. But the secular magistracy, in cooperation with the Reformers, persecuted the Anabaptists severely, banishing them, imprisoning them, and in some instances, drowning them. Anabaptism continued to be a threat to the Reformation throughout the rest of the 16th century. 

As always, God uses the struggles and trials of the church for good. Though Anabaptism was a serious threat to the Reformation, it was the immediate occasion for the Swiss reformers to begin the development of covenant theology. In defense of the truth of infant baptism over against Anabaptism, the great truth of the covenant was set forth by Zwingli and later by other Swiss theologians. We who so deeply cherish the truth of the covenant do not look, in the first place, to Calvin as our spiritual father in this doctrine, but to Zwingli and the Swiss who worked with him. 

The other event of note was the Marburg Colloquy, held in the city of Marburg in 1529. Because of the threat of a united Roman Catholicism and the armies of Charles V, the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse wanted to unite all the Protestants in a common cause. To accomplish this, the differences between Lutheranism and the Swiss theologians had to be taken away. The Marburg Colloquy was called for this purpose. 

Luther, Melanchthon, and other German theologians were there. Zwingli and his colleagues in the Swiss reformation were there. Calvin did not come. It did not take very long to discover that the reformers from Germany and Switzerland were agreed on all matters except the doctrine of the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper - the Lutherans maintaining their view of consubstantiation, and the Swiss maintaining their position. Luther was harsh and unyielding. A story has it that he wrote in the dust on the table in front of him: "This is my body," so that he would not forget his insistence that the real body and blood of Christ were present in the sacramental elements. 

When agreement proved impossible, the Swiss delegates wanted to extend the hand of fellowship to the German theologians, but were rebuffed with the cold and cutting remark of Luther: "Your spirit is different from ours." Even Zwingli's tearful expression of respect and love for Luther could gain little more from the unbending reformer than a brief expression of regret that he had sometimes spoken overly harshly. 

Unity among Protestants was impossible.

Zwingli's Death

It is not difficult to understand that the Roman Catholics were not about to see Switzerland become entirely Protestant without some kind of opposition.

This opposition began by severe persecution of Protestants in those cantons that remained Roman Catholic. One Protestant was even burned alive. To relieve their oppressed and martyred brethren, the Protestant cantons were prepared to go to war with the Roman Catholic countrymen, forgetting the words of Jesus Himself: "They that fight with the sword, perish with the sword." 

The story is quickly told. In 1529 the Roman Catholics were in no military shape to wage war and so sued for peace. Zwingli urged strongly against peace and gloomily predicted that if the Protestants did not take the opportunity to fight the Roman Catholics when victory was almost assured, they would eventually lose. He proved to be right. 

The Roman Catholics used the peace given to strengthen themselves and prepare for war. A blockade, imposed on the Roman Catholic provinces by the Protestants, and which caused much suffering and even starvation, goaded the Roman Catholics to go to war in 1531. In this battle the Protestants were decisively defeated, and Zwingli, who had insisted on going along with his troops as their chaplain, was killed. 

Zwingli was stooping to console a dying soldier when he was struck on the head with a stone. He managed to rise once more, but repeated blows and a thrust from a lance left him dying. Seeing his wounds, he cried out: "What matters this misfortune? They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul." For the rest of the day he lay under a pear tree, hands folded as in prayer and eyes fixed upon heaven. Towards evening a few stragglers of the victorious army asked him to confess his sins to a priest. He shook his head to indicate his refusal. But after a bit one of the men, in the light of his torch, recognized him and killed him with the sword, shouting, "Die, obstinate heretic!"2 

The soldiers, joyful at his death, quartered his body for treason, burned the pieces for heresy, mixed the ashes with the ashes of pigs, and scattered them to the four winds. 

So died one of God's faithful witnesses. 

The spread of the Reformation in Switzerland was halted.

Zwingli's Importance

Zwingli was, in some respects, an anomaly. On the one hand, he was a reformer faithful to the Scriptures. He insisted on the sole authority of Scripture before Luther raised his voice in Scripture's defense. He taught emphatically salvation in Christ alone and in His perfect sacrifice. He emphasized strongly the truth of sovereign and eternal predestination and preached it from the pulpit. He correctly and vigorously opposed all the Romish practices contrary to Scripture. He was instrumental in laying the foundation for the beginnings of covenant theology. 

But, on the other hand, he never quite shook free from his humanism. He held to the end his notion that heathen men of renown could be saved. He taught that all children in the world who die in infancy go to heaven. And he continued to his last breath to admire Erasmus, that humanistic enemy of the Reformation. 

And, in his opposition to Romish masses, he went to the opposite extreme and taught that the Lord's Supper is nothing but a memorial feast, and that Christ's presence in the bread and wine are not different from the presence of one we love whose photograph we cherish and by which photograph we remember our loved one, but who has, nevertheless, gone on to heaven.

Ulrich Zwingli's place in the Reformation was to prepare the way for a purification of the Reformation in Switzerland where Calvinism finally developed and flourished.

1. For more information on the Anabaptists, cf. the special Reformation Day issue of the Standard Bearer of October 15, 199l. 

2. See Schaff, History of the Christian Church for details.


Ulrich Zwingli: Swiss Reformer (1)

Ulrich Zwingli

This article first appeared in the August 1, 1992 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written for the rubric "Cloud of Witnesses" by Prof. H. Hanko, professor of church history in the PRC Seminary.

Introductory note

We have come, in our discussion of important people in the history of the church, to the Reformation of the 16th century. If would be logical to begin with a couple of articles on Martin Luther and John Calvin. We have chosen not to do this, not only because both are well known to our readers, but also because many different and excellent biographies are available for reading. We intend, therefore, to write articles on lesser known men (and, perhaps, women) who were instrumental in bringing about the Reformation to which we are all the spiritual heirs.

Zwingli's Pre-conversion Life

In the midst of stunning Alpine beauty, in the Toggenburg Valley at Wildhaus, Ulrich Zwingli was born in a lowly shepherds cottage to the mayor of this small hamlet. He belonged to a large family - seven brothers (he was the third son) and two sisters. He was born seven weeks after Martin Luther, on January 1, 1484. 

Zwingli received his education in the leading universities of Switzerland and Austria, but was throughout under the influence of the humanism of the Renaissance. This is important, for Zwingli's humanism was to be an influence in his theology even after his conversion, and during the years of his reformatory work. The Renaissance was a movement which had begun in Italy a couple of centuries earlier and was characterized by a revival of learning, a return to the study of ancient Greek and Roman classics, and an exaltation of man. 

In Basel, Zwingli studied Latin grammar, music, and dialectics. In Bern he studied under Lupulus, the greatest classical scholar and poet in Switzerland and a leading humanist. In Vienna he studied scholastic philosophy, astronomy, physics, and the ancient classics. His education differed somewhat from that of Luther and was more nearly like the education which Calvin received; but all three reformers were highly educated men. One is reminded of how God often uses educated men in the church, for even Moses was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." 

Returning to Basel, Zwingli studied and taught, acquiring his Master of Arts degree in 1506. Two events in Base1 helped to shape his future life: He was taught by Thomas Wyttenback, a man deeply interested in the reform of the church; and he met Leo Jud, who was to remain his friend and co-reformer for the rest of his life. Both of these men turned his thoughts to reform in the corrupt church of Rome. 

Zwingli early showed remarkable ability as a musician, and in the course of his studies he learned to play with skill the lute, harp, violin, flute, dulcimer, and hunting horn. He made good use of this ability throughout his career and wrote a number of beautiful poems and songs. 

In 1506 his work as minister began. He was ordained to the priesthood in Glaurus, but had to buy off a rival candidate for the sum of 100 guilders. 

Some interesting things happened while Zwingli was in Glaurus. For one thing, he immersed himself in the pastoral ministry, preaching, teaching, doing pastoral work and caring for the spiritual needs of his flock in so far as he was able, for he was yet an unconverted man. For another thing, he spent a great deal of time in personal study, reading avidly the old Greek and Roman authors. To read the Greek authors, he taught himself Greek and became proficient in this language. His admiration for classical writers grew with his reading, and he developed the idea that the Holy Spirit must have operated beyond the boundaries of Palestine among the heathen philosophers, for their writings could only be explained in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit. In this respect he anticipated later views of the general gracious operations of the Holy Spirit among the heathen, taught by the defenders of common grace. Because of his vast learning and ability, he supervised the education of two of his brothers and of several of the noblest young men of Glaurus, who became firm friends and remained such through his years of reformatory work. During this period he also made three trips with Swiss soldiers into Italy and came to hate the Swiss practice of mercenary soldiers.2 

In 1515 Zwingli moved to Einsiedeln, where he continued about three years. During his stay in Einsiedeln he gradually came to understand the evil of many Romish practices. Especially the corrupt practice of indulgences came to his attention when a huckster by the name of Samson tried to sell his indulgences in Switzerland. It is interesting that at least two years before Luther's attack against indulgences Zwingli was preaching against them and condemning them vehemently from the pulpit. In this respect, as well as in other matters, Zwingli anticipated Luther, taught the same things Luther taught, although he developed his ideas independently. 3 

It was also in Einsiedeln that Zwingli made the acquaintance of the famous humanist, Erasmus, who, at about this time, published his first edition of the Greek New Testament. Zwingli was deeply attracted to Erasmus, visited him, became his friend, and invited Erasmus to Zurich in 1522, which invitation Erasmus declined. It is to Zwingli's credit that, while he agreed with Erasmus in many points, he repudiated Erasmus' semi-Pelagianism. 

While Zwingli was in Glaurus and Einsiedeln, he fell into the sin of fornication. That this did not affect his standing in the church is only evidence of how common the practice was; but Zwingli later repented of it with great anguish of soul and lived with the burden of it all his life. 

Zwingli never did free himself of his humanistic views, views which continued to influence his theology even when he became the reformer of Switzerland. All his studies had been from a humanistic viewpoint; he had read widely in classical literature; and his admiration for Erasmus all but guaranteed that humanism would play an important role in his thinking.

Zwingli the Reformer

Zwingli's conversion was probably a gradual one which began while in Einsiedeln, but which came to full expression in Zurich, to which he was called in the latter part of 1518. There were several elements which played a role in his conversion. Increasingly, as he saw the need for reform in the church, he came to hate the Romish abuses which destroyed men's souls. As his studies turned more and more to Scripture, he, even before Luther, saw that Scripture alone had to be the authority for all the faith and life of the church. In fact, when he began his ministry in Zurich on January 1, 1519, on his 35th birthday, he began a systematic exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. During the next four years of his ministry, he continued preaching systematically through the New Testament, going from Matthew to Acts, then to the Pauline and Catholic epistles, and then on to the other books, with the exception of Revelation. During the week he preached from the Psalms. 

In 1520 the plague struck Zurich, carrying off 2,500 people, about 1/3 of the populace. Zwingli was untiring in ministering to the needs of his flock, until the plague struck him down. From it he almost died, and by it God made him a new man. A poem he wrote at the beginning of his illness aptly depicts his faith.

Help me, O Lord, 

My strength and rock;

Lo, at the door

I hear death's knock.

Uplift thine arm,

Once pierced for me,

That conquered death,

And set me free.

Yet, if thy voice

In life's mid-day,

Recalls my soul,

Then I obey.

In faith and hope

Earth I resign,

Secure in heaven,

For I am Thine.

It was after his recovery that reform began in earnest. Once having become persuaded that Scripture was to be the only norm and standard of our life and faith, and of the life and faith of the church, reforms followed of themselves. But in Switzerland, reforms took place in a unique way. The pattern was: The reformers petitioned the magistracy to implement certain reforms; the magistracy called a public meeting or disputation to which were invited Roman Catholic theologians and reformers; both were required to defend their position on the matter at issue before the magistracy 4, which would then decide whether there forms were to be implemented. In these disputations it was common for the Council to rule that the debate had to be conducted on the basis of Scripture alone. 

The first disputation was held on January 29, 1523 before a public audience of over 600 people. As would almost always be the case in future disputations, it was also true in Zurich that the reformers easily won their point, partly because their position was the only one grounded on Scripture, but partly too because the Romish Church had no significant and knowledgeable theologians who could hold their own in open debate with the reformers. 

Victory followed upon victory, not only in Zurich, but also in other cantons of Switzerland where disputations were held. Lent was abandoned; clerical celibacy was declared unbiblical; the Bible was translated into the vernacular; images, pictures, and relics were removed from the churches; the churches were severed from the control of the papacy; the monasteries were dissolved; fasting was prohibited; the mass was replaced; the Lord's Supper was held at regular intervals5; discipline was established under the control of office bearers in the churches; biblical preaching was ordered in all the churches. 

Zwingli himself married. Because of the times, he married secretly. For two years only his friends knew of his marriage. In April, 1524 he married publicly. His wife was Anna Reinhart, a widow with three children. From this marriage, four more children were added to the family. It is clear from Zwingli's letters that his home life was a happy one and that his wife was a faithful help to him in his years of work in the church. 

- to be continued.

1. He later attempted to teach himself Hebrew, and, while he succeeded in a measure, he never became as skilled in Hebrew as in Greek. 

2. It was common in Switzerland for the men to hire themselves out to foreign armies. It is this practice which Zwingli came to hate, for the effects were spiritually demoralizing. The practice later became an issue in the struggles with Roman Catholicism, for the Roman Church supported the practice because of the vast revenues it brought into Switzerland, revenues some estimate as over $3,000,000.00 a year. From this practice dates the papal custom of having Swiss guards in the Vatican.

3. When Luther's writings later came to Zwingli's attention, Zwingli was impressed and encouraged because he had been teaching the same truths. A couple of examples are Luther's emphasis on the sole authority of Scripture, and the truth of sovereign predestination.

4. Which magistracy was generally a council of men. In the case of the first disputation in Zurich, the magistracy was the Little Council and the Large Council.

5. Four times a year, as we do today.


Luther's Doctrine of Justification (1)

This article first appeared in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.78, No.2), a special Reformation issue on the great Reformer Martin Luther.

Luther's Doctrine of Justification (1)

Entering Paradise: The Origin of Luther's Doctrine

It is impossible to talk about Luther's doctrine of justification without also talking about Luther's experience of justification. It is never the doctrine which comes first but the experience and enjoyment of the blessings of God. This was especially and remarkably true in the case of Luther. His doctrine of justification was the fruit of his coming by grace and by faith to know his own justification before God.

He tells the story of his own spiritual pilgrimage:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through its gates.1

This means, too, that the Reformation did not really begin with the posting of his 95 Theses, but with the reformation of Luther's own life; with a great and gracious work of God in Luther's own soul. It did not begin with a protest against abuses in the church, but with a God-given and biblical answer to Luther's own desperate question, "What must I do to be saved?" So it is always.

Not Fishing in Front of the Net: The Importance of Luther's Doctrine

As a result of his own experience Luther believed that the doctrine of justification was fundamental. It was for him "the sum of all Christian doctrine," the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. He considered the teaching of this doctrine of far greater importance than reform of practice and ritual in the church, and insisted that the reform in other areas would follow if the doctrine were brought home to the hearts of God's people:

We ... beg and exhort you most earnestly not to deal first with changes in ritual, which are dangerous, but to deal with them later. You should deal first with the center of our teaching and fix in the people's minds what they must know about our justification; that it is an extrinsic (external) righteousness—indeed it is Christ's—given to us through faith which comes by grace to those who are first terrified by the law and who, struck by the consciousness of their sins, ardently seek for redemption.... Adequate reform of ungodly rites will come of itself, however, as soon as the fundamentals of our teaching, having been successfully communicated, have taken root in devout hearts. These devout people will at once recognize what a great abomination and blasphemy that papistic idol is, namely, the mass and other abuses of the sacrament, so that it will not be necessary to fish in front of the net, that is, first to tear down the ritual before the righteousness of faith is understood.2

Reformation often fails because those who seek it do not remember that reformation of doctrine is first and fundamental, especially of such doctrines as these. They cry against abuses but show little or no interest in the doctrines of the church, and are even willing to see those doctrines compromised and cast aside, as the doctrine of justification has been by many evan-gelicals.3 Luther was right. Reformation of doctrine will bring reformation of life, but attacking various abuses will not bring reformation at all, but will be as vain as the kind of fishing Luther describes.

The Sweet Exchange: Luther's Understanding of Justification

At the heart of Luther's understanding of justification lies the "sweet exchange." He explains it thus:

Therefore ... learn Christ and Him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not, and have given to me what I was not."4

That exchange of our sins for Christ's righteousness, Luther understood to be by imputation. Our sins are charged to Christ and His righteousness charged to our account. Thus He was made sin for us and we were made righteousness in Him (I Cor. 5:21), the blessed result being that Christ is treated as Sinner in our place, and we treated as Righteous for His sake. Luther rejected the Romish teaching that righteousness is infused or planted in us and that on account of the resultant change of life we are justified. That, of course, is just another kind of work righteousness.

According to Luther, righteousness is given as gift, then to those who are in fact still sinners, and the one who receives that gift of righteousness is not yet cured of his sin. He is, when justified, at the same time both sinner and righteous (simul iustus et peccator):

We are in truth and totally sinners, with regard to ourselves and our first birth. Contrariwise, in so far as Christ has been given for us, we are holy and just totally. Hence from different aspects we are said to be just and sinners at one and the same time.5

Luther, therefore, often referred to this righteousness by which we are justified as an "alien" righteousness, a righteousness which comes from beyond this world, and which is unattainable by any human effort or merit. It is not only the righteousness of Christ, but of God in Christ. God gives us His own righteousness and Christ is the bringer of it, exchanging it for our sins, a sweet exchange indeed.

The Wedding Ring of Faith: Passive Justification

The exchange of our sins for Christ's perfect righteousness, according to Luther, takes place through faith:

By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride's. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than the death, his salvation more invincible than hell. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride, "without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word" cf. Eph. 5:26-27

of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2:19-20 says.6

According to Luther, that faith by which we are justified is entirely a work of God, and in no sense a work of man. By way of emphasizing this he often described justifying faith as passive:

For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness, that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works.7

By the use of the word "passive," however, Luther did not mean that justifying faith is without any activity at all. He did not deny that faith is believing and trusting, resting and relying upon Christ. Nevertheless, he believed that faith was first and foremost union with Christ, the marriage of Christ and the believer by which they become one flesh, the union through which the sins of the believer are actually transferred to Christ and the righteousness of Christ given to the believer.8

His emphasis continues to serve as a necessary antidote to the current teaching that makes faith another work. He was much nearer the truth than those who deny gracious justification by speaking of faith as a decision of man's own will or by suggesting that faith is man's response to a well-meant "offer" of salvation in the gospel. Of this Luther would have nothing:

For faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves.9

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith.... This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, "I believe"; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.10

Faith is grace, a gift of God, not man's work. What a lost truth today!

Cows Staring at a New Gate: Justification by Faith Alone

By way of defending gracious justification, Luther spoke of justification by faith alone. That one word "alone" ("sola" in Latin), was at the heart of his theology. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Reformation was a battle over that one word. It was that word especially that distinguished the Reformation doctrine of justification from that of Rome. It is the loss of that one word that marks the decline of the Reformation these days.

His emphasis on the word "alone" is seen in Luther's (German) translation of the New Testament. As a result of his own struggles to come to an understanding of Romans 3:28, Luther, in his translation of the book of Romans, added the word "alone" to the passage. In answer to the many criticisms he endured for this translation, he insisted that though the word was not found in the Greek or Latin it nevertheless expressed the meaning of the verse. He says:

Here in Romans 3:28, I knew very well that the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text; the papists did not have to teach me that. It is a fact that these four letters s o l a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate. At the same time they do not see that it conveys the sense of the text; it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous.11

Though the word was indeed the gate "into paradise" for Luther, he insisted that it was really not a "new gate" but a very old one — the gate pointed out by the best of the Fathers and by Paul. He was right. The opposition between grace and works is the opposition between faith and works (Rom. 11:6 and Rom. 4:16).

By this word "alone," however, Luther not only meant to exclude all works from the justification of the sinner, but meant to emphasize that salvation, of which justification was the heart, was by grace alone, and therefore also through Christ alone:

[Christ] must be all—the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. He must be the first stone, the stone on which other stones are placed and on which the entire vault or roof is constructed. He is the first, the middle, and the last rung of the ladder to heaven. Gen. 28:12

For through Him we must make the beginning, continue and conclude our journey into yonder life.12

His doctrine of justification, therefore, was not just born out of his own experience of that free and gracious gift of God's righteousness, but out of His love for Christ, the only Savior.

1. Helmut Lehmann, ed., Luther's Works (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House: 1959-1967), vol. 34, pp. 336, 337, "Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Writings." Many of the quotations from Luther's works were gleaned from Robin A. Leaver, Luther on Justification (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House: 1975).

2. Luther's Works, vol. 49, pp. 262, 263, "To Some Pastors of the City of Lubeck, Wittenberg, January 12, 1530."

3. Witness the publication, signing, and defense in 1994 of the document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," by a number of leading "evangelicals," which document finds no essential difference between the Romish and Protestant doctrines of justification. 

4. Luther's Works, vol. 48, p. 12, "Letter to George Spenlein, April 8, 1516."

5. Quoted from: Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman Press: 1988), p. 71.

6. Luther's Works, vol. 31, pp. 351, 352, "The Freedom of a Christian."

7. Luther's Works, vol. 26, p. 9, "The Argument of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians."

8. By the use of the word "passive" Luther also meant that the faith which unites us to Christ unites us to His suffering (the words "passive" and "passion" are related). Thus, too, justifying faith is far from inactive in that it shares, through union with Christ, in Christ's suffering. That suffering, according to Luther, included not only sharing in Christ's reproach and persecution, but in the agony of dying to sin and being killed by the law.

9. Luther's Works, vol. 23, p. 23, "Sermon on John 6:28, 29."

10. Luther's Works, vol. 35, p. 370, "Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans."

11. Luther's Works, vol. 35, p. 188, "On Translating: An Open Letter."

12. Luther's Works, vol. 24, p. 48, "Sermon on John 14:6."


Justification by Faith Alone: The Article of the Standing or Falling Church

Justification by Faith Alone: The Article of the Standing or Falling Church

 This article first appeared in the special Reformation issue of the November 1, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer.

Q. 70 What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which He pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in His sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Q. 71 How is justification an act of His free grace?

A. Although Christ, by His obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which He might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, His own only Son, imputing His righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is His gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Q. 72 What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and His righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Q. 73 How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and His righteousness.1

Five hundred years! On the 31st October 1517, in an attempt to have the issue of indulgences openly debated, Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses or propositions to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, under the title “Disputation to Explain the Virtue of Indulgences.” According to the Church of Rome, the church and specifically the pope had the power to dispense forgiveness or pardon from the punishment of sin. Such forgiveness was made available to sinners by way of the sale of indulgences. The purchase of indulgences was said to enable sinners to buy their way out of purgatory into heaven. It was not so much the concept of indulgences that initially agitated Luther, but it was the abuse of indulgences that led Luther to act in October 1517. Though it was not his intention, Luther’s ninety-five theses set in motion the sixteenth-century Reformation. However, it ought to be noted that the issue of indulgences was not the central issue of the Reformation. Underlying and connected to the issue of indulgences was the more fundamental and, ultimately, more distinguishing doctrinal issue of the Reformation, namely, justification by faith alone.

Indisputably, justification by faith alone was the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation. It was this doctrine that led to the fragmentation of the Christian church as it then existed; a fragmentation that not only has continued, but which has expanded in the intervening years. Why such a serious fragmentation? Because what was and what is at stake is the gospel itself! At issue in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the very basis of our salvation.

Justification by faith alone was a doctrine that Luther himself had already embraced prior to the events in Wittenberg in October 1517. It was a truth that Luther came to after a bitter internal struggle. Initially, Luther was of the view that he could earn his salvation through the keeping of the law of God. However, try as he might, he found no peace in his many pious exercises. In fact, the more he strove to keep the law of God, the greater he felt the weight of his sin. He could not escape altogether his anger, his envy, his hatred, and his pride. Luther identified with Paul’s words, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). At that time, he had yet to learn to add with Paul, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25).

In particular, Luther struggled to make sense of Paul’s words in Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Here is Luther’s own description of his struggle:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately on Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. 2

Luther had thought that “the righteousness of God” referred to the righteous demands that the law of God imposed upon sinners. By the grace of God, he came to realize that by the phrase “the righteousness of God” Paul was not referring to the righteous demands of the law, but to the righteousness that God had provided. To Luther’s relief, he discovered that “the righteousness of God” referred to the righteousness that God had freely and graciously provided in His Son! It was not a righteousness that any man could attain to by means of his own exertion and merit, but it was a righteousness that God freely granted to sinners on the basis of Christ’s merits and that sinners received by means of faith. Luther wrote,

I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.

In grasping the truth of justification by faith alone, Luther was delivered from the bondage of self-inflicted penance and enabled to drink in the fresh air of the grace of God. The doctrine of justification by faith alone was for Luther the sum and substance of the gospel, the core of his theology, the central truth of Christianity, the article of the standing or falling church, a truth never to “be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed.”3

Luther was not alone in his unswerving advocacy of justification by faith alone. In fact, there was no significant difference among the leading sixteenth-century Reformers as to the essential understanding of this doctrine. Like Luther, John Calvin maintained the centrality and importance of justification by faith alone. Calvin described the doctrine as “the main hinge on which religion turns.”

Why was this doctrine so important to Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers? Why was it so central to the Reformation? Why ought it to be of the utmost interest to the church today? Because this doctrine deals with how the guilt of our sins can be removed and how we can receive the forgiveness of God. This doctrine reveals the only way that sinners can be reconciled to God and how we can be viewed as righteous in His sight. These issues are intensely personal and go to the heart of our salvation. It should be appreciated that the controversy of the sixteenth-century Reformation over justification by faith alone concerned such fundamental and eternally important questions as: How can I be saved? How can I, as a sinner, possibly be reconciled to a holy and righteous God? How can I be declared righteous before God? On what basis will God pardon or declare a sinner such as me to be righteous in His sight?

This doctrine was central to the Reformation not only because of the fundamental importance of the subject, but also because of the sharp difference of views between the Reformers and the Church of Rome. In many respects, the difference of views was encapsulated in two different words, infusion and imputation.4

The essence of the charge that the Reformers levelled against the Church of Rome was that while she proclaimed accurately who Jesus Christ was and what He had accomplished with respect to the salvation of sinners, nonetheless she perverted the grace of God by maintaining erroneous views of the grounds on which and the process through which the blessings that Jesus Christ procured on the cross were conveyed to sinners. At issue was whether justification was wholly attributable to the grace of God and to the work of Jesus Christ, or whether it was proper to ascribe to men and to their endeavors an active and contributory role in salvation.

For the Church of Rome, the meaning of justification was bound up in the Latin root of the word. The word “justification” comes from the Latin verb, justificare. Justificare itself is derived from two other Latin words, justus meaning “justice” or “righteousness” and ficare meaning “to make” or “to do.” So justificare means literally “to make just” or “to make righteous.”5 Influenced by the etymology of the word, the Church of Rome viewed justification as the act of making a person to be just. Hence, the justification of a sinner was declared by Council of Trent (1543-1563) to be “not only the remission of sin, but also sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend that he may be an heir according to hope of everlasting life.”6

This view led that same Council to enact, among other things, the following canons:

If any one says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.7

These statements and declarations remain the position of the Church of Rome today.

The Church of Rome views justification as requiring an unjust person to be changed and to be made righteous. Rome acknowledges that men are fallen, and that they do not have the power within themselves to attain unto righteousness. In order for that to happen, Rome contends that men must be the recipients of grace, grace that they receive through the sacrament of baptism.

R. C. Sproul helpfully outlines Rome’s view: In baptism, the grace of justification, sometimes called the grace of the righteousness of Christ, is poured into the soul. This is called infusion. Without the assistance of the grace of justification, a person cannot be saved. Roman Catholicism teaches that you need to have the righteousness of Christ infused into your soul in order to be saved.8

Furthermore, as Sproul goes on to note,

…[I]n order to be saved, several things have to happen. First, you must cooperate with and assent to this grace to such a degree that righteousness truly inheres within you. This grace is necessary, but its presence alone is not enough for salvation. You must cooperate with it, agree to it, and work with it to such a degree that righteousness is truly in you. When that happens, you are placed in a state of justification before God. You remain in that state as long as you do not commit mortal sin.9

Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers repudiated Rome’s view of justification, identifying it as essentially the false doctrine of justification by the works of the law that Paul anathematized in Galatians 3-5. The Reformers viewed justification as a man’s legal or forensic state before God. It was to be declared righteous in the sight of God. They rejected Rome’s teaching of an infused righteousness and of grace working in the sinner in order that the sinner may attain unto justification. For the Reformers, justification was not an act of God that made the sinner to be holy. It was not concerned with the change of the sinner’s actual spiritual condition. Rather, it involved the righteousness of Christ being imputed to the sinner, Christ’s perfect righteousness being put to the sinner’s account. The righteousness by which a man is justified, as Luther put it, was a foreign righteousness. It was not his own righteousness; rather, it was the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

This is the view that is found in all the major Protestant Creeds. One may consult the Augsburg Confession, 1530, Article IV; the French Confession, 1559, Article XVIII; the Belgic Confession, 1561, Articles XXII & XXIII; the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563, Q & A, 60, 61; the Second Helvetic Confession, 1566, chapter XV; and the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643, chapter XI.

John Murray rightly declares,

Justification by faith alone is the jubilee trumpet of the gospel because it proclaims the gospel to the poor and destitute whose only door of hope is to roll themselves in total helplessness upon the grace and power and righteousness of the Redeemer of the lost.10

Too many churches that once stood squarely on the truth of justification by faith alone have fallen or are falling away from this fundamental doctrine of the Word of God. The front on which the warfare over this doctrine is being fought is expanding. No longer is the battle only against Rome’s false conception of justification by faith, but now the battle extends to those who propound the error of the Federal Vision.

Five hundred years on there remains a desperate need for Reformed believers to know the Scriptures and their confessional standards in order that they may defend this doctrine. The relevance and urgency of this doctrine cannot be overstated. Justification by faith alone must be confessed. Luther declared that justification by faith was, “the article by which the church stands or falls.” It is also true to say that justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which all shall personally stand or fall before the judgment seat of Christ.


1 Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/As 70-73.

2 Luther’s Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Muhlenburg Press, 1960), 34:336, 337.

3 Luther, Smalcald Articles (Part 2, Art. 1), in the Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 292.

4 R. C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, (P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2007), 2:41.

5 Sproul, Truths We Confess, 41.

6 John H. Leith ed., Creeds of the Churches (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1982), 411.

7 Leith, Creeds, Canon 9 and 11, 421.

8 Sproul, 42.

9 Sproul, 42.

10 Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1977), 2:217.


The Five Solas of the Reformation

The Five Solas of the Reformation

This article first appeared in the special Reformation issu eof the November 1, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer.

In the end, one little word divided the churches of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic of the sixteenth century. To borrow Luther’s language in his great Reformation hymn, “one little word felled” the corrupt Roman Catholic institute of his day. That one little word was “only,” or as it is in Latin, sola. The Reformers said “only” or “alone,” while Rome consistently said “and.” The Reformers included the word “only” in especially five important doctrines that they taught. These five statements gradually became known as the “five solas.

The Reformers said that the authority in the church is sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture alone. Rome said that the authority in the church is Scripture and tradition. The Reformers said that Christ is our only Mediator, solus Christus. Rome said that men have many mediators: Christ and angels, saints, and the Virgin Mary. The Reformers said that we are saved by grace alone, sola gratia. Rome said that we are saved by grace and on account of human merit. The Reformers said that we are saved by faith only, sola fide. Rome said that we are saved by faith and by our own works and free will. The Reformers said soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory. Rome said, in effect, that the glory for salvation is partly due to the grace of God and partly due to the sinner. Throughout, Rome insisted not on “only” or “alone,” but on “and.”

Still today, this is the one little word that distinguishes the churches that are faithful to the Reformation from the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, this is an indicator that a church has departed, as well as the degree to which it has departed, from the Reformed faith. Is it maintaining the word “only” in the same areas and with the same tenacity as the Reformers did? If not, it has not only departed from its Reformation heritage, but it is on the slippery slope that leads back to Rome. So serious a matter are the five solas!

The five solas encapsulate the Reformation. They demonstrate what the Reformation was about and why the Reformation was necessary. From five points of view, they summarize the gospel that was restored to the church through the Reformation. And they provide the rationale for the Reformation. They account for the tremendous sacrifices that Reformed believers then and now are willing to make, even “letting goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” So highly did the Reformers and the churches of the Reformation value these five doctrines and the pivotal place they occupied in the life of the church. Do we value them as highly as they did?

Sola Scriptura

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16, 17).

The first of the five solas is sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. The Reformers taught that Scripture alone is the final authority. No one and nothing are above Scripture, nor may be placed as an authority alongside of Scripture. Scripture is the authority for the individual believer, as well as for the church as a whole. It is the authority over faith, what we believe, and it is the authority over practice, how we live our daily lives. Scripture is also determinative for the worship of the church, so that every element of worship is to be derived from Scripture.

The Reformers rejected Rome’s elevation of other authorities alongside the authority of Holy Scripture. Rome taught that the Bible is an authority in the church, in fact, a very important authority in the church. But the Bible is not the only authority. The authority in the church is the Bible and tradition, which tradition includes the writings of the church fathers, the decisions of the churches councils, the decrees of the pope, and the writings that the Roman Catholic Church added to the Bible known as the Apocrypha.

When the Reformers insisted that the Bible alone is the final authority in the church, they did not reject tradition altogether. In fact, the Reformers had the highest regard for church tradition, as well as for the decisions of many past church councils, like Nicea and Chalcedon. But they honored tradition only in so far as tradition agreed with Scripture.

The Reformers honored Scripture as the highest authority because they believed the Bible to be the divinely inspired Word of God. Scripture is the authority in the church because Scripture alone is the very Word of God. Thus, it is capable of functioning as the supreme authority in the church.

Sola Scriptura is the first sola for good reason. All the other solas depend on the first sola. They are all derived from sola Scriptura. Scripture teaches that Christ is the only Savior. Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. And Scripture teaches that to God alone must be all the glory. If Scripture is not the only authority, the other four solas fall to the ground.

I am bound by the Scriptures and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen. (Martin Luther, “Luther at the Diet of Worms,” in Luther’s Works: The Career of the Reformer, 32:112-3.)

Solus Christus

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5).

The Reformers insisted that Scripture proclaims Christ as the only Savior of sinners. As one with the Father, the very Son of God, He does everything that is necessary for our salvation. Jesus leaves nothing undone or partially done, so that we need other saviors and additional mediators alongside of Him. Christ’s saving work was complete and effectual. He accomplished everything on account of which He had been sent into the world by the Father.

Because Jesus is the only Savior, who has fully accomplished all of our salvation, the Reformers objected to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass as a perpetual re-sacrificing of Jesus, and the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was necessary for the re-sacrificing of the body and blood of Jesus. Such a sacrifice is not only unnecessary, but is a blasphemous denial of the finished work of Christ and an accursed idolatry. Thus the Reformers swept away not only the mass, but the whole Romish priesthood, which priesthood was necessary for the re-sacrificing of the body and blood of Jesus. The finished work of Christ, our great and only High Priest, fulfilled all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and eliminated any further need for a priesthood. Rome’s priesthood, with its sacrifice of the mass, is a perpetual and public denial that Christ alone is our Savior.

Jesus’ merits are the only propitiatory merits that take away both the guilt and the punishment of our sins. Rome taught that the merits of the saints, and especially the merits of the Virgin Mary—merits that had accumulated through their works of supererogation—are merits that are at the disposal of the church. The church distributes these merits through the purchase of indulgences. Or there were indulgences to be earned simply by paying to observe all kinds of relics of the saints, collections of which could be found in every major city throughout Europe in the sixteenth century. The Reformation demolished the whole system of indulgences on the basis of the truth that Jesus is the only Savior. His merits alone, no other merits, are the basis for our salvation.

In short, whoever wraps up two kinds of righteousness [Christ’s and our own] in order that miserable souls may not repose wholly in God’s mere mercy, crowns Christ in mockery with a wreath of thorns. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John T. McNeill, 3.11.13; 1:743.)

Sola gratia

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8, 9).

The Reformation, like the gospel, proclaimed the grace of God. Salvation is by grace, has its source in grace, and is the ultimate expression of God’s grace. God saves those who are undeserving of salvation and unable to accomplish their salvation. Salvation is from beginning to end the work of God alone. Sinners are saved, are the passive recipients of salvation, and receive salvation from God. Salvation is not earned, but is a gift of God that is freely given.

That salvation is by grace is due to the fact that the source of salvation is in the eternal will of God. Not the free will of the sinner, but the sovereign will of God is the cause of salvation. That is the ultimate reason on account of which salvation is by grace. The Reformers taught the truth of predestination—double predestination, both election and reprobation. Although a number of early church fathers taught predestination, over time prominent Roman Catholic theologians had buried the doctrine; some even openly opposed it. Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers restored to the church the truth of sovereign predestination. Because salvation has its source in God’s everlasting counsel, salvation is clearly gracious.

Over against the teaching of sola gratia, Rome taught that the salvation of sinners is due, at least in part, to merit. We are saved by grace, but not by grace alone. The grace of God cooperates with man, so that salvation is due partly to the grace of God and partly to human merit. That may be the sinner’s own merit or the merits of the saints, which merits are available through purchase from the church. The Reformers rejected this teaching. They asserted that salvation is monergistic, not synergistic; it is the work of God alone, not God and man.

They who assert free will are denying Christ. For if it is by my own effort that I obtain the grace of God, what need have I of the grace of Christ in order to receive it? Or what do I lack when I have the grace of God? (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, in Luther’s Works: The Career of the Reformer, 33:279.)

Sola fide

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28).

Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith is the instrument, the “alone instrument,” to use the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF, 11.2). The righteousness on account of which we are righteous before God is not an innate righteousness. The righteousness on account of which we are righteous before God is not an acquired righteousness. But the righteousness on account of which we are righteous before God is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. That righteousness is ours by faith and by faith alone.

Rome taught that we are righteous before God partly by faith. Righteousness is ours by faith and by the works of faith. Faith and the good works that faith produces together constitute our righteousness before God. The Reformers rejected Rome’s teaching about faith and insisted that we are righteous by faith alone. Well known is the controversy that Luther raised when his German translation of the Bible appeared in print. Luther translated Romans 3:28 by adding an “alone” that is not in the original text. His translation was: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the law.” Luther knew very well that “alone” was not found in the original and that his insertion could not be justified by an appeal to the text. At the same time, although he had transgressed the boundaries of a faithful Bible translator, there is good reason for Luther’s insertion because of the sense of the passage. As Luther pointed out, by contrasting as he does faith and the deeds of the law, and by insisting that we are righteous by faith and not by the deeds of the law, Paul is teaching justification by faith alone.

What underscores the truth that we are righteous by faith alone and not by our own works is the truth that even the faith by means of which we are justified is the gift of God. He gives and He works faith in the elect. That is grace!

You farther see how faith and the merits of works are contrasted, as things altogether contrary to each other. As then trust in works is the chief hindrance, by which our way to obtain righteousness is closed up, it is necessary that we should wholly renounce it, in order that we may depend on God’s goodness alone. (John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Comments on Romans 9:32.)

Soli Deo gloria!

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:36)

The Reformers taught Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone because they had a zeal for the glory of God alonesoli Deo gloria! They understood this to be the overarching teaching of Scripture. They saw this to be the great goal of the saving work of Christ. And they were convinced that this was the purpose of salvation by grace and through faith, that God, and not any man, must be glorified—God alone!

For this reason they objected to Rome’s teaching of merit and works-righteousness. It gave the glory for salvation, at least in part, to the sinner himself. For this reason, they objected to the papacy. Not so much that it introduced hierarchy into the church, although it did. But more seriously, the papacy attributed to man the glory that is due to God alone.

God is to be glorified for salvation, not only by performing certain rituals and rites, but by an entire life lived to the glory of God. The apostle says in II Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” That is the Christian life and the Reformed view of the Christian life: soli Deo gloria!

The Gospel proclaims the glory of God alone. It follows that we are foolish and lost sinners, because the glory of God is not set forth unless we ourselves are confounded. The papists do not want this confounding, yea, they ascribe a part of righteousness to their own glory, and therefore they cannot bear the Gospel. It is the office of an evangelical preacher to proclaim the glory of God alone. (Martin Luther, “Lecture on Isaiah 49:3,” in Luther’s Works: Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66, 17:172.)   


Semper Reformanda: “Reformed and always being reformed”

This article first appeared in the special Reformation issue of the November 1, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer.

Semper Reformanda: “Reformed and always being reformed”

One of the less familiar treasures—and yet a great treasure—of our Reformation heritage is expressed in the theme, “Reformed and always being reformed.” Abbreviated in Latin, the expression is Semper Reformanda.1 Even if it is less familiar than some other themes like Sola Scriptura or Sola Gratia, “Always being reformed” is a fundamental aspect of our Reformation heritage. But the expression is less familiar because it did not develop until after the Reformation. Yet, without it we are not fully or genuinely Reformed.

The historical origin of the motto is unclear. An otherwise obscure preacher, the Dutchman Jocodus van Lodenstein, is thought to be the first to have used it. Van Lodenstein was a “Second Reformation” preacher whose emphasis was on the reformation of personal piety. This “Second Reformation” (from about the time of the Synod of Dordt till about 1750) is sometimes referred to as the “Further Reformation” because it was an effort to apply the principles of the sixteenth-century Reformation further—now to the personal lives of the church members. The Reformation went far, these leaders believed, but not far enough. The church was reformed; now Christian lives must be reformed. Emphasis must be given to piety. According to one view, then, “always reforming” refers to the progress Christians must make in personal sanctification.

Important as private piety is, “always being reformed” refers not to personal reform but to church reformation. The expression, which was not popularized until the 1900s, has come to be phrased: the Reformed church must continue to be re-formed by the Word of God. Not necessarily to the extent of the sixteenth-century Reformation in which wholesale changes were required and radical reforms took place. But reformation where necessary.

And Reformed believers agree that reformation is always necessary. Always in Latin is semper. Over the course of generations, there is always deformation, which calls for constant reformation. Agreeing with this enables one to say that, if a church is unwilling to subject herself to reform—that is, examine herself constantly according to the Word of God, and regularly conform her faith and life to that Word; that is, always “be re-formed”—she is unworthy of the name Reformed.

A mandate from where?

Interestingly, the church receives no explicit warrant for constant reformation from the confessions. Indeed, in the confessions is repeated exhortation to personal reformation, correction, and change that must always be “more and more.” But the confessions do not call the church to a constant self-examination and correction according to the Scripture. At least not explicitly as we might want. Which makes sense, because the confessions are not a reflection on the process of church reformation.

Yet the biblical warrant for such activity is clear.

Bible history is unmistakable: the natural inclination of the church was to depart, decline, degenerate, apostatize, become unfaithful. Usually this took place gradually; at times in only a generation or two, as in the days of the judges. But the cycle is clear: a generation arose that knew not the Lord; the Lord sent His judgments to chasten the church; the Lord sent a deliverer to restore and reform them. So it went in the days of Israel’s kings. And so it was in the days of the Lord’s earthly ministry. The church had once more deformed. So Jesus battled His entire ministry against the Pharisees, who had so badly corrupted the church that she was hardly recognizable. And so it went in the time of the Middle Ages, until the Roman Catholic Church had become the false church and reformation was again necessary.

Jesus’ letters to the churches in the book of Revelation remind us of this tendency to atrophy. Sardis, “the dead church with the dead minister” as Herman Hoeksema described it, is but one of seven churches whose letters give strong warning about church deformation. The weaknesses and departures of these churches are found in every generation.

Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 5:20-22) can be read with this in mind. The King James Version reads: “Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” A legitimate way to interpret the passage is to paraphrase it thus: “Do not despise all preaching (‘prophesyings’) because of error in some of it. Rather, test (‘prove’) all of the preaching by the Word of God. Hold fast to what is truth in it. Reject (‘abstain from’) every form (‘appearance’) of evil in it.”

What Paul mandates in Thessalonians is what we understand by the expression Semper Reformanda. The church always engages in self-examination in the light of Scripture. As she does, she holds fast to her confessions, practices, and traditions that are biblical, and corrects and changes what has become corrupt. Only, of course, according to the infallible standard of Holy Scripture. Thus, the Reformation theme Sola Scriptura.

Resisting reformation

Because of our sinful tendencies, we do not like to examine ourselves ecclesiastically any more than a husband likes to examine himself with regard to his care of his wife. And if husbands bristle when a suggestion for correction and improvement is made, it is not surprising that churches, especially church leaders, become angry when confronted with the possibility that they have failed or must be corrected.

But also that is the story of church history. What age ever underwent reformation without greatest struggle? Who ever was able to be God’s instrument of reform except he was resisted, at times violently? Think of the times of the judges and of the kings. What happened to the prophets who called for reform? Observe Jesus’ ministry among the Pharisees, the ‘conservatives’ in His day. Remember the threats against Luther. Violence exalts itself against this reforming work of God (see the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 48).

But rather than looking outward at this point, wondering who out there will resist our efforts to reform them, let us ask ourselves whether we are willing and able to engage in this important exercise of self-examination according to God’s Word. Are we willing to submit to painful corrections? If we are not willing, then someday 95 theses may be nailed on our church door, or someone may enter our sanctuary and turn our tables upside down. Will we be like the masses who considered Luther and Calvin innovators, but were completely unaware that innovations had been taking place incrementally in their own church for generations, and that Luther and Calvin were God’s instruments to bring the church back to her origins?

So what unhealthy signs may be found among us? Are we offended when even a question is asked about current practices? Is it thought a sign of impiety or weakness to scrutinize any tradition for correction or improvement? Is all change considered departure? A proposal that in a certain area of teaching or practice there could be improvement, even correction, is met with what kind of angry resistance? Let us examine ourselves regarding a willingness to be reformed. Semper Reformanda.

Always changing?

How the resistance appears is predictable: “You only want change. You always want change! You are tempting the church to abandon the traditions and walk on new paths. You are leading the church astray.”

Of course, this response carries some weight in our hearts because there is another danger churches face—the sentiment in the church that always craves change and fancies change for the sake of change. The church must not always want change.

At this point, the full expression of the slogan Semper Reformanda helps. “The church that is Reformed is always in need of being re-formed according to the Word of God.” The believer starts with being Reformed. The right to the name Reformed belongs to those holding the historic Reformed confessions, maintaining historic Reformed church government, Reformation worship practices, and the old Reformed view of the Christian life. Being Reformed is to start with the traditions and to resist the penchant to start from scratch in every new generation. Being Reformed is to battle those spirits who ignore the foundations built by our fathers. We start there. Reformed with a capital “R.”

Never changing? (We are not ‘conservatives’!)

We start with being Reformed. But we do not stop there. And there is the problem for the others. They want to stop with what we have, are satisfied with the status quo.

So pastors and elders must teach their flocks that not every change is the first step to complete apostasy. They must train a generation of young people not to assume that, with the first hint of change, the sky must be falling. The healthy generation is wary of change, but not unwilling to reform. We must raise a company of believers willing to do the hard work of examining the church, in every generation, to see if there be “any wicked way in her.” We pray for a generation with a discerning eye, able to distinguish between biblical tradition and mere custom. They must be able to know the difference between the old paths as Jeremiah called us to walk in, and old paths that are not so old after all, but a digression from the right way that started, maybe, a hundred or so years ago.

If the Lord does not give us such a generation of Reformed believers, the church will slowly lose the Reformation motto Semper Reformanda and adopt, without thinking, the Roman Catholic motto Semper Eadem— always the same—a motto not only erroneous, but ruinous. The poor people in the Roman Catholic Church! They naively supposed that Rome was the same as she had always been from the apostolic age. They trusted their leaders who were “conservative.” But they were conserving the wrong traditions.

We do not want to be known as ‘conservatives.’ Remember the old wit who said, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” We are not Conservatives. We are, and want to be known as, Reformed. Semper Reformanda.

Read history

The remedy for the unwillingness to be re-formed is the knowledge of history. And not only knowledge of history, but interest in studying history. And not merely the history of the last two generations, or of one’s own denomination, but of the catholic Christian church world-wide for the last 2,000 years.

The generation that arose in the days of the judges did not know the Lord because they did not know history, that is, “the works which he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). The followers of the Scribes and Pharisees did not know history, so had to learn from Jesus that “from the beginning it was not so.” When God used Luther and Calvin to reform the church, He did so by leading these men to history, to the sources, ad fontes! Their knowledge of the church fathers, their appeals to Augustine and others in the ancient church, were powerful weapons in their struggle for reformation.

The church today ought to be profoundly thankful for every faithful school teacher of church history, who not only teaches the young people the facts of history, but instills in them a hunger for reading and studying.

Then, some day, when these knowledgeable and, by then, mature adults examine our church with the Word of God, and conclude that they must propose correction, improvement, development, change, we meet them not with an alarmist fear, but a sober desire to follow the good old tradition of a willingness to be re-formed. “Reformed and always being re-formed.” Semper Reformanda.

1 The reader will notice that, in this article, I use Reformed with a capital “R” to give a name to churches of a particular heritage; and reformed with a lower case “r” to refer to an action performed upon that church. Thus, ‘Reformed and always being reformed’ means: a Reformed church must always submit herself to reform. To make this clear, at times I will hyphenate the word re-formed to emphasize the action performed upon a church.  


Heinrich Bullinger: Covenant Theologian

This article first appeared in the August 1993 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.69, #19) and was written by Prof. Herman Hanko, professor of church history and NT studies in the PRC Seminary.


Heinrich Bullinger: Covenant Theologian


The truth of God's covenant is part of our precious Reformed heritage as Protestant Reformed Churches. We are not always aware of the fact that this truth goes back to the time of the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation this truth was unknown; it has its roots and origin in the Reformation in Switzerland, particularly in the work of Zwingli and Bullinger. It is to the latter that we call attention in this article.

Early Life

Heinrich Bullinger was born on July 18, 1504, the youngest of five sons, to a parish priest in Bremgarten, Switzerland near Zurich. Bullinger's father, though a priest, was married - in keeping with the loose enforcement of vows of celibacy which Rome required of all its clerics. Although not much is known of Bullinger's parents, Bullinger's father, when a very old man, came to believe and confess the doctrines of the Reformation, probably under the influence of his gifted son. 

Bullinger began his formal education in the school of The Brethren of the Common Life in Cleves. His father gave him no money, believing that poverty was necessary for his son to develop good habits in life. Bullinger, like Luther, was required to sing to earn money to support himself.

During these studies Bullinger wanted to enter a Carthusian monastery; but was dissuaded by his brother. Instead, in 1519 he went to Cologne, Germany where he earned a BA in 1520. At Cologne Bullinger studied the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages, but soon became so disgusted with them that he turned to the church fathers, particularly Chrysostom and Augustine. The one point which impressed him in the writings of these church fathers was their copious use of Scripture. Spurred on by their apparent determination to ground all their doctrine in God's Word, Bullinger turned to a study of the Scriptures. It was this study of Scripture which enabled Bullinger to read the writings of Martin Luther with pleasure, as they were then being circulated throughout Germany. 

After earning his master's degree in 1522, Bullinger returned to his beloved Switzerland. Although already influenced by Reformation thought, he accepted a call by Wolfgung Riipli, abbot of a monastery in Cappel, to teach in the cloister school. He taught the monks from the New Testament and from Philip Melanchthon's Loci Communes.1 

Sent to Zurich, where Zwingli preached, Bullinger spent five months listening to Zwingli, perfecting his Greek and beginning his studies in Hebrew. It was here that he became more thoroughly acquainted with Reformation distinctives. The result was that, when he returned to the cloister school in Cappel, he persuaded the abbot and all the monks to accept the teachings of the Reformation. 

In 1529 Bullinger was called to be minister in the church at Bremgarten, where he succeeded his father as pastor. Here he preached until the battle of Cappel, when Zwingli was killed and the Reformation in Switzerland was brought to a temporary standstill. In these years at Bremgarten he developed his skills as a preacher and pastor, and served the congregation well. But when Zwingli was killed in 1531, Bullinger was forced to leave his congregation. His absence from the pulpit, however, was brief, for he was soon called to be Zwingli's successor in the prestigious congregation of Zurich. Here he remained till the end of his life. Here, in the early years of his ministry, he preached six or seven times a week; later, only on Friday and on the Lord's day.

His Work

The death of Zwingli seemed to be a deathblow to the Reformation in Switzerland, but God provided for the churches there a man who could keep a steady hand on the tiller.

Bullinger was a devoted pastor, not only as a powerful preacher, but also as a faithful shepherd who visited his sheep day and night, opened his house to all who needed help, exposed himself to dangers when he visited those who were struck down by the plague that several times visited Zurich, and brought comfort and strength to the dying.

Although he lived on a very meager salary, his charity was known throughout the country. He freely distributed money, food, clothing. He refused any gifts, but gave anything beyond his salary to hospitals and institutions of mercy. He nearly always had in his home strangers and exiles for whom he provided shelter and food.' He secured a pension for Zwingli's widow, took her under his roof, and assumed responsibility for the education of Zwingli's two children. His Christian love and charity brought him the respect and devotion of all his parishioners. 

Bullinger was deeply committed to Christian education. He served as superintendent of the schools in Zurich. He was instrumental in the staffing of the Seminary with able theologians. He actively participated in the regulation of the schools according to the Word of God. 

Bullinger was a devoted family man. In 1529 he married Ann Adlischweiter, a former nun from Zurich, and with her had several children. His biographers speak of the fact that his home was a happy place, in spite of the fact that almost always strangers were lodging with them. He romped with his children and grandchildren and was deeply conscious of his covenant calling to teach them the ways of the Lord. When his parents could no longer care for themselves, Bullinger and his wife cared for them in their own home.


After Zwingli's death, Bullinger became the theologian of the Swiss churches.2 

The Swiss Reformation, outside Geneva, produced two remarkable and beautiful confessions: The First and the Second Helvetic Confessions. The First Helvetic Confession was the work of Bullinger, along with several other theologians: Megander, Grynaeus, Myconius, and Leo Judd. The Second Helvetic Confession was Bullinger's personal work, written as a personal confession of faith, and adopted by the Swiss Churches in 1566.3 

When controversy rose in Switzerland over the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, Bullinger not only defended the Reformed view against Lutheranism, but also worked with John Calvin to bring uniformity among the Swiss. The result of their cooperative effort was the Consensus Trigurinus, an important Reformation document on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. 

Bullinger's influence extended throughout Europe, even though he never traveled beyond Switzerland. When exiles from England sought refuge in Zurich during the reign of Bloody Mary, Bullinger took them into his home and taught them more carefully the truths of Scripture. Through an astonishing correspondence Bullinger exerted influence on theologians everywhere. He corresponded with Swiss, German, and English theologians; he wrote to kings, princes, and queens. When he died, the English mourned his passing as a calamity, and repeatedly expressed their great debt to this preacher of Zurich. 

In one controversy, however, he showed a weakness. When Calvin in Geneva was struggling with the heresies of Bolsec, the Consistory of Geneva sought the advice of the other Swiss theologians. Although in general these theologians agreed with Calvin in his doctrine of predestination (Bolsec denied sovereign predestination), with the exception of Farel, they cautioned Geneva to proceed with care and questioned Calvin's strong statements on God's predestination of sin and sovereign, unconditional reprobation. Bullinger was among them.4 When Calvin drew up his Consensus Genevensis5, Bullinger refused to sign it. 

Of great value to us is a controversy which Bullinger carried on in his debates with the Anabaptists. Against them he wrote no fewer than six books. In his defense of the biblical position on the doctrine of infant baptism, Bullinger developed his ideas of God's covenant of grace. It is in these writings that we have the first development of this doctrine which has meant so much to the cause of the truth. All subsequent covenant theologians, in both Reformed and Presbyterian circles, owe a great debt to Heinrich Bullinger.

Bullinger's Death

Bullinger's last days were filled with suffering. The great burden of the work undermined his health. In 1562 he wrote to a friend: "I almost sink under the load of business and care, and feel so tired that I would ask the Lord to give me rest if it were not against his will." In 1564 and 1565 he nearly died from the plague, which took from him his wife, three daughters, and a brother-in-law. In all his sufferings he bore his burdens with great patience and submission to the will of God. Though often lonely and heartsick, he continued his labors until death overtook him. 

Bullinger died on September 17, 1575 after suffering intensely from calculus, a disease which was probably what we would now call kidney and bladder stones, for which there was no cure in the 16th century. His youngest daughter, Dorthea, cared for him in his last years. When near death, he assembled the pastors of Zurich about him and exhorted them to purity of life, unity among the brethren, and faithfulness in doctrine. He warned them against temptation, assured them of his love, thanked them for their kindness towards him, and closed with a prayer of thanksgiving. 

After shaking hands with all of them, with tears (as Paul did with the elders at Ephesus), he died reciting Psalms 51, 16, and 42, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. His son-in-law preached the funeral sermon. 

Bullinger was the man chosen by God to maintain the Swiss Reformation after the death of Zwingli. He was equipped by God with extraordinary spiritual gifts for this task. He was a man of patience, firm faith, courage, moderation, and endurance who "proved that the Reformation was a work of God" when, through Bullinger's work, it survived the catastrophe at Cappel. 

To him we, who love the truth of God's covenant, owe a great debt under God.

1. Philip Melanchthon was Luther's co-reformer, and the book referred to was the first systematic theology of the Reformation.

2. This is, of course, other than Calvin, who labored in Geneva.

3. Our readers can profit from reading these confessions. They are not very easy to obtain. Schaff has them in his "Creeds of Christendom," but they are in Latin and German, The First Helvetic Confession can be found in "Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century," edited by Arthur C. Cochrane. The Second can be found in "Creeds of the Churches," edited by John H. Leith.

4. The interesting correspondence can be read in "The Register of the Company of Pastors in Geneva in the Time of Calvin," edited by Philip Hughes.

5. Later published under the title, "A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God." This is included in "Calvin's Calvinism," published by the RFPA.


John Knox: The Reformer of Scotland

This article first appeared in the November 1, 1992 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.69, #3) and was penned by Prof. Herman Hanko, professor of church history and New Testament studies in the PRC Seminary.

John Knox: The Reformer of Scotland

God not only calls men to particular tasks in His kingdom; He also suits the man He calls with the personality, gifts, and strength to do the work. 

So it was with John Knox, the Reformer of Scotland. 

Born and raised in a harsh land, he emerged from his years of preparation a harsh and unbending defender of the faith. With roots deeply sunk into the soil of his motherland, he was fed with the sturdiness of Scotland's gloomy heaths. Heir of the dour, unbending individualism which so characterized Scotland's populace, he was tempered to stand alone against queens and princes, unmoved by their threats or tears. He was, in God's wisdom, the only one who could bring the Reformation to Scotland.

Youth and Education

It is quite amazing, and a perpetual testimony of the power of grace, that the Reformation came at all to Scotland. Scotland was known throughout Europe as the most backward, the most superstitious, the most Roman Catholic of any country. And the church which had held sway here for centuries, unchallenged and unmolested, was a church in which corruption had reached depths found in the few other places. One would think that reformation here would be impossible.

John Knox was born sometime during the year 1505 in the small village of Gifford in East Lotham. His parents were sufficiently wealthy, apparently, to provide him with a good education. He received his early training in Haddington and was then sent to the University of Glasgow. In the university he earned his M.A. degree and was sufficiently proficient in his studies to gain an assistant professorship. 

Somewhere near 1530 Knox went to St. Andrews, on the East Coast by the sea, just a bit north of the Firth of Forth, to teach. It may have been here that his studies included some of the old church fathers, particularly Jerome and Augustine, and that the first doubts concerning Roman Catholicism rose in his soul. At any rate, he remained a firm Roman Catholic for the present and was ordained into clerical orders.1

Early Reformation and Exile

It was not, however, until 1542 that Knox became a Protestant, under what influences or by what means is, not known. So clearly did he begin to proclaim Protestant views that he was degraded from orders as a heretic, and he was compelled to go to the south part of Scotland to find hiding from those who hated him. 

While in the southern part of his country, Knox tutored the sons of two nobles and occasionally preached. It was during this period that he met and became a close friend of George Wishart, a bold minister and teacher of Reformation doctrine. Wishart was soon apprehended by the Roman authorities and was taken away to be tried and condemned to burning at the stake. Here really began Knox's commitment to the Reformation. Clinging to Wishart as he was led away, and hoping to die with him, Knox was told by his friend: "Nay, return to your bairns, and God bless you; one is sufficient for a sacrifice." 

Wishart was burned to death by Cardinal Beaton of St. Andrews in March of 1546. Nobles, sympathetic to Protestantism, stormed the castle, killed Beaton, and invited other Protestants, including Knox to take up residence in the castle. 

Knox lived in the castle for awhile, preaching and teaching, but in July of 1547 the castle was captured by a part of the French navy, Knox and others were made prisoners of the French, and, after being sentenced in France, Knox was condemned to the galleys as a slave chained to an oar. 

Who knows what agony he endured during the nineteen months of his slavery? Who knows how often he questioned the ways of God when, e.g., he could glimpse through the small oar opening the spires of St. Andrews cathedral as his galley rode the waves off the coast of Scotland? He emerged from this ordeal with infirmities which were to remain with him all his life (his own "thorn in the flesh"), but with a faith tempered in the fire of suffering and a stronger then ever determination to engage in the Lord's work. 

Knox was released only because Edward VI, Protestant king of England, directly intervened on his behalf with the king of France.2 It was probably for this reason that Knox did not return to Scotland, but took up residence in England. Here he spent about five years, married Marjory Bowes, often preached every day of the week, worked with the reformers in England, and was offered a bishopric. This offer he declined, partly, it seems, because he already had some misgivings about the hierarchical form of church government practiced in the Church of England, but also partly because he foresaw "evil days to come." 

These days came soon enough with the untimely death of Edward and the accession of Mary Tudor, "Bloody Mary," as she was called, a loyal daughter of Rome and one determined to restore Roman Catholicism to England-even at the price of the blood of the Protestants. 

Knox fled to Europe. The year was 1554. He had wanted to stay in England because, as he said with some understatement, "Never could I die in a more honest quarrel." But, prevailed upon by friends to flee, he began a new work on the continent, in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, in a church of English exiles. Things did not work out well here, for a dispute rose over liturgy, particularly responsive readings, and Knox, with some disgust, resigned his work and took up residence in Geneva. 

Calvin was at the height of his powers and influence, and the two spent much time together discussing theology and, more particularly, church polity. Knox pastored an English congregation and spent the happiest time of his life on the shores of Lake Leman, beneath the shadow of the Alps, and, to use Knox's own words: "in the most perfect school of Christ that ever was since the days of the apostles."

His stay in Geneva was interrupted by a rather hasty trip back to Scotland. It is not entirely clear why Knox went; nor is it clear why he returned to Geneva. During his stay, however, he preached, taught, and visited day and night. His influence was great, especially on some of the nobles. The result was that events began to favor the Reformation, and the first National League & Covenant was sworn to in 1556. 

Some have charged him with cowardice for not staying in his native land; it is most likely true that if he had stayed he would have been killed. Immediately after his flight he was condemned in absentia and burned in effigy. 

Two things resulted from his stay in Geneva: he was thoroughly equipped to establish a complete reformation in Scotland, not only in doctrine, but also in church polity and liturgy. He also authored a pamphlet entitled (in characteristic language): "First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regime of Women." The pamphlet was written primarily against Bloody Mary (although no names were mentioned), but it got him into endless trouble with Elizabeth, queen of England, and with Mary, queen of Scotland. 

In 1559 Knox returned to Scotland for good, and with his return the work of reformation advanced rapidly. It was evident that the common people hungered for the pure preaching of the gospel, a hunger created by a mighty work of the Spirit of Christ. Romanism was abandoned, superstition was condemned, the chains of Rome were broken, and the nation moved steadily in the direction of becoming a Protestant country. 

A few of the outstanding events and characteristics of the progressing reformation are the following: 

The Protestants began to be called "The Congregation" and the leaders, "The lords of the Congregation." A presbyterian system of church government, which Knox had learned in Geneva and which was markedly different from that in England, was instituted.3 

As Protestantism advanced, especially in some areas in south and east Scotland, particularly in Perth, riots broke out during which images, Romish liturgical trappings, monasteries, and altars were smashed and burned by runaway multitudes of those who had come to see Rome's idolatry. 

When war was threatened by a possible invasion from France, and by the decision of England to send troops, a compromise was reached which avoided war and called for the meeting of a free Parliament to settle religious questions. This Parliament, which met in August, 1960, established the Reformed religion, and adopted a confession,4 a Book of Discipline,5 and a Book of Common Order.6 

In that same year, in December, the first General Assembly of the Scottish Church met in Edinburgh in St. Magdalene's chapel. 

In all of these activities, Knox assumed a leading role. Perhaps no more interesting part in all his reformatory work can be found than in his interviews with Queen Mary.7 Mary wanted nothing so much as to return Scotland to the papal fold. Knox stood in her way. In at least two interviews with him she tried by every means to dissuade him from his course. She argued, pleaded, cajoled, threatened, attempted to move him with her feminine wiles (of which she had plenty, for she was a beautiful woman); and even was reduced to tears. Through it all Knox stood firm and unmovable, to the point where some of his contemporaries and subsequent historians have sometimes criticized him for failure to show proper respect to his queen and for a hardheartedness which bordered on cruelty. 

But this was Knox, a man of iron will and implacable purpose; a man who did not know that the word "tact" existed in the English language, or, if he did know, did not know what it meant. He spoke forthrightly and clearly, and worried not an iota whom he offended if it was for the cause of the truth of God. 

He triumphed over incredible odds. He was shot at, ambushed, and verbally abused beyond what many others had to endure. Of an archbishop's greed, he wryly said, "As he sought the world, it fled him not." His purpose he himself defined: "To me it is enough to say that black is not white, and man's tyranny and foolishness is not God's perfect ordinance." 

As was true of the reformers throughout Europe, Knox was first of all a preacher. Every Lord's day he preached two times, and during the week three times in St. Giles Cathedral. 

In 1563 he retired to relative privacy because his forcefulness and uncompromising attitude offended many. But his influence continued to be felt. When Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in 1567, reforms continued. It was decided, for example, that the ruler of Scotland must henceforth be protestant, and many provisions were made for the support of the clergy. Also under Knox's influence, schools were established. He wanted schools in every parish, a college in every important town, and three universities to serve the nation! 

In 1570 Knox was felled by a stroke, from which he partially recovered. He retired to St. Andrews, where his reformatory work had begun, and there preached even though he had to be carried to the pulpit. But he himself spoke of the fact that he was "weary of the world" and "thirsting to depart." On November 24, 1570, at the age of 65, the Lord took him home. 

Though he was small and weak, beset since his days in the galleys with many infirmities, he was of a vigorous mind and implacable will. His piety and zeal knew no bounds. He stamped his character on the church which he was instrumental in establishing. In Geneva, Switzerland stands a Reformation Monument on which appear figures of the great reformers. By Knox's figure are written the words: Un hommeavec Dieu est toujours dans la majorite ("One man with God is always a majority"). Such men the church needs today.

1. Knox holds a certain distinction in this respect: he was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, a prelate in the Church of England, and a minister in the Church of Scotland. 

2. The date was February, 1549, and Knox was 44 years old.

3. This difference was to lead to great trouble later during the time of the Covenanters and the persecution under Charles I and Charles II, times called "The Killing Times."

4. The Scottish Confession of Faith, which was the confessional basis of the Scottish Presbyterian Church until it was superseded by the Westminster Confessions.

5. It functioned as a Church Order.

6. A guide for ministers in their work and calling.

7. Not Mary Tudor, called "Bloody Mary," who ruled in England, but Mary Guise, sometimes called "Mary, Queen of the Scots."

8. How striking it is that all the reformers were profoundly concerned with Christian education and did much to advance it.

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