Reformation Subjects (31)

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 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.


John Knox, Reformer and Preacher

This article first appeared in the October 15, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.77, #2) and was penned by Rev. Dale H. Kuiper, minister of SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI at the time.

John Knox, Reformer and Preacher

The man who in the estimation of friend and foe alike was the greatest man that Scotland ever produced was born in 1505 near the village of Haddington (some of his biographers place his birth as late as 1512). John Knox's education was at the Burgh School of Haddington, where the instructors were Roman Catholic and the instruction prepared young men for the clergy or holy orders. Latin was stressed at this school, so much so that the students were required to speak Latin at all times. Knox himself was an outstanding Latin scholar. He did not study Hebrew and Greek until after his fortieth year. He remained in the Haddington school until he was seventeen, at which time he faced the question of where to attend university. By choosing to remain in Scotland, Knox avoided the humanism that was rampant in the schools on the continent. He finally decided to attend the University of Glasgow, mainly because the most famous teacher in Scotland at that time, John Major, was on the faculty there. This university was a stronghold of Roman Catholic teaching. It sought to defend and advance Medieval theology and philosophy as well as the authority of the pope.

Knox was ordained into the priesthood shortly before 1540. He employed himself in giving private instruction to the sons of prominent Scottish families, rather than engaging in parochial duties. It is generally thought that Knox never renounced his priestly vows but considered his original ordination to suffice even as he took up the cause of the Reformation in Scotland.

Knox first professed the Protestant faith toward the end of 1545. Several influences were used by God to convert this peasant's son from the bondage of Rome into the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his early manhood he read both Augustine and Jerome. Secondly, he attended the preaching of George Wishart for some time, became his personal friend, and even served as his bodyguard when Wishart's life was threatened. Knox embraced Wishart's Reformed preaching with enthusiasm. For this preaching, George Wishart was burned at the stake by Cardinal Beaton. Thirdly, a powerful influence in Knox's conversion was his correspondence with Calvin and Beza, and his residence in Geneva on several occasions. At first Knox was nearer to Luther than to Calvin in his views, but later he considered Lutheran a term of reproach, agreeing with Latimer that the German Reformation was only a partial receiving of the truth.1 Knox's views regarding the papacy, the mass, purgatory, and other outrages show clearly that he embraced the teachings of the Genevan reformers.

But along with these three influences we must add Knox's wholehearted commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and as the only, final authority in matters of faith, worship, and life. Knox agrees with a certain Balnaves, whom he quotes, "They deceive you which say, The Scriptures are difficult, no man can understand them but great clerics. Verily, whom they call their clerics, know not what the Scriptures mean. Fear nor dread not to read the Scriptures as ye are taught here before; and seek nothing in them but your own salvation, and that which is necessary for you to know. And so the Holy Spirit, your teacher, shall not suffer you to err, nor go beside the right way, but lead you in all verity."2 Knox expounded the Word of God, Old Testament and New, with insight and power. He applied the Scriptures to the situation in Scotland, England, and Europe. He loved the Psalms and explained them at length to those in spiritual distress with great understanding of them and with compassion for the weak. One of his favorite passages wasDeuteronomy 4:2, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought form it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." This passage was a faithful guide to him in all his difficult labors, as it was to Luther and Calvin. He embraced the great Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura!

The bold reformer's first charge was at St. Andrews. The first sermon he ever preached had for its text Daniel 7:24, 25. He called the Church of Rome the man of Sin, the Antichrist, the whore of Babylon. He laid down the marks by which the true church may be discerned from the false. Some said, "Others hewed the branches of the papistry, but he strikes at the root to destroy the whole." Others said, "Master George Wishart spake never so plainly, and yet he was burnt; even so will he be."3 

A short time later the castle of St. Andrews became a refuge for those of Reformed persuasion because politically and religiously Scotland sided with England against Roman Catholic France. In 1547 a French army invaded Scotland and took Knox and other refugees captive, forcing them to row in the galleys for seventeen months. As a galley slave Knox suffered many torments, and his health was permanently damaged. After his release in 1549 Knox served several churches in England: Berwick, Newcastle, and London. While in London he joined with other pastors in approving "The Articles Concerning an Uniformity of Religion," a document which became the basis of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.

The years 1554-59 found Knox in Europe. He served a congregation of English-speaking refugees in Dieppe, France, and a similar type of congregation in Hamburg, Germany, at Calvin's urging. This pastorate he resigned due to controversies over vestments, ceremonies, and the use of the English prayer book. He next became the pastor of an English refugee congregation in Geneva. During these years Knox did much writing, for this time in Europe was the most peaceful of his life. Although urged by Bullinger and Calvin to use caution regarding female magistrates, Knox published his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Because Anabaptism was growing in England and in Scotland, a request came from England to the exiles inGeneva that someone write against the attack being made by the Anabaptists against predestination. Knox was chosen to make this response. Understanding the importance of this issue for true religion he wrote, "But yet I say, that the doctrine of God's eternal predestination is so necessary to the Church of God, that, without the same, can Faith neither be truly taught, neither surely established: man can never be brought to true humility and knowledge of himself: neither yet can he be ravished in admiration of God's goodness, and so moved to praise him as appertaineth. And therefore we fear not to affirm, that so necessary as it is that true faith be established in our hearts, that we be brought to unfeigned humility, and that we be moved to praise him for his free grace received; so necessary also is the doctrine of God's eternal predestination .... Then only is our salvation in assurance, when we find the cause of the same in the bosom and counsel of God."4 

Knox's views in the area of ecclesiology are remarkably similar to our own in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He thundered against the claims of the papacy. He called the mass an abomination and an idolatry. He considered the preaching of the gospel to be the chief means of grace, and the sacraments as secondary to preaching as a sign and seal. Baptism was the sign of entrance into union with Christ, and thus was to be administered to a person but once. The Lord's Supper was continuous nourishment for believers who were in Christ. He stood for infant baptism and was dead set against any re-baptism; the Anabaptists were his foe not only in the matter of baptism but also because they tried to upset the entire social order. We find it interesting also that Knox considered Roman Catholic baptism valid, and no reason for re-baptism. While insisting that baptism used in the papistry is an adulteration and profanation of the baptism which Christ instituted, insisting that Romish baptism leads people to put their confidence in the bare ceremony, and insisting that God's children ought never to offer their children to papistical baptism for this is to offer them to Satan, Knox nevertheless answers the question, "Shall we be baptized again that in our infancy were polluted with that adulterated sign?" with an unqualified "No." His grounds for this position were: (1) "The fire of the Holy Ghost has burnt away whatsoever we received at their hands besides Christ Jesus' simple institution." (2) "And in very deed, the malice of the devil could never altogether abolish Christ's institution, for it was ministered to us in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (3) "I confess, for the time it did not profit us; but now, as it is said, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, illuminating our hearts, has purged the same by faith, and makes the effects of that sacrament to work in us without iteration of the external sign."5 

Knox held strenuously to the regulative principle of worship as we also know it and maintain it. Condemning the mass, he said, "And now, in a few words, to make plain that wherein you may seem to doubt: to wit, that God's word damns your ceremonies, it is evident; for the plain and strait commandment of God is, 'Not that thing which appears good in thy eyes shalt thou do to the Lord thy God, but what the Lord thy God has commanded thee; that do thou; add nothing to it; diminish nothing from it.' Now unless you are able to prove that God has commanded your ceremonies this his former commandment will damn both you and them."6 All religious ceremonies and institutions must have clear biblical warrant if they are to be considered valid expressions of worship. Always Knox's argument against false worship turns upon his defense of the regulative principle of worship.

Only in one respect did Knox differ from the Genevan theologians and us. He never really condemned the episcopacy. He was a man of his time and shared the views of his contemporaries in the matter of church government. His refusal of an English bishopric was for practical rather than principle reasons. He preferred pastoral work in a humble sphere, preaching the blessed evangel, rather than the arduous duties of a superintendent. He never held the opinion that bishops were an unscriptural institution; they could be tolerated. Beza, hearing of the discussions going on in Scotland on church government, wrote to Knox in April of 1572, "But of this, also, my Knox, which is now almost patent to our very eyes, I would remind yourself and the other brethren, that as Bishops brought forth the Papacy, so will false bishops (the relics of Popery) bring in Epicurism into the world. Let those who devise the safety of the church avoid this pestilence, and when in process of time you shall have subdued that plague in Scotland, do not, I pray you, ever admit it again, however it may flatter the pretense of preserving unity."7 It is thought that had he lived longer his attitude would have changed and come more in line with the Presbyterian form of church government.

As a theologian Knox was not equal to Calvin, or even Melanchthon; he lacked the constructive powers needed to build up a theological system that united all doctrines into a unified whole. Nevertheless, he was a formidable, skillful disputant. His preaching style was unyielding and at times harsh. His language could be rather violent. His five conferences with Queen Mary were characterized by language that was exceedingly blunt and was not designedto win her over but to show her how wrong she was. On the other hand, he was the gentle father of five children born to him to two wives, the second of which was much younger than he and served as his nurse in his declining years. He was loved by his students and parishioners, and was a good example to them in all godliness. Near the end of his life he was so weak that he had to be helped into the pulpit; once there he became so vigorous that he began to strike the pulpit as to destroy it. His appearance was grave and severe, although he possessed a natural graciousness and dignity. His love for the truth and boldness in declaring it drew believers to his preaching services. He spent much time and meditation on his sermons, either writing them out in full or using copious notes. His harshness in debate and in preaching was defended by his followers for the importance of the issues at stake; they required a plain-spoken prophet rather than a smooth-tongued orator.

The esteem in which Knox was held by the faithful in Scotland was expressed by his servant Richard Ballantyne thus: "Of this manner departeth this man of God, the light of Scotland, the comfort of the Kirke within the same, the mirror of Godliness, and patron and example to all true ministers, in purity of life, soundness in doctrine, and in boldness in reproving of wickedness, and one that careth not the favor of men (how great soever they were) to reprove their abuses and sins .... What dexterity in teaching, boldness in reproving, and hatred of wickedness was in him, my ignorant dullness is not able to declare."8 He died in October of 1572, full of faith and still ready for the conflict. He died with friends reading to him Isaiah 53 and John 17. He died quietly and in peace. He was buried in the graveyard near the church of St. Giles, where a flat stone still marks his grave.

Knox's importance for the cause of the church and gospel of Christ in Scotland, England, and Europe can hardly be over emphasized. He gave his entire life to the reformation of the church. His religion took full possession of him, as true religion ought. Just before he died he said of himself, "None have I corrupted; none have I defrauded; merchandise have I not made." Just after he died the Earl of Mortoun eulogized him thus: "Here lieth a man who in his life never feared the face of man: who hath been often threatened with dag and dagger, but yet hath ended his days in peace and honor. For he had God's providence watching over him in a special manner, when his very life was sought."9 

All Presbyterian and Reformed churches owe a great debt to John Knox, and thankfulness to God for what He wrought through this brave man of the hour. Where can men of his stature be found today in Scotland, England, Europe, and the United States? Where can there be found such holy hatred for Romish superstitions, false doctrine, and wickedness today, as could be found in Knox from the time of his conversion to the last day of his life? May God raise up such men in those places that require them, for the preservation and defense of the truths of the Reformation today!

1.F. Hume Brown, John Knox, A Biography, Adams and Charles Black, London, 1895, vol. I, p. 71.

2.Brown, vol. I, p. 97.

3.Kevin Reed, editor, Selected Writings of John Knox, Heritage Publications, Dallas, 1995, p. 7, and Brown, vol. I, p. 76.

4.Brown, vol. I, pp. 250, 251.

5.Reed, p. 317.

6.Reed, p. 16.

7.Brown, vol. II, pp. 278, 279.

8.Samuel Jackson et. al., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. VI, Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York and London, 1920, p. 265.

9.Brown, vol. II, p. 288.

Other Sources:

The Reformation in Scotland, John Knox, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1898.

The Scottish Reformation, Gordon Donaldson, Cambridge University Press, London, 1960.


The Protestant Reformation (3)

This article first appeared in the January 1, 1962 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.38, #7) and was written by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

We must still prove and that, too, from the decrees of the Roman Church themselves as contained especially in the Decrees and Canons of the Council of Trent, that what the Heidelberg Catechism states about the Mass is true, namely? that it is a denial of the one sacrifice of Christ and an accursed idolatry. 

That Christ is really and daily offered by the priest in the Eucharist and in the Mass is inseparably connected with the doctrine of Transubstantiation, as I have already said before. And by this doctrine of Transubstantiation the Roman Church teaches that, after the formula of consecration is expressed by the priest upon the signs of the Lord's Supper, the signs are no more mere bread and wine but are changed into the very body and blood of the Lord. This is clearly expressed in the "Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist." In chapter I of this decree we read: 

"In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes. that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly really and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant, that our Savior himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, and that, nevertheless, he be in many other places, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God: for thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, he testified, in express and clear words, that he gave them his own very body, and his own blood, which, recorded by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by Saint Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain, contentious and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary tropes, whereby the verity of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, has detested as satanical these inventions devised by impious men; she recognizing, with a mind ever grateful and unforgetting, the most excellent benefit of Christ."

I may note here that it is true, of course, that our Lord Jesus Christ can, after his exaltation, be present in many places at the same time. But when, at the last supper, He said "this is my body" and "this is my blood" He was still in the flesh. His body had not yet been broken and His blood had not yet been shed. Besides, the theory of transubstantiation teaches that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of the Lord. And this is not true, not only because Jesus was still present when He said "this is my body" and "this is my blood" but also because even after His exaltation, thesubstance of His glorified body is not changed into any other substance. When, therefore, the Roman Church worships the signs of the Lord's Supper on the supposition that these signs are the very Christ Himself, the Heidelberg Catechism is quite correct when it characterizes this as "an accursed idolatry." 

There is, in this chapter of "The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent" a separate article on "Transubstantiation" which reads as follows: 

"And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which he offered under the species of bread to, be truly his own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood; which conversion is, by the Holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation." 

The priest, therefore, has, by pronouncing the formula of consecration, the power to convert the signs into the substance of the body and blood of the Lord. Moreover, the Romish Church also teaches that the signs in the Lord's Supper must be worshiped. We read: 

"Wherefore, there is no room left for doubt, that all the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament. For not therefore is it the less to be adored on this account, that it was instituted by Christ, the Lord, in order to be received; for we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father, when introducing him into the world, says: And let all the angels of God adore him; whom the magi, falling down, adored; who, in fine, as the Scripture testifies, was adored by the apostles in Galilee." 

Moreover, in the Canons that follow this Decree, the Romish Church curses or calls accursed anyone: 

1. That denies that in the Eucharist the signs are not really changed into the body and blood of Christ. 

2. That teaches that in the Lord's Supper "the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Lutheranism), and denies that the substance of the signs is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. 

3. That in the Lord's Supper Christ is not to be worshiped. 

4. That teaches that in the Lord's Supper Christ is eaten spiritually only and not really. 

Finally, we must still call attention to the mass as a daily sacrifice offered by the priests. For the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us in Lord's Day XXX that the mass is not only an accursed idolatry, but also in the mass Christ is daily offered and must be so offered for the remission of sins in the following words: "but the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests." 

That this is, indeed, the doctrine of the Roman Church is clearly evident from the "Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent" in the chapters on the "Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass." From this we quote the following: ". . . nevertheless, because that his priesthood was not to be extinguished by, his death, in the Last Supper, on the night in which he was betrayed, that he might leave, to his own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit . . . he offered up to God the Father his own body and blood under the species of bread and wine ; and, under the symbols of those same things, he delivered his own body and blood to be received by his apostles, whom he then constituted priests of the New Testament: and by those words, 'Do this in commemoration of me' he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to offer them . . . ." 

And in chapter II under the same heading: 

"And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, the same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy synod teaches, that this sacrifice is truly propitiatory, and that by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy . . . For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different . . . Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments and satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreeably to the tradition of the apostles." 

And in the Canons under this same chapter we read: 

"I. If any one saith, that in the mass a true and proper sacrifices is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat: let him be anathema." And again: 

"II. If any one saith, that by these words, Do this for the commemoration of me (Luke XXII, 19) Christ did not institute the apostles priests; or, did not ordain that they and other priests should offer his own body and blood: let him be anathema." And once more: 

"III. If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or that it profits him only who received; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema." 

This is sufficient to prove that the Heidelberg Catechism is correct when it states that the mass is nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross and an accursed idolatry. 

It is also sufficient to show that the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century is not a relative matter but a radical return to the truth of Holy Scripture; and we should regard it as such, not only on Reformation Day, but always.



The Protestant Reformation (2)

This article first appeared in the December 1, 1961 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.38, #5) and was written by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

The Protestant Reformation (2)

At the close of my former article under the above heading, I asked the question whether the Heidelberg Catechism did not use too strong language when it called the popish mass an accursed idolatry. And my answer was that it did not. 

This I now wish to prove with a few quotations from the Confession which the Romish church formulated at the Council of Trent. 

But before I refer to the mass proper, I must call attention to the Romish doctrine that, at the Lord's Supper, it is not necessary that the partakers receive both bread and wine, but that it is quite sufficient to take and eat the bread alone. This in spite of the fact that the Lord, in the night when He was betrayed, instituted the Lord's Supper under both species. How, then, does the Romish Church argue to prove that the celebration of the Lord's Supper under one species, that of the bread alone, is quite proper and sufficient? Let us quote from the above mentioned Confession: 

"Wherefore, this holy Synod, instructed by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of godliness, and following the judgment and usage of the Church itself, declares and teaches, that laymen and clerics when not consecrating, are not obliged, by any divine precept, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist under both species; and that neither can it by any means be doubted, without injury to faith, that communion under either species is sufficient for them unto salvation. For, although Christ, the Lord, in the Last Supper, instituted and delivered to the apostles, this venerable sacrament under the species of bread and wine; not therefore do that institution and delivery tend thereunto, that all the faithful of the Church be bound, by the institution of the Lord, to receive both species. But neither is it rightly gathered, from that discourse which is in the sixth of John however according to the various interpretations of holy Fathers and Doctors it be understood, that the communion of both species was enjoined by the Lord: for he who said, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you (vs. 54), also said, He that eateth this bread shall live forever (vs. 59); and he who said, He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life (vs. 55), also said, The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (vs. 52); and, in fine, he who said, He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me and I in him (vs. 57), said, nevertheless, He that eateth this bread shall live forever." 

Although, therefore, the "holy Fathers and Doctors" taught that the Lord's Supper must be celebrated under both the species of bread and wine, the "holy Fathers and Doctors" of the Council of Trent declared that this was not necessary. 

But the "holy Fathers and Doctors" of the past, nevertheless, were correct, and the "holy Fathers and Doctors" of the Council of Trent were mistaken. 


In the first place, even if the Lord's Supper were indirectly referred to in John 6, the Lord, nevertheless, emphatically spoke of eating His flesh and of drinking His blood. That the Lord spoke of His flesh and His being the Bread of Life was because of the feeding of the five thousand on the preceding day. And, indeed, this miracle revealed that He is the bread of life. But He could never become the bread of life except by first shedding His lifeblood on the accursed tree. This is the reason why the Lord emphasizes in the same chapter that men, in order to have eternal life, must not only eat His flesh, but also must drink His blood. That is the reason why, when the Jews strove among themselves and asked the unbelieving question: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat," the Lord answers by pointing to the cross. "You ask the question," the Lord says as it were, "how, in what way, I can give you my flesh to eat? I will tell you how this is possible. Verily, verily, I say unto you. Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. This, is my answer to your question how it is possible that I can give you my flesh to eat. Surely, you cannot eat my flesh unless you also drink my blood." And, therefore, if this may be applied to the Lord's Supper, it means that the Lord says to the Romish church: "If you give to your members only the bread, and not the wine, you deprive them of the blood of the cross; and I say unto you anathema, you are accursed." 

Secondly, as the "holy Fathers and Doctors" rightly emphasized, the very institution of the Lord's Supper teaches all that will understand (which the Romish church will not) that it must be celebrated under both species. For thus we read in Matt. 26:26-29: "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Notice that the Lord not only gave the bread to His disciples, but He first broke it as a sign of His broken body. And His body could not be broken except through the shedding of His blood. Again I say that the Romish church deprives its members of the blood of the cross by giving them only the bread and not the wine. Notice, secondly, that the Lord emphatically says to His disciples and, therefore, to the whole Church and all its members: "Drink ye all of it." But, according to the Romish church, its members do not have to drink. It is sufficient that the priest drinks it and says "haec est pro omnibus," this is for you all! 

Thirdly, the apostle Paul received the knowledge of the institution of the Lord's Supper by a special revelation emphasizing the importance of this sacrament, and that, too, under both species. This is found in the well-known passage of I Cor. 11:23-29: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." Surely, also this passage of the Word of God very clearly and emphatically teaches that the Lord's Supper must be celebrated under both species, bread and wine. 

Yet, the Romish Church claims the authority and power to change the Lord's Supper into whatsoever form they consider best and proper, For, according to chapter II under the heading "Doctrine Concerning Communion," they decided: 

"It furthermore declares, that this power has ever been in the Church, that in the dispensation of the sacraments, their substance being untouched, it may ordain or change, what things soever it may judge most expedient, for the profit of those who receive, or for the veneration of the said sacraments, according to the difference of circumstances, times, and places . . . Wherefore, holy Mother Church, knowing this her authority in the administration of the sacraments, although the use of both species has, from the beginning of the Christian religion, not been infrequent, yet, in progress of time, that custom has been already very widely changed, she, induced by weighty and just reasons, has approved of this custom of communicating under one species, and decreed that it was to be held as a law; which it is not lawful to reprobate, or to change at pleasure, without the authority of the Church itself." 

In other words, the Church is exalted above the clear testimony of Holy Writ! 

And, finally, in chapter III under the same heading, they state that, in spite of the fact that they admit that the Lord Jesus instituted this sacrament under both species, bread and wine, the Church has the authority to change this: 

"It moreover declares, that although, as has been already said, our Redeemer, in that last supper, instituted, and delivered to the apostles, this sacrament under two species, yet is to be acknowledged, that Christ whole and entire and a true sacrament are received under either species alone, and that, therefore, as regards the fruit thereof, they, who receive one species alone are not defrauded of any grace necessary unto salvation."

O, to be sure, the "Holy Mother Church" knows better than the Lord Jesus Himself! 

And the Romish Church does not hesitate to call anyone accursed that believes that the Lord's Supper must be celebrated under both species, bread and wine. For, thus the Council of Trent declared: 

"Canon I—If any one saith, that, by the precept of God, or by necessity of salvation, all and each of the faithful of Christ ought to receive both species of the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist: let him be anathema." 

And, to make one more quotation: 

"Canon III—If any one denieth, that Christ whole and entire, the fountain and author of all graces, is received under one species of bread; because that as some falsely assert, he is not received, according to the institution of Christ himself, under both species: let him be anathema." 

The question is now: what has all this to do with the mass? 

My answer is that the doctrine of the mass is inseparably connected with both the error of transubstantiation and that of celebrating the Lord's Supper under one species. If these two errors were not accepted as the truth by the Romish Church, the mass could never exist. 

We must not forget, in the first place, that, according to the Romish Church, the table of communion is the altar on which Christ sacrifices Himself daily or as often as the mass is celebrated, for the remission of our sins, and that without that daily sacrifice of Christ by the officiating priest, our sins cannot be forgiven. The signs in the Lord's Supper, therefore, are changed into the very body and blood of the Lord. Moreover, seeing that the signs of the Lord's Supper are changed into the very body and blood of the Lord, the Christ, as He lies upon the altar, i.e., the table of communion, is also worshiped by the celebrating members of the Church. This is why the Romish Church invented the error of transubstantiation. And this is also the reason why the Heidelberg Catechism characterizes the mass as an accursed idolatry. 

For proof of this I must once more turn to the Decrees and Canons of the Council of Trent.



The Protestant Reformation (1)

This article first appeared in the November 1, 1961 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.38, #3) and was written by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

Was the Protestant Reformation necessary? Was there, after all, only a relative and no principal difference between the churches of the Reformation and the Roman church? Could not the doctrinal differences between the church of Rome and the Reformers have been settled amicably? This, indeed, was impossible according to the answer of the Romish church itself. This answer was very elaborately and even in minutest detail given by the Council of Trent which met in 1546 and for several years after. 

Indeed, that Council, in its third session, February 1546, first offered a Confession of Faith to which even the Reformers and the churches of the Reformation would have to agree. I quote this Confession here: 

"I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages; God of God, light of light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made: who for us men, and for our salvation, came clown from the heavens, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered and was buried; and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures; and he ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father: and again he will come with glory to judge the living and the dead; of whose kingdom there shall be no end : and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and the giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified; who spoke by the prophets: and one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen." 

We may be sure, if this had been the Confession of the Roman Church at the time of the Reformation, and if the Council of Trent had faithfully adhered to this; if they faithfully developed the doctrine on the basis of this Confession, there would never have been the Reformation of the sixteenth century. 

But this the Council of Trent did not do. Instead they developed an erroneous doctrine of justification by faith only without works; of the sacraments, including the doctrine of the mass; the doctrine of purgatory; the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary; the doctrine of the worship of the deceased saints and the veneration and worship of images; and the doctrine of indulgences. To all these false doctrines was added that of the infallibility of the pope in 1870. 

Moreover, they express their anathema or curse upon all that do not agree with any or all these heresies. 

That this is true I expect to demonstrate by a few quotations from "The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent." 

As to the doctrine of justification by faith without works, the Roman church takes the Semi-Pelagian position. For it teaches a certain prevenient grace by which they are disposed to convert themselves to their own justification, by which they freely assent to and cooperate with that grace and which grace they may and can also reject. For thus we read in chapter V of the above mentioned Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: 

"The Synod furthermore declares, that, in adults, the beginning of said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God . . . that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through his quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly inactive while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch he can also reject it; yet he is not able by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in his sight" . . . 

And in Canon IV of the same chapter we read the following: 

"If any one saith, that man's free will, moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema (accursed)." 

There you have it. 

There is a grace of God that is not irresistible, to which man can assent, with which he can co-operate unto justification, but which he also can refuse and reject. And this means, of course, that, ultimately, it is up to man and not up to God's sovereign grace whether a man shall be justified before God. 

In the seventh session of the Council it speaks of "the most holy Sacraments of the Church, through which all true justice [righteousness, justification, H.H.] either begins or being begun is increased, or being lost is repaired." 

It is well-known that the Romish church attaches more importance to the administration of the sacraments than to the preaching of the Word. With the Reformers and the Protestants that followed them, this is just the reverse. According to them, there are two means of grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Moreover, the preaching of the Word is first and is the chief means of grace. In fact, the latter are dependent upon the former. One can be saved without the administration of the sacraments if need be, but not without the preaching of the Word. With the Roman church this is different as is already evident from the above mentioned quotation: by the administration of the sacraments the grace of justification is either begun, or increased, or being lost is repaired. 

Moreover, as is also well-known, the Romish church has seven sacraments while the Protestants have only two. The seven sacraments of the Romish church are the following: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony. And they, i.e., the Romans, according to the Council of Trent do not hesitate to pronounce the curse upon anyone that does not confess that all seven are truly sacraments. This is expressed in Canon I under the heading "On the Sacraments in General." And I quote: 

"If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that they were more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order and Matrimony; or even that any of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament: let him be anathema." That is: let him be accursed. 

There is more. 

In Canon IV under the same heading, we read: 

"If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; though all the sacraments are not indeed necessary for every individual: let him be anathema." 

The last part of this Canon reveals clearly that the Council itself felt that the sacraments, not all of them, at least, were not necessary unto salvation. For how could that possibly be said, for instance, of matrimony? Nevertheless, the Council of Trent, and the whole Romish church maintain that the sacraments are necessary unto salvation. Faith alone is not sufficient unto justification and without justification salvation is impossible. 

This the Reformers and all the Protestants deny. 

And if we remember that the Roman church never changes and will change, because what the church officially and, since 1570, the pope express is infallible, it is very evident that the Reformation was strictly necessary. 

I will quote one more of these Canons under the same heading: 

"If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers: let him be anathema." 

Also to this the Reformers would and could never agree, even though Luther insisted, while denying the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation, with regard to the Lord's Supper, that the body and blood of Christ was present in and under the signs of the bread and wine. For in the above quoted Canon it is literally stated the signs, particularly in baptism and the Lord's Supper, contain and confer the grace signified by the signs. To the Reformers and to the Protestant Churches the signs did not contain the grace signified, nor were they mere signs, but they were also seals whereby God confirmed to the believer the oath of the promise of the covenant. 

I will not enumerate all the heresies that are maintained by the Romish church as they are expressed in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. This would require too much space. And this is also unnecessary for the purpose I have in mind, namely, to prove that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was strictly necessary and was not relative but concerned such fundamental errors on the part of what then called itself the church that it might well be called the false church. 

Nevertheless, I must surely call attention to the error of "Transubstantiation" and, in connection with this, to the popish mass. 

By the doctrine of transubstantiation, as we know, is meant the theory that the signs of the Lord's Supper are changed into the very body and blood and soul of Christ. 

The Heidelberg Catechism describes this error very fully and correctly in question and answer 80: 

"What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the popish mass? 

"The Lord's Supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and that we by the Holy Ghost are engrafted into Christ, who according to his human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven on the right hand of God his Father, and will there be worshipped by us:—but the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry." 

As to the theory of transubstantiation, of this the Catechism also speaks in Lord's Day XXIX, which the reader may look up in his own Psalter. 

But is not the language of the Catechism too strong? 

Can it really be said that the mass is nothing else, at bottom, than an accursed idolatry? Do the Romish people really worship the signs of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper? 

The answer is: they do, according to their own Confession. 

But about this we will, the Lord willing, write in our next issue. 

Subscribe to this RSS feed

Contact Details


  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Reading Sermon Library
  • Taped Sermon Library

Synodical Officers

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Synodical Committees

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Emeritus Committee
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classical Officers

Classis East
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classis West
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.