The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2017 (page 1 of 5)

Halloween 2

“The Bible tells us to shun the very appearance of evil.  So why should any Christian get involved in Halloween that glorifies witchcraft and death?”

I received that reply to my Halloween comments yesterday prefacing Dr. Al Mohler’s blog ( http://theoldpreacher.com/halloween/  ).

I understand this brother’s thoughts.  Indeed, he’s probably in the majority of those who think seriously about the holiday.  Many churches opt to host some kind of get-together for kids to keep them out of the “darkness”.  I respect their convictions, as I do those of this brother who replied to me.

I answered him, in part . . .

“I guess I just refuse to allow evil to take over what can be for my family and me an innocent enjoyment of our childhood. We do nothing that suggests participation in the works of darkness. In a way, we’re light.”

Maybe this debate isn’t worth another blog; but I want to expand my thinking . . .

First, I ask you to read this compelling article.  From it, I take this biblical truth:  the light overcomes the darkness.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-waste-the-darkness

Second, I do see the darkness of Halloween, though I think many who dress up in “darkness costumes”, do it innocently, not intentionally participating in anything evil.  Even so, the darkness is real—and magnified by macabre costumes.

In the midst of it, down the street among all the other Halloweeners walks our gang.  (Age has now dwindled our numbers, though.)  We’re angels or soldiers or “good guy” characters.  We don’t fit into the darkness.  In fact, by our appearance and laughter, I hope we stand out as a bit of light.

In my mind, I envision other Christian families, similarly costumed, shedding more light in the darkness.  We can brighten the light by giving our neighbors gospel tracts or saying “God bless you” when we load up on their candy.  (This may be a bit much for kids!)

But, see what I see?  Little points of light shining in the darkness.  “Evil” costumes will always outnumber “good”.  Death and fright will always be “celebrated”.  But our presence can at least show there’s another way.  The True Light has come into the world!  Our little light may not overcome the Halloween darkness.  It may not convict darkness-doers.  But it will shine.  It will show there’s an alternative.

Do we only pray to protect our children from evil or also pray that they’ll be the light of the world (which presupposes being in a dark place)?  Like it or not, we are “the light of the world”.  Gotta let it shine (Matthew 5:14-16).  Gotta pierce the darkness for our Father’s glory

Obviously, this pertains to more than Halloween.  “ . . . let your light shine, so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  The world is dark.  Our good works shine like light.

Two postures prevent that.  One, we assume a defensive stand against the world.  It’s evil; we avoid it as much as possible.  The extreme of this is moving to the mountains, huddling up with other like-minded believers, and wait for Jesus to come.

Two, we take the world as it is without any moral judgments.  So, we go to church on Sunday, read our Bibles and pray, but we live no more holy than our upstanding neighbor.  The Sermon On the Mount captivates us, but doesn’t direct our behavior.

Obviously, avoiding the darkness has its place.  But so does shining like light in the darkness.  Each of us is responsible for deciding what when.

But I’m thinking our light will shine brighter if we’re out on the street on Halloween, rather than in our houses with lights off or in our churches with lights on all together out of the darkness.

 

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Reformation: Martin Luther

May this summary of Luther’s life move us to marvel at what God did through him!   And may it excite our minds and hearts to read the Book that changed his life!  Both would be fitting responses to this 500th commemoration of the Reformation, courtesy of desiringgod.org.

Here We Stand

Day 31

Martin Luther

1483–1546

Here He Stood

By John Piper

One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation — especially of Martin Luther — was that the word of God comes to us in the form of a book, the Bible. Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome.

The life-giving and life-threatening risk of the Reformation was the rejection of the pope and councils as the infallible, final authority of the church. Luther’s adversary, Sylvester Prierias, wrote, “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic” (Luther, 193). It followed that Luther would be excluded from the Roman Catholic Church. “What is new in Luther,” Heiko Oberman says, “is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils” (Luther, 204).

This rediscovery of the word of God above all earthly powers shaped Luther and the entire Reformation. But Luther’s path to that rediscovery was a tortuous one, beginning with a lightning storm at age 21.

Fearful Monk

On July 2, 1505, on the way home from law school, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, Luther left his legal studies and kept his vow.

He knocked at the gate of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. At 21, he became an Augustinian monk. At his first Mass two years later, Luther was so overwhelmed at the thought of God’s majesty that he almost ran away. The prior persuaded him to continue.

But this incident of fear and trembling would not be an isolated one in Luther’s life. Luther himself would later remember of these years, “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” (Selections, 12).

Luther would not be married for another twenty years — to Katharina von Bora on June 13, 1525 — which means he lived with sexual temptations as a single man till he was 42. But “in the monastery,” he said, “I did not think about women, money, or possessions; instead my heart trembled and fidgeted about whether God would bestow his grace on me.” His all-consuming longing was to know the happiness of God’s favor. “If I could believe that God was not angry with me,” he said, “I would stand on my head for joy.”

Good News: God’s Righteousness

In 1509, Luther’s beloved superior and counselor and friend, Johannes von Staupitz, allowed Luther to begin teaching the Bible. Three years later, on October 19, 1512, at the age of 28, Luther received his doctor’s degree in theology, and von Staupitz turned over to him the chair in biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg, which Luther held the rest of his life.

As Luther set to work reading, studying, and teaching Scripture from the original languages, his troubled conscience seethed beneath the surface — especially as he confronted the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:16–17. To Luther, “the righteousness of God” could only mean one thing: God’s righteous punishment of sinners. The phrase was not “gospel” to him; it was a death sentence.

But then, in the work of a moment, all Luther’s hatred for the righteousness of God turned to love. He remembers,

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.’” . . . And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

He concludes, “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

Standing on the Book

Luther was not the pastor of the town church in Wittenberg, but he did share the preaching with his pastor friend, Johannes Bugenhagen. The record bears witness to how utterly devoted he was to the preaching of Scripture. For example, in 1522 he preached 117 sermons, the next year 137 sermons. In 1528, he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two-and-a-half days.

Over the next 28 years, Luther would preach thousands of sermons, publish hundreds of pamphlets and books, endure scores of controversies, and counsel innumerable German citizens — all to spread the good news of God’s righteousness to a people trapped in a system of their own merit. Through it all, Luther had one weapon with which to rescue this gospel from being sold in the markets of Wittenberg — Scripture. He drove out the moneychangers — the indulgence sellers — with the whip of the word of God, the Bible.

Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” Here alone, in the pages of the Bible, God speaks with final authority. Here alone, decisive authority rests. From here alone, the gift of God’s righteousness comes to hell-bound sinners.

He lived what he urged. He wrote in 1533, “For a number of years I have now annually read through the Bible twice. If the Bible were a large, mighty tree and all its words were little branches, I have tapped at all the branches, eager to know what was there and what it had to offer” (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, 83). Oberman says Luther kept to that practice for at least ten years (Luther, 173). The Bible had come to mean more to Luther than all the fathers and commentators.

Here Luther stood, and here we stand. Not on the pronouncements of popes, or the decisions of councils, or the winds of popular opinion, but on “that word above all earthly powers” — the living and abiding word of God.

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Halloween

I grew up “dressing up” for Halloween.  (I’m so old I  can’t remember even one costume.) We (my brother and I) knocked on doors so neighbors could fill our bags with candy.  When Lois and I married and had children, we continued the custom with them.  And, so far, they’ve continued with their children.  Innocent fun in non-evil costumes.

Then we began to  hear about the evil of the day.  Mohler examines Halloween’s dark roots below.  He notes that the world has secularized Christmas and Easter–and yet, from the Christian perspective, we celebrate them.  So why should we allow the world to steal the innocent fun of Halloween?  Knowing the world’s take on Halloween is important.  But I say, celebrate the night the right way.  And get as much candy as you can.  (I may dress up like an old curmudgeon in a wheelchair with a wig!)

Old man in wheelchair. Intentional motion blur


Christianity and the Dark Side — What About Halloween?

Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction…

Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.

The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?

Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. According to David J. Skal, “Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations.”

Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that “Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business.”

Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has written Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal’s approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween on the rise of horror movies and the nation’s fascination with violence.

The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer’s end. As Rogers explains, “Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead.” Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.

As Rogers comments: “In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.

How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra of Christianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. “More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween’s unsavory beginnings preceded Christ’s birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods. It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.”

Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, “Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions.”

The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.

As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, “The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return.”

This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. “Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween’s,” comments Skal. “Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween’s ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film’s language of shadow and light.”

But television’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood’s “Halloween” series and the rise of violent “slasher” films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.

This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America’s public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.

In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society’s fascination with moral darkness.

For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.

These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”

Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of “All Hallow’s Eve” is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ’s church on earth. Let’s put the dark side on the defensive.

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Reformation: Katharina von Bora

 The breadth and depth of the Reformation amazes me!  Here we have “the first pastor’s wife”–a runaway nun who married Luther.  Thanks to desiringgod.org for this 500th commemoration of the Reformation.

Here We Stand

Day 30

Katharina von Bora

1499–1552

The Runaway Nun

By Kristin Tabb

On a chilly April night, twelve nuns crept silently into a fish wagon and waited for city councilor Leonard Koppe to begin driving, counting the tense minutes until their monastic vocation would end forever.

These women, smuggled from the convent in Nimbschen, Germany (in a breakout masterminded by Martin Luther), risked punishment as criminals if caught, and braved an uncertain future if successful. They were entirely dependent upon their family’s willingness to “harbor” the fugitives by receiving them back into their homes. Nuns whose families refused them would need to avail themselves of a husband, or discover some rare form of female employment by which they could independently support themselves.

Katharina von Bora, one of these nuns, found no recourse in these options, and after she experienced two failed marriage proposals, Luther found himself feeling responsible for the former nun. The feisty Katharina finally insisted that she would only marry Luther or his friend Nicolas von Amsdorf. Apparently, Luther accepted the challenge and wed the runaway nun on June 13, 1525.

The Pastor’s Wife

Marriage to Luther was a social step down for Katharina, who was born into a noble family, with generations of lordly lineage. It also catapulted her into scandal and public ridicule. Erasmus of Rotterdam even predicted that the union would result in the birth of the Antichrist!

In spite of the tumultuous environment for their controversial marriage, the allegiance proved affectionate, loving, fruitful, faithful, and enduring. The couple moved into their new home, dubbed “The Black Cloister,” and Katharina pioneered a “new” calling that had been absent in medieval times — the pastor’s wife.

The morning after her wedding, Katharina initiated her new vocation by serving breakfast to the few friends that had attended the ceremony the night before. Katharina’s role as spouse of the famed Reformer, mother to six biological (and several orphaned) children, and manager of their parsonage (another innovation of the Reformation) and property became an instructive model for Protestant pastors’ wives of that era.

The Reformers firmly established this role as a high vocational calling with theological and biblical foundation and gave new dignity to Christian women by including domestic work in the ministry of the gospel, thereby transforming the ideal Christian woman from its former medieval ideal (i.e., nun).

God in Every Task

For Katharina, this calling involved caring for Luther, supporting his work and travels, nurturing their children, and a wide variety of tasks involving their parsonage. She renovated the abandoned Augustinian monastery that served as their home; hosted the guests that stayed in their forty rooms; served meals to thirty or forty people regularly and banquets for more than a hundred; and created a self-sustaining household by purchasing and cultivating farmland for gardens, orchards, and animals to provide food for family and guests — as well as making bread and cheese and brewing beer.

In keeping with the Reformers’ view that all of life is spiritual, Katharina did not distinguish between “practical” and “spiritual” tasks, but found fuel for her daily work in that she served God in all tasks. Her engagement in theology was limited to her participation in the “table talks” that the Luthers hosted in their parsonage. She knew enough Latin and Scripture to engage in heated dinnertime debates, a habit Luther apparently encouraged.

“I Will Stick to Christ”

In 1542 Katharina and Luther grieved the loss of their 13-year-old daughter, Magdalena, of which Luther wrote, “My wife and I should only give thanks with joy for such a happy departure and blessed end [for Magdalena] . . . yet the force of our natural love is so great that we cannot do this without weeping and grieving in our hearts or even without experiencing death ourselves. . . . Even the death of Christ . . . is unable totally to take this away, as it should.”

This grief would only be paralleled by Katharina’s grief at Martin’s own death in 1546, which she described in one of her few surviving letters:

I am in truth so very saddened that I cannot express my great heartache to any person and do not know how I am and feel. I can neither eat nor drink. Nor again sleep. If I had owned . . . an empire I would not have felt as bad had I lost it, as I did when our dear Lord God took from me — and not only from me but from the whole world — this dear and worthy man.

Katharina spent the rest of her days seeking support from Luther’s former supporters in hopes of maintaining their home and children, until she died after falling out of a wagon in December 1552. On her deathbed, she proclaimed, “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat.”

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Reformation Sunday: Luther’s Hymn

Reformation Sunday on, this, its 500th anniversary.  Time to sing, as did the reformers, especially Martin Luther.  Thanks to desiringgod.org.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Discovering the Power of Luther’s Original Lyrics

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The Reformers didn’t just protest; they sang. The Protestant Reformation, which began in earnest 500 years ago this week, didn’t just give birth to preaching and writing, but it inspired music and unleashed song.

That God declares us rebels fully righteous on the sole basis of his Son, through faith alone — such news is too good not to sing. And that our Creator and Redeemer himself has spoken into our world, and preserved his speech for us in a Book, to be illumined by his own Spirit — such news is too good not to craft into verse. Perhaps the greatest evidence that the Reformation released real joy in freeing captives from the bondage of man-made religion is that its theology made for such a good marriage with music. The Reformation sang.

Battle Hymn of the Reformation

Leading the way not just in word, but in song, was Martin Luther. He wrote nearly forty hymns, many of which he composed not only the words but even the music. His most famous, of course, “A Mighty Fortress,” often is called “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” The song embodies with strength and gusto the very spirit of the Reformation, breaking free from the flaccidity and poverty of medieval theology with rich God-confidence.

The hymn takes its inspiration mainly from the first two verses of Psalm 46, along with the refrain of verses 7 and 11.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear . . . (Psalm 46:1–2)

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7, 11)

Psalm 46 opens with God as “refuge and strength,” and the battle hymn opens with God as “mighty fortress” — literally, a strong or unshakable castle. Line three is “help in trouble”; stanza three is “we will not fear.”

But that’s where the parallels end. Rather than a mere hymnodic expression of the psalm, we do better to call it a Christian hymn inspired by it. What’s generic in Psalm 46, Luther makes specific, and Christian. He names the personal agent behind the trouble: “our ancient foe,” the devil. He puts a human face and person to the rescue: “Christ Jesus it is he.” And the hymn apexes with the glorious Himalayan peaks of Romans 8.

How Did We Get the English?

Perhaps at this point, or sometime in the past, you’ve wondered about the English version we sing today, Hey, didn’t Luther speak German? Who brought this powerful hymn into English, and how faithful is it to Luther’s original?

“The Reformers didn’t just preach and write. They made music and unleashed song.”

The hymn came into English as early as ten years after Luther composed it, but the version most of us sing today was translated by Frederick Hedge more than 300 years later, in 1853. It is by no means a literal translation of the original, understandably taking certain licenses for the sake of meter and rhyme. Add to that the fact that Hedge was a Unitarian minister — meaning he believed in God’s oneness but not threeness. In other words, he was no Trinitarian. He believed Jesus was fully human but not God, inspired by God but not his eternal divine Son.

To give Hedge his due, his English version well embodies the mood and major themes of Luther’s original. “Mighty fortress,” admittedly less familiar imagery for us, captures Psalm 46 better than what comes to our minds today when we think of a “castle.” What’s in view in the psalm is first strength, not beauty. Think Helm’s Deep, not Disneyland. And we can thank Hedge for his powerful quatrain, alluding with Luther to Luke 21:16–18, at the finale:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still

What the Unitarian Lost

However, we shouldn’t be too surprised that a Unitarian translator might miss some things, both small and large — some intentionally and others unavoidably, given the nature of translating lyrics as opposed to prose. To help you better enjoy the power of Luther’s original, let’s note seven variants, thanks to a “woodenly literal” translation by John Piper, reviewed by German pastor Matthias Lohmann. (The full translation is posted below.)

1. Offense, Not Just Defense

Hedge’s second line says God is “a bulwark never failing.” What we miss from the original is that God, our Mighty Fortress, is not only defensive but also offensive — literally, “a good defense and weapon.” He not only protects but leads us forward into victory.

2. Help from Every Misery

In crafting his poetic lines, Hedge says God is our helper “amid the flood of mortal ills.” Luther’s original is more sweeping: “he helps us get free from every misery.” This is the major theme we see emerge: Luther’s is stronger.

3. Luther’s Wonderful Extreme Statements

“As strong as ‘A Mighty Fortress’ is in our English, it is even stronger in its undiluted, original form.”

Speaking of every, Hedge’s translation consistently softens Luther’s extreme statements. Which means that as strong as “A Mighty Fortress” is in our English, it is even stronger in its original form. Not only does our God, our Mighty Fortress, free us from “every misery,” but “With our power nothing is accomplished / We are very soon lost” (compare with “Did we in our own strength confide / Our striving would be losing”). So also, Satan “does not do anything to us” is a more forceful claim than simply “his rage we can endure.” And related to our “goods and kindred” (literally, “goods, honor, child, and wife”), Luther asserts, “They will have no profit,” which Hedge leaves out altogether and fills the gap with “God’s truth abideth still.”

What’s lost in Hedge softening Luther’s edges? Luther’s extremes better capture not only God’s extreme fullness and power, but also our extreme emptiness and powerlessness.

4. God Works All According to Plan

We said above that the hymn culminates with Romans 8. Not only is Satan utterly unsuccessful in his efforts against us (Romans 8:31), but in the final stanza, Luther alludes to Romans 8:28, with Ephesians 1:11: “[Christ] is with us according to plan.” Hedge again says less (“Through him who with us sideth”), opting just to capture “with us” but not the divine sovereignty of “according to plan.”

5. The World Could Be Much Worse

Hedge’s “though” at the outset stanza three introduces a subtle difference worth noting. “Though this world with devils filled” concedes a magnitude to the evil presently at work in our world that Luther did not. He did not think the world was full of devils. Devils enough, for sure, but not a world full of them. Luther says “even if.” He raises a hypothetical to make a case for God-confident faith now. “Even if the world were full of devils” — and it is not full of devils, but just one — but even if this were the case, “We would not thus fear so very much / We will nevertheless succeed.”

Luther aims to conquer fear, and feed faith, in the present by asserting that even if our plight was much worse, we would still be utterly secure in Christ. How much more should we now rest secure in his unshakable sovereignty!

6. No Other God Than Jesus

Most significantly, the Unitarian drops Luther’s reference to Jesus as God. Hedge inserts “from age to age the same” in place of “there is no other God.” This is the greatest of Luther’s extreme statements that doesn’t make Hedge’s cut, and this is the single biggest oversight or alteration. Might it not be fair to assume alteration since Hedge was Unitarian?

It is gloriously true that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but that’s not what Luther had in his original. Rather, it seems to have made the Unitarian squirm, and he sought to rescue this otherwise strong hymn from what he thought was Trinitarian error.

7. His Kingdom Is for Us

Finally, Hedge’s last line (“His kingdom is forever”) loses Luther’s “for us” (literally, “The kingdom must remain for us”). It’s a small loss, yes, but sweet and important. This is the great for-us-ness which the Reformation so wonderfully recaptured. In Christ, we not only catch a glimpse of God’s spectacular kingdom, but we’re invited in. We become part of the reign from the inside (even, in some real way, reigning with him, 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6) — in a kingdom that not only remains forever but is for us, for our eternal good and everlasting joy.

So, this weekend, and into the future, as we enjoy Hedge’s admirable translation — for which we should be thankful — we can rest assured that Luther’s original is even stronger, and even better. And Psalm 46 and Romans 8 are even better, and even stronger, than what Luther could capture in verse. The God we sing about will always be stronger, and better, than even our best songs can say.


A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
A “Woodenly Literal” Translation
by John Piper, with Matthias Lohmann

A strong castle is our God,
A good defense and weapon.
He helps us become free from every misery
That has now affected us.
The old evil enemy
Is now in earnestness with his intents.
Great Power and much deception
Is his cruel armor.
On earth is not its likeness.

With our power nothing is accomplished.
We are very soon lost.
The right man fights for us
Whom God himself has chosen.
Do you ask who that is?
His name is Jesus Christ,
The Lord of hosts,
And there is no other God.
The battlefield he must hold.

Even if the world were full of Devils
And would want to swallow us up,
We would not thus fear so very much.
We will nevertheless succeed.
The prince of this world,
How bitterly he might pretend to be,
Nevertheless will not do anything to us
Because he is judged.
A little word can fell him.

That word they shall let stand
And will have no thanks for it.
He is with us according to plan
With his Spirit and gifts.
If they take the body,
Goods, honor, child, and wife,
Let them go away.
They will have no profit.
The kingdom must remain for us.

You may wish to listen . . .
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Bruised Pride, Bound to Christ

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy” (p. 5).  (The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes, one of the most influential figures in the Puritan movement during the earlier years of the 17th century).

Early in reading this book, I came upon that passage.  I thought, “Okay, I’m a reed, not an oak—and, yeah, a bruised one.”  But I was moved to ponderthese words: “Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.”

By know you know well I have primary lateral sclerosis (and you’re probably weary of hearing about it!)—an incurable, degenerative neurological disease that has put me in a wheelchair, keeps everything below my waste from working right and leaves me increasingly weak all over.

Has the sovereign God—our Father in heaven—allowed this, at least partly, because pride in my nature must be rooted out?  Is God humbling me?  Is that what this is about?

Okay, I admit it:  I find pride in my heart.  I’m surprised.  But pride must be there, because I’m humbled by my condition.  I’m humbled at how I look.  At what I can’t do.  At what has to be done for me.  I loathe the humbling process, when I suppose I should be welcoming it as a good thing from our Father.

But I don’t.  I resist it.  I pray for it to be gone.  I don’t pray, “Your will be done.”  Is that pride?  Pride that I want to walk for myself, that I want to look as well as a 73-year-old can, that I want to do for myself and not have to be done for, that I want to care for my wife instead of her taking care of me?

Ah, what to do?  Pray for healing and pray for contentment with God until it comes?  I’ve tried that.  And, honestly, I pray a lot more fervently for healing than contentment.  I pray for healing as something I really want and contentment as something I should want.

Sibbes wrote another line that stands out …

“The heroic deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do” (p. 5).

He refers to David and Paul. “Great worthies”.  I’m not so much comforted by David’s defeat of Goliath as I am his sin with Bathsheba.  Not that I’m tempted to have sex with another man’s wife.  But I’m comforted knowing “the man after God’s own heart” faced strong sexual temptations.  And Paul.  I’m not comforted by his too-much-for-words heavenly vision, but by his thorn in the flesh.  God didn’t deliver him, but promised him the power of grace–“My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Sibbes explains “bruising” is necessary for two reasons . . .

One, I must “see that [I] live by mercy.  I deserve no good thing I have.  I’ve merited nothing.  All is mercy, beginning with new life through the crucified and resurrected Christ.  And his mercies are new every morning.  I should look for them—and give thanks for them.

Two, “There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound unto him” (p. 5).

I must be conformed to Christ.  That’s God’s goal . . .

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

“ . . . he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . ”  “There must be conformity to our head, Christ . . . ”

So pride (which I thought I didn’t have) must be rooted out and replaced with humility—a humility (like Christ) by which I’m willing to take a lower place.  I must be “bruised”.  Why?  “ . . . that we may know how much we are bound unto him.”

I may be confused about how to pray.  Healing?  Grace?  Both?

But this I must know.

This “bruising”–this illness–doesn’t mean Christ abandoned me..

This “bruising” shows how tightly I’m bound to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reformation: Zacharius Ursinus

 Today we remember a man who furthered Luther’s reforms into the next generation, and thus was a key reformer who helped shape our theology today.  Thanks to desiringgod.org for this 500th-year commemoration of the Reformation.

Here We Stand

Day 28

Zacharius Ursinus

1534–1583

The Happy Professor

By Thomas Kidd

The opening of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) makes one of the most ringing affirmations of faith in all of Christian history:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

The Heidelberg Catechism was the product of a team of authors commissioned by the German elector Frederick III, a devout Protestant prince during the early decades of the German Reformation. Chief among the catechism’s authors was University of Heidelberg professor Zacharius Ursinus.

Humble Reformer

Ursinus was a student of Philip Melanchthon, who himself was one of the key disciples of the great German Reformer Martin Luther. Luther had died in 1546. As a young man in the 1550s, Ursinus journeyed through many of the major capitals of the European Reformation, meeting Geneva’s John Calvin, among other key Reformed leaders.

During this era, German Reformers were deeply divided over theological questions such as the exact nature of the Lord’s Supper. When the humble Ursinus was called to become a professor at Heidelberg in 1561, he declared, “Oh, that I could remain hidden in a corner!” But God was calling Ursinus to Heidelberg to help secure the legacy of the Reformation.

The Heidelberg Comforter

The Heidelberg Catechism was published anonymously, but most observers today credit Ursinus with taking a lead role in writing it. Its emphasis on Calvinist doctrine made it one of the most broadly influential catechisms of the Reformation era.

The Heidelberg Catechism was quickly translated into a number of other languages, including English in 1572. It would be surpassed in notoriety in the English-speaking world only by the Westminster Confession of Faith, produced in England during the next century. One of the reasons the Heidelberg Catechism was so successful is that it used unifying language about disputed issues, such as those related to the Lord’s Supper. Ursinus did not wish to further exacerbate divisions among Protestants.

Befitting Ursinus’s Calvinist convictions, however, the catechism paints a grim picture of the state of humanity outside of Christ. In question and answer (Q&A) 5 of the catechism, Ursinus tells us (based on a host of supporting biblical references) that we are “inclined by nature” to hate God and our neighbor. Q&A 8 asks whether we are “so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good.” Ursinus answers that yes, we are that corrupt, “unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”

Conversely, a life redeemed by God is one of holiness, contentedness, and unspeakable joy into eternity. The comfort contained in the first question comes from understanding the great depth of our sin, the great rescue Christ brings from the “misery” and wrath we face because of that sin, and the great thankfulness to God that the knowledge of our deliverance brings. Ursinus explains that our “new nature” in Christ is a “heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in good works.” Joy in our redemption, to Ursinus, is the foundation of holy living.

Legacy of Joy

In spite of Ursinus’s efforts to unify the feuding Protestant factions, Frederick III’s successor removed him and other Calvinist professors from the Heidelberg faculty in the 1570s. Ursinus found work at a Reformed academy not far from Heidelberg. He died in 1583, at age 48.

Through the Heidelberg Catechism, and through the extensive lectures he published defending the theology behind the catechism, Ursinus left a rich repository of biblical instruction for future generations of believers. Ursinus’s teachings still inspire much joy today, not least because of the great work God did through him and the whole host of Reformers.

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Happy Anniversary

Fifty-five years ago today, I stood at the front of Bethany Church in Paterson, N.J. I was looking over the heads of the congregation to the back doors of the sanctuary.  An angel in white, my beautiful bride, appeared there.  As music played, she walked slowly toward me and almost took my breath away.

We were 19 years old.  I didn’t know what I was getting into.  Had I known, I would have been breathless.  How can I now possibly describe over half-a-century of love?

I was quite immature when Lois married me.  Didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  For five years bumped from job to job, heading nowhere, while Lois was a rock.  At the end of those five years, when I told her I believed the Lord was calling me into ministry, she didn’t blink an eye.  It meant a life she hadn’t signed up for.  It meant leaving our apartment, putting our furniture in storage, leaving our families and heading off to an unknown future, from Bible college halfway across the country to three pastorates in N.J. and Florida.

She felt inadequate because she couldn’t play the piano.  (In the Assemblies of God, way back then, most pastor’s wives played.)  She was far from inadequate.  Piano?  No.  But pastor’s wife?  Yes.  She was always an assistant pastor without the title.  She loved people graciously.  Prayed and taught and encouraged.  Spoke words of wisdom to the pastor.  Looking back over 44 years of ministry, whatever “success” we enjoyed, it was because we served together.

Our marriage had some ups and downs.  But the downs were not so low (most downs my fault), and we always wanted our marriage to be model for other couples.  We didn’t set out deliberately to do that.  We just wanted how we loved each other to influence others.  Only heaven will reveal how much we succeeded.

We’re both retired now.  Pastoral ministry is history.  I’m wheelchair-bound.  Lois has a few wrinkles.  But we still love each other.  No, wait.  That’s not right.  We don’t still love each other:  we love each other more.  How can that be?

Well, I wonder how she can love me more, since I’m far from the dashing young specimen I once was.  But she says she loves me more, and I know I love her more.  How is that possible?  True love weathers.  It’s like a tree on a high mountain–beaten back over the years by winds, but toughened by them, still standing, stronger than ever.  Maybe that’ s not so romantic an image, but a good one.  We’re a bit bent.  But we’re still standing (me, metaphorically), arm in arm, heart to heart deeper in love for the years together and the adverse winds.

Couples who don’t survive decades together, for whatever reason, never have this kind of love to treasure.  In our culture, young love is exciting.  Old love is, well, old.  Don’t get me wrong.  If we could be young lovers again, I’d jump at the chance.  (Not too high.)  True, this old love may not be as exciting, but it runs deep and strong.  Nothing can dim it.  Nothing can wound it.  It’s sweet and tender, but it’s also tough.

That’s because our love has always been grounded in Christ.  We were married before God.  We pledged ourselves to each other in his presence.  We never considered not being together, because he made the two one.

Honey, as we celebrate yet another anniversary, I want you to know . .  .

“You are so beautiful to me,
Can’t you see?
You’re everything I hoped for
Everything I need
You are so beautiful to me.”
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=you+are+so+beautiful#id=1&vid=cda8d4d87378f31dc2fc2a4844b9892c&action=view

That old Joe Cocker song isn’t Christ-centered, but every so often (like today) I play it for Lois–and I cry because the simple lyrics say what my heart says and the moving chords pull at my heart’s strings.

I wish I could sing it to you, honey.  But know that, when I play the video. I’m singing to you in my heart.  At 55 years, you’re my more-beautiful than ever bride.  I love you.  Happy Anniversary.

Allan

P.S. Excuse any errors.  I didn’t want my proofreader to see this.

 

 

 

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Reformation: Theodore Beza

 I dislike the term “Calvinist” because, without definition, it can mean different things to different people.  So I try to avoid such labels.   Nevertheless, we owe much to God’s grace that worked through Calvin and was continued by Theodore Beza after Calvin’s death.  Thanks to desiringgod.org for providing these histories as we commemorate the 500th year of the Reformation.

Here We Stand

Day 27

Theodore Beza

1519–1605

The First Calvinist

By Shawn Wright

Theodore Beza was born into the lower nobility of France and given an excellent education there in preparation for his career as a lawyer. In God’s good providence, at the age of nine he was sent to study under Melchior Wolmar, a German Lutheran, who not only taught him Greek and Latin, but also taught Beza of Christ. Beza said of the beginning of Wolmar’s tutelage that it was “the beginning of all the good things which I have received from that time forward and which I trust to receive hereafter in my future life.”

Calvin’s Co-Pilot

After completing his education, though, Beza led a dissolute life in Paris for about a decade until he was bedridden and near death for a time. Then, in 1548, God brought him to his senses. Beza returned to his commitment to Jesus and fled France for the Reformed cause in Switzerland. He began teaching pastors in Lausanne, and in 1558 was called to Geneva to serve under John Calvin. Beza and Calvin developed a close bond in the last years of the latter’s life. Calvin wrote that he cared “deeply for Beza, who loves me more than a brother and honors me more than a father.”

Apart from a few trips outside the Swiss city-state, Beza spent the rest of his life in Geneva — often under trying conditions. He never knew if Catholics would invade the city and slaughter its inhabitants, and he had to battle the rising tide of Lutheran polemics against the Reformed Protestants.

Geneva’s Defender

Beza left his mark on the Reformation in several ways. First, on him fell the burden of leadership of the Genevan Reformation after Calvin died in 1564. For the next forty years, Beza served as pastor and professor, traveled to France to aid the beleaguered Protestants there, and debated Catholics and Lutherans.

John Calvin was undoubtedly the father of Calvinism, but Beza very well may have been the first Calvinist. He also gave form to what we now call Calvinism by explaining and defending the biblical doctrines Calvin had rediscovered. Through his teaching and writing ministry, Beza defended the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as essential to a sinner’s justification, he explained the justice of double predestination, and he expounded the comfort a believer receives from Christ’s definite atonement.

In addition to his pastoral leadership, Beza gave the young French-speaking Reformed church necessary literature to aid its growth. During his lifetime, Beza was best known for his work on the New Testament, culminating in his Annotations of the New Testament. This linguistic masterpiece included the Greek text of the New Testament, the Latin Vulgate translation, and Beza’s original Latin translation. Beza added his textual footnotes and explanatory notes, demonstrating that the Reformed faith was distinctly biblical. His notes in the Annotations influenced the 1560 English Bible translation, the Geneva Bible, which became the most popular Bible translation among the Puritans. The Greek text Beza published was that used by the translators of the 1611 King James Bible.

Under God’s Mighty Hand

Beza inherited Calvin’s biblical vision of God’s sweet sovereignty over all the affairs of human life. After Calvin’s death, Beza lived through tumultuous times, experiencing trials that would force him to trust in his Lord. In 1587, for instance, when it looked like Geneva was about to be overrun by Catholics, Beza encouraged his congregation to trust in their heavenly Father’s kind providence:

“This doctrine is full of excellent comfort. For thereby we understand, that by the power of our God, the rage of that hungry lion is abated and bridled, and that God will never suffer him to do anything against his children, which shall not be to their good and profit, as the apostle tells us (Romans 8:28) and also teaches us by his own example (2 Corinthians 12:17).”

Indeed, he told his listeners, our only hope is that our God is sovereign — so sovereign that he can save us from our sins when we are utterly dead spiritually:

“There is in our nature nothing but most desperate and most obstinate rebellion, until the Spirit of God do drive away, first, the darkness of our understanding, which cannot, nor will not of itself, so much as think upon the things of God (2 Corinthians 3:5) and that secondly it correct the forwardness of our will, which is an enemy of God, and of whatsoever is truly good (Romans 5:10 and 8:7).”

Beza saw that because God reigns and has all power, Christians can hope in his goodness both to save them and to protect them through the dangers of their earthly pilgrimage.

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Reformation: Lady Jane Grey

 Here’s a teenager who didn’t lead the Reformation, but lived out its gospel truths to the death–and to life beyond.  Be moved as you read of her courageous faith, and as we continue to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with thanks to desiringgod.org.

Here We Stand

Day 26

Lady Jane Grey

c. 1537–1554

The Teenage Martyr

By Scott Hubbard

February 10, 1554: Two days before Lady Jane Grey climbs the scaffold. The Catholic chaplain John Feckenham enters Jane’s cell in the Tower of London in the hopes of saving her soul. Or so he thinks.

Queen Mary (aka “Bloody Mary”) had already signed her cousin Jane’s death warrant, but she sent her seasoned chaplain to see if he could woo Jane back to Rome before her execution. Jane is about seventeen years old.

A charged debate follows — Feckenham the Catholic apologist and Jane the Reformed teenager. He presses that justification comes by faith and works; she stands her ground on sola fide. He asserts that the Eucharistic bread and wine are the very body and blood of Christ; she maintains that the elements symbolize Jesus’s saving work. He affirms the Catholic Church’s authority alongside Scripture; she insists that the church sits underneath the piercing gaze of God’s word.

“I am sure we two shall never meet [again],” Feckenham finally tells Jane, implying her damnation. But Jane turns the warning back on him: “Truth it is that we shall never meet [again], unless God turn your heart.”

Lady Jane’s Sovereign God

From one angle, Jane’s life is a story of manipulation, of powerful people using a teenager girl as a social and political prop. Her parents forced a severe education regimen upon her in the hopes that she could marry the heir to England’s throne. When that opportunity passed, the Greys colluded with the king’s chief minister to wed Jane to Guildford Dudley, a man she despised. And then, at the king’s passing, a group of political conspirers handed her the crown that would cost Jane her head.

A true angle as far as it goes, but it belongs to Ecclesiastes — it’s the under-the-sun perspective on Lady Jane. Through the lens of God’s providence, a different Jane appears. A Jane who used her Greek and Hebrew to study the Scriptures in their original tongue. A Jane sent to Henry VIII’s court for grooming, only to meet Jesus through the Christian witness of Queen Katherine Parr. And, finally, a Jane who faces trial, imprisonment, and beheading with God’s very words on her lips.

This second perspective is no attempt at hagiography or hero worship. The accounts tell us Jane could be stubborn as a weed. The perspective simply acknowledges that the God of Joseph still threads redemption through conniving relatives and lonely jail cells. “You meant to use me for your own ends,” Jane might have told any number of people, “but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

The Tower Cell

Lady Jane reluctantly took the throne on July 10, 1553, and willingly left it on July 19, 1553, when Mary gathered an army to depose her cousin queen. So Jane is often remembered by a number: the Nine-Days’ Queen.

On February 7, 1554, Mary signed the death warrant that would lead Jane to the scaffold just five days later. In addition to sparring with Feckenham, Jane spent her final days preparing a brief speech for her execution and sending some last remarks. On the inside of her Greek New Testament, she wrote to her younger sister, Katharine,

This is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. . . . And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.

On the Scaffold

The morning of February 12 brought Jane to the wall of the central White Tower, where a small crowd and an executioner awaited her arrival. Turning to the onlookers, Jane announced, “I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ.” She then knelt and recited Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God. . . .”

Once blindfolded, Jane groped her way to the execution block and laid her head in its groove. The last sound the crowd heard before the axe thudded into the block was a prayer from Jane’s seventeen-year-old voice: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” So ended the life of Lady Jane Grey, the teenage martyr.

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