The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2017 (page 2 of 5)

Jacob I Loved

So we have in mind this one surety from last time: “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a).  Despite all Israel’s privileges (9:4,5) and the nation’s inexplicable rejection of Messiah, “It is not as though the word of God had failed.”

How can you make such a claim, Paul?  God’s promises to the nation unkept!  Israel accursed and cut off from Christ (Messiah)!  And you say God’s word hadn’t failed?  Why?

“For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you’” (9:6b,7).

There is, Paul explains, an Israel within Israel—a spiritually chosen remnant within the Jewish nation.  Not every ethnic Israelite is a true Israelite.  Douglas Moo (New Testament Professor, Wheaton College Graduate school) comments . . .

“If the OT teaches that belonging to physical Israel in itself makes a person a member of God’s true spiritual people, then Paul’s gospel is in jeopardy. For were this the case, the gospel, proclaiming that only those who believe in Jesus Christ can be saved (cf. 3:20-26), would contradict the OT and be cut off from its indispensable historical roots. Paul therefore argues in vv. 6b-29 that belonging to God’s true spiritual people has always been based on God’s gracious and sovereign call and not on ethnic identity. Therefore, God is free to ‘narrow’ the apparent boundaries of election by choosing only some Jews to be saved (vv. 6-13; 27-29). He is also free to ‘expand’ the dimensions of his people by choosing Gentiles (vv. 24-26)”.

In the verses above, Paul distinguished between “Abraham’s children” and “his true descendants”.  In the verses below, Paul distinguishes between “the children of the flesh” and “the children of God” . . .

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. For this is what the promise said, ‘About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son’” (9:8,9).

“Sarah shall have a son”.  That was God’s promise.  He would be born by God’s miraculous intervention.  And that son’s descendants are “not the children of the flesh” but “children of the promise” and, thus, “children of God.”

Paul also cites Rebecca . . .

“Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau’” (9:10-13).

One husband:  Isaac.  Before the twins’ birth or behavior:  God told her “The elder (Esau) shall serve the younger.”  Why?  For what purpose?  “ . . . so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by (their) works but by his call . . . “

Again, Paul explains, it’s not children of the flesh who are God’s children, but children of God’s election and call.  A God-chosen, God-called Israel lives within ethnic Israel.  So ethnic Israel rejected her Messiah, but “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a).

What, though, are we to make of Paul’s reference to Malachi 1,  “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau”?

Commentators suggest various solutions.  Some, for example, suggest “hated” only means that God loved Jacob so much his feeling toward Esau seemed like hatred.  Here is Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) . . .

Perhaps hate does indeed have a positive force. God not only did not savingly and redemptively love Esau, as he did Jacob, but he actively rejected him and manifested his displeasure and disfavor by means of retributive justice. It is not merely the absence of blessing that Esau suffers, but the presence of judgment (see Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16; 8:13; Isa. 1:14; 61:8; Jer. 44:4; Hos. 9:15; Amos 5:21; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 2:16).

I agree.  But, if we buy Storms’ interpretation, we should remember God hates without malice, revenge or bitterness.  Unlike the hate of sinful humans, God’s hatred is holy.  It’s a rejection of Esau.

Therefore, God’s word hadn’t failed, because God was keeping his promises to Israelites whom he sovereignly chose, not to ethnic Israel for whom his promises were never meant.

* * *

Romans 9-11 may be the most controversial section of the Bible, because we balk at God’s sovereignty, captured succinctly in the uncomfortable statement, “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau.”  Paul will unfold more about God’s sovereign choices in the coming verses.  We’ll have to face them head-on.

But, for today, I wish to downplay I have hated Esau” and turn the spotlight on “I have loved Jacob”.  God loved a cheat, a hypocrite, a con-man!  In many ways, Esau is easier to love.  But the Lord loved Jacob.  This was the Lord’s sovereign choice of grace, as it was his choice of Isaac over Ishmael (God told Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy (Ishmael) and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring  will be reckoned”–Genesis 21:12).  It was a choice of sovereign grace and love for an undeserving liar.

So God has loved and chosen me.  I’m as crooked as Jacob, as deceitful as Isaac.  Yet the Lord set his love on me.  (I know, because I believe in Jesus Christ.  Such faith is not mine; it’s God’s gift–a sign of being chosen.)  So, for today, I erase from my thinking, “I have hated Esau”.  In boldface I write, “I have loved Jacob”. 

And I gratefully write next to it, I have loved Allan”.



Our “right-to-choose” mind naturally erupts that God would choose Isaac, not Ishmael, and Jacob, not Esau.  I have no answer for God’s sovereign choice.  But, instead of trying to solve an unsolvable mystery, I choose to marvel that God chooses some sinners at all.  Instead of stumbling over “Esau I hated”, I’ll stand in awe that “Jacob I loved”.

Why should God love a con-man?  Why should God love me?  But, if I believe in Jesus, then I can be sure God has chosen me.  He’s set his love upon me.  Sent his Son for me.  It doesn’t solve the dilemma.  But it leaves me in wonder of why he should love me at all.




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Reformation: Pierre Viret

 Two issues stand out to me, as we remember the Reformation 500 years ago, thanks to   One, the travesty when government controls religion.  (Thank the Lord for our religious freedom in America!).  Two, the vital roles of “unknowns” in the Reformation that defines our theology today.  Who is this guy?

Here We Stand

Day 25

Pierre Viret


The Smile of the Reformation

By Douglas Wilson

Pierre Viret, born in 1511, was an apologist, an orator, a humorist, and an economist, and he was far ahead of his time. In addition to all this, he was also a great theologian.

A recent biography of Pierre Viret by Jean-Marc Berthoud is subtitled “A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation,” and that subtitle just about sums it up. We are so used to remembering the known giants of the Reformation — the likes of Luther and Calvin — that we sometimes forget they had peers.

Geneva’s Stepfather

Viret was a close personal friend to Calvin, and they both owed a significant debt to the same man, William Farel. Farel was the man who had heard that Calvin was passing through Geneva on his way to a quiet life in a library somewhere, and persuaded Calvin to stay there to help with the work of reformation. Persuaded is a mild way of putting it — he predicted thunder and ruin if Calvin did not remain — and so it was that William Farel scared Calvin into his prominent place in world history.

Pierre Viret was a native Swiss, but had gone to the University of Paris. He was converted to the Reformed faith while he was there, and fled to his hometown of Orbe to get away from the persecutions that had broken out in Paris. Farel was the man who then called Viret to the ministry, and so it was that he preached his first sermon at the age of 20, in May of 1531. This was five years before Calvin was confronted by Farel. Under his preaching ministry at Orbe, Viret had the great privilege of seeing his parents converted and brought into the Reformation.

Just as Calvin was associated with Geneva, so Viret was associated with Lausanne. The Genevan Academy is justly famous, but that academy was actually the stepchild of Viret’s earlier work. Viret had founded the first Reformed Academy in Lausanne in 1537. That academy grew and flourished there, and in its heyday had about a thousand students. Some of its former students went on to write the Heidelberg Catechism (Ursinus and Olevianus) and the Belgic Confession (de Bres). And Theodore Beza was the principal there.

Bridges Berned

But Viret was up against a similar challenge as that which faced Calvin — the issue of state-controlled church discipline. Because Lausanne was under the city of Bern’s authority, and because the civil authorities there would not permit church discipline apart from their review and permission, the result was continued moral corruption.

For one glaring example, one man was running a prostitution ring out of his mother’s home, and Bern prohibited withholding the Lord’s Supper from him. According to biographer Jean-Marc Berthoud, “In his polemical writings Viret was often to declare that the Bernese Pope in short frock (the absolute State) was a far worse enemy for the faith than the old Pope of Rome in his long gown” (Pierre Viret, 35).

After many appeals, Viret decided that he simply needed to draw the line. He had the local authorities postpone a communion service so that he could examine and instruct those coming to partake. When the lords of Bern heard about this, they were outraged and demanded that Viret be sacked, which he then was. Viret then went to Geneva — and the entire faculty resigned in protest. As a result, a few months later, the academy in Geneva was formed. In effect, the Lausanne Academy relocated — and a cloud of blessing with it.

A Reformer with a Grin

Farel, mentioned earlier, was fully orthodox, but it must be acknowledged that his head was kind of on fire. Viret, by contrast, was much more even-keeled. Although Viret was an effective polemicist, and by no means an ecclesiastical pacifist, by the time he died in 1571 he earned the sobriquet “The Smile of the Reformation.”

Viret knew how to be combative, but he was also entirely winsome. May his tribe return, and increase.

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Reformation: Robert Estienne

 An unsung–yet well-read and deeply-knowledgeable–printer furthers the Reformation!  The power of books to transmit truth and shape the mind!  We are the poorer today for allowing our social media reading to blot out book-length reading of words on a page.  We are commemorating the Reformation’s 500th anniversary courtesy of

Here We Stand

Day 24

Robert Estienne


The Ink

By Matt Crutchmer

The title page of the 1559 edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion bears the device of its printer in Geneva: an olive tree shorn of several branches. The broken-off branches are pictured mid-fall and surrounded by the motto Noli altum sapere, “Do not be arrogant.” The tree also bears bandages where other branches have been grafted in.

An earlier version of this device, seen in the 1531 Thesaurus Latinæ linguæ, appends the phrase sed time, “but fear.” The man in the woodcut could be the apostle Paul, author of these words in Romans 11:19–20. Then again, the stones around the man’s feet suggest that the figure could also be Stephen, whose convicting preaching and martyrdom is portrayed in Acts 7.

The conjunction of these two biblical allusions here is significant because the device belongs to the typographer, printer, and scholar Robert Estienne, or “Robertus Stephanus.” Estienne’s life and career displayed many of the marks of the Reformation.

The Royal Typographer

Estienne was not only a significant printer on the Continent during the early- to mid-sixteenth century, but he was a scholar of the Bible and classical literature as well. While working in Paris during the rule of King Francis I, such was his skill that Estienne was named “Royal Typographer”: the king’s printer in Hebrew and Latin in 1539, and then the king’s printer in Greek in 1542.

The king of France understood well the new humanist impulse toward the study of ancient texts. Estienne wrote, “Far from grudging to anyone the records of ancient writers which he at great and truly royal cost has procured from Italy and Greece, he intends to put them at the disposal and service of all men.”

During his years in France, Estienne compiled and printed many linguistically focused books: a Greek primer, a Latin–French dictionary, and the Thesaurus linguæ latinæ. He also began work on the important Thesaurus linguæ graecæ, which would serve as a standard of Greek — and therefore biblical — lexicography until at least the 1800s.

Back to the Sources

As with so many Reformation-era scholars, Estienne’s love of ancient classical literature went hand in hand with a focus on the Bible in both the Latin Vulgate translation and its original Hebrew and Greek versions. He printed the Hebrew Old Testament twice, and his multiple editions of the Greek New Testament were highly influential and beneficial to the Reformation’s theological work.

It was Estienne who created the best and final system of verse division and numbering that our Bibles exhibit today. The famous Editio Regia of 1550 is a masterpiece of scholarship, artistry, and technical skill — the first Greek New Testament to include a critical apparatus to show variant readings, variants that Estienne found in the fifteen manuscripts he consulted. It is this edition, with its splendid Greek letters cut by Claude Garamond, that became the basis for the English-language Geneva Bible, as well as the study of Scripture for centuries to come.

By 1550, Estienne had printed many editions of the Latin Vulgate Bible in Paris, yet his scholarship had led him “in two directions” from that ecclesially authorized text: backwards, “behind the translation to the original texts,” and forward, to more full and careful explanations in his texts for the “ordinary educated reader,” which “could hardly avoid encroaching upon the domain of exegesis” (Robert Estienne, Royal Printer, 76–78).

In the 1545 edition, he included both a set of unauthorized marginal notes that discussed the legitimacy of the Vulgate’s rendering of the original texts, and his own rendering of Greek and Hebrew texts into a new Latin version parallel to the Vulgate. This book ultimately led to suspicion of heresy, of “Lutheran views,” and to Estienne’s fleeing of Paris for the haven of Geneva in 1550.

Geneva’s Publisher

In Geneva, now openly supporting the Protestant movement, Estienne set up his press and became the printer par excellence of the Reformation cause. His 1553 French Bible continued the Reformation emphasis on lay reading of Scripture in vernacular languages, and his editions of Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries, with other Protestant writings, all served the growing movement in its desire to hear clearly and be governed by the Scriptures.

The 1559 edition of the Institutes was “the most comprehensive summary of Protestant doctrine during the Reformation” (John Calvin’s “Institutes”, 219), and arguably the most important volume to arise in the Reformation, as evidenced by its translation into six (perhaps seven) other languages by 1624. Estienne’s edition, effortless to read and beautiful even by today’s standards, played a large role in the growth of Reformation churches during the sixteenth century.

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Reformation: John Calvin

 One meeting changed John Calvin’s plans.  Calvin’s new plans helped change the world.  Read about it in today’s entry of our 500th commemoration of the Reformation from

Here We Stand

Day 23

John Calvin


The Genius of Geneva

By John Piper

In the fall of 1539, John Calvin wrote to Sadoleto, an Italian cardinal seeking to win Geneva back to the Roman Catholic Church: “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God.” He goes on to say that Sadoleto should “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God” (Selections from His Writings, 89).

This would be a fitting banner over all of Calvin’s life and work — zeal to illustrate the glory of God. The essential meaning of Calvin’s life and preaching is that he recovered and embodied a passion for the absolute reality and majesty of God.

Mastered by Majesty

Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France, when Martin Luther was 25 years old and had just begun to teach the Bible in Wittenberg. The message and spirit of the Reformation would not reach Calvin for twenty years, and in the meantime he devoted his young adult years to the study of Medieval theology, law, and the classics.

But by 1533, something dramatic had happened in his life through the influence of Reformation teaching. Calvin recounts how he had been struggling to live out the Catholic faith with zeal when “God, by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame. . . . Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with [an] intense desire to make progress” (Selections from His Writings, 26).

Suddenly, Calvin saw and tasted in Scripture the majesty of God. And in that moment, both God and the word of God were so powerfully authenticated to his soul that he became the loving servant of God and his word the rest of his life.

Genevan Pastor

Calvin knew what sort of ministry he wanted. He wanted the enjoyment of literary ease so he could promote the Reformed faith as a scholar. But God had radically different plans.

After escaping from Paris and finally leaving France entirely, Calvin intended to go to Strasbourg for a life of peaceful literary production. But while Calvin was staying the night in Geneva, William Farel, the fiery leader of the Reformation in that city, found out he was there and sought him out. It was a meeting that changed the course of history, not just for Geneva, but for the world. Calvin remembers,

Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, . . . and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquillity of the studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken.

The course of his life was irrevocably changed. Never again would Calvin work in what he called the “tranquillity of studies.” From now on, every page of the 48 volumes of books and tracts and sermons and commentaries and letters that he wrote would be hammered out on the anvil of pastoral responsibility. For the next 28 years (apart from a two-year hiatus), Calvin gave himself to expositing the word — to displaying the majesty of God in Scripture to his Genevan flock.

Glory Recovered

The need for the Reformation was fundamentally this: Rome had “destroyed the glory of Christ in many ways” (Portrait of Calvin, 9). The reason, according to Calvin, the church was “carried about with so many strange doctrines” was “because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us” (Portrait of Calvin, 55). In other words, the great guardian of biblical orthodoxy throughout the centuries is a passion for the glory and the excellency of God in Christ.

The issue is not, first, the well-known sticking points of the Reformation: justification, priestly abuses, transubstantiation, prayers to saints, and papal authority. Beneath all of them — at stake in them all for Calvin — was the fundamental issue of whether the glory of God was shining in its fullness, or was somehow being diminished. From the beginning of his ministry to the end of his life, his guiding star in vision was the centrality and supremacy and majesty of the glory of God.

Unlocking the Treasures of Scripture

Geerhardus Vos has argued that this focus on the glory of God is the reason the Reformed tradition succeeded more fully than the Lutheran tradition in “mastering the rich content of the Scriptures.” Both had “cast themselves on the Scriptures.” But there was a difference:

Because Reformed theology took hold of the Scriptures in their deepest root idea, it was in a position to work through them more fully from this central point and to let each part of their content come to its own. This root idea which served as the key to unlock the rich treasures of the Scriptures was the preeminence of God’s glory in the consideration of all that has been created. (Shorter Writings, 243)

The true genius of Geneva was not the mind of John Calvin, but passion for the glory of God. Every generation needs to unlock the treasures of Scripture for the peculiar perils and possibilities of its own time. Our generation no less than any. I think we will only do this well if we have been profoundly and joyfully mastered by the greatest reality the Scriptures reveal — the majesty of God’s glory.

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Reformation: John Knox

The 2001 religion census in Scotland shows 42% of the population belongs to the Church of Scotland.  The church has been Calvinistic due to the Reformation efforts of John Knox in the 16th century.  Read about him today courtesy of, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Here We Stand

Day 22

John Knox

c. 1513–1572

The Champion of the Kirk

By Sinclair Ferguson

In the early 1500s, Scotland had one thing in common with the rest of Europe: a deeply corrupt and spiritually impoverished church, with morally moribund leadership. To cite one notorious example, David Beaton, cardinal and archbishop, illegitimately fathered at least fourteen children as his own. So much for celibacy in action. The spiritual ignorance was such that George Buchanan could claim that some priests thought the New Testament was a book recently published by Martin Luther.

Enter John Knox, and the Reformation was underway.

Born in Haddington, East Lothian, sometime between 1513 and 1515, Knox received his schooling locally and then at the University of St. Andrews. He became a priest and returned to his home region as notary and tutor. We know as little about his conversion as we do about Calvin’s.

Capture and Release

After the Protestant George Wishart’s martyrdom in St. Andrews, Knox came to the town with some of his young students and, in 1547, joined the group of Reformers living in the castle there. When Knox was appointed to preach, he refused, but he was virtually manhandled into accepting a call from the castle congregation to become their minister. Within a matter of months, however, the castle was under siege from French ships in St. Andrews Bay. Knox and others were captured, and he became a galley slave for the next year and a half.

In 1549, Knox was released and made his way to England. He pastored a congregation at Berwick, but soon he moved to Newcastle. He then became a royal chaplain during the days of the young King Edward VI. The death of Edward in 1553 was a body blow to the reforming party in England, leading as it did to the enthronement of Mary Tudor (“that idolatrous Jezebel” were Knox’s carefully chosen words to describe her). Knox sought refuge on the Continent.

Life on the Continent

Between 1553 and 1559, Knox lived a somewhat nomadic existence. He spent some time with Calvin in Geneva, calling it “the most perfect school of Christ . . . since the days of the apostles.” Thereafter, he accepted a call to pastor the English-speaking congregation at Frankfurt am Main.

Knox married Englishwoman Marjorie Bowes and, in 1556, returned to Geneva, where he pastored a congregation of some two hundred refugees. The following year, he received an urgent invitation to come back to Scotland — 1558 was the scheduled time for the marriage of the young Mary, Queen of Scots, to the dauphin of France, an event that seemed to destine Scotland for permanent Roman Catholic rule.

A taste of Knox’s vigor can be savored in a letter he wrote that same year to the people of Scotland, urging them not to compromise the gospel. He reminded them that they must answer for their actions before the judgment seat of God:

[Some make excuses:] “We were but simple subjects, we would not redress the faults and crimes of our rulers, bishops, and clergy; we called for reformation, and wished for the same, but . . . we were compelled to give obedience to all that they demanded.” These vain excuses, I say, will nothing avail you in the presence of God.

Return to Scotland

In 1559, Knox finally returned home to begin his most important phase of public ministry as the champion of the kirk (the Scottish term for church). Despite his lengthy absences from his native land, several things equipped Knox to lead the Reformation there: his name was associated with the heroes of the recent past, his sufferings authenticated his commitment, his broad experience had prepared him for leadership, and his sense of call made him “fear the face of no man.” So, for the next thirteen years, Knox gave himself to the reformation of Scotland.

By the summer of 1572, Knox was a shadow of his former self, and by November, it was clear he was not long for this world. On the morning of November 24, he asked his second wife, Margaret, to read 1 Corinthians 15 to him, and around five o’clock came his final request: “Read where I cast my first anchor” (presumably in faith). She read John 17. By the end of the evening, he was gone.

Many explanations have been forthcoming for Knox’s influence and that of the Scottish Reformation. No doubt there were many factors at work in the providence of God that brought about such spiritual renewal. But Knox’s own conviction was this: “God gave His Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” Therein lies the greatest lesson of his life.

is a Ligonier teaching fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.
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God’s Word Failed?

Imagine reading a book on nuclear fission, when suddenly you find three chapters where the author reveals his feelings about friendships lost.  Bewildering, no?  That’s how Romans 9-11 appears.  But, as we’ll see, Paul has a purpose consistent with the gospel.

“I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (9:1-3).

Paul elaborates on the truth of what he’s about to write.  Not because we think he might lie, but because he earlier said some harsh things about the Jews (2:9,17-29; 3:9,29; 4:9-18; 9:25-10:5,19-21; 11:1ff.)—and what he’s about to say is quite the opposite.

He is, he writes, “speaking the truth in Christ”.  That is, he’s speaking the truth as Christ himself would.  His “conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit”.  That is, he knows intuitively that he’s speaking the truth as found in his Spirit-filled heart.

And what is this truth?  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”

What causes such sorrow and anguish?  Paul hints at it when he wishes he himself were “accursed and cut off from Christ”.  Messiah, for whom the Jews longed, has come—and they rejected him.  They are “accursed”.  The Greek is anathema—“delivered over to God’s wrath”.  They are “cut off from Messiah”.

And Paul wishes he might be in their place.  Commentators go to considerable length to explain the possibility of Paul prayer-wishing such a thing.  Could Paul have really prayed like that?  Might God accept such a sacrifice for others.  I think Paul is merely stating how much he loves his “kindred according to the flesh”, and what he would do to save them if he could.

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (9:4,5).

Paul stands in awe at the God-given privileges they enjoyed.  “Israelites” is a general term of honor meant to summarize the privileges that follow.

“ . . . to them belong the adoption”.  One commentator explains this is Paul’s way of speaking of the Israelites as God’s sons.  Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Exodus 4:22,23) . . . Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Deuteronomy 14:1).

“to them belong . . . the glory”. 

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:34-38).

The “glory” signified God’s holy presence among the Israelites.

“to them belong . . . the covenants”.  These include, not only the Mosaic covenant, but all the promises the LORD made to Israel.

. . .remember lthat you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12).

“to them belong . . . the giving of the law”.  Paul takes his readers back to Sinai and the LORD’s revelation of how his people must live as his covenant people.  The law reflected the very nature of God.

“to them belong . . . the worship”.  That is, the sacrificial system by which their sins could be atoned for and which pointed forward toward Messiah and the Temple where the Holy One himself dwelt among them.

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.  For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.  Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:1-5).

“to them belong . . . the promises”. 

Here’s one the Lord made to Abraham . . .

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:6-8).

And another through the prophet Daniel . . .

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13,14).

to them belong the patriarchs”.  Great men of faith and exploits:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and probably David.

“ . . . and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

“Messiah”, writes C.E.B. Cranfield (late New Testament scholar), “is the supreme privilege, the supreme dignity of the Jewish people”.

* * *

Despite all that, the majority of Jews  rejected the Messiah.  Hence, Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish.

How could such a thing happen?

We ask, because we suddenly remember that through Paul God the Holy Spirit has made promises to us, too.  Roman’s 8 runs full of them and ends with this extravagant promise . . .

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Indeed, all of Romans 8 contains similar grandeur that it takes our breath away.

Now:   if God didn’t keep his word to Israel, how can we be confident he’ll keep it to us?

Hear Paul’s emphatic response: . . .

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a). 

Paul will explain in following verses.  He’ll answer our, “How could such a thing happen?”, question.  But, for now, this is enough.  On this we must stand. And pray that the Holy Spirit will root it deep in our minds and heart.  For this is the very nature of our God  . . .

“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

Be assured.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord, no matter how life seems.

“It is not as though the word of God had failed” (9:6a).





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Reformation: Conrad Grebel

Two things stand out from reading about Grebel.  One, the authority the state had over the church.  We take religious freedom in America for granted.  We shouldn’t.  It’s a right to appreciate and protect. ” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ” (U.S. Constitution, First Amendment).  (See “The Left’s New Plan to Gut Religious-Liberty Protections”– utm_campaign=NR%20Daily%20Saturday%202017-10-14&utm_term=NR5PM%20Actives),
Two, the cost believers were willing to bear to obey the gospel.  Makes me wonder how willing we are.  Anyway, here’s today’s entry for the 500th commemoration of the Reformation from . . .

Here We Stand

Day 21

Conrad Grebel

c. 1498–1526

The Radical Reformer

By Abigail Dodds

A radical among radicals, Conrad Grebel’s vision for the church is a familiar one to most evangelicals today. But at the time it made him an exile, not just from Roman Catholicism, but even among the Reformers.

Grebel was born in 1498 to a prominent family in Zurich. In 1524, Grebel’s university career began in Basel with what seemed like a promising start. But things unraveled as Grebel’s differences of opinion with his teacher, his brawling, and his loose living caused his father to cut him off. Chastened, he returned home to Zurich, where he fell in with a small band of humanists studying Greek, Hebrew, and the Latin Bible under the instruction of Ulrich Zwingli.

Sometime in the year following his stint with Zwingli, Grebel’s life changed. He married a woman below his class, which caused a further break with his family, and he was converted, as evidenced by a dramatic change in his lifestyle. It didn’t take long for Grebel to become one of Zwingli’s most enthusiastic supporters and earn a reputation as a gifted gospel witness.

Dispute and Disrepute

But just a little more than a year later, in October 1523, a wedge began working its way between the two men. The culprit? Mass. In a public disputation, both men favored abolishing the Mass, but when Zwingli saw that the city councilmen were not ready to go that far, he relented. This was unthinkable to Grebel, who felt that the clear word of God must be obeyed without delay. Both sides felt betrayed: Grebel felt Zwingli agreed to do what he had condemned as abominable (that is, continue performing the Mass), and Zwingli felt Grebel was ungrateful and demanding.

This dispute got to the heart of one of Grebel’s deepest differences with the mainstream Reformers: To whom does the church answer? Grebel was convinced that the city councilmen should have no authority over the church and its practice — more so, they should have no authority over the word of God itself. On the flip side, he didn’t think the church should have authority over the state either, and he opposed compulsory tithing and the like. The seeds of a separation between church and state were germinating. To us, this separation is as familiar as the air we breathe; to them, it was revolutionary.

A Romish Water Bath

The last nail in the coffin on Grebel’s association with the mainstream Reformers was over infant baptism. Grebel had hoped that Zwingli might be amenable to his conviction that only believing adults should be baptized, but it was not to be so.

On January 17, 1525, Zwingli called for a public debate to force the issue. Grebel was joined by Felix Manz and George Blaurock for the side of believers’ baptism. In the end, the city council agreed with Zwingli and ordered Grebel’s group to cease meeting for Bible study. They also ordered all unbaptized infants to be brought for baptism or else be exiled. Grebel’s daughter was two weeks old at the time and, in Grebel’s words, “had not yet been baptized and bathed in the Romish water bath.” Nor would she be while Grebel drew breath, which wasn’t for long.

A few days after the debate, Grebel gathered at Felix Manz’s home with the exiled radicals, and he performed the first adult baptism on Blaurock, a married former priest. In the months following, Grebel preached the gospel of “repent and be baptized” in St. Gall, and around five hundred people responded by doing just that.

Grebel was arrested and imprisoned in October 1525. After escaping from prison the following year, he continued preaching the gospel until he died of the plague just a few months later.

Preach and Obey

The driving force behind Grebel’s actions and doctrinal reforms could be summed up this way: preach and obey the word without compromise. In his own words,

Seek earnestly to preach only God’s word unflinchingly, to establish and defend only divine practices, to esteem as good and right only what can be found in definite clear Scripture, and to reject, hate, and curse all the schemes, words, practices, and opinions of all men, even your own.

Even if it means exile or worse.

(@abigaildodds) is a wife and mother of five. She’s a homemaker seeking to know and love God through the study of his word. She’s a regular contributor to Desiring God and blogs at
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Reformation: Heinrich Bullinger

 After reading this, I’m thinking of the countless stories heaven will reveal of “ordinary” men and women significantly used by God to advance his gospel throughout history.  Thanks to for making this 500th Reformation commemoration possible.

Here We Stand

Day 20

Heinrich Bullinger


The Majestic Beard of Zurich

By David Mathis

In an age when the celibate priesthood set itself apart from the laity, in part, with clean-shaven faces, the Protestant Reformers grew beards to make a statement. They were restoring both maleness and humanity to church leadership, and they weren’t afraid to have it written on their faces.

Word is that Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister in the leading Swiss city of Zurich, had the best beard of all. One historian describes Bullinger’s as “majestically bushy” — and it wasn’t altogether disconnected from the theology he carefully grew, and groomed, in the wake of the Reformation’s first shocking loss.

Protestant and Preacher

Bullinger, son of a Catholic priest, was born in the Swiss town of Bremgarten in 1504. He went off to the University of Cologne in Germany in 1519 to study humanities, not medieval theology. While there he encountered a book-burning of Luther’s works, and it piqued his interest. He then determined to read the Reformer for himself, and as he did, his world turned upside down. He was now eighteen years old, and a Protestant convert.

In 1523, the year after his conversion, Bullinger met Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who had been converted in 1519, around the same time as Luther, and quickly became the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli was twenty years Bullinger’s elder, but the two became allies, and eight years later their lives were forever linked when disaster struck the fledging Reformed movement.

Zurich Successor

Zwingli was not only pastor in Zurich but also army chaplain. On October 11, 1531, the great Reformer joined the Battle of Kappel to defend the city against Catholic forces. He was wounded, then found by the invading army, and executed.

After the Protestant loss, Bullinger’s hometown, where he now was pastoring a Protestant church, came under threat. He fled for Zurich. There he took into his own household the wife and two surviving children of his dead friend, and within weeks he was chosen as his successor as chief minister in Zurich, a post at which Bullinger would stand for 44 years, from age 27 until his death at 71 in 1575.

Early Covenant Theologia

How often history pairs the strengths of great men with attendant weaknesses. One of Bullinger’s signature contributions was his primitive form of “covenant theology.” Here he followed the lead of Zwingli, who organized his theology by the covenant motif, rather than by medieval categories.

Zwingli located his theological center in God’s creation covenant with Adam. Bullinger matured and modified that theology to focus on Abraham, a step in the right direction, but as historian David Steinmetz notes, both located their theological center of gravity in the Old Testament rather than the New. The strengths included reading the whole Bible as one story; the weaknesses included a penchant to minimize (or reject) discontinuities revealed in the New.

In short, Zwingli and Bullinger read the whole Bible but still a flat Bible. What remains unclear is how much such early covenant theology led to the mistreatment of Zurich’s so-called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”), and how much it developed in response to these “radicals.” In 1525, Zwingli and Bullinger together defended infant baptism at a public disputation against the Anabaptists, which led to the eventual drowning of some.

Bullinger also followed Zwingli in opposing church music because of its danger to become an idol and hinder true worship. Bullinger groomed Zwingli’s instinct into a matter of principle, and church music was not restored in Zurich until almost 25 years after Bullinger’s death.


Yet his life and enduring legacy would not be as a divider, but as a unifier. Behind his majestic beard was one of the biggest hearts of the Reformation era, and one of its most tireless peacemakers. Though he rarely left Zurich, he engaged in voluminous personal correspondence (some twelve thousand of his letters have survived) to counsel and build coalition with Reformed leaders across Europe.

Even more than his gifted preaching, he was known for his patience, wisdom, and generous spirit. He stabilized the young but influential Zurich church, not only after its shocking tragedy but then for more than forty years. He grew and groomed what Zwingli began. According to Steinmetz, “Without Zwingli there would have been no Reformation in Zurich; without Bullinger it would not have lasted.”

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Follow Me

I’ve always seen Matthew 9:9 as a simple, yet profound picture of Jesus’ call and our response . . .

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.”

Matthew must have understood Jesus’ call as the summons of a rabbi to a student.  He was to learn all the rabbi would teach him.  And the final result would be, not a head full of theology, but a life like the rabbi.

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Matthew couldn’t have known what we know:  that to be “fully trained” would entail inner transformation by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, however, knew it was enough at that point for Matthew to understand “fully trained” to be ultimately “like his teacher.”

Matthew 9:9 first impressed me when I was a young pastor.  Life was simpler then.  I had a loving wife (as I do now) and one child (a son).  I was pastoring a small church in southern New Jersey.  I wanted to see that church revived and reformed as Jesus would have it.  I expected the Holy Spirit to work in us and among us.  The future was bright.  I was full of faith and hope.

“Follow me” meant “keep learning from me and do what I would do in your place.”  Simple.  Well, not always.  There were problems, to be sure.  But I was doing the Lord’s work.  It was a high and holy calling.  I plunged ahead, practicing what I’d been taught in Bible college and trusting the Lord to guide me where no classes did.  I was following him in my family, in my ministry, in my personal life.

Today I’ve thought of Matthew 9:9 again.  Was it the Holy Spirit?  Probably, because this is a down day.  My list of limitations due to illness is long.  I’m depressed about what I can no longer do.  And then here comes Jesus walking up to me at my pity booth.  He says to me, “Follow me.”

Simple, huh?  Well, not quite.  Unlike Matthew, I can’t get up and follow Jesus.  My legs don’t work anymore; I’m wheelchair-bound.

So what does, “Follow me”, mean now?  It still means, “Learn from me.  Give heed to my training, so you can become like me.”  It even means, “When you struggle with your immobile body to crawl out of bed in the morning and shakily slide into your wheelchair, do it as I would do it.” 

Wait.  Jesus in a wheelchair?  Wouldn’t he just speak the authoritative word and walk?  Maybe not.  When they nailed him to a cross, he didn’t call ten thousand angels to set him free.

But his death was redemptive.  There’s nothing redemptive about primary lateral sclerosis.  Or, is there?  Is Jesus working some good in me I can’t see?

If I can’t see (and I can’t), that’s up to him.

My part, all these years later in a body that’s falling apart, is still to hear him say, “Follow me”—and to get up into my wheelchair and follow him.



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Reformation: Hellen Stirke

 I find this Reformation account more moving than all the others–maybe because it’s about ordinary people like us . . .

Here We Stand

Day 19

Hellen Stirke

Died 1543

The Ordinary Virgin Mary

By Tony Reinke

The drama of the Protestant Reformation casts big personalities and major characters, the types of men now etched into myths, legends, and giant stone figures. But the Reformation is also the story of everyday, ordinary followers of Christ, mostly forgotten, who lived out Reformation theology on the ground — and who paid the price for it with their lives. Martyrs like Hellen Stirke.

Mary’s Equal

Hellen was a fairly average Scottish Christian in the city of Perth, dedicated to daily domestic work as a wife and mother. Her life remained unnoticed to history until the birth of her last child in 1544.

When the time arrived for Hellen’s labor and delivery, Catholic tradition called for earnest prayers to the Virgin Mary. Having a good sense of Scripture, Hellen repudiated these petitions. It was a tradition she would not follow. Her baffled midwives pressed her to make such a prayer, but she refused the ritual. The physical risk was real, but the prayers were nothing more than superstitious insurance.

“If I had lived in the days of the Virgin,” Hellen said with poise, “God might have looked likewise to my humility and base estate, as he did the Virgin’s, and might have made me the mother of Christ.” Her childbed sermonette must have triggered gasps. But Hellen was settled and comforted by her theology, knowing her prayers were going directly to God through her Savior Jesus Christ.

“I Will Not Bid You Good Night”

News of Hellen’s refusal to pray to Mary, and her bold claim that she was on equal standing before God, very soon found its way to the ears of the local Catholic clergy and quickly up the chain to the presiding cardinal. His response was swift to snuff out this spark of Protestant theology. Before long, Hellen was arrested and imprisoned, along with her husband and four other outspoken Protestants in the city. The small group was soon found guilty of “heresy” and sentenced to death. The following day, soldiers brought Hellen, her husband, and the condemned Protestants to the gallows.

Hellen asked to die side by side with her husband, James Finlason, but her request was denied. Men were to be hanged, women drowned, and James would go first. Holding her young child in her arms, Hellen approached her husband, kissed him, and gave him these parting words:

“Husband, be glad, for we have lived together many joyful days, and this day, in which we must die, we ought to esteem the most joyful of all, because we shall have joy forever. Therefore I will not bid you good night, for we shall shortly meet in the kingdom of heaven.”

James was hanged before her eyes. His life on earth done, eyes fell to Hellen, who was forced to hand her newborn to a nurse entrusted with the child’s care from this point. The authorities led Hellen to a nearby pond, bound her hands and feet, put her into a large gunnysack along with stones or weights, and threw her into the water like a bag of garbage. All for the crime of “blaspheming the Virgin Mary.”

A Cloud of Ordinary Witnesses

Heaven has all the details, but this is all we know of Hellen’s life. She was a bold woman made strong by Scripture. Her birthbed claim, that she was equally qualified to mother Jesus, was a radical ceremonial insubordination — but at the heart it was an act of faith, rendering the strata of all human superiority irrelevant in the presence of Christ’s supremacy.

Look deeper into the Reformation, and you will see that it’s more than printing presses and theses nailed to doors and theological debates. It’s the story of ordinary believers, husbands and wives and fathers and mothers, poised in the words of Scripture, reclaiming the primacy of Jesus Christ for their lives, their marriages, their families, and their eternal hopes, who stand as a cloud of witnesses calling us to do likewise. They call us to hold our biblical convictions without wavering, to enjoy God’s earthly blessings, and to endure all momentary afflictions now for the great eternal joy set before us.

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