The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Author: Allan Babcock (page 2 of 63)

Reformation: Thomas Cranmer

 “Reformation” quickly brings Martin Luther and his 95 theses to mind.  We’re learning that the Reformation involved many other men and women, some of whom paid with their lives to confront Roman Catholic church corruptions .  With thanks to desiringgod.org, here’s today’s hero of the faith . . .

Here We Stand

Day 14

Thomas Cranmer

1489–1556

The Gospel Lobbyist

By Matthew Westerholm

As King Henry VIII lay dying in his bed, he wanted one man to come and hold his hand. Amazingly, that man was a major proponent of the Protestant Reformation.

Thomas Cranmer helped lead the English Reformation, but he is an unlikely hero alongside Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers. He did not write any major theological books or pastor any important churches. Indeed, Cranmer did not adopt the central truths of the Reformation until relatively late in his life. But during the years of the Protestant Reformation, he shaped English theology perhaps more than any other person who has ever lived.

The Seed of Separation

Born in 1489, in the small village of Aslockton, Thomas Cranmer grew up near the same Sherwood Forrest where Robin Hood hid out three centuries earlier. He was a slow reader, taking eight years to finish Cambridge’s four-year undergraduate degree. He persevered in his studies, completed a masters degree, was ordained into ministry, and was elected by Cambridge to teach. He built a reputation for pushing his students to study the Bible for themselves.

While Cranmer spent his days peacefully serving on academic committees, England was in turmoil. King Henry VIII wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Through a strange set of circumstances, Cranmer suggested to some of Henry’s advisors that the King of England was not ultimately subject to the pope’s rule (much to the king’s delight). Cranmer’s advice, then, inadvertently planted a seed that separated the English church from Roman Catholicism.

The Reformed Politician

Cranmer traded away Roman Catholicism for Reformed doctrine by the end of his life, a transformation that mirrored the turmoil and split of the English Reformation. While a student at Cambridge, he had read Martin Luther skeptically, but he warmed to Reformed thought after befriending Simon Grynaeus and Andreas Osiander. He eventually rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation after conversations with his friend Nicholas Ridley. Cranmer then clarified his liturgical reforms through conversations with the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr and the German Reformer Martin Bucer.

Cranmer’s theology changed too dramatically for English Roman Catholics and too slowly for Reform-minded evangelicals. To some (even today), Cranmer’s reforms seemed too personally and politically motivated. But he did not have the luxury of working out abstract beliefs among a company of disinterested academia. His theology was formed in a volatile pastoral and political cauldron of crises.

Father of the Anglican Church

Cranmer’s greatest ministry accomplishments came during the rule of Edward VI, when he rewrote the public liturgies, pastoral sermons (or homilies), private prayers, and articles of faith. These writings defined the doctrinal framework and personal piety which later developed into the Anglican Church, for which he is most remembered.

Cranmer wanted everyone in English churches to embrace justification by faith alone. He wrote,

This proposition — that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works — is spoken in order to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being insufficient to deserve our justification at God’s hands; and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God, the imperfectness of our own works and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ; and thereby wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only and his most precious blood-shedding. (The Works of Thomas Cranmer, 131)

Double Recantation

When the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I took power, Cranmer’s Reformed convictions cost him his life. During an agonizing three-year period, he was imprisoned, isolated, humiliated, interrogated, and tortured. He was forced to watch his friends, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, burned alive.

Later, at his own execution, Cranmer nearly succumbed and recanted his beliefs, but this usually hesitant and quiet statesman powerfully demonstrated his faith in Christ while being burned at the stake.

The Thief on the Throne

But the moment that best illustrates Cranmer’s enduring legacy was not the day of his own death, but a day nine years earlier, as he stood at the deathbed of King Henry VIII. On January 27, 1547, King Henry was dying. An attendant asked him whom he wished to have at his bedside. The king asked for Thomas.

By the time Cranmer arrived, King Henry was unable to speak. Foxe tells the story.

Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord. Then the king, holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 748)

The scene sweetly punctuates the most important friendship in the English Reformation. Whatever King Henry believed when he squeezed Cranmer’s hand that day, God used the bond between them to break England free from Roman Catholicism and to recover the one true gospel.

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Reformation: Johannes Oecolampadius

 His name makes us ask, “Who?”.  His contribution to the Reformation was significant, even though this overview of the man is brief.  We commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this way thanks to desiringgod.org.

Here We Stand

Day 13

Johannes Oecolampadius

1482–1531

The Monastery’s Lost Houselamp

By Douglas Wilson

The first thing we should do is get the issue of the name out of the way. Let us not stumble over the name. If he lived among us today in North America, we would call him John Houselamp. His German surname was Hussgen, which John himself worked into the Greek form (as was customary at the time).

In this brief overview of this talented man’s contribution to the great Reformation, perhaps we should just call him John.

“I Have Lost the Monk”

John was born in Germany in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. As Calvin is associated with Geneva, Bucer with Strasbourg, and Luther with Wittenberg, John Oecolampadius is associated with Basel. He was one of the rising tribe of humanist scholars, thoroughly trained in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. By 1515, John had attained the post of cathedral preacher in Basel.

While in Basel, he worked as an assistant to Erasmus — the project being Erasmus’s first edition of the Greek New Testament, for which John wrote the epilogue. John was a humanist scholar who went over to the Reformation, while Erasmus was a humanist scholar who remained in the Roman communion. This was a time of spiritual turmoil for John, resulting in him becoming a monk. But he soon decided that was not right, saying, “I have lost the monk; I have found the Christian.”

A German Choir

He left Basel for a time, but returned in 1522 when he assumed a post at the University of Basel. He was a scholarly and effective participant in various disputations — which was one of the ways that cities made their decisions — and as a result, the leaders of Basel decided to join forces with the Reformation. The Mass was abandoned in Basel by 1529.

This was a time of genuine spiritual quickening, as was demonstrated by the following incident:

At about this time, God honored Oecolampadius and his church with something spectacular. Normally a choir gave short responses in Latin at various prescribed liturgical moments in the worship service. However, on Easter Sunday, the congregation in St. Martin’s spontaneously broke out in German singing during the service. Nothing like this had happened anywhere. The Council immediately forbade such singing. The congregation responded by continuing to do it. (Reformer of Basel, 19–20)

Marriage and Controversy

One interesting detail relates to John’s decision to marry in 1528. His wife was a widow named Wibrandis, who, after John passed away, married another Reformation leader, Wolfgang Capito. After he passed away, she married another Reformer, Martin Bucer. These things happen of course. But not that often.

On the matter of the Lord’s Supper, the reformational world was divided between the respective views of the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Zwinglians. The Lutherans held to a physical presence of Christ in the Supper, the Calvinists held to a spiritual presence, and the Zwinglians held to a memorialist position.

Basel is only 54 miles from Zurich, where Zwingli was ministering. John grew close to Ulrich Zwingli, working together with him, and came to hold Zwingli’s position on the Lord’s Supper. In 1529, John participated in the Marburg Colloquy, together with Zwingli, Luther, Bucer, Melanchthon, and others, in an unsuccessful bid for Protestant unity on the Supper.

When Zwingli was killed in battle, in 1531, John took the shocking news very hard, and died himself shortly after.

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The Spirit Prays for Us

There are days when many  of my prayers are silence.  I’ve asked for healing over and over.  I’ve  complained (it’s okay; the psalmist did—Psalm 64:1).  Some days there’s nothing left to say.  I read a psalm.  Or a prayer from The Valley of Vision.  But from my own mind, I have no words.  I don’t mean to sound like a martyr; but suffering sometimes is like that.  So today’s text is good news . . .

 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

“Likewise”, Paul writes, “the Spirit helps us . . . “  In the same way (“likewise”) as what?  Just as we have “the first fruits of the Spirit’ and so groan longingly for bodily redemption, so “the Spirit helps us . . . ” .  The Greek word, soonantilambanomy, means “grasp hold of someone to help”.

So, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .” .  Greek, asthenia, refers to weakness of any kind.  Paul uses it in 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations”.

Our suffering (the context of 8:1-27) intensifies our natural weakness (in this case, the weakness of ignorance).  Paul specifies it as not knowing “how to pray as we ought”.  He doesn’t mean the form of our praying, nor its frequency or fervency, but its content.  Especially in our suffering, we don’t know what to ask God for.  But “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.

Jesus promised the Spirit to be exclusively in his own people . . .

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).

As Jesus promised, the Spirit indwells us.  He is God the Holy Spirit present with us and in us.  And he not only “comes alongside to help us” (paraklaytos—John 14:26), but in our suffering-weakness he “grasps hold of us to help us”.

My handicapped niece painted Jesus bending over with two hands reaching to pick up a young girl who had fallen.  This is what I see in Paul’s words, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.  He helps, not because we’re too weak to walk, but because we’re too ignorant to pray.

He “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  Greek, stenagmois (“groanings”) alalaytois (“that cannot be expressed in words”).  We can’t verbalize these groanings, though they may or may not be audible.  They are the Spirit in us praying for us.

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27).

God, writes Paul, examines our heart and knows what the Spirit in us is thinking.  This is because the Spirit intercedes for God’s holy ones according to God’s will.

David wrote of the Lord searching and knowing him . . .

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me” (Psalm 139:1).

Here Paul writes of God searching our heart to know the mind of the indwelling Spirit.

Now we see what we’re ignorant of—namely, what God’s will is in our times of suffering.  So, the Spirit “takes over” and prays God’s will for us.  So, not only does incomparable glory await us, in the present we have the Holy Spirit who “grabs hold of” us to help us by interceding according to God’s will for us.  And he intercedes for us, not only to strengthen us in suffering, but also to empower us in suffering “so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk . . . according to the Spirit” (8:4).

“Paul is saying . . . that our failure to know God’s will and consequent inability to approach God specifically and assuredly is met by God’s Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God.  When we do not know what to pray for–yes, even when we pray for things not best for us–we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession on our behalf.” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p.525).

* * *

Our prayers matter.  Else why would the Spirit intercede for us with sighs too deep for words?  That he intercede for us “according to the will of God” is a reminder that prayers are effective when we pray according to his will (1 John 5:14,15).

That being said, two questions.  One, if God’s going to do what he wants, why does the Spirit intercede in prayer for us?  (Why doesn’t God just do his will?)  Two, can we know when the Spirit intercedes for us and does it matter or not if we know?

Answer to #1:  all prayer is designed to deepen our relationship with the Lord.  God will do his will with or without our prayers.  But seeking him draws us closer to him.  And in some way, God uses prayers prayed according to his will to accomplish his will.  (All this, by the way, sounds authoritarian on God’s part–until we remember God’s will is holy, pleasing and perfect–Romans 12:2).

Answer to #2–Perhaps we know when the Spirit is interceding when we sense a special measure of the Spirit’s presence.  Regarding the Spirit accomplishing his intercession, it doesn’t matter if we know he’s praying for us or not.  But regarding our assurance that he’s interceding, it does, because we’re enjoying that assurance with a felt sense of his presence.

Questions aside, Paul intends these statements to give us assurance in suffering.  When we’re hurting and don’t know how to pray as we should, the Spirit indwelling us prays for us according to God’s good will.

I sit in my wheelchair on my little platform outside on my pool deck.  Downcast.  Prayers for healing so far unanswered.  Wondering why God should answer when many others suffer so much.  Old age is filled with illness.  Breathing deeply in dismay.  Sighing.  Is the Spirit deep inside me interceding for me according to God’s will?  That’s the hope Paul offers.  I grab on.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reformation: Marie Dentiere

John Calvin asked this woman to write the preface for a set of his printed sermon from 1 Timothy 2:8-12.  Today’s author writes,  “Perhaps ironically, one could argue that Calvin asked her to teach about a biblical passage that expressly forbade her to do so.”

Today’s installment of our 500th Reformation anniversary (from desiringgod.org) is about that pioneering woman.

 

Here We Stand

Day 12

Marie Dentière

c. 1495–1561

The First Lady in France

By Adrien Segal

Born in 1495 to a noble family in Tournai, France, Marie Dentière was well educated, entered an Augustinian convent (which was Luther’s order), and likely served as a prioress in the early 1520s. Captivated by Martin Luther’s breakthrough theology, Marie left the convent by 1525 and moved to Strasbourg to officially join the highly charged Reformation movement. In that same year, she made a second radical move when she married a former priest, Simon Robert.

Renouncing clerical celibacy and extolling the joys of marriage from Scripture became strong themes in Marie’s ministry, especially in her controversial attempts to convert nuns in Geneva. One Reformer writes that Marie and Simon Robert “were the first French married couple to accept a pastoral assignment for the Reformed Church.” The couple had five children, but Robert died in 1533. By 1535, Marie had married Antoine Froment, another Reformed pastor, and the family moved to Geneva.

Live from Geneva

Most of what we know of Dentière, which is not a great deal, is gleaned from three documents attributed to her. The first of the written works recounts the events of 1532–1536 in Geneva from the point of view of the Reformers. Dentière may have been the first Protestant writer to give an eyewitness account of that tumultuous time, and she was among the first women, if not the first, to articulate and defend Reformed theology in French.

But far more than a historian, Marie Dentière was an articulate (if inflammatory) evangelist. She loved and revered the Bible, was distressed that the Catholic Church had withheld so much of it from the people, and preached that every person, including women, should be able to read God’s precious and glorious words for themselves.

A Reformed Female Teacher?

Dentière’s most famous and controversial work was a letter to the Queen of Navarre, entitled “A Most Beneficial Letter.” The letter is a robust biblical defense of Reformed theology and an impassioned attack on the Catholic Church.

It is an energetic and engaging work that demonstrates extraordinary biblical knowledge and theological understanding. The public unrest it caused resulted in the arrest of the printer and the destruction of most of the printed copies of the work. Not only had her letter condemned Roman Catholicism, and not only was her letter written by a woman, but Dentière also defended women’s equal right to be theologians and teachers. She writes,

For what God has given you and revealed to us women, no more than men should we hide it and bury it in the earth. And even though we are not permitted to preach in public congregations and churches, we are not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all charity. (Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre, 53)

Calvin and Marie

Though Marie strongly supported and defended Reformed leaders, including John Calvin, Calvin was clearly annoyed, at least during the early years of her ministry, by her outspoken manner, theological ambitions, and open criticism of male clerical leadership.

However, by 1561, the year Marie died, tension between the two had subsided and Calvin’s respect and appreciation for Marie had manifestly grown. He even asked her to write the preface for his printed sermon on female modesty from 1 Timothy 2:8–12. Perhaps ironically, one could argue that Calvin asked her to teach about a biblical passage that expressly forbade her to do so.

One Woman on the Wall

For Marie Dentière, the astonishing news of saving grace and the powerful message of equality before God were truths that had been suppressed by the Catholic Church and needed to be shouted from the housetops by anyone who had seen them for themselves in God’s word.

There is no question she lacked what those of the time considered appropriate feminine modesty and humility, but because her passion was kindled by the pages of Scripture, her writing stirred and changed hearts not only in her own day, but in ours today, as well. In 2002, Marie Dentière became the only woman to have her name engraved on the famous Wall of Reformers in Geneva.

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Reformation: Martin Bucer

The Roman Catholic church dominated Europe.  The Pope alone was the interpreter of Scripture.  Ordinary people couldn’t read, nor understand the Mass said in Latin.  Salvation was by faith plus individual merit, which became an endless string of “good works”, often financial.  By God’s grace, the Reformation changed all that.  Courtesy of desiringgod.org, we are commemorating the 500th year of the Reformation by recalling some of its heroes . . .

Here We Stand

Day 11

Martin Bucer

1491–1551

The Protestant Melting Pot

By Marshall Segal

Martin Bucer may be the most important Reformer you’ve never heard of. He led in the shadow of the other German giants Luther and Melanchthon, but he manned the helm of what became, at least for a time, the capital city of the Protestant world.

Bucer was born near Strasbourg on November 11, 1491. At fifteen, he joined the Dominican cloister, a monastic group of Roman Catholic preachers. Friars like Bucer carried out the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but unlike monks, they did so among the people, serving in community, not in isolation.

Germany’s Most Eligible Friar

Martin Bucer first heard Martin Luther in April of 1518 (Bucer was 26; Luther, 34). He was captivated by Luther, especially his conviction that we are justified by faith alone apart from any contribution or merit of our own. Three years later, he not only left the Dominican order in order to preach the gospel, but he also abandoned his monastic vows and decided to marry, suddenly making him, perhaps, Germany’s most eligible (and radical) friar. He married a nun (no less) named Elizabeth.

While Luther had led Bucer into the Reformation, Bucer did not see eye to eye with his spiritual father on everything, in part because he had already been heavily influenced by Erasmus, whom he appreciated and admired despite their theological differences. Bucer’s generally more inclusive and ecumenical bent providentially positioned him to play a significant role in the wider movement.

Reformation in Moderation

Strasbourg became the hub of Protestantism in large part because Bucer and other leaders remained openhanded on many of the most controversial and divisive issues. For instance, in 1529 Bucer brokered a historic, if hostile, meeting between Luther and Zwingli over the Lord’s Supper. Being himself predictably sympathetic in both directions, he brought the two sides together hoping to achieve the kind of agreement that might catalyze the unification of the two main threads of the Reformation.

While the meeting failed to birth an accord over the Table, it illustrates the kind of role the former friar played — between Luther and Zwingli, between mainstream Protestants and the more radical Anabaptists, even between Reformers and Catholics. Instead of forming and leading a distinct movement of his own — the Bucerans, if you will — he strived to bring movements together under the clear teaching of Scripture into one great Christian melting pot. He realized and prized the precious power of solidarity.

First Small Groups

As the strange spiritual offspring of Luther and Erasmus, Bucer’s Reformation took on a distinct and eclectic flavor. Initially, he simultaneously stressed that justification is by faith alone, while also zealously demanding Spirit-empowered discipline and good works in the Christian life. Good so far. However, later in life he spoke of a kind of “double justification” that was at least confusing, if it did not in effect blur the line of “faith alone.”

One way or the other, Bucer cared about Christian conduct. As a result, he persistently pursued means of church discipline. First, he went to the officials in Strasbourg, pleading for stricter enforcement. When the government refused to impose more rigorous standards for obedience, he formed voluntary groups of believers within local churches for the purpose of regular accountability and church discipline. Thus, Bucer may very well be the unlikely (and reluctant) father of the modern small group.

After being exiled, John Calvin witnessed the kind of church discipline chartered in Strasbourg and built on the same principles when he returned to Geneva. Calvin spent some of his happiest years learning from Bucer in Strasbourg, while pastoring a congregation of fellow French refugees.

German Glue

Bucer’s first wife, of twenty years, died from the plague in 1542. On her deathbed, she encouraged Martin to marry Wibrandis Rosenblatt. Wibrandis, later nicknamed “The Bride of the Reformation,” had already married and buried three leading reforming men: Ludwig Keller, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Wolfgang Capito (also from Strasbourg). Just seven years later, she buried her fourth.

While the former friar helped pioneer the path to marriage for converted monks, he also opened a wider door for divorce, but only as “an absolute last resort and generally rare, rather like the death penalty for adultery” (Reformation, 660). His exceptions became a sharp edge carving out similar openness across Protestant Europe.

In 1549, as the Augsburg Interim forced Protestants in Strasbourg to readopt traditional Catholic beliefs and practices, Bucer accepted Thomas Cranmer’s invitation to take refuge for a time in Cambridge, England, as Regius Professor of Divinity. He died just two years later, in 1551, before he could return to Strasbourg.

Many have overlooked the lesser-known Martin, probably because he lacked the timing of Luther and Zwingli and the nuanced precision of Melanchthon and Calvin, preferring instead to bridge the gap and facilitate unity among the Reformers. And that’s precisely why we should remember him — the German glue of the Protestant Reformation.

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Humble Yourself Under God’s Mighty Hand

Last week, I found this article on John Piper’s web site:  http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-has-a-purpose-for-my-lyme-disease.

Sarah Walton writes of how she unknowingly passed her lyme disease onto her newborn. One paragraph she wrote shouted to me . . .

“If we get stuck in the cycle of asking ‘why’ and refuse to surrender and humble ourselves under a God who we won’t always understand, then we will find ourselves trapped in the miserable pit of despair. But if we ask Christ to help us bring our grief to the cross we will be able to rest in faith that God is who he says he is and that he will be faithful to his promises.”

Refuse to surrender?  Is that what I’m doing by hating this illness?

Sarah went on to remind her daughter (and herself) “that because he is a loving and good God, the only reason he would prevent me from knowing that I would pass down this awful illness to my children is if he had a good and loving purpose for it. We may not understand it now, but one day, if we place our trust in him, we will no longer battle this disease. One day, we will be with Jesus.”

Is my love for Jesus too little that I want to be healed more than I want to be with him?  Am I making an idol of good health?

I’ve considered many of Scriptures’ answers to my “why” question–Romans 5:2-5; 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 1:9,10; 4:16-18).  Walton’s article drove me to a command I hadn’t considered . . .

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 4:5,6).

I recalled the occasion of Peter’s letter.  His readers were the “the exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1) in northern Asia Minor provinces, likening them to the old Jews “dispersed” from Palestine. As the Jews had been, so these Christians were dispersed “under the mighty hand of God” and were now verbally maligned for their faith (2:12).  Peter calls them to voluntarily submit to whatever comes as being God-controlled.

And to do it with a purpose in view: “so that he may exalt you in due time.”  The mighty God will exalt them to a place of honor “in due time”.  The  Greek kairos refers to a “fixed, suitable period of time.” Thus, it is often translated “proper time.”  The NLT translates, “in his good time he will honor you.”

When? A quick read of the letter suggests “his good time” is the day of Christ’s return.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3-5).

“ . . .so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7).

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1:13).

“The end of all things is near . . . “ (4:7).

“But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (4:13).

“And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away” (5:4).

So, Peter’s counsel:  Your suffering is God-controlled.  Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, so that in his time—when Christ comes in glory–he may lift you up.

Questions. Is it pride that says I hate wheelchair-confinement?  Am I exalting myself to want my lower body parts to work right?  Is it arrogance to want my eyes unclouded?  Does “humble yourself” mean “accept this condition”?

I’m surprised that Peter doesn’t say, “Pray for deliverance from your persecutors.” Certainly psalmists did. But Peter just seems to accept suffering as God-ordained in these last days.

Yet healing’s different.  Jesus had compassion on the sick and healed them.  Paul prayed for healing though the Lord didn’t give it (2 Corinthians 12:9,10).  James urged Christians to call for church elders to pray for the sick and promised the Lord would raise them up (James 5:14,15).  Paul told the church the Spirit gives gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).  On occasion, the Lord heals. Healing is at least possible.

What, then, am I to do?  The answer’s obvious (at least to me):  pray for healing and, until it comes, humble myself under God’s mighty hand.

I’m a poor humbler.  Pride kicks in every time Lois lovingly does something for me I can’t do for myself.  When I feel like a shell of who I once was.  When I have to be driven after humiliating help to get into the truck.

In one sense, to believe this is God’s mighty hand and not just “what’s happened” is a good thing.  It tells me it has purpose.  God is using it for some good (that for the life of me I can’t see).  And it reminds me that, in his time, he’ll lift me up (either at Jesus’ coming or—please, Lord—even before).

In another sense, though, believing this is God’s mighty hand frustrates me with him.  Everything in me (pride?) rebels.  I detest this.  Don’t want it.  See no possible good in it.  Think of all I could be doing if I could just walk.  It’s the “elephant in the room” whenever I pray.  God’s hand may be mighty; but it doesn’t feel so loving.

So I have to live by faith.  Trust what the Bible says is true (even when I don’t understand).

And  keep begging Jesus to heal me.  I’ll go on seeing myself as one of the sick in the crowd, lying there on the ground, desperate.  Jesus had crossed the lake when he came upon a mass of hopeless, helpless humanity.  They’d heard the rumors.  Friends had dragged them.  They were interrupting Jesus’ plans.  But, when he saw them “he had compassion on them and healed them” (Matthew 14:14).  I’m asking Jesus to look with compassion on me and heal me.

Until he does, Peter’s words are my command: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God . . .” (1 Peter 4:5).  This illness is God-allowed.  It’s under his control.  He means it for good.  I have to accept that.  And be content with him in it.  But, I can’t, not without his grace.

I’m a poor humbler.

 “God, you rule heaven and earth.  In your sovereignty you’ve allowed this disease, though I don’t understand why.  I’ve tried to figure it out, and I get nowhere.  I try to reason with you, and I still get nowhere. I can’t fight your hand—it’s too strong.  So, please give me  grace to humble myself under it (even while I pray to be freed from what it’s brought).  Then I may be at peace with my limitations.  Then I may be able to accept my disease as your hand at work.  And then you may be glorified in my weakness.  (And, please, let “due time” be soon.  I’m ready for a little exaltation.)

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Reformation: William Tyndale

Look at all the Bibles on the bookstore’s shelves!  We take their availability for granted.  But translating the Scriptures into the language of the people cost dearly, as we’re reminded in today’s 500th commemoration of the Reformation, courtesy desiringgod.org.

Here We Stand

Day 10

William Tyndale

c. 1494–1536

The Underground Translator

By John Piper

In the early 1530s, an English merchant named Stephen Vaughan was commissioned to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to return from hiding on the Continent. In a letter dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494–1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”

That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale would not come. If so, Tyndale would give himself up to the king and never write another book.

The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his life. Which it did.

Plowboys Will Know Their Bible

When Tyndale was 28 years old in 1522, he was serving as a tutor in the home of John Walsh in Gloucestershire, England, spending most of his time studying Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, which had been printed just six years before in 1516.

Increasingly, as Tyndale saw Reformation truths more clearly in the Greek New Testament, he made himself suspect in the Catholic house of John Walsh. John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, “We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.”

In response, Tyndale spoke his famous words, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

One-Note Crescendo

Four years later, Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bales of cloth. By October 1526, Bishop Tunstall had banned the book in London, but the print run had been at least three thousand. And the books were getting to the people. Over the next eight years, five pirated editions were printed as well.

In 1534, Tyndale published a revised New Testament, having learned Hebrew in the meantime, probably in Germany, which helped him better understand the connections between the Old and New Testaments. Biographer David Daniell calls this 1534 New Testament “the glory of his life’s work” (William Tyndale, 316). If Tyndale was “always singing one note,” this was the crescendo of the song of his life — the finished and refined New Testament in English.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. Before his martyrdom in 1536, Tyndale would go on to translate into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah. All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557 — “the Bible of the nation,” which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

Bible Translation, Gospel Truth

What drove Tyndale to sing one note all his life? It was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith. This is what lay hidden in the Latin Scriptures and the church system of penance and merit. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred. He wrote,

Faith the mother of all good works justifieth us, before we can bring forth any good work: as the husband marryeth his wife before he can have any lawful children by her. (William Tyndale, 156–57)

Man is lost, spiritually dead, condemned. God is sovereign, Christ is sufficient, faith is all. Bible translation and Bible truth were inseparable for Tyndale, and in the end it was the truth — especially the truth of justification by faith alone — that ignited Britain with Reformed fire and then brought the death sentence to this Bible translator.

In October 1536, at only 42 years of age, Tyndale’s one-note voice was silenced as he was tied to the stake, strangled by the executioner, and then consumed in the fire. But because of his vernacular English translation, the song itself swelled into a mighty British chorus of chambermaids, cobblers, and, yes, even plowboys.

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Reformation: Thomas Becon

It’s hard to imagine a Europe where church and state are virtually one, where a man can be arrested for preaching “heresy” against the official church.  Today’s Reformation 500th commemoration (courtesy desiring.org) about a man who was, and whose views on all of life being sacred sounds like what we hear preached today.

Here We Stand

Day 9

Thomas Becon

c. 1512–1567

The Monday Morning Protestant

By Brian Hanson

Though almost entirely overlooked in church history, Thomas Becon was a prolific pamphleteer, popular bestseller, and godly cleric in sixteenth-century England during the Reformation. Living through the turbulent reigns of four Tudor monarchs, Becon served under the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and composed around fifty tracts with numerous subsequent editions that continued to be printed seventy years after his death.

His writings on godliness are relevant and helpful for all Christians, particularly for those who tend to partition their lives into categories of “sacred” and “secular.” Becon, recognizing no such divisions, exhorted Christians in his day to pursue godliness in the rhythms of their daily routines.

Pastor in Hiding

Becon, born in Thetford, Norfolk, around 1512, was educated at St. John’s College in Cambridge, where he was deeply moved by and possibly converted under the Lutheran-influenced teachings of one of his professors, Hugh Latimer. Upon his graduation with a degree in theology, Becon took two clerical posts in southern England, but following the ratification of the Six Articles of 1539, Henry VIII targeted evangelicals for non-compliance and “heresy.” Consequently, Becon was arrested in 1541 for his “evil and false doctrine.”

After his release, Becon kept a low profile in the forests of Kent, harbored by several evangelical men who were connected to the royal court. During this time, Becon produced numerous tracts under the pseudonym “Theodore Basil” in order to avoid detection from the local authorities. Under even heavier scrutiny and surveillance from the local magistrates at the order of Henry VIII, Becon fled to the Midlands of England, where he hid for four years in the mountains without publishing any works.

Exile and Homecoming

When the nine-year-old Edward VI, a friend and defender of the English Reformation, ascended the throne in 1547, Becon emerged from exile and returned to London, where he was appointed a chaplain in the royal court. Around the same time, he became rector of the prestigious parish in London, St. Stephen Walbrook.

With Mary I’s accession to the throne in 1553, however, many evangelicals, including Becon, were arrested. He was eventually released, but taking no risks, he immediately escaped to Strasbourg, where he joined a community of other exiled English evangelicals. From there he relocated to Frankfurt, where he assisted in developing a new liturgy for the English congregation composed of exiles. When Becon returned from the Continent after Elizabeth I came to power, he went through a series of clerical appointments, mostly in London, until his death in 1567.

Everyday Godliness

One of Becon’s primary foci in his pamphlets was how Christians were to attain godliness and how to integrate that godliness within their daily lives. First, the word of God, contended Becon, was sufficient for all Christians and was the catalyst to godliness. Becon envisioned an English commonwealth where “people maye learn even from theyr cradles . . . to knowe God, to understand his worde, to honour hym aryght, and to walke in his holy pathwayes” (New pollecye of warre).

Second, Becon instructed Christians to view their lives as a continual stage of worship where godliness was on display, even in the mundane on Monday morning. For Becon, worship was not limited to Sunday gatherings. Nor was it confined to certain spiritual disciplines, such as Bible reading or prayer. Worship, rather, was an incessant activity that was to weave its way through the liturgy of daily life: the eating of meals, laboring at one’s place of employment, spending leisure time, and retiring to bed.

No “Secular” Work

Becon published two prayer manuals containing model prayers for specific activities of one’s daily schedule. One of those manuals submitted model prayers for those in specific occupations, including magistrates, clergy, merchants, lawyers, mariners, soldiers, mothers, and children. Becon maintained that one occupation was not more essential than another. He argued that the work of the shoemaker and tailor was just as crucial in the kingdom of God as that of the lawyer and magistrate, because God was the one who called them to their vocations.

While many Christians subtly dismiss certain occupations as insignificant and view non-ministry work as “secular,” Becon’s assessment of all work as an activity of God and for God is a motivating corrective. We should embrace our calling and see the ultimate purpose of our work and vocation: godliness through employment blesses a society so that all “may [ac]knowledge thee, the gever of al[l] good things, and glorify thy holy name” (Flour of godly praiers).

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Reformation: Peter Martyr Vermigli

It becomes clear that the Reformation was not the work of the Holy Spirit through a handful of now well-known men.  The Lord used lesser-knowns as well.  Today’s reading offers us one of those, as we continue to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation courtesy of desiringgod.org.

Here We Stand

Day 8

Peter Martyr Vermigli

1499–1562

The Phoenix of Florence

By Chris Castaldo

From childhood, Peter Martyr Vermigli desired to teach God’s word. At age fifteen, he entered the Augustinian order in the Italian town of Fiesole, near his native Florence. After eight years of theological training, Vermigli underwent priestly ordination and received a doctorate in theology.

The years following Vermigli’s ordination opened new vocational horizons. He was elected to the office of public preacher, an illustrious position in his day. As his name grew famous in the largest Italian cities, Vermigli was promoted to the position of abbot in his order’s monastery in Spoleto, before being moved southward to the great basilica San Pietro ad Aram in Naples. It was here that his life changed forever.

Righteousness Restored

During Vermigli’s sojourn at San Pietro (1537–1540), according to his colleague and biographer, Josiah Simler, “the greater light of God’s truth” began to shine upon him. This truth, in Vermigli’s words, was that “Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by God totally restores what was lacking in this weak and mutilated righteousness of ours” (The Peter Martyr Reader, 147). It was a gospel awakening that transformed his life and ministry.

With a new vision of Christ and the gospel, Vermigli moved north in May 1541 to become prior of the prestigious monastery of San Frediano in the Republic of Lucca. While there, he initiated a series of educational and ecclesiastical reforms that have been likened to Calvin’s work in Geneva.

But after a mere fifteen months of such gospel renewal, Pope Paul III ensured its demise by reinstituting the Roman Inquisition. Recognizing discretion as the better part of valor, Vermigli renounced his vows and made the difficult decision to flee his homeland.

From Strasbourg to Oxford

It was Martin Bucer who arranged for Vermigli’s academic appointment to the College of Saint Thomas in Strasbourg. The Italian exile was expected to teach sacred letters, which he proceeded to do from the Old Testament.

While in Strasbourg, Vermigli also married a former nun from Metz named Catherine Dammartin, “a lover of true religion” especially admired for her charity. After eight years of marriage, she died in February 1553, but Peter Martyr would marry again — another Katie — in May 1559.

Following five fruitful years of teaching in Strasbourg, Vermigli received an invitation in 1547 from Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer to fortify the newly independent Church of England with Reformed theology as Regius Chair of Divinity at Oxford. Among Vermigli’s many accomplishments in this period, he lectured on Romans, produced various theological treatises, championed Protestantism at the famous Eucharistic Disputation of 1549, and assisted Cranmer in shaping a new Anglican liturgy.

Zurich Scholar

With the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary in 1553, Vermigli was forced to flee England. Returning to Strasbourg, he was immediately restored to his position at the Senior School, where, in addition to teaching and writing theological works, he gathered with Marian exiles in his home to study and pray. Eventually, he took a teaching post at the Academy of Zurich.

Despite numerous opportunities to lecture throughout Europe, including multiple invitations from Calvin to teach in Geneva and pastor the Genevan Italian congregation, Vermigli remained in Zurich. The only exception was his journey to the Colloquy of Poissy with Theodore Beza in 1561, where he debated Catholic leaders before the French Crown and witnessed to Queen Catherine de’ Medici in their native Italian.

Teacher of the Book

Vermigli died in Zurich on November 12, 1562, in the presence of his wife and friends. This Florentine humanist and Reformed scholar, who was equal in stature to Calvin and Bullinger, would be remembered for his commitment to Scripture and passion for gospel renewal. In the words of Theodore Beza, he was a “phoenix born from the ashes of Savonarola.” Even the painting of Vermigli hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London testifies to his biblical conviction. In it, Vermigli’s penetrating eyes look to the distance beyond the gilded frame as he points to a singular book in his hand: the Bible.

If we were to place an enduring statement on Vermigli’s lips, it would perhaps be this exhortation: “Let us immerse ourselves constantly in the sacred Scriptures, let us work at reading them, and by the gift of Christ’s Spirit the things that are necessary for salvation will be for us clear, direct, and completely open” (Life, Letters, and Sermons, 281).

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Glory Way Greater Than Suffering

Despite prosperity preachers, and despite our wishing it were not so, we will be glorified with Christ in the resurrection, if we suffer with him in this life . . .

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

Considering the context (8:1-16), Paul is probably thinking about suffering in our struggles against sin.  In the passage below, he’s thinking about suffering in our struggles against persecution.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him . . . “ (Philippians 1:29).

But in Romans 8:18-25, he seems to broaden his thinking to include all kinds of suffering with which we struggle in the body.  Paul tells his readers how he evaluates the suffering situation (“I consider . . . “)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).

“ . . .the sufferings of this present time” are no small thing.  Paul knew suffering.  So do we.  My suffering (though it certainly could be worse) consumes me.  Christians endure cancer, heart disease and more.  Persecution causes suffering, dislocation, fear and death.  It’s happening today.

So Paul’s statement makes some of us say, “Yeah, right.  You don’t know what I’m going through.”  And what some of us are going through makes Paul’s consideration sound like childhood fantasty.  Thus we’re immediately faced with a choice:  to believe or not.

Paul makes the same comparison in 2 Corinthians 4. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure . . . (4:17).  Put suffering on one scale and glory on the other—the “glory” scale crashes down to the counter under the weight.  “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later” (8:18, NLT).

“ . . . glory” is one of those hard-to-define words, a word one uses when a word is insufficient.  Greek is doxa, a manifestation of God’s excellent power, awesome holiness, awesome majesty.  English definition: “majestic beauty and splendor”.  But definitions don’t do it.  “Glory” is more–a word we use when something is so wonderful it can’t be expressed.  Paul tries . . .

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:19-21).

This glory is so glorious, Paul explains, that the whole creation “waits with eager longing . . . “  The Greek apokaradokia personifies creation as someone who is eagerly, expectantly waiting with his head stretched forward alertly.

Possible?  Really?  Is creation—trees, grass, flowers, clouds, sun, stars, bird, turtles, lions, air, planets—“waiting with eager longing” like a child for Christmas morning?

What’s creation waiting with eager longing for?  “ . . . the revealing of the children of God . . . “  I understand Paul to mean the unveiling of God’s children as God’s children.

Now we’re seen as ordinary people.  People like everybody else.  But then, glory.  The word stirs in me a child-like wonder that defies detailed definition.  It’s enough to wildly imagine. 

In our wild imaging, note this:  creation longs to be “set free from its bondage to decay and . . . obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Our “freedom” will be from death and all ills associated with it.  Creation itself longs to be freed from its bondage to decay.    That raises an interesting question:  In what way is creation decaying?  That research is for another time.

What’s also interesting and is just my speculation.  Paul’s language may imply God’s children “get glorified” (in an instant–1 Corinthians 15) and the glory sort of sweeps from us to creation.  Whatever the sequence, as in the first creation, we (in this case God’s redeemed children) are the zenith of the glorious new creation.

But Paul has more to say . . .

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22,23).

The creation “waits with eager longing” because “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “  Paul bases his view on Genesis 3:17-19 . . .

“And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ”’You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Creation lies under God’s curse.  The suffering of man’s sin against the Creator extends to the creation.  It’s in pain.  But Paul calls it “labor pains”.  Something’s about to be born.

“ . . . not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  Christians groan.  We have “the first fruits of the Spirit”—the fruit of the Spirit’s work inside us that portends an overwhelming harvest to come.

We groan in suffering.  Our bodies hurt, grow weak, contract disease, endure the wounds of persecution, die.  We have received “the Spirit of adoption” (8:15); but we wait for the fullness of adoption—“the redemption of our bodies.”

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

In present suffering, this is our hope.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (8:24,25).

We were “saved” in hope, says Paul.  That is, from the start, the gospel promised, not just sins forgiven, but the hope of glory.  To miss this is to miss the wholeness of the gospel.  It’s to leave Christ in the tomb—and us with him.

What we see of Christianity now is not all it is, not all we receive.  We have a hope of what we don’t yet see.  And this hope produces “patience”.  The Greek word, hupopalmanay, is better translated “patient endurance.”  Because we have the hope of glory, we patiently endure until the glorious day of bodily redemption dawns.

* * *

Suffering.  Honestly, I’d rather be delivered from it now (and still have glory awaiting!).  But I don’t get to choose.  Christ Jesus has revealed himself to my mind and heart–and I must follow.  I understand persecution suffering, because enemies of the cross will attack Christians.  I don’t understand what appears to be random illness that sits me in a wheelchair and robs so much of these years with my wife.

But this is the path our Father has chosen for me, his child.  I still pray for healing.  But I listen to Paul’s words. too.  Beyond this suffering our Father has prepared incomparable glory.   Somehow, by his grace, I must keep my eyes on that future.  And I must trust, like a little child, that the fantastic hope of a glorified body and a glorified new creation lies ahead.

So I put my child-like  hope in Christ, looking beyond suffering to the glory that is way greater.

 

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