The Old Preacher

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Reformation Sunday: Luther’s Hymn

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

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Discovering the Power of Luther’s Original Lyrics

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

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

Battle Hymn of the Reformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Did We Get the English?

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

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

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

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

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

What the Unitarian Lost

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

1. Offense, Not Just Defense

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

2. Help from Every Misery

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

3. Luther’s Wonderful Extreme Statements

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

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

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

4. God Works All According to Plan

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

5. The World Could Be Much Worse

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

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

6. No Other God Than Jesus

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

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

7. His Kingdom Is for Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may wish to listen . . .

Bruised Pride, Bound to Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibbes wrote another line that stands out …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this I must know.

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

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








Reformation: Zacharius Ursinus

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

Here We Stand

Day 28

Zacharius Ursinus


The Happy Professor

By Thomas Kidd

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

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

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

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

Humble Reformer

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

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

The Heidelberg Comforter

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

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

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

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

Legacy of Joy

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

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

Happy Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are so beautiful to me,
Can’t you see?
You’re everything I hoped for
Everything I need
You are so beautiful to me.”

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

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


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




Reformation: Theodore Beza

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

Here We Stand

Day 27

Theodore Beza


The First Calvinist

By Shawn Wright

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

Calvin’s Co-Pilot

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

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

Geneva’s Defender

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

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

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

Under God’s Mighty Hand

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

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

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

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

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

Reformation: Lady Jane Grey

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

Here We Stand

Day 26

Lady Jane Grey

c. 1537–1554

The Teenage Martyr

By Scott Hubbard

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

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

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

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

Lady Jane’s Sovereign God

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

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

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

The Tower Cell

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

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

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

On the Scaffold

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

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

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.




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.

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.

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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