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Ulrich Zwingli – Know Jesus, Learn the Languages, Walk Humbly

14 Jul


Now, after the youthful mind, which is to be established in virtue, has been rightly molded through faith, the youth should, in consequence of this, order well and adorn beautifully his own heart. Then, after he is rightly and well ordered within himself, he can also advise and assist other persons.

He cannot order his mind and prepare his heart better, however, than by engaging in the study of the Word of God, day and night. This he can do more skillfully and advantageously, when he thoroughly understands Hebrew and Greek; for he will succeed very poorly in gaining a clear and exact knowledge of the Old Testament, without the aid of the former, and of the New Testament, without the aid of the latter.

While we are instructing those who are well grounded in the elements of knowledge, I do not deem it proper to omit the study of the Latin language altogether, as this language is now being so generally used. Although it is less helpful to a clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures than the Greek or the Hebrew language, it is none the less useful for other purposes in active life. It often happens, too, that we come in contact with Latin scholars, in carrying on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Far be it from a Christian, however, to use the languages for mere pecuniary gain or pleasure; for they are a gift of the Holy Ghost.

The next language after the Latin, which we should endeavor to study, is the Greek. We should study it, as already stated, for reading the New Testament in the original; for I take the liberty to say that, as I understand the matter, it seems to me that the doctrines of Christ were not treated so carefully nor taught so purely from the beginning, by the Latin scholars, as they were, by the Greek scholars. For this reason, let the youth be led to the original Gospel language.

The student of the Latin and Greek languages must see to it that he keep his heart in faith and innocence; for there are many things in these languages that have been studied to the detriment of the student, among which are wantonness, craftiness, a domineering and warlike spirit, useless and vain philosophy, and the like. If the mind be warned in due time, it can, like Ulysses, pass by these evils, untouched and unharmed. This will be the case, if the student, at the first warning of his conscience, says to himself: This you hear in order that you should take warning and flee from it, and not that you should accept it.

The Hebrew language I place last, because the use of the Latin is so general and the Greek naturally follows the Latin; otherwise I should have given the Hebrew the first place, and justly, too, because any one who does not know the properties and the peculiarities of this language will find it a difficult task, in many passages, even among Greek scholars, to discover the real sense and natural meaning of the Scriptures. The object I have in view, however, is not to speak at great length of the languages.

With such preparation must he be equipped who would arrive at the inner meaning of this heavenly wisdom, to which no other can be compared, much less made equal. Let him, however, approach it in a humble spirit and thirsting after righteousness.

~Ulrich Zwingli~

The Christian Education of Youth, trans. Alcide Reichenbach (Collegeville, PA: Thompson Brothers, 1899), 69–72.

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Martin Luther – Motivation to Dig Deeper in the Original Languages

9 Jul

Since it becomes Christians then to make good use of the Holy Scriptures as their one and only book and it is a sin and a shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God, it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor—yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame! Yes, how sternly God will judge our lethargy and ingratitude!

~Martin Luther~

Luther’s Works, Vol. 45: The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 364.

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Martin Luther – Why Learn the Languages?

5 Jul

And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit [Eph. 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out [Matt. 14:20], they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German. As proof and warning of this, let us take the deplorable and dreadful example of the universities and monasteries, in which men have not only unlearned the gospel, but have in addition so corrupted the Latin and German languages that the miserable folk have been fairly turned into beasts, unable to speak or write a correct German or Latin, and have wellnigh lost their natural reason to boot.

For this reason even the apostles themselves considered it necessary to set down the New Testament and hold it fast in the Greek language, doubtless in order to preserve it for us there safe and sound as in a sacred ark. For they foresaw all that was to come, and now has come to pass; they knew that if it was left exclusively to men’s memory, wild and fearful disorder and confusion and a host of varied interpretations, fancies, and doctrines would arise in the Christian church, and that this could not be prevented and the simple folk protected unless the New Testament were set down with certainty in written language. Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.

Experience too has proved this and still gives evidence of it. For as soon as the languages declined to the vanishing point, after the apostolic age, the gospel and faith and Christianity itself declined more and more until under the pope they disappeared entirely. After the decline of the languages Christianity witnessed little that was worth anything; instead, a great many dreadful abominations arose because of ignorance of the languages. On the other hand, now that the languages have been revived, they are bringing with them so bright a light and accomplishing such great things that the whole world stands amazed and has to acknowledge that we have the gospel just as pure and undefiled as the apostles had it, that it has been wholly restored to its original purity, far beyond what it was in the days of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In short, the Holy Spirit is no fool. He does not busy himself with inconsequential or useless matters. He regarded the languages as so useful and necessary to Christianity that he ofttimes brought them down with him from heaven. This alone should be a sufficient motive for us to pursue them with diligence and reverence and not to despise them, for he himself has now revived them again upon the earth.

~Martin Luther~

Luther’s Works, Vol. 45: The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 360–361.

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Thomas Boston – A Preface to the Marrow of Modern Divinity

30 Jun

1676-1732. A Scottish Church Leader. One of the twelve Marrow Men.

I conclude this preface, in the words of two eminent professors of theology, deserving our serious regard:—

“I dread mightily that a rational sort of religion is coming in among us; I mean by it, a religion that consists in a bare attendance on outward duties and ordinances, without the power of godliness; and thence people shall fall into a way of serving God, which is mere deism, having no relation to Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.”—Memoirs of Mr. Halyburton’s life, p. 199.

“I warn each one of you, and especially such as are to be directors of the conscience, that you exercise yourselves in study, reading, meditation and prayer, so as you may be able to instruct and comfort both your own and others consciences in the time of temptation, and to bring them back from the law to grace, from the active (or working) righteousness, to the passive (or received) righteousness; in a word, from Moses to Christ.” — Martin Luther’s comment in epist. ad Gal. p. 27.

~Thomas Boston~

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 149. From his preface to Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity

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John Owen: A Proper Frame of Mind In the Pursuit of Holiness

23 Jun

1616 -1683. Preeminent English Puritan theologian, pastor, and independent.

And we may here divert a little, to consider what ought to be the frame of our minds in the pursuit of holiness with respect unto these things,—namely, what regard we ought to have unto the command on the one hand, and to the promise on the other,—to our own duty, and to the grace of God. Some would separate these things, as inconsistent. A command they suppose leaves no room for a promise, at least not such a promise as wherein God should take on himself to work in us what the command requires of us; and a promise they think takes off all the influencing authority of the command. “If holiness be our duty, there is no room for grace in this matter; and if it be an effect of grace, there is no place for duty.” But all these arguings are a fruit of the wisdom of the flesh before mentioned, and we have before disproved them. The “wisdom that is from above” teacheth us other things. It is true, our works and grace are opposed in the matter of justification, as utterly inconsistent; if it be of works it is not of grace, and if it be of grace it is not of works, as our apostle argues, Rom. 11:6. [But] our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yea, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty. He that shall deny either that God commands us to be holy in a way of duty, or promiseth to work holiness in us in a way of grace, may with as much modesty reject the whole Bible. Both these, therefore, we are to have a due regard unto, if we intend to be holy. And, (1.) Our regard unto the command consisteth in three things,—[1.] That we get our consciences always affected with the authority of it, as it is the command of God. This must afterward be enlarged on. Where this is not, there is no holiness. Our holiness is our obedience; and the formal nature of obedience ariseth from its respect unto the authority of the command. [2.] That we see and understand the reasonableness, the equity, the advantage of the command. Our service is a reasonable service; the ways of God are equal, and in the keeping of his commands there is great reward. If we judge not thus, if we rest not herein, and are thence filled with indignation against every thing within us or without us that opposeth it or riseth up against it, whatever we do in compliance with it in a way of duty, we are not holy. [3.] That hereon we love and delight in it, because it is holy, just, and good; because the things it requires are upright, equal, easy, and pleasant to the new nature, without any regard to the false ends before discovered. And, (2.) We have a due regard unto the promise to the same end, [1.] When, we walk in a constant sense of our own inability to comply with the command in any one instance from any power in ourselves; for we have no sufficiency of ourselves, our sufficiency is of God. As for him who is otherwise minded, his heart is lifted up. [2.] When we adore that grace which hath provided help and relief for us. Seeing without the grace promised we could never have attained unto the least part or degree of holiness, and seeing we could never deserve the least dram of that grace, how ought we to adore and continually praise that infinite bounty which hath freely provided us of this supply! [3.] When we act faith in prayer and expectation on the promise for supplies of grace enabling us unto holy obedience. And, [4.] When we have especial regard thereunto with respect unto especial temptations and particular duties. When on all such occasions we satisfy not ourselves with a respect unto the promise in general, but exercise faith in particular on it for aid and assistance, then do we regard it in a due manner.

~John Owen~

The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 384-385.

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Wilhelmus à Brakel – An Unqualified vs. a Qualified Minister

21 Jun
Wilhelmus a Brakel 1

1635-1711. Dutch Reformed Pastor in the Netherlands.

An unqualified minister is the most despicable and harmful creature to be found in the world. He is a disgrace to the church, a stumbling block whereby many fall into eternal perdition, and the cause of the damnation of many souls. A faithful servant of Christ, on the contrary, is an ornament in the house of his God, a light upon a candlestick, a city upon a hill, a leader of the blind, a terror to the ungodly, a joy to the godly, a comforter for the sorrowful, a counselor for those who are perplexed, and a guide for believers on the way to heaven. His life generally is of short duration, during which his preaching reaches but a few and he himself is consumed while illuminating others. The loss of a minister who is endowed with grace is inestimable.

~Wilhelmus à Brakel~

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), cxiii–cxiv.

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Wilhelmus à Brakel – The Work To Which God Calls Us

19 Jun
Wilhelmus a Brakel 1

1635-1711. Dutch Reformed Pastor in the Netherlands.

God wills that man be occupied. Prior to the fall He called him to an enjoyable task, and after the fall, to a difficult task. It is His will that everyone be faithful in the calling to which He has called him. Some callings are of a temporal nature, whereas others have a spiritual dimension. Even if a calling is of a temporal nature, this neither detracts from nor contributes to the spirituality of one’s service of God in the discharge of this calling; rather, such spirituality is contingent upon the spiritual state of the individual as well as the manner in which he engages himself in his calling. A natural man deals even with spiritual matters in a natural manner which is not pleasing to God. The spiritual man, however, deals even with temporal matters in a spiritual fashion. He views his encounter with them as a dispensation of the Lord, embracing them as the will of God. He performs his temporal obligations in willing obedience as a service to his God, having God’s glory as his objective.

~Wilhelmus à Brakel~

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), cxiii.

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John Calvin – The Painting of God’s Greatness

17 Jun


We must therefore admit in God’s individual works—but especially in them as a whole—that God’s powers are actually represented as in a painting. Thereby the whole of mankind is invited and attracted to recognition of him, and from this to true and complete happiness. Now those powers appear most clearly in his works. Yet we comprehend their chief purpose, their value, and the reason why we should ponder them, only when we descend into ourselves and contemplate by what means the Lord shows in us his life, wisdom, and power; and exercises in our behalf his righteousness, goodness, and mercy. For even though David justly complains that unbelievers are foolish because they do not ponder the deep designs of God in the governance of mankind [Ps. 92:5–6], yet what he says elsewhere is very true: that God’s wonderful wisdom here abounds more than the hairs of our head [cf. Ps. 40:12].

~John Calvin~

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.5.9. p. 63.

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Geerhardus Vos – Why Studying God is Different Than All Other Science

13 Jun

1862-1949. Dutch Reformed pastor who became professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Seminary. Known as the father of Reformed Biblical Theology.

From the definition of Theology as the science concerning God follows the necessity of its being based on revelation. In scientifically dealing with impersonal objects we ourselves take the first step; they are passive, we are active; we handle them, examine them, experiment with them. But in regard to a spiritual, personal being this is different. Only in so far as such a being chooses to open up itself can we come to know it. All spiritual life is by its very nature a hidden life, a life shut up in itself. Such a life we can know only through revelation. If this be true as between man and man, how much more must if be so as between God and man. The principle involved has been strikingly formulated by Paul: ‘For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God’ [1 Cor. 2.11]. The inward hidden content of God’s mind can become the possession of man only through a voluntary disclosure on God’s part. God must come to us before we can go to Him. But God is not a personal spiritual being in general. He is a Being infinitely exalted above our highest conception. Suppose it were possible for one human spirit to penetrate directly into another human spirit: it would still be impossible for the spirit of man to penetrate into the Spirit of God. This emphasizes the necessity of God’s opening up to us the mystery of His nature before we can acquire any knowledge concerning Him. Indeed, we can go one step farther still. In all scientific study we exist alongside of the objects which we investigate. But in Theology the relation is reversed. Originally God alone existed. He was known to Himself alone, and had first to call into being a creature before any extraneous knowledge with regard to Him became possible. Creation therefore was the first step in the production of extra-divine knowledge.

~Geerhardus Vos~

Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh, Scotland; Banner of Truth, 1975), p. 3-4.

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Thomas Goodwin – Why You Should Read Thomas Goodwin

12 Jun

1600-1680. Member of the Westminster Assembly. Chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. Independent. Co-pastor with John Owen.

Here is how his discourse on the Heart of Christ begins:

This discourse that follows, which lays open THE HEART of Christ, as now he is in heaven, sitting at God’s right hand and interceding for us; how it is affected and graciously disposed towards sinners on earth that do come to him; how willing to receive them; how ready to entertain them; how tender to pity them in all their infirmities, both sins and miseries. The scope and use whereof will be this, to hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them; and so to remove that great stone of stumbling which we meet with (and yet lieth unseen) in the thoughts of men in the way to faith, that Christ being now absent, and withal exalted to so high and infinite a distance of glory, as to ‘sit at God’s right hand,’ &c., they therefore cannot tell how to come to treat with him about their salvation so freely, and with that hopefulness to obtain, as those poor sinners did, who were here on earth with him. Had our lot been, think they, but to have conversed with him in the days of his flesh, as Mary, and Peter, and his other disciples did here below, we could have thought to have been bold with him, and to have had anything at his hands. For they beheld him afore them a man like unto themselves, and he was full of meekness and gentleness, he being then himself made sin, and sensible of all sorts of miseries; but now he is gone into a far country, and hath put on glory and immortality, and how his heart may be altered thereby we know not. The drift of this discourse is therefore to ascertain poor souls, that his heart, in respect of pity and compassion, remains the same it was on earth; that he intercedes there with the same heart he did here below; and that he is as meek, as gentle, as easy to be entreated, as tender in his bowels; so that they may deal with him as fairly about the great matter of their salvation, and as hopefully, and upon as easy terms to obtain it of him, as they might if they had been on earth with him, and be as familiar with him in all their needs—than which nothing can be more for the comfort and encouragement of those who have given over all other lives but that of faith, and whose souls pursue after strong and entire communion with their Saviour Christ.

~Thomas Goodwin~

The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 4: The Heart of Christ Towards Sinners on Earth (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 95–96.

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