Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Thy Kingdom Come

Question 102: What do we pray for in the second petition?
Answer: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray, that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened. (WSC)
We pray that God’s kingdom would come. This coming is further explained by the phrase that concludes the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer, "on earth as it is in heaven." God's kingdom comes to earth from heaven. The Gospel of Matthew usually calls it the "kingdom of heaven" even while teaching that it comes to earth. When man sinned, earth revolted from heaven and joined Satan’s kingdom, but now the king has come and God is reasserting his reign on earth. 

When does God’s kingdom come? It came with Jesus’ coming, as he himself proclaimed (Matt. 4:17, Luke 11:20). It comes more and more throughout this age, as a tree grows and as leaven works in bread, not all at once (Matt. 13:31-33). It will come in its consummated state when Jesus returns and judges all men, glorifying his people and purifying and restoring creation (Matt. 13:36-43, 2 Peter 3:4-13).

The kingdom of God is administered by Jesus in his capacity as our mediator. It comes by his gospel and Spirit at work in the salvation of sinners (“the kingdom of grace”) and by his providence and judgment (“the kingdom of his power,” see WLC 191 below). Only by being born again by water and the Spirit can a person enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Within this kingdom there is peace and protection through Christ the king. The kingdom comes as the word is preached, as disciples are baptized and trained, as they obey the king willingly in all areas of life, and as Christ guides history for the sake of his church. The world is transformed by this process, as dough is transformed by leaven. As Calvin comments
"The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world." 
The visible church is the institutional expression of this kingdom in history (Matt. 13:47-50) and its officers bear the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:17-20). The members of the visible church manifest the reign of Christ as they confess him as Lord and Savior and serve him in every sphere of human endeavor with “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). When he returns, the kingdom will be brought to perfection and glory (“the kingdom of glory”).

Here is the Westminster Larger Catechism’s version of this answer:
“In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.” (WLC, Q. 191)


Monday, November 14, 2022

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Question 101: What do we pray for in the first petition?
Answer: In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray, that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he maketh himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory. (WSC)
To be hallowed is to be made or regarded as holy, set apart from what is common. God’s name is holy, and we pray that it would be honored and glorified as such. God’s name refers to his revelation of himself, including the names and titles applied to him in Scripture, and his reputation and fame. This request aims at the way people treat God’s good name and whether he is honored or despised. Rebellious man tears down God’s good name, slanders it, despises it, treats it lightly. But it ought to be reverenced and glorified - esteemed in your heart and publicly praised.

The prophet Malachi condemned the priests of his day for despising God’s name (Malachi 1). How did they despise God’s name? By despising his worship and offering blind and lame sacrifices not even worthy of a human ruler. In response God said that he would make his name great among the nations. He would cause the nations to fear his name, to honor him as a great king, and to offer pure worship fitting for such a king.

Our Father is worthy to be praised. It is right and fitting that we recount in our prayers the reasons why he is worthy of glory and reverence, as many of the Psalms do. We should meditate on his perfect attributes and his mighty works.

Our Father does not yet receive the praise due to him. We are unable of ourselves to glorify him, but are rebellious and seek our own glory and praise. The world ought to glorify God, but much of it despises and distorts his name. Part of our motivation for evangelism is a zeal for the glory that is due God’s name. But this is also a motivation for prayer.

Knowing the depravity of man, we pray that God would enable all his creation to glorify him and join in the worship of heaven. We desire and pray that God would enable ourselves to treat God as holy in our hearts, in our words of praise and witness, in our reception of his word, and in our lives, that they might be lived to the glory of God. Let us pray that God would vindicate his name, uphold his reputation, and bring all men to honor him as the true God. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Praying to Our Heavenly Father

Question 100: What doth the preface of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
Answer: The preface of the Lord's Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others. (WSC)
In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus taught his disciples to pray using a prayer commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This prayer begins by addressing God, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (6:9, NASB). These opening words remind us of several truths:
  • We should pray to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gives us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). We become children of God by grace. Jesus makes God our Father through regeneration and through adoption. We become children of God by union with the only-begotten Son of God. We know God as our Father and not as a hostile judge through faith in Christ.  
  • God is our Father, therefore we should give him reverence. We are commanded to honor our earthly fathers and mothers in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). Honor and revere, then, your Father in heaven (Malachi 1:6). 
  • God is our Father, therefore we should come with confidence. He cares for his children. “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? ... If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9–11)
  • God is our Father in heaven, therefore we should distinguish him from the faults of earthly fathers and remember that God is all-powerful, and therefore able to do what we ask. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
  • God is our Father, therefore we pray with brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. I do not just mean the people that you connect with - I mean the people that God has brought into his family, the church. If you love God, you will love his children (1 John 4:20-5:1). You should pray with God’s children, since Jesus envisions the disciples praying this together. You should pray for God’s children, since you make these requests for “us.” You should remember God’s children even when you “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). 

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Life of William Brewster

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir 

Birth and Early Years

William Brewster was born in c. 1566. This was twenty years after Martin Luther died, two years after John Calvin died, and six years before John Knox would die. The early stages of the Reformation was over, and now various nations were seeking to implement its implications in church and society. What had started as a debate about justification now was impacting liturgy, church government, and politics. 

William Brewster grew up in a family that was well connected to the times. His father, also named William Brewster, was the bailiff of Scrooby Manor, a manor that belonged to the archbishop of York. The estate included a manor-house surrounded by a moat, a chapel, bake-house, brew-house, gallery, barns and stables, farmland, and the archbishop’s offices. His father had also been appointed in the Queen’s service as the keeper of the post at Scrooby. This role as postmaster, though, did not consist of sorting mail. It consisted in the running of a tavern and inn and keeping a change of horses for official courtiers. The manor was on the Great North Road, going from London to Edinburgh. This manor was close to Sherwood forest, near Nottingham, and royalty still loved to hunt in those woods, just as in the days of Robin Hood.


The Brewster family was able to send their son to Peterhouse College at Cambridge University  in 1580 when he was about 14 years of age. At that time, Peterhouse College was designed to train clergy and “enlightened and competent statesmen and administrators.” Brewster was probably training to be a government official like his father. His time at Cambridge was important, for it was there that Brewster was “first seasoned with the seeds of grace and virtue” (Bradford). Cambridge University had fueled the English Reformation. Cambridge was the place where many reformers were trained and where many taught. The White Horse Inn, where men like Tyndale, Bilney, and Latimer had discussed theology, was in Cambridge. William Perkins, whose writings the Pilgrims prized, was also studying at Cambridge at this time. The Pilgrims' first four pastors, including John Robinson, were all trained at Cambridge. The Puritans prized learning, especially the study of Scripture. Here Brewster would learn Latin and some Greek, but his first application of this learning was not in the church, but in the colorful adventures of Sir William Davison. 

Political Service

Sir William Davison was Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, and he took on William Brewster as an assistant. For three years, Brewster followed Davison in Scotland and Holland, assisting him in matters of greatest trust and secrecy. At the time, Brewster was in his late teens. At one point, Brewster was given the keys of a Dutch city that Davison had been given on behalf of the Queen. At another point, Davison gave Brewster a golden chain he had been given to wear as they rode through London. In the end, Davison was used as a scapegoat after the execution of Mary Stuart and was imprisoned for a time in the Tower of London. William Brewster assisted him during this time. Thus, Brewster was living in London when Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Life at Scrooby Manor

In 1589, at the age of 23, William Brewster went back to Scrooby, assisting his father in his role. The next year his father died, and Brewster become the new bailiff and master of the Queen’s post. The next year, he married Mary Wentworth, whose father had also been the bailiff at one point. And so at age 25, William Brewster had received a good education in the university and by experience in the world and he had a good position in a busy estate with good connections, serving as an official of the archbishop and the Queen. He and his wife would have several children in the years to come: Jonathan (b. 1593), Patience (b. 1600), Fear (b. 1606), Love (b. 1611), and Wrestling (b. 1614). It seemed like he was living the English version of the American dream. 

Yet, in 1606, things would change. The ideas of the Puritans which he had picked up at Cambridge continued to work in his mind. He likely heard of the struggles of his classmates, some of whom had sought to reform the church. A few of them had broken away from the church of England. Like many others in that day, he began to be dissatisfied with the low condition of religion and insufficient reforms in worship and church government. At first, he used his position to promote reformation on a local scale. He set a good example, exhorted his people, and promoted good preachers. But when some people in his region decided to break away and form a church of their own, he offered his manor as a meeting place and joined them. This would become the congregation of the Pilgrims.

This choice had enormous repercussions upon his career. He was soon fined for not attending the established church and he had to resign his position as postmaster. Soon, he was being called to court on the charge of "Brownisim," that is, separatism. Some of the more radical sort of Brownists had been executed for what was seen as subversive activity. Brewster did not stay to find out his end. He did not appear at court. It was soon evident that the congregation would be more free in Holland than in England.

Thus, in two years, William Brewster had gone from a prosperous official, operating a tavern and manor, to a refugee, fleeing with his family and a separatist congregation to Holland.

Life in Holland

Not only did Brewster join the separatist congregation, but he also became a ruling elder in that church after they arrived in Holland. While living in Leiden, he found a job teaching English to the university students in that town. In 1616, he and Thomas Brewer and Edward Winslow set up a publishing operation at Brewster's house. They published books that promoted the reform of the church and criticized the errors of the Church of England, books that were they to be smuggled into England. They also published two books by David Calderwood, a Scottish Presbyterian who criticized the Perth Assembly and King James' attempt to roll back Presbyterianism in Scotland. This caught the king's attention, and Brewster had to lay low for a while to escape the king's men. 

Mayflower, Plymouth Colony

When the congregation began to consider leaving Holland and beginning a colony in North America, William Brewster spoke in favor of the idea. He began to assist with the negotiations with the officials in London, but then as he sought to avoid arrest, he handed over these duties to others. When the Pilgrims finally left on the Mayflower in 1620, William Brewster was 54 years old. During the first winter in Plymouth, he served both the religious and physical needs of the settlers. As William Bradford recounts, 
“And of these in the time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons, who, to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beads, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these 7 were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their Captain and military commander, unto whom my self, and many others, were much beholden in our low and sick condition.”
Elder Brewster

Since their pastor, John Robinson, remained with part of the congregation in Holland, William Brewster was the only church officer in Plymouth from 1620 until they successfully called a pastor in 1629. He continued to serve as a ruling elder until his death, and remained a rock of stability when the first couple pastors did not stay long and various controversies arose in the church. William Bradford said of Elder Brewster's ministry, 
“he would labour with his hands in the fields as long as he was able; yet when the church had no other minister, he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification; yea, many were brought to God by his ministry. He did more in this behalf in a year, than many that have their hundreds a year do in all their lives.”
Bradford praised Elder Brewster's leadership in teaching, prayer, and church government. 
“In teaching, he was very moving and stirring of affections, also very plain and distinct in what he taught; by which means he became the more profitable to the hearers. He had a singular good gift in prayer, both public and private, in ripping up the hart and conscience before God, in the humble confession of sin, and begging the mercies of God in Christ for the pardon of the same. He always thought it were better for ministers to pray oftener, and divide their prayers, then be long and tedious in the same (excepts upon solemn and special occasions, as in days of humiliation and the like). His reason was, that the hearts and spirits of all, especially the weak, could hardly continue and stand bent (as it were) so long towards God, as they ought to doe in that duty, without flagging and falling of. For the government of the church, (which was most proper to his office,) he was carful to preserve good order in the same, and to preserve purity, both in the doctrine and communion of the same; and to suppress any error or contention that might begin to rise up amongst them; and accordingly God gave good success to his endeavors herein all his days, and he saw the fruit of his labors in that behalf.”

William Brewster established a farm in nearby Duxbury in 1632, and his son Love would acquire a farm next door a few years later. William Brewster died peacefully in 1644, nearly 80 years of old. Included among his belongings were a violet coat, black silk stockings, a doublet, caps, pistol, rapier, and a tobacco case. He also had over 400 books, inventoried here, including books by Luther, Calvin, Beza, Erasmus, Thomas Cartwright, William Perkins, Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, as well as books on geography, silkworms, and medicine (62 of the books were in Latin and 302 of them were in English).  

William Brewster sacrificed much over the years and held fast to his principles. Though he had moved in influential circles, he was not haughty, but associated with the lowly. He served faithfully as an elder, shepherding his people amid many and various difficulties. As his younger contemporary recounted, William Brewster was
“a man that had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the gospels sake, and had bore his part in well and woe with this poor persecuted church above 36 years in England, Holland, and in this wilderness, and done the Lord and them faithful service in his place and calling. And notwithstanding the many troubles and sorrows he passed throw, the Lord upheld him to a great age” (Bradford). 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

How Shall We Pray?

Question 99: What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
Answer: The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. (WSC)
All of God’s word helps us to pray rightly. Prayer is a response of faith to God’s word. It is useful when reading Scripture to pray in response to it. When it gives commands, ask for forgiveness for breaking them and ask for grace and wisdom to obey them. When it gives promises, express faith in them and beseech God to fulfill them. When it describes God’s attributes and works, praise and thank him for them and appeal to them. The book of Psalms and the various prayers recorded elsewhere in Scripture are especially helpful in teaching us how to pray.

In particular, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray using what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Observing his commands on how to pray is part of our discipleship. Jesus teaches us to pray this prayer, with understanding and faith, as well as to use it as a model for our prayers (Matt. 6:9, Luke 11:2).

By teaching you how to pray, Jesus also directs your desires and gives you your priorities. Because of our depravity, our priorities are messed up and our desires are confused and corrupt. But as a good teacher, Jesus shows you what is important and what you should desire. Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, and so if we ought to offer up these requests, then these requests ought to be our desires. And through prayer, these desires are deepened.

In this prayer, Jesus also shows you what to expect. He teaches you that these are not vain wishes. You will not receive them all at once, but they will come to pass for his disciples. These things are God’s will which he will accomplish in response to the prayers of his people. So in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches you how to pray, what is important, and what to expect by faith.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Reformation in England and Scotland

Master Latimer, preaching before King Edward the sixth
Like my last post, this comes from my notes for a Sunday school class I taught last year on the history of the Reformation. You can listen to the two-part series at this link

Early Martyrs in Scotland

Patrick Hamilton (1504-1528) was a young professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. George Wishart (1513-1546) was a teacher at Montrose and Cambridge who then preached throughout Scotland for a few years. Both of them were burnt at the stake at St. Andrews. 

Reform in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (1520s-1553): 

Henry VIII reigned in England from 1509 to 1547. He remained largely Romanist in his doctrine, but he broke with the pope in 1534 and allowed Protestantism to spread in fits and starts. His last queen, Katherine Parr, was a devout Protestant. His children were Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI. 

William Tyndale was a teacher at Cambridge and an English reformer during the reign of Henry VIII. After translating much of the Bible into English while living abroad, he was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1536. 

Hugh Latimer was one of several reformers who met at the University of Cambridge. Latimer rose and fell several times under Henry VIII. Under Edward VI, Latimer was a popular and powerful preacher.

Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, supported Henry VIII’s break with Rome and was the primary author of the Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552) and the 42 Articles (1553).

Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli came from Strasbourg to teach at Cambridge and Oxford and to assist with the reform under Edward VI. Vermigli had the more difficult task at Oxford. Bucer wrote On the Kingdom of Christ to encourage the Reformation in England.

John Knox was a Scottish priest, notary, and tutor who served as George Wishart’s bodyguard for a time. When Protestants gathered in St. Andrews castle, he was called to be a preacher. After being a prisoner on a French galley, became a preacher in England and a chaplain to Edward VI.

Marian persecutions and exile (1553-1558)

In the reign of Mary Tudor, a number of leading Protestants were executed. When Latimer and Ridley were burned, Latimer called out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Thomas Cranmer was also burned at the stake. Many fled, especially reform-minded clergy, theological students, and gentry. About 800 exiles from England regrouped in Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. About 233 lived in Geneva, while others went to cities like Zurich, Frankfort, and Strasbourg. 

Reformed churches (re)established (1558-1580)

England - The Anglican Church

When Mary Tudor died, Elizabeth I came to the throne in England and reestablished Protestantism in 1558-1559. She reigned until 1603.

The Marian exiles brought back an agenda for reform in England and Scotland informed by Reformed teaching and models in Europe. The exile church in Geneva came back to Britain with the Geneva Bible, an English Psalter, and Calvinist orders for worship and church government. But Elizabeth retained the Book of Common Prayer and government by bishops. Tensions within the exile community concerning worship and church government would produce the Puritan movement, which sought further reformation of the English church from within the church. Despite not going as far as some wanted, most of the Anglican bishops appointed by Elizabeth were returning exiles from Zurich, influenced by Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli. Under Elizabeth and James I, the Church of England would be Calvinist in theology and episcopalian in government. 

Important documents for the English Church would include the Book of Common Prayer (1559), the 39 Articles (1571), the Book of Homilies (1571), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), and the Geneva Bible (1560). 

Scotland - The Kirk of Scotland

The Genevan model of worship and government found a better reception in Scotland. After a few visits, John Knox returned permanently in 1559. In 1560 Scotland adopted the Scots Confession of Faith, written by John Knox and five other men named John. The Book of Discipline (1560) defined the kirk’s presbyterian government (this was expanded in a second book in 1578) and The Book of Order (1556) brought the Genevan liturgy to Scotland.

John Knox and the “Lords of the Congregation” overcame opposition to reform from Regent Mary of Guise and her daughter Queen Mary Stuart. In both cases, this struggle eventually led to fighting, with Catholic France and Protestant England in the background. After Mary Stuart was forced to abdicate, the regents for young James VI (later James I of England) gave time for Presbyterianism to grow strong. John Knox died in 1572, about 59 years old. The King's Confession, which became the core of the Scottish National Covenant, was signed in 1580.
“Yea, whatever shall become of us and of our mortal carcases, I doubt not but that this cause, in despite of Satan, shall prevail in the realm of Scotland. For, as it is the eternal truth of the eternal God, so shall it once prevail, howsoever for a time it be impugned.” 
- John Knox (1559)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Reformation in Germany and Switzerland

Luther at the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner (1877)
Here are two timelines I put together for a Sunday school class I taught last year on the history of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland. You can listen to the lesson at this link

The Reformation in Germany

1511 - Martin Luther arrives in Wittenberg after a visit to Rome the previous year.

1512 - Luther receives his doctorate and joins the faculty at the university in Wittenberg

1513-1517 - Luther studies and lectures on the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians.

October 31, 1517 - Luther publishes his 95 theses concerning indulgences.

1518 - The Heidelberg Disputation; Luther defends his ideas before the Augustinian order and university student Martin Bucer meets Luther.

1519 - The Disputation of Leipzig; 22-year-old Philip Melanchthon assists his fellow professors Luther and Karlstadt in their debate with Johann Eck.

1520 - Luther writes four short books: On the Papacy of Rome, The Address to the German Nobility, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of the Christian Man. In December, Luther burns the Papal bull that threatened him with excommunication if he did not recant 41 statements. He is excommunicated by the Pope the next month.

1521 - The Imperial Diet of Worms; Luther refuses to recant before the emperor, Charles V. After he leaves he is declared an outlaw but is saved by Elector Frederick and kept safe for a time in Wartburg Castle. There Luther translates the New Testament (the Old Testament would be completed in 1534). In the same year, 24-year-old Philip Melanchthon writes the first Protestant systematic theology, Loci communes.

1525 - Martin Luther marries Katharina von Bora.

1526 - At the Diet of Speyer, local princes are permitted to decide religious issues. This is allowed to gain political unity in the Holy Roman Empire amid a war with France and the Pope. This gives opportunity for Protestant reforms.

1529 - Following the emperor’s sack of Rome, an attempt is made to nullify the earlier agreement. Five princes protest this attempt, earning the name “Protestants.”

1530 - The Protestants present their confession of faith, written by Melanchthon with Luther’s approval, to the emperor at the Diet of Augsburg. Protestant princes form the Schmalkald league for defense. But pressure from the Turks force the emperor to tolerate Protestants to maintain political unity. Protestantism also spreads to Scandinavia during this time.

1540-1541 - The Colloquy of Regensburg; Roman Catholics (led by Cardinal Contarini and Johann Gropper) and Protestants (led by Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon) dialogue and seek agreement, but fail to reach agreement on transubstantiation and papal authority.

1546 - Martin Luther dies in February. In June, the emperor launches the Schmalkald War to subdue the Protestants.

1555 - A treaty is made, the Peace of Augsburg, which allows each territorial prince to decide whether the territory would be Lutheran or Roman Catholic.

The Reformation in Switzerland

1516 - Ulrich Zwingli, a parish priest, influenced by Erasmus and the study of Scripture, begins preaching through the books of the New Testament. He also begins criticizing the use of Swiss Mercenaries in foreign wars after serving as a chaplain to them.

1519 - Zwingli becomes the preacher at the Grossmunster in Zurich. Plague hits the town and he stays to minister to the people and becomes sick himself, earning the trust of the people.

1522 - Zwingli defends members of his congregation who participated in the “sausage affair” (eating meat during Lent).

1523-1525 - Through preaching and public disputations, Zwingli persuades the people and city council to embrace Protestant teachings. The city abolishes the mass in 1525. He also debates the first Anabaptists (doctrinal and political radicals) and persuades the city to reject them as well.

1529 - The Colloquy of Marburg; the reformers in Germany and Switzerland attempt to unite. They reach agreement on fourteen and a half articles, but failed to reach sufficient agreement on the fifteenth article concerning Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. Thus two branches of Protestantism would develop, Lutheran (e.g. Luther and Melanchthon) and Reformed (e.g. Zwingli and Bucer).

1531 - Zwingli dies in battle as Catholic Swiss attack Zurich after Zurich sought to pressure them to allow Protestant preachers in their cantons. A treaty is signed allowing each canton to decide for itself. 27-year-old Heinrich Bullinger succeeds Zwingli as the leading preacher in Zurich and goes on to serve in that capacity for over forty years.

1535 - William Farel persuades the independent city of Geneva to abolish the mass and embrace Protestantism.

1536 - 26-year-old John Calvin publishes the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Later that year, while traveling from France to Strasbourg, Calvin is forcefully persuaded by Farel to stay in Geneva and minister there.

1538-1541 - Calvin spends time with Martin Bucer ministering in Strasbourg after being banished by the city council of Geneva, before being invited back to Geneva after his reply to Cardinal Sadoleto.

1542 - Peter Martyr Vermigli is forced to flee Italy after attempting reform there and takes up a teaching post with Martin Bucer in Strasbourg.

1541-1564 - Calvin leads the reformation of Geneva, turning it into a refuge for Protestant refugees, a center of learning, and a model for the reformation of church and city. Preachers trained in Geneva are sent throughout Europe and even to Brazil. The final edition of the Institutes is published in 1559. Calvin dies at the age of 54.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What is Prayer?

Question 98: What is prayer?
Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies. (WSC)
Prayer, like the word of God and the sacraments, is an outward and ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of his redemption. Prayer is a means ordained by God though which and in response to which he blesses his people. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). God himself exhorts and invites people to call upon him (Is. 55:6, Ps. 50:14-15). We pray as a response to his word.

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. We are taught to “pour out your heart before him” (Ps. 62:8). In prayer, we make our requests known to God and we make a case for them, appealing to his character and promises, describing our situation and desires. The prayers of Scripture are sometimes bare requests (e.g. Luke 18:13), while other times they include arguments, appeals, and descriptions that support their requests (e.g. Gen. 32:9-12, 2 Chron. 20:5-12, Ps. 143).

We ought to offer up desires for things agreeable to his will and not for things unlawful. Sinful desires ought to be confessed to him with sorrow (see below), while lawful desires ought to be offered to him. We should especially seek the good things God has promised, knowing that prayer is a means by which he grants them. As Thomas Watson put it, “The tree of promise will not drop its fruit unless shaken by the hand of prayer.”

Prayer is to be offered in the name of Christ. That is, we should offer our prayers through his mediation, coming to God through Christ. No sinner can have access to God without a mediator, and there is but one mediator, Jesus Christ. Through faith in him, we gain confidence to approach God for help. We ask for mercy for Christ’s sake, “not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 180).

And prayer does not only consist in offering up our desires, but also in confessing our sins and giving thanks for his mercies (Dan. 9:1-19, Phil. 4:6). We confess our sins and admit our guilt, express our grief and hatred of sin, and seek his forgiveness and renewing grace. We also give thanks to him and praise him for his excellencies and blessings, expressing our faith, awe, love, and hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Partaking of the Lord's Supper in a Worthy Manner

Question 97: What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's Supper?
Answer: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (WCF)
In this supper, Jesus holds out his hand to us. He testifies to his death, his promise, and our blessings and obligations as his people. But in this supper we also reach out and take his hand. We take and eat and drink. By receiving the bread and wine, we claim Christ's redemptive death on our behalf, expressing our faith in him. By partaking, we testify and renew our thankfulness, our engagement to God, and our mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same body.

It is important to approach the Supper with this intent. To do otherwise is to partake in an unworthy manner, bringing judgment upon oneself (1 Cor. 11:27-31). We must not treat holy things with contempt. We must not, as it were, cross our fingers behind our back while shaking hands with God. Instead, we should examine ourselves and consider the meaning of the Supper as we approach it. The Lord’s Supper is for those who are resting upon Christ for salvation, repenting of their sins, and seeking after godliness. Examine, therefore, your knowledge of Christ, faith in him, repentance, love, and new obedience. Then receive the bread and wine with this knowledge and faith, remembering Christ’s death, feeding upon him by faith, giving thanks for his grace, and renewing your covenant with God and love for the saints.

In addition, not only do we have a responsibility to partake in a worthy manner, but the church also has a duty to guard the holy things (1 Cor. 5, Matt. 7:6, 16:19, 18:15-18). Thus, the Lord’s Supper is given to those who have been baptized, have publicly professed faith in Christ, and are members in good standing of a faithful Christian church.

At the same time, all of this does not mean we must wait until we feel worthy of Jesus, as if we must be free from sin to partake. He came to save sinners and in this sacrament promises remission of sins to those who believe in him. This sacrament is meant to increase the assurance, faith, and spiritual vitality of believers. It reminds us that Jesus is our strength, apart from him we can do nothing, and it is through him that we have peace with God. “So come to Jesus and find rest, refreshing, and nourishment for your weak and weary soul” (OPC BCO). 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

What Is the Lord's Supper?

Question 96: What is the Lord's Supper?
Answer: The Lord's Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace. (WSC)
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, to be observed by his church until he comes again. In this supper, his sacrifice of himself is not repeated or offered again to God (Heb. 10:14), but his death is showed forth and proclaimed to us (1 Cor. 11:26). Christ crucified is portrayed and presented to believers in the gospel and in the sacrament, the bread and wine being symbols of his body and blood. We partake of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of the Lord Jesus and his once-for-all sacrifice of himself on the cross. And we do not merely remember that he died, but that he died for us. For this supper is a sign and seal of his promise to believers that this body and blood was given for them and the remission of their sins (Matt. 26:28). This sacrament is a seal of the covenant of grace in the way that people shake hands to confirm a deal. The physical act confirms the words spoken.

As we respond to this sign and seal with faith, it works as a means of grace by which Christ feeds us with himself. In this supper, he invites us to take and eat and drink of his body and blood. The apostle Paul calls this bread and wine a communion (or “participation”) in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). It is akin, he says, to the sacrificial meals of the Old Testament, in which those who ate of the sacrifice were participants in the sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18). The sacrifice on the cross happened long ago, but we continue to feed on it and draw strength from it today. As 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The lamb was slain long ago. Yet 1 Corinthians 5:8 goes on to exhort believers: “Therefore let us keep the feast.” We continue to feed on the Lamb that was slain, participating in the benefits of his death. And in our case the Lamb is risen and alive and we abide in him (John 6:56), like branches in a vine (John 15:1-7). This sacrament is one means by which he gives himself to us, bringing us life from heaven.

While we do feed on Christ in this supper, we do not do so with our teeth and stomach. Jesus did not say that the bread and wine become his body and blood, or that his body and blood is inclosed in the bread and wine. His body remains a human body even when glorified, visible and limited to one place. His body is in heaven. Nevertheless, Christ’s words of institution do indicate that his body and blood is truly offered to believers in this supper. Those who outwardly partake of the visible elements in a worthy manner do inwardly by faith receive and feed upon Christ’s body and blood, receiving life and strength from him. This is done by the Spirit, who makes us living members of Christ’s body and conveys to us all the benefits of his death (1 Cor. 12:12-13, John 6:63).

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

To Whom is Baptism to be Administered?

Question 95: To whom is Baptism to be administered?
Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. (WSC)
Baptism is a sign and seal of our ingrafting into Christ, our partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. Who then ought to be baptized?

At first we might be tempted to say that the regenerate should be baptized. But we cannot look into the heart and see the new birth directly. The question then is, whom does Scripture tell us should be welcomed as members of the covenant? Who are the members of the visible church? The visible church is a society made up of those who profess faith and obedience to Christ, and of their children. The baptism of infants was not contested for much of church history, but it is contested in our day, so consider these points:

1. Since God makes his covenant of grace with believers and their children, welcoming believers and their children into his church, therefore believers and their children ought to be baptized (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39, 16:31-34). The New Testament does not teach that the new covenant takes a different approach to children, but rather demonstrates continuity with the Old Testament on this matter.

2. Since in the Old Testament the sign of entrance into the covenant (circumcision) was given to believers and their children, so in the New Testament, the sign of entrance into the covenant (baptism) ought to be given to believers and their children (Gen. 17:1-14, Col. 2:11-12).

3. Just as circumcision was a sign of benefits which were received by faith and was nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they could express their faith (Rom. 4:11), so baptism is a sign of benefits which are received by faith and is nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they can express their faith.

4. Since baptism is our initiation as disciples of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), and the children of believers are disciples of the Lord Jesus, to be raised by their parents as such (Eph. 6:1-4, Matt. 19:13-15), therefore we should baptize the children of believers.

What does baptism mean for the infants of believers? It means the same thing as it does for adult believers. They bear the name of God, they have been called out of the world, they are disciples of Christ, his benefits are theirs, and they are his, provided they keep the covenant through faith in him. It means they are visible saints, having the identity of Christians rather than pagans, to be treated as such, with hope and charity, as brothers and sisters.

Baptism is not a guarantee of salvation if it is without true faith. We have the examples of the circumcised and “baptized” Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-14) and the baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24). And so parents ought to be diligent in bringing up their children in the ways of the Lord, knowing that God uses the instrumentality of parents to raise up another generation to serve him (Gen. 18:19, Eph. 6:4). And all the church, of whatever age, ought to be exhorted to repent and believe in Christ, living in accord with their baptism and embracing its promises.