Category Archives: Church History

Whitefield’s Sin Exposing Spotlight

Whitefield was convinced that any presentation of the gospel must begin by exposing the listener’s sin and his dire need for salvation. This necessitated the preacher’s confronting his hearers’ rebellion against God and warning of the eternal consequences of their rejection. Whitefield plainly understood that none rightly desire the gospel of Christ until they know of their own condemnation before God. Whitefield preached those truths that reveal sin, namely, the holiness of God, the fall of Adam, the demands of the law, the curse of disobedience, the certainty of death, the reality of the final judgment, and the eternality of punishment in hell.

When addressing the unregenerate masses, Whitefield sought to ensure that their depravity was fully laid bare. Martyn Lloyd-Jones aptly stated, “No man could expose the condition of the natural unregenerate heart more powerfully than George Whitefield.” Only when confronted with their sinfulness, Whitefield insisted, would unbelievers seek to embrace Christ as their Savior and Lord. He peeled back the outer layers of people’s self-righteousness in order to bring about self-awareness of their sinful hearts.

The work of evangelism mandated that he address the eternally devastating effects of sin in his preaching. Whitefield, like a watchman on the tower, warned of sin, death, and judgment. He sought to disturb his listeners with their lost condition before a righteous Judge in heaven. “The sin of your nature, your original sin, is sufficient to sink you into torments, of which there will be no end,” he preached. “Therefore unless you receive the Spirit of Christ, you are reprobates, and you cannot be saved.” He believed the lost must be driven to the brink of utter desperation before they will come to faith in Christ.

Whitefield was a master at sweeping away all useless rhetoric in order that the unconverted would recognize their desperate need to repent. He implored them, “You are lost, undone, without Him; and if He is not glorified in your salvation, He will be glorified in your destruction; if He does not come and make His abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels.” None who heard Whitefield were put to sleep with a false sense of security.

Pointing back to Adam’s transgression, Whitefield emphasized that all are born with an inherited sin nature from the first man. He declared, “We all stand in need of being justified, on account of the sin of our natures: for we are all chargeable with original sin, or the sin of our first parents.” It was this strong belief in original sin and total depravity that caused his every sermon to drive his listeners to grasp a sense of their desperate condition in sin. All humanity is born spiritually dead, he believed:

Can you deny that you are fallen creatures? Do not you find that you are full of disorders, and that these disorders make you unhappy? Do not you find that you cannot change your own hearts? Have you not resolved many and many a time, and have not your corruptions yet dominion over you? Are you not bondslaves to your lusts, and led captive by the devil at his will?

Whitefield’s sermons were filled with vivid warnings of the horrific dangers of remaining in a state of sin. In his sermon “Walking with God,” he warned that hell may be but one step away for them: “For how knowest thou, O man, but the next step thou takest may be into hell? Death may seize thee, judgment find thee, and then the great gulf will be fixed between thee and endless glory for ever and ever. O think of these things, all yet that are unwilling to walk with God. Lay them to heart.” Whitefield understood that gospel preaching must include the threat of hell, which is intended to drive men to flee to Christ and escape His terrors.

By such strong statements, Whitefield shined a sin-exposing spotlight into the dark crevasses of depraved hearts. Only then would sinners flee to the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to hear about a Savior who died for their guilty souls.

This excerpt is taken from The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson.

Source: Whitefield’s Sin Exposing Spotlight

Patrick the Saint: Behind the fanciful legends of the fifth-century British missionary stands a man worthy of embellishment

A fleet of 50 currachs (longboats) weaved its way toward the shore, where a young Roman Brit and his family walked. His name was Patricius, the 16-year-old son of a civil magistrate and tax collector. He had heard stories of Irish raiders who captured slaves and took them “to the ends of the world,” and as he studied the longboats, he no doubt began imagining the worst.

With no Roman army to protect them (Roman legions had long since deserted Britain to protect Rome from barbarian invasions), Patricius and his town were unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach. The braying war horns struck terror into Patricius’s heart, and he started to run toward town.

The warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patricius darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught. The barbarians dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.

Patricius, better known as Patrick, is remembered today as the saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland, the teacher who used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and the namesake of annual parades in New York and Boston. What is less well-known is that Patrick was a humble missionary (this saint regularly referred to himself as “a sinner”) of enormous courage. When he evangelized Ireland, he set in motion a series of events that impacted all of Europe. It all started when he was carried off into slavery around 430.

Escape from sin and slavery

Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose opponents’ heads sat atop sharp poles around his palisade in Northern Ireland. While Patrick minded his master’s pigs in the nearby hills, he lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Worst of all, he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time. Early missionaries to Britain had left a legacy of Christianity that young Patrick was exposed to and took with him into captivity. He had been a nominal Christian to this point; he now turned to the Christian God of his fathers for comfort.

“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”

After six years of slavery, Patrick received a supernatural message. “You do well to fast,” a mysterious voice said to him. “Soon you will return to your homeland.”

Before long, the voice spoke again: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.” So Patrick fled and ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor. There he boarded a ship of traders, probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent.

After a three-day journey, the men landed in Gaul (modern France), where they found only devastation. Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in the once fertile area.

“What have you to say for yourself, Christian?” the ship’s captain taunted. “You boast that your God is all powerful. We’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.”

Patrick answered confidently. “Nothing is impossible to God. Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”

At that moment, a herd of pigs appeared, “seeming to block our path.” Though Patrick instantly became “well regarded in their eyes,” his companions offered their new-found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods.

Patrick did not partake.

The prodigious son returns

Many scholars believe Patrick then spent a period training for ministry in Lerins, an island off the south of France near Cannes. But his autobiographical Confession includes a huge gap after his escape from Ireland. When it picks up again “after a few years,” he is back in Britain with his family.

It was there that Patrick received his call to evangelize Ireland—a vision like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man pleaded, “Help us!”

“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland,” Patrick wrote. “His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut … and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”

Despite his reputation, Patrick wasn’t really the first to bring Christianity to Ireland. Pope Celestine I sent a bishop named Palladius to the island in 431 (about the time Patrick was captured as a slave). Some scholars believe that Palladius and Patrick are one and the same individual, but most believe Palladius was unsuccessful (possibly martyred) and Patrick was sent in his place.

In any event, paganism was still dominant when Patrick arrived on the other side of the Irish Sea. “I dwell among gentiles,” he wrote, “in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things.”

Demons and druids

Patrick did not require the native Irish to surrender their belief in supernatural beings. They were only to regard these beings in a new light as demons. The fear of the old deities was transformed into hatred of demons. If Christianity had come to Ireland with only theological doctrines, the hope of immortal life, and ethical ideas—without miracles, mysteries, and rites—it could have never wooed the Celtic heart.

Predictably, Patrick faced the most opposition from the druids, who practiced magic, were skilled in secular learning (especially law and history) and advised Irish kings. Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of druids who “wished to kill holy Patrick.”

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” Patrick wrote, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”

Indeed, Patrick almost delighted in taking risks for the gospel. “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.”

Still, Patrick periodically avoided such confrontations by paying protection money: “Patrick paid the price of 15 souls in gold and silver so that no evil persons should impede them as they traveled straight across the whole of Ireland,” wrote one biographer.

Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts that the power of the druids was real, but he brought news of a stronger power. The famous Lorica (or “Patrick’s Breastplate”—see I Rise Today), a prayer of protection, may not have been written by Patrick (at least in its current form), but it expresses perfectly Patrick’s confidence in God to protect him from “every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul; against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of paganism, against false laws of heresy, against deceit of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and druids.”

According to legend, it worked. The King, Loiguire, set up a trap to kill Patrick, but as the bishop came near, all the king could see was a deer. (Thus the Breastplate has also been known as the Deer’s Cry.)

There was probably a confrontation between Patrick and the druids, but scholars wonder if it was as dramatic and magical as later stories recounted. One biographer from the late 600s, Muirchœ, described Patrick challenging druids to contests at Tara, in which each party tried to outdo the other in working wonders before the audience:

“The custom was that whoever lit a fire before the king on that night of the year [Easter vigil] would be put to death. Patrick lit the paschal fire before the king on the hill of Slane. The people saw Patrick’s fire throughout the plain, and the king ordered 27 chariots to go and seize Patrick.…

“Seeing that the impious heathen were about to attack him, Patrick rose and said clearly and loudly, ‘May God come up to scatter his enemies, and may those who hate him flee from his face.’ By this disaster, caused by Patrick’s curse in the king’s presence because of the king’s order, seven times seven men fell.… And the king, driven by fear, came and bent his knees before the holy man.…

“[The next day], in a display of magic, a druid invoked demons and brought about a dark fog over the land. Patrick said to the druid, ‘Cause the fog to disperse.’ But he was unable to do it. Patrick prayed and gave his blessing, and suddenly the fog cleared and the sun shone.… And through the prayers of Patrick the flames of fire consumed the druid.

“And the king was greatly enraged at Patrick because of the death of his druid. Patrick said to the king, ‘If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.’

“The king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”

Yet to Patrick, the greatest enemy was one he had been intimately familiar with—slavery. He was, in fact, the first Christian to speak out strongly against the practice. Scholars agree he is the genuine author of a letter excommunicating a British tyrant, Coroticus, who had carried off some of Patrick’s converts into slavery.

“Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’s deed “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.

It remains unknown if he was successful in freeing Coroticus’s slaves, but within his lifetime (or shortly thereafter), Patrick ended the entire Irish slave trade.

Royal missionary

Patrick concentrated the bulk of his missionary efforts on the country’s one hundred or so tribal kings. If the king became a Christian, he reasoned, the people would too. This strategy was a success.

As kings converted, they gave their sons to Patrick in an old Irish custom for educating and “fostering” (Patrick, for his part, held up his end by distributing gifts to these kings). Eventually, the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns.

From kingdom to kingdom (Ireland did not yet have towns), Patrick worked much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church. One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge. If the chieftain had been gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station.

Before departing, Patrick gave the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons (rules).

Self doubt

Despite his success as a missionary, Patrick was self-conscious, especially about his educational background. “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open,” he wrote in his Confession. “For I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.”

Nevertheless, he gives thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”

Over and over again, Patrick wrote that he was not worthy to be a bishop. He wasn’t the only one with doubts. At one point, his ecclesiastical elders in Britain sent a deputation to investigate his mission. A number of concerns were brought up, including a rash moment of (unspecified) sin from his youth.

His Confession, in fact, was written in response to this investigation. Reeling from accusations, Patrick drew strength from God: “Indeed he bore me up, though I was trampled underfoot in such a way. For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me.”

If Patrick was not confident about his own shortcomings, he held a deep sense of God’s intimate involvement in his life. “I have known God as my authority, for he knows all things even before they are done,” he wrote. “He would frequently forewarn me of many things by his divine response.”

Indeed, Patrick recorded eight dreams he regarded as personal messages from God. And scattered throughout his Confession are tributes to God’s goodness to him: “Tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the day I was tried, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my soul. He saved me in all dangers and perils.… So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God.”

According to the Irish annals, Patrick died in 493, when he would have been in his seventies. But we do not know for sure when, where, or how he died. Monasteries at Armagh, Downpatrick, and Saul have all claimed his remains. His feast day is recorded as early as March 17, 797, with the annotation; “The flame of a splendid sun, the apostle of virginal Erin [Ireland], may Patrick with many thousands be the shelter of our wickedness.”

Ultimate model

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction in the stories of Patrick’s biographers. It is historically clear, however, that Patrick was one of the first great missionaries who brought the gospel beyond the boundaries of Roman civilization. According to tradition, he had established bishops throughout northern, central, and eastern Ireland. Only Munster, in the south, was to remain pagan until a century after Patrick’s death.

Patrick was the ultimate model for Celtic Christians. He engaged in continuous prayer. He was enraptured by God and loved sacred Scripture. He also had a rich poetic imagination with the openness to hear God in dreams and visions and a love of nature and the created.

He is, then, most worthy of the appellation saint, as one “set apart” for a divine mission. As such, he became an inspiring example. Hundreds of Celtic monks, in emulation of Patrick, left their homeland to spread the gospel to Scotland, England, and continental Europe.

It is a legacy Patrick was proud of: “For God gave me such grace, that many people through me were reborn to God and afterward confirmed and brought to perfection. And so then a clergy was ordained for them everywhere.”

Mary Cagney, a former editorial resident at Christianity Today, has written a screenplay titled A Celtic King.

More resources:

The best starting place to learn about Patrick is with his own words. Few doubt his authorship of the autobiographical Confession and his angry Letter to Coroticus, available in several books, including a new translation by John O’Donohue.

The works are also available in Saint Patrick’s World by Liam de Paor. Combining primary source documents with an informative 50-page “introduction,” it should be in the library of anyone interested in this topic.

If you’re interested in more detail, check out the biography In the Steps of St. Patrick by Brian De Breffny.


The author of this piece, Mary Cagney, is a former editorial resident for the news department of Christianity Today, where she wrote several articles on the North Ireland peace process.

St. Patrick’s Confession is also available online, as is his Letter to Coroticus.

Some time between the fifth and eighth centuries, a biographical hymn was written about Patrick. Traditionally attributed to Fiacc, a fifth-century Bard, the Hymn of Fiacc is one of the few accepted primary sources for the life of St. Patrick other than his own writings.

Biographies of Patrick abound on the Web. There’s a large one at the Treasury of Irish Folklore. There’s The St. Patrick You Never Knew at American Catholic, a tour company’s True Legend of Saint Patrick, and a biography that doubles as a rant against Catholicism.[1]

[1] Patrick the Saint. (1998). Christian History Magazine-Issue 60: How the Irish Were Saved.

Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick

“We make too little of you, Lord, too often,” my coworker prayed. Our staff had been reading The Ten Commandments, and Exodus 20:7 had prompted his prayer:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Saint Patrick’s Day is a day when our culture makes much revelry, making too little of our Lord. Even Christians make too little of our Lord by failing to revere him, forgetting to acknowledge him and thoughtlessly making casual statements about him. But the holiday’s namesake was a man who, by his own Confession, delighted to revere the Lord. It’s a funny thing we’ve founded our worldly revelry in remembrance of his life, which gives quite the opposite impression.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Dr. Philip Freeman gives us a good introduction to this man:

The historical Patrick was not Irish at all, but a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in fifth-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland…He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God.

Patrick escaped Ireland after six years, but returned to preach Christ to the people there. “He was a man of great insecurities who constantly wondered if he was really cut out for the task he had been given” (Freeman), which is clear as you read his confession.

How do we honor God’s name, rather than take it in vain, on Saint Patrick’s Day and every day?

Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick

Here are three ways Saint Patrick made much of God’s name by telling of his works—and three reasons Christians should care about him. He did this in his little book, “which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland.” It was his confession before he died (62).

1. He made much of Jesus’ Lordship.

Saint Patrick writes in his confession:

…there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being—this is our teaching.

And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him. He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth.

Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ…This is the one we acknowledge and adore—one God in a trinity of the sacred name. (4)

We revere the Lord by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and by living in obedience to him, not depending on our own efforts to be made more like him, but depending on the Spirit whom he has given to us. In this we honor the Father.

Will you revere the Lord by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, by repenting of your sins to him, the Judge, and by living by faith according to his commands through the help of the Holy Spirit?

2. He made much of God’s Word and prayer.

In the Notes section following Saint Patrick’s 64-point confession, we find these words:

Patrick often quotes parts of the Bible directly. Even more frequently he uses phrases from the Bible as a normal part of his writing…To give every single possible allusion would make this translation far too unwieldy.

Reading Saint Patrick’s confession proves this note abundantly true. You feel as if every other sentence is a quote from Scripture—so much so that the editors thought it too daunting a task to include all the references. God’s Word had clearly taken root in this man’s heart and was highly regarded by him, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” ( Matthew 12:4).

Not only was Scripture on his heart and tongue, but also prayer. He says:

I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy—as I realise now, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. (16, emphasis added)

Saint Patrick made prayer top priority, no doubt paired with the intake of Scripture. Why? It fueled his love for God, for “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). To revere God is to love him by seeking him in prayer and wanting to know him through his Word.

Will you revere the Lord by prioritizing loving fellowship with him through his Word and prayer?

3. He made much of God’s mission.

I commend my soul to my most faithful God. For him I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. (56)

But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure. (12, emphasis added)

It is right to spread abroad the name of God faithfully and without fear, so that even after my death I may leave something of value to the many thousands of my brothers and sisters—the children whom I baptised in the Lord. (14)

Saint Patrick confesses that he “never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which [he] had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises” (61). What would compel a man to return to a land where he was enslaved? Only a tale worth telling, worth eternity. For, “we believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever” (60). “It is right to make known the gift of God and his eternal consolation” (14).

Christian, it’s right to “shout aloud” of what God has done for you! This gives him glory. It’s right to make known his free gift of salvation, available in Christ. Will you revere the Lord by telling others about the free gift of eternal life he offers through Jesus Christ, and how faith in Jesus has changed your life? Who will you talk to today?

Whether it’s among family or while sipping Shamrock shakes, make much of the Lord this Saint Patrick’s Day.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]


The post Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

CultureWatch: More Lessons From the Life of Whitefield

The other day I penned a piece about the life and ministry of the great evangelist George Whitefield. It was largely based on the two-volume, 1200-page biography by Arnold Dallimore. There are so many lessons for us today that we can learn from the man, that one article was never going to be sufficient.

So here is my next instalment – and more perhaps may still be forthcoming. But several further major themes based on him and his ministry and the Great Awakening can be offered. Here I present two more vital truths and lessons from the mighty evangelist.

Preaching a full, biblical gospel

There is no question that one of the reasons for the amazing effectiveness of his ministry was the sort of gospel he proclaimed. He offered a full, biblical gospel, not a man-pleasing gospel. He never shrank back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

And that always included a very strong emphasis on the core Christian doctrines: the justice and holiness of God; the devastating nature of sin; the reality of future judgment including the reality of hell; the sole remedy of a crucified Christ; and the utter necessity of new birth.

Consider just one of those emphases: Hellfire preaching was a normal part of his ministry and that of the other revivalists. They were not at all shy about speaking on the wrath of God and judgment to come. Oft heard was the admonition about ‘fleeing the wrath to come’.

And this sort of preaching had the desired effect. Hundreds of thousands were converted in England and the colonies in America. Yet today most Christians think this is not the sort of thing we should even mention in our pulpits. I actually heard one megachurch pastor say these topics may have been OK in the past, but they are not workable today.

Mind-boggling! Does he actually think that he can improve on what Jesus, the disciples, and all the great evangelists and revivalists preached on? So we should tell Jesus he needs to get with the times and go with a feel-good message of acceptance and your best life now?

As Dallimore rightly says:

Whitefield speaks to us about the power of the Gospel. It was not the “social gospel” but the gospel of “redeeming grace” that brought the great change two hundred years ago. In the knowledge of the power of the Gospel Whitefield went with confidence to the semi-heathen Kingswood colliers or the equally godless aristocracy and to all other classes of mankind and witnessed the transformation of lives among all.
The Gospel is the need of this present hour. Not the partial Gospel which characterises so much of today’s evangelicalism, but the whole Gospel that declares the majesty and holiness of God, the utter helplessness of man, the necessity of repentance, and a salvation that is manifested, not in a mere profession, but in the miracle of a new life. May Whitefield’s example bring Christians back to the Gospel in its fullness and therefore its power!

Let me mention just two other things about his gospel preaching. One, it was from a heart broken by God. He loved God and so he loved sinners. As one of his associates put it:

I hardly ever knew him to go through a sermon without weeping, more or less, and I truly believe his tears were the tears of sincerity. His voice often interrupted by his affection; and I have heard him say in the pulpit, “You blame me for weeping, but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and for aught you know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you.”

Secondly, Whitefield was never concerned with mere numbers when he preached. He was interested in real disciples. So he never counted “converts” but instead insisted on real signs of the new birth. Says Dallimore, “He chose to wait until conversion had been manifested by months of a transformed life, and his attitude is well expressed in his words, ‘Only the judgment morning will reveal who the converts really are’.”

One more quote:

Whitefield did exercise an effective leadership of this movement. It was not, however, a leadership by domination and the giving of commands; rather it was one of affection and example. Most of the exhorters had been converted under his ministry and looked on him, as many of them stated, as a spiritual father. In turn, holding him in such high esteem and seeing in him an embodiment of so much of their own Christian ideal, they delighted to be his co-laborers and to co-operate with his plans. Whitefield was inflexible in matters of moral rectitude and expected the men to maintain a life of strong Christian discipline and tremendous activity, but in general his relationship with the people and exhorters throughout his movement was by his heart-felt concern, his unfailing encouragement, and his personal example.

His ever-busy, relentless ministry

No one reading about the life of Whitefield can fail to notice how doggedly relentless and dedicated he was. He never seemed to slow down. He never seemed to allow himself any of the luxuries and pleasures of life. His sole purpose in life was to share the glories of Christ and to win souls.

He was daily up at 4am and went to bed at 10pm, but because of his amazingly busy ministry, it was often midnight and beyond before he could retire. He preached countless sermons, sometimes two hours in length. Henry Venn said he probably spent 40 to 60 hours a week at this labour.

In addition to preaching he was constantly counselling people and dealing with their spiritual questions and problems. As he said, “I sleep and eat but little, and am constantly employed from morning till midnight.” As one person said of his life: “Whitefield’s career permitted him hardly a day of what would be called repose, till he found it in the grave at the age of fifty-six.”

Already back in 1748 he was doing so much outdoor preaching and the like that he developed pain in breathing that would afflict him until he died in 1770. Quite often after he preached to an especially large crowd, he would afterward vomit a “large quantity of blood”.

His boundless love for God and his passion for souls meant he could never rest. He always felt the need to reach out to the lost. As he lay on his deathbed one of his associates greatly concerned about his deteriorating health said that he wished he would not preach so often. Whitefield famously replied, “I would rather wear out than rust out.”

Of course most Christians today would rightly say there is indeed a place for regular rest, for breaks, and for a downtime from ministry, simply to keep our bodies in shape as temples of the Holy Spirit. So I am not saying we all should copy Whitefield in his tireless and non-stop ministry.

His incredibly busy life more than likely contributed to his perhaps premature death. But we can all emulate and learn from his total commitment to Christ, his undying passion for souls, and his determination to see God glorified in everything he did.

Says Dallimore: “The burning desire to reach the hosts of mankind with the message of saving grace overruled all trials that came in the way, and he testified to the Divine assistance he experienced in learning the task, and the joy that was his as he performed it.”


There are many other items I could mention here. But more articles will be needed for that. So let me close by encouraging you to learn about this amazing man and his amazing ministry. There are various books out there about his life.

For those who simply cannot countenance the prospect of a 1200-page read – and some Christians struggle with finding ten minutes a day to read God’s Word! – there is some relief. In 1990 Dallimore did a 200-page abridgement of his 2-volume work, which, while nowhere near as full and detailed – sort of like reading an abridged version of The Lord of the Rings – still offers a helpful overview of the man and his ministry.

Why not grab a copy and be inspired and blessed? Happy reading.

[1402 words]

The post More Lessons From the Life of Whitefield appeared first on CultureWatch.

CultureWatch: Lessons from the Life of Whitefield

For those few ferociously faithful followers of this website, you may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet here for the past few days. That is because I have been rather busy, and the main thing occupying my attention has been devouring 1200 pages of an inspiring and captivating biography.

Yes, it took me quite a while, but I finally bought the superlative 2-volume biography of George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore (Banner of Truth). After twenty years of painstaking research, volume 1 was released in 1970. Another decade of research saw volume 2 making its appearance in 1980.

At 600 pages each, the two volumes are a rich, detailed and thorough look at one of the greatest preachers and revivalists of the Christian church. For those who know nothing about the man – and you all should know about him – see my writeup here:

There is just so much that a Christian today can relate to, learn from, and be moved by in this great biography. In so many ways I found myself identifying with what Whitefield was going through, including so many of his trials, heartaches, conflicts and tribulations.

Numerous lessons can be pointed to, but I can only highlight a few of them here. Another article or two will be needed to deal with some of the other important lessons.

Opposition and persecution

Whenever a wonderful work of God is under way, you can be sure the ugly opposing work of Satan will be there. One of the dominant themes found in this work is the extent and enormity of the relentless opposition – from friend and foe, men and devils, believers and non-believers.

The more God used Whitefield and the other revivalists, the more opposition and resistance they faced. Plenty of it was outright diabolical hatred and fury. Physical violence was faced by all the major preachers. Consider one of Whitefield’s diligent co-workers, Howell Harris. He was actually doing open air preaching some years before Whitefield, and then the Wesleys. Dallimore says this:

Harris’s mother treated him with bitter scorn and his brother Joseph wrote to him as though he were mentally deranged. Magistrates threatened to throw him in jail and warned that heavy fines would be imposed against all persons who allowed him to minister in their houses. Some of the people, infuriated by his condemnations, became violent against him, seeking to do him bodily harm.

On one occasion in 1741 for example he was set upon by a raging mob, attacked with fists and clubs, leaving him covered in blood: “The enemy continued to persecute him… striking him with sticks and staves, until overcome with exhaustion he fell to the ground… They still abused him, though prostrate…”

Now that is persecution. But what is even more appalling is this: these attacks were often instigated by the religious leaders! Says Dallimore, “The local clergyman, in what he called an effort ‘to defend the Church,’ opened a barrel of beer on the main street and used it to entice a mob to attack the evangelist.”

A year earlier he was hit in the eye with a stone while preaching, but went right back to it the next day: “We had continual showers of stones, walnuts, dirt, a cat and also a dead dog thrown at us. I was much afraid of the hurt on my eye, but the voice to me was ‘Better endure this than hell!’ I was struck on my forehead and under my right eye again, and also on my side with a stone.”

Wow. As mentioned, all the revivalists faced such opposition and physical assaults. In one brutal attack Whitefield was nearly killed. He often allowed spiritual inquirers to visit him with their spiritual problems. One night he let in a man to his room, only to be savagely beaten with a gold-headed cane. A second attacker appeared, but the commotion caused them to flee when others in the house appeared. The pair had intended to murder him.

Then there was all the verbal opposition, especially from church leaders, priests, bishops, etc. That was the really shocking thing. You would expect the heathen to oppose these Christians, but when church leaders joined the opposition, that was just so painful to witness and endure.

Many of these church leaders were not even genuine Christians, and most were carnal, compromised, worldly and spiritually dead. Pamphlets and books were written, published and distributed widely, attacking them as fanatics, troublemakers, lawbreakers and worse. All manner of lies and falsehoods were levelled against them.

Many of these Whitefield just ignored, but at times, for the sake of the gospel, he had to dispel the lies and clear his name from the slander and malicious rumours. This was something he had to deal with all throughout his 34-year evangelistic ministry.

All this offers a salutary lessons for us believers today. Just what sort of opposition are we facing? I suspect most of us have known nothing of such persecution. We all have a long way to go before having to endure this sort of demonic opposition. So we need to persevere, and prepare for possibly much worse to come.

Divisions, rivalries and dealing with criticism

One thing that was clear from this account of the great Awakening (and of any other move of God) is the way various rivalries will form, divisions creep in, and polarisation takes place. I already mentioned opposition from non-believers as well as nominal Christians.

But those within the same evangelical camp also tended to splinter and divide over theological issues, organisational methods, and behavioural activities. As a clear example, Whitefield, who was as much a founder of the Methodist movement as the Wesleys were, was Calvinist in his theology, while the Wesleys were Arminian.

That led to plenty of longstanding divisions, and John Wesley published a book denouncing what he saw as major errors in Whitefield’s theology. Eventually and reluctantly Whitefield published a reply to it. But all along Whitefield sought to be a peacemaker, and never gave up hope of having Christian unity with the Wesleys.

Decades later this became a reality. But for many years Whitefield was all but written off by the brothers. But he never gave up attempting to reconcile and unite. He hung on to his theological convictions, to be sure, but he always sought to bring peace and restoration.

And as the revival and awakening in England progressed, three distinct bodies began to emerge: the Moravians (founded by Zinzendorf), the Methodists, and the Whitefieldians. The three tended to attack each other and seek to take members from each other. Whitefield himself had long sought and worked for unity, and long sought to keep all the parties as one – but without compromising key doctrinal beliefs.

We all can learn from this. I am still trying to get all this right, especially on the internet. When do I stand firm theologically speaking, and when should I give a bit of ground? When should I publicly rebuke error, and when should I just hold my tongue? How much should I seek to be a peacemaker and strive for unity?

When must fellowship be severed? How can I seek to love others, while standing strong against clear errors in theology and doctrine? These and related questions I still am grappling with. The example of Whitefield certainly moved me and challenged me greatly.

As to dealing with criticism, Whitefield was constantly criticised and attacked – and from all sides. When he defended his Calvinism, he was criticised and attacked by non-Calvinists, most notably the Wesleys. But when he sought long and hard to keep relationships open with his various theological opponents, including the Wesleys, he was attacked by fellow Calvinists and others.

His usual response was to not respond to the critics. He knew he would be attacked as Christ and the disciples were, but he pressed on with his heavenly calling. But sometimes he had to reply publicly to all the lies, misinformation and false reports. And when he did reply, it was often in a far more gracious and Christlike manner than his attackers.

As I say, I am still learning how to deal with all this. I know all about criticism from all sides. It seems so often you just can’t win! It seems no matter what you do, what you say, or what you believe, you will always be surrounded by critics.

When and where do we respond, and when do we just bear with all the attacks? And how does this all work out in terms of Christian unity and fellowship? For example, the Wesleys could be quite cantankerous at times, and would not let ‘recalcitrants’ stay in their societies – much like being unfriended on Facebook today!

When do we take such harsh steps, and when do we seek and pray for a resolution? When is a public rebuke necessary, and when is just a prayer for your critics enough? When should we allow others to go their own way, as painful as it may be?

There is so much for all of us to learn here. I know I have such a long way to go in all of this. Thus reading about Whitefield in great detail as he dealt with this continuously was a real help and encouragement to me. It convicted me in many areas, and drove me to my knees. That is always a good thing!

And a last word on criticism. Like Luther at first, so here: it was not the intention of Whitefield and others to form a new church or a new denomination. Whitefield always considered himself to be a loyal member of the Anglican Church, although he fully loved working with other like-minded saints in nondenominational endeavours.

This too created all sorts of problems and resulted in all sorts of enemies rising up against him. He sought to be true to the CoE but he also extended the right hand of fellowship to true believers everywhere – within reason of course. Real fanatics and heretics had to be rebuked and rejected.

But Whitefield was certainly one of our best examples of a proper sort of ecumenism and working together. His deep humility and his willingness for others to get the credit played a big role in this. As long as God’s Kingdom was advancing and God was being glorified, he was happy to press on.

As mentioned, much more remains to be said, so stay tuned for further articles on the amazing life and ministry of George Whitefield.

[1757 words]

The post Lessons from the Life of Whitefield appeared first on CultureWatch.

The Men Who Make Tetzel Look Tame

Code: B171106

Have you ever been conned? Most of us have, to varying degrees, experienced the sense of violation at being ripped off or extorted. Even more egregious are the actions of those who swindle people in God’s name—breaking the fourth commandment—blasphemy—in their efforts to break the eighth—theft.

As we saw last time, religious extortion was rampant in the sixteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church pressured the poorest of their parishioners into purchasing bogus promises of God’s favor in the afterlife, called indulgences. In fact, it was so crass and widespread that it provoked Martin Luther to write his Ninety-Five Theses.

While Luther’s protest stymied that particular form of religious racketeering, God’s grace and blessings are still for sale today in the religious marketplace. And modern indulgences are no longer the exclusive domain of Roman Catholicism. Protestantism has now been infiltrated by a modern breed of indulgence salesmen—charlatans every bit as skilled as Tetzel when it comes to swindling contemporary churchgoers.

Without a doubt, the most blatant form of modern indulgences are peddled by charismatic faith healers. They hawk all sorts of ridiculous trinkets, promising to impart God’s grace and favor. With an uncanny resemblance to the massive Catholic relic industry, modern faith healers sell bottles of miraculous spring water, vials of holy land anointing oil, and scraps of ancient prayer cloths. Anything that even remotely resembles a point of contact with the biblical world can be sold as a portal between man and God.

However, for most of the prosperity preachers who dominate Christian television, the trinkets aren’t even necessary. Instead their indulgences are sold through a verbal promise of healing, favor, or financial breakthrough, if viewers will first sow a financial seed—of course payable to the preacher. Here’s how John MacArthur describes the ruse:

On program after program, people are urged to “plant a seed” with the promise God will miraculously make them rich in return. It’s known as the seed-faith plan, so named by Oral Roberts, the key pioneer in using television to spread charismatic doctrine. Most charismatic televangelists and faith healers use Roberts’s seed-faith plan or something similar to manipulate viewers to donate more than they can really afford. [1]

John sees an unmistakable parallel between Johann Tetzel and the television charlatans of today as seen on TBN. In fact, he argues that their modern version of indulgence racketeering far exceeds the tactics of Tetzel in both scale and sin.

If the scheme seems reminiscent of Tetzel, that’s because it is precisely the same doctrine. . . . Like Tetzel, TBN preys on the poor and plies them with false promises. Yet what is happening daily on TBN is many times worse than the abuses that Luther decried because it is more widespread and more flagrant. The medium is more high-tech and the amounts bilked out of viewers’ pockets are astronomically higher. (By most estimates, TBN is worth more than a billion dollars and rakes in $200 million annually. Those are direct contributions to the network, not counting millions more in donations sent directly to TBN broadcasters.) Like Tetzel on steroids, the Crouches and virtually all the key broadcasters on TBN live in garish opulence, while constantly begging their needy viewers for more money. Elderly, poor, and working-class viewers constitute TBN’s primary demographic. And TBN’s fundraisers all know that. The most desperate people—“unemployed,” “even though I’m in between jobs,” “trying to make it; trying to survive,” “broke”—are baited with false promises to give what they do not even have.

Clearly the Tetzel blueprint has been replicated and exponentially abused through modern media platforms: target the poor and most vulnerable; make grandiose promises that aren’t yours to make; squeeze every last drop of revenue out of the victims; use the proceeds for your own extravagance. It’s like Robin Hood in reverse! But it doesn’t end there. Giving money in response to a television sales pitch is invariably the gateway to further extortion.

In his support letters, Benny Hinn—perhaps the foremost faith healer and prosperity preacher of our day—has shamelessly pushed such modern indulgences on his constituents. On one occasion, he asked for donations in excess of one thousand dollars. In return he promised to put each donor’s name on a plaque that would adorn the interior of his private jet, so he could remember to pray for them by name while he traveled. Another letter promised that for a gift of any size, Hinn would supernaturally protect the donor’s relatives against dying from cancer.

But Hinn’s outrageous and narcissistic claims are nothing new or out of the ordinary. They are the stock-in-trade of charismatic fundraising going back at least three decades. The practices pioneered by Tetzel have been revised and upgraded.

Whereas Johann Tetzel held dead relatives ransom in purgatory, Oral Roberts essentially held himself ransom in one of the most obscene and bizarre indulgence sales of all time. In January 1987, Roberts told his television audience that they needed to donate eight million dollars before March 1, or God was going to take him away from them. [2] Roberts’s ploy succeeded, and he was able to pay off some impatient debt collectors.

Like the Pharisees who “devour[ed] widow’s houses,” (Luke 20:47), these modern peddlers of indulgences prey on the vulnerable and naïve. It’s often the people who can least afford it who buy into their scams, blindly hoping that God will unleash financial blessing on them in return for their seed gift. But the only ones who ever get rich are the faith healers and prosperity preachers themselves.

Most of us can see through that spiritual shell game. But there are plenty of softer and more civilized versions of indulgences that still plague the church today.

Joel Osteen is a prime example. While he holds to all the central tenets of prosperity theology, he shies away from the outlandish behavior and obscene promises of other health and wealth preachers. Like Roberts, Osteen is essentially selling himself and his lifestyle—the opulent wealth and worldwide fame he enjoys is supposedly evidence of God’s favor. And for the price of a book or a ticket to one of his rallies, you can learn how to unlock the same kind of blessing in your life.

And who wouldn’t want to be like him? Osteen embodies the American dream in human form. He looks good, is always happy, and marches through life in an endless procession of victories. If you buy a Joel Osteen book or attend one of his motivational rallies, you are promised Joel’s secret formula to “Become a Better You,” live “Your Best Life Now,” make “Every Day a Friday,” and discover “The Power of I Am” declarations so you can positively confess your desires into reality. Just as Tetzel preyed upon a populace who feared death, Osteen fills his coffers with the money of people who fear failure.

In his New York Times best-selling book, “Your Best Life Now,” Osteen promises its readers that:

We can live at our full potential right now! In this book, you will discover just how to do that! Within these pages, you will find seven simple, yet profound, steps to improve your life, regardless of your current level of success or lack of it. I know these steps work, because they have worked . . . in my own life. [3]

Osteen is confident his indulgences work because they work “in [his] own life.” And he’s right! Indulgences do work—at least for the people who sell them. Especially when he has a vast customer base of people who lap up every idea he puts on the market.

Hillsong’s global ministry blazes a trail that is eerily similar to Osteen’s. Their central message is more concerned with your present satisfaction and fulfillment than your eternal well-being. It is a gospel of success, self-esteem, and sensuality—what they summarize as a blessed life—all available through their media outlets and concert events.

All those examples fall—to one degree or another—into the charismatic corners of the Protestant church. But there is another strain of indulgence sales that has managed to escape those confines and run rampant in modern evangelical churches. And we’ll examine that next time.


Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (

What Caused the Reformation?

In answer to the question, “What caused the Reformation?” many people might point to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. But if you were to ask Luther himself, he would refuse to take any credit. Instead, he would put the focus entirely on God and His Word.

Near the end of his life, Luther declared, “All I have done is put forth, preach, and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing.…It is the Word that has done great things.…I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.”

Elsewhere, he proclaimed, “By the Word the earth has been subdued; by the Word the Church has been saved; and by the Word also it shall be reestablished.”

Noting Scripture’s foundational place in his own heart, Luther wrote, “No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.”

Luther rightly understood what caused the Reformation. He recognized that it was the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God preached by men of God in a language that the common people of Europe could understand. When the people’s ears were exposed to the truth of God’s Word it pierced their hearts and they were radically changed, by God’s grace and for His glory. It was ignorance of Scripture that made the Reformation necessary. It was the recovery of Scripture that made the Reformation possible.

It was that very power that transformed Luther’s own heart, a power summarized in the familiar words of Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” The rhetorical question of Jeremiah 23:29 makes this same point—“‘Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’”

During the late middle ages, the medieval Catholic Church had imprisoned God’s Word in the Latin language, a language the common people of Europe did not speak. The Reformers unlocked the Scriptures by translating them and boldly proclaiming their truth. Once people had access to the Word of God, the Reformation became inevitable.

The common thread, from Reformer to Reformer, was an undying commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, such that they were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, to get the Word of God into the hands of the people.

They did this because they understood that the power for spiritual reformation and revival was not in them, but in the gospel (cf. Romans 1:16–17). And they used the Latin phrase sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to emphasize the truth that God’s Word was the true power and ultimate authority behind all they said and did.

It was ignorance of Scripture that made the Reformation necessary. It was the recovery of Scripture that made the Reformation possible. And it was the power of the Scripture that gave the Reformation its enduring impact, as the Holy Spirit brought the truth of His Word to bear on the hearts and minds of individual sinners, transforming them, regenerating them, and giving them eternal life.

As we look back on the Reformation today, we do well to remember that the catalyst behind any lasting revival is not human ingenuity or cleverness. Rather, it is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Spirit-empowered Word of God.

More resources from Dr. Nathan Busenitz:

Celebrating the 500 Years of the Reformation
Luther’s Personal Reformation




The post What Caused the Reformation? appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.

The Flashpoint of the Reformation

Code: B171101

The world changed on October 31, 1517 (five hundred years ago yesterday). That was the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was an act of defiance that ignited a theological war with the Roman Catholic Church—one that persists five hundred years later.

But those of us familiar with the historic hallmarks of the Protestant-Catholic divide won’t find them in Luther’s initial protest. His theses didn’t offer a treatise on the doctrine of justification, advocate for the authority of Scripture, or repudiate the false gospel of Rome. While those issues would later epitomize the heart of Reformation theology, Luther’s first salvo was provoked by the perverse Roman Catholic indulgence industry.

As we saw last time, Pope Leo X’s grandiose construction projects in Rome required an enormous amount of revenue. To that end, he authorized indulgences—the sale of God’s favor and forgiveness—to fill his coffers.

The Medieval World

By the sixteenth century, Roman Catholicism had created—and inherited—the perfect climate for its lies to thrive. Church members were predominantly illiterate. The Bible and church services remained cloistered in ancient Latin. Furthermore, only the highest ranks within the church hierarchy had access to Holy Scripture. The wall that existed between the common man and God’s Word was virtually impenetrable.

The religious powerbrokers in Rome reserved exclusive rights for interpreting Scripture as they saw fit and filtering that information down to regular congregants. Medieval churchgoers had little choice but to blindly follow Roman Catholic dogma—no matter how ridiculous the rules became.

Instead of a torrent of biblical truth, the peasants of Europe were selectively drip-fed Rome’s religious propaganda. Steeped in superstition, the people sought right standing with God through baptism, venerating saints, viewing relics, praying rosaries, and consuming the Eucharist. If the mother church claimed it could sell reduced sentences in the dreaded purgatory, there wasn’t really any other alternative than to believe such outlandish claims.

Death was a constant threat during the Middle Ages. Lifespans were drastically shorter than they are today. Severe poverty, contaminated water, and filthy living conditions were all conducive to an early grave. Medicine was primitive and shrouded in mysticism. It was common for parents to bury their children, husbands to lose their wives through childbirth, and plagues to decimate entire regions. The ever-present reality of death produced a culture that was fixated on eternal matters—specifically, absolution for their sins and escaping purgatory. That concern extended to their deceased loved ones, who they believed were languishing there.

In spite of their extreme poverty, the peasants were highly motivated to dig deep when indulgences were offered. They willingly parted with what little they had to gain early release from their looming future in purgatory. Pope Leo’s afterlife extortioners had a ready-made customer base.

Medieval Indulgences

Johann Tetzel fronted Leo’s indulgence operation in Germany. His sales pitch played on the fears and superstitions of the many who would gather to listen. Without a doubt, Tetzel’s biggest business came from his emotional pleas for the souls of deceased loved ones in purgatory.

Do you not hear the voices of your dead relatives and others, crying out to you and saying, “Pity us, pity us, for we are in dire punishment and torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance”? And you will not? . . . Will you not then for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgence through which you are able to lead a divine and immortal soul safely and securely into the homeland of paradise? [1]

In pure monetary terms, Tetzel’s extortion of Germany’s poor was a resounding success. But as his entourage rolled on towards Wittenberg, an eruption was brewing.

Martin Luther was indignant when he found out that parishioners from Wittenberg were being conned by Tetzel. As a matter of urgency he wrote his Ninety-Five Theses in response to the rampant extortion. He decried the “lust and license of indulgence preachers” (Thesis 72), describing them as “hawkers of indulgences [who] cajole money” (Thesis 51). Thesis 86 boldly pointed out the cruelty of it all: “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

Luther’s repudiation of indulgences circulated widely and rapidly provoked a huge backlash against Tetzel. While the money he raised was gladly received in Rome, Tetzel was no longer welcome. Facing hostility and hatred from every direction, he was forced to retreat to the confines of a monastery, and eventually died in seclusion.

Leo seethed with rage over the giant wrench Luther had thrown in his works. And the animosity escalated into full-blown anathema as the Reformation continued to gain steam.

The sale of indulgences was no longer viable, at least in the overt form Tetzel deployed. Nonetheless they have remained an integral Roman Catholic doctrine into the present day—albeit more discretely.

Modern Indulgences

To this day, the Church of Rome still traffics in indulgences. They made a significant resurgence in 1967 when Pope Paul VI promulgated his Indulgentiarum Doctrina(Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences). While the Indulgentiarum Doctrina stated that indulgences were no longer for sale—“illicit profits”—it also affirmed Rome’s ongoing commitment to the doctrine. Paul VI went so far as to pronounce damnation on anyone who rejects belief in indulgences.

But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses “teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them.” (Chapter IV, Paragraph 8)

The document leaves no doubt that the Church of Rome still believes it has exclusive power to dish out God’s grace however and whenever it sees fit. Indulgentiarum Doctrina spells out precise formulas comprised of prayers for the Pope, hail Marys, confessions, contrition, and charitable works. And in a curious closing statement, the document reminds us just how much authority Rome believes it wields over God and His power, telling us that the new range of indulgences would take effect “three months from the date of publication.”

In 2009, the New York Times published an article announcing that indulgences are increasingly back in vogue among Catholics. It points out that while you can’t buy an indulgence anymore, “charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one.” Today the Pope even offers special indulgences for people who sign up as Twitter followers. Around the world, Catholics still hunt for ways to sidestep penance and purgatory. But for the most part, these modern indulgences are not the cash cow they once were for the church.

The sad truth is that if you’re looking for a modern equivalent to Tetzel’s indulgences, you’re far more likely to find it in Protestant circles today. As we’ll see next time, God’s grace and blessings are still for sale in a new and expanding religious marketplace.


Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (

The Obscenity of Indulgences

Code: B171030

Have you ever seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome? Whether you see it in person, or in pictures, it’s spectacular. From the vast piazza surrounded by tall columns to the gigantic dome that dominates Rome’s skyline, it is unforgettable. Those who step inside witness vast marble hallways lined with priceless works of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Even the casual observer can tell that no expense was spared when Pope Leo X set out to rebuild the cathedral in the sixteenth century. Five hundred years later it is still a monument of architectural grandeur and lavish beauty.

But beneath the outward appeal of its construction lies the ugly truth about its funding. The elegance of St. Peter’s quickly becomes an eyesore when you realize its extreme opulence was financed primarily through the extortion of Europe’s longsuffering peasants.

Pope Leo X used the sale of indulgences as the primary means of funding his massive building projects in Rome. Leo sent representatives throughout his dominion to extort the masses through the sale of indulgences.

To understand indulgences, we need to go outside the teachings of Scripture and acquaint ourselves with the codified Catholic dogmas of purgatory, penance, and the treasury of merit.


Catholics believe in a place between heaven and hell called purgatory. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. [1]

Roman Catholicism denies the clear biblical teaching that final judgment follows death (Hebrews 9:27), when the redeemed inherit eternal life (Revelation 21:27) and the unredeemed inherit eternal damnation (Revelation 20:15). The belief in purgatory implicitly denies Paul’s teaching that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In fact, Catholicism goes so far as to pronounce damnation on anyone who denies their doctrine of purgatory:

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema. [2]

Even for the serious Catholic, who has already worked hard to achieve salvation, purgatory remains an inevitable dread. The only mystery on this side of the deathly veil is how much punishment awaits and how long it will take before one reaches “the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

In the medieval church, purgatory sentences were widely thought to be much longer than our earthly life spans. Understandably, that caused a great deal of anxiety among church members. The offer of a reduced sentence, or escape altogether, had even the poorest parishioners eager to empty their pockets—especially if it allowed them to sidestep the grueling acts of penance.


The Catholic belief in penance is a distortion of the biblical doctrine of repentance. Whereas repentance refers to a newfound hatred for sin and the profound desire to turn away from it, penance is a process by which the sinner makes satisfactory payment for his own sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.” [3]

Making satisfaction for sins often involved the recitation of certain prayers, gifts to the church, and other good works. More extreme acts of penance required periods of self-denial and even self-harm. Brutal flagellation and starvation were not uncommon, especially for people guilty of egregious sins, or those tortured by a tender conscience.

Prior to his conversion, Martin Luther suffered enormously through those acts of satisfaction. He had an acute awareness of his own depravity and thus willingly put himself through the most rigorous of penitential acts. James Kittelson describes them in vivid detail:

Long periods with neither food nor drink, nights without sleep, bone-chilling cold with neither coat nor blanket to warm him—and self-flagellation—were common and even expected in the lives of serious monks. . . . [Luther] did not simply go through the motions of prayers, fasts, deprivations, and mortifications of the flesh, but pursued them earnestly. . . . It is even possible that the illnesses which troubled him so much in his later years developed as a result of his strict denial of his own bodily needs. [4]

For many, the more extreme forms of penance were even more unappealing than time spent in purgatory. Both false doctrines put an incredible burden on the members of the Catholic Church. There was no hope of reprieve, in this life or the next.

The Treasury of Merit

That absence of hope created a market that the Roman Catholic Church could exploit. To that end, they instituted the treasury of merit, a heavenly slush fund for Catholics to draw on to reduce their future suffering, or perhaps escape purgatory altogether. Composed of the excess righteousness achieved by Christ, His mother Mary, and all the saints, Catholics could draw on the treasury of merit—for the right price.

According to Catholic dogma,

The “treasury of the Church” is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. . . . This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . [and] the prayers and good works of all the saints. [5]

Indulgences were sold as a way to tap into the treasury of merit. The bottomless nature of that reservoir amounted to a conveniently limitless income stream for the coffers of Rome.

The Sale of Indulgences

Pope Leo X called on a monk by the name of Johann Tetzel to lead the sale of indulgences in Germany. Tetzel was a master salesman—the spiritual forerunner of the charlatans we see dominating Christian television today. He may have also been the pioneer of seductive advertising jingles. His sales pitch was certainly effective: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” And while that’s an English translation, it rhymed just as well in the original German—the money klingt and the soul springt.

The scene was imposing. Tetzel preached under the pope’s banner and the sanctimonious aura of the church. It was extortion and emotional manipulation of the highest order. It was quick and dirty business. The money flowed freely and the transactions were finalized swiftly. Tetzel’s entourage rapidly moved from town to town, amassing a vast amount of wealth along the way.

Behind Tetzel lay a long trail of German peasants with empty pockets. But in front of him stood one very angry monk who was about to put an end to Tetzel’s obscene racketeering.


Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (

Albert Mohler Blog: “Here We Stand”

In this essay, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and discusses the continued significance for the Reformation today. Mohler writes:

“Christ’s church will remain in need of a continuing reformation until He comes. But here we must be very careful. More liberal churches claim to embrace the Reformation call of Semper Reformanda – as the church always being reformed. This can open the door to doctrinal revisionism and liberalism in the name of reformation. The true churches of the Reformation, however, understood that the right call was for a church always reformed by the Word of God.”

Click Here to Read More

We Are All Beggars

By Charles Fry /


Shortly before Martin Luther died, a piece of paper containing his handwriting was found in his pocket. Among other words on the paper were these: “This is true. We are all beggars.”[i]

During his lifetime, Luther had come to see the holiness and justice of God. He realized he had no righteousness whatsoever to declare him acceptable to God. Luther only had Christ. Yet, in having Christ, he had everything: assurance of heaven, peace with God, and a calm heart before the Law of God. Simply clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500s Europe upside down.

In the fall of 1984, I came to see in a deeper way the truth of Luther’s words, “We are all beggars.” My pastor preached one day on Matthew 5:3 (NASB), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Through this sermon, I was brought face to face with the holiness of God. I was subsequently led to see that I had no righteousness or godliness to give to God in light of his majesty. Yet, in the same sermon, I heard the gospel, the announcement of good news that comes from God himself.

Christ the Lord was freely and sweetly offered as a perfect Savior. His once-and-for-all death on the cross was shown to be truly sufficient to pay the penalty for all my sin—past, present, and future. I was reminded that I had been justified by faith alone, resting from my own works. As the leaves fell that day in my hometown in Appalachia, heaven once again seemed to come to earth, as the old saying goes. I knew without a doubt that God was my Father in heaven and that I was surrounded by his lovingkindness. I experienced genuine joy.

Read all the posts published to date in this extended series on the life and theology of Martin Luther, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the birth of the Reformation.

Almost thirty years later, I taught a class on Martin Luther in the same church where I had heard this sermon. In preparing each lecture, I realized how much I personally needed to regularly hear the Law and the gospel clearly proclaimed, as well as the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is easy to forget, doubt, or trivialize the majesty of God’s Law, the grace of God, and the freeness of the gospel announcement. I was struck by the centrality, simplicity, and sufficiency of the gospel for the Church. I also noticed that the gospel is the only message in the world that gives all glory to God and humbles the pride of man. This fact was not missed by Luther. In reading his works, I was struck by his zeal for the glory of God and its connection to the gospel.

In keeping with these observations, I have two goals for this series of blog posts.

Reformation Roots

First, I hope to share concisely with the reader our Reformation roots that have largely been lost. The greatest need of our time is to return to the “first principles” of the Reformation and once again draw straight and simple lines of theology. Studying Martin Luther is a wonderful way to understand what the Bible teaches concerning God himself, the nature of man, and the gospel. Simply put, I want to share with the reader the wonderful news of the gospel that we may be filled with true joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13 NASB).

Martin Luther’s need is our need—whether our background is Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or anything else. God has clearly spoken in the Bible, telling us that every person in the world is accountable to him and that we are all bankrupt sinners in light of his majesty, holiness, and righteousness (Romans 3:9 – 20 NASB). All of us need the cross of Christ. All of us need a righteousness outside of ourselves that only Jesus can provide. This is our only hope.

Simply by clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500’s Europe upside down.
Click To Tweet

Luther’s Gospel Focus

The second goal in this project is to show from Luther’s work that while the gospel is the only true source of peace and joy, it is also the only message that gives complete glory to God. Certainly, Luther desired for man to receive comfort and hope from the good news of Christ. Yet he was concerned that the Church be faithful to the gospel message so that God would receive all honor. He despised the ways in which man robbed God of his glory; he longed for the medieval church to be humbled before God and to exalt Christ alone.

Next week, we will present an overview of the posts to follow, introducing the topic areas and setting the stage for an exciting, illuminating ride through the early years of one of the most pivotal eras in church history: the Protestant Reformation. 

Part 1 of a 22-part series drawn from A World Upside Down: The Life and Theology of Martin Luther, by Charles E. Fry.

Chuck Fry holds degrees from Marshall University, Moody Bible Institute, and Christ College. He has been in discipleship ministry since 1989 and is on staff with The Navigators in Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Lisa, organize and host the annual Majesty of God conference, held each April.

[i] James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1986, 2003), 297.

The post We Are All Beggars appeared first on Cruciform Press.

Visit Website

John MacArthur on The Reformation: A Lesson About Heresy & The Power of Truth

This is THE year.   2017.  So many have been awaiting its arrival with anticipation, with hope, with a desire to see history repeat itself.  And NO. It isn’t about some eternally unimportant temporal American election.

It’s about the explosion of truth … God’s Truth … across the planet. It’s about when Truth was unshackled from a millennium of virtual bondage in a blasphemous prison built by the apostate hands of man.   It’s about not a mere celebration of a historical event – the Reformation – it’s about praising God for giving bold, historic evidence of his claim in Psalm 138:2:

You have exalted above all things
your name and your word. Psalm 138:2

The Reformation serves as providential, temporal, historic evidence that His Name and His Word will always remain unfettered by the prideful whims of man and unshadowed by the efforts of a God-hating enemy. Utterances from the truthful lips of God (Proverbs 12:19) remain forever.

The Reformation was a providential movement of God, protecting His Truth and thereby extending grace to the undeserving world. Its’ fruit has, as of this year, continued to bless the world for five hundred years.

But, though we know the many warnings of end-time diversions off the narrow path and how the church will increasingly be plagued with false teachers and false gospels, the true church – not the superficial one – prays for another reformation.

We want another reformation that brings to the modern church what the Reformation brought to the 16th-century one – the restoration of God’s Name and God’s Word to their rightful, exalted place. We want that preached in our pulpits and taught in our Sunday school rooms. We want THAT Truth to be the visible image of the church to an onlooking world. And we want that Truth to be proclaimed, defended and contended, so that the elect hearts of men may be saved by it. We want that Truth blasted across an increasingly depraved world because THAT Truth gives glory to Jesus, the Lord and the Savior.

But the modern superficial church – the one most unbelievers think of when they think about “church” – is light years away from the authentic light of God’s Word, though that Word is so often merely a fingertip away. False teaching is rampant because the Word goes unheeded. Error is hurled, tolerated, and endorsed with ever greater ferocity because sound doctrine is ignored. Deception continues WITHIN the church as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19) appealingly deludes with unsound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3) imprisoning men’s minds in strongholds of darkness. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

On his daily Grace To You Radio broadcast today, John MacArthur prefaced his message with a quick look at two particular lessons from the Reformation. These studio comments come ahead of the rebroadcast of his message, Is Jesus The Only Way?

Here’s what Dr. MacArthur had to say:

“I think there are a couple of things that come out of the Reformation that are just really profound, far-reaching lessons.”

“The first one is that error, heresy, false Christianity can survive for a very long time. It can not only survive, it can actually be a dominant force in society. That is exactly what happened for a thousand years in the development of Roman Catholicism.”

“If you think that there’s not a powerful, massive, embedded force for heresy, for a corrupted Gospel and a corrupted church, alive and well in the world, you don’t know history.”

“Error is always seeking to be permanently embedded and given a kind of dignity, a kind of acceptability, a kind of prominence in the world. And that’s what happened for a thousand years in the development of the Roman Catholic Church.”

“The other thing that comes out of the Reformation is this … that as profoundly embedded as evil is for such a long time and through tens of thousands of people, God can use one person as He did Martin Luther – or two or three – to literally bring the Truth.”

“That’s something we ought to pray for even today.”

There’s really only one thing that can be said to this … AMEN.

Source: John MacArthur on The Reformation: A Lesson About Heresy & The Power of Truth

The History of Advent

Unlike modern Advent ceremonies, most celebrations of Advent in history had a twin focus. The Latin word adventus was the translation of the Greek parousia—a word used for both the coming of Christ in human flesh and his Second Coming. Advent, then, always tended to focus on both.

Many churches lit the first of their Advent candles today (hopefully without needing the fire department!). Even churches averse to liturgical practices find a way to mark the Advent season, if only by marking the days remaining until Christmas.

This is some of the story behind Advent.


The earliest dating of Advent is impossible to determine. The start of Easter in Christian history is far more obviously tied to Passover (albeit with different methods for dating), and Christmas came to be associated with the birth of Christ as a result of it falling during the December Solstice, the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The coming of the Light of the World made a lot of sense in so much darkness. Within a few centuries of church history, both Easter and Christmas took on special meaning due to their use in commemorating the life of Jesus.

In the early centuries of the church, Advent almost certainly arose as a result of the fixed dating of Christmas. Once December 25 became Christmas, it was the center of gravity for the later half of the year—a perfect balance to Easter in the first half. In this way, Advent took on significance the same way Lent did: both were preparation for the more significant season on the horizon.

By the fourth century, the first written evidence of Advent is found in modern Spain and Europe (Hispania and Gaul). Probably the earliest official mention of Advent practices comes as the Council of Sargossa (AD 380) met to answer a gnostic-inspired movement called Priscillianism.

The heresy essentially held to a harsh form of dualism—light vs. dark, body vs. soul—so perhaps the celebration of the incarnation made theological sense as a counterbalance to this heresy. The council was not committed to any specific dating of Advent, though, and only suggested people attend church daily between December 17 and 29.

By the fifth and sixth centuries, more firm dating of the Advent season can be found in historical records—as well as Advent sermon series.

I made a short video of this same comment on my YouTube channel for those interested

Read More

Luther’s 95 Theses

On this day 499 years ago, a monk named Martin Luther (1483–1546) approached a church door in Wittenberg, Germany and posted a list of topics for academic debate at the local university. With this relatively innocuous act Luther started a movement that developed into the Protestant Reformation. That list of topics which Luther posted on…

Reformation Day — Luther the Movie

Reformation Day — Luther the Movie – “In this day, 499 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg.  It was designed to spark conversation and debate.  It would do much more than Luther ever imagined.  It was the early spark of the Protestant Reformation. The full movie about Martin Luther (2003) can be watched here…”

Luther (Full Movie)

The Big Five Doctrines of the Reformation

reformation-wall-in-genevaHave you ever wondered why people call themselves “Reformed”? The word “reformed” generally means “improved”—as in, desperate parents may send an incorrigible adolescent to a reformatory school to get them back in line; politicians promise economic reforms to undo the damage of their predecessors. In theological circles, the word is written with a capital, and acts as a self-designation for those who consider themselves to be direct doctrinal descendants of the progenitors of the Reformation, namely Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, et al.

For example, plain vanilla Baptists get upgraded to “Reformed Baptists” if they embrace not only the tenets of Baptists, but also the doctrines for which the Reformers risked life and limb.

Exactly 499 years to the day (October 31, 1517) the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, nailed, to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, his list of 95 things the Catholic Church needed to reform/improve in order to be faithful to what the Bible teaches.

Reformed folk today come in various subspecies: some don’t hold to all five tenets of the Calvinist TULIP* scheme, others have shed the Reformers’ eschatology and ecclesiology, such as infant baptism. But all who brandish the prefix “Reformed” will share a profound commitment to the five slogans of the Reformation that functioned as the five-fold battle cry of essentials around which all Reformers united.

Ironically, these five mottos are commonly referred to by their Latin monikers. I say it’s ironic because the Reformers were committed to translating the Scriptures and theological writings out of the elitist Latin language and into any and every vernacular tongue imaginable. But the description of this commitment has come to us in Latin: Post tenebras lux,(after darkness light).


Any visitor to South Africa’s Kruger National Park wants to see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Though there are countless species to keep career game wardens busy for a lifetime, nothing trumps the satisfaction of spotting the Big Five.

Here is a quick primer on the doctrinal biggies of the Reformation, the so-called “Five Solas.”

  1. Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)

While the Catholic church taught that authority lies in two main sources: the Scriptures (Old & New Testaments) and the magisterium (the official dogma of the Pope and his councils), the reform Luther wanted was that the church should recognize only one source of revelation: Scripture alone.

See 2 Pet 1:21; 2 Tim 3:16; Mark 7:7; 1 Cor 4:6.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith articulates it this way:

Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” (1689 BCOF, Ch 1, Par 7).


  1. By Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)

Where the Catholic church taught that salvation came to an individual by means of Christ’s work on the cross and man’s work in response (including necessary sacraments such as baptism into the Catholic church and communion administered by an authorized Catholic), the Reformers insisted that salvation came by one means: God’s free, unmerited favor initiated by him, or simply put, by grace alone.5solas

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

See also, Titus 3:5; Romans 3:24


  1. Through Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

Similar to the previous one, this doctrine emphasizes that the instrument by which grace is administered is not faith in combination with the practice of certain sacraments, but faith alone. Good works follow salvation from sin, but those works are not accounted as the means of saving grace.

Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” (1689 BCOF ch 11, par 1,2)


  1. Through Christ Alone (Solus Christus)

Integral to the Catholic system of salvation is the role of priests. These are men who mediate between sinners and the Savior. The Reformers emphasized that anyone can go directly to the Savior, and that he is the only needed mediator…

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Although priests did have a mediatorial role in the Old Testament, once Christ came he fulfilled that role once for all and is the only needed mediator (Heb 7:23-25). Especially relevant today is that this doctrine is the opposite of the Catholic assertion that Mary occupies an office of “co-redemptrix” alongside Christ.


  1. To God’s Glory Alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

Johan Sebastian Bach famously signed the written score of his compositions with this Latin dedication. The Reformers were ardent about reserving all glory for God (á la Jude 25) and not sharing it with deceased saints, Mary, the Pope, or anyone who occupied an elevated position in the Catholic system. See Isaiah 46:5-11.


Please remember I called this post a primer. This is not meant to satiate your hunger for Reformation knowledge; it is meant to whet your appetite. But you do well for now if all you know about Reformed theology is that the Bible is the sole authority, grace is all that saves you, by nothing but faith, through Christ’s work alone, and exclusively for God’s glory.

Happy Reformation Day.



* Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.

Source: The Big Five Doctrines of the Reformation

Luther’s Personal Reformation

It was just over 500 years ago, in the fall of 1510, that a desperate Roman Catholic monk made what he thought would be the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime.

He had become a monk five years earlier, much to the surprise and dismay of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. In fact, it was on his way home from law school, that this young man—then 21 years old—found himself in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. The lightning was so intense he thought for sure he was going to die. Fearing for his life, and relying on his Roman Catholic upbringing, he called out for help. “Saint Anne,” he cried, “Spare me and I will become a monk!” Fifteen days later, he left law school behind and entered an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.

The fear of death prompted him to become a monk. And it was the fear of God’s wrath that consumed him for the next five years—so much so, in fact, that he did everything within his power to placate his guilty conscience and earn God’s favor.

He became the most fastidious of all of the monks in the monastery. He dedicated himself to the sacraments, fasting, and penance. He even performed acts of self-punishment like going without sleep, enduring cold winter nights without a blanket, and whipping himself in an attempt to atone for his sins. Reflecting on this time of his life, he would later say, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” Even his supervisor, the head of the monastery, became concerned that this young man was too introspective and too consumed with questions about his own salvation.


Image: Public Domain

But the haunting questions would not go away.

This young monk became particularly fixated on the apostle Paul’s teaching about the “righteousness of God” in the book of Romans, and especially Romans 1:17. In that verse, Paul says of the Gospel, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

But this young man’s understanding of that verse was clouded. Reading it through the lens of Roman Catholic tradition, he twisted its meaning, thinking that he had to somehow become righteous through his own efforts in order to live a life of faith. But therein was the problem. He knew he was not righteous. Despite everything he did to earn God’s favor, he knew he fell short of God’s perfect standard.

And so, as he would later recount, he came to hate the phrase “the righteousness of God” because he saw in it his own condemnation. He realized that if the perfect righteousness of God is the standard (which of course it is), and if he as a sinful man could not meet that standard (which of course he couldn’t), then he stood utterly condemned. So, out of frustration and despair, he plunged himself all the more fervently into the strict practices of monastic life, trying his hardest to work his way to salvation. And he grew more and more discouraged and desperate.

So it was, five years after he became a monk, in the year 1510, that this desperate man made what he thought would be the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime. He and a fellow monk travelled to the center of Catholic thought and power—the city of Rome. If anyone could help him calm the storm that waged in his soul, surely it would be the pope, the cardinals, and the priests of Rome. Moreover, he thought that if he paid homage to the shrines of the apostles and made confession there, in that holy city, he would secure the greatest absolution possible. Surely this would be a way to earn God’s favor. The young man was so excited that when he came within sight of the city, he fell down, raised up his hands and exclaimed “Hail to thee, holy, Rome! Thrice holy for the blood of martyrs shed here.”

But he would soon be severely disappointed.

He tried to immerse himself in the religious fervor of Rome (visiting the graves of the saints, performing ritualistic acts of penance, and so on). But he soon noticed a glaring inconsistency. As he looked around him at the pope, the cardinals, and the priests, he did not see righteousness at all. Instead, he was startled by the corruption, greed, and immorality.

As the famous church historian Philip Schaff explained, the young man was

shocked by the unbelief, levity and immorality of the clergy. Money and luxurious living seemed to have replaced apostolic poverty and self-denial. He saw nothing but worldly splendor at the court of [the] Pope . . . , [and] he heard of the fearful crimes of [previous popes], which were hardly known and believed in Germany, but freely spoken of as undoubted facts in the fresh remembrance of all Romans.  . . . He was told that “if there was a hell, Rome was built on it,” and that this state of things must soon end in a collapse. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VI:129)

A desperate man on a desperate journey, having devoted his life to the pursuit of self-righteous legalism and finding it empty, went to Rome looking for answers. But all he found was spiritual bankruptcy.

Needless to say, Martin Luther left Rome disillusioned and disappointed. He reported that, in his opinion, “Rome, once the holiest city was now the worst.”  Not long afterward, he would openly defy the pope, calling him the antichrist; he would condemn the cardinals as charlatans; and he would expose the apostate tradition of Roman Catholicism for what it had become: a destructive system of works righteousness.

Luther’s journey to Rome was a disaster. Yet, it played a critical part in his journey to true, saving faith. A short time later, the fastidious monk discovered the answer to his spiritual dilemma: If he was unrighteous, in spite of his best efforts, how could he be made right before a holy and just God?

In 1513 and 1514, while lecturing through the Psalms and studying the book of Romans, Luther came to realize the glorious truth that had escaped him all those years before: The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not merely the righteous requirement of God—of which all men fall short (Rom. 3:23)—but also the righteous provision of God whereby, in Christ, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to those who believe (Rom. 5:1-2, 18).

Luther’s own remarks sum up the glorious transformation that discovery had on his heart:

At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. . . . Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open. An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me . . . and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term “the righteousness of God.”

After a lifetime of guilt, after years of struggling to make himself righteous, after trying to please God on his own, and after a disappointing trip to Rome, Martin Luther finally came to understand the heart of the gospel message. He discovered justification by grace through faith in Christ; and in that moment, he was transformed.

The post Luther’s Personal Reformation appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.

10 Things You Should Know about the Reformation

This is a guest post by Tim Chester, coauthor of Why the Reformation Still Matters. This post is part of our 10 Things You Should Know blog series.

1. The Pope started the Reformation.

The fourteenth century was a bad time for the papacy. For a period, there were two rival popes and the papacy was under pressure from the French monarchy. It wasn’t a good time for the city of Rome either—seven successive popes abandoned Rome in favor of Avignon in France. Rome was sidelined and Saint Peter’s Basilica fell into disrepair. The popes returned to Rome in 1377 and then sorted out their divisions in 1417.

A hundred years on, things were looking up: in 1505, Pope Julius II had decided to knock down the old St Peter’s and start again. He had big plans for his own tomb and wanted a basilica to match. It was time to make Rome magnificent once again. But that didn’t come cheap, so the church embarked on a fundraising campaign. It was this campaign that brought Johann Tetzel to Germany to sell indulgences, promises of time off purgatory in exchange for cash. And so it was that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his protest against indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

2. The Reformation was about sausages.

During Lent 1522, a group of students in Zurich held a sausage-themed party. Traditionally only vegetables and fish were eaten during Lent. But they wanted change and that meant hot dogs. The city council fined the host of the party, albeit only a nominal amount. A few days later, Huldrych Zwingli, the leader of the city’s church, produced a pamphlet in support of the students. The Bible, he argued, didn’t have much to say about sausages—there was certainly nothing about eating sausages during Lent.

The Council convened a debate to decide whether Zwingli’s views matched what was taught in the Bible. Zwingli won the day. But really, he’d won before it started because the terms of the discussion assumed the authority of Scripture. And that, rather than sausages, was the real issue – though it’s reassuring to know that bacon sandwiches get the thumbs up.

3. Luther’s marriage was a bit fishy.

Catholicism’s focus was on becoming right with God through the sacraments or monastic life, but the Reformers preached that being right with God is a gift. There’s no need to do works for God’s benefit. It’s already a done deal—achieved by Christ and received by faith. And that frees you up to serve your neighbour in love.

In 1523, a group of nuns contacted Luther. Convent life made no sense, so the nuns wanted Luther to help them escape their cloistered life. Luther enlisted a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. On April 5, the nuns escaped by hiding among the empty fish barrels. Their families refused to take them back, perhaps because what had just happened was still a crime under Church law. So Luther set about marrying them off—no easy matter, perhaps, since they smelled of fish!

Gradually, he found husbands for them all—all except one. No husband could be found for the ringleader, Katharina von Bora. So, somewhat against his wishes, Luther himself married her. He was forty-one and she twenty-six. It turned out to be a good match.

4. There were 97 theses before there were 95 theses.

Luther’s famous ninety-five theses were not his first stab at provoking a debate. A few weeks before, he’d posted ninety-seven theses. They included an attack on the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who’d made something of a comeback in the Medieval period. As it happens, no one took much notice of Luther’s ninety-seven theses. Yet they were much more central to the thought of the Reformation.

So, when Luther was summoned to account for his actions before his Augustinian order, it was to the themes in the ninety-seven theses that he returned. Aristotle said we become righteous by doing right acts—your identity is the result of your actions. It’s something you achieve. Luther said this gets things the wrong way around. In the gospel, our identity is a gift from God. It’s something you receive. And then our actions flow from our new identity. Unbelievers can be constrained by laws and peer pressure, but a life of wholehearted righteous living is only possible if God makes us new people.

5. The Reformation involved a rediscovery of the work of the Spirit.

In 1524, Desiderius Erasmus published an attack on Luther. Erasmus was Europe’s leading celebrity academic. Erasmus thought people already had enough power in themselves to do good. He defined free choice as “a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them.” Luther replied, “You do not realize how much you attribute to it by this pronoun ‘itself’—its very own self!—when you say it can ‘apply itself’; for this means that you completely exclude the Holy Spirit with all his power, as superfluous and unnecessary.”

As far as Erasmus was concerned, we just need to try harder. But Luther realized our problem was much more fundamental than that. Our problem is not that we’re lazy or ignorant, but that we’re sinners deep down to the very core of our being. So, if we’re ever going to please God, we need a radical inner transformation. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does.

6. The Reformation wasn’t about salvation by works—at least not quite.

There’s a version of the Reformation which says Catholics believed in salvation by works and the Reformers believed in salvation by faith, but it’s more subtle than that. In fact, Catholics talked a lot about faith and grace. They would happily say we’re saved by grace. They would happily say that righteousness comes by faith.

But grace for the Catholic Church is like a shot of adrenaline that boosts your spiritual performance. And righteousness is a God-given ability to live a righteous life—if you work at it at. Baptism gives you a kick start and the mass gives you a boost along the way, but it’s up to you to live a righteous life that will win God’s approval. So the net result is grace plus works and faith plus works.

Just to be clear, the Council of Trent says, “If anyone says, that by faith alone the ungodly are justified in such a way as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to receive the grace of Justification and that it is not necessary for a man to be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” (Canon IX)

The Council of Trent was the Catholic Church’s response to the Reformation, a response it has never repudiated. The reason this subtlety matters is that it brings the issues closer to home. Evangelicals all know we begin the Christian life by faith. But we all too easily slip into thinking we need to win God’s approval through our activities. We become more Roman Catholic than we realize.

7. The Reformation wasn’t about the authority of Scripture—at least not quite.

In his attack on Luther, Erasmus begins by talking about Scripture. “I confess it is right,” he says, “that the sole authority of Holy Scripture should outweigh all the votes of all mortal men.” So far so good. But he continues, “The authority of the Scripture is not here in dispute. . . . Our battle is about the meaning of Scripture.” He goes on to say we need the authority of the Church to determine the true meaning of Scripture.

In other words, everyone agreed with the authority of Scripture. But the Catholic Church placed Church tradition alongside Scripture and claimed the exclusive right to interpret the Bible. The Reformers, however, rejected the notion that the church establishes the authenticity of the gospel. It’s the other way round: the gospel establishes the authenticity of the church. They were happy to learn from church tradition, but when push came to shove, Scripture alone is our ultimate authority.

Again, this brings the issues closer to home. Today no evangelical rejects the authority of Scripture. But all too often we place our experience alongside Scripture or use experience to interpret Scripture—rather than the other way round.

8. The Reformation is not over.

Earlier this year I stood in Piazza Martin Lutero in Rome. Yes, they’ve named a square after Luther. In Rome. With the Pope’s blessing. Proof surely that the Reformation is over? Sadly not. It’s true that the rise of secularism means Protestants and Catholics often find themselves standing together on issues of morality and religious freedom. It’s also true that many Catholics and Protestants hold similar theological views.

But that’s because many Catholics no longer follow the official Catholic teaching and many Protestants have lost touch with their Reformation roots. But the fault lines of the Reformation have not gone away. “The Pope’s a Catholic” is the epitome of a non-news story. But, despite the PR coming out of the Vatican, in a 1985 lecture, Pope Francis claimed the Reformation underlies all the problems of Western civilization, from secularism to totalitarianism. He labeled Luther and Calvin “heretics.” Lutheranism is “a good idea gone foolish” while the “schismatic” Calvin tore apart humanity, society and the church.

9. The Reformation still matters and not just when we’re talking to Catholics.

The Reformation was always intended to be an ongoing project. One of its slogans was semper reformanda. It’s usually translated as “always reforming,” but a better translation is “always being reformed.” The church is always being reformed by God’s Word. It doesn’t describe a movement forward to some uncharted horizon, but a continual movement back to God’s Word. On justification, Scripture, preaching, grace, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and everyday life, evangelicals have important lessons to learn from the Reformation.

10. The Reformation makes us small and Christ big.

Why was the Reformation controversial in the sixteenth century? Why does it remain controversial today? The answer, I believe, is that the Reformation (or rather the biblical gospel it rediscovered) makes us small and Christ big. At the heart of the Reformation was the realization that:

  • We are more helpless than we realize.
  • Christ is more sufficient than we realize.
  • God is more gracious than we realize.

This is what’s meant by soli Deo gloria, “to the glory of God alone.” There’s no room in Reformation theology for human boasting. No one can claim their salvation or their knowledge of God is down to their intellect, morality, or religion. It’s all of God from start and finish. That’s our great hope and confidence. Our salvation is founded on the certain promises of God and the finished work of Christ. And if it’s all of God from start to finish, then the glory goes to him alone.

Tim Chester (PhD, University of Wales) is a pastor of Grace Church, Boroughbridge, and curriculum director of the Acts 29-Oak Hill Academy, which provides integrated theological and missional training for church leaders. He is the coauthor of Total Church and is the author of over thirty books, including You Can Change, A Meal with Jesus, and Good News to the Poor.

Source:  10 Things You Should Know about the Reformation

Reformation Fire

“Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? (Jer. 23:29)

What caused the Reformation?

Many people might answer that question by pointing to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

But if you were to ask Luther himself, he would not point to himself or his own writings. Instead, he would give all the credit to God and His Word.

Near the end of his life, Luther declared: “All I have done is put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. . . . It is the Word that has done great things. . . . I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.”

Elsewhere, he exclaimed: “By the Word the earth has been subdued; by the Word the Church has been saved; and by the Word also it shall be reestablished.”

Noting Scripture’s foundational place in his own heart, Luther wrote: “No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.”

Luther understood what caused the Reformation. He recognized that it was the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God preached by men of God in a language that the common people of Europe could understand and when their ears were exposed to the truth of God’s Word it pierced their hearts and they were radically changed.

It was that very power that had transformed Luther’s own heart, a power that is summarized in the familiar words of Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

During the late middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church had imprisoned God’s Word in the Latin language, a language the common people of Europe did not speak. The Reformers unlocked the Scriptures by translating them. And once the people had the Word of God, the Reformation became inevitable.

We see this commitment to the Scriptures even in the centuries prior to Martin Luther, beginning with the Forerunners to the Reformation:

In the 12th century, the Waldensians translated the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate into their regional French dialects. According to tradition, they were so committed to the Scriptures that different Waldensian families would memorize large sections of the Bible. That way, if Roman Catholic authorities found them and confiscated their printed copies of Scripture, they would later be able to reproduce the entire Bible from memory.

In the 14th century, John Wycliffe and his associates at Oxford translated the Bible from Latin into English. Wycliffe’s followers, known as the Lollards, went throughout the countryside preaching and singing passages of Scripture in English.

In the 15th century, Jan Huss preached in the language of the people, and not in Latin, making him the most popular preacher in Prague at the time. Yet, because Huss insisted that Christ alone was the head of the church, not the pope, the Catholic Council of Constance condemned him for heresy and burned him at the stake (in 1415).

In the 16th century, as the study of Greek and Hebrew were recovered, Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, with the New Testament being completed in 1522.

In 1526, William Tyndale completed a translation of the Greek New Testament into English. A few years later he also translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew. Shortly thereafter he was arrested and executed as a heretic—being strangled and then burned at the stake. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Tyndale’s last words were “Lord, Open the King of England’s Eyes.” And it was just a couple years after his death that King Henry VIII authorized the Great Bible in England—a Bible that was largely based on Tyndale’s translation work. The Great Bible laid the foundation for the later King James version (which was completed in 1611).

The common thread, from Reformer to Reformer, was an undying commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, such that they were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, to get the Word of God into the hands of the people.

They did this because they understood that the power for spiritual reformation and revival was not in them, but in the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16–17). And they used the Latin phrase sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to emphasize the truth that God’s Word was the true power and ultimate authority behind all they said and did.

It was ignorance of Scripture that made the Reformation necessary. It was the recovery of the Scripture that made the Reformation possible. And it was the power of the Scripture that gave the Reformation its enduring impact, as the Holy Spirit brought the truth of His Word to bear on the hearts and minds of individual sinners, transforming them, regenerating them, and giving them eternal life.

The post Reformation Fire appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.