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Reformation History Reading: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 1

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

For the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, and especially appropriate for this the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, I have read the first volume (out of five) of J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century.”  Available free in the public domain, Librivox recording has recently completed a full audio recording of the first volume; the complete work is also available in PDF format, 1137 pages plus footnotes.

The reading is straightforward and clear, and a good selection for audio listening.  Though of great length and detail, the material is interesting as it tells the story of the early years of the 16th century, especially with reference to Martin Luther and his life, but also including the major players in Luther’s life.  Chapters introduce and provide details concerning Melancthon and Erasmus, as well as lesser known figures such as Reuchlin, Spalatin, and Staupitz.  (Here the PDF version is helpful, for spelling so many German names.)  D’Aubigne’s narrative combines his own commentary on the important events, along with many personal letters of Luther and his friends, and interesting anecdotes, to provide a detailed picture of what was going on in early 16th century Germany.  The focus is mainly on Luther, but we also see the many influences on his life, the friends placed in his life at various points, and the rising support from the leaders, students and the common people of Germany.  The section on Tetzel, the itinerant indulgences merchant, provides rich details and humorous accounts, such as “the trick of a nobleman,” who obtained an indulgence for a future crime to be committed:

A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. “Most assuredly,” replied Tetzel, “I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose.” — “Well, then,” answered the knight, “I am desirous of taking a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me.” Tetzel made some objections; they came however to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.

Volume 1 book 4 deals with the events shortly after October 31, 1517, through the friendly session at Heidelberg in the spring of 1518 and the beginning persecution in Augsburg that fall.  This section shows Luther’s desire to remain loyal to Roman Catholicism and the Pope –even writing a respectful letter to the Pope, thinking that the Pope would agree with him—yet, in the face of unexpected opposition, his courage and boldness.  The Roman Catholic leaders expected a simple case of a humble Augustine friar who would quickly recant, and soon became impatient, seeing an unexpected quality in Luther.

A sample from Luther’s letters, shortly after the theses were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg:

They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgment they pass on me!……We can always see the mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own……Truth will not gain more by my moderation, than it will lose by my rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? If humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions.” –late 1517. From Volume 1 Book 3 Chapter 6.

Volume 1 is a great beginning to this History of the Reformation.  Since Librivox has now completed volume 1, I hope that they will soon add volume 2 and beyond.  Either way, I plan to read Volume 2 by next year, possibly in next year’s reading challenge.

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Reformation History Lectures From Carl Trueman

November 24, 2014 5 comments

A few weeks ago I learned about a good church history series, posted at the “Domain for Truth” blog: a 33 part lectures series from Carl Trueman on the History of the Reformation.

I have now going through this series, past the first 5 messages, and am impressed with the level of detail including theological points, philosophy, and political factors. Most church history series do an overview treatment covering the highlights: Luther’s earlier life and the famous date Oct. 31, 1517, but then jumping forward to the Diet of Worms and then on to the next Reformer. This series spends more time in just the Reformation itself, with the first 15 messages mostly in Luther’s life, exploring Luther’s own development of theology and looking at actual Reformation-era doctrines.

Some interesting points: as SlimJim noted, that Luther was a medieval man – and the difference in overall thinking between medieval men (their rural background complete with superstitions) and the later Reformers who were of the Renaissance age and its scholarship and humanism (of the 16th century type humanism, not today’s “secular humanism”). Though the Reformation placed much emphasis on the doctrine of justification, another important issue was that of medieval sacramentalism — dealing with the actual issue of Roman Catholicism’s 7 sacraments.  Luther’s early work, “Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520) addressed this issue, and Luther reduced the seven down to two or three:  baptism, the Mass, and penance (then, in the conclusion Luther added that penance wasn’t a sacrament either).

Also of note: the 95 theses were really not all that radical – Luther had an issue with the abuse of indulgences rather than the issue of indulgences themselves; true repentance (like John the Baptist calling people to true repentance before they came to be baptized by him) was to Luther a necessary part of getting an indulgence, rather than just purchasing something without any heart change. Trueman relates this to the issue of pastoral concern, and the problems that a church pastor observes going on with his local congregation.

In September 1517 Luther had put forth more radical ideas, yet no one took notice then: his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, “in which he critiqued the whole way in which medieval theology had been done for centuries. That disputation, however, passed without a murmur. Indeed, humanly speaking, it was only the unique combination of external factors—social, economic, and political—that made the later disputation the spark that lit the Reformation fuse.” In between Oct. 31, 1517 and the later Diet of Worms, several events took place, including the Heidelberg Disputation meeting in the spring of 1518, and this series spends several messages detailing these years.

Topics in the series include full lectures specifically about Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will,”  (which I read several years ago, good reading concerning the nature of man’s will), and “Luther and the Jews.”  Two lectures consider Calvin’s view of the Lord’s supper, which I have only heard briefly described (as in this post).  I look forward to these upcoming lectures as I continue through the series.

Charles Spurgeon in History: 1862, the American Civil War

July 7, 2014 3 comments

For something a little different this time: Charles Spurgeon and his time, the American Civil War years. My chronological reading of Spurgeon sermons, begun with volume 1 (1855) about five years ago, is now nearing the end of 1862, and along with the timeless commentary and quotes expounding the word of God, are many interesting comments concerning the then-current events, especially what is now referred to as the American Civil War.

Spurgeon apparently did not comment on the war during 1861; the only news-related events mentioned up to that time specifically related to England, including an excellent sermon given on the occasion of Prince Albert’s death in December 1861. But beginning in the summer of 1862, he occasionally spoke about the war, giving his opinion of it at that time. As Civil War historians well know, this was the year before Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, before the war itself had any direct connection to slavery. From Spurgeon we learn of specific incidents and how the war affected even people on the other side of the Atlantic.

From a sermon delivered in July 1862:

The question of the rightness of war is a moot point even among moral men. Among those who read their Bibles, the allowance of defensive war may, perhaps, still be a question; but any other sort of war must certainly be condemned by the man who is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall say nothing, however, or but very little, concerning the criminality of those ambitious and unscrupulous persons who hurry nations into war without cause. Lust of dominion, and a false pride are setting the United States on a blaze. I know at this time a tragic incident connected with the present war in America. Four brothers left one of our villages in Oxfordshire, two of whom, if now alive, are in one army, and two of them in the other; and, I doubt not, as desperately as any of their comrades, they are thirsting for each other’s blood! What horrors cluster around the iniquity of civil war. On yonder soil it is the blood of brothers that cries from the ground. Men are fighting, one against the other, in this lamentable conflict for no justifiable cause. The one cause which justified the war, as we thought—the snapping of the fetters of the slave—is gone, emancipation is not proclaimed, the slave is forgotten. What might have been a struggle for the rights of man is now a shameful and abominable slaughter of brothers by brothers! And a cry is going up to Heaven from those blood-red fields which God will hear, and will yet avenge on both sides. Oh that they would sheathe their swords and end it once and for all! What does it matter if there are two nations or one? Better two in peace, than one divided with intestine strife! How much better to have even 20 nations of living men, than one nation of mangled corpses! What difference is it to the survivors if they have all the honor and dignity of conquerors, when they are stained up to their elbows in the blood of their fellow men? Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Consider your ways.”

Then in November 1862, a sermon specifically in reference to the “Lancashire Distress,” which affected a part of England with poverty and famine; Spurgeon called it a worthy cause, concerning people truly in need yet hard working and the calamity beyond their own control, a people who had not (at least by this point in time) taken to any rioting or looting. I was unfamiliar with the “Lancashire Distress,” though gathered at least this much from the sermon itself, and that it had to do with the cotton industry. I later found this Wikipedia article that provides more details concerning the historical event, an economic depression due to an oversupply of cotton during the late 1850s followed by less demand and what was going on related to the cotton industry in the American Civil War.  The Lancashire Distress lasted from 1861 to 1865, about the same time as the American Civil War, and included later rioting, the following spring (1863), several months after Spurgeon’s message.  From this sermon, delivered November 9, 1862:

 the cause of this suffering is a national sin—the sin of slavery! We have not yet passed the third generation, and upon a nation God visits sin to the third and fourth generation. We have rid ourselves, at last, of this accursed stain as far as our present Government is concerned—we are therefore delivered from any fear in the future on that ground; but still, if slavery is now in America, we must remember that it would not have been there if it had not been carried there—and we are partners in guilt! Moreover, there has been too much winking at slavery among the merchants of Manchester and Liverpool. There has not been that abhorrence of the evil which should have been, and therefore it is just in the Providence of God that when America is cut with the sword, we should be made to smart with the rod! If the Lord is pleased to smite our nation in one particular place, yet we must remember that it is meant for us all. Let us all bear the infliction as our tribulation, and let us cheerfully take up the burden, for it is but a little one compared with what our sins might have brought upon us! Better far for us to have famine than war! From all civil war and all the desperate wickedness which it involves, good Lord deliver us; and if You smite us as You have done, it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man!

The “Dispensations” or Eras in Human History: Old Testament Reading

February 15, 2013 6 comments

As a 21st century Calvinist Dispensationalist aka Futurist Premillennialist, I tend to emphasize the biblical covenants and de-emphasize the “seven dispensations” of classic dispensationalism.  Certainly within classic dispensationalism much (perhaps too much) has been made about the details of the seven dispensations.  The actual number of dispensations, or eras, really isn’t that important, and the lines and distinctions between some time periods are not always clear.  Yet in continual reading through the Old Testament, especially as I’m again in the book of Genesis in one of my genre reading lists, certain eras, or different time periods and ways God deals with man, do show up.

In the early chapters of Genesis, two significant judgments are given to all the population: Noah’s Flood, and then the Tower of Babel within a few generations afterward.  The details in these chapters include a progression in understanding and divine assistance to address a problem not mentioned in the previous era.  After all, during the antediluvian age Cain’s murder went unpunished – in fact, Cain was protected with a special mark.  The pre-flood era lasted approximately 1700 years and during that time we know that cities were established and even some technology developed, yet references to murder (Cain and his later descendant) are allowed without any restraint.  The biblical covenant with Noah addresses that very point, adding human government and capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:5-6).

The tower of Babel incident, of course, showed the failure of human government: the people banded together (instead of obeying the command to spread abroad and subdue the earth) in an attempt to become more powerful in a concentrated group.  That was a great point brought out by John MacArthur in his Genesis series, that the scattering done by God in Genesis 11 was for mankind’s benefit and protection, to keep man from becoming so powerful as to become too oppressive, a restraint on the wicked to keep them from completely destroying the weak.

After the tower of Babel, of course, the rest of mankind is left alone, still with the basic post-flood understanding and human government, but scattered and literally forced to obey the “multiply and fill the earth” part of Genesis 9.  The “dispensation of promise” is therefore less obvious, dealing only with Abraham and his descendants for the next few generations.  Yet the later chapters in Genesis do show a moral decline from the time when the promises are given to Abraham, to the time of Jacob and his family, especially noted in the family favoritism and the dysfunctional family in which Joseph’s brothers sell Joseph into slavery – and we see the wonderful later result of full forgiveness and restoration of the family.  Still, one of the laws (among the many) I’ve noticed in reading through the Mosaic law, is the one that specifically addressed the problems in Jacob’s family: the prohibition against marrying two women who are sisters while both are still alive.

The age of law, the Mosaic covenant, similarly only dealt with a subset of the total population, though again on a much larger scale than the “age of promise,” a nation of several million people.  That age too ended like the earliest judgments of the flood and the Tower of Babel  (against a larger group of people), a prominent judgment: first the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and then – though the age of law was resumed again for a few hundred years, though in a deficient form under Gentile authority – again and finally in A.D. 70.

As it has been said, the “dispensations” show the human side of history, whereas the biblical covenants show the Divine perspective.  Put together, though, it does help to keep in mind the particular events that did occur in human history through the Old Testament: how man responded in each time and situation, appreciating all the more the Divine help and progressive revelation given down through history and to our age.

Observations Concerning the Titanic Disaster

April 16, 2012 2 comments

I’ve been following the special Titanic shows with renewed interest, after my original interest in the late ’90s.  I enjoyed the ’97 Wonders Titanic Exhibition in Memphis, complete with the Exhibit book (available here from Amazon), and then read a few other books about the Titanic and its discovery.

The Titanic story is of course one of those  that still fascinates so many.  From a biblical perspective, the story is one of man’s high confidence and pride brought down by God in His providence.  Man put so much faith in his technology, in this case the watertight compartments, a clear case of “pride goeth before a fall.” God responded (as so many times throughout history) in such a clear, unmistakeable way.  How easy it was, too (from the divine perspective).  What seemed practically impossible from the human perspective came about by a few simple acts of providence:  a patch of icebergs and calm waters, but also the “little” things of man’s folly — forget to bring binoculars, and telegraph operators overwhelmed with the commercial business of passenger-issued telegrams (the way for the upper class to keep in touch with friends and family in those days before cell phones and wireless Internet aboard cruise ships).

From the judgment aspect, Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5 come to mind:  do not think that those who perished when a tower fell on them, or the ones Pilate executed, were worse sinners than everyone else, for unless you repent you will all likewise perish.   As one church pastor observed in his email devotion shortly after September 11, 2001: all the people who died in that sudden event were going to die at some point.  We notice it when a large number perish in a catastrophic event, but the end fate of those individuals was the same regardless of whether they perished in the towers or through other natural causes of death: the saved went to be with the Lord, the rest to their eternal punishment.

Some good recent blog posts about the Titanic: