Author Archives: Wes Bredenhof

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

New Dutch Articles

In the last little while, I’ve added a couple of new articles in “de Nederlandse taal”:

Zo dankbaar voor de actieve gehoorzaamheid van Christus

De kerk en de rechtvaardigmaking

Thanks to R. Sollie-Sleijster for translating.  Originally published at Een in Waarheid.

 


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “Ex nihilo”

Reader’s Digest used to have a feature called “It Pays To Enrich Your Word Power.”  Readers could quiz themselves on the meanings of English words.  In the old days, RD motivated readers with the notion that having an advanced vocabulary would benefit you socially and work-wise.  True or not, for Reformed Christians it is beneficial to know some key terms, not only in English, but in Latin too.  Through the years, some terms have become part of our theological vocabulary and sometimes authors and preachers will use them assuming everyone knows what they mean.  And what if you don’t?  That’s where this series comes to your rescue.

Today we’re looking at ex nihilo.  It means “from nothing.”  In theology, it’s used in relation to creation, so the full expression is creatio ex nihilo — “creation from nothing.”  This speaks of God creating the entire universe by the power of his Word, without using any pre-existent matter.

We believe that God created ex nihilo on the basis of biblical teaching.  Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  At the beginning, God created the universe.  Hebrews 11:3 elaborates:  “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  The material universe came into existence by God’s Word, not by God working with material (visible things) that had been there before.  Romans 4:17 speaks in a similar way.  It speaks of the God in whom Abraham believed, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  Prior to God’s call through his Word, there was nothing — then with his call, things sprung into existence.  Summarizing the Bible’s teaching, the Belgic Confession says, “We believe that the Father through the Word, that is, through his Son, has created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures…” (BC 12).

As a child, weird as it may sound, I used to ponder the idea of “nothing.”  I found it curious that almost everything we call “nothing” is actually something.  You might have an empty box and say there’s nothing in the box.  But that’s not really true.  There would be air, composed of various gasses, and probably a few microscopic dust particles.  There’s still something.  Even if you were to seal the box tightly, attach a vacuum pump, and suck out everything, there would still be something — there would be a vacuum.  So is “nothing” real?  Deep question, right?  From a Christian perspective, the answer goes back to before creation.  Before creation, there was truly nothing besides God, and certainly nothing material.  The Triune God was all there was.  Think about that.  There wasn’t even time.  Only God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Because he wanted to, not because he had to, he decided to create the material universe by simply calling it into existence.  Through his Son, God the Father just spoke and it all came to be.  Something — in fact, everything — came from nothing.  When you pause to think about it, creatio ex nihilo leaves you in awe of our God and his almighty power.


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “D.V.”

 

For centuries the Church conducted most of its affairs in Latin.  While Latin started off as the vernacular of the Western Church, eventually it became a static, dead language.  Used in the mass, in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) in the academy and assemblies, common people were in time excluded from knowledgeable participation in church life because they had no knowledge of Latin.  With the Reformation, all that changed.  The Church again began to use the common language of the people in most areas.  Nevertheless, certain Latin terms and expressions continued to be used in sermons and popular books.

In this series, I want to explain some of the most common Latin terms and expressions our Reformed churches continue to use.  I’ll assume everyone is already familiar with the five Latin “solas” of the Reformation, and we’ll move on to some others.  These are terms and expressions you may still hear from the pulpit or in books.  Sometimes they might be explained (I always endeavour to do so), but sometimes not.  They’re all worth knowing.

Today we’re looking at “D.V.”  We’re commonly told this means, “the Lord willing.”  Growing up in a church of Dutch immigrants, I thought “D.V.” must be short for “DeLord Villing.”  But no, it’s actually Latin:  Deo volente.

Deo volente does not actually literally translate to “the Lord willing.”  It literally means, “God willing.”  It’s commonly said to mean “the Lord willing” because of its roots in James 4:15, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'”  Older writers used to be a little more elaborate and say “sub conditione Jacobi” (under the condition of James).   Seeing how the expression comes from James, to be more precise “D.V.” ought to be understood as Domino volente (the Lord willing).  However, at the end of the day it all means the same thing, so I for one will not quibble too much about it.

“D.V.” is often attached to plans and announced events in our Reformed churches.  By it, we recognize that we may make our plans, but sometimes God decides otherwise.  As the Holy Spirit says in James 4:14, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  But is it necessary to always attach a “D.V.” to every plan and event?  I don’t think it is.  I don’t think James 4:15 requires us to literally say “D.V.” every time we look to something in the future.  James 4 is addressing a heart issue.  In our hearts, we ought to recognize God’s sovereignty over our plans.  And from there, it ought to somehow find expression in the words we speak too.  But I believe it sufficient to say, “We plan to hold this or that event” or “We hope to…” or “A consistory meeting is scheduled for Monday evening.”  Saying things in that manner displays the humility envisioned in James 4.  While certainly not wrong to use “D.V.” it can become pious jargon you’re supposed to use, but about which you don’t even really think anymore.  Since it involves God’s Name, that can become dangerous.  Whether you use “D.V.” or not, the attitude is what really matters.

 


Quotable Church History: “…so thankful for active obedience of Christ”

This is the tenth (and last) in a series on famous quotes from church history. We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was an epic battle for the gospel going on in North America.  When I say, “the gospel,” I really do mean the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.  Theological liberalism was assaulting churches that had once stood firm for the biblical faith, churches such as the Presbyterian Church in the USA.  Among other things, liberalism was denying the inerrancy of the Scriptures, miracles such as the virginal conception and physical resurrection of Christ, and the need for penal substitutionary atonement.  God raised up powerful prophetic voices to protest.  Amongst them towered J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937).

Machen is best known for his 1923 book Christianity & Liberalism.  Machen deftly argued that liberalism was not biblical Christianity — the book is still relevant for our day, only the names have changed.  At one time a professor of New Testament at the storied Princeton Seminary, Machen ran afoul of the powers that be and became a leading figure in the establishment of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  His continuing battle against liberalism also led to his being defrocked in the Presbyterian Church in 1935.  The following year, Machen was at the fore of forming a new church:  the Presbyterian Church of America.  This church would later become known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In late 1936, Machen was 55 years old.  He had long been an avid walker and mountain climber, but that winter saw him in poor health.  Despite a nasty cough and cold, Machen headed west to North Dakota to speak for some churches during the Christmas break at Westminster Seminary .  His health rapidly deteriorated over the course of his time of his time on the prairies.  Before long, he was in the hospital in Bismarck with pneumonia.  On January 1, 1937, Machen was slipping in and out of consciousness.  During one of his lucid moments, he dictated a brief telegram to his friend Prof. John Murray back at Westminster.  The telegram was brief:  “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ.  No hope without it.”  Those were his final recorded words — he died around 7:30 PM on New Year’s Day, 1937.

Christianity & Liberalism may be top of the heap in Machen’s literary legacy, but his final telegram definitely contains his most quoted words.  They bear a closer look.  What did Machen mean by “the active obedience of Christ” and why was it so encouraging to him?  Sinful human beings have a two-fold problem.  First, because of our sin we have an infinite debt to God’s justice that we cannot repay.  Second, even if our debt were paid, we would still be confronted with the ongoing demand of God’s law for our consistent obedience going forward.  Jesus Christ addresses both.  With his suffering God’s wrath in our place, he has paid our infinite debt.  In theology, we call that his passive (suffering) obedience.  With his 33 years of perfect law-keeping, Christ has also obtained for us perfect obedience to God’s law.  We call that his active obedience.  His righteous life is imputed or credited to us — as the Belgic Confession puts it in article 23, “…his obedience is ours when we believe in him.”

Romans 5:19 speaks directly of this gospel truth:  “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  The Holy Spirit points to two men.  One, Adam, was disobedient and his guilt-laden failure has been imputed to his descendants.  The other, Jesus Christ, was obedient, and his righteous accomplishments have been imputed to believers for their justification.  When we have Christ as our Saviour, we not only have forgiveness of all our sins, but also positive righteousness in the eyes of God.  On the basis of both, God declares that we are right with him.  He views us as forgiven AND perfectly obedient.

This gospel teaching was fresh in Machen’s mind as he was dying because a couple of weeks earlier he had done a radio broadcast on it.  Prior to that, he had been discussing it with John Murray at the seminary.  As he knew he was dying, he looked, not to his imperfect life of following Christ, but to Christ’s perfect life lived for him.  Machen found comfort in knowing he would appear before God’s throne clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  His account was not only cleared of all debt, but filled to overflowing with the imputed merits of Christ.  You can see why Machen finished with “No hope without it.”  We can even flip it around:  “The active obedience of Christ:  much hope with it!”


Quotable Church History: “Not a square inch…”

This is the ninth in a series on famous quotes from church history. We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

The man behind today’s quote once also wrote this about Jesus Christ:  “He is not God to me, for my religious sense teaches me to know but one God.  To me he is a man and nothing but a man.”  Abraham Kuyper wrote those words to his fiancée Johanna Schaay in about 1860.  He was a doctoral student in theology, but clearly not yet a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  That would come later — after his ordination to the ministry.  God would use a number of different means, including a spinster church member named Pietje Baltus, to bring Kuyper to true saving faith in Jesus Christ.  You can read more about all that here.

Eventually God used Kuyper in a powerful way to bring about a reformation in the Hervormde Kerk (the Dutch state church).  Kuyper was the leading figure in the Doleantie of 1886.  However, prior to that, he was also the driving force behind the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam.  He had a vision for a university free from the bonds of church and state.  It would be a Christian institution, certainly, but not beholden to the powers which had caused so much decline in the Dutch state universities of the era.  The Free University of Amsterdam opened its doors on October 20, 1880.  It had five professors and eight students.

Kuyper delivered the opening address.  Entitled “Sphere Sovereignty,” it encapsulated his vision for the university.  It laid out how the Free University was going to be different — holding to a Christian worldview ethos in which every aspect (sphere) falls under the sovereignty of God.  It was a masterpiece of Kuyperian rhetoric.  The famous quote comes towards the end of this address:  “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  These are undoubtedly Kuyper’s most famous words — they’ve been quoted by Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, and numerous other luminaries.

Quoted as often as it is, is it true?  Colossians 1:17-18 speaks about Christ in the same way:

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Christ is to be preeminent in everything because, as the Holy Spirit points out earlier in Colossians 1, Christ is the One through whom all things were created.  Everything belongs to him and he is sovereign over it all.  Jesus is Lord over all and Kuyper’s words powerfully expressed that biblical truth.  There’s a good reason why he’s called “Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).

Kuyper is sometimes regarded a villain in church history because of the role his views would play in later church controversies in the Netherlands.  However, on the point of Christ’s sovereignty over all human endeavours, we all ought to stand with “Father Abraham.”  It’s amazing to think that this man went from denying Christ’s divinity in 1860 to preaching Christ’s divine sovereign prerogatives in 1880.  In those 20 years, God not only transformed his heart and mind, but also the hearts and minds of countless other Reformed church members.  Since then, Kuyper’s words and the thoughts behind them have gone on to inspire many other Christians to take Christ’s claims seriously.  For that we should praise God’s sovereign grace, but also take those claims seriously ourselves in every area of life.