Category Archives: the Gospel

Ries Jansen — A War Criminal Converted

Ries (Marinus) Jansen

The following story comes from a collection compiled and translated by Gilbert Zekveld.  He was a dairy farmer from Lindsay, Ontario.  In his later retirement years, this godly widower spent most of his time translating edifying literature from Dutch into English.  I was privileged to know him as a friend and helped him with a bit of editing.  This story comes from “A Collection of True Life Stories,” most of which were taken from a Dutch book, Honingdroppels (Drops of Honey).  It’s a story of God’s grace for a wicked man, a Nazi collaborator whom many Dutch at one time feared and yes, even hated.

***********************************

The name of Ries [Marinus] Jansen was well-known in the Veluwe [a forested region in the middle of the Netherlands] during the winter of 1944-1945.  It was a name that inspired hate.  He was a hunter of men par excellence.

He was wounded in a shoot-out with the underground in Rotterdam.  However, he recovered and continued his lurid business on the Veluwe.

After the liberation of the Netherlands, he faced judgment in a criminal court.  His misdeeds were so heinous that he received the death sentence.  A subsequent request for pardon was refused.

One of his victims was a leader of the underground in the Alblasserwaard polder [in the province of South Holland].  When the mother of that victim read about Jansen’s sentence, she sent him a Bible and admonished him in a letter to seek refuge with the Lord.  What compassion when a mother whose son fell into the hands of that man can do such a thing.  It was an act richly blessed by the Lord.

Ries Jansen repented, not to escape punishment, but to be a witness of God’s love before the firing squad.  He repented to be a witness for the God who took this murderer home.

A certain Mr. Bomhof was an evangelist from Enschede and he was called upon to assist Ries Jansen in his final hours.  He tells the rest of the story:

“Sir, there is a telephone call for you from Arnhem.”  It was the director of the chapel.  He reported that Jansen would be executed next Friday, because his request for pardon was refused.  However, the man wanted to speak with me.

I did not sleep much that night.  The next day was difficult for me too.  Apart from two letters from the condemned man, he was absolutely unknown to me.  And what do you say to a man who only has one more day to live?  It did not appeal to me in any way.  But I had long known the words:  in the hour what you need to speak will be given to you.

After a while, I met Jansen in the waiting room.  He was small and now skinny, but still muscular and had dark hair.  His white face betrayed four years of waiting with no hope of respite.  But his step was sure and he looked me steadfastly in the eye.  He did not in any way look like a man about to be executed.

His hands rested on the table folded.  He looked me deep in the eye and I reciprocated.  Then I took both his hands, pulled towards me and said, “Early tomorrow you will travel to great glory.  I envy you.  Think of it, tomorrow you will be home with Jesus.”

Then he became glad also, and with a happy face he said, “Yes, sir, I also long much for the time they will lead me to the post.  Then, even though I am so unworthy, then I may see him.  I experienced that he forgave all my sins, that is now the faith I live by.  I have already made my peace with the post.  Jesus made it well.”

But then he wept and said, “O, my sins make such a terrible separation between God and my soul.  My guilt is great, but I know that the Lord goes a way of justice with me.  The punishment is just, I deserve all of it.”  It became silent for a while.  Then he sighed and said, “Sir…”

I interrupted and said, “Call me brother, for we are one in Jesus.”

“Brother,” he continued, grateful, “but there is one more heavy load that burdens me.  I did not do a thing for Jesus, nothing…” and again he wept — “I go to him with empty hands.”  I told him, “Brother, take courage.  You don’t come with empty hands.  Your first letter was a great blessing in the place where I live.  Remember the thief on the cross.  After almost two thousand years he still speaks.  He has been a blessing to many.”

Then, suddenly, he was very happy.  His face literally shone.  The truth of the Bible verse, “Death, where is your sting?  Hell, where is your victory?” was sitting across from me on the other side of the table.  I had never before seen such a victory in the face of death.

When his wife arrived, he was composed.  He stood calmly.  He said, “My wife, be strong.  I am not afraid.  I am ready.  There is no more pain for me.  Yes, you will remain behind with the child, but the Lord will be with you.”

That afternoon we spoke some more.  His warm meal was getting cold.  I told him not to let his food get cold.  He ate like a hungry man.  Suddenly he said, “But did you eat?  Come on, let us share.”

Together we finished the meal of potatoes and beans.  Then we discussed Romans 8, his favourite Bible chapter.  “Yes,” he said, “the Bible from which you read was given me by a mother whose son I arrested.  When she read in the paper that I was sentenced to death, she bought a Bible and a hymnal.  She wrote and admonished me to take refuge in Jesus.  Her act brought me to Jesus’ feet.”  He presented this Bible (with an inscription) and the hymnal to his little daughter.

Later in the afternoon, his family were all there.  There were fifteen people meeting with him in the visitors room.  He asked me then to accompany him to the execution post.  It was no more a place of terror for us.  Together we meditated on Hebrews 12:1-15.  The family made a tearful farewell.  He accompanied them to the door.  Then he called out, “Wife, family, look back once more.  Look at me.  See how calm I am.  Remember this.  Listen!  My hope is in the Lord Jesus.  He is my all.  I go with him tomorrow morning to the place I will be executed.  There he will receive me into his everlasting arms.  Farewell wife, farewell family, look to Jesus.  Until we meet…at home!”

Then we continued our discussion on that blessed passage of Romans 8.  The hours passed by without our noticing.  However, at 1:00 AM, he was very tired.  I saw it and ask him if he wanted to rest.  He did.  That’s how we parted.

At 3:30 AM, there was a knock at the door which woke me up.  Jansen did not sleep, but he was visibly rested.  He spoke with his brother, who was also a Nazi collaborator.  His brother had come from the mines to say his farewell.  Ries admonished him to repent and the brother wept when we left.

The rest of the time we discussed Psalm 23, where it deals with the valley of the shadow of death and where it speaks of not fearing any evil, and God’s nearness in all this.

Peace was visible in this man’s heart.  But around 6:00 AM this peace retreated into the background.  A little later he called out, “O, that post, that post, that post!”

I said, “Brother, you must learn another lesson.  That post is the devil.  He shows you that post.  Don’t look at it, but in faith look only to Jesus.”  And with my arm pointing up to the sky, I said, “Jesus’ sacrificial death is all my hope and rest.”

In the meantime, my soul was at prayer.  Thanks be to God, the brightness of heaven could once again be seen on his face.  A moment later, he called out, “O brother, the post is gone.  Jesus’ sacrificial death is my hope and all my rest.  There is victory, victory in the blood of the Lamb.”  Everyone cried, but me.  I could not cry, for my soul was jubilant.

In the dawn we  prayed together.  After the “Amen,” I asked him to pray.  He prayed in silence.  When I asked him to do it out loud, he hesitated for a moment because he was not used to that.  But after a moment, he prayed.  I heard him pray for his parents, his wife, his child, his family, the prison warden, the guards and himself.  Finally he asked the Lord to receive him into his open arms.

They called us.  We saw many authorities in the hallway.  The guards came to shake hands with Jansen.  In a closed jeep we sat down, facing each other, flanked by four police officers.

The jeep stopped at an open spot in the forest.  Silence reigned all around.  A fog hung between the trees.  After we walked around the jeep, we saw twenty young men with red berets, military police.  They stood there in a semi-circle.

Altogether I counted forty people present.  Together we went to the post.  He was very calm.  A police officer tied a thin rope around his waist.  We stood there, hand in hand, and I said, “Brother, until we meet in glory with Jesus.”

I then stepped backward, looked at him, and stopped beside the firing squad.  He looked up to heaven and his arm pointed upward.  Slowly, for everyone to hear, he called out, “Jezus, uw verzoenend sterven, blijft het rustpunt van mijn hart” (“Jesus, thy propitiating death is the resting place of my heart”).

They blindfolded him.

His hand pointed forward and he said, “Men, you are all my friends.  You are not my enemies, but my friends.”  He thanked me for the support I gave him in his last hours.  Again he pointed to heaven and everyone heard his jubilant cry, “Lord Jesus, through the blindfold I see you, nailed to the cross for my sins.”  And still louder, he cried out triumphantly, “Yes, Lord Jesus, I come!”

Shots were heard, echoing through the forest.  The angels carried him into paradise.

The Inspector of Police was beside me.  He said, “I’m amazed about what that man said.  I don’t know him like this.  He was always as hard as a stone.  Did he really mean what he said?  I used to know him.  He was terrible.  What he was, and now this.  I don’t understand.”  I said, “Did you not hear his last words?  No one is a comedian in the face of death.  I have his last letter here.  Do you want to hear it?”  I read the letter to him.  He answered, “Sir, I say nothing.  My mouth is closed.”

Some people came and shook hands with me.  It made a deep impression on everyone who was there.  May the Lord give his blessing to all who read this story.

 


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “Simul iustus et peccator”

Today’s bit of Latin lingo is often linked to Luther.  Martin Luther often gets the credit for noticing the biblical teaching that each Christian is “at the same time just and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator).  Certainly he was not the last theologian to insist on this — countless others after him, both Lutheran and Reformed, have said the same.  It cannot be labelled one of Luther’s idiosyncrasies.

To understand the meaning of this seemingly contradictory statement, one has to grasp the doctrine of justification in general, and the meaning of imputation in particular.  Without those well in hand (or mind), human nature will invariably lead one to extreme views.  Typically, because we overestimate our own condition even as Christians, the view will almost always be imbalanced towards the iustus side of things.  So let’s review justification and imputation to avoid imbalances and extremes.

Justification is God’s declaration that a person is right with him on account of what Christ has done in his perfect life and death on the cross.  It is a judicial declaration — which means that the Judge issues it from his bench.  His declaration is more than acquittal and forgiveness, as wonderful as those are.  More, the declaration includes positive righteousness.  Because of Christ all our wrong-doing is pardoned, and also because of Christ, God’s requirement for perfect law-keeping in the present and future is fully met.  Justification is a one-time event, not a process to be repeated — once justified, always justified.  As a result of this one-time judicial declaration, the person justified is adopted into God’s family.  We go from the courtroom to the family room.  We no longer relate to God as a Judge, but as our heavenly Father.

So what is imputation and how does it fit into the doctrine of justification?  Imputation is often described as crediting or accounting.  Our English word “imputation” translates the Greek logizomai.  You find that word used in the original of Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  While the word logizomai is not used, the idea of imputation is also found in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”   At the cross Jesus was made to be sin — though he was of himself innocent, he became the thing against which God has infinite wrath:  sin.  How did this happen?  Through imputation.  Our sin was imputed to him (credited) to such a degree that the Holy Spirit says he was “made to be sin.”  And remember:  all the while, in himself he was perfectly righteous.  Now notice that there is a double-imputation in 2 Corinthians 5:21.  All our sin was imputed to Christ, but his righteousness is imputed to us.  I like to call this “the sweet swap.”  God credited our sin to Jesus, and God credited Jesus’s righteousness to us.  The righteousness of the Redeemer is imputed to us (credited) to such a degree that the Holy Spirit says we become what God loves, “the righteousness of God.”  But just like the imputation of our sin didn’t change Jesus into a sinner in himself, so also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness doesn’t change us into perfectly righteous people in ourselves while we live on this earth.

Imputation is at the basis of our justification.  We are justified, declared righteous, because our sin was imputed to Christ and he bore it for us at the cross as our substitute.  We are declared righteous because all of his perfect obedience and righteousness is credited to us by God.  In his eyes, it is as if we had lived the perfect God-pleasing life ourselves.  The key words there are “as if.”  Just as it was as if Christ was a sinner (when he was not), so it is also as if we ourselves had fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s law (when we haven’t and don’t).

Consequently, each Christian is both righteous and a sinner.  Each Christian is righteous — this is our status before God.  We have been declared just in his eyes and are now his beloved children.  This status is precious and to be highly treasured.  Yet it is presently a status which comes to us via imputation.  As a result, the reality is that we continue to be sinners when it comes to our sanctification.  Even as that “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17 — right before the “sweet swap”!), we sin against our Father, and if you sin, you are a sinner.  This is what righteous Paul acknowledges in 1 Timothy 1:15 when he says Christ “came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  Notice the present tense there.  At that moment, Paul was a justified sinner, not a condemned sinner, but a sinner just the same.  So it is with all Christians.

Let me put it as simply as I can: Christians are both saints and sinners.  We’re saints by virtue of the status declared in our justification (on the basis of imputation).  We’re sinners because of the struggle that still exists in our sanctification. The former encourages us, the latter humbles us.  Biblical, Reformed theology has always acknowledged this truth.

Ours is not an age renowned for thinking deeply about theology, or anything else for that matter.  This is surely part of the reason some Christians object to simul iustus et peccator.  While insisting that Christians are not “sinners” in any sense, they are (usually) inadvertently undermining imputation and the very basis of their justification.  Not only that, they are also contradicting the clear testimony of Scripture regarding the real struggle with sin that Christians experience in this age (Romans 7:21-25 & Galatians 5:17).  Do some research and you will discover that the origins of the denial of simul iustus et peccator in Protestantism are not with those orthodox in their theology.  For example, it was the Pelagian and rabidly anti-Reformed revivalist Charles Finney who opined that this formula was an error which had “slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world.”  Finney viciously repudiated biblical imputation and justification, and so had a reason to hold this opinion.

A few years ago, after encountering the denial of this teaching in our Reformed churches, I wrote a series of articles for Clarion entitled “Are Christians Sinners or Not?”  In that series, I looked at the biblical basis for simul iustus et peccator, how it’s expressed in our Reformed confessions, the importance of maintaining it, and the historical and theological background to denials of it.  You can find that series of articles here.


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: “The doctrine by which the Church stands or falls”

This is the sixth 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.

“Justification is the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls.”  This saying is often attributed to Martin Luther.  There’s no question Luther accorded central importance to justification.  However, so did other Reformers.  For example, in his Institutes, Calvin famously insists that justification “is the main hinge on which religion turns” (Institutes 3.11.1).  However, the exact wording of today’s quote comes from neither Luther nor Calvin.  Instead, from what I can tell, these exact words come from a later Reformed theologian from Germany, Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588-1638).  In his Theologia Scholastica Didacta Alsted wrote, “The article of justification is said to be the article by which the Church stands and falls.”  From the fact that he wrote “said to be,” it would seem that he was not coining a new aphorism, but simply rehearsing and expounding an already well-known expression.

To understand why Alsted and others made such claims, it is essential to review the basics of this doctrine.  Simply put, justification is God’s declaration that a sinner is righteous.  This declaration is made solely on the basis of the imputed passive and active obedience of Christ.  In other words, it is only because Christ’s work on the cross (passive obedience) and his perfect life of law-keeping (active obedience) are credited to the sinner.  Faith, resting and trusting in Christ, is the sole instrument by which we receive this tremendous treasure.  What follows from this declaration of justification is a transformed relationship with God — no longer do we relate to him as a Judge with whom we have a relationship of hostility.  Now we relate to him as our Father with whom we have a relationship of deep filial affection.  That beautiful relationship is foundational to the Christian life.

Clarifying further, we do not confess that justification by itself is the gospel.  Nor do we believe that the doctrine of justification exhausts the goodness of the good news.  In the Heidelberg Catechism, Reformed churches maintain that the Apostles’ Creed summarizes “all that is promised us in the gospel” (QA 22).  That obviously goes far beyond justification.  The gospel promises us righteousness in Christ to deal with the curse of sin, but it also promises the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit to deal with the power of sin — and more.  Nevertheless, justification is the central facet of the gospel diamond.  It is of prime importance.  Without justification, nothing else in the gospel is of any value to us.  This, again, is because of its relational significance.  Apart from a relationship of fellowship with God, we are still under the deadly curse.

Is it biblical to say “justification is the article by which the Church stands or falls”?  To answer that, we need to turn to Galatians.  In the original Galatian context, the Judaizers were preaching a message which included the sinner’s great need for the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  The problem was that they added to that the sinner’s own need to perform deeds of righteousness, including following Jewish ceremonial requirements like circumcision.  Thus, it was not Christ alone as the basis for our standing with God.   This is what the Holy Spirit said through Paul in response to this:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again:  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  (Galatians 1:6-9)

Those are powerful words!  If a different gospel is preached, that preacher should go to hell.  If a different gospel is received, the recipient will go to hell.  Standing or falling is indeed what’s at stake.  A church that doesn’t get justification correct is in danger of falling into the pits of hell.  On the flip side, a church that receives the biblical gospel, including a correct understanding of our righteousness before God, will stand firmly.

In my pastoral experience, I have noticed that justification is often poorly understood amongst many Reformed believers.  I have encountered widespread ignorance about the vital role of the active obedience of Christ.  I have seen a preconfession textbook (from a Reformed publisher) teaching the erroneous notion that justification is a life-long process rather than an event — a notion which is traditionally found in Roman Catholicism rather than Reformed theology.  I have heard countless believers speak of justification as God making us righteous — stripping away the crucial vision of justification as a courtroom declaration.  There’s the common misconception that justification is merely a verdict of innocence rather than righteousness.  There are those who still believe that as Christians, we relate to God as our Judge and do not see him as our loving Father.  There are those in our churches who argue that Christians are not sinners but only saints, failing to come to terms with the biblical concept of imputation.  The list could go on.  If justification is truly the doctrine by which the church stands or falls, we see ample evidence that pastors and other church leaders have to do better at teaching it.  I certainly recommit to doing my part in ensuring that the church I serve will stand with this doctrine.

 


The Reformation and Doxology

Five hundred years!  Today is the day we mark a half millennia since God brought Reformation to his church.  Over these five centuries, Reformed biblical theology has spread far and wide.  Its influence has infiltrated into various cultures and sub-cultures around the globe.  For this, we ought to praise God and vigorously.

One of the surprising sub-cultures where Reformation theology has found a home today is American hip-hop.  One of the leading voices in this development is Shai Linne.  In the spoken word intro to his album Lyrical Theology Part 2: Doxology, Shai makes this astute observation:  “If you have theology without doxology, you just have cold dead orthodoxy…If you have doxology without theology, you actually have idolatry.”  He’s right.

Theology (the study of who God is and what he’s done) should lead us right to doxology (proper praise for God).  The two belong together and must never be separated.  So when we consider the Reformation, we’re not doing it right if we’re not ending up on our knees in adoration for God.  There are all sorts of reasons why remembering the Reformation should bring us to worship — the chief being the recovery of the biblical gospel.  Without that gain, everything else is meaningless.  Praise God that he peeled away the ignorance, brought back the Bible, and brought widespread gospel preaching back to his church!

Let me mention three other reasons why we ought to be praising God today for the Reformation.

The Recovery of Certainty and Assurance

When many medieval Christians went to church, they were immediately confronted with an image of Christ.  It was not an image of Christ as Saviour, but as the coming Judge of heaven and earth.  The medieval church wanted to put the fear of Jesus into its members.  You were always supposed to be afraid and wondering whether you would be good enough for him.  You would never know the answer to that question until after you died.  For the average believer, the prospect of purgatory always loomed.  You could not be sure that you would go to God’s blessed presence the moment you died, because most likely you wouldn’t.  What a horrible distortion of the Christian faith!

The Reformation brought back the Bible’s message of justification.  If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are declared right by God.  The Judge is now your Father.  As his beloved child, you need not fear judgment.  When you die, because of God’s verdict in your justification, you can be absolutely 100% certain that you will be going to his blessed presence.  As one Reformation catechism put, “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism QA 42).  Praise God that we are not left wobbly and doubting!  Praise God for the Reformation’s recovery of gospel certainty!

The Restoration of the Voice of God’s People in Worship

Prior to the Reformation, when you went to mass you mainly went as a spectator.  Almost everything was done by someone else, mainly the priest and his assistants.  Congregation members were typically passive participants.  Since much of the service was in Latin, it could not be otherwise.  The idea of congregational singing was known, but not widely practiced.

With the Reformation, this began to change dramatically.  Christian worship becomes a more active affair for congregation members.  They are not only to watch or listen, but also to participate and particularly in song.  One of John Calvin’s priorities was the preparation of a metrical Psalter in the language of the people.  This was because he understood that the congregation should be lifting up its voice in worship.  In Reformed churches today, this continues to be the practice.  We emphasize congregational singing, the priesthood of all believers melodiously lifting up the Name of God.  We don’t go to church to listen to a choir sing or listen to soloists, but to lift up our own voices in praise to God.  This is as it should be.  Let’s praise God that we can praise him each Lord’s Day from our own hearts with our own tongues and lips!

The Humanity of the Reformers and their Example

When we look closely at the men whom God used to recover the gospel in the Reformation, one of the striking things is that they were just, well…men.  They were not super saints.  They had warts and blemishes.  For example, Luther famously ran off his mouth and was known for saying some things a bit strongly, if not strangely — and even sometimes wrongly.  Yet through their weaknesses, the power of God was made strong.  God amazingly worked through weak and sinful men to bring something about that’s still having a ripple effect to this day.

They were people with families.  When they faced death or martyrdom, they wrote like regular people because that’s what they were.  If you haven’t already, you need to read the powerful last letter of Guido de Brès to his wife.  See if you can read that without praising God for the example of this Reformation pastor.  I read that letter and I can’t help but doxologize.  God worked steadfast faithfulness in his servants and it was not in vain.  The gospel for which de Brès died outlived him and spread far beyond his little corner of the world.  God worked through them, through their humanity, and he left examples for us to follow.

There are many more reasons why we can be praising God today as we remember the Reformation.  Along with the recovery of the gospel as number one, those three above certainly rank up there for me.  They lead me to this:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things!

His right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him…

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Psalm 98:1,4