Protestant Denials of Solus Christus

Most of us would not be surprised that Roman Catholicism denies Solus Christus. However, you may be surprised to learn there are Protestants who also deny it. I found this out first-hand on a visit to Hobart, the Tasmanian state capital. My wife and I went to take in the famous Salamanca Market. We went our separate ways for a little while and I ended up in St. David’s Park next to the market.

I was reading a plaque on a statue in the center of this lovely park when a man suddenly approached me. He said, “Excuse me, I was wondering if you had met my friend. His name is Jesus.” I was a bit taken by surprise. Nevertheless, I was only too happy to tell him Jesus was my friend too and I know him well. I said, “Oh, sure, of course I know Jesus. He’s my Saviour. He’s my only hope for eternal life. Everything I need before God I have in Jesus Christ.” Now I thought this would have met with a good reaction from the stranger. I thought he would shake my hand and realize he did not have to share the gospel with me and go on to someone else. But it did not turn out like that.

You see, he then asked me, “So do you speak in tongues and have other spiritual gifts?” I replied, “No, I don’t speak in tongues, but I have something far better.” “What’s that?” he asked. I said, “I have the Bible, 66 books, a complete revelation from God. I don’t need speaking in tongues when I have the Bible.” Then he sniffed, “Well, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t speak in tongues. You’re not going to heaven.” That is the first time anyone has ever told me that!

We entered into an intense discussion there in the park. Eventually, the first man brought his co-religionists into the discussion because he was having a hard time answering my questions. I asked them directly what the basis was for their believing they were saved and going to heaven. It was Jesus plus the fact they had spiritual gifts and spoke in tongues. It was math all over again: Jesus plus. I asked them if they had ever heard about the Reformation. No, they did not know anything about that. So I told them how the Roman Catholic Church had added to the work of Jesus. The Reformation was about getting back to Christ alone as our Saviour and Mediator. It was about that because that is what the Bible teaches. I gave them a couple of examples. But, no, they were insistent that it had to be Jesus plus speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts. If you did not speak in tongues, you were not going to heaven. Eventually they gave up and walked away. As they walked away, they reminded me once more that I was lost. According to them, I was lost because I held to Jesus Christ alone as my Saviour. As I went my way back to find my wife, I was incredulous about what I had just heard.

Who were these people? They were part of an extreme Pentecostal church. They are not alone. This type of Pentecostalism can be found all over the world. It was my first time encountering it in person, but I have heard about it before.

Please do not misunderstand. This is not true of all Pentecostals. I have met many Pentecostals over the years who clearly confess salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. They would say the only basis for their hope of heaven is the Saviour. They would say that their only way of being heard by God when they pray is through Christ. While they are wrong on other points, we can rejoice that many Pentecostals are not denying Solus Christus. Yet there are these extreme Pentecostals who do. If you encounter them, what do you say? How do you respond?

If there is one thing I noticed in that encounter, it was that these people did not know their Bibles very well. They had a few Bible verses at hand to promote their view. But they did not have much depth in their Bible knowledge. If we are going to interact with such people, we need to know our Bibles. We need to be able to point out what Scripture says, especially on important doctrines like Christ alone. But just as with our Roman Catholic neighbours, we have to encourage extreme Pentecostals to begin reading the Bible for themselves. I have several friends who were once Pentecostal pastors and some of them were on the extreme side of Pentecostalism. God graciously brought them to the Reformed faith. I asked them how they got away from it. The answer always has to do with the Word. Somehow God uses the Bible to get people free of these wrong ideas where Christ is not central and exclusive. It bears repeating: the only way Reformation happens is through the Word of God being proclaimed, read, and studied. We have to call people back to the Scriptures where Christ stands alone as the Saviour.

(an excerpt from chapter 2 of my book Solus Christus, available here)


Why Should We Study Scripture Together?

It’s too easy to take for granted the blessings God has heaped on us.  Let’s stop for a moment and think about several of them.  We still have the blessing to freely worship.  Not only on Sunday, but during the week too we’re free to gather together for fellowship and study.  We have the blessing of God’s Word in our own language.  Unlike so many believers in the history of the New Testament church, we have the Bible in a language we can understand – and these Bibles are cheap and readily available.  Finally, we have the blessing of literacy.  The fact that you’re reading this puts you at a far greater advantage than many believers in the history of the church.  What incredible riches our God has lavished on us!

Do We Have a Heart For Searching Out God’s Word?

Yet it does seem that many church members take these things for granted.  In every church I’ve served, there is always the mass problem of Bible study.  Every consistory discussed it.  It’s the problem of encouraging individual believers to study the Bible for themselves.  It’s also the problem of encouraging believers to study the Bible together.  I’d venture to guess that, on average, probably 25% of the communicant members in the churches I’ve served regularly studied Scripture together.  Actually, 25% is on the generous side.

What can consistories do about it?  Here’s the problem:  office bearers can badger members into Bible study groups for a time.  But if their heart is not in it, typically they won’t persevere.  The heart is the issue – and how do you change someone’s heart?  You can’t.  The Holy Spirit does that.  He does it, however, through us.  He says in 1 Thess. 5:14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”  We’re to do these things with the Word of God in our hand.

In this article, I want to lay out the Bible’s answer for why believers should study Scripture together.  There are two audiences I want to address.  The first is the office bearer who wants to encourage Bible study in his congregation.  The second is the believer who may be lagging in conviction about the value of this practice.

Psalm 119 as a Prayer for the Way We Want to Be

So, why study the Bible together?  When our thoughts turn to Scripture and our attitude towards it, Psalm 119 is a frequent destination.  This Psalm extols the Scriptures in exuberant terms.  It also speaks of the believers’ emotions/affections about the Bible.  For example, nine times the Psalmist speaks of his delight in God’s Word.  Seven times he testifies of his love for the Scriptures.  He witnesses to the joy that comes from the divine writings.  It’s important to read all these things with our eyes on Jesus.  He is the fulfilment of all these holy emotions – he exhibited them with an unparalleled depth and consistency.  Moreover, Christ did that in the place of us who often sag in our feelings about God’s Word.  His love and joy in the Word are credited to us by God.  When we see Psalm 119 that way, it puts it in a new light for us.  It speaks of our Saviour’s obedient life for us, but also his sanctifying power in us.  We look at Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be.  In our new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we want to be like Christ.  We want to reflect our union with him – we want to love the Scriptures like he does!

When we do, we won’t have to be coaxed into Bible study.  It’s something we will love to do because, being united to Christ, we love God and we love his Word.  Personal Bible study will come from the heart, and so will group Bible study.  Then the rest of what I’m going to write will sound perfectly persuasive.

Getting to Know Our God

The chief attraction of Bible study together is a better view of the glory of God.  The Scriptures are all about revealing to us the glory of the Triune God, particularly in the gospel. I’m talking about his beauty, his splendour, his magnificence, his awesomeness.  Scripture reveals God to us in all his transcendent excellence.

When you study by yourself, you will see it.  But when you study with others, you will see more and see further than you will by yourself.  One person can only see so much.  One person can have blind spots.  But when several Christians gather together around God’s Word, they’ll find more to be amazed at about our God.  He will receive more praise and honour.  That’s what we want, isn’t it?

Encouraging One Another

However, there is not only a vertical aspect here.  It turns out that what brings more glory to God is also for our benefit.  When we gather together with fellow believers around God’s Word, there’s encouragement to be found.  We support one another.  We pray together.  We enjoy fellowship.  When it’s going as it should, Bible study can feel like Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

We could also think of what Scripture says in Ephesians 4.  There God speaks about how Christ has given the gift of office bearers to the church.  He says their work is to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  They do that work with the Scriptures.  Bible study together will likewise build up the body of Christ and with exactly the same blessings described in Ephesians 4:13.  Bible study together will lead to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Christ.  It will enable us to grow together in maturity.  It will help pull us into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Two Objections

Some church members have keenly developed reasons for not going to Bible study.  They could go (they have the health and the time), but they refuse to.  Let me briefly address two reasons I’ve heard over the years.

One objection is that it’s all the same:  “The same people talk and they always say the same thing.  It makes for a boring hour or two.  So it’s just not worth the time or effort.”  I’m familiar with this one because I used it as a young man.  I remember saying this at a friend’s house and his mom reamed me out.  She said, “If you don’t like the way it is, then it’s up to you to make it different.  You lead by example.  You’ll only get out of it what you put into it.”  She was exactly right.

Another reason comes from a darker place:  “Everyone at these Bible studies is so dull.  They don’t have a good basic understanding of the Bible.  It’s just frustrating listening to them ramble on in their ignorance.  Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is exasperating.” The essential problem here is pride.  One’s pride leads to impatience with other believers.  Bible study presents an opportunity to share our insights with one another.  One may have to pray for growth in holiness to do that humbly and judiciously, but rather than flee from that challenge, we should embrace it.  Moreover, we need to be open to the possibility that there is something to learn from other believers – perhaps we don’t have the exceptional level of knowledge we thought we had (cf. Phil. 2:3).

Conclusion

The Bible has famously been compared to a love letter from God.  Of course, love letters are mostly a thing of the past, but the idea is still current.  If you were to receive a love letter, you would treasure it and read it carefully several times.  The Bible is God’s love letter to his people.  Why would any recipient not want to read and study that letter as often as possible, both on your own and with other believers?  If you’re part of a Bible study, stay consistent with it.  If you’re not part of a Bible study, go and find one in your local church.  With your meaningful contribution, God will be praised and you’ll be blessed.

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This article was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine.


How I Make a Sermon

The bread and butter of a pastor is preaching.  Most of my seminary training was directed towards preparing me to preach.  A lot of my time and energy are devoted to preaching or, more properly, preparing to preach.  In this post, I want to fill you in with some of the details of how I prepare a sermon.  I’ll divide it up day by day — Monday to Friday (I normally take Saturdays as my day off).  This is only about preparing a sermon on a particular biblical passage — preparing catechism sermons is a different process.

First, A Word About Text Choice

I usually plan my preaching schedule in three month blocks.  So, four times per year, I sit down and map out what I’m going to be preaching on.  As described here, I typically practice “serial expository preaching.”  I preach through books, verse-by-verse.  That makes text-choice fairly straightforward.  This past Sunday I preached on John 8:21-30; next Sunday I’ll be preaching on John 8:31-38.  Sometimes I do go elsewhere in Scripture or do a series of textual sermons related to a topic.  For example, this past year, I preached on a number of passages relating to “Building Community.”  Of course, there are also the extraordinary Sundays with special events like ordination, profession of faith, and so on.  For them, I usually select a text oriented to those occasions.  While I don’t follow the practices of Lent or Advent, I do preach on the agreed-upon “days of commemoration” and choose fitting texts for those too.  Whatever the case, whatever the occasion, when Monday morning rolls around I’m never casting about and wondering what I’m going to be preaching on in six days time.

Monday

My work begins with prayer.  I ask God to help me understand his Word and preach it faithfully for the benefit of his people.  Prayer is something that continues through the whole process, right up to and including the moment I’m on the pulpit delivering the sermon.  It’s vitally important to remember that sermon preparation is a spiritual matter.

I then read the text in the original language — Hebrew, Greek, or even, rarely, Aramaic.  I make my own translation of the passage.  As I do, I note features that stand out or questions that arise.

Next comes some study of the state of the text and its preservation.  As you may know, there are sometimes issues between various manuscripts.  A preacher has to study those and reach his own conclusions.

I have a look at the grammar and syntax of the passage.  Are there any noteworthy problems or special features that will have a bearing on the interpretation of the passage?

Tuesday

Tuesday is context day.  I pay attention to what’s called canonics.  Canonics is an area of study that deals with the books of the Bible and their authorship, purpose, date, themes, and so on.  When I’m doing serial expository preaching, this step usually gets skipped after the first few sermons.  For example, since I’ve preached dozens of sermons already on John, I’m quite familiar with these matters.

However, I never skip consideration of the literary context, both immediate and broader.  I study the relation between the passage and what comes before and what comes after (immediate context).  But I also study the passage in its connection to the rest of the book, and the rest of Scripture.

At times, depending on the text and what it involves, I’ll also study the historic or cultural context of the passage.

Wednesday

It’s Word Study Wednesday!  This is the day I focus in on particular words or phrases that appear to have some special significance for the meaning of the passage.

Once again depending on the text, I may also look at the literary structure.  Are there any special features that may help me in preaching?

Thursday

This is the day I try to get the meaning of the passage clear in my own mind.  My first step is to write out my own exegesis (or interpretation) of the passage, typically verse by verse.  So I have my own idea of what the text means and how it might be preached and applied.  I also think in terms of how the passage reveals God and how it speaks of Christ and the gospel.

Then it’s time to hit the commentaries.  One could spend all day reading commentaries, but after a while, they do start repeating each other.  One of my seminary professors recommended just selecting three commentaries, three that are quite different from one another.  This has been my typical practice — unless there’s a really thorny issue where I want to check out what some others have said.  The reason I consult commentaries is two-fold:  1) to check my own understanding against that of others.  If I’m standing alone in my understanding of what the passage means, that could mean that I’ve gotten it wrong.  2) To fill in the gaps of my own understanding of the passage.  Many times commentators will see things I missed in the passage.

Now I’m ready to start thinking in terms of crafting a sermon.  I develop a theme and (usually) points.  The theme and points form the structure for the sermon.  I used to write sermon outlines, and occasionally still do, but I’ve found that serial expository preaching often creates its own outline.

At this point, I’ll also go back, look through my notes, and see if there’s a natural Bible reading that goes with the passage.  For example, last Sunday when I preached on John 8:21-30, Jesus calls himself the “I am.”  It made sense to read from Exodus 3 and Isaiah 43, both passages where God describes himself with those words.

What about the introduction to the sermon?  I think good intros are really important.  Sometimes it’ll come to me at this stage on late Thursday morning, but many times it doesn’t until I go for a walk on Thursday afternoon, or, sometimes, while I’m in the shower on Friday morning.  Weird, eh?

Friday

Now it’s crunch time.  I shamelessly preach from a full set of sermon notes/manuscript.  I always have and, though I’ve experimented with preaching from notes/dot points, I doubt I’ll ever do it again.   To me, it’s not worth it.  Maybe more on that some other time.  Anyway, on Friday morning I’m in my study writing out that sermon in full.  It usually takes me until about lunch or maybe just past.

Friday evening comes and it’s time to finalize everything.  I always aim to be done by 8:00 PM.  I give the sermon a practice run — I speak it out loud.  My notes get marked up as I’m doing this and then I make the necessary edits.  Then it’s done and dusted, ready to go for Sunday morning.  I normally don’t look at it again until I’m on the pulpit.  But I’m certainly thinking and praying about it!

A Final Note

Please note that this post is entitled “How I Make a Sermon.”   That’s intentional.  It’s not “How to Make a Sermon.”  This is my way of doing it and has been for a long time.  It works for me.  It’s not necessarily going to work for everyone because we’re all different.  But here’s the thing:  almost all the bits and pieces of my process have been cobbled together from learning what others do.  If you’re a preacher early in the game, or perhaps a seminary student, maybe one or two of my bits and pieces will be helpful for you as well.  For the rest of you, you get a little idea of what this particular minister spends a good deal of his time on.


RCN Synod Goes 2020 — Course Reversal?

Though it’s not yet 2020, Synod 2020 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands has begun in Goes.  The first press release has been issued and can be found here (in Dutch).  The big question many are wondering is whether Synod Meppel’s decision to admit women to all the offices of the church will be reversed.  Certainly efforts are being made by some local churches — you can read here about Urk and its request for revision, and also its bold refusal to send delegates to classis in the meantime (a classis which recently gave preaching consent to a woman).

What are the prospects for a course reversal?  The Synod has already been discussing the topic.  The Synod spent some time first discussing the topic “Dealing with Diversity.”  A couple of professors from the Theological University in Kampen came to make a presentation on that.  Saturday November 23 was spent discussing explicitly the topic of “men and women in the church.”  The deputies who wrote the report for the last Synod advocating for women in office came and gave introductions and workshops.

Reading the press release, one certainly doesn’t get the sense that the Synod is starting off on the right foot towards a course reversal.  Moreover, one detail is easy to miss in the press release:  the synod delegates consist of thirty brothers and two sisters.  So this synod apparently has two female office bearers as delegates.  Does anyone realistically think that this synod will come around later and say, “Sorry, sisters, the RCN made a mistake at Meppel and you really shouldn’t have been around this table”?  Really?

I can’t help but think of a vivid Dutch expression that Klaas Schilder used at a certain point in his discussions with Herman Hoeksema:  de kous is af.  Literally, “the stocking is finished.”  In English we would say, “It’s game over.”  After this, I pray Urk and other concerned believers still in the RCN will see it and move out and move on.


The Sad Case of Francesco Spiera

There was a time when the name of Francesco Spiera (or Francis Spira) was well-known throughout the Reformed churches of Europe.  His story frightened, inspired, and motivated many.  It was a story repeated numerous times in all the languages of Europe.  His story caught the attention of John Calvin and many other Reformed theologians.  Spiera became an example and a warning.  Yet today his name is all but forgotten.  I’d never heard of him until I came across a reference to him in a book written in the seventeenth century.  I doubt you’ve heard of him.  But I think you should know, because his life and death are still instructive, as are the reactions that followed.

The Life and Death of Francesco Spiera 

Francesco Spiera (ca. 1504-1548) was an Italian.  We know nothing about his childhood or upbringing.  What is written about him focuses entirely on the last years of his life.  He appears out of the blue as a lawyer working in the region of Venice.  He was an intelligent man with a solid reputation and a faithful Roman Catholic.  He was married and had eleven children.

Spiera’s world was turned upside down in the early 1540s when Reformation writings appeared for sale in his area.  He apparently purchased some of these writings.  He compared these writings with the Bible and became convinced that Reformation theology was biblical.  Moreover, he didn’t keep his new faith to himself.  He taught it to his family and his friends and to whomever would listen.

In November of 1547, some of his neighbours denounced him to the Roman Inquisition.  The Inquisition existed to stamp out heresies and errors and whatever challenged the authority and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Spiera was put on trial in Venice in May of 1548.  Among other things, his possession of an Italian Calvinistic classic, Beneficio di Cristo, was evidence that he had set out on a road away from Rome.  The trial lasted into June of 1548 and at the end he was commanded to retract his Protestant beliefs publicly and to buy an altar-piece for his local Roman Catholic Church building.  He appears to have followed these instructions.

Problems set in almost immediately afterwards.  Spiera had second thoughts about his abjuration.  He reportedly heard the voice of the Son of God accusing him for having denied the gospel and telling him that he was now a reprobate condemned to hell.  He fell ill and spent most of his time in bed suffering from physical pain and emotional despair.  Friends and family tried to reason with him.  Roman Catholic theologians and priests made an effort to convince him, and when that failed, they attempted to exorcise whatever demon was tormenting him.  Spiera continued to despair.  He died in that condition on December 27, 1548.  Some say that he died of despair, others that he took his own life.

The Danger of Apostasy

We live in a comfortable age at the moment.  Stories such as the one about Spiera seem entirely disconnected from our reality.  We would never face an Inquisition for being or becoming Reformed.  At least not at the moment.  However, we should not assume that things will always continue to be the way they are.  A day could come when you are dragged before a court and pressured to repudiate the gospel and your Saviour.  Spiera’s story reminds us that betraying our Saviour comes at a cost.

The story of Francesco Spiera was used by both Protestants and Roman Catholics to advance their agendas.  Roman Catholics used Spiera’s story to warn their people about the dangers of even departing from Rome in the first place.  Protestants used the story to warn people what could happen if they were to abjure their biblical faith.  Historians recognize that the historical accounts are coloured by these agendas.  Yet both Roman Catholics and Protestant reports of Spiera’s demise highlight the enormous suffering and despair that he endured because he did not stand strong one way or another.  I think we can say with certainty that this is a historical fact and it’s something instructive for us.

Protestant Reflections on Spiera

It’s also instructive to survey the different ways in which Protestants have treated the case of Francesco Spiera.  One of the earliest commentaries comes from John Calvin.  In 1549 Calvin wrote a preface to an account of Spiera’s despair.  Calvin used Spiera as an example in his struggle with the Nicodemites.  The Nicodemites, like Nicodemus, were secret believers.  They were people who held to Reformed theology, but continued to remain in the Roman Catholic Church.  Spiera was an example of what could happen to such people.  But Calvin went further than this and explicitly declared judgment on Spiera.  Calvin referred to him as an example of the reprobate who “never fail to proceed from one sin to another.”  His despair was God’s justice on him, a justice that came to full fervour after his death.  Calvin essentially asserted that Spiera had been consigned by God to eternal destruction and his betrayal of the faith gave evidence of his reprobation.

Subsequent Protestant theologians and authors took a similar line.  The English Reformer and martyr Hugh Latimer (ca. 1487-1555) asserted that Spiera had sinned against the Holy Spirit – committing the unpardonable sin.  In 1865, a book of poems was published by the Englishman James Hain Friswell.  The first one is about Francesco Spiera and its opening lines clearly indicate where the author believes Spiera ended up:

The words of Francis Spira, man of Law,

A man in sin begotten and conceived,

Reaping damnation, which he much deserved,

Dying with friends about him whose vain words

Would comfort him whose doom is fix’d past help!

Similarly, on a couple of occasions the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) referred to Spiera and compared him to Judas Iscariot.  While he did not come right out and declare that Spiera was reprobate, there is a hint of it.

Another Line

However, there is another line in Protestant reflections on Francesco Spiera.  It’s found both among Reformed writers and Lutherans during the seventeenth century.  The post-Reformation was far kinder and sympathetic to Spiera’s case than many before and after.

Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) is one of the giants of the Reformed faith in the seventeenth century.  He taught theology at the University of Utrecht.  He is remembered for his deft blending of serious academic thought with warm-hearted commitment to Christ.  Some of his books were written exclusively for an academic audience.  Others were written for the common Reformed person.  One of those was a book entitled Spiritual Desertion (Geestelijke Verlatingen), first published in Dutch in 1646.  In this book (which has been translated into English), Voetius mentions the case of Spiera twice.  The first time is in a discussion about the circumstances that most frequently accompany a feeling of desertion by God.  He mentions persecutions, diseases as well as considerable physical weakness which leads to death.  And he writes that an example of this is what happened with Spiera.  He adds, “This history ought to be read and can be read, since it available in more than one language.”

He comes back to Spiera later.  Voetius notes that when it comes to judging what happened to Spiera, he is in agreement with the assessment of the English Puritan William Perkins, the German Reformer Wolfgang Musculus, and even Arminius.  Voetius writes:

For certainly one must not give credence to their cries or confessions of despair, because that voice is not a voice of credibility or truth but of weakness; it is not making a statement but expressing a doubt…Finally, even if it were the case that they were not restored inwardly before their death but departed during a severe attack of insensibility and temptation, nothing certain could be concluded about their final and total impenitence and unbelief.  This could be done only if it were first established that actual, particular, and always ensuring repentance and remorse (renewed after every sin) is absolutely and indispensably necessary to salvation. (Spiritual Desertion, 53)

According to Voetius then, it is inappropriate to claim that Spiera was reprobate because of the manner in which he died.

Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666) was a disciple of Voetius.  Voetius actually never finished writing Spiritual Desertion, so he commissioned Hoornbeeck to complete it.  Hoornbeeck wrote a lot more about Spiera, but it was all along the same lines as that of Voetius.  A short quote will give you an idea of what he thought:

[Spiera] did want to return to God but thought that he could not do so.  We silently pass by the judgment that others have pronounced.  On the basis of his burning desire and his heartfelt longing for God and his grace (longing that he frequently displayed), we consider ourselves duty-bound to suspend our judgment – if not to speak in his favour. (Spiritual Desertion, 86)

Hoornbeeck considered Spiera to be a “frightening example” but yet he believed that Spiera’s despair and spiritual struggle could not be evidence of reprobation.  After all, the reprobate give no care to their standing before God.

The last author I can mention is Johannes Andreas Quenstedt (1617-1688), an orthodox Lutheran theologian from the seventeenth century.  He discusses Spiera’s case in an important academic work entitled Theologica Didactico-Polemica.  It comes up in a discussion regarding the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  This is what Quenstedt concluded:

Spiera must be held least of all to have sinned against the Holy Spirit, because: 1) he defected to the papacy, not from malice, but from weakness; not by his own will and initiative, but through the persuasion of friends.  2) He did not impugn or blaspheme the doctrine of the Gospel, but he was greatly pained that he had defected from the truth.  It was therefore assuredly despair, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit… (Theologica Didactico-Polemica (1715), Vol. 1, 1064, translation mine)

Thus also Quenstedt regarded Spiera as a sad case, but not one in which observers can make a definite conclusion as to the Italian’s eternal destiny.

The Take-Aways

The post-Reformation period showed a remarkable degree of mature, biblical analysis of the Spiera case.  There was much more hesitancy to jump to conclusions regarding Spiera’s ultimate destination, whether that be heaven or hell.  Instead, the post-Reformation theologians that we’ve surveyed believed that Spiera suffered despair, even a sort of depression.  While he brought it on himself through his betrayal of the faith, the fact that he was in so much pain up till his death does not disqualify him from the kingdom of God.

As mentioned above, today we don’t face the immediate possibility of persecution.  Yet there are still countless people in our churches who suffer with despair and depression.  Sometimes, sadly, we even hear about those who take their own lives – as Spiera may have done.  Spiera’s story and the way the post-Reformation writers worked with it teach us to be careful when making judgments about someone’s spiritual state.  Struggle, doubts and difficulties are not indicative of reprobation, even when they culminate in suicide.

Sometimes the post-Reformation is wrongly described as a period of aridity in Reformed theology, as a low point in our heritage.  The story of Spiera indicates that there is much that we can still learn from men like Voetius, Hoornbeeck and even Quenstedt (Lutheran that he was).  These were men who valued faithfulness and precision in their theology, but it never came at the cost of passion for Christ and compassion for those who suffer.  One can only hope that we’ll see more post-Reformation material coming into English translation.