Five centuries before the rise of Finney, a light began to shine in Europe. That light was designed to expose the darkness of the theological heresies and political tyranny of the Church of Rome. Holding that torch was Englishman John Wycliffe, known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. With precise aggression, Wycliffe attacked the church’s heretical position on the doctrine of justification, the papacy and the sacramental system. His unwavering commitment to truth led him to translate the Latin Vulgate to English so every man, even the plough boy, might possess the Word of God in their own language. He saw this as the step to free men from the oppression of the Church of Rome.
Wycliffe’s light would extend beyond England to the modern day Czech Republic through Jan Hus who was burned alive at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church in 1415 under accusations of heresy concerning Catholic ecclesiology, specifically the legitimacy and authority of the papacy. Providentially, Hus’s last words before he was burned were, “…in 100 years God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”
Roughly 100 years later, on October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 propositions to the Church Castle at Wittenberg against the Roman Catholic Church. His name – Martin Luther. Severely oppressed by his own sin and desire to please God, it was his study of Romans 1:17 that allowed him to see how God justifies sinners, which also exposed the great corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. The conclusions Luther ultimately came to were: The church was not authoritative; Scripture was. The pope is not head of the church; Christ is. Man is not saved by his own virtuous acts and religious rituals, but graciously by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith. For his contentions, Luther was issued a papal bulla or summons by Pope Leo X to appear before Charles V to recant his “heresies” at the Diet of Worms. Firm in his new found convictions, upon his insistence to recant his charges, Luther said, “My conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
Luther’s teachings would continue to spread throughout Europe, both favorably and unfavorably,and other reformers would rise up. But perhaps the most significant reformer since Luther was a French scholar, professor, lawyer, theologian and later pastor, Jean Cauvin or John Calvin. Just as Luther’s central doctrine, justification by faith alone, tremendously impacted Europe, Calvin’s central doctrine, the sovereignty of God, would impact Europe and beyond in ways never imagined, particularly in the social and political realms, that previous reformers failed to achieve.
Skilled with brilliant writing ability and mind for logic, Calvin published the first edition of his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 at the age of 27. For twenty years he continued to add to Institutes as it was regarded as the most coherent and logical summation of Protestant doctrine produced during the Reformation. Planted in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin, with support of the city government, established Geneva as a disciplined Christian community and place for ministry training.
Aside from his social and political convictions, Calvin is most known for his soteriological position. Stemming from his core doctrine, the sovereignty of God in all things, he naturally formed his salvific view from Scripture that salvation is granted based on the sovereign electing grace of God according to His will. Though systematized after his death, as a defense against the Arminian charge of heresy, T.U.L.I.P., or The Doctrines of Grace, was conceived during the Synod of Dort in 1618, convening in 1619. The acrostic, T.U.L.I.P., is a summation of biblical soteriology.
T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints
This, I believe, captures the truth of Scripture concerning how people are saved and kept by God for the glory of God according to His own covenant. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, this is the doctrine that Charles G. Finney rejected that led to his heresies and pragmatic church routines.
So where is the encouragement, you might ask? The encouragement lies in understanding the purpose of the sovereign grace of God in election. To miss this is to miss the whole thrust of this beautiful truth. But as the acrostic logically lays out, we must start with our condition – depraved. Sin has catapulted us into a state of spiritual death and enmity toward God. By nature, we hate and are unable to understand the truths of God, especially the gospel. To misunderstand this spirals us into believing lies about God and us. Building from a platform of error can only produce more error. However, by God’s grace, if we see our depravity as the Scriptures plainly declare, the doctrine of election should humble us greatly and cause us to see the lovingkindness of God toward us in Christ Jesus.
In matters of evangelism, let’s build on a proper foundation so that by God’s grace, we can see how the biblical doctrines espoused in the Reformation (biblical) are encouraging. That proper foundation is…
Q. Why does God do anything that He does?
A. For His own glory. (Romans 11:36)
It is safe to say that God saves people for His own glory, since saving people is one aspect of what He does. When God saves, He is demonstrating His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, righteousness and justice in Christ. He is bringing attention to His own character by redeeming sinners.
At the same time, He is exalting the Savior, Jesus Christ, by making Him head over all things, especially the church. Scripture tells us that salvation was planned in eternity past and Christ is the Lamb who was slain from before the foundations of the earth. (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8) Scripture also tells us that believers were chosen by the Father in Christ before the foundation of the earth. (John 6: 39, 17:2,6, Ephesians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13) Revelation foretells of the eternal reign of Christ with the redeemed from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.
Seeing the predetermined plan of salvation as well as the consummation of salvation, ought to lead us to see the faithfulness of God in saving His elect by the means of declaring the gospel in the earth. God has chosen to save His people from His wrath by grace through faith in His Son.
The upshot of this is that we can share the gospel with confidence because it will effect God’s intended purpose because He will not leave His due exaltation and exultation ultimately in the decisions of man.
By God’s providential grace, The Reformation gave birth to Soli Deo Gloria, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura through Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin and many others.
“15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Grace & Peace,