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Martin Bucer

(2 posts)

Faith Comes by Hearing

We have said that, just as the rooster does not cause the sunrise, prayer is not the cause of revival. Revival must be seen as the work of God alone. Consequently, we must ask: Do men play any active part in revival? Is there anything men do that can be seen as an instrumental cause? Iain Murray writes: The New Testament shows that the times which saw great ingatherings of people into the kingdom of God were always times when the Word of God was being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was the pattern in Jerusalem, Samaria, Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica and Corinth [Acts 2:40, 41; 8:58; 11:1921; 14:1; 17:24; 18:48.]. It has been equally true in subsequent history. Before the Reformation, if men preached at all, it was, in Martin Bucers words, frigidly, slovenly, mumbling, and such men knew no revivals. Then when spiritual awakening came it coincided, as in apostolic times, with a change which was seen first in preachers. The explanation for this connection between preaching and the advance of the gospel is made plain in Scripture. We read that when Christ spoke the people were astonished at His teaching, for He, taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Matt. 7:2829). And this was true of his ministry because, as he tells us, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach (Luke 4:18). The very same thing is what we find in those messengers sent by Jesus to do his work. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, so spoke to the Jewish leaders that the similarity between him and Christ was recognised: when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:8, 13). After the prayer meeting of disciples, recorded in that same chapter, it is said: And when they had prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. At Antioch a great many people were added to the Lord, and the instrumental cause of that increase was Barnabas, of whom we read that he was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24). It is of Barnabas, again, together with Paul in Iconium, that we read they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed (Acts 14:1). The reason for this effectiveness was surely identical to that which explained the later success at Thessalonica and Corinth: Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:4). It was by the same Holy Spirit at the time of the Reformation that preaching was again made powerful. In the Protestant churches of the sixteenth century the sermon was not made central in the worship of God by any human decision; it was the voice of Christ himself, speaking through men by his Spirit, which determined the change. Preaching in itself was not the cause of Reformation success. For, as Calvin said, preaching is dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to make hearers conscious of a presence distinct from that of the speaker. We cannot receive a single word which is published or preached to us in his name unless his majesty is there present. . . . . . . if times of revival are indeed timed when there is a fuller giving of the Holy Spirit then it must be expected that this will be seen pre-eminently in and through the work of gospel preaching. The Holy Spirit is in the world to glorify Christ in the salvation of men and women. This salvation comes by means of the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing means proclamation: How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:14,15). Iain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 8182.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.


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