An Interview with Herman Selderhuis about his book—Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed about your well written book. I think you have achieved your goal to give the reader an objective portrait of the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

Here are some of my questions for you about your work:

Given the numerous biographies written on Luther, what is the unique contribution of your book to the study of Luther?

Unique is quite a big word, since I did not intend to make a difference or to come up with something new. After having read Luther since I was 14, I just wanted to know who this man was. How did he live with God? What was essential to him? How could he speak such precious words about the Lord and at the same time use language against his opponents and among his friends that I would never allow my children to use? But also I wanted to examine the latter part of his life, since many biographies hardly pay attention to that. Perhaps the unique aspect of my work is that I tried to describe Luther as a fellow believer, as a brother in Christ.

You indicated Luther’s tendency to tell inaccurate information or exaggerate things. For instance, he gave the impression that his early life was marked by extreme poverty when it was not (28). Also, according to him, he and his friend Hans Reinicke went to a school of the “Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life” in Magdeburg (33). But you said such a school never existed in that place. As a man with sensitive conscience, why do you think Luther would give his reader imprecise data?

Well for one thing, we all have memories of our youth that do not always fit reality, so that’s also quite natural for Luther. At the same time, he knew how to use rhetorical skills to convince the people of his message. And in this message he was not always complete in his information, so to say. His family did know times in which income was low, but also times of good wealth. Now, we all know that the majority of people and especially workmen and farmers rather identify with someone who is from their background, so someone also struggling to make a living. That’s why he preferred telling his readers about the times in which there was scarcity in his family. It was not a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth either.

In the preface to his Latin writings, Luther mentioned how it was not until 1519 (two years after the posting of the “Ninety-Five Theses”) that he understood the doctrine of justification by faith (84). Was Luther implying then that he was not converted until 1519? Could you please comment more on his conversion experience?

I don’t think it is an issue of conversion as he was Godfearing and a believing Christian from his childhood days. These words refer to the time in which he discovered that the relationship between God and man was fundamentally different than he always thought and was taught. So it is not the conversion from unbeliever to believer, but a conversion to a biblical perspective on God, grace and justification. So not regeneration, but a renewal of theological insight.

On page 137 you wrote, “According to Luther, only three of the seven [sacraments] were found in Scripture: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and penance.” Elsewhere Luther seemed to approve two sacraments only. Could you please explain this seeming contradiction in his belief?

We must understand that Luther did not start with writing something like the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Confession. He was a reformer who had to start rethinking all of theology and all of the articles of faith from the beginning. So at first he was not sure about the sacrament of penance as he did find in Scripture many calls to penance and repentance. Later on he had more clarity and reduced the number of sacraments to two. However, he did maintain the sacrament of penance in such a way that in baptism and in the Lord’s Supper he paid much attention to the life and inner attitude of penance. Being baptized in Christ means awareness of sin and guilt leading to a life in which the confession of one’s sin is permanently present, and the same counts for anyone partaking in the Lord’s Supper. This means that this third sacrament finds its place in the other two.

Some think Luther taught baptismal regeneration. Could you please clarify his view on baptism?

In a way here the same answer can be given. Luther was searching for the right understanding of baptism. He knew that the existing doctrine was wrong, namely, that baptism cleans from original sin and from the guilt one has built up and that after that baptism loses its function and the sacrament of penance is essential for forgiveness. But he did not know what the right view was. He did not want baptism to be a sacrament that works just by being administered, yet he also did not want a sacrament that was a mere symbol, nor a sacrament  in which the effectivity depends on the faith of the believer which means God’s gift in baptism depends on whether we want it or not. In my opinion Luther did not come to a neatly defined doctrine of baptism. Those that came after him like Bullinger and Calvin made use of all Luther had explored and came to a more complete and biblical view. But they would not have found it without Luther.

Do you think it was unwise for Luther to marry Katharina von Bora, an ex-nun whom he did not love? As Luther himself stated shortly before their wedding day, “I do not love my wife, but I do appreciate her” (195). Also, where did such a common belief originate that “the child of an ex-nun and ex-monk would be a monster” (215)? 

Oh, but he really did love her but not yet at the moment of marriage. The marriage itself was more out of necessity. Katharina needed a husband to have an orderly income and Luther needed a wife to prove that his protests against compulsory celibacy applied to him also. But once they got married their love for each grew. It is a great joy to read about their love-relationship and I’m convinced that many Christian marriages would go better if there was only part of the love and respect Luther and Katherina had for each other. And as to that monster-belief, I think it is not that difficult to understand its origin. If two people break their eternal vows to God and have intercourse, how else could God punish them than with a monster for it was so wrong what they had done.

In chapter 10 you talk about Luther’s strong anti-Semitism. Why was he hostile to Jewish people?

Hostility against Jews had been common all over Europe and for many centuries, so even if it is hardly allowed to say, most people were used to it and Luther was no exception. This is not an excuse though, as it is a shame for us and our Christian tradition. Yet, in the beginning Luther was quite positive, writing even a tract in which he stressed that Jesus was a Jew. But Luther expected that as a result of his rediscovery of the Gospel, the majority of Jews would also convert to Christ. When this did not happen, he became first disappointed and then very hostile. It is a black page in his biography and in our history, but we need to know about it to humble ourselves, to see that Luther was no hero and to learn from it for today.

In general, what were Luther’s greatest strengths that we should emulate?

What I see as his greatest strength is that he is a theologian in the real sense of the word. Luther speaks about God and he lets God be God. His preaching is not about what Christians experience, not about emotions, not about political and social issues, but it is about the God who justifies and man who needs justification. Our doing of theology and our preaching would become so much richer, so much more biblical if we would seriously take notice of Luther’s theology. Another strength is his fearless standing up for the truth of God’s Word. No pope, no emperor, no tradition scared him off from proclaiming the gospel of grace. And a third strength is his endless service. This man could have become a billionaire, he could have become mighty in politics and even in the church, but he remained keen on serving the Lord and serving the church. That’s how he lived and that’s how he died.

What projects are you currently working on?

For now I have two major projects: as president of the Theological University Apeldoorn (TUA), I try to expand and strengthen the TUA into one of the main centers for Reformed theology in Europe, and as president of Reformation Research Consortium (REFORC) I work on creating a global network for research on Early Modern Christianity. This keeps me quite busy so for the moment I have to postpone working on the books I would like to write.


Herman Selderhuis is President of the Theological University Apeldoorn (Netherlands) and professor of Church History. As ordained minister he preaches every Sunday in various reformed churches. Some of his other functions are: President of Reformation Research Consortium (REFORC), president of the Luther Heritage Foundation, and board member in various European research projects.

Interview Martin Luther

A New Hymn on Total Depravity: “Reborn in Christ, Who Pardoned Me”

Text: Brian G. Najapfour
Tune: CEDAR TREE L.M.6L., Robert Azkoul; alt. and harm. Michael R. Kearney

Michael R. Kearney, organist
Recorded at St. John’s Lutheran Church Sayville, Long Island, New York

Stanza 1
By nature I was dead in sin,
A body but no life within,
Too dead to see the gospel light,
For Satan had destroyed my sight.
I had two ears but could not hear
The gospel sound that was so clear.

Stanza 2
Depraved was I from birth, indeed,
And drawn to sin was I conceived!
To Christ, my heart was not inclined,
For Satan had ensnared my mind.
I had no hunger to be fed
By Jesus Christ, the Living Bread.

Stanza 3
Yet by God’s mercy and His love
Came new life from His throne above.
He gave my blind eyes light to see
The gospel truth that set me free.
Alive in Christ, who died for me,
My heart sings praise to His glory!

Stanza 4
And now the God who reigns above,
Made me alive by His great love.
He gave me faith to eat the Bread:
Amazing grace! Forever fed!
Reborn in Christ, who pardoned me;
Oh, hallelujah, join with me!

Note: You can download the musical score here.


Hark! the herald angels sing

Today our guest contributor is Chris Fenner, Digital Archivist at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has contributed scholarly articles to The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song, has produced new editions of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts and Our Own Hymn Book by Charles Spurgeon, and is managing editor of


The Wesleys had an enduring friendship and connection with George Whitefield (1714–1770), beginning with their Oxford Holy Club, followed by separate missionary journeys to America, and a call to open-air field preaching in England. During the earlier years of that association, the Wesleys published some of their most enduring poetry, especially in the first edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). In this collection, Charles Wesley had penned a Christmas hymn with a curious opening line:

Hark how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of Kings,
Peace on Earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconcil’d!”

Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born today!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as man with men t’appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here!

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born—that man no more may die,
Born—to raise the sons of earth,
Born—to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home,
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving pow’r,
Ruin’d nature now restore,
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man;
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Wesley’s original text thus spanned ten stanzas of four lines. A modern reader might see the words “welkin rings” and immediately gravitate to something from J.R.R. Tolkien, but “welkin” means “sky” or “heavens” — it was a common term in English poetry in that era. Wesley might have been alluding directly to a poem by William Somerville about fox hunting, called “The Chase” (1735):

The welkin rings, Men, Dogs, Hills, Rock, and Woods
In the full consort join.

Hymn scholar J.R. Watson explained: “To have altered Somerville’s lines would have been in keeping with Wesley’s habit of appropriating images from other poems and using them to proclaim the gospel. Here the cries of the huntsmen and hounds become the sounds of the multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”

In the second edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Wesley made one minor change to the first line of the fifth stanza, which became “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.”

As clever as Wesley’s allusion to welkin rings might have been, it failed to resonate with some worshipers, including his colleague George Whitefield. In 1753, the same year Whitefield began construction on the Tabernacle church, he compiled his own hymnal, A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship. It included 21 hymns from the Wesleys, including this Christmas hymn, but with a significant alteration:

Hark! the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

Whitefield made other alterations as well, including the second stanza, lines 3–4, “Nature rise and worship Him, who is born at Bethlehem,” the fifth stanza, “Light and life around he brings,” the seventh stanza, “Fix in us thy heav’nly home,” the omission of stanzas eight and ten, and a change in the last line of stanza nine, “Work it in us by thy love.”

Whitefield was not the only one who felt compelled to tweak Wesley’s text. Another close colleague of the Wesleys, Martin Madan, had an important hand in shaping the text. Madan had been called into a life of ministry via the preaching of John Wesley, and he was godfather to Charles Wesley’s son Samuel. In 1760, he published A Collection of Psalms and Hymns, including Wesley’s Christmas hymn. Madan borrowed Whitefield’s opening lines but kept the rest of Wesley’s original wording, except in the second stanza, where he introduced the lines “With th’ angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

John Wesley chose not to include this hymn in the career-spanning Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780). A few years later, after being entreated to produce a smaller, more affordable collection, he published A Pocket Hymn Book, first in 1785, then greatly revised in 1787. For the revised edition, he added the Christmas hymn, but he decided to use Madan’s version, which by extension also included Whitefield’s opening lines. Therefore, the last official Wesleyan version of the hymn looked like this:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to their new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb;

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus our Immanuel here.

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wongs;

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed;
Bruise in us the serpent’s head:

Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp thine image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

The first stanza of the hymn is essentially a retelling of the story of the angels and the shepherds in Luke 2. The second stanza introduces several ideas. Christ is worshiped by the hosts of heaven, which is seen especially in the book of Revelation. Christ is everlasting, or eternal, an idea expressed in Hebrews 13:8 (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” ESV). The phrase “late in time” probably refers to the lengthy wait the Jews endured while anticipating their Messiah, and the long absence of any prophet in Israel. The virgin, of course, is Mary, the woman prophesied in Isaiah 7:14. The concept of God-made-flesh can be found in passages such as John 1:14 (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”), not too proud to be seen in human form among sinful people, as in Philippians 2:5–7.

In the third stanza, the name “Prince of Peace” comes from Isaiah 9:6. Both the title “Sun of Righteousness” and the image “Risen with healing in his wings” come from Malachi 4:2. The emphatic repetition of “Born . . .” outlines three reasons for Christ’s presence: (1) to conquer death, (2) to bring resurrection of the dead, and (3) to offer rebirth, the first two of which are described at length in 1 Corinthians 15, the last best expressed in John 3.

Another title, “Desire of nations,” is from Haggai 2:7 (especially in the KJV). The notion that Christ dwells in us, not just with us, is reflected in passages like Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”). The last six lines point back to Eden in various ways. “Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,” etc., refers to the Eden prophecy of Genesis 3:15. The remaining lines about exchanging the image of Adam for the image of Christ, with Christ as the “second Adam,” reflect the ideas found in 1 Corinthians 15:45–49.

The hymn in this form, written by Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield and Martin Madan, and canonized by John Wesley, is therefore rich with Scripture. Its endurance as a beloved Christmas tradition is well deserved and likely to last for generations to come.

Note: This post originally appears in Chris Fenner’s coedited book Amazing Love! How Can It Be: Studies on Hymns by Charles Wesley (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2020).

Charles Wesley Christmas Hymns John Wesley

Was Jesus Born on Christmas Day? If not, Shall We Observe It?

What is Christmas?

One dictionary defines it as “the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus . . . on December 25.” This is the definition many people know today. Many think Jesus was born on December 25. As one Christmas song indicates, “Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day.”  

Actually the word “Christmas” is a combination of two words—Christ and mass. Thus, literally it means the mass of Christ. Christmas was originally a celebration of a particular mass in honor of the birth of Christ. The word mass comes from the Latin word missa. Several years ago at the conclusion of the church service of the Roman Catholics, the following Latin expression would be pronounced: ite missa ist which means “Go, as it is dismissed,” or “Go, it is the dismissal.” So, literally missa (or mass in English) means “dismissal.” Therefore, etymologically Christmas means “the dismissal of Christ.” Of course when the Roman Catholics think of Christmas, they do not mean Christ’s dismissal but Christ’s birth. But is December 25 really the birthday of Jesus? Examining the history of Christmas will help us answer this question.

Where did Christmas originate?

Some historians believe Christmas goes back to the time of Constantine the Great. When this pagan Emperor was converted to Christianity in 312, he began tolerating and spreading Christianity in the Roman Empire. The Roman Christians then started celebrating Christmas. This celebration eventually took the place of the holiday of Saturnalia—a pagan festival in honor of Saturn, the ancient Roman god of agriculture. This pagan feast, celebrated on December 17, included the exchanging of gifts. In the course of time, this practice became associated with Christmas. Other scholars also tell us that December 25 was regarded as the birth date of the ancient pagan god Mithras. In A.D. 349, however, Pope Julius picked December 25 to be the official day for Christmas, possibly in order to replace the pagan celebration of the Sun god Mithras.

Despite the difficulty of tracing the origin of Christmas, what remains plain is that Christmas has a pagan origin and that December 25 is not really the birthday of Jesus. The Bible does not inform us of the exact date of Christ’s birth. In fact, Luke’s account about the shepherds being “out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” does not advance the idea that Jesus was born in December or in the winter (Luke 2:8). For the shepherds to stay out in the fields during the night in the winter would be unusual.    

Now, if the origin of Christmas is pagan, and if December 25 is not really the date of Christ’s birth, is it okay to celebrate Christmas? After all, the Bible does not command us to celebrate Christ’s birth. Tony Capoccia has a helpful answer to this question:

Christmas is not Christ’s birthday, nor are we ever commanded to honor or celebrate His birth. Yet our culture has chosen this as an annual holiday, and it becomes much like any other national holiday for the Christian. We do not sin by putting up Christmas trees, lights, buying presents, etc. We know the true meaning, and use this national celebration to share some truth about who Christ really is, and why His birth is significant to the human race. We are in no way honoring any pagan god by using the day or the props set apart for that. If a Christian chooses not to celebrate Christmas then that is fine, but if they do, it is also fine.

I like what Tony Capoccia mentions at the end of this quote. Those who choose not to observe Christmas Day should learn to disagree respectfully with those who, for instance, hold special services in observance of Christmas Day. Conversely, those who observe this holiday should also learn to respect the conviction of those who do not celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is not holy but helpful, as it naturally creates an occasion for Christians to share the gospel with the unbelievers. In his article “Not Holy; But Helpful: Thoughts on the Church Calendar,” Daniel Hyde puts it this way, “Advent/Christmas and Easter especially provide an opportunity for the church to engage in evangelism. Since in the United States, these times of the year are cultural ‘holidays,’ we have a built-in opportunity to speak the truth of the Word into the hearts and minds of those who are already thinking about those days.”

Hyde also notes, “while removing all ‘holy’ days besides the Lord’s Day, the magisterial Reformers [not all of them, of course] retained what they called the ‘evangelical feast days.’ Instead of viewing these days as a part of the Christian’s accomplishment of his or her salvation, they viewed celebrating these days as a celebration of the salvation which Christ had already accomplished for them in his Incarnation (Christmas), death (Good Friday), resurrection (Easter), ascending to the Father (Ascension), and giving of his Spirit (Pentecost). They were seen as invaluable times to celebrate Christ and his Gospel.”   

What does the Bible teach about the birth of Christ?

The Bible is silent about the date of Christ’s birth but not about the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:18 proclaims, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Let me give you two basic truths about the birth of Jesus.

First, the birth of Jesus focuses on the person of Christ. The message of the angels to Mary, to Joseph, and even to the shepherds was all about Jesus (Matt. 1:20–21; Luke 1:28–33; 2:8–14). Sadly, some who celebrate Christmas do not focus on Christ but on Christmas decorations such as Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and other Christmas icons. Their eyes are fixed on the earthly gifts, rather than on the heavenly gift of eternal life. Some children are even more excited to hear about the fabricated Santa Clause than Jesus Christ. If you choose to observe Christmas, make sure that you center your celebration on Christ.

Second, the birth of Jesus focuses on the purpose of His coming into the world. Whenever the angels made an announcement about Christ’s birth, they always included the purpose for which Jesus was born. In Matthew 1:21 an angel of the Lord speaks to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was born to save sinners. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). As you celebrate Christmas, think of why Jesus was born.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”    


An Interview with Joel R. Beeke about his Reformed Systematic Theology: Man and Christ, Volume 2

My friend and mentor, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, came to visit us and generously gave me a copy of his brand new co-authored book, Reformed Systematic Theology: Man and Christ, Volume 2. Many books have been written on the subject, so I asked him how his book is unique to others. Watch the video to listen to his answer:

This interview can also be watched here on my Facebook page.

You can purchase the book from Reformation Heritage Books.


A Review of “A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin”

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

Before I present my review, I want to first thank David Charles and Rob Ventura, who out of their love and esteem, took the time to coedit a festschrift for Albert Martin. A few years ago my wife and I had the privilege of having Al and his wife Dorothy in our house for fellowship and dessert. Like numerous others, I have greatly benefited from Pastor Martin’s ministry, especially from his lectures and sermons. In fact, even today I still use his excellent four-part series on marriage for couples I do premarital counseling with. And I always get good feedback from the couple I counsel regarding Al Martin’s unique gift to communicate God’s truths in a clear and practical way. He gave this series probably about forty years ago but it is still relevant today. I also appreciate his approachableness. When one time I needed his advice, he did not hesitate to help me. So I’m glad David and Rob have coedited A Workman Not Ashamed as a tribute for the man whose ministry has been a blessing to me.

Taken from 2 Timothy 2:15, the book’s title fittingly describes Martin as a workman of God, not ashamed to rightly divide the word of truth. The volume begins with a fine biographical sketch of Pastor Martin penned by John Reuther who has known him for more than forty years. In this memoir, my favorite part of the book, Reuther tells a story of how Westminster Theological Seminary professor John Murray (1898–1975) admired Martin as a preacher. When Murray was invited to speak for three evening services at the 1967 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference, he said to the inviter, “If Al Martin is to be there I really think he should be asked to take the three evening services you propose for me. He is one of the ablest and moving preachers I have ever heard. In recent years I have not heard his equal. My memory of preachers goes back sixty years. So, when I say he is one of the ablest, this is an assessment that includes very memorable preachers of the past and present.” Reuther also highlights Al Martin’s pastoral heart. Many may not know in 1976 Geneva College, the official denominational college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, conferred on Pastor Martin the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) in recognition of his considerable contribution to the building up of Christ’s Church through his teaching and preaching ministry. Although he accepted the degree, to retain his identity as Pastor Martin (as he is affectionately known by many), he never used the D.D. title. Here’s a man of God who would rather be known as a pastor than a doctor.

The rest of the book is a collection of essays written by various authors in honor of Al Martin.

Samuel Waldron defends the ministry of preaching and shows how Reformed preaching is biblical.  He provides ten characteristics of this preaching, derived from his study of Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14–36).

Conrad Mbewe argues that the training of men for the pastoral ministry should not be separated from the work of the local church and should not simply be left to the care of seminary teachers. He thus urges pastors to mentor future pastors in the context of local churches.

Richard Barcellos critically analyzes Ephesians 4:11–16 (particularly verse 12), asserting how this passage is integral in understanding the importance of the Christian ministry in the church. His study demonstrates how believers mature under a faithful ministry of a local church through public worship, preaching, and administration of the sacraments. 

Alan Dunn shares his perspective on suffering, persecution, and martyrdom. For instance, he views suffering not simply as a part of gospel ministry but also as a parade of the gospel. That is, suffering in itself serves as a witness of the gospel. He illustrates this point using the life of the Apostle Paul who suffered for proclaiming the gospel. Yet Paul saw his suffering not just as a result of gospel proclamation but also as a proclamation of the gospel itself.

Jim Savastio appeals to his fellow pastors to “shepherd the flock of God which is among” them (1 Pet. 5:2). To put it in another way, a pastor is especially called to faithfully serve the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made him an overseer (not another flock but his own flock). To obey the mandate of 1 Peter 5:2, according to Savastio, a minister must know the Bible and his own congregation.   

D. Scott Meadows expounds Galatians 2:15–19, which clearly teaches how sinners can only be justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Meadows calls this doctrine “the one true gospel of gracious justification.”

Rob Ventura emphasizes the preachers’ absolute need of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, without which all their pulpit labors are in vain. Ventura then pleads with his fellow pastors to pray with John Calvin, “Come, Holy Spirit, come,” as they stand behind the pulpit and preach God’s Word.

Michael Haykin gives an overview of the life, thought, and spirituality of English Calvinistic Baptist William Kiffen (1616–1701), an important figure in the emergence of the Particular Baptist movement. He was a signatory of the First London Baptist Confession (1644), which was eventually replaced by the Second London Baptist Confession (1677), later known as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

Jeffrey Riddle examines the proper administration and administrators of baptism. He contends that “baptism should only be administered within the context of the gathered local church and that baptism should only be properly administered by the church’s officers.”

Scott Aniol studies the Reformed regulative principle of worship from a historical point of view, demonstrating how early English Baptists applied this principle to baptism, the Lord’s Supper, congregational singing, and church polity. He thinks that historically Baptists were more consistent than their Reformed counterparts in the application of the regulative principle. “This is not to say,” he admits, “Baptists were always consistent in their application of the regulative principle.”

Jeffrey Waddington, the only non-Baptist contributor, considers Geerhardus Vos’s “deeper Protestant conception” and its implications to preaching. Waddington presents how preaching is vital to God’s relation to Adam and Eve before and after the fall. As the post-fall means, preaching is an instrument used by the Holy Spirit to restore sinners back to God.

The editors also attach John Gill’s The Duty of a Pastor to his People, a sermon based on 2 Timothy 4:16. Gill delivered this message in 1734 at the ordination of George Braithwaite. The editors append this work “as an encouragement to pastoral faithfulness and as witness that Albert N. Martin stood in the broad stream of Particular Baptist convictions and practice.”

The book uniquely ends with “a collage of counsel” or what may be regarded as Pastor Martin’s proverbs. Here are some of his nuggets of wisdom:

  • “The mortification of sin is a lifelong battle.”
  • When tempted to make a foolish decision, Martin would say: “Don’t be stupid, Albert! Don’t be stupid, Albert!”
  • As you preach, always pray for “copious measures of the Spirit” to be poured upon you.
  • “We must do what is biblical and leave the consequences to God.”
  • “God never gives to any man specific responsibilities as a minster to excuse him from any general responsibility as a Christian man.”
  • “The shadow of God’s throne is always over our pulpits.”

Although I don’t agree with every teaching contained in the book (such as the Baptists’ view of baptism and their application of the Reformed principle of worship to church polity), I highly recommend this work, especially to pastors and seminary students.

And if you only have time to read one chapter, I suggest you read Reuther’s priceless biographical sketch of Martin. Therein you will meet a man who, by God’s grace, can be your model in the ministry. He is not perfect but you can follow his examples, insofar as he follows Christ’s examples. I hope Reuther will consider expanding his chapter into a full biography.

I wish though the editors included a chapter on the pastor as a husband and father. The absence of this chapter may give the impression that these aspects of the minister’s life are not as important as his pastoral duties. In fact, the pastor’s family is his priority over his ministry (1 Tim 3:4–5). If he neglects his family, his congregation will suffer eventually. This is, of course, Pastor Martin’s philosophy in the ministry. Excepting this comment, A Workman Not Ashamed deserves to be added to the list of required readings for pastoral theology.

Book Review

The Reformed Theology of Grace and Its Influence on Puritan Spirituality

The Reformed theology of grace, as articulated in the Canons of Dort, informed and influenced the spirituality of the Puritans. These Canons of Dort, also called the Five Articles against the Remonstrants, consist of doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618–19 against the Five Articles of the Remonstrants (conditional election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity of man, resistible grace, and the possibility of lapsing from grace). In response to these five articles, the delegates at the Synod of Dort issued what came to be known as the five points of Calvinism or doctrines of grace (unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). These doctrines highlight the sovereign and gracious work of God in salvation (see The Doctrines of Grace by Boice and Ryken).

For the Reformed, grace is a favor that God sovereignly and freely bestows on those who do not deserve it; in fact, they deserve the exact opposite. Grace rests on God’s eternal election without foreseen faith, its ground is the person and finished work of Christ, and its efficient cause is the Holy Spirit. With this grace, man is given the ability to repent and believe. And as a recipient of God’s unwavering favor, man will persevere until the end. While there is significant diversity among the Puritan heirs of this Reformed view of grace (for instance, there were strong Calvinists like Thomas Goodwin, moderate Calvinists like Richard Baxter, and even Arminian Calvinists like John Goodwin), these doctrines of grace are the broad lines of the Puritan understanding of grace, which impacted their spirituality in various ways. What follows are at least five effects that the Reformed theology of grace had on Puritan spirituality in general.

First, with the Reformed emphasis on the unconditional election and sovereign giving of grace, Puritan spirituality flowed from God’s work and not the product of mere human effort. On the flip side, it saw the human depravity that not only did not merit God’s favor but merited his condemnation. That the Puritans adopted the Calvinistic view on depravity and grace is clear in the Westminster Confession, in which the Puritan divines maintain that man by his fall has totally lost his ability to choose any spiritual good for his salvation. Their emphasis on total depravity underlined the necessity of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. Hence, as Gleason and Kapic have noted, the spirituality of the Puritans was “predominantly Augustinian” in its emphasis on human depravity and sovereign grace (see their The Devoted Life). Yet this Reformed emphasis on election, depravity, and grace did not stop the Puritans from freely and sincerely offering the gospel to all sinners. In their preaching and writing they called sinners to repentance and faith (see, for instance, John Bunyan’s Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ).

Second, the spirituality of the Puritans was shaped by their understanding of grace as grounded in the person and finished work of Christ. Because Christ is the basis of grace, union and communion with him is often foregrounded, and meditating on Christ is one way this manifests in spirituality. Thus, the Puritans wrote lengthy meditations on Christ. Take, for example, Samuel Rutherford’s collection of letters in The Loveliness of Christ and Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ in Heaven toward Sinners on Earth. Likewise, with this view of grace, the Puritans avoided exalting excessively the physical humanity of the Savior, as seen in certain strains of Roman Catholicism with its emphasis on the Eucharist. Instead the Puritans recognized it was Christ himself who worked salvation and thus whom the heart must love and adore.

Third, Puritan spirituality viewed the Holy Spirit’s work in the soul as the effectual cause of grace. Despite our deadness in sin, the Spirit regenerated us, planting the seed out of which a life of grace would bloom. Indeed, the need for regeneration by the Spirit became a dominant theme in Puritan spirituality. To illustrate this, Thomas Goodwin, author of The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation, once said that at regeneration the Spirit quickened, enabled, and inclined the soul so as to believe and repent. The Puritans believed that all spirituality resulted from the Spirit’s prior work in the soul. It is immediately upon regeneration that man becomes a cooperator with the Spirit, yet this is always in response to the Spirit’s work. Thus, the Puritans stressed the Spirit’s role not only in conversion but also in sanctification. To give an example, they emphasized the role of the Spirit in prayer, realizing that apart from the Spirit we cannot pray in such a way pleasing to God (see Bunyan’s I Will Pray with the Spirit).

Fourth, the Reformed emphasis on the Father’s electing work, Christ’s redeeming work, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work is another hallmark of Puritan spirituality. This trinitarian emphasis is clearly seen in John Owen’s Communion with God, a work that is not really about prayer but about the doctrine of the Trinity. Owen teaches the Christian that a life of spirituality is about communing with each one of the members of the Trinity in the proper way, each one being the object of our adoration, affection, and prayer. As Rutherford expressed it, “I do not know which person of the trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them and I need them all.”

Finally, and closely related to the emphasis on God’s sovereign, gracious, and definitive work, is the fact that man can be assured of his faith and that he will persevere until the end by God’s preserving grace. The Puritans spent a lot of time on assurance of faith, on its objective grounds and its subjective marks. They attempted to balance a firm trust in what God has done and is doing, without becoming presumptuous, while also identifying the subjective marks without causing those subjective feelings in the soul to simply become the reason for assurance of faith. For instance, according to Joel Beeke in his book Living for God’s Glory, the delegates at the Synod of Dort recognized that Arminian theology threatened the believer’s eternal security and assurance in God’s sovereign grace. Why? Because according to the Remonstrants you can lose your salvation. By understanding the Reformed theology of grace, the Puritans could enjoy assurance of faith because they knew that God would preserve them for eternity.

Sadly, some historians such as David Bebbington think that the Puritans held the position that assurance is rare. This, Bebbington argues, is in contrast to the evangelical belief which maintains that assurance is normal (see his Evangelicalism on Modern Britain). Scholars such as Beeke and Michael Haykin have challenged Bebbington’s view and convincingly argue that the Puritans practiced and taught assurance of faith (see Beeke’s Quest for Full Assurance and Haykin’s coedited book The Advent of Evangelicalism). That the Puritans preached and taught assurance of salvation is clear. For example, Baxter exhorted his congregation not to sit down without assurance, meaning they should not rest until they were assured of God’s saving grace in their lives. Thomas Brooks expressed his assurance of faith this way: “I am wholly His . . . I am eternally His.” “To all who love Christ sincerely,” said William Pinke, “God presently gives an everlasting assurance of salvation.”

Puritan Puritan piety Reformed Theology Spirituality

Ten Directions for Christian Voters

On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, US citizens will exercise their right to vote for who they want to be president. Since the primary two parties in the US are Democratic and Republican, the focus of the election is on Joe Biden (Democratic) and Donald Trump (Republican). But there are other nominees, namely, Joe Jorgensen (Libertarian) and Howie Hawkins (Green). My objective in this post is to provide ten basic guidelines for my fellow Christians as they cast their ballots on November 3.

1. Make God’s Word your primary voting guide. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 110:105).

2. Pray before casting your vote.  Ask the Lord first for guidance as you vote. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him…” (Prov. 3:5–6). Pray also for the candidates even the ones whom you do not like. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1–2).

3. Vote for a candidate who upholds Christian principles. For instance, are his/her views on important moral, social, economic, and health issues biblical?

a. Religious freedom. Will the candidate hinder you from exercising your faith in Jesus Christ, or will he/she protect your liberty as a Christian? 

b. Sanctity of human life. Will the candidate promote abortion, or will he/she fight for the sacredness of life in the womb?

c. Marriage. Will the candidate endorse (so-called) “same-sex marriage,” or will he/she uphold the biblical definition of marriage—a union between one man and one woman only?

d. Racial injustice. Will the candidate treat every life, regardless of color or race, with equal importance, as created in God’s image?

e. Violence. Will the candidate be committed to establish a peaceful and orderly society?

f. Economic crisis. Will the candidate promote biblical work ethics?  “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28).

g. Medical Care. Will the candidate give importance (as the Bible does) to good physical, mental, and spiritual health (1 Tim. 4:8; 3 John 2)? How will he/she address the issues surrounding COVID-19?   

Of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive but just a sample of some moral, social, economic, and health questions we need to ask ourselves as we consider a candidate. Remember, as followers of Christ, we must not “give approval to those who practice” what God has declared to be morally evil (Rom. 1:32).

4. Vote for a candidate who is able to lead our country with justice. Remember that you are not voting for a pastor, but for a president. The candidate might not be exactly on the same page as you are theologically, but if he/she is committed to a fair and righteous judicial system, then you might want to consider voting for this candidate.   

5. Vote for a candidate who has already demonstrated his/her ability to lead well. Look at the candidate’s track record and ask these questions: What did he/she do to improve our economy, stop crime, and maintain peace and order in our land? Did the candidate abuse his/her political power to serve his/her own interest? Was he/she immoral, corrupt, dishonest, or greedy?  

6. Cast your ballot in good conscience. Admittedly, it can be challenging to find a candidate who is both gifted in leadership and righteous in character. That’s why, before making a final decision, seek wisdom from God.

7. Recognize that from eternity past God has already ordained our next political leader. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). Ultimately, it is God—not the people—who appoints a leader (Gen. 45:8). We are only God’s instruments in bringing about his eternal plan. Be willing, therefore, to submit humbly to God’s sovereign will, knowing that his will is always for our good and for his glory.      

8. If the candidate who wins is immoral, remember that God is able to use even wicked leaders to accomplish his eternal plan (Rom. 13:1–7). Of course, this does not give us permission to vote for bad candidates! However, it should remind us that our greatest hope does not lie with any earthly leader, but with our heavenly Father, who is divinely able to overcome evil for good. Indeed, God in his providence can even use a bad ruler as his “servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4).

9. Never forget that God is causing all things—including the upcoming election—to work together for the good of his people, conforming them more fully to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28–29). Whatever the outcome of the election may be, one thing is certain: God will use this election for our sanctification. We are concerned about peace and prosperity, but God is concerned about our piety and his eternal glory. 

10. Finally, respect those who oppose your political position. Even among Christians, there are varying opinions regarding who should be elected to leadership. In fact, some even believe that Christians should not vote at all for “the lesser of two evils,” for lesser evil is still evil. So, learn to agree to disagree, or better yet, to disagree with kindness. And even if your preferred candidate does not win, you are still to honor the candidate who is elected. You must also obey your new leader, unless he/she instructs you to do something that would require you to disobey God. As Christians, our greatest allegiance is to God. As Scripture exhorts us to do, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  


“Well, I want to believe, but I can’t.”

“He who does not believe God has made Him a liar: When we refuse to believe on Jesus, we reject the testimony God has given of His Son. Therefore, we call God a liar with our unbelief” (1 John 5:10).

Quoting Charles Spurgeon heavily, David Guzik, known for his verse by verse Bible commentary, writes the following comments on the above text:

John here exposes the great sin of unbelief. Most everyone who refuses to believe God (in the full sense of the word believe) doesn’t intend to call God a liar. But they do it nonetheless. “The great sin of not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is often spoken of very lightly and in a very trifling spirit, as though it were scarcely any sin at all; yet, according to my text, and, indeed, according to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, unbelief is the giving of God the lie, and what can be worse?” (Spurgeon)

What if one says, “Well, I want to believe, but I can’t.” Spurgeon answers such a one: “Hearken, O unbeliever, you have said, ‘I cannot believe,’ but it would be more honest if you had said, ‘I will not believe.’ The mischief lies there. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. It is a disease, but it is also a crime: it is a terrible source of misery to you, but it is justly so, for it is an atrocious offense against the God of truth.”

What if one says, “Well, I’m trying to believe, and I’ll keep on trying.” Spurgeon speaks to this heart: “Did I not hear some one say, ‘Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.’ Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, ‘In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.’ What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, ‘I have been trying to believe in God,’ in reality says just that with regard to the Most High… The talk about trying to believe is a mere pretence.

But whether pretence or no, let me remind you that there is no text in the Bible which says, ‘Try and believe,’ but it says ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He is the Son of God, he has proved it by his miracles, he died to save sinners, therefore trust him; he deserves implicit trust and child-like confidence. Will you refuse him these? Then you have maligned his character and given him the lie.”

Faith Unbelief

8 Reflections on Racism and Riots

I’m neither black nor white. I’m brown, or Asian American. And I’m a Christian; therefore, I will address racism and rioting from a biblical point of view. Here are my thoughts on these issues:

1) There’s only one race on earth and that is Adam’s race. Regardless of your skin color, your origin can be traced back to Adam (Genesis 1 & 2). We should therefore view ourselves as belonging to the same Adamic race. And having the same blood, we should love, and not hate, each other.

2) Since we have the same race, you can’t say that your race is better than other races. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to think that your race is superior to other races, since there’s only one race. Thus, to be a racist is inconsistent with the Bible. I think we see racism at its worst in the genocide of approximately six million Jews during Hitler’s time. Hitler thought that the Jews were an inferior group of people, “fit for enslavement, or even extermination.”

3) Whether you’re black, brown, red, white, or yellow, your life matters to God because He created you in His image (Genesis 1:26–27). So my life matters not because I’m brown but because I bear God’s image. Black lives matter not because of their color but because they are made in God’s image.

4) Since every life is created in God’s image, all lives (black, brown, red, white, and yellow) are equal. We should therefore treat every life with equal importance. George Floyd’s life was as important as the lives of those Nigerian Christians brutally murdered by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram.

According to, “350 Nigerian Christians were massacred in the first two months of 2020…Nigeria has become a killing field of defenseless Christians. Reliable sources show that between 11,500 and 12,000 Christians have been massacred since June 2015 when the Buhari Government of Nigeria came to power. Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen accounted for 7,400 murders of Christians. Boko Haram committed 4000 killings of Christians.”

Imagine since 2015 about 12,000 black lives were murdered in Nigeria! Right now there are demonstrations around the world, including England, Germany, and Canada, against the murder of George Floyd. Yet I can’t help but wonder why we also don’t hear an outcry regarding the mass killing of black lives in Nigeria? Is it because Nigerian lives are not as important as the lives of those living in the US? I’m not minimizing the horrible murder of Floyd, nor am I saying that police brutality should not be peacefully protested. However, if we really believe that all lives matter, we should treat every single life with equal worth. We should not pick and choose what life we want to value.

5) Since God’s image is sacred and since every life is made in God’s image, every life is not only important and equal, but also sacred. The murder of George Floyd was evil because it violated the sacredness of his life (Genesis 9:6). And the sacredness of one’s life doesn’t depend on who violates it. Floyd’s life was sacred not because it was violated by a white police officer. Even if he was murdered by a black police officer, his life was still sacred.

Sadly, if a black life was killed by another black person, or if a white life was killed by a black person, we don’t see the same degree of protest, as if black lives only matter when they are killed by a white person. When was the last time you heard a strong demonstration because a black man was killed by a black police officer? Every life matters because every life is sacred; and thus, I plead with the Black Lives Matter movement that they also protest against the murder of unborn innocent babies in the wombs of every black woman. The lives of these aborted unborn babies were as sacred as George Floyd’s life.

According to Grand Rapids Right to Life, “Abortion is not just a woman’s issue.  It’s a human rights issue.…Abortion is the number one killer of black lives in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abortion kills more black people than HIV, homicide, diabetes, accident, cancer, and heart disease … combined.”

6) God has gifted us in the US with the First Amendment, which guarantees “the freedom of speech” and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Constitutionally, you have all the right to protest against the injustice done to George Floyd. But according to the First Amendment, you must to do so “peaceably.” Therefore, you have no right to loot, hurt police officers and set their vehicles on fire, vandalize and ruin buildings. This is not your right! After all, what does looting have to do with the murder of Floyd? Do you think it will help solve the issue? The injustice done to Floyd does not license you to do lawlessness. My heart was grieved with what happened to Floyd but my heart was equally grieved with the riots caused by lawless protesters.

God says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21).

7) Racism is still very much alive in our country. We can either ignore this problem and pretend it doesn’t exist, or face and address it. Fellow Christians, we should deal with the issue of racism with the same equal force that we give to the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. To my fellow pastors, we should also be preaching against the sin of racism.

8) The only remedy for racism is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Racism says, “I’m ethnically superior to you.” The gospel says, “We equally matter before God because both of us are created in His image.” Racism violates the sanctity of life. The gospel treats every life as sacred. Racism begets hatred and violence. The gospel begets love and peace. Racism divides. The gospel brings reconciliation not only between you and God but also between you and your enemies. Racism harms and kills. The gospel heals and gives everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Racism resents. The gospel forgives.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

What we therefore desperately need today in our country is the gospel.

8 Reflections on Racism & Riots by Brian G. Najapfour


Abortion Anger Favoritism Gospel Homosexuality Racism