The discovering and the importance of Scripture at the Reformation – Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone

Text 2 Timothy 3 Date 24 11 17 Place Port Harourt, Nigeria

As you are aware it is 500 years ago this year that a German monk called Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church of the castle of Wittenberg, Germany, initiating a debate that led eventually to massive changes that transformed the face of Europe and beyond.

What was it all about? There are many helpful ways of talking about it but often today things have been explained in terms of five solas or five alones, These five
solas – sola scriptura, sola christus, sola gratia, sola fide and soli deo gloria (Scripture alone, Christ alone, Faith alone, grace alone, the glory of God lone) are vital doctrines or teachings and in this session I want us to consider the most significant and foundational of them - Sola scriptura or Scripture alone, the Bible alone.

1. Know that the Bible is authoritative and sufficient

When we talk about Scripture alone we are really talking about the fact that Scripture is authoritative and that it is sufficient. It is enough, not enough for everything we ever need to know about anything but enough for salvation and the Christian life. All we need to know for that is here. The Bible contains all the words God intended for his people – everything we need for salvation and for trusting and obeying him.
See 2 Timothy 3:15-17 the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus … God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We are not to take away from Scripture or add to it. It is enough.
In the 1689 Baptist Confession we read near the beginning (1/6)

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2. Scripture alone – know your Reformation history

It is an essential thing for us to believe and yet the principle is constantly under attack. All Christians should have a basic understanding of this doctrine and be able to defend it.
It has been said that while “the material issue of the Reformation concerned the debate over justification by faith alone, the formal issue (the structure in which the whole debate ensued) was the issue of final authority - who or what speaks for God?”
Luther had two debates with the leading Roman Catholic theologians of his day (Cardinal Cajetan and Johan Eck). As Cajetan and Eck debated the subject of justification, they pointed out that Luther's views differed significantly from the official position of the Church. For the Roman Catholic Church, both previous Church councils and declarations by the Pope were binding on all those within the Church. They were able to demonstrate that Luther's view did not agree with various Church Councils or the what the Pope himself held.
Many thought Luther arrogant and pompous. Who did he think he was to presume that he knew more than Church Councils or the Pope in Rome? But when they asked him if he stood against Pope and Councils he had to admit that he did. He believed that Church Councils could make mistakes and so could the Pope himself. He is not infallible – even when sat on his throne. This was considered to be a matter of concern and even a blasphemous view. They realised Luther was was taking the same view as the Bohemian John Hus who had been burned at the stake as a heretic a hundred years before.
Luther would also soon be excommunicated and a price put on his head. In 1521 a final attempt was made to resolve the situation at an Imperial Diet (or Parliament) convened in the German town of Worms and presided over by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Luther was summoned and promised a safe passage of conduct, a guarantee that he would not be arrested or killed.
His inquisitor demanded an answer:
"I ask you, Martin answer candidly and without horns - do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"
Luther responded with the immortal words:
"Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand! I can do no other. God help me! Amen."
Notice especially my conscience is held captive by the word of God
. For Luther, God's words were binding and had an authority far beyond the respected words of Church leaders or even Popes.
On his way home from Worms Luther was kidnapped – not by enemies but by friends who took him to the Wartburg Castle where he wad hidden away for some time. There he began to translate the Bible into German.
What do we mean when we say by Scripture alone? Luther's point was that the
only written source in this world that has the authority to bind the conscience of a person is the Bible alone.
Luther had enormous respect for the insight, wisdom and teaching of the great theologians of the past. The Creeds and Confessions of Faith were not at all to be despised. He knew that it really would be arrogant to simply ignore the great teachers God had sent his people down the years. Yet he and the Reformers believed that no written document of men, no confession of faith, no creedal statement and no Council declaration had authority to bind the conscience. The only person with such authority is God himself, and so only his Word carries that authority.
It is often pointed out (in the words of Dr. James White) that this
"does not mean that the Reformers rejected everything that every Christian in earlier ages has said: indeed, they often cited the early Christians as supporters of their own positions. However, they recognised that those earlier believers were not inspired, were not inerrant, and, in fact, quite often made errors in their judgements and beliefs, just as people do today. The only infallible rule of faith, they argued, is found in the pages of Holy Writ."
The matter of Scripture alone then is a question of authority, more specifically whether God's authority is invested in a book (the Bible) or in an institution (the church).
The Protestant Reformers believed in the Scriptures alone. The Roman Church took more of a Sola Ecclesia
(by the Church Alone) view. What the Roman Catholic Church says to be true, is true because the Church speaks with infallibility and cannot possibly be wrong. Romanists argue that the church would not even have had the Bible if church councils had not defined what the Bible actually is. The reasoning went like this: if the Church is the Institution that declares the Bible to be the Bible, does that not indicate that the Church would have at least the same authority as the Bible, or even more?
Luther and Calvin responded to this by reminding Rome that the key word the Church used, when it defined the Bible, was the Latin word Recipimus
, "we receive." The Church declared "we receive these books as sacred Scripture." This is a humble acknowledgement of submission to the authority of the Bible.


3. Be warned against other suggested authorities

There is a strong anti-authoritarian attitude in society today, what someone has called the ‘culture of contempt’. However, we all look to some authority or other – whether it is to ourselves as an autonomous authority or to others as an authority outside of us. All who claim to be Christians would say that they find their authority in Christ but how does that work out?
Prima scriptura
, the Bible first, takes the view that besides the Bible there are other guides for what a believer should believe and do.
1. Roman Catholicism looks not only to the Bible but also the magisterium – tradition, the Pope, etc.
2. Liberalism looks traditionally not to the Bible but more to reason and to the conscience.
3. The Charismatic movement looks increasingly to the authority of experience.
4. Traditional Anglicans look to Scripture, tradition and reason combined. Methodists would add experience as a fourth source of authority.
5. The cults very often put their own books on a par with Scripture such as the Book of Mormon
or Mary Baker Eddy’s Key to the Scriptures or the JWs more subtly with their Watchtower Publications.
Often those who argue for secondary sources of authority will say that these are subject to Scripture so that if there is a conflict the Bible souls still rule. In practice that is often not how it works.
Many argue that Sola Scriptura
is circular reasoning but the answer is to take two Bibles or put it this way: the Bible must interpret itself. We can only believe what we legitimately glean from there.
James White (The Roman Catholic Controversy)
provides a helpful guide to the subject by outlining both what the teaching means, and what it does not mean.


4. Understand what by Scripture alone does not mean

1. It is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, a manual on governmental procedures or a catalogue of car engine parts. The Bible does not claim to give us every bit of knowledge that we could ever obtain.
2. It is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalogue of all religious knowledge. The Bible itself asserts that it is not exhaustive in detail (John 21:25). It is obvious that the Bible does not have to be exhaustive to be sufficient as our source of divine truth.
3. It is not a denial of the authority of the church to teach God's truth.
4. It is not a denial that the Word of God has, at times, been spoken. Rather, it refers to the Scriptures as serving the Church as God's final and full revelation.
5. It does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of Church "tradition." There are some traditions that are God-honouring and useful in the Church. By Scripture alone simply means that any tradition, no matter how ancient or venerable it might seem, must be tested by a higher authority, and that higher authority is the Bible.
6. It is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.

5. Understand what by Scripture alone is
1. Simply stated the teaching says that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the infallible rule of faith for the church.
2. Everything you need to believe to be a Christian is found in the Bible and nowhere else. This is not to say that the necessary beliefs of the faith could not be summarised in a shorter form. However, there is no necessary belief, doctrine, dogma absolutely required of a person for entrance into the kingdom of heaven that is not found in the Bible.
3. Anything not found in the Bible, either directly or by necessary implication, is not binding on any Christian.
4. Scripture reveals all that is necessary for salvation.
5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture (Matthew 15:1-9). There can be no understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture apart from an understanding of the true origin and the resulting nature of Scripture. The Reformers had the highest view of the Bible, and therefore had a solid foundation on which to stand in defending the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

6. Note the practical implications
Wayne Grudem points out some of the practical implications of this doctrine:
1. It is encouraging to realise that everything God wants us to do or think is here in the Bible. We need look nowhere else.
2. We must add nothing to Scripture. We must not consider any other writing as equal to it.
3. We must add nothing to Scripture. So even if people claim to have revelations from God we must never think of them as being on the same level as Scripture. What someone felt or dreamt doesn't matter.
4. We are obliged to believe only what Scripture teaches not what anyone else teaches. Spurgeon ‘If God teaches it, it is enough. If it is not in the Word, away with it! But if it be in the Word, whether agreeable or disagreeable, systematic or disorderly, I believe it.’
5. Nothing is forbidden us except what the Bible itself forbids as sin either directly or by implication.
6. Nothing is required of us except what the Bible itself requires of us either directly or by implication.
7. We should emphasise what Scripture emphasises. If Scripture is silent on a thing we must be too. Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.


How the Reformation affected England then, a lesson for Nigerian churches today

No Text Time 23 11 17 Place Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Our second message is on how the Reformation affected England in days gone by and what lessons there are perhaps for Nigerian churches today.
There are two obvious difficulties in speaking to you on the Reformation in England. First, it was no overnight thing but something that occurred over many years, 150 and more, a period of many vicissitudes. The second difficulty is that it had both a political and a spiritual aspect.
As you know, the Reformation began in continental Europe with Luther. Henry VIII was King at the time, having become King in 1509. He reacted against Luther at first writing in support of the traditional seven sacraments for which the Pope made him Fidei Defensor Defender of the Faith, in 1521, a title still used by English Monarchs today.
Many in England were attracted to Reformation teaching and eventually Henry himself was won over to some extent, mainly for political reasons. In 1533 Thomas Cranmer secured for Henry the annulment of his marriage to Spanish Queen, Catherine of Aragon, enabling him to be lawfully married to Anne Boleyn. Following his excommunication by the Pope Henry became Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1534. The dissolution of the monasteries followed, undoubtedly from mixed motives, a major blow to Romanism in England. It was in Henry's time that, from 1539, English Bibles were first placed in all the parish churches. This Great Bible, the work of Myles Coverdale (1488-1569) relied heavily on the work of William Tyndale.
Henry's successor, his son Edward VI, received a thoroughly Protestant education and under his kingship even more thoroughgoing Protestant reforms were undertaken. Sadly, he died while still young and was succeeded by his sister Mary, who sought to reverse all his reforms. She put hundreds of Protestants to death, including Thomas Cranmer.
Mary thankfully reigned only six years. Elizabeth I, the next monarch, sought to steer a middle course, not Romanist and not Puritan either. Her successor, Scotsman James I, followed a similar line. He is the King James of the King James Version published in his reign in 1611.
Then in 1625 Charles I became King. His Archbishop, William Laud (1573-1645) sought to take the Church back in a more Romeward direction. The country was soon plunged into civil war, which came to an end when Charles was executed in January 1649. Britain was then a Republic for some years under the able leadership of Protector Oliver Cromwell, a godly man and a true Protestant.
However, following Cromwell's death in 1558, and the failure of his son Richard to give adequate leadership, the decision was taken to recall Charles' son, who became Charles II and reigned 1660-1685. An immoral man, he became a Roman Catholic on his deathbed. His brother James II, who succeeded him was also Roman Catholic but was succeeded in 1689 by William and Mary. Ever since, at least in theory, British monarchs have been Protestant.
You see how things changed then – Roman Catholic then more Protestant under Henry, increasingly Protestant under Edward before reverting back to the bad old days of Catholicism under Mary. Elizabeth and James tried to maintain a moderately Protestant line but things began to head in a more Romeward direction under Charles I who was removed from power to make way for the most Protestant period in England's history. Under Cromwell horse racing, cock fighting, bear baiting, stage plays, Christmas and many other things were banned. By 1558 people were reacting against this and with the Restoration of the monarchy from 1660 it was full speed toward Rome again until the so called Glorious Revolution of 1689 that secured a Protestant succession to the throne and a measure of toleration for those outside the Church of England.
That is the brief version of a long and potentially difficult to follow history. To make it easier I want to highlight a series of publications that appeared in these years in order to give you some idea of the positive things that happened in England and hopefully providing you with some pointers in the right direction for reformation in Nigerian churches today.
1. The Translation of the Bible by William Tyndale 1526-1537
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was born in Gloucestershire. He gained a BA (1512) and MA (1515) from Oxford. Godly and a gifted linguist, he became proficient in several ancient and modern languages. From 1517 to 1521 he was in Cambridge, where Erasmus had taught some years before but then became a chaplain back in Gloucestershire in the home of a Sir John Walsh. His Lutheran views got him into trouble with the church authorities. Shortly after this he is recorded as falling into an argument with a learned but blasphemous cleric to whom he famously said “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
In 1523 he returned to London seeking support for translating the Bible from the original languages into English. Bishop Tunstall, whom he approached, was unsympathetic. It was at this time that he came to know cloth merchant Henry of Monmouth who later smuggled in Bibles for him.
After some further time in London he left for continental Europe where he began translating the New Testament, possibly in Wittenberg. It was completed in 1525 and an attempt was made to print it in Cologne. A full edition was produced in 1526 in Worms, by this time sympathetic to Lutheranism. More copies were then printed in Antwerp. These were smuggled to England. It was condemned in October 1526 by Tunstall, who issued warnings to booksellers and controversially had copies burned in public. Early in 1529 Tyndale was officially declared a heretic.
It was in Antwerp that he began revising his New Testament, translating the Old Testament and writing treatises. He opposed Henry VIII's marriage annulment, angering Henry who asked Emperor Charles V to have Tyndale extradited. Charles was unwilling. Eventually in 1535, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities, seized and held in the Castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels. He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell's attempts to free him. Eventually he was tied to a stake, strangled and burned as a heretic. His final words, spoken “with a fervent zeal and a loud voice” were “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes.” He died some time around October 1536.
Tyndale did not personally translate all the Old Testament. Others completed the work shortly after his death. Within four years, four English Bible translations were published in England at Henry's behest, including his official Great Bible, all based on Tyndale, as was the 1611 Authorised Version.
Tyndale's translation introduced new words into the English language. Eg Passover, scapegoat. He may have coined the words atonement (at one-ment) though it may have already existed and mercy seat taken from Luther. He is also responsible for phrases such as
  • my brother's keeper
  • judge not that ye be not judged
  • twinkling of an eye
  • let there be light
  • salt of the earth
  • it came to pass
  • signs of the times
  • filthy lucre
Romanists did not approve of some words and phrases he introduced, such as overseer for bishop, elder for priest and love rather than charity. Even more controversial was his translation of the Greek ekklesia as congregation rather than church. Tyndale sought only to “interpret the sense of the scripture and the meaning of the spirit” but was accused of many translation errors. Only three original New Testaments remain. The most complete one is in Stuttgart.

Q (7:7) Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.

2. The Book of Common Prayer Prepared by Thomas Cranmer 1549 and 1552
Thomas Nottinghamshire born Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) graduated from Cambridge BA (1511) and MA (1514) then took up a fellowship at Jesus College. When he was 25 he married. Little is known of this wife who died with her child in childbirth within the year. Cranmer returned to his former way of life and by 1520 was an ordained priest and a university preacher. In 1525 he received the degree of doctor of divinity.
A chance meeting in 1529 led to his employment in Henry VIII's royal service. In 1532 he went as ambassador to the court of Emperor Charles V in Germany. While there he grew sympathetic to Lutheran teaching and married a young German woman, Margaret, niece of prominent Lutheran scholar Andreas Osiander (1498-1552).
Within a year he was recalled to England, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. The post came with strings attached. He was expected to secure Henry's longed for marriage annulment, which he did. He also declared the marriage to Anne Boleyn the previous January lawful and she was quickly crowned queen.
For the rest of his life Cranmer was a major instrument in establishing royal supremacy in matters spiritual and temporal. In 1536 he presided over a commission of bishops and divines that met at Lambeth Palace, his London home. It published the 10 Articles, a statement of faith that was a compromise document aimed at Lutherans and Catholics.
In 1536, Anne Boleyn was condemned to death for treason due to adultery. Her execution was briefly postponed so Cranmer could declare her marriage to Henry invalid. On the day of her death he granted Henry a dispensation to marry Jane Seymour despite their consanguinity.
In 1539 he opposed the Act of the Six Articles as too Catholic but was willing to help put together the so called King's Book, despite it being contrary to his beliefs. He was Erastian at heart, believing the state is supreme over the church.
In the last years of Henry's reign Cranmer was increasingly Protestant. Aware of this, Henry protected him from his enemies, allowing him to develop the liturgical material that would one day make him famous. As the use of English in worship spread, there was felt to be a need for a complete uniform liturgy for the Church. Cranmer published an English Litany in 1544 and then during Edward's reign the First Book of Common Prayer, use of which was compulsory. There were protests, firstly in the far west in Devon and Cornwall, where the English language had only recently established itself. Many missed the Latin Mass.
Later, came the 42 Articles, approved only a month before Edward's death in 1553. Cranmer and others worked on these articles for years. They are the prototype of the famous 39 Articles established in Elizabeth's reign. With the accession of Mary, Cranmer's days were numbered. He was soon imprisoned and killed. Despite initially recanting his views he vigorously affirmed his Protestant beliefs in the end and was burned at the stake on March 21, 1556.
The prayer book grew out of long discussions between conservatives and reformers. It is difficult to ascertain how much of it is actually Cranmer's personal composition. He is given the credit for editorship and the book's overall structure, however. He used many sources including a number of Lutheran authors. An even more Protestant Second Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1552, and proved to be the foundation of, and the most lasting formative influence, in the Church. Historian A G Dickens called it “a devotional asset ranking second after the English Bible”.
Like Tyndale's Bible it exerted a powerful influence on the English language. Examples
  • Speak now or forever hold your peace
  • Till death us do part
  • Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
  • From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil
  • Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest
  • All sorts and conditions of men
  • Peace in our time
We would plead for ex tempore rather than written prayers as the norm but Cranmer's book has had a great, mostly positive influence on many denominations. Who has not turned at least to its marriage and burial services for help? All Protestants owe a great debt it. J C Ryle called it “a matchless book of devotion … one most admirably adapted to the wants of human nature”. John Wesley wrote “I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety.”

Q (Communion) Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy divine Majesty: provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us: we do earnestly repent, and be heartily sorry for these our misdoings: the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable: have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake: forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee, in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy name: Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

3. The Acts and Monuments Known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe 1563-1583
John Foxe (1516-1587) was Lincolnshire born and Oxford educated. He left Oxford in 1545 having become a Protestant and moved to London where he became a family tutor. He gave himself to writing in favour of the Reformation, including what would become his most famous work. At the accession of Mary his work had only gone as far as 1500. Her accession forced him abroad. He published a first Latin edition of the work in Strasbourg in 1554. He then went to Frankfurt, where he was a moderating influence on the Calvinistic party of Knox. Next he went to Basle, where in 1547 he wrote an appeal to the English nobility to stop the persecution of Protestants.
With the aid of material sent from England, he carried his account of the martyrs to 1556 and had it printed in 1559, the year following the accession of Elizabeth. He then returned to London and devoted himself to the completion of his great work. In England he did a great deal of research and spoke to many eye witnesses. The first English version was printed in March 1563. The Acts and Monuments, immediately acquired the popular name The Book of Martyrs. In 1570 a greatly improved second edition appeared. Only a dew changes were made in the third and fourth editions.(1576 and 1583).
The book is a polemical account of the sufferings of God's people throughout Western history with an emphasis on the sufferings of English Protestants from the 14th century on into the reign of Bloody Mary. Widely owned and read by English Puritans, the book helped mould British popular opinion for several centuries. It went through four editions in Foxe's lifetime and a number of later editions and abridgements, some that reduced the work to a Book of Martyrs.
After Foxe's death his book continued to be appreciated. One writer calls it, after the Bible, “the greatest single influence on English Protestant thinking of the late Tudor and early Stuart period.” It was one of the few books John Bunyan had with him in prison and there was time when one could be found in almost every English home.
From the beginning Foxe was criticised as an unreliable historian but this has proved not to be so. Slowly academia has come round to the view that he is reliable. The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 2009 says his work is “factually detailed and preserves much firsthand material on the English Reformation unobtainable elsewhere.”

Q (Andrew Ricetti of Venice) A good Christian is bound to relinquish not only goods and children, but life itself, for the glory of his Redeemer: therefore I am resolved to sacrifice every thing in this transitory world, for the sake of salvation in a world that will last to eternity.

4. The Westminster Standards Produced by the Divines of The Westminster Assembly 1648
The Westminster Assembly of Divines was an assembly of theologians and members of Parliament appointed to restructure the Church of England. Divines include men such as Thomas Case, Thomas Goodwin and William Twisse. It sat 1643-1653. Six Scotsmen also attended (Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, etc). As many as 121 ministers were called to the Assembly, with 19 others added later to replace those who did not attend or were no longer able to attend. It produced a number of significant documents including the Westminster Confession, the Shorter and Larger Catechisms and the Directory of Worship. The Confession and catechisms were adopted as doctrinal standards by the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian churches. Amended versions of the Confession were also adopted by the Congregationalists (the Savoy Confession 1658) and Baptists (the London Confession 1689). The Confession became influential throughout the English-speaking world.
The Assembly was called by the Long Parliament before and during the English Civil War. The Long Parliament was influenced by Puritanism and was opposed to the religious policies of Charles I and Archbishop Laud. One intention was to bring the English Church into closer conformity with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland where there were elders rather than bishops as in the Episcopalian English church. Although the Presbyterians were in the majority at the Assembly six Independents or Congregationalists were also present. The “dissenting brethren” included Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge and four others. Parliament eventually adopted a Presbyterian form of government but this all came to an end in 1660.
The Assembly considered the Bible as authoritative and worked in the Calvinistic or Reformed Protestant tradition, although not absolutely agreeing on particular redemption. Covenant theology was a major framework for the way the divines interpreted the Bible. The Westminster documents are well worth getting to know.

Q (Sh Cat) What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever

5. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan 1678 and 1684
John Bunyan (1628-1688) a puritan preacher and writer, was the author of some 60 titles, many of them expanded from sermons. Bunyan was from Bedfordshire. He had little schooling and at 16 went off to fight in the civil war/ On returning to Bedfordshire he worked as a tinker, his father's trade. He was converted through the influence of his wife and became a stalwart in his local Baptist church. At the Restoration he was arrested and spent 12 years in jail altogether, unwilling to agree not to preach. His later years, in spite of another shorter term of imprisonment, were spent in relative comfort as a popular author and pastor. He died at the age of 59.
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a famous Christian allegory and Bunyan's best known work. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of literature ever penned and has been translated into more than 200 languages. It has never been out of print.
Bunyan began it while in prison for violating the conventicle act prohibiting preaching outside the auspices of the established church. He may have started it in 1775 but modern scholars date it back to his earliest imprisonment 1660-72 right after completing his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
There are two parts to the final edition, each reading as a continuous narrative with no chapters. The first part was completed in 1677. An expanded edition, with additions written after Bunyan was freed, appeared in 1679. The Second Part came out in 1684. In Bunyan's lifetime there were 11 editions of the first part published in successive years 1678-1685 and in 1688, and there were two editions of the second part, published 1684 and 1686.
Q (Christian to Obstinate) I seek a place that can never be destroyed, one that is pure, and that fadeth not away, and it is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be given, at the time appointed, to them that seek it with all their heart. Read it so, if you will, in my book.
Lessons for Nigerian churches today
I think the lessons this all points to for churches today, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is that we need to be very active in at least five areas.

1. In promoting the Bible. Todays' need is not a fresh translation of the Bible but for people to make better use of the translations we have. The Bible is sadly neglected in many homes and even churches, where it is possible for there to be hardly a Scripture reading. The preacher may have a nice big Bible under his arm but does he refer to it? Is what he says drawn from the Bible?
2. In encouraging reverend worship. Most worship today in most churches is a far cry from what one would find promoted in Book of Common Prayer. We are not suggesting that a return to liturgical forms is what we need. No, written prayers are full of dangers. However, the sort of well thought through and biblical approach found in the prayer book is something that churches in Nigeria and elsewhere could well benefit from.
3. In encouraging and taking note of sacrificial Christian living. As you are well aware the situation in Northern Nigeria is not easy. The instinct to flee such persecution is right. However, wherever we may live the call to sacrificial and godly Christian living remains the same. There is a duty upon Nigerian Christians wherever they may be, and all other believers, to live their lives for God's glory. Meanwhile, it is important that the persecutions being carried out are carefully and accurately recorded and the stories made available to the churches in accessible form. Someone needs to sort fact from rumour, persecution from mere mindless violence and robbery. Who will be the John Foxe of modern Nigeria? Such people are needed.
4. In taking care over biblical doctrine. Confessional Christianity – Christianity that knows what it believes and cares about it – is a rare thing these days everywhere. Churches appear to be reluctant to set out exactly what it is that they believe. This can only lead to doctrinal imprecision, doctrinal drift and the danger of heresy. Rather, let us take out the old doctrinal formulae, let's get to know what they say, and let's seek to learn these things and teach them to those who are in ignorance.

5. In being enthusiastic and wise about Christian living. Pilgrim's Progress is essentially about the Christian life. It deals with imagination and flair with all sorts of matters including conversion, false teaching, backsliding, various difficulties, fellowship, perseverance, death, heaven, hell, etc, etc. How we need pastors who can preach experientially and can help God's people pastorally in such areas. Oh for pastors like Bunyan. The great John Owen was once asked by Charles II why he, a brilliant academic, so loved to hear Bunyan a poor tinker preach. Owen apparently replied “May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker’s abilities to grip men’s hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning.”

The Liberating power of the Reformation in the doctrines of grace

Text Romans 9 Time 22 11 17 Place Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Let's begin with some definitions. The Reformation refers, of course, to events that occurred in Europe in the 16th Century. What was “the greatest revival since Pentecost” began when Martin Luther (1483-1546) protested against the sale of indulgences by posting 95 theses for debate on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, 500 years ago this year.
The Roman Catholic Church dominated European life throughout the Mediaeval period. The Reformation began as a protest movement, calling for reform within. Previous reform movements had come and gone but this time, in God's providence, was different. Johannes Gutenberg (c 1400-68) had invented movable type in 1450 and the new technology made possible the swift and widespread dissemination of ideas. In the end the Roman Church was not radically reformed but a radical new form of Christianity did begin - the Protestant religion.
Among Reformation leaders, after Luther, were John Calvin (1509-64) and Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) in Switzerland and in Britain men such as John Knox (c 1513-72) William Tyndale (1494-1536) and Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556).
The Reformation brought to light vital Bible doctrines long neglected and perverted in the church. Crucially there were what are dubbed the five solas – sola scriptura, sola christus, sola gratia, sola fide, soli deo gloria (Scripture alone, Christ alone, Faith alone, grace alone, the glory of God alone). Another obvious example is how thinking changed over the Mass. Romanism taught it was a bloodless re-sacrificing of Christ's body and blood by a supposed priest. Transubstantiation maintained that while the elements remained visibly unchanged they became Christ's body and blood. Such ideas were shown to be utterly false.
The doctrines of grace is the phrase used for Reformation teachings to do with soteriology/salvation. They are sometimes referred to as Calvinistic doctrines or Calvinism. Doctrines of grace is preferable as it avoids using a man's name and the suggestion these are human teachings rather than divine teachings from the Bible.
What are these doctrines? There are five. True to what Calvin and the Reformers taught, it was not until 1619 (over a century after the 95 Theses) that they were formulated as they are today. The doctrines came to prominence not because of an attack from outside (the Romanists had done their worst at the Council of Trent, 1545-63) but an attack from inside. It began with a Dutchman called Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). In 1610 his followers proposed their five points known as the five articles of the Remonstrants, five remonstrations against Reformation truths.
The five points of Calvinism first appeared in answer to the arguments of the Remonstrants or Arminians at an international Synod in Dordt (Dordrecht) in the Netherlands. The Synod met November 1618-May 1619 in 154 sessions with 62 Dutch delegates and 27 from other countries, including six from Britain.
The five points are often remembered by means of the acronym TULIP a 20th Century invention popularised in Predestination by Lorraine Boettner (1901-90) in 1932.
1. Total Depravity (Total Inability/ Original Sin)
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement (Particular Atonement/ Redemption)
4. Irresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints (Preservation of the saints, Once saved always saved)
The acronym has drawbacks but is a useful mnemonic. These doctrines are often opposed but were preached in the earliest days by Augustine and others, in the 16th Century by the Reformers, the 17th by the Puritans, the 18th by Whitefield, the 19th by Spurgeon, the 20th by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and are still preached today. Time Magazine in 2009 cited Calvinism as one of 10 major ideas changing the world. These five ideas are still changing the world today. We should know them. Let me explain the words
1. Total Depravity (Total Inability, Original Sin) This is where to begin. We need to be clear firstly as to what is fundamentally wrong and how bad things are. Depravity is corruption or wickedness. The word total does not mean absolutely or completely depraved – no-one is as bad as possible or as often as possible. All can do relative good - helping old ladies across the road, building hospitals. Total depravity means that we are by nature only and always sinning; unable to do, understand or desire what is good. We are not just sick but dead in our transgressions and sins.
Boettner “This doctrine of total inability which declares that men are dead in sin does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that since the fall, man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God, or to do anything meriting salvation.” To spell it out. By nature we are ...
1. Only and always sinning. The unconverted cannot do what is truly good in God’s sight. They lack faith and the desire to please God. Like David, we all have to say (Ps 51:5) Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Prov 22:15a Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Some think children are born innocent but they are born sinners. You don’t have to teach them to do wrong. It is in our nature to sin. We all have a sinful nature. We inherit it from our first father Adam (original sin/pollution). We are all born with a bias to evil and are by nature deserving of wrath (Eph 2:3). By nature we are incapable of doing anything truly good. The Bible spells it out
Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Isa 64:6all our righteous acts are like filthy rags Rom 3:10-18 As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one ….
This is a heart matter not to be confused with physical inability. $ A paralysed man cannot come to church due to physical inability but the fact he does not want to come is due to moral inability.
2. Totally unable to do, understand or desire what is good. An alternative phrase preferred by some is total inability. It has drawbacks but is useful as it drives home the fact of our inability to do, understand, to even desire what is good. There is a threefold inability. Inability to ...
1 Do the good. Canons of Dort “all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto”.
Matt 7:17, 18 every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit … or a bad tree ... good fruit. Jn 15:4, 5 ... No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 1 Cor 12:3 no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says Jesus be cursed and no one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit Rom 8:7, 8 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. ….
2 Understand the good. By nature we don't even understand what is good. Acts 16:4 says it was only after God opened Lydia's heart that she responded to the message. Until then, her understanding was darkened. There was a veil over her heart preventing her from seeing the truth (2 Cor 3:12-18). It was only when God operated on her spiritually that she could respond. We all need that. This is why people could hear Jesus preach and not believe. Jn 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
1 Cor 1, 2 teaches the cross (the basic Christian message) is foolishness to unbelievers who cannot know God by their own wisdom. If it is a matter of intelligence clever people will all believe but it is not down to natural wisdom. (2:14) The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. Without the Spirit it is impossible to understand.
3 Desire the good. By nature we can't even desire anything truly good. Edwin Palmer “The pit of total depravity is that natural man does not even desire a good goal.” By nature we hate the good; we hate God. Jn 6:44, 65 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them …. and no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them. We are so depraved we can't choose Jesus. We can't even take the first step to him. By nature our hearts are stone and unless God melts them and makes them flesh it is hopeless. Without regeneration we can do nothing. It is not faith that leads to new birth, new birth leads to faith. To be alive to Christ we need to be new created, raised from the grave, made alive (Eph 2:1) from being dead in transgression and sins
2. Unconditional Election Election refers to how God chooses or selects people for himself. There are three possible options - God saves all, God saves none or, as the Bible teaches, he saves some.
Unconditional means that this choice is not based on any conditions such as intelligence, which tribe or nation you belong to, how God foresees you will react to the gospel. Again, either this is true or God chooses us for something found in us. In truth, it entirely depends on God and his choice. In Romans 9 we are reminded that God says he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. He is the potter who makes the pot. He decides what it will be like.
Many Scriptures teach this doctrine. Eg Jn 6:37-39 … 15:16 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. ... You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit ….. What he says of his disciples is true of all his people. Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
2 Thess 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you ... because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. Eph 1:4, 5 For he chose us (not we him) in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless (not because we were holy and blameless) in his sight. In love he predestined us (election is loving predestination) for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – note that. Romans 8:29, 30 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Romans 9:6-26 perhaps is the most powerful passage. Paul points out that although God's great promise is to Abraham and his descendants this doesn't mean just any child of Abraham is blessed - Isaac not Ishmael. Then he says (10-13) Not only that, but Rebekah's children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she was told, The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
Is this fair? 14-18 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
Why am I to blame? Paul anticipates another objection. 19-21 One of you will say to me: Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will? You may not like his answer But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, Why did you make me like this? Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? God is God. He does as he pleases, whether we like it or not.
Paul then says (22-24) What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath - prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory - even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? He is careful not to speculate but does ask what if, instead of saving everyone or no-one God chose to save some and not others in order to magnify his glory? $ The picture is often used of how a diamond necklace will look much more beautiful placed against a black velvet cushion. We do not know why God has acted as he has but he does not have to answer to us, we have to answer to him.
3. Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement or Redemption) Limited Atonement speaks to the question for whom Jesus died. Was it for everyone in general or his people in particular? Was his atonement a definite one, intended to save or just to make salvation possible?
Jn 10:15 I lay down my life for the sheep. He doesn't lay down his life for the goats but for the sheep. Interestingly, he says the unbelieving Jews (26) do not believe because you are not my sheep. Eph 5:25-27b is interesting too. There Paul says Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Husbands and wives are to reflect the truth about Jesus Christ and his church. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. These verses do not really work if we take the view that Christ died for everyone not for the church.
Someone will say what about a verse like Jn 3:16? For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God so loved the world. We always need to be careful with the word world. When it says in Luke that the whole world went to be taxed when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it clearly means the whole Roman world. When Jn 3:16 mentions God loving the world it either means the world in general, as opposed to just the Jewish world, or more likely the world in its wickedness and lostness.
Rom 8:32 may not seem to give support either He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? But who is this all? If you work through the chapter it is clear again that Paul is speaking about Christians and no-one else. The object of predestination and the atonement of Christ are the same – the elect.
Another way of looking at this is to consider what Jesus did on the cross. Did he die to make salvation possible or to save his people? His atonement is either limited in extent or power. It is either confined to certain people or unable to save certain people who it is supposed to be for. The fact is that through the cross Christ provides a complete salvation for his people. This is one reason he said It's finished on the cross.
John Murray “The very nature of Christ’s mission and accomplishment is involved in this question. Did Christ come to make salvation of all men possible, to remove obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and merely to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? Did he come to put all men in a savable state? Or did he come to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life? … The doctrine … must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as to those who are heirs of eternal life. In that event we should have to dilute the grand categories in terms which the Scripture defines the atonement and deprive them of their most precious import and glory. This we cannot do. The saving efficacy of expiation, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption is too deeply embedded in these concepts and we dare not eliminate this efficacy. We do well to ponder the words of our Lord himself I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that of everything he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day (Jn 6:38/39) Security inheres in Christ’s redemptive accomplishment. And this means that, in respect of the persons contemplated, design and accomplishment and final realisation have all the same extent”
Richard Phillips “If we think of the atonement as a bridge spanning a great river, Arminians see it as infinitely wide, but not reaching all the way to the far bank; Calvinists hold that the atonement is a narrow bridge, wide enough only for the elect, but reaching all the way to the other side. We believe that Christ's death actually saves those for whom He died.”
4. Irresistible Grace Grace can be defined as God's undeserved love. When we say that it is irresistible we mean it comes in so powerfully on God's chosen ones that they cannot resist it.
Understand what we do and don't mean by irresistible. $ If a person resists arrest he puts up a fight against it. He will fail if those who arrest him are strong enough. Arrest will be irresistible. Resistance can be a quite violent thing then. A killer has hold of you and you can't resist him.
But we're not talking about that sort of irresistible. It is much more like when you see something good and tasty – some tasty yams say; a piece of ripe fruit just ready to eat - and you can't resist eating it. This is why some prefer effective or certain grace.
What happens is that God changes a person's nature. Whereas by nature we desire only what is evil, what is opposed to God. God, however, works within and changes hearts from stone to flesh so that they freely choose to follow him and serve him.
$ Here is person who naturally likes to roll in the mud. Say you could change him so that he learned to prefer walking around, sitting in a chair. What a good thing. So God changes a person so that he wants the things God wants,things that are for his good.
The teaching is conformed by Scriptures such as Jn 6:37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. Then a little later (44) he says No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. The Son has received a certain number from the Father, the elect. All these will come to me Jesus says. How? By irresistible grace. Jn 10:16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. See how confident Jesus is of future conversions. They too will listen ... How so sure? Irresistible grace. Rom 8:29, 30 For those God foreknew (loved beforehand) he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; (external/internal) those he called, he also justified …..
5. Perseverance of the Saints (Preservation of the Saints, Once Saved Always Saved) The saints are all true Christians. This teaching says that once you become a Christian you will go on being one. You will persevere, you will be preserved in your faith. Again many verses support this view
Jn 6:39 … 10:28. 29 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. ... I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. Perhaps the most convincing text. Eph 1:13, 14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory. 1 Pet 1:4, 5 talks about an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. God's power is at work in the believer so that he can never be lost. Php 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus This is my favourite. We may leave jobs half done but God never does. Lloyd-Jones “God does not merely initiate the work and then leave it, he continues with it; he leads us on, directing and manipulating our circumstances, restraining us at one time and urging us on at another. Paul's whole conception of the Church is that it is a place where God is working in the hearts of men and women.”
People object to this on two main grounds: 1. What about backsliders or apostates? Given that clearly some people appear to be Christians then go back on it – how do you explain that? First, we do not deny that genuine Christians can backslide. Spurgeon put it this way: you may be knocked down on the deck of the ship many times without being washed overboard. In getting to the top of a hill you may fall many times. Sin may creep in at many points yet not have final dominion. Of course, there are also people who profess to be Christians who in the end prove not to be Christians after all. We know that the seed did not all fall on the good soil. Jesus warns there will be many who claim to know him who will nevertheless be rejected. Sometimes it becomes clear who these are even on earth. This reminds us how important it is to make your calling and election sure.
2. Isn't this dangerous teaching that will encourage a lack of holiness? This is the other argument. Yet anyone who thinks like this shows they cannot really be a Christian or at least have much understanding of the gospel. If you really are converted then you will want to be holy. Your great desire will be to be more and more pleasing to God. Php 2:12,13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, the encouragement he gives them to do this is for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. If you're a Christian God is at work within you. He won't give up on you – don't be tempted to give up on him.
On first sight these teachings may not appear to be particularly liberating. Let me assure you they are. John Piper has an article listing 10 things the doctrines of grace do for him. Let me mention some. He says they make him ...
1. Stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centred worship
2. Marvel at my own salvation
3. Confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish - both globally and personally
4. See everything in the light of God's sovereign purposes – that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever
5. Hopeful that God has the will, the right and the power to answer prayer that people be changed

6. Sure that God will triumph in the end. Now that's what I call liberatng!