Israel of God

By Evan Knies

In Galatians 6:16, Paul uses the phrase “Israel of God”. He calls the Galatians the “Israel of God” to show that there is one People united in the Son. The Israel of God is the blood bought, elect, bride of Christ. In Him and because of Him, “Israel” receives her promises. In Him, the True Israel receives the blessings and promises bestowed on them because of the work of the Son. Continue reading “Israel of God”

New Year Mercies

By Evan Knies

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:22-23

This year has been tough to say the least. My family has had some trials. My wife’s family has had some trials. At the end of this year, my cousin’s passing was like a punch to the Continue reading “New Year Mercies”

Book Briefs: Practical Religion By JC Ryle

JC Ryle was born in 1816. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1841. He became the rector of St. Thomas’s, Winchester in 1843, then to Helmingham, Suffolk the following year. From 1843 to 1879, he wrote various works and gospel tracts. In 1880, Ryle became the bishop of Liverpool and retired in 1900 at age 83. He died later that year.fullsizeoutput_5b9

I have benefited from the writings of Bunyan, Calvin, Luther, etc. But none have been more beneficial than JC Ryle. In his work Practical Religion, Ryle cuts to the heart of the Christian life. He saw problems in his day and addressed those. But those same problems are present today.

Practical Religion is divided into 21 Chapters: Self-Inquiry, Self-Exertion, Reality, Prayer, Bible Reading, Going to the Table, Charity, Zeal, Freedom, Happiness, Formality, The World, Riches and Poverty, The Best Friend, Sickness, The Family of God, Our Home, Heirs of God, The Great Gathering, The Great Separation, and Eternity.fullsizeoutput_5b8

Ryle addressed the skewed views of the gospel of grace such as “nominal Christianity”. Ryle calls it “churchianity”. But it is the same problem that still exists in many of our Churches today. Some claim Christ when it benefits them, but when life is tough, those  “nominal” believers are found not to be true. In reading Practical Religionthe Christian will be encouraged in Praying and Reading their Bible. But they will also feel conviction on living this life for eternity, not for the “here and now”.

fullsizeoutput_5baI am thankful to God for the life of JC Ryle and his influence in my life. But I am also thankful for Banner of Truth for publishing his works and other various works that are so important for the Christian life.

If you would like to purchase Practical Religion, you may do so here.

Banner has recently released Ryle’s Autobiography, you can purchase it here.


Evan Knies is a student at SBTS, grad of Boyce College, and Minister of Students at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He is married to Lauren and you can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.

Luther’s “Three Walls”

by Obbie T. Todd

The Protestant Reformation was, in many ways, the product of manifold political, social, and religious forces crashing together at a God-ordained moment in history. Still, in other ways, it began with a man. In his 16th century German Reformation, Martin Luther stood defiantly against an institution that had pontificated for over a millennium. Yet, in his theological and moral challenge to the Catholic Church, he did not stand alone. In 1520, while lecturing on the Psalms, Luther wrote an Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation in order to gather support for his reform.

In his new biography entitled Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (2015), Scott H. Hendrix explains Luther’s aim for the address: “The goal was not to foment a German uprising against Rome but to reform the practice of religion in Christendom. Because the clergy were shirking their duty, the only recourse was an appeal to laypeople in authority who could twist arms and force change.” (90)

Luther begins his open letter by identifying the “three walls” of the Romanists: (1) their decrees erroneously stating that no temporal power has authority over them, (2) their claim that interpretation of Scripture belongs to no one except the pope, (3) and their assertion that no one is able to call a council except the pope himself. The first section of Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation is a an invective against these three walls.

1. Concerning the first “paper-wall,” Luther begins by eschewing the notion of spiritual elitism. For him, there is no “spiritual estate” for bishops, priests, and monks. According to Luther, “there is among them no difference at all but that of office, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12.” Through baptism we are all consecrated to the royal priesthood of 1 Peter 2:9. In cases of baptism, Luther reminds us, anyone could baptize. (or give absolution, as Luther held penance to be the third sacrament) After all, we share one faith, and we believe in the same Gospel: “For whoever comes out the water of baptism can boast that he is already consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, though it is not seemly that everyone should exercise the office.” This office is granted by the will and command of the community, not by one’s arbitrary whim. Therefore a priest, like any other temporal authority, is an office-holder. Just as spiritual authorities are charged with the administration of the Word and sacraments, the temporal authorities are to “bear sword and rod with which to punish the evil and to protect die good.” In Luther’s scheme, the temporal authority is not “above” that of the spiritual and may not punish it. However, it should be left to perform its role “without hindrance.” According to Luther, such tasks should be performed objectively and without discrimination, “regardless whether it be pope, bishop or priest whom it affects; whoever is guilty, let him suffer.” The freedom, life, and property of the clergy are no more important than the laity.

2. As to the second wall, Luther takes aim at those who deem themselves “Masters” of the Holy Scriptures: “For since they think that the Holy Spirit never leaves them, be they never so unlearned and wicked, they make bold to decree whatever they will.” To this Luther questions why there is even the need for a Bible! The Pope has “usurped” the power of the Holy Spirit. Luther further opines that the Romanists have misinterpreted Matthew 18 when they contend that the pope alone holds the “keys” to the kingdom. In reality, these keys are given to the “community” of the church. According to Luther, “the keys were not ordained for doctrine or government, but only for the binding and loosing.” When the pope claims supreme hermeneutical authority for himself and codifies his own man-made religion, he singlehandedly constrains the “Spirit of liberty” in the church. For this reason Luther calls together the church in this letter: to accuse the pope before the church.

3. Thirdly, concerning the authority to call together councils, Luther reminds his readers that it was in fact not Peter who convened the Apostolic Council in Acts 15:6, but rather the Apostles and elders! Luther thus contends that it is incumbent upon the temporal authorities to bring about a “truly free council” in order to restore Scriptural faithfulness and order. Luther likens the situation to a fire breaking out; the citizens have a duty to tell others. Citing 2 Corinthians 10:8, Luther heralds the edifying purpose of the Church. He then concludes that those who pursue destruction do so by “the power of the devil and of Antichrist.” Luther sees the Roman pope as the fulfillment of eschatological texts such as Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9. In the end, Luther’s only hope is Scripture: “Therefore we must cling with firm faith to the words of God, and then the devil will cease from wonders.” Luther contends that the Romanists have made the consciences of the people “timid and stupid,” and for this reason it is time to enact the power of the temporal authority in order to aid that of the spiritual.

In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther ripped down these three walls in order to shed further light upon the abuses of the Catholic Church and to rally the support of the educated laity in the Reformation.

Elect Exile: John Calvin the Refugee

Obbie T. Todd

In recent years, the idea that John Calvin ruled 16th century Geneva with an iron fist has become increasingly popular in Calvinist and non-Calvinist circles. After all, who else could order the burning of an anti-Trinitarian heretic? Standing at a distance, it’s easy for the 21st century Christian to simply conclude that Calvin was the “mayor of Geneva,” a magisterial Reformer who turned his Swiss chateau into a Christian autocracy of sorts. Such a picture of John Calvin, however, could not be further from the truth. For example, it was actually the Genevan City Council that officially ordered the burning of Servetus, whose effigy had already been burned by the Catholic Church for his heretical views. As Alister McGrath rightly observes, “The relation between reformer and city council was thus delicate, easily prone to disruption, with real power permanently in the hands of the latter.” (Reformation Thought, 19)

Furthermore, Calvin himself was a Frenchman living in Switzerland. He was an outsider, and this created significant political tension for someone attempting to supervise the morality of Geneva’s bourgeois class. In addition, Calvin wasn’t the only refugee in Geneva. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at the Academy, had also fled his native France. In fact, between the 1540s and 1560s, the influx of refugees into Geneva steadily rose from roughly 12,000 to 20,000. Persecution of Protestants by the Catholic Church in France and Italy brought thousands to seek asylum within the safe, mountainous confines of Geneva. Remarkably, Calvin eventually received his citizenship in Geneva only four years before his death! Until that time he remained in some ways a social outsider in the very city he was called to shepherd. A picture of Calvin the sojourner is never more vivid than in his ignominious burial in an unmarked Genevan grave, something he had requested himself.

“We are always on the road,” Calvin said. The circumstances surrounding Calvin’s introduction to Geneva were a constant reminder to him of the benevolent providence of God to a wandering people. Having left his French homeland, the road to Basel and Strasbourg was blocked by troop movements in Lorraine as the war between Francis I and Charles V dragged on. This forced Calvin to take an unexpected detour to the south through Geneva. There, a man by the name of Farel trapped the young Calvin and convinced him to stay. According to Farel, Calvin would be playing the part of cowardly Jonah should he refuse his calling to Geneva. It’s here that Calvin the Refugee would become Calvin the Reformer.

According to Calvin scholar Herman Selderhuis, Calvin’s “theology of the experience of being a stranger, of having heaven as one’s true home country, reduced the need for strong ties to one’s earthly home country, increased mobility and produced a pioneer mentality.” (John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, 215) Calvin called life a “churning river.” For him, life took place “in an ominous labyrinth,” an image he was fond of using in order to illustrate the uncertainty and frustration of the human experience. One could only escape this labyrinth and find purpose through the direction of Jesus Christ.

Calvin, after all, was eventually exiled from Geneva. The French refugee had also become a Swiss refugee. At issue was the city’s level of dependence with Bern, another Swiss city-state. For the faction of people who wanted strong relations with Bern, Calvin stood in their way. Hence, in 1538, the Reformer hit the road once again. On his way from Geneva to Basel, Calvin stopped in Strasbourg where a man by the name of Martin Bucer was waiting for him. This would spell the beginning of Calvin’s comfortable, proficient three-year exile from Geneva. It also served as yet another testament that Calvin’s life was never his own. Knowing himself to be the bookish type, Calvin once complained, “I would most like to withdraw.” Ironically, the years at Strasbourg were perhaps the only years in which he was able to do exactly that. Three years later, Geneva called upon Calvin once again – this time to refute Jacopo Sadoleto, bishop of Carpentras, who saw an opportunity to reclaim vulnerable Geneva for Rome. Calvin’s reply to Sadoleto on behalf of Geneva is a brilliant distillation of Reformation thought. In it, Calvin asserts,

“For though I am for the present relieved of the charge of the Church of Geneva, that circumstance ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection – God, when He gave it to me in charge, having bound me to be faithful to it forever.”

Calvin’s calling and perseverance were unwavering even in exile. As a refugee and sojourner, he understood his journey in light of Christ’s faithfulness and not his own. For this reason, Calvin often paralleled his own experiences – and that of Geneva – with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Discussing the development of Calvin’s liturgy, Selderhuis avers, “Calvin saw a lot of himself in David, and together with his congregation – almost all French refugees – he could identify with the nation Israel that wandered in the desert, experienced so many setbacks and yet was in God’s care. The Psalms became existential pilgrim songs but also rhymed battle cries.” (91)

For most Christians today, the name John Calvin is synonymous with one word: predestination. However, in order to avoid the cold, distant, tyrannical stereotype so common in evangelical circles today, it’s necessary to contextualize John Calvin the person. More importantly, it’s incumbent upon modern readers to understand John Calvin the refugee alongside John Calvin the scholar. In a world of warring kingdoms, plagues, exiles, and social revolutions, Calvin’s doctrine of divine sovereignty was inextricable with his view of human suffering. For the sojourning Christian destined to bear the sufferings of Christ (Rom. 8:17), divine providence wasn’t an abstract theory; it was a precious comfort. It went hand-in-hand with the Gospel itself. According to Roland Bainton, “Both Calvin and Luther had an overwhelming sense of the majesty of God, but whereas for Luther this served to point up the miracle of forgiveness, for Calvin it gave rather the assurance of the impregnability of God’s purpose. (The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 114) From the vantage point of human suffering and sojourning, a sovereign God was a welcome friend and Savior. Consequently, for 21st century Christians who wish to explore the John Calvin the Reformer, it’s important we not neglect John Calvin the refugee.