John Calvin on this troubled life

In the end, we rightly profit from the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, considered in itself, is troubled, turbulent, attended by many miseries, and never entirely happy, and that whatever things we consider good in this life are uncertain, passing, vain, and spoiled because they’re mixed with many evils. And from this we likewise conclude that we should expect and hope for nothing other than trouble in this life, and that we should set our eyes on heaven where we expect our crown. So, indeed, we ought to realize that our souls will never seriously rise to the desire and contemplation of the future life until they’ve been soaked in scorn for this present life.

from A Little Book on the Christian Life Trans. Denlinger and Parsons (Ligonier, 2017), 91-92.

Martin Luther on the present Christ

See how different Christ is from his successors, although they all would wish to be his vicars. A man is a vicar only when his superior is absent. If the pope rules, while Christ is absent and does not dwell in his heart, what else is he but a vicar of Christ? What is the church under such a vicar but a mass of people without Christ? Indeed, what is such a vicar but an antichrist and an idol? How much more properly did the apostles call themselves servants of the present Christ and not vicars of an absent Christ?

from “An Open Letter to Pope Leo X” (1520) in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Ed. Tim Lull (1989), 594.

[Polemically stated, to be sure, but worth bearing in mind the distinction between serving a present Christ and standing in for an absent Christ.]

Phillip Cary on Remembering Sermons

Here’s what I think success in teaching looks like. I remember how my life was changed when I repeatedly witnessed a man in the act of loving a poem. My English professor in college, Dr. Richard Stang of Washington University, kept delving so deeply into the poems he taught and showing us how to do likewise, that I no longer remember much of what he said. In part because of his example, I’ve had so many encounters with poetry since then that I can no longer tell what I learned from him and what I learned later. I no longer remember his words, but I do remember the poems. They have been part of my life ever since he first introduced me to them.

That’s what a teacher’s success looks like. It works the same way, I think when you’re teaching the word of Christ. The congregation doesn’t need to remember the words of your sermon. What matters is that God’s word has once again made its way into their hearts and etched itself a little deeper there, so that Christ himself may dwell in their hearts by faith. That’s the ongoing formation of the heart that makes the really lasting change in our lives. 

from Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (2010), 188-9.

PS from Gilbert Meilaender

We should not aim at a sermon that people can remember and discuss over the dinner table. That notion–“What was the sermon about today?”–encourages us to think of the sermon as something to be remembered: a piece of teaching and application. But it is not. A sermon is a moment of proclamation within the worship of the congregation. A moment in which to seek a way to let God’s love for us be spoken.

from “Forde, Jenson, and Preaching,” Dialog 30.1 (1991), 59.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints

God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. They need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Christ in one’s own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of another Christian. The heart in one’s heart is uncertain; the Word is sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation. 

from Life Together (Fortress, 2015), 6.

 

Two Gospel Witnesses

Two premier English theologians passed away last month — Nicholas Lash and J. I. Packer. Through their writings both men played outsized roles at key stages in my theological education, and I remain grateful for their instruction.

May we long remember them both and the gospel to which their labors witnessed.

  1. Nicholas Lash

There are, in my opinion, few more succinct summaries of the Gospel than this: We have been made capable of friendship. The ‘we’ is unrestricted, it refers to everybody, past and present, near and far and, by analogy, to every feature of that web of life of which we form a part. We ‘have been’ made: the passive voice protects the primacy of grace, the givenness of things. Made ‘capable of’ friendship, rather than ‘made friends,’ for it is as duty that we hear the Word’s announcement of the way all things are made and made to be.

from Theology for Pilgrims (2008), 49.

2. J. I. Packer

“were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”

from Knowing God (1973), 214.