The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin. [Willow Street, PA]: Old Paths Publications, 1994. xi + 117 pp. $7.95 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

How urgent that in this time of reunion with the Roman Catholic Church by bewitched Protestants many of the bewitchers and bewitched read this spirited defense of the Protestant Reformation!

How urgent that in this age of tolerance of false doctrine and impure worship many of the tolerant ones, fancying themselves good, indeed superior, Christians (so full of love, they mistakenly suppose), read this vigorous call to resist impure worship and false doctrine even unto death! Calvin ends on this very note:

But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us. If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe.—We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the Divine truth which men now despise (p. 117).

The book is Old Paths’ reprint of John Calvin’s defense of the Reformation to Emperor Charles V in 1544 at the urging of Calvin’s fellow Reformer and friend, Martin Bucer. By this defense, Calvin hoped to ward off the emperor’s persecution of the Reformed churches and even to enlist his support of the Reformation. In this, Calvin was to be disappointed. But the treatise would become a clear explanation to all of the fundamental issues in the 16th century Reformation of the church and a ringing call to true Protestants to cherish and maintain the Reformation.

Calvin divided his defense into three sections: the evils that made the Reformation necessary; the remedies applied by the Reformation; and the urgency (“necessity”) of the Reformation. Each of the three sections then treats of four matters: the right manner of worship; the source of salvation; the right administration of the sacraments; and the proper exercise of church government, particularly discipline.

Noteworthy is that the impure worship of the Roman Catholic Church—worship that is not regulated by the command of God—was for Calvin the primary evil that made reformation necessary. To be sure, impure worship was accompanied by false doctrine concerning the gospel of salvation by grace alone, but impure worship is mentioned first. Let the advocates and practitioners of “progressive worship” and the opponents of the regulative principle of worship take heed!

One long, glorious paragraph (thank God for John Calvin!) sums it up:

At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness—when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions—when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and His glory laid prostrate—when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation any where rather than in Christ—when the administration of the Sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain—when the government of the Church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation—when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the Church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;—then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the Church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition. The same course we are still pursuing in the present day (pp. 23, 24).

In this work is found Calvin’s well-known appeal to the barking of a dog when its master is threatened. “A dog, seeing any violence offered to his master, will instantly bark; could we, in silence, see the sacred name of God dishonoured so blasphemously” (p. 70; see also p. 76). This was Calvin’s response to criticism of his sharp refutation of error and vigorous defense of the truth by members of the church who counseled tolerance. Nothing has changed!

And then, Calvin’s exposure of this accursed tolerance:

There is something specious [plausible] in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy—that his eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil’s lies—that Christ should be insulted, his holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed (p. 80).

This is one of the works that I could wish were in the hands of all our people, including the youth, as in the hands of every Roman Catholic who has enough interest in church history and concern for fair judgment to read the Protestant defense of the Reformation.

The Happy Mourner: Consolations of God & Sympathy for the Bereaved, by William Jay. Willow Street, PA: Old Paths Publications, 2000. 220 pp. $25.95 (cloth). [Reviewed by the editor.]

This is an Old Paths reprint of a nineteenth century collection of writings of the English minister William Jay on God’s comfort of His children in their many and various afflictions. Much is biblical exposition and application.

Jay affirms the basis of all comfort for the Christian: God’s sovereignty over all the evils in his life. He reminds the sufferer of God’s wise and beneficial purposes with affliction. In view of these good purposes, he calls the Christian to submission, which is patient because it is hopeful: “a conviction that if we suffer, these sufferings are as necessary as the knife to the vine; as the furnace to the gold; and as medicine to the body. This, and this alone can enable us cordially to say, ‘Behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him'” (pp. 152, 153).

Particularly instructive and consoling is the chapter on “The Christian in Death.” Usually, the peaceful death is the death of one who has been upright in his life, not that of one who has had a last minute conversion. In effect, Jay is warning against ready acceptance of the triumphant announcement that a James Dobson has achieved the conversion of a Ted Bundy on death row. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”

There is an intriguing chapter on “The Christian in Heaven,” including an answer to the question, whether we will know each other in heaven, and a convincing argument, that we will work there. It is an altogether lovely treatment of the hope of heaven.

There is fine, and sometimes sharp, practical application. Jay speaks of the retiree who decides where he will live out the rest of his life on the basis of beautiful meadows, fine streams, and grand forests. The retiree ignores the tree of life, the wells of salvation, and pasture for the hunger of the soul.

In offering comfort to parents whose children die in infancy, Jay errs by insisting that all children who die in infancy, whether offspring of believers or of unbelievers, are saved.

There are obtrusive printing errors. Why the numbers every so often at the bottom of pages? What is the explanation of the superfluous definite article on page 194? On page 146, “ordidances” should be “ordinances.”