Month: December 2017

Tyndale’s Only Surviving Letter

There are many surviving books of William Tyndale. Of course, the most famous one is the Tyndale Bible. But in terms of material from his own hand, only a single letter survives. It is in Latin, and it was written while Tyndale was a prisoner at Vilvoorde Castle in Belgium, about six miles north of Brussels. The castle was built in 1374, and it had a lot of cold and dingy dungeons. This will shed some light on this letter. Let’s read it in full.

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me. Therefore, I entreat your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods, which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh [inflammation in the nose or throat], which is considerably increased in the cell.

A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also, with him, leggings of thicker cloth, for putting on above; he has also warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he would kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided it is always consistent with the salvation of your soul.

But if any other resolutions have been come to concerning me, before the close of the winter, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.

William Tyndale

Just as Paul did in 2 Timothy, Tyndale asked for his cloak and for his books. Tyndale would spend his last days in the castle at Vilvoorde. He would be led from the castle and martyred on Friday, October 6, 1536. The accounts of Tyndale’s martyrdom say that he was calm, and in fact he said, “I call God to record that I have never altered, against the voice of my conscience, one syllable of His Word. Nor would do this day, if all the pleasure, honours, and riches of the earth might be given me.”

Tyndale faithfully served God throughout his life. He sacrificed much of his life as he was literally on the run as an outlaw trying to translate the Word of God into English so that his countrymen could have the Word of God in their native tongue. Even up until his death, he was faithful to his God.

It is very obvious, too, what Tyndale was thinking about. As he was led to his martyrdom, his final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” There was no bitterness. He was not angry; he was not trying to get out of the charge. Instead, he was praying for what he had been working for all of his life: that the king—this was Henry VIII—would recognize the truth and would recognize the light of the gospel and that God would somehow work and open Henry’s eyes so that he would see the gospel and the gospel could be preached abroad in his home nation of England.

Remembering R.C. Sproul

It is with a heavy heart that I welcome you back to this episode of Five Minutes in Church History. We acknowledge the passing of Dr. R.C. Sproul. Dr. Sproul, of course, was no stranger to Five Minutes in Church History. We even had him on here talking about his books for his time on a deserted island, and he will be missed.

Dr. Sproul was a figure in church history that will have a legacy in church history. I remember reading that he was an American-born theologian. Well, I’d like to modify that and say he was a son of Pittsburgh. Yes, he was an American, but he was born in Pittsburgh on February 13, 1939. His dad, also R.C. Sproul, was the proprietor of R.C. Sproul and Sons Accounting. Their offices were right in downtown Pittsburgh. On Christmas Eve of 1942, when Dr. Sproul was just a young boy, his father landed in Casablanca and Morocco to serve in World War II. When you talked to R.C. about his early childhood, he would tell you, “It was about the war.” These early years of the 1940s were dominated by World War II. In fact, R.C. remembers typing his very first letters, they were X’s and O’s. His mother would type letters to her husband, and R.C. would hop on her lap and at the bottom of that letter type his lines of X’s and O’s; hugs and kisses for his dad.

He would spend much time behind a typewriter for the rest of his life. You wouldn’t have known it if you popped in on R.C. in high school. You would have thought he was all about sports. He said he loved hockey the best, but he was probably the most proficient at baseball. He was good enough at sports to get an athletic scholarship to college to Westminster College. He went unconverted, but in his Freshman year he was led to Christ by the captain of the football team. It was also in college that he met a professor, Dr. Thomas Gregory, who had a profound impact on his life. It was Dr. Thomas Gregory who introduced R.C. Sproul to Augustine, and to the great Reformers, and to this wonderful stream of the classical Reformed tradition.

It was also in college that R.C. Sproul had what he called his second conversion. One night as he made his way to the chapel, almost drawn there, he said, he found himself going through the large oaken doors, under the gothic arch, and there he had his conversion to the holiness of God. I remember him saying one time that when he was first a Christian, he devoured the Old Testament. As he devoured it and read it, he realized very quickly that this God of the Old Testament is the God who plays for keeps.

Before he graduated from college, he married his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, Vesta. The first book he wrote was entitled The Symbol, and I love the dedication to that book. He writes in there, “To Vesta, to the Romans a pagan goddess, to me, a godly wife.” It’s hard to think of R.C. without thinking of Vesta.

After The Symbol, R.C. went on to write many books. The Holiness of God, of course, stands out, Chosen by God, and Classical Apologetics, the book he co-authored with his mentor from seminary, John Gerstner. These were all part of Dr. Sproul’s legacy. Of course, Ligonier Ministries is a part of his legacy, founded as the Ligonier Valley Study Center in the hills of Western Pennsylvania in 1971, and then it moved to Orlando.

He was involved in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He took a courageous stand against Evangelicals and Catholics Together, because as he read it, “The Gospel is at stake here.” In 2011 Dr. Sproul founded Reformation Bible College.

If you pull on the strands of his life, you keep coming back to that doctrine that he came to grips with as a college student at Westminster College: the doctrine of God. As R.C. once put it, “God is holy, and we are not, and in between stands the God-man, Jesus Christ, and his perfect work of obedience and his atoning death.”  That was the message and the legacy of R.C. Sproul.

Johann Sebastian Bach: JJ

Perhaps you know the initials JSB. If you do, you might also expect them to be followed by another set of initials: SDG. JSB refers, of course, to the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who often signed his works with his initials and with SDG for soli Deo gloria—for God’s glory alone. But Bach used other initials on his compositions as well. He would sometimes write JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase) at the beginning of a composition. Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG, for all of his work was done for the glory of God.

Bach was born in the town of Eisenach, which has a great Luther connection. Eisenach sits in the valley below Wartburg Castle, where Luther was holed up after the Diet of Worms. Bach grew up in the town below the Wartburg, so he literally grew up in the shadow of Martin Luther, and he very much appreciated Luther. Bach’s library grew to about eighty theological works, and for the 1700s, that wasn’t bad. Among those books were a number of Luther’s works, and of course he had Luther’s German Bible.

Bach came from a family of musicians. Sometime near the end of the sixteenth century, a musician named Veit Bach fled Hungary because of persecution over his Lutheran faith. He ended up in the German state of Thuringia, and there the Bachs flourished. Johann Sebastian was born March 21, 1685, 202 years after the birth of Luther. With all these musicians and Lutherans in his background, it is no surprise that Bach became a Lutheran musician—arguably, the Lutheran musician.

Bach was married twice; his first wife died. He had twenty children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. He also had a great relationship with Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, and composed many pieces for him. At one point, Leopold got married and his wife didn’t like music, meaning Leopold no longer needed Bach’s services. Forced to look for work elsewhere, Bach ended up working primarily as a cantor at Leipzig from the 1720s through 1750. He was actually not the top candidate for that job. He was third in line, and the other two candidates ahead of him couldn’t accept the position. A town councilor is on record as saying, “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

That’s Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed his music Jesu juva, with the help of Jesus, and soli Deo gloria, for the glory of God alone.

On the Church

Let’s take a look at the history of the church. We’ll do that first by looking at the church around the world. One statistic informs us that there are three hundred thousand local congregations across the United States. Another statistic tells us that there are 37 million local congregations around the world. I have a simple one-mile commute to work, and over the course of that mile I pass four churches. I used to live in Lancaster, Pa., and as I drove around I tended to count silos and churches. I don’t know how many of the 37 million churches are in Lancaster, but there are a lot.

Archaeologists tell us that the oldest church building dates to AD 230. It is in northern Jordan, and it’s actually underground. Remember, this was a time of persecution, when the church and Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, so this is literally an underground church building. It also has an inscription on the floor that reads, “The seventy beloved by God.”

Of course, the earliest churches were actually house churches—congregations that met in members’ houses—and there were also congregations that met in synagogues when the members of the synagogue converted to Christianity. Many local churches have fascinating histories. The church I grew up in had church first and Sunday school afterward, which was a practice that went all the way back to the beginnings of the church. It was a circuit church, meaning that the pastor preached there and then preached at another church. So, he would preach at this church first, and then he’d hop on his horse and ride to the next town and preach there. And that tradition of having an early service stuck.

I recently spoke at another church that had a fascinating history. This church was founded in 1942 by a student of J. Gresham Machen named Henry Wellben. Wellben went to Princeton as a student and was with Machen for one year—the 1928–29 academic year—and when Machen left Princeton after that year and founded Westminster Theological Seminary, Wellben went with him. He graduated in 1932, pastored a few churches, and sided with Machen in the dispute over missions within the Presbyterian church, and for that he found himself in hot water in his churches. Finally, in 1942 he planted this church where I spoke celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary.

And this pastor has an interesting history. He was still pastoring when the Korean War broke out, and suddenly some black sedans pulled up to his house and he disappeared. He had grown up in Korea and was a son of missionaries, so, during the Korean War, he was enlisted by the CIA to serve as a spy. After the Korean War he went back to planting churches again.

As we look at the three hundred thousand churches across the United States and the 37 million churches around the world, we know that these churches all likely have interesting histories. And the churches that are faithful to God’s Word and faithful to proclaiming His Word, we know that not only do they have interesting histories but they are histories that ultimately tell of the faithfulness of God.

What is the history of your local church? Maybe you can be the local church historian and can uncover some fascinating and interesting facts and ideas from the history of your church. Every church has a history. What’s the history of your church?