God has been very merciful to me over the summer of 2016 in various opportunities to preach and teach. If you would like to read about my travels in Europe and Africa, with pictures of many dear friends I saw there, you may download my pastoral newsletter by clicking here.
Old friends can be full of surprises. Have you ever visited with a dear friend whom you have known for years, only to discover something new about him that makes you admire him all the more? I grew up with John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and though of course I never met Bunyan, I count him a dear friend whose writings have long nourished my soul. Yet after co-authoring a book with Paul Smalley on Bunyan and the fear of God, my admiration and gratitude for the tinker-theologian has deepened.
As a seminary professor, I never cease to be astounded by Bunyan. He had little formal education, but he received a Ph.D. from the School of Suffering with Christ. His persecutors thought they had confined this preacher to jail, but in reality Bunyan lived in the Bible—and the word of God cannot be bound. To read Bunyan’s voluminous writings is to be immersed in the text of Holy Scripture.
That’s why I find Bunyan’s perspective on the fear of God so valuable. This topic is clouded with much confusion today. It seems that most people think that the fear of God annihilates faith in God’s grace, and vice versa. Some preachers distort the love of God in a manner that would take God off His throne and make Him our spiritual buddy. Other preachers fixate on God’s law and wrath to the neglect of the gospel so that people cower in degradation or run away from the Lord.
Bunyan, however, discovered in the Bible that God’s grace ignites the fear of God in us. God puts His fear in those whom He loves and intends to bless forever. Many of God’s best promises are to the people who fear Him and hope in His faithful love. While it is true that some fear is bad, Bunyan teaches us how to discern between healthy and unhealthy fear toward God. We need not fear the true fear of God, for it is our best friend as we travel by grace along our pilgrimage toward His glory. In fact, God’s very grace is fearful, for it is the grace of God. Our distaste for the fear of the Lord shows how poorly we know God.
So I commend the book to you in the hope that, by learning from Bunyan, you will learn more about God and will delight to fear His name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Below is a short video where I explain how a sense of God’s majesty transforms how we view sin, Christ, and everything. To learn more about the fear of God, join us at the NCFIC national conference, October 27–29.
Rejoice with me for the translation into Portuguese and printing of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, written by Mark Jones and me. (Click here for a sample of Teologia Puritana.) It is printed by Vida Nova, a large Portuguese publisher which does a good job at getting its publications into bookstores all over Brazil. Please pray that God will bless my trip to Brazil next month and that He will bless this volume to thousands of readers to help promote even more reformation and revival in that country.
I’m excited to announce that Theodore Beza, Calvin’s great successor, just arrived at Reformation Heritage Books in the form of his A Clear and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper—now translated from Latin into English by David Noe. R. Scott Clark wrote the foreword and Marty Klauber wrote a great intro. I had the privilege of serving as final editor of this great book.
Theodore Beza’s book, first published in 1559, advances a tireless defense of the Reformed perspective on the Lord’s Supper, responding chapter by chapter to specific arguments raised against John Calvin by his Lutheran opponent Joachim Westphal. Beza makes great use of the concept of metonymy, or a figure of speech, in his interpretation of the words of institution, yet he equally champions the position that the Lord’s Supper is not a bare symbol and in it we have true communion with the risen Christ. And like Calvin, Beza refers extensively to the church fathers, especially Augustine, in defense of his position.
This often-overlooked treatise marks some of the major differences between the Reformed and the Lutheran movements during the so-called second generation of the Reformation. A critical issue at the time, sacramental theology was at the forefront of the original break with Rome and prevented the various Protestant movements from uniting. Its translation into English from the original Latin provides a wider opportunity for those interested in these movements to learn more about some of the substantial issues of the period.
Appended to the book are two smaller treatises of Beza: A System of Doctrine on the Sacramental Substance and The Law of God in Various Classes.
As Dr. Clark says in the foreword, in this book we find Beza to be “a happy warrior” for the truth, using wit and learning to explain the Holy Scriptures for the edification of the saints. May God bless the translation of this classic text, and be pleased to employ it to advance our understanding of that precious gift of the Lord’s Supper.
If you would like to read about my ministry travels from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Canada, Colombia, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, and various points across the United States–with many pictures–you may download my pastoral letter here.
Nothing is more important than the fear of the Lord. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
However, few things are as little esteemed and sadly misunderstood as the fear of God. In some respects, this arises from a cultural contempt for all authority in our nation, and a widespread failure of authority figures to live with integrity. In other respects, it arises from the fallen condition of all mankind: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18).
Yet “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27). A true fear of God does not cripple us psychologically, but nourishes our soul in gospel freedom and joy. We neglect it to our own detriment.
This fall, I will be joining several other speakers at the NCFIC annual conference to talk about this precious subject, and by God’s grace, to grow together in our reverence for God. Please consider joining us in Asheville, North Carolina, on October 27-29.
To help us to prepare for this event, NCFIC is posting a series of short, daily devotional videos with various preachers, including myself. You may watch the first one by Paul Washer here. Or you may view the whole list of them here.
Today we received Reformation Heritage Book’s newest publication: Johannes Cocceius’s The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God. Oddly, this major 17th century work on covenant theology has never been translated from Latin into English until now. I am so grateful to have had the privilege of giving this historic work a final edit.
Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) was a prominent Bible scholar who taught at the universities of Bremen, Franeker, and Leiden. As a gifted linguist, he produced a Hebrew lexicon, commentary related to every book of the Bible, and several theological treatises.
Cocceius’s contributions to covenant theology simultaneously sparked theological controversies and further fruitful dialogue for understanding the progressive nature of salvation history. The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God describes the entire biblical history as a series of events by which an original covenant of works is gradually annulled, bringing new phases in the history of the covenant of grace. He shows that God’s standard way of relating to mankind is through covenant, which, at its heart, is friendship with God.
Casey Carmichael’s translation of Cocceius’s book is monumental, providing the first English edition of a work that helped shape Reformed theology for centuries. Historical theologians have long noted Cocceius’s work as a crucial text in the development of federal theology, and now this translation will open access to a wider range of readers and is sure to spur further interest and research in Reformed expositions of covenantal thought. The twenty-four-page introduction by Willem J. van Asselt, the world’s leading scholar on Coccieus’s life and theology, provides the historical context for understanding the importance of the book and a summary of the significant contributions it made to Reformed theology.
Philip Benedict, professor emeritus of the University of Geneva’s Institute for Reformation History, writes, “Johannes Cocceius was one of the seventeenth century’s most influential and controversial Reformed theologians, yet today he is little known and less well understood. Casey Carmichael has done all interested in the thought of that era an enormous service by making Cocceius’s Summa Doctrinae de Foedere et Testamento Dei available in English for the first time.”
Those who love covenant theology will delight in this book. Students of historical Reformed theology and exegesis will find it an indispensable resource. You can order it here.
Parenting is a tremendous joy—and a responsibility that makes us tremble. Yet Christian parents can proceed forward with confident faith in the promises of God. Five years ago, Reformation Trust published my book, Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace. It’s a biblical guide on how Christian parents should view their children in light of God’s promises, how to lead them as their prophets, priests, and kings in the home under the only mediator Jesus Christ, and how to direct them in practical steps towards mature adulthood.
Recently, Redeemer Broadcasting interviewed me about the book, and you may listen to the interview by clicking here. If you would like to read more about Parenting by God’s Promises, or order a copy for yourself or someone that you love, you may visit our bookstore by clicking here.
(The following post was written by my wife, Mary.)
Our first trip to Portugal began nicely with us being bumped up to business class on the flights from Grand Rapids to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Paris! What a difference it makes to be able to stretch out completely and sleep. And we won’t complain about the special food and personal service either. The last leg was a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Brothers Joel and Erik Lopes picked us up, and we met Edvanio Silva, the FIEL (fiel means “faithful”) Portugal director, and his wife Rosilene, teen daughters Marina and Haissa, and eight-year-old son Vinnie, as well as Guilermo, the tech guy, for lunch. Then we had a three-hour scenic drive to Faro, Portugal for the weekend, of which the first half passed us by because we couldn’t stay awake. They checked us into a hotel, and we took another nap. It is at times like this that we reflect on our human frailty and the fact that we aren’t getting any younger. We walked to a nearby mall to get water, fruit, and supper.
Portugal is slightly smaller than Indiana, covering 36,000 square miles. Its population is 10.5 million. It is not as rich as some other countries in the European Union, but it is not poverty stricken. Its hard-working citizens treasure their heritage. Even though it is very close to Northern Africa, and it would be easy for Muslim migrants to find work and settle there, most of them go to Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden, because more housing and financial support are offered.
On Easter Sunday, four churches gathered at their denominational camp’s chapel for services. There were about 400 souls there in the morning. They said it would be about half in the afternoon, but about 350 returned. Joel preached in the morning on “How Christ’s Resurrection Shapes Our Hope” from 1 Corinthians 15:19–20, and in the afternoon on “The Only Way to Live and Die” from Philippians 1:21. We are grateful many people can speak some English, or they can snag someone standing nearby to translate. If all else fails, they put their hand on their heart and make an upward motion, with tears and a smile, and say, “Obregato!” (Thank you).
We had supper with Pastor Luis and his wife Maria. Luis lost his first wife 14 years ago in a tragic accident when his children were 11, 14, and 15 years old. Luis and his daughter testified of God’s goodness in helping them through that difficult time. Luis and Maria shared the miraculous way God brought them together ten years ago. They live in Maria’s grandparents’ home and care for her father, Alfonso, and her ninety-one-year-old uncle, Joao, who is nearly blind and deaf. The father was a barber and a taxi driver in New York City for 33 years, before returning to his homeland. Joao had a life-changing experience at 13 years of age when his grandmother warned him that the leaders in their Roman Catholic Church (RCC) were teaching things that did not agree with the Bible, and that he should test everything by the Bible. He never married. He composed music, some testifying of his love for and devotion to God, and he was a professional accordion player. Later he also became a beekeeper. We tasted some of the delicious honey he produced. After Joel prayed for all of them, Joao prayed and thanked God for that minister from America, for his grandmother, and for a special person who helped him over the years, that God would save him. We were so impressed with the care and kindness Luis and Maria expended on these elderly men. It was a special Easter for us.
Monday morning, we went for a long walk in a nature reserve along an estuary by the Atlantic Ocean. We have been surprised at how refreshingly cool it has been (50s and 60s), considering Portugal’s latitude. We were also surprised so many people wore winter coats. The southern half of the country is dry and the northern half is green. Luis picked us up at 11:00, and with a member of his church, Julieta, we traveled the three hours back to Lisbon, this time with our eyes open. They did not know English well, so conversation had a lot of back and forth questioning to make sure we understood each other, with both humor and frustration infused. It helps that Portuguese and English both have a Latin base.
We have been to the FIEL conference many times in Brazil, where it gets about 1300 ministers and their wives. The evangelical movement in Portugal is small but growing. The conference here is in its fourteenth year. There were 50 attendees for many years, but four years ago the Silva family moved here from Brazil, made many improvements to the program, and now the numbers are up to about 300. The whole family is involved; they are very observant and in tune to the needs of the attendees, even eight-year-old Vinnie who helped us carry our bags to our room, who patted his friend on the back when he was coughing, and whose eyes were always darting around, quick and ready to help.
Portugal is traditionally Roman Catholic, but many are only nominal Catholics now. Monasteries and convents have closed or down-sized. Many of the people at the conference have come out of the RCC and still have family in it. Others have come through the Pentecostal church or Jehovah’s Witnesses. FIEL has an Adopt-A-Pastor program where donors sponsor a pastor so that he can come to the conference and receive Reformed books throughout the year.
The speakers were Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, Mike McKinley, Mez McConell, Jose Pinto Ferreira, and Joel. I spoke to the ladies twice. The theme was “The Health of the Church.” Joel spoke four times: “The Church Cherished” (Matt. 16:18b), “The Church Purchased” (Matt. 27:46), “The Church Preserved” (Luke 22:31–32), and “The Church Married” (Rev. 19:6–9).” I spoke on “The Kindness of the Church’s Savior” and “Blooming in Your Church Garden.” Lodging, meals, addresses, and book sales all took place in the same venue. We took several walks in the neighborhood.
There is a small group of young families that are trying to start a Christian cooperative homeschool, in order to rear their children according to biblical principles that they would not receive in the public school. Homeschooling is legal in Portugal.
We met again a friend who told us a few years ago in Brazil that he was greatly convicted by an address Joel did on family worship, particularly by a statement of Thomas Brooks, “A family without prayer is like a house without a roof, exposed to all the storms of the heavens.” He is still faithfully doing family worship. We praise God when we hear of stories like this, knowing how young children interpret so much of life through the lens of principles that their parents teach them.
Both Joel and I had the privilege of meeting people who have read and studied our books (my one and his many). It gives us joy to be used as instruments in God’s hands to influence souls in a Godward direction—my hubby on the forefront, and me in a supporting role. We are thankful for the opportunities that we have to travel to different places and for Joel to preach from the beautiful Book of books, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to sinners. We pray that our hearts might truly be in line with Scripture, that our walk of life might coincide with our testimony, and that we might be humble servants, used to do His bidding.
On Thursday afternoon, a small group of us toured a bit of Lisbon (Joel’s translator, Thiago and his family, Pastor Jonatas, and Augustus Nicodemus and Minka Lopes). Our first stop was to experience coffee and the famous tart, pasteis de nata, in the first restaurant to bake them, following the recipe of the monks in the Jeronimos Monastery from before the 1700s. With fresh vigor, we walked the waterfront of the Tagus River near its mouth into the Atlantic. The Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) commemorates the place where many ships departed for exploration and trade to India and the Orient in the 15th and 16th centuries. Portugal was a world power, building a vast empire, controlling territories in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. But over the centuries, the Dutch, English, and French took over the spice and slave trade by conquering the Portuguese trading posts and territories.
From old Lisbon, we went to the modern part of the city, where apartments can sell for more than a million dollars. Many Chinese are buying them up. Where ever we go, the Chinese are building infrastructure and buying up property. At Peter’s Cafe we ate traditional beef stew of the Azores, which is a group of nine islands, located 850 miles off the shore of Portugal. We had wonderful conversation with Jonatas, Augustus, and Minka. We overnighted in a hotel, then up at 3:30 to fly home. May God bless and grow the Reformed church in Portugal!