Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament XIII: Hebrews, James. Edited by Ronald K. Rittgers. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 341 pp. Hardcover, $49.99.
This commentary series gives the reader the views of leading Reformed scholars “from the late 1400s to the mid-seventeenth century” (p. xxii). The reader should not expect to be overwhelmed with quotes from Luther and Calvin. While they are quoted, others appear more often, including Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Osiander, Spangenberg, Bugenhagen, Dirk Philips, Erasmus, Melanchthon, and others.
Do not expect that you will find lots of quotes explaining what a given word, phrase, or verse means. Instead, Rittgers has given the reader the views of Reformed theologians on a short section of verses, or a concept within that section.
Say, for example, you want to get quotes about Heb 6:4-8. You find a chapter discussing Heb 6:4-20. In that chapter the discussion of Heb 6:4-8 is broken down into comments on Heb 6:4-6 (pp. 81-89) and Heb 6:7-9 (p. 89).
Here is a quote from Calvin on “repentance from God”: “The apostle warns us, that repentance is not at the will of human beings, but that it is given by God to those only who have not wholly fallen away from the faith. It is a warning to us, lest by often delaying until tomorrow we should alienate ourselves more and more from God” (p. 87). It sounds there like he does not believe in eternal security. Since no more is given here, it is hard to know fully what he meant.
Under the heading “Excommunicate False Believers,” Dirk Philips is quoted as saying, “He who wishes to reach life eternal with Christ must love him with true faith, cleave to him, suffer and die with him, i.e., to be with him one spirit, and to be one body with his church, persevering therein perpetually” (p. 82). This quote, though more extreme than modern Reformed theologians, is similar to some of the writings of Reformed Lordship Salvation advocates today. It shows that Lordship Salvation is also present in Anabaptist theology.
Looking at Jas 2:14-26, we find a chapter dealing with that section. One major section in that chapter concerns Jas 2:14-19. Balthasar Hubmaier, another Anabaptist, says, “Mere faith alone is not sufficient for salvation…Yea, I confess on the strength of this article that mere faith does not deserve to be called faith, for a true faith can never exist without deeds of love” (p. 233).
Similarly Leupold Scharnschlager (Anabaptist Radical elder who died in 1563) says, “No one can claim that faith, which comes from the preaching of God’s word, is merely a historical or dead faith, without effect or fruit. No doubt that is what people held at the time of James…Even today some understand Christ and Paul as ascribing righteousness and life to faith alone, as if a faith without deeds and fruit is enough for salvation. For how can it be a barren, that is, a dead faith, when life—and much more—comes forth from it?” (p. 233, emphasis added). Notice the words I’ve emphasized. While we have no existing documents to show there were people who held to faith alone in Leupold’s day, his testimony is powerful. I’ve often said that there must have been people in every generation who proclaimed the faith-alone message. If they wrote, their writings were destroyed. But it is encouraging to see evidence of them.
At the end of the book are biographical sketches of the men and women cited (pp. 276-320). This is extremely helpful. See, for example: “Dirk Philips (1504-1568). Dutch Radical elder and theologian. This former Franciscan monk, known for being severe and obstinate, was a leading theologian of the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement. Despite the fame of Menno Simons and his own older brother Obbe, Philips wielded greater influence over Anabaptists in the Netherlands and northern Germany where he ministered” (p. 308).
Even though it takes some work to find helpful quotes, I recommend this commentary for the wealth of useful information in it. It is worth the time, I believe, to mine it. Free Grace Pastors should be able to find many helpful quotes in it, though, of course, most of the quotes will illustrate where modern Lordship Salvation came from. In addition, the biographical sketches are worth the price of the book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society