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The greatest of these is “Sola Scriptura”

Today Protestants around the world give thanks to God for the Reformation, the 16th-century movement which reclaimed the glorious doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone from the obscuring veils of Roman traditions. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther symbolized the heart of the Reformation by posting his 95 Theses in protest at the sale of indulgences by the Church. We summarize the Reformers’ convictions with 5 Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. All of them are precious, but I’d argue that the greatest of them is the first: Sola Scriptura. I elevate it not because it is inherently more significant than the others, but because it is the source of the others (and thus is referred to as “the formal principle of the Reformation”). If we don’t acknowledge the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God, we have no basis to determine the doctrine of salvation—or anything else.

I was struck again by this from an unlikely source a few years ago. Victor Hugo wrote the following historical commentary during one of the (rather frustrating) plot lapses in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

“The sixteenth century shattered religious unity. Before printing, the Reformation would just have been a schism; printing made it a revolution. Take away the printing press and heresy is enervated [weakened, destroyed]. Be it fate or providence, Gutenberg was Luther’s precursor.”

What Hugo is highlighting is the importance of the printed word—indeed, of the printed Word! In God’s providence, the Reformation took place in a time when thought and religion had been freed by Gutenberg’s press. This was no coincidence. An unbending commitment to the Word started, informed, and spread the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s main contribution to the Reformation was his commitment to Scripture, stated often, but never more beautifully or boldly than in his defense at the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

“I am bound by the Scriptures.” Yes. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Amen. That’s the Reformation in a nutshell. Indeed, it’s Christianity in a nutshell. Luther and the Reformers didn’t get everything right. They couldn’t have. But their role was like that of a good teacher—not to teach students every fact they will ever need to know, but to teach them how to learn. The Reformers reminded the church how to learn—how to think—by pointing us to the Scriptures and away from human authorities. That was their genius, built upon the genius of pre-Reformers like Wycliffe and Huss. Sola Scriptura!

There is no question that the great doctrines of the Reformation are under attack again today. Much of evangelicalism is “slouching towards Rome.” Our response, as ever, must be to tenaciously hold to the authority of the Scriptures. That’s not as simple as it seems, for there is ever the temptation to amend to the Word our own ideas. When the ideas are old, we call them “tradition.” When the ideas are new, we call them “contextualization.” Regardless of what extra-biblical ideas are called, we must not yield to them. We have a more sure word. We have an inspired Word. We have a sufficient Word. May we truly embrace it as our “only rule of faith and practice” as our creeds require. We can do no other. God help us.

Two Kinds of Lust: Lessons from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I just finished reading Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’d read Les Miserables a few years ago, and I was amazed at Hugo’s ability to reflect the suffering and sinfulness of humanity. Reading The Hunchback only increased my admiration for his talents. Hugo’s theology was pretty graceless, but he definitely had a handle on the doctrine of human depravity.

Besides the gripping plot, what most captured my attention in the book was the continual focus on lust. As I understand it, there are two basic kinds of lust in the book: sensual lust (represented by the soldier Phoebus de Chateaupers and the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo) and emotional lust (represented by the gypsy Esmeralda).

Sensual desire is what we typically think of when we hear the word lust. Although Phoebus and Frollo are opposites in many ways, both are driven by base desires for Esmeralda. There are differences, and they reflect accurately the carnal longings of humanity. Phoebus wants instant gratification. His thoughts of Esmeralda are shallow and fleeting. He wants to use her the way he has used countless other women. In fact, comically and disgustingly, he can’t even get her name right (Similar…er, Esmenarda…er, whatever) even as he promises her undying fidelity if she’ll give herself to him. Frollo’s lust is more enduring. It’s seething, consuming, relentless, and it destroys him.

More difficult to read, however, and more tragic, was the lust of Esmeralda, the teen heroine of the story. She was chaste, and indeed, protective of her purity. But she was undone by an emotional lust. She so longed to be loved that she convinced herself that the buffoon Phoebus cared for her. She was blind to his carnal desires, his fickleness, his selfishness, all because she longed for his affection. And eventually her emotional lust brought her to the verge of succumbing to his sensual lust, if only to avoid losing him (whom she never had).

Esmeralda’s dropping her guard to gain Phoebus’ heart is, frankly, a rather provocative scene, and I urge you to read it cautiously if at all. But it is a powerful depiction of reality. And as a father of four daughters, it’s both infuriating and terrifying. While it is certainly true that men have emotional longings and women physical, I think Hugo was on to something in the way he ascribed heart lust especially to ladies. How many young girls sacrifice their purity not to their own physical desires but to their longings for affection? And how many manipulative “Phoebus'” are all too ready to exploit their insecurities? (Aside to fellow dads; here’s a bit of counsel on the heels of last week’s: If you don’t meet your daughters’ needs for affection, some teen punk will, or will at least promise to.) I’ll often comment to my wife (typically with her hearty agreement) that girls are dumb. They believe a man is in love with them, or will be if they succumb to his pressure; or that a player has miraculously changed now that he’s met them; or that a liar is suddenly sincere and trustworthy; or that one who cheated with them will never cheat on them. And all this despite evidence that screams that he merely wants to use them to gratify himself. He wants sex. They want affection.  As we’ve discussed in another post, temptation appeals to the heart and ego, not just the body (Proverbs 7:15). And it ultimately leaves all of them disappointed.

The solutions to these lusts are the same as the solutions to every other sin: cleansing through the blood of Christ and contentment with the person of Christ. Those who are ruled by sensual desires need to understand the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to break those powers, not just to forgive them. Scripture teaches that there is deliverance through faith in Christ, so that you won’t always be what you once were (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). (Note: Once you’ve run to Christ as your only hope of salvation, these resources will be of help to you in your pursuit of sexual purity, I believe.)

And those ruled by emotional desires need to find their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can satisfy. They need to learn to say that there is nothing on earth they desire besides Him (Psalm 73:25). That with Him as their Shepherd, they lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). That Christ is enough. That satisfaction is a key to sanctification.

Hugo nails the lust problem. But sadly, he doesn’t provide an answer. His book ends with despair. But the Scriptures go beyond depicting the ravaging power of lust. They provide the solution in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I commend it to you.