Selections from The Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus

Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus DathenusThe Pearl of Christian Comfort is a dialogue between Petrus Dathenus and Lady Elizabeth de Grave.  It is based upon letters Dathenus wrote to Elizabeth in 1584 that were later collected and published in 1624.  Dathenus is more mature in the Christian faith and in this dialogue graciously explains to Elizabeth how to rightly distinguish between law and gospel and to find comfort in the work of Christ.  Those familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will find many echoes of it throughout this wonderful little book.  My goal is to highlight some quotes from this gem.

To set the context, Elizabeth confesses faith in Christ but finds herself with heaviness of heart due to her failures. “First of all, I feel that I am one of those who knows Gods will but does not do it (Luke 12:47). Therefore I can only expect to be afflicted with many stripes. After all, the Bible says plainly that all those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law; for not those who hear the law but those who do the law will be justified (Rom. 2:12-13).” p. 5 (See a related post on Romans 2:13 and the Covenant of Works).

Dathenus on Law:

The law is a declaration of the unchangeable will of God. By the threat of eternal damnation it binds everyone to complete and perpetual obedience, to fulfill all that God has commanded in His commandments (Deut. 5:6; 27:26). Wherever either the Old or New Testament teaches that this perfect obedience is required of us, there the law is emphasized and taught (James 2:10; Gal. 3:12). p. 8

All precepts that admonish us and exhort us to perform all that we owe to God and to our neighbor are law. For example, the entire fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus says to us, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause;…whosoever shall say, Thou fool” (Mat. 5:22); “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust” (Mat. 5:28); and all similar statements they are all the law, which demands of us that which we are not able to keep and requires what we are not able to perform. Just to cite another example, where Jesus says, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17). There He speaks of and prods us with the law; also wherever He requires something similar of us. So also for various reasons Paul, Peter, John, and other apostles have done, in their writings and exhortations. p. 8

While it may seem unfair that the law commands perfect obedience, Dathenus in his counsel wisely directs Elizabeth to consider Adam, being created upright in the Garden.  He writes, “The law had its beginning when God created Adam in His image and implanted His law in Adams heart. The law of God was there then, as the image of God in which Adam was created, made as Paul says, in true righteousness and holiness.”  Elizabeth acknowledges “…Adam was created to rightly know and love his Creator, to obey Him and to do good to his neighbor in love.” Both here are echoing Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 6.

6. Did God create man thus, wicked and perverse?

No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.

Dathenus then draws out the distinction between Adam’s moral ability prior to the fall and our inability in our post fall condition to obey God perfectly as he has commanded.

“God not only gave Adam His law but also the ability and liberty to completely fulfill the law. For Adam, as he was created, was wise, pure, and immortal. Once Adam had fallen from innocence, he became a servant and slave of sin and of the devil. Adam stood before the choice of life and death, and by the exercise of his own free will, he chose death. By this fall Adam not only brought death to himself, but also to all his descendants.” p. 10

When Elizabeth questions the justice of God, Dathenus writes, “Notice that in creating humanity, God gave humans the freedom and ability to keep His law perfectly. How can it be unjust of God to require back from us what He has once granted us?” p. 12

Once Dathenus has laid the initial groundwork of the law, the discussion ensues regarding the Gospel.

Dathenus on Gospel:

The Greek word for gospel denotes joyful good news which causes people to speak and sing joyfully and be glad in heart, just like the good news that came to Israel that David had triumphed over the arrogant Goliath and slain him (1 Sam. 18:6).

Such also is the good news of the gospel that proclaims to us and tells us that God will be gracious to a poor sinner, and will forgive and forget our sins (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12). Yes, for Christs sake (1 Tim. 1:15) God will regard us as holy and righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), out of pure grace, by faith alone, without adding any works (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 3:28). p. 17

The Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus is available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Related Posts:

The Distinction between Law and Gospel in Reformed Faith and Practice by Michael Horton

Petrus Dathenus (1531-1588) – Law and Gospel (Portion of the Full Dialogue) at iustitia aliena

Properly distinguishing Moses and Christ from The Pearl of Christian Comfort at Reformedreader

The Gospel in the Narrow Sense, Herman Witsius

Selection on Trusting Christ in the Gospel from A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort by John Colquhoun, D.D

Source: A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort by John Colquhoun, D.D, pp.  180-184

3. Be persuaded to trust accordingly in Jesus Christ, for all the inestimable blessings and comforts of a free salvation, to yourselves in particular. Come, as unworthy, as lost sinners in yourselves; come, not upon the ground of any qualifications in yourselves, but upon the warrant afforded you by the gospel-offer, and intrust your whole salvation to the compassionate Saviour. Rely with unsuspecting confidence, on the faithful, the dear Redeemer, for the enjoyment of all that is offered to you, in the glorious gospel. There, all the love of his heart is, in and with himself, offered to you: trust therefore that he loveth you°. His consummate righteousness is granted to you: rely upon it for all your title to eternal life. All his salvation is also presented to you, for your acceptance: trust therefore that his right hand will save you.  Since it is all offered to you, as a free gift of grace; trust, with the entire approbation and consent of your hearts, that he will save you in a way of boundless grace. Seeing all the good things of this life, which are necessary for you, are likewise offered; trust that he will give you these also, in the kind, and the measure, that he sees good for you *.  All the promises of his eternal covenant, are, in the indefinite offer, left and directed to you: trust therefore that he will perform them to you, and so, save you with an everlasting salvation. The absolute promises of the Spirit and of faith especially, are, in the offer, given to you: trust that he will give his Spirit to you, and thereby enable you, yet more and more to believe in him. O that ye knew what a comfort it is, that the great Redeemer hath made it your duty, to trust at all times in Him, and in God through him. He commandeth you to trust in him, with all your heart’; and therefore you may be assured that, he will not deceive your confidence, nor disappoint your expectation. Ah! if a faithful and able friend but suggest, that you may depend on him for relief, in some external difficulty, ye will most readily confide in him, and believe that he will not deceive you; and yet, you cannot trust a faithful, an almighty Redeemer, though he com mandetb you to do it, and promiseth ” that lie will not turn away from you, to do you good ‘.”

4. Love not the good things of this world so, as to place, either your happiness, or your confidence, in them. No objects whatever can continue in your possession, except Christ and God in him. No mercies can either be satisfying, or sure to you, but ” the sure mercies of David u.” Set not, then,such a high value on any of the empty and transitory things of this world, as to put it in their power ever to disquiet your souls. Reproaches, injuries, losses,—these are all without you: they cannot come in to your souls to vex them; unless ye yourselves, open the door to let them enter. The Lord sends affliction upon your bodies, and it may be, permits men to injure you in your good names, and worldly estates; but it is yourselves only, who suffer these, or any other outward calamities, to enter and to vex your souls. The things of this world, are still so high in your estimation, and they lie so near to your heart, that you cannot suffer the loss of any of them, without vexation of spirit . Ah! that the world should seem so great, and that God in Christ should appear so small, in your view, as not to satisfy you, except when ye can have the world along with him! O watch diligently, against the inordinate love of earthly things; for it will dispose you to indulge distracting care, and repining opposition of spirit, to the holy disposals of adorable providence. It is anxious care, and peevish discontent, that are often, at first, the occasions of melancholy. They usually so disturb a man’s mind, as to render it defenceless against those temptations, respecting the state of his soul, with which Satan will afterwards assail him. The disquietness, which hath been occasioned by outward crosses, is then removed to his conscience, and so inflames it, that he begins to be for a long season, oppressed with many fears about the salvation of his soul. Thus, as if the Lord had not afflicted him enough, he adds to his own affliction. Only consider how heinous a sin it is, so to love the world, as to set up your own wills, in opposition to the holy will, and providence of the ‘Most High. By repining against Him, you secretly accuse him,and by accusing him, ye blaspheme his worthy name. Consider that, the resignation of your wills in every thing, to the will of God, is a principal branch of holiness; and that, it is in proportion as ye take complacency in His blessed will, that your hearts are comforted. O be persuaded to trust firmly that, God in Christ loves you and bestows Himself upon you, as your everlasting portion; and that, the Lord Jesus will give you that which is good, and withhold no good thing from you: for that is the way, through the Spirit, to mortify the inordinate love of the world.

5. Be not solitary, but as little and as seldom as possible. A time for retirement from company is, indeed, to those Christians who are well, a season of the greatest value for meditation, self examination, and prayer; but to you, it is a season of great danger. If the devil, with his temptations, assaulted Christ himself, when he found Him in a Wilderness, remote from company; much more will he assail you, if he find you solitary. It is your duty therefore to be, as often as attention to your other duties will permit, in the company of humble, faithful, and cheerful Christians; especially, of those whose views of the gospel are clear, whose faith is strong, and who can speak from experience, of deliverance from dejection of spirit. It may also be of advantage to you, if ye confer at a time, even with Christians, whose cases are similar to your own; in order to be satisfied, that your condition is far from being singular.

1 John iv. 16. p Ps. exxxviii. 7. % Acts xv. 11. 1 Fs. lxxxjv. 11. 9 Frov. iii. 5.

* Jer. xxxii-. 40. * Isa. Iv. 3,

Was Robert Shaw pronounced outside of the bounds of Reformed Theology by holding to a Republication of the Covenant of Works? I don’t think so! This is a very helpful post at The Reformed Reader

The Reformed Reader

In his helpful book, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Robert Shaw (d. 1863) discussed the Mosiac (or Sinaitic) covenant in a way similar to Francis Turretin and other Reformed theologians.  Here’s what Shaw wrote in his comments on WCF 19.2.

“It may be remarked, that the law of the ten commandments was promulgated to Israel from Sinai in the form of a covenant of works.  Not that it was the design of God to renew a covenant of works with Israel, or to put them upon seeking life by their own obedience to the law; but the law was published to them as a covenant of works, to show them that without a perfect righteousness, answering to all the demands of the law, they could not be justified before God; and that, finding themselves wholly destitute of that righteousness, they might be excited to take hold…

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Romans 2:13 and the Covenant of Works

In Romans 2:13, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”  How is this passage to be applied in the Christian life?  This old post from the Heidelblog has a very helpful resource list.  The lead article by Joshua Martin has been particularly helpful to me in understanding the context of the passage and how it is to be understood.

The article by Joshua Martin is available here:

Other resources include:
Charles Hodge – Commentary on Romans

Robert Haldane – Commentary on Romans

Holiness Wars – The Antinomianism Debate by Michael Horton

Michael Horton wisely concludes his article on the Holiness Wars…

It can be as difficult for their followers as for prominent preachers and theologians themselves to submit to the consensus of a whole body rather than to promote their own distinctive teachings, emphases, and corrections. Those who were raised in more legalistic and Arminian backgrounds may be prone to confuse every call to obedience as a threat to newly discovered doctrines of grace. The zeal of those who are converted from a life of debauchery or perhaps from a liberal denomination may boil over into legalistic fervor. As at the Jerusalem Council, representatives came to Nicaea, Chalcedon, Torgau, Dort, and Westminster with idiosyncrasies. Yet they had to make their case, participate in restrained debate, and talk to each other in a deliberative assembly, rather than about each other on blogs and in conversations with their circle of followers. Muting personal idiosyncrasies in favor of a consensus on the teaching of God’s Word, these assemblies give us an enduring testimony for our own time. Nothing has changed with respect to how sinners are justified and sanctified. There has been no alteration of God’s covenantal law or gospel.

If the growing charges and countercharges of antinomianism and legalism continue to mount in our own circles, may God give us good and godly sense to recover the wisdom of our confessions as faithful summaries of biblical faith and practice. And may the Spirit direct us to the fraternal fellowship of the church’s representative assemblies for mutual encouragement and correction.

Holiness Wars – The Antinomianism Debate