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Jean Taffin (1529–1602), The Offer of the Gospel: What it is, and What it is Not

April 19, 2008

Brief Biographical comment, just enough to establish his credentials:

Jean Taffin is arguably the father of the Second Reformation in the Netherlands. While neither his name nor his contributions are included in some of the most recent and widely circulated anthologies of Second Reformation writers, he was venerated by many of them, his writing was appreciated by their Puritan sympathizers, and his work includes the experiential and moral themes associated with this Dutch movement…

Jean Taffin, The Marks of God’s Children, trans by Peter Y. De Jong, edit., by James A. De Jong, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 11.

And this.

Taffin:

In order to comfort those so dangerously and severely attacked, it should be said that this weakness is caused by these people trying to assure themselves of salvation by testing whether they are in fact worthy of being God’s children. Since there is no one who is worthy or no one who is capable of being worthy; this is more than enough ultimately to change their doubt into despair. Others begin to deliberate whether they are numbered among the elect and whether their names are written in the book of life. By this they try to know whether God loves them and regards them as his children. But we may not aspire to such heights of knowledge! We may seek God’s revelation only in what the gospel teaches. Only from it may we conclude that God has loved us, still loves us, and will embrace us as his children in Christ Jesus. Just as anyone, at least if he is honest, reveals the secret thoughts of his heart in what he says, so God who is Truth itself reveals his counsel and will concerning our adoption and salvation in the preaching of the gospel. And he reinforces this disclosure by the use of the holy sacraments.

We should remember that this revelation of God’s will in the gospel consists of four parts. First, in Jesus Christ alone there is complete and perfect salvation; second, we receive this salvation by believing in him; third, when this gospel is preached to us, God reveals that he will make us participants in this salvation in Christ Jesus; and fourth, he commands that we believe the many testimonies of his good will, which he gives for the sake of our salvation. Now, the problem with believing lies in the last two parts. It lies in believing them with confidence, even though in reality they are firm and sure. “Behold,” says the apostle John, (‘this is God’s testimony namely that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:ll). He says not only that this life is in his Son but also that he gives us this life and that the gospel testifies to this. Immediately before this verse he declared, “Anyone who does not believe God makes him a liar” (1 John 5:l0). Thus, he has shown us enough to let us know that God wants us to believe him.

The apostle went even further in what he wrote to the Hebrews, Declaring, “Wanting to make abundantly clear to the heirs of the promise the immutable nature of his purpose, God swore an oath. God did this so that we might find strong encouragement in two unchangeable realities concerning which it is impossible for God to lie. They cause us who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope that is set before us. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the veil, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (Heb. 6:17-20). By this he teaches us first of all that whenever we hear the gospel, we must regard as true and sure that the counsel hidden in God’s heart concerning his will to save and to embrace us as his children has been revealed to us. In the second place, by this he teaches us that God desires that we believe in him. The last point is obvious from the fact that he has ratified the one and the same by his Word and by his oath. Both of these stand firm, for it is impossible that God should ever lie. The intent is that we have a solid basis for our comfort, which we will never experience unless we believe in him. Moreover, the disclosure of God’s counsel is called “the hope presented to us.” God wants us to hope. Indeed, he desires that the disclosure of his counsel will be a firm “anchor for the soul” for us. As a ship is secured by its anchor so that it cannot be driven by the wind, so God desires that the disclosure of his counsel through the preaching of the gospel will hold us fast and give us assurance in the face of every doubt about our adoption as God’s children. What is more, this disclosure enables us to enter heaven in the confidence that the forerunner, Jesus Christ, has obtained possession of it both for himself and for us. So here is a text that very clearly proves that God reveals and declares to you, whenever you hear the gospel, that it is his will to save you through his Son Jesus Christ. That is why he also wants you to believe him. When the apostle Paul says that faith comes by hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), he shows that you cannot believe in any way other than by hearing.

Now, faith is both the knowledge and the confidence that it is God’s will to save you and to embrace you as his cherished child in Christ Jesus. From this it follows that the gospel, which is proclaimed to you and heard by you, contains within itself a disclosure and a testimony that it is God’s will first to save you through Jesus Christ and second that you believe the witnesses whom he has provided for you to obtain eternal life. If the gospel proclaimed to you did not include the disclosure of God’s will that you believe that you are his child in Jesus Christ, then you would believe what you did not hear in the gospel and your faith would lack a solid foundation. You should remember that the gospel preached to you has as its content that it is God’s will for you to believe that in Christ you are his child. This you may not doubt. If you do, you are casting doubt on what you heard and are doing injustice to God’s truth.

Tell me, who has any right to doubt this? It is not enough to say in general, “Whoever believes has eternal life.” Instead, he commands you what to believe, saying, “Believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). John also writes, “This is his command, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). Therefore, believing in the gospel or in the name of Jesus Christ is not simply affirming that salvation is in Christ Jesus and that those who so believe have eternal Life. Even the devil believes that, although he does not believe in the gospel nor in the name of Jesus Christ. No, first you must believe that in Christ Jesus there is salvation for you, as is written in Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. 9:6). Similarly, the holy angel announced to the shepherds, “Today. . . there is born to you a Savior” (Luke 2:ll). Second, you must believe that it is God’s will that you are his child believe that about yourself. This the devil can never believe, since the gospel is not for him. If God discloses his good favor, will, and love toward you, which he is doing, why do you doubt any longer? Is he not truthful? He will neither lie nor deceive. When he now commands you to believe all this, may you yourself still question whether or not you are truly worthy? By no means. You are obligated to obey him and therefore to believe that he loves you and that you are his child through Christ Jesus. Remember that it is written that whosoever believes (no matter what or who he may be) has eternal life (John 3:16). So it is not audacious to trust in him firmly. Instead, it is an act of obedience that is well pleasing to him. You bring him the honor he desires when you believe his holy Word and are thereby assured of his truthfulness.

When he causes the gospel to be preached, it is certainly the case that he is not saying, “I have come to save Simon Peter or Cornelius the centurion or Mary Magdalene.” He calls no one by the name given them by men at the time of their circumcision or baptism. Were that the case, we could certainly doubt our salvation, for then the thought would legitimately arise that not we but perhaps someone else with the same name was meant. But when you hear that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, then you have the choice either of rejecting the title “sinner” or of confessing that he means you because he has come to save you. Conclude boldly, then, that “Jesus Christ has come to save sinners, and I confess that that is also my name since I also am a sinner. Therefore, he has come to save me!” When he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), you must pay attention to the little word “all.” Christ here is addressing all who are burdened and feel the weight of their sins. Why do you still doubt that he is also speaking to you? Come instead to this conclusion. Because he says “all,” I have also been addressed, and he promises to give rest also to me. This is what Paul means when he writes that there is no preference of persons, for he “is Lord of all and is generous toward all who call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). Take refuge in him and believe in him. Then you will be assured that he is rich in mercy also toward you.

If three or four hundred citizens were exiled from a city for some criminal act, and if there were then announced a general pardon by which everyone banished from the city might freely return with full assurance that all their possessions as well as their personal honor would be restored, would you–supposing that you also had been one of the exiles and that the man proclaiming the pardon were an honest and trustworthy prince–then not believe that you were included in the pardon, even though your name was not specifically mentioned? And would you then not believe that upon returning to your own city all your possessions would be restored to you? Now, we have all been banished from the kingdom of heaven by Adam’s transgression. But Jesus Christ, who died for such exiles, has proclaimed a general pardon by the preaching of the gospel, which permits and even commands a return to heaven.

He is a truthful King, even Truth itself. Canceling that ban and gaining permission for us to enter heaven has cost him dearly, even the shedding of his precious blood. What reason can you have to doubt your pardon and your right to return to heaven? Although the name you received at baptism is not explicitly mentioned, you are nevertheless addressed by him since you belong to the number of those exiled. “Banished one” is also your name. Believe, therefore, that the Lord addresses you sincerely and that his will concerning you is exactly what he declares in his Word.

Let us also consider the sacraments, which are not to be minimized for strengthening us in the belief that we are God’s children. Augustine has said, “They are a visible word; they give us a picture of the grace of the gospel.” In addition, they are handed to you and you receive them. So tell me what other purpose this has than to bring you into the actual possession of your status as God’s child and to assure you of eternal life? The minister of the Word proclaims the grace of the gospel to everyone in Christ’s name, but in baptism the Lord draws even closer to assure you of the forgiveness of your sins and your adoption. The apostle Paul teaches this when he says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27) and therefore are the children of God. Suppose for a moment that the prince about whom we spoke recalled all those exiled, including you, and suppose that from among all the others, he chose and called only you by name, handing only to you the sealed certificates of gracious pardon and restitution of your possessions. This is what happens in your baptism. Is that not more than enough to assure you of your forgiveness and adoption?

Jean Taffin, The Marks of God’s Children, trans by Peter Y. De Jong, edit., by James A. De Jong, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 42-6.

Credit to Marty.

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