Supporting Theological Reflection and Conversation that Strengthen the Ministry of the Church
The Dutch Reformed Translation Society performs a valuable service to Reformed Christians and students of Pietism/Puritanism with lively new translations of spiritual classics from the “Further Reformation” in the Netherlands. Since other volumes in the series are from the seventeenth century and some eighteenth-century titles are planned, Jean Taffin’s The Marks of God’s Childrenfirst published in French in 1586represents the vanguard of the Nadere Reformatie. Taffin, indeed, is often thought of as the father of the movement. As the editor’s introduction demonstrates, his influence endured for several generations after his death in 1602. Many editions of this devotional gem were printed in French, Dutch, Latin, and English (Of the Marks of the Children of God, and of Their Comforts in Afflictions; to the Faithful of the Low Countries) until 1659. The present translation “is based on the Dutch text as it last stood before Taffin’s death,” on the grounds that it was “truest to his intent” and was the version “most widely circulated and read” as the renewal movement flowered (pp. 19-20).
Taffin prayed his readers would “increasingly confess and experience the unsearchable grace of God” and receive “full and certain assurance” of their “adoption as God’s children” (p. 23). Linking doctrine (confessing the faith) and piety (experiencing grace) is typical of both the Nadere Reformatie and the English Puritanism to which it was related. The language and tone of The Marks of God’s Children resonates with Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety and works like John Cotton’s Christ the Fountaine of Life and echo much later in Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections. The spiritual-psychological problem of assurance of salvation typified Calvinist experience with its emphasis on God’s sovereign will. Pastors labored in the pulpit, in devotional gatherings and private counseling, and in their writings to guide the faithful to a grounded spiritual confidence.
Taffin’s gift, to those reading him three centuries ago and to believers today, is his ability to show in vivid prose the way to a life of faithful perseverance. The only “solid basis for our comfort” (p. 42-43) is not virtue, experience, or even faith, but God himself. God’s will is inscrutable but the Holy Spirit “grants us some knowledge,” especially in what God is pleased “to reveal to us in his Word” (p. 26). Referring to the church, Taffin argues that if we abide “in the family of our mother” we need “never doubt that we are heirs of the heavenly Father” (p. 38). In personal experience “the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirits” by producing a variety of “fruits” or “marks” of faith, the chief of these being (as with Edwards) selfless love of God and neighbor. Since God makes the same promises to all his children, even those with “small, weak marks” may be “assured that we are children of God” (p. 49).
Perseverance was a pressing issue for Taffin as, following the assassination of William of Orange in 1584, Spanish oppression of non-Catholics again intensified. Taffin, who had served William as chaplain, was a refugee more than once in his life. Temptation to apostasize dogged Reformed believers and not a few fell away under pressure. Illustrations of Dutch Calvinist martyrs included in this edition bring home the book’s original political context. Taffin argues that extreme hardship is no sign of God’s disapproval, indifference, or absence. On the contrary, persecution is predicted in Scripture, an emblem of faithfulness, and the occasion of great courage. “These sufferings have their source in God’s love for us,” for God will more than compensate for earthly losses (pp. 80-81). Furthermore, those who think the reward of faith is “a few earthly, perishable treasures” are “shortchanging themselves” (p. 114). Indeed, until we suffer for our faith “we hardly realize what it is to hope and trust in God without holding anything back” (p. 105). Regarding the obedience that is learned in “the school of affliction,” Taffin concludes: “We need this education” (p. 108).
The book shines as a devotional classic. Perhaps its greatest contemporary relevance is Taffin’s witness to “the fruits of persecution”to the gospel that strengthens believers in the face of grim oppression (pp. 122-123). In today’s “global church” many believers would read The Marks of God’s Children and imagine it was written just for them.
Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe
PUBLISHED IN THE BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR REFORMED THEOLOGY, FALL 2004, VOL. 4, #2
The Institute for Reformed Theology is an Associated Program of
Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia
All materials on this site are © The Institute for Reformed Theology, unless otherwise noted.