Death Means Resurrection

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101When Jesus saw her weeping, and

the Jews who had come with her also weeping,

he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 

And he said, Where have you laid him? …

When he had said these things, 

he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus,

come out. (John 11:33-34,43)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The two-part form of a lament sets us on a spiritual journey. When Jesus weeps, the dead are raised  (Mark 5:38–41). When Jesus dies, our lives are redeemed and we find hope (1 Pet 1:3), as the Apostle Paul writes:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)

Paul advises us to imitate Christ and to place our emotions in God’s service (e.g. Rom 12:14–15) so that the physical world might itself be redeemed (Rom 8:22).

Christian hope redeems our mourning. The hope of resurrection permits us to look beyond the grief in this life to our future in Christ, as the Prophet Jeremiah wrote so eloquently:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

We hear an echo of Jeremiah in the Sermon on the Mount, when he writes about anxiety:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:25)

Anxiety is a form of grieving over life’s daily challenges—what to eat or what to wear—in a kind of despair over present circumstances.

As Christians, we know that present circumstances give way to a future in Christ—death does not have the final word (1 Thess 4:13). Because our future is in Christ, we are like children who can delight in hearing scary stories knowing that the stories have a happy ending. The Apostle Paul writes: 

For godly grief [θεὸν λύπη; “theo lupe”] produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:10) 

The word for grief that Paul uses means: “pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow, affliction” (BDAG 4625). We grieve over our sin; we lament over our brokenness; and once we have poured it all out, we turn to God and repent, as the Psalmist writes:

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Ps 126:5–6)

This sounds similar to Luke’s version of the Second Beatitude: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) 

Through godly grief and repentance God gently leads us to salvation

Death Means Resurrection

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Gospel as Divine Template

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christianity began in a graveyard with the resurrection (Ps 16:10). The resurrection could not have occurred without Jesus’ crucifixion and death which was, in turn, associated with his life and ministry. Because Jesus’ life and ministry were chronicled after the resurrection, each sentence in the New Testament should be prefaced with these words: Jesus rose from the dead, therefore . . . Jesus’ life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection are the Gospel story, which we know because after the Gospels themselves, sermons by both Peter (Acts 2:14–41; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts 13:16–41) all focus on Jesus’ life story.

The Template

Just before his death the Apostle Paul writes from prison:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)

In other words, the Jesus story—life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection—was for Paul a template for the Christian journey of faith, beginning with the end in mind. Yet, we know that the end of the story—like its beginning—is in Christ and provides Christian hope (1 Pet 1:3). 

While our eyes remain on the prize (Phil 3:14) and our expectations for the end times, our relationship with each member of the Trinity sustains us day to day. The Holy Spirit is with us, empowers us, and helps us to break the power of sin. Jesus Christ’s life and ministry models a faithful life in a stressful world. God Our Father demonstrates love, grace, and sovereignty over all earthly powers. Because of God’s sovereign power and presence, our hope of the resurrection transforms into our hope in Christ (Col 1:24).

Begin with the End in Mind

The resurrection accordingly influenced how early Christians read the Beatitudes, as in: Jesus rose from the dead, therefore “Honored are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3) Notice that the Beatitude explicitly refers to the kingdom of heaven—a place of healing and rest where the resurrected are assumed to go. Because early Christians read this Beatitude in view of the resurrection, so should postmoderns. 

More typically, postmoderns read the Beatitudes as “pie in the sky”—unobtainable and unrealistic. But how much risk is there in buying a stock if you already have tomorrow’s stock report? If tomorrow’s paper eliminates today’s risk, why dawdle in buying the stock? Unobtainable and unrealistic goals suddenly become reasonable— in light of the resurrection common fishermen become extraordinary apostles.

Knowing that the end of the story is in Christ, the Beatitudes outline the three tensions in our spiritual life: our inward tension with ourselves (poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness), our upward tension with God (righteous, merciful, and pure), and our outward tension with the world (peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled). Inward tension exists, but we know the Holy Spirit will guide us. Upward tension exists, but we know that God loves us. Outward tension exists, but we have Christ’s example in seeking reconciliation and an open door to the future (Rev 3:20).

Tension was not the Plan

Because of our reconciliation with God, we know that our sinful nature which drives this tension was not part of God’s original design. Breaking God’s design, sin emerged in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve turned away from God and allowed sin to enter their lives (Gen 3:6). Yet, even as sin entered the world and tensed up our lives, God provided for our restoration through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gen 3:15).

Jesus rose from the dead, therefore our faith starts with God, not with us.

Gospel as Divine Template

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Easter. Monday Monologues, April 22, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I offer a prayer and reflect on Easter.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Easter. Monday Monologues, April 22, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Mark 16: Easter (3)

Empty Tomb on EasterBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6 ESV).

One of the most vivid memories I have as a young person was the experience of an Easter sunrise.  Easter is mysterious, earth-shattering news.  How could I sleep through it?


At my grandfather’s funeral, I was given a head of wheat which hangs now in my kitchen.  The wheat reminds me of Jesus’ saying:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV).

Resurrection Reminders

The mystery of resurrection is everywhere in nature.  Sunrise is the resurrection of the day.  Springtime is the resurrection of the seasons.  The metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon to adult butterfly is a beautiful, dramatic resurrection.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “all of creation groans in anticipation of our redemption” (Romans 8:19-23).

Messianic Prophecies

Prophesies of Jesus’ resurrection start early in scripture.  Systematic theologians see salvation history as creation, fall, and redemption.  Because sin is the cause of death, eternal life requires forgiveness of sin which is brought about in Christ’s resurrection.  This transition is prophesied in Genesis:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15 ESV).

Other theologians see resurrection arising out of righteous suffering.  The prophet Job writes not only of Christ, but his own resurrection:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 ESV).  At the birth of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:27), the Apostle Peter sees resurrection prophesied by King David:  “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

When asked to produce a sign Jesus himself spoke of the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32).  In the belly of the whale Jonah prayed:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2 ESV).  And the whale spit him out on dry land, another resurrection story.

Old Testament Resurrections Accounts

Resurrection did not start with Jesus.  Some see the story of the binding of Isaac as a resurrection account [1] and a prophecy of the cross (Genesis 22:1-18).  The prophet Elisha raises the Shunammite’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37).  In the valley of bones, Ezekiel prophesied about resurrection of the Nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37:3-6).  The exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt and the return of the exiles from Babylon are both resurrection accounts where a dead nation rises to new life.

New Testament Resurrection Accounts

In the gospels, Jesus himself performed several resurrections.  He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).  He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:12-17).  Most remarkably, after lying four days in the tomb he raised Lazarus from death (John 11:1-45).  Like other resurrections, Jesus’ healings and exorcisms brought hope where there was none.

Some scholars believe that John Mark’s gospel recorded Apostle Peter’s testimony while he was in Rome during AD 41-54.  Mark later traveled with Paul.  Mark’s role was to teach about the life of Jesus.  Later, Luke may have assumed this role in Paul’s missionary team.

Mark’s Unusual Ending

Interestingly, Mark did no see the gospel ending with Jesus.  Neither did Luke whose gospel was followed by the Book of Acts.  Mark’s gospel starts with:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV).  Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel ends with the woman going out from the tomb to relay the angel’s message:  “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7 ESV).  Likewise, our part in salvation history is to pass on the story.  As the hymnist Katherine Hankey (1834-1911) writes:  “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love…” [2]

Christian Hope

Christian hope starts with the resurrection: we know that death is not the end of life’s story.  And because we know the rest of the story, we can invest in life and live each day with boldness and joy.

[1] Did Abraham believe God would raise Isaac from the dead?  Why did the angel have to tell Abraham twice?


Mark 16: Easter 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Easter Prayer

Tulips 2018

Merciful Father:

All praise and honor are yours for you place eternity in our hearts and sent your Son Jesus to save us from our sins.

We confess our foolishness for presuming on your grace and thinking that mercy through Jesus is cheaply available without true devotion and faith.

Thank you for the love that you demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, our savior and eternal role model.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, dwell in our hearts that Christ’s salvation will nourish our faith daily. Wipe away the despair of loneliness and doubt. Grant us the strength to be faithful stewards of your grace to those around us that your peace may remain our peace, now and always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Easter Prayer

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Peterson Writes About His Life as a Pastor

the_pastor_review_03032017Eugene H. Peterson. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most dramatic appearances of God in the Bible comes in chapter 3 of Exodus when God appears to Moses in form of a burning bush. It is interesting to ask why God would appear in the form of a naturally occurring inkblot test. If the inkblots are properly prepared, they have no inherent structure so when a patient looks at them, the only structure seen is the structure imposed by the patient.[1] Is it any wonder that my kids, when they were small, used to confuse our pastor with Jesus? My kids are not the only ones; the inkblot image is a wonderful metaphor for how people today relate to their pastor and to God. The more enigmatic the pastor, the more fitting the inkblot image.[2]

In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson captures this enigmatic character[3] when he writes:

“I can’t imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it. Once the name arrived, all kinds of things, seemingly random experiences and memories, gradually began to take a form that was congruent with who I was becoming, like finding a glove that fit my hand perfectly—a calling, a fusion of all the pieces of my life, a vocation: Pastor.” (2)

Peterson see the pastor as a particularly talented observer, much like God took animals to Adam to see what he would call them (Gen 2:19), as he writes:

“A witness is never the center, but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center—in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (6)

But, of course, naming is the creative act of a sovereign, not of a passive observer. For this reason, some theologians describe God as a Suzerain (King of Kings) and Adam as his Vassal (king), but Peterson would chide at the whole idea of being an authority figure, preferring the title of pastor, not “Reverend or Doctor or Minister” (2) even though he was all of these things.

Even if Peterson prefers business causal, he is not just causally present. He writes:

“Staying alert to these place and time conditions—this topos, this kairos—of my life as a pastor, turned out to be more demanding than I thought it would.” (8)

Peterson’s sensitive to matters of time and space comes as a surprise. As Christians, we think of God in terms of the omnis—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent—all present, all knowing, and all powerful; but Christianity has no Mecca where we must worship or make a pilgrimage—God is not partial to a particular place and even Sabbath is not so much a day as a commitment to devote time to God. But for Peterson pastors must model themselves on God in his omnis in a sacramental sense:  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6 ESV) And Christ did not die in some random place; he died conspicuously—in front of the whole world—in Jerusalem. Therefore, Peterson cautions that “the life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions.” (12)

Do you get the idea that Peterson chooses his words carefully?

Peterson’s idea of the pastor call is wrapped up in a peculiar package. He describes a dog wandering around marking his territory in a manner that appears haphazardly to a human observer, but no doubt makes perfect sense to the dog. He then writes:

“Something like that is the way pastor feels to me. Pastor: not something added on to or imposed on who I am; it was there all along. But it was not linear—no straight-line development.” (26)

This sort of explanation, which is potentially quite demeaning, describes an image of the pastor as a Myers-Briggs personality type of ESFP:

“Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.” [4]

This postmodern concept of a pastor leaves me wondering what would happen if Martin Luther or John Calvin were to come before an ordination committee today? While I know that Peterson’s pastor has great appeal today, I am not sure that Peterson intended his vision of the pastor to be normative, as it has become.

One of the attractive things about Peterson to me as I read this book in seminary was that he had been a church planter. At a time when organized churches seem to be wandering off the rails, God’s presence appears most conspicuously in new churches that have yet to be coopted by our culture. Peterson writes about an old rabbinic story:

“Shekinah is Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place…God’s personal presence—and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory.” (100-101).

I can relate to this Shekinah image, having worshipped in so many different places, in so many different styles of music (or none at all), and in so many different languages.

Peterson’s final chapters begin with a story of a visit to a monastery where the cemetery was always prepared for the next funeral, having an open grave as a reminder (289). This is fitting end because Christianity is the only religion that began in a cemetery (Matt 28:1-7).  Citing Karl Barth, Peterson reminds us: “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” (290).

I have tried several times to review Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor, and flinched at the task, not knowing where to begin. Having written my own memoir, however, during the past year, his book started to make sense to me in spite of its nonlinearity. I think that I have read most of Peterson’s books, but this is a favorite, but do not ask me why. Still, I am sure that most pastors and seminary students will share my love for this book.

[1] What does Moses see? Moses sees God commanding him to return to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to release the people of Israel, something that had been on his heart for about 40 years (Exod 2:11-12; 3:10).

[2] This is at the heart of the psychiatric image of God and counseling model of the pastor. People have a lot of trouble with the transcendence of God. They do not want to be “fathered” with conditional love, they wanted to be “mothered” with unconditional love. For this reason, the postmodern image of God is more of a grandparent than a parent and people chide at the ideal that God is a father that actually requires anything at all of us. The code language normally used is to say that a pastor should be a “patient, non-anxious presence.”

[3] If you think that I am the only one to see an inkblot here, meditate a few minutes on Peterson’s book cover.




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Prayer of Remembrance

Tulips 2018By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Blessed Lord Jesus,

We praise you for remembering us—

in our celebrations and joy,

in our loneliness and fear,

in spite of who we are or were or will ever be.

We confess that we forget you—

when things go well,

when pain becomes overwhelming,

when we ought to know better and do not.

We give thanks for Easter—

a time of resurrection, new life, and abundant possibilities,

a time when we know that we are not alone and are loved,

a time that begins a period of waiting for your Holy Spirit.

We ask for eyes that see and ears that hear—

that we might participate in your new life,

that the waiting may come to an end,

that we might transcend life constrained to the here and now

and see the Father in you. Amen.

Prayer of Rememberance


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Resurrection of the Body

RPC_tomb_03092014bBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One big anxiety that amputees experience is that lost body parts embody their identity in ways that must now change. The pain is particularly acute when the body part is associated with a beloved activity. Our hearts go out, for example, to the runner who loses a leg or the brilliant researcher who develops Alzheimer’s disease. Our body is part of our identity.

God knows who we are and feels our pain—to be human is to be whole in body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus raised the widow’s son out of compassion (Luke 7:13) and he wept before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:35). How compassionate would Jesus have been if he had raised the widow’s son from the dead only to have the son live on as a paraplegic? Or if Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but left him mentally handicapped?

During my time as a chaplain intern, I knew a dear woman who had been resuscitated after her heart stopped for eight minutes. The resuscitation left her afflicted with dementia and forced to live in a lock-down, Alzheimer’s unit. The affliction left her family guilt ridden and torn over their decision to resuscitate her.

Resuscitation leaves scars. Scripture reports that the widow’s son and Lazarus were returned to health without scars. Consequently, Jesus did not resuscitate them; he re-created them as only God can. Meredith Kline (2006, 220–21) uses the term re-creation in reference to the flood narrative and sees this idea already present in 2 Pet 3:5-7. In other words, Noah was a second Adam even before Christ..

Resurrection is an act of grace—bodily resurrection completes the compassion.

Jesus was bodily resurrected. When the resurrected Christ appeared before the disciples in Jerusalem, he asked for something to eat; the disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it (Luke 24:41-43). Furthermore, Christ’s compassion for his own disciples, who had deserted him, reveals that Jesus, in his perfection, did not harbor the deep emotional scars that might normally accompany the trauma that he experienced (John 21:17).

Consider the alternative. What if Jesus had been raised only spiritually, how long would he continue to empathize with us? Or what if Jesus harbored grievous handicaps or emotional scares? Would he still have pity on the rest of us? Would we really want to stand before such a scarred and potentially vengeful judge?

Christ’s resurrection was a re-creation, not resuscitation, event. Christ’s resurrection gives us hope because our judge is healthy and whole. He is still human and he harbors no grievances.


Kline, Meredith G. 2006. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Convenental Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on
Available on

Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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RPC_tomb_03092014b“The third day he rose again from the dead.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why should we believe in the resurrection?

The truth of the resurrection became the most important confession of the early church. In John’s Gospel faith consists, primarily, in believing in the resurrection (John 20:25–29). Paul’s letter to the Romans states it plainly: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Paul knew this truth first hand because the risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus—a story recorded three times in the Book of Acts [2]. At one point, the risen Christ appears to more than five hundred witnesses in just one setting (1 Cor 15:6).

The resurrection event changed the Apostle’s lives forever. Ten of the eleven faithful apostles died a martyr’s death [3]. The fact that they were willing to die for their beliefs is strong historical evidence for the truth of the resurrection.

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Jerusalem speaks of both the prophecy of the resurrection and the eye witness accounts. Peter cites this prophecy: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:10). The original context of the Psalm points to King David [4], but Peter, as an apostle, correctly interprets the “holy one” as referring also to Jesus (Acts 2:27–31). Peter’s next statement is most telling: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32) Peter’s argument was both truthful and compelling because it convinced more than three thousand people to be baptized that day (Acts 2:41).

At least three reasons motivate us to believe in the resurrection. The first reason was given by Paul: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17) We obtain forgiveness from God only because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God. A second reason follows from the first. Jesus’ resurrection makes our resurrection and eternal life possible. A third reason is that in the resurrection God attested Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:31). Jesus’ path in life, death, and resurrection then becomes the template for our faith and the only source of our salvation (Phil 3:10–11).

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Paul’s conversion was so powerful that he ceased being one of the church’s chief persecutors and he became one of the early church’s strongest evangelists (Acts 8:3). Also see: Acts 8:3–5, 22:6–8, and 26:13–15.

[3] The Apostle John was the only one of the eleven faithful disciples that did not die a martyr (Fox and Chadwick 2001, 10).

[4] The verse is a Hebrew doublet. The two parts repeat the same thought. Therefore, holy one refers to my soul.


Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online:

Fox, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

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